Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Psalm 115., and in Isaiah 40., 44. It states or suggests much of great interest on this subject, and which deserves to be well considered by us. There is -
I. THE TREMENDOUS FACT OF IDOLATRY. See:
1. The multitudes of mankind who have avowed such worship.
2. The wide extent of the world's inhabited countries over which it prevails.
3. Its permanence. It has lasted on from age to age, and has been handed down unchanged from generation to generation, so that the prophet could challenge his countrymen to tell of any nation which had ever changed their gods (cf. Jeremiah 2:11). And though vast portions of mankind have professedly thrown aside their idols, yet there are still more who have not even at the present day. Idolatry is the dominant religion of the world today, if numbers are considered, even as it was in the days of Jeremiah, and this notwithstanding -
II. ITS MANIFEST ABSURDITY. How scathing is the ridicule which the prophet pours out upon such monstrous worship! With what sarcasm he dwells upon the fact of their being mere wooden dolls, hideous as a scarecrow in a garden of cucumbers (cf. Exposition, Ver. 5), chipped into such shape as they have by the hands of the men who worship them, decked with tawdry finery, must be nailed up lest they should tumble down, and "must needs be borne because they cannot go" (Ver. 5), and are, of course, powerless either for evil or for good. And the prophet points out (Ver. 8) that the absurdity is none lessened when the idols are of a more costly sort. They may be plated with silver and adorned with gold (Ver. 9), and the workmanship may be of a much more elaborate and artistic kind. But it is all the same; the idol is nothing but a piece of wood, and that which is taught about them is "a doctrine of vanities," i.e. utterly false and absurd. But though idolatry be thus manifestly absurd, yet we are forced to admit the fact of -
III. ITS NEVERTHELESS STRANGE BUT STRONG ATTRACTIVENESS. How else can not only the multitude of its votaries be accounted for, and their fidelity to it, but also the high rank and leading position of those nations who adhered to it? They were not mere barbarous savages who worshipped idols, but the foremost peoples of the world. The empires of Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Greece, Rome, were all sworn upholders of idolatry (cf. Acts 17.). And today it is not the mere fetish-worshippers of the South Seas and Africa who are idolaters, but people such as the Chinese and Hindus - to say nothing of those who in Christian Churches bow down before tinsel-decked images or pictures of virgins, apostles, and saints, and, if they do not worship them, render them homage which can hardly be distinguished from worship. And a yet further proof of this attraction is that the well-instructed people of God, the seed of Israel, the possessors of the oracles of God, were forever falling into this sin. This entire chapter is one appeal and protest against their so doing. And we know how often in the past they had bowed down to idols. The command which stands at the head of the Decalogue, by its position there, by its fullness of expression, and by the severity of its sanctions, shows that the attraction of the idolatry which it denounced was indeed terrible, and therefore needed to be thus solemnly forbidden. And age after age the same command had to be repeated, and its violation sternly punished, notwithstanding that (Ver. 16)" the Portion of Jacob" was "not like" these wretched idols - no indeed, but was the alone true God, the living God, the everlasting King (Ver. 10). And yet there were needed this command and appeal; yes, and the consuming fire of God's wrath which fell upon Israel in their captivity, before the taint of idolatry could be burnt out of them. Now, how was this? Note, therefore -
IV. ITS PROBABLE REASON AND CAUSE. We cannot observe the tremendous fact of idolatry without being led to inquire into its origin. It is not sufficient to refer to the license it gave to the sensual nature of man; if such license were all that was desired, why couple it with some form of worship? The explanation must lie deeper than this. And that missionary would get on very poorly with any tolerably educated heathen if he were to assume that the idolater worshipped the hideous idol before which he bows 'himself down. He would tell you that he did nothing of the kind, but that which he worshipped was the unseen powers of which that idol was the symbol. No doubt idolatry degenerates into actual idol-worship. That with which something Divine has been so long associated comes to be regarded as itself Divine, and worshipped accordingly. And then idolatry has sunk down into fetishism. And it may be often seen where you would least expect it. But originally idolatry was not the worship of images. That worship may probably be thus explained.
1. Man cannot do without a deity of whom, in some form or other, he must be conscious, and whose presence he can realize so as to be able to look to him in time of need. Man cannot be a thorough atheist. His instinctive religiousness and tendency to worship cannot be ever kept under. For a while it may, but let heavy sorrow come, or let fear and dread fill his mind, and he will, he must, then call upon God.
2. But God will not reveal himself to us except to our spirits. He can be only spiritually discerned. Not through any of our senses, or through our intellect, but through the Spirit alone. "They that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
3. But such coming to God involves purity of heart and life. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." And not only purity, but great spiritual effort. How difficult we find it to realize the presence of God, to hold down our minds, and to summon the energies of the will when we pray! "We know not how to pray as we ought." And permitted sin, defiling the conscience and destroying our confidence, will ever hinder spiritual worship.
4. But these imperative conditions of worship that it should be in spirit, and that it should be pure - men like not. Still, they must worship. What, then, is to be done? The idol is the solution. To avoid the strain and effort of the spirit, men have taken as a symbol some material thing - as the Israelites at Sinai took the golden calf - and so have sought to represent God to their minds. The idolater persuades himself he cannot know the Deity directly, and therefore will avail himself of the aid some sensuous object will afford. And such symbol he can carry about with him, and there is no need of purity of heart for such worship-it can be done without. What wonder, then, that man, averse to spiritual exercises and sensual-hearted, should have everywhere fled to idolatry, as in fact he has done? It is an endeavor to have the favor of God on cheaper terms than he demands; on conditions easier and more agreeable to our fallen nature. But in regard to the idolatries into which Judah and Jerusalem so often fell, there must be remembered not only the force of those universal causes of idolatry now considered, but the further force of powerful example all around them. Who were the mighty nations with whom they had most to do? Egypt, Assyria, Babylon. Tyre also, in her wealth and might, stood on their northern border, and yet others, whose fame reached them from afar, flourished and grew strong. But all these worshipped idols. Happiness, success, strength, and power seemed to be with these nations and not with the worshippers of Jehovah. And all this Judah saw and deeply observed, and at length came to believe that it was better for them to serve idols than to serve God (cf. for proof of this, Jeremiah 44:17-19). For Israel to keep from idolatry was to swim against wind and tide, and to do so when wind and tide promised to bear them or to a condition of prosperity greater than they had ever known. And Jeremiah knew that in Babylon, where they were going, they would be exposed to the full force of this temptation. The devil of idolatry would come to them, and, pointing to the glory of Babylon, would say, "All these things will I give thee, if," etc. And to fortify them against this temptation was the object of the prophet's earnest appeal. The tempter would suggest to them, "You have lost everything by worshipping God. Your conquerors, who hold you now in their power, and have destroyed your city, your temple, your land, have gained all their glory by worshipping their gods. Do you the same; learn their ways."
V. ITS CONSEQUENCES. These have been very terrible. With Israel God dealt very sternly. His direct vengeance came upon them again and again. It was hanging over them at this time as a dark thunder-cloud. But besides this, there were the natural results of such worship - results which were conspicuous in Judah and Jerusalem, and have ever been so in all idolatrous nations (cf. Ver. 8). They became "brutish," "given over to vile affections" (cf. Romans 1:20-32).
VI. ITS SURE BUT ONLY ANTIDOTE. Living faith in the living God - this alone, but this surely, would enable them to resist, not only the clamor and cravings of their lower nature, but also the seductive force of the seeming success which idolatry had won and they had lost. Only such faith would serve them, and hence, in Vers. 6, 7, 10-13, 16, the prophet bids them remember the incomparable glory, majesty, and power of the Lord, the true God, the living God (Ver. 10), and the terribleness of his wrath. He reminds them that God is Creator (Ver. 12) and Preserver (Ver. 13). He who formed the earth governs it still, and he is their God, and they are his people. He is their "Portion," and "Israel is the rod of his inheritance" (Ver. 16). And this which would be Israel's safeguard must be ours still. Let that living faith in the living God be lost, and at once resort will be bad to symbols and substitutes for God, which, though in form they may be far different from the idols of the heathen, yet in substance and effect are the same.
VII. ITS PRESENT-DAY LESSONS. There are such, for the peril of Israel is our own.
1. For we also may - and many do - substitute reverence for those things which are associated with the worship of God for that worship in spirit and in truth which he alone cares for. Symbols, sacraments, creeds, Churches, religious observances, - any one of these may become an idol, that is, a substitute for God. They demand no strain and energy of our spiritual nature; the senses or the intellect can grasp them; and they make no such strenuous demand upon the surrender of the will, the yielding of the heart to God; they will let us do as we like, if not entirely yet far more than true spiritual worship ever will. And thus, though we be called Christians, we may be idolaters after all.
2. And let us guard against being deceived by the sanction which worldly success and present good so often lend to ways which God forbids. There was very much around Israel whose desirableness said to them, "Come with us, and we will do you good." Idolatry did seem to answer, whilst their religion did not. And the way of the wicked will often seem to prosper, whilst "waters of a full cup" of sorrow "are wrung out" to the people of God. The mighty bribe which Satan pressed upon our blessed Lord, if he would but renounce the way of the cross appointed for him by his Father, and take "all the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them " - that same bribe is pressed upon myriad souls still.
3. By constant and earnest worship of God let us cherish and keep alive in our hearts that living faith in the living God made known to us in the Lord Jesus Christ, which alone can, but surely will, meet and overcome all those temptations to idolatry, which now, as of old, beset every human soul. - C.
I. WHAT MEN FEAR. They fear mere images of theft own manufacture. Note the connection between Vers. 2 and 3. In Ver. 2 the heathen are spoken of as being dismayed at the signs of heaven. Probably these signs, considered in their more particular and direct connection with the dismay, were really images on earth, representing the supposed Divine dignity. of the bodies in the heavens. The heavenly bodies were signs to the believer in Jehovah - signs of the power and wisdom of Jehovah. But what signs could they be to the heathen? In their eyes they were themselves Divine realities, and the signs were on earth in the shape of images. If this view be correct, it makes dismay at the signs of heaven look more than ever absurd; for these signs were of man's own making. He goes out to the wood and cuts down one tree, and it supplies material for common use, beams and flooring and furniture for his dwelling-place. He takes another tree, neighbor and of the very same kind, and of this he makes an image, to be an object of dread, to be approached with trembling solicitude and doubt. The very chips and shavings that come off as it is being shaped may be burnt, but it itself is sacred, decked with silver and gold, perfected by the most cunning art of the time, surrounded probably with the choicest treasures of the land where it is worshipped. And yet in itself it is nothing. When it grew in the wood it bore leaves and fruit, and had vital movement in it. By its life it spoke to those who had ears to understand. Other trees cut down, even when they become dead wood, are useful; but here is dead wood not only useless but so treated that it becomes full of the worst peril to all associated with it, a center of abominations, delusions, and cruelties. And it must be felt as a very extraordinary thing that what men thus make with their own hands should be regarded with such perpetual dread and circumspection. Partly it may be accounted for by the force of education. Those who had been brought up having their minds sedulously filled with certain associations in respect to these images, would either fail to see any absurdity in fearing them or, in spite of the absurdity, would be unable to get over the fear. It is very absurd to be afraid of walking through some secluded churchyard at midnight, but many people could only do so with the utmost trepidation - even those who show plenty of good sense in their ordinary affairs. The mystery lies not so much in the continuance of image-worship as in the origin of it; and this is a mystery we have no power to penetrate. A more practical thing is to take heed to the counsel here given. These works of your own hands cannot hurt you. Neglect them, they cannot resent the negligence. Pile up before them all you can in the way of gift and honor, and yet you get not the least good in return. You may be hurt by other works of your hands, but assuredly not by them; and if you are hurt - as it seems by the instrumentality of these images - yet be sure of this, that the hurt comes from Jehovah's anger because you are honoring and worshipping- the creature in opposition to the Creator. And if it be said, "How does all this dissuasion against image-worship concern us? The answer is plain that, although we do not make images of wood, we may have conceptions in our own minds which are as truly the cause of empty terror as any visible image that man ever made. The ultimate meaning of the counsel here is that it is vain to fear anything or any one save the omnipotent God.
II. WHAT MEN OUGHT TO FEAR. Images are presented in this passage, first, in themselves, in all their emptiness, as pure fabrications of human superstitions; and then they are brought into the presence of the exceeding glory of Jehovah, and thus the exhibition of their nothingness is completed. Moreover, the glory of Jehovah shines more brightly still by contrast with the darkness and shame that are over against it. He is the great and strong One, the living One, and the everlasting King. The ever-living God over against dead and deeded matter! - can there be a greater contrast? And to bring out God's strength, his strength to make his wrath felt as real suffering in the lives of those who displease him, the contrast is made, not between the living God and dead idols, but between the omnipotent Ruler and the kings of the nations. Take the kings of the nations; take him who rules the widest territory, controls the largest resources, shows in himself the greatest resolution and force of character, achieves the most splendid reign that history can record - take such a one, and yet what is he over against Jehovah? Jehovah is the King of the nations. It is his power that moulds them and gives them their destiny, their place in his economy of the ages. And as Jeremiah contemplates all this, he says, "Who would not fear thee?" Certainly there are none but what would fear, and with a properly befitting fear, if only they could properly regard the object presented to them. But while men are fearing that which need not be feared, they depart further and further from a sense of him who holds in his self-sufficing being complete power over all their best interests. When they suffer, being deceived by lying lips, they attribute their suffering to the wrath of a God whom they themselves imagine; and so, fixing their minds by a kind of fascination on the wrong cause, they fail to have even the least suspicion of the right one. If, when a blow falls upon us, we could trace that blow back, and see how much of it comes from God, and with what purpose it comes, then how much useless suffering would be spared! But blows come on men in the dark, and they prefer to remain in the dark with their evil deeds rather than be freed from their misconceptions by coming to the light. - Y.
I. LET US INQUIRE WHAT WORSHIP INVOLVES. It is evident that an impression must exist of the power of the object worshipped to help or to hurt. In some way men have associated it with the production of evil or good in human destiny. A sense of dependence is generated. Fear arises, to degenerate into vulgar terror or to refine itself into the sentiments of reverence and respect. A being greater than ourselves is needed to constitute a veritable God to the human heart.
II. TESTED BY THIS, IDOLS AND CELESTIAL SIGNS CANNOT BE GODS.
1. Careful observation will show that, whilst there may be agreement between certain changes of the heavenly bodies and the changes of weather, physical condition, etc., these are not producible as by a responsible will but according to the fixed laws of nature.
2. The stars of heaven and the idols of earth are alike constituted of inanimate matter.
3. In addition to this, the latter are wholly the creatures of man.
4. Neither the heavenly bodies nor the idols can help themselves. - M.
Genesis 1:14); this view still further helping to explain the reference in Jeremiah 8:2 to sun and moon and all the host of heaven. Why these should terrify it is not very easy for us to comprehend, surrounded as we are by quite different associations. Often, indeed, there is cause of terror in the heavens above us, as when the depths of the celestial spaces are hidden from us by the thunder-cloud, and when the stormy blasts go forth on their errand of destruction over land and sea. But such terrors, we know, come from things nearer the earth. Sun and moon and all the host of heaven have quite a different effect on our minds. And we know, too, from the references to them in the Scriptures, that they did not terrify those who knew God. The Book of Psalms shows nothing of dismay at the signs of heaven; rather it sets them forth as helping to produce cheerfulness, enjoyment, and elevating adoration towards him who made them. Such feelings have never been absent from the minds of those who have really comprehended whose handiwork the heavenly bodies are, and why he brought them into existence. How is it, then, that by such a strong expression they are here represented as being objects of terror? The answer is, that the maker of them being unknown, and the purpose of them being indiscernible, to those whose minds were darkened by wicked works, they had to make their own conjectures. And thus they filled the darkness of their ignorance with horrid, stupefying errors. To sun and moon and all the host of heaven they came to attribute a kind of personality. And then to the personality thus conceived there would be attached the two contrasted states of mind of complacency and wrath. Complacency appeared in the warmth, brightness, and clearness of day, and the cloudless skies of night, when moon and stars were revealed in all their milder splendor. Wrath, on the other hand, would seem to be shown by the eclipse, the waning of the moon, by rolling clouds, destructive storms, thunder and lightning, long droughts, meteors, comets, etc. And once having got into their heads that sun, moon, and stars had Divine dignity about them, it was nothing very wonderful that these heathen should be thus terrified by everything in the way of celestial commotion. In every such commotion the frowning faces of the celestial gods would be visible, and every injury thus coming would be reckoned as a blow from them. The words of the messenger to Job, telling him bow the lightning had destroyed his flocks, may be adduced as a very striking illustration of dismay at the signs of heaven. What does the messenger tell Job? That the fire of God had fallen from heaven. But the messenger did not know that; all he knew was that some extraordinary flame had destroyed the sheep. He went beyond the actual fact of his experience, and from it made such an inference as his superstitious mind naturally led him to make. Thus, then, we may take it this dismay at the signs of heaven was produced; and once it became thoroughly fixed in the mind that every eclipse, comet, storm, death by lightning, was an expression of Divine wrath, the next thing would be an instant attempt to make propitiation and avert further mischief. And it is easy to see that, as priestcraft grew m power, all would be done that could be done to make the people believe that the signs of heaven needed constant remembrance in order to keep them acting favorably towards the inhabitants of earth. Such, then, was the way of the heathen; but the way of Jehovah's people was to be quite different. These signs of heaven were no sufficient cause of terror, and indeed were to be quite differently regarded. God says to his people, "Be not dismayed;" but the command cannot directly produce obedience. There must be a showing, a clear showing, that there is no cause for terror. Terror because of the signs of heaven can only come from ignorance. The moment the mind takes in the great general drift of Genesis 1., that same moment dismay will yield to an intelligent veneration towards God. A savage, seeing the express train rush past him, with its thunder and mystery, at the rate of fifty miles an hour, is as a matter of course utterly terrified and bewildered. But there would be no terror and bewilderment if he only really knew all the wisdom, patience, and controlling power which have made that express what it is. Furthermore, who would think of denying the immense utility of railways to the world because every now and then there is some hideous disaster to a train? And, similarly, through all the mysterious destructions which from time to time come in the natural world, we must look at something beyond and above them. Jesus Christ, who came into the world to make manifest and explicit the love of God as a great reality, is higher than any of these causes of temporal pain and loss. We are not permitted to get any satisfactory view of suffering as a whole, and we do well to refrain from putting any speculation of our own in the place of such a view. Our wisdom is to get more and more of a practical knowledge of God. Only so can it become possible for us to say that "we shall not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea." - Y.
I. IN WHAT RESPECTS JEHOVAH IN UNIQUE.
1. In idea. It is a wondrous conception - a being so great, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. As a conception it stands alone, commands respect, and invites reverent investigation. Such goodness with such power and wisdom!
2. In pretensions.
(1) He claims our sole worship;
(2) our highest and holiest service is his by right, and is unworthy of him;
(3) our welfare and destiny are in his hands.
3. In works. There is nothing he has claimed to be which he has not made good in his works - creation, providence, grace.
II. THIS CONCEPTION OF GOD AS UNIQUE HARMONIZES WITH THE INSTINCTS OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT, AND THE TEACHINGS OF HISTORY AND NATURE. It has cast its spell over the mightiest intellects, and commanded the homage of the purest and best of men. In the worship of him whom it represents the highest longings are satisfied, and the most characteristically human sympathies and principles encouraged. The unity of nature; the mental principle that traces everything to a great First Cause; the manner in which the system of religion of which he is center and dominating principle explains this, and harmonizes the life of man with his surroundings; - are all indications that point to the same conclusion. - M.
the Portion of Jacob," is meant the Lord God. Once again it is met with in Jeremiah's prophecy (Jeremiah 51.), where several of the verses of this chapter, our text amongst the rest, are repeated word for word. It is interesting to inquire the probable reason for this beautiful but unusual name being given to God. That God is the Portion of his people is a precious truth often declared. But this form of that precious truth is unusual, and may well lead us to ask why God is so called. And there can be little doubt, I think, that the motive of the prophet was to touch the hearts of those whom he addressed, and, if so it might be, to waken up again a longing after this "Portion of Jacob," which they were so fast letting go. There was an appealing power in this name, and for that reason it was probably chosen. The devout Jew loved to think and tell of God as the God of Jacob. You meet with the two names thus linked together perpetually in the psalms and often elsewhere. "The God of Jacob is our Refuge," "The Name of the God of Jacob defend thee," etc. Sometimes we read of God as the God of Abraham, and as the God of Isaac, but more commonly as the God of Jacob. Now, why is this? Is it not because that Jacob was more thoroughly the representative and father of the Jewish people than any other patriarch? Abraham was a great hero of the faith; Isaac's career was too still and serene to be at all a pattern of their own; but Jacob, he was the typical Jew, both in the mingled good and evil of his character, and in the manifold trials and vicissitudes of his life. A sorrowful, struggling, and often sinful man was be, sore chastened of the Lord again and again, but never given over unto death; like the bush burning in the fire but never burnt, and coming out of God's disciplines the better for having passed through them. In him the Jews saw their own character and career vividly portrayed, and they loved to feel that God was the God of Jacob; the God, therefore, whom they needed, and in whom he who was the truest representative of all their race found strength and solace and salvation. Thus this appellation here given to God, "the Portion of Jacob," was calculated to waken up many very tender and holy memories, and might lead, as was sorely needed, to a better mind towards God amongst those to whom the prophet spoke, and to a turning away from those idolatries by which now and for so long they had been sinning against God and destroying themselves. And the Portion of Jacob waits to be ours as well as his. Jacob was not only a representative Jew, but also a representative man. For men are but rarely cast in the heroic mould of Abraham, nor is their career quiet and uncheckered like that of Isaac. But in the sins and sorrows, the struggles and falls, the temptations and trials of Jacob they behold themselves. God by this name declares himself to be the God of, the Portion of, all sinful, sorrowing, struggling, and much-tried men everywhere and at all times; the God, therefore, that we need, the Helper we want. He is the God who is revealed to us in our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom there is neither Greek nor Jew, no distinction of any kind, but who is "the Savior of all men, specially of them that believe." If, then, this Portion of Jacob may be our Portion too, we shall consider with more interest what that Portion consists of, what it was that Jacob possessed in God. And to see this let us recall to our minds the records that are given of the patriarch's career. As we study them we shall readily see what portion Jacob had in God, and how precious a possession it was. And -
I. IN GOD HE FOUND UNSPEAKABLE GRACE. Was there ever a more wretched, guilty sinner than Jacob, when he fled away from his home in just fear of his outraged brother's wrath? He had entrapped him once and again, inflicting on him grievous wrong; he had deceived his aged father; he had lied again and again in the basest and most hypocritical way. Altogether the man was odious in the sight of all; all our sympathies go over in a rush towards the frank if foolish Esau. Jacob's character was at this time nothing less than repulsive. His mother was probably the only living soul who had either faith in or affection for him. He had deserved the reprobation of all And we cannot but believe that he must have felt very much of this, and that it was with a sense of deepest sin and shame he fled away to Padanaram, from his father's and mother's home. Man had cast him off; would not God do the like? For his sin had not been that of one who had never known God. God had been about him all his days; he had learnt to know, to fear, and desire God. He had been, as all knew, an avowedly religious man. His sin was therefore all the more unpardonable, as his guilt was all the greater. He is shown to us out on the wide stony track over the mountains which form the backbone of Palestine. The day has ended, the sun gone down; he is all alone, the night is gathering round him.. The ground is strewn with huge fragments of the bare, barren rock of which the mass of those mountains is composed. On the cold hard ground he lays himself down to rest, helpless, hopeless, forsaken, he might well think, both of God and man. But it was not so, for God came to him there. "In the visions of the night the rough stones formed themselves into a vast staircase reaching into the depth of the wide and open sky, which without any interruption of tent or tree was stretched ever the sleeper's head. On the steps of that staircase were seen ascending and descending the messengers of God; and from above there came the Divine voice, which told the houseless wanderer that, little as he thought it, he had a Protector there and everywhere; that even in this bare and open thoroughfare, in no consecrated grove or cave, 'the Lord was in this place, though he knew it not.' This was Bethel, the house of God, the gate of heaven." What the effect of this glorious vision must have been upon him we can hardly ever estimate. The nearest Scripture parallel probably would be the effect of the father's gracious reception upon the returning prodigal. Somewhat akin to his feelings must have been those of Jacob at this time. For what he had seen and heard had shown him beyond doubt that God had not cast him off, had not dealt with him after his sins nor rewarded him according to his iniquities. It was like the kiss of the Divine forgiveness, the joy of conscious realization of God's redeeming love. Yes; Jacob found this Portion in God, the fullness of forgiving love. But is not this the Portion we want, the God we need to know? Not one who will cast us away from his presence and throw us over when we have done wrong. If God were strict to mark iniquities, who of us could stand? But the God, the Portion of Jacob, meets our need; for as Jacob was sinful and often falling into sin, so are we.
II. Another element of this portion which Jacob possessed in God was the CONTINUAL AND MOST COMFORTING MANIFESTATIONS OF GOD which he was privileged to enjoy. How continually in his career are we met with instances of God's appearing to him! And besides the distinctly recorded instances, the impression is left upon the mind that it was the constant privilege of Jacob to hold intercourse with God, to talk with him as a man talketh with his friend. Yes; the God of Jacob was One who was graciously willing to come near to his servant, and to be known by him as his God - a God near at hand, and not afar off. But who can estimate what these Divine communications did for Jacob? - how unspeakably valuable an element in his portion this was? What courage, what confidence, what bright hope, what strength of faith, it must have imparted to the patriarch's mind! And such blessedness is assured to all believers. "I will come unto them, and will manifest myself unto them," said our Savior. "I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved." "God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present Help in trouble." It is because we cannot realize God's presence, can in no way feel him near to us, that therefore our hearts fail us for fear and our souls are cast down within us. But he to whom God reveals himself as he did to Jacob has in that fact a safeguard and protection from fear such as naught else can afford.
III. But another element in the portion which Jacob had in God was that of PURIFYING DISCIPLINE. Assuredly he was not left without chastisement; yea, it was a very scourging that was dealt out to him on account of his sins. Men are apt, both in reading the Bible and in observing the too frequent failures of godly men now, to look steadily at the sins of men like Jacob and David and others, and to wonder how such men can be regarded as God's people at all; but they do not look on and observe how sorely they are punished for their faults, and how they in-this world find, beyond well-nigh all others, that "the way of transgressors is hard." Whoever else may seem to sin with impunity, the children of God may not and do not. No doubt Rebekah and Jacob thought they had done a very wise and clever thing when, by deceiving Isaac, they fraudulently obtained the blessing which belonged to Esau as the firstborn. But Rebekah, in the long years of melancholy bereavement of her favorite son - for she never saw him again after that day he fled from his home - had abundant leisure to see and repent of her folly and her sin. And Jacob, as he ate the bread of servitude and dwelt a stranger in a strange land, haunted with dread of Esau, was made to know that his trickery and fraud had borne him but a wretched harvest. The consuming fire of God's holy love burnt fiercely on until this dross which was so mingled with the pure ore of Jacob's faith was purged out of him. And this is ever an indispensable and a never-absent part of the portion of Jacob. The purging, purifying disciplines of God's holy love we shall all have to submit to according to our need of them. And this should render the Portion of Jacob not less but more precious in our esteem. If we willingly submit to much pain and distress in order that the health of the body, which at best can last only for a few short years, may be secured, may we not much rather submit ourselves to whatever of painful discipline God may appoint in order to secure the health of our souls, which shall live forever? How dreadful would it be if God were not thus to purge and cleanse us; if he were to allow the cancerous growth of our sins to spread and grow until it had obtained such hold on us that death, eternal death, must follow! But this, out of fatherly love to us, he will never allow; and therefore Jacob was, and so we must be, held down to the suffering which his disciplines cause until their perfect work is done, and we are presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. Oh, let us be more anxious that God's will should be done in us than that his hand should be taken off from us. Never, never may he say concerning any one of us as he did concerning Ephraim, "He is joined to his idols: let him alone."
IV. GOD'S PROVIDENTIAL GUARDIANSHIP AND CARE was a further element in the portion of Jacob. How God watched over him! how truly Jacob could say, "He knoweth the way that I take!" Never was there any man to whom these words were more appropriate than they were to him. With what constant interest did God appear to mark all the way by which Jacob had to go! His eye was never off him, his hand never withdrawn, his help never wanting when needed. Even when Jacob did not dream that God was near him, he was so in fact. So that he had to confess as at Bethel, "Surely God is in this place, though I knew it not." Hearken how he speaks of God when blessing the sons of Joseph. He tells of him as "the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil." Such was his confession of that never-failing care, that incessant interest with which the Lord God had watched over every stage of his life's journey. How all his very steps had been ordered by the Lord! This is another characteristic of the portion which Jacob had in God. And must not that man be blessed who consciously realizes that he has this God for his Help? To have our lives made God's care, our interests his concern, to have his angels evermore keeping watch and ward over us, encamping round about us to deliver us, - this is another blessed element in the portion of Jacob and of all like him.
V. MEETNESS FOR "THE INHERITANCE OF THE SAINTS IN LIGHT." Gradually, step by step, sometimes with seeming retrogression, but ever advancing on the whole, Jacob was lifted up from the low level of his former spiritual life, and ceased to be any longer Jacob, and became Israel. Such elevation, such meetness for "the inheritance of the saints," was and ever is part of the portion of Jacob, and a most blessed part it is. And now, IN CONCLUSION, let us ask, Is there such a Portion anywhere else. Our text affirms, "The Portion of Jacob is not like them." The prophet is speaking of the wretched idols before whom his countrymen were so prone to bow down. It seems wonderful that any should have ever thought that the God of Jacob was like them. Like them! when even to think of them was to despise them with utter contempt. What a contrast to him, whom mind, and heart, and will, body, soul, and spirit could never sufficiently adore! It seemed monstrous that any should substitute for him those wretched idols, upon whom the prophet, in the preceding part of this chapter, pours forth his bitter scorn. But he means by the assertion we have been considering to declare that the Portion of Jacob is an incomparable Portion. None can be put beside, still less put in the place of him. And this is a truth for today. We ask again the question, "Is there such a Portion anywhere else?" Oh that they whom the psalmist calls "men of the world," and of whom he says, "they have their portion in this life," would compare the two - Jacob's and their own! Ah! you who have not the Portion of Jacob, we allow that you may have very much that is bright and fair. God may fill your veins with health, your coffers with gold, your houses with all luxury, your gardens with flowers, your fields with fruits, and your life with comfort and outward peace; but you are like those trees which in the winter-time are called Christmas-trees. "One feels a kind of pang at the first sight of such trees. No doubt it is beautiful in its way, with the little lights twinkling among the branches, and the sweet gifts of affection hanging from every twig. But the tree itself, are you not sorry for it? - rooted no longer, growing no more, no more circulation of the living sap, no sweet discoursing by its means between air and soil, between soil and air. The last waves of its life are sinking, and the more you hang upon it and the more you gather round it the faster it will die" (Dr. Raleigh). And if we have not the Portion of Jacob, we are like one of these trees. Loaded it may be with all manner of pleasant things, and surrounded with affection, but dying all the while. But "the Portion of Jacob is not like them " - one that will abandon you at the close of your life, or maybe long before, and leave you helpless and forlorn. Oh no; but then, when "heart and flesh fail," God will be "the Strength of your heart," and your "Portion forevermore." That is the portion of Jacob, and oh may God grant that it may be yours and mine, and that of all we love! Amen. - C.
I. THE JUDGMENTS FORETOLD. The people are to be driven forth into exile and captivity. The whole book tells of their sorrows. Jeremiah's prophecy is one long denunciation of the wrath of God about to come on the guilty land. He was sent to declare this in the hope that those to whom he spoke might yet turn to the Lord and live; like Noah, that "preacher of righteousness" who warned the godless of his day of the judgment that was coming upon them. More particularly in these verses Jeremiah declares (Ver. 17) that not even the meanest and poorest will escape. The "wares" spoken of tell rather of the few mean possessions, the small trifling properties, of a poor man, which in his haste he would gather together in a bundle and so endeavor to save (cf. Exposition). In former judgments it was mainly the high and lofty, those of wealth and station, who had suffered; but now all, from the highest to the lowest, should be included in the overwhelming desolations about to be poured forth. And so the prophet represents the poor and wretched hastily gathering up their little effects, and making off' with them as best they may. And Ver. 18 adds yet other terrible features to this delineation of the judgment that is coming: "Behold, I will sling out," etc. This, therefore, shows how ready they must have been for such treatment. David selected smooth stones from the brook, such as were fit and apt for his sling, and with them he went forth to meet Goliath. Not any missile, not any stone, would serve. And so if it were possible, as it was, for a people to be "slung out" of a land, they must have made themselves fit for such judgment, or else they would not have been subjected to it. And this they had been doing for many a long year. "When the husbandman seeth that the harvest is come, he putteth in the sickle." This is true of the visitation of judgment as well as of grace. The violence of the people's expulsion from their land is also indicated: as a stone is hurled forth from the sling. And the completeness of the judgment: "at this once," i.e. completely, thoroughly, at one blow. Former judgments had been partial, temporary, long drawn out. This was to be complete, perpetual, and "at once" as a stone is in a moment driven forth from the sling. And their far-distant destination is suggested. God intended that they should be carried far off into the land of their exile (cf. Isaiah 22:18). But note -
II. THE FACT THAT THESE JUDGMENTS ARE DECLARED TO HAVE A PURPOSE BEYOND THEMSELVES. All was to be done "that they may find." It is plain, therefore, however we supply what must come after the word "find," that there was a definite Divine purpose in all these calamities. They were not to be an end in themselves, but to lead on to one beyond. And surely this must be the purpose of all God's judgments; he can have no satisfaction in them simply as punishment. His heart is set on what is to come forth out of them, and the result has regard to them. "That they may find;" they who have sinned so terribly, they shall learn by these judgments that he sends.
III. WHAT THAT PURPOSE IS. What is it that they may find? Our translators have simply added the words "it so," thus leaving undetermined what the finding is to be. But surely that which God would have them find is all that which hitherto they could not be persuaded to believe in, e.g. the bitterness of disobedience, the vanity of idols, the sure truth of God's word, the uselessness of all religion that is not from the heart, etc. But all this to the intent that they may find, as at last many of them did, the way of repentance and return to God. God had made them for himself, as he has made us all for himself. It is blasphemy to think of him as creating human souls, endued as they all are with such vast capacities, with any other design. And hence it is that the heart of man is unquiet, has no rest, until it find rest in God. God will not suffer it to be otherwise, blessed be his Name. And since for Judah and Jerusalem nothing else would do, they should go into bitter exile, and suffer as in the very fire, "that they might find" God; that they might come to themselves, and say, "I wilt arise and go to my father," etc. "God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;" and for the persistently impenitent a most awful will it is. As the late Duke of Wellington was wont to say, "There is only one thing worse than a great victory, and that is a great defeat;" so we may say there is only one thing worse for the ungodly than this set will of God for their salvation, and that is that his will should not be as it is.
IV. WHAT, THEREFORE, WE ARE TO LEARN FROM THIS.
1. Give thanks and praise to the Lord God for his most gracious purpose concerning men, that they should find him (cf. Psalm 100., "Oh be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands... for it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture").
2. Compel him not, as Judah did, to resort to sore judgments ere we will seek and "find" him.
3. At once take Christ's yoke and learn of him, and so find rest in our souls by finding him. - C.
I. AN INSTANCE OF THE POWER OF TRUE RELIGION. His sorrow was intense. No one could understand or sympathize with it. Yet he is able to put it under and, although not removing it wholly, to bear it. This is alike removed from self-indulgence and stoicism.
II. THE CONSIDERATIONS THAT AFFECTED HIM IN THIS WAY. He had to finish his task. It was practical, and could admit of no interruption. The sense of duty is, therefore, supreme - patience, submission. His grief is recognized as a personal stewardship. He is responsible for its expression and repression. It has a special relation to his own character and life. He regards it, therefore as sent from God, and not, therefore, to be hastily dismissed. How it enriched his nature, increased his personal usefulness, and enhanced the value of his writings to generations then unborn
III. CHRISTIANITY IS TESTED BY THE MANNER IN WHICH IT ENABLES MEN TO BEAR AFFLICTION. The relation of our sorrows to our personal and spiritual salvation. The ministry of sorrow. The hopes of the future alleviating and directing into profitable reflection and effort. "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh," etc, - M.
I. THE GRIEF CONTEMPLATED. It is told of in Ver. 17, etc. And it wan indeed great; the "wound was grievous;" for;
1. It was universal. It affected all classes and in all ways, in mind, body, and estate.
2. So severe. It was not a "light affliction," but "the iron entered into their souls."
3. And it was self-caused. The fangs of remorse were fastened in them by the consciousness they could not escape, that they had brought all their sorrows upon themselves.
4. And they drew down so many others, and innocent ones, in their own doom. This is ever one of the most fearful torments to the soul of the guilty. "I have ruined, not myself only, but my wife, children, parents, friends." The dart, if it be plunged first into the heart of those we love, will rankle in our own all the more terribly when it pierces us.
5. And the fight of God's countenance was gone. With that we can bear anything. Paul and Silas sang praises in the dungeon at Philippi. But withdrawn, driven away by cur sin, then is the soul sad indeed.
6. And it was irreparable. The wrath of God had arisen, and there "was no remedy" (cf. Ver. 20). But note -
II. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH IT WAS BORNE. "But I said, Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it." Now, these words might be used to express a spirit of sullen hardihood. Some have so understood them. But we rather regard them as the language of pious submission, It is the true Israelite who speaks; not the godless, idol-loving multitude, but the chosen of God who were mingled among them. And that this is so is shown:
1. By the check the speaker puts upon his lament. He was about seemingly to launch out in great complainings when he arrests his speech by recollections of a different kind: "But I said," etc. He would not allow himself in any more complaint; he replies to all such thoughts by the considerations he now brings forward. He recognizes the cause of all these sorrows (Ver. 21). It was their failure to "seek the Lord," the pastors becoming " brutish" - their grievous sin. Mere sullenness would never make such a confession as this.
3. And the spirit of Vers. 23-25, so lowly, devout, and filled with sacred desire, - all these show that we are to understand Ver. 19 as the utterance, not of defiant hardihood or any other evil spirit, but as that of submission. Parallels, therefore, are to be found in the submission of Aaron at the death of his sons (cf. also Lamentations 3:18-21, 39, 40; Micah 7:9; Psalm 77:10; Psalm 39:9, etc.).
III. This SPIRIT GREATLY TO BE COMMENDED.
1. For its nature. It is not the spirit of a stoic, of one who sets his teeth firm, and resolves to endure, come what may; but it is tender, gentle, and keenly susceptible of pain. Nor is it silent. Its voice is heard in prayers, confessions, praises, and it is ever desiring more of God's presence and grace. Nor is it slothful. It will be open-eyed to see and alert to act if aught can be done to minister relief or gain deliverance. Thus it does not violate any good instinct or dictate either of nature or conscience, as it would do were it characterized by either of the undesirable qualities named. They each have some sort of semblance of submission, but are far away removed from being identical with it or necessary to it. But submission consists in that calm composure of our whole nature, that meek acquiescence in the will of God, however painful that will may be. And therefore this spirit is commendable:
2. For its comeliness. How morally beautiful and lovely it is! We never tire of it, never do anything but in our hearts admire and praise it, and long to make it our own. How our hearts go out towards those that have eminently manifested it! As Aaron (cf. supra); Job saying," The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away," etc.; Moses; and above all, our Savior. Notwithstanding all his present and most deserved glory as our risen Lord, it is to him on the cross, crowned with thorns, in all the glory of his meek submission - to him the heart of humanity ever turns with adoring love and trust.
3. For its self-conquest. Under the smart and distress of great loss and disaster, how ready the understanding is to think hard thoughts and to utterly resent what God has done! And the will, how sullenly it frowns upon God, and with lowering brow refuses to submit! And the passions, how they rage in torrents of tears and wild wailing cries of angry agony! And the lips, what hard speeches they are prompt to utter (cf. "I said in my haste, All men are liars")! And the hands, how eager to take revenge upon any who have been the means and instruments of our affliction! But the spirit of submission holds all these hot, eager forces in, as with bit and bridle, and bids them all be still. They are, as were the lions before Daniel, awed and subdued by his calm, hallowed presence. Blessed is he who can thus conquer himself. None else shall conquer him, and least of 'all any of the mere circumstances of life (cf. Proverbs 16:32).
4. For its wisdom. "There are few things in the world so totally and entirely bad but some advantage may be made of them by a dexterous management; and it is certainly a man's wisdom to make the best of a bad condition, there being a certain kind of pious and prudential husbandry by which a man may so improve a calamity as to make the endurance of it the performance of a duty, and by his behavior under it to procure a release from it. We should, with Isaac, take the wood upon our shoulders, though we ourselves are designed for the sacrifice; and who knows but, as in his case, so in ours also, a patient resignation of ourselves to the knife may be the sure and direct way to rescue us from it?" (South).
"He always wins who sides with thee; "Ill that thou blessest turns to good, 5. For its acceptableness to God. The Lord Jesus Christ was the "my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," because of it; because his meat and his drink was ever to do the will of the Father who sent him. "Blessed are the meek." "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that," etc. IV. NOT EASY, BUT NEVERTHELESS FULLY POSSIBLE, OF ATTAINMENT. Not easy, Because all our instincts under the smart of pain and loss (cf. supra) protest against it. Because also the maxims of the world are directly contrary to it. But attainable by practice. "Let him train himself whilst young to lesser self-denials and mortifications; let him learn to put up with and pass by a slight undervaluing word, and in time he shall find himself strong enough to conquer and digest an injurious action; let him learn to overlook his neighbor's incivility, and in time he shall be able with patience and firmness of mind to endure his insolence and cruelty, and that without being discomposed by any instigations to revenge; and let him accustom himself to do this often, and at length he shall be able to do it always" (South). And yet more by communion and intercourse with the Lord Jesus Christ. We catch the tones and habits and thoughts of those with whom we most associate. Live in close companionship with Christ, and the spirit of him who "when he was reviled, reviled not again," shall be formed in us, and more and more shall we '" know how "blessed are the meek, and how surely God "will exalt us in due time" (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). - C.
"Ill that thou blessest turns to good, 5. For its acceptableness to God. The Lord Jesus Christ was the "my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," because of it; because his meat and his drink was ever to do the will of the Father who sent him. "Blessed are the meek." "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that," etc. IV. NOT EASY, BUT NEVERTHELESS FULLY POSSIBLE, OF ATTAINMENT. Not easy, Because all our instincts under the smart of pain and loss (cf. supra) protest against it. Because also the maxims of the world are directly contrary to it. But attainable by practice. "Let him train himself whilst young to lesser self-denials and mortifications; let him learn to put up with and pass by a slight undervaluing word, and in time he shall find himself strong enough to conquer and digest an injurious action; let him learn to overlook his neighbor's incivility, and in time he shall be able with patience and firmness of mind to endure his insolence and cruelty, and that without being discomposed by any instigations to revenge; and let him accustom himself to do this often, and at length he shall be able to do it always" (South). And yet more by communion and intercourse with the Lord Jesus Christ. We catch the tones and habits and thoughts of those with whom we most associate. Live in close companionship with Christ, and the spirit of him who "when he was reviled, reviled not again," shall be formed in us, and more and more shall we '" know how "blessed are the meek, and how surely God "will exalt us in due time" (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). - C.
5. For its acceptableness to God. The Lord Jesus Christ was the "my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," because of it; because his meat and his drink was ever to do the will of the Father who sent him. "Blessed are the meek." "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that," etc.
IV. NOT EASY, BUT NEVERTHELESS FULLY POSSIBLE, OF ATTAINMENT. Not easy, Because all our instincts under the smart of pain and loss (cf. supra) protest against it. Because also the maxims of the world are directly contrary to it. But attainable by practice. "Let him train himself whilst young to lesser self-denials and mortifications; let him learn to put up with and pass by a slight undervaluing word, and in time he shall find himself strong enough to conquer and digest an injurious action; let him learn to overlook his neighbor's incivility, and in time he shall be able with patience and firmness of mind to endure his insolence and cruelty, and that without being discomposed by any instigations to revenge; and let him accustom himself to do this often, and at length he shall be able to do it always" (South). And yet more by communion and intercourse with the Lord Jesus Christ. We catch the tones and habits and thoughts of those with whom we most associate. Live in close companionship with Christ, and the spirit of him who "when he was reviled, reviled not again," shall be formed in us, and more and more shall we '" know how "blessed are the meek, and how surely God "will exalt us in due time" (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). - C.
I. CONSIDER THE SCENE PORTRAYED BY THE PROPHET. Consider it both before and after that dread invasion of which he was ever warning his countrymen.
1. Before that invasion, whilst Judah was at peace, there might often have been witnessed over the wide downs and pasture-lands of Palestine the shepherds' encampment; for Palestine was an eminently pastoral country, as the psalms of David and the teachings of our Lord plainly show. And hence up and down the land might have been seen the shepherds' tents, whole camps of them, dotting the plains or valleys with their slender poles, their broad curtains and strong cords holding them erect and securing them firmly to the ground on which they stood. The swarthy children would be running in and out, and at even-time the greater portion of the whole inhabitants of these tabernacles would be gathered around or within them. And in the immediate neighborhood, carefully watched by their shepherds, would be the flocks quietly grazing, in which consisted their whole wealth. It was a pastoral scene the peacefulness and beauty of which were as manifest as the commonness of it in the happier days of Palestine and her people.
2. But after the invasion, in the unhappy days which, when Jeremiah spoke, were drawing so terribly near, when the land should be overrun by the armies of Babylon, there would be as often seen the actual circumstances portrayed in our text. The tent thrown down, its cords cut, its curtains a shapeless heap upon the ground, left to decay and rot by those who had wrought its ruin. And all would be silent and still; no merry prattle of children heard, or the coming and going of the men and women who once had made that tent their home. A few blackened ashes alone telling where the camp-fire had been. The flocks all scattered; those that the foe had not destroyed driven off and wandering in the wilderness, none knew where. It is a picture of utter and most mournful desolation.
II. ITS MEANING. Its intent is to represent what was about to happen in regard to the Church and people of Judah. The temple should be overthrown and burnt with fire; her holy places profaned, her altars broken down, her sacred services all brought to an end, the solemn feast-day no more observed. Her children - they who ministered at her altars and sang the high praises of the Lord - should have gone forth from her and be as though they were not, and all the congregation of the people, the flock of the Lord, should be scattered. And all this came to pass, as we well know, violently and as in a moment, like as a stone is suddenly hurled forth from the sling (Ver. 18). But the prophet's picture has a yet wider application; for it tells of the terrible desolation which may come upon any Church, whether in a nation, or a community, or in any given district. Under the vivid imagery which Jeremiah employs we may see represented the deplorable disaster of a Church's desolation, and whence and how it comes. Therefore let us look at:
1. The overthrown tent. By it we may see represented the destruction of the whole organization of the Church. How beautiful is the spectacle presented to the outward eye by a Church that enjoys the blessing of God! Behold her sanctuaries. Look upon them, from the stately cathedral down to the humblest house of God in the land. Here, with dome and towers and spires piercing the sky, pointing upwards, heavenwards, and breaking the dull level of men's common habitations, and of the buildings which they have reared for their dwellings, their labor, their trade. And out in the country, on the hillside, scattered over the wide plains and along many a quiet valley, in hamlet, village, and town, we behold the sanctuaries built for God, and the stream, larger or smaller, of worshippers that continually go up to them to worship. Each one of these sanctuaries a center of light and warmth, of energy and holy toil, blessing and being blessed, And think of the sabbaths of the Church - those blessed days of rest, when the weary round of toil is made to hush its noise, and for the time to cease. The plough stands still in the furrow, the horses roam in the meadow or gladly rest in the stall; but the ploughman is gone home, that he may, if he will, give heed to the husbandry of the soul and to the preparation for the harvest of heaven. Nor, in this survey, may we pass by the Church's worship. What myriads of jubilant anthems and glad psalms and triumphant hymns go up heavenwards, with a merry noise! What help for all who desire it is won by those who give heed to the holy truth that is at such times proclaimed! Ah! if spiritual thought and feeling could, by some Divine chemistry, be made visible, what a glorious scene would be witnessed! Like unto the rainbow which was round about the throne, beautiful to behold, would the worship of the Church be seen, even as it is seen by him to whom and for whom and by whom it is all rendered. Think, too, of the work of the Church. The ships that bear her messengers, charged to proclaim the glad tidings of the gospel to all mankind, speed their way through all seas, across all oceans, and enter every harbor. Ah! yes; Christ's Church on earth, faulty, imperfect, unfaithful, as she so often and so largely is, - where would the world be without her? and where would the wretched and the lost find their truest friends, if not in her? But all this outward organization, this visible tabernacle of the Church, is contemplated, nut as in her happy ideal, but in the very reverse. The prophet's picture portrays the tabernacle thrown down, and desolation everywhere. Hence her sanctuaries forsaken, profaned, or left to decay and ruin; her services abandoned or turned into mere performances of worn-oat ceremonies; her sabbaths no longer days of guarded rest, but like all other days; her work paralyzed and dropped more and more, and all her external framework and organization overthrown. Try and realize what that would be. And this is not all.
2. Her children are represented as having gone forth from her. When all is well with a Church, it is our joy to see the children taking the fathers' place, coming forward to uphold the standard which the aged hands of the seniors are compelled to let go. How delightful such a scene is we need hardly say. But there is nothing of this kind contemplated here, but, on the contrary, those to whom the Church would naturally look to carry on her work are seen borne away captive by the foes of the Church, and as slaves to the world.
3. And the last feature in this sad picture is the scattering of the flock. The people at large, for whose interests the Church was bidden to care, turning from her with disgust, scouting her claims, running riot in sin, unchecked, unhindered, unwarned; sinking clown into awful depths of wickedness and spiritual ignorance, living "without God and without hope in the world." Such is the scattering of the flock, the alienation of her children, and the spoiling of her tabernacle, from all which may God evermore keep and defend us. But that we may be thus defended, let us -
III. INQUIRE THE CAUSE OF SUCH DISASTER. It is clearly stated in Ver. 21, "The pastors have become brutish, and have not sought the Lord."
1. Who are these pastors? It would be a mistake to suppose that only ministers are meant. Jeremiah did not mean these only, but all to whom the flock of God were entrusted - kings, rulers, judges, parents, and teachers, heads of families, and all to whom, by virtue of their position, the charge and responsibility of watching over the souls of others was given.
2. Now, these pastors had "become brutish." By which is meant, first of all, unintelligent, stupid, blind to the meaning of facts, and incapable of perceiving what needed to be done; with no quick apprehension, if any at all, of their responsibility, their duty, or the peril that threatened both their flock and themselves; settled clown into the stolid apathy and indifference of ignorance, of dulled perception, and of blindness of heart. Brutish, too, because unspiritual, materialized, worldly, earth-bound; having little or no regard for anything beyond what this life can give or take away; caring more for the fleece of the flock than for its faith and fidelity. And brutish, it may be, in a yet lower sense, because sensual; like those of whom Paul tells with bitter tears. "Whose god," he says, "is their belly, who glory in their shame, who mind earthly things."
3. "The pastors have become brutish." What an awful association of ideas! Can any condition be conceived of more horrible than this? No wonder such disastrous results followed. Think how dreadful such a fact must be for the honor of Christ. How his Name must be blasphemed! How such must crucify the Son of God afresh, and once more put him to open shame! How again the Lord Jesus, pointing to the wounds in his sacred hands and feet and side, must declare, "These are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends!" Blessed Savior, keep us from such sin as this. And how dreadful for the Church of Christ, which he has purchased with his own blood l How such men discourage the Church l how they chill its ardor! how they stagger its faith! how they weaken its strength! how they imperil its very life! And how dreadful for the world! "Woe unto the world," said our Savior, "because of offenses!" This he said in pity for the world, hindered, made to stumble and fall by those who should only have helped it on its way to God. How many will be hardened in wickedness, encouraged to despise all religion, furnished with fresh subject for impious mockery and new arguments for sin; by such as they of whom our text tells! And how dreadful for these brutish ones themselves! "But woe," said Jesus, "unto them by whom that offence cometh!" "Who shall abide the day of the Lord's coming "to execute his wrath on them? Who, indeed! God, in his infinite mercy, save us from ever knowing what that wrath is.
4. But how came this awful fall? What brought down these pastors to this dreadful condition? And the answer to this question is plainly given. They did act seek the Lord; they were prayerless pastors: and that explains all. Now, this did not mean that there was no worship, no praise, no prayer, ever offered. We know there was. The temple service went on and the sacrifices were presented as usual. But there was no true, heartfelt prayer. They did not really seek the Lord. And so with ourselves, there may be, and there probably will be, the keeping up of pious customs, the daily prayers, the ordinary worship; but for such seeking of the Lord as is here told of, and the neglect of which worked such ruin, there must be far more than this. There must be that full application of the heart and mind, that lifting up of the soul to God, that drawing out of the affections after him, that cleaving of the desires to him, that ardor and yet that patience, that humility and yet that boldness which time cannot measure, which make long prayers seem short to him who offers them, and short prayers, if of necessity they must be short, count as long prayers with him who, for Christ's sake, mercifully receives the soul who follows hard after him. This is the kind of prayer which can alone be our safeguard from the abyss into which the pastors here told of fell. Would we escape it, we must seek the Lord so; all else is as seeking him not at all. It is no holiday task, but one demanding all the energies of the soul. How many, how mighty, how manifold, how subtle, are the difficulties in the way! There is the earth-bound heart, that ever clogs our souls with its clinging- clay; that makes them like the bird with the lime of the bird-snarer on its feathers, unable either to fly or go: when it would soar aloft it is powerless to spread its wings, and so is as if chained to the ground. And incessant occupations clamor for attention, and are ever telling us we have no time. And indolence and sloth keep suggesting thoughts of ease and self-sparing. And want of practice in this, as in everything else, makes real prayer very difficult. And Satan, when he sees the soul threatening to escape him by means of such prayer-as by such means it ever will escape him - bends all his energies to thwart and hinder, to baffle and beat down, such prayer. All this is so, but yet we must thus pray. And let us not be disheartened. All these difficulties have been overcome by ten thousand of the saints of God, and shall be by us. And, for our help, remember our Lord's intercession. Join all our prayers - poor, weak things as at their best they are - on to his almighty, all-prevailing intercession, and in this also we shall come off "more than conquerors through Christ who hath loved us." So shall we be kept from being one of those wretched pastors who have become brutish, and have, therefore, only scattered the Lord's flock; yea, we shall be made and be confessed, now and hereafter in our Lord's presence, as one of the pastors after his own heart. - C.
I. THE CONFESSION. Ver. 23, "O Lord, I know," etc. Now, this is a confession:
1. Of humble dependence upon God. It is an acknowledgment that, however much man may propose, God will dispose; that man's goings are of the Lord. The life of each is, as God told Cyrus (Isaiah 44.), guided, governed by him. Illustrations are everywhere: the cruelty of Joseph's brethren; the oppression of Israel in Egypt; the crucifixion of our Lord (cf. Acts 2:23); the persecution of the Church (Acts 8:3); Paul's early life; etc. All these are instances in which, whilst men did exactly as they liked, acting with choice as unfettered as it was evil, they were nevertheless made to subserve the Divine plans, and their evil was compelled to work out good. Man may have power to "walk," but whither his steps will lead he cannot "direct." "The way of man is not in himself." He is free to choose his way, and for his choice he is responsible; but he is not allowed to determine all that shall come of that choice or what its issues and results shall be. Every time that men find their plans turn out altogether differently from what they expected or designed, proves the truth of the prophet's word. God has planned the life of each one of us. He intends certain results to be secured by our lives.
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends, 2. Of their own folly and sin. There are many teachers who will instruct us in this truth of our own incompetence to order our ways; all that is needed is that we be willing to learn. Such teachers are: (1) Reason. It is reasonable that, as we are the creatures of God, he should have the control of our lives. (2) Scripture. We have cited some instances already. (3) Observation. The world is strewn with the wrecks of men who have disregarded the chart given them of God, and have run upon the rocks in consequence. (4) But the most strenuous and resistless teacher of all is Experience. He will make a man learn, almost whether the man will or no. And it was this teacher who had been instructing, in his emphatic manner, Judah and her people. By the miserable mess they had made of their lives, and the frightful calamities which now were close at their doors (Ver. 22), they had at length come to see and confess their own wretched ordering of their way. Hence now the confession, "O Lord, I know that," etc. It is a blessed fruit for folly and fault to bear. It is not the natural fruit, but one of God's gracious grafts. Peter's folly of boasting bore such fruit when "be went out and wept bitterly." Let our prayer be that the faults and follies, the sins and sorrows, with which our lives are scattered over may make us see and own, "O Lord, I know that," etc. 3. Of their trust, nevertheless, in God's infinite love. For not improbably this confession has not only an upward look to God as the Director of men's ways, and an inward look upon their own sin, but also an outward look upon those dread foes who were hastening to destroy them. And this was their comfort that, after all, these enemies of theirs were in God's hands. No doubt they designed fearful things against God's people (cf. Ver. 25). But then, "the way of man is not," etc. Hence even these fierce, relentless foes might be held in and turned about by the bit and bridle of God. Had not God, in the days of the good King Hezekiah, proved this in regard to the King of Assyria and his army? Had he not, as Isaiah said, "put a hook in his nose.., and turned him back by the way by which he came?" And this confession breathes this hope and trust that God would do the like by their enemies now about to fall upon them. It is a real comfort to know that all our enemies, whether human or spiritual, are under the control of God. Even the apparently omnipotent prince of evil has but a limited power. He, too, cannot direct his own way. "The Lord, he is the true God, the living God, the everlasting King" (Ver. 10). II. THE PRAYER. Ver. 24, "O Lord, correct me, but," etc. 1. This is a model prayer. For: (1) It confesses wrong. It owns the need of correction. The man is no longer right in his own eyes. He is seen, like the publican, "standing afar off," etc. (2) It desires to be put right (cf. Psalm 51.). As there, so here, there is the longing for renewal, the clean heart, the right spirit. (3) It deprecates, not the correction, but the wrath of God. The man has a clear view of that wrath - its crushing, destroying power. It is good to have this. Without it there is the danger of our looking lightly upon our sin. 2. It is a most instructive prayer. It teaches us: (1) That all the corrections we have received have been fatherly ones - "in judgment," not "in anger." For had they been in anger we had not been here at all. (2) That we are alive and in God's presence proves that the love of God, and not his anger, is ours still. For his anger would have "brought us to nothing." (3) That there are corrections in anger. There have been such. Where are Egypt, Nineveh, Babylon, Rome? God brought them "to nothing." And there will be for all who harden themselves against God. (4) That, seeing all need correction and will therefore receive it, either "in judgment" or "in anger," our wisdom is to make this prayer our own. One or other of these corrections we must have. Which shall it be? This prayer was answered for Israel. They have not been brought to nothing, and they were corrected. That sin of idolatry which brought on them God's correction they have, ever since that correction, utterly abandoned. Then let us make this prayer our own. III. HOLY ANGER AGAINST THE ENEMIES OF GOD. We can readily see that Vers. 23 and 24 are the fruits of a chastened spirit, but this fierce utterance of Ver. 25 seems of another kind. But it is not. No doubt it has somewhat of the fierceness which belonged to that stern age, but it is nonetheless a real fruit of a right spirit. We ought to be very doubtful of our own spirit, however meek and contrite it is, if it be not accompanied with an intense detestation of evil. "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?" Such sentiment is a true note of the Spirit of God, and a religious life that lacks it is sure to be lacking in vigor, strength, and reliability. It is not personal hatred that finds utterance here, so much as a deep sense of the wrong done to God and the hindrance that is placed in the way of his will. The seventy-ninth psalm is an expression of this petition. Our age, and the temperament that so soft an age induces, are apt to make us be too easy with sin and sinners. We are so bred up in the idea of the "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild," that we forget how anything but gentle and mild he was to the hopelessly bad who were, in regard to the spiritual well-being of his people, doing as is here said, "eating up Jacob, devouring him," etc. What awful words poured forth from the Savior's lips towards such! Let us suspect a meekness that makes us mild towards such. A man may make the confession of Ver. 23, and offer the prayer of Ver. 24, and fall and fall again; but if he have the stem spirit of Ver. 25, that deep, intense hatred of evil, sin is far less likely to have dominion over him for the future; he will be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." Therefore, whilst we crave that fruit of the Spirit which is seen in Vers. 23, 24, let us crave that also which we have here in Ver. 25. It is the result of our being "strengthened with might by the Spirit of God in the inner man," and leads on, in blessed, successive steps, to our being "filled with all the fullness of God." - C.
2. Of their own folly and sin. There are many teachers who will instruct us in this truth of our own incompetence to order our ways; all that is needed is that we be willing to learn. Such teachers are:
(1) Reason. It is reasonable that, as we are the creatures of God, he should have the control of our lives.
(2) Scripture. We have cited some instances already.
(3) Observation. The world is strewn with the wrecks of men who have disregarded the chart given them of God, and have run upon the rocks in consequence.
(4) But the most strenuous and resistless teacher of all is Experience. He will make a man learn, almost whether the man will or no. And it was this teacher who had been instructing, in his emphatic manner, Judah and her people. By the miserable mess they had made of their lives, and the frightful calamities which now were close at their doors (Ver. 22), they had at length come to see and confess their own wretched ordering of their way. Hence now the confession, "O Lord, I know that," etc. It is a blessed fruit for folly and fault to bear. It is not the natural fruit, but one of God's gracious grafts. Peter's folly of boasting bore such fruit when "be went out and wept bitterly." Let our prayer be that the faults and follies, the sins and sorrows, with which our lives are scattered over may make us see and own, "O Lord, I know that," etc.
3. Of their trust, nevertheless, in God's infinite love. For not improbably this confession has not only an upward look to God as the Director of men's ways, and an inward look upon their own sin, but also an outward look upon those dread foes who were hastening to destroy them. And this was their comfort that, after all, these enemies of theirs were in God's hands. No doubt they designed fearful things against God's people (cf. Ver. 25). But then, "the way of man is not," etc. Hence even these fierce, relentless foes might be held in and turned about by the bit and bridle of God. Had not God, in the days of the good King Hezekiah, proved this in regard to the King of Assyria and his army? Had he not, as Isaiah said, "put a hook in his nose.., and turned him back by the way by which he came?" And this confession breathes this hope and trust that God would do the like by their enemies now about to fall upon them. It is a real comfort to know that all our enemies, whether human or spiritual, are under the control of God. Even the apparently omnipotent prince of evil has but a limited power. He, too, cannot direct his own way. "The Lord, he is the true God, the living God, the everlasting King" (Ver. 10).
II. THE PRAYER. Ver. 24, "O Lord, correct me, but," etc.
1. This is a model prayer. For:
(1) It confesses wrong. It owns the need of correction. The man is no longer right in his own eyes. He is seen, like the publican, "standing afar off," etc.
(2) It desires to be put right (cf. Psalm 51.). As there, so here, there is the longing for renewal, the clean heart, the right spirit.
(3) It deprecates, not the correction, but the wrath of God. The man has a clear view of that wrath - its crushing, destroying power. It is good to have this. Without it there is the danger of our looking lightly upon our sin.
2. It is a most instructive prayer. It teaches us:
(1) That all the corrections we have received have been fatherly ones - "in judgment," not "in anger." For had they been in anger we had not been here at all.
(2) That we are alive and in God's presence proves that the love of God, and not his anger, is ours still. For his anger would have "brought us to nothing."
(3) That there are corrections in anger. There have been such. Where are Egypt, Nineveh, Babylon, Rome? God brought them "to nothing." And there will be for all who harden themselves against God.
(4) That, seeing all need correction and will therefore receive it, either "in judgment" or "in anger," our wisdom is to make this prayer our own. One or other of these corrections we must have. Which shall it be? This prayer was answered for Israel. They have not been brought to nothing, and they were corrected. That sin of idolatry which brought on them God's correction they have, ever since that correction, utterly abandoned. Then let us make this prayer our own.
III. HOLY ANGER AGAINST THE ENEMIES OF GOD. We can readily see that Vers. 23 and 24 are the fruits of a chastened spirit, but this fierce utterance of Ver. 25 seems of another kind. But it is not. No doubt it has somewhat of the fierceness which belonged to that stern age, but it is nonetheless a real fruit of a right spirit. We ought to be very doubtful of our own spirit, however meek and contrite it is, if it be not accompanied with an intense detestation of evil. "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?" Such sentiment is a true note of the Spirit of God, and a religious life that lacks it is sure to be lacking in vigor, strength, and reliability. It is not personal hatred that finds utterance here, so much as a deep sense of the wrong done to God and the hindrance that is placed in the way of his will. The seventy-ninth psalm is an expression of this petition. Our age, and the temperament that so soft an age induces, are apt to make us be too easy with sin and sinners. We are so bred up in the idea of the "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild," that we forget how anything but gentle and mild he was to the hopelessly bad who were, in regard to the spiritual well-being of his people, doing as is here said, "eating up Jacob, devouring him," etc. What awful words poured forth from the Savior's lips towards such! Let us suspect a meekness that makes us mild towards such. A man may make the confession of Ver. 23, and offer the prayer of Ver. 24, and fall and fall again; but if he have the stem spirit of Ver. 25, that deep, intense hatred of evil, sin is far less likely to have dominion over him for the future; he will be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." Therefore, whilst we crave that fruit of the Spirit which is seen in Vers. 23, 24, let us crave that also which we have here in Ver. 25. It is the result of our being "strengthened with might by the Spirit of God in the inner man," and leads on, in blessed, successive steps, to our being "filled with all the fullness of God." - C.
(1) the fact asserted;
(2) the influence it may be expected to have over us.
I. THE FACT ASSERTED. "The way of man is not in himself," etc. All human life is a "way," a journey, a pilgrimage, through various scenes and circumstances, to the "bourn from whence no traveler returns." And, free as we may be and accountable for our own actions, there is a sense in which it is equally true that it is given to none of us to determine what that way shall be. We are called on to recognize a governing power external to ourselves, above and beyond ourselves. Look at this fact in two lights as indicative of:
1. Moral inability. A man's own judgment and impulse are not in themselves a safe rule for the conduct of his life. He cannot always trace the mutual relation of interests and events, is liable to be deceived by appearances, blinded by the glamour of his own feelings, misled by the force of his own self-will. The very complexity of the circumstances among which he "walks" is often a source of danger. He is as one surrounded by the diverse interlacing paths of a forest; he needs both external guidance and internal influence to direct his choice. The right way is not "in himself."
2. Practical restraint, No man has the actual power to determine altogether the course of his own life. Free as he may think himself to be to take what "steps" he pleases, he is, after all, often ruled by circumstances over which he has no control. He is not always master of his own movements, cannot do the thing that he would, constrained perhaps to do something totally different from what he intended. Who has not found himself to have been drifted, by the silent, unobserved current of events, into a position entirely other than he would have chosen for himself? Who has not had to accept, as the issue of his own doings, something strangely unlike what he looked for? "Man proposes; God disposes."
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends, II. THE INFLUENCE THIS FACT MAY BE EXPECTED TO HAVE OVER US. Such a truth, even in the purely negative form in which this passage presents it, may well have a marked effect on the whole habit of our daily thought and action. It teaches several important lessons. 1. Distrust of self. If our judgment is thus fallible, our impulse misleading, our power limited, shall we think to make our own will the sole rule of life? "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding," etc. (Proverbs 3:5, 6); "Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city," etc. (James 4:13-16). 2. Thoughtful observation of the course of events, with a view to trace the path of the providence that is over us. Hidden as the power that governs our life may be, the teachable mind discerns ever more and more clearly the method of its working. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him," etc. (Psalm 25:14); "The meek will he guide in judgment," etc. (Psalm 25:9). 3. Practical obedience to the call of present duty. Dark as our way may be, we cannot go far wrong if we follow the dictates of conscience. Be true in everything to your own sense of right and to the clear lines of Divine Law, and you may safely leave all issues with God. 4. The calm repose of faith. In the confused conflict of adverse circumstances, in the deep night of our sorrow and our fear, we hear a voice that whispers to us," All is well." It must be so if we believe that almighty Love is Lord of all. - W.
II. THE INFLUENCE THIS FACT MAY BE EXPECTED TO HAVE OVER US. Such a truth, even in the purely negative form in which this passage presents it, may well have a marked effect on the whole habit of our daily thought and action. It teaches several important lessons.
1. Distrust of self. If our judgment is thus fallible, our impulse misleading, our power limited, shall we think to make our own will the sole rule of life? "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding," etc. (Proverbs 3:5, 6); "Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city," etc. (James 4:13-16).
2. Thoughtful observation of the course of events, with a view to trace the path of the providence that is over us. Hidden as the power that governs our life may be, the teachable mind discerns ever more and more clearly the method of its working. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him," etc. (Psalm 25:14); "The meek will he guide in judgment," etc. (Psalm 25:9).
3. Practical obedience to the call of present duty. Dark as our way may be, we cannot go far wrong if we follow the dictates of conscience. Be true in everything to your own sense of right and to the clear lines of Divine Law, and you may safely leave all issues with God.
4. The calm repose of faith. In the confused conflict of adverse circumstances, in the deep night of our sorrow and our fear, we hear a voice that whispers to us," All is well." It must be so if we believe that almighty Love is Lord of all. - W.
I. MAN IS NOT TO BE THE CHOOSER OF HIS WAY. "I know that the way of man is not in himself." It is surely not without significance that אָדָם is here used for "man." To the Hebrew there must always have been the opportunity of peculiar suggestions upon the occurrence of this word. Adam would rise to mind, the first man, with God's purposes for him, and his speedy calamitous departure from those purposes. God made Adam that he might go in God's way. When the two accounts of the creation of man are taken together, it will be seen how abundant is the evidence that the way of Adam was not in himself. His only condition of safety, peace, and happiness was in strict compliance with the Divine injunctions. And with regard to the descendant of Adam, he who can read the account of Adam and see the essential correspondence between ancestor and posterity, is there not everything to teach him that his way also is not in himself? Why, he is some little distance advanced in the way before he is conscious that it is a way at all. The preservation of his life and the direction of it have been at the disposition of others. And when life - as far as individual responsibility is concerned - really beaus, how wise he proves to be who looks for the pointing of God's finger, and feels that he must follow it! The man who insists that he can make his own way only finds it perish at last. Because no way can be considered just as a way; whether it is pleasant or painful, easy or difficult, is not the great matter, but whither it leads, what lies at the end of it. As it would be foolish for a man to take charge of a ship, ignorant of his destination and how to reach it, so it is equally foolish for a man to suppose that any way will do so long as it is as comfortable and easy as he can make it. Man's right way must be according to God's clear will; arid it is the way of trust in Jesus who is the Son and Christ of God. Note, further, the strong expression of individual assurance here given. "I know," says Jeremiah. He knew it indeed from his own experience. The way in which he now was, of prophet and witness for Jehovah, was not of his choosing. He did not think himself fit for it. And yet so far was he from being right in his own impressions as a young man, that it appears God had chosen him for a special purpose or ever his existence had begun. It is a great blessing to a man when, either from experience of his own wanderings or prudent observation of the wanderings of others, he can say in this matter, "I know." He spares himself much anxiety and shame who is humble enough to put himself under Divine guidance.
II. GOD MUST ESTABLISH MAN WHEN HE IS IN THE NIGHT WAY. "It is not in man that walketh to make sure of his steps." In other words, though he may have begun the journey rightly, that is no proof that he will go on without hindrance or disaster to the end. In days when the journeys of most people, oven long journeys, would have to be undertaken on foot, this expression with regard to the walking man would be very significant. The perils of such a journey were well known - perils from robbers, perils of losing one's way in the dark and sometimes probably in the daylight, perils through trusting to strangers who may deceive or insufficiently inform him, perils through sickness far from home and friends. And so in the great spiritual way there is needed humility all through. The way is made up of little steps, and a false step may not be possible to retrieve. Divine knowledge and Divine intimations must stand in the place of our experience. Faith in God's wisdom which cannot fail, and in God's Word which cannot lie, must be our resource in all perplexity. There are times when common sense and right feeling are enough to guide our conduct, yet even these are more the gift of God than may at first appear. We cannot, then, be too minutely observant as to our need of Divine light and truth and assurance. Thus, being found in the right way and enduring to the end, we shall be safe. - Y.
Jeremiah 3:4, where Israel is represented as possibly addressing Jehovah, and saying, "My Father, thou art the Guide of my youth." And here is an ample confession that the filial, dependent, submissive spirit is needed still.
I. OBSERVE THE ADMISSION OF WRONGDOING. "Correct me," uttered at all, is an admission that correction is deserved. The whole of the supplication of course implies a reference to the relation of father and child, as if Israel said, "My Father, I have done wrong, and I know that all wrong-doing children, when the wrong is discovered, must expect to be corrected." The correction of children by their parents must have been very familiar to all Israelites; the Book of Proverbs, in many of its pithy sentences, being in part a consequence of this familiarity and in part a cause of it. A most important part in the benefit of correction came from its very certainty, from the child's knowledge that the correction could not be escaped. Though the extent of it might be an open question, the certainty was to he no question at all. The position might be put thus: If an earthly father, being evil, yet has firmness enough not to overlook the least departure from his commandments, then the pure Jehovah above, who is regarded as the Father of Israel, cannot be less strict to mark iniquity. Israel has done wrong, and to make an ample admission of the wrong, to welcome the needful chastisement, is nothing more than what is right. There is no merit in such an admission; the suppliant who makes it is only doing what he ought to do. To continue insensible of the wrong adds to the wrong, and makes correction as correction altogether in vain.
II. A FEAR LEST THE CORRECTION MAY BECOME EXCESSIVE AND INJURIOUS. Israel has before its mind, the conception of a father in his relations, powers, and duties. But since the measurements are made from the earthly father with all his imperfections, it follows that not only are the encouraging aspects of the relation seen, but also dreadful possibilities as to how far the chastising force may go. Israel argues too closely from the father on earth to the Father in heaven. The earthly father is seen boiling over with rage, beating his child in the wildness of his fury, not because it has done wrong, but because it has thwarted him. It is important to notice this very partial way of conceiving the fatherhood of God; this exaggeration of mere might. There is thus given an index to the insufficiency of the knowledge which the Israelites had of God, and a proof how much Jesus was needed to come in and reveal the Father, bringing the serenity and composed action of his attributes into full view. God, of course, never acts with fury and frenzy as we apply these words to man. God produces results through man, and there may be fury in the human agents, but in the God behind them there is none. The narrow notion of Jehovah expressed in Vers. 24 and 25 itself needed to be corrected. His favor towards Israel was not an arbitrary thing, nor could it be right that his imagined wild fury might justly expend itself on heathens. If Israel was to be corrected with judgment, the same judgment was surely needed to correct the heathen. If there is fury with them, there can be no true dealing in judgment with Israel. Severity with the heathen as typical enemies of the typical people of God is another matter; but severity must never be confounded with fury.
III. THE KIND OF CORRECTION DESIRED. "Correct me, but with judgment." Correction, to have any proper effect, must be deliberate, and proportioned to the offence that has been committed. While it comes from a fatherly purpose, it must come also with the calmness and impartiality of a judicial procedure. A charge is made; evidence is adduced and examined; defense, denial, extenuation, are listened to; everything must be weighed; and so he who is corrected will feel in his conscience that the correction is just. The severity is not blind and measureless force. If it cannot fall short of a certain standard of pain, neither will it exceed it. Any other sort of dealing has no right to the name of correction at all. Foolish Rehoboam, threatening to chastise the people with scorpions, is an illustration of what must ever be avoided by those who are m power. Be it a child or be it a man who is smitten, no good can be done unless there is the sense that the smiting is just. - Y.