Amo_4:11-12. Yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.
THE various dispensations of providence are intended to awaken our concern for our best interests, and to bring us back to God. But the generality of mankind, satisfied with tracing events to second causes, neglect to make the improvement of them which God designs. Judgments and mercies in constant succession pass unheeded; and, instead of promoting our spiritual welfare, too frequently enhance rather our eternal condemnation. It is certain that God notices the effects which his dealings produce upon us: and, if we continue incorrigible under all the means which he uses for our good, he will sooner or later call us to a severe account. To this effect he speaks in the passage before us; where, having recapitulated the various methods by which he had sought to reclaim his people, he complains, after each, that “they had not returned unto him;” and then he bids them prepare to answer for it at his tribunal.
We may with too much reason apply to ourselves the words originally addressed to Israel, and consider from them,
The complaint alleged against us—
God has used various means to bring us to repentance—
[In the context he specifies several judgments which he had inflicted on his people Israel, intimating, at the same time, that in the midst of judgment he had remembered mercy. His judgments had been successive, and partial, not universal, or combined. We too must confess that he has visited us with heavy calamities [Note: Here may be mentioned any that have recently happened; especially if among them can be enumerated scarcity, or drought, or mildew, or pestilence, or prejudicial lightnings.] — — — But yet “he has staid his rough wind in the day of his east wind,” insomuch that we have been like “a brand plucked out of the fire!” War, famine, and pestilence have raged in different parts of the continent; but we, though slightly affected by them all, have escaped without any material injury [Note: Written Feb. 1805.].
For a long time also has God spared us from that awful pestilence which has raged both in Asia and Europe: but now has it reached our shores, and is spreading widely both in Britain and Ireland [Note: July, 1832.], and carrying off multitudes with fearful rapidity into the eternal world.]
But in the midst of all we have continued impenitent—
[We can see nothing of national reformation. Fasts indeed have been appointed from time to time during the late war, and even on the present occasion: but it will be well if these be not numbered amongst our greatest sins; seeing that they have been little else than an empty form, a hypocritical service, a solemn mockery. As for national repentance, what evidence can be adduced to warrant the hope that it has ever taken place? What national sin has been put away? Have we less pride and arrogance, when speaking of our fleets and armies? Have we ceased from traffic in human blood? Does not the land groan as much as ever under the load of sabbaths wasted, oaths violated, and sacraments profaned; or, if any slight alteration in relation to oaths and sacraments have taken place, has it not been through a political concession to popular clamour, rather than from any regard for the honour and authority of God?
Nor can we boast much more of personal improvement. Are not the young as gay and dissipated, as if they had no occasion for mourning and weeping? Are not the worldly as intent upon their gains as if this world were their all? Do not the formal still continue as regardless of the life and power of godliness, as if the service of the heart were not required? Is there any considerable change even in the people of God? Is there much of a spirit of prayer and intercession found among them? Are they pleading, like Abraham for Sodom, or like Moses for the worshippers of the golden calf? In truth, there are few, if any, who lay to heart the iniquities of the nation, or inquire, “What have I done” to increase the sum of our national guilt?]
Surely then, since we must plead guilty to the charge, we may fitly also apply to ourselves,
The admonition founded upon it—
God threatened the utter extinction of the Jewish nation [Note: ver. 2, 3. It is in reference to this that God says in the text, “Thus will I do.”]: and he bids us also to “prepare to meet him,”
In increased calamities—
[What God has already inflicted on us, is nothing in comparison of what we may expect at his hands, if we continue to provoke him. “Go to Shiloh, and see what he did to it for the wickedness of his people Israel [Note: Jer_7:12.]” Look at the Jews at this day, whom he has dealt with “as a man who wipeth a dish, and turneth it upside down [Note: 2Ki_21:12-13. with 1Ki_14:10.].” He hath only smitten us with rods at present; but, if we repent not, he will “chastise us with scorpions:” yea, he will continue to “punish us seven times more for our sins.” O that we might cease from our wickedness, before we oblige him to “come forth against us as a man of war,” and “his fury burn to the lowest hell.” “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”]
In the day of future retribution—
[In this world God calls men into judgment in their national capacity. It is in the eternal world only that he will reward and punish the different individuals. Then all of us must appear before his judgment-seat. And if we die impenitent, every dispensation which God had appointed for our good, shall be brought forth to aggravate our guilt and condemnation. ‘I sent you affliction; yet you returned not unto me: I sent you mercies; yet you returned not unto me: I gave you my Gospel to enlighten your mind, and my Spirit to affect your heart; yet you returned not unto me: I continued these mercies to you for so many years; yet you returned not unto me.’ Alas! how unanswerable will be his accusations, how just his sentence, how terrible his award!
For this account we must prepare: we must be ready to meet him whensoever he shall summon us: and if he call us unprepared, it were better for us that we had never been born.]
There are yet two or three considerations, which we would impress upon your minds, to strengthen those which have been already proposed:
If you return not to God, there is no hope for you—
[From one end of the Bible to the other we cannot find one word which countenances the idea of any person being saved, who dies impenitent. And should not this thought lead us to repentance? O let it have due influence on our minds! and let us be sufficiently on our guard against self-deception. Let us remember, that it is not a sigh, a tear, an acknowledgment, that will suffice: we must return unto God; we must return to him with our whole hearts: we must return in deep contrition, in lively faith, in unreserved obedience.]
If you return to God, you will find him ever ready to receive you—
[As, on the one hand, no one ever found mercy without repentance, so neither, on the other hand, was any true penitent ever rejected. Search the Scriptures; not a syllable will be found to discourage a sinner’s return to God. Nations have always found mercy when they sought it earnestly; and of individuals, not one was ever rejected who turned unto God in sincerity and truth. What greater encouragement then can any man desire? There is the word, yea the oath, of Jehovah pledged, that none shall seek his face in vain. Beloved brethren, only seek him with your whole hearts, and he will assuredly be found of you.]
Inconceivable will be the difference between those who are prepared to meet their God, and those who meet him unprepared—
[Think of an impenitent sinner, when summoned into the presence of his God: how glad would he be that the rocks should fall upon him, and the hills should cover him from his sight! But this cannot be. He must appear; he must answer for himself; he must receive his doom; he must take his portion “in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.” View, on the contrary, the true penitent, the humble believer: behold him coming forth with joy to meet his reconciled God and Saviour: he stands before his tribunal with unshaken confidence: “he knows in whom he has believed.” While the other anticipates in the frowns of his Judge the miseries of hell, he receives in Emmanuel’s smiles an earnest and foretaste of the heavenly felicity. This alone is sufficient to shew the importance of being prepared. We need not follow them to their different abodes: their comparative happiness at the first meeting of their God is abundantly sufficient to enforce this exhortation upon all, “Return unto the Lord, from whom ye have deeply revolted!”]