BY REV. J. G. GREENHOUGH, M.A.
|And Amaziah said to the man of God, But what shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the army of Israel? And the man of God answered, The Lord is able to give thee much more than this.| -- 2 CHRON. xxv.9.
Amaziah, King of Judah, belonged to that numerous class of men who wish to stand well with both worlds. He was what we call in religious matters half-and-half. He wanted to secure the favour and protection of God without losing much or anything of the ungodly helps and advantages. One hardly knows whether to describe him as a bad sort of good man, or a better sort of bad man. He was like those gentlemen in the Pilgrim's Progress whom Bunyan names Mr Facing-both-ways and Mr Pliable. It depended very much on the company he was in, whether he showed a religious face or assumed the other character.
We have an illustration of this doubleness in the incident recorded here. He was preparing to go to war against the neighbouring nation of the Edomites, or probably he had learned that they were about to make war on him. For these neighbours, like some others you know, were always ready to pick a quarrel. Edomite and Jew were never long without a scrimmage or a battle. Amaziah, with this business on hand, took count of his forces, found that he had three hundred thousand soldiers; big enough battalions if they had only had a leader with a big heart. David had scattered those Edomites with an army not one-twentieth part the size of that. But Amaziah was not a David. He must needs have more men. He sent, therefore, to the king of Israel to hire another hundred thousand, and paid him down an enormous sum of money for the loan. Now these men of Israel and their king had fallen away from God, and become heathen people, worshippers of Baal, foul and immoral as the Edomites themselves. But Amaziah thought that was of no consequence so long as he could increase his fighting force. The money was paid, and the hundred thousand hirelings came.
And then suddenly appeared another man whom he had not sent for, one of those prophets or preachers whom kings and other people find very troublesome at times, who upset all the nice arrangements, and stop the business which promises so well, with an unwelcome |Thus saith the Lord|; prophets who do not know how to flatter, who cannot be bought for a hundred talents, or for any price, and who say what God has given them to say whether the great folk like it or not. This man came uninvited, and told the king that he must pack off these mercenaries to their own country again, for God was not with them, and God would not be with him if he joined hands with idolaters and paid them to fight his battles.
It was an awkward position. Amaziah knew that what the prophet said was true, and he believed, moreover, that if God should turn against him, that business with the Edomites was likely to end badly for him. But, on the other hand, to send that goodly array of fighting men away and lose all that gold into the bargain, was both galling to his pride and a ridiculous waste of treasure. He knew well what was the right thing to do, but to do it at such a sacrifice, that was the difficulty. He was in a strait betwixt two, wriggling and hesitating, and at last he cries in his bewilderment, |What shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the army of Israel?| And the man of God answers, |Never mind the money, let that go; far better forfeit that than lose God's help. The Lord is able to do for thee much more than the hundred talents are worth.|
And now, out of this old story, we learn some lessons for this and every day.
Our difficulties in the way of serving and obeying God are often self-made.
They are always more or less self-made. This man pleads his own wrong act as a reason why he should not do right now. He himself has raised the obstacle which now stands in the way of obedience. He ought not to have sought the help of an idolatrous king. He ought not to have bargained for these hirelings, he ought not to have paid the money. God had not put the difficulty in his way; his own foolish and wicked action had created it. And people are constantly talking as this man talked, declaring that there are hindrances and immense difficulties which prevent them from doing what is right, prevent them from doing what they know to be the will of God. They talk as if God was somehow responsible for those hindrances, when, in fact, their own wrong-doing has caused them.
For instance, some of you know perfectly well that you ought to be Christians, avowed Christians, that you ought to take the Lord's side in the great battle of life; you know that you ought to be His servants, followers, and soldiers; you know that that is your duty, you cannot help knowing it and admitting it, unless you reject the Bible altogether, and deny the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ. You have known from childhood that Christ has claims upon you, and that to live the Christian life is your solemn obligation. It is more than probable that you told your mother, your teachers, and yourselves long ago, and perhaps many a time over, that you fully intended to give your lives and hearts to Christ's service. But you have not done it yet, and the reason is that there are certain self-made difficulties which hold you back. God has not put them in the way -- you have built them up yourselves. I hear young men and women say, in the very tone of this perplexed king. But what shall we do for the hundred talents? If we take up religion, how shall we bear the loss which it involves? How are we to get on without those pleasures, self-indulgences, and dearly-loved habits which Christ's service would cut us off from? How are we to abandon those very pleasant, but not very inspiring and pure, companionships, with and among which we spend most of our leisure time? How are we to resign all our free and easy and thoughtless ways, our loose talk, our vain and sinful imaginations?
These are your difficulties, are they? But who made them for you? Heaven did not send them. I am not sure, even, that the devil was the author of them. You made every one of them yourselves. It was your own weak yielding that formed those habits so dear to you. It was because you preferred your own way to God's that you took to pleasures and self-indulgences which were wrong in His sight. It was your own choice that sought out and formed friendships and companionships of the ungodly sort. If you have any joys, delights, and associations which Christ would compel you to resign, they are only such as you ought never to have entered upon. They are self-made difficulties which ought never to have been made; and now, with curious inconsistency, you are urging them as reasons why you cannot serve God. You are using the sinful things which you have done in the past as an excuse for not doing the right and noble thing now.
There are hundreds of people who, if they could begin again, would join the ranks of the religious -- at least they think they would, and perhaps say it. If we could just start with a clean sheet, we would be Christians, we would walk in the noble and faithful way. But then, you see, we cannot undo the years that have been lived in the other way. We have committed ourselves to the irreligious side. We have made all who know us understand that we do not care about religious things. We have talked about them carelessly, perhaps contemptuously, as if we put no value upon them at all. We have made a reputation of that sort, and now it stands in the way. We cannot go back of all our old professions; the inconsistency would be manifest. No one expects it of us. No one would believe if we did it. There you have the self-made difficulties again. Because you did wrong all those years, you must needs go on doing wrong. Because you talked and acted in an unbelieving way, you must not now change into the higher and prayerful way. Because you have robbed God and your own souls so long, there is nothing for you but to continue repeating the offence. Yet these, when you name them, are so absurd, that one could almost laugh at them. The conviction that you have hitherto been on the wrong side is the one thing that ought to force you now to the right side. Why should you perpetuate blunders, follies, and misdoings? Why should the evil past chain you? Let the dead bury its dead -- forget the things which are behind. You have paid the hundred talents to the wrong master. Why should you go on paying because you have done it once? Let God's mercy cover and forgive that. And now pay your vows and give your lives to Him henceforth.
We are held back from the right thing by the fear of the loss which it will involve.
We say with poor, frightened Amaziah, But what about the hundred talents? They will be clean gone if I obey the voice of God. The hundred talents take many forms, but the principle is always the same. We shall lose a little in the way of business, if we make up our minds to be scrupulously honest, and to speak the simple truth. We shall forfeit a little of our present popularity, if we take the course which conscience dictates. We shall have to forego and neglect certain things, and suffer loss, if we undertake Christian work. We shall have to give up many an easy hour, many a light and frivolous hour, many an open and secret sin, sweeter to us than honey, if we confess the Lord Christ, and take up the burden of discipleship. The hundred talents block the way, and rather than let them go, we let God go, and sacrifice all the sanctities, and all the precious and immortal things.
And this answer comes to all of us -- the answer which the prophet gave to the hesitating king as he stood balancing the hundred talents against the duty of the hour: |The Lord is able to give thee much more than this.| Better to win thy great battle and lose the talents, than keep the money and lose thyself and everything in the impending struggle. God is not so poor that He cannot pay His servants as ample wages as they ever get from other masters. It is not the same kind of pay, but it is always, in the long-run, larger and better. No man ever does the right thing at God's command, without receiving eventually sufficient wages for it -- joy even in this life. Whatever immediate losses he may incur, there will be more than compensating gains. The man who lives an upright, conscientious, pure and kindly life, wronging no one, showing justice and mercy to all, is always the happier man; richer in all his thoughts and emotions, richer in friendships and affections, richer in peace of mind, in abiding satisfactions, richer in hopes. He has within him a well-spring of joy which never ceases to flow. Righteousness is not a losing business: it has the best part in this life, and in that which is to come.
Whatever you resign at Christ's call: whatever His service costs you in the way of sacrifice: however much you must give up in the shape of pleasure, ease, and agreeable habits -- there will be more given to you in return. When Christ asked the disciples to leave all things and follow Him, He said nothing about the rewards -- not just then. He told them to take up their cross and come after Him; that was all. He spoke often to them about the pains they would have to endure, the scorn they would meet with, the tribulation they would have to pass through. When he called the last of the apostles, Paul, He even said, and it was the only promise He gave, |I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name's sake| (Acts ix.16). No talk of rewards and gains at first. He knew the men. He knew their eagerness to do what was right and to obey the voice of God. Men who have the right spirit, men with some fire of enthusiasm, do not need crowns held before them to draw them into the true and noble way. They are almost glad to think that crosses and self-sacrifices await them in that way. Christ spoke no words at the beginning about gains and rewards. Come, because I want you, and God asks you, and it is your duty: but afterwards, when they had obeyed His call, He talked to them often about the gains. They had begun to understand them then. There is no man who hath left anything for My sake, who shall not receive a hundredfold in this present time, and in the world to come, life everlasting.
And we all learn in a measure what that means, when we have faithfully served Christ for a little time. You talk about the sacrifices and losses of the Christian life. Yes, but no man is fit to be called a Christian who has not found in Christ ten or twenty times as much joy as he has lost. If there were no hereafter, no future crowns at all, it would be a terrible disappointment, but even, apart from that, the present life of every one who believes in Christ and does Christ's work, and loves as Christ loved, is richer, fuller, wider, and happier in almost every way than the life which knows Him not. What about the hundred talents? you say, and I answer with the prophet, |The Lord is able to give thee much more than this.|