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They came to the pits, and found no water; they returned with their vessels empty; they were ashamed and confounded, and covered their heads.
The drought of nature, the rain of grace, and the lesson therefrom
I. First, consider that man is a very dependent creature. He is, in some respects, the most dependent creature that God has made; for the range of his wants is very wide, and at a thousand points he is dependent upon something outside of himself.
1. Man, as a living creature, is peculiarly dependent upon God as to temporals. On what a feeble thread hangs human life! Water, though it be itself unstable, is needful to the establishment of human life, and without it man expires. Many an animal can bear thirst better than man. Other creatures carry their own garments with them; but we must be indebted to a plant, or to a sheep, for the covering of our nakedness. Many other creatures are endowed with sufficient physical force to win their food in fight; but we must produce our own food from the soil. We cannot produce food from the earth without the dew and the rain. However cleverly you have prepared your soil, however carefully you have selected your seed, all will fail without the rain of heaven. Even though your corn should spring up, yet will it refuse to come to the ear if the heavens be dry. Nor can you of yourself produce a single shower, or even a drop of dew. If God withholdeth the rain, what can the husbandman do? Yes, and life itself would vanish as the food of life ceased. It would be an instructive calculation if it could be accurately wrought out--to estimate how much bread food there is at any time laid up upon the surface of the earth. If all harvests were to fail from this date; if there were no harvests in Australia during our winter, no harvests early in the year in India and the warm regions, if there were no harvests in America and in Europe, I have been informed that, by the time of our own harvest months, there would be upon the face of the earth no more food than would last us for six weeks. God does, indeed, give us bread as we need it; even as, in the wilderness, He gave the manna; but we are every hour dependent upon His generous care.
2. In spiritual things this dependence is most evident. The priceless blessings of pardon and grace: how can we procure them apart from God in Christ Jesus? So is it with the life and the power of the Spirit of God, by which we are able to receive and enjoy the blessings of the covenant; the Holy Spirit, like the wind, bloweth where He listeth, and the order of His working is with the Lord alone. The new life whereby we receive the Lord Jesus: how can it come to us but from the living God Himself?
3. Here is the pity of it: against God, upon whom we are so dependent, we have sinned, and do sin. We are dependent upon Him, and yet rebellious against Him. If pardoned, it must be by the exercise of the sovereign prerogative which is vested in Jehovah, the Lord of all, who doeth as seemeth good in His sight. Provided it can be done justly, sovereignty may step in and rescue the guilty from his doom; but this is a matter which depends upon the will of the Lord alone. If you are executed, the condemnation is so well deserved, that not a word can be said against the severity which shall carry out the sentence.
II. Men may be reduced to dire distress. Men, being dependent upon God, may be reduced to dire distress if they disobey Him, and incur His just displeasure.
1. To proceed a little in detail with the words of my text: when the Lord causes sinners to feel the spiritual drought, pride is humbled. “Their nobles have sent their little ones to the waters.” The philosopher grows into a little child, and gladly accepts the cup which aforetime he sneered at.
2. But you observe that when humbled and made thirsty, these people went to secondary causes: they came to the pits, or reservoirs. Thus souls, when they are awakened, go to fifty things before they come to God. It is sad that, in superstition, or in scepticism, they look for living streams. They try reformation of manners--I have nothing to say against it; but apart from God reformation always ends in disappointment.
3. If you read on, you will find that when they went to these secondary supplies, they were disappointed: “They came to the pits, and found no water.” They thirsted to drink; but not a drop was found to cool their tongues. It is an awful thing to come home from sermon with the vessels empty; to rise from the communion table, having found no living water, and return with vessels empty. To close the Bible, and sigh, “I find no comfort here, I must return with my vessel empty.” When the ordinances, and the Word yield us no grace, things have come to an awful pass with us. Do you know what this disappointment means?
4. Now upon this disappointment, there followed great confusion of mind; they became distracted; “they were ashamed and confounded.” Thus have I met with many who, after going to many confidences, have been disappointed in all, and seem ready to lie down in despair, and put forth no more effort. They fear that God will never bless them, and they will never enter into life eternal; and so they sign their own death warrants. Shall I confess that I have been better pleased to see them in this condition than to hear their jovial songs at other times? It is by the gate of self-despair that men arrive at the Divine hope.
5. At last, when these people came to despair, it is very remarkable how everything about them seemed to be in unison with their misery. Listen to the third verse: “They covered their heads.” Did you hear the last words of the fourth verse? They were the very same: “They covered their heads.” Surely the second is the echo of the first. It is even so: earth has sympathy with man. Nature without reflects our inward feelings.
III. Man’s only sure resort is his God. “God is a refuge for us.”
1. There is no help anywhere else. The very best of duties that you and I can perform, if we put our trust in them, are only false confidences, refuges of lies, and they can yield us no help.
2. Nay, look; according to the text there is no help for us even in the usual means of grace if we forget the Lord. O tried and anxious soul, the sacraments are all in vain, though they be ordained of heaven; and preaching and reading, liturgy and song, are all in vain to bring the refreshing dew of grace. Thou art lost, lost, lost if a stronger arm than man’s be not stretched out to help thee!
3. But with God is all power. He is the Creator, making all things out of nothing; and He can create in thee at once the tender heart, the loving spirit, the believing mind, the sanctified nature.
4. Well, then, what follows from this? If God hath all this power, our wisdom is to wait upon Him, since He alone can help. We draw this inference: “Therefore we will wait upon Thee.”
5. Do I hear somebody say, “How I would like to pray”? Yes, that is the way to come to God. Come to Him by prayer in the name of Jesus. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Concerning the dearth
I. The effects of drought upon inanimate creation.
1. The pits were empty. Some of these were natural hollows in the hard rocks and in the caves where evaporation was less speedy. Others were dykes and cisterns, the work of man. But neither nature nor art could afford supplies when God dealt with them in His judgments.
2. The ground was chapt (Jeremiah 14:4). Earth’s wounds for man’s sin. Mute mouths crying to heaven for pity.
3. There was no grass (Jeremiah 14:5). The world is complex, man is complex, God is complex. In complex systems harmony is essential to life,--discord is ruin. The shower can do nothing good without the sun. The sun can only scorch if the rain fall not. Earth can produce no fruit unless both sun and shower combine to aid.
II. The effects of drought upon the animal creation.
1. The hind calved in the field, and forsook it (Jeremiah 14:5). The fact that the hind was in the field proves that pasture had failed on the higher lands. It was not unusual for the hind to drop her calf by reason of fright or grief (Psalms 29:9). The maternal instinct in these creatures being strong, it was very unusual for them to forsake their young, and can only be accounted for by the entire failure of the mother to obtain food or drink.
2. The wild asses were in intense agony on account of hunger (Jeremiah 14:6). These creatures were capable of great endurance, and needed but little to sustain life.
III. The effects of drought upon the human creation.
1. The husbandmen were ashamed.
2. The people generally were languishing.
3. The nobles were threatened with death through thirst.
IV. The effects of drought on the devout heart of Jeremiah.
1. He regarded it as a chastisement for sin.
2. He regarded God as their only hope.
3. He earnestly prayed for mercy.
1. In forsaking God, they forsook the fountain.
2. Earth’s broken cisterns cannot be a substitute for the Divine.
3. Jesus says, “If any man thirst,” etc. (W. Whale.)
O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do Thou it for Thy name’s sake.
The prayer of contrite Israel
I. A mournful fact acknowledged.
1. Even in the case of God’s own people, sin does not pass away and die after it is committed, no, nor even after it is pardoned.
2. The sins of God’s people bear testimony against them, an open and public testimony.
(1) They witness against them before God.
(2) They witness against them to others. They proclaim them to the whole spiritual world to be vile, guilty creatures, undeserving of any one of the many blessings they are receiving; yea, deserving of nothing but Jehovah’s utmost abhorrence and displeasure.
(3) And our sins, the prophet intimates, testify against us at times to ourselves also. And this appears to be the leading idea in the prophet’s words.
3. Our sins are peculiarly apt to bear this secret testimony against us, when we attempt to draw near to God. A sense of guilt, shame, and self-loathing, takes possession of us, and sometimes well-nigh breaks our hearts.
II. A petition offered.
1. Its humble boldness. Under other circumstances there would be nothing remarkable in this, but we have here a prayer offered up while sin is accusing and conscience smiting. When our iniquities testify loudly against us, when we feel sin brought home powerfully by the Holy Spirit to our consciences, “There is an end to prayer,” we are tempted to say: “with all this guilt and pollution upon us, we must not attempt to go into God’s presence.” Now one of the hardest lessons we have to learn in Christ’s school, is to overcome this tendency in sin to drive us from the Lord. God, as He is revealed to us in the Gospel, is the sinner’s God, and what the sinner has to learn in the Gospel is, that as a sinner he may draw near to Him, and find favour with Him, and be accepted by Him, and pardoned, and loved. If your iniquities are testifying against you, do not aim to silence their voice; let no one ever make you believe that God does not hear the witness they bear, and that you need not heed it; but aim at this--to believe all that your sins say against you, and yet in spite of it all to seek God’s mercy and trust in it.
2. The lowly submission it manifests. It stands in the original simply, “Do Thou.” There can be no doubt but that next to the pardon of her sin, deliverance from her troubles was the blessing the afflicted Church most desired at this time; but she does not ask for it. Her mouth seems suddenly stopped as she is about to ask for it. She feels as though in her situation, with her enormous sins crying out so loudly against her, she must not dare to choose for herself any blessing. All she says is, “Do Thou. Do Thou something for us. Interfere for us. Give us not up. We will bless Thee for anything Thou doest, so that Thou wilt not abandon us.” And in a manner like this does every soul pray, that is deeply contrite. It has boldness enough amidst all its guilt to come to God’s throne and to keep there, but beyond this it has sometimes no boldness at all. It leaves God to show mercy to it in His own way, and to deal with it after His own will. All it desires is to be treated as His child, and then come what may, it will bless Him for it.
III. The plea the prophet urges in support of his prayer. It is the name or glory of God; “O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do Thou it for Thy name’s sake.” This prayer then, you perceive, is more than a simple prayer for mercy. The publican’s prayer in the temple was that. Any really contrite sinner may offer it; he will offer it and offer it often even to his dying hour. But the prayer before us implies a considerable degree of spiritual knowledge, as well as deep contrition. No man will offer it, till he is become well acquainted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ; till he has discovered the wisdom and glory, as well as the grace, of it, and imbibed something of its spirit. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
Man’s iniquities testifying against him
I. What it is for a man to find his iniquities testify against him in his addresses to God.
1. Sin is not dead when it is committed. The act is transient, but the guilt is of a permanent nature.
2. When the man draws near to God in the exercise of His worship, sin meets him there; appears to him as a terrible ghost (Isaiah 59:11-13).
3. Sin testifies two things for God against the man.
(1) Their unworthiness of any favour from the Lord.
(2) Their liableness to punishment, yea, to a curse instead of a blessing, so that the soul is often made to fear some remarkable judgment.
4. This witness is convincing. So, in the text, we find the panel denies not the testimony, but pleads for mercy.
5. Upon this, the gracious soul is filled with holy shame and self-loathing.
6. He is damped, and his confidence before the Lord is marred as to any access to Him, or obtaining favour at His hand.
II. How comes it that sin is found thus testifying against men?
1. It flows from the nature of sin and guilt upon an enlightened conscience.
2. It is a punishment from the Lord for former backslidings and miscarriages.
3. God so orders it, that it may be a mean to humble them, and make them more watchful against sin for the time to come.
III. The plea. “For Thy name’s sake.”
1. We must plead with Him for His Christ’s sake; and when guilt stares us in the face, we must look to God through the veil of Christ’s flesh.
2. We must plead with Him for His glory’s sake. Punishing of sin glorifies God much, but pardoning of sin glorifies Him more. (T. Boston, D. D.)
Sin should be fully confessed
I warrant thee thou shalt never go beyond the truth in stating thy sin, for that were quite impossible. A man lying on the field of battle wounded, when the surgeon comes round, or the soldiers with the ambulance, does not say, “Oh, mine is a little wound,” for he knows that then they would let him lie; but he cries out, “I have been bleeding here for hours, and am nearly dead with a terrible wound,” for he thinks that then he will gain speedier relief; and when he gets into the hospital he does not say to the nurse, “Mine is a small affair; I shall soon get over it;” but he tells the truth to the surgeon in the hope that he may set the hone at once, and that double care may be taken. Ah, sinner, do thou so with God. The right way to plead is to plead thy misery, thine impotence, thy danger, thy sin. Lay bare thy wounds before the Lord, and as Hezekiah spread Sennacherib’s letter before the Lord, spread thy sins before Him with many a tear and many a cry, and say, “Lord, save me from all these; save me from these black and foul things, for Thy infinite mercy’s sake.” Confess thy sin; wisdom dictates that thou shouldest do so, since salvation is of grace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Jeremiah a wrestler with the Lord in prayer
I. In what the Lord is strong against the prophet. The sin of the people.
II. In what the prophet is strong against the Lord. The name of the Lord.
1. In itself, God’s name compels Him to show He is not a desperate hero, a giant who cannot save.
2. In that His name is borne by Israel. (Heim.)
Prayer has within itself its own reward
I. Confession. This fitly begins. It is the testimony of iniquity, and that this iniquity is against God Himself. When we are to encounter any enemy or difficulty, it is sin weakens us. Now confession weakens it,--takes off the power of accusation.
II. Petition. “For Thy name’s sake.” This is the unfailing argument which abides always the same, and has always the same force. Though thou art not clear in thy interest as a believer, yet plead thy interest as a sinner, which thou art sure of. (T. Leighton.)
Pleas for mercy
How many there are who pray after a fashion in times of great distress. When they are brought to death’s door, then they say, “Send for someone that will come and pray at our side.” What a wretched position is this, that we should only be willing to think of God when we are in our direst need! At the same time, notice what a great mercy it is that God does hear real prayer even if it be presented to Him only because we are in distress. “He giveth liberally, and upbraideth not.”
I. I speak to the church of God at large wherever it has backslidden and to each believer in particular who may have departed from the living God in any measure. Note, there are here pleaders guilty. The pleaders seem to say, “Guilty, ay, guilty, for there is no denying it. Our iniquities testify against us.” I would that every child of God felt this whenever he has gone astray. In addition to there being no denying it there is no excusing it, for “our backslidings are many.” If we could have excused ourselves for our first faults, if possibly we might have offered some extenuation for the fickleness of our youth, yet what are we to say of the transgressions of our riper years? Not only is our guilt past denying and past excusing, but also it is past computation. We cannot measure how great have been our transgressions, and the next sentence may well imply it: “We have sinned against Thee.” Well, now, next to this plea of guilty, what do the culprits say? What plea do they make why they should obtain mercy? I observe, first, that they bring no plea whatever which has fallen from themselves in any degree. They do not plead before God, that if He will have mercy they will be better. But still, there is a plea. Oh, blessed plea l the master plea of all: “Though our iniquities testify against us, do Thou it for Thy name’s sake.” Now, here is a prayer which will avail for us when the night is darkest and not a star is to be seen. The first name which the backsliding Church here gives to God has a blessing--“O the hope of Israel.” Next, observe the Church of God pleads His next merit: “The Saviour thereof in time of trouble.” God has saved His people, and the name of God is the Saviour in the time of trouble. Then, next, she does not mention the name that is implied in the words. She says, “Why shouldest Thou be as a stranger in the land?”--one, that is, merely travelling through, who takes little notice of the trouble because He is not a citizen of the country; one that merely puts up for a night in the house, and therefore does not enter into the cares and trials of the family. She does as good as call Him the Master of the house, Lord of the house. But, then, she goes a little further than that, and the plea is this: that He was, whatever they might be, their God. “Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by Thy name.” The Church says, “Lord, if Thou dost not help us now, the men of the world will say, ‘God could not help them, they were brought into such a condition at last that their faith was of no use to them.’ Why shouldest Thou be as a mighty man that cannot help?”
II. I want to speak to poor troubled hearts who do not know the Lord. I cannot take the whole of my text for them, but only a part, and say to them, I am right glad that you want to find peace with God; right glad that you are unhappy and distressed in soul. You say, “I want peace.” Well, take heed that you do not get a false peace. So begin by confessing your guilt. When you have done that, I charge you next, do not try to invent any kind of plea; do not sit down and try to make out that the case was not so bad, or that your bringings up might excuse you, or that your constitutional temperament might make some apology for you. No; have done with that and come with this one plea: “Do it for Thy name’s sake. Lord, I cannot blot out my sins; I cannot change my nature; do Thou it. I have no reason why I should hope that Thou wilt do it; but for Thy name’s sake.” This is the master key that unlocks every door. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. The mysterious contradiction between the ideal of Israel and the actual condition of things. The ancient charter of Israel’s existence was that God should dwell in their midst; but things are as if the perennial presence promised had been changed into visits, short and far between. Two ideas conveyed: the brief transitory visits, with long dreary stretches of absence between them; and the indifference of the visitant, as a man who pitches his tent for a night, caring little for the people among whom he tarries the while. More: instead of the perpetual energy of the Divine aid promised to Israel, it looks as if Thou art “a mighty man astonied,” etc.,--a Samson with locks shorn.
II. Our low and evil condition should lead to earnest inquiry as to its cause.
1. The reason is not in any variableness of that unalterable, uniform, ever-present, ever-full Divine gift of God’s Spirit to His Church.
2. Nor in the failure of adaptation in God’s Word and ordinances for the great work they had to do.
3. The fault lies here only: “O Lord, our iniquities testify against us,” etc. We have to prayerfully, patiently, and honestly search after this cause, and not to look to possible variations and improvements in order and machinery, etc.
III. This consciousness of our evil condition and knowledge of the cause lead on to lowly penitence and confession. We err in being more ready, when awakened to a sense of wrong, to originate new methods of work, to begin with new zeal to gather in the outcasts into the fold; instead of beginning with ourselves, deepening our own Christian character, purifying our own hearts, and getting more of the life of God into our own spirits. Begin with lowly abasement at His footstool.
IV. The triumphant confidence of believing prayer.
1. Look at the substance of His petition. He does not prescribe what should be done, nor ask that calamity be taken away, but simply for the continual Divine presence and power.
2. Look at these pleas with God as grounds of confidence for ourselves.
(1) The name: all the ancient manifestations of Thy character. Thy memorial with all generations.
(2) Israel’s hope: the confidence of the Church is fixed upon Thee; and Thou who hast given us Thy name hast become our hope.
(3) The perennial and essential relationship of God to His Church: we belong to Thee, and Thou hast not ceased Thy care for us. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The sinner’s plea
I. The sinner’s acknowledgment.
1. The prophet’s confession is precisely such as befits the world at large.
2. With too great reason, also, may it be adopted, even by the best of men.
II. The sinner’s plea.
1. Open to all. Never urged in vain.
1. What should be the effect of sin upon the soul? Conviction of sin should not keep us from, but bring us to God. Sin is a just ground for humiliation, but not for discouragement.
2. What shall surely be effectual to remove it from the soul? Prayer: penitential weeping; humble and contrite, fervent and persevering; offered in dependence on God’s promised mercies in Christ. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The name of the Lord a plea for temporal blessings
I. We begin with temporal good things. None indeed are particularised by Jeremiah. All that he asks is comprised in these words, “Do Thou.” But anyone who observes the context may see what the prophet would have. He would have dew, and rain, and fruitful seasons, for the preservation of man and beast.
1. Temporal good things pertain to the present life. In heaven we shall neither hunger nor thirst, and since we look for a body without animal appetites, duty, interest, and honour call on us to keep these appetites of our present body under subjection.
2. In the present life temporal good things are necessary. Without a competent portion of these men cannot live. The body, which is the workmanship of God, must be fed and clothed; and how great is His goodness in providing for it things that are needful! Let heaven, and earth, and seas, praise the Lord.
3. Temporal good things are promised. Till the purpose of God be accomplished, the present frame of the world, in the riches of His goodness, and long-suffering, must be upheld; and promises of upholding, and of the means of upholding it, are made to Christ, for the sake of His body, the redeemed (Isaiah 49:8; Hosea 2:22-23).
4. Temporal good things are produced by the power and goodness of God, operating in material and secondary causes. The heavens and the earth, the sun, the rain, the dew, and the air, have not the power of vegetation and fertility in themselves. They are merely instruments by which the power of God is exerted.
5. Temporal good things are turned away by our iniquities (Jeremiah 3:2-3; Jeremiah 5:24-26).
6. Temporal good things are benefits for which intercession and prayer should be made. In the prayer which our Lord taught the disciples a petition for these appears: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
II. The plea which appears in the text for temporal good things. It is, you observe, the name of the Lord: “O Lord,--do Thou for Thy name’s sake.”
1. An honourable plea, and worthy of God, before whom and concerning whom it is used. The glory of His name is the end, and the motive, and the reason of His works; and in doing for it the works like Himself, and independent of considerations of worth in creatures. In the name of the Lord our God every ray of essential and revealed glory meets, and shines forth; and to make this glory the supreme end of His operations and communications, is a perfection which He cannot deny nor give away. This supreme motive He avows, and holds up to the adoration of His people, and jealousy for it is His praise and His honour (Ezekiel 36:22; Isaiah 48:9-11; Psalms 115:1).
2. A prevailing plea. For His name’s sake great and marvellous works have been wrought (Ezekiel 20:9; Ezekiel 20:14; Ezekiel 20:22; Ezekiel 20:44). When the motive in the heart of the Sovereign is the plea in the mouth of the supplicant, confidence of being accepted and heard, confidence modest, humble, reverential, and submissive, imparts joy to the heart of the petitioner, raises in his soul the expectation of hope, and makes his face to shine as if it were anointed with fresh oil.
3. A continual plea, and good throughout all generations, under all dispensations, among all nations, and in all extremities (1 Chronicles 17:21; Isaiah 63:11-16).
4. The supreme plea under which every other plea is subordinated. In the prayers and intercessions of holy men other considerations often appear. Poverty, reproach, affliction, persecution, necessity, and other things, have been pied at the throne of grace. But the name, or glory, of the Lord our God is the supreme and ruling consideration into which other pleas are to be resolved.
III. Our pleading the name of the Lord for temporal good things in the face of iniquity, or when it is testifying against us. In such discouraging circumstances Jeremiah pleaded. The whole body of national evil stood before him; and, with this monster appearing to his eye, and its voice roaring in his ear, he cried, “Do Thou for Thy name’s sake.”
1. A sense of sin strongly affects the heart and conscience before the Lord. Jeremiah is the mouth of the kingdom, and speaks like a man of feeling. He felt the weight of the public guilt, heard it crying for vengeance, and believed that the Lord was justly offended because the land was greatly defiled. This feeling is not common and natural to man. There were but few in Judah who were suitably affected with the national iniquities, and among ourselves the number of mourners is either diminished or else they are hid in corners and chambers, out of the sight of the public eye and the knowledge of one another.
2. The righteousness of the Lord, in turning away temporal good things because of iniquity, is believed and acknowledged. Of this Jeremiah was persuaded himself, and of this no mean was neglected to persuade the nation. In withering seasons, professions of the equity and justice of Providence are in every mouth; but in the lives of many who make these professions, fruit of the lips doth not appear. Fruit of this kind is found only on a few trees of righteousness, which are grafted in Christ, and raised and trained up by the spirit of holiness.
3. The iniquities which provoke the Most High to withhold, or turn away, temporal good things are acknowledged with humiliation and sorrow of heart. Concerning these Jeremiah is not silent. In his intercessory prayer confession holds a distinguished place. His exercise is exemplary, and in similar circumstances should be followed. Reigning and crying sins breaking out, whether in the higher or lower ranks of society, or in both, ought to be acknowledged to be what they are, provocations of wrath and causes of calamity. But to bring men to this reasonable duty is extremely difficult. Confession gives such a stab to self-righteousness, and such a blow to natural pride, that nothing can bring us effectually to submit to it, except the Spirit of God working by His Word in us mightily.
4. The covenant of grace is apprehended, truly and distinctly, in the light of the Word. To this covenant temporal good things are annexed, and in its administration, promises of these are performed. By the obedience, sufferings, and death of Christ, the condition is fulfilled; and in performing the promises and bestowing the blessings, both of the life which now is and of that which is to come, the justice and holiness of God glorify themselves in the highest.
5. Considerations of the obedience, blood, and intercession of Christ, are presented to the Lord, and opposed to prevailing iniquities.
6. Submission to the will and good pleasure of the Lord of all. Creatures, far less sinners, should never be peremptory in their supplications, nor prescribe to the Sovereign. Pleas for the removal of distress are furnished to us by the Word, and instructions given to use these with reverence and importunity. But beware of limiting the Sovereign, who, by calamity no less than by deliverance, can magnify Himself.
IV. Exhortation and instruction. Unto men of prayer we address ourselves in the hearing of all, and through the blessing of God and the working of His Spirit, all will be corrected and instructed.
1. In your exercise and practice let a true sense of sin appear. It is not calling sin names, or fixing upon it the epithets, bagful and abominable, but hating and abhorring it, which the Lord requires.
2. Acknowledge the righteousness of God in withholding some temporal good things, which in the ordinary course of His Providence we looked for at this season. Why doth the Sovereign send upon us hail for rain, and heaps of snow instead of clouds of dew? Why doth He draw out winter to an unusual length, and fill our ear with the howling of shepherds, instead of the singing of birds? Why do not applications to His goodness prevail? Hath He forgotten to be gracious? No. Doth His promise fail? No. Is His hand shortened, that it cannot save? No. Is His ear heavy, that it cannot hear? No. But our iniquities, let it be preached in the valleys, proclaimed in the mountains, and sounded in the dwelling places of atheism and irreligion--“Our iniquities have separated between us and our God, and our sins have hid His face from us, that He will not hear.”
3. Confess unto the Lord these trespasses which are committed against Him in the midst of the land, which provoke Him to withhold good things, and which cause Him to send upon us evil things. Acknowledgment of sin, and supplication for pardon, are always mixed with the prayers and intercessions of His people for temporal good things.
4. In pleading, when iniquities testify against you, keep before you the covenant of peace, to which temporal good things are added. Unless your eye be kept upon this covenant, it will be impossible to understand how God, whose right hand is full of righteousness, glorifies Himself in accepting your persons, sustaining your pleas, fulfilling your petitions, and blessing you with good things. But if the covenant, with its condition, promises, and administration, be considered, and the place which temporal good things possess observed, every seemingly interfering interest, with respect to the perfections and glory of God, will appear to be adjusted and consolidated upon the clearest and firmest principles.
5. With the plea, and every form of the plea, for the benefits of the covenant, introduce the name and office of the Lord Jesus Christ. Having fulfilled the condition, in His obedience unto death, He is constituted, by wisdom and grace, heir, administrator, and dispenser of the blessings.
6. Be submissive and modest in pleading for temporal good things. Of the ways of the Lord we are incompetent judges; and, in all applications upon the name, should submit ourselves to His wisdom and righteousness, and leave to His good pleasure what is to be done. (A. Shanks.)
O the Hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in time of trouble.
God and troubled humanity
I. What God always is to troubled humanity.
1. The Hope.
(1) The Inspirer of all true hope.
(2) The Sustainer.
(3) The Realiser.
2. The Saviour.
(1) The redemption system He has given to the world attests this.
(2) The experience of all who had attended to His directions testifies this. Every man that has adopted God’s remedial scheme has been saved.
II. What God sometimes seems to troubled humanity. “A stranger,” etc.
1. When Christlike enterprises are frustrated.
2. When the most useful men are cut down in the very zenith of their life.
3. when prosperity attends the wicked, and adversity the good.
4. When enormous outrages are rampant in society. (Homilist.)
Why shouldest Thou be as a stranger in the land.--
God’s withdrawings from His people, and their exercise under them
I. When it may be said God withdraws and behaves as a stranger to His people.
1. When He withholds His wonted acts of kindness to them.
2. When He threatens to remove from them the signs and symbols of His presence.
3. When, though continuing the ordinances and sacraments, He renders them profitless.
4. When the Divine providences are adverse.
5. When He denies them access to Himself.
II. Why the Lord deals thus with his people.
1. When they fall into gross sin and bring reproach on religion.
2. When they become earthly minded.
3. When they become slothful and formal in duty.
4. When they neglect or slight the Mediator, by whom we have access to God.
5. When they sin under or after great affliction.
6. When they do not cherish and entertain the influences of the Holy Spirit.
7. When they grow hardened and impenitent under provocation.
III. When it may be said we are properly exercised under such a painful dispensation.
1. When we are truly sensible of our loss, and that our sin is the cause of it.
2. When we place all our happiness in God’s favour and presence.
3. When we engage all the powers of our souls to seek after God.
4. When we diligently embrace every opportunity for finding an absent God, and use every appointed means.
5. When we wrestle with Him in prayer to return.
6. When we are not satisfied with the best means, unless we find God in them.
IV. Whence it is that the Lord, being as a stranger to His people, occasions them so much concern.
1. Because of the incomparable happiness arising from the enjoyment of His presence.
2. Because of the sad effects attending the loss of His presence.
1. There are but few true seekers of God among us.
2. The misery of these who are far from God now, and may be deprived of His presence forever.
3. The sad case of those whom God forsakes, never to return again. (T. Hannam.)
A welcome for the stranger
When the messenger of Mercy was travelling through the world, he asked himself at what inn he should alight and spend the night. Lions and eagles were not to his mind, and he passed by houses wearing such warlike names; so too he passed by places known by the sign of “The Waving Plume,” and the “Conquering Hero,” for he knew that there was no room for him in these inns. He hastened by many a hostelry and tarried not, till at last he came to a little inn which bore the sign of “The Broken Heart.” Here,” said Mercy’s messenger, “I would fain tarry, for I know by experience that I shall be welcome here”
The Messiah-A stranger among His own people
The greatest marvel of all creation is that the Son of God should come to redeem; and next to that is this, that having come, He should be neglected and rejected by those who had so long looked for Him. Here is the greatest wonder in all history: a nation neglecting the realisation of its own dream. Search your histories and see if you can find a parallel case. The old Jewish theocracy aspired to pretensions that Rome, Greece, Persia, and Egypt never dared to dream, to bestow to the world one universal king. And what is that land of Palestine, and what are these Jews who aspire to such pretensions as this?. . .It has no deep thought like India; no genius of stability like China; no sense of beauty like Greece, no high culture like Egypt, no powerful arms like Rome, and yet there is the fact; they speak concerning the kingdom their king should establish. “The Gentiles shall come to Thy light, and kings to the brightness of Thy rising.” Yet, marvellous to relate, when she had given her King to the world she refused to crown Him. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not (the hope of Israel--a stranger in the land). George Mac Donald tells in one of his stories of a born-blind lamplighter who illuminated the city at night, but had no sense of what he was doing. Thus the Jews closed their eyes to the great light which they gave to the world. (Geo. Matheson, D. D.)
Why shouldst Thou be . . . as a mighty man that cannot save?
God rendered powerless by man
A strong man may be rendered powerless by a reel of cotton being wound around him. Each thread so brittle, yet all together is irresistible. So a large number of inconsistencies and insincerities may make God powerless to help you, or to work mightily through you to the salvation of others. He may be in the midst of you, and you may be called by His name; great issues for His kingdom and glory may seem at stake; mighty possibilities within your reach! and yet He is as a mighty man that cannot save. There is might enough in God to save the weakest and sinfullest of His children; and you are unsaved because of the limitations you have placed upon Him.
1. You are not absolutely willing to be delivered from your sins.
2. You do not entirely believe in His power and will.
3. You have not definitely handed the whole matter over to Him, and believed that He has accepted the charge.
4. Or--and this is perhaps the deepest reason of all--you have formed your own ideas of Divine truth, and of the possible Christian life. And having formed your own conception of the true ideal of Christianity, you have thenceforth lived within the limitations of your ideal, which is bounded by human wisdom and human thought. And so you never come to a thorough knowledge of the indwelling of Christ, or what He is prepared to do for you; or, catching a glimpse of it from afar, you are not sufficiently delivered from the reasonings and workings of your mind to give Him that opportunity for which He waits and yearns. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
O Lord . . . leave us not.
A universal prayer
I. For all seasons.
1. Times of joy. Our prosperity will ruin us, if God be not with us.
2. Times of adversity.
3. Times of labour.
4. Times of perplexity.
II. For all saints.
1. All need to pray thus. For all deserve to be abandoned.
2. All must pray thus. For all desire continuance of His presence.
3. All will pray thus. For all know the bitterness of soul consequent upon His withdrawal
III. Always answered.
1. For it is according to His will.
2. For it honours His name. (R. A. Griffin.)
Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet; therefore the Lord doth net accept them.
Jehovah’s refusal to allow intercession to prevail
I. The Lord’s answer to the prophet’s prayer.
1. He points to the backsliding of the people, for which He now punishes them.
2. He refuses the prophet’s prayer because He loathes the people’s soulless fastings and sacrifices.
3. He specifies the means by which He will destroy this backsliding people. Battle. Famine. Pestilence.
II. The prophet renews his endeavours to entreat God’s favour.
1. He lays stress on the fact that they had been deceived.
2. But they are not excused on that account; for they gave credit to lies.
(1) God had not commissioned these prophets.
(2) Their easy and willing dupes are condemned to ignoring.
3. Seducers should perish with those they seduced. (C. Keil.)
When they fast, I will not hear their cry.
Pasting rendered offensive
I. Pious demeanour is not what God desires, but faith.
1. God abominates a double and false heart; and the greater the fervour hypocrites display in external rites, the more they provoke Him.
2. Fasting is observed as giving intensity to prayer.
3. They who fast professedly avow that they deprecate God’s disfavour.
4. But God values not outward appearance.
II. Fasting is not in itself a religious duty, but a mere index to a humble spirit.
1. What is intended by fasting?
(1) That there may be greater alacrity in prayer.
(2) That it may be an evidence of humility in confessing sins.
(3) Indicative of a purpose to subdue lust.
2. What is fasting, apart from these intents?
(1) A frivolous exercise.
(2) A profanation of God’s worship.
(3) A superstition, provoking God’s wrath.
III. No value in fasting to merry God’s favour.
IV. Mocking profanation was intolerable, and should be punished.
1. God shows Himself armed with various kinds of punishment.
2. He forewarns that they who had provoked Him should surely suffer.
3. God does not disregard or reject religious signs; but when what they signify is separated from them, there is then an intolerable profanation. (J. Calvin.)
I will give you assured peace.
I. Human life wants it.
1. Uncertainty troubles our life.
2. Delusions embitter our heart.
3. Misgivings weary our soul.
II. God alone can give it.
1. Peace is not a human commodity, but a Divine boon.
2. Peace comes only to Divinely-prepared hearts.
3. Peace is specifically the Saviour’s benefaction.
III. Lying voices offer it.
1. False prophets preach peace still.
(1) In our churches, promising ceremonies righteous works it through etc.
(2) In pleasure’s scenes, assuring the gay and frivolous of satisfaction, etc.
2. Beguiled dupes are ensnared still.
3. Yet assured peace is available still. May be found by all (Matthew 11:28-30). (W. H. Jellie.)
Peace is various and versatile. Peace is not mere pleasure, yet there is a pleasure in peace. When there is no longer any offers to be happy, nor any dread of care, pleasure settles to its repose, as a frame that lolls and turns on a luxurious couch by and by folds itself to motionless and dreamy comfort; or as the mountain peak that shot and shafted to its height sublime falls softly off and folds away into the gentle slope, the nooks where lights and shadows play, the curve that modulates the majestic summit to the meek swell of the landscape lowlands, and invests the valley with the mountain grandeur, and mountain grandeur with the placid secret of the lowly vale; the breast that heaved with pleasure in its confirmed rapture comes to rest. Pleasure is not peace, but in Its realisation and fulfilment there is a peace of pleasure. See a little further. Joy is not peace, nevertheless there is a peace of joy in which the mind and heart take counsel with each other. This is delight arriving at repose. Thus, when a strain of music dies away upon the ear, the harmony thrills memory still--the noise ceases, the notes linger and serenade the silence, the silence returns the serenade. Again, pain might be reckoned as the foe of peace, and still there is a peace of pain. Some tranquilities are gendered by adversity alone. The peace found in pain cannot be otherwise discovered nor elsewhere known. When one has borne excruciating pang or undergone sore struggle, and can say, It is familiar now; I have been through the worst of it, and have survived; or where one can even set out about such an undertaking, and although outwardly the infliction or affliction has yet to be encountered, that moment takes on its own radiance, and the mind has upon effective grounds prepared itself for all, anticipated all, looked through all resolutely, braced now and nerved, knitted and compacted; the resolve is half the readiness, the readiness is all the conflict--the endurance is the victory, as of one whose valour makes his foes to tremble, as the Spartan band or the Royal Guard by their very presence put the enemy to flight. When the heart and soul are set in resolution, like a regiment kneeling with fixed bayonets, and so the onset is taken with a will, and the triumph is anticipated in advance, there ensues a serenity which is of itself a triumph, a fortitude which is in itself a conquest and a coronation. It is thus that there can come into the heart the peace of pain. It has distinct varieties. The peace of suffering in physical endurance must not be undervalued. There is such a thing as is indicated by the words, to suffer and be strong, whereby that which in another would enforce an outcry or insist upon a groan--that which even to the same sufferer, at another time, coming by stealth or startling, would utterly unman the nature, has become a manageable trial, to be confronted, to be endured, and to be looked through and through, it may be with bated breath and set teeth, but still at bay, until the paroxysm faints away into the peace, and the strong mastery of the resolve carries the torture of the flesh, and rules the throb of the nerves by its volition. There is a pain peace not to be despised--it may be the peace of peril. Presence of mind is power of help. The war horse stands motionless while the guns emit their bloody blasts and the carnage overflows. The young hero leaps upon the ramparts, the veteran holds the fort. The peace of peril is the opposite of peril panic. Panic huddled the fleeing, frightened throng, so that none could escape from the blazing building; peace would have found the fire escape; peace would have opened the back stairs. And thus it is in life at large: panic is peril’s peril, but peace is peril’s protection--peril’s safe control. And of pain peace another branch is peace of sorrow, peculiar to itself. It does not neutralise the grief, it softens and enchants it. When sorrow has undergone its first wild shock, when cries are stilled and tears are dried, a hush that sinks to softer sorrow, as a gale dies to a zephyr breeze, comes in upon the gloomy void, and sorrow in its silence, sorrow in its sanctity, can find sorrow peace--the very peace of pain. And so it is that in all these varieties, and under all vicissitudes like these, the grace within enkindles peace without. And when the Finite is in treaty with the Infinite, the creature in reconciliation with his Maker, the soul, possessed of peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, can prove that paradox of life and earth--the peace of God which passeth all understanding. (H. S. Carpenter.)
We acknowledge, O Lord, our wickedness.
Frank acknowledgment of guilt
Next to the merit of not sinning is confessing sin. A learned man has said, “The three hardest words in the English language are--‘I was mistaken.’” Frederick the Great wrote to the Senate: “I have just lost a great battle, and it was entirely my own fault.” Goldsmith said, “This confession displayed more greatness than all his victories.” Such a prompt acknowledgment of his fault recalls Bacon’s course in more trying circumstances. “I do plainly and ingenuously confess,” said the great Chancellor, “that I am guilty of corruption, and so renounce all defence. I beseech your lordships to be merciful to a broken reed. (A. T. Pierson.)
True repentance avails with God
When a man undertakes to repent towards his fellowmen, it is repenting straight up a precipice; when he repents towards law it is repenting in a crocodile’s jaws; when he repents towards public sentiment, it is throwing himself into a thicket of brambles and thorns; but when he repents towards God, he repents towards all love and delicacy. God receives the soul, as the sea the bather, to return it again, purer and whiter than He took it. (H. W. Beecher.)
Do not abhor us.
Marks of a people in danger of the Divine abhorrence
I. The leading indications of a people exposed to that alarming condition which the prophet here so pathetically deprecates.
1. Unfruitfulness under the means of religious and moral improvement (Luke 13:6). When the recipients of so many favours, instead of being fruitful, bring forth no good fruit at all, or fruit that is positively bad; when, instead of acting suitably to such high advantages, they shew that they are insensible of them; when, instead of being devout, they are impious; when, instead of standing in awe of God, they profane His holy name; when, instead of regarding His ordinances, they despise them; when, instead of being humble, meek, and merciful, they are proud, overbearing, and injurious; and, instead of ascribing to the bounteous Giver of all good, the glory that is due to Him for His liberality towards them, by a holy, reverential, and submissive deportment, they disregard His authority:--most assuredly, if there is any justice in the Divine nature, and any discernment in the Divine administration, such a people are “nigh unto cursing,” and are rapidly advancing towards that state which is deprecated in the text.
2. A public and general contempt of religion. All things go well so long as God and Him service are reverenced; because there is a firmness, an energy, and a greatness in every effort put forth for the public weal, which, through the blessing of God, can scarcely fail to render it effectual. But, on the other hand, when God is despised; when His existence and authority are treated as merely ideal; when no influence is produced upon human agency by the greatness and purity of His character, or the rectitude and perfection of His counsels; when it acknowledges no higher principle than self-interest, or the gratification of the inferior appetites of our nature--then all things run into confusion. In confirmation of this, we have the remarkable testimony even of the heathen Polybius, one of the most judicious historians of ancient Rome. “When the Romans,” says he, “left off consulting the gods, when they began to disregard the institutions of religion, or to laugh at things sacred, then fell the glory of the empire. The wisdom of the senator forsook him, and the heart of the soldier melted at the face of the foe. The State had no friend, because every man was a friend only to himself, and the gods forsook them because they were despised.”
3. Levity and insensibility under the Divine judgments. How natural to conclude, when a child continues thoughtless, perverse, and obstinate, under the frowns of an indulgent parent, that he is fast approaching to destruction: and how just, as well as natural, is the conclusion; since the parent having tried all means, but in vain, to reclaim him, seems in a measure compelled to throw him off, and since the child himself seems bent on renouncing parental protection, were it even forced upon him. And no less just and natural is it to draw a similar conclusion in the case of nations, when they despise the chastenings of Omnipotence. To these He has recourse, only when all other means have proved ineffectual. If, then, when He strikes they feel it not, and instead of being brought to repentance, obstinately persist in their folly and inconsideration, what is to be looked for but their perdition?
II. How suitable the language and temper of the prayer in the text is to us, “O Lord, do not abhor us for Thy name’s sake.”
1. It is expressive of that temper of mind, which is most suited to the guilt which we have contracted, and the dangers to which we are exposed.
(1) It supposes, that as children, who have long resisted the kind intentions of our heavenly Father, trifled with His goodness, and abused His grace, we see ourselves about to be cast off by an awful exertion of His justice; and that, deeply alarmed at our situation, sensible of our unworthiness, and that the very fate which we dread, is what we actually merit, we run to Him at the very moment, and cry, O Lord, abhor us not; cast us not off forever. We deserve it, but stay Thy hand. Foolish, and rebellious, and perverse as we have been, we cannot bear the frowns of Thine indignation, or to be finally excluded from Thy favour.
(2) It implies the utmost earnestness, and the very feeling of present and immediate repentance. It supposes that the individuals who use it are actually lying low in the dust, under the sense of immediate danger, and calling out for immediate relief. And most assuredly there is no room for procrastinating.
2. It also peculiarly becomes us, because it is enforced by the only argument fit to be urged by guilty creatures, and the only argument which we can urge with effect.
(1) Review all the circumstances in your case. Single out what you conceive to be the most alleviating, and the most favourable--and then say, is there one of these which you can use as an argument why a pure and holy God should not abhor you?
(2) But beware of using this language in a cold and formal manner, and without those distressing apprehensions of danger, and those bitter feelings of repentance, which Jeremiah so evidently cherished when he uttered it. This, instead of appeasing the Divine wrath which has gone forth against us, will rather provoke it more than ever; and instead of averting the Divine judgments, will rather accelerate their accomplishment. (J. Somerville, D. D.)
Are there any among the vanities of the Gentiles that can cause rain?
Impotence of idols
Remember it was a time of dearth. The question turned upon the presence of grass; there was no grass, and therefore the hind calved in the field and forsook its own offspring, that it might abate its own hunger, seeking grass in some far-away place. Natural instincts were subdued and overcome, and the helpless offspring was left in helplessness, that the poor dying mother, hunger smitten, might find a mouthful of green herbage somewhere. And the ground was dust; the ploughmen were ashamed, they resorted to that last sign of Oriental desperation and grief, to cover their heads, because there was no rain, no grass; and now the prophet asks, “Are there any among the vanities of the Gentiles than can cause rain?” What can the idols do? If they can give rain, let them give it now. Can the heavens themselves give showers--the blue heavens that look so kind--can they of themselves, and as it were by their own motion, pour a baptism of water upon the earth? No. This is the act of the living God, the providence of the redeeming Father, the miracle of love. Thus we are driven in various ways to pray. You never know what a man is religiously, until he has been well tried, hungry a long time, and had no water to drink, until his tongue is as a burning sting in his mouth, until it hardens like metal, and if he can then move his lips you may find the coward trying to pray. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Rainmakers among the heathen
In Burmah the inhabitants have a novel form of the sport that elsewhere is commonly called a tug-of-war. In the Burmese game there is a rain party and a drought party, who pull one against the other, the victory of either party being considered to have immediate results as regards the weather. The drought party, however, obtain few victories, for the kind of weather they represent is commonly not so much desired as rain. In the face, therefore, of a strong public opinion the rain party are nearly always allowed to win, the palpable “roping,” in the popular notion, being generally followed by a fertilising downpour.
Prayer is the most potent means of obtaining rain, as shown in the case of Elijah..
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 14". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29