Wednesday, June 7th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 31". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ jeremiah-31.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 31". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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At the same time, saith the Lord, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.
Religion in the home
The family is a primal and universal institution, which stands alone distinct and apart from all others. Men voluntarily create States or Churches, but God putteth men in families. The relations of husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, are altogether different in origin and character from those of the ruler and the ruled, whether in civil or religious society. They began when men was created. They cannot and will not cease until the race ceases to exist. They are recognised, therefore, and they are the only associations which are so recognised in the announcement of those fundamental precepts of moral law, which we properly separate from all the other rules given to the children of Israel through Moses, and call the Ten Commandments. But it is not even in these solemn commands that the sacred and impressive character of these relations is best gathered. It is rather their frequent employment in one form or other to illustrate the relation which the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ sustain to us, which invest them with peculiar sanctity and suggestiveness. As we find the mother’s self-oblivion and undying love to her babe used to set forth the yet more enduring tenderness of God to us; so is the pity with which the father regards even his sinful children made the type of that inexhaustible compassion which pardons all human transgressions. As we hear our blessed Lord addressing us as His brethren, and are taught that in order to make His brotherhood complete He was tempted in all respects like as we are, or have the ineffable love with which He regards His Church, and binds it to Himself in loving fellowship represented by the union of the bridegroom and the bride, so is the family the image of that glorious fellow-ship to which all true souls belong--the family in heaven and earth called after the name of Christ.
I. The importance of the family relation. It is in the wise ordering of the home, the purifying of the affections in which all its relations and influences have their root, the upholding of the authority which ought ever to be maintained within it, that States and Churches alike have the best security for their peace and prosperity.
1. The feelings which are cultivated in well-regulated households and make men good sons, husbands, and fathers, are those which, when exercised in a different direction, make them good citizens and true patriots; whereas on the other side the selfishness which brooks no restraint, listens to no voice but that of its own passions, and seeks no end but their indulgence, is not more hostile to the peace and purity of the home than it is fatal to the order and progress of the nation. The most absolute collapse of a State which modern times has seen was preceded by a weakening of family ties and obligations, and the most extraordinary national development is that of a people whose loyalty to their country is not less remarkable than their devotion to their homes, and among whom, from the Emperor on the throne to the meanest of his subjects, attention to domestic duties is placed among the cardinal virtues, and the enjoyment of home happiness is esteemed one of the choicest blessings.
2. While the home is the best training-ground for the citizen, even more, if possible, ought it to be the best nursery for the Christian, and its teaching and discipline the right preparation for the Church. At all periods and in all countries where there has been any strong manifestation of the power of godliness, the family has been one of its centres It is not suggested that religious feelings can be transmitted. But it is manifest that the traditions, the associations, the beliefs and practices, and the reputation of a family may--where there is anything marked and distinctive--certainly will, materially affect each of its members. The piety of Lois and Eunice could not become the possession of Timothy, but who can doubt that he was affected by it? It must have done much, to say the least, towards creating the atmosphere by which his early life was surrounded, and so far have influenced his subsequent career. To be born into a family, where the love of God reigns is itself no small privilege. From the very dawn of intelligence one thus situated is in the midst of circumstances all tending to produce in him sentiments of reverence and devotion. He will not believe in Christ because father and grandfather believed before him, and if he were, on this account alone, to adopt a Christian creed and name, his faith would be as idle as the words in which it might be professed. He does not, caroler become a man eminent for goodness because the world or the Church looks to him thus to uphold the honour of the family name, and if he sought to do so inspired by no other motive, his life, with all the outward excellence he might discover, would be nothing more than a hollow pretence, himself no better than the whited sepulchres of the old Pharisaism. But with all this, who will undertake to deny the power which even the family traditions Of goodness, and still more the associations of the house set apart to God, must, in many cases, exert? They are as a chain of forts, which defend the acid against the assaults of sin. They are influences which predispose a man to listen to the truth, and if they may be resisted, even if by some they are hardly felt at all, they must surely place a man in a more favourable position than, if his first ideas of religion were of a tyranny to be resisted, a fanaticism to be pitied, or an hypocrisy to be despised, in every case a power which the soul should steadily resist. They are voices speaking to the heart, and appealing to many of its strongest motives and best affections.
II. The way in which family piety is to be cultivated.
1. Its foundation manifestly is parental influence. The influence which a parent exercises over his children may be composed of many elements, but the predominant one in the majority of cases must ye personal goodness. I met some time ago one, now himself the head of a household and the son of an excellent father, whose praise, as I personally know, had long remained in the church in which he was an office-bearer. As we were conversing of him, the son addressing me with strong feeling, said, “It was my father’s life which saved me from being drawn away from the faith. I was, while yet a youth, throw into the society of those who made a practice of sneering at religion as a folly or a delusion, and at all its professors as hypocrites. I thought I knew my father better, but they talked so confidently that I resolved to watch. For two years I did watch with an anxious and ever-observant care, and in what I saw of my father’s holy life I found an answer to the taunts and doubts of my companions.” It was a high testimony, and the truth of it was confirmed by the consecration of a large family to the service of Christ. The thought it suggests, indeed, may, in one aspect of it, be disquieting enough to parents. If the eyes of their household are thus continually upon them, and if its judgment on the Gospel be formed on the ground of what it sees in them, what reason is there for anxiety, even for trembling, lest the impression given be such as to prevent the truth from having its rightful power on the hearts of their children and servants! Children, of all others, are quick to detect a contrast, if such there be, between the outward deportment, especially in the presence of Christian friends or on religious seasons, and the predominant temper of the life; and the parent who thinks to atone for a prevailing worldliness by occasional outbursts of religious emotion, may at least be sure that his family will not be imposed on by these periodical fits of devotion. But if they will not give credit for a high degree of piety because of a few manifestations of spirituality which are out of accord with the general tenor of life, neither will they be led by occasional imperfections, and even inconsistencies, to ignore the evidence of spirit and character, supplied by daily conduct.
2. It must be manifested, however, in the whole conduct of the family, and perhaps in nothing more than in the ambitions which are cherished in relation to it and the means adopted for their realisation. Professions of supreme love to God, even though supported by many acts which are in accordance with them, will tell for very little if there is abundant proof that what a man desires, first and above all, for his children is not that they should be true Christians, but that they should be rich, or fashionable, or famous. Here is the secret of many failures, which at first seem almost unintelligible. There are parents who, to outward appearance, and to the best of their own belief, have trained their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; but the teaching has not been successful, and those who are disappointed in its results complain, or, at least, wonder, that the promise is not fulfilled. They have given instruction in the doctrines of the Gospel; they have led their children to the house of God; they have sought by precept and entreaty to influence them on God’s behalf--but without success. What can be the cause? If they would look deeper and with less prejudiced eyes, it would not be hard to find. Their children are what they have made them. I have heard of some who have been more anxious about the manners and deportment of their children or pupils; others more concerned about the society into which they can get admittance; others more intent on their outward prosperity than their religion. Ought they to be surprised if the young learn the lesson and act accordingly?
3. I include under one point family influences, whether in the way of instruction, or discipline, or worship. Two remarks only will I throw out.
(1) There should be a religion of the household; not only should the individual members personally recognise and seek to meet the claims of Christian duty, but there should be religious service rendered by the family as a whole. There should be the family gathering for daily worship, and the household, as a body, should present itself before God in His house.
(2) There comes a time when the authority of the parent can be enforced only by moral suasion, but in those earlier and more tender years, when children are not simply to be advised, but ruled, the wise head of a household will feel that he is but exercising the right which God Himself has given, or rather, let us say, discharging the trust which God has committed to him as a steward, when he gathers his children around him, whether at the family altar or in the family pew. But this raises the question of that parental rule which it was never more necessary to maintain than at the present time. If the Son of God Himself learned obedience by the things which He suffered. He has, by that submission, taught a great lesson, which neither parents nor children should forget. (J. G. Rogers, D. D.)
I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.
I. Our once desolate and miserable condition by nature. Were we not captives? yea, bond-slaves? All our happiness consisted in forgetting ourselves. Everything marked us as, in the worst sense, slaves. Some of us professed to despise the opinions of men, and yet, what were we but the slaves of men? What did we pursue? Nothing but the applause of men. What were we afraid of? Nothing but their censure. How afraid of singularity, when we first perhaps had some thoughts concerning our souls. What was this but slavery? Look at the lives we led. We lived but for ourselves. Self was our Nebuchadnezzar, who took possession of the city, our walls, and got all for himself. Self, perhaps, in some decent, moral form, but still self; the fleshy, unregenerate, corrupt, carnal self. Was not this the greatest slavery? And who was the master, the grinding tyrant of this slave? To whom had we sold ourselves for nought? Who was it that led us captive at his will? (2 Timothy 2:25-26.)
II. The love which God has towards His true Israel. And what is its peculiar character? It is Sovereign and Distinguishing.
1. It is a Love bounded by His Will. His most wise, righteous, and holy Will, (Exodus 33:19).
2. It is” personal and individual. “I have loved thee. Thee, a poor sinner, a prodigal; thee, a poor, unprofitable servant thee, a poor backslider in heart too oft; thee, too much, too frequently ungrateful;--yet have I loved thee--yes, thee, notwithstanding all; thee, singly and alone, as if there were no other; thee, as one of the innumerable family, the many sons whom I will bring to glory.
3. It is effectual and overcoming. “With lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” Ah, how gently, how tenderly, how silently, sometimes mysteriously, but ever in love.
4. This love is everlasting. Time never knew its beginning, eternity shall never know its end. Closing remarks:--
1. All religion consists in individuality. Religion is a personal thing.
(1) It is so in our confessions (2 Samuel 12:13).
(2) It is so in our standing before God (Luke 18:13).
(3) So is it in the consolations of the Spirit (Galatians 2:20).
2. All the blessings of present salvation spring from God s everlasting love. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
Secret drawings graciously explained
I. God’s dealings with us are never understood till He Himself appears to us. He must speak, or we cannot interpret His acts. Though all things in the field and the garden show what the sun doeth, yet none of these “fruits put forth by the sun” can be perceived till the sun himself reveals them. For first, man is not in a condition to perceive God till God reveals Himself to him. By nature we are blind Godward; yea, deaf, and in all ways insensible towards the great Spirit. The Lord said of Cyrus, “I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me”; and even so may He say of many an unconverted man, “I warned thee, and aroused thee, and drew thee when thou wast not aware of Me.” Besides this, we are so selfish that, when God is drawing us to Himself, we are too much absorbed in our own things to notice the hand which is at work upon us. We crave the world, we sigh for human approbation, we seek for case and comfort, we desire above all things to indulge our pride with the vain notion of self-righteousness. And, therefore, we look not after God. Moreover, God must explain His dealings to us by revealing Himself to us, because those ways are in themselves frequently mysterious. He does not usually begin by giving the man light, and peace, and comfort. No, but he sorely plagues him with “darkness that might be felt.” He makes sweet sin to become bitter; He pours gall into the fountains of his carnal life till the man begins to be weary of the things which once contented him. Full often the Lord fitteth the arrows of conviction to the string, and shooteth again, and again, and again, till the soul is wounded in a thousand places, and is ready to bleed to death. The Lord kills before He makes alive. But I say again, how could we expect unspiritual men to see the hand of the Lord in all this? God must reveal Himself to the man, or else he will not discover the hand of the Lord in the anguish of his spirit. This appearance of the Lord must be personal. “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me.” True knowledge of God is always a Divine operation, not wrought at second-hand by instrumentality, but wrought by the right hand of the Lord Himself. “No man can come to Me,” saith Christ, “except the Father which hath sent Me draw him”; and no man understands those drawings except the same Father shall come unto him, and manifest Himself to him. Till we know the Lord by personal revelation, we cannot read His handwriting upon our hearts, or discern His dealings with us. This appearance needs to be repeated. The text may be read as a complaint on the part of Israel. Israel says, “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me”--as much as to say, “He has not appeared to me lately.” Of old He was seen by brook, and bush, and sea, and rock; when Jacob met Him at Jaddok, and Moses in the wilderness at the burning bush; but now His visits are few and far between. “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me.” Oh, that He would appear now! I pray at this time that those of you who are mourning after that fashion may be able to rise out of it. It is not the Lord’s desire that He should be as a stranger in the land, or as a wayfaring man that tarrieth but for a night. He is willing to abide with us. His delights are with the sons of men. This appearance is ever an act of mighty grace. The text might be read, “The Lord appeared from afar to me.” So He did at the first. What a great way off we were from God, but behold the Beloved came, like a roe or a young hart, leaping over the mountains, skipping upon the hills! He came to us in boundless love when we lay at death’s dark door, the fast-bound slaves of hell. He can and will come again. If He came to us from far, He will surely come again now that He has made us nigh. Expect Him to come to you on a sudden. Pray for the immediate revelation of God Himself to your spirit in a way of joy and transport that shall set your soul in rapid motion towards the Lord. Should the Lord return to you in gracious manifestation, take care that you do hot, lose Him again. If the Bridegroom deigns to visit you, hold Him fast.
II. When the Lord does so appear, we then perceive that He has been dealing with us. “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” What exceeding love the Lord showed to us before we knew Him! Let us now look back and remember the love of long-suffering, which spared us when we delighted in sin. The Lord did not cut us off in our unbelief; therein is love. The next admirable discovery is the Lord’s restraining grace. We now see that the Lord held us back from plunging into the deepest abysses of sin. Blessed be God for those crooks in my lot which kept me from poisonous pleasures! So, too, we now see the preparations of grace, the ploughing of our hearts by sorrow, the sowing of them by discipline, the harrowing of them by pain, the watering of them by the rain of favour, the breaking of them up by the frosts of adversity. These were not actually grace, but they opened the door for grace. We now see how in a thousand ways the Lord was drawing us when we knew Him not. The text chiefly dwells upon drawings. I beg you to refresh your memories by recollecting the drawings of the Lord towards you while you were yet ungodly. Often these were very gentle drawings: they were not such forces as would move an ox or an ass, but such as were meant for tender spirits; yet sometimes they tugged at you very hard, and almost overcame you. Drawing supposes a kind of resistance; or, at any rate, an inertness; and, truly, we did not stir of ourselves, but needed to be persuaded and entreated. Some of you will recollect how the Holy Spirit drew you many times before you came to Him. The Lord surrounded you as a fish is surrounded with a net; and though you laboured to escape you could not, but were drawn more and more within the meshes of mercy. Do you remember when at last the Holy Spirit drew you over the line; when at last, without violating your free will, He conquered it by forces proper to the mind? Blessed day! You were made a willing captive to your Lord, led in silken fetters at His chariot-wheels, a glad prisoner to almighty love, set free from sin and Satan, made to be unto your Lord a lifelong servant.
III. We perceive that loving-kindness was the drawing force. “Therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” At first we think God has dealt sternly with us, but in His light we see light, and we perceive that the drawing power, which has brought us to receive mercy, is the Divine loving-kindness. Love is the attractive force. What multitudes of persons have been drawn to the Lord first by His loving-kindness in the gift of His dear Son! The loving-kindness of God as seen in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus draws men from sin, from self, from Satan, from despair, and from the world. Next, the hope of pardon, free and full, attracts sinners to God. “Thy sins, which are many, are all forgiven thee,” makes a man run after Christ. I have known others drawn to the Lord by another view of His loving-kindness, namely, His willingness to make new creatures of us. The prayer of many has been, “Create in me a clean heart, O God”; and they have been charmed by hearing that whosoever believes in Jesus is born again, to start on a new life, ruled by a new principle, and endowed with a new nature, sustained by the Holy Spirit. Oh, the loving-kindness of the Lord! You may measure heaven; you may fathom the sea; you may plunge into the abyss, and tell its depth; but the loving-kindness of the Lord is beyond you. Here is an infinite expanse. It is immeasurable, even as God Himself is beyond conception. It is everywhere about us, behind, before, beneath, above, within, without. Every day the Lord loads us with benefits.
IV. Then we learn that the great motive of the Divine drawings is everlasting love. Lot your spirit lie and soak in this Divine assurance: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” Take it up into yourself as Gideon’s fleece absorbed the dew. Notice, the Lord has done it. It is an actual fact, the Lord is loving you. Put those two pronouns together, “I” and “thee.” “I,” the Infinite, the inconceivably glorious--“thee,” a poor, lost, undeserving, ill-deserving, hell-deserving sinner. See the link between the two! See the diamond rivet which joins the two together for eternity: “I have loved thee.” See the antiquity of this love: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” I loved thee when I died for thee upon the Cross, yea, I loved thee long before, and therefore did I die. I loved thee when I made the heavens and the earth, with a view to thine abode therein: yea, I loved thee before I had made sea or shore. There is a beginning for the world, but there is no beginning for the love of God to His people. Nor does that exhaust the meaning of “everlasting love.” There has never been a moment when the Lord has not loved His people. There has been no pause, nor ebb, nor break in the love of God to His own. That love knows no variableness, neither shadow of turning. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” You may take a leap into the future, and find that love still with you. Everlasting evidently lasts for ever. We shall come to die, and this shall be a downy pillow for our death-bed, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” When we wake up in that dread world to which we arc surely hastening, we shall find infinite felicity in “everlasting love.” When the judgment is proclaimed, and the sight of the great white throne makes all hearts to tremble, and the trumpet sounds exceeding loud and long, and our poor dust wakes up from its silent grave, we shall rejoice in this Divine assurance: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” Roll on, ye ages, but everlasting love abides! Die out, sun and moon, and thou, O time, be buried in eternity, we need no other heaven than this, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love”! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. A great wonder.
1. The object mentioned. “Thee.” Most unworthy.
2. The attribute displayed. Love. What is it?
3. The person speaking. “I,” whom ye have--
II. A greater wonder. “With an everlasting love.” Wonderful to love us at all. More wonderful to love us with such a love. This love is everlasting in its--
III. The greatest wonder. “Therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee” To send food to the hungry, is gracious in the wealthy; but to bring the hungry in the kindest manner to the royal table--this is wonderful indeed. We shall see here--
1. A wonderful display. “I have drawn thee.” Here is inferred our helplessness and unwillingness to come. God draws by many means.
2. A wonderful instrument. “Loving-kindness.” The heavenly magnet. Kindness does not always go with love. God saves us. Here is kindness. But He does so in the best possible way. In the tenderest, most gentle manner.
3. A wonderful reason. “Therefore.” God’s reason is in Himself. Our salvation the fruit of everlasting love, and nothing else. Should we not love Him? (W. J. Mayers.)
Divine philanthropy before all time
I. Uncreated men are the objects of Divine love. Men in actual existence are not everlasting; they are only creatures of a day, mere shadows passing upon the earth. But in the mind of the Infinite they are eternal.
1. Because He loved them He created them.
2. Because He loved them He created them what they are. He made them capable of enjoying every kind of happiness of which we have any conception.
II. Created men are the subjects of Divine love.
1. God’s love in nature has a power to draw men to Him. His love in nature appears in two forms.
(1) In the form of utility. Nature ministers to man’s necessities and gratifications.
(2) In the form of beauty. What is beauty, but the costume of love, the pictures and statues of love, nay the voice, the winning music of love?
2. God s love in mediation has a power to draw men to Him. The incarnation of Christ is at once the effect, the channel, and the instrument of Divine love, and the Divine love that draws with a moral magnetism of the highest measure. (Homilist.)
I. The love of God towards us. “From everlasting to everlasting” is the love, like the existence, of the living God. Simple, childlike faith in this grand truth is an essential element in all personal religion (1 John 4:16). The life of the newborn soul may be said to begin with the uprising of this knowledge, this faith.
II. The practical expression of God’s love.
1. An external revelation (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9). Open your heart to the influence of the Cross of Calvary, comprehend in some measure the sacred sorrow of Him who there took the burden of our sins upon Him that He might bear them all away, and you can never doubt the “everlasting love” wherewith the Father loves you.
2. An internal force. Even in his Divine relations man is not a being to be compelled by resistless force to move in any path chosen for him, but one who is endowed with the wondrous power of yielding in response to persuasive influence a free and willing service (Hosea 11:4). That is the noblest kind of persuasive influence which appeals not so much to our fears as our desires, which awakens not terror but love. (Homiletic Magazine.)
God’s love for man
I. His love for man is personal. “I have loved thee.”
1. The distinguishing constitution He has given him. He has endowed him with more faculties of enjoyment than any other creature in the universe possesses. He has given him intellect, by which be can enjoy the pleasures of meditation; social affection, by which he can enjoy the blessings of friendship; religious affinities, by which he can have sympathy with the source of all life and blessedness.
2. His wonderful mercy in the mediation of His Son.
II. His love for man is eternal.
1. Humanity had nothing to do with exciting it.
2. Christ had nothing to do with procuring it. Christ’s mediation was the effect, not the cause of God’s love for man. His mediation was no afterthought. The Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world.
III. His love for man is attracting.
1. How attracting it is in its nature! Kindness is always attractive; and its attracting power is always in proportion to its spontaneity, disinterestedness, and magnanimity.
2. How attracting it is in its manifestation! Look at it--
(1) In nature. The world overflows with Divine kindness.
(2) In revelation. (Homilist.)
Everlasting love revealed
This startling remembrance came to Israel at a time when her sorrows were very great, and her sins were greater still. She dwelt with hope upon that Divine assurance of irrevocable favour: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” When earthly joys ebb out, it is a blessed thing if they make room for memories of heavenly visitations and gracious assurances. When you are at your lowest, it may happen that then the God of all grace comes in, and brings to your remembrance the love of your espousals, and the joy of former days, when the candle of the Lord shone round about you. At the same time, it was not merely a time of inward sorrow, but a period of refreshing from the presence of the Lord; for Jehovah was speaking in tones of sovereign grace, and pouring forth great rivers of promises, and seas of mercy. Sometimes you pour water down a dry pump, and that sets it working so that it pours forth streams of its own; and so, when our gracious God pours in His love into the soul, our own love begins to flow, and with it memory awakes, and a thousand recollections cause us to bring to mind the ancient love wherein we aforetime delighted, and we cry, “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me.”
I. The marvellous appearing. “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me.” Here are two persons; hut how different in degree I Hers we have “me,” a good-for-nothing creature, apt to forget my Lord, and to lira as if there were no God; yet He has not ignored or neglected me. There is the High and Holy One, whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, and He has appeared unto me. Between me and the great Jehovah there have been communications; the solitary silences have been broken. “The Lord hath appeared,” hath appeared “unto me.” Do I hear some asking, How is this? I understand that God appeared to Israel, but how to me? Let me picture the discovery of grace as it comes to the awakening mind, when it learns to sit at the feet of Jesus, saved by faith in the great sacrifice. Touched by the Spirit of God, we find that the Lord appeared to each one of us in the promises of His Word. Every promise in God’s Word is a promise to every believer, or to every character such as that to which it was first given. Furthermore, “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me,” in the person of His Son. God came to each believer in Christ Jesus. Say, “Yes, eighteen hundred years ago and more, the Lord in the person of His dear Son appeared unto me in Gethsemane, and on Calvary as my Lord, and my God, and yet my substitute and Saviour.” Since that, the Lord has constantly appeared unto us in the power of His Holy Spirit. Do you remember when first your sin was set in order before your tearful eyes, and you trembled for fear of the justice which you had provoked? Do you remember when you heard the story of the Crucified Redeemer? when you saw the atoning sacrifice? when you looked to Jesus and were lightened? It was the Holy Spirit who was leading you out of yourself; and God by the Holy Spirit was appearing unto you. Now, we hold this appearance in precious memory: “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me.” Many things are preserved in the treasure-house of memory; but this is the choicest of our jewels. How gracious, how glorious was the appearance of God in Christ Jesus to our soul! This appearance came in private assurance. To me it was as personal as it was sure. I used to hear the preacher, but then I heard my God; I used to see the congregation, but then I saw Him who is invisible. I used to feel the power of words, but now I have felt the immeasurable energy of their substance. God Himself filled and thrilled my soul. I cannot help calling your attention to the fact, that the Lord came in positive certainty. The text does not say, “I hoped so,” or “I thought so”; but, “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying.” To me it is bliss to say, “I know whom I have believed.” My soul cannot content herself with less than certainty. I desire never to take a step upon an “if,” or a “peradventure.” I want facts, not fancies.
II. The matchless declaration. “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love.”
1. Here is a word from God of amazing love. Jehovah saith, “I have loved thee.” Think it over. Believe it. Stagger not at it. If the husband should say to his wife, “I have loved thee,” she would believe him: it would seem only natural that he should do so. And when Jehovah says to you, a feeble woman, an unknown man, “I have loved thee,” He means it.
2. Note, next, it is a declaration of unalloyed love. The Lord had been bruising, and wounding, and crushing His people, and yet He says, “I have loved thee.” These cruel wounds were all in love.
3. This statement is a declaration of love in contrast with certain other things. What a difference between the false friend-ship of the world and sin, and the changeless love of God! You have provoked Him to jealousy by gods which were no gods, but He has never ceased His love. What a miracle of grace is this! How sweetly does immutability smile on us as we hear it say, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love”!
4. Thus, our text is a word of love in the past. “I have loved thee.” We were rebels, and He loved us. We were dead in trespasses and in sins, and He loved us. We rejected His grace, and defied His warnings, but He loved us. The matchless declaration of the text is a voice of love in the present. The Lord loves the believer now. Whatever discomfort you are in, the Lord loves you. The text is a voice of love in the future. It means, “I will love thee for ever.” God has not loved us with a love which will die out after a certain length of time: His love is like Himself, “from everlasting to everlasting.” This is a declaration of love secured to us--secured in many ways. Did you observe in this chapter how the Lord secures His love to His people, first, by a covenant? Further, this love is secured by relationship. Will you dart your eye on to the ninth verse, and read the last part of it? “I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn.” A man cannot get rid of fatherhood by any possible means His love is pledged again by redemption. Read the eleventh verse, “For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he.” Would you see the indenture of God’s covenant love? Behold it in the indented hands and feet of the Crucified Redeemer. This is a declaration of love Divinely confessed. The Lord has not sent this assurance to us by a prophet, but He has made it Himself--“The Lord hath appeared.” Notice, that it is love sealed with a “yea.” God would have us go no further in our ordinary speech than to say “,yea, yea”; and surely we may be content with so much from Himself. His “yea” amounts to a sacred asseveration: “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love.”
III. The manifest evidence. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” Here are drawings mentioned. Have you not felt them? These were drawings resulting from love. He drew us because He loved us with an everlasting love. Other drawings of Divine goodness are resisted, resisted in some cases to the bitter end, and men justly perish; but the drawings of everlasting love effect their purpose. Here are drawings mentioned: these were drawings from God. How sweetly, how omnipotently, God can draw! We yield to the drawings because they come from the Lord s own hand, and their power lies in His love. As the drawings come from God, so are they drawings to God. Blessed is he whose heart is being drawn nearer and nearer to the Most High. The Lord assures us that these are drawings of His loving-kindness. However He draws, it is in love; and whenever He draws, it is in love. These drawings are to be continuous. “With loving-kindness have I drawn thee”; and He means to do the same evermore. Such a magnificent text as ours ought to make us consider two things. The first is, Is it so? Am I drawn? If God loves you with an everlasting love, He has drawn you by His loving-kindness: is it so or not? Has He drawn you by His Holy Spirit, so that you have followed on? Are you a believer? Do you carry Christ’s cross? You have been drawn to this. Then take home these gracious words: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” If you have not been so drawn, do you not wish you were? But, child of God, if you know these drawings, and if it be true that God loves you with an everlasting love, then are you resting? “I have a feeble hope,” says one. What? How can you talk so? He who is loved with an everlasting love, and knows it, should swim in an ocean of joy. Not a wave of trouble should disturb the glassy sea of his delight. What is to make a man happy if this will not? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Christian drawn unto God
I. “I Have Loved Thee.” The love of God differs from ours, and this in two respects
1. It is more abundant. Our love partakes of this narrowness of our nature--it can embrace but a few objects and it cannot travel far. But God is an infinite Being. He fills all space with His presence; there is no limit to His capabilities. His love is accordingly an infinite love. Our love is a taper, shining on a few objects only and on those dimly; the love of God is a sun, throwing its light wide as it is His good pleasure to throw it, pervading His universe, brightening and warming and gladdening millions on millions of objects as easily and effectually as one.
2. It is also a free, self-moving love. It rises spontaneously in His mind, as water rises in a fountain. It requires nothing in any object, no merit or amiableness or beauty or anything else, to call it forth.
II. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” There never was a period when God did not live and did not love you. He loved you before your father or mother or any one else loved you; He loved you before you were born; He loved you before the earth or the heavens were created; He loved you in the very first moment He loved at all. Would you tell how old His love to you is? You must first tell how old the Ancient of days Himself is. Would you measure His love to you? It must be with a line which can stretch to the beginning of eternity on the one hand, and reach to the end of it on the other.
III. “I have drawn thee,” the Lord says; and this is very naturally and beautifully said here. Real love, we know, is always of a drawing nature. Its tendency ever is to bring near to us, or to lead us near to the object we love. “Give me my infant,” the tender mother says. “Let me if possible have my children around me,” says the affectionate father. So the Lord says here, “I have loved you, and therefore, because I have loved you, I have drawn you, drawn you to Myself.” When the soul at last turns to Christ and through Christ to God, it is because God in some way is working on that soul, and attracting and drawing it.
IV. The Lord tells us in the text how He draws His people to Him. “With loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” “My love to thee is so strong, that it not only impels Me to draw thee to Me, but it influences Me in all My conduct while drawing thee.” We may assign a twofold meaning to the words, regarding them as descriptive both of the means which the Lord employs to bring His people to Him, and of the manner in which He deals with them while bringing them. He will draw them by His loving-kindness, and He will draw them by that lovingly, most kindly and tenderly. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
New revelations of old truths
I. A revelation has been made to us of Divine truth. In a strange land, when the shadows of evening come on, the traveller has sometimes the consciousness that he is passing through the fairest scenes, he instinctively feels that the darkness is hiding from him the most wonderful revelations of nature. So we sometimes feel that we are in the presence of great truths, that have yet to be revealed to us. We feel, long before we understand. Our hearts burn within us, when we listen to words, the full meaning of which we do not comprehend. How strange it is, that when we have listened to the words of truth, we sometimes feel as if visions we had dimly seen were realised, or our confused thoughts were put into shape, and expressed in words, as if this was what we had heard before, or were on the point of thinking out for ourselves. Truth seems like the language of childhood, as if we were familiar with its tones, and had lived a former life, where we had heard its voice before. The heart recognises it as Divine.
II. We have new revelations of an old truth. With every Divine appearance came a revelation. He who appeared of old to the Church breathing words of love, hath in these last days spoken unto us. That last appearance was the most perfect expression of love, that last revelation left nothing unsaid that even Divine love could say. How much has love said in this world--how much it says to you this day. You have not found out yet the depth, the full significance of its revelations. You know something, you may know far more. The more you love, the more you will be capacitated for manifestations of love. We need new, constant assurances of the Divine love. We cannot live in the past alone. Do you ask why are new revelations necessary? Why is it not enough to be told once that God loves us? Why must we be told again and again? I answer, we should require assurances of love from a friend if we felt that our affinities with his pure nature were anything but entire, that we often pained him by our recklessness, and prevented his intercourse with us by our indifference; and surely, with all my frailties and sins, with the deep consciousness of my unworthiness, I need God to tell me that He loves me, and I want Him to repeat the assurance. There is, moreover, a peculiar sensitiveness about love; it craves for fresh utterances, for strong, unequivocal assertions, just as Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him as his own soul; so the love of God is so essential to us that we cannot live without it, we prize it above all things, and hence we long to hear, in the depths of our souls, the words, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love.”
III. The love of God is ever new. It is an everlasting love. God loved you long before you realised His love. You have, perhaps, sometimes thought that He loved you because you loved Him; it is quite the reverse; you love Him because He first loved you. God will still love through all changes--in sorrow, in sickness, in old age, in death. God will love us for ever. His loves is always fresh; it is the same to-day as yesterday, and to-morrow it will be as to-day.
IV. It is God’s love that attracts men. This love draws. Men yield to this Divine power. This is the power of the Gospel; this subdued, this won you. What melted that heart of ice,--what, but the warm breath of love? What drew you, but the cords of love that were entwined about your heart! (H. J. Bevis.)
What is love? Is it not delight in an object, and is it not desire to promote the well-being of an object? The love of God answers to these definitions. Some resolve love into self-love. We delight in what we love, therefore, say some, we love for the delight. But this is a serious error which may be refuted by a thousand facts. Just think of the facts by which you may refute this error. And let me here make two remarks concerning love generally,--First, its existence is universal, except as sin reigns and checks it; and, secondly, its work and its service are multiform and extensive. Men love, angels love, and God is love, We feel, and observe, and mark its existence on earth; we hear of it in heaven; and we know that there is but one place tenanted by beings capable of love who do not love, and that place is hell; and we also know that there is but one class of human beings from which it has departed, namely, souls that are lost. Love! It gushes forth from the throne of God, flows round the universe, and rises again to the level of its source. Like an inverted tree, it roots in heaven, and yet drops its fruit upon this wide world, and upon beings in the lowest terrestrial estate. Nor is love, to drop our figure, inactive or useless among the children of men even in their low estate. It unites, as in conjugal life, two streams of being and makes them one,--it causes the mother to forget her anguish and to make her bosom the refuge and the strength of helpless infancy--it makes parents ministering angels, and children bright morning stars in the household firmament--it creates all that is meant by home--it impoverishes itself to enrich others, and exposes itself to danger to protect and otherwise to serve others--it feeds the hungry; clothes the naked; shelters the homeless; takes charge of the orphan; attends at the sick-bed in the face of contagion; visits the captive in prison; weeps at the grave; builds hospitals; erects almshouses, asylums, and places of worship--it instructs, warns, entreats, reproves, consoles, and in ton thousand forms ministers to the creature while it worships the Creator--it renders benefits to the sinner and serves the Saviour; it intercedes on earth and it offers praise in heaven; it weeps here, it rejoices in the world above. Thus love, sanctified and directed by the Saviour of man and by the Spirit of all grace, makes God dwell in the man, and it causes the man to dwell in God. Such, speaking generally, is love. And love is everlasting. It is eternal--it ever will be, as it always hath been. As a principle it is eternal. It will never die. It will never die from the human heart. In all redeemed human spirits love will live an eternal life. Some emotions will pass away as the clouds; others will abide as the blue firmament itself; and among these love in redeemed humanity will have the pre-eminence. Now, connect these ideas of love with the everlasting love of God. Jehovah here says, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” Only the love of God is from everlasting. The love of unfallen angels and of redeemed men hath immortality--it is to everlasting, but not from everlasting. God’s love alone hath eternity--eternity embracing past, present, and future. There are four things which we would notice here concerning the everlasting love of God.
1. It is not derived, or imparted, or excited by us in the sense of being awakened by us. We are the occasion in part of its being aroused and expressed, but it is not a derived or imparted love. Ours is a love that is as a spark from the great fire that burns in God’s heart, fire of love that is underfeed, self-existent, independent.
2. It is perfect, it is impossible to add anything to it, nor could anything be taken from it without rendering it imperfect, it is as complete as love can be found.
3. Instead of being divorced from the other attributes and affections of God, it is allied with them all--love and self-existence, love and independence, love and omnipotence, love and boundless wisdom, love and unspotted purity, love and undeviating righteousness.
4. In all respects is the love of God, Godlike--equal with God. Verily, that man is loved whom God loves. What though no creature may care for him, if God loves him he is loved for ever, and infinitely loved; he is loved with all the strength of the Divine affection; on the other hand, he knows not what it is to be loved in perfection, who does not know and believe the love of God for us.
Just look further, at the love of God when embracing sinful men, and notice three things about it.
1. It is personal in its objects. He loves you individually; and His loving a large number is by His loving each one in that number.
2. Although embracing sinners, the love of God is discriminating, and pure, and righteous love. It delights where it can delight, and seeks the good of its object in every form, and in the highest degree.
3. The love of God follows those whom it embraces. It was prolonged to the seed of Abraham beyond numerous apostasies and spiritual adulteries; it is prolonged to us beyond seasons of declension and of backsliding. The love of God goes after us. It follows us into every new relationship, into every new duty, into every new trial, into every new temptation, into fresh provocation, and claims upon God’s forbearance; it follows us through life into death, and through death into immortality. (S. Martin.)
I. Divine love is a fact; there can be no doubt of the teaching of Scripture on this subject. The God of the Bible is a God of love, He is a Father in heaven, He cares for men, watches over them, guides them, saves them. What more beautiful symbols of Divine love and watchfulness can there be than that of the Good Shepherd in search of those who have wandered away from Him--of the lost sheep; and when He finds the lost one He lays it on His shoulder rejoicing. This attitude of Divine love is the very core of the Gospel; and it is surely a blessed truth for us, although it is sometimes hard for us to realise it.
1. It may seem strange, yet it is true, that there are hearts who can more readily feel that God is angry with them than that God really loves them. The instinct of conscious guilt is fear, and when the sense of sin is strongly awakened, we are apt to turn away from God and to feel as if God must hate us.
2. We feel, as it were, in other moments that the human heart is strangely inconsistent. We feel as if the powers of nature were strong in us, and the sense of sin dies down; we feel as if God would overlook our sins, and that we are not so sinful after all; we feel as if we might trust to His goodness, as if it were, so to speak, good nature. But this is equally inconsistent with true spiritual experience. To all that is evil in human life and human history, whether in Gentile or in Jew, God is a consuming fire.
II. God loves us everlastingly. The fact of Divine love is not only sure in itself, it is never uncertain in incidence. Whatever appearances there may seem to the contrary, it is still there. No cloud can extinguish it, however it may obscure it; no misery, born of the depths of human despair, no tragedy of human agony or of human crime, can make that love doubtful; it is still there, it is around us, it is with us; its everlasting arms are holding us even when we cannot feel it, and grasping us in its soft embrace although our feet may be bleeding and sore with the hardness of the road along which we travel. All sorrow is a gift, and every trouble that the heart of man has, an opportunity. You may not know this now, you may never know it, and yet it is true. God’s love knows no relenting. “My will for you is a will of good without variableness or shadow of turning.” “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” Just a few words only as to the last point--“I have loved thee; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.”
III. The love of God is individual; it is personal; it is the love of one loving heart to another; it is no mere impersonal conception of supreme benevolence; it is the love of a father to a child, the love of a mother to a daughter; it would not be love otherwise, for it is a distinguishing idea of love that it discriminates its object. How personal always was the ministry of our Lord! “Come unto Me.” “Take up My cross.” “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?” (Principal Tulloch.)
The love of God
I. A declaration of god’s love. God is love; that is His nature--love in the abstract; not simply loving, kind, tender, benevolent, good, but love. This love displays itself in Christ. The fatherhood of God is nowhere seen in its royalty, but it is in its exhibition in Jesus Christ. This love He declares has this peculiarity--that it is everlasting.
1. It had no birthday. Go back through a past eternity, still you find no date for its commencement. Find out a day when the Lord Jesus was not loved by the Father, and you have the day when the Church was not loved by Him; you will arrive at the time when His love first began to the Church, for He says, “Thou hast loved them as Thou hast loved me, and Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world. It foresaw all the rebellion, backslidings, frailties, sins, infirmities--everything that would characterise the individual upon whom that love rested; and yet the Lord loved you, because He would love you; and that is the only reason that love itself can assign, because He would keep the covenant which He made with His own Son for you.
2. As it had no birthday, so it has no changing day. Like its Author, it is immutable, unvarying. There is nothing that can occur in reference to the objects on whom God s love is fixed that He did not foresee, and there is no change that can occur in the Divine mind as to any improvement in His plan and order of government, or manifestation of mercy to man.
(1) This love bestowed upon you the greatest blessings before conversion. Strange to say, and yet it is a great and solemn truth, that while you were an enemy it gave you Christ-gave you the Spirit to regenerate you. Love, ere you were born, was manifested towards you--made the covenant, formed the plan of mercy by which you might be saved.
(2) This love changes its dispensations, not its nature. Who questions a father’s love when he corrects a rebellious son? Who doubts the teacher’s love when he compels his pupil to apply his mind to the subject of instruction? So God acts. If it be necessary to make you diligent in His service, to overcome temptation, to draw you away from the world and its vanities and its corruptions, He may deprive you of property, He may remove an idol, He may stain your pride, He may bereave you of one who is as your own soul, He may prostrate your honour in the dust, He may suffer your own family to rise against you; and the very spring of all this is love.
3. It has no dying day. Love is a golden chain, one end of which is fixed to God s throne in eternity past, and the other end to His throne in eternity to come. This love of God is a bond not to be dissolved, a union never to be broken, a depth which cannot be fathomed, a height which can never be scaled, a length which can never be traversed, a breadth which cannot be measured, a science that passeth all knowledge, a fire which many waters cannot quench, a flame which the floods cannot drown, a sovereign stronger than death, a constrainer which cannot be overcome, a breastplate which cannot be pierced, a safeguard which casts out all fear, an inhabitant that can never be removed, a preventive to every evil, a catholicon for all woe. “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life,” &c.
II. The manner in which this love is displayed, or the evidences by which we may ascertain that we possess it.
1. See how with loving-kindness He has drawn you in the paths of providential arrangement! Begin with the earliest dawn of memory: why were you drawn to such a school? Why did you form such friendships? Did not that love draw you to a situation, a locality as foreign co your thoughts as can well be, give you prosperity, make you influential, happy and blessed, and a blessing to others? What a constraint, often inexplicable, has it put upon your inclinations to accomplish an object which, had it been granted, you afterwards saw would have been your ruin! But the cord stayed you, the love was thrown around you to keep you back. Afflictions, too, have been some of the most beneficial cords of love that have visited you--cords which confined your aspirations and checked your vanity, taught you to pray, taught you to sympathise with others, taught you to love.
2. In the progress of regeneration this is wondrously manifested.
3. In the experimental enjoyment of His favour we see this Divine discovery. Your life has consisted of so many steps from one manifestation of Divine love to another.
4. Practical remarks.
(1) Every soul who hears me may be interested in this love.
(2) How humbling the contrast of our love to God! How inconstant, how feeble, how spiritless is our level
(3) Let us imitate God in His dealings with us. If we would prevail with others, we shall find that the cords of love are better than the rod of Moses. Neither ministers nor private Christians can scare men into the ways of godliness; no threats will frighten a man to be holy. (J. Sherman.)
I. The great source of redemption--“everlasting love”--love without beginning, love without change, and love without end.
1. Everlasting love is love without a beginning. The eternity of Divine love is a subject which we cannot fathom, but we may look at it in relation to our own being. Go back behind creation, before the Divine will had generated a single atom of matter, and in that very we discover ourselves in a perfect, living, actual conception, subjective being was embraced, nourished, and delighted in by “everlasting love.” The love of God is not an emotion of delight created by the appearance of comeliness, but delight itself; not an emotion excited by beauty, but beauty itself. There is a tendency in the human mind to thrust itself behind the birthday of time, and fall--where? Into the arms of “everlasting love.”
2. “Everlasting love” is love without change. Man, in relation to the eternity of God, must be regarded as a whole. “Everlasting love” embraces that whole. Our first impulse is to regard it as encircling the pure and the innocent, but turning aside from the disobedient and simple. It is not so, for the Word says, “God so loved the world.” Sin has transformed a paradise into a wilderness, a heaven into a hell, but sin cannot change “everlasting love.” That explains it all.
3. “Everlasting love” is love without end. On every Mohammedan tombstone the inscription begins, “He remains,” i.e., God. To-day we will write on every gravestone, The love of God remains. Ah, there are many gravestones besides those in the churchyard. You may imagine inscriptions like these: “To the memory of friendship”; “To the memory of parental and filial affection”; “To the memory of marriage sacredness and devotion.” But those fires, which once burnt brightly, have gone out for want of fuel, or for something that is worse. Should there be an aching void or bitter disappointment because former sources of affection have dried up, let us not turn to the devil to supply their places, but let us turn to the “everlasting love” of God.
II. The method of redemption. “Therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” We sometimes think that our Heavenly Father deals with us harshly, or unkindly. Yes, why the cross and not the crown? You see the child running in from the garden full of tears, and saying, “Something has hurt me.” On examination it is found that a thorn is in one of the fingers. Then the gentlest of hands will endeavour to extract it. When she is doing so, the child will cry out, “Oh, mother, you hurt me.” Ah, it is not the mother that hurts, but the thorn. When God takes out the thorn, we think that He hurts us. Not so, it is the thorn. Even God cannot take sin out of the heart but that it will give pain.
1. In dealing with the attractions of “everlasting love,” we must bear in mind the fact that we can only be saved by attraction. Grace begins its work by transforming the heart into the image of the Son of God. One grain of the Saviour’s love in that heart will leaven the whole. The sinner must be made willing to part with his sin. The power to effect this comes from God, but it can only be applied when the willing cry rends his heart, “Lord, save, or I perish.”
2. Consider the particular form which God’s loving-kindness has assumed in order to attract man to virtue. Under what aspects has mercy appeared unto men? We look back, and see an altar, and a victim, and a priest. But we soon learn that these are only types, yet, God’s mercy pursued man in times of yore, and does now, and everywhere. To-day, it is not altar, victim, or priest; but the Son of God, in a body like our own, and bearing up under the vicissitudes of life. In Christ Jesus we have the picture of loving-kindness. Sometimes that picture is in words of sympathy, of love, of encouragement, and inspiration. “Never man spake like this Man.” At other times the picture is in deeds,--the most gracious and marvellous. The sick are healed. The blind see. The deaf hear. The dead live. Is the picture overdrawn? (T. Davies, M. A.)
The place of love among Divine attributes
According to the Catechism of the Westminster Assembly, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” A very comprehensive and noble definition, no doubt I yet did it never strike you as strange that there is no mention of love here? This appears a very remarkable omission, as remarkable as if an orator, who undertook to describe the firmament, left out the sun, or an artist in painting the human face, made it sightless, and gave no place on the canvas to those beaming eyes which impart to the countenance its life and expression. Why did an assembly, for piety, learning, and talents, the greatest perhaps that ever met in England, or anywhere else, in that catalogue of Divine attributes, assign no place to love? Unless we are to understand the term “goodness” as comprehending love, the omission may be thus explained and illustrated. Take a globe, and observing their natural order, lay upon its surface the different hues of the rainbow; give it a rapid motion around its axis, and now the colours vanish. As if by magic the whirling sphere instantly changes into purest white, presenting to our eyes a visible and to our understanding a palpable proof that the sunbeam is not a simple but a compound body, thread spun of various rays which, when blended into one form light; so all the attributes acting together make love, and that because God is just, powerful, holy, good, and true, of necessity, therefore, “God is love.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The wonder of Divine love
Is it not an unheard-of wonder that so strong a stream of infinite love should run underground for so many years, and that so many rebellions all that while should not dam it up, but that it should hold on its course uninterrupted, and work out all that had obstructed the current of it, and at last bubble up at a time designed, and save, and wash, and purify the wretched, defiled creature? (T. Goodwin.)
The love of Christ perennial
They tell us that the sun is fed by impact, from objects from without, and that the day will come when its furnace flames shall be quenched into grey ashes. But Christ’s love is fed by no contributions from without, and will outlast the burnt-out sun, and gladden the ages of ages for ever. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The love of God suggested by human love
Would that we might understand the meaning of the expression, “The love of God.” It is hinted at in this world. Passing along the streets, one hears the words of a song or catches the strains of a piece of music being played, and he says, “That is from Beethoven or Mozart, I recognise the movement.” So in this life, we catch strains of the love of God. We behold it in the mother’s disinterested, self-denying love; we see it in the lover’s glow and in the little child’s innocent affection; but these things are only hints.
The magnetic influence of God’s loving-kindness
What a delightful thing it is to be drawn. Scarcely anybody likes to be driven, but there are very few who don’t in their hearts enjoy the drawing process. Cast round about the heart those mysterious cords of love, as soft as silk, and yet as strong as steel; ah! they can’t be resisted, and the wonder of it is that there is any desire to resist them. Love has conquered us. These cords have been let down from heaven to encircle us and lift us up out of the pit, just as was done to Jeremiah when he was in the pit; they let ropes down, and presently he was drawn up to life and liberty again. Ah, yes, it was the Cross that drew most of us. What a magnet is the story of the Cross! The power of the atonement has been felt by all of us who have believed, so that we were made willing to enter into the blessing of God. Some of us scarcely know how, but we found ourselves beneath the blood-stained tree. We turned our back upon it for many a year, but it turned us round at last. Blessed be the name of our loving Saviour! these cords are still drawing men to Jesus. I wonder how any one can resist the love of God in Jesus Christ! I saw some little children in a Brixton street the other day playing with a magnet. It was evidently a new toy, and they found much pleasure in this little instrument. What amused me was, that one child ran and brought a stone, another a piece of glass, to see if the magnet influenced them. You know, of course, the result; but the children did not know--they were experimenting. It seems as if we ministers are too much like those dear little ones. We have a magnet, but oh, how few there are who yield to the attracting power! The fault is not with the instrument, for Christ has said, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” Your hearts need changing; there is not as yet in you anything that responds to the call; nothing that answers to the message of His love. Oh! I pray you, ere you rest to-night, fall on your knees and implore God to touch your heart till the story of the Cross moves it and Jesus wins it. (Thomas Spurgeon.)
The attractive power of kindness
A new teacher came to the little school district, who was the beginning of a new order of things to others as well as Dwight L. Moody. She opened the exercises the first morning with prayer, and that made s great impression upon the boys. But they were still more astonished when she told them that she intended to have good order, and yet have it without whipping any one. Ere long, Dwight had broken one of the rules, and was asked to remain after school. He supposed she had decided to whip him in private, and expected the usual punishment. To his surprise, as soon as they were alone, the teacher began to talk in the kindest way to him, telling him how it grieved her to have him disobey. This was harder on Dwight than a whipping. Finally she said, I have made up my mind that if I cannot rule the school by love, I will give it up. I will have no punishment. If you love me, try and keep the rules, and help me in the school” This was too much for Dwight, and he surrendered at once. “You will never have any more trouble with me,” he answered, “and I will whack the first boy that makes you any trouble!” And “whack” him he did, the very next day, to the surprise of his companions and the consternation of the teacher.
Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God.
The watchman’s message to Israel
I. The message of the watchmen.
1. The Jewish people had been overthrown, taken captive, and dispersed. They were therefore to all appearance a forsaken people, their land bereft of its inhabitants was desolate, and they were removed from all they held most dear to them on earth, from the glory of their former national independence, and from the temple in which they and their fathers had worshipped through many generations. But they were to be restored to their old places, to the land of all others they held most sacred, to their former worship with all its wondrous beauty, and to the national distinctions and privileges which had so long marked their history. Some effort on their part was however necessary, they were to arise and then go up to Zion unto the Lord their God. And in Him too we find the motive of all our efforts to arise from thoughtlessness and folly, and the object worthy of our life’s battle and of our life’s journey. We pray you to think upon this. When you are asked to awake out of spiritual sleep,--when you are told the night is far spent and the day of God’s judgment is fast coming,--when any public or private duty is urged upon your attention,--when we utter warning voices, in the midst of homes and friends, at the most gladsome times,--it is that you also should arise, and go--not unto the priest alone, not unto the altar alone, not unto the Church alone, but that you first and chiefly should go unto “the Lord your God.”
2. It is true this message may be regarded in a prospective point of view. “For,” it is said, “there shall be a day,” &c. To us the message is a present one. At the birth of Christ a new era of life and liberty commenced for the Gentiles and for all the families of earth. We live amid the ruins of our own inherent depraved nature. We have the evidence within and around us that we are in bonds. But the cry of the watchman is sent to us now: and if we will be only wise enough to exercise our common senses, and rouse ourselves up from our spiritual lethargy, and seek for God’s help and mercy, we may arise, and go up among the congregations of His people, and realise in our hearts the great blessedness of His personal favour and presence of love.
1. One lesson to be inferred is the groundwork for the present aspiration of the Jew, and we may add, in another sense, the present aspiration of the Christian. The testimony of the prophecies of the Old Testament is supported by the testimony of providence. Even if the Jew should care but little, if anything, about the ancient prophecies, yet he is moved by “the signs of the times.” And more, he is influenced by feelings which he cannot account for, but which, when examined by the light of prophecy, receives an explanation in God s interposition by some means either direct or indirect. The Christian knows in a thousand ways that this earth, with all its gold, and honours and pleasures, is not our rest, and therefore how natural, like the Jew, that he should turn the eye of his faith to the city of his love, even in the heavens, the place which God has promised him for evermore. It is but reasonable that he should long for that.
2. Another lesson we are taught by the text is, namely, that the Almighty and Eternal Saviour of His people is to be found in the use of the ordinances of His Church. (W. D. Horwood.)
They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them.
The penitent sinner returning to his God
I. Some of the first steps by which a sinner returns to his offended God.
1. Contrition; a heartfelt sorrow and grief on account of his sins. Many causes may conspire to awaken the sinner; but, as soon as the natural blindness of his heart begins to be removed, fear and alarm will be among the earliest effects. The apprehension of God’s future judgment stops him in his course; fills his heart with terror, and his eyes with tears. He has also a more immediate cause of alarm, in the state of his own mind and heart. Beginning now, for the first time, to abhor iniquity, he is confounded on discovering its power and dominion within him. Something more than this is required, in order to make a true and lasting penitent. After trembling under the condemnation of the law, and mourning over your corrupt nature, you must look upon Christ, and behold in Him the effects of your guilt.
2. From penitent tears, the next step is to fervent prayer.
II. Abundant aid is promised to those who are setting out on their return to God.
1. God will help the repenting sinner by holy influences; by inspiring him with holy desires, and restraining the corrupt inclinations of the natural mind.
2. He will come to your aid with His refreshing consolations. These are the rivers of waters, by which He will cause you to walk.
3. The repentant sinner is assured of instruction, sufficient to guide him on his way, and easy to be comprehended and followed.
4. He, who leads the sinner into the way of light and consolation, will also uphold him therein. (J. Jowett, M. A.)
I. Their character.
1. There is no discouragement which God will not enable us to surmount.
2. God has chosen those who arc in the most discouraging circumstances on purpose that His own power may be the more displayed and glorified.
II. Their journey.
1. Its commencement
2. Its progress. Address--
(1) Those who yet are in a state of bondage.
(2) Those who are travelling towards Zion. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
In a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble.
A beaten track
Here there is a well-beaten track under our feet. Let us keep it. It may not be quite the shortest way; it may not take us through all the grandeur and sublimity which bolder pedestrians might see: we may miss a picturesque waterfall, a remarkable glacier, a charming view: but the track will bring us safe to our quarters for the night. (R. W. Dale, M. A.)
Hear the Word of the Lord, O ye nations.
I. The word of the Lord.
1. The sublimity and mystery of the doctrine it reveals.
2. The purity and spirituality of its doctrines.
3. The harmony of its different authors.
4. The fulfilment of its predictions and promises.
5. The enmity that is in the carnal mind against it.
6. The power that it has upon the human heart.
II. The preacher’s word.
1. To be preached wholly. Doctrine, experience, and practice.
2. To be preached freely.
3. To be preached affectionately and warmly.
4. To be preached constantly.
III. The duty of the hearer--to hear.
1. To prepare in the closet for hearing.
2. To believe what is heard.
3. To reduce what is heard to practice. (G. J. Till.)
He that scattered Israel will gather him.
Development by crises
This is an entirely reassuring message for a nation passing through an ecclesiastical crisis. It tells us that vast upheavals of thought and life have their place in the plan of God, advance under His sovereign leadership, and are compelled to contribute to the carrying-out of His purpose to redeem, remake, and reunite with Himself, the whole race of man. It is a rigid truth, “God scatters Israel”; the Israel He Himself called and created; and his an infinite solace to know that the “scattering” is His and not another’s. It is an equally indisputable fact that the God who scatters Israel gathers him again and keeps him as a shepherd his flock. He gathered before He scattered, and He will gather again after He has scattered. Israel will not perish. Never! The social and ecclesiastical moulds in which her life is cast may be broken again and again; but the life endures. God is the God of salvation. He is always mindful of His own. Hope in Him, and hope for evermore! That swift upleap of faith and hope to the summits of clearest vision is vindicated by the whole story of the Exile. The joy that was set before the strong soul of the seer in these days of crushing disaster was realised in the experiences of the succeeding centuries. The prophecy was fulfilled. The crisis was educational, purifying, expanding, uplifting, and unifying; divisive for the day and the hour, but uniting on purer principles and for broader and higher ideals for evermore. As men are educated by their mistakes, and even their sins become as staves in a ladder by which they climb to God, so the Israelites “rose on stepping stones of their dead selves to higher things.” The sevenfold blessing of the Exile stands written in the unimpeachable Chronicles of Israel, and the world. But, a greater than Jeremiah, describing the facts of His own day and ministry, says, “The wolf scattereth the sheep.” For again, nearly six hundred years after the time of the prophet, mere was another “crisis in the Church” of Israel, and another exile was at the doors. Once more the holy city was to be trodden under foot of men, and the holy people were already seized by the “wolf,” and about to be “scattered” to the ends of the earth! The significance of the first exile was forgotten. The lessons of experience were unheeded by the leaders of the Jewish people. Priest, and scribe, and Pharisee had corrupted religion again; taught that the outward rites of worship were of more importance than keeping the commandments of God; substituted ceremonialism for obedience, and the use of the sacraments for loving service of man. And so the sheep were scattered. But this is exactly the same spirit which broke the heart of the prophet Jeremiah until he saw it overtaken by the Divine punishment; and then, passing by the iniquity of the leaders of the people, and looking at the penalty which, because it was inflicted by God, had in it an element of recuperation and of hope, he said, God scatters; but “He that scattered Israel will gather him.” These are, then, two ways of regarding two similar crises, and both are necessary to a just and full interpretation of their meaning. Jesus, speaking to the authoritative religious leaders of Israel, who have, sincerely enough, it may be, but mistakenly, made themselves the foes of God and men, seeks to lay bare their guilt, and therefore fixes upon and exposes the wolf-like ravages wrought on the religious life of the people by their absolute want of the veriest shreds of real religion. His aim is to convict these leaders of the wrong they are doing to their God and to their country. Not so Jeremiah: he is anticipating the great word, “Comfort ye My people; speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; that she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” But the richest draught of consolation in Jeremiah’s Gospel is in the assertion of the principle on which these national and institutional changes proceed. God’s goal, he says, is always constructive, not destructive; the gathering together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad, and not the driving them away from home and fatherland. He shatters the social form of Israel’s life for the sake of the more perfect and adequate rebuilding of the nobler Israel on the basis of His original redemptive idea. This law is older than all Churches, more fundamental than all States, and as wide and deep as our human life. It is the vital condition of progress. God is at war with the obsolete. He is the living God, and seeks life, and promotes life. The Churches are secondary to the kingdom. They exist for religion, and not religion for them. As words are to ideas, tools to service, so are Churches to the kingdom of God and the service of man, and therefore “the crisis in the Church” is not likely to be inimical to religion in the end. It will promote real religion, expand it, clear it of the accretions of the past, set it free of the false alliances into which it has entered, convert it from its paganisms, and restore it to its original purity and vigour. And now, what is to be our attitude to these crises in the religious life of our country? Surely, not merely one of silent acquiescence in and gratitude for the work of God, but rather of intelligent, prayerful, large-hearted, and wise co-operation. We are called to be co-workers with Him, to fall in with His laws, to take part in the furtherance of His beneficent work of scattering and gathering His Israel. Our first business is to get on the side of His laws, of His justice and righteousness, at all costs; not to seek the pleasant paths of neutrality and indifference, but to accept boldly the responsibilities placed upon us by our subjection to Christ, and by the exposition and application of His Gospel to the manifold needs of our time. We must begin with ourselves. He who would free others must himself be free. (J. Clifford, D. D.)
God’s grace shown to Israel
I. God’s dealing with them in the past.
1. Redeemed them (verse 11).
2. Remembered them (verse 20).
3. Loved them (verse 3).
4. Drew them (verse 3).
II. God’s promise to them in the future. He will forgive them (verse 34). He will forget their sin (verse 34). He will gather them out (verse 8). He will keep them near (verse 10). He will lead them on (verse 9). He will prosper them in the way (verse 12). He will satisfy them fully (verse 14). He will watch over them continually (verse 28), (C. Inglis.)
Their soul shall be as a watered garden.
The watered garden; or, the possibilities of soul life
The watered garden has three characteristics.
I. Its freshness. Rapid evaporation in hot, dry seasons in the East. Unwatered surface; hard, dry, crusted over, and perhaps cracked. In the watered garden, vegetation continues to spring fresh and joyous. So a Christian man may be fresh and vigorous in soul in the midsummer heat of business life, and in seasons of spiritual drought in the Church. Even when the hot winds of temptation blow directly from the burning desert of sin, his leaf shall not wither, and the manifestations of his spiritual life shall not shrink nor be corrupted (Psalms 1:3).
II. Its fertility. Water is always a fertiliser. It contains some sediment. The Nile has spread from thirty to forty feet of alluvium over the surface of Egypt. In England, artificial fertilisers are distributed to the soil by irrigation. It is therefore a fine figure by which the increased fertility of a watered garden represents the possible fruitfulness of a Christian soul. If it be objected that the illustration will not hold, since fertilisers increase the capacity of a soft to bring forth weeds as well as grain, it is answered, A watered garden is always a cultivated garden. Abundance of grace in the heart will both increase and insure faithfulness.
III. Its beauty. It is said when the Spaniards invaded Mexico they were astonished at the beautiful gardens of the Aztecs. These western people had constructed a finer system of irrigation, and brought horticulture to a degree of perfection unknown to haughty Spain. The religion of Christ develops the finest, strongest, noblest capacities of our being. (J. C. Allen.)
A watered garden
To make a good garden four things are necessary. See what they teach about soul culture.
I. Good soil. A minister in London was conducting a series of special religious services for young people. At the close of one of them a young lady, the daughter of one of the church officials, came into the inquiry room in great trouble. He was surprised to see her, as he had always thought her to be a good girl. “Oh, sir,” she said, “I have such a wicked heart; how can I be saved?” The Holy Spirit had shown her the first necessity.
II. Good seed. Sow nothing ugly, harmful, or useless. Be fragrant like the rose, humble like the lily, useful like the myrtle.
III. Well watered. Souls need refreshing. If we would keep them alive for God, we must use the means of grace.
1. The Bible.
2. Private prayer.
3. Public worship.
IV. Well weeded.
2. A little every day.
3. By the roots. (W. H. Booth.)
I. Some ideas suggested by the comparison of the soul of the righteous or godly to a garden.
1. A garden is a spot of ground upon which extraordinary cultivation is employed; it is usually separated and enclosed from common ground, and much labour and attention are employed to improve its soil, and to enrich it with those fruits and vegetables which are pleasant and profitable; and such is spiritually the state of every pious soul. Every real Christian is “a garden walled around-chosen, and made peculiar ground.”
2. A garden is generally stored with various kinds of those vegetable productions that are either useful or ornamental. So out of the soul renewed by grace, does the Lord cause to spring up and grow every Christian virtue and heavenly grace that is either pleasing to God, or useful to man.
3. A garden does not arrive at its full perfections and glory at once. So it is with the Christian’s graces; at first they are weak and small. His knowledge is very contracted and confused, he “sees men as trees walking”; his faith is unsteady and wavering, his love is limited within narrow bounds, and his hope too often droops and hangs its head.
II. Those Divine influences by which this spiritual garden is watered.
1. The influences of the Spirit of God are imparted to every real Christian, and produce effects that resemble those which warm and refreshing showers have upon the productions of a garden (Isaiah 64:3).
2. These influences are enjoyed and conveyed to the soul by the means of God’s Word and ordinances.
III. How much this happy state and these enriching influences are to be desired by every immortal soul,
1. Till we attain these, we are in a most desolate, wild, barren condition; yea, in an accursed and ruined state.
2. It is only by attaining this state, that we can arrive at true happiness either here or hereafter.
3. Unless we are in this state we cannot glorify God, nor be useful to our fellow-creatures as we ought. Learn from the whole, the need, the abundant need, we have daily to ask for Divine influences; and we should seek these influences sincerely. Ask evangelically; that is, according to the Gospel method of approaching unto God; with entire dependence upon the mediation of Jesus Christ. Ask importunately; that is, persevere till you obtain the blessing, and the more you have wrestled for it, the more you will value it when obtained. Ask believingly; that is, in constant expectation of obtaining; do not question His power, His goodness, or His faithfulness. (J. Sewell.)
The prophet is predicting the time when Israel’s captivity shall end and prosperity shall crown adversity and want and poverty shall be no more. The prospect describes not only material, but also spiritual abundance, and both conditions are to be realised through painstaking diligence. The soul--what is it? That which is the highest and noblest part of our nature; which is the seat of reason, affection, conscience, and will; which gives us affinity with things unseen and Divine. We are strangely indifferent at times to the interests of this valuable possession. We have gymnasiums and systems of calisthenics and rules of diet and habit for the body; we are very eager to devise the most expeditious methods of promoting the education of the mind; but we do not give a commensurate emphasis to the discipline of the spiritual. But as a man cannot have a sound and well-grown body or a mature and well-equipped mind without training, so is it impossible for him to have a healthy, thoroughly developed soul without process of cultivation. Let us inquire as to what means are necessary for the unfolding of the spiritual nature.
1. First of all we may mention the need of religious thinking. He is the best business man who can not only adapt himself to the routine and mechanism of his work, but can also discern the underlying principles of it, appreciate its wider relations and foresee its possibilities, who is not only the business actor, but the business thinker. Likewise one must consider religious facts and principles and truths in order that he may appropriate them and become wisely, fundamentally religious. Theology is, as it always has been, the most commanding of sciences; for it is man’s thought about God, and man is always restlessly inquisitive in his attempts to search out the secrets of the Infinite. If one is to be large minded he must think large thoughts, and the greatest ideas that can enter the mind are the religious ideas. Again, it is to be urged that this religious intelligence is important for the sake of religious conduct. We hear it said that it matters not much what a man thinks, provided he does what is right, a statement which is entirely lacking in wisdom, because there is an inevitable sequence of cause and effect between thinking and doing. To give a single instance, whatever righteousness there was in the Jewish life was the reflection of the Ten Commandments--the Jewish conception of righteousness. We must see that our religious thinking has its basis in Scripture. We must take our start in the accepted record, if we would be true and wise, for Christianity is, first of all, not a philosophy, but a history. And the stimulus which the Bible gives us will come not only from being acquainted with its facts and principles and truths, but from breathing the atmosphere which emanates from its pages. It is a book instinct with life.
2. Another means of religious culture is prayer. No man can be truly religious if he does not pray, for religion is a personal relationship between man and God; and prayer is the one supreme act by which the door is opened, and one stands in the conscious presence of his Maker.
3. Still another means must be adopted in the cultivation of the spiritual life, and that is public worship.
4. To all other means implied in the spiritual culture there must be added rightness of action. No man can be truly religious whose devoutness is not rooted in integrity. There is a religiousness which easily lifts itself into ecstasies, which has no connection with the life. “A new commandment I give unto you,” Christ declares, “that ye love one another.” Oh, to live out of ourselves; to spend and be spent; to plan and work that we may do good to our homes, to our Church, to our community, and to all our fellow-men--that is to make our spiritual life real and abundant. May we ever be refreshed by that Divine presence, that we may grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, and that our souls may be luxuriant and fruitful as a watered garden. (H. P. Dewey.)
The garden of the soul
A “watered garden” suggests the idea of--
I. A fragrant freshness. What a difference there is in the plants of a garden after they have been watered by the dews or showers, or by the hand of the gardener! The flowers lift their drooping heads; the leaves, set free from dust, put on a brighter aspect; the plants look as if they had taken a “new lease of life,” and you might almost fancy that they were entering with new zest into the enjoyment of their existence! Now, the characters and lives of the people of God ought to be marked by a similar freshness. There ought to be a certain fulness of life in the soul of the Christian, making itself felt by those around him. Godliness tends to keep the soul from withering, and replenishes the springs of the deepest life. There is a perennial freshness in unselfish affections and unworldly aims. The “eternal life” never grows old. Each new day is a new gift from the Father’s hand, and brings with it new opportunities of serving the Master and helping the brethren. The faith of the Gospel tends to produce the childlike heart; and to the childlike all is not “vanity and vexation of spirit.” Oh! if we would only look at this human life of ours in the light of God, it could scarcely ever lose the freshness of its interest; and if we ourselves were only saturated with the love of God and the love of man, our own souls would be ever full of life, and fresh as a “watered garden.” And this freshness of the Christian life is a fragrant freshness. It is a freshness which may co-exist even with physical weakness, sometimes even with disappointed expectations. There are souls which, like the thyme, give out their sweetest perfume when they have just been bruised. And how refreshing it is to see an aged Christian manifesting a fresh and kindly interest in the welfare of others, and especially in the pleasures of the young, and rejoicing in a daily sense of the presence and love of God!
II. A varied beauty. In a well-kept garden there is beauty of colour and of form; beauty of order and of tasteful arrangement; beauty of stem, and leaf, and flower; and amongst the flowers themselves a varied beauty, resulting from manifold varieties of form and colour. Flowers do more for people--and especially for some people--than they themselves are aware of; and the blossoming of Christian character has its own subtle influence in the world. There are times when a man may get more good from the flowers of the garden than even from its fruits. And there is a kind of good which a man may get from the sight of a daisy, which he cannot get from the sight of the sturdiest oak. And, even so, the lovelier features of the Christian character have their own peculiar charm and peculiar power. “See how these Christians love one another!” was the admiring cry of the heathen, as they watched the flowering of brotherly affection in the early Church. And certainly there is no beauty to be compared with that of moral and spiritual character. It is said of Linnaeus that the first time he saw the gorse in bloom he knelt down upon the ground in grateful rapture, and gave God thanks for the sight. And have not we ourselves sometimes--after hearing of some chivalrous and generous deed, or after enjoying the company of the pure-minded and the tender-hearted--gone home to thank God upon our knees for the grace which can clothe human character with so much beauty? No rose of the garden is so beautiful as human love when it is both passionate and pure. No geranium, with its contrast of scarlet and green, is so lovely as an open frankness associated with a quiet modesty. No apple-blossoms are so fair as the kindly sympathy which is the natural forerunner of the fruits of well-doing. No lily of the valley is so beautiful as the sweet dignity which half hides itself in humility and tenderness.
III. A rich fruitfulness. Even the beauty of spiritual character has, as we have just seen, uses of its own, and is, therefore, in a sense, fruitful of good. But, over and above all this, Christians ought also to be putting forth practical endeavours for the promotion of Christ’s kingdom, and for the welfare of human hearts and lives. If only you were more generous with your time or with your money, or if only you were more consistent in your conduct out in the world, or if only you were more earnest in the training of your children, or if only you took a deeper interest in the cause of Him who died for you, would not your life be much more fruitful of good (T. C. Finlayson.)
I will turn their mourning into Joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.
In one of the German picture galleries is a painting called “Cloudland.” It hangs at the end of a long gallery, and at first sight it looks like a huge, repulsive daub of confused colour, without form or comeliness. As you walk towards it the picture begins to take shape. It proves to be a mass of exquisite little cherub faces, like those at the head of the canvas in Raphael’s “Madonna San Sisto.” If you come close to the picture you see only an innumerable company of little angels and cherubim. How often the soul that is frightened by trial sees nothing but a confused mass of crushed hopes! But if that soul, instead of fleeing away into unbelief and despair, would only draw up nearer to God, it would soon discover that the cloud was full of angels of mercy. In one cherub face it would see, “Whom I love I chasten.” Another angel would say, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” In still another sweet face the heavenly words are coming forth, “Let not your heart be troubled: in My Father’s house are many mansions.” (T. L. Cuyler.)
My people shall be satisfied with My goodness.
A promise for God’s people
I. Ascertain the right application of the promise. “My people.” The term is restrictive. Only the people of God. And it is universal: all, everywhere, in every age. Who, then, are they? The phrase denotes covenant relationship. As man is alienated, it implies reconciliation,--acceptance. The covenant by which this is effected is that of mercy in Christ. As children of the covenant, we have received its visible seal,--have been instructed in its obligations and blessings. Repentance and faith required. These produce continued obedience,--and so we become, so we continue to be, the people of God.
II. What is the promise made to them? “They shall be satisfied,” &c.
1. There is “the goodness of God.” The phrase sometimes refers to His essential goodness; He is good. But here, to its bestowments;--He doeth good.
(1) The condescending manifestation of pardoning mercy, and adopting love to the conscience.
(2) The various gifts of grace, and blessings of providence, all flowing from paternal love.
(3) The blessings of glory, future, and to be waited for; but brought near by good hope, given by God who hath loved us.
2. With this they are “satisfied.”
(1) The effect of manifested mercy is true satisfaction--peace, joy, delight. We possess what we feel is our true portion.
(2) And, preserving this feeling,--living as penitent, pardoned believers,--we rejoice in the ordinary gifts of providence; even in chastenings we joy, knowing, their source and object; we rejoice in the overflowing fountain of grace; we joy in the foretastes of glory.
1. See the inestimable value of religion Other gifts vain without this. This of itself all in all.
2. Oh, the unutterable folly of sin! You refuse bliss; choose misery; and for what ? The fountains of living waters,--for broken, even empty cisterns.
3. Seek religion now. Live in full possession of it. (G. Cubitt.)
God’s people satisfied with His goodness
I. My people. Who are now God’s people? All, whether of Jewish origin or of Gentile extraction, who--
1. Have repented of sin, and turned to the Lord with weeping and supplication (Zechariah 12:10; Jeremiah 31:9; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19).
2. Have received Christ, and believed on Him to the salvation of their souls (John 1:11-13; John 3:18; John 3:36).
3. Have been regenerated by the Spirit and the truth of God (John 3:5-8; Tit 3:3-7; 1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 1:9; 1 Peter 1:23).
4. Have the assurance of their adoption into the family of God (Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:4-7).
5. Who worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24; Philippians 3:3).
6. Who keep His commandments, and are zealous of, and careful to maintain, good works (John 14:21; John 14:24; Titus 2:14; Titus 3:8; James 2:14-26; Revelation 22:14).
7. Who have their thoughts and affections set on things above, and who are ever looking for the coming of their Lord (Colossians 3:1-4; Philippians 3:20-21; Tit 2:13; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Revelation 22:20). My people--
II. Shall be satisfied. Satisfaction is the rest of the desiring faculties. To be satisfied is to be filled, contented, and gratified to that degree, that nothing more is, or can be desired. “The primary idea” of the Hebrew word “lies in abundance of drink, although in the common usage of the language this verb is more frequently applied to food than to drink. Thus of one sated with food, Deuteronomy 31:20; Ruth 2:14; Isaiah 44:16; Jeremiah 31:14. It is spoken of the Spirit, Ecclesiastes 6:3; and metaphorically of the eye, as not satisfied with seeing, Ecclesiastes 1:8. Compare Isaiah 53:2; Psalms 17:15.”--Gesenius’s Heb. Lex. Our spiritual need is often set forth in Scripture by our bodily necessities; and our spiritual supplies are spoken of in similar terms, to the supplies of our temporal wants (Isaiah 25:6; Isaiah 55:1-3; Isaiah 66:10-14; Zechariah 9:15-17; Matthew 5:6). They shall be satisfied; for
1. Their minds shall be filled with knowledge, confidence, and hope, in reference to Divine, Spiritual, and eternal things. They shall be free from perplexity, doubt, and fear. They shall have “the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ” (Colossians 2:2). They shall to God draw near in full assurance of faith, having their hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and their bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). And they “shew the same diligence unto the full assurance of hope unto the end” (Hebrews 6:11). These three full assurances satisfy the saints.
2. Their souls shall be filled with holiness.
3. Their hearts shall be filled with love (1 John 4:16-19).
4. Their lives shall be filled with good deeds (Philippians 1:10-11; Philippians 2:14-16; Matthew 5:13-16). Shah be satisfied--
III. With my goodness, saith the Lord. The goodness of God here means His kindness, benignity, and beneficence, as it does in Psalms 25:7; Psalms 27:13; Psalms 31:19; Psalms 145:7, and in many other places.
1. They shall be satisfied with God’s favour. “O Naphtali, satisfied with favour, and full of the blessing of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 33:23). “In His favour is life” (Psalms 30:5). In His favour there is pardon and peace, purity and hope, love and joy, protection and honour (Romans 5:1-5; Psalms 4:7-8; Psalms 5:12; Psalms 32:1; Psalms 23:2; Psalms 89:15-18; Psalms 106:4-5).
2. They shall be satisfied with His goodness in their meditations on God (Psalms 63:5; Psalms 36:6; Psalms 104:34; Psalms 119:14-16).
3. They shall be satisfied with God’s goodness in His worship and service (Psalms 65:4; Psalms 36:7-9; Psa 36:34).
4. They shall be satisfied with God’s goodness in fellowship and communion with Him (1 John 1:3-4). Fellowship with God and His Son Jesus Christ consists in our being partakers of the Divine nature; in constant intercourse and communion with the Divine being; in community of interest; and in mutual possession. In this blessed fellowship we are satisfied; for we are “filled with all the fulness of God,” and are “blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly things in Christ.”
5. They shall be satisfied with God’s goodness in heaven for ever and ever (Psalms 17:15). Then shall we be satisfied, fully satisfied, eternally satisfied (Revelation 7:14-17).
6. The certainty that God’s people shall be satisfied with His goodness. We have no ground for doubt; for God says it, whose word cannot fail. Are we God’s people? If so, we shall be satisfied with His goodness; but if not, we cannot be satisfied. Literature, art, and science cannot satisfy the soul. Wealth, honour, pleasure cannot satisfy the immortal mind. Believe me, nothing can satisfy us but the goodness of God. (H. O. Crofts, D. D.)
A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children.
Undoubtedly it seems strange, that one of the earliest consequences of the incarnation of Him, who afterwards declared that He came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them, should thus have been the murder of so many unoffending little ones. A few days ago we assembled around the cradle of the newborn King, and now the ground round about us is strewed with the bodies of the young ones, slaughtered, as it were, in His stead. Well might He afterwards declare, that He came not to send peace, but a sword upon the earth; seeing that, while yet a nursling in His mother’s arms, He is the occasion of the sword being fleshed in numbers who least deserved to die. And the thing most remarkable in this transaction appears to us to be, that the permission of the slaughter was in no sense requisite to the safety of Christ. Joseph, and Mary, and the Child had departed for Egypt, before the fury of Herod was allowed to break out. How easy does it seem that Herod should have been informed of the flight, and thus taught the utter uselessness of his cruel decree. Let us see whether there be really anything in the facts now commemorated at variance with the known mercy of God. If, indeed, we were unable to discover that the slaughter of the innocents was a means to ensure wise ends, we shall be confident, from the known attributes of God, that there was such an end, though not to be ascertained by our limited faculties. This, however, is not the ease. And they who think at all carefully will find enough to remove all surprise that Herod was not withheld from the slaughter. Let it be first observed, that prophecy had fixed Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Christ, and had determined, with considerable precision, the time of the nativity. It were easy, therefore, to prove that no one could be the Messiah who had not been born at Bethlehem, and about the period when the Virgin became a mother. How wonderfully, then, did the slaughter of the innocents corroborate the pretensions of Jesus. If no one could be Messiah unless born at Bethlehem, and at a certain time, why, the sword of Herod did almost demonstrate that Jesus was the Christ; for removing, perhaps, every other who could have answered to the test of time and place of birth, there seems only Jesus remaining in whom the prophecy could be fulfilled. Besides, it should be carefully marked, that Jesus was to live in comparative obscurity, until thirty years of age; He was then to burst suddenly upon the world, and to amaze it by displays of omnipotence. But, brought up as He had been at Nazareth, it was very natural that when He emerged from long seclusion, He should have been regarded as a Nazarene. Accordingly we find so completely had His birthplace been forgotten, that many objected His being of Nazareth, against the possibility of His being the Messiah. They argued rightly, that no one could be the Christ who had not been born at Bethlehem; but then they rashly concluded, that Jesus wanted this sign of Messiahship, because they knew Him to have been brought up in Galilee. And what made them inexcusable? Why, the slaughter of the innocents. They could not have been uninformed of this event; bereaved parents were still living who would be sure to tell the story of their wrongs; and this event marked as with a line of blood the period at which the Christ was supposed to have been born. A moment’s inquiry would have proved to them that Jesus was this Child, and removed the doubt which attached to Him as a supposed Galilean. And, therefore, not in vain was the mother stirred from her sepulchre by the cry of her infant offspring; the echo of her lament might still be heard in the land, and those who listened not to the witness of the birthplace of Jesus stood self-condemned, while rejecting Him on the plea, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” There are yet more obvious reasons why God should have allowed this act of cruelty. We may believe that God was leaving Herod to fill up the measure of his guilt. Add to all this, that God was unquestionably disciplining the parents by the slaughter of the children. There was at this time a great and general expectation of the Messiah, and the Jewish mothers must have more than ever hoped for the honour of giving birth to the Deliverer: but of course such a hope must have been stronger in Bethlehem than in any other town, seeing that prophecy was supposed to mark it as the birthplace. Hence we may readily believe that the infants of Bethlehem were objects of extraordinary interest to their parents--objects in which their ambition centred, as well as their affection. And, if so, we can understand that these fathers and mothers stood in special need of that discipline which God administers to parents through the death of their children; so that there was a suitableness in the dispensation as allotted to Bethlehem, which might not have been discoverable had another town been its subject. Now all this reasoning would be shaken, if it could be shown that a real and everlasting injury were done to the innocents themselves. Let us now, then, consider the consequences of the massacre, so far as the innocents themselves were concerned. There is much here to require and repay your careful examination. We have an unhesitating belief in respect of all children, admitted into God’s Church, and dying before they know evil from good, that they are saved by the virtues of Christ’s propitiation. We never hesitate to tell parents sorrowing for their dead children, who had been old enough to endear themselves by the smile and the prattle, but not old enough to know moral good from moral evil, that they have a right to feel such assurance of the salvation of their offspring, as the best tokens could scarcely have afforded had they died in riper years. And however melancholy the thought, that so many of our fellow-men live without God, and therefore die without hope, it is cheering to believe, that perhaps a yet greater number are saved through the sacrifice of Christ. For as a large proportion of our population die before old enough for moral accountableness; how many of the Christian community are safely housed ere exposed to the blight and tumult of the world! Oh, the “magnificent possession” would not want inhabitants if all, who could choose for themselves, chose death, and not life; heaven would still gather within its capacious bosom, a shining multitude, who just descended to earth that they might there be grafted into the body of Christ, and then flew back to enjoy all the privileges of membership. And we may believe of this multitude that it would be headed by the slaughtered little ones of Bethlehem--those who, dying, we might almost say, for the Saviour, won something like the martyr’s crown, which shall, through eternity, sparkle on their foreheads. Who, then, shall say that Herod was permitted to do a real injury to those innocents, and that thus their death is an impeachment either of the justice or the mercy of God? We may be assured that they escaped many cares, difficulties, and troubles, with which a long life must have been charged; for, had the sword of Herod not hewn them down, they might have remained on earth till Judah’s desolation began, and have shared in the worst woes which ever fell on a land. The innocents of Bethlehem have always been reckoned by the Church amongst the martyrs; for, though incapable of making choice, God, we may believe, supplied the defect of their will by His own entertainment of their death. And it is beautiful to think, that as the spirits of the martyred little ones soared toward heaven, they may have been taught to look on the Infant in whose stead they had died; to feel that He for whom they had been sacrificed was about to be sacrificed for them; and that they were mounting to glory on the merits of that defenceless Babe (as He seemed then), hurrying as an outcast into Egypt. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Rachel weeping for her children
The death of young children is among the saddest bereavements of life. The sight of a suffering, dying child is painful. The mystery distresses us. Affection yearns in vain. The death of a young child is a sore disappointment. The fond parents cling round it through life, “like bees about a flower’s wine-cup.” What dreams of long life, and rich fortune, and untold happiness beguile their days! Their cherished hopes are blighted, and the future is a scene of clouded prospects and changed plans. The death of young children is often one of the hardest things to endure. Like the weeping Rachel, the bereaved parents are inconsolable. What bitter words of rebellion are sometimes spoken, instead of words of sweet resignation! Never is the weakness of all earthly props more manifest than under such circumstances. No considerations save such as the Bible supplies can give to the soul strength and peace. Still you remember your dead. Your experience ripens into that of Vaughan--
“They are all gone into a world of light,
And I alone sit lingering here;
Their very memory is fair and bright,
And my sad thoughts doth clear.”
Although the death of young children is such a sore loss, there are sources of comfort--considerations which constrain us to say, “Thy will be done.”
I. In the early removal of children God acts as a Father. In one of our English churchyards there is this inscription on a child’s tombstone: “‘Who plucked that flower?’ cried the gardener, as he walked through the garden. His fellow-servant answered, ‘The Master,’ and the gardener held his peace.” There is an Eastern story of a rabbi, who, having been absent all day, returned home in the evening, and was met by his wife at the door. With her first greeting she told him how she had been perplexed during the day, because a friend, who years ago had entrusted some rare jewels to her care, had that day come for them from her long possession of them they seemed almost her own, and she felt loth to give them back. “They were only lent,” replied her husband; “be thankful that you have had the use of them so long.” “Your words are good,” said she; “may we now and always follow them!” Then, leading him into an inner chamber, she showed him, stretched upon one bed, their two children who had that day died. Forthwith he knew the jewels which God had lent him, and now resumed, and his heart said, “The Lord gave,” &c.
II. Children who die young are removed from all possible sorrow and harm to live the perfect life above. Their sufferings, perhaps, were great, and you would fain have suffered in their stead; but their day of suffering was short. There was mercy in their death. Had they lived, some wild and withering anguish might have sered their summer’s earliest leaf; the sickness of hope deferred might have given them a disgust of life. They have escaped these and all other woes--escaped them for ever. They are, moreover, taken away from all possible sin. They might have lived to be a curse to their parents and to the world. We know little of their future life; but we know as much as this--that all which can make life worth living is theirs. Your fondest love could not wish more for them than they enjoy. Selfishness might desire their return; love never can. All that was imperfect in them is left behind; and they are as the angels of God for ever.
III. The death of young children is often a ministry of blessing to the bereaved parents. Just as we make idols of other objects that we regard with undue affection, so we are in danger of making idols of our children. If we allow them to estrange our affections from God, to interfere with our religious duties--to withdraw our sympathies from the poor and suffering around us, then our love is of the nature of idolatry; and it is a proof of God’s love that He removes the idols. In one of his letters, Dr. Judson writes thus: “Our only darling boy was, three days ago, laid in the silent grave. Eight months we enjoyed the precious little gift, in which time he had so completely entwined himself around his parents’ hearts, that his existence seemed necessary to their own. But God has taught us by afflictions what we would not learn by mercies, that our hearts are His exclusive property, and whatever rival intrudes He will tear it away.” Edward Irving exclaimed, after his child’s death, “Glorious exchange! God took my son to His own more fatherly bosom; and revealed in my bosom the sure expectation and faith of His own eternal Son.” Dr. Bushnell once said, “I have learned more of experimental religion since my little boy died than in all my life before.” The shepherd of the Alps who cannot get his sheep to climb the higher ascents of the mountains, will take the lambs and throw them up to the shelving rocks, when their dams soon spring up after them. By somewhat similar methods the Shepherd of Israel gathers His flocks on the hills of glory. He removes your children to heaven, that you may follow them thither.
IV. Consider, further, the joy your children gave you while they lived. Of course, the memory is touched with sadness; but there is room for gratitude. Be thankful that they were yours so long. You were rich in their possession; and you are all the richer for them, even though God has taken them away. Your heart has been enlarged. A fount of feeling has been opened in your nature that never can be dry any more. You are richer in sympathy and in hope; richer towards society and God. In a deep and true sense, your dead children are with you still (W. Walters.)
Refrain thy voice from weeping.
Bereaved parents comforted
I. It is not sinful for parents to be grieved and sorrowful for the death of their children. If we do not grieve when we are thus stricken of God, it is an evidence that we do not feel the heavy calamity which His providence hath inflicted, and how can there be any probability that we shall be profited by it? It is by the sadness of the countenance that the heart is made better. It is in consequence of the affliction being for the present not joyous, hut grievous, that, through the Divine blessing, it bringeth forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness in them that are exercised thereby.
II. Parents should refrain from immoderate and excessive grief for the death of their children, when they consider that this event flows from God’s wise and sovereign appointment. If our children be interested in that covenant which is ordered in all things and sure, let no one say that their death is premature or unseasonable. God hath a method, which we cannot explain, of ripening those for heaven whom He gathers into it in the beginning of their days.
III. Disconsolate parents should moderate their grief for the death of their children, when we consider that our loss is their unspeakable gain. Infant children, born as it were into this world only to suffer and to die, are striking evidence of the dreadful effects of sin. They are objects of compassion to the human heart, much more to the Father of mercies. It is natural, when our children are taken away, if their faculties have begun to unfold themselves, to review the little history of their lives, and to reflect with melancholy pleasure on many passages unheeded by others, but carefully marked and remembered by parents; and if any good thing towards the Lord was found in our child, the remembrance is full of comfort. If we found their hearts grateful and affectionate for our care, and submissive to our will, these were the seeds of an amiable and humble spirit. If they had a tenderness of conscience, so far as they knew good and evil, and stood in awe of offending; if they loved and hearkened to instruction; if they had a deep veneration for the Bible, as containing the revelation of God’s mercy and goodness to His children; if they had some views, however faint, of a state of blessedness into which pious and good children enter after death; in a word, if to the last they grew in favour with God and man, this is an anchor of hope to disconsolate and afflicted parents.
IV. Parents should moderate their grief for the death of their children, when they look forward to a joyful and blessed resurrection. Our children shall “come again from the land of the enemy.” The husbandman doth not mourn when he casteth his seed into the ground, because he soweth in hope. He commits it to the earth with the joyful expectation of receiving it again with great improvement; so when we commit the precious dust of our relations to the earth, we are warranted to exercise a joyful hope that we shall receive them again unspeakably improved at the resurrection.
V. Parents should moderate their grief for the loss of their children, when they consider what beneficial effects this is calculated to produce in their own souls. David thankfully acknowledges it is “good for me that I have been afflicted.” God deals with us as a wise parent deals with froward and undutiful children. When counsels and admonitions produce no effect, He finds it necessary to correct us with the rod; and when the strokes of providence inflicted on other families have been slightly regarded by us, He finds it necessary to smite us in our own bone and flesh. It would be highly ungrateful, then, to murmur against God when He acts a father’s part toward us, and is chastening and correcting us for our spiritual profit and advantage. The impatience with which we bear the stroke, is an evidence that our affections were rooted many degrees deeper in the creature than we were aware of. Our merciful Father doth not measure out one drop from the cup of affliction, nor inflict one stripe with His correcting rod, more than He sees indispensably necessary for His children’s profit and happiness. We should take in good part every trial with which we are visited, as coming from a parent’s hand and a parent’s heart. Conclusion--
1. Let us learn resignation to Divine providence under our affliction.
2. From the death of our children, let us learn to exercise a lively faith on that state of life and immortality which is brought to light by the Gospel.
3. The death of our children should teach us to live mindful of our own death. (J. Hay, D. D.)
There is hope in thine end, saith the Lord.
There are some who cannot endure the thought of looking forward to the end; and this in a great variety of particulars. None but Christians contemplate with delight the end of their woes, and the reason is, that they have no well-grounded hope as to the end. If a hope exists, it becomes us closely to examine on what it is founded.
I. If I were asked what constitutes my hope as a child of God, as a Christian, as an heir of glory, I should not hesitate for one moment to state that it consists of three things--the constancy of my Father’s love, the official faithfulness of my Elder Brother to His engagements, and the ministerial operations of the Comforter, pledged for the eternal salvation of my soul
II. Notice how this is owned by Jehovah Himself. “Saith the Lord.” This is a phrase of personal importance. He hath not only said it here in the volume of inspiration, but He saith it repeatedly, continually, powerfully unto the souls of His people when He speaks to them. What paternal tenderness is here! what paternal condescension! There are numbers of little children in different families who would, in many instances, be disposed to disregard a great deal that a servant might say, or that a stranger or a visitor might say; but when the father speaks, his voice has some weight and authority. Moreover, when Jehovah thus speaks with paternal tenderness, there is hope in His name. Suppose the case of crosses and cares, trials and anxieties, difficulties and perplexities, threatened ruin or discomfort, or the loss of domestic harmony; only let the Lord speak, and “there is hope in the end, saith the Lord.” In the next place, just mark, that when Jehovah speaks, when Jehovah Himself comes with His “Thus saith God,” it is by revealing the hope of Israel. This is the express business and ministry of God the Holy Ghost, to reveal the glorious Person of the Redeemer, under the appellation of “the hope of Israel, and the Saviour thereof in the time of trouble.” I beseech you to mark one more point in connection with the Lord’s owning this hope to exist in reality in the soul; I refer to the testimony of the internal witness of the Holy Ghost. “The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God.” His testimonies have always a sanctifying tendency. (J. Irons.)
I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself.
The real turning-point in man’s spiritual history is when he begins to accuse himself and to justify God. From self-accusation the soul is led on by the Spirit of God to self-condemnation. Mark, in the first place, what it is that Ephraim bemoans. It is “himself.” To mourn sinful acts is one thing, and may be done by even a Judas. To mourn over a sinful nature, an evil heart dwelling within, of which the act is only an expression, is quite another. The one may be the work of the natural conscience unenlightened by the Spirit of God: the other is the genuine mark of a soul that has been under the leading of that Spirit, and has “passed from death unto life.” Mark it in the case of Ephraim. “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself.” It is no mere surface work. It is Ephraim under conviction of sin. It is Ephraim taking up the prophet’s words, “Woe is me, for I am undone.” Mark the three times the word “surely” occurs here. “I have surely heard Ephraim”; “surely after that I was turned, I repented”; “I will surely have mercy.” These are “the sure mercies of David,” given to the soul under the training of the Spirit of God. There is the sure ear of God, the sure repentance of the soul, and the sure mercy to meet it. Why is this? Because the work is God’s. It is a thorough work. Observe, next, how God often brings the soul to the knowledge of itself. “Thou hast chastised me.” It is through the sharp strokes of trial and discipline. Ah! these do God’s work often when nothing else will. Let God draw near and lay His hand upon us, then the true character of the heart will display itself. That character is unchangeable--“enmity to God.” Blessed be God when we are brought to see and feel it! Then, like Ephraim, we say, “Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned.” And what is the ground on which this is urged? “For Thou art the Lord my God.” What a plea! What sweet assurance! What trust! What knowledge of Him these words imply! Oh, to draw near at all times with this on the lips! Then will the bow of peace span the darkest cloud, and light and peace and joy be the heritage of the soul. Observe the next clause. God “turns” the soul, then there is true repentance. Then He “instructs” that soul by His Spirit. It goes on learning deeper lessons of Him and of His wondrous grace. But mark the direction which this “instruction” takes, and the spirit it begets in the soul. “After that I was instructed,” &c. How the instruction increases humility! How the soul begins with smiting, and goes on to shame and confounding! Mark, next, the Lord’s language to the returning child. “Ephraim, My dear son; a pleasant child; for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore My bowels are troubled for him: I will “surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.” How beautifully the history of the prodigal son confirms this! “Set thee up way-marks; make thee high heaps.” Make thee finger-posts to guide thee to heaven. How many a thing the believer may set before him each day to help him onward. How many a passage of Scripture stored up in memory may preserve the soul in danger’s hour, and send it on its way more than conqueror! How many a secret prayer sent up to God has been a way-mark, leading the soul into a right path when all was perplexity and darkness! Yes, not only “set thee up way-marks,” but “make thee high heaps.” A high heap is one that can easily be seen. Oh! it is a great thing when we come to some perplexity in life, when we come to some turning-point in our history, to have something ready to hand. It is a blessed thing not to have to search about for it, not to be hindered in the course by delay, but to see the path plainly and clearly before us! And what is the last word in this passage to Ephraim? “Turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these thy cities.” It is a prophetic word, bidding that exile from her long-lost home look back again in hope. It is the climax of all that has gone before. It is “that blessed hope,” the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. What a glorious prospect awaits the despised and downtrodden nation of Israel! What a glorious prospect awaits the Church of the living God--the Bride of the Lamb! (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
The picture of a true penitent
I. The picture of a true penitent. The piteous lamentations,--the bitter self-accusations, the tears and prayers of the broken-hearted are delineated with a force and accuracy which transport us to the scenes described.
1. His position is solitary, “bemoaning himself.” It is not an easy, but it is an indispensable process, that all sources of relief should be forsaken but those which are in God Himself, when man is seeking the pardon of sin and the salvation of the soul.
2. Self-reproach. Shame at having acted so unworthy a part,--so contrary to one s own best interests,--so ungrateful to the Heavenly Benefactor, so derogatory to His glory,--so injurious to the welfare of others,--so morally bad in its defilement,--so insufficient in its motives,--so degrading in its results.
3. The true penitent refers his state to God. If the events of life are in our esteem only the outcome of fixed laws, altogether detached from an intelligent and personal control, they yield us no profit. If, on the other hand, we trace them to God, they become luminous in the instruction which they furnish, and the whole discipline of life resolves itself into a system in which goodness and mercy, wisdom and power, are most effectively taught.
4. It is a favourable sign of this true penitent that he mingles with his self-reproaches the language of childlike interest in God. “For Thou art the Lord my God.”
II. The process of restoration. In the case of Israel it was as it is often now; by means of affliction God awakened him to spiritual things. The discipline of affliction is not, however, limited to that part of the Christian life which precedes conversion. They have a most important office to perform in the training and perfecting of the sons of God.
1. They are employed as preventive. The condition of life may be very limited, but its limitation is to a godly man a source of security. The suffering in which he is involved may be very acute, but it makes prayer exceeding real, the Bible very sweet, and the consolations of Christ abound as the sufferings of Christ abound (2 Corinthians 1:6). “It is better,” says an old divine, “to be preserved in brine than to rot in honey.”
2. The treatment which God adopted with Ephraim He still employs with His people, inasmuch as He makes their sorrows and trials restorative in their character. The scalpel may cause the patient to wince, but it will cut away incipient corruption and death. The sharpest winters are followed by the most fruitful summers.
3. All the trials of the present world are employed by Divine wisdom as preparatives for the future of the Christian. (W. G. Lewis.)
Ephraim bemoaning himself
I. A sinner bemoaning himself.
1. Bowed down with a peculiar grief. Inward sorrow. True repentance.
2. Well-founded sorrow. Over guilt, outrage on God’s goodness and grace.
3. Humble sorrow. Not excusing or flattering himself, or making new resolutions; but “bemoaning.”
4. A thoughtful sorrow.
5. A hopeless yet a hopeful sorrow.
II. The lord observing him.
1. God heard all Ephraim had to say. It may be but a stammering cry. Broken prayers are the best.
2. God delights in the broken and contrite spirit.
3. God is full of compassion.
III. The lord working in his effectual grace.
1. The only turning in the world that is saving and Divine, is the turning of the heart.
2. The Lord’s way of turning men varies in each case.
(1) A distinct sight of wrath to come stops a sinner.
(2) Or the awakened conscience is led to see the real nature of sin.
(3) The grand turning-point is the sight of Christ on the Cross.
(4) One of the most blessed ways by which God makes a sinner turn is, He manifests His everlasting love to him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The cry of the penitent
Amidst all the confused and discordant sounds that are for ever rising from this fallen world of ours into the ears of the Most High God, there is one to which He can never be indifferent; and that is, the voice of a stricken and contrite sinner bemoaning himself. He finds that “from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot there is no soundness in him.” He is out of heart with himself altogether, and despairs of being able to improve his position. “O wretched man that I am!” he exclaims, “who will deliver me from the body of this death?” And thus by his very perplexity and helplessness he is drawn to look out of himself for assistance. Oh, you who are bemoaning yourselves, here is comfort for you. You never would have come to that point, you would have been even now either excusing or endeavouring to amend yourselves, but for the blessed influence of the Divine Spirit, who has shown you your true condition and brought you to an end of yourself, and thus put you m a position to begin with Him. Oh, thank Him for it, and since He has brought you thus far, trust Him to bring you farther. “Come, let us return unto the Lord: for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up.” But here I want you to observe one feature specially of the perplexity and distress which leads Ephraim so to bemoan himself. He makes the humiliating discovery that not only has his past life been full of sin, but that his very efforts to repent and turn to God have also been characterised by a strange and fatal perversity. His repentance itself has to be repented of. This attitude of moral perversity is illustrated in our text by a remarkable and suggestive metaphor. “Thou hast chastised me,” exclaims Ephraim, bemoaning himself, “and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke”--a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke--an unbroken bullock! Of all the perverse things to be found in the world, where will you find anything more unmanageable than this? Here Ephraim sees a picture of himself, and here also too many an awakened sinner finds himself represented. How often does such a one adopt a course exactly the reverse of that which God would have him take! How often does he insist on adopting the course of action least appropriate to his spiritual condition, and as a result he has to feel the chastening goad, and only by stern discipline of sorrow has he to be brought to the obedience of faith and the submission of the will, to see and acknowledge his own folly, and to yield himself to God. At last, Ephraim does the wisest thing that he could do, and what he should have done long before. Having reached the point of self-despair; having seen the folly of his own attempts to better himself, and having repented of his own perversity, he just puts the whole thing into the hands of God. “O Lord, I have tried my best, and my best has failed me: Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised; but still, like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, I have continued to make mistakes and to do the wrong thing; now in my helplessness I must make the whole matter over to Thee. Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned: for Thou art the Lord my God.” Ah, that is the only true solution of the difficulty. Here is the turning-point in our experience, here is the moment of victory for the helpless. Let a man once put himself thus unreservedly into the hands of his God, and all the devils of hell cannot keep him from the blessing. His present salvation is at once secure, because the honour and truth of the everlasting God are pledged for the safety of the man who trusts himself to God. O God, cries the penitent and self-despairing sinner, I cannot turn myself, I cannot change my own nature, but I believe that Thou canst, so I put myself completely in Thy hands to do it for me. How often have I hindered Thy work by endeavouring to do for myself what only Thou canst do; how often in my very efforts to turn myself have I, as it were, turned the wrong way. Lord, if I am to be saved at all, Thou must save me, for I cannot save myself. “Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned: for Thou art the Lord my God!” And who is there that God cannot turn when he is thus submitted to Him--who so far gone, so deeply sunk, that God cannot change him? The things impossible with men are possible with God; and often when the change has been beyond all human hope, God has done it to the glory of His own great name. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The inner side of conversion
There are turning-points in most lives. We go on in a straight line for a certain distance, but suddenly we come to a place where we must make a choice of roads. All the rest of our journey may depend upon what we do at those particular points. Character often hinges on a day’s resolve. An interesting book has been written upon “Turning-points in life,” and it is capable of indefinite extension. According to a man’s station and disposition, those turning-points take place at different periods; but whenever they are before us, they call for special prayer and trust in God. There is, however, one turning-point, and one only, which will secure salvation and eternal life; and that is what we call conversion, which is the first apparent result of regeneration, or the new birth. The man being renewed, the current of his life is turned: he is converted.
I. First, here is man at the turning-point as God observes him. Is not that a wonderful word of the Lord, “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself”? Of a certainty the Lord hears all the sorrowful voices of men. The Lord hears “surely”: that is to say, He hears the sense and meaning of our wordless moans: He puts into language that which no words of ours could express. The Lord understands us better than we understand ourselves.
1. Concerning the man here described, we note that he is in a state of great sorrow about himself. The grief is within. All the water outside the ship is of small account; it is when the leak admits the water to the hold that there is danger. “Let not your heart be troubled”: it matters something if your country or your house be troubled; but to you the trying matter is if your heart be troubled. “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?” This is what the Lord tenderly notes about the sinner at the turning-point, that he bemoans himself.
2. This bemoaning was addressed to his God. This is a very hopeful point about it: he cried to Jehovah, “Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised.” It is a blessed thing when a man in his distress turns to his God, and not from Him.
3. Notice how Ephraim in the text has spied out his God as having long ago dealt with him. He tells the Lord that He has chastised him. “Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised.” The man had not before observed the hand of God in his suffering: but he does now. I have hope of that man who sees God’s hand, even though he sees only a rod in it.
4. But the mourner in our text means more than this by his bemoanings: he owns that the chastening had not set him right. “Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised”; and that was all. He had smarted, but he had not submitted. He had not obeyed, but had still further rebelled.
5. Yet there is something better than this; the mourner in our text despairs of all but God. He cannot turn himself, and chastisement will not turn him; he has no hope left but for God Himself to interpose. “Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned.”
6. To all this confession poor bemoaning Ephraim adds another word, whereby he submits to the supreme sway of Jehovah his God, “For Thou art the Lord my God.” He does as good as say, Man cannot help me. I cannot help myself. Even Thy chastenings have not availed to turn me. Lord, I appeal to Thee, Thyself! Thou art Jehovah. Thou canst do all things. Thou art my God, for Thou hast made me; and therefore Thou canst new-make me. I pray Thee, therefore, exercise Thine own power, and renew Thy poor, broken and defiled creature.
II. Man after the turning-point. Here you have the description in the nineteenth verse. It begins with “Surely.” Is it not very remarkable that each of these verses should be stamped with the hall-mark, and each one bear the word “surely”? The Lord said He had “surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself”; and here Ephraim says, Surely after that I was turned, I repented.”
1. See, before us, prayer mixed with faith soon answered. Not many moments after Ephraim had said, “Thou art the Lord my God,” he felt that he was turned. My friend, do you remember when you were turned? Do you know your spiritual birthday, and the spot of ground where Jesus unveiled His face to you? Some of us do, although others do not. The main point is to be turned; to know the place and time is a secondary matter.
2. Yet I say some of us know when we were turned; and here is one reason why we remember it, for repentance came with turning. “After that I was turned, I repented.” He that is truly turned turns his face to the wall to weep and pray. Thou canst not make thyself repent; but when God hath changed thy heart, thou wilt repent as naturally as the brook flows adown the valley when once its bands of ice are thawed. “After that I was turned, I repented.”
3. Deep sorrow followed upon further instruction. The Holy Spirit does not leave the convert, but gives him further instruction; and out of that comes a sorer regret, a more complete self-abasement. “After that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh.” Want of knowledge tends to make men hardened, unfeeling, self-complacent, and proud; but when they are instructed by the Divine Spirit, then they are ready to inflict wounds upon themselves as worthy of buffetings and blows. “God be merciful to me, a sinner” is a fit prayer for the instructed, and the lowliest posture well becomes such a one.
4. To this deep sorrow there followed shame. Ephraim says, “I was ashamed, yea, even confounded.” This man knew everything before; now he knows nothing, but is confounded. Once he could dispute, and dispute, and dispute; but now he stands silent before his Judge. He stands like a convicted felon, who, when he is asked by the judge if he has anything to say in stay of sentence, lays his hand on his mouth, and, blushing scarlet, confesses by his silence that he deserves to die. This is the man with whom mercy can work her will.
5. Lastly on this point, memory now comes in, and revives the reproach of youth Memory is a very terrible torture to a guilty heart. “Son, remember!” is one of the voices heard in hell. “I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.” I can only compare the sinner with a quickened memory to one who is travelling across the plains of Russia dreaming in his carriage, and on a sudden he is aroused by the sharp bark of a wolf behind him; and this is followed up by a thousand cruel voices of brutes, hungry, and gaunt, and grim, all eager for his blood. Hearken to the patter of those eager feet I the howls of those hungry demons! Whence came they? You thought that your sins were dead long ago, and quite forgotten. See, they have left their tombs! They are on your track. Like wolves, your old sins are pursuing you. They rest not day nor night. They prepare their teeth to tear you. Whither will you flee? How can you escape the consequences of the past? They are upon you, these monsters, their hot breath is in your face; who can now save you? Only a miracle can rescue you from the reproach of your youth; will that miracle be wrought? May we dare to look for it? We have something better than a mere hope to set before you. Jesus meets these packs of wolfish sins. He interposes between us and them! He drives them back! He scatters them! There is not one of them left!
III. Now we will turn, and hear God at this turning-point. “Is Ephraim My dear son? is he a pleasant child?” Does this look like a question? The answer has been already given in the ninth verse: “I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn.” The gracious Lord sees Ephraim sore with chastisement, spent with weeping, pale with shame, and moaning with agony, and then his sonship is acknowledged. He bends over the crushed one, and cries, “This is My son. This is My dear child.” How gracious on God’s part to acknowledge the guilty rebel as a son! See here is love acknowledging the object of its choice, love confessing its near relationship to one most unworthy and most sorrowful. Then behold the same love well pleased. The Lord does not merely say, “Ephraim is My son; yea, he is My child”; but He calls him “My dear son, a pleasant child.” A pleasant child! Why, he has been full of rebellion from his birth! Yes; but he confesses it, and mourns it; and he is a pleasant child when so much holy sorrow is seen in him. Love takes delight in repenting sinners. Notice, in this case, love in earnest. The Lord says, “Since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still” God in earnest--that is a great conception! God in earnest over one moaning sinner! God earnest in thoughts of love, even when He bids the preacher tell the offender of the wrath to come. Notice, next, love in sympathy. Ephraim is bemoaning himself, and what is the Lord doing? He says, “My bowels are troubled for him.” God’s heart is wounded when our hearts are broken. Then comes love in action: “I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.” I am so glad to think that the “surely” is found again in this place. “Surely” God heard Ephraim bemoaning; “Surely” he said that he was turned, and now God says, “Surely I will have mercy upon him.” The Lord God puts His hand and seal to it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Presumptuous sins call for profound repentance
The will of man is a sour and stubborn piece of clay, that will not frame to any serviceable use without much working. A soft and tender heart, indeed, is soon rent in pieces, like a silken garment if it do but catch upon any little nail; but a heart hardened with a long custom of sinning, especially if it be with one of these presumptuous sins, is like the knotty root end of an old oak that has lain long a-drying in the sun. It must be a hard wedge that will enter, and it must be handled with some skill too to make it do that; and when the wedge is entered, it will endure many a hard knock before it will yield to the cleaver, and fail in sunder. And indeed it is a blessed thing, and to be acknowledged a gracious evidence of God’s unspeakable mercy to those that have wilfully suffered such an unclean spirit to enter in and to take possession of their souls, if they shall ever be enabled to out him again, though with never so much fasting and prayer. (Bp. Sanderson.)
Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised.--
Chastisement resulting in penitence
I. An acknowledgment.
1. Inefficacy of former corrections.
2. Though corrections are calculated to produce amendment, it is evident, from observation and experience, they often fail in accomplishing the effect.
3. Ephraim is here represented as reflecting upon it. (Proximate causes of the inefficacy of correction by itself.)
4. Inattention to the hand of God, and, as a natural consequence, their neglecting to pass from the contemplation of their sufferings to their sins. Religion begins with consideration.
5. In the serious purpose of a religious life, formed under afflictive dispensations, too many depend entirely upon resolutions formed in their own strength. To such purposes may be applied the beautiful image of Nahum: “And as the great grasshoppers, which camp in the hedges in the cold day, but when the sun ariseth they flee away, and their place is not known.”
II. The prayer.
1. The plea of necessity. There is no other resource.
2. To entreat God to turn is not to ask an impossibility. The residue of the Spirit is with Him.
3. It is worthy of His interposition. The turning of the heart is a fit occasion on which Omnipotence may act.
4. The plea may be enforced by precedents. It implies no departure from His known methods.
5. We may force it by a reference to the Divine mercy. (Robert Hall, M. A.)
To the penitent.
I. The soliloquy of the penitent.
1. He reflects on his misimprovement of the dealings of God with him.
2. He prays for converting grace.
3. He describes the working of his mind.
4. He assigns special prominence to his youthful sins.
II. The address of God to him.
1. He owns him as a son.
2. He declares that he has a place in His memory.
3. He expresses His sympathy with him.
4. He promises him mercy. (G. Brooks.)
The cause and design Of affliction
I. God is to be acknowledged as the author and dispenser of all afflictions. He consented to all those disarrangements of the creation that inflict numberless ills and distresses, that He might have materials ever at hand for the affliction of the children of men for sin, in a state of probation, and for urging them to use the means provided for their recovery. He dispenses all the particular causes of affliction, in their movements and operations: they are all His servants, and obey His orders, however complicated their movements, however long or short the series in which they are connected with each other, and made dependent the one upon the other: they are all a large army, whose movements, individually and collectively, are according to His plans and His will.
1. This truth approves itself to our reason. It follows from the fact of His sustaining care over the world, as necessary for its provision: for all created things depend on Him; they could do nothing without His permission.
2. This truth is further confirmed by the consideration of the meritorious cause of affliction, which is sin. For sin is originally committed against God: it violates His law, contemns His authority, and despises alike His favour and HIS frown. Who, then, is to dispense affliction as the punishment of sin, but He who is its supreme avenger?
3. This is a truth, which when once confirmed by our reason, is recognised throughout Scripture. There you find that the afflictions of the children of men are dispensed to them in number and in measure.
II. The designs of God in afflictions are very merciful and beneficent. Afflictions never sow the seed of religion in the soul; they cannot do this: but they may soften the soil to receive it, and subserve the growth and the expansion of the seed when sown. They are lessons of instruction to the mind through the senses; corroborating those lessons of truth from revelation to the mind alone; and which are responded to by the conscience.
1. Afflictions are to bring men to become the people of God.
(1) That this is their design will appear from their nature. For what is the obvious drift of that disappointment through the whole course of life, in finding happiness from the world--what is the drift of it but to cure us of that mistake, to direct our attention from that object, and to lead us to Him in whose favour is life? What is the apparent design of certain miserable effects to certain sins, but to breed in us remorse for those sins, and wean us from them? Again, what is the obvious design of those particular evils that belong to our individual condition? What are they, what can they be, but a thorn planted in our earthly nest, to make us arise and go out of it, and seek for happiness in some higher quarter?
(2) That such is their design, is evident from the result of them in many cases.
2. When men become the people of God, afflictions do not cease; on the contrary, there are new reasons for the continuance of the former ones, and even for the addition of others to them. But these reasons are all wise and good, and the ends they have in view are so benign and gracious, as far more than to reconcile us to them.
(1) They are to prevent them from degenerating, so as to settle in a state of declension and backsliding from God. And this they do by bringing their sins to their remembrance in a timely way, before they can make head against them.
(2) They are employed to recover man from a state of backsliding. (J. Leifchild.)
There are chastisements in life which cannot be classed amongst great afflictions. There are little checks, daily disappointments, irritations, defeats, and annoyances shadows which cherquer what else would be a sunny way--things which themselves cannot be treated with dignity, yet they tease and wear the heart.
I. Human life is established upon a disciplinary basis. There is a “yoke” everywhere--in sin, in repentance, in grace. No one can have everything just as he wants it. Man is made to feel that there is somebody in the world besides himself. We are made to feel that our very life is a vapour, and that every respiration is but a compromise with death. We should ask ourselves the meaning of these things. Discipline touches the whole scheme: boy at school, going from home, bodily affliction, oversights and miscalculations, losses, &c.
II. The value of discipline depends upon its right acceptance.
1. We may become desperate under it: “as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.” Men may mourn, complain, rebel; they start arguments against God; they justify themselves; they become lost in secondary, agencies and incomplete details.
2. Then there is a better way. “Ephraim bemoaned himself,” repented before God, and said, “Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned.” In this state of mind see--
(2) Devout and joyful confidence in God’s sovereignty and graciousness.
1. There is a yoke in sin. “The way of transgressors is hard.”
2. There is a yoke in goodness. It is often difficult to be upright, noble, holy.
3. God helps the true yoke-bearer. We must bear a yoke; say, shall it be the bad yoke, or the yoke of Jesus Christ? (J. Parker, D. D.)
I. The acknowledgment made by the people of God in times of trouble.
1. That the affliction is from the Lord.
(1) It is this circumstance--this perception of God, as connected with affliction--which imparts to the afflicted an air of something more than solemnity and seriousness, as if the man had sustained a loss--were deprived of what was agreeable to him. It invests him, in some measure, with a character which inspires awe. He knows that God has been dealing with him. And yet, on this part of my subject, let me offer a word of counsel to the people of God. It is true that you believe that all afflictions come from the Lord.
(2) Beware of resting satisfied with this as a part of your creed. Take care lest you do no more than in words acknowledge that the Lord is the author of your trouble.
2. That there is a necessity for improvement. This is the direction which the gracious soul takes, when its afflictions are in the way of being sanctified. It is submissive: it cannot question the act of the Lord: it is solemnised. But it is more than all this. There is a disposition and desire to make the dispensation an instrument of spiritual benefit and glory to God. To this spirit and exercise believers are brought by several considerations.
(1) That the Lord does nothing in vain.
(2) That this is the declared purpose of the Lord in the visitations of trouble. He calls His afflictions chastenings.
(3) That improvement and reformation have been the effects produced by chastisement upon many.
(4) There is a felt necessity for improvement, as well as experience derived from affliction in the past.
II. Some of the uses of sanctified affliction.
1. Thus do believers become intimately acquainted with their God. God is then set before them in various aspects.
(1) In the character of a Sovereign.
(2) In the character of a Comforter.
2. Believers, when in affliction, know experimentally the value of their Saviour.
3. By affliction believers are weaned from the world. This is the result of their consideration of the Lord’s dealings with them, and the work of His Spirit in them. Affliction of itself will not wean us from the world. Some it only glues more closely to that which is left. But when the solemn question upon a trial or a bereavement is, “What meaneth the Lord by this?” the effect is necessarily happy and useful. The meditation leads to the conclusion, that these objects we have lost are but creatures--that as creatures they must be regarded--and that God must have the first place in our affections and hearts.
4. By affliction believers are quickened in the performance of duties.
(1) They are quickened in the duties which they owe peculiarly to God.
(a) They are quickened so as to be more serious and frequent in their thoughts of God.
(b) They are quickened so as to inquire after Him in His Word.
(c) They are quickened in prayer. They pray after another fashion. They pray as the needy to the God who hears.
(2) They are quickened in their duties to others. Sanctified affliction creates a tender feeling for others. (J. Thorburn.)
Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned; for Thou art the Lord my God.
A pattern prayer for the penitent
I. A confession of moral inability. God’s words and man’s thoughts both declare this: the difference lies here that God does not let it be any reason for our despair. Comp. Jeremiah 13:23; Jeremiah 17:1; Jeremiah 17:4, with the saying of George Eliot, “The world does not believe in conversion, and the world is mostly right”; and with this of Cotter Morrison, “The sooner it is perceived that bad men will be bad, do what we will (though, of course, they may be made less bad), the sooner shall we come to the conclusion that the welfare of society demands the suppression or elimination of bad men and the careful cultivation of the good only There is no remedy for a bad heart, and no substitute for a good one.”
II. A prayer for Divine help. There is no hope for the sinner but in God. The more absolute seems our own helplessness the more earnestly must we cry to Him. God requireth that “we do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with Him”; but He must give what He asks.
III. An all-prevailing plea. “For Thou art the Lord my God.” Our confident appeal is to God’s own nature as revealed by His Word, and with so much the more assurance as His revelation is now more perfect (Hebrews 1:1-4). In Christ crucified and risen is the supreme unfolding of God’s heart. As we look at Him we learn godly sorrow for sin, and heart-trust in the abundance of the Divine pardon, while we are quickened with His life given for us, and kindled by the flame of His love. (C. M. Hardy, B. A.)
The stubborn sinner submitting to God
I. The feelings and conduct of an obstinate impenitent sinner, while smarting under the rod of affliction. In this situation he is like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; wild, unmanageable, and perverse. That such is the natural temper of man, must be evident to parents and all others who are concerned in the education of children. How soon do they begin to discover s perverse and stubborn temper, a fondness for independence, and a desire to gratify their own will in everything! and what severe punishments will they often bear, rather than submit to the authority of their parents and instructors! This disposition, so strong in us by nature, grows with our growth and strengthens with our strength; and to subdue it, is the principal design of all the calamities with which we are in this world afflicted by our Heavenly Father. Sometimes He afflicts sinners by taking away their property and sending poverty, as an armed man, to attack them. At other times He corrects us by depriving us of our relatives, who rendered life pleasant, by sharing with us its joys, or helping to bear its sorrows. If these afflictions do not avail, He brings the rod yet nearer, and touches our bone and our flesh. Then the sinner is chastened with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones are filled with strong pain; so that his life abhorreth bread and his soul dainty meat. All these outward afflictions are also frequently accompanied with inward trials and sorrows, still more severe. Conscience is awakened to perform its office, and fills the soul with terror, anxiety, and remorse. Now when God visits impenitent sinners with these afflictions, they usually murmur, struggle, and reluctate, like a stubborn bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, or a wild bull entangled in a net. This perverse and rebellious temper manifests itself in a great variety of ways, as persons’ circumstances, situation, and dispositions vary. Sometimes it displays itself merely in a refusal to submit, and sullen, obstinate perseverance in those sins which caused the affliction. At other times, impenitent sinners manifest their rebellious dispositions under the rod by flying to the world for comfort, and plunging with increased eagerness into its pleasures and pursuits, instead of calling upon God agreeably to His command, and repenting of their sins. With others this disposition displays itself in a settled formal endeavour to frustrate the will of God by sinning against Him with a high hand, in open contempt of all His inflictions and threatenings. But the perverse, unreconciled disposition of impenitent sinners most frequently appears in the increase of hard thoughts of God, and proud, angry feelings towards Him, as if He were severe, unmerciful, or unjust.
II. The new views and feelings which, through Divine grace, His afflictions were instrumental it producing.
1. We here find the once stubborn and rebellious, but now awakened sinner deeply convinced of his guilt and sinfulness, and deploring his unhappy situation. He still complains indeed, but it is of himself and not of God. He acknowledges the goodness, condescension, and justice of God in correcting him. Perhaps more are convinced of sin, and brought to repentance, by reflecting on their impious, unreconciled feelings under affliction, than by reflecting on any other part of their sinful exercises.
2. We find this awakened, afflicted sinner praying. Convinced of his wretched situation, and feeling his need of Divine aid, he humbly seeks it from his offended God.
3. We find this corrected, mourning, praying sinner reflecting upon the effects of Divine grace in his conversion. Surely, says he, after I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. It is worthy of remark, my friends, how soon the answer followed the prayer. In one verse, we find Ephraim calling God to turn or convert him. In the very next, we find him reflecting upon his conversion and rejoicing in it. And what were the effects of this change, thus suddenly produced by Divine grace? The first was repentance. The second was self-loathing and abhorrence.
III. A correcting, but passionate and pardoning God, watching the result of His corrections, and noticing the first symptoms of repentance, and expressing His gracious purposes of mercy respecting the chastened, penitent sinner. In this description God represents Himself--
1. As a tender father solicitously mindful of his penitent, afflicted child.
2. As listening to his complaints, confessions, and petitions. Certainly nothing in heaven or earth is so wonderful as this; and if this language does not affect us and break our hearts, nothing can do it.
3. God declares His determination to pardon him: I will surely have mercy upon him. (E. Payson, D. D.)
Surely after that I was turned, I repented.--
I. The constant way and manner wherein true grace discovers itself, when once it is implanted in the heart. “I repented, surely I repented.” Agreeable to this is the language of the prodigal (Luke 15:18). Old things are passed away with the man that is born of the Spirit; his face is turned Zionward, and his eager steps show how desirable and delightful are wisdom’s ways to his renewed soul.
II. The only spring from whence this amazing change doth always proceed. “Surely after that I was turned, I repented.” Grace first enters the heart, before it can be discovered in the life and conversation. The God of all grace first of all draws us, or else we shall never move towards Him (John 6:44). Had not the same mighty power which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, been exerted toward us, we should still have continued in the same conversation which we had in times past, in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind. But quickening grace opens the way to godly sorrow, and this always issues in evangelical repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).
III. An account of the progress of this great work in the hand cf the Spirit; wherein the true nature of repentance unto life is clearly described.
I. What are the things in which the soul is instructed by the Spirit, when a principle of grace is wrought in the heart?
(1) The Spirit begins His work, with leading the soul to the knowledge of sin.
(a) The Spirit shows us the nature of sin, as attended with guilt, whereby we are obnoxious to the curse of the law.
(b) The Spirit shows the sinner the defiling nature of sin, as opposed to the holiness of that God with whom he hath to do.
(c) The Spirit shows the sinner the many heinous aggravations wherewith his sins in particular have been attended.
(2) The Spirit instructs the soul in the nature of pardoning grace and mercy, which is the sweetest sound that an awakened conscience can ever hear; the most agreeable message a self-condemning sinner can ever receive.
(a) The Spirit instructs the sinner that the privilege is attainable; that there is forgiveness with God, that He may be feared.
(b) The Spirit instructs the sinner in the only way through which His grace and mercy is to be attained; lets him know that an absolute God is a consuming fire; and directs him to Christ Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life.
(c) The Spirit instructs the sinner into the way through which pardon is communicated to him. That it was obtained by Christ; that it is received by faith; and that whosoever will, may take of the water of life freely.
(d) The Spirit further instructs the sinner who the persons are to whom this pardoning grace and mercy are applied. This He teaches, by the absolute promises of the Word, which reach the case of the most rebellious criminals.
2. What are the various actings of the soul in consequence of these instructions?
(1) The soul thus instructed “sorrows after a godly sort.” This is the first thing in which Gospel-repentance discovers itself to be genuine and of the right kind; of which “smiting upon the thigh” is very expressive.
(2) The soul thus instructed is filled with shame and confusion of face, attended with an utter hatred of the sins he hath been guilty of. “was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.”
(3) The soul thus instructed hath an abiding sense of these things. He is not weary of his rags to-day, and pleased with them again to-morrow; humbled for sin now, and wallowing in the same mire and dirt anon: No, “I did bear (saith Ephraim) the reproach of my youth.”
(4) The soul thus instructed is most sensibly affected with those sins to which he hath been most addicted. Heart sins are bewailed by the sincere Christian, and youthful transgressions are never forgotten by him.
(5) The soul thus instructed always applieth to the blood of Christ for pardon. (J. Hill.)
The repentance of the truly converted
1. We notice this about the cry of the wanderer of the Old Covenant, resembling herein the prodigal son of the New Testament--it is not like the utterance of the heathen who had never known God. The powerlessness of man is indeed brought out; for the words are, “Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned”; but there is the remembrance still of a Father, of a Divine promise, a heavenly home though long despised.
2. The text goes on to speak of the effect of this conversion, of the result of this homeward journey: “Surely after that I was turned, I repented.” It is not a sign of the truly converted heart, to spring at a bound from the rebelliousness of a sinner to the rejoicing of a saint. Those who go most frequently to the Holy Communion know best the gulf which separates the two--they know in that nearness to Jesus Christ how far off they have been, how unworthy they are.
3. It takes much teaching, much fatherly correction and chastisement, many humble approaches to that altar which reveals the greatness of our burden, ere the soul can thus fully and heartily repent. Most of us, like Ephraim, are so unaccustomed to the yoke, through the easy, careless life we lead, that we need much application of doctrine to ourselves, much reproof of our personal faults, much instruction in righteousness.
4. It often happens that contrition of heart is granted long after maturity is reached--so that much recollection is needed ere the whole life can be reviewed before God. What is it which then disturbs us most? The remembrance probably of those precious years wherein the character was being formed--those priceless years, which might have witnessed the moulding of our yet pliant will into the thorough obedience of Christ, but which have been marked, instead, by a growing hardness and indifference and selfishness, scarcely to be altered afterwards. “I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.”
5. God means us to feel the weight of these old chains: He speaks against us in our wonderfully responsive conscience, writes the most painful truths concerning us in His heart-piercing Word--and why? Exactly for the opposite reason to that which makes Satan stand at our right hand to resist and accuse us. God smites on purpose that He may Himself be troubled for us, Himself have mercy upon us, Himself create a new thing in the earth, the Incarnation of His own Eternal Son, to be the propitiation for our sins, the renewer of our wasted youth and misused talents, the restorer of paths to dwell in. (Canon Jelf.)
I. Repentance is an abiding characteristic, or principle of the new heart. The heart itself is, by nature, impenitent. It has a natural fitness to sin, without shame or ingenuous sorrow. The heart itself, by grace, is penitent, broken, contrite. It has a fitness to repent, an aptitude to mourn ingenuously over sin. This is a permanent principle, or source of sorrow for sin, and of turning from it unto holiness.
II. Repentance is the gift of God.
1. The mind, to which God has granted repentance unto life, has a just sense of its sins.
2. Another trait of the mind to which God has granted repentance, is an appreciation of His mercy through Christ.
3. Another characteristic of the penitent man is, that he turns from sin.
4. Another particular in this state of the penitent man, is a constant endeavour to obey God.
III. What are the evidences of repentance unto life? There are individuals who seem to suppose that a serious attendance on the duties of private and public prayer--a diligent reading of the Scriptures--a reverent hearing of the Word--and a celebration of the ordinances appointed by God--are an evidence that they are born of the Spirit. This is ample evidence of their love to the forms of religion, but no proof of its power. It has dwelt in thousands whose hearts were not right with God. There are others who seem to suppose that the abandonment of some external vice is to be regarded as evidence of repentance unto life. Repentance unto life is, indeed, attended by a reformation of morals, in all those who spiritually mourn over their sins. But this reformation is the effect of an internal change. The soul of the penitent man is careful to discriminate between good and evil--between light and darkness. It struggles against every unholy propensity, and every sinful habit, and toils through grace to extirpate them from the bosom. He exercises himself to have a conscience void of offence, both towards God and man. These powerful principles in the penitent heart diffuse their odour through the whole man, and cause him to be widely different from what he was previously. Nor is this a temporary change in his life. The whole course of an individual who is brought into the kingdom of God, is a course of repentance. So permanent is it in this life, as not to be completed till the saints are made perfect in glory. (J. Foot, D. D.)
Mercy to penitents
I. The favoured objects of Divine mercy. True penitents; men whose hearts are humbled under a deep sense of sin; and who, by the Spirit and grace of God, are brought to their right minds.
II. The abundant exercise of Divine mercy.
1. In bestowing pardon.
2. In promoting peace; that rest of conscience which is the close attendant of pardon, and accompanies the scriptural hope and evidence of it.
3. In affording preservation.
III. The absolute certainty Of Divine mercy.
1. The greatness of God secures it.
2. The goodness of God secures it.
3. The faithfulness of God secures it.
(1) He is faithful to His covenant; to His own solemn and voluntary engagement to save guilty man, according to a prescribed method; and this method is all of mercy, of abundant mercy, especially to the broken-hearted penitent.
(2) He is faithful to His Word. This is the revelation of His covenant; its statement to us in direct promises and positive assurances.
(3) He is faithful to His Son.
(4) He is faithful to Himself. The whole scheme of Divine mercy is adapted and intended to display the glory of the Divine perfections; and can we suppose that this end will be frustrated?
From the whole--
1. Let the impenitent tremble.
2. Let the humble hope.
3. Let the believer rejoice. (T. Kidd.)
Set thee up way-marks.--
Here is an invitation--
I. To follow an ancient custom. Not all old customs bad, the good filtrates through all time. It is a holy duty to follow in the good, tried paths of the “just men made perfect.”
II. To keep alive our spiritual experiences.
1. While faith obeys implicitly, aids are not rejected.
2. To recount becomingly our experiences serves two ends: we put God in remembrance; we keep Him in remembrance.
3. Our experiences may be such as--
(1) Past grace received.
(a) The grace to know,
(b) And the grace to love.
(2) Past strength renewed.
(3) Wonderful deliverance from fears.
(4) Help in trouble.
(5) Times of sweet communion. Thus we put in practice the word, “ forget not all His benefits.”
III. To put up lasting memorials.
1. All our spiritual privileges may be as way-marks set up.
2. Blessed hours of devotion and times of sweet communion.
3. The Gospel of a holy life in the common lot for ever.
IV. To have a regard for posterity. Sinners will need directing, saints will require comforting, workers with flagging energies must be stimulated. Then set up your “way-marks.” The records of our experience will stand out like milestones, and all shall be as inspiring testimony to the faithfulness of Him who has promised neither to “leave us” nor “forsake us.” (John Jones.)
I did bear the reproach of my youth.--
Sin the reproach and shame of youth
I. Sin is of a reproachful nature.
1. It flings an unrighteous reproach on God and others.
(1) Let us begin with others. Friends and families are often disgraced by the sinners that belong to their houses: They are frequently ashamed of them, and reproached for them; they are ashamed to think, speak, or hear of them, to see or own them; and many are apt to reflect, sometimes indeed with too much reason, but at others without cause, as if their parents, their masters, or their other relations and friends, who have been most conversant with them, and might have had the greatest influence over them, have not taken proper care to counsel, caution, and restrain them.
(2) But what is still infinitely worse, is that their iniquities throw the most vile and unrighteous reproach upon the holy and blessed God Himself, as if He were not what He is, and were not to be treated with the reverence and honour that are His due. Sin reproaches God’s perfections, His name and His image, as if they were not worthy to be maintained with honour; it reproaches His workmanship in man, as if a creature had come out of His hand unworthy of Himself to be the author of; and it furnishes occasions to other sinners to reproach and blaspheme His blessed majesty.
2. It is a just reproach upon sinners themselves. It is the disgrace of their nature, it disrobes it of all its glory, defaces the beauteous image of God in which it was at first created, and debases it into the odious likeness and deformity of the devil, and of the brute.
II. The sins of young persons must needs be the reproach of their youth. Youth is indeed the most amiable age of life. It is the time for beauty and ornament, for activity and vigour, for gathering and improving in all that is excellent and desirable, and for pursuing after everything that is honourable and glorious. It is the time of expectation and hope, and the time of their own chief delight, and of others delighting in them. But sin stains all this glory of their youth, it sweeps away their lovely bloom, it depraves and perverts their vigorous powers, and makes them only so much the more capable of becoming despicable and vile; they are thereby daily heaping to themselves infamous and destructive things; they glory in their own shame; sport themselves in their own vain and foolish deceivings; and give melancholy prospects of growing up, the shame and torment of their friends, and the pests, instead of the blessings, of the rising generation; and they arc in the direct way of entailing all misery, for this world and the next, upon themselves.
III. A time is coming, when, one way or other, they will bear this reproach.
1. There is a bearing it, in the fruits and effects of their sins. They are the source of many sorrows; they often bring great and numerous distresses upon sinners in the way of God’s righteous judgment, and by the natural operation of their iniquities themselves.
2. There is a bearing the reproach of youth, in being reproached by others for their sins. Some sins bring such a reproach upon young men and women, as they can never get rid of all their days (2 Samuel 13:12-13; Proverbs 6:32-33).
3. There is a bearing the reproach of youth, in the reflections of their own consciences upon their sins.
IV. When they come to bear the reproach of their youth, they will be ashamed, yea, even confounded at it.
1. Young people will be ashamed, yea, even confounded at the reproach of their youth, when they come to bear it in the way of God’s mercy to them.
2. Young people will be ashamed, and even confounded at the reproach of their youth, when they come to bear it in the way of God’s wrath against them.
1. Let young and old think seriously with themselves, which of these is, or is like to be their condition.
2. How should Christ and His Gospel be prized and improved, to take away the reproach of your youth! (John Guyse, D. D.)
Is Ephraim My dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still.--
A pleasant child
Within one circle, one limited circle, a pleasant child is always a centre of the most engrossing interest and delight. Nor is the blessing of such a child confined exclusively to the home circle. The neighbourhood, the community, the Church of God are sharers in it. Along the street, in all the modest duties and interchanges of daily life, in the hour of play, and wild exuberance of youthful feeling, in the Sunday School and sanctuary--everywhere and in all places, s pleasant child is a perpetual comfort. “Heaven lies about him.”
I. Cheerful obedience is a conspicuous trait in a pleasant child. Cheerful, in distinction from compulsory obedience. It will not be a sacrifice, forced out of him by overstrained prerogative, or rigorous compulsion, but rather the spontaneity of a loving, loyal heart. It will be a high sense of what is due from the offspring to the progenitor--a willing and cheerful consent to the known precepts and principles established at home. It not only yields readily to each expressed and absolute command, but goes beyond and acts continually upon what is implied, and expected, under the parental rule. It anticipates the audible prohibition: it waits not for the check or caution, for the law once revealed is thenceforth written on the mind and heart. Knowing that to do right, is the measure of that law, the constant aim will be to do right, whether it is expressly required or not. What a contrast there is--what a vital and tremendous difference--between such a child and his opposites son whose nature revolts at all the proper constraints of home, and puts scorn upon its holiest claims of honour and duty; a petulant, self-willed, wrongheaded son, who lives in his father s house, like a wild beast in a cage; who files in the face of authority, and bursts into uncontrollable fits of rage at the slightest reproof, and dares to turn upon those who support and cherish him, with words of abuse and malediction; a son who can look into the pleading face of the mother that bare him and laugh at her counsels, or the father that begat him with open contempt and loud dispute, and oh, the difference, who can measure it? Often have agonized parents been known to declare, that to have laid the child in his grave, would have been far easier than to have borne the daily inflictions of his wilfulness and evil behaviour (Proverbs 22:25). Nor is this without an impressive lesson for parents. Remember this solemn truth--the obedience due to you is enshrined in a universal and unqualified law. What is your example--what is your course of life? Your children are commanded to honour you, and they will usually do so, by adopting your practice. What is it?
II. Reverence is a principal feature in the character and deportment of a pleasant child. It is not servility of which I speak, or an abject, self-distrusting spirit, which shrinks and cringes in the presence of authority or age. I would rather define it to be a due and noble appreciation of what belongs to parents and all superiors, including also a chastened respect for whatever is sacred or august. The true filial sentiment, as an excellent writer has said, will show itself in the tone of manners. You may detect the grace of this living sentiment, in the unnumbered offices that diminish a father’s or a mother’s care, or relieve their troubles. What exceeding beauty is there in the gentle, modest kindnesses that childhood and youth may throw around the hearthstone--the refined address--the unobtrusive attentions--the willing proffers of service! Do you ask if this be reverence? Yes--and but one rivulet from the fountain-head, for children have it in their power, if they have it in their hearts, not only to sweeten home with their courteous demeanour and ready will, but to be like attending angels there, in all that contributes to household peace and order: and when amidst the uncertainties of this mortal life, adversity or sickness invade their circle, and a shadow falls, what a blessing may arise from their hushed solicitude and consideration--what relief, more potential than all the arts of medicine, may they bring to the aching pillow, or the chamber of convalescence, by their tender assiduities. But more than this, a truly reverent child will ever be glad to adapt himself to all the varying circumstances and conditions of his father’s house. If the sun of prosperity cease to shine upon it, or a necessity for frugal expenditures suddenly arise, he will not deepen the trial by a murmuring reluctance. The habit of obeisance and affectionate respect thus cultivated at home, will be displayed abroad and upon all occasions. Reverence will beautify all the ways of a pleasant child, and become his characteristic mark.
III. Early piety. Hitherto your attention has been drawn only to the branches and specimens of the fruit--this is the root of the tree. If the trunk is vigorous, if the boughs are luxuriant and well laden, hanging over the wall of the domestic garden, so that even the wayfarer may delight in their shade, it is altogether traceable to a spring of fatness, a hidden life beneath the ground. In like manner, the mind and affections of childhood, nurtured by godly counsels, quickened and enlightened beneath home culture, pleased and persuaded by the gentle tones of a mother’s voice, and freshened by the ever-descending dews of heavenly grace, will steal forth upon the outward life in visible forms of fruit and flowers, and manifold attractiveness. We shall see that conscientiousness--that sense of the Divine presence--that shrinking from sin, because it is offensive to God--that love of purity and truth, which is so much to be admired--that interest in whatsoever things are lovely and honest, and of good report--that trusting, prayerful, guileless temper, which looks upward for help, and would not willingly go astray. Who can express the comeliness and beauty which rest upon such a child? (W. F. Morgan, D. D.)
The Divine mercy to mourning penitents
The text naturally resolves itself into three parts. First, we find the careless, resolute, impenitent, reduced by chastisement to a sense of his danger, and the necessity of turning to God; and yet sensible of his utter inability, and therefore crying for the attractive influences of Divine grace. The attractive influences of Divine grace are granted, and he is enabled to return; which introduces the second branch of the text, in which the new convert is represented as reflecting upon the efficacy of converting grace, and the glorious change wrought in him by it. While the returning prodigal is venting himself in these plaintive strains in some solitary corner, his Heavenly Father’s bowels are moving over him. The third part of the text represents the blessed God listening to the cries of His mourning child.
I. The returning sinner under his first spiritual concern, which is generally preparatory to evangelical repentance. Where shall we find him? What is he doing? He is not congratulating himself upon the imaginary goodness of his heart or life, or priding himself with secret wonder in a rich conceit of his excellences; but you will hear him, in his sorrowful retirement, bemoaning, condoling himself. He sees his case to be really awful and sad, and he, as it were, takes up a lamentation over himself. He is no more senseless, hard-hearted, and self-applauding, as he was wont to be; but, like a mourning turtle, he bewails himself. “Thou hast chastised me.” This, as spoken by Ephraim, had a particular reference to the Babylonish captivity; but we may naturally take occasion from it to speak of those calamities in general, whether outward or inward, that are made the means of alarming the secure sinner. There are many ways which our Heavenly Father takes to correct His undutiful children until they return to Him. Sometimes He kindly takes away their health, the abused occasion of their wantonness and security, and restrains them from their lusts with fetters of affliction (Job 33:19, &c.). Sometimes God awakens the sinner to bethink himself, by stripping him of his earthly supports and comforts, his estate, or his relatives, which drew away his heart from eternal things, and thus brings him to see the necessity of turning to God, the fountain of bliss, upon the failure of the streams (2 Chronicles 33:11-12). Thus also God promises to do with His chosen (Ezekiel 20:37; Psalms 89:32; Proverbs 22:15; Proverbs 29:15). But the principal means of correction which God uses for the end of return to Him is that of conscience; and indeed without this, all the rest are in vain. It is conscience that makes the sinner sensible of his misery and scourges him till he return to his duty. Conscience is a serpent in his breast, which bites and gnaws his heart; and he can no more avoid it, than he can fly from himself. Its force is so great and universal that even the heathen poet Juvenal, not famous for the delicacy of his morals, taught by experience, could speak feelingly of its secret blows, and of agonising sweats under its tortures. Let not such of you as have never been tortured with its remorse, congratulate yourselves upon your happiness, for you are not innocents; and therefore conscience will not always sleep; it will not always lie torpid and inactive, like a snake benumbed with cold, in your breast. It will awaken you either to your conversion or condemnation. Therefore now submit to its wholesome severities, now yield to its chastisements. Such of you as have submitted to its authority, and obeyed its faithful admonitions, find it your best friend; and you may bless the day in which you complied with its demands, though before Divine grace renewed your heart, your wills were stubborn and reluctant; and you might say with Ephraim, “I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.” You see the obstinate reluctance of an awakened sinner to return to God. Like a wild young bullock, he would range at large, and is impatient of the yoke of the law, and the restraints of conscience. He loves his sin and cannot bear to part with it. He has no relish for the exercises of devotion and ascetic mortification; and therefore will not submit to them. The way of holiness is disagreeable to his depraved heart, and he will not turn his feet to it. But the happy soul, on whom Divine grace is determined to finish its work in spite of all opposition, is suffered to weary itself out in a vain resistance of the chastisements of conscience, till it is obliged to yield, and submit to the yoke. And then with Ephraim it will cry, “Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned.” This is the mourning sinner’s language, when convinced that he must submit and turn to God, and in the meantime finds himself utterly unable to turn. Never did a drowning man call for help, or a condemned malefactor plead for pardon with more sincerity and ardour. If the sinner had neglected prayer all his life before now, he flies to it as the only expedient left, or if he formerly ran it over in a careless unthinking manner, as an insignificant form, now he exerts all the importunity of his soul; now he prays as for his life, and cannot rest till his desires are answered. The sinner ventures to enforce his petition by pleading his relation to God, “Turn me; for Thou art the Lord my God.” The awakened sinner is obliged to take all his encouragement from God, and not from himself. All his trust is in the Divine mercy, and he is brought to a happy self-despair.
II. As reflecting upon the surprising efficacy of grace he had sought, and which was bestowed upon him in answer to his prayer. When the Lord exerts His power to subdue the stubbornness of the sinner, and sweetly to allure him to Himself, then the sinner repents; then his heart dissolves in ingenuous disinterested relentings we learn from this passage, that the true penitent is sensible of a mighty turn in his temper and inclinations “Surely after that I was turned, I repented.” His whole soul Is turned from what he formerly delighted in, and turned to what he had no relish for before. Particularly his thoughts, his will, and affections are turned to God; there is a heavenly bias communicated to them which draws them to holiness, like the law of gravitation in the material world. The penitent proceeds, After that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh.” The same grace that turns him does also instruct him; nay, it is by discovering to him the beauty of holiness, and the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, that it draws him. And when instructed in these, “He smites upon his thigh.” This gesture denotes consternation and amazement. He is struck with horror to think what an ungrateful, ignorant, stupid wretch he has been all his life till this happy moment. The pardoned penitent proceeds, “I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.” We are ashamed when we are caught in a mean, base, and scandalous action; we blush, and are confounded, and know not where to look, or what to say. Thus the penitent is heartily ashamed of himself, when he reflects upon the sordid dispositions he has indulged, and the base and scandalous actions he has committed. He blushes at his own inspection; he is confounded at his own tribunal.
III. The tender compassion of God towards mourning penitents. While they are bemoaning their case, and conscious that they do not deserve one look of love from God, He is represented as attentively listening to catch the first penitential groan that breaks from their hearts. What strong consolation may this give to desponding mourners, who think themselves neglected by that God to whom they are pouring out their weeping supplications! He hears your secret groans, He counts your sighs, and puts your tears into His bottle. His eyes penetrate all the secrets of your heart, and He observes all your feeble struggles to turn to Himself; and He beholds you not as an unconcerned spectator, but with all the tender emotions of fatherly compassion: for, while He is listening to Ephraim’s mournful complaints, He abruptly breaks in upon him, and sweetly surprises him with the warmest declarations of pity and grace. “Is this Ephraim?” &c. This passage contains a most encouraging truth, that, however vile and abandoned a sinner has been, yet, upon his repentance, he becomes God’s dear son, His favourite child. He will, from that moment, regard him, provide for him, protect him, and bring him to His heavenly inheritance, as His son and heir (Romans 8:38). (President Davies.)
The contrite comforted
What is it that wins back the heart to God? It is God’s free, full, everlasting mercy. This attracts the sinner, melts, transforms, comforts, saves him.
I. A broken heart. Such was Ephraim’s; he had departed far from God, he had fretted against the Lord, he had refused for a time to submit, but chastisement after chastisement in mercy came, and at length he received instruction.
1. His froward course is strikingly set forth. “A bullock unaccustomed to the yoke,” Ephraim had spurned the hand that would have guided him.
2. There was insight into, and confession of his guilt. Nothing so fit to describe his state, am it was seen by his now enlightened eye, as the untamed bullock; like Asaph, “his heart is grieved, he is pricked in his reins”; like him he is ready to exclaim, “So foolish was I and ignorant, I was as a beast before Thee.”
3. There were the true breathings of prayer. “Turn Thou me.”
(1) The source is acknowledged whence this godly sorrow flows. “After that I was turned.”
(2) There is application for mercy. “Turn Thou me.”
(3) Faith was in exercise in this prayer of Ephraim. “Thou art the Lord my God.”
II. Healing mercy. The mercy that God gives is Godlike mercy; yea, He giveth Himself to the believing soul in and by Jesus Christ.
1. God makes no mention of his sins.
2. He transcribes a fair copy of his confessions.
3. He treasures up his groans.
4. He addresses by the titles of affection the once wayward but now bemoaning Ephraim.
5. God answers the one desire of the contrite heart. (F. Storr, M. A.)
God’s tender mercy to the penitent
We have in this passage two speakers, two personalities. It is so everywhere. All religion which is worthy the name is the meeting, the intercourse, the converse and conversation of two spirits; till they come into communication and contact there is no religion, no possibility of religion in any but a barren and lifeless sense--the spirit of the man, and the Spirit of his God. Ephraim is bemoaning himself, but it is in God’s presence. “I have surely heard him,” God says, and that, not only because He who made the ear must hear all things, but because the self-bemoaning is addressed to God, as concerned, and interested, and acting in all. “Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised; turn Thou me, and I shall be turned.” Oh, let Ephraim never bemoan himself in solitude. Let him shut the world out, but not shut self in. Let God hear him. Let him lay bare the sins and the sorrows which follow the sins, in the presence, consciously, discerningly--in the presence of the God against whom the sins are committed, and from whom the consequent sorrows come. We know not how it is, yet we do know that the whole character of the self-bemoaning is changed at once by the thought that God hears it. Oh, when I bemoan myself upon my knees, for the darkness in which sin has wrapped me round and round, for the chain which binds me, for the misery which chills me, for the weakness which bathes, and the experience of evil which paralyses me--when I do this upon my knees, there is a glimmering at once, and peradventure at least, at once of hope that I am so made as to feel that there is light in heaven, and that He before whom I kneel is already, in virtue of creation, Himself what Ephraim here called Him, the Lord my God. We pass from the one speaker of the text, and the one personality to the other, and, having listened to the self-bemoaning of Ephraim in God’s presence, have yet to give audience to the most pathetic words in all the Bible: “Is Ephraim My dear son?” God is the speaker. “Is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: My heart is troubled for him: I must surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.” You will not easily persuade us that the words were spoken of Ephraim the tribe, or of even the ten tribes, and not of Ephraim the individual and the man. It is because God feels thus towards man, that He feels thus towards the nation. Never let us lose the collective life in the individual; never let us rob the collective life whether of Israel or of England, of the precious promises written of it in the Word. On the other hand, let us see an argument, as it were a fortiori, of the love of God to the responsible sin-suffering soul in all that He speaks in the Bible of that aggregate of souls which is the corporate being. We cannot err in taking the words home. We honour God when we clasp to our bosom any one of His utterances. It was for us if we can make it our own--and we can make this our own. There is something unspeakably affecting in that thought, that the very heart of God is, as He here says, troubled for the sinner that He has been obliged to speak against. He would not have been true, He would not have been righteous, He would not have been gracious, He would not have been God, if He had not spoken against him whilst he was going astray. He must speak against him while he is bent upon his own ruin; but oh! to hear Him saying that He earnestly remembers him still, even while He speaks. Earnestly remembers him! What about him? We can answer that question. He remembers that He made him in His own image; He remembers what He made him for--holiness, happiness, a delightful life, full of love and joy, and growing, maturing, expanding beauty, one day to shine as the sun in the kingdom of his Father. But more, and much more than this. He remembers the man himself, just as a parent remembers a son far away serving his country in India or Egypt; or a son gone into the unseen country, oh! how to be missed and mourned; or a son--for this is more appropriate--a son who has given him trouble, for whom he has had endless anxiety, for whom his own pillow has been wet, night after night, with tears. Yes, Ephraim has given God trouble. For Ephraim God left heaven, went after him into his exile, shed His life’s blood for him. St. Paul said so at Miletus. What more could He have done for him that He has not done! and, though it has been for a long time in vain, though neither gentleness nor severity has succeeded with him, though He might, if He had been a human parent, long ago have given him up, yet, being God and not man, He earnestly remembers him still (Dean Vaughan.)
In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.
The bequethment of the ungodly
There is this great difference between moral and physical evil--that men will use all their carefulness to avoid the one, while every imaginable prohibition is ineffectual to deter them from the other. It is quite evident that there is not in our nature a principle of what we may call a moral self-preservation. Hence it is that, whilst the Governor of the universe has not thought it necessary to interpose the precepts of the statute-book that we may be warned against physical evil, He has heaped together edicts and motives which all bear on the avoidance of moral evil. We know, indeed, that such is the desperate proneness of man to misdoing, that all this mighty instrumentality is practically of no effect; but it is singular to observe how every motive by which our nature can be plied is brought into play, so that the Divine Legislator has left nothing untried in order to save us from iniquity. If a man be wrapt up in selfishness, why, he is told that health, and peace, and reputation will be best consulted by his “seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Then, if he care only for himself--if he would not hate his own flesh, and mar his own happiness, let him cultivate that godliness which hath the promise of the present life, as well as that which is to come. And if a man be inaccessible to this kind of attack--if he can be contented, for the gratification of his senses and the indulgence of his passions, to brave the penalties of the law of the Almighty, the Bible will open upon him another battery, and seek to move him by his affection for others. Those yet unborn may be sufferers by your sin; for the days spoken of in our text are assuredly not yet come--the days in which “they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Yes, you may say, it is not to be denied that God doth visit on the children the iniquity of the fathers; but is this just? The innocent seem made to suffer for the guilty. Can this be right? No, it cannot be just that the innocent should suffer for the guilty. If you can show the children to be innocent, and therefore deserve nothing of what they receive, you will make good your point--that the visitation is unjust; but to maintain the thorough innocence of the children would be to maintain the purity of human nature. If in themselves they deserve not to be visited with calamity, they must be exceptions to the rule that men are “born in sin and shapen in iniquity.” It is certain that every one born into the world is born in a state of wrath and condemnation: the child, whether of believing or unbelieving parents, has not a particle of right to one solitary blessing; and if, therefore, whatever be His reasons for making a distinction, God withholds many blessings from this or that child, He withholds nothing to which the child has a claim; and if He permits many calamities to fall on the child, He permits nothing which is wholly undeserved. Wherein, then, can lie the violation of justice if nothing be kept back to which there was right, nothing inflicted but in the way of retribution? But still if you allow the strict justice of the measure, yon may profess to think it hard that the child should have to endure what, but for the parent’s offences, it would have escaped. Let us not, however, be carried away by appearances. The child, for example, is of a diseased constitution, of a dishonoured name, of broken fortunes; these constitute that “setting the teeth on edge,” which you think it so hard that “the fathers’ eating the sour grape” should have caused. But who can prove to me that the child is injured by the visitation? Nay, who can prove to me that the child is not really advantaged? Are penury and affliction never overruled for good? Is it necessarily an evil to have been born poor in place of rich--to be of weak health instead of strong--to struggle with adversity, in place of being lapped in prosperity! No man who feels himself immortal, who is conscious that this confined theatre of existence is but the school in which he is disciplined for s higher and nobler, will contend for the necessary injuriousness of want and calamity. We are poor judges of injuries. What seems to be injurious, is so capable of being overruled for good, that it may turn out beneficial. There may be many a tongue which would never have been tuned to the high praise of God, had not “the teeth been set on edge” by the sin of the father. Now there would seem no more important and practical application of this subject, than the pressing home on parents the duties which they owe to their children. Fathers of the present day will “rise early and late take rest,” they will ply without ceasing at laborious occupations, and the strength of intellect, and the powers of muscle shall be devoted with a like prodigality; and the animating thing throughout the unwearied enlistment of every talent and every moment in one engrossing pursuit shall be the upholding of a family in sufficiency and obtaining the means of future independence. And it may never occur to these fathers that if they so indulge the passion of accumulation as to become the slaves of covetousness, or if they so engross themselves with the wharf and the exchange as to leave comparatively no time for the Church and the closet--or if the resolve to be rich induce them to depart from high-toned rectitude, and to carry on trade with those shuffling and underhand tricks by which it is often deformed--it may never, we fear, occur to them that in their zeal for their children’s welfare they may be storing up for them calamity, and that with every pound they lay by, they may lay by a worm which, if it sleep till their own death, shall then struggle into life and gnaw at the core of their family’s happiness. Yet, if then be truth in the text, the father s sin goes down to his posterity: and where shall be the profit of a large bequeathment of land or consols if there be fastened to it the entailment of the Almighty’s displeasure? God has ordained that wickedness shall defeat its own end; He may allow you to heap up wealth, but He puts the stamp of His anger on the silver and the gold; and the nothing which s pious beggar has to leave were a better inheritance than the coffers of ingots on which were impressed the stamp of the Lord’s indignation. The days are not yet come, in which it shall no longer be mid, “The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth were set on edge.” But the days shall come when the prophecy shall be accomplished, even as will be that which asserts the universal extinction of war; though nation is as yet ready to “rise against nation,” and no signs appear of “the sword being beaten into the ploughshare.” Prophecies like these are commands as well as prophecies; and their being fulfilled as predictions may greatly depend on their being obeyed as precepts. Here is a clear practical lesson for parents. Would you save your children from the having “the teeth set on edge”? Take heed, then, that you “eat” not “the sour grape” yourselves! You may be sure that you then consult best for the interests of your families when you consult most your own souls. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The hereditary principle in God’s government of humanity
I. Man has been subject to this hereditary principle of government through all past ages.
1. Its necessary working is secured by the connection existing between the members of our race.
(1) How close is the tie of physical relationship subsisting between men and generations! We are all made of the “one blood,” all descendants from the same stock. Our parents transmit to us not merely their natures, but their idiosyncrasies, their diseases, their characteristic propensities.
(2) How close, too, is the tie of social interdependence. Every man is dependent upon his brother. One has something to impart which the other requires.
2. It is registered in the everyday experience of humanity.
(1) You see it written in a man s history as the lineal descendant from a particular family. Some inherit a princely fortune, and some a crushing penury, from their ancestors. Their social status, too, is often ruled by the position and conduct of those of whom they were born.
(2) You see it written in his history as the offspring of past generations. The human plant does not grow up in its wild luxuriance and unassisted strength, but is trained against the walls and espaliers of law and government, and pruned by the hand of public customs and manners.
II. This hereditary principle of the Divine government is to man no just ground of complaint.
1. No man is made to suffer more than he actually deserves on account of his own personal sins. The method is for the Judge of all the earth to determine and no one else. In sooth, since suffering must come to the sinner, I would sooner have it through parents than in any other way; for that medium seems to afford some alleviating considerations. Love modifies suffering, cools its fires on the nerves, and lessens its pressure on the heart.
2. The evil which thus descends to us from our ancestors is not to be compared with that which we produce ourselves. With evils that are transmitted to you there can be no remorse. You bear them as calamities; and you have the grace of heaven, the sympathy of the good, and the smiles of an approving conscience to enable you to bear them with calm magnanimity, and even with triumphant exultation.
3. Whilst this hereditary principle of the Divine government entails evil, it also entails good. Whence came our political constitution, which, notwithstanding its defects, affords a better guarantee of personal liberty, social order, and human progress, than any other government under heaven? Did we elaborate it ourselves? No. It is the production of days. It has grown out of the enlightening instructions, the importunate prayers, the patriotic sacrifices and struggles of the best men of the generations that are gone.
4. This hereditary principle tends to restrain vice and stimulate virtue. What sacrifices will not parents of the ordinary natural affection make to serve the interest of their children! Now the hereditary principle of government brings this mighty impulse in the world’s heart to act in the restraint of evil and in the development of good.
III. The time will come when men will cease entirely complaining of this principle. In “those days” of universal knowledge, virtue, and blessedness, not a solitary man will be found to complain of this hereditary principle in the Divine government. Every man shall have such an insight into the nature of God’s administration that he shall see the wisdom and feel the beneficence of this principle. In “those days” the successive generations of holy and happy men will clearly see that the good, that will then have come out of this principle to humanity, will far out-measure all the evil that has ever grown out of its operation, through all the past history of man. In “those days,” parents, through many a circling age, down to the solemn day of doom, will transmit nothing to their offspring, but halesness of constitution, elasticity of intellect, purity of felling, nobleness of soul, and honour of name, knowledge, and blessed example, on which it shall leave its successor to lay another, and thus on for centuries; until humanity shall find itself on that rich and lofty soil, where the choicest productions of paradise will bloom for ever.
1. This subject serves to show the right which every reformer has to protest against the sins of individuals.
2. It serves to show the solemn responsibility of the parental character.
3. It serves to show that the best way to elevate the race is to train the young.
4. It serves to throw some light upon what is called “original sin.” A deterioration of our nature, and a disturbance of our moral relations, is a fact palpable to every eye, incontrovertible to every intellect, conscious to every soul
5. It serves to indicate the philosophy of Christ’s incarnation. (Homilist.)
I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.
The new covenant
The old and new covenants are placed in opposition to each other. The latter is represented as being--
I. More effective in its provisions.
II. More comprehensive in its range.
1. An important truth implied. It is the duty of those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious, to be zealous in instructing those around them.
2. A cheering assurance given. “They shall all know Me,” &c.
3. A striking reason adduced. “For I will forgive their iniquity,” &c. To know God savingly, is to know Him as a sin-forgiving God, and that the enjoyment of His pardoning mercy is an evidence of our interest in all the other blessings of the Gospel covenant.
III. More secure as regards its stability. “Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun,” &c. The carnal and hypocritical He would indeed cast off; but for the encouragement of the spiritual seed of Israel, the most stable things in the universe are referred to as a pledge of the immutability of His gracious purposes. (Expository Outlines.)
The new covenant
I. The Christian religion is described as a new covenant. This covenant would be new, for it had predecessors, and God is said to have made a covenant with Noah when He promised that a judgment like the flood should not be repeated, and with Abraham when He promised Canaan to his descendants for an everlasting possession, and imposed the condition of circumcision. But by the phrase “the old covenant” is meant especially the covenant which God made with Israel as a people when Moses descended from Mount Sinai. At later periods in Israel’s history this covenant was again and again renewed--as by Joshua, at Shechem; as by King Asa, at Jerusalem; as by Jehoida, the priest, in the temple, and by the priesthood and people together, under Hezekiah, and under the auspices of Ezra and Nehemiah in later days still, after the great captivity. It was renewed and it was continually broken. It was a Divine work, and yet, through man’s perverseness, it was a continuous failure. The new “covenant”: it is a phrase which sounds somewhat strange to the ears of Christians, who have been accustomed all their life to talk of the New “Testament.” A covenant is a compact or agreement, and it implies something like equal fights between those who are parties to it. Monarchs make covenants or treaties with monarchs, nations with nations. Even when, as sometimes happens, the government of a great Power enters into contracts with a house of business, or with an individual, this is because the firm or the person in question is for the purposes of the contract on terms of equality with the negotiating government, as having at disposal some means of rendering it a signal service, which, for the moment, throws all other considerations into the background. And this general equality between parties to a covenant may be further illustrated by the case of the most sacred of all possible human contracts, the marriage tie--that marriage tie which, by the law of God, once made, can be dissolved only by death, and in which it is the glory of the Christian law--I do not speak of human legislation in Christian times--to have secured to the contracting parties equal rights. It is, then, a little startling to find this same word employed to describe a relation between the infinite and eternal God and the creatures of His hand. He wants nothing when He has everything to give. Man needs everything, and can do nothing that will increase the blessedness that is already infinite, or enhance a power which, as it is, knows no bounds. But here are covenants between God and man, covenants in which there seems no place for reciprocity, covenants in which indulgence or endowment is all on one side, and acknowledgment, or, rather, failure, on the other; covenants in naming which language seems to forget its wonted meaning, and to betray us into misconceptions, which bring, to say the least, bewilderment and confusion; and yet, in reality, when God speaks of making a covenant with man, He is only giving one more instance of that law of condescension of which the highest results appeared when He, the Infinite, took on Him a human form, when He, the Eternal, entered as a man into fellowship with the children of time. A covenant, then, is a contract or compact, and the question cannot but occur to us, “Might the covenant which God makes with His people not come to be called, as it is called, a testament? for the words covenant and testament” represent in our English Bibles a single word in each of the original languages. The Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria, who some 200 years or more before our Lord turned the Old Testament, bit by bit, from Hebrew into Greek, as it was wanted for use in the service of their synagogue, and then made of these fragments the great version which we to-day call the Septuagint, used the Greek word for “will” to translate the Hebrew word for “covenant,” because they observed that the old covenant of God with the patriarchs and with Israel did involve actual bequests such as was the possession of Canaan, which could only be inherited in a distant future. And thus the Hebrew word meaning a contract was strained, if you please, by its actual use to mean a testament, and the Greek word meaning primarily, although not exclusively, a will acquired by its associations the sense of a covenant or contract. He who by His providence controls the course of human events and the currents of human thought does also most assuredly take human speech so that it may do His work, and it is His doing and not any chance irregularity that the original word in the New Testament has thus come to mean both covenant and testament, for that which it was intended to describe answered to both meanings. Religion as such, and the religion of the Gospels especially, is at once a compact with God and a bequest from God. The Gospel, I say, is a compact or covenant, because its blessings are provisionally bestowed. They must be met by faith, hope, love, repentance. And it is also a will or testament more obviously than was the Mosaic covenant, for it was made by our Divine Lord when His death was in full view, and when He, who alone could use such words without folly or without blasphemy, took the cup into His blessed hands, and when He had given thanks He gave it to His followers, saying, “Drink ye all of this; for this is My blood of the New Testament, which is being poured out for you and for many for the remission of sins.” And yet this very testament is so conditioned as to be a covenant too, and the solemn words to which I have just referred were but an echo in an after age of the saying in the prophets, “Behold, I make a new covenant.”
II. Of this new covenant in the gospels there were according to jeremiah to be three characteristics. We cannot suppose that he is giving us an exhaustive description. He selects these three points because they form a vivid and easily understood contrast between the new covenant and the old, between Christianity and Judaism.
1. In those who have a real part in the new covenant the law of God was not to be simply or chiefly an outward rule, it was to be an inward principle. The law was to be no longer an outward rule condemning the inward life or even rousing the spirit of rebellion: it was to be an inward operation, not running counter to the will, but shaping it and claiming obedience, not from fear but from love, and from love heightened to enthusiasm. It was to present itself, not as a summons from without the will, but as an impulse from within the soul; not as declaring that which has to be done or foregone, but as describing that which it was already a joy to forego or to do; in short, a new power, the Spirit of Christ, giving Christians s new nature; the nature of Christ would be within the soul and would effect a change.
2. The second token of a part in the new covenant is the growth of the soul in the knowledge of Divine truth. In ancient Israel, as now, men learned what they could learn about God from human teachers, but the truths which they learned, though inculcated with great industry, were, in the majority of cases, not really mastered, because there was no accompanying process of interpretation and readjustment from within. It was to be otherwise in the future. In the new covenant the Divine Teacher, without dispensing with such human instruments as we are, would do the most important part of the work Himself. He would make truth plain to the soul, and would enamour the soul with the beauty of truth by such instruction as is beyond the reach of human argument and human language, since it belongs altogether to the world of spirits. “Ye have an unction from the Holy One,” said St. John to his readers, “and ye know all things.” “Listen not,” cries St. Augustine, “too eagerly to the outward words: the true Master sits within.
3. A third characteristic of the new covenant was to be the forgiveness of sins. This, although stated last, is really a precedent condition of the other two. “This is a true saying., and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save stoners,” and this salvation of His must begin with pardon, and this pardon is the crowning triumph of the new covenant between God and man. (Canon Liddon.)
The new covenant
This particular portion of the chapter is the only clear evangelical declaration in the Book. It reads more like Isaiah than Jeremiah. It must have been a great gladness to that sad-hearted and sorrowful prophet to have this glimpse of coming restoration and grace for his sinful and sorely afflicted people. He was all the more glad to pour in this balsam because he had hitherto been giving them salt for their wounds and wormwood to drink.
I. The new plantation. Hitherto it had been his sad and sorrowful duty to declare to the people God’s purpose to “root out, to pull down, and to destroy and throw down”; but now the time has come to fulfil his task of declaring God’s purpose to “build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). The devastation of the lend of Israel end Judah had been complete, the slain of the people vast in numbers; the utter taking away and dispersing of the ten tribes had left but a remnant even before the captivity of Judah. The promise of a restoration of Judah to the land would be, even when fulfilled, but the return of a mere handful of people and cattle. So small, indeed, that the land would still seem to be desolate for want of inhabitants, and in poverty for want of cattle. In view of this very discouraging outlook the prophet speaks this most comforting promise.
1. The sowing--“I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man, and with the seed of beast.” The same promise was made to Israel and Judah by Ezekiel 36:9-11, and by Hosea 2:23. This promise seems to include the gathering in of the Gentiles as well, just as the same covenant promise is made to them as to the returned Jews. The figure is one of the greatest encouragement. The remnant of the people and cattle are as the handful of seed for the ground, but God will so bless them that they shall increase like seed sown before s great harvest that shall fill the land. The same thought is expressed in Psalms 72:16. This prophecy was scarcely realised in the return from Babylon, but it had the beginning of its fulfilment then. There is a suggestion here of the method of multiplication of the people; as seed sown in the ground multiplies into a great harvest, so shall living Christians multiply themselves in those whom they are the means of converting to God. How Andrew multiplied himself when he found Peter, who after was the means of winning three thousand souls at one preaching! Stephen multiplied himself through Saul of Tarsus. In this latter case seed was literally sown in the ground, and out of the martyr blood sprung the apostle of the Gentiles.
2. The watching--“And it shall come to pass that like as I have watched over them to pluck up,” &c., “so will I watch over them to build and to plant, saith the Lord.” The growth of God’s kingdom in the earth among men is not a mere process of nature. It goes on in the power of God’s special and supernatural gifts of grace, and is carried forward under His watchful eye and fostering care. Not one least convert makes his appearance in the world but that God watches over him to protect and defend. His promise is that “ their soul shall be as a watered garden” (verse 12). It is comforting to know that God’s promise of grace and favour is as true as His threats have proved. If sin has abounded to our ruin, let us know that grace doth much more abound to our salvation.
3. The new individual relation between God and the people. The saying which the prophet alludes to: “The fathers have eaten a sour grape and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” shall no longer be in vogue when that day of grace of which the prophet speaks comes. He condemns the saying, as does Ezekiel 18:1-3. There was a certain truth in the saying, but it had been perverted, and the entire proverb had been quoted in such a way as to cast a reproach of injustice upon God. As a matter of fact, there is a law of heredity, both physical and moral, to which every one must submit. It is impossible to shut one s eyes to the fact; but then according to God’s law, and especially according to His grace, moral responsibility does not attach to this hereditary transmission of consequences unless the heir consents to the father’s sin and walks in his way. Any individual descendant may break the heredity at any point he pleases by turning to the Lord. It is also true that in former times God dealt with the nation as such, rather than with individuals. The nation’s sin brought their present calamities upon them, in which many individually righteous men suffered; but in the days to come the national will give place to the individual relation. This for two reasons. First, the nation as a whole will have learned righteousness in that day, and so it will come to pass that the individual transgressor will be so conspicuously by himself, that it will be seen at a glance that his suffering or judgment will rest upon the fact of his own sin. Hitherto the individually righteous man had been so rare in the nation that he was overlooked and swept away in the tide of the nation’s punishment, just as Caleb and Joshua were carried back into the wilderness for forty years with the whole unbelieving nation. But, second, there is s distinct advance in thought by the prophet in the direction of that individuality of relation which characterises the new covenant in distinction from that which was so apparent in the old. Under the law the oneness and entirety of the nation was maintained; under the Gospel the individual soul is brought before God. “Every one of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). Nothing could more mark the great advance in thought than this prophetic declaration.
II. The new covenant. As if to explain and justify his new doctrine, he announces the fact of a new covenant. This is the first distinct announcement of the new dispensation under this title. This covenant is to differ radically in terms and contents from the old covenant which God made with the children of Israel when He brought them out of Egypt. Reference is clear to the New Testament dispensation, as may be seen from Hebrews 8:1-13. By a covenant is meant an appointment by God. We are not to understand that God entered into a contract with man. He appointed certain things, promised certain things, upon certain conditions which the people were to perform. But the covenant or agreement was wholly of His own making. The old covenant, so far as the blessings were concerned, had failed utterly because of the utter failure of the people to “do the things” which God commanded. Therefore He has taken it away and substituted another covenant, based upon better promises--one in which He not only proposes blessings, but undertakes to fulfil the conditions upon which they shall flow in to us.
1. Some contrasts. The old covenant was broken by the disobedience of the people, though in the administration thereof God had acted throughout as a forgiving husband who was constantly compounding the sins of an unfaithful wife. But this new covenant is kept and secured by the performance of all its conditions by God Himself, acting in and through Christ (Hebrews 8:6). The old covenant was a faulty one, never intended indeed to be the means of their salvation, but only to remind them of their sin and show them their helplessness. Not faulty in the thing it was intended to accomplish, but in its final ability to save; whereas the new covenant, made in and with Christ for our sakes, is a perfect covenant in terms and in fulfilment, and so does secure our salvation (Hebrews 8:6-13; Hebrews 10:1-22; Romans 8:3-4). The old covenant had a complicated and elaborate ceremonial, which could not be understood or administered except by priests and ministers, and then but imperfectly; the new covenant is simply based on the one complete offering which Jesus Christ has made for all time and for all people; He being at once tabernacle, priest, altar, offering, and minister. We simply, as sinners, go to God by Him, confess that we are stoners, acknowledge that we are helpless either to get rid of sin or maintain righteousness, and call upon Him to save us. This He does fully, freely, and eternally by His grace, without any merit of our own. Under the old covenant the provisions for the cancelling of sins were not only imperfect but utterly futile, every offering made by man through the priests being in fact but a remembrance of sin, not a removal of it; whereas in this new covenant there is perfect provision (Hebrews 10:1-39.). Therefore on its basis the forgiveness of sins is freely proclaimed (verse 34; Hebrews 10:17-18).
2. Chief characteristics. The prophet mentions three--
(1) Inwardness. “I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” The terms of the old covenant, indeed its whole contents, were written first on tables of stone and then all its detail in external laws, which the people were compelled to bind between their eyes, on their wrists, and fix them on the door-plates of their houses and the posts of their gates. The whole relation was as between an outward law and an outward obedience. The law commanded and the subject had to obey. The law of Moses did not take account of thoughts or motives, only of actions. The action was not that of faith, but of works. But this new covenant is not so proclaimed and written. Jesus shows in the Sermon on the Mount that true righteousness extends to thoughts and motives, and so the true life of God is not in externals, but in heart relation to God. Therefore we are God’s children, not by national or family relation, but by a new birth, by faith in Jesus Christ. We obey the law not because of outward pressure, but from inward conviction, not by the fear of external punishment, but by the constraint of an inward love. In the new creation which comes to believers under the new covenant (2 Corinthians 5:17), they are not bound by a multitude of statutes and minute rules, but constrained by a personal love to and for Jesus Christ. It is now an affectionate loyalty to a Divine Person; no longer a fearful obedience to an external, cold and pitiless law. An old writer says, in answer to an anxious inquiry as to what a Christian may and may not do: “Love God and do what you please.” That is, if the heart is controlled by the love of God, if the law is written in the heart, then the Christian will know what is right and wrong by the instinct of the law of righteousness in him, and will only desire to do that thing which heart and conscience teach him. Christ in us the hope of Glory is the best law a Christian can have. This is to walk with God, and to walk with God is certainly to walk in paths of righteousness.
(2) Knowledge. “And they shall teach no more every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know Me from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.” I think the sense of this passage is that, under the new covenant with the law in the inward parts and written in the heart, the system shall not be dependent on intellectual training or culture. Philosophical or scientific knowledge must be painfully taught and more painfully learned. The young child is often as enlightened in the things of the Spirit as the aged scholar; the ignorant negro as intelligent in spiritual things as his cultured master. This knowledge is for the least as well as the greatest, and is dependent not so much upon teaching and learning as upon spiritual apprehension (1 Corinthians 1:13 -end, 2:1-10). So also John declares that, with this law in our hearts and the Spirit of God for a teacher, we are not dependent upon anyone to teach us the essential truth of the Gospel (1 John 2:27).
(3) Universality. “From the least to the greatest is an expression which carries with it the idea of universality as to the race. The old covenant was confined to the Jewish people, the new covenant, or the Gospel, is “for all people.” The terms of the covenant of grace are the same to all; the masses of heathendom are to be dealt with just as the so-called Christian nations. There is no difference” now, for as all have sinned, all have been brought under the provisions of grace. Let the covenant, then, be published abroad.
3. The contents of the Covenant. These are three--
(1) “I will be their God.” This was a promise under the old covenant; it shall be more than confirmed under the new. They had forfeited the right of having Him for their God by their breach of His covenant, but now that which could not be theirs by law comes to be theirs by Grace. After His resurrection, Jesus sent this message to His disciples (John 20:17). This is the relation now. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the same close and blessed way He is our God and Father.
(2) “They shall be My people.” Not an outward and earthly people, but an heavenly and spiritual. Every one shall be born of the Spirit, and each one is so an offspring of God. This promise is often emphasised in the closing Book of Revelation (Revelation 21:3-4).
(3) The forgiveness of sin. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Matthew 26:28). This is the great promise which the apostle held out to the people: “Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 13:38). We might multiply passages innumerable to show this great blessing, and how it glows in the forefront of all those of the new covenant. Not only does He forgive our iniquities, but He utterly forgets them (Psalms 32:1).
III. Assurances. The wonderful covenant promises are now guaranteed by such assurances as must satisfy any people or any soul. God appeals to the heavens, where He has set the sun, moon, and stars for lights by day and night, whose permanence is accepted; He appeals to the ocean, which obeys some mysterious power, and never fails. As long as they endure, so shall the terms of this covenant stand. When heaven and earth can be measured and searched out, and the ordinances of heaven and earth fail, then shall the seed of Israel fail, but not till then (verses 36, 37). (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
Jeremiah’s prophecy of the new covenant
1. Of two things we may be sure beforehand.
(1) The prophet’s hope of permanent well-being in the future wilt not be based on any expectation of the people doing better, but rather on the faith that God in His grace will do more for them and in them. The action of Divine love may, nay, doubtless will, transform human nature so as to make the people of the new covenant veritable sons of God; but the initiative will lie with God, not with men; and just on that account the new covenant will be stable as the ordinances of the sun and moon and stars.
(2) Since the new constitution is to be introduced on the express ground of dissatisfaction with the old, its provisions will be found to have a pointed reference to those of the latter, and to be of such a character as to supply the needful remedy for their defects.
2. Looking now into the prophecy itself, we find that the description which it gives of the peculiarities of the new covenant exactly answers to these expectations.
(1) God appears most conspicuously throughout as the agent. He is the doer, man is the passive subject of His gracious action. He is the giver, man is but the receiver. The old covenant ran, “Now therefore, if ye will obey,” &c. (Exodus 19:5). In the new covenant there is no “if,” suspending Divine blessing and favour on man’s good behaviour. God promises absolutely to be their God, and to regard them as His people, and to insure the relation against all risk of rupture by Himself making the people what He wishes them to be.
(2) There is an obvious reference to the defects of the old covenant in the provisions of the new. Whereas, in the case of the old, the law of duty was written on tables of stone; in the case of the new, the law is to be written on the heart; whereas, under the old, owing to the ritual character of the worship, the knowledge of God and His will was a complicated affair in which men generally were helplessly dependent on a professional class, under the new, the worship of God would be reduced to the simplest spiritual elements, and it would be in every man’s power to know God at first hand, the sole requisite for such knowledge as would then be required being a pure heart.
(3) Whereas, under the old, the provisions for the cancelling of sin were very unsatisfactory, and utterly unfit to perfect the worshipper as to conscience, by dealing thoroughly with the problem of guilt--of which no bettor evidence could be desired than the institution of the great day of atonement, in which a remembrance of sin was made once a your, and by which nothing more than an annual and putative forgiveness was procured--under the new, on the contrary, God would grant to His people a real, absolute, and perennial forgiveness, so that the abiding relation between I-lira and them should be as if sin had never existed.
3. We must enter a little into detail by way of further explanation.
(1) That the contrast is rightly taken in the first of the three conditions will be disputed by few, if any. One cannot read the words, “I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts,” without thinking of the tables of stone which occupy so prominent a place in the history of the Sinaitic covenant. And the writing on the heart suggests very forcibly the defects of the ancient covenant, in so far as it had the fundamental laws of life. The slabs on which the ten words are inscribed may abide as a lasting monument, proclaiming what God requires of man, saying to successive generations, Remember to do this and to avoid doing that. But while the stone slabs may avail to keep men in mind of their duty, they are utterly impotent to dispose them to perform it; in witness whereof we need only refer to Israel’s behaviour at the foot of the mount of lawgiving. Manifestly the writing on the heart is sorely wanted in order that the law may be kept, not merely in the ark, but in human conduct. And that, accordingly, is what Jeremiah puts in the forefront in his account of the new covenant, on which restored Israel is to be constituted. How the mystic writing is to be achieved he does not say, perhaps he does not know; but he believes that God can and will achieve it somehow; and he understands full well its aim and its certain result in a holy life.
(2) Dispute is most likely to arise in connection with the second condition, referred to in the words, “They shall teach no more every man his neighbour,” &c. The primary lesson we take to be, that spiritual knowledge in the new time will take the place occupied by ritual under the old. Spiritual knowledge is a kind of knowledge which can be communicated to each man at first hand, and which indeed can be communicated in no other way. God, as a Spirit, reveals Himself to each human spirit, to each individual man who has a pure heart and who worships in spirit and in truth. On the other hand, the knowledge of positive precepts, such as those contained in the ritual system, can be only obtained at second hand. One man, who has himself been taught, must teach others. The reason, the conscience, or the heart could never reveal God’s will as embodied in such carnal ordinances. And only on supposition that a tacit reference to the ritual system is intended can the full force of the words “They shall teach no more every man his neighbour” be perceived. For what was it in the Sinaitic covenant that made men dependent on their neighbour for the knowledge of God? Surely it was the ritual system. The priest s lips kept knowledge, and men had to seek the Torah, the needful instruction in religious ritual, at his mouth. And it was a grievous bondage, a sure index that the old covenant could not be the final form of God’s relation with men, but was destined one day to be antiquated and replaced by a better covenant with better promises. For these reasons, we find in this part of the oracle concerning the new covenant the prediction that the ritual law would form no part of the final covenant between God and His people, and that in the good time coming men should not be kept dependent on priests and far from God by an elaborate ceremonial; but, taught of the Spirit, should worship God as Father, offering unto Him the spiritual rational service of devout thoughts and gracious affections. So it was understood by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who gives prominence to the ritual of the old covenant as one of the things most urgently demanding antiquation (Hebrews 9:1).
(3) The third blessing of the new covenant, the complete and perpetual forgiveness of sin, is so clearly defined that no dispute can arise as to its nature; the only point open to debate is the feature of the old covenant, to which it contains a tacit reference. We assumed that the mental reference is to the provision in the Levitical system for the cancelling of sin, especially the great day of atonement. Jeremiah evidently speaks as one who feels that the old Sinaitic covenant, at this point as at others, was seriously defective. It made elaborate arrangements for cancelling the sins of ignorance and precipitancy committed by the people, so that these might not interrupt their fellowship with God; and yet there was no real effective forgiveness. For many of the more grievous offences there was not even an atonement of any kind provided. The Levitical forgiveness was thus both partial and shadowy; the problem of human sin was not thoroughly grappled with. All this Jeremiah felt; and therefore, in his picture of the ideally perfect covenant, he assigns a place to a forgiveness worthy of the name--a forgiveness covering the whole of Israel’s sins: her iniquities as well as her errors; and not merely covering them, but blotting them out of the very memory of heaven.
4. But on what does this free, full, and absolute forgiveness of the new covenant rest? The Levitical forgiveness was founded on Levitical sacrifices. Is the forgiveness of the new covenant to be founded on the sacrifice “of nobler name”? That is a question which the student familiar with his New Testament will very naturally answer in the affirmative; and we all know the answer given in the Epistle to the Hebrews. But if it be asked, What is Jeremiah’s answer to the question? we must reply, None. The glorious thought that the ideals of priesthood and of sacrifice can then only be realised when priest and victim meet in one person, does not seem as yet to have risen above the horizon. And yet one may well hesitate to make an assertion when he reads Isaiah 53:1-12, or even those significant words of Jeremiah himself, “I was like a lamb that is brought to the slaughter.” The idea that a man, and not a beast, is the true sin-bearer is struggling into the prophetic consciousness. If the sun of this great doctrine is not yet risen, its dawn may be discerned on the eastern sky. (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
A new covenant
I. The blessings of the new covenant.
1. God undertakes to write His law in our hearts.
2. God undertakes to establish a relation between Himself and us.
3. God undertakes to give us the knowledge of Himself.
4. God undertakes to pardon all our iniquities.
II. The difference between the old and new covenants.
1. In the freeness of their grants.
2. In the extent of their provisions.
3. In the duration of their benefits. (G. Brooks.)
I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.
The newness of the covenant
A covenant is a contract or agreement between two parties, binding each to the other, and equally binding on both. The eligibility of any such covenant depends on the fitness of the parties concerned to carry out the terms, the conditions of it,--when on both sides equally, there is alike the will and the power to act upon it, to adhere to it. The two parties to the covenant referred to in the preceding verse, were “the God of Israel,” and “the house of Israel.” It was made “with their fathers in the day that He took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt.” That was the date of it. It was a covenant of mutual friendship or goodwill, and of mutual service. He was “an husband unto them (Jeremiah 31:32), and it was something equivalent, in respect of sacredness, to the marriage vow by which, as His chosen bride, their fidelity was pledged to Him. Which covenant, however, they brake. Their idolatry was “adultery.” The only claim which Israel had thereafter was to “get a bill of divorcement, and to be put away.” Her merited doom would have been final rejection,--to have had “a full end made” of her, as there was to be, as there has been, of the other nations, such as Babylon, whither the Lord scattered her. Instead of this, however, a wondrous announcement, prefaced by the word “Behold,” is here made (Jeremiah 31:33). The former covenant having come to nought, through the failure of one of the contracting parties, God Says, He will make another,--He will make another with the same “treacherous house of Israel” He will bind Himself to them anew. But He Will so make it this time, as to ensure its being kept. He will become bound for both the parties, He will undertake for the fidelity of His partner, as well as for His own. It is the “covenant of grace,” of which the text speaks, as the presently existing regime, the basis of the constitution, under which,-as the subjects of God’s moral government, we now live; the covenant, one and alone, without a second, like the one bow in the cloud,” in the day of ram, spanning the world in its embrace. It is new in form, though not in substance. It was new to Adam, the first covenant-transgressor, when, instead of doom, he found in it deliverance. It was new to Abraham, when his faith in it was counted to him for (or unto) righteousness, when he received the seal of his acceptance with God, not after, but “before he was circumcised.” It was new to as many of Abraham’s posterity, under the law, as had faith enough to discern its newness through the haze, and amid the shadows of that comparatively dark economy,--devout men like Simeon, and devout women like Anna, who waited for the “consolation of Israel.” It was new--a new revelation to the world--when that new thing was created in the earth of which the prophet speaks (Jeremiah 31:22), the sinless humanity of Christ, when “God sent forth His Son,” &c. It is new still to every newly awakened sinner, when he first gets a sight of it, reads it with his own eyes, and finds out that there is a place in it for him. It is new in this respect, that it shall never be “old,” or become obsolete, or go out of date, or lose its charm, or disclose all that is wonderful in it, never, even in eternity! There are four clauses, or articles, in it, setting forth the fourfold provision which He has made for carrying it into effect, i.e., for carrying out what has been His invariable purpose, in all His transactions with men as His creatures, from the beginning, even to “bless them,” by making and keeping them obedient to Himself--to make them happy, in their being obedient and holy.
1. Clear understanding. “I will put My law into their mind.” God does this when He lets us see ourselves as the breakers of it, and Christ as the keeper, the fulfiller of it,--when He reveals to us the length, the breadth, the spirituality, the beauty of the law,--in Christ’s living and dying, obedience to it,--how it was “magnified” by Him!
2. Permanent Impression. “I will put My law into their mind,”--to dwell there. I will “write it in their hearts,” so as to be indelible, and so as to be ever at hand, available, as a rule of duty, a standard of appeal.
3. There is, however, something more engaged for on our behalf than mere acquiescence or approval. There is pleasure and delight. What is “written in the heart” is the object of thy heart’s esteem, love, complacency. And this is true of God’s law; when He writes it, then He makes its very strictness look beautiful, its severity seem “sweetly reasonable.” Its perfection becomes its charm.
4. Where there is clear intelligence, and constant remembrance, and cordial choice of the law, there will also be--there cannot but be--an abiding, practical influence,---a loyal subjection to it, such as the legal, carnal mind, that is so fond of making a bargain with God, will not, cannot yield. (J. G. Burns.)
Means of the world’s conversion
I. What instrument will be employed to bring about the blessed condition of the human family predicted in the text. This instrument is Divine truth, most expressively called in the text, knowledge of the Lord: that is, the exhibition of the Divine character, more than any other truth, before all consciences, is to be the mighty engine by which heaven will work out the moral revolution of the world. What is the moral law itself, but God’s character--a catalogue of His perfection, written out in the form of precepts? The soul that knows what God is, sees intuitively what itself ought to be. To know Him, is to know His character, His government, His rights, His claims on us, and our duties to Him. It is to know His plan of mercy,--His Son, and His Spirit--His pardoning and sanctifying grace.
II. By what methods and agency is this grand instrument to be applied to the renovation of the world? How is this knowledge of the Lord to be spread all over the earth, and to be brought in contact with every human heart? In this stage of the Church’s history at least, it is evidently the Divine arrangement that men shall be themselves the instruments of saving their own race. That this is the way to do a great work, we learn from the analogies of the natural world. How are the coral isles of the ocean made? Not by being upheaved, by some great convulsion, from the bosom of the deep; but by the ceaseless labours of little insects, each of which works in its own place, and adds its mite to the accumulated mass. It stops not to form combinations and lay plans, but labours in its sphere. How is the huge globe watered, and made productive? Not by great seas, but by little streams, or, rather, by single drops of rain and dew, each refreshing a single leaf, or blade of grass. How is bread produced for the millions of mankind? Each stalk of corn becomes responsible for a limited number of grains. And, in the moral world, we see the same results produced in the same way. How is it that vice is propagated? How are drunkards, gamblers, and infidels made? Not by wholesale, but by individual contact. One corrupt heart infects some other heart: one polluted soul taints some other soul with the infection of its own depravity; and thus recruits are ever multiplied for the host of Satan. Let it be so in the work of salvation. Let each Christian labour to rescue his neighbour and his brother, and how soon will the world “be filled with the knowledge of the Lord”! Nor will such benevolence be restricted to its own immediate circle. A genuine concern for the salvation of one soul is of the nature of the most enlarged philanthropy. From this subject we learn--
1. The true remedy for all our social and political evils. It is by spreading the knowledge of the Lord.
2. The excellence of those methods of doing good, which exercise the conscience on questions of personal duty. Hence the excellence of all those forms of effort in which teaching is employed: the mother amid her children--the teacher of a Sabbath School, or Bible class--the faithful distributor of tracts--and, pre-eminently, the pastor and the missionary.
3. The mode in which revivals of religion may be promoted. A revival that shall penetrate the mass of the community, must be carried into it by the living agents, who are accustomed to mingle with the mass; and who will go hither and thither, attaching themselves to individuals. (C. Hall.)
The law written on the heart
I. This tablets upon which God writes His law. “I will put My law in their inward parts.”
1. Thus, you see, the Lord has selected for His tablets that which is the seat of life. It is in the heart that life is to be found, a wound there is fatal: where the seat of life is, there the seat of obedience shall be.
2. Observe next, that not only is the heart the seat of life, but it is the governing power. It is from the heart, as from a royal metropolis, that the imperial commands of the man are issued by which hand and foot, and eye and tongue, and all the members are ordered. Ii the heart be right, then the other powers must yield submission to its sway, and become right too.
3. But before God can write upon man’s heart it must be prepared. It is most unfit to be a writing-table for the Lord until it is renewed. The heart must first of all undergo erasures. It must also experience a thorough cleansing, not of the surface only, but of its entire fabric. Truly, it was far easier for Hercules to purge the Augean stables than for our hearts to be purged; for the sin that lies within us is not an accumulation of external defilement, but an inward, all-pervading corruption. In addition to this, the heart needs to be softened, for the heart is naturally hard, and in some men it has become harder than an adamant stone. Nor would the softening be enough, for there are some who have a tenderness of the most deceiving kind. They receive the Word with joy: they feel every expression of it, but they speedily go their way and forget what manner of men they are. They are as impressible as the water, hut the impression is as soon removed; so that another change is needed, namely, to make them retentive of that which is good: else might you engrave and re-engrave, but, like an inscription upon wax, it would be gone in a moment if exposed to heat. In a word, the heart of man needs to be totally changed, even as Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again.”
II. The writing. “I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” What is this writing?
1. First, the matter of it is the law of God. God writes upon the hearts of His people that which is already revealed; He inscribes there nothing novel and unrevealed, but His own will which He has already given us in the book of the law. Observe, however, that God says He will write His whole law on the heart, this is included in the words, “My law.” God’s work is complete in all its parts, and beautifully harmonious. He will not write one command and leave out the rest as so many do in their reforms. Mark, again, that on the heart there is written not the law toned down and altered, but “My law,”--that very same law which was at first written on the heart of man unfallen.
2. But to come a tittle closer to the matter: what does the Scripture mean by writing the law of God in the heart? The writing itself includes a great many things. A man who has the law of God written on his heart, first of all, knows it. God’s Spirit has taught him what is right and what is wrong: he knows this by heart, and therefore can no longer put darkness for light, and light for darkness. This law, next, abides upon his memory. God has given him a touchstone by which he tries things. It is a grand thing to possess a universal detector, so that, go where you may, you are not dependent upon the judgment of others, and therefore are not deceived as multitudes are. This, however, is only a part of the matter, and a very small part comparatively. The law is written on a man’s heart further than this: when he consents unto the law that it is good; when his conscience, being restored, cries, “Yes, that is so, and ought to be so. That command by which God has forbidden a certain course is a proper and prudent command: it ought to be enjoined.” But, furthermore, there is wrought in the heart by God a love to the law as well as a consent to it, such a love that the man thanks God that He has given him such a fair and lovely representation of what perfect holiness would be; that He has given such measuring lines, by which he knows how a house is to be builded in which God can dwell Thus thanking the Lord, his prayer, desire, longing, hungering, and thirsting, are after righteousness, that he may in all things be according to the mind of God.
3. If anybody should inquire how the Lord keeps the writing upon the heart legible, I should like to spend a minute or two in showing the process. He enlightens by knowledge, convinces by argument, leads by persuasion, strengthens by instruction, and so forth. So far also we know that one way by which the law is kept written upon a Christian’s heart is this,--a sense of God’s presence. The believer feels that he could not sin with God looking on. Next, the Christian has a lively sense within him of the degradation which sin once brought upon him. But a sense of love is a yet more powerful factor. Let a man know that God loves him, let him feel sure that God always did love him from before the foundations of the world, and he must try to please God. Another very powerful pen with which the Lord writes is to be found in the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Besides that, God actually establishes His holy law in the throne of the heart by giving to us a new and heavenly life. Once more, the Holy Ghost Himself dwells in believers.
III. The writer. Who is it that writes the law upon the heart? It is God Himself. “I will do it,” saith He.
1. Note, first, that He has a right to indite His law on the heart. He made the heart; it is His tablet: let Him write there whatever He wills.
2. Note, next, that He alone can write the law on the heart. This is noble work, angels themselves cannot attain to it. “This is the finger of God.” As God alone can write there and must write there, so He alone shall have the glory of that writing when once it is perfected.
3. When God writes He writes perfectly. No holiness can excel the holiness produced by the Holy Spirit when His inward work is fully completed.
4. Moreover, He writes indelibly. I defy the devil to get a single letter of the law of God out of a man’s heart when God has written it there. Written rocks bear their inscriptions long, but written hearts bear them for ever and ever.
IV. The results of the law being thus written in the heart.
1. Frequently the first result is great sorrow. If I have God’s law written on my heart, then I say to myself, “Ah me, that I should have lived a law-breaker so long! This blessed law, this lovely law, why I have not even thought of it, or if I have thought of it, it has provoked me to disobedience. Sin revived, and I died when the commandment came.”
2. The next effect of it is, there comes upon the man a strong and stern resolve that he will not break that law again, hut will keep it with all his might.
3. That strong resolve soon leads to a fierce conflict; for another law lifts up its head, a law in our members; and that other law cries, “Not so quick there: your new law which has come into your soul to rule you shall not be obeyed: I will be master.”
4. But does not something better than this come of the Divine heart-writing? Oh yes. There comes actual obedience. The man not only consents to the law that it is good, hut he obeys it; and if there be anything which Christ commands, no matter what it is, the man seeks to do it,--not only wishes to do it, but actually does it; and if there be aught that is wrong, he not only wishes to abstain from it, but he does abstain from it.
5. As this proceeds, the man becomes more and more prepared to dwell in heaven. He is changed into God’s image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And will be their God-God in the covenant
I. How Is God Especially The God Of His Own Children? We answer, that in some things God is the God of all His creatures; but even there, there is a special relationship existing between Himself and His chosen creatures, whom He has loved with an everlasting love. And in the next place, there are certain relationships in which God does not exist towards the rest of His creatures, but only towards His own children.
1. First, then, God is the God of all His creatures, seeing that He has the right to decree to do with them as He pleases. He is the Creator of us all; He is the potter, and hath power over the clay, to make of the same lump, one vessel to honour and another to dishonour. He is the God of all creatures, absolutely so in the matter of predestination, seeing that He is their Creator, and has an absolute right to do with them as He wills. But here again He has a special regard to His children, and He is their God even in that sense; for to them, while He exercises the same sovereignty, He exercises it in the way of grace and grace only. Again, He is the God of all His creatures, in the sense that He has a right to command obedience of all But even here there is something special in regard to the child of God. Though God is the ruler of all men, yet His rule is special towards His children; for He lays aside the sword of His rulership, and in His hand He grasps the rod for His child, not the sword of punitive vengeance. Again, God has an universal power over all His creatures in the character of a Judge. He will “judge the world in righteousness and His people with equity.” Our loving God is the Judge who shall acquit our souls, and in that respect we can say He is our God. So then, whether as Sovereign, or as Governor enforcing law, or as Judge punishing sin; although God is in some sense the God of all men, yet in this matter there is something special towards His people, so that they can say, “He is our God, even in those relationships.”
2. But now there are points to which the rest of God’s creatures cannot come; and here the great pith of the matter lies; here the very soul of this glorious promise dwells. God is our God in a sense, with which the unregenerate, the unconverted, the unholy, can have no acquaintance, in which they have no share whatever. First, then, God is my God, seeing that He is the God of my election. If I be His child, then has He loved me from before all worlds, and His infinite mind has been exercised with plans for my salvation. If He be my God, He has seen me when I have wandered far from Him; and when I have rebelled, His mind has determined when I shall be arrested--when I shall be turned from the errors of my ways. He has been providing for me the means of grace, He has applied those means of grace in due time, but His everlasting purpose has been the basis and the foundation of it all; and thus He is my God as He is the God of none else beside His own children. Furthermore, the Christian can call God his God, from the fact of his justification. A sinner can call God--God, but he must always put in an adjective, and speak of God as an angry God, an incensed God, or an offended God. But the Christian can say “my God” without putting in any adjective except it be a sweet one wherewithal to extol Him. Again, He is the believer’s God by adoption, and in that the sinner hath no part.
II. The exceeding preciousness of this great mercy. “I will be their God.” I conceive that God, Himself, could say no more than that.
1. Compare this portion with the lot of thy fellow-men! Some of them have their portion in the field, they are rich and increased in goods, and their yellow harvests are even now ripening in the sun; but what are harvests compared with thy God, the God of harvests? Or, what are granaries compared with Him who is thy husbandman, and feeds thee with the bread of heaven? Some have their portion in the city; their wealth is superabundant, and in constant streams it flows to them, until they become a very reservoir of gold; but what is gold compared with thy God? Some have their portion in this world, in that which most men love--applause and fame; but ask thyself, is not thy God more to thee than that? What, if a thousand trumps should blow thy praise, and if a myriad clarions should be loud with thine applause; what would it all be to thee if thou hadst lost thy God?
2. Compare this with what thou requirest, Christian. To make thee happy thou wantest something that shall satisfy thee; and come, I ask thee, is not this enough? Will not this fill thy pitcher to its very brim, ay, till it runs over? But thou wantest more than quiet satisfaction; thou desirest, sometimes, rapturous delight. Come, soul, is there not enough here to delight thee? Put this promise to thy lips; didst ever drink wine one-half so sweet u this, “I will be their God”? Didst ever hear harp or viol sound half me sweetly as this, “I will be their God”? But then thou wantest something more than present delights, something concerning which thou mayest exercise hope; and what more dost thou ever hope to get than the fulfilment of this great promise, “I will be their God”? O hope! thou art a great-handed thing; thou layest hold of mighty things, which even faith hath not power to grasp; hut though large thine hand may be, this fills it, so that thou canst carry nothing else. I protest, before God, I have not a hope beyond this promise. “Oh,” say you, “you have a hope of heaven.” Ay, I have a hope of heaven, but this is heaven--“I will be their God.”
III. The certainty of this promise; it does not say, “I may be their God”; but “I will be their God.” Nor does the text say, Perhaps I shall be their God; no, it says, I will be their God. Oh! cries the sinner, “I will not have Thee for a God.” “Wilt thou not?” says He, and He gives him over to the hand of Moses; Moses takes him a little and applies the club of the law, drags him to Sinai, where the mountain totters over his head, the lightnings flash, and thunders bellow, and then the sinner cries, “O God, save me!” “Ah! I thought thou wouldst not have Me for a God?” “O Lord, Thou shalt be my God,” says the poor trembling sinner, “I have put away my ornaments from me; O Lord, what wilt Thou do unto me? Save me! I will give myself to Thee. Oh! take me!” “Ay,” says the Lord, “I knew it; I said that I will be their God; and I have made thee willing in the day of My power.” “I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
IV. Make use of god, if He be yours. It is strange that spiritual blessings are our only possessions that we do not employ. There is the mercy-seat, for instance. Ah, my friends, if you had the cash-box as full of riches as that mercy-seat is, you would go often to it; as often as your necessities require. But, you do not go to the mercy-seat half so often as you need to go. Most precious things God has given to us, but we never over-use them. The truth is, they cannot be over-used; we cannot wear a promise threadbare; we can never burn out the incense of grace; we can never use up the infinite treasures of God’s loving-kindness. But if the blessings God gives us are not used, perhaps God is the least used of all. Though He is our God, we apply ourselves less to Him, than to any of His creatures, or any of His mercies which He bestows upon us. Have thou not a God lying by thee to no purpose; let not thy God be as other gods, serving only for a show: have not a name only that thou hast a God. Since He allows thee, having such a friend use Him daily. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Christian’s portion in God
Christian! here is all thou canst require.
1. To make thee happy thou wantest something that shall satisfy thee; and is not this enough? Desire is insatiable as death, but He who filleth all in all can fill it. The capacity of our wishes who can measure? but the immeasurable wealth of God can more than overflow it.
2. But thou wantest more than quiet satisfaction; thou desirest rapturous delight. Come, soul, here is music fit for heaven in this thy portion, for God is the Maker of heaven. Not all the music blown from sweet instruments, or drawn from living strings, can yield such melody as this sweet promise, “I will be their God.” Here is a deep sea of bliss, a shoreless ocean of delight; come, bathe thy spirit in it; swim an age, and thou shalt find no shore; dive throughout eternity, and thou shalt find no bottom.
3. But thou wantest more than present delights, thou cravest something concerning which thou mayest exercise hope; and what more canst thou hope for than the fulfilment of this great promise, “I will be their God”? This is the masterpiece of all the promises; its enjoyment makes a heaven below, and will make a heaven above. Live up to thy privileges, and rejoice with unspeakable joy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
They shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them.
Good things to come
A blessed season is here spoken of, very unlike what the world has hitherto seen. Such acquaintance with God is meant, as brings the power, the justice, the mercy, the holiness of God before the mind, and applies them so closely to the heart, that it may be ruled and actuated by that knowledge. And if it is this, and nothing less than this, then may we justly say, The time is not come, of which the prophet speaks, when “all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest, saith the Lord.” And it were a vain speculation to inquire when it shall be. These are among “the times and the seasons, which God hath reserved in His own power.” But it is not a vain speculation, and by God’s blessing it may prove “good to the use of edifying,” if we inquire how it might be--how this blessed consummation may be obtained, and the promise brought to its fulfilment. Looking, then, at the fulfilment of the prophecy, I first observe, that we have no ground for expecting that “all will know the Lord,” because mankind will bring another nature into the world--a nature which of its own accord shall turn towards God and righteousness. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” and the time will never cease, when they who are taught of God to understand themselves will be forced to confess, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh, my original nature) dwelleth no good thing.” Neither have we any right to expect that they shall know Him by any fresh or more general revelation This was not needed even by the Jews, to whom the promise was addressed. Our Lord declared that the knowledge of God was sufficiently Within their reach, if their hearts had not been closed against it. “They had Moses and the prophets--let them hear them”; they would teach them to “know the Lord.” How much more, then, is it true of those on whom the Sun of Righteousness has risen--“the brightness of the Father’s glory, the express image if His person,” in whom dwelleth “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”! The agency, therefore, to which we are to look for the accomplishment of the prophecy, is no other than that from which whatever is good in man has been derived from the beginning. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the God and Father of lights.” If the patriarchs served God “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation”--if Enoch and Abraham were governed by His laws--it was because His Spirit wrote them in their hearts; if they possessed the knowledge of God, it was because that knowledge was implanted in them by His Spirit. And so, when “all shall know the Lord, from the least to the greatest,” it will be the same Spirit which worketh all in all. But “there are diversities of gifts, though the same Spirit; and there are differences of administrations, though the same Lord”; and there are differences of results, even in the same administration. The means producing the abundant harvest will be no new means; the Spirit will “take of the things of God,” and write them in the heart by the instrumentality already in operation; the difference will be, that the instrumentality will be, first, universal, and secondly, more successful. It will be more universal. “All shall know the Lord, from the least to the greatest”; from the youngest to the eldest, from the richest to the poorest. All, therefore, shall know Him from their youth; all shall be “brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” “They shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord”; this shall be no longer needful. And why is it needful now? Partly, and for a first reason, because too many grow up without that knowledge; and they who from their years and experience in earthly things ought to be teachers in spiritual wisdom, are often children in real understanding. How few are accustomed to hear the knowledge of God treated as if it were “the one thing needful” to be acquired, and “the one thing needful” to be retained! How few parents use this language to their children--“Seek knowledge, acquire learning; but first learn to know the Lord!”--“the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and the knowledge of Him, that is understanding.” No wonder, then, that the impression made upon their tender minds, in regard to the God in whom they have their being, is like the footprint in the sand, washed away by the first wave of temptation, and quickly obliterated by the daily inroads of the world. But there are other classes, of which the larger part of human society must ever be composed. Shah we, then, leave the rich--reverse the prophet’s course, and now betake ourselves to the poor? Do they “know the way of the Lord, and the judgment of their God”! Alas! they have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bands. Multitudes spring up from youth to manhood, with no more knowledge of the Lord than they might have possessed if the Lord had not revealed Himself to the world. If they hear His name, it is to hear it blasphemed; if they learn that the Lord has spoken to men, it is to learn that His message is despised. Whenever, then, the destined time shall arrive, when “all shall know the Lord, from the least to the greatest,” all “from the least to the greatest” will be nurtured in the faith and fear of God. Christian instruction will be universal. Now it is rare--now it is partial--now it is imperfect, and marred by inconsistency; then it Will be general and complete. But further, Christian instruction, as it will be universal, so also it will be efficient and successful. I say not that it is unsuccessful now; I believe that it is greatly honoured of God, and that they bring a false report of the land of promise who reproach it as vain and unprofitable; but its effect is now impeded by so many hindrances. Its rarity is a hindrance. Those who have been taught to “know the Lord,” are encompassed on every side by those who know Him not. Take the most favoured case; the child who has hitherto “sat beside the still waters,” and drank of the pure fountain of piety and holiness, must soon be launched on the wide ocean of the world--must take his course among those who have gone with the stream of the multitude, and are guided by no scriptural direction; the parent who has sown good seed in his son’s heart, and prays for its growth and fruitfulness, looks round after a while, and sees (we trust he sees) the wheat appearing--but he cannot help seeing that it is surrounded by tares, and how must he fear lest the tares should prevail and overspread it! In proportion, therefore, as education in Divine knowledge will become general, we may believe that it will become effective and permanently influential, If each one in his own household, and each one in his own neighbourhood, made this their chief and earnest care, that those in whom they are interested and by whom they are surrounded should know the Lord from their youth, the prophet’s words might be fulfilled, and the whole community become one well-ordered family, “walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost”; “all, from the least to the greatest,” might be taught of God, blessing the pious endeavours of His people, and giving effect to the means which, in dependence on His grace, they would employ; all might “walk with God,” as Enoch--might trust in Him, as Abraham--might fear Him, as Joseph--might submit to Him, as Eli--might set Him before their eyes, as David--so that, “living and dying, they might be the Lord’s.” (Archbishop Summer.)
The duty of extending religious knowledge
I. The existing ignorance supposed. The impression that there is a God is seldom obliterated from the human mind. But this persuasion subsisting alone, or in connection with the grossest error, comes far short of making wise unto salvation. Oh! how lost is the immortal mind to all true apprehensions of Deity, when it can stoop to the worship of stocks and stones, the works of men’s hands. Yet the heathen are not alone ignorant of God. It would be some relief if the eye, after surveying pagan lands, and compassionating these dark places of the earth filled with the habitations of horrid cruelty, could retreat securely to the nations of Christendom, and there soothingly repose on pervading spiritual intelligence. But, alas! there are multitudes in these favoured countries whose religious tuition has yet to be commenced, who have all the ignorance of heathens, wanting only its palliations. Nor does this remark apply only to the illiterate. A vast proportion of the learned themselves have still to acquire the veriest rudiments of this heavenly science. The list of the ignorant is not yet completed. To attain its completion, we must go to Christian sanctuaries. Yes, even of those who attend in the house of God, numbers seem as little instructed by their attendance as if they were frequenting heathen or Mohammedan temples. Their ears are inured to the sound of the Gospel, and this familiarity with its accents they are apt to mistake for acquaintance with its import. Thus wide are the realms of ignorance, and I need not tell you that its sway is most destructive. Without knowledge there can be no faith, for how can we believe what we do not know? And without faith, we are Divinely assured, it is impossible to please God.
II. As incumbent on us while ignorance lasts, the duty of teaching every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord. You will readily admit the propriety of teaching every man his brother. You will own at once that Andrew, finding his brother Simon, did right in bringing him to Jesus, and that all Christian members of families would do well to imitate this commendable example. But, alas! the interval is often wide between a verbal acknowledgment of duty and its vigorous performance. And is it not so here? Are not Christians themselves too sparing in expostulation with careless, unawakened relatives? You would stand between them and temporal destruction, and the more they were bent on such ruin, the more you would remonstrate. And will ye give place to them, then, and facilitate their progress when they are madly encountering eternal destruction, and hastening to the gates of the second death? You observe, however, that you are required, moreover, to teach every man his neighbour. Here many will at once understand us to speak of missionary agents, not deeming themselves at all qualified for personally instructing a benighted neighbourhood. But this conclusion we cannot reach so hastily. It is often adopted as self-evident when it has no evidence, when it is on the contrary most erroneous and criminal. There are now Tract Societies and Christian Instruction Societies, which employ many members of our Churches in diffusing through the streets and lanes of our city the knowledge of the only true God. Why may not others join their number? Change of labour is sometimes rest; and if the maxim ever apply, it must surely hold good, when we pass from anxious wasting tasks to those scenes and subjects which prove all affliction to be light and momentary, and elevate the soul to a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. One hour a week, where more cannot be conceded, may be space enough for great usefulness. Yea, it were presumptuous to limit the happy effect of a single visit, for a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. It must be allowed, however, that all have not equal facilities for the personal prosecution of such works and labours of love; and even though they had, it would still be their duty to engage others in this service as well as themselves. Some are willing to devote their lives to the extension of Christ’s kingdom, if you will devote a portion of substance to their support. The proposal is most reasonable surely, and assigns you the easier department of the treaty. By adopting it, and reducing it to energetic practice, you may teach your neighbour and brother in the largest and noblest acceptation of the terms.
III. The ultimate prevalence of knowledge by which such obligations shall be superseded. The phrase, “from the least of them unto the greatest of them,” may be differently understood, but in every view it is delightfully significant. Does it refer to age? How beautiful on the one hand to see little children entering the kingdom, to see God, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings, perfecting praise; and to witness on the other hand maturity of years and grace identified, to see the grey hairs a crown of glory being found in the way of righteousness How affecting to see these extremes of life united in devotion, the infant and the ancient joining the tender and the wrinkled hand to approach in fellowship the Father of mercies! Again, does the language refer to station? How attractive to see the degraded rising in character, and comfort, and piety, and the exalted humbly stooping from their loftiness to acknowledge and embrace the lowliest followers of the Lamb! to see all envy on the one hand, and all disdain on the other utterly lost and swallowed up in fraternal endearment. And these shall not be verdant spots in the desert as infrequent as lovely; the whole earth shall be such a paradise, for righteousness and peace shall spring forth before all the nations. And how shall this consummation be attained? Doubtless by God fulfilling His promise of putting His law in men’s inward parts, and writing it on their hearts. But will He do so directly and independently of His revealed Word? No; we as the instruments in His hand must disseminate that Word, and then He will open men’s understanding to understand the Scriptures. How honouring to be employed by such an Agent in such a work and for such ends! (D. King.)
The Church’s duty to the world, and the promised result of its performance
I. The church’s present duty.
1. The knowledge of God is essential to the well-being and happiness of man for time and for eternity--in other words, that it is essential to his salvation. It matters not in what region they may dwell, it matters not under what other circumstances favourable to their advancement in civilisation or commerce or the arts they may or may not be placed; such must be the lamentable result in every case where men live and die without the knowledge of God, while the guilt of such ignorance and the misery which it entails are only heightened and aggravated by the circumstance, when the ease occurs in a Christian land where the fight of the Gospel is wisely diffused.
2. A destitution of this knowledge is the natural condition of mankind.
3. The knowledge of God is that kind of knowledge which above all others we should be anxious to diffuse.
4. The way in which this knowledge is to be communicated is suggested in the text and adopted by this institution. We are to “teach.” We must exhort men to the attainment of this knowledge, as to an imperative duty. We must admonish them of the melancholy consequence of remaining in ignorance. We must warn them of their danger, whilst they continue thus ignorant of God and alienated from Him. We must reason with them, and remonstrate with all possible earnestness and affection, “if peradventure God may grant them repentance to the belief of the truth.”
II. The glorious prospect unfolded to the Church in connection with this duty, as a reward for its performance--and which, when fully realised, will render the performance of this duty no longer necessary; for then “they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord,” for there shall be no more necessity, the work shall have been done, and “they shall know the Lord” each and every one, “from the least of them” through all the grades of society “unto the greatest of them,” from the meanest to the most exalted.
1. The nature of the blessing which is thus assured. It is the possession and enjoyment of the knowledge of God.
2. The extent to which this blessing shall be diffused. It shall be universal. Riot and disorder, debauchery and drunkenness, robbery and fraud, assassination and murder, shall no more be known; for all those vile lusts and furious passions in the human breast, whence these enormities proceed, shall be eradicated and subdued, and men shall be bound together in one common bond of brotherhood and love. Then uprightness and integrity shall be the prevailing principles of commerce and of trade. Then the office of the judge shall become a sinecure, and the prison a solitude, and the criminal and the felon a name and a character belonging to a former state of things. Then “Holiness to the Lord shall be written upon the bells of the horses”; and men shall learn to combine diligence in business and honourable industry in their lawful callings, with the fervour of an ardent piety and supreme devotedness to God, while none shall undermine or overreach, none shall tyrannise or oppress, none shall slander or traduce, “none shall hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mountain.” (T. Raffles, D. D.)
Knowing the Lord through pardoned sin
If we regard this passage as instructive in its order, the knowledge of God follows close upon the application of the law to the heart. The work of grace usually begins, so far as we can perceive it, by the Holy Spirit’s bringing the law into contact with the inner man. The law outside of a man is forgotten; he may profess a reverence for it, but it does not affect his desires and thoughts. But when the Holy Spirit begins to put the law into the inward parts, the immediate result is the discovery of our shortcomings and transgressions, law-work is grace-work in its darker dress. It is the axe which rough hews the timber which grace goes on to fashion and smooth. By the operation of the law upon the conscience, convincing the man of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, the Holy Spirit works towards the transforming of the heart. He takes away the stone out of it, and makes it to be a fleshy, tender, sensitive thing. Then with His own finger He writes the Divine law upon the mind and the affections, so that the Divine commands become the centre of the man’s life, and the governing force of his action. The man now loves that law which before he, at his very best, only feared: it becomes his will to do the will of God.
I. The one essential knowledge. “This is life eternal, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” To know God is to live in the light. This knowledge brings with it trust, peace, love, holiness, and acceptance.
1. This knowledge is emphatically the knowledge of God. “They shall all know Me.” They may not know everything about God. Who could? Only the infinite can comprehend the infinite. The regenerate, however, know the Lord, though they do not, and cannot, understand His incomprehensible glories. “They shall all know Me, saith Jehovah.” Believers can say, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father”; can you say that? Were you ever conscious of the presence of God? Has He ever manifested Himself to you in any special way! One said to a Christian lady that he did not believe in the Scriptures, and she replied that she believed, in them, and delighted to read them. When asked her reason, she replied, “Perhaps it is because I know the Author.” Personal acquaintance with God turns faith into assurance. The knowledge of God is the basis of a faith of the surest and sweetest kind: we know and have believed the love which God hath towards us. Knowing God, we believe in the truth of His words, the justice of His sentences, the goodness of His acts, the wisdom of His purposes, yea, and the love of His chastisements.
2. Note, next, that it is a personal knowledge. Each renewed person knows the Lord for himself. You cannot see God with another man’s eyes; you cannot know God through another man’s knowledge. Ye must yourselves be born again! Ye must yourselves be made pure in heart, or you cannot see God.
3. Next, this knowledge is one which is wrought in us by the Spirit of the Lord. It is the duty of every Christian man to say to his neighbour, and to his brother, “Know the Lord.” God uses this effort as His instrumentality for saving men. But the man who really knows the Lord, does not know Him solely by such instruction. All Zion’s children are taught of the Lord. They know God by His revealing Himself to them.
4. Note, carefully, that this knowledge of God becomes manifest knowledge. It is so manifest that the most earnest workers who desire the conversion of their fellow-men no longer say to such a man, “Know the Lord,” for they perceive most clearly that he already possesses that knowledge, so as to be beyond the need of instruction upon that point.
5. Next, this knowledge of God is universal among the regenerate. The regenerate man with one talent knows the Lord; the man with ten talents boasts not of them, but rejoices that he knows the Lord.
6. This is the distinguishing mark of the regenerate, that they know the Lord. The knowledge of God lies at the bottom of every virtue and grace. The Lord is no more to us a stranger of whom we have heard--of whom a report has come to us through many hands. No; the Lord God is our friend.
II. The one grand means of obtaining this knowledge of God. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
1. Without the pardon of sin it is not possible for us to know the Lord. The thought of God is distasteful to every guilty man. It would be good news to him if he could be informed, on sure authority, that there was no God at all Darkness covers the mind, because sin has blinded the soul to all that is best and holiest. While sin lieth at the door, there is a difficulty on God’s part, too. How can He admit into an intimate knowledge of Himself the guilty man, as long as he is enamoured of evil? Beyond this, an awful dread comes over the guilty mind, even when it begins to be awakened. Conscience testifies that God must punish sin.
2. In the pardon of sin there is made to the pardoned man s clear and unmistakable revelation of God to his own soul The knowledge of God received by a distinct sense of pardoned sin is more certain than knowledge derived by the use of the senses in things pertaining to this life.
3. This personal manifestation has about it a singular glory of overwhelming self-evidence. How a man sees God when he comes to know in his own soul the fulness of pardon intended by this matchless word, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more”! Can this be so? Does the Lord make a clean sweep of all my sins? Can it be that the Lord has cast them all behind His back? Has He blotted out the record which accused me? Has He cast my sin into the depths of the sea? Hallelujah! He is a God indeed. This is a Godlike act. O Jehovah! who is like unto Thee? Mark, also, how freely, out of His mere love, the Lord forgives, and herein displays His Godhead! No payment on our part, of suffering or service, is required. The Lord pardons for His own name’s sake.
4. When the soul comes to think of the method of mercy, it has a further knowledge of God. In the extraordinary plan of salvation by grace through Christ Jesus, all the Divine attributes are set in a glorious light, and God is made known as never before. Oh, the splendour of redeeming love!
5. The immutability of Divine pardon is one of the most brilliant facets of the diamond. Some think that God forgives, but afterwards punishes; that you may be justified to-day, but condemned to-morrow. Such is not the teaching of our text. “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” Our debts are so fully paid by our Lord Jesus that there is not an account upon the file of omniscience against any pardoned one. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
God’s forgetfulness of sin
One of the appalling obstacles between sinful men now, and their eternal blessedness hereafter, is the indestructible fact of the memory of sin. The poet Dante, as he wandered through the forest of the terrestrial paradise, came to a stream which on the one side was called Lethe, and on the other Eunoe, for it possessed the double virtue to take away remembrance of offence, and to bring remembrance back of every good deed done. Immersed in Lethe’s wave he forgets his fault, and from Eunoe’s stream he returned
E’en as new plants renew’d with foliage new,
Pure and made apt for mounting to the stars.”
Where flows, then, the stream of happy forgetfulness? A poet’s dream may not beguile us;--what are the facts, the stem, unchangeable facts of memory? Is memory an unalterable record of life? Shall the shadow of this earth always lie before us upon our path? The facts of memory are these. The mind of man is a chamber of memories--a hall of echoes--a gallery of endless whispers--a house haunted by shades of the past. The mind is one labyrinth of memories--like a catacomb of the dead. Recollection is as the torch in the traveller’s hand through this endless labyrinth of memory; but memory itself is the receptacle of all our past. There is a place in it for all the deeds done in the body. All that the mind has been used for remains a memory wrought into its own structure and form. No ingenuity of human art has ever invented to watch the watchman a self-registering machine so accurate, so constant, so unalterably true, as is the human brain--God’s register of the deeds done in the body. Carry now this truth one step further. If in the present physical basis of life there m provision made for memory; if matter so gross as the brain can become the register of the mind; much more may memory be continuous and comprehensive in the spiritual embodiment of the soul; much more shall it be made perfect in the resurrection. The form shall be broken up, and they shall be distributed, dust to dust, and earth to earth; but the soul shall have taken, before this bodily form is broken up, the copy of this mortal life and its deeds, and hence shall continue with the impression of it stamped upon it for ever. But this is not all. Not only do we have in our own organisation a memory of ourselves which we cannot tear from us, but also the universe has a memory of us. The memory of men’s lives is a part of the universe. The record of our life is a line written in the book of things. It belongs to nature. We cannot blot it out. And if we carry this truth of memory still further and higher, we rise to the conception of the unalterable memory of the Eternal. Can God forget? Can God put our sin out of His eternal remembrance? This is not simply a question of power over will. It is not simply a question as to what an Almighty God can do; but what God as an infinitely perfect moral Being will do. There are those who tell us that God out of His mere benevolence van forgive sin, and open the heaven of His holy presence to the sinner who would return. Yes, so might a kind human friend say to one who had done him wrong, “I do not care; you may come back at any time and sit at my table if you please; I will not speak of the offence; I am willing to let it pass”; but still, although unmentioned, the wrong also would be there, sitting at the same table with the two who sit down together again. The wrong once done shall be always as a shadow between them, until something be done to put it away; until something be done to enable both to forget it, something that shall cost some sacrifice, some suffering, some reparation for the wrong, some humiliation, and some manifestation of the evil really inflicted and the pain really felt on account of the sin which is to be forgiven. Something must be said and done once for all of the nature of an atonement for the sin which separates those two, in order that each may experience the joy of a restored friendship, and that full reconciliation in which the wrong done is to be henceforth morally forgotten as well as forgiven. Surely, then, it is not good theology to imagine God to be reconciled to this world at a less effort and at a less cost of sacrifice and suffering than is required for the perfect binding up of a broken human friendship. Reconciliation does cost humiliation, suffering, self-vindication, at least through sorrow and pain for the sin committed, on the part of the person who would forgive, and then the recognition also of this effort and cost of forgiveness on the part of him who is to be forgiven. Otherwise the forgiveness does not reach to the bottom of the wrong, and the healing is only on the surface of life. And shall the infinitely perfect One be less human in His forgiveness than we? How can the Holy One forgive and forget our sin? Heaven’s answer is the Cross of Christ! Through His work of atonement for sin is opened the Divine way of forgetfulness of the sin of the world. God remembers man henceforth as he stands before Him in the nature and grace of Christ. Hence He can forget man as he was without Christ. Justification is God’s covering the knowledge of what we once were in our sins by the blessed and all-transfiguring thought of what His own love in the suffering Redeemer has done and always is for us. And this is no mere act of power or violence over memory. It is no arbitrary act of forgetfulness. It contradicts no ethical principle of memory, human or Divine. It is a moral hiding from the Divine remembrance of the sin of the world, which has been already and once for all condemned in the same suffering for it by which the Divine willingness to forgive was made manifest. Our sin, which God always would forgive, can be sin forgiven and forgotten, because it has been at last perfectly confessed before God, and God’s necessary pain over it has been realised and revealed in the sufferings in it, and for it, of the Son of His love, and its condemnation, once for all, has been visited upon it in the death of Him who prays in God’s pure will that His enemies may be forgiven. If, then, God has made such a morally sufficient atonement for sin that He can forgive it, as He would forgive it, and can forget it without denying Himself, it follows also that we ourselves shall be able to put hereafter our own sin of this life out of mind, and all other pure beings shall be able to let it pass as a dream of the night. (Newman Smyth, D. D.)
God’s non-remembrance of sin
(with Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12; Hebrews 10:17):--These texts are all alike in their declaration that the Lord will not remember His people’s sins. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” Here, then, you have Isaiah and Jeremiah, two Old Testament saints affirming the same thing: is not this enough? Added to these you have the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and these three agree in one. Their united testimony is that Jehovah, the Lord God, will forgive the sins of His people, and do it in so complete a way that He will remember their iniquities no more. Does any unto generate person believe in the forgiveness of sin? I trow not. No man in sincerity believes it until God the Holy Ghost has taught him its truth, and has written it upon his heart. When a man’s sins are set before him in the light of God’s countenance, his first instinct is to fear that they are altogether unpardonable. He looks to the law of God, and while he looks in that direction he will certainly conclude that there is no pardon, for the law knows nothing of forgiveness. It is, “This do, and thou shalt live; disobey, and thou shalt die.” What the law asserts, the understanding also supports; for within the awakened man there is the memory of his past offences, and on account of these his conscience passes judgment upon his soul, and condemns it even as the law doth. Meanwhile, many natural impressions and instincts assist and increase the clamours of conscience; for the man knows within himself, as the result of observation and experience, that sin must bring its own punishment; he perceives that it is a knife which cuts the hand of him that handles it, a sword that kills the man who fights therewith. Meanwhile the devil comes in with all the horrors of the infernal pit, and threatens speedy destruction. Thus, for once, the devil craftily co-operates with the law of God and with conscience; these would drive men to self-despair, but Satan would go further, and compel them to despair as touching the Lord Himself, so as to believe that pardon for transgression is quite impossible. With the desponding I shall try to deal at this time, and may the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, help me to console them.
I. There is forgiveness. Our four texts all teach us that doctrine with great distinctness.
1. This appears, first, in the treatment of sinners by God, inasmuch as He spares their forfeited lives. Assuredly the Lord meant pardon when He tarried to inquire, “Adam, where art thou?” In the morning of human history the Lord’s long-suffering displayed itself and gave promise of larger grace. The like is true of you and of me. If God had no pardons would He not long ago have cut us down as cumberers of the ground?
2. Why did God institute the ceremonial law if there were no ways of pardoning transgression? Why the bullocks and the lambs offered in sacrifice? Why the burnt-offerings in which God accepted man’s gift, if man could not be accepted? Assuredly he could not be accepted if regarded as guilty. Why the peace-offering in which God feasted with the offerer, and the two united in feeding upon the one sacrifice? How could this be unless God intended to forgive and enter into fellowship with men?
3. Further than this, if there were no forgiveness of sin why has the Lord given to sinful men exhortations to repent?
4. If you will think of it you will see that there must be pardons in the hand of God, or why the institution of religious worship among us to this day? Why are we allowed to pray in secret if we cannot be forgiven? What is the value of prayer at all if that first and most vital favour of forgiven sin is utterly beyond our reach? Why are we allowed to sing the praises of God? God cannot accept the praises of unforgiven men; worshippers must be clean ere they can draw near to His altar with their incense; if, then, I am taught to sing and give thanks to God it must be because “His mercy endureth for ever.”
5. What assurance of pardon lies in the ordaining, sealing, and ratifying of the covenant of grace? The first covenant left us under condemnation, but one main design of the new covenant is to bring us into justification. Why a new covenant at all if our unrighteousness can never be removed?
6. Furthermore, why did Christ institute the Christian ministry, and send forth His servants to proclaim His Gospel? For what is the Gospel but a declaration that Christ is exalted on high to give repentance unto Israel and remission of sins!
7. Why are we taught in that blessed model of prayer which our Saviour has left us, to say, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” or, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us”? A star of hope shines upon the sinner in the Lord’s Prayer in that particular petition; for it seems to say, “There is a real, true, and hearty forgiveness of God toward you, even as there is in your heart a real, true, and hearty forgiveness of those who offend against you.”
8. The best of all arguments is this: God has actually forgiven multitudes of sinners.
II. This forgiveness is tantamount to forgetting sin.
1. You know what we do when we exercise memory. To speak popularly, a man lays up a thing in his mind: but when sin is forgiven it is not laid up in God’s mind. Of course the Lord remembers their evil doings, in the sense that He cannot forget anything; but judicially as a judge, He forgets the transgressions of the pardoned ones. They are not before Him in court, and come not under His official ken.
2. In remembering, men also consider and meditate on things; but the Lord will not think over the sins of His people. The great Father’s heart is not brooding over the injuries we have done: His infinite mind is not revolving within itself the tale of our iniquities.
3. Sometimes you have almost forgotten a thing, and it is quite gone out of your mind: but an event happens which recalls it so vividly that it seems as if it were perpetrated but yesterday. God will not recall the sin of the pardoned. The transgressions of His people are dead and buried with Christ, and they shall never have a resurrection. “I will not remember their sins.”
4. Furthermore, this not remembering, means that God will never seek any further atonement. The apostle saith, “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” The one sacrifice of Jesus has made an end of sin. The Lord will never demand another victim, nor seek another expiatory offering.
5. Again, when it is said that God forgets our sins it signifies that He will never punish us for them. How can He when He has forgotten them?
6. Next, that He will never upbraid us with them. “He giveth liberally and upbraideth not.” How can He upbraid us with what He has forgotten?
7. Once more, when the Lord says, “I will not remember their sins,” what does it mean but this--that He will not treat us any the less generously on account of our having been great sinners!
III. Forgiveness is to be had.
1. Why does God forget our sin! Is it not on this wise? He looks upon His Son Jesus bearing that sin.
2. Next remember that this forgetfulness of God is caused by overflowing mercy. God is love: “His mercy endureth for ever”; and He desired vent for His love.
3. How does God forget sin? Well, it is through His everlasting love. He loved His people before they fell; and He loved His people when they fell. “I have loved thee,” saith He, “with an everlasting love”; and when that great love of His had led Him to give His Son Jesus for His people’s ransom, it made Him also forget His people’s sins.
4. Again, God forgets His people’s sins because of the complacency He has in them as renewed and sanctified creatures. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thus saith the Lord, which giveth.
., the stars for a light by night.
Stars at midnight
(with John 16:32):--“Two things,” said Kant, “fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above, and the moral law within.” Certainly there are few sights more impressive than the starry heavens. But the stars, in addition to the influence they produce upon the mind of the beholder by their number and magnitude and beauty, serve a practical and a useful purpose in the system to which they belong. They help to guide the mariner to steer his course, and the traveller to discern his way. The darkness is never overwhelming so long as the stars are visible. The sailor who has come within sight of the lights which skirt the coast knows that he is not far from hospitable shores. So the stars convey to us the intimation and the assurance that we are not far from home. Between the dark side of nature and the dark side of human life is there not a striking analogy? Are not our lives a succession of days and nights? Do we not spend our existence partly in the sunshine and partly in the gloom? That He who has done so much for the dark side of nature, kindling those “soft fires” which enlighten the prevalent gloom and shed their benign influences upon the world beneath, should have done nothing to brighten the dark side of human life so as to preclude despair is a suggestion against which all our spiritual instincts rise in quick and emphatic revolt. But our Creator has not, we repeat, left us in unrelieved darkness. So the dark side of human life is never utterly dark, for there are stars shining somewhere in the darkness. It was into the deepening gloom that Christ passed as He drew nearer Calvary. And yet, midnight as it then was with Jesus, there were stars shining overhead. What were the sources of illumination and strength of which Christ availed Himself?
1. The power of communion with God “I am alone, and yet not alone, for the Father is with Me.” The Father was with the Son in approval of His work and in an identity of purpose. A consciousness of a deep underlying agreement with the Supreme will was a source of never-failing strength to Christ in the sacred task which He had undertaken. And never was Christ more conscious of the Father’s smile than when the world was most emphatically hostile. And so, no matter how dark it is if only we can maintain our communion with God--if only we have continued to us the Divine fellowship. Should the world forsake us, we shall be able to stand alone if the Father is with us.
2. The power of persevering prayer was another source of light and strength to Christ. The stars are always visible from the high vantage-ground of prayer. The heavens are never wholly dark to him who can repeat the hallowed name. And this was partly the secret of the strength which animated Christ as He passed through the thick darkness, that “He ofttimes resorted thither.” He had accustomed Himself to pray. “I have meat to eat,” He said, “that ye know not of.” It is well to learn to pray if it is only that we may learn how to stand alone. The time will come when the things upon which we have leaned will no longer afford us any support; when our health will fail us; when the ties which bind us to friends and loved ones will be severed. But he who has learned to pray has found a companionship in solitude which shall avail him in all the lonely crises of his life. It is not that, having found God, we can afford to part with everything else. But it is that, having found Him, we have found the true basis and guarantee of life. The darkness that overtakes us, be it what it may, is only temporary and precedent to the dawn. We have found the pathway of the stars.
3. The power of faith’s great anticipation was another source of light and strength to our Saviour. He anticipated the Cross? Yes. But He anticipated the Crown also. To the eye of sight the Cross was a repulsive object; to the eye of faith it was the tree of life in the midst of the garden. He said to Himself, “The Cross will not be the end, but the beginning of My influence and power for good in this world, and through the sacrifice which I am about to make I shall transform the very gates of death into the gates of life!” These, then, were the great hopes, the high anticipations, shining like stars in the midnight sky, which sustained Christ in the darkness in which He found Himself. Have faith in God, and that faith, like a great pilot-star, shall light you over the roughest sea and in the darkest night. (T. Sanderson.)