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THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS
Jeremiah 23:6. This is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
THE writings of the Prophets no less than of the Apostles testify of Christ: nor can we any where find a fuller exhibition of his character than in the words before us. As to his origin, he is “a branch from the root of David;” and, in his character, “a righteous” branch. His office is that of “a King;” and, as to the manner in which he executes that office, “he executes righteousness and judgment in the land.” Look we for the effects of his administration? “In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely.” Lastly, Would we know in what light he is to be regarded? “This is his name, whereby he shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness.”
In these words the prophet sets forth,
The dignity of Christ—
The inspired writers never seem afraid of speaking of Christ in too exalted terms. The prophet, in this very place, declares,
His essential dignity—
[There is frequent occasion to observe that, wherever the word Lord is printed in large characters, it is in the original Jehovah. Now Jehovah denotes the self-existence of the Deity, and is a name incommunicable to any creature: yet is it here assigned to Christ. By comparing similar declarations in the Old Testament with the expositions given of them in the New, we know assuredly that this name belongs to Christ; and that therefore he is and must be “God over all, blessed for ever [Note: Isaiah 6:5. with John 12:41. or Isaiah 45:22-23. with Romans 14:10-11. or Joel 2:32. with Romans 10:13-14. or Malachi 3:1. with Luke 1:76.].”]
His official dignity—
[The title of Jehovah belongs equally to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; but the additional title of “Our Righteousness,” is peculiar to Christ alone. It imports that Christ has by his own obedience unto death wrought out a righteousness for guilty man; and that “this righteousness shall be unto all and upon all them that believe in him.” It is in this sense that St. Paul speaks of him as “made unto us righteousness [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.].”
The connexion between the different parts of this comprehensive name deserves particular notice: for, if He were not Jehovah, he could not be our Righteousness; seeing that as a creature, he could merit nothing; because he would owe to God all that he could do; and, “after he had done all, he would be only an unprofitable servant:” but as he is God, all which he does is voluntary; and his divinity stamps an infinite value upon his work; so that it may well merit, not for himself only, but for a ruined world—
Such is the dignity of our blessed Lord: He is Jehovah, one with the Father, in glory equal, in majesty co-eternal: nor is there one ransomed soul in heaven, who does not ascribe his salvation to the blood and righteousness of this our incarnate God.]
While the prophet thus expatiates on the glory of Christ, he intimates also,
The duty of man—
Our duty as sinners, and as redeemed sinners, has especial respect to Christ: and it is summarily comprehended in the ascribing to Christ the honour due unto his name. But this must be done,
[To compliment Christ with any titles which we do not believe due to him, would be to insult him, like those who arrayed him in mock majesty, and cried, Hail, King of the Jews! We must fully believe him to be God: we must be persuaded that we neither have, nor can have, any righteousness of our own: and we must be assured, that “He is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth [Note: Romans 10:4.].” If we entertain any idea of meriting any thing at God’s hands by our own obedience, or of adding any thing of our own to his perfect righteousness, we dishonour and degrade him; and, instead of performing our duty towards him, we violate it in the most flagrant manner: and, though we may be actuated by a blind zeal for the Father’s honour, or for the interest of morality, we are indeed rebels against God, since he has commanded that “all men should honour the Son as they honour the Father,” and that they should call him in faith, The Lord our Righteousness.]
[As, to give him a title which we do not believe due to him would be mockery, so, to give it without a correspondent regard to him would be hypocrisy. Do we believe him to be Jehovah? we must regard him with reverential awe, and yield ourselves up to him in unreserved obedience. Do we believe him to be the only Righteousness of the redeemed? we must renounce entirely our own righteousness, and depend on him with our whole hearts. Do we view him in his complex character as Jehovah our Righteousness? We must rejoice in having such an almighty friend, such a sure foundation. We must glory in him as “all our salvation, and all our desire.” A less regard to him than this, not only falls below our duty, but is absolutely inconsistent with any scriptural hope, any prospect of salvation.]
From this subject we may learn,
The way of salvation—
[There are but three ways in which we can conceive it possible for any man to be saved; namely, by works, by faith and works, or by faith without works; and the subject before us plainly declares which is the true one. Are we to be saved by our works? No: for God would never have sent his Son to be our righteousness, if we ever could have wrought out a sufficient righteousness of our own. Besides, our own works would then have been our righteousness, and the name here ascribed to Christ would not have belonged to him. Moreover, even in heaven it self, instead of ascribing “Salvation to God and to the Lamb,” we must have ascribed it to God and to ourselves.
Are we then to be saved by faith and works? We still answer, No: for in whatever degree we trust in our own works, in that degree do we rob Christ of his official dignity; and assume to ourselves the honour due to him alone. As far as our own merits are united with his as a joint ground of our acceptance with God, so far shall we have to all eternity a ground of glorying in ourselves; yea, so far salvation will cease to be of grace; whereas “it is of faith that it may be by grace, and that boasting may be for ever excluded [Note: Romans 4:16. Ephesians 2:8-9.].”
Salvation must then be by faith without works, (not without works as its fruits and effects; but altogether without them, as a ground of our acceptance before God:) we must not endeavour either in whole or in part to “establish a righteousness of our own,” but seek to be clothed in the unspotted robe of Christ’s righteousness. This is the declaration of God himself [Note: Romans 4:5.]; nor did the Apostles themselves know any other way of salvation [Note: Galatians 2:16.]. We must all therefore desire, with St. Paul, to be found in Christ, not having our own righteousness, but his, even his alone [Note: Philippians 3:9.].]
The excellency of that way—
[What can be conceived more comfortable to man than to hear of such a salvation as this? Were we told that we must work out a righteousness of our own that should be commensurate with the demands of God’s law, who could entertain a hope of ever effecting it? If we were required to do something that should be worthy to be joined with the Saviour’s merits in order to render them more effectual for our acceptance, where should we find one single work of ours that we could present to God as perfect, and as deserving of so great a reward? The best man on earth must either sit down in despair, or live in continual suspense respecting his eternal welfare. But the righteousness of Jehovah appears at once, not only adequate to our wants, but to the wants of all mankind; and, by trusting in that, we find rest unto our souls. Nor can we devise any other method of acceptance so honourable to God; since it refers all the glory to him; and necessitates all the hosts of the redeemed to ascribe the honour of their salvation to him alone. In spite of all the objections too that are urged against it, we can affirm that it is eminently conducive to the practice of holiness. Can we think of God becoming man in order to work out a righteousness for us, and not feel a desire to serve and honour him? “Can we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid.” An inspired writer assures us that “the grace of God which bringeth salvation teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world.”
Let us then seek our righteousness in Christ alone; but let us shew by our lives, that this doctrine of faith is indeed “a doctrine according to godliness.”]
THE OMNIPRESENCE OF GOD
Jeremiah 23:24. Can any hide himself in secret places, that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.
MEN universally encourage themselves in sin, from the hopes of impunity. But they are under a fatal delusion: for however secret their iniquities may be, there is One who beholds them, with all their aggravating circumstances, and will bring them forth to the light, as grounds of his righteous indignation. The false prophets of old imagined that their pretensions to inspiration would subject them to no danger, provided they could preserve appearances before men; but God expostulates with them in the words before us, and appeals to their own consciences for a testimony against them. He appeals to them respecting the omnipresence of the Deity; to which important subject we would now call your attention,
In a way of rational inquiry—
The Heathen believed their gods to be confined to particular temples, or to certain districts [Note: 1 Kings 20:23.]: but can we imagine that Jehovah is thus limited?
[Is God the Creator of the world? How then can he be absent from any part of it, seeing that he must have been present with the whole at the time he formed it? Is he the Governor of the world? how then can he be limited to any place, since he must be every where, to direct and manage those events, which, without his superintending providence, would throw the universe into confusion. Is he God? if he be, he must be perfect; but if he be circumscribed by space, he must be imperfect; he must be ignorant of those things which he cannot behold, and impotent in respect of those things which he cannot reach.]
[The sacred records testify that he is in heaven; for “he dwelleth in the high and holy place [Note: Isaiah 57:15.].” Yet they do not limit him to heaven; for “the heaven of heavens cannot contain him [Note: 1 Kings 8:27.].” He is spoken of as existing upon earth; for “in him we live, and move, and have our being [Note: Acts 17:28.].” Yet it is not in any particular part of the earth that he exists; for “he filleth all in all [Note: Ephesians 1:23.].”]
[Every man who has ever heard of God has within him a consciousness that the Divine Being is present with him, and is privy to his most secret thoughts, In the midst of their wickedness indeed men try to persuade themselves that God does not see them [Note: Genesis 3:8. Job 22:13-14.Psalms 94:7; Psalms 94:7.]: but in seasons of reflection they cannot divest themselves of the conviction, that his all-seeing eye penetrates the inmost recesses of their hearts. What David confessed with joy, they feel with terror and dismay; that, whether they be in heaven, earth, or hell, they cannot for one moment escape the notice of their God [Note: Psalms 139:1-12.].
God is said indeed to have dwelt in the temple, and in the bush; and to be “far from the wicked:” but all such expressions relate, not to his essence, but to the manifestations of his presence. In every possible view, the appeal made to us in the text defies an answer, and precludes a doubt.]
Not to rest in mere theories, let the same subject be considered,
In a way of practical improvement—
Numberless are the truths which this subject would suggest to our minds; but we must of necessity confine ourselves to a few of the most important:
What folly is it to commit sin under the idea of secrecy!
[That such folly obtains in the world, is manifest to all. The thief takes advantage of his privacy to lay his hand upon his neighbour’s property. The adulterer watches for the return of night, when he may accomplish his wicked purposes without detection [Note: Job 24:15-17.]. Sinners of every description commit in secret what they would not dare to perpetrate, if they knew that the eyes of their fellow-creatures were upon them. But whence is this, unless from the atheistical conceit that God is not privy to their actions, or from an utter forgetfulness of his presence? Such conduct however is folly in the extreme: for God’s eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good [Note: Proverbs 15:3.].” “The darkness is no darkness to him: the night and the day to him are both alike:” and, as he observes, so will he also “bring to light, the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:5.]” as a ground of that sentence which he will one day pass upon all the workers of iniquity.
Let this be remembered in reference to all the sins we have ever committed in secret; and let it teach us to seek the remission of them while yet the day of mercy is continued to us.]
How vain are the hopes of the hypocrite!
[It is no very difficult matter to impose upon men: yea, we may also deceive our ownselves; but we cannot deceive God. However specious our conduct may be, he will discern our corrupt motives and principles, and will judge us according to the real quality of our actions. There is one way, and only one, in which we can hide our sins from God; and that is, by fleeing to the Lord Jesus Christ for refuge: then, though God will behold the sinner, he will not behold the sin; for it shall all be “blotted out as a morning cloud,” and be “cast behind him into the depths of the sea:” the vilest sinner in the universe, if he “be found in Christ,” shall be “complete [Note: Colossians 2:10.],” “without spot or blemish [Note: Ephesians 5:27.].” Such a hiding-place is Christ [Note: Isaiah 32:2.]; and such shall be the felicity of all that believe in him [Note: Acts 10:43.]. But it is in vain to hope that by any other means we shall escape the wrath of God: for “all things are naked and open unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do;” and every sin not purged away by the blood of Jesus shall be visited with just and everlasting judgments.]
How secure are they who put their trust in God!
[Many of the enemies with whom the Christian has to contend, are hidden from his view: but neither they nor any of their devices are concealed from the eyes of God. He is everywhere present to protect his people, and to defeat the plots of their adversaries. He it is that has given to our enemies the strength and wisdom which they exert against us; and he engages that “none of the weapons which they form against us shall prosper [Note: Isaiah 54:16-17.].” “Let the weak then say, I am strong:” for “if God be for them, who shall be against them?” Only let them “acknowledge him in all their ways,” and depend upon him in all their trials, and they need not fear [Note: Psalms 46:1-2.]; for “his eyes shall run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in their behalf [Note: 2 Chronicles 16:9.].”]
FIDELITY REQUIRED IN MINISTERS
Jeremiah 23:28-29, He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord. Is not my word like as fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer, that breaketh the rock in pieces?
OF all the different orders of mankind, there is not any that is more influential on society than that of ministers. The prophets of old, if truly faithful to their God, were means and instruments of diffusing incalculable blessings through the countries where they lived. The false prophets, on the contrary, hardened the people in their wickedness, and brought down the heaviest judgments on those whom they misled. Ministers of the present day produce similar effects, only on a more contracted scale. The prophets, whether true or false, were listened to as inspired; and, consequently, as bearing an authority far beyond what any minister at this time can assume. But still, as expounders of God’s revealed will, we are listened to with much respect and deference; and we are the means of dispensing much good or evil to our auditors, according as we approve ourselves faithful or unfaithful to the office we sustain, and to the Master whom we profess to serve. This is strongly intimated in the passage before us; in which we have,
A solemn injunction to all who bear the office of the ministry—
As ministers, the word of God is put into our hands, and a dispensation is committed to us to preach it; and that office we must execute “faithfully:” we must speak the word,
Unreservedly, without concealment—
[We must “declare unto our people the whole counsel of God [Note: Acts 20:27.],” and “not keep back from them any thing that can be profitable unto them [Note: Acts 20:20.].” We are at liberty indeed to consider what is suited to the state of our hearers, and what they are capable of receiving [Note: Mark 4:33.]. Our object must be, to benefit their souls [Note: Proverbs 11:30.]: and, consequently, we do well to adapt our instructions to their capacities, administering “milk to babes, and meat to those who are of full age [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:1-2.Hebrews 5:11-14; Hebrews 5:11-14.].” But in this discrimination we must not be regulated by carnal policy; but must act as before God, “not handling the word of God deceitfully, but, by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:2.].” Our motto must be that of the Apostle Paul: “We are not as many who corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:17.].”]
Impartially, without respect of persons—
[All idea of pleasing men must be utterly abandoned: for if we please men, or seek to do so, we cannot be the servants of Jesus Christ [Note: Galatians 1:10.]. St. Peter erred in this respect, when, for the sake of gratifying the Jewish converts, he inculcated, even on the Gentiles, the observance of the Jewish ritual [Note: Galatians 2:11-14.]. The fidelity of Paul is that which we ought to follow. He says, “Our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: but as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, who trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness: nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the Apostles of Christ [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:3-6.].” Whether we address rich or poor, we must “use great plainness of speech; not as Moses, putting a veil upon our face [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:12-13.];” but, as with unveiled face, exhibiting before our people the great mystery of godliness, if by any means “the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, may shine unto them [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:5-6.]”]
Boldly, without fear—
[The prophets of old were enjoined “not to fear the face of man, even though briers and thorns should be with them, and they should dwell among scorpions:” and to speak boldly all that God had commanded, lest he should, in just indignation for their cowardice, confound them before their people [Note: Jeremiah 1:8; Jer 1:17 and Ezekiel 2:6-7.]. We must expect to meet with opposition: for who, amongst the Prophets or Apostles, ever escaped it? Even our blessed Lord himself, with all his wisdom and grace, was an object of hatred to an ungodly world: and we must expect, that “they who hate the light” will hate us who set it before them [Note: John 3:19-20.]. But, however we be menaced, our answer to every opponent must be, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye; for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard [Note: Acts 4:19-20.].” And, if we be called to seal the truth with our blood, we must regard it rather as an honour than a shame [Note: Acts 5:41.], and rather as a ground of congratulation than a subject of condolence [Note: Philippians 2:17-18.].]
This injunction is further enforced by,
An unanswerable appeal to the whole world—
Here is an appeal,
To our judgment—
[Every one knows what a light and worthless thing “chaff is, in comparison of wheat.” And is not the application of this image to the subject before us both clear and obvious? Of what use were the assertions of the false prophets? They only deceived the people to their ruin. Look, on the other hand, at the labours of Moses, of David, of Elijah, of Paul: who can estimate the value of their services? So it is, in a measure, with every minister of Christ, who truly and faithfully discharges the high office committed to him. He feeds many, he nourishes many, comforts many, yea, and “saves many souls from death [Note: 1Ti 4:16 and James 5:20.].” God declares, that this effect should have followed the ministrations of former prophets, if they had been truly upright: “If they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings [Note: ver. 22.].” And though there doubtless is a great difference between the labours of different men in point of real efficiency, even whilst substantially they preach the same truths, yet the labours of those who bring forth a mixed and mutilated Gospel are not to be compared with those of a faithful servant of Christ, who “preaches the truth in love,” and exemplifies it in his life and conversation.]
To our experience—
[God’s word, if faithfully declared, is “quick and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword [Note: Hebrews 4:12.].” Let any one, that has ever noticed its effects, say, whether it is not “like fire,” which dissolves the hardest metal; and “like a hammer, which breaks in pieces” even adamant itself. Go to the populous city of Nineveh, and see all orders of men, from the greatest to the least, dissolved in tears at the preaching of one single prophet [Note: John 3:4-10.]: or look back to the day of Pentecost, when, by the preaching of Peter, three thousand persons, with their hands yet reeking with the Saviour’s blood, were converted to the Lord. Are not these instances sufficient to shew what wonders the word of God is able to effect? Verily, “it is mighty, through God, to the pulling down of the strong-holds of sin and Satan, and to the bringing of even the very thoughts of men into captivity to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.].”
Say, then, whether these be not cogent arguments for fidelity in the exercise of the ministerial functions? The exhibition of false doctrines saves no man, benefits no man: but a simple preaching of “Christ crucified is the power of God unto salvation” to millions of the human race [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23-24.Romans 1:16; Romans 1:16.]. To this, many of you, I trust, can bear testimony; yea, and I hope are living witnesses of its truth; in that “ye have turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, even Jesus, who hath delivered us from the wrath to come [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10.].”]
Let me discharge, as I am able, my duty to you—
[“To me is committed the word of God for you; and woe is unto me, if I preach it not with all fidelity [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:16-17.]!” If so much as one of you should perish through a want of faithfulness on my part, his blood would be required at my hands [Note: Ezekiel 33:6-8.]. You must not expect me, therefore, to “prophesy unto you smooth things,” or to “speak peace to you when there is no peace.” No: I must, at the peril of my soul, “speak God’s word unto you faithfully.” Now, there are three things which I do, and must, require at your hands. The first of these is, repentance — — — And I must declare unto you, that “except ye repent,” truly, deeply, and from your inmost souls repent, “ye shall all, all without exception, perish.” The next thing which I must call for, is faith, even faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the only Saviour of the world — — — And I must warn you, that without this there is no hope: for “there is no other foundation on which any man can build,” “nor any other name given under heaven whereby any man can be saved.” In addition to this, I must also require obedience, even a spiritual, cheerful, unreserved obedience to every command of God — — — And in the name of Almighty God I declare, that “without works all your faith is dead,” and, that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”]
Let me call on you to make a due improvement of my testimony—
[True it is, that even “though Paul should plant and Apollos water,” they would, if left to themselves, labour only in vain. “It is God alone that can give the increase” to the seed that is sown. But this will be no excuse for you, who make the word of no avail. If you would pray unto God, he would hear you: if you would seek his blessing, he would give it you: if you would desire him to clothe his word with power, he would accompany it with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Remember, I pray you, that the word delivered, if it be not “a savour of life unto life, will become unto you a savour of death unto death.” True it is, that the “fire” burns but dimly, and the “hammer” is but feebly applied: still, if God would by his Spirit kindle the flame, it should be sufficient to burn even to your inmost souls: and if he would reveal his mighty arm, no rock in the universe should be able to withstand its force. “He has put his treasure in earthen vessels, on purpose that the excellency of the power may appear to be of Him:” and he delights to “perfect his own strength in his people’s weakness.” It is this that encourages me to speak; and it may well also encourage you to hear. Look to Him, then, to use his wonder-working rod, as in the days of old; and to accomplish by it the redemption and salvation of your souls.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Jeremiah 23". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany