Stand in the gate . . . and proclaim.
Boldness in preaching
Some preachers are traders from port to port, following the customary and approved course; others adventure over the whole ocean of human concerns. The former are hailed by the common voice of the multitude, whose cause they hold, the latter blamed as idle, often suspected of hiding deep designs, always derided as having lost all guess of the proper course. Yet, of the latter class of preachers was Paul the apostle. Such adventurers, under God, this age of the world seems to us especially to want. There are ministers now to hold the flock in pasture and in safety, but where are they to make inroads upon the alien, to bring in the votaries of fashion, of literature, of sentiment, of policy, and of rank? Truly, it is not stagers who take on the customary form of their office and go the beaten round of duty, and then lie down content; but it is daring adventurers, who shall eye from the grand eminence of a holy and heavenly mind all the grievances which religion underlies, and all the obstacles which stay her course, and then descend with the self-denial and faith of an apostle to set the battle in array against them. (Edward Irving.)
Enter in at these gates to worship the Lord.--
The character required in those the would worship God
The heathen had a notion that the gods would not like the service and sacrifice of any but such as were like themselves, and therefore to the sacrifice of Hercules none were to be admitted that were dwarfs; and to the sacrifice of Bacchus, a merry god, none that were sad and pensive, as not suiting their genius. An excellent truth may be drawn from their folly: he that would like to please God must be like God. (H. G. Salter.)
Amend your ways and your doings.--
Religion, the best security to Church and State
I. Religion, and the general practice of it in a nation, is the surest establishment of states and kingdoms.
1. This is true in a natural way; because the duties of religion have a natural tendency to those things which are the foundations of that establishment, namely, peace, unity, and order.
2. But besides a natural tendency in virtue and goodness to the establishment of states and kingdoms, as many as believe religion must likewise believe that the general practice of it in a nation will be always attended with a supernatural blessing from God. For this is the result of all the declarations of God, as to the manner and rule of His dealings with mankind, whether persons or nations, that as many as faithfully serve and obey Him, shall be assuredly intituled to His favour and protection.
II. In every nation it is the proper business of the civil magistrates, as such, to vindicate and maintain the honour of religion. And when I am speaking of authority, and the vigorous application thereof by the magistrate, I cannot omit one thing, which is a mighty enforcement of it, a good example; which, in its nature, is the most forcible way of teaching and correcting, and without which, neither the instructions of ministers, nor the authority of magistrates, can avail, to the effectual discouragement and suppression of vice.
III. Without a serious regard to the moral and spiritual duties of religion, the greatest zeal in other matters, even though it be for the established worship of God, will not secure the Divine favour and protection, either to persons or nations. The external rites of religion are good helps to devotion, and proper means of maintaining order and decency in the public worship; and a zeal to preserve them, with a serious regard to those pious and wise ends, is very laudable: but to believe that zeal for them will atone for a neglect of the moral and spiritual duties of religion is a dangerous error. (E. Gibson, D. D.)
The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these.
The folly of trusting in external privileges
I. We are to show the extreme folly of trusting to any religious privileges, while our hearts remain unrenewed and our lives unholy. On what ground can we rely on the continuance of God’s favour under such circumstances? Should we, because a friend had conferred many benefits upon us, and forgiven us many offences, be justified in supposing that there would be no limit to his endurance? Yet the Jews--and their case is not singular--seemed to claim a special right to the continued favour of God, in virtue of their religious privileges; not considering that those privileges were a free gift; that they might at any time be withdrawn, without a shadow of injustice; and that while they lasted they were intended to operate, not as inducements to presumption, but as motives to love and thankfulness and obedience. They had in themselves no spiritual efficacy. Neither the character of God, nor His promises, held out any ground of hope on which to build such a conclusion. It would not have been consistent with His holiness, or wisdom, or justice, that the sinner should escape under the plea of any national or personal privileges, however great. And His promises, both temporal and spiritual, were all made in accordance with the same principle. “If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments and do them . . . then I will walk among you, and I will be your God;. . .but if ye will not hearken unto Me, and will not do all these commandments,. . .I will set My face against you.” The whole tenor of God’s providential dispensations is likewise to the same effect. And accordingly, the Jews, great as were their national mercies, found on numerous occasions that they were not exempt from the just displeasure of their Divine Governor. Yet, with all these proofs of God’s righteous judgments, their constant cry was, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord”: they caught hold, as it were, of the horns of the altar with unhallowed hands; and, notwithstanding the threatenings of the Almighty, were ever prone to trust in those external privileges. At the very time when they were committing the grievous enormities of which the prophet Jeremiah convicts them, they were zealous for the outward worship of God, and boasted highly of their religious profession. But could any folly be greater than that of supposing that this insincere worship could satisfy Him who searcheth the heart and trieth the reins? The prophet forcibly points out the extreme folly and delusiveness of such expectations: “Go,” he says, “unto My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first; and see what I did to it for the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because ye have done all these works, saith the Lord, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called unto you, but ye answered not; therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by My name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh.” Having thus considered the extreme folly of trusting to external privileges, while the heart is unrenewed and the life unholy, we are--
II. To show that this folly is too common in all ages; and that we ourselves, perhaps, are guilty of it. How many pride themselves in being zealous Protestants, or strict members of the Established Church, or regular attendants on public worship, while they live in the spirit of the world, and without any scriptural evidence of being in a state of favour with God! How many trust to the supposed orthodoxy of their faith; or to their zeal against infidelity, enthusiasm; while they are ignorant of the scriptural way of salvation, and indifferent to the great concern of making their calling and election sure! How many cherish a secret hope from the prayers of religious parents, the zeal and piety of their ministers. In short, innumerable are the ways in which persons deceive themselves on these subjects; fancying that the temple of the Lord is among them; and on this vain surmise remaining content and careless in their sins, and ignorant of all true religion. Now let us ask ourselves, in conclusion, whether such is our own case. On what are we placing our hopes for eternity? Are we resting upon anything superficial or external; upon anything short of genuine conversion of heart to God? True piety is not anything that can be done for us; it must be engrafted in us; it must dwell in our hearts, and show its blessed effects in our conduct. (Christian Observer.)
If ye thoroughly amend.
1. Religion has to do with character and conduct. Religion is that which “binds,” and it has a tremendous grip. It has to do not only with creeds, and forms, and rites, but with character and conduct.
2. Religion makes little of mere emotion. Some persons delight in the excitation of the sensibilities. The Master’s word is, “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” This is the proof of genuine love. The mother takes her boy’s kiss as a sign of emotion, but sees in his obedience the proof of principle, which is more than mere feeling.
3. The text promises permanency; not merely a visit, but an abode where one can root and grow, work and worship, till transplanted to heaven. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Reformation must be thorough
Some men, when they attempt to reform their lives, reform those things for which they do not much care. They take the torch of God’s Word, and enter some indifferent chamber and the light blazes in, and they see that they are very sinful there; and then they look into another room, where they do not often stay, and are willing to admit that they are very sinful there; but they leave unexplored some cupboards and secret apartments where their life really is, and where they have stored up the things which are dearest to them, and which they will neither part with nor suffer rebuke for. (H. W. Beecher.)
Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely . . . and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?
“It is my fate,” is the excuse for many a career of shame and sin. I do not think that most persons who practically rest satisfied with this explanation of the evil of their lives put it actually into words. They are content with a vague undefined feeling that some excuse or explanation of the sort is possible. Perhaps we should all escape many perils and evils if we more frequently took care to formulate our undefined thoughts into language, and carefully examine their nature.
1. Our idea of God’s dealings with us is very largely influenced by the condition of the age in which we live. The language of inspiration will be interpreted by us according to the meaning which, in other directions, we already attach to the words which it must employ; and thus the government of communities by laws has so modified our thought of the Divine government that we no longer have the rude conception of a Divine Ruler acting from caprice; we have now rather the idea of a Being who acts through the operation of great universal laws. That conception of God is so far true, and that interpretation of the words of revelation so far accurate; but there has grown up with it the thought that God acts only thus, which is false. We attribute to the action of the All-wise God the imperfections--the necessary imperfections which belong to human institutions. Now, we must not transfer to God our own finality and failure. God’s laws are universal and general; God’s dealings with men are particular and individual As, in the physical world, we find that equilibrium is produced by the action of two equal and opposite forces, so in the moral world we have universal irresistible laws, and we have tender loving individualisation, and the resultant of the two is God’s calm and equable government of men. Everywhere we see man demanding, and by his conduct showing that he possesses that liberty of action and power of control in the material world which, to palliate his sin, he denies to belong to him in the moral world. You know that the application of heat to certain substances will generate a powerful destructive force. You know such to be a physical law, and what do you do? Do you sit down and say, It is a law of nature, and I cannot resist it? No. You say, “I find it to be a law, and I shall take care either that it shall not come into operation, or if it does come into operation, I shall construct machinery to direct its force, and so make it operate only in the direction which I choose.” You ascertain certain laws of health, that infection will spread a certain disease, and do you say, The disease must spread, I cannot fight against a law? No. You take care to keep the infection away from you, to disinfect, and so prevent the operation of that law; and yet that same man when he finds that there are places which will taint his moral nature with disease, that there are scenes or pleasures which will generate in his soul a destructive force, says, “I cannot help it, these things will act so; I have no liberty.” You have no liberty to prevent their acting so on you, I admit, no more than you have power to prevent fire igniting powder; but you have power to keep away from them; you have power to prevent those conditions arising under which alone the law will operate. Oh! when we know and feel the evil in the physical world, we take every precaution against its recurrence. How much less zeal and determination do we display concerning our souls!
2. To say that you have a peculiar kind of nature which cannot resist a particular class of sin is to offer to God an excuse which you would never accept from your fellow man. You treat every one of your fellow men as having power to resist the inclination of his natural disposition, so far as its indulgence would be injurious to you. If a man rob you or assault you, no explanation of a natural desire for acquisition or for aggression would be listened to by you as a reasonable excuse. To admit the truth of such principles of uncontrollable natural impulse would at once shake society and destroy all human government. And do you think that such excuses as you would not admit are to be accepted as excuses for, or even explanations of those sins which do not happen to fall within the category of legal crimes, but which, much more than those crimes for which the law imprisons and hangs, are destroying the moral order of God’s universe, and outraging the highest and noblest principles of truth, and purity, and love? But it cannot be denied that we have strong natural dispositions and passions which we have been given independently of ourselves, and for the possession of which we cannot with justice be held responsible? Certainly--and you never find fault with a man for any faculty or temper which he may have--but you do hold him responsible for the direction and control of it. We can point to countless noble careers to show how the strong impulses of individual natures are indeed irresistible, but their action is controllable. The great heroes whom we justly reverence, who rise above us as some snow-capped mountain towers above the dead level of a low-lying plain, are not those who have destroyed, but those who have preserved and used aright the natural impulses and passions which had been given them. That is the true meaning of such lives as those of St. Paul, or Martin Luther--St. Augustine, or John Bunyan. Ay, and there are many still amongst us who use their natural dispositions and their natural affections, their natural passions--even their natural beauty, which might have been used to lure souls to hell--to win many a one to a nobler and purer life. What a solemn responsibility, then, is the right use of our natural disposition and talents, for others as well as for ourselves. To you, my young friends, especially, I would say, Do try and begin early to recognise the solemnity of life. Do not be downhearted or dismayed if, after you have felt the power of Christ’s death, and when you would do good, evil is present with you. Do not let such moments harden you. Try and realise then all the love and mercy and tenderness with which the crucified Lord looks upon you, as He once looked on the fallen apostle, and, like him, “go forth and weep bitterly.” Then it will be well with you. Sin shall not reign in you, though for the moment it seems to have conquered you. (T. T. Shore, M. A.)
I. Men are very fond of ascribing their sins to the temptations of the devil, and in such a way as, in the main, to put the responsibility upon him. It is surely taught in the Word of God that evil spirits do foment wickedness; that they suggest it; that they persuade men to it. It is not taught that they infuse it, and perform it in men. It is taught that Satan persuades men to sin; but the men do the sinning--not he. The power of temptation depends upon two elements: first, the power of presenting inducement or motive on the part of the tempter; and, secondly and mainly, the strength in the victim of the passion to which this motive is presented. No one could tempt to pride a man that had not already a powerful tendency to pride. The chord must be there before the hand of the harper can bring out the tone. No one could be tempted to avarice that had not a predisposition to the love of property. No man could be tempted to hatred, or to cruelty, or to appetites, one or many, unless there pre-existed a tendency in that direction. Hence, the simple fact of temptation is, that you do wrong, while Satan merely asks you to do it. It is your act. It may be his suggestion, it may be his thought; but it is your performance. And you do it with plenary freedom, urged, fevered, it may be, by him.
II. Men relieve themselves, or seek to do so, from the sense of guilt and responsibility, by attributing their sins to their fellow men. They admit the wrong, but they put in the plea that the circumstances were such that they could not help committing it. The example and impunity of other men in transgression are pleaded, the persuasions and influences of other men are pleaded, certain relations to other men are pleaded, as if these things were compulsory. Men attribute their sins to public sentiment, to the customs of the times, to the habits of the community. Are they intemperate? Intemperance is customary in the circle in which they walk. Are they unscrupulous in their dealings? Unscrupulousness is the law of the profession which they follow. And when they have been charged with continuous sinning--with the violation of conscience, with the violation of purity, with the violation of temperance, with the violation of honesty or honour--they have still pleaded, “Yes, we have sinned; but we are not exceptional; we do not stand alone; we are nouns of multitude; all men do these things”--as if the inference was, “Because all men do them, they are not so culpable in us.” Men may sin by wholesale; but they are punished by retail. There were never such dividends in any bank on earth as are apportioned in the court of conscience. There every man not only is particeps criminis in the transgression which he joins others in committing, but he is responsible for the whole sin, though thousands and millions participate with him in it. It is an exceedingly fashionable habit at present to put upon society the guilt of the transgressions of men. Are men idle, and is there deduced from idleness the accustomed fruit? Society has not made the suitable provisions for these men, or they would not have been idle! Are men insubordinate, and do they violate the laws? Society has not made proper laws for such men! They have not by society been rightly educated, or they would not have been insubordinate! Are men full of vices and crimes that spring from fertile ignorance? Society, as a schoolmaster, ought not to have let them be ignorant! Do men murder? Society is to blame! Do men steal? Society is the responsible scapegoat for thieves! You shall find philosophers on every side that wag their heads and say, “Now you see that society does not fulfil its duties and functions: society ought to have stepped these things.” I will admit that in society there are many things that men ought to do which are left undone, and many things that they ought to leave undone which are done; but to say that upon society is to be put the responsibilities of the individual characters of all its citizens, is to imply that you give to society power to enforce those responsibilities; and if you give to society that power, you give it a power such as was never contemplated even by the extremest despotic theory of government. Society may in some instances be the tempter, and may in some instances have its individual part in the wrong-doing of its citizens; but it does not take away from any man that does wrong, the whole, undivided, personal responsibility of that wrong.
III. The last class of the category of excuses is that of fatality. “We are delivered to commit sin; we are bound over to do it; we cannot help doing it”--so say some men. On the one hand, men are apt to be jealous of their liberty; but to avoid responsibility for transgression they disclaim their liberties, and plead a want of power to choose; a want of power to do that which they have chosen; or a want of power to reject that which they have determined to reject.
1. One class of men regard thought and volition as the inevitable effect of natural causes. They are no more avoidable, they say, than are the phenomena of nature. Effect follows cause as irresistibly in the one case as in the other. And so man is just as helpless as a mill wheel, which is made to turn over, and over, and over, by a power that is not under its control. Against this theory, we oppose the universal consciousness of men in the earlier stages of their moral character. Men know perfectly well that they have no plenary liberty; that they have only limited liberty. It is certainly true that, if blue is presented to my eye, I cannot prevent the impression of blue being made on my mind. It is true that, if light is presented to my eye, I cannot prevent the inevitable effect that light produces. But if, for any reason I prefer not to have light, although when it shines I cannot hinder the happening of its actual effects, I can prevent my eyes from coming where the light falls. There is profound Divine wisdom in that part of the Lord’s Prayer which seems strange to our youth--“Lead us not into temptation.” Well might powder pray, “Deliver me from the fire”; for if the fire touches it, there is no help for it--there must be an explosion. And there are many circumstances in which, if inflamed passions, inflamed tempers, in the soul’s warfare in life, subject themselves to certain causes, they will lead a man to sin. Therefore the plea is, “Lead me not into temptation: let it not come upon me.” Men are responsible for their volitions, and for those conditions which produce volitions--and this is the opinion of men generally.
2. A more frequent and more subtle plea of irresponsibility is founded on the modern doctrine of organisation. One man says, “I may lie; but I was delivered to do it when I was created with such an inordinate development of secretiveness.” Another man says, “I may be harsh and cruel; but I was delivered to be so from my mother’s womb; there is such immense destructiveness in my organisation.” Another man says, “You that have largo intellectual developments, and are able to see and foresee, may be responsible for falling into sin; but I have no such development; I cannot foresee anything; I have to take things as they find me, and I am not responsible.” At first it would look as though this was very rational; but it is not. It is not phrenological. It is not philosophical. And that is not all; the men that use these pleas do not themselves believe in them. There are abundant proofs of the falsity of the claim which they set up; but for my present purpose it is quite sufficient to say that, when men sin and plead fatalism or organisation as a justification of their wrong-doing, they do not believe the doctrine that they themselves advance. No man will accept an insult from another on the plea that that other man cannot help giving it. If a man deals you a blow in the street, not accidentally, but because, as he says, he is naturally irritable, having large combativeness, and cannot help it, you do not listen calmly to the explanation, and say, “All right, sir; all right.” No man admits for one single moment any such thing as that men are to be excused for all sorts of misdemeanours, because they happen to be peculiarly organised. The whole intercourse of man with man would be destroyed; the community would be dissolved; society would rush, like turbulent streams in the midst of spring rains, down to destruction, if you were to take away the doctrine that a man can control his conduct, his thought, his will. It does not follow that, because a man follows his strongest faculty, he must follow it to do wrong with it. Here is the fallacy--or one of the fallacies--which men run into. If a man has large secretiveness, it does not follow that he should lie. A man may be secretive, and not transgress. Secretiveness may leaven every faculty of the mind, and that without making one of them commit sin. It has a broad sphere, and a wholesome sphere; and if you say, “I must follow my strongest faculty,” I reply that it does not follow that you must follow it contrary to moral law--contrary to what is right. Then another thing to be considered is the determining influence. A man is either sane or insane; and the distinction is this: If a man can no longer control his action by the antagonism of faculties; if, for instance, by the antagonism of reason and the affections he cannot control the passions; if the antagonism among themselves of the balanced faculties is so weak that the individual is incapable of governing himself, then he is insane. But if a man is not insane, there is in him a power proceeding from the balance of faculties, by which the erring one or ones may be controlled. So that every man, up to the point of insanity, has latent in him, if he pleases to educate it and exercise it, the power of controlling by other forces in his mind those which incline him to go wrong. Well, now, if there be this antagonistic power, it becomes a question of dynamics. Men say, “I have such a powerful tendency to go wrong that you ought not to punish me.” It is not to punish you, so much as it is to stimulate the dormant faculty from whose inactivity that tendency proceeds, that you are made to suffer. If when my child is convicted of wrong, he having been tempted by vanity to break down into lies, I severely chastise him, and put him to shame, I inflict pain upon him not only as a punishment, but as a restorative. For I say to myself, if that child’s conscience is so feeble, I must give him some stimulus. If his fear is so influential in the wrong way, I must spring it in the other direction. In other words, just the opposite of the popular pleading is true. The weaker the child is to resist evil, the more powerful must be the motive that is brought to bear upon him to do well. I remark, in view of these statements and reasonings--
1. Sin is bad enough ordinarily. I do not refer to its influence upon others, but to its reactionary influence upon our own moral state. Not only is it bad enough, but ordinarily it is made worse by the mode in which men treat it. If men stopped, whenever they did wrong, and measured it, and called it by its proper name, and turned away from it, although the process of recovery would be slow, it would in many respects be salutary, by way of strengthening and educating the mind; but when men commit sin, and institute a special plea, and defend their wrong-doing, and conceal it, and equivocate concerning it, they are corrupted even more by the defence than by the wrong-doing itself. How sad is that condition in which the compass will not point to the polar star! If there be fatal attractions on the ship, and if the shipmaster has steered by a compass that is not true in its directions, it would be better if he had thrown it overboard; because he has perfect confidence in it, and it has been lying all the time. And if the conscience, that is the compass of the soul, is perverted, and does not point to truth and right, and men are guiding themselves by it, how fatally are they going down to destruction!
2. What is the reason of the stress that is laid in the Word of God on the subject of confessing and forsaking sin? “Let him that stole steal no more,” etc. “Confess your faults one to another.” This doctrine was the great recuperative element. It was the preaching of John. It was the initial preaching of Christ. It was the preaching of the apostles. It is the annunciation of the Gospel. Confess and forsake your sin. Own that it is sin. Be honest with yourself. Make at last to yourself a full and clear acknowledgment that wrong is wrong. All men fail, and come short of their duty; but some justify, and palliate, and excuse, and deny, while others confess, and repent, and forsake--and these last are the true men. (H. W. Beecher.)
Organisation and responsibility
That men are variously constituted is a fact not merely profoundly interesting to the speculative philosopher, but of the greatest practical consequence to the Christian philanthropist. While the genus, man, is founded on a common basis, the individual is marked by characteristics singular to himself. Let us look at some special instances of peculiar organisation, and then consider them in relation to personal responsibility. For example, take the man whose dominating characteristic is acquisitiveness. That man’s creed is a word, and that word is but a syllable: his creed is Get; nothing less, nothing more,--simply Get! With him benevolence is a matter of weights and scales; with him buying and selling and getting gain are the highest triumphs of mortal genius. Ask him why. Instantly he recurs to his organisation. He says, “God made me as I am; He did not consult me as to the constitution of my being; He made me acquisitive, and I must be faithful to my organisation; and I will go forward to meet Him at the day of judgment, and tell Him to His face that He has me as He made me, and I disclaim all responsibility.” The organisation of another man predominates in the direction of combativeness. The man is litigious, quarrelsome, cantankerous, violent: Ask him why. He says, “I must be faithful to my constitution; my whole manhood is intensely combative; I did not make myself; God has made me as He made me, and I disown all laws of obligation.” Here is a man with little hope. He sees a lion on every way; he dreads that ruin will be the end of every enterprise; he knows not the sweetness of contentment or the repose of an intelligent hope; he is always mourning, always repining; his voice is an unceasing threnody, his face a perpetual winter. Ask him why. He says, “God so made me; if He had put within me the angel of hope, I should have been sharer of your gladness; I should have been your companion in the choir; I should have been a happier man: He covered me with night that owns no star; He gave my fingers no cunning art of music; He meant me to look at Him through tears and to offer my poor worship in sighs.” We cannot enter into all the questions which may lie between God and man on the subject of organisation. Let us take one or two such cases as have just been outlined. We found the acquisitive man getting gold, getting at all risks; getting till his conscience was seared and his understanding darkened. In that case ought we to sympathise with the man, saying, “We are sorry for you; we lament that your organisation compels you to be avaricious: we know you cannot help it, so we exempt you from all responsibility”? No! we would say as in thunder; No! we do not find fault with the organisation of the acquisitive man; but if he pleads the excuse already cited, we openly charge him with having degraded and diabolised that constitution; he has not used it, but abused it; he has not been faithful, but faithless, and must be branded as a criminal. The man’s organisation is acquisitive; be it so: that circumstance in itself does not necessitate crime. There are two courses open to the acquisitive man. To him we say, Do be faithful to your organisation, do get, get money by right means, get exaltation by legitimate processes; but with all thy getting, get understanding, “for the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver,” etc. The combative man; what of him? Do we sympathise with him? “Sir, your case demands commiseration, inasmuch as you must be faithful to your organisation, and that organisation happens to be a dreadful one”? No! to the combative man we say, There are two courses open to you: you can fight with muscle, and steel, and gunpowder; you may train yourself to be pitiless as a tiger; you may be petulant, resentful, hard-hearted: the choice is before you to pronounce the elective word! Or, there is another course open: you may choose weapons that are not carnal; you may resist the devil; you may “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” The argument which the fatalist bases upon organisation is self-annihilating when applied to the common relations of life. All human legislation assumes man’s power of self-regulation, and grounds itself on the grand doctrine of man’s responsibility to man. At this point, then, Divine revelation meets human reason, and insists upon the same principle in relation to God. (J. Parker, D. D.)
I spake unto you, rising up early.
God’s call to sinners
I. A gracious call. We are utterly undeserving of it. Though we are transgressors, guilty, corrupt, depraved,--yet God calls upon us--to escape--to live--to be saved--to turn unto Him, and be forever blest and happy.
II. An affectionate call. The call of a merciful Creator who hath no pleasure in the death and destruction of His fallen creatures: and would rather they should repent and live; the call of a tender Father, who looks with compassion upon the prodigal wanderer, invites and urges him to abandon his wretchedness and want, and come back to his home of plenty, and his Father’s bosom again, and assures him of a joyous welcome if he will; the call of a Friend--that Friend that sticketh closer than a brother--even of Jesus our best friend, our elder brother.
III. A varied call. From every part of the outspread volume of creation, there issues a voice calling upon us, to know, fear, adore, worship, the great Creator. And as well as by His works, we are called upon by His ways--by His dealings with the children of men. The misfortunes and calamities that occur to others; and the bereavements, afflictions, and trials that happen to ourselves--the constant experience we have of the uncertainty of our present existence, and of the instability of all earthly good, by these and many similar things we are addressed and admonished to seek a more enduring substance, a more incorruptible and unfading inheritance. From every page, also, of the book of God there proceedeth a call, exhorting us to depart from iniquity, and follow after holiness,--to supplicate for pardoning mercy and for assisting grace.
IV. An oft-repeated--a reiterated call. We are not appealed to once or twice, and then abandoned to our folly. Forbearance is exercised towards us from year to year; “line is given upon line, and precept upon precept,”--here a little and there a little; so that we may have the last possible opportunity of being saved, and may not be left in despair until the last moment of the day of grace hath expired, and our souls be beyond the region of impression and awakening.
V. An earnest call. Men may be light and trifling. God is always serious--always in earnest. He is in earnest in what He does, and in what He speaks. All the appeals and persuasions by which the Almighty follows you, as children hastening madly on to destruction, are embodied in the very terms, and wear the very air of the utmost earnestness; yea, so serious and earnest are they, that, when it is considered from whom they come, and to what they relate, the wonder is, that men are not at once startled by them, and arrested in their downward course, and constrained to hasten to the only safe Refuge from the gathering and impending storm.
VI. An urgent call. Its reference is to the present: it demands immediate attention and instant compliance. (C. Cook.)
Pray not thou for this people.
Intercessory prayer forbidden
1. God’s prophets are praying men.
2. God’s praying prophets have a great interest in heaven, how little soever they have on earth.
3. It is an ill omen to a people when God restrains the spirits of His ministers and people from praying for those condemned.
4. Those that will not regard good ministers’ preaching cannot expect any benefit by their praying. If you will not hear us when we speak from God to you, God will not hear us when we speak to Him for you. (M. Henry, D. D.)
Seest thou not what they do in the streets of Jerusalem?
The streets of the city
I. As an index to character.
1. The streets are the pulse of commercial prosperity. The man who goes from a dull, sluggish place to a city of great business activity must quicken his pace, or get run over.
2. The street on which a man lives is no index to his character. It does not even indicate the amount of money he has. Not a few proud families stint their table to pay their rent on a costly street, in order to make or keep up appearances. Their fine street, to those who know the facts, is an index of their pretensions. Another man who has plenty of money lives on a cheap street, because he is too niggardly to pay rent for more comfortable quarters. To those who know him the street is an index of his meanness. A Christian man may choose to live on a cheap street, because he prefers to save money with which to do good. His street indicates self-denying liberality.
3. What can be seen on the streets of a city, however, is to a great extent an index of the character of its people. Dirty streets suggest dirty morals. If indecent handbills pollute the streets of a city, it indicates either sinful apathy, or a very low moral tone.
II. As a test of character. To walk down one of our streets is to some men like going into a furnace. Their moral courage is tested at nearly every step. There is within them a demon of drink that can be waked from his sleep by the smell of a beer barrel. A deep-sea diver laid his hand on something soft, and curious to know what it was, he took hold of it to examine it. Fatal curiosity! The long tentacles of an octopus reached out and grasped him in its deadly embrace. The friends above, feeling the struggle, drew him to the surface, to find only a corpse still in the clutches of the monster. Many a young man has come from his pure country home to the great city, and, prompted by a curiosity excited by the signs on the streets, has entered one of these homes of the devil fish. Soon its slimy tentacles are wrapped around him, soul and body. (A. C. Dixon, D. D.)
The streets and their story
The prophet evidently knew what was going on in the city. He had gone up and down the streets by night and by day, and had seen the sins and iniquities of the people. The great city of Jerusalem lay like a putrid sore, filled with all manner of pollution and corruption. The time had come for a warning. Hiding no detail of its iniquity, he catalogued before the sin-laden people the awful record of their sin, and launched against their filthiness and impenitence the sentence of the condemnation of God. It was no pleasant task. To sing in sweeter strains the adoration of God and the beauties of holiness had been a far more gladsome work--but to sing of holiness in such a city had been like singing of springs amid the sands of the arid desert. Moreover, the Word of God had commanded, again and again, “Cry aloud, spare not lift up thy voice like a trumpet,” etc. I suppose an over-cautious but easy-going city cried out against the prophet who left his harp to throttle sin. I suppose its wicked inhabitants had a great many sneers and scoffs for the preacher who ventured to look in upon their wickedness; but he heard God’s Word and he did it; he called things by their right names, and shook above them the thunderstorm of Divine wrath and the penalties of the broken law. Sin must be assailed in the name of God. Its colours must he shown, clear of the prism tints by which it dazzles and deceives. Its wages, hidden too often behind the screens of shame and misery, must be brought to light, and men warned in the name of facts, in the name of experience, in the name of God, against the man traps of hell. I want to show you sin as it is and it always must be, and from its actual facts of awful misery I want to read a warning. The old legends ten of a dual life that walks the earth; how in the shades of night, when all else is slumber bound and still, another life comes out and fills the night with weird events. The elf folk, hidden all day in earth caves and crannies, now come out and fill the sleeping earth with a weird, unnatural life. The old legend has a sort of awful reality here in our darkened streets, for when the day is spent, and the life of business sinks to rest, and the great buildings darken into shadow, another life comes out and passes to and fro in the darkened streets and plies its concerns in the silent shadows. It is a life of sin and of shame. We pause a moment, and watch and listen. Now and then a belated passer-by hastens with hurried step, but it is almost noiseless--this night life on these silent streets. Here and there, there are figures standing within the shadows. A young man emerges from the building, where late accounts have kept him long after the hours of accustomed toil. A dozen steps, and he is accosted; there is a rustle and a voice, and then maybe a woman’s laugh ringing out with strange echo in the darkness. They loiter along with slow step, and together are lost to our view, and the night covers up this silent trap of hell, whose snares are spread for unwary feet. A little further and we drive hurriedly across the glare, where the crowds flow along the great night arteries of the city--a motley crowd, vastly differing from the daylight throng. There are hundreds of young men, scores of young women, whose days are spent in shops and behind counters, and whose nights court ruin in the streets. The air is noisy and the lights are dazzling; here and yonder are those brilliantly lighted stairs that lead up into apparent gloom, for all the curtained windows show by their darkness. It is the old story: “The idle brain is the devil’s workshop.” The life that simply works to live, and that only six hours, if six hours will keep the body, courts the devil for his master. And yet, go out among the thousands of young men in this city tonight, and let us question them as to the object of life, and you may well wonder at the multitudes who only live to live. No thought of anything above the body, no glimpse of anything beyond the sky--an animal life, serving only appetite and seeking only pleasure. Oh, is that all of life? To spend the day in toil, the night in empty pleasure; our days for nothing, and our future in eternal poverty of soul. Oh, hear me preach the gospel of yourself, your better self; its possibilities, its powers, its future. Think what you may be, and then be it, by God’s grace, and cheat the devil as you save your soul. I marked most of all in these streets the presence of death. They were full of dead men, of dead women, of corpses, walking, talking, jesting in loathsome death. Do you remember Valjean’s dream in “Les Miserables”? How, conscious of his crime, he slept, and sleep revealed to him the death of sin. He dreamed he was at Romainville, a little garden park near Paris, full of flowers and music and pleasure. But as he in his dream comes to this domain of revelry, the flowers, and the trees, and the very sky, all are of the colour of ashes. Leaning against a wall he finds a man at the corner where two streets meet. “Why is all so still?” The man seems to hear not and makes no reply. In amazement Valjean wanders on through vacant rooms and courts and through the gardens, all the colour of ashes, and finds everywhere silence by the fountains, in the pavilions, everywhere these silent men and women, who have no answer to his questions. In horror he endeavours to fly from the ashen abode of terror, when, looking back, he finds all the inhabitants of the lifeless town suddenly clustering about him, and their ashen lips open, they cry to him, “Do you not know that you have been dead for a long time?” And with a cry Valjean wakens and feels his sin. So I saw in these ways of sin dead men all about me. Beneath that silken robe and sparkling necklace, loathsome death; behind that laugh and empty jest, a dead man; walking, talking, drinking, feasting, and yet dead. Dead in sin, helpless in habit’s chains, snared in the man traps of hell. (T. E. Green, D. D.)
First, glance at the circumstances and conduct of the Jewish people, which gave rise to the language of the text. During the days of Jeremiah, and of all the later prophets, they appear to have sunk into the very depths of national degeneracy. The sanctions of the Divine authority, and the terrors of Divine indignation, were equally disregarded with the promises and protection of the Most High. The prophet would have awakened them to a sense of their criminality and danger; but in vain. He interceded in secret for the reversal of that righteous sentence by which they were doomed to prove the folly and misery of their own ways; but this also was without effect. While his voice was still tremulously pleading for their forgiveness, and the saint and patriot blended in every gushing tear, and every irrepressible emotion,--the mandate of almighty justice, tempted too far and wearied of forbearance, imposed an awful interdict--“Pray not thou for this people,” etc. How happy that no such solemn prohibition rests upon ourselves; but that we may pour forth our utmost fervour in supplicating for mercy upon those who are ready to perish! How unspeakable the happiness of reflecting, too, that we have an Advocate on high, whose plea can never be thus silenced. What was the particular nature of their idolatry at this season we know not,--or by what offerings they sought to propitiate and honour that mysterious divinity which they worshipped as “the queen of heaven”; but that it was a service accompanied with whatever was fitted to inflame the jealousy and provoke the retribution of the God of Israel, the tenor of this book and of their subsequent calamities suffers us not to question. But there is one reflection forced upon our minds by the mention of this subject, which is perpetually arising in the perusal of these sacred documents,--how inveterate and how wonderful is the depravity of the human intellect, as well as the corruption of the human heart! How great, too, is the compassion, of God!--how impressive and encouraging the illustration of His long-suffering! “He remembered that they were but dust,” etc. This is the compassion and long-suffering which we are called every day to recognise, amidst provocations and unfaithfulness which would have wearied out all other grace but the grace of Omnipotence, and which no might could restrain itself from punishing but that which upholds the mountains and which grasps the thunderbolt. Its very power alone is our security. We cannot meditate upon these facts without one other suggestion,--how great is the necessity for continued zeal and diligence, on the part of good men, to counteract to the uttermost the evils, not only of their own hearts and conduct, but of those among whom they dwell The condition of men at large forces itself on our notice, as one of universal calamity and peril,--“Seest thou not what they do?” Let us suppose the spectator one from a distant region, an inhabitant of one of the remoter provinces of intellectual being,--acquainted with the character, and reposing with joyful confidence in the presiding power, of the Creator,--but unread in the history of man. He has heard of redemption, and is desirous to explore it; but he knows not yet the state of those for whom it was designed. And he is permitted this momentary inspection of the human system, that he may gather from it the elements of heavenly truth, and “the manifold wisdom of God.” Alas! how perplexed and intricate would all appear! What numberless anomalies, difficulties, and causes of shame and wonder, would everywhere astonish and overwhelm him! For what end would such a system seem to have been constructed, or wherefore still upheld, or tending to what result, or interpretative of what purposes, or susceptible of resolution into its contradictory phenomena by what reconciling and all-commanding principles, or calculated to excite what other sentiment except the melancholy apostrophe, “Wherefore hast Thou made all men in vain!” Descending from the contemplation of the whole, he would consider each several particular with the intensity of interest which that stupendous but appalling spectacle had summoned into being. And first, he would probably be arrested with the secular condition of mankind, and their extreme differences in the nature and degrees of social happiness. The effect would be as painful as the scene was intricate. He would shrink and tremble, as if within the boundaries of chaos, or the empire of darkness and of blind misrule. He would next consider their religious state. And now, what would be the agitation of his feelings, or in what explanation of such strange appearances could he find or seek relief? Here, he would sicken at the sight of gross and grovelling idolatries; there, at the bewildering glare of cruel yet invincible delusions; and elsewhere, at the reveries and dreamy visions of a spurious philosophy, neutralising at once every claim of human duty, and every attribute of God. Nothing would seem to him so terrible as our exposure to the jealousy and wrath of our Creator; nor anything so unfathomable as the mystery of His compassion. Outraged, defied, forgotten; His being denied by some, His noblest characters mocked, falsified, contemned by others; His best gifts perverted to the vilest purposes, His gentle inflictions misinterpreted or impiously repelled, His forbearance converted into an argument to set aside His veracity, His glorious mad terrible name, eve where it is not unknown, employed only to add force to blasphemy, or emphasis to imprecation and falsehood:--what could the stranger anticipate but the kindling up of His fury, while its flame should burn unto the lowest hell! Thus prepared--how would he dart his eager eye toward the scenes of men’s future and everlasting habitation! To what, he would ask himself, can all be hastening onwards? Where must this pilgrimage of sin and folly end? Conceive now of the surprise and the delight with which he would hear of the means provided for the restoration of men. That astonished spectator is no creation merely of the fancy. Many “a watcher,” and many “a holy one,” looks down upon the scene, and wonders. All that environs us is revealed, in a light of which we are strangely unconscious, to innumerable witnesses. We walk ourselves, at every step, beneath their gaze. And it is their judgment, not ours, respecting the dependencies and results of moral action, which shall be confirmed in the decisions of the last day. (R. S. M’All, LL. D.)
The children gather wood.
What can children do for God?
I. God is setting up a kingdom in this world. A very glorious and gracious kingdom.
1. Righteousness. Teaches us to do justice.
2. Peace--to love and pursue it.
3. Joy. God makes all happy who come into His kingdom.
II. God expects us all to work to set up this kingdom. Christ came to set it up; ministers preach and labour for it; missionaries go to heathen; all God’s people aid.
III. Children can do something to set up this kingdom.
1. You can pray; that God would make you willing subjects of this kingdom.
2. You can talk; speak to others about Jesus, pardon, God, heaven.
3. You can work; give to missionary society, etc.
IV. Children are always happy when trying to set up this kingdom. Why? Because make others happy. Angels are happy, because employed making others happy. God is happy, for He blesses every one. And, when we act like God, we ourselves are happy.
V. God will never forget the labours of little children for Him. When children wanted to come to Jesus, He noticed their disposition, and said, “Never prevent a child from coming to Me”; then took in arms and blessed. When they sang in temple He noticed their song, and said, “Hearest thou what these say?” God loves,everything done by children, because it is a proof of their obedience and love. (J. Sherman)
“Queen of Heaven,” i.e., Ashtaroth, or the Moon. The Israelites fell into this idolatry in the time of the Judges. Solomon was carried away by it. Josiah suppressed it. We may learn a useful lesson from these young idolaters.
I. They wished to be useful in religion.
II. They did what they could.
III. What they did was of service. What can you do? For example, in--
IV. God does not despise children’s work. This fact is one which should be seriously pondered by children, parents, teachers. (Lay Preacher.)
Christians contrasted with heathens
It is said that Matthew Wilks, one of the founders of the London Missionary Society, chose this text when he preached the anniversary sermon; and in those days when trite and commonplace remarks from the pulpit were considered orthodox, and anything that was a little fresh and novel was looked upon with suspicion, every eye in the large assembly expressed astonishment at the preacher’s selection. He had not proceeded far, however, when the feeling of astonishment gave way to pure delight, when all seemed convinced that the text, though uncommon, was by no means inappropriate. I have not seen the sermon; I only know that he dealt with it in the following manner. He said, I will contrast your objects with those of the worshippers of the queen of heaven. I will compare your ardour with theirs. I will muster your agents. And it was this part of the subject, in which he referred to the agents, namely, men, women, and children, which gave rise to the system of auxiliary institutions which now pervade the whole country, and combine in its support young and old, rich and poor. (Eccentric Preachers.)
To make cakes to the queen of heaven.
On making cakes
(A talk with Children):--The people who lived in Jerusalem at this time, alas! worshipped the sun, and called it Baal, also the moon, and called it Ashtoreth,--just as our ancestors did at one time in this country, calling the day upon which they worshipped the sun Sunday, and the day upon which they worshipped the moon Monday. In Jerusalem, at the time referred to in our text, the people used to offer cakes to the moon. These cakes were always made round to resemble the moon. This offering was considered to be a very important one, and all wanted to have a share in making the cakes and presenting them. Now the first thing that had to be done was to get plenty of firewood. You cannot make a cake without fire, and you cannot get fire without fuel. Thus I think I can hear a Jewish mother say, “Now, my children, I want you to get some good firewood for tomorrow--wood that will burn brightly; I am going to make some cakes for the queen of heaven, and--who knows?--perhaps there may be a few tit-bits left!” Off the children go. That’s just the work they like; they can stoop easily, or jump over the hedge or fence, and tear their clothes without having much scolding, as they are gathering wood for their mother. Little Hannah gathers her apron full, and Dan or Benjamin as much as he can carry in his arms, and they return home full of glee. They have done their part. But the following morning the fire had to be kindled. It required strong arms to kindle a fire by rubbing two pieces of wood vigorously together. The fathers could do that best; for they had muscular arms, and they gladly did their part. Then there was need of clean and gentle hands to knead the dough, and there were none who could do that as well as the mothers, aunts, and the elder sisters. It was their turn now, and the children would look earnestly on and wonder whether the dough would go far enough to make the necessary number of cakes for the “queen of heaven,” or the moon, and one or two over. They little knew that the mother or sister had put in an extra handful of meal for that purpose. Then there was the baking and the consumption of the odd cake or two by the little wood gatherers. But beyond all this, there was a great pleasure reserved for them all--the privilege of presenting to the moon the cakes in the making of which they had all had a part, and which were as round and as perfect as a woman’s hand could make them. Children have their part to do still. Often, as in this case, the work begins with children. They cannot do much; they cannot kindle a fire, or make a cake or a loaf; but they can gather wood, supply the fuel, and others will kindle the fire and provide an offering fit for the altar of God. You cannot as yet, at least, go forth to distant lands as missionaries and Zenana workers, and take the bread of life--not as a gift to God, but as a gift from God--to the heathen; but you can enable others who are older than you to do all this. You can contribute your pence to the missionary society, etc. (D. Davies.)
Went backward, and not forward.
I. Illustrations of going backward in regard to religion.
1. From Jewish history. Compare best days of Solomon, when temple was dedicated, with these when jeremiah preached at gate. National mind darkened, conscience enfeebled, heart hardened.
2. Churches. Galatia (Galatians 3:1-3; Galatians 5:7-8), Ephesus (Revelation 2:4), Sardis (Revelation 3:1).
3. Individual life.
II. Causes of this going backward.
III. Consequences of going backward.
1. Displeasure of God.
2. Such as turn back are liable to sink into lowest depths of irreligion.
3. Experience of deepest remorse and reproach of conscience.
1. Stand fast in the Lord.
2. Despair not, but return. (R. Ann.)
The backslider defenceless
When Christian, in the Pilgrim’s Progress, thought about going back, he recollected that he had no armour for his back. He had a breastplate, he was covered from head to foot by his shield, but there was nothing to protect his back, and therefore, if he retreated, the adversary could spit him with his javelin in a moment. So he thought that bad as it was to go forward, it would be worse to go backward, and therefore he bravely cut a path for himself straight onward for glory. Look at that fact whenever you are tempted: do not endure the idea of turning tail in the day of battle. May retreat be impossible to you! God makes it Impossible by His grace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
They will not hearken to thee.
God’s foreknowledge of the sinner’s refusal of His Word
I. Instances illustrative of the text.
1. The original transgression of first parents.
2. The old world.
4. Jews as a nation.
II. How can this be explained and defended?
1. Unless God did know results such as described He would be imperfect.
2. He is not the cause of the rebellion He foretells.
3. He never influences men to do wrong.
4. There are many ends to be attained by God.
By speaking, though He knows men will not hearken.
1. Man’s free agency is his glory.
2. God’s infinite goodness is undoubted.
3. Our duty is manifest--to hear, obey, believe.
4. Thus men will be finally inexcusable, having had means employed for their restoration to holiness and God. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Preaching without effect
God has been putting into the mouth of His servant Jeremiah a varied message of reproof and counsel, of promise and blessing. The message contains equal encouragement to those who should repent, and denunciations of wrath on all who, rashly confident in external privileges, should continue to insult by the impiety of their lives. Thus, there is a close resemblance between the sermon which the prophet was instructed to deliver and those which, in our days, the ministers of God must utter. We know it to be our business, in dealing with a mixed assembly of those who make profession of religion and those who make none, to use language very similar to that which Jeremiah here employs; conjuring men that they “trust not in lying words which, cannot profit,” but that they “amend their ways and their doings, lest God’s anger and God’s fury be poured out and burn, and there be none to quench it.” Here, then, it is, that our text comes in upon us with all its startling and perplexing assertion; that losing sight of the peculiar circumstances of the Jews, we may regard the ministers of the Gospel as commanded to preach, even if beforehand assured that their preaching would be fruitless. We cannot but think, that, determining by human computation what course would be the most fraught with advantage to their hearers, preachers would reckon it best to keep silence if they were certain none would be converted by their message. It admits not of question, that men, who hear the Gospel, and give no heed to its announcements, are disadvantaged by the very circumstance of having been its auditors. Now there was actually given to Jeremiah that information, which, for the sake of argument, we have supposed imparted to ourselves. Yet he was not on this account to abstain from delivering his message. The certainty of rejection was in no degree to interfere with the duty of proclamation. Now if ineffectiveness of preaching in bringing round conversion, supposing it previously ascertained, would be no sufficient reason for abstaining from preaching, there must be ends answered by the publication of the Gospel over and above that of the gathering in of the elect people of God. The way which shall be made by the preached Word in each separate case is necessarily already known to the Omniscient, so that with God it is previously a thing of as much certainty as it afterwards can be with ourselves, who will receive and who reject the proffered salvation. The foreknowledge has no influence on the reception; it lays no constraint on the will, and it gives no bias to the will. And now, allowing only that God’s foreknowledge, and not God’s predestination, enters as a prerequisite into such a declaration as that made in our text, the question still remains to be examined, why God should enjoin the preaching of the Gospel in cases where He is assured that this preaching will be ineffective? We think that the grand answer to this question is to be found in the demands of that high moral government which God undoubtedly exercises over the creatures of this earth. Let it be remembered, that each amongst us lives under the moral government of God, which takes its character from the interference of Christ; that we are to be tried before the assembled universe as beings to whom was offered deliverance through a Surety; and is it not clear that, if this our last trial be conducted with that rigid justice which must characterise every procedure of God, it shall be made evident to every rank of intelligence that those that perish might have been saved; and forasmuch as they are condemned for having rejected salvation, salvation had been literally placed within their reach! (H. Melvill, B. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany