“Behold, I am pressed under you, as a part is pressed that is full of sheaves.” — Amos 2:13.
WE have been into the corn-fields to glean with Boaz and Ruth; and I trust that the timid and faint-hearted have been encouraged to partake of the handfuls which are let fall on purpose for them by the order of our generous Lord. We go to-day to the gate of the harvest-field with another object — to see the wagon piled up aloft with many sheaves come creaking forth, making ruts along the field. We come with gratitude to God, thanking him for the harvest, blessing him for favorable weather, and praying him to continue the same till the last shock of corn shall be brought in, and the husbandmen everywhere shall shout the “Harvest Home.”
What a picture is a wagon loaded with corn of you and of me, as loaded with God’s mercies! From our cradle up till now, every day has added a sheaf of blessing. What could the Lord do for us more than he has done?
He has daily loaded us with benefits. Let us adore his goodness, and yield him our cheerful gratitude.
Alas! that such a sign should be capable of another reading. Alas! that while God loadeth us with mercy, we should load him with sin. While he continually heapeth on sheaf after sheaf of favor we also add iniquity unto iniquity, till the weight of our sin becomes intolerable to the Most High, and he cries out by reason of the burden, saying, “I am pressed under you, as a cart its pressed that is full of sheaves.”
Our text begins with a “Behold!” and well it may. “Beholds” are put in the Bible as signs are hung out from houses of business, to attract attention.
There is something new, important, deeply impressive, or worthy of attention wherever we see a “Behold” in sacred Scripture. I see this “Behold!” standing, as it were, like a maiden upon the steps of the house of wisdom, crying, “Turn in hither, O ye that are wise-hearted, and listen to the voice of God.” Let us open our eyes that we may “behold,” and may the Spirit make a way through our eyes and ears to ore: hearts, that repentance and self-abhorrence may take hold upon us, because of our evil conduct towards our gracious God.
It is to be understood before we proceed farther, that ore: text is only a figure, since God cannot actually be oppressed by man; all the sin that man may commit can never disturb the serenity of the divine perfection, nor cause so much as a wave upon his everlasting calm. He doth but speak to us after the manner of man, and bring down the sublimities and mysteries of heaven to the feebleness and ignorance of earth. He speaketh to us as a great father may talk to his little child. Just as a cart has the axles bent, and as the wheels creak under the excessive load, so the Lord says that under the load of human guilt he is pressed down, until he crieth out, because he can bear no longer the iniquity of those that offend against him. We shall now turn to our first point; may the Holy Ghost make it pointed to our consciences!
The first and most apparent truth in the text is, that SIN IS VERY GRIEVOUS AND BURDENSOME TO GOD.
Be astonished, O heavens, and be amazed, O earth, that God should speak of being pressed and weighed down! I do not read anywhere so much as half a suggestion that the whole burden of creation is any weight to the Most High. “He taketh up the isles as a very little thing.” Neither sun, nor moon, nor stars, nor all the ponderous orbs which his omnipotence has created, cost him any labor in their sustenance. The heathen picture Atlas as stooping beneath the globe; but the eternal God, who beareth up the pillars of the universe, “fainteth not, neither is weary.” Nor do I find even the most distant approach to a suggestion that providence fatigues its Lord. He watches both by night and day; his power goeth forth every moment. ‘Tis he who bringeth forth Mazzaroth in his season and guideth Arcturus with his sons. He beareth up the foundations of the earth! and holdeth the corner-stone thereof. He causeth the dayspring to know its place, and setteth a bound to darkness and the shadow of death: All things are supported by the power of his hand, and there is nothing without him.
Just as a moment’s foam subsides into the wave that bears it and is lost for ever, so would the universe depart if the eternal God did not daily sustain it. This incessant working has not diminished his strength, nor is there any failing or thought of failing with him. He worketh all things, and when they are wrought they are as nothing in his sight. But strange, most passing strange, miraculous among miracles, sin burdens God, though the world cannot; and iniquity presses the Most High, though the whole weight of providence is as the small dust of the balance. Ah, ye careless sons of Adam, ye think sin a trifle; and as for you, ye sons of Belial, ye count it sport, and say, “He regardeth not; he seeth not; how doth God know? and if he knoweth he careth not for our sins.” Learn ye from the Book of God, that so far from this being the truth, your sins are a grief to him, a burden and a lead to him, till, like a cart that is overloaded with sheaves, so is he weighed down with human guilt.
This will be very clear if we meditate for a moment upon what sin is, and what sin does. Sin is the great spoiler of all God’s works. Sin turned an archangel into an arch-fiend, and angels of light into spirits of evil. Sin looked on Eden and withered all its flowers. Ere sin had come the Creator said of the new-made earth, “It is very good;” but when sin had entered, it grieved God at his very heart that he had made such a creature as man.
Nothing tarnishes beauty so much as sin, for it mars God’s image and erases his superscription.
Moreover, sin makes God’s creatures unhappy, and shall not the Lord, therefore, abhor it? God never designed that any creature of his hand should be miserable. He made the creatures on purpose that they should be glad; he gave the birds their song, the flowers their perfume, the air its balm; he gave to day the smiling sun and to night its coronet of stars; for he intended that; smiles should be his perpetual worship, and joy the incense of his praise. But sin has made God’s favorite creature a wretch, and brought down God’s offspring, made in his own image, to become naked, and poor, and miserable; and therefore God hateth sin, and is pressed down under it:, because it maketh the objects of his love unhappy at their heart Moreover, remember that sin attacks God in all his attributes, assails; him on his throne, and stabs at his existence. What is sin? Is it not an insult to God’s wisdom? O sinner, God biddeth thee do his will; when thou doest the contrary it is because thou dost as much as say, “I know what is good for me, and God does not know.” You do in effect declare that infinite wisdom is in error, and that you, the creature of a day, are the best judge of happiness. Sin impugns God’s goodness; for by sin you declare that God has denied you that which would make you happy, and this is not the part of a good, tender, and loving Father. Sin cuts at the Lord’s wisdom with one hand, and at his goodness with the other.
Sin also abuses the mercy of God. When you, as many of you have done, sin with the higher hand because of his longsuffering towards you; when, because you have no sickness, no losses, no crosses, therefore you spend your time in revelry and obstinate rebellion, — what is this but taking the mercy which was meant for your good and turning it into mischief? It is no small grief to the loving father to see his substance spent with harlots in riotous living; he cannot endure it that his child should be so degraded as to turn even the mercy which would woo him to repentance into a reason why he should sin the more against him. Besides, let me remind the careless and impenitent that every sin is a defiance of divine power. In effect it is lifting your puny fists against the majesty of heaven, and defying God to destroy you. Every time you sin, you defy the Lord to prove whether he can maintain his law or no. Is this a slight thing, that a worm, the creature of a day, should defy the Lord of ages, the God that filleth and upholdeth all things by the word of his power? Well may he be weary, when he has to bear with such provocations and insults as these! Mention what attribute you will, and sin has blotted it; speak of God in any relationship you choose, and sin has cast a slur upon him. It is evil, only evil, and that continually: in every view of it must be offensive to the Most High. Sinner, dost thou know that every act of disobedience to God’s law is virtually an act of high treason? What dost thou do but seek to be God thyself, thine own master, thine own lord? Every time thou swervest from his will, it is to put thy will into his place; it is to make thyself a god, and to undeify the Most High. And is this a little offense, to snatch from his brow the crown, and from his hand the scepter? I tell thee it is such an act that heaven itself could not stand, unless, it were resented: if this crime were suffered to go unpunished, the wheels of heaven’s commonwealth would be taken from their axles, and the whole frame of moral government would be unhinged. Such a treason against God shall certainly be visited with punishment.
To crown all, sin is an onslaught upon God himself, for sin is atheism of heart. Let his religious profession be what it may, the sinner hath said in his heart, “No God.” He wishes that there were no law and no Supreme Ruler.
Is this a trifle? To be a Decide! To desire to put God out of his own world!
Is this a thing to be winked at? Can the Most High hear it and not be pressed down beneath its weight? I pray you do not think that I would make a needless outcry against sin and disobedience. It is not in the power of human imagination to exaggerate the evil of sin, nor will it ever be possible for mortal lips, though they should be touched like those of Esaias with a live coal from off the altar, to thunder out the ten-thousandth part of the enormity of the least sin against God. Think, dear friends! We are his creatures, and yet we will not do his will. We are fed by him, the breath in our nostrils he gives us, and yet we spend that breath in murmuring and rebellion.
Once more, we are always in the sight of our omniscient God, and yet the presence of God is not enough to compel us to obedience. Surely if a man should insult law in the very presence of the lawgiver, that were not to be borne with; but this is your case and mine. We must confess, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” We must remember also, that we offend, knowing that we are offending. We do not sin as the Hottentot, or the cannibal. We in England sin against extraordinary light and sevenfold knowledge; and is this a light thing? Can you expect that God shall pass by willful and deliberate offenses? Oh, that these lips had language, that this heart could burn for once! for if I could declare the horrible infamy of sin it would make the blood chill in even a haughty Pharaoh’s veins, and proud Nebuchadnezzar would bow his head in fear. It is indeed a terrible thing to have rebelled against the Most High.
The Lord have mercy upon his servants and forgive them.
This is our first point, but I cannot teach you it, God himself must teach it by his Spirit. Oh, that the Holy Ghost may make you feel that sin is exceedingly sinful, so that it is grievous and burdensome to God!
Secondly, SOME SINS ARE MORE ESPECIALLY GRIEVOUS TO GOD. The connection of our text will help you to see the force of this observation.
There is no such thing as a little sin, but still there are degrees of guilt, and it were folly to say that a sinful thought hath in it the same extent of evil as a sinful act. A filthy imagination is sinful — wholly sinful and greatly sinful; but still a filthy act has attained a higher degree of provocation. There are sins which especially provoke God. In the connection of the text we read that licentiousness does this. The Jewish people in the days of Amos seem to have gone to a very high degree of fornication and lechery. This sin is not uncommon in our day; let our midnight streets and our divorce courts be the witness. I say no more. Let each one keep his body pure; for want of chastity is a grievous evil before the Lord. Oppression, too, according to the prophet, is another great provocation to God. The prophet speaks of selling the poor for a pair of shoes; and some would grind the widow and the orphan, and make the laborer toil for nought. How many business men have no “bowels of compassion.” Men form themselves into societies, and then exact an outrageous usury upon loans from the unhappy beings who fall into their hands. Cunning legal quibbles and crafty evasions of just debts often amount to heavy oppression, and are sure to bring down the anger of the Most High.
Then, again, it seems that idolatry and blasphemy are highly offensive to God, and have a high degree of heinousness. He says that the people drank the wine of false gods. If any man sets up his belly, or his gold, or his wealth as his god, and if he lives to these instead of living to the Most High, he hath offended by idolatry. Woe to such, and equal woe to those who adore crosses, sacraments, or images.
Specially is blasphemy a God-provoking sin. For blasphemy there is no excuse. As George Herbert says, “Lust and wine plead a pleasure;” there is gain to be pleaded for avarice, “but the cheap swearer from his open sluice lets his soul run for nought.” There is nothing gained by profane talk; there can be no pleasure in cursing; this is offending for offending’s sake, and hence it is a high and crying sin, which makes the Lord grow weary of men. There may be some among you to whom these words may be personal accusations. Do I address the lecherous, or the oppressive, or the profane? Ah, soul, what a mercy God hath borne with thee so long; the time will come, however, when he will say, “Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries,” and how easily will he cast you off and appoint you an awful destruction.
Again, whilst some sins are thus grievous to God for their peculiar heinousness, many men are especially obnoxious to God because of the length of their sin. That grey-headed man, how many times has he provoked the Most High! Why, those who are but lads have cause to count their years and apply their hearts unto wisdom because, of the length of time they have lived in rebellion; but what shall I say of you who have been half a century in open war against God — and some of you sixty, seventy, what if I said near upon eighty years? Ah, you have had eighty years of mercies, and returned eighty years of neglect: for eighty years of patience you have rendered eighty years of ingratitude. O God, well mayest thou be wearied by the length and number of man’s sins!
Furthermore, God taketh special note and feeleth an especial weariness of sin that is mixed with obstinacy. Oh how obstinate some men are! They will be damned; there is no helping them; they seem as if they would leap the Alps to reach perdition, and swim through seas of fire that they may destroy their souls. I might tell you cases of men that have been sore sick of fever, ague, and cholera, and they have only recovered their health to return to their sins. Some of them have had troubles in. business thick, and threefold they were once in respectable circumstances, but they spent their living riotously, and they became poor; yet they still struggle on in sin.
They are growing; poorer every day, most of their clothes have gone to the pawnshop; but they will not turn from the tavern and the brothel. Another child is dead! The wife is sick, and starvation stares the family in the face; but they go on still with a high hand and an outstretched arm. This is obstinacy, indeed. Sinner! God will let thee have thine own way one of these days, and that way will be thine everlasting ruin. God is weary of those who set themselves to do mischief, and, against warnings, and invitations, and entreaties, are determined to go on in sin.
The context seems to tell us that ingratitude is intensely burdensome to God. He tells the people how he brought them out of Egypt; how he cast out the Amorites; how he raised up their sons for prophets, and their young men for Nazarites; and yet they rebelled against him! This was one of the things that pricked my heart when I first came to God as a guilty sinner, not so much the peculiar heinousness of my outward life, as the peculiar mercies that I had enjoyed. How generous God has been to some of us, — some of us who never had a want! God has never cast us into poverty, nor left us to infamy, nor given us up to evil example, but he has kept us moral, and made us love his house even when we did not love him, and all this he has done year after year, and what poor returns we have made! To us, his people, what joy he has given, what deliverances, what love, what comfort, what bliss — and yet we have sinned to his face! Well may he be as a cart that is pressed down, that is full of sheaves.
Let me observe, before I leave this point, that it seems from our text, that the Lord is so pressed, that he even crieth out. Just as the cart when laden with the sheaves, groaneth under the weight, so the Lord crieth out under the load of sin. Have you never heard those accents? “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken. I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me!” Hear again: “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”
Better still, hear the lament from the lip of Jesus, soft and gentle as the dew, — “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” Sinner, God is cut to the heart by thy sin; thy Creator grieves over that which thou laughest at; thy Savior crieth out in his spirit concerning that which thou thinkest to be a trifle, — “O do not this abominable thing which I hate!” For God’s sake do it not! We often say “for God’s sake,” without knowing what we mean; but here see what it means, for the sake of God, that ye grieve not your Creator, that ye cause not the Eternal One himself to cry out by reason of weariness of you.
Cease ye, cease ye, from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? I now leave those two points to pass on very briefly to the next.
While it is true that sin is grievous to the Lord, it magnifies his mercy when we see that HE BEARS THE LOAD. As the cart is not said to break, but is pressed only, so is he pressed, and yet he bears. If you and I were in God’s place, should we have borne it? Nay, within a week we should have burned the universe with fire, or trodden it to powder beneath our feet. If the law of heaven were as swift to punish as the law of man, where were we? How easily could he avenge his honor! How many servants wait around him ready to do his bidding! As the Roman consul went out, attended by his lictors carrying the ax, so God is ever attended by his executioners, who are ready to fulfill his sentence. A stone, a tile from a roof, a thunderbolt, a puff of wind, a grain of dust, a whiff of gas, a broken blood-vessel, and all is over, and you are dead, and in the hands of an angry God. Indeed, the Lord has to restrain the servants of his anger, for the heavens cry, “Why should we cover that wretch’s head?” Earth asks, “Why should I yield a harvest to the sinner’s plough?” The lightnings thunder, and say, “Let us smite the rebel,” and the seas roar upon the sinner, desiring him as their prey. There is no greater proof of the omnipotence of God than his longsuffering; for it shows the greatest possible power for God to be able to control himself. Sinner, yet Jehovah bears with thee. The angels have been astonished at it; they thought he would strike, but yet he bears with you. Have you ever seen a patient man insulted? He has been met in the street by a villain, who insults him before a mob of boys. He bears it. The fellow spits in his face. He bears it still. The offender strikes him. He endures it, quietly. “Give him in charge,” says one. “No,” says he, “I forgive him all.” The fellow knocks him down, and rolls him in the kennel, but he bears it still; yes, and when he rises all covered with mire, he says, “If there be anything that I can do to befriend you, I will do it now.” Just at that moment the wretch is arrested by a sheriff’s officer for debt; the man who has been insulted takes out his purse and pays the debt, and says, “You may go free.” See, the wretch spits in his face after that! “Now,” you say, “let the law have its way with him.” Is there, any room for patience now? So would it have been with man; it has not been so with God.
Though like the cart he is pressed under the load of sheaves, yet like the cart the axle does not break. He bears the load. He bears with impenitent sinners still.
And this brings me to the fourth head, on which I would have your deepest attention. Some of you, I fear, have never seen sin in the light of grieving God, or else you would not wish to grieve him any more. On the other hand some of you feel how bitter a thing evil is, and you wish to be rid of it. This is our fourth head. Not only doth God still bear with sin, but God, IN THE PERSON OF HIS SON, DID BEAR AND TAKE AWAY SIN.
These words would have deep meaning if put into the lips of Jesus — “I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves.” Here stood the great problem. God must punish sin, and yet he desired to have mercy. How could it be? Lo! Jesus comes to be the substitute for all who trust him. The load of guilt is laid upon his shoulders. See how they pile on him the sheaves of human sin! “My soul looks back to see The burdens thou didst bear, ‘When hanging on the cursed tree, And hopes her guilt; was there.” “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” There they lie, sheaf on sheaf, till he is pressed down like the wain that groaneth as it moves along. “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” See him, he did “sweat as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.” Herod mocks him. Pilate jeers him. They have smitten the Prince of Judah upon the cheek. “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that, plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” They have tied him to the pillar; they are beating him with rods, not this time forty stripes save one, for there is no “save one” with him. “The chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” See him; like a cart pressed down with sheaves traversing the streets of Jerusalem. Well may ye weep, ye daughters of Jerusalem, though he bids ye dry your tears! Abjects hoot at him as he walks along bowed beneath the load of his own cross, which was the emblem of our sin. They bring him to Golgotha. They throw him on his back, they stretch out his hands and his feet. The accursed iron penetrates the tenderest part of his body, where most the nerves do congregate. They lift up the cross. O bleeding Savior, thy time of woe is come! They dash it into the socket with cruel force, the nails are tearing through his hands and feet. He hangeth in extremity, for God hath forsaken him; his enemies persecute and take him, for there is none to deliver him. They mock his nakedness; they point at his agonies. They look and stare upon him. With ribald jests they insult his griefs. They make puns upon his prayers. He is now indeed a worm, and no man, crushed till you can scarcely think that divinity dwells within him.
Fever parches him; his tongue is dried up like a potsherd, and he cries, “I thirst!” Vinegar is all they yield him. The sun refuses to shine, and the dense midnight of that awful mid-day is a fitting emblem of the tenfold darkness of his soul. Out of that all-encompassing horror he crieth, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Then, indeed, was he pressed down! There was never sorrow like unto his sorrow. All mortal griefs found a reservoir in his heart, and the punishment of human guilt spent itself upon his body and his soul. Shall sin ever be a trifle to me? Shall I laugh at that which made my Savior groan? Shall I toy and daily with that which stabbed him to the heart? Sinner, wilt thou not give up thy sins for the sake of him who suffered for sin? “Yes,” sayest thou, “yes, if I could believe that he suffered for my sake.” Wilt thou trust thy soul in his bands at once? Dost thou do so? Then he died for thee and took thy guilt, and carried all thy sorrows, and thou mayest go free, for God is satisfied, and thou art absolved. Christ was burdened that thou mightest be lightened; he was pressed that thou mightest be free. I would I could talk of my precious Master as John would speak, who saw him and bare witness, for he could tell in plaintive tones of the sorrows of Calvary. Such as I have I give you; oh that God would give you with it the power, the grace to believe on Jesus at once.
V. For if not, and here is our last point, God will only bear the load of our provocation for a little while; and if we are not in Christ when the end shall come THAT SAME LOAD WILL CRUSH US FOR EVER.
My text is translated by many learned men in a different way from the version before us. According to them it should be read, “I will press you as a cart that is full of sheaves presseth your place.” That is, just as a heavy loaded wagon pressed into the soft eastern roads and left deep furrows, so will I crush you, saith God:, beneath the load of your sin. This is to be your doom, my hearer, if you are out of Christ: your own deeds are to press upon you. Need we enlarge upon this terror? I think not. It only needs that you should make a personal application of the threatening! Divide yourselves now. Divide your-selves, I say! Answer each one for himself, — Dost thou believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? then the threatening is not thine. But if thou believest not I conjure thee listen to me now as if thou were the only person here. A Christless soul will ere long be a castaway; he that believeth not in Christ is condemned already, because he believeth not.
How wilt thou escape if thou wilt neglect so great salvation? Thus saith the Lord unto thee, “Consider thy ways.” By time, by eternity, by life, by death by heaven, by hell, I do conjure thee believe in him who is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto him; but if thou believest not in Christ thou shalt die in thy sins.
After death the judgment! Oh! the judgment, the thundering trumpet, the multitude, the books, the great white throne the “Come, ye blessed,” the “Depart, ye cursed!”
After judgment, to a soul that is out of Christ, Hell! Who among us? who among us shall abide with the devouring flame? Who among us? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? I pray that none of us may.
But we must unless we fly to Christ. I beseech thee, my dear hearer, fly to Jesus! I may never see thy face again; thine eyes may never look into mine again; but I shake my skirts of thy blood if thou believest not in Christ. My tears entreat thee; my lips persuade thee. God has had patience with thee; let his longsuffering lead thee to repentance. He willeth not the death of any, but that they should turn unto him and live: and this turning lies mainly in trusting Jesus with your soul. Wilt thou believe in Christ? Nay, I know thou wilt not unless the Spirit of God shall constrain thee; but if thou wilt not, it shall not be for want of pleading and entreating. Come, ‘tis mercy’s welcome hour. I pray thee, come. Jesus with pierced hands invites thee, though thou hast long rejected him. He knocks again. His unconquerable love defies thy wickedness. He begs thee to be saved. Sinner, wilt thou have him or no? “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” God help you. to come, for the glorious Redeemer’s sake.