Friday, June 9th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Habakkuk 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ habakkuk-2.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Habakkuk 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower.
Awaiting the Lord’s message
Nothing definite is known of this man Habakkuk. In the text we see him preparing himself for his holy task--ascending his tower, that he may see; secluding himself, that he may hear; making his bosom bare, that he may feel the message of the Unseen.
I. The secret of life is to realise the unseen. To this man the world is full of an unseen, majestic presence. The very air he breathes throbs with the pulse of God, and the silence may be broken at any time by God’s voice. So he spends life watching, listening, waiting. Is not every life noble and grand and true just in proportion as it realises this, as it seeks the Unseen? This is indeed the Gospel--that God is now reconciled to us, and that His presence broods over us in unutterable love. To realise this and enter into its blessedness is not only the secret of life, but it is the whole duty of man.
II. We ought to expect messages from the unseen. To the prophet this great Unseen One is no dumb God. The truth is, that God seems to be always seeking some heart sufficiently at leisure from itself that lie may talk with it. He found such an one in Abraham and in Moses. In the days of Eli we read there was “no open vision.” God was silent, for none could hear His voice; God was invisible, for earth-blinded eyes could not see Him. If we could but hear, He has much to say unto us--much about His purposes of grace toward ourselves, and about His purpose toward the world; much about the coming glory. In three ways--
1. By His Spirit through the Word.
2. By His Spirit through our conscience.
3. By His spirit through His Providence.
We need these voices from the Unseen to guide and help us in the sorrows and perplexities of our lives. If it be a miracle for the Unseen to speak with men, then that is a miracle that happens almost every hour.
III. How we should dispose ourselves to receive God’s messages.
1. We should get up, up above the heads of the crowd, up above the crush and clamour of the worldly throng, to where there is clearer air and greater peace. It is not the new play we want, nor the most fashionable church, but the new vision of His face. Wherever we can get most of that is the place for us.
2. We are next to quicken our whole being into a listening and receptive attitude.
3. Quiet is needed also; for God most often speaks in a still, small voice. (J. C. Johnston, M. A.)
Almost nothing is known about the personal history of the author of the prophecy contained in this book. He himself retires into the background, as one content to be forgotten if the Word of God uttered by him receives the attention it deserves. The self-abnegation of many of those whom God employed to do a great work among His ancient people teaches a lesson that is much needed. It implies a whole-hearted consecration to God’s work and interests in the world that ought to be more aimed at than it sometimes is. It is a trial that comes to the prophet’s faith, and how he met it, that are brought before us in the whole passage of which our text forms a part. What was the trial of his faith? In answer to his Cry to God to interpose to put a stop to abounding wickedness in the Covenant nation, the reply is given to him that terrible judgment was about to fall upon it, and from an unexpected quarter--from Babylon. The havoc that would be made by this fierce, proud, self-sufficient world-power is made in vision to pass distinctly and clearly before him. He sees its terrible army marching through the land--a garden of Eden before it and a wilderness behind it. The scene that thus fills his mind’s eye, his patriotic spirit would not allow him to contemplate unmoved. He trembles for the safety of his people under this dark cloud of judgment. He seeks refuge from them in God, holding fast the conviction that a righteous God would not allow a wicked, proud nation like that of the Chaldeans to hold His people for ever in cruel bondage. “Art Thou of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst Thou not look upon iniquity? Wherefore lookest Thou, then, upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?” As he contemplates the Chaldean army, conscious of its own strength and making a god of it, ravaging the whole land, this conviction grew doubtful to him. It seemed sometimes to slip away from his grasp. This was the trial of his faith, and the greatness of it can only be measured by the sincerity of his religion and the strength of his patriotism. How does he meet this trial? The words of our text inform us. “I will stand upon my watch-tower, and set me upon the fortress, and will watch to see what He will say in me, and what I shall answer to my plea.” He resolves to lay his doubts before God, and to wait upon Him--withdrawing his attention from all earthly things--for solution. In carrying out this resolution he compares himself to one who mounts the watch-tower--attached to ancient towns and fortresses--that he may scan the surrounding district to see if any one might be approaching, whether friend or foe. Like one on the watch-tower in the eager strained outlook for some messenger, would the prophet be in relation to the expected explanation from God. When he himself tells us that on this watch-tower he was watching to see what God would say in him--for this is the proper rendering of the words--waiting for an inward voice he could recognise as God’s, the spiritual nature of the transaction is placed beyond all doubt. The revelation which came to his soul thus waiting, of which we have an account in the subsequent part of the chapter, solved his difficulties and strengthened his faith and hope. The assurance was given to him, as we learn from the 14th verse, that not only Canaan, but “the whole earth would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
I. The mounting of this watchtower. This is an exercise to which we must be no strangers if we are to have God’s light shining on our path, God’s voice saying to us: “This is the way, walk ye in it,” and God’s hand laid upon us to strengthen us for every trial and conflict.
1. May we not regard it as laying before God the difficulties caused by his own dealings? There was a mystery in the events of Providence which the prophet felt that he could not penetrate. Was it possible that God’s chosen people--to whom pertained the adoption and the glory and the covenants--would be overwhelmed in the disasters in which he saw them plunged? Would the ungodly might of Chaldea be allowed to crush them altogether, and all the hopes bound up in their life? To the eye of sense this seemed likely, but the prophet knew that behind all events and forces there was a personal God--Jehovah the Covenant God of Israel. He knew that they were but carrying out His will, and he would not believe, even though the appearances of things pointed to it--that that will was seeking the destruction of the Covenant nation. Sense was drawing him one way, his faith was drawing him another, and the questions born of this conflict which were agitating his mind he wisely resolves to lay before God. What are Job’s wonderful speeches in his conversations with his friends, but a series of impassioned reasonings with God about His dealings with him? What, again, was Asaph’s exercise under the triumphing of the wicked as recorded in a well-known Psalm, but a talking with God about HIS dealings? And do we not find the plaintive Jeremiah, when his soul was sore vexed with cruel opposition, saying, “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, when I plead with Thee; yet let me talk with Thee of Thy judgments. Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?” It is not a blind impersonal force that the believer sees behind the events that take place, compelling sullen submission to whatever happens? No! It is a loving Father to whom appeal may be made about the perplexing questions that may be aroused by His own dealings. Fatalism--in which things, are accepted simply because they cannot be changed--is not Christian resignation, and falls far short of the attitude in which the believing heart can find rest. Openness in our dealings with God is what He delights in, and what will lead us to the knowledge of that secret of His that is with them that fear Him. Faith will have its difficulties both with the wondrous revelation God has given to us in His Word, and with the unfolding of His purposes in the course of His Providence. The finest natures--those touched to finest issues--are very often those who feel these difficulties most keenly, and have to fight their way to the bright shining shore of certainty and rest by buffeting with many a storm. And the best way of dealing with all those difficulties is just to take them to the watch-tower and lay them before God.
2. But this dealing with God about questions that may perplex us implies the stilling of our souls before Him, that He may give us light and guidance. The prophet after pleading with God, expostulating with Him on the apparent contradiction between the Divine providence and the Divine promise, places himself before God and waits for His voice. That he may hear it all the better--may catch the slightest whisper of the Divine voice within him--he retires into himself, quiets his own spirit, and intently waits. The expressive language of the Psalmist may be used to describe his “attitude,” “My soul is silence unto God. And this exercise, need we say, is essential to the obtaining of any deep insight into God’s will, to our receiving those discoveries of Himself as a God of grace and love, that will give us rest even under the most trying dispensations. It is by the Divine voice within us that the Divine voice without us in His written Word is clearly, distinctly understood, and is made to throw its blessed light upon Divine Providence. Without the inward revelation that comes to us by the teaching of God’s Spirit, the outward revelation given in our Bibles will remain dark and unintelligible. If we do not withdraw now and again from the bustle and noise of the world, and commune with our own hearts, the Divine voice will be lost to us. It will remain unheard, as the bell striking the hour above some busy thoroughfare is often unheard by those in the throng. It is the calm lake which mirrors the sun most perfectly, and so it is the calm soul that will catch the most of the heavenly glory that shines upon the watch tower, and reflect it on the world around. But we must not think of this calmness or silence of the soul toward God as a mere passive attitude. “It requires the intensest energy of all our being to keep all our being still and waiting upon God. All our strength must be put into the task; and our soul will never be more intensely alive than when in deepest abnegation it waits hushed before God.” Though it may involve an apparent contradiction, the silent soul will be one full of the spirit of prayer. The prophet had been pleading with God for light to guide him in dark days, and it is with a longing pleading soul that he mounts the watch-tower and waits for an answer. He has directed his prayer to God, and he looks up expecting an answer. There is really as much prayer in this silent submissive waiting for an answer to his cry as there was in the cry itself. The expectant look of the beggar after his request has been made has often more power to move the generous heart than the request itself. And the mounting of the watch-tower after prayer to maintain an outlook for the promised answer puts beyond all doubt that we have been sincere and earnest in the exercise, and will have power with God. The place on the watch-tower may have to be maintained for a time before the answer comes, but it is sure to come in some form or another.
4. But last of all here, this standing upon the watch-tower has been regarded by some as the prophet’s continuance at his work notwithstanding the difficulties that encompassed it. Not unfrequently in the Old Testament is the prophet’s office compared to that of a watchman. What the watchman in the tower did in the earthly sphere--keeping an outlook for the people and warning them of coming danger--the prophet was to do in the spiritual sphere. And so when the prophet here says: “I will stand upon my watch-tower,” he is regarded as meaning, “I will not leave my post--the place in which God has put me, but will wait in the faithful discharge of every commanded duty for the solving of my doubts and the removal of my difficulties.” Certainly in acting in such a way he took the very best plan of getting his way made clear. When we allow our perplexities, whatever they may be, to keep us back from work God is plainly laying to our hands, they will increase around us. Activity and steadfastness in duty will purge our spiritual atmosphere, while melancholy in active brooding will laden it with pestilential vapours. A higher attainment still is to have the soul stilled before God, and expectant even in the midst of our labour.
II. What is enjoyed in this watch-tower. The prophet’s experience was one so rich and blessed that a glimpse of it may well stir us up to follow his example:
1. He heard the Divine voice for which he listened. “Then Jehovah answered me and said.” He became aware of a Divine presence within his soul, and conscious of a Divine voice speaking to his heart. His waiting and looking up met with a rich reward. Though this experience cannot now come in the same form to the trustful waiting soul, yet, in its inner essence, it may and does come. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit within believers as their tether is a blessed reality. They who submit themselves to His guidance will be led by Him into all truth, will not only gain a deep insight into God’s will, but will see its bearing upon events in Providence. It was a very simple truth that was now divinely spoken to the prophet: “Behold his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.” The man or the race of men that are lifted up with vain self-confidence shall experience no tranquillity, but they who abide firm in their allegiance to God and make Him their trust shall he maintained by His mighty gracious power. The simplest truths, that may in some of their aspects have long been familiar to us, are often used in the teaching of the Spirit to lift the soul above the mists that obscure its vision. It will be the declaration of truths thus divinely spoken to our hearts that will be accompanied with greatest power.
2. Again, let us notice that this experience brought him a new sense of the Divine presence with His people. The song with which the sad prophecy ends, recorded in the third chapter, expresses this sense of the Divine nearness to His people. The land that had witnessed such marked manifestations of His presence and power, the memory of which was fondly cherished by the pious, had not been forsaken by Him. What had been done when “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran,” would again be done for the overthrow of the proud oppressor, and for the deliverance of the humble fearers of His name. The eternal order lay behind the confusion caused by the wicked, and would in due time assert itself, for the God of this order was behind all.
3. So the prophet finds his labours for the land and people he loved sustained by a restful hope. Dark days may come in which the fig-tree shall not blossom, and there shall be no fruit in the vine, and the field shall yield no meat, but when their purifying work is accomplished brighter times shall dawn. His labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. Neither will ours if done in the right spirit. (R. Morton.)
I. The duty of watchfulness.
1. This duty arises from various causes which affect us in our outward circumstances, as well as in our minds and hearts. They are our enemies or our friends; such as build up the character of man for good, and lift it heavenwards, or mar it and force it downwards to destruction. The ever-present, active, and all-pervading causes of good and evil, acting upon man’s moral and spiritual nature, provide a powerful reason for this duty. For while a man is thus taught his dependence upon God for strength, and is shewn his own weakness in the battle of life, he is at the same time taught to use every precaution against his fees, to guard every avenue of his heart against their influence, and to be vigilant and watchful in all his daily undertakings.
2. But watchfulness as a moral duty may be considered as a recognition of God’s laws and government. The man who waits, like Habakkuk, for the Almighty, will see the hand of God everywhere. He recognises God as the watchful Father, noting every tear and hearing every sigh that inspires the watchful heart with hope, and that sheds a bright ray of comfort through the gloom.
II. Faith founded upon the revelations of God is an argument against all mistrust and doubt of His power and goodness.
1. The answer which God gave to the prayers of Habakkuk was the authority by which he met every quibble of his opponents, and by which he confronted his enmity.
2. A true faith acts on the revelation of God in the life history of Christ, and on the soul’s immortality. In the life of Christ, weighted with suffering the most intense, we find a solution to our own troubles, as well as their sanction. Then let us “stand upon our watch.” (W. Horwood.)
On the watch-tower
There is no remedy, when such trials as those mentioned by the prophet in the first chapter meet us, except we learn to raise up our minds above the world. For if we contend with Satan, according to our own view of things, he will a hundred times overwhelm us, and we can never be able to resist him. Let us therefore know that here is shown to us the right way of fighting with him: when our minds are agitated with unbelief, when doubts respecting God’s providence creep in, when things are so confused in this world as to involve us in darkness, so that no light appears, we must bid adieu to our own reason; for all our thoughts are nothing worth when we seek, according to our own reason, to form a judgment. Until then the faithful ascend to their tower, and stand in their citadel, of which the prophet here speaks, their temptations will drive them here and there, and sink them as it were in a bottomless gulf. But that we may more fully understand the meaning, we must know that there is here an implied contrast between the tower and the citadel, which the prophet mentions, and a station on earth. As long, then, as we judge according to our own perceptions we walk on the earth; and while we do so, many clouds arise, and Satan scatters ashes in our eyes, and wholly darkens our judgment, and thus it happens that we lie down altogether confounded. It is hence wholly necessary that we should tread our reason under foot, and come nigh to God Himself. We have said that the tower is the recess of the mind, but how can we ascend to it? Even by following the Word of the Lord. For we creep on the earth; nay, we find that our flesh ever draws us downward,--except when the truth from above becomes to us, as it were, wings, or a ladder, or a vehicle, we cannot rise up one foot, but, on the contrary, we shall seek refuges on the earth rather than ascend into heaven. But let the Word of God became our ladder, or our vehicle, or our wings, and, however difficult the ascent may be, we shall yet be able to fly upward, provided God’s Word be allowed to have its own authority. We hence see how unsuitable is the view of those interpreters who think that the tower and the citadel is the Word of God; for it is by God’s Word that we are raised up to this citadel, that is, to the safeguard of hope, where we may remain safe and secure while looking down from this eminence on those things which disturb us and darken all our senses as long as we lie on the earth. This is one thing. Then the repetition is not without its use; for the prophet says, “On my tower will I stand, on the citadel will I set myself.” He does not repeat in other words the same thing because it is obscure, but in order to remind the faithful that, though they are inclined to sloth, they must yet strive to extricate themselves. And we soon find how slothful we become, except each of us stirs up himself. For when any perplexity takes hold on our minds we soon succumb to despair. This, then, is the reason why the prophet, after having spoken of the tower, again mentions the citadel. (John Calvin.)
Watching for God
1. It is our safest way, in times of temptation and perplexity, not to lie down under discouragement, but to recollect ourselves, and fix our eyes on God, who only can clear our minds and quiet our spirits; therefore the prophet, after his deep plunge in temptation, sets himself to look to God, and get somewhat to answer upon his arguing, or reproof and expostulation, that so his mind may be settled.
2. It is by the Word that the Lord cleareth darkness, and would have His people answer their temptations and silence their reasonings.
3. Meditation, earnest prayer, withdrawing of our minds off from things visible, and elevating them towards God, are the means in the use whereof God revealeth Himself, and His mind from His Word, to His people in dark times.
4. Faithful ministers ought to acquit themselves like watchmen in a city or army, to be awake when others sleep, to be watching with God, and over the people, seeking after faithful instructions which they may communicate, seeking to be filled from heaven with light and life, that they may pour it out upon the people; and all this especially in hard times.
5. Albeit the Lord’s people may have their own debates and faintings betwixt God and them, yet it is their part to smother these as much as they can, and to bring up a good report of God and His way to others. (George Hutcheson.)
On noting the providences of God
The observer of grace should be studious to discern the workings of Divine providence, and to consider their purposes in the counsels of the Most High. We inquire into the importance of observing the various ways in which the Almighty is pleased to address us, and of determining how far we have hitherto regarded them, and turned them to our individual improvement. In reply to the complaints of His servant, the Almighty shows that mercy would not be long extended; that the Chaldeans would soon inflict summary vengeance on the Jews. To these declarations of the Divine displeasure the prophet rejoins by stating the conviction of his own safety, and of the protection which would be extended to the rest of God’s people. He had hoped that God would have been satisfied with gentler corrections, and not have employed an idolatrous nation to punish His chosen people. But he resolves to wait patiently, in quietness and in confidence, for the answer of God, that he may know what statement he was to publish. Every Christian is as a man standing on the watch, as one who will have to give account; who watches to see what God will say to him. The will of God is declared both in His Word and in His works. The great end to be effected by watchfulness is, that we may know our actual state, and be ready at any time for aught that may befall us. It is that we may not be surprised, that we may not be taken at unawares. What do you propose to answer when you are called to appear before an all-seeing God? He has not only spoken to us in national judgments and mercies, He has said a word privately to each one of us as individual. (Richard Harvey, M. A.)
Man’s moral mission in the world
Wherefore are we in this world? We are not here by choice, nor by chance. Man’s moral mission--
I. Consists in receiving communications from the eternal mind. This will appear--
1. From man’s nature as a spiritual being.
(1) Man has a native instinct for it.
(2) A native capacity for it.
(3) A native necessity for it.
2. From man’s condition as a fallen being. As a sinner, man has a deeper and a more special need than angels can have. Communications from God are of infinite moment to man.
3. From the purposes of Christ’s mediation. Christ came to bring men to God. His Cross is the meeting-place between man and his Maker.
4. From the special manifestations of God for the purpose. These we have in the Bible.
5. From the general teaching of the Bible. In the Book men are called to audience with God.
II. How are divine communications to be received I Two things are necessary--
1. That we resort to the right scene. The prophet to his “tower.”
2. That we resort to the right scene in the right spirit.
III. Man’s moral mission consists in imparting communications from the eternal mind. That we have to impart as well as to receive is evident--
1. From the tendency of Divine thoughts to express themselves. Ideas of a religious kind always struggle for utterance.
2. From the universal adaptation of Divine thoughts.
3. From the spiritual dependence of man upon man.
4. From the general teaching of the Bible.
IV. Man’s moral mission consists in the practical realisation of communications from the eternal mind. In the Divine purpose there is a period fixed for the realisation of every Divine promise. However distant it may seem, our duty is to wait in earnest practical faith for it. Learn who it is that fulfils his moral missions in the world. The man who practically carries out God’s revelation in the spirit and habits of his life. Notice--
(1) The reasonableness of religion.
(2) The grandeur of a religious life.
(3) The function of Christianity.
What is the special design of the Gospel? To qualify man to fulfil his mission on earth. (Homilist.)
Write the vision, and make it plain.
Teaching must be plain
Think of that railway excursion train as it hurries onwards with impetuous speed! A vast crowd is collected there, and how various and complicated are the interests of each! A rapid impulse bears forward the whole; that impulse resides in every member of the group; one single bystander directs and controls it all. In an unexpected moment a shock, as of a thunderbolt, crushes them together; in the twinkling of an eye the elements of destruction are terribly let loose; each hapless one becomes an instrument of injury or death to his neighbour. What pain can paint the terror, the agony, the anguish of such a scene! They will be remembered for long, long years in mutilated forms, in shaken nerves, in bereaved or orphaned homes; the records will make multitudes shudder by their firesides, or will haunt them in their slumbers. Such have been the effects of one false or mistaken signal! Let us who are ministers of the Gospel remember what interests we hold, and by how much the soul is more precious than the body Let us beware! There are in the age in which we live, spiritual impulses innumerable, strange, impetuous. And we are the signalmen! (J. G. Miall.)
The voice of the old pulpit
I. The old pulpit’s apology for speaking. I am old. My outward appearance has been diversified at different times and places. I have a variety of experiences. My great influence is acknowledged by a large majority in every age and clime.
II. The old pulpit’s complaints and boastings.
1. My complaints--
(1) I complain because some very ungodly characters have taken the liberty of ascending my steps.
(2) Because some look at me as a mere workshop to make a living in.
(3) Because I have been compelled to serve as a stage to exhibit men, and not Christ.
(4) Because I have been too long used as a place of refuge for blind bigotry and prejudice.
(5) Because many who have stood on my floor did not do my work with all their might.
(6) Because there is not more attention paid me.
2. My boastings--
(1) In the multitude of my sons.
(2) Of the fame of my sons.
(3) In the greatness and glory of my themes.
(4) In the extent of my influence in the world.
(5) In the preservation of my life in spite of numerous and powerful enemies.
(6) That I am the great favourite of heaven. (J. Roberts.)
The simplicity and freeness of the Gospel salvation
The vision was to be written upon tables, and made plain, that every one who read it might run. He who gave the vision commanded that it should be made plain upon tables, that the way of escape might be at once learned by those that were in peril, and that without a moment’s delay they might run in that way and be delivered. What was the danger with which the people were threatened, and from which this vision was to indicate the way of escape? It is usually thought to be an anticipated invasion of the Chaldeans. It seems to me the danger is that to which all men as sinners are exposed; and that the way of escape indicated is that which is revealed to us by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I regard the prophet as here commissioned to announce to his countrymen, and ultimately, through the volume of inspiration, to the world at large, the folly, sin, and danger of rebellion against God, and forgetfulness of Him; and having thus warned them of the evil and peril of their ways, to urge upon them the importance of running in that way which has been opened for their escape. In favour of this interpretation the following considerations may be adduced--
1. Look at the circumstances in which the prophet tells us this com mission was delivered to him.
2. In Habakkuk 2:4 is a passage three times quoted by the apostle Paul, as applicable to the salvation of the Gospel--to the enjoyment of eternal life.
3. Peter (Acts 10:43) tells Cornelius that all the prophets preached the doctrine of salvation by faith through Christ.
4. The interpretation proposed seems to give greater unity and appropriateness to the prophet’s subsequent declarations. The commission, then, which the prophet received from God was a commission to declare plainly and faithfully to men their guilt and danger as sinners against God, and to point them to that salvation in connection with which God has revealed Himself to them, that they may escape the calamities to which their iniquity has exposed them. It is plain, then, that in order to ascertain correctly the way of salvation we must go to the written records of God’s will, and read. (W. Lindsay Alexander, D. D.)
For the vision is yet for an appointed time.
He whom men style a visionary has for the most part little or no honour among them. But no one can help having visions unless he be devoid of imagination. A vision is an inward view, an image, or series of images, broader, larger, grander, deeper than aught that the bodily eye can see; it is evoked by some outward sign, on which a spiritual force acts. Visions may come from God; they may bring men near to God. There are day visions. It was to be a sign of the latter days, that in them there should be second sight far into hidden things. And a life without visions is not that which an imaginative and sympathetic man or woman would care to live. There are false visions and true; some that never come, and some that will come, and truly. The false visions are those which have this world for their boundary, and the things of this world for their substance. They generally relate to self: to one’s own aggrandisement, to one’s own enjoyment, or to the gratification of some desire of the natural heart. There is a great variety in them, even at that rate. It is sometimes the will of God that men should get the discipline they need, and without which they would be lost for ever, by making the pilgrimage of life with visions before them which for ever fly pursuit. Turn from visions that fade to one which does not fade. That vision is supernatural; it is pure vision, for it is seen by faith, and by faith only. What is that vision of these latter days? Jesus came to earth, lived, disappeared. But with that departure came a vision such as never mortals beheld before. The vision of a ransomed and purified race of men and women; of the destruction of all that is false, and the setting straight all that is wrong; of perfect truth, and a clear view thereof. Then never lose faith, never fear. God’s light will grow brighter and stronger every year as you fight off the powers of darkness and hold faster to Him, and at last you shall see what made the light of your life, and you shall find all truth and all knowledge and full reward in the beatific vision of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. (Morgan Dix.)
Though it tarry, wait for it.
Waiting on God
In these words we have something supposed, and duty prescribed. “Though it tarry.” This implies some degree of impatience, which may be due either to unbelief or strength of desire. “Wait for it.” The vision is at present hid in the Divine purposes, but will at length break forth and be revealed.
I. Inquire what is implied in “waiting.”
1. A firm persuasion of the being and reality of what God has promised. Faith makes unseen things visible, and future things present; and as to things of a spiritual nature, it so demonstrates their excellency as to engage us to choose and give them the preference to all other things, while it excites strong desires after them. Faith therefore enters into the very essence of the duty here enjoined.
2. The deepest humility, joined with reverence and love. In order rightly to wait upon God we must have high apprehensions of Him and low apprehensions of ourselves. The waiting soul is sensible of its own dependence on the Divine all-sufficiency.
3. Fervent and continued desire. For these two are joined together in Isaiah 26:8. Waiting will cease when desire fails; but when everything else in a Christian seems to be gone, this remains. Waiting upon God is opposed to a stupid and lethargic frame of spirit.
4. Patience must be exercised in waiting. Not despairing patience. Not merely natural patience. A truly Christian patience, whereby we bear without murmuring the greatest afflictions, and are not totally discouraged by the longest delays. A patient spirit is neither timorous and distrustful on the one hand, nor rash and hasty on the other. For an apostolic similitude, see James 5:7-8. We expect from God; we must not prescribe to Him.
5. Fixedness and stability, in opposition to a fluctuating and unstable temper of mind; constancy and resolution, in opposition to fickleness and levity. The prophet calls it “standing upon a watch-tower.”
6. Diligence and constancy, in opposition to sloth and weariness. Waiting upon God does not imply indolence, but activity; not neglect of the means, but diligent use of them. Diligence without dependence is the greatest folly; and dependence without diligence is no better than presumption.
II. The reasonableness of the exhortation. Consider--
1. We are but servants; and what should servants do but wait?
2. What God has promised must be worth waiting for. Surely those put a great slight upon the promised blessings who will not earnestly seek and patiently wait for them.
3. God has long waited upon us. He has had great patience with us, and shall we not patiently wait for His mercy?
4. It is one end for which God bestows His grace upon us, that we might be able and willing to wait. It is this which calms the boisterous passions and stills the tumult of the soul.
5. God seldom performs His promises or answers our expectations till we are brought to this state of mind. When we are submissive in the want of blessings we are most likely to enjoy them; whereas fretfulness and discontent will provoke God to withhold them. When we contend with Him, He will contend with us; but when we resign ourselves up to His will, He will gratify us in our wishes.
6. The sweetness of blessings is generally proportioned to the time we have waited for them, and the longer they have tarried the more welcome they are when they come. Learn from hence that when grace has reached the heart there is still much for the Christian to do. Our present state is oftentimes a state of sore and pressing want, and always of imperfect enjoyment; and therefore we should wait, and our waiting should be accompanied with cheerfulness; and to secure this we should regard promises more than appearances. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
A three-fold tarrying
Three different Hebrew words are in English rendered by the one word “tarry.” One means, to tarry for a reason, because constrained to do so by some rational necessity exterior to the actor. One signifies to tarry for shame, to remain in a place because ashamed to leave it. One word has in it the idea of choice, and means to remain behind willingly. Illustrate by Genesis 24:56; Deuteronomy 7:10; Genesis 19:16. Habakkuk is speaking of the second advent of Christ. To the yearning inquiry of the Church, spiritually heard by the prophet, “Lord, when wilt Thou come in Thy glory?” the answer comes--“The time for His coming is appointed, though He tarry for some reason”; such reasons there are in the conditions of this wicked world which delay His coming; still, wait for Him; because it (He) will surely come; it (He) will not tarry freely, willingly, upon His own account, of His own arbitrary choice. (Alex. Mrywwitz, A. M.)
There is nothing so painful or mysterious in the experience of the children of God as the Lord’s frequently long delay in coming to their help in answer to their cry. This experience is not only painful in itself, but it often implies much spiritual conflict. It tends to shake faith to its foundations. Yet this is often God’s way. And since it is His way, our first source of comfort under this trial is--
1. To be still, and know that He is God. In all extremities we must fall back upon this, the sovereignty of God.
2. However dark be our path, we have no reason to doubt His love.
3. We can sometimes discern reasons why the Lord delays His coming. The expression, “the fulness of time,” reveals to us much of the secret of God’s delays. The waiting time is usually a time of growth. The suppliant sees things very differently at the close of his struggle from what he did at the outset; and the blessing so ardently sought becomes now a real blessing from his being thus prepared to receive it.
4. It will follow from this that when our prayers are offered up for blessings for others they too, at that time, may be unfitted to receive them.
5. As it is with human souls, who cannot, without a miracle, be in a moment transformed from childhood to maturity, there must be in all mental and spiritual processes, first, the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. So it is with the constitution of things. Sometimes before prayer can be answered many things must happen. (Evangelical Advocate.)
The Divine slowness
This word is the one word which the Divine wisdom often seems to utter in rebuke of human impatience. God is never in haste.
I. The Divine proceedings are slow.
1. The history of the earth illustrates this principle. Creation was the work of long eras.
2. There is something in the movement of the seasons tending to remind us of this great law. How silently and slowly winter retires before spring, and spring gives place to summer and autumn. To the Divine mind that orders it all there is a majesty in slowness.
3. The history of all life conveys the same lesson. Life, whether in plants or animals, is everywhere a growth; and all growth is silent, gradual,--so gradual as not to be perceived. The education of an individual is slow; the education of a people must be very slow.
II. Guard against impatience in judging the ways of God, and know how to wait. Religion, revealed religion, includes much in harmony with these facts of nature and providence.
1. Note the long interval which was to pass between the promise of a Saviour and His advent.
2. So, when the Saviour did come, the manner of His coming was not such as the thoughts of men would have anticipated. The kingdom of heaven was to come without observation.
3. It is not without mystery to many minds that the history of revealed religion since the advent should have been such as it has been. We might have anticipated that the doctrine of Christ would be retained in its purity, and that its subduing power would be everywhere felt. But on reflection we find analogy suggesting that this was by no means probable.
4. If we descend from the general life of the Church to the spiritual history of the individual believer, we may find much there to remind us that the experience of the Church at large, and the Christian taken separately, are regulated by the same intelligence. With regard to much of our Personal history, we are expected to wait for the revelations of God. (Robert Vaughan, D. D.)
The Just shall live by his faith.
Faith and the higher life
All men live by faith, and in our world man is the only creature who lives by faith. A world altogether without faith, where no man could trust another in anything, would be a most miserable world. Take away faith altogether, and all the social fabric would be one heap of ruins. Man is the only creature in this world who can live by faith. All creatures and all things depend upon God for the continuance of their existence as truly as man does, but it is man only who can trust in God. The fact that man can know God and trust in Him is a proof of his greatness and glory, and shows him to be the object of God’s special care and tenderness, as was shown by Christ in His Sermon on the Mount. Yet there are many men who do not trust in Him for His blessings, and live for His glory, in the enjoyment of them. Faith in Him is not a condition of the bestowal of His temporal blessings upon men. But men cannot have God’s spiritual blessings without faith in Him. To live for the spiritual and invisible is impossible without faith in God, and man is too great and glorious a being to live only for the present. The truth is, that the man of faith in God is the only man who truly lives.
I. The noblest character. In the Bible men are divided into two great divisions, the righteous and the wicked. The righteous is a man who trusts God’s Word, submits to God’s will, and lives in conformity with God’s righteous and holy law. He is a straight, or right, man--right in mind, in heart, and in life. The unjust man is s man with a crooked soul. In the Old Testament the word righteousness refers more to conduct than to the inward principle of spiritual life, and the righteous man is characterised by truthfulness, honesty, uprightness, tenderness, and unswerving fidelity to duty in relation to God and man.
II. The highest life. Man’s highest life is a life of trust in God. No man can live to himself in the highest sense of life, and if he tries to do so he will die in the very attempt. It is through the death of the lower self that the higher and true self can live. To enable men to do this was Christ’s object in coming to the world to live and die for us. Through faith men die in His death and live in His life, and this is the only way in which fallen man, who is dead in trespasses and sins, can find his life. The greatest thing the blessed Saviour could give for man was life, and the greatest thing He can give to man is life. In giving life Christ gives to men all they stand in need of for time and eternity. There is more in life than correspondence of an organism with its environment. There is a vital, mysterious principle, which manifests itself through the correspondence of the organism with its environment, and reaches its perfection when that correspondence becomes perfect. The highest life is the spiritual, which, said Christ, consists in the knowledge of God and Himself. The spiritual man not only lives and moves and has his being in God and His Son, as the true environment of spiritual and eternal life, but God in His Son must live in him. What is it to live according to the sense of the word in the text? It consists of three things--
1. Participation of God’s nature. Men live in God and unto God by becoming partakers of the Divine nature.
2. Perfect delight in God. We associate enjoyment with all conscious life. God has no way of giving joy but by giving life.
3. Usefulness for God. The crown of every life is its usefulness; its highest end is service. There is no true joy of life possible without life of service. The life which consists of the knowledge of God in His Son will be eternally progressive.
III. The condition of the blessed life of the righteous. “By his faith.” Man’s highest life is a life of living trust in a living God. Faith in God is the animating and sustaining principle of the life of the righteous. Only a person can be an object of trust, Faith cannot live but in the constant vision of its object. This living faith in God is given to man to enable him to do his work for God. The only faith worthy of the name is that which enables us to live the truest and highest life. (Z. Mather.)
When we repent and believe the Gospel, we live--are raised from spiritual death to spiritual life.
I. The just. Behold, his soul that is lifted up is not upright in him. Works which are supposed to merit, naturally puff up the mind with pride. The prophet says, that proud disposition which you think merits, because of your works, is not an upright disposition. Good works cannot avail to justification. You must believe, not works. Good works are evidences of faith. The just are such as God justifies by faith in His own beloved Son. For Christ’s righteousness is to all, and upon all them that believe.
II. They are alive. Did they not live before? Yes, a natural life. They are quickened to a new and higher life. None are alive till born again of the Spirit. We must experience the “washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”
III. How the believer lives this spiritual life. By his faith. The man who is justified by faith is made spiritually alive, and this life is maintained and supported by repeated acts of faith in the Son of God and Saviour of the world. Faith in Christ justifies, and by believing we receive righteousness and strength, and are made holy and acceptable to God. (R. Horsfall.)
Nothing better than reliance on God
The prophet means to show that nothing is better than to rely on God’s Word, how much soever may various temptations assault our souls. He sets the two clauses of the verse, the one opposed to the other: every man who would fortify himself, would ever be, Subject to various changes, and never attain a quiet mind; then comes the other clause--that man cannot otherwise obtain rest than by faith. The first clause I would render, “Where there is an elation of mind there is no tranquillity.” When the prophet says that there is no calmness of mind possessed by those who deem themselves well fortified, he intimates that they are their own executioners, for they seek for themselves many troubles, many sorrows, many anxieties, and contrive and mingle together many designs and purposes; now they think of one thing, then they turn to another; for the Hebrews say that the soul is made right when we acquiesce in a thing, and continue in a tranquil state of mind; but when confused thoughts distract us, then they say that our soul is not right in us: We now perceive the real meaning of the prophet. “Behold,” he says: by this demonstrative particle he intimates that what he teaches us may be clearly seen if we attend to daily events. The meaning then is, that a proof of this fact exists evidently in the common life of men--that he who fortifies himself, and is also elated with self-confidence, never finds a tranquil haven, for some new suspicion or fear ever disturbs his mind. Hence it comes that the soul entangles itself in various cares and anxieties. This is the reward which is allotted by God’s just judgment to the unbelieving. The prophet, in the second clause, places faith in opposition to all those defences by which men so blind themselves as to neglect God, and to seek no aid from Him. (John Calvin.)
Life by faith
In this connection there is a peculiar shade of meaning in living by faith. Immediate reference is to approaching trials of an extraordinary kind. There is a vision of national calamity, an impending invasion of the Chaldeans. It is declared that humility is the only upright attitude of soul, in such circumstances: and contrasted with the proud impatience which cannot wait for God, in His appointed time, is the meek reliance of the just man. “But the just shall live by his faith.”
I. Ordinarily, the just man lives by faith.
1. As it is the first act of that new spiritual life which the Holy Ghost produces in the soul. It is that coming to Christ which the Scriptures make anterior to every other gift or exercise of grace.
2. We live by faith, as it apprehends the plea by which the condemnation of death is set aside, or as it is a justifying instrument. We are said to live by that instrumentality which delivers us, and shields us from the operation of death.
3. We live by faith, as it unites the soul in mystical union with the Head, in whom there is all the fulness of life.
4. We live by faith, as it is in the range of its appropriation the highest and best condition of life.
5. We live by faith, as it is a principle essentially indicative of life, active, operative, and fruitful.
II. How does such faith survive in circumstances of extraordinary trial?
1. Calamity, that which exceeds the bounds of ordinary affliction. Such as war, famine, pestilence, earthquake.
2. Reproach for the faithful maintenance of truth and holiness.
3. The return of infidelity--extraordinary in that no completeness of defeat can prevent its returning invasion.
4. Another trial is apostasy. Faith is first in order; every other grace in the soul implies the precedence of this faith; hope herself must give up the sure and steadfast anchor, before this inner and ultimate life of faith can be destroyed. (A. T. M’Gill, D. D.)
Life is due to faith
The prophet here places faith in opposition to all those defences by which men so blind themselves as to neglect God, and to seek no aid from Him. As men therefore rely on what the earth affords, depending on their fallacious supports, the prophet here ascribes life to faith. But faith, as is well known, depends on God alone. That we may then live by faith, the prophet intimates that we must willingly give up all those defences which are wont to disappoint us. He then who finds that he is deprived of all protection, will live by his faith, provided he seeks in God alone what he wants, and leaving the world, would fix his mind on heaven. The prophet understands by the word amunat, that faith which strips us of all arrogance, and leads us naked and needy to God, that we may seek salvation from Him alone, which would otherwise be far removed from us. We perceive why Habakkuk has put these two things in opposition the one to the other--that the defences of this world are not only evanescent, but also bring always with them many tormenting fears--and then, that the just shall live by his faith. Faith is not to be taken here for man’s integrity, but for that faith which sets man before God emptied of all good things, so that he seeks what he needs from His gratuitous goodness: for all the unbelieving try to fortify themselves; and thus they strengthen themselves, thinking that anything in which they trust is sufficient for them. But what does the just do? He brings nothing before God except faith: then he brings nothing of his own, because faith borrows, as it were, through favour, what is not in man’s possession. He, then, who lives by faith, has no life in himself, but because he wants it, he flies for it to God alone. The prophet also puts the verb in the future tense, in order to show the perpetuity of this life; for the unbelieving glory in a shadowy life; but the Lord will at last discern their folly, and they themselves shall really know that they have been deceived. But as God never disappoints the hope of His people, the prophet here promises a perpetual life to the faithful. (John Calvin.)
The use of faith in a time of general declension in religion
What is a calamitous season?
1. When it exceeds the bounds of affliction, or when the dispensations of God’s anger in it cannot be reduced to the head of affliction.
2. When judgments fall promiscuously upon all sorts of persons, and make no distinction.
I. How we shall live by faith; what faith will do in such a season.
1. Faith will give the soul a reverential fear of God in His judgments.
2. It will put the soul upon preparing and providing an ark for itself.
(1) This ark is Jesus Christ.
(2) There must be a door in this ark. To obtain an interest in Christ is the general work of faith in these days.
(3) It will put us upon the search and examination of our own hearts, what accession we have made to the sins that have procured these judgments. The sins which do and have procured these judgments are--open and flagitious sins of the world. And the sins of Churches and professors. These latter include lukewarmness; contenting ourselves in outward order; want of love among ourselves; earthly-mindedness.
II. How faith will carry it under other perplexities that may be coming on us.
1. How we may live by faith under reproaches.
(1) Faith will give us such an experience of the power, efficacy, sweetness and benefit of Gospel ordinances and Gospel worship, as shall cause us to despise all that the world can do in opposition to us.
(2) It will bring the soul into such an experimental sense of the authority of Jesus Christ, as to make it despise all other things. Faith will work this double respect unto the authority of Jesus Christ--as He is the great Head and Lawgiver of the Church, and as He is Lord of lords and King of kings.
(3) Faith will bring to mind, and make effectual upon our souls, the examples of them that have gone before us, in giving tile same testimony that we do, and in the sufferings that they underwent upon that account.
(4) Faith will receive in the supplies that Christ hath laid up for His people in such a season.
(5) It is faith alone that can relieve us with respect unto the recompense of reward.
(6) Faith will work by patience when difficulties shall be multiplied upon us.
2. How we may live by faith, under an apprehension of the great and woeful decays in Churches, in Church members, in professors of all sorts; and in the gradual withdrawing of the glory of God from us all on that account.
(1) This is such a time of decay among us. A sense of it is impressed upon the minds of all the most judicious and diligent Christians, that do abound most in self-examination, or do take most notice of the ways of God. They recognise the open want of love among Church members; want of delight and diligence in the ordinances of Gospel worship; and our worldly-mindedness, conformity to the world, and security. A sense of this general decay ought to be an exercise and concern to our minds. God is dishonoured by this general decay. The world is offended and scandalised by it. The ruin of Churches is hastened by it.
(2) What is the work of faith under this condition? It will remind the soul that, notwithstanding this, Christ hath built His Church upon a rock that it shall not be utterly prevailed against. It will remind the soul that God hath yet the fulness and residue of the Spirit. Faith will cheer us by saying, “Are not all these things foretold thee?” And it will put every soul in whom it is upon an especial attendance unto those duties God calls him unto in such a season. Such as self-examination; great mourning, by reason of God’s withdrawing Himself from us; watchfulness over ourselves, and over one another, that we be not overtaken by the means and causes of these decays; zeal for God and the honour of the Gospel, that it may not suffer by reason of our miscarriages. (J. Owen, D. D.)
The life of faith
The text may be taken in two ways. In a moral sense, as regards the circumstances of the Jews. In a theological sense, as respects that great object on which believers have fixed their eye in all ages of the Church. The Rabbis give a very curious exposition of the words, “I will stand upon my watch.” They translate, “I will confine myself in a circle,” and explain that the prophet drew a circle, and made a solemn vow that he would not go out of it, until God had unfolded those dark dispensations to him, which seemed so injurious to His perfections.
I. Explain the terms of this proposition, “The just shall live by faith.”
1. Who is the just or righteous man? There are two sorts of righteousness, according to the law, and according to faith. By righteousness after the law understand that which man wishes to derive from his own personal ability. By righteousness of faith understand that which man derives from his own personal ability. To have faith, or to believe, is a vague expression. Faith is sometimes a disposition common to the righteous and the wicked; sometimes the distinguishing character of a Christian; sometimes it is put for the virtue of Abraham; sometimes it stands for the credence of devils. Faith is a disposition of mind that changeth its nature according to the various objects which are proposed to it. We are inquiring about saving faith, and have to inquire what is its object. It is Jesus Christ as dying and offering Himself to the justice of the Father. We must distinguish two sorts of desires to share the benefits of the death of Christ. A desire unconnected with all the acts which God is pleased to require of us; and a desire that animates us with a determination to participate these benefits. Jesus is proposed to the believer’s mind and heart and conduct. There are two kinds or causes of justification.
1. The fundamental or meritorious cause.
2. The instrumental cause.
That is the fundamental which acquires, merits, and lays the foundation of our justification and salvation. By the instrumental we mean those acts which it hath pleased God to prescribe to us, in order to our participation of this acquired salvation. If faith justifies us, it is as an instrument, that of itself can merit nothing, and which contributes to our justification only as it capacitates us for participating the benefits of the death of Christ. Justifying faith is a general principle of virtue and holiness.
1. Justifying faith is lively faith, a believer cannot live by a dead faith.
2. Justifying faith must assort with the genius of the covenant, to which it belongs.
3. Justifying faith must include all the virtues to which the Scriptures attribute justification and salvation.
4. Justifying faith must merit all the praises which are given to it in Scripture.
5. Justifying faith must enter into the spirit of the mystery of the satisfaction of Jesus Christ.
II. Objections made against this doctrine.
1. IS it pretended that the design of excluding holiness from the essence of faith is to elevate the merit of the death of Christ?
2. Dost thou say, thy design is to humble man? What can be more proper to humble man than the system we have expounded?
3. Dost thou say, our system is contrary to experience?
4. Or that our justification and salvation flow from a decree made before the foundation of the world, and not from our embracing the Gospel in time?
5. Or dost thou still object, that, although our system is true in the main, yet it is always dangerous to publish it; because man has always an inclination to “sacrifice unto his own net,” and by pressing the necessity of good works, occasion is insensibly given to the doctrine of merit? (J. Saurin.)
Faith, a life-giving power
Righteousness has been defined as the fulfilment of relations. But those relations are not primarily relations of earth. The higher relation rests on revelation. It is our relation to God. “Life “ is not here, living in the sense of existing., nor in the sense of exercising existence. Three ideas have to be added to the primary idea of existence. This life is conscious, satisfying, everlasting existence. “Faith” is the realisation of a future, the conviction of the invisible. Faith in a person is the realisation of that person, the having him so present to the eye of the soul that the presence is a power. Too often by faith is meant the realisation not of a person, but of a thing; not of Jesus Christ as all that He is, and God in Him, but of one single thing about Jesus Christ--His atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, and even this rather in the aspect of the death than in the aspect of the life, rather as a fact accomplished and done with than as a reality having in it the motive of a dedication, and the power of a life. (Dean Vaughan, D. D.)
The just shall live by his faith
The great Babylonian empire was swallowing up the smaller nations round about. To the prophet who believed in the Holy Almighty God, ruling in the earth in righteousness, this was a mystery. It was a strange problem. He could not understand why that great empire should grow greater, and why the nations round about should thus be turned into their net, and brought under their rule. Bad as the Jewish people were, they were not so far astray from the true God and from righteousness as were the men of Babylon. Why then should this nation control? He stands and looks at this mystery, and finds that he has no solution for it. He is perplexed and baffled. But like a wise and true prophet, he goes aside and stands upon what he calls his watch-tower that he may see what God will say. He will be quiet and still in heart, waiting for the Divine message to come to solve the difficulty. The text is the answer.
I. The uplifted soul, and its penalty. What is it for a man to be lifted up? It is to be proud, haughty, to have a feeling of self-dependence and self-sufficiency. It is to forget God, and to assume that a man’s life is in his own hands. There are many things that will produce an uplifted soul. Such as worldly success; intellectual culture; a man’s unbelief. There is hardly a step between unbelief in God and a man having a vain, proud, self-satisfied, and uplifted soul. Such a soul is not upright. It is crooked, perverse, froward. That is the penalty. For what is the glory of man? It is to know God, and to live in fellowship with Him. The great glory of man is righteousness. How do those who are “lifted up” carry themselves in times of trouble? They are ground to pieces--broken up. What strength have they for the day of adversity?
II. The true life for man. It is a Divine message spoken to the just man. “Your duty is to live by faith.” This faith is the antithesis of “lifted up.” It is a spirit of trust in God, a devout belief in God, in the righteousness and the love of God: it is lowliness and humbleness of mind; it is a feeling of true dependence upon the great Father in heaven. All the holy and just men who ever lived a true and noble life, have done so because they have lived by their faith. How will this work? God becomes a reality to the soul that is full of trust and prayer. God draws near to us as we live in faith and spirituality to Him. We make great mistakes in the matter of realising God and the love of God. Try by argument, by subtle process of reasoning, by investigation, to find out God and to know Him, and you are baffled. It is by faith God becomes known. And a life of faith and devoutness gives strength for obedience. Faith brings us into union with the great Source of all life, and causes us to be equipped with power for obedience in righteousness. The path in which Christ walked, and we are called to walk--the path of self-sacrifice, purity, meekness, love to enemies, trust in God, moral courage--this path is one which severely strains and taxes all the powers of a man. Hindrances and temptations throng around you at every step. Christian victory is not so much a stern exercise of resolution as a devout consecration to God; not so much self-straining as self-surrender to God; a loving consent to the guidance and inspiration of the Divine Spirit. The hour of quiet, simple yielding up of self to God, with utter dependence on His moulding touch and strengthening grace, is always the hour of our fullest power for obedience. There is another element that enters into the life of faith--peace, serenity, joy. The outward circumstances of life are never without some kind of discord or pain. If we make ourselves dependent upon the perfect adjustment of outward things for peace, then never will peace be ours. Open the portals of the soul, with lowliness and childlike dependence before God, bow in hushed submission, and then into the soul, noiselessly, yet with living power, like the calm dawn of a summer day, peace will come. Live the life of faith, and you will find God everywhere, and your character will grow in righteousness, and your peace and joy shall flow and abound like the waters of a great sea. (Thomas Hammond.)
Life by faith
Take the text as it stands on the page of the Hebrew prophet. This oracle of Habakkuk really means, “A righteous man shall live by his fidelity.” You will best understand the beauty of a Scripture passage when you look at it in its original setting. Habakkuk lived near the beginning of the Babylonian Captivity. In his large insight, in his poetic fire, he claims kindred with his mightier predecessors, Amos, Micah, Isaiah. He was faced by a new and eminently painful problem, he was precluded from holding out to his people any near or direct hope. And he was right. Habakkuk had to face the problem of the strength of the wicked and the humiliation of the just. The aggravations of the problem arose from the struggles of suffering innocence, but hitherto they had mainly presented themselves in individual instances. When the sufferer was a nation, and God’s chosen people, it was natural that terrible misgivings should overcloud the souls of men. In the very moment of repentance and reform came the threat of exile terrible and remediless. The Chaldean power was upon them; there was no remedy, save in comfortless endurance, ands hope yearning but still deferred. In those days of endurance and hope deferred, the lives of men, the life of the prophet himself, the life of that whole generation might ebb away. But the faithful are never utterly forsaken. For the prophet himself and for his nation, for all time, it was granted him to see at least in germ, to set forth at least in outline two of the universal truths on which the consolations of our little human life must rest. The answer that came to the prophet in his watch-tower was this, “The righteous man shall live by his fidelity.” Does this seem obscure, meagre, and unsatisfactory? The prophet caught its meaning. He breaks out, and concludes his book with one of the most splendid poems in the whole Bible. Nothing, neither drought nor desolation, could shake Habakkuk in his inextinguishable trust in God. The soul of the Chaldean is arrogant and wicked. That is enough. Then because God is God, in the pride and injustice of the oppressor lie the certain germs of his final overthrow. “The moral law is written on the tables of eternity.” And the righteous shall live by his faithfulness. Is he faithful? That is enough. Because God is God, righteousness not only contains the promise of life, when rightly understood, it is the only life. The just man, the ideal nation is not under the crushing disadvantage which he imagines. The power to serve God never fails, and the love of God is never rejected. There is the oracle to the troubled prophet, and to the trembling nation. It has two side. The first is the old law, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” The other is, “The righteous man shall live by his fidelity.” What more would you have? Righteousness may be hated and persecuted. Wickedness may be lapped in luxury; but nevertheless, righteousness is life, sin is death. (Dean Farrar.)
The design of this prophecy is to confirm the servants of God in their belief of His power, and reliance on His providence, as the Ruler and Disposer of the universe, notwithstanding the prosperity wherein wicked men are sometimes seen to flourish in the earth, while the pious and godly are tried with affliction and adversity. The practical principle of religious faith is that, let the probable consequences of present advantage or loss be what they may, it is our true wisdom always to hold fast by God, and put our trust in Him. Habakkuk prophesied in the reign of Jehoiakim, son of the pious Josiah. But he, instead of imitating the piety of his father, followed the Evil practices of his more distant ancestors, Amen and Manasseh. He and his subjects abandoned themselves to every sort of profaneness towards God, of violence, oppression, deceit, and dishonesty towards each other, and of sensuality and debauchery in their own lives. Such was the state of the kingdom of Judah when Habakkuk saw his “burden.” He first inquires of God why injustice was suffered to prevail in Judah, and the wicked to oppress and get the advantage over upright and religious persons. The answer of God proclaims the speedy arrival of the Chaldeans, as a scourge of God. The mind of Habakkuk was even more disturbed with the expectation of the dreadful excesses of the Chaldeans, than it had been at the sight of the enormities already practised in Judea. He therefore, with all humility, proceeds to ask the reasons of so apparently strange a dispensation. He professes his own confidence in Cod, and his persuasion that the Chaldeans are not really the favorites of God, but only the executioners of His wrath. Having been allowed to put these questions, the prophet describes himself as anxiously waiting to have them answered. Here the second chapter opens. The “lifting up” in the text means the withdrawing of our trust in God, either through careless arrogance, which makes men forget their dependence upon Him, or through unsteadiness of faith, which leaves them to be tossed about, without stay or foundation, like a feather, a leaf, or any other light and worthless body, that is lifted up and whirled about in the air. “His soul which is lifted up,” withdrawn from an entire dependence on God, “is not upright in him,” for he murmurs and is discontented at the arrangements of God’s providence in things, pertaining to this life.” A man’s soul is not upright in him, who makes light of the expectation of a future state, and of the rewards and punishments to be therein distributed by the righteous judgment of God. Or who cavils at, and finds fault with any of the commandments of God, as burthens grievous to be borne. Or who trusts to his own performance of the law for acceptance. “The just shall live by his faith.” Faith has always been the support and comfort of the humble and confiding servants of God. (James Randall, M. A.)
He that believeth God’s Word so as to walk worthy of the great things which He has promised to do for him, shall have his faith crowned with a happy accomplishment. From these words we raise the following observations--
1. We see the method which God has taken in revealing to us things to come. He has thought it sufficient to reveal to us the things themselves, without notifying the time when they shall be performed and manifested in the world.
2. We see the great sin of infidelity, and how much of the Divine displeasure we incur, when we disbelieve any Word of God, only because the completion of it falls not within the time which we had reckoned upon for the doing of it.
3. We hear the blessing which accompanies our sincere belief and dutiful observance of God’s Word. “The just shall live by his faith.” This is the only true life that men can live. (W. Reading, M. A.)
The life by faith
The immediate cause which gave rise to these words was the strong temptation of the prophet to distrust the providence of God, arising from the prosperity of the wicked, and their cruel oppression of the righteous. He points to faith in God as the sustaining, animating principle of the righteous man until his trial should be over. Consider the various ways in which it is true of the just man that he lives by faith. The just man’s faith in God is the belief and conviction of his mind of the reality and truth of all that God has been pleased to assure him of. It is the persuasion that all God’s promises to him are true, and will be fulfilled--a persuasion so real that he is supported by it, and acts upon it. What is this life of the just man that is spoken of here? Not mere animal life. Not mere intellectual life. It is the spiritual life of the soul before its redeeming Lord. It is a life peculiar to the just, such as none else lives. A life of acceptance with God, of love to God, of obedience and submission to Him.
1. Man is justified, declared just before God, through this great principle of faith.
2. To his faith in God the just man owes the life of obedience and holiness which he lives before Him.
3. Faith represents God as the source of strength in present trial, and of comfort in all affliction. Such a belief is absolutely necessary, in order to stir up man to exertion and perseverance in his spiritual contest with evil.
4. Faith, assuring the mind of the Christian of the glory that awaits him in the future time prevents the discouragements that he meets with, and the denial to which he submits, from overcoming his patient perseverance in well-doing. (H. Constable, M. A.)
The portraiture of a good man
Whether the man whose soul here is represented as “lifted up,” refers to the unbelieving Jew, or to the Babylonian, is an unsettled question amongst biblical critics; and a question of but little practical moment.
I. A good man is a humble man. This is implied. His soul is not “lifted up.” Pride is not only no part of moral goodness, but is essentially inimical to it. A proud Christian is a solecism. Jonathan Edwards describes a Christian as being such a “little flower as we see in the spring of the year, low and humble in the ground, opening its bosom for the beams of the sun, rejoicing m a calm rapture, suffusing around sweet fragrance, and standing peacefully and lowly in the midst of other flowers.” Pride is an obstruction to all progress and knowledge and virtue, and is abhorrent to the Holy One. “He resisteth the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
II. A good man is a just man. The just shall live by his faith.” To be good is nothing more than to be just.
1. Just to self. Doing the right thing to one’s own faculties and affections as the offsprings of God.
2. Just to others. Doing unto others what we would that they should do unto us.
3. Just to God. To be just to self, society, and God, this is religion:
III. A good man is a confiding man. He lives “by his faith.” This passage is quoted by Paul in Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; it is also quoted in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:38). (Homilist.)
It is as if the prophet had said: Depend upon it, when this world has done its best and its worst, it will plainly appear that the great question between it and the Church is, whether it is better to trust in one’s self, one’s own wisdom, and fame, and riches, and high spirit, or to go altogether out of one’s self, and to live entirely on the heavenly righteousness which God gives to His own people. The world rests upon itself, the Church lives by faith. Faith is that by which we abide in Christ. The spiritual life within us depends in some special manner on this grace. How impossible that those men should have true faith who allow themselves in self-righteousness. What difference can it make in point of pride and presumption, whether a man trusts in his own faith, or in his own works! In either ease he trusts in something of his own. The true faith in Christ leads immediately to the obeying of all His commandments. Faith in Christ will make our fortunes in the world of small consequence: and will help us to endure trials patiently. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times. ”)
The life of faith in the midst of a self confident world
The subject here is, how they that are just continue to live. The bond of this union, whereby a man becomes just is confidence--trust--faith. What is this living T It is put in opposition to the characters on the other side, who are not upright, the man shall live unto God by this principle of confidence. The very same principle that brings him to Jesus for righteousness that he may be just, works in him when he is in Jesus, and by it he lives. It requires such a principle as this to live consistently. There is no such thing as Christianity made easy. The power of uprightness is in faith, and no man but a man of faith will be found thoroughly upright. (Hugh M’Neile, M. A.)
These words were spoken to Habakkuk, to check him for his impatience under God’s hand. They are just as true for every man that ever was and ever will be as they were for him. It always was true, and always must be true, that if reasonable beings are to live at all, it is by faith. Because everything that is, heaven and earth, men and angels, are all the work of God. We do not remember enough what we do know of God. All things lie, like a grain of dust, in the hollow of God’s hand. Think of the infinite power of God, and then think how it is possible to live, except by faith in Him, by trusting to Him utterly. After all, what can we do without God? The life of our spirits is a gift from God, the Father of spirits, and He has chosen to declare that unless we trust to Him for life, and ask Him for life, He will not bestow it upon us. If we wish to be loving, pure, wise, manly, noble, we muse ask those excellent gifts of God, who is Himself infinite love and purity, wisdom and nobleness. And it is by faith in Christ we must live,--in Christ, a man like ourselves, yet God blessed for ever. It is a certain truth, that men cannot believe in God, or trust in Him unless they can think of Him aa a man. All that men have ever done well, or nobly, or lovingly, in this world, was done by faith--by faith in God of some sort or other. Without Christ we can do nothing--by trusting in Christ we can do everything. (C. Kingsley.)
Living by faith
The prophet is speaking of a time of terrible calamity, which was to come upon himself and upon all his people. One event is to happen to all,--to the righteous, and to the wicked. Some of his people shall meet these terrible calamities with the spirit of pride, refusing to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God. And, seeing that those who do not bend under God’s providences, are invariably broken by them, the prophet contrasts the position of such persons with the position of those whom he describes in the text, and he remarks, “The just shall live by his faith.” What is it for a man to live, in God’s sense of the word, and to live in a time of calamity? Such a man will hear God’s voice in the calamity; he will hear the rod, and Him who hath appointed it. The man who really lives, in a time of calamity, will see God’s face even in that time; he will see the face of God behind the cloud. He will not be crushed by calamity. “The just shall live by his faith” means, he shall be equal to the claims which are made upon him, even in times of calamity, by the support which he derives through the operation of his faith. Faith is not mere assent. It follows belief in a particular kind of testimony. If we believe a worthy testimony, a certain state of heart must follow that belief. It is trust or reliance. Take the word “just” to represent a justified sinner, and that man shall live by his faith.
1. Man is introduced into a new life by this faith. Trusting in God’s beloved Son, life is immediately given to him. He no sooner trusts, than all that is involved in everlasting life becomes his. This is God’s free gift to him.
2. Man has support in time of trouble through faith. Hope is closely related to faith. If you would have a stronger hope, you must have a stronger faith. There is a work which faith performs that hope cannot accomplish. Hope has a limited sphere, faith has not. Faith has to do with all that God has said about Himself, and about His Son, and about His Spirit, and about the privileges of the redeemed, and about the destiny of the redeemed. Faith is the principle whose operations render God’s descriptions of unseen things real to us, so that His words take the place of facts. One effect of the faith of a Christian is to bring us into an entirely different style of life from that in which those men live who walk by sight. It must be so. Note some of the points of difference between a believer and an unbeliever. One holds the world tight, the other holds it with a slack hand. One orders his life by the will of his fellow-men, the other by the will of God. Then ask yourselves whether you have what the Scriptures call “faith,” the faith that saves. (Samuel Martin.)
Who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied.
Moral wrong; some of its national phases
Evil, like good, is one in essence, but it has many forms and phases. The branches that grow out of the root, whilst filled with the same sap, vary widely in shape and hue.
I. Drunkenness. This is one of the most loathsome, irrational, and Pernicious forms which it can assume. Drunkenness puts the man or the woman absolutely into the hands of Satan, to do whatsoever he wills.
II. Haughtiness. “Is a proud man.” Babylon became inspired with a haughty insolence. She regarded herself as the queen of the world, and looked down with supercilious contempt upon all the other nations of the earth, even upon the Hebrew People, the heavenly chosen race. Nebuchadnezzar expresses, “the spirit of the kingdom” as well as his own, when he says, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” It is suggested that their love of wine had much to do in the developing of this haughty spirit. We read, chapter 5th, that Belshazzar at his feast drank wine with the thousands of his lords, his princes, his wives, his concubines.
III. Rapacity. Two things are suggested concerning the rapacious form it assumed in Babylon.
1. It was restless. “Neither keepeth at home.” Not content with its own grandeur, wealth, and luxuries, it goes from home in search of others; goes out into other countries to rifle and to rob.
2. It is insatiable. “Who enlargeth his desire as hell,”--that is, as Sheol the grave,--“and is as death, and cannot be satisfied.” (Homilist.)
Him that ladeth himself with thick clay.
It is the glory of the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ when it is regarded in its moral aspect, that it is not the religion merely of transcendental and unpractical truths, but that its motives and precepts go down to the minutest details of everyday duty. Note--
1. The danger of a false start and a false aim in life. God has given us a complex nature, and He has given us the use of our reason and the other faculties, physical and mental, which He bestows upon men. And the great end of man is to glorify God. If a man uses his powers only to found a family or amass wealth, we earnestly warn that man. He has mistaken the great end of his being.
2. A form in which the lading of thick clay is found is greed of money. Covetousness in some one or other of its forms or specious disguises is one of the besetting idolatries of the day. This greed of money manifests itself in money-getting and in money-losing, and also in money-spending. Comparatively few recognise the principle of stewardship to God in the expenditure of their income.
3. Another form in which this heavy clay is sometimes found is anxiety. What our Lord and His apostles tell us to avoid is the carking, distracting care which turns a man’s mind away from God, and keeps him continually on the rack, forgetting the loving Father who is willing to be the bearer of all his cares.
4. Another form of this clay among business men is sharp practice. Sharp practice is in our manufactories, upon the exchange, with lawyers, and not only among the little petty hucksters, but among tradesmen who make a much fairer show in our streets.
5. Another form is a worldly tone and spirit. To be a Christian, there is no necessity to leave your work and to lead the life of a recluse. Go into the world and make your money, but do not worship it. (Canon Miller, D. D.)
Under a heap of clay
The avaricious “accumulate on themselves thick clay.” Hardly, indeed, an avaricious man can be found who is not a burden to himself, and to whom his wealth is not a source of trouble. Everyone who has accumulated much, when he comes to old age, is afraid to use what he has got, being ever solicitous lest he should lose anything; and then, as he thinks nothing is sufficient, the more he possesses the more grasping he becomes, and frugality is the name given to that sordid and, so to speak, that servile restraint within which the rich confine themselves. In short, when any one forms a judgment of all the avaricious of this world, and is himself free from all avarice, having a free and unbiassed mind, he will easily apprehend what the prophet says here,--that all the wealth of this world is nothing else but a heap of clay, as when any one puts himself of his own accord under a great heap which he had collected together. The general truth to be drawn from the expression is, that all the avaricious, the more they heap together, the more they lade themselves, and as it were, bury themselves under a great load. Riches acquired by frauds and plunders are nothing else than a heavy and cumbrous lump of earth; for God returns on the heads of those who thus seek to enrich themselves whatever they have plundered from others. Had they been contented with some moderate portion, they might have lived cheerfully and happily, as we see to be the case with all the godly, who, though they possess but little, are yet cheerful; for they live in hope, and know that their supplies are in God’s hands, and expect everything from His blessing. (John Calvin.)
Whatever we do to please ourselves, and only for the sake of the pleasure, not for an ultimate object, is “play,” the pleasing thing, not the useful thing The first of all Enish games is making money. That is an all-absorbing game; and we knock each other down oftener in playing at that than at football or any other rougher sport; and it is absolutely without purpose. No one who engages heavily in that game ever knows why. Ask a great money-maker what he wants to do with his money; he never knows. He doesn’t make it to do anything with it. He gets it only that he may get it. “What will you make of what you have got?” you ask. “Well, I’ll get more,” he says. Just as at cricket you get more runs. There’s no use in the runs, but to get more of them than other people is the game. And there’s no use in the money, but to have more of it than other people is the game. (John Ruskin.)
Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house.
Covetousness and self-trust
I. The national wrongs here indicated.
1. Coveting the possessions of others. “Woe to him that coveteth an evil coveteousness to his house.” “An evil covetousness”? There is a good covetousness. We are commanded to “covet earnestly the best gifts.” But to hunger for those things which are not our own, but the property of others, and that for our own gratification and aggrandisement, is that which is prohibited in the Decalogue.
2. Trusting in false securities. So “that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil.” The image is from an eagle (Job 39:27). The royal citadel is meant. The Chaldeans built high towers like the Babel founders, to be delivered from the power of evil. They sought protection, not in the Creator but in the creature, not in moral means but in material. Thus foolishly nations have always acted, and are still acting; they trust to armies and to navies, not to righteousness, truth, and God. A moral character built on justice, purity, and universal benevolence is the only right and safe defence of nations.
3. Sinning against the soul. “And hast sinned against thy soul,” or against thyself. Indeed, all wrong is a sin against oneself--a sin against the laws of reason, conscience, and happiness.
II. The national woes here indicated. “Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house,” etc. What is the woe connected with these evils? It is contained in these words: “The stone shall cry out Of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.” Their guilty conscience will endow the dead materials of their own dwelling with the tongue to denounce in thunder their deeds of rapacity and blood. Startling personification this! “Note,” says Matthew Henry, “those that do wrong to their neighbour do a much greater wrong to their own souls. But if the sinner pleads Not guilty, and thinks he has managed his frauds and violence with so much art and contrivance that they cannot be proved upon him, let him know that if there be no other witnesses against him the stone shall cry out of the wall against him, and the beam out of the timber in the roof shall answer it, shall second it, shall witness it, that the money and materials wherewith he built the house were unjustly gotten (verse 11). The stones and timber cry to heaven for vengeance, as the whole creation groans under the sin of man, and waits to be delivered from that bondage of corruption.
(1) That mind gives to all the objects that once impressed it a mystic power of suggestion. Who has not felt this? Who does not feel it every day? The tree, the house, the street, the lane, the stream, the meadow, the mountain, that once touched our consciousness, seldom fail to start thoughts in us whenever we are brought into contact with them again. It seems as if the mind gave part of itself to all the objects that once impressed it. Hence, when we leave a place which in person we may never revisit we are still tied to it by an indissoluble bond. Nay, we carry it with us and reproduce it in memory.
(2) That mind gives to those objects that impressed us when in the commission of any sin a terrible power to start remorseful memories. No intelligent personal witness is required to prove a sinner’s guilt. All the scenes of his conscious life vocalise his guilt. (Homilist.)
Usually, when a worldling is dead, we ask how rich he died. “Oh,” say many, “he died rich; he hath left a great estate.” Alas! the poor man has slept his sleep, lost his dream, and now he awakes he finds nothing in his hand. Where lies his golden heap? Only the rust of that heap is gone to witness against him; his mansion fails him; only the unrighteousness of it follows him; others have the use of it; only the abuse of it he carries to judgment with him; he hath made his friends (as we say), but he hath undone himself; so that I may justly write this motto upon every bag: “This is the price of blood.” Shall I then treasure up the price of blood
Thou hast consulted shame to thy house.
The prophet again confirms the truth, that those who count themselves happy, imagining that they are like God, busy themselves in vain; for God will turn to shame whatever they think to be their glory, derived from their riches. The avaricious indeed wish, as it appears from the last verse, to prepare splendour for their prosperity, and they think to render illustrious their race by their wealth; for this is deemed to be nobility, that the richer anyone is the more he excels, as he thinks, in dignity, and the more is he to be esteemed by all. Since, then, this is the object of almost all the avaricious, the prophet here reminds them, that they are greatly deceived; for the Lord will not only frustrate their hopes, but wilt also convert their glory into shame. Hence he says that they consult shame to their family. He includes in the word “consult” all the industry, diligence, skill, care, and labour displayed by the avaricious. We indeed see how very sagacious they are; for if they smell any gain at a distance, they draw it to themselves, night and day they form new designs, that they may circumvent this person and plunder that person and accumulate into their heap whatever money they can find, and also that they may join fields to fields, build great palaces, and secure great revenues. This is the reason why the prophet says that they “consult shame.” What is the object of all their designs? For what purpose are all these things? Even for this, that their posterity may be eminent, that their nobility may be in the mouths of all, and spread far and wide. But the prophet shows that they labour in vain; for God will turn to shame whatever they in their great wisdom contrived for the honour of their families. The more provident, then, the avaricious are, the more foolish they are, for they consult nothing but disgrace to their posterity. (John Calvin.)
The stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.
The prophet in this connection is declaring that the Chaldeans shall be punished for their cruel rapacity. Retribution is everywhere assumed as a great first-truth, which nature itself constantly teaches, and to which man’s universal conscience as constantly responds.
I. The sin. What was the iniquity for which the Chaldean monarch is here so solemnly denounced? Not the mere outer act of building a great city, but in the manner and motive of his doing it. “He had built his city in blood, and established it in iniquity.” There was sin in the motive, for the monarch only built for his selfish aggrandisement. We perceive, then, glaring ungodliness in both manner and motive of this great work of Babylon.
II. The punishment. The Bible does not teach that men are punished eternally for the sins committed in time. Man goes on sinning for ever, and therefore is punished for ever. By a law of a man’s own mental constitution, memory and conscience are summoning from the past both ministry and material of a righteous retribution. This is retribution--a punishment really more dreadful than any material imagery whereby the Bible sets it forth--a retribution which becomes, of itself, eternal torment. We do not say that in this is all of retribution. (Charles Wadsworth, D. D.)
The handwriting on the wall
Very startling was the vision which appeared to Belshazzar and his courtiers when their feasting and mirth were at their height. But not in terrible omens and supernatural visions alone do we see the Divine handwriting. To thoughtful men on every wall by the wayside appear mystic letters of profound significance. The hand itself is unseen behind the veil of nature, but the words are formed clear and distinct upon the stones of the wall, and they remain as if graven with a pen of iron. Botanists are familiar with a peculiar genus of lichen called Opegrapha, from the resemblance which the fructification of all its species bears to written characters. On the surface are numerous dark intricate lines, like Arabic, Hebrew, or Chinese letters. The likeness in some instances is remarkably close. Nature has thus mimicked in almost every wood, and on almost every rock and wall, the latest and highest result of man’s civilisation; and in her humblest plant forms has written her wonderful runes. It can, indeed, be said in the highest sense of the whole family of lichens that they are God’s handwriting on the wall. Lichens form the nebulae, so to speak, of the firmament of life. Lichens are in the ocean of air that covers the dry land what seaweeds are in the ocean of waters that covers the depths of the sea. They are as the pioneers of vegetation, climbing the bare crag, and penetrating into the lonely wilderness, and planting there the flag of life. As elements in the picturesque, lichens have long held a high place in the estimation of all lovers of nature. What would a ruin be without them? Lichens run through the whole chromatic scale, and show what striking effects nature can produce by an harmonious combination of a few simple lines and hues. Not less worthy of examination is the specialised organ with which the lichen decks itself than the blossom of the brightest flower. Nothing is lost in nature. God’s handwriting on the wayside wall and the weather-beaten rock writes no sentence--“Thou art weighed in the balances and art found wanting.” (Hugh Macmillan, D. D.)
Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood.
A curse denounced against bloodshed
I. The ground or cause of this curse. The crying, crimson sin of bloodshed. In all generations it has been the care of providence, both by civil and religions means, to extinguish all principles of savageness in the minds of men, and to make friendship and tenderness over men’s lives a great part of religion. By nothing has this been so highly endeavoured as by the rules and constitution of Christianity.
II. The condition of the person against whom this woe or curse is denounced. He was such an one as had actually established a government and built a city with blood. As soon as Cain had murdered his brother he presently betook himself to the building of a city. Bloodiness has usually a connection with building, which represents the setting up of government. Nebuchadnezzar seems to be the person here spoken of.
III. The latitude and extent of this woe or curse, and what is comprehended in it. It includes the miseries of both worlds, present and future.
1. It fastens a general hatred and detestation upon such men as persons. Cruelty alarms and calls up all the passions of human nature, and puts them into a posture of hostility and defiance. The tyrant is universally hated and scorned.
2. The torment of continual jealousy and suspicion.
3. The shortness and certain dissolution of the government that endeavours to establish itself with blood.
4. The sad and dismal end that usually attends such persons.
IV. The reasons why a curse or woe is so peculiarly denounced against this sin.
1. It makes the most direct breach upon human society.
2. Because of the malignity of those sins that go in conjunction with it.
V. Apply to the present occasion. All unjust bloodshed is twofold. Either public, and acted by or upon a community, as in a war. Or personal, in the assassination of any particular man. (R. South, D. D.)
For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
The knowledge of God
There shall be such a revelation of God’s character and attributes as shall win the faith and love and adoration of the human family. Now, where is that revelation made? In nature you get only glimpses of God; it tells us something of His wisdom and His power, but it tells us nothing about His mercy and His forgiving love. Every word that nature utters to a sinner is a word of terror. God has so loved us that He has sent His “only-begotten Son,” through whom we may learn to know the Father. This knowledge of God in Christ meets every want. It is of this knowledge the text speaks--an experimental knowledge of Christ which brings us to God, and fits us for heaven. This knowledge gives us lie. It has a quickening power. The man that knows and receives Christ lives--lives a spiritual life that shall last for ever. This knowledge also produces love. And it produces holiness in the heart and life. It prepares us for heaven, which is the home of love. This knowledge is to be universal! Reason teaches us to expect it.
2. The Bible proclaims it.
3. There are signs of the near approach of this glorious day. The first sign is the decay of idolatry; the second is the decline of popery. A third is the increase of knowledge. A fourth is the uprising of humanity. A fifth is the condition of Christianity. (Charles Garrett.)
God’s glory universally known
The prophet teaches here, that so remarkable would be God’s judgment on the Babylonians that His name would thereby be celebrated through the whole world. There is in the verse an implied contrast; for God appeared not in His own glory when the Jews were led away into exile; the temple being demolished and the whole city destroyed; and also when the whole eastern region was exposed to rapine and plunder. When, therefore, the Babylonians were, after the Assyrians, swallowing up all their neighbours, the glory of God did not then shine, nor was it conspicuous in the world. The Jews themselves had become mute; for their miseries had, as it were, stupefied them; their mouths were at least closed, so that they could not from the heart bless God, while He was so severely afflicting them. And then, in that manifold confusion of all things the profane thought that all things here take place fortuitously, and that there is no Divine providence. God, then, was at that time hid; hence the prophet says, “Filled shall be the earth with the knowledge of God.”; that is, God will again become known when, by stretching forth His hand, He will execute vengeance on the Babylonians; then will the Jews, as well other nations, acknowledge that the world is governed by God’s providence, as it had been once created by Him. We now understand his meaning, and why he says that the earth would be filled with the knowledge of God’s glory; for the glory of God previously disappeared from the world, with regard to the perceptions of men; but it shone forth again when God Himself had erected His tribunal by overthrowing Babylon, and thereby proved that there is no power among men which He cannot control. We have the same sentence in Isaiah 11:9. The prophet then speaks, indeed, of the Kingdom of Christ; for when Christ was openly made known to the world, the knowledge of God’s glory at the same time filled the earth; for God then appeared in His own living image. But yet our prophet uses a proper language when he says that the earth shall then be filled with the knowledge of God’s glory, when He should execute vengeance on the Babylonians. Hence incorrectly have some applied this to the preaching of the Gospel, as though Habakkuk made a transition from the ruin of Babylon to the general judgment. This is (surely) a strained exposition. It is, indeed, a well known mode of speaking, and often occurs in the Psalms, that the power, grace, and truth of God are made known through the world, when He delivers His people and restrains the ungodly. The same mode the prophet now adopts; and he compares his fulness of knowledge to the waters of the sea, because the sea is so deep that there is no measuring of the waters. So Habakkuk intimates that the glory of God would be so much known that it would not only fill the world, but in a manner overflow it; as the waters of the sea by their vast quantity cover the deep, so the glory of God would fill heaven and earth, so as to have no limits. If, at the same time, there be a wish to extend this sentence to the coming of Christ, I do not object; for we know that the grace of redemption flowed in a perpetual stream until Christ appeared in the world. But the prophet, I have no doubt, sets forth here the greatness of God’s power in the destruction of Babylon. (John Calvin.)
The triumph of the Gospel
If we seek at all times to trace the providences of God we shall often find that He makes His throne darkness to us; and from the thick darkness we hear a voice saying, “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” But in tracing the operations of the word of His grace, and the state of His Church, we find this clearly made known. The eternal fiat has gone forth, “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
I. The subject-matter of this prophecy. The “glory of the Lord” has various meanings. A grand display of it was made when Moses and Aaron and the seventy elders were called up into the mount. Any particular visible display of God’s presence was His glory. But the term has also reference to the Gospel. There was a glory attending the law, but this was much more glorious. It is more glorious than the law in its Author, His Person, and His work. The Gospel is peculiarly glorious above the law--
1. In its extent. If we look at former times we might perhaps think that God had selected a few--one family--as His peculiar treasure; but now we find this was only that the coming of the Messiah might be more clearly marked.
2. It re presents the Divine attributes more gloriously than the law. Majesty, justice, hatred of sin were shown. Here is the richest display both of grace and justice. Here God’s glory is concentrated as in a focus.
3. It is more glorious as life and immortality are more clearly revealed “The knowledge,” etc; This word has also various meanings. Sometimes it means “discrimination;” at others, “publication”; and when applied by a believer, it is full assurance. The knowledge in the text implies--
All the theoretical displays of the Gospel are of no avail without the impression of its truth. The design of the Gospel is to change him who heartily believes it into its own nature. It is the glory of God, and it changes the soul from glory to glory, and makes it partaker of the Divine nature.
3. Performance. Believe and obey the Gospel. The sinner believes; the believer works.
4. This leads us to the universal tendency of this knowledge. Like leaven, it will work its way.
II. What is said concerning this glory. The margin of some Bibles reads, “the channels of the sea.”
1. Clearness. These channels are very deep; so is Divine science--not superficial.
2. Experience. The waters do touch every surface of land; they wash every shore. The glory of God shall be felt by every people.
3. Universal. The channels are effectually covered; so shall the world be filled.
III. Remarks in support of the prophet’s declaration.
1. God’s covenant with Abraham. “All the families of the earth were to be blessed in him.”
2. It was renewed to Isaac, Jacob, etc.; but especially to Jesus Christ.
3. It was the burden of all the prophecies.
4. See the commission of the apostles.
5. We may refer the accomplishment of this to the promised agency of the Holy Ghost.
6. We argue it from the effects which have been produced. Application--
(1) You are interested in this individually.
(2) See what God expects from us. (J. Summerfield, A. M.)
What profiteth the graven image, that the maker thereof hath graven it.
National wrongs ending in national woes
I. That men often give to the works of their own hands the devotions that belong to God. These old Chaldean idolaters gave their devotions to the “graven image” and to the “molten image” that men had carved in wood and stone or moulded from molten metals. It was the works of their own hands they worshipped. Are men’s sympathies in their strong current for God, or for something else? Do they expend the larger portion of their time and the greater amount of their energies in the service of the Eternal, or in the service of themselves?
II. That men often look to the works of their own hands for a blessing which God alone can bestow. These old idolaters “said to the wood, Awake, to the dumb stone, Arise.” Now, it is true that men do not say formal prayers to wealth, or fashion, or fame, or power, albeit to these they look with all their souls for happiness. Men who are looking for happiness to any of these objects are like the devotees of Baal, who cried from morning to evening for help, and no help came.
III. That in all this men entail on themselves the woes of outraged reason and justice. “Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake, to the dumb stone, Arise.”
1. It is the woe of outraged reason. What help could they expect of the “molten image, and a teacher of lies”? What answer could they expect from the dumb “idols “ that they themselves had made? How irrational all this! Equally unreasonable it is for men to search for happiness in any of the works of their hands, and in any being or object independent of God.
2. It is the woe of insulted justice. What has God said? “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” All this devotion, therefore, to the works of our own hands, or to any other creature, is an infraction of man’s cardinal obligation. (Homilist.)
The misapplication of the teaching of art in the service of religion
There is some difference of opinion as to the exact time at which the prophet Habakkuk delivered his message. But there is no question that it coincided with the period in which Israel came in contact with the great empires of the East, and was allowed to be humbled and punished by them. One of the consequences of intercourse with these empires, ending in the Captivity, was to familiarise their minds with buildings and workings of art which, while they marked the absence of a knowledge and worship of the true God, presented marvellous instances of the power and skill of man! The mind of man, in his fallen state, is ever prone to forget God and to reject Him; it is ever prone to corrupt the simple idea of His majesty and power. The idolatry of power was expressed in the architecture and image worship of this period. The words of the text refer to it, The dumb stone (of the monuments) speaks still; it speaks of abject submission to irresistible power. It speaks of rule and might and iron will; but there is no love, no tenderness, no hope in its utterances. History re-echoes the prophet’s denunciation, and extends it to after generations, embracing the later and more engaging forms of art thus employed. The message of works of art addresses itself to the carnal and the sensuous that is in us. It does not bring us into contact with the unseen and the infinite. There is a woe in it. May we not, descending the stream of time, go on to point out that the prophet’s woe also lights upon what is called Christian Art--on them who, in the Church of Christ, have said unto the wood, Awake, and have called upon the dumb stone to teach? The woe has taken effect in bringing down a thick pall of dark superstition and loss of spiritual life wherever the practice has prevailed. It is not to the wood or to the stone that we are directed for our instruction in Divine things, but to the Word and to the testimony. And therefore it is that in the arranging of our churches and the adjusting of their ornaments, at the time of the Reformation, it appeared right to those who were charged with this work that the wood and the stone which had been setup to speak and to teach should be excluded from this office; that no attempt should be made, by an exhibition of the passion and death of our blessed Lord, to the outward eye, to move the feelings and to strengthen the faith; but rather that such things were to be removed as a danger and a hindrance to acceptable worship. In place of ornaments and images the Reformers put the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. It cannot be denied that in our day there is some danger lest too much importance be attached to external appearance, to architecture and decoration. While we do not look to the wood to Speak, or to the dumb stone to teach, we will not hesitate to make both minister to the comeliness of the sanctuary. In so doing we shall not impede but assist devotion. Holding fast the essential truths, and taught by the Word of the living God, we may rejoice with thanksgiving for the comeliness of the sanctuaries which now cover our land in every direction, and cheerfully do our part, that the wood and the stone may be made worthily to set forth the honour of God’s service, and furnish us fitting accompaniment for the prayer and the praise we offer in His name. (Archdeacon Cooper, M. A.)
Let all the earth keep silence before Him.
Habakkuk commends the power of God, that the Israelites might proceed with alacrity in their religious course, knowing it to be a sufficient security to be under the protection of the only true God, and that they might not seek after the superstitions of the nations, nor be carried here and there, as it often happens, by vain desires. “Keep silence,” then, he says, “let all the earth.” He shows that though the Israelites might be far inferior to the Babylonians, and other nations, and be far unequal to them in strength, military art, forces, and in short, in all things of this kind, yet they would always be safe under the guardianship of God; for the Lord was able to control whatever power there might be in the world. We now see what the prophet had in view; for he does not here simply exhort all people to worship God, but shows that, though men may grow mad against Him, He yet can easily by His hand subjugate them; for after all the tumults made by kings and their people, the Lord can, by one breath of His mouth, dissipate all their attempts, however furious they may be. This, then, is the silence of which the prophet now speaks. But there is another kind of silence, and that is, when we willingly submit to God; for silence in this respect is nothing else but submission: and we submit to God, when we bring not our own inventions and imaginations, but suffer ourselves to be taught by His Word. We also submit to Him, when we murmur not against His power or His judgments, when we humble ourselves under His powerful hand, and do not fiercely resist Him, as those do who indulge their own lusts. This is indeed a voluntary submission: but the prophet here shows that there is power in God to lay prostrate the whole world, and to tread it under His feet, whenever it may please Him; so that the faithful have nothing to fear, for they know that their salvation is secured; for though the whole world were leagued against them, it yet cannot resist God. (John Calvin.)
The teaching of silence
There is an eloquence that lives not in words. There is an appeal to the heart, ay, and to the reason too, in the language of silence. The child that wakes in the night and listens for a sound and hears none, realises loneliness, and vastness, and the sense of mystery, and cries out for fear. There is a voice in the silence of old associations, as we stand amid the relies of the past. There is a silence too amongst men that speaks most unmistakably,--the silence of deep feeling, whether of sorrow, or rage, or attention, or determination, when men have ceased to talk, because they feel words are out of place, and the time for work has come. The silence spoken of in the text is a silence created by a sense of the present majesty of God.
I. The presence of God. He has Himself declared His omnipresence. He condescended to dwell in the tabernacle and the temple. In the newer dispensation there were manifest declarations that God is among His worshippers of a truth. It is no relic of a bygone superstition to assert that God is in the midst of us. At the present day, with altered circumstances externally, are we to suppose the reality is changed? Because the temple gave way to the riverside or the catacombs, and they in turn to the Basilica and the Church, are we to think that God has failed His people or broken His covenant? Are we to imagine that God does not now draw near to hear the prayer addressed to Him, or that, while He is present everywhere else, He excludes Himself from those sanctuaries where His people specially desire His presence? We are here for a festival of parochial choirs. But in whose honour is that festival? Our own or God’s?
II. The work of music. Regard it as an influence. Which of us is altogether insensible to it? And as a means of expression. The influence of music must lead on to something further. If we feel it in any degree, we are bound to make it our own, and employ it till we realise something of the worth of music as a means of expression. When Mendelssohn, as a boy, had seen anything very beautiful, if he was asked to describe it, he would say, “Oh, I can’t speak it, I will play it to you,” and would then sit down and draw out of the instrument tones that expressed the deep impression which the beautiful had made on him. We are not all so. Still we all have some such power in some degree.
III. What has this to do with silence? A great deal. For all great works great preparation is needed. For the true preparation of the music of the sanctuary, silence is necessary. The music we have been speaking of is the music of worship, and the music of hearts. Silence is the attitude of listening and attention. What is necessary in God’s house is silent reverence. And it is the condition of real work,--of most work with the hand, of all real work with the head. The silence of preparation is like a dam across a stream. In the silence of thought, in the silence of humility, in the silence of reverence, in the silence of deep feelings, in the silence of earnest determination, we prepare an offering of prayer and praise, which wells forth, not from the noisy utterance of our lips, without influence and without expression, but a strong deep flood from the heart itself, which flows, and will flow on and on for ever, which has God for its object, our own deepest interest for its subject, our whole life for its channel, and eternity for its end. (G. C. Harris.)
Sentiments for a great crisis
This prophetic book was written in troublous times.
I. The attitude of God towards the earth in the great crisis of its history. Some think by Jehovah’s temple the prophet means the Church; others the universe; others heaven; others the temple at Jerusalem. We understand our text to speak of heaven as the temple of the Lord.
1. The fact that the Lord is in His temple speaks to us of the hiding of His purposes. To us, in this lower world, God’s face is often veiled. Our vision is not keen enough to pierce the mysteries of that temple into which He withdraws Himself.
2. Indicates the interest which He takes in human affairs. Though the Lord is hidden, He is not unobservant. It is our consolation to know that our Heavenly Father, though unseen, is all-seeing and all-pervading. And if God care for the most insignificant individual, must He not care much more when the fate of nations hangs in the balance
3. Intimates His infinite repose in spite of all external changes. No disquiet can be felt by the Almighty.
4. He is ready to interfere effectively at the proper moment. As a rule, He conceals His designs, until the time comes for action.
II. The fitting attitude of man towards God in eventful times. “Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” There should be--
1. The silence of humiliation.
2. The silence of adoration.
3. The silence of submission.
4. The silence of expectation.
5. The silence of quiet resolution--the resolution to follow implicitly the guidance of providence, and, at whatever cost, to do our duty to our country, the world, and to God.
The expressiveness of devout silence
Addison professes to have been wonderfully delighted with a masterpiece of music, when in the very tumult and ferment of their harmony all the voices and instruments have stopped short on a sudden, and after a little pause recovered themselves again as it were, and renewed the concert in all its parts. “Methought this short interval of silence has had more music in it than any one same space of time before or after it.” And he goes on to cite from Homer and from Virgil two instances of silence, “which have something in them as sublime as any of the speeches in their whole works.” (Francis Jacox.)
What is silence? You often use the word, but are you sure that you always use it correctly? or that you are able to discriminate between the literal and the metaphorical use of the word? Strictly speaking silence is the suspension of articulate speech, though by a metaphor we transfer the term to a cessation of any sound whatever. Thus, we read of the hushed silence which, in tropical countries, precedes the shock of the earthquake; and we have all been awed by the silence which fills up the intervals between the peals in the thunderstorm. But in these instances the word silence, which strictly means the pause of articulate speech, is not used in its primary and literal sense, but figuratively or metaphorically. The Psalmist calls the human voice “man’s glory”; and so it is, as sharing with the possession of reason “the glory “ of distinguishing between man himself and the coasts that perish. And our Lord warns us against the vain and idle use of this great gift, by the solemn declaration that “by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned”; and again, that “for every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” But if the faculty of speech be thus wonderful and sacred, and if a responsibility thus strict and awful attach to its right employment, must not something of the like sacredness, something of the like responsibility, belong also to that correlative power--the power of silence?
I. The silence of worship, of awe and reverence. “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” When we come up to the house of prayer, to meet Christ upon the mercy-seat,--to hear His voice speaking to us in the read and spoken word,--to receive Him into our very souls in the Sacrament of His broken body and shed blood, we are bound to observe the silence of awe and reverence. Except when we open our lips to join in prayer or praise to God, our attitude within these hallowed walls should be that of silence, of those who are impressed with the sanctity of the place, and who know and feel that the Almighty God is indeed in their midst. Yes; and it would be well, could we put more of this holy silence into all our religious acts. Our religion shares too much in the faults of the age in which we live. It is too public, too outspoken, conducted too much as a business; and so the inner and contemplative element is too much lost sight of. “Commune with thine own heart, and in thy chamber, and be still”; this is the direction of the Psalmist, and it is a direction to which we shall do well to give heed in this busy, noisy, bustling generation. Do not suppose that it is only the clergy, or persons of retired life, or those who have given themselves up to the attainment of a higher sanctity, who must court the silence of prayer and meditation. It is even yet more necessary for you whose lives are spent amid the busy competition of trade, or professional enterprise, or manual labour,--whose thoughts from early morning till late night are almost uninterruptedly engrossed with the cares and riches and business of this life,--it is absolutely necessary for you if, while living in the world, you would live with God and for God, that you make a point each day of withdrawing yourselves, if it be but for a quarter of an hour, from the outer world, and retiring into yourselves, to meditate on your own spiritual state, and on God’s great love and goodness towards you. Devotion is possible even in the busiest life. Never plead worldly business as an excuse for irreligion, or for deficient fervour in religion. On the contrary, worldly business will be a great help to your religion if only you recollect that, in order to make it such, you must ever cultivate--educate that inner life of the soul which naturally aspires after God. And how will you cultivate and educate it? You can only do it by diligent seeking, and faithful use each day of a period of silence,--silence for prayer, for penitence, for communion with the Unseen and the Eternal.
II. The silence of preparation. Every great achievement, whether in the moral or the intellectual world, has been in a sense like Solomon’s temple,--it has risen noiselessly, silently, without sound of axe or hammer. Therefore is that great primary act in religion--the conviction of sin--invariably preceded by deep and solemn silence, while the sinner stands before God self-accused and self-condemned. Therefore, also, is silence ever present at all the more solemn passages of our life. Sorrow--real, genuine sorrow--is ever silent. A cry!--a tear!--what relief would these be,--but they must not intrude into the sacred ground of sorrow,--the sorrow of the just-bereaved widow or orphan. And so, too, sympathy with sorrow is ever silent. Idle words, or still idler tears,--these are for false comforters, like those that troubled the patriarch Job: the true sympathy is the sympathy of a look,--of the presence of silence, not of uttered consolation.
III. But I must name that last silence,--a silence that we must all experience, and for which, by silence, we must prepare now--the silence of death. What exactly the silence of death is, none but the dying can know. When that silence comes upon us, and come upon us it must, with a certainty to which no other future certainty bears the slightest resemblance, may it find us experienced in silence. May we have sought it, may we have profited by it, may we have practised it, while it was still ours to choose or to refuse. May we have known what it was, day by day, to be many times alone with that God who must then be alone with us, to judge or else to save. (C. H. Collier, M. A.)
The religion of silence
We all speak too much, and make too much noise. Every one has felt irritated sometimes, when in thoughtful mood he could not escape from people’s voices. A panorama of the Alps from a Swiss mountain-top may be spoiled even by the cries of “Wunder-schon!” No one can worship rightly, no one can even hear the call to worship, who does not often feel that he must be silent. This is the religious aspect of the modern demand for more leisure time. And one of the things we most of all need to learn and teach, is how to use the leisure that we are demanding, so that our “silences may be blessed with sweet thoughts.” For worship, there are three main uses of silence--
1. To get rid of evil voices that speak within us. Passion, selfishness, self-assertion, lust, fear, are voices that cry within the souls of most men more than they know. Their cries mingle with the other noises of life, and so escape notice. But when the soul is hushed for worship it can distinguish any such voice, will feel its wrongness, and be at pains to silence it. There are many thoughts we dare not allow when we realise ourselves in God’s holy temple. The silence which discovers and banishes these is a means of moral victory.
2. To let the “still small voices” be heard within. Often busy people feel that there are many things in their mind and heart which they can only half express, even to themselves. Wordsworth describes these in his Ode on Immortality. The reason why these are so inexpressible is often our want of silence rather than our spiritual incapacity. There are some scientific instruments so fine that to do their work they must be set at night in a quiet country-house far from traffic. The mind and heart and conscience are such instruments. All that is best in us of thought and feeling exceeds speech. When we try to speak out all that we want to say, we know how true it is that “language is a means of concealing thought.” But in reverent silence, thought and love and the sense of right and wrong, in finer shades than language can match, may be drawn out, and the soul attain a richer and fuller being in this temple of God than elsewhere.
3. To know God. For there is more to be had than the quickening of human nature to its fullest life. There is a Presence in the world; one whose thought we share, whose love we feel, and whose voice speaks in conscience. That which the finest spirits prize most in silence and loneliness is the real companionship they reveal. We Know ourselves alone, yet not alone, for the Father is with us. The holy temple is the place of revelation and communion for its silent worshippers. (John Kelman, M. A.)