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THE FOLLY OF INCONSIDERATION
Hosea 7:2. They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness.
IT is certain that many who have the Gospel dispensed to them continue ignorant of its very first principles, and “perish at last for lack of knowledge.” But there are still more who destroy their own souls through inconsideration. They will not attend to the things they do know, or suffer the principles they have received to have any influence upon their minds. Thus it was with Israel of old: they committed all manner of abominations [Note: Hosea 6:7; Hosea 6:9-28.6.10.], and, when God was desirous to “heal them,” were bent as much as ever on the prosecution of their own evil ways [Note: ver. 1.]: and the reason of this is assigned by God himself in the words of our text: it is justly traced to their inconsideration; the prevalence and folly of which we propose to set before you.
The prevalence of inconsideration—
We propose not to speak of inconsideration at large, but only as it respects God’s omniscience, and our accountableness to him.
It is an undoubted truth, that God “remembers all our wickedness”—
[Reason alone were sufficient to determine this point: for if God do not remember all the transactions of men, how can he judge the world?
If we would ascertain the point from matter of fact, we may notice the injunction given to Israel to extirpate the Amalekites, above three hundred years after they had committed the sin for which this judgment was to be inflicted on them [Note: 1 Samuel 15:2.]. And at the close of David’s reign, a famine of three years was sent as a punishment of Saul’s treachery in seeking to destroy the Gibeonites; nor was the punishment removed, till exemplary vengeance had been taken on the family of the departed monarch [Note: 2 Samuel 21:1-10.21.9.].
In Scripture there is, as we might well expect, abundant proof of this fundamental axiom. God declares it, as in many other places [Note: Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:9.], so in the very verse from whence our text is taken [Note: “They are before my face.”]. In matters of more than ordinary importance, God often appeals to men respecting the truth of his own assertions. Accordingly this is made a subject of appeal; “Is not the wickedness of men sealed up as in a bag, and deposited among my treasures,” to be brought forth against them at the day of judgment [Note: Deuteronomy 32:34-5.32.35. with Job 14:17.]? Further, because he would have this truth impressed on the minds of all, he even swears in confirmation of it; “The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works [Note: Amos 8:7.].”]
But plain and important as this truth is, men do not consider it—
[No man is so ignorant as not to be acquainted with this truth. There are many indeed who will put forth atheistical sentiments for the sake of vindicating their own conduct, and silencing the accusations of conscience: they will say, like those of old, “Tush, God shall not see; neither will the Almighty regard it [Note: Psalms 94:7.]:” but in their sober hours they will not hesitate to confess, that God both sees all their wickedness, and will remember it in order to a future retribution.
But the evil is, that, though men confess this truth, they “do not consider it:” they do not like to give it a place in their minds: they cannot bear to have it suggested to them. If the thought of it arise in their minds, they rush into business, or into company and dissipation, to get rid of it. That they do not consider it, is manifest: for could they sin with so much ease, if they did; or could they maintain such tranquility of mind after having committed sin? Would not the thought of God’s eye being upon them, cast some damp upon their pleasure; and the expectation of a future recompence occasion some disquietude? We are sure that many of those evils which are committed under the cover of the night, would not be committed, if only the presence of a superior should be seasonably interposed. How then must the presence of Almighty God awe us, if we would but duly consider it! Suppose a poisonous draught were put into our hands, and we were informed, that, within a few hours after we had drank it, we should be racked with inexpressible agony, and in the space of one day should die through the excess of torment; should we not reflect a moment before we ventured to drink it? And supposing us infatuated enough to sacrifice our lives for a momentary gratification, should we not put the cup to our lips with a trembling hand? and after we had swallowed the contents, should we not feel some concern, some regret, some sense of our folly? Could we go away and laugh at what we had done, and boast of it, and encourage our friends to do the same? If we could not, the reason is obvious. Much more therefore should we be affected with a dread of future sin, and a sorrow for the past, if we considered who is privy to our actions, and how certainly he will remember them to our everlasting confusion.]
To counteract this prevailing thoughtlessness, we will endeavour to expose,
The folly of it—
Such inconsideration can be productive of no good, and must be attended with incalculable mischief to the soul—
It will not induce forgetfulness in God—
[Amongst our fellow-creatures our conduct may have considerable effect: and others may be lulled asleep by means of our security. But God is occupied in his work, whether we be in ours or not. He wakes, though we sleep: he sees, though we think ourselves hid from his sight: he marks, though we are regardless of him: nor does he ever feel more indignation, than when we feel ourselves most secure and composed. We may “think wickedly that he is even such an one as ourselves; but he will reprove us for what we have done amiss, and will set it in order before our eyes [Note: Psalms 50:21.].” Nor is it the act only of murder or adultery that he will remember, but the look, the desire, the thought, yea “all” our wickedness, of whatever kind or whatever degree.]
It will rob us of all the benefits we might receive by reflection—
[If we did but consider that God has noted down all our wickedness, the next thought would be, How shall we get it blotted out of his book? This would lead us to see the inefficacy of our tears to wash away our guilt; and would stimulate us to inquire after that Saviour, whose “blood cleanses from all sin.” Thus we might obtain the remission of our sins, and be restored to the favour of our offended God. But inconsideration robs us of all this. We shall never repent of our evil ways, till we have “considered” them. We shall never seek for mercy, till we have “considered” our guilt and danger. We shall never flee to Christ, till we have “considered” our need of him. “The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Can a thoughtless sinner take this view of the subject, and not confess his folly?]
It will lead us only to multiply our offences against God—
[The necessary consequence of inconsideration is, that we continue to live each succeeding day and year in the same manner as we did in time past; and, in many cases, harden ourselves more and more in wickedness. If we would at the close of every day call ourselves to an account how the day had been spent, and what God had recorded concerning us in the book of his remembrance, we should certainly abstain from many sins, which we now commit without thought or remorse. Even if the Sabbath alone were spent in this holy exercise, we should be kept from rushing into perdition as the horse into the battle. But we are like a spendthrift, who, never considering how great his debts are, or how he shall discharge them, runs on from one extravagance to another, till he has accumulated a debt which involves him in disgrace and misery. Yea, we resemble a man on the eve of bankruptcy, who, knowing that his affairs are ruined, cannot endure to examine his accounts, but proceeds in the best way he can, till the fatal hour arrives, and his insolvency is declared. But, oh! what madness is it thus to “treasure up wrath against the day of wrath!”]
It will certainly issue in long and painful reflection—
[We may shake off reflection here; but the time is coming when we must and shall consider. God has said, “In the latter day ye shall consider it perfectly [Note: Jeremiah 23:20.]. Yes, as soon as we come into the eternal world, we shall have a perfect view of all our past wickedness: we shall see it, not as we do now, through the medium of prejudice and self-love, but as God sees it, in all its enormity and with all its aggravations. The sins of thought as well as of act, the sins of omission as well as of commission, will all be open to our view; and there will be no possibility of diverting our attention from them. God bids us now consider; and we will not: but what shall we do in that day when he shall answer our cries with this severe rebuke, “Son, remember [Note: Luke 16:25.]?” ‘Remember the sins committed; remember the warnings neglected; remember the mercies abused; remember the opportunities lost.’ O sad remembrance! O dreary prospect of unalterable irremediable misery! Were it not then better to consider in time, when the most painful reflections will be salutary, than to protract the period of consideration till it shall he ten thousand times more painful, and altogether unavailing?]
Call your past ways to remembrance—
[However long since any sills may have been committed, they are as fresh in God’s memory, and as hateful in his sight, as if they had been committed this very hour. Endeavour then to get the same view of them as he has. Collect them all together: and what a dreadful mass will they appear! If you could suppose them all to have been crowded into the space of one day, and yesterday to have been the day in which they were all committed, what a monster would you appear in your own eyes! Yet, admitting the enormity of each sin to have been precisely such as it was at the moment of its commission, and such as it exists at present, such is the light in which you are viewed by God. Turn not away your eyes from this painful sight: you must behold it sooner or later: if you delay to look at it, the black catalogue of crimes will still increase, and the sight of them be yet more terrible. In the name of God then, I entreat you all, “Consider your ways [Note: Haggai 1:5; Haggai 1:7.]”.]
Seek to have your sins blotted out from the book of God’s remembrance—
[It has already been observed, that this may be done. Though you neither have, nor can have, any thing to merit such a favour, God is willing to bestow it for his own name’s sake: his word to you is, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins [Note: Isaiah 43:25.]. He even promises to “cast them into the very depths of the sea [Note: Micah 7:19.],” from whence they shall never be brought against you: yea, he “covenants” to efface them, as it were from his own memory; and says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more [Note: Jeremiah 31:34.].” And will you not seek this mercy? Is it too soon yet awhile for you to enjoy it? Will you not be happier in the possession of it, than in the continuance of your sins? Think how such a proposal would be received by those who are now reflecting upon their ways in hell: would they need to be urged a second time to ask for mercy; O seek it instantly; seek it with all importunity; seek it in the adorable name of Jesus; seek it after the example of the saints of old [Note: Psalms 25:7; Psalms 79:8.]: and then, “though your sins have been as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they have been red like crimson, they shall be white as wool.”]
Endeavour to walk as in the presence of God—
[A sense of the Divine presence will be an excellent preservative from sin. We know how careful we are of our conduct in the presence of any one whose good opinion we value: let us “set the Lord always before us [Note: Psalms 16:8-19.16.9; Psalms 51:1-19.51.2; Psalms 51:7.].” in order that our circumspection may be increased, and that we may be kept as much from secret as from open sin, from sin in the heart as well as sin in the life. Let us “commune much with our own hearts in our chamber, and be still [Note: Psalms 4:4.].” Let us strive to keep a conscience void of offence, and to approve ourselves in all things to “Him, who searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins.” Let it be our ambition, that on every day more and more acts of piety may be recorded in the book of God’s remembrance; that so he may “remember us for good [Note: See Nehemiah 13:14; Nehemiah 13:22; Neh 13:31 and Psalms 106:4-19.106.5.]” while we are here on earth, and welcome us as “good and faithful servants” when we enter into the eternal world.]
CAUSES AND SYMPTOMS OF SPIRITUAL DECAY
Hosea 7:8-28.7.9. Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people: Ephraim is a cake not turned. Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, grey hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth it not.
IF the body be oppressed with sickness, we inquire into the symptoms of the disorder, and trace it, if possible, to its proper cause. The same course is proper in reference to the soul, and indeed to the state of nations as well as of individuals. The prophet is representing the declining, and almost desolate, condition of the ten tribes: and, in the words before us, he marks the particular sins which had provoked God to forsake them; and the fearful consequences of their transgressions. The Israelites had, in direct opposition to God’s command, united themselves with the heathen, and incorporated many of their idolatrous rites with the worship of the true God. They were even “mad upon their idols,” while they were very cold and indifferent in what related to Jehovah. In consequence of this, God gave them up into the hands of their enemies. Pul, king of Assyria, exhausted their treasures by the tribute he imposed [Note: 2 Kings 15:19.]: and the king of Syria reduced their armies to a mere shadow, “making them even as the dust by threshing [Note: 2 Kings 13:7.].” Proofs and evidences of decay were visible in every department of the state, and such as indicated approaching dissolution: yet such was the infatuation of the people, that they were as unconcerned and secure as if they had been in the most safe and flourishing condition.
It is not however our intention to enter any further into the history of the ten tribes. We shall rather draw your attention to our own personal concerns, of which theirs was a type and shadow: and we shall proceed to point out the causes and symptoms of spiritual decay.
The two things mentioned in the text will be found among the most fruitful sources of declension in the divine life:
An undue connexion with the world—
[A certain degree of intercourse with mankind is necessary, in order to a due discharge of our civil and social duties. But if we mix with the world by choice, we shall go contrary to the commands ot God, and suffer loss in our souls. We are enjoined to “come out from among them, and be separate [Note: Romans 12:2.Psalms 45:10-19.45.11; Psalms 45:10-19.45.11.]” God even appeals to us respecting the impossibility of maintaining with propriety any intimate communion with them [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-47.6.17.]: and our Lord characterizes his followers as being no more of the world than he himself was [Note: John 17:14.]. But some professors of religion connect themselves more closely, and involve themselves more deeply, with the world in business, than they need to do: others associate with them as companions: and others are so blinded by their passions, as to unite themselves with them in marriage. What must we expect to be the result of such conduct? Must it not expose us to many temptations? Are we not, when so circumstanced, likely to drink into the spirit of the world, and to be drawn into a conformity to their ways? Surely the falls and apostasies of many must be traced to this source: and it will be well if this evil do not become fatal to some of us.]
A partial regard to God—
[A “cake” baked upon the coals and “not turned,” would be burned up on one side, while it was altogether doughy on the other. This fitly represents the state of those who are cold and indifferent in things relating to religion, but excessively ardent in their pursuit of other objects. Yet what is more common than such a stale? Some professors are so intent on their worldly business, and have their hearts so engaged in it, as scarcely to have any zeal left for better things. Some are occupied with this or that favourite study, in comparison of which the Bible, and prayer, and communion with God, have no charms for them. Some are inflamed by politics, and are never happy but when they are declaiming upon the affairs of state. Some are so intent upon the circumstantials of religion, such as Baptism or Church-government, that they seem to think an agreement with them in their opinions on those subjects as essential to salvation as even piety itself. Some again are heated by controversy about certain doctrines, while, alas! they pay but little attention to their duties, especially the duties of humility and love. What wonder if the soul languish, when its eternal interests are thus postponed to matters of inferior importance? If we would adorn our holy profession, we must be penetrated throughout with a fervent regard to God; and all other things must be subordinated to the one thing needful.]
Having traced the causes of spiritual decay, let us notice,
Agreeably to what has been observed in relation to the Israelites, we shall mention three marks, which, in the progressive stages of decay, will shew themselves in a declining soul:
[The exercises of religion require our utmost efforts: without a fixedness of purpose, an intenseness of thought, an ardour of desire, and a resoluteness of conduct, we cannot get forward in our Christian course. But when we have declined from God, all these are proportionably relaxed. The bow is unstrung, and cannot send the arrow to the mark [Note: Hosea 7:16.]. We take up the Bible; but it is a sealed book: we address ourselves to prayer; but our mouths are shut, and we cannot utter a word before God. The duties which once were easy, are become arduous and irksome. The temptations which once had lost all their force, now obstruct our way, and entangle our feet. The cross, which was once an object of holy glorying, and served only to animate us to fresh exertions, now becomes an object of terror; and instead of taking it up with cheerfulness, we study as much as possible to avoid it.
Let us look and see, whether “strangers have not devoured our strength,” and whether “the things which remain in us be not ready to die [Note: Revelation 3:2.].”]
Outward proofs of that weakness—
[“Grey hairs” are indications of declining strength. They are first thinly interspersed; and afterwards diffused over the whole head. Thus are the symptoms of decline small at first, and scarcely visible, except upon close inspection. They will however appear, when the inward weakness has commenced. There will be a visible alteration in the temper: a proud imperious spirit will be more ready to shew itself: fretfulness and impatience will more easily arise. A change will be found in our dealings with the world. We shall be less open, less generous, less scrupulous about adhering to truth, or practising the tricks of trade. In our families also will a deterioration of our state be manifest. There will be less attention paid to their spiritual interests. The word of God will not be read to them with such practical and interesting remarks: nor will the devotions be conducted with life; but will degenerate into a mere form. In the closet, more especially, the symptoms of our decay will be seen. Prayer will probably be a mere lip-service, and not unfrequently be entirely omitted. The sacred volume will either be glanced over in haste, or lie wholly neglected. In short, there will be no delight in God, no peaceful serenity of mind, no joyful hope of immortality. These things will be exchanged for gloom and melancholy, for sighs and sorrows, for an accusing conscience, and a dread of death.]
Insensibility under that weakness—
[Things have proceeded far when this mark appears. But it is the natural effect of sin to blind the eyes, and harden the heart, and sear the conscience [Note: 1 John 2:11. Heb 3:13. 1 Timothy 4:2.]. Twice is it said of the Israelites in the text, “They knew it not:” they had contracted a stupid indifference, bordering on judicial blindness and infatuation. And this is the state to which many professors of religion are reduced. Others see their grey hairs, but they see them not: they have ceased to look into the glass of God’s law, or to examine themselves: they have quieted their minds by some carnal expedient of business, or company, or by comparing themselves with others. Deplorable indeed is their condition! and if they be not soon roused from their lethargy, they will have reason to wish they had never been born, or never seen the light of Gospel truth [Note: 2 Peter 2:20-61.2.21.].]
Those who are resting in a formal religion—
[Religion is a state of holy active exertion in the things pertaining to God. God says to us, “My son, give me thy heart [Note: Proverbs 23:26.].” Without this, our services are of no value. Look to it then, my Brethren, that ye get your hearts quickened by the Spirit of God. You must not be satisfied with seeking: “you must strive to enter in at the strait gate [Note: Luke 13:24.].” You must “take the kingdom of heaven by violence [Note: Matthew 11:12.].” Beg then that you may be “renewed by the Spirit in your inward man,” and be enabled, so to fight as to conquer, so to run as to win the prize [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:24; 1 Corinthians 9:26.].]
Those who profess to experience “the power of godliness”—
[Astonishing is the deceitfulness of the human heart. We all see in others defects, of which they themselves are not conscious. And can we suppose that we ourselves also are not blind to our own defects? Yes: and perhaps the very locks which we think our greatest ornaments, are full of grey hairs. Our graces perhaps are rather the resemblance, than the reality, of virtue: our humility may be affectation, our zeal pride, our confidence presumption. Let us “be jealous over ourselves with a godly jealousy [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:2.].” Let us search and try ourselves [Note: Lamentations 3:40.]; and beg of God also to search and try us [Note: Psalms 139:23.]. Let us be careful that we set out well, and then labour to “go on from strength to strength, till we appear before God in Zion [Note: Psalms 84:7.].”rsqb;
GUILT AND DANGER OF AN UNCONVERTED STATE
Hosea 7:13. Woe unto them! for they have fled from me: destruction unto them! because they have transgressed against me: though I have redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against me.
SUCH is the infatuation of unregenerate men, that they always promise themselves security in the ways of sin: but it is certain that they are never more in danger than when they fancy themselves most secure: they may be well compared to a bird that is allured to a net: it hears the notes that call and invite it to the society of some kindred bird: fearless of danger, it obeys the summons: it hastens to the place from whence the sound issues, little thinking that, instead of a companion, it shall find a foe. The fowler, however, who has spread the net, sees that the unsuspecting bird is quickly to resign its liberty, and perhaps its life. Thus it is with those who listen to the enchanting voice of sin: they follow it, but know not that it is for their life [Note: Proverbs 7:23.]: The word of Jehovah is gone forth, nor can it ever be reversed: it says, “Woe unto the wicked, it shall go ill with him;” and, “when he saith, Peace and safety, then shall sudden destruction come upon him as travail upon a woman with child, and he shall not escape.” To this purpose God speaks to the Israelites in the passage before us: he says, “Ephraim is like a silly dove, without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria: but when they go, I will spread my net upon them; I will bring them down as the fowls of the heaven.” Having thus represented their danger in figurative expressions, he declares it plainly in the most awful terms: “Woe unto them, for they have fled from me! destruction unto them, because they have transgressed against me! though I have redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against me.” From these words, we will endeavour to set before you,
The state of men in general—
[To those who can see nothing but the outward conduct, there may appear to be a very considerable difference between the states of different men: the moral and decent may be esteemed exceeding righteous and good, while the openly vicious and profane are execrated as exceeding vile. And it must be acknowledged, that, as far as the conduct of these different persons respects society, there is a great difference between them; but God, who looks at the heart, and estimates every thing by the respect it has to him, sees that all men are very nearly, if not altogether, upon a level; all men appear to him as “sepulchres, full of all uncleanness:” some indeed appear whited and outwardly adorned, while others are open, and discover all their deformity. Still, however, inwardly they are all the same.
In the first place, all “flee from him.” Adam had no sooner sinned, than he lost his delight in God, and fled from the presence of his Maker. From that time, all his descendants have felt the same aversion to intercourse with the Deity: they love not the ordinances where God reveals himself to men: when God calls them, “they all begin with one consent to make excuse:” some plead their social engagements; others the pressure of worldly business; all have some plea to make; all say, in effect, I can not, or, I will not, come. In dangers or in troubles, they will rather go to the creature than to God: even under a sense of sin, they will rather flee to their own resolutions, and trust in their own endeavours, than they will rely upon the strength and righteousness of the Lord Jesus. When God calls, they turn a deaf ear to his invitations. When he follows them, as it were, by the convictions of his Spirit, they actually “flee from him:” they shake off the thoughts that trouble them; they endeavour to drown reflection in business or pleasure; and the whole language of their hearts and actions is, like theirs in Job, “Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of thy ways [Note: Job 21:14.].”
But the aversion to God which carnal men feel, is carried much further: they not only flee from him, as finding no pleasure, no satisfaction in his presence, but they also “transgress against him.” The law is yet in a measure written on their hearts, but they will not comply with its dictates: they see clearly, in many things, that such or such a course of action must be displeasing to God, and “that they who do such things are worthy of death; yet they both do these things themselves, and have pleasure in those that do them;” choosing them for their companions, and countenancing them in their actions: nor is this occasionally only, and through temptation or inadvertence: no; it is the settled course and tenour of their lives. The commands or prohibitions of God have no weight with them: whatever is reputable in the world, or agreeable to themselves, that they do; whenever their sensual inclinations or worldly interests strongly bias them to any line of conduct, it soon appears that they have cast off the yoke of God, and that they feel no restraint whatever, except that which arises from temporal considerations.
Nor is this all: they “speak lies against God:” they declare, in the face of the whole world, that the service of sin and Satan is to be preferred before the service of God. In every transgression they commit, they virtually speak to this effect; ‘This is happiness: as for obedience to God, that would be an insupportable restraint: true happiness consists in renouncing all allegiance to God, and in following our own will.’ Moreover they say, like those of old, “The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil [Note: Zephaniah 1:12.];” i.e. ‘if we serve him, we shall have no profit; nor shall we sustain any loss if we serve him not.’ We must remember, that God interprets our actions; and considers men as speaking those things which their conduct shews to be the secret language of their hearts. And indeed this is strictly just; for all must allow, that actions speak more forcibly, and more truly, than words. But will not the Lord do good or evil? Will he not reward those that diligently seek him? Will he clear the guilty, and suffer them to pass unpunished? No, assuredly; “he will put a difference between the righteous and the wicked; between those who serve him, and those who serve him not [Note: Malachi 3:18.].” Yet such are the lies which ungodly men are speaking against him.
Let any one say, whether this be not really the state of carnal unregenerate men? Do they not thus flee from God’s presence, transgress against his laws, and, in their conduct at least, misrepresent him to the world? Let us look round the world, and see whether this be not a true picture of mankind? Let us look into our own bosoms, and see whether it do not exactly represent ourselves? It may be, that we have not been so openly immoral as others: but yet, if we will examine our own hearts, we shall see that we have been as far from any real delight in secret communion with God as the most profligate man on earth. We have been as far from sacrificing all our own interests and inclinations to the will and law of God as the most flagrant rebel in the world: nor have we, in our actions, been living witnesses for the truth of God, any more than those who have denied every word of the Bible. This then is clearly the state of all unregenerate men.]
We come now to shew you,
The peculiar sinfulness of their state—
[If, without attending to any collateral circumstances, we were simply to point out the evil which is contained in the foregoing conduct, methinks the state of such men would appear beyond measure sinful: but the sinfulness of it is greatly aggravated by the consideration in my text; “Though I have redeemed them, yet have they spoken lies against me.”
If we call to mind the mercies which had been vouchsafed to the Israelites, we shall perceive that the malignity of their sins was exceedingly enhanced by the obligations which had been conferred upon them: they had been delivered from their bondage in Egypt, and brought to a land flowing with milk and honey. Such an interposition as this never had been known from the beginning of the world: that God should go and take an oppressed nation out of the midst of another nation; that he should reign over them as their king; that he should destroy seven nations greater and mightier than they, and establish them in the possession of their land; that he should, in ten thousand instances, step forth as their protector and deliverer, when they were reduced to the lowest state of wretchedness and misery; that he should vouchsafe them, not one redemption only, but many; this, I say, required the most ample returns of gratitude and obedience: the ingratitude therefore which they manifested, stamped a tenfold malignity on every sin they committed. But we have an infinitely better redemption vouchsafed to us: a Redemption of which theirs was but a type and shadow. We have been redeemed from a far sorer bondage, even from bondage to sin and Satan; from all the curses of the broken law; from all the miseries of death and hell. We have also been brought into a better land; not to the possession of mere temporal comforts, but to spiritual and eternal happiness; to the society of glorified saints and angels; to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and never-fading; in short, to all the glory of heaven. This has been accomplished also for us by far more wonderful and endearing means: God has sent his own Son into our guilty world; sent him to become a man, and to stand in our stead; sent him to give his own life a ransom for us; sent him to pay down the price of our redemption; and has appointed him to bring forth every one of his redeemed; to support and guide them through this dreary wilderness, and to conduct them, with a mighty hand and an out-stretched arm, to the full possession of their inheritance. O, what a Redemption is this! What obligations does this lay upon us to be faithful and obedient! And what a fearful aggravation must this be of all our disobedience! Yet, behold, we are the persons whose transgressions are so multiplied: we are they whom Christ came from heaven to seek and save: and yet we flee from his presence: we are they, for whose sakes “he gave himself, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works;” and yet we are continually transgressing against him: we are they towards whom he has shewn such astonishing love and mercy; and yet we are saying, that he regards us not, and that it will be in vain to serve him. Ah, Brethren, is there no guilt in such a state? and shall not God be avenged of such a people as this? Do not look at your sins merely as they affect society; that is no just criterion; that is no proper test. Estimating your conduct merely in that view, you will be ready to applaud yourselves as righteous, if you should happen to have escaped the grosser pollutions of the world: but view your sins as contrasted with the love of Christ; see him dying to bring you nigh to God, and yet yourselves “fleeing from God;” see him shedding his blood to cleanse you from sin, and yet yourselves continuing to “transgress;” see him faithfully executing every tiling he had undertaken for you, and yet yourselves “lying against him.” This is the light wherein to view your conduct. Draw nigh, then, and see it; ponder it in your hearts; consider it well. What offence can a servant commit against his master, or a child against his parent, or a man against his benefactor, that can bear any proportion to the smallest offence that you have committed against Christ? and yet you have offended times without number, and that too without any remorse; as though men were bound to requite your kindnesses, but you were at liberty to trample upon the most sacred obligations that God is able to confer upon you. Ah, Beloved! know every one of you, that “God seeth not as man seeth;” he considers things not according to man’s estimation, but as they really are: and when he shall call you to an account, you will see every sin aggravated by redeeming love: you will see that, in fact, you “crucify Christ afresh, you trample under foot his blood, you put him to an open shame.” And “shall not God visit for these things?” Yes, assuredly.]
I will proceed therefore to set before you,
The danger of such a state—
[You can bear me witness, my Brethren, that I delight not in setting forth the terrors of the Lord. I find it far more pleasant to be publishing the glad tidings, and to be expatiating on the fulness and freeness of the Gospel salvation: but I must not conceal from you what God speaks concerning you. Were I to be unfaithful to you in this respect, I should but betray your souls to ruin; and “your blood would be required at my hands.” Attend therefore to the solemn denunciations of God’s wrath against you: hear, I say, and tremble: hear, and lift up your hearts to God for mercy and deliverance: “Woe unto them, for they have fled from me! Destruction unto them, because they have transgressed against me!” Woe and destruction comprehend both present and eternal misery. There is much woe, even in this life, as the consequence of sin. Who can tell the alarms which haunt the wicked in their secret retirements? Who can tell the apprehensions they feel at the approach of death? I know that they may “sear their consciences,” so far as to become “past feeling:” and they may delude themselves with ungrounded hopes, so far as even to attain a confidence of their safety: but notwithstanding this, it is certain that “there is no peace to the wicked:” wherever they go, and whatever they do, they have no solid peace: they are either harassed with tumultuous passions, or terrified with misgiving fears. God has said repeatedly, that “there is no peace to the wicked.” But let us suppose that they pass through life with tolerable serenity; what will they do at the instant of their departure from the body? Then they will begin to understand the meaning of the word “destruction:” now perhaps they listen to it with indifference; but then they cannot remain insensible to it. What terror must seize them when they behold the face of incensed Majesty! when they see that God, whose laws they have trampled on, and that Saviour whose redemption they have slighted! What agony must pierce their souls, when they hear him say, “Depart, accursed, into everlasting fire!” And, when they are hurled headlong into the bottomless abyss, when they are lying down in flames of fire, and know that they must “dwell with everlasting burnings,” how will they gnash their teeth with anguish! how will they curse the day that they were born! how will they curse themselves for their own folly in neglecting redeeming love! But can it be, that they who live in the state before described, are exposed to all this misery? Yes, “Woe unto them! Destruction unto them!” saith Jehovah. And the apostle says, “that they who know not God and obey not his Gospel,” or, in other words, they who flee from God and trample on redeeming love, “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:8-53.1.9.].” The whole sacred volume attests and confirms this awful truth: every part of it speaks to the same effect as David, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God [Note: Psalms 9:17.].”
Now, my Brethren, deceive not your own souls. To what purpose will it be, to be speaking peace to yourselves, when God is denouncing “woe and destruction” unto you? If you say that you are not the worst of sinners, what will that avail you? If you say that you are honest, and just, and sober, what is all that to the purpose? This, and more than this, the Pharisee could say for himself; yet was he not hereby justified. The only question is, Do you answer to the character drawn in my text? Have you not “fled from God?” have you not “transgressed against him?” have you not “spoken lies against him;?” If you are disposed to deny any of these charges, consider with yourselves, Have you sought your happiness in communion with God;? and;, when he has said, “Seek ye my face,” has your heart always answered, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek?” Are you not also transgressors against his law? Have you not been just now acknowledging upon your knees, that “you have done those things which you ought not to have done, and left undone those things which you ought to have done?” And can you affirm that the constant course and tenour of your life has proclaimed to all around you, that “to fear God and keep his commandments was the whole end and happiness of man?” No; “every mouth must be shut; and not you only, but the whole world, must become guilty before God.” Know then that you, and that every man, while in an unregenerate state, is exposed to the wrath of God; and that that wrath will come upon you to the uttermost, if you “flee not for refuge to the Hope set before you.”]
We will now conclude, with two inferences from the whole:
What suitable provision is made for us in the Gospel!
[You have seen the awful state of unregenerate men, and will be ready to doubt whether there can be any help or hope for persons so circumstanced. But thanks be to our God and Father, that he has not left us to perish in our sins! on the contrary, he has pitied us, and sent us his only dear Son to deliver us from our lost estate. Numberless as our iniquities have been, they were all laid upon the head of Jesus, our great Sacrifice: all were expiated by his blood; so that God can be “just, and yet the justifier of those who repent and believe” the Gospel. O Brethren, be thankful for this provision: be thankful that you are not only permitted, but commanded, to come to Christ for a free and full remission of all your sins. Have you “fled from” your God and Father? Behold! Jesus, his beloved Son, is come to seek and save you. Have you “transgressed against” him times without number? The blood of Jesus is shed to cleanse you from all sin. Have you in the whole course of your life “spoken nothing but lies” against your adorable Redeemer? That very Redeemer will make you to experience his inviolable truth, in receiving you to mercy, and in rejecting none that come unto him. Surely, if bread be suited to the hungry, or water to the thirsty, then is the provision set before us in the Gospel exactly suited to the wants and necessities of all who feel their need of mercy.]
How happy are they who have cordially embraced the Gospel!
[In two respects have they experienced a most blessed change; namely, in their character and condition. You have heard that the natural and unconverted man flees from God, transgresses against him, and speaks lies against him. Not so the man that is converted: he flees to God; he seeks the Divine presence; he desires the favour of God more than life, and esteems “his loving-kindness better than life itself.” If any ask him, “Who will shew us any good?” his answer is, like David’s, “Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. “He now also desires to serve and obey God: it is his grief and burthen that he cannot get rid of sin; he longs for holiness; he desires to be changed into the Divine image; he wishes to be in heaven, not merely because he shall there be free from trouble, but because he shall be free from sin. And now, too, he is a living witness for the truth of God: he “sets to his seal that God is true:” he is not afraid to testify before the whole world, that God’s service is perfect freedom, and that “in keeping his commandments there is great reward:” his whole life proclaims to those around him, that God is a mighty God, and greatly to be feared; yet that he is also a loving, merciful, and faithful God, and therefore worthy to be loved and trusted with the whole heart. You have heard also that woe and destruction are denounced against the unconverted; but there is no woe, no destruction, to the converted; but there is no woe, no destruction, to the converted soul: no; “his sins are put away from him, as far as the east is from the west:” while the iniquities of the ungodly are (as we are told) “sealed up in a bag,” to be brought forth against them in the day of judgment, the iniquities that have been committed by a converted soul, are, from the first moment of his conversion, “cast into the depths of the sea [Note: Micah 7:19.];” not into the shallows, from whence they might be recovered, but into the depths, never more to be brought to remembrance. Whoever then ye be, who have embraced the Gospel, rejoice, and leap for joy, on account of the blessed change that you have experienced. If your consciences testify, that you are really seeking after God, that you desire to be delivered from all sin, and that you are endeavouring to be witnesses for God in the world, rejoice; “for it becometh well your souls to be thankful.” You have been redeemed; rejoice therefore in the redemption vouchsafed unto you: “you are bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your bodies and your spirits, which are God’s.”]
THE PRAYERS OF UNREGENERATE MEN CONSIDERED
Hosea 7:14. They have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds.
IT is not without reason that prayer has been called by some, the pulse of the soul: for by that more than by any thing else may be discerned the increase or declension of our spiritual health. Somewhat like prayer may be offered by the most ungodly in seasons of deep distress: but their supplications differ widely from those which proceed from a penitent and contrite heart. The ten tribes, who, in despite of all the warnings given them, would go to Egypt and Assyria, rather than to God, for help, found themselves taken in the net which God had spread for them. Then they began to call upon God for help: but, the heart-searching God testifies respecting them, that they cried not unto him with their heart when they howled upon their beds.
To shew how common and awful this state is, we shall,
Consider the prayers of unregenerate men—
It is confessed such persons often “howl upon their beds”—
[In these words two things are to be noticed, namely, the time, and the manner of their prayers. With respect to the time, it is too generally found, that they who are not in earnest about their salvation, defer their prayers till bed-time: instead of transacting their business with God whilst their faculties are alive, they stay till exhausted nature is become incapable of any energetic exertion; and then hurry over some form of prayer, as a school-boy does his task, without feeling one word they utter. Even this is too favourable a representation of the prayers of many; who stay till they have lain down “upon their bed,” and then fall asleep in the midst of their devotions. As for praying in the morning, they have no time for that: the concerns of the past, or of the present day have pre-occupied their minds; and if they offer two or three cold petitions while they are dressing, it is quite as much as their necessities require, or as God deserves. As to the manner, we may interpret the prophet’s expression as importing in general, that their prayers are altogether irrational, and forced: and indeed, if we take into the account the state of the suppliants as guilty and condemned sinners, and the majesty of him whom they profess to address, their prayers are a most horrid mockery, yea, as unsuitable to the occasion as the “howling” of a dog would be. But the expression may be taken more strictly and literally: for these persons will not pray with any degree of fervour, except in seasons of great affliction. Perhaps they have suffered some heavy loss, or are in embarrassed circumstances, or have some peculiar guilt upon their conscience, that greatly disturbs them; but even then they have no disposition to spread their case before God; and so they lie down upon their beds as miserable as they can be, “howling” and whining like dogs, and perhaps wishing that they were dogs, or any thing, rather than rational and accountable beings [Note: See this exemplified in David, Psalms 32:3-19.32.4.].]
But, whatever their prayers be, “they cry not unto God with their heart”—
[View them in their public devotions semi; they will confess themselves “miserable sinners,” and implore mercy for Christ’s sake at the hands of God, and desire grace from him “that they may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of his holy name:” but if they were afterwards told by their minister, that they were miserable and hell-deserving sinners; that nothing but an application of the blood of Christ to their souls could ever save them; and that, to evince the sincerity of their repentance, they must devote themselves unreservedly to God; they would shew by their answers, that they neither believed, nor desired, any one of the things, which they had uttered before God.
Inquire, further, into their private prayers, and it will be found that they are not sincere in any petition that they offer. If, for instance, they were to pray that they might become true and faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus; and Jesus were to tell them, as he did the Rich Youth in the Gospel, that they must first give up all that they possess in this world, before they can be brought to love him supremely and to serve him acceptably; would they reply to him, “Thy will be done?” Would they not rather plead for this or that possession, “O, spare it; is it not a little one?” and, when they found that the terms could not be lowered, would they not pray back again their prayers with ten-fold more earnestness than they at first uttered them; yea, and forego all their hope in Christ, rather than sacrifice their worldly interests?
Such are the prayers of the unregenerate, if they pray at all: but the greater part of them, except on very particular occasions, do not so much as preserve even an appearance of devotion [Note: Mark 10:21-41.10.22. This shews with what lamentable propriety they speak of “saying their prayers.”].]
We shall have a little clearer view of the worth-lessness of such prayers, if we,
Contrast them with those of the regenerate—
In every thing that is essential to prayer, the difference may be seen. Particularly they differ in respect of,
[The wicked will pray only under some heavy calamity, or in the near prospect of death and judgment [Note: Jeremiah 2:27. Psalms 78:34.Isaiah 26:16; Isaiah 26:16.]: all their petitions are extorted by anguish or by terror. The regenerate, on the contrary, go to God willingly and cheerfully as to their father and their friend. We do not mean to say, that the godly never feel backwardness to this duty (for, alas! they too often do) but they do not indulge it; they do not rest satisfied in such a state; they condemn themselves for it as much as an unregenerate person would condemn himself for the grossest sins: and when they are enabled, in any measure, to realize their principles, they account it their sweetest privilege to draw nigh to God, and to pour out their souls before him: they even pant for God as the hart after the water brooks, and “go to him as to their exceeding joy [Note: Psalms 42:1-19.42.2; Psalms 43:4.].”]
[When the distresses or terrors, that instigated the ungodly to prayer, are removed, there is an end of the importunity which was occasioned by them [Note: Job 27:10.]. The persons who for a while seemed melted in the furnace, are no sooner taken out of it, than they return to their wonted coldness and obduracy. But a regenerate person can say, “My heart is fixed, O Lord, my heart is fixed:” “at evening, and at morning, and at noon-day will I pray, and that instantly [Note: Psalms 57:7; Psalms 55:17.].” There are seasons indeed, when he may, through the corruptions of his heart, be led to relax his diligence: but he can never give over prayer: whether he be in prosperity or adversity, he feels that he is altogether dependent upon God, both for his present and eternal happiness; and therefore he returns again and again to God, in order to maintain fellowship with him, and to receive at his hands the blessings he stands in need of.]
[Persons may use very strong language and express a kind of indignation against themselves in reference to their inward corruptions, while yet they are not truly humbled before God: but true humility consists, not in vehement expressions, but in a tenderness of spirit mixed with self-lothing and self-abhorrence [Note: Job 42:6. Ezekiel 20:43.]. Of this, an unregenerate man has no conception: yet it is this that constitutes the chief excellence of prayer; and without it our prayers can find no more acceptance with God, than the howling of a dog [Note: Matthew 15:8-40.15.9.]. In this view, God himself calls the services of the temple a hateful “noise [Note: Amos 5:21-30.5.23.];” and declares that the offering of a lamb with an unhumbled spirit, is as odious in his sight, as the offering of swine’s blood, or “the cutting off a dog’s neck [Note: Isaiah 66:3.].”]
How little dependence can be placed on a death-bed repentance!
[Far be it from us to discourage repentance at the last hour. On the contrary, if we behold symptoms of it, we would in the judgment of charity conclude well respecting its issue. But it is God alone who can perfectly distinguish between the feigned humiliation of Ahab, and the sincere contrition of Peter: and perhaps, where we think we hear the supplications of a Christian, God may hear nothing but the howling of a dog. Repentance, like every Christian grace, must be judged of by its fruits: and if we would have in ourselves, or leave in the mind of surviving friends, an unquestionable evidence of our sincerity, let us repent without delay, and “bring forth fruits meet for repentance.”]
What encouragement have all real penitents to call upon God!
[As God can distinguish hypocrites in the midst of their most specious services, so can he discern the upright in the midst of all their infirmities. The sigh, the groan, the tear, the broken accents of contrition, are more pleasing to him than the most fluent petitions that are destitute of a divine unction [Note: Psalms 6:8; Psalms 38:9; Psa 79:11 and especially Lamentations 3:56.]. Let none then be discouraged because they do not find a ready utterance in prayer; but let them be chiefly solicitous to “cry to God with their hearts.” Then they will have nothing to fear; for God “will hear them, yea, and answer too, while they are yet speaking to him [Note: Isaiah 65:24.],” and “will do for them abundantly above all that they can ask or think [Note: Ephesians 3:20.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Hosea 7". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany