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Hosea 4:6. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
IGNORANCE, as it respects the things of this world, is attended with many evils. It disqualifies a man for those situations in life that require the exercise of wisdom and discretion; it degrades him in society below the rank of those who would otherwise be deemed his equals or inferiors: and it not unfrequently leads to idleness, dissipation, and vice. But ignorance of religion is of infinitely worse consequence; because it ensures the everlasting destruction of the soul. To this effect God speaks in the words before us; from which we shall be led to shew,
The ignorance of the Christian world—
The Jews, as well those of the ten tribes as those who worshipped at Jerusalem, were called “the people of God,” because they had received the seal of his covenant in their infancy, and professed to acknowledge him as their God. In like manner we, having in our infancy been baptized into the faith of Christ, may, in a lax and general sense, be called his followers, and his people. But among nominal Christians there is an awful lack of knowledge; an ignorance,
[How little do they know of their blindness! They suppose themselves as competent to judge of spiritual as they are of carnal things; though God tells them, that they cannot comprehend the things of the Spirit for want of a spiritual discernment [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Corinthians 2:14.].
How little do they know of their guilt! Do they really feel themselves deserving of God’s eternal wrath and indignation? They cannot cordially acquiesce in that idea, notwithstanding they are expressly said to be under the curse and condemnation of the law [Note: Galatians 3:10.].
How little do they know of their depravity! They will acknowledge, that they have this or that particular infirmity: but they have no just conception of the total depravity of their hearts; or of the truth of God’s testimony respecting them, that “every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts is evil, only evil, continually [Note: Psalms 14:2-19.14.3.Genesis 6:5; Genesis 6:5.].”
How little do they know of their utter helplessness! They imagine that they can exercise repentance and faith just when they please, though they are declared by God himself to be incapable of themselves to do any thing [Note: John 15:5.], even so much as to think a good thought [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:5.].]
[They may have some general notions of his power and goodness: but what know they of his holiness? Do they suppose that sin is so hateful in his eyes as he represents it to be [Note: Habakkuk 1:13.]?
What know they of his justice? Are they persuaded that, as the Moral Governor of the universe, he must enforce the sanctions of his own law; and that, however merciful he may be, he neither will nor can clear the guilty [Note: Exodus 34:7.]?
What know they of his truth? They read many threatenings in his word; but they do not believe that he will execute them [Note: Luke 16:17.].]
[They confess perhaps his Godhead, and acknowledge him as a Saviour. But what know they of him as he is in himself? Do they discern his beauty, his excellency, his glory? Is He in their eyes “chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely [Note: Song of Solomon 5:10; Song of Solomon 5:16.]?”
What know they of him as he is to us? Do they comprehend any thing of the breadth and length, the depth and height of his unsearchable love [Note: Ephesians 3:18-49.3.19.]? Have they any adequate idea of his tender sympathy and compassion [Note: Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15.]? Have they been filled with an admiration of his fulness, his suitableness, his sufficiency [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.]?
If more were necessary to confirm this melancholy truth, we would appeal to God’s own assertion respecting us, that our stupidity and ignorance are more than brutish [Note: Isaiah 1:2-23.1.3.].]
Lest such ignorance should be thought venial, we proceed to notice,
The fatal consequences of it—
Doubtless the degrees of criminality attached to ignorance must vary according to the opportunities which men have enjoyed of obtaining knowledge. But in all men who have the light of the Gospel set before them, a lack of spiritual knowledge,
Tends to their destruction—
[Every sin is destructive, but more especially impenitence and unbelief. And what is the occasion of these? Must they not be traced to ignorance as their true and proper source? If men knew what ignorant, guilty, depraved, and helpless creatures they are, could they refrain from sorrow and contrition? — — — If they knew what a holy, just, and immutable God they have to do with, could they do otherwise than tremble before him? — — — If they knew what a merciful, loving, and adorable Saviour there is, whose bowels are yearning over them, who is ever following them with invitations and entreaties, and who longs for nothing so much as to save their souls, could they turn their backs upon him? Could they help crying to him for mercy, and desiring an interest in his salvation? — — — If a man, feeling himself in imminent danger of perishing in the sea, cannot but avail himself of the assistance offered him for the preservation of his life, so neither can a man who feels his danger of everlasting destruction neglect and despise the salvation offered him in the Gospel.]
Will issue in their destruction—
[God himself best knows what he has ordained and decreed: and as the fates of men will be determined by him at last, to him, and to his word, we make our appeal.
We want to ascertain the states of those who are ignorant of the Gospel: God tells us plainly, “They are lost [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:3.].”
We want to be informed whether their ignorance will not be considered as a sufficient plea for their rejection of the Gospel? God assures us, that instead of operating in that view, and to that extent, it shall itself be the ground of their condemnation [Note: Isaiah 27:11.].
We would fain hope that the Lord Jesus Christ would interpose for them at the last day, to avert or mitigate their sentence. But we are told, on the contrary, that he himself will come to judgment, for the express purpose of taking vengeance on them [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:7-53.1.8.].
Here we leave the matter. If ye will not believe such plain and positive declarations of God, we shall in vain hope to make any impression on your minds by any feeble arguments of our own.]
How carefully should we improve the means of grace!
[The ordinances are appointed of God for our instruction in spiritual knowledge. Should we then absent ourselves from them on slight occasions? or should we be content with a formal attendance on them, while yet we derive no solid benefit to our souls? O let us remember that our all is at stake: and whether we hear, or read, or pray, let us do it as for eternity.]
How earnestly should we pray for the teachings of God’s Spirit!
[Whether we be learned or unlearned, we can know nothing but as we are taught of God. In respect of spiritual knowledge, the rich have no advantage above the poor: yea, the poor have rather the advantage of the rich, inasmuch as they have more docility of mind; and God has promised to reveal to babes the things which are hid from the wise and prudent [Note: James 2:5.Matthew 11:25; Matthew 11:25.]. Let us then beg that our eyes may be opened, and that through the influences of the Spirit we may know the things which are freely given to us of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:11.Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 1:18.].]
How thankful should we be for any measure of divine knowledge!
[To be wise unto salvation is to be wise indeed. All other knowledge is as nothing in comparison of this. Blessed then are they who can say, “This I know, that, whereas I was blind, I now see [Note: John 9:25.Matthew 13:16; Matthew 13:16.].” Yes, Believers, “blessed are your eyes, which now see:” for if ignorance is destructive to the soul, knowledge, on the other hand, provided it be spiritual and practical, will surely save it [Note: Isaiah 53:11. Joh 17:3. with 1 John 2:3-62.2.4.].]
THE EVIL AND DANGER OF BACKSLIDING
Hosea 4:16. Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer.
SUCH is the influence of bad example, that it is extremely difficult to withstand its attractions, even at the time that we behold its fatal effects. Israel, or the ten tribes, from their first apostasy under Jeroboam, were irreclaimably addicted to idolatry. The prophet, finding his efforts vain with respect to them, turns to Judah, and entreats that they would not tread in the steps of Israel [Note: ver. 15. At Gilgal and at Bethel, where God had formerly been worshipped, idols were now set up. The prophet, exhorting Judah not to go to those places, calls Beth-el (the house of God) Beth aven (the house of vanity).], who, like an untamed and refractory bullock, had entirely cast off the yoke, and refused all subjection to Jehovah.
Humiliating as this account of Israel is, it is but too just a representation of the Christian world, whose conduct is utterly unworthy of the name they bear, and from whose ways we cannot stand at too great a distance.
To impress this awful truth upon your minds, we propose to shew,
When we may be said to resemble a backsliding heifer—
We owe submission to our heavenly Master; but give too much reason for the comparison in the text. This resemblance may be seen in us,
When we will not draw in God’s yoke at all—
[Unconverted men in every age and place are rebels against God [Note: Exodus 5:2.Psalms 12:4; Psalms 12:4.Jeremiah 2:31; Jeremiah 2:31; Jeremiah 7:24.]: and, though all are not equally profligate in their manners, all are equally averse to spiritual employments: the law of God is considered as imposing on them an intolerable yoke, to which they will not, they cannot submit [Note: Romans 8:7.]. They are indeed subjected to it against their will; but neither chastisements nor encouragements can prevail upon them to draw in it: on the contrary, like a ferocious bullock, they are insensible of favours, and they fret at rebukes [Note: Jeremiah 31:18.].]
When we draw in it only by fits and starts—
[Many appear willing to obey God in a time of sickness [Note: Isaiah 26:16.], or after some signal deliverance [Note: Psalms 106:12-19.106.13.], or under an impressive sermon [Note: Exodus 24:3; Exodus 24:7. Jam. 24.], or during a season of peace and tranquillity [Note: Matthew 13:21.]: but, as soon as ever the particular occasion that called forth their pious resolutions has ceased, or they find that they must suffer for Christ’s sake, they forget the vows that are upon them, and return to their former state of carelessness and indifference [Note: Psalms 78:34-19.78.37.]. They renew their resolutions perhaps at certain seasons; but “their goodness is as the morning dew, or as the early cloud that passeth away.” Thus, like a heifer that will draw for one moment and will not the next, they are, in the strongest sense of the words, unprofitable servants.]
When we grow weary of the yoke—
[It is not uncommon for persons to go on well for a season, and yet draw back at last. They grow weary of performing their duties, of exercising their graces, of mortifying their lusts. If they maintain an observance of public duties, they become remiss in those of the family and the closet: their delight in the Scriptures languishes; their meditations are cold; their devotions formal. Their faith, their hope, their love operate with less vital energy: and their besetting sins, whatever they were, regain their strength, and resume their ascendancy. These are like a horse or bullock, which, after having yielded to the yoke for a season, becomes restive and ungovernable, and disappoints thereby the expectations of its owner.]
Lest the frequency of these characters should tempt us to think favourably of them, we proceed to shew,
The evil and danger of such a state—
We shall notice,
The evil of it—
[A backslidden state, in whomsoever it is found, is exceeding sinful: but in those who have made some profession of religion, it is attended with peculiar aggravations.
It is a contemning of God; of his Majesty, which demands our subjection, and of his mercy, which would accept and reward our poor services. And it is in this light that God himself frequently complains of it [Note: Numbers 11:20. 1Sa 2:30 and 2 Samuel 12:10. Psalms 10:13.].
It is a justifying of the wicked; for it says to them, in fact, “I was once as you are, and thought I should become happier by serving God: but I find by experience that there is no profit in serving him; and therefore I am returning to your state, which is, on the whole, the happier and more desirable.”
It is a discouraging of the weak. Little do false professors think how much evil they do in this way [Note: Malachi 2:8.]. Many are induced to follow their example in some things, under the idea that they are innocent; and are thus drawn from one sin to another, till they make shipwreck of a good conscience, and utterly turn away from the faith.
And need we multiply words any further to shew the evil of backsliding from God? Well does God himself call it “a wonderful and horrible thing [Note: Jeremiah 5:30.].”]
The danger of it—
[This is an iniquity which God marks with peculiar indignation [Note: Jeremiah 2:19; Jeremiah 2:21-24.2.22,]; and never fails to visit it, sooner or later, with some awful token of his displeasure.
The first symptoms of declension lead, if not speedily mourned over and resisted, to utter apostasy [Note: Proverbs 14:14.]. The disposition to backslide will soon increase, till it become inveterate, and, unless by a marvellous interposition of God himself, incurable.
The misery that will be incurred by means of it will far exceed all that would have been endured, if no profession of religion had ever been made. “If any man draw back,” says God, “my soul shall have no pleasure in him:” he “draws back to certain anil everlasting perdition [Note: Hebrews 10:38-58.10.39.]:” and “it would have been better for him never to have known the way of righteousness, than, after having known it, to turn back from it [Note: Matthew 12:45. 2 Peter 2:21.].”
Let these consequences be duly weighed, and nothing need be added to shew us the importance of “holding fast our profession without wavering.”]
To improve this subject, we shall,
Assist you in ascertaining your state before God—
[Since all are “bent to backslide” more or less, it is of great importance to inquire of what kind our backslidings are, and to see whether they are merely the infirmities of an upright soul, or the revolt of an apostate. It is indeed difficult to determine this with precision; yet something may be said to aid you in this inquiry.
Examine diligently the cause, the duration, and the effects of your backslidings. Those of the sincere arise from the weakness of their flesh, while yet their spirit is as willing as ever: but those of the hypocrite proceed from a radical disaffection to the ways of God. Those of the sincere continue but a little time, and are an occasion of greater diligence: those of the hypocrite remain, and become the habit of his soul. Those of the sincere humble him in the dust: those of the hypocrite produce a blindness of mind, a scaredness of conscience, and a hardness of heart.
But though we thus discriminate for the information of your judgment, we recommend all to stand fast in the Lord, and to guard against the first risings of spiritual decay [Note: Galatians 6:9.].]
Give a word of counsel to those in different states—
[Are you altogether backslidden from God? O return to him, and take upon you his “light and easy yoke!” He invites you with all the tenderness of a father [Note: Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 3:14; Jeremiah 3:22.]; he declares himself exceedingly averse to punish you according to your desert [Note: Hosea 11:7-28.11.8.]; and he promises to “heal your backslidings, and love you freely [Note: Hosea 14:4.].”
Are you drawing in his yoke? Bless and adore your God, who has inclined and enabled you to do so. It is his power, and his power alone, that has kept you hitherto [Note: 1 Peter 1:5.]; and therefore he must have all the praise. And in order to your continued steadfastness, reflect often on the evil and danger of backsliding; I may add too, on the comfort and benefit of serving God. Surely He is a good Master. Let but your hearts be right with him, and “none of his commandments will appear grievous to you [Note: 1 John 5:3.]:” on the contrary, you will find that “in keeping his commandments there is great reward [Note: Psalms 19:11.],” and that your labour shall not be in vain with respect to the eternal world. “Be ye faithful unto death, and he will give you a crown of life [Note: Revelation 2:10.].”]
THE DANGER OF SPIRITUAL IDOLATRY
Hosea 4:17. Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.
THERE is a day of grace, wherein God strives with men by his Spirit: this past, he abandons them to impenitence and obduracy [Note: Luke 19:42.]. The precise period of its termination is, in mercy, concealed from us; but we are all concerned to deprecate the judgment denounced against Ephraim in the text:
The sin of Ephraim—
Ephraim, to which Jeroboam belonged, comprehends all the ten tribes. These were devoted to the worship of the idols that were in Dan and Bethel. Nor could they be drawn from it by any of the means which God used—
Though we do not imitate them in this, we are not free from spiritual idolatry—
[Idolatry is described to be a loving and serving of the creature more than the Creator [Note: Romans 1:25.]. Hence covetousness and sensuality are spoken of under that term [Note: Colossians 3:5.Philippians 3:19; Philippians 3:19.]. Now who has not yielded that love, fear, and confidence to the creature, which are due to God alone? “Who can say, I am pure from this sin?” — — —]
We have, in truth, been “joined” to idols—
[Many are the means which God has used to bring us to himself. Yet we have not been wrought upon effectually by any of them. Neither mercies vouchsafed, nor judgments threatened, have been able to prevail. We rather have “held fast deceit, and refused to return to the Lord our God [Note: Jeremiah 8:5; Jeremiah 44:16-24.44.17.]” — — —]
But this sin must of necessity provoke God to anger.
The text may be understood as an advice to Judah, not to hold intercourse with the idolatrous Israelites. Our Lord gives a similar direction to his followers [Note: Matthew 15:14.]—
But it rather imports a judicial sentence of final dereliction—
[This is a just punishment for turning away from God. Nor can there be a more awful punishment inflicted even by God himself. It is worse than the severest afflictions which can come upon us in this life. For they may lead to the salvation of the soul [Note: 1 Corinthians 11:32; 1 Corinthians 5:5.]; whereas this must terminate in our condemnation. It is worse than even immediate death and immediate damnation. For the greater our load of sin, the greater will be our treasure of wrath [Note: Romans 2:5.].]
And there is reason to fear that God may inflict this punishment upon us—
[In this way he punished the Gentiles who sinned against their light [Note: Thrice mentioned, Romans 1:24; Romans 1:26; Romans 1:28.]. In this way he visited also his once-favoured people the Jews [Note: Psalms 81:12.Matthew 23:32-40.23.35; Matthew 23:32-40.23.35.]. Why then should we hope for an exemption, if we imitate their conduct? God has repeatedly warned us that impenitent sinners shall have this doom [Note: Proverbs 1:30-20.1.31; Proverbs 5:22. 2 Thessalonians 2:10-53.2.12.].]
What reason have we to admire the patience and forbearance of God!
[He has seen us cleaving to idols from the earliest period of our lives [Note: Ezekiel 14:3.]; and though we have changed them, we have never turned unto him. In the mean time we have been deaf to all his expostulations and entreaties. What a mercy is it that he has never yet said, “Let him alone!” Yea, he has even restrained us from perpetrating all that was in our hearts [Note: Genesis 20:6; Genesis 31:29. 1 Samuel 25:34.]. How gracious is he in yet striving with us by his Spirit! Let then his goodness, patience and forbearance, lead us to repentance [Note: Romans 2:4.]; and let us say, like Ephraim, in his repenting state [Note: Hosea 14:8.]—]
How evidently is salvation entirely of grace!
[If left to ourselves we never should renounce our idols [Note: Jeremiah 13:23.]. We should act rather like that obstinate and rebellious people [Note: Zechariah 7:11-38.7.12.]. The case of Judas may shew us what we may do, when once abandoned by God. God must give us a will, as well as an ability, to turn to him [Note: Philippians 2:13.]. Let us then entreat him never to leave us to ourselves. Let us be thankful if, in any way, he rend our idols from us. If we have never yet resembled the Thessalonian converts [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:9.], let us now cry unto him [Note: Jeremiah 31:18. Hosea 14:2-28.14.3.]. If we have, let us bear in mind that affectionate exhortation [Note: 1 John 5:21.]—.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Hosea 4". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany