Abstrac of A Sermon Preached on March 29, 1998
Proverbs 27:7 says, “The full soul loatheth an honeycomb, but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”
The honeycomb is the best and sweetest thing which nature has to offer, but the full soul has no interest in it. He actually loathes it. There is no way he can be forced or enticed or persuaded to take any interest in it. He is not hungry. This is a fact which everyone knows. A full soul is not interested in food, not even in the best and sweetest of it. For this reason I have heard it recommended to fat folks, who are trying to lose weight, that they eat a good meal before they go grocery shopping. As full souls, they cannot take the same interest in food as they would if they were hungry, and so will buy less of it, and buy less of the kinds which will tempt them the most after they get home with them.
“The full soul loatheth an honeycomb.” This is common knowledge, and we can hardly suppose that Solomon wasted his words merely to tell us what everyone knows. But this fact is as true in the soul as it is in the body, and this is the matter of real importance. And when we turn to the realm of the soul, the fact is, we have a whole world full of full souls, who are not hungry for anything
—-and who in particular are not hungry for God. The Bible says, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matt. 5:6). It is hunger which brings men to Christ. The prodigal son would have stayed in the far country for ever if he had not been hungry. It was when he was perishing with hunger that he said, “I will arise and go to my Father.” Nothing but hunger could have brought him to that, and again, in the application of the parable, this is the hunger of the soul, not merely that of the body.
But understand, the devil knows these things as well as we do. The devil knows that if he can keep men well fed he can keep them from God. He knows that the full soul loatheth the honeycomb, and it is his aim to keep men full. He doesn't always succeed in this, for sin has consequences
—-consequences which God has ordained, and which not even the devil can entirely mitigate. The natural consequences of sin are poverty and misery, and, in fact, hunger. Thus in the marvellous wisdom of God, his very judgements upon sin tend always to turn us from it. The curse which he has placed upon his creation is clearly punitive, but it is also remedial. The hunger and misery of the far country work to bring the prodigal back home. The devil works, therefore, to make the far country as pleasant as possible. He works —-often with the help of what calls itself the church —-to keep every prodigal full and comfortable. He cannot always succeed, for it is God who has determined that emptiness shall be the result of sin, and for all his cunning and power, the devil cannot altogether prevent it.
He aims to do so, however, and the result of all the devil's endeavors is that vast and all-embracing system which the Bible calls the world. The world is the devil's substitute for God. What is the world? It is Civilization. It is Society. It is the system which man has built on God's earth, but in alienation from God, and under the direction of the devil. It embraces commerce, and manufacturing, and technology, and education, and politics, and sports, and entertainment, and literature, and culture, and religion, and the aim of all of it is to keep men full
—-full of pleasure, full of business, full of possessions —-so that they have no occasion to hunger for anything, and least of all for God or righteousness or holiness or heaven. This is the world, and this world is a grand success.
We who know and believe the Bible know very well that the time is shortly to come when all the world will worship the devil. This will be brought about by the devil's own cunning and power. This ultimate success of the devil cannot be far off, and those who know his ways and purposes can plainly see the forces which are at work in the world at the present time rapidly leading to his ultimate success. Modern wealth and technology
—-and especially modern electronic communications —-are the greatest tools in the devil's hands by which he keeps men full, so that they loathe the very honeycomb. The very gospel of Christ is a weariness to them. They have a constant stream of music poured into their ears, day and night. They have glittering and sensual pictures flashed constantly before their eyes, whenever they please. They have sports and games such as their fathers never dreamed of. Never in the history of the human race has there been such an absolute plethora of every kind of pleasure as there is today. Men today live in an absolute inundation of wealth and pleasure of every possible kind, all refined and cultured as never before in history, and all served up on gold and silver platters. The result of all this is that modern man is full, and loathes the very honeycomb.
The time was, a century or a century and a half ago, when any unknown evangelist could walk into a town and announce a gospel meeting in the school house or on the court house steps, and the whole town would turn out to hear him. They were hungry. Not necessarily hungry for the gospel, but just hungry in general. They were not cloyed with pleasure and entertainment and diversion. A little bit ago I read in the London Guardian (June 15, 1881, pg. 857) the testimony of a preacher in Canada a century ago. He said, “I once asked a farmer to attend a service which I was undertaking within a drive of his house. 'Come to your service?' said he, 'Bless you! I'll come to any service!' And this is the general feeling where 'meetings' are scarce”
—-and, we must add, where there was no radio or television. Those days have forever passed. Modern man is full, and this fullness is the work of the devil. It is the proof of the success of the devil. The aim and end of that fullness is to keep men from God, and it is a great mystery to me how any who call themselves Christians can suppose that all of this modern technology is the work of God. We know that God never created it. He placed man in a garden, with a simple, unhurried, and uncluttered life. In that simple life he walked with God, and was satisfied. But having departed from God, he was uneasy and unsatisfied. He was hungry, and he set out to satisfy his hunger with his own means —-of course without God. The devil led him on in this course, and the result of it is the system which the Bible calls the world. God is not the maker of it. This world will be destroyed at the coming of Christ, and it is the works of the devil which he will destroy, not the works of God. Then Christ will reign on the earth, and man will return to the simple and uncluttered life in which God placed him at the beginning. “They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree.” (Micah 4:4).
Meanwhile the world is here, and year by year coming nearer its ultimate triumph
—-year by year becoming more and more replete with everything which will keep men full without God. The Bible, you know, speaks of the course of this world, for the world is not a static or stationary thing. It is moving. It is progressing. It is coming nearer and nearer the devil's ideal —-farther and farther from God, of course, and more and more filled with all of those things which will keep men content without God.
We must frankly suppose that this facet of the world has nearly reached its climax in our day. What more can man do? What more can he add to the possessions and pleasures which modern technology has given to him? He is cloyed indeed with pleasures, so that he is weary even of pleasure. The other day I saw a boy wearing a shirt which was embossed, “Been there. Done that. What's next?” For this reason men pursue pleasures which are no pleasures at all. The only pleasure in them evidently lies in the fact that they are new and different. The pleasant has been replaced with the bizarre. Much of the popular music of the day is not music at all, but the merest noise, and not pleasant noise, but some of it the most dissonant and discordant noise which man can produce. Screeching, yelling, clanging, growling, screaming, pounding, and moaning
—-and this they call music, and the young people listen to it, and apparently enjoy it. Why? They've been there, and done that, and want something new, something different, something stronger, something more bizarre, something more violent, more sensual, more senseless, more daring. I sometimes wonder if the devil won't outdo himself in this, and if people might not get so weary of sin that they might actually hunger for the gospel. But this is not likely to happen, at least not on a large scale, for the world offers enough variety that when men tire of one thing there is always another. Men are simply satiated with goods and pleasures, and are not hungry. “The full soul loatheth the honeycomb.”
Now in the light of all of this, it plainly appears that we live in a day which is altogether different from any other day in history. The advent of modern technology and communications have changed the world for ever, and effectually destroyed whatever hunger may have been left on the earth. You know that there has been no revival for nearly a century
—-not since 1905 —-and not in America since 1857. Revivals were once common in America, but we hear nothing of them today. There may be a number of factors which account for this —-the lukewarmness of the church certainly being one of them —-but I believe the greatest factor is the “progress” of the world, and its great advancement in everything which is calculated to fill the soul of man, and destroy his hunger. In this day I have but one hope left for revival, and that hope lies in the fact that “Greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world.” God is yet able to overcome the world, but that may depend upon the condition of his own people.
And this brings me to the second half of this subject. There is no more hunger in the church than there is in the world. “The full soul loatheth an honeycomb,” and the church today is full. Not full of the truth
—-not full of solid and spiritual ministry —-not full of depth or spirituality —-no, but full at any rate. Full of evangelical radio and television preachers, full of tape recorded sermons, full of doctrinal discussions, full of Christian music of every variety, groaning under an absolute inundation of Christian books and magazines. Every preacher who owns a computer must publish a magazine, or write a book, though not one in a thousand of them is called of God to it. Few enough of them are called of God to preach, and few preachers —-few even of apostles and prophets —-are called to write. But every man runs before he is sent, and the church is kept full without ever being fed. There is precious little of spiritual Christianity in any of this deluge of modern “ministry,” but it is sufficient to destroy hunger.
The result of this is that the church in this country is full of tasters instead of eaters. They approach a man's ministry not to be fed, but only to taste and criticize. They may be curious, but they aren't hungry. They attend the ministry of the word of God not as hungry men sitting down to a meal, but as judges at a cooking contest. They taste and criticize. Over the years I have had many people taste my preaching and my writing, and a number of them have told me in the most glowing terms what a great blessing it was
—-even told me in glowing and superlative terms what a great man of God I was —-and they never came back for a second helping. This has sometimes actually amazed me. If they believed what they said about my ministry, why didn't they want any more of it? The fact is, they weren't hungry. Therefore they were tasters and judges, but not eaters. They were full of ministry, full of preaching, full of books and magazines, and this is one of the great evils of every man setting up to preach and write without being called or gifted of God. The man who actually has something to say can scarcely get a hearing in the common babble.
Even here I fear there is too little hunger. You people are full, and the full soul loathes a honeycomb. It really makes no difference what you happen to be full of. The man who is full of beef steak loathes the honeycomb the same as the man who is full of junk food. You know there was a great defection here a few years ago, and I believe one of the things that contributed to it was that the people were full. The hungry man appreciates the food, and the cook too, and he overlooks it if there is too much salt or not enough pepper. He is glad to eat turnips or mustard greens, and cherry pie is a treat whether it is sweet enough or not. “Hunger is the best sauce,” the old proverb says. Hunger makes the poorest food tasty enough. “To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” But when he is kept well fed he loathes the best cherry pie, and only finds fault with the cook. Some of these folks were hungry once, and moved hundreds or thousands of miles to come here and be fed. But it may be they were fed too well, and lost their hunger, and loathed the food and the cook too. Not that that was the only problem. I think if everything else had been right their hunger would have remained, but I do think that part of the problem was that the full soul loathed the honeycomb.
Well, but those folks are gone. What about you that are left? I believe some of you are hungry yet, for all the feeding you have had, and hungry precisely because your hearts are right. I know that some of you are hungry. But my concern is for you young people.
Now let me ask you, if you had a commission to make a man hungry, how would you go about it? What would you do? The only way I know to make a man hungry is to starve him. Give him nothing to eat, and he will soon be hungry enough. But I have no commission to starve the sheep, but to feed them, and to feed them whether they are hungry or not. God may starve you if he please. He may put you where you have no access to good books or good preaching. He may put you where you have no time to read. He may very well do that to make you hungry, but I cannot cease to feed the sheep in order to make them hungry. Nevertheless, the surest way to make folks hungry is to starve them, and some of you young people have never experienced that. You have been well fed since the day you were born, and I fear some of you are not hungry. You have listened to solid and spiritual doctrine since you were born. You grew up in houses which were literally filled with the best of Christian books, and I fear you don't value them as you ought. I grew up in a professedly Christian home, but I never saw a Christian book till I was eighteen years old. I never heard of Spurgeon or Wesley or Whitefield till I left home and went to Bible school
—-and I heard almost nothing of them there. Never heard of Francis Asbury or R. A. Torrey or Sam Hadley or Charles Chiniquy, and I was hungry. As soon as I went to Bible school I started buying books, and reading them too, and I have never gotten enough. I'm hungry still. The very thought of the names of some of these beloved men like Sam Hadley and Charles Wesley and Gipsy Smith sometimes brings tears to my eyes. I am not tired of them. I only weep that life is too short and time is too short to get my fill of them.
But I fear it isn't so with some of you children. You have never known what it is to be hungry. Every work of God declines and degenerates in the second generation, and I suppose one reason for this is that the children have never hungered as their fathers did. This may be as much your misfortune as it is your fault, but still there is some fault in it. It is every man's misfortune that he is born in sin, but it is his fault if he continues in it. You can cultivate hunger. It is true that the full soul loathes the honeycomb, but it is also true, as an old proverb says, that “Appetite comes with eating.” You can taste and see that Sam Hadley and John Vassar and Peter Cartwright are good. If you aren't hungry, you can eat anyway. I once heard of an old woman who was never hungry. She ate by the clock. She ate because it was necessary to eat, not because she had any desire for it. But if you have little desire for the things of God, you can cultivate and create that desire. Even before that you can call upon the Lord to make you hungry. If you feel your lack of hunger, call upon God to make you hungry. He surely knows how. But you can do more than pray. You can learn to hunger for the things of God the same way the ungodly learn to hunger for cigarette smoke or rock music
—-for there is not a man alive who was born with any such appetite. That appetite was created, by indulgence in those things. You can do the same with the good things of God. Peter tells you, as newborn babes, to desire the milk of the word. What can that mean, if not to seek and acquire and strengthen that desire? You can do that, and you can learn to desire strong meat as well as milk. Appetite does come with eating. Babies want nothing but milk, but they can learn to like roast beef and potatoes, and you can learn this also.