Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. A SCENE OF IDOLATRY. Before its possession by the Israelites, the land of Canaan was a stronghold of idolatry and of idolatrous rites and practices of the foulest and cruellest kind. The commission which the children of Israel received was a commission to extirpate the idolaters, and to purse the land of its heathen abominations. Yet the candid and faithful record of Old Testament Scripture informs us that from the first the chosen people were led away by the example and influence of the ancient dwellers in the land, and learned to practise the abominations they were appointed to repress. One great aim of the seers and prophets was to reproach the nation because of prevailing idolatry and superstition, and to summon them to return to their allegiance, ever due to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is evident that the worship of the deities adored by the surrounding nations was prevalent even among those who were called to a purer faith; and that some of the kings, both of Judah and of Israel, sanctioned and encouraged idolatrous observances and idolatrous priesthoods. Thus the high places and the ravines of Palestine were defiled by the rites of folly, cruelty, and lust. These heathen deities were embodiments in imagination of the lusts which corrupt the human heart.
II. A SCENE OF PROPHETIC PROTEST AND REBUKE. It was a token of Divine mercy and forbearance that the apostate Israelites were not left to the delusions and errors, the defection and rebellion, into which they had suffered themselves to be led. The voice of the Lord's prophets was heard upon the mountains, and throughout the valleys, which had been abandoned to those who practised the fanatical, bloodthirsty, and polluted observances distinctive of Canaanitish and Phoenician idolatry. Impressions were produced upon individuals which resulted in a return to the service of Jehovah. There were temporary reformations, distinguished by penitence and by vows. But the reader of the prophetic Scriptures cannot but admit that there was no great national movement in the right direction. Notwithstanding faithful rebuke, severe denunciation, compassionate promise, the people returned again and again to their former follies. It was as though Israel had resolved that no exhortation and no threat should avail to keep the nation faithful to him who bad exalted, defended, and prospered it, and who bad borne with the manners of the rebellious people, not only in the wilderness, but in the land of promise. It was as though nothing short of captivity and exile, conjoined with the destruction and desolation of the capital, could teach the lesson which it was Israel's vocation first to acquire, and then to communicate to the world around.
III. A SCENE OF DESOLATION AND OF DEATH. The Prophet Ezekiel speaks here with conviction and certainty. There rises before his mind a vision which can only fill his heart with grief and mourning. It is a satisfaction, indeed, to his righteous soul to foresee the high places destroyed, the altars desolate, the images broken, and the works of idolaters abolished. But this is not all. He sees the dead carcases of the children of Israel, the scattered bonus, the slain in the midst of the city, etc. And the vision of the depopulated land, the deserted and silent city, the vanquished and decimated nation, profoundly affects his patriotic and sensitive nature. It is a stern lesson, this which he has to teach; it is a terrible punishment, this which he has to anticipate and to foretell. Yet the lesson and the punishment are the Lord's. It is the word of the Lord which the prophet has to declare, the Lord of Israel who is at the same time the King of righteousness and of judgment. God brings the sword upon his own people; covers his own land with ruin and desolation. For his authority must not be defied, his laws must not be broken; his name must not be dishonoured with impunity. "The way of transgressors is hard." "The wages of sin is death." Until this lesson is learned, there is no place for the publication of clemency, for the proffer of mercy. The Law comes before the gospel; and they who do not honour the Law will not appreciate the gospel. It is in the midst of wrath that God remembers mercy.
1. There is such a thing as national guilt and apostasy. In our own time, individualism is carried to such an extreme that this fact is apt to be overlooked. A nation sins by its collective acts, and a nation suffers the just punishment of its evil doing. History is ever teaching this lesson, which men - good and bad - in their absorption in personal interests, are prone to overlook.
2. The Church has responsibility for witnessing against national errors, for warning the people of the inevitable consequences of apostasy from God, and for uttering clearly and boldly the mind and will of him who is eternal righteousness and eternal love. - T.
I. INDICATES MAN'S VAST RESPONSIBILITIES. Constituted as man is, the sovereign lord of this material globe, the fortunes of the land are indissolubly linked with the fortunes of its ruler. If man prospers, the fields smile with beauty and plentifulness; in man's curse, the hills and valleys participate. Guilty man cannot circumscribe the limits within which his misdeeds shall fall. Obedience makes oar earth a paradise; transgression blasts it with barrenness and desolation.
II. THIS APPEAL IS A HUMILIATION TO THE PEOPLE. It implies that appeal to the stony ears of men is useless; appeal to the unconscious hills is more likely to succeed. When trees shall intelligently listen, and granite rocks shed tears of penitence, then may the expectation arise that the stolid hearts of the Hebrews will respond. When God speaks to the material elements, they do respond in their own proper way; but the corrupt nature of men resists all Divine appeals. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know" (Isaiah 1:3). If God shed his sunshine on grass and flowers, fragrant incense spontaneously flows forth; yet, though Divinest love shines on every part of man, no effect is seen.
III. THIS APPEAL IS A MEASURE OF GOD'S DISPLEASURE. Wherever, in God's universe, there is a mark of sin, there shall be a mark of Divine displeasure. If the stones which God's hand has fashioned be employed in the service of idolatry, they shall be desecrated; they shall be stained with human blood; they shall bear a lasting mark of dishonour. The hill tops and forest groves, which have been forced by man into this unholy alliance with idols, shall be marked by the symbols of death - shall be devoted to oblivion and to lizards. Becoming a scene of dead men's bones, they shall be associated, in the minds of the living, with slaughter, defeat, and ruin. Nothing shall last that does not bear the seal of God's favour. "The idols shall cease." And ceased they have! Where now is Moloch, and Dagon, and Baal, and Jupiter?
IV. THIS APPEAL DEMONSTRATES THE VANITY OF IDOLS. It was clear as the sun in the heavens that Israel's chosen idols had not protected them from famine and invasion. So long as the idols were preferred to Jehovah, there was safety nowhere. The temples and the altars of the gods had always been regarded as a sanctuary, fleeing to which human life was secure. But this custom was to cease. So fierce and destructive were God's avengers, that they would not respect the vicinity of altars, nor groves devoted to idol gods. Even in the act of idolatrous sacrifice these delinquents should be slain, and it should be manifest that not the slightest modicum of power appertained to dumb idols.
V. This APPEAL EXHIBITS THE INGENUITY OF GOD'S LOVE. This dramatic appeal to the hills of Canaan was a gracious design of love, to find some entrance into the hearts of the people. As the skilful leader of a besieged city will go round it on every side, if haply he may find some gate or point by which access may be gained, so does God try every method which his eternal love can invent to gain admission to the hostile heart of the sinner. By speaking to the stolid mountains, does he not impress us with the callousness of our guilty nature? The devices of his compassion are inexhaustible. He will not give us over to destruction so long as a single ray of hope remains. Every threat of coming woe is a tear of Divine pity. God would not forewarn with such variety of argument if he did not deeply love. This is God's method - God-like. - D.
Deuteronomy 12:2; 2 Kings 17:10, 11; 2 Kings 23:10). The Israelites should have sternly opposed and utterly abolished the idolatry of the land. They were explicitly and solemnly commanded to do so (Deuteronomy 12:1-3, 29-32; Deuteronomy 13.). But instead of doing this, they had themselves become idolaters; and they persisted in idolatry. Therefore God himself will take the work into his own hands, and will make an utter end of their idols and images, their altars and sacrifices. "Behold, I, even l, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places," etc. (cf. Leviticus 26:30-33). And by the execution of his dreadful judgment the impotence and vanity of the idols would be conspicuously exhibited. The text shows -
I. THE INABILITY OF IDOLS TO PROTECT THEIR WORSHIPPERS. "I will cast down your slain before your idols. And I will lay the dead carcases of the children of Israel before their idols .... And the slain shall fill in the midst of you." The dead bodies of the idolaters, slain for their idolatry, and cast down before the idols, constituted a striking testimony to the impotence of the idols to succour or defend their worshippers. But there are idols and idolaters in our age and in Christian lands. A man may he an idolater who never bows down to any image, or statue, or anything else. A man's god is that which he loves supremely; and in this sense he may make an idol of his wife, or his child, or of riches, power, popularity, success in business, or even of himself. "And an idol in the heart is as bad as one set up in the house." And these things, viewed as gods, are as impotent as the idols of the Israelites. They cannot ennoble human nature; they rather crush its highest aspirations, degrade its best affections, and dwarf its noblest faculties. They are altogether incapable of satisfying the cravings of the soul. Its hunger is too great, its thirst too intense, to be satisfied with any of the gods of modern civilization, or with all of them, or with anything less than God himself. "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God." Only in him can the religious heart of man find true rest. And these modern idols cannot protect their votaries. There are circumstances and conditions in life in which neither riches nor rank, popularity nor power, relatives nor friends, can render man any aid. There are trials which none of them can ward off; dangers which none of them can shield us from; and none of them can save us from death, or give us hope beyond it.
II. THE INABILITY OF IDOLS TO PROTECT THEMSELVES AND THEIR ALTARS,
1. They cannot protect themselves and their altars from desecration. " I will cast down your slain before your idols. And I will lay the dead carcases of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars." Thus were the idolatrous images and altars polluted by dead bodies and decaying bones (cf. 1 Kings 13:2; 2 Kings 23:15, 16).
2. They cannot protect themselves and their altars from destruction. "I will destroy your high places. And your altars shall be desolate, and your images shall be broken... And the high places shall be desolate, that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished." And these idols, which the Israelites worshipped, were utterly powerless to avert their own destruction. How often does God in mercy destroy our idols! The riches which we are almost worshipping he makes to slip from our tightening grasp. Our worldly successes, which were drawing our hearts away from him, he turns into disastrous failures. The man who has made fame his god, and endeavoured to satisfy his soul with the fickle breath of popular applause, has found his idol broken into fragments; he is no longer greeted with plaudits, but with execrations. And when our love to any one has been growing into idolatry, God has taken from us the desire of our eyes with a stroke. And in all these cases the Divine intent has been that we should discover the vanity of our idols, and turn unreservedly to the one living and true God. And in all, the idols are powerless to save themselves, and we are powerless to save them.
III. THE INABILITY OF IDOLS LEADING IDOLATERS TO KNOW AND ACKNOWLEDGE THE TRUE GOD. "And ye shall know that I am the Lord." When these judgments had been executed, and the vanity of their idols thus demonstrated, the Israelites would know by experience that Jehovah is the true God.
1. That he is the true God as distinguished from the false gods - the idols.
2. That he is the almighty God as contrasted with the impotent idols.
3. That he is the living and eternal God as contrasted with the dead idols which had been demolished. Israel would not learn this lesson in seasons of peace and prosperity, though it had been. taught them in many forms, and with the reiteration of infinite patience. But they would learn it, and, as a matter of fact, they did learn it, when it was impressed upon them by the stern judgments of siege and famine, sword and captivity. And still there are those who need trial and suffering to teach them the same lesson. They will not in heart and life acknowledge the true God until they have been taught, by bitter and painful experience, the vanity of the idols which they had set up in their hearts. Blessed are they, if even thus they learn that only the Supreme Being is worthy of the soul's supreme love and reverence.
CONCLUSION. "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." "Wooden idols are easily avoided, but take heed of the idols of gold. It is no difficult matter to keep from dead idols" in the form of statues or images, but guard yourselves against the manifold forms of modern and civilized idolatry. Yield not even the least to anything or any person who would contend for the throne of your heart. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me; Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." - W.J.
know. Can the end be regarded as corresponding to the means? Is not such a result one to be secured by lessons less severe and calamitous? But in order to answer such questions we must consider the object of knowledge, which is not by any means of an ordinary kind. The "judgments" were the work of God's providence; and the purpose was to produce a conviction in the mind of the nation, Israel, that God lives and reigns, administers a moral government, and will not endure the disobedience and rebellion of those who are of right his subjects. This lesson must be taught, however distressing the discipline which leads to its acquisition. "Ye shall know that I am the Lord."
I. SUCH KNOWLEDGE IS OF THE HIGHEST SPIRITUAL IMPORTANCE. Knowledge of every kind is to an intellectual being desirable, precious, and valuable. Knowledge of great, venerable, noble, or interesting persons, is of all knowledge the most precious; for personality exceeds in interest all that is material. But there is no knowledge which can compare in dignity and value with the knowledge of him "in whom we live, and move, and have our being." The phenomena and laws of nature are of interest to the inquiring intelligence; but their chief interest, to the thoughtful mind, lies in their being a revelation of him who is the Source, the Creator, the Upholder, of all. If God is to be found in nature, how much more manifestly, and less incompletely, in man - the noblest work of the Eternal and Supreme! To know God is to satisfy the intellect, and is to find a centre for the emotions, and a law for the will. No knowledge can compensate the absence of this; all knowledge is completed by it.
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IS LOST SIGHT OF IN TIMES OF NATIONAL PROSPERITY AND SELF-INDULGENCE. So it was with the inhabitants of Judah and Israel; so has it been in the experience of many nations. This may easily be explained. Man is a compound being, body and soul; he is connected both with the scenes, occupations, and experiences of earth, and with the great realities of eternity. There is much in the world to absorb and engross human attention, interest, and concern. And it is quite in harmony with all we know of human nature, that those whose minds are engaged in the pursuits of time and sense should be forgetful of the higher truths and laws of the eternal prospects, in which they may not deliberately disbelieve. How often has it happened that, when God has satisfied a nation's temporal cravings, he has sent leanness into their souls! Their very blessings, as they deem them, become the occasion of their forgetfulness of the Giver. It is with nations as with individuals - the satisfaction of earthly needs may silence the aspiration for heavenly good.
III. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD MAY BE ACQUIRED IN THE TIME OF RETRIBUTION AND SUFFERING. If there is purpose in Divine providence, what so reasonable as to believe that the corrections administered to individuals and to nations are designed to awaited juster and higher thoughts - thoughts of God's wisdom and righteousness? How many have found that it was good for them to be afflicted; since before they were afflicted they went astray, whilst in affliction they have learned to observe God's Word! It may be objected that the highest and fullest knowledge of God is not thus to be acquired. And this is true; yet this knowledge may be indispensable as a stage to a knowledge yet more precious. It may be that the first lesson to be acquired is a lesson of submission to God's will, of reverence for God's righteousness. Only after the acquisition of this lesson, it may be, does that of the Divine mercy and compassion come within reach. When men have forgotten that the universe is ruled by a just, wise, almighty King, from whose authority none can escape, they must be brought to acknowledge this fact, that they may lay down the arms of rebellion, and may seek forgiveness and find reconciliation.
IV. SUCH KNOWLEDGE SHOULD, AND OFTEN DOES, LEAD TO SINCERE AND ACCEPTABLE PIETY. Custom, tradition, superstition, are a poor and unstable foundation for true religion. Men must know God, must know his character, his mind, his wilt, in order that they may devoutly love him and acceptably serve him. Whilst there is undoubtedly a kind of knowledge, merely speculative, which is compatible with hatred of God and of his Law, there is, on the other hand, a knowledge which leads men to appreciate and adore the Divine attributes, and to seek participation in the Divine nature and in Divine favour. - T.
I. THE CALAMITIES AND JUDGMENTS WHICH LEFT THE FEW AS A REMNANT. These were they who escaped. When the horrors that came upon the land are considered, the wonder is that there were survivors. As he who is saved from a fire looks back upon the sudden and furious conflagration, surveys the smoking ruins from which he has been rescued; as he who is the sole survivor from a shipwreck remembers with shuddering the violence of the tempest by which his comrades were engulfed in the ocean; - so may those who have been spared in time of national calamity profit as they recall the circumstances of peril and terror by which they, with others, were encompassed, from which they, as distinguished from other's, have been delivered. Who is there who, looking back upon the past scenes of even an uneventful life, cannot call to mind many of his early companions who have been the victims of disease, of misfortune, of accident, of temptation, whose earthly probation has been brought to a sudden close, whilst he himself, and a few others with him, are, as it were, "a remnant," and that through no personal merit?
II. THE MERCY THAT SPARES THEM AS A REMNANT. The same inscrutable wisdom which suffers some to be overtaken and overwhelmed, provides that others shall be spared and saved. As Noah and his family were spared, whilst a vast population was engulfed in the Flood; as Lot and his household were spared, whilst the inhabitants of the guilty city were consumed by fire from heaven; - so again and again has the forbearance of God been revealed in providing for the escape of "a remnant," who have remained to witness to Divine justice, and to use aright the opportunity afforded by Divine mercy towards themselves.
III. THE PURPOSE FOR WHICH A REMNANT IS PERMITTED TO SURVIVE. This is only very partially explained in the context. The mind of the prophet was so absorbed with the consideration of the guilt of his idolatrous and rebellious fellow countrymen, and with their impending fate, that for the time he was not able to reflect upon the ultimate ends for which some were spared amidst the awful catastrophe. Yet this was present to his mind as one immediate result of the mingled judgments and mercies of God; those spared from the calamities of the nation should know and acknowledge that Jehovah was the Lord. As a matter of fact, the lesson was learnt; and the remnant who returned to Palestine returned free henceforth from all inclination to idolatry. And if they did not cease to sin, at all events they were henceforth free from sin of this form. They lived to remember for themselves, and to witness to their children, that the nations are ruled by a God of righteousness, and that in subjection to his authority and in obedience to his Law man's true welfare must ever lie. Their song was of mercy and of judgment. If they were few in numbers they were purified and strengthened, and fitted to fulfil the peculiar vocation of the sons of Abraham among the nations of the earth.
APPLICATION. Who is there who has not experienced the sparing mercy and long suffering kindness of the Lord? Who has not been delivered from danger, from calamity, from destruction? Let all who acknowledge themselves to be, as it were, "a remnants" indebted to God's compassion, acknowledge the peculiar obligation under which they have been laid, to witness to the mercy of their heavenly Father, and by their practical loyalty to him to prove that they have not been spared in vain. - T.
I. THE OCCASION OF THIS REPENTANCE. The occasion was affliction. Until disaster, defeat, and exile came, no change of mind appeared. The ploughshare of calamity broke up the hard and stolid soil, so that the sweet energies of grace might find an entrance. Judgment alone will not soften and subdue the proud will of man; but judgment and mercy combined have an almighty efficacy. No teacher is so effective as experience. The scattered few, who had escaped the all-devouring sword, pondered, reflected, mourned.
II. THE REALITY OF THEIR REPENTANCE. There is a spurious repentance which is only remorse - i.e. regret that the sin has been detected. But real repentance has respect to God. The sorrow does not so much respect self. It is grief that God is pained - that his heart is broken by our perversity and folly. The old selfishness has disappeared, and God has obtained his proper place in the soul if so, repentance is real.
III. THE PROOF OF REPENTANCE. The proof indicated is self-loathing, self-condemnation. The things formerly loved are now hated. More than this, the penitent passes sentence on himself. He censures himself more severely than others censure him. His past deeds are as obnoxious to him as a dunghill, and that dunghill is within him. His own former self is detestable. He hates himself. No penalty seems for him too heavy. His chief fear is lest such sin as his should be beyond the possibility of mercy.
IV. THE EFFECT OF REPENTANCE. The result is intimate acquaintance with God - inward conviction of his truth and faithfulness. This knowledge of God is knowledge gained by experience. Such knowledge brings with it trust, admiration, love, peace; yea, life itself. "They that know thy Name wilt put their trust in thee." Formerly they were the dupes of falsehood; they wandered in darkness self-created, Now they are smitten by the charms of truth, and loyally follow the Truth. - D.
I. SIN LEADING TO PUNISHMENT. In dealing with previous paragraphs we have already spoken of the sin and of the punishment of the Israelites. Their chief sin was idolatry. It is spoken of in our text as whoredom. The chosen people are looked upon as the wife of Jehovah (cf. Jeremiah 2:2; Hosea 2:19, 20). And in turning from him to worship idols, they played the part of a wife that is unfaithful to her husband (cf. Jeremiah 3:9, 20). And when they persisted in this infidelity, despite exhortation, remonstrance, and warning, the righteous judgment of God came upon them - siege, famine, pestilence, sword, captivity. Sin ever leads to suffering. Sooner or later penalty follows transgression. "Be sure your sin will find you out;" "Whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him."
II. PUNISHMENT LEAVING TO RECOLLECTION. "They that escape of you shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives." The goodness of God is designed to lead men to repentance (cf. Romans 2:4); but sometimes it fails to do so by reason of the perversity of the heart of man. Some men partake of the gifts of the Divine goodness without any thought of the bountiful Bestower. But affliction not unfrequently accomplishes that which prosperity failed to effect. It was in the far country, in poverty, degradation, and destitution, that the prodigal son came to himself, and remembered his father's house (Luke 15:14-17). And though Israel had forsaken the Lord, he had not forsaken them. Even his judgments were an evidence of this (cf. Hosea 2:6, 7). In wrath he remembers mercy. In his terrible visitation for their sins he spares a remnant of them. And in the miseries of captivity that remnant remembers him. As a faithless wife who has deserted a good husband will almost certainly have occasion to remember in bitterness of soul him whom she has so basely and cruelly wronged, so the remnant of the Israelites, in the sorrows of their exile, would remember the Lord Jehovah, whom they had rejected for vain idols. Suffering should induce recollection and reflection. Trials should lead us to review our life and consider our ways.
III. RECOLLECTION LEADING TO REPENTANCE. "When I have broken their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and their eyes, which go a-whoring after their idols; and they shall loathe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations." Where this rendering differs from that of the Authorized Version it is supported by Hengstenberg, Schroder, and the 'Speaker's Commentary.' Amongst the remnant of the Israelites, recollection prepared the way for repentance, of which three aspects are here indicated.
1. Repentance in its origin. "When I have broken their whorish heart." Whatever may be the means by which it is brought about, penitence is the product of Divine grace (cf. Acts 5:31; Acts 11:18). In this Christian age, God brings gracious gospel influences to bear upon the hearts of men by the operation of his Holy Spirit, in order to quicken them into penitence for sin.
2. Repentance in its seat. "When I have broken their heart." Repentance is not merely a change of mind, but a change of feeling. It is godly sorrow on account of sin (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:9, 10). "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
3. Repentance in its expression. "They shall loathe themselves for the evils they have committed in all their abominations." The true penitent never seeks to excuse himself on account of his sins, or to explain them away, or to extenuate the guilt of them. He takes shame to himself on account of them; and humbly confesses them to God. He says, "I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me," etc. (Psalm 51:3-5); "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lilt up my face to thee, my God," etc. (Ezra 9:6); "God be merciful to me a sinner." It is well when recollection thus leads to repentance unto life. It did so in the case of the psalmist: "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies," etc. (Psalm 119:59, 60). And David prophesied that it should be so throughout the world: "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord," etc. (Psalm 22:27).
IV. REPENTANCE LEADING TO DEVOUT RECOGNITION OF GOD. "And they shall know that I am the Lord, and that I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them." "The Lord would have spoken in vain, or to no purpose, if the event had not corresponded with the utterance. By the correspondence of utterance and event, they know that he who has spoken by the son of man is Jehovah - is God in the fullest sense" (Hengstenberg). They shall know him as the living and true God in contrast to the dead and vain idols (see on ver. 7). And more than this, true repentance leads to forgiveness and reconciliation with God; and thus the penitent soul comes to know him by devout sympathy and hallowed communion with him.
CONCLUSION. Learn that pain and trial are blessed when by Divine grace they lead to earnest reflection, and sincere repentance, and saving knowledge of God (cf. Psalm 119:67, 71; Hebrews 12:10, 11). - W.J.
character. So regarded, calamity may be "blessing in disguise." If the chastisement of God awakens repentance and self-loathing, one purpose at all events, and that a most important purpose, has been answered.
I. SELF-LOATHING IS IN CONTRAST WITH FORMER SELF-SATISFACTION AND SELF-COMPLACENCY. It is not natural to men to loathe themselves, however they may be tempted to loathe their fellow men, where there has been infliction of injury or want of sympathy and congeniality. It is too common for men to look at their own character and their own conduct in the most favourable and flattering light; and to speak, or at all events to think, of themselves with approval and admiration. In most cases a great change must come over a man's mind in order that he may regard his character and his life with dissatisfaction, in order that he may hate himself.
II. SELF-LOATHING IS AN INDICATION OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE. Those who admire and approve themselves are, in many instances, if not in all, the victims of illusion. It is a rude, and yet it may be a wholesome, awakening, which sets a man face to face with his true self. His fancied excellences and virtues are seen to be faults. The blemishes which he has been accustomed to extenuate appear in their real deformity. He wonders how he could have misinterpreted his actions and misunderstood his character. He learns to know himself, not as he has imagined himself to be but as he really is.
III. SELF-LOATHING HAS ABUNDANT JUSTIFICATION IN THE ERRORS AND FOLLIES OF THE PAST. When a man sees himself, in some measure, as God sees him to be, then trivial faults - as they were once deemed - become, in his apprehension serious and culpable. Sin is the abominable thing which God hates; and it is an evidence of true enlightenment when a man loathes his own offences against the laws of God and the dictates of his own conscience. The unspiritual detest deformities of body, defects of manner or of speech; the spiritually minded are more distressed at what is morally evil than at anything of a more external character.
IV. SELF-LOATHING MAY LEAD TO TRUE REPENTANCE, AND SO TO FORGIVENESS AND ACCEPTANCE. To remain in a state of mind in which repugnance to evil absorbs the whole nature is to be abandoned to despondency. Sin is to be loathed in order that it may be forsaken; and that it may be forsaken it must be forgiven. The Scriptures abound in denunciations of sin, but they abound also in invitations to repentance and in promises of forgiveness. "Let the wicked forsake his way," etc. Reconciliation and purity are by the gospel assured to every penitent and believing sinner.
V. THUS SELF-LOATHING MAY BE A MEANS TOWARDS THE REMOVAL OF WHAT OCCASIONED IT, AND OF THE SUBSTITUTION OF WHAT CAN BE REGARDED WITH THANKFULNESS AND DELIGHT. It may be said thus to work its own cure. Or, more properly, it may induce the repenting sinner to apply to the great Physician, by whose remedial treatment the unsoundness may be removed, and spiritual health, vigour, and happiness may be restored. - T.
I. EARNESTNESS IS MANIFEST IN GESTURE AND ACT, AS WELL AS IN SPEECH. The man who has a due sense of his momentous office will adopt every device that will gain a hearing or leave due impression upon his hearers. Earnestness is contagious. If the speaker is in earnest, the hearer will feel the glow. There is eloquence in a look, in a tone, in a movement of the hand, in a gesture of the body. Tears are impressive appeals. God commands this whole-souled earnestness. To get an entrance for God's message into human hearts, every door must be tried, every avenue explored. To the extent that we can reach and move the obdurate souls of men, we are responsible for the result.
II. EARNESTNESS IS SEEN IN UNTIRING REPETITIONS OF GOD'S MESSAGE. It may be an irksome task to the prophet to repeat often the same facts and counsels; but he is not to think of himself, nor of his own tastes. He is a servant, not a master. To repeat the same things is proof of their real and vital importance. We cannot substitute other messages, because other messages have not the same importance. The constant dropping of water wears out even granite rocks; and, to conquer the callous natures of men there is required "line upon line; precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little."
III. EARNESTNESS IS SEEN IN ADDRESSING EVERY SIDE OF MAN'S NATURE. Some men are moved by fear, some by shame, some by the prospect of public dishonour. Many principles of human character are common to all men, yet do not dwell in men in equal proportions. In some, the moral sense is paramount. In some, feeling is predominant. In some, judgment and the logical faculty are supreme. The earnest prophet will appeal to each principle in turn. The approaching overthrow of the idols would impress some minds, The slaughter of their brethren and children beside the idolatrous altars would affect others. Exile and plague and premature death would touch the hearts of many. And the prospect of desolation in their own loved land ought to have moved the souls of all true Israelites. The exact pattern. Every face of the rebellious citadel must be assailed.
IV. EARNESTNESS IS SEEN IN UNSELFISH CONCERN FOR THE HONOUR OF GOD. Over and over again is the statement repeated, as if on this the prophet delighted to dwell, "They shall know that I am the Lord." Not for a moment did the man of God forget that he was standing in the stead of God, and spake as the "Spirit gave him utterance." He was identified with God's cause indissolubly. God and he were one. And although the interval of disorder and disloyalty might be long, the final outcome was glorious to contemplate - an object pleasing to every devout eye - God shall be known and honoured! The certainty of ultimate success fosters present courage, and inspires true earnestness. - D.
I. THAT THE TRUE SERVANT OF GOD REGARDS THE CHARACTER AND CONDUCT OF SINNERS WITH DEEP SORROW. "Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel!" Idolatry was the great sin on account of which the prophet grieved. But our text suggests that idolatry is a multitudinous sin. It comprises many "abominations." In the worship of Peor the worshippers committed fornication; and in the worship of Moloch they committed homicide. In proportion as we participate in the spirit of Jesus Christ, we shall regard sin neither with levity, "Fools make a mock at sin;" nor with indifference; nor with extenuation of its guilt; but with deep grief. To the holy, sin must ever cause regret and pain of heart. Ezra mourned over it bitterly (Ezra 9:3-6); so did the psalmist (Psalm 119:136, 158), the Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 13:17), the Apostle Paul (Romans 9:1-3), and our blessed Lord and Saviour (Mark 3:5; Luke 13:34; Luke 19:41, 42). And in our text, grief for the sins of the people is expressed first, and for the miseries caused by their sins afterwards. There are many who mourn the losses and sufferings which result from sin, but comparatively few who mourn because of the sins themselves; yet these should awaken our sharpest sorrow.
II. THE TRUE SERVANT OF GOD REGARDS THE JUDGMENTS WHICH COME UPON SINNERS WITH DEEP SORROW. "Alas!... for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence." "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether;" and therefore his people should at least heartily acquiesce in them. But while consenting unto them, and cordially approving their righteousness, the godly will look with sorrow upon the woes which the wicked bring upon themselves by their sins. Nor is there anything wrong or unbecoming in this; for so our Lord viewed the miseries which he saw gathering over the guilty Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44), and so the pious and patriotic Jeremiah contemplated the captivity of the Lord's flock (Jeremiah 13:17). One cannot look upon calamity and suffering without sorrow, even when we know that these are the righteous retributions of sin. And if we could do so, there would not be anything either commendable or desirable in so doing.
III. THE TRUE SERVANT OF GOD ENDEAVOURS TO IMPRESS OTHERS WITH THE WICKEDNESS OF SIN AND THE DREAD PENALTIES THEREOF. "Thus saith the Lord God; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot." These gestures indicate strong emotion, which may be of various kinds. Thus Balak "smote his hands together" in anger (Numbers 24:10); the Ammonites are represented as clapping their hands and stamping their feet in derision of the land of Israel (ch. 25:6); and in the text these gestures are intended to express keen sorrow, as we see from the words with which they were accompanied: "Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel!" Thus the prophet would denote his firm conviction of the certainty of the judgments which he announced, his earnest desire to impress the people with the reality and solemnity of these judgments, and his grief by reason of them. His entire being was, as it were, engaged in this expression of woe. "Words are transient," says Greenhill, "and leave little impression, but visible signs work more strongly, affect more deeply, and draw the spirits of beholders into a sympathy." And the servants of God in our own times cannot feel too deeply the wickedness of sin, or express their abhorrence thereof too strongly, if that abhorrence be genuine, or manifest too great a concern that sinners should flee from the wrath to come. If we realized the essential heinousness of sin, the unspeakable value of the soul, and the awful significance of its loss, we should deem no action unworthy, and no effort too great, if they were likely to lead sinners to turn from sin to the Saviour. "I know not," says Richard Baxter, "what others think of these concerns, but for my own part I am ashamed of my insensibility, and wonder at myself that I deal no more with my own and other men's souls, as becomes one who looks for the great day of the Lord. I seldom come out of the pulpit but my conscience smites me that I have not been more serious and fervent. It is no trifling matter to stand up in the face of a congregation and deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God in the name of the Redeemer: it is no easy thing to speak so plainly that the most ignorant may understand; so seriously treat the deadest may feel; and so concerningly that contradictory cavillers may be silenced and awakened." - W.J.