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Joel 2:12-14. Now, saith the Lord, Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments; and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, even a meat-offering and a drink-offering unto the Lord your God?
THE season of Lent has, for many centuries, been set apart in the Church of Christ, for the purpose of promoting in the minds of Christians a deeper humiliation before God, and of preparing them for a more profitable celebration of those mysteries which we commemorate in the Passion-week. The utility of consecrating that season to the end proposed was felt by the fathers of our Church at the time of the Reformation; and they have enjoined on all the members of our community to employ it in a more than ordinary course of penitence and prayer. But, unhappily, the superstitions of the Church of Rome, from which we separated, have excited such disgust in the minds of the generality amongst us, that we have run to a contrary extreme, so that at this day we put scarcely any difference between this season and the other parts of the year. Our Church expresses a regret that she is not able to enforce the rites of penance on offenders, as the custom of earlier ages had sanctioned: and if, in the stead of penance, we put penitence, I can most cordially unite in that sentiment. For, so entirely are the duties of this season neglected, that it will appear to many strange that we take such a subject as that before us, unless indeed on that day with which the season commences, and which is still observed amongst us as a public fast. But, in reality, the exhortation before us is suited to all seasons: and therefore, without apology, I will call your attention to it, and set before you,
All acknowledge, in general terms, the duty of repentance: and here we are led to contemplate it,
In its outward expressions—
[“Fasting, and weeping, and mourning,” are the proper expressions of penitence in the soul. But “fasting” is grievously neglected amongst us; and all are ready to excuse themselves from it, as unprofitable to their souls. But why should it not be as profitable to us as it was to the saints of old? Or why should our blessed Lord have given us directions for the performance of this duty, if it were a matter of indifference whether we performed it or not? The truth is, that we are as far from observing those other duties, of “weeping and mourning,” as we are that of “fasting:” and hence it is that “fasting” is so little in request amongst us. Do but call to mind your state before God, my Brethren; and see how rarely, if ever, you have wept on account of your sins; and how rarely, if ever, you have so “looked on Him whom you have pierced by your sins, as to mourn and be in bitterness, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born [Note: Zechariah 12:10.]?” — — — Yet these, so to speak, are only the outward expressions of repentance. Let me call your attention to it,]
In the inward experience of the soul—
[“To rend the garments,” however passionately it were done, would be a small matter, if we did not at the same time “rend the heart.” But O! what an idea does this convey! We can easily conceive, and see as it were before our eyes, a garment rent: but who can conceive of a heart torn, and rent as it were to pieces, by distress on account of sin? Yet this is the experience of one who is truly penitent and contrite: this is what God requires of us; and any thing short of this he will utterly despise [Note: Psalms 51:17.].
Further than this, God says to us in my text, “Turn ye unto me with all your heart, even turn unto the Lord your God.” And how shall I represent to you this duty? Methinks it would occupy a long space of time to enter particularly into this part of my subject. But I will set it before you, so that you may comprehend it perfectly, and in an instant. Who amongst you has ever seen a river that is affected with the tide? At one time you have seen the waters flowing with majestic force towards the ocean; and a few hours afterwards you have seen them returning with equal copiousness towards their fountain-head. This shews how all the powers of the soul have been engaged in the service of the world; and how they are to be employed in the service of our God. It is no partial change that will suffice; it must be entire: and all our faculties, whether of body or soul, which have been used as instruments of sin, must become instruments of righteousness unto God [Note: Romans 6:13.].”
Now think of this, my Brethren: dismiss from your minds those partial views of repentance with which you have hitherto been satisfied; and address yourselves to this duty in its full extent.]
And that I may prevail with you, let me proceed to set before you,
From the general character of God—
[See God in his own essential perfections: “he is merciful and gracious,” and delights altogether in the exercise of mercy towards sinful men. See him also in his dealings with us: how “slow has he been to anger!” Against whom amongst us might he not have broken forth in anger a thousand times, just as he did against Korah and his company, or against Dathan and Abiram, or Ananias and Sapphira, whom he struck dead upon the spot? View him, also, when ready to execute upon us his wrathful indignation: how often has he, in his answer to the intercession of his dear Son, returned the sword to its scabbard, and “repented of the evil that he thought to do unto us!” And are these no encouragements to repentance? Can you willingly go on to insult so gracious a God, and to provoke him, till his anger break forth without a remedy, and “burn to the lowest hell?” I pray you, Brethren, “run not thus on the thick bosses of his buckler,” and defy him not thus to his face; but fall before him with the deepest self-abasement, and “seek his face whilst yet he may be found [Note: Isaiah 55:6.].”]
From the hope which this character inspires—
[God, in the preceding context, has threatened to send an army that should lay waste the whole land of Israel; and so destroy it, that the very worship of God should be set aside for want of an offering to present to him. At this day, also, he often visits sin with temporal calamities, till he has reduced us to the greatest imaginable distress. And, in reference to these visitations, it is uncertain whether God will remove them from us on our repentance, or not. David, though pardoned as to his soul, was visited with severe trials in his family. And so may we be visited: nor can we be certain, that, “though God forgive us our sins,” he will not “take vengeance of our inventions [Note: Psalms 99:8.].” Yet may we hope for the removal even of these judgments: and “who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him,” even such a blessing as shall bring you into a state of sweet communion with your God?
But if the question be put in reference to the remission of sins, and the ultimate enjoyment of heaven, I will undertake, with reverence and humility, to say, “I Know.” Yes, the whole word of God declares that he will return in mercy to the contrite soul; and “blot out our iniquities as a morning cloud,” and “remember them against us no more for ever.” Even though he had given the command for our destruction, yet would he revoke it, even as he did in reference to Nineveh, if he saw us, in penitence and faith, returning to him: and though we had not an hour to live, he would hear our prayer, and take us, like the dying thief, to be with him in Paradise. This hope is founded on his perfections, as set forth in the Holy Scriptures, and on the word of promise which he has given to returning penitents. And therefore I cannot but urge and encourage every one of you to humble yourselves before him, and to “seek at his hands the blessings which he is so ready to bestow.”]
And now let me ask,
Is not this repentance necessary?
[Yes, for every one amongst you. I readily grant, that many of you are free from any thing that comes under the character of gross sin: but who amongst you has not grievously departed from God? Who has not shamefully slighted our blessed Saviour? Who has not resisted the motions of the Holy Spirit? Who has not lived for time, rather than for eternity; and to himself, rather than unto his God? Here, then, is reason enough for every one of you to weep and mourn, and to rend your very souls to pieces before God. I entreat, therefore, you who are young, and you also who are moral, to reflect on these things, and to turn to God without delay; yea, to turn unto him with your whole hearts.]
Are not the considerations with which the duty is enforced sufficient encouragements to the performance of it?
[I might have enforced the duty with far different arguments, and “persuaded you rather by the terrors of the Lord” to turn unto him. But I greatly prefer the views of God, as he is exhibited in the text. It is in this light that he is revealed to us in the Gospel; even as coming down to this earth to seek and save us, and to reconcile us unto himself in the person of his dear Son. And these considerations have a far greater tendency to humble the soul; which, if terrified for a moment by the threatenings of the law, is ready, like fused metal, to return in a little time to its wonted hardness. “Let, then, the riches of his goodness and long-suffering and forbearance be duly regarded by you; and let the goodness of your God lead you to repentance [Note: Romans 2:4.].”]
Will not the mercies offered you amply compensate for all the efforts which you may make to obtain them?
[Truly, if there were but a “peradventure” that you should find mercy, it were worth all the labour of ten thousand years to obtain it. Think only what it must be, to be monuments of God’s righteous indignation to all eternity; and what it must be, on the other hand, to be everlasting monuments of his grace and love. Can you contemplate this alternative, and duly estimate its importance? No: you must go down to hell, and taste the misery of the damned, and be exalted to heaven, to enjoy the blessedness of the saints in glory, before you can form any just idea of what is before you, either to be suffered or enjoyed, according as your state shall be found before God. I pray you not to trifle with your souls; but now, while the opportunity is afforded you, “flee from the wrath to come, and lay hold on eternal life.” Could you ask of Manasseh, or David, or Peter, or any of the saints, whether they wept too much; you can easily conceive the answer that would be returned you by them. To every one amongst you then, I say, “Begin, without delay, to sow in tears; and then expect, without a doubt, to reap in joy.”]
REMOVAL OF JUDGMENTS A GROUND OF PRAISE
Joel 2:26. Ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.
MOST encouraging is that appellation whereby David addresses the Most High God: “O Thou that hearest prayer!” It is this view of the Deity which alone keeps men from despair, and prevents this sinful world from becoming a counterpart of hell itself. God doth indeed hear the prayer of the poor destitute, and not despise their desire. Of this there is a striking illustration in the passage before us. A plague of locusts had been sent, like an immense army, to destroy the whole land of Israel. The desolation spread by them had reduced the people to the deepest distress. But God encouraged them to humble themselves before him, and assured them, that, on their so doing, he would “be jealous for the land, and pity his people.” He even tells them what answer he would give to their petitions, even such an one as should secure to them the removal of all their troubles, and a complete restoration to his favour: instead of perishing by famine, they should “eat and be satisfied;” and instead of being put to confusion by him, they should “never more be ashamed” of their confidence in him.
The words thus explained, will lead us to consider in what light God would have us regard the removal of his judgments: it is to be regarded by us as a call,
To more fervent gratitude—
This it is, whether our trials have been,
Of a temporal nature—
[Temporal judgments, when heavy and of long continuance, are extremely afflictive [Note: Here the unprecedented distresses of the year (1816–1817) were spoken of: and any other calamities that may hereafter occur may be mentioned.] — — — And the removal of them, whether they have been public or private, social or personal, is a just ground for joy and thanksgiving. In such a dispensation of mercy we may often behold “wonderful” efforts of Divine goodness: and our acknowledgments should be devout and fervent, in proportion to the occasion that calls them forth. As “the very land,” and “the beasts of the field,” no less than “the children of Zion [Note: ver. 21–23.],” were here called upon to rejoice in the mercies vouchsafed unto them, so should we call forth “all that is within us to bless God’s holy name” for the blessings which we now commemorate — — —]
Of a spiritual nature—
[Spiritual judgments, though less generally felt, are infinitely more grievous, than those which affect only our present interests. Say, ye who have been bowed down under a sense of guilt, and the fears of final dereliction, whether this be not a burthen too heavy for you to bear? How should you rejoice then, and bless your God, if he has removed it from you! Surely God “has dealt wondrously with you.” In providing such means for your restoration to his favour; (the death of his own Son, and the influences of his Spirit;) and in overcoming the reluctance of your hearts, and inclining you to embrace his proffered mercy; say, is not this wonderful? May you not behold wonders in every step of your way? Truly then there should be no bounds to your gratitude and love. The frame of your mind should be like that of the pious Hezekiah, “The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the fathers to the children shall make known thy truth. The Lord was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments, all the days of our life, in the house of the Lord [Note: Isaiah 38:19-20.].”]
The removal of his judgments from us is also a call from God,
For more entire affiance—
Whilst we are under the pressure of our afflictions, we are ready to think that it is in vain to call upon God. But God assures us that it is not: he tells us that “his people,” namely, “those who wait upon him,” shall never be ashamed [Note: Compare Isaiah 49:23. with the text.]. They may assuredly expect from him all that they stand in need of. They shall never want,
The gifts of his providence—
[This is abundantly declared in the Holy Scriptures. “They that fear the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good.” There may be want to the lions; but there shall be none to them [Note: Psalms 34:9-10.]. “Those who seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, shall have a due supply of all needful things added unto them.”
The extent to which these promises are fulfilled is little understood by those who have much of this world’s goods: but by the godly man who subsists by his daily labour, it is known and felt. He sees often in his small pittance such “wondrous dealings,” as fill him with utter astonishment, and constrain him to cry out as Israel after the passage of the Red Sea, “Who is a God like unto thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders [Note: Exodus 15:11.].”]
The blessings of his grace—
[Where shall we find one contrite sinner whom God ever refused to hear? Never was there one, from the foundation of the world. “Never did God say to any, Seek ye my face in vain.” Not even a Manasseh, who had filled the streets of Jerusalem with the blood of innocents, was rejected, when once he humbled himself before his God. And our blessed Lord has said without any exception whatever, “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” “Where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound;” and it shall prove sufficient for our necessities, even though our trials and difficulties be multiplied above the sands upon the sea-shore. The Christian’s hope is firm, and “shall never make him ashamed:” for God has said, that “Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation: he shall not be ashamed or confounded, world without end [Note: Isaiah 45:17.].” This is repeated with yet greater emphasis in the verse following my text, in that it is associated with an assurance that his people shall be made sensible of his presence with them, and his relation to them as their God for ever and ever. This is the heritage of all who believe in Christ [Note: Romans 9:33; Romans 10:11.], and make him the one foundation of all their hopes [Note: 1 Peter 2:6.].]
Those who are under any trouble—
[Whatever be your trouble, give not way to despondency; but betake yourselves to the remedy which God has prescribed, even that of “turning to him with weeping and with mourning and with fasting [Note: ver. 12.].” Were it a mere peradventure that God would hear you after a long trial of your faith and patience, it would be quite sufficient encouragement to call upon him [Note: ver. 14.]. But his return to you in a way of mercy is sure, if only you seek him in a way of penitential sorrow: for he will be “the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel [Note: Joel 3:16.].” Only pour out your complaints into his bosom, and your prayer shall not go forth in vain. He will give you to eat of the bread of life and be satisfied, and turn all your sorrows into joy [Note: Isaiah 61:3.].]
To those who have experienced any great deliverance—
[Be not unmindful of your great Deliverer, but praise and magnify him with your whole hearts [Note: Isaiah 12:4-6.] — — — Learn also to confide in him. Fresh troubles may arise, even heavier than you have ever yet experienced: but there is the same gracious God for you to go unto; and he will hear and answer you, as in the days of old. Nor is it to this world only that he will confine the tokens of his love: he will bear you, as on eagles’ wings, throughout all this dreary wilderness; and finally put you into the full and everlasting fruition of the promised land, where neither want nor pain shall be any more experienced to all eternity.]
SIGNS OF THE MESSIAH’S ADVENT
Joel 2:28-32. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days, will I pour out my Spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens, and in the earth, blood and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.
IT is much to be regretted that the obscurities which occur in the prophetic writings (especially those of the lesser prophets) deter many from reading so large a portion of the inspired volume. If there are some parts hard to be understood, there are some parts plain and highly instructive: and the very figures, which from their boldness and sublimity appear intricate, will be found easy and intelligible, through the light reflected on them in the New Testament. The passage before us would, on a cursory perusal, be deemed incapable of any sober construction, or, at least, of any proper application to ourselves: but it plainly declares to us,
The signs of the Messiah’s advent—
Numberless were the signs by which the world were taught to know the true Messiah: we here notice only two:
The effusion of his Spirit for the conversion of his elect—
[The Spirit in preceding ages had been given to those of the Jewish nation only, and to but few even of those, and in a scanty measure; but was “afterward,” that is, in the times of the Messiah, to be “poured out” abundantly, on Gentiles as well as Jews, and without any distinction of age, sex, or quality, the meanest as well as the greatest being chosen to participate this benefit. This was literally fulfilled, as St.Peter affirms, on the day of Pentecost [Note: Acts 2:16-21.]. We must not however limit the operations of the Spirit to the imparting of miraculous gifts: the terms used by the prophet import, that they who should receive the Spirit should be so instructed in the mind and will of God, as to be led to “call on” the Messiah, and enjoy “the deliverance” which he was coming to effect. Nor must the prophecy be confined to the apostolic age: for St. Peter also testifies that the promise is to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call [Note: Acts 2:39.].]
The execution of judgments for the punishment of his enemies—
[As an Apostle has explained the former part of the text, so has our Lord himself that which now presents itself to our view [Note: Matthew 24:7; Mat 24:29 and Luke 21:11; Luke 21:25.]. The immediate subject, to which these figurative expressions refer, is the destruction of Jerusalem: nor, whether we consider the prodigies that accompanied the siege [Note: See Doddridge’s note on Acts 2:19.], or the devastation and bloodshed occasioned by the Roman armies, are they too strong to represent the scenes which occurred in that devoted city. But those calamities were only shadows of infinitely heavier judgments that shall fall on the ungodly in the last day [Note: Our Lord so blends the two events together in Matthew 24:0. that it is not always easy to determine to which of the two his expressions are to be referred.]. Then, while “the heavens pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat, and the earth and the works also that are therein are burnt up,” will all the contemners of the Messiah wail because of his wrath and fiery indignation [Note: 2 Peter 3:10. with Revelation 1:7.]. It is indeed in the former sense only that this can be a sign to convince the world at present; but in the latter sense it will hereafter be a demonstration to the whole universe, that all which had been spoken of Christ was true.]
To encourage an earnest expectation of the Messiah, the prophet declares,
The blessedness of those that believe on him—
The subjects of the Messiah’s kingdom are characterized as “calling upon his name”—
[To call upon Christ is, to give him all that honour and worship that are due to the Supreme Being. This was done by the first martyr, Stephen, and by all the Christian Church [Note: Act 7:59 and 1 Corinthians 1:2.]. It was that which rendered them so odious to the Jews [Note: Acts 9:14; Acts 9:21.], and so distinguished among the Gentiles [Note: Pliny, in his letter to the Emperor Trajan, stating for his information the conduct of Christians, says, “they met on certain days before it was light to sing a hymn to Christ as God.”]. And, at this hour, it justly describes all those who are endued with the Spirit. All, without exception, regard Christ as the only source of life and salvation, and depend on him for daily supplies of grace and strength: “the life which they now live in the flesh, is altogether by faith in the Son of God.”]
Nor shall any of that description ever experience the calamities that were foretold as coming on the ungodly world—
[The “deliverance” mentioned in the prophecy before us, doubtless referred primarily to the escape of the Christians from Jerusalem, while the Jews, hemmed in on every side, were reduced to the greatest miseries. But we must extend our views to a more important deliverance, even from sin and Satan, death and hell: it is from these that the sincere follower of Christ will be saved, while all who reject him will perish under the displeasure of an incensed God. In this view St. Paul quotes the very words before us, expressly applying them to Christ as the object of our worship, and confining the blessings of salvation to those who call upon him [Note: Romans 10:12-13.]. At the same time we must observe that none who comply with this direction are excluded; “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord,” whatever he may have been, or whatever he may have done in times past, provided he call in sincerity and truth, shall find the Lord rich in mercy towards him.]
This subject will be found of use,
To confirm our faith against the cavils of infidels—
[There have been in every age some, who have rejected Christianity as a cunningly devised fable. But we would ask, Was the effusion of the Spirit predicted? or could the accomplishment of that prediction be counterfeited? Was the destruction of Jerusalem foretold? Did Jesus apply the very words of our text to that event, and declare that they should be accomplished before that generation should pass away? And did this also happen within the time specified, attended with such prodigies as strictly corresponded with the terms of this prophecy? Then Christianity must be of divine original; Jesus must be the true Messiah; and salvation must be, as he has declared, through faith in him. Let us then “never be moved away from the hope of the Gospel,” but “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.”]
To vindicate our experience against the calumnies of scoffers—
[St. Peter adduces this passage in vindication of those who had received the miraculous influences of the Spirit; and asserts that, what was profanely imputed to intoxication, was indeed a fulfilment of the words of Joel. Thus scoffers of the present day deride all pretensions to the enlightening and sanctifying influences of the Spirit, and, without any candid examination, impute them to folly or hypocrisy. Our professions of faith in Christ, our simple dependence on him, and assured hope of salvation by him, are also deemed enthusiasm. But if we can say, “This is that which was spoken by the Prophet Joel,” or by Peter, or by any other inspired writer, we need not regard their calumnies. If it was said to the apostles, ‘Ye are drunk,’ we may be content to have it said of us, ‘Ye are fools.’ Let us then seek more and more earnestly the operations of the Spirit, and be daily calling on the Lord Jesus for grace and mercy: so shall our experience accord with the sacred oracles, and our deliverance be completed, when the sufferings of infidels and scoffers shall commence.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Joel 2". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/