O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.
While the freeness of God's mercy is the leading idea suggested by these words, it is not the only one; on the contrary, the condition of our nature is accurately expressed, as is the mode by which alone it can be ameliorated.
I. Consider, first, the state into which man has brought himself. There are few things more important, whether we view mankind collectively or individually, than the fastening on the sinner all the blame of his sin. God may invite the prodigal to return, but God has nothing to do with his wandering away into the desert. Thou hast not fallen through an inherent inability to stand; He has so constituted thee that thou mightest have stood. Thou hast not fallen through the ground being slippery, and thick-set with snares; He placed thee where thy footing was firm, and thy pathway direct. Upon man himself come home wholly all the effects of the fall. In whatever degree there may be a necessity of sinning, in no degree is there a necessity of perishing. God places no man in such a moral condition that his falling into perdition is unavoidable. Let a man have once heard of Christ, and from that moment forward salvation is within arm's length of this man. Is he willing to be saved? Then he may be saved. Is he unwilling? Then, at least, he perishes by his own choice; and our righteous, and merciful, and redeeming God is clear in judgment when He leaves the obdurate one to the fruit of his own folly.
II. Observe the mode of deliverance, as it may be gathered from the invitation: "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God." (1) The fall did not do away with God's claim on man. Man could not cease to belong to God as a creature, when man had given himself to Satan; and this important fact is assumed, if not asserted, in the words of our text. The party addressed is the fallen, but the party addressing is still the Lord his God. Disobedience has removed man from the centre to the outskirts of the universe, but in one great sense it could not remove him from God, "who is that infinite sphere," as expressed by an old writer, "whose centre is everywhere, and circumference nowhere." (2) We gather an inference of consolation from the fact that thou, "Israel, hast fallen by thine iniquity." There is the groundwork of hope, that God will yet look mercifully upon us and restore us, seeing that, notwithstanding our alienation, He is still our God. The message, "Return unto the Lord thy God," is full of consolation, because it invites us to the Being from whom all our rebellion has not been able to divide us. (3) That which God invites us to do must be possible for us to do. If God calls on us to return we are not at liberty to question that there lies no impossibility against our returning. Now this assumes two things: (i) that God has removed all existing obstacles: (ii) that He bestows all requisite assistance in the performance of it.
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2143.
Hosea 14:1-2How to return to God.
I. The first act of the awakened soul is usually an act of prayer, and it is most natural, and indeed most proper, that it should be so. The very act of expressing our need has a tendency both to bring about clearer views of what it is that we need, and to intensify our desire. Inward silence and reserve tend to benumb the faculties and to check the rising desires of the soul, when the outpouring of earnest supplication seems to stir us to our inmost depths.
II. Notice the urgency of this utterance, which God's love puts as it were in our mouths. There is only one kind of prayer that is at all appropriate in the lips of an awakened sinner, who finds himself without God in the world, but who desires to arise and go to His Father: and that is the urgent, specific entreaty for present forgiveness and salvation.
III. The divinely suggested utterance of our text is not only an urgent prayer, but it is also the expression of a distinct change in our moral attitude towards God. It marks the end of the life of aversion from God, and the beginning of a true conversion to God. "Take with you words" says the voice of Heavenly Love, "and turn unto the Lord." Let there be a distinct reversal of your former attitude of independence and alienation.
IV. When thus with all our hearts we truly seek Him, it will not be long before we become aware of something that seems at first to rise like a barrier between Him and us, shutting us off from all contact with Him. What about our sins? This experience is evidently foreseen in our text, where we have a most definite and specific request for an immediate and most necessary benefit. There stands the barrier, and nothing can be done until it is removed; and so the Father's love bids us pray, "Take away all iniquity."
When this fatal barrier is removed, then is the way clear and open to the Father's house; and may we not say into the Father's arms? "Receive us graciously." We need not fear going home to God. Their are no taunts on His lips, no frown on His brow; only infinite tenderness in His heart. He is too great to be otherwise than gracious; He has done too much to open up the new and living way not to be ready to welcome us home when at length we do come.
W. Hay Aitken, The Mission Pulpit, No. 72.
References: Hosea 14:1, Hosea 14:2.—W. Aitken, The Love of the Father, p. 113. Hosea 14:1-3.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 162.
Hosea 14:2There is a porch even within the sanctuary of repentance. There is a pause of preparation, words selected, distinct movement, accurate speaking, an order in prayer, a new relation to God recognized, an audience asked, reception given,—leading up to self-dedication.
I. Words are immense helps to thoughts. You will never think accurately, nor think continuously, nor think without wandering, without words. Therefore, never be indifferent to the language in which you clothe your religion. "Take with you words."
II. When the words are ready, "turn." Adjust the attitude of your mind. It only wants a real "turn." The back where the face was, and the face where the back was; looking the other way,—away from the world, away from the past, straight into the love of Christ.
III. Words are sacrifice. It is a pleasant and a holy thought that we all of us carry about with us wherever we go the means of sacrifice to God. We should offer all we have. Our lips should make sacrifice. Sacrifice, in its high propitiatory sense we cannot, and we need not, offer sacerdotally. There is no sacrifice in any Christian worship. We only plead one sacrifice, made once and for ever for the sins of the whole world. But spiritually every one of us is a priest. And there is not a believer who has not a sacrifice to offer: himself, his heart, his life, his soul, his body, his lips.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 10th series, p. 173.
References: Hosea 14:3.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1695. Hosea 14:4.—Ibid., vol. ix., No. 501, vol. xvi., No. 920; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 296. Hosea 14:4-8.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xii., p. 203.
Hosea 14:5This is a gracious promise to a penitent and returning people. Israel had fallen by her iniquity; but "He who pardoneth iniquity, transgression, and sin" had earnestly exhorted her to arise and return by repentance and righteousness to Himself; to take with her words of humble confession, of earnest entreaty, of renewed covenant engagement, of grateful, loving trust, and of solemn vow and promise for the future. And it is on the supposition that that gracious exhortation has been laid to heart that the Lord comes forth with abundant and adapted promises, among them the promise of the text.
I. The dew falls very quietly and gently. So is God to. His people when He comes to revive and bless them. The soul must have times of recruiting and replenishment, and probably times of silence. The filling of the hidden springs, the growing of the secret inward strength, will be, the "man knoweth not how," as is the growing of the flowers, as is the falling of the dew.
II. The dew falls very copiously. In the land of Israel it falls much more abundantly than in this country. God's grace to a Church in a time of spiritual quickening is very copious and full. When hearts are opened to Him in expectation they never close again in collapse and disappointment.
III. The dew is very refreshing. It makes dying nature live. When God comes in fulfilment of this promise there is a recovery of sinking strength, a kindling of dying graces, a returning to the first love, a doing of the first works. To those who are so visited there is a newness in religion every day.
IV. The dew is fertilizing. This silent, copious, refreshing agent works fruitfulness out of all growing things. And when God is as the dew unto Israel, His final end is that the plants of His right hand's planting may become fruitful.
V. Note, as another analogy, the nearness to us in both cases of the reviving influence—God does not fetch the dew from stars, or from fountains in the skies. He condenses and distils it out of the atmosphere. May not this remind us how we are surrounded with a very atmosphere of grace, which holds all precious things in readiness to be dropped upon us when God shall command it so? The word of life is "nigh unto us," as near the soul as the atmosphere is to the body.
A. Raleigh, Quiet Resting Places, p. 23.
Reference: Hosea 14:5.—Preacher's Lantern, vol. ii., p. 634.
Hosea 14:5-6I God begins: "I will be as the dew unto Israel." Of dew we may notice several things. (1) It is beautiful and glistening; but the process by which it is formed, and the way by which it comes, are hidden from us,—as behind a veil, in mystery. (2) Dew is always proportionate. The greater the need, the larger the supply; the hotter the day, the thicker it lies; and by refreshing where it falls it tends to vitality and growth. (3) And it comes faithfully, morning and evening, wherever it is wanted, and never fails. That is like God. How the Holy Spirit distils upon us, or why, we cannot tell. The commencement of the Divine life and its supplies are perfectly inscrutable. The workings are secret, but the results are patent. And just as I want it, I find it. It comes fullest in the morning of our hottest conflicts, and the fiercer and most searching days of trial have their richest drops. At evening what is the most worked is the most renovated. And without it all the soul's verdure and all the soul's life would wither and die.
II. Now trace the consequences on the man himself. The metaphor is sustained. It is by the dewlike, gentle workings of God's Spirit, by myriads of drops, each imperceptibly small. "He shall grow as the lily and cast forth his roots as Lebanon," etc. There are five things: growth, strength, expansion, beauty, fragrance.
III. They that dwell under His shadow shall return. We all cast our shadows; and the influence we carry, the effect we produce,—may be, and should be, and must be, always for good and for God. And this is the characteristic of the Christian, that "they that dwell under his shadow shall return"—return to what they have lost: return to peace; return to that good land; return to Canaan; return to their God.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 10th series, p. 181.
Hosea's picture of what the state of Israel would be, in returning to righteousness and becoming reconciled to heaven, is composed—curiously and daintily composed—of rich colours, drawn from various sources. To his glowing anticipation, no single image sufficed to represent the approaching glory. For an adequate portrayal of the brilliant prospect which his eyes beheld, he had to borrow and cull from this quarter and that—to gather and combine many things—selecting here a little and there a little, and binding the medley together, in one. And it is his eclecticism here that I find inviting and suggestive; his free flitting from object to object, in order to collect materials for an image of perfection.
I. It reminds me of what we need to recognize and act upon, both in the intercourse of life and in the pursuit of truth. No man is worth accepting wholly, and every man has a grace and glory of his own that is worth searching out. See on the one hand, how we renounce and shut ourselves up from canine, snarling, disagreeable people as though there were no lingering lines of beauty in them with which to cultivate acquaintance. See on the other hand, our tendency to hero-worship; to insulate and set up on high and warn off criticism from the man who has shown himself grand and supreme in two or three points, or perhaps in a single quality: how we foolishly assume him to be equally grand and supreme all round on all sides. What is needed is, that we should be more ready and quick to discern the special grace, and the consequent essentialness, of every unit in the crowd, and less ready and quick to confine ourselves to any.
II. The perfect man is here, but not to be brought together and expressed in any single personality. We can approximate towards securing the benefit and use of him by association, uniting in work, study, and intercourse, what we each have—our various distinctive characters and attainments. Instances of this may be seen in politics, in Church fellowship, in differing religious views. What we need in order to a growing discernment of the universe of spiritual truth among us is, comprehension—the comprehension within our circle of intercourse, of as many visions and impressions of earnest brother-souls as possible.
S. A. Tipple, Echoes of Spoken Words, p. 187.
References: Hosea 14:5-7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi., No. 342; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xxii., 348. Hosea 14:7.—J. Keble, Sermons for Holy Week, p. 163. Hosea 14:8.—A. Maclaren, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 159; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii., No. 1339; vol. x., No. 557; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 252. Hosea 14:9.—J. M. Gibson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 344.
Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.
Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy.
I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.
I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.
His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.
They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon.
Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found.
Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein.