Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE LIMITATIONS IMPOSED UPON THE PROPHET, AND THEIR REASONS.
1. The Command related to:
(1) The prophet himself. It was in the second person singular. A matter affecting himself alone.
(2) The holy land - "in this place." Should circumstances lead him elsewhere, the inference is that the restriction would be withdrawn.
(3) The period of time elapsing between the delivery of the special "word of Jehovah and its fulfillment.
2. That Jeremiah himself was alone required to observe this restriction might at first appear strange were it not for his exceptional position.
(1) As a symbol of the Divine attitude and intention towards Judah. Not only special actions, such as the hiding of the girdle, were to be of this character, but the whole personality of the prophet. He was representative both of God and the ideal Israel. Therefore he represents the mind of God towards those who usurped the place of the latter. The conditions of the then present relations of God and Judah were not such as warranted an assumption of responsibilities implying for their happy fulfillment the Divine acceptance and favor. In the midst of a luxurious people his celibacy would be impressive.
(2) As an example to others. The inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah, whatever they might experience in the future, would not be able to say they had been entrapped or deceived into a false security. The self-restraint and serious, sad aspect he presented were intended to influence the action of the people at that juncture. The calamities foretold would not come upon those who had been unwarned.
II. THE BEARING OF THESE UPON THE QUESTION OF THE CELIBACY OF THE CLERGY." It is obvious that, as there were many other ministers of God in Judah and Jerusalem at that time to whom the command was not given, it was intended for one occupying an exceptional position. Further, there is no necessary permanent obligation attaching to it. A certain contingency is regarded - a time of distress and bloodshed - and the conduct of the prophet is directed with regard to that. But the celibacy of the clergy is a permanent institution with those who uphold it. No regard is paid to special circumstances or times. And the office of the Christian minister is not to be considered as occupied for a season of short-lived, delusive peace, but instituted and maintained in a world which is being reconciled to God; in which the Holy Spirit is given to them that ask it for direction and comfort; and whose institutions are more and more influenced by the laws of the kingdom of God. So in St. Paul's day it was the "present distress' which gave rise to the injunction. The world was conceived of as approaching a grand climateric; a sudden and overwhelming calamity was to inaugurate Christ's reign amongst men. Much will depend upon this, viz. Is the minister of the gospel a prophet of evil or a preacher of peace and glad tidings? If the latter, it can hardly be necessary that he should assume the bearing of Jeremiah. And the influence of a celibate clergy upon the general institutions of marriage has been found to be pernicious, lowering its relative sacredness and violating the law of nature, which is its greatest safeguard.
III. PRINCIPLES OF GENERAL OBLIGATION INVOLVED. The duties and restraints here imposed upon the prophet are not rightly apprehended when supposed entirely peculiar to office and position. They are not wholly those of a class or a special individual, but rather the generally obligatory principles of the spiritual life intensified and specialized. Every Christian ought to hold himself ready to sacrifice and to adapt himself as the duties imposed upon him under given circumstances may require.
1. The responsibilities of marriage. One's own happiness merely is not to be consulted m marrying, but the probabilities of comfort and right upbringing of children that may be born. A season of calamity such as that now foretold was a sufficient reason against contracting marriage, as by that means its effects would only be the more widely extended.
2. Consciousness of God's displeasure ought to exert a restraining influence upon men. The marriage feast and the usual rejoicings that take place on such occasions show that they are regarded as of a joyous nature, and not amongst the sterner duties. It was but fitting, therefore, that it should be refrained from in view of what was about to take place. It would have shown a heedlessness of God's anger provoking the more signal punishment. The "marrying and giving in marriage" of the antediluvians was a sign of their godlessness and unbelief.
3. The responsibility of example is here presented in an extreme form. What would have applied to the case of a private person thus forewarned was of greater force in that of one occupying an exceptional position and necessarily of great public influence. If the declarer of the Divine message had himself exhibited no sign of restraint or chastened severity of life, how could others be expected to believe him? The life of the preacher is the best illustration of his doctrine, and it naturally is regarded by others with special and critical attention. - M.
I. THE COMMAND TO MARRY.
1. In every way whereby the will of God can be expressed - by his Word, his providence, his laws, written, moral, social, physical, God has commanded that "a man shall leave his father and mother," etc. "A good wife is from the Lord," her companionship is the most blessed in the world. All artificial hindrances to marriage are, therefore, to be condemned. The same enemy that destroys such myriads of souls for eternity, ruins their happiness, oftentimes, in this life also. For it is the world which frowns upon marriages, unexceptionable in other respects, in which a certain style cannot be maintained or a certain amount of income be secured; and all superstitious teachings that inculcate celibacy as a state more pleasing to God, are equally guilty both in regard to God and man. Disobedience to this command involves such frightful consequences as in themselves to clearly manifest the Divine will, that u it is not good for man to be alone."
2. But here in these verses the prophet is distinctly forbidden to marry. (Ver. 1, etc.) And the reasons were probably that, by his abstaining from marriage, he might more powerfully confirm his words as to the coming calamities. It would show his own belief in what he had foretold when it was seen that he would not make for himself a home under such circumstances. It would leave him more free for the arduous duty which he had to discharge. It would save him great sorrow when the evil days should come. And so now there are special eases in which God's will seems to be that a man should not marry. The poverty-stricken ministers of religion, of whom there are so many; the missionary exposed to daily peril of climate, pestilence, savage heathendom; or any to whom it is evident that by their marriage more evil than good will result; - then, just as we may be called upon to do without many other great earthly advantages, so we may be called upon to deny ourselves this. And there may be physical conditions forbidding marriage. No man has a right to transmit to others hereditary disease, whether of body or mind. And there are spiritual hindrances. A man ought to marry only "in the Lord." But all these exceptions are rare; God's general rule is that men should marry.
II. THE COMMAND TO "WEEP WITH THEM THAT WEEP." That there would be no stint of sorrow, no lack of mourners, the awful declarations of this section plainly show. And generally God's will, shown in a thousand ways, is that we should, by sympathy and condolence, "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ." But here such sympathy and "weeping with them that weep" is prohibited (ver. 5). This does seem a stern command, and no doubt it is so. But we do not feel called on to condole with criminals on account of the penalties they have to bear; were any to do so, we should regard it as misplaced and mischievous sympathy, calculated only to do harm. And whilst those to whom the prophet was sent were hardened in their sin, sympathy with them on account of their punishment would be also mischievous and wrong. We have continually to be on our guard - for many never are - lest our sympathy for the sinner's suffering should make us forget or think lightly of the sinner's sin. No matter how glaring the crime, there are always some who are ready to agitate for a mitigation of the penalty. Now, it is this hurtful sympathy which God here forbids the prophet to show.
III. THE COMMAND TO "REJOICE WITH THEM THAT DO REJOICE." This also is a constant injunction of the Divine Word, as it is an instinct of the benevolent and Christian heart. Jesus was as ready to go to the marriage festival as to the graveside. And so should we be. But here again the command is countermanded (ver. 8). And the reason is manifest. God would not suffer his prophet to be in any wise a solace to sinful men. Too many professed Christians are. Nothing is a greater "comfort to Sodom" than the sight of the serenity and joviality of men who profess to believe that sinners are on their way to everlasting woe. The sinner argues - and it is an argument very difficult to refute - that Christians do not believe this, no matter what they say, and hence they, the ungodly, are in no such awful peril after all. The prophet of God was commanded to abstain from all festivity and all outward joy, and no doubt the reason was, lest by any sharing therein, he should throw doubt on the awful message he was charged to deliver. Are the ministers of God bound to do the like now? Our Lord did not. His apostles did not. Nowhere are we bidden to abstain from all earthly joy. Rather are we assured that God has "given us all things richly to enjoy." And the unbeliever's objection on the ground of the inconsistency of our calmness, and yet more of our gladness, notwithstanding the awful peril of ungodly souls, may be met by the reply that we cannot say of those whom yet we would fain see drawn much nearer to God than they to our eyes are, that they are, as those whom Jeremiah addressed, absolutely doomed. We are not forbidden to pray for them, as Jeremiah was; nor to hope that even yet they may turn to God and find mercy. The prophet had no hope; we have much, and it is on the ground of that hope which we cherish that our calmer, brighter moods are justified. Still, one shrinks from saying aught that would seem to sanction the terrible indifference we all too much manifest in regard to the spiritual condition of the world around us. But yet we may say that that condition is not such as to demand - even were it possible, which it is not, to comply with the demand - that we should all cease from joy, and clothe ourselves unceasingly in sackcloth and ashes. We cannot do that; we are not bidden to do that, nor would it be of use were we to do so. We have a gospel to proclaim, a living Savior to hope in, and a Holy Spirit's energies to second all our prayers and endeavors to win men to God. But at the same time, the believer in God and in his righteous Law cannot and ought not to find pleasure in the rejoicings of the ungodly, or to give any countenance to their defiance of God. No; we are not to go "in the way of sinners," not to sit "in the seat of scorners," though it may be a scene of festivity and mirth. From all such we must turn away. We cannot rejoice with them when they rejoice; in their gladness we cannot share, but only mourn that they do not mourn. Let them turn to God, and we will dwell among them, and in their joy and in their sorrow we will gladly share. But until they do, for us as for God's prophet, his ordinary commands as to sympathy with them are countermanded, and we must stand aside. Light cannot have fellowship with darkness, nor the children of God with the children of the wicked one. - C.
I. WITH REGARD TO THE HOUSE OF MOURNING. One feels that the prophet must have been exposed to much misapprehension in carrying out this command with the symbolic prophecy involved in it. It would be said that he was not only an unpatriotic man but an unfeeling one. Happily we have abundant proof that, whatever the imperfections of Jeremiah, a cold indifference to the griefs of others was not one of them. He may often have had to do violence to his own impulses in keeping away from the homes where the dead were lying; and yet he only did by command what we should sometimes like to do by preference, if it were only possible to do it without wounding the feelings of others. Think of the houses of mourning where little or nothing can be said that is comforting. What could have been done to comfort stricken parents that night when there was one dead in every Egyptian household? There is a way of offering sympathy which, well intended as it is, only exacerbates instead of mollifying. What false consolations, what hackneyed commonplaces, are made use of in the house of mourning! There is a falling back on what is called the good moral character of the dead. Deathbed repentances may be made too much of. The chamber of mourning is the stronghold of an immense amount of very dangerous error in the attitude of man towards God. The temporary pain of the freshly wounded heart of man is more considered than the abiding truth of God. Then what censurable regrets there are! What utter and unconcealed selfishness on the part of survivors! It is not a feeling of pain for what the departed may have lost, but rebellious wrath for what the survivor may have lost. And so we may say that, to enter into a house of mourning where there is the right and Christian spirit, is a matter for joy and not for grief, because indeed the peace and the loving-kindness and mercies of God are there. Let us aim so to live, in such unworldliness and heavenliness of life, that survivors shall not be tempted into vain consolations when we are gone.
II. WITH REGARD TO THE HOUSE OF FEASTING. The absence of Jeremiah from festive gatherings would be as a most significant presence; seeing that he was absent, not by accident, not from any personal feeling, not from any ascetic dislike to such gatherings, but by the special command of God. Not only was he forbidden to become himself a bridegroom, he could not even congratulate any other. It will be noticed that the marriage-feast in particular is referred to. The wedding was a time for a special gathering, and invited guests would make special efforts to be present. Jesus, for instance, at the wedding-feast at Cana. Mere rioting and reveling, and the laughter of fools and such merry-making as cost the Baptist his life, were at all times forbidden. There is much of rebuke to us in this command of the prophet here. He did not take part even in an innocent festive gathering. It jarred on him as he thought of the future, so different and yet so near. And possibly, if we thought more as we ought to think on what has yet to come in the way of judgment and destruction, we should walk through the world feeling that we had no heart even for what is reckoned innocent merriment. We can never be sufficiently serious when the burden of human life, with all its vast and varied trials, comes to lie upon our thoughts. - Y.
I. AS IT IS IN ITSELF. It is a fearful prospect which is here held out to the unbelieving Jews. They are to experience a complete change of condition. The land of promise, national independence and honor, family purity and happiness, and the institution and ordinances of true religion are to be forfeited. The land to which they are to be exiled is unfamiliar to them - full of strange scenes and customs; a scene of bondage and tyranny. This is but an illustration of the eternal destiny of sinners. Much must necessarily be vague in their conceptions of it, but it will be a greater change from their present circumstances and experiences than can be imagined. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus teaches that there will be a complete reversal of relations and conditions. How impossible for the lost to reconcile themselves to circumstances so different from those to which they have been accustomed! Their nature will be wholly enslaved, and the best service they can render will be exacted for objects unworthy of it and known to be so. Hell, so far as Scripture allusion to it can be understood, is represented as abnormal, unnatural, a state in which the soul shall be filled with fruitless reset, and sink into lower and still lower deeps of degradation and misery. It is depicted as a strange and sunless land, irradiated by no celestial smile and no sunrise of hope.
II. AS THE SINNER REGARDS IT. The picture drawn by Jeremiah is vague and yet terribly suggestive. It is so foreign to the experience and expectation of his hearers that they look upon it with incredulity and astonishment. Instead of evoking from them expressions of repentance and fear concerning the way in which they are walking, it provokes questions that exhibit the callous indifference and self-deception of hardened hearts. They cannot conceive of such a fate awaiting them. What have they done? Is it just that their conduct should be so dealt with? If any offence had been committed, surely it was out of all proportion to such a judgment, and so on. Is not this the attitude of the sinner today? The more awful the future predicted for him the more secure he feels in himself now. He fails to trace the definite line of connection between the germ and the fruit of his sin. It is a part of his infatuation to misapprehend the law of the Divine reward and punishment, and even the real outlines and proportions of the Divine character.
1. A destiny in his view so disproportionate to his offence becomes incredible. And just as the Jew could not conceive of the features and characteristics of the life upon which he was to enter when this prophecy should be fulfilled, the transgressor now fails to realize the position he must occupy when circumstance will depend only upon character. Passing consequences may be seen and partly estimated, but the final outcome of it all is, because of its very nature and extent, unreal to him.
2. The future of the sinner is strange and unreal to him, and therefore fails to impress him as it ought.
III. AS EXPLAINED BY GOD. This is one of the main purposes of revelation, viz. to connect the present with the future and to interpret their relations. Whilst it is true that every sinner already contains within himself the elements of his future punishment, it is also true that of himself he could not forecast the actual extent or nature of the destiny he is working out. It is necessary, therefore, both for emphasis and enlightenment, to supplement experience with revelation.
1. Their punishment was but the natural development of their sin. The latter was of old date. Their fathers forsook Jehovah, did not keep his Law, and went after other gods. The tendency was inherited by themselves, and in aggravated degree: "Ye have done worse than your fathers." They now paid more attention and honor to idols than to Jehovah, and when this is the case it cannot last long. The veil of decency will be cast aside; the real character will betray itself, and shame will cease. They became more and more "sold under sin." The vices of a false religion weakened their character and made them a ready prey to the ambition and rapacity of their neighbors. The same law is apparent in spiritual destiny. Let the sinner be warned. He may be sure his sin will find him out.
2. It was but right that they should be so punished, as they had added to their ancestral offence an intolerable personal aggravation. The terms of the covenant were flagrantly violated, and they had forfeited the land by their moral unfitness to occupy it. If an earthly country could be so hallowed as not to admit of being occupied by unclean idolaters, how much less possible must it be for confirmed sinners to stand in the presence of God amidst the multitudes of redeemed! Heaven would be bell to such persons.
3. The spiritual condition that was so dealt with presented no ground for consideration. God said, "I will show you no favor." It was a deliberate sin, and there were no signs of repentance. The day of grace, however, was with them whilst the prophet spoke. So is it represented to be with the preaching of the gospel. Whilst God calls to us his mercy still continues. "Now is the accepted time;... now is the day of salvation." But in that day present obstinacy will be the worst condemnation. "I called, and ye refused," etc. - M.
I. THE FACT. How else can such a question as this of ver. 10 be accounted for? Was not their sin clear as the sun at noonday? Had it not been for years crying aloud to God for vengeance? Had it not been condemned by all the servants of God, by the written Law of God, by all the voices of God in long succession? And yet these people are asking, "Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us." It is as if the convicts in our prisons were to begin to ask why they were so treated, and to profess ignorance of their having done aught amiss. But in such ease we should say they were playing the hypocrite, pretending an innocence to which they well knew they had no claim. In this case, however, there is no hypocrisy. The question, monstrous as it seems to us, is asked in all good faith. The prophet of God is bidden to give it a serious answer, not to denounce those who ask it as a set of conscious hypocrites. Just as in Matthew 25:44, which is a portentous parallel indeed, the condemned there are heard asking when they had been guilty of the sins laid to their charge. It is evident in that case and in this, not that they were consciously liars, but that conscience was simply dead within them. The writer knew also of one who had cruelly defrauded a large number of people, who, believing him to be an eminently religious man, had entrusted to him their hard-earned savings, with all of which he had made away; but, when brought to justice, condemned, and imprisoned, he could not be got to confess that he had done wrong, but would keep quoting, in regard to himself, texts which tell of the afflictions of the righteous, and how "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth."
II. THE CAUSE. Conscience is starved by neglect of that seeking of God's grace which is its nutriment and strength. And it is stunned by repeated acts of sin. Men can and do nibble, if we may so speak, at conscience, and gradually rid themselves of it. The clamor of sin drowns the still, small voice, and its protests, perpetually unheeded, are at last withdrawn. So that at length men find themselves able to do evil and think nothing of it; the little rift that sin first made has widened and widened until the whole torrent of waters bursts through, for the faithful dyke that held them back has been gradually destroyed, and so now the whole nature of the man is overwhelmed, submerged beneath the deluge of sin. And, what is most sad, the man feels, no more than do the sunken cities and towns that tie at the bottom of the Zuyder Zee, the rush of the waves that for centuries have rolled over them.
III. THE CURE. Thank God there is one. The sharp surgery of God's judgments arouse the deadened conscience. The rags, the hunger, the degradation of the prodigal woke up his conscience and brought him "to himself." And so it was with the Jewish people. God's judgments made them hate and abhor, as they have done ever since, the idolatries which brought those judgments upon them. It would be dreadful to think that God had no resources whereby, in full harmony with its freedom, he could bring into due subjection and order "the unruly wills of sinful men." Can we conceive of God having created a force greater than himself, which can forever defy him, and ever maintain, as Milton's Satan in hell, a rebellious though wretched rule? God knew how to convert Israel, Saul, the penitent thief, ourselves, and we may trust him to find means whereby at length to Jesus every knee shall be made to bow. Vers. 14 and 15 contemplate a converted Israel (cf. also Isaiah 30:18; Matthew 27:33-39). But let a man tremble at the thought of compelling God to deal with him thus. Let him beware how he wastes his conscience, lest it turn against him and suffer him to sin unrestrained. - C.
I. THAT WHICH WAS AT FIRST A FREE CHOICE WILL IN TIME BECOME A COMPULSORY SERVICE. The waywardness and capricious eclecticism of the idolatrous Jews was to be sternly visited upon them. They had toyed and compromised with idols; soon it would be discovered that that dalliance could not be prolonged.
1. Jehovah will not continue to accept a half-hearted service. It was only his forbearance that had suffered it so long. Whilst it might appear possible that Judah would repent, the imperfection of its service was overlooked; but when that imperfection seemed likely to be stereotyped, or when it was increasing with the growth of idolatrous practices, it was no longer to be endured. A mixed worship is dishonoring to God. He refuses to accept half a heart. It is impossible to serve him aright with divided attention and interest. Permission to worship and know him even in part is a privilege which may be withdrawn. The "idolater" would not always be able to walk on the heights of critical spiritual eclecticism. The time would come when what he thought so irksome would be taken away. God would send upon him "strong delusion to believe a lie." And this is rather to be looked upon as a repudiation of Judah by God than as a departure from Jehovah permitted by him to his own hurt. Spiritual power and hallowed circumstance would alike be forfeited, and God would cast off the idolaters. For:
2. Sinful tendency, when let alone, confirms and strengthens itself. Daily contact with the obligations and influence of the Law and the temple was a real benefit to the Israelites. It kept them from settling down utterly into idolatrous habits. That religious observance which is so wearisome to the sinner is his safeguard; it keeps him from complete abandonment to the inner depravity of his nature. He is alarmed, warned, disturbed, whenever he is inclined to more than ordinary license; and even his ordinary lax and sinful life is constantly judged and corrected by the truth which he hears. The Spirit of God continues to plead and wrestle with him, and although he does not wholly yield himself to its influence, he is prevented from wandering quite beyond recall. But let this restraining influence of grace once be withdrawn, the natural impulse to evil, all unchecked, will begin to develop and gradually overmaster the entire nature. This is the explanation of many a life that seems to linger long upon the debatable line between duty and sinful inclination - it is the Spirit of God that has not ceased to strive with it, and not the mere power of the man over his own desires and habits.
3. The circumstances and opportunities of Divine worship, if persistently neglected and abused, will be withdrawn. Palestine under the theocracy was a breathing-space for the spiritual aspirations of man. It was a school of purest affection and the most exalted righteousness. Divine power outside of, and also working within, Israel had defended it against the most tremendous invading forces. Let that power be withdrawn, the possibility of every man worshipping God under his own vine and fig tree would be taken away. The Jews would be overpowered by the laws and customs of the idolatrous nations amongst whom they would be dispersed. How much do we owe to the political, social, and personal influences that make for righteousness around us! How slowly and at what infinite cost have they been acquired! And they depend upon unceasing effort for their support and advancement. Civilization is the product of long, manifold, and harmonious effort and growth. It is a gossamer fabric which a day might destroy. Yet is it but an outwork and coarse expression of religion. The latter is the breath and inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Let that breath be withdrawn, and it ceases to live; and its most characteristic and essential institutions gradually become obsolete and sink into a mockery and a snare. We shall probably never know how much we owe to the mere circumstance of religion that surrounds us. Freedom to worship God, encouragement to obey him, and sustaining power to give effect to our spiritual desires, all result from the favorable position in which we are placed. Let us, therefore, seek to foster the institutions and increase the social and political influence of Christianity in the world. Without its presence amongst men, and the hallowed institutions, customs, and observances that embody its spirit, we should find it infinitely more difficult to serve God with conscientious and honest service.
II. THIS SERVICE WILL AFFORD NO REAL SATISFACTION OR PEACE. The exhaustive and absorbing devotion which idolatry entails is not the sign of spontaneous enthusiasm. It arises from the nature of the idols, as senseless, helpless blocks. They, indeed, must cry loudly who would be heard by such gods. In proportion as ritual is more laborious than righteousness, so is idolatry more exacting than true religion. But "the idol is nothing," only the representative of the lusts and ignorance of its worshippers. It is in reality the latter that receive and demand the service. All sin is idolatry in some form or other, and will prove as exacting of the attention and labor of the sinner. Who is not willing to admit that sin is a hard taskmaster? And yet, what are its rewards? The poor soul, hurried and driven by its own overmastering lusts and passions, has no rest, and no solid residuum of comfort is secured; nay, rather a sense of deepening gloom, indefinite, unquenchable craving, and a foreboding of the final wrath of him whom it has insulted and disobeyed. To the victims of wicked habit, etc., as to the devotees of a false religion, the words of Christ are addressed, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden," etc. - M.
I. THE GREATER AND MORE INVETERATE THE TRANSGRESSION, THE GREATER WILL BE THE PUNISHMENT. It was not to be supposed that the past judgments of God, however great, were all that he could or would do. He has many ways of bringing transgressors to their senses; and it is impossible to conceive a limit to his power of imposing penalty. His stern, uncompromising attitude to sin has been witnessed to by many an awful judgment and destruction, even where previous calamities might seem to have exhausted his anger or his invention.
II. THE PROMISE OF GOD APPEARS SIDE BY SIDE WITH THE FIRST ANNOUNCEMENTS OF HIS JUDGMENTS. Even in the way in which it is threatened there is encouragement and hope. It will be an awful experience, but God will redeem his people. So in the beginning of the curse our first parents received an anticipatory evangel. The failures of God's people in social and political experiment were the occasion of the most glorious predictions of Messianic times. This shows the real purpose of God's threatenings. They are intended to produce repentance, and yet there is reality enough in them if that repentance be not forthcoming. Fear is appealed to, but freedom of choice is preserved, and spiritual power called into responsible action.
III. THE MERCIFUL POWER OF GOD WILL BE MORE GLORIOUSLY MANIFESTED IN EVERY NEW CALAMITY WHICH HIS PEOPLE BRING UPON THEMSELVES. The captivity of which the prophet speaks will but give occasion for a grand deliverance, in comparison with which the Exodus from Egypt will sink into insignificance. The judgments of God, however great they may appear, are limited with the strictest exactness, and are within his control. There is reason, therefore, to expect his interference whenever the folly or unbelief of his people imperils his cause. He will preserve a people to praise him, and raise up a generation to call him blessed. So with the backslider from gospel privileges and obligations. He whom Christ has washed in his blood will not be suffered wholly to pass into spiritual death. Grander exhibitions of the Divine grace and power will be afforded. The good Shepherd will go over the dark mountains to recover the wanderer. Those who have been entangled again in the yoke of bondage will be redelivered if they but turn with new obedience and faith to their Savior. They will be saved, if" as by fire." - M.
1. That in this return there was a display of the moral power of God rather than his physical might. That which was needed to bring this about was the exercise of the Divine power on men's hearts rather than any material force. It was by mighty miracles that Israel was brought out of Egypt; it was by the action of God's Spirit on his people's hearts that those who returned from Babylon were induced so to do. For their lot was happy, prosperous, peaceful, so far as this world was concerned. The Books of Esther, Nehemiah, and Daniel show this. Hence it was a strong religious yearning that led to the return of those who returned. The mass of the nation were content to remain, and did remain, and formed "those of the Dispersion," of whom in so many ways we hear in after ages. Hence, as Zechariah says (Zechariah 4:6), it was "not by might, nor by power, but," etc.
2. Then, also, in this return there was a display of God's pardoning love. Israel was a forgiven people. They had received at the Lord's hand double for all their sins. But God is ever more glorified in the display of pardoning love than in any manifestations of mere power.
3. And there was in it such a fulfillment of prophecy, such a demonstration of the overruling power of God in and through all the movements of different nations and ages, as proclaimed God's glory more than power alone could ever do. For these reasons the return of the exiles was a more glorious event than the deliverance from Egypt.
4. And this will be seen yet more if we take the verses as pointing on to the ultimate restoration of Israel. Zechariah (13. and 14.) speaks of this, as do many other Scriptures. It was the "hope of Israel" of which Paul told, and he places it in connection with the second advent and the resurrection.
5. And still more if we understand by Israel the spiritual Israel, and regard all these promises as predicting the triumph of the Church. Thus regarded, the deliverance from Egypt was by comparison a very little thing. But when that great triumph comes, where shall we be? God grant that it be amongst those whom on that day he will confess before his Father and the holy angels. But this notable instance in which past mercies promise greater ones to come is only one out of many more. Apply the principle declared -
I. TO THE CHURCH AT LARGE. What mercies in the past, what deliverances, the Church has enjoyed: from persecutors, "grievous wolves" superstition, infidelity, etc.! But all these are to be regarded as pledges of yet greater ones when they shall be needed.
II. TO INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS OF THAT CHURCH. Who of us cannot recount, in the course of our lives, temporal deliverances: from sickness, poverty, perplexity, sorrow, death, etc.? We are to take them all as reasons to anticipate greater things still, more to follow. And especially spiritual deliverances: from living on in disregard of God, from the power of the world, temptation, sorrow. But there are greater ones still. The Church in its full redemption shall prove the truth of this, and so shall separate members of the Church. All shall confess that the Lord hath "kept the good wine until now." CONCLUSION.
1. Be not dismayed at the troubles of the present; do not think God's grace is exhausted.
2. See to it that you share in the first deliverance - that from guilt and sin. Unless we have known the first, we cannot know the second and greater - that final deliverance from all guilt, all sin, all sorrow, all death, in the presence of God forever. - C.
I. THE INDICATION OF WHAT HAD BEES ONE OF THE MOST CUSTOMARY FORMS OF OATH HITHERTO. On important occasions, when a promise had to be made or an assertion verified, it was the Israelite's habit to make a solemn appeal to the living Jehovah. "As Jehovah liveth" was the general formula, to be combined with more particular references, agreeing with the occasion, as to what this living Jehovah had done in the past. The reference might be to something that had happened in the experience of the individual, and probably still more frequently to greater events in the larger experience of the nation. To give such an appeal all possible solemnity it was needful to think of Jehovah in the most magnifying way; and what could magnify him more than a recollection of the great deliverance from Egypt, which he had wrought out for Israel? That deliverance gave Israel its great chance of service and glory as the people of God. Up to that time a nation of helpless slaves and sufferers - helpless, that is, for anything they could do - they nevertheless became in a very few days a nation of free men, travelling towards a land of their own. And all this was by direct Divine intervention; and not only was it a great deliverance in itself, but all the circumstances made it doubly memorable. The narrative of what had been done needed no embellishments to grave it indelibly on the memory of each generation. Moreover, Jehovah himself had made provision for the continued recollection of the deliverance by the institution of the Passover. He wished it to be remembered. We may well conclude that such a form of oath as appealed to him in his character as the Deliverer of Israel from Egyptian bondage, was peculiarly agreeable; it being always presumed, of course, that the oath was uttered sincerely.
II. THE INDICATION OF HOW THIS VENERATED OATH WAS TO BE SUPERSEDED. Probably at the time of the deliverance from Egypt many Israelites may have said to themselves, "Nothing can ever happen in the history of our nation more memorable than this. Whatever Our vicissitudes, whatever our perils, we cannot be more in need of Jehovah's intervention than we have lately been." But when either nations or individuals speak thus, it is in utter ignorance of how deep and terrible human need may become. There was a worse bondage than that of Egypt; it came with no external inconveniences, it was invisible to the outward eye, and, worst of all, it was heedlessly accepted by the bondman himself. The Israelites had fallen into the bodily slavery of Egypt by no fault of their own; there was no point at which it was possible for them to stop the process. But the spiritual enslavement to idols and to every sort of consequent evil came by their own act. They had stooped to the yoke. It is a greater thing that has to be done now, so far as the result to the Israelite is concerned, than was done when he was taken out of Egypt. Then he was delivered from Pharaoh and his host - a simple matter comparatively, for the destruction of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea did all that needed to be done. But now the Israelite has to be delivered from himself. There has to be some sort of change within him, and this we may well believe was brought about by the exile in Babylon. It is not enough to say that, after a time of exile, God brought them back to Jerusalem. The mere transport from one place to another would have been no whit more memorable than the deliverance from Egypt. Surely there must have been a state of heart in the returning generation which made them very different from the generation going away into captivity seventy years before. That they came back to a true, spiritual, steadfast service of Jehovah is not to be supposed; but neither would they come back to the old idolatry. The sin into which they were hereafter to fail was a formal service of the true God, mere ceremonialism and Pharisaism, not apostasy to idols. The great effect of the exile in Babylon was deliverance from formal idolatry, evidently a matter to be more celebrated than the deliverance, centuries before, from bondage in Egypt. But in the future beyond there was something greater still to be looked for. There was a possibility of yet another form of oath, if Jesus had not recommended his disciples to dispense with all additions to the simple, veracious "Yes" and "No." Israel needed to be delivered, not only from formal connection with false gods, but from a mere formal connection with the true God. The Lord lives, who brought Israel out of Egypt. The Lord lives, who further delivered Israel from temptation to fabricate idols and grovel before them in licentiousness and cruelty. And we may also add that the Lord lives, who makes individuals of every nation his children by the accepted indwelling of his Spirit; makes them partakers of the Divine nature, with all the glorious consequences thereof. Further, we may say that Jesus lives, who made the blind to see and who raised the dead. But it is a still greater thing to say, Jesus lives, who died to restore men to his Father, and rose again to bring life and immortality to light. - Y.
I. MEN DOUBT THIS. Reasons are:
1. Long impunity has made them bold.
2. Such findings of them out as have taken place, in defilement of conscience, hardening of the heart, loss of peace with God, etc., they do not care for. They only care for public exposure and punishment.
3. They see others go on in sin unpunished.
4. The power which we all have to believe what we wish to believe.
5. The direct agency of the devil in fostering such false belief.
II. BUT THE DECLARATION OF GOD ON THIS MATTER IS NEVERTHELESS TRUE.
1. The Scriptures affirm it (cf. all those which teach the omniscience and omnipresence of God).
2. Conscience attests it.
3. There is nothing in sin to show wherefore it should not be.
4. The revelation of the future life distinctly provides for it.
5. And even now it is continually being proved true. A man's sin finds him out in many ways - in body, mind, estate, reputation, etc. And in one or more of these sin does ever find a man out, even now.
6. The apparent exceptions are accounted for on the ground of
(1) God's long-suffering to the sinful;
(2) God's purpose to test and exercise the faith of his own people.
III. A DEEP AND ABIDING CONVICTION OF THIS TO BE GREATLY DESIRED.
1. What restraint it would exercise on the will! (cf. "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?").
2. How exceeding sinful it would make sin appear!
3. What force it would lend to all endeavors after the reclamation and reformation of the sinful!
IV. AND SUCH CONVICTION MAY BE HAD. It is the sacred and salutary power of prayer thus to make God real to us. In prayer we look to him and we see him looking upon us; we speak to him and he speaks to us; by aid of it we walk with him and he walks with us. He who thus lives in daily fellowship with God can never be without the conviction spoken of.
V. BECAUSE SIN IS SURE TO FIND US, LET US AT ONCE SEEK AND FIND CHRIST. - C.
I. WHILST JEHOVAH IS DESERTED BY HIS OWN PEOPLE THE HEATHEN WILL SEEK HIM. There is a law of displacement visible in God's dealings with his Church from age to age. Like the man in the parable, who prepared the feast and bade many, he is determined that his house shall be filled.
1. In this way God shows his people that he does not specially need them. His favor depends upon their faithfulness; if they fail he has others to supply, their place. His election is no blind favoritism or arbitrary distinction, but proceeds upon spiritual conditions.
2. Apostasy from God is due to imperfectly understanding him; but the heathen who turn to him do so with full experience of the effects of their idolatry. The vanity and nothingness of idols drives them in despair to the true God. Henceforth for them idolatry can have no power. It has been, as the Law was to Saul, a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ. Lessons acquired in so stern a school are not soon forgotten; and the haft-hearted disciple, led away of his own lusts and enticed, is supplanted by a steadfast and faithful convert. So every day is the Church of Christ being recruited from the ranks of those who have been the "chief of sinners." We cannot tell in what depths of degradation those may now be sunk who are to shine as stars in the eternal firmament. Let the individual Christian strive, therefore, to make his calling and his election sure. Let the Church see that iris candlestick be not removed.
II. IDOLATRY IS A SYSTEM WHICH REFUTES ITSELF.
1. It disappoints the expectations which it has awakened.
2. The conscience at last revolts against the excesses to which it leads.
3. By-and-by the evident truism, that what man makes cannot be his god, is realized and acted upon. This process is going on today in the great seats of idolatrous worship, and the fiercest iconoclasts are to be found amongst those who have been brought up in heathenism. A similar process to this goes on in the lives of good men as they are gradually freed from the illusions of life and the ensnaring influences of worldly ideas and aims. The disappointments of life are so many waves casting us upon the shore of a heavenly life, and the general drift of earthly experience is in many and many an instance bringing men surely to God.
III. FAILING A BETTER REVELATION, THE JUDGMENTS OF JEHOVAH UPON HIS OWN PEOPLE WILL SHOW THE HEATHEN THAT HE IS THE ONLY REAL GOD. This is not the way in which God would prefer to show men his glory and his power. It is by his saving grace he would commend himself to them. And the saints are the appointed teachers of the world. They could tell of his power and his grace, of their own deliverance. They could exhibit the blessings of a people whose trust is Jehovah. But, failing this, they would be made examples. The justice of God will take the place of his mercy, which has been abused. In its exceptional severity, its evident connection with and suggestion of supernatural agency, etc., it will attract attention and arouse curiosity. Israel, therefore, even in its calamity and suffering, will serve God. A vicarious virtue will lurk in its captivity, its desolation, and its persecution. God is dealing thus with the unfaithful branches of his Church today. The perplexities, entanglements, and griefs that are due to worldly alliance and secular ambitions and desires are well enough understood even by worldly men. Not from Eden, but from the wilderness to which she has banished herself, will the bride, the Lamb's wife, be brought for her new espousals, and with her shall come, as virgins in her train, many who have been taught by her judgments and disciplines. - M.
I. THE ANTICIPATED CONVERSION OF THE HEATHEN. Ver. 19, "The Gentiles shall come," etc. These heathen peoples will declare the vanity of those idols in which Judah is now trusting (cf. Matthew 11:20-24).
II. CONSCIENCE. Their sin was "written as with," etc., "on the table of their heart," (Jeremiah 17:1). Nothing could erase the memories they all had of their own grievous sin. It was written as if in rock, and as with a pen of iron and a point of diamond (allusion, probably, to the inscriptions on rocks, so frequent in the East,). What a witness is conscience! It cannot be silenced nor sophisticated. It keeps a man's sins "ever before" him. "My sin is ever before me," said David. The writing of our sin on the heart's tablets is so deep, so incisive, so clear, that nothing can destroy it. No storms will wash them out; no lapse of time obliterate and decay; no rush of business and occupation will fill up and conceal those deep engravings; no rough contact with the events of life will break them. There they stand, clearly legible, written on the tablets of our hearts - our conscience - as letters written by an iron or diamond pen on rock. To this evidence the prophet appeals (cf. our Savior's appeal to conscience in the case of the accusers of the woman taken in adultery, John 8.).
III. THEIR WORSHIP. Not alone their conscience, but the horns of their altars, testified against them. These horns, smeared with the blood of their idolatrous sacrifices, blackened with the smoke of their altar fires, reeking continually with the fumes and smoke of their offered victims, - these also were witnesses whose testimony could not be set aside. And what a witness against a man will the worship he offers - the horns of his altar - often be: its coldness, its carelessness, its infrequency, its insincerity, its formality, and sometimes its hypocrisy! Yes; the horns of the altar will prove swift witnesses against all who worship God otherwise than "in spirit and in truth."
IV. THEIR CHILDREN. (Ver. 2.) "They would never lose the impression of that horrible idolatry which had snatched so many from their midst. So deep was this impression that the mere sight of green trees and high hills was sufficient to refresh the hideous memory continually." Or it may mean that their children, retaining and practicing the idolatry of their fathers, are witnesses against those fathers such as none can set aside. Children may become the means of their fathers' condemnation. They cannot held testifying against them. In their memories, their habits, their very bodies, their sins, they will declare what their fathers were. Thank God, they can and do testify for the godly and righteous parents, as Timothy did of hits mother and hers. But how awful to think of having one's own children brought forward as witnesses against us! Let ungodly parents ponder this. CONCLUSION. With such weight of evidence against Judah, what wonder that her punishment was so severe! The sin of Judah, however, too much resembles, in its aggravation and in the evidence brought against it, sin of which we may be all too conscious. What can we do but turn to him who has said, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit," etc.; and whose blood "cleanseth from all sin?" Blessed be God that we may do this; but "how shall we escape if we neglect," etc.? - C.
I. THE PROPHET'S DESCRIPTION OF JEHOVAH. God, he says, is his Strength, his Fortress, and his Refuge.
1. The way in which the deserter individualizes himself. To the prophet individually Jehovah has a satisfactory relation. So far as external sufferings and losses are concerned, the prophet cannot escape some share; but so far as concerns his most important interests, he is effectually separated from his fellow-countrymen. When the invader comes they lose everything; but just then the prophet will be able to say more than ever that Jehovah is his Strength, Fortress, and Refuge. What he has learned to value most cannot be spoiled by any human hand whatever, and so it is seen that each one of us may be in the midst of a perishing multitude and yet not of them. These people had long boasted of their resources, their securities, and their satisfaction in life. They had virtually said to the prophet, "What better are you than us? Though you speak differently and live differently, your end will be the same." But the end was not the same. The invaders took from the people all that was precious to them, and then it was made evident that what was most precious to the prophet remained secure and uninjured with him.
2. The necessity that the prophet should be able to say this. Strength, defense, and security for the individual - even in the midst of a nation having none of these things - was not only possible but necessary. In the last resort, no amount of strength in the community in which we live will do us any good. There may be strength of a certain kind all around, but that may only emphasize our own weakness. Suppose the position of Jeremiah reversed. Actually he was living almost a solitary believer amid a nation of unbelievers; and yet this was far better than to have been an unbeliever amid a nation of believers. There is no way to make God our Strength, Fortress, and Refuge, save by personal trust and obedience.
3. The sufficiency of that in which the prophet here expresses his confident. It is when we really address Jehovah, thinking of what we need and of what he is, that the feeling of an inexhaustible sufficiency will come to us. And this is the way one may come to speak who knows history, who has had somewhat in personal experience both of need and supply, and, above all, who looks heavenward, assured by a feeling of the heart which rises above all reasoning, that he is connected with One able to do exceeding abundantly beyond any conceivable need of man.
II. THE ANTICIPATED CONFESSION OF THE GENTILES. The words here are words of strong contrast. The Gentile is openly mentioned, but the children of Israel are thought of at the same time.
1. The Gentiles are represented as coming to Jehovah. They have groped their way out of darkness and disentangled themselves from superstitions, while the very people whom Jehovah had brought to himself with so much power and patience, making their way clear and safe, would not inwardly come, even though they were outwardly brought. Their hearts were not changed with their changed circumstances. And it is a thing which cannot be too much remarked, that the Gentiles have long had an understanding, not only of the New Testament, but equally of the Old, which the children of Israel have been utterly unable to reach. And not only are these Gentiles to come; they are to come from the ends of the earth. God's drawing power is felt everywhere. Jerusalem is the center from which light and truth in their great historical manifestations nave gone out. But God can make his center of spiritual light anywhere, according to the necessities of the individual and of the time.
2. When these Gentiles come they have a confession to make. They have to confess the utter emptiness and falsehood of their idolatries. They have, indeed, been taught all these things; sucked them in with their mothers' milk; but this makes their own turning from them all the more remarkable, for what a man is taught he too often clings to, just because he has been taught. It is to be further noticed that these idolatries have always had the same character. The conception is not of gods who once were strong and true, but who have at last come into dotage and are unable to help their worshippers. The lies that tend to deceive and ruin the present generation have actually deceived and ruined many generations before. And yet those things which the Gentiles show signs of forsaking Israel clings to with a mad persistency. Israel has chosen lying, vanity, and loss, and forsaken that great Jehovah whom their fathers inherited. The lesson is, not to value tradition for its own sake, seeing it may only hand down lies. A tradition is nothing unless it is something more than a tradition. There must be the personal experience of God, the personal reception of truth. Every man must come out of Egypt, cross the flood, and come to Sinai for himself. To every such one tradition will become invaluable; for of the things handed down he will know which to receive and transmit, and which to reject. Each of us who comes to reject - intelligently and decidedly, courageously and openly - a lying and empty tradition, at the same time weakens the force of that tradition just as far as our individual influence may extend. - Y.