Foreigners consume his strength, but he does not notice. Even his hair is streaked with gray, but he does not know.
I. THE DECLINE OF NATIONS. Its primary reference is to "Ephraim," and to the symptoms which Ephraim showed of approaching national ruin. But the whole Bible, and especially the Old Testament, is full of teaching about the decadence of nations. The Hebrew prophets point to "the giant forms of empires on their way to ruin." Hence the priceless value of their writings to the Christian patriot, and to the devout student of history. What are some of the "grey hairs" which forebode national decay?
1. Idolatry. The northern kingdom had departed from God, first in worshipping Jeroboam's calves, and afterwards in serving the idol-deities of Phoenicia. And now, in his time of political need, Ephraim was looking for help to Egypt and Assyria (vers. 8-11), instead of returning to Jehovah as his Portion. This "grey hair" led quickly to the degradation and ruin of the kingdom. So, still, those nations that will not serve the Lord our God shall perish, and be utterly wasted.
2. Immorality. A people may increase greatly in civilization and intellectual culture, and yet be sprinkled all over with this "grey hair." Ancient Greece, when it was the land of art and poetry and philosophy, was morally all the while a mass of corruption. Rome, during the first century of the Christian era, was even worse. Juvenal calls it "a filthy sewer," and Seneca "a cesspool of iniquity." When immorality is rampant, it marks the commonwealth as moribund, and forebodes its "decline and fall."
3. Vicious luxury. It was a sign of decay when Ephraim began to" live deliciously," like ancient Tyre and Babylon (Amos 6:3, et seq.). In the palmy days of the Roman commonwealth the Romans were brave, hardy, and victorious; but under the Empire the inner life of the people was gradually eaten away by the canker of luxury. Our own nation, and all the great Anglo-Saxon communities at the present time, need to guard against this "grey hair."
4. Oppression of the poor. If a nation is to continue safe against dissolution, it must be governed by justice and humanity. The French revolution of 1789 was the result of the sinful waste of the Bourbon kings, and the misery of the French peasantry. But every nation is in danger which takes no care to "judge the poor of the people." This text reminds us, accordingly, of our duty as citizens. We must take order that our political representatives shall act in all public matters with justice and honor. Every Christian elector should use his ballot-paper under a sense of his responsibility to the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of nations; and he ought to do what he can otherwise to strengthen public opinion in the direction of wise political principles, and of a healthy condition of the national conscience.
II. THE DECLINE OF CHURCHES. For, alas! the marks of decay are often found there also. It was so with the seven Churches of proconsular Asia in the first century. In most of the epistles which the Lord addressed to them (Revelation 2., 3.) he points out the "grey hairs." How gradually, too, premonitions of spiritual decline appeared in the Church of Rome! The student of Church history sees at first only one or two "grey hairs" upon its head. We may indicate some of the signs of spiritual decay in Churches.
1. Prevalence of unsound doctrine. A Church, to be spiritually healthy, must be thoroughly evangelical. Its ministers must not regard themselves merely as the educators of some native goodness in man; and they must not preach as if the cross were only a myth, or the Holy Ghost a metaphor. The Church's best times are those in which it teaches most clearly and emphatically the three evangelical "R's," viz. ruin by the fall, redemption by the Lord Jesus, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
2. Lack of missionary zeal. This detect frequently accompanies unwholesome doctrine. The continued vigor of a Church depends upon its aggressiveness as a crusading institute in opposition to the sin and misery of the world. It is not enough that it provide carefully for its own edification, and know that its members are benefited by its services. It will decline in spiritual life if it forgets those around who perish "for lack of knowledge."
3. Decadence of family religion. In the Bible the true ecclesiastical unit is not the individual, but the family. Holy Scripture magnifies "the Church in the house." And experience shows that a congregation, to be strong and healthy, must be composed of well-trained, intelligent, and devout families. What both the Church and the nation greatly need today is godly households. The lack of family religion is a precursor of spiritual ruin.
4. The spirit of worldliness. The Lord Jesus detected this "grey hair" in the Church of Ephesus (Revelation 2:4) and in the Church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:15). And those of our own day are not untainted with the same spirit. It is a mark of decay when a denomination or congregation plumes itself upon its social importance; or when it makes an idol of decorum and good taste; or when it becomes formal in spirit, and discourages religious enthusiasm; or when it relaxes in faithfulness of discipline.
III. THE DECLINE OF SPIRITUAL LIFE IN THE SOUL. The figure appropriately describes the backslidings of true and professed believers. We shall mention one or two symptoms which even those who themselves manifest them are prone to fail to recognize.
1. Habits of sin. It may be that seeds of evil which we sowed long ago in our hearts are growing up now, and occasioning us spiritual failure and confusion. Little sins are like these" grey hairs;" e.g. the spirit of over-carefulness, the spirit of caviling, the spirit of ostentation in religious duties, the unforgiving spirit, undue love of human praise, uncharitable judging, etc.
2. Neglect of ordinances. Christ has given us his Word, and has invited us to come to the throne of grace, and has spread for us the communion-table. But how gradually may we lose our relish for these means of grace, and how easily may the habit of neglecting them steal in upon our souls!
3. Covetousness. Some one has described the love of money as "the Church member's sin." Thomas Binney has said of it that it is "about the only great damning vice which can be indulged and clung to in connection with a recognized modern religious profession." There is no sin more insidious; it may occupy the heart and one "not know" it.
4. Conformity to the world. The daily circumstances of our lot constantly appeal to sense and self, and continually tempt us to give up trying to lead a spiritual, pure, and consecrated life. Even a true believer, before he knows it, may be "following afar off," and slowly abating his testimony as a nonconformist to the ungodly customs of the world.
CONCLUSION. We require frequently to "examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith." We ought constantly to hold up before our eyes the clear mirror of Holy Scripture, that we may detect the "grey hairs." We must also see reflected in it the glorious form of the Lord Jesus, the one Image of perfect manhood. There are no "grey hairs" upon him; "his locks are bushy, and black as a raven" (Song of Solomon 5:11). We must seek grace to give ourselves constantly to the imitation of Christ. - C.J.
Grey hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not.I. GREY HAIRS ARE A SIGN OF DECAY. God has for wise purposes given distinctive features to the different periods of human life, from the cradle onwards to the grave. Human life between the ages of forty and fifty is a sort of tableland. Growth has ceased, but decay has not begun. After that time decay begins. In this text grey hairs are not associated either with parental honours, or with the ripe wisdom of age, or with the piety of the venerable Simeon. They are here but the tokens of decay, marks of age, the premonitory symptoms of dissolution. The truth it announces is, that men may live in ignorance and act in disregard of signs that should warn and alarm them.
II. THIS APPEARS IN THE HISTORY OF STATES. The words were first spoken of the kingdom of Israel. In the oppression of the poor and the sighing of the needy, in the corruption of morals and the decline of true religion, the prophet saw the signs of his country's decay — these the grey hairs that were here and there upon them, which they knew not. Nor is that uncommon.
III. THE TEXT APPLIES TO THE FALSE SECURITY OF SINNERS. Be our profession what it may, if we have habits of sin — these are the grey hairs that, unless grace convert and mercy pardon, foretell our doom. Thick as those grey hairs on the head of age, some men's lives are full of sin. They are going to hell as plainly as one whose form is bent and whose head is hoary is going down to his grave.
IV. THIS APPEARS IN MEN'S INSENSIBILITY TO THE LAPSE AND LESSONS OF TIME. Our minds are formed to adapt themselves to the circumstances of advancing years. Indeed, we often glide down so gently as to be little disturbed with the premonitions of life's close. Men with furrows on their brow, and grey hairs on their head, often find it difficult to remember that they are old. Death seems to flee before us, like the horizon which we ever see, but never reach. Where then is the hope of those who have trusted to turning religious when they become old, and attending to the concerns of a better world when they have ceased to feel any interest in this? Death and a man, so runs the story, once made a bargain — the man stipulating, lest he might be taken unawares, that death should send him so many warnings before he came. Well, one day, years thereafter, to his great amazement, the king of terrors stood before him. "He had broken the bargain, so said the man, who clung to life. Death, he alleged, had sent him no warnings. No warnings? His eyes were dim; his ears were dull; his gums were toothless; and spare and thin were the hoar locks on his bent and palsied head; these, death's heralds, had come, not too late, yet all in vain. Amid warnings which were, however, unnoticed or despised; his salvation was neglected, and his soul lost. And every setting sun, every nodding hearse, every passing Sabbath, warn us that days of darkness come, and opportunities of salvation go. Time has but one lock of hair on his forehead. If we would seize time, we must seize him by the forelock.
( T. Guthrie, D. D.)
(W. M'Intosh Arthur, M. A.)
I. DO NOT SUCH CHANGES REMIND US IN THE GENTLEST POSSIBLE MANNER THAT THIS IS NOT OUR REST? We go gradually down the steep, and as a general rule time is given for reflection. What indeed is all life, from the sunny laughter of childhood to the mellow solemnity of old age, but a succession of reminders that our days are few and our strength a bruised reed!
II. OUGHT NOT THE IMPERCEPTIBLE CHANGES OF LIFE TO MODIFY THE ESTIMATE WHICH WE FORM OF OUR OWN POWERS? Other people could see the grey hairs upon Ephraim, but Ephraim himself could not see them. Application of this may be made —
1. To ministers who are unconscious of the decline of their powers.
2. To men who are officially called upon to adapt old agencies to new circumstances.
III. OUGHT NOT SUCH CHANGES TO SUGGEST SERIOUS INQUIRY AS TO THE POSSIBLE DECLINE OF SPIRITUAL POWER! It does not follow that physical decline necessitates spiritual decline. But —
1. The spirit must resist the decay to which it is drawn by the flesh.
2. A beneficial moral influence is exerted by such resistance.The grey-haired Christian should be a tower of strength to the Christian cause. No beauty should exceed the beauty of his charitableness and hopefulness.
(J. M. Ludlow, D. D, D. D.)I. THE SAD AND MISERABLE CONDITION OF EPHRAIM CONSIDERED SIMPLY IN ITSELF.
I. The good they are deprived of. "Their strength." God fits the punishment to the sin, in the old dispensation. What a sad and lament able thing it is for men to spend their youth and the strength and prime of their time in the ways of sin. It is —
1. Very disingenuous.
2. Very hazardous.
3. Very grievous and uncomfortable in the reflections upon it, when men shall call them selves to a serious reckoning and an account about it.Take the words in their notional signification, as setting forth the condition of Israel at this time. "Strangers." may mean strange gods, strange women, strange enemies. Strange gods include strange worship and strange doctrine.
II. SYMPTOMS OF RUIN APPROACHING.
1. Unfruitfulness under powerful means and dispensations of grace.
2. Strange sins, which do abound and increase in it.
3. Plagues as forewarnings.The aggravation lay in Ephraim's senselessness under all this. This proceeded from the deceitfulness of sin and the blinding of Satan. All this teaches us two lessons- pity for others and caution for ourselves.
(T. Herren, D. D.)
(J. B. O. Murphy.)
I. WE ARE ALL INCLINED TO LOOK MORE FAVOURABLY ON OURSELVES THAN ON OTHERS. This is especially true in spiritual matters. A man's self-love, or self-conceit, or self-security, prevents him from coming to an impartial decision, and he may be far gone in a course of backsliding before lie takes note of the fact. Matthew Henry says, "Apostasy from God generally begins in the place of prayer." There we axe set in the white light of God's own purity, and every spot in ourselves is revealed to us. We are afraid of such self revelations.
II. BACKSLIDING STEALS GRADUALLY UPON A MAN. If hair changed from raven blackness to snowy whiteness in a single night, we should be struck by the change. But because the grey hairs come one by one, the transformation is little noticed. Backsliding is a gradual motion; it isa sliding rather than a stepping. How may we counteract this tendency and discover our true position? We shall know where we are if we test ourselves by the Word of God, as that has been vindicated for us by the example and the Spirit of the Lord Jesus.
III. BACKSLIDING MAY BE ACCOUNTED FOR BY THE FACT THAT THE INDIVIDUALS ARE ABSORBED IN OTHER MATTERS TO SUCH AN EXTENT THAT THE STATE OF THE HEART IS FORGOTTEN. It may be thus with the successful merchant. This danger is to be obviated, either by curtailing the business, or by consecrating it as a whole to God. He who in his daily calling is consciously and deliberately seeking to do the best for his Lord, and is trying to serve Him in the store as really as in the closet, has most effectually "overcome the world." If, then, any one among us has to.day discovered his deterioration, let him not wait a single moment for restoration.
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
I. AN INCREASING ASSOCIATION WITH THE WORLD. The people of Israel had fatally identified themselves with the sons and daughters of idolatry around them. The disciples of Jesus are not of the world; and to them He says, by His servant, "Love not the world neither the things that are in the world." The love of Christ burns purely and brightly in the heart, when Christ is all in all; but bring it into contact with the world, and gradually but surely it declines, until it becomes insensible.
II. INCREASING ZEAL FOR PARTIAL VIEWS OF RELIGION. As bread exposed with one surface to the fire would feel the influence of the heat on that side, while the under portion was only partially acted upon, so was it with the divided heart of this people. Some acknowledgment of God was outwardly made, but His fear was not in their hearts. They were a nation made up of contradictions; always in one extreme or the other. Such partial views of religion are common among professors, and they will be invariably found to mark a declining state of heart. Partial views of religion lead to partial and reserved instead of entire and willing obedience.
III. INATTENTION TO OUR SPIRITUAL CONDITION. Israel gave a double proof of this dangerous symptom.
1. By an external weakness, which, however hidden from others, might have been observable by themselves.
2. Ephraim also exhibited external manifestations of weakness, which all around might see, though they were hidden from his own knowledge. Do our exertions to promote the Divine glory relax and become faint? This is a sign which we may disregard, but which others well understand, and they place it as it ought to be placed, to the account of declining religion.
(R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)
I. AS TO THE EVIDENCES OF IGNORANCE CONCERNING SPIRITUAL DECLINE.
1. It proves itself by the views which the back. slider often entertains as to others. Men are far more alive to the ravages of time in their friends than in themselves. And so men who are themselves inconsistent very frankly and pointedly remark on the alterations they perceive in others. Men lay their fingers so readily on those faults of a brother which society, by common consent, has set down as their own. In laying charges at other men s doors, men too often lay them at their own. The man is ignorant of his own condition, and because ignorant, he is at peace.
2. It is proved by the back-slider's views of sin. As men decline in years, it is not infrequently the case that they show their unwillingness to believe the fact by the notions they hold as to what old age really is. The boundary line is always receding; as they move, it moves, always away from them and always ahead. So in the Case of spiritual decline. What would once have been regarded as a symptom, is looked at as a symptom no longer, while the decay it betokens is actually going on. Men thus learn to palliate omissions of duty, excuse indulgences in sin, and accustom their consciences with acts which at one time they would have shrunk from.
3. It is proved by the backslider's views as to circumstances. It is often the tendency of the old to complain; and their discontent is directed against the particular surroundings where their lot for the time being is cast. They blame the rigours of the weather, the fastenings of the house, the texture of their garments, for the feelings which distress them. But the true reason is that they themselves are feebler; the quantity of life in them has gone down. It is so with the decays of the soul. Some men are constantly telling us that religious character and religious agencies around them have changed for the worse. According to them, every. thing is against them in the situation they occupy; they have neither the Christian fellowship that will suit them, nor the Christian ministry that will profit. But the fault is nearer home. It is this, the eye that discerns things is dim.
4. It is proved by men's views of truth and duty. Old age painfully betrays its unconsciousness by tricking itself out in the dress and aping the manners of a youth. time that has long gone by. And does not the ignorance of the backslider betray itself in the same self-willed way? Men in whom the paralysis of a religious decay has begun, continue to use the language, and engage in the services, and involve themselves in the responsibilities that are proper only to those who are in possession of grace, — strong with the strength and bright with the bloom of a youth which their God maintains.
II. THE CAUSES OF THIS UNCONSCIOUS DECAY.
1. This spiritual deterioration is usually so very gradual. If the infirmities of old age leapt forth at a spring, the reality would be plain and undeniable enough. So with the soul. The lapse of strength is so gradual, the progress of decay is so subtle and so slow. Spiritual decline is like physical decline,
2. While the process is gradual, it is sometimes general, affecting others than ourselves. One reason why so many are unconscious of the havocs of old age lies in this, that their companions are getting old round about them. In the spiritual sphere, let a man surround himself with the society of the irreligious and the worldly, let him live where, on every side of him, he sees habits of life and standards of thought that are all but the counterparts of his own; is it so strange that he should be unconscious of his state? It is just such society a backslider seeks, to the silencing of his better nature, and the confirmation of his own self-deception. There is no human standard he can judge by, no human contrast that can rouse him.
3. As the unconsciousness of old age is always associated with the wish to believe one's self young, so the unconsciousness of spiritual decay is produced by the desire to believe one's self prosperous. With the man who tries to minimise his shortcomings, and persuade himself that his life and his creed are in harmony, self-examination is neglected, the plain speaking of faithful friends is resented, the home-thrusts of a Gospel ministry are parried, the testimony of the revealing Word is avoided. All the time the decay is going on. The man is unfeeling and in danger of becoming past feeling. What of ourselves, brethren?
(W. A. Gray.)
I. WHEN DO A PEOPLE BEAR MARKS OF MORAL DEGENERACY?
1. When they neglect the religious duties which they once practised. The children of Israel were once a very religious people. After a while they began to degenerate; forsook the house and worship of God, cast His laws behind their backs, and did what was right in their own eyes. They became formal, insincere, and hypocritical. In the time of Hosea they were covered with grey hairs, the sad marks of religious degeneracy.
2. When they dislike, oppose, and reject the plain and important doctrines of true religion, which they once professed to love and believe. A people generally become corrupt in practice before they become corrupt in principle. God's people soon became unsteadfast in their covenant, and as corrupt in sentiment as they had been in practice. They took up with the doctrines and delusions of the grossest idolaters.
3. When they run into such irreligious and vicious practices, as they once hated and avoided. This was the case of Israel in the days of their declension. They fell into every species of vice and dissipation. A sure sign of degeneracy.
4. When they justify themselves and others in the evil courses which they once condemned. When Israel became degenerate, they justified unholy, unscriptural, and ungodly conduct in themselves and others. A people often become very wicked when they presume to justify one another in their wickedness. This is one of the most visible and striking signs of a general and gross degeneracy.
II. WHY ARE A DEGENERATE PEOPLE SO BLIND TO THE VISIBLE MARKS OF THEIR DEGENERACY?
1. Because they have degenerated gradually. This the metaphor of the text intimates. They neglect one religious duty, then another and another, until they neglect them all. They countenance and justify one sinful course after another, and finally justify all evil and condemn all good.
2. Moral degeneracy is of a blinding nature. It flows from a corrupt heart, which blinds reason and conscience.
3. They choose to be blind, because they are loath to see their own criminality. When they review their past, they feel self-reproach and self-condemnation: so they avoid reviewing. They hold fast deceit and refuse o return.
III. THEIR VOLUNTARY AND CRIMINAL BLINDNESS TO THEIR DEGENERACY EXPOSES THEM TO PECULIAR DANGER.
1. It prevents them from using the proper means of reformation. So long as people think they are pursuing a right course, they will have no thought or desire of reforming. A great politician says, "It was never known that any degenerate nation ever reformed themselves." If reformed, it was owing to some foreign superior power. This is as true of religion as of civil government.
2. It disposes them to resist all means that are used to reform them Such persons may fear that God will say, Let them alone, and use no more means with them. Improvement —(1) A people may degenerate in religion while they are making great progress in other respects. Success in their secular concerns naturally tends to make them worldly-minded. They ardently desire temporal prosperity, and prefer it to religious attainments and growth in grace.(2) It is a favour to a degenerate people to have the marks of their degeneracy plainly pointed out. For though they are so visible, yet they are willingly blind to them. The more unwilling they are to see the disagreeable marks of their degeneracy, the more necessary it is that they should be made, if possible, to see them; for without the sight of them, God Himself cannot reform them.(3) Have you not degenerated in respect to the religious duties which you once practised?(4) Manifestly the people referred to in the text were in a very dangerous state.(5) There is peculiar need of special Divine influence to revive the languishing state of religion, over which we may have to mourn.(6) A time of religious declension is a time for all the sincere, faithful friends of God to seek unto Him for His gracious, renewing, sanctifying, and quickening influences.
(N. Emmons, D. D.)
I. THE TWOFOLD SIGN OF RELIGIOUS DECLENSION. "Grey hairs," and ignorance of their existence. The symptoms by which it is manifested.
1. Decline of interest in Divine things. When a man's enthusiasm cools down, and he forgets the freshness and vigour of his spiritual youth, he exhibits the grey hairs — the first streaks of silver whiteness which betoken spiritual decrepitude. True, there are many godly Christians who, marking that their interest is not so deep and fresh as in the past, are under a constant cloud of dread. Now this concern is not a symptom of real decline, but of intensified and increased anxiety and desire for the things an interest in which we fear to lose. It is not the issuing forth of the verdict of conscience; but such dissatisfaction is similar to that of the apostle Paul: "Not as though I had already attained," etc. Such concern is salutary and preservative — a sign of watchfulness and vigour, and it will succeed in averting the evil it dreads. It is a great blessing when a Christian's conscience is sensitive and active. But what I mean is, that listless indifference to the blessings of Christian privileges, that indolent abstinence from the performance of Christian duty which marks the conduct of so many in our churches.
2. Too great a love of worldliness. "Ah!" say you, "there you are again! Worldliness! just one of the counters you ministers play with, words which mean anything or nothing." Well, so long as the New Testament stands it will be the duty of every minister of Christ to repeat these words: "Love not the world, neither the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." It is all very well to reply "this was said of the heathen world, but times are different now." Talk about pagan Rome! What about London? What about Oxford? Are our streets so pure that we can dispense with the exhortation, "Love not the world," etc.? There may be, e.g., too much absorption in permissible things. No man has a right to forbid us to devote a due portion of our time to lawful business; but it is so easy for a man, when he at first becomes lawfully absorbed, to glide insensibly into too much absorption. I value no man's manhood who is not anxious about his worldly position and reputation; but when this becomes all in all; or when he longs for the condiments and stimulants of worldly pleasure; when a man yawns and looks about him and feels there's nothing in life worth living for; when Christianity does not satisfy his desires, and so he goes in search of objects which gradually usurp the position of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that the whilom Christian begins by giving undue prominence to worldly things and ends by substituting them for the Divine; then let him beware — "Grey hairs are here and there upon him," though perhaps he knows it not.
3. Loss of power: for Christian work and for spiritual conflict. You ask a man to undertake some Christian duty, and he says he cannot do it. He means it, and it is true! for it is, alas! very possible for a Christian man to lose not only inclination, but power. Watch that man, and as time goes on his powerlessness is more and more evident, till he becomes a mere creature of circumstances, a waif on the current, a piece of thistle-down, the sport of contrary winds: instead of placing his heel on the neck of his lusts. Your indisposition and incapacity for work have this awful other side: you are unable to resist the power of temptation. You can do nothing for God, and have no power to strive against evil. Beware of loss of energy: your enfeebled state, the result of "wasted substance" is a sure sign that "grey hairs are here and there upon you."
II. ITS CAUSES.
1. Indolence: this always ends in inability. First and foremost the Christian has to cultivate the grace of industry. With activity and watchful earnestness, there is no fear of inability and decrepitude.
2. Neglect of wholesome spiritual food — God's appointed ordinances and means of grace.
3. Unchristian society. "Strangers have devoured his strength." Descending to the level of such society makes us feel we are fit for no higher, and disinclines us for the work of God. And with it all, the saddest thing is, "he knoweth not." "Because thou sayest, and knowest not," etc. (Revelation 3.). Awful ignorance, accompanied by a senile conceit. Haven't looked in the glass of God's Word.
III. THE CURE. Not a mere nostrum. You will never get rid of the deep-running evil by cleansing the surface of the stream.
1. Through self-examination. Let us be candid with ourselves. The first result may be panic and shivering dread; but don't be afraid of the mirror: take it in your hand on bended knees. There must be fair dealing with conscience: let it speak out! If it condemns, well and good! Better to know now than through all eternity what fools we have been. Know the best, or know the worst. Be thankful to God if the best be; be thankful, too, if the worst leads you to return to Him with broken heart. A hearty, humbling sense of sin means sanctification and salvation.
2. Humble application to the Great Physician. He has had many such cases. Poor David became exceedingly grey-headed, but under the bracing remedies of the Great Physician he went forth once more the man after God's own heart.
(Francis Jacox, B. A.)
I. SOME OF THE SIGNS OF SPIRITUAL DECAY. They are not numerous and obtrusive, betokening one ripe for the grave, but the grey hairs are "here and there," requiring some attention ere we are aware of them.
1. There is the growth of the critical temper. There is a critical temper which is no sign of health. It is a ready fault-finding. Hosea accuses the people of outspoken and defiant unbelief; "he stretched out his hand with scorners." That was the ending and consummation of apostasy; but the beginning was the hinted dislike, the cool acquiescence, the captious criticism, the inclination to see spots in the sun, to pick holes in sacred things. The habit of criticism grows as faith declines.
2. An abatement of feeling. A sincere, consecrated soul is full of feeling, emotion, intensity. It regards the good and beautiful with enthusiasm, the evil and ugly with abhorrence. But it is possible for the most intense Christian soul to lose its sensibility and to become callous. And such a process of hardening may be very gradual. There is a creeping moral paralysis.
3. A relaxed conscience. Hosea saw in Ephraim luxury, profligacy, license, idolatry — things they had learned from the pagan. In this direction we too must watch for signs of degeneration. There may be no overt act of iniquity whilst the process of deterioration is still going on. We hear it said of a Christian man, "he is not as particular as he used to be." That often means that "grey hairs" are seen upon them. Any practical antinomianism is a sure sign of spiritual decay.
4. An increased leaning to the worldly side of life. The world grows upon us, its interests, its friendships, its pleasures. Men choke the higher life with the lust of gold, they strangle it with silken cords of fashion and pleasure; and the gold that chokes is taken in small doses, the cord that strangles is woven a thread at a time. Grey hairs have a tendency to multiply quickly, and secret venial weaknesses may precipitate flagrant backsliding.
II. WE MAY BE QUITE UNCONSCIOUS OF THE MISCHIEF. The complaint, "he knoweth it not," is repeated with an air of surprise. Men are often unconscious of the decay of their physical powers and mental faculties. It is the same with men morally and spiritually — conscience, faith, feeling, hope, and aspiration decline, and yet they go on as confidently as ever. How do men resist the teaching of the grey hairs?
1. They make light of them. It is quite a humorous event, those first grey hairs. But for all the merriment it is a pathetic signal. So men talk away and smile away the first signs of spiritual declension.
2. They pull out the grey hairs; resolutely refusing to look at the fact of growing weakness and age. There is a corresponding mood to this in the spiritual life. Whenever disquieting signs appear, we absolutely decline to give them a place in our thoughts.
3. Sometimes the grey hairs are hidden. People are very clever in hiding the warning hints of nature. So we have ingenious ways of hiding from ourselves and passing over the ominous signs of a weakened faith, an impaired conscience, a declining spirituality, a less strenuous Christian life. We enlarge upon our excelling good, instead of noting the exceptional and unusual evil which, spreading, may spoil all.
4. Perhaps we give the grey hairs another colour. We are masters in these days of capillary chromatics. The tokens of decay are turned into things of beauty and pride. And we often give to the signs of spiritual decay another colour. We do not call our carping criticism of revelation unbelief; we dub it "an open mind." We do not brand our coolness and insensibility as indifference; we know it as "the philosophic mind." We do not call our carnal compliances walking after the flesh; we are getting rid of puritanism. Christian men transfigure the very signs of their backsliding, and glory in the things which ought to fill them with concern
(W. L. Watkinson.)
1. Grey hairs excite our admiration. Beautiful arrangement of Providence — that old age should be spent in sitting still and taking life easily. The first years of a man's life are spent in weakness. Why? That he may prepare himself — physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually — for the life that lies before him. So also the last years. Age resembles childhood as sunset resembles sunrise.
2. Grey hairs are matter for gratitude. Life is like a table-land: many die in descending the slope from birth to the age of thirty; many more in walking along the level plain from thirty to fifty; few live to descend the slope on the other side.
3. Grey hairs are matter for serious contemplation. "It is an awful pity," said Sir Thomas Smith, Queen Elizabeth's Secretary of State, "that so few men know for what purpose they came into the world until they are ready to go out of it."
4. Grey hairs are matter for searching of heart. Opportunities wasted: the final opportunity almost gone.
II. FIGURATIVELY. The folly of neglecting life's warnings.
1. We ought not to need special warnings.(1) Reason speaks to us. We know that as surely as night crones after day and autumn follows summer, so death follows life and eternity time.(2) Observation and experience speak to us. The noise of weeping is in palace and hovel: old and young, good and evil, fair and frail go in steady procession to the grave.(3) Revelation warns us that it is appointed unto man once to die, etc.
2. Yet the gradualness of life's transitions renders these special messengers acceptable. And experience proves them necessary. "Our clock," says Carlyle, "strikes when there is a change from hour to hour; but no hammer in the horologue of time peals through the universe when there is a change from era to era." The transitions of our lives from one stage to the next are wrought in similar silence. They are hardly perceptible. And yet — to-day, to-morrow, and the next day, and in all its vivid reality, the sea of glass and the eternal shore will burst upon us. In view of the gradualness of this progress to eternity, and the certainty of our destiny, we may be grateful for the reminder of grey hairs.
3. The angels of God come to us with silent footsteps. Grey hairs are "the first faint streaks of the morning"; but then, what will that morning mean to us?
III. SPIRITUALLY. A neglected Bible, listlessness in prayer, coldness towards the Master, indifference towards sin, the shunning of Christian companionships, carelessness as to attendance at the house of God, callousness as to the eternal welfare of others, — these are grey hairs that appear upon us, but we neither notice them, nor the fearful declension of which they tell. One day I met a man of eighty. I said: "My friend, will you not truss the Saviour?" "No, no," he answered; "I'm too old, too old!" The very next day I met a youth of sixteen. "My friend," I said again, "will you not trust the Saviour?" "No, no," he answered; "I'm too young, too young!" And betwixt that "too old" and that "too young" we all go dancing to our everlasting doom. What a strain on the mercy of God!
(F. W. Boreham).
( John Calvin.)
PlacesAssyria, Egypt, Samaria
TopicsAge, Aliens, Conscious, Devour, Devoured, Doesn't, Gray, Grey, Hair, Hairs, Indeed, Itself, Knoweth, Lands, Notice, Power, Realize, Sap, Sprinkled, Strangers, Strength, Waste, Yea, Yes, Yet
Outline1. A reproof of manifold sins.
11. God's wrath against them for their hypocrisy.
Dictionary of Bible ThemesHosea 7:9
LibraryOctober 6. "Ephraim, He Hath Mixed Himself" (Hos. vii. 8).
"Ephraim, he hath mixed himself" (Hos. vii. 8). It is a great thing to learn to take God first, and then He can afford to give us everything else, without the fear of its hurting us. As long as you want anything very much, especially more than you want God, it is an idol. But when you become satisfied with God, everything else so loses its charm that He can give it to you without harm, and then you can take just as much as you choose, and use it for His glory. There is no harm whatever in having …
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Inconsideration Deplored. Rev. Joshua Priestley.
Prayer to the Most High
On the Animals
Book vii. On the Useful or the Ordinary
I Will Pray with the Spirit and with the Understanding Also-
The Seventh Commandment
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