The Spoiling of Humanity
Lamentations 4:1-12
How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street.

What is the most precious thing in the world? "Why, gold, of course, says the multitude; not, indeed, with its lips, but with its heart. For this, men will leave father and mother, and wife, and houses, and lands; for this, what will men not forsake or give? What is the real cause of half the lawsuits and the prosecutions that arise; is it not gold? And what will not men do for gold? They will cheat, rob, embezzle, lie, forge, perjure themselves, — nay, they will do murder itself, for gold. Must we rest content, then, with this answer to our question, "What is the most precious thing in the world?" Impossible! for, notwithstanding the force and unanimity with which the world cries out, "Gold!" there are voices, not a few, which instantly and disdainfully reject the insulting reply. "Perish gold, where honour is at stake!" cry a hundred men at once; and they are right. Though honour be but an abstraction, that cannot be exchanged for bread, or pearls, it is more precious than gold. "Part with my political, my religious principle for a bribe, to keep a house over my head, or my farm in my hands?" say scores of men, "no! not for the world!" And they are right; though principles can neither be taken to market nor put out at interest, they are more precious than gold. "What! must I empty my heart of love to fill it with gold; marry a money bag instead of a soul; let the home fires die out of my heart in my eager pursuit of the gold? No, no! perish the dross, and let me keep my love, and a whole and sound heart," say scores more. And they are right, for love is more precious than gold. Ay, and the philosopher would tell us that all the worth of the gold lies in the man. Now, if this be so, again, what answer must we have to our question, "What is the most precious thing in the world?" What answer but this, that MAN is the true gold, the priceless gem of the world, in comparison with whom all other things are vile? That, then, is the gold of which I am going to speak. Man, humanity, manhood — that is gold; the most fine gold, the precious stones of the sanctuary, over whose dimming, and changing, and desecration, I am going to ask you to lament with me. And I must first ask you to consider with me a little further the preciousness of manhood. For the mere secular and mundane purposes, there is no denying the power and the worth of gold. "Money can do anything," say its devotees; and they are right, of course, within limit; but the limits are very wide ones. Gold can buy up the world, and the world's laws resolve themselves into questions of money. And what is true thus of the literal gold, is true also, and in greater degree, of that more precious thing, of which we make that the figure just now. Oh! what splendour and glory of capacity is there not bound up within that little sphere, the body of a man! Six feet of earth can hold him comfortably, and yet the world cannot hold him — he holds the world. He is lord of all he sees; tenant for life of God's grandest freehold, the universe; at the annual rent of the love of his whole soul. And, oh! what capacity of service for the world lies wrapped within that little germ. You have watched your garden in the blooming time, when every spur upon the branch holds promise of a cluster of the fruit; did you ever watch the blooming time of manhood? Did you note the quick impetuosity, the keen susceptibility, the noble emotions, the tender sympathy, the fine candour, the metallic ring of conscience, the play of high principle? Oh! what power was there to bless the world, if all this blossom had set in fruit, and all that manifold being had developed, in harmonious proportion, to its true stature; what a rich power, to hundreds and to thousands, had that one man been; what light he would have shot into the dark places of the universe; what a lever of help would his strong sympathy have become; what a power against wrong; what a haven of healthy sentiment and opinion; what a moral power; how his goodness would have radiated round him, as far as his world stretched. And, best of all, had that promise been fulfilled, had all those buds of hope and aspiration been set in fruit, he might have been how true, and good, and grand a saint; devout, and yet withal as cheery as a tenant of this sunny world should be; tender and gentle as a little unspoiled child, and yet as manly as the strongest hero in the world. A worshipper in all his life, with God in all his thoughts; God in his heart; his life a happy, conscious, willing service of his God; and yet the freest child of man and user of the world; a presence, and a power of righteousness, wherever he was. "What then!" do you ask me? "Is it within the power of every man that is born into the world to be saint, hero, statesman, poet, painter, genius, philosopher, philanthropist, every highest style of man — and all to perfection?" Of course I can't mean any such thing! God's gifts are all disparted. "One star differeth from another star in glory." Few men are great in more than one thing. So that I do not expect that it will be possible, in any millennium, ever, for every man to be in everything a man. And yet, though this be true, it is also true that every bit of humanity is fine gold! What I mean to assert is this, that by far the greater part of humanity is spoiled; that a large proportion of the men and women you meet every day might have been a great deal nobler, and better, and greater, and more capable every way than they are, and would have been so had they not been spoiled. "The gold has become dim, the most fine gold has become changed; the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the streets." In respect of this world merely, and of the things men have to do in this world — the handing of its material, the reading its books, the fulfilling of its relations — the masses of men are spoiled; dwarfed in their capacity, crippled in their mental and moral power, stunted in their development, warped from their uprightness, shorn of their beauty. There is a bight in the natural world that kills off the buds of every spring; there are untimely frosts; there are devouring insects, little, but potent; there are worms at the root, and maggots at the core; there are wind and tempest; over-sun, and over-rain; and so, not half the world's blossom comes to perfection. And as it is with the physical, so it is with the moral world. There is a human blight, deadly and fatal, that comes invisibly in a night, and makes our petals fall; there are chilly frosts, in the circumstances of our youth, that nip our buds; there are moral insects, of passion and temper, that come and gnaw at our heart; and there are germs of evil in the world around us that lay their eggs in our life. "How is the fine gold become dim!" Let me convert the exclamation of the text into an inquiry. How? First, there is weakness, inherent and innate — the legacy of one's ancestry, more lasting than their gold; weakness, working through generations, and culminating in us, through ignorance or wilful neglect of great physical laws; the natural robustness of humanity diluted out of us by evil treatment, and want of knowledge and care; and so, when the wings of the full-fledged soul begin to try their unused plumes, we find ourselves incapable of sustaining our lofty flight, and come to grovel on the earth again. Secondly, there are the defective or positively evil influences that surround our youth, and play on the formation of our character. How can one expect anything good to come from such gems, and out of such homes as thousands of these human germs are born and bred in? With sordid fathers, and silly mothers, ungoverned and untaught; mindless of their children, save to prevent them being a burden or a trouble — what wonder, that the fine gold becomes dim! With sweets and finery as the rewards of life, and "God" never used, but as a whip or bugbear, how can any good come? With no painstaking culture of morals and of tempers in such a world as this, how can it be but that the fine gold should be spoiled?

(G. W. Conder.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street.

WEB: How is the gold become dim! [how] is the most pure gold changed! The stones of the sanctuary are poured out at the head of every street.

The Lustre of Humanity Dimmed
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