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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Hosea 6

Verse 1

Hosea 6:1

Come, and let us return unto the Lord.

The characteristic marks of true penitence

These words are the expressions of that penitence which was excited in the Israelites by God’s departure from them, and by His grace that accompanied the affliction.


I.
The characteristic marks of true penitence. It will always be attended by--

1. A sense of our departure from God. With unregenerate men the thought of being at a distance from God never distresses. As soon as the grace of repentance is given, men see that they are as sheep gone astray.

2. An acknowledgment of affliction as a just chastisement for sin. The impenitent heart murmurs and rebels under the Divine chastisements: the penitent “hears the rod, and Him that appointed it.”

3. A determination to return to God. When a man is once thoroughly awakened to a sense of his lost condition, he can no longer be contented with a formal round of duties. To hear of Christ, to seek Him, are from henceforth his chief desire, his supreme delight.

4. A desire that others should return to Him also. This is insisted on as characteristic of the great work that shall be accomplished in the latter day (Isaiah 2:3). The penitent feels it incumbent on him to labour for the salvation of others.


II.
The grounds on which a penitent may take encouragement to return to God.

1. From a general view of God’s readiness to heal us.

2. From that particular discovery of it which we have in the wounds He has inflicted on us.

Apply--

1. To those who have deserted God.

2. To those who are deserted by God. (Skeletons of Sermons.)

Man’s highest social action

The prophet calls on those who had been smitten, or sent into exile, to put away all confidence in an arm of flesh, to renounce all idolatries.


I.
That society is away from God. Not locally, of course: for the Great Spirit is with all and in all, but morally. Society is away from Him in its thoughts; away from Him in its sympathies; away from Him in its pursuits.


II.
That estrangement from God is the source of all its trials. Because the prodigal left his father’s home he got reduced to the utmost infamy and wretchedness. Moral separation from God is ruin. Cut the branch from the root and it withers; the river from its source, and it dries up; the planet from the sun, and it rushes into ruin. Nothing will remove the evils under which society is groaning but a return unto God. Legislation, commerce, science, literature, art, none of these will help it much so long as it continues away from Him.


III.
That return to him is a possible work. (Homilist.)

Luxury and ease


I.
The fact of backsliding. Had there been no wandering from the Lord, there would have been no need of a return to Him. From passages in the histories of Solomon and David, as shewing how luxury and ease conduce to backsliding. Solomon would be now caned a child of God. He did start well. But the history of Solomon shows us that no amount of experience is in itself a safeguard. Whether young or old in the faith, we need the preserving grace of God from moment to moment. In Solomon’s case the affinity with Pharaoh, and marriage with his daughter, are like the first links in a long chain of backsliding. Is it not often the case that believers, even when apparently walking in the fear of the Lord, may be cherishing some secret sin or indulgence, which, like a seed concealed in the earth, finally germinates and blossoms forth into open backsliding! Solomon fell through self-indulgence. And the Christian who is self-indulgent, who makes the means entrusted to him by God minister to his love of luxury and desire for worldly pomp, is on the high road to idolatry. God did not leave Solomon undisturbed in his idolatry and self-indulgence. The record of David’s fall is given in 2 Samuel 11:1-27. Idleness is the parent of vice. Lurking lusts, encouraged by the quiet, creep out of their hiding-places, hold converse with the heart, and seek to drag him into all manner of sin. David fell before temptation, and set himself to commit further sin, in the hope of covering that already committed. This is almost invariably the case with the backslider.


II.
God’s dealings with the backslider. “He hath torn--He hath smitten.” It is in mercy, and not in wrath, that God deals with His backsliding children. Punishment has for its object, the vindication of the authority of God as the moral Ruler. It is judicial as well as remedial. But its chief purpose is the backslider’s restoration.


III.
A glimmer of faith on the part of the backslider. “He will heal us--He will bind us up.” In the heart of the backslider there lies hidden the germ of a God-given faith, like seeds in a mummy case.


IV.
The goodly resolve. “Come, and let us return unto the Lord.” Some seek to heal their backslidings without dealing with God Himself. How are we to return? Through Jesus, the once crucified, the now risen and exalted One. (W. P. Lockhart.)

Signs of true penitence


I.
Wherever there is true repentance, there will be a returning unto the Lord.

1. A true penitent will be sensible, not only of straying from God, which hath made a distance between God and him, but that his straying hath begotten an averseness, and turned his back upon God, so that he needs to return.

2. A penitent will have a deep sense, that all other courses he has essayed in his straying from God, are but vanity.


II.
The ordinary forerunner of a time of mercy, is the Lord’s stirring up His people to seek Him. Here they are excited, and excite one another to this duty. “Come, and let us return,” and this is their temper in a time of love. (George Hutcheson.)

For He hath torn, and He will heal us.

He hath torn, and He will heal us

The philosophy of the Divine judgments is here most explicitly expounded. The motive of every Divine judgment, within the limits of this life, is mercy. We see but dimly what may lie beyond this life. Here, at any rate, the one constant patient aim of God, by every means of influence which He wields, is to bring men unto Himself. It is important to remember, what some schools of Christian thought have strangely forgotten, that God’s righteousness is not a righteousness which would be satisfied equally by the conversion, or by the punishment of a sinner. We cannot abstract the righteousness from the living person who is also the Father of that sinner; and who loves him with such tenderness that He is capable of even an infinite sacrifice, that that child may not die but live. God’s righteousness, God’s justice, God’s holiness, yearn for the restoration of the sinner to righteousness, quite as much as His mercy and His love. And through life they are spending all their arts and efforts to take him captive, and to bring him home. It is beginning to be fully recognised, in the physical sphere, that judgments are but rich blessings in disguise. There are indeed some dark passages of Scripture history which seem to contradict this principle: e.g., Pharaoh of the hardened heart. This cannot be fully explained, but it makes this terrible suggestion--what must be the doom of a heart that is hardened even against the Divine love? There is a growing hardness where the will is in it. The blow that is sent in mercy, if it fails to open the heart’s sealed portals, strikes down. The heart hardened against God, hardens itself further. And this is His law, and part of the solemn conditions of our life. But there,, is nothing on earth irreparable while “we can repent and turn unto the Lord; for He hath torn, and He win heal us.” There is absolutely nothing in the experience of the sinner, the sufferer, which God cannot transmute into joy. No calamity can long oppress the spirit which He wills to draw to the shield of His strength, and to rest on the bosom of His love. Or is the sorrow a remembrance of sin? With the word of forgiveness, the bitterness of the sorrow passes. God can forgive the iniquity of the sill IS it temptation? Believe that temptation is God’s benignant ordinance for the trial and assay of spirits. God has not left you untroubled. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)

God’s time for mercy

1. When God’s time of mercy is come, He puts a mighty spirit of seeking into men.

2. A joint turning to God is very honourable to god. “Come, and let us return.”

3. Times of mercy are times of union.

4. True penitent hearts seek to get others to join with them.

5. In times of the greatest sufferings a truly penitent heart retains good thoughts of God.

6. a penitent heart is not a discouraged heart.

7. A repenting heart is not a discouraged, but a sustained heart. But we must not falsely encourage ourselves. Our hope is in God. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)

He hath smitten, and He will bind us up.--

Hope for a bleeding Church

The text may be considered as the language of a Church.


I.
Smarting under recent chastisements.

1. Shew the sufferings of such a Church.

2. These sufferings are to be received as from the hand of God.

3. And regarded as chastisements of God for the sins of the Church.


II.
Hoping for a speedy revival. That hope rests on the following grounds.

1. On the mingled exercises of mercy and judgment which characterise God’s government of His Church.

2. On the regard which God has to the honour of His name, and the success of His cause in the earth.

3. On the ground of the mediatorial prerogatives of the Son of God.

4. On the promised power and grace of the Holy Spirit.


III.
Resolving upon immediate reformation. Let us give up the language of complaint and mutual recrimination, and substitute for it the voice of prayer. (T. Vasey.)

Hope in God’s mercy

The reason here given, why the Israelites could return safely and with sure confidence to God is, that they would acknowledge it as His office to heal after He has smitten, and to bring a remedy for the wounds which He has inflicted. The prophet means that God does not so punish men as to pour forth His wrath on them for their destruction; but that He intends, on the contrary, to promote their salvation, when He is severe in punishing their sins. The beginning of repentance is a sense of God’s mercy; when men are persuaded that God is ready to give pardon, they then begin to gather courage to repent; otherwise perverseness will ever increase in them. (John Calvin.)

Verse 2

Hosea 6:2

After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight.

Death the gate of life

Let us look, not on the dying side, but on the living side. Each shadow has its light; each valley its height; each night its dawn; each wound of the oyster-shell its pearl; each kind of death its counterpart of life. To have the one is to have both. It is, therefore, a mistake to be ever thinking of what you must give up. Think rather of what you must take in. Follow hard after Christ, to be with Him, for Him, like Him. Let your intimacy with Him be like those closely pointed stones in the old buildings of Thebes, between which it is impossible to insert even a sheet of writing-paper. Obey Him up to the hilt. So will ever new blessings disclose themselves to you; and as you climb to them you will be insensibly drawn away from things that fascinated and injured you. Preaching out after a fuller measure of life, you will hardly realise the cost by which alone you can enter upon its enjoyment. The wrench of death will be less perceptible amid the joy which sheds its light on your face, and the warm glow into your heart.

1. Above all, trust the lead of Jesus. “He will revive us; He will raise us up; and we shall live in His sight.” He knows every step of the way through the dark valley; because, as the Captain of salvation, He has been obliged to traverse it with each son whom He has brought to glory. He is with you, feeling for you infinitely, though you cannot see Him. It is impossible for Him to take one false step, or inflict one needless stab of pain. Out of your suffering He is going to bring glory to Himself and blessedness to you. He sometimes seems to tarry. His stages of redemption are so slow; but His love is dealing more wisely with thee in its delays, impetuous spirit, than it could in haste! It is hard to wait when heart and flesh are failing; but thy God will be the strength of thy life, and thy portion for ever. He knows the nearest path that will lead thee to it. Trust His hand and purpose running through the circumstances of thy life.

2. And out of all this will come the more abundant life. Suffering at first isolates us;: but afterwards it links us in the closest bonds with all who are sitting on the hard benches of the school of sorrow. We learn to comfort them with the comfort with which we have ourselves been comforted of God. The water streams from the smitten rock. The flower springs from the dead seed. The crystal river flows from the melting glacier. The bright gold emerges from the dark mine and the cleansing fires. When you are sure that Jesus asks aught of you, yield up your will to Him; ask Him to come, and take it and blend it with His own. Be willing to be made willing. Wait for Him. Trust Him. Do not be afraid. He will gently open the door of life, through which you will pass out of the vale of death into wider and more abundant blessedness. And, in the end, when the lesson is fully mastered, we shall find that His going forth has been prepared as the morning; and He will come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain, unto the earth. Abraham shall take his Isaac from off the altar and lead him home; Joseph shall weep tears of welcome on his father’s neck; Job shall have more prosperity than before his trial; the young confessors shall emerge from the fire without their bonds; flowers shall grow where the black cinders lay; and where the body was buried in the sepulchre amid tears of hopeless sorrow, there shall be a joyous resurrection. We shall live again, and shall know the Lord as never before. Wait to see the end of the Lord; He is very pitiful; He is human in His tenderness. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Christ and His people


I.
The connection of Christ with His people. The head and the members. “We are made alive in Christ.” His victory over death is ours. He who had life in Himself quickens whom He will.

1. The power manifested on the third day was a type of the power to be manifested at the general resurrection.

2. Christ’s resurrection not only a type of a physical but of a spiritual resurrection. The soul is quickened together with Christ.


II.
The presence of Christ realised by His people. The risen life is spent in the sight of the Lord. Before the crucifixion the apostles had the bodily presence of the Lord, subject to time and place, e.g., Christ was not with the dying Lazarus, because He was in Peroea. After the resurrection they lived in His presence as they had never lived before. Stephen saw Him standing in the ready attitude of help. He stood by St. Paul; His eye was on His faithful martyr, Antipas. All the disciples went about with a constant sense of Christ’s oversight, working under the King’s eye. The soul risen with Christ believes that it lives in His sight. Faith in this promised presence will be a source of strength and patience. Remember how Christ’s eye is on His servants at their work, in their sufferings, and during their worship. (W. Watters, M. A.)

The third day

In shadow, the prophecy was never fulfilled to Israel at all. The Ten Tribes were never restored. Unto the Two Tribes what a mere shadow was the restoration from Babylon, that it should be spoken of as the gift of life, or of resurrection! The strictest explanation is the truest. The “two days” and the “third day” have nothing in history to correspond with them, except that in which they were fulfilled, when Christ, “rising on the third day from the grave, raised with Him the whole human race.” (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)

Verse 3

Hosea 6:3

Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord.

Follow on

In the context, the deliverance of God’s Church out of her troubles is foretold. In the same words our salvation in Christ is figured forth. “Knowledge” here includes the whole of experimental and practical godliness; for in religion we only know what we feel and do. In making progress in the life of godliness, the two words of our text are--a condition, a rule, and a spur.


I.
The recommendation of our text implies--

1. That the pursuit is worthy.

2. That there is a leader whom we are to follow.

3. That the pursuit is begun. Regeneration has been experienced, pardon has been conferred, spiritual life is possessed.

4. That there is danger of stopping short. There are difficulties without, and foes within.


II.
Special reasons for obeying the text.

1. Only so can the genuineness of our religion be proved.

2. Only so can our mission be fulfilled.

3. Only so can our characters be developed.

4. Only so can heaven be reached. How much there is enfolded in that ward “overcometh.” Uncoil it by Divine help in your lives.


III.
Encouragements to cheer and stimulate.

1. Bread is provided for the hungry.

2. A staff of promises for the weak.

3. Repose for the Weary.

4. Complete success is guaranteed. (R. Berry.)

Knowing the Lord

Ignorance is a lamentable evil. It unfits persons for acting their part with propriety in civil life, and it is far more injurious to them in the concerns of eternity.


I.
What is meant by knowing the Lord.

1. It is to be scripturally acquainted with His character. No correct knowledge can be acquired concerning God and salvation, but through the instrumentality of the Word. In the volumes of nature and providence there is much to be learned concerning the existence and goodness of God. Only from the volume of inspiration we learn what God is, not only as our Creator and Preserver, but also as our Redeemer.

2. It is to give Him the homage which is due unto His name. There is the necessity of acknowledging Him--returning unto Him in new allegiance, by repentance unto life, and giving Him an unreserved reverence, in obedience to all His laws, ordinances, and commandments. Knowledge without a corresponding practice would only add to our condemnation.


II.
Explain the proposal of following on to know the Lord.

1. It is to persevere in cultivating intercourse and acquaintance with Him. In so far as it has pleased God to reveal Himself unto us in His Word, it is our duty to learn what He hath revealed. We may, however, learn all that is to be theoretically known regarding God, and yet remain spiritually ignorant of His gracious character. His perfections will be best understood by a practical reliance upon them, and on acting agreeably to their nature.

2. Following on to know the Lord shall be crowned with success. Exertion in this Divine pursuit shall be successful. Disappointment is impossible. We shall know all the blessings of the New Covenant, whether pertaining to justification, adoption, or sanctification. We shall know and understand the law of our God, believingly feel its importance, and sincerely practise its requirements.


III.
The encouragement to follow on to know the Lord. This blessing of our Saviour’s coming is--

1. Progressive and certain. “Prepared as the morning.” A knowledge of Divine things cannot be obtained but by a Divine teacher. The going forth of God the Saviour to enlighten and cherish His people, when they seek after Him, is as certain as the outgoings of the morning, which are a settled and regular constitution of nature.

2. Pleasant and desirable. “His going forth is prepared as the morning.” It is ever comfortable to know that in the midst of difficulties there is One prepared to give us relief. Christ, our Almighty Saviour and Friend, is so prepared. As the morning air and light are agreeable to the watchman who has been marching his weary rounds in the dark--to the weather-beaten mariner who has been tempest-tested through the night--so agreeable, and unspeakably more so is the coming of God our Saviour to enlighten and relieve them that are cast down and overwhelmed with the sense of sin, to help and comfort them that are ready to perish.

3. Quickening and salutary. “He shall come unto us as the rain.” Rain is not less necessary than heat for the production of vegetable life. It is like the circulation of the blood in the human body, that which keeps the whole system alive.

4. Invigorating and satisfying. “As the latter and former rain unto the earth.” The expression, latter and former rain, has reference to the two periodical rains that fell in the land of Canaan. As necessary as these rains are the showers of grace in the Church to water the seed of the Word, that it may spring up in our hearts unto everlasting life, to encourage its growth, and to perfect its fruits of holiness and meetness for the heavenly world. From this subject we may see ground for cherishing large expectations. God is gracious, His promise is large, and His Word is unimpeachable. God is able to carry you on to perfection; trust in Him then for all needful supplies, and you will not be disappointed. From this subject all may see the importance of being possessed by saving knowledge. (John Shoolbraid.)

The fuller knowledge of God

Some give this rendering, “We shall know, and shall pursue on to know Jehovah,” and they explain the passage thus,--that the Israelites had derived no such benefit from the law of Moses, but that they still expected the fuller doctrine which Christ brought at His coming. They then think that this is a prophecy respecting that doctrine, which is now by the Gospel set forth to us in its full brightness, because God has manifested Himself in His Son as in a living image. But this is too refined an exposition; and it is enough for us to keep close to the design of the prophet. (John Calvin.)

Need of perseverance in seeking the knowledge of God

All Scripture writers bear witness to the faithfulness of God; and call upon us, by patient continuance in well-doing, to seek for glory, honour, and immortality.


I.
The important object of the believer’s pursuit. Of true believers it may be said, “ they follow on to know the Lord.” In what does this knowledge consist; and in what way is it communicated to the mind? It is not a mere knowledge of such a Being as God, as Creator and Upholder; nor is it such an idea of God as is conceived” by those who exalt one attribute to the exclusion of another, who make Him all mercy, forgetful of His perfect justice. We cannot know the Lord to our comfort, till we know Him as our God and Father in Jesus Christ. By nature, we stand at an immeasurable distance from God; and the more correct are our notions of His power, His holiness, and His glory, the more discouraging will they be if they are unconnected with the Redeemer as our Mediator with the Father. This knowledge is implanted in the soul by the Holy Ghost.


II.
The certainty of its final success. He who “follows on” shall not fail of the grace of God. This truth is plainly declared, and figuratively exhibited. The figures are the morning and the rain. Learn--

1. How needful is this knowledge.

2. The reason why those who have attained some knowledge of Christ do not attain to more enlarged and experimental acquaintance with spiritual things. Be patient in hope, and persevering in prayer. (W. Mayers, A. M.)

The duty and happiness of progressive spiritual knowledge

The works of God in nature are here employed to describe His moral government, His ways with His Church, His dealings with His people for their spiritual discipline and sanctification. The enlightening and comforting influences of the Holy Ghost shall as surely be vouchsafed to the soul longing for salvation, as the rain, the former and the latter, refreshes and fertilises the earth. The laws and operations of nature are net more certain than the fulfilment, in the revelation of grace, of God’s exceeding great and precious promises. The Divine promises and threatenings rest on the same foundation--the immovable foundation of His everlasting unehangeableness, His perfect faithfulness, His universal presence, His almighty power. The text contains a duty and a promise. Our duty is to “follow on to know the Lord,” and to its performance we are incited by a gracious promise. “Then we shall know him.”; for His going forth, His care and condescension to meet us in mercy is prepared--is as predetermined and customary as those successive changes and established operations of His visible works which we so beneficially and continually experience. According to the text, the safety and happiness of knowing the Lord, and of following on to know Him, are consequent upon returning to the Lord with penitent acknowledgment and lively compunction on account of apostasy and disobedience. Suffering and wretchedness, in this world or in the next, or in both, are necessarily the results of sin. Alienation from God is likewise spiritual insensibility, a moral death. It is also a condition of ignorance. The way of transgressors is hard. Consider what it is to know the Lord. How incomparably great is the excellence of this knowledge! The knowledge of the Lord comprehends the experience of the Divine goodness and loving-kindness, together with the fruits of faith and obedience to His commandments. Saving knowledge is communicated through the offices of the one Mediator, and the agency of the Holy Ghost, imparting an efficacious blessing upon prayer, the Word, and the ministrations of the Church. It consists in veneration and love towards the Lord--a meek but firm affiance in His promises and mercy, and in persevering obedience to Him. Let us make it our first and supreme concern to attain to the knowledge of God as our reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. Having attained this, your salvation is begun. While this knowledge implies and cherishes an approval of God s ways and will, and is accompanied with love to Him and delight in Him, it likewise implies justice and mercy and charity to our fellow-creatures. (Thomas Ridley, M. A.)

The progressive character of the Christian life

Christian life is not a house, but a plant. It is not complete, but grows.

1. It is growth in faith. Its beginning is, or may be, as small as a grain of mustard-seed. The least bit will do to begin with. Act upon what you now believe to be true and right as relates to our duties to God, to our fellows and ourselves. With God’s help I will under take every known duty. Sin is to be eradicated, and holiness is to increase in such a spirit the seed will germinate, the tree will grow, and strength will come, and what before was impossible will now be easy.

2. In knowledge: acquaint thyself with God. Ascend the mountain. There are ever new disclosures in creation, providence, and redemption.

3. In experience: here faith is verified. If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine. Faith alone blesses our life; unbelief is destructive. It works ruin to all our highest interests to live without faith--in government, in society, and in the family. Principles which cannot with safety to all dearest concerns be followed are necessarily false. Faith is confirmed in life and assured in death: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

4. In good works: religion is also practical. The tree bears good fruit, and bears it perennially. The Christian will improve in the quantity and quality of the good he does. Like the palm-tree, he will be fruitful to the end of life. (L. O. Thompson.)

Divine knowledge, and the means of acquiring it

It is a universal law that nothing great can be achieved without perseverance. For want of considering this, many who commence a religious course with zeal and joy run well for a season, but meeting with unex pected difficulties, grow weary and give up the race.


I.
Divine knowledge.

1. To know the Lord implies a general knowledge of His being, nature, and attributes,

2. It signifies a more particular and experimental knowledge of God, especially of His justice and mercy, these being the two great attributes exercised in the stupendous work of human redemption. The true believer is happily possessed of an experimental knowledge of the Divine mercy.

3. A more peculiar knowledge of God, especially of His goodness and love, is obtained by the sincere and pure in heart who “follow on to know” Him.

4. To know the Lord includes also, profound veneration; ardent love; humble confidence; and sincere and uniform obedience.


II.
The means of acquiring Divine knowledge.

1. God could, no doubt, communicate a perfect knowledge of Himself instantaneously. But in doing so He must work a miracle, and this without answering any valuable end. The gradual operations of God in providence and grace are accommodated to our finite capacities, enabling us, step by step, to trace Him in His wondrous works.

2. To illustrate this Hosea uses two beautiful figures--the “morning” and the “rain.”

3. That this is the mode of the Divine manifestations evidently appears--

(1) From the media through which they are communicated; His works, His Word, and His Spirit.

(2) From the gradual manner in which God has revealed His will unto man by successive dispensations.

(3) This appears in the rise and progress of religion in the soul. The understanding is enlightened; the judgment convinced; the heart affected; and the will subdued. Hence contrition, repentance, faith, and prayer. Justification follows, and, in full, sanctification.

(4) We see, therefore, the necessity of following on to know the Lord, pressing on as after a guide through a crowd, as after a light in a dark place. When fully sanctified, there is as much necessity as ever for following on. The fountains of Divine knowledge are perennial. There are yet unexplored heights, and lengths, and depths, and breadths of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. (Thomas Rowe.)

Perseverance in attaining the knowledge of God


I.
to know God requires that men should seek to know Him. The know ledge clothe Most High is not instinctive and intuitive. Now, the world by wisdom knoweth not God. How strange that men should think to know God and religion without diligence, whilst they think not to know any human science or profession without application, and diligence, and exertion! Would to God that men were as wise for eternity as they are for time. It is, however, not merely necessary to give diligence in order to know God, we must “follow on” to know Him. The crowning grace of the Christian is constant perseverance. To him that overcometh, the promise of eternal life is made.


II.
The encouragement as it is here so vividly portrayed. “Then shall we know.” God who cannot lie hath spoken this. The prophet adds two beautiful figures. The morning of the day is sure to come. The former and the latter rain will return in their seasons. (Hugh Stowell, A. M.)

Following on to know

In Christ, the prophet promises, they should have inward knowledge of Him, ever growing, because the grace, through which it is given, ever grows. We know, in order to follow; we follow, in order to know. Light prepares the way for love. Love opens the mind for new love. The gifts of God are interwoven. They multiply and reproduce each other, until we come to the perfect state of eternity. Through eternity we shall follow on to know more of God. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)

Divine knowledge

We may consider this in two ways.

1. As an address of good men to themselves, being a kind of soliloquy, or self-admonition and encouragement.

2. As addressed to the godly from each other. The language is an expression of holy confidence. This admits of various degrees, but without some degree of it we shall never seek the Lord; shall never cleave to Him with full purpose of heart. Between this holy confidence and presumption there is no resemblance.


I.
An important subject--Divine knowledge. To be destitute of this knowledge is to be in a perilous and even a perishing condition. Knowledge is the same to the soul as the window is to the building, or the eye to the body. Knowledge is essential to right conduct. It is from ignorance that a disregard to the Saviour springs. It is from ignorance that legality springs. Nothing can be truly religious or moral that is done in ignorance, because then there would be no motive or principle, and to these the Lord looks in all our actions; all righteous conduct is begun and carried on in the renewal of the mind. God’s empire is founded in light; the devil’s kingdom is founded in darkness. God opens the eyes of all His subjects, and they follow Him from conviction and disposition. Bishop Hall says, “God never works in a dark shop.” “He that commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” But what is this knowledge to which such importance is attached? What is it to know the Lord? It is one thing to know that there is a God, and another to know what He is. It is much more than knowing Him to be almighty. It is a knowing Him to be “righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works.” Such knowledge as this, if there be no more, will operate upon a sinner’s mind conscious of guilt, so as to produce distance, alarm, and fear. It is necessary to the recovery of a fallen creature that God should be known as the justifier of those who believe in Christ. In creation God is above us. In providence He is beyond us. In His holy law He is against us. But in Christ He is with us, and for us, and in us too. This knowledge is not a merely speculative know ledge. It is experimental. Some professors are like December nights, very clear, but alas: very cold. This is all that can be said with regard to their religion. But the knowledge of the Gospel is saving; it is the light of life; it descends from the head to the heart. What a difference there is between a mere conviction and a cordial assent!


II.
A necessary duty. “Follow on to know the Lord.” This includes three things.

1. The practising what we know. Why should God give you more light while you are not disposed to make-use of what you already have?

2. Diligence in the use of appointed means. God has ordained meditation, reading the Scriptures, hearing the Word, conversation with those who know a little more than ourselves, but, above all, prayer to the Father of mercies, as the appointed means.

3. It implies continuance in this active course. You have not only to hear, but also to watch.


III.
An assured privilege. “Then shall ye know.” If probability is enough to actuate a man, how much more should real certainty do so. The assurance of success should encourage us in regard to others. Do not deal harshly with them. If unable for a time to embrace religious truths, be not impatient. God shall reveal this to them in His own time and way. Let this encourage you with regard to prayer. Are you desirous of knowing more of the blessed Saviour? Go on and you will know more and see more. Two cases in which this encouragement may be applied.

1. If you are in perplexity with regard to the path of duty.

2. Do you wish to know God better by appropriation? Are you anxious to know your own interest in Him?


IV.
A striking illustration. Taken from the “morning” and the “rain.” As the morning, gradually; as the rain, periodic ally and regularly. He who gives the former rain in its season, will not fail to give the latter rain in its season. Even after the stress and strain of life, there shall be a reviving in your spiritual experience, to your own great comfort, and to the praise of our faithful and covenant-keeping God. (William Jay.)

The knowledge of God

It is spoken of here as something distinct and definite. It is as palpable as the morning light. It is as sensible as the rain that waters the earth. Is any knowledge of God possible? The agnostic says, “We cannot know God. If He exists, He is beyond our reach. He is unknowable He does not deny that there is a God; he only denies that He can be known. In an important sense, the agnostic is right. The agnostic is not born again; he has never known the regenerating power of the Holy Ghost; therefore he cannot see the kingdom of God. Degenerate man cannot understand and appropriate the things of God--the truths of the spiritual world. Is man, then, born into this world with no capacity for knowing God? By no means. The spiritual faculties are not completely destroyed. In many ways they respond to the voice of God. No man is born either an atheist or an agnostic. The organs of spiritual life may be only rudimentary, but they exist. It is possible to know God, but only by the renewing and enlightening grace of His Holy Spirit. The knowledge of God is not reached by an intellectual process. It is faith which apprehends the invisible God, yet it is also experience which affixes the seal to the knowledge which faith attains. It is no exclusive privilege of the man of culture, it is equally open to the unlettered, the simple, the child. The “pure in heart shall see God.” It may be said, if one man can know God, why may not another? There is a gulf between the natural and the spiritual man, wider than that between animal and plant life. The distinction is as broad as between the living and the dead. The new life of regeneration is a beginning, a bud of promise, a day dawn; it is not the consummation of the spiritual life. The work and duty of the Christian is to follow on to know the Lord. We must take heed lest we become examples of “arrested development.” How can firm lasting faith be attained?

1. By realising to its depth our emptiness and need, and then our utter inability to supply it.

2. By clearing away certain obstacles which commonly clog up and check the flow of the grace of God. Of these the first and most obvious is sin. Then there is worldliness. Then neglect of prayer. Prayer is the key that will unlock the treasures of Divine knowledge. (R. H. M’Kim, D. D.)

A new consciousness

The infatuation of knowledge is the course of life; to know, the desire to know, unsettles life. Yet what is most of our knowledge? The world is a vast, wide churchyard, and what we call knowledge is but a reading of inscriptions. Much so-called knowledge is but curiosity, and when that curiosity is satisfied, it turns, like other unsatisfied appetites, upon, and corrodes itself. Our nature seeks Divine knowledge; knowledge, not of notions, but of facts; not of sentiments, but of laws. A man may talk of God, who has no rest in God.

1. If religion is progression, it is surely, before it can be this, a beginning; but as a beginning it is a consciousness. Consciousness which being translated is knowledge. Religion should produce happiness, but that is not the chief idea of religion. A holy heart has three stages in its history.

(1) To find something within us tending to evil, contrary to our full and free consent. The first part of our spiritual combat is when the world within awakes, and we find ourselves all wrong.

(2) A state in which it is interrupted; when it would do good, and mourns that evil is present with it.

(3) A state when it finds itself again sometimes rebelling against the better part. There is a state of apparent religious life which is not a state of consciousness or knowledge;--there is a want of conviction, and also mistaken apprehension. What a power the principle of grace is in the soul! This knowledge is great because God is the substance of the soul. The soul stands on and in God; so long as I stand on and in carnal and notional and phenomenal knowledge, I know not how to say my soul has a substance. When God is the substance of the soul and all its knowledge, then the blessed life and the blessed knowledge give light within.

2. But it is a progression. “Follow on.” What states grow out of this first state, the seminal germ of the Christian life? The evidences brighten as we follow on to know the Lord. You should determine to ascend to the knowledge of the higher law of the Christian life. Then shall we know when our knowledge shall no longer be narrowed by limited sensations. Every sense I possess is only a material sheathing of some deeper and higher sense, which cannot find its appropriate expression here. I can only conceive of the state of souls as a state of immortal consciousness, a state where hope and memory are one, and love is only passive in certain and secure possession. (Paxton Hood.)

Diligence in religion

Doctrine: That the way to thrive in religion is to follow on, to pursue, to hold our hand to it, when once our hand is in it.


I.
Who they are whom we may call to follow on. There are some whom we cannot call to follow on, because they have not yet stirred a foot in religion. There may be some whom the King has brought into His chambers, and assured of His love. Their business is to follow on. Others have got but some glimmerings of solid hope from the Lord. Others have gained some mastery over spiritual foes. Others are yet only striving. Others can only be said to have some desires towards God. Others have only had passing convictions of sin. Yet others know nothing more than inward uneasiness.


II.
What is it to follow on?

1. You must make religion your great end.

2. You must be persuaded of the weight and worth of religion.

3. You must hold fast what you have.

4. You must be moving forward, labouring for more.

5. You must habitually attend upon religion, and make it your chief business.

6. You must be resolute and vigorous in your endeavours.

7. You must entertain a hope of success.

8. If you fall, you must get up again, and quicken your pace.


III.
Confirm this doctrine. However small your beginnings or hopes may now be, yet persevere. You have God’s Word for it. “You shall reap, if you faint not.”

1. You have God’s Word of promise for it (Matthew 25:29).

2. It is the Lord’s ordinary way in His works, to bring great things by degrees out of small beginnings.

3. The works of grace in the soul ordinarily arise from very small beginnings. Consider--

4. The bountiful nature of God, who surely will not always flee from those who follow Him, but will at length be found of them.

5. No person gets a refusal from heaven, but those who court it by their own indifference. A faint way of seeking is to beg a denial.

6. As importunity is usually in all cases the way to come speed, so it has special advantages in this case which promise success.

7. Such followers the Lord does not bid to go back. And this is encouraging.

8. The Lord commands you to follow Him (Luke 11:19).


IV.
Practical improvement.

1. Those who have not yet begun to seek the Lord are neither prospering in their souls, nor are they in the way to it.

2. It is no wonder that back sliders have lean souls.

3. They are in no prospering case who are at a stand in religion.

4. The smallest spark which you now have may be brought to a flame.

5. See what is the ruin of many communicants.

It is not that they get nothing, it is that they carry nothing away; they follow nothing on. They do not hold their hands to it when they are at home. (T. Boston, D. D.)

The benefit of following on to know the Lord


I.
A course of conduct proposed. Knowledge in general is an excellence. The knowledge here proposed is most excellent, as to its nature and object, and most profitable to its possessor.

1. The proposal implies a previous state of ignorance and estrangement. This was manifestly the case with Israel, and it is but too true a picture of our own times.

2. The proposal implies reformation begun. The obstinacy has given way. They are ashamed. They seek His face “early,” earnestly.

3. The proposal is that of following up these good beginnings. We may learn much concerning God in His attributes and relations. The inquiry should be followed up in the way He has prescribed--the way of righteousness, self-denial, prayer, and religious obedience generally. We should follow on in the manner He has prescribed--sincerely, humbly, fervently, perseveringly.


II.
Thy encouragement assumed.

1. This “going forth” is a certain blessing. The “outgoings of the morning” are settled by a Divine constitution.

2. This “going forth” is a progressive blessing. The condition suggested is that of improvement--of going on from good to better. It is a state of improving light.

The subject should teach us--

1. The importance of saving knowledge. Those who remain at a distance from God must remain in darkness and barrenness and misery.

2. It should encourage exertion.

3. It should induce large expectations.

4. It should confirm us in a patient continuance in well-doing. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)

Conditions of knowledge

There must be no sitting down by the wayside, no loitering, no laziness in all the school of the Church. “We shall know if we follow on to know.” If we practise the little we do know, we shall get outlook of things that lie beyond, and confidence to deal with them. Love shall beget love; capacity shall enlarge itself into a still fuller capacity, and practice in prayer should, so to say, end in skill of supplication; we shall know the way to the throne and the seat of mercy, and come boldly to it as of right, not in ourselves, but invested in us by the grace of God. “Prepared as the morning”--is established as the morning. It is a great action of law, a great movement settled, regulated, determined from eternity. “He shall come unto us as the rain,” not the occasional shower, not the intermittent baptism of soft water, but “as the latter and former rain unto the earth.” Both must come, each in its own time, and in its own way. Thus we have law, and thus we have mercy. Here we have philosophy which earthly philosophy has not yet comprehended; condescension that leaves behind no amazement that it can stoop so low as to touch the fartherest away. It is in these mysteries we live; in these voices we hear the only music we care to listen to. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)

Patient perseverance

Is God revealed by the works of creation, or are those works the instruments for the memorial and confirmation of a previous revelation? We incline to the latter view. We cannot regard mankind as having been at any time independent of a revelation. Every man has, by traditionary revelation, a knowledge of God’s existence. When we examine into the works of nature, we find the confirmation of the truth with which we have been previously and independently made acquainted. There is no such thing as a light of nature, or natural religion.


I.
The object of this knowledge. In the works of nature, and without the aid of the Bible, God is merely set forth as God, and not as the Lord; that is, He is known only as Creator. We regard this knowledge of the Lord as absolutely essential to man’s happiness. By the knowledge of the Lord, we mean acquaintance with His purposes and plans. For this a preternatural revelation is necessary. We must know God as a being possessing a mind and purpose with respect to human actions and conduct. We can see but a faint shadow of God’s purposes in the works of creation. It is desirable to know the Lord, for the sake of His law. Unless there be a law of moral restraint, there must exist a state of misery.


II.
The nature and kind of this knowledge of the Lord. It must be of a practical character. It must be capable of the test of good deeds. Unpractical knowledge and imperfect knowledge are one and the same thing. To know is to perceive with certainty, or to see with approbation. Love is not perceived and apprehended by the intellect, but by the heart. Intellectual knowledge should be the handmaid of heart knowledge. And a heart knowledge is identical with a practical know ledge.


III.
The prescribed means of acquiring this knowledge. “Follow on to know the Lord.” The advance to the perfect knowledge of the Lord is independent of all external circumstances and all innate abilities; and thus if we all employ the same simple means, then the result will be the same in all. (W. H. Wright, B. A.)

Go on, go on

Arago says, in his Autobiography, that his master in mathematics was a word or two of advice which he found in the binding of one of his text-books. Puzzled and discouraged by the difficulties he met with in his early studies, he was almost ready to give over the pursuit. Some words which he found on the waste leaf used to stiffen the cover of his paper-bound text-book caught his eye and interested him. “Impelled,” he says, “by an indefinable curiosity, I dampened the cover of the book, and carefully unrolled the leaf to see what was on the other side. It proved to be a short letter from D’Alembert to a young person disheartened like myself by the difficulties of mathematical study, who had written to him for counsel. ‘Go on, sir, go on,’ was the counsel which D’Alembert gave him. ‘The difficulties you meet will resolve themselves as you advance. Proceed, and light will dawn and shine with increasing clearness on your path.’ That maxim,” says Arago, “was my greatest master in mathematics.” Following out those simple words, “Go on, sir, go on,” made him the first astronomical mathematician of his age. What Christians it would make of us! (Old Testament Anecdotes.)

Knowing by following on

When climbing Snowdon, I one day scaled some precipitous rocks called “Crybydiskil,” i.e., “edge of the plate,” because on each side of the narrow ridge was a sheer precipice of several hundred feet. A thick fog came on which hid from view everything but ourselves and the bit of knife-edge on which we straddled. We knew that the ridge led direct to the summit, which we should reach if we went “forward.” We could see two yards beyond us, but not an inch farther. This was enough for the very next advance, when a further similar glimpse was revealed. So by creeping along the first few inches, we saw the next few hitherto hidden. So, as the Scripture says, “Follow on to know the Lord.” (Newman Hall.)

Practical devotion promotes our knowledge of God

Near the Arctics the fogs are prevalent and thick. This is because there is so much ice drifting down from the vast frozen fields of the north, the meeting of which with the warmer southern waters fills the air with moisture. If we keep our minds at the edge of the cold regions of secularity, we may expect that our minds shall be in a fog as respects religious truth. Drift into the warmer air of practical devotion, accustom your heart to the prevalence of spiritual sentiments, and see how clear God’s truth will become. (J. B. Ludlow, D. D.)

His going forth is prepared as the morning.

Morning cometh

1. The time of deliverance is the morning, the morning after the sad, dark night, As light is comfortable in the, morning, after a dark and stormy night, so is deliverance after trouble. God s mercies after afflictions are very sweet.

2. The Church has no afflictions unfollowed by a morning.

3. It is God’s presence which constitutes the saints’ morning.

4. God’s mercies to His people are prepared and decreed.

5. The saints in the night of their affliction can comfort themselves in this, that the morning is coming. It is night yet, but the morning will come; it is approaching.

6. The saints’ night is darkest a little before their deliverance; as a little before the dawning of the day the darkness is most dense and terrible.

7. God’s mode of deliverance is gradual. As the day breaks by degrees, so the saints shine gradually in their lives, answerable to the light which God imparts. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)

The going forth of the Lord prepared as the morning

These words show just where Ephraim was in soul experience. He does not represent one destitute of spiritual light and life, but a quickened vessel of mercy, but one who was wrapping himself up in a garment, not of Christ’s giving, nor of the Spirit’s application. And there are many still who have the fear of God in their hearts who are wrapping themselves up in a covering which is not of God’s Spirit. There is something more to be known than the bare doctrine of Christ’s righteousness. That doctrine may even become a lying refuge if the mere letter of truth is sheltered in, and the Holy Ghost does not experimentally make it known to the soul.


I.
The soul experience indicated. “A following on to know the Lord.” To know the Lord is the desire of every living soul. To know Him by His own Divine manifestations, by the gracious revelation of His grace, His love, His presence, His glory. To know the Lord is to know, experimentally and spiritually, the power of Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Thus to know the Lord is the sum and substance of vital godliness. But the expression “follow on” implies that there are many difficulties, obstacles, and hindrances in a man’s way, which keep him back from knowing the Lord.

1. Sometimes a man takes up the notion that he is but a self-deceiver and a hypocrite.

2. Sometimes Satan hurls a blasphemous suggestion into our carnal mind.

3. Sometimes the remembrance of past sins, lying as a heavy weight on the conscience, presses a man down with despondency and despair.

4. Sometimes the gusts of infidelity will so blow on a man’s mind as to make him doubt the reality of all religion.

5. Sometimes the recollection of many inconsistencies, foolish thoughts, words, and actions, stand like mountains of difficulty in his way.

6. Sometimes great worldly troubles hinder him.

7. Sometimes darkness besets the mind, and clouds of unbelief rest on the soul, and the way is obscure. The work of the Spirit in a man’s soul is to carry him on in spite of all these obstacles. It is really astonishing how souls are kept alive. For what are we to follow on? To know the Lord, as the sum and substance of all religion, as the very marrow of vital godliness.


II.
Seeking the Lord and not finding Him. This is a part of experience through which every soul passeth. Here lies the difference between a living soul in his darkest hours and a dead professor. A living soul knows that God is to be found of His saints, but cannot always find Him for himself; but a dead professor knows nothing about God at all. It is to the living soul walking in darkness, and unable to find God, that the text says, “His going forth is prepared as the morning.” There is an appointed time for the Lord to go forth: and this is compared to the rising of the sun. All His goings forth are as much prepared, and the moment is as much appointed, as the time is fixed every morning for the sun to rise.


III.
The fruit and effect of the Lord’s coming. As the rain--softening and fertilising. To understand the spiritual, we must first know the meaning of the natural figure. Explain the two rain seasons of Palestine. In the “early rain” is a figure of Christ’s first coming to the soul. By the “latter rain “ is suggested Christ’s coming in Christian experience. (J. G. Philpot.)

Christ the day-dawn and the rain

The most ancient Jewish commentators find the last fulfilment of these words in the great promised Messiah. It is Christ, then, whom our faith must grasp under these two figures, the day-dawn and the rain. The world is a great book of symbols for the soul of man to read God by. There is something of common likeness in these two figures, and yet something distinctive is conveyed. There is a twofold coming of the Son of God, the first in His own person to establish and confirm the Gospel, the second in His Holy Spirit, to apply it to the heart. The one of these may very fitly be compared to the morning, and the other to the rain.


I.
The day-dawn and the rain represent some resemblances between the coming of Christ in His Gospel and in His Spirit.

1. They have the same manifest origin. The day dawn comes from heaven and so does the rain. They are not of man’s ordering, but of God’s. And it is not less so with the Gospel and Spirit of Christ. Man neither invented them nor discovered them. They carry their evidence with them, like heaven’s sun and heaven’s rain. We may learn the origin of our faith in a study of the grandeur and comprehensiveness of its plan, and in a feeling of its power in our souls. The same God who makes morning to the world by the sun, gives the dawn of a new creation to the spirits of men through the Saviour.

2. They have the same mode of operation on the part of God. That mode of operation is soft and silent. The greatest powers of nature work most calmly and noiselessly. And like to these in their operations are the Gospel and Spirit of Christ. When our Saviour came into the world, it was silent and alone. So it was with His entrance into the heart. There is no outward crisis to tell of the birth of souls.

3. They have the same form of approach to us--in perfect freeness and fulness. The morning light comes unfettered by any condition, and so, also, descends the rain. The Gospel opens on the world priceless and free as the light which waits but for the eye to be unclosed to see and share it all. As free is the Spirit of Christ. Nor has He less fulness.

4. They have the same object and end. It is the transformation of death into life, and the raising of that which lives into higher and fairer form. The Gospel and Spirit of Christ have the same aim--life and revival. The Gospel of Christ is the Word of life. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of life. As both work together for life, so both must co-operate for revival.


II.
Some points of the distinction between them.

1. Christ’s approach to men has a general and yet a special aspect. The sun comes every morning with a broad unbroken look, shining for all, and singling out none. There is a universality of kindness about him which men, with all their powers of limitation, have never been able to abridge. But the rain as it descends, breaks into drops, and hangs with its globules on every blade. There is a wonderfully individualising power in the rain. The Gospel of God’s grace enters the world with the broad universal look of daylight. It singles out none that it may exclude none. The arms of God are as wide as His call, and the power of Christ’s atonement is as unlimited as the invitation to it. But Christ comes after another manner with His Spirit. Here no man can tell how God is dealing with another.

2. Christ’s coming is constant, and yet variable. The sunrise is of all things the most sure and settled. And Christ visits men in His Gospel, steady and unchanging as the sun. But with the Holy Spirit it is other wise. His coming varies in time and place, as the rain, whose arrival depends on causes we have not fathomed.

3. Christ’s coming may be with gladness, but also with trouble. What can be more joyful than the returning sun? But God comes also in the cloud, and there is a shade over the face of nature. So Christ comes, through His Spirit, in the conviction of sin.

4. Christ’s coming, in His Gospel and Spirit, may be separate for awhile, but they tend to a final and perfect union. They are indispensable to each other. Sunlight without rain, and rain without sunlight, can only work evil. The Gospel without the Spirit, would be the sun shining on a waterless waste. The Spirit without the Gospel, would be the rain falling in a starless night. Some have a very distinct perception of the Gospel in its freeness and fulness, but they have ceased to derive from it the comfort they once enjoyed. They need the rain. They have been too neglectful of the secret life of religion, which is its soul. (John Ker, D. D.)

The goings forth of the Lord

By His going forth, we are to understand the communications of His grace in behalf of those who desire an interest in His favour.


I.
The idea suggested by this expression is that of certainty as to the event. Before the faintest streaks of light appear, we feel no misgivings as to the return of morning. The longest winter night will come to an end. Thus certain and infallible are God’s gracious purposes to penitent souls. As soon shall the sun forget to rise, as His goings forth of grace and mercy be frustrated. This may encourage seeking souls, afflicted ones, weeping mothers and fathers, and those who are approaching the end of life.


II.
An idea suggested by the first image in the text is that of clearness. What a change does the dawning morn produce upon the face of nature and the views of man! We find the path which before was doubtful open to our view. We can go to our avocations without stumbling, or, if travellers, prosecute our journey without fear. By the glorious light which God sheds upon their path, His people are guided into all truth. The most wonderful discoveries are made to their souls, and they see more accurately than they ever did before the marvellous things of God’s law. The entrance of God’s word gives light, and crooked things become straight before it.


III.
Another idea suggested is that of gladness and joy. “The light is sweet; and a pleasant” thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.” As the night is the season of gloom, the morning is one of cheerfulness and joy. In Psalms 130:1-8. the truly penitent soul is represented as waiting for the consolations of religion under the image of those who watch for the coming of the morning. Neither the moon in all her beauty, nor the stars in all their brightness, can compare with the splendours of the orb of day. At his rising universal nature is refreshed, and the earth on which he shines puts on a robe of gladness. And it is thus with the “goings forth” of the Lord. Let but the healing beams of the Sun of Righteousness arise upon the soul, and even the wilderness and the solitary place will be glad for them. The whole heart is inspired with a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory.


IV.
Another idea suggested is that of progress. Not all at once, but gradual, is the beauty of the morning. So the goings forth of the Lord are gradual upon the soul, until from the first dawnings of spiritual light it is rendered capable of beholding the august glories of the Gospel. The second illustration in the passage is taken from the rain. Between rain that descends upon the earth, and the influences of Divine grace on the soul, many pleasing analogies obtain. Rain is the work of God. It falls according to the appointment of Him who causes it to descend on One city and not upon another. The rain falls sometimes gently and persistently, sometimes violently. Like the former and the latter rain of the East, there are two seasons in the Divine life, when the influences of the Divine Spirit are particularly requisite. Young converts stand in need of the one, and aged saints of the other. (J. L. Adamson.)

Coming as the morning

A recent traveller gives a striking description of sunrise among the Himalaya Mountains. “We were watching,” she says, “the first flash of rosy dawn on a high snowpeak, as the stars disappeared one by one. The song of the first bird blended with the roar of the stream that fretted its way through the narrow gorge. Then we could trace the forms of trees, shrubs, and flowers above and below our path, and enjoy the fragrance of the eglantine blossoms strewn hither and thither like patches of snow.” Presently, however, her attention was drawn to a mimosa-tree which seemed quite dead. Its leaves, although green, were closed and drooping. Yet the root had not been disturbed--branches, twigs, blossoms, and the leaves themselves all appeared perfect. Was it dead, or only asleep? “As we watch and wonder, the slanting rays of yellow light from the great sun, hidden hitherto by the mountain opposite, creep toward us. They touch the mimosa-tree, and at the same moment we hear the rustle of the morning breeze among its leaves. Even as we look the delicate twigs are stirred; they flutter in the wind, they lift themselves to the golden rays, and, ere we pass on, the leaves are expanded, the blossoms erect, and the tree seems to rejoice among its fellows in its gracious fulness of life.” (Sunday Companion.)

Genuine piety


I.
In genuine piety the individual man has to do with the great God. He has to “follow on to know the Lord.”


II.
In genuine piety the great God has to do with individual man, “His going forth is prepared as the morning,” etc.

1. He cometh to him as the “morning”--full of promise. What a delightful season is the morning. It rings the knell of the dark night, and heralds the coming day. How delightful the morning to the sufferer on his bed; to the mariner on the ocean, etc. God comes to the man that is “following on” to know Him; puts an end to the night of his guilt, and throws around him the first beams of a glorious day. He comes as the night to the wicked; He comes as the morning to the good. We would not have Him come as the noon to us. He would consume us with His glory.

2. He comes to him as “the rain”--full of refreshing influence. “He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.” What a glorious change do the seasonable showers produce upon the parched earth! they change every part into life and beauty. Thus the Almighty comes to the good man, and he feels it to be a time of refreshing from the “presence of the Lord.” Learn from this the glorious destiny of the good. It is a “following on” to know Him, “whom to know is life eternal.” (Homilist.)

The gentleness of Christ

The Jews regarded these words as a prophecy of Christ. As such take them. How beautiful is the morning! How refreshing is the rain!


I.
Both are independent of man. “The day is Thine, O Lord, Thou hast prepared the light.” “He prepareth rain for the earth.” They both emanate from God. How true of grace and mercy! He who gives morning to the world gives dawning to the soul.

1. How softly, and silently come the light and the rain! How true of Christ’s coming into the world and of His mission among men! “He shall, not strive,” etc. “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation--with spectators looking on.

2. How true of Christ’s entrance into the soul! Not in the storm, but in the still small voice. “My conversion,” says a French evangelist, “was as gentle as a mother’s kiss.”


II.
Both are necessary to man. Nansen tells us how they longed for the light! In India and Australia, how the thirsty land cries out for the refreshing showers! So the soul of man needs Christ.


III.
Both are full and free for man. The sun and the rain come for all. No “Trusts” can monopolise them. How true of the Divine love! It is like the great sea whose waves beat upon every shore. “Draw up the blind,” said George Dawson; “let in the light.” When the gentle rain descends, you put out your ferns and flower-pots. Get where there are showers of blessing that your soul may be refreshed. (A. Hampden Lee.)

He shall come to us as the rain.--

Christ as the rain

1. Christ’s coming to the heart, and the rain’s coming to the flower, are alike in this, that each is by the sovereign ordering of God. Modern science has attained wonderful knowledge of the laws that govern the movements of the clouds. But we are as dependent upon God now, as ever, for the early and the latter rain, for the showers that water and refresh the earth. Equally dependent are we for those influences of the Holy Spirit by which Christ in all His preciousness and graciousness is communicated to the soul.

2. The coming in each case affords scope for the energy and efficacy of prayer. Whilst God is sovereign in His gifts, He is not arbitrary in their bestowment either in nature or in grace. There are innumerable and well-attested instances in which God has heard the prayers of His people for rain. And so the coming of Christ with spiritual power into the heart and into the Church may be secured by earnest and importunate prayer.

3. The coming of Christ in refreshing presence and power is often pre ceded by lightning and tempest. Dark clouds of adversity, fierce winds of temptation disturb and terrify the soul. When the storms of spiritual trial have encompassed the soul, Christ by His blessed Spirit comes in gentlest and most unobtrusive ministry to every parched leaf and drooping flower of the Christian graces.

4. The coming of Christ is like that of the rain in its benign and blessed results. The roots of religious life are fed. The fountains of spiritual energy in the soul are replenished. (T. D. Witherspoon, D. D. , LL. D.)

The Spirit as rain

1. As rain, the influences of the Holy Spirit are copious.

2. Are seasonable.

3. Are refreshing.

4. Are fertilising.

5. Are from above. (G. Brooks.)

As the latter and the former rain.--The analogy between nature and grace is very close. God employs nature as a typal thing. He designs through it to image forth Diviner things. He would have us be observers of nature, to look through nature up to nature’s God. Years ago, an observing writer told how he “viewed the ravages of winter as the Jews did the desolation of their temple when its expressive types and symbols were demolished or defaced by the Babylonian armies, and thus he viewed spring as the rebuilding of the creation-temple, in which are renewed all the sweet and significant emblems of the everlasting Gospel.” In the same spirit may we consider the “early and latter rain,” the second of the two images employed by the prophet Hosea. Now, we read about the “former and the latter rain” in other parts of Scripture as well as in Hosea. (Thus in Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 5:24; Joel 2:23; James 5:7.) Rain typifies and sets forth Divine influence and grace. It falls to fertilise where all was dry and fruitless. It falls to renew the face of the earth. It falls to ripen and mature the grain. In Judea the rain fell plentifully twice in the year. About September, and about March, if, chiefly and more copiously fell. Now, the month Abib, or March, was the first month in the ecclesiastical or holy year; and hence we have light thrown on the expression, “the latter rain in the first month.” It may be observed, without any undue pressing of the similitude, that rain being the vapours exhaled by the sun, would cease to fall were the sun withdrawn from the firmament. The parallel between growth in nature and growth in grace, being clear, we are taught at once that Divine grace comes not apart from Him who, being the Son of God, died on the Cross for our sins, that through the Holy Ghost sent down, the fruitless soil of our fallen nature might have fertility--be quickened into newness of life. Now, it strikes us as interesting that, in the passages we have cited, beginning with the Book of Deuteronomy, and ending with the Epistle of St. James, there should be seen a certain order which we may follow as we try briefly to exhibit some truths suggested by our subject. In Deuteronomy, we read how God would give the first rain and the latter rain. Passing on to Jeremiah, we see how the people refused to fear the Lord who giveth rain both the former and the latter. In Hosea we read of the fuller knowledge to be enjoyed by those who serve the Lord. In Joel we read of the joy of the children of God to whom had been given the former rain. Then in St. James we read of the patience that becomes the Christian as he waits for the coming of his Lord. Undesigned as this order may be, it is nevertheless interesting. It suggests to us the thought of progressiveness. As the Christian dispensation is fuller, brighter than the Jewish; so the believer should advance, following on to know the Lord.

Beginning, then, with the words of Deuteronomy, we read in Deuteronomy 11:13-14 --“And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto My commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul; that I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.” As Israel sought spiritual blessings, so should Israel enjoy temporal blessings as well. These were the terms of the Divine covenant. Grace, free and undeserved grace, itself the outflow of the Divine love, would bestow these blessings. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (temporal necessaries) shall be added unto you.” Thus the prophet Jeremiah speaks: “But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart,. . . neither say they in their heart, Let us.now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter in his season.” In the days of Moses, multitudes of the Israelites had turned from God. They entered not into the promised land, because of unbelief. On them “the former and the latter rain “ never fell. So, in the days of Jeremiah, many feared not God, who yet saw how His covenant with nature was kept, and around whom privileges were gathered. The words of the prophet Hosea (Hosea 6:3) tell of the bright and blessed results of real repentance, “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord.” We observe in this verse that “the latter rain” is placed before “the former”; and it may be just said by the way that “the latter rain “ (malkusit, from a verb “to delay”) was more probably that which fell in the autumn, and “the former rain” (jirah) that which fell in the spring; though this is questioned. (See Calmet’s Dict.)

Without seeing in this uncertainty any explanation of the precedence of “the latter rain” in the verse in Hosea, something perhaps may be inferred as to the inseparableness of “the former and the latter rain.” Grace is glory begun. And so the apostle Peter speaks: “And hope to the end (or, ‘hope perfectly,’ τελίως ἐλπίσατε), for the grace that is being brought unto you (φερομένην) at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Life eternal being the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ whom He has sent, Divine grace, typified by the early rain, must cause this knowledge to take root in our heart. And then, little and limited though that knowledge be at first, like the shower’s first drops, yet “we shall know, if we follow on to know the Lord.” Where rain has come, rain will come. “They go from strength to strength.” Sin, as they follow on, becomes less strong; God becomes more “the strength of their heart.” So the prophet Joel speaks of the joy of Christians: “Be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God, for He hath given you the former rain moderately, and He will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain and the latter rain in the first month.” In this verse, we are directed in the margin to observe that “the former rain moderately” is in the Hebrew “the . . . according to righteousness.”

In the Septuagint the literal rendering would be, “For He gave to you (the) food (τὰ βρώματα) towards (or ‘with reference to’) righteousness, and will rain for you rain early and late (latter), according as before.” It does not seem quite plain bow we are to take the words, “the former rain according to righteousness,” or “a teacher unto righteousness” (as Hebrews will have it), if they are not taken in some way to have regard to a teacher (perhaps Joel himself) typical of the Messiah. Concerning ourselves, however, with the rendering of our Authorised Version, “the former rain moderately” (or “in due measure”), we shall see that the children of Zion were to be glad and rejoice in the Lord their God, giving glory to Him who had kept and remembered His covenant, who had sent and who would send the shower to fructify the earth, and who had shed abroad in their hearts the very grace that shower should typify. “Be glad and rejoice”; your hearts have been disposed to holiness through Divine grace; God will perform the good work in you which He has begun. So spake the inspired prophet. And, in truth, joy becomes the Christian. But this joy, we remember, requires patience. And St. James, in the last passage remaining for us, speaks of “patience”: “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord”; and he proceeds to employ an illustration fetched from the tiller and the field. In the purpose and promise of God, precariousness has no place; and between seed-time and harvest nature exacts her needed interval.

Time is needed for the early, time for the latter rain to fall. So spiritually; and more also. Natural rain may be withheld; drought may be instead. Grace shall always come, if rightly sought. It cannot fail. Patience becomes the Christian; the Word of God sown in his heart shall not be left waterless. But a span separates the early from the latter rain. To none should the time be either too long or yet too short. “Be patient unto the coming of the Lord.” And once again, there is encouragement in the thought of the rain, the latter rain, where there may have been a declension, where watchlessness may have been allowed, or where trial and temptation may have chilled devotion and zeal. Rain sought again, shall fall to revive. Never forsaken by a covenant God, penitent Israel, idolatrous and prayerless no more, will receive the blessing of abundance of rain: “he shall grow as the lily,” and “revive as the corn.” (Christian Observer.)

Verse 4

Hosea 6:4

Your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.

Instances of inconstancy in good men

Men’s convictions die away, their resolutions prove abortive; they run well, but don’t continue; begin to build, but leave their work unfinished This is a most unhappy case, as dangerous and fatal as it is common.


I.
The causes of this wretched inconstancy. Is it because men have no power, or no encouragement to do otherwise? Neither can be the reason, because where there is no power at all, there is no sin, and where there is no encouragement to exert the power we have, if we are not altogether without sin, yet we seem to have such an excuse for our sins, as takes away much the greatest part of their guilt. One represents God as the author of sin; the other as wanting in goodness and love to His creatures. That so many do no more than begin well, is not from want of power; since God, the righteous Governor and Judge of the world, never requires beyond the measure of what He has given. Does God command all men to repent? The reason is that by the grace of the Gospel all shall be enabled to repent who do not wilfully refuse and resist that grace. And no one can plead in excuse for himself, when he repents of his sins, and then relapses into them, and after all his fair promises and repeated resolutions, never makes thorough work of it, that he has not sufficient motives to make him exert himself. The true causes of inconstancy are--

1. Want of seriously and distinctly considering the nature of the change upon which they are entering, the reasons for it, and the pains and time it will cost to effect it.

(1) They don’t consider that every sin is to be forsaken, and every duty to be practised; nor do they reflect what these particular sins and duties are, and what is meant by forsaking the one and practising the other. For want of a distinct notion of their duty, men find themselves bewildered, are at a loss how to proceed, and never want an excuse for not doing what they ought, or for doing what they ought not, when they are under strong persuasion.

(2) Men don’t seriously consider the reason upon which their purpose of a change ought to be founded, and therefore they miscarry. The little they do is not the effect of judgment and rational conviction, so much as of some passion accidentally raised in them.

(3) Men don’t consider the pains they must take, and the time that must be spent in effecting this change (Luke 14:28). The difficulties of religion are to be duly considered. It is as wrong to exaggerate the difficulties as to underestimate them. Conversion is a work of time. Men are not presently cured of the vices which have grown habitual. Habits which have been long contracted are not immediately unlearnt again, and contrary habits planted in their room. Some have talked as if the new creature were an instantaneous production, and the habits of grace were infused in a moment. And this representation has done no little mischief.

2. Another cause of men’s inconstancy is their being but half resolved. And this is a very common case. They are so far from being fully determined as hardly to know which side they shall take. It is not strange that such imperfect resolutions are quickly broken. Instability of conduct is the necessary effect of irresoluteness of temper.

3. Another cause is men’s not exercising a suitable caution and vigilance, in order to avoid the occasions of sin, and all those temptations that beset them, and endanger their falling back into their former way of living. If they would not fall, why do they walk in the same slippery places?

4. Another cause is their not persevering in the instrumental duties of religion, particularly the duty of secret prayer. Did they from day to day maintain their intercourse with heaven, they would be much better prepared to do the will of God upon earth, and to resist and overcome any temptation which should beset them.


II.
The certainty that these ineffective purposes of amendment, these mere beginnings, will not be accepted instead of true repentance and holiness of life.

1. The Gospel requires nothing less than repentance and true holiness. This is abundantly evident from Scripture passages.

2. Such an imperfect transient goodness is not that repentance and holiness of life upon which the Gospel insists. Is confessing sin the same as confessing and forsaking it? Can they be said to repent, who do not bring forth fruits meet for repentance? And the character of a man is to be taken from his habitual practice. He that doeth righteousness is righteous.

3. Out of regard to the perfections of His nature, and the declarations of His Holy Word, God will not dispense His saving mercy upon any other terms than those set forth in the Gospel. Evangelical repentance and obedience there must be.


III.
What method we should take if we would not only make some entrance upon the ways of religion, but go on in them, and hold out to the end. Avoid those things which are the usual occasions of inconstancy in this most important affair. And give ourselves to frequent meditation of those great truths on which religion is founded. And often renew our good resolutions, and arm ourselves every day before we go forth into the business and temptations of the world. Bend our chief force against those sins which do most easily beset us, and most frequently overcome us. Frequently make this reflection, that while we spend our time in trifling thus with religion, life not only goes on, but goes off too, and death approaches. Let us reflect every one for himself, whether, and how far, this subject concerns us.

1. Consider that you have all the difficulty without the benefit of a thorough reformation of heart and life.

2. You can have no real satisfaction in your present course.

3. Every time you return to your sins, after you have resolved to forsake them, and begun to do it, you make your condition worse than it was before.

4. In what light will your present manner of acting appear when you come to die?


IV.
The method we should take if we would not only make some entrance upon the ways of religion, but go on in them, and hold out to the end.

1. Good men are too apt to change as to their diligence and activity in the Christian life.

2. Hath the time been when the Christian was vigilant and circumspect? One would think that the advantages he must have reaped from thence should have kept him so; and yet they do not always effect it.

3. There may be the loss, as to the good man’s conscience, of its former sensibility and authority. Conscience is an inward sense and feeling of good and evil. Sensibility of conscience appears not so much in discovering the nature as the degrees of moral good and evil. How careful should we be to maintain this sensibility and tenderness of conscience.

4. Hath the Christian disengaged himself to a great degree from the affections of the lower life? He is very happy herein, but let him net be secure, as if he was not liable to a change. The following, are among these affections of the lower life, which even in Christians sometimes prevail too much.

(1) Admiration and esteem of worldly things.

(2) Love of sensual pleasure.

(3) Immoderate hopes and fears, joy and sorrow about present things.

(4) Intemperate anger, or a proneness to kindle into warm resentments upon very trivial occasions.

(5) A spirit of devotion is not always kept up.

His indevotion appears in his disuse of religious thoughts and contemplations, in which time was that he more frequently employed himself. And also in the little pleasure which Christians take in the duties and exercises of religion. It is attended with want of desire after spiritual and eternal blessings. Two directions.

1. Fix in your minds a just and lively apprehension of the much greater peace and pleasure which attend an even and regular course of piety than the contrary.

2. Have your eye upon the first tendencies of the heart to wander from God, and immediately oppose and check them. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

Religious constancy

This is a mournful voice of expostulation. The thing which aroused the prophet’s sad lament is as familiar to us as it was to those who lived in that day. The same temptations follow the same passions, and substantially the same experiences are the result. The inconstancy of men in goodness; the facility with which they are excited; the quickness with which they recognise the better way; the rapidity with which they forget it,--these are the themes of the Old Testament and the New alike, and also of observing men in profane literature. The topic is the inconstancy, the remission, of religious emotion. There is a vast amount of tremulous excitement, there is a great deal of feeling, which runs for an hour very deeply; and yet, the transientness of religious life and of religious feeling is just as much a matter of remark to-day as it was a thousand years ago, and just as much a matter of remark in the Church as it was in the synagogue. The obvious reason will be, of course, in the nature of the human soul; in its proclivity downward and backward towards the animal, on which it is based and from which it sprang. Men have a very brief religious experience because the power of the world is so strong over them. There are many persons who do not want to be conformed to the world; who do not desire to have any fluxes of feeling. They ask, How shall I prolong these experiences?


I.
There is much error in the doctrine of the uses of feeling, and therefore of its degrees, and of the possibility of equal emotion on the part of all. If religion were the putting of persons through a Divine process from which each one emerged amply equipped, and equipped like every other, then every one might demand that his experience should be like that of every other one; but such is not the case. Men are brought into the religious state with all their conditions of constitution, or of soul and mind, with all their conditions of education and non-education, with all their misteachings and prejudices; and they begin at different points. Each one has problems of his own in life. God in His providence deals with each particular man according to the method which is adapted to him. Feeling is not to be sought as a luxury. The object of feeling is to be an operative one. Though there should be pleasure in it. Persons who enter a Christian life, and seek to promote such a life by the experience of feeling, exquisite, abundant, and continuous, may think that they are seeking religion, while often they are only seeking self. What, then, is to the the limit of feeling? How much feeling is a man to have? Enough to maintain himself vitally. Enough to impel him on every side to the duties which belong to his station and to his nature. The most powerful loves in life are latent. Everywhere in life, true and wholesome feeling tends to clothe itself in action. I have known many persons who gave up a thousand ethical duties for the sake of having experience, as it is called. There are many who are attempting to be eminent in their Christian life by having a full-orbed emotive experience all the time. But there are a great many persons so constituted that depths and currents of feeling such as others have are quite impossible to them. The law of the production of feeling must be better understood. It is thought that feeling so exists in men that one has but to wish for it, long for it, pray for it, try for it, to have it come. No person trying on any other side of the mind would ever come to such a conclusion. Try it with caution, or mirthfulness. Would they come at demand? The causes which produce feeling are various. There are certain ideas or elemental truths which produce the sense of awe: there are others that produce the sense of faith; others that produce love, or joy, or sorrow, or remorse. Whoever wants a given feeling must understand what are the truths which stand connected with its production. Take also into consideration the law of continuity of feeling in men. Feeling, when it becomes continuous, is insanity. Emotions never run in channels. They are always changing. They rise and fall. If one observes a wholesome mind, he will find that there are scores of feelings which alternate, first one being in the ascendency and then another. The on-going of the impulses of a wholesome mind is like the progress of a time. Nothing is worse for a person than to attempt all the time to have just one state of mind, because he thinks that to be a Christian is to have God in one’s thoughts all the while. You cannot do it, and you ought not to try to do it. It is unnatural. There is a law of the inspiration of distinctively moral feeling. There is an impression that religious feeling is the direct product of the Divine Spirit. It may be, as harvests are the product of the sun; but the sun works differently on different growths. Now, the moral or spiritual part of a human being, that part which makes him a man, not an animal, comes from God. It is universal mind, moving in universal space, that gives us vitality, and inspires our reason and moral emotions in all their variations. A true moral feeling is an inspiration of God; but it is an inspiration which acts differently in different persons. There is one class of men whose emotions distinctly run to ideas. All men’s emotions follow reason. But there are some men who have no distinct conceptions of moral emotion except those which evolve ideas--that is, differentiated truths, or a series of propositions. As, for instance, John Calvin. The beauty-loving element has power to open the door of the soul, and produce profound moral emotions. There are those whose moral feelings are largely dependent on the imagination. Two elements constitute the whole revelation of God, fact and fiction. The imagination, working with the reason, constitutes faith, generically considered. Every man should have a susceptibility of moral emotion through the imaginative element. How can any man read the Apocalypse of John, and appreciate it without imagination? There are different modes of reaching man’s interior natures. It is ignorance or neglect of the laws of feeling that makes so much trouble with persons in their religious experience. There are many who think that if they are to have true moral feelings they must have them in a particular way; whereas true moral feelings come in an infinite number of ways: One hindrance to the development of moral feeling and to its continuous flow, in so far as continuity of moral feeling is practicable, is found in the law of discord of the force of malign feelings in changing the current and nature of a man’s emotions. In the human soul, which is the most exquisite of all orchestras, you may have mirth, reason, wit, and humour, veneration, hope, faith, and they help each other, and are naturally harmonious, and cannot of themselves make discord. But when a man is in that peaceful and joyous state of mind which it is the nature of these combined elements to induce, let one single malign feeling strike in among them, and it will put them out of concord, and strike a line of discord through them. (H. Ward Beecher.)

Transient devotions

The Church hath seldom seen happier days than those described in Exodus 19:1-25. God had never diffused His benedictions on a people in a richer abundance. Never had a people gratitude more lively, piety more fervent. But this devotion had one great defect, it lasted only forty days. God had to say, “They have quickly turned aside.” Some divines regard the text as prophetical. In their opinion the goodness mentioned in the text is the mercy of God displayed in the Gospel. The dew signifies Jesus Christ. The morning dew intends the covenant of grace. We, however, regard a goodness like the morning dew as a seeming piety, which goeth away, is of short duration, and all the words of the text are a reproof from God to His people for the unsteadiness of their devotions.


I.
The nature of the piety in question. We are not to understand by it those deceitful appearances of hypocrites who conceal their profane and irreligious hearts under the cover of ardour and religion; or the disposition of those Christians who fall through their own frailty from high degrees of pious zeal, and experience emotions of sin after they have felt exercises of grace. Hypocrisy cannot suspend the strokes of Divine justice one single moment, and it is more likely to inflame than to extinguish the righteous indignation of God. The piety we speak of lies between these two dispositions. It is sincere, but it is unfruitful, and in that respect it is inferior to the piety of the weak and revolting Christian. It is sufficient to discover sin, but not to correct it: sufficient to produce sincere resolutions, but not to keep them: it softens the heart, but it doth not renew it; it excites grief, but it doth not eradicate evil dispositions. It is a piety of times, opportunities, and circumstances.

1. By piety, like the early dew that goeth away, we mean that which is usually excited by public calamities.

2. In the second class of transient devotions we place that which religious solemnities produce.

3. That which is excited by the fear of death, and which vanishes as soon as the fear subsides. The most emphatical, the most urgent, and the most pathetical of all preachers is death.


II.
The insufficiency of this kind of devotion.

1. In the text is an argument of sentiment and love. God represents Himself here under the image of a prince who had formed an intimate connection with one of his subjects. And the subject seems deeply sensible of the honour done him, but proves faithless. Equivocal reformations, appearances of esteem, are much more cruel than total ingratitude and open avowed hatred.

2. Consider the injustice of these devotions. Though they are vain, yet people expect God to reward them. Though men’s complaints of God’s not rewarding were unjust, yet God sometimes paid attention to them; for though He sees the bottom of men’s hearts, and distinguishes real from apparent piety, yet He hath so much love for repentance that He sometimes rewards the bare appearance of it, as in the case of Ahab. The Jews knew this condescension of God, and they insulted it in the most odious manner.

3. There is a manifest contradiction between these two periods of life, between that of our devotion, and that of our sin. A reasonable man acting consistently ought to choose either to have no periods of devotion, or to perpetuate them. There is a palpable danger in having both these dispositions.

4. Every part of devotion supposes some action of life, so that if there be no such action the whole value of devotion ceases.

5. Transient devotions are inconsistent with the general design of religion. This design is to reform man, to renew him, to transform him into the likeness of glorified saints, to render him like God. But how does a rapid torrent of devotion attended with no moral rectitude contribute to this end?

6. Transient devotions must render promises of grace to you doubtful, even suppose you should ever, after a thousand revolutions of transient piety, be in possession of true and real religion.

7. Consider the imprudence of a man who divides his life in this manner into periods of devotion and periods of sin. A heart divided in this manner cannot be happy. And the state of suspension which God assumes in the text cannot last long. (James Saurin.)

The condition of man as a wreck


I.
Man is a wreck. The picture which this book gives us of the Jewish people is truly a hideous and lamentable one. Sin roils its warm, sparkling, but poisonous current through the veins of all. Man everywhere is a moral ruin. Physically, intellectually, and morally man is a wreck. He is at war with himself, at war with the universe, at war with God. But God is earnest about man in this condition. He appeals in the most tender and moving strains of love and mercy.


II.
Man, though a wreck, is an object of importance. Nothing impresses so much the importance of man as the interest which the great God seems to take in him--the earnestness which He displays for his recovery. A great, mind is never earnest about an unimportant object. Little minds grow enthusiastic about small matters. There is a strange power in suffering to heighten affection. As is seen in homes in times of sickness.


III.
Man, though a wreck, is capable of restoration. Three things show this.

1. The condition of man in this world.

2. The deep aspiration of humanity.

3. The extraordinary means that are provided for man’s restoration.


IV.
Man, though a wreck, exerts a fearful power. Why did all God’s operations fail? On account of man’s power, even in his wrecked condition, to resist. Man counteracts the moral influence of nature and the tendency of providence: he even resists the appeals of the Gospel and the strivings of the Spirit. (Homilist.)

Occasional impressions

How little practical influence do the Divine claims possess on the hearts and conduct of men! There are some who, if visited by occasional impression, and if apparently aroused to a sense of their high obligations, yet fall back again to perverted habits as the natural element of life. To such as these Hosea wrote.


I.
The nature and exciting circumstances of the disposition alleged. The images employed are emblems of brevity and evanescence. The morning cloud is soon dispersed, and the early dew soon evaporates before the sunbeam. It affirms that the persons indicated had been the subjects of certain emotions towards God and His will, which appeared to be right and good, but which proved transitory and unsubstantial, and soon gave way altogether to returning habits of transgression and rebellion. There may often be the plausible semblance of regeneration without the vivifying reality. Here in the text is a disposition which effects no mental renovation, and takes no established hold--a mere inflamed excitement, subject at once to removal on the rise of new suggestions, expiring with the impulse of the moment, agitating and subsiding, promising and disappointing, springing and withering.

1. This disposition may be excited by remarkable interferences of the providence of God. Public and national providences have given rise, not seldom, to what has thus appeared as the spirit of religion. As in the times of the Israelite Judges. Times of prosperity and calamity have similar results in individuals.

2. By the presence of sickness and imagined approach of death. These are evidently calculated to lead to serious consideration on the interests of the soul. But too often the zeal keeps time with the disease; the recovery of health proves to be the resurrection of sins.

3. By the statements and appeals of Divine truth. Under the preaching of the Word, the emotions of many prove transitory and ineffective.


II.
The effects of that disposition on the interests of those who are the subjects of it.

1. It assists to render the mind insensible to religion. The susceptibility is exhausted and deadened, and will no longer answer to what awakened it before. Persons whose impressions have gone away, cherish an absolute hatred of the memory of those impressions, and of the circumstances that inspired them.

2. It exposes to the signal retribution of future punishment. To the accusation of the text are annexed threatenings of tremendous evils as consequent on the crime. The judicial result, arising from the previous transgressions, is at once stated. (James Parsons.)

Emotion in the religious life

No two figures could have been selected, either for delicacy or for beauty, to represent the religious feelings better than these--the beauty of the cloud, its promise and its quick departure; and the beauty of the jewelled morning, that excites admiration everywhere, and the speedy emptying of its beauty. So is it, so it has been, and so it will be with religious feeling that rises easily, that promises everything that is ecstatic and that is fugitive, going as do the clouds and the dew. One of the most important things to know to-day is the genesis of the feelings. The ignorance of men as to the laws and uses of feeling, and as to the means of producing, regulating, and retaining it, is monumental. All action proceeds from emotion, which is a reservoir of forces. Men seem to act from thinking; but thinking is altogether subordinate and auxiliary to feeling. That which makes a man act, that which sets him forward in research, enterprise, effort, is either open or latent emotion. You cannot produce a sound and large religious character, you cannot produce any change in the right direction without feeling. Susceptibility to emotion is, in its largest view, susceptibility to development in any direction. How much emotion does a person want? Enough to bring him into a condition of action. More than that. Enough to make him a little more alert, and to make his work easier. People who want intense emotion are not wise. It is creditable to persons to enter upon high Christian life without having had very deep experiences of feeling or emotion. Another mistake in regard to feeling is the temptation to make it continuous. It is contrary to nature. Persons often reproach themselves for losing their feeling when they ought to lose it. We are not constituted so that we can bear continuous emotion long in a single line. Then there is such a thing as the alternation of feeling. And alternation is desirable, for alternation is rest. Religious feelings exhausted by continued religious considerations are restored by the administration of social and secular things. Often the things which men avoid seriously and urgently are the very things which are necessary for them. The production of feeling is a matter very little understood. Buoyancy is a term by which we mean that kind of general animal emotion which is the result of high life-feeling such as children and all-young animals show. It is a purely bodily quality. It must not be confounded with emotion. Quickness of susceptibility is a sign, not of deep emotion, but of temperament. By temperament several things are meant. Emotion proper results from the action on the feelings of some form of intellectual presentation. That is the general law. Is there any law, any principle, any direction that a man can give or take, by which one can facilitate the production of any feeling that he wants? Deep religious feeling is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of cultivation, as definite as cultivation in a field or garden of plants; and just as definite as cultivation in schools. (H. Ward Beecher.)

Instability of character

No valuable attainment is to be made without industry; and no industry is effectual but that which has the character of perseverance. Yet there is an impression almost universal, that spiritual blessings are to visit us unsolicited by our patient exertion; that, at all events, an occasional sensibility of feeling, and transient purposes of amendment will conduct us to all that is requisite for the life to come. Reflection might teach us the probability of there being an analogy between the requirement made upon us for the earthly, and that which is necessary for the heavenly attainments. Self-examination might show us how very foreign the knowledge of Divine things is to the darkness within our souls; how opposed the practice of what is righteous to the corruption which reigns there. Scripture would affix its authoritative seal on all which reflection and self-inquiry suggest. How unstable was the nation of Israel! What other means could Divine wisdom invent to give to their repentance a fixed, a lasting, an effective character? Mercies and judgments had been tried again and again. God speaks in the text as a man would speak with respect to persons with whom he had used every means of improvement, and used them in vain. The case before us is an exhibition of our own character and danger. It is the prototype of a large class among ourselves. Who have begun, but whose goodness has been like the morning cloud which flees before the approaching sun, or as the early dew soon caught up by his scorching heat. Those who so lately turned from sin to repentance, turn back again from repentance to sin. What are the causes of this short-lived goodness; the causes which lead to the relapse into evil? Great deliverances--blessings from God of an unusual importance--may produce a temporary relaxation of wickedness or worldliness. This effect is also seen to arise from trouble. There are few who have not been led by sorrow and disappointment to make what has proved in the result an abortive struggle. Another frequent cause of temporary heats of religion is discovered in the power of conviction. Appeal to men is continually made b.y the Word of God, by His ministers, by His providence. The only surprise is that such impressions, grounded in truth, should not conduct the soul further; and that there is any point within the line which divides insincerity and sincerity at which it should stop. The solution is found in the state of the heart; there is, in truth, no principle to lead it onward to the true Christian character. The nature of religion has not been considered; its motives have not been weighed; its difficulties have not been calculated. No wonder that animal indulgence, the temptations of the world, and the persuasions and influence of others make it difficult for a pliable mind to act independently. (T. Kennion, M. A.)

The instability of human goodness

Ephraim and Judah were made better neither by promises nor threatenings, so that their case was very hopeless, and nothing seemed to remain but that the Lord should leave them. In the text we have that which made their case so hopeless. They had at times some goodness--Hebrew, “kindness.” They had at times some kindness for God and His way, some warmth of affections towards good. It was but sometimes. Their goodness was passing goodness. This instability is held forth by the similitude--

1. Of a morning cloud;

2. Of the early dew.

Such is the instability of many in the good way of the Lord, that the goodness at which they sometimes arrive passeth away as a morning cloud and as the early dew.


I.
In what respects does this likeness hold good? The goodness of the saints cannot pass away totally or finally. But even the saints may lose much of the degrees of grace.

1. Men’s goodness often goes away very quickly as the morning cloud which appears only a very short while. Goodness of fellowship with Christ often fades quickly away. Goodness often passes quickly away after deliverance from trouble.

2. Men’s goodness ordinarily goes away by degrees, almost imperceptibly. Carnal security creeps leisurely on men, until by it they are taken off their feet. When temptation comes, man’s goodness is often amissing. Much goodness passes away in a time of persecution for the Gospel. And much when we are called to duty.


II.
Reasons why the goodness of many thus passes away.

1. Many, for all their goodness, have not the living Spirit of Christ dwelling in them.

2. Because the souls of many do not unite with Christ, who is the only head of influence.

3. Because, with many, religion is not their proper element. It is a forced matter with them that they have any at all. Self-love is their highest principle. They have no real love to the Lord, nor does the intrinsic beauty of holiness recommend it to them.

4. Because they have no spirit for difficulties and disappointments. They go forward cheerfully while things are laid to their hand; but disappointments take heart and hand from them, and they are knocked in the head.

5. Because of the entertaining of unmortified lusts, which, like suckers, draw the sap from the tree.

6. Because the profits and pleasures of the world soon charm away men’s goodness.

7. Because of unwatchfulness over the heart and life. I would exhort you, then, that have attained to anything of goodness or kindness to the Lord in His way, that you would set yourselves to hold it fast. (T. Boston, D. D.)

The impressions of natural men are lading

In these words God complains that He did not know what to do with Israel, their impressions were so fading.


I.
The fact that the impressions of natural men fade away.

1. Prove the fact from Scripture. Take the case of Lot’s wife. Or Israel at the Red Sea. Or the young man who came running to Jesus. Or Felix. Or King Agrippa.

2. Prove the fact from experience.

(1) Many have had a time of awakening in childhood.

(2) Or at their first communion.

(3) Or in a first time of serious sickness.

(4) Or when there has come a first death in the family.

(5) Or in some season of religious awakening.

3. Show the steps of impressions fading away.

(1) Prayer gradually given up.

(2) Hearing the Word neglected,.

(3) Failing to seek counsel and help of ministers.


II.
Reasons why the natural impressions of men die away.

1. They never are brought to feel truly lost. The wounds of natural men are generally skin deep. They may be brought to say, “I am a great sinner”; but they are not brought to feel undone.

2. They never saw the beauty of Christ. A flash of terror will bring a man to his knees, but will not bring him to Christ. Love only will draw. A natural man, under concern, sees no beauty nor desirableness in Christ.

3. He never had heart-hatred of sin. The impressions of natural men are generally of terror. They feel the danger of sin, not the filthiness of it.

4. They have no promises to keep their impressions. Natural men have no interest in the promises, and so, in the time of temptation, their anxieties easily wear away.


III.
The sadness of their case.

1. God mourns over their case. It must be a truly sad case that God mourns over.

2. God has no new method of awakening. He speaks as even at a loss what to do, to show you that there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.

3. No good by your past impressions. When the cloud is dried up off the mountain’s brow, and the dew off the rock, the mountain is as great as before, and the rock as hard; but when convictions fade away from the heart of the natural man, they leave the mountain of his sins much greater, and his rocky heart much harder. It is less likely that such a man will ever be saved.

Application.

1. You are now older, and every day less likely to be saved.

2. You have offended the Spirit. You have missed your opportunity. Convictions are not in your power.

3. You have got into the way of putting aside convictions.

4. When you come to hell you will wish you never had convictions, they will make your punishment so much the greater.

Entreat all who now have any impressions not to let them slip. It is a great mercy to live under a Gospel ministry; still greater to live in a time of revival; still greater to have God pouring the Spirit into your heart, awakening your soul. Do not neglect it. (R. M. M’Cheyne.)

Transient impressions

How is the too common disappearance of hopeful impressions to be accounted for? The great reason no doubt is that the heart has never been truly reached. But that is itself an effect produced by other causes which need to be sought after. The causes which tend to make religious impressions evanescent may be classified under three heads.


I.
Those which are speculative in their nature.. When the conscience is awakened the soul takes refuge in perplexing difficulties, which revelation leaves unsolved. But such difficulties should never be allowed to keep us from religious decision.

1. The existence of difficulties is inseparable from any revelation which is short of infinite. All perplexities arise from imperfect knowledge.

2. The difficulties in revelation are of the same sort, so far at least as they touch conduct, as those which we meet in God’s daily providence.

3. Difficulties in regard to things of which we are in doubt ought not to prevent us from performing duties that are perfectly plain. Whatever a man may be perplexed about, he knows full well that it is wrong to commit sin. Some however find perplexities of another kind. They are bewildered by the questions raised by modem discoveries. It is important for such persons to keep this principle in mind--truth already ascertained on its own appropriate evidence is not the less true because there are added to it some important truths in another department of human inquiry. We welcome truth from all quarters, for truth is near of kin to Him who sits upon the eternal throne.


II.
Those causes which are practical.

1. Some are hindered from yielding to the promptings of their better nature by fear of opposition.

2. Others by the influence of evil associations.

3. Another hindrance is the fettering influence of some pernicious habit.


III.
Causes connected with the conduct of professing Christians. The seriousness produced by some searching dis course is often wiped out by the thoughtless, flippant remarks of a so-called Christian on the way home from Church. Or it may be that in time of trouble professing Christians prove indifferent and neglectful. But the inconsistency of others cannot excuse us. And, moreover, we know well that all Christians are not like those we have to condemn. Remember the consistent ones, and do not dwell exclusively on the inconsistent, (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Goodness like a morning cloud


I.
Portray the character indicated.

1. Unfruitful hearers. Such feel a pleasure in attending the ministry of the Word; the passions are affected, the understanding is enlightened, and they form purposes for amendment of life, but the impression is momentary; there is no decision of character.

2. Transient reformers. Those who under providential visitations have determined to amend their ways and live to God, but afterwards have relapsed into sin.

3. Inconstant professors. Such go farther than the former: for a season they make a public profession of religion, and attend regularly the ordinances of God’s house; but through unwatchfulness and a neglect of Christian exercises their piety degenerates, their affections become cold, and at last they abandon religion altogether.


II.
Their sin and danger.

1. Unwatchfulness. They were cautioned, warned, and admonished; but instead of guarding the avenues of the soul, they were heedless and trifling.

2. Unfaithfulness. Had they walked in the light, their path would have been that of the just (Proverbs 4:18).

3. Ingratitude. They have had signal displays of the Divine beneficence. The returns they make are blasphemy instead of praises; pride, instead of humility; sin, instead of holiness; hatred, instead of love.

4. Rebellion. God has been striving with them in a variety of ways. Yet their lives have been marked with instability and indecision. Such has been their sin and such the mercy of God. But the day of vengeance is at hand. And their state is awful beyond description. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)

Evanescence of the early dew

By the word of the prophet Hosea, the Divine reproach fell on Ephraim and on Judah, that their goodness was as a morning cloud, and that us the early dew it passed away. Bright was the promise of the innocent dawn, but the promise was unfulfilled. Mr. Kingsley, in a touching reflection--literally reflection, looking back on the “long lost might-have-been,” adverts to that personal idea which every soul brings with it into the world, which shines dim and potential in the face of every sleeping babe, before it has been scarred, and distorted, and entrusted in the long tragedy of life. Dr. Caird has said of the birthday of the worst of men, that although it ushered a new agent of evil into existence, and was a day fraught with more disasters to the world than the day in which the pestilence began to creep over the nations, or the blight to fasten on the food of man, or any other physical evil to enter on a career of world-wide devastation, yet might this day, when the vilest of humanity first saw the light, be in some aspects of it regarded as better (despite Solomon’s text) than the day of his death. “For, to take only one view of it, when life commenced, the problem of good or evil, to which death has brought so terrible a solution, was, in his case, as yet unsolved. The page of human history which he was to write was as yet unwritten, and to that day belonged, at all events, the advantage of the uncertainty whether it was to be blurred and blotted, or written fair and clean.” Life, even in the most unfavourable circumstances, it is urged, has ever some faint gleams of hope to brighten its outset. The preacher owns that the simplicity, the tenderness, the unconscious refinement that more or less characterise infancy, even among the lowest and rudest, soon indeed pass away, and give place to the coarseness of an unideal, if not the animal repulsiveness of a sensual or sinful life. But he insists that at least at the beginning, for a little while, there is something in the seeming innocency, the brightness, the unworldliness, the unworn freshness of childhood, that gives hope room to work. Is there not, he asks, for every child, not in the dreams of parental fondness only, but in reality, and in God’s idea, the possibility of a noble future? “The history of each new born soul is surely in God’s plan and intention a bright and blessed one. For the vilest miscreant that was ever hounded out of life in dishonour and wretched ness, there was, in the mind of the All-good, a Divine ideal, a glorious possibility of excellence, which might have been made a reality.” The most hardened ruffian, the most obdurate criminal, the most impenetrable reprobate was once a child. Most of what he has, the grown-up man is shewn to inherit from his infant self, but it does not follow that he always enters upon the whole of his natural inheritance. (Francis Jacox, B. A.)

Religious declension

Since in every age of the Church the prophet’s description of Ephraim finds but too faithful a resemblance, we must appropriate and apply to ourselves this affecting language. The case before us is that of instability in religion. The prophet’s lamentation does not regard those who have fallen into known, deliberate, and grievous sin. The case before us does not regard those whose ardour of feeling is less strong than it may once have been. Feeling is no test of principle. Feelings and emotions, though they will ofttimes accompany a religious state of heart, yet are not necessarily attendant on it; they are often the effects of mere animal spirits. The prophet deals with the inconstancy and decline of those who have professed to know God, but whose acquaintance with Him has not grown, but decayed.


I.
The character here described.

1. Those who have had strong convictions. Their consciences have been visited by the force of the most solemn and awakening appeals of God’s Word. The arrows of the Almighty have been lodged, possibly very deeply, in the heart.

2. These have been accompanied by feelings, strong correspondent feelings. The representations of God’s free and tender mercy in Christ Jesus have melted the soul into a love toward the Saviour, and the heart has prostrated itself at His footstool.

3. And these feelings have been followed by plans for the honour of God.

4. And this leads him to make great sacrifices. Such are some of the fair appearances, the goodly blossoms, which, in the outset of life, or after the first awakenings of the soul, appear in the characters of those who yet, alas! bring forth no fruit to “perfection.” By and by, the power, the life, the unction is gone; there has been a worm at the root, eating out the spirit and the energy of the profession.


II.
Some of the causes of this declension.

1. Excessive ignorance of the heart. He knows not of the ten thousand specious forms of apology which his heart is devising, and no wonder that he is not prepared with a resistance.

2. Negligence in devotion. Wherever prayer is disused, or coldly performed, there are the infallible symptoms of decaying piety.

3. Unheeded afflictions. By trials and afflictions that check our complacent prosperity, God calls to some one whose early promise of excellence has disappointed the hopes of heaven. He seemed, whilst the pressure of God’s hand was still felt, to have learned the things which belonged to his peace; but the immediate force being lifted off, and the prospect of speedily meeting God having vanished, he starts back; the things of sense again dazzle his eyes, stupefy his conscience, and carry him away captive.

4. Seductive worldly connection. Such alliances hang like a clog on the soul, and drag heavily upon that wing on which it might otherwise mount upwards with renewed strength towards the centre of blessedness.


III.
What is God’s estimate of the case? It is a case which draws forth His severe anger. But the language of the passage rather presents God as grieved at the case, than in wrath. The appeal contains sharp rebuke and tender love. It says, thy case carries reproach to thyself, and draws compassion from My heart. What means this backward movement, when thou shouldst have moved forward? (Robert Eden, M. A.)

Fading impressions

A celebrated preacher of the seventeenth century, in a sermon to a crowded audience, described the terrors of the last, judgment with such eloquence, pathos, and force of action, that some of his audience not only burst into tears, but sent forth piercing cries as if the Judge Himself had been present, and was about to pass on them their final sentence. In the height of this excitement, the preacher called upon them to dry their tears, and cease their cries, as he was about to add something still more awful and astonishing than anything he had yet brought before them. Silence being obtained, he, with an agitated countenance and solemn voice, addressed them thus: “In one quarter of an hour from this time, the emotions which you have just now exhibited will be stifled; the remembrance of the fearful truths which excited them will vanish; you will return to your carnal occupations, or sinful pleasures, with your usual avidity, and you will treat all you have heard as a tale that is told.”

Trifling with impressions

This is one of those passages of Scripture in which God seems to represent Himself as actually at a loss, not knowing what else could be done to produce piety in hearts which had heretofore resisted the strivings of the Spirit. Yet, if you observe what these particular circumstances were which thus seemed to bring even Omnipotence to a stand, you will not find them such as might at first sight have been expected to produce such a result. God does not accuse Ephraim and Judah of being entirely unmoved by all the means which He had ever taken to move them. An impression had been made, but it had not been permanent. It is because the impression proved only transient that God represents Himself as at a loss--His resources exhausted, His purposes frustrated; for “your goodness is as the morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.” There were some indications of goodness; some convictions of sin, some impressions of past guilt were produced. Resolutions of amendment were made, and partially carried into practice, but at the first impulse of temptation all these appearances vanished, just as the cloud disperses and the dew exhales before the sun shining in his strength. There can hardly be a less hopeful condition than that of a man on whom a weak impression has been made, but on whom it has not been abiding.


I.
The case described. The style of the preaching to which men are accustomed to listen will determine, in a great degree, the peculiar moral danger to which they are exposed. Cold preaching is likely to leave men in their natural torpor, and fervid preaching is likely to communicate a warmth which may be mistaken for the glow of spiritual life, but which, proceeding only from excited sensibilities, and not from a renewed heart, will immediately depart when the stimulating causes are withdrawn. You have only to follow one of the multitude who has been thus excitedly impressed, and you will find that no steps are taken to deepen the impressions. The influences of seasons of affliction are much the same. It is melancholy and disheartening to observe how rapidly those promising appearances vanish. Men so often virtually mistake the action of grief for the action of conscience. This is the case conceived in the text.


II.
Why should such a case produce the startling words of the text? If religious impressions have been produced and then erased, the heart must be even harder than it was. Augustine says, “The facility with which we commit certain sins is a punishment for sins already committed.” It is the property of our nature that the doing of a thing makes it easier to do it again. This property of our nature should teach us that in obliterating serious impressions we make it more difficult than ever that they should be reformed. Then comes the question, if we have offered successful resistance to the Spirit of God, will the strivings of the Spirit be more intense than before? It is on this very point that God represents Himself as putting the question of the text to Ephraim and Judah. Observe in these words of the text a peculiarity which is very touching and affecting. God addresses Himself to the very parties themselves whose goodness has vanished as the morning cloud or early dew. He proposes what we may call His difficulty, in the shape of questions, as though willing to be directed by those with whom He had striven in vain. He makes them, as it were, judges in the matter. What have you to answer to God! You, it seems, are found speechless. We will not say that your ease is beyond hope, but we will derive a warning from the manifested peril in which you stand. Take good heed how you trifle with your convictions. Your eternity may be dependent on your present steadfastness. If you crush your present feelings, there is a fearful likelihood of your passing from one degree of moral hardness to another, until God Himself shall not know what to do for your conversion. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)

A threefold theme


I.
Divine solicitude. The language implies--

1. I have done much for thee.

2. I am ready to do more.

3. I am fettered in My actions.

Almightiness has restrictions. It is God’s glory that He will not outrage moral minds.


II.
Human perversity. Men set their wills in hostility to God’s. Hence He says, “What shall I do unto thee?” I can reverse the laws of nature, I can break up old universes and create new ones, but I cannot make beings whom I have endowed with the power of freedom, virtuous and happy, contrary to their own will.


III.
Evanescent goodness. Whether the goodness refers exclusively to human kindness, or includes some amount of pious sentiment it matters not; it was so evanescent that it was of no worth. Goodness is of no worth to any being until it becomes supreme and permanent. Thank God for endowing thee with freedom; it is a fearful power. It gives to men a widely different destiny even here, but a destiny in eternity infinitely more dissimilar. (Homilist.)

Man’s goodness

Either--

1. God’s goodness towards them, or

2. Their goodness, that is, their piety and holiness.

God’s goodness to them was as the morning cloud, for they, by their sin, had driven away God’s mercy and goodness from them, even as the wind carries the dust before it. In these words God charges this people with three things whereby their hypocrisy was expressed.

(1) Their vacuity and emptiness.

(2) Their falseness and dissembling.

(3) Their inconstancy and fickleness. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)

On transient impressions

Notwithstanding the paralysing effects of sin upon the conscience, there are few persons, perhaps, living under the light of inspiration, who have not, at one time or another, felt the claims of heaven press upon them, and tasted, in some degree, the powers of the world to come.


I.
Impressions bearing the semblance of religion, and producing effects which are mistaken for its genuine fruits, are generally, though by no means uniformly, attributable to external causes.

1. The influence of education, and the force of habit often induce seriousness of mind, and generate a deportment which seems to harmonise with the principles of the Gospel. The collateral results of consistent piety are very many, and often they are very powerful. But they sometimes end in disappointment. Under the strain and temptation of life, the young man from a pious home fails and falls, the shadow of religion vanishes into aerial nothingness.

2. Impressions of a similarly transient nature are often produced by affliction in its varied forms. Such impressions are often, indeed, solid and permanent. But some persons under affliction resolve on the godly life, and then as the affliction passes so does the resolve. God removes affliction from the man’s dwelling, and soon he himself banishes religion likewise; telling her, in effect, that though she may be a good companion in adversity, she is a gloomy guest in prosperity.

3. The faithful preaching of the Gospel, in very many instances, generates impressions which ultimately prove evanescent. The anxious pastor beholds with grateful joy these supposed fruits of his labours; but how deceitful these sometimes prove. The flower is nipped by the cruel blast, and forthwith it droops and fades away.


II.
Transient goodness is an essentially different thing from vital religion, The two may be more than externally assimilated to each other. The resemblance may, indeed, elude detection. The impressions we are now considering are essentially defective in reference to the two great points of sin and salvation. The professions of sin are not drawn from the hidden depths of self-knowledge; they do not grow out of that moral feeling which is generated by an insight into the holiness of God; they are not the genuine distinctive cry of the broken and contrite heart. They respect danger rather than degradation. There may be correct views of Gospel theory, they do not arise from, or connect themselves with a moral apprehension of the suitableness of the remedy to the nature of the disease. The goodness which is as the morning cloud wants spirituality of perception, in regard to the salvation of Christ; and it wants that pure complacency which cements the union of believers with their Lord. Lessons.

1. The importance of ascertaining the true basis on which our religion rests. In voluntary self-deception there is an equal mixture of sin and folly.

2. What an awful thing it is to sin against conscience. Backsliding and apostasy are different things. But no person who is actually sinning against the remonstrances of conscience can have scriptural evidence that he has been in a state of grace at all: he may rather draw the conclusion that he has not.

3. Consider the forbearance and tender compassion of Almighty God towards those who have basely treated and grievously offended Him. God never gives up a sinner who is unwilling to give up himself. (W. Knight, M. A.)

Goodness that will not last

Of this their goodness, the prophet says, the character was that it never lasted. The morning cloud is full of brilliancy with the rays of the rising sun, yet quickly disappears through the heat of that sun which gave it its rich hues. The morning dew glitters in the same sun, yet vanishes almost as soon as it appears. Generated with the cold of the night, it appears with the dawn; yet appears only to disappear. So it was with the whole Jewish people; so it ever is with the most hopeless class of sinners; ever beginning anew; ever relapsing; ever making a show of leaves, good feelings, good aspirations, but yielding no fruit. “There was nothing of sound, sincere, lasting, real goodness in them”; no reality, but all show, quickly assumed, quickly disused. (E.B. Pusey, D. D.)

A Divine expostulation

The compassion of God towards His fallen creature man is manifest in every part of the Divine procedure. Amidst our numerous provocations and offences the Lord is continually bearing and forbearing with us. The prophet Hosea points out the tenderness and care of Divine goodness towards the fallen race of men.


I.
The nature of the expostulation recorded in the text. Nothing can more effectually stimulate us to obedience than the powerful impulse of gratitude. Whether we contemplate the works of nature, providence, or grace, we find in each a brilliant display of the goodness of God. Our salvation from beginning to end is wholly of grace, and therefore we are bound by the strongest motives of gratitude to glorify God by a holy life and conversation. But what is the report which either experience or observation must make of our daily conduct? If we calmly look back on our past lives, if we enter into a self-examination of our coldness and deadness in religion, of the little fruit we produce, we cannot wonder at the affecting and interesting expostulation contained in the text. What astonishing condescension is it that God should thus graciously reason with His creatures. God charges both Judah and Ephraim with wavering irresolution and manifest inconsistencies in their profession of religion. The charge is that they did not act up to their convictions. And how justly this may be applied to the whole of our conduct through life! The expostulation implies that God willeth not the death of the sinner, if we would renounce our evil courses, and turn with full purpose of heart unto Him, though He visit us occasionally with afflictions, and temporary losses, and various disappointments, yet He only chastens us for our good. The expostulation plainly suggests that all our ways are noticed by Him who is constantly about our path. God takes various methods to bring sinners to repentance.


II.
What are we to understand by the charge brought against Ephraim and Judah? The morning cloud promiseth rain, and the early dew is some refreshment to the parched earth, but the cloud is soon dispersed, and the dew does not sink deep into the ground. It does not extend to the root of the tree, and this is a fit emblem of the superficial religion which designates the character of numbers. The charge of being wavering and unstable too properly belongs to us. We profess to be followers of Christ, and yet how few of us imbibe His Spirit, or imitate His example! Our goodness or piety, which ought to be uniformly alike, is like the morning cloud or the early dew. It shines bright and conspicuous for a season; but when temptations or persecutions arise, we have no stability, no depth of root, and therefore, like the stony ground hearers, are scorched up, wither, and fade away. Unless there be a fixed principle implanted by the Spirit of God in the heart, governing the choice, and directing the affections, there will be no steady or abiding influence on the conduct. When men promise fair, and do not perform, when they begin well in religion, and do not hold on to the end, but fall off from a good profession,-the latter state of those men is even worse than the first. Though men do not quite cast off religion, yet if they are unsteady, uneven, and inconstant in it, they are like the morning cloud and early dew. The dispositions of the mind need to be changed by regenerating grace.


III.
The manner in which we should improve these admonitions, by a serious inquiry into our own character and conduct. Let every man pay attention to the workings of his own mind, to the habits of his daily life, and more especially to his favourite pursuits. In this way he will read the progress or decline of religion in his own soul. Let him also pray with fervour or the constant aids of the Holy Spirit, to fan the flame of piety, to cherish holy dispositions, and to keep him securely to the end. And as these aids are promised to all who ask them, how can we have the benefit unless we apply for it? Let Christ and His atoning blood be precious in our eyes. (J. Grose, A. M.)

Goodness as kindness

Some take the words to mean, “Your kindness,” that is, the mercy which I have hitherto exhibited to you is “as the morning dew” “ye immediately dry up My favour.” This seems not unsuitable, for we see that the unbelieving by their wickedness absorb the mercy of God, so that it produces no good, as when rain flows over a rock or a stone, while the stone within, on account of its hardness, remains dry. As then the moisture of rain does not penetrate into stones, so also the grace of God is spent in vain and without advantage on the unbelieving. (John Calvin.)

Transient convictions and true consecration


I.
Two kinds of religion. The transient and the truthful. Why do so many who seem to be sincere and earnest endure but for awhile? Worldliness, like the sun, dries up, and temptation, like the wind, scatters and dissolves what looked so beautiful. Truthful persons are sincere, there is a reality in their religion, something that abides. We may also call such a religion truthful as wrought in the soul by the Spirit of truth, by the Spirit, through the truth.


II.
Some people have only known one of these kinds of religion, and some have known both. Some have only known the transient. Hitherto it has been conviction without conversion; resolutions without love; deficient repentance and sorrow without real surrender. Truth has not conquered; no governing principle has been introduced into the soul; nothing permanently inscribed on the tablets of the heart. Some have only known the truthful. A few have been drawn gently and even from early life. Others have gone on in darkness several years, and have then been suddenly brought to a stand, and at once “translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.” A third class have known both. In their case there were many attempts and failures. Many settings out and goings back. Yet even such unlikely ones have been saved. Therefore let none despair.


III.
What must be done in order really to pass from the one to the other? If you would not have your feelings pass away, you yourself must pass in, you must yield yourself to God. Go in through the door, have really and personally to do with Christ, then religion will become to you an abiding reality. The reason why your religion is a transient one is that you have not yet begun aright. True godliness begins with the pardon of sins. God is willing to begin with the blotting out of sin. (J. Cox.)

Fickleness in religion

“Fickleness cannot but be attended by fatal consequences.” It has proved fatal to real progress and lasting prosperity. The Celts “shook all empires but founded none.” Caesar tells us that the same fault characterised the Gauls, and St. Paul bears witness to the same failing in his Epistle to the Galatians. It was the recurring sin of the children of Israel God’s gracious invitations to His people show how great and faithful was His love. But it seems at times as if Divine love itself were perplexed. “O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee,” etc. Silently, imperceptibly, like the evanescent cloud, and like the sparkling dewdrop, their goodness and love passed away.


I.
This is a common fault to-day. How many begin hopefully and then fall away. One of the saddest sights angels behold is a warm heart cooling in its love towards God, a beautiful life withering ‘neath the blight of sin. It is most instructive to notice the cause of the downfall of Jewish kings. Many of them began well, but were not thorough, did not continue faithful, but substituted inferior things. “And King Ahaz took down the sea from off the brazen oxen, and put it upon a pavement of stones.” Many begin by giving their best to God, but alas! they give up their early enthusiasm and become less zealous in His service.


II.
Before entering upon God’s service count the cost. Lord Wolseley mapped out the whole campaign before entering upon the Egyptian war. Britain’s unpreparedness was the cause of many reverses in the great South African war. Jesus Christ is very explicit on this point. “Sit down, and count the cost.” There is the bias of the heart towards sin. “When I would do good, evil is present with me.” A fact that makes degeneration easy. Goodness requires effort. “Gird up the loins of your mind.” Temptations and cares beset the upward path. Longfellow’s “Excelsior.”


III.
How to continue faithful. Prayer is the arm of the soul that connects it with God, like the tram-car with the overhead wire. It brings down light and power. Study well the chart. Read the Bible. Have fellowship with Christ’s people. The early Hebrew Christians had many temptations and trials, hence they were enjoined “not to forsake the assembling of themselves together.” Keep in touch with God and with His people. (A. Hampden Lee.)

Fugitive piety


I.
The piety characterised by the text. Very beautiful and full of promise, but disappointing. It was thus with the Israelites in the wilderness (Psalms 78:34-38). And there is much of the same piety now. Some spend their lives in sinning and repenting. In the Polar world at a certain season of the year the sun rises just above the horizon, streaks the black sky with fire, casts on the desolate scene a warm splendour, and then in a few minutes sinks again, leaving the sky as dark and the earth as cold as they were before. And thus it is with some amongst us in respect to their experience of religion. Men receive some great mercy, suffer sonic great tribulation, are powerfully affected by the truth, deeply wrought upon by the Divine Spirit, and it seems as if they would forthwith lead a new life, but in a little while they are as worldly or as wicked as they were before. What is done on Sunday is undone on Monday; the vow of the sick chamber is forgotten in convalescence; the promise of the sanctuary withers in the market-place.


II.
The defectiveness of such piety.

1. The shameful inconsistency of it. Vacillating men are held in contempt, but all other vacillations are trifling compared with this religious instability. How suddenly, how frequently, how flippantly some of us pass from the highest to the lowest. Now God, now idols; now the spirit, now the flesh; now holiness, now frivolity and sin.

2. The profound misery of it. Such people know the sorrows of religion without its joy. They know little more of the path to heaven than the struggles of the “Strait Gate” or the woes of the “Slough of Despond.” Before they get to “Palace Beautiful,” or the “Hill Beulah,” they turn back again, the bitterness of religion having gone to their heart, and its sweetness only to their lips.

3. The utter insufficiency of it. Some men look upon their fits of goodness with some satisfaction, but really there is no reason to do so. A transient piety leaves out the foremost grandeur of religion--its unchangeableness. Recognise God’s great love to you. “Follow on to know the Lord.” “He that endureth to the end shall be saved.” (W. L. Watkinson.)

Fitful piety unsatisfactory

We need to feel the utter unsatisfactoriness of this fitful piety, Too often we look with complacency upon it. We argue thus: “I am not altogether bad; I have my times of good feeling, desire, and effort; the barren wilderness of my heart is relieved by green, blossoming shoots; the winter of my life has its snowdrops and violets, telling of the neighbourhood of golden seasons; I am comforted when I remember the recurrence of these days of gracious sentiment and aspiration’ Such reasoning is entirely erroneous; there is no justification whatever -for intermittent goodness. Its sufficient condemnation is its unlikeness to God’s goodness. Hosea points out the contrast. Our goodness is “the morning cloud,” whilst the goodness of God “is prepared as the morning” which brightens to the perfect noon; our goodness is “as the early dew,” whilst the goodness of God is “as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth,” it drops fatness the year round. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness”; “Thy truth endureth for ever”; “His faithfulness faileth not.” This is the crowning glory of God,--He abides from everlasting to everlasting in righteousness and love. The starry, steadfast firmament is supremely grand, but a meteor flash which startles the night counts little; the flowing river has a charm all its own, but the summer brook which dries whilst we look at it is only a disappointing fancy; the stately cedar sheltering successive generations appeals to the soul, but the gourd that springs in a night and perishes in one touches no deep chord. Righteousness in its essential nature is eternal, and therefore the righteousness of time and change is deeply perplexing and sad. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Verse 6

Hosea 6:6

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice.

Mercy and sacrifice not contrasts

God had Himself, after the fall, enjoined sacrifice to foreshow and plead to Himself the meritorious sacrifice of Christ. He had not contrasted mercy and sacrifice who enjoined them both. When then they were contrasted, it was through man’s severing what God had united. If we were to say, “Charity is better than churchgoing,” we should be understood to mean that it is better than such churchgoing as is severed from charity. For, if they were united, they would not be contrasted. The soul is of more value than the body. But it is not contrasted, unless they come in competition with one another, and their interests seem to be separated. In itself, sacrifice represented all the direct duties to God, all the duties of the first table. Mercy represented all the duties of the second table. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)

The double rule of religion

It requires both mercy and sacrifice, but the relations between them properly preserved.

1. The rule of true religion requires that all God commands should be respected, and obedience endeavoured, so that moral duties be chiefly made conscience of. Under “sacrifice and burnt-offerings” is comprehended all their ceremonial performances so far as they were mere external performances rested on by the people. His “not desiring sacrifice” is not to be understood simply, as if the Lord did not approve, even of the external performances which were enjoined by Himself; but comparatively, that He desired moral duties more than burnt-offerings. To which may be added, that in some cases, when moral duties come in competition with ceremonials, the Lord doth not desire ceremonials at that time, but moral duties.

2. Let men submit never so much to the external injunctions of religion and worship, or think to satisfy their own consciences therewith, yet where Christ is not closed with, to enable and make men willing and active in moral duties, they will not be approved in the other at all.

3. Such as would approve themselves to God, ought to make conscience of moral duties, both of the first and second table of the law, and particularly, the saving knowledge of God, whereby we may regulate the rest of our obedience. Shewing of mercy in cases wherein we seem not to be so strictly bound, will prove our reality in religion. (George Hutcheson.)

Mercy rather than sacrifice


I.
Answer some questions.

1. What is the difference between natural ordinances and instituted duties? By natural duties understand such duties as we owe to God as God, and to man as man, which we should have been required to fulfil if there had been no written law in relation to them. By instituted duties understand those which, if God had not revealed them, would have had no claim on us. Natural duties refer to attributes in God’s nature and character, instituted, to the expression of His will.

2. God required sacrifice as well as mercy, but with these limitations.

(1) I will have sacrifice, but net without the spirit. Instituted worship separated from natural worship is not regarded.

(2) Not sacrifices to make atonement for their sins.

(3) Not sacrifices of your own devising.

3. Why should God require mercy rather than sacrifice? Because mercy is good in itself, but sacrifice is good only in reference to something else. Sacrifices are but to further us in natural duties.


II.
Satisfy some objections.

1. Men’s hearts are deceitful, and they may pretend cases of mercy when there is no such thing in hand. It is not for us to judge the sincerity of other men. God gives general rules for the ordering of a Christian life; and these general rules being observed, particular eases are to be ordered in prudence, faithfulness, and zeal; end where there is miscarrying through frailty, God will have mercy.

2. Can any duty of the second table be more excellent than the duties of the first? In both the tables there are internal and substantial duties and superadded duties. Comparing them it is plain that the substantial are to be preferred before the superadded. Yet God is pleased to indulge men so far that He will let the duties of the second table take precedence.

3. But if God’s ordinances are duties, can they be omitted at any time? There are two sorts of precepts, negative and affirmative. A negative binds always and at all seasons, an affirmative only hinds always, but not at all seasons; for we cannot do two things at once, and one duty must be preferred to another. It is the Christian’s skill, when two duties come together, which to choose. If God’s own worship may be forborne in case of mercy, how much more men’s institutions and inventions. God will have mercy rather than disputing about sacrifice. Mercy must be preferred before our own wills and lusts. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)

Verse 7

Hosea 6:7

But they, like men, have transgressed the covenant.

The breach of the covenant of works

General defection is a cause and presage of a sweeping stroke.

1. The crime charged on them. Covenant breaking. This is a crime of a high nature; it strikes at the root of society among men, and therefore is scandalous and punishable though it be but a man’s covenant. How much more atrocious is the crime where God is the one party! God took the Israelites into covenant with Himself when He brought them out of Egypt.

2. Whom they resembled in breach of covenant. They acted like men. They were vain, light, fickle, and inconsistent as men. It may however be read, “like Adam.” And he broke his covenant. Doctrine. Our father Adam broke the covenant of works.


I.
The fatal step by which that covenant was transgressed and broken. It was the eating of the forbidden fruit. Consider the progress, the ingredients, and the aggravations of this act. As to the ingredients, notice the unbelief, pride, ingratitude, contempt of God, and the breaking of the whole law of God at once. As to the aggravations, notice that it was righteous Adam. The object by which he was enticed--a morsel of fruit. The smaller the thing was, the greater the sin. The nature of the thing. It was theft and sacrilege. The place where it was committed, and the time when it was committed.


II.
How was this fatal step brought about?

1. The instrument of the temptation was a serpent; a true and real serpent.

2. It was acted by the devil.

3. Satan set upon the woman first, she being the weaker vessel

4. He moveth a doubt concerning the command.

5. Then he falls on the threatening and contradicts it.

6. He proceeds as one that wished well to her and her husband, and pretends to show how they might both arrive at a high pitch of happiness speedily.

7. She being ensnared, he makes use of her to tempt her husband, and prevails. God left man to the freedom of his own will in this matter. He was not the cause of his fall. But why was not man set beyond the possibility of change? It is to he remembered that absolute immutability is the peculiar prerogative of God Himself, and every creature, in as far as it is a creature, is incapable of being so immutable. Man abused his own liberty, or freedom of will, and so broke the covenant.


III.
How was the covenant of works broken by this fatal step?

1. The command was violated.

2. The right and title to the promised benefit by that covenant was undermined.

3. He fell under the penalty of the covenant, became liable to death in its utmost extent.

(1) The soul of man died spiritually, losing the image of God and the favour of God.

(2) The body of man became mortal, death working within it and without it.

(3) Soul and body were subjected and bound over to eternal death in hell. Learn--

1. The nothingness of the creature when left to itself.

2. The hopelessness of salvation by works.

3. Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation.

4. Take heed of forgetting the covenant of your God.

5. Here is a demonstration of the absolute necessity of being united to the second Adam, who kept the second covenant, and thereby fulfilled the demands of the first covenant. (T. Boston, D. D.)

Verse 8

Hosea 6:8

Gilead is a city of them that work iniquity, and is polluted with blood.

Divine institutions corrupted

It is supposed that Gilead here means Ramoth Gilead: the metropolis of the mountainous region beyond Jordan and south of the river Jabbok, known by the name of Gilead (Joshua 21:28; 1 Kings 4:18). It was here that Jacob and Laban entered into a sacred covenant with each other. It was once a very sacred place; it was one of the celebrated cities of refuge (Deu 20:23; Jos 23:28). The place, which was once a city of refuge, an institution of the God of heaven, had now been desecrated by wicked men, and become the scene of “iniquity” and “blood.”


I.
That Divine institutions, specially designed for man’s good, are often corrupted by him. Whilst all places on earth are for the good of man, Gilead had a specific appointment.

1. The Bible is a special ordinance of God for good. Men have corrupted that by perverting its doctrines.

2. The Gospel ministry is a special ordinance of God for good.


II.
That Divine institutions specially designed for man’s good, when corrupted become the worst of all evils. Holy Gilead, once the scene of Divine mercy, was now filled with “iniquity” and “blood.”

1. A corrupted Bible is the worst of all books. Political tyrannies, slaveries, wars, persecutions, have all been sanctioned and encouraged by a corrupted Bible.

2. A corrupted pulpit is the worst of all ministries. (Homilist.)

Verse 11

Hosea 6:11

Also, O Judah, He hath set an harvest for thee.

Naturalness of retribution

Divine punishment for sin is elsewhere spoken of as a harvest.


I.
Retribution is natural in its season. There are the “appointed weeks of harvest.” These weeks come round with an undeviating regularity. Punishment comes to the sinner naturally, so far as the proper time is concerned. In this life the sinner has many harvests. Every transgression is a seed, and the seed sometimes grows rapidly and ripens fast.


II.
That retribution is natural in its results. In harvest, the man reaps the kind of seed he has sown, whatever it may be, barley or wheat. Also as a rule the amount; if he has sown sparingly he reaps sparingly, if with abundance he will reap abundantly. He gets what he wrought for. It is just so in the retributive ministry of God. Hence he will never be able to blame either God or His creation for his wretched destiny, he reaps “ the fruit of his own doings.”


III.
The retribution is natural in its approach. As soon as the seed is sown and germination begins, it proceeds slowly and silently from day to day, week to week, and month to month, towards maturition, its harvest state. It is just so with sin, it proceeds naturally to work out its results. “Lust, when it is conceived, bringeth forth sin; sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (Homilist.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hosea 6". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/hosea-6.html. 1905-1909. New York.