GOD’S GRACIOUS DESIGNS TOWARDS HIS CHOSEN PEOPLE
Jeremiah 30:10-11. Fear thou not, O my tenant Jacob, saith the Lord; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee; though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, I yet will not make a full end of thee; but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished.
THE peculiar importance of these words may be judged of from hence, that the prophet, without any apparent necessity, or indeed any visible connexion, introduces them again, towards the close of his prophecies [Note: Jeremiah 46:27-28.]. But the subject of them is so consolatory, and the view which they open to us of God’s future dispensations is so glorious, that they may well be proposed to our most attentive consideration. Respecting their primary import we can have no doubt. They look forward to a period far beyond the return of the Jews from Babylon, even to that blessed period, when the whole nation shall be converted to the faith of Christ, and be restored to the possession of the land of Canaan [Note: ver. 8, 9.]. That such a period shall arrive, we have the strongest and most unequivocal declarations of Holy Writ [Note: Compare Hosea 3:5.]: and it becomes us all to look forward to it with confidence and joy.
But we must not so contemplate the future good of others, as to overlook our own personal and immediate welfare. The words before us convey most comfortable tidings to ourselves; which therefore we shall advert to in connexion with the event to which they more especially refer: and in order to this we shall deduce from them some general observations. Observe then,
I. That God has glorious things in reserve for his chosen people—
1. For the Jewish people—
[There is certainly mercy in reserve for them:“their yoke has never been so broken from their neck, but that strangers have served themselves of them [Note: ver. 8.],” and do still oppress them. A season of happiness awaits them, such as they never experienced in their most prosperous days: “they shall be at rest, and be quiet, and none shall make them afraid:” and this outward peace shall be only a shadow of that inward joy which they snail experience under the protection of their reconciled God and Saviour, who will be “a little sanctuary unto them [Note: Ezekiel 11:16-17. with Jeremiah 23:6.].”]
2. For his people among all nations—
[However “far off” his people are, God sees and knows them [Note: 2 Timothy 2:19.], and will in due season bring them to himself [Note: John 10:16.]. No enemy shall be able to detain them: their bonds shall be broken, and they shall be “brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” O what sweet peace and composure of mind shall they enjoy, when they are truly brought to the fold of Christ [Note: Psalms 23:1-2.]! what blessed assurance too shall they possess, not only of their present interest in the Saviour, but of final victory and everlasting felicity [Note: Psalms 23:4-6.]!
Yet is this but the beginning of blessings: the time shall come when the saints of all ages, even from the beginning to the end of time, shall be gathered together, every one of them freed from all remains of sin and sorrow, and raised to the fruition of their heavenly inheritance.
Shall we not then, whilst we contemplate the future destinies of God’s ancient people, consider also our own; when, even in this life, such “things are prepared for us as no un-renewed eye hath seen, or ear heard, or heart conceived [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:9.];” and, in the world to come, such things as exceed the comprehension whether of men or angels?]
Subservient to this great design, God orders every thing for them in love, so,
II. That even his darkest dispensations towards them are intended for their good—
This was, and still is, the case with respect to the Jews.
[The sending of that whole nation into captivity in Babylon was doubtless a heavy judgment: but yet we are expressly told that God designed it “for their good [Note: Jeremiah 24:5.].” And we doubt not but that the destruction of their whole estate and polity by the Romans, together with their present dispersion over the face of the whole earth, is intended for their good also. By the Babylonish captivity they were cured of idolatry; and by the total abolition of the temple worship, all hope of obtaining mercy by the ceremonial rites and ceremonies is cut off, and they are “shut up unto the faith that is now revealed.” We trust also that they are preparing to be God’s honoured instruments of evangelizing the world; seeing that the receiving of them into the Church will be as life from the dead to the Gentile world [Note: Romans 11:15.]. We see clearly that there is an immense difference put between them and all the nations which once led them captive. The Egyptians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Romans, have ceased to exist as distinct kingdoms; and have been lost, as it were, among the people who subdued them: but the Jews are in every place a distinct people, and are so kept by God’s overruling providence, that he may accomplish more manifestly his gracious purposes towards them. Many indeed, like Pharaoh, have sought their destruction; but they live as monuments of God’s unceasing care and faithfulness.]
And may not we also see the hand of God ordering and overruling every thing for our good?
[His chastening hand may have been upon us; but the consolations and supports with which he has favoured us have almost changed the very nature of our afflictions. Besides, he has, like a skilful Refiner, apportioned our trials to our necessities; and always either increased our strength to sustain them, or provided for us a way to escape from them. Let any one of us look back, even the most afflicted amongst us, and say, Whether God has not corrected always “in measure [Note: Isaiah 27:7-8.]?” yea, whether his corrections have not “wrought for our good;” and whether, if our hearts be indeed right with God, they have not been “working out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory [Note: Romans 8:28. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.]?” Yes, “by these has our iniquity been purged; and the fruit of them has been to take away our sin [Note: Isaiah 27:9.]:” and in all that God may have inflicted on us, he has acted the part, not of an angry Judge, but of a loving Father [Note: Hebrews 12:6-8.].]
Well may God’s people rejoice in such hopes as these, seeing,
III. That his presence with them is their never-failing security—
God did not so withdraw from the Jews in Babylon, but that he was with them to watch over them, and to overrule events for their deliverance at the time appointed. Thus at this day he hears the cries of his afflicted people, and only waits till the appointed time to shew himself strong in their behalf. Thus is his presence with us our security also.
[He has promised “never to leave us nor forsake us [Note: Hebrews 13:5.].” In our troubles more especially has he engaged to be with us [Note: Isaiah 43:2-3.]. Nor will he ever leave us, till he has accomplished all the good pleasure of his goodness towards us [Note: Genesis 28:15.]. Had it not been for his presence with his Church and people, their enemies would long since have triumphed over them: but because “he is with them to save them,” they shall be “more than conquerors” over all their enemies, and “be saved by him with an everlasting salvation.”]
Thrice, in the parallel passage, does God repeat the exhortation, “Fear not [Note: Jeremiah 46:27-28.].” We therefore will address that exhortation,
1. To those who are afar off—
[Look at the Jews in Babylon, or in their present state; What can be conceived more hopeless? — — — Yet they were, and shall be delivered. Let none then despair, as if they were beyond the reach of mercy: for “God’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save;” and they shall “be brought nigh by the blood of Jesus,” which is able to “cleanse from all sin.”]
2. To those who are visited with any great affliction—
[You are apt to conclude, that, because you are afflicted, you are monuments of God’s wrath. But God makes these very afflictions a subject of promise: “I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished.” He knows that without these afflictions you would never return to him, nor ever be purified from your dross: it is because you are a child, and not a bastard, that he thus visits you with his chastising rod. It was in this view of his dispensations that David said, “In very faithfulness thou hast afflicted me.” Faithfulness has respect to a promise: and it is your privilege to see every one of your afflictions as the fruit of his faithfulness and love.]
3. To those who are under discouragement of any kind—
[“Fear not, feat not, fear not.” It is God’s delight to “bind up the broken-hearted, and to comfort all that mourn;” and thrice does he renew to you the exhortation, “Fear not.” Only seek to have his presence with you, and you need fear nothing. Remember the disciples in the storm. Could they sink whilst Jesus was in the vessel with them [Note: Mark 4:37-40.]? Neither can ye, under your circumstances, If God be for you, none can be effectually against you. Take him with you then, wherever you go; and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against you [Note: Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 41:14.].”]
THE CONVERSION OF THE JEWS—OUR DUTY TO PROMOTE IT
Jeremiah 30:17. This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after.
CONSIDERING how much is spoken in the Holy Scriptures concerning the present and future state of the Jewish nation, it is surprising how little they occupy the attention of the Christian world. As living witnesses of the truth of our holy religion, they are indeed often mentioned; but, as having any interest in the promises of the Gospel, and as ordained to fill an exalted station in the Church of God, they are scarcely ever noticed, so that, to bring the subject before a Christian audience seems almost to require an apology; the very mention of them in that view being more calculated to excite a smile, than to call forth the more holy emotions of compassion and love. Whence this should proceed, I know not; unless from that prejudice against them, which from our earliest infancy we have imbibed, and from an idea that all efforts for their welfare are visionary and vain. But this indifference towards them is highly criminal. We are not to imagine, that, because they are under God’s displeasure, we are discharged from all those duties which we owe them as men; or that, whilst God is making use of men as instruments to inflict punishment on his offending people, they are not responsible to him for the dispositions which they exercise, and the acts which they perform. Respecting the Jews in former times, it is said, “All that have found them, have devoured them: and their adversaries said, We offend not; because they have sinned against the Lord [Note: Jeremiah 50:7.].” But was his anger any reason for theirs? Was man justified in despising them, because they were under the chastisement of their offended God? Assuredly not: for God himself complains of this very conduct; “I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion, with a great jealousy: and I am sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased; and they helped forward the affliction:” (and then, as in the words before my text, he adds,) “Therefore I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies [Note: Zechariah 1:14-15.].” In all that he inflicts, he himself is just: but in executing his secret purposes, we are not just, any more than the Jews were in crucifying their Messiah: for though they did only what “God’s hand and God’s counsel had determined before to be done,” it was “with wicked hands that they crucified and slew him [Note: Acts 2:23; Acts 4:28.].” This distinction is very strongly marked in the passage before us. In the foregoing verses God vindicates his own honour, by shewing, that the Jews were themselves the authors of their own misery, in that they had brought it upon themselves by their great wickedness; yet he declares, at the same time, that the contempt poured upon them by their enemies was most offensive to him; and that when he should have fulfilled his will upon his own people, he would avenge their cause on those who, not from any zeal for his honour, but for the gratification of their own malignant passions, had been the willing, though unconscious, instruments of his vengeance [Note: See Isaiah 10:12.].
That we may enter fully into this view of our text, it will be proper for me to read to you the two verses immediately preceding it: “Why criest thou for thine affliction? Thy sorrow is incurable for the multitude of thine iniquity: because thy sins were increased, I have done these things unto thee. Therefore [the word ‘therefore’ should here, as in many other parts of the prophetic writings, have been translated ‘nevertheless’ [Note: The particle laken, translated therefore, sometimes signifies nevertheless, or yet surely. See the note on Isaiah 30:26; and so it is translated, chap. 5:2. of this prophecy; which sense agrees best with this place, and connects this verso with the words foregoing: “So it should be rendered likewise, chap. 30:16 and 32:36.” See Dr. Lowth on Jeremiah 16:14. Dr. Blaney thinks it should rather be translated “after this.” It is obvious, that it cannot be used as an illative particle in this place. Between the other two senses the author does not undertake to determine; any further than to say, that Dr. Lowth’s translation is the more agreeable to the context.]:] Nevertheless, all that devour thee shall be devoured; and all thine adversaries, every one of them, shall go into captivity; and they that spoil thee shall be a spoil: and all that prey upon thee will I give for a prey: for I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord; because they called thee an outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after;” that is, ‘I will take occasion, from the contempt that is poured upon thee, to manifest the regard which, even in thy lowest state, I bear towards thee, and to restore thee to my favour: yea, the very complacency which thine enemies express in the view of thy degradation, shall call forth my indignation against them, and my compassion for thee.’
The words thus explained, will lead us to consider the treatment shewn to the Jewish people, and the light in which their conduct is viewed by Almighty God.
I. We shall notice the treatment that is almost universally shewn to the Jewish people.
We might enter here into an historical view of the conduct of different nations towards them, and especially since their dispersion by the Romans. We might state the cruelties inflicted on them by the different potentates of Europe, not excepting those of our own country. But this would be unnecessary; since it is well known to all, that they have been, and still are, a proverb of reproach amongst ourselves, as well as in foreign lands: and that, if we wished to stigmatize any one with a name comprising every thing that was odious and contemptible, the term “Jew” would afford us ample scope for the exercise of our malignity. Let it suffice to say, that even in this land, which, in respect of civil and religious liberty, stands unrivalled amongst the nations of the world, and where toleration is carried to its utmost extent, there has been, within the memory of many now living, as universal and disgraceful an opposition to the Jews, as could well be expected from any civilized community. When the government of this country had passed an act in their favour, such was the clamour excited throughout the whole land, not by the irreligious only, but, I am ashamed to say, the religious also, that the Parliament was constrained to repeal, in the following year, the law which had been enacted; when that law did nothing more than concede to them the common rights of humanity, the rights possessed by the meanest beggar in the land.
Nor is it in respect of civil rights only that they are so disregarded: their religious interests also are altogether overlooked. In behalf of the heathen there have been two venerable societies established in this land for above a hundred years: but who amongst us have united together for the benefit of the Jews? Within a few short months, also, has there been sent forth, from the highest authorities in the state, a circular letter [Note: In 1815.], to call forth the exertions of every member of the community in behalf of the heathen; but on behalf of the unhappy Jews, no such effort, yea, no effort at all, has ever been made: no: they may be left to perish! “They are the Zion, whom no man seeketh after,” or needs to seek after. What a striking illustration of our text is this! and how exactly corresponding with the judgment which God, by his prophet, foretold, as assuredly to come upon them in their dispersion: “I will cause them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth: and who shall have pity on thee, O Jerusalem? or who shall bemoan thee? or who shall go aside to ask how thou doest [Note: Jeremiah 15:4-5.]”
But there is a point noticed in our text, to which I wish to draw your more particular attention. The evil which called forth the animadversion of Jehovah was, that, whilst the enemies of Zion poured contempt upon her, they vindicated their conduct in that respect, and spoke of it as being precisely such as became them on the occasion: “I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord of Hosts, because they called thee an outcast; saying. This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after;” this is Zion, respecting whom no one needs to give himself any concern at all.
And is not this the very way in which we have conducted ourselves towards the Jewish people? We not only despise them, and disregard their welfare; but we justify this habit, and see no reason for altering it: we even feel a complacency in the thought of their degradation; and, instead of rejoicing, that now, at last, a society has arisen to seek their welfare, we regard their attempts as visionary; and are disposed rather to deride their efforts, than to afford them our active and zealous aid. Instead of praying fervently to God for this people in secret, and then going forth to exert ourselves for the conversion of their souls, we give them not so much as a place in our thoughts: and so far from being ashamed of, or even thinking it necessary to palliate, our neglect of them, I say again, we justify it; and account any frivolous excuse an ample vindication of our conduct.
On this part of our subject we shall enter more fully, in another discourse [Note: See on Zechariah 14:7.]: but we beg that it may be particularly kept in mind throughout this present discourse, because it is the main point on which the whole turns. Let it be remembered, that we speak not of persecuting the Jews; no, nor even of neglecting them; but we speak of that self-vindication which we cherish in the midst of this neglect; and of the willingness which we manifest to catch at any thing, which may, with the smallest semblance of propriety, appear to justify that neglect. Perhaps, in our whole lives, we have never once imagined that we were sinning against God by this conduct, or that he beheld it with any marked disapprobation; much less have we made it a ground for humiliation before God, and implored grace from Him to change and amend our ways.
Such, then, having been our conduct, let me proceed to set before you, as I proposed, under the second head of my discourse, the light in which it is viewed by Almighty God.
We can scarcely conceive a stronger expression of God’s indignation against such conduct, than that which is contained in the passage before us since it not only called forth his displeasure against those who were guilty of it, but induced him, in a way of recompence, to declare, that he would restore to his favour the people who were so contemned.
If, as is probable, we do not see any great evil in this conduct, let us proceed to investigate it in some different particulars.
First, murk the inhumanity of it. The Jews, no less than ourselves, have immortal souls, which must be partakers of happiness or misery for ever. I know, that to speak of that whole people as in a state of guilt and condemnation, is by many deemed uncharitable and severe; and I am far from censuring those whose feelings revolt from so terrible a thought. But, if we believe the Scriptures to be true, we shall find it impossible to maintain the sentiment which our charity would dictate. I presume not to say, that there may not be many individuals, both amongst Jews and Gentiles, to whom mercy may be accorded for Christ’s sake, notwithstanding they have not a distinct view of his salvation: but I would ask, What did St. Paul mean, when he appealed so solemnly to the heart-searching God respecting his own feelings on account of his nation: “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not; my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart for my brethren’s sake [Note: Romans 9:1-2.]”. Would he have felt all this, if he had believed that they were in a state of salvation? Whence could his “great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart” arise, but from the conviction of his mind, that, whilst they continued to reject the Saviour, they were under the wrath of God? And whence arose his unabated efforts in their behalf, “that by any means he might save some,” if he did not consider them all as in danger of perishing in their sins? Permit me, then, to ask, if they be indeed, nationally considered, in such a state, are we guilty of no inhumanity, whilst we use no efforts for their welfare? Were we to see a multitude of them shipwrecked, and to refuse to make exertions for their preservation, when the means of preserving them were in our hands, there would be but one sentiment in the whole world respecting our conduct; and we ourselves should be amongst the foremost to condemn those who should so violate all the feelings of humanity. Yet is not this the very conduct of which we have been guilty? We have seen that unhappy nation sinking into perdition, and have had at our command that which is sufficient to save the whole world; yet have we never tendered to them our assistance, nor used any means for their salvation. And in what light Almighty God views this conduct, we may judge from what he spoke respecting the Ammonites of old: “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever; because they met you not with bread and with water in the way when ye came forth out of Egypt [Note: Deuteronomy 23:3-4.].” Now, if God expressed such indignation against them for not administering to his people temporal relief, what must he not feel against us, who, with the bread of life and the water of life in rich profusion in our hands, have never stirred one step to supply their wants, or to make them partakers of our benefits? The parable of the good Samaritan is familiar to us all: and there is but one sentiment amongst us respecting the conduct of the priest and the Levite towards the wounded Jew, when compared with that of the Samaritan. And are the Jews of this day less neighbours to us, than those in our Lord’s day were to the Samaritans? Yet have we seen the perishing condition of that whole nation, without any suitable emotions, or any efforts made by us in their behalf. We may extenuate our fault as we will; but, in the sight both of God and man, we have been guilty of most grievous inhumanity.
Consider, next, the injustice of our conduct. God has given to us the Scriptures, not for ourselves only, but for the whole world also: his command to all who possess them is, (for we must not limit it to his immediate disciples,) “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature:” and so far was he from excepting the Jews, that he required a preference to be shewn to them, and particularly enjoined, that the first offer of salvation should be made to them [Note: Luke 24:47.]. This preference his Apostles continued to shew, till the obstinacy of the Jews constrained them to manifest towards the Gentiles an indiscriminate regard. But, if we suppose the preference to the Jews to be no longer enjoined, can we imagine that they are to be altogether neglected? Very different will our judgment be, if we consult what St. Paul has written on this subject: “As ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief, even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy [Note: Romans 11:30-31.].” The meaning of which passage, I conceive, is this: God withdrew his mercy from his ancient people, that he might impart it to you Gentiles; but, in imparting it to you, he never designed that it should be finally withheld from them: on the contrary, he now makes you the depositaries of his word for their good, that, through the mercy vouchsafed to you, they may be led to a renewed enjoyment of the blessings which they in former ages exclusively possessed. Thus have they a claim upon us: we are actually “debtors to them [Note: Romans 15:26-27.]:” and, whilst we withhold from them the blessings which are entrusted to us for their use, we are guilty of the grossest injustice. Suppose, in a time of dearth, a person of opulence should commit to his steward a sum of money for the relief of persons who were specifically described; and that, on inquiry, he should find that his steward had altogether withheld relief from those for whose benefit the trust had been committed to him, and had spent the money on himself: would any one hesitate to call him an unjust steward? What then, if, instead of improving the Gospel for the ends for which it has been committed to us, namely, that “through our mercy the Jews might obtain mercy,” we have been altogether regardless of our trust, and suffered them all to “perish for lack of knowledge:” will God account us faithful? Will he not rather complain of us as unjust stewards? Will he not accuse us as having intercepted the flow of his benevolence towards the objects of his compassion, and as having robbed them of the benefits which he had ordained them to enjoy? Let us not then console ourselves with the thought, that we have never inflicted on them any positive injury; but let us rather tremble at that sentence which God has denounced against those who have hid their “talent in a napkin;” “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness, where shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.”
There is yet another view in which I would place this conduct. Consider the ingratitude of it. We were once in as deplorable a condition as the Jews, or rather in a state far worse: for they do worship the one true God; whereas we were bowing down to stocks and stones. And how did they act towards us? The Jewish nation at large, I grant, opposed, with all their might, the calling of the Gentiles: and some who were truly pious could not see the Divine purposes in relation to this matter. But they acted under a mistaken sense of duty to their God; (an excuse which none of us can offer:) and, as soon as they were fully instructed in their duty, they accounted nothing too much to do or suffer, if they might but be employed as instruments to “turn us from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” Most remarkable is that declaration of St. Paul, to this effect, to his Gentile converts at Philippi: “If I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all: for the same cause do ye also joy and rejoice with me [Note: Philippians 2:17-18.].” To understand this aright, we should bear in mind, that, when burnt-offerings were presented to God under the Law, meat-offerings of flour and oil were consumed with them, and drink offerings of wine were poured out upon them [Note: Numbers 15:3-11.]. “Now,” says the Apostle, “I regard your faith as a sacrifice and service to the Lord: and if my blood be poured out upon it as a libation,” (that is the meaning of the word which we translate ‘offered,’) “so far shall I be from complaining of my persecutors, or accounting it hard that I am called to suffer, that I shall congratulate myself, and expect to be congratulated by you, on the honour and happiness conferred upon me.” Such was his love towards the Gentiles. And should there not he some measure of the same spirit in us, towards the Jews? But what self-denial have we exercised for them? or what labour have we endured for their benefit? Instead of willingly pouring out our blood for them, (as all the Apostles, except John, did for us,) have we even shed a tear for them before God, or poured out a prayer for their deliverance? To us they have been the greatest benefactors: all that we know of God and his Christ, we have learned from them: and all on which our hopes of eternal happiness are founded, we derive from them. Do these things call for no return at our hands? If we have received so abundantly of their spiritual things, is it not our “duty” to impart to them of ours [Note: Romans 15:27.]; When they have manifested such enlargement of heart towards us, what can we think of ourselves, if we are so straitened towards them [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:11-13.]?
If any one object, that “the benefits conferred on us by pious Jews of former ages lay us under no obligation to those who are ungodly in the present day,”I would reply, that no one of us would argue thus in matters of mere temporal concern; but that, on the contrary, we should rather feel the claims of such persons augmented by their very necessities. Suppose, for instance, that a rich man had disinherited his own son for some offence, and conferred all his estates on us, who had no relation to him, and no claim upon him whatever; and that, in process of time, the descendants of his son were reduced to extreme want and misery; should we regard them with the same indifference as we might, perhaps, if no such circumstance had ever occurred? Should we not think they had some kind of claim upon our charity; and that, out of the wealth so undeservedly conferred on us, and in the full enjoyment of which we were living, we should do well to bestow on them at least the crumbs which fell from our table? and, if we refused them this boon, should we think, or would any person think, that gratitude “had its perfect work within us? Let us judge righteous judgment;” and let the verdict which conscience would give in that case be given in the other; only with this additional aggravation, that, whilst the charity which we refused them would in the one case have diminished our wealth, in the other it would have enlarged it, and have enriched us whilst it aided them.
There is yet one more point of view in which I will place the conduct of which I am speaking. Consider the impiety of it. What has not our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ done for us? He has left the bosom of his Father, and disrobed himself of all his glory, and assumed our nature (being “made like unto us in all things, sin only excepted”), and “borne our sins in his own body on the tree,” and “become a curse for us, that he might redeem us from the curse of the law,”and reconcile us to our offended God. And, in return for all this, what does lie require at our hands? What, but that we should henceforth “live not unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us, and rose again [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:15.]?”This, methinks, is the least that we can do. To love him, to serve him, to glorify him in every possible way, is surely no more than “our reasonable service.” Now, when he would instruct the Apostle Peter, how to evince his love, and how to render him the most acceptable service, what direction did he give him? “Simon, lovest thou me? Feed my sheep: feed my lambs.” If it be said, that this was done for the purpose of restoring Peter to his apostolic office, which he had disgraced and forfeited, I grant it was; but still it shews, that, to administer to the spiritual and eternal welfare of the Lord’s people, as far as our respective circumstances will admit of it, is a suitable expression of our love to him, and a service most acceptable in his sight. What then shall we say, if, when we have seen all his kindred according to the flesh scattered over the face of the whole earth, we have never endeavoured to bring one to his fold, or to feed them in the pastures prepared for them? May he not justly take up against us the complaint which he uttered against his shepherds of old, “My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them [Note: Ezekiel 34:6.]?” May not the reproach cast on the Christians at Rome be justly applied to us, “All men seek their own, and not the things which are Jesus Christ’s [Note: Philippians 2:21.]?” And may not the Jews themselves adopt, in reference to us, the lamentation of David, “I looked on my right hand, and beheld; but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; and no man cared for my soul [Note: Psalms 142:4.]?” I readily grant, that we are not all called to the pastoral office: but are we therefore freed from all obligation to use our efforts for the extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom, according to our ability? Do we not read of even females who “laboured in the Lord, yea, and laboured much in the Lord [Note: Romans 16:12.]?” There are many things which we all might have done towards the recovery of the lost sheep of the house of Israel. We might, at least, have felt towards them as the Apostle did, when he said, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they may be saved [Note: Romans 10:1.]:” yea, like our blessed Saviour, we might have “wept” over their desolate condition [Note: Luke 19:41.]; and with the angel, of whom the Prophet Zechariah speaks, have pleaded for them: “O Lord God of Hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem [Note: Zechariah 1:12.]?” But if no measure of this love to Christ have burned in our hearts, we may well doubt whether we have ever loved him at all, or have ever experienced his power and grace upon our own souls. If St. John’s appeal respecting a backwardness to relieve the temporal necessities of our fellow-creatures be unanswerable, how much more will it be so, when applied to the subject before us: “Whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him [Note: 1 John 3:17.]?” How indeed! We may make what profession of piety we will; but we shall prove to demonstration, that we have no love either to God or man in our hearts, if, after this warning, we neglect to seek the welfare of the Children of Israel.
Thus have I faithfully declared unto you what I verily believe to be the truth of God: and I appeal to yourselves, whether I have given an exaggerated statement, or whether I have declared more than you you will find to be true, if you will only seriously reflect upon it as before God. Only let it be remembered, that I have not spoken these things respecting the mere neglect of their welfare, but of the justification of that neglect, and of the reluctance which is shewn to make any effort for their salvation. The retrospective application of it bears upon persons only in proportion to the information they have possessed; but the prospective application comes with full weight upon the consciences of us all; so that I may say, as our Lord did to the Jews, “If we had never been addressed upon the subject, we might have had no sin: but now we shall have no cloak for our sin.”
If I should attempt to trace this neglect of our Jewish Brethren to what I conceive to be its true cause, I must impute it, in a very considerable degree, to that ignorance of the prophetic writings which so generally prevails amongst us. They are not studied amongst us as they ought to be. Because they are in some parts difficult to be understood, we altogether wave the consideration of them: or, if we consider them at all, we involve them in tenfold obscurity, by interpreting, as relating to the Gentiles, what God has spoken primarily, if not exclusively, of the Jews. The truth is, that if, in reading the prophecies, we kept the Jews steadily before our eyes, such a light would shine upon the Scriptures as we have never before seen; and all the purposes and perfections of God would be unfolded to us, in a new and most interesting view. But we keep that people out of sight, and never make the prophecies relating to them a subject of our ministrations. Forgive me, if I say, that to us ministers this guilt attaches in a very high degree. Our duty has been, to “declare to our people the whole counsel of God:” and yet we have passed over this subject, as unworthy of our own attention, or of theirs: and those mysteries which caused the holy Apostle to exclaim, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out [Note: Romans 11:33]!” have been treated by us with contemptuous silence; our whole conduct being, in this respect, one continued comment on our text; “This is Zion, an outcast, whom no man seeketh after.” I pray God, that the blood of that unhappy people may not be laid to our charge, or “be required at our hands [Note: Ezekiel 33:7-8,],”
I cannot, however, exempt from grievous criminality the Church at large, amongst whom exists a sad indifference even about their own souls. Too many amongst us have never truly sought salvation for themselves: how then could they seek the welfare of others? If they have never “looked on Him whom by their sins they have pierced,” and never mourned for their own iniquities, how should they weep over the Jewish people, or labour to restore them to the favour of their God? Here, it is to be feared, is the root of the evil with the great mass of nominal Christians: they have not laid to heart their own wickedness: they have not wept and prayed over their own perishing condition, nor fled to Christ for refuge from the curses of the broken law, It is no wonder, then, that they have left, without any remorse, their Jewish brethren to perish in their sins, But shall we continue thus to augment our guilt; and to “treasure up for ourselves, no less than for them, wrath against the day of wrath?” In vain shall we attempt to justify this conduct: for, beyond a doubt, our God would have us like-minded with himself, when he speaks of them as still “beloved of him for their fathers’ sake [Note: Romans 11:28.];” and with heart-felt joy contemplates their restoration to his favour. Hear how he speaks in the words following my text: “Behold, I will bring again the captivity of Jacob’s tents, and have mercy on his dwelling-places: and the city shall be builded on her own heap; and the palace shall remain after the manner thereof: and out of them shall proceed thanksgiving, and the voice of them that make merry: and I will multiply them, that they shall not be few; and I will glorify them, that they shall not be small. …and they shall be my people, and I will be their God [Note: ver. 18, 19, 22. with Jeremiah 24:7.].” Such is the delight with which God contemplates these great events: and shall we be indifferent to them? Shall we not endeavour to help forward this glorious day? Shall not their ignorance move us, and their obduracy call forth our compassion? Behold how the prophet bemoaned their situation in his day: “Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people: mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission, till the Lord look down upon them, and behold from heaven [Note: Lamentations 3:48-50.].” This is the frame of mind which becomes US: and sure I am, that, if any measure of it be found in us, we shall neglect them no longer. We shall consider what can be done in their behalf; and shall not suffer every foolish excuse that can be offered to warp our judgment, or to paralyze our exertions. We shall bear in mind, what arrears of love we owe to them, and what a fearful responsibility hangs over us before God: and we shall lend ourselves to every good work, whereby their minds may be enlightened, and their souls “subdued to the obedience of faith.” We shall not account it superfluous to exert ourselves, because we do not expect “the nation to be born in a day;” but shall gladly labour, in every possible way, for the promotion of their good, “if by any means we may save some.” If we may but gain “one of a city, and two of a tribe or family [Note: Jeremiah 3:14.];” yea, if after all our efforts, we may but glean a small remnant, four or five from the top of the outermost branches of the olive-tree [Note: Isaiah 17:6.], we shall account our exertions richly recompensed, and shall bless our God that we “have not laboured in vain, or run in vain.”
GOD’S REGARD FOR THOSE WHO APPROACH UNTO HIM
Jeremiah 30:21. Who is this that engaged his heart to approach unto me? saith the Lord.
THE history of the Jews is deserving of attention, not merely as unfolding to our view the gradual introduction of Christianity, but as shadowing forth all the most important parts of the Christian system. The passage before us primarily relates to the return of the Jews from Babylon. It foretells, that a terrible destruction should come upon their oppressors: that they, in consequence of it, should be restored to their own country, and live under governors of their own nation, and have the same access to God, in his worship, as they had enjoyed before the destruction of their city and temple. But, under these events, many others of a more sublime nature were typified. Their governors represented Christ, who should in due time arise to reign over them; and their enjoyment of Divine ordinances depicted the privileges which we were to possess under the Christian dispensation. To evince this, we will shew,
I. To whom this passage refers—
Besides referring to Zerubbabel and the Jewish people, it refers,
1. To Christ—
[Beyond all doubt he was the Governor who was to arise from among that people [Note: Compare ver. 9, with Psalms 22:28 and Matthew 2:6.], and to reign over the house of David for ever [Note: Luke 1:32-33; Luke 1:68-75. where the whole subject of the chapter before us is represented as verified in Christ.]— — —He “approached unto God” as our Surety and High Priest on earth, and as our Advocate and Intercessor in heaven — — — In this glorious work he “engaged his heart.” When first he entered into covenant with the Father respecting it, he shewed that his whole heart was engaged in it [Note: Psalms 40:7-8.]: and, from the moment that he entered upon his work, he persisted in it, notwithstanding all which he had to endure in the prosecution of it [Note: See while yet a child, Luke 2:46-49. And during his ministry, he went into the wilderness that he might be tempted, Matthew 4:1.—he rebuked Peter for dissuading him from suffering, Matthew 16:22-23.—he longed for his bloody baptism, Luke 12:50.—he resigned himself to suffer all that was necessary, John 12:27-28.—nor would he rescue himself (John 18:6-9.), or be rescued (Matthew 26:51-54.), or come down from the cross, till he could say, “It is finished,” Matthew 27:42.]— — —]
2. To his people—
[His followers are characterized as “a people near unto God [Note: Psalms 148:14.]:” and to them, as the words following the text evince, the words before us may be applied. They endeavour to “approach God” in the way that he has appointed: they “draw near to him with a true heart, in full assurance of faith.” They approach him in the public ordinances and in their private chambers. They “have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus:” they come even to the throne of God: they “stir up themselves to lay hold on him,” and “will not let him go, until he bless them.” In this work they “engage their hearts:” they know that “the drawing nigh to God with their lips only is a vain service:” they therefore labour to “worship him in spirit,” and to say with David, “My heart is fixed, my heart is fixed.” Whatever discouragements arise, they know that to yield to them must be productive of the most fatal consequences: and therefore they determine, if they are tempted at any time to say “I am cast out of the sight of thine eyes,” they will not despair; but will “cry unto God from the very belly of hell [Note: Jonah 2:2; Jonah 2:4.],” assured that “none shall ever seek his face in vain.”]
But to understand the passage aright, we must notice,
II. The peculiar force of the interrogation—
It is not to be supposed that God asks for information: the inquiry is rather expressive of his most cordial approbation.
God delighted in the mediation of his dear Son—
[In the prospect of this event, the Father delighted in him before man had fallen, or the world itself was formed [Note: Proverbs 8:22-23; Proverbs 8:30.]. And he commanded his prophet to announce, that he was “well pleased for his righteousness’ sake [Note: Isaiah 42:21.], not only before he had wrought out that righteousness, but hundreds of years before he became incarnate. No sooner did the Lord Jesus enter on his work, than the Father, by an audible voice from heaven, attested that he was “well pleased with him.” The same testimony he bore, and in the same manner, on two other occasions: and in all his other dispensations towards him, he evinced that Jesus was “his elect, in whom his soul delighted [Note: Isaiah 42:1.]” If at any time that approbation could be supposed to be withheld, it would be while the Father hid his face from him on the cross, or smote him with the sword of justice: but in reference to that very period we are told, that “it pleased the Father to bruise him [Note: Isaiah 53:10. This passage marks the pleasure which God took, not indeed in inflicting punishment on his Son, but in making him a substitute for sinful man.]” and that “the sacrifice then offered was of a sweet-smelling savour [Note: Ephesians 5:2.].”
He delights also in the approaches of a sinner to his footstool—
[“The prayer of the upright is his delight.” If in heaven “there is joy among the angels in the presence of God over one sinner that repenteth,” doubtless that God, in whose presence they are, approves and participates their joy, The representation given of him in the parable of the Prodigal Son, both countenances and confirms this sentiment; yea, to such a degree is he pleased with the supplications of a repenting sinner, that he would rather withdraw his eyes from every other object, whether in heaven or on earth, than not direct them especially towards him [Note: Isaiah 66:2.]. See this exemplified in Saul of Tarsus: no sooner had that blood-thirsty persecutor begun to humble himself before his Maker, than God sent a special messenger to his relief, assigning this as the reason, “Behold, he prayeth [Note: Acts 9:10-11.]!” Thus at this time, if he see any of his rebellious creatures prostrating themselves before him, and earnestly imploring mercy, he will say, ‘Who is this? Is this the creature that I beheld so recently in arms against me? Is this he who seemed to hurl defiance in my face? is it he, who now so humbly engages his heart to approach unto me? He is my dear son; he is a pleasant child: my bowels are troubled fur him: I will surely have mercy upon him for evermore [Note: Jeremiah 31:18-20.].’]
[Are there any amongst you that can answer to the inquiry, ‘Lord, it is I: I find my need of thee: I have engaged my heart in thy service; and am determined, through thy grace, that I will never go back?’ Let me congratulate you, my brethren: for “blessed is the man whom God chooses, and causes to approach unto him [Note: Psalms 65:4.].” Be thoroughly in earnest, and take care that you do not, after putting your hand to the plough, look back again.
Are there any who are constrained to say, ‘I would gladly make such a reply; but my rebellious heart revolts, and will not obey the dictates of my judgment?’ Then I would bid them to mark the works before the text; “I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach unto me.” If any go unto him, it is not owing to their own superior goodness or strength, but to the attractive influences of God’s Spirit. Adopt then the petition of the Church of old, and then you may with confidence adopt her engagement also, “Draw me, and we will run after thee [Note: Song of Solomon 1:4.]:” “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart [Note: Psalms 119:32.]”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Jeremiah 30". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Easter