THE EXTENT AND CAUSES OF MEN’S SUPINENESS
Hosea 5:4. They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and they have not known the Lord.
WHEN we exhort men to duty, they plead their inability to perform it; but their inability is, in fact, a want of inclination to serve God. Many things there are which they do not, though confessedly within their power. Of this the prophet complains in the words of our text, and traces it up to its true and proper source.
His words lead us to consider,
I. The extent of men’s supineness—
Little need be said to shew that the generality do not “turn to God.” They are scarcely sensible of their apostasy from him. They regard serious and vital religion as over-righteous preciseness. They do not so much as “frame their doings to turn unto him”—
They do not consider their ways—
[This seems a reasonable duty, and within the reach of any man: every prudent man does it with respect to his temporal affairs; nor can there be any excuse for neglecting it in more important concerns. Indeed it is not possible to turn unto God aright, unless we have first discovered wherein we have turned from him. But men do not choose to search the records of their own conscience; they find it more pleasant to rest in the presumption that all is well. To this effect God himself testifies respecting them [Note: Jeremiah 2:36.]—.]
They do not abstain from open violations of God’s law—
[This is undoubtedly a step, which, every one that turns to God will take; nor, though this is more difficult, is it beyond the power of an unregenerate man: though he cannot refrain from the love of sin, he may from the commission of it. Many actually do deny their appetites, from prudential motives; yet few, if any, will impose the same restraints from a regard to God, or manifest the disposition recommended to them by Elihu [Note: Job 34:32.]—.]
They do not avoid the means and occasions of sin—
[They have found the company of ungodly men to be a snare to their souls [Note: Exodus 34:12. Proverbs 22:25.], yet will they not withdraw themselves from their society. From many other things have they experienced a most bancful influence, yet will they gratify themselves in all their wonted indulgences. In temporal matters they see the wisdom of fleeing from temptation [Note: From the course, or the gaming table.], yet they account it needless to shun the means of spiritual defilement; but if they desired really to turn to God, could they evade the force of that question [Note: Proverbs 6:27.]—?]
They do not use the means of obtaining true conversion—
[They cannot but know the necessity of meditation and prayer: they are well assured that an attention to God’s word and ordinances is a principal mean of spiritual advancement, yet any book is more pleasing to them than the Bible, and any employment than prayer: in seeking worldly advancement they will use the means with diligence, but all labour is deemed superfluous in the concerns of the soul.]
They not only do not thus frame their doings, but they will not—
[Not all the promises of God can allure, or threatenings alarm them: they are deaf to the voice of conscience, and the dictates of God’s Spirit. The language of their hearts is like that of the Jews of old [Note: Jeremiah 44:16-17.]—.]
They, on the contrary frame their doings to turn as far as possible from God—
[Would consideration help them? They banish it, with all books or conversation that might lead them to it. Would the turning from known sin? They indulge in it. Would the avoiding of the means of sin? They will rush into temptation. Would the using of the means of grace? They account them a servile drudgery. If they wished to injure their spiritual interests as much as possible, consistently with a good name among men, they could not adopt a surer method: the whole of their conduct unequivocally declares the language of their hearts [Note: Job 21:14-15.]—.]
To account for this supineness, let us trace it up to,
II. The causes of it—
Persons, when convicted of evil doings, will yet affirm their hearts to be good. But can a tree be good whose fruits are uniformly bad?
The causes of this evil are justly described by the prophet:
1. They love sin—
[“Whoredom” is frequently (and by Hosea in particular) used for sin in general. A “spirit of whoredom” imports an attachment to sin, and delight in it [Note: In a similar sense a spirit of slumber is used, Romans 11:8.]. Now this justly characterizes the state of fallen man. It accords with other descriptions given of him in Scripture [Note: Ephesians 4:22 and Romans 8:7.]; and is the fundamental cause of the supineness visible in the world. In following evil ways we glide easily down the stream: but in renouncing them we stem the tide of our corrupt nature. Hence even the first steps of turning to God are irksome and difficult; and we lay the rein on the neck of our appetites for want of resolution to restrain them. In this very manner does God himself trace up our transgressions to a deceived heart [Note: Isaiah 44:20.]—.]
2. They are ignorant of God—
[Never accustomed to reflect on God, they know nothing of him: the ideas they do form of him are grossly erroneous [Note: Psalms 97:7.]. In their hearts they “imagine him to be even such an one as themselves.” This is another, and a very fruitful source of their supineness. To this St. Paul ascribes the evil of their hearts and lives [Note: Ephesians 4:18.]. If they knew his power and majesty, could they dare thus to provoke him? If they beheld his holiness, could they account sin so venial an evil? If they were apprised of his justice, would they indulge hopes of impunity? If they believed his veracity, would they so disregard his threatenings? Above all, if they knew his mercy to us in Christ Jesus, could they so trample on the blood that was shed for them? It would not be possible for them to withstand such views of his perfections. Such a discovery would produce on them the effect experienced by St.Paul [Note: Acts 9:6.]—.]
1. They who shall perish at the last day must ascribe their condemnation to themselves—
[It is certainly true that man is not able of himself to do all that is required of him. But it is no less true that he is able to do many things which he neglects. Nor can it be doubted but that, if he cried to God for help, he might obtain it. If he use not therefore the power that he has, and the appointed means of obtaining more, he can blame none but himself. In this view our Lord expressly declares that the fault is in our own perverse will [Note: John 5:40.]. And God expostulates with us on the folly of our conduct [Note: Ezekiel 33:11.]. Is the husbandman justified in omitting to plough and sow his ground because he cannot ensure a crop? How much less then shall we be, in neglecting the means to which God has promised success? Let us not then deceive ourselves by offering vain excuses: but turn unto our God, and plead the mercy which he has promised to us [Note: Jeremiah 3:12.]?]
2. If we would fully turn unto our God, we must have our hearts renewed, and our minds enlightened with the knowledge of Christ—
[Would we heal the streams? we must cast the salt into the fountain head [Note: 2 Kings 2:21-22.]. Instead of being actuated by the spirit of whoredoms, we must pray to be “led by the Spirit of God.” Instead of “abiding in darkness,” we must seek to have “Christ revealed in us.” Thus shall “old things pass away, and all things become new.” We shall sweetly yield ourselves to the constraining influence of Christ’s love: and not only turn, but “cleave, unto him with full purpose of heart.”]
THE DANGER OF PRIDE
Hosea 5:5. The pride of Israel doth testify to his face: therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity; Judah also shall fall with them.
ALL profess to hate pride; yet all are more or less infected with it. The very best of men are not wholly free from its influence. But, in the unregenerate, it is the governing principle of all their actions. It was one of the most distinguishing features in the character of Sodom [Note: Ezekiel 16:49.]. The professing people of God also were led captive by it. And were brought thereby under his just and heavy displeasure. We shall make some observations upon,
I. The prevalence of this sin—
The state of Israel was not peculiar to that nation. Human nature is in all ages the same. Nor does pride manifest itself more strongly any where than amongst ourselves,
[There is no nation that boasts more of its privileges, or that acknowledges less the hand of God in them, than Britain. If judgments come, we impute them to the misconduct of our government; and if success be vouchsafed to us, we ascribe it to our own skill in arts, or prowess in arms. And though confessedly our sins are manifold, no one thinks of national humiliation: so truly may it be said of us, as it was of Israel, “Our pride testifies to our face; and we do not return to the Lord our God, nor seek him for all this [Note: Hosea 7:10.].”]
[Behold the careless sinner. What determined opposition is there in the hearts of many to the authority of God! They will not submit to his light and easy voke. If required to obey, they object to the command itself as severe and impracticable. If warned of the consequences of their disobedience, they make light of all God’s threatenings. If urged to receive the Gospel salvation, they deride it as foolishness [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.]. The language of their heart is, Who is Lord over us? We know not the Lord; neither will we obey his voice [Note: Psalms 12:4. Exodus 5:2.]. That this proceeds from pride, there can be no doubt. God himself traces such conduct to this, as its proper source and principle [Note: Psalms 10:4-5.]. And doth not this “testify to the face” of many amongst us? Is not this the conduct which almost universally obtains? Yea, are not we sensible that it too justly describes, if not our present, yet certainly our former, state?
Behold also the self-righteous formalist. Persons of this description have kept themselves free from gross enormities, or perhaps have reformed their conduct after having given the rein to all their appetites; but their pride rises in proportion to their fancied attainments. They look with contempt on others who are openly immoral [Note: Isaiah 65:5.], and bless themselves that they are not as other men [Note: Luke 18:9; Luke 18:11.]: meanwhile “they feel not the plague of their own heart.” They deny the representation which the Scripture gives of their fallen state [Note: Revelation 3:17.]. They cannot endure to think themselves deserving of God’s wrath, nor will they submit to be saved by the righteousness of God [Note: Romans 10:3.]: and whence does all this originate? Surely pride and self-exaltation are properly pointed out as the spring from whence it flows [Note: Luke 18:14.]: yet doth not this disposition also lamentably prevail? Doth it not “testify to the face” of some whom we are now addressing? Are there not some amongst ourselves who trust in their own wisdom, strength, and righteousness, instead of fleeing to Christ as blind, helpless, hopeless creatures? some also, who are too proud to accept salvation on the footing of publicans and harlots? yea, and some too, who will rather perish in their sins, than seek to have them purged away in the Redeemer’s blood?
I am grieved to add, Behold also many religious professors. None are more puffed up with pride than some who would be thought followers of the lowly Jesus. They are conceited of their knowledge, and will bear with none who do not pronounce their shibboleth. They profess indeed to believe that their hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked; yet they will never listen to instruction or reproof: nor can they be persuaded to deny their own will in any thing for the good of others. None are more ready than these to set up themselves in opposition to all constituted authorities. St. Jude speaks of them as “murmurers and complainers,” as “despising dominion and speaking evil of dignities [Note: Jude, ver. 8, 16.].” Nor are there any people under heaven to whom Solomon’s description of the proud man may be more fitly applied [Note: Proverbs 30:12-13.]—. Alas! does not this spirit also “testify to the face” of many? Perhaps there scarce ever was a period or a nation where such spurious religion prevailed in so great a degree. Surely it may well be numbered among the most heinous sins of this favoured land.]
Having followed the sin of Israel, what can we expect but to participate in,
II. The judgment denounced against it—
To “fall” must certainly import some heavy judgment. This threatening was not fully accomplished but in the utter destruction of the Jewish nation. Nor can we hope to escape the displeasure of God while we harbour in our hearts an evil that is so offensive to him—
This must be said of us as a nation—
[We see at this moment the judgments executing upon other nations (France, Belgium, Poland, Russia) and can we hope that the cup shall not be put into our hands? Who can tell what a storm is gathering over us, or what ruin may ensue from the acts of our Government this very week [Note: June 19, 1831.]? Yet how few are crying to God as the occasion requires!]
But whatever occurs to us as a nation, the proud individually shall surely be dealt with according to their deserts—
[They will most generally fall in this world. In their own conceit their mountain stands so strong as to bid defiance to every assault. They think that they shall never be moved [Note: Psalms 30:6-7.]. But how irresistibly have the haughtiest monarchs been hurled from their throne [Note: Daniel 5:20; Daniel 5:23.]! How speedily have even the most powerful empires been brought to desolation [Note: Ezekiel 28:2; Ezekiel 28:6; Ezekiel 28:8. Isaiah 14:12-15.]! How instantaneously have God’s judgments often marked the heinousness of this sin [Note: 2 Chronicles 32:25. Acts 12:23.]! If they be exalted for a time they are almost invariably brought low at last [Note: Psalms 73:6; Psalms 73:9; Psalms 73:18; Psalms 73:20.].
At all events they are absolutely certain to fall in the eternal world. If indeed they repented of their sin, they would find mercy with God. A broken and contrite heart he will never despise [Note: Psalms 51:17.]. Though he will resist the proud, yet he will give grace unto the humble. He will look on him with pleasure and complacency [Note: Isaiah 57:15.]: but nothing can ever reconcile him to “a man that walketh in pride.” He will surely abase the proud [Note: Daniel 4:37.]. He has irreversibly decreed their utter destruction [Note: Malachi 4:1.]. Nor shall the whole universe combined prevent the execution of his vengeance on one single individual amongst them [Note: Proverbs 16:5.].]
The observance of ceremonial duties will never compensate for the want of true humility—
[Judah retained the forms of religion which Israel and Ephraim had cast away. Yet because Judah resembled Israel in their sin, they were to be involved in Israel’s calamity [Note: The text.]. Thus must all, however zealous and exemplary in other respects, be brought down and confounded before God [Note: Isaiah 2:11-12.]. Even a preacher of righteousness, if lifted up with pride, shall fall into the condemnation of the devil [Note: 1 Timothy 3:6.]. The rule laid down by God himself shall surely be observed to all eternity [Note: Luke 18:14.]—.]
1. How excellent is the Gospel of Christ!
[Nothing but the Gospel ever did, or ever can, humble the soul. The law may terrify; but it is the Gospel alone that melts us into contrition. That no sooner reaches the heart, than it brings down our high looks. It turned, in an instant, thousands of blood-thirsty murderers, into meek, loving, and obedient followers of the Lamb [Note: Acts 2:37; Acts 2:41-42.]. And thus does it still operate on all who receive it in sincerity [Note: Acts 9:6; Acts 16:29; Acts 16:33.]. Let us then listen to it with delight. Let us pray, that a sight of the crucified Saviour may produce its due effect upon us [Note: Zechariah 12:10.]. And let us lothe ourselves the more in proportion as we are persuaded that God is pacified towards us [Note: Ezekiel 16:63.].]
2. What need have we all to watch and pray!
[There are none who are out of the reach of this malignant principle. St. Paul, after having been caught up to the third heavens, was in danger of being overwhelmed by it [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:7.]. And who amongst us does not find that it is ready to puff us upon every occasion? Let us remember that this ruined the very angels in heaven. And that it must be mortified in us, if ever we would obtain mercy in the last day. Let us guard against the first risings of it in the heart; and, whenever it “testifies to our face,” let us implore mercy of the Lord, that the thought of our hearts may be forgiven us [Note: Acts 8:22.]. In this way we shall be preserved, though in the midst of danger; and be exalted in due time to glory, and honour, and immortality.]
THE FOLLY OF CREATURE-CONFIDENCE
Hosea 5:13. When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jareb: yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound.
MEN continually provoke God to chastise them, but rarely make a due improvement of his chastisements. Instead of turning to God, they dishonour him still more by applying to the creature under their distress rather than to him. The ten tribes, when punished for their willing compliance with Jeroboam’s edicts [Note: ver. 11, 12. God consumed them as the moth consumes a garment, or as rottenness the bones, secretly, slowly, gradually, effectually.], sought repeatedly to the Assyrians for help, instead of humbling themselves before God: but they found, as “Judah” also did on similar occasions, that their confidence in the creature served only to involve them in shame and disappointment.
Taking the text simply as an historical fact, we deduce from it two observations, which deserve our consideration.
I. Men, in times of trouble, are prone to look to the creature for help, rather than to God—
This was one of the most common and heinous sins of the Jewish nation [Note: Sometimes they relied on Egypt, Isaiah 30:1-3; Isaiah 31:1. Sometimes on Assyria (as Manahem did on Pal, 2 Kings 15:19 and Ahaz did on Tiglath-pileser, 2 Kings 16:7 and sometimes on themselves, Isaiah 22:8-11. “Jareb” here certainly means the king of Assyria: but whether it was his proper name, or a name given him by the prophet, is uncertain. It means Defender, and might be applied to him in a taunting manner. In this view it would be a very severe sarcasm. See 2 Chronicles 28:20.]: and it is universal also amongst ourselves,
1. In troubles of a temporal nature—
[In sickness of body, we lean, like Asa [Note: 2 Chronicles 16:12.]; on the physician. In distress of mind, we complain and murmur; but forget; to pray [Note: Genesis 4:13-14.]. In straitened circumstances, we expect relief from friends, or our own exertions. God is invariably our last refuge.]
2. In spiritual troubles—
[Under conviction of sin, we betake ourselves to the observance of duties, and make resolutions to amend our lives, instead of fleeing to Christ as the refuge of lost sinners [Note: Isaiah 55:2.]. In seasons also of temptation, or desertion, we adopt a thousand expedients to remove our burthens, but will not cast them on the Lord [Note: 1 Samuel 16:14-16.]. Though foiled ten thousand times, we cannot bring ourselves to lie as clay in the potter’s hands; but will rest in the means, instead of looking simply to God in the use of means.]
But the longer we persist in it the more we shall find, that,
II. The creature cannot afford us any effectual succour—
There are circumstances indeed wherein friends may be instrumental to our relief: but they can do,
1. Nothing effectual—
[The consolations which are administered by man, or by the vanities of this world, are poor, empty, transient [Note: Jeremiah 2:13.]. Not the whole universe combined can ever bring a man to “glory in tribulations [Note: Romans 5:3.],” and to say with Paul, “I take pleasure in them for the sake of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:10.]:” as soon might they enable him to stop the sun in its course, as to reduce to experience the paradoxes of that holy apostle [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:10.]—.]
2. Nothing of themselves—
[It is not a little humiliating to see how weak are man’s endeavours to heal either the disorders of the body, or the troubles of the soul, when God is pleased to withhold his blessing. The best prescriptions, or the wisest counsels, are even lighter than vanity itself. Reasonings, however just and scriptural, have no weight: advice, however sweetened with love and sympathy, is rejected: the very grounds of consolation are turned into occasions of despair [Note: Psalms 77:2-3.]. When God says, “Let there be light,” there is light: but till then, the soul is shut up in impenetrable darkness [Note: Job 34:29.].]
1. Let us guard against this sinful propensity, both in our national and personal concerns—
[We cannot but see how prone we are, as a nation, to rest on human alliances, and human efforts. Would to God we could correct this fatal error, and trust more entirely in the great disposer of all events!
As individuals at least, we may, and must, correct it. If we would have the blessing of God, and not his curse, we must renounce all creature-confidence, and trust in him alone [Note: Jeremiah 17:5-8. See David’s example, Psalms 60:11; Psalms 121:1-2.]. If we would do this, our happiness would be complete [Note: Psalms 91:1-7; Psalms 91:9-10.] — — —]
2. Let us especially rely on Christ as the healer of our souls—
[He is “the healer of the nations [Note: Revelation 22:2.],” “Jehovah, who healeth us [Note: Exodus 15:26.]:” there is no physician besides him; nor any balm, but his blood. We may use whatever means we will, either to pacify the conscience, or to purify the heart; but we shall find that they can “not heal us, nor cure us of our wound.” But Christ is all-sufficient: he can in one moment purge us by his blood, and renovate us by his Spirit. To him then let us look with humble, uniform, unshaken affiance.]
Hosea 5:15. I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.
MEN. when they become Christians, do not lose any of their natural feelings, but they experience many sensations both of pleasure and pain, which are altogether new, and peculiar to themselves: when God lifts up the light of his countenance upon them, they possess the sublimest happiness of which our nature is capable, “a joy with which the stranger intermeddleth not:” so also, when God withdraws the light of his countenance from them, they are made to feel the most exquisite sorrow, with which no temporal affliction, no bodily anguish, can be compared. This is the sorest chastisement which can be inflicted on a godly and ingenuous soul: yet sore as it is, the wickedness of our hearts too often makes it necessary for us: for this will often avail to humble the soul, when every thing else has been tried in vain. Hence it is generally God’s last resource: he uses various other methods first, to make his people holy, and to keep them vigilant: but when they are still remiss and negligent, he departs from them, and says, “I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end shall be; for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith” or dependence. Thus he dealt with his people of old: he had told them, in verse 12, that he would be to them as a moth, or as rottenness, to consume them: then, because they went to the Assyrian rather than to him for help, he told them, in the verse before my text, that “he would tear them, as a young lion teareth his prey:” and then he adds, as the sorest calamity of all, and as the only one which would produce the desired effect, that he would forsake them; “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.”
From these words we will endeavour to shew you,
I. The nature of spiritual desertion—
[They who view God’s dealings with the Jews merely as a history, will lose the most important benefits which the relation of them is intended to convey. There is a striking similarity and agreement between the dispensations of Providence and the dispensations of grace; so that there can be no doubt but that the former were intended typically to represent the latter. And, in order to understand the Scriptures aright, we must interpret them according to this canon. The most sober and candid expositors have agreed in this. The desertion spoken of in my text literally refers to the abandoning of the Jews to the power of the Assyrians and Chaldeans, till they should be brought to repent of their sins: and the return which is there foretold as the effect of this desertion, had its accomplishment in part under Ezra and Nehemiah; partly also on the day of Pentecost; but principally, we expect it to be fulfilled at a future period, when the whole nation shall “look on Him whom they pierced, and mourn.” But we may with the utmost propriety take occasion from it to speak of spiritual desertion, which all the Israel of God in a greater or less degree experience. In my text, God says, “I will go and return unto my place:” this is a good description of that which we call spiritual desertion. God, properly speaking, is in every place; “he filleth all in all:” but yet, as to the manifestation of his presence, he is more particularly in heaven: “He is the High and Lofty One who inhabiteth eternity. whose name is Holy; and he dwells in the high and holy place.” “Heaven is his throne; and he humbleth himself when he beholdeth the things that are on earth.” It is “the habitation of his holiness;” so that if, either for purposes of judgment or of mercy, he vouchsafe to visit the earth, he leaves, as it were, his proper place, and comes down to us. When he noticed the iniquity of Sodom and Gomorrah, he said, “I will go down now and see whether they have done according to the cry which is come up unto me:” and, when he was about to punish the Jews, the prophet said, “Behold, the Lord cometh out of his place, to punish the inhabitants of the land [Note: Isaiah 26:21.].” So when the Church prayed to him for the manifestations of his power, they said, “O that thou wouldest rend the heavens, and come down [Note: Isaiah 64:1.]!” Thus, in the New Testament, he is frequently said to come and dwell in his people. Thus, when he visits us, he comes out of his place; and, when he withdraws those visits, he “goes, and returns to his place.” Not that he is really capable of moving from one place to another, because he is alike in every place; but, with respect to the manifestations of his presence, the communications of his grace, the supports of his arm, and the consolations of his Spirit, he may be truly said to move: for neither the presence nor removal of any thing can be more perceptible to the body, than the loss or acquisition of these things is to the soul. The way in which God withdraws himself from the soul, may be very fitly illustrated by the manner in which he forsook the Jews of old. The Shechinah, or bright cloud, was the symbol of the Divine presence; and that rested upon the ark between the cherubims. But when God was incensed against his people for their abominations, he gave them various warnings of his determination to forsake them, unless they should repent: he made his prophet therefore to see in a vision, what indeed all Israel, in the time of Moses, had seen with their bodily eyes,—his gradual departure. We have the account in the 9th, 10th, and 11th chapters of Ezekiel, to some verses of which we will refer you. In 9:3, God is represented as taking his first step towards his departure; “And the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub whereupon he was, to the threshold of the house:” in 10:18, he removed still farther; “Then the glory of the Lord departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubims,” which were at that time, as we are told in ver. 3, and 4, standing in the court: in ver. 19, he went yet farther; “And the cherubims lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth, in my sight; and every one stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above.” In 11:23, God goes to a yet greater distance; “And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain, which is the east side of the city.” See here, how many different removes there were, before God would utterly forsake them; first from the ark to the threshold; then to the court; then to the gate; and then to the mountain; and even there he stood, if that by any means they might humble themselves, and prevent his final departure. Now thus it is in his departure from the soul: when he sits enthroned, as it were, in the soul, all is well: the person thus highly honoured, is happy beyond description: his views of divine truth are clear, his apprehensions of it lively, and his enjoyment of it is unspeakably sweet and precious: having the light of God’s countenance, and a sense of his favour, he has all that man can desire in this mortal state. But, when he becomes proud, or negligent, or worldly, when by any misconduct he begins to grieve the Holy Spirit, he soon perceives symptoms of the Divine displeasure: the effusions of Divine love in his soul are less abundant; his discoveries of the Deity are less glorious; his views and apprehensions are darker; his communion with God is less frequent, and less ardent; and his holy intimacy with the Deity is sensibly diminished. If he do not instantly take the alarm, and humble himself before God, and implore his pardon, he finds gradually a veil drawn between his God and him: he cannot have that access to God that he was wont to enjoy: he loses that enlargement of heart which he used to experience; his joys are in a great measure withdrawn: instead of abounding in praises, he finds it hard even to pray: it is comparatively seldom that he can break forth into songs of praise and adoration; and, if now and then he feel some elevation of soul, he cannot adore God for what he is in himself, but only for what he has done for us. Thus, ere he is aware, his God has withdrawn himself; and, if now he do not call him back by earnest supplication, and by renewed faith in Christ as his Mediator and Advocate, he will find every thing decay: the beauty of the summer will fade away, the autumnal gloom will soon succeed, and every thing will quickly wear a wintry aspect: all the graces of the soul will languish, and the corruptions of the heart regain their former ascendancy. The departing sun does not more surely change the face of nature, than the departure of God from the soul will leave it destitute and forlorn: so truly is it said, “Woe unto them, when I depart from them!” But these are, as it were, the steps by which God departs from the soul; and by these marks we may judge of his increasing nearness or removal.]
We see, then, what is meant by spiritual desertion—
Let us now consider,
II. The end and intent of it—
[God intends our good in all his dispensations, unless indeed we have provoked him utterly to abandon us; and then he may justly cause such events as shall open a way for the exercise of our corruptions, and for the consequent hardening of our hearts: but, till he has thus given us up, he designs ail his dispensations for our good. Especially, in withdrawing from the souls of his people, he has a regard to their best interests: two principal ends which he would accomplish, are, to humble, and to quicken them.—First, to humble them; “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence.” The confession of our sins is indispensably necessary, as well for our good, as for God’s glory: however God may desire to pardon, he cannot do it, unless we be first disposed to confess: it would be unworthy of his majesty, and diretly contrary to his word. He has said, that “he who covereth his sins shall not prosper;” and that he only “who confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy:” and his own honour is so interwoven with the abasement of the sinner, that, when Joshua exhorted Achan to confess his sin, he could use no terms more proper than these; “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him.” Indeed the good of man is no less concerned in the humiliation of his soul before God; for, till he be brought to a sense of his iniquities, he has no disposition to accept of mercy: he disdains to become a suppliant for it: he denies that he stands in need of it: he thinks himself affronted by the offer of it, because the offer necessarily implies, what he is utterly averse to acknowledge, namely, that he deserves punishment. This same pride remains, in a measure, in God’s people after their conversion; and though they hate it and lothe themselves for it, yet, upon every fresh sin which they commit, they are but too apt to indulge it: they still feel an unaccountable backwardness to confess their sins, even though they know that God is privy to all, and needs not any information from them. When therefore God sees his people harbouring this pride in any degree, he withdraws himself from them: the more they indulge this vile principle, the more he testifies his displeasure, to shew them, that he will ever “resist the proud, and give grace only to the humble.” He is determined “to abase those who walk in pride;” and therefore he never vouchsafes the former tokens of his love, till he has brought the soul to an open and ingenuous confession. We have a remarkable instance of this in David: he had grievously offended God in the matter of Uriah; but his proud heart would not humble itself before God. What was the consequence? God forsook him; and instead of speaking pardon and peace to him, he left his soul to be incessantly harassed with fruitless remorse and anguish; nor ever restored peace to his conscience, till he had humbled himself for his iniquity: thus David says, in Psalms 32:3-4. “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old, through my roaring all the day long; for day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture was turned into the drought of summer.” This was his state while he persisted in impenitence: but as soon as he made confession, behold the change! “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid: I said, I will confess my transgression to the Lord, and so thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin:” and he who began the psalm with such a deplorable account of his experience, concludes it with saying, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous; and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.”
A further end which God has in view is, to stir up the soul. His people are but too apt to grow remiss; and sometimes, when they profess to be seeking God with their whole hearts, they are secretly inclining to some earthly vanity. This, if suffered to prevail, would effectually alienate them from the life of God; they would soon be entangled again in the corruptions of the world; and “their last end would become worse than their beginning:” and therefore God in mercy withdraws himself from them; and hides his face, till they seek after him again with their wonted ardour. In this he acts, if you will permit me for once to use a very familiar illustration, as earthly parents do: the little child perhaps is loitering behind, and amusing himself with some trifling vanity: the parent calls and commands in vain: at last the parent, wearied with fruitless calls, conceals himself; and then the child is filled with anxiety, seeks his parent with tears, and is more solicitous to keep close to him in future. This is an humble illustration, I readily acknowledge: but it is a natural one; and our Lord himself did not disdain the use of such, for the confirmation of his doctrine: if it convey to you the idea more clearly than a plain statement would, my end is answered: let it shew you, what we are at present concerned to declare, the real end for which God hides his face from his children. We may however confirm this statement from the express testimony of God himself: “Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart; and I will be found of you [Note: Jeremiah 29:13-14.].”]
We come now to shew,
III. The effect it will produce—
[Would to God that the effect were the same on all! but, alas! there are many who are hardened by it more and more, till God “swears in his wrath, that they shall never enter into his rest:” nevertheless, where the proper effect is produced upon the soul, it is that which is mentioned in my text; “In their affliction they will seek me early.” This part of our subject is in a measure anticipated by what has gone before: nevertheless, it is of such importance as to deserve further and more distinct consideration. Prosperity does but ill suit with our fallen nature. Not only temporal ease, but in some sense even spiritual pleasure, becomes a source of evil: not that it is so in itself; “the joy of the Lord is our strength;” but our corruption takes occasion from it to unfold itself. Sometimes a long season of spiritual delight, and peculiar manifestations of God’s love, shall foster pride. Even Paul himself, from the abundance of revelations which were made to him, was in danger of “being exalted above measure,” and needed “a thorn in his flesh” to keep him humble. So peculiar sensations of joy are sometimes the means of begetting security. We see daily that professors of religion are apt to look back upon former experiences, and to conclude that all is well, because it once appeared to be well: therefore God counteracts this propensity, and consults the good of his people, in withdrawing his sensible presence from them: he stirs them up to a holy vigilance against their spiritual enemies, and to a diligence and circumspection in his ways. See what was the effect produced upon the Spouse in the 5th chapter of the Song of Solomon: in the 2d verse, Christ, the Husband of the Church, is calling to her for admission: saying, “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled; for my head is filled with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.” She, not being disposed for heavenly communion with him, makes frivolous excuses: “I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?” Thus she provoked him to depart. Presently, however, she rose to let him in; but behold, he was gone: in ver. 5, 6. “I rose up to open to my Beloved: I opened to my Beloved, but my Beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone.” And now observe the effect of this desertion: “My soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.” She then went about the city, and inquired of all the watchmen respecting him: and failing of success here, she says, in verse 8, “I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my Beloved, tell ye him that I am sick of love.” This is a striking comment on the last words of my text, “In their affliction they will seek me early:” and it exactly agrees with the experience of God’s people in all ages: when they, who have been favoured with the light of God’s countenance, are for a season deprived of it, they put away their foolish and vain excuses; they see that they must at all events get nigh to their Beloved; they will spare no pains; they will rather rise at midnight, than not seek him at all: they will attend the ordinances with redoubled diligence: they will inquire of the ministers, the watchmen, how they may find him: they request the intercession of the saints: in short, they will never rest, till they have regained the sensible enjoyment of the Divine presence.]
Let us now come to a short application of the subject.
1. To the careless world—
[My Brethren, many of you must be sensible that you never seek after God: if you pray at any time, you rest satisfied with having performed a duty, and are not at all solicitous to obtain any manifestations of the Divine presence: yea, because you have never experienced any peculiar sensations of God’s favour, you are ready to think, that all hopes of such experience are groundless, and that all must be either hypocrites or enthusiasts who pretend to such things. But surely, your own want of experience in these matters is no more a ground for denying the truth of what others feel, than your ignorance of the concerns of others is a ground for denying what others know. Would to God that you would seek the Lord for yourselves! you should soon find that it is not in vain to call upon him. If you would humble yourselves, confessing your sins, and crying for mercy through the blood of Jesus, you should soon find that God is “gracious, and full of compassion, and rich in mercy unto all that call upon him:” he would be “a Father unto you; he would come unto you, and dwell with you;” he would “manifest himself unto you as he does not unto the world;” he would “shed abroad his love in your hearts;” and he would “make you glad with the light of his countenance.” O, then, “seek the Lord, seek his face evermore!” Remember, it will be an awful matter to be banished for ever from his presence; to hear him say, “Depart, accursed—” how dreadful! On the contrary, how delightful to hear him say, “Come, ye blessed!” O “seek ye the Lord whilst he may be found; call ye upon him whilst he is near.”]
2. To the professors of religion—
[How apt are you to draw back from God, instead of pressing forward as you ought to do! How do you compel him to hide his face, when he would gladly be comforting you with his presence! Ah, Brethren, know where the fault is: “He delighteth in the prosperity of his people:” it is wholly owing to yourselves if ye do not “rejoice in the Lord all the day long.” Do not then oblige him to withdraw himself; do not bring on yourselves so heavy an affliction: search, and see, what there is that has displeased him: see if the world has drawn you aside; see if pride has grieved his Spirit; see if negligence in secret duties has caused him to hide his face: and, whatever it be, confess it to the Lord; mourn over it; renew your application to the blood of Jesus; and press forward with greater diligence: so shall you “walk in the light, as He is in the light;” you shall have abiding and increasing fellowship both with the Father and the Son; and soon you shall be admitted into his immediate presence, where you shall never have one cloud to intercept your view of him to all eternity.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Hosea 5". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany