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Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be towards this people.
Righteousness, the strength of nations
It is of great importance that we distinguish between communities, and the individuals of which communities are composed. When the whole human race shall be gathered before the tribunal of Christ, every man will receive the recompense due to his actions whilst on earth. But nations cannot be judged or punished as nations; so if God is to mark His sense of the evil wrought by communities in their collective capacity, it must be by present retribution. Accordingly we have full testimony given from Scripture and from experience, that although, in the ordinary course of Divine judgment, individuals are not in this life dealt with according to their actions, yet communities may expect to prosper or decline according as they resist or submit to the revealed will of God. The national character must be determined by the character of the majority; and when this character is so debased that the national punishment can no longer be delayed, there may be numbers influenced by a holy and unaffected piety, and warm love of God. And can these faithful ones be instruments in averting or mitigating wrath? Or if they cannot prevail for the deliverance of others, will they not at least be saved from all share in the coming disaster? These are interesting questions; and the best answer can be drawn from the words of our text. Moses and Samuel are supposed to stand forth as pleaders for the land; they are too late--pleading is in vain. Still it is evidently implied that at a less advanced stage in national guilt the intercession would have been of avail. Then, moreover, a distinction is evidently drawn between a guilty people and such advocates as Moses and Samuel. The people are to be “cast out”; but we are left to infer that such as Moses and Samuel would not share to the full extent in the national disaster. Let us look more closely into these points. Call to mind that remarkable portion of Holy Writ in which Abraham is represented as pleading for Sodom. If the city would have been spared had these ten righteous lived within its walls, there is incontrovertible proof that godly men are the salt of the earth, and may often be instrumental in preserving communities from utter desolation. It was not without a very emphatic meaning that Christ styled His disciples “the salt of the earth.” By their mere presence in the midst of ungodly men, and yet more, by their prayers and intercessions, may the righteous often arrest vengeance and prevent the utter ruin of a country. The wicked know nothing of their obligations to the righteous. In general, they despise or hate the righteous--either accounting them fools, or galled by the reproof conveyed by their example. If they had what they wish, they would remove the righteous from amongst them, reckoning that they should then have greater freedom in pursuing their schemes, or enjoying their pleasures. And little do they think that these very objects of their scorn and dislike may be all the while their best guardians and benefactors; turning aside from them evils by which they might be otherwise rapidly overtaken, and procuring for them a lengthened portion of Divine patience and forbearance. Little do they think that the worst thing possible for their country and themselves is when there is a rapid diminution in the number of the righteous; every good man who dies and leaves no successor being as a practical withdrawal from that leaven which alone stays the progress of the universal decomposition. Now we have reached the point at which piety ceases to have power in averting evil from others. What does it, then, do for the pious themselves? Intercession time has gone--the judgment time has come; and every man must be dealt with according to his own character. But if righteousness then lose its power to avail with God for others, besides its possessors; and if on this account the righteous may well shrink from such seasons, yet it appears certain that righteousness is as acceptable as ever to God, and that therefore the righteous have nothing to fear individually for themselves. Come plague! come depopulation! if thou art indeed a devoted, consistent servant of God, they shall not touch thee till the time has come which has been fixed by thy merciful Father! “A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.” The funeral procession may wend often from their doors, bearing away (it is melancholy to think) those for whose salvation they have long prayed, and for whom they have daily sought a further day of grace; but they themselves shall be unassailed till the day which, in any case, God had fixed for their entry into rest; and thus shall the pestilence, whose ravages in their households did but fit them for higher glory, do only the part of common sickness in freeing them from a corruptible body. And, therefore, may those in whose hearts is “the fear of the Lord,” hear without trepidation what God says about bringing His sore judgments on a land. There are two very important considerations suggested by the subject we have thus endeavoured to discuss.
1. We wish you to observe that he who serves God, serves his country best.
2. We ask you to observe that whatever the advantages which a man derives from having pious relatives, there is a point at which those relatives can afford him no help. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
I. Intercessory prayer is an exercise of great value.
1. As developing our love to man. Interesting ourselves in his trials, seeking to save him from his sins.
2. As carrying out the Divine precepts. In the spirit of Christ, in the fellowship of life.
3. As following after noble examples.
4. As obtaining great blessings for others.
II. Intercessory prayer can be offered only by good men.
1. He must not be under the sin against which he prays.
2. He should know by experience the value of the blessing he craves for another.
3. He must be willing to join effort with prayer.
III. Intercessory prayer has some limitations even when offered by the best of men. This is evident--
1. From Scripture.
2. From observation.
IV. Intercessory prayer is a grand distinction and provision of the Gospel. We have--
1. The best of intercessors (Hebrews 7:25). In office, sympathy, work, influence.
2. Praying for the best of blessings. Salvation, preservation, comfort, glory.
3. Taking up the ease of every soul that trusts Him.
4. Always successful. (W. Whale.)
The Hebrews had justly a very high opinion of Moses. How proudly they boasted, “We are the disciples of Moses!” As the late Dr. R.W. Dale has pointed out, “More than Luther is to Germany, more than Napoleon is to France, more than Alfred, or Elizabeth, or Cromwell, or William
III. is to England, Moses was to the Jewish people--prophet, patriot, warrior, lawgiver, all in one.” Yet even so great a servant of God as Moses together with the famous seer Samuel, would avail nothing in intercession for the Jews at this time. My mind, saith the Lord, could not be toward this people.
I am weary with repenting.
The Almighty weary with repenting
I. God repenting. God condescends to designate His conduct by that name. The expression may be inadequate and defective, but still language had nothing better to describe the idea, nor human experience to represent the fact. When God is pleased to speak of Himself as pitying, repenting, grieving for man’s sake, what is evidently intended is, that so intense is His love for man, that were His infinite nature capable of these creature passions, His love would show itself in these very forms.
II. God provoked to a degree that He can repent no more. He is “weary with repenting”: worn and tired out with having to cancel threatened sentences so often--as a potentate of earth might be at finding that every fresh display of patience in his subjects masked but deeper hatred to his rule, and every amnesty he declared was but a signal for raising the standard of rebellion anew. What can man do, to move the Author of his being to regard him in this way? We must not speculate; we must let the great God speak for Himself; we must try to gather out of other Scriptures what those things are which are said to weary God, wear out His patience, make Him tired of His forgivenesses, reprieves, and revoked sentences.
1. Among these provocations we may note hypocrisy and allowed formality in religious duty (Isaiah 1:13-14).
2. We may make God weary by presumptuous and unwarranted calculations upon His mercy (Malachi 2:17).
3. Another thing Scripture teaches us wearies, puts God out of patience, is unbelief, a restoring to creature trust and dependencies, a want of simplicity and unreservedness in accepting His promises, as if we thought He would not pay them in full, or did not mean them to be taken by us, in all their length and breadth, and depth and worth.
4. The awful limit prescribed in the text may be reached, and the Divine forbearance tasked one step too far, by provocations after mercies. (D. Moore, M. A.)
Jehovah weary with repenting
The fact that God is “weary of repenting” shows--
1. That God had often turned from His threatenings, and dealt in mercy with the people.
2. That the Divine mercy had been frequently abused, and the people had gone back again to their sins.
3. That not a change in His being, but only a change of relationship, is expressed by the word “repent.”
4. That judgment is alien to God’s heart, whereas mercy is His delight.
5. That when God is met with persistent ingratitude, and men relapse continually into sin, He must eventually punish them.
6. That the operations of the Divine mind can only be expressed in human language with difficulty and limitation.
7. That we should be careful not to trifle with or abuse, the patient long-suffering of God. (W. Whale.)
Divine judgments and man’s relation to them
Famine, pestilence, revolution, war, are judgments of the Ruler of the world. What sort of a ruler, we ask, is He? The answer to that question will determine the true sense of the term--the judgment of God. The heathen saw Him as a passionate, capricious, changeable Being, who could be angered and appeased by men. The Jewish prophet saw Him as a God whose ways were equal, who was unchangeable, who was not to be bought off by sacrifices but pleased by righteous dealing, and who would remove the punishment when the causes which brought it on were taken away; in other words, when men repented God would repent. That does not mean that He changed His laws to relieve them of their suffering, but that they changed their relationships to His law, so that, to them thus changed, God seemed to change. A boat rows against the stream; the current punishes it. So is a nation violating the law of God, it is subject to punishment, judgment. The boat turns and goes with the stream; and the current assists it. So is a nation which has repented and put itself into harmony with God’s law; it is subject to a blessing. But the current is the same; it has not changed, only the boat has changed its relation to the current. Neither does God change--we change; and the same law which executed itself in punishment now expresses itself in reward. (W. Brooke.)
Thou hast forsaken Me.
God forsaking and God forsaken
I. A God-forsaking people. Conviction by God Himself of this great folly and sin. In Jeremiah 2:13, the charge is more complete. Creation is called upon to express surprise at a folly so conspicuous.
1. “Thou”--who oughtest to have been unto Me a loyal and loving people, testifying of My power and grace, and proving by separation from the nation your preference for the living and true God.
2. “Hast forsaken”--not simply forgotten, or disobeyed, but of deliberate choice hast taken other gods, and disregarded Jehovah.
3. “Me”--who called Abraham, etc.
II. A God-forsaken people.
1. Always retrograde. Unless they repent and obey God, there is no way forward and upward.
2. Always in danger of destruction. If we forsake the mercy, we inherit the misery.
3. Always exposed to terrors and disasters.
4. Always drifting into languor, premature decline, shame, and death. (W. Whale.)
How men forsake God
A rule I have had for years is to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. It is not a creed, a mere empty doctrine, but it is Christ Himself we have. The moment we receive Christ we should receive Him as a friend. When I go away from home I bid my wife and children good-bye; I bid my friends and acquaintances good-bye; but I never heard of a poor backslider going down on his knees and saying, “I have been near You for ten years. Your service has become tedious and monotonous. I have come to bid You farewell. Good-bye, Lord Jesus Christ!” I never heard of one doing this. I will tell you how they go away; they just run away. (D. L. Moody.)
Her sun is gone down while it is yet day.
Beautiful, but brief
I. Her life was like the sun in its shining.
1. Gloriously bright with faith and joy.
2. Blessedly useful in diffusing light.
3. Constantly comforting, by its warmth of love and hope.
4. Christianly generous, always giving.
5. A centre of attraction, in the house, in the class, in the social circle, and in the Church.
II. Her death was like the sun in its setting.
4. To rise again.
III. Her sunset was early in the day of life.
1. In the prime and beauty of being.
2. In the midst of work.
3. It seems unnatural, and suggests questions.
4. It is an interposition of God in His providence, doubtless wise and loving.
5. It leads us from the creature to the. Creator.
6. It suggests that we be all ready, always ready. (W. Whale.)
I. In nature.
1. Would be unnatural.
2. Would be injurious to all life.
3. Would make us less confident as to the unerring regularity of nature’s law.
II. In history. Many cases in which nations have fallen, not with decrepitude of age, but through early and self-wrought ruin.
III. In individual life. The young, the immoral, the unprincipled in character generally. Obedience to God gives a long day and beautiful sunset. (W. Whale.)
The Christian’s sun
I. The Christian has a sun. A Sun is a globe which keeps other globes in connection with it in their proper spheres and at their assigned work, and which imports light and heat to them and to all the creatures which inhabit them. In a sense, all men have a sun to which they look for present and future good. But it differs with different men. With some it is nature; some, the traditions of their fathers; some, fancied superior morality; and the portion of good to every man, with regard to its character and intent, is determined by the capability and quality of his sun. Oh, how miserably off must be all who depend on the finite! The Christian does not. His sun is Jesus as set forth in Holy Writ. From Him every true believer has the light and heat of spiritual life, and through Him he gets into his place, and is put to his appropriate work in creation (John 1:1-14; John 8:12; John 12:46). Receptivity is the beginning of that state of mind which, if rightly followed up, issues in the likeness, love, and enjoyment of God; and as Jesus, the source to which the Christian looks for lasting, ennobling good, is infinite, his felicity and glory will be forever enlarging.
II. The Christian is sunnified by his sun. He is a retainer, as well as a receiver, of its beneficent outflow. All the colours, and all the shades of colours, and every form of animal and vegetable life, are owing to the retention and appropriation of solar rays. The wealth, and beauty, and blessed activity of earth arise in this way. In like manner, the rays of the world’s spiritual Sun--the divinely inspired record of the history of incarnate Deity--must be kept and fittingly used if His fruits are to be enjoyed.
III. The Christian sunnifies others. He is a reflector and spreader of the brightness and goodness of his sun. “Ye are the light of the world.” The globes which emit light and heat as well as have them, the animals which add usefulness to life, and the flowers which are fragrant besides being beautiful, are highest in the scale of existence and of greatest worth. To those Christians who are active besides being pious, who spread the Gospel in addition to living it, who enrich and bless others as well as seek to be enriched and blessed themselves, are the most like Jesus, the most dear to the Father, the most useful to men, the most honoured in the Church. Their death is a calamity to others, but auspicious to themselves. Apply the subject--
1. To sinners. Get spiritual light and life while you can.
2. To saints. Prize and make good use of your privileges. Diffuse your light.
3. To Christian workers.
Be not weary in works of faith and labours of love. The more light you spread, and the more men you illumine, the greater your joy now, the greater your blessedness hereafter. (W. J. Stuart.)
Death the setting of the sun
I. The sun, in setting, disappears from view. As the great central orb is lost to our part of the world as he sinks beneath the horizon, so man is lost to the view of earth as he descends to the grave. The “places that knew him know him no more.”
II. The sun in setting obeys its law. “The sun knoweth his going down.” Death is a law of nature. It is as natural for the body to die as for the sun to go down.
III. The sun in setting is often gorgeous. Often have we seen the monarch of the day ride down in a chariot of glittering gold. Many a man has died under a halo of moral splendour. Like Stephen, they have seen the heavens open, and reflected the celestial rays as they came down.
IV. The setting sun will rise again. So with man in death. He does not go out of existence: he only sinks from view, and sinks to rise again in new splendour. Conclusion--Let us fulfil our mission as the sun does his, move in our little circle in harmony with Divine law, enlightening, vivifying, and beautifying all, and then death need have no terror for us. Our path will be as a “shining light,” etc. (Homilist.)
Sunset at noonday
These words are illustrative of death in life’s meridian. They remind us of--
I. Premature darkness. Sunsetting is the harbinger of night.
1. In nature. We do not expect sunset until eventide.
2. In morals. The departure of moral integrity. This sun should never set.
3. In physical life. Death is sunset to the aged, at night; to the young, at noon.
4. Unexpected darkness is unanticipated sorrow to community, family, individual.
II. Uncompleted work. “Man goeth forth unto his work.” Ordinarily, man has work enough to last all day; when called away prematurely, he leaves part untouched. So in life’s aggregation. In life’s morning his work is largely preparatory for mightier accomplishments of his post meridian.
III. Frustrated design. Man lives in the future--
Setting suns of life. Permanently overwrought powers. Commercial disasters. Succumbing to evil. In each case failure to realise the hope.
IV. A speedier enjoyment of rest. Darkness suggests night; night suggests repose. As in the physical, so in the soul’s life. “Blessed are the dead,” etc. “There remaineth therefore,” etc. (Homiletic Monthly.)
Death in the midst of life
I. The sun as an emblem of the saints of God. When we contemplate the great orb of day we are impressed--
1. With his greatness and elevation. This greatness and elevation fitly represents the true character of the Christian, contrasted with what he was, with what others are around him. Knowledge makes a man great. Grace of God elevates and lifts up to heaven. “I will set him on high,” etc.
2. Natural glory and magnificence. The most glorious of all the heavenly bodies. “The king’s daughter,” etc. (Psalms 45:13). See this strikingly set forth (2 Corinthians 3:18).
3. As the great diffuser of light and beauty. The Christian is first the recipient of light, and then he is called to shine. “Arise, shine,” etc. “So let your light shine,” etc.
4. As the chief source of fertility and fruitfulness. Where Christians live there is knowledge, benevolence, happiness, and life. Look at all our institutions of temporal and moral goodness.
II. The setting of the sun as a striking representation of the morality of the Christian.
1. The going down of the sun is a usual and therefore expected event. So sure as he arises we know he will go down. Man is born to die, etc. “I know that Thou wilt bring me to death,” etc. “The living know,” etc.
2. The period of the going down of the sun is very diversified. Look at the short winter’s day and the long summer’s day. So in life,--every age is alike mortal, etc. But the text speaks of the sun going down while it is yet day--prematurely. How often is this the case.
3. The going down of the sun is often peculiarly splendid and beautiful. How characteristic of the good man’s death!
4. The sun goes down to arise and shine on another horizon. (J. Burn, D. D.)
A man of strife.
Men of progress, men of strife
I. Because of noncompliance with popular sins. Always some interested in doing wrong, and maintaining evil among the people. Those who will not conform, especially such as speak and labour against sin, are considered men of strife.
II. Because they are in advance of the age. They look at all matters from a more elevated standpoint, and seek to bring the people up to their level.
III. Because they are earnest and energetic. Some can be indifferent; true souls cannot be.
IV. Because all good work causes strife. Evil has to be conquered, the devil to be cast out. No curse will peaceably give place to a blessing.
V. Because the field of battle is the path of glory. Salvation is finally for “him that endureth to the end.” “Fight the good fight of faith.” (W. Whale.)
Shall iron break the northern iron and the steel?
The northern iron and steel
In order to achieve a purpose there must be sufficient force. The weaker cannot overcome the stronger. In a general clash the firmest will win. You cannot cut granite with a pen knife, nor drill a hole in a rock with an anger of silk. We shall apply this proverb--
I. To the people of God individually.
1. Many Christians are subjected to great temptations and persecutions; mocked, ridiculed, called by evil names. Persecuted one, will you deny the faith? If so, you are not made of the same stuff as the true disciple of Jesus Christ; for when the grace of God is in them, if the world be iron, they are northern iron and steel.
2. We are frequently called to serve God amid great difficulties. Will you say, there is no converting these dark and obdurate souls? Is the iron to break the northern iron and steel? Look at Mont Cenis Tunnel, made through one of the hardest rocks; with a sharp tool, edged with diamond, they have pierced the Alps. As St. Bernard says: “Is thy work hard? set a harder resolution against it; for there is nothing so hard that cannot be cut with something harder still.”
3. To labour with non-success, and to wait, is hard work. It is a grand thing for a Christian to continue patiently in well-doing.
II. Applicable to the cause of God in the world--to the Church. What power, however like to iron, shall suffice to break the kingdom of Jesus, which is comparable to steel?
1. We hear it said that Romanism will again vanquish England; that the Gospel light, which Latimer helped to kindle, will be extinguished. Atrocious nonsense, if not partial blasphemy. If this thing were of men, it would come to nought; but if it be of God, who shall overthrow it?
2. Others foretell the triumph of infidelity. That the gates of hell are to prevail against the Church; that the pleasure of the Lord is not to prosper in His hand. Who but a lying spirit would thus lay low the faith and confidence of God’s people?
III. Apply the principle to the self-righteous efforts which men make for their own salvation.
1. The bonds of guilt are not to be snapped by a merely human power.
2. Yet that were an easy task compared with a man renewing his own heart.
3. Do you think you can force your way to heaven by ceremony? Come, sinner, with thy fetters; lay thy wrist at the cross foot, where Christ can break the iron at once.
IV. Applicable to all persons who are making self-reliant efforts for the good of others.
1. Our preaching--we try to make it forcible--how powerless it is of itself! We plead, reason, seek goodly words, etc., but the northern iron and steel remain immovable. Though all the apostles reasoned with them, they would turn a deaf ear.
2. The best adapted means cannot succeed. A mother’s tears, as she spoke to you of Jesus; the pleadings of a grey-headed father over you--no power to change your heart! The Gospel, though put to you very tenderly by those you love best, leaves you unsaved still! You have been sick, near death, within an inch of doom; yet even the judgments of God have not aroused you.
V. This text has a very solemn application to all those who are rebels against God. Fight against God, would you? Measure your adversary, I charge you. The wax is about to wrestle with the flame, the tow to contend with the fire. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Nothing more to be done
It is impossible to explain these words to the satisfaction of all. The general explanation, according to a large consensus of opinion, is that the prayer of the prophet cannot break the inflexible purpose of Jehovah. Jeremiah is still concerned for his countrymen, and he will still pray, though he has been told that if the mightiest intercessors that ever lived were to lift up their heads in devoutest argument they would not be listened to, for heaven was offended, and mighty in just indignation. Now the question is put, not by Jeremiah, but by another: “Shall iron break the northern iron and the steel?” Is there any iron in the south that can stand against the iron of the north? Has not the iron of the north been proved in a thousand controversies, and has it ever failed t Who will smite that northern iron with straw? Who will break it with a weapon of wood? Who will set his own frail hand against an instrument so tremendous? The argument, then, would seem to be--Why pray to me for these people? It is as iron applied to the iron of the north, which has been seen to fail in innumerable instances: all the prayers that can now be offered to heaven would be broken upon the threshold of that sanctuary and fall back in fragments upon the weary intercessor; the day has closed, the door is shut, the offended angel of grace has flown away on eagle pinions, and the sister angel of mercy can no longer be found: pray no more for Jerusalem. Thus the Lord dramatically represents Himself; and in all this dramatic reply to the interrogations and pleadings of earth there is a great principle indicated; that principle is that the day closes--“My Spirit shall not always strive with men.” These are awful words. If a man had invented them, we should have denied their truthfulness and their force; but when we hear them as from above we confirm them, we say, It is right, we do not deserve to be heard; if we had to assign ourselves to a fate, we dare not plant ha the wilderness of our solitude one single flower; we have done the things we ought not to have done, we have left undone the things we ought to have done; all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Remember me and visit me.
The desire to be remembered
Jeremiah desires many things; but the thing he asks first, as including all the rest, is that God would not let him drop out of sight and thought.
I. The perpetually recurring phrase, “God knows,” expresses a mood of thought common to rational creatures.
1. A craving everywhere to be remembered. From the lips of the dying, from friends of whom we are taking farewell, fall the words, “Remember me.” Ambitious minds, not content that their memorial should be kept in a few hearts, labour that their names may be remembered by multitudes. Oblivion appalls us.
2. The moralist can easily show the vanity of this desire, and the emptiness of the end. What good will it do you, he asks, to be remembered when out amid Australian wilds or on parched Indian plains? or what harm to be forgot?
3. Enough for us, that God so made us that, by the make of our being, we desire to be kindly remembered.
II. The prophet shows us the right direction in which to train this desire. Pointing to the heaven above, he bids us seek to be remembered there.
1. The thought that such a prayer may be offered to God, teaches us a great deal of His kindliness, condescension, thoughtful care.
2. It was while looking on the kindly human face of Christ, that the whole heart’s wish of the poor penitent thief went out in the “Lord, remember me!”
3. It was in special clearness of revelation of God’s love, that the Psalmist was emboldened to say, “I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh upon me.”
III. The encouraging view of the hearer of prayer implied in the words of the prophet’s petition.
1. He was not staggered, as he drew near in prayer, by intruding doubt whether the Almighty would listen to his poor words or consider his heart’s desires.
2. It is not presumption, but faith, that speaks here.
3. Ponder for your comfort that God “thinketh upon” you “knoweth your frame,” etc.
IV. In such individuality of prayer there is no selfishness. It is not the wish to be distinguished above, but to be remembered even as the other members of the family. It is but that when Christ, the great Intercessor, speaks to Almighty God for Himself and His brethren of mankind, saying, in name of all, “Our Father,” the poor sinner should not be left out.
V. Mark what simple trust in God’s wisdom and kindness is implied.
1. Everything is asked in that. Enough, just to put oneself under God’s eye, just to get God to think of one at all.
2. It is assumed that if God remembers us, it will be in love.
3. God’s remembrance is practical. He comes to our help.
4. Doubtless there is a season in the history of the unconverted man in which he can have no real desire that God should remember him: he rather desires to keep out of God’s sight and remembrance.
5. Yet the prayer expresses the first reaching after God of the awakened soul (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
I. The prophet’s prayer.
1. “Remember me,” O Lord!
(1) There is a sense in which God may be said to remember His people so as to take particular knowledge of them, and all that pertains to them. He remembers their persons, knows their exact number, and not one of them shall be lost (Isaiah 44:21-22; Isaiah 49:14-16). He remembers their frailties and infirmities, how unable they are to bear affliction without His support, and hears the gentle whisper and the secret groan with parental tenderness (Jeremiah 2:2-3). He remembers all their endeavours to serve and please Him, however weak and imperfect they have been; and in instances where they pitied and relieved any of His needy and afflicted ones, without the prospect of reward, and from love to Him, He will bring it to remembrance, and return it all into their bosom (Hebrews 6:10). All the prayers of His people are come up as a memorial before Him, and shall not be forgotten. Sooner or later they shall all be answered, whether they live to see it or not; for God sometimes answers the prayers of His people, after they are gone to their graves, in blessings on their connections and posterity.
(2) The Lord not only remembers His people so as to know and notice them, as He does His other works; but in a special manner, so as to delight in them to do them good, and feel a satisfaction in them. He taketh pleasure in the prosperity of His servants, and will exert Himself on their behalf. He will so remember them as to direct them in their difficulties, succour them in their temptations, guard them when in danger, and bring them out of trouble.
2. “And visit me.” This implies that where God graciously remembers anyone, He will also visit them. Of the Lord’s visits to His people, it may be observed--
(1) They are promised, and He will fulfil His word. Thus it was with respect to that long-expected and much-desired one, at the incarnation (Luke 1:54-55; Luke 1:78-79). The same may be said of all His visits to His people: they are not casual, but determined. And as they are at a fixed time on God’s part, so they are most seasonable on ours: they are made when we most need them, and when He shall be most glorified by them.
(2) They are free and voluntary and on our part wholly undeserved: they are what we seek, but cannot claim.
(3) Divine visits are often short and transient, like the sheet that was three times let down from heaven while Peter was praying upon the house top, and almost immediately taken up again. The manifestations of Divine love are often like a land flood--sudden, overflowing, and soon spent; but the love itself is a boundless ocean, an ever-flowing stream.
(4) However short the Divine visits are, they are often repeated, and are peculiar to the favourites of heaven. They impart life to our graces, vigour to our services, and comfort to our souls.
(5) They are powerful and influential, always bringing peace and comfort to the soul.
II. Concluding remarks.
1. Though God hath promised His presence with His people, yet He may for a time withhold the manifestation of it (Job 23:8-9; Lamentations 1:16). Such departures are very distressing, though but temporary; and those who have been most indulged with the Divine presence are most affected with its withdrawment; while those who have never experienced the former are insensible and unconcerned about the latter.
2. When God forbears His visits, His people are apt to think that He has forgotten them (Psalms 31:12; Psalms 88:14-15).
3. To be remembered and visited of God is a blessing infinitely to be desired; and those especially who fear they are forgotten by Him feel it to be so (Psalms 73:25).
4. Those who desire God’s presence must seek it by earnest prayer. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
I. Divine knowledge is no hindrance to prayer.
1. “Thou knowest”--
(1) My character.
(2) My condition.
(3) My need.
2. Yet, though Thou knowest, yea, because Thou knowest, I pray to Thee.
II. Divine condescension an encouragement to prayer.
1. Remember me.
2. Visit me.
3. Vindicate me.
III. Human need a stimulus to prayer. Poor, persecuted, and in peril, where could he go for help? He is driven to God by trouble, and drawn by loving kindness.
IV. The vicissitudes of life suggest topics for prayer. Poverty, weakness, affliction, persecution, temptation--the sins and sorrows of others.
V. Conscious sincerity gives freedom in prayer. “I have suffered for Thy sake.”
VI. The mediation of Christ gives efficacy to our prayer. (W. Whale.)
Take me not away in Thy long-suffering.
The long-suffering of God
I. The nature of this long-suffering.
1. It is part of the Divine goodness and mercy, yet differs from both. The Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger.
(1) Long-suffering differs from mercy in respect to the object; mercy respects the creature as miserable: patience, or long-suffering, respects the creature as criminal; mercy pities him in his misery; long-suffering bears with the sin, and waits to be gracious.
(2) Long-suffering differs also from goodness, in regard to the object. The object of goodness is every creature, from the highest angel in heaven to the meanest creature on earth; goodness respects things in a capacity, or in a state of creation, nurseth and supporteth them as creatures. Long-suffering considers them as already created and fallen short of their duty; goodness respects persons as creatures; long-suffering, as transgressors.
2. Since it is a part of goodness and mercy, it is not insensibility. God’s anger burns against the sin, whilst His arms are open to receive the sinner.
3. As long-suffering is a part of mercy and goodness, it is not constrained or faint-hearted patience.
4. Since it is not for want of power over the creature, it is from a fulness of the power over Himself.
5. As long-suffering is a branch of mercy, the exercise of it is founded on the death of Christ.
II. How this long-suffering or patience is manifested.
1. His giving warning of judgments before they are commissioned to go forth.
2. In His unwillingness to execute His threatened judgments, when He can delay no longer.
3. In that when He begins to Send out His judgments, He doth it by degrees.
4. By moderating His judgments. “He rewardeth us not according to our iniquities.”
5. In giving great mercies after provocations.
6. When we consider the greatness and multitude of our provocations.
III. The ground and reason of this long-suffering to us-ward.
1. As a testimony of His reconcilable and merciful nature towards sinners.
2. That sinners may be brought to repentance.
3. For the continuance of His Church (Isaiah 65:8-9).
4. That His justice may be clear when He condemns the impenitent.
5. In answer to the prayers of His people, His long-suffering is exercised towards sinners.
1. How is the long-suffering of God abused?
2. Is the Lord long-suffering? How much better, therefore, is it to fall into the hands of God, than into the hands of man; the best of men.
3. We may infer from the Lord’s long-suffering towards sinners, the value of the soul; He not only died to redeem it, but waits with unwearied patience and forbearance to receive it.
4. If the Lord be thus long-suffering to us-ward, who have so long and repeatedly rebelled against Him, ought not Christians to exercise forbearance and long-suffering one towards another? (Ephesians 4:1-6.) (Pulpit Assistant.)
A promise of better things
Thomas Scott, the commentator, tells the following incident: “A poor man, most dangerously ill, of whose religious state I entertained some hopes, seemed to me in the agonies of death. I sat by his bed for a long time, expecting to see him expire; but at length he awoke as from a sleep, and noticed me. I said, ‘You are extremely ill.’ He replied, ‘Yes, but I shall not die this time.’ I asked the ground of this strange confidence, saying that I was persuaded he would not recover. To this he answered, ‘I have just dreamed that you, with a very venerable-looking person, came to me. He asked you what you thought of me.’ ‘What kind of tree is it? Is there any fruit?’ You said, ‘No; but there are blossoms!’ ‘Well, then, I will spare it a little longer.’ This dream so exactly met my ideas as to the man’s state of mind, and the event so answered his confidence by recovery, that I could not but think there was something peculiar in it. I have since learned that after many backslidings the man became a decidedly religious character--and his case furnishes a most striking instance of the long-suffering and tender mercy of our God!”
Thy word was unto me the Joy and rejoicing of mine heart.
The soul’s discovery and use of the words of God
I. The soul’s discovery of the words of God. “Thy words were found.”
1. In their truth. “He that believeth hath the witness”--i.e., the thing witnessed, the testimony--“in himself.” He feels the reality of the words of God. They are substance, not shadow, to him.
2. In their meaning. The words of God are not designed to act upon us as an ignorant charm. They are necessarily full of the mind of God. Sympathy with the mind of God is therefore indispensable for understanding them.
3. In their immense importance.
4. In their intense applicability.
5. In their impressive power. “Demonstration of the Spirit.”
II. The soul’s use of the words of God. “I did eat them.” As the mouth receives food for the body, so faith for the soul.
1. The believing soul loves the words. With its regenerated taste it relishes them keenly, finds them to be bread of God, better even than angels’ food.
2. The believing soul dwells on the words; meditates upon them day and night.
3. The believing soul turns the words into the nourishment of the spiritual life. For its appetite is wholesome. It desires the sincere milk of the Word, that it may grow thereby. And it does.
III. The delightful effect of the soul’s discovery and use of the words of God. “Thy word was unto me the joy,” etc. This is owing to--
1. The suitableness and comprehensiveness of its provision.
2. The preciousness of its grace.
3. The grandeur of its discoveries. Of God, His attributes, providence, Church, heaven.
4. The elevated piety and purity of its tone.
Conclusion--Would you be able to express yourselves thus? Remember, then, that God’s words are spread before your eye, and spoken to your ear, like any other words, to be inquired into, if you would understand them; to be attended to and detained in your memory, if you would experience their intended and beneficial effects. But remember also, that they are but the textbook of the heavenly Teacher; and do not fail to implore His gracious teaching. (H. Angus, D. D.)
The secret food and the public name
It was good advice of a venerable divine to a young man who aspired to be a preacher, when he said to him, “Don’t become a minister if you can help it.” The man who could very easily be a tradesman or a merchant had better not be a minister. A preacher of the Gospel should always be a volunteer, and yet he should always be a pressed man, who serves his King because he is omnipotently constrained to do so. Only he is fit to preach who cannot avoid preaching, who feels that woe is upon him unless he preach the Gospel, and that the very stones would cry out against him if he should hold his peace.
I. In the description of Jeremiah’s secret life, which consists of his inward reception of the Word of God (which description will answer for ourselves), we have three points.
1. The finding of it--“Thy words were found.”
(1) We read the Word. Here it is: God’s Word is all here, and, if we would find it, we must read it earnestly. As the habit of having a time for prayer is good, so also is the habit of reading the Scriptures. Yet it is a mischievous practice to read a great deal of the Bible without time for thought; it flatters our conceit without benefiting our understanding. The practice of always reading the Bible in scraps is also to be deprecated.
(2) But we have not found God’s Word when we have read it, unless we add to it an understanding of the Word. Marrow bones, who can feed on them? Split them, take out the marrow, and then you have luscious food. Merely verbal utterances, even though they be the utterance of the Holy Spirit, cannot feed the soul. It is the inward meaning, the truth that is revealed, which we should labour after.
(3) To find God’s Word means sometimes the discovery of select and appropriate words to suit our case. “Thy words were found.” You know when you have lost your key, and your cupboard or your drawer cannot be opened, you send for a locksmith, and he comes in with a whole bunch of keys. First he tries one--that does not fit; then he tries another--that will not do; and the good man perseveres, perhaps with twenty keys, it may be with fifty. At last he gets the proper key, which springs the lock, and he opens your treasure for you. Now Scripture to us is much of the same nature. We have many promises in the time of trouble, and it is a great blessing to find the promise that suits our case.
(4) “Thy words were found”; that is, I felt I had got a hold of them; I knew I had got them; I had discovered them--they were Thy words to my inmost soul. They have come to us with a power that no other words ever had in them, and we cannot be argued out of our conviction of their superlative excellence and Divine authority. We have found the words of our heavenly Father: we know we have, for children know their own father’s voice.
2. A second view of the inner life must now be considered. “Thy word was found, and I did eat it.”
(1) By that term is signified, first, the prizing of God’s Word. When Jeremiah received a sentence which he knew came from God’s mouth he prized it, he loved it so that he ate it; he could not lay it aside; he did not merely think of it; he loved it so that he put it into his very self.
(2) The term eating implies, moreover, that he derived nourishment from it. It is delightful to sit down and suck the soul out of a text, to take it and feel that not the letter only but the inner vitals of the text are our own, and are to be received into the very nature of our spirit, to become assimilated with it.
(3) But the figure of eating means more, it sets forth an intimate union. That which a man eats gets intertwined with his own self, his own personality. The diligent believer when he knows the Word, learns it so well that he assimilates it into his own being. Let me illustrate this by a fact which is notable in a lower sense in certain natural persuasions. When Galileo was convinced that the world moved, they put him in prison for it, and in his weakness he recanted, and said he believed it stood still and that the sun moved, but the moment, he got away from his persecutors he stamped his foot, and said, “But it does move, though.” And so he who knows the truth as it is in Jesus has even a higher persuasion than that which ruled Galileo. He cannot belie the truth: he has got it so into himself that he cannot give it up.
3. Notice, then, the third glimpse into the inner life. “It was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” Nothing makes a man so happy as the Word of God. Nothing makes him so full of delight and peace of soul as feeding upon the Word.
II. The Christian in his outward life, as he is mentioned here--“I am called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts.”
1. The condition of Jeremiah was one which he had attained by his conduct. He was so continually preaching about Jehovah, so constantly insisting upon Jehovah’s will, and going upon Jehovah’s errands that they came to call him “Jehovah’s man,” and he was known by Jehovah’s name. Now the man who loves God’s Word, and feeds on it, and rejoices in it, will so act that he will come to be called a Christian. He will not only be so, but he will be called so. Men will take knowledge of him that he has been with Jesus. To be called “Jehovah’s man” was an honour to Jeremiah; and to be called by any of these nicknames, which signify that we belong to God, is an honour to aspire after and not to be regretted. May we all win some opprobrious name, and wear it as our title of holy chivalry.
2. But this is a name, in the second place, which is involved in the profession of every Christian. “I am called by Thy name, O Jehovah, God of hosts.” Of course you are so called, if your profession be true. Oh, that we remembered always that we are Christians, and therefore must always act up to the name that is named upon us. God grant you, friends, that, in the power of the eating of God’s Word, you may be constrained to act ever as becometh those upon whom the name of Christ is named.
3. Once more, this word may be used in the sense which arises out of the Gospel itself. “I am called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts.” I belong to Thee. When they gather up the nations, and they say, ‘This man belongs to Babylon, and that man to Assyria, and that man to Egypt,’ I belong to Thee, and am called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts. What a comfort this is--we who believe in Christ belong to God. We are His portion, and He will never lose us. “They shall be Mine,” saith the Lord, “when I make up My jewels.” You are poor: but you are Christ’s. Does not that mitigate your poverty? You are sick: but you are God’s. Does not that comfort you? The poor lamb lies in the cold field, but, if it belongs to a good shepherd, it shall not die. The sheep is sick, or it has wandered; but, if it belongs to an Omnipotent Shepherd, it shall be healed and it shall be brought back. The name of Christ being named upon us is the guarantee of our present comfort and of our future security. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s Word found and eaten
I. What was the prize which Jeremiah describes himself as having found? It was the Word of God. “Thy words,” says he, “were found”--just as a man, on digging in the ground, might find beyond his hopes a treasure there; or as a merchantman, seeking goodly pearls, might find unexpectedly one of greater price than any he was looking for. When men find the Word of God, they find also their duty and calling. They make a grand discovery of the will of God concerning them.
II. What use he made of this discovery. “Thy words were found, and I did eat them.” So then he made the words of God his food--he made a meal of them--not only did he “hear, read, mark, and learn,” but he “inwardly digested them.” It is dealing with them as the hungry man does with food. It is converting the Word of God into wholesome nourishment. The Word is thus “hid in the heart,” as the food we eat is in the body, and becomes, as it were, a part of us--the very life blood of the soul.
III. The happiness which he acquired in consequence. “Thy Word was unto me the joy and the rejoicing of my heart.” A noble testimony this to the efficacy of God’s Word. How sweetly it went down (Song of Solomon 7:9); how blessed its effects upon the prophet’s heart, when “joy and rejoicing” were the consequences! David also “ate” God’s words; and what is his account of it! (Psalms 119:103; Psalms 19:10.) Hear what is the voice of the whole Church without exception (Song of Solomon 2:3). Not a single member of Christ’s Church but is ready to declare with the prophet that the precious Word of God, when fed upon by faith, is “the joy and the rejoicing of his heart”--his “songs in the house of his pilgrimage.” (A. Roberts, M. A.)
I. As a Divine word. What is the Word? Not the book we call the Bible, that is but the record of the revelation. Jesus Christ is emphatically the Logos. The fullest, brightest, strongest Word of God is this. A true word answers two purposes.
1. By it the speaker reveals his own soul.
2. By it the speaker exerts his influence.
II. As a Divine Word appropriated.
1. Something more than to possess its record.
2. Something more than the mere understanding of its contents.
3. Something more than the mere transfusion of it into the realm of emotions.
It is to convert it into the ruling spirit of life.
III. As a Divine Word enjoyed.
1. The joy of moral satisfaction.
2. The joy of renewed strength.
Conclusion--Thank God for His Word. Study it in nature, history, consciousness, and especially in Jesus Christ. Peruse, ponder, and prize this wonderful Book, containing the pearl of great price. (Homilist.)
The influence of the Bible conducive to personal happiness
The Bible may be compared to a medicine: man is the patient, misery is the disease, and the Scriptures are presented to us as a remedy. Are they such?
I. The truth of this proposition.
1. The Scriptures received into the mind remove the misery arising from remorse and the apprehension of punishment, and introduce into the heart the feeling of delight connected with reconciliation with God, a peaceful state of conscience, and the hope of everlasting life. A missionary was discoursing in one of the South Sea Islands to some of the inhabitants of those benighted regions, and this was his text, “God so loved the world,” etc. The attention of one of the islanders was arrested: he began to interrogate the preacher. “What!” said he, “is that true? Is it so? Read that again!” The missionary read it a second time. (I heard the statement from his own lips.) “What! God so love us, as to send His Son to die for us! and are we to have everlasting life in the world to come--is that true?” “It is true,” replied the preacher: “there is no ground whatever to question it.” The man’s mind was filled with amazement, and with sensations of repentance on account of sin, and wonder and joy on account of his salvation occupied his breast: he retired to weep, he retired to meditate, he retired to pray to God, and to praise his Creator’s name. What happiness comes into the soul when the soul is assured of eternal life?
2. The Bible preserves us from the state of misery arising from bad and ungovernable passions, and introduces the delights connected with a holy state of heart.
3. The Bible received into the heart by faith turns the afflictions of life into real mercies, and renders them at once bearable and beneficial.
4. The Bible welcomed into the soul by faith removes the sting of death, and turns the monster from a dreadful curse into a blessing of no small magnitude. I was acquainted with a gentleman, many years ago; he was of a sceptical turn of mind, and, as a consequence, not very attentive to religion. He was following a very lucrative profession, and unexpectedly exhibited the symptoms of a fatal disease. He fully expected he should die in the course of a few months. He found no support in scepticism; none whatever. And the lash of conscience began, for having neglected the Scriptures, and not having fairly and candidly investigated their claims. This filled him with great remorse; for he felt that if the Bible should be true, he would certainly be condemned for his negligence and his want of candid examination. He resolved, as long as life should last, that he would study the sacred volume, and inquire into its claims. His health was restored to him, and after devoting all his leisure time, for about twelve months to reading the Scriptures, and books connected with them, and explanatory of them, and pointing out their claims and their evidences, the result was a firm conviction, that the Bible was from God. He was induced then to begin to act upon it. He went abroad; he was one night in the river Ganges, and suddenly, while fast asleep, a cry was raised that the boat was sinking; and so it was--there were holes in the keel, and the stern of the boat was brought under water in the night season by the men, who went and slept, and the boat was gradually filling, and in a few minutes more all would have sunk like a stone or lead to the bottom of the river. His first impression was, I have not an hour to live. There was a tumultuous feeling in his mind, yet had he sufficient composure to reflect upon the difference of his feelings then, and what they were when he anticipated death some years prior. His impression and conviction was, that he should be in heaven in an hour; and oh! the support of the Gospel in that moment. Subsequently, he was seized with the Asiatic cholera, and life was in suspense. Similar support was again experienced. A Brahmin was by his side; and he took occasion to say, Now you see the support, that the Christian experiences in the season of extremity: my life is in suspense: for me to live is Christ; for me to die is gain.”
II. Some objections which stand in the way of its practical adoption. There are some who will not, like Jeremiah, “eat” the words of God--that will not receive Him into their heart; therefore they do not share in this holy joy. Some will say, “I cannot wholly satisfy my mind that this book is from God: I have doubts, and doubts which amount to what is considerable; so that I cannot enjoy the book in consequence of these sceptical ideas. How should I get rid of them?” I would say, in order to get rid of these doubts act conscientiously: do not act in a manner inconsistent with what you believe to be the will of God: do not live in wilful sin. “If any man will do the will of My Father, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.” So said Christ. Act according to your own conscientious views of holiness, and you will find scepticism disappear. Let me entreat you to read the Bible, read the whole of it, if you are troubled with sceptical thoughts. Dr. Johnson said that no honest man could be a deist, if he had had opportunity to study the evidence: if he read through the evidence, and through the Bible, he could not continue a deist, as the evidence was so clear and so conclusive. Hume’s name was mentioned to him, that he disbelieved the Bible. Dr. Johnson replied, “Hume, I know, made the confession to a clergyman in the bishopric of Durham, that he had never read the New Testament carefully.” There are some sceptics who read a little here and a little there; but they do not get a complete view of the subject; and they read rather to find something to object to, something they may lay hold of. The conduct of such men has been compared to that of the Athenian, who had a palace to be sold by auction: he took a brick out of one of the walls of the palace, and at the auction mart he said, “Here is a sample of my palace.” How absurd! A brick out of the wall to be a sample. But so some men take here a text and there a text--a brick taken out of the wall--and what do they know about the entire edifice? Give the Bible throughout a candid and complete perusal; and read books which are explanatory, written in a spirit of candour and intelligence. But let me add, to put your sceptical thoughts to flight, I think you will find prayer to be the most powerful thing of all, and the most rapid way to scatter your doubts. “He hath the witness in himself.” When a man begins to pray to God, God answers him, if he prays sincerely, and God gives him a new heart and makes him a new man. Then he begins to argue in this way, “Why the Bible has changed my heart, the Bible has made me holy, the Bible has made me happy; what want I with further witness? (H. Townley.)
I. A memorable discovery. What is meant by finding God’s words?
1. A thing found has usually to be sought for. Happy is he who reads or hears the Scriptures, searching all the while for the hidden spiritual sense (Proverbs 2:4-5).
2. To find God’s Word means that we have been made to understand them (1 Corinthians 3:14). The Bible is a dull book till illuminated; a tantalising riddle till you get the key; but, the clue once found, it absorbs our attention, delights our intellect, and enriches our heart.
3. Means to appropriate it as belonging to yourself. Reading a will is not interesting till you find you have a part in it.
II. An eager reception. What is meant by eating them?
1. An eager study. Greedy for the truth. My soul hungered even to ravenousness to be fed upon the bread of heaven.
2. Cheerful reception. My soul was in love with the Word.
3. An intense belief. Not questioning it, but living upon it.
4. The language means, besides, both the diligent treasuring up of the truth, and the inward digestion of the same.
III. The happy consequences.
1. Hold the truth in its entirety and harmony, and then it will be joy to your heart.
2. The Word of God would have given no joy had he not been obedient to it.
3. Yet there are certain choice truths in God’s Word, especially joy giving: the doctrine of election, to know that you are called and predestinated; and of the immutability of Divine love.
IV. A distinguishing title.
1. The name of the Lord of hosts was reviled in Jeremiah’s day, yet he felt it an honour to be associated with the Lord in this contempt. Oh ye who love the Lord Jesus, never shun the scandal of the Cross!
2. Some do not count it a fair thing to bear the name of the Most High. It is a disgrace to any man that his Lord should die for his soul on Calvary and yet he be afraid to wear His livery. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Enjoying God’s Word
I. A high valuation for this Word. Prized as God’s Word, and sought under that character. Love to the Word of God is a sure sign of a gracious heart.
1. It partakes of the Divinity of its Author.
2. It is adapted to the nature of its subject; suited to man.
3. It has produced most astonishing effects.
(1) Have you found this Word?
(2) Has it found you?
II. A personal experience of its power. “I did eat it.”
1. Religion is the life of the soul, as the soul is the life of the body. Truth is the sustenance of the moral man. Divine truth must be incorporated with the elements of the intellectual nature, or we perish.
2. When you come to the Word, remember that Divine influence alone can make it effectual. As you say grace before meat, let your reading be preceded by prayer.
III. A conscious participation of the happiness it produces. “It was the rejoicing of my heart.” How does it promote joy?
1. By the light it imparts to the understanding. It gives decision to the judgment; fully occupies the mind upon the noblest subject; engages faculties and powers in God’s service.
2. By the relief it gives to the conscience. In the hope of pardon and acceptance.
3. By the exercise it affords to the best affections of the heart. The pleasures of benevolence are genuine pleasures; allied to the happiness of God Himself.
4. By the consolations and hopes under sorrow.
IV. A sense of consecration. “I am called by Thy name.” Improvement--It reproves--
1. Those who never seek.
2. Those who are content with knowledge without experience.
3. Those who are strangers to religious peace and joy.
4. Those who neither own God’s name, nor are owned of Him. (S. Thodey.)
God’s Word found, eaten, and enjoyed
I. God’s word found.
1. It comes to us through nature.
2. It comes also through our own spiritual being, in its instinctive yearnings.
3. In the fullest sense, it has come through Christ.
4. Also through prophets and apostles--in the written Word.
II. God’s word eaten.
1. This is more than to possess its record. To have a full larder will not sustain life nor give strength.
2. It is more than an intellectual understanding of the contents of Scripture. The mere analysis of food will not give sustenance.
3. Positively, it is to turn it into the principle of life by assimilation.
III. God’s word enjoyed.
1. The joy of satisfaction.
2. The joy of strength renewed. (John Oswald.)
Found, eaten, and enjoyed
I. An important discovery was made.
1. Words are the representatives of thought. Have great power to move men’s minds.
2. Words derive much of their power from the mind which utters them. God’s words are a hammer, a fire, a sword, a balm, a saving and sanctifying power to men who receive and obey them.
3. That which is found must previously have existed. God’s Word exists, whether men find it or not. He who finds it is wise, rich, happy.
II. A peculiar method of appropriation was made.
1. It implies soul hunger. Caused by stress of duty, pressure of persecution, and multiplied sorrows.
2. It affirms that God’s words are soul food. Wholesome, nourishing, savoury, saving.
III. A delightful experience was realised. Joy and rejoicing--
1. In what the Word revealed of God.
2. In the way that revelation met his utmost need.
3. In the knowledge of salvation there unfolded.
4. In the prospects to which the attention of God’s servants was directed.
IV. An emphatic public testimony was given. “I am called by Thy name,” etc.
1. God’s name was called upon him. As the saving power, and source of hope and joy, the name of Christ has been called upon us.
2. He was called by God’s name. We, by Christ’s.
3. He was strengthened by God in all his works.
1. The Word discovered--a treasure.
2. The Word in the heart--a joy.
3. The Word on the lips--a message.
4. The Word in the hand--a weapon. (W. Whale.)
Feeding on God’s truth
“Understandest thou what thou readest?” That is the main point. The butterflies flit over the garden, and nothing comes of their flitting; but look at the bees, how they drive into the bells of the flowers and come forth with their thighs laden with the pollen and filled with the sweetest honey for their hives. This is the way to read your Bible: get into the flowers of Scriptures, plunge into the inward meaning, and suck out that secret sweetness which the Lord hath put there for your spiritual nourishment. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
How to make the Bible our own
“Thy words were found, and I did eat them.” In the absence of his father, a little boy attended the Sabbath School of a Dutch Reformed minister. On the father’s return he went upstairs and finding his son reading the Word of God, he asked him, “What book are you reading?” He replied, “The Bible.” “Where did you get it?” “In yonder Sabbath School.” He then took the Bible from him and committed it to the flame, saying, “If you ever go to the Sunday School again, I’ll give you such a thrashing as you have never had.” Having ascertained that the Bible was burned, his son said to him, “Father, you have burned my Bible; but you cannot burn out of me those chapters I have committed to memory from the Gospel of John.” (W. Baxendale.)
Joy in God’s Word
“I have many books,” says Mr. Newton, “that I cannot sit down to read; they are indeed good and sound, but, like halfpence, there goes a great quantity to a little amount. There are silver books, and a very few golden books; but I have one book worth more than all, called the Bible, and that is a book of bank notes.”
I sat not in the assembly of the mockers.
Christians delight not in godless company
It is better and safer to ride alone than to have a thief’s company; and such is a wicked man, who will rob thee of precious time, if he do thee no more mischief. The Nazarites, who might drink no wine, were also forbidden to cut grapes whereof wine is made, so we must not only avoid sin, but also the causes and occasions thereof, among which is bad company. (J. Spencer.)
The difficulty of maintaining purity in evil company
That is a sound body that continues healthful in a pest house. It is a far greater wonder to see a saint maintain his purity among sinners, than it is to behold, a sinner becoming pure among saints. Christians are not always like fish, which retain their freshness in a salt sea; or like the rose, which preserves its sweetness among the most noisome weeds; or like the fire, which burns the hottest when the season is coldest. A good man was once heard to lament, “that as often as he went into the company of the wicked he returned less a man from them than he was before he joined with them.” The Lord’s people, by keeping evil company, are like persons who are much exposed to the sun, insensibly tanned. (T. Seeker.)
Why is my pain perpetual?
The function of pain
This piteous lament may fitly represent the anguished cry of suffering humanity, from age to age. In all lands, under all skies, in all times, the same mournful wail is heard,--a ceaseless dirge of woe, day and night, from ten thousand times ten thousand hearts, struggling with adversity, battling with disease, staggering under the weight of sorrow or suffering. “Why is my pain perpetual?” It would almost seem that men had abandoned the attempt to solve these problems; for by common consent, pain and disease, suffering and sorrow, are called “mysteries,”--“dark and inscrutable mysteries.” But they are not all darkness and incomprehensibility. These “mysteries” are also “masteries”--masterful forces in the education and exaltation of humanity. Have you ever considered what kind of a world this would be if there were no pain here, no sick beds, no sorrow-stricken homes? Have you ever reflected that these “inscrutable mysteries” are the chosen instrumentalities for fashioning the highest types of character, both in the sufferer himself and in those who minister to his suffering? Pain and disease did, it is true, come into the world as the attendants and servants of sin; but it is pity indeed if we have not learned that the Lord has made them His ministers and His servants, even as He made the thorns and thistles, the labour and the sweat, which resulted from the Fall, the means of the development of the faculties and powers of man, the fountains of progress and civilisation. The earth was once a stranger to pain, and it will be again; but in the former case sin had not entered, and so perhaps pain was not needed; and in the latter, sin will be abolished because the lesson of pain will have been fully learned. Had there never been pain and suffering, what a different world it would have been! All marsh and meadow; all plain and prairie; no towering cliffs and yawning chasms; no heaven-kissing Mont Blanc; no thunderous Niagara; no valley of the Yosemite--a dead-level world! Those lofty heights of heroism and patience which now delight the eye in the retrospect of the past, would sink into monotonous stretches of commonplace lives. Those names writ large by the pen of history, and made radiant by the light of self-forgetting devotion, would disappear with the pain or the suffering or the calamity that made them great. We may, therefore, thank God for pain, for suffering, for sorrow. Whichever has been our lot, depend upon it we arc, or if not, we ought to be, the better, the wiser, the richer, for it. If we take it patiently, as the good will of our good God, then will it prove a blessing. Then will sorrow be the crucible in the hands of the Divine Master, wherein the dross of the soul will be purged away, and the gold refined. But let us not make the mistake of supposing that tribulation--this threshing of the soul--in any of its forms necessarily produces the results which I have described. These are the peaceable fruits which the gracious Father desires and designs that they should bring forth. These are what they are fitted to produce. But we must remember that the material to be fashioned in this case is a free, self-determining human soul, whose freedom cannot be violated without destroying its very essential fibre. The effect, then, of trial and affliction, whether bodily or mental, depends upon the way in which it is received. It may embitter, instead of sweetening, the spirit. It may harden, instead of softening, the heart. And then the gracious purpose of Him who chasteneth not in wrath, but in mercy, will be frustrated and turned aside by the perversity of man. To strengthen our faith, then, let us recall some of the utterances of those holy men of old who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,--passages in which the casual connection between suffering and holiness is distinctly stated. Saith the wise man, “The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the Lord trieth the hearts.” Saith the afflicted patriarch, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Saith the prophet in the name of the Lord, “I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined,” etc. Our Lord said, “I am the Vine, ye are the branches,” and added, “Every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it,” etc. St. Peter, the foremost of the apostles, writes, “Though now for a season . . . ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations,” it is that “the trial of your faith,” etc. St. James bids us etc., giving as the reason, that chastisement produces “the peaceable fruits of righteousness.” Side by side with their words let us place the deeds, the examples, of these holy men of old. One can see in the mirror of their writings, as well as in the record of their lives, that these chosen ones were, like their Divine Master, “made perfect through suffering,” or at least that their sufferings and afflictions had led them far up the path whose goal is perfection. The intensity of their conviction glows and burns on every page. When they assert the purifying effect of suffering, we feel that they are testifying out of the fulness of a personal knowledge. They speak that they do know, and testify that they have seen and felt in their own hearts and lives. But not these holy men of old alone. Men and women of our time, too, a noble army, have ascended with Jesus into the holy mount by the same arduous path, leaving us an example that we should follow their steps. How often have we seen the purifying power of pain and loss, of sorrow and trial! How often have we marked in the life of some patient sufferer the gradual unfolding of the Christlikeness, till at length the crown of thorns has been changed into a mitre of glory, on which we could trace the words, “Perfect through suffering!” You may, therefore, strengthen your wavering faith, O sufferer! in the beneficent purpose of this, God’s strange economy, by lifting your eyes to the great “cloud of witnesses” who have trod the same rough and thorny path. Your suffering, whatever its form, whatever its intensity, is not “without your Father.” You are in His hands. He does not forget you; He will never leave or forsake you; He only designs “thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.” Look intently, O sufferer! and you will see pain slowly transfigured before your gaze till it takes on the very features of Him of whom the prophet said, “He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” You are suffering, moreover, it may be, not for your own benefit alone, but for that of others. There is a principle of vicariousness in human suffering. Let me illustrate. A poor traveller falls ill of fever all alone in the South American swamps. There he lies for days in a wretched hut, quenching his thirst with the waters of a pool close at hand. At last this pool dries up; and with extreme difficulty, the sick man crawls to another, half a mile distant. Its water is so bitter he can scarcely drink it; but he must drink it, or die of thirst. That afternoon he could not think why he felt stronger than for many weeks. Next day he drank more abundantly of the bitter pool; and still, the more he drank, the stronger he grew, till he was entirely restored; then he found that a tree had fallen into the water, which gave it its bitterness, and gave it also its power of cure. And this is the way in which one of the most important medicines now in use was discovered,--a medicine which has saved thousands and thousands of lives which must else have perished. Even so hath God appointed that some of us should drink the bitter waters of affliction or of pain, that others may be given spiritual health and salvation. (R. H. M’Kim, D. D.)
Uses of pain
Some plants owe their medicinal qualities to the marsh in which they grow; others to the shades in which alone they flourish. There are precious fruits put forth by the moon as well as by the sun. Boats need ballast as well as sail; a drag on the carriage wheel is no hindrance when the road runs downhill. Pain has, probably, in some cases developed genius, hunting out the soul which otherwise might have slept like a lion in its den. Had it not been for the broken wing some might have lost themselves in the clouds, some even of those choice doves who now bear the olive branch in their mouths, and show the way to the ark. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Blessing of pain
Above all things let us learn this lesson from the example of Princess Alice--the quickening, purifying, bracing power of pain. In every trial that she had to undergo--and perhaps these trials were more than ordinarily severe and frequent--we see how her character developed and strengthened. To her each trial was as an April storm to a young plant or tree, lending new vigour to the roots, new power to its growth, so that when the sun shines the buds are seen to expand and blossom--those same buds which, without the rain cloud, would have shrivelled and died. Every time she was called upon to give up what she most deeply cherished, she counted, with faith and gratitude, the blessings that remained to her. “Thus do we learn humility,” she said with quivering lip. “God has called for one life, and has given me back
Pascal, the great mathematician and moralist, said, “From the day I was eighteen, I do not know that I ever passed a single day without pain.”
Wilt Thou be altogether unto me as a liar.--
Here the prophet overfreely expostulateth with God as less faithful, or less mindful, at least, of the promised preservation. This was in a fit of diffidence and discontent, as the best have their outbursts, and the greatest lamps have needed snuffers. The Milesians, saith the philosophers, are not fools, yet they do the things that fools use to do. So the saints do oft as wicked ones, but not in the same manner and degree. (John Trapp.)
If thou shalt take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as My mouth.
The personal factor in our thought of God and man
If Jeremiah at the time he wrote these words had been asked our modern question, “Is life worth living?” he would have returned a negative answer. For here you have the significant spectacle of a prophet of the Lord cursing the day of his birth. He finds that he is a man of strife and contention to the whole earth; everyone curses him, he says, though he has not given men cause to do so. And God is not keeping His word with him either. “Why is my pain perpetual?” he cries, “and my wound incurable, which refuseth to be healed? Wilt Thou,” he says to God, “be altogether unto me as a liar, and as waters that fail?” The prophet cries out for revenge upon his persecutors. Let us admit at once that he was plunged deeply into disappointments. The sense of the Divine pressure in life had come to him early. When he first felt that he must do some great work for God he was very young, and he felt his youth as an objection to undertaking the work. The consciousness of duty and the consciousness of unfitness were there together as they have often been in men. Great geniuses have often begun to show themselves very early, but it is also true that in going on they have had much to unlearn and much to cancel, and they have had to bear the shattering of many dreams. A youth inspired from such heights must needs be bitterly disappointed on the planes of practical life. It was so with Jeremiah. What it was that brought him under the pressure of the higher things so early we do not know. It has been conjectured, and Professor Cornill favours the conjecture, that he had descended from Abiathar, the high priest of David, whom Solomon banished to Anathoth. Jeremiah was brought up there, we know, and his father was a priest. If the conjecture is right, the tale of banishment, the story of the hardship, would come down from sire to son, and the old family virtues and heroisms would be told the children of each generation. In young Jeremiah these found responsive soil, and his enthusiasm was kindled. The lad set out to be a reformer; he was going to put the world right! Now it is certain beforehand that he will meet with terrible disappointments, and not at all unlikely that they will sometimes be so severe that he will curse the day of his birth. That is what befell Jeremiah, as it has befallen others since. In these verses he is in the depths of misery. He notes the sins he has not been guilty of: he has not exacted usury, for example; he recalls how zealous he had been for God: he had found the Divine words and eaten them, assimilated them and made them his own, and had found joy in them. But all to no purpose; everybody was against him; everyone cursed him. But now, here is the significant thing: in the midst of all this, just when he was seeing all men and God in the worst possible light, another thought struck him--the thought that, after all, perhaps it was he himself who was most at fault. Thus saith the Lord: “If thou becomest again Mine, thou shalt be My servant, and if thou wilt separate thy better self from the vile, thou shalt still be as My mouth.” What had Jeremiah been doing in his pessimism? He had been allowing the personal factor too much room. Listen: “Revenge me upon my persecutors; take me not away in Thy long-suffering”--as if he said: “Do not be so merciful and patient with them as to let them kill me; take care of me even if they be killed.” “Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of throttling,” he once said. This was not Jeremiah’s character, not his better self; this was his mood when stung with disappointment. And this mood was bad; it was what my text calls “the vile.” The personal factor was so large that it cast men and God into deep shadow. Jeremiah saw so much of himself, his own virtue, his own failure, that he saw men worse than they were, and God almost as a gigantic untruth. But a great character conquers such moods, and Jeremiah conquered them. It was through his better self that the word of the Lord came to him, and Jeremiah saw that he, in thinking so much of himself, had ceased to be his true self, and had lapsed out of God’s service, and that if he wanted to speak again as the mouth of God, and to do God’s work, he must separate the precious from the vile, the better self from the baser self in his own nature. Now we are living in an age when pessimism is said to be very prevalent; men take gloomy views of things. I think it is true that when we are pessimistic about things in general the fault is mostly in ourselves. Unreasonable selfishness in some form or other is at the bottom of most pessimism; we allow the personal factor to make a larger claim than the universe is prepared to acknowledge, and we grow sullen at the refusal.
1. This may be the case, and often is in the nobler form of intellectual pursuits, and often in the greaser form of material pursuits. Through philosophy we see some men become pessimistic. They think, and think, they tell us, but the mystery increases, and they despair of thought altogether: the universe is a riddle, and no one can guess its meaning. Now, it is a fine thing to see a man in quest after truth, and it is very honourable in him to make the fullest and frankest inquiry into the nature of things. But, nevertheless, the pessimism, the despair, the wretchedness even here is due to an unreasonable claim on the part of the individual. Is it not rather irrational to suppose that you can uncover the final secret? If that privilege were granted to you, what interest would there be in the world to you or to anyone else? “It is the glory of the Lord,” said an old writer, “to conceal a thing,” and there was more philosophic insight in the saying than in any number of moderns who whimper and cower before the Great Unknown. Cut down your demands to something like what is reasonable, and then your inquiries will give you much-prized gains--things to rejoice and sing over, and not to break your heart about. There is a peace of mind to be got from knowing what is not possible to us, and accepting the fact like men. Ii man could fully understand God, he would be God. Let him know his own place and fill it like a man.
2. But it is through the material pursuits many grow pessimistic. Many people’s thought of God and their neighbours is gloomy simply because they claim too much room for themselves in the world. There are men who are very prosperous in money matters, and in getting position and power, and yet who are always dissatisfied, only because self is their God--the greatest tyrant in the world, never satisfied. It is astonishing how much adversity and disappointment men can bear when they are thinking of another, or others, and how little when thinking of themselves.
3. And out of this arises one other truth--namely, that you must take yourself in hand, and separate the precious from the vile, the better from the baser, in order to be again the servant of the living God, and the exponent of Divine truth. Whenever you see all the world in shadow, all men bad, and doubt even God, be sure it is you who need reforming. There is badness in the world, badness in men, and circumstances may be very trying, but if you are rightly minded, and rightly hearted, you can hope and conquer. It would be a good thing for each of us in melancholy or in bitter moods to stop speaking of the faults of others, and the wrongs of the world, and the problems of God, and ask, “What’s wrong with me?” Every man’s biggest problem is himself. Not that the circumstances were not trying--they were very trying; not that others had no faults--they had, perhaps, great faults; but faith in God is possible in the worst of situations, so long as we are humble, and in manly relation to our sorrow. When unworthy feelings come in, separate the vile, release the better self, and you will yet be God’s servant, and speak for Him. A clean personal life will give you a strong hold on truth, even in the midst of trouble; a pure mind will give you access to Divine reality, though your circumstances might be terribly hard, and though all men reviled you. Mark: Jesus does not say that the circumstances will change; and all that God says to Jeremiah is that he shall be His servant again, and speak for Him. If you separate the better self from the vile, it does not follow that you will create outward success, but you shall go on with your work, and your work shall be a speech for God. I believe that God speaks to us in nature, but I grant that I do not always understand. The notes of the speech are discordant. In the world of man, too, there is much that staggers one. But there is one fact in which I always read the mind of God--this act of separating the precious from the vile in man. Whenever I make an effort to expel something bad, I know I am acting for God; whenever I seek to put down anything that is unworthy, to overcome any animosity or uncharitableness, to make my better nature supreme, I have no doubt of God then. There we find His mind, there we get the beatific vision, and there we equip for the world’s work. Will you remember that God says to each one of us, “If thou wilt separate the precious from the vile, thou shalt again be My servant”? Pure life is a clear vision of God for you, and a definite speech for God by you. Nothing speaks like it. A clean soul reflects God as a clear river reflects the sky. You will be yourself an exponent of the eternal in separating the good from the bad in your own life. They mingle strangely--the base with the noble, the false with the true; and their persistent separation speaks of the eternal purpose of redemption. And I am glad of another word in this text. It is the little word “again”--“If thou becomest again Mine.” We know what it is to lapse--to feel the relation to God gone; indifference holds us in its icy grasp, where all was once enthusiasm. Let me emphasise this little word--“again.” It opens a door; it marks a possibility; it is a Father’s voice coming out after you into the darkness. There is a restoring power at work; you may be reunited consciously to God; you may feel Him again to be the Greatest Reality in your life. (T. R. Williams.)
The essential distinction between saints and sinners
I. There is an essential distinction between saints and sinners.
1. The inspired writers divide all mankind into two, and but two classes, and distinguish them by very different and opposite appellations. They call the saints the precious, but sinners the vile. They call saints the godly, but sinners the ungodly. They call saints the children of God, but sinners the children of the wicked one. They call saints the elect, but sinners the reprobate. They call saints vessels of mercy, but sinners vessels of wrath.
2. God does that for saints which He does not do for sinners; He regenerates saints, but not sinners; gives a new heart to saints, but not to sinners; softens the hearts of saints, but hardens the hearts of sinners; and gives a spiritual discerning of spiritual things to saints, but not to sinners; so there must be an essential distinction between them.
3. God has made promises of good to saints, but none to sinners; which proves they are essentially different in their moral characters.
4. God has threatened that evil to sinners, which He has not threatened to saints.
II. Why ministers should, in their preaching, constantly exhibit and keep up this great moral and essential distinction between those who have, and those who have not the love of God in them.
1. This is necessary, in order to preach the Word of God intelligibly to their people.
2. It is necessary, in order to give pertinent and profitable instruction to their hearers.
3. Ministers must distinguish saints from sinners, in order to preach faithfully, as well as profitably.
1. It is utterly a fault in ministers, either designedly or undesignedly, to keep the essential distinction between saints and sinners out of sight.
2. In the view of this subject, we may see how easy it is for ministers to lead people insensibly into great and fatal errors. They may do so, by not mentioning or not explaining the essential distinction between saints and sinners; or by not mentioning or not explaining the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel which flow from this distinction; while, at the same time, they preach some valuable truths.
3. If there be an essential distinction between saints and sinners, then sinners are very liable to be fatally deceived and corrupted by those who lie in wait to deceive and destroy. Saints have an antidote against the poison of error, that sinners are entirely destitute of. Saints are lovers of God and of His Word; they desire the sincere milk of the Word, that they may grow thereby in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The hearts of all good men are attached to Divine truth. But sinners are lovers of their own selves, and haters of God, and equally haters of His Word.
4. The best way the ministers of the Gospel can take to guard their people against every species of error and errorists, is to make and keep up the essential distinction between saints and sinners.
5. The people may easily discover the real sentiments of ministers by their preaching.
6. There may be a great deal of good preaching in the land, and at the same time, a great want of good preaching. How many ministers do not take forth the precious from the vile, nor cause their hearers to see and feel the difference!
7. This subject calls upon saints to walk worthy of their high and holy calling. They are called the precious, the holy, the godly, the excellent of the earth. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The degree of impurity in any precious stone is just the measure of its depreciation. The initial act of their formation is separation. “The dark drift of the inland river, or stagnant slime of inland pool and lake, divides or resolves itself, as it dries, into layers of its several elements: slowly purifying each by the patient withdrawal of it from the anarchy of the mass in which it was mingled.” Thus begin both the crystallisation of the gem and the life of the Christian. “Come out, and be separate! Take forth the precious from the vile,” is the call of the Lord to His saints. For our call is to saintliness; and as the unseen foundations of the New Jerusalem are of as precious stones as the dazzling walls, so the part of our life and character which is hidden from the eyes of the world is to be as clear and unsullied as that which all see and admire. Keep thyself pure, thou child of God. (W. Y. Fullerton.)
Righteous zeal encouraged by Divine protection
I. God’s direction to the prophet, and in him to all eat do His work in such a season as this described. “Let them return to thee, return not thou to them.” Plausible compliances of men in authority, with those against whom they are employed, are treacherous contrivances against the God of heaven, by whom they are employed.
1. It cannot be done but by preferring the creature before the Creator, especially in those things which are the proximate causes of deviation. Two principal causes I have observed of this crooked walking.
(2) That desire of perishing things, which hath a mixture of covetousness and ambition.
II. The supportment and assistance promised. “I will make thee to this people a brazen and a fenced wall.” Now the Lord will do this--
1. Because of His own engagement.
2. For our encouragement.
III. The opposition which men cleaving to the Lord in all His ways shall find, with the issue and success of it. “They shall fight against thee, but shall not prevail.” The words may be considered either as a prediction depending on God’s prescience of what will be; or a commination from His just judgment, of what shall be. In the first sense the Lord tells the prophet, from the corruption, apostasy, stubbornness of that people, what would come to pass. In the second, what for their sins and provocations, by His just judgment, should come to pass. I shall take up the latter only, namely, That it is a commination of what shall be for the further misery of that wretched people; they shall judicially be given up to a fighting against Him. Now the Lord doth this--
1. To seal up a sinful people’s destruction. Eli’s sons hearkened not, because the Lord would slay them (1 Samuel 2:25).
2. To manifest His own power and sovereignty in maintaining a small handful, ofttimes a few single persons, a Moses, a Samuel, two witnesses against the opposing rage of a hardened multitude.
1. Let men, constant, sincere, upright in the ways of God, especially in difficult times, know what they are to expect from many, yea, the most of the generation, whose good they intend, and among whom they live; opposition and fighting is like to be their lot; and that not only it will be so because of men’s lusts, corruptions, prejudices; but also it shall be so, from God’s righteous judgments against a stubborn people; they harden their hearts that it may be so, to compass their ends; and God hardens their hearts that it shall be so to bring about His aims; they will do it to execute their revenge upon others, they shall do it to execute God’s vengeance upon themselves.
2. Let men set upon opposition make a diligent inquiry, whether there be no hand in the business, but their own? whether their counsels be not leavened with the wrath of God, and their thoughts mixed with a spirit of giddiness, and themselves carried on to their own destruction? (J. Owen, D. D.)
The ministry of the Word
1. A ministry of Divine authority.
2. A ministry of Divine revelations.
3. A ministry of wise discrimination.
4. A ministry often opposed by those to whom it is sent.
5. A ministry requiring much courage.
6. A ministry which will be Divinely vindicated.
7. A ministry which lifts up Christ as the Saviour of men. (W. Whale.)
The power of rebuke
I. The Christian ministry includes an office of commination. If the messengers of heaven, when among the outcasts of mankind, who, in ignorance of God, have gone astray from virtue, speak more of virtue than of wrath; when they stand among those who, being well informed in matters of religion, use the grace of the Gospel to palliate their vices, the messages of wrath must be most on their lips.
II. The tendency of the Christian ministry is to move down from its remedial functions to become an office of delectation.
1. Furnishing intellectual entertainment; uttering, as matters of gorgeous eloquence, the appalling verities of eternal justice. Nature forbids such an incongruity, and the renovating Spirit refuses to yield the energy of His power to the sway of a mere minister of public recreation.
2. Affording spiritual entertainment; by exhibiting the conceits and ingenuities of mystic exposition; by painting in high colours the honours and privileges of the believer, and allowing professors of all sorts to appropriate the fulsome description; or by pealing out thunders of wrath against distant adversaries, rather than at the impure, unjust, rapacious and malicious around.
III. It behoves preachers to beware of the indurating effect of accustomed phrases and forms of words. Such conventional phrases conceal from the mind the ideas they should convey; hence preachers should continually endeavour to break up the mental incrustations which are always spreading themselves over the sensitive surface of the sails. This is especially necessary in reference to matters wherein the drowsy formalities of language tend directly to augment the stupefying influence that belongs to all vicious indulgences.
IV. It is a pressing duty of the minister of religion to maintain in vigour the spirit he needs as the reprover of sin and guardian of virtue. It is easy to teach the articles of belief, to illustrate the branches of Christian ethics, to proclaim the Divine mercy, to meet and assuage the fears of the feeble and sorrows of the afflicted. But to keep in full activity the power of rebuke, demands rare qualities. To speak efficaciously of the holiness and justice of God, and of its future consequences; to speak in modesty, tenderness, and power of the approaching doom of the impenitent, must be left to those whose spirits have had much communion with the dread Majesty on high.
V. Three indispensable qualifications for the vigorous exercise of the Christian minister for this power of rebuke.
1. Such a conviction of the truth of Christianity as shall render him proof against assaults from within and without. Fatal to his influence as a refuter of sin must be a lurking scepticism in the preacher’s breast. The infection of his own doubts will pass into the heart of the hearer, and will serve to harden each transgressor in his impenitence.
2. A resolute loyalty to the Divine administration. Such loyalty will break through the mazes of much sophistry, will support the servant of God when assailed by more fallacies than he can at the moment refute, and enable him to cleave under all obloquies and embarrassments to what he inwardly knows must in the end prove the better cause.
3. An unaffected and sensitive compassion towards his fellow men. The end of all reproof is mercy. If there were no redemption at hand, it were idle or cruel to talk of judgment. (Isaac Taylor, LL. D.)
My text refers us to three distinct characters of the pastoral office--to be the servant of God; to be the mouth of God; and to be the guide whom the people shall follow. And these involve three several duties, in which the pastor’s own personal responsibility is closely linked with the solemn responsibilities of his office--that of preparing his own heart to seek the Lord; that of discriminating the “precious from the vile” in his instruction and conversation; and that of guarding himself and his flock against all declension after the ways of them who depart from God.
I. A Divine admonition as to personal religion. “To stand before,” implies the office of one who stands in the presence of his sovereign, ready to execute His commands. It is the highest order of dignity and of service to which a subject can be called. He enjoys the privilege of constant access to the presence of majesty, a knowledge of the high affairs of government, and a share in the splendours of courtly life. Such is the relation in which a minister of true religion stands to the court of Heaven, in order that he may bring near a people prepared for the Lord, to whom, when they have received his message, he may say, Ye are a chosen generation, etc. See, then, the unspeakable importance of personal religion in one who shall perform such a ministration. He that would cause the people to hear the words of God must habitually listen to the voice of God in his own conscience, as often as he turns aside--and who is not conscious of too frequently doing so?--saying, “If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before Me.” And then with confidence--the confidence of one who comes from a nearer access to the throne on high--he may go forth to his charge, and say, having the words of God in his mouth, “Turn ye, turn ye at My reproof.”
II. A divine direction. “If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as My mouth.” The prophet may seem to have been charged with having, in some respect, mistaken his duty. In the view he took of his personal trials he had lost sight of the principal object of his ministry, namely, to cause the precious to come out from the vile. In times like the present, there may be an undue regard to the trials of the Church at large. From a just and pious jealousy of the dangers to which it is exposed, or by which it has been affected as a community, we may lose sight of the especial end of our ministry. In our reasonable remonstrance with unreasonable foes, and from just indignation at the treachery or declension of pretended friends, we may overlook the faithful use of the word “for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” In our zeal to mark an open enemy, or to discriminate an unsound adherent, we may forget the true flock of Christ; or in our eager cooperation with mere defenders of our Church polity, we may put aside from our own view, and obscure from the view of others, the real distinction which must ever be admitted in the doctrine of visible Church communion between the precious and the vile.
III. A divine caution: “Let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them.” No object or consideration must induce the prophet to identify himself with their apostasy: he must take a decidedly contrary course. He must so order his life and conversation, his doctrines and his admonitions, that those who desire to return unto God may see in him the way and pattern. In this, as in every age of the Church, no inconsiderable portion of those who profess themselves its members are yet under the influence of that love of the world which is opposed to the love of God. To counteract the tendency of this spirit, rests greatly with the clergy. It is their duty more strictly to define the Christian character by precept and example, and more clearly to exhibit Christian truth, than to allow those who pursue so inconsistent a course to indulge in vain confidence as to their religious state. The clergy at least ought to define the boundary between the world and the people of God. If they are negligent in doing so, it cannot but be obscured. If they pass the boundary, they lead many across it who probably never return. The clergy are preeminently the “salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its savour,” woe to the Church, and “woe to them by whom the offence cometh”; “Let them return unto Thee; but return not Thou unto them.” (W. Wilson, D. D.)
A ministry of discrimination
I. What is supposed.
1. The vast importance and responsibility of the work assigned to ministers with a view to the welfare of their people. Ministers are to take the precious from the vile; to separate the wheat from the weeds; to distinguish the dross from the gold.
2. That there are some essential distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and error.
3. That there is a standard of truth. As the office of a judge is not to make but declare the law, so that of a minister is not to burden the ears of people with his own doubtful disputations, but to declare the whole counsel of God.
4. That these characters are closely intermingled, and that there is a great disinclination in mankind to have the truth fully told them, and to be brought to the decisive test.
5. That it is of the utmost consequence to both parties that the separation should be made. Take forth the precious from the vile, and the most advantageous results will immediately accrue to each.
(1) Is it not desirable to the children of God to know that they are so--that they are heirs according to the promise--that they are precious in His sight and honourable?
(2) If the distinction be valuable to the precious, it would be scarcely less advantageous to the vile themselves. To be robbed of the cloak of a false profession would be no loss, for we know it does them no honour and brings them no peace.
II. What is demanded of ministers with a view to this solemn discrimination?
1. A plain and decisive exhibition of the truth as it is in Jesus. We are to contend earnestly for the faith--to vindicate it from the blasphemies of the infidel, the perversions of the worldling, the mistakes of the Pharisee, and the corruptions of the Antinomian.
2. A fearless application of Scripture truth.
(1) To the careless and thoughtless.
(2) To the apostate.
(3) To the young.
(4) To the aged.
(5) To the precious.
(6) To the vile.
3. To point ourselves and our hearers to the only Agent who can make the Word effectual.
III. What is promised? “Thou shalt be as My mouth.” The accredited and approved servant--to speak in accordance with His will--be the organ of His clemency--all His authenticated messages crowned with success. Mighty and blessed such a ministry. (S. Thodey.)
I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee.--
Divine assistance promised to Church governors
I. God’s qualification of Jeremy to be an overseer in His Church. “I will make thee a brazen fenced wall.”
1. A wall implies enclosure. God did not think fit to leave His Church without enclosure, open like a common, for every beast to feed upon and devour it. Commons are always bare, pilled, and shorn, as the sheep that feed upon them. And our experience has shown us, as soon as the enclosures of our Church were plucked up, what a herd of cattle of all sorts invaded it. It contained, as commons usually do, both multitude and mixture.
2. A wall imports fortification. No city can be secure without it. It is, as it were, a standing inanimate army; a continual defence without the help of defenders. Something must encircle the Church, that will both discriminate and protect it. And the altar must be railed in, not only for distinction, but defence. And such a thing is a church governor, a well-qualified bishop. Which title that he may make good and verify, there are required in him these three qualifications--
(1) Courage, which leads the way to all the rest. A wall, nay, a brazen wall, will not sometimes prove a defence if it is not well manned. Every churchman should have the spirit of a soldier.
(2) Innocence and integrity. A brazen wall admits of no cracks and flaws. The enemies of the Church may fear your power, but they dread your innocence. It is this that stops the open sepulchre, and beats back the accusation upon the teeth of the accuser.
(3) Authority; it is to be a fenced, as well as a brazen wall. The inward firmness of one must be corroborated by the exterior munitions of the other. Courage is like a giant with his hands tied, if it has not authority and jurisdiction to draw forth and actuate its resolution.
II. The opposition that the Church governor, thus qualified, will be sure to meet with in the administration of his office.
1. They will assault their governors with seditious preaching and praying. To preach Christ out of contention is condemned by the apostle; but to preach contention instead of Christ, certainly is most abominable.
2. Their second way of fighting against the officers of the Church will be by railing and libels.
3. They may oppose the governors and government of the Church by open force: and this is fighting indeed; but yet the genuine, natural consequent of the other: he that rails, having opportunity, would rebel; for it is the same malice in a various posture, in a different way of eruption; and as he that rebels shows what he can do, so he that rails does as really demonstrate what he would do.
III. That, as in all fights, we see the issue and success, which is exhibited to us in these words, “But they shall not prevail against thee.”
1. Moral causes will afford but a moral certainty but so far as the light of this shines, it gives us a good prospect into our future success. For which is most likely to prevail, a force marshalled into order, or disranked and scattered into confusion? A force united and compacted with the strength of agreement, or a force shrivelled into parties, and crumbled into infinite subdivisions?
2. But besides the arguments of reason, we have the surer ground of Divine revelation. God has engaged His assistance, made Himself a party, and obliged His omnipotence as a second in the cause. (R. South, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 15". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26