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THE INGRATITUDE OF MEN
Jeremiah 2:4-6. Hear ye the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain? Neither said they, Where is the Lord, that brought us up out of the land of Egypt?
HOW marvellous is the condescension of Almighty God! There is not in the universe a man that would bear with his fellow-man as God beareth with his people. Amidst all the indignities that they offer him, he follows them with entreaties, reasonings, expostulations, if by any means he may prevail upon them to turn to him, and thus to avert from themselves his merited displeasure. In my text, all Israel are challenged by him to assign a reason for their contemptuous treatment of him. As by the Prophet Micah he says, “O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me [Note: Micah 6:3.]:” so here he challenges them all to say, “What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me?”
Here we are called to consider,
The complaint he makes—
Grievous, indeed, had been the departure of God’s people from him, and their insuperable attachment to idols. Jeremiah says of them: “It is the land of graven images: “they are mad upon their idols [Note: Jeremiah 50:38.].” And this was the more wonderful, because they believed that Jehovah had brought them out of Egypt, and led them through the wilderness, and established them in Canaan; and yet they did not, as one might have supposed, desire to know and serve Him, but turned their backs upon him, and sought in preference “the vanities of the Heathen [Note: Deuteronomy 32:21.Jeremiah 14:22; Jeremiah 14:22.],” even their idols of wood and stone.
But if God utters this complaint against his ancient people, how much more justly may he urge it against us. For there is in us, alas!
The same folly—
[What has been the uniform tenour of our lives, but one constant state of departure from God, and a preferring of every vanity before him? True, we have not bowed down to idols of wood and stone: but we have cared for nothing, yea, and thought of nothing, but the pleasures, or riches, or honours of this vain world. Look at persons in early youth; see them growing up to manhood; see them in full maturity of mind and body; yea, look at them when grey hairs are come upon them, aye, and when bowed down with the infirmities of age; what is it they are seeking after? and what is it to which they look for satisfaction? It is the world, in some shape or other. Though they have found all that they ever enjoyed to be, in fact, nothing but “vanity and vexation of spirit,” yet they go on in the same infatuated course from year to year, withholding their hearts from God, who alone can make them happy, and setting their affections upon things which never did, nor ever can, administer to their comfort. In a word, “they forsake God, the fountain of living waters, and hew out to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water [Note: ver. 13]” — — —]
The same ingratitude—
[If their ingratitude was base, who inquired not after Him who had redeemed them from Egypt, what must ours be, who have been redeemed from death and hell; and redeemed, too, not as Israel, by a mere act of power, but by the blood and righteousness of our incarnate God! Consider, in reference to the points specified in the passage before us, from what bondage we have been delivered; what provision God has made for us in the way; and what a rest he has prepared for us at the end [Note: ver. 6, 7.]! What were the afflictions of Egypt, in comparison of the miseries of hell? And what were the cloudy pillar for their direction, and the manna and water for their support, in comparison of the in-dwelling of the Spirit of God in our souls, as our Guide, our Sanctifier, and our Comforter? And what was a short possession of Canaan, in comparison of an eternal inheritance in heaven? What the Jews enjoyed was a mere shadow only, of which we possess the substance: and all this bought for us by the precious blood of Christ, who laid down his life for us?
Now, it might well be supposed that we should be continually inquiring after this Saviour; and that we should not have so much as a wish but to know him, love him, serve him, glorify him, and enjoy him. But has this been the case with us? Have we not, on the contrary, passed days, weeks, months, and years, without any anxious desire after him, or any diligent pursuit of him? Look back, I pray you, and see what has been the state of your souls, from your youth up even to the present moment. Compare your feelings about the things of this world, its cares, pleasures, vanities; and say whether they have not engrossed your minds far more than the Lord Jesus, and all the wonders of redeeming love. Tell me, then, What can exceed your ingratitude? and how justly may God be filled with indignation against you! — — —]
From this complaint, we pass on to notice,
His challenge in relation to it—
“What iniquity have your fathers found in me,” to justify such conduct towards me? — — — This was altogether unanswerable by them: but how much more so by us!
I now, in God’s name, challenge every one of you to say, What have you ever found in the Lord Jesus Christ that merits such treatment at your hands?
Have you ever found him a hard Master?
[The Jews might have said, that God imposed “a yoke upon them, which neither they nor their fathers were ever able to bear:” but can you speak thus of Christ’s yoke? Has he not declared, and do not your consciences attest, that “his yoke is easy, and his burthen light? Verily, there is not one of his commandments that is grievous;” not one “in the keeping of which you will not receive” a present, as well as an eternal, “great reward.”]
Have you found him, in any one respect, less gracious or merciful than he professed to be?
[Where is there a truly penitent soul that he ever spurned from his footstool? — — — Where is there one who ever cried to him for help, and did not find his grace sufficient for him? — — — Who ever delighted himself in him, and did not experience a reciprocation of his love? — — — And whom did he ever leave or forsake, provided he, on his part, “cleaved with full purpose of heart unto him?” — — — May he not address every one of you in the words nearly following my text; “O generation! Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? Wherefore then say ye, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee [Note: ver. 31.]?” Yes, Brethren, I challenge you, and God himself invites the whole world to sit in judgment, and decide the controversy between us: “O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard: What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes [Note: Isaiah 5:3-4.]?”]
Tell me then,
What will ye say in justification of yourselves?
[Are ye not guilty? and have ye so much as a shadow of an excuse for your base conduct? When the Lord Jesus, at the Last Day, shall call you to account, and say, Why did you prefer every vanity before me? — — — Why did not all the wonders which I had wrought for you, in bearing your sins and expiating your guilt, find a place in your minds, and constrain you to surrender up yourselves to me? — — — Tell me, will not your mouth be shut? Will you not then be amazed at the iniquity that was in you? — — — I pray you, then, put aside all your self-vindicating delusions, and cast yourselves at the feet of Jesus, crying, “Save, Lord, or I perish!” — — —]
What line of conduct will ye henceforth pursue?
[Will ye go on in your neglect of God and his Christ, and in a determined pursuit of earthly vanities? I trust ye will not. I do hope that you will see how unreasonable such conduct is, and will from this time turn unto God with your whole hearts. And see, for your encouragement, how rich are the offers of his grace! He says concerning you, “Thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel. I have not caused thee to serve with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense; but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, and wearied me with thine iniquities, I, even I, am he that (What? will pour out my judgments upon thee? No: but that) blotteth out thy transgressions for my own sake, and will not remember thy sins, Put me in remembrance (of this promise): let us plead together: “declare thou (thine affiance in it), that thou mayest be justified [Note: Isaiah 43:22-26.].” Verily, it seems incredible that God, that God whom we have so offended, should address us in such terms as these. But these are the very words of God, addressed even to the most rebellious of the human race. Apply them, then, to your own souls, my Brethren, and seek now the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Then shall you, notwithstanding all your past wickedness, find favour with God, and “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son shall cleanse you from all sin.”]
THE FOUNTAIN OF LIVING WATERS
Jeremiah 2:12-13. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
RELIGION may be considered as of two kinds, theoretical and practical. In the term theoretical, I include every thing that is necessary to prove the truth of Christianity: and under the term practical, whatever is required of those who embrace it. To understand the theoretical part, is desirable; to perform the practical is necessary. The two kinds, however are not necessarily united: the theoretical may exist where the practical is disregarded; and the practical may exist, where the theoretical is unknown. Thousands of pious persons have neither leisure nor talent for collating manuscripts, or for weighing the evidences that may be adduced in favour of particular hypotheses: and to say that these cannot be religious, because they are wanting in critical acumen, would be as absurd as to say that a man cannot be honest, because he has not sufficient knowledge of the laws to be a judge. The unlettered Christian assumes the truth of Christianity; and he finds it true by its effects. And such persons may well refer to the effects, in proof of the truth of that religion which they profess. But it is one thing to refer to practical effects, and another to ground their faith on any transient feelings: This no man of reflection can do: the other, no man of piety can forbear. Feelings may be excited by erroneous notions, as well as by those which are just: but holiness, radical and universal holiness, can be produced by Christianity alone. We will appeal to all the religions that ever appeared upon the face of the earth, and ask, Whether any of them ever produced in their votaries such effects as were visible in Christ and his Apostles? The reason is plain: It is the Spirit of God who sanctifies: and he is promised to those only who believe in Christ: and consequently, his sanctifying energy, in its full extent at least, can be found in them alone. I grant that it would be wrong to rest the truth of our religion on that ground only; but surely it may properly be referred to, as an additional and corroborating proof of our religion. If this be not a proper test of our religion, whereby shall the superior excellency of Christianity be known? If the Bible produce no better effects than the Koran, I do not hesitate to say that it is no better than the Koran: but if its effects be such as no other religion can produce, then will those effects be, though not the only, yet a solid and important proof of our religion: and those who cannot enter into learned disquisitions about the credibility of the Scriptures, have reason to thank God that they have within themselves an evidence of the truth of Christianity, which the objections of infidels can never set aside [Note: The author does not mean, that this is the only evidence which unlearned men have of the Divine authority of the Bible. They, as well as the learned, have other grounds for their faith. They see the provision, which the Bible makes for their restoration to happiness, to be precisely such as their necessities required. They see also, that the purity of its commands has a wonderful tendency to elevate their nature, and to produce universal happiness: and these two things form in their minds a strong internal evidence of the Divine origin of the Bible; whilst the general and long-continued reception of that book amongst those who have spent their whole lives in investigating its authenticity, serves in their minds as a strong external evidence, that the Bible is really given by the inspiration of God. Nevertheless, their actual experience of a change of heart and life, wrought in them by the Bible, is to them a strong additional evidence of its Divine authority. Of course, this change cannot produce any conviction in the minds of others; because none but God and a man’s own conscience can know the full extent of that change.]. The error lies in confounding the two kinds of religion. They are distinct; and they should be kept so.
To enter deeply into the theory of religion, much strength of intellect, much general knowledge, and much patient investigation are requisite. To have just, and even enlarged, views of the practical part, little is wanting but a humble teachable mind, enlightened by the truths, and sanctified by the influence, of the Gospel of Christ. The former, when possessed in the highest degree, will consist with all manner of evil tempers, and evil habits: the latter necessarily involves in it a change both of heart and life. The former is of importance principally to those, whose office calls them to defend the outworks of Christianity against the assaults of infidels: the latter is essential to the happiness of every individual. To the former your mind is now directed from time to time, by a zealous and learned professor [Note: The Rev. Herbert Marsh, D. D. now The Right Rev. Lord Bishop of Peterborough, of St. John’s College, Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity; who was giving Public Lectures in the University Church, on the principal subjects connected with Theological Learning.], who is giving us the result of his own laborious researches, and commendably exerting his talents to promote amongst us the too much neglected study of sacred literature: to the latter, which we consider as more appropriate to the ordinary services of the Church, we would on the on the present occasion solicit your attention.
The subject which we would submit to your consideration, is a solemn charge, brought by God himself against his people of old. They were guilty of gross idolatry; and for that, in part, they are here reproved: the very heavens are summoned to bear witness against them, and to express with utter astonishment their abhorrence of such impiety. But another complaint against them was, that, in their straits and difficulties, they were ever looking to Egypt and Assyria for help, instead of relying on the Lord their God. Now if, in respect of gross idolatry, the passage be thought more immediately applicable to them, it will nevertheless, as a charge of spiritual idolatry, be found to contain ample matter of accusation against ourselves.
Let us then consider,
The evils which God lays to our charge;
The light in which they should be viewed.
The evils which God lays to our charge arc, that we have forsaken him, and sought our happiness in the creature rather than in the Creator. He justly calls himself “the fountain of living waters:” for he is, and must be acknowledged to be, the only source of all good. What is there in the visible creation, that is not the product of his power, and the gift of his grace? or what is there that can afford satisfaction to the souls of men, or to the bright intelligences of heaven, which does not emanate from his presence and love? If it be replied, that many sources of consolation are opened for us in the contemplations of reason, or the gratifications of sense; we answer, That the very capacity to communicate or receive pleasure is the fruit of his bounty; and that the creature can be no more to us than what he is pleased to make it.
What then does he require of us? He calls us to regard him as the one source of happiness to ourselves; to acknowledge him in all that we have; and to trust in him for all that we stand in need of. He calls us to resemble our first parents in their primitive state; yea, to resemble the very angels around his throne; and to delight ourselves in him, as our Friend, our Portion, “our eternal great Reward.” By sin, indeed, we are become incapable of fulfilling these duties, or of experiencing these enjoyments, to the extent we ought: but still God desires to restore us to the felicity which we have lost, and to communicate to us all those blessings which we have forfeited by our transgressions.
Happy would it be for us, if we were duly impressed with this unmerited kindness and unbounded mercy. But, instead of seeking blessedness in him, we forsake him utterly: we cast off his yoke, we trample on his laws, we cast him even out of our thoughts.
Now let us see what is that rival which we prefer: it is the creature, justly called “a broken cistern.” Some look for happiness in the gratifications of sense; others in the attainment of wealth or honour; others, in the pursuits of science or philosophy. We beg to be clearly understood when speaking on this subject: we do not mean to condemn pleasure, honour, wealth, or science, as evil in themselves: they all have their legitimate and appropriate use, and all may be pursued and enjoyed in perfect consistency with a good conscience. It is quite a mistake to think that religion is opposed to any of these things: on the contrary, it leads to the richest enjoyment of created good, and enjoins, instead of prohibiting, a diligent performance of every known duty. If subordinated to religion, and pursued for God, (we repeat it,) the pleasures of sense may be possessed, and the duties of every station discharged: nay more, we declare, that no man can be religious without endeavouring to fulfil the duties of his calling, whether they be commercial or military, philosophical or religious. But the evil incident to these things consists in making them the great end of our life; in suffering them to draw away our hearts from God, or to occupy that place in our affections which is due to God alone. It is in this view that we are to be understood as denominating the pursuit of these things “evil;” and we doubt not but that the consciences of all attest the truth of our statement, and accede fully to that apostolic, that incontrovertible position, that to “love and serve the creature more than the Creator” is idolatry.
We have digressed a little, for the purpose of being more clearly understood. Let us now return to our observation, that the creature, which is suffered to rival God in our affections, whatever it may be, is only “a broken cistern.” Who will venture to say that he has ever found solid and permanent satisfaction in the creature? Who has lived any considerable time in the world without learning, by his own experience, the truth of Solomon’s observation, that “all below the sun is vanity?” Yet, whatever our experience has been, we still follow our own delusions, and run after a phantom, which, while we think to apprehend it, eludes our grasp. We think that the pleasures of the world will make us happy: we follow them, and for a moment dream that we are happy; but we awake, and find that it was but a dream. We next try wealth or honour: we run the race; we attain the prize; and find at last that we have been following a shadow. We imagine, perhaps, that science and philosophy, being so much more elevated in their nature than the common concerns of life, will form a kind of Paradise for us: we labour, we press forward, we become distinguished for high attainments, but are as far off from solid happiness as ever; and are constrained to join our testimony to that of the wisest of men, after he had “sought out all things that are done under the heaven,” that even wisdom, with all its high attainments, is only “vanity and vexation of spirit.”
Such is the charge which God has exhibited against us; and we appeal to every man’s conscience for the truth of it. Is there so much as one amongst us whose conscience does not tell him, “Thou art the man?” We are God’s people, as much as the Jews of old were: “He hath nourished and brought us up, and yet we have rebelled against him: The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” Notwithstanding a secret conviction that God was the only source of real happiness, we could not prevail upon ourselves to seek after him: and notwithstanding our daily experience of the insufficiency of the creature to make us happy, we could not relinquish the vain pursuit. We have hewn out one cistern, and found it incapable of retaining any water: we have then renewed our labour, and hewed out another; which we have found as unproductive of solid benefit as the former. We have even worn ourselves out with the pursuit of various and successive vanities, yet have persisted in our error, untaught by experience, and unwearied by disappointments. Even to the close of life “we hold fast deceit;” “we refuse to return;” “a deceived heart hath turned us aside, so that we cannot deliver our souls, or say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
Will any contend, that these pursuits are not evil? Surely they are evil in the sight of God. So far from passing over the whole as of small account, he disjoins and separates the different parts of his charge, and declares, that on account of each we are involved in guilt. Our neglect of him has been exceeding sinful, as our attachment to vanity has also been: “My people have committed two evils.”
But on this part of our subject we shall enter more fully, whilst we consider,
In what light we should view these evils—
We are apt to palliate our conduct, and to say, What great harm is there in these things? But if we look to our text, we shall see that they are both heinous in themselves, and terrible in their consequences. In respect of heinousness, I scarcely know whether is greater, their guilt or their folly. Only let us consider what advantages we have enjoyed for the knowledge and service of God. Is it nothing that we have been endowed with such noble capacities, and have neglected to improve them; insomuch that the progressive enlargement of them has tended rather to increase our alienation from God, than to bring us nearer to him? Is it nothing that we have had the inspired volume in our hands, and yet have scarcely differed at all, except in speculative notions, from the heathen? Is it nothing that we have provoked God to jealousy with things which cannot profit, and preferred even the basest lust before him? Is it nothing that we have despised redeeming love, trodden under foot the Son of God, counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and done despite to the Spirit of grace? Should we account it a light matter, if we ourselves were treated thus by our servants and children; if they cast off all regard for us, and poured contempt upon us, and set at nought our authority, neglecting every thing that we commanded, doing every thing that we forbade, and persisting in such conduct for years together, in spite of every thing we could say or do to reclaim them? And if we should resent such conduct, shall not God much more? But, whatever we may think of these things, God calls them “evils,” and such too as may well excite “astonishment” amongst all the hosts of heaven: “Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this!”
Nor is the folly of such conduct less than the malignity. Suppose only that one half the labour which we have used in the pursuit of vanities had been employed in the service of our God; or suppose that only the Sabbaths (a seventh part of our time) had been improved with that assiduity and constancy which we have exerted on other days in the pursuit of this world; I will venture to say, that had even that measure of piety been exercised by us, we should have been far happier here, and should have had infinitely better prospects in the eternal world. What amazing folly, then, have we been guilty of! Truly, if the fact were not proved beyond a possibility of doubt, it would not be credited, that persons possessed of reason could act so irrational a part. But, to view it in a proper light, we should attend to the representation given of it in the text. It is true, the picture is so strong, and yet withal so exact, that we shall scarcely endure to look at it. But let us contemplate it a moment: let us imagine to ourselves a person dwelling close to a perennial spring of water, and yet with great labour and fatigue hewing out first one cistern, and then another, and, after multiplied disappointments, dying at last of thirst. By what name should we designate this? Should we be content with calling it folly? Should we not soon find for it a more appropriate and humiliating term? Let us take this then as a glass wherein to view our own likeness: it is no exaggerated representation, but the precise view in which God sees our conduct. We are aware, that the idea suggested implies such a degree of infatuation as almost to provoke a smile: but the more humiliating the picture, the more need there is that we should contemplate it: and my labour will not have been lost, if a few only of the present assembly be led to bear it in remembrance, and to meditate upon it in their secret retirement.
We have further to remark, that these evils are represented in the text as terrible also in their consequences. Men do not like, in general, to hear of this: they wish rather to have it kept out of sight. But it is melancholy that they should so labour to deceive their own souls. If, by concealing the consequences of sin, we could ward them off and prevent them, we should be the last to bring them forward to your view: but if it be the surest way to draw them down upon you, surely we should deserve ill at your hands if we forbore to warn you of them. It is not thus that the Prophets and Apostles acted: nor is it thus that God would have us act. He bids us to “warn the wicked of their evil ways:” and declares, that if we neglect to do so, he “will require their blood at our hands.” In order then that the danger of such sins as are here laid to our charge may appear, consider what are the representations given of it in the Holy Scriptures, If there be one image more terrible than another, it is that of lying down in a lake of fire and brimstone, ever to be consuming and unconsumed: yet that is the image repeatedly employed by Christ himself, in order to represent the misery that awaits the impenitent and unbelieving world. This will account for the extreme anxiety and sorrow which holy men of old expressed when contemplating the danger to which their fellow-creatures were exposed: “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes,” says David, “because men keep not thy law:” And again, “I am horribly afraid for the ungodly that forsake thy law.” Indeed, how is it possible to entertain light thoughts of this, if we only consider what have uniformly been the feelings of men, the very moment that they have come to a just sense of their state? See the jailor’s agitation; or hear the cries of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost. Nay, we need only consider what our own apprehensions sometimes have been, when sickness has come upon us, or death appeared to be nigh at hand. But, if yet we be disposed to doubt, let us ask, Wherefore is it that God calls on the heavens to “be horribly afraid, and to be very desolate?” Is there no cause for such language? Is it intended only to alarm us, and to excite unfounded apprehensions? No, surely: it is founded in truth: it is the effusion of unbounded love; the compassionate warning of a tender Father. Permit me, then, once more to say, that the forsaking of the Fountain of Living Waters is an evil, a great evil; and that the hewing out of broken cisterns for ourselves is also a great evil. God views these evils in all their malignity: the angels also that are around the throne, view them with deep solicitude, anxiously desiring to see us escape from them, and waiting in readiness to rejoice over our return to God. O that we might no longer indulge a fatal security! “no longer say, Peace, peace! lest sudden destruction come upon us without any way to escape!” If God were a hard master, and his service irksome, there would be some shadow of excuse for such conduct. But, who ever sought after God in vain, provided he sought in sincerity and truth? and, whoever found him without finding in him all that could comfort and enrich the soul? God himself puts the question; “What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?” “Have I been a wilderness to Israel? a land of darkness? Wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee?”
Shall we plead, as an excuse, that religion is a source of melancholy? Surely they who harbour such an opinion have never known what religion is. That a neglect of religion will make us melancholy, is clear enough, as well from the dissatisfaction which, notwithstanding our diversified enjoyments, generally prevails, as from the disquietude which men feel in the prospect of death and judgment. But religion, true religion, brings peace into the soul: it leads us to the Fountain of Living Water, where we can at all times quench our thirst, and taste beforehand the felicity of heaven. Our blessed Lord invites us to him in this view: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink;” and “the water that I will give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life.” Listen, then, to that expostulation of the prophet; “Wherefore do ye spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” Return to the Fountain; and make the experiment, at least: see whether there be not more happiness in turning from vanity, than in embracing it; in seeking after God, than in forsaking him; in the holy exercises of prayer and praise, than in a brutish neglect of these duties; in applying to your souls the promises of Christ, than in a profane contempt of them: and, lastly, in obtaining sweet foretastes of heavenly bliss, than in reluctant approaches towards an unknown eternity. O that I might not commend this Fountain to you in vain! All ranks and orders amongst you are beginning to shew a laudable attention to the theory of religion: O that you might begin to shew it to the practice also! You are not backward to manifest your approbation of that zeal which directs you to the evidences of religion: be ye not therefore offended with that, which solicits your attention to its effects.
THE EVIL OF BACKSLIDING
Jeremiah 2:19. Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see, that it is an evil thing, and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God.
SIN and misery are very nearly connected; and the nearer we are to God by relation or profession, the more immediately will our transgressions be followed by tokens of his displeasure. The Israelites were God’s chosen people; yet, while the Amorites, and other idolatrous nations, were left to fill up the measure of their iniquities, before they were visited according to their deserts, the Jews, especially while journeying through the wilderness, were speedily chastened for their iniquities, and made to feel the evil and bitterness of sin. Thus, only in a more secret and silent manner, does God now punish the backslidings of his people; nor does he notice only the grosser violations of his law, but the more hidden abominations of the heart, and secret declensions from the spiritual life. Indeed, he makes sin its own punishment, according to what is written in the text: to elucidate which, we shall shew,
In what respects our own backslidings correct us—
It is not unfrequently that, even in our temporal concerns, we suffer loss by relaxing our diligence in spiritual duties: but it is invariably found, that backslidings from God are attended with very painful consequences:
They wound our conscience—
[Conscience, if duly attended to, is a faithful monitor, and will upbraid us for declensions, however secret, and transgressions, however small: and when it testifies of willful deliberate sin, when it summons us into the divine presence, and accuses us before God, it will make a Felix tremble, and a Judas abhor his very existence. This is a correction, which, as no enlightened person would willingly endure, so neither, till he return to God, or have his “conscience seared as with au hot iron,” can he hope to escape.]
They intercept our views of God—
[God is exceeding gracious to those who walk circumspectly before him: but he has warned us that, “if we forsake him, he will forsake us [Note: 2 Chronicles 15:2.].” This his people of old experienced to their cost, as the prophet told them; “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear [Note: Isaiah 59:2.].” And is this a slight correction? Let the cries and terrors of persons under dereliction [Note: Psalms 77:1-9; Psalms 88:3-16.], be to us as a beacon for our effectual admonition.]
They indispose us for spiritual exercises and enjoyments—
[While we maintain close fellowship with God, our duties are a source of the sublimest happiness: but when we decline from his ways, the whole work of religion becomes a burthen. Have we neglected prayer for a season, or been inattentive in it to the frame of our minds? how painful a task is it to approach our God! the most glorious of all privileges is turned into an irksome rite, to which we are goaded by a guilty conscience. The same indisposition instantly extends itself to every other office of religion; so that the visiting of the sick, the conversing on spiritual subjects, the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and indeed the whole life of religion is bereft of vital energy, and degenerates into an empty and unproductive form. What an awful punishment is this!]
They lay us open to the incursions of sin and Satan—
[Righteousness is, as it were, a breast-plate that guards our vitals, and proves an armour on the right hand and on the left [Note: Ephesians 6:14. 2 Corinthians 6:7.] but unwatchfulness deprives the soul of its defence, and exposes us to the envenomed darts of our great adversary. If we have secretly declined from God, the temptations, which once were easily overcome, have a deep and lasting effect: our spirits are soon ruffled; our evil passions are soon awakened; and, if God interpose not for our recovery we shall soon “return with the dog to his vomit, and with the sow that is washed to her wallowing in the mire.” Sin, of any kind, makes a breach in the soul, which, if not stopped at first, will widen, till our desolation is inevitable, and our ruin final, Who can but tremble at the warning which God himself has given us; “His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his own sins [Note: Proverbs 5:22.]?”
Additional light will be reflected on this subject, while we consider,
The evil and bitterness of a backsliding state—
The sinfulness of an ignorant and carnal state, heinous as it is, is by no means comparable to the guilt of backsliding from God. To view backslidings in their real malignity we must remember that they involve in them,
A violation of the most solemn engagements—
[The man, who professes to be a follower of Christ, pledges himself by that very profession to devote himself entirely to the service of his God: he declares, as it were, his approbation of his baptismal covenant, and his determination through grace to adhere to it in all things. But, in proportion as he yields to open sin or secret declensions, he revokes all his promises, and renounces all his expectations of the Divine favour. How vile, and how desperate, must such a conduct be in the eyes of God!]
A contempt of the richest mercies—
[While we serve God aright, we never find him backward to recompense our worthless endeavours: the more diligently we have sought him, the more abundantly has he enriched us with grace and peace. When therefore we forsake him, we say, in fact, that we neither love “nor fear him,” (see ver. 19.) yea, that we despise his mercies, and prefer the pleasures of sin before any of the pleasures which he can afford us. What base ingratitude, what daring insolence is this!]
A vindication of God’s open and avowed enemies—
[Practical piety condemns the world; but impiety, as far as it extends, proclaims to all, that God is not worthy to be loved and served. The backslider goes further still; and says to all around him, I have tried God, and found him to be “a wilderness to his people [Note: ver. 31.]:” I once was weak enough to think that the more religious I was, the more happy I should be: but I was disappointed in my hopes; and now revert to my former ways, that all may know the superior happiness, which, in my opinion at least, is to be enjoyed in freedom from restraints, and in the gratifications of time and sense. Alas! on what a precipice does the backslider stand! and, what an account will he have to give at last, if he do not instantly return to God in penitence and faith!]
Nor is the bitterness of such a state easy to be appreciated—
[If we would “know and see” what a “bitter thing” it is to forsake the Lord, let us consult the declarations of God, “the Lord God of hosts,” and the experience of his ancient people. What “broken bones” did the fall of David occasion [Note: Psalms 51:8.] And where was the blessedness which the Galatian Church had once enjoyed, when, through the influence of their false teachers, they had declined from the simplicity of the Gospel [Note: Galatians 4:15.]? Indeed, let any man consult the records of his own conscience, and he will soon perceive, that, as there is no happiness to be compared with a state of nearness to God, so there is no misery like that which a sense of his departure from us will occasion. As for the bitterness of it to apostates in the day of judgment, that cannot be described; and we pray God we may never be left to feel and endure it, But let us study to “know and see” it in its true light, that we may be stirred up by the consideration of it to “cleave unto our God with full purpose of heart.”]
SELF-VINDICATING SINNERS REPROVED
Jeremiah 2:23-24. How canst thou say, I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim? See thy way in the valley; know what thou hast done: thou art a swift dromedary traversing her ways; a wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure: in her occasion who can turn her away? All they that seek her will not weary themselves: in her month they shall find her.
IN estimating our state before God, we ought to mark the circumstances under which our sins are committed, and the aggravations of our guilt in that particular view. It is in this light that our iniquities are viewed by God. The mercies we have received from him; the resolutions which, under a sense of those mercies, we have formed; the degree in which we have degenerated; all these things are marked by God, and form an accumulation of wickedness far exceeding that of any individual acts [Note: ver. 20–22.]. But there is one evil which enhances our guilt beyond every other that can be named; and that is, a self-justifying spirit, and a denial of the accusations which God, in his word, and by his ministers, brings against us. That I may guard you against this, which is so pre-eminently offensive to the Divine Majesty, I will set before you,
The self-vindicating ways of sinners—
Ministers are commanded to “shew the house of Israel their transgressions and their sins.” And it might be supposed, that, when men’s iniquities are so visible and undeniable, they would fall under the accusation, and humble themselves before God. But they, for the most part, justify themselves against the charge that is brought against them: some,
In a way of direct denial—
[A remarkable instance of this we have in Cain. After he had murdered his brother Abel, the Lord came to him, and said, “Where is Abel, thy brother? and he said, I know not: am I my brother’s keeper? [Note: Genesis 4:9.]” What astonishing effrontery was here? Yet is it precisely such as we see generally exhibited by those around us. We ask them, in God’s holy name, Why “they live as without God in the world,” and without any just concern about their eternal interests? But they deny the charge; “They do not neglect God: they do not disregard their own souls: they do not “cast God’s word behind them,” and “pour contempt on all the wonders of redeeming love.” Though their wickedness is as manifest as was that of the worshippers of Baal, they will still say, “I am not polluted; I have not gone after Baalim” — — —]
In a way of vain excuse—
[Of this we see a striking example in Saul. He had been commanded to destroy the Amalekites, and every thing that appertained unto them; and when Samuel came to him, he said, “Blessed be thou of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord. And Samuel said, What meaneth, then, this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” Then Saul, unable to deny the fact that he had spared the best of the prey, excused himself: “They, the people, have brought them from the Amalekites, having spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God: and the rest we have utterly destroyed [Note: 1 Samuel 15:13-15.].” Thus, when men cannot deny their wickedness, they will excuse it: ‘They have done nothing but what was sanctioned by custom;’ or, ‘They have only followed those impulses of nature which they were not able to withstand.’ It is probable that the idolaters in my text did not mean to deny that they shewed some respect to their molten images; but only to say, that it was not to the images themselves, or to Baal, that they paid their homage; but to Jehovah, as represented by them. Such are the refuges of papists at this day, in all their idolatrous worship: and such the vain excuses of all the votaries of this world.]
In a way of hypocritical palliation—
[Here we must go back to our first parents, when interrogated respecting their eating of the forbidden fruit. The man cast the blame upon his wife; or rather upon God himself, who had given her to him: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” The woman, in like manner, shifted the blame from herself, and cast it on the serpent: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat [Note: Genesis 3:11-13.].” So sinners of every description find something to palliate their guilt; ‘The faults they have committed have not been of an enormous kind: the commissions have been but rare: they have not injured any one: they have had no evil intention: their hearts have been good, though their actions have not been altogether so correct.’ But God seeth not as man seeth: man looketh on the outward appearance: but God seeth the heart.]
But men cannot deceive God; as will be seen by,
The charge which God brings against them—
However we may justify ourselves, “God will reprove us, and set before us the things that we have done [Note: Psalms 50:21.].” In the passage before us, he substantiates his charge against his offending people,
By an appeal to fact—
[“See thy way in the valley: know what thou hast done.” In the valleys, as well as in the hills, thine idolatries obtrude themselves upon the notice of the whole world: “they are not discovered by secret search [Note: ver. 24.]:” they do not even affect concealment. And may we not say to you also, “See your ways in the valleys?” Look at your whole lives: what are they but one continued scene of rebellion against God? Trace your conduct, from your youth up: what have you done, but “love and serve the creature more than the Creator?” and yet you will say, “We have not gone after Baalim.” What is idolatry if this be not? and how can you “provoke God to jealousy” more than by the very conduct which you have pursued from your earliest youth? Look at your very religion: what has it been, but a mere form, without any vital power; a shadow, without any substance? It is not by occasional slips that you have fallen, but by one entire uninterrupted course of conduct, Who amongst you will deny this? What excuses can you find for this? What palliations can such criminal proceedings admit of?]
By a most apt comparison—
[The dromedary and the wild ass, when seeking their mate, are so bent upon the attainment of their desires, that all efforts to catch them are in vain: and no one will weary himself with so fruitless a labour. But, when their time of pregnancy has advanced, they fall comparatively an easy prey to the pursuer. And it is but to little purpose that we follow you with invitations, entreaties, expostulations, warnings: you “will not hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.” It is perfectly surprising to see how little effect is produced on the minds of the generality by all the labours of the most faithful ministers. There is occasion for the same complaint in every age, and every place: “Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Let your own consciences testify whether the representation here given be not just and true.]
There is a time, however, when we may hope to prevail: and in the hope that it may have arrived, we will, in a word of application, now address ourselves unto you—
[Happy, happy would it be, if you began at last to be “weary and heavy-laden with your sins!” This is the time that God looketh for: and it is the time that we look for also, in the hope that we may prevail upon you to return unto your God. Verily, we may ask with confidence, “What fruit have ye had of the things whereof ye are now ashamed?” What, but disappointment and misery and death? O, then, “return unto Him from whom ye have deeply revolted” — — — And what does God require of you, in order to your acceptance with him? He says, “Only acknowledge thine iniquity [Note: Jeremiah 3:13.].” So, then, say I also; and know, that if you come to the Lord Jesus Christ burthened with your sins, he will speedily and most assuredly “give you rest.” “Whilst you cover your sins, you cannot prosper: but if you confess and forsake them, you will have mercy [Note: Proverbs 28:13.]” Hear the beloved Apostle: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [Note: 1 John 1:8-9.].” Receive this testimony, and act upon it; “so your iniquities, how great or numerous soever they have been, shall not be your ruin [Note: Ezekiel 18:30. Here the fulness and sufficiency of Christ may be set forth to advantage.]” — — —]
THE FOLLY OF NEGLECTING GOD
Jeremiah 2:27-28. They have turned their back unto me, and not their face; but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us! But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? Let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble.
AMONGST the various powers which distinguish man from all the rest of the creation, is the faculty of looking forward to future events, and of receiving, by anticipation, impressions suited to them. This faculty is given to him principally for the furtherance of his eternal welfare: and, if he used it aright, he could not fail of attaining eternal blessedness. But as he abuses his other powers, so does he grievously misimprove this: he employs it for the purpose of temporal advancement; but forgets its use in reference to eternity. Hence, till affliction bring him to a juster view of his condition, he casts off all fear of God, and lives, as it were, “without God in the world.” Of this God complained respecting his people of old; and at the same time he warned them of the bitter consequences that would ensue from it; for, if they persisted in looking to their false gods in the time of prosperity, they should have none other to assist them in the season of adversity.
From the words thus explained, we may take occasion to shew,
The conduct of sinners towards their God—
Man in every age, especially if he have any knowledge of a Supreme Being, pursues nearly the same course, till he has been converted by Divine grace.
In the text we behold how he conducts himself,
In a state of ease—
[It is surprising to see how entirely men banish from their minds all thoughts of God. Though called and invited to draw nigh to him, they cannot be prevailed upon to bow their knees before him, and to seek his face in prayer [Note: Isaiah 64:7.]. If at any time they draw nigh to him in public, it is not really to know his will, or to enjoy his presence, but merely to perform a duty, in which their hearts are not at all engaged [Note: Matthew 15:8.].
But the expression in our text imports, not merely a neglect of God, but a contempt of him also. And a most awful mark of contempt it is, to turn our back upon him when he calls us, instead of turning to him our face. Yet thus it is that we treat him, exactly as his people did even in his very temple [Note: Ezekiel 8:16.]: we all have idols in our hearts; and those we serve to the utter neglect of God; and, when reminded of our duty to him, we cry, “Who is the Lord? I know him not;” “I will have nothing to do with him” “I desire not the knowledge of his ways [Note: Compare Jeremiah 2:31, with Exodus 5:2.Psalms 12:4; Psalms 12:4; Psalms 81:11.Job 21:14-15; Job 21:14-15.Isaiah 30:11; Isaiah 30:11.].”]
In a state of trouble—
[Few are so hardened in iniquity, but they will begin to reflect on their ways when they come into trouble: “they will pour out a prayer, when God’s chastening is upon theme [Note: Isaiah 26:16.].” Even hypocrites [Note: Psalms 78:34-37.], yea and heathens too [Note: John 1:5.], when reduced to great extremities, will cry for help: “In their affliction,” says God, “they will seek me early [Note: Hosea 5:15.]”. Nay more, they will express, not only importunity, but, as our text intimates, a considerable measure of impatience also: as if God were bound immediately to interpose for them, though they have rejected and “forgotten him days without number [Note: ver. 22. with Isaiah 58:3.].” The whole of their conduct is beautifully set forth in the preceding context, under the image of “a wild ass.” She, when seeking her mate, is so wild, that no one will attempt to catch her: but, when the time is come for her to be delivered of her young, she may easily be caught [Note: ver. 23, 24.]. So it is with sinners, when bent upon the gratification of their earthly and sensual desires, they prosecute their own ways without restraint, and laugh at all our efforts to apprehend them: but, when burthened and bowed down with trouble, they will suffer us to approach them, and will bear to hear the voice of counsel and reproof. Their affliction represses for a season their spirit of rebellion, and brings them to a better mind.]
Still however their conduct is most perilous, as will appear, whilst we shew,
The folly and danger of it—
To manifest this, we need only consider,
The disappointment it will occasion—
[Even now, in the midst of all their pursuits, we would ask the ungodly. Whether they have ever found any solid satisfaction in the vanities of time and sense? and has not the creature invariably proved to them “a broken cistern, that could hold no water [Note: ver. 13.]?” Yes assuredly, they have “spent their money for that which is not bread, and laboured for that which satisfieth not [Note: Isaiah 55:2.]” or rather, as it is well expressed, “Have sought to fill their belly with the east wind [Note: Job 15:2.].” And this is what God has repeatedly forewarned them of in his blessed word: “Let not him that is deceived trust in vanity; for vanity shall be his recompence [Note: Job 15:31.].” And if even now, “in the time of their sufficiency, they be in straits [Note: Job 20:22.],” how much move, when they come into trouble, may it be asked, “What fruit have ye of these things whereof ye are now ashamed?” Will their pleasures, their riches, or their honours, which they once sought with such avidity, then comfort them? Alas! how little can such things do to assuage even the pains of a diseased body, and much more to pacify a guilty conscience, and to compose the mind, in the prospect of death and judgment! Truly, “miserable comforters are they all.” Yet to them will God leave us in the day of our calamity, if we will persist in making them our idols during the season of our health. This he tells us in our text; “Let the gods that thou hast made to thee, arise and save thee.” It was thus that he mocked his people of old, when they had withstood all the corrections of his providence [Note: Judges 10:10-14.]: and thus he has declared that he will mock us also, if we continue obstinately to withstand all the overtures of his love and mercy [Note: Proverbs 1:24-31.].
But, even supposing that the vanities of this world were not so ineffectual for our present support as they are found to be, of what use or benefit will they be found when we are standing at the judgment-seat of Christ? Will they interpose between us and an angry God? or will they descend with us into those gloomy mansions to which their votaries will be doomed, and there alleviate the anguish of our minds? Will the friends, by whom we were induced to turn our back on God, confirm to us all the promises they made to us, and obtain for us that blessedness which they so confidently assured us was in no danger of being lost? Ah, the disappointment which we shall feel in that day, when no possibility remains of rectifying our error! How shall we curse our folly for giving way to such delusions, and feel that truth which we are now so backward to believe, that “they who observe lying vanities, forsake their own mercies [Note: John 2:8.]!”]
The reflections to which it will give rise—
[Here we will not give ourselves time for consideration; but when we come into the eternal world, we shall have nothing else to do [Note: Wisd. 5:4.]: and then how inexpressibly painful will it be to reflect, ‘I once had a God of infinite love and mercy calling me to accept of reconciliation with him; I had a Saviour too who offered to cleanse me in his blood from all my sins, and to clothe me in the robe of his own unspotted righteousness: by his Holy Spirit also my Saviour strove with me, to bring me to repentance, and to guide my feet into the way of peace. Once had I ordinances, wherein I might have enjoyed my God; and ministers by whom I might have been led to the great Shepherd and Bishop of my soul. But now all those blessings are withdrawn, and are for ever hid from my eyes. I valued them not when they were within my reach: I had no taste but for the vanities of this world; and, like Esau, I sold heaven itself for a poor worthless momentary enjoyment: now too, like him, I am rejected, and could find no place of repentance in my Father’s mind, though I should seek it ever so carefully with tears [Note: Matthew 23:37-38. with Hebrews 12:16-17.].’ ‘Now I find that God’s word was true; and that the harvest which we must reap accords with the seed we sowed: “I reap now nothing but corruption, because I sowed only to the flesh;” whereas, if I could have been prevailed upon to “sow unto the Spirit, I should at this moment have been reaping everlasting life [Note: Galatians 6:7-8.].” I now call to my God, and beg him to send me only a drop of water to cool my tongue; but he bids me go for relief to the gods which I preferred before him, and reminds me, that, having received the consolations which I desired, I have no other to expect at his hands [Note: Luke 16:24-26.].’
Such is the portion of those who neglect God: “they sow the wind, and they reap the whirlwind [Note: Hosea 8:7.].”]
Those that are at ease in their sins—
[You think it time enough to seek the Lord when you are no longer able to enjoy the world. But are you sure that time will be afforded you, if you neglect the present hour; or that God will hear you, when your prayers are extorted only by pain and terrors? Such delays receive but little countenance from God in the passage we are considering, or indeed in any other part of Holy Writ [Note: See Psalms 81:11-12.Hosea 4:17; Hosea 4:17. Luke 19:42.]. “Seek then the Lord whilst he may be found; call ye upon him whilst he is hear [Note: Isaiah 55:6.].”
Those who are brought into any kind of trouble—
[Now then at least is the time for you to call upon your God; for when will you do it, if not in the time of trouble? Will you stay till you are summoned before his judgment-seat? Will you not begin to look for the Bridegroom, till he has already entered into his house, and the door is shut? O look upon your affliction as the voice of God: receive it as a messenger sent from him to prepare you for his presence: and remember, if he has warned you of your danger, he has also given you encouragement to turn unto him. He has shewn you, in his reception of the Prodigal, how ready he is to receive returning penitents [Note: Luke 15:20-24.]; and, in his mercy to Manassch, how great iniquities he can pardon [Note: 2 Chronicles 33:10-13.]. Only “return then unto him; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.”]
Those who have already begun to seek the Lord—
[Say, Whether it has been in vain to seek the Lord? Has he been “a wilderness to you, or a land of darkness [Note: ver. 31.]?” Has he not done more for you than the world over did, and rendered you happier than you ever were in the days of your vanity? Be thankful to him then that he ever enabled you to “choose the good part, which shall never be taken away from you.” If trouble come to you, you have no need to fear [Note: 1 Peter 3:13.]; for it is sent by him in love to purge you from your remaining dross, and fit you for his presence, where is fulness of joy for evermore.]
GOD’S COMPLAINT AGAINST THE REBELLIOUS
Jeremiah 2:31-32. O generation, see ye the word of the Lord; Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? Wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee? Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number.
I AM perfectly astonished. I can scarcely believe my own eyes. Who is it that thus addresses us; and vindicates his own character against the accusations which, by our lives at least, we bring against him? It is none other than Jehovah himself, calling upon us to prove, if we can, that he merits at our hands the treatment he has received from us. Often does he call on heaven and earth to judge betwixt him and his people [Note: Micah 6:2-3.] — — — But in the chapter before us, he supposes himself to be charged with having acted unkindly, not to say injuriously, towards them: “Hear ye the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel: thus saith the Lord; What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and have become vain [Note: ver. 4, 5.]?” And again in the text, “Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness?” Behold, Brethren, I am now to you in God’s stead: and I call upon you, in God’s name, to answer to the challenge given you, and to the charge that is brought against you. Hear at my mouth,
His appeal, in answer to your charges against him—
Was he to the Jews a wilderness or a land of darkness?”
[The Jews, from their own history, could not but know what a terrible wilderness, and what a land of darkness, their ancestors had been brought into, when they came out of the land of Egypt: it was “a land of deserts and of pits, a land of drought and of the shadow of death, a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt [Note: ver. 6.].” In a word, it was a land where they could find no sustenance, and where, but for the Divine interposition, they must all have perished. And had God been to them in any respect like that? Had he left them to perish? Had he not, on the contrary, administered to their every want, going before them in a pillar of fire, and supplying them with food, and miraculously preserving their very clothes from wearing out for the space of forty years; and, at last, putting them into a full and peaceful possession of the promised land [Note: Cite Deu 32:10-14 and Nehemiah 9:21-25.]? — — —]
Has he, in his conduct to us, deserved any such humiliating imputation?
[We, also, have been passing through a dreary wilderness, in our way to the promised land: and has he been inattentive to our wants? Has he not given us his only dear Son to be our Saviour? — — — Has he not also given his Holy Spirit, to guide, preserve, and sanctify us, and to make us meet for our destined inheritance? — — — Tell me so much as one thing which you have ever lacked, provided you sought it humbly at his hands? — — — I hesitate not to affirm, that if there be any one thing that you have ever lacked, it has been, not from want of care in him, but from your own negligence in asking it: for “he never said at any time to any human being, Seek ye my face in vain.” I say, then, that your charges against him, as defective in kindness or care or liberality, are altogether false; and that there is no one thing that you could reasonably hope to be done for you, which he has not freely and effectually done [Note: Isaiah 5:3-4.].]
But not satisfied with vindicating God, I call you to hear,
His charge against you—
He complains, and justly too, of two things;
The flagrancy of your rebellion—
[His people of old said, “We are lords: we will come no more unto thee.” And such has been the language both of your hearts and lives. You have affected independence. Satan’s temptation to our first parents was, “Ye shall be as gods:” and ye have affected to be as gods, even from that very hour; and have felt no disposition to come to Jehovah for any thing. In truth, independence is the very essence of the Fall: it is that which characterizes every living man. Every man trusts in his own wisdom and righteousness and strength; and follows his own will, and “walks after the imaginations of his own heart.” Let any one ask himself, Whether, during his whole life, this have not been his state? Can any of us say with truth, that we have been from the beginning so deeply sensible of our own utter destitution of all good, that we have cried day and night to God for every thing which our souls needed, and have cleaved to Christ alone as our wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption? Have we, even this very day, come to God for these blessings, as persons who felt their need of them, and their entire dependence on him for a supply of them? Have we not rather imagined that we were “rich, and increased in goods, and in need of nothing; instead of feeling ourselves wretched and miserable, and poor and blind and naked?” Then you must confess that God’s charge against you is true; and that, in refusing to come to him as the only source of all good, you have shewn yourselves proud, daring, impious, self-sufficient rebels, and have deserved to be visited with his heaviest judgments.]
The contemptuousness of your neglect—
[One would have supposed that, after all the mercies which God had vouchsafed to his ancient people, they could not but have borne him in constant and most affectionate remembrance. Yet had they in reality “forgotten him.” Of this he complains, with just indignation: “Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?” No, worthless and contemptible as such vanities are, the minds of young people, and of females especially, are so set upon them, as scarcely, for any length of time, to have them absent from their minds. But, though God had given himself as “a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty to his people [Note: Isaiah 28:5.],” and his relation to them elevated them above all the people of the world, “yet did they forget him, days without number.” And has he given to us less occasion to remember him, than to them? Yet have we forgotten him, even as they did. We have forgotten our obligations to him; so that he receives few, if any, acknowledgments at our hands. We have forgotten our dependence on him; so that he hears but few and faint petitions for the blessings we stand in need of. We have forgotten the great account which we have to give to him; so that, to obtain an interest in Christ, is not the great labour of our lives; nor is it our daily serious endeavour to approve ourselves to God us his devoted servants. Let any one only look back for a single week, and see how much greater interest a young female takes in the adorning of her person, than we have done in providing the ornaments of divine grace for our souls, to “prepare us for our union with our heavenly Bridegroom [Note: Revelation 21:2.].” Say, then, whether God is not justly incensed against us, and whether we have not need to humble ourselves before him, for “provoking him thus to jealousy?” Behold then, whilst on God’s part I repel with indignation the charges which you bring against him, I call your very consciences to witness against you, that the charges, which I have in his name exhibited against you, are not only true, but heinous in the extreme.]
Are there now any of you disposed to vindicate yourselves?
[Yes: the Jews denied their criminality, whilst yet “their iniquities testified against them to their face [Note: Hosea 5:5.].” And thus it is with you. “You have even wearied God by your transgression; and yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him [Note: Malachi 2:17.]?” But in this you only aggravate your guilt, and augment your eternal condemnation. For thus saith the Lord: “Thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn away from me. Behold, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest I have not sinned [Note: ver. 35.].” Know ye this, every one of you, ere it be too late, that, “he who covereth his sins, shall not prosper; and that he only who confesseth and forsaketh them, shall find mercy [Note: Proverbs 28:13.]” — — —]
Are any of you humbled under a sense of your guilt?
[To you then I say, that He who “chose Israel, not for any goodness that was in them, but purely because he would choose them [Note: Deuteronomy 7:7-8.],” is ready to exercise his sovereign love and mercy towards you. See how, after taking them from the most helpless and degraded state, he beautified and adorned that people for himself [Note: Cite at length Ezekiel 16:8-14.]! — — — Thus will he also cleanse you from your iniquities, and transform you into his own most blessed image, and render you meet for an everlasting union with himself. This I am commissioned by him to declare: “Go, and proclaim these words unto them; and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever. Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God [Note: Jeremiah 3:12-13.].” Yes, in the sacred name of Him whom you have offended, I declare, that “though your iniquities have been red like crimson, they shall be as wool; and though they have been as scarlet, they shall be white as snow [Note: Isaiah 1:18.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Jeremiah 2". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany