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Jeremiah 42:20-21. Ye dissembled in your hearts, when ye sent me unto the Lord your God, saying, Pray for us unto the Lord our God; and according unto all that the Lord our God shall say, so declare unto us, and we will do it. And now I hare this day declared it to you; but ye have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God, nor any thing for the which he hath sent me unto you.
THE office of a minister, if it abound with consolations, abounds with trials and afflictions also. When he is instrumental to the turning of men to righteousness, and “sees his children walk in truth, he has the sublimest joy” of which, in his present state of existence, he is capable: but to find that he only “labours in vain,” and to behold those of whom he had begun to entertain some pleasing hopes, making shipwreck of their faith and of a good conscience, is inexpressibly painful: such scenes as these renewed, as it were, in the Apostle’s mind, all the pangs of childbirth, so that “he travailed in birth again with his converts, till Christ should be completely formed in them.” The Prophet Jeremiah was very unfortunate in this respect: he had at all times to deal with an untoward people; and actually experienced more kindness from the enemies of his nation, than he did from the people unto whom he ministered.
The particular circumstances under which he was at the time referred to in our text, deserve to be considered. Johanan and the captains of the Jewish forces having rescued their countrymen from Ishmael, who was carrying them captive into the land of the Ammonites, were doubting whether to continue in Canaan, where they feared the vengeance of the Chaldeans, or to go into the land of Egpyt, where they hoped to find both safety and abundance. In this strait they applied for instruction to Jeremiah, with apparent sincerity, but (as our text informs us, and the event proved,) with real dissimulation. We propose to consider their conduct,
As exemplified in them—
Their dissimulation was indeed most vile and flagrant—
[In their application to the prophet, there was the greatest expression of piety: they entreated his prayers to God for them, and promised to follow implicitly whatever direction he should give them from the Lord. They declared most solemnly, that no consideration of ease or interest should induce them to deviate from his injunctions; and they even called God himself to be a witness between the prophet and them, and to visit upon them their iniquity, if they should neglect to perform their promise [Note: Read ver. 1–6.] — — —
By the prophet, God returned to them a most gracious answer. He directed them what to do; and encouraged them by the strongest assurances of his own protection; promising to return in mercy to them himself, as well as to dispose the heart of the king of Babylon to shew mercy to them: at the same time he warned them plainly, that if they would follow their own ways in opposition to his counsel, he would bring upon them all the calamities which they were so anxious to escape [Note: Read ver. 7–19.] — — —
They however, by their determined rejection of God’s counsel, betrayed in the most open manner their own hypocrisy. Instead of hearkening to God’s voice, they, “the proud among them” especially, denied that the message which was delivered to them proceeded from God: they imputed it to the ill-will of Baruch towards them [Note: Jeremiah 43:1-3.]; and told the prophet plainly, that they would not follow his injunctions [Note: Jeremiah 44:16.]. Accordingly they, in express violation of their own engagements, went down into Egypt, and there found, as God had declared unto them, “whose word should stand, his or theirs [Note: Jeremiah 44:28.].”]
From this view of the history, we are led to make the following remarks:
First, How little do men know of their own hearts!
[In all the professions which they made of their readiness and determination to obey their God, they thought themselves sincere; and doubtless would have been exceedingly indignant, if the prophet had in the first instance charged them with hypocrisy. Thus Peter, when he so vehemently declared, that, though all others should forsake their Lord, he never would, conceived that nothing could ever induce him to recede from his purpose: and thus we also persuade ourselves that we shall prove superior to all temptations, till the time of trial comes, and we shew by our unfaithfulness, how little we knew of our own hearts.]
Next, What an enemy to man’s happiness is pride!
[It was “the proud men” in particular who denied the inspiration of the prophet, and who ascribed his message to a conspiracy which ho and Baruch had entered into to deceive them. To the same malignant principle of pride does the holy Psalmist ascribe the contempt with which ungodly men treat every thing that relates to God: “The wicked through the pride of his countenance! will not seek after God [Note: Psalms 10:4.].” Yes, this is at the root of infidelity: men pretend that there is a want of evidence of the Divine authority of the Scriptures, and exclaim against the Gospel as the invention of priestcraft or enthusiasm: but the truth is, they are too proud to submit to the yoke of Christ, and to receive salvation as the unmerited gift of God.]
Once more;—How awful is the issue of unbelief!
[Plain were the warnings which they received; and bitter was the experience which the unbelieving Jews had of God’s fidelity to his threatenings. Thus also it was with the Jews who came out of Egypt, all of whom perished in the wilderness, with the exception of two only. And thus it shall be with unbelievers, whoever they may be: they shall find to their cost, “whose word shall stand, whether God’s or theirs.” “Their unbelief shall never make the word of God of none effect:” of his word, not one jot or tittle shall ever fall to the ground.]
From this general view of their conduct, let us turn to the consideration of it,
As imitated by us—
It may properly be said of all who attend upon the preaching of the Gospel, that they virtually acknowledge the relation that subsists between them and their minister: they look to him as God’s ambassador, to declare to them the Divine will respecting them; and they profess their readiness to obey the Divine mandates, whatsoever they may be; and in every instance wherein they are wilfully disobedient, they are, in truth, like the Jews in our text, dissemblers with God. But there are some particular occasions on which our hearers place themselves precisely, as it were, in the same situation with them whose conduct we are considering:
Under conviction of sin—
[Those who hear the Gospel faithfully administered, rarely escape without having the word at one time or other brought home to their conscience, and being constrained to make some resolutions of amendment. When such emotions are excited, the heart, which was before stout, is softened; and the ear, which was deaf to all the precepts of the Gospel, becomes opened to receive instruction. On such occasions men will even condescend to request a remembrance in the prayers of their ministers, and to desire instruction relative to the commands of God. Like those on the day of Pentecost, they will cry, “Sir, what must I do to be saved?”
For persons in such a state the faithful minister feels deeply interested: and, whilst he implores the blessing of God upon them, he points out to them the only way of life and salvation. He shews them, that, “if they will be Christ’s disciples, they must deny themselves” in reference to all their former lusts and evil habits; that they must “take up their cross daily,” and not only bear with patience the contempt and hatred of an ungodly world, but rejoice that they are counted worthy to suffer for their Redeemer’s sake; and that they must “follow Christ” in the whole of his spirit and conduct, “walking in all things as he walked.”
But this, to the generality, appears too strait a path: they reply, as our Saviour’e hearers did, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” and like them also, “they go back, and walk no more with us:” thus proving, by their inconstancy, that all their former professions were no better than dissimulation before God. O let those who have “tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,” examine their own hearts, and see in what light they are viewed by God, if they have not followed up their convictions, and devoted themselves truly to their Lord and Saviour!]
Under some heavy trial or affliction—
[Affliction has a tendency to plough up, as it were, the fallow-ground of man’s heart, and to prepare it for the reception of the good seed. The loss of a wife, or husband, or child, or of some friend that was as one’s own soul, is often the means of embittering to us all that this world can afford, and of directing our attention to a better world, where alone true happiness can be found. A succession of any other painful events will also produce a similar effect.
Religious company and conversation will, under such circumstances, be not only tolerated, but often desired and delighted in; and the most hopeful appearances of sound conversion will ensue. “They will pour out a prayer, when God’s chastening is upon them;” yea, says God, “in their affliction they will seek me early.”
But in most cases the impression is but of short duration; and the vows which they made in trouble are soon forgotten. They are like metal taken out of the furnace, which soon returns to its former hardness. Thus it was with the Jews: “When God slew them, then they sought him, and returned and inquired early after God, &c.; nevertheless they did but flatter him with their mouth, &c.; for their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant [Note: Psalms 78:34-37.].” And thus it is with too many also amongst ourselves; “their goodness is only as the morning dew, and as the early cloud that passeth away.”]
At the approach of death—
[The most hardened of men are, for the most part, softened at the prospect of death; so that even the most abandoned criminals, under a sentence of condemnation, are thankful for the services of a pious minister, listening eagerly to his instructions, and uniting fervently with him in his prayers. Indeed the common practice of mankind has sanctioned the idea of sending for a minister, to counsel and to pray for the sick and dying.
On those occasions we hear much regret expressed by the generality, on account of the sad neglect of which they have been guilty; and many purposes formed of turning unto the Lord, in case their lives should be prolonged.
But, when such persons are unexpectedly restored to health, how rarely do we find that they fulfil their promises, and devote themselves to God according to their vows! Truly, we need not look to the Jews for examples of dissimulation; for there is not a family, or scarcely an individual, that does not furnish an instance of it amongst ourselves. Human nature is the same in all ages: and wherever pride and unbelief reign, there will be disobedience, obduracy, and ruin.]
Let me now address,
The disobedient amongst you—
[Consider the relation that subsists between us, As your minister, it is my duty to pray for you, and to declare to you with fidelity the whole counsel of God. Suffer me to ask, how you have improved the opportunities you have enjoyed? If some few have answered the gracious designs of God respecting them, have not the great mass continued in their sinful habits even to this hour, instead of turning truly and unreservedly to the Lord their God? What then have their whole lives been, but one continued course of dissimulation with God? And what must the issue be of such conduct? O, before it is too late, remember how often you have been admonished “not to lean to your own understandings,” nor to “trust in an arm of flesh;” but to obey implicitly God’s revealed will, and to cleave unto the Saviour with full purpose of heart! The Lord grant that now at last you may become obedient to the faith; and that, instead of being a swift witness against you, I may have you as my joy and crown of rejoicing in the day of judgment!]
Those who are hesitating what course to pursue—
[Do not “consult with flesh and blood,” but go to the Lord your God, who, if you are upright in your requests, will surely make known his will unto you. The counsel of God’s ministers may indeed be asked; but they must no further be followed than they speak agreeably to the written word. That word you are to consult, every one of you for himself; and, if you pray unto God for his Spirit, “he will guide you into all truth.” But beware of dissimulation: beware also of delay. Defer not unto the morrow what God requires to be done to-day: but “to-day, while it is called to-day, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness.” If you listen to pride and unbelief, you see in the history before us, whither they will lead you. The ungodly world may promise you safety in following their ways; but safety is to be found only in an unreserved obedience to the commands of God, and especially that command of living by faith in his dear Son, and devoting yourselves to him as his redeemed people. “Believe then in the Lord, so shall ye prosper; believe his prophets, so shall ye be established.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Jeremiah 42". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany