so you are to go to the house of the LORD on a day of fasting, and in the hearing of the people you are to read the words of the LORD from the scroll you wrote at my dictation. Read them in the hearing of all the people of Judah who are coming from their cities.
I. THE OLD. The message itself was old. It had been proclaimed before in parts and on different occasions. There was not, indeed, opportunity for anything new. The audience also was to some extent old. But then let it always be understood that God speaks according to the necessities of the case, not according to the itching ear of man ever clamouring for novelty and relief from ennui. "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither wilt they be persuaded though one rose from the dead." There may come a time in every man's life, when it is not the new but the old and neglected or misunderstood that will prove the necessity of the soul.
II. THE NEW.
1. The messenger. Not Jeremiah, but Baruch; not a prophet, but a prophet's deputy; not a word spoken, but a word read; not a part of Jeremiah's utterances, but the whole, so that people might have it brought home to them how much they had neglected. Old truth appears in new framework and new relations, so that it may arrest people who have become indifferent to the old associations. There was a time when Jeremiah's face was fresh, and curiosity would make people stop to hear what this babbler might say. But after hearing him often, they ceased to heed him. Then Baruch comes forward, and words that were an exact repetition of words heard before got a flavour of novelty.
2. The occasion. The fasting day. Read Isaiah 58, carefully to discover the avowed purpose and yet utter uselessness of the fasting day in Israel. The people met together to acknowledge their sins, to punish their bodies, to please God, to avert his displeasure. It might, therefore, be assumed that then, if ever, they were in a state prepared to listen to the volume of one great prophet's utterance. If anything was to be got out of seizing the best available occasion, then surely it was to be got here. Thus we learn how occasion adds responsibility to utterance; responsibility both for him who speaks and those who hear. These people were not stopped in the street or the market; their homes were not invaded by prophetic messages; they had no pretence for saying they were interfered with. They put themselves in Baruch's way. His work, as reader of Jeremiah's prophecies, was in exact harmony with what ought to have been the feelings and desires of his audience.
3. The audience. That audience, as we have said above, was to some extent old, but to some extent also it would be new. A new message to some people in Jerusalem, and quite new doubtless to the bulk of those who came from the cities of Judah to Jerusalem. The whole proceeding helps us to see how valuable the public reading of the Scriptures may be. For old as they are, with so much in them that savours of vanished ages and customs, their have, nevertheless, to do with perennial wants, miseries, and possibilities. - Y.
The fasting-day.I. It exhibits the duty of a wise self-restraint or self-denial, in receiving the good gifts of heaven. What could more exactly typify this than the temporary withdrawing from innocent pleasure, and even from the proper nourishment of the frame? It is temporary, and not absolute; an occasion, and not a permanency; a suspension, and not a renunciation. It admonishes us by an example, and does not crush us by a law. It reminds us of the obligation of sobriety in the use of the world s offerings. It bids us reflect that it is good for us to break away at times from what is plentiful, contenting ourselves with what is scanty; and to interrupt the course of the enjoyments that only do not reproach us, in order to make room for higher satisfactions. It exhorts us to be frugal, to be watchful, to be provident. It enjoins to be temperate in all things, and to let our moderation be known to all men; to learn how to lack as well as how to abound; and to show to others and prove to ourselves how well we can resign what we would fain keep, and refrain from what we desire to do, controlling tongue and hand, wish and passion, at the call of any holy commandment.
2. It typifies our weak and subject condition. When we pause in the midst of our blessings, and put them at a distance for a while that we may see them the better, we remember how precarious is our hold upon them, and how easily what we dispense with for a day may be withdrawn from us for ever. Fulness may shrink. Strength and activity may be crippled. Resources heaped up ever so high may be scattered to the winds. Opportunity and desire may perish together. It is good to be impressed with this at intervals, though it would not be good to dwell upon it perpetually; for you make a man none the better by making him habitually sad.
3. It presents an image of the sorrows of the world. These are a part of our subjection, and a peculiar part. While it is foolish and ungrateful to anticipate trouble, every day having enough to do with its own; and it is one of the worst occupations we can engage in, to torment ourselves with unarrived calamities, and paint the white blank of the future with woe; yet it becomes thoughtful persons, and has no tendency to make them less thankful, to consider She evils of humanity. They may be thus preserved from presumption, thus guarded against surprises, thus furnished with a fellow-feeling for the sufferings of others, and thus better prepared for their own trial when God shall send it.
4. Fasting represents penitence. It does so on the principle already mentioned, since penitence is one kind of grief. It does so on another ground. When a man is thoroughly stricken with the sense of sin, and seeks to express that consciousness, he describes his unworthiness to receive the bounties of heaven by declining to partake of them.
(N. L. Frothingham.)
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