I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.
Thus epochs are made; thus new dates are introduced into human history; thus the less is merged in the greater; the little judgment is lost in the great judgment, and the mercy that once appeared to be so great seems to be quite small compared with the greater mercy that has healed and blessed our life. This is the music, and this is the meaning of the passage. What is experience worth? It is worth exactly what we make of it; it will not follow us, and insist upon being looked at and estimated and applied; it is, so to say, either a negative or a positive possession; we can make it either, according to the exercise of our will and inclination. How often we vow not to forget our experience; yet it is stolen from us in the night time, and we awake in the morning empty-handed, empty-minded, beggared to the uttermost point of destitution. We write our vows in water; who can make any impression on the ocean? whole fleets have passed over the sea, not a track is left behind where the waves were sundered; they roll together again, as if with emulous energy they seek to obliterate the transient mark of the intrusive ships. It is so with ourselves. Let no man think he has sounded the whole depth of God's providence in this matter of punishment or of benediction and blessing. History has recorded nothing yet; history is getting its pen ready for the real registration of Divine ministry in human affairs. No judgment has yet befallen the world worth naming, compared with the judgment that may at any moment be revealed. Do not mock God; do not defy Him or tempt Him: what you have had is but the sting of a whip; He could smite you with a thong of scorpions. Rather say, God pity us, God spare us; remember that we are but dust; a wind that cometh for a little time and then passeth away: smite us not in Thine hot anger, O loving One; in wrath remember mercy. We do not know what plagues God could send upon the earth. Be not presumptuous against the Divine government; do not say, God cannot do this, or send down that judgment; if He forbear, it is because His mercy restrains, not because His judgment is impotent. By a natural accommodation of the passage, we may be led into quite another line of thinking and illustration: "Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said...but"; and between these words we may put in our own experience, and our own commentaries upon life and destiny. Thus: Behold, the days come that it shall no more be said that we have a Creator, but we have a Redeemer. Men shall not talk about creation. There are some men who are content to talk about one infinitesimal speck of creation; they have not learned the higher philosophy, the fuller wisdom, the riper, vaster law. They are gathering what they can with their hands; they are first the admirers, secondly the devotees, and thirdly the victims of the microscope. They have made an idol of that piece of glazed brass; they who mock the heathen for worshipping ivory and stone and tree and sun, may perhaps be creating a little idol of their own. Behold, the days come when men shall no longer talk about the body, but about the soul. It is time we had done with physiology. If we have not mastered the body, what poor scholars we have been! And yet how far men are from having mastered it in the sense of being able to heal it! Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when men shall no more talk about human deliverance, or deliverance from human extremity, but they shall talk about liberation from diabolic captivity; they shall say they have been loosed from their sins, they have been disimprisoned and set at liberty as to the dominion of their passions and desires and appetences; they shall speak about the higher emancipation, and everywhere men shall be eloquent about the Deliverer who drew the soul from Egyptian and Chaldean tyranny, and gave it liberty and joy in the Holy Ghost. The whole subject of human speech shall be changed; men shall not talk about Egypt, but about Canaan; they shall not talk about the law, but about the higher law; they shall not talk about the outward, but about the inward. Thus dates are introduced into human history. The time will come when men will not speak about being born, but about being "born again." Your birthday was your deathday, — or only the other aspect of it. Date your born-again day from the beginning, the morning of your immortality. Drop the lower theme, seize the higher; dismiss the noise, and entreat the music to take full possession of your nature. Behold, the day is come, saith the Lord, when men shall no longer talk about prayer, but about praise. The old prayer days will be over; they were needful as part of our experience and education, but the time will come when prayer will be lost in praise; the time will come when work will be so easy as to have in it the throb and joy of music; the time will come when it will be easy to live, for life will carry no burden, and know the strain of no care; the days of anxiety will be ended, solicitude will be a forgotten word, and the companionship of God and His angels shall constitute our heaven.
A crew of explorers penetrate far within the Arctic circles in search of other expeditions that had gone before them — gone and never returned. Failing to find the missing men, and yet unwilling to abandon hope, they leave supplies of food carefully covered with stones, on some prominent headlands, with the necessary intimations graven for safety on plates of brass. If the original adventurers survive, and on their homeward journey, faint, yet pursuing, fall in with these treasures, at once hidden and revealed, the food, when found, will seem to those famished men the smaller blessing. The proof which the food supplies that their country cares for them is sweeter than the food. So the proof that God cares for us is placed beyond a doubt; the "unspeakable gift" of His Son to be our Saviour should melt any dark suspicion to the contrary from our hearts.
I will send for many fishers;...I will send for many hunters.
These refer to the successive invaders of Judea. As to "hunters," see Genesis 10:9
. Nimrod, " the mighty hunter," the first founder of an empire on conquest. The Chaldees were famous in hunting, as the Egyptians, the other enemy of Judea, were in fishing.(1) "Fishers" expresses the ease of their victory over the Jews as that of the angler over fishes.(2) "Hunters" indicates the keenness of their pursuit of them into every cave and nook. It is remarkable the same image of "fishers" and "fish" is used in a good sense of the Jews' restoration, implying that just as their enemies were employed by God to take them in hand of destruction, so the same shall be employed for their restoration (Ezekiel 47:9, 10
). So, spiritually, those once enemies by nature (fishermen
many of them literally) were employed by God to be the heralds of salvation, "catching men" for life (Matthew 4:19
And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double.
We may illustrate the evil of sin by the following comparison. "Suppose I am going along a street, and were to dash my head through a large pane of glass, what harm would I receive?" "You would be punished for breaking the glass." "Would that be all the harm I should receive? Your head will be cut by the glass." "Yes! and so it is with sin. If you break God's laws, you shaft be punished for breaking them; and your soul is hurt by the very act of breaking them."
O Lord, my strength, and my fortress.
One of the Puritans was accustomed to describe prayer as the flight of the lonely man to the only God. There is such prayer here. This man is very lonely. He is like a speckled bird, set on by all the birds of the flock. He looks right and left, but there is no man to care for his soul; then he addresses himself to God in these touching words:
I. MY STRENGTH. The Psalmist spoke of God as the strength of his life. The Apostle of love said that little children could overcome the world, because He that was in them was greater and stronger than he that was in the world. "God is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"
II. MY STRONGHOLD. A stronghold is what holds strongly. A keep is that which keeps. We keep God's deposit, which is His Gospel: God keeps our deposit, which is ourselves. And none, man nor devil, can snatch us away.
III. MY REFUGE IN THE DAY OF AFFLICTION. The night darkening the sky drives the chicks to the hen's wings; so affliction drives us to God. "In the shadow of Thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast." Do you wish to know Him thus? See that you do not burden yourself by your endeavours. Be still and know. Enter into the still and peaceful land of inward spiritual fellowship. Commune with your own heart. Be a child before Him, innocent, unaffected, unrestrained.
Travellers tell us that they who are at the top of the Alps can see great showers of rain fall under them, but not one drop of it falls upon them. They who have God for their portion are in a high tower, and thereby safe from all troubles and showers.
The Gentiles shall come unto Thee from the ends of the earth.I.
THE CONFESSION WHICH THE GENTILE NATIONS ARE HERE PROPHETICALLY DESCRIBED TO MAKE. "Surely our fathers have inherited lies," etc. Need I say, that the produce of "lies" must be "vanity and things wherein there is no profit"? It may be granted, that if we only esteem things by the partial and short-sighted standard of this present world, falsehood may sometimes bring its gain; there are pleasures of falsehood and gains of falsehood. But then the pleasures of sin are but for a moment; the day is shortly coming, when falsehood shall be found as a rope of sand, as a quicksand on which any structure may have been based; and therefore if it be true that the heritage of the heathen is a heritage of "lies," it follow that it is a heritage of vanity, and things wherein there is no profit.
II. THE PURPOSES OF GOD RESPECTING THESE IDOLATERS. You have here the repetition of God's purpose. He is not satisfied with stating once, "I will cause them to know," but He adds a second time, "I will cause them to know My hand and My might; and they shall know that I am the Lord." There is a distinctness and a certainty upon this matter which is most refreshing to a humane and considerate mind. The intimation of this design is here presented to us as the distinct purpose of God. "Therefore" — since man admits that he has inherited lies, since he sees that he is destitute of any resources in himself, and since the allotment which father has given to son during many an elapsing century, since all the property that could descend from sire to son as ages rolled away was only "falsehood, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit" — since all that this accumulated mass of human skill and industry bestowed, was based on falsehood — now that the confession is made, — "I will cause this people to know My hand and My might." And how was the hand of God to be known? Was it to be the hand of power, crushing to perdition the sinner whose heart was disaffected and his intellect degraded? No; He was to stretch out His hand to heal and to save. There is no power so great, and no power so beautiful in nature, as this hand of God, when it is stretched out to heal. There are needful accompaniments of this wonderful accomplishment of Divine mercy and love to man. There are the ministers of His Gospel. By the instrumentality of these human communications, does the Spirit of God act; and when therefore God says, "And they shall know that I am Jehovah," it is meant that to these nations shall be sent the records of the Scriptures; that to them shall go the heralds of peace; that among them shall the voice of mercy be heard; that amidst their thronged population shall the accents of salvation come forth, from lips which He has touched with a coal from the altar, and made to be the bearers of kind sayings to their poor suffering and degraded sinners. This is God's declaration.
III. THE GENEROUS CONSOLATION WHICH THE MIND OF THE PROPHET DERIVES FROM THIS KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S GRACIOUS DESIGN IN FAVOUR OF THESE GENTILES. "O Lord, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction." When beat down by sorrow, when prostrate in calamity, when standing amidst the decay of national comforts, and amidst the manifestation of God's righteous judgments, he turned for rest to God; God was his strength, God was his fortress God opened to him an asylum whither the wicked could not follow him, whither Satan could not follow him.
Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they are no gods?
Is not that impossible? From a certain point of view it is utterly impossible, and yet from another point of view it is the very thing men are doing every day in the week. Questions cannot always be answered literally. There may be a moral explanation under the literary definition. Who does not make himself gods as he needs them? — not visible god, otherwise they might bring down upon themselves the contempt of observers, and the contempt of their very makers; but ambitions, purposes, policies, programmes, methods of procedure, — all these may be looked upon as refuges and defences and hidden sanctuaries into which the soul would go for defence and protection when the tempest rages loudly, and fiercely. A subtle thing is this god-making. Every man is at times a polytheist — that is, a possessor or a worshipper of many gods. The Lord could never bring the mind of His people directly and lovingly to the reception of the One Deity. It would seem to be the last thought of man that there can be, by metaphysical necessity, only one God. There cannot be a divided Deity. Yet it is this very miracle that the imagination of man has per. formed. He has set all round the household innumerable idols which he takes down according to the necessity of the hour. He knows he is intellectually foolish, morally the victim of self-delusion, practically an utterly unwise and impracticable man; yet somehow, by force not to be put into equivalent words, he will do this again and again, yea he takes to himself power to fill up vacancies, so that if any clay god or imagined idol has failed him he puts another in the place of the one that did not fulfil his prayer.
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