Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. IN THE HIGHEST THINGS IT IS THE FEW THAT MUST FEEL FOE THE MANY. This has been the law from the beginning. It is a necessity of nature. It is a Divine appointment. Pure feeling, even when painful, appears as a stewardship in one or two hearts, perhaps in one alone. Joseph is moved to tears at the heartlessness of his brethren. Jonathan is ashamed for his father Saul. Elijah laments in loneliness and despair the apostasy of Israel. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem; painfully wonders at the slowness of heart to believe exhibited by his own disciples; is "sore amazed "at the cup of iniquity he has to drink. Jeremiah is here evidently in the same succession of vicarious suffering. We see the same principle working in our own circle of acquaintance. Men, women, sorrowing and suffering for others, who are themselves unconscious or are partially so.
II. WHAT ARE THE COUNTERVAILING ADVANTAGES WHICH LIGHT UP THIS MYSTERY? It cannot be wholly to the detriment of those in whom it is illustrated. The justice of God is involved in the question.
1. The keenest joys spring from or coincide with the deepest, purest sorrows.
2. By-and-by the sorrow will transfer itself to its objects, in the grace of repentance.
3. In at least one illustrious instance, it exerts an atoning, mediatorial influence for sinners with God. - M.
I. To HIS PROFOUND CONVICTIONS.
1. In regard to the truth of the message he has delivered. When we behold God's servants, such as Jeremiah and St. Paul and others, laboring with all energy of soul, with infinite self-sacrifice, exposed to every form of ill, and "with many tears," we are constrained to inquire the motive of such a life. But only one of three suppositions is possible.
(1) Either he who labors is a deceiver. He is consciously acting a part. But this supposition in regard to prophets and apostles of God's Word has long been given up. "The world has renounced almost to a man this hypothesis. It refuses to believe in the possibility of a hypocrite whose writings inculcate and whose conduct exemplifies the highest order of moral excellence; it refuses to believe in a benevolent, modest, self-denying, high-minded, humble, magnanimous liar, in whom falsehood speaks with the very tongue, looks through the very eyes, and personates the very gestures and tones of truth; it refuses to believe that a man with no earthly motive for it, and every earthly motive against it, should spend the best part of a lifetime in cheating men into truth and virtue which he had himself utterly renounced" (H. Rogers). But if this hypothesis be rejected, then there is another.
(2) He has deceived himself. He is the victim of enthusiasm, the unconscious agent of a bewildered and disordered brain. But this hypothesis also will not bear investigation. For such enthusiasms are generally short-lived, they are soon detected, and the common sense of mankind refuses to participate in them. No instance can be found of a mere enthusiast persuading whole nations and convincing the purest, the most sober, and the most thoughtful of whole communities, and in such manner that the falsehood thus originated shall live on and acquire power over men's minds increasingly. And there are other tests whereby enthusiasm may be discriminated from the deliberate convictions of the sober mind, and every one of such tests, when applied to the history of faithful witnesses for God's truth, fail to show that these witnesses were, though not dishonest, yet merely mistaken enthusiasts. There remains, therefore,
(3) only the other alternative, that the message which they delivered with so much earnestness was true. And the tears of the prophet and apostle do alike bear this testimony, and its force men have everywhere felt. And would we convince an unbelieving world of the truths we profess to hold, we must manifest more of a like conviction. If some wan, worn, emaciated preacher, bearing on him evidently the marks of the Lord Jesus, whose whole life had been, like that of Jeremiah or St. Paul, one long sacrifice for the truth, - if such a one could appear amongst us, then would the world believe, as it now altogether refuses to whilst those who profess belief show such few tokens of the reality of their belief.
2. In regard to the dread peril of those who disobey God. We know with what impassioned earnestness Jeremiah had pleaded with his infatuated countrymen; how he had exhorted, implored, and wept in his endeavor to win them from their wicked ways. And now, when it seemed all in vain, we behold him sunk in sorrow, dissolved in tears. Wherefore this? Were the theory of the universalist true, that there is no "fearful looking for of judgment," that all will be made blessed in the coming hereafter, irrespective of what they have been or what their conduct in this life, - then such tears as we are contemplating now would be unmeaning. Had the prophet held such views, had our Lord, had St. Paul, their deep distress would have been inexplicable, because altogether uncalled for. Or even if the theory of those who hold that "death ends all" been that of God's servants, still such distress would be far more than could be accounted for. Or even if it were that only the blessedness of the righteous were missed, and all others would simply perish, then too the future of the ungodly would call for no such sorrow. Or that by such devices as those of the Romish Church - Masses, indulgences, and the like - the guilty soul, though indeed its doom were terrible, yet it might by these devices be rescued from such doom, - then too there could have been no tears such as these. But contemplating the overwhelming sorrow of men like Jeremiah when beholding the judgment of the ungodly, we are shut up to the conviction, which evidently possessed him so profoundly, that it is a fearful thing for an unforgiven man to fall into the hands of the living God.
3. In regard to the exhaustion of all present resources of help. Could Jeremiah have done anything to turn aside that judgment which he so vividly and with such distress anticipated, he would not have given himself up to tears. They are the evidence that all resources are exhausted, that nothing more can be done, that as he says (Jeremiah 6:29), "The bellows are burned." The language of such tears is the voice of God saying, concerning the hardened and impenitent, "He is joined to his idols: let him alone." God save us all from having to shed, and still more from causing, such tears as these. But they bear witness also -
II. To PROFOUND COMPASSION. He who has known the compassion of God for his own soul will, in proportion to the depth of that knowledge, feel compassion for the souls of others. Indifference and unconcern are no longer possible to him who knows the love of God when he sees men perishing in sin. "The love of Christ constraineth" him. And the same compassion, thus begotten, leads him to mourn when the offer of God's mercy is refused. Such tears, being interpreted, tell of his passionate but useless desire that the sinner's doom had been averted. Cf. David's exceeding bitter cry, "O Absalom, my son, my son!" etc. And they are made to flow the more freely by the remembrance that that lost condition might have been so altogether different. There was no necessity for it. That which could not have been avoided, which we feel to have been inevitable, we bear with more calmness. But when there is the consciousness, such as David had concerning Absalom, that he might have come to an end so different, to an end as honorable and blessed as this was disgraceful and miserable, that reflection made his tears flow faster than before. And when it is not mere folly but grievous sin which has brought God's judgment upon men, then the compassionate heart grieves yet more; a further drop of bitterness is infused into the cup, and such tears as we are contemplating have this sorrow in them as well as the others we have spoken of. And that now there is no hope, no remedy, - this is the last and worst reflection which wrings the compassionate heart with uttermost grief. Jeremiah beholds the house of Judah "left unto them desolate;" the daughter of his people not merely "hurt," but slain. How is it that, with like reasons for such compassion as that of Jeremiah, we know so little of it? "Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy Law" - spoke God's servant in the hundred and nineteenth psalm, But who can say that now? Compassionate Savior, give us of thy mind.
III. TO THE BEHOLDERS OF SUCH GRIEF.
1. Are you workers for God? Then remember that disappointment and present failure have been the lot of many of the noblest of the servants of God. There is a goodly fellowship of such.
2. Are you believers in God? Then remember his sure promise as to what shall follow this "sowing in tears," this "going forth weeping, bearing precious seed." We are not to think that we have seen the last result of our toil because that which we do see is so distressing.
3. Are you rejecters of God? Then remember that God puts such tears "in his bottle," and they are treasured by him; and their testimony, whilst it will be for the salvation of those who have shed them, will be far more terrible judgment against those who have caused them. "Weep not for me," said our Lord on his way to the cross, "but weep for yourselves, and for your children If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" Yes, these tears tell of the sorrows of God's people, but they predict a worse sorrow still for his hardened foes. Look, then, O thou who hardenest thyself against God, and ask thyself, "If this be the sorrow I have caused, what shall that be which I shall have to bear?" Remember that it is not only here that there are tears, but in the future abode of the impenitent it is distinctly declared, "There shall be weeping." Then cease to cause such tears here, that you may never have to shed tears far more bitter thereto.
I. THE MORAL DEGRADATION OF THE DAUGHTERS OF A PEOPLE IS A JUST CAUSE FOR THE DEEPEST SORROW. For think of what and how much is slain in these slain ones. The ruin of health, and the early and often dreadful death, are the least that is slain. Happiness is slain - that of the victim, and of those to whom she was once precious. The joyous hopes once cherished. The influence which might have been so pure and purifying, now corrupt and corrupting. The character once honored, now dragged in the mire. The son, in all its moral worth and spiritual energies and desires, that too is slain. Therefore, when contemplating Such cruelly slain ones, the prophet's piteous cry of anguish is no more than such utter woe constrains.
II. BUT SUCH SORROW SHOULD TURN INTO SCORN AND WRATH FOR THE SLAYERS OF THESE SLAIN. Beware of the hideous complacency with which the world regards such "murderers. Pray to be kept from the paths of such" bloody men.
III. BUT SUCH SORROW SHOULD NOT FORGET THAT THERE IS A DIVINE SPIRIT THAT CAN "BREATHE UPON THESE SLAIN, THAT THEY MAY LIVE." The Spirit of Christ did so breathe upon one such, and she lived. He said to her, "Thy sins are forgiven .... Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace" (Luke 7:36-50). - C.
still another measure of how great, in the estimation of the prophet, the calamity was which had fallen upon his people. Other measures have already been given, in the despoiling of the tombs (Jeremiah 8:1, 2), in the exile worse than death (Jeremiah 8:3), in the visitation of serpents which were beyond the charmer's power (Jeremiah 8:17), and in the suffering through the sin of his people, which even a true servant of God could not escape (Jeremiah 8:21). And now this extraordinary desire of the prophet comes in to make plain from yet another direction how great he reckoned the impending calamity to be. We may well imagine that as he set before Jerusalem these gloomy prospects, the people in their light-heartedness replied, "Why make all this ado? Why try thus to alarm us by these threatenings and cries and tears?" The exclamation of Ver. 1 guides us to what the prophet's answer would be. "My tears, which you count so causeless, rather fall short - short beyond all expressing - of the occasion for them." The fact is that the deepest, tenderest human pity and sorrow, when compared with the actual needs of fallen man, are but as a slight thaw that vainly struggles with the penetrating frost of the heart. Not that human beings lack the power of deep emotion. Whole peoples will be responsive enough to certain touches. But who is to bring before the hearts of all men a sufficient perception of what it is that underlies and perpetuates the misery of the whole world? The thing wanted is an abiding pity for men lying in the suffering of sin. It is perfectly true that there is not pity enough for men because of their poverty, their bodily defects and infirmities, and all miseries that are visible to the natural man. But the real reason why even this pity falls so lamentably short is that there is no searching consideration of what lies deeper than any visible miseries. Nothing effectual can be done with the seen unless the unseen is put right. Then we may be sure of it that the seen will come right with wonderful quickness and stability. We must make our hearts to dwell with the utmost pity on those who are not yet born again, not yet living the life of faith, not yet in living union with the great Source of eternal life, not yet rejoicing with the joy of the Holy Ghost. If we ourselves are really in process of salvation, and with our increased knowledge of truth comprehending more and more what salvation will bring with it for ourselves, then it will not appear to us extravagant and rhapsodical rhetoric that a prophet should wish his head to be waters, and his eyes a fountain of tears. It is unmanly and utterly despicable to weep for trifles, to weep over some spoiled gratification of self; but what sort of a heart must that man have who can watch, free from the deepest agitation, his brethren going on heedlessly into perdition? Jeremiah would have been unworthy of his call and his visions as a prophet if he had fallen short of his exclamation here. Not, of course, that we are to make too much of the mere shedding of tears. In the case of the prophet copious tears were the index of a heart within right in its thoughts, steady in its purposes. But there are many instances where copious tears have no such value. They come and go like a thundershower, lasting us briefly and leaving as little trace behind. Men of few tears may be men of a large, wise, far-seeing kindness. He who never gives to beggars in the street may yet be doing much to make beggary cease altogether. Jeremiah's wish, then, was the wish of a man who saw deeply into the confusions of his time; and yet he did not see as deep as Jesus. Those few tears that Jesus dropped amid the bereaving agonies of Bethany, had in them more of a pure and profound pity over men than all the tears that sinners themselves have shed. No sinful man can imagine that ideal of human life which was ever before the eyes of the Son of God. He alone knows how far man has fallen; he alone knows how high fallen man can be raised. He sees what men miss who do not repent and believe in him. He sees what possibilities of remorse and shame and self-condemnation may be opening up in eternity to the negligent and the impenitent. What wonder, then, that he spoke of the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched I What tears must not be shed over those who choose to sow the wind, seemingly forgetting that they must reap the whirlwind! - Y.
I. IT IS THE NATURAL RECOIL OF A PURE HEART FROM WICKEDNESS. When the knowledge and love of God are in the heart, sin appears more loathsome. The love of goodness will show itself in a hatred of evil, and a desire to be separated from its workers. In some this love of God and goodness overpowers even the natural attachments and ties of life. And it may be carried to such an excess as to become a spiritual disease, in its way as sinful as the causes that give rise to it. Monasticism has its root in a good and proper feeling carried to excess, and without the restraining and modifying considerations that ought to accompany it. In the instance before us (and like instances) -
II. IT SPRINGS FROM NO SELFISH MOTIVE. Jeremiah did not seek for the "luxury" of grief; sufficient the wanderer's tent, or the comfortless caravanserai of the desert. Nor has he any desire to attitudinize. It is a loneliness that shall not be conspicuous; a losing of himself amongst strangers who care not for him and notice him not. Nor did he seek to evade the duties of life. If he separated himself, it was not to escape from the impending dangers he had announced; nor to intermit his spiritual activities. "He wished there to weep for them" (Zinzendorf); to study the problem in fresh and more hopeful aspects; to recover his mental and spiritual calm; to recruit his spiritual energies for a new and more successful effort. So in our own day, the underlying motive must ever determine the lawfulness, the character, and the continuance of our spiritual retirements.
III. GOD DID NOT REBUKE IT, BUT HE DID NOT SEE FIT TO GRATIFY IT. Here the longing, if it ever grew into a prayer, was not answered, at least at once, or in the way conceived of. Whilst the day of grace lasted, and God's people were open to repent and to be influenced by his words, he is detained amongst them. When all possibilities were exhausted, then the dungeon of the king's prison or the shame of the Egyptian exile might serve the purpose. But even then the essential craving was satisfied. There is a longing that is its own answer. To some it is given to experience solitude and spiritual detachment in the midst of the busy throng of transgressors for whom they yet ceaselessly work. This centrifugal tendency may be productive of greater concentration, real compassion, and capacity for usefulness, when it is controlled and overcome by a sense of overmastering responsibility, and a "heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel, that they may be saved." - M.
I. ONE SIN ENTAILS ANOTHER, AND CRIME LEADS TO CRIME. (Ver. 3.)
II. UNIVERSAL WICKEDNESS PRODUCES UNIVERSAL DISTRUST AND MISERY. (Ver. 5.)
III. EVIL-DOING IS A WEARY AND FRUITLESS TOIL.
IV. ITS FUTILITY CULMINATES WHEN IT ROBS A MAN OF THE KNOWLEDGE AND FELLOWSHIP OF CLOD, AND EVEN OF THE DESIRE FOR THEM. (Ver. 6.) - M.
Psalm 55:5, "Oh that I bad wings," etc.! of Elijah's longing that he might die; of the similar dejection of Moses. Even our Lord said, "O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?" But such desire as that of the text is in itself -
I. UNNATURAL. We are formed to mingle with our fellow-men, to live with them, not away from them.
1. It is in intercourse with them life becomes interesting to us. We are taken out of ourselves, fresh sources of pleasure and advantage are continually opened up to us.
2. Sympathy also is in fellowship. Our joys are more than doubled and our sorrows more than halved by the power of that sympathy which solitude can never know.
3. Opportunities of doing good are not to be had "in the wilderness," and when we "leave" our people.
4. Nor are the benefits they can confer on us to be found there. Heart and mind and soul are blessed by companionship and injured by solitude and isolation. Hence such wish as that of the text is, apart from the motive given, unnatural.
II. AND IT MAY BE WRONG.
1. It is so when it is the child of impatience. Doubtless there is much often to try our patience, and to make us wish that we could have done with it all. But we should not think much of the laborer who, because the toil was arduous, threw up his work ere the day was done; or of the soldier who left in the midst of the campaign.
2. Yet more culpable is it when it springs from indolence. There are many who dislike real work in any form. Exertion and effort are shrunk from everywhere. And in their religious life it is the same. And from such poor motive such wish as that of the text sometimes springs.
3. Still worse is it when it comes of unbelief. When all faith is gone, and the dark, dread falsehood begins to get hold of a man, that rest is only to be gained by breaking out of this life altogether.
III. BUT IT MAY PROCEED FROM CAUSES WHICH (JAN ONLY EXCITE OUR COMPASSION.
1. Extremity of suffering: Job, Paul.
2. Experience of human infidelity, as in Psalm 55.
3. When all the purposes for which God ordained us to live in fellowship with one another are unattainable. Such was the case with Jeremiah. Pleasurable interest in such fellowship as was his could not be for him, but only daily vexation of his righteous soul (cf. Lot). Sympathy he could neither give nor find. Ever so desirous of doing them good, they spurned and despised all his efforts. And as to gaining good from them, it was but a continual contact with pollution. What wonder, then; that Jeremiah longed to be away from such a scene? "The hermits of the East, the anchorites of the desert, are more closely linked with ourselves in feeling than some at first may think. Our impulses are often identical with theirs; and if our actions vary it is because our standard of right, not our nature, is changed. In the life of each man there are hours when he sighs for the desert; hours when, bowed down by the sense of sin in himself and the sight of it in others, wearied out by striving to teach a stiffnecked generation, disheartened at seeing the 'good cause' advance so slowly, he cart scarcely refrain from following, in his small way, the example of that emperor who exchanged the palace for the cloister, and the crown for the cowl." These are moments such as came to Jeremiah now. "The Emperor Charles uttered in deeds what we have all breathed in sighs. We do and we must long to flee away and be at rest; but then it must remain a longing, and nothing more" (G. Dawson).
IV. AND GOD HAS MADE PROVISION FOR ITS SATISFACTION. Not by giving us permission to retire to desert solitudes, except, as with Elijah and Paul, it may be for a while to prepare for future and higher service. But in the manner that the psalmist suggests where he says, "Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then," etc. Yes, wings like a dove will bear us into the present rest of God. The dove is the emblem of meekness. Like the lamb amongst the beasts, so the dove amongst the birds is the symbol of lowly meekness and gentleness. But lowly meekness is the way to rest, the rest God gives, the peace of God. Listen to our Savior: "Come unto me, all ye that labor... Take my yoke for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11.). The dove is the emblem of purity. It was not only amongst those birds that were counted clean, but was especially selected for presentation to God in sacrifice, as that which was pure alone could be. The doves were allowed to fly about the temple and to rest on its roofs and pillars (see H. Hunt's picture of the 'Finding in the Temple'). But purity opens the door of heaven, and enraptures the beholder with the beatific vision there. "Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God." Wings are these, therefore, well likened to those of a dove, "covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold." Yes," keep thyself unspotted from the world," and God shall so manifest himself to thee that thy soul shall be at rest, let the wicked rage around thee as they may. And the dove was the selected symbol of the Holy Spirit. "I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove," said John the Baptist. But his wings will bear thee where thou mayest see the fatherly love of God, his wisdom guiding all, and his gracious purpose being more and more accomplished. "He will take of the things of Christ and show them unto thee." And in them thou shalt have peace. The psalmist's passionate longing may then be fulfilled for us, We may have "wings like a dove." These, of meekness, purity, and the blessed Spirit of God. And so, without quitting the station assigned us or departing to any wilderness, we may have even now the rest of God. - C.
I. WHAT IT IS THE PROPHET WISHES FOR. The occurrence of the word "wilderness" may easily mislead us into thinking that the prophet's wish was for solitude, and thus we may be disposed to reproach him, as if, Timon-like, he wanted to get away from his fellow-men altogether. But it is not on the word "wilderness" that we must fix our attention to discover the prophet's feeling. The reference to a travelers lodging-place is the main thing to be considered. It is not between some hermit's humble, solitary shelter and the well-built house, which is but one out of many making up the stately city, that the contrast is made, but rather between the inn of the traveler and the abode of the man who, day after day, has to mingle busily in the society of which he forms a part. If you are staying at an inn for the night, it matters very little, so far as acquaintance is concerned, who your fellow-guests may be. You scarcely meet them; you are in their company for a few hours, and on the morrow each takes his several way. Jeremiah prefers to live in an inn, whore he would see a succession of strange faces, to living even amongst his own people. Then that the inn should be in a wilderness was a sort of necessity, to round his wish off and make it perfectly express the state of his mind. Travelers had often wide stretches of wilderness-land to cross, where, just because it was wilderness, some sort of shelter needed to be provided for the night. But it might not be an inn in anything like our understanding of the word - perhaps nothing more than a rough enclosure, where only that was provided which the bare necessities of the moment demanded.
II. WHY THE PROPHET WISHES FOR THIS. The settled society in which the prophet has been living has become rotten in all its important relations. Jeremiah has a people whom he must describe as "my people." He is connected with them by a tie of nature which no repugnance of his can destroy. But, though they are his people, that cannot make him to overlook, excuse, or tolerate their iniquities. Nay, the very fact that they are his people helps to make the iniquity more burdensome to him; for with one's own people one has so much to do. A righteous son of Sodom, if such a character were imaginable, sickened with all the abominations around him, might well have left his kinsfolk, if they would not listen to his warning or profit by his refusal to join in their wrong-doing. And Jeremiah may be looked on here pretty much as if he had been a dweller in Sodom, for Jerusalem was spiritually Sodom. Adultery, knavery, habitual lying and wrong-doing, - these were sad elements to be charged as going to the substance of the social life of the people. And the prophet wished to be free from all entanglement with such. Of course we are not to take his wish literally. It is but an emphatic way of indicating how separated he was in the spirit of his mind from such considerations as ruled in only too many hearts of Israel. Though among his people, he was not of them. United according to the flesh, there was a great gulf between them according to the spirit. His people though they were, he yet was compelled to look upon them as travelers whom he casually met just for a little time. And so must God's people ever learn to look upon many of those whom they are continually meeting on earth. For enduring society there must be something more than natural ties, frequent intercourse, or community of intellectual tastes and pursuits. It is a small thing to be brought together in the concerns of time if we are not also brought together in the concerns of eternity. Sad it is to think that there may be a closer bend between those who have never met on earth than between those who, on earth, have lived for years together I Those who are travelling to the same place may never meet by the way, but when they do meet it is not in the traveler's mere lodging-place, but where there are many mansions, and whence they "go out no more for ever." A mansion is itself a place that abides, and those who dwell in it are meant to abide also. - Y.
prevail, but their prevailing does not come by truth and good faith."
I. WE HAVE HERE AN ADMISSION THAT WICKEDNESS PREVAILS. It is, indeed, one great consideration in the prophet's unutterable grief that wickedness is so strong and successful. Man, weak and puny as he is in some respects, is in others strong to achieve very impressive results. In mere physical strength there are many brutes that far excel him, but he has faculties which so multiply his strength as to put the rest of creation under his feet. That man, with his peculiar nature, should be strong to do good, means that if his choice so falls he may also be strong to do evil. The prophet looks out, then, upon wicked men who prevail in their plots and schemes. He has no wish to minimize their success. He uses a strong word to indicate it. The word used to indicate the prevailing of the waters at the Deluge is the word also used to indicate the prevailing of the wicked here. The wickedness is not only extensively present, but manifestly successful. There must be no shirking of this fact. It is another matter, indeed, what the success may be worth, and how long it may last; but there it is, such as it is. The wicked prevail by putting the good into prison, and even to the taking away of their lives. They prevail by seducing the weak and self-indulgent into temptation. They prevail by deceiving the simple. They go upon the maxim that everything is fair, and has in it the highest necessity if it helps toward the attainment of their ends. And their ends they do attain, making a boast of their success, and sneering at the scrupulosity of those who will not follow in their steps.
II. THE INSTABILITY OF THIS PREVALING IS HINTED AT. Integrity, truth, good faith, are thrown to the winds. The prophet does not need to have extorted from him an admission that the wicked prevail; but along with the admission he makes an assertion which, even in the midst of his melancholy, gives him confidence and a measure of satisfaction. This prevailing, great and proud as it is, cannot last, for it lacks the essential constituents of endurance. The man who gains his ends by deceit and perfidy must of necessity deceive himself as much as he does others. He persuades himself that he will never grow weary of what he so much enjoys. He forgets, too, that every one whom he deceives may be thereby learning a lesson which some day may come back in unexpected and terrible treachery to himself. There is not a single instance of wicked prosperity that need alarm or perplex us. The more wickedness raises its head in boasting, the more sudden may be the final overthrow.
III. THOSE WHO CLEAVE TO TRUTH ALWAYS PREVAIL IN THE END. They do it by the best kind of prevailing - that of vanquishing the evil in their own hearts; and, so far as their overcoming is also an overcoming of others, they do it in such a way as provokes no retaliation. He who has a settled regard for what is real and true and abiding, keeps out of his future those very things which bring confusion to the wicked. The prevailing of the righteous may not, indeed, be exhibited so as to impress the eyes of the world; but that is a small matter. He who overcometh looks forward to God's rewards, which are such that the world cannot appreciate them. The great thing is to be calmly conscious in our own breasts that we are winning the victory God would have us win. - Y.
I. THERE IS AN IMPLICATION HERE AS TO WHAT SOCIETY IN ISRAEL MIGHT HAVE BEEN. Without looking for perfection, it was reasonable to expect something a great deal better than what the prophet saw. There is the strength and help coming from real friendship. The more men are brought together the more chances they have of making most precious friendships. Modern facilities of intercourse have probably done much to enlarge such relations. Men meet oftener and communicate more easily than they were once able to do. But it ought to be especially true of those living near one another that neighborhood and acquaintance, other things being equal, should lead on to friendship. The claim of friendship is recognized as something special - beyond the claim of kindred, humanity, and common country. In time of trouble we look to friends as those to whom we have a right to look, and we must be ready for similar claims upon ourselves, the prophet indicates also the claim of brotherhood. Brother should help brother. Not, of course, that mere natural nearness can compensate for deeper differences of disposition and temperament; but the remembrance of a common parentage should have at least the negative effect of destroying all temptation to injure. Then there is general integrity in all dealings between man and man. It is one of the most reasonable of all expectations that we shall so live and act that our word shall be as good as our bend. That which is fair and just towards every one should be wished and provided for. The good name of each should be the care of all.
II. THERE IS A VERY BOLD STATEMENT AS TO WHAT THE SOCIETY IN ISRAEL ACTUALLY WAS. The man who could speak thus must have been a man of great courage - a man into whom God had put a spirit of resolution agreeing with the words he had to speak. Stern, unsparing words are only belied and made to look ridiculous when uttered by a faltering lip. If the prophet's words here were true, this was a society only in name. Some may say that such words could not be true - that things could not possibly be so bad. But, remember, these are the words of a prophet of God, and God is he who searches the heart and can tell exactly how far advanced in corruption a society is at any particular time. Note how a skilled physician will assert the existence of mortal mischief in a patient when as yet there is no sign of it to others, and also predict with tolerable correctness how long it will take the mischief to run its course. And shall not God be much more discerning? All doleful statements as to the rottenness of society have come to be called jeremiads, as if they were really in the same class as the statement of Jeremiah here. But very often such doleful statements are only the result of ignorance and partial views, coming from a defect in him who sees and not in the thing seen. Jeremiah stated the simple truth here. If there had been hopeful signs they would have been mentioned, for God never lacks in an encouraging recognition of the preservative elements in society. To one who notes the warnings of Isaiah it will be nothing wonderful that the evils perceptible in his time should have strengthened into the deplorable universality indicated here. And even now, in places where the outward signs of Christianity abound, there are proofs that society might, in no very long time, approach the description of Jeremiah. The same evils are continually present, though kept in check. No one trusts a stranger. He must first of all take the lowest place, and do such things as need the least amount of trust, and so gradually work himself into the highest place of esteem. No one complains that he cannot win confidence at the first. Family jars and disputings are proverbial. Jesus, we know, divides brother against brother; but it is nothing new that he thus brings into society, for Jacob is the supplanter of Esau, and brother complains against brother to this very Jesus, because he thinks himself defrauded of his rights in the inheritance. There were two couples of natural brethren in the company of the apostles, and in their carnal days they were found hotly embroiled in the dispute as to who should stand greatest in the kingdom. There are abundant seeds of evil in society which are mercifully prevented from having free scope, else the result might soon show us that Jeremiah was in no wise going beyond the essential truth in what is said here. - Y.
I. DECEIT. It is a terrible indictment that the prophet brings. He affirms that deceit is:
1. Universal. Ver. 2, "They be all," etc. Ver. 6, "Thine habitation is in the midst of deceit;" i.e. it is everywhere, all around you. That:
2. It has broken up the most sacred relationships: "They be all adulterers" (Ver. 2).
3. It has turned their solemn assemblies into a conclave of liars (Ver. 2).
4. It is practiced deliberately. Ver. 3: as a man deliberately bends and takes aim with his bow.
5. It has mounted the judge's seat (Ver. 3; cf. true translation of phrase, "They are not valiant for the truth").
6. It has smoothed the way for all evil. "They proceed from evil to evil" (Ver. 3).
7. It has destroyed all confidence
(1) between neighbors,
(2) between brethren (Ver. 4).
8. It is diligently studied. Ver. 5, "They have taught," etc. "They take the utmost pains to go crookedly."
9. It is cruel and deadly in its aims (Ver. 8). In view of a condition of things so horrible, how unanswerable is the demand of Ver. 9, "Shall I not visit them for these things?" etc.! It will be found in all the judgments of God upon nations that those judgments have never come until there was no other way of dealing with such nations, if the moral life of the world was to be maintained.
II. ITS DOINGS.
1. It had made dwelling amongst them intolerable to the righteous. (Cf. Ver. 2.) Jeremiah longs to get away from them. The most desolate solitude would be preferable to living amid such a people as this. It is an ominous sign for a community when the godly, however compassionate, however long-suffering, can no longer endure to dwell in their midst.
2. It had made the thought of God intolerable to themselves. Vers. 3, 6, "They know not me, saith the Lord." Just as a man may meet one whom he desires to have nothing to do with, but when he meets him will pass him as if he did not know him; so deceit had made these people, as it makes all such, desirous of having nothing to do with God. Therefore they will not recognize or acknowledge him in any way.
3. And at last it had made them intolerable to God. Ver. 7: God asks, "What else can I do for the daughter of my people?" (cf. Exposition). There was nothing now but for the judgment of God to go forth against them. Therefore note -
III. ITS DOOM. Ver. 7, "Therefore thus saith" etc. And down to Ver. 22 these awful judgments of God are set forth. Inquire, therefore, what there is about deceit which renders it so hateful in the sight of God.
2. And some of the reasons are:
(1) Deceit cometh from Satan, who was "a liar from the beginning," and "the father of lies." It was by his lies that our first parents were deceived and sin was brought into the world.
(2) It is the source of infinite misery and distress. It is" the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil" which still work well-nigh all our sorrow and our shame.
(3) It tends to the destruction of human society. All our well-being and comfort depend upon good faith being maintained between man and man. "But now, where fraud and falsehood, like a plague or cancer, comes over to invade society, the band which held together the parts compounding it presently breaks, and men are thereby put to a loss where to league and to fasten their dependencies, and so are forced to scatter and shift every one for himself. Upon which account every notoriously false person ought to be looked upon and detested as a public enemy, and to be pursued as a wolf or a mad dog, and a disturber of the common peace and welfare of mankind; there being no particular person whatsoever but has his private interest concerned and endangered in the mischief that such a wretch does to the public" (South). A sin, therefore, so destructive of the well-being of his children cannot but be abominable in the eyes of the Father of us all.
3. It shuts God out of the heart altogether. God has made us for himself, but deceit bars fast the door of man's heart against him. God can only be worshipped in spirit and in truth; but deceit renders this primary condition of such worship unattainable.
4. But God in his anger remembers mercy. Ver 7, "Behold, I will melt them, and try them," that is to say, he will, as the smelter casts the metal into the fire not to destroy but to refine it, to purge away its dross, and then, that being done, tests and tries it to see that the process has been effectual; so God will send his judgments upon his people, not to destroy, but to purify them, and he will afterwards test them again, give them another opportunity of serving him. He might have destroyed, but this he will not do. He "will melt them, and try them." But less than this he cannot do. "What else," etc.? he asks. It is a dread process; Judah and Jerusalem found it so, and all who compel God to cast them into such a crucible find it to be a dread process. Our blessed Savior wept over Jerusalem, although he told them that when next they saw him they should say, "Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord." It was the thought of that furnace for fire through which they must be passed ere they would come to this better mind that drew forth those tears. Let none, therefore, deem the judgment of God a subject for trifling with, because, as here, God says its purpose is to "melt and try," rather than to destroy. CONCLUSION. Let this consideration of the doings and doom of deceit lead us to listen to the Lord's appeal, "Oh, do not this thing that I hate!" - C.
I. How TERRIBLE THEY ARE.
1. In themselves. The fertile hills and pastures of their country shall be laid waste, so that no living creature can find food (Ver. 10). Jerusalem is to be utterly destroyed and desolate (Ver. 11). The deep anguish of the people-their very meat to be as "wormwood," and their drink as" water of gall ' (Ver. 15). They shall be carried captive and scattered among the heathen, and even then shall not escape the sword (Ver. 16). They shall be overwhelmed with sorrow, their eyes shall gush out with tears (Vers. 17-19). Death shall reign everywhere (Ver. 21); and shall be accompanied with deepest degradation (Ver. 22). It is not possible to conceive of more hopeless misery than is portrayed in these vivid descriptions of the wrath that was to come.
2. Because of their righteousness. Unrighteous suffering can be borne, and those who bear it are bidden by the Lord to count themselves as "blessed" because of it (Matthew 5:11, 12). And sorrows that come to us in the course of God's providence, and the reason of which we do not know, these we can bear sustained by the faith of the Father's love. But when sore suffering is sent to us as the direct punishment of sin, and the righteous because so deserved anger of Cod is evident, then those consolations which are open to us under other sufferings are closed to us under these. The bitter reflection, "It was all our own fault; it might, it ought to have been avoided," makes the pain we endure, and the calamities that overtake us, more terrible than otherwise they could possibly be. We take refuge from man's anger and from ordinary sorrows in God's love, but sin that has brought down God's righteous judgment has also closed against us that most blessed shelter and every shelter, and we are left without defense. And another element in their terribleness is:
3. The certainty of their fulfillment, "God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." The threatenings of God are not, as are many of the threatenings of men, mere empty vaporings, great swelling words, never designed to be fulfilled. Let the records of all human history, of all human lives, Whether told of within or without the pages of the Bible, attest the absolute certainty of fulfillment which evermore characterizes the threatenings of God. When and where has be ever threatened and failed to fulfill his threat? Let the Fall, the Flood, the destruction of Sodom, the plagues on Egypt, the deaths of the generation of unbelievers in the wilderness, and ten thousand instances more, all prove the steadfastness of God to his word. And it is this fact of the absolute certainty of his threatenings being fulfilled that adds to them a yet further terribleness. There is no chance of escape, no hope of God's relenting; as certain as the fixed laws of nature are these awful denunciations of God to him who persists in brining them upon himself.
II. BUT THEY ARE THE THREATENINGS OF LOVE.
1. He who utters them is the God who in his very nature and essence is love. How manifold are the proofs of this in creation, in providence, in grace! He, therefore, has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; judgment is his "strange work."
2. Those against whom they are uttered are the objects of his love. His love for them is deeper than his anger against them. Hence it is that the contrite sinner never fails to gain the pardon he seeks. "Fathers of our flesh" may "chasten after their own pleasure, but he for our profit" (cf. Ver. 7).
3. His purpose in these threatenings is a loving purpose. He would compel by the scourge of fear his rebellious children to abandon their evil ways.
4. And if at length he is compelled to execute his threatenings, it is out of love that he does so. For the love of God is towards his children, not to any one particular child, and the welfare of the family is the chief consideration. Salus populi suprema lex. If consistently with that the transgressor can be restored, he will be, but not else. Hence, as an earthly father would not permit one of his children, ill with terrible and contagious disease, to mingle with the other children; or, as in the far more sad case of utter moral wickedness, intercourse with the rest would be forbidden; so, for the sake of the rest of his children, God will separate them from the wicked and the wicked from them. But it is love which constrains to this, and hence it is that the seeming contradiction is true, that he who is the God of love is also "a consuming fire." The very fatherhood of God is the most fearful fact of all others against the persistently rebellious and ungodly soul. Hence -
III. Such THREATENINGS ARE EVER THE MOST TERRIBLE OF ALL, Cf. the threatenings of our Savior. The most awful utterances to be found in the whole Bible proceeded from his lips-the lips whose words were wont to be so "gracious" that the people "wondered" at them. It is his sayings which have lit up the lurid glare of the fires unquenchable of hell, and it is he who has made our souls shudder at the sight of" the worm that dieth not," and of the "outer darkness" where there is "weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth." See, too, the Revelation of St. John. That apostle, whose great theme is the love of God, whose soul was more attuned to the music of love than that of any other, wrote that awful book, which is full throughout of "mourning, lamentation, and woe;" and which almost reeks with the Mood and fire and smoke of torments of which it tells. These facts can only be accounted for - and there are more like them - on the ground that the threatenings of love are ever the most terrible of all. And they are so, for such reasons as these:
1. Love so hates what tends to the harm of those it loves. Hence it brands with its deepest curse that sin which harms God's children most of all. One chief argument with many minds for the retention of capital punishments is that only so can a government or nation mark its sense of the supreme wickedness of the crime it so punishes. Punish it as other crimes are punished, and it will come to be regarded as no worse than they. And in like manner God would inspire us with a holy abhorrence of sin by the awful condemnation that he has pronounced against it.
2. Love so yearns to rescue those it loves. The rope may cut and wound the hands of the drowning sailor to whom we have thrown it, but we do not mind that if thereby he be drawn safe to shore. The knife of the surgeon may cut deep and cause fearful pain, but if it saves the imperiled life we are thankful notwithstanding. So God sends forth these stern, rough, and terrible threatenings, that souls under the spell of sin may be awakened, alarmed, made to tremble, and to "seek the Lord while he may be found." No gentler means will avail; therefore these, so love resolves, shall not be left untried. It will shrink from nothing to accomplish its compassionate purpose of rescuing from the murderous sin the soul it loves.
3. And there is no wickedness so deep as that of outraging love. Men will never see sin in all its hatefulness until they see it as outrage done to love. Whilst they are taught only that it is disobedience to sovereign rule rather than despite and shameful wrong done to a Father's heart, they will not look upon it as they should, nor repent of it as they must. Even in human esteem, outrage done to a loving heart adds intensity to the condemnation with which we view and sentence disobedience done to law. We all recognize that such wickedness is the worst of all. We cannot wonder, then, that the threatenings against wrong persistently done to the love of God are terrible as they are, and the most terrible of all. CONCLUSION.
1. Beware of bringing upon yourselves such threatenings as these. Those which are fulminated forth by hatred, or by pride, or by sovereignty, or by law, these, though they may be terrible, are not to be compared with those that we have been considering. "The wrath of the Lamb" is the most awful of all.
2. Beware of despising them. So far from believing what has now been shown, men argue in directly opposite way, and, because the threatenings are those of love, they conclude that they may safely be disregarded, they will never be carried out. But what has now been shown proves that this is the very last thing we can venture to do.
3. Beware of concealing them. It is to be feared that, in these soft, easy days on which we have fallen, the Lord's watchmen do very often fail to "blow the trumpet and give warning." From blood-guiltiness such as that let us pray to be delivered. For are there not many now whom nothing but the startling peal of the trumpet of God's threatened judgments will ever arouse or alarm? Assuredly there are. Therefore, in view of the doom of the ungodly, as well as by the love of Christ, let us "beseech men to be reconciled to God." - C.
I. THE MYSTERY. This consists partly in the particular subjects of it, and partly in the degree to which it has gone. It is spoken of here prophetically as a future thing that has already taken place; and the problem is stated accordingly as a realization, and not a thing only conceived of. From time to time the history of Israel and Judah presents such scenes. It is by no means one of uninterrupted progress. There are backboard movements, standings still, interruptions, sharp and humiliating national disasters, and long epochs of civil warp political nonentity, or foreign captivity.
I. Yet have there not been many gracious promises to the contrary!
2. On the whole, the past reverses of Israel have been retrieved, and a measure of continuous progress attained.
3. The special affliction referred to is unprecedented, and its result would almost appear to be final. The history of the Christian Church and of individual believers presents features analogous to this. The slow progress of the world's evangelization. The comparative absence of spiritual blessing in the midst of God's children. Their divisions, scientific skepticism, or unscientific superstition, like parasites, strangling the tree of the Church and draining away its life. Or the mystery appears in the individual Christian. His creed is orthodox, his behavior outwardly presenting little that is blameworthy; and yet worldly business is a constant series of reverses and dishonorable compromises; his influence is lost; afflictions come upon him, and he cannot bear up under them; the peace of Christ is not his; etc.
II. THE POINT OF VIEW FROM WHICH IT IS TO BE REGARDED. This very important to be determined. The apostate people of God fail to realize the extent to which they have fallen, and confound the formal rites of religion with its spirit and reality. They at first attribute it to natural causes, or treat it as a temporary thing that will right itself, etc. The heathen, looking on ab extra, imagine that the Jehovah of Israel is no longer able to deliver, or that he has ceased to care for her. Here it is declared to be a judgment upon apostasy - utter departure from truth and righteousness, and the sterner because of that fact. And when we look at all the circumstances of the case, this interpretation seems more probable - to carry, as it were, its evidence with it. The key, therefore, is for the most part an inward one; at first, at any rate, wholly so. This it is which constitutes the main element of difficulty in the troubles of God's people. Hence the room there must be for mistakes, and the ease with which a wholly erroneous view may be taken with superficial probability. And this suggests how large a part of the Church's function is fulfilled in merely being a problem and a mystery to the carnal mind. When judgment begins at the house of God, it is time for all attentively to look on and inquire why it is so. Greater perils lie on the side of unfaithfulness than of mere unbelief. And in the last resort conscience must be appealed to in explanation of mysteries of reverse and trouble. Thereby God is knocking at the door of the heart both of the world and the Church. It is of the utmost importance that we settle the question between us and him.
III. AN INTERPRETER WANTED. (Ver. 12.) When men are at a loss, or there is radical difference of opinion, it is evident that some authority is required to decide the question. The world and its canons are by the nature of the problem ruled out of court. And the apostate is too blinded with his own sin and too callous through repeated acts and prolonged habits of wrong-doing to be trusted in the matter. At this juncture the advantage of revelation and of the prophetic office appears. So far as God is concerned, the seer speaks with the authority of direct inspiration; so far as the culprit is concerned, he occupies a representative position, and as one of those implicated, yet himself innocent, acts as general conscience. This is God's way - to raise a testimony and extract a confession from the heart of the transgressor himself, or from the midst of those upon whom his judgments fall. And the same end is accomplished now through the Spirit and the Word. The saint becomes the mouthpiece of the Savior, and the world is convinced of "sin, of righteousness, and of judgment." - M.
I. GOD DEMANDS IT.
1. For his righteousness is impugned. Men had not failed, could not fail, to notice the terrible judgments which God had sent upon Judah and Jerusalem, and, as is implied by his own declaration of their causes (Ver. 12), they had either not seen or had denied the righteousness of what had been done. This questioning of the Divine righteousness and equity is a procedure all too common still.
2. And thus the Divine hold on the loyalty of men's hearts is threatened. For unless men regard God as righteous, just, and good, no power in the universe can make them yield him the homage of their hearts. How much of the alienation of heart in the present day may be attributed to the representations of God which a false theology has set forth! Men will not, for they cannot, love such a being as too many preachers represent God to be. They may be threatened with everlasting perdition, but it will make no difference. For God himself has given us a nature which renders impossible our yielding our hearts' homage to any one-be he whom he may - that our hearts do not regard as worthy of that homage.
3. But God's supreme solicitude is for this homage of our hearts. Hence what threatens it must be intolerable to him. Therefore he seeks for vindication before the hearts of men, and demands this inquiry.
II. AN UNIMPEACHABLE JURY IS IMPANELLED. It is not just any one who can be trusted to make this inquiry. The frivolous, the unthoughtful, would fail to grasp the problem involved, and the ungodly who suffered these judgments would be sure to assign them to any and every cause rather than the true one. Therefore those who are summoned to this inquest are
(1) the wise - those who will intelligently consider all the facts of the case; and
(2) those "to whom the Lord hath spoken" - those, that is, who have been divinely enlightened, who are in sympathy with truth and righteousness. God summons such, and fearlessly demands, now as of old, the most thorough investigation into the righteousness of all his ways.
III. THEY ARE BIDDEN WELL AND TRULY TRY THE CASE BEFORE THEM. He would have them so consider it that they may "understand" it in all its bearings, reasons, and ends. He tells them what he has done and what he yet will do, and what are his reasons for his conduct. He does not conceal that his judgments are tremendous, notorious, certain to excite inquiry, to be challenged, and by many to be condemned. But he appeals to the "wise," and to those "to whom the Lord hath spoken," to consider and understand what he has done. God calls not for mere credulity from any of us; he asks for no mere blind faith; but it is to a "reasonable service" he summons us, and this reasonableness he would have us consider and "understand." "I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say:" such is his appeal.
IV. AND WHEN THEY HAVE "UNDERSTOOD" THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD THEY ARE TO "DECLARE" IT. There is no greater service that can be rendered than "to vindicate the ways of God to man;" to "commend the truth to every man's conscience in the sight of God." The believer is established, the waverer brought to decision, the sinner - like as Felix, when Paul "reasoned of righteousness and judgment " - is made to tremble, the scorner and the atheist are silenced.
V. THE EFFECTS OF THAT VERDICT WILL BE VARIED.
1. It will strike terror to the hearts of the enemies of God; for it will rob them of the comfort they had in regarding God's judgments as unjust. Even this "drop of cold water" they may not have.
2. It will give great peace of mind to all beholders of God's strong rule; for it will show that his rule is not strong and supreme alone, but absolutely righteous.
3. It will make God's people "sing unto the Lord a new song," because "he cometh to judge the earth" (Psalm 96.). It will assure them of the triumph of righteousness, and the utter impotency and impermanency of wrong. But let each one ask himself, "How will that verdict affect me" - C.
I. THIS SEEMS UNJUST. It has often been objected to that because the fathers ate sour grapes the children's teeth should be set on edge (Ezekiel 18:2). Why should I be punished for another's man's sin?
II. BUT IT IS THE DIVINE LAW. The sins of the fathers are visited on the children. "By the offence of one all men were made sinners" (Romans 5.). And in daily life how perpetually we see this law in ruthless operation! - children punished in health, fortune, character, reputation, in mind, body, and soul, all through their fathers' sin. They walk in the ways of Baalim because their fathers taught them. And yet, unjust though their punishment may appear-
III. CONSCIENCE ENDORSES IT. Who knows how much of that strong passionate nature which led David into such dreadful sin may have been inherited? Indeed, he says, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity," etc. (Psalm 51.). But this does not hinder him from taking all the blame of his sin upon himself. All the way through we hear his confession - "my sin," "my transgression," "mine iniquity." And never does the con science awakened to a sense of sin think of palliating such sin by the plea of its being the result of inheritance. Thus conscience witnesses to the righteousness of the Divine Law.
IV. AND SO DOES HUMAN LAW. What judge ever pardoned a criminal because he had a bad father? We execrate "bloody Queen Mary" notwithstanding she had a bloodthirsty father.
V. THE EXPLANATION IS:
1. That hereditary sin does not destroy conscience. That speaks in all; it is "the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world," the inward monitor which ever condemns crime and approves righteousness (cf. Romans 2:14, 15).
2. Nor does it destroy understanding. Teachers of righteousness are on every hand, from whom all may learn.
3. Nor does it destroy the power of will. It may weaken, but it does not destroy. Therefore, in spite of hereditary sin, every man knows, and can choose if he will, that which is right; and therefore he is held accountable before every tribunal - that of God, of conscience, and of man.
4. But there is yet another reason given by St. Paul: "God hath concluded all in unbelief, that he may have mercy upon all (Romans 11:32; Galatians 3:22). A cruel Roman emperor wished that all Rome had but one neck, that he might kill it with one blow. God hath in his infinite grace gathered up all our humanity into one, even in Christ, so that, as sin had destroyed all by one stroke (Romans 5.), the grace of God in Christ might save all by the one righteousness of the One; so that where sin did abound, grace," etc. That gathering up of humanity into one in Adam, which seems at first sight to have worked such injustice, is altogether met, and far more than met, by the again gathering up of all in One, even in Christ, which works such grace. But that ultimate redemption which is in Christ does not hinder, but that meanwhile, and for a Weary while, hereditary sin may work woeful sorrow and harm. Therefore -
VI. THIS FACT APPEALS:
1. To all parents. Seek to cut off the entail. We may have received such sad inheritance, but let us, as we may, reject it for ourselves, and in so doing refuse to hand it on to others. Again and again has God given grace to some one member of a godless house - as to Josiah, son of that Amen of whom it is said, "But Amen sinned more and more" - who has for himself and those who come after him broken the bad succession and begun a new and blessed departure. When we have done our best, our children will have a sufficiently heavy burden to bear; let us not make that burden heavier, life more terrible, and holiness and heaven far less attainable for them, by handing down to them a legacy of evil example and of unhallowed habits and propensities inherited from ourselves. Do not let us sin so against our children. Yet many do.
2. To all children. Your fathers sin will not excuse yours. God has turned judgment away from many an evil son because he had a godly father, but never because he had an ungodly one. Therefore if yours be the sad and too frequent lot of those who inherit evil from their parents, reject that inheritance, and seek and gain from your heavenly Father, though you may not be helped herein by your earthly one, the better, the most blessed inheritance of the children of God. - C.
I. IT IS BECAUSE THE LAWS OF GOD AND OF NATURE HAVE BEEN SHAMEFULLY VIOLATED.
II. THE TRIAL AND PUNISHMENT OF THE CONFIRMED SINNER ARE SWIFTLY REMOVED TO ANOTHER JUDGMENT-SEAT.
III. IT IS INTENDED AS A DEMONSTRATION AGAINST EVIL AND A TERROR TO EVILDOERS. - M.
I. DEATH'S CARNIVAL. In many an ancient continental city you may see portrayed in still vivid colors, on the roofs of their covered bridges, across on that of the old bridge at Lucerne, - on the walls of their churches, and elsewhere, the grim' Dance of Death.' These verses remind of those paintings, and tell in yet more fearful form of Death's dread carnival. With what diabolic zest he is represented at his work here! He is shown to us, not as coming in in ordinary manner to the sick-chamber, where his coming has long been expected and may even be welcomed; but as breaking in roughly, unexpectedly, cruelly, like a thief coming in at the windows. Nor as drawing near to the poor, the defenseless, the miserable; but entering into our palaces, the abode of the great, the rich, the strong. Nor as calling home those whose day's work is done, who have lived their life, and to whom eventide has long ago arrived; but as cutting ruthlessly down the dear young children in the very blossom of their days. Nor as ridding the earth of the cruel and vile; but tearing from us the innocent, the children. Nor are vigor, strength, and promise any more a defense against him than decrepit old age; for "the young men" are his victims even as others. And no multitude of slain will satiate him. Ver. 22 represents the numbers of the dead as so great that they have to be left unburied and uncared for to rot upon the open field. It is true that this frightful picture is taken from the awful experiences of a besieged city, but with slight modifications it is true everywhere and always. This life is the carnival of Death. What are men but a long succession of mourners? As the poet says -
"Our hearts like muffled drums are beating II. DEATH'S CONQUEROR. Christ has abolished death. The broken pillar, the turned-down torch, the "Vale, vale, in aeternum vale," of the old Pagan world, have now no appropriateness because no truth. Death is sorrow still, even to those who believe in him who is "the Resurrection and the Life;" but it is not and cannot be that hopeless, unutterable, unfathomable woe which it was till he came who hath abolished death. No doubt this terrible verse (Ver. 21), which tells of Death's dread doings, is yet far more true than we would like it to be, and often and often, in the blank desolation and shattered hopes which earth's bereavements bring to us, we fail to derive all the consolation and help which Death's glorious Conqueror has given to us. But, nevertheless, he has given them, and it is true that "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord." Let us see to it that we are, by a living abiding trust, "in the Lord," and then, though we sorrow, and sorrow bitterly still, yet it will not be, it is not, "as those that have no hope." - C.
II. DEATH'S CONQUEROR. Christ has abolished death. The broken pillar, the turned-down torch, the "Vale, vale, in aeternum vale," of the old Pagan world, have now no appropriateness because no truth. Death is sorrow still, even to those who believe in him who is "the Resurrection and the Life;" but it is not and cannot be that hopeless, unutterable, unfathomable woe which it was till he came who hath abolished death. No doubt this terrible verse (Ver. 21), which tells of Death's dread doings, is yet far more true than we would like it to be, and often and often, in the blank desolation and shattered hopes which earth's bereavements bring to us, we fail to derive all the consolation and help which Death's glorious Conqueror has given to us. But, nevertheless, he has given them, and it is true that "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord." Let us see to it that we are, by a living abiding trust, "in the Lord," and then, though we sorrow, and sorrow bitterly still, yet it will not be, it is not, "as those that have no hope." - C.
the "glory" of a man that requires in the first place to be determined. After that is settled, all other things will take their due place and precedency.
I. THE "GLORY" OF MAN MUST DEPEND UPON THE END FOR WHICH HE HAS BEEN BROUGHT INTO EXISTENCE. This is written in his nature, confirmed by providence, and made clear by revelation. In the words of the Westminster Catechism," The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever." Everything else must be subordinated to this; but if pursued in its place, will show itself to be a perversion of his nature, and will end in calamity and misery. How very few care to satisfy themselves upon this momentous question! Hence the necessity for the teachings and warnings of experience.
1. The "glory ' of man will be declared by the manner in which the circumstances of his earthly lot affect it in the working out of that end. Each of the qualities and properties upon which men usually pride themselves has been tried in this way and found deficient. The wisdom of the world has a thousand times been shown to be foolishness before God. There are a myriad problems for which it has no key. "Might" has been reduced to nothingness by the least of the duties and experiences of the spiritual life. Disease and death can bring down the mighty from their seats, and stay the greatest worker at his task. Many a time has the cherished object after which one has labored with apparent success been snatched away just when about to be attained. And "wealth" is similarly discredited. The moth and the rust can corrupt the treasures of earth, and the thief breaks through and steals them from their most guarded security. The accident of fortune may give or take away the greatest fortune. And when death comes, all these earthly possessions have to be left behind. They cannot avail for what lies beyond. How seldom are these gifts used for the highest end! And how unavailing of themselves would they be to secure it!
2. The "glory of man must depend upon the success with which it contributes to secure that end.
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IS INDICATED UNMISTAKABLY BY THESE TESTS AS THE ONLY TRUE GLORY" OF MAN. God is identified with the ultimate aim of our being. He made us, and it is for him we live. Consequently, the better we know him, the better shall we be able to serve him.
1. Imitation of God will spring from the knowledge of him. The more we know of him the more we must love him, and admiration will lead to resemblance in spirit and in life. "We love him, because he first loved us."
2. Knowledge depends on and leads to obedience. (John 7:17.) The knowledge of God sheds light upon the universe and life, and directs the soul and body into the channels of health, happiness, and usefulness.
3. It is connected with and culminates in Divine fellowship. In this way the character and presence of God are brought into closest contact with the spirit of man, his character is molded into the image of the Divine original, and the joys of communion deepen and enlarge into the blessedness of heaven. "This is life eternal, [even now] to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." - M.
I. THE GLORYING THAT IS CONDEMNED.
1. That of the wise man in his wisdom. The statesmen of Jeremiah's days had been thus glorying. They had prided themselves in their political sagacity. For many years they had formed alliances, now with one power and now with another. And they seemed to have managed well, for, for nearly a whole century, Judah had been, though so weak a power and so valuable a prize, left unattacked. Therefore no wonder that the wise men gloried in their wisdom. But now political trouble was beginning again. Egypt had become a great power, and was warring against Assyria. In this war the king Josiah sided with Assyria, and was slain in the battle of Megiddo. Thus they were without their king, and compelled to ally themselves with Egypt and to share in her fortunes, which to the eye of the prophet were the reverse of bright. Great troubles were drawing near, and it is in view of them that Jeremiah says, "Let not the wise man," etc.
2. The strong in their strength. The army of Judah was large, their fortress of Jerusalem was all but impregnable, but Jeremiah saw that all this would not avail. Their utter overthrow was fast hastening on. The great Babylonian power which had absorbed the Assyrian should accomplish this. Hence the word, "Let not the strong man," etc.
3. The rich in their riches. The long continuance of peace had enabled the nation to accumulate vast wealth. But this only made them yet more an object of desire to their approaching invaders. Their wealth was their wee.
4. The children of Abraham in the covenant, of which circumcision was the sign (Vers. 25, 26). From the time of Hezekiah's reformation until the time when Jeremiah wrote, Judah and Jerusalem had professed the ancient faith. The temple service had gone on, the sacrifices offered, etc. There had been a short, sad interval during Manasseh's reign. But so far as profession went they had been worshippers of God. And of late years Josiah's reformation had led to still louder profession. And in this profession we know they trusted very implicitly (cf. Jeremiah 7.). But it had not preserved them from the Divine displeasure in days gone by, nor in the present, nor would it in days to come. For beneath all this profession the moral and spiritual condition of the nation was most evil. Even in Hezekiah's day Isaiah had told the people that, in spite of all their profession, "he whose head was rock," etc. (cf. Isaiah 1.). And that this was so was shown by the readiness with which they followed Manasseh in his idolatries, and joined in the persecution of the faithful servants of God. And when Manasseh repented, and there was again an external profession, it was scarcely any better. But the monstrous conduct of Amon, who "sinned more and more," made the people desire the old ways. Hence, when Josiah came to the throne, they were prepared for his reforms. But again it was only a change of custom, not of character; outward, but not inward. Jeremiah sought to help forward a true reformation, for it was indeed needed (see his description of the moral condition of the people, Vers. 2-8 in this chapter). Hence it was that he told them their circumcision was no better than uncircumcision. Apply all this to our-solves:
(1) As a nation. We have all these several advantages above named: wise statesmen, great strength, vast wealth, universal religious profession; but all these, apart from moral and spiritual worth, will go for nothing. It is "righteousness," and that alone, that "exalteth a nation."
(2) As individuals. We are not to despise any of these things. They are God's good gifts; but they will not save us. We may not glory in them as a sure safeguard.
II. WHEREOF WE MAY AND SHOULD GLORY. (Cf. Ver. 24.) This means that them should be:
1. Intellectual apprehension of the truth in regard to God. His character is shown:
(1) In his exercise of loving-kindness. It is well to be open-eyed to the many and varied proofs of this - in creation, providence, redemption, grace. And it is well to be able to trace these proofs and to show that God is good.
(2) In his exercising judgment. He has given proofs of this also, and that is but a partial and therefore most misleading theology that shuts out of view the sterner aspects of the Divine Father. As in Christ we see most of all how God exercises loving-kindness, so too in him we may see the sure warnings of his judgment. "If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where," etc.?
(3) In his exercise of righteousness. How full the proofs of this also! How manifest in Christ, his teachings, life, death, his Spirit's work now, etc.! Now, it is most desirable to understand all this, for the mind to grasp these sure truths. Too much of the religiousness of the day is weak, flaccid, unstable, because there is wanting knowledge and understanding in the truth. We are apt to be satisfied with an emotional religion, with the play of feeling and the outgoing of the affections. But for all this to be reliable we must understand as well as feel.
2. In that he "knoweth" as well as understandeth. This is more than to understand. For "to know" continually means, in Bible language, to approve, to be in sympathy with, to delight in, etc. (cf. "I will not know a wicked person; The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous; This is life eternal, to know thee the only" etc.). And so here to know God is to have moral sympathy, personal experience, inward approval and delight in regard to God. He who thus understandeth and knoweth God hath "whereof to glory." The prophet desired that his people might have this glorying, for this would save them, whilst all the other things in which they gloried but left them to perish. Appeal to all who profess religion and who instruct others, Can you thus glory? Do you understand? Better still, Do you know God in his loving-kindness, judgment, righteousness? ? C.
thought - the knowledge of God and personal fellowship with him are immeasurably more worth our seeking and rejoicing in than all those endowments which to the carnal eye are so full of charm. There is a natural tendency in men to rejoice unduly in the good that they derive by birth, or education, or the favor of providence, forgetting that the chief good is something of a different kind, something that must come to them in a different way. Nothing that tends to enrich and adorn and gladden our life in this world is to be despised; but if we measure things by a true standard, and esteem them according to their real and relative value, we shall place everything else that men call good or great beneath that which connects us directly with God and heaven and immortality. Note respecting this higher good -
I. IT IS MORE TRULY OUR OWN THAN ANYTHING ELSE CAN EVER BE. This is seen if we consider:
1. The way in which it becomes ours. The surface acquirements and adornments of life - wealth, social position, favorable circumstances, etc., cannot be called "ours" in the sense in which that which is an inherent element of our individuality is ours. And even as regards personal qualities, there are important differences. Whatever natural gifts belong to us, our own will has had nothing to do with our possession of them. Their development may be dependent on it, but in their origin they are not so. Whereas the affections that connect us with God tell how the deepest depths of our being were stirred at their birth within us. Nothing so truly ours as that which has thus become ours.
2. The absolute satisfaction it brings. All the "springs of our being" are in God. He is the true Home and blissful Center of rest for every human spirit. "The good man is satisfied from himself" (Proverbs 14:14), not because of anything in the resources of his own finite being, but because he has learnt by the utter renunciation of all trust in these to find his true "self" in God.
3. Its perpetuity. We may soon be bereft of all other endowments; this we can never lose. There is no possession over which a man can rejoice in this world which is not precarious and uncertain. And though the sense of this need not check our free use and hearty enjoyment of it, it will always cast some slight shadow over the sunshine of our delight. But there is no shadow here, no sense of insecurity, no fear of disappointment. Have your soul in conscious fellowship with God, and you may rest in the thought that "nothing shall ever be able to separate you from his love" (Romans 8:38, 39). "This is life eternal," etc. (John 17:3). "The water that I shall give him shall be in him," etc. (John 4:14).
II. UNLIKE OTHER FORMS OF GOOD, IT IS INCAPABLE OF ABUSE. What natural gift is there that men may not turn, and have not actually turned, to some purpose contrary to that for which it was given? The false use grows, not so much out of any quality or tendency in the thing itself, as out of the innate perversity of our human nature. And there is nothing in the thing itself, or in the fact of our possessing it, that necessarily acts as a cure for that perversity. Intellectual capacity, genres, literary culture, rank, wealth, etc., - how often have these been allied with moral corruption, and given their possessors the ability to inflict incalculable mischief on the human race? The graces of holy character which spring from fellowship with God cannot, in the nature of things, be thus abused. You cannot conceive of their being prostituted to evil ends. They bear within them the pledge of their Divine use and issue.
III. IT ENABLES US, AS NOTHING ELSE CAN, TO APPRECIATE ALL THAT IS TRUE AND GOOD IN THIS PRESENT WORLD. You must know God before you can rightly understand and realize the highest profit of the world in which he has placed you. There are two popular errors in this direction - one is the error of supposing that the apprehension of the truth of nature depends solely on mental capacity and scientific investigation. Does not the inability of some of the most illustrious thinkers of every age to find out the Divine in nature, rather show that it is more a question of spiritual sympathy than of intellectual power? The other error is that of supposing that the power to procure the good of this life is the same thing as the power to enjoy it. And yet how many pampered children of wealth and fashion are there who bear upon their faces the marks of weariness and discontent! Their souls are withered by excessive physical indulgence and artificial culture. They have lost the capacity of pure and simple enjoyment, and childlike wonder and delight are things to them unknown. Let your spirit be in fellowship with God, let your "heart be set to hallow all you find," and the deepest treasures of truth and the sweetest satisfactions of life are within your reach. God has made purity of heart the condition, not only of knowing himself, but of knowing the best of his gilts. It both creates and verifies-
"The cheerful faith that all which we behold IV. IT GIVES US THE POWER TO CONFER HIGHEST BENEFIT ON OUR FELLOW-CREATURES. We are disposed sometimes to envy the talents, the range of influence, the means of usefulness, that others possess. It seems a grand thing to us to be in certain commanding positions, and have resources that may be used at pleasure for the working out of certain desired ends. Remember, however, that what can alone give worth to these things are precisely those personal, moral qualities that are within the reach of all. The influence of godly character is deeper, more radical, more productive of enduring fruits of blessedness than any other kind of influence. Who would not rejoice in the power to confer this highest good upon the world? - W.
IV. IT GIVES US THE POWER TO CONFER HIGHEST BENEFIT ON OUR FELLOW-CREATURES. We are disposed sometimes to envy the talents, the range of influence, the means of usefulness, that others possess. It seems a grand thing to us to be in certain commanding positions, and have resources that may be used at pleasure for the working out of certain desired ends. Remember, however, that what can alone give worth to these things are precisely those personal, moral qualities that are within the reach of all. The influence of godly character is deeper, more radical, more productive of enduring fruits of blessedness than any other kind of influence. Who would not rejoice in the power to confer this highest good upon the world? - W.
I. MAN IS SET BEFORE US HERE AS BEING IN A STATE OF VERY LIVELY EMOTION. He is spoken of as glorying; and the Hebrew word used is such as suggests the idea of a man, not only intensely pleased within his own breast, but whose pleasure, like heat bursting into flame, finds vent in words and songs of exultation. The glory and exultation felt by the mind within may appear in many ways - in the face, in the gestures, in the speech; but the prophet indicates here the highest kind of expression, that of poetic and musical utterance. Genius comes in to render permanent certain experiences of exultation, the record of which would otherwise speedily pass away. There is thus set before us a certain state of mind and a certain expression of it. And be it observed that this state of mind is not condemned in itself; nay, it is rather invited and encouraged. It is only condemned when it is produced by a wrong consideration of the objects exciting it, and there is a plain direction how to produce it in the right way. Hence we see how God intends man to be raised into great activity of emotion. It is a wicked thing to repress and starve the feelings. Some there are who act as if the expression of emotion were a thing to be ashamed of; they seem to think they are doing a good work in trying to kill everything like living feeling within them. Now, it is perfectly certain that God would encourage everything which gives the emotions a large part to play in human life, and particularly the joyful emotions. Notice, for it is an interesting thing to notice, how it is Jeremiah, the weeping prophet as he is called, who here points out to his erring brethren the way to the best sort of exultation. The truth is that Jeremiah was a rejoicing believer as well as a weeping prophet. He wept over Jerusalem, as did the greater One who came long after; but it is plain that he must also have had deep joys in his own soul, even as Jesus had. God wishes us to cultivate the singing, exultant heart; for that we all may have, even when we lack the singing lip. We are to have much grief and pity, continual sorrow of heart, because of the world's sins, but it argues a great lack and a great loss if we have not much joy because of God's salvation. The exultation which comes from a selfish use of the world and a selfish success must be put away, but only that another and purer kind of exultation may take its place.
II. THE WARNING LEST THIS EXULTATION, WITH THE CONSEQUENT EXPRESSION OF IT, SHOULD BE PRODUCED IN A WRONG WAY. Three classes are spoken of - the wise, the strong, the rich. Wise and strong by natural endowments; rich by the acquirement of visible, tangible possessions. And wise, strong, and rich men may rejoice and boast and sing when, perhaps, their feelings should rather tend to the other extreme, of mourning and humiliation. A word on the warning to each of these classes.
1. The wise. The existence of the wise man is recognized. A wise man is not of necessity to be always contrasted with the foolish. He has a right to the name of wise if his practical faculties of mind rise above the common level. When such a one has shown himself foreseeing and cautious, patient to wait when action would be hurtful, yet prompt to decide when decision is necessary - when, in short, he has obtained a general reputation for wisdom - it is then only mock-modesty for him to pretend that his gifts are not beyond those of common men. Wisdom is the strength of the mind, and the man who has it cannot be unconscious of it, any more than the man strong in body can be unconscious of his strength. But this wisdom, while it is to be used, disciplined, made the most of, is not a thing to glory in. The more it is looked at, the more its limits will be seen. See how easily it can be misused. It was said of Burke that he gave up to party what was meant for mankind, although he would strenuously have maintained that, through party, he got his best means for serving mankind. But of many it is only too true that their great faculties of intellect, meant for the good of men and the glory of God, have been deliberately given up to that which hurts men. Wisdom, as wisdom, is not to be gloried in. It must be an instrument in a higher hand before it can work out such a result as will fill the contemplating mind with exultation and praise.
2. The strong. How much men admire strength - strength of body, or strength to maintain and carry out some settled purpose! The young men who contended in the Grecian games gloried in their strength, and so did their kinsfolk and all the people who took pride in the land that produced such. And yet glorying of this sort would not bear reflection. Assuredly it could not endure in a renewed mind to think that the prize of victory had been gotten by the defeat and humiliation of a brother man. Glorying in strength means looking back on victories of brute violence, such victories as Goliath was wont to rejoice in. Glorying in strength means sitting down at the banquet with the bleed-stained conqueror, and singing of his achievements amid the flush and insolence of wine. And it means also the encouragement and the formation of similar hopes and purposes for the future. Such feelings of glorying in mere strength the beast of prey may have as he goes up and down in the forest, but they are not the feeling of a man considering the possible range of his thoughts and aspirations. A strong man must employ his strength usefully, recollecting that it was given so that, with a devout and obedient mind in a strong body, he might serve God in his day and generation.
3. The rich. Rich men glory in their wealth, and not without plausibility. They find that it stands excellently well in the place of wisdom and strength. They can buy the wisdom and the strength of others; and the more freely they expend, the more also, in certain ways, they obtain. He who professes to despise wealth never gets credit for sincerity; and yet it is perfectly certain that those who profess to glory in this same wealth are preparing for themselves, in one way or another, a terrible humiliation. Let them lose their wealth, and they will waken to the discovery that they have also lost their attractions. There is more to be said for glorying in one's wisdom and strength than in one's external possessions; for the wisdom and strength, whatever their shortcomings, are really a part of the man, while the external possessions are little better than an accident.
III. MAN IS DIRECTED TO A CAUSE OF EXULTATION WHICH, WITH THE UTMOST CONFIDENCE, HE MAY ALLOW TO OPERATE FREELY ON HIS MIND. There is a song for man to sing worthy of his highest powers - a song in which he may glory with respect to himself, because he has become somewhat of that which he ought to be. We are not allowed to sing exultingly and proudly of our own natural powers, even if they were the powers of a Plato, a Shakespeare, or a Newton; but there is a sure standing-place for us to exult lawfully in what we have become. The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the greatest horn of women. We may always magnify humanity when we see one of ourselves coming to a true knowledge of God. The peculiar possibility of glory to man is that he is able to know his Maker. Understand and know. Surely these words mean a great deal; one can hardly put too much of meaning and encouragement into them. Through Isaiah, Jehovah said, "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." And yet, if Israel will only consider and turn, it is capable of knowing God as no brute, however docile, attentive, and faithful it be, can ever come to know its master. The brute gives to its master a brute's recognition; it does the utmost its faculties enable it to do; but in coming to man we come to one who can be so altered as to know God even as a child knows its father. The true glory of the worst of men is that he can be regenerated. The glory of the best of men is that has been regenerated. The great end to be aimed at is that every man should exult in his having been made a partaker of the Divine nature. The more he thinks of his Savior, the more he will glory in this - that he, in spite of all his spiritual ignorance and blindness, has had in him a power to be so renewed and uplifted; that he has become one of the exceeding great multitude, who owe eternal blessedness to the work of Christ. To speak of the possibility of such glorying as comes from the knowledge of God was a great matter in relation to these children of Israel. They had fallen into the most appalling errors as to the character and disposition of deity. They had come to have gods many - gods who were the patrons of cruelty, rapacity, tyranny, injustice, lust, and covetousness. They had to practice, as a matter of religion, things opposed to those very things in which Jehovah here represents himself as delighting. What was required from them, therefore, was to listen humbly and attentively to those prophetic expostulations which pointed towards light, truth, redemption, and a new song to be put in their mouths by Jehovah himself. And a similar way is to be ours if we would be sure of glorying in the Lord. The way of God in this matter is by the truth as it is in Jesus, and into that way God's Spirit must lead us, and keep us in it even to the end, amid all the difficulties arising from the natural pride of human hearts. - Y.