They shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces thitherward.
To return to one’s land of nativity after a long absence is one of the most pleasant experiences of human life. We are all pilgrims and strangers in this land. We have wandered from our Father’s home. Let us follow the example of these two tribes, who were now united and returning to their own land.
I. Consider the first act of this liberated people. They asked the way to Zion. This was wise of them, for many try to go there without knowing the way. They did not inquire through mere curiosity, but with a determination to put their knowledge to practical use. There is not a ransomed soul around the throne to-day but who has asked this question.
II. The second act of Israel and Judah after they received their answer was to turn their faces thitherward. Their faces are Zionward now. They had been travelling in a wrong direction, and so long as this was the case it would be impossible for them to reach their destination. Satan is always trying to persuade Christians to take a slidetrack, or a side-view, and turn their backs on Zion, but so long as they keep their faces toward the city of God they are invulnerable.
III. After turning their faces toward Zion they moved on. How? “Weeping and rejoicing.” Weeping now and rejoicing then. Here again the life of the Christian is typified. The Christian often weeps as he marches on, but will rejoice when he obtains the crown of life at the close of the day.
IV. They decided to bind themselves in an everlasting covenant unto the Lord, having one purpose, one object, one desire in life--a perpetual covenant unto the Lord. There is no coercion in this covenant, because they said to each other, “Come, and let us join ourselves unto the Lord.” The word “come” is one of the gems that shine in the Word of God. Not do or die, but “come” and live. It is like the flower that blooms in the desert, or the evening that comes after the hot and weary day.
V. Some reasons why we should join ourselves unto the Lord in a perpetual covenant.
1. Because the sinner separated from the Lord misses the end of his creation.
2. Because of the everlasting relationship into which you enter.
3. Time develops strength, and the longer you put off the harder it becomes to break the chains that bind you.
4. The pleasures and benefits of a life with Christ infinitely outweigh the brief pleasures of sin. (M. C. Cameron, B. D.)
Mourners, inquirers, covenanters
The previous part of this chapter declares the overthrow of Israel’s cruel oppressor. “Babylon is taken, Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces.” The Assyrian and Babylonian power had been the great tyrant of the ages, and the Lord had employed it for the chastening of His people, until at last Israel and Judah had been carried away captive to the banks of the Euphrates, and the land of their fathers knew them no more. When, therefore, the Lord deals with Babylon in a way of vengeance it is that He may deliver His own people. See how the two things are joined together in the eighteenth and nineteenth verses. When Pharaoh is drowned, Israel is saved; when Sihon and Og are slain, the Lord’s mercy to His people is seen to endure for ever. To-day the power of the adversary is broken, and we may flee out of the Babylon of sin. A greater than Cyrus has opened the two-leaved gates, and broken the bars of iron in sunder, and proclaimed liberty to the captives. We may now return to our God and freely enjoy the holy and happy associations which belong to the city of our God. Every one who is really seeking the Lord desires to be sure that he is seeking aright; he is not willing to take anything for granted, since his soul is of too much value to be left at hazard. He inquires, “Are my feelings like those of the truly penitent? Am I believing as those do who are justified by faith? Am I seeking the Lord in a manner which will be pleasing to Him?” They have so long been as lost sheep, going from mountain to hill, that they have forgotten their resting-places, therefore in their confusion they are afraid of going wrong again, and so they inquire with eager anxiety. Perhaps we may show them from this Scripture how others sought and how others found, and this may be a guide and a comfort to them; for albeit there are differences of operation, and all do not come to Christ with equal terrors, or with equal joys, yet there is a likeness in all the pilgrims to the holy city.
I. To begin at the beginning, the Lord’s restored ones during the processes of grace were first of all mourners.
1. Oh, after all your sins I will not believe that you are truly coming to God if there is not about you a great sorrow for sin and a lamenting after the Lord. Some seekers are made to drink of this bitter cup very deeply; their sense of sin is terrible, even to anguish and agony. I know that there are others who do not taste this bitterness to the same degree; but it is in their cup, for all that. The clear shining in their case so soon follows the rain that they scarcely know that there has been a shower of grief. Surely, in their case the bitterness is passed; yet is it truly there, only the other ingredient of intense delight in God’s mercy swallows up all its sharpness. Oh, you cannot imagine the Jews returning from captivity without bewailing the sins which drove them into the place of their exile. How could they be restored to God if they did not lament their former wicked estrangement? While the heart feels no compunction concerning its wanderings, no mourning over its guilt, no grief at having grieved the Lord, there can be no acceptance with God. There must be a shower in the day of mercy: not always a long driving rain causing a flood, but the soft drops must fall in every case. There must be tenderness toward God if we expect reconciliation with God.
2. Observe that this mourning in the case of Israel and Judah was so strong that it mastered other feelings. Between Judah and Israel there was an old feud. Yet now that they return unto the Lord, we read, “The children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together.” Oh, happy union in a common search for God! One of the first results of holy sorrow for sin is to cast out of our heart all forms of enmity and strife with our fellow-men. When we are reconciled to God we are reconciled to men. A penitent sense of our own provocations of God will prevent our being provoked with men. As Aaron’s rod swallowed up all other rods, so a sincere sorrow for sin will remove all readiness to take offence against our fellow-sinners.
3. Keeping close to the text, we notice again that the exiles on their return were mourning while marching. Observe the words, “going and weeping.” A true heart that is coming to God takes the road by Weeping-Cross: it feels its sin, its guilt, its undesert, and it therefore mourns. The closet is sought out and prayer is offered; but in the supplication there is a dove’s note, a moaning as of one sorrowing for love.
4. Turning the text round, we read not only of “going and weeping.” but also of weeping and going. The holy grief here intended does not lead to sitting still, for it is added “they shall go.” That word “weeping” is sandwiched in between two goings going and weeping; they shall go and seek the Lord. To sit down and say, “I will sorrow for my sin, but never seek a Saviour,” is an impenitent pretence of repentance, a barren sorrow which brings forth no cleansing of the life, and no diligent search after the Lord. The way to repent is with your eye upon the sacrifice, viewing the flowing of the sin-atoning blood, marking every precious drop, gazing into the Redeemer’s wounds, and believing in the love which in death opened up its depths unsearchable. All the while we must be saying, “My God, my God, I groan within myself that such a sacrifice should have been required by my atrocious transgressions against Thee.”
5. We must not pass over that last word, “They shall go and seek the Lord their God.” This shall be a guide to you as to whether your present state of feeling is leading you aright. What is it you are seeking? “I am seeking,” says one, “I am seeking peace.” May you soon obtain it, and may it be real peace; but I am not sure of you. “I am seeking,” says another, “the pardon of sin.” Again, I pray that you may find it; but I am not sure of you. If another shall reply, “I am seeking the Lord; for I desire above all things to have Him for a friend, though to Him I have been an enemy; then I have good hope of him. Here is a little child, picked up from the gutter, diseased and filthy, unclad, unfed; and if you ask me to make out a catalogue of what the child wants you must give me a sheet of foolscap paper to write it all down, and then I fear I shall leave out many things. I will tell you in one word what that poor infant requires--it wants its mother. If it gets its mother it has all it needs. So to tell what a poor sinner wants might be a long task; but when you say that he wants his Heavenly Father you have said it all. Oh, souls, you are seeking aright if you are seeking your God. Nothing short of this will suffice.
II. Secondly, these mourners became inquirers. “They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward.” They knew within a little the quarter in which Zion lay, and they looked that way; but they did not know all about the road: how should they?
1. The saving point about them was that they were not ashamed to confess their ignorance. Minds that the Lord has touched are never boastful of their wisdom. There are many persons in the world who would be converted if they could but consent to be taught by God’s Word and Spirit; hut they are such wise people, they know too much to enter the school of grace.
2. It is clear from their asking their way that these inquirers were teachable. “They shall ask the way to Zion”: they shall therefore be conscious of ignorance, and they shall be willing to be taught; these are good characteristics, such as God accepts.
3. More than this, they will be anxious although they are right. “They shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces thitherward.” They are travelling in the right direction, and yet they ask the way. He that has never raised a question about his condition before God had better raise it at once. The fullest assurance of faith we can ever attain will never excuse us from the duty of self-examination.
4. At the same time, note concerning those that are coming to the Lord and His people, that they are questioning, but they are still resolved. They ask how they can be right with God, not as a matter of curiosity, but because they mean to be at peace with Him: by God’s grace nothing shall turn them aside from their God and His temple, and hence their anxiety to be surely right. True penitents will have Christ or die.
5. Though they ask the way, we may remark further that they know whither they are going. They ask their way, not to somewhere or other, but to Zion; not to some imaginary blissful shore that may be or may not be, but they seek God’s own dwelling-place, God’s own palace, God’s own sacrifice. They ask boldly too, for they are not ashamed to be found inquiring; and when they are informed, their faces are already that way, and therefore they have nothing to do but to Go straight on. May God grant us myriads of such inquirers!
III. These inquirers become covenanters, for they said one to another, “Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.” Oh, that word “covenant”! I can never pronounce it without joy in my heart. It is to me a mine of comfort, a mint of delight, a mass of joy. The doctrine of the “covenant” is a kind of Shibboleth by which we may know the man of God from the false prophet. Let the people of God take no delight in the man who does not delight in the covenant of grace.
1. These inquirers become covenanters, for we read that they seek to be joined unto the Lord. “Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord. Is not this the one thing you long for, that you may be so at peace with God through Jesus Christ that you may be joined with Him? You are a right-hearted seeker, in fact, you have found the Lord already, or else you would not find it in your heart to use such an expression as seeking to be joined unto the Lord.
2. Next, notice for how long a time this covenant is to be made. “Let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant.” In our English army of late they have enlisted “short time” men. A good brother came to join the Church last week who is in the Reserve, and I said to him, “You are not coming to unite with us for two sixes, the first six with the colours, and the other six as a reserve man,--you have come, I hope, to fight under the colours as long as life lasts.” “Ay, sir,” he said, “I give myself up to the Lord for ever.” No salvation is possible except that which saves the soul for ever. A real man of God has his religion interwoven into the warp and woof of his being; he could not be other than he is whatever his circumstances might be. The covenant of life requires a life-long covenant. We do not take grace upon a terminable lease; it is an entailed inheritance, an immortal, eternal possession.
3. Note, further, that this joining to God these covenanters intended to carry out in a most solemn way. “Let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual”--agreement? or promise? No. “Covenant” is the word. It is a profitable thing for the soul to covenant with God. In the ordinance of baptism we have the best visible setting forth of that covenant. Circumcision set forth the taking away of the filth of the flesh; but baptism sets forth the death and burial of the flesh itself; we see in it the emblem of our death and burial with our Lord. The believer thereby says, “Now I am come to an end of my old life, for I am dead and buried,” and he becomes henceforth as one who has risen with Christ, to walk in newness of life.
4. Those who came mourning and inquiring, when they became covenanters, felt that they had a nature very apt to forgetfulness of good things, and so a part of what they desired in their covenanting with God was “a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.” God will never forget, yet may you pray, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” The fear is lest you should forget. What is your view of that possibility? Would it not be terrible? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Marks of genuine repentance
I. It is said, “the children of Israel shall come, they and the children on Judah together.” In other words, these two people, who, though members of the same family, had so long lived in a state of the most deadly hatred and hostility, when touched by a feeling of genuine contrition, shall “come” “together”; shall amalgamate; shall forget their former subjects of contention, and approach in one body the throne of love and compassion And such is the constant effect of genuine religion. Vice, by increasing our selfishness, by sharpening the natural irritability of the temper, by filling us with a feverish anxiety about the objects of time and sense, “separateth even chief friends.” In like manner, a merely speculative and ceremonial religion rarely fails to disunite its followers. But on the contrary, serious, heartfelt, spiritual scriptural religion binds and consolidates. Never, till the temper of real contrition, with all its train of accompanying graces, enthrone itself in the mind; never, till real Christianity take the place of that which is nominal; never, till we love God better than we love ourselves; never, till we choose rather to sacrifice our interest and indulgences, than to disturb the peace of the Church, and rend the seamless garment of our Redeemer.
II. It is here said of the people of Israel and Judah, that “they shall come weeping.” As the tenderest parent sees with joy the tear of penitence steal over the cheek of his guilty child; as no pang is deeper than that inflicted by the discovery that a state of separation from himself costs the child of his bosom neither fear nor anguish; thus our Father, which is in heaven, expects in us, the prodigal children of His family, sorrow and anguish of soul, till our reconciliation with Himself is accomplished. But how is it possible to reconcile with language such as this, the conception, so prevalent in the world, that the proper object of life is amusement, and our reasonable and legitimate temper of mind thoughtlessness and a spirit of almost ceaseless dissipation? It is indeed true, that the temper of mind becoming the man who is reconciled to God is peace, and cheerfulness, and joy:--“Rejoice in the Lord; and again I say, rejoice.” But peace of mind before reconciliation--peace, when the Lord has a “controversy” with us--peace, this is not the peace sanctioned by Scripture, but a state of repose leading to almost inevitable destruction. The true penitent is there described as “going and weeping.” It is not, indeed, my intention to affirm that tears are the necessary, or the only sufficient, expression of grief for sin. Many a sad heart would delight to weep, but cannot.
III. These returning penitents are described as “Seeking the Lord their God.” Here is one of the grand distinctions between true and false repentance. That sorrow of the world which “worketh death,” ordinarily evaporates in a few unmeaning words or tears. The real penitent, on the contrary, is not merely startled by his danger; he detests his offence. His soul longs for emancipation from its corruptions, and for a full and free entrance into the presence of the Lord.
IV. It is said of the returning penitents in the text, “they shall ask the way to Zion.” It is something in religion to have discovered that we are out of the way. The next mark of genuine repentance is a lively, persevering anxiety to be put into the way. But this anxiety will not discover itself in blind and random efforts to search out the path by our unassisted powers; but in humbly and earnestly availing ourselves of every appointed channel by which safe and sure intelligence on this all-important subject may be conveyed to the soul. The penitents in the text “ask their way.” Distrusting a heart which has often misled them, they go for instruction to the servants of the Lord, and especially to Him who loves to “go before” his sheep, and lead them to the pastures of their proper happiness. And, observe, the place which they are said to seek is Zion,--he “city of their solemnities”; the holy city; the city in which dwelleth the Great King; where His temple arises; where, having laid aside the thunders of His just indignation, He sits between the cherubim, to dispense mercy and love to His guilty creatures. The real penitent never stops till he reaches the city of God. And however bright the sunshine, and clear the fountains, and extensive the prospects, which cheer him on the journey; and however wise and strong and compassionate the Guide who goes with him, and delights to succour, to defend, and to bless him, he neither puts off his armour nor rests from his labour till he sits down in eternal tranquillity in the paradise of God.
V. It is said of these penitents in the text, they ask their way to Zion “with their faces thitherward.” In other words, they are really bent on discovering the city which they profess to seek. Their eye is upon its towers; and their hearts are honestly impelling them in the right line of direction. Their inquiry has no alliance with the empty curiosity of the man who has no intention of adopting the advice which he solicits, and follows one path when his guide directs him to another. But, hearing a voice behind them, saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it,” they implicitly follow the leadings of providence and the suggestions of the Spirit.
VI. The individuals in the text are described as saying, “come, and let us join ourselves to the lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.” Such is uniformly the desire of the true penitent. Are we not the sworn enemies of sin, the world, and the devil? And how have we fulfilled our engagements to God? Will any single man venture to lay his hand on his heart and say, I have fulfilled them as I ought? And, if not, what is our duty to-day? Is it not to say, as in the text, “Come, and let us join ourselves,” &c.? (J. W. Cunningham, M. A.)
Young Christians congratulated, encouraged, and exhorted to trust in God
I. Jehovah, as a reconciled God in Christ Jesus, is the object of their inquiry. God and the light of His reconciled countenance, in opposition to the delights of sense, the gains of merchandise, the discoveries of science, and the felicities of friendship. It is the Divine favour they seek supremely, though not exclusively; for no one enjoys, with a keener relish, the productions of nature and the bounties of providence, than a true believer.
II. It is usual with inquirers to associate with those who are like-minded with themselves.
III. This inquiry after God and happiness is frequently accompanied with tears. “They shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping.” They weep over the times of their former ignorance. “To how little purpose have we hitherto lived,” will they say; “our lives have been little better than a complete blank. And now that we have at length awaked to some sense of our danger, and desire for spiritual blessings, how little do we know of God and of ourselves, of sin and the method of salvation!” They weep over their numerous and aggravated transgressions. And they will weep frequently at such a time because of strong temptations, from the great enemy of souls. What a mercy is it when we are disposed to weep for sin! Many weep for pain of body, or because of the disappointments they have met with in business, but never grieve on account of their offences before God. They lament the difficulties of the times, but heave not a sigh over the hardness of their hearts
IV. Mount Zion is the place to which they will repair for instruction and comfort.
V. Devout and sincere inquirers will gladly avail themselves of the direction and counsel of christian ministers, and of other pilgrims, who have made some advances in the way to the celestial city.
VI. Young converts, having found god, to their unspeakable satisfaction, will do well to join themselves to the lord, in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten They must do this, by pleading and laying hold for themselves on the blessings of the covenant of grace;--by publicly professing faith in the Redeemer’s name; for having first given themselves to the Lord, they should give themselves up to the Church, according to the will of God. (Essex Remembrancer.)
God proper object of human pursuit
I. God should be our supreme object of pursuit. God’s will is in everything; we should find it out, and act accordingly.
II. The supreme pursuit of God requires earnest endeavour. What of that? We should see to it that in everything we do and attend to, thought should apprehend, feeling embrace, will regard, and aim terminate in, God.
III. This seeking of God should be continuous. For what reason? The mind is susceptible of indefinite enlargement in acquaintance with God. Religion admits of eternal progress.
IV. The constant, earnest, seeking of God is, in this world, ever more difficult, and sometimes grievous. Why? Because of past neglect and failure; and because of existing contrary influences, agencies, attractions, and allurements.
V. The sincere, intelligent pursuit of God will issue in a satisfying conviction of the rightness and blessedness of subordinating everything to entire, unswerving, ever advancing allegiance to God in creation, providence, and redemption.
VI. True seekers of God, help and urge one another to abide with God in truth, and love, and deed. (W. J. Stuart.)
The Israelites returning from Babylon
I. The state of the Jews in Babylon.
1. The captive Israelites were obviously in a degraded state. And what is the state of man, but a state of degradation? He boasts of the dignity of his nature, but an angel might weep over its baseness. He has brought himself almost to a level with the brutes that perish.
2. The condition of the Jews in their captivity was as wretched as it was degrading. We too arc a suffering people. Once indeed the world was a paradise, but sin has entered it, withered its beauty, and robbed it of its happiness.
3. Our state, like that of the captive Jews, is also a guilty state. It was sin which caused them to be delivered into the hands of their enemies; and it is sin which has made us base and wretched. Our first father transgressed and died; but the vengeance which followed his transgression, deterred not his children from treading in his steps. To say nothing of the follies of our childhood and the sins of our youth, how many iniquities have we willingly and daringly committed since we attained the age of manhood!
4. The enslaved Jews were in a helpless state, or in one that appeared helpless. And what power have we to rescue ourselves from that state of guilt and wretchedness into which we are fallen? The law we have violated, denounces misery on our heads, a misery as great and lasting as our guilt; and who can resist its authority or repeal its curse?
II. The deliverance of the Israelites.
1. It was effected for them by the power of another. Cyrus was a type of Christ, the great spiritual Deliverer; and if we are ever brought out of our spiritual bondage, we must be content to owe our liberty to Him alone. He beheld them in thraldom to sin and Satan, and trembling under the power and fear of death; He came and overthrew their enemies, and burst their bonds. He made an end of sin; He destroyed death; He bruised Satan underneath their feet. Their degradation too was not overlooked by Him. They were in exile, and they were wretched there; but He raised them up from their low estate, and recovered for them the blessedness they had lost. He is now employed in restoring them to their forfeited inheritance.
2. The deliverance of the Israelites was also openly proclaimed and freely offered. To this proclamation St. Paul alludes in Romans 10:1-21., and speaks of it as a representation of the preaching of the Gospel to the enslaved nations of the earth.
III. The feelings with which this journey was commenced.
1. As we behold the Israelites leaving in a body the land of the Chaldaeans, the first circumstance which arrests our attention is their penitence. But why do they weep? The mercy they have received has softened their hearts. It has shown them the tenderness of their heavenly Father. This godly sorrow is, in every instance, one of the first fruits of genuine religion. By nature our hearts are hard, so hard that the most awful judgments can make no abiding impression on them; but when we are roused out of our spiritual unconcern by the Spirit of God, and begin to look with the eye of faith on the great Saviour of sinners, a train of new and deep emotions is excited within us.
2. Notice also in these liberated Jews, their, anxiety lest they should mistake the way that is to lead them to Jerusalem. “They shall ask the way to Zion.” And is not this anxiety, this spirit of inquiry, found in all who have fixed their heart on heaven? There was a time when they were destitute of all care on this subject. They thought themselves sufficiently acquainted with the way to God. They deemed it broad and plain, and looked on him as an enthusiast who bid them ask what they must do to be saved. But now all this self-confidence and imaginary security are come to an end. They know too that mistakes in this matter are not trifling errors; that there is but one way in which they can obtain the salvation they need, and that to seek it in any other way is to be for ever undone.
3. We may notice also the decision of these returning captives, the earnestness and resolution with which they seek the Lord. And no man ever arrived at the heavenly Zion without possessing such a mind as this. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
God’s deliverance of us from spiritual bondage
I. God, before He sees fit to loose the spiritual bonds of those whom He intends to deliver, is first pleased to bring them to feel their chains, and to mourn over their distance from Zion.
II. Under this painful concern of mind, they shall anxiously inquire after the means of recovery. “They shall go and seek the Lord their God.” The poor captives are here represented--weeping. Though depressed with their perfect thraldom, though weeping, they go; they sit not down in despondency. They set their faces towards Zion; and let them but find the Lord their God, let them but perceive His gracious intentions towards them, and they can wait His time and way of a full and final deliverance, and commit everything else to Him.
III. Animated by this Hope, they shall vigorously press towards Zion; “they shall ask the way with their faces thitherward.” In the ordinary affairs of life, when men have a particular object in view in which they are deeply interested, and that hope or object is merely probable, they exert every nerve; they toil by day and wake by night; they encounter dangers with resolution, and suffer hardships without complaint. And is it possible to believe that temporal considerations, which can fall under no certain calculation as to She certainty of acquiring them, should engage our affections, and employ all our active powers; and that considerations of infinitely greater moment confessedly, and certain as to their attainment and duration, should have less influence, or no influence at all, upon us? It is impossible; the idea is absurd. What mighty effects, then, it may be asked, will the Christian’s hope produce? They are, no doubt, various in degrees, and correspond to that hope as it is more or less vigorous; but they are the same in kind; and they may in general fall under one view,--a change of the objects of his affections and pursuits. The bonds in which he was held formerly by his passions and sensual appetites, restrain him no longer; he is no longer under their tyranny and blind impulse. He feels himself overawed by a superior authority; and he perceives objects presented to him which he had formerly viewed with indifference, or had been wholly unnoticed by him, which by a new energy seize his soul,--captivate his affections, and fix his choice. Again, animated by this hope of salvation, the soul rises superior to the world; and feels a Divine elevation that cannot stoop to it, when courted by its most flattering forms, as its ultimate object. This hope of salvation inspires the soul with a Divine zeal, a holy impatience after further attainments. The higher this hope rises, the more it enlarges the heart.
IV. In order to confirm and strengthen their resolutions, they will bind themselves by a solemn deed and covenant. “Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant, that shall not be forgotten.” A personal covenant with God is inseparable from genuine closet-devotion Every prayer, every pious purpose, every devout meditation, is virtually a covenant with the Lord. And there may be certain occasions wherein devout souls may see cause to be more explicit to express at large their sense of Divine things, their present feelings, their past experiences, and to commit to writing their solemn purposes and engagements, and, to impress the whole the stronger upon their minds,--to append their names. But this I only mention, the words leading me to speak, not of a personal or closet transaction, but of a public bond of union, the common act of a religions society. Single resolutions slip easily out of the mind, and lose their hold of us; but in a public transaction, where the great God is supposed to stand on the one part, and His poor dependent creatures on the other, there is something so awful and solemn, as must leave upon a mind, not wholly hardened and insensible, some suitable impressions; especially where the transaction is accompanied and confirmed by sensible and expressive symbols. (Thomas Gordon.)
A test for true seekers
By nature all are captives under the power of Satan, sin, and death. Now, just as Israel found comfort and hope, and had an expectation of getting back to the promised land, when the might of Babylon was broken, so there is comfort for every sinner who desires to escape from the power of sin and Satan, in this great fact, that Christ has broken the power of the old dragon. He has snapped in sunder the iron yokes that His redeemed might go free. Thus Babylon’s destruction is Israel’s salvation. Notice, next, these words in verse 4: “In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together,”--from which I gather that, when men’s hearts are set upon seeking the Lord, it is wonderful how neigh-hourly they become. Attend to this hint, then, you who are seeking the Saviour. You are encouraged by the fact that the power of Satan is broken, take care that you make up all quarrels, and put an end to all envyings and disputes, for thus you will be helped in seeking the Lord. Notice, next, that the right way for a sinner to return is, first to seek the Lord, and then to seek Zion,--that is, the Church, or heaven, whichever you understand Zion to be. “They shall go, and seek the Lord their God”; and then follows our text, “They shall ask the way to Zion.” Another remark arising out of the context is this, that many who seek the Lord seek Him weeping: “The children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping.” Notice that combination, “going and weeping.” Some are weeping, but never going; and some are going, but never weeping; it is a blessed thing when we have the two together,--practically drawing near to God, and passively feeling deep sorrow for sin. There are two kinds of tears, and I think that they who truly seek the Lord shed both of them; the one is a tear of sorrow because of sin, the other is a tear of joy because of pardon.
I. There are some persons who neither ask the way to Zion nor set their faces thitherward. Their relationship to Christ is that of utter indifference. They regard eternal things as though they were mere trifles, and they look upon temporal things as though, these, were all-important. They call this “minding the main chance,” and “looking after the principal thing”; but as to their souls and God, and heaven, and eternity, they are utterly indifferent. Let ms think of what it is to which they are indifferent. They are utterly indifferent to God. You know how many there are who live as if there were no God at all. This is a terrible thing, because God will require all this at their hands. It is no slight thing to be utterly indifferent to Christ, to Him who loved mankind so much that He could not abide in heaven, and let them perish, but must needs come here and be a lowly, suffering, despised, crucified man, that He might redeem men Yet, after all that He has done, which must have astonished the angels in heaven, and which ravishes the heart of every gracious man on earth, these people do not care. They are utterly indifferent also with regard to themselves. They expect to have troubles in this life; but as to that which comforts many of us under these troubles, they do not wish to know about it. They see many of God’s people calm and quiet under pain and bereavement and sorrow, and they are sometimes curious to know what the secret is; yet their curiosity is not strong enough to stir them out of indifference. Often, when a man is indifferent about Divine things, it is because he vainly imagines that he is wise. I do not think that you and I ought to meddle with everything; there are some things we may as well let drift, but this will never do about God and eternity. I may be indifferent to God, but He is not indifferent to me. I may forget Him, but He has not forgotten what I do, and think, and say. Another thought that ought to come home to many is that this indifference is so foolish. When a man is indifferent to his own happiness, then he is a fool. If a man were miserably poor, although he might be rich, but he was indifferent about it, yea would think him insane. Now, there is no joy like the joy of salvation in Christ; there is no bliss under heaven that can parallel the bliss of the man who has committed himself into Christ’s hands, and is resting calmly in Him; yet these indifferent people do not care about it.
II. There is another set of people who ask the way to Zion with their faces turned away from it. It is a very strange thine that any should say, “Tell us the way to heaven,” and yet, when we have told them, that they should set off walking the other way. “Go due east,” you say; but they go due west directly. Now what can be the reason for that? A man is secretly a drunkard, or he is unchaste, or a woman is living in secret sin, yet always found listening to the Gospel. Why is this? Do you wish to increase your own condemnation? Do you? I cannot think that it is so. I hope that you do not come in order that you may hear of things to quarrel with and quibble over. I remember one, who was afterwards an eminent saint, who first went to hear Mr. Whitefield, because he was a great mimic, that he might take him off, and he afterwards went to the club which they called the “Hell Fire Club” to spend the evening. “Now, my mates,” said he, “I am going to give you a sermon that I heard Mr. Whitefield preach yesterday”; and the man repeated the sermon, but he himself was converted while he preached it, and so were several of his mates who had met for blasphemy. So, come, even if you do come for such an evil purpose as that. Still, it is a sorrowful business that there should be men who ask the way to Zion, and turn their faces in the opposite direction.
III. There is a third class of people who ask the way to Zion, but turn not their faces. What is the meaning of their conduct? Is it an idle curiosity? Do they want to understand theology as others wish to understand astronomy or botany? That is almost like drinking wine out of the sacred vessels, as Belshazzar did; and you know how that night he was slain. Why do such people ask about salvation? Do they dream that mere knowledge will save them? You may get a clear head, but if you have not a clean heart, it will not avail you at the last. Peradventure, however, some of those who are seeking their way to Zion, but have not set their faces that way, are asking with a view to quiet their consciences. It makes them feel better to hear a sermon. Oh, you are strange people! There is a man who is very hungry; does it make him feel that his appetite is appeased when he smells the dinner, when he sees the plates arranged upon the table, and hears the clatter of the knives? Is it that you are trying to store up some little knowledge to use by and by? Are you asking the way to Zion that you may run in it when it becomes convenient to you? Ah, sir! are you making a convenience of God? Do you intend to make Him stand by while you attend to more important things?
IV. There is a fourth set of people who have their faces thitherward, but they do not ask the way. Do they fancy that there are many ways? How many roads are there to heaven? This Book declares that there is only one. Do you ask, “Where are we to enquire?” Well, first of all, inquire of the Book. When you have inquired of the Book, then go on your knees, and inquire of the blessed Spirit who inspired the Book. If you cannot understand the Bible, ask the Author of it to explain it to you. He giveth wisdom, therefore ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Ask the Lord Jesus Christ to manifest Himself unto you as He does not unto the world, and to lead you in His way. I may also say, but quite secondarily, inquire of His servants. And I may also add that you will do well to ask about the way from many of God’s people. Although they do not preach, they will be glad to tell you what they do know, and many godly men and women can explain to you just what you want to know.
V. Those are the best inquirers who turn their paces toward Zion, and yet are willing to ask the way. Is that your condition, dear friend? Well, then, let me say two or three things for your encouragement, and the first is, Thank God that your face is thitherward, and that you are asking the way. Set a high value on this little grace, for it is no small thing, after all; and, as you think of it, bless God for it. Remember, next, that you must act as far as you know how to act. If the Lord has shown you the right pathway, go in that pathway. Perhaps you say, “There are many difficulties there.” Never mind the difficulties; cross each bridge as you come to it. “Oh, but there are some things that I do not understand!” No doubt there are; and there are many things that I do not understand; and there are some things that I do not particularly want to comprehend. If I understand what really concerns my eternal welfare, and the good of my fellow-men, and the glory of God, it is enough for me. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The way to Zion
Like these Israelites--we have been going “from mountain to hill,” that is, from one form of idol-worship to another, till we have forgotten our resting-place. There is but one resting-place for the creature, and that is the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, apprehended by the soul, fled to, clung to, trusted to. But we thought we could find another rest, some enjoyment, some indulgence, some pursuit, some ambition, some affection, some passion, something which would be all our own, something that would fill the empty chamber, mind, heart, soul, and make us independent of all and everyone except itself. From mountain to hill we ran or we wandered; the last new idol reigned for its hour; then another showed itself in the horizon, and we thought that surely will be the real rest, the true home of this footsore, this wind-lashed and storm-tossed being. “They have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting-place.” Well, then, inquiry must be the dawn of hope. We must “ask the way.”
I. There is always something beautiful in the spirit of inquiry. The very face of the inquirer shines. That kindling of the eye as a man listens--the man who has a thirst for knowledge--the man whose soul is set on finding its way into some new region of science, or into some new joy, is a touching sight to the looked-on, and it is an inspiring influence to the teacher who feels that he has a message. It is very delightful, indeed, to feel that inquiry is abroad. But of all inquiries the way to Zion is first and foremost. It lies at the root, I believe, of all this questioning. Whatever form inquiry takes this is its meaning. Even intellectual inquiry is often either the escape from, or is a substitute for, this. Some men say, and some men encourage the saying, “Religion is all doubtful, let me enjoy myself in the study of the certain; revelation may be insoluble, let me interrogate nature, whose very mysteries are substantial. “The way to Zion,” such men say, “has no signposts and no landmarks; I cannot guess in such matters, of doubt I am impatient; God in nature shall be my God; if there be a hereafter we will study it when we can know.” And then others have no idea of any method of knowing save what they call intellectual. It is not that they profess indifference to revelation; on the contrary, they would rather call themselves inquirers into its documents and into its pretensions; they treat it just as they treat a science or a philosophy--dissect, discuss, dispute over it, and lecture upon it with all the freedom and with far more than all the positiveness which they would think becoming if the matter in hand were either geology or botany, either the telescope or the microscope. If anyone were to say, “Are you aware that religion is the knowledge of a person, and that you may just as well expect to become acquainted with your friend by arithmetic or algebra, as hope to learn the way to Zion by processes of pure intellect,” they would turn round and accuse you of wanting to throw in an element of romance or feeling, and so to disturb every calculation and invalidate every result. And yet, can any word be truer than this, that they who would inquire into the truth of revelation must inquire with the whole man? Intellect is one part of the man--by all means bring intellect with you--but there are other parts as distinctive, as characteristic, and far more vital. If God has spoken, be quite sure He has spoken to all parts of us, and to the sum of all--the willing, acting, feeling, Judging, reflecting, resolving, loving, and living man. Many answers might be given, all true, and all hopeful, to this question as to the way to Zion. We will suggest one. The latest chapters of the Bible tell us one or two things like this--that the glory of God enlightens that world, that “the Lamb” (our Lord Jesus Christ) is the “Light thereof”; again, that the “Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it”; and, once again, that the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, that “His servants shall serve Him,” that they “shall see His face,” that they shall, as it were, have His name in their foreheads. The desire of every soul surely must be to endeavour to anticipate that kind of life, to live now in the life of God, to see Him now by faith, to follow Him now whithersoever, by His prophets, by His Word, by His Spirit, by the example of Christ, He leads. This surely must be something of the way to Zion.
II. The spirit of inquiry must be also a spirit of resolution and determination. For there is an inquiry about the way which is all speculation. We can fancy some of those captives in Babylon busying themselves with conjecture as to the shortest and best way home. They sit there with a map on their knees, and discuss the Lebanon route, and the desert route, with great eagerness, with much ingenuity, with many arguments both ways, yet without an idea but that they themselves will have to end, their days as they began them, in exile. There is an asking of the way to God s Zion which is of this character. This is the case of all who can discourse about the scheme of salvation, argue for it, quarrel for it, condemn and execute for it, yet forbear altogether the “weeping,” which this passage tells us of, for their own sins; the “going,” which this passage tells us of, in the path of duty; the “seeking,” which this passage tells us of, as always preliminary to the finding. Their faces are not thitherward, whatever be the talk or the profession. Let each inquiry be a determination. If we hear in a sermon, if we read in the Bible, that “without holiness no man can see the Lord,” then let us instantly say to ourselves, “What is that sin which is hindering holiness in me at this moment?” and let the day not end without a struggle against it, without some special indulgence foregone in the might of prayer, some trial made of God’s promise, that whensoever we call upon Him an enemy shall be put to flight. If we hear that watching and praying can alone guard us against temptation, then let us instantly wake up the drowsy powers of earnestness and devotion, keep our loins girt, and our lamp burning, lest, perhaps, after much serving, we be found without the one thing needful; lest Satan, watching his moment, get an advantage; lest Christ, coming suddenly, find us sleeping. (Dean Vaughan.)
Seeking after finding
The singularity of the passage lies in the face of the inquirer being towards Zion, whilst he is yet forced to ask what road he ought to take. “They shall ask,” &c. They are in the right road, or at least are advancing in the right direction; but, nevertheless, whether through ignorance, or through fear of even the possibility of mistake, they continually make inquiries as to the path to be followed. We think that this circumstances indicates such honesty of purpose in the inquirer, such vigilance, such circumspection, such anxiety to be right, and such dread of being wrong, as should distinguish every Christian, though too often we look for them in vain. And, at the same time, we evidently learn that persons are not always fair judges of their spiritual condition; they may be asking the way like those who are in ignorance and darkness, and all the while their faces may be towards Zion. Let us consider first the case of those who, though going right, suppose themselves going wrong; and secondly, that of those who believe themselves right, but yet desire further assurance; for of both classes it may equally be said, “They ask the way,” &c. Now it is the object of such parables as that of the tares and the wheat, or that of the net which gathered of all kinds, to teach us that there is to be a mixture in the visible Church, and that it is not men’s business to attempt a separation. We are all too much disposed to exercise a spirit of judgment, to pronounce opinions on the condition of our fellow-men, whether the living or the dead, just as though we had access to God’s Book, and could infallibly read its registered decisions. But there is everything in the Bible to warn us against this spirit of judgment, and to urge us, on the contrary, to a spirit of charity. A very comforting remembrance it is, that we are not to stand or fall by human decision, that our portion for eternity is not to be settled by what men think of us here. But not only are men likely to deliver a false judgment upon others, and therefore bound to confine their chief scrutiny to themselves, it is further very possible that they may form a wrong opinion of their own spiritual state, not only, as you all know, in concluding themselves safe whilst in danger, but, as is perhaps less suspected, in concluding themselves in danger whilst safe. They are downcast because faith seems weak, or elated because it seems strong; whereas it is not faith which is to save them, but Christ; and whilst faith, whether in itself or its evidences, may change from day to day, Christ changes not, but is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” And we always think it safe to tell those who are spiritually depressed, that their very depression is no mean argument of their safety; for so unnatural is it to man to feel anxious for his soul, that, wheresoever there is the anxiety, we recognise a higher agency, even a Divine, as having wrought to excite the solicitude. And over and above these cases of depression, in which one cause or another weaves darkness round a man, so that, whilst his face is towards Zion, he cannot perceive that he is on the road to the heavenly city, we nothing doubt that there are many instances of parties who have begun in true religion, and nevertheless think that the first step has not been taken. It is not always, nay, it is not, we believe, often, that conversion is suddenly effected, nor through some special instrumentality which fixes, as it were, the date of the change. In the majority of cases, the change, we are inclined to believe, is gradual, imperceptibly effected, so that, although the man becomes at length conscious of a great moral alteration, he cannot tell you when it commenced, nor by what steps it went on. Regarding conversion as a gradual work, a work in which “one soweth and another reapeth,” we do not look on those who are evidently confirmed believers, as the only travellers towards the celestial city: we rejoice in thinking that there are numbers in whom the moral change is not yet distinctly marked, but who are nevertheless in the act of passing the strait gate. But let us pass on to the case of men, in regard of whom there can be no doubt that they have made a beginning, and let us see what our text may indicate as to these more advanced characters. Let it first be observed, that a Christian should never be too confident; that he should never take for granted, as a point on which there could not be doubt, that he is indeed “a new creature,” and on the high road to the kingdom. Do you find an increasing delight in secret prayer? does sin seem to you more and more odious? are you more and more penetrated by the exceeding great love of God in giving His Son to die for your sakes? is holiness becoming your happiness, duty your privilege, and heaven the very home of your affections? These, and the like questions are those which you should be frequently proposing to yourselves. On the answer to these, an answer given as in the sight of a heart-searching God, should rest your answer to the most momentous of all questions, “Are we on the way to Zion?” And if the answer to this last question can only be come at through the answer to a series of inquiries, each of which may be said to need, from its very nature, the being dally proposed, it necessarily follows that you ought to be imitating the children of Judah and Israel, asking as to the road to Zion, however you may hope that your faces are already thitherward. Can this be the way to Zion in which I am? Ask the dead, who have reached that heavenly city: with one voice they will tell you, that, if it be the right way, it is a way of self-denial, leading you through mortified lusts, and over subjugated affections; and then judge ye whether or not it be such a way in which you are found. Ask the living, of whom you have best cause to believe that they are heirs of the kingdom: they will assure you that the way is one of faith and obedience, every step of which is an advance in the knowledge of your own depraved hearts, and in the sense of the worth and sufficiency of Christ; and then judge ye whether or not this can be the way in which you are walking. Ask the Bible, on whose pages the Holy Spirit hath mapped out the path, and it will tell you that the way is a narrow way, which will not admit of your encumbering yourselves with perishable things, but which can be traversed only by those who lay aside every weight; all then judge ye whether ye have obtained the description of a path which ye yourselves are pursuing. And ask ye, yet further, of God. By diligent and fervent prayer make inquiry of God as to the road which conducts to the place where He dwells. And the answer to this inquiry, an answer, which, if there be sincerity in the inquirer, shall certainly not be withheld, will expose to you the deceitfulness of all hope of reaching Zion which is not founded on the appropriation of the merits of the Redeemer, the reality of that appropriation being proved by the produced fruits of righteousness; and then determine whether such answer ought to leave you assured that you are not self-deceived, when concluding yourselves in the heavenward path. We do not wish you to be always uncertain as to whether or not your faces are turned towards Zion; hut we wish you to understand that their being so turned is a reason in favour of, not a reason against, your frequently inquiring the heavenly path. It is not sufficient that they be turned; the great matter is, that they be kept turned; and whilst such is your nature, that, without constant vigilance, the direction may be gradually changed, and yet appear to you the same--even as the eyes of a well-drawn portrait follow you as you move, and so might persuade you that you had not moved at all--it is evidently bound on you, by your regard for your safety, that you be always ascertaining the landmarks, in place of judging by your apparent position. Is my life the life of a believer in Christ? is faith producing piety, humility, charity, patience? What is this mountain before me? is it on the map? what is this valley which I have to cross, this stream which I have to ford? are they what I was to meet with, or do they show that I have wandered? And here the road divides--which turn am I to take? what is to decide me in this perplexity? Let me be firm on one point--that it is the direction of the road, not its quality, by which I will be determined. The road which leads to heaven, that is my road, be it, or be it not, strewed with the rocks, and swept by the torrents. Other paths may look more inviting: but I have nothing to do except with their termination: if they conduct not to Zion, I would not venture to follow them even a solitary step, though they might lead me to riches, or honours, or pleasures. This it is to imitate the emancipated Jews. But there is yet more to be gathered from this description, when considered as that of a believer in Christ. We will now suppose him certified as to the direction in which he is proceeding, certified that his face is towards Zion, and nevertheless busying himself with inquiries as to the way. And what would this mark? Christianity is that in which no man can be too advanced to study the alphabet. The simple and fundamental doctrines of our holy religion,--the doctrines of human corruption, of the renewing power of God’s Spirit, of the incarnation of the Eternal Word, and of the atonement effected by a Mediator,--these, which may be said to show the way to Zion, present continually new material for the contemplation and instruction of the Christian. There is a sense in which- there is no getting beyond the very alphabet of Christianity; that alphabet will always be beyond us; any one of its letters being as a mighty hieroglyphic which the prayerful student may partially decipher, but the most accomplished scholar never thoroughly expound. By this, then, amongst other tests, let those who think themselves advanced in Christianity try their spiritual condition. What ear have they for simple truths simply delivered? In their private studies, what pleasure have they in meditating the first principles of the Gospel? do they find those first principles inexhausted, inexhaustible? or is it always to deeper doctrines that they turn, as though it were only when quite out of their depth, that they gain a resting-place for the soul? But there is yet one more particular on which we wish to insist. We would direct your attention to what we may call the honesty of purpose displayed by the Jews, and hold it up for imitation to all who profess to be seeking the kingdom of God. The Jew had his face turned towards Zion, whilst he was inquiring the road: if he did not know the precise path, he knew the direction in which the city lay; and he was looking in the direction, when he asked what way he should take. We have a right to require and expect a similar conduct from all those who ask of us the way to heaven. There is such a thing as asking the way to Zion with the face towards Babylon; and if there be this dissimulation--for no milder word will express the precise truth--in vain will the preacher point out the road, and urge the traveller to decision and dispatch. We would have you distinctly understand that there is a certain part which the unconverted man has to perform if he hope for conversion; and that whilst this is undone, he has no right to look for the visitations of grace. It may not be in his power to find for himself the pathway of life; still less to take a step on that pathway when found. But he may ascertain the direction in which Zion lies, and he may be looking in that direction, if not advancing. It is quite idle to say that he knows not the direction: he knows it to be the exact opposite to that in which he naturally looks; to turn his eyes from the world is, as he must be thoroughly aware, to turn them towards Zion. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Question and attitude
Inquiry and attitude should correspond. You should look as if you meant your questions. Do not let us have any discrepancy in the man himself; no asking of questions about one way whilst we are looking over the shoulder towards another. Do not mock kind heaven. “Thitherward”: literally, hitherward. Jeremiah is writing in Judah, and he says the time will come when the returning ones will face this way; and they will he asking from step to step, Which is the road to Zion? Sometimes we look our prayers; sometimes we are on the right road and do not know it. Questions about a certain kind of knowledge seem to be born in every soul; love for certain kinds of intelligence is inborn. Here is a little creature three years old who cannot be kept away from the piano. He will be there when you are not looking; he will rise early in the morning and grope his way towards the musical instrument. Why this, thou little Mozart? I cannot help it. Would it not be more in your way, poor little child, to have hoop, or humming-top, or bagfuls of marbles? He does not answer in words, but he goes back to the piano as if he had left it in some other world and was delighted to find it again; it talks to him, and he talks to it, and if you will allow the little soul to tarry there he wants no other heaven just now. Others are fond of language or science or history; there is a predestination that settles us if we will listen to it. The Lord has not turned any one of us into a pathless world. He says to every traveller, I want you to go down this road; do not turn to the right or the left; you must be trained in the way you should go, the predestined, foreordained road; you will find walking smooth down there, but if you get upon any other path your feet will be pricked with sharp thorns. When the soul is really alive with interrogation it will know how to put its own questions, and it will give the Church no rest until those questions have been answered substantially. If the Church cannot answer the great questions of the soul, then it is no Church, though its spire be high as heaven. Nor must we think that only the nominally great can answer the soul’s questions. Sometimes a little child might guide a king. What are the great questions that men should ask? Men must answer that inquiry themselves. Why be so anxious about details and trivialities and frivolities? Why hold the letter in your hand and ask a score of questions about the sealing of it? You are not going to be saved by the seal; break it, open the letter, read it. If you are really in earnest, if your souls be aflame with Divine sincerity, you will know what questions are important and what are trivial There shall come a time when the only questions worth asking will be religious questions. Where is Zion? Where is God? What is truth? Where is peace? What do all your inquiries amount to when set side by side with the possibility (let us use no firmer term at this moment) of knowing and realising the spiritual and the Divine? Now suppose you know all about the strata, how they were built, and how they were piled, and how their were coloured, and can trace every line, and discourse with eloquence upon every lamination,--now how do you feel after all that? Are you at peace? are you at rest? I see your fingers going out after other worlds to clutch them because you have exhausted the little volume of the earth. But the universe is just as little to God as the earth is to you and the universe. There is nothing great beside God--that is, in comparison with Him, in relation to Him. We must prove the reality of our sincerity by the set and stress of our lives. Observe, these people do,, not only ask a question, they discover a disposition, they represent an attitude. “They shall ask their way to Zion with their faces thitherward” They lose no time in asking questions; they ask them as they go. Is this the” road? we know it is: and the answer is, Yes, go on; fair Zion, beautiful as heaven’s morning, stands yonder, with doors thrown back to give you welcome and hospitality. It is well thus to be doing two things at once, to be gathering information and to be realising it, to be asking questions and to be losing no time in progress. Here we have no mere speculation, no mere intellectual entertainment; here we have nothing but dead earnestness, the tongue asking the question which the face represents in action. How is it with us? We can show where we would be if we could. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Why ask the way to Zion when going thither? A certain inconsistency strikes us between the right movement of the foot and the confessed uncertainty o| the mind. But second thoughts show us how real is the harmony between the Zionward question and the Zionward move.
1. Is it not an experimental fact that men are often moving Zionward, whilst mentally they do not know the way? The mind of an awakening man reveals a strange commingling of truth and error, of knowledge and ignorance. There are many things he does not know--as to the nature and the law of God, as to the exact manner of life He would have us lead, as to the spirit and the employ of that new kingdom which Christ Jesus has set up--he has ever need to “ask the way.” On the other hand, there are some things be does know. He at least knows in what directions the road to Zion does not lie. In Bunyan’s great allegory Christian’s first idea of heavenwardness was to turn from the City of Destruction. He did not know where the Celestial City was; but he knew it could not lie anywhere near that seat of Satan. The kingdom of God must be opposite to the realm of the devil. So his first step was a step away from that repulsive spot. When soon after his feet sank in the Slough of Despond you remember he struggled to get out on the side farthest from his own home. The true inquirer reasons in the same way. Zion must be otherwhere than in the world--its “way” must somehow lead away from it. Now, this is, of course, only negative knowledge; but it is positive advantage. It is only half-knowledge; but it means half-salvation The first real stride towards heaven is the soul’s break with the world. The man who has got so far is really on the path to Zion. What is this type of man? Where do we find this class? They are men whoso way of life is out of the common run. You do not find them in the circles of frivolity or where the crowd is densest. They are men who have cast off from them that spell named Fashion, who have sought out for themselves the true standards of righteousness, who are daily preferring principle to gain and an easy conscience to a famous reputation You will find these men in the house of God as often as is possible. They are good listeners--devout, intelligent, teachable, ever willing to know the truth that they may do it. These are the people whose faces are Zionward, though they themselves are not yet there; nor do they even know with certainty its “way.” And these are the men who also “ask.” How do they so? Is not their very posture an inquiry? Is not their separation from the City of Destruction--their exodus from Satan’s Egypt--is not that a token that they desire a better portion? The life shows the heart. The posture indicates the will. The step denotes the aim. And it is often this which in the long-run decides the question of salvation. It is the lie of the heart, more than the achievement of the life, which approves a man to God. It is the direction of his face and not the extent of his progress which fits a man for Zion’s citizenship. For, indeed, it is these first motions which are the most difficult to make and the most cardinal. To go with the crowd is the easiest of all motions; to go against the stream is the hardest of all. The further inquiry of the awakened soul is usually in the line of its rudimental notion--its further steps in the direction of its first movement. For the Spirit of the Lord is in that soul’s uprising. It is the invisible hand of the Almighty which thrusts him from the doomed spot. It is the Saviour’s voice which he hears calling, “Escape for thy life.”
2. I have known another class of men who ask the way to Zion with their faces” turned the other way. The inquiry of these is by the lip; the posture of their heart is towards the world. Some of them are consciously insincere. They are wanting in even pious motive. They may be outwardly righteous; but it is with a righteousness which they have learned in worldly schools. They pass for men of purity but their purity is the price they pay for social esteem. Their honesty is only their policy. Their action is Zionwards, their words are in heaven’s language; but their heart’s direction is towards the world. There are some who maintain this inconsistency with a measure of pious motive. The things of their religion are really religious things. They use the means of grace as means to grace. They recognise the ways of truth and virtue as things of heaven, and they approve and love them all as such. They want to be Christians and to go to glory. They set their feet in the acknowledged ways of righteousness. They ask the way to Zion with all ingenuousness and without conscious reserve. And so far as the indicated path is a course of outer goodness and general integrity they willingly pursue it. But all the while their face and their heart are worldwards, not Zionwards. It is about the world that their affections cluster. It is the world in which they inwardly believe. They have no objection to piety plus worldliness, but they do not want a piety which is the negation of worldliness and the substitute for worldliness. What is their success? It is plainly a difficult thing to walk the opposite way to that in which you look. You see children sometimes doing that in the streets, but with many a bump and many a tumble. And quite as small success attends the experiment in spiritual things. Here and there a man may perform, for a time, the risky feat. For a while he may maintain the form of godliness and get credit for the reality of it. Neither the onlooking world, nor the man himself, knows how truly his heart is with the creature, rather than with God. He is called a seeker after Zion; but none but the All Knowing knows how completely his whole cast of thought belies that quest. But inconsistencies nearly always come into the light. It is seldom that the heart and the practice can be long disjoined. The foot and the eye generally agree. Only the eye leads the foot, and not the foot the eye. Where the heart goes the conduct will eventually follow. A man with his heart in the world usually comes out poorly even as a formal saint. Generally the man who is content to be half a Christian ends in not being one at all. Whatever we do our heart must be disposed aright. There is verily no hope of heaven and God apart from a Zionward gaze: that is sure to make our feet move Zionwards.
3. To the most sincere and whole-hearted there is need to “ask the way.” God’s Spirit in man’s heart never supersedes God’s Spirit in His Word. God’s Spirit in His Word seldom supersedes God’s Spirit in His Church. The truth of heaven does not flow automatically into the human mind when once that mind has seen the light. The way of God is never revealed to those who do not search. Answers to our heart’s most urgent problems do not come without asking. When we are but walking some common road upon some ordinary errand, we do not like uncertainty. We want to be sure that we are going right. We question many passing travellers rather than go astray, and we check one guide’s advice against another’s. It is vastly more important that we keep the right way in our Zion-quest. The issues of this journey surpass in moment every other, and whatever the pains we have to take, and however reiterated the inquiries we make, we must be quite sure. Happily there is assurance for us, if we will have it. There is truth and light in abundance for ready minds and docile hearts. It is stored in the Sacred Book, in the ministry of the Church, and in the experience of the faithful. The man who seeks the guidance of the Spirit through these means will not seek in vain. Those who go where the light beams are sure to get some of it into their souls. They who follow Christ shall not walk in darkness; they shall have the light of life, guiding them to the realm of perfect light and life eternal. (J. J. Ingram.)
“With their faces thitherward,” those words seem to me to convey a special message to us, to prescribe to us a certain attitude, to suggest to us what is possible in a day like our own. For there are so many matters in which we find ourselves in captivity. We are forced to acquiesce in evil conditions which long years have left as our inheritance. Ancient ideals have broken up in Church and State, old homes lie waste and desolate, and from them we have wandered far. They are but as lost dreams. God’s purpose was once in them, but sin was strong and stubborn, and it was fruitless work for Him to repeat forgivenesses which never availed, and to prolong His mercy. And at last the Word of God was given to let the judgments fall, and things were allowed to take their course. God’s earlier purpose was suspended and broken off, and the story of man and the story of Christ’s Church takes on a new development; it passes over into strange and troubled situations, and the Divine will sanctions the change, and admits of trouble. God sets to work under the conditions of the exile in captivity. Not that the sacred purpose is abandoned, but that God proposes now to reach its fulfilment by the road of surrender, by the way of captivity, through the discipline of defeat. Just as in the Gospel the blindness of the man who was sightless from his birth, though in itself a curse due to some original sin, was, as it were, cut off by the action of God from its connection with sin, and there accepted as a pitiful fact, and was turned into a new call upon the goodness of God, and became the motive for a fresh exhibition of His compassion, and an exhibition that opened out unsuspected depths of glory in the love of God for sorrowful man, so even the miserable plight of a divided Christendom gives us a deeper insight into the immeasurable patience, tolerance and burden and pity of the Divine heart than we ever could have guessed before our misery evoked it. We might have thought that His wrath would have been so hot against the Church which was divided against itself that He would have abandoned it to its proper penalty. But no, though a father and mother may forsake, though a woman might forsake her sucking child, yet will He never forsake us. He will follow us down wherever we are into our Babylons; He will put to profit disastrous situations. Babylon is but an interval and a discipline. Our Christendom must be again united, a prayer of Christ for its unity is still within it and behind it. That prayer for ever lives as a witness to the mind of God and to the end for which He is ever working. We may never forget it, we may never consider it to be the abandoned ideal. Whatever God works in us during the dismal course is still so done as to lead back the formative purpose which created the Church to be one Godhead. Though we cannot see how it would be possible, and though we can know nothing positive and practical towards its realisation, though we are hedged in by harsh, unyielding circumstances, and though it is our plain duty to learn all that God has to teach us through that harsh circumstance in which He has placed us, yet still the prophet’s voice cries to us to remember, even in impossible things, to look in the direction of the unforgotten vision, to turn our faces thitherward. Turn our faces thitherward! We cannot see our Zion; it is far, far away. We cannot hope to distinguish with our eyes the whole Church of earth become again what Christ meant it to be. Alas! we die in exile from our home. We shall lay our bones in Babylon. East and west and north and south we shall see only divided brothers until our eyes close in death. But before we die, the prophet says, we can at least turn those eyes thitherward. Towards the direction in which peace lies we can ever send out hearts of prayer and longings. Not always shall Christian hate Christian, not always shall altar be divided from altar, not for ever shall east, west, and north be sundered from the south. Once again we shall all understand one another’s speech, and a new Pentecost will blot out the light of Babel. What it will be like, that recovered unity, we cannot guess; it will be in some form new and strange, as was the recovered life of Israel round the rebuilt Zion. How utterly unlike was unity and the dispersion after the captivity to the earlier unity of the compact kingdom. That walled little kingdom would never come back again, but the larger spiritual union that held the dispersion together round Jerusalem was far more intense and real than was the superficial coherence of the twelve tribes and the one kingdom. We cannot forecast the changed conditions under which the Church will find herself once more at one. But still through faith, in spite of the darkness, we can look out for the dawn of a new day, we can watch the visions for ever shining, we can snatch at all that makes in that way; we can hope and believe against facts, and hope against hope, and never fail to be found praying for the peace of Jerusalem, with our faces at least turned thitherward. With our faces turned thitherward! Is not that the word by which those who held fast, who perhaps for no fault of their own that they could detect, find themselves caught in the wilderness of doubt? Doubt! It has come upon them like an enemy in the night, it has laid siege, it has encompassed them about within and without. As we have each of us so often to feel the pressure of the world’s vast sorrows, so we may have the full pressure of the world’s doubt, not, indeed, that we can enter into the cloud with a light heart, wilfully and carelessly, merely to follow the fashion. But if the doubt be real, it can only be dealt with by facing it and probing it to the end. It then passes the first stage of depression and anxiety and loss and damage. While the trial continues that must be, it must be miserable to be robbed of your gladness, to be blind to the vision, to feel far from home, to find no longer joy m going up to the temple of Zion with the multitudes on the holy day, to wander as a lonely shepherd amongst the hills, to have nothing you can follow, no kindly light about your feet. But though this trouble be allowed to fall, you have still one duty, to remember Zion, to ask the way thither, and to turn your face thitherward. Believe me, God has not forgotten or deserted you because He has led you down to Babylon, and given you over to the Chaldees. You will come out of it a far stronger man than you went in, if only you will trust with all the might of your soul that it is He who has led you to suffer this deprivation, that there is no care for the pain that you have but to be faithful to the purpose which for the time denies you the sight of your Jerusalem, and that there is a real effectual will still at work for you and upon you even where God most surely hides it from your eyes, and always you must be saying this is not the end. Death, doubt, cannot be the final stage of the soul, doubt--though it seems so drearily long while it lasts--can only be a period, an interval, for a “time, a time, and half a time.” Hold to that, poor blind heart; be not afraid. There shall yet come the day when the Lord will turn again the captivity of Zion; then it will all be like a dream; then will your mouth be filled with laughter, your tongue with joy. (Canon Scott Holland.)
Asking the way
Our human nature is like a ruined temple in which the echo of old hymns and prayers still lingers and where a spectral Levite walks and murmurs of a lost glory. Hence our longing to return. All souls in their lowest depths are troubled to know the way of everlasting life. This universal consensus of aspiration led Plato to speak of the “wings of our pre-existent state.” The world is full of men and women who as Jesus passes by are half moved to throw themselves before Him as the young ruler did, crying, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” It is our vocation, as ministers of the Gospel, to point out the way to Zion. A grave responsibility rests upon us. Not long ago a signalman swung a white lantern as the railroad train swept by. On it went with impetuous speed until, on a sudden, there came a shock like a thunderbolt, and the train plunged down an embankment. The cars were piled one upon another, and oh, the shrieking and praying then! Who shall depict the anguish of that scene t Its record will be told on grave-stones and in the sable garments of the mourners who go about the streets. It was all because of the mistaken signal Who is sufficient to stand in this sacred place and direct souls into the way of spiritual life? No one of us could dare do this thing were it not that we have a sure oracle. At the outset we are admonished in these Scriptures that there is only one way to Zion. It used to be a proverb, “All roads lead to Rome.” In the centre of the Forum was a golden mile-stone, Milliarium Aureum, whereat all thoroughfares converge. If a traveller even in a distant province should ask, “Which way to Rome?” the answer would be, “Keep on and you will reach the golden mile-stone.” There are those who seem to think that all ways, in like manner, lead to heaven’s gate. If you are only sincere, keep on and you will get there. But alas, the Scriptures speak with a different voice. “There is a way which seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof is death.” All roads lead out into the wilderness save one, and that is the King’s highway, whereof the prophets slake. “A highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness.”
I. the King’s highway leads down through the valley of Bochim, the place of tears. Repentance is prerequisite to an entrance into life. To repent is to make a frank acknowledgment of sin and to forsake it. Is there aught unreasonable in this? If I have wronged a fellow-man do I not count it a point of honour to make amends to him? Shall we not observe as high a rule of honour and manliness in our attitude to God as we do in our human relationships?
II. The King’s highway runs over the hill of atonement. It is the royal way of the Cross. The law speaks on Calvary. It says to the sinner, “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” Nor is it possible to exaggerate the dreadfulness of that death. The Lord spoke of it under the figure of fire and the undying worm To Christ also the law speaks, Thou mayest expiate the sinner’s guilt. The sword awakes against the Shepherd. The only-begotten Son of God, assuming our place before the law, is wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. He dies that we may live. But between the sinner with the death sentence resting upon him and Christ suspended upon the shameful Cross there is a mighty chasm. How can the innocent suffer for the guilty! and what avails it for the sinner that Jesus dies ? Over that chasm faith springs a mighty arch. By Divine appointment the exercise of faith on the part of the sinner is made the sole condition of salvation- He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.
III. The King’s highway runs thenceforth across the open country to heaven’s gate. With the heart man believeth unto righteousness and with the lips confession is made unto salvation. If I have found a Saviour, and the joy of the great discovery has come into my heart, I cannot but sing my hosannas. The power of godliness is like ointment in the hand, which ever bewrayeth itself. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
The way to Zion to be inquired after
I was coming to Larne from Carrickfergus in a gig. Taking for granted that I knew the road well enough, I drove right on, passing many people going to market. After a while I began to doubt whether I was right, and meeting a gentleman on horseback, I said to him, “How far is it to Larne?” “This is not the way,” said he. “You are two miles past where you should have turned to the left up the hill Come back with me and I will show you the right way.” Then striking his forehead with his hand he said, “You could fool, why didn’t you inquire in time?” So you go on from day to day, thinking you are going right to heaven; but you are in the wrong way. The great God has told you the right way in His blessed Bible. The priest says you mustn’t read it; but if you don t inquire, you’ll find you’re wrong as I did. (W. Arthur’s Life of Gideon Ouseley.)
Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.--
The redeemed sinner joining himself in a covenant with God
In our intercourse with the world, we seldom hear such language as this from others, or utter it ourselves. But a kinder invitation could not possibly be addressed to us; nor could we offer to those whom we love more friendly advice.
I. Why the Lord condescends to enter into a covenant with His redeemed people.
1. He has thus pledged Himself to His people to show how greatly He honours them.
2. This gracious God has entered into a covenant with His people, that He may bind them more closely to Himself.
3. But the chief reason why it has pleased God to enter into a covenant with His servants, is this--to show them the sureness of His mercy, the certainty of their receiving pardon, grace, and salvation at His hands.
II. What is implied in their availing themselves of His condescension, and joining themselves to Him in a covenant.
1. The spiritual union spoken of implies a renunciation of every covenant which is opposed to this covenant with God.
2. But before we can enter into covenant with God, we must proceed a step farther, and accede to the terms of His covenant. Now these terms are so simple, that a child may comprehend them; and so gracious, that they fill the minds of angels with wonder; but because they are opposed to the imaginations of our depraved hearts, thousands daily reject them, yea, perish rather than accept them. “He that believeth shall be saved.” It asks of us no merit; it demands of the penitent sinner no righteousness. It tells him to cast away all dependence upon everything that he can feel, or suffer, or do; and upon this one condition, that he heartily believes and embraces the promises of the Gospel, it assures him that all the blessings of the everlasting covenant are his.
3. And what follows? Is the believing sinner henceforth at liberty to live as he will? to be disobedient and lawless? No; the man who joins himself in a covenant to his redeeming Lord, gives himself up entirely and for ever to His service. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
Entering into covenant with God
I. What we are to understand by this union to God.
1. It must include a renunciation of all created dependencies, and of everything that stands in competition with God. We are not in danger, like Israel of old, of worshipping the hosts of heaven. The world attracts the eye and engages the heart. Its riches and honours have a charm, in which those of heaven are forgotten. Forbidden pleasures make their court in such address, that numbers are devoted to them; and some are idols to themselves, and place a dangerous dependence there.
2. A deliberate and cordial choice of God as our God.
3. A solemn surrender of ourselves, and an entire devotedness to Him.
4. A resolution to abide by the choice and surrender described, and to act as becoming those who stand in a covenant relation to God.
II. Such considerations as prove it to be the duty and interest of us all to join ourselves to the Lord in this covenant, and never forget it.
1. God has an absolute right and title to us.
2. There is everything in God that can lay claim to our supreme regards, and invite an union to Himself. All the lustre of the heavens, all the beauty and grandeur in the material world, and all the excellence to be found amidst the various orders of beings in the intelligent creation, is, as it were, but a ray from God, and is lost in the excellence and glory of the Divine nature.
3. “Joining ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant,” will insure our safety, our honour, and out, truest happiness in the present life.
4. “Joining ourselves to the Lord,” will issue in a blissful union to Him for ever.
1. Let us examine ourselves on the subject of this discourse.
2. Let those who have not joined themselves to the Lord be prevailed on to do it immediately.
3. Let those who are joined to the Lord in this covenant, rejoice in it, often renew it, and make it their principal concern through life, to walk worthy of it.
4. We should call on each other, and on all to whom we are related, in the language of the text. “Come, let us join ourselves,” &c. Friendship cannot express itself better, than by well-judged attempts to engage the hearts of its objects for God, and to maintain and strengthen their attachment to Him. This is serving the best interests of others: it is gratitude to Him who “has made us to differ”; and carrying on, in our humble sphere, that grand design in which heaven is engaged. (N. Hill.)
The solemn engagement
I. The nature of the transaction.
1. What it is not.
2. What it is.
(a) A voluntary surrender.
(b) Universal, without exception or reserve.
(c) Renouncing every other object, in so far as an attachment to it interferes with the love and duty we owe to God.
(d) This surrender is for ever. “Perpetual.”
II. What respects this is the duty of those who profess to be, like the Israelites, penitents returning unto the Lord.
1. To join themselves unto the Lord in a perpetual covenant is a duty He requires of every returning penitent. It makes a part of what is required in the very first of the ten commandments. For what is the covenant we have now described but an acknowledging, worshipping, and glorifying the Lord as our God in Christ Jesus?
2. God not only requires, but the great things He has done for them give Him a right to expect that they should join themselves to Him in a perpetual covenant.
3. The advantage to be derived from such a connection, points it out as our duty to join ourselves unto the Lord. Since they are dependent upon Him for every blessing, the regard they owe to their own interest renders it necessary.
III. Encouragement to the performance of this duty. The obligations of authority, gratitude, and interest, unite in calling us to this exercise; why, then, should we hesitate a moment about taking a decided part?
1. The privileges you think it would be presumptuous to claim, God Himself freely offers. I will, says He, be your God.
2. The fear that He will reject you is no just cause why you should not now join yourselves unto the Lord. In devoting yourselves unto Him, you are only obeying His commandment; and surely you have no cause to fear that He will reject the service He Himself requires.
3. The fear of departing again from Him is no just cause why you should not now join yourselves unto the Lord, since He Himself hath undertaken to preserve you from falling, and to keep you by His almighty power through faith unto complete salvation. Even now He is opening up all the stores of His fulness to supply your need, and enable you to fulfil every engagement into which, by His grace, you are disposed to enter. (G. Campbell.)
National covenanting a national privilege
It is when Israel and Judah--the ten and two tribes--are brought to seek the Lord their God, and, ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, that they say one to another, “Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.”
I. The parties who engage in covenanting.
1. God. It is to God the people propose to join themselves. It is not, however, God absolutely considered, but a three-one God in Christ,--God, as the Creator of the ends of the earth, as having all persons and all events entirely under His control, as the Father of lights, the Father of mercies, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of all comfort, that in Christ is reconsiling sinners to Himself, and saying to them, “I will make a covenant with you”;--it is to this God that the people seek to stand in the covenant relation. How great the condescension of the three-one God--who is so high in rank, so great in wealth, in love, in wisdom, in power, in goodness--to enter into covenant with the poor worms of His footstool, and enable them to say of Him, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His; He feedeth among the lilies.”
2. Man. It is with men, and not with angels, that God condescends to enter into covenant. The proposal, however, to engage in covenanting, and the disposition to comply with that proposal on the part d man, must come from the Lord. For it is not until God takes hold of sinners in the covenant of grace that they cheerfully give themselves to God in a covenant of duty. The surrender they then make of themselves to God is a complete or entire surrender--a surrender, not in one, but in all the relations of life. Those, therefore, that give themselves to God in a covenant of duty, as individuals, must esteem it a privilege to be permitted to give themselves to God, in the same covenant, as families, as Churches, as nations. It is national covenanting that is referred to in our text. It is Israel and Judah, or the kingdoms of the ten and two tribes, that propose to join themselves in covenant to the Lord.
II. The warrant for covenanting. Clearly it is our first duty in considering national covenanting to ask, Have men any warrant from Scripture for claiming in their national, or in any other relation in life, to be the bride--with all the rights and privileges of the bride--of the Lord of the universe? Undoubtedly they have. The scriptural warrant for nations, as such, giving themselves in covenant to God, is of the clearest and most encouraging description. There is the great fact that God Himself proposed and entered into covenant with Israel as a nation at Sinai. But the warrant arising from the covenanting at Sinai is confirmed--
1. By many scriptural examples, as the covenanting in the days of Asa, when all Judah rejoiced at the oath; and the Lord was found of them, and gave them rest round about; in the days of Nehemiah, when the nobles of the people made a sure covenant, and our princes, Levites, and priests’ seal unto it.
2. By many prophecies and promises, a few of which only we can quote in your hearing. There are, for instance (Isaiah 19:18-21; Isaiah 44:3-5; Isaiah 45:23). And how can the kingdoms of this world become Christ’s kingdom, but by swearing allegiance, or giving themselves in covenant to Him? May the time soon come when Israel and Judah, when Great Britain and Ireland, when all the nations of the earth shall say one to another, “Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.”
III. The nature of covenanting. What is a covenant! A covenant is a bargain or marriage. And a marriage is the union between two parties, or the declaring of them formally to be one. The marriage is based on mutual consent. And such, in its essence, is covenanting. It is the Lord formally giving Himself to His people, or saying of them, It is My people; and the people formally giving themselves to God, or saying of Him, The Lord is our God.
1. That in national covenanting there is, on the part of the covenanters, a formal and solemn acceptance of a three-one God in Christ as their God. As God takes hold of, and gives Himself to His people, in the covenant of grace, so there must be a faith’s approbation of that covenant, or a formal and solemn acceptance of a three-one God in Christ as their God, of God the Father as their Father, of God the Son as their Saviour, of God the Holy Ghost as their Sanctifier, Comforter, Friend, in their covenant of duty. Such acceptance of God is included in the covenanting at Sinai. In entering into their covenant with God, the Israelites, in the most solemn manner, accepted of the Lord as the God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, and in the most solemn manner declared that they received Him both as their Sovereign and covenant God, as “the Lord,” and as the “thy God.” It is included in the covenanting specified in Zechariah 13:9. And such acceptance of God must be included in all the covenanting that is acceptable to Him in all ages. For unless men are enabled cordially to receive a three, one God as revealed in Christ, He will not and cannot say of them, It is My people, nor enable them to say of Him, The Lord is my God. Some say that in thus accepting of a three-one God in Christ, covenanters do nothing more than genuine saints do, when they are enabled to accept of, and close with, Christ as their only and all-sufficient Saviour. In one sense this is true. But, at conversion, we accept of, and close with, Christ in our individual, whereas, in national covenanting, we accept of and close with Him in our corporate and national capacity. True. But, when you have been enabled to accept of and close with Him in your individual, why seek to accept of and close with Him in your national capacity? Why not be satisfied with the acceptance of Him you have already been enabled to make? Because, by doing so, we would neglect a plainly commanded duty, and deprive ourselves of a highly distinguished privilege. Every genuine Israelite that covenanted at Sinai, and in the plains of Moab, had already, as an individual, accepted of and closed with the Lord as his God. But, so far was God from being satisfied with this, that He asked the Israelites not merely in their individual, but in their public and corporate capacity, to accept of and close with Him anew. Accordingly, in Deuteronomy 26:17-19, Moses says to the Israelites, who had, in their national capacity, given themselves in covenant to God “Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God.”. . . “And the Lord hath avouched thee this day to be His peculiar people, as He hath spoken. In other words, the Lord declared that, through national covenanting, the Israelites enjoyed a national exaltation, praise, honour, and blessing, that could not otherwise have been obtained. How clear is it, therefore, that national covenanting is the true foundation of great and permanent national blessings.
2. In national covenanting there must be, on the part of the covenanters, a formal and cheerful surrender of themselves to God in a covenant of duty. In national covenanting, as in marriage, there must be a mutual surrender. God must cheerfully give Himself to the nation in the covenant of grace, and the nation must, by faith, as cheerfully and in a constitutional manner give itself to God in a covenant of duty. What we have already said shows that there can be no doubt as to the cheerfulness with which God gave Himself to Israel, and promises to give Himself in covenant to Christian nations in all ages. But whilst God cheerfully gave Himself, as the covenant God, to Israel, He was careful to see that, by faith, Israel formally and cheerfully gave himself, as a covenant people, to Him. In Exodus 19:3; Exodus 19:8, we are told that “Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, If ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine. And ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. And Moses came, and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord. “With this full consent on the part of the people the Lord was not yet satisfied. Accordingly, in Jeremiah 24:3, we read: And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments; and all the people answered with one voice and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do.” In Jeremiah 24:7 we read again--“And he (Moses) took the Book of the Covenant and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.” After the covenant had been read for the third time, and the people had for the third time given their consent to marry the Lord on the terms proposed, it is added, “And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.” How clearly do these facts show that it was with a full knowledge of what they were doing, and with the full consent of all the people, that the Israelites gave themselves in covenant to God at Sinai. (Original Secession Magazine)
My people have forgotten their resting-place.
Cannot you rest?
God has made Himself the resting-place for the human soul; and unless we fix our heart upon Him we may rest, but it is only for a time. The rest which God provides for us is a rest which satisfies us, and it is a rest which we can always have, a rest which “remaineth,” and which cannot be taken away from the people of God.
1. Many people are weary and very far from restful on account of business cares. You see continually in the newspapers that not only are there many bankruptcies and liquidations, and such like unpleasant occurrences, but the market reports tell us that trade is very unprofitable. Whatever happens, make the best of it. Don’t wear away your soul in mourning and repining as if your soul were chained to a perpetually revolving grindstone. Look to the bright side of things. Do the best you can, and do not fear the worst is sure to happen. Remember that God still lives and cares for you. “Trust in the Lord and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” It is a severe trial of faith in God when death removes the bread-winner from a family. Ah: at such a time of bereavement there is no consolation excepting from trust in God’s providential care. He is the Father of the fatherless and the Friend of the widow. Likewise, many a Christian man is ready to say in the desolateness of his sorrow, “I have to tread my path alone!” He does not say that God is dead, but be acts as if he thought so. To doubt the superintending care and consolation of God is practical atheism. When we are in trouble, that is the very time we ought to cast all our care upon Him, for “He careth for us.”
2. Then, some may be much troubled because of something going wrong in your family. You may have an undutiful and wicked son or daughter. A man said to me some time ago, “My heart is almost broken!” I asked, “What is the matter?” He answered, “My son--has become an infidel! I would rather have given my life!” Is there no resting-place in such a time of trouble? Yes; there is. Take up your Bible again, and read what God did “for David’s sake,” how the children of David and their descendants were blest and kept from great evil “for My Servant David’s sake.” “The prayer of faith shall save the soul.”
3. Some of the sharpest troubles experienced in this troublesome world come from misplaced or unrequited affection--what Shakespeare calls in his forcible way “the pangs of despised love.” Our only course in this, as in every other heartbreaking matter, is to” take it to the Lord in prayer,” trusting in Him, and leaving in His care all the responsibility of one’s life.
4. It may be that your trouble is a sinful disposition. You feel that you cannot help yourself. But God can give you relief and rest if you trust in Him. As Jesus restored to health the man who was sick of the palsy, so God can restore your soul by heavenly grace. Lastly, I wished to give you an assurance of rest in God’s paradise. (W. Birch.)
The soul’s resting-place
I. The human soul needs a resting-place.
1. This is true of the soul in innocence. As a creature he could not but be dependent. Without unquestioning trust in God, safety and happiness were impossible to man even before the fall.
2. How much more true is this since man has become a sinner. His nature is utterly weary. The cares and anxieties of life are wearing away his strength, and there is nothing binding him to earth but the fear of death The past is guilty, the future is hopeless, and so the present is restless.
II. Jesus Christ is the resting-place the soul needs.
1. In Christ we have full redemption. No anodynes of earth can give the soul the rest that the blood of Christ can.
2. In Him we also have regeneration. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” A new centre has been given to his heart, a new aim to his life, a new joy to his experience.
3. He gives repose to the intellect. Christ is “the truth,” and through confidence all mysteries are accepted as unquestioningly as a child accepts the statement of its parent. Jesus Christ alone brings to the soul the element of certainty, and, worn out by vain flights, it folds its weary wings and rests with quiet thankfulness on this tree of knowledge, which is also the tree of life.
4. He also gives repose to the affections of the soul. Earthly objects prove disappointing or fall away from us, or are torn from us and leave the soul all palpitating with agony, but no power can separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
III. This resting-place of the soul is sometimes forgotten even by those who have known and enjoyed it. A Christian may frequently have his peace in Christ” disturbed. At moments he may be walking through darkness. Job was a true man of God even when he was crying out, Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!” True, a Christian is not justified in being in this distressed state of mind. He ought to know better, &c.
1. When he falls into perplexity, doubting whether he is forgiven or not.
2. When he depends upon merely human and earthly resources.
3. When he loses his confidence in the midst of affliction. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Israel is a scattered sheep.
I. View God’s people, the spiritual Israel, as scattered sheep (Jeremiah 50:17).
1. They were sheep going astray. Scattered over the world.
2. Marked, noted, contemplated by the Divine eye, the Divine foreknowledge, the Divine purpose.
3. Found in different regions of the earth, yet advancing to one heavenly home--the better country.
II. View the people of the Most High, the spiritual Israel, as a forgiven people (Jeremiah 50:20).
1. Divine forgiveness.
2. A forgiveness dependent upon a Divine redemption.
3. A forgiveness is righteousness.
4. A complete forgiveness.
5. A forgiveness, and more than forgiveness. Inseparable from justification, acceptance in a righteousness of God, unto all and upon all them that believe.
6. A forgiveness never separate from sanctification.
III. View the chosen of the Most High, the spiritual Israel, as assailed and persecuted by lion-like foes (Jeremiah 50:17).
1. They who are effectually called, and set apart for God, are exposed at once to special enmities. All the enemies of Gospel truth, holiness, spirituality, godliness are their enemies.
2. The enemies of the spiritual Israel are formidable, but vincible.
3. The days of open persecution have emphatically illustrated the ferocity of anti-Christian persecution.
4. The foes of the spiritual Israel are vanquished foes. Christ hath already overcome them. They have all been vanquished in principle.
5. The spiritual Israel hath mighty resources engaged, mighty friendship and support pledged on its behalf. In Isaiah 31:1-9. Jehovah compares Himself to a lion in the succour and defence of His Zion (Isaiah 31:4).
IV. View the spiritual Israel as a reserved inheritance for Christ (verse 20).
1. Purchased and redeemed in order to be reserved.
2. Effectually called and regenerated in order to be reserved.
3. Separated from the world in order to be reserved.
4. Reserved, that the Saviour may take delight in them.
5. Reserved, as the gift of the Father to the Son.
6. Reserved to be witnesses for God and His Christ.
7. Reserved as first-fruits to God and to the Lamb.
8. Reserved to inherit exceeding riches of grace, and ultimate riches of glory.
V. View the people of the Most High, the spiritual Israel, as feeding in the pastures of grace under the “Great Shepherd of the sheep” (verse 19).
1. The Shepherd of this fold is mightier than all the devouring lions that can threaten His redeemed. He can curb them at His pleasure. The Shepherd of this fold is wiser than all the opponents of His Church. Neither might nor craft can defeat the purposes of His grace. (D. R. Morris.)
The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none.--
Sin completely removed
I. Sin is completely removed, in that the guilt of it is all forgiven, and the punishment due to it entirely remitted.
II. Sin is completely removed, in that the sinner is perfectly restored to the love and favour of God.
III. Sin is completely removed, in that the pardoned sinner obtains a blessed restoration of character, state, and hope.
IV. The way in which so complete a pardon and restoration of guilty sinners is effected.
V. This complete forgiveness of sin is alone worthy of God, and sufficient for man.
VI. This complete forgiveness is necessary for us all, and ought to be most earnestly sought by us all. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Their Redeemer is strong, the Lord of hosts is His name.
The kinsman Redeemer
Among the remarkable provisions of the Mosaic law there were some very peculiar ones affecting the next-of-kin. The nearest living blood-relation to a man had certain obligations and offices to discharge, under certain contingencies, in respect of which he received a special name; which is sometimes translated in the Old Testament “Redeemer” and sometimes “Avenger” of blood. What the etymological signification of the word may be is, perhaps, somewhat doubtful. It is taken by some authorities to come from a word meaning “to set free?”
I. The qualifications and offices of the kinsman-redeemer. The qualifications may be all summed up in one--that he must be the nearest living blood relation of the person whose God he was. He might be brother, or less nearly connected, hut this was essential, that of all living men, he was the most closely connected. That qualification has to be kept well in mind when thinking of the transference of the office to God in His relation to Israel, and through Israel, to us. Such being his qualification, what were his duties? Mainly three. The first was connected with property. One great purpose steadily kept in view in all the Mosaic land laws was the prevention of the alienation of the land from its original holders, and its accumulation in a few hands. The obligation on the next-of-kin to buy back alienated property was quite as much imposed on him for the sake of the family, as of the individual. The second of his duties was to buy back a member of his family fallen into slavery. (Leviticus 25:39). The last of the offices of the kinsman-redeemer was that of avenging the blood of a murdered relative. The law of blood-feud among the Hebrews was all in the direction Of restricting the “wild justice of revenge,” and of entrusting it to certain chosen persons out of the kindred, of the murdered man. The savage vendetta was too deeply engrained in the national habit to be done away with altogether. All that was for the time possible was to check and systematise it, and this was done by the institution in question, which did not so much put the sword into the hand of the next-of-kin as strike it out of the hand of all the rest of the clan.
II. The grand mysterious transference of this office to Jehovah. This singular institution was gradually discerned to be charged with lofty meaning and to be capable of being turned into a dim shadowing of something greater than itself. You will find that God begins to be spoken of in the later portions of Scripture as the Kinsman-Redeemer. I reckon eighteen instances, of which thirteen are in the second half of Isaiah. The reference is no doubt mainly to the great deliverance from captivity in Egypt and Babylon, but the thought sweeps a much wider circle and goes much deeper down than these historical facts. There was in it some dim thought that though God was separated from them by all the distance between finitude and infinitude yet they were nearer to Him than to anybody else; that the nearest living relation that these poor persecuted Jews had was the Lord of hosts, beneath whose wings they might come to trust. Therefore does the prophet kindle into rapture and triumphant confidence as he thinks that the Lord of hosts, mighty, unspeakable, high above our thoughts, our words, or our praise, is Israel’s Kinsman, and, therefore, their Redeemer. How profound a consciousness that man was made in the image of God, and that, in spite of all the gulf between finite and infinite, and the yet deeper gulf between sinful man and righteous God. He was closer to a poor struggling soul than even the dearest were, must have been at all events dawning on the prophet who dared to think of the Holy One in the Heavens as Israel’s Kinsman.
III. We have the perfect fulfilment of this Divine office by the man Christ Jesus. He is nearer to each of us than our dearest are. He loves us with the love of kindred, and can fill our hearts and wills, and help our weakness in better, more inward ways than all sympathy and love of human hearts can do. Between the atoms of the densest of material bodies there is an interspace of air, as is shown by the fact that everything is compressible if you can find the force sufficient to compress it. That is to say, no particle touches another in the material universe. And so in the spiritual region there is an awful film of separation between each of us and all others, however closely we may be united. We each live on our own little island in the deep “with echoing straits between us thrown.” The solemn consciousness of personality, of responsibility unshared by any, of a separate destiny parting us from our dearest. Arms may be twined, but they must be unlinked some day, and each in turn face the awful solitude of death, as each has really faced that scarcely less awful solitude of life alone. But “he that is joined to the Lord is one flesh,” and our kinsman, Christ, will come so near to us, that we shall be in Him, and He in us, one spirit and one life. He is our nearest relation, nearer than husband, wife, parent, brother, sister, or friend. He is nearer to you than your very selves. He is your better self. This is His qualification for His office. Because He is man’s kinsman, He buys back His enslaved brethren. The bondage from which “one of his brethren” might “redeem” the Israelite was a voluntary bondage into which he had “sold himself.” And such is our slavery. None can rob us of our freedom but ourselves. The world and the flesh and the devil cannot put their chains on us unless our own will hold out our hands for the manacles. And, alas! it is often an unsuspected slavery “How sayest thou ye shall be made free? We were never m bondage to any man,” boasted the angry disputants with Christ. And if they had lifted up their-eyes they might have seen from the Temple courts in which they stood, the citadel full of Roman soldiers, and perhaps the golden eagles gleaming in the sunshine on the loftiest battlements. Some of us are just as foolish, and try as desperately to annihilate facts by ignoring them, and to make ourselves free by passionately denying that we are slaves. But “he that committeth sin is the slave of sin.” Did you ever try to kill a bad habit, a vice! Did you find it easy work? Was it not your master? You thought it was a chain no stronger than a spider’s web that was round your wrist till you tried to break it; and then you found it a chain of adamant. Many men who boast themselves free are tied and bound with the cords of their sins. Dreaming of freedom, you have sold yourself, and that “for nought.” Is that not true, tragically true? What have you made out of sin? Is the game worth the candle? Will it continue to be so?--“And ye shall be redeemed without money, for Jesus Christ laid down His life for you and me, that by His death we might receive forgiveness and deliverance from-the power of sin.” And so your Kinsman, nearer to you than all else, has bought you back. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Another pleads for us
Says Charles Garrett: “During the cotton famine I went to many a man m need and said: ‘Why don’t you go to the committee and get what you require?’ And the reply was, ‘I can’t, I have never asked for help in my life If I were to try to speak for myself I should be choked. I can’t do it; I’ll starve first.’ And I have said, ‘I don’t want you to speak.
I only want you to come. I will do all the talking,’ and at the appointed time he has come, and I have said, ‘This is the person of whom I spoke,’ and they at once relieved him.”.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 50". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany