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Correction In Measure
This is a wonderful chapter. The Lord here takes the case of Zion into his own hand. He states both sides of it in a most distinct and pathetic manner. He determined to bring again the captivity of Israel and Judah, and to give to his offending people the land which they had forfeited. The element of changefulness is seen to operate with amazing activity in the mind and rule of the Most High where human sin and human repentance are concerned. He will do certain things surely, and then he will not do them; the covenant is to be for ever, and in a few days it lies in fragments like a torn scroll; the light is never to go out, the whole sky is to be a perpetual glory, and lo! in one hour the sky is all night and the stars are like eyes that are closed in fear. Then the covenant is to be a new one; he will write it all out again from the very beginning; the old things shall be forgotten, the offence of yesterday shall not be so much as named; there shall be a new love, a new start, a new day in man's broken life. He who wrought the first miracle, which he called "Beginning" for only God could conceive that word he who never began continues to repeat that most hopeful wonder, and puts many beginnings in our life, many new hours. Every morning is new, every spring is new, every year is new; all the four seasons of the year are in every day we live the morning spring, the noontide summer, the afternoon autumn, the evening winter. So he who makes all things new who is always making new things says he will make a new covenant, a new writing and bond, as if a thousand covenants had not been dishonoured and his signature contemned by a thousand generations. This is the mystery of love. Life is full of new chances. The door that shut to so heavily seemed to rebound by the very violence of the closing, and it is still ajar. Life let us say again and again, for it is a tender gospel in itself is full of new chances, new beginnings. This is one of them: even now the morning light is like a door swinging right back into heaven to let us go in. Let us go. The door is now open it may be shut to-morrow let us enter and make our peace with God. "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation."
The text gives us God's law of correction; and remember, first of all, that it is a law. It is not a passion; it is not a surprise on the part of the Ruler himself: it is part of his very goodness; it is quiet, solemn, inexorable, everlasting. The steadfast law of the universe is, that though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished. Could we have heard the solemn music of the voice which pronounced those words, the voice would have had what seems to be wanting in a violence so tremendous, the pathos which would have shown that the law was uttered in a gospel-tone. There may be a universe in which wickedness has no effect upon happiness and peace, but such a universe is inconceivable by minds which have been trained as ours have been. We know that vice punishes itself. We have tried to break the force of that law, yet it comes upon us with the certainty of the tide, with the regularity of the seasons, and claims to be one of those forces which lie beyond the hand of man. If, even for a time, we think we have evaded the law and have got clean off without a puncture from the sword, we are surprised after a while to find that the law is still unrepealed, and that our blind craftiness has but given it the opportunity of inflicting a fuller vengeance. Put it down as a law, write it among your facts, that vice means loss, pain, death. If you have been secreting that statement amongst your theories, sentiments, hypotheses, pluck it out and set it among your facts. If witnesses are called, rise yourselves. You need not write for witnesses or send for them from the ends of the earth; stand up and say, "I bear witness that never yet was wrong done, but the earth opened to swallow up the wrongdoer." This is a law, it is not a caprice; it is a necessity of goodness, and not a burst of passion. All things fight for God; they are very loyal to him. The stars in their courses utter his testimony; the winds as they fly are vocal with his name; the earth will open her mouth with eager gladness to swallow up the populations that lift their hands against him. Call it poetry if you will, but all true poetry is the highest philosophy there could be no poetry without philosophy. Scorn not the poetic representation of severest realities, for that representation may be the sublimest truth. There are those who have divided books, thinkings, and all the mystery of human mental imagination into "history" and "fiction." That is a rude and vulgar division. Things are not either historic or fictitious; there is a middle quantity which combines both and lifts both up to the right level the parabolical, the religiously imaginative; and when we say, "The earth opens her mouth and swallows up all who rebel against God," we are not speaking that which is fictitious, but that which is higher than history dare speak, for history has but a narrow language, a small and contracted throat, and cannot utter but whining and piping sounds. The great music of things, the infinite apocalypse and trembling revelation, you can only find in the parables, which alone could set forth the kingdom of heaven. Unless we recognise those facts, we shall not be able to go into the inner meaning of things hidden in God's great Book. If we cannot follow the indication which ends in the generalisation that sin means death, we cannot enter into the inner and deeper Bible which deals with secret essences and spiritual mysteries, with transcendental truth and the very philosophy of things divine and immeasurable. If your child cannot understand your words, how can he grasp your thoughts? We must be accustomed to the right reading of the outward and visible before we can comprehend the inward and the unseen. We must know something of law before we can grasp the mystery of grace. If we deny the Bible of facts, it will be easy to deny the Bible of doctrines. Let us begin with things known, with the patent ana indisputable facts of life, and amongst those facts you will find the hell which follows broken law, the earth that casts out the soul that is not holy, and thence proceed step by step into the holy place where the altar is, and the speaking blood, and the Father, and the strange light of Eternity. There is but one true line of progress: it begins with Moses, it ends with the Lamb Moses and the Lamb: Law and Grace; and in the last eternal song we shall find in one grand line, "Moses and the Lamb," a marvellous harmonisation, the up-gathering and reconciliation of all things; the old ark built again; the law within, the mercy lid covering it. Law and Mercy Moses and the Lamb these combine the whole purpose of the movement of the divine mind and love.
So far we have looked at the stern fact of law: we now come to what is said about it. It is a law of measured correction: "I will correct thee in measure." The depth of the meaning is beyond all human sounding. This is the sublime mystery of mercy. At this point grace gets hold of law and keeps it back. Law can never stop of itself. Fire cannot give in. Would God we could realise that fact! Law must grind the sinner to powder. Law never loses a battle. The strength of sin gives in, but law gets no bigger for its smiting. The law is the same at the end as at the beginning. It cannot palter, it cannot compromise, it cannot make terms; it grinds, bruises, destroys. If a sinful world were left absolutely to the operation of law, it would be crushed out of existence. But the law is under mercy. We are spared by grace, by grace we are saved. The law saves no man: it shuts us all up in one condemnation; within its purpose of righteous avengement it holds us all. At this point is the Christ born, is the whole scheme of things attached to a new centre, and Bethlehem takes the place of lost Eden.
The great mystery of grace regulating law has happily found a place in Christian jurisprudence, so we need not climb to the very highest sanctuary for our first illustrations. Civilised, Christianised man has fixed the punishment before the crime has been committed. There is no other way of making society secure. The measure of punishment has been fixed, and has been waiting for the crime to come that way to fasten itself upon it in righteous retribution. We bind the magistrate beforehand. Society, in Parliament assembled, says, "Such and such crimes shall be visited by such and such penalties, and by no more." Extemporised justice would rend society in twain. Justice must not be extemporised: it must be deliberate; it must be arranged before crime has been perpetrated to excite the passions and inflame the sensibilities. Were we to extemporise justice, we should really commit outrages upon equity and reason. This is also the mystery of grace. The grace was accomplished before the sinner was created. The Atonement is not the device of an afterthought: the Lamb was slain from before the foundation of the world. Have we penetrated the gracious meaning of that astounding mystery? Before we can understand anything of the Atonement, we must destroy the very basis and the relations of understanding, as it is too narrowly interpreted; we must think ourselves back of time, of space, of foundations, worlds, sinners. Great is the mystery of godliness God manifest in the flesh. So now God has written the penalty before the sin has been committed in its incidental form. We are not referring to sin, the great moral transgression, but of sin the incident, sin the passing phase of life; and all our sins have been anticipated as to the penalty which should be awarded to each. This seems to be so in society. Take the case of a great bank fraud. False balance-sheets have been issued and false representations of all kinds have been made. The law deals strictly and only with those facts, and fixes its penalty accordingly. The law does not follow out all the social consequences of those facts, nor does it give the magistrate authority to follow them out: it draws distinct lines, and within those lines fixes its penalties. Suppose no such lines were drawn, and that the magistrate were open to sentimental appeals; let him hear that by those frauds thousands of innocent people have been ruined; widows and orphans have been left penniless; trustees who have done acts of kindness have been reduced to absolute beggary; ancient and beautiful estates have been taken away from honourable families; and a whole land been darkened and degraded and paralysed, people who have only seen poverty at a distance have now to make it a companion and a bed-fellow; generous hands that gave gifts to God and man are now stretched out in mute and piteous appeal; dainty women and little children have now to beg their bread: what magistrate could be trusted to extemporise a penalty to the prisoners at the bar? No living man could be trusted to administer sentimental justice; under such circumstances he turns with relief to the law which was settled before the circumstances became known, and he deals with the facts which can be measured, and not with the consequences which overflow all calculation, and baffle every attempt to subdue them. So the penalty is fixed.
"Correction in measure" is God's law now. May the time not come when the measure will be withdrawn and the correction will take its unlimited course? That will be hell, that will be destruction. Correction without measure as between man and man is violence, and not justice; and it is a sing of weakness, and never of equable and holy strength. The tendency of excited weakness is toward exaggeration. Some men have no measure in their punishments: they punish the same for an unfortunate word as for a malicious deed; they strike as heavily for an error of judgment as for a wilful crime; they will be as severe with a child for an accident as for some piece of mischief done of set purpose against strict orders. Will the measure ever be withdrawn? "My Spirit shall not always strive with man." Is there not a hint there of the measure being withdrawn and law allowed to fight its own battle out? In their calamity they will call upon me, but I will not hear, because the call is uttered too late. Is there an appointed time? Is there an end of my probation? Does the shadow lengthen, and tell me in its lengthening that my opportunities of repentance, confession, and restoration are getting fewer and narrower? The year opens upon me now will it close upon my life or upon my death? Is this my last year? Has the voice gone forth, "This year thou shalt die"? Does God ever turn away from his creatures and leave them to the law that they dishonoured, insulted, and contemned and defied? Such turning will be hell.
We are all under correction. Find the evidence in your consciences, in your sufferings, in your fears, in your family lives: pain means correction, so does poverty, so does disappointment, so does every shadow that suddenly arrests the light that was spreading over your life. But the correction is in measure. Thank God that he does not plead against us with his great power. He does not hurl all his thunder upon our ear. "As a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee." "Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty." "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" Our wisdom is to look at the Lord who chastens, and not at the chastening which is inflicted. You may look at the wound until you despair; you should look at the Smiter until you are healed.
What is the meaning of this "measure"? It is the gospel. There is a higher law than the law of death. The law of life is not changed: it is enlarged over all the sins and shortcomings and crimes of life. "Where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound." Grace says, "There has been great sin: now for my enlargement" And she enlarges her offers of mercy, and her signs of pity, and her opportunities of return, until the sin flee away that which is great becomes little. Life is more than death, as the heaven is high above the earth. Death is only a partial law; the universal law is life, and it is for God to set that infinite law in motion. The law of destruction any sinner can move; but the law of life only God can bring into operation. Here we enter upon the mysteries of Deity; here we touch the altar of the Atonement. I will accept my chastening; I deserve it. This is my sweet, great faith that no punishment ever overtakes me that is not a sign of God's watchfulness, and of God's care over my life. I think I will run away from this sin and evade God, but I run upon the point of a sword unsheathed. Is it vengeance? Is it not unkindness? No; that sword is God's, as certainly as is that Cross. When the sword of the Lord falls upon me, I will say, "What have I done?" I will inquire into my life and find out the sin. I have never suffered loss, social dishonour, inward compunction, without being able to say, "This is the Lord's doing, and not man's. The man did not know what he was doing to me; he was seized by God and set to do this work for my punishment my education." Taking that view of all life, I have nothing to do with enemies, opponents, antagonists. They know not what they do; they are blind instruments in the hands of the seeing God, and they cannot go beyond their tether. Let us have no whining, no complaining, no retaliation. The man that smote you was sent to smite you. Avenge yourself by deeper confession, by larger, loftier prayer.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 30". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany