The Danger of Apathy!
by William Nicholson, 1862
"Woe to those who are at ease in Zion!" Amos 1:1.
True religion does not consist in mere connection with the Christian Church, nor in mere formal worship. It has an aspect on the internal condition. It is connected with the soul of man. Formal worship without the consecration of the heart, will avail nothing when we are subjected to the Divine scrutiny.
The ancient Jews frequently deceived themselves as to the nature of religion. They paid undue attention . . .
to their national distinctions,
to their connection with the temple,
to its external pomp and glory —
and lost sight of the spirituality which its services were designed to promote. They lost the substance, in the shadow. They lost the spirit, in the letter. When the prophet wrote these words, they were threatened with Divine punishments. But they were at ease, and unalarmed!
They "trusted in the mountain of Samaria;" they "put far away the evil day," verse 1, 3. As dwellers in Zion, they calculated that its defences were impregnable; that because it was the "royal city," where were set the thrones of the house of David; that because it was "the holy city," where the temple was, and the testimony of Israel — they confidently expected that it would ever be a sanctuary to shelter them from Divine judgments.
Thus many at the present day are puffed up with pride, and lulled asleep in carnal security by their Church privileges, and the place they have in Zion.
I. What This Denunciation Implies.
Zion has a reference to the ancient temple. It was situated on Mount Zion. The Christian Church is now called Zion in allusion to it, and all who trust in Christ are connected with it, Hebrews 12:22. It has also a reference to Heaven, and all who die in the Lord are exalted to the celestial mount, Revelation 14:1.
The Church is that "kingdom" which Christ came to establish. All who bow to the scepter of Immanuel, are its subjects. And it is the will of God that their numbers and their graces should progressively advance, that Zion may be glorious in the earth.
It is the will of God that this should be effected by Christian zeal and activity. They are called into his vineyard for that purpose. For this, ministers receive from Christ gifts and graces — for this, ordinary Christians are to labor and pray — to consecrate mental vigor, personal attendance, financial help, holiness of life, and union of effort, and finally spend and be spent for Christ. 2 Corinthians 12:15. Hence they are called . . .
co-workers with God,
fellow-helpers of the truth,
servants of Christ,
The effect of Divine Truth upon the mind, is zeal and activity to promote Zion's welfare. Was not this the case with the Apostles and primitive evangelists? Though one differs from another in glory — yet each is a bright star, and glows to the praise of Jehovah. Eminent zeal and eminent usefulness, are the product of a strong apprehension and a deep sense of Divine truth, inducing the soul first ardently to love it, and then to propagate the healing benefit to all around. In whatever soul the living water is found, it powerfully operates against all obstructions. Every subject of it would gladly bear all to whom he has access along with him into the paradisiacal bliss. The Christian not only prays, Let "your kingdom come," but he labors that it may come. "It is good to be zealously," Galatians 4:18.
The necessity for such zealous and united action in the Church will appear if we consider . . .
the vast amount of moral and spiritual evil in the world,
the ruination of multitudes of souls thereby,
that the Gospel is the mighty lever to elevate the sinner from wretchedness here and eternal woe hereafter.
And also if we consider the ultimate and sublime destination of the Church, and the numerous enemies by whom the Church is assailed! Should there then be ease in Zion?"Woe to those who are at ease in Zion!"
II. Who May Be Said to Be at Ease in Zion?
To be at ease is to be careless, indifferent, unconcerned, and slothful — when we should be active. It is a state of lukewarmness, Revelation 3:15-16. It is a state of spiritual declension, approximating to death, Revelation 3:2.
The following characters may be said to be at ease in Zion:
1. It is the case with many who hear the Gospel.
They have heard it for years — and have been warned times without number. They have heard the thunders of the law — and the silver trumpet of the Gospel proclaiming life to the dead, and Heaven to the lost. They have been conducted to the agony in the garden, and to the tragic suffering of Christ on the cross. To them the solemnities of death, judgment, and eternity, have been frequently presented. Sometimes they have felt, trembled, and resolved — but have soon relapsed into a state of apathy and ease. "That's enough for now! When I find it convenient, I will send for you." Acts 24:25
2. The mere professor — the outer court worshiper — the formalist.
These may pretend much. They love to be prominent that they may be eulogized. But the truth having never properly impressed their hearts, they will consequently be at ease in Zion. They have a name to live, while they are dead.
Occasionally, through some novel and stimulating cause, they may exhibit some life and activity; but being artificial, it is only transient, and it relapses into the immobility of death.
3. Those who have inordinate attachment to the world — or who allow themselves to be beguiled by the fascination of wealth and secular pursuits.
They are diligent here, rising early, etc., devising, scheming, toiling, agonizing — but the one thing needful is forgot. Is not this to love the body more than the soul — the world more than Christ? Such foolish conduct will amaze us, when we retrospect it in eternity.
4. Those are sure to be at ease in Zion, who only partially attend to the public and private means of grace.
They neglect the assembling of themselves together — and absent at the prayer-meeting, etc. Reading the Scriptures, private prayer, etc., are neglected. And as those are the Divinely appointed sources of Christian life and zeal, it is evident that the neglect of them will induce apathy in God's cause. Some by their partial attendance, appear as if they had no identity with God's people.
5. They who reluctantly and niggardly yield their support to the cause of Christ. God loves a cheerful giver according to what a man has, etc. And where the love of Christ constrains — it will be so. Covetousness freezes the heart and paralyzes the hand!
Being at ease in Zion, having no deep interest in its welfare — some will not give what God has abundantly given them. If an appetite, a lust, a pleasure, a carnal propensity, calls for financial expenditure — it is promptly forthcoming. But if God speaks in thunders, or Christ pleads with groans, tears, and blood — it is all in vain.
6. Those who depend upon the purposes of God abstractedly considered. They say God's purposes are immutable, and therefore his cause will be carried on. So their exertions may be dispensed with.
Not so: "this is the will of God, even your sanctification." That is, holy consecration to his services. All in his vineyard must work.
III. What Will Be The Effects of Such Apathy?
1. It is very painful to those who are not at ease in Zion.
2. It is injurious to the Church. There is lack of unity — their exertions are lost.
3. It injures themselves. Lose the pleasures of religious activity; the pleasures of ordinances — have no clear evidence of Divine acceptance — and an unsatisfactory hope of Heaven.
4. It is a direct violation of the will of God and therefore will subject the soul to woe. "Woe to those who are at case in Zion." Woe to the slothful servant when the Lord shall come to judge the world. "Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!" Matthew 25:30