THE BAG WITH HOLES;
AN ADVENT SERMON, FOR THE TIMES:
IN ST. MARY'S CHURCH, BURLINGTON,
ON ADVENT SUNDAY, 1857:
THE BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE,
RECTOR OF THE PARISH.
THE BAG, WITH HOLES.
HAGGAI i. 5-8.
Now, therefore, thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into A BAG, WITH HOLES. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord. Ye looked for much, and lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of Mine house, that is waste; and ye run, every man, unto his own house.
How well these words describe the present state of things, with us! Look back to mid-summer. Was ever land so full of wealth; and of what makes wealth, and stands for it? What plenteous crops! What busy mills! What crowds of ships! Agriculture, never so profitable. Manufactures, never so active. Commerce, never so extensive. Peace, with the world. Prosperity, at home. What enterprise, that could not safely be encountered! What rate of progress, that could not be easily achieved! What acme of prosperity, that was not certainly attainable! It really seemed, that gold was God. That the warning, as to "doubtful riches," had gone entirely out of use. That there were, no longer, wings, for wealth; nor any moth, or rust, that could lay hold on earthly treasures. Before mid-autumn came, how fearful was the change! The whole land, trembling with dismay. Mens' hearts, failing them, for fear. Confidence, gone. Enterprise, checked. Manufactures, stopped. Commerce, paralyzed. Agriculture, unable to pay the freightage of its products, to the market. The most established institutions, shaken to their foundations. The oldest, and most respected, commercial houses, driven, into bankruptcy. And names, that had stood up, for a whole generation, as light houses, for integrity, and honor, tempted to dishonesty. And, even, now, from Europe, comes--above the roar of ocean, above the thunder of the heavens, above the din of Indian battlefields--[3/4] the echo of our crash: stunning our ears; while it appals our hearts. Was ever such transition, from the highest height of prosperity, to the deepest depth of adversity? Was ever lesson so impressive, that gold is only dust; that wisdom is only foolishness; that strongest strength is only weakest weakness? Where was the arm, that could arrest the panic? Where was the mind, that could explain it, or account for it? What was there, for whole America, what, for ancestral England, but, to bow, like willows, to the storm; and save themselves, by yielding? How keen, in such a case, the sarcasm, of the Prophet! "Ye have sown much; and, bring in little." The golden harvests of the West, are still in barns; for want of money, to transport them. "Ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm." Men, who have rioted in plenty, find themselves reduced to want. Luxury and licentiousness give way, to scarcity and care. The vestments, which cost thousands, fail to warm their trembling wearers. "And he, that earneth wages"--he that has laid up money; the product of his toil, or triumph of his skill--"earneth wages, to put into A BAG, WITH HOLES." As some industrious country woman, who has put all her savings, into an old stocking, and laid it safely by, behind the chimney; finds, that the mice have gnawed it into holes: and all her hoarded store has fallen, beyond her reach. At other times, these troubles have befallen some. Now, they reach all. At other times, the doubtful fell; the weak were shaken. Now, the strongest were the first, to fall; and the least questionable have had to own their weakness. There has been no such searching of mens' hearts, since we became a nation: and, never, with so little reason; or, in a way, to pass, so fearfully, all human comprehension. If statistics are reliable, for the products of the land; if freedom from foreign entanglements, were safety; if enterprise, ability and industry were strength; we should now be filled with riches: and their increase, passing all experience. Without flood, or fire, or famine; no war, no pestilence: we are a crippled nation. The richest cannot reach their wealth. The wisest know not where to turn. The most skilful find no occupation. The most industrious cannot earn their bread. Is there a theory, that can explain it? Is there a chain of second causes, that has produced it? Has human skill, or human energy, or human enterprise, been at fault? "No," says the withering sarcasm, of the Prophet: "Ye looked for much; and, lo, it [4/5] came to little; and, when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it," saith the Lord. In the stronger language, of the margin of our Bibles, "I did blow it away." "Why, saith the Lord of hosts? Because of Mine house, that is waste; and ye run, every man, unto his own house."
My brethren, the lesson of the text is, clearly, the lesson of the times; "Consider your ways." It is repeated. "Now, therefore, thus saith the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways," and, again, "thus saith the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways." In the more expressive language of the margin, "Set your heart, upon your ways." Dear brethren, is there not a cause? Can we do less? Have not our ways gone wrong? Has not disappointment, sprung up, in every path? Have we not found, that riches are deceitful? That enterprise is powerless? That wisdom is at fault? What is the obvious lesson, but, to set our heart, upon our ways?
"Set your heart, upon your ways!" Consider their worldliness. We have become, very proud. Our progress has been so great. Our enterprises have been so successful. We have achieved so much, in arts. We are conscious, of such power, in arms. We have essayed to lead the age. We have proposed to sway the world. Where, such an increase of population? Where, such freedom, from poverty? Where, such an assertion of human rights? Where, such public wealth? Where, such private splendour? Where, such extent of railroads? Where, such magic of the telegraph? Where, such diffusion of knowledge? Where, such attainments of science? "Where, such enjoyments of art? As if, the whole nation had caught the spirit of that poor, rich, fool; and said to itself, "Land, thou hast much goods, laid up, for many years: take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry!" "Now, therefore, thus saith the Lord of hosts, Set your heart, on your ways: ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages, earneth wages, to put it into a bag, with holes."
"Set your heart, upon your ways." Consider your selfishness. Of worldliness, the first born child is selfishness. Forgetfulness of God is deification of self. "Ye run, every man, to his own house." To add field to field. To call the lands, by our own names. To fill our houses, with treasure. To riot in luxury and extravagance. To vie with every foreign foolishness. To import every foreign fashion. [5/6] To live, to ourselves. To forget our neighbour. To forget our God. To live, as if earth were the only place; and time were the limit of our being: these have been our ways. We have pampered every appetite. We have indulged every desire. We have satiated ourselves with every indulgence. We have run, every man, unto his own house; as if, there, safety were impregnable. How has trouble entered our doors! How has scarcity seated herself at our tables! How has want sat down upon our hearth stones! And how does distress look in at our windows! We "have sown much and bring in little." "And he that earneth wages, earneth wages to put it into a bag, with holes." "Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it."
"Set your heart upon your ways." Consider your forgetfulness of God. It must inevitably be so. "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon." A worldly nation, a selfish nation, cannot be a godly nation. And, to forget God is to lose His favour, and defy His wrath. Have we not found it so? Where are the commercial speculations, on which, last year, men's hearts were? God hath blown upon them. Where are the public improvements, that promised to make a populous highway, from the Atlantic, to the Pacific? God hath blown upon them. Where is the girdle, that was to annihilate the sea; and enable the ear of Wall Street to hear whispers, from the Bank of England? God hath blown upon it. Where are the splendid mansions? Where are the hoards of gold? Where are the gallant equipages? Where are the groaning boards? Where is the wealth, that defied calculation; and the indulgence, that exhausted the world? God hath blown upon it. God hath blown it away. He will not be forgotten, by His creatures. If they will not remember Him, in the riches of His love, they shall, in the terrors of His wrath.
"Set your heart upon your ways." Consider your disregard of His name. See, with what piteous cries, for aid, the Missionary organs of the Church have come before us, now. See, how the plea, from Africa, rises unheard. See, how the dwellers, on our western hills, and on our western prairies, call for help, in vain. See, how a year of utmost plenty has allowed a bankrupt Church. See how, in our Diocesan relations, the heart has chilled, and the hand drawn back. Consider--as you know, and God--how your own alms have fallen off. Recall to mind, how often you have been to Church, when you could attend to business, or might pursue your pleasures. Recall to mind, how often you have turned away from the Table of the [6/7] Lord. Do you ask, why ye have sown much, and bring in little? Do you ask, why you have earned wages, to put them into a bag, with holes? Do you ask, why you looked for much, and it came to little? Why, saith the Lord of hosts? Because of Mine house, that is waste: and ye run, every man, to his own house.
"Now, therefore, thus saith the Lord of hosts, Set your heart, upon your ways!" Return to God. Break down the idols, which ye have set up. Reform your worldliness. Subdue your selfishness. Live, as if there were a God. Live, as if you had a soul. Live, as if it must endure forever; and might endure, in everlasting misery.
"Now, therefore, thus saith the Lord of hosts, Set your heart upon your ways!" Rebuild the house of God. We are all, who are baptised, "builders, together, with God." We have succeeded, to the trust of Peter, and James, and John. You have succeeded to the trust of Gaius, and Onesiphorus, and Aquila, of Priscilla, and Phoebe, and Lydia. Fulfil it, as they fulfilled it. Let it be your cheerful joy, that the Church is in your house. And, prove, that it is so, by earnest efforts, liberal alms, and fervent prayers, that it may, also, be in every house. To-day, do what you can, as God has blessed you, for the Home Missions of this Church. [* The alms, at the Offertory, were for the use of the Domestic Committee of the Board of Missions.]
"Now, therefore, thus saith the Lord of hosts, Set your heart, upon your ways." Give glory, to His name! "Go up, to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it; and I will be glorified, saith the Lord." Glorify God, in your spirits; by self-devotion to His cause, and self-sacrifice before His cross. Glorify God, in your bodies; by subjecting them to His law, in holiness, and purity, and charity. Glorify God, in His house; by your constant attendance, your cheerful service, your earnest attention to its lessons, your devout participation in its sacraments, your willing contributions to its charities. Oh, for the patriot spirit of Nehemiah, whose sorrow of heart, for the waste places of Jerusalem, moved, even, the heathen Artaxerxes, to sympathy and succour. "Let the King, live for ever! Why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste; and the gates thereof are consumed with fire!" Oh, for the pious spirit of Lydia; who, resorting to a place, where prayer was wont to be made, had her heart opened, to attend to the preaching of Paul; and was baptised, with all her family; and made [7/8] her house, the home of the Philippian Church! Oh, for the loving spirit, of the Macedonian Churches, "whose deep poverty, in a great trial of affliction, abounded, unto the riches of their liberality;" "for, even, beyond their power, they were willing, of themselves!"
Beloved brethren, "set your heart upon your ways!" It is the lesson of the text, not only, and the times; but, of that holy season, on which, the Church now enters. Surely the duty of all duties, for the Advent Season, is the consideration of our ways. Our sinful ways, which brought the Lord of glory, down, from heaven, Our sinful ways, on which, the fire of His fierce anger is to burst, when He shall come to judge the world.
"Awake, again the Gospel trump is blown:
From year to year, it swells, with louder tone;
From year to year, the signs of wrath
Are gathering, round the Judge's path:
Strange words fulfilled, and mighty works achieved;
And truth, in all the earth, both hated and believed.
But what are heaven's alarms, to hearts, that cower,
In wilful slumber, deepening every hour;
That draw the curtains closer round,
The nearer swells the trumpet's sound?
Lord, ere our trembling lamps sink down, and die,
Teach us, with chastening hand; and make us feel Thee, nigh."
Beloved brethren, the coming of the Lord is drawing nigh. Even, now, the Judge is at the door. What, if He find our loins not girded? What, if He find our lamp, not burning? What, if He say, "Depart from Me; I know you not"? That it may not be so, the merciful goodness of God spares us, to another Advent. Let us make it, what the Church designs it for, a season of earnest preparation, for the judgment. Let us be instant, in prayer. Let the family altar be set up, on every hearth. Let us be constant, in the daily service of the Church. Let us be frequent, at that holy sacrament; through which, to penitent and faithful hearts, the grace of their salvation cometh. Let us be more holy, in our lives; more charitable, with our tongues; more generous with our hands. In a word, let us be more, as servants, who await the coming of their Lord; not knowing, when He cometh. Saviour and Judge--most gracious Saviour and most glorious Judge--sustain us, by Thy grace, and fit us, for Thy glory! And, unto Thee, with the Almighty Father, and the ever blessed Spirit, shall be ascribed, forevermore, the glory and the praise. Amen.