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Ye have not hearkened unto Me, in proclaiming liberty.
The liberty of sin
The Word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah that all bondservants in Israel should be forthwith emancipated. At first the princes obeyed, and the enslaved were allowed to go free. But eventually the princes played falsely, and once more brought their old servants into bondage. Then comes the text with its terrible irony.
I. The mutiny against the law. In the first instance the governors felt the reasonableness of the commandment, they agreed to it, but at length they resisted it, violated it. And this spirit of revolt against the higher law is ever working in us and displaying itself in some form of disobedience.
1. There is a theoretical repudiation of the law. Literary men are ever urging upon us that the moral law as given in revelation is unphilosophical, and the sooner it is renounced by all educated people the better. One by one they ingeniously find us a way out of all the ten great precepts. In our simplicity we thought the Saviour taught us that heaven and earth might pass away, but that the moral commandments should persist in absolute authority and force, but eloquent writers affect to show that the commandments are mere bye-laws, ripe for repeal.
2. And if there is a theoretical repudiation of the law on the part of the literary few, is there not a personal, practical mutiny against it on the part of us all? In manifold ways we criticise the law, fret at it, evade it, violate it. We spurn the circumscriptions which deny us so much, and in blind passion break into forbidden ground. And yet how gracious and beautiful is the law! How generous is the law referred to in the text enjoining upon the rich and great mercy and brotherliness! And the whole of the moral law as expressed in revelation is equally rational and benign. The “commandments are not grievous.” No, indeed, they are gracious. Every commandment is an illumination, a light shining in a dark place to guide our feet in a dim and perilous way. Every commandment is a salvation. The commandment enjoining love is to save us from the damnation of selfishness; enjoining meekness to save us from the devil of pride; enjoining purity to save us from the hell of lust. Every commandment is a benediction. Scientists are always descanting on the grandeur of natural law, the law which builds the sky, which transfigures the flower, which rules the stars. The scientist, the mathematician, the musician will tell you that law is good, that the secret of the world’s beauty is to be found in the wonderful laws which God wrote in tables of stone long before Moses came. And ii natural law, which rules things, is so sublime, how much does that moral law, which rules spirits, excel in glory! And yet how blindly do we mutiny against the great words of light and love! Some time ago it was told in the paper that a herd of cows was being driven through a long, dark, wooden tubular bridge. Here and there in the woodwork were knotholes, which let in the sun in bars of light. The animals were afraid of these sun-bars; they shied at them, were terrified at them, and then, leaping over them, made a painful hurdle-race of it, coming out at the other end palpitating and exhausted. We are just like them. The laws of God are golden rays in a dark path, they are for our guidance and infinite perfecting and consolation. But they irritate us, they enrage us, we count them despotic barriers to our liberty and happiness, and too often we put them under our feet. “So foolish was I, and ignorant, I was as a beast before Thee.”
II. The liberty of licence. “Behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the Lord.” These nobles wished to be free themselves in enslaving their brethren, but in doing this they gave themselves away into servitude; they wished to enrich themselves, and they lost everything; they sought personal indulgence at the expense of their neighbours, and they suffered sword and famine and pestilence. Disobedience always means bondage, disgrace, suffering, death. A liberty to the sword, the famine, and the pestilence! Most awful is the liberty of unrighteousness; who can express the fulness of its woe! Some of you have visited the Castle of Chillon on the Lake of Geneva. In that castle is a dungeon which contains a shaft, at the bottom of which you see the waters of the lake; that shaft is called the way of liberty. Tradition says that in the old days the jailor in the darkness of the dungeon would whisper to the prisoner, “Three steps and liberty,” and the poor dupe, hastily stepping forward, fell down this shaft, which was planted full of knives and spikes, the mutilated, bloody corpse finally dropping into the depths. That is precisely the liberty of sin. The dupe of sin takes a leap in the dark, he is forthwith pierced through with many sorrows, and mangled and bleeding falls into the gulf. “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”
1. I want you to feel the madness of contending with God, for that is exactly what sin means.
2. I want you to believe that only through self-limitation can you find the highest liberty and blessedness. All civilisation is the giving up of liberty to find a nobler liberty.
3. If you are to keep the law, you must seek the strength of God in Christ. Born of God, living in fellowship with Him, full of faith, of love, of hope, we shall find the yoke of the law easy, and its burden light. The inner force is equal to the outward duty. (W. L. Watkinson.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 34". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14