The Biblical Illustrator
And thy spoil shall be divided
A sketch on bad men
Three facts concerning such.
I. They are capable of perpetrating the greatest enormities on their fellow men. In the account given by Josephus of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans we have a record of enormities at which we might stand aghast. The particulars, says Dr. Wardlaw, here noted are such as usually, it might be said, invariably attend the besieging, the capture, and the sacking of cities; especially when, as in this case, the assailing army has been exasperated by a long, harassing, and wasting defence. The entrance of the unpitying soldiery, the rifling of houses, the violation of women, the indiscriminate massacre, and the division of the spoil, are just what all expect, and what require no comment. And never were such scenes more frightfully realised than at the destruction of Jerusalem when God in His providence in judicial retribution gathered all nations against the devoted, city to battle. “All nations,” a correct description of the army of Titus, the empire of Rome embracing a large proportion of the then known world, and this army consisting of soldiers of all the different nations which composed it. And, while such was to be the destruction brought upon “the city,” the desolation was to extend, and that in different ways, at short intervals, throughout “the land.” The fact that men are capable of perpetrating on their fellow men such enormities show--
1. Man’s apostasy from the laws of his spiritual nature.
2. The great work which the Gospel has to do in our world.
II. That whatever enormities they perpetrate, they are evermore instruments in the hands of the world’s great Ruler. The period in which these abominations were enacted is in the text called the “day of the Lord,” and He is represented as calling the Roman armies to the work. “I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished.” God in His retributive procedure punishes the bad by the bad. In this case--
1. No injustice is done. The men of Jerusalem deserved their fate. They “filled up the measure of their iniquity.”
2. There is no infringement of free agency. Good men might revolt from inflicting such enormities upon their fellow creatures, but it is according to the wish of bad men. This is God’s retributive method, to punish the bad by the bad.
III. Though instruments in His hands, God will punish them for all their deeds of enormity. But where is the justice of punishing men whom He employs to execute His own will? Two facts will answer this question.
1. What they did was essentially bad.
2. What they did was in accord with their own wills.
He never inspired them or constrained them. He did but use them. (Homilist.)
And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives
God in relation to a suffering world
The men in Jerusalem were in great suffering and imminent peril, and here is a figurative representation of the Almighty in relation to them.
I. He observes their terrible condition. “And His feet shall stand in that day on the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east.” The idea suggested here is that God observes men in all their calamities and dangers. His eye is on them. This is especially the ease with His people. We are assured that His eye is ever upon the righteous; Job said, “He knoweth the way I take.”
1. He sees what we have to endure.
2. He sees how we behave ourselves in our condition, whether under our afflictions we are trustful, patient, and submissive or otherwise; whether in our perils we are making an effort to escape. “Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.”
II. He makes a way for their deliverance. “And the Mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley.” “These verses,” says Dr. Henderson, “convey, in language of the most beautiful poetical imagery, the assurance of the effectual means of escape that should be provided for the truly pious. We accordingly learn from Eusebius that on the breaking out of the Jewish war the Christian Church at Jerusalem, in obedience to the warning of our Saviour (Matthew 24:16) fled to Pella, a city beyond Jordan, where they lived in safety. As the Mount of Olives lay in their way, it is represented as cleaving into two halves, in order to make a passage for them.” It is not necessary to suppose that the Mount of Olives was thus riven asunder. The idea is, that the obstruction to their escape, though formidable as a mountain, should be removed. The Almighty would give them every facility to escape to the refuge. This He does for our suffering race. He makes a way for their escape, from guilt, ignorance, and misery, which has been blocked up by mountains of difficulties.
III. He provided a refuge for their safety.
1. The scene of refuge, “Azal.” An unknown place. Some spot to secure them from danger.
2. The impulse of flight.
3. The necessity for the flight.
“The Lord thy God shall come.” In some great manifestation of His power. Conclusion. How thankful we should be to know that God has not deserted humanity in its sins and sorrows. (Homilist.)
It shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear nor dark
The day of the Lord
This phrase denotes not one time, but many.
Any signal manifestation of the Divine government of the world, or any such event as made men’s hearts quake within them for fear, is described as the day of the Lord. Though all nature is, in truth, an exponent of the judgment, as well as the beneficence of God, there are times and places in which His right hand, as it were, is more manifestly bared. There are times when the fervent spirit is tempted to wish for one of the days of the Lord. Yet there are many reasons why, even in the worst times, we should not wish to hasten that day which will in appointed course come surely and will not tarry. Instead of encouraging in ourselves impatience for some great day of the Lord, let us rather engrave upon our minds a conviction that such coming will be at last inevitable. We may estimate the character of such general judgments as are here alluded to, by reading the description of those of old. What, then, is the sort of temper or sentiment with which the idea of any great national visitations should be blended in our minds? As citizens we should be aware sometimes truth and righteousness getteth the upper hand, and sometimes the contrary party, that foment error and unrighteousness. It is a doubtful day in a twofold regard--because light and darkness are either intermixed or alternate. Or else because our estate in respect of either is not durable and fixed, but liable to great uncertainties. There is an intermixture of providences at the same time, and the Church is in several respects both happy and miserable at once. Here things go well and there ill. It is a rare case when there is a perfect harmony between our private condition and public happiness. Successively there is a vicissitude and interchange of conditions. Good and evil succeed each other by turns. Human affairs, under God, depend much on the people’s hearts, and how uncertain are they! Inquire the reason of this, why the day of our conflict is such a mixed, doubtful day. Consider--
1. The equity of it. It is such a day as is very suitable to our condition in the world. We are in a middle place, between heaven and hell, and therefore partake somewhat of both. We have mixed principles--flesh and spirit. As long as sin remaineth in us we cannot be perfectly happy. The flesh needeth to be weakened by divers afflictions. As our principles are mixed, so are all our operations. There is a mixture of good and evil in all our services.
2. Consider the wisdom and justice of God in it. He hath many wise ends to be accomplished by these mixed providences. That a people worn out with long misery may be more pliable to God’s purpose. By such mixed providences God will weaken and waste stubborn nature. To work us from earthly things to things heavenly. To put a cloud and veil on His proceedings. To prevent the excesses of either condition, God tempereth and qualifieth the one with the other. To make way for the exercise of our faith. Faith is neither made void by too great a light, nor extinguished by too great a darkness. To win the heart by the various methods of judgments an mercies, and to gain upon us by both means at first. God doth it to bring His people to a Christian union and accord. When religious interest is divided, God keeps the balance equal, and success is sometimes cast on this side, sometimes on that. To prevent contempt and insolency towards those that are fallen under God’s displeasure. It is also a ground of patience. Heavy afflictions lack not their comforts to make them tolerable. He measureth out good and evil with a great deal of wisdom and tenderness. To show that our comforts and crosses are in His hand; and He doth variously dispense weal or woe as our condition doth require.
Application. What use should we make of all this?
1. Be sure you do not make an ill use of it. This is done when we are not thankful for our mercies, because they are not full and perfect. It is an abuse if we are discouraged in God’s service because of this uncertainty. When you have any respite, or breathing time, then is the time and season to put your hand to the work. If there be uncertainties, remember that never a great work is brought to pass without troubles. And change cometh not until our condition proveth a snare for us.
2. The right use we should make of it. By way of caution, take heed of human confidences, and presuming too much on temporal success by means and instruments. For direction--Walk by a sure rule. Get a sure guide. Encourage yourself by the sure promise that you have to build upon. A man wrapped up in the peace of God, and the quiet of a good conscience, and hopes of eternal life, is fortified against all encounters, storms, and difficulties whatsoever. (T. Manton.)
Light and solace
These verses present a suggestive description of human history as a whole, and of each godly life in that history.
I. The mixed character of our earthly existence, “The light shall not be clear, nor dark”; “It shall be one day, not day, nor night.” That is, the lot even of a good man is chequered. Every height has its hollow. And each blessing has its accompanying affiiction. But no Christian is ever in absolute darkness. If the rough wind be blowing, God will take care that it be not from the east. Observe--
1. Through the trials of the past God has disciplined us into fitness for present duties. Present trials are the prophecies of future efficiency.
2. Trials are frequently connected with our sins. Evil deeds are evil seeds which produce a harvest of bitterness.
3. Trials lead us to long for heaven, and wean us from the world.
II. The christian’s support under this mixed experience--“It shall be one day which shall be known,” etc. This means--
1. Our condition as a whole--not one separate part, but the whole “day” of light and dark--is known unto the Lord.
2. Our lot is ordered for us by Jehovah, just according as the grand total demands it.
III. The happy termination of this mixed state of things--“And it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.” All doubts and clouds shall have been driven away by the Sun of Righteousness. Relief shall come when it is least expected. Light is the synonym for joy, for purity, for knowledge. In heaven all the elements of darkness shall be absent. It shall be light. (Homilist.)
I. The language of the text is descriptive of the present mingled state of affairs, both in the Church and in the world. Darkness is the effect of our low situation. There is nothing really dark with God--nothing imperfect in the Gospel. The Gospel is to our perception not so distinct as to be perfectly clear; but it is not so dark as to be useless and unintelligible. There are clouds and obscurities resting on the subject arising from our weakness and imperfection of understanding. Illustrate--
II. The superintending care of Divine providence during this chequered and mysterious state of things. This intimates--
1. God’s superintendence of all things.
2. God’s foreknowledge of all things.
3. The harmony of Divine providence.
4. The beneficial tendency of the providence of God.
5. The language is a ground of unlimited resignation and contentment; and
6. A motive for unlimited confidence.
III. The wonders and glories of that auspicious day in which this singular state of affairs shall terminate. This promise contains a reserve of consolation for the feeble Christian against the hour of dissolution. And a reserve of consolation for the feeble Christian in seasons of perplexity and difficulty. The promise contains also an assurance of the final glory, the millennial reign of the Son of God. (Joseph Beaumont, D. D.)
Dark and bright periods in human life
The word rendered “clear” is in the margin “precious,” and is in the plural. The word here rendered “dark” is in the margin “thickness.”
I. A period of unmitigated distress. This period of unmitigated calamity primarily refers, we have no doubt, to those long centuries of oppression, cruelty, mockery, and scorn, to which the Jewish people have been subjected ever since the destruction of Jerusalem. In the predictions of Joel (Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15) referring to the destruction of the Holy City and breaking up of the Jewish commonwealth, the period is referred to as a period when the sun shall be “turned into darkness,” and the “moon into blood.” Three remarks are suggested concerning this dark day.
1. Such a day is the hard destiny of some men. Their life is a day of darkness. It is so with some nations. The history of some nations and tribes is little less than a history of crushing oppression, bloody revolutions and untold cruelties and sufferings.
2. Such a day is deserved by most men. All men are sinners and deserve this blackness and darkness forever. The very tendency of sin, in fact, is to quench every light in the firmament of the soul.
II. Here is a period of uninterrupted joy.
1. Such a day as this is destined to dawn on every good man. Heaven is a scene of light. No clouds of ignorance or suffering obstruct the rays, nor will the sun ever go down. “The Lord God is the light thereof.”
2. Such a day as this is destined to dawn on the world in the future. (Homilist.)
Light and shade in the Christian life
I. The mixed character of our earthly life. “The light shall not be clear nor dark.” The lot even of the good man is chequered. No Christian is ever in absolute and unrelieved darkness. It may be a long twilight with him, but it is never night. Why does God permit so much of darkness in our lot? Set forth some of the reasons why we have so much of difficulty and affliction to contend with.
1. Through the trials of the past God has disciplined us into fitness for the duties of the present. We did not see this at first, but we have discovered it now. Resistance is needed for the development of physical vigour, and difficulty is as much required for the formation of strength in moral character.
2. Our trials are frequently connected with our sins. Illustrate from the history of Jacob.
3. The shades of darkness in our earthly lots lead us to long for heaven. If everything here were as we should wish to have it, we should not desire to go elsewhere; but “God has provided some better thing for us” in the world beyond, and He takes care that we shall not get wedded entirely to the concerns of earth.
II. The Christian’s solace and support. Suggested by the words, “It shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord.”
1. Our condition is known to the Lord. The world is governed by a Person, and He under whose eye all things come to pass, is our Father.
2. Our lot is ordered by Jehovah. Our lives are not “by chance.” There is an order in them, and a plan running through them. Then things that seem to be working against us must really be working for us.
III. The happy termination of this mixed state of things to the Christian. Relief shall come, and that at the time when it is least expected. If the day has been lowering, we look for a deeper darkness than ordinary when evening comes: but here, when men usually anticipate that it will be evening, it will be morning. You have seen this illustrated very often in separate passages of your lives. These separate chapters are only miniatures of life as a whole, for, at its evening time there comes to the Christian the dawning light of heaven. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Mingled light and darkness
The first clause of the text is religious. It does not refer to the light of the natural heavens. It refers to all there is in the religion of man, and in the things which affect him in the experience of it. His condition is to be one of a mixed character, not wholly good, and not wholly evil--not all light, not all dark. This mixture may be seen in several particulars.
1. In the matter of a believer’s holiness. Therein there is some light, but it is not clear nor dark. The believer has some true conformity to God, but it is not a perfect conformity. He often wonders at himself,--at the inconsistencies and contradictions that he finds in his own experience. In his poor soul faith struggles to get the better of unbelief--the love of the world comes up to combat the love of God. His heart is inconsistent, his soul unsteady, his way devious, and he cannot be ignorant that his holiness is only of an imperfect character. Whenever God spares a regenerated sinner upon the earth after the time of his regeneration, such a regenerated sinner will have this chequered experience.
2. This mixture may be seen in the believer’s knowledge. There is a mixture of clearness and obscurity in the knowledge of God’s people which nothing could describe more perfectly than Zechariah has here described it. They have knowledge, but, in all parts of it, it is limited. Behold a disciplined believer. He is in the furnace. He knows who put him there. He knows that the process will stop when the purpose of it is accomplished. But there are other things he does not know. He attempts to know them, but he cannot find them out. He asks, For what particular sin am I thus afflicted? He knows not why God has Sent that particular affliction on him. Behold a believer examining his own heart. He knows something about it. He very well knows its deceitfulness. But it is a wonder to him how his deceitfulness will work. When shall he ever be sure of a heart that has so often wandered? We ought to remember that the imperfection of our knowledge results from our creature littleness and the imperfection of our present state; and that so far as we have any necessity of knowing in order to be saved, our knowledge may be as clear and definite as our capacities will allow.
3. The comforts of God’s people have in them a wonderful mingling of light and gloom. It is not all clear day with them, It is not all night: The alternation of comfort and depression which Christians experience, constitutes a chapter of facts which shows the mingled character of their life, whether we can have knowledge of the reasons for it or not.
4. The condition of life. We fail in few things as Christians more than we fail of fitly noticing the changes we pass through as God is leading us on. However this may be, there are strange minglings of light and darkness in our condition. So fluctuating and uncertain is the condition of life here, that no mortal can be found whose biography has any considerable resemblance to his anticipations; his life has not carried out the plans of his youth. We are knocked about in the world. Our condition is shifting, fluctuating, varying. There is scarcely a believer among us who is not compelled, amid this mingling of light and darkness, to recognise the immediate hand of his God. Amid all this mixture of good and evil, we cannot understand why it is so. How needful is faith! After Zechariah has mentioned the mingled clearness and obscurity of our state, he immediately points us to One who can understand it. “It shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day nor night.” Of itself it is of a mixed character. To us it is mixed. We cannot understand it. God can. We can turn over the chequered scene into His hands. It is to Him all one day. He sees no darkness in it. It is all alike light--all “one.” He has one intent in all the dispensations that affect us. When it is said, “At evening time it shall be light,” we are not to understand that the evening or night shall be turned into day. The rain led character of the believer’s experience shall pass. Light shall come at the end. This may find illustration in all the features of the believer’s experience. (T. S. Spencer, D. D.)
The mixed experience of the Church
The Church has had a mixed experience, not all dark, not all bright; now defeat and now success; now joy, now grief; mingled light and shade, but at evening time light has always come. So with each Christian, the Church in miniature. Tears and smiles, sighs and songs mingle. Why this discipline?
1. We need it to correct mistakes of nature.
2. Our deliverance from sin and the development of Christian virtues are processes which involve this mingled experience.
3. Our hold on God by faith and prayer is made more steady. “But it shall be one day known to the Lord.” A precious compensation is this assurance that God knows. God is working out a definite plan. The golden thread of His purpose runs through all that to us seems mixed and contradictory. He weaves the warp and woof. Nothing is confused. “It shall be light.” (J. Jackson Wray.)
At evening time it shall be light
Aged people’s service
Nature’s sunset is beautiful, so beautiful that every painter strives in vain to catch it and give it permanence on his canvas.
But the sunset of life transcends it; as the reality always transcends the type, as the spiritual always transcends the material, as the heavenly always transcends the earthly. What is there more beautiful in itself, what more interesting to contemplate than snowy age sustained by a living faith, and moving on toward the end of life’s journey, calm, serene, cheerful, full of trust in God and the hope of heaven? But why picture a day of storms instead of a day of brightness and sunshine? Why a life of trials and sorrows and difficulties? Herein lies the chief beauty of the picture, the preciousness of the promise. Light is ever most glorious in contrast with darkness; peace most blessed by contrast with strife. A peaceful, trustful, calm old age in pleasing always. But best is the peace after strife, the trust after doubt, the rest after toil. Such an old age bespeaks completeness. It is the maturing of the human mind, the ripening of a Godlike character, the perfecting of an immortal soul. Those lines of strength and beauty, those tokens of ripened character, that quiet patience, that glowing faith and hope, that chastened joy--all have been imprinted upon the aged face by the hand of experience the most painful. Sanctified sorrow is an indispensable element of heavenly joy. Spiritual strength and maturity cannot be attained except through difficulties overcome by the grace of God. Without strife there can be no conquest, no triumph. The promise of light at evening time from its very nature implies something of storm during the day. But is there light? No; not always. Sometimes the promise seems to fail. Not every troubled and toil-worn life ends in peace and hope. Too often advancing years only bring increased darkness. Disappointment deepens into a perpetual bitterness of spirit. Old age is marked by peevishness, complaining, and discontent. It need not be so with any life. The promise is to all a Divine promise. Whence shall this light come? From the shining of the sun upon the clouds. And from the shining of God’s love upon our trials. It is the brightness of His love that transfigures life, and fills its closing years with light and promise. The glory of the evening light comes, not from the removal of all clouds of evil, but from their transformation. Apart from difficulty and trial, we could never know the infinitude of God’s love and power. So may it be with every soul that claims this promise; the darkness of the morning, and the storm of the noontide shall but enhance the glory of the evening light. If to any of you the evening time still seems dark and gloomy, let in this light unto your soul; let it stream through your life, and it will brighten and transform everything with the likeness of its own glory. (George H. Hubbard.)
The light of evening
Evening is the time for stillness, and low, quiet tones, and communion with things and persons far away. So deep is the peace, so sweet the refreshment of that hour to one who, having done his work as a true man, may rest with a good conscience. Enlarge the range of view. Such as is the evening hour after a day of honest toil, such ought to be the latter years in every good man’s life. As comes the evening to each mortal day, so comes an evening, at last, to all our days together; and with it the evening light, better far than the growing brilliancy of the early hours, or the set glare of the noonday sun. When the day of life has been a good and useful day, not idly spent or wasted, but passed in the fear of God, in piety and honesty, and in the performance of duty, then must its ending be calm and still.
1. In what does the light of the evening hour consist? In the evening of life comes the final and distinct realisation of the little value of this world. A true man outgrows, step by step, what he was; at last, if he live long enough, he outgrows the world.
2. To pass from this life to that in front, will be to go from ignorance and imperfection unto a wider knowledge and a deeper wisdom. The evening brings the time when the servant of God shall see and know many of the secrets of the universe, and read through and through what had long been dark mysteries to him. How many things there are which we do not understand!
3. It must bring great peace at last, to look back upon the life, and consider its moral and its lesson. One thing comes clearer and clearer out; the steady, never failing presence and providence of God.
4. Many have feared lest they might, somehow, lose their faith. That is the darkest of all spectres to a Christian. How blessed then to know at last that, whatever mistakes are made, whatever sins are committed, we are saved from that gravest error, that heaviest and most hopeless sin, the denial of the Catholic faith. (Morgan Dix.)
Light at evening time
There are different evening times that happen to the Church and to God’s people, and as a rule we may rest quite certain that at evening time there shall be light. God very frequently acts in grace in such a manner that we can find a parallel in nature. The works of creation are very frequently the mirror of the works of grace. But sometimes God oversteps nature. In nature, after evening time, there cometh night. But God is pleased to send to His people times when the eye of reason expects to see no more day, but fears that the glorious landscape of God’s mercies will be shrouded in the darkness of His forgetfulness. But, instead, God overleapeth nature, and declares that at evening time, instead of darkness, there shall be light. Illustrate--
1. From the history of the Church at large. Especially the time of the Reformation.
2. This rule holds equally good in the little as well as in the great. We know that in nature the very same law that rules the atom, governs also the starry orbs. It is even so with the laws of grace. “At evening time it shall be light” to every individual. There are our bright days in temporal matters. After them we have had our sunsets. Times of trouble, but they passed into times of deliverance. If God prolong, thy sorrow, He shall multiply thy patience.
3. From the spiritual sorrows of God’s own people. God’s children have two kinds of trials, trials temporal and trials spiritual. Illustrate from the scene of Bunyan’s pilgrim meeting Apollyon.
4. To the sinner when coming to Christ this also is a truth.
5. We shall all get into the evening time of life. In a few more years the sere and yellow leaf will be the fit companion of every man and every woman. Is there anything melancholy in that? Did you ever notice how venerable grandsires when they write a letter fill it full of intelligence concerning their children? The grey-headed man thinks of his children and forgets all besides. If he has served God, he has another light to cheer him. He has the light of the remembrance of what good God has enabled him to do. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Light at evening
It is when the day is drawing to its close that most men have their hour of leisure. We know, most of us, how nature looks at evening, better than we know how she seems in the busier hours of the day. In our evening leisure we have many a time had the opportunity of marking the sun’s gradual withdrawal, the shadows as they darkened upon the landscape, the mist stealing upward from the river, and its murmur deepening upon the ear, the leaves so motionless, the silent fields, the universal hush, and quiet. The one thing that makes evening is the gradual withdrawal of the light. It is the lessening light that makes the evening time. “At the evening time there shall be light,” that is, light shall come at a period when it is not natural, when in the common course of things it is not looked for. It would be no surprise that light should come at noonday. If when the twilight shadows were falling deeper and deeper, with a sudden burst the noonday light were to spread around,--that would be a surprise. To state the promise in the form of a general principle, great and signal blessing shall come just when it is least expected. This special light is promised at the end of a day which should be somewhat overcast and dreary; not one of unmingled serenity, nor yet of unrelieved gloominess. At the evening time there should be an end of the subdued twilight. Then there should be light at last. When the Christian’s little day has drawn to its close; when the Christian’s earthly sun has set, then there should be to him the beginning of a day whose sun shall never go down, and whose brightness shall be lessened by no intrusion of the dark.
1. In God’s dealings with His children, it very often happens that signal blessing and deliverance come just when they are needed most, but expected least. Show the prevalence of this law in the Almighty’s treatment of believers individually. How often the case has proved so as regards the collective Church. The least acquaintance with the history of the world will bring before us a host of instances in which the oppressed and persecuted, sometimes the cold and apathetic Church of God found better days dawn when they were least looked for, and so found the fulfilment of the promise, that “at evening time there should be light.” The humble Christian’s life is the best sermon upon this text, and his own memory the best preacher. Illustrate by times of conversion and renewal; seasons of great trial--losses, disappointments, bereavements. Or the time of death--as the evening advances, as the hours go on in which the light that had lasted through the day might naturally grow less, how often it is that that unwearied light does but beam brighter and clearer! It is not indeed always so. Such a thing has been known as a true Christian dying in absolute despair, but in such a case disease is unusual and the mind unhinged. Perhaps with many Christians the death is as the life was: the evening is what the day was, “not clear nor dark.” Is then the text not true? No, far from that. The light does come; and it comes at evening: but evening is the close of day; and the light may perhaps not beam forth until day has entirely closed. Not upon this side time may the blessed promise find its fulfilment. “At evening time there shall be light,” if not in this world, then in a better. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
Lux e Tenebris
This old promise has received a thousand fulfilments, is receiving fulfilments every day, and will to the end of time. Nations that have fallen under the shadows of evening have often realised this truth. When the foot of the conqueror was about stamping on their heart, and the night of despair was settling on them, deliverance has come, light has broken on the darkness. Churches that have passed into twilight, and about sinking into the night of extinction, have in unnumbered instances experienced the truth of the promise. The world at large had a grand fulfilment of it in the advent of Christ. Evening had settled on the pagan and Jewish world, the lights of the old philosophies and religions were all but quenched, when the Divine Logos rose like a sun into the heavens. But we may mention a few instances in individual life where fulfilments of the promise are abundant.
I. In the process of repentance. In passing through repentance, through the regions of a godly sorrow for sin, what darkness gathers around the soul. All the stars of hope, and the lights of self-righteousness are extinguished, and sometimes deep and horrible is the darkness that overcasts the heart. But then comes the light, Christ appears, “thy sins are all forgiven.”
II. In the events of life. How often the good man in passing through the world is brought into darkness purposes broken, plans frustrated, hopes blasted, and he knows not whither to look. Just when it is not only evening with him, but almost midnight, light breaks forth, his heart is cheered, his path is made clear, and his energies are renerved.
III. In the article of dissolution. Death is felt to be an evening with man. “The valley of the shadow.” Most look forward to it as a terrible night; but the Christly, when the evening has come and the shadows have fallen densely all around, have found the breaking of the night. It was so with Dr. Johnson, who through life, it would seem, looked forward to the last hour with horror and alarm; but when the evening came, light came, joy seized his withered veins, and one bright gleam shone all around his heart. All men wish to die in the light. Goethe cried out in dying, “More light, more light”; and all will have it the centre of whose soul is the light of the world. (Homilist.)
Light at eventide
What is true of the Church is true also of its individual members. In reference to the dark days which now and then fall to the believer’s lot in his earthly pilgrimage, the text suggests--
1. That the day of severe affliction shall be followed by an eventide of calm and renewed confidence in his Father-God. In our day of trial we are too prone to centre all our thoughts in the scene immediately around us, and forget that our greatest affliction may be the harbinger of the greatest blessing.
2. That the day of temptation shall be followed by an eventide of triumph and repose.
3. That the day of providential bereavement shall be followed by an eventide of submission. At such times how hard it is to say “Thy will be done”!
4. That the believer generally realises the fulfilment of this promise in the evening of life. (William Hurd.)
Light at sundown
While “night,” in all languages, is the symbol for gloom and suffering, it is often really cheerful, bright, and impressive. As the natural evening is often luminous, so it shall be light in the evening--
1. Of our Christian sorrows. The night-blooming assurances of Christ’s sympathy fill all the atmosphere with heaven.
2. In the time of old age. It is a grand thing to be young. Mid life and old age will be denied to many of us, but youth--we all know what that is. But youth will not always last. Blessed old age, if you let it come naturally, and if it be found in the way of righteousness.
3. In the latter days of the Church. It is early yet in the history of everything good. Civilisation and Christianity are just getting out of the cradle.
4. At the end of the Christian’s life. Life is a short winter’s day. Baptism and burial are near together. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory. At evening time it shall be light. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
So saith the sailor, when tossed about on a rocky coast, and dark clouds cover the heavens from his view, and the lights of the shore are shrouded in mist. So saith the star-gazer, when a strange comet visits the heavens, exciting the fears of the ignorant, and evoking the wonder of the wise. So saith the man of business, as in the dim and dingy city office he pores over doubtful debts, or ponders upon bad bargains, sensitive stocks, dull markets, baffled speculations. We ought ever to keep a sharp lookout for stars of promise, as we sail over the ocean of chance and change to the undiscovered continent of certainty. Let us, by the joint light of revelation and experience, consider heaven’s cheering rays for earth’s darksome seasons. The promise of the text applies to every stage of Christian experience.
1. At the evening time of retrospect it shall be light. The Christian often looks back in his pilgrimage to the land whence he has come, not with feelings of regret at the step he has taken, but of thanksgiving that God has led him from the regions of death to the realms of life. These meditations on the past are sometimes disturbed by distressing doubts. But “at evening time it shall be light.”
2. At evening time of conviction it shall be light. Conviction is the wrestling of fact with feeling. We do not always feel equally convinced of our acceptance with God. But God has promised, if you wait patiently on Him, to renew the strength of your languishing convictions.
3. At evening time of anticipation it shall be light. The Christian’s home is not below, but above. The future is at best a land of shadows, the symbol of the uncertain and unreal. When the darkness grows deepest, the light begins to glow. The application of this balm of Gilead rests with each of you. (G. Victor Macdona.)
At evening time it shall be light
1. The primary application of these words. The chapter is eminently prophetic. It refers to Israel as a people, to Canaan as their land, Jerusalem as their capital, and our Lord Himself as their King. I believe in the literal restoration of Israel to their own land.
2. The figurative meaning we may attach to these words. The words “evening” and “light” are expressive of two states: they are opposite terms, meaning opposite things. “Evening,” or darkness, is figurative for woe or sorrow, while “light” stands for joy, prosperity. At the time when things seem to have come to their worst, then prosperity begins to dawn, and the dismal past be succeeded by a bright and happy future. This is exemplified politically and religiously in secular and sacred history. Illustrate from experience of Israel in Egypt. From the condition of England in the time of King John. That was the darkest moment of English history. The darkness of sin brought forth the light of redeeming love. Sin gave cause for a Saviour. When the Saviour came, did the brightness immediately shine forth? No. Again sin darkened the world’s light. The Saviour’s love only excited the sinner’s hatred, and He who loved the sinner was murdered by those whom He loved. But resurrection morn dispelled the darkness of crucifixion night. Learn that it is our duty to cheerfully expect the future to be happier than the present. (Campbell Fair.)
A surprising glory
The prophet refers to spiritual, not natural light; and his prophecy is, that in the experience of the believer in Christ, when, in the natural course of things he may expect spiritual darkness, behold light!
1. A long and fearful sickness overtakes the child of God. A fearful darkness gathers in his sick chamber. Wife and children are dependent upon him. As weeks and months painfully wear away the gloom deepens. Sun, moon and stars, one by one go out. When, in the course of nature, he faces death, suddenly the clouds disperse and the chastened soul rejoices in a light of peace and joy full of heaven, and goes forth, as it were, redeemed from the grave.
2. It is true of the whole discipline of life. The reference is to the end; at evening, etc. A long and weary pilgrimage may have to be taken; a severe and oft-repeated series of sorrows, losses, disappointments, first be endured. The light does not flash on him at the beginning; submission does not come with the first use of the rod. No; he must go through the scene--endure to the end. And, if he endure, just when the darkness seems to be settling down upon him, and the last ray of joy and hope seems about to be quenched, at the evening time it becomes light!
3. Millions of deathbeds bear glorious testimony to this truth. Instead of a great darkness, celestial radiance! Instead of dismay, a peace unspeakable! (Homiletic Review.)
The sacred writers are always true to nature. They never contradict natural facts.
I. The ambiguousness of prophecy. Many of the prophecies have been literally fulfilled. But there is not a fulfilled prophecy on record which, prior to its accomplishment, was not more or less dark, obscure, or enigmatical in its meaning. What idea could the guilty pair in Eden form of their promised deliverer from sin and guilt? From the nature of prophecy it could have been but a sort of twilight knowledge of the Christ which ancient believers derived from it. The entire Old Testament dispensation was a day, known it is true to the Lord, but to His people it was “not day nor night.” But as with all other days of nature, providence, or grace, that also had an end. The clouds that had covered the horizon of the moral world for long centuries broke at last. The evening of the Old Testament day, which witnessed the coming of the Son of God, was the brightest period of time that the world had seen since the fall of man! Turn to unfulfilled prophecy. How will it be realised; and when? The twentieth chapter of the Apocalypse has given occasion to hundreds of conjectures and theories of the millennium. But the Gospel dispensation, in regard to unfulfilled prophecy, is “neither clear nor dark,”--it is “not day nor night.” But “at evening time it shall be light.” Presently all will be clear, and the Divine idea and purpose will be fully revealed.
II. God’s general administration of human affairs. It is often unintelligible. The government of an empire is too intricate to be understood by any but the emperor himself. We are confused and perplexed when we attempt to trace out and explain God’s government of the world from its beginning to the present day. We do not know often what He intends or means in His dealings with our race. The light is neither clear nor dark,--the light of providence. But the revolution of years is silently bringing nearer and nearer the evening time of the moral world. Then there will be adjustment of contrary things. Then we may well be patient, and trust in God. (W. H. Luckenbach.)
Light at evening tide
In recalling the incidents of his last year’s ministry at Walton, Mr. Pennefather often spoke of the fact that during that time he had been called to attend the dying beds of thirty of the most attached members of his flock, all in blessed hope of a joyful resurrection. “Do you call it a dark valley?” said one aged believer; “it is a very sweet valley to me! All praise! all praise!” “It is one thing to speak of Jesus,” said a dying woman, “but it is another thing to have Him in full view.”
Light at evening time
It is said that Mirabeau cried out frantically for music to soothe his last moments; that Hobbes, the deist, said as he gasped his last breath, “I am taking a fearful leap into the dark”; that Cardinal Beaufort said, “What! is there no bribing death?” Men with the Christian light have met death in another way. When Melanchthon was asked if there was anything he desired, he said, “No, Luther, nothing but heaven.” Dr. John Owen said at last, “I am going to Him whom my soul loveth, or rather, who has loved me with an everlasting love.” John Brown of Haddington could say, “I am weak, but it is delightful to feel one’s self in the everlasting arms.” George Washington could say, “It is all well.” Walter Scott, as he sank in the slumber of death, “Now I shall be myself again.” Beethoven, as he could almost catch the melody of the mystic world, “Now I shall hear.” Wesley could cheerily meet death with the words, “The best of all is God is with us.” Locke, the Christian philosopher, exclaimed at dying, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the goodness and knowledge of God!” Stephen said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Paul, “having a desire to depart”; and, “to die is gain.” (F. Hastings.)
The sunset glow
In the thought and in the speech of the world night is made the symbol of the dark experiences of human life. It is common to speak of the day of prosperity and of the night of adversity. Both of these symbols are frequently used in the Bible, the day standing for the bright experiences and the night standing for the dark experiences of life. But the Bible studs the night of darkness with stars of hope and suns of promise. “At evening time it shall be light.” That is grace overstepping and going beyond Nature. Nature’s evening time is darkness. When the evening time comes in the experiences of God’s people, and they fear that there shall be no more day, then God steps in, introduces a principle beyond Nature, and declares, “It shall come to pass that at evening time it shall be light.”
1. This is a promise for the evening time of the world. The morning of the world was a bright and glorious sunrise. In the beginning God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And when He had finished His wide and wise creation, “God saw that it was good.” But soon the dark cloud of man’s sin overspread the earth. Light was shut out. Darkness reigned. Out of that darkness the world has been gradually emerging, until, through all the tears and tyrannies of the centuries, it has come into the noonday splendour of the Christian civilisation of our century. And it is distinctly Christian. It was the historian Froude who said: “All that we call modern civilisation, in a sense which deserves that name, is the visible expression of the transfiguring power of the Gospel.” Our highest literature is swayed by the purest influences of Christianity. The scientific spirit of research and investigation, so conspicuous a fact and so important a factor in our modern life, owes its stimulation to the encouragement of Christianity. Christianity has created the laboratory as well as the library. Christianity is the parent of education. It has founded schools, established colleges, endowed seminaries. To benighted lands and to blighted homes Christianity has sent the teacher with the preacher. Our civic liberties and our social order are based upon Christianity. Burn the Bible, proclaim “there is no God,” write over your cemetery gates “Death is an eternal sleep,” and there is no power in all this land that will stay the ravages of that beetle-browed hag--infidelity’s twin sister in every age and in every land--Anarchism. I know that there are historians of discontent and prophets of calamity who cannot enjoy the splendour of the world’s midday, and who are ever telling us that the former times were better than these. They discount all inventions and all advancement by claiming that the morality of the present, if as strong, is no stronger than the morality of the past. They are right in holding that all advancements go for naught if the people are not better than they were. The test of the world’s advancement and strength is not that the grandson rides today in the Pullman ear, while the grandfather rode yesterday in the stage coach. The test is, Is the grandson a better man than the grandfather was? This world has not seen a brighter era since the gates of Eden were closed upon man than the last days of the nineteenth century. And the twentieth century will be better. Christ Jesus is to reign in this world. He has not yet ascended His throne. He is now on His Father’s throne. When He went into Heaven He sat down at His Father’s right hand, “henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool.” When His enemies shall be subdued, then, rising upon them as upon His footstool, He shall ascend His throne and reign. And it shall come to pass that in the evening time of the world it shall be light.
2. The promise pertains to the Church of God. The Church of God has had two organisations in the world--the theocratic organisation of the Old Testament dispensation, and the spiritual organisation of the New Testament dispensation. Through all the Old Testament we can trace a gradual unfolding of the Church’s life and power. This unfolding was not in a continuous advance. The whole history of the Old Testament Church shows a succession of onward marches, and then of quick retreats--progressing, retrograding, standing still for a while, then progressing once more, and again falling back. But in no instance did she fall back as far as she had been, and so her history was, on the whole, one of advance and growth. So with the Church of the New Testament dispensation. The Church was born on Pentecost--that was the sunrise of the Church, and it was glorious. From Pentecost the disciples went forth to tell the story of Him who had been crucified, who rose and ascended into heaven, and as the story spread the Church grew. Then came opposition and hatred and persecution, but the Church advanced through all until she entered the darkness of the Dark Ages. The heavens were shut, and a black cloud of superstition spread over the earth. Rome sat upon her ebon throne and stretched her rod of cruelty across the nations. It seemed as if the evening time of the Church had come. In that time every lamp of prophecy had ceased to shine He who thundered in the streets of Rome had been burned at the stake, Savonarola had received the martyr’s crown at Florence, the black clouds of ignorance, superstition, and vice shut out the sunlight of God’s love from the world. It was evening time, but God said, In the evening time it shall be light. He kindled a beacon in the soul of a young monk in the monastery at Erfurt. As the monk mused the fire burned, and out from Erfurt went Martin Luther to proclaim God’s message; and Rome shook, the Vatican trembled, the gates of brass were opened, the rod of cruelty was sundered, Germany was delivered, and civil and religious liberty were secured to the world. There came a time in England when religion became a formality, and when all good men trembled for the Church and longed for the mighty Puritans, who would crush the giant forces of evil beneath their onward progress. It was evening time, and God had said, “It shall come to pass that at evening time it shall be light.” Four young Oxford students--William Morgan, Robert Kentham, Charles and John Wesley--met for prayer and Bible study. They were called by their fellow students “Bible Moths,” “the Holy Club,” and “Methodists,” because they were so methodical in all studies and their work. One resistance after another the Church has overcome; at times pressed back, but ever pushing onward, multiplying her victories and extending her dominions. No more hospitals, for there are no more sick; no more asylums, for there are no orphans; no more prisons, for there are no criminals; no more almshouses, for there are no poor; no more tears, for there is no sorrow. The long dirge of the earth’s lamentations has come to an end in the triumphal march of the blessed redeemed Church; the New Jerusalem is with men, her children are gathered home, and across that city of a redeemed humanity earth’s grandest outburst of hope and welcome breaks antiphonal from wall to jasper wall. The sunset glow; the evening time of the Church, and at evening time it shall be light.
3. This promise is for all human experience. The great promises of God, which apply to the whole kingdom of the redeemed, may be appropriated by each individual member of that kingdom. In Nature the laws which control the great forces direct the minute elements. The law that rules the grain of sand on the seashore governs the planets in their course. It is so in the realm of grace. “At evening time it shall be light” to the Church; “at evening time it shall be light” to every individual believer. In the matter of the experience of the believer in Christian service it is true that “in the evening time it shall be light.” The majority of the men who have lived and laboured to make this world better have received the scorn and obloquy of the world. John Wesley was howled down by the mob to whom he preached; they threw bricks at him, they spat upon him, but where is there a more honoured name today? Light at evening time. Wendell Phillips was scorned and spurned for his advocacy of the slave. Boston would not hear him, but in less than a generation afterward Boston built a monument to his honour, and men who would not defile their lips with his name taught their children the pathway, to his tomb. “At evening time, it shall be light.”
4. The promise brings its helpful message to every believer in his season of adversity and trouble. Very few people in this world escape the time of adversity. The bright, sunshiny day of prosperity is pretty certain to have a nightfall. “It was good that I have been afflicted,” cries David. “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away,” exclaims Job. “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” says Paul. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes,” exclaims John in apocalyptic vision. At evening time it shall be light. Ten thousand saints of God have found it so in the evening time.
5. The text has a message for old age. Sometimes men look forward to it with trembling. It is a mistaken notion that youth is the time of gladness and old age the time of sadness. America’s beloved artist, Horatio Greenough, a few days before his death, said: “I have found life to be a very cheerful thing, and not the dark and bitter thing with which my early days were clouded.” At evening time it was light. At eighty years of age Albert Barnes stood in the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and said: “The world is so attractive to me that I am very sorry I shall have to leave it so soon.” Dr. Guthrie, past eighty, said: “You must not think, that I am old because my hair is “white”; I never was so young as I am now. At evening time it was light. New lights shall burn when the old lights are quenched; new candles shall be lit when the lamps of life are dim. At the evening time of his life the Christian has many lights that he did not have before. There is the bright light of experience; the pleasing light of sweet memories; the cheering light of service done for God and humanity. The scientist tells us that no physical force is ever wasted. We whisper into the telephone, and the vibration, though it be less than one one-hundred-thousandth part of an inch, affects a diaphragm a thousand miles away, and our exact voice is heard by the listening ear in Chicago. So they tell us that the light from the farthest fixed star has been travelling steadily undiminished for more than a million years to greet our upturned eye tonight, and to reassure us that “the hand that made it is Divine.” If it be true of physical forces, how much more is it true of moral and spiritual forces, that they are never lost! What a halo of glory this casts about the old age of a man, out from whose life have poured forth the streams of holy and sacred influences! At evening time it shall be light. John Bunyan was right when he located Christian old age in the land of Beulah, in full sight of the ripe fruitage and the ravishing, prospects of the Celestial City. The infirmities of old age are only the land birds lighting on the sails, telling the weary mariner that he is nearing the haven.” “And it shall come to pass that at evening time it shall be light.”
6. This promise is for the time of the death of the believer. “It is a dark passage through which you are passing now,” said a young man as he sat beside his dying mother. And her whole countenance lighted up as she said: “Oh no, my son; there is too bright a light at the other end to have it dark,” and she passed out, and up, and into the palm and to the crown and to the throne. At the evening time it was light. Paul drew near the end, and he said: “The time for the weighing of the anchor has come. I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.” Take the promise with you into the future. Remember that if sorrow camps with you overnight, joy cometh in the morning. (J. F. Carson, D. D.)
Living waters shall go out from Jerusalem
The living waters
Like all his predecessors, Zechariah speaks much of Christ.
Some of his prophecies, owing partly to the predominance of figurative and symbolical language, are difficult and obscure. In the text he refers to Gospel days and to the Gospel blessings. He speaks of the Gospel under the figure of living, springing, running waters; and under this figure he indicates to us the beginning, the progressive course, and the perpetual extension of the Gospel, together with its ultimate triumph, as seen in the universal dominion of the Messiah.
1. The character of the Gospel. We must think of the world as a desert, a vast moral waste, void of spiritual beauty and of moral life; and this is in strict accord with the actual condition of peoples apart from the Gospel. The land, the home, the heart, unvisited by the Gospel, is cursed with spiritual barrenness and moral death. If we caused a rivulet of living water to flow over a barren land, what would be the result? The desert land would soon cease to be barren. Let this land be ploughed, let the seed be cast into it, and what is the result? The desert becomes a garden; the wilderness a fruitful field, and the barren land a forest. So let the Gospel waters flow through the desert wastes of a sinner’s heart, or through the moral wastes of a country, and what a blessed transformation is the result! Death gives place to life, depravity to beauty, and barrenness to fertility. It was so in the beginning of Christianity. The power of the Gospel has been strikingly proved in the missions to Fiji.
2. The progress of the Gospel. The living waters go out from Jerusalem. Christianity was not a new religion. It was the development, the outgrowth of Judaism. But the waters were to flow in every direction, carrying spiritual fertility with them: everywhere turning the desolate heritages of the Gentile world into the garden of the Lord. Note also the constancy with which the living waters flow; “in summer and winter shall it go.” The summer heat usually dries up the rivulet. The host of winter congeals it; but these living waters shall flow on through summer and winter. How strikingly has this been illustrated all through the Christian centuries. Nothing has proved able to arrest or stay the progress of the Gospel.
3. The triumph of the Gospel. From the beginning the Lord Christ has indeed been King over all the earth, but in the text there is associated with the idea of kingly authority that of willing submission. He shall then be universally acknowledged Lord, every knee to Him shall bow, and every tongue confess Him. The day will surely come when men shall be blessed in Him, all nations shall call Him blessed. (Walford Green.)
The course of the Gospel
I. The designation of the Gospel. Here called “living waters.” It points out the purity of the Gospel. Not the stagnant pool, but the running stream. Holiness to the Lord is stamped on all its principles, commandments, and rites. It is a dispensation of mercy, but it gives no indulgence to the least sin. It points out the refreshment which it yields. How sweet are its offers of pardon to the awakened conscience! It points out also the fertility which the Gospel produces. Christianity aims at forming the love of God in the heart and conduct.
II. The place from which these waters issue. When Christ ordered repentance and remission of sins to be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, the banks within which these living waters had flowed were broken down, and the stream began to rush over the Gentile world. These waters flow from Jerusalem, as it is by the Church that they are communicated. They are brought to the Church not only that they may be improved, but diffused.
III. Mark the course of these living waters. The statement seems to intimate that the Gospel should bless the nations of the Eastern and of the Western world. There are various circumstances which indicate that a more extensive diffusion of the Gospel will soon take place.
IV. The continuance of the course of these living waters. Their flow shall neither be impeded by the drought of summer nor the frosts of winter. The effects of the Gospel on the souls of disciples are perpetual also. The knowledge it gives is everlasting light; the peace it yields is everlasting consolation; the love it inspires is a charity that never fails; and the holiness it forms is a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life. (Henry Belfrage, D. D.)
The Gospel river
I. Its nature and its rise.
1. Its nature. It is “living water.” Water is precious, but not so precious as the Gospel. That is the river of life, the pure water of life.
2. Its rise. “It shall go out from Jerusalem.” The Gospel might be said to have commenced at Jerusalem. “Beginning at Jerusalem.” In Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, the river might be said to have broken forth.
II. Its diffusion and continuousness.
1. Its diffusion. “Half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea.” It is to go from the east and from the west, from its rising to its setting. The Gospel is for all climes. It is world-wide in its provisions, adaptations, and claims.
2. Continuousness. “Summer and winter.” In all seasons of human life individually and corporately.
The changeful and the constant in life
I. The changes in this scene of our earthly life. Suggested by summer and winter. The changing seasons of nature may be regarded as only symbols of the constant mutations in our mortal life.
1. Human life has its changes. The man who reaches his three score years and ten, has run through all the seasons; the freshness of spring, the luxuriance of summer, the ripeness of autumn, and the dreary desolations of winter.
2. Human institutions have their changes. These changes are useful.
II. The constant in this scene of our earthly life. “In summer and in winter shall it be.” What is the “it” here, that is to remain so constant amidst the changes? The preceding part of the verse answers the question: “living waters.” The reference is undoubtedly to Christianity, which is the “water of life.” But our point is its constancy. In “summer and winter” it flows the same. The changes of the world have no influences on it: it continues the settled amongst the unsettled, the permanent amongst the transitory, the immortal amongst the dying. “Though all flesh is as grass the Word of our God shall stand forever.”
1. It is constant in the fitness of its supplies for human wants. Men through all changes, in all places, and through all times want Divine knowledge, moral purity, heavenly forgiveness, fellowship with the Eternal.
2. It is constant in the fulness of its supplies for human wants. It is an inexhaustible river.
3. It is constant in the availableness of its supplies for human wants. (Homilist.)
Summer and winter
I. The changeful in human experience. There is as much variety as in the difference between July and December; between all that is summerly and all that is winterly in our English climate.
1. There is this changefulness in the experience of individuals. In the difference of differing age: Robustness of youth, decrepitude of age. In the difference of differing health: Buoyancy of strength, feebleness of disease. In the difference of differing circumstances: Prosperity, anxiety, poverty; success, failure; popularity, neglect, or scorn. In the difference of differing moods: Joy, sadness; doubt, faith.
2. There is this changefulness in the experience of families. Unbroken home circles, and desolated hearths. Wedding days, and funerals. The cradle the centre of the household, and anon the coffin.
3. There is this changefulness in the experience of nations. Commercially there is a summer and a winter. So politically; so religiously. Rome, Greece, Spain, etc., have had summer and winter. We seem getting towards winter. But though all, whether individuals, families, or nations, thus have “in the changes and chances of this mortal life” their bright, genial, glowing summers, and their chill, gloomy, cruel winters, we notice--
II. The unchangeable provision God has made for man’s needs. The prophet is telling of a river of blessing that, though it roll through winterly and summerly landscapes, is itself unchanged, perpetually the same. In summer and winter it shall be. That river is surely the revealed love of God in Christianity. What else fulfils what the prophet declares about--
1. The fountain,
2. The progress,
3. The winter of this river?
God’s love in Christ does. And that is the sublimely unchangeable it, which remains the same in all the summers and winters of human experience. (Urijah R. Thomas.)
The Bible is full of promises. Some of them refer to temporal and some to spiritual things. Some relate to the prosperity of the Redeemer’s kingdom.
I. The dispensation of Christianity. Here are four things.
1. Its representation. It is called--“living waters.” This softens, purifies, refreshes the soul. It fertilises. It is described as “living water,”--water that springs up. Rising, or springing, up in thought, desire, prayer, pursuit, until it even reaches heaven. All is vitality where this living water is. It is the all-healing balm. It produces a principle of life which strengthens amidst bodily debility, and grows amidst bodily decay.
2. Its origin. “Go out of Jerusalem.” Our Lord was of Jewish parents; the apostles were Jews; and most of the first disciples were Jews. In the Acts of the Apostles we discover how these “living waters,” issuing from the land of Judea, spread abroad in every direction. In this we see--
3. The directions of these “living waters.” “Half of them toward the former sea; and half of them toward the hinder sea.” The meaning is that these living waters were to spread all abroad. The Jewish Church was a local stationary witness for God. The Christian Church is not local and stationary, but is to go to the world. No dispensation of God can be final, but that which is universal. The blessings procured by our Saviour’s death, are offered freely to all men.
4. Its perpetuity. “In summer and in winter shall it be.” The most unfavourable seasons for rivers are here mentioned: yet they are not able to hinder the flow and efficacy of these “living waters.” earthly rivers may be frozen by the cold of winter, and dried up by the heat of summer; not so with the river of life.
II. The glorious results of Christianity. “The Lord shall be King over all the earth.” It is impossible to think of the introducing of Christianity, without expecting great results. The effects of Christianity are described in two ways.
1. By universal subjection. At first sight this seems to announce no more than what He is already. But we must distinguish between right and acknowledgment. The design of Christianity is to make men feel their obligations to God. There is a difference between God’s providential and God’s spiritual government. The great thing to be attained is, for God to reign in us, by His grace; for Christ to reign in the heart, in the conscience, and in the affections.
2. By uniformity of homage. “One Lord, and His name one.” Here the image changes, and the prophet leads us from the palace to the temple. “Our Lord” does not exclude personal distinctions in the Divine essence. Now there are lords many and gods many. Many have idols in their hearts. The time is coming when all these idols shall be utterly destroyed. “His name one.” The Lord shall be known by all the tribes of mankind, and in all places of His dominion. (Timothy Gibson, M. A.)
The Lord shall be King over all the earth
The Second Advent of Christ
That the passage Job 19:25-27 has reference to Jesus Christ, and to His coming to judgment at the last great day, I think there can be no dispute.
Unless, then, we look to the reappearing of the Son of Man upon this earth, we stultify the expectation of the patriarch, we impugn the inspiration of his prophecy, virtually esteeming his declaration as little better than words of a mere sound. That we may arrive at some knowledge of wherein the reward of the Son, after having made His soul an offering for sin, consists, let us search the Scriptures. In Psalms 2:1-12 Jesus is invested with supreme and absolute authority in the administration of His inalienable sovereignty. But has Jesus, the Son of Man, ever occupied the earth as here represented? “His own received Him not.” Has He ever dashed in pieces like a potter’s vessel the heathen, either the baptized or unbaptized portion of them? It may be said that, in His spiritual dominion, He may be said to occupy the earth by subjugating the hearts of His people, making them willing in the day of His power. We need not make light of Christ’s spiritual government; but we are compelled to look for something more than a spiritual sovereignty as the result of the Father’s grant, even to the personal occupation of the earth as the seat of His kingly power. And the attitude of expectation naturally excites watchfulness, watchfulness producing prayer, and prayer holiness. (M. J. Taylor, M. A.)
Meat out of the Eater
One day; one entire period and joint of providence. Described by its beginning and progress; and by its end and close. The comfort and happiness of this glorious evening is set forth in three things. The propagation of the Gospel; the reign of Christ; the unity of the Churches. Doctrine--That in the latter days there shall be great unity in the Church of God. And that this unity shall spring from their acknowledging of the right Lord and the right way. As to the unity, observe--
1. This will suit best with the quiet and happy estate of those times. God will usher in the glorious and everlasting estate by some preparative degrees.
2. God will then make some visible provision against the scandal of dissensions.
3. The misery of these times doth seem to enforce the greater unity. For use of consolation, consider your hopes; and know the reason of such providences. For use of exhortation. It serveth to exhort and press you to hasten, and set on these hopes. Promises do not exclude action, but engage to it. The promises hold forth unity; strive after it, by prayers, and by endeavours. Let everyone of us mortify such ill affections as may any way engage us to a disturbance and vexatious bitterness. Keep yourselves pure from ill opinions. You must as carefully avoid an error in judgment as a vice in conversation. Do not impropriate Christ to any one party or sort of professors. Never serve a faction or party to the prejudice and detriment of truth and religion. As far as truth and conscience will give leave, there should be a profession of brotherhood, a condescension and yielding to one another in love; a walking together, or at least, a Christian forbearance. Abstain from reproaches and undue provocations, and dispense all civil respects with meekness. Let me entreat you to mind a few things. Beware of passion in your own interests; though they may be much shaken and endamaged in the present controversies, yet self-denying patience will be the best way to settle them. Press doctrines of Christ, and the main things of religion. When you deal with the errors of the time, do it with a great deal of caution and wariness. Take heed of aggravating and greatening matters, making them of more importance than indeed they are. Former ages were possessed with this spirit, every lesser dissent and mistake was made a heresy or error in the faith. Let me entreat you to improve your interests for brotherly and friendly collations. Rational and friendly conviction will do much, at least it will beget a sweet and brotherly correspondence, and it is to be hoped we shall find more meekness where things are not carried in the way of a set disputation. (T. Manton.)
The coming moral reign of God on the earth
Physically, God reigns everywhere. Morally, His reign depends upon the will of men, and that will is hostile. The coming moral reign is--
I. To be extensive. “All the earth,” or “land,” may mean the land of Judea, but we are authorised to believe that He will one day reign over all the earth, that all souls will bow to His influence, as the ripened fields of autumn to the winds of heaven.
II. To be exclusive. He will be regarded as the one King whose laws all study and obey. The great question of all souls will be, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” No other power will rule the soul where He becomes the moral monarch.
III. It will be beneficent. “All the land shall be turned as a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem.” Taking Zechariah 14:10; Zechariah 11:1-17, we gather at least two beneficent results of His moral reign.
1. The removal of all obstructions to the river of truth. “The land shall be turned as a plain from Geba to Rimmon,” etc. That is from the northern to the southern boundary of Judea. The levelling of this land would not only leave Jerusalem conspicuous but allow the “living waters” to have free flow.
2. The elevation and establishment of the good. Jerusalem is here represented not only as being razed and made conspicuous, but as settling down and dwelling securely. “It shall be lifted up and inhabited in her place.” There shall be no more utter destruction, Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited. Conclusion: Who will not pray, Let Thy kingdom come and Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven? (Homilist.)
The kingdom of Christ upon the earth
I. The incalculable importance of this prophecy.
1. To the world at large.
2. To the Church in particular.
3. To every individual of mankind.
II. The blessedness of the period to which it refers.
1. It will be a season of temporal prosperity.
2. Spiritual blessings will most richly abound. It will be a season when God will manifest Himself on earth. Then
One heart and one way
The Lord forewarns His people of greater sufferings that they were to undergo in the last times. Here we have the judgment itself denounced. A description of their miserable condition at this time. The assurance of deliverance, and that by divers agents. Though the trial were sharp, it should be short. The issue should be happy for the evening should be light. The author of their deliverance shall be Jehovah. As to the manner of doing it, God will make it appear to be His work. Look at the glorious condition of this Church after this deliverance, and that in these particulars--after this Jerusalem shall be made eminent and honourable. Jerusalem shall be exalted, as the mother Church. The blessed and glorious government of this state after this deliverance. Here is the fruit and consequence of this government, “Jehovah shall be one, and His name one.” The name of God is diversely taken in Scripture; but here is meant the religion that God has set forth in His Word, and the worship that He hath set up in the Church. The meaning of the promise seems to be this, whereas before they worshipped many gods, now they should turn from dead idols and serve only the living God. The Lord promises that as all the idols shall be taken away, so all idolatrous and superstitious worship also. Jehovah one, the rule of His worship one, and His worship according to that rule one. Doctrine--When a people turn to God by repentance, and He returns to them in mercy, He will give unto them one name, that is, He will free them from all superstitions, and human mixtures in His worship.
1. In all ages it hath been the main labour of Satan and all the enemies of the Church, when they could not root out the worship of God wholly, then to corrupt the simplicity of it by human inventions, traditions, and superstitious mixtures.
2. When they turn unto God, and God unto them, He will free them from all these. (W. Strong.)
And this shall be the plague
The punishment of God’s enemies
This is a figurative description of the punishment of sin.
The first element of the punishment is corruption, which is set forth by the terrible image of a living death, a fearful anomalous state, in which the mouldy rottenness of death is combined in horrible union with the vivid, conscious sensibility of life. The soul of the sinner, in its future consciousness of sin, shall feel its loathsome corruption as vividly as now it would feel the slow putrefaction of the body that rotten piecemeal to the grave. The second element is--mutual hate and contention (Zechariah 14:13). The image is that of a panic-struck army, in which man clutches and strikes in frantic fury his nearest neighbour. Hell shall be hate, in its fiercest and hatefullest forms. Sin is now the cause of all the quarrels on earth; it shall be the cause of endless quarrels in hell. The third element is--loss of the blessings previously enjoyed (Zechariah 14:14). This is represented by the image of spoil. The wealth of the nations that besieged Jerusalem shall be taken by Judah and Jerusalem, which are here combined in the triumph, as they were combined in the struggle described in chap. 12. A fourth element is--the infectious nature of sin. It defiles all that it touches. It has defiled the earth and all it contains, so that it must be burned up; and it will hereafter transform the dwelling place of its possessors into a hell, and their companions into fiends, and make it necessary that the very instruments of enjoyment they have possessed in life should be taken from them and destroyed. Learn that the most fearful punishment of sinners is simply to leave them to themselves. Sin is but hell in embryo, hell is but sin in development. (T. V. Moore, D. D.)
The elements by which the Divine government punishes sin
I. Physical diseases. “And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord shall smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem. Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth.” “This description of the plague-stricken people,” says a modern author, “is shocking, but it is not more than what actually occurs.” See Defoe’s Plague of London. Kingsley says, “What so terrible as war? I will tell you what is ten times and ten thousand times more terrible than war, and that is outraged nature. Nature, insidious, inexpensive, silent, sends no roar of cannon, no glitter of arms to do her work: she gives no warning note of preparation Man has his courtesies of war and his chivalries of war, he does not strike the unarmed man, he spares the woman and the child. But nature . . . spares neither woman or child;. . .silently she strikes the sleeping child with as little remorse as she would strike the strong man with the musket or the pick axe in his hand.” One could scarcely imagine a more revolting condition of humanity than is here presented, a living skeleton, nearly all the flesh gone, the eyes all but blotted out, the tongue withered. Physical disease has ever been one of the instruments by which God has punished men in this world, pestilences, plagues, epidemics, and so on. But it is not merely a plague amongst the people, but also amongst the cattle, as we see in Zechariah 14:15.
II. Mutual animosity. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great tumult from the Lord shall be among them, and they shall lay hold everyone on the hand of his neighbour.” The idea is, perhaps, that God would permit such circumstances to spring up amongst them as would generate in their minds mutual misunderstandings, malignities, quarrellings, and battlings. “They shall lay hold every one on the hand of his neighbour.” “Every man’s sword shall be against his brother.” Sin punishes sin, bad passions not only work misery but are in themselves miseries. Another element of punishment here is--
III. Temporal losses. “And Judah also shall fight at Jerusalem.” Not against Jerusalem. “And the wealth of all the heathen round about shall be gathered together, gold and silver, and apparel in abundance.” Earthly property, men in their unrenewed state have always valued as the highest good. To attain it they devote all their powers with an unquenchable enthusiasm, and to hold it they are ever on the alert, and their grasp is unrelaxable and firm. To have it snatched from them is among their greatest calamities, and how often this occurs in society! (Homilist.)
Shall go up from year to year to worship the King.
The genius and inner heart of Christianity
1. It brings us into the possession of a new life. We are Christians, not because we avow a certain creed, or conform to certain outward exercises; but because we have received the life, the Eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested to us in Jesus. And is it possible to restrict the manifestations of life? Is not God's life always the same in its abundant and infinite variety? So surely the life of God in the soul should, and must, express itself in all the outgoings of our existence,--in speech, act, movement--equally on the six days as the one day; as much in the kitchen, or the shop, as the Church. If you are possessed by the life of the Holy One, it will as certainly appear as the idiosyncrasy of your character, which underlies, moulds, and fashions your every gesture.
2. Christianity is consecration to Christ. It may be questioned if we have a right to call ourselves Christians unless we regard Him as our Judge, our Lawgiver, and our King, and are deliberately obeying and serving Him. But if we are going to reserve our religion to certain days, places, and actions, we necessarily exclude Him from all that is not contained within the fences we erect. What right have we to suppose that our Master Christ will be satisfied with an arrangement which asks Him to accept a part for the whole, a composition for the entire debt?
3. The needs of the world demand an entire and unbroken religious life. The world does not see us in our religious exercises, whether in our private retirement or our public worship. It has no idea, therefore, of the anguish of our penitence, the earnestness of our desires for a right and noble life, the persistency of our endeavours. And if we do not give evidence of our religion in dealing with matters that the men of the world understand, they will naturally and rightly consider that religion is an unpractical dream, the child of superstition and emotion. We should,” therefore, refuse to maintain the false distinction between things that arc sacred, and those that are secular. (F. B. Meyer, B.A.)
The public worship of Jehovah
I. It is a duty binding on all people. “The feast of tabernacles was meant to keep them in mind that, amidst their abundant harvests, and well-cared-for fields and vineyards, that as in the desert, so still it was God who gave the increase. It was therefore a festival most suitable for all the nations to join in, by way of acknowledging that Jehovah was the God of Nature throughout the earth, however various might be the aspects of nature with which they were familiar. Besides, there can be little doubt that by the time of Zechariah, and probably long before, this feast had become a kind of symbol of the ingathering of the nations” (John 4:35).
Dr. Dods. Whilst the thousands neglect public worship, not a few argue against it, they say it is uncalled for and unnecessary. In reply to this we state, where there is genuine religion--
1. Public worship is a natural development. The Being we love most we crave an opportunity for extolling, we want that all shall know His merits.
2. Public worship is a happy development. What delights the soul so much as to hear others praise the object we love the most? This at once gratifies the religious instinct and the social love.
3. Public worship is a beneficent development. There is nothing that tends so much to quicken and ennoble souls as worship, and nothing gives such a vital interest in one soul for another, as public worship.
II. Its neglect exposes to terrible calamities.
1. The greatness of the punishment. “Upon them shall be no rain.” Now the absence of rain involves every temporal evil you can think of, famine, pestilence, loss of physical enjoyment, loss of health, loss of life.
2. The fitness of the punishment.
(a) Loss of the highest spiritual enjoyments.
(b) Hereafter, by the reproaching of conscience, and the banishment from all good. (Homilist.)
The worship of God a duty and a privilege
Though it is generally admitted that Zechariah is the most obscure of all the minor prophets, yet there were two topics on which we may safely affirm that he was as luminous, or more so, than the rest. The first respected the public worship of God. He and Haggai were conspicuously active in urging the Jews, on their return from their captivity, to rebuild their temple; and when the sanctuary was erected, we find him not only administering to the tribes themselves, but to the strangers and foreigners who had mixed themselves up with them to frequent the house of God, lest renewed judgment should break forth upon them to their injury and ruin.
I. Press it upon you as a duty and privilege.
1. It is founded in the relation in which we stand to God. He is our Creator, Preserver, Benefactor; He is our Father. We are the families of Israel here addressed; and has not God dealt fraternally with you as His children? Show your filial gratitude, etc.
2. It is suggested by the appointment of Divine ordinances.
3. It is enforced by the commands and exhortations of the sacred Scriptures. The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua issued these precepts. They are echoed by the prophets (Psalms 95:1-4; Psalms 95:7; Psalms 100:2-5).
4. It is recommended by the example of the best of men who ever lived. We are to be followers of “all those who through faith,” etc., and ought we not to copy them in this feature? Read the histories of Moses--Joshua--Nehemiah--of the prophets and apostles--or select one conspicuous example, David; what was his principal wish? “One thing have I,” etc. What his chief affliction? “The sparrow,” etc. What his chief joy? “I was glad,” etc. What his prayer for others? “O send out Thy light,” etc. This was his testimony, this his appeal--“Lord, I have loved the habitation.” “They continued daily in the temple,” etc.
5. It is urged upon us by the advantages connected with its observance. It is the house of God which He has promised to keep with His especial presence. Of Zion He says, “This is My rest; here will I dwell,” etc. It is through His institutions that light, grace, and comfort are imparted to His Church.
II. To show you the consequences of the neglect of that worship which God requires. “Even upon them there shall be no rain.” No doubt there was a literal meaning attached to this menace. But we must not satisfy ourselves with this comment. In making a spiritual application of this part of the text, observe that rain is often employed as a metaphor to denote the abundant communication of spiritual blessings--thus, the coming of the Messiah, and the bestowments of His grace; the influences of the Spirit; the instructions and consolations of the Word of God. “My doctrine shall drop as the rain.” (Evangelical Preacher.)
In that day there shall be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord
This text may be a prediction of the latter-day glory, when the knowledge of Christ shall cover the whole earth.
But at all times, and in all places, “holiness becometh the house of the Lord.” It is His royal will and pleasure that all who name His name should depart from all iniquity. This holiness, which we call universal holiness, because it extends to the whole man, and to his whole conduct, is described in the text in a remarkable manner. The prophet foretells that holiness to the Lord shall be written on the bells and bridles of the horses. It was originally engraved on a plate of gold, and fixed on the mitre or turban of the high priest. In wearing this, he was a type of Christ, our great High Priest. The meaning of writing this on the trappings of the horses is, that religion shall not be confined to sacred persons, times, and places, as this inscription originally was to the high priest; but that all real Christians, being a holy priesthood, shall be religious at all times and in all things; that true holiness shall extend itself to the ordinary concerns of life. The proposition we enforce is, that universal holiness becomes the profession of the Gospel. To be holy signifies, in Scripture, to be set apart from a common or profane use, to God and His service. Holiness is the renovation of our nature by the Spirit of God. The holiness required by the Gospel is something far superior to what is called morality. Holiness supposes the renewal of the heart. There is a universal change made in a real Christian, which is far superior to mere morality. God Himself is the author of holiness; there is nothing in our fallen nature to produce it. The principal instrument employed by the Spirit of grace in effecting this holy change, is the Word of the Gospel. “Sanctify them through Thy truth.” The holiness of the Gospel has for its grand objects, God and our neighbour. Religion is to influence the common concerns of life. Holiness is not to be confined to sacred things, but mingled with our ordinary affairs. We see little practical religion among many nominal Christians and unstable professors. Even the most exemplary have cause to lament their deficiencies.
I. What should be the Christian’s temper and views with regard to himself? Let the Christian remember that he is “the temple of the Holy Ghost,” and that the temple of the Lord must be holy.
II. Holiness to the Lord is to be exmplified in the relative duties of social life. In general, the Christian has two things to regard,--to do no harm, and to do much good. Active benevolence is a necessary fruit of holiness. There are certain situations in life wherein persons, being mutually related to each other, are expected more particularly to manifest the holiness of the Gospel The conjugal state. The relation of parents and children. Of masters and servants. Then are we holy? A soul unsanctified can never gain admittance into heaven, the residence of a holy God, holy angels, and holy men. (G. Burder.)
1. The holiness here predicted is evangelical.
2. The holiness here predicted is conspicuous and attractive.
3. The holiness here predicted is exemplified in the lives of the ministers of the Gospel.
4. The holiness here predicted embraces the transactions of ordinary business.
5. The holiness here predicted reaches to the social enjoyments of Christian professors.
6. The holiness here predicted pervades religious worship.
7. The holiness here predicted purifies the communion of the Christian Church. (G. Brooks.)
Holiness unto the Lord
The prevalence of sin in the world is a subject which the Christian daily reflects upon with unfeigned sorrow and humiliation. In every place iniquity abounds. Divine things are continually treated with presumptuous irreverence and disregard. The mind, however, is relieved from its depression, occasioned by the present gloomy state of things, while it contemplates the prospects of a brighter day, which in God’s good time will arise. The sure word of prophecy unfolds to our view the most glorious representation of the Church prospering in the latter times. Zechariah foretells the general sanctification of men, and the consequent establishment of true religion in the world.
I. What is implied in these encouraging words--“In that day there shall be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord”? This appears to be a prediction of the general prevalence of pure and undefiled religion. It teaches us that holiness shall become universal in its extent, entire in its influence, and unveiled by shame or fear.
1. Holiness shall hereafter become universal in its extent. It shall be written upon the bells or bridles of the horses. It shall not be limited to persons of any particular order or profession; it shall extend to all who are engaged in secular occupations and pursuits. Men shall then become, as it were, priests unto God. In God’s good time, the things of God will be exalted to their just preeminence; and as they deserve, will occupy the attention and influence the hearts of men. Religion will be everywhere regarded as the one thing needful.
2. Holiness shall then become entire in its influence. It shall not be partial and defective; but perfect and complete. It shall govern the whole man, and regulate all that pertains to Him. As all men will make a profession of religion, so all who profess it will become truly and completely religious. Their piety will not be limited to particular occasions. They will walk in the fear of the Lord all the day long. They shall be influenced by a continual sense of His presence, and actuated by an habitual reverence for His laws. But not only shall the personal holiness of men be entire, their possessions, and everything pertaining to them shall, as it were, be holy too. “The pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar.” At present we have to lament that sacred things are most shamefully abused and profaned, but hereafter the case will be reversed; things of a worldly nature shall be sanctified to the purposes of religion.
3. Holiness shall be open and unreserved in man, free from any false feeling of shame, or fear of reproach.
II. What instruction may be deduced from these words. The prophet says, “In that day.” The period has certainly not yet arrived; nor can it be expected till the mystery of iniquity has ceased to work. It is, however, even now in its progress towards fulfilment; for it has a reference to the whole period of the Gospel dispensation. Then what manner of persons ought they to be who make a profession of that Gospel? Surely holiness becomes the house of God. Everyone that nameth the name of Christ should depart from iniquity. All who are privileged to bear the Christian name are required to cultivate extraordinary purity and holiness.
1. You are required to be holy by the very relation which you bear to God.
2. This is according to the express command of heaven: “for this is the will of God, even your sanctification.”
3. This is the very end for which the Redeemer died.
4. The Scriptures represent this aa an indispensable qualification for heaven. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Are you then living as persons truly devoted to God, and letting your conversation be in all things as becometh the Gospel of Christ? These questions are of supreme importance to us all; they are, as it were, the turning point on which life and death, heaven and hell, depend. (E. Whieldon, M. A.)
Universal holiness the object of Christian hope
The words “Holiness to the Lord,” were written on the mitre placed on the head of the Jewish high priest. They were intended to point out the sacredness of the office, and the peculiar sanctity of the priestly character; but they referred to a greater than he, even the High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.
I. Earthly employments sanctified.
1. This is not the ease at present. Even the people of God find themselves in much danger of being careful and troubled about many things. There is not now on the bells of the horses, “Holiness to the Lord.”
2. There is a time when it shall be so. It will be evident, by the way in which common duties shall be discharged, that holiness to the Lord is the governing principle. All the intercourse of society shall be under the influence of Christian principle. In conducting the concerns of business, there will be no fraud or deceit--no taking advantage of the ignorance, the necessities, or the liberality of another--no tempting others to sin, in order to make gain by their iniquity. Many are the temptations necessarily arising from being associated with those who fear not God.
II. Spiritual services beautified. This embraces religion in the Church and in the family.
1. The services of the sanctuary. Things which have been deemed of small importance shall be attended to with a spirit of elevated piety. There is a prevalent error in undervaluing the devotional part of the service. The day is coming, may God hasten it on, “when the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar.”
2. The religion of the family. In private dwellings a spirit of devotion shall run through all the engagements of the family. Look how much this is neglected. How many who wait on God in His house, do not serve Him in their own.
III. The professing Church shall be purified.
1. Charity in circumstantial matters shall be exercised. There are now often more disputes about the way of worship than endeavours to attain the right spirit of worship. Love of party destroys the love of Christ.
2. Agreement in fundamental truth. There shall be none to broach heresy, or to lessen the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ; but dependence on His righteousness shall be universal. Applying this subject to ourselves we see--
2. A source of important instruction. See here a standard for your daily conduct. Pray, and try to attain to it. No Christian man is so happy as he who sees and enjoys Christ in everything.
3. A subject for fervent prayer. Pray that you may exhibit in your lives the power of grace in the soul. We see the principles on which we ought to act, in order so to pass through things temporal, as not to lose the things which are eternal. We may have the world, and we may use the world, but let us not forget that “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Let it be our constant prayer that God may be our guard and our guide in our religious intercourse with our families, with His Church and people, and with our own hearts in our prayer chambers. And may the Lord Jesus Christ fulfil in us all the good pleasure of His will, and the work of faith with power. (J. G. Breeny, B. A.)
Religion and business
How to retain the spirit of serious piety in the busy activities of life, is a question vital to Christian character. The practical divorce of religion and piety in our daily affairs is fraught with peril. Too many regard religion as out of place in the thoroughfares of trade, as a fabric of too fine a texture, or as an exotic transplanted from a tropical to a polar clime. The easy quietude of the sanctuary or closet befits it: “Holiness to the Lord” may be lint on the Bible, but not on the ledger; on the mitre of priest, but not on the bells of horses. How can religion and business be properly blended?
1. By having all actions constrained by holy motives. We do not, indeed, have God as a distinct object before us every moment, but we do the work which He has appointed us, in our special sphere, as a service to Him: “Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” The blood circulates silently in our veins, and so religion is a silent, but vital, force in our hearts.
2. We are to remember that religion is being good and doing good. It is not quietism or asceticism, but a dominant principle that guides our thought and speech and action. It is a reflection of Christ’s life in the flesh. It shows itself in minutest details--the soft step, the gentle voice, the courteous demeanour; in honest speech, in nobility of dealing and truthfulness of disposition. True religion, someone says, puts no sand in sugar, alum in bread, water into milk, or otter into butter; it keeps the wife from ill-temper when her husband’s dirty boots soil the floor, and keeps him from having dirty boots; it prevents him from fretting at a late dinner, and keeps her from having late dinners.
3. Religion is doing secular acts from sacred motives oftener than it is doing merely sacred acts, so called. When piety stamps our life, all our acts are religious. It is wrong to separate toil and worship, and to forget that motive gives character to deeds. An automaton may do many of our acts, but it, has no moral character. The heart makes the work of the workman holy. “An anvil may be consecrated and a pulpit desecrated.” A religion that is not fitted to week day work never had a Sabbath day origin. (C. H. Buck.)
The true Christian holiness
These words indicate that the great design, and ultimate result, of the diffusion of the Gospel is to promote holiness. In the view of many, salvation is simply deliverance from punishment. But salvation is a character as well as a condition, and the two can never he really divorced. Christianity is a life as well as a creed. The bestowment of forgiveness is not the great end of the Gospel, but only a means to the higher end of lifting men from their degradation and making them in heart and in conduct, as well as in name, the sons of God. To rest in pardon is a mean and contemptible thing, displaying a disposition of the grossest selfishness. When salvation is really possessed, it is a living character, produced by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and rooted in the simple faith which the soul is exercising in Jesus Christ.
I. What holiness is. What precisely do we mean when we say of a man that he is holy? We imply not simply that he is virtuous, but rather that his virtue has a special and peculiar quality. In our common speech there is a recognition of the distinction between virtue and holiness. The virtuous man regulates his conduct by moral principles alone, while the holy man maintains a close and constant fellowship with the living God. The one gives you a lofty idea of his own excellence, the other makes you feel the greatness and purity of God. The scriptural significance of the term is “consecrated to Jehovah.” Holiness, so far as it is an inward principle, is the maintenance of close communion with God: and so far as it is an outward manifestation, it is the consecration of the life to God. Holiness is a disposition lying back behind all virtues, and giving to each of them its own distinctive peculiarity. Holiness is an inward, all-regulating principle.
II. How this holiness is to be attained. Clearly, it is not possessed by every man. No man has it naturally, and as a thing of course. Indeed, the very reverse is true. Men do not like to retain God in their knowledge. How is all this to be changed? Not by the individual himself. From an unholy soul nothing but that which is unholy can proceed. By no mere process of development, or natural selection, can the unholy man train himself into holiness. Neither can this change be accomplished by means of external rites. The Scriptures state with the utmost explicitness that we are regenerated by the power of the Holy Ghost. If we inquire into the mode of His operations, we get no reply. If we ask how He can work in and upon a man, while not infringing on his free agency, we are not told. Though silent as to the mode, Scripture repeatedly asserts the fact. The other element of holiness is consecration to God. But the essence of sin is self-will, and so it is impossible that a man can dedicate himself to God until sin within him has been crushed. In order to holiness, the sinner needs to be reconciled to God, and to he made like to God. But these are the very things which are to he accomplished through his belief on the Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost. As to consecration to Him, the sight of the means by which his guilt and depravity have been removed, produces in the believer’s soul a deep feeling of personal indebtedness to God. He cannot lay claim to himself after God has redeemed him to Himself by the precious blood of Christ. His gratitude takes the form of self-dedication. It follows, also, that we must seek to have faith, strong and abiding, in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Redeemer, and in His death as the propitiation for our sins. This is a view of the Cross which is too seldom before our eyes.
III. Where this holiness is to be manifested. It is to characterise the believer’s life in all occupations and under all circumstances. Under the New Testament we have no holy places, or holy persons. To the Christian there should be nothing purely secular. Wherever piety is genuine, and our consecration unreserved, we shall seek in all things to glorify God. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Holiness on the bells of the horses
The period to which these verses refer is still future. Piety is to be almost universal, extending generally to all persons and acts. Gather from the text what real piety is. Use the text as a standard.
1. On the bells of the horses, “Holiness to the Lord,” not on the priest’s mitre only. Common occupations are to be performed with an eye to God. We are to serve God indirectly in our callings, as well as directly in our ordinances; secular things are to be conducted on the same holy principles of faith and obedience as our sacred services. Horses are used for state occasions, for recreation, for journeying, for merchandise. And bells on the horses give notice of their approach And wherever a Christian comes, holiness to the Lord should attend him.
2. “And the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar.” Lesser things in the service of God should be attended to, as well as the more important; earthen pots, as well as golden bowls, should be held sacred. Where there is real holiness people are not nice and particular about ceremonial holiness. The true worshipper seeks to worship in spirit. This is the main thing. At the same time, he does not disparage sacred persons, places, days, and things, because he can make ordinary persons, places, days, and things, conducive and helpful to his spiritual growth. You should carry your religion into your ordinary affairs, but you should not carry your ordinary affairs into your religious worship, except for the sake of guidance and blessing, and that you may go forth to conduct them in a right manner and with a proper spirit. (H. C. Mitchinson, M. A.)
Holiness to the Lord
Jerusalem and Judah are referred to in a literal sense, but, as is common, they are ultimately referred to as a type of the universal Church of the latter day. In its real scope the prediction extends to the whole world. Everything in prophecy and providence unites, to prove that the entire fulfilment is at the door. The term “holy” signifies “set apart,” “devoted.” To be holy to the Lord is to be consecrated to Him. But “holiness to the Lord” is a still more forcible expression, and denotes consecration in the abstract. Men will write “holiness to the Lord” on all that they are and have. This implies that they will go through and reexamine all their habits, and bring all to the touchstone of Scripture. They will consecrate to Him all their powers of body and mind, all their time, influence, and possessions. You have come upon the stage at a time when Christendom is teeming with projects and institutions to meliorate the condition of man, and to advance the kingdom of Christ. See that you give these institutions firm and unwearied support. Fall in with the spirit of your age. You ought to be wholly for God, because He made you what you are, and built the world you inhabit, and furnished it for your use, and placed you in it, and commanded you to serve Him with all your heart and soul. You are not your own. You ought to be wholly for Christ, because He died to redeem you from eternal fire and raise you to immortal happiness. You must devote your lives to the interests of His kingdom if you would most promote the happiness of men. You must be wholly devoted if you would wish for a life of comfort. A divided mind is an uneasy mind. Many people have just enough religion to make them wretched. A heart and life consecrated without reserve to Christ, would bring peace of conscience, the strong exercise of benevolent affection, the satisfaction of a delightful employment, and crown all with ecstatic communion with God, and an assured hope of immortality. (E. Dorr Griffin, D. D.)
Holiness to the Lord
The prophets and apostles often speak of a glorious day, which is to dawn upon the Church in the latter ages of the world. Respecting this glorious day two things are predicted in the chapter before us. The true religion shall then universally prevail. Christians shall make much greater attainments in religion, and its sanctifying influence shall pervade all the common concerns and employments of life.
1. These expressions of the text imply that, when the day here predicted arrives, all the common business, employments, and actions of men shall be performed with as much seriousness and devoutness, as the most pious Christians now feel when engaged in the most solemn duties of religion. The meaning of the prediction evidently is that, while persons are engaged in all the common business and concerns of life, whether at home or abroad, whether in the house or by the way, they shall feel as serious, as devout, as much engaged in the service of God, as did the Jewish high priest, when he wore that sacred inscription upon his forehead.
2. In that day, every house, every shop, and the whole world itself, will be a house of God, a temple consecrated to His praise. A temple is a place consecrated and devoted to God for religious purposes. But in that day every house will be such a place.
3. Every day will then be like a Sabbath.
4. Every common meal will be what the Lord’s Supper is now.
5. When this day arrives, there will be no insincere worshippers found in God’s house, no hypocritical professors in His Church.
1. Our great and innumerable deficiencies.
2. Whether we have any religion or not.
3. What pleasures, pursuits, and employments are really lawful and pleasing to God. (E. Payson, D. D.)
Holiness to the Lord
Zechariah describes, in the last chapters of his book, great troubles coming on the world. All the world gathered round about Jerusalem to destroy it. The Lord Himself coming down from heaven to deliver the sacred city. There was no thought more pressed upon the mind of the Jew than that of holiness. It was the motto of the national life. The same conception of universal sanctity was carried forward from Judaism to Christianity.
I. The highest state of man, the most blessed condition of the world, is here set before us. The first meaning of holiness is separation. Separation looks two ways, to the past and to the future. There is something from which we are separated, and something to which we are separated. When we think of holiness practically, in respect to our present life, we are apt to regard it as representing an unattainable height. Holiness is absolute purity. Sanctification is ever represented in Scripture as though it were equivalent with a positive perfection already attained in this life. Holiness describes, not a realised height of nature or life, but a law or condition of life,--a process, a growth, springing out of faith, going on with us to our eternal future. Holiness is consecration.
II. This Divine idea of holiness is universally applicable. There is nothing which cannot be consecrated. The first thing in true consecration is the act of the inner self. We have none of us altogether conquered our old selfishness: we battle with it still. But holiness is the renunciation of all for Christ. And we have all an outside life to bring under this law of entire surrender. Holiness is not the condition of human nature, left to itself, it is the gift of God. There is a spurious holiness into which we are invited. Outside sanctities will never quicken the soul into new life. (R. A. Redford, LL. B., M. A.)
The holiness of the gospel church
These words describe the purity and holiness of the gospel church in such terms and notions as are proper to the Old Testament dispensation. Notice the inscription, or impress,--“Holiness to the Lord.” The things inscribed are particularly enumerated, the horse bells; the bowls, the pots. What was used in the kitchens of the temple; and the utensils of every ordinary house and family. Notice the time. “In that day.” The whole state of things under the Gospel, which is as it were but one day. But where is this universal holiness to be found? Prophecies of things belonging to our obedience are to be often understood of our duty, rather than of the event. As to the event, it is to be understood comparatively, not absolutely. And the Gospel state hath its ebbs and flows in several ages. Doctrine--God in and by the Gospel will effect an eminent and notable sanctification both of things and persons.
I. That degree of holiness which is here prophesied of.
1. All such things as were before employed against God should be then employed and converted to His service, for the horse bells shall be inscribed.
2. Upon all the utensils of the temple there shall be “Holiness to the Lord,” whether pots or bowls.
3. The expressions imply a proficiency and growth in holiness; for the pots of the kitchen of the temple shall become as the bowls of the altar for purity and holiness.
4. As it is a progressive holiness, so it is also a diffusive holiness, which spreadeth itself through all actions, civil and sacred; in things which belong to peace and war.
II. Of holiness in the general. Consider it--
1. Relatively. Four things are in it. An inclination towards God. From this tendency towards God ariseth a dedication of ourselves, and all that we have to the Lord’s use and service. From this dedication there results a relation of the persons so dedicated to God, so that from that time forth they are not their own, but the Lord’s. There is another thing, and that is the actual using of ourselves for God. We are vessels set apart for the master’s use.
2. Positive holiness may be considered either with respect to our persons or actions. Our persons, when we are renewed by the Spirit, or there is an inward principle of sanctification wrought in our hearts. As a person is holy by his principle, so an action is holy by the rule, when it agreeth with it as to manner and matter and end.
III. Reasons why this eminent holiness, both of persons and actions, should take place in the Gospel, above the times of the law.
1. Because of our principle, the new nature wrought in us by the Spirit of God, which is suited to the whole will of God.
2. Because of the exactness of our rule, which teacheth us how to walk in our several businesses and employments.
3. Because of our pattern and example, Jesus Christ, who was exact in all His actions.
4. Because of our obligations to Christ; partly because of His dominion as the Lord and Redeemer by right of purchase. In all conditions and states of life He hath a right in us, therefore in every state of life we should glorify Him. Partly from our gratitude to Christ as Saviour as well as Lord. Use--To persuade us to this universal obedience. None enter upon God’s service but with a consecration. Sundry directions.
The bright future of the world, the reign of holiness
Holiness will be the salient feature in the future of the world. The holiness will be universal.
I. It will embrace the affairs of common life. “Upon the bells of the horses.” It was common amongst ancient nations to have bells on horses for use or ornament, or perhaps for both. It is said that in Alexander’s funeral procession the horses had gold bells attached to their cheek straps.
II. It will embrace all domestic concerns. “Every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts.” The idea is that holiness will extend even to the minutest concerns of domestic life, the members of families will be religious. The very pots in which the priests cooked their food should be as sacred as the bowls that caught the victim’s blood. Observe--
III. It will embrace all religious characters. “In that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts.” “By Canaanite,” says Dr. Henderson, “is meant merchant. The Phoenicians who inhabited the northern part of Canaan were the most celebrated merchants of antiquity. The word may fairly be regarded as standing for mercenary men, men animated by the mercenary spirit.” Such men are ever to be found in connection with religion. The old prophets bewailed this spirit. It was found in the earlier ages of the Christian Church. Men who considered “gain as godliness,” the Canaanite or the merchant do not necessarily belong to mercantile life but to other avocations as well and even to the priestly life. Perhaps the mercenary spirit is as rife in priests and ministers now as ever. But in the coming age there will be no more the Canaanite--the mercenary man--in the house of the Lord, all will be holy. (Homilist.)
Holiness has to do with every part of our life
Religion is one of the colours of life which mingles most intimately with all the other colours of the palette. It is that which lends them their appearance of depth, and the best of their brilliance. If by a subtle process it is taken away, all become tarnished and discoloured. (W. Mallock.)
Holiness applies to common things
I pray my friends not to be so spiritual that they cannot do a good day’s work, or give full measure, or sell honest wares. To my disgust, I have known persons professing to have reached perfect purity who have done very dirty things. I have been suspicious of superfine spirituality since I knew one who took no interest in the affairs of this world, and yet speculated till he lost thousands of other people’s money. Do not get to be so heavenly minded that you cannot put up with the little vexations of the family; for we have heard of people of whom it was said that the sooner they went to heaven the better, for they were too disagreeable to live with below. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Holiness in the common things of life
There is a legend of an artist who sought a piece of sandalwood out of which to carve a Madonna. At last he was about to give up in despair, leaving the vision of his life unrealised, when in a dream he was bidden to shape the figure from a block of oak, which was destined for the fire. Obeying the command, he produced from the log of common firewood a masterpiece. In like manner many people wait for great and brilliant opportunities for doing the good things, the beautiful things, of which they dream, while, through all the plain, common days, the very opportunities they require for such deeds lie close to them, in the simplest and most familiar passing events, and in the homeliest circumstances. They wait to find sandalwood out of which to carve Madonnas, while far more lovely Madonnas than they dream of are hidden in the common logs of oak they burn in their open fireplace, or spurn with their feet in the wood yard.
Holiness unto the Lord
Holiness stands for three things--first, and in its deepest conception, separation from sin or common use, as the one day in the week, the one mountain of Zion amid the hills, and the child Samuel in his mother’s home, dedicated to the service of God. Secondly, holiness stands for consecration or devotion to God; that which is not used for sin is set apart for His holy service; that which is not used for ordinary purposes is dedicated, like the communion plate, to one most holy and sacred purpose. Just as you would not use the chalice or paten of the communion for any common meal, however urgently you were pressed to it, so the holy thing is set apart for God. Thirdly, holiness implies growing capacity for the likeness of God. The nature which is yielded to God receives more of God, and, by receiving God, becomes changed into the likeness of God. So Holiness unto the Lord was engraven as a sacred motto upon the golden plate, on Aaron’s forehead, and everyone that saw the high priest so arrayed felt that there was a rightness, a holy fitness, that a man who was set apart for the service of God’s house should wear such a tablet. Probably, if you were told that you should dally wear a similar badge, you would exclaim, “No, not so. I am quite willing to be a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ as my Saviour. I am looking one day to stand before Him, rid of all imperfections and impurity, in the Temple of God, but I dare not assume that title now. I am not holy. I know it myself, and those that know me best would confess it too. That inscription and that golden plate are not for me.” Then you are missing the point of Zechariah’s conception of this dispensation. Anticipating the time in which we live, he said, “The Holy Spirit will be so brought within the reach of ordinary people that the sacred inscription which had been reserved for the high priest will be inscribed upon the very bells of their horses’ gear, while the utensils and vessels which are devoted to common use will become, as it were, dignified and sanctified, as much so as altar vessels; while those which the priests employ for common purposes will be as bowls in which the blood of the victim is received, and into which the priest dips his hand to sprinkle the blood on the Day of Atonement.” Three words will indicate our line of thought, namely,--Abolition, Inclusion, Elevation.
I. Abolition. There is an abolition in our present dispensation of the old distinction between sacred and secular. Many people live in two houses--of their sacred and of their secular duty; and though they pass from one to the other yet there is a distinct demarcation between what they are at sacred hours and at other times. People seem to suppose that religion can be put on and off as a dress; that it is separate from their real life; that it resembles undigested food, which is taken into the body but does not become part of their nature, and is therefore a burden and inconvenience. Now, this cannot be right. If you consider the genius of our religion the idea of such a partition cannot be admitted for a moment. What is the Christian religion? A creed? A performance? A donning of a certain outward behaviour or habit? It is a life; and surely life must express itself by speech and act, and in all the various outgoings of doing and suffering. The life of a flower must always exhale sweet fragrance; the life of a bird must always pour itself forth in carol and song; the life of a fish must always show itself, whether it flashes up from the surface of the water or buries itself in the depth. So the life of God always expresses itself; it is not located in certain acts, but it pervades a man as the spirit of selfishness might do. A student’s knowledge will affect his life at every turn. An artist cannot find enjoyment at one time in that which jars on his well balanced tastes at another. So when we receive the new life of God it must pour out through the channels of our whole being; or, ii ever we are inconsistent with it, it will rebuke and call us back, through confession and prayer, to the old standard. You cannot be religious there and irreligious here; if you have life it will show itself as much on Monday as Sunday. Religion is also a recognition of Christ’s kingship, the presenting Him with the keys of one’s whole being. But if you are only going to serve Christ on certain occasions, and on Sundays, there are six-sevenths of your time taken out from His holy government. How can you call yourself a slave of Jesus Christ if you are only serving Him in certain specified duties and acts, whilst the residue of your life is spent according to your whim? Is not that the way in which the wandering tribes of Siberia acknowledge the Tsar of Russia, whilst they assert a good deal of autonomy of their own? Is not that detrimental to all consistency, all true devotion and consecration? Does the planet ever leave the sphere of the sun’s influence? Religion is a testimony to the world. The world does not come to our places of worship or see us at our best; the world does not intrude upon our domestic privacy, and overhear our prayers. The world can only judge us when we cross its track, when we are engaged in the same duties as it is familiar with, or undergoing privations and discipline it can appreciate.
II. Inclusion. The Jews were forbidden to buy or own horses. Horses were identified with war, with proud display and show. But here we note that instead of the horses being kept outside the national life, they are permitted, and, instead of their being under a ban, Holiness unto the Lord is written upon their bells--Calvin says upon their blinkers. In the old times men said that religion consisted in their attitude towards God, and that therefore everything which could not be directly used for His service must be viewed with suspicion, Hence the relationships of family life were carefully abjured by monk and nun; and through the Middle Ages especially, when the ascetic idea dominated men, we have hardly any reference to natural beauty. The Christian idea is infinitely preferable. You may have your horses, but they must be consecrated. You may have the horse bells to make sweet music, but see to it that they are inscribed with Holiness unto the Lord. You may have the vessels and implements of daily service, but mind that every one of them is handled as the bowls of the altar. Of course, if you feel that certain things, which are innocent in themselves, are getting too great a hold upon you, or are influencing other people wrongly, then you are bound to put them away. Whatever you may do rightly you may do for Him, and whatever you may do for Him you are right in doing.
III. Elevation. Zechariah says that there is to be no distinction between sacred and secular, but he does not say we are to level down the sacred to the secular. He does not say that the holy bowls in which the victim’s blood was caught are to be levelled down to that of the other vessels of the Temple; but that the ordinary vessels are to be levelled up to these. He does not say that the priest is to take off his plate, and have no more reverence for the worship of God than he felt when he went to saddle his horse for an afternoon’s excursion, but that he is to saddle his horses for his pleasure ride with the same reverence and devotion to God as when he entered the temple at the call of sacred duty. The whole tendency of the present day is to make everything equally secular, but we must take care to make everything equally sacred. You must have your church, that your workshop may become imbued with the spirit of your church; you must have your Bible reading, that all books may be read under the light that shines from your Bible; you must have the Lord’s Supper, that you may eat and drink always to the glory of God. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Zechariah 14". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25