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I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries.
As when some beautiful picture which has been put aside and forgotten, hid, it may be, from the enemy in time of invasive war, is found and cleansed and restored, and the eye is delighted with the gradual revelation of colour and of form, the life-like features of the portrait, the characters and incidents of the historical scene, the sunny landscape, or the moon-lit sea: so in that great revival of spiritual life which came by God s grace little more than fifty years ago into this Church of England, the glorious truths of the Gospel, the joy Which we have in the presence of our Lord, in His Sacraments and Scriptures, in our praises and our prayers, in our daily duty done in His name, and in our works of mercy done for His sake, have been again abundantly given to the faith which worketh by love. Oh! blessed be He who of His tender mercy hath visited and redeemed His people. This merciful, marvellous restoration maybe divided into three developments. First, there was the restoration of Faith: Credenda, what we should believe. Then there was the restoration of Hope: Precanda, what we should pray for, and when and how we should pray,--a restoration of worship. Thirdly, there came the grandest development o fall--the restoration of charity, love: Agenda, the things we have got to do for God, our duty to Him and our duty to each other; to love Him with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our strength, and then to love our neighbour as ourself. It is impossible for a Church or an individual to be quickened with spiritual life, and not yearn that others should be saved. It is impossible for your heart and mine to be unfed with the sacred heart of Jesus and not to long that others should share our joy and peace in believing. Jubilant and thankful--thankful for the past, strong and of a good courage in the present, and hopeful of the future--we stand no more by broken cisterns, for God has struck the rock, and the streams are flowing, and our cry is, the Master’s cry is, “O every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters and drink” Our obedience is that of His mandate, “Go ye out rote the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the lame, the halt, and the blind; go into the byways and hedges and bring in all--compel them to come in.” Surely we may ask, almost in shame, are we true sons of those forefathers who built such churches as this, are we true sons of the men who built those grand cathedrals, and churches, and hospitals, and colleges throughout England? Was there ever a time when it was so needful that the Spirit of the Gospel should be brought to bear upon the divisions and dissensions which are among us? I mean, for example, the jealousies that exist between the classes, the commercial rivalries, the disaffection which there is. Without going beyond the measure of our knowledge, without presuming to interfere between employers and employed as to wages and those matters which we cannot possibly understand, we have an influence in pleading the great principles of justice, and honesty, and love, which, though it may be resented at first by those who are in the wrong, must in the end prevail and be established. Was there ever a time when it was more needful for men who know that God is no respecter of persons to preach the equality of all souls for whom the Lord Jesus died? It has been well said that the Gospel code, if it could only be enforced by human laws and a human legislature, would produce a condition of security and success of which the most sanguine, the cleverest politician has never even dreamed. But the Gospel is something infinitely higher and better to you and me. To you and me Christianity means all that is brave and pure in our life, all that is bright and happy in our death. It means re-union with those whom we have loved and whom we loved the best. It means--I hardly dare speak the thought--it means that you and I shall be sinless, and shall see God. It is impossible to have such a faith and hope as this, and not to desire that all should share it, and that none should perish. It is impossible for us to love God and not to love our brother also. (Dean Hole.)
I will set up shepherds over them, which shall feed them.
God, in His wisdom, has most clearly indicated to every man his work. The doer carries within him the fitness for the work to be done. Each has most certainly been made for the other. A law of God brought them face to face at life’s threshold. The same law unites them, when not interfered with, and stamps the union as Divine. As the vessel from the potter’s hand, so we from the Divine mind. We and our work move along one continuous line till we scale the golden stairway where we end the now and begin the hereafter. The place to be occupied by us may possibly be of the most humble, but man is not estimated because of the place so much as how he filled it. Move along the line of God’s plan and you will tap the fountain of Divine help. Each of God’s intelligent workers has been given a place in the whitened fields, along the line of workers, and no position necessary to the many enterprises of the world has been by the great Creator forgotten. We are not surprised then, in the least, that the children of God should be provided with leaders, and that He would approach His flock and assure them of such provision made in their behalf. The men whom God has touched with a Divine sense of this sacred calling have adaptation to the work. God makes no mistakes in classifying His workers. His divinely appointed shepherds whom He will place over His people carry the evidence of such intention in their physical and spiritual construction. God prepares the shepherd to do the shepherd’s work, and for him to throw himself out of his Divine gearing is to live an inharmonious life and walk where God could not walk with him, nor furnish him a comforting promise. The world would move as one harmonious whole, if every creature would keep within the laws made to govern him, and wear as his armour the outfit his Creator gave him. Like Moses, many may see from a human standpoint impossibilities in the way; but the same God, now as then, is abundantly able, willing, and ready to remove them. Woe and disappointment have been inevitable to all such as have overpowered this sense of God’s wish, and have sought to follow some idle suggestion which reached the pride of the heart through the lust of the eye. With a shepherd’s construction, having head, heart, and hand divinely adjusted to so important a calling, how readily each function reaches out, as the petal for the dew, after every nutritious element adapted to its growth. He who is to minister in holy things, early finds his thoughts running along the line of God’s thoughts, and if he will yield to the Spirit’s sweet influence, will gradually as growth gravitate to within the necessary sources for his equipment. While mental culture and literary discipline are necessary, and a holy familiarity with the doctrines of the Bible, the minister’s wall and roof, yet God’s ambassadors are expected to feed the flock of the fruit which comes from the bounty these attainments have led them to. The minister’s knowledge should be principally used as the means to the end. Our peculiar gifts must be called into liveliest action and placed well to the forefront, and whatever else we may possess in the line of mental or spiritual gifts should be made to contribute subordinate, but loyal, help. But it is not enough that the doctrine be sound. While truth can be nothing but truth, and sound doctrine nothing less than sound, yet, the effect produced is all the better for having come from pure lips, and a heart known to be sincere. The man of God ordained to the high office of shepherd, whoso business it is to minister in holy things, and preside at His altar, should, as far as it is possible, live along the line of Christ’s life. Without this he cannot be the safest counsel for the flock entrusted to his care. He should not only know how to instruct, but how to live, so that his doctrine and his life may not antagonise. Like Christ, he must do as well as teach. His should be a life of simplicity, free from exceptional practices and evil habits. Bold and fearless, yet humble and unostentatious. Mingling freely with the people, but in modest, quiet reserve. His language should always be the most chaste. His business relations with all men should be of the pleasantest character. Pulpit brilliancy may fill the pews and produce applause, but often spoils the preacher and cools the church. With an eloquent pulpit the church falls an easy prey to pride and vanity, losing sight of her humble, but dignified, mission, permitting the undershepherd to use the temple of God for self-glory. Bernard, whose power came from his tenderness and simplicity, on one occasion preached a very scholarly sermon. The learned only thanked him and gave applause. The next day he preached plainly and tenderly, as had been his custom, and the good, the humble and the godly gave thanks and invoked blessings upon his head, which some of the scholarly wondered at. “Ah!” said he, “yesterday I preached Bernard, but to-day I preached Christ.” Congregations should arise from their pews more impressed with the power of Gospel facts than with well-rounded sentences and lofty flights of oratory. The Christian hearer should be made to feel the need of greater consecration. The sinner should be made to feel the remorse which comes from a correct estimate of a lost soul for which he has nothing to give in exchange. (A. J. Douglas.)
Preachers must feed the people
From the deck of an Austrian gunboat we threw into the Lago Garda a succession of little pieces of bread, and presently small fishes came in shoals, till there seemed to be, as the old proverb puts it, more fish than water. They came to feed, and needed no music. Let the preacher give his people food, and they will flock around him, even if the sounding brass of rhetoric, and the tinkling cymbals of oratory are silent. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Everybody knows that large flocks of pigeons assemble at the stroke of the great clock in the square of St. Mark: believe me, it is not the music of the bell which attracts them, they can hear that every hour. They come, Mr. Preacher, for food, and no mere sound will long collect them. This is a hint for filling your meeting-house; it must be done not merely by that fine, bell-like voice of yours, but by all the neighbourhood’s being assured that spiritual food is to be had when you open your mouth. Barley for pigeons, good sir; and the Gospel for men and women. Try it in earnest, and you cannot fail. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I will raise unto David a righteous Branch.
Christ’s Divine titles: the righteous Branch; and the Lord our Righteousness
Some of the grandest productions of nature appear small or feeble in their origin; though nothing is little or feeble with God. The majestic oak, the pride of the forest, that breasts the heavens in power, springs from a little acorn-cup; the mighty ,river, that creates life, health, beauty, and fertility in a realm, rises from some feeble well-spring beside the mountain. Now the wonderful fact of growth in life, or progress in nature or grace, was pre-eminently a profound truth with Christ, in His pure human nature. He that was David’s Root, as God, the almighty cause of all life, was yet David’s Offspring and Branch, as Man.
I. Christ is the Righteous Branch. He is called by this remarkable name by the prophets (Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 4:2; Jeremiah, in my text, and 33:15, 16; Ezekiel 17:22-24; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12).
1. The Divine titles of our Redeemer in Scripture are most expressive, and are full of spiritual truth and beauty. Among other glorious titles, He is called the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last, including all the letters of the Greek Alphabet, to denote His Eternal nature; as the Beginning and End of all things; as “the Author and Finisher of our faith”; as the origin, centre, and circle of all blessings for His people. He is the only and true Foundation on which the whole Church of God is built, and the chief Corner-stone of its perfection and beauty. He is our great Captain of salvation, and our Counsellor and Mediator before God in heaven; He is the Mystical Vine to give us Divine life; and the Heavenly Manna to feed and nourish our souls; as well as the living Water of purity and celestial joy. He is our Day-spring and Day-star from on high, to enlighten and guide us; as well as to give Divine knowledge and glory; and our Daysman and Deliverer to reconcile us to God. He is the Child born as man, to be our sacrifice; and the Son given as God, the Eternal Son of God, to impart infinite value to His work of salvation. He is the Prince of Peace, the King of Zion, our Great Prophet and High Priest; and our Peacemaker with Jehovah; our Redeemer from all sin; our Refuge in all danger; our Strong Rock in every storm; our Divine Saviour and Shepherd, who died to deliver us, and lead us to heaven; our Almighty Sun and Shield; in fine, the Righteous Branch, the Branch of Renown, the Righteous Branch of Jehovah, “the Lord our Righteousness.”
2. Christ is the Righteous Branch, as the cause of all Divine light and life in the Church. The word rendered “the Branch,” has a double meaning; it signifies both a shoot from an old stock, or a branch springing from a tree, vigorous in life, with rich blossoms and fruits; as well as the splendour of dawn, or the sun rising in eastern glory. This double emblem is most appropriately applied to our Redeemer; both in the sense of His human origin, as springing like a branch into perfect and glorious life from the family of David; and in His Divine nature as God, displaying the splendour of His majesty like the full-orbed sun rising over the earth and dispelling all darkness.
3. As the Righteous Branch Christ fills all His Church with Divine life and blessings. This may be illustrated thus: when a tree is transplanted from one field to another, it belongs, in civil law, to the ground where it has root, and receives nourishment and growth; for though it may be the same tree still in its roots, stock and branches, yet, as all these derive new and continued life from the place where it grows, it therefore belongs, in civil law, by right to the lord of the soil. So Christ, in taking our pure human nature into union with His Divine nature, made ours His own by lawful right, and He gives infinite value to humanity. His Divine and human nature are distinct, though united--separate, though in connection, like our own soul and body. And all of our Divine life, and all the blessings we spiritually enjoy, must come and be derived from Christ, and vivify and nourish our spiritual life, as sap rising from the roots of a tree gives all the stock, branches, leaves, blossoms, and fruit their support, beauty, and sweetness!
II. How is Christ truly the Lord our Righteousness?
1. He only can restore righteousness to our fallen nature.
2. No sinner can ever be saved unless in some way by this righteousness of Jesus.
3. Christ is the Lord our righteousness in a twofold sense. He is the Cause, by His active and passive obedience to all the demands of Divine justice, and the Fountain of all our righteousness by His sacrifice on the cross. And as our Mediator in heaven, His continual intercession, and the blessed work of His Holy Spirit produce in our hearts holiness of life. This great work and doctrine may thus be illustrated. Suppose a powerful monarch goes to a prison-cell, where some favourite, who has been condemned for treason, lies expecting death. Royal mercy rises above law; royal affection remembers a friend’s doom. The sovereign opens the prison door and bestows on him a full pardon. This frees the offender from all just demands of the law. But the monarch does more: he takes him again into his favour; he exalts him even to higher honours than he forfeited, and he admits him to an the communion of a friend, and to all the dignities of the state, and he bestows on him a royal title to an inheritance which nothing can destroy.
4. This scriptural doctrine, that Christ is our righteousness, must be implicitly the firm reliance of faith, and of all the heart. The natural man cannot receive this great truth. Like other things of the Spirit, it must be spiritually discerned.
1. How Divine and comforting are the Scripture titles of Christ! This one of the Righteous Branch is most expressive and just for our Redeemer. Many kings and rulers have been unjust and unholy, but the Lord Jesus never! for all His own nature, all His moral government of the world are perfectly righteous, holy, and just, and all of His dealings among men shall shine forth as the rays of a full-orbed sun in glory!
2. How great and glorious are the blessings bestowed on Christians by the Redeemer’s work as the ever-living and righteous Branch of Jehovah! Take heed, then, of being in Christ for Divine life and fruitfulness. The leaves and blossoms on any fruitful branch or tree, though all various, must derive all their life and beauty from the living stock. All real Christians have all their continued spiritual life, holiness, and perfection from Jesus. And as no flower nor blossom can he without a branch, nor no ray of light without a star or sun, so no beauty nor brightness can be without Christ, the righteous Branch and Sundawn of eternal blessedness.
3. What a blissful and long day of peace and happiness shall that be for all the gathered Church of God! Gentile and Jew, all nations shall join hands in perfect amity and goodwill No more discord, no more destruction, no more death. (J. G. Angley, M. A.)
The Lord our righteousness
I. Inquire who is the person here spoken of; and whether any individual has appeared, since the days of Jeremiah, answering this description. Jeremiah, we find, flourished in the reigns of Josiah, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah. In vain shall we look either to the times of the prophets, or to the commencement of the Christian era, for any individual answering the description in the text.
1. He was to be of the stock of David: to this description Christ exactly corresponded. He was born of a virgin, “of the house and lineage of David.”
2. He was to be righteous. To this part of me description, also, Christ exactly corresponded. He “did no sin,” and in Him “no guile was found.”
3. He was to be a King. To this, also, the character of Jesus of Nazareth corresponded. He was born “King of the Jews”; He was so called by the wise men who came from afar to worship Him. When asked by Pontius Pilate if He were a King, He did not deny it; and when He was pressed, He replied in the affirmative--“Thou sayest that I am a King.” A King He was, but in disguise--a King, but wearing the garb of a servant.
4. It is here predicted that He should reign and prosper. Here, certainly, the history of Jesus of Nazareth does not correspond with the prediction before us. To reign and to prosper, is to have victory over all open enemies, and to see his friends in peace, and happiness, and prosperity around him. But mark the history of Jesus of Nazareth. Being in disguise, He hid Himself: He refused to be made a King when the people would have done so; and, instead of reigning and prospering, He was despised, scorned, crucified, and slain; instead of having the victory over His enemies, they had the victory over Him; and though, from the inherent dignity of His person, they could not hold Him, for He was a King, yet He left the world under a disguise, and left His foes in apparent triumph, to rejoice in the success of their rebellion.
5. He was to execute judgment and justice in the earth. Here, again, the history does not correspond with the prediction. He was, indeed, just; but He did not execute justice; He did not establish an ascendency of righteousness. On the contrary, injustice, violence, and deceit remain to this day.
6. In the reign of the King here spoken of, Judah is to be saved, and Israel is to dwell safely. Here, certainly, the history of Jesus of Nazareth does not correspond with the prediction. In His days, Judah was despised and trodden down: according to their own confession, they had “no king but Caesar”:--to Caesar, the Emperor of Rome, they paid tribute.
7. His name was to be called, the Lord our Righteousness. Now, what shall we say to this? Why, instead of all acknowledging Christ as the Lord our Righteousness, the bulk of professing Christians scoff at the very doctrine connected with this name! But I dwell not on this:--the speaker is a Jew, and the words must apply to Jews;--“the Lord our Righteousness”;--the Righteousness of the Jewish nation. Now I ask, Has the Jewish nation ever acknowledged the Messiah to be the Lord their Righteousness? Certainly not: therefore, the prophecy of Jeremiah has not been fulfilled. In examining this prophecy, we have seen that three points of the description have been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth; that three other points of His description have not been fulfilled in Him; and that the seventh has been fulfilled in a very partial manner, and not in a peculiar application to the Jewish nation. Now, it is an acknowledged truth, by all who believe the Word of God, that Christ, who, for a season, dwelt upon earth, shall come again. So that between what He did and what He shall do, all the parts of the prophecy shall be fulfilled in Him. Now, it is very remarkable that what we should expect from this prophecy He would be, we are told from other prophecies He shall be. For we are told that He will execute judgment and justice in the earth; and that He will reign as a King in the earth.
II. Consider one or two of the important particulars which are revealed concerning this King, so prospering and reigning.
1. Concerning the reality and identity of the King’s person. The human nature of Jesus, returning to earth as He quitted it from Mount Olivet,--the nature that was degraded, persecuted when on earth,--this same human nature shall be exalted in Zion; calling His brethren after the flesh, the Jews, to rally around Him, and to acknowledge Him as Jehovah their Righteousness in that day.
2. Concerning the appearance of the King in that day. On this subject the history of the Transfiguration was, I think, intended to instruct us.
3. Concerning the manner of His administration in His kingdom: the manner, I mean, of His interference in this kingdom. It was a Theocracy under which the Jews were placed. All difficult questions were referred to God Himself; and He gave answers by the Urim and Thummim on the breast of the High Priest. He either spake to the people by Moses, or by some visible appearance. The Lord Jesus Christ will reign by a visible interference; by stretching out His arm to award and to punish. And then will be said that which is written in the Psalms: “So that a man shall say, Verily, there is a reward for the righteous; there is a God that judgeth in the earth.” (H. M’Neile.)
The kingdom of the Messiah
I. The person of the Messiah.
1. His human incarnation--“A Branch.” This term is often used by the prophets, to represent Christ’s assumption of our nature.
2. His personal perfection--“A righteous Branch.”
(1) In His essential nature as God, Jesus Christ was infinitely pure, holy, just, and good.
(2) In His human nature as man, He was perfectly righteous, and free from everything sinful and impure.
3. His sovereign character--“A King shall reign.” He possessed every qualification requisite for the dignity of His character. He is infinite in wisdom, righteousness, power, and goodness. He is not only a Prophet to instruct, a Priest to atone, but also a King to rule and save His people.
II. The nature of His kingdom. “A King shall reign and prosper,” &c.
1. A universal kingdom. His presence fills all space, and His power is unlimited.
2. A mediatorial kingdom. This refers to Christ’s official character, as the “Mediator between God and man.”
3. A spiritual kingdom. The kingdom which Christ established in the work of redemption, is designed in its personal influence to destroy sin, that “grace might reign through righteousness unto eternal life.”
4. A celestial kingdom. Heaven is often denominated a kingdom, and is the promised inheritance of the Lord’s faithful people (Luke 12:32). (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
The nature and prosperity of the Messiah’s reign
I. The character of Christ. “A King” (Numbers 24:17; Psalms 2:6; Psalms 45:1; Isaiah 32:1; Zechariah 9:9; Luke 19:38; John 18:37; Revelation 17:14). There are three things we look for in a King.
1. Supreme power (Ephesians 1:21; Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:9; Colossians 1:18).
2. Legislative authority.
(1) Christ s authority to govern all arises out of His being the proprietor of all (John 1:10; Colossians 1:16).
(2) His legislative authority is still more confirmed by virtue of His redeeming acts: He has bought us with a price, and redeemed us to God by His blood.
3. Righteous administration; or the exercise of certain qualities essential to good government.
(1) In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; He knows all His subjects--is acquainted with their infinitely diversified necessities. And such is His immaculate purity, that it is impossible for Him to enact any laws that will not subserve the interests of His creatures.
(2) His justice is equal to His wisdom; justice and judgment are the habitation of His seat.
(3) He is so merciful as to be “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.”
II. The nature of His reign. “A King shall reign,” &c.
1. The reign of Christ is spiritual (Luke 17:20; Romans 14:17).
2. The reign of Christ is benevolent. Look at the Alexanders, or Caesars, or mighty chiefs of antiquity, marching at the head of vast armies, while every battle of these warriors is with confused noise and garments rolled in blood. How violent their operations! how cruel and sanguinary their triumphs! Oh, how unlike the means used by the Lord Jesus to subdue the world to the obedience of Himself! (Isaiah 42:2.)
3. The reign of Christ is equitable. It is founded on principles of justice, reason, and truth (Hebrews 1:8). The laws by which He governs are holy, just, and good: the obedience which He requires is not only right in itself, but essentially connected with human happiness.
4. The reign of Christ is perpetual. Earthly kingdoms have their rise, progress, perfection, declension, and ruin (Isaiah 9:7; Hebrews 1:8).
III. The prosperity with which that reign shall be attended. The word “prosper” is always used in a favourable sense. To prosper as a king implies--
1. To have an increase of willing subjects.
2. To have adequate provision for the supply of all their wants. Our heavenly King possesses infinite treasures of grace and glory.
3. To secure their real happiness. Christ’s subjects are all happy--by the indulgence of benevolent dispositions--by the conformity to righteous laws--by the practice of holy duties--by the anticipation of future felicities (Psalms 72:7-8; Isaiah 11:4-9; Isaiah 52:9).
4. To subjugate or destroy His enemies (Psalms 2:9; Psalms 2:12; Isaiah 60:12). But as Christ came not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved, He is employing means to conquer its prejudice, and slay its enmity.
1. If Christ shall reign and prosper, how great is the folly and madness of infidels, sceptics, and sinners of all descriptions, who attempt to prop the tottering throne of infidelity!
2. This subject should inspire the souls of Christ’s devoted subjects with joy and gladness. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
The Lord our Righteousness.
After his conversion the apostle Paul must continually have been meditating on the state of Israel. Much as he loved the Gentiles, and clearly as he saw the disposition of God that now the Gentiles should be brought in, he never could forget Israel. What shall we say then? he exclaims. Look at Israel look at the Gentile nation! Israel for centuries has been striving most anxiously after one thing, to be righteous before Jehovah; they have not attained it. Why then has Israel not attained it? Because they sought it not by faith but by works (Romans 10:3). Why have the Gentiles attained it? Because by the grace of God they have been made willing to receive Jesus as their righteousness.” Now look at the Jews going about to establish their own righteousness. They wish to be righteous before God. They wish to be such men as God approves--to be counted righteous and just so that He may be pleased. Therefore their idea of righteousness before God entirely depends upon their idea of God and of God’s requirements. God has not left them in ignorance about this. If men who have not the revelation of God form a conception of God according to their own ideas it will be exactly in proportion to their moral condition; therefore the heathen nations made unto themselves gods like unto themselves, as ambitious, as impatient, as self-indulgent, as impure, as changeable as they were themselves. Israel knew the Lord. “I am Jehovah; I am God, and not man, spirit and not flesh; I am holy, be ye also holy.” And not simply had God revealed Himself unto them, but He had given unto them also the law as a mirror in which they should see what His idea of men was. Israel had the law of God, and in the law of God they had the character of the righteous One described. And now Israel went about to establish a righteousness of their own. In this process those of them who were sincere in themselves and those of them who really sought not merely to be righteous, but to be righteous before God in order that they might have communion with God, very soon came into the knowledge of their sin, and into the most painful consciousness of their defilement, and, therefore, wishing to he righteous before God, they soon began to cry unto God out of the depth, and to know that innumerable sins had taken hold upon them, and that woe is unto them because they are undone and of unclean lips, and unto such through the knowledge of the law there came death under the law, a longing after pardon, and after the power of God’s Spirit operating on their hearts. But those were always the exceptions, the small minority, the “remnant according to the election of grace.” The majority of the nation lowered their standard of God, and lowered their standard of the law, and so far did this deteriorating process go on that they not merely came into the idea that they were able to fulfil the law, but they came even to the idea that they were able to do more than the law commanded; that they were able, by extra exertions and by observing precepts which God never has enjoined, to have a treasury of merits, works of supererogation. Curious inconsistency--as long as men go about establishing their own righteousness they are proud before God. But then you would think that if a man is proud, and if he has got the kind of self-consciousness so that he can stand, as it were, before God, that then he would be sure of his salvation. One of their most celebrated prophets, whom they called the “law of the world,” was on his death-bed, and one of his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, what sayest thou now?” The Rabbi said, “Heaven and hell are before me, and I know not whither I am going. If I were to be summoned into the presence of an earthly king I might well be afraid, and yet his displeasure would only last a few years, and his punishment, however severe it may be, must come to an end; but I am now going into the presence of the Lord God Most High, whose wrath is everlasting, and His punishment is infinite, and I know not whether I shall be acquitted.” Going about establishing a righteousness of their own, lowering the idea of God, lowering the standard of the law, proud and unbroken in spirit, and yet without any peace or assurance of the favour of God. Such a one, also, was the apostle Paul before he was converted; he went about establishing his own righteousness, and afterwards he said that he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, according to the law blameless, but now he wishes not to have his own righteousness, which is by the law. There is another righteousness of which both the law and the prophets have continually testified; which is apart from the law, which man does not work out, which is as much given to man as bread is given to a hungry person, and as water is given to a thirsty person. “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness.” What is the sad condition of the Jews? They do not see two things: they do not know that Jesus is Jehovah, and they do not know that this is our only righteousness. “Jesus our Righteousness.” And what is the lamentable condition of Christians who do not know the Lord? Simply the same thing, for if they knew Jehovah-Tsidkenu then they would have the knowledge of salvation, they would put no confidence in the works of the law, they would simply rejoice in Christ Jesus. Then this Jesus is Jehovah When He was an infant He had angels already calling Him Lord, and it was quite right that the wise men of the East worshipped Him. He is Jehovah, but He is “God manifest in the flesh” There is in all human beings, however far they may be from God, this peculiarity: that without union with God they cannot have life. When we think of this union with God, that God should be all in all, that we should be one with God, unless we go by the Word of God we may fall into great depths of error, and into that which is very ungodly. And here is a very peculiar thing, that you find among all the Eastern nations a striving after this being absorbed in God. You find it in India, you find it in China--almost wherever you go; you find it among the Arabs and the Persians. Mystics in all nations, what do they want? They have a feeling that there is in God the only true existence, the only life and blessedness; that everything else apart from God is transitory, is imperfect, is unsatisfactory; they wish to be one with Him; they wish to be absorbed in Him. But the great error which they commit, the great evil into which they are landed is this, that they do not see that sin is sin, that it is wrong, that it is evil. They imagine that sin is necessary, something through which we have to pass, something for which we are not accountable; and thus they deafen the voice of conscience, and declare evil not to be evil, and that there can be no real difference between good and evil. But round it is the truth which God has taught us, that we are to be one with God; we are to be in such a close union with Jehovah that it may be said, “We live, yet not we, but Jehovah lives in us.” But how union with God? Because we believe in Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, and in this faith in Jesus submitting to the righteousness of God there are three elements. “No boasting.” You can judge any religion, simply by that one point--is all the glory given to God and no glory to man? Secondly, there is no uncertainty, for we have a perfect and Divine righteousness. Thirdly, there is no compromise with sin, because, if we believe that Jesus died for us, we believe that God condemned sin in the flesh. We must depart from all unrighteousness, nay, we are “crucified unto the world,” and the world unto us. (A. Saphir, D. D.)
The Lord our Righteousness
If, as it seems probable, Zedekiah had already begun to reign, it is perfectly certain that he could not be the person to whom the prophet referred when he looked forward to the advent of the “righteous Branch.” If he wrote shortly before the commencement of his reign it would be just possible so to interpret the prophecy. In the former case the very allusion which there might have been to the name of the reigning king would show all the more plainly that it was not in him that the promise was fulfilled; in the latter case, the want of precise correspondence between the two names would only bring out into higher relief the non-correspondence of the prophecy with the fact. As a matter of fact the name of Mattaniah was changed to Zedekiah, and not to Jehovah-Tsidkenu. Neither could it be said that in his days, when the captivity was fast hastening on, and the dark shadow of Babylon must have hung like a thundercloud over the land, Judah should be saved and Israel should dwell safely. We are constrained to infer from the known historical conditions of the writing, that the prophet must have meant to depict circumstances not immediately before his eyes when he wrote. Moreover, this conclusion is forced upon us from the fact that some eight or ten years later Jeremiah repeated this promise, in a slightly altered form, when he was shut up in prison,--“In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called,” or, “this is that which men shall proclaim to her”; or, as Bishop Pearson has it, “He which calleth her is the Lord our Righteousness.” Enforced as that promise was by the remarkable addition at the very lowest ebb of the national hope, “Thus saith the Lord, David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before Me to offer burnt-offerings, and to kindle meat-offerings, and to do sacrifice continually”; it is inconceivable that the same prophet who had declared the seventy years’ captivity of the whole nation as well as the captivity of Zedekiah himself should have spoken in this way, believing that the hopes he cherished for Judah were fulfilled in Zedekiah. His words, therefore, are a standing monument of an onward-looking hope. The main point which we have to grasp firmly, is that here, if anywhere, there is a prophecy of the times of the Messiah, which is known to have been given before the Captivity, and was undeniably not fulfilled for many centuries to come after it. It is insisted, however, that the analogy of similar names in Scripture, such as Jehovah-Messiah, Jehovah-Shalom, and Jehovah-Shammah, and the like, makes it needful for us to render this name, “The Lord is our Righteousness.” Let us assume, then, that we are to understand it, “The Lord is our Righteousness.” If that, then, was His name, the name by which He was to be called, I see not how it can be applicable to Him unless He is Himself the Lord Jehovah. The proposition, “The Lord is our Righteousness,” is to be His name, however awkward and uncouth that may; but if men are to say to Him or of Him, if they are to call Him “The Lord is our Righteousness,” it is hard to escape from the conclusion that He must be the Lord. But believing, as we do most firmly, that this is the prophetic name of Christ, and of Christ alone, what is it designed to teach us?
1. It teaches us that Christ is to us the realisation of righteousness; it is no longer an unattainable conception or an abstract idea which we find it hard to grasp or to fulfil, but in Him it becomes a concrete fact on which we can lay hold, and a thing which we can appropriate and possess. He becomes first “righteousness,” and then “our righteousness”; first, the visible, incarnate and reeled exhibition of righteousness, and then something of which we can claim possession, and in which we can participate.
2. If this is the obverse presentation or positive statement of the truth, it has also its reverse or negative side. If the name whereby Christ is called is “The Lord is our Righteousness,” that fact is destructive to all other hopes, prospects, or sources of righteousness; it gives the lie to them, and asserts their vanity, for we can have no righteousness but what we find in the Lord. Behold in Him your righteousness; look away from and out of yourselves to Him and be righteous. The apprehension of that blessed fact will be the harbinger of peace and joy and fruition of righteousness in you. Whereas before there was nothing but continual delusive hope and abortive effort, together with painful disappointment and self-reproach, now there is the fulness and the fatness of a satisfied soul, the soundness and strength of a heart that is at peace with God, the quietness and assurance, the blessedness and calm confidence of a mind that is at rest in Christ. To know that “the Lord is our Righteousness,” is to have and to know that which can alone enable us to contemplate the past with equanimity or serenity; it is to have and to know that which is alone the antidote for care and anguish and remorse, that which can alone take the sting out of sin and rob even the broken law of its just terror. But we have to face the future as well as to look back upon the past, and in that future there sits the shadow, fear of man, and we know not what besides may lurk there. It may be loss, bereavement, sickness, pain, disgrace, infamy; but if the Lord is our righteousness, and if He who is our righteousness is the Lord, the very and eternal God Himself, then, come what may, we must be safe with Him (Prof. Stanley Leathes.)
The Lord our Righteousness
Man by the fall sustained an infinite loss in the matter of righteousness: the loss of a righteous nature, and then a twofold loss of legal righteousness in the sight of God. Man sinned; he was therefore no longer innocent of transgression. Man did not keep the command; he therefore was guilty of the sin omission. In that which he committed, and in that which he omitted, his original character for uprightness was completely wrecked. Jesus Christ came to undo the mischief of the fall for His people. So far as their sin concerned their breach of the command, that He has removed by His precious blood. Still it is not enough for s man to be pardoned. He of course is then in the eye of God without sin. But it was required of man that he should actually keep the command. Where, then, is the righteousness with which the pardoned man shall be completely covered, so that God can regard him as having kept the law, and reward him for so doing? The righteousness in which we must be clothed, and through which we must be accepted, and by which we are made meet to inherit eternal life, can be no other than the work of Jesus Christ. We, therefore, assert, believing that Scripture fully warrants us, that the life of Christ constitutes the righteousness in which His people are to be clothed. His death washed away their sins, His life covered them from head to foot; His death was the sacrifice to God, His life was the gift to man, by which man satisfies the demands of the law. Herein the law is honoured and the soul is accepted. You have as much to thank Christ for living as for dying, and you should be as devoutly grateful for His spotless life as for His terrible death. The text speaking of Christ, the son of David, the Branch out of the root of Jesse, styles Him, the Lord our Righteousness.
I. First, then, He is so. Jesus Christ is the Lord our Righteousness. There are but three words, “Jehovah”--for so it is in the original--“our Righteousness.” He is Jehovah, or, mark you, the whole of God’s Word is false, and there is no ground whatever for a sinner’s hope. He who walked in pain over the flinty acres of Palestine, was at the same time possessor of heaven and earth He who had not where to lay His head, and was despised and rejected of men, was at the same instant God over all, blessed for evermore. He who did hang upon the tree had the creation hanging upon Him. He who died on the Cross was the ever living, the everlasting One. As a man He died, as God He lives. Bow before Him, for He made you, and should not the creatures acknowledge their Creator? Providence attests His Godhead. He upholdeth all things by the word of His power. Creatures that are animate have their breath from His nostrils; inanimate creatures that are strong and mighty stand only by His strength. Who less than God could have carried your sins and mine and cast them all away? How can He be less than God, when He says, “Lo I am with you always unto the end of the world”? How could He be omnipresent if He were not God? How could He hear our prayers, the prayers of millions, scattered through the leagues of earth, and attend to them all, and give acceptance to all, if He were not infinite in understanding and infinite in merit? How were this if He were less than God? But the text speaks about righteousness too--“Jehovah our Righteousness.” And He is so. Christ in His life was so righteous, that we may say of the life, taken as a whole, that it is righteousness itself. Christ is the law incarnate. He lived out the law of God to the very full, and while you see God’s precepts written in fire on Sinai’s brow, you see them written in flesh in the person of Christ. No one that I know of has dared to charge Christ with unrighteousness to man, or with a want of devotedness to God. See then, it is so. The pith, however, of the title, lies in the little word “our,”--“Jehovah our Righteousness.” This is the grappling iron with which we get a hold on Him--this is the anchor which dives into the bottom of this great deep of His immaculate righteousness. This is the sacred rivet by which our souls are joined to Him. This is the blessed hand with which our soul toucheth Him, and He becometh to us all in all, “Jehovah our Righteousness.” You will now observe that there is a most precious doctrine unfolded in this title of our Lord and Saviour. As the merit of His blood takes away our sin, so the merit of His obedience is imputed to us for righteousness. Imputation, so far from being an exceptional case with regard to the righteousness of Christ, lies at the very bottom of the entire teaching of Scripture. The root of the fall is found in the federal relationship of Adam to his seed; thus we fell by imputation. Is it any wonder that we should rise by imputation? Deny this doctrine, and I ask you--How are men pardoned at all? Are they not pardoned because satisfaction has been offered for sin by Christ? Very well, then, but that satisfaction must be imputed to them, or else how is God just in giving to them the results of the death of another, unless that death of the other be first of all imputed to them? I must give up justification by faith if I give up imputed righteousness. True justification by faith is the surface soil, but then imputed righteousness is the granite rock which lies underneath it; and if you dig down through the great truth of a sinner’s being justified by faith in Christ, you must, as I believe, inevitably come to the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ as the basis and foundation on which that simple doctrine rests. “The Lord our Righteousness.” The Lawgiver has Himself obeyed the law. Do you not think that His obedience will be sufficient? Jehovah has Himself become man that so He may do man’s work: think you that He has done it imperfectly? You have a better righteousness than Adam had. He had a human righteousness; your garments are Divine. He had a robe complete, it is true, but the earth had woven it. You have a garment as complete, but heaven has made it for you to wear. You will remember that in Scripture, Christ’s righteousness is compared to fair white linen; then I am, if I wear it, without spot. It is compared to wrought gold; then I am, if I wear it, dignified and beautiful, and worthy to sit at the wedding feast of the King of kings. It is compared, in the parable of the prodigal son, to the best robe; then I wear a better robe than angels have, for they have not the best; but I, poor prodigal, once clothed in rags, companion to the nobility of the stye,--I, fresh from the husks that swine do eat, am nevertheless clothed in the best robe, and am so accepted in the Beloved. Moreover, it is also everlasting righteousness. Oh! this is, perhaps, the fairest point of it--that the robe shall never be worn out; no thread of it shall ever give way.
II. Having thus expounded and vindicated this title of our Saviour, I would now appeal to your faith. Let us call Him so. “This is the name whereby He shall be ‘called,’ the Lord our Righteousness.” Let us call Him by this great name, which the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath named. Let us call Him--poor sinners!--even we, who are to-day smitten down with grief on account, of sin. “I have no good thing of my own,” sayest thou? Here is every good thing in Him. “I have broken the law,” sayest thou? There is His blood for thee. Believe in Him; He will wash thee. “But then I have not kept the law.” There is His keeping of the law for thee. Take it, sinner, take it. Believe on Him. “Oh, but I dare not,” saith one. Do Him the honour to dare it. “Oh, but it seems impossible.” Honour Him by believing the impossibility then. “Oh, but how can He save such a wretch as I am?” Soul! Christ is glorified in saving wretches. Only do thou trust Him, and say, “He shall be my righteousness to-day.” “But suppose I should do it and be presumptuous?” It is impossible. He bids you; He commands you. Let that be your warrant. “This is the commandment, that ye believe on Jesus Christ whom He hath sent.” And some of us can say it yet better than that; for we can say it not merely by faith, but by fruition. We have had the privilege of reconciliation with God; and He could not be reconciled to one that had not a perfect righteousness; we have had access with boldness to God Himself, and He would never have suffered us to have access if we had not worn our brother’s garments. We have had adoption into the family, and the Spirit of adoption, and God could not have adopted into His family any but righteous ones. How should the righteous Father be God of an unrighteous family?
III. I appeal to your gratitude. Let us admire that wonderful and reigning grace which has led you and me to call Him, “The Lord our Righteousness.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ the righteousness of those who believe in Him
I. Christ becomes the righteousness of those who believe in Him--as their atoning Mediator. Sprinkled with that blood which the Godhead hath enriched, the penitent sinner fears not the wrath of the destroying angel of justice. Covered with that righteousness with which the Godhead hath invested him, the true believer can stand even the searching beams of Divine holiness. Behold, then, both the way by which we are to be justified from our sins, and our encouragement to apply for mercy. In this part of the process of justification, no qualifications are required on the part of man, but a lively sense of his need of mercy, and a full reliance on the propitiation of the Lord his righteousness. But as he is to be fitted for eternal happiness by the love and service of his Maker, a rule of duty must be prescribed and imposed on him. Christ therefore becomes the righteousness of His people--
II. As their Lawgiver--imposing on them a law of evangelical holiness and perfection. The destiny of man which the scheme of redemption is designed to further and to secure, is to be eternally happy in the presence of God. For this presence, holiness is an indispensable qualification. In the justification of those who believe, therefore, Christ acts not only as Mediator, procuring their pardon, but also as Lawgiver, delineating the nature and extent, and enforcing the obligations of the Divine law. In this character, we are to acknowledge, receive, and obey Him, and He thus becomes “the Lord our Righteousness.”
III. As our Almighty Sanctifier who impresses on our hearts the obligations of the Divine law, and enables us to obey it. Thus is complete provision made for our release from the bondage of sin, and our being reinstated in all the graces and virtues of the Divine image. Let us then learn--
1. To ascribe our salvation to the free and unmerited grace of God.
2. But while we humbly acknowledge and adore the free grace of God in our salvation, let us remember that there are qualifications on our part. (Bp. Hobart.)
Christ, the Lord our Righteousness
So could none speak, save God. If man would condense his words, he says too little, or he says it obscurely or untruly. The characteristic of this Divine saying, is, that in the two Hebrew words it contains a summary of the whole supernatural relation of God to man under the Gospel, and of man to God. It contains the whole hidden life of the Christian: it is the substance of sacraments: the unseen spring of self-sacrificing holy action; the fountain of his inward peace; the surest contentment of his soul; the enkindling of burning zeal; the soul of devotion, the fervour of love. It matters little, as to the great outline of the prophecy, whether He, through whom this was to be wrought, is here declared to be “the Lord our Righteousness” or whether “the Lord our Righteousness” were simply a title given to designate His character, that this would be His characteristic, His watchword, the centre of His teaching, His life, His being; this the “end of His toils and tears”; this “the passion of His heart”; this He should labour to bring about, that the Almighty God should be our righteousness. In contrast to the evil shepherds, who, misleading the people, had encouraged them in their sins, and so had brought God’s judgments upon them, He was to do away God’s judgments, and outwardly to restore them to His favour; but He was also inwardly to remove the cause of that disfavour, their unrighteousness, and to he their righteousness. The change was to be, not without man, but within. It was to be an inward closeness of relation of God to man, and of man to his God. The words presupposed all the teaching of the law, orally or through ritual, as to sin. “Create in me a new heart, O God, and make anew a stayed spirit within me. Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.” It was the universal cry of our fallen nature; the deepest trace of that original righteousness, wherewith God endowed Adam, as soon as He created him. But, though felt more or less, weakly or mightily, disguised or clearly or corruptly, the belief that it could, that it would, be satisfied, was given, where alone it could be given, among the people to whom God revealed Himself, by those whom He sent to promise what He alone could fulfil. This union Jeremiah spoke of under those two words, “the Lord our Righteousness.” As unrighteous, we could not be united with Him. God s aweful holiness and man’s sinfulness are incompatibles. “Your sins have been abidingly severing between you and your God,” was expressed in act by the whole Hebrew ritual. The truth ever lived before their eyes; it was enforced by the prophets; it was chanted in the Psalms; it was confessed in their prayers. But there was a Deliverer yet to come, a deliverance larger, wider, deeper, more inward, than any before, which should stretch out and encompass the human race, through One despised and rejected by those who were despised of all. He Himself was personally to restore our race, personally to be “our righteousness.” And has it not been? Is it not? This was the faith of the barbarous nations from the first, written “not with pen and ink, but by the Spirit of God upon the hearts.” This was the hope and strength of martyrs; this was the virtue of the continent; this was the victory of the young; this, the triumph over the world’s seductions; this, the peace with God and the full contentment of the soul, “the Lord our Righteousness.” “In Christ Jesus,” the Holy Ghost saith, “we are chosen”; “in Christ Jesus we are called to eternal glory”; “in Him we have redemption”; “in Christ Jesus we are created,” “are a new creation” “in Christ Jesus we are alive unto God”; “in Christ Jesus we are accepted”; “in Him we are justified”; “in Him we are sanctified”; “in Him we are accepted”; “in Christ Jesus we are of God”; “in Christ, it is the will of God that we should be perfected”; “in Christ Jesus, those who are His, have fallen asleep”; “in Christ Jesus they shall be made alive.” This supernatural life antedated our use of reason. Antedating, then, the use of reason, His first act, in our Christian land, is to unite the soul to Himself. As we are really sons of man by physical birth, so are we as really and as actually “sons of God” by spiritual birth; sons of man, by being born of man; sons of God, by being members of Him, who is the Son of God. Blessed they who so remain, in whom the hidden life in Christ unfolds with the life of sense and reason. But if this has not been so, if the soul have gone away from God “into a far country,” forgetting Him, squandering in pleasures of sense the gift of God, can such an one be the object of the love of God, can to such an one Jesus be “the Lord our Righteousness”? God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost long to communicate Themselves to the creature, which they made for Themselves. They long anew to sanctify him, anew to make him that wherein They may take pleasure; to fit him, by the renewed gift of righteousness, for Their gracious engracing Presence; to make the soul, which has been the abode and sport of devils, the dwelling-place of the Trinity. And whether He works this in those who know no more, by creating in the soul a penitent sorrow, for love of their God, that they had so offended God, or whether He teach the soul, over and above, that He gives superabundant grace through an ordinance of His own appointing, and that He has still “left power with His Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and turn to Him,” no sooner is His work accomplished, sooner has his Saviour absolved him through His own words, pronounced at His command by his creature s lips, than the dark catalogue of sins is blotted out by the precious blood, the soul is again transfigured with light; it is not forgiven only, it is arrayed anew with the righteousness of Christ. Yet there is a higher closer union still, on which Jesus Himself dwelt with greater fulness and greater complacency of love towards us; which, in different words, He presented again and again; which, when contradicted or misapprehended, He dwelt on the more; which He seems in His love to have been loath to cease to speak of, that mystery whereby He is, above all, our righteousness, because He, who is righteousness itself, comes to “dwell in us, that we may dwell in Him; to be one with us, that we may be one with Him.” In other sacraments He gives us grace; in this, Himself. By no less condescension could He satisfy His love towards us. They are His own words, “he that eateth Me.” (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Christ is our Righteousness
I. What is meant by His being our righteousness?
1. That it is in Him alone that God the Father is well pleased (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5). Not only with whom, but in whom, I am well pleased, atoned, pacified, satisfied. He is God’s all in all, and why then should He not be ours?
2. That it is by and through Him alone that we are justified; that is, acquitted from guilt, and accepted into favour, which are the ingredients of justification.
3. It is through His merit and mediation alone that our performances are made acceptable (1 Peter 2:5),
4. It is by Him alone that we have right and title to the heavenly inheritance.
II. Call Jesus Christ by this sweet name, the Lord our Righteousness; each one with application to himself---as David. And would you think an Old Testament saint, that lived under that dark dispensation, should have such clearness in this matter? A shame to us that are not clear in it, that live under Gospel light (Psalms 4:1).
1. The misery they are in who never yet called Jesus Christ by this name, and the blessed and happy condition they are in that have done so.
(1) Till we have called Jesus Christ the Lord our Righteousness, that is, heartily owned Him as such, our condition is a shameful, naked condition, and that is a wretched, miserable condition (Revelation 3:17), because, till clothed with Christ’s righteousness, our shame appears in the sight of God.
(2) Till we have called Jesus Christ the Lord our Righteousness, ours is a dismal, dark condition. When we call the Lord our Righteousness, then He rises upon our souls as a Sun of Righteousness, and that which follows is the light of comfort, and peace, and joy; such joy as none knows but they that feel it. It is hidden manna (Psalms 85:10).
(3) Till we have called Jesus Christ the Lord our Righteousness, we are in a perilous, perishing condition. Christ’s righteousness is to us as Noah’s ark.
2. The difficulty, nay, the impossibility, of being pardoned and justified, accepted and saved, in any other way, and the facility and easiness of obtaining it in this way.
(1) It is impossible we should be accepted of God without a righteousness, one or other, because He is a righteousness God; that is, He is of pure eyes, and, therefore, cannot endure to look upon iniquity (Psalms 5:4; Psalms 11:7).
(2) It is impossible that either our own righteousness, or the righteousness of any of our fellow-creatures, one or other, in heaven or earth, should bear us out and bring us off before God. On the other hand, how easy is it to obtain peace, and pardon, and salvation, by the merit and righteousness of the Lord Jesus, by calling Him by this name. Easy, did I say? mistake me not. I mean easy to grace, easy where God is pleased to give a willing mind, as knowledge is easy to him that understandeth (Proverbs 14:6; Matthew 11:28-30; 1 John 5:3). Easy; that is, it is a ready way to justification and salvation, whereas seeking it by our own righteousness is a round-about way. We can never while we live know in any other way that one sin is pardoned, because perseverance to the end is required. Oh, then, be persuaded; and you that have called Him by this name, call Him so still.
There are four special times and seasons when this should be done.
1. When we have done amiss, and are under guilt, and wrath threatens. And when is it not that it is so?
2. When we have well done, after some good work, and pride of heart rises, and we begin to expect from God as if we were something. No, Jesus Christ is the Lord my Righteousness. I am an unprofitable servant when I have done all
3. When we ask anything of God (John 14:23).
4. When we come to look death and judgment in the face, which will be shortly; when sick and dying. Oh, then, for Christ, and His righteousness--it will be the cordial of cordials. (Philip Henry.)
The Lord our Righteousness
I. When the people of Christ address Him by this name, it implies a contrite acknowledgment that they have no righteousness of their own,--that they are destitute of all personal righteousness in which to appear before a holy God.
II. When the people of Christ give this name to Him, they declare their solemn persuasion that they require a righteousness, though they have none of their own, in which to appear before the Holy One of Israel; they not only confess their entire destitution, but acknowledge their indispensable need, of a true and perfect righteousness.
III. When the people of Christ address Him by this name, they express and profess their faith, that Messiah being in one person God and man, has brought in a righteousness in their behalf, which is by God accepted for them, and imputed unto them, for their justification.
IV. When the people of Christ call Him by this name, they are seen in the act of embracing, appropriating, and rejoicing in him, as the Lord their Righteousness. “The Lord our Righteousness.” It is the language of joy and triumph, as well as of reliance and faith. It is not tile spirit only of the drowning man laying hold of the plank, but of the safe and happy, rich and joyful man, realising his safety, and rejoicing in his treasures. “My Beloved is mine, and I am His.” Conclusion--
1. See here how wondrous a provision the Gospel has made for at once humbling the sinner and exalting him,--laying him low in his own eyes, and yet gloriously ennobling him.
2. See what a ground of security, of peace, and of everlasting blessedness, the believer in Christ enjoys.
3. Use the subject in the way of self-inquiry, and of direction, according to the result of it. (C. J. Brown, D. D.)
I. A righteousness that is absolutely perfect.
1. It has passed through every test (John 14:30; John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22).
2. It has fulfilled every requirement (Philippians 2:8; Matthew 3:15; Matthew 5:17).
3. It has satisfied the highest claims (Matthew 3:17; Romans 4:25; Philippians 2:9).
II. A righteousness that is identified with Christ Himself.
1. Christ--God’s gift of righteousness (Romans 5:17).
2. Christ for us, in the presence of God (Hebrews 9:24).
3. He is made unto us righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30).
4. “The Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6; Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 42:1-25; 1 John 2:1).
III. A righteousness that is put to our account.
1. Not the reward of our obedience (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:16).
2. Not something we have to wait for (Romans 3:22; Romans 10:4).
3. But a righteousness that is ours now by faith (Romans 5:1; Romans 3:28; Philippians 3:9).
4. Christ for us, our righteousness, to be distinguished but not separated from Christ in us, our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). (E. H. Hopkins.)
The Lord our Righteousness
In journeying through a mountain region, we find ourselves, at times, on the top of a gentle hill which will give us a delightful view of the picturesque scenery of the landscape that immediately surrounds us. But, now and then, we may reach the summit of some towering mountain. That lifts us far above all other points of view. As we stand there and gaze, we can look down on hills, and plains, and valleys, and take in the geography of all the surrounding country. In the mountain range of Scripture truth, we reach such an elevated summit in our text. The righteousness here spoken of may be looked at from five different points of view.
I. Its author. We see from the connection in which our text is found, that the person here called “Jehovah our Righteousness,” is the same as “the righteous Branch, the prosperous King,” promised to be raised up unto David. This proves that the Jehovah of our text is Jehovah-Jesus. Isaiah (Isaiah 11:1), in speaking of Him, says, “There shall come forth a rod,” &c. Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:29) calls Him “the Plant of renown” Zechariah (Zechariah 6:12-13), speaking of Him, says, “Behold the man whose name is the Branch,” &c. When the angel Gabriel foretold His birth, he applied this very prophecy to Him, saying, “The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever.” And then, to complete the testimony of Scripture on this point, and prove to a demonstration that the Jehovah of our text is Jesus, it is only necessary to turn to a single passage in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 1:13).
II. Its foundation. It is spoken of in the New Testament as “the righteousness of Christ.” And the foundation on which it rests--that of which it is made up--is the active and passive obedience of our Lord and Saviour. It embraces all that He did, to honour God’s law, when He obeyed its every precept to the uttermost, in thought and feeling, in purpose, word, and action; and all that He suffered, when the tremendous penalties of God’s broken law were visited upon Him. The righteousness of Christ means simply the benefit of all that He did and suffered. This benefit, or righteousness, belongs to His people. It is made over to them. It is reckoned as theirs.
III. Its nature. No miser ever felt half the joy in counting over his hoarded gold, and no monarch ever experienced half the rapture in gazing admiringly on the magnificence of the crown jewelry he inherits, than the intelligent- Christian experiences in dwelling on the nature of that all-perfect righteousness that Jesus, his glorious Saviour, has wrought out for him.
1. It is a gracious righteousness. It was of God’s good pleasure alone, that ever a plan for working out such a righteousness was devised. It is grace alone which makes men feel their need of this righteousness, inclines them to seek it, and makes them willing to cast sin and self, and everything else away, and to rest on this righteousness, on this only, on this now, and on this for ever, as the ground of their acceptance with God.
2. It is a perfect righteousness. God’s perfect law was the standard by which this righteousness was to be measured; and it came fully up to that standard. It was the scrutiny of God’s holy and penetrating eye to which this righteousness was subjected. He weighed it in the balances of the heavenly sanctuary, and declared Himself well pleased with it. It is because of His connection with this righteousness that God the Father loves His Son with a love that is unspeakable. This was what the Psalmist meant (Psalms 45:7). And it is because Christ’s people share in this righteousness that God cherishes towards them the same affection that He entertains towards His only-begotten Son. Nothing less than this will meet our wants. “A robe I must have,” says an old writer, “of a whole piece; broad as the law, spotless as the light, and richer than ever an angel wore; and such a robe I have in the righteousness of Christ. It is a perfect righteousness.”
3. It is an uniform righteousness. Where the sun shines at noonday, I have the benefit of his shining, as fully as though there were none around me to share his beams, and he shone for me alone. Yet each of my neighbours has, or may have, the same benefit of his beams that I have. And so it is with the righteousness of Christ. The dying thief who turned in penitence and faith, and was accepted in the last hour, had just the same title to enter heaven that the apostle Paul had, or Peter, or John, or Isaiah, or Elijah, or David, or Moses, or Abraham, or Enoch.
4. It is an unchanging righteousness. If the whole world, with its contents, were given at once to you or me, in fee-simple ownership, of course it would be impossible to add to our worldly possessions. There might be much that was new for us to discover; but there could be nothing new for us to own. We might proceed to lay bare the rich mines in our inheritance, and to search out their hid treasures. But this would only be adding to the knowledge of our possessions; it would not be enlarging them. And so when Christ gives Himself and His righteousness to His people, He gives them a world of spiritual treasures, which it will take all eternity for them fully to explore and find out. But all this is given to them from the start. The soul once justified is justified fully. The righteousness which secures justification will remain without changing what it was at first.
5. It is a glorious righteousness. We see this in the peculiar position which the ransomed people of Christ will occupy among the creatures of God, in possessing this righteousness. They will stand on higher ground in the scale of being than even angels and archangels can ever reach. We have no reason to suppose that there is another tribe or race of creatures in all the boundless universe who will rise to a point of elevation like this. This is what is meant when we are told that Christ’s ransomed ones are to be “a peculiar treasure unto Him.” They are to be to “the praise of the glory of His grace,” as none other of His creatures shall be. Their peculiar, distinguishing privilege will be that Jehovah-Jesus is their righteousness.
IV. Its importance.
1. It is not possible that we can have the comfort of being Christians, unless we have a clear knowledge of this great truth. Suppose that, in a week from to-morrow, you have a note of a large amount to take up, and you have nothing with which to meet it. Of course, under such circumstances, you must feel very uncomfortable. And suppose that, under these circumstances, a friend should deposit, in your name, at the bank a sum of money more than sufficient to meet all your indebtedness. The fact that the money was there would put you in a position of safety. But unless you have a clear knowledge and a full assurance of this fact, you cannot be in a position of comfort in reference to it. Now, in our natural condition as sinners, we are all overwhelmingly in debt to God. We are liable at any moment to be called to a settlement, and we have nothing to say. But when we are led to repent of our sins, and believe in Jesus as our Saviour, His infinite and all-perfect righteousness is entered in the bank of heaven in our name, and to our account. It is reckoned as belonging unto us. If we are able to understand this truth, and grasp it, in the exercise of a firm faith, we shall have access to the most full and flowing fountain of comfort which the Gospel affords.
2. Our confidence for the future must depend entirely on our knowledge of this doctrine, and our belief in it. It is only by sharing in the righteousness of Christ that any child of Adam ever has entered heaven, or ever will. And the robes which the ransomed wear who entered that blessed abode are robes that have been washed, and made white in the blood of the Lamb.
V. Its possession. It is faith in Christ, alone, which can make this righteousness ours. Show me one, therefore, who is exercising simple faith in Christ as his Saviour, and I will show you one who has a gracious, covenant, inalienable right to say, “This little” word ‘our’ in the text takes me in. I belong to the company here spoken of. Jehovah-Jesus is my Righteousness.” (R. Newton, D. D.)
Jehovah our Righteousness
In that day, when we all shall stand before God, there will be a great multitude whom no man can number, perfectly spotless even in His searching sight. He who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, will look on them without offence. Nay, more than this: He will delight in them. These very men came from the world where we live--out of sin and imperfection--out of disease and decay--out of doubts and fears--out of murmurings and backslidings, and a thousand infirmities and errors. And whence came this change? Where nothing approaches that is not perfectly holy, how entered this uncounted multitude of sinners? First, I think we shall be able to make it manifest that such a change cannot come from a man’s self. We all can do much for ourselves in the way of self-government. But will any one be bold enough to say that self-government will make a man perfectly holy in God’s sight? Everything human is imperfect; and no imperfect thing will suit our present purpose. We must have a perfect principle of righteousness, a perfect fount of holiness, something into the image of which the saints may be changed, each in his measure and degree, but all without spot or flaw of any kind. I answer that I cannot believe death to bring with it any such radical and total change. On what is the change at death dependent, in the case of God’s saints? Why, entirely on the reality, and on the amount of progress, of that other change of which we are speaking. According as they are holy here below, so will that change be glorious. Again, what sort of a change is it that death brings about? Not a change of heart--not a change of desires, affections, principles--but merely, great as it is, a change of circumstances. The righteousness of the saints remains after death what it was before, with this difference, that every circumstance which before hindered its development will then be removed, and all will be replaced by circumstances the most favourable possible. Sin and imperfection will have been left behind in the grave; perfection and spotlessness put on in the resurrection. But the spiritual life goes on throughout, before and after death, one and the same in principle, in nature, in acceptability with God. Mankind is a tree tainted at the root. It is not that there are not fair branches--goodly leaves--bright blossoms--vitality and sap in abundance:--but that a taint lies at the root and infects all, so that it brings forth no fruit fit for the Master’s use. What power can heal this tree? Manifestly, no power from without. All the suns, showers, and dews of heaven will never eradicate that taint from its root. The only conceivable way would be, if by some wonderful process its vital sap could be renewed; if some better and healthier influence could enter into its very root and core, and permeate all its branches with wholesome and fruit-bearing vigour. Such was the state of our humanity. Our race laboured under two disabilities before God: guilt, and powerlessness for good. He that created first, must create anew. By the same power, which made the first man a living soul, must the second Adam become a life-giving spirit. And all this within the limits of our race,--that the God whom man had offended, man might satisfy; that as by the disobedience of one man all were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man might all he made righteous. And this mighty thing was undertaken and achieved by the eternal Son of God Himself. He became man: not an individual human person, bounded by His own responsibilities, accountable to God for Himself and Himself only, which would have done us no good, whatever were the result of His Incarnation: but He took our nature upon Him--our nature entire: as entire as it was in Adam: He entered into its very root and core, and became its second Head. Now mark--He did not take that nature in its sinful development, as it then was, and now is, in each member of the human family; this would have been against His very essence and attributes as God, and was unnecessary for His work, nay, would have nullified that work: but He did take it subject to all the consequences of the state in which He found it--to temptation,--to infirmity,--to bodily appetites,--to decay,--to death. In our nature, He wrought out a perfect righteousness: and He presented Himself before the Father at the end of His course on earth, as the holy and righteous Head of our race, claiming of right, and by the terms of the everlasting covenant, that gift of the Holy Spirit, due by His merits, and become possible by His perfect human righteousness now united to the Godhead. So, then, the Lord Jesus becomes the Justifier of our race,--i.e., our clearer from guilt: and the Sanctifier of our race,--i.e., the giver of the Holy Spirit from the Father, by whom we become holy and changed into the image of God. Now, let us contemplate the effect on those who believe. Entering into Christ’s finished work, they know Him as “Jehovah their Righteousness.” In themselves, they are as others. They carry about with them the remnants of a body of sin, and are in conflict with it as long as they are here below. But sin has no dominion over them, nor shall it condemn them in that day. They are accepted in the Beloved. Christ’s righteousness is their righteousness, because they are living members of Him the righteous Head, and are regarded by the Father as in Him with whom He is well pleased. Do you call Christ, Jehovah your Righteousness? What, then, is your estimate of your own duties, and your performance of them? (Dean Alford.)
The Lord our righteousness
I. The Lord is “our Righteousness,” because He is our pardon. “We have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” Our amendment--our often too partial, superficial amendment--is not our pardon; for how can amendment cancel the past? Neither is our repentance our pardon; it neither is nor can be the meritorious cause for which God pardons. In the words of one of our greatest saints: “Our repentance needs to be repented of, our tears want washing, and the very washing of our tears needs still to be washed over again in the blood of our Redeemer.”
II. He is “the Lord our Righteousness” in the sense of our acceptance with God. It is solely through His merits that we are first received, and are afterwards continued in the favour of God. Just as His righteousness is the meritorious cause of the remission of those sins which we repent of, so His righteousness is the meritorious cause of the acceptance of our service, notwithstanding its imperfections.
III. In ordaining His Son to be “the Lord our Righteousness,” God has also ordained in His wisdom that He should be the source of righteousness in us. He, our great Head, our second Adam, is the Lord, our “renewal in righteousness.”
1. We partake of an evil nature, because we have naturally transmitted to us Adam’s weak and sinful nature, and those who are savingly in Christ have had, and yet have, supernaturally transmitted to them Christ’s nature, as the seed in them of spiritual and eternal life.
2. He is “the Lord our Righteousness,” inasmuch as He is the Lord our strength to serve God and subdue Satan.
IV. In what respect Christ is not, and never can be, “ our righteousness.” He never can be our righteousness, so as to supersede the necessity, in any one particular, of our own personal holiness and righteousness. Righteousness is the order, the harmony, of God’s intelligent creation, just as sin is its disorder, its confusion. “The righteous Lord loveth righteousness, because He loves order, He loves harmony, He loves to see His creatures truly and permanently happy, which they only can be so long as they understand and fulfil the conditions of the particular place in His creation which He, in His infinite wisdom and goodness, has assigned to them. The love of God is righteousness. It is our inmost heart and affections being disposed towards God, as they should be when we consider who God is, and what He has done for us, and what claims His goodness has on us as spiritual beings redeemed by His Son’s blood. Reverence to God is another branch of righteousness. It is our souls knowing and realising their place in the presence of so great and terrible a God. Obedience to rulers is righteousness; it is acting in accordance with the requirements of the place in which God has set us in human society. Obedience to parents, honouring and reverencing our parents, loving our brothers and sisters, is righteousness; it is realising the duties of our condition as members of families and households. Feeling for, assisting, judiciously and generously relieving the poor, is righteousness; it is fulfilling our position in a world left by God full of inequalities of estate and condition; which God has left full of these inequalities, in order that those servants of His to whom He has lent some superfluities, may grow in the grace of Christian charity by lessening the misery they see around them. Bearing distress with patience is another branch of righteousness; it is our hearts not revolting under, but submitting to, the dispensation of a God who always orders all things for the very best. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
The Lord our Righteous
I. To whom does this passage refer? It is vain to inquire whether the reference here be to the Jews literally, or to Christians; for the thing comes to the very same result.
II. His personal title. “He shall be called the Lord our Righteousness.” The word is Jehovah. Hence the amazing importance of the preceding inquiry; for whoever the person, intended may be, here is a name applied to Him “which is above every name.”
1. The language is strong; but His perfections allow it. His omniscience allows it. Peter said to Him, “Thou knowest all things”; and He said, “The Churches shell know that I am He who searcheth the reins and the heart.” His omnipresence allows it. “Where two or three are gathered together,” &c. “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” His unchangeableness allows it. He is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”
2. The language is strong; but His operations justify it. “By Him were all things created,” &c. “Without Him was not anything made that was made.”
3. The language is strong; but it accords with the worship demanded of Him and received by Him.
4. The language is strong, but the occasion requires it. His greatness must he carried into every of His work as a Saviour.
III. His relative character, or what He is to us. “The Lord our Righteousness.” The former would have filled us with terror; but this softens down the effulgency; this throws a rainbow around His head, and tells us we need not be afraid of a deluge. How is He, then, “our Righteousness”? We answer, generally, He is so in two ways: by His making us righteous by a change in our state, and by a change in our nature; for the latter is as really derived from Him as the former.
IV. The knowledge of this. For names are designed to distinguish and to make their owners known. Persons, more than things, are always called by their proper names.
1. This is considered His greatest work and honour. When a man takes a name from any of his actions, you may be assured that he will do it from the most peculiar, the most eminent, the most glorious of them.
2. It means that He is to be approached under this character. This is always to be the great subject of the Christian ministry.
3. That all His people would own Him as such. (W. Jay.)
The Lord our Righteousness
I. The law has shut us all up under sin.
1. This law having been given, and being expressive of God’s nature and holiness, He must require that it be perfectly obeyed. He can allow of no deviation from it, no coming short in any one jot or tittle. A lawgiver conniving at the breach of his own laws, though in the smallest particular, would be to make them despicable.
2. Who can declare, that never in thought, word, or deed, he has come short of what he owed to God and his neighbour? Who can say, I am clean, I am pure from sin? Yet the slightest imperfection, though but in thought, exposes us to the curse of God’s righteous law.
3. But some perhaps will say, “I have not, it is true, done all I should have done; but I have done my best.” The law replies, “Tell me not of your best; have you done all? if not, the curse is upon you.” “But I have repented of what has been amiss.” “Tell me not of your repentance: you have transgressed; the curse is upon you.” “But I will do better.” “Tell me not of doing better: you must do all. Could you render full obedience for the-time to come, the past is still against you. That debt is unpaid: you are under condemnation.”
II. How, then, shall man escape? He has transgressed, and he must die, unless he can find one to answer the utmost rigour of its demands, to bear the fiercest vengeance of its curse. But no creature can do this. What hope, then, unless God Himself should find a substitute? What hope, unless God Himself should obey the law which He had given, and suffer in our stead? But is this probable? nay, is it possible? Yes. God Himself has done it. Jehovah has become “our Righteousness.” God has given His only-begotten Son--In Christ, and in Him only, have we righteousness and strength.
III. Apply these truths.
1. Has the law wrought in us its convincing humbling work? Have we seen ourselves lost?
2. Have we, under a deep sense of our own undone condition, betaken ourselves to Christ for help? Have we, without reserve, fixed our hope of salvation upon Him? (E. Blencowe, M.A.)
The Lord our Righteousness
I. An announcement of an important truth.
1. The Lord is our Righteousness inasmuch as the purpose and plan of justifying sinners originated with Him.
2. Inasmuch as He Himself has alone procured righteousness for us.
3. Inasmuch as it is through His grace and by his free donation that we receive righteousness.
II. An utterance of personal belief and confidence. The language of faith, hope, joy, gratitude.
III. A directory to the spiritual inquirer. Anxious sinners wish to know the way of acceptance with God. The text is a brief but satisfactory answer. (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)
Christ’s supreme name
I. Exhibit the delightful character under which Christ is here presented.
1. His essential dignity.
2. His mediatorial office.
3. The spiritual relation in which He stands to His people.
II. Specify some considerations which put an emphasis and value upon redemption, and heighten our sense of its importance.
1. The work of redemption has ennobled our nature and shed a lustre over the annals of our world.
2. It eclipses and throws into the shade the greatest of the Divine works.
3. It enhances the value of temporal blessings following in its train.
4. It forms a permanent bond of union among subjects of grace.
5. Judge of the grandeur of the work by the doom denounced against those who despise and reject it. (S. Thodey.)
The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them.
Faith, even our own trembling faith, can hold on, perhaps, to the past; it retires upon the past in order to fortify its position. There are its reserves, its supplies. It looks back, and as it looks the big words stand out, the high memories awaken, the ancient story revives again. “God was a King of old. The works that were done upon earth, He did them Himself.” We can believe it still. God was about in those days, long ago. Men met Him in the way. “The hand of the Lord was upon me.” Yes! in the past, in days long ago, we are sure of God; and this, not merely out of traditional habit, nor merely because it is far off and remote. No! it is rather because the present is never really grasped or understood in its true significance until it is past. The present disguises its inner glories in a suit of drab; it is busy with small affairs; it has no leisure to sit at God’s feet and brood. So the present is always being misjudged and misinterpreted by those it holds prisoners in its tiresome meshes. Only as it passes off into some quiet distance from us do the frivolous incidents drop away out of sight and hearing, and the superficial vulgarities fall back into insignificance, and the real heart of the mystery is felt in its work upon us. It is no glamorous illusion which gives wonder to the present as soon as it is past. Rather, it is become wonderful because it has shaken itself free from the illusion which veiled it from our eyes while it was still with us. We see it now in its actual worth as part and parcel of a continuous existence, not as an isolated accident that comes and goes. So it wins dignity and pathos and beauty. So strange--this transfiguration of the common-place by the past: an old brick wall, a garden walk, a turn of a lane--all can become sacred and mystical because of those unknown to us who once walked there before we were born. And this is right. This is their truth. And so, too, our past, as we turn to review it, is really recognised to have possessed an importance which escaped us when it was within our living grasp. We see now how momentous were the issues involved in this or that ordinary and temporary decision which we took as it came along, without anxiety or strain. There lay, we now acknowledge, the parting of the road for us. There and then our souls were indeed at stake. Our whole future turned on what we saw or did that day. A day at the time so unmarked, and dull, and unmomentous. How little we remembered God as we did it! Yet it was He, before whose eyes we were at that moment become a spectacle to men and angels, at that passing moment when we made our choice. Yes! it is no glamorous illusion that the past throws: it is the actuality of things which it discloses. The past reveals God at work in the acts of judgment by which we stand or fall under His searching light. Therefore it is that the Jew, reading out his national past, saw and found God at work everywhere in it. Jewish prophecy was concerned with the past, at least as much as with the future. The prophet looked back and read into the facts their deep inner interpretation. Old events were recognised by him for their spiritual value; now they were lifted into the light of the Divine will. “When Israel came out of Egypt and the house of Jacob from among the strange people, Judah was His sanctuary and Israel His dominion. The sea saw that and fled. Jordan was driven back. The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like young sheep.” Not at the moment of the deliverance could Israel have sung out that clear song of recognition. The escape out of Egypt was probably sordid enough at the moment; troubled, confused, dismal. Only long afterwards, when it had been clarified by the purifying process of time, could the prophet’s eye pierce below the surface disarray and see the whole scene as a vivid and unthwarted drama; only after long review with vision purged could the singer pronounce that “God came from Teman and the Holy One from Mount Paran.” Backed by the strong assurance that God was with our fathers, that God brought up His people out of Egypt, Faith must make its great venture and recognise that the God who was alive and active in the past is the same God to-day and for ever. This drab and dismal present which rings men ruefully round with its noisy bustle, with its troublesome futilities, holds in it urgent and supreme the living energies of God. When it has dropped away from them into the past they will see and know it. How disastrous, then, to cry out, when it is too late, “Surely God was in this place and I knew it not.” Why not wake up at once, in the very heart of stony and forlorn Bethel, and see now the golden stairs laid between heaven and earth? Here is the prophet’s task, to declare that what God did once, He may yet do again. If He brought up His people out of Egypt, He can yet deliver them out; of captivity in Babylon. Ah! that is the difficult, the impossible thing to believe. That is when and where the ordinary temper of faith collapses and recoils and surrenders. Egypt! They can see it all, feel it all God’s arm was outstretched to save, and He spake; and His great presence went out to them; and His voice was heard like the voice of a trumpet, exceeding loud. But Babylon, where they now lie in captivity! How hard and grim those iron walls of fact which hold the people fast! How relentless the immense pressure of its tyranny! Day follows day, and all days are the same; and the night comes following the day; and no watchman can tell them any news; and no cry shatters the night! Nor even are the people gathered in Babylon. They are not assembled and compact, as once in Egypt, ready to move altogether if the opportunity ever came. No; they are now hopelessly divided--scattered to the four winds; lost in detachments amid a crowd of swarming cities. Nothing can happen; there is no sign; they see not their tokens. Heaven above them is as brass, and the earth as iron. No God appears. “Well enough in Egypt! We would have gone out with Moses then with willing feet; but we see no Moses now. Things are too strong for us; they shut us in. We listen, and no voice answers. It is different now; it can never be again as it once was.” So we can fancy what these poor, faint souls to whom Jeremiah is writing must have murmured. As if Egypt had not looked just as hard and just as motionless to those who first heard the summons of Moses; as if it had not all been as grimly incredible then. And therefore, that same chill of despair that now overshadows them beside the willows of Babylon need not prevent another day like that of Moses arising as glorious as in Egypt. Another prophetic epoch will be known and named for ever. So the prophet announces. Once again the faith which is strong enough to face and defy the repellent facts of the present shall see its God rise as of old. We ourselves are sorely aware of conflict between our faith as it gazes back at the past, and our faith as it faces the shill and staggering present. We who can yet hold on to our belief in what happened long ago, find no heart to declare this might happen again to-day. God might be seen as visibly at work; Jesus Christ might be heard calling us with as clear a voice as that which fell on the ears of fishermen washing their nets by Galilean waters. The present wears so horribly material an appearance, and it looks so absurdly remote from Spirit and from God. “There is no God here,” we cry; “ Christ cannot be alive no angels sing here of peace and goodwill. So everything about us asserts with might and main; it defies us to say our creed in front of it without laughing or without breaking down in sobs. Yes; but was not the present always what it feels to us to-day? Did it not always look as hard and commonplace and godless? The inn at Bethlehem was as noisy and regardless as Fleet Street to-day. The people felt life then as commonplace an affair as it seems to us on Ludgate Hill to-day. The past witnesses through all its long centuries to the actual reality of the living deed done by God in our midst. Again and again in dark days those who believed it to be true have dared to realise it in their own present day afresh, and have found it answer to their appeals. There was a revival, as we say, a revival in the present of what was once for all asserted in the past. As God who had delivered men from Egypt verified Himself anew in the God who can deliver out of captivity, so Christ who rose and lived has quickened a new generation sunk in its sloth; has named a new epoch, has brought in a new day; and men have started from their sleep to find that it was true what they had always dimly believed, Christ is alive, Christ is at work here on earth; the impossible can happen; the incredible change can stir and can transform; it is all true. It shall no more be said merely that God liveth who once raised Jesus from the dead; but God liveth--our own God--who still raises in Jesus Christ those who were dead in trespasses and sins into newness of life for evermore. Why not? Why not now? The old creed is being battered by ruthless attacks on its past records, and there is only one triumphant answer--a revival of its ancient efficacy in full swing here and now. Christ, we feel, may have once raised a dead world into life, but He cannot do it again. Are we going to acquiesce in that? Are we going to try to keep our faith, and yet confine it to a day long dead? If Christ cannot do it now, then He never did it. If we resign the present to its godlessness, then we shall not long retain our belief in God in the past. No; we have but one obligation: to rally first on the past, and in its strength to dare the present. Why should not we take our belief in Jesus Christ as seriously to-day, and let it be done again? Oh, for this outrush of a great revival! We have lingered and languished so long is not the moment near for some reaction from our spiritual lethargy? The night has been so prolonged, there must surely be a streak of dawn. (H. S. Holland, D. D.)
They strengthen also the hands of evil-doers.
Strengthening the hands of the wicked
1. All sin is horrible in its nature, as being contrary to the character and will of God.
2. To strengthen the hands and hinder the repentance of sinners is to oppose the great plan of the Divine government.
3. It tends to the misery of mankind, and is the reverse of that benevolence which ought to govern us in all our conduct.
4. It is to operate with that evil spirit who works in the children of disobedience.
5. It is a horrible thing, because we thus become partakers of their sins.
6. It is directly contrary to God’s commands, and marked with His peculiar abhorrence. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran; I have not spoken them, yet they prophesied.
A Divine call indispensable to the success of a minister of the Gospel
I. A Divine call is necessary to warrant any man in taking upon himself the ministerial office. First, he ought to be satisfied that, in making his decision, he is not swayed by worldly motives, and should examine himself strictly as to the singleness of his aim, and earnestness of his desire, to promote God’s glory and the good of souls. But as there may exist this desire on our part, when there is no call on God s, there is a second necessary point in regard to which we must be satisfied, namely, our fitness for the work; and this is a matter which must be determined not by ourselves, but by the proper authorities of the Church. But there is still another security against error in reference to this matter; for we must, in the third place, clearly see a way open in Providence for our approach to the ministerial office; and I can conceive that, not only may a man be satisfied as to the two first points, but his way may be so hedged up, that his vocation may be as clear as if a voice were to address him from heaven upon the subject.
II. The man who intrudes into the ministerial. Office without a proper call, has no right to expect the Divine blessing upon his labours, whilst he is uncalled and unsent. There are few things more absurd and thoroughly inconsistent with every principle of propriety, than the grounds on which young men have too often been appointed to the holy ministry. How often have we known young men licensed to preach the Gospel, merely because they had attended the requisite number of years at college, and were able to undergo an examination, whilst decisive evidences of personal religion were neither sought nor given; and then ordained as ministers of Christ upon being presented to a living by a patron, who, perhaps, had little interest in the parish, and still less in the cause of vital godliness! How deplorable that a youth inexperienced in the Christian warfare should be appointed to lead the hosts of the Lord! How deplorable that a person should be ordained to rouse and watch over the souls of others, who never felt any concern for his own; that one should be appointed to deal with persons labouring under the convictions of an awakened conscience, who is altogether ignorant of the matter, and to point out the way of salvation to others when he knows it only by hearsay himself! It is only a converted and divinely-called ministry, whose labours God can be expected to own and render profitable to His Church. However profound the intellect and acute the discrimination and splendid the eloquence of a mere man-taught preacher, though he may gratify the itching ears of his audience, and excite their admiration of himself, so far as the grand ends of preaching are concerned, he is like a man beating the air.
III. Though a person may have entered into the sacred ministry without a proper call, there is here a hope held out, that if he is faithful in the discharge of ministerial duty, God may favour him with a call and render his labours at last eminently successful. It would seem from Jeremiah 23:22, that, even though a person to enter the ministerial office from improper motives, and without a Divine call, yet, if he act according to the instructions of God’s Word, and apply it for the regulation of his own heart and conduct, and be diligent and faithful in the performance of ministerial duty, he will be caught by the truth with which he is brought into contact, and converted and commissioned by God, and made to see the Divine pleasure prospering in his hand. This is certainly a perilous experiment for any man to make, but there are undoubted instances on record of unconverted men intruding into the ministerial office from secular motives, whose presumption has been pardoned, whose souls have been converted, Whose official appointment has been recognised of God, and whose labours have ultimately been abundantly blessed. Oh, what need of intimate and very frequent communion with God, that our graces may be kept in lively exercise, that, when we mingle with our people, coming fresh from the ivory palaces, all our garments may smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia; that, being constantly conversant with spiritual things, and having our affections placed upon them, an habitual solemnity may pervade our conduct, so that it may be no effort for us, wherever we go, always to bear in mind that we are the servants of the Lord Jesus. Ah, were we thus always to act, how should our private conduct “illustrate and enforce our public services! (W. B. Clark.)
If they had stood in My counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words.
The ideal preacher
I. His mental position. “If they had stood in My counsel.” By God’s “counsel” here we understand His written Word. To stand in it implies making His Word the permanent sphere of the mind, the one great subject of study and scene of action. This mental position is--
1. Most necessary. God’s thoughts alone and not man’s can spiritually and effectively help humanity, and these thoughts are only to be got at by profoundly studying the Scriptures, and thus standing in the counsel of the Lord.
2. Most ennobling. The man who lives in the Scriptures will have an elevation of spirit, a nobility of nature, a dignity of bearing that will give him power over the minds of men.
II. His grand work, “Caused My people to hear My words.”
1. This is the most difficult work. Man’s spiritual ears are so sealed by carnality, worldliness, and sin, that they will not listen Notwithstanding, this is the preacher’s work.
2. This is the most urgent work. The words of the Lord are a man’s only light, hope, and salvation.
III. His true test. “They should have turned” their hearers “from their evil ways,” &c.
1. Conversion from evil is the great want of mankind.
2. Conversion from evil is the great tendency of Gods Word. (Homilist.)
God’s ministers must deal faithfully with men
Ministers should not be merely like dials on watches, or milestones on the road, but like clocks and larums, to sound the alarm to sinners. Aaron wore bells as well as pomegranates, and the prophets were commanded to lift up their voices like a trumpet. A sleeping sentinel may be the loss of the city. (Bishop Hall.)
The effectiveness of faithful dealings with the wicked
Dr. Pierson said, that at the funeral of a man who had been very generous but ungodly and dissipated, he felt unwilling to say anything that would be untrue to his convictions, and accordingly spoke to the business men, who were there in large numbers, of the folly of neglecting the soul even for the sake of worldly profit. One of them cursed and swore that he would provide in his will that he (Mr. Pierson) should never officiate at his funeral. Shortly after, he was smitten of an incurable disease, and for months he lingered in great agony, and died. He sent for Mr. Pierson, and begged him to pray for and with him. He also wrote him a letter in which he said, “Be always honest and true with men; tell them the truth, and even those who at the time may take offence, will afterwards stand by you and approve your cause.” When he came to look into the hereafter, he wanted no shallow quicksand of flattering falsehood on which to rest his feet.
Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off?
God nigh at hand
God is nigh at hand for judgment: the period of judgment, therefore, need not be postponed until a remote age; every man can now bring himself within sight of the great white throne, and can determine his destiny by his spirit and by his action. God is nigh at hand for protection: He is nearer to us than we can ever be to ourselves: though the chariots of the enemy are pressing hard upon us, there is an inner circle, made up of angels and ministering spirits, guarding us with infinite defences against the attacks of the foe. God is near us for inspiration; if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God: what time we are in doubt or perplexity as to the course we should take, let us whisper our weakness into the ear of the condescending and ever-accessible Father, and by the ministry of His Spirit He will tell us what we ought to do. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The practice of God’s presence
God is a Mind having all possible perfections, and one of these is Omnipresence. The deepest thought of modern poetry is that of the Divine immanence in nature, and the best modern theology recognises it. Emerson said that “Nature is too thin a veil, God is all the while breaking through.” Are there not those among us who imagine that God dwells in churches, in certain consecrated places, at certain appointed times, and who rarely think that He is in their houses, unless one lies dead there and prayer is being said by, an open coffin? The Syrian enemies of the Israelites caned the God of Israel the God of the hills and not of the valleys,” believing that Jehovah’s presence was stationed there, as the Greeks believed that Neptune was confined to the sea. And something of this misconception lingers in us all when we think of God as being somewhere else than where we now are. Such mistakes make worship impossible. If God’s nature had any bounds, if it were limited to any portion of space, it would be defective in being. If you could conceive of God as confined to any one place, He would immediately be shorn of His glory. In order to be God, He must be everywhere in His perfection. He cannot be restrained and confined by any higher power, for there is none other equally exalted. He would not voluntarily shut Himself out from His dominions, for He would not willingly curtail His own perfections. But, it may be asked, is not God peculiarly present in heaven, in the assemblies of His saints, in the hearts of His loving children? Yes, wherever He reigns without opposition, there He manifests His completer glory. But how can God dwell in heaven, in human temples, and in the hearts of His scattered children, without being omnipresent and without being purely spiritual; that is, incorporeal? God is in my soul, if there at all, in His whole nature, and in yours also; and when you come to realise the presence of God, never think that a fragment of Him is before you. No; the whole nature of the Eternal and Infinite Jehovah, before whose presence angels hide their faces, from whose throne the heavens and the earth flee away, and in whose light in the celestial climes the sun himself dare not shine, the whole essential glory of the Lord, God Almighty, penetrates, sustains, and glorifies our lives continually. God is an infinite Mind, present here in His infinite glory, and present in whatever other part of the universe I may ever dwell. And if you say such a mode of Being as His is mysterious even to inconceivability, I gladly and reverently grant it. God is Light, and as the light of the sun fills a globe of crystal with its splendour, displacing no particle, and yet not becoming identified with that which it illuminates, so God fills all this crystalline universe with His shining presence without becoming identified with that which He glorifies. Thus a rational philosophy justifies the teaching of God’s omnipresence; but modern science throws even a more dazzling light on this sublime theme. Science, as taught to-day, presents to us four commanding facts, each one of which runs into practical religion. The first of these is the omnipresence of thought and adaptation in the universe. The doctrine of evolution, as Professor Drummond has said, has not affected, except to improve and confirm it, the old teaching that all things have been created on a plan. Now the plan is a complicated one, requiring the fitting together of many parts. It is plain that He who brings in the winter months directs the honey-bee to lay up in summertime its store of food for the season of cold, and teaches it to build of waterproof wax its six-sided cells, wherein the honey may be packed without waste of room. Mind is present, not only in the bee’s instinct, but in the world which supplies with its blossoms the sweetness on which the bee feeds. The second fact which science presents to us is the universality of motion. It is a mistake to speak of anything as being at rest. The universe is one blazing wheel within another blazing wheel, all rushing with inconceivable rapidity, and testifying, by the omnipresence of motion, to the omnipresence of that Mind that created and upholdeth all things, and without whose continued activity the very thought of universal motion is inconceivable and inconceivably absurd. The third fact that science presents to our attention is the universality of law. There is no caprice in the motions of the universe, but undeviating submission to intelligent regulation. But the proof of the universality of law is the proof of the omnipresence of God. Law is only the method of the Divine activity. Law is inconceivable except as the working of a willing Mind. Law, self-made and self-executed, is an absurdity, as much so as a proposition made to yonder organ that it should compose and then render the “Hallelujah Chorus.” So that when you extend the domain of law so as to embrace the rushing hosts of the stars, and you find law everywhere executed, you only announce the omnipresence of Him who said to Jeremiah, Am I a God at hand,. . . and not a God afar off?. . . Do I not fill heaven and earth?” And the fourth fact which science presents is the omnipresence of conscience. The moral law cannot be escaped. But this law is not of human origin. It was not enacted, it is not executed by man. It existed prior to all human legislation. It is universal and infallible; and, above all, it is executed by a Power not human. God is behind it and in it: and if we can escape by no possibility from its action, then by no possibility can we escape from the presence of Him who is its Author and Executor. “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord.” Neither heaven, nor hell, nor the uttermost part of the sea is beyond the immediate presence of Him who filleth all in all It is sometimes said that God is in the world. It is truer to say that the world is in God. In Him we and all things move and have our being, and thus the universe becomes what Sir Isaac Newton called it, “The vast sensorium of Deity,” with God vital and throbbing in every part. He upholds all things by the Word of His power. When the question was asked of Basil, one of the Christian Fathers, “How shall we do to be serious?” he answered, “Mind God’s presence.” “How shall we avoid distraction in service?” he replied, “Think of God’s presence.” “How shall we resist temptations?” “Oppose to them God’s presence.” This is God’s method of perfecting holiness. Enoch, the first saint, is described as one who walked with God. His faith was to him the evidence of things not seen. His loving trust made God a present reality. The Lord said unto Abraham, “Walk before Me, and be thou perfect.” The secret of perfection is to know God’s presence. Remember this truth when you are abroad in nature, and nature is everywhere, in your solitary room as truly as among the summer fields. This is God’s universe, in every part of which He is actively present. Behold Him in the light, as the Persian poets did, for He is there. See Him in the sun, as the makers of the Hindu Scriptures did. Breathe in His life as you breathe the morning air, for it is God’s atmosphere in which you dwell. Let every created thing be a reminder of the Infinite Father, the Eternal Spirit, who lives in all life, moves in all motion, shines in all splendour, and filleth heaven and earth. And remember this truth when you pray. It will kindle your soul to devotion, it will control rebellious thoughts, it will make prayer a real communion with a personal God. Remember this truth in the midst of sorrow. It brings to the weary and troubled heart the immediate presence of the Infinite Comforter. It brings before the mind the consolation of an omnipresent love, and the sure defence of an omnipotent hand. And remember this truth in your daily toil. God is with you, and you may build a chapel to Him in your heart and sing His praises from morning until night. But if God is everywhere, the Spirit of God, embodied in His people, should go everywhere. There can be no righteous divorce in our best lives from this sorrowing and sinning world. The Church has lived too much apart with God, in meditation and worship. Its business is to enter human life in every division of it, with the Divine Spirit of healing and help. (J. H. Barrows, D. D.)
The present God
I. The folly and sin of every form of idolatry. When Pompey, the Roman general, had conquered Jerusalem, his curiosity prompted him to enter the temple; and finding no image there of any divinity, he was filled with astonishment, and would fain have called the Jews atheists. The presence of an image seemed to him an essential part, or, at least, an important prerequisite, of Divine worship. As Pompey thought, so all pagans think; hence we term them Idolaters (from ei!dwlon, an image), because they either worship an image as God, or adore their divinities through the instrumentality of an image. This practice both reason and revelation condemn, as being exceedingly senseless, and exceedingly sinful.
II. The truth of the text should stimulate us to the cultivation of an incessantly devotional spirit. The whole universe is but one vast apartment filled with the Divine presence, and everywhere, therefore, we may be closeted with God
III. Sure consolation to the Christian, amidst the sorrows to which he is exposed. God sees every tear, hears every groan. His seeing is blended with sympathy. “Like as a father pitieth his children,” &c. With the exercise of sympathy is connected the putting forth of Divine power. He will either deliver us from our sorrow, or give us strength bravely to bear it.
IV. What a safeguard against the seductions of sin may those noble words prove, Shall we yield to temptation beneath the gaze of the infinitely Holy One! Shall we dare to oppose the righteous will of Him, “in whom we live and have our being”? Shall we dare to break the holy commands of the Divine law-giver, in whose presence we are at all times placed? (Homilist.)
The Divine perfections
There are three ways of discoursing upon the perfections of God.
1. We prove that there is a God, and that He must have these powers and qualities which we ascribe to Him.
2. Supposing that God is, and that He possesses all perfections, we explain them as far as the sublimity of the incomprehensible subject permits, and confute the wrong opinions which have been entertained concerning them.
3. Supposing that they to whom we address ourselves have just and honourable notions of all God’s perfections, and confining ourselves chiefly to practical truths, we show the effects which such a belief and such knowledge ought to produce, and endeavour to excite in them a behaviour suitable to their faith.
I. God’s omnipresence, unlisted knowledge, and irresistible power.
1. God is present everywhere. A proof of this may be taken from the creation. The world is plainly the offspring of one great and wise mind, which produced it, and disposed all its parts in that beautiful order in which they continue, and gave them those regular motions which they preserve, and by which they are preserved. Now God must of necessity be present with the things that He made and governs.
2. He is present everywhere in knowledge. This perfection is united with the former: for, if God be everywhere, everything must be known to Him.
3. God is also present everywhere in power. He is the only independent being, He is before all things, He made all things, He upholds and governs all things; from Him all powers are derived, and therefore nothing is able to resist or defeat His will
II. What effects the fore-mentioned truths should produce in us.
1. We should endeavour to resemble God in these perfections, and in the manner in which He exerciseth them.
2. This consideration should deter us from sin.
3. This consideration should teach us humility. Pride is a very unfit companion for poverty and dependence; and vain men should remember that they receive all from God, and that they can acquire and preserve neither strength nor skill unless by His blessing, by His appointment or permission.
4. A particular encouragement to reliance and contentment, to faith and hope. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
The omnipresence of God
I. The doctrine of god’s omnipresence. The omnipresence of which the Bible teaches us that God is possessed, is that attribute by which He is present everywhere, equally, at all times, in the possession of all His perfections.
1. The uniformity of the operations of nature, and of the moral principles by which the universe is governed,--everywhere that we are able to trace them,--leads us to conclude that the same God is everywhere present, as the Ruler and Disposer of all.
2. The possession of this attribute is necessary to the perfection of His other attributes, and the want of this would destroy the analogy and resemblance that otherwise exists between them.
3. The declarations of Scripture regarding the omnipresence of God are both plain and numerous: Job 11:7-9; Acts 7:27-28; Psalms 139:7-11; 1 Kings 8:27; Amos 9:2-3; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20.
II. The practical aspects of the doctrine of God’s omnipresence.
1. God is everywhere present, as the Preserver and Governor of all.
2. God is everywhere present as the object of religious worship,
3. God is everywhere present as the inspector of our conduct.
4. God is always present as the helper and Saviour of His people. In the time of duty he will give them strength to perform, in the time of trial strength to resist, and in the Period of trouble strength to endure. (W. Dickson.)
The Divine omnipresence
Few things in nature but are mysterious to us. Outward appearances we know, but when we attempt to inquire into the causes of things, we find our researches quickly at an end. Our sensations give us no intelligence of the essence of those material objects which produce them, nor, indeed, immediately of their existence itself: and though we have an inward consciousness of our own existence, our perceptions, and volitions, yet what the intimate nature is of that self-consciousness, we cannot understand. Least of all can we form any adequate notion of the Supreme Being himself. By reflecting on ourselves, on the constitution of our nature, with its various tendencies, affections, passions, and operations, and by considering external objects as perceived by our senses, we are led to a persuasion of His being, power, wisdom, and goodness. By this method of inquiry we are also convinced that God is intimately present with us, and with all beings in the universe: yet still it is only by the means of sensible effects that we attain to this conviction. The Divine nature and attributes themselves, the inward principle of the Almighty’s various operations, “no man hath seen at any time, nor can see.” Hence it follows, and we find it so in experience, that the Perfections of God which are the most clearly manifested, and immediately exercised in His works, are the best understood by us. We have much more distinct apprehensions of power, wisdom, and goodness, than of self-existence and infinity. With regard, therefore, to those attributes which it is hardest for us to conceive, we shall still think and speak of them the most usefully, when, as far as it can be done, we consider them in relation to the works of God. God is from all eternity: He consequently exists without any cause; He therefore necessarily is, and it is impossible that He should not be. But it is certain that absolute necessity of existence excludes all relation to any one place more than another: for He who is, by necessity of nature, must be everywhere, for the same reason that He is anywhere; because if He could be absent from any one place, He might be absent also from any other place, and so could have no necessary existence. To necessity of existence all points of space are alike; and, therefore, it is equally necessary in them all. This argument is held to be irrefragable: but there is another, at once more obvious and more convincing. We see, in this vast creation, a power everywhere exerted in pursuing a design that is perfectly uniform and consistent: we see it exerted at all times, and in all places; the same intentions are, by the same energy, advanced from age to age. Now, wherever this power is exerted, there is God; in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath. But if we know that He fills heaven and earth, we know that there can be no difficulty in supposing that He is present in all imaginable worlds, and in all imaginable space. In this kind of reasoning, from obvious and manifest appearances, the mind rests perfectly satisfied. And thus we conceive, that as in man there is one individual conscious self, that sees, hears, feels, and determines for the whole body; so in the universe (but in a manner infinitely more perfect) there is one conscious intelligent nature, which pervades the entire system, at once perceiving in every place, and presiding over all To every good mind this must be a joyful reflection. It is a noted observation, that in the company of one whom we esteem and love, we are sensible of a pleasure which seems to communicate itself to all objects around us. And why should not all nature appear to us delightful, as it is everywhere the seat of the Divine presence; the seat of that presence which contains the perfection of grandeur and of beauty? God is here; and should not everything rejoice as in His presence? So the rising sun displays his beams, and the skies are filled with day; a thousand beautiful objects open to the eye, nature smiles on every hand, and the world appears a grand and delightful theatre. To look on the beauty of opening flowers, gradually growing up to all their pride, is certainly pleasant, even to a superficial observer; but to discern the Creator’s hand which adorns them in a manner so delightful, and to consider them as the contrivance of the eternal Mind, eloquently displaying His intention to please the children of men, this shows them in a very different, and in a much nobler light. Even the most formidable appearances in nature, considered in this view, become easy to the imagination. If the thunders and the lightnings of heaven are conceived as having the Deity presiding in them; if the wild tempests and the tumultuous ocean are His servants, constantly under His eye, ever executing His pleasure, and having all their force measured by Him; they cease then to be terrible, for they discover a power which must be always tempered with kindness, and directed by love. (A. MacDonald.)
The omnipresence of God
I. Infinite knowledge. If a being is perfectly acquainted with me--if he knows all I do, and all I say, and all I think--he is, in an eminent sense, present with me. In this sense God is everywhere present; there is nothing hidden, nothing concealed from Him.
II. Direct, constant, and universal agency. Wherever a being immediately operates, there He is present. When God created the world out of nothing, He was present at its production: but the same power is requisite to sustain, as to create, the universe. If we imagine the lights of heaven to exist and move, and the processes of nature to be carried on by the laws of this Creator, yet let it be remembered, that there is no binding power in law; it is only the ordinary rule by which creative energy and power sustains the world, and the works He has formed. Thus it is with God’s power in the laws of nature, not simply by ordination or by appointment, but by a perpetual impartation of mighty energy, which, if for a moment withheld, the world would cease to be. And He is not only employed in preserving His works, but, as far as our knowledge extends, He is perpetually calling new beings into existence and terminating the present condition of others. Both are perpetually passing the opposite barriers of life--entering into existence, and passing out of it: but neither event transpires without the immediate presence of God.
III. The accomplishment of his purposes. The world was created for His glory: but if on its production he had retired from it, only sustaining it in being, we might have seen His power in creation; but His wisdom, His might, His goodness in the works of providence, would not have been displayed. But He governs the world which He has made, and His supremacy is so complete that nothing happens without His permission; and every purpose of the Eternal Mind will he fully and perfectly accomplished. “The purpose of the Lord shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure.” To accomplish these objects He must be everywhere present; not only acquainted with external events, but with the thoughts and the intents of the human heart.
1. The grandeur and the incomprehensibility of Jehovah.
2. The nature of all true religion. All religion is founded on correct views of the Deity; it is the state, the habit of mind, which accords with our relation to God and His perfections. If, therefore, God be a Spirit, and by reason of His spiritual nature is everywhere present, then He must be worshipped in spirit and in truth; that is, in sincerity and with the heart.
3. Religion is a habit of mind. It consists not in isolated acts of worship; not in our regular attendance on the Sabbath in the house of prayer: but the conviction that God seeth us at all times should make us religious in all places.
4. Our subject is full of consolation to the good man. Oh, it is a delightful and cheering thought, that my heavenly Father is never absent from me.
5. However forgotten and contemned may be the doctrine of God’s omnipresence, it is an awful truth to ungodly men. (S. Summers.)
The omnipresence of God
1. The proofs of it. It is implied in the idea of an unoriginated Being, that there can be nothing to limit Him. Were His existence determined to one place, rather than to another, it must have been so determined by some prior cause; and, consequently, He could not have been the first cause.
2. That necessity by which the Deity exists, can have no relation to one place more than to another. It must be the same everywhere that it is anywhere. The infinity itself of space is nothing but the infinity of the Divine nature.
II. The manner of it.
1. God is to be conceived as present with us in all we think, as well as in all we do. The motives of our actions, our most secret views and purposes, and the inmost recesses of our hearts, lie naked before Him.
2. He is present with us by His influence. His hand is always working to preserve us, and to keep up the springs of life and motion within us.
3. He is present with us by His sense. We feel Him in every effort we make, in every breath we draw, and in every object that gives us either pain or pleasure.
4. It follows, from hence, that He is present with us in a manner in which no other being can be present with us. It is a presence more real, more close, more intimate, and more necessary.
III. The practical improvment of this subject.
1. Since God is equally present everywhere, we ought not to imagine that our worship of Him can be more acceptable in one place than in another.
2. Since God is the only being that is present with us in the manner I have described, there can he no other being who is the proper object of our prayers.
3. The consideration of the constant and intimate presence of the Deity with us, ought to encourage us in our addresses to Him. He is our benevolent parent, and therefore no pious wish of our hearts, no virtuous breathings of our minds, no desire of bliss that can be directed to Him, can escape His notice, or fail of being properly attended to.
4. A reverential fear should continually possess us, since God is always with us.
5. The presence of God with us should deter us from sin.
6. The presence of God with us should support us in the performance of our duty, and quicken us in a virtuous course.
7. The consideration of God’s presence with us should encourage and comfort us under every pain and trouble. A present Deity is a present friend, and a present helper in every time of need. (R. Price, D. D.)
The omnipresence of God
If you were cast out of your country a thousand miles off, you are not out of God’s precinct; His arm is there to cherish the good, as well as to drag out the wicked; it is the same God, the same presence in every country, as well as the same sun, moon, and stars; and were not God everywhere, yet He would not be meaner than His creature, the sun in the firmament, which visits every part of the habitable world in twenty-four hours. (S. Charnock.)
The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath My Word, let him speak My Word faithfully.
The word and the dream
The prophet here exhibits in contrast Divine teaching and the speculations of men. The former he calls the Word of the Lord. The latter he calls but dreams, the visionary offspring of the human mind, and partaking of the weakness and fallibility of the source whence they spring. Human minds must think. They will clothe truth in forms of their own. Classify, arrange, systematise. It helps memory and clearness of conception. Yet all such speculation needs to be under the restraint of a godly fear, of a solemn sense of responsibility, to be sober, guided by a constant reference to Holy Scripture, carefully restrained from wandering into the dangerous regions of mere invention, and guarded against the spirit of dogmatism and dictation. The moment the dream of man and the oracle of God are put on a footing of equality, and the distinction that separates them is forgotten, mischief ensues; the teacher promulgates error, his teaching degenerates into “vain babbling”; and “the lips that should keep knowledge,” “cause the people” that seek at them the law of the Lord “to err through their lies and their lightness.” In that pure word alone Divine energy and efficiency reside. That is the fire whose searching heat few things can abide unchanged, the hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces, that alone can effectually subdue the hardness of the human heart, and conquer the stubbornness of the human will. One step in the process of obtaining scriptural truth from Scripture is interpretation. Scriptural truth is not the letter of the word, but its meaning, the mind of God conveyed to men under its various forms and delineations. Truth lies in the Scriptures as the ore lies in the mine, mingled with foreign substances, disguised by various combinations. Not till it is elicited, disengaged and presented in its simple, unmixed condition, is it moral and spiritual truth, an infallible lesson of doctrine and duty to men. Another step in the process of obtaining scriptural truth from Scripture is to systematise, arrange, and combine the results of interpretation. Truth must be adjusted to truth, so that they may be parts of a coherent whole, and not a confused aggregation of unrelated particles. A separate truth viewed without reference to other truths grows immediately disproportionate and corrupt. Hence the necessity of “comparing spiritual things with spiritual,” “prophesying according to the proportion,” that is, the analogy “of the faith,” “rightly dividing the word of truth.” Let us next attend to the action of the human mind on the truth thus ascertained. The mind will not receive truth passively. It will think, speculate. For instance, it is taught redemption, viz., that by the suffering and death of Christ, man is relieved from the wrath of God and the punishment legally due to transgressors on condition of becoming penitent and believing. This is Divine teaching. But the mind will not rest there. It will have theories of redemption, and it may have different theories innocently, provided it leaves the truth in its integrity; and any man may tell his theory, his dream, if he do but tell it as a theory, and not put it on a level with the truth which it attempts to explain. There are Scripture hints, again, which we cannot refrain from attempting to expand, to give them form and fulness by conjectures of our own; as, for instance, a spiritual state of being and a future life we seek to clothe with substance and reality by imagining what they are, what are the conditions of such states of existence, what are their sources of enjoyment, what their modes and occasions of action; and we seize upon analogies and symptoms, if we can find any, to help our conceptions. But the teacher must always be careful to distinguish between the explicit announcements of God’s Word, which are infallible because Divine, and those thoughts of man about them, which are valuable only in proportion to the soundness of the argument and evidence by which they are sustained. But there is a question lower down than all we have yet said--How shall we extract scriptural truth from Scripture,--how shall we derive the meaning from the letter of the Word?
1. The natural and apparent meaning is ordinarily the true one. The Bible is God teaching men by human speech. To do this effectually it conforms to the laws of human speech. It is popular teaching clothed in popular phraseology, and not in the technical language of scientific theology.
2. That meaning of any particular passage of Scripture is the true one, which harmonises with the general strain of its teaching. We are not to build doctrines on isolated texts, if there are other texts which, fairly considered, operate to modify and limit their sense. God must he consistent with Himself. What He says in one place cannot contradict what He says in another. And the true sense in either must be that which gives a consistent sense in both.
3. The ancient meaning is to be preferred to any that is more modern. There are no such things as discoveries in Christianity. It is not an improvable system. It has no such thing as growth. Christianity came from the hands of its Author perfect and unalterable. No doctrine that was unknown in early ages is any part of it. We are to remember that the Gospel was taught before it was written, that a definite system of belief and practice was established before the Christian Scriptures were composed. And the Scriptures do but echo and republish this, and with this system in our minds, handed down from the beginning in the Church, we are to read them. The meanings that conform to it we are to embrace, the meanings that contradict it we are to reject. (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)
Religious truth and error
I. Religious error is a human dream but religious truth is a divine word.
1. Let us notice a few of the religious errors that have ever been prevalent in the world.
(1) Sacramentalism--the idea that we can discharge our moral obligations, and obtain the favour of God, by attending to certain religious ceremonies.
(2) Moritorialism the Pharisaical idea that, on the ground of our own individual excellence, we have a claim to the Divine benignancy.
(3) Functionalism--the idea that certain periodical religious services rendered to our Maker, where the life is selfish and worldly, are acceptable worship.
(4) Proxyism--the idea that we can be saved through the merits or offices of some priest, or supposed heaven-favoured man.
(5) Fatalism--the idea that we can do nothing; that if we are to be saved, we shall be saved, and that, therefore, we must run the risk.
2. These ideas are all human dreams.
(1) They imply a partial dormancy of the soul.
(2) They are temporary illusions. There is a morning to dawn on every soul, when they will melt away as visions.
3. But while these religious errors are mere human dreams, religious truth is God’s Word. A “word” is the representative of mind. God’s Word is the representative of His all-perfect Mind; it is the “arm of the Lord revealed.”
II. Religious error, as well as truth, is allowed a voice in this world.
1. God allows it to speak. He does not seal the lips of the false prophet. This fact indicates--
(1) The superior force of truth. God knows that truth is sufficient to conquer any error, if His prophets will but speak out “faithfully.”
(2) Man’s inalienable right to free speech. God allows it even to the false prophet. It is not, therefore, for man to interfere with this right.
(3) The probability of future retribution. False prophets will not always speak; their mouths will one day be “stopped”; they will be “speechless.” Eternal justice demands this.
2. But whilst the false is allowed to speak, the true is bound to speak. “He that hath My Word, let him speak My Word faithfully.” My Word, not his own; not the word of others, but Mine, and that “faithfully.” Though it clash with men’s tastes, prejudices, and practices, speak it;--though it rouse the bitterest opposition, lead to the sacrifice of property, health, life itself, speak it, and speak it faithfully.
III. The relative value of religious truth and religious error does not admit of comparison.
1. What are these human dreams, these religions errors, though elaborated into intellectual systems, or organised into gorgeous rituals, compared to My Word? Chaff.
2. But this pithy appeal may be viewed in other applications without violating its spirit.
(1) It may apply to ideas and their expressions. There is a man who is exceedingly particular about the garb of thought: all his talk is about style. Mere style is chaff.
(2) It will apply to religion and its forms. There is another who is wondrously attached to certain forms of worship; he has but little sympathy with those who adopt not his ritualism. Mere formalities are chaff.
(3) It will apply to character and its accidents. There is another who has not much sympathy with a brother, because of his appearance, manners, or connections. These accidents of character are chaff.
(4) It will apply to spiritual and secular worth. There is yet another who is striving after worldly wealth; who thinks more about property than principle--the body than the soul. The world is chaff compared with the soul. (Homilist.)
The faithful utterance of the Divine Word
I. A comparison instituted and illustrated. “What is the chaff to the wheat?” The comparison is instituted between the pure authorised Word of God, and the vain fancies and delusions of men, called here “dreams.” Dreams are those vague speculations of men who profess to be trying to find something new in the world of religion about God, man, and the future life,-while at the same time they depart from the truth. Their endeavour seems to be to comfort and cheer those who are anxious about spiritual things, and the future, by throwing doubt upon the old teachings, and they cry, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” But the sure Word of God tends to arouse men, to quicken their consciences, and show them what they are within themselves. Revelation is a light streaming from the throne of God upon our dark world; where its beams shine, the night of pagan darkness retires, the spectres of ancient superstition depart, and errors which had enslaved the mind for ages melt away; there Truth erects her throne and bestows the blessings of her reign; she breaks the iron sceptres of despotism, throws open wide the putrid dungeons of oppression, removes the fetters of the slave, awakens the torpid powers of the mind, erects the prone savage into a man, transforms man into a saint, and fits him to dwell with the angels of God. In the time of sorrow, when life is darkened with affliction and bereavement, what are the dreams of men then when compared with the Word of God? said a man some time ago, who had not gone to the Word of God for his comfort and hope in times of trial, but he had tried to find comfort and hope in the philosophy, falsely so called, of human reason; finding, as he thought, a refuge in agnosticism; but when his beloved daughter died, and when he saw the corpse prepared for its last resting-place, his heart was sad, for he saw nothing beyond; in his philosophy he could find no help, not a ray of light to lighten the gloom, and there was nothing to soothe his sorrow, until from the lips of the man of God standing by the side of the casket he heard words that seemed to drop from Heaven for him: “Let not your heart,” &c. “Then,” he said, “whilst the tears were not dried, and the sorrow for the present loss yet remained, yet through the tears I could see a light breaking through the darkness, and above the sorrow a fountain of joy, which would be eternal, and I rested upon the Word and found peace.”
II. An admonition to ministers, urging them to faithfulness in the delivery of the Divine Word. “And he that hath My Word let him speak My Word faithfully.” Let him maintain its Divine authority. Let him hold to the truth and proclaim the Word that has the “thus saith the Lord” behind it. Speak it not as the word of men, but as the Word of God. Let the dreams of men be told (if they must be told) as dreams, but let the faithful minister proclaim the Word of God with all faithfulness and earnestness. Let him speak it correctly. Keep close to instruction, neither add to nor take from, bring no corrupt glosses, but receive it at the mouth of God, and deliver it pure and unadulterated to the people. But there is also, I think, in the text a word or suggestion for the hearers, as well as for the preacher. They should take heed how they hear, and should never indulge in the desire for human speculation instead of the Word of God. (John T. Wills, D. D.)
I. Explain this ministerial duty. To preach the. Word of God faithfully implies--
1. That a minister understands it. “He that hath My Word,” &c. By having the Word of God is meant having the knowledge of it, in distinction from having a dream, or a mere imaginary idea of Divine truth. It is true that a perfect knowledge of every text in the Bible is not necessary, in order to preach the Word of God faithfully. No man does, nor perhaps ever will, possess such a universal and perfect knowledge of the Scriptures. But yet a clear, a just and general knowledge of the first principles of the oracles of God, is necessary to qualify a preacher for the faithful discharge of his duty. Ministers must have the Word of God in their understandings as well as in their hearts, in order to be able and faithful instructors of the doctrines and duties of Christianity.
2. They must not only understand the Word of God, but know that they understand it. “He that hath a dream,” saith the Lord, “let him tell a dream,” and not pretend it is My Word; “and he that hath My Word, let him speak My Word”; and speak it as Mine, and not as his own. But if ministers do not know that they understand the Word of God, how can they, with propriety and sincerity, preach His Word as His Word? To do this would be daring presumption. The primitive preachers -of the Gospel knew that they knew, not only the inspiration but the doctrines of the Gospel. They could say, “We believe, and therefore speak.” They could confidently declare that they did not preach cunningly devised fables.
3. Fidelity requires ministers to preach the Word of God fully, and lay open the great system of doctrines contained in it. The apostle Paul declares that he did not preach the Gospel in a partial and superficial manner, nor shun to declare the whole counsel of God. And if we look into his epistles we shall find that he developed the great plan of salvation as devised by God the Father, as executed by God the Son, and as applied by God the Holy Ghost. He explained the distinct offices and operations of the ever-blessed Trinity, in creating, redeeming, and governing the world. Of course, he taught the doctrine of Divine decrees; the doctrine of human depravity the doctrine of vicarious atonement; and the doctrine of Divine agency in preparing all mankind for their future and final destination. It is difficult to see how ministers can preach the Word of God faithfully, unless they preach it in such a full and comprehensive manner.
4. They must preach the Word of God plainly, so as to be understood; but they cannot be understood by the great majority of their hearers, unless they use proper words, arranged in their usual, natural, and proper order. Christ preached as He conversed, with peculiar perspicuity. Paul imitated His example. He said he had rather speak five words which were easy to be understood, and edifying to common Christians, than ten thousand which they could not understand, and which could do them no good.
5. Fidelity requires ministers to preach the Gospel in its purity and simplicity. They have no right to mix their own crude and confounded opinions with the revealed truths which they are commanded to deliver. Truth mixed with error is often more dangerous than mere error alone.
6. It belongs to the office of those who preach the Word of God, to defend it against its open enemies. They are set for the defence of the Gospel; and charged, in meekness, to instruct those who oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth. And to hold fast the faithful Word that by sound doctrine they may both exhort and convince gainsayers, whose mouths must be stopped.
7. The faithful preaching of the Gospel necessarily includes godly sincerity. Christ requires those to love Him supremely, whom He employs to feed His sheep and lambs.
II. Enforce the practice of ministerial fidelity.
1. God expressly commands those who preach His Word to be faithful in the discharge of their duty.
2. It concerns them to consider, that they have solemnly bound themselves to be faithful in their sacred office.
3. Faithful preaching has a tendency to save, but unfaithful preaching has a tendency to destroy the souls of men.
1. If preaching the Gospel faithfully includes so much as has been represented, then ministers have a very arduous and laborious work to perform.
(1) It requires much reading and much thinking to acquire that knowledge of the Gospel, and that knowledge of the human heart, and that knowledge of the various ways of preaching and affecting the human heart, which is necessary in order to preach plainly, instructively, and impressively.
(2) Besides preaching, they have a vast many pastoral services to perform, which require the exercise of all their wisdom, prudence, zeal, and self-denial.
2. If ministers are bound to preach the truth and the whole truth faithfully, then they are bound to preach against every species of error, whether in principle or practice. They are set as watchmen to espy danger, and warn their people against it.
3. If ministers are bound to preach the Word of God faithfully, then they can have no excuse for being unfaithful Their obligations to fidelity are superior to all the reasons they can possibly urge in excuse for unfaithfulness. The commands of God, their own engagements, the cause of Christ, and the salvation of souls, create obligations to fidelity, paramount to all possible excuses for unfaithfulness, in the sight of God and man.
4. If ministers are bound to preach the Word of God faithfully, then they ought not be afraid to preach it faithfully. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
God not in the preacher’s code
Dr. J. G. Paten, when last leaving these shores for the South Seas, was seen off by a good number of friends. Many of his well-wishers were assembled on one of our piers to say farewell, and it occurred to them that a last signal might be sent to the departing vessel. One of the party approached the man in charge of the signal-station, and asked if a message could be sent. On hearing in the affirmative, the visitor wished that the words, “God-speed to you,” should be arranged, and for that purpose the code-book was consulted. To the astonishment of all, the seaman confessed that the word “God” did not appear at all in the register; and so, to the general disappointment, a fresh message had to be signalled to the veteran missionary as he passed out from the river to the open sea. Sad, indeed, is it for any of us if we have not the name of God in our code-book. If we will we may all have God’s name, first in our hearts, then on our lips, to be signalled as a message of peace to all whom we meet.
What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord.
Chaff or wheat
My theme is the superiority of the Divine Word to the merely human dreams by which men have sought to displace it. I refer not to the discoveries of science, but rather to those views regarding God, and the soul, and the hereafter which multitudes in our times are seeking to put in antagonism to the Word of God,--and I say that these “human dreams” when tested by experience are found to be chaff, while the Word of God, when similarly tried, is discovered to be wheat.
I. The human dream is empty; but the Divine Word is substantial. Chaff is a mere husk, but wheat is all grain. So the antagonists of the Bible deal in vague speculations, or empty negations; whereas the Scriptures are positive and satisfying. Try the human dream in the hour of bereavement. What has it to say to the mourner weeping over the casket that holds his dead beloved? I challenge infidelity to utter then a word which has in it a single particle of comfort for the stricken one. If he choose to repress the intuitions of his own nature, and shut his eyes to the evidences of intelligent design which exist in the external world, one may affirm that there is no God. But what comfort is there in that at such a time? The specific in medicine has won its recognition when it is seen to be unfailing. In like manner the power of the Gospel to comfort the mourner establishes its claim to be received as the Divine, specific for his grief, and he will not give it up unless he gets something better in its place; least of all will he part with it for that which is unsubstantial as an airy nothing.
II. The human dream is destitute of nourishment for man’s spiritual nature, while the Divine Word is strengthening, and ministers to its growth. Chaff does not feed; but wheat gives nutriment. So mere speculation has in it no educating and ennobling influence, It occupies the mind without strengthening the character. Scepticism puts an arrest on progress. It stimulates the critical faculty into excess; and, instead of stirring a man up to the formation and development of his own character, it makes him a mere anatomist of the characters of others. The great majority of mere critics have become so through their lack or loss of personal religious faith. What a contrast, in this regard, there is between the lives of the two Frenchmen, Vinet and St. Beuve! They were companions in youth, and, indeed, friends through life. But St. Beuve lost his religious faith and became a literary critic, one of the very best of critics, indeed, yet only a critic, delighting the readers of his Causeries du Lundi with his expositions of the systems of other men and his estimates of their worth; but Vinci, who retained his faith to the last, became a producer himself, added something great to the thought and work of his time, and earned the right to be called the “Chalmers of Switzerland.”
III. The “human dream” has no aggressiveness in it to arrest or overcome the evils that are in the world, but the Divine Word is regenerating and reforming. “Is not My Word like as a fire? saith the Lord, and like a hammer,” &c. Where shall we look for anything like similar results from those who are the votaries of the human “dreams” of agnosticism, scepticism, or infidelity? What has any one of these done to improve the characters of individual men, or elevate society, or bless the world? Let the advocates of infidelity either do more than we have accomplished, or let them for ever hold their peace.
IV. The human dream is short-lived, but the Divine Word is enduring. Chaff is easily blown away,, but the wheat remains. And so the “little systems” of human speculation “have their day and cease to be”; but the “Word of the Lord endureth for ever.” The arguments of the first antagonists of the Gospel are now read only in the pages of the apologists who replied to them. And in more recent times, how many adversaries have advanced to assail it, with haughty boasting that it would speedily be defeated, but with the same result? Voltaire said that it took twelve men to establish the Gospel, but he would show that one man could overthrow it. Yet the Gospel is here studied by millions, and how few now read Voltaire! A certain German rationalist alleged that the Gospel was not worth twenty-five years’ purchase; but half a century has gone since he wrote, and the Gospel is more vigorous than ever, while he is forgotten. Again and again, in the estimation of its adversaries, it ought to have been demolished; but it will not die, for there is deep truth in Beza’s motto for the French Protestant Church, which surmounts the device of an anvil surrounded by blacksmiths, at whose feet are many broken hammers, and which I once heard Frederick Monod translate thus--
“Hammer away, ye hostile bands:
Your hammers break, God’s anvil stands.”
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Whenever God’s Word deals with things truthful, be they material objects or living persons, however weak and feeble they are, it always speaks of them tenderly and handles them gently. God Himself has an eye of respect for everything that is real and veritable. He does not quench the smoking flax, nor will He break the bruised reed. But God hates every false thing. He scorns the hypocrite and the dissembler. The words of Jehovah are keen and cutting, sometimes even sarcastic, as He withers the specious lie with a laugh of ridicule. Notice the peculiar sharpness and biting severity of the text: “What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord.” Like the edge of a razor it cuts. As a sabre flashing over one’s head--a sword gleaming to the very point, a fire lurid with coals of juniper--we are appalled as we glance at it. It strikes with implacable resentment. There is no word of mercy towards the chaff--not a thought of clemency or forbearance. He bloweth at it as though it were a worthless thing, not to be accounted of, a nothing that vanishes with a puff.
I. In application to all ministries Of God’s Word, let us first of all face the question, “What is the chaff to the wheat? “ That ministry which comes from God is distinguished altogether from that which is not of His own sending by its effects.
1. It is sure to be heart-breaking. If thou hast not been made to feel thyself lost, ruined, and undone by the Word, I charge thee by the living God to be dissatisfied with thyself, or else with the ministry under which thou art sitting; for if it were God’s ministry to thy soul, it would break thy heart in shivers, and make thee cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
2. Not less also is a God-sent ministry clothed with power by God’s Spirit, to bind up the heart so broken. Only let a ministry be full of Jesus, let Christ be lifted up and set forth, evidently crucified in the midst of the assembly--let His name be poured forth, like a sweet perfume, it shall be as ointment to the wounded heart, and then it will be recognised as the ministry of wheat, and not a ministry of chaff to your souls.
3. Further, the ministry which God does not send is of no service in producing holiness. Dr. Chalmers tells us that, when he first began to preach, it was his great end and aim to produce morality, and in order to do so he preached the moral virtues and their excellences. This he did, he says, till most of the people he thought honest turned thieves, and he had scarcely any left that knew much about morality practically. But no sooner did Chalmers begin to understand, as he afterwards did so sweetly, the power of the Cross, and to speak about the atoning blood in the name and strength of the eternal Spirit, than the morality, which could not be developed by preaching moral essays, became the immediate result of simply proclaiming the love of God in Christ Jesus. What we all want, is to have less and less of that which comes from ourselves and savours of the creature, and to have more and more of that which comes from our God, who, though we cannot see Him, is still in our midst, the mighty to will and to do; for His power is the only power, and His life is the only life by which we can be saved ourselves, and those that hear us.
II. Apply the text, as individuals, to ourselves.
1. No doubt, we are all well aware that if we have wheat in us, there is chaff too. Which preponderates, it may be difficult for us to tell. Some Christians are greatly puzzled when we begin to talk about the experimental riddle which the Christian finds in himself; but, if they be perplexed, we cannot help them out of the difficulty except by describing the case. I know in my own soul that I feel myself to be like two distinct men. There is the old man, as base as ever, and the new man, that cannot sin, because he is born of God. I cannot myself understand the experience of those Christians who do not find a conflict within, for my experience goes to show this, if it shows anything, that there is an incessant contention between the old nature--Oh, that we could be rid of it! and the new nature, for the strength of which God be thanked! This suggests great searching of the heart in connection with the question, “What is” the chaff to the wheat? Oh, let us feel that the chaff is to be all got rid of. Let us feel that it is a heavy burden to moan and groan under, that it is not a grievance we should be contented with. Let us make no provision for the flesh. Let us not ask that any chaff may be spared to us.
2. A great deal of our religiousness is chaff likewise. Do you never find yourselves borrowing other people’s experience? What is that but chaff? Do you never find yourselves at a prayer-meeting glowing with somebody else’s fervour? What is that but chaff? Does not your faith sometimes depend upon companionship with some fellow-Christians? Well, I will not say that your faith is chaff, but I think I may say that such growth in faith as is altogether the result of second causes and not immediately of God, is very much like chaff. “Lord, take from me all the guilt, leave me nothing but the gold; take from me all the paint, the graining and the varnish, and leave me nothing but what is veritable and bona fide.” It is a prayer for every Christian to offer.
III. This text may have a very strong bearing upon the Christian Church. Take any of our churches, take this church, and do you suppose that all of yon who now profess to be Christians would be willing to burn at the stake for your Master? I wish we could believe it, but we cannot. I dare not tell you we believe it, because some of you have been put to much smaller tests than that, and what has become of you? The nautilus is often seen sailing in tiny fleets in the Mediterranean Sea, upon the smooth surface of the water. It is a beautiful sight, but as soon as ever the tempest wind begins to blow, and the first ripple appears upon the surface of the sea, the little mariners draw in their sails and betake themselves to the bottom of the sea, and you see them no more. How many of you are like that? When all goes well with Christianity, many go sailing along fairly, in the summer tide, but no sooner does trouble, or affliction, or persecution arise, where are they? Ah! where are they? They have gone.
IV. We may use this text, sorrowfully and solemnly, with regard to the whole mass of human society. The whole mass of our population may just be divided into the wheat and the chaff. Both are mixed up together now, and it would be impossible for you or for me to divide them. In courts of law and the houses of commerce, on the Exchange, and in the committee-rooms, in busy thoroughfares with their various shops, and in the open streets among those that ply different callings, here in this tabernacle, and in the many churches and chapels where multitudes are wont to assemble, we are all mixed up together--the wheat and the chaff. And it is wonderful how united the chaff is with the wheat, for see, the wheat once slept in the bosom of the chaff. There is chaff on the best threshing-floor. There are ungodly sons and daughters in the best families. Unconverted persons are to be found in intimate association with the holiest men and women. Two shall be grinding at the mill, one shall be taken and the other left. Two shall be in one bed, and one shall be taken and the other left. God will make a division, sharp, decisive, everlasting, between the chaff and the wheat. Oh, thou thoughtless, frivolous, light, chaffy, giddy spirit, canst thou bear the thought of being thus separated for ever? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The chaff and the wheat compared
I. what are worldly maxims, compared with the Word of God, but as the chaff to the wheat? Regard the conduct of men who call themselves men of the world; by what principles are they governed t what maxims do they follow? to what authority do they defer? To the authority of Him who made them, who sent His own adorable Son to buy lost, guilty offenders with the shedding of His precious blood; or to the authority of him who deceived our first parents, and hath ever since been spreading snares for their posterity? Doth it not encourage the worldling to spend the precious and unreturning season of mercy in laying up treasure to himself, instead of being rich toward God? Doth it not industriously stigmatise all true religion, as the dreams of enthusiasm, or the inventions of hypocrisy? But “what is the chaff to the wheat?” What is the authority of the world, compared with the authority of Him who reigneth supreme, King of kings and Lord of lords, King over His enemies? What is the ridicule which deters many a feeble-minded professor from seeking Christ, compared with the indignation of Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell? What is the present judgment of man respecting us, compared with God’s decisions?
II. What is the value of that legal righteousness in which carnal man delights, compared with the righteousness of Christ Jesus, as a ground of justification before God? A self-complacent Pharisee may regard himself to be, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” An amiable moralist may gather, and deservedly gather, around him the esteem and love of men, and may ask, in the spirit of presumption, “What lack I yet?” Let the Spirit shine into his heart, take him as by the hand, and flash the lightnings of an injured law in his eyes; let him see God condemning sin in the flesh, by sending Christ to die for it in the flesh; let him see his own miserable shortcoming of that obedience, which a pure and heart-searching Judge requires, and then “what is the chaff to the wheat?”
III. What is the happiness of the worldling, compared with the happiness of a child of God? What is the chaff of his perishing joys, compared to the happiness of a believer t He hears the joyful sound of Gospel love, receives it through infinite grace into his heart, and walks in the light of his Father’s countenance.
IV. What are the present pleasures of sin, which are for a season, compared with the glory of heaven, which will be forfeited by their indulgence? (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)
Lessons of the harvest field
Chaff is of great importance. We mete it out its due quota of praise, but are terribly anxious for fear the praise of chaff and that of wheat be disproportionate to their respective value. If chaff is praised by one sweet voice there ought to be a hundred singing the praises of the grain. Would a farmer be pleased if the net result of his ploughing and sowing, harrowing and reaping, was so many bags of chaff? Do we not see that if chaff has any value at all, it only has such through being the guardian angel of the wheat? It is the golden grain which will be food to men that is the great aim to which all the work of a farmer is directed. Let me apply in one or two ways the analogy of the chaff and wheat.
I. Motives and acts hold the relation which chaff and wheat hold to each other. Every act a man performs has behind it a motive. This may be good, bad, or indifferent. The motive determines everything, and however much the world condemn us for our actions, if they are done in the spirit of Christ, this reward will be ours, that our characters will become Christlike. Don’t despise a man’s actions, but never forget that it is the motive that made him do these that makes them commendable or condemnable.
II. God judges not the acts but the motives. Whilst the world is applauding some men because they have given some money to put a fancy window in some old church, God has written down words of condemnation. The motive in giving the money was as base as base could be. The day is coming when the harvest of God will be gathered. Woeful and sad will that man be who in the threshing day will give abundance of chaff but no wheat.
III. The present life and the future hold the relation of chaff to wheat. In answer to the question, What is this life? two extreme answers have been given. Some say that this life is not worth living. Others live in this world as if this world were everything. The truth, as in all extremes, lies between the two. Now, as to life not being worth living, let me say this is throwing stones at the wisdom of God, and is as absurd as saying chaff has no place in this world. The present life is the chaff covering an eternal life. Within each of us there is a precious wheat that needs nourishing and protection. The trials and difficulties of this life are all working together towards its development. Instead of this world not being a help, like chaff it is God’s appointed means whereby the eternal life may grow within us and spring into full perfection. The chaff may not appear worth all the sunshine and rains bestowed on it, yet it is. It has its purpose to fulfil To-day, as when God made the world, it can be said “and behold it was very good.” If the one extreme--that life is not worth living--is false, how shall I stigmatise that answer which says in deeds that the present life is everything? How absurd for a man to say chaff--this present life--is all he wants! Fancy a farmer collecting all his chaff in sacks and burning all the golden grain. Would we consider him to be in his sane senses? (J. M. Dryerre.)
The chaff and the wheat
Divine revelation does not degrade or supersede human reason. It assumes reason on our part; sets before us what is above, though not contrary to reason; aids reason as the telescope aids the eye, and also shows spurious, antichristian counterfeits--the chaff as distinguished from the wheat. Let the dream go for what it is worth. Take the wheat of God’s Word instead. The text speaks half in irony, half in warning.
1. As admonitory to Christian people. Human speculations present themselves at the bar of my taste or judgment. In self-complacency I pass judgment upon them, but when God’s Word is heard, it breathes authority, and my place is in the dust. Keep, then, the chaff of man free from the wheat of God.
2. As counsel to us who are teachers.
(1) Let parents inculcate the thought of God. Endued with His Spirit, their children may be left in confidence, for the promise is to us and our children.
(2) Teachers in the Sunday School are to give, not guesses, but Gospel.
(3) The clergy need this counsel. They cannot, ought not to stay the current of free thought. Yet, in the wide activity of intellectual conflict, in the bewildering notions and “refractory egotism” of the age, we must discriminate. Stability is found in loyalty to God s truth. Applying these thoughts
1. We are now better able to estimate what reputation really is. We are not to be indifferent to men’s estimate of us. It is a useful stimulus, but it needs to be regulated. It is “a small matter to be judged” by them. What is God’s estimate?
2. What is success? Many look at pecuniary results. They play fast and loose with conscience. Some affect a supercilious devotion and look down on others above whom they seem to rise. What is God’s estimate?
3. Finally, we learn to understand the value of the life we are living as compared with that which is eternal. There is no antagonism in the interests of each. Even the chaff envelops and protects the wheat. It has its place and work, though perishable. (John Hall, D. D.)
“What is the chaff to the wheat?”
I. What is man’s word to the Word of God? God’s Word has its base deep down amongst the eternal things of the mysterious past; and if there be clouds and dimness upon some of its higher peaks, it is because its top rises up amongst the sublimities of a glorious future. Now and then a gleam lights up the awful heights to which revelation towers, and the eye of faith is strong enough to see the rosy tints, which tell that those holier mysteries are near to the beauteous heaven to which they point. At such a time, the believer will say, “What is the chaff to the wheat?” The fallible comment to the infallible text? The earthly setting to the heavenly jewel? The basket of silver to the apples of gold?
II. What is man’s favour to the love of God? It is pleasant to live in the creature’s love. There are happy family groups on this our beautiful earth, upon which the loving eye is glad-to be permitted to look. There are satisfactions which come over the soul when pleasures of earth are many, and the hopes for time are bright. The first sip of pleasure’s cup is sweet. The first climb up ambition’s hill is sunny. The first burst of hope s young bud is beautiful. Some are so smitten with the loveliness here, that they care not to look for the brighter things which are in store hereafter. But “what is the chaff to the wheat? “What is all this to the love of God? Oh, glorious thought! that I am loved by the Father of Lights, the King of uncreated glory! It is the candle of the Lord within my soul. It is the comfort of the Holy Ghost springing up unto everlasting life. To know the love of God, which passeth knowledge: this is peace, this is bliss, this is life.
III. What is the body to the soul? We are fearfully and wonderfully made. This mortal body is beautiful in the very ruins by which sin has laid it low. And when the building of God, the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, shall have been given us,--when our vile bodies shall have been fashioned like unto Christ’s glorious body, then the beauty of our material part shall be seen in all its glory. But “what is the chaff to the wheat?” Who can tell of all the value of a human soul? Coated, as it is now, by earthly matter, we see something of the brightness which this gem can wear. What will the soul be, under the light of heaven, in the crown of Christ? In righteousness and true holiness--seeing Jesus face to face--amid the pleasures which are at God’s right hand for evermore, the spirit of the just made perfect, the soul of the redeemed in the garments of salvation: oh, it must be a glorious thing!
IV. What is the water to the blood? No earthly fountain can suffice to wash away sin. After all that civilisation has ever done to wash the outside of the cup and platter, it has never been able to touch, much less to purge, the heart. Man’s resolution, man’s effort to reform himself, man’s contrivance to cure the soul’s running sore, have all and altogether failed. The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin. It is the blood of sprinkling which purges the soul and conscience. Turn ye, then, from doing to believing; turn from self to Jesus; turn from earning to accepting; turn from water, which cannot cleanse, to the blood which will make filthy garments white: say in the matter of merit and salvation, “What is the chaff to the wheat?” What is self to the Saviour?
V. What is the form to the life? The words of worship are easily said. The attitude of worship may be soon assumed. But “what is the chaff to the wheat?” The eye of God is upon the worshipper’s heart. The ear of God listens to the language of the soul. Put off, spiritually, the shoes from off your feet. Gird up the loins of your minds. Let the holy fire be kindled upon the altar of your heart, and the incense cloud of grateful praise will rise with acceptance before the mercy seat.
VI. What are the things of time to the things of eternity? In life’s endless progress, the earthly is the shortest stage. In the continuous chain of being, the lowest link is the least. When we shall climb up the great hill of eternal life, we shall see how small our earthly dwelling looks at the mountain base. How small earth looks to the eye which can travel over the visible orbs which come even within its limited field of vision. Oh, it is an important thing so to live that we may have life everlasting! Jesus bids us “seek first the kingdom of God.” His servants say, “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come” True wisdom bids a man “set your affections upon things above, not on things on the earth.” We are all moving, things are all changing: it is madness to cling to these passing things, and say, Here will I dwell for ever. It may not be, it should never be desired. God has found some better thing for His children. He says, “What is the chaff to the wheat?” (J. Richardson, M. A.)
Is not My Word like as a fire?
saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?
God’s fire and hammer
I. The word of God has power in it.
1. It is like a fire.
(1) You who are the people of God must often have felt greatly comforted, encouraged, and cheered, when you have been hearing the Gospel, just as when, on a cold day, and you are half benumbed, if your eyes arc blindfolded you know when you are coming near a fire by the genial glow which you feel You delight yourself in the Word of the Lord as you warm your hands at a bright cheery fire.
(2) But, next, fire is only at work very moderately when it yields us comfort; it has also the effect of paining, awakening, arousing. So, even if you are an unconverted man, if you have as yet no knowledge of the power of the Gospel of God, yet if you come in contact with it, I will warrant you that you will know it. Very likely you will show that you know it by getting very angry, growing very indignant. Men do not like being singed and scorched by the Gospel
(3) Fire also has a melting power, and so has the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh, that we could get the hearts of many hardened ones into the very centre of the blessed flame, till the holy heat should make them flow like melted wax before the presence of the God of Israel!
(4) More than that, the Gospel has a consuming power. When it first comes into a district, it finds people indifferent to it; but possibly it begins by burning up some one of their vices. There have been old systems of iniquity that have been hoary with age, but when, at last, they have been attacked by the Church of God, with the sword of the Spirit, and the Gospel of Christ, they have been utterly destroyed.
2. God’s Word is like a hammer: “and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces.” So that, whenever a minister has the Gospel to use, this simile should teach him how he ought to use it; with his whole might let him strike with it mighty blows for his Lord. Hammer away, then, brethren, hammer away, with nothing but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The heart that is struck may not yield even year after year, but it will yield at last.
3. Now put the two together,--the fire and the hammer,--and you will see how God makes His servants who are to be instruments for His use. He puts us into the fire of the Word; He melts, He softens, He subdues. Then He takes us out of the fire, and welds us with hammer-strokes such as only He can give, till He has made us fit instruments for His use; and He goes forth to His sacred work of conquering the multitudes, having in His hands the polished shafts that He has forged with the fire and the hammer of His Word.
II. Illustrate this statement by noticing certain parts of God’s Word which have, to our personal knowledge, operated both as a fire and a hammer upon the hearts of men.
1. A large part of God’s Word is taken up with the revelation of His law, and you cannot fully preach the Gospel if you do not proclaim the law of the Lord. Men will never receive the balm of the Gospel unless they know something of the wounds that sin hath made. If the law of God is faithfully and fully preached, what a fire it is! What a hammer it is!
2. But have you not also felt that there is fire-work and hammer-work in the teaching of the Gospel? The Gospel of redemption through the precious blood of Jesus, the Gospel which tells of full atonement made, the Gospel which proclaims that the utmost farthing of the ransom price has been paid, and that, therefore, whosoever believeth in Jesus is free from the law, and free from guilt, and free from hell,--the telling out of this Gospel has made men’s hearts burn within them, and has dashed out the very brains of sin, and made men joyfully flee to Christ.
3. Above all, what fire-and-hammer power there is in the doctrine of the Cross! Man must yield when the power of the Spirit of God applies to his heart the doctrine of the precious blood.
III. Put the statement of the text to a practical test. “Is not My Word like as a fire, saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?”
1. Let us, first, try it upon ourselves. When you are sad, do not run into your neighbour’s house, do not sit down alone, and weep in sullen despair; get you to the Word of the Lord. There is such sweetness in it, there is such power in it, that in a short time you shall have beauty instead of ashes, and songs instead of sighs. You say that you are not sad, but you are very sleepy; you have become very drowsy and dull in the ways of God; you have not the earnest spirit you used to have, nor half the spiritual life and vigour you once felt. Very well, then, come to God’s Word; read it, study it, listen to it, find Out where that Word is faithfully preached, and go there. Oh, how quickly the Lord has blessed some of us in times of great barrenness! Perhaps another says, “I have lost so much of my comfort, and assurance, and joy, that I feel as if I had grown quite cold and hard and insensible.” Why need you be cold when God’s Word is like as a fire? Why need your heart remain like a rock when God’s Word is like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces:
2. Let us try to use it upon others. I have an opinion that there are a great many persons in this world, whom we give up as hopeless, who have never been really tried and tested with the Gospel in all their lives. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Fire and hammer
I. A picture of the human heart.
1. It has within it that which requires to be consumed. Who that knows his own soul can gainsay this? There is ignorance, prejudice, error, selfishness, guilt, and ungenerous and pernicious principles of action that must be consumed. They pollute the conscience, they enthral the faculties, they enervate the powers of the soul. Like the luxuriant growth of the prairies, they must be burned down to the root before the soil can be cultivated.
2. It is in an unimpressionable condition. It is like a “rock,” insensitive, hard, obdurate, and so it verily is in its unregenerate state.
II. A picture of the Divine Word.
1. It is a fire. “Is not My Word like as a fire? saith the Lord.”
(1) It is a penetrating fire, it burns into the inmost soul.
(2) It is a destructive fire, it burns up the wrong.
(3) It is a purifying fire, it consumes all that is noxious and vile,
(4) It is an unquenchable fire, it cannot be put out; the billows, from the great ocean of worldliness, infidelity and superstition, have been dashing against it for centuries; but it burns as strongly and brightly as ever.
2. It is a Divinely constructed “hammer,” to break through the stratum of moral rock which covers the soil of the heart, shutting out the sunbeam and the shower, and preventing the germination and growth of the seeds of virtue and religion. Conclusion--Thank God for this fire and hammer! Let the fire burn, let the hammer strike. (Homilist.)
Human resistance and Divine power
I. The moral resistance of man. “The rock”--the unconverted heart of man.
1. Every rock has a character. There are aqueous and igneous rocks--stratified and unstratified rocks. So with hearts; some are hard and unyielding, others are soft and flexible; some are full of pride and selfishness, others are gentle and benevolent. But they are all “rock”--hard against God. They all agree in this, though they may differ in other respects.
2. Rocks remain in the same condition for ages. So with sin-hardened hearts. Under the kindly rays of the Father’s countenance, and the Saviour’s love, they remain in the same unmoved and unfeeling state. The Lord has called, but they have not answered--they have despised His reproofs.
3. These rocks may be broken. They are composed of blocks of stone. The hardest is formed by the adhesion of minute particles; these may be separated--pieces may be detached, and the whole rock broken. If we now apply this to the heart, we shall see the points of resemblance. Each heart has many parts and many avenues. One part after another is conquered, until the whole soul is subdued, and brought in humble submission to Jesus.
4. These rocks may be made useful Rock is valuable in many ways: it girds the seacoast and stops the encroachment of the waters; it is the best foundation for the friendly lighthouse; it gives us the most solid and the most beautiful of buildings. So with the wicked hearts around us. It is true, that they are not only useless but injurious in their sinful unquarried state; yet from these must come the able and devoted servant of Christ, the loving disciple, the brave defender of the faith, and the real benefactors of a needy world. They need only to be broken to be useful.
II. The divine means employed by God to remove this resistance.
1. There is adaptedness in the means to accomplish the desired result. The result is to be the broken rock. There is no instrument so adapted for breaking as the hammer. It has weight in a small compass. It has also hardness; it will not yield to the stone; it has a peculiar shape and this gives it power. Thus the Word of God, with all its doctrines, promises, and threatenings--in all its discoveries of truth, and sublime revelations of the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ, is fitted to make deep and abiding impressions on the mind, and to subdue the soul.
2. There is a concentration of power. The same part is struck repeatedly,--each stroke tells. It cannot withstand. The hardest rock will yield to this concentrated force. The Word is similarly applied to the heart in order to subdue It. The rays of Divine truth shine upon the heart’s false refuges until they are seen to be such, and are abandoned.
3. There is the strong arm in its application. There must not only be the means, but these must be applied by intelligence and power. This is seen in other matters. For instance, we may have all the apparatus for taking a correct likeness, but unless the photographer is there to superintend the process, we shall have no likeness. So with the Word. We must have the Divine Spirit, the arm of the Word, to bring it with convincing and saving power to the heart. (W. Darwent.)
Fire and a hammer symbolical of the law and the Gospel
I. “is not My Word like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces, saith the Lord? “I place this simile before the other, because it is in the order of human procedure, when a mass of ore is to be submitted to the fire, that its metal may be extracted, to beat it small with hammers, then to carry it to the kiln, and finally to the furnace. Take the case of one whom the Word of salvation hath never influenced, who is alienated from God, and with no other principle of affection, or of action, than his own unsanctified reason, or his own unrenewed desires. Here, then, is the rock. But let the law of God speak to his soul in its power; let it show him the perfection of the Lawgiver, the spiritual character of the law, the withering curse pronounced against “every one that continueth not,” &c.; let it moreover display his utter inability to do the will of the Being who chargeth even His angels with folly, by letting him into the secrets of his own fallen nature, and proving that he is carnal, sold under sin. And what will be the consequence? The rock, hard it may have been as the nether millstone, will be bruised and beaten to pieces.
II. But after the mighty and terrible agency of the law, may we hope that the Gospel call of love will be equally effectual? We surely may. “Is not My Word like as a fire? saith the Lord.”
1. Fire hath a penetrating nature, and finds its way into every part of the substance that may be submitted to its action. And surely thus doth the Gospel of our redemption.
2. Is it the nature of fire to enlighten? Even so doth the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It removes the delusion which overspreads the mind of man until it shines into him, and he learns, by the light which it reveals, that “other foundation can no man lay, save that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” It exhibits the Divinity of His character, the freeness of His love, the riches of His salvation, the peace that flows into the heart when His kingdom is embraced and submitted to; the holy nature of His law; the sanctifying work of His Spirit; the brightness and grandeur of those hopes which it enkindles, and the duties to which it binds the obedient children of the love of Jesus.
3. Is it the property of fire to warm every object to which it may be applied? And shall we deny a similar power to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, when communicated to the heart by faith and in sincerity?
4. Hath the fire a purifying energy? So hath the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The refiner’s flame may be fierce, the trial of a child of God beneath the discipline of the Gospel may be severe, but it will have an effect the most salutary and gracious. It will separate the gold from the dross. It will consume the one, and make the other meet to be employed even in the noblest uses.
5. Fire hath a property to comfort. And shall we deny this quality to the mercies of the everlasting Gospel, when faith embraces them, and makes them her own? It is that provision which a gracious God hath sent to sustain us in the way to heaven, as the corn ,was given by Joseph to his brethren, for their sustenance through the wilderness that lay between Canaan and Egypt, whither he had invited them. (R. P. Buddicom.)
The power of God’s Word needful for national education
The circumstances of Judah were new and strange when this question was put by God into the mouth of Jeremiah. The name of Jehovah was now falsely used to cover those deceits for which Baal’s was of old the cloak. Against this new form of an old temptation God now warns the people. He bids them winnow the wheat, and cast away the chaff, and not slight necessary truth because falsehood was abroad. “What is the chaff to the wheat?” The counterfeit cannot have the inner life and power of the original “Is not My Word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer,” &c. Here is the mark of My true message: there is a power and might about it which cannot be caught by imitation. The figure is natural and expressive. The custom on which it is founded still prevails in the East. In Madeira, for example, at this day, if a new road is to be carried through a set of rocky obstacles, a fire is lighted on the bed of rock; and when by its action the solid mass is charred and its cleavage loosened, the hammer of the workman soon breaks it thoroughly away. And this same power, says God, is the true credential of My message: as “the hammer and the fire” against the rock of the wilderness, so shall be My Word and My message against the stoutness of man’s heart. In this sense, evidently, the “Word of God” must not be limited to His written Word; in its first application it did not describe the written Word at all: it was the living ministry of the prophet of the Lord, and not the written law, which was to be discerned from that of all pretenders by its possession of this inner power: and it is therefore a strong and impressive assertion of this great truth, that the power of God, and that only, avails for the real subjection and renewal of man’s heart--that this “fire,” and that “hammer” can break it up; and that this is so exclusively their work, that the possession of this power is truly a mark and a countersign of that administration with which God is coworking. Who can watch himself without seeing how far too strong evil always is, and has been, for his own unaided resistance? When did our best resolutions stand long before the hotness of a pressing temptation and the seeming safety of a fitting opportunity? when did the frost-work of the morning stand before the sunshine of the noon? how often do we find old habits of sin breaking out again, when we deemed them long since quenched; showing, like revived volcanoes, that what seemed extinction was but a temporary lull! On the other hand, who that has noted what is passing round him has not marked some instances in which God’s grace has evidently changed the heart and formed anew the spring of its affections? Who has not seen this heavenly power bow the swelling passions of youth to the pure and peaceable rule of a willing obedience? Who has not seen the proud made humble, the rough-tempered gentle, and the indolent laborious? How broadly too has this truth been sometimes written in the alteration of a nation’s character, and its submission to the Gospel yoke. Whenever the “stone cut out without hands” has indeed smitten a people or nation, how have they and all their former manners crumbled into dust before it. Such then is the witness of experience; and right reason would lead us to expect this difference between the work of God and all inferior power. For, if the hypothesis be true; if man’s nature be thoroughly corrupted to its deepest springs; how can he indeed renew himself to righteousness? That on which he has to work, and that with which he has to work, are both alike defiled; how can the one cleanse the other? From the very nature of things it is impossible. And yet who is there that has closely watched others, or still more himself, who does not know that one of the last and hardest things which we can do, is to bring the mind and soul in very deed to hold this truth? The peculiar attempt of infidelity at present is silently and decently to supersede religion--to speak of it as an excellent thing in its way: but to be always able to do without it. It is the monstrous folly of confessing that God is, and treating Him as if He were not our God. This new form of infidelity might easily be traced as more or less harassing society at present. But what is most to our present purpose, nowhere is it more plainly to be found than in the schemes of education which we hear every day buzzed on every side of us. It is asserted, and with a painful truth, that our people are not now educated as they should be: but what remedy is set before us? A scheme of national education which, more or less, evidently is indeed so framed as to exclude religion. What, then, even for this world, is the object of national education? Doubtless, to form amongst the masses of our population a high-toned character; to make them brave, honest, industrious, and unselfish; and then, to add to this as much of knowledge upon other matters as will enlarge their powers of mind without diverting them from the peculiar duties of their several stations; for this will make them wealthy, powerful, and happy: that is, in one word, you educate your people to give them a higher moral tone; and can mere earthly learning give a man this moral tone? Surely not. The most learned man may, in spite of his learning, continue the most thoroughly depraved. What human understanding can come up in subtlety and power to his who is God’s enemy and man’s: who once was, as we deem, second in power and wisdom to none of God’s highest creatures, and whom spiritual, not carnal wickedness, drew into rebellion and cast down to hell? So that the highest spiritual wickedness may be combined with the greatest mental cultivation. What, then, but God can purify man’s heart? And is it not, then, the mere naked madness of the infidel to endeavour to do this without religion? Is it not, in very deed, to shut God out of His own world, to believe that other means besides His power can be, in truth, “the hammer” and the “fire” to break the heart of man? (Bp. Samuel Wilberforce.)
The Word of God compared to a hammer
1. Words are the vehicle by means of which we convey to others the ideas which exist in our minds, making known our wishes, responding to the speech of our friends, and declaring to the world what manner of men we arc. By the medium of words we give expression to the feelings of kindness and of benevolence toward others, by which we are animated. Our desires for help or assistance in times of difficulty and of danger, are made known by means of language addressed to friends, or to those from whom aid may be expected. Our real characters are often made known by the use which we occasionally make of our tongue, more than by the habitual form of our words, and an accidental inadvertence may do more to enable others to form a correct estimate of us than years of dissembling. Words often fly from our lips, without ever being thought about again, but the consequences which flow from them, either for good or for evil, cannot be calculated. Words spoken by our lips may prove us to be God’s people and animated with love to our fellow-man, or they may brand us as children of the devil, and enemies of religion and of truth.
2. The Word is one of the names by which Christ is known in the New Testament. In the first ages of Christianity a sect arose in the Christian Church, who held some very peculiar opinions, of which the adherents were called Gnostics. They supposed that the world was ruled by one supreme Being, but that under Him there were inferior deities, who presided over departments of creation, to whom were given the names of the Word, the Life, and the Light, and of whom Christ was one. St. John commences his Gospel by declaring the falsity of such an idea, and, instead of denying that Christ was one of these inferior beings, he asserts at once that He was the Word, that He was really God, and that He had existed from the beginning in the bosom of the Father. He is called the Word, because He came upon earth to declare the Father, whom He revealed to man much in the same manner as words make known the desires and intentions of a human being.
3. There is another meaning to be given to the term “word” in Scripture, differing from the speech by which men convey their thoughts one to another, and from the person of Christ. It must be understood as the revelation of His will, which God has condescended to make to man on various occasions, and the various forms which it has assumed in the hands of different persons. In the New Testament it is equivalent to the Gospel preached by Christ Himself, and afterwards by His apostles. It is a powerful agent in the hands of the Almighty, the idea of which is conveyed by a threefold comparison--to a sword, to a fire, and to a hammer, in order to show its effects when applied to the consciences of men.
I. It is manifestly God Himself which is spoken of; for the inquiry is, “Is not My Word . . . like a hammer?” It is the Almighty who uses the Gospel as His instrument for reaching the consciences of sinners, and awakening in them a sense of the value of the blessings which it is calculated to bestow. The Father, Son, and Spirit planned the scheme of redemption in the councils of eternity, by which a lost and degraded race were to be rescued from ruin and death, and to recover their forfeited inheritance. This great work having been finished, the Holy Spirit employs His power in applying it to the consciences of men, giving them ability to see the efficacy of the blood of Christ to wash away sin, renewing them by the washing of regeneration, and shedding abroad in their hearts the love of God.
II. The instrument which the spirit uses in accomplishing this work. It is the hammer of the Word. The age of miraculous manifestations is past, and there is no reason to suppose that God will ever employ miracles to convert men from sin. It is Scripture and Scripture only which He employs to carry home conviction to the soul. God does not speak to man from heaven with an audible voice, commanding him to repent and live, but He speaks by His Spirit, in the words of the revelation which is now in our hands. He does not reveal His will to any, in another manner than by the inspired sentences which contain the embodiment of His gracious purposes of mercy and of love, and which the simplest and most illiterate can understand. The Word is the instrument which Ha always uses, and none other, wielding it like a hammer, to smite the human heart. If you went into the forge of a blacksmith, you would see him, with strong arm, beating a piece of heated iron with a hammer or sledge, in order to form it into some particular shape, either of a nail, a horse-shoe, or a ploughshare. If you went into the shop of a carpenter, you would see him driving home nails into wood with a hammer, as he makes some article of furniture or of utility. Now, in the same manner, the Holy Spirit uses the hammer of the Word, in order to fashion the hearts and characters of the saints, employing particular passages of Scripture for this purpose, by shedding upon them a light, Which, when reflected into the soul, causes them to be felt and experienced in power. He uses the hammer of the Word in order to drive home truth, “as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.”
III. Object upon which the Holy Spirit uses the hammer of the Word. It is called in the text “the rock”; this being a metaphor to convey the idea of the hardness and insensibility of the heart of the natural man. The heart of man is compared to a stone by our Lord Himself, in the parable of the sower. Some of the good seed of the Word is represented as falling upon stony places, where there was little earth, and where it was impossible for it to come to perfection, because it could not take root, and soon withered away. Nothing will grow upon stones or rocks, and no good thing can come out of the heart of the natural man; but, on the contrary, very much evil. But, when the human heart is thus compared to a stone, and in our text, to a rock, what do we exactly understand by the comparison? If you saw a stone lying upon the ground, you would see it to be destitute of the power of motion, a hard, irregular, and useless mass. If you saw a rock out in the sea, at a distance from an iron-bound coast, lashed unceasingly by the restless waves of the ocean, you would see that it ever bids defiance to the utmost rage of the tempest, unaffected and unchanged by the ceaseless flow of the briny waters. These illustrations will give us some idea of the senseless nature and the hardened indifference of the heart of the unconverted mail There are persons in the world upon whom no impression whatever is produced by the tale of sorrow or of distress, the spectacle of suffering or of misery, or by appeals to their feelings of compassion or of sympathy. The story of Divine love, surpassing that of a mother for her child, as much as the Infinite surpasses the finite, the spectacle of suffering and of distress endured in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the Cross, when Christ drank to the very dregs the cup of wrath, appeals to men to have compassion on themselves, by accepting the mercy which God offers, exhortations to repentance, motives to draw forth the exercise of the feelings of affection and of love, and calls to manifest gratitude for unceasing favours, fail to extract a tear from their insensate eyes, to stir within the soul a single emotion, or to soften their hard and obdurate hearts.
IV. The effects which are produced when the rock is smitten by the hammer. It is said that it is broken in pieces, which conveys to us the idea of destruction. If the human heart be not softened by the ordinary means which the Spirit employs, and if the sinner be not brought to humble himself before God, the only alternative before him is to be broken to shivers. If you went into a blacksmith’s forge, and struck his anvil with a hammer, it would recoil, damaged to some extent by the blow, while the metal of which the anvil is made would be condensed. If the hammer were strong enough, and if a blow of sufficient violence were struck, it is manifest that the anvil would be shivered into fragments. This will give us some idea of the method of the Spirit’s operation, when He strikes the conscience with the hammer of the Word. If all efforts are unavailing, and the stone of the human heart still continues impenetrable, then the awful doom is pronounced--“Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.” The Spirit ceases to strive, invitations to come and drink of the water of life freely are no longer issued, the unpardonable sin has been committed, and nothing remains but the execution of the sentence. The Word is the instrument which we may now turn to account, that we may be saved; but hereafter, if rejected, it will be a witness against us, and a testimony to the justice of the perdition of ungodly men. (J. B. Courtenay, M. A.)
What hath the Lord spoken?
The contents of the Bible
I. Impartiality of its contents. Each writer is an “honest chronicler.” With an unflinching adherence to truth the whole story is told whoever may be unpleasantly involved therein. Such is the undaunted boldness, sterling integrity, and resolute independence of the Scripture scribes that they do not pause to inquire whose faults they are recording. Such is their antipathy to sin in all its forms that they expose the hydra wherever he may be encountered. Ay, the writers even disclose their own faults and infirmities. They unfold their hearts without any reserve. They allude to their own virtuous actions without any ostentation, and do not palliate their vices. They refer to themselves with the same simplicity and fidelity with which they treat of others. Where will you find such a marked feature in any other book?
II. The originality of its contents.
1. Look, for example, at the disclosures given of the Divine Being--read the sublime language of the holy scribes concerning the self-existence, independence, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, justice, long-suffering, and love of the Deity. Whence were these lordly conceptions derived? They were revealed by God to man, and so made known to mortals. You commend us to the productions of Horace; do you forget that a thousand years before his day the lyric poetry of the Hebrews was famous? Read the books of Grecian or Roman authors of the highest standard, and tell me in which of them can you discover themes so stately, thoughts so surprising, and diction so sublime as you have in the Bible
2. Look, again, at the Scripture teaching concerning Christ. Now, such a Divine Being either lived or He did not. If you grant He lived, then the evangelistic narratives are the authoritative biographies of Jesus. If He did not live, then the narratives are fictitious, and the character is an invention. But was it possible for the New Testament writers to have invented such an original character? It is a moral impossibility that they should have concocted a story such as that the New Testament contains. Nor did they gather the elements of the unique character of Christ from any person or persons then living. A sight acquaintance with the condition of society at the time of the Saviour’s appearing will suffice to satisfy us that there were no men who could sit as models to the evangelic artists. Nor did they reproduce themselves. Four men of very different temperaments produce a history of one Man in which all four coincide. There is but one way of accounting for this original, peerless, beautiful life in the Gospels, and that is by accepting the declaration of John--“That which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you.”
III. The high moral tone of the contents. From first to last the Book of books holds forth the Divine law as the safe and sole standard of morality. It points to God as the supreme lawgiver, and tells us that He, in His spotlessness, demands purity in man. It condemns not merely the overt evil, but the concealed offence; not only the spoken word, but the voiceless emotions; not alone the guilty act, but the hidden thought of its committal. Where was such elevated morality taught before the Bible propounded it? So far back as the days of Abraham, Egypt was sunk in sensuality and unrighteousness. Whence, then, did Moses obtain the morality with which his writings are full? He could not evolve it from his own brain--that were a greater miracle than the act of Divine revelation. And whence did the evangelists and apostles obtain their sublime and stainless sentiments? Not from Rome, not from Greece. In the lands where Homer, Hesiod, Euripides, Plato, Socrates, Virgil, and Cicero wrote--in the countries where philosophers, poets, and orators- of the most distinguished order lived and laboured, idolatry abounded, brutal savageness was patronised, voluptuousness and debauchery were approved. How out of paganism, as it then was, could there have sprung up the noble, beautiful, and blessed system of morality like that we possess in the New Testament? How could the icy, indiscreet, and infamous teachings of heathen philosophy have given birth to the warmhearted, winsome, and wonder-working ethics of our Scriptures? Do men expect figs from thistles?
IV. The beauties of its contents. The volume is full of literary splendours. Picture, proverb, parable, and poem arc blended to produce a superb Book. Creation has been ransacked that its choicest works may embellish the page of inspiration. The fairest flowers of nature are woven into this garland for the brow of Immanuel. The beauties of this volume are like the veins of gold beneath the surface soil. Generations of men intellectually cross and recross the hallowed ground, and remain in entire ignorance of a tithe of the hidden glories. Whole armies of mental athletes handle the sword of the Spirit, without ever detecting the jewels which decorate its hilt. Companies of learned men saunter in the gardens of revelation, examine one plant and another, and-pronounce an opinion upon the whole--an opinion dogmatic and defiant---whilst they have never discovered the sweetest flowers which are concealed by the masses of luxuriant foliage. And yet they who have judged simply by the conspicuous features of the volume are enthusiastic in their praises of the Book, even our enemies themselves being judges.
V. The prominence given to Christ. It is said that a celebrated artist of ancient times constructed a shield of so remarkable an order that he had worked his name into the device in a manner that it could not be removed. To erase the name you must destroy the shield. Thus is it emphatically with the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation the whole volume points to Jesus. He is the centre and soul of the Book. Take away Jesus from the Book of books, and you have a casket without a jewel, an envelope without a letter, a scaffolding without any superstructure, musical notation without any melody, a frame without a portrait, an assembly without a leader, ages of preparation on the most extensive scale for an event that never happens, centuries of practice for an oratorio that is never performed. From the fatal declension of Adam, He was the subject of promise and prophecy. In paradise He was referred to as the “seed of the woman.” Abraham “rejoiced to see His day,” and avowed that the Lord would “provide Himself a Lamb.” Jacob spake of Him as the coming “Shiloh,” Moses foretold the rising of a “Prophet,” Balaam saw Him as a “Star” and a “Sceptre,” Job rejoiced in the life of his “Redeemer,” David described the agonies, death, and resurrection of the “Holy One,” Solomon ecstatically praised his “Beloved,” Isaiah graphically dwelt upon the doings of the “tender Plant,” and the “precious Corner-stone.” He was Jeremiah’s “Branch,” Ezekiel s “River,” Daniel s “Ancient of Days”, Hosea’s “Lord of hosts,” Joel s “Latter-day Glory,” Obadiah s Saviour, Jonah s Salvation, Micah’s “Peace,” Nahum’s “Him that bringeth good tidings,” Habakkuk’s “Strength,” Haggai’s “Desire of all nations,” Zechariah s “Fountain,” and Malachi’s “Sun of Righteousness.” How can you account for such a marked blending of all writers on one theme--such a manifest gravitation of thought toward one point--such a glorious clustering of hope, expectation, and joy around one centre? How was it that these scribes, separated by ages, and climes, and callings, and capacities, all looked Christward? There is but one answer. All were under the invisible spell of the Saviour’s attractive influence--all felt the centripetal force of the Cross which was to be erected on Calvary--all were God-guided and God-taught. (J. H. Hitchens.)
Because ye say this word, The burden of the Lord.
Sins of the tongue
Great part of the prophetical writings is occupied with denunciations of vengeance on the Jews, for their obstinacy, ingratitude, and perverseness. Hence the message which a prophet was commissioned to deliver was frequently and appropriately named “The burden of the Lord,” as being heavy with woes about to fall on the impenitent. But it would appear that the Jews not only gave no heed to the messages which they received, but were accustomed to turn them into ridicule. They were in the habit of coming to the prophet, and asking him if there were any new burden from the Lord; using the word in such a way as to indicate contempt, or to mark that they thought it good material for a jest. In consequence of this, God expressly prohibited the use of the word “burden.” He forbade any who should come to inquire of the prophet, to put the inquiry into the shape, “What is the burden of the Lord?” but required a more simple form of speech, “What hath the Lord answered? and, What hath the Lord spoken?” Very probably it appeared to the Jews quite an indifferent thing what word they used; and they may even have said, that as they had not invented the word, but had derived it from God Himself, they could not be much to blame in persisting in its use. But God viewed the disobedience in a wholly different light, and considered it deserving of most severe vengeance. Whatever had been the crime with which God had been charging the Jews, He could not have followed up the accusation with the denunciation of sterner punishment: “Behold, I, even I, will utterly forget you, and I will forsake you, and the city that I gave you and your fathers, and cast you out of My presence.” Now, this is our subject of discourse, the using a prohibited word drawing upon a nation the extreme vengeance of God. You must all be aware of the importance which in the Bible is attached to our words, and you may be disposed to wonder, if not to complain, that the utterances of the tongue should be made so indicative of character, and so influential on our portion for eternity. Our Saviour expressly declared, “By your words ye shall be justified, and by your words ye shall be condemned”; as though actions might be wholly put out of account, and words might determine our everlasting allotments. God gave Adam his vocabulary, as well as that fine intellectual equipment which might excogitate things worthy of being embodied in its magnificent expressions. We may fairly regard language, the power of expression, as the great distinction between man and the brute. Reason is often spoken of as constituting this distinction; but speech, itself equally an endowment from God, may more justly be regarded as separating the two. There is a much nearer approach to reason in the instinct which an animal often displays than there is to language in the inarticulate sounds which the animal utters. Wonderful power! that I can now stand in the midst of this assembly, and use the air which we breathe in conveying to every one the thoughts which are now crowding the hidden chambers of my own soul; that I can knock therewith at every man’s conscience and at every man’s heart--transfusing myself, as it were, into those impenetrable solitudes, filling them with the images that are passing to and fro in my own spirit, or causing kindred forms to rise or stir in hundreds that are around me. Every one condemns the prostitution of reason, because every one regards reason as a high and a palmy attribute, and therefore, when the intellect is unworthily employed, degraded to the ministering at the altars of scepticism or sensuality, there is an almost universal sentence of indignant reprobation; but language might be put before reason. It is reason walking abroad among the myriads of human kind; it is the soul, not in the secret laboratory, and not in its impalpable mysteriousness, but the soul amid the crowded scenes of life, formed and clothed, and submitting itself to the inspiration, and influencing the sentiments of a multitude. And if this be language, I know not why any one should be surprised that so great heinousness is attached to sins of the tongue. God “will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.” It is grievous to think of God irreverently; the soul should be His sanctuary, and to profane Him there is to aggravate contempt of God, by offering it at the shrine which He reared for Himself; but it is yet more grievous to speak of Him irreverently. But now let us further point out to you, that the Jews were guilty of turning solemn things into ridicule; and this of itself might suffice in vindication of the severity of their sentence. It is quite evident that scoffing and sneering were quite common in Jerusalem, and that the word “burden” was contemptuously used in the way of ridicule or joke. The Jews did not invent the phrase, or devise for themselves the applying it to the messages which God sent through His prophets. God Himself calls some messages burdens--an appropriate title, which well defined their chief subject-matter, for vengeance was the great theme of the prophetic announcements. But such a use of the word burden gave occasion for wicked comments and remarks. It were very easy, if we may use the expression, to pun upon the word; and without any concern for the awful significance which God had attached to the phrase, the Jews diverted themselves with the sayings, and asked the prophets for burdens, that they might turn them into ridicule, or provoke laughter at their expense. Now, let us suppose that jesting with solemn things was the head and sport of the offence. Was, then, the offence trivial? We might judge that it were, if opinion were to be guided by the frequency with which a light thing is done. How often is a scriptural expression ludicrously used! How often is a text, a saying, quoted in some jocular sense, or in some absurd application! There could be no readier way of practically bringing the Bible into contempt, and weakening or destroying its influence upon men, than the making ludicrous applications of its statements, or using its expressions to give point to a joke, or force to a witticism. What helps your laughter will not long retain your reverence. Let not, therefore, the temptation of saying a good thing, or of giving a laughable turn to certain words, prevail on you to use Scripture irreverently: you will hereby harden yourselves more than you can calculate, and you will give an untold advantage to your spiritual adversaries. It is to sharpen all the arrows of the devil, to sharpen your wits on the Bible. Be jocular with what else you will; but revelation, with its statement of everlasting things, be ever serious and reverent with this. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
A contemptuous use of the phrase, “The burden of the Lord.”
Ye shall not say, “The burden of the Lord.” But this was a phrase which the prophets themselves had used, and did use afterwards. They spoke of the burden of Babylon, Moab, Dumah, Egypt, &c. It was not, therefore, the expression itself, so much as the spirit in which these people repeated it, that was the offence. It might perhaps be partly in the way of jeering contempt, turning the office of the prophet to ridicule; representing it thus--“What is the burden this time? Let’s hear it.” They did show all this profane lightness sometimes. But probably it was with many of them a deeper, graver feeling. It was to many an expression of grievance in hostility to the will and dictates of God. “Well, you are here again, in the name of God! a most unwelcome sight you are; what is it you have now to say? Is it to be another solemn aggravated recital of our crimes? There seems to be a very careful register kept in heaven of our sins. We wonder our little failings should occupy such attention there. And you have a strange liking for your office of accuser. If it were something pleasant to be said to us you would not be so ready.” Or, “Is it that God forbids us some one thing more of the few indulgences to our wills that are left us? We thought we had already a sufficient number of the ‘Thou shalt not,’ but a complete law is long in making!” Or, “Is it some additional load to our long list of duties? Already we cannot turn any way, but there is something for us to do we don’t like.” Or, “Is there some new threatening of judgment and vengeance?” Now, such a spirit of remonstrance against God is common in ancient time and to our own; frightful as the spirit may seem when it is expressed in plain terms. (John Foster.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 23". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17