Moab at Ease from his Youth and Settles on His Lees (Part 2)
Now, ease thus obtained and ease thus maintained never was and never will be the character of a child of God. Bunyan says, in his plain, homely language:
A Christian man is never long at ease,
When one fright s gone another doth him seize.
Sin will never let him rest long, nor Satan let him rest long, nor God let him rest long, nor his own fears let him rest long. He cannot be at ease till his conscience is purged with the blood of sprinkling; till his soul has been blessed with a feeling sense and enjoyment of the love of God; till he has sweet manifestations of pardoning mercy, blessed revelations of Christ to his soul, with the voice and witness of the Spirit in his breast. This is not the ease of Moab, but the ease of which the Psalmist speaks when he says: "his soul shall dwell at ease" Ps 25:13. All ease but this is the sleep of the sluggard-carnal ease as opposed to spiritual. If then he drops into carnal ease, and for a time sin does not seem to plague, nor Satan tempt, nor the world persecute, the Christian man feels that he is getting wrong; he has lost a burden, but not in the right way, and would rather have the burden back than be left to have his portion amongst those who are at ease in Zion.
Now contrast your religion-I speak now to those who desire to fear God, with Moab s Are you at ease? How does your religion sit upon you? Why, you will describe it perhaps somewhat in this way; "It is the most comforting and yet the most trying thing I have ever had to do with. Sometimes I don t know what to do with it, and sometimes I don t know what to do without it. It will never leave me alone nor can I leave it alone."
I am not surprised at your answer, for religion is certainly the most weighty, and yet the most mysterious matter that we ever have had or can have to do with in this world. And I will tell you this, that it will either comfort you, or it will distress you. It will either exercise your mind, trouble your soul, cast down your spirit, and make you truly miserable, or else be the source of your choicest comfort and your greatest happiness. From religion come our deepest sorrows and highest joys, the greatest uneasiness and the sweetest peace. There is this peculiar feature about true religion, that in the greatest prosperity it may be the cause to us of the chiefest trouble, or in the greatest adversity be to us the cause of the purest joy. What are wealth or health, rank or titles, and every comfort the world can afford, to a wounded spirit? What are poverty, sickness, persecution, contempt, a garret or a prison to a soul basking in the smiles of eternal love? Religion will surely make itself felt wherever it exists, and will testify by its power to its presence. If then you are a partaker of true religion, be you who, where, or what you may, you cannot be at ease in Zion, for there will be ever something working up out of your own heart or arising from some other quarter to make you uneasy. Job was once at ease, but he was not suffered to die in his nest. He therefore says, "I was at ease, but he hath broken me asunder: he hath also taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for his mark." Job 16:12 And yet with all this unexpected and apparently cruel treatment, he could still say, "Behold, my witness is in heaven and my record is on high."
And though so exercised and distressed that he had to cry out, "My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth. Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, 0 ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me" Job 19:20,21; yet he could add, in all the confidence of faith, as desirous that his words might stand for ever upon record: " Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! that they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me." Job 19:23,27.
ii But I pass on to consider another special feature stamped upon the character of Moab: "And he hath settled on his lees."
The figure is taken from wine, which, in order to thoroughly purify and refine it from all those dregs which would spoil its taste, needs to be often racked off, as I shall have occasion by and by more clearly to show. But Moab was like an old wine cask which somehow or other had been overlooked in the corner of the cellar, and was thus forgotten, neglected, and covered with cobwebs. Or, to speak more correctly, had been purposely neglected, as being of a vintage which did not promise such improvement by racking off as would pay the expenses or trouble to do so. He had therefore become "settled upon his lees." These lees were the husks of the grape, and other fecal parts of the berry, with the general residuum which in the process of fermenting gradually falls to the bottom of the cask. If wine therefore is left to settle upon these lees, they infect it with a coarse, earthy, unpleasant taste, which spoils the wine and makes it scarcely drinkable. But Moab was left to settle upon these coarse, impure, and fecal dregs, as not having in him sufficient good wine qualities to repay the trouble of racking him off. His religion therefore was not only in its origin and in its vintage coarse and rank, but by being left to settle so long upon the lees of the old cask was worse than it otherwise would have been; for the coarse, decaying, sour lees made the wine worse than it naturally was.
But what made it worse was that he was well satisfied it should be so: he was "settled upon his lees." If you look at the margin of Zep 1:12, where God says that "he will punish the men that are settled on their lees," you will find the word translated in the text "settled" rendered in the margin "curded or thickened." The same word indeed is not used in this passage, but the idea is still the same. Moab was curdled or thickened upon his lees; that is, so settled down upon them and infected with them that the whole body of the wine in the cask has become soured and thickened like curdled milk, and was therefore undrinkable.
But what are we to understand spiritually by these lees, and what is it to be settled on them? By the lees I understand the husks of worldliness, pride, and covetousness, which are, so to speak, dropped and deposited by a carnal profession. And to be settled upon one s lees is to be settled down in a dead confidence of one s state before God, though that rests upon the dregs of a worldly life and of a hypocritical, arrogant, daring, and presumptuous profession. Now when a man is settled down upon these dregs of a dead profession, he knows as regards religion neither misery nor joy, neither affliction nor consolation. In him, as thus left neglected in a corner of his pew, like the old wine cask in the corner of the cellar, there are no stirrings, or movings, or dealings of God upon his soul, so as to take him off and separate him from his lees. Moab, therefore, as thus settled upon his lees, represents a professor of religion who is neglected of God, in whom, if I may use such an expression, He does not take sufficient interest to rack him off and refine him. God is very jealous over his own people, and very tender about them. He will therefore take peculiar care to fit them for the kingdom for which he has designed them, and refine them as gold is refined, that they may be vessels of honour meet for the Master s use. They are not suffered therefore, as Moab was, to be settled upon their lees like a forgotten wine cask, but are made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light, by the purifying effect of God s dealings with their soul.
But we will now look at the two negative features of Moab, which I mentioned as stamped upon him in our text.
(i) The first is, that "he hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel."
Moab was never emptied from vessel to vessel, for no art or skill could have made good wine out of him. If wine has, from its peculiar sort of grape, its earliest growth, its soil, situation, and a favourable vintage, certain natural qualities, it may be developed into every perfection of which wine is capable. But if the natural quality of the grape be rank and coarse; if soil, situation, and vintage be also bad, no art or skill of man can manipulate that wine into a first-class article. Thus it is with human nature. It is radically and naturally bad, and grows worse as it gets older; and therefore no art or skill of man can make it good or acceptable to God. In this state most men live and die. But not so with the true family of God. He plants his vineyard "with the choicest vine" Isa 5:2; what another prophet calls "a noble vine, wholly a right seed" Jer 2:21. The Lord therefore will by his Spirit and grace bring forth out of this noble vine such wine as shall prove it to be set in a vineyard which his right hand hath planted, and a branch which he has made strong for himself. And we may observe by the way that that species of grape which looks best to the eye and is most pleasing to the palate is not usually that which makes the best wine. Moab was outwardly flourishing and prosperous, like grapes fair to the eye and pleasant to the taste, but the wine of which was for all wine purposes radically coarse and bad.
Now contrast this with the case of the people of God. Though there is much in them rough and distasteful, much from which they need to be cleansed and refined, yet still there is that in them by grace which will, so to speak, work itself fine. They are not therefore left to settle on their lees, like Moab, but are emptied from vessel to vessel. They may sometimes indeed, through absence of trial and temptation, seem as if they would settle down upon the lees of their profession, but this does not last long. Some trial, temptation, exercise, affliction, bereavement, or sorrow is brought upon them. This we may compare to a vessel into which the wine is poured out of the cask, and where it has to stand for a time that it may become refined, lose its new, raw taste, and get the right flavor. Observe, then, the effect of the various trials and afflictions which the Lord brings upon his people to cleanse and refine them. They instrumentally draw off the wine which otherwise would have settled upon its lees and become impregnated with their earthy taste. Every trial which a child of God has to undergo separates from him something rough, austere, raw, carnal, and sensual. We may view these lees as representing pride, or self-righteousness, or worldly-mindedness, or carnality, or covetousness, or anything and everything distinct from and inconsistent with what is holy, heavenly, and spiritual. Still there will be always in a child of God, whatever be his experience or amount of grace, old nature still. He needs therefore to be emptied from vessel to vessel; for corrupt nature soon casts down fresh lees, which, if he were left to settle down upon them, would spoil his flavor. In order therefore to keep him from this rank and raw flavor, there comes upon him another trial, another temptation, another affliction, or another bereavement. This is a fresh vessel, into which he is again drawn off; and as during the process the cask is stirred and shaken, the wine will sometimes seem thick and muddy and almost worse than before. Have not you felt how a fresh trial stirred up every corruption of your heart? But after a time, when you are made a little still, you are enabled to cast down some of this rebellion and unbelief, and it seems to sink to the bottom of your heart. Thus, as the effect of a fresh trial or temptation, our freewill, self-righteousness, creature holiness, vain confidence, carnality, and worldly-mindedness, and everything which is contrary to the mind of the Spirit, are gradually deposited and dropped, and the wine begins to run more clear, fine and pure. If you cannot see or feel this in yourself, can you not see it in tried and exercised Christians? Do you not see them cleansed and purified, more than those that are at ease, from pride, vain confidence, self-righteousness, carnality and death? But after a time the wine wants another racking off, in order to get the right quality, taste, and scent. There is another vessel to come: another trial, another temptation, another affliction, another bereavement, another sorrow. Here comes the vessel. Don t you tremble as you see it approaching, and to have the auger struck into you to draw the wine off? But there is no use crying out, for it must come. There must be a drawing off again into the fresh vessel. But is this the last? No, no. When the Christian has after a time cast down more lees, and by that means become brighter, clearer, and finer, more dead to the world, more alive unto God, old nature is old nature still. He casts down fresh lees and needs another racking off; and so he goes on until he gets the right quality, the right fineness, the right taste, and then he is fit to be drawn off from earth to heaven and set upon the royal table.
But Moab never was thus emptied from vessel to vessel: in fact, he was, as I before remarked, not worth the trouble. We may easily fancy a French wine-grower saying, "I have I don t know how many casks of a worthless vintage in my cellar: it really would not pay me to take any trouble with it. Let the casks be where they are; let them stand till I have time to roll them out of the way, break in the staves, and pour off their contents into the ditch." So we may say God looks upon such a professor of religion as Moab represents. It is as if he were not worth the trouble of any special dealings: he has no living conscience to be touched; there is no grace in his heart to work upon, no judgment to be informed, no affections to be wrought upon, no spiritual capability for being benefited by trials and afflictions. Let him therefore sit quietly in the corner of his pew; let him fill up his church membership; let him be half asleep during the sermon. Let no judgment rouse him, no promises melt him, no precepts move him; let him sit there like an old wine cask in the corner of a cellar, covered with cobwebs, nobody scarcely knowing it to be there but the old cellarman.
How many of these wine casks we have in the corners of pews in our churches and chapels who have never been emptied from vessel to vessel. No sermon ever touches them; no admonition ever reaches them; no warnings ever frighten them; no promises ever cheer them. There they are at ease, settled upon their lees, having no fear of death and eternity, but as unconcerned as if there were neither heaven nor hell. It is an awful spot to be in, for there is a woe to them that are at ease in Zion. If such be your case, God will let out your wine some day, broach the cask, and burn the staves. That will be the end of your profession, of your sleeping in your corner and being at ease in Zion.
ii The second negative mark against Moab is, "Neither hath he gone into captivity."
We have a generation of preachers and professors who are very much against any experience of captivity or bondage in the living family-at least, after a certain period. They are allowed to be in bondage to the law at first, whilst under its curse and condemnation; but after deliverance from it by some manifestation of mercy, are never to be, according to these men, in bondage any more. They are safely booked for the next world, and need no more fear being left behind than a person going by train who is seated in a first-class carriage. According, however, to our text, it is a mark against Moab that he had not gone into captivity. But God s people have very often to go into it. Moab, with his fertile lands, broad pastures, flowing brooks, and copious streams, was not treated as the children of Israel were. There were no Philistines to trouble him. He therefore never went into captivity. He dwelt for generations upon his ancestral lands, eating the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the stall, drinking wine in bowls, and anointing himself with the chief ointments, but not grieved for the affliction of Joseph Am 6:4,6. But those on the other side of the flood, the Israel of God, in the land of Canaan, were often led into captivity, had to fight hard for their very existence, exposed to the incursions of the Philistines and various other tribes, and were ever holding their life in their hand. So it is with the professor and the child of grace. The professor is not in captivity; he is never in bondage; he never knew anything about the law to put him into real distress of soul at the first; and though under the power of sin, yet he has no feeling of what it is to be a prisoner, crying out under the heavy pressure of bonds and fetters. Contrast with him the living soul. He is continually going into captivity: often taken captive by some lust, entangled in some snare, drawn aside by some excitement; and if he is preserved from sin or doing anything derogatory to his profession, yet there is an inward captivity, a feeling of bondage, a sense of being put into the prison-house, so as to groan as a poor imprisoned captive under the hidings of God s face, the withdrawals of his presence, the fears of his own mind, and the sinkings and foreboding of his own evil conscience. But Moab knew nothing of this: he was always at ease and always at liberty.
III. But time warns me that I must pass on to point out what I proposed to do in the third place, viz., the effects of these dealings. They are two. The first affected the taste, the other the scent of the wine to which Moab is compared, viz., "Therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed."
I Let us consider the first effect first. What was the effect of drawing and racking the wine off from vessel to vessel? It was to change the taste. If it had been left to settle upon its lees, there would have been an earthy flavor; it would have tasted of the husks of the grapes and of all the impurities mingled with it in the wine-press. Now Moab as being settled upon his lees, and not being drawn off from vessel to vessel, retained this earthy taste: "His taste remained in him." He was earthy at the first and earthy at the last. He had therefore no taste himself for heavenly things. He had never tasted that the Lord was gracious; he had never tasted the sweetness of God s word coming into his soul with divine power; he had never tasted the authority of God in a broken law, nor the love of God in a revealed gospel. Therefore his taste remained in him. You could soon tell this by your intercourse with him-that his taste was an earthy taste; that he had no relish for divine things, no love for the word of God, for the company of God s family, heavenly employments, or spiritual enjoyments. His taste remained in him. He began by being an earthy man, and he ends by being an earthy man. And you can taste it in his conversation and in his conduct. It is not so with God s people. Their taste is altered. When the Lord begins to visit their soul, His very first dealings with them change their taste. It gives them a different apprehension of God from what they had before; it raises up the fear of God in their conscience; it plants the dread of the Almighty deep in their soul; it gives them a taste of the anger of God in a broken law; and all this changes their taste. They tasted once of free will, legality, creature righteousness, self-exaltation, based upon human ability. But now all this is changed. They have different views now of the purity and majesty of God; different views of the authority of his holy law, and different views of the evil of sin; and as this works in them it changes their tastes. They begin to see what a bitter thing sin is and to taste how evil it is to depart from the Lord. They see sin working in a way they never saw before-in the glance of an eye, in the thought of the heart, in the dropping of a foolish word, in the sanctioning of an unbecoming action.
And their taste is changed as regards the word of God. They once had no relish for God s word: they could not taste it, nor handle it, nor enter into it. They had no spiritual faculty to which the word of God was adapted. Moab, with all his professions, never had his taste changed. He always loved earthy things, and his religion, such as it was, was an earthly religion. But the dealings of God with the souls of his people in racking them from vessel to vessel, in exercising them with various trials and temptations, in letting down His authority into their breast, and exercising them with spiritual fears, give them a real abiding taste of divine things. The light of God s countenance, the teachings of his Holy Spirit, the manifestations of his favour, and the droppings in of words from his gracious lips, have changed the whole taste of their religion.
ii And what else? What is the next effect of Moab being settled on his lees? His "scent was not changed." In all first-class wine there is a peculiarly fragrant and delicious scent, and connoisseurs know and value wine by its scent as much or even more than by its taste. Now there was no scent in Moab s wine. It was earthy both in taste and scent. But God s people are not so. By the various refinings, rackings, and dealings of God upon their souls, there is communicated to them this scent, this fragrant odor which impregnates their conversation and demeanor, and makes them so acceptable to those who can know and recognize it. Of their fragrant conversation we may say, "The scent thereof is as the wine of Lebanon," which was celebrated for its choice scent. There is in the tried, exercised children a savor, a sweetness, a scent, an odor, which commends itself to all who know and love what the grace of God is. And it is by this taste and by this scent that we know God s people, as connoisseurs know good wine from bad. By this taste and by this scent, tried, exercised, savory, and precious souls, whom God exercises and teaches, are distinguished from those who are at ease in Zion.
But it is not everybody who knows this taste or can recognize this scent. The people of God know it. Nothing is more odious to them than a religion without savor: it is like an egg without salt. What they want to find in themselves and in others is a religion brought into their souls by the power of God, wrought in their heart by the unction of the Holy Ghost. That makes them new creatures, gives them new tastes, invigourates them with new life, and breathes into their conduct and conversation, words and works, a heavenly odor, which is the very breath of heaven, whereby it is manifested they are the people of God, in whose hearts he has wrought by his Spirit and grace. Thus, while the one are of the earth earthy, impure, and only fit to be fermented into vinegar, or poured off into the dust; the others, the children of God, by his gracious dealings with them, have more of heaven in their own conscience, more of the power of God resting upon their souls, and are drawn more into sweet union and heavenly intimacy with God and each other.
Now can you say-and you have reason to bless God for it if you can-that he has not left you as he left Moab to be at ease from your youth, to be settled upon your lees, never to be emptied from vessel to vessel, and never to go into captivity? If so, he wanted to have you for himself, to adorn you as a bride is adorned for her husband, to make you meet for the inheritance of the saints in light, and to work in your soul that grace whereby you might be in glory a fit companion for the Son of his love.This, then, is the end of all God s dealings and the object of all the afflictions and trials he sends upon his people-to change their taste, to alter their scent, and make them spiritually minded, which is life and peace, and thus fit, furnish and qualify them for heaven, that they may for ever bask in the beams of his eternal love.