THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH.

BY Rev. WILLIAM T. WILSO
LATE RECTOR OF THE CHURCH OF THE MEDIATOR
KIGSBRIDGE, EW YORK [KiGSBRIDGE, l874.]
** For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and
the men of Judah his pleasant plant : and he looked for judgment, but
behold oppression ; for righteousness, but behold a cry." — IsA. v. 7.
I the reading of the Scripture no one can have
failed to notice the oft-recurring expression of
" the Day of the Lord." We meet with it again and
again in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament,
and it passes into familiar usage in the Epistles of
the ew. In this latter reference the expression is
commonly associated in the popular mind with the
second advent, or coming, of Christ. That is the
first and principal expectation which the phrase
awakens. Our thought goes on to the great Judg-
ment Day, to the reappearance of the Son of Man, in
majesty and glory, to the assembled nations of the
earth, all gathered at His feet. This is what we com-
monly understand by " the Day of the Lord;" these
are the grand and solemn scenes which are most
generally associated with it. But while this expec-
tation is a just and true one, while this interpretation
of the expression is the only one that comes up to its
entire and ultimate meaning, we must, nevertheless,
THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH. 519
remember that the phrase is often used in Scripture
with a secondary, and what may seem to us an
inferior, significance. Any crisis in national or indi-
vidual experience, any signal visitation of sin, any
marked and extraordinary deliverance, is spoken of as
a ** day of the Lord/' God is conceived of as being
specially present, immanent, and operative in all such
instances. The devout and inspired minds of those
holy men of old, " who spake as they were moved by
the Holy Ghost," dwelt less upon the natural than
upon the supernatural character of the more promi-
nent events in human history. Such crises seemed
to them the occasions of the divine revelation — the
times and the ways in which God came out, as it
were, from the invisible seclusion of His heavens,
and made Himself seen and felt and manifest in the
affairs of men. Thus our Lord Himself spoke of the
fall of Jerusalem, of the overthrow of the Jewish
nationality and polity, as a "day of the Lord," as a
" coming of the Son of Man." " This generation," He
says, ''shall not pass away till all" (that is, the pre-
dicted destruction) " be fulfilled." And in similar
manner the prophets always represent any signal in-
stance of judgment or deliverance in the history of
their people as a" day of the Lord." As we read their
writings we are impressed by the recurring frequency
of the phrase, and by the power and depth of the con-
viction which it expresses. In their thought every
great event took on a most grand and solemn signifi-
cance. It was a meeting point between God and
man. It was a disclosure of the eternal will that
shapes and controls all the seeming vicissitudes of
320 THE IDICTMET OF JUDAII
fortune. It was a manifestation to human eyes of
the unseen power that lies back of all the physical
and moral forces of the world. It was a voice speak-
ing from the skies, a face looking down between the
parted clouds, an arm stretched forth from out the
darkness. It was a *' day of the Lord," a day of
Revelation, a day in which the supreme and divine
Ruler of men made Himself known to their hearts
in deliverance or in judgment.
ow it is of just such a "day of the Lord" that
we have read this morning in the prophecy of
Isaiah. The Book opens with a vision of mingled
judgment and deliverance. The time had come, or
was coming soon, when God in some signal way
should make Himself manifest to His people ; when
He should punish and save ; when men, amid their
changing hopes and fears, should be brought back
again to the earlier faith of their fathers, and forced
once more to believe in and acknowledge the God
who judgeth the earth. The age was a sadly degen-
erate one. Judah had never, perhaps, been more
powerful and prosperous, but the true glory of the
nation was passing away. The simplicity of early
manners, the purity of the primitive faith, the strong
fellow-feeling of the tribal times, the respect for mor-
als, the love of truth and righteousness, the reveren-
tial consciousness of God — all these were gone or
going : and there had come, instead, universal greed
and luxury and corruption ; a practical disbelief in
God, a virtual repudiation of morals, a wide and ever-
widening gulf between the self-indulgence of wealth
and the sullen discontent of poverty. It seems
THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH. 321
Strange that so many hundreds of years before the
final overthrow of the Jewish commonwealth the
nation should have presented all these signs of im-
pending dissolution. Yet, as far back as the time of
Isaiah, it seemed to him like a man whose " whole
head was sick, and his whole heart faint." " From
the sole of the foot to the crown of the head," he
says, "there is no soundness in it." Such a condi-
tion, he knew, however deceitful in outward appear-
ing, was, and could be, only indicative of disaster.
There was, there must be, some sure retributive jus-
tice to wait upon it. God would not suffer things to
go on in this way forever. He felt that a crisis had
come, that a ''day of the Lord " was nigh at hand;
a day in which "the loftiness of man should be bowed
down, and the haughtiness of men laid low, and the
Lord alone exalted." The future opens in all its
dread significance before him. In prophetic vision
he sees the avenging nations coming from afar, the
uplifted ensigns, the swiftly marching ranks, the
bent bows, the sharp arrows, the whirling wheels of
the Assyrian conqueror. He sees the " darkness and
sorrow" of his own dear land, and the "light dark-
ened in the heavens thereof." This is his " day of
the Lord," and it was his sad and solemn mission to
speak to deafened ears and hardened hearts of the
woe and terror of it.
But why dwell upon this Hebraistic mode of
thought and speech ? Why linger over this well-nigh
forgotten page in a petty nation's history? Why, in
these modern days, should we concern ourselves with
the prophet or his mission ? There is a reason why.
322 THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH.
*' Whatsoever things were written aforetime," St.
Paul says, *' were written for our learning." These
records that have come down to us are no idle,
unmeaning tales. Their interest has not passed
away with that earlier world which gave them birth.
They are a possession forever, the inheritance of all
time. They must have, for each succeeding genera-
tion, the very deepest significance as long as the
eternal laws which control the conduct of human life
shall have any value in the eyes of men. For these
Hebrew records are an illustration of universal prin-
ciples. They set forth and exemplify the conditions
of a people's well-being and the causes of their fall.
The history of Israel is no isolated or exceptional
history. On the contrary, it is the type of all his-
tory, the pattern after which it is fashioned, the
mould in which it always runs. The story of the
world is told over by anticipation in those antique
pages. We may vary the names and the localities,
we may clothe the principles in philosophic guise, we
may put the facts in modern phraseology, but the
essential substance of the narrative is invariably
the same. Whatever age or country or society we
select as our example, we shall find the same law of
righteousness controlling its well-being, and the same
retributive justice bringing on a decline and fall.
And therefore it is that the prophetical writings
which deal so largely with the causes of public weal
and woe have been so fruitful in instruction to every
earnest student of history. Publicists and philoso-
phers and statesmen may sit at the feet of these
Hebrew prophets and learn of them lessons which
THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH. 323
none others can so well teach them. For the proph-
ets were the religious publicists, the religious phi-
losophers, the religious statesmen of their own age.
They read the end of things in the character of their
beginnings, and poor, indeed, was the vaunted wis-
dom of the academy and the grove when measured
against their moral and spiritual insight. They were,
as the wise and scholarly Milton says of them :
" Men divinely taught, and better teaching
The solid rules of civil government
In their majestic, unaffected style,
Than all the oratory of Greece and Rome."
They have been fitly described as standing on
their lofty towers of divine speculation, while ever
and anon the question, " Watchman, what of the
night ? watchman, what of the night ? " is asked of
them by an anxious world below. For to the sim-
plest, humblest man in every community, no less than
to those who may be entrusted with official respon-
sibility and station, is the school of the prophets the
school of a world-wide political wisdom. It is a book
which even the wayfaring man may read. In its sol-
emn, pictured page we may all discern some prophetic
likeness of our own time, and according to its good
or ill report we may know whether it is weal or woe,
blessing or judgment, which our ** day of the Lord,"
when it comes, shall bring upon us.
Isaiah, in the passage which we are now consider-
ing, takes up his prophecy under the form of a para-
ble. He sings, as he says, " A song of his well-
beloved, touching his vineyard," and a sad and woful
324 THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH.
song it is. He tells the story of this vineyard — how
it was " fenced," and the stones thereof *' gathered
out;" how it was planted *'with the choicest vine,"
a tower built '' in the midst of it," and " a winepress
therein." He recounts in a figure all the various
blessings of Judah, all the means and appliances
which had been given the people to be a righteous peo-
ple, and to do a righteous work. He recalls to their
remembrance, by a suggestive term of the expres-
sion, all the wonderful providences of their eventful
history. He asks in the name of their Jehovah :
*' What more could have been done to my vineyard,
that I have not done in it ? " Yet this vineyard,
whose Lord required that it should '' bring forth
grapes," had brought forth only *' wild grapes." He
" looked for judgment, but behold oppression ; for
righteousness, but behold a cry." And so the prophet,
in the same dread ame, takes up the burden of his
prophecy : " I will tell you what I will do to my vine-
yard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall
be eaten up ; I will break down the wall thereof, and
it shall be trodden down : and I will lay it waste: it
shall not be pruned, nor digged ; but there shall come
up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it." The desolation of
Judah — this was the prophecy which henceforth was
to have a growing and ever growing fulfilment — a
prophecy finally completed at the Advent in the
overthrow and dispersion of the ancient common-
wealth of Israel.
And from this parable we may learn two very im-
portant lessons. It appears to be grounded upon
THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH. 325
two broad and comprehensive principles, whose ap-
plication is not a local but a universal one. And
the first of these is this: Every tribe and nation and
people and tongue is commissioned with some divine
work, and is divinely endowed to do that work. Every
community, every society, is in a figure a garden
of the Lord ; it is, like "the House of Israel," His
" vineyard," and, like ** the men of Judah," His
•* pleasant plant." God has called it into being to be
a minister and servitor of His will. That is the aim
and end for which it exists. That is why there has
been given to it an historic life, why its integrity has
been fenced in by rights which are inalienable, why
the obstacles that might hinder its free and true de-
velopment are gathered by some mysterious provi-
dence out of its way. All these different families of
man have one self-same purpose, and, strictly speak-
ing, they have only one, namely, to '' bring forth,"
each " after its kind," that '' fruit " of righteousness
** whose seed is in itself; " to do the work specially
appointed it ; to be a witness to the truths so
sacredly committed to its care. That is the first les-
son of the parable, and the second naturally grows
out of the first. For it is a divine decree that when
any instrumentality of Providence wholly fails of its
purpose, it shall be cast aside as unfit for further use.
Against that community which will not be what it
was intended to be, which will not do what it was
intended to do, the sentence of doom goes forth.
The " barren vineyard " sooner or later is " laid
waste, " its " hedge " is *' taken away," its *' walls
are trodden down." A degenerate and unprofitable
326 THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH.
people pass eventually from the stage of history.
That is the Biblical philosophy of history, and it is
verified in the large experience of the world. The
prophet, when he predicted the desolation of Judah,
only predicted a special instance in the fulfilment of
a universal law. He knew that Israel was dead or
dying, that it was fast filling up the measure of its
iniquity, that the day of recompense was close and
ever closer at hand, and he mourned in advance over
that retributive judgment which he foresaw to be
inevitable.
Isaiah, however, does not confine his denunciation
of Israel's degeneracy to the general terms of the
parable. He drops the parable as the prophecy
proceeds, and pours forth his invective in plain and
awful prose. His charges become direct, definite,
and specific. His woes follow one upon the other
in orderly and logical sequence. He draws up an
indictment more awful than anything in Scripture,
with the exception of the awful indictment of the
Pharisees by Christ. He arraigns the nation before
the bar of Heaven, and puts a terrible emphasis upon
each successive specification. ** Woe unto them that
join house to house, that lay field to field, till there
be no place, that they may be alone in the midst of
the earth ! "
This is the first count in the indictment. It is a
charge of covetousness, of atheistic mammon-wor-
ship. othing could be more hateful in the eyes
of the prophet than the enormous accumulation of
landed property by the nobles, in opposition to the
whole spirit of the Jewish commonwealth, which
THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH. 327
had in view the good of all, rather than the exalta-
tion of any. That condition of things in which
wealth is valued for its own sake, in which it is
perverted from a means of usefulness into an in-
strument of self-indulgence or oppression, is a con-
dition of unmitigated evil. And it is always thus
perverted whenever it is held in a spirit of covetous-
ness; whenever a man's main purpose is not to use
it well, but to increase it more. This charge comes
first in the prophet's arraignment, because it lies at
the root of all the others. It did so then, it does so
now. That society in which the accumulation of
wealth has become the absorbing aim and motive is
doomed. Political economy may say no ; it may prate
about stimulated energies and increased development,
but none the less that society is doomed. Many a
nation's decline has begun just here. For the mil-
lionnaire spirit, in whatever form it comes, is a spirit
of evil. Great wealth, it is true, in the hands of one
or a few, may promote, for a time at least, the well-
being of all; but that is due simply to the unity and
consequent superior efficiency in its administration.
And none the less in the long run, if it be not held,
as it were, in trust ; if it be not dignified with a noble
purpose ; if it be not wisely and liberally adminis-
tered, will it become tyrannical and oppressive. It
will make its possessors, consciously or unconsciously,
in the strong language of the Scripture, ** skin the
poor to the quick, pick their bones, and grind them to
powder." The spirit of covetousness, of accumula-
tion, in and by itself, is evil, and only evil. o perma-
nent good can come out of it. It may give us mil-
328 THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH.
lionnaires, but it will not be the millionnaire of just
and faithful stewardship, the friend of labor, the
benefactor of his kind. It will be, instead, the million-
naire whose fitting type is in the cormorant, ever
feeding, and yet never satisfied, adding house to
house and field to field, till there be no place left.
And then we shall have men of wealth without the
duties, without the obligations, without the respon-
sibilities of wealth ; men foremost in position and
hindmost in good works ; men who count a man less
precious than the " gold of Ophir ; " men who sacri-
fice, who betray any cause, rather than not accumu-
late; men who become, and must become, a simple
curse to the community in which they live. And when
it comes to that, when their numbers grow, when their
ranks enlarge and widen, when the rich are richer and
the poor poorer, always when the condition of things
becomes monstrous and oppressive, then society has
only two alternatives — in the history of the world it
has never had but two — either to sink into hopeless
bondage or to purify itself " so as by fire." When-
ever wealtJi, as a general thing, repudiates its respon-
sibilities ; whenever it is given over to and besotted
by the greed of gain, you may discern in the horizon,
— though the cloud be no bigger than a man's hand
— you may discern in the horizon the spectres of an-
archy, communism, revolution ; and you may be sure
the day of reckoning, though delayed, will not always
be far off. God's judgments sometimes, nay, often,
come in these awful human forms.
The second count in the indictment may seem to be
the very antithesis of the first, yet the two always go
THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH. 32^
hand in hand together. For in every community in
which the god mammon is set up, there will be not
only a covetous class, but also a spendthrift class —
an idle, luxurious, self-indulgent aristocracy. There
will be the greed of gain on the one hand, and fash-
ionable levity and dissipation on the other. The
reverse side of the man of avarice is the man of pleas-
ure. He whose life consists in the abundance of the
things which he possesses will have his counterpart
in the epicurean liver. And it was a frivolous, dissi-
pated, epicurean life, it seems, that the nobles of
Judah were now living. The prophet accordingly
proceeds to turn his invective against them : " Woe
unto them that rise up early in the morning, that
they may follow strong drink ; that continue until
night, till wine inflame them ! and the harp and the
viol, the tabret and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts :
but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither
consider the operation of His hands." The great
ladies, too, it seems, were as bad as, if not worse than,
the courtiers. "The daughters of Zion," he says,
" are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks
and v/anton eyes, walking and mincing as they go,
and making a tinkling with their feet." He draws
the picture of a vain, ostentatious, selfish, immoral
aristocracy — an aristocracy for which, in his pro-
phetic vision, " hell had enlarged herself that their
glory and their multitude and their pomp might de-
scend into it " — an aristocracy whose doom should be
upon lords and ladies both ; humbling '' the mighty
men," and giving the proud women ''sackcloth in-
stead of girdles, and burning instead of beauty."
330 THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH.
A fashionable, frivolous, luxurious, spendthrift class !
This, then, is another condition of social degeneracy.
It is a fatal condition — fatal alike to those who have
part in it, and to the general community in which it
exists. For there is no greater error than to suppose
that the selfish extravagance of one class can be of
permanent benefit to any other. Human society is a
living body, an organic whole. " If one member suf-
fer," or fail of its true use, *' all the other members
suffer with it." The wasteful expenditure of the
rich never does, never did, never will, in any real
sense, help the poor. To think so, to try to find
some sort of justification for it in that, is a snare and
a delusion. It puts into the production of super-
fluities time and energy and money which should
go, and which otherwise would go, into more natural
and necessary industries. All that idle, luxurious
self-indulgence can do for the poor is to excite their
envy, to deepen their discontent, to make them
question why one man should waste in frivolous
or wanton dissipation what another man needs
for daily bread. And to spendthrifts themselves,
whether men or women, the habit of their life is
fatal in every way. However refined may be their
mind and manners, it degrades them to a mere ani-
m.al sensualism. Disguise it as they may, they have
no nobler creed than to " eat, drink, and be merry."
They are *' of the earth, earthy ;" they ** regard not
the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation
of His hands."
For the prophet goes on to make another charge,
which comes naturally enough on the steps of the
THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH. 331
two that have preceded it. When a people are given
over to money getting and money spending, atheism
will soon follow. It did follow in Isaiah's time. A
scornful, scoffing, mocking infidelity was rampant in
the land. " Woe unto them," he says, " that say.
Let Him make speed and hasten His work, that we
may see it; and let the counsel of the Holy One of
Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it."
We have presented here in a single stroke, as it
were, the characteristic likeness of that self-sufficient
scepticism which comes not from speculative doubt,
but from immoral life. These covetous and luxuri-
ous men of Judah had not given up their faith in the
Holy One of Israel because there were insuperable
intellectual difficulties to the further continuance of
it, but because the life they led did not want any
God, had no place for any, and would not acknowl-
edge any. Wholly given over to a reprobate mind,
concerned only with the visible and the temporal,
they were disposed to laugh the ancient creed to
scorn. ** Their eyes were heavy, and their ears deaf,"
and their hearts "¦ slow of understanding." Their
greed and their self-indulgence had made divine
Providence nothing more to them than an old myth.
And this is the kind of unbelief which is the beset-
ting snare of our modern civilization. The sheer,
downright materialism of the world is the cause of
nine-tenths of our wide-spread infidelity. ot one
man in a thousand ever thinks himself into scepti-
cism. Occasionally, indeed, you may meet with a
pure, honest, earnest thinker who is a conscientious
unbeliever. But you will not meet with him often,
332 THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH.
and when you do, the influence will not be altogether
evil. He may have, and often does have, a faith which
he knows not. But the mass of unbelievers do not
believe in God simply because they do not want Him ;
because this world, and the things of this world, are
sufficient for them ; because they are determined not
to look beyond it; because it would interfere sadly
with their gain or their pleasure to acknowledge a
Supreme Being and conform their lives to His law.
And this is the kind of unbelief which, the Scripture
says, ** shall be damned." This is the kind of unbe-
lief for which there is only one cure. It is idle to
reason, or argue, or persuade. Vain alike will be
Moses and the prophets and the Resurrection. The
cure must come, and can only come, in a retributive
judgment, in a " day of the Lord," which shall
strip off from men the things wherein they trusted,
and teach them that *'man doth not live by bread
only," by the work and the might of his own hand,
" but by every word that proceedeth out of the
mouth of the Lord doth man live."
The final charge with which the prophet brings
his arraignment to a close is a befitting conclusion of
the whole matter. When the leadership of society
is in the hands of millionnaires who are concerned
only in adding stock to stock, and house to house,
and field to field ; when an aristocracy of birth and
manners cares only for fashionable, sensational, and
wasteful living ; when the educated class, the *' men
wise in their own conceits," can find in the faith of
their fathers only an occasion for witticism, jibe, and
jest ; then there remains only one other condition of
THE IDICTMET OF JUDAH. 333
degeneracy, namely, that moral distinctions them-
selves should disappear and pass away. And that
condition comes. The perverted heart will not only
do evil ; it will try to justify the evil. It will con-
vince itself that the immutable distinctions between
right and wrong are only illusive, artificial distinc-
tions ; that the question of good and evil resolves
itself at last into a mere question of expediency.
When the life has gone astray, the mind will not be
long in proving '' the worse to be the better reason."
It will juggle with itself, and tamper with its innate
convictions. The simplest duties, obligations, mo-
ralities, will be all philosophized away. Men will
change the name, and fancy that they have got rid
of the reality. They will do as it seems they did in
the time of Isaiah. They will " call evil good, and
good evil ; put darkness for light, and light for dark-
ness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." That
is the last step in social degeneracy. When the
power of moral discernment is lost, then all is lost.
Then comes the era of bribery and corruption. Then
" the wicked is justified for reward, and the righteous-
ness of the righteous is taken from him." The soci-
ety which has come to that is fit only for perdition.
Of such a society the prophet said once, and of such
a society he is always saying : " As the fire devour-
eth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff,
so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom
shall go up as dust." For all this the anger of the
Lord '* is not turned away, but his hand is stretched
out still."
We have been looking at a picture which is not a
334 THE IDICTMET OF JUDAIL
pleasant picture to look upon. We have been read-
ing a story which sounds like a very doleful tale.
But perhaps this indictment of another people may
not be without a meaning for us. Would it not be
well for each and all to find it, to ponder it, and
apply it in our thoughts? It is time misspent to
look into the mirror of history, and then be like St.
James' forgetful hearer, who, beholding himself " in
a glass, straightway goeth his way, and forgetteth
what manner of man he was." If " the things written
aforetime were written for our learning," it is the
part of wisdom to gather their lessons, and lay them
to heart. And the one lesson which we should take
away with us is this : Every generation, every com-
munity, every society, has its own " day of the
Lord ; " but it is for itself to determine what that day
shall be, whether it shall be a day of judgment, or a
day of salvation and praise.
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