Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet…
I. Among the most prominent illustrations of the present subject we may produce THOSE PERSONS, WHO REPRESENT ENTHUSIASM AS RELIGION. By enthusiasm, as applied with a reference to religion, I understand the subjection of the judgment, in points of religious faith or practice, to the influence of the imagination.
II. Let us now turn our eyes to the opposite quarter; to MEN WHO DENOMINATE RELIGION ENTHUSIASM. Enthusiasm is on principle busy and loquacious. Lukewarmness, though capable of being roused to a turbulent defence of forms and of its own conduct, is by nature silent and supine. Hence enthusiasm, in proportion to the relative number of its adherents, raises a much louder stir, and attracts far more extensive notice, than lukewarmness. But let the torpid conviction of the lukewarm be contrasted with the illusion of the enthusiast, and the former will prove itself not less dangerous, and generally more deliberately criminal, than the latter.
III. Another illustration of the text is furnished by PERSONS WHO REPRESENT A PARTIAL CONFORMITY TO THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD AS MERITING THE APPELLATION OF RELIGION: and thus also by implication STIGMATISE THE TRUE CHRISTIAN AS "RIGHTEOUS OVER MUCH."
IV. We may in the next place produce as illustrative of the general proposition WITH THE CHARACTER OF CENSORIOUSNESS ALL OPINIONS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF GUILT CONFORMABLE TO THE SCRIPTURES. From the mouth of these apologisers no sin receives its appropriate denomination. Some lighter phrase is ever on the lips to cloke its enormity, perhaps to transform it into a virtue. Is profaneness noticed? It is an idle habit by which nothing is intended. Is extravagance named? It is a generous disregard of money. Is luxury mentioned? It is a hospitable desire to see our friends happy. What is worldly-mindedness? It is prudence. What is pride? It is proper spirit, a due attention to our own dignity. What is ambition? A laudable desire of distinction and preeminence; a just sense of our own excellence and desert. What is servility? It is skill in making our way to advancement. What are intemperance and sins of impurity? They are indecorums, irregularities, human frailties, customary indiscretions, the natural and venial consequences of cheerfulness, company, and temptation; the unguarded ebullitions of youth, which in a little time will satiate and cure themselves. Now all this is candour: all this is charity. If a reference be made to religion, these men immediately enlarge on the mercy of God.
V. There yet remains to be specified an exemplification of the guilt menaced with vengeance by the prophet: A PERVERSION OF PRINCIPLE which, while the lower ranks are happily too little refined to be infected with it, taints with a greater or a less degree of its deceitful influence the bulk of the middle and higher classes of the community. By what criterion are applause and censure apportioned? By the rule of honour. "Honour" reigns, because multitudes "love the praise of men more than the praise of God." It reigns, because "they receive honour one of another; and seek not that honour which cometh from God only." What is this idol, which men worship in the place of the living God? The votary of honour may delude himself with the idea that, whatever be the ordinary expressions of his lips, his heart is dedicated to religion. But his heart is fixed on his idol, human applause. In the place of the love and the fear of God he substitutes the love of praise and the fear of shame. In the place of conscience he substitutes pride. For the dread of guilt he substitutes the apprehension of disgrace.
(T. Gisborne, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
WEB: Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!