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THE CHARACTERISTIC MARKS OF TRUE PENITENCE
Hosea 6:1. Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.
THE spiritual dereliction which the people of God have at times experienced, has ever been considered as the most afflictive of all chastisements: but it has also been the most salutary, and most effectual. The benefits arising from it were strongly exemplified in the Israelites, who after having long withstood the united efforts of all the prophets, were on a sudden constrained by it to turn to God with unfeigned contrition.
The words before us are the expressions of that repentance which was excited in the Israelites by God’s departure from them, and by his grace that accompanied the affliction [Note: Hosea 5:15.]: and they suggest to us a proper occasion to consider,
The characteristic marks of true penitence—
It will always be attended with,
A sense of our departure from God—
[Unregenerate men live “without God in the world;” and yet the thought of their being at a distance from God never enters into their minds. But as soon as the grace of repentance is given to them, they see that they “have been like sheep going astray, every one to his own way,” and that they can never find happiness but in “returning to the shepherd and bishop of their souls.”]
An acknowledgment of affliction as a just chastisement for sin—
[The impenitent heart murmurs and rebels under the Divine chastisements: the penitent “hears the rod and him that appointed it.” He blesses God for the troubles that have brought him to reflection [Note: Psalms 16:7; Psalms 119:67.]; and while he smarts under the wounds that have been inflicted on him, he regards them as the merciful tokens of parental love [Note: Psalms 119:75.].]
A determination to return to God—
[When a man is once thoroughly awakened to a sense of his lost condition, he can no longer be contented with a formal round of duties. He reads, hears, prays in a very different way from that in which he was wont to do. “What shall I do to be saved?” is the one thought that occupies his mind; and he is resolved through grace to sacrifice every thing that would obstruct the salvation of his soul. To hear of Christ, to seek him, to believe on him, and to receive out of his fulness, these are from henceforth his chief desire, his supreme delight [Note: Song of Solomon 5:6; Song of Solomon 5:8.].]
A desire that others should return to him also—
[As all the other marks, so this especially was manifested by the repenting Israelites. This is peculiarly insisted on as characteristic of the great work that shall be accomplished in the latter day [Note: Isaiah 2:3.]. This has distinguished the Church of God in all ages [Note: Song of Solomon 1:4. Draw me, and we, &c.]. The penitent knows how awful the state of all around him is, and how much he has contributed by his influence and example to destroy them; and therefore, though he expects nothing but “hatred for his good-will,” he feels it incumbent on him to labour for their salvation; and, if it were possible, he would instruct, convert, and save the whole world [Note: Zechariah 8:21. Joh 1:41; John 1:45.].]
To promote an increase of such repentance amongst us, we shall proceed to state,
The grounds on which a penitent may take encouragement to return to God—
Whatever grounds of despondency we may feel within ourselves, we may take encouragement,
From a general view of God’s readiness to heal us—
[God has not left himself without witness even among the heathen world; but has shewn, by his goodness to the evil and unthankful, that he is ever ready to exercise mercy. But to us who have his revealed will, he has left no possibility of doubt: for “if he spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” The invitations and promises with which his word is filled, are a further evidence to us, that he is willing to receive every returning prodigal, and that he will in no wise cast out any who come unto him. On this ground the whole world may adopt the words of the text, and say, “Come, let us return unto the Lord.”]
From that particular discovery of it which we have in the wounds he has inflicted on us—
[The Israelites seemed to lay a peculiar stress on this, and to infer, from the very strokes of his rod, his willingness to “heal and bind them up.” They even felt an assurance that his return to them would be both speedy and effectual [Note: The text, with ver. 2.]. Thus as soon as any person is brought to acknowledge the hand of God in his afflictions, he will improve them in this very way. Whether his troubles be of a temporal or spiritual nature, he will adore God for not leaving him in a secure and thoughtless state, and for awakening him by any means to a sense of his guilt and danger. He will begin immediately to argue as Manoah’s wife; “Would the Lord have shewn me this mercy, if he had intended to destroy me [Note: Judges 13:23.]?” Does a father correct his child because he has no love to him? Are not the very expressions of his anger to be viewed as tokens of his love [Note: Hebrews 12:6.], and as an earnest of his returning favour to me as soon as I shall have implored his forgiveness?
Let those then who feel the burthen of their sins, remember, that it is God who has given them to see their iniquities; and that the heavier their burthen is, the more abundant encouragement they have to cast it on the Lord [Note: Matthew 11:28.].]
To those who have deserted God—
[Let us only reflect on the months and years that we have past without any affectionate remembrance of God, or any earnest application to Christ as our Mediator and Advocate; and we shall not need many words to convince us, that we are included in this number. But let us consider whom “we have forsaken; even God, the fountain of living waters;” and, with all our labour in pursuit of happiness, we have only “hewed out for ourselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water [Note: Jeremiah 2:13.].” Let our past experience suffice to shew us the vanity and folly of our ways: and let us “return unto him from whom we have deeply revolted.” But let us beware lest we “heal our wounds slightly.” Christ is the brazen Serpent to which all must look: He is the good Samaritan who alone can help us, and who has submitted to be himself “wounded for our transgressions,” that he might “heal us by his stripes.”]
To those who are deserted by God—
[God does find it necessary sometimes to withdraw the light of his countenance from his people. But, whatever he may have done on some particular occasions, we are sure that in general he does not forsake us till after we have forsaken him. Hence, when the Israelites were deserted by him, they did not say, Let us pray that he will return to us; but, Let us return unto him: for they were well assured that, as the alienation had begun on their part, so it would be terminated as soon as ever they should humble themselves in a becoming manner. Let those then who are under the hidings of God’s face, inquire, what has occasioned his departure from them: and let them put away “the accursed thing,” and turn to him with their whole hearts. Let them rest assured, that “there is balm in Gilead;” and that, if they come to God in the name of Christ, their “backslidings shall be healed,” and “their happiness restored [Note: Hosea 14:4.Lamentations 3:31-25.3.32; Lamentations 3:31-25.3.32.Psalms 97:11; Psalms 97:11; Psalms 147:3.].” [Note: If this were the subject of a Fast Sermon, the application might be comprised in the following observations: 1. The calamities of the nation are manifest tokens of God’s displeasure, and calls to repentance.—2, All the efforts of our rulers to heal our wounds will be in vain, if we do not repent.—3. A general turning unto God would bring us speedy and effectual relief.]]
THE EFFECTS OF DILIGENCE IN RELIGION
Hosea 6:3. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.
THEY, who are strongly attached to human systems, are apt to set divine truths at variance with each other, and to wrest some from their plain and obvious meaning, in order to reconcile them with others more agreeable to their sentiments. But they, who receive the word of God as little children, will find a harmony in passages, which at first sight appear contradictory, and will derive equal benefit from the contemplation of them all. Some imagine, that, if our salvation depend wholly on the free and sovereign grace of God, there can be no need for exertion on our part. Others, on the contrary, argue, that if our salvation be to be effected by means of our own endeavours, it cannot be dependent on Divine grace. But these apparently opposite assertions are not made only in different and detached passages, but oftentimes in the very same passage. Our Lord, for instance, exhorts us to labour for the meat that endureth unto eternal life, at the same time that he says, the Son of man will give it us. And St. Paul bids us work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and yet assures us in the very same sentence, that it is God who worketh in us both to will and to do. Thus the prophet represents those who are returning to God, as encouraging themselves with the thought, that though they could no more accomplish their end by their own exertions than they could command the sun to shine, or the clouds to pour down their waters, yet, if they persevered in the use of God’s appointed means, they could not but succeed.
The effects of diligence in religion are here,
The great object of our attention should be, to gain the knowledge of Christ—
[Many see no occasion at all for diligence in the pursuit of heavenly things. Others, who confess the need of constant exertion on our part, yet propose to themselves a wrong end in their labours; having no higher view than to establish a righteousness of their own. But to know Christ and him crucified, is the one mean of eternal life, in comparison of which every thing else is as dung and dross [Note: Compare Joh 17:3. 1 Corinthians 2:2.Philippians 3:8; Philippians 3:8.]. It is not however a mere speculative knowledge of him that is thus excellent, (for we may possess that, and have the heart as unsanctified as ever) but an experimental knowledge of him, that brings the soul into a close union and abiding fellowship with him, and a transforming knowledge, that changes us into his blessed image in righteousness and true holiness [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].]
This should be sought with unremitting diligence—
[It cannot be attained without frequent and serious meditation. It does not indeed, like other studies, require intenseness of application, scope of thought, and strength of intellect: it requires only that we enter into our own bosom, that we consult the records of conscience, that we apply to our souls the threatenings and promises of the Scripture, and that we live in the daily exercise of faith and prayer. This is easily compatible with any lawful pursuit; and so far from distracting the mind, and incapacitating it for action, it will give direction and energy to all our faculties. We must not however imagine that it is the work of a day, a month, or a year; it is the work of our whole lives. If at any time we think we have attained, and are already perfect, we may be well assured that we have hitherto studied to little purpose. St. Paul, after preaching the Gospel above twenty years, still desired to know Christ more fully [Note: Philippians 3:10; Philippians 3:12.]: and so infinitely does that of which we are ignorant, exceed that which any man can know in this life, that he says, “If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know [Note: 1 Corinthians 8:2.].” We must therefore “follow on” in the use of God’s appointed means, nor ever relax our diligence, till we see him as we are seen, and know him as we are known.]
Nor shall such means be used in vain—
[It will be invariably found, that, while “the idle soul suffers hunger, the diligent soul shall be made fat.” No person shall be disappointed for want of talents; for men shall make a proficiency, not in proportion to their abilities, but in proportion to their willingness to learn of God, and to practise what they already know [Note: Philippians 3:13-50.3.14.]. God, who alone can instruct us in this knowledge, will “reveal even to babes and sucklings the things that are hid from the wise and prudent.” “The meek he will guide in judgment, the meek he will teach his way.” “If only we cry after knowledge, and lift up our voice for understanding, if we seek it as silver, and search for it as for hid treasures,” we need not fear on account of any imagined incapacity; for God has said, “Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God; for the Lord giveth wisdom; out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding [Note: Proverbs 2:6.].”]
This encouraging truth is yet further,
There is a beauty peculiar to the Hebrew poetry, and very frequently occurring in the prophetic writings, that important truths are amplified with figurative illustrations, and that sublime metaphors are explained by simple declarations. In the passage before us, that which is first proposed in plain language, is afterwards confirmed in two most instructive similes, each of them affording a more precise view of the manner in which the promise itself shall be fulfilled.
The simile taken from the return of day, intimates, that our success shall be certain and gradual—
[Nothing but the utter dissolution of the universe shall ever stop the succession of day and night; so that the stated returns of light may be considered as a fit emblem of certainty. Indeed, God himself sets forth the immutability of his covenant by this very figure; “If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season, then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant [Note: Jeremiah 33:20-24.33.21.].” Thus certainly shall light arise upon our benighted souls, provided we really desire to behold it [Note: Isaiah 58:8; Isaiah 58:10.]. In a time of darkness we may cry, “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my God hath forgotten me;” but, as the sun, even at midnight, is hastening towards us, though unseen, so are “the goings forth of our God prepared,” decreed, and ready to appear. Let us but “wait, as those who watch for the morning;” and our gloom shall soon be dispelled; and “the Sun of righteousness shall arise upon us with healing in his wings.”
Nevertheless we must not expect that we should discern every thing at once: our progress will be gradual. The sun does not arise in an instant: there is first a little glimmering dawn; then the gilded clouds begin to wear a brighter aspect; and at last they are dissipated by the rising sun: the sun itself also rises higher, and shines brighter in the heavens, till it arrives at its meridian. Thus it is with the knowledge of Christ in the soul: the first views which the inquiring soul obtains are faint and confused; yea, perhaps, as in the early dawn, things may assume a monstrous and distorted shape: we may “behold men, as trees, walking.” But gradually the mists shall be dispelled from our eyes; our organs of vision shall be purged from their film; and the glorious object, whom we desire to behold, shall be revealed to our view. But, while we are here below, we shall “see him only, as in a mirror, darkly:” we must wait till we arrive above, before we can fully “see him as he is.”]
The simile taken from the return of showers after drought, intimates that our knowledge shall be refreshing and fructifying—
[What can be more refreshing than rain to the parched ground? How does the face of nature soon testify its gladness by an universal smile! Yet is this but a very faint resemblance of that joy and gladness, which the soul experiences through seasonable communications of Divine knowledge. Let us figure to ourselves a prodigal reduced to the lowest ebb of misery, and doubting whether so vile a wretch shall ever find acceptance with his offended Father; and, while trembling with a dread of his displeasure, surprised with the tenderest expressions of his love: will not this be a season of refreshing to his soul? Will he not instantly “put off his sackcloth, and gird him with gladness?” Will it not be to him “as rivers of water in a dry place, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land?” Thus shall it be with all who follow on to know the Lord; they shall have “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”
Nor shall the knowledge acquired be unproductive of solid fruits. As “the former rain” prepared the ground for the seed, and caused the seed that was cast in, to vegetate; and “the latter rain” ripened and matured the grain, and made it fit for the sickle (both being essentially necessary, and abundantly productive;) so shall the knowledge of Christ be to the soul; it shall come “like rain upon the mown grass, and as showers that water the earth [Note: Psalms 72:6.].” After long drought, the clouds may, almost without a metaphor, be said to “drop fatness:” and the knowledge of Christ, long and eagerly desired, shall make “the desert to blossom as the rose;” yea, “it shall make the wilderness like Eden, and the desert as the garden of the Lord.” “Instead of the brier shall grow up the fir-tree, and instead of the thorny bush shall grow up the myrtle-tree [Note: Isaiah 55:10-23.55.13.];” and the once-barren soul shall be “fruitful in all the fruits of righteousness to God’s praise and glory.”]
We may see from hence,
Whence it is that mankind in general are so ignorant of Christ—
[The record of God concerning Christ is this; “He that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life.” This is plain, express, and immutable. Yet, alas! the generality, instead of labouring above all things to attain the knowledge of Christ, will bestow no pains whatever upon it. There is no other knowledge that they profess to have without study: but this they think they possess almost by intuition. Hence, notwithstanding it is infinitely more important than any other, they continue wholly ignorant of it: they are satisfied with giving a general assent to Christianity as true, while they discern nothing of its beauty, and taste nothing of its excellence. If this knowledge were unattainable, then men would have some excuse, seeing that they would labour in vain, and spend their strength for nought. But God has promised success to persevering diligence; “Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord.” Let us not then give way to pride or indolence: but let us search the Scriptures with an humble, teachable spirit, and beg of God to enlighten the eyes of our understanding: so shall we be “guided into all truth,” and be made “wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.”]
Whence it is that they, who have attained some knowledge of Christ, are not made more holy, and more happy by it—
[To maintain a steady uniform course is no easy matter. To follow on, forgetting what is behind, and reaching forth unto that which is before, requires more humility and zeal than the greater part even of real Christians possess. Hence their attainments in joy and holiness are small, in comparison of what they might possess. Instead of minding uniformly the one thing needful, they suffer themselves to be distracted with worldly cares and pleasures. Instead of resisting their adversary, they yield to him; and give way to desponding thoughts, when they should renew their exertions with more abundant diligence. If they followed on as they ought, not only would their success be certain and gradual, but it would be accompanied with a proportionate increase of joy and holiness. Let us not then turn aside to earthly vanities, or waste our time in fruitless lamentations and complaints; but let us “be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises;” that so our “path may be as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”]
MAN’S INSTABILITY AND GOD’S FORBEARANCE
Hosea 6:4. O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.
WHEREVER the Gospel is faithfully preached, some are savingly converted by it. But of those who “run well for a season, many are hindered” in their course, and many turn back again to the world. Such were they to whom God spake in the words before us [Note: We may indeed interpret the three first verses of this chapter as descriptive of what shall take place in the latter day; and so consider the words of the text as a continuation of the complaints uttered against the Jews in the preceding chapter. But we know that there were some partial reformations, as under Hezekiah and Josiah; and therefore we may well explain the passage as belonging to the people of that generation.]. The word had produced some good effect among them; but their penitence was of very short duration. God therefore took up this pathetic lamentation over them; which leads us to notice,
The instability of man—
Man in his best estate is a weak and frail creature. But “Ephraim,” (who had cast off the worship of God) and “Judah” (who retained the form but without the power of godliness) may properly be considered as characterizing two different descriptions of persons, namely, mere nominal Christians, and those who make some profession of religion. We shall therefore notice the instability,
Of merely nominal Christians—
[However men may have shaken off all regard for God, there have been times when they entertained some good desires, and some purposes of amendment. They did not always sin with the same ease that they now do. We may appeal to all, whether there has not been some period of their life when their mind was comparatively tender, and when they felt, in some little measure, the importance of preparing for death and judgment?
But these seasons have passed away without any permanent effect; and the appearances of good have altogether vanished. Fitly therefore are they compared to a morning cloud, and to the early dew: for, as in a season of drought the morning clouds, which seemed to portend rain, are soon scattered; and the dew, which seemed a welcome substitute for rain, is exhaled, before it has penetrated to the roots, and thereby the expectations of the husbandman are disappointed; so it is with them; their vows are forgotten, their consciences are become callous, and all prospect of their conversion is annihilated [Note: See this exemplified in Pharaoh, Exodus 10:16; Exodus 10:28; in the Israelites, Exodus 33:4. with Psalms 78:34-19.78.37; in Felix, Acts 24:25; Acts 24:27.].]
Of many who make a profession of religion—
[Many, like those addressed in the text, have at some time appeared penitent, and have excited, both in themselves and others, a hope, that they would one day be faithful followers of the Lamb. But they have “left off to behave themselves wisely.” “The cares of this world, or the deceitfulness of riches, or the lust of other things,” have turned them aside; so that they are as barren and unfruitful as if they had never professed themselves the Lord’s people.
How many have there been in every age who have thus “made shipwreck of their faith!” And how many amongst ourselves, perhaps, have declined from the ways of God, and given reason to fear that “their last end will be worse than their beginning!”
These are yet more strictly conformed to the images in the text, inasmuch as the hopes and prospects they afforded were more flattering, and the state in which they are left, is more desperate and afflictive [Note: See instances of this also in Demas. Compare Philem. ver. 24. with 2 Timothy 4:10. See also 1 Timothy 1:19; 1 Timothy 3:6; 1 Timothy 5:12; 1Ti 5:15 and 2 Timothy 2:18; 2 Timothy 4:4.].]
No subject whatever reflects more light than this upon,
The forbearance of God—
We must not suppose that God is really at a loss what to do, since both his wisdom and power are infinite. But the expressions of the text import,
That he is extremely averse to punish us as we deserve—
[Our provocations against him have been such as nothing but infinite patience could have endured. He complains of us, that “we have wearied him,” and that “he is pressed under us as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves [Note: Malachi 2:17. Amos 2:13.].” He appeals to us that he has omitted nothing on his part that could tend to our good [Note: Micah 6:3.Jeremiah 2:5; Jeremiah 2:5.Isaiah 5:4; Isaiah 5:4.]: and expostulates with us respecting our obstinacy in destroying ourselves [Note: Ezekiel 33:11.]. When there seems scarcely any hope left, lie declares that he cannot endure the thought of giving us up [Note: Hosea 11:7-28.11.8.]: and, in the words before us, intimates the perplexity of his mind halting between his duty as a lawgiver, and his inclinations as a parent. Well may it be said of him, that “judgment is his strange work [Note: Isaiah 28:21.]:” for his whole conduct towards us shews, that he is “slow to anger and rich in mercy [Note: Nehemiah 9:17.].”]
That there is nothing he can do consistently with his own honour which he is not ready to do for our salvation—
[He cannot save us in an impenitent state: that would be a violation of his justice, his holiness, and his truth. But if we would repent, he would forgive us for his dear Son’s sake — — — If we would pray to him for his Holy Spirit, he would renew us, sanctify us, establish us. Whatever his wisdom could devise for our good, or his power execute, he would be ready to effect, if only we would “cleave to him with full purpose of heart.”
How strongly is this intimated in the tender manner of his address, “O Ephraim, O Judah,” as though he spoke to every one of us severally by name: and by the repetition of that question, “What shall I do unto thee?” Let a reciprocal tenderness be excited in our hearts towards him: and both the grounds of his anger, yea, and the consequences of it also, shall soon be removed.]
Those whose goodness has altogether vanished—
[How many have reason to look back with shame, and to say, “O that it were with me as in months past [Note: Job 29:2.]!” Once you felt some concern about your soul; but now you are regardless of your eternal interests: once you had some prospect of heaven; but now you have none at all. Consider what a melancholy state this is; and that, if you continue in it till you go to the bar of judgment, your condition will be most desperate for ever. Be assured that God will be at no loss how to deal with you then: there will be no longer any conflict in his mind between wrath and pity: abused patience will demand your punishment; and that punishment shall correspond with your iniquity [Note: N. B. Compare Hosea 13:3. with the text.]. O that you were wise, and would consider your latter end!]
Those who are yet in a hopeful way—
[Some there are, we trust, over whom the clouds are yet suspended, and the dew is yet lying with prolific virtue. O beg of God, that no wind of temptation may dispel the one, no sun of persecution exhale the other. “Remember Lot’s wife:” and watch against every thing that may impede your progress, or shake your constancy. Be much in prayer, that God would “carry on his good work within you, and perform it to the day of Christ.” Guard as much against self-dependence as against the grossest of sins: for “God is a jealous God,” and will leave you to learn by bitter experience what is in your heart, if you trust in an arm of flesh [Note: 2 Chronicles 32:31.] period; “Trust in him only, and with your whole heart;” and he will “perfect that which concerneth you,” and “preserve you unto his heavenly kingdom.”]
MERCY BEFORE SACRIFICE
Hosea 6:6. I desired mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
THERE is a disposition in every man to substitute external observances for the devotion of the heart; and to rest satisfied with rendering to God some easy services, while they are utterly averse to those duties which are more difficult and self-denying. But God cannot be deceived, nor will he be mocked. He will look at the heart, and not at the outward appearance only; and will mark with indignation the partial obedience of the hypocrite, no less than the open disobedience of the profane. It was thus that he dealt with his people of old, “hewing them by his prophets, and slaying them by the words of his mouth,” because they rested in their sacrifices and burnt-offerings, when he desired the more acceptable services of faith and love.
In this view the prophet intimates in the text,
The use of instituted ordinances—
The words of the text are not to be considered as importing that God did not require sacrifices at all, but as declaring his decided preference for spiritual obedience; just as our Lord’s injunction, “not to labour for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto eternal life [Note: John 6:27.],” was not intended to prohibit the pursuit of earthly things, but only to enjoin a superior regard for the concerns of eternity.
God approves and loves the observance of his appointed ordinances—
[God appointed a great variety of ordinances to be observed: but the most important among them were “sacrifices and burnt-offerings.” These he honoured with many signal tokens of his approbation. It is not improbable, that his acceptance of Abel’s offering was marked by the descent of fire from heaven to consume it [Note: Genesis 4:4.]. Certain it is, that on many other occasions God vouchsafed to men this testimony of his regard [Note: To Moses; Leviticus 9:24. Manoah, Judges 13:19-7.13.20. Solomon; 2Ch 7:1 and Elijah, 1 Kings 18:38.]: and in unnumbered instances he imparted grace and peace to the souls of his people, while they presented their sacrifices before him.
Under the Gospel dispensation he has enjoined the public administration of his word and sacraments; and has crowned the observance of these ordinances with the brightest displays of his glory, and the richest communications of his love. He has promised his presence in them to the end of the world [Note: Matthew 28:20.]; and that too in a manner and degree that we are not generally to expect it on other occasions.
Thus, both under the law and under the Gospel, God has abundantly manifested his regard for the ordinances of his own institution.]
But the acceptableness of such services depends on the manner in which they are performed—
[God looks rather to the disposition of the worshipper than the matter of his offering; and, if a contrite spirit be wanting, he values nothing that such a worshipper can present; This is repeatedly and strongly declared [Note: Isaiah 1:11-23.1.14; Isaiah 66:3.]; and is as true under the Gospel as under the Law [Note: Psalms 51:16-19.51.17. Matthew 15:8-40.15.9.].
To this all the Scriptures bear witness. Balaam’s answer to Balak [Note: Micah 6:6-33.6.8.], and Samuel’s to Saul [Note: 1 Samuel 15:22.], and the discreet scribe’s to Christ [Note: Mark 12:33.], all concur in establishing this point beyond a doubt.]
These considerations may well prepare us to acknowledge,
The superior excellence of vital godliness—
The view here given of vital godliness deserves attention—
[True religion, as it is experienced in the heart, consists in faith and love, or in such a “knowledge of God” as produces “mercy” both to the bodies and the souls of men. Our blessed Lord twice quotes the words of our text, and explains them in this very manner. was vindicating on one occasion the conduct of his disciples, for plucking some cars of corn on the Sabbath-day. What they had done was certainly allowable on any other day, but probably not on the Sabbath without some urgent necessity. Such a necessity existed in the present case; and as that plea was sufficient to vindicate David in a far more exceptionable violation of the law, and as it was acknowledged to be a full justification of the priests whose labours on the Sabbath were very great, so it was a sufficient excuse for the disciples, as their accusers would have known, if they had understood the meaning of the declaration in the text [Note: Matthew 12:1-40.12.7. See also Matthew 9:10-40.9.13. where our Lord adduced the same passage, in vindication of his own conduct in associating with sinners.].]
Such religion as is here described is far more excellent than any outward observances whatever—
This is valuable in itself; whereas they are valuable only in relation to the ends for which they were instituted—
[A “knowledge of God,” and a delight in the exercise of “mercy” to the bodies and the souls of men, renders us conformable to the image of Christ: it constitutes our meetness for heaven, where both our knowledge and our love will be perfected. But the performance of ceremonies, as has already been shewn, is worthless, if it be not instrumental to the production of humiliation and affiance, of purity and zeal. Duties which do not bring us to God, and God to us, are good for nothing.]
This argues real conversion; whereas they will consist with the most ungodly state—
[No man can know God as reconciled to him in Christ Jesus, or love his fellow-creatures for Christ’s sake, unless he be renewed in the spirit of his mind. He may possess carnal wisdom, together with humanity and compassion, while he is yet unregenerate: but, if he have that faith and that love which are the essential constituents of vital godliness, he must have been born again; because he could not have these things, if they had not been given him from above. But any man may be observant of ceremonies; as the Pharisees themselves were, at the very same time that they were slaves of pride, of covetousness, and of hypocrisy.]
This invariably honours God; whereas they are often the means of greatly dishonouring him—
[The exercises of faith and love are but very partially seen by mortal eyes: their sublimer operations are known only to Him who beholds the secret desires of the soul. But that which is seen, compels men to acknowledge the excellence of true religion. Even the enemies of God are constrained to reverence the godly, and to admire the grace of God in them. But an attendance on ordinances is often substituted for the whole of religion; as though God were no better than an idol, either not discerning, or at least not regarding, the dispositions of the heart. Can a greater insult than this be offered to Jehovah? or can any thing reflect more dishonour upon him in the world [Note: Psalms 50:13-19.50.14.]?
Let vital godliness be thus contrasted with outward observances, and the text will be seen in its full import.]
Those who are regardless of even the forms of religion—
[It is grievous to see how the Sabbaths are profaned, and the ordinances of the Gospel neglected. But consider, Brethren, what must be the consequence of defying God in this daring and contemptuous manner? O, that you would lay it to heart, before it be too late!]
Those who are attentive to the form, but regardless of the power, of religion—
[To those of your description, our Lord said, “Go, and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice:” and we repeat his words, “Go, and learn this.” A clear view of this passage will undeceive you. While you are destitute of faith and love, or not living in the daily exercise of them, you differ but little from those whom we have before addressed. They are open sepulchres, that pour forth their nauseous vapours before all: and you are “whited sepulchres,” that, with a fair outside, retain all that is filthy and abominable within. It is with such persons that God himself classes you now [Note: 2 Timothy 3:1-55.3.5.]; with such, if you repent not, you will be numbered to all eternity.]
Those who possess vital religion in their hearts—
[While the generality act as if form were all, you are too apt to act as if form were nothing. There is in this respect a great fault amongst the professors of the present day: they are too apt to come late to the house of God; and to be irreverent in their postures while the different parts of divine worship are performed; sitting at their ease, when they should be either devoutly kneeling in their supplications, or standing up to sing the praises of Jehovah. This gives occasion to the world to say of you, “They mind the sermon, but care not at all about the prayers.” Beloved Brethren, let there be no occasion for such a censure amongst us. It is dishonourable to our profession; it casts a stumbling-block in the way of the ungodly; and it is highly displeasing to our God. Where real necessity prevents an early attendance on God’s worship, or infirmity of body requires an easy posture, the text applies in full force: but where these things do not exist, we must reverence the institutions of God and man: and the more humility we have, the more shall we manifest it in the whole of our deportment.]
OUR TRANSGRESSIONS OF THE COVENANT
Hosea 6:7. But they, like men, have transgressed the covenant.
THE merciful nature of God’s dispensations greatly aggravates our guilt in violating his commandments. The law indeed which he imposed upon the Jews was in some respects an intolerable burthen; but in other points of view it was replete with love and mercy: for though its requirements were many, yet its provisions for the unintentional violation of its precepts were also numerous, and peculiarly suited to the character and condition of his people. He required of them sacrifices and burnt offerings; but that which he principally desired, was the exercise of holy affections towards himself, and towards each other: and while they were observant of their duties, he pledged himself to watch over them, to protect them, to bless them. But they were by no means sensible of their privileges, or duly affected with his love: on the contrary, “they, like men, transgressed the covenant.”
In the margin of our Bibles, the text is translated, “They, like Adam, have transgressed the covenant:” and this seems the more proper translation. The words which are translated, “like men,” occur only in two other passages of the Bible: in one of which it is actually translated, “like Adam [Note: Job 31:33.];” and in the other, that sense is evidently most agreeable to the context [Note: Psalms 82:7. “Ye shall die like Adam, whose honours were once so great, but were quickly ruined.”]. Thus in the text also it were far better to render the words, “They, like Adam, have transgressed the covenant.” It is in this sense we propose to interpret them; and in this sense they are well applicable to ourselves. We shall take occasion from them to shew,
What covenant we have transgressed—
The peculiar covenant under which the Jews were, is altogether abrogated: and, as we have never been under it, we, of course, have never transgressed it. But we have transgressed,
The covenant of works—
[Under this covenant all are by nature: we are born under it: and it is as much in force against us at this time, as it ever was against those to whom it was first given. It requires perfect and perpetual obedience to the two tables of the moral law: and it denounces an everlasting curse against every the smallest violation of God’s commandments [Note: Galatians 3:10.]. It is needless to shew that we have transgressed this covenant; for there has not been one day of our lives, wherein we have not transgressed it in ten thousand instances.]
The covenant of grace—
[This is the new covenant which God has made with us, to remedy our breaches of the former covenant. The old covenant said, “Do this, and live;”but the new covenant says, “Believe, and be saved.” It proposes to us a Saviour, who has made atonement for our sins, and wrought out a righteousness for us by his own obedience unto death. In, and through, Him reconciliation is offered to us; and God engages to restore to everlasting happiness and glory all who will come to him in the name of Christ.
Now one would imagine that all should eagerly embrace this covenant, and hold it fast, with a determination never to lose the benefits it so freely offers. But the fact is, that men are even more averse to this covenant than to the covenant of works. They cannot endure to depend so entirely on another for their acceptance with God. They think they can make some compensation for their violations of the former covenant, and in some way or other fulfil its conditions so as to secure its rewards. They perhaps will borrow somewhat from the new covenant, just to supply their deficiencies; but they cannot be prevailed upon to renounce the old covenant altogether, and to accept salvation by faith alone.
Let every one look back upon his past experience; and see whether he himself has not been leaning thus to something which he either has done, or has purposed to do, instead of prostrating himself at the Saviour’s feet, and imploring mercy solely through his blood and righteousness? Yes; whatever we may imagine, this has really been the experience of every living man; such transgressors have we been against the new covenant itself, and against Christ the Mediator of it.]
The special covenants which we ourselves have individually made with God—
[In our baptism we entered into covenant with God; and engaged to “renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh.” At other times also, either at our confirmation by the bishop, or at the Lord’s supper, or in a time of sickness, or under conviction of sin, we have resolved that we would repent, and turn unto God in newness of heart and life. But have not the practices of every day contradicted these professions? Have we not broken all our vows and resolutions? And have not the world, the flesh, and the devil, yet too great an ascendency over our hearts? Behold then, “We are transgressors of the covenant;” and we have been “transgressors even from the womb.”]
To discover more fully the guilt of violating the covenant, let us consider,
With what aggravations we have transgressed it—
The having “sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression” greatly enhances our guilt; since, in so doing, we have sinned,
Against the greatest obligations to obedience—
[The obligations which had been conferred on Adam in Paradise, ought to have kept him steadfast in his obedience. He was endued with faculties superior to any other being upon earth. He was made capable of knowing, loving, and enjoying God; yea, was admitted to the most familiar converse with the Deity. But notwithstanding all these favours, he transgressed. Thus have we also done. Indeed the obligations conferred on us have been infinitely greater than any which Adam enjoyed, even in his state of innocence: for God has given us his only-begotten Son, to take upon him our nature, and to expiate our guilt by his own blood. Who can ever appreciate this favour, or compute its value? The tongue of an archangel cannot fully declare it; nor can any finite mind fully comprehend it. Yet, notwithstanding this obligation, we have sinned: yes; we have transgressed against a redeeming God; and have trampled on that very blood which he shed for our redemption. O what a fearful aggravation is this of all the guilt we have contracted!]
Against the strongest motives to obedience—
[Adam had not only his own salvation, but also the salvation of all his posterity, involved in his obedience. According to the covenant made with him. all his seed, to the very end ot time, were to live in him, or in him to die. In this view it must be confessed, that his motives to steadfastness were more powerful than any which can operate on us; unless indeed we balance a regard for the Saviour’s glory against his concern for his children’s welfare. But, however this may be, our motives to obedience are unspeakably great: the everlasting happiness or misery of our souls is now at stake: heaven with all its glory, or hell with all its torments, must be our portion: and upon our present conduct our eternal state depends. Now can any one reflect a moment on these considerations, and not stand amazed that ever he should be induced to violate the covenant of his God? Is it not astonishing that any thing in the whole universe should prevail upon us to transgress under such circumstances, and to withstand such motives as these?]
Under the slightest possible temptations to disobedience—
[There was nothing wanting to Adam in Paradise that could at all conduce to his happiness. Nothing was denied him, but the fruit of one single tree, as a test of his obedience. And what temptation was this to him, who already possessed all that he could reasonably desire? But, slight as the temptation was, he yielded to it. And let us inquire, what our temptations are? A little money, a breath of honour, a momentary gratification, this is all that we can promise ourselves by transgressing the covenant: and what is this when set against eternity? What are we the happier at this moment for all our past transgressions? What is left to us from them all, but shame and remorse? And have we any reason to expect that the gratifications of sin in future will be more solid and permanent than those which we have enjoyed in times past? Behold then, this is the price for which we forego the hopes of heaven, and entail upon ourselves the miseries of hell! What desperate, what incredible infatuation!]
How striking a contrast is there between God and us!
[We violate our covenant continually upon the most trifling temptations, and that too in spite of the strongest motives and obligations to the contrary. But does God ever violate his covenant? He has engaged to receive every returning prodigal, that comes to him in the name of Jesus: and did we ever hear of so much as one whom he spurned from his footstool? He has engaged also to “keep the feet of his saints,” and to “perfect that which concerneth them.” And can we adduce one single instance of a real saint whom he has finally, and for ever, forsaken? No: he may have left hypocrites, to shew all that was in their hearts; and may have punished his own people with a temporary suspension of his favours; but “he has sworn once by his holiness that he will not lie unto David,” or “cast off his people for ever:” and this covenant he never has broken, nor ever will. Yet what motives has he had, or what obligations have been laid upon him, to keep covenant and mercy with us? Truly none. But has he not had temptations enough to abandon us? Yes; such temptations as none but a God of infinite perfections could have withstood. Every day, every hour, every moment, we have been provoking him to anger; but he is the unchangeable Jehovah, and therefore it is that we are not consumed.
O admire then the faithfulness of your God; and abase yourselves before him, as vile, faithless, and rebellious creatures!]
How thankful should we be for the covenant of grace!
[The covenant of works made no provision for one single breach of its commands: it instantly, and irreversibly, doomed the transgressor to destruction. But the covenant of grace makes provision for all the offences that ever were committed, provided we seek an interest in it. Here at this moment we may obtain all that we stand in need of. Here is pardon for all our sins; strength against all our temptations; peace to comfort us in all trials: in short, here is grace and glory, and whatever we can desire for body or for soul, for time or for eternity: and all is offered to us freely in the name of Jesus: we have only to believe in Jesus, and all is ours. O Brethren, be thankful for this “covenant, which is ordered in all things and sure;” and embrace it with your whole hearts. Then, notwithstanding your past transgressions of it have been more numerous than the sands upon the sea-shore, they shall all be forgiven; and you shall “stand before God without spot or blemish.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Hosea 6". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany