Scourge for Slumbering Souls
"Woe to them that are at ease in Zion.”— Amos vi. 1.
IN itself considered it is no ill thing to be at ease; nay it is a great blessing to be at ease in Zion in the healthy sense and meaning of that word. Is it not one of the invitations of Christ — “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest?” Is not this one of the promises made to the believer — “His soul shall dwell at ease, and his seed shall inherit the earth?”— Psalm xxv. 13. Is not this the privilege which is accorded to the Church of God, in the words of Isaiah — “Thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation?” — Isa. xxxiii. 20. And still more in the prophecy of Jeremiah, chapter xlvi., verse 27 — “Jacob shall return, and be in rest and at ease, and none shall make him afraid?” To have perfect quietness in Christ is indeed a privilege which only belongs to those who have entered into that which is within the veil! Oh to enter into our rest! for “they that have believed do enter into rest and have ceased from their own works as God did from his;” they have found in the finished work of Christ enough for their souls’ repose; they see in the faithfulness and power of God enough support for the future, whatever troubles it may bring; in the precious blood of Christ sufficient atonement for the past, whatever its sins may have been; and in communion and fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ abundant joy for the present, whatever may be its trials, its difficulties, its straits, or its fears. It is a blessed thing then, understanding the word ‘‘ease ” in its good sense, to be at ease in Zion; so good a thing that it is denied to the wicked, for “the wicked are like the troubled sea which cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt,” and of the wicked it may be said, “ And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest; but the Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind.” — Deut. xxviii. 65. Oh beloved brothers and sisters, it is a thing worth praying for, and worth striving after, that our spirit may have perfect rest, for the kingdom of God is peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost; Jesus is king of Salem, and Prince of Peace, “and the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.” — Isaiah xxxii. 17. Peace, peace to thee, thou troubled one; in the world thou shalt have tribulation, but in Christ thou shalt have peace.
But it seems there is an ill sense in which the word “ease” may be used, for the text says, “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion.” This is a carnal ease, a fleshly security; it is not the confidence of a man who is pardoned, but the ease of a hardened wretch who has learned to despise the gibbet. It is not the assurance of one who is on the rock, but the ease of a senseless drunkard, whose house is tottering from its sandy foundations, and yet he riots at full speed; it is not the calm of a soul at peace with God, but the ease of a madman, who, because he has hidden his sin from his own eyes, thinks he has concealed it from God. It is the ease and peace of one who has grown callous, hardened, brutalized, stupid, sullen, and careless, who has begun a sleep which God grant may soon be broken, or else it will surely bring him where he shall make his bed in hell.
As I know there are many in this congregation who are at ease in Zion, — I shall not draw the bow at a venture this morning, but in the name of God shall aim straight at the heart, — I shall first of all — labouring all the morning long as God’s servant, to wake up those that are at ease in Zion — try to wake them by calling out their names, for that is said to be an admirable method of waking sleeping men ; secondly, by shedding a light upon their eyes, for there be many who can sleep in the night who will not sleep so comfortably in the day ; and then, thirdly, by sounding the trumpet in their ears. Ay, and such a trumpet, that if God the Holy Spirit be here, it shall sound like the blast of the archangel, and make them quiver with fright, even if they turn not unto God. But all these things will fail unless the Holy Spirit, who quickeneth those that be dead in trespasses and sins, shall be present to wake and to save these sleepers.
1. First, in order to the arousing of the many that are at ease in Zion, we will CALL OUT THEIR NAMES, — which are to be found in the chapter before us. The name of the first sleeper in Zion is Presumptuous. His character is described in the first verse — “They trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came.” Alas, proud heart, thou comest to this house, and thou goest from it quite content and easy because thou sayest to thyself, “I am rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing.” “Let the drunkard tremble,” say you, “I have always been moral; let the dishonest bow their heads, I have always walked in integrity before men.” And so ye wrap yourselves in your good works, and hope thus to stand complete before God; so ye trust in your mountain of Samaria, and say, “My mountain standeth firm; I shall never be moved.” I can hardly understand your being at ease in self-righteousness, if you occupy these seats often, for there are none against whom we hurl such thunderbolts as those workmongers, those merit-trusters, who boast of themselves that they are righteous, and deceive both themselves and others. Against no man do we utter sterner anathemas than against him who, going about to establish his own righteousness, has not submitted himself to the righteousness of Christ.
Why, man, thy purest works are only dross and dung in the sight of God, and thy best performances are defiled with the marks of thy black hands. They cannot even bear the twilight of an awakened conscience; how, then, will they bear the sevenfold sunlight of God’s great judgment-day, when he shall bring all things before him, and everything shall be naked and open. He that trusts in his own works leans upon a broken reed. As well attempt to cross the storm-tossed ocean upon a child’s paper boat, or mount to the heaven of God in the philosopher’s balloon, — as well attempt to put out the fire of a blazing prairie by carrying in your hand a little water scooped from the neighbouring stream, as hope by any means to get rid of thine own iniquities by doing better, or of thy past sins by future holiness. I tell thee, man, thy prayers, thine alms-giving, thy fastings, thy repentings, thy church-goings, thy chapel-goings, are all as nothing in the eye of him who demands perfect obedience, and will never accept anything short of perfect righteousness from man. Away, away, away with these gaudy rags! they will be unravelled ere long ; thou mayest toil at the loom night and day, but thy work shall be rent in pieces and not a shred shall be left, for thou art spinning nothing but a spider’s web which Justice shall tear in pieces, and like Adam, whose fig-leaves could never cover him, thou shalt cry before God, “I knew that I was naked, and I hid myself.” Woe, then, to those that are at ease in Zion, whose name is Presumptuous.
But the great mass of you escape while I speak thus. “No,” say you, “We do not belong to that class; we know the gospel better than that; we are orthodox Protestants, and stand fast with good Martin Luther, and believe that a man is justified by faith, and not by the works of the law.” Remember, you may believe that and yet not be justified yourself. You may hold the doctrine plainly enough, but it is one thing to believe in the justification of the ungodly, and quite another thing for an ungodly man to be justified.
2. A second name is put before us in the roll, and that is Not-now, or Procrastination. Surely there are hundreds of you who will recognise your own surname. See how you are described in the third verse — “Ye that put far away the evil day.” Yes, you are only young apprentices at present, and when your time is out you think it will be early enough to attend to matters of soul-interest. Or you are only journeymen at present, and when you have earned sufficient money to set you up in business, then will be the time to think of God. Or you are little masters, and have just begun business; you have a rising family and are struggling hard, and this is your pretence for procrastination. You promise that when you have a competence, and can quietly retire to a snug little villa in the country, and your children have grown up, then you will repent of the past, and seek of God grace for the future. All these are self-delusions of the grossest kind; for you will do no such thing. What you are today you will probably be to-morrow, and what you are to- morrow you will probably be the next day, and unless a miracle shall happen, that is to say, unless the supernatural grace of God shall make a new man of you, you will be at your last day what you now are — without God, without hope, and a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel. Procrastination is the greatest of Satan’s nets; in this he catcheth more unwary souls than in any other. “Not now; not now; not now; time enough; time enough; time enough saith he. ‘‘Taste the world’s pleasure first; come, take your swing; go to the end of your tether, and then pull up of a sudden and repent.” Well knoweth he that then he will have the same cry for them – “Not now; not now; until they come into the jaws of death, and then he will turn round and hiss into their ears the awful words — “Too late ! too late! too late!” though he will be as much a liar then as he is now, for it is never too late if the Lord make bare his arm. Now might I not look around these galleries, and down upon these pews below, and remember many of you who for these seven or eight years have been hearers of the gospel from my lips? There have been many times when you have trembled and been alarmed. You felt like Felix, but like him you cried — “Go thy way for this time, when I have a more convenient season I will send for thee.” Ah! that convenient season has not come yet, and I fear it never will. Bless the Lord, there have been many hundreds of you whose own season never came, but the Lord made you come at his convenient season, and not at yours. May it be so with others of you! But alas ! alas ! how large a proportion of those who come into this house of prayer still say, “Not now; not now;” and put off the day, and will not come, but think they are to live for ever, imagining that the judgment-day will never approach, that they shall never have to give an account before God, and so they go on in their sins till the chapter shall end and the finis shall be written in black letters: for, “Depart ye cursed!” shall be their sentence.
3. The third name is Evil-doer or Sin-lover. “They cause the seat of violence to come near.” Into the house of God there are many come who still persevere in their sins, though not so comfortably as they would have done if they had neglected the means of grace. Many I know have come here, who at last said, “Well, this will not do; I cannot hear the gospel and have the shop opened on the Sunday; I cannot act as I have done in my business, and yet be a seat-holder there, one of the two must be given up.” And God has given them grace to serve Jehovah, and renounce Baal. But ah! there is a large proportion who are undecided. Where were you last night? Here you sit, and who would know but that you are the greatest saints out of heaven? But, perhaps, some time or other last week, you sat where none would know but that you were the basest sinners out of hell. Many attend the synagogue of Satan, as well as the synagogue of God; some can give the right hand to religion, while the left hand clasps their iniquity. Oh, those sweet sins, those darling sins that men hug and press to them, though they might as well put a viper in their bosom and hug it there, while all the while it infused its venom into their veins. How many must indulge their sins! They would have Christ, but they must have their cups too; they would follow the Saviour, but they must have their chambering and wantonness; they would be Christians, but oh, it is a hard road and a narrow one, and they cannot give up their sweet lusts. 0 soul, am I not calling out thy name now? Do I not now describe thy character to the very life? Lover of sin, the day shall come when thou wilt hate thy sin because of the punishment it shall bring thee; for he that wooeth sin, wooeth punishment; he that loveth iniquity, drinketh a cup which is sweet at the brim, but the dregs! the dregs! the dregs! which must be drained; how direful shall be that burning draught. Oh! the draining of those dregs will last throughout eternity, an eternity of hell.
4. The next name is Love-self. “They lie upon beds of ivory and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flocks, and the calves out of the midst of the stall.” This was not wrong; if they had a bed of ivory there was no more objection to their lying upon that than to their lying upon a common couch. There can be no reason why persons blest with rank in life where they can use these things should not use them, for every creature of God is good and nothing to be despised, but to be received with thankfulness. Their fault was this, that they lived only for self -indulgence. They come under the category of those described by the apostle — “Whose God is their belly.” They lived only to eat and to drink, to be merry and to make merry with their friends. You know I am no ascetic, my humour is far too warm and genial for me to claim association with John the Baptist, whose meat was locusts and wild honey; my sympathies rather run with the Master, of whom it is said, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” But still I must, even as he did, inveigh against those who live only for the flesh, who are simply strainers for meat and drink, whose life-work is to provide food and raiment; who are satisfied so long as they have the richest dainties and the choicest wines; who even come up to the house of God because they love to have their ears regaled with sweet sound; and even God’s prophet is to them as one that playeth a goodly tune upon a pleasant instrument. Self-indulgence! Oh, this is the God of many! They live not for Christ — What do they for him? They live not for his Church — What care they for that? They live for self, and for self only. And mark, there are such among the poor as well as among the rich, for all classes have this evil leaven. Self-honour, self -seeking, these be thy gods, O Israel, and multitudes dance and sing in honour of the beloved deities. Fulness of bread often brings on emptiness of heart, and there be many who are like the Israelites in the wilderness, while their meat is yet in their mouth, the wrath of God cometh upon them, because their meat is the offering which they offer at the shrine of their God, and that God is their belly. Do I not speak to some such here this morning? Probably those to whom this most applies will say, “Well, I do not think that is for me.” Probably it is for you, then, for this is a charge to which no man would like to plead guilty. Among all the sins that are confessed nobody ever confessed covetousness. No, he only exercises a proper discretion in taking care of himself. He thinks that the excellent of the earth ought to be provided for; he puts himself down among them, and therefore, takes care that he should have not only his bread and his water given him, but whatever else he may desire besides. O self -lover, remember there are no pampered tables and choice confectioneries in hell. Awake thee, then, from thy dreamings!
5. It seems that among those who were at ease in Zion, was one called Careless, an individual who belongs to a very large family, — we may give him another name, giddy, light-hearted. He is described in the fifth verse, ‘‘That chant to the sound of the viol, that invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David; that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments.” You know how many we have, even amongst those who frequent our sanctuaries, who say, “Begone, dull care.” They never sit down for half an hour, and turn over the Word of God to see whether these things be so. “No,” they say, “let well alone.” They are happy; they are comfortable for the present; and like butterflies, while it is a bright summer’s day, they think the winter is far off. Their whole life is spent in levity. We may call them the froth of society. There is nothing solid in them; they are not solid enough even to be desperately wicked. Even their religion is carelessness. They sing a hymn as though it were a song; when prayer is offered — and they will sometimes go to prayer-meetings — they are criticising the terms which are used before the mighty God. Sometimes they venture to make a profession of religion; but you might hope to build a palace with pillars of smoke, or adorn a queen’s brow with dewdrops, sooner than find any truth in their godliness. Their convictions are always superficial, — a sort of scratching of the soil as with the old ploughs; but there is no sub-soil ploughing; no turning up and breaking the clods; no tearing up of the vitals of their consciences; no revelation of themselves to themselves. Like stony-ground hearers, they receive the Word with gladness; but they have no depth of earth, and after a little while, when the seed springs up, it withers away. Not here and there do we find such, but there are very many careless souls who never will give themselves the healthy exercise of thought. Woe unto you, woe unto you, if thus ye are at ease in Zion!
6. And now, to call out the last name in the list, there is one called Crossless. He is described in the sixth verse, “And they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.’ It is an awful thing to live in this world without a cross! I have heard of one who, being told of another that he had never any trials, said he should not like to live in the same town, for he was sure something terrible would happen to him. I was once preaching in a country village, where there was an estimable pastor who seemed to have a very quiet and flourishing little Church, and I said to him, “Now, yours is the course of life I should prefer, to be quiet and secluded, and not to have an excess of labour. You,” I said, “seem to have no trials.” Ah! it was not long after, he had the most crushing of trials that could happen to man, and his brain reeled beneath it. And so, no doubt, if a child of God should be a little while without a trial, it is only because there is another one coming, and he is having a little respite because a very heavy blow is about to fall upon him. As John Bunyan says in his doggrel rhyme: –
“A Christian man is seldom long at ease,
When one trouble’s gone another doth him seize.”