Tuesday, June 6th, 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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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 33". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ jeremiah-33.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 33". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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The Word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah the second time, while he was yet shut up in the court of the prison.
A Divine message sent into a prison
I. A true child of God and an honoured prophet in disgrace and affliction (verse 1). Let not the child of God think that his sorrows are always because of his Sins.
II. Though despised of man, the prophet was honoured of God (verses 1, 2).
1. To receive communications from the Divine mind is the highest honour.
2. He whom God honours and owns as His child need not fear what man can do.
III. Divine consolation to an afflicted servant (verse 3).
1. The most precious of all privileges, that of prayer: “Call unto Me.”
2. The most marvellous of all assurances: “And I will answer thee.”
3. The most encouraging of all promises: “I will show thee great and mighty things.”
IV. The adversity and prosperity of nations are under the control of God (verses 4-7).
1. It is impossible properly to construe the history of a nation without reference to the moral government of God.
2. National prosperity or adversity has always been in the line of national virtue or vice.
V. The essential conditions of national as well as individual healing (verses 8, 9).
1. It is essential that God come to do the work. “I will cleanse,” &c.
2. It is essential that God work upon our moral natures. “I will cleanse them from all their iniquity.”
3. It is essential that God work upon our moral natures by the assurance of the forgiveness of sin. “I will pardon all,” &c.
4. This moral and spiritual cleansing and pardon are essential for the appreciation of the Divine goodness: “And they shall fear,” &c.
5. This spiritual healing shall manifest forth the glory of God: “It shall be to Me a name,” &c. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
The method of Divine procedure
The prophet, when the Word of the Lord came unto him, was in a good hearing place, “shut up in the court of the prison.” Shut up unjustly, it was no prison to him, but a sanctuary, with God’s altar visibly in it, and God Himself irradiating the altar with a light above the brightness of the sun. How hardly shall they that have riches hear the Gospel. Their ears are already filled; their attention is already occupied. What keen ears poverty has I What eyes the blind man has!--inner eyes, eyes of expectation. We should have had no world worth living in but for the prison, the darkness, the trouble, the blindness, the sorrow, which have constituted such precious elements in our lot. There would have been no poetry written if there had been no sorrow. Jeremiah heard more in the prison than he ever heard in the palace. God knows where His children are. There are a thousand prisons in life. We must not narrow words into their lowest meanings, but enlarge them into their broadest significance, He is in prison who is in trouble, who is in fear, who is in conscious penitence, without having received the complete assurance of pardon; he is in prison who has sold his liberty, is lying under condemnation, secret or open; and he is in prison who has lost his first love, his early enthusiasm that was loaded with dew like a flower in the morning. Whatever our prison is, God knows it, can find us, can send a word of His own directly to us, and can make us forget outward circumstances in inward content and peace and joy. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Call unto Me, and I win answer thee.
An invitation a promise-a revelation
I. A gracious invitation--“Call unto Me” implies all the constituents of successful prayer.
II. A precious promise--“And I will answer thee.” The invitation accepted, its conditions complied with, always brings the answer.
1. God’s word pledged.
2. God’s nature pledged.
3. Confirmed by the experience of His saints.
III. A glorious revelation--“And will shew thee,” &c.
1. The greatness of God’s love.
2. The power of Jesus to forgive sin.
3. The worth of the soul.
4. The joys and comforts of religion.
5. The victory of faith in death. (J. T. Davies.)
I. The invitation to prayer.
1. Whose is it?
2. To whom is the invitation addressed?
3. What is the tenor of the invitation?
II. The promise.
1. It is general.
2. It is special. Apply
(1) Reprove the prayerless.
(2) Encourage the prayerful. (G. Brooks.)
The golden key of prayer
God s people have always in their worst conditions found out the best of their God. Those who dive into the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls.
I. Prayer commanded.
1. This is great condescension. So great is the infatuation of man on the one hand, which makes him need a command to be merciful to his own soul, and so marvellous the condescension of God on the other that He issues a command of love.
2. Our hearts so despond over our unfitness and guilt that but for the command we might fear to approach.
3. It is remarkable how much more frequently God calls us to Him in Scripture than we find there our sinfulness denounced!
4. Nor by the commands of the Bible alone are we summoned to prayer, but by the motions of His Holy Spirit.
II. An answer promised.
1. God’s very nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ, assures us that He will accept us in prayer.
2. Our own experience leads us to believe that God will answer prayer; e.g., the conversion of many a child has been an answer to parents’ pleadings with God.
3. Yet God does not always give the thing we ask. Lord Bolingbroke said to the Countess of Huntingdon, “I cannot understand, your ladyship, how you can make out earnest prayer to be consistent with submission to the Divine will.” “My lord,” she said, “that is a matter of no difficulty. If I were a courtier of some generous king, and he gave me permission to ask any favour I pleased of him, I should be sure to put it thus: ‘Will your majesty be graciously pleased to grant me such and such a favour; but at the same time, though I much desire it, if it would in any way detract from your majesty’s honour, or if in your majesty’s judgment it should seem better that I did not have this favour, I shall be quite as content to go without it as to receive it.’ So you see I might earnestly offer a petition, and yet might submissively leave it with the king.”
III. Encouragement to faith.
1. Promised to God’s prophet, this specially applies to every teacher. The best way for a teacher or learner in Divine truth to reach the deeper things of God” is to be much in prayer. Luther says, “Bene orare est bene studuisse”--To have prayed well is to have studied well
2. The saint may expect to discover deeper experience and to know more of the higher spiritual life, by being much in prayer.
3. It is certainly true of the sufferer under trial; if he waits on God he shall have greater deliverance than he ever dreamed of (Lamentations 3:57).
4. Here is encouragement for the worker. We know not how much capacity for usefulness there is in us. More prayer will show us more power.
5. This should cheer us in intercession for others.
6. Some are seekers for your own conversion. Pray, and see if God will not “show you great and mighty things.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The text belongs to every afflicted servant of God. It encourages him in a threefold manner.
I. To continue in prayer. “Call unto Me!”
1. Pray, though you have prayed (see Jeremiah 32:16, &c.).
2. Pray concerning your present trouble. In Jeremiah 32:24, the prophet mentions “the mounts” which were raised against Jerusalem, and in Jeremiah 32:4 of this chapter the Lord answers on that very point.
3. Pray though you are still in prison after prayer. If deliverance tarries, make your prayers the more importunate.
4. Pray; for the Word of the Lord comes to you with this command.
5. Pray; for the Holy Spirit prompts you, and helps you.
II. To expect answers to prayer. “I will answer thee, and shew thee.”
1. He has appointed prayer, and made arrangements for its presentation and acceptance. He could not have meant it to be a mere farce: that were to treat us as fools.
2. He prompts, encourages, and quickens prayer; and surely He would never mock us by exciting desires which He never meant to gratify.
3. His nature is such that He must hear His children.
4. He has given His promise in the text; and it is often repeated elsewhere: He cannot lie, or deny Himself.
5. He has already answered many of His people, and ourselves also.
III. To expect great things as answers to prayer, “I will shew thee great and mighty things” We are to look for things--
1. Great in counsel; full of wisdom and significance
2. Mighty in work; revealing might, and mightily effectual.
3. New things to ourselves, fresh in our experience and therefore surprising. We may expect the unexpected.
4. Divine things: “I will shew thee.”
(1) Health and cure (Jeremiah 32:6).
(2) Liberation from captivity (Jeremiah 32:7).
(3) Forgiveness of iniquity (Jeremiah 32:8). (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Prayer and its answer
A young engineer was being examined, and this question was put to him: “Suppose you have a steam-pump constructed for a ship, under your own supervision, and know that everything is in perfect order, yet, when you throw out the hose, it will not draw; what should you think? I should think, sir, there must be a defect somewhere.” “But such a conclusion is not admissible; for the supposition is that everything is perfect, and yet that the pump will not work.” “Then, sir,” replied the student, “I should look over the side of the ship to see if the river had run dry.” Even so it would appear that if true prayer is not answered the nature of God must have changed.
Instant in prayer
Sir Walter Raleigh one day asking a favour from Queen Elizabeth, the latter said to him, “Raleigh, when will you leave off begging?” To which he answered, “When your Majesty leaves off giving.” Ask-great things of God. Expect great things from God. Let His past goodness make us “instant in prayer.”
Prayer the soul’s wings
Thomas Brooks, alluding to the old classical myth of Daedalus, who, being imprisoned in the island of Crete, made wings for himself, by which he escaped to Italy, says, “Christians must do as Daedalus, who, when he could not escape by a way upon earth, went by a way of heaven.” Holy prayers are the wings of the soul’s deliverance. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Calling unto God
What is this calling unto God? Is it a verbal exercise? Is it a mere act of exclamation! Nothing can be further from the meaning. It is a call that issues from the heart; it is the call of need, it is the cry of pain, it is the agony of desire, it is enclosure with God in profound and loving communion. If we have received no answers, it is because we have offered no prayers. “Ye have not because ye ask not or because ye ask amiss,” you have been praying obliquely instead of directly; you have been vexing yourselves with circumlocution when your words ought to have been direct appeals, sharp, short, urgent appeals to Heaven: to such appeals God sends down richness of dew, wealth of blessing, morning brighter than noonday. God will shew His people “great and mighty things.” There is nothing little. The bird in the heavens upon its trembling wing is only little to us, it is not little to God. He counts the drops of dew, He puts our tears into His bottle, He numbers our sighs, and as for our groans, He distinguishes one from the other; these are not little things to Him, they are only little to our ignorance, and folly, and superficiality. God looks at souls, faces, lives, destinies, and the least child in the world He rocks to sleep and wakes in the morning, as if He had nought else to do; it is the stoop of Fatherhood, it is the mystery of the Cross. As to these continual revelations, they ought to be possible. God is infinite and eternal, man is infinite and transient in all his earthly relationships; it would he strange if God had told man everything He has to tell him, it would be the miracle of miracles that God had exhausted Himself in one effort, it would be incredible that the eternal God had crushed into the moment which we call time every thought that makes Him God. Greater things than these shall ye do; when He, the Paraclete, is come, He will guide you into all truth; grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; add to your faith, until you scaffold yourselves up into brotherly love and charity, for from that pinnacle the next step is right into heaven. The question is, Are we in need of further revelation? Do we call for it? We may call for it speculatively, and no answer will he given; we may ask for it for the sake of mere intellectual delectation, and the heavens will be dumb and frowning: but if we try to outgrow God, then we shall know what God is in reality; He challenges the sacred rivalry, He appeals to our emulation to follow Him and study Him, and try to comprehend Him, and then how like a horizon He is, for we think we can touch Him in yonder top, but having climbed the steep the horizon is still beyond. To cleverness God has nothing to say; to vanity He is scornfully inhospitable; but to the broken heart, to the contrite spirit and the willing mind, to filial, tender, devout, obedience, He will give Himself in infinite and continual donation: To this man will I look, for I see My own image in him, My own purpose is vitalised in his experience--the man who is of a humble and contrite heart, and who trembleth at My word, not in servility, but in rapture and wonder at its grandeur and tenderness.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
God’s gracious answers to our prayers
When poor men make requests to us we usually answer them as the echo does the voice; the answer cuts off half the petition. We shall seldom find among men Jael’s courtesy, giving milk to those that ask water, except it be, as this was, an entangling benefit, the better to introduce a mischief. There are not many Naamans among us, that, when you beg of them one talent, will force you to take two; but God’s answer to our prayers is like a multiplying glass, which renders the request much greater in the answer than it was in the prayer. (J. Reynolds.)
Answers to prayer should be eagerly expected
One of the heathen poets speaks of Jupiter throwing certain prayers to the winds,--dispersing them in empty air. It is sad to think that we often do that for ourselves. What would you think of a man who had written and folded and sealed and addressed a letter, flinging it out into the street and thinking no more about it? Sailors in foundering ships sometimes commit notes in sealed bottles to the waves for the chance of them being some day washed on some shore. Sir John Franklin’s companions among the snows, and Captain Allen Gardiner dying of hunger in his cove, wrote words they could not be sure anyone would ever read. But we do not need to think of our prayers as random messages. We should therefore look for a reply to them and watch to get it. (J. Edmond.)
And shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.--
There are different translations of these words. One version renders it, “I will shew thee great and fortified things.” Another, “Great and reserved things.” Now, there are reserved and special things in Christian experience: all the developments of spiritual life are not alike easy of attainment. There are the common frames and feelings of repentance, and faith, and joy, and hope, which are enjoyed by the entire family; but there is an upper realm of rapture, of communion, and conscious union with Christ, which is far from being the common dwelling-place of believers. We have not all the higher privilege of John, to lean upon Jesus’ bosom; nor of Paul, to be caught up into the third heaven. There are heights in experimental knowledge of the things of God which the eagle’s eye of acumen and philosophic thought hath never seen: God alone can bear us there; but the chariot in which He takes us up, and the fiery steeds with which that chariot is dragged, are prevailing prayers. Prevailing prayer is victorious over the God of mercy. “By his strength he had power with God: yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto Him: he found Him in Bethel, and there He spake with us.” Prevailing prayer takes the Christian to Carmel, and enables him to cover heaven with clouds of blessing, and earth with floods of mercy. Prevailing prayer bears the Christian aloft to Pisgah, and shows him the inheritance reserved; it elevates us to Tabor and transfigures us, till in the likeness of our Lord, as He is, so are we also in this world. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Behold I will bring it health and cure.
This passage, in its more immediate application, relates to the city and people of Jerusalem, and conveys a promise to the unhappy nation of the Jews of blessings which are yet in store for them.
The Great Physician
I. The visit which this Good Physician pays to the poor patient who has need of Him. The patient is a wretched being, who, in a spiritual point of view, is diseased from head to foot, and hath “no soundness in him.” He has the disease of human nature, the disease which you and I have--sin. He has become painfully alive to the humiliating fact that there is no good thing in him--that all his doings have been evil--and that the sentence of death eternal hangs over his soul. He cannot heal himself. His fellow-sinners cannot heal him. Is not then his case desperate? It would be so indeed were it not for a voice from heaven which saith of this poor sinner, “I will bring him health and cure.” Every word is a word of comfort to that sinner’s soul. There is comfort in the first word “I”--I will do it. For who is it that speaks? It is Jesus, the great, the mighty Saviour of the soul--that famous, that renowned Physician who hath healed already such a multitude of sinners, and hath never lost a single patient. There is comfort in the next word, “I will bring”--for, alas! this sinner cannot fetch his cure. But look at the last words of the sentence, and behold still more abundant comfort for this perishing transgressor. “I will bring,” saith the Lord--What? A medicine? A healing application that will be likely to avail--that may conduce towards recovery? No, but--Oh, bold words! words only fit for an Almighty Saviour!--I will bring him health and cure--something so sovereign in its virtue, so sure, so swift in its effects, that, the moment it is tried upon the patient, he is well; not only in part restored; not only altogether freed from his disease; but well--in full, in perfect health. The balm which the Physician brings to cure the sinner with is the blood which He hath shed for them, the life which He hath given for them, the full, the perfect and sufficient sacrifice which He hath offered up for them. And this balm, is not medicine only--for that may heal or not heal; that is a mere experiment upon a broken constitution, and may be ineffectual; but the balm which Jesus brings the sinner may well be styled “health and cure”; for it is everything at once which the sinner’s case requires. This precious blood “cleanseth from all sin.” But we have not yet attended this Good Physician to His patient. We have not yet ascertained, I mean, how He may be said to “bring” this “health and cure” to the poor sinner’s soul. It is when He opens that sinner’s eyes to view Him as a Saviour--when, by His word or by His ministers, He sets His love before that sinner’s soul, and by His Holy Spirit makes him see it.
II. Observe the Good Physicial actually curing the poor patient He attends. There is a difference between a remedy brought near, and a remedy applied; and there is a difference again between Christ’s “bringing health and cure” to the sinner, and that sinner’s being cured. “The grace of God that bringeth salvation” is said to “appear unto all men”; but we know that all men to whom it appeareth are not saved by it. Many men perceive that Christ is their Physician, yet will not take His remedy; and many men believe that they have used the remedy when they have only done so in appearance. The patient we have endeavoured to describe is a really humbled and awakened soul, and the Lord, who brings him health, gives him faith also, to be healed. He believes in Jesus as a Saviour. He casts his soul on Him for pardon and righteousness.
III. Now proceed to the blessings my text describes Him as bestowing on the poor patients He has healed. “I will reveal to them,” says He, “the abundance of peace and truth.”
1. We may regard this peace and truth as the privileges of the redeemed sinner. When our poor sick bodies are recovered unexpectedly from a painful and a dangerous disease, how do we rejoice in our newly acquired health! How are our fears calmed and our anxieties removed! but these natural emotions are not to be compared for a moment with the spiritual feelings and experiences of the pardoned sinner; no sooner hath the Good Physician healed the soul than what doth He reveal to it? “The abundance of peace and truth.” Peace--for “being justified by faith, he hath peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Christ “revealeth” also to him “the abundance of truth.” He enjoys, through the Spirit which Christ sends him, a glorious and most comfortable apprehension of the truth of God--of the truth of His grace, of the truth of His covenant, of the truth of His promises.
2. Consider this “abundance of peace and truth” as referring also to the character acquired by the believer in consequence of his faith. Christ may be said to have revealed to His people the “abundance of peace” in that He hath given them a peaceful spirit--in that He hath sent that Dove-like Messenger to rest upon their souls who is “first pure, then peaceable,” and who makes the hearts He enters like Himself. And Christ may be said also to have revealed to him “the abundance of truth,” by enabling him to walk in truth. He is “an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile,” no crooked policy, no artful management. His aim is, on all occasions, to be “a child of the light and of the day”--“sincere and without offence unto the day of Christ”--“having no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reproving them.” (A. Roberts, M. A.)
Health for the soul
I. The patient and his disease. The patient is man; the disease is sin. We see the disease equally in the most refined as in the most ignorant. It stares us in the face when we read of an African negress sacrificing a fowl to her little image; and it shows itself equally when we read of a Grecian philosopher proposing before his death the sacrifice of a cock to Esculapius. We see the ignorance of the true God; we see at the same time such a consciousness of sin that something must be done to appease the apprehension which they have of the reality of a God. But we need a closer application of the subject. You may all of you say perhaps, “I have never been guilty of idolatry; I am neither Mohammetan, nor Socialist, nor Communist, nor an infidel.” Let us look, then, at some of the peculiar features of the disease of sin, and see whether it is not preying upon you as it is upon other men in the world. Now, it is well illustrated by the effect which sickness produces upon our body. For instance, sickness produces languor through the whole body; and this is exactly God’s account of the effect of sin (Isaiah 1:5-6). Take the faculties of man. Take his understanding. The understanding, we are told, “is darkened,” so that man is no longer wise to do good; he is only wise to do evil. Again, look at his will. The will of man has a wrong bias. Once, I cannot doubt, it was true of Adam, as spoken of our Lord in the fortieth Psalm, “I delight to do Thy will, O God; yea, it is within my heart.” I cannot doubt there was a time when that was the natural expression of Adam’s heart; but now it is not the expression of any man’s heart until he is renewed by the Holy Ghost. But again: sickness takes away our desire for what is wholesome. So it is with sinners. They “put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter”; they call darkness light, and light darkness, and evil good, and good evil: whereas the spiritual man delights in the law of God after the inward man renewed by the Holy Ghost. Another effect produced by sickness upon the frame is, that it takes away the comfort of life. There is no enjoyment in anything put before the sick man enfeebled by disease, anything in which he was once able to take delight. Yea, life itself often becomes a burden. Now, what is the burden? Why, sin is the burden; it is this, only you do not know it; it is this which at times poisons the joy even of the most thoughtless--the consciousness of sin, the consciousness of your opposition to a holy God.
II. The physician and the cure. “Behold I will bring it health and cure”--“I”--Jesus. And it has been Jesus always. The remedy may have been stated more distinctly under the Gospel than under the law, but not more really. It was Jesus always, it was the precious blood of Jesus always, pointed at in the very first premise that was made by God, that “the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head.” And salvation has always been shut up in that seed. It may have been expressed sometimes as being Abraham’s seed, sometimes the seed of Isaac, and sometimes the seed of Jacob, but it had only one meaning; as the apostle said in the third chapter of Galatians, “Not unto seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ.” There is the Physician that God has always revealed. And what is His character? I cannot give you a better picture of Him than He has given of Himself in the parable of the good Samaritan. The wounded man had no charges; he had nothing to pay; the good Samaritan paid for all It is so with Jesus. The only fee, if I may so speak with reverence of Jesus, is--all He asks of us is, that we should trust Him, that we should believe in Him. He holds out to us in the Gospel perfect cure of all our disease, whatever it may be, and however aggravated; and He only says, “Let Me cure you.” And when I point you to this Good Samaritan as a Physician, I would have you remember that He is the only One. I call this another inexpressible mercy, that the poor sinner’s mind, anxious for relief, is not distracted in the Gospel by choosing between physicians. As the sun is clear in the firmament of heaven at noonday, so does Jesus shine forth as the Sun of Righteousness “with healing in His wings “to every poor sinner. And observe how He brings this before you. He says, “Direct your attention, ‘behold,’ take notice, ‘I will bring you health and cure.’” Here is purpose, here is determination, here is sovereign will. “I will cure, I will heal, I will reveal abundance of peace and truth.” We may ask, then, if the way be so simple, “why is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered!” “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” Yes, there is balm, there is the blood of Jesus; there is a Physician, there is Jesus Himself. Then “why is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered!” I will put before you some reasons. Some are not healed because they do not know they are sick. There is often very great mischief going on in our frames without our knowing it. That is the way in which mortal diseases get hold of a man. Then some are not healed because they love their disease. Yea, they love sin. We read of a very celebrated man, St. Augustine, that there was a time when his conscience was so harassed by the oppression of sin, at the same time that his affections were set upon the enjoyment and indulgence of it, that he declared he was afraid his prayers should be heard when he prayed for deliverance from sin. Now I would ask whether that is not the ease with many. Some, again, are not healed because they are not willing to be healed. Our Lord says, “Ye will not come to Me that ye might have life.” Again, some hearts are not healed because they will not take the Gospel remedies. What are the two great remedies that Jesus proposes? Repentance towards God, and faith towards Himself. But these are bitter and nauseous draughts to the natural man. There is one other reason which I would give why some are not healed--because they put no confidence in the Physician. Here is the root of all the evil--a want of faith. If they trusted Him, they would trust His word; and if they trusted His Word, they would take His remedies. (J. W. Reeve, M. A.)
I will cleanse them from all their iniquity.
(with Psalms 19:12):--Many think that Jesus came into the world to forgive our sins; which is true, but it is only a part of the truth; for the New Testament reveals that He came to save us from our sins. Forgiveness is a great thing; but cleansing from sin is greater. Any kindly hearted man can forgive an injury; but only an omnipotent God can wash the love of sin from our nature. The Bible reveals that God has both the will and the power to give a clean heart.
I. It is a needful prayer. “Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.”
1. Do not our secret thoughts need cleansing?
2. Our secret imaginations need to be cleansed. Children build fairy castles in the air, and tenant them with the pure, the brave, and the true; but as we grow older, our airy castles begin to be peopled with those whose actions are tainted with sin; and when we arrive at manhood, the unconverted soul builds castles in its imagination in which iniquity abounds without any obstacle to hinder it.
3. Our secret desires need cleansing. If there were no desire for sin, there would be no transgression; and we, therefore, need to pray continually, “Lord, cleanse my sinful desires! Let my longings be washed from their bias to transgression!”
4. Our secret habits need cleansing. When a man yields to a sinful habit it is difficult to break it off. You need superhuman power; and that power shall be granted to all who sincerely ask of God. The sculptor who forms a figure in marble does it gradually by thousands of chisel strokes; and in the same way, when you are forming your soul either for goodness or badness, it is a gradual work. As no man is made an angel in a moment, so no man is made a devil in a moment. It is a work of time. It is first a thought, then a picture in the mind, then a desire, then a hesitating step, and afterwards the boldness of habit. It is hard work battling against a world inclined to sin; it is more difficult to resist a loved one who tempts us; but the hardest battle ever man can fight in this world is when he struggles against his soul’s inclination to think or do evil. And I feel persuaded that no man can cleanse his secret faults without the help of God. But however bad your secret sins may be, you can be purified. Is there anything too hard for the Lord? Christ has unfurled the flag of liberty, and His Spirit now calls on every man who is bound by sin to cry to Him for life!
II. Unbelief hinders us from being cleansed. Some men say, “Nobody can be saved from all their secret faults!” But if the Lord say He will cleanse us from all our iniquity, is it not a wicked thing to doubt it? Perhaps, somebody remarks, “Well, I used to think I might be cleansed from sin, and I tried, but failed every time.” Now let me ask you a question. Were you not a great deal happier when you were seeking to ,conquer your secret faults than you are now? You reply, “Yes, I was happier; but why did I not succeed?” A man who is trying to crush down the sin of his heart is happier than he who is content with the slavery of sin. If he do not succeed, the reason is that he is trying to do for himself what cannot be done without God. Ask the Lord to cleanse. It is your work to bring your soul in faith and prayer to Him, and it is His work to cleanse it.
III. How does the Lord cleanse us? The Jews in times of old were cleansed by being sprinkled with the blood of a beast. But this is not the way in which we are cleansed from secret faults. The Spirit of Christ can enter our souls and can cleanse us from sin. (W. Birch.)
A threefold disease and a twofold cure
Jeremiah was a prisoner in the palace of the last King of Judah. The long, national tragedy had reached almost the last scene and the last act. The besiegers were drawing their net closer round the doomed city. The prophet never faltered in predicting its fall, but he as uniformly pointed to a period behind the impending ruin, when all should be peace and joy. His song was modulated from a saddened minor to triumphant jubilation. The exiles shall return, the city shall be rebuilt, its desolate streets shall ring with hymns of praise, and the voices of the bridegroom and the bride. The land shall be peopled with peaceful husbandmen, and white with flocks. There shall be again a King upon the throne; sacrifices shall again be offered. That fair vision of the future begins with the offer of healing and cure, and with the exuberant promise of my text. The first thing to be dealt with was Judah’s sin; and that being taken away, all good and blessing would start into being, as flowerets will spring when the baleful shadow of some poisonous tree is removed.
I. A threefold view of the sad condition of humanity. Observe the recurrence of the same idea in our text in different words. “Their iniquity whereby they have sinned against Me.”. . . “Their iniquity whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against Me.” You see there are three expressions which roughly may be taken as referring to the same ugly fact, but yet not meaning quite the same--“iniquity, or iniquities, sin, transgression.” Suppose three men are set to describe a snake. One of them fixes his attention on its slimy coils, and describes its sinuous gliding movements. Another of them is fascinated by its wicked beauty, and talks about its livid markings, and its glittering eye. The third thinks only of the swift-darting fangs, and of the poison-glands. They all three describe the snake, but they describe it from different points of view. And so it is here. “Iniquity,” “sin,” “transgression” are synonyms to some extent, but they do not cover the same ground. They look at the serpent from different points of view. First, a sinful life is a twisted or warped life. The word rendered’ “iniquity,” in the Old Testament, in all probability, literally means something that is not straight; that is bent, or, as I said, twisted or warped. That is a metaphor that runs through a great many languages. I suppose “right” means the very same thing--that which is straight and direct; and I suppose that “wrong” has something to do with “wrung”--that which has been forcibly diverted from a right line. We all know the conventional colloquialism about a man being “straight,” and such-and-such a thing being “on the straight.” All sin is a twisting of the man from his proper course. Now there underlies that metaphor the notion that there is a certain line to which we are to conform. The schoolmaster draws a firm, straight line in the child’s copybook; and then the little unaccustomed hand takes up on the second line its attempt, and makes tremulous, wavering pot-hooks and hangers. There is a copyhead for us, and our writing is, alas! all uneven and irregular, as well as blurred and blotted. There is a law, and you know it; and you carry in yourself--I was going to say, the standard measure, and you know whether, when you put your life by the side of that, the two coincide. This very prophet has a wonderful illustration, in which he compares the lives of men who have departed from God to the racing about in the wilderness of a wild dromedary “entangling her ways,” as he says, crossing and recrossing, and getting into a maze of perplexity. Ah! is that not something like your life? All sin is deflection from the straight road, and we all are guilty of that. Let me ask you to consult the standard that you carry within yourselves. It is easy to imagine that a line is straight. But did you ever see the point of a needle under a microscope? However finely it is polished, and apparently regularly tapering, the scrutinising investigation of the microscope shows that it is all rough and irregular. The smallest departure from the line of right will end, unless it is checked, away out in the regions of darkness beyond. The second of them, rendered in our version “sin,” if I may recur to my former illustration, looks at the snake from a different point of view, and it declares that all sin misses the aim. The meaning of the word in the original is simply “that which misses its mark.” Now, there are two ways in which that thought may be looked at. Every wrong thing that we do misses the aim, if you consider what a man’s aim ought to be. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.” That is the only aim which corresponds to our constitution, to our circumstances. And so, whatever you win, unless you win God, you have missed the aim. Anything short of knowing Him and loving Him, serving Him, being filled and inspired by Him, is contrary to the destiny stamped upon us all. Then there is another side to this. The solemn teaching of this word is not confined to that thought, but also opens out into this other, that all godlessness, all the low, sinful lives that so many of us live, miss the shabby aim which they set before themselves. I do not believe that any man or woman ever got as much good, even of the lowest kind, out of a wrong thing as they expected to get when they ventured on it. If they did they got something else along with it that took all the gilt off the gingerbread. The drunkard gets his pleasurable oblivion, his pleasurable excitement. What about the corrugated liver, the palsied hand, the watery eye, the wrecked life, the broken hearts at home, and all the other accompaniments? There is an old story that speaks of a knight and his company who were travelling through a desert, and suddenly beheld a castle into which they were invited, and hospitably welcomed. A feast was spread before them, and they each ate and drank his fill. But as soon as they left the enchanted halls they were as hungry as before they sat at the magic table. That is the kind of food that all our wrong-doing provides for us. “He feedeth on ashes,” and hungers after he has fed. And now, further, there is yet another word here, carrying with it important lessons. The expression which is translated in our text “transgressed,” literally means “rebelled.” And the lesson of it is, that all sin is, however little we think it, a rebellion against God. That introduces a yet graver thought than either of the former has brought us face to face with. Behind the law is the Lawgiver. When we do wrong, we not only blunder, we not only go aside from the right line, we lift up ourselves against our Sovereign King. Sins are against God; and, dear friends, though you do not realise it, this is plain truth, that the essence, the common characteristic, of all the acts which, as we have seen, are twisted and foolish, is that in them we are setting up another than the Lord our God to be our ruler. We are enthroning ourselves in His place. Does not that thought make all these apparently trivial and insignificant things terribly important? Treason is treason, no matter what the act by which it is expressed. It may be a little thing to haul down a union-jack from a flagstaff, or to tear off a barn-door a proclamation with the royal arms at the top of it, but it may be rebellion. And if it is, it is as bad as to turn out a hundred thousand men in the field, with arms in their hands.
II. The twofold bright hope which comes through this darkness. “I will cleanse . . . I will pardon.” If sin combines in itself all these characteristics that I have touched upon, then clearly there is guilt, and clearly there are stains; and the gracious promise of this text deals with both the one and the other. “I will pardon.” What is pardon? Do not limit it to the analogy of a criminal court. When the law of the land pardons, or rather when the administrator of the law pardons, that simply means that the penalty is suspended. But is that forgiveness? Certainly it is only a part of it, even if it is a part. What do you fathers and mothers do when you forgive your child? You may use the rod or you may not; that is a question of what is best for the child. Forgiveness does not lie in letting him off the punishment; but forgiveness lies in the flowing to the child, uninterrupted, of the love of the parent’s heart. And that is God’s forgiveness. Do you need pardon? Do you not? What does conscience say? What does the sense of remorse that sometimes blesses you, though it tortures, say? I know not any gospel that goes deep enough to touch the real sore place in human nature, except the Gospel that says to you and me and all of us, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!” But forgiveness is not enough, for the worst results of past sin are the habits of sin which it leaves within us; so that we all need cleansing. Can we cleanse ourselves? Let experience answer. Did you ever try to cure yourself of some little trick of gesture, or manner, or speech? And did you not find out then how strong the trivial habit was? You never know the force of a current till you try to row against it. You may have the stained robe washed and made lustrous white in the blood of the Lamb. Pardon and cleansing are our two deepest needs. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Our sins swallowed up
You see the Thames as it goes sluggishly down through the arches, carrying with it endless impurity and corruption You watch the inky stream as it pours along day and night, and you think it will pollute the world. But you have just been down to the seashore, and you have looked on the great deep, and it has not left a stain on the Atlantic. No, it has been running down a good many years and carried a world of impurity with it, but when you go to the Atlantic there is not a speck on it. As to the ocean, it knows nothing about it. It is full of majestic music. So the smoke of London goes up, and has been going up for a thousand years. One would have thought that it would have spoiled the scenery by now; but you get a look at it sometimes. There is the great blue sky which has swallowed up the smoke and gloom of a thousand years, and its azure splendour is unspoiled. It is wonderful how the ocean has kept its purity, and how the sky has taken the breath of the millions and the smoke of the furnaces, and yet it is as pure as the day God made it. It is beautiful to think that these are only images of God’s great pity for the race. Our sins, they are like the Thames, but, mind you, they shall be swallowed up--lost in the depths of the sea, to be remembered against us no more. Though our sins have been going up to heaven through the generations, yet, though thy sins are as crimson, they shall be as wool, as white as snow. (W. L. Watkinson.)
I will pardon all their iniquities.
The pardon of sin
I. The pardon of sin which Almighty God, in infinite mercy and grace, is now offering to sinners in the Gospel, is a full pardon--that is, it comprehends and extends to every sin, however sinful, and includes all sins, however numerous. It was foretold in ancient prophecy that when the Messiah should come “to make His soul an offering for sin,” He should, by His atoning death, “finish transgressions, make an end of sins, make reconciliation for iniquity, and bring in everlasting righteousness.” Our blessed Saviour having come, as it wee thus written of Him, and having suffered the “just for us the unjust,” the Gospel testimony of His vicarious sufferings declares that His expiatory death has made a full and perfect atonement for all the sins of His people--that He has thereby fully reconciled them to God--that “His blood cleanseth them from all sin”--that “He is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God through Him.”
II. The pardon proclaimed in the Gospel is free--it is vouchsafed by an infinitely gracious God, suspended on no condition whatever to be performed by the sinner as the meritorious ground of its bestowal. It is this absolute freeness of the forgiveness of sin proclaimed in the Gospel that makes it worthy of an infinitely gracious God’s bestowal, and good news to poor, miserable, and wretched sinners. Were it otherwise, it could be no rest to an awakened and alarmed conscience--to a weary and heavy sin-laden soul.
III. The pardon proclaimed to sinners in the Gospel is Everlasting. This makes it a complete pardon. (A. M‘Watt.)
They shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and for all the prosperity that I procure unto it.
Our text suggests at the outset the remark that all the good things which make up prosperity are to be traced unto the Lord. These benefits are not from beneath, but from above; let them not be passed by in ungrateful silence, but let us send upward humble and warm acknowledgments. He who forgets mercy deserves that mercy should forget him. Remark next, that temporal mercies are always best when they come in their proper order. Blessed be God if He has given to us first the fruits of the sun of grace, and then the fruits put forth by the moon of providence. The main thing is to be able to sing, “Bless the Lord, who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases,” and after that it is most pleasant to add, “Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things.” What shall I say of the happiness of those persons who have spiritual and temporal blessings united, to whom God has given both the upper and the nether springs, so that they possess all things needful for this life in fair proportion, and then, far above all, enjoy the blessings of the life to come? Such are first blessed in their spirits and then blessed in their basket and in their store. In their case double favour calls for double praise, double service, double delight in God. And yet, and yet, and yet, if we are very happy to-day, and though that happiness be lawful and proper, because it arises both out of spiritual and temporal things in due order, yet in all human happiness there lurks a danger. There is a wealth which hath a sorrow necessarily connected with it, and I ween that even when God maketh rich and addeth no sorrow therewith, yet He makes provision against an ill which else would surely come. The text speaks of goodness and prosperity procured for us, and then tells us that all danger which might arise out of it is averted by a gracious work upon the heart. The Lord sends a chastened joy. “They shall fear and tremble.” I Let us think a little about the toning down of our great joys.
1. In the cup of salvation there are drops of bitterness, and so must it be, for unmixed delight in this world would be dangerous. When the sea is smooth the ship makes poor sailing. Men are bird-limed by their rest and ease, and have small care to fly heavenward. We are apt to lose our God among our goods, Is it not so? If the world’s roses had no thorns should we not think it paradise, and forego all desire for the gardens above?
2. Unmixed joy would be fallacious, because there is no such thing here below. If a man should become perfectly contented with the things of this world, it would be the result of a false view of things. This is an error against which we should pray; for this world cannot fill the soul, and if a man thinks he has filled his soul with it, he must be under a gross delusion. As to spiritual joy, I say that in no man’s experience can it be long without admixture and yet be true. Never at any moment can a Christian be in such a position that he has not some cause either for dissatisfaction with himself, or fear of the tempter, or anxiety to he faithful in service.
3. Unmixed delight on earth would be unnatural. When the Dutch had the trade of the East in their hands they were accustomed to sell birds of paradise to the untravelled people of these realms. These specimen birds had no feet, for they had craftily removed them, and the merchants declared that the species lived on the wing and never alighted. There was so much of truth in the fable that had they been really and veritably “birds of paradise” they would not have found a place for their feet upon this globe. Truly, birds of paradise do come and go, and flit from heaven to earth, but we see them not, neither can we build tabernacles to detain them. While you are here expect reminders of the fact that this is not your rest.
II. The feelings by which this sobering effect is produced. “They fear and tremble for all the goodness and for all the prosperity that I procure unto it.” Why fear and tremble?
1. Is not this in part a holy awe of God’s presence? “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. The argument for fear and trembling is the work of God in the soul. Because God is working m you there must be no trifling. If the eternal Deity deigns to make a workshop of my nature, I too must work, but it must be with fear and trembling.
2. But next to that there arises up in the mind of every favoured Christian a deep repentance for past sin. Have you not felt as if you could never open Four mouth any more because of all your unkindness to your heavenly Friend? Such penitent, reflections keep the Lord’s people right, by creating a fear and trembling m the presence of His overflowing goodness.
3. Has not your deepest sense of unworthiness come upon you when you have been conscious of superlative mercy? We tremble and are afraid, because of the unutterable grace which has met our utter unworthiness, and rivalled it, until grace has gotten unto itself the victory.
4. Have you never noticed how the Lord brings His people to their bearings, and keeps them steady, under a sense of great love, by suggesting to their hearts the question, “How can I live as becometh one who has been favoured like this? “Did you ever feel that the glory of the palace of love made you afraid to dwell in it?
5. And have you never felt a fear lest God’s goodness should be abused by you? He who has never questioned his own condition had better make an immediate inquiry. He who has never felt great searchings of heart needs to be searched with candles. No man’s hell shall be more terrible than that of the self-confident one who made so sure of heaven that he would not take the ordinary precaution to ask whether his title-deeds were genuine or no.
6. One more thought may also occur to the most joyous believer. He will say, “What if after rejoicing in all this blessedness I should lose it?” “What,” cries one, “do you not believe in the final perseverance of the saints?” Assuredly I do, but are we saints! There’s the question. Moreover, many a believer who has not lost his soul has, nevertheless, lost his present joy and prosperity, and why may not we?
III. The measure in which you and I can enter into this experience. We have hundreds of us perceived the benefits of the dark lines and shadings of life’s picture, and we see how fit and proper it is that trembling should mingle with transport. As the fruit of experience I have learned to look for a hurricane soon after an unusually delightful calm. When the wind blows hard, and the tempest lowers, I hope that before long there will be s lull; but when the sea-birds sit on the wave, and the sail hangs idly, I wonder when a gale will come. To my mind there is no temptation so bad as not being tempted at all. The worst devil in the world is when you cannot see the devil at all, because the villain has hidden himself away within the heart, and is preparing to give you a fatal stab. Since there is an everlasting arm that never can he palsied, since there is a brow that knows no wrinkle, and a Divine mind that is never perplexed, we go forward in hope, and cast ourselves upon our eternal Helper once again. You have heard of the ancient giant Antaeus, who could not be overcome, because as often as Hercules threw him to the ground, he touched his mother earth, and rose renewed. Such be your lot and mine, often to be cast down, and as often to rise by that downcasting. “When I am weak then am I strong.” Let us glory in infirmity, because the power of Christ doth rest upon us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The voice of Joy, and the voice of gladness.
Joy after desolation
We are called upon to realise the fullest meaning of desolation. Think of a forsaken city, think of being afraid of the sound of your own footfall! Even in that desolation there comes an overpowering sense of society, as if the air were full of sprites, ghostly presences. What s singular sense there is too of trespass, encroachment, of being where you have no right to be--as if you were intruding upon the sanctuary of the dead--as if you were cutting to the life some spiritual ministry, conducting itself mysteriously but not without some beneficent purpose. You have broken in upon those invisible ones who are watching their dead; you want to escape from the solitude--in one sense it is too sacred for you, wholly too solemn; you would seek the society of your kind, for other society is uncongenial, unknown, and is felt to be a criticism intolerable, a judgment overwhelming. Yet if you do not fasten your attention upon the possibilities of desolation, darkness, forsakenness, loneliness, how can you appreciate what is to follow? May we not then hasten to inquire what is to follow? Can God work miracles here? It is just here that He works His grandest miracles; it is when all light dies out that He comes forth in His glory; it is when we say, There is no more road, the rock shuts us out, our progress is stayed,--it is then that a path suddenly opens in rocky places, and footprints disclose themselves for the comfort and inspiration of the lone traveller. Notice how exactly God’s miracles fit human circumstances. They overflow them, but they first fill all their cavities and all the opportunities which they create and present. Thus God displaces darkness by light; thus God does not drive away the silence with noise but with music: it is no battering of rude violence that brings back human intercourse into plains that have been swept with human desolation; it is a festival, a banquet, a wedding scene, and already the forsaken valley vibrates as if under the clash of wedding bells. What was the quality of the joy that was wrought? It was profoundly religious. The voices that were uplifted were to say, “Praise the Lord of hosts: for the Lord is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.” There are times when men must praise the Lord. The heart leads the judgment; the uppermost feeling, elevated and sanctified, tells the whole man what to do, uses the understanding as one might use some inferior creature to help him in carrying out the purposes of life. What is this highest faculty, what is this mysterious power, that takes to itself understanding, imagination, conscience, will, and all elements of energy? It is religious emotion; not sentimentalised and frittered away into mere vapour, but high, intelligent, noble feeling, glowing, passionate enthusiasm, a consecration without break or flaw or self-questioning, a wholeness of consent and devotion to the supreme purpose of life. When this desolation is banished, when this wedding feast is held, by what picture is the safety of the people represented? By a very tender one. We had in England shepherds who long ago spoke of taking care of their flocks under the idiom of “telling their tale” counting the flock one by one. There shall be no hurrying, crowding into the fold, but one shall follow another, and each shall be looked at in its singularity; there shall be nothing tumultuous, indiscriminate, promiscuous; every process of providence is conducted critically, individually, minutely: so there is no hope for a man getting into the fold without the Shepherd seeing him; every sheep of the flock has to pass under the hand of him that telleth his tale. Until we realise the personality of the Divine supervision we shall flounder in darkness and our prayers will be mere evaporations, bringing back no answer, no blessing, no pledge from heaven. This is the picture presented by the prophet. Not one tittle of this providential order has been changed; the whole mystery of human life is to be found within its few lines. Consider what desolation good men have been called upon to realise. Never let us shut our eyes to the suffering aspect of human life. On the contrary, let us dwell upon it with attentive solicitude, that we may wonder, and learn to pray and trust. Say nought to the mocker, for he is not worth heeding, but say to the poor suffering heart itself, Wait: joy cometh in the morning: it is very sore now; the wind is very high, the darkness is very dense; our best plant poor heart! is to sit down and simply wait for God: He will come we cannot tell when, in the early part of the night, or not until the crowing of the cock, but come He will; it hath pleased Him to keep the times and seasons wholly to Himself, without revelation to narrow human intellects; let us then wait, and there is a way of waiting that amounts to prayer: poor heart! we have no words, we could not pray in terms, because we should be mocked by the echo of our own voice, but there is a way of sitting still that by its heroic patience wins the battle. Consider what changes have been wrought in human experience. You thought you could never sing again when that last tremendous blow was dealt upon your life, yet you are singing more cheerfully now than you ever sung in any day of your history; you thought when you lost commercial position that you never really could look up again, for your heart was overpowered, and behold, whilst you were talking such folly, a light struck upon your path, and a voice called you to still more strenuous endeavour, and to-day you who saw nothing before you but the asylum of poverty are adding field to field and house to house. You have been raised again from the very dead, you have forgotten your desolation, and you are now sitting like guests invited by heaven’s own King at heaven’s great banqueting table. Hold on; the end will judge all things. Hope stead lastly in God; prayer is sweetest in the darkness; when there seems to be no road over which to travel up to heaven, then it works its miracles, it finds a pathway in the night-cloud. What is the joy that is depicted in this text? It is religious joy. The joy created by religion is intelligent. It is not a bubble on the stream, it has reason behind it; it is strengthened and uplifted, supported and dignified, by logic, fact, reality. Religious joy is healthy. It is not spurious gladness, it is the natural expression of the highest emotions. Religious joy is permanent. It does not come for a moment, and vanish away as if it were afraid of life and afraid of living in this cold earth-clime; it abides with men. Let us know by way of application that there is only one real deliverance from desolateness. That is a Divine deliverance. Let us flee then to the living God; let us be forced to prayer. (J. Parker, D. D.)
And of them that shall bring the sacrifice Of praise.
In what sense praise is a sacrifice
If I wanted to use, which I do not, mere theological technicalities, I should talk about the difference between sacrifices of propitiation and sacrifices of thanksgiving. But let us put these well-worn phrases on one side, as far as we can, for a moment. Here, then, is the fact that all the world over, and in the Mosaic ritual, there was expressed a double consciousness--one, that there was, somehow or other, a black dam between the worshipper and his Deity, which needed to be swept sway; and the other, that when that barrier was removed there could be an uninterrupted flow of thanksgiving and of service. So on one altar was laid a bleeding victim, and on another were spread the flowers of the field, the fruits of the earth, all things gracious, lovely, fair, and sweet, as expressions of the thankfulness of the reconciled worshippers. One set of sacrifices expressed the consciousness of sin; the other expressed the joyful recognition of its removal. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The sacrifice is thanksgiving. Then there will be no reluctance because duty is heavy. There will be no grudging because requirements are great. There will be no avoiding of the obligations of the Christian life, and rendering as small a percentage by way of dividend as the Creditor up in the heavens will accept. If the offering is a thank-offering, then it will be given gladly. The grateful heart does not hold the scales like the scrupulous retail dealer, afraid of putting the thousandth part of an ounce more in than will be accepted.
“Give all thou canst--high heaven rejects the love
Of nicely calculated less or more.”
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Praise to Christ should be spontaneous and unrestrained
If there is in us any deep, real, abiding, life-shaping thankfulness for the gift of Jesus Christ, it is impossible that our tongues should cleave to the roof of our mouths, and that we should be contented to live in silence. Loving hearts must speak. What would you think of a husband that never felt any impulse to tell his wife that she was dear to him; a mother that never found it needful to unpack her heart of its tenderness, even in perhaps inarticulate croonings over the little child that she pressed to her heart? It seems to me that a dumb Christian, a man that is thankful for Christ’s sacrifice, and never feels the need to say so, is as great an anomaly as either of these I have described. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
This is the name wherewith she shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness.
The justified Church
It is no slip of the pen--“She shall be called”: it is no mistranslation, or unguarded statement, as might be imagined. It is a deliberate name, based on a great and an everlasting principle; and it is just as true, “she shall be called the Lord our Righteousness,” as it is true that “He,” that is, Christ, “shall be called the Lord our Righteousness.” Why? Because there is a spiritual and yet real identity between Christ and this redeemed and believing throng. He and they are one in time, and will continue one in eternity. Nay, so completely is the Church knit to its Head, that it is said she is “the fulness of Christ”; as if Christ were not complete in heaven, complete in His mediatorial glory, complete in His happiness, until there be added to Him those He has ransomed by His blood, prepared by His Spirit, and at last brought, as the fruits of His grace, to the triumphs of His throne. You will also recollect, that in Scripture, the relationship that subsists between Christ and His Church, is represented as being the relationship which subsists between the husband and the wife. Her responsibilities He has assumed Himself, that they may be absorbed, and disappear before His Cross. It is thus, that a transfer, an exchange, takes place between Christ and His Church--by concentrating all her responsibility on Him; He being answerable for her sins, answerable for her defects, answerable to a perfect law and to a holy God; and she receiving from Him that glorious and everlasting name, which is the Open Sesame at the gates of heaven, and which shall he heard loudest in the songs and hallelujahs of the ransomed around the throne. Whatever name, I would observe next, is given in Scripture to anything, is a reality. Therefore, when it is said, “This is the name by which she,” the Church, “shall be called,” it does not imply that it is the investiture of that Church with a mere empty and evanescent honour, but the stamp, the imprimatur of an everlasting and indelible reality; so that the Church, in herself all rags, is made in Christ “the Righteousness of God.” In discussing the subject matter of this name, I would lay before you the following facts, in order to show you the absolute necessity of our being “called,” or being made, “the Lord our Righteousness,” before we can ever expect to see God in happiness. Let me observe, then, there has been, is now, and ever will be, what is called a law. The law of God is just to God Himself what the sunbeam is to the sun--what the rivulet is to the fountain--what the effect is to the cause--what the blossom or the leaf is to the stem or the root. God’s law is indestructible,--the everlasting stereotype, which can no more be destroyed than the Eternal Himself can be dethroned from the supremacy of the universe. Setting out, then, with the postulate, that there is, and must be, such a thing as God’s moral law,--the language of which is, Do, and live,--Do not, and die,--we proceed, in the second place, to notice, that every member of this justified Church, with every child of Adam, has broken and violated that law. The next inquiry is, How can man be saved, and this law retain its unbending and awful strictness? Shall the whole race perish? for the whole race have broken God’s law. Blessed be God, His love and mercy would not suffer this. If not, shall God’s holy law be abrogated and annulled in whole or in part! His justice, His truth, His holiness cannot suffer that. Here, then, is the question, which no earthly OEdipus can solve; the labyrinth, which no human wisdom can unthread. Ancient philosophers, who saw dim and shadowy the attributes of the Eternal, even they were perplexed with difficulty here; and Socrates himself admitted, that it was extremely difficult to see how God could possibly receive to heaven them that His holiness must see to be sinful. Having thus noticed the impossibility of finding anything that could meet our case, let me ask again, Shall God be unjust, in order that sinners may be saved; or shall God be unmerciful, and this, in order that His law may remain just? God so loved us, that He would not let us perish; and yet God is so just, that He would not let His law be violated; how then can it be, how shall it be, that God shall remain infinitely just, infinitely holy, infinitely true, and yet that His love shall rush forth, and fill men’s souls with its fulness, and the wide world with the multiplication of its trophies? The answer is given, “This is the name by which He” (Christ) “shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness”; and “this is the name by which she” (the Church) “shall be called,” through an interest in Him, “the Lord our Righteousness.” By that atonement which Christ consummated on the Cross, and in virtue of that righteousness which Christ achieved by His life, it now comes to pass, that God may be just whilst He justifies the ungodly that believe. This righteousness of Christ, which constitutes the only title of the believer, is called in Scripture by various names. It is called “the righteousness of Christ,” because He perfected and consummated it. It is called “the righteousness of God,” because He devised it, and it is His mode of justifying the sinner. It is called the righteousness of faith, because faith receives it; and it is also called our righteousness, because it is made ours by the free and sovereign gift of God.
1. Let me now observe of this righteousness that it is a perfect righteousness. When Christ exclaimed on the Cross, in the language partly of agony, and partly of triumph, “It is finished,” He announced in these accents that that moment there was provided a perfect robe, of perfect and of spotless beauty, for every sinner under heaven, who would put forth the hand of faith, and appropriate it “without money and without price.”
2. This righteousness is an everlasting righteousness. Death shall not tarnish it, the grave shall not corrupt it, the wear and tear of life shall not destroy it.
3. This righteousness is ours, to the exclusion of all other whatever. Christ says to the queen on the throne, and to the meanest beggar by the wayside, “Ye must both be saved by putting on the same perfect righteousness, or ye must be lost for ever.”
4. This righteousness is ours by imputation. Our sins were transferred to Him, and He endured the consequences of them; His righteousness is transferred to us, and we realise the fruits of it.
5. This righteousness is received by faith, and by faith alone. There are three things to be noticed; first, the spring; secondly, the water; and thirdly, the pipe that conveys the water. The spring, in this instance, is the love of God; the element, that justifies us, is the righteousness of Jesus; and faith is the channel, or the conduit, by which that righteousness is conveyed to us and made ours. It is the mere medium, not the merit; it is the mere hand that receives; and in no sense has it any part or share of the merit or glory.
6. I would observe of this righteousness that it insures, wherever it is, everlasting glory. “Whom He justifies,” “He glorifies.” Where He begins, He finishes; what He commences by grace, that He consummates and creams in glory. The Church’s glory, derived from her Lord, is the righteousness of Christ; her beauty is that moral and spiritual beauty, which derived from heaven, defies the assaults of earth and hell, making its heirs the meet companions of Christ at heaven’s high festival.
7. This Church, thus justified in the righteousness of Christ, is, in the next place, free from all condemnation. All things minister peace and blessedness to her who is at friendship with God, and identified with Jesus. For “this is the name by which she shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness.”
8. This way of salvation excludes all boasting. Just because man is saved wholly through grace--wholly through the righteousness of another, and his very name is the name of another, therefore, this redeemed, elect, ransomed Church will east her crown before the throne of God and of the Lamb, and say, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain,” &c.
9. I observe that this mode of justification does not make void the law of God. “Nay,” says the apostle, “we rather establish the law.” You have in this fact clear and decisive evidence that it is the elevation of the Cross that makes all the moralities rise and cling and coil around it, and bloom and blossom. The Gospel alone in fact can give true and high-toned morality.
10. This righteousness is that alone in which we may glory. There is nothing but the Gospel that is worth glorying in. There is a moth in the fairest robe--there is a worm in the goodliest cedar--there is disease in the healthiest frame and rust on the purest gold. None of these things can satisfy men’s souls with happiness. There is no glorying but in the righteousness of Christ, that is bright, pure, enduring, the prolific source of all that is good. (J. Gumming, D. D.)
Christ, the perfection of righteousness
Matthew Arnold, one of the prominent leaders of modern Agnosticism, thus speaks of Christ in his Literature and Dogma: “Christ came to reveal what righteousness really is . . . Nothing will do except righteousness; and no other conception of righteousness will do except Christ’s conception of it; His method and secret.” And in another part of the same book he writes: “For our race, as we see it now, and as ourselves we form a part of it, the true God is and must be perfect.” (Great Thoughts.)
If ye can break My covenant of the day, and My covenant of the night . . . Then may also My covenant be broken with David My servant.
God’s great day-and-night engine, as a witness against skepticism
“Day and night in their season” are God’s perpetual challenge to unbelief, His sublime witnesses to the perpetuity of His Church. The doubters in Jeremiah’s time saw, or thought they saw in the captivity of Israel already accomplished, and that of Judah foretold as nigh at hand, the complete breakdown of all God’s plans and promises as to His people and His Church. They said: “The two families (Judah and Israel) which the Lord did choose, Tie hath even cast them off.” “There’s an end of all our fine expectations! Prophecy breaks down! God can’t keep His contract! Religion is a failure! We told you so!” But what does God say to them in reply? “Thus saith the Lord If My covenant of day and night stand not, if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; then will I also cast away the seed of Jacob, and of David My servant,” &c. Thus God reminds the sceptic and the doubter that His covenant with His Church is as firm as that with day and night. We of to-day are in the midst of a sceptical age, and some good people are alarmed at the growth of doubt, and at coldness and troubles in the churches. They firmly believe in the truth of Christianity, but they seem to have lost something of their faith in its conquering power. “What does God mean by His covenant of day and night”? It was equal to saying: “If you can stop the daily rotation I have given to this earth, then you may stay the onward rolling wheels of My Messiah’s chariot from the conquest of the world!” That’s what God meant, and He has thus far made good His word. Judah, like Israel, for her sins, went into captivity. But unlike Israel, Judah was brought back to do God’s work for ages longer; and perhaps for more work in the future than we now understand. The Church lives and grows. Tier ministers are thousands of thousands. “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured,” no more can her people. The earth rolls onward, bringing “day and night in their season,” and the sun hears the missionary Angelus chiming around the globe. Let us study this sublime illustration. Look at the daily rotation of this globe, and imagine the power necessary to produce and maintain this rotation. Suppose we see what God’s oath of day and night means when represented by steam mechanics. Let us build our engine and run this revolving globe a while by steam power. The earth is not a fiat fly-wheel set upon its edge, but a massive sphere, 8000 miles in diameter. So, by the ratio of size of shaft to size of paddle-wheel on a large steamboat, the earth must be slung on a steel shaft about 250 miles in diameter and 10,000 miles long. It must be driven by an engine whose cylinder should measure 1200 miles bore and 2000 miles stroke, having a piston-rod 100 miles thick and 2500 miles long, working by a connection-rod 3000 miles long on a crank of 1000 miles arm, with a wrist 200 miles long and 50 miles thick. The piston of this engine will make but one revolution daily; but to do that it will travel 4000 miles, at an average velocity of nearly three miles a minute. The working capacity of this engine will be about fourteen thousand million (14,000,000,000) horse-power. It must be controlled by an automatic governor of infallible accuracy, and supplied with inexhaustible fuel and oil; and so run on, day and night, never starting a bolt, nor heating a journal, nor wearing out a box, age after age. The iron bed-frame for this machine must be 10,000 miles square and 4000 miles high, and not tremble a hair under the stroke that drives the equatorial rim of this fly-wheel globe up to a steady velocity of seventeen and one-half miles a minute, twenty times the velocity of a lightning express train! Who’ll take the contract to build and run this engine? The vast mass must fly through space in the earth’s orbit around the sun, with a velocity of more than 1100 miles a minute. The Armstrong 100-ton steel rifle sends its 2000-pound steel projectile at the rate of 1600 feet per second clean through a solid wrought-iron plate 22 inches thick. But God fires this globe, 8000 miles in diameter, through space with 60 1/2 times the velocity of the monster projectile, and 2000 times that of an express train at 34 miles per hour. And our engine that gives it its day-and-night rotation must fly with it at that speed, and never lose a stroke! And these are very slow among the velocities of the starry worlds. And yet these velocities only represent what God does every moment by the abiding force of that first impulse He gave to this silent spinning globe when He shot it from His creating hand like a top from a boy’s finger! Now, imagine the infidel trying to seize, in its mighty sweep, the flying crank that runs this globe, to stop its revolution! What then? Did you ever see a man caught and whirled and mangled on a little factory shaft, reduced to a shapeless pulp in a moment? Even so it has ever been with those who have tried to stop the engine of Christianity. (G. L. Taylor, D. D.)
Divine plans of action unalterable
I. The Almighty both in the material and spiritual departments of His universe acts from plan.
1. The text speaks of a “covenant” with material nature as well as with David.
2. The Infinite One acts evermore from plan.
(1) A priori reasoning would suggest this.
(2) The constitution of the creation shews this. The laws of nature about which philosophers talk are only parts of His plan which they have discovered.
(3) The Bible teaches this. It speaks of Him appointing everything in nature (Genesis 1:1-31; Genesis 8:21-22; Isa 4:10-11; Psalms 104:1-35. &c.).
II. The plan on which God conducts the material universe is manifestly beyond the power of His creatures to alter.
1. This is a blessing to all. If men could alter the order of nature what would become of us!
2. This is an argument for the Divinity of miracles, if miracles are changes in the order of nature.
III. The unalterableness of His plan in material nature illustrates the unalterableness of His plan in the spiritual department of action. It is not impossible for God to reverse the order of nature, but it is impossible for God to act contrary to those principles of absolute truth and justice which He has revealed (Homilist.)