The Biblical Illustrator
Came the Word of the Lord by Haggai.
The grail subject of the whole chapter is duty. Duty revealed, duty postponed, duty vindicated These two verses direct us to the revelation of duty. Here we have--
The time of its revelation. Every duty has its time, every true work has its hour.
(2) The organ of its revelation. “Came the Word of the Lord by Haggai.”
(3) The order of its revelation Haggai had to deliver the message to men nearest to him, with whom he was most identified, and the men too who had the most power in influencing others.
I. Duty is the burden of divine revelation. The great purpose of Haggai’s mission was, in the name of God, to urge his countrymen to the fulfilment of a work which was morally incumbent on them, namely, the rebuilding of the temple, What was the burden of Haggai’s mission is in truth the burden of the whole Divine revelation--duty. It contains, it is true, histories of facts, effusions of poetry, discussions of doctrine; but the grand all-pervading substance of the whole is duty; its grand voice is not merely to believe and feel, but to do; it regards faith and feeling as worthless unless taken up and embodied in the right act. It presents the rule of duty, it supplies the helps to duty, it urges the motives to duty. This fact shows two things--
1. That the Bible studies the real well-being of man. Not an assemblage of beliefs and emotions, but an assemblage of acts and habits. The fact shows--
2. That unpractised religion is spurious.
II. Duty is increased by social elevation. This is implied in the circumstance that Haggai went directly with the message from God to the most influential men in the state, to “Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest.” This fact serves two purposes.
1. To supply a warning to men in great places.
2. A lesson to ministers. Let the ambassadors of heaven carry their messages first, if possible, to men in authority. (Homilist.)
This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.
The people said this, because they thought the undertaking too great, too arduous, too expensive for a nation circumstanced as they were. These returned captives were but a small remnant of the population of the land. They had not yet fully established themselves in their own habitations. They had formidable enemies around them, bent upon impeding their work. They were labouring at present under extraordinary distress, from the failure of their vintage and their crops; and therefore, though they admitted that the work was one needful to be done, they said, “Not yet; not in these days.” How many good works are put by by being put off! How much of the business we are sent into the world to do is not done, under pretence that it is too soon to set about it. But the prophet shows this people that their present poverty and distress were sent by God as a chastisement for their past negligence, and a warning as to their future course. The poverty which they thought to prevent by not building the temple, God brought upon them for not building it. Having thus opened to them the nature of God’s dealings with them, he calls upon them to reflect upon them.
“Consider your ways.” Then he urges upon them the immediate duty of amending their ways--“Go up to the mountain and bring wood, and build the house”; and adds also the promise of encouragement--“And I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord.” The message and exhortation of the prophet were not in vain. The message was given on the first day of the sixth month, and on the four-and-twentieth day of the month the people were at work. When the Jews were led, on account of feebleness and poverty, to neglect their duty in the restoration of the temple, God visited and chastised them with the increase of that very distress which was the excuse for their sloth; and though they misunderstood the lesson, He withdrew not His hand till, under the teaching of the prophet, they had learnt its meaning. Has no similar working of Almighty wisdom developed itself in our case? When we have been led to forgetfulness of our duty to God, not by distress, but by the full-fed arrogance of worldly prosperity, has not He drawn for us lessons of chastisement out of that which has been the very cause of our sin? Our great manufacturing and commercial towns are the offspring, the development, the very characteristic embodiment of the sort of prosperity which God has permitted a careless nation to work out for itself. And if such prosperity he a blessing, may we not well question whether the Almighty have not brought upon us the last and worst denunciation of prophetic word, and “cursed our blessings because we have departed from His ways” Now at length the conviction seems to he slowly forcing itself upon us that our disabilities are so great because in building up our social fabric we have omitted the temple of God. These are the providential chastisements with which God corrects a nation, which has allowed a population to grow up estranged from Him--untaught in His Divine law. And as yet we seem to be in the state of the Jews when God first visited them with dearth and poverty for their forgetfulness of Him and His temple. We are making the consequences of our sinful neglect reason for its continuance. We need all of us to have our spirits stirred within us to do the work of God, yea, even those who may think that they are already awakened to a sense of their duties. When the foundation of the second temple was laid amid general joy and congratulation, “the elders, who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice.”--They were afflicted at the thought of the humbled state of the Church of God. But if man in his niggardliness now builds meanly, God can give to His temple a splendour of its own. The glory of the latter house may be greater than the glory of the former. Into the second temple came the glory of the incarnate Son of God. And into our temple now may come that spiritual presence which will give it even greater glory. Then be strong in that which your duty calls you to do, and strong in that self-denying devotion by which alone it can be done. And doubt not that God will prosper and bless the work so taken in hand. (Bishop E. Denison, D. D.)
Objections to religious work
For about four months Haggai was employed in delivering prophetic sermons to encourage the people to rebuild the second temple. The people were disheartened. They prepared their own houses, they were ceiled, and painted, and decorated, but the Lord’s house was permitted to lie waste. This neglect arose from a principle prevalent in the human heart, which leads men to fancy that an exclusive attention to their own selfish concerns is the only way to promote their interests it does not enter into their narrow calculation that the first interest of man is to glorify God. Indifference to the cause of God has brought many a multiplied sorrow to the person, or community, who have manifested such a spirit; nor has it ever been known that zeal for God and love to His cause have passed unnoticed or unregarded by Him Every effort . . . of whatever kind it be, for the welfare of the souls of men, will be liable to objection. If we wait until all such objections are satisfied, we shall act like the fool, who stood by the side of the stream, waiting till all the water was gone by, that he might pass over. Objections arise from three classes of persons. The profane man is disgusted at the enthusiasm and madness of such attempts. Interested persons, whose narrow souls are incapable of a large grasp, have some certain line of action, but are alarmed at every new, magnificent, and extensive undertaking. Good and intelligent men sometimes suffer their minds to be prejudiced against particular forms of work. Illustration may be taken from objections to the “Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews.”
1. The first objection made to the attempts of this society is this--That, considering the present state of the Jews, the work of their conversion appears to be very arduous, that success can scarcely be hoped for. We admit the difficulty, because our aim is not merely to produce a change of sentiment concerning the Messiah, but to do an internal and spiritual work in souls. But as this is the work of God, we cannot and must not despair. The power belongeth unto God, and He has promised to work by His servants.
2. Another objection is this,--The time for the conversion of the Jews is not yet come, because the fulness of the Gentiles is not yet brought in. But Christ has said it is not for us to know times and seasons. If I do not know the time, how can I say that it has not come? We are to be guided, not by what God has delivered as a prediction, but by what He has enjoined as a duty.
3. Others are ready to say, Is there anything in the state of the Christian Church at present that flatters us with peculiar hopes of success respecting the Jews? While Christianity continued pure and unsophisticated, there were many of the Jews converted. By what power were they converted? It was by that instrument which God always employs in the conversion of souls, the pure testimony of Jesus. When the Gospel lost its purity and simplicity, the power of preaching was lost also. The inquisition compelled many Jews to become Christians in name. True, when the Church was reformed, little was done for the Lord’s ancient people. Little could be done, because party spirit, sectarian bigotry, narrowness of mind crippled and enfeebled all their efforts.
4. It is said a difficulty arises because the Jews find we want to convert them to some particular sect.
5. It is said that the present state of the Jewish nation is specially unfavourable to the reception of Christianity. But these difficulties are not likely to vanish of themselves, if we take no pains to lessen them.
6. It is also said that the plans of this Society are utopian, for where are their means?
7. It is said, There is no door open; wait till God opens a door in His providence, and then go forward. The way to get further opportunity is to seize and use the present.
8. It is said, What right have you to interfere with the religion of the Jews? If we have a better, we must share it with others. Other objections are that this Society is actuated by interested motives; that the Jews have to be bribed to make a Christian profession; that none but poor Jews are turned from their ancient faith; that all Jews are impostors; and that this Society uses unjustifiable means. (E. J. Jones.)
The Lord was displeased with this people for their demur. They should have obeyed the command given them at once and earnestly. The prophet expostulated, and his expostulation was not in vain.
I. A rejoinder with which many of you are familiar. Such and such things are presented for your consideration, and they are presented kindly and intelligently. And you admit the importance of the things. For example, you listen respectfully when the necessity is set before you for sorrow for your personal sin. Yet, when you have admitted this necessity, you quietly say, “But I must be excused at present--not now--the time is not come.” Again, you give heed when the minister points out the necessity for the abandonment of sin. But, many and many a time, when the effort has been made to urge the actual relinquishment of bad habits--the immediate, continuous, and permanent abandonment of them, you have said, “What a ease that is!” Well, what then? “Ah! but you must be excused at present. Not now. The time is not yet!” Again, how respectfully you listen when the minister points out the necessity for the forgiveness of sin. It is shown you that however deep may be the sorrow, and however complete and entire may be the abandonment of sin, there is the sin after all; there is the sin, with its pollution, on your conscience; and there is the sin, with its guilt, waiting settlement in the book of God’s remembrance. That guilt is to be cancelled; that pollution is to be cleansed. But what was the upshot in this case of pleading? “We must be excused for the present. Not now. The time is not yet.” Again, how respectfully you have listened when the effort has been made to show the necessity for co-operation in counteracting sire Yet this has been met by the same procrastinating response.
II. Certain reasons whereby your rejoinder is justified. “The time is not yet.” Why not?
1. The answer from some of you is that your situations are especially unfavourable to a religious life.
2. Others say they are so entirely absorbed with secular avocations and with worldly care.
3. Others say, Oh, my passions and predilections are so entirely beyond my control.
4. Others say, I have never yet been visited by any overpowering communication from on high. And all the time you admit that sin shall be confessed and abandoned, that forgiveness shall be solicited, and that you should take your place amongst those who, m God’s name, are attempting to counteract sin.
III. How utterly unwarrantable, and how utterly unsound your justification is. If there is a commandment in this book that is imperative, it is the commandment to be sorry for sin. If there is a duty incumbent, it is the duty of abandoning sin. If there is an obligation paramount, it is the obligation to seek, through Christ, the forgiveness of sin. If there is a responsibility brought to bear upon human intelligence by the Divine authority at all, it is the responsibility to take your place on the Lord’s side. Your reasons are indefensible, untenable. I pray you to mark the untenableness, and to have done with them. (William Brock, D. D.)
The cause of God, in all ages, suffers more from its professed friends than from its open foes. It was the selfishness, sloth, carelessness, and apathy of the Jews which caused the work to cease, after the foundation had been laid. So it is now. If I had a Church of two hundred communicants, all of whom were constantly meeting every claim which they constantly acknowledge, and if I had grace to do the same, I should not be afraid that any opposition would be able to break our moral power over this community. It was not the Samaritan intrigue but the Jewish apathy, which permitted the temple to lie so long unfinished. The apathy, not the opposition. The address of the prophet is to those who admitted the claim, but answered, “Not yet.” The work was to be done at some time, but “not yet.” This describes the temper of thousands who crowd our Churches in this day. Orthodox but inactive. Your inactivity produces disastrous results, from which your orthodoxy cannot save you. Correctness of opinion and ruinousness of conduct may co-exist in the history of the same individual. A postponement of action, in things that are imperative at the present moment, is a denial by the conduct of that which the intellect affirms and urges. It sets the whole life on a contradiction, which weakens the powers and breaks the influence.
1. There is the subject of attention to one’s personal salvation. There can be no controversy as to that. No serious attendant on Christian worship will deny that it is a man’s duty to give serious attention to his soul. Yet how many are wholly neglecting the culture of their soul. They intend to concern themselves about this matter, but not yet.
2. “The time is not come,” causes also the postponement of honest self-examination. Every reasonable man admits that it is of the utmost importance that every man know all about himself. Self-deception does no good. It is senseless to prefer a brief enjoyment of false security. But a strictly honest self-examination is painful. It is always a revelation of defects, often of deformities. Self-searching would lead to repentance, and faith, and a Christian life.
3. This same plea leads to a postponement of a public confession of Jesus. Christ naturally expects a public acknowledgment of my friendship for Him. It is His due. It is my duty.
4. Lastly, we come inside the Church. Professing Christians all unite in acknowledging that the greatest things should be done for Jesus. Why are not those things done by us. Because we are the people who say, “The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” There are three influences producing in us this injurious spirit of procrastination.
(1) We exaggerate the difficulties.
(2) Our covetousness.
(3) A disposition to wait until all things are ready.
No experience seems able to cure men of this propensity. There provably never was an undertaking of any magnitude for which all things were completely ready. If all the great improvements of the age had been held back until an things were ready, they never would have been brought forward. They have had to fight their way. How many evils come of procrastination, especially to those who admit that what they put off must certainly be done. How it deadens the conscience by blinding the senses, and blunting the sensibilities! This spirit of procrastination sets us in opposition to God’s plan, which must be the best plan. God’s time is now. There never will be a time for coming to Jesus better than this time. Do not put it off. Let not selfishness, covetousness, or sloth, make you postpone. Your return to God, your acknowledgment of Jesus, your new life must begin in some now; oh, for the sake of your peace, and growth, and everlasting happiness, let it be this “now.” (Charles F. Deems, D. D.)
Waiting for the right time
1. It is a fearful though usual sin in the Church, when that which is the principal fruit and end of all their deliverances, and a chief means of their happiness, and which they seemed to esteem most when they wanted it, is most neglected when they are delivered, and have occasion to testify their affection and thankfulness: such was the building of the temple to this people, and yet this “house lies waste.”
2. It is a most dangerous way of sinning, when the sinner pretends affection to God, when he wrongs Him and His matters most, and when he thinks himself able, by fair pretences, to excuse, if not to justify his way: So did this people sin, alleging no disaffection, but that “the time is not come,” etc.
3. As the Lord may permit very great obstructions to be laid in the way of a work which yet He will carry on; so a people, who do not openly disaffect the work, may sinfully concur in obstructing of it. This they do--
(1) When they are not sensible of obstructions in the way, but are soon hindered.
(2) When they neglect or pass from a known duty upon any pretence of providence, or God’s secret will.
(3) When they are hindered from their duty in advancing the work of God by any hazard whatsoever.
(4) When they look for times wherein there shall be no difficulties, but all advantages for doing God’s work in, and in expectation of such times do lie from present duty.
(5) When the true cause of men’s negligence, which layeth many a lion in the way, is their love to their own things and private interests.
4. Men’s own consciences, when they speak impartially, will convince them of heinous sin, when they, study to promote their own interest, to the neglect of God’s affairs.
5. A people’s sinful negligence in God’s matters, though times were never so perilous, renders them contemptible, whatever their privileges be, and provokes God to bring them down to know themselves better. (George Hutcheson.)
“The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” They do not question the desirableness or the obligation of the work. During the captivity, we are told elsewhere, that they hanged their “harps upon the willows,” and wept when they “remembered Zion.” Often, perhaps, in those circumstances did they resolve, should they ever be restored, to rebuild that temple which was the glory of their land; but now that they are there on the spot, and the ruins lying before them, their ardour is cooled, and they say, “The time is not come.”
I. Cowardice. They did not say, “We will not build the temple, we will leave it to remain in ruins,” they were too cowardly for that. Their consciences rendered them incapable of making such a decision. Men who neglect duty are too cowardly to say, “We will never attend to it, we will never study the Scriptures, worship God.”
1. Sin is cowardice.
2. Sin is cowardice because conscience, the truly heroic element, is ever against it.
II. Selfishness. They set to work for their own private interests.
1. Selfishness is a perversion of self-love.
2. Selfishness is fatal to self-interest.
III. Presumption. “The time is not come.” How did they know that? Were they judges of times and seasons? Are they imperious enough to plead providence as a patron of their disobedience? “Go to, now, ye that say to-day and to-morrow.”
1. Such presumption is always guilty. It implies that we know better than our Maker about times and seasons.
2. Such presumption is always perilous. It treads upon an awful precipice. (Homilist.)
Excuses for neglecting religious duty
While the people were taking care of themselves, and consulting their own interest, the building of the temple was neglected. That the temple was not built till the reign of Darius, was occasioned by the fact that the prefects of Cyrus gave much annoyance to the Jews, and Cambyses was most hostile to them. But when liberty was restored to them, and Darius had so kindly permitted them to build the temple, they had no excuse for delay. It is however probable that they had then many disputes as to the time; for it may have been, that they, seizing on any pretext to cover their sloth, made this objection,--that many difficulties had occurred, because they were too precipitate, and they had been thus punished for their haste, because they had rashly undertaken the building of the temple. And we may also suppose that they took another view of the time as having not yet come, for easily might this objection occur to them: “It is indeed true that the worship of God is to be preferred to all other things; but the Lord grants us this indulgence, so that we are allowed to build our own houses; and in the meantime we attend to the sacrifices. Have not our fathers lived many ages without a temple? God was then satisfied with a sanctuary; there is now an altar erected, and there sacrifices are offered. The Lord then will forgive us if we defer the building of the temple to a suitable time. But in the meantime, every one may build his own house, so that afterwards the temple may at leisure be built more sumptuously.” However this may have been, we find it true, that the Jews were so taken up with their domestic concerns, with their own ease, and with their own pleasures, that they made very little account of God’s worship. This is the reason why the prophet was so greatly displeased with them. He declares that they said, “The time is not yet come to build the house of Jehovah.” He repeats here what the Jews were wont to allege in order to disguise their sloth, after having delayed a long time, and when they could not, except through consummate effrontery, adduce anything in their own defence. We however see that they hesitated not to promise pardon to themselves. Thus also do men indulge in their sins, as though they could make an agreement with God, and pacify Him with some frivolous things. We see that this was the case then. But we may also see here, as in a mirror, how great is the ingratitude of men. And how is the case at this day? We see that through a remarkable miracle of God, the Gospel has shone forth in our time, and we have emerged, as it were, from the abodes below. Who does rear up, of his own free will, an altar to God? On the contrary, all regard what is advantageous only to themselves; and while they are occupied with their own concerns, the worship of God is cast aside; there is no care, no zeal, no concern for it; nay, what is worse, many make gain of the Gospel, as though it were a lucrative business. No wonder, then, if the people have so basely disregarded their deliverance, and have almost obliterated the memory of it. As God’s temple is spiritual, our fault is the more atrocious when we become thus slothful; since God does not bid us to collect either wood or stones or cement, but to build a celestial temple, in which He may be truly worshipped. When therefore we become thus indifferent, as that people were thus severely reproved, doubtless our sloth is much more detestable. The building of the spiritual temple is deferred, whenever we become devoted to ourselves, and regard only what is advantageous to us individually. (John Calvin.)
The duty of building the Lord’s house
These people were glad to have an excuse for turning away from building the Lord’s house to build houses for themselves. Though they found plenty of time and means for adorning their own houses in a costly manner, the Lord’s house was left to lie waste. Are they the only people who have ever acted after this fashion? Have we not been equally slack in doing the Lord’s work? We may not be called to build up the Lord’s house of stone and mortar; but there is another work requisite, even soul work; and from that neither we nor any other Christians can be spared. Every Christian is called to bear his part in building up the Church of the Lord spiritually, by prayer and thanksgiving, by faith and righteousness, by holiness and love; for this is the Lord’s true Church. The New Testament Church is the congregation of believers. But any hindrance, however petty, is now deemed insurmountable--any excuse, however trifling, is held to be perfectly valid--if it is only to keep a person away from Church. Even when we come to Church, are we all diligently employed in building the house of the Lord? It is not of the bodies of men, but of their hearts, and souls, and minds, that the Lord’s house is built. When we come to Church, as members of Christ’s congregation, we come, or at least we ought to come to Christ. Moreover, every Christian ought himself to be a temple of God. He is so already, as St. Paul tells the Corinthians; and he ought to become so more and more entirely. This should be the great work of his life, to build himself up as such, with the help of God’s Spirit dwelling in him. This is our work--a long and laborious work--to fit all our thoughts and feelings for being built up into the house of God, by purging them from the untempered mortar of this world. When so purged, how are we to cement them together? By good works; by works of holiness and love. It behoves us, one and all, to make it the great work of our lives to build up the Lord’s house, both in our own hearts and souls and minds, and in the congregation of His people. We must be careful to carry on both works together; for neither will prosper without the other. (Julius C. Hare, M. A.)
The waste house
One of the most palpable effects of the Fall is that it has led man to live for himself. Sin is essentially selfish, and one of the first effects of redemption is to make man live for others. Real Christianity always takes a man out of himself. Yet the Christian carries about with him a sinful body, which is always craving for indulgence. The Christian’s constant danger is lest his Saviour’s glory should cease to be paramount to every other consideration. Christ must be first, or the soul will find a want in everything. Observe the name God takes here--“Lord of hosts.” When God is about to ask His people for anything, or to supply His people with anything, this is the name by which He generally addresses them in the Old Testament. Observe the sin of the people here. “The time is not come that the Lord’s house should be built.” It was not a denial of God’s claim upon them, it was a putting God off. Is not this the sin of the present day?, God asks for His place in the heart of the sinner, and the answer is, “Not yet.” The sin of all, converted and unconverted, is that of putting God off. We have not the courage, the straightforwardness, to disallow His claim altogether. We add mockery to our sin by acknowledging the justice of a claim which we have inwardly determined shall never be met. While we are dwelling in our ceiled houses, and the Lord’s house is lying in ruins, what is the consequence even in this life? The end of everything they did, these people missed. Christ is the end, the satisfying thing in all. Toil without Him must end in vanity, it God, reminds them of their disappointment in everything, and the cause of Because of Mine house that is waste.” What is this breath wherewith the Lord blows upon everything? The breath of His Spirit withering everything we do, because His house is in ruins. What is the Divine remedy? “Consider your ways.” Pass in review your heart, your life, your daily history. Set about the duty of the hour, and put your heart into the doing of it. (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
The judgment on neglecting to build the Lord’s house
God is never content with confounding His enemies. He does not confound to destroy; He confounds in order that He may save. The courses by which He brings this purpose to pass are various. One of the commonest is the one set before us in the text. Seeing that the motive why we forsake His service is that we may give ourselves up to our own service,--seeing that self is the mask which Satan puts on, to lure us away from God, and that the baits with which he tempts us are the pleasures of sin and the charms of self-indulgence, God mercifully shows us the vanity of those pleasures, the misery and deceitfulness of that self-indulgence. He sends some heavy affliction to humble our pride, to prove to us that, in leaning on earthly things, we lean on a broken reed. Then, at the height of our distresses, He sends His messengers to explain their meaning and purpose. He sharpens the stings of conscience; He brings out the letters of the law, like the letters which the hand wrote on the wall of the palace of King Belteshazzar. These people regarded the earth as their servant, spread out beneath their feet for no other purpose than to do their bidding, to feed their wants, and to pamper their lusts. Wherefore God vouchsafed to show them that the earth was not their servant, but His; that it was not spread out beneath their wings to do their bidding, but His. If the sun and rain were locked up in heaven, the earth would yield no increase, notwithstanding all that man could do to make it. God’s prophet bids the people “consider their ways,” and that all God’s dealings were designed to prove to them how, in the ways in which they were walking, although they were to sow much, they would reap little,--although they ate, they would not have enough,--although they drank, they would not be filled with drink,--that they might clothe themselves, but none would be warm,--and that the wages which they earned would be put into a bag with holes. All this God did, not in order to leave them in their confusion, but in order to raise them out of it. If they will arise and work, and build the house of the Lord, He will still take pleasure in it, and will be glorified in the house they shall build for Him. This message is also sent to us. It is a message of misery; but it is also a message full of warnings, a message of mercy following upon warnings, to the end that the warnings may not be misunderstood, but may be seen in their true light, and may produce the effect they were intended to produce. But the message is not merely sent to nations, it is sent also to individuals. No one ever gave himself up to the work of building the Lord’s house, without allowing his heart to be distracted by the desire to build some house or other for himself. The message applies to us in all its parts. We, like them, have been delivered out of captivity. We have been called to the work of building up the house of the Lord who delivered us,--of building it up outwardly, whenever an occasion for doing so comes across us,--of building it up continually by joining with our neighbours in His worship,--and of building it up daily in our own souls. As we are like the Israelites in having this duty, so we are like them in neglecting it. Instead of doing the Lord’s work, we do what we regard as our own work. But if self is the lord of the house we build, whatever the materials may seem to be, when the gilding is rubbed off, they are found to be cares, and jealousies, and disquietudes. Every house in which self is set up as master, is a house of death. It may seem full of life; but it is the house of death, of moral death, which is the first death, and always brings the other in its train. This must be the condition of those who neglect their duty of building up the house of the Lord. Whatever they do will be empty and unprofitable. Those who build up the house of the Lord always have enough. (Julius C. Hare, M. A.)
Great as any man’s duties are which he is called to discharge, or great as his sins may be on account of their past neglect, he is not left either without the hope of forgiveness or the promise of succour. This passage was intended as a rebuke for the neglect of a duty seen and acknowledged. That duty was a pious and holy regard for the temple and service of the Lord. The neglect was that, while they were anxious about the splendour and comfort of their own dwellings, they suffered the Lord’s house to lie waste. The fault lay not with the people only, but also with their princes and rulers. Taking all the circumstances of this case into due account, the following propositions are offered for our due consideration--
1. That rulers and heads of nations, being the servants of God, and bound to conform to His will, and to seek above all things to promote His glory, are as responsible to God for all their ways and works, both individually, officially, and supremely, as any other person whatsoever. But we live in strange times. Principles of the most dangerous character, and utterly subversive of all holy feeling and good government, are openly broached and boldly patronised in the grand assemblies of the nation. A double duty is therefore incumbent upon all who wish well for the nation’s good, and for the true welfare of their fellow-beings. The mutual responsibilities of each, the governing and the governed, must be plainly and practically enforced, on the ground of the Divine Word, which is their proper authority.
(1) We maintain that all men, everywhere, are account able to God. All souls are in the hand of God. Man cannot be divested of this responsibility, wherever he may be placed, or however he may be circumstanced.
(2) This obligation and responsibility rest with a far greater weight upon some. Where more is given, more will be required.
(3) Rulers and heads of nations are as responsible in their individual capacity as others, and in their official capacity even more than others.
(4) They are the positive servants of God. Not in the saving sense of the word, but in the responsible sense of the term.
(5) Therefore rulers and heads of nations are under the positive, unvariable, and unchanging obligation of seeking above all things to promote the Divine honour and glory. Nothing can release them from these demands; nothing can lessen or alienate these claims.
(6) They are as responsible to God for all their ways and works in their ruling or official, as they and others are accountable to God for all their doings in their merely personal or individual capacity. It is often said that the ruling power is above law, and therefore accountable to none. But this is a most dangerous doctrine, and calculated to lead to the most lawless licentiousness.
2. That they are bound, by every motive and consideration, both of alarm and encouragement, seriously to lay this to heart; to consider how the matter stands with them; and to inquire what may be its probable termination, both with themselves and others; whether in judgment or mercy; whether in the gracious approbations, or the heavy wrath of Almighty God.
(1) Can any man with safety neglect the duties which God requires at his hands?
(2) Must it not be a fearful thing to incur the displeasure of Almighty God? His wrath is like a consuming fire.
(3) Will not God, in the final day of account, deal as impartially and justly with the mighty and great as with the humble and mean?
(4) Can any man set aside the Divine authority, or nullify the creature’s responsibility?
(5) Will the Lord ever leave any man, who sincerely aims to do His will, without His help and blessing?
(6) What blessings might not the exercise of such an authority, in such a manner, be the means of diffusing! Reflections--
1. How needful is it that princes and rulers should be clearly informed of what God requires at their hands.
2. How careful they should be not to abuse the power with which they are charged!
3. How great must be the guilt of all who attempt to hinder such princes and rulers in the conscientious discharge of their duties.
4. How very far are we yet from that state of things which ought to exist. (R. Shittler.)
Temporal consequences of sin
In God’s dealings with His ancient people, we find the principles of His government in all ages of the world. God took no greater interest in the history of the world then than He does now. He did not interfere more constantly in the affairs of men then than He does now. The only difference is, men used to see the hand of God where we find no trace of it at all. In all the calamities and blessings of life they heard the voice of God. And God still speaks to us in all the events of life. We can find many philosophical reasons for them, but who ever hears the name of God in connection with them? This persistent denial of the government of God is one of the saddest phases of public life amongst us. The prophet tells the people that their poverty and distress are due directly to their selfish care for themselves, and their neglect of God’s house. The underlying principle may be thus stated--neglect of the laws and claims of God, either in this world or the next, never results in any good . . . In the particular direction which God gave concerning this temple, we may find the principles which should guide us in the erection of all houses for His glory and worship. We find a severe condemnation of that specially modern custom of lavishing wealth in increasing the luxuries and beauties of our private dwellings and public buildings, whilst we are content that the Lord should dwell in a house scarcely equal to our granaries or our stables How easy it is to find intimations of providence against a work for which we are little disposed. Indolence, selfishness, a fear of the trouble and expense, were the real causes of the delay in building the Lord’s house in Haggai’s time. What unbounded faith people have in providence when providence seems to speak on the side of their own inclinations: but how deaf men are to the voice of providence when it contradicts their own desires! God says to these people, “Consider your ways.” What have you gained by your neglect of My house? You thought by so doing to escape poverty, yet poverty has come. Have your selfishness and niggardliness produced the results you expected? God says nothing about the insult offered to Himself in this neglect. This is the final argument against sin, and the one which perhaps touches men most. Sin is a violation of God’s law; but men care little for that. It is the basest ingratitude; but men care little for that. More still--it is the most consummate folly. The man who does wrong is not only a sinner, he is a fool. Consider,--what has sin done for you? Does sin answer your purpose? The laws of God are for this life as well as the next. The most sure way of securing prosperity and happiness is to acknowledge them. The most certain way to bring upon ourselves adversity and misery is to live in defiance of them. God’s laws vindicate themselves now. Prosperity and happiness here are as much dependent on our acknowledgment of God’s laws as prosperity and happiness in the world to come. What did this people’s neglect of God’s house imply, and how would this affect their material prosperity?
1. It implied the fear of a little expense. But niggardliness never pays.
2. It exhibited great selfishness. In time of disaster, who has the selfish man to fall back upon? Selfishness won’t do in the world nowadays. In three different ways God may destroy our prosperity.
(1) He may make our labour unproductive.
(2) He may take away the power to enjoy what we have gained.
(3) Our earnings may slip away as quickly as they come.
Let me ask you again, What do we gain by neglecting God? What prosperity can we secure or enjoy without His blessing? Of what happiness have we such a firm grasp that He cannot take it away from us? What is our strength if we provoke the Lord to fight against us? Is it wise to forget God? God says, “He that sinneth against Me wrongeth his own soul.” (B. G. Wilkinson.)
Indolence in the Lord’s work is a great sin. Many a Christian crying out” Oh, my leanness!” had better be honest and cry Oh, my laziness. So much of an anomaly is an indolent Christian that Dr. Dwight gives the following testimony:--“Among all those who, within my knowledge, have appeared to become sincerely penitent and reformed, I recollect only one lazy man. And this man became industrious from the moment of his conversion.” (A. J. Gordon, D. D.)
Idle Church members
In a former charge, one Sabbath, I took into the pulpit the Church records, and I laid them on the pulpit and opened them, and said: “Brethren, here are the Church records. I find a great many of you whose names are down here are off duty.” Some were afraid I would read the names, for at that time some of them were deep in the worst kind of oil stocks, and were idle as to Christian work. But if the ministers of Christ in Brooklyn, and New York, and in all the cities, to-day, should bring the Church records into the pulpit and read, oh, what a flutter there would be! (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Shirking the burden
Thomas Highat lay dying. He was a foreman in a large ship building yard in Greenock. There was a long heavy log of wood to be lifted, and he had taken his place along with the men under him to assist in the carrying. As the procession was moving on, one mean fellow who liked to scamp his work, dropped his shoulder and the load came down with sudden force upon the shoulder of Thomas Highat, who was not so tall. There was serious injury done, the doctor pronounced it fatal. As he lay on his death-bed, he said to his minister, the Rev. A. Davidson, “I ought not to be here just yet. It was because so and-so didn’t stand up to his burden.” It is in many Churches as in that shipyard, that some are made to suffer seriously and needlessly, because the heavy end of the work is left to them--because certain of their comrades don’t stand up to their burden.
1. Men are always prone to put religion off with scraps and leavings, and serve God with what costs them nothing. In the outward things of religion, they are much more disposed to work for themselves than for God; and if they have time that cannot be otherwise used, or funds that are not very current, to give them to the treasury of the Lord, and if any larger expenditure of either is urged, to plead that “the time has not come” to do this work. In the inward things of religion the same spirit is shown. The young, the middle-aged, and the old, all alike procrastinate the great work, on the plea that “the time is not come,” the convenient season that, like the horizon, recedes as we advance (Haggai 1:2).
2. Our expenditures on ourselves, whilst we pretend to have nothing for God, will bear emphatic and fearful testimony against us. The carved ceilings and costly ornaments will have a tongue in the day of judgment (Haggai 1:4).
3. No man ever gains anything by trying to cheat God. He makes a fool’s bargain, bartering a real good for a perishing bauble, and losing at last even what he gained (Haggai 1:6).
4. A careful pondering of God’s dealings with us will often indicate to us God’s will regarding us. The events of life are the hieroglyphics in which God records His feelings toward us, the key to which is found in the Bible (Haggai 1:6).
5. Obedience to God is an advancement of His glory (Haggai 1:8).
6. Disobedience to God will often, even in this life, issue in disappointment and disaster (Haggai 1:9-10).
7. God has not abandoned the universe to the sightless action of general laws, but is so related to that universe as to be able to direct its laws to the fulfilment of His purposes, whether in rewarding the good, punishing the evil, or answering prayer, without deranging or destroying the normal action of those laws themselves (Haggai 1:11).
8. True religion manifests itself in fearing the Lord, and in obeying the voice of His servant (Haggai 1:12).
9. The presence of God with a man is the best blessing he can receive, for it includes everything else (Haggai 1:13).
10. God is waiting to be gracious, and will meet the returning wanderer, even before his hand has begun the actual work of His service (Haggai 1:13).
11. Every good impulse, or reviving of religion in the hearts of men, is produced by the direct power of God, through the Holy Spirit (Haggai 1:14).
12. Obedience to the commands of God will always end in a blessing, whilst disobedience will always end in a curse, if not in time, surely in eternity. (T. F. Moore, D. D.)
Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste?
The decree of Artaxerxes prohibited the building both of temple and city, but it seems that the people had persisted, spite of the decree, in building dwellings for themselves, though no progress had been made with the temple. The mission of Haggai and Zechariah was to rouse the people to the long-neglected work, to reprove the indolent, and encourage the desponding. The excuses of the people, like those commonly of men who defer religious duties to more convenient seasons, were but marks of a secret resolve to escape, if possible, altogether from a labour which must interfere with more congenial pursuits. Our text contains the prophet’s expostulation, meeting the excuse that the time was not come for building the Lord’s house. The temple may not be indispensable in spiritual Christianity, but it is certainly valuable. There may be privileges attached to it which we have no right to expect, elsewhere. We need not confound our case with that of the Jews, though we address to Christians the expostulation of the text, as if the change in dispensation had made no difference in its pertinence and force. Christianity, unlike Judaism, is not tied to places; its ordinances may be everywhere celebrated. Then what necessity is there, under this new and better covenant, for structures devoted to sacred uses, or what loss is it to us if “this house lie waste”? It is contrary to the established order of providence that miracles should be employed where the: result might be accomplished through ordinary means. The propagation of Divine truth has been entrusted to the Church. The public ordinances are therefore indispensable; and suitable places for such ordinances must be provided. We can safely contend for the indispensableness, under the existing dispensation, of sanctuaries, or Churches, maintaining that cities without these sacred edifices would be cities that must ere long be wholly sunk in irreligion, and occupied by a population with no fear of God. We can no better spare our Churches than the Jews could their temple. In proportion as we allow any city, or any portion of our population to be destitute of the public means of grace, we fasten On that city or population something of the same religious incapacity as was fastened on Jerusalem, whilst its temple lay in ruins. The Jews are not blamed for having built their own houses, but for not having, at the same time, built the house of God. Wherever there is a community, there ought to be a house devoted to God. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Diligence in the work of God
I propose to excite you to greater diligence, and to a more fervent zeal in the work and cause of God.
I. An existing depression in the cause of God. There is a painful imperfection in the work of God as it exists in the present day. The cause of God is by no means in the state that Christians desire. What are the scenes presented to our view in lands where Christianity is professed? In our own land, what do we see? What in other Christian and heathen lands? We are compelled to confess that the temple of God lieth waste. We are too apt to triumph: we are prone to forget the present state of things. We despair not; but we do not feel enough.
II. Temporal gratification may be pursued to the neglect of those exertions which God so justly demands. These people were dwelling in ceiled houses, while the temple of God was in ruins. We see now wealth, talents, genius, property, fully used for self-interests, and estranged from the cause of God. Especially may be noticed neglect of claims of Christian missions. Viewing our efforts in connection with the claims of God and of men, we must surely confess that there are many claims not answered, many duties not fulfilled. Regard the text.
III. As challenging the employment of our various talents, and urging the claims of God.
1. Consider the nature of those obligations under which you are placed by God, with regard to the services you are called to render.
2. Consider the peculiar nature of the system of the Gospel you have embraced. Is there not a sentence pronounced on all those who are ungrateful and disobedient?
3. Consider that, while there is not this energy in the cause of God, there is an amount, an awful amount of misery resting on your fellow-men.
4. Consider the prospect of success. Let then the vast importance of the work, and the consideration of the past neglect of it, urge you to exertion. (James Parsons.)
Now, therefore, thus saith the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways.
Preparation for self-amendment
The design of this prophecy is to persuade the Jews off from that slothful security in the neglect of their duty which had already exposed them to the displeasure of God. They had outward difficulties of circumstance, but their chief hindrance was their own neglect and dulness, their want of respect for God and holy things. It was this state of insensibility that God sent His prophet to bring them out of. His words here primarily import no more than that it was time for that rebellious people to observe and consider diligently of all their labour and pains, and the works of their hands, and see what it all came to. This, however, is not the only design. They were to consider with a view to amending their lives, and getting free of those sins which were causing God’s displeasure. How much our case is like that of the Jews in Haggai’s time. The temple we are now to build up, is the Church and body of Christ; not with stones and wood from the mountains, but with living materials, Christ being the foundation and chief corner-stone. The building up this holy temple consists in advancing the credit and honour of religion among men, and in discountenancing, in the course of our lives, and the whole tendency of our discourse, all vice and profaneness, and everything that is inconsistent with religion; and this, it is too certain, we have not had the courage and the constancy to do. We of this nation, too generally, have not been advancing the public interest, and the Protestant cause, as we ought to have done. The prophet’s words are therefore applicable to us.
I. The person speaking. It is that Being who has furnished you with all the blessings you have enjoyed; who has been your continual safety and protection. He can never lay any commands on us but what are necessary for us, and highly tending to our own interest. He is infinitely wise, and so knows perfectly well what will conduce most to our interest and happiness. Other arguments there are, perhaps of more force than these. In the text He is called by that awful title, “The Lord of hosts,” importing that He has a right to us and all our actions, because He created us and all things.
II. The advice or command which is given. “Consider your ways.” A very plain and easy command. The original is, “Set your heart upon your ways.” Observe, attend to, watch over all your actions.
1. Show the mischiefs of inconsideration.
(1) We give ourselves up by it to the most stupid and insuperable ignorance imaginable.
(2) We lay ourselves open entirely to the power of our lusts.
(3) It subjects us to the tyranny and insults of our great spiritual enemy.
2. Some of the advantages and necessity of consideration. The blessed advantages of consideration can never be enumerated. It gives us strength and vigour in the performance of all our duties. It is the only means to furnish us with suitable arguments and victorious resolutions against every temptation and artifice of the devil. And as it suffers us to omit no duty, it effectually destroys and conquers every beloved lust and inclination.
3. Answer some objections by the devil raised in our minds against consideration.
(1) It is exceeding difficult and trouble some to be always upon the guard, and watching against ourselves. But the question for us concerns not the difficulty but the necessity and the duty.
(2) To be always filled with notions of the power, justice, and vengeance of God, must needs make us very melancholy. But enter into religion aright, and you will soon find that, instead of melancholy, your souls will be filled with the truest and most satisfactory joy and life and vigour. (John Gale, D. D.)
The great importance in life of frequent reflection and self-examination
The faculty of reviewing our past lives carries with it an evident obligation upon all men to exercise it constantly and uprightly. It is a principle that implies in its very nature an authority over the whole of our conduct; and we every one feel ourselves most intimately bound to obey its dictates. God our Maker saith to each one of us continually, by the inward voice of our own breasts, “Consider your ways.” In the midst of so many passions and appetites as compose our frame; so many disorders in it as we are born with; such powerful temptations as surround us on every side, we cannot hope that the carefullest attention to ourselves will keep us entirely free from faults. By a little neglect of culture, a soil so fruitful of ill weeds will soon be covered with them. The best inclinations of the best minds, if left to themselves, will run wild and degenerate. A duty thus plain and necessary, God will doubtless expect us to perform very faithfully. What the Almighty commands, we shall find it our interest to do, never to omit. The cowardice of not searching our wounds will inevitably make them fatal. Possibly we are not convinced that our behaviour is of such infinite and eternal importance. It is important to examine, whether it be or not. Perhaps we have inquired, and think there is reason to doubt of what we are commonly taught concerning these matters. But when did we begin to think so? And what do we doubt of? Not surely of all the articles of faith, and all the obligations of life. Have we considered well what the undoubted ones are, and how far they ought to influence our conduct? We find it but too easy, if we will, to judge very favourably of almost the worst actions we have ever done. But God sees everything in its true light and magnitude, and surely then it is our concern to see it so too. Have we then examined, as in His presence, our lives and hearts? By what standard have we tried their innocence or guilt? The practice of others can no more justify us than ours can them. Have we done our utmost to divest our examination of self-partiality, to enlighten it by the instruction of pious and judicious friends and books, and above all, to direct it by the unerring Word of God? Our business is so to examine ourselves now, as to live more Christianly than ever. And whence can we better begin than from what we owe to Him that made us? We owe Him worship, faith in what He teaches, obedience to what He commands. How fully soever we own the authority of religion, do we practise it? Do we live to any unworthy passion? If we are clear both of worldliness and vanity, still what can we answer with respect to pleasure? In regard to other indulgences, have we acted as becomes rational natures, designed to prepare ourselves, by the discipline of this life, for spiritual happiness in a better? Another very material head of examination is our resentments. Do we bear ill-will to no one? Again, what is the tendency of our common discourse and conversation? Is it favourable to religion, to probity, to decency, to goodwill among men, or the contrary? Our behaviour must be regulated, not only towards our fellow creatures in general, but with a closer view to the more general relations of life. Are we careful what sort of example we set others to copy after? Nor should we stop at considering what our faults have been; that alone would be a speculation of little use: we should proceed to think what must follow from them. Are we deeply sensible that, in all we have done amiss, we have provoked a most holy God; and have no claim to pardon, much less to happiness hereafter, but through the mercy procured by our blessed Redeemer? (T. Secker.)
The use and benefit of Divine meditation
Two things remarkable in the text. The repetition and enforcing of it again (Haggai 1:7). The benefit that came by it; it brought them to repentance. Doctrine--Serious meditation of our sins by the Word is a special means to make men repent. Meditation is a settled exercise of the mind for a further inquiry of the truth. Four things in meditation--
1. An exercise of the mind.
2. A settled exercise. Not a sudden flash of man’s conceit, but it dwells upon a truth.
3. It is to make a further inquiry. It would fain know more of those truths that are subject to it. Meditation pulls the latch of the truth, and looks into every closet, and every cupboard, and every angle of it.
4. It labours to affect the heart. Meditation musters up all weapons, and gathers all forces of arguments for to press our sins, and lay them heavy upon the heart. Meditation, having bundled up all items against the soul, and brought in all hills of account, fastens sin upon the soul, makes the soul feel it, so that it must needs be convinced without any evasion. It is with the Word as it is with a salve. II a man have ever so good a salve, it will not heal if it be constantly taken on and off. Only if it be let lie on will the salve heal the wound. What shall we think of them who are loth to practise this duty of meditation, but keen enough to meditate on their own worldly affairs? The poor man thinks he has no time for this tedious duty; the rich man thinks he needs it not; the wicked dare not do it; so no man will. The lets or hindrances of serious meditation are--
1. Vain company.
2. Multitude of worldly company. He that over-employs himself, his meditations of heaven are dreaming meditations; his thoughts dreaming thoughts, he can never seriously meditate on the good of his soul. A good meditating mind no man came to surfeited wire employments.
3. Ignorance. A man cannot meditate of a thing he knows not, nor thou of thy sins, if thou be not skilful in God’s catalogue of thy sins.
4. Averseness of the heart; which consists in three things--
(1) In the carelessness of the heart.
(2) In runnings of it. The heart is like a vagrant rogue, he would rather be hanged than tied to his parish.
(3) In the wearisomeness of the heart. This may serve for terror unto all those who, for all this that has been spoken, dare sit down without it. If thou wouldest meditate aright, separate yourself for other things. Observe the times of privacy: morning, evening, when the heart is touched at sermon or sacrament. Rub up thyself and thy memory. Rouse up thy heart. Use meditation for reprehension; for men usually make slight account of their sins. But you will say, How shall I come to feel my burden? Three things are here to be discovered.
1. The ground upon which our meditation must be raised.
(1) Meditate on the goodness, patience, and mercy of God, that hath been abused by any of your sins.
(2) Meditate on the justice of God; for He is just as well as merciful.
(3) Meditate on the wrath of God.
(4) Meditate on the constancy of God.
2. The manner how to follow meditation home to the heart.
(1) Weigh and ponder all these things in thy heart.
(2) Strip sin, and look upon it stark naked; for sin has a way of covering and disguising itself with pleasure, profit, ease.
(3) Dive into thy own soul and heart. There is a tough brawn over thy heart, that it feels not its sins.
(4) Anticipate and prevent thine own heart. Meditate what thy heart will one day wish, if it be not humbled; and tell thy soul as much.
3. How to put life and power into meditation.
(1) Let meditation haunt the heart, dog thee with the hellish looks of thy sins, and follow it with the dreadful vengeance of God.
(2) Let meditation trace thy heart, as it should haunt thee, so let it trace thee in the same steps. Because the heart is most cunning, and hardest to be tracked by its scent, when the heart hath taken up with abundance of good duties, and attained unto sundry graces. These good duties and common graces drown the scent of the heart’s wickedness.
(3) Hale thy heart before God, and let meditation bring it before His throne. Make complaint to God; and thy complaint must be full of sorrow. It must be a full complaint of all thy sins, and of all thy lusts. It must be with the aggravation of all the circumstances of thy sins, which may show them to be odious. It must be a self-condemning complaint. Let meditation, when it hath haled thy heart before God, there cast thee down before Him. Motives--
1. It is a folly not to meditate.
2. Thou wouldst be loth to have the brand of a reprobate.
3. Thou wouldst be loth to rob God of His honour.
4. Or that all the worship thou givest to God should be abominable; but so it will be without meditation, before it, and after it. (W. Fenner, B. D.)
Consider your ways
Nearly twenty years had passed away since a remnant of God’s people had returned captivity. Dung the whole of that time nothing had done to restore the temple. Yet the people had thought of their own comfort they dwelt “in ceiled houses.” Haggai arose to point out their mistake. He cries, “Consider your ways” So they would discover--
1. The reason of their misfortunes--Which was” that they had thought of themselves and had forgotten God. It is the explanation of all unhappiness. If you wish to be miserable--be selfish. Selfishness looks not at what it has, but at what it has not; casts covetous eyes on what others have. The selfish man thinks more of what he has than what he is, and disregards the needs of others. All these are so many doors to unhappiness. He that will save his life shall lose it.
2. The secret of blessedness. “Render to God the things that are God’s.” “Build the temple,” said Haggai. Put yourselves in harmony with God and His purposes. Philosophers have discovered that happiness is not found when it is sought directly. Seek it obliquely. “Live for others.” But the doctrine fails because men are sinful. To join them is to join them in their sin, and sin is the gate of all wretchedness. Happiness can only come by living for another, when that other is sinless. Live for God, and the secret of all blessedness is discovered. This is the true” Imitation of Christ,” whose “meat and drink” it was to do His Father’s will. (Herbert Windross.)
Lent is the season which our forefathers have appointed for us to consider and amend our ways, and to return, year by year, heart and soul to that Lord and Heavenly Father from whom we are daily wandering. We need a particular time in which we may sit down deliberately and look our own souls steadily in the face, and cast up our accounts with God, and be thoroughly ashamed and terrified at those accounts, when we find, as we shall, that we cannot answer God one thing in a thousand. The hurry and hustle of business is daily putting repentance and self-examination out of our heads. Much for which a man ought to pray, he forgets to pray for. Many sins and failings of which he ought to repent slip past him out of sight in the hurry of life. Much good that might be done is put off and laid by, often till it is too late. It may be said that the bustle will go on just as much in Lent as ever. “How can we give up more time to religion then than at other times?” There is a sound and true answer to this. It is not too much more time which you are asked to give up, as it is more heart. The time will come when you will see yourselves in a true light; when your soul will not seem a mere hanger-on to your body, but you will find that you are your soul. Then there will be no forgetting that you have souls, and thrusting them into the background, to be fed at odd minutes, or left to starve,--no more talk of giving up time to the care of your souls; your souls will take the time for themselves then--and the eternity too; they will be all in all to you then, perhaps when it is too late! Then try, for this brief Lenten season: the plan which the Lord of heaven and earth advises, and seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. You need not be idle a moment more in Lent than at any other time. You can get ten minutes more in the morning, and tea at night. When there is a will there is a way. Then make up your minds that there shall be a will. Examine yourself and your doings. Ask yourself, “Am I going forward or back?” Can we not all find time this Lent to throw over these sins of ours,--to confess them with shame and sorrow,--and to try like men to shake them off? (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
Of consideration and meditation attended with resolution
I. The nature of this religious exercise. Meditation seems to be of a higher nature than consideration. This latter is an operation of the mind in order to conversion and reformation of life; but the former is the continued work of those that are already changed in their hearts and lives, and have attained to some improvements in religion and godliness. Meditation includes in it consideration, but it is something more, yea, much more. They agree in this, that they are both of them a serious reflecting and animadverting on those matters relating to religion that axe set before us, to the end that we may receive advantage by fixing our thoughts on them, and thereby become more pious and holy. Consider the proper objects of meditation. These are ourselves; God; His Word; His works; men’s actions; those solemn entertainments of our thoughts, which are commonly called the “four last things.”
II. The worth and excellency, the vast usefulness and advantage of meditation.
1. It is the proper employment of rational minds.
2. This exercise well ordered, will banish idleness and vain diversions.
3. It mightily improves the faculties of the soul. Knowledge, reason, judgment, and a right apprehension of things, with composedness and consistency of mind, are the fruits of it.
4. It wonderfully promotes all the parts of devotion and religion.
(1) It fixes the mind, and thereby is useful to preserve in us a constant sense of God in our souls, and to keep up a steady disposition in our minds towards goodness and holiness.
(2) It begets heavenly-mindedness.
(3) It promotes prayer, which is the very key of devotion, and the chief office of our religion.
(4) It helps all the duties of religion and the exertment of all the graces of the Holy Spirit, by seasoning the heart with savoury and pious thoughts.
(5) It not only promotes religion, but also the comforts and solaces which attend it.
III. The mischief of inconsideration; or the neglect of this excellent duty of meditation. This is the fault of Christian men, and that by which they generally miscarry,--they will not reflect on their ways. The complaint is, “My people doth not consider.” Men seldom sin out of ignorance. Want of consideration is the great spring of all their disasters.
IV. Directions for the right managing of our meditations.
1. You are not to give yourselves up to immoderation in this exercise, but to use prudence and discretion.
2. When we meditate on Divine things we should keep ourselves within due bounds. Many are too inquisitive and curious in their contemplations. They would be “wise above that which is written.”
3. Some fit place for meditation should be chosen: some retreat from the noise and bustle of the world.
4. When thus alone, you must be very busy; for privacy and solitude are not commendable unless well employed.
5. Some appropriate time must be set apart. The close of the day is very suitable. The Lord’s day is arranged to provide opportunity. After reading or hearing God’s Word a time of meditation is useful. At the Lord’s Supper. In time of trouble or distress. And in times of great mercy and deliverance. The proper qualifications of this duty are the following. Prayer must always accompany meditation. It must be accompanied with the affections, or else it is a very dry and useless exercise. And resolution should follow meditation. Meditation must not only produce resolution, but also action. Devout thoughts minister to religious endeavours and enterprise. (John Edwards.)
On the duty of considering our ways
“Lay them to heart.” Ponder them, meditate upon them, maturely weigh them. It is the want of this reflection and consideration that now brings difficulties and distress upon us, and will soon bring severer judgments. To the warning voice of Haggai the people prudently listened. To us, however, the words would convey a meaning not precisely the same with that which the Jews would collect from them. To us the command would enjoin the scrutiny of our lives and conduct, but it would bid us compare them with the precepts of a new and more perfect law, the covenant of grace. But how few do consider their ways! How seldom is it possible, even by alarm, to bring to life those that are dead in trespasses and sins! Without considering your ways, without practical reflection, your state is one of imminent danger. To the young, more especially, this advice is most necessary. (A. B. Evans, D. D.)
At the encouraging voice of their Divine Protector, through the prophet, the spirit of the Jews revives, their zeal is inflamed, and their hands are joyfully given anew to do the work of the Lord. We may learn that the Almighty knows and observes all human actions, and will sooner or later in this life, and certainly in the next, punish the negligence of those who disobey His commands. The text contains “instruction in righteousness.” The power of reflection is one of those characteristics by which our nature is adorned. The other animals enjoy or suffer only for the present. The exalted spirit of man, made in the image of supreme intelligence, subjects to his view the future and the past. As this power distinguishes us from all other animals, it is most becoming in us to employ it. We should strive to be acquainted with our spiritual state, that we may know, when at a throne of grace, what we have to confess, what to ask to be forgiven, wherein to pray to be encouraged and strengthened. The negligent and careless worshipper cannot be acceptable unto God. This self-examination is a matter of some difficulty.
I. Illustrate the nature of the duty. For the regulation of our conduct we have the power of judging between right and wrong: the knowledge of God and His perfections: a revelation of the Divine will, and promised assistance of God’s Spirit: and the certainty of a future state of retribution. All these means for regulating our ways point out the same line of conduct. Christians should consider their ways in reference to each of these different means of direction, and they will enable them to ascertain their state with regard to knowledge, faith, love, repentance, and new obedience.
1. Consider your ways by the power of knowing right from wrong. Though we be called into the “marvellous light of the Son of God,” this original power of our minds is not extinguished, neither is its exercise superseded. In many cases it must be our sole guide, because Divine revelation does not descend to minute particulars. This power is often biassed and weakened by prejudice and passion.
2. Consider your ways in reference to God. Consider in what light your actions must appear to this all-seeing God: whether they have been such as He had a right to expect, and it became you to perform. Compare your conduct with the rectitude of the Divine nature, and with the obligations under which you lie.
3. Consider your ways in reference to the revealed will of God. As our judgments are often defective, it is expedient that we examine ourselves by that clearer rule which is given us in the Scriptures, in which are distinctly unfolded the duties which we owe to God, to society, to individuals, and to ourselves.
4. Consider your ways with reference to immortality, and a state of retribution. This life is of uncertain continuance.
II. Man shuns the performance of the duty of considering his ways. He is unwilling to weigh his actions, because he knows that, in so doing, most unpleasant feelings are prepared for him. But is this conduct rational or judicious! From considering our ways there arises perseverance in holiness. A man must examine himself that he may reform. There can be no apology for setting aside this work. It is difficult, indeed, but it is commanded by our God, on whom our fate depends. It is necessary for promoting that holiness on which our happiness must be founded. Shall we be deterred by this difficulty from taking those salutary measures which are essential to our everlasting peace? (L. Adamson.)
He that earneth wages, earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.
The bag with holes
The prophet lifted his warning voice, and entreated his sinful brethren to “consider their ways,” to solve for themselves the curious and alarming fact, that while toiling for their temporal gratification, and sowing broadcast with liberal hand, the return for such labours was so meagre and unsatisfactory, even as if one had been shortsighted enough to deposit his hard-earned wages in a bag with holes. The history of nations, like that of individuals, is ever repeating itself.
1. Those persons come under this description who pride them, selves on the accumulation and possession, of wealth.
2. That man is dropping his money into a “bag with holes,” who is spending any large proportion of it in things which minister chiefly to pride and vain glory. Ruskin says, “A tenth part of the expense which is sacrificed in domestic vanities, if not absolutely and meaningly lost in domestic comforts and incumbrances would, if wisely employed, build a marble church for every town in England.
3. Those persons are putting their wealth “into a bag with holes,” who are robbing God’s Church of her lawful tithes, that they may have the more to leave to their children. Inherited wealth is as often a curse as a blessing. Idleness is a source of misery, and there is no deadlier bane of character. The wise father will give his son the education which will fit him for the trade or the profession which he may prefer, and then allow him the privilege of pushing his own fortune in the world. Bishop Doane said of the men who should “make a State,” that “they are made by self-denial.” Instead of the selfish question of the votary of the world, How much can I get out of this life in the way of dress, high-living, envy, admiration, amusement?” may our endeavour be this, “How much shall this life of mine (so short and so uncertain) get out of me in loving devoted service to my Lord?” (John N. Norton, D. D.)
A bag with holes
(a talk with children):--In olden times folk kept their money in bags, and still people keep it in little bags which we call purses. “What is the good of a money-bag if it is full of holes?” Yet the prophet says that the people of his day put their money into suck bags. He means that they tried to keep something far more precious than money in this reckless fashion. He speaks of their “wages.” We are always sorry to lose anything valuable. Yet the way to lose anything is to put it in a bag with holes. What disappointment therefore is expressed here by the prophet! The feeling of loss is all the keener when we lose something that we have earned. There are some people who have what we call windfalls. Such a” windfall” has generally, like fallen apples, a bruise about it. It is not half so good as when we earn it ourselves. Now these people in the text had earned what they lost. The word here used for “wages” denotes hard earnings. I hope you children will learn in life to earn wages of your own, The best thing in life is to work for what we get. They are few who know how to use money without first knowing how to earn it. These people knew how to earn money, but they did not know how to take care of it. Half the battle of life is to earn; and the other half is to know where to place and how to use what we earn. But I have seen people who worked very hard, and yet at the close of life entered eternity as paupers. They took care of what we call money: they did not put their wealth into a bag with holes. But they never remembered that the money of this world does not pass current in the next. There is another kind of coin necessary for the next world. To die rich in the things of the world very often means to die poor with regard to the world to come. (David Davies.)
The worst foe of labour
The most persistent, most overpowering enemy of the working-classes is intoxicating liquor. It is to labour a worse foe than monopoly, and worse than associated capital It annually swindles industry out of a large percentage of its earnings. I proclaim s strike universal against strong drink, which, if kept up, will be the relief of the working-classes and the salvation of the nation. When you deplete a workman’s physical energy, you deplete his capital. The stimulated workman gives out before the unstimulated workman. When an army goes out to the battle, the soldier who has water or coffee in his canteen marches easier and fights better than the soldier who has whisky in his canteen. God only knows what the drunkard suffers, in his body, in his home, and above all, in the loss of his soul. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Objection may be urged against introducing social and political questions into Christian pulpits. Objection cannot, however, fairly be made against the pulpit treatment of that branch of social politics national improvidence. Here, in Haggai’s time, the means of life were abundant, and yet men were dissatisfied. The national improvidence of the Jews was a punishment of their neglect of God, while our national improvidence is a hindrance to our true approach to Him as a nation. See the enormous waste of means and comfort caused by our national self-indulgence, and the absolute want, and almost starvation, resulting thence to millions of our fellow-men; or, when we think of the growing passion for destructive drink, must we not see a wonderful description of our present state in this other thing which God tells us to consider, “Ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but are not satisfied with drink.” It is a common but mistaken notion that Bible teaching generally is opposed to worldly notions of prudence. Men quote our Saviour’s words, “Take no thought for the morrow,” without our Saviour’s context. His object was to prevent their letting care for providing earthly things cause them to neglect providing heavenly things. The possession of competence is not a crime. Our Saviour shows waste to be wicked, and wilful destitution a sin, not merely as being an offence and trouble to social politics, but as an iniquity against the honour of God, who, in ordaining that man should eat bread at the sweat of his brow, has laid on every man the duty of self-provision. The apostles point to the sin of improvidence in no measured terms. They never contemplate a state of things in which men shall expect fellow men in every case of need to supply all their necessities. They teach, as our Saviour did, dependence on God, but not on man. Consider the prevalence of this sin of improvidence. National improvidence exists in England without a parallel in all creation. (W. L. Blackley, M. A.)
A bad investment
I. With respect to much of the money men gain we may say it is put into a bag with holes. Look at one man who is a type of those who put earnings into a bag with holes. He works hard. With the dawn he arises. He eats the bread of carefulness. He is ever on the watch for the “main chance,” that is, for increasing the accumulations of No.
1. He does not trouble always as to the methods by which he gains. He cares only to see his balance increase. He is never known to be taken with a fit of generosity. He stints himself, and it may be his family, of all pleasures that he may increase his savings. Thus grubbing and grasping, puffing and lying, he makes the mickle into muckle. He finds the pennies become pounds, the tens grow to hundreds, and the hundreds to thousands. He gets respect, is favoured with applications for help. But he has been putting his gain into a bag with holes, if he has wrongly gained his wealth, and if he has bowed down to that, worshipping it alone. Remember that he cannot take it with him at death. It were useless if he could. There are many who, even without gaining much, make themselves slaves to their particular line of work. They give no thought to the higher concerns of life. But all their Life they toil without content; they have murmured and fretted, envied others, even misrepresented them. Into a “bag with holes” they have placed all they have so hardly gained. Then there are many who really could earn and do earn much, but they waste it. They know not where the money has gone, and if they knew where it has gone they would not confess it to themselves or to others.
II. With respect to many of the pleasures men seek, the truth of the text is manifested. We say “many,” because all pleasure is not sinful, and seeking it at times may be a strong duty. Alas! some spoil lawful and sufficient recreation by taking unlawful pleasure. They are certainly putting their efforts into a “bag with holes.” Thus also with stolen, secret pleasures. Souls yield to the desires of the heart, the lusts of the flesh, and because the thing is hidden up they rub their hands and say I have done no wrong. In no sinful indulgence can we find a gratification that shall be enduring. That deed, the memory of which causes the face to crimson, has no quality in it that can be really satisfactory.
III. With respect to our unaided efforts at reform of life, the truth of the text applies. We find out that the devil is a bad master, that the wages of sin is death. We begin to see that this life has been wasted, that we have lived for self. We then begin to struggle, in our own strength, to improve character and conquer sins. Perhaps we do make some little progress for a time. Soon we discover that it has been only for a time, and that the root of sin is still in our soul. Then the fact begins to stare us in the face, that if we could avoid all sin in the future, if we could conquer all tendency to sin in our hearts, we have yet a great account of sin which is unforgiven. Law must not be violated and dishonoured. Hence He takes up, in the Person of Christ, our sins and bears them. “He magnifies the law.” He then freely forgives us for Christ’s sake. The whole past can be as though it had not been. All sin can be fully expunged. God in Christ has provided a way of dealing with sin such as we cannot understand, but which we can accept. Confucius said, “A blemish may be taken out of a diamond by carefully polishing it, but if your words have the least blemish there is no way to efface them.” This is true of the sinful dispositions of the soul. Only Christ can efface them. Our self-righteousness, which is effort to atone in our own strength, is like wages put into a bag with holes.
IV. With respect to attempts of many to gain various kinds of knowledge we may assert the principle of the text. There are those who are incessantly inquiring, reading, and yet who know but very little. They go about, but although seeing much, they retain little. Many hear abundance of lectures, of sermons, but seem to know little more. They read their Bibles, but they increase little in knowledge of it. Now, just look back and see how much you have read and heard and known. What has been the effect on the character, the heart, the life? Has it not been put into a bag with holes T How often have you heard of the sacrifice of Christ and the infinite love of God. Has it had any effect? Has there been any effect on the life? Bitter was the wail of the mother who after ten years of care of an imbecile child said to me, “After all my love she never seems to notice me more readily than she would a stranger.” Ah! that is just what Jesus has to say of us. His love has been thrown away upon us, it has been put in a “bag with holes.” (Homiletic Magazine.)
The bag with holes
To apply this figure of the prophet’s to our own times-and circumstances, in a word to ourselves, let us see what is “the bag with the holes” into which honest earnings are too often put.
I. extravagance is such a bag. I mean the spending more on a thing than our income justifies. Bishop Patrick begins a chapter with a notable warning, “Consider thine own sufficiency.” Weigh well what you are equal to, and this may as well apply to our income as anything else. If we allow ourselves in any instance an expenditure, no matter what be the subject of it, which is unsuitable to our circumstances and inconsistent with our means, there is no other name for this that I know of than extravagance; i.e (to trace the word to its derivation) a wandering beyond the just limits within which our course should lie. There is a certain suitableness between our position and circumstances on the one hand, and our expenses on the other, which good taste will discern instinctively; any squandering in one direction must involve poverty in the other: I do not say a “bag with holes,” but a bag with one hole will let out all the money, that which is for necessary wants, as well as that which is spent upon the luxury. Is not extravagance the fault of the age? Do not men of all classes live so near to their income that it is hardly possible to avoid going beyond it? There are but two ways of meeting that difficulty: we must earn more or spend less.
II. There is another bag with holes--waste. This, though it resembles extravagance in some respects, is a different thing, for extravagance is in superfluities; waste may be of things necessary. I fear this is an increasing fault. I see it wherever I go: waste of fuel and of food, waste of money, waste of land, waste of its produce. Yet He who, by a miracle twice repeated, made bread enough and to spare for thousands in the wilderness, had an eye to what was over; and left us a memorable lesson: “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” Young people hardly know how much can be done simply by wasting nothing. I have an honest shepherd near me who once offered me a loan of £200. I know another who has saved enough to buy him a little farm. What was their secret? They wasted nothing. They have had enough for livelihood, enough for health, for comfort, and this to spare when the day of feebleness and dearth shall come. Their bag was not one with holes.
III. Akin to extravagance and waste is excess. This does, indeed, partake of the character of the other two; but it has this element in addition, that it is extravagance and it is waste, both employed on self, and both to the detriment of self. If you will just call to mind some of the calculations which are now familiar to us all you will see what a bag with holes this is for the earnings of the nation at large. More than 100 millions are spent in the kingdom every year on drink! This is the great bag with holes into which skilful earnings, hard earnings, costly earnings, are too apt to be put. That dreadful, that pitiable habit of intemperance is a solvent which will melt down a fortune however great, and a man however strong. No matter what is put into the bag, through that one hole it disappears, and leaves the owner of it like the tattered bag itself. (A. C. Bishop, M. A.)
Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways.
The call of God
I. The person who issues this command. Note the Divine character of the speaker. The “Lord of hosts.” This name, containing in it every perfection, commands our regard and challenges our awe. Omnipotence, omniscience, and unlimited authority unite their beams in one blaze of glory in this truly august character, “The Lord of hosts.”
II. The command itself. “Consider your ways.” Fix your thoughts upon them with diligence, earnestness, and heart application. Be honest with yourselves, serious and particular in the inquiry into your real character in the sight of God. The command implies that--
1. God has given to us a revelation of His will as the rule of our duty, and the standard by which we are to examine our conduct. The Scriptures form the directory and rule by which we are to try our ways, and which God has in mercy given to us by His own revelation for this purpose.
2. God hath endowed us with the powers of recollection and reflection. By these we can bring the transactions of our whole lives into present view, and arrange the several actions of them in their proper order and colours. It is our wisdom to converse with our departed hours, that we may learn to redeem the time.
3. As God has given both the rule and capacity for the exercising of this duty, so the discharge of it is necessary and advantageous.
(1) The frequent and impartial consideration of our ways has a tendency to humble us before the footstool of the all-glorious Jehovah, and to convince us of our weakness, unworthiness, meanness, and insignificancy.
(2) The diligent and frequent consideration of our ways will be accompanied with this further advantage, of leading us to a cordial, entire dependence upon God, both for direction and assistance in every duty.
(3) Compliance with that required in our text will lead us to see and own that the salvation of a sinner is, and must be, all of grace and mercy. We shall then no longer boast of our good hearts, the integrity of our conduct, or our regular duties. We shall cry for mercy. If you would be humble Christians, dependent upon and sensible of your obligations to the free grace of God, be frequent and impartial in the consideration of your ways.
III. Appeal to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
1. Address the careless unconcerned part of the hearers.
2. Those who have experienced only some slight convictions of sin, and but a transient concern about their salvation.
3. Those who are backsliders. Invite them to serious thought about their present state and danger.
4. Those who are real believers. How crooked even their ways will appear in the review! How slow their progress in the path of duty and obedience. On the whole, as the consideration of our ways is a great duty, so it requires our present and most serious attention. The present now is the season that demands dispatch. Today we must hear God’s voice, before disease incapacitate, or death prevent us. (J. King, B. A.)
An address to servants
It should be the great concern of every one of us to “consider our ways”; to think over them; to search and try them. Applied to servants, we treat--
I. Their duties.
1. Your first duty is to God. You must turn unto Him as real penitents, seek forgiveness through the merits of Jesus Christ, wash in His precious blood, and believe the promises which He has given in His Gospel.
2. Earnest prayer is a duty which servants too often neglect. Weariness at night, and late rising in the morning, are the causes.
3. The diligent reading of the Scriptures. The busiest may find or make time for this spiritual improvement.
4. Attending constantly at the house of God. Whenever, that is, you can secure an opportunity. “Faith cometh by hearing.”
5. Consider your duty towards your employers. Such as the duty of fidelity or faithfulness; a strict regard for truth; obedience; keeping your temper. It is helpful and wise to make a friend, as we call it, of your master and mistress.
6. Consider your duty to your fellow-servants. You ought to show great care, tenderness, and affection for the welfare of each other. Endeavour to lead your fellow-servants into the paths of peace, by recommending, both by precept and example, religious habits. Aid them according to the ability which God giveth you, when they are in any distress.
II. Their trials and temptations.
1. Your early removal from your friends. Service is not like home, however comfortably you may be located. Home is home, however homely.
2. If a Christian servant, the irreligious habits of the families with whom you dwell is another trial.
3. The worldliness of your fellow-servants. These trials bring temptations. And there are special moral temptations for female servants.
III. Their privileges.
1. Wants supplied without involving personal anxiety.
2. Opportunity for receiving the Lord’s Supper.
3. Power to assist in the Lord’s work. (James R. Starey, M. A.)
Whither art thou going?
Every work, with every secret thing, shall reappear at the judgment-seat of Christ, whether good or whether evil. A journey ends somewhere; each step of it is somewhither. Whither, then, are we each going? Of some changes you must be aware, in some you have doubtless rejoiced. But what as to your souls? In what way have they changed? Are they fitter for their end, for that for which God created them? If you have not used God’s grace in the last year, you are, humanly speaking, less in the way to use it this next. Would you prepare for anything, which you care about in this life, as you prepare for eternity? You would not so prepare for any race in this life. God has divided our lives into lesser portions. But each resting-place should give us pause, and force us into ourselves, and make us think, for a time at ]east, whether we have made ever so little progress in the way, or have sat down in the way, or have turned altogether aside out of the way. “Consider your ways.” Consider what you have been doing, what you are doing, and whither those doings are tending. “Set your heart upon them,” your heart, the seat of your affections. How, if you have not done it, are you to set about this considering your ways? How would you do if you suspected that you were out of your way on this earth? You would, if you could see it, look back to your starting-point, and see how, little by little, you had swerved from the right path. Then look back to earliest days, see by what lesser or greater steps thou first departedst from the narrow way; look how evil habits strengthen by repetition. “Sift thyself through and through,” says the prophet, “and so sift on.” Then shalt thou make progress, not if thou findest not what to blame, but if thou blame what thou findest. When thou didst not set thy heart upon thy ways, thou didst incur daily, well-nigh countless sin, in thought, word, desire, deed, yea, and in omission of duty. Then judge thyself, that thou be not judged of the Lord. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Bring wood, and build the house.
The building rising
I. An important operation engaged in. “Building the house.”
1. Its actual nature. The building of the temple of God on Mount Zion. Solomon’s temple had been dismantled and razed to the ground. The first act of the restored captives was to rebuild the temple, so that they might once more perform Divine worship. The spiritual import of it was the formation and the gradual perfecting through successive generations of time, of the spiritual Church of God, under the dispensation of the Gospel of His Son, which in Scripture is known by the similitude of a house or a temple.
2. Its attendant difficulties. External adversaries around them. Powerful obstacles arose from the Jews themselves. Their numbers were scanty, and their resources were feeble; some were depressed and fearful, and some were indifferent and apathetic. Subtle objections against undertaking the work just then were started. Difficulties which common agency and common exertion might well despair of removing. These facts suggest the circumstances attendant on the erection of the spiritual temple of Divine grace, under the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The work has to progress amidst immense difficulty and opposition. External enmity has abounded, arising from the radical depravity and alienation of the human heart against God, and employing against His truth all the weapons of tact and force: heathen imposture, antichristian superstition, Mohammedan fanaticism, infidel impiety, worldly contempt and neglect. And the professed friends of the Gospel have themselves interposed serious difficulties in the path of progress and success. What injuries have come through the corruptions of the Church; by the divisions of the Church; and by the indolence of the Church. The inertness of some among us has been a most serious injury to the progress of truth and righteousness. It has contracted the resources of the Church; it has given to the Church a false aspect, and a false reputation in the eyes of the world. It has damped the zeal and paralysed the energies of pious, active, and devoted men; and it has prevented the announcement of saving principles to multitudes, who thus have lived in ignorance, have died in darkness, and have gone down in despair.
II. An agency in connection with which this operation is to be conducted.
1. It is instrumental and secondary. The personal exertions of the Jews themselves were demanded, and were enlisted under the guidance of certain men who had been specially appointed by God for that purpose. The instrumental and secondary agency, appointed for the purpose of promoting the designs of Divine mercy, under the Gospel of our Redeemer, consists in the devoted labours of men who have been themselves redeemed. When the Saviour had completed His own personal mission among the sons of men, He consigned the instrumentality we have noticed, mainly to those whom He had constituted His ministers: some amongst them to labour in temporary offices, and others again to be raised up in long succession, and in such succession to labour until the end of time.
2. It is an agency efficient and supreme. The Divine agency, connected with the instrumentality of men, was to direct them in their counsels, and to give efficiency and success to their movements. It is the agency of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the agency of the Holy Spirit. Zechariah presents Christ as the foundation-stone of the building, and as the architect of the building. The Spirit is presented under the figure of the “seven eyes.” Obstacles would remain undiminished, the “great mountain” would always frown upon us in equal and unmitigated power, were it not for the agency asserted and vindicated here. The best instrumentality devised and employed by man, and operating with whatever of industry and skill, would not advance one solitary step, were it not for the agency asserted and vindicated here.
III. A result, in which this operation, so conducted, shall terminate. The operation shall be triumphantly completed. The head-stone of the temple was brought on. And we can securely anticipate the certain and appointed consummation of the efforts, which in the cause of God we are now, although inadequately, assisting to promote. There is to be the completion of the structure of Divine grace. Nothing can injure the progress and the advancement of our religion. And being triumphantly completed, it will eminently redound to the Divine glory. And the final triumph will be hailed with ecstasy and rapture by all holy created beings. Application--
1. What encouragement to those already engaged and labouring for God!
2. What rebuke to those, professing the religion of Jesus, who are yet indolent and inactive!
3. What warning to those who are avowedly hostile to God and to His truth! (James Parsons.)
The sanctuary built
It is vain to contend that there exists an exact correspondence between the Jewish and the Christian Church. Yet, as they were constituted and ruled by the same authority, and for the same great ends, the history of the former cannot be otherwise than pregnant with instructions suited to the condition and wants of the latter. The principles of truth and righteousness are immutable. These remarks are applicable to the present portion of Jewish history. The returned captives let the house of God lie waste until they had made ample provision for themselves and their families. With this course God was displeased, and He punished them in a manner exactly corresponding with the offence. They wanted to accumulate more of the world for themselves and families. But God rendered abortive every labour of their hands. By drought and famine He dried up the sources of their gains, and withered their hopes. There is nothing to render this case inapplicable to the Christian Church. The great law of God’s providence, in this respect, is maintained even down to the present day.
1. God has, from the beginning, been worshipped in temples made With hands. While the Jews were passing through the wilderness, they built a portable tabernacle for God’s worship. When their migrations were ended, they built a costly and magnificent temple to the honour of Jehovah. Thus it has been in all time where Jehovah has been known. Even heathen nations have everywhere had public edifices devoted to the rites of their idolatrous worship. There never was a community that did not consecrate to the object of its worship some structure,
2. As respects the true religion, these edifices have been built by command of God. See injunctions given to Moses and to Solomon. History records not one instance of the pervading and sanctifying power of religion in any community where the regular and stated convocations of the people for the worship of God had been abolished.
3. A house of worship, where the people may convene to make a public recognition of God, and offer to Him their homage, is indispensably necessary to a diffusion of the blessings of religion, and a perpetuation of its institutions. The advantages resulting from a convocation of the people at stated periods for religious instruction are perfectly obvious. Let the house of God go to decay, let the sanctuary be demolished, and the strongest bonds of the social state will be dissolved, and all combinations of effort or sympathy to sustain the ordinances, or propagate the doctrines of religion, come to an end. Religion could, under these circumstances, have no organised existence. The solemn convocations of the Church of Christ constitute the heart, whose pulsations send the vital fluid through all the ramifications of the system. Let its Sabbath assemblies be given up, and its existence would speedily come to an end.
4. The ministrations of the house of God have a powerful influence upon the intelligence and good order of the community. There are susceptibilities to religious influence which belong to man’s nature. They must either be developed and trained under scriptural instruction, or they must take on a character from some superstitious and inadequate culture. The objects presented before the mind in the sanctuary, by an able and scriptural ministry, are of the most exalted and commanding character. How is it possible that the constant exhibition of themes like these should fail of producing an elevation and expansion of intellect through all the grades of society that no other agency is capable of producing? How great must be the moral power of the pulpit. The principles of the Gospel are all holy. Whence come the perpetrators of crimes? I have no recollection of even one individual who was an habitual worshipper in the sanctuary being convicted of a States’ prison offence. There are still higher interests to be secured by this agency--the interests of the soul. In the house of prayer there are peculiar manifestations of the Divine glory. Here souls are trained for heaven.
5. The building destined to this high purpose should, in some sense, correspond to the great design of its erection.
(1) It should be a true exponent of the estimation in which the people hold the institutions of religion.
(2) It ought to be rendered as attractive, by its architectural beauty without, and by its well-appointed arrangements within, as is consistent with the sacred and holy purposes which it is designed to subserve.
(3) When it becomes necessary to erect a house for the worship of God, the people should well consider the character of the Being to whom it is to be consecrated, and take care that the structure be such a one as they will not be ashamed to present to Him as an expression of their gratitude and love. Closing remarks--
1. We owe primarily to the sanctuary the intelligence, refinement, good order which prevail in Christian communities, and the security of life and property which we enjoy.
2. We do not recommend extravagant expenditures in building a house for the worship of our God. We would have everything simple and chaste, but, if the ability of the people permitted, rich and commodious.
3. To accomplish a work of such magnitude, the utmost harmony is demanded; a perfect union of views and efforts. Divided counsels always tend to weakness and ruin.
4. Nothing but the spirit of an enlightened and enlarged liberality will be equal to the demands of such an emergency, as the erection of a house to be consecrated to the worship of Jehovah.
5. The condescension of God, in recording His name in temples made with hands, and in permitting Himself there to be sought and worshipped by His sinful creatures, ought to excite our highest wonder, and gratitude, and love for ever. (J. W. Adams, D. D.)
The encouragement to build the Lord’s house
In the Word of God warnings and threats are always accompanied with exhortations and promises. Were it not so, the threats would profit us little. It is true that only in the Gospel is the love of God made manifest in its fulness. Only in the Gospel do the promises prevail mightily over the threatenings. As God bids the Jews go up to the mountain and fetch the wood to build His house, so does He command us likewise to go up to the mountain for the same purpose. To what mountain? To the mountain of faith; to the mountain of duty. Faith is a hard mountain to climb for all, above all for those who have been living in unbelief. Duty too is a hard mountain to climb for all, above all for those who have been living in self-indulgence. This is the reward He promises us, if we will climb the steep mountain of faith and duty to seek the graces with which we are to build God’s house. He assures us He will take pleasure in that house, and will be glorified in it. What a mighty motive is this! It ought to have great sway over every one of us. If God takes pleasure in our work, that work must be blessed upon ourselves also. God is infinitely more merciful and bountiful than man can believe or conceive. He sees the very first stirrings of an obedient spirit in the heart; and when He sees them, He blesses them, and strengthens them, and helps them forward. No sooner had Zerubbabel and the remnant of the people begun to obey the voice of the Lord, than the prophet Haggai was sent to say, “I am with you, saith the Lord.” He had been with them long before. He had shown forth His wonderful loving-kindness in a number of ways. Yet He sent them this comforting assurance. Nor is He less kind, less gracious, less bountiful, less merciful to us who have become His children in Christ Jesus. He comes to us from the very first by His Spirit. He has been with us, as our Guide, Teacher, and Director, during the whole of our journey through the wilderness of the world, from our childhood upward. It is through Him that we have been brought, whenever we have been brought, into the assembly of His people upon His holy hill of Zion. He has ever and anon sent His prophets to Us. Yet when we do begin to turn our hearts towards Him, as soon as we earnestly desire to obey Him, and serve Him, He comes to us more plainly, more openly, more manifestly, and sends us a message to cheer us with the assurance that He is and will be with us. This blessed assurance is vouchsafed to all who sincerely desire and strive to obey God. They feel that they have a wisdom above their own to guide them, that they have a strength beyond their own to support them. May we all be brought to that state in which God will take pleasure and be glorified in us! (Julius C. Hare, M. A.)
God glorified in the building of Churches.
“What are the walls which we raise, unless God take pleasure in them? Just what a body is without a soul, hopeless, spiritless, unprofitable. Will God indeed he glorified of men? There is one thing more strange, it is that God should be so little glorified of men. It would be profane and impious to speak of those as glorifying God, who live with no “fear of God before their eyes.” When is God glorified?
1. When any are converted to Him who, heretofore, either in accordance with bad principles, or in contradiction to better principles, have been alienated from Him, or transgressing against Him.
2. When men accept the way of salvation which He has prepared. When the Gospel offer is accepted, and men thank God for His unspeakable gift, God is glorified.
3. When they who have repented do “works meet for repentance,” live “righteously, soberly, and godly,” and wait for His heavenly kingdom. God is dishonoured when any who profess to take His yoke upon them walk unworthily “of the vocation wherewith they are called”; when any, who pretend to be His friends, are really enemies of the Cross of Christ.
4. When men are saved. This is the crown of all; and truly is it the glory of God. Whoever is made meet for the heavenly inheritance, will ascribe it to God alone. “He that glorieth will glory in the Lord”; will acknowledge that His Spirit influenced him, His wisdom guided him, His goodness converted him, His power defended him, and that with anything less than that all-sufficient hand, he must have sunk under the dangers with which he was assailed. (T. B. Summer, D. D.)
The duty of building the spiritual house of God
God’s material temple at Jerusalem was typical of the spiritual temple to be erected in the hearts of the people. The words of text are applicable--
I. To the spiritual house to be raised in every individual’s heart. St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says, “Ye are the temple of God; and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you.” Yet what minister can look over his congregation and not see manifest proof that in the case of too many this temple is altogether in ruins. Even where there is good reason to believe that the rubbish of sinful habits has been cleared away, the foundation been rightly laid, and the building is making progress, will not most allow that’ the lets and hindrances perpetually occurring, render the exhortations of the prophets both salutary and expedient? Some may say, What can we do in this matter? Is not the building of this spiritual house the work of God? Yes, it is. But because God’s material temple was to be raised, not by human power, but by God’s Spirit, therefore the people were urged to persevere and fear no obstacle: and it is because God worketh in us both to will and do, therefore we are exhorted to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Man can do nothing in spiritual things without God, and God seldom acts without being pleased to use the co-operation of man. We are to be active in the carrying on of t-hies spiritual building, that the Lord may take pleasure in it, and that He may be glorified thereby.
II. To the Church of Christ in our own land. But there are many living in our land without Christian ordinances, and in a state of heathenism. Then there is a call to “build this house.”
III. To the Church of Christ throughout the world. Our charity should indeed begin at home, but it should not stay there. Missionary exertion has a reflex effect. If ever there was a Church, or nation, to which God, by His providential dispensations, might be supposed in an especial manner to say, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel,” that Church and that nation is our own. (T. Grantham, B. D.)
Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit.
With respect to the withholding of dew and of produce, we know that the prophets took from the law what served to teach the people, and accommodated it to their own purposes. The curses of the law are general (Deuteronomy 11:17). It is therefore the same thing as though the prophet had said that what God had threatened by Moses was really fulfilled. It ought not to have been to them a new thing, that whenever heaven denied its dew and rain, it was a sign of God’s wrath. But as, at this day, during wars, or famine, or pestilence, men do not regard this general truth, it is necessary to make the application: and godly teachers ought wisely to attend to this point, that is, to remind men, according to what the state of things and circumstances may require, that God proves by facts what He has testified in His Word. God intimates that the heavens have no care to provide for us, and to distil dew so that the earth may bring forth fruit, and that the earth also, though called the mother of men, does not of itself open its bowels, but that the heavens as well as the earth bear a sure testimony to His paternal love, and also to the care which He exercises over us. God then shows, both by the heavens and the earth, that He provides for us; for when the heavens and the earth administer and supply us with the blessings of God, they thus declare His love towards us. So also, when the heaven is, as it were, iron, and when the earth with closed bowels refuses us food, we ought to know that they are commissioned to execute on us the vengeance of God. For they are not only the instruments of His bounty, but, when it is necessary, God employs them for the purpose of punishing us. (John Calvin.)
Obeyed the voice of the Lord their God.
The voice of the Lord
1. The Word of God in the mouth of His servants will not take effect till His authority be seen and acknowledged in it, and His servants looked on as coming in His name. They look on this message as “the voice of the Lord, and the words of Haggai.”
2. It will be a notable means to make the Word effectual, when beside the absolute authority of God, speaking in His Word, His interest in His people is considered and believed by them, and that He who speaks, reproves, and directs, is their confederate God, whom they should be loth to offend or disobey, so much the rather as His relation stands, notwithstanding their faults; for thus is the Lord named here, “The Lord their God.”
3. When God is seen speaking in His Word as a party to the sinner, and when His love is believed for all that, even in His reproving it will make the guilty and smitten sinner to stand in much awe, will both break and melt him, and will make him look on his former ways, wherein he hath lain secure, with much affrightment and horror; for the fruit of the former is, “And the people feared before the Lord.”
4. When the awe of God, speaking in His Word, in His majesty and goodness, hath had place in the heart, it will put men to give obedience in some measure to what is commanded; for the people, in this temper, “obeyed the voice of the Lord.”
5. It is a sweet and blessed like case, when men in power are patterns and encouragements unto others, in submitting to the Word of the Lord in the mouth of His servants, and when a people’s affliction doth not hinder their respect to the commandments, as is here marked.
6. It may encourage the servants of God to go on with their work, when they consider what a great blessing God can, and sometimes doth give to their endeavours beyond all probability; for here, by one sermon, all the people are set about a long-neglected work, in the midst of many difficulties. (George Hutcheson.)
I. Duty followed is obedience to the Divine voice. “The people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God,” etc. God has a voice to men.
1. His voice is revealed. He speaks to them in nature, history, the Bible; in these last days, specially, by His Son. The Divine voice is ascertainable. It can be distinguished from all other voices that fall on the ear of the human soul.
2. His voice is authoritative. Obedience to this voice is right, wise, urgent.
II. Duty followed secures the divine favour. “Then spake Haggai the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the Lord.” This promise means more than presence. He is with all; He fills the universe; He is with the evil and the good. It means to bless, to enlighten, guide, support, dignify, and make happy. God is always on the side of the dutiful.
III. Duty followed implies divine assistance What prompted these men who had so long neglected duty to set now in earnest about it? “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel,” etc. Men will never give themselves to duty unless the Lord stirs them up. This He is constantly doing. By--
1. The admonitions of providence.
2. The dictates of conscience.
3. The preaching of the Gospel.
4. The strivings of the Spirit. (Homilist.)
Then spake Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, in the Lord’s message unto the people.
The message of Jehovah
This means in his official capacity as a messenger or ambassador of Jehovah, with the authority of Him in whose name he spake. There is something very beautiful in the sudden change of tone manifest in the message of God. The people had not yet begun to work, but as soon as they showed a disposition to do so, the stern and reproving tone of God is changed for one of the most exquisite tenderness. It is as if He hastened to forget their former unfaithfulness, and to assure them that, in spite of all, He was not only willing to be with them, but actually was with them as soon as their hearts turned towards Him. This presence of God is regarded rightly as being the highest blessing that could be bestowed on them, and the surest guarantee of success. They had the same jealous enemies yet round them that had arrested the work before, but God assures them that now He was with them, and nothing should be allowed again to hinder the work. (T. V. Moore, D. D.)
The Lord’s messenger proclaiming union
I. Jehovah’s messenger. Ministers are messengers. It is not every man that gets into a pulpit that is a messenger. God only can appoint messengers.
II. The Lord’s message. Their message is one of mercy, of everlasting life. It is the Gospel. Salvation as the gift of God. Not of works. All boasting is excluded.
III. The message is to the people. Jehovah’s elect are a peculiar people, a purchased people, a special people, elect and redeemed. We cannot tell who the elect are.
IV. The special message in the text. “I am with you.” Jehovah is always with His people, and has been, and will be so everlastingly. (J. J. West, M. A.)
And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel.
Stirring up the Spirit
It is not right to restrict the influence of the Spirit to one thing only, as some do, who imagine that the Israelites were confirmed in their good resolution, as they say, having before spontaneously obeyed the Word of God. These separate, without reason, what ought to be read in the prophet as connected together. For God roused the spirit of Zerubbabel and of the whole people; and hence it was that they received the message of the prophet and were attentive to his words. Foolishly, then, do they imagine that the Israelites were led by their own free will to obey the Word of God, and then that some aid of the Holy Spirit followed, to make them firmly persevere in their course. But the prophet declared, in the first place, that his message was respectfully received by the ]people; and now he explains how it was, even because God had touched the hearts of the whole people. We ought to notice the expression, when it is said that the spirit of Zerubbabel and of all the people was stirred up. For much sloth, we Know, prevailed, especially among the multitude. But as to Zerubbabel and Joshua, they were already willing, but delayed until the coldness under which they laboured was reproved. But the prophet here simply means that they became thus obedient through the hidden impulse of God, and also that they were made firm in their purpose. God does not form new souls in us, when He draws us to His service, but changes what is wrong in us; for we should never be attentive to His Word, if He did not open our ears; and there would be no inclination to obey, were He not to turn our hearts; in a word, both will and effort would immediately fail in us, were He not to add His gift of perseverance. (John Calvin.)
The duty of rulers, ministers, and the community, to promote and increase the means of grace
However vast may be the indifference to the cause of Christ, and, therein, to the well-being of the human race, it is a source of encouragement to feel that there is not only pervading our land “a holy seed, which is the substance” of the Church, from whence its fruit-bearing branches spring; but that the number is increasing--slowly, perhaps, but certainly--of those who, professing to believe the Gospel, feel the obligation of applying its truths and its responsibilities to the guidance of their conscience, and the regulation of their practice.
1. Consider the necessity of enlarged means of grace for our countrymen. This necessity arises from the incalculable increase of our population. Of these people, the immense majority are congregated in masses in the metropolis, and in the trading and manufacturing districts. But what are the moral circumstances under which they have arisen, and are hourly arising? Is it with an expansion of the national Church, commensurate with the wants of the nation? Unhappily not. Where then is the basis on which social duty is to stand? How can we indulge such wild fanaticism as to expect the fruits of honesty, sobriety, and affection, respect for property or office, authority, regard to decorum, peace, and virtue, among multitudes who are growing up utterly unacquainted with the only tie by which moral obligation binds the conscience; ignorant of the only fountain from whence relative and social affection flow, and unhabituated to that softening influence which familiarity with the means of grace, and the kind sympathy of pastoral intercourse engender and maintain? Moreover, every agency of mischief is set on foot to corrupt men more and more, to enlist their innate passions, and to array their imagined happiness and interest in opposition to all that is holy, venerable, and good. Few of us, perhaps, are acquainted with the extent of that agency of Satan--an evil press--working amongst us. The necessity being admitted, upon whom does the duty of meeting it devolve? Upon all, upon every one, according to the ability which God has given.
1. The voice of heaven appeals to the civil ruler. On him devolves the obligation of providing for the moral well-being of those who are entrusted to his charge, since by this alone can the ends of government, peace, order, and security be attained.
2. The obligation especially devolves upon the ministers of religion. The Church of Christ is to be a witness for God, bearing testimony to man of the things of eternity; to be a light of truth, dispersing the dark and troubled desolation of falsehood, superstition, and impiety.
3. The duty devolves upon “all the remnant of the people,” the whole community of professing Christians. He who speaks of the “Church” as embracing the clergy alone, and not the “whole congregation of faithful men,” speaks unscripturally, untruly, and unwisely. If there is any class of persons upon whom this duty devolves with more responsibility than others, it is upon the land-owners, merchants, and manufacturers, who derive their wealth and their enjoyment by congregating multitudes to dwell upon their lands, or to labour for them. (John Garbett, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Haggai 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24