Now therefore, tell the men of Judah and residents of Jerusalem that this is what the LORD says: 'Behold, I am planning a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways, and correct your ways and deeds.'
I. IN THIS WE HAVE AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE SOWER OF EVIL HABIT. Sin has acquired such influence over the nature that it becomes its ruler. A recklessness born of desperation takes the place of prudent and hopeful counsels. The inward indisposition colors the view that is taken of the possibilities of the situation. Instead of the sinner seeing that his condition is due to a continual withdrawal from God, he declares that he is "past feeling," that God's grace cannot save him, and that it is "no use." But -
II. IT IS NOT JUSTIFIED BY:
1. The condition of God's opposition. It is the perverseness and unreality of man. He refuses to suffer. False religion God will not accept.
2. The circumstances of the simmer. So long as life continues there is hope. The repetition of the gospel's appeal has the same significance. Are there any signs of relenting in his mind now? any stirrings of heavenly aspiration? any shame and sorrow for past sin? God's Spirit has not ceased to strive with him, and he may yet be saved.
3. The means of salvation that offer themselves. Christ is both able and willing to save. His sacrifice on the cross is a finished work and a complete atonement for our sin. "The Spirit helpeth our infirmities." He is able to save "unto the uttermost," etc.
III. IT IS A SUPREME EXPRESSION OF WICKEDNESS AND WILL BE PUNISHED AS SUCH.
Return ye now everyone from his evil way.
I. WHAT DOES THE TEXT SAY? The picture is that of a man who is going the wrong way. He is trespassing, he is on forbidden ground, he is advancing in a dangerous road, and if he shall continue to go in that direction, he will by and by come to a dreadful precipice over which he will fall, and there he will be ruined. A voice cries to him, "Return!" What does that word mean? It is very simple, and that I may make it plainer still, perhaps, for practical purposes, let me say that the first thing such a man would do would be to stop. If I was out in the country, on a road which I did not know, and I heard a voice crying out to me, "Return," I should certainly stop, and listen; and if I heard the cry repeated, with great eagerness and earnestness, "Return! Return!" I should pause, and look round, and try to see who it was that had called to me. I wish that all of you who are wandering away from God, would stop, and consider where you are going. In God's name, I would arrest thee; as God's officer, I would put my hand on thy shoulder, and say to thee, "Thou must stop; thou shalt pause; thou shalt consider thy ways. I cannot let thee go on carelessly to thy ruin, like a sheep into the slaughter house, or a bullock going to be killed." Stop, I pray thee. Suppose a man did stop, that would not be returning; it is but the commencement of the return when a man stops, but it will be necessary for him, next, to turn round. The order for him to obey is, "Right about face." There must be a total, a radical change in you, ii you are really to obey the command, "Return." I think I hear you ask, "Who can effect this change?" And I am glad to hear that question, for I trust it will lead you to pray, "Turn me, O Lord, and I shall be turned!" There is something done towards returning when a man stops, there is still more done when he turns round; yet he does not actually return until, with persevering footsteps, the wanderer hastens back to him from whom he had departed. What God desires is that all His prodigal children should come home, that His stray sheep should be brought back to the fold, that the lost pieces of silver should be put into the treasury again; that, indeed, you who have wandered in sin should be as they are whom Christ has washed in His precious blood, whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated, and whom the Father has adopted, and put among His children.
II. WHEN ARE SINNERS TO RETURN? "Return ye now everyone from his evil way." The voice of God bids you to return now, and I would urge you to do so, because life is so uncertain that, if you do not return now, you may not live to return at all. He who would have his estate rightly ordered when he is dead should have his will made, everybody says that; and he who would have his eternal estate ordered aright should yield himself at once to the sovereign will of the Most High, for life is uncertain. Return, now, for the calls of grace may not always come to you. Recollect, also, that your sin will be increased by delay. If you keep on in the wrong path, not only will you have sinned the more, but that sin will have taken a more terrible hold upon you. Habits begin like cobwebs, but they end like chains of iron. Moreover, it is well for us to return unto our God now, because the sooner we return to Him the sooner we shall enjoy His favour, and the more delightful will our life become. Peace with God makes even this life to be a blessed life; and he who has it begins, even here, to enjoy the felicities of the glorified. Do you not see, too, that God will have the more service from you? The sooner you are brought to Him, the longer will you have of life in which to serve Him. If any of you have gone past youth, into manhood, and to middle age, or even to old age, then the word "now" should come to you with a sharp, clear crack, as of a rifle. It comes like a staccato note in music, "Now! Now! Now!" Yet once more, return now, because, if ever there is a reason for returning, that reason points to the present moment. If there is a hope that a man will leave his sin some time or other, there must be a better hope that he will leave it now than that he will leave it in a year's time. Wisdom's voice cries, "Now!" It is folly that says, "Tarry."
III. WHO IS THE PERSON THAT IS TO RETURN? "Everyone." Many of you have returned. But every man, every woman, every child who has not returned, should hear the voice of the Lord repeating this message. "Well," says one, "perhaps there will be some people converted through this sermon." Do not talk so, I pray you. Will you be converted through it? Possibly some of you are like the man we read of in the papers some time ago. He was walking by the seaside, and trod on a large chain, and slipped his foot right through one of the links. When he tried to draw it back again, he could not, for he was held fast. The tide was coming in, and there he was a prisoner. He had to call long and loud before anybody came; and by the time the people arrived, he had very much hurt his foot in endeavouring to extricate himself. He begged them to run for the smith, that he might come, and break the iron. He came, but he brought the wrong tools with him, so he could not accomplish the task. It would be some time before he could be back, and, meanwhile, the tide had come in, and the water was up to the man's feet, so he cried, "Run for the surgeon. Let him come, and cut my leg off; it is the only hope of saving my life." But by the time the surgeon came, the water was up to the man's neck, so the doctor could not get down to where his foot was fast in the iron chain, and there was nothing that could be done for him. There he was, poor fellow, and the tide rolled over him, and he was drowned. Some of you seem to me to be just like that man, held fast by some invisible force; yet, when I try to get at the chain, I cannot find out what it is, it is so far under the water. Perhaps you do not yourself know what it is. I am going to make a dive to try to get at it, as I ask my last question concerning the text.
IV. FROM WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLE TO RETURN? "From his evil way." Then, each man has a way of his own, — an evil way of his own, — some personal form of sin. What is your own way? Is it some constitutional sin to which you are prone? "Well," asks one, "what do you think is my evil way?" I will answer by putting another question to you, What is the sin into which you most frequently fall? I should think you can tell that, and that is the evil way from which you have most to fear. It is from that one way that you are called upon specially to return. Tonight, if you were tempted, to which temptation would you be most likely to yield? You do not know, you say; well then, let me put another question to you. When do you get most angry if anybody rebukes you? What is it in the preaching that makes you say, "There, I will never go to hear that man again; he cuts my hair so short, he comes quite close to the skin"? Well now, that will help you to find out what is your own personal evil way; and it is from that way that you are to return. Again, what sin of yours eats up the other sins? Where does your money mostly go? You could have told that Joseph was Jacob's favourite, because he made him a coat of many colours; and there are some sins that wear the coat of many colours, and often, as it were, it is dipped in the man's own blood, for everything goes for that particular sin. But I have not hit on your sin yet, my friend, have I? You have an evil way which you will not tell to anyone; it is not as bad as any I have mentioned; it is a very respectable kind of evil way which you have. Your evil way is this, the evil way of self-righteousness. It makes out that the death of Christ was a superfluity; it tells God that He is wrong in charging a man with sin; it raises a clamour against God; it claims as a right every good thing that God has to give; it does, in fact, uncrown the Saviour, bid the Holy Spirit go His way as no longer needed, and throws the Gospel, which is the crown jewel of God, into the mire.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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