And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers…
There is no scene in history more full of moving pathos than that of Christ weeping over Jerusalem. The city was there right before His eyes in her matchless beauty. "He who has not seen the temple of Herod," said a contemporary rabbi, "does not know what beauty is." The Roman Pliny said, "By far the most glorious city not of Judaea only, but of the whole East, is Jerusalem." But as our Lord had seen through her religious ritual, so He sees through the splendour of her situation and her buildings the moral horror beneath. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! how often would I have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wing, and ye would not. Behold your house is left unto you desolate." And so He pronounces over them that solemn prophecy of the degradation and destruction that were to come. True it is that the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem is also a prophecy of the moral end of all things. The destruction of Jerusalem is a type of that judgment with which God shall at last and in the end judge at their true moral value all human institutions. And the point is that Jerusalem was destroyed because she rejected Christ. That is an historical fact. I mean the temper which caused her final destruction was simply the same as the temper which caused her to reject Christ. She rejected Christ because of that narrow, self-satisfied Jewish pride which refused to allow her to admit the larger light. And it all happened naturally: you can read it in the pages of the modern historian — it all happened by natural laws, natural sequences. And yet it is — as in the mind of our Lord, so to the imagination of all time — the very type of what we mean by a Divine judgment upon a nation for her sin. I believe this in particular is our intellectual vocation and duty to-day, to realise that natural laws are God's methods, and that it is not the less but rather the more His working, because He works by ordinary sequences, and by what we call natural causes in the government of men as of the world. The old idea of a Divine judgment was of something arbitrary, violent, disconnected; a favourite type for judgment was an earthquake, because an earthquake is something which cannot be put into any connection with any works of men. God forbid that we should deny that there are judgments of this kind. If we admit evidence, which we ought to do, we must admit there have been miraculous acts of God, but this is not the normal way in which God acts. What we have to learn is that God is the God of order and of law, and that because He proceeds by natural law it is not less God, the moral Governor of the world, who is at work among us. A disease is a judgment, because it springs from our vices. We are continually confronted with it: we see it; perhaps at the particular moment we may see it with special emphasis. Diseases follow our vices, our lusts. The duty of four piety in this present day is to be taught by God to see into the hand of God, to search out what are the methods by which these things happen, to seek to stanch the sources of the evil, but always to recognise that as the source is moral so the only true and vital remedies. Our piety lies in recognising this. There are natural judgments that spring from moral causes; these are God's judgments. "Providence," a cynic remarks, "is to be observed generally on the side of the strongest battalions." Perfectly true! But the moral qualities of nations and of individuals have a remarkable power, as shown by history, to strengthen or to weaken the battalion in the long run. History is full of these things. We know the temper of the French aristocracy at the birth of the French Revolution. Carlyle has described it to us in a spirit which is really prophetic. We know their moral blindness, we know their selfishness, and we know the result. The French Revolution was no less a Divine judgment upon the aristocracy, upon the Church, because the instruments of it were very often reckless and godless and wicked men! There is no country which has for the traveller a greater pathos at the present day than Spain. And why? Because everywhere we see amid great natural beauty the traces of the Divine judgment. There is in the present nothing to stir any hope, any feeling of a prospect or of a future for that nation, but yet the very soil is strewn with the marks and the memory of great civilisation. We ask, "Why did she fall? " And the history is written, it was for moral qualities that she fell. They are discoverable; you can put your finger upon them and mark them in the pages of history. No doubt the world as it is at present presents to us no complete picture of the moral government of God, but at the end we know we shall see that God's government has detailed for each particular institution, as for each particular individual, a judgment according to righteousness and truth. When human history is wound up there shall be none who can fail to recognise that God is a God of judgment. But for the present it is not so. The eyes of those who believe in God are strained to see some indication of His moral government, and find it hard to trace them in the facts of the world. Prophets and psalmists call out, "How long, O Lord, how long! How long, holy and true?" but meanwhile the attitude of one who believes in the moral government of God is always the same. He looks out upon the world, and he expects God to govern not only individuals, but classes, nations, and institutions by natural laws, but with moral results. This he expects, and I ask you, Was there ever a time when there was greater need to remember this than there is now? In the government of nations, in their relations to one another, in the relations of classes, in the structure of society, in the dealing with institutions, there is a tendency to banish morals from politics and from commerce, and it seems as if, in spite of resistance, the tendency were augmenting. But look out upon our commerce. Think of it! The unblushing selfishness and unscrupulousness of the great companies and trusts, the unblushing prevalence of bribery under the name of commission, the scandalous lying and trickery in the details of retail trade! Well, then, if we believe in the moral government of God, we need not be prophets, we need not be able to discern with any certainty the tendency of things, or their outcome, but at least we anticipate and expect that in proportion to the deep and widespread character of this moral hollowness there will be judgment by natural law, a judgment of God. The chief way in which we can do any good socially, or look out with fresh eyes upon the great world outside us, is by attending to religion in our own souls, no doubt. There, too, let us think how God comes near to us in judgment. The penitent is ready to be punished. But you will say, "Of course, I know unrepented sin has to be punished, but then I am forgiven. Do you talk of punishing me, then?" Shall we never learn that lesson! Shall we always go on thinking and talking as if to be forgiven meant to be let off, as if Christ's atonement was suffering punishment in order that we might go scot-free? Christ made Himself the sacrifice for our sins in order that He might bring us nearer to God. We are indeed exempted from that which is the truest and deepest and most terrible punishment — the alienation from God, and all that that involves, the gnawing worm, the devouring fire, which sin is — from that, indeed, He delivers us in bringing us near to God, but from the punishment which lies in bearing the consequences of sin there is not one word in the New Testament which would lead you to suppose that you were to be exempted. On the contrary, He has brought you into that new relation to God in order that you may learn how to bear it. For judgment, whether on nations or on individuals, need not be final judgment. The great multitude of Divine judgments are His deepest and most effective corrective agencies. Oh! let us learn that lesson. There is the purpose of God the Father with regard to the world — a large purpose, an eternal purpose, a wise purpose. There is only one hindrance to that purpose of God, but it is deep and wide and terrible: it is the hindrance of sin in individuals, in classes, in nations. Sin may run to the point when it passes beyond the Divine law, but God will do His utmost, and among His most effective instruments are the instruments of judgments. Judgments are intended to purify. The first thought of judgment or of misfortune ought, to the Christian conscience, to be this, "It is given to cleanse me. God is visiting me. I am to be purified. He punishes me because He has a purpose for me. To feel the hand of God is to know that I am to be dealt with to my eternal enrichment and blessedness."
Parallel VersesKJV: And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts.
WEB: I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against the perjurers, and against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and who deprive the foreigner of justice, and don't fear me," says Yahweh of Armies.