And the prophet Jeremiah went his way.
Self in service
(with Jeremiah 26:14):--We couple these passages together, because they lead our minds to the same important thought, namely, the laying aside of “self” by the servants of the Lord. Hananiah takes the yoke from off Jeremiah s neck, and breaks it, and so discredits him and his prophecy in the presence of the people. “And the prophet Jeremiah went his way.” He left it to God to vindicate His own honour, which He did very soon--very terribly. Before the princes also, in chap. 26., he tells out uncompromisingly all the truth of God; he knew that he did so at the peril of his life. “As for me,”--he was not insensible to personal suffering, still himself he was as nothing--“behold I am in your hand, do with me as seemeth meet unto you.” By this complete abnegation of “self” on the part of the prophet, we are led to consider some matters connected with “self” in our service. There is a young period in the Christian’s life, when we are deceived by not seeing “self” at all; when we have no dread of it; when we never even suspect its existence. At this time, we mistake its energies for spiritual life, and often seek to carry out what is really the Lord’s work, in the powers and energies of the flesh, i.e. “self.” There is a period farther on, when we detect “self” partially. The Spirit of God has led us onward in our education, and raised our standard, making us watchful and distrustful of “self” to some degree. Then comes a yet more advanced stage, when we see “self” to such an extent as to make us dread it greatly when we see it ever intrusive, ever substituting motives low and mean for what should be holy and high; and we wage war with this “self,” fully determined to put it down. There is also yet a more advanced state, when we have attained such a knowledge of the power of “self” that, while we war with, and repress it, we have come to know that here we shall never have done with it, and look forward to full deliverance only when we reach that land where there is perfect freedom.
I. The wrong operations of “self” in service. Much that we do may be done from the action of mere natural feelings--there may be nothing of God in it at all A man may be gratifying only his own natural energy in all that seems so earnest and true. And when we allow “self” to influence us, we shall be subjected to disturbing influences. Self-love will be easily wounded in the rough contact with opposers of the truth. And our judgment will be warped. It is very hard to be calm, and judicial, when under the influence of strong personal feelings, and where personal interests are concerned. Self will also drive us on too far. We shall not know when “to go our way.” We need not go far to detect some of the evil effects which flow from this wrong operation of “self” in service. It gives the enemy occasion to blaspheme. Satan continually attempts to confound persons and principles; men will look at the imperfect way in which we have manifested the principle, and not at the principle itself. Our infirmities become mixed up with the cause of God, and so far as they can, bring it into disrepute. And thus that saying becomes true--“religion suffers more from her friends than her enemies.”
II. The expulsion of “self” from service. How can this be done? In the most favourable of cases only by degrees. But what is a man to do?
1. He must seek for enlightenment on this subject from the Holy Spirit.
2. Let him seek for a more perfect sympathy with Christ. If we have this, we shall become assimilated with Him--we shall grow like Him; His mind will transfuse itself into our mind--and the principles, on which He acted, will become ours.
3. And then the seeking for a true knowledge of our own insignificance is very important in putting down “self.” We both think and act sometimes as though we were the first cause; and not only the first cause, but the final object also--as if all were to be by us, and for us--the axe thinks that it is doing all the work, and is independent of the one that heweth therewith. The very learning our insignificance will be helpful; and, when we have learned it in some degree, it will keep us, in proportion as the lesson has been learned, to our proper place. (P. B. Power, M. A.)
Thou hast broken the yokes of wood; but thou shalt make for them yokes of iron.
Yokes of wood and of iron
To throw off legitimate authority is to bind on a worse tyranny. Some kind of yoke every one of us must bend our necks to, and if we slip them out we do not thereby become independent, but simply bring upon ourselves a heavier pressure of a harder bondage.
I. We have the choice between the yoke of law and the iron yoke of lawlessness. Even a band of brigands, or a crew of pirates, must have some code. I have read somewhere that the cells in a honeycomb are circles squeezed by the pressure of the adjacent cells into the hexagonal shape which admits of contiguity. If they continued circles, there would be space and material lest, and no complete continuity. So, in like manner, you cannot keep five men together without some mutual limitations which are shaped into a law. Now, as long as a man keeps inside it he does not feel its pressure. A great many of us, for instance, who are in the main law-abiding people, do not ever remember that there is such a thing as restrictions upon our licence, or the obligation to perform certain duties; for we never think either of taking the licence or of shirking the duties. The yoke that is accepted ceases to press. Once let a man step outside, and what then? Why, then, he is an outlaw; and the rough side of the fence is turned outwards, and all possible terrors, which people within the boundary have nothing to do with, gather themselves together and frown down upon him. I need not remind you of how this same thesis--that we have to choose between the yoke of law and the iron yoke of lawlessness--is illustrated in the story of almost all violent revolutions. They run the same course. First the rising up of a nation against intolerable oppression, then revolution devours its own children, and the scum rises to the top of the boiling pot. Then comes, in the language of the picturesque historian of the French Revolution, the type of them all--then comes at the end “the whiff of grapeshot” and the despot. First the government of a mob, and then the tyranny of an emperor comes to the people that shake off the yoke of reasonable law.
II. We have to choose between the yoke of virtue and the iron yoke of vice. We are under a far more spiritual and searching law than that written in any statute-book, or administered by any Court. Every man carries within his own heart two things, and two persons; the court, the tribunal, the culprit, and the judge. And here, too, if law be not obeyed, the result is not liberty, but the slavery of lawlessness. A great philosopher once said that the two sublimest things in the universe were the moral law and the starry heavens. And that law “I ought” bends over us like the starry heavens with which he associated it. No man can escape from the pressure of duty, and on every man is laid, by his very make, the twofold obligation, first to look upwards and catch the behests of that solemn law of duty, and then to turn his eyes and his strength inwards and coerce or spur, as the case may be, the powers of his nature, and rule the kingdom within himself. Now, as long as a man lets the ruling parts of his nature guide the lower faculties, he feels comparatively no pressure from the yoke. But if he once allows beggars to ride on horseback whilst princes walk--sense and appetite and desire, and more or less refined forms of inclination to take the place which belongs only to conscience interpreting duty--then he has exchanged the easy yoke for one that is heavy indeed. What does a man do when, instead of loyally accepting the conditions of his nature, and bowing himself to serve the all-embracing law of duty, he sets up inclination of any sort in its place? What does he do? I will tell you. He unships the helm; he pitches compass and sextant overboard; he fires up the furnaces, and screws down the safety-valve, and says, “Go ahead!” And what will be the end of that, think you! Either an explosion or a crash upon a reef! and you may take your choice of which is the better kind of death--to be blown up or to go down.
III. We have the choice between the yoke of Christ and the iron yoke of godlessness. If you do not take Christ for your Teacher you are handed over either to the uncertainty of your own doubts or to pinning your faith to some man and enrolling yourself as a disciple who is prepared to swallow down whole whatsoever the rabbi may say, giving to him what you will not give to Jesus; or else you will sink back into utter indolence and carelessness about the whole matter; or else you will go and put your belief and your soul into the hands of a priest; or shut your eyes and open your mouth and take whatever” tradition may choose to send you. The one refuge from all these, as I believe, is to go to Him and learn of Him, and take His yoke upon your shoulders. But, let me say further, it is better to obey Christ’s commandments than to set ourselves against them. For if we will take His will for our law, and meekly assume the yoke of loyal and loving obedience to Him, the door into an earthly paradise is thrown open to us. His yoke is easy, not because its prescriptions and provisions lower the standard of righteousness and morality, but because love becomes the motive, and it is always blessed to do that which the Beloved desires. When “I will” and “I ought” cover exactly the same ground, then there is no kind of pressure from the yoke. Christ’s yoke is easy because, too, He gives the power to obey His commandments. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The two yokes
I. Men must wear some yoke. In every stage of life--childhood, youth, manhood; and in every station of life--servants, masters, &c.
1. God has made and sustains us, and asks that we submit to His will
2. With our passions and propensities, if we break the yoke it is meet we should wear, and do not serve God, we at once bend our necks to another yoke and serve slavishly our own selves.
II. Christ’s yoke is an easy one to wear.
1. The yoke of Christ is a right one. Serve Jesus Christ, and it is found that the Christian law is perfection itself.
2. The yoke of Christ is framed in our interest. To believe in Christ is the highest wisdom; to repent of sin is the most delightful necessity; to follow after holiness is the most blissful pursuit; to become a servant of Christ is to be made a king and priest unto God.
3. Christ s yoke is not exacting. He, in His grace, always gives us of His bounty when He asks of us our duty.
4. It is an easy yoke. Never did a man wear it but he always loved to wear it.
5. The bright example of Christ makes the yoke pleasant to bear. He Himself has carried the very yoke we bear, and we have blessed fellowship with Him in this.
6. All who have borne Christ’s yoke have had grace given equal to the weight of the burden. Wolsey regretted that he had not “served God with half the zeal he had served his king,” but none has ever bewailed the zeal with which he followed Christ!
7. Christians who have borne this yoke always desire to get their children into it. Often men say, “I do not want my sons to follow my trade, it is wearying, its pay is small,” &c.
III. Those who refuse Christ’s easy yoke will have to wear a worse one.
1. Turning from the right road, from the cry of rectitude, because it threatens shame or loss, will entail vaster after-losses.
2. Backsliders, by putting off the yoke of Christianity, have not improved their condition.
3. They who refuse the Bible and follow tradition, Do these perverts of the true Christian religion get an easier yoke? No.; there are penances and mortifications, &c,
4. The self-righteous who attempt to work their own way to heaven. Self-righteousness is an iron yoke indeed.
5. Unbelievers, who will not believe the simple revelation of God, presently find themselves committed to systematic misbeliefs, which distract reason, oppress the heart, and trammel the conscience.
6. Lovers of pleasure. Pleasure often means lust, and gaiety means crime; and self-indulgence brings beggary and degradation, In the last tremendous day of Christ’s coming to judgment, the Christian’s yoke will be as a chain of gold about his neck; but sin, pleasure, will be as an iron yoke, a burden of enslaving woe. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
This year thou shalt die.
Thoughts on death
1. Let men live ever so many years, some one year will be the year of their death.
2. Every year is a year of death to many; there never was a year since the abbreviation of human life, since the extensive propagation and dispersion of mankind over all countries on the face of the earth, which has not been a year of death to tens of thousands,
3. Last year was a year of death to very many.
4. This year, very probably, will be a year of death to some of us. This or the other tree may be cut down; this or the other branch may be lopt off, and fall to the ground. Let us see then that we be ready, that if cut down, it may be in mercy, not in wrath; that if plucked up by the root and transplanted, it may be to be transplanted in a far better soil, where the air is more genial, where the fruits are always ripe.
5. No one of us knows but God may be saying to him or her, “This year thou shalt die.” Futurity is wisely hid from man; we know not the year or day of our death we need therefore constantly to watch.
6. It may be in mercy or in wrath that God is saying to this or the other one, “This year thou shalt die.” It was in wrath that this was said to Hananiah.
7. The year of one’s death is a most eventful year to him. This dissolves our connection with the present world; it issues us into the world of spirits. If we are the Lord’s people, it associates us with God, Christ, angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect in the state of glory and blessedness.
8. There is no outliving the appointed year of one’s death. No distinction of rank, no worldly pre-eminence, no degree of riches, influence, or power, no plea of necessity, no supposed usefulness in civil or sacred society, can prevent death.
9. The year of one’s death may come very unexpectedly. (Anon.)
I. This sentence is doubtless expressive of the decision of God concerning many this year.
1. The page of history affords no record of a single year in which death desisted from his work of destruction.
2. The last year of many is now commended.
3. Various are the means by Which God’s design will be executed.
II. No individual can be certain that this does not express God’s decision concerning himself.
1. Utterly impossible for us to know who are, or are not, included in God’s appointments.
2. The circumstances of some render it most probable that this year will be their last.
3. Doubtless those who think least of death, and confidently reckon on future years, will find this sentence fulfilled.
III. It is the duty and interest of all to use wisely the gracious hours they enjoy.
1. What is it to die? To pass from this state of being into the immediate presence of our Maker and Judge.
2. Am I prepared to die?
3. Begin the year with earnest preparation. (J. Bunter.)
A sermon on the New Year
It is highly probable, that if some prophet, like Jeremiah, should open to us the book of the Divine decrees, one or other of us would there see our sentence, and the time of its execution fixed, “Thus saith the Lord, This year thou shalt die.” There some of us would find it written, “This year thou shalt enjoy a series of prosperity, to try if the goodness of God will lead thee to repentance.” Others might read this melancholy line, “This year shall be to thee a series of afflictions: this year thou shalt lose thy dearest earthly support and comfort; this year thou shalt pine away with sickness, or agonise with torturing pain, to try if the kind severities of a Father’s rod will reduce thee to thy duty. Others, I hope, would road the gracious decree, “This year, thy stubborn spirit, after long resistance, shall be sweetly constrained to bow to the despised Gospel of Christ. This year shalt thou be born a child of God, and an heir of happiness, which the revolution of years shall never, never, terminate.” Others perhaps would read this tremendous doom, “This year My Spirit so long resisted, shall cease to strive with thee; this year I will give thee up to thine own heart’s lusts, and swear in My wrath thou shalt not enter into My rest.” Others would probably find the doom of the false prophet Hananiah pronounced against them: “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will cast thee from off the face of the earth: this year thou shalt die.”
I. This year you may die.
1. Your life is the greatest uncertainty in the world.
2. Thousands have died since the last New Year’s Day; and this year will be of the same kind with the last; the duration of mortals; a time to die.
3. Thousands of others will die: it is certain they will, and why may not you?
4. Though you are young; for the regions of the dead have been crowded with persons of your age; and no age is the least security against the stroke of death.
5. Though you are now in health and your constitution seems to promise a long life; for thousands of such will be hurried into the eternal world this year, as they have been in years past.
6. Though you are full of business, though you have projected many schemes, which it may be the work of years to execute, and which afford you many bright and flattering prospects.
7. Though you have not yet finished your education, nor fixed in life, but are preparing to appear in the world, and perhaps elated with the prospect of the figure you will make in it.
8. Though you are not prepared for it.
9. Though you deliberately delay your preparation, and put it off to some future time.
10. Though you are unwilling to admit the thought. Death does not slacken his pace towards you, because you hate him, and are afraid of his approach.
11. Though you may strongly hope the contrary, and flatter yourself with the expectation of a length of years.
II. What if you should? If you should die this year, then all your doubts, all the anxieties of blended hopes and fears about your state and character will terminate for ever in full conviction. If you are impenitent sinners, all the artifices of self-flattery will be able to make you hope better things no longer; but the dreadful discovery will flash upon you with the resistless blaze of intuitive evidence. You will see, you will feel yourselves such. This year you may die: and should you die this year, you will be for ever cut off from all the pleasures of life. Then an everlasting farewell to all the mirth, the tempting amusements and vain delights of youth. Farewell to all the pleasures you derive from the senses, and all the gratifications of appetite. Then farewell to all the pompous but empty pleasures of riches and honours. The pleasures both of enjoyment and expectation from this quarter will fail for ever. But this is not all If you should die this year, you will have no pleasures, no enjoyments to substitute for those you will lose. Your capacity and eager thirst for happiness will continue, nay, will grow more strong and violent in that improved adult state of your nature. And yet you will have no good, real or imaginary, to satisfy it; and consequently the capacity of happiness will become a capacity of misery; and the privation of pleasure will be positive pain. If you die this year, you will not only be cut off from all the flattering prospects of this life, but from all hope entirely, and for ever. If you die in your sins, you will be fixed in an unchangeable state of misery; a state that will admit of no expectation but that of uniform, or rather ever-growing misery; a state that excludes all hopes of making a figure, except as the monuments of the vindictive justice of God, and the deadly effects of sin.
III. Is it possible to escape this impending danger?
1. Your case is not yet desperate, unless you choose to make it so; that is, unless you choose to persist in carelessness and impenitence, as you have hitherto done.
2. You all know that prayer, reading, and hearing the Word of God, meditation upon Divine things, free conference with such as have been taught by experience to direct you in this difficult work; you all know, I say, that these are the means instituted for your conversion: and if you had right views of things, and a just temper towards them, you would hardly need instruction or the least persuasion to make use of them. (S. Davies, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 28". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany