Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. ASK HOW THIS SPOLIATION COMES TO PASS. One cannot suppose that it came by the intention of Jehovah. Rather would it arise as a necessary part of wholesale pillage. Considerable treasures might be lying in the tombs of these grandees of Israel, and much might also have been hidden in them for purposes of safety, and therefore, seeing that this hideous devastation had to happen, it was fitting to call attention to it beforehand. It was another indication of how completely, for its sins, Jerusalem had been handed over to the foreign destroyer. It makes all the difference to mention such a terrible circumstance beforehand, as an illustration of the severity of God's dealings. Thus it is seen that the spoliation cannot be laid to his charge. And though it must be taken as a sign how barbarous the ancient civilization was at bottom, this is but a consideration by the way. The real cause of this hideous spectacle was in the idolatry of those who had covenanted to love and serve Jehovah, to walk after him and seek him and worship him. These dead ones had forsaken God and taught their posterity to forsake him also; and now there was none among the living able to protect the bones of the dead from such horrible insult.
II. OBSERVE THAT THE HUMILIATION HAS A PECULIAR CONNECTION WITH THE IDOLATRY OF THE PEOPLE. Not only are the tombs emptied, but the bones are scattered before the host of heaven. The enemy was not thinking of this exhibition, but it happened so very opportunely. Sun, moon, and stars looked down upon the scene thus strewn with the bones of the illustrious, as if in rebuke for the use which Israel had tried to make of them. They had worshipped and served the creature in opposition to the Creator, and this was what had come of it. These bones had strengthened the living body to worship the sun, and now the sun shone steadily down on them, as if in public rejection of what was not only a mistaken honor to the creature but a shameful insult to the Creator. The very things we misuse become the instruments of our humiliation.
III. THE GENERAL QUESTION OF THE TREATMENT OF DEAD BODIES IS SUGGESTED FOR CONSIDERATION. Various are the customs of men with respect to the treatment of the dead, but many of them have one common element, in that they try to preserve the visible, tangible relics of life as long as possible. There is something very touching in the hopes and beliefs which are represented by an Egyptian mummy, as if the survivors felt that life had receded into some deep, inscrutable chamber, again to come forth in due time and reanimate its old tenement. We think of how Joseph must have been under the influence of a feeling of this kind, when he gave such strict commandment concerning his bones. Still, it is part of the salvation wherewith Christ saves his people, that we are lifted above these haunting considerations as to the corporeal frame. It is according to the Spirit of Christ that we should labor, by exercise and self-denial, to make the living body an efficient agent of his will; but when the life has gone, no sentimental treatment of ours can alter the fact that the body is mere matter, fast under the chemical laws which will soon resolve it into its constituent elements. Have not the bodies of God's saints been shamefully maltreated, both during life and after death? Think out of what a mangled and bleeding form the spirit of Stephen took its flight to everlasting bliss. If there be force in the injunction of Jesus not to fear what men can do to the sentient body, how much more may it be urged not to fear what they can do to the senseless corpse. The enemies of the noble and fearless witnesses of truth have shown more than once their contemptible spirit by the way in which they have treated the dead. They could not get at them when living, and they thought it was something of a triumph to insult their remains when gone; e.g. Wycliffe and Cromwell. The scattering of these bones before sun, moon, and stars would have been a thing to glory in, if the men to whom they belonged had been soldiers in the noble army of martyrs. - Y.
I. LOOK AT THESE UTTERLY DECEIVED ONES.
1. They were worshippers of the gods of the heathen. The sun, the moon, and all the host of heaven: these were the objects of their worship. Reference is continually made to them and to their worship (2 Kings 23:5; 2 Kings 21:3, etc.).
2. And they were most earnest worshippers. Note the piling up of expressions to indicate this.
(1) They "have loved them. Here is the root of all real worship. The object must be loved, and these people were drawn to and attracted by these false gods.
(2) They served them. This follows as a sure consequence. It is not said they believed in them; but that matters not: it there be that in the object of our worship which makes us like it - love is almost too sacred a word as applied to false gods - we shall serve it readily enough.
(3) And then they walked after them. That which lured them at the first drew them more and more, and so it became the habit of their lives.
(4) And they sought them. When they found the worship of some of these gods was pleasant, they sought out more of them; or it may mean that they got at last to have a real faith in them, and hence consulted them as oracles, appealed to them as judges, implored their favor, and prayed to them as benefactors."
(5) And they "worshipped them. See them at their worship on Mount Carmel, on the day when Elijah challenged their priests to put to the test his God and theirs. None could doubt the sincerity of their worship or the earnestness with which they cried all that morning long, O Baal, hear us!" And those to whom Jeremiah wrote were such thorough worshippers of these gods. They withheld no proof of their devotedness.
3. But yet they were utterly deceived and disappointed. See in text and in immediate context how these gods dealt with them. Ardent votaries as they had been, those whom they worshipped let all the hideous woes come upon them which are told of here: death, desolation, degradation, and despair. That was what their gods did for them. They had spent their all on these pretended physicians, and were nothing bettered, but made worse indeed.
II. ENDEAVOR TO EXPLAIN BOTH THEIR INFATUATION AND THEIR DISAPPOINTMENT.
1. As to their infatuation. It can hardly be possible for any reader of the history of these people to avoid asking the question, "Wherefore was it that they were so given to idolatry?" Their whole national history showed that nothing but sorrow and shame had come from idolatry, and yet here they were forever, not merely falling into it, but deliberately and persistently going after it. What could be the reason?
(1) Partly, no doubt, the example of the great and mighty nations around them. We must remember what an infinitesimally small kingdom that of Judah was - about the size of an ordinary English county, and how insignificant they were; how the influence, therefore, of the great empires which pressed them on either side could not but be felt. And this was all on the side of idolatry. Idolatry had done them no harm; the gods they worshipped had, so it would seem, lifted them up to greatness and power surpassed by none, All seemed to say to the poor, weak, little kingdom of Judah, "You had far better do as we do and trust our gods rather than your own."
(2) The spirituality of the worship God required, and the absence of all such demand on the part of idolatry, was another argument for idolatry and against the worship of God. No graven image, no representation of God, nothing that would help the senses to conceive of God as like to themselves, was granted to the Jews; God was a Spirit, and he was to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. No statue, no image, no painting, no symbol even, was to represent him. It was not allowed that the Jew should be able to place in his house or carry about with him, as other nations did, any material emblem of his God (cf. Deuteronomy 4:15; Isaiah 40:18). But spiritual worship of this kind has ever been found far more difficult to maintain: it demands a condition of heart and mind so purified that to the gross and sensual such worship is impossible, and to the ordinary mind it is far from easy. The anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament, and the Incarnation itself, are condescensions of God to the confessed feebleness and incapacity of man for such pure worship. But, on the other hand, idolatry, abounding with "chambers of imagery," lending itself to all the clamor of the senses, - what wonder that it was preferred?
(3) Add on to this the fact that strict obedience to the Levitical Law involved such isolation from all other people, such scrupulous care, such heavy sacrifices of time, wealth, ease, and the good will of men; in short, was altogether, as St. Peter afterwards said (Acts 15:10), "a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear;" whilst idolatry wooed them with its sensuous, brilliant, luxurious, and easy rites; and again we ask, what wonder that idolatry was preferred?
(4) And present earthly good seemed to be associated with it, and absent from the worship of God (cf. Jeremiah 44:15-19, "For then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off,... we have wanted all things"). And
(5) lastly, the license allowed by the lax moral code of idolatry, and its positive sanction of gross licentiousness; this, contrasted with the stern frown of the true Jewish faith upon all such sin, was more than sufficient to attract in crowds a people so debased as the Jews had now become. Then, as still, the most powerful and the most depraved passions of human nature were not only permitted free indulgence by idolatry, but actually patronized, protected, and prescribed. All ancient history attests this, and the result on the heathen world, not only history but God's providence and his Word alike (Romans 1.) have plainly declared.
2. As to their disappointment. Idolatry, however for the moment it may seem to have brought good along with it (cf. supra), resulted at last in such unparalleled woe as the prophets, one and all, continually declared must come from it. But whilst no idolatrous nation has ever stood permanently in its greatness - let the decayed and perished empires of antiquity witness - there can be little question that sentence against the evil work was executed more speedily, more sternly, and more notoriously against the Jews than against any other idolatrous nation whatsoever. It cost them more than any other people, and they have not paid "the uttermost farthing" even yet. The rabbis say that in every one of the innumerable cups of affliction which Israel in the course of the long ages has had to drink, there has been mingled some of the dust of that golden idol-calf which Moses ground to powder beneath Mount Sinai. We are told how, when he had done this, he cast the powder into the stream from whence the camp drew its water, and made all the people drink of it. Now, wherefore was sorer Judgment meted out to Israel than to others because of their idolatry?
(1) Because they were the beloved of the Lord. A man may see a strange child doing a disgraceful action and may take comparatively little notice; but if it be his own son, whom he loves, will he not feel and resent it then as otherwise he never would?
(2) And "chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God." They were to be the channel along which the truth of revelation was to flow to mankind at large, and if that channel were not kept free from pollution, neither could the living waters which flowed along it. Hence the prompt and stern measures which were ever taken to preserve Israel in the faith of God, or to restore them if they had wandered. It could not be, therefore, that Israel should permanently and entirely lapse into idolatry. The well-being of the world hinged on their handing down pure and uncorrupt the oracles of God and the faith of their forefathers, and because "God so loved the world," the cup of idolatry was ever made bitter and nauseous to his people, so that they might hate to drink of it.
III. THY TO TURN THIS WHOLE SUBJECT TO GOOD ACCOUNT.
1. The votaries of the world may in these verses behold their own portraiture and read their sure reward. For
(1) they do after this manner give themselves to the world. They "love," "serve," "walk after," "seek," and "worship" it.
(2) And their infatuation is explained by like reasons.
(3) And their reward will be to be utterly deceived and disappointed. God will say to each one of them, "Thou fool!" (Luke 12:20).
2. The worshippers of God may profitably contemplate a model which too many of them too seldom follow, of earnest devotedness in their worship. "The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light." Would that the devotedness of the world to its god were equaled by the devotedness of the Church to theirs!
3. Every one may beheld, in the tremendous and deadly attraction of the world, fresh, urgent, and constant need of being "kept by the power of God" in the love of God. Well may each day begin with this prayer -
"Lord, I my vows to thee renew:
I. REMEMBER MAN'S NATURAL DREAD OF DEATH. The very force of the prophet's expression here lies in this, that it contradicts the habitual feelings of the human breast. The natural preference is to choose life rather than death; nay, it can hardly be called preference at all. There is an instinctive prompting to ward off everything that may be fatal. Whatever the drawbacks and pains of life may be, life is chosen rather than death. In most instances the suicide is held not responsible for the state of his mind at the time. We must all die indeed; yet death is so alien to every predominating feeling of the mind when in health and prosperous circumstances, that even when death comes near others, it is viewed as if it had little or nothing to do with us. And so when Jeremiah's word came to these people in Jerusalem, they, at least the young and the strong among them, would receive it very incredulously. That things should ever become so bad as to make death desirable would seem to them to show that the threatener of such a doom was overdoing his warnings.
II. LIFE MAY BECOME SO FULL OF PAIN AND MISERY THAT THIS NATURAL DREAD MAY BE REVERSED. When the blow was struck and Jerusalem fell into the hands of the hosts from Babylon, thousands would be thankful that, amid so much destruction, their lives were spared. To lose possessions and go into exile would seem a light price to pay for the preservation of life. But with the increased experience of exile itself its dreadfulness became manifest. How could it be otherwise? The captivity and exile were not of an ordinary nation, but of one whose God was Jehovah. These people had been in the enjoyment of peculiar privileges and satisfactions, which they had come to accept as a matter of course; and when they lost them, they would then discern, if never before, something of their true value. It was out of a land of promise, a laud reserved for the people of God, that they had been cast, and no lapse of time could content them to be as other nations. It is just because man has within him such capabilities for enjoying life that he can be driven to the other extreme of desiring death. Life could not be so blessed as Christ holds out the hope of its being, unless there were also the possibility of its being correspondingly wretched.
III. It is thus suggested that we should aim at reaching a state of mind such that EITHER LIFE OR DEATH SHOULD BE EQUALLY ACCEPTABLE. To prefer life to death is a natural feeling, but certainly not the feeling which a believer in God and Jesus should have. And to prefer death to life is the feeling which comes after a time of struggling, weariness, pain, and disappointment; but what darkness of the mind does this not prove] what inability to profit by the light which shines in Christ! The Christian medium lies between the two extremes. Not to wish to live, nor to wish to die, but to be in Christ's hands, so that as long as we are living there may be an availing of every opportunity of service, and when we die a fresh proof that faith in the Savior who also died, but rose again, is no deluding vanity. It is one of the glorious aspects of Christ's salvation that he can save men from crying out for death rather than life, just because he can lift them into an experience of joy and peace which overbear the sense of temporal pain and loss. - Y.
I. THE ANALOGIES Or COMMON SENSE AND INSTINCT ARE FALSIFIED. (Vers. 4-6.) If a man fall, he will rise again to his feet; if he has made a mistake or gone in a wrong direction, and discovers it, he will turn again, unless he be absolutely bereft of his senses. One might expect similar behavior in spiritual matters. But in the wickedness and defection of Israel it was not so; their apostasy seemed perpetual. The migratory birds are taught by instinct when to return. The season of their coming again is almost as calculable as that of their going. But the departure of the sinner is incomprehensible, and his return cannot with certainty be expected. Nay, the likelihood is he will continue in his sin, and pursue his own destruction to the bitter end. In this, as in many other instances, the career of the sinner can only be explained on the score of infatuation. His moral sense is perverted or destroyed. In place of that quick response which conscience ought to make to the voice of duty, there comes over his spirit an insensibility to moral considerations, and a growing ignorance of things Divine gradually deepening into outer darkness.
II. IT IS UNMOVED BY THE CONSIDERATIONS THAT OUGHT TO AFFECT IT. (Ver. 5.) The growing misery and unhappiness which it occasions are not strong enough to check the tendency to sin, if indeed their connection with it is clearly perceived or acknowledged. The cravings of the spiritual nature have to give place to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." By-and-by they are stilled, not by being satisfied, but by being stifled; and a curious heedlessness, which is deaf to all the voices of prophetic warning and entreaty, increasingly characterizes it. Under such circumstances it is difficult to discover any common point of contact or argument that shall be valid to both parties. When reason is left behind, it is not to higher, but to lower, susceptibilities that appeal has to be made.
III. THE CONCERN, THE CLAIMS, AND THE GRACIOUS PROVISION OF GOD ARE AS NOTHING. (Ver. 6.) The saint in the times of his calamity calls upon God to incline his ear. In the fearful condition and moral insensibility of his people to Shelf wickedness and danger God is represented as of himself inclining his ear and listening attentively for the lightest sigh of repentance. He calls, but no notice is taken. The means of salvation he has provided are neglected, or abused. The form of godliness is cultivated when the spirit has fled and the exercises of religion are the chief foes to its reality. What can be the conclusion to all this? They are spiritually dead. There is neither power nor inclination to seek for better things. Nothing but supernatural grace and long-suffering love can avail to save them. - M.
I. THEIR CHARACTERISTICS.
1. So contrary to men's wonted ways. For when men find that they have brought evil on themselves, they will at once seek to undo such evil (Ver. 4). If a man fall, he win not lie still in the mire or in the road, but will get up again as speedily as may be. If he have mistaken his path and got on a wrong track, wilt he not, as soon as he discovers his mistake, quickly retrace his steps that he may get into the right way? That is how men act in the common affairs of life. But, though Judah and Jerusalem knew well that they had fallen, yet they showed no desire to rise, and though they could not but know they were altogether out of the right way, they showed no willingness to return.
2. Resists the strivings of God's Spirit and all his drawings of them to himself. Ver. 7 implies such God-implanted instincts in men's souls, but declares that, unlike the ever-obedient birds, man resists and refuses the call of God.
3. Becomes shameless. (Vers. 6:12.) This feature we have had noticed before (cf. Jeremiah 6:15); it arrested the prophet's attention as being evil exceedingly.
4. Determined and defiant. (Ver. 6.)
5. Is at last perpetual. (Ver. 5.) They have gone into an evil way, and they abide in that way, no power of Divine grace being able to draw them therefrom. So terrible is this worst form of backsliding, it is perpetual.
II. THEIR CONSEQUENCES. The evil fruit such sin bears is shown here.
1. Deep sorrow to the heart of God. How pathetic is this lament] How it echoes the anguish of those words, "How shall I give thee up!" "How often would I have gathered thee!" etc.! Such is the tone of these (Vers. 4-8). The Divine grief is audible through every part.
2. Shame to the backsliders themselves. (Ver. 9.) It is ever so. These chapters have been giving illustration upon illustration of this result. And our own observation and the experience of all who have turned from God to sin - all alike confirm what God's Word has said.
3. Utter and absolute ruin. (Ver. 10.) The dreadful sorrows of the vanquished in beholding their most beloved ones torn from them to a fate worse than death, and their lands which they had inherited from their fathers taken possession of by their conquerors, - these common incidents of war are cited as illustrative of the utter ruin which would come upon these ungodly ones. And evermore will men find it an exceeding bitter thing to depart from the living God. We are also shown some of -
III. THEIR CAUSES.
1. Deception. Ver. 5, "They hold fast deceit." How many are the falsities by which men are deceived, and to which they hold fast as if they were sure facts on which their souls might rest (cf. Vers. 8, 11; 7:4, 8) l
2. Dislike of God's ways. "They refuse to return." They had no desire to detect the falsity of their trust; they were glad to have any excuse for refusal.
3. Strong preference for the world's ways. Ver. 10, "Every one... given to covetousness." The ways of God suffered not such worldliness, but the ways they had chosen gave free permission. Here is ever the secret of departure from God. But can nothing be done? "Is there no balm in Gilead?" (ver. 22). Note, then -
IV. THEIR CURE. How shall this evil spirit be cast out and the right spirit be restored? In Ver. 6 the process is shown to us. There is:
1. Realization of the results of our sin. The backslider is represented as contemplating with dismay the awful consequences of his sin, and asking, "What have I done?" It is "the conviction of sin" which is the beginning work of God's Spirit in the sinner's heart. See the prodigal contemplating the ruin he had brought upon himself. This was the first step in his "coming to himself."
2. Repentance of our wickedness. (Ver. 6.) Not general repentance, but each man seeing his own wickedness and repenting of that. The man has come to look on it as God looks on it. Formerly he loved his sin, now he hates it. One element of our Savior's atonement was this, that he in our nature and as our representative, looked upon our sin as God looked on it, and so offered to God for us a true repentance. We, however contrite in heart, could offer none such, for as it has been truly said, "Our very repentance needs to be repented of, and our tears washed in the blood of Christ." But this element of all true atonement - that he who makes such atonement looks on the wrong done as he who has been wronged looks on it - was present in Christ's atonement, and is one reason wherefore "the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin."
3. Confession. This is the "speaking aright" which is told of in Ver. 6. They had been denying, excusing, maintaining their sin heretofore, anything but speaking aright about it; but now there is heard the right language of confession: "I have sinned."
4. Practical turning from the evil way. As before each had turned determinedly to his own self-chosen course (Ver. 6), now they would turn from it. Such is the way of the backslider's return and restoration, a way up which there is no smooth easy sliding as there was down, but in which every step has to be firmly made and resolutely kept to - a way difficult indeed, but, blessed be God, not impossible.
V. THE COUNSEL. Let each wanderer from God ask himself the question, "What have I done?"
1. Such inquiry can do no harm; and:
2. Is likely to be of great advantage.
3. The time for such inquiry is lessening day by day.
4. "It is a fearful thing for an unforgiven man to fall into the hands of the living God." - C.
I. A LESSON FROM THE SUBORDINATE PART OF MAN'S NATURE. If a man falls, he instantly attempts to rise again. Even if there is some serious injury, it is commonly discovered by the failure of the man's attempt to rise; and so from the subordinate part of our nature there is a rebuke to the higher and governing part. A very striking instance of such a rebuke would be given in the falling of a drunken man to the ground. He staggers to his feet again if he can. If he remains on the ground it is a sign, to use the common expression, that" he is very far gone indeed;" and in such an instance may we not truly say that the body is rebuking the will for its imbecility and its base slavery to appetite? So if a man is going anywhere, and turns unwittingly from the straight path; such a turning may be made very easily, and the wrong path be kept in for a while, but presently there will be some sign to show the error, and with more or less delay there will be a return to the right path. Here, then, are two instances, level with the experience of everybody, of what is natural for man to do, viz. come back from a wrong state as soon as ever he can; and if the position be only looked at truly, it will be seen that it is as unnatural for a man to remain in spiritual degradation as to continue lying on the ground.
II. A LESSON FROM THAT PART OF THE CREATION WHICH IS SUBJECTED TO MAN. There is the horse. He can be so trained as to become a potent force in the battle-field, and if he becomes uncontrollable and rushes hither and thither, as dangerous to friend as to foe, it is not because of any rebellious purpose, but a brief madness has seized on him. Let a few hours pass, and he may be submissive and serviceable as before. "We put bit" in the horses' months, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body." "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." The very birds of the air, seemingly so free from all restraint, come and go according to certain laws. If the beasts which man has tamed to his use, and on which he daily depends, were to treat him as he treats God, what an awkward, nay more, what a perilous scene this world would become! The whole visible universe, ground beneath, air around, and far away into the immensities of space, are crowded with admonitions to perversely disobedient man. These birds mentioned here, by certain wondrous intimations to which they are ever heedful - exceptions only going to prove the rule - help to carry on the government of God. They are faithful to their nature, and their faithfulness is again but a sign of God's own faithfulness in the orderliness of the seasons. Then go beyond the ordinary subjection of God's creation to his will. Look at what we call" miracles." Think of the passage of the Red Sea, the speaking of Balaam's ass, the obedience of the fish in the Sea of Galilee to the will of Jesus, the storm becoming a calm, the venomous serpent dropping innocuous from the hand of Paul. What rebukes these are to man, who persists in walking in his own way! Man himself proceeds with all confidence in the training of brute beasts. He takes the colt and the puppy, and makes them abundantly useful. He is pretty sure how they will turn out. The trouble he takes with them is rewarded in the end. But with regard to his own child, though he has watched over it far more carefully than any of his beasts, he may be bitterly disappointed. His training may be mocked, as it were, and put to shame - and so, rising from the human parent to the thought of God in heaven, we see Israel similarly perverse, negligent of all that has been done to make right ways for it and keep it in them. - Y.
I. THE STAGES OF THE WAY.
1. Realization of the ruin wrought by our sin. The soul is represented as contemplating this ruin, and asking, "What have I done?" This is the first stage.
2. Repentance. Each one is to repent of" his wickedness." We are not to lose ourselves in a general confession of sin, as too many do, but to think of our own sin apart from that of other people, and to think of what is especially our sin. Thus personal and particular, our repentance is the more likely to be genuine and godly.
3. Confession. "These that have sinned, these and these only speak aright when they speak of repenting, and it is sad when they who have so much work for repentance do not say a word of repenting." But confession is this "speaking aright" which God desires to hear from us. Now, this confession is so acceptable to God because it glorifies his holiness and his love. His holiness; for the sinner has come to see sin as God sees it, and hence to hate and abhor it. He is of one mind with God about it as he never was before. And his love; for confession casts itself in faith upon a love that is deeper than its sin. Deep as is God's abhorrence of sin, the sinner in confession appeals to and lays hold on a love that is deeper still. Hence, when the sinner makes his sincere confession before God, he is at once right out of "the far country," and home in the heart of God. The robe, the ring, the shoes, are put upon him; the feast is prepared, and the merry-making, the joy in the presence of the angels of God, at once begins.
II. THE ATTENTIVE OBSERVER OF THOSE WHO TRAVEL BY THIS WAY. It is God who is represented as bending down his ear, hearkening to what is said, listening for any words of confession, and ready to hear them if spoken. The text is the language of gracious expectation and desire on the part of God. It calls to mind the father's waiting for the prodigal's return. How often had he looked with longing, loving gaze down the road along which his returning son must come, if ever indeed he would come I He had looked so often that a speck in the far distance would at once be discerned by him. Hence, "when a great way off," the father saw him. And so here God is represented as thus waiting for his guilty people's return. And how much there is to confirm our faith in this Divine solicitude for the sinner's salvation! Look at the very constitution of our nature. That, as Bishop Butler has shown, is evidently on the side of virtue, that is, of obedience to God, and against the disobedient. "Who will harm you, if ye be doers of that which is good? " - thus the apostle appeals to the universally recognized fact, that the constitution of man's nature is such as to favor the good. And, on the other hand, the declaration that "the way of transgressors is hard," is based on another like fact of universal experience. Such is one evidence of "the care" with which, as George Herbert sings, "Lord, with what care thou hast begirt us round? Then the revelation of his truth is yet further in evidence. That truth, as ministered to us by the written Word or by the lips of prophets, apostles, pastors, teachers - it matters not - is a perpetual proof of the Divine solicitude for our eternal good. And his providence, making it to be well with the righteous and ill with the unrighteous. Well and ill with each respectively in mind, body, and estate. And his Spirit. That Spirit speaking to us in conscience and in the powerful pleadings of his grace in our hearts, of which we are all so often conscious. And, last of all, God has shown us this loving care of his for us in his Son. He has shown himself in a manner adapted to touch and move all hearts, and to draw all men unto him. Now, all this mass of evidence is in keeping with that solicitude which this verse and so many other portions of God's Word reveal as felt by him towards sinful men. And if it be asked "What moves this solicitude?" the character of God furnishes the answer. The holiness of God. "Good and upright is the Lord, therefore will he teach sinners in the way." And we are bidden "Give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness." It is the nature of holiness to be distressed at all that contradicts it and is unlike itself. It rests not until it has assimilated all around it to itself. Were, then, is one reason of God's perpetual appeals to sinful men. His wisdom also. It is the characteristic of God's wisdom to adjust means to ends. How wonderfully and beautifully this is seen in all departments of nature! But for the fulfilling of the high purposes of his grace, what instrument can he find more fit than the regenerated, redeemed soul? Even now and here we see this. A soul aglow with love and faith towards God, what will not that soul do for God? Hence to the principalities and powers in heaven shall be made known by the one Church - the company of the redeemed shall evidence it - the manifold wisdom of God. His love also. If the beholding of scenes of distress touch our hearts and make us eager to render help, can we imagine that he who made us is less willing than ourselves to show pity and render help? Our Lord's argument is, "If ye, evil though ye be, know how" - and we do know how - "to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give," etc.? Humanity, as it has been well said, is the heavenly Father's sick child. Will not the Father's love, therefore, be all the more called forth to that child? And his compassion also. For this life is the critical period of that child's malady. It is the time when the great question of its life or death is being determined. Terrible forces are against it, and the struggle is now at its most momentous hour. This fact would cause the Father's love to go forth, as it has gone and is going forth, in active compassion, in open manifestation of its solicitude. Such are some of the considerations which lead to our Father's attentive observance of all those who travel by this homeward way.
III. THE END OF THE WAY. They who come there will find restoration to the Father's love, the implantation of a new nature, the complete pardon of the past, power to live as God's dear child for the future, and ultimately the everlasting dwelling in the very presence and home of God.
IV. BROOKS BY THE WAY. It is said, "He shall drink of the brook by the way, therefore shall he lift up the head." We may apply these words to the travelers in the way we are speaking of; for they need, in the weary and often most difficult journey, the refreshments which God alone can supply. Such aids are given in the promises of God, the fellowship of God, the communion of fellow-travelers on the way, and in the service and worship of God.
V. THE SOLITARINESS OF THE WAY. It is but "here and there a traveler" that is found. The way is not thronged. This verse is God's lament that scarce any are found willing to go along this road; for it is not the way of worldly advantage. They who "are given to covetousness" (Ver. 10) will never choose this way. They have persuaded themselves that they are as well off and better where they are. They are deceived, and, what is worse, are willing to be deceived: "They hold fast deceit, and so refuse to return." We should have thought that surely it would be otherwise.
1. Reason bids them return (Ver. 4). If a man have fallen, he will not lie content on the earth, but will arise. If in an ordinary journey he have missed his way, he will at once retrace his steps. Reason rules in such cases, but not here.
2. Conscience bids them return. They could not but know that their sin had done them sore harm; but none of them asked, "What have I done?" however loudly conscience might summon them to such repentance.
3. God's Word bade then return (Ver. 8), but lo! certainly in vain he made it.
4. Providences bade them. The events that had taken place were all admonitions of God; but though the birds of the air marked and obeyed the providence of God, sinful man "knew not the judgment of the Lord" (Ver. 7). Hence the way is solitary. CONCLUSION. But the question for us is, "Are we in this way?" Let us bless God if we are, and press on therein. Let us note how short the day is in which we can travel, how its few fleeting hours are lessening, lest when we would start on the way we have to exclaim (Jeremiah 6:4), "Woe unto us I for the day goeth away, for the shadows of the evening are stretched out." - C.
I. DIVINE ILLUMINATION ALONE CAN GIVE TRUE UNDERSTANDING OF GOD'S WORD. The priests and scribes, because of familiarity with holy things, claimed to be wise. They were satisfied with the spiritual state of Israel. Had they been wise, they would have anticipated what took place. The Holy Spirit alone bestows Divine insight and foresight.
II. THE DESPISERS OF DIVINE TRUTH, AND THOSE WHO FALSELY PRETEND TO ITS CUSTODY, WILL BE PUT TO SHAME. "Refuges of lies" will be swept away. The judgment, when it comes, will find them wholly unprepared and helpless. "Take heed that the light that is in thee be not darkness." "Blind leaders of the blind," the sorrowing comes to them in vain for comfort, or is deceived to his own hurt; at last the victim of a misplaced confidence, to find himself "of all men most miserable." The sinner meets with no true correction or instruction; and in his desperation he receives from them no help. Their judgment is that they will share the fate of their victims and dupes. - M.
I. THE CLAIM MADE. Those on whom Jeremiah presses his appeals for a change of purpose reply, if not by plain words, at all events by equally plain actions, that they are so wise in their own conceits as to need no guidance from an outsider. A profound belief in one's own insight and skill may of course be justified by results; such a belief has been a very important factor in many great achievements. But it is also to be noticed that to have this belief without any corresponding reality is an evil which may afflict a man at every age of his life. It belongs to the young in their ignorance, and the old, with all their experience, may not be free from it. That experience, even though long, may have been a narrow one, and yet, with all its narrowness, full of blunders. But the recollection of all that should make such old men humble avails nothing to diminish the dogmatism of their advice to others. A certain official and social position is also a grand vantage-ground to air a reputation for wisdom. Nothing is then needed but an abundance of self-assertion to gain acknowledgment from the weak and the ignorant. These great men of Jerusalem would point scornfully at Jeremiah, the lonely prophet. Their city polish would perhaps be in strong contrast to the rustic airs of the man from Anathoth, and, as if to make their claim of wisdom more definite, they fell back on what seemed an unanswerable challenge. "Is not the Law of Jehovah with us?" The meaning of this seemed to be that they could beast of a certain outward conformity with Mosaic institutions. They certainly did attend to the incense and the sweet cane, the burnt offerings and the sacrifices (Jeremiah 6:20). Moreover, what they asserted for themselves implied a correspondingly humiliating opinion of Jeremiah. They were wise, and of course he was a fool. They had the Law of Jehovah, and Jeremiah, in pretending to utter Jehovah's words, was of course nothing better than an impostor.
II. THE DIVINE WAY OF EXPOSING THIS CLAIM. These self-constituted wise men meet the prophet with a declaration as to what they think themselves to be. "We are wise men," they say, nor does the prophet throw back the shortest, directest answer that was possible. It would have been of no use to say," You are fools." But it was of use to project himself into the future, and indicate what would happen to these boasters. When the homes of these pseudo-wise are broken up, and their wives and fields become the spoil of the conqueror, then it will be clear beyond a doubt where the wisdom is and where the folly. Folly will be condemned of her children, even as wisdom is justified of hers. Where nosy are the writings of these wise men? Jeremiah said at the time that they were full of lies, and we may be sure that, like al reflections of popular fashion and prejudice, they passed very quickly out of vogue. "The Law of Jehovah is with us," said these wise men; but it was a valueless connection, whereas the prophet had that Law written in his heart. Being in full sympathy with all that was right, and loving, and generous, and pure, he was a fit subject for the solemn impulses that came to him from on high, and thus he went forth to speak on themes immeasurably deeper than the passing phenomena of an age. And so it is that his words, despised and rejected at the time, nevertheless abide, and are felt to be very precious by all who lack wisdom. As we notice the arrogance of spurious wisdom here and also in such passages as John 7:48 and 1 Corinthians 1:22, we turn away to welcome that heavenly light which in the very shining of it proclaims its source to be entirely different from any earth-enkindled light. Our true wisdom in presence of the Law and the prophets, the Christ and the apostles, is to feel very deeply how ignorant, benighted, and astray we are without them. And there is true wisdom also in that power of the heart which enables us to discern between the false prophet and the true, the false Christ and the true. Such wisdom may be found in the heart of a little child or of a man on the common level of humanity, when it is utterly lacking among many who lead the world in temporal affairs. Full of darkness and duplicity must the minds of these leaders in Jerusalem have been when they lacked the power of seeing that Jeremiah, unpromising as his outward appearance might be, was indeed a prophet of God. - Y.
I. HOW HARD IT IS FOR MEN TO REALIZE THAT THE OUTWARD BLESSINGS OF LIFE DO NOT OF THEMSELVES SATISFY, AND CANNOT BE RELIED UPON! Each of US can remember how, one by one, the things of life had to be taken from him ere he learnt their real littleness and insufficiency. This is often the way God seeks to bless us. He takes away the object whose possession is misunderstood and whose properties are abused, that he may remove the temptation from the heart and leave it free for heavenly affections. "We can do without happiness, and instead thereof find blessedness." But to only a few is it given to know this. The multitude are as foolish scholars, "ever learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth."
II. HOPE WHICH HAS BEEN SO MISPLACED AND BETRAYED TOO FREQUENTLY INTRODUCES TO DESPAIR. AS the lesson has not been learned, there is no perception of the real mistake. The old blunders are repeated until, in the sweeping away of all that we had held dear, we feel that life itself is not worth living, because we can see no real good within our reach. "Who will show us any good?" We are convicted, too, of unpardonable folly. The dissatisfaction with the things of life is gradually equaled, if not surpassed, by dissatisfaction with ourselves. We are conscious of needs that are not met and yearnings that refuse to be stilled. And beneath all these is the miserable consciousness that, in pursuits so trifling and tastes so mean, our true nature is being degraded. We grieve over our shattered idols and our vanished comforts, and yet more, are angry with ourselves that we should so grieve. The question will at last come, "If these things be our chief good, what security is left of ultimate happiness? If the real end of life has not been sought, we are not only unfortunate - we must be culpable." For to seek the truth, etc., of life is not only a possible enjoyment we have missed, but a duty we have neglected. And yet of our own selves we feel unable to retrace our steps. Having the desires we have, which have been strengthened by years of indulgence, we cannot all at once or of our own motion replace them with better ones. A feeling of helplessness, convicted folly and sin, and indefinite denudation gradually dawns upon our affrighted conscience. How shall we escape from the consequences of our own actions? Whither shall we flee who, in seeking our good always in material things, have been living in practical atheism? We can do nothing else but, like the smitten Israelites, betake ourselves to our closets and sit still.
III. BUT THE JUDGMENTS OF HEAVEN UPON THE SINNER, HOWEVER TERRIBLE IN THEMSELVES, ARE NOT MEANT TO PRODUCE THIS DESPAIR. The false trust is removed, that we may find the true one. The worst calamities of life, and its grievous disappointments, will be more than compensated for if they lead us to the Savior. The prophet, speaking representatively for Israel, says, "Let us submit to God's judgment, and confess our sin as its cause." "Silence before the Lord" is the sure way to his restored favor and help. - M.
I. THERE ARE SERPENTS WHICH CAN BE CHARMED. Serpent-charming must have been a not unfamiliar sight to the Israelites (see 'The Land and the Book,' pp. 154,155). This means, taking the figure away, that there were many great and pressing evils which lay within human resources to mitigate, perhaps to remove. Thus when sore famine fell upon Canaan, Jacob found corn, though he had to send as far as Egypt. The resources thus employed are, no doubt, exceptional, and need peculiar skill and aptitude to discover and use them; but still - and this is the thing of importance here to remember - they are within the reach of the natural man. To say that necessity is the mother of invention is only another way of saying that there are serpents which can be charmed. Man stands upon the known and the achieved, that he may reach forward and win something more from the unknown. Not everybody can charm a serpent, but some can. So there are a few physicians, one here and another there, who have wonderful skill in the cure of special diseases. Part of the ills of human life can be swept away by wise and timely legislation. Epidemics may be restrained and made comparatively mild by cleanliness and attention to sanitary rules. This which in one age have been thought beyond remedy, in the next age are perfectly understood as to their causes and their cure.
II. THERE ARE SERPENTS WHICH CANNOT BE CHARMED. We may assume that it was so literally; that there were certain serpents which proved obdurate against every wile. And the danger of the serpent's bite would in such an instance become most dreadful, Just from this very insensibility to everything in the shape of a charm. An enemy was to be brought on Israel whom no bribe, no promise, no art of persuasion whatever, could turn back. If he was to be turned back, it must be by main force or by Divine interposition. So we have to consider that, whatever ills we may succeed in neutralizing, there are others still left behind, unabated in their deadly efficiency by any resources we have in ourselves. It matters little that we can charm some serpents, if we cannot charm all If there be left only one superior, to our skill, that one is enough to ruin all. The most successful charmer among us will discover his match at last. He may charm poverty away, only to find, in a little while, ennui and possession without enjoyment. He may have the experience indicated in Proverbs 23:32: he may charm away, as he thinks, the peril of the wine-cup, and exult in assured mastery, only to discover at last that the foe with whom he has been trifling "bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder." So a man may achieve most of his purposes, charming away, as it were, obstacles on every side, only to find in the end that he cannot charm his conscience, that it will not be silent and sleep before the memory of much wrong-doing.
III. THERE ARE SERPENTS WHICH CAN BE MORE THAN CHARMED. There is much in the conjecture that the reference to the serpent here is suggested by the mention of Dan in the previous verse. Jacob's word for his son Dan was, "Dan shall be a serpent By the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backwards" (Genesis 49:17). But we shall do wisely in considering the reference as having a deeper connection with the work of him who is the serpent from the beginning (Revelation 20:2). All the painful serpent-bites of life, all the deadly ills, proceed from the brood which in some way or other originate with him. And thus thinking of him, the great dragon, the devil, the adversary, we must needs think of the correspondingly profound work of Jesus over against his work. Jesus was a serpent-charmer; and his efficacy as a charmer is most graciously manifested in the miracles which he wrought to remove physical defect, disease, and death. These miracles had in them something of the nature of a charm. They did not destroy the maleficent power, but they curbed it, made it for the time dormant and inoperative. But after having done all these miracles, Jesus is seen proceeding to a work which is more than that of the charmer. He who was lifted up to draw all men to him makes the victim of the serpent-bite impervious, for all future existence, to any further danger. The bite may come, in the sense of inflicting pain, but the peril is past. The serpent-poison becomes neutralized by the vigor and purity of that eternal life which is in Christ Jesus the Lord. - Y.
I. ITS GRIEVOUSNESS. (Vers. 18, 21, Jeremiah 9:1.) Ver. 18, "When I would comfort myself," etc. All hope dies down, is crushed beneath the overwhelming evidence of the hopelessness of his people's condition. Ver. 21: he is as if wounded, his heart is clad in the garb of deepest woe, the black raiment of the mourner. Ch. 9:1: he has exhausted his power of telling forth his deep grief, his eyes refuse to weep more, though his heart be sore pierced, and the troubles of his people are unrelieved. Therefore he desires that he might weep continually.
II. ITS GROUNDS.
1. They were still trusting in lying words (ver, 19), reckoning that, because the temple of Jehovah and the throne of David belonged, to them, therefore they should have been secure. Though in distant lands, in actual captivity - for there the prophet contemplates them - they were still imagining that the possession of the temple and David's throne should have been their sure safeguard. It is terrible to see God's judgments coming upon guilty men, but when these judgments themselves seem to fail in teaching the needed lesson, that is a greater sorrow still.
2. The time of redemption was over. (Ver. 20.) The long harvest days, the bright summer weather - symbols of all days of opportunity - these were gone, The days when they might have turned to God and found deliverance, "the wrath of God had arisen against them, and there was no remedy." But what a retrospect is his who has to say as did Post Israel, "The harvest is past," etc.! For:
(1) Such seasons remind us of our privileges and obligations.
(a) It is a time of fruitfulness, of great privilege, grace, and goodness. God makes man's cup to overflow. Youth and days of gospel privilege. Sundays, sacred services, etc.
(b) It should be a time of great activity. The natural harvest and summer-time is so. For:
(c) It is a season of such limited duration.
(2) But men often let these times pass away unimproved.
(a) The world hinders them.
(b) Perversion of Scripture truths.
(c) Belief that they are well enough as they are.
(3) But once gone, the fruits of that summer and that harvest can never be saved. Such facts as these open the floodgates of grief in hearts like that of Jeremiah.
3. He could see no means of restoration or recovery whatsoever (Ver. 22), no balm and no physician anywhere.
III. ITS WORD TO ALL WHO SHOULD KNOW OR ARE THE CAUSES OF SUCH GRIEF NOW.
1. Christ's servants should be in sympathy with the prophet's lament. It is because we are so indifferent the world is so. "Si vis me flere flendum est," it is ever saying, but in vain, to the professing Church. Oh for the compassion of Jeremiah and yet more of Christ! If we sowed in tears we should reap in joy. If so we went forth "bearing precious seed, we shall doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing," etc.
2. But you who cause such grief, think you not that if such be the result of anticipating God's judgments upon sin, the enduring of them must be far worse? And that is your part in them. Christ himself assured the weeping women who followed him to Calvary that the woes of them who crucified him would be worse than his own. "If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" CONCLUSION. Then, instead of causing sorrow to the faithful servants of God by resisting their appeals, yield to them, and so gladden these servants, and the angels of God, and the heart of God, and the Son of God. So you yourself shall "enter into the joy of your Lord." - C.
Micah 3:11; Jeremiah 7:4, seq.; Jeremiah 27:1, seq.); and from their point of view the captivity of Judah was the final and hopeless collapse of the religion of Jehovah, (W. Robertson Smith).
I. HOW MANY OCCASIONS HAVE THERE BEEN ON WHICH WE HAD EXPECTED AN IMAGINARY GOOD, OR LOOKED FOR A DELIVERANCE WHICH NEVER CAME! The man who has sought for wealth becomes rich only to find that his possessions fail to yield him the satisfaction he expected. False expectations have been entertained by the victims of misfortune that God would deliver them. True, they have no claim upon him, and they know that, if they were to be requited as they deserved, they would be left alone. The victim of unhallowed desires, hurried and driven as by an inward demon, fancies that, in his own nature or the course of life, he will come to a turning-point. He will "sow his wild oats" now; by-and-by he will settle down and marry and be respectable and virtuous. The events of life to which he looks forward take place, but there is no deliverance wrought by them. So many seek the Divine favor in formal religious observances, and do not find it. When many around us are being awakened from their indifference and converted to God, we are alarmed at our own spiritual deadness. The time of grace has slipped past unimproved. God has been gathering in his children, and we are left out.
II. To WHAT CONCLUSION OUGHT THIS TO LEAD US? That we ought to be anxious and in earnest there can be no question. Our chances appear desperate. Our power of moral recovery is greatly lessened as compared with the freshness of childhood's days. But whilst there is life there is hope. We have reason to congratulate ourselves that we have not been cut off in the midst of our sins. The door is still open. Let us, as those "born out of due time," awake to righteousness, and seek with tears an offended but loving Father. "Now is the accepted time;... now is the day of salvation." - M.
1. When there is an actual gathering of harvest. There may be an abundance, even a superabundance, of the fruits of the earth, and yet those who sowed and planted, watched and watered, may not get the slightest benefit. Now, not to get the expected benefit from these things means, if not destruction of life, at least a considerable impairment of it; for natural life depends upon them. And Jeremiah 5:15-24 casts no small light on this state of things. There the mighty men from the north are spoken of, and Israel is addressed as follows: - "They shall eat up thine harvest, and thy bread, which thy sons and thy daughters should eat:... they shall cat up thy vines and thy fig trees." Strangers pluck the rich fruit of the husbandman's toil, and he himself is trampled into privation, reduced to the bare subsistence of a slave taken in war. Thus we see how God may lay before a man that which through the sin and folly of the recipient he may not be able to use. Think of the prosperous man in the parable, who had such abundant crops that he must needs build bigger barns, and yet in the very day of his pride was taken away. What is wealth unless God, in the prosecution of his own wise purposes, chooses to give security in the possession of that wealth?
2. When the harvest itself fails. The harvest season may pass and the summer close, only to leave men with empty garners, in hunger and despair. Whither shall they turn, when drought, blasting, and mildew, palmerworm and locust, cankerworm and caterpillar, have done their work? Then it is that "those who are slain with the sword are better than those who are slain with hunger, for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field" (Lamentations 4:9). Thus, whether the harvest be given or withheld, the practical result is the same. The people are not saved. God may bring the harvest to a complete and beautiful maturity, may, so to speak, save the harvest - and "save the harvest" is not an unfamiliar expression to those who are engaged in the vicissitudes of agriculture - only to teach thereby a more impressive lesson to the people who live so that they cannot be kept safe. What force there is in the expression of this verse if we take it to mean, "The corn is saved; the vintage is saved; the olives are saved; all the pleasant fruits of the land are saved; but we are not saved!" The life is more than the bodily nourishment, and when men will not take heed to the higher things which belong to the life, it is just what might be expected that they should have disappointments in the lower things which belong to the nourishment. The true material wealth of every land, when we get at the substance of it, lies in what its soil produces; and when men beast, as they are apt to do, that their own land has gotten them their wealth, it is needful that Jehovah should show them how completely he controls the roots and fruits of everything that he has made to grow for human food. No wonder evil comes to those who do not say in their hearts, "Let us now fear Jehovah our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest' (Jeremiah 5:24). Malachi puts into striking words the fundamental reason for the sore complaint we have been considering, and the way in which it may be brought to cease (Jeremiah 3:9-11). - Y.
I. IT IS NOT FOR WANT OF EARNESTLY CALLING ATTENTION TO THE HURT. Jeremiah had wearied and vexed his fellow-countrymen by his persistent warnings. In Ver. 21 he insists on how the hurt of Israel had become his hurt. In one sense he was not hurt, for he had kept clear of all idolatrous and unjust ways; he was in a different service and different kind of occupation. But though separated thus, he was also united even as a member to the rest of the body, and had to suffer where he had not sinned. His fellow-countrymen, perhaps, said to him, in substance if not in so many words, "Leave us to go our way, and go you yours; if we sin, we sin, and if we suffer, we suffer, and it is no concern to any but ourselves." The sinner in his suffering and his heart-corruption must be a cause of great trouble to those who are trying to serve God. They cannot go by on the other side and leave him. No matter how self-occupied one may have been before he came under the control of the Divine will, afterwards he must occupy himself with such things as concern the spiritual health and blessedness of all mankind. Jeremiah sets us a great example in thus speaking of himself as being individually wounded. If sinners continue careless, impenitent, incredulous as to the wrath of God and their pitiable state of alienation from him, there is all the more need that God's people should feel instead of them. These Israelites could not say they were left without warning and urgent remonstrance, for the man upon whom the business of warning had been laid cried and mourned over the troubles of others, because in a very deep sense they were his own. Vain, therefore, was it for the people, in after years, amid the gloom of exile and bereavement, to say they had not been properly warned.
II. IT WAS NOT FOR WANT OF A MEDICAMENT. In wounds of the body, Israel knew where to go. They found balm in Gilead, and Gilead was not far off, even supposing they had always to go there to get the balm. Balm of Gilead might be made to grow nearer than Gilead. Thus we see the medicament was easily procured, - a very important consideration. The incense for the altar they brought all the way from Sheba, but the balm for healing grew much nearer. Easiness of procurement, however, would have been little without efficiency. A certain remedy brought from the ends of the earth is better than a doubtful one near to home; only, of course, there must be foresight to lay in a stock, so that it will be at hand when wanted. Evidently this balm of Gilead which grew within Israelite territory was a famous and trusted balm. Only some popular and widely known agent of healing would have served the purpose of the prophet for quoting here. And is it not plain that the God who thus provided for bodily wounds a balm so easily obtained and so efficient in its action, might also be trusted to provide an available and thorough cure for the worst of spiritual ills? Assuredly the prophet means that an affirmative and encouraging answer is to be given to his question. There is balm in Gilead. There is peace for the guilty conscience, purity for the turbid and defiled imagination, strength for the weakened will. The springs of all our pollution and pain can be dried up, and their place know them no more forever.
III. IT WAS NOT FOR WANT OF A PHYSICIAN. The medicament is good, but it may require to be applied by a skilful and experienced hand. The physician can do nothing without his medicaments, and the medicaments are oftentimes nothing without the physician. A physician is needed to prepare the way for saving truth, to apply it in its most efficacious order, and to press it home in close and vigorous contact with that which has to be healed. The balm of Gilead is not given that it may be trifled with, that it may film over deep evils with a deceptive appearance of removal. In applying that balm there may have to be pain, intense pain for a time, in order that a worse pain may be forever taken away. The pain coming from self-indulgence must be succeeded by the pain coming from self-denial. Men have to discover that the pains of sin are the smitings of God, and when they have made this discovery they will be in a fair way to learn that only he who smites can also heal. Do not let us unjustly complain of incurable ills; let us rather confess that we are much in the condition of the poor woman who, after spending much on many physicians, found, by a simple faith touching the true Source of healing, what she had long vainly sought.
IV. THE REASON PLAINLY LAY WITH THE PEOPLE THEMSELVES. They would listen to no warning. Balm was offered, and the physician's skill to apply it, but they would not come to be healed. They preferred the pleasures of sin along with its risks and pains. That their state was bad they knew, but they believed it was not near so bad as the prophet made it out to be. Only physicians can tell how many cases of bodily disease might be cured if the sick were willing to go to the root of the matter, and mend their habits as to eating and drinking, working and playing. Ignorance, indifference, prejudice, and unblushing lust of the flesh lie at the bottom of much bodily disease, explaining both how it originates and how it continues. And similar causes operate with regard to such ills as afflict the consciousness of the entire man. Sinners must have a will to go to Jesus if they expect healing and life, and then life more abundantly. - Y.
I. WHAT FOUNDATION WAS THERE FOR THE PRETENSION OF ISRAEL TO BE THE SAVIOR or THE NATIONS? Its own internal condition was deplorable. Materially and spiritually it was more in need of healing than those it regarded as barbarians and heathen. So of the Church, which has become corrupt a similar question may be asked. If those who profess the faith of Christ do not exhibit its fruits or possess its peace, they belie their profession and discredit the cause of their Master. When professed believers are as troubled with earthly cares and as downcast amid earthly trials as others, men of the world will doubt the efficacy of their religion, belief, and life. This is the burning question of Christendom through all time. Has it any means of curing the evils of humanity, the miseries of life, the wickedness inherent in human nature?
II. HAD THE UTMOST USE BEEN MADE OF THE RESOURCES AT COMMAND? Was there any one who knew the nature of the evil, and how to cure it? Why did they not seek Jehovah? Christians are frequently at a loss, not so much for lack of an orthodox creed as of a realizing faith. They have not been in the habit of going to Christ with their cares and sorrows. Earthly things have been allowed to divert their attention from truth and righteousness as the principles of life. But sometimes great mischief is done by wrong expectations of what Christ will do for his people. Men sow to the flesh and expect to reap a spiritual harvest, or their faith in Christ is but another avenue to an earthly end. Under such circumstances they cannot fail to be disappointed. We must look to religion for its proper functions; to Christ for what he has promised to give. Have we any grief which we do not, cannot take to Christ? Are we consciously resting on him for moral guidance and support and spiritual fellowship? They who always and in all things rest their souls upon a living Savior will know that there is "balm in Gilead," etc. - M.
I. THEIR MEANING. And take:
1. The literal meaning of the balm and the physician about which the prophet so mournfully inquires. Balm was a resinous gum which flowed from the side of a tree or shrub found on the sunny slopes of Mount Gilead, and counted very precious. When Jacob would counsel his sons how they might propitiate Joseph, who held their brother in captivity, he told them to take him a present of "a little balm" (Genesis 43:11). It was an article of merchandise (Genesis 37:25), regarded as of invaluable efficacy in medicine (cf. Jeremiah 46:11; Jeremiah 51:8). Its name was derived from a word which told of the manner in which it was procured from the tree that bore it. The side of the tree was pierced, and the precious balm then flowed forth. The physicians of the day constantly made use of it, and had studied the best means of applying it. But it is evident that the prophet is speaking under a figure. Note, then:
2. The metaphorical meaning. He speaks of the lost "health of the daughter of my people," and means by that the national ruin which was so fast coming on Judah and Jerusalem-ruin of all kinds, spiritual, moral, temporal. By the "balm" he means some method of recovery for his people, and by the "physician" some skilled, sagacious, powerful deliverer, who should be able to employ these methods and so save the land. The prophet was in despair about this; he saw no hope nor help anywhere, and hence the piteous cry, the mournful question of our text. To every one who professed to have found the balm and the physician the ruined land so needed, he addressed the unanswerable question, "Why then is not the health," etc.?
3. Their evangelic import. It has all along been seen that the terms used here were capable of such application. The "balm" is a beautiful symbol of Christ. The Mount Gilead, the tree, the pierced side, the stream thence issuing, and its mighty healing power, - these severally send our thoughts to Mount Calvary, the cross, the pierced side of the Savior, the precious blood, and the unquestionable spiritual healing might there is therein. And Scripture is ever speaking of sin as a disease; of man as one whose health needs recovery. The analogies are obvious. And the "physician," who is he but that Divine Spirit whose office it is to take of the things of Christ and show them unto men? He so shows to us the meaning and intent of our Savior's sacrificial death, that "by his stripes we are healed." Yes; whilst we all are the stricken with mortal disease, Christ is the Balm that surely heals, and the blessed Spirit is he who reveals Christ to the soul. "For no man can say that Jesus is Lord " - that is, in all the full meaning of those words, and with sincere intent - " but by the Holy Ghost."
II. THE OCCASIONS. What led to these questions being asked by the prophet? and what tends to their being asked still?
1. By the prophet. The ruin of his land and people. The awful calamities that were at that moment overhanging the doomed nation. But:
2. By men still. It is the contemplation of the threefold fact of sin, sorrow, and death.
(1) Of sin. Think of the myriads of mankind who have lived and died on this earth of ours, and all of them unblessed by the light of the gospel. Think of the ramp[ant wickedness, the hideous vice, the festering corruption, the indescribable moral pollution that characterizes vast masses of mankind, indeed the mass of mankind. And think of the corruption of Christianity: what a veneer of religion! What a counterfeit of godliness! What a hollow mockery so great part of it is! And coming closer home, the saddened contemplator of the ravages of sin may turn his gaze inward into his own heart, and as he reflects on the slender hold which Divine and holy principles have upon him -
"What scanty triumphs grace has won, and as he cries out at times almost in despair at seeing the strength of the chains by which his soul is bound, "O wretched man that I am I" etc., - the words of our text fit in with his mournful mood. It seemed to him as if there were "no balm in Gilead, no," etc. (2) Of sorrow. To St. Paul, as he penned the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, the whole creation seemed to "groan and travail together in pain." What is the progress of mankind but one long procession of mourners! Oh, the tears and sorrows of the broken-hearted, the helpless, the desolate and afflicted of all ages and of all lands! What a catalogue do they fill! The mind reels as it contemplates the dark mass of human woe. Its faith in the Divine Fatherhood staggers as if smitten with a deadly blow, and is half forced to the conclusion, which to a sad and an increasing number seems self-evident, that there is no balm in Gilead, no physician there. (3) And the reign of death produces similar feelings. As men see how the king of terrors stalks triumphantly through the land, how ruthless is his tyranny, how crushing his power, how dark the grave into which we so soon descend, and how helpless we all are against his might, it does seem at times as if there were no deliverer and no deliverance. But note - III. THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS. 1. To those which inquire, "Is there no balm... physician there? some answer No." Sin, they say, is a mistake which education will rectify, and the operations of the great law of evolution will gradually eliminate. In fact, there is no such thing as "sin" in the sense religious people think. Therefore, whilst for the race there is hope, for the present and past generations there is none. Sorrow, also, they teach, is the result of ignorance of natural laws or of disregard of them. The progress of knowledge will gradually lessen it; that is all that can be said. And as to death, that, of course, is the inevitable, and ends all. The only immortality is in the influence which a man exerts in those who come after him. As to "the Resurrection and the life" - credat Judaeus. Such is the dismal gospel of this nineteenth century. But the Christian reply to these questions is unhesitatingly, "Yes; there is a Balm and a Physician for the sin-stricken soul, whether of the individual or of the whole human race. And for the heart riven with sorrow, broken with grief. And for all those, too, over whom Death has reigned with such cruel power. Because we believe in Christ and in the Holy Ghost, we believe in the 'Balm' and in the 'Physician 'humanity needs." But then comes: 2. The last and seemingly unanswerable question. "Why then is not," etc.? What are we to reply to this? (1) For one large part of those whom it concerns, the sin, sorrow, and death ridden multitudes, we deny that which the question assumes. For the Balm and the Physician have done or are doing their blessed work on them. We appeal to the throng of the redeemed, the blessed dead, myriads of whom are now with God. "White-robed saints in glory, (2) Therefore for this part we say concerning them, wait. St. Paul had evidently pondered this problem, and he has taught us that there are due times and seasons appointed in the wisdom of God for the manifestation of Christ to men (cf. 1 Timothy 2:6; Ephesians 1:8-10; Philippians 2:9; Colossians 1:20), but that in the "dispensation of the fullness of times" it is God's "good pleasure" to "gather together all things in Christ," all the living and all the dead. And it is impossible not to see how the heart of the holy apostle exults in the beatific vision, the "breadth, and length, and depth, and height" of the glorious completed living temple of the Lord God. Therefore, in view of revelations like these, we say that before the reality of the work of Christ and the Holy Ghost are denied, we are bound to wait. And if it be objected that the waiting has been and may be for so long, we reply that it is because men will not come unto Christ that they might have life. The remedy of redemption is not forced upon any soul. A man's soul is not saved by his will being crushed, by his ceasing to be a man and becoming a machine. We cannot but believe and know - the individual conversion of every true child of God demonstrates it - that God has ways and means to bring "the unruly wills of sinful men" into accord with his own, and this in perfect harmony with the moral freedom he has given man. How long and how dreadfully far the human will may go in resisting God we cannot tell, but we may not believe that it is greater than God himself and can exhaust all the Divine resources. The hunger and misery of the prodigal brought him "to himself," the consuming fire of the dread captivity which Jeremiah is foretelling burnt out forever the love of idolatry amongst Israel; and there are other like fires of God's holy love which may have like results. Therefore, we say, that until - if we may so speak - God has thrown up the case of sin and sorrow stricken humanity, we have no right to affirm that there is "no balm in Gilead," etc. In regard to sorrow, that has a ministry of spiritual healing of its own, which has gone on ever since "the Man of sorrows 'became "acquainted with grief." As his messenger, Grief has gone about from house to house, from heart to heart, a veritable sister of mercy, though clad in coarse and unlovely garb. Up and down the streets of this weary world, and in and out every one of its homes, she perpetually goes; but no one ever meets her in the new Jerusalem, in the city of our God, for her ministry is not needed there. Then as to death, we say that in all the drear, dark, hopeless power of it "Christ has abolished death." We can, and by every graveside we do - challenge death as to its sting, and the grave as to its victory. Therefore we say, and with glad hearts, that the health of the daughter of the people is recovered, or is recovering, for that there is both Balm in Gilead and a Physician there.
and as he cries out at times almost in despair at seeing the strength of the chains by which his soul is bound, "O wretched man that I am I" etc., - the words of our text fit in with his mournful mood. It seemed to him as if there were "no balm in Gilead, no," etc.
(2) Of sorrow. To St. Paul, as he penned the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, the whole creation seemed to "groan and travail together in pain." What is the progress of mankind but one long procession of mourners! Oh, the tears and sorrows of the broken-hearted, the helpless, the desolate and afflicted of all ages and of all lands! What a catalogue do they fill! The mind reels as it contemplates the dark mass of human woe. Its faith in the Divine Fatherhood staggers as if smitten with a deadly blow, and is half forced to the conclusion, which to a sad and an increasing number seems self-evident, that there is no balm in Gilead, no physician there.
(3) And the reign of death produces similar feelings. As men see how the king of terrors stalks triumphantly through the land, how ruthless is his tyranny, how crushing his power, how dark the grave into which we so soon descend, and how helpless we all are against his might, it does seem at times as if there were no deliverer and no deliverance. But note -
III. THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS.
1. To those which inquire, "Is there no balm... physician there? some answer No." Sin, they say, is a mistake which education will rectify, and the operations of the great law of evolution will gradually eliminate. In fact, there is no such thing as "sin" in the sense religious people think. Therefore, whilst for the race there is hope, for the present and past generations there is none. Sorrow, also, they teach, is the result of ignorance of natural laws or of disregard of them. The progress of knowledge will gradually lessen it; that is all that can be said. And as to death, that, of course, is the inevitable, and ends all. The only immortality is in the influence which a man exerts in those who come after him. As to "the Resurrection and the life" - credat Judaeus. Such is the dismal gospel of this nineteenth century. But the Christian reply to these questions is unhesitatingly, "Yes; there is a Balm and a Physician for the sin-stricken soul, whether of the individual or of the whole human race. And for the heart riven with sorrow, broken with grief. And for all those, too, over whom Death has reigned with such cruel power. Because we believe in Christ and in the Holy Ghost, we believe in the 'Balm' and in the 'Physician 'humanity needs." But then comes:
2. The last and seemingly unanswerable question. "Why then is not," etc.? What are we to reply to this?
(1) For one large part of those whom it concerns, the sin, sorrow, and death ridden multitudes, we deny that which the question assumes. For the Balm and the Physician have done or are doing their blessed work on them. We appeal to the throng of the redeemed, the blessed dead, myriads of whom are now with God.
"White-robed saints in glory, (2) Therefore for this part we say concerning them, wait. St. Paul had evidently pondered this problem, and he has taught us that there are due times and seasons appointed in the wisdom of God for the manifestation of Christ to men (cf. 1 Timothy 2:6; Ephesians 1:8-10; Philippians 2:9; Colossians 1:20), but that in the "dispensation of the fullness of times" it is God's "good pleasure" to "gather together all things in Christ," all the living and all the dead. And it is impossible not to see how the heart of the holy apostle exults in the beatific vision, the "breadth, and length, and depth, and height" of the glorious completed living temple of the Lord God. Therefore, in view of revelations like these, we say that before the reality of the work of Christ and the Holy Ghost are denied, we are bound to wait. And if it be objected that the waiting has been and may be for so long, we reply that it is because men will not come unto Christ that they might have life. The remedy of redemption is not forced upon any soul. A man's soul is not saved by his will being crushed, by his ceasing to be a man and becoming a machine. We cannot but believe and know - the individual conversion of every true child of God demonstrates it - that God has ways and means to bring "the unruly wills of sinful men" into accord with his own, and this in perfect harmony with the moral freedom he has given man. How long and how dreadfully far the human will may go in resisting God we cannot tell, but we may not believe that it is greater than God himself and can exhaust all the Divine resources. The hunger and misery of the prodigal brought him "to himself," the consuming fire of the dread captivity which Jeremiah is foretelling burnt out forever the love of idolatry amongst Israel; and there are other like fires of God's holy love which may have like results. Therefore, we say, that until - if we may so speak - God has thrown up the case of sin and sorrow stricken humanity, we have no right to affirm that there is "no balm in Gilead," etc. In regard to sorrow, that has a ministry of spiritual healing of its own, which has gone on ever since "the Man of sorrows 'became "acquainted with grief." As his messenger, Grief has gone about from house to house, from heart to heart, a veritable sister of mercy, though clad in coarse and unlovely garb. Up and down the streets of this weary world, and in and out every one of its homes, she perpetually goes; but no one ever meets her in the new Jerusalem, in the city of our God, for her ministry is not needed there. Then as to death, we say that in all the drear, dark, hopeless power of it "Christ has abolished death." We can, and by every graveside we do - challenge death as to its sting, and the grave as to its victory. Therefore we say, and with glad hearts, that the health of the daughter of the people is recovered, or is recovering, for that there is both Balm in Gilead and a Physician there.
(2) Therefore for this part we say concerning them, wait. St. Paul had evidently pondered this problem, and he has taught us that there are due times and seasons appointed in the wisdom of God for the manifestation of Christ to men (cf. 1 Timothy 2:6; Ephesians 1:8-10; Philippians 2:9; Colossians 1:20), but that in the "dispensation of the fullness of times" it is God's "good pleasure" to "gather together all things in Christ," all the living and all the dead. And it is impossible not to see how the heart of the holy apostle exults in the beatific vision, the "breadth, and length, and depth, and height" of the glorious completed living temple of the Lord God. Therefore, in view of revelations like these, we say that before the reality of the work of Christ and the Holy Ghost are denied, we are bound to wait. And if it be objected that the waiting has been and may be for so long, we reply that it is because men will not come unto Christ that they might have life. The remedy of redemption is not forced upon any soul. A man's soul is not saved by his will being crushed, by his ceasing to be a man and becoming a machine. We cannot but believe and know - the individual conversion of every true child of God demonstrates it - that God has ways and means to bring "the unruly wills of sinful men" into accord with his own, and this in perfect harmony with the moral freedom he has given man. How long and how dreadfully far the human will may go in resisting God we cannot tell, but we may not believe that it is greater than God himself and can exhaust all the Divine resources. The hunger and misery of the prodigal brought him "to himself," the consuming fire of the dread captivity which Jeremiah is foretelling burnt out forever the love of idolatry amongst Israel; and there are other like fires of God's holy love which may have like results. Therefore, we say, that until - if we may so speak - God has thrown up the case of sin and sorrow stricken humanity, we have no right to affirm that there is "no balm in Gilead," etc. In regard to sorrow, that has a ministry of spiritual healing of its own, which has gone on ever since "the Man of sorrows 'became "acquainted with grief." As his messenger, Grief has gone about from house to house, from heart to heart, a veritable sister of mercy, though clad in coarse and unlovely garb. Up and down the streets of this weary world, and in and out every one of its homes, she perpetually goes; but no one ever meets her in the new Jerusalem, in the city of our God, for her ministry is not needed there. Then as to death, we say that in all the drear, dark, hopeless power of it "Christ has abolished death." We can, and by every graveside we do - challenge death as to its sting, and the grave as to its victory. Therefore we say, and with glad hearts, that the health of the daughter of the people is recovered, or is recovering, for that there is both Balm in Gilead and a Physician there.
I. THE DIVINE REMEDY FOR THE MORAL MALADIES OF THE HUMAN RACE. This remedy is the spontaneous fruit of the love of God. On the ground of that love we may justly expect such a remedy. It is not likely that a God of infinite benevolence would leave the human race to perish. Though redemption is "of grace," yet there is everything to make it antecedently probable. Though nature contains no revelation of it, yet to the eye on which the light of the gospel has once fallen, the whole constitution of the universe is full of dim prophecies and promises of some such triumphant grace. The spirit of boundless beneficence that pervades and governs it - the fact that for every want there is a supply, for every appetite that which gratifies it, for every danger a safeguard, for every poison its antidote; above all, the silent witness in favor of mercy that is graven more or less deep on every human heart; - all this is so much in harmony with the great redemption as in a sense to anticipate it. But it is facts, not probabilities, with which we have to deal. The gospel is God's actual answer to our human necessities, the sovereign remedy his love has provided for the sins and sorrows of the world. He heals them by taking them upon himself in the person of Jesus Christ his Son. "He was wounded for our transgressions," etc. (Isaiah 53:5); "Who his own self bare our sins," etc. (1 Peter 2:24); "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound," etc. (Romans 5:20, 21). Note respecting this Divine remedy:
1. It goes to the root of the disease. It does not effect a mere superficial reformation, as human methods for the most part do; does not flatter with the appearance of health while leaving the malady to strike its roots down deeper and deeper into the soul. It reaches at once the secret springs of all mischief, destroys the germs of evil in human nature, changes the outward aspects of the world's life by giving it a "new heart."
2. It is universal in its application. All national diversities, all varieties of social condition, of age, of culture, of intellectual development and moral life, etc., are alike open to its application, and it is the same for all.
3. It is complete in its efficacy. Every element of human nature, every department and phase of human life, bears witness to its healing power. A perfect manhood and a perfect social order are the issue it works out.
4. It stands alone, not one among many, but absolutely the only remedy. It enters into no kind of competition with other methods of healing. It has the solitary and supreme authority of that which is Divine. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name," etc. (Acts 4:12).
II. THE HINDRANCES TO ITS UNIVERSAL EFFICIENCY. "Why then is not," etc.? The reason lies, not in any want of fitness in the remedy, or in any lack of power or-willingness in him who provides it, but in certain human conditions that nullify its action and thwart his purpose.
1. In the self-delusion that leads men to think that they have no need of cure. "They that are whole need not a physician," etc. (Matthew 9:12). The sense of moral sickness is the first step to healing.
2. In the vain self-trust by virtue of which men dream that they can cure themselves. How many and how plausible are the expedients by which the world seeks to rid itself of its own maladies! How slow is human nature to confess its helplessness!
3. In the obstinacy of spirit that refuses the Divine method. "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?" etc. (2 Kings 5:12). Anything rather than God's way of healing by the blood of atonement and the regenerating grace of the Spirit!
4. In the lethargy and neglect of those whom God has called to minister the healing power. Who shall say how much of the continued sin and misery of the world lies at the Church's door? If all who have themselves known the virtue of this sovereign balm were but more thoroughly in earnest in their efforts to commend it and to persuade men to apply it, how much more rapidly would the health of human society everywhere be recovered! - W.