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Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding.
A great evil and an urgent question
I. A great evil. “Backsliding.”
1. It is an evil in its nature; it is a great sin against God, involving the basest ingratitude, the abuse of the greatest mercies, and the violation of the most solemn vows.
2. It is an evil in its influence.
(1) Upon self. It arrests the progress of the soul, darkens its prospects, curtails its liberty, and destroys its usefulness.
(2) Upon others. It encourages the religious sceptic, it staggers the anxious inquirer, it embarrasses the friends of truth.
II. An urgent question. “Why?”
1. Not by the force of circumstances over which they have no control. No power in the universe drives them back against their will.
2. Not by the withdrawal of heaven’s helping agency.
3. The causes are in themselves. Neglect of the means of spiritual improvement, the study of the Scriptures, and the ministry of the Word; the cherishing of some secret sin; engrossment in worldly pursuits; fellowship with sceptical and ungodly men. (Homilist.)
The tendency to the lukewarmness of spiritual life is in us all. Take a bar of iron out of the furnace on a winter day, and lay it down in the air, and there is nothing more wanted. Leave it there, and very soon the white heat will change into livid dulness, and then there will come a scale over it, and in a short time it will be as cold as the frosty atmosphere around it. And so there is always a refrigerating process acting upon us which needs to be counteracted by continual contact with the fiery furnace of spiritual warmth, or else we are cooled down to the degree of cold around us. (A. Maclaren.)
To the backslider
I. The causes of backsliding.
1. The fear of man.
2. Inter course with worldly society.
4. Secret sin.
5. Neglect of prayer.
II. The symptoms of backsliding.
1. The absence of pleasure in attending to the secret exercises of religion.
2. Irregular and unprofitable attendance on public ordinances.
3. Unwillingness to act or suffer for the honour of Christ.
4. Uncharitable feelings toward fellow Christians.
5. Indulgence in sins once abandoned.
III. The forms of backsliding.
1. Declension into error.
2. Declension into unbelief.
3. Declension into lukewarmness, or want of love.
4. Declension into prayerlessness.
5. Declension into immorality.
6. Declension into open rejection of a Christian profession.
IV. The evils of backsliding.
V. The cure of backsliding.
1. Let the backslider remember from whence he has fallen.
2. Let the backslider reflect on his guilt and danger.
3. Let the backslider return to God, from whom he has wandered.
4. Let the backslider live near to Christ.
5. Let the backslider forsake the sin into which he has fallen.
6. Let the backslider learn to depend on the promised aid of the Holy Spirit. (G. Brooks.)
I. What denominates a religious people. The Jews were a religious people in distinction from all other nations who were given to superstition and idolatry. They professed to believe the existence of the only living and true God. All the nations at this day, who profess to believe the truth of Christianity, and who observe the public worship of God and the ordinances of the Gospel, are called religious nations, though the great majority may be totally destitute of vital piety. It is the explicit profession and external conduct of a people that give them their religious character.
II. When a religious people may be said to be a backsliding clue. Grace, in the present state, does not entirely destroy nature. Large measures of moral corruption remain in the hearts of the best of men in the most religious nations. So, every people, who profess to believe the Gospel and live under its influence, have something in them that dislikes the character, the laws, and the government of God. On this account they are bent to backsliding from Him. Among every religious people there is a great, if not the greatest part of them, who are under only the restraining, and not the sanctifying, influence of the Gospel. It is when they break over such restraints as ought to keep them from backsliding from Him; and they are perpetually backsliding, while they are constantly breaking over one restraint after another.
1. They break over the restraints of His goodness. He promised to make them the most numerous, the most wealthy, and the most respectable nation on earth.
2. A religious people who are perpetually backsliding grow worse and worse under the restraint of Divine authority. He gave His peculiar people His judgments, His statutes, and His laws, which were far superior to those of any other nation. There was another way by which God often laid a restraint upon His backsliding people, and that was by His rod of correction; but they often broke over this restraint, and persisted in their wicked ways.
3. A perpetually backsliding people will hold fast deceit, and refuse to return to God from whom they have revolted, even under the severest tokens of His wrath.
III. Why a backsliding people will persist in backsliding. This is owing to some great delusion.
1. They delude themselves by backsliding very gradually. They first forget the goodness of God in one smaller favour, and then in another; and this leads them to forget God in greater and greater favours, until Divine goodness loses all its restraining influence over them. In the same imperceptible manner they break over all the restraints of Divine authority and of Divine corrections. Such a gradual backsliding becomes more and more habitual, and, of course, more and more insensible. Every backslider always feels self-condemned for the first instances of his deviation from the path of duty. But one deviation naturally leads to another, and serves to palliate it, till self-regret and self-reproach cease to operate, and men feel as easy and innocent in their gradual declensions as they did before they began to backslide; and, like Ephraim, while they have grey hairs here and there upon them, they know it not.
2. All backsliding consists in men’s walking in the ways of their hearts, instead of walking in the ways of God’s commandments. They backslide because they love to backslide; and what they love, they endeavour to persuade themselves is right. If they are reproved, they will justify rather than condemn their backsliding.
3. Backsliders are more or less under the blinding and deluding influence of the great adversary of souls. He is now deluding all the heathen world, and insensibly involving them in fatal darkness, and leading them blindly to destruction. And he is more or less concerned in spreading errors and delusions in all the Christian world, who love and hold fast deceit.
1. It appears from the description of a religious people which has been given in this discourse, that we in this country deserve that character.
2. If we have given a just description of a perpetually backsliding people, that character justly belongs to us.
3. It appears from what has been said, that our national sins are very great and aggravated. They are of the nature of backsliding, which greatly enhances their criminality. Backsliding is not a sin of ignorance, but a sin of knowledge. Our national vices, immoralities, and errors, have been commited against greater light and stronger restraints than those of any other nation.
4. It appears from what has been said, that no external means nor motives will reform a backsliding people. They backslide so gradually and insensibly, and are so fond of their backslidings, and are under such a powerful influence of the great deceiver, that they will hold fast deceit, and refuse to repent, return, and reform. Their perpetual backsliding is perpetually stupefying their hearts and consciences; for they feel no guilt and fear no danger. They are certainly out of the reach of men and means to save them from ruin. Hence,
5. This people have abundant occasion for fasting, humiliation, and prayer. Their situation is extremely critical and dangerous, and every way adapted to affect every benevolent heart. It is the imperious duty of all the Noahs, Jobs, and Daniels to arise and plead with God to take His own work into His own hands, and bow the hearts of this people to Himself. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
They refused to return.--
Man’s backwardness to repent
1. God reasons with us from what we do in other cases. “Shall they fall,” etc. (Jeremiah 8:4). He makes us judges in our own cause. If a man slips and gets a fall, does he lie where he fell, without making any attempt to get up again? “Why, then,” God saith, doth this people what no others do? Why do they fall, and rise not? stray, and return not? “Despair of pardon leads many to continue in sin. But is there cause for this despair? Is it God that is unwilling? No; “they refused to return.” The Lord, as it were, saith, How often would I have gathered them together, and they would not! My outward calling you by the Word, My inward moving by me Spirit, My many benefits, My gentle chastisements, My long-suffering--all show, that I was willing for your return.
2. God reasons with us from His own anxious desire. He represents Himself to us as hearkening with patient, attentive ear, if He may catch from us the words of repentance. And what does God expect to hear from us? “What have I done?” These words, said not with the lips only, but from the deep feelings of the heart, may lead to better things. How vile was the act of sin in itself! how full is it of shame and remorse! What have I done, as in the sight of God, so fearful in power, so glorious in majesty? What have I done as for any profit derived, any passing, empty pleasure? How have I injured my body and my soul!
3. God sends us to the birds of the sky; to creatures without reason, that we, reasonable beings, may learn our duty from them. “Yea, the stork,” etc. These birds have an appointed time for coming back; they know and observe it. There is an “accepted time,” if we would know it; if, like the birds, we would observe, and take it; and the Scripture tells us, that that time is “now.” (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
They hold fast deceit.
On the deceitfulness of the heart in stifling convictions
These words, as immediately referring to the people of Judah, might denote their preposterous confidence in the assistance of neighbouring nations, or in the testimony of their false prophets, who assured them of peace and prosperity, notwithstanding all God’s declarations to the contrary; and their refusal to return to Him in that way which He had enjoined, by faith in His pardoning mercy through the blood of the covenant, and genuine repentance. In general, they express the conduct of sinners under the power of deceit, who reject all the calls, invitations, and expostulations of God, turn a deaf ear to all the warnings of conscience, and resist all the common operations of the Spirit.
I. Some of the proofs that the heart affords of its deceitfulness, in the methods which it takes for stifling convictions of sin.
1. Many drown their convictions in the mire of their lusts. When conscience is, in some measure, awakened because of former sins, they endeavour to overpower it, by making its load the heavier, that, if possible, it may sink under it altogether, and trouble them no more.
2. Many extinguish convictions by flying to the world, multitudes are in this manner ruined for eternity. Even the innocent enioyments of life prove the destruction of myriads.
3. The hearers of the Gospel often quench their convictions by doubting the truth of the doctrine. In this way did sin make its entrance into the world; and all along, it has proved a great support of it. The unbelief of the heart comes in to the assistance of the love of sin.
4. Many stifle their convictions by turning them into ridicule. They try to laugh themselves out of convictions just as a coward endeavours to get rid of his fear, by inward ridicule: not that they really disbelieve the things that give them trouble, but they wish to do so. And by habituating themselves to laugh at the shaking of the spear, like the coward at heart, they may acquire a fictitious courage, and really get the mastery over them.
5. Men overpower their convictions by extenuating sin, or apprehending that they are not guilty in the eye of the law, because free of grosser immoralities. But this is as great folly, in a spiritual sense, as it would be for a thief or robber to imagine that he was in no danger of the sentence of the law of his country, because he had not yet committed murder; or, for a man indulging himself in strong drink, to apprehend that he run no risk of intoxication, because he could still hold the cup to his head.
6. The heart often stifles convictions by representing eternal concerns as of little importance. By far the greatest part of men, although they see a dying world around them, live as if themselves alone were to be immortal. Or, one might be apt to imagine from their conduct, that they altogether denied the immortality of their souls, and believed that they would perish with their bodies.
7. Many endeavour to fly from a wounded conscience, and so hold fast deceit by flying from the means of grace. The only condition on which such persons will submit to the sound of the Gospel, is that they have nothing but smooth things prophesied to them.
8. Others extinguish convictions by magnifying the difficulties of religion. It seems to them a great hardship to perform so many duties, to be instant in season and out of season. They reckon God’s commandments grievous, and the reward scarcely an equivalent for the labour.
9. Convictions are often stifled by the hope of abundance of time, and the promise of a future consideration. Thousands and ten thousands fall the miserable victims of a false hope. When the concerns of their precious souls intrude themselves on their thoughts, they endeavour to banish them, from the expectation of length of days, and of a continued enjoyment of a merciful dispensation.
II. The great danger of stifling convictions.
1. This conduct is of the most hardening nature. All sin is so. He who sins today makes the commission of sin easier to conscience tomorrow. There is a progress in sin as well as in holiness. And there is no sin of a more heart-hardening nature than this of quenching convictions. When men make their neck an iron sinew, the brow becomes brass. Obduracy in resisting God is always succeeded by effrontery in sin.
2. He who stifles convictions willingly continues under the sentence of condemnation, consents to it, and seals himself up under it. Convictions are the messengers of incensed justice, sent forth against the transgressor, warning him of the necessity of fleeing into the city or refuge. He who refuses to listen, scorns the refuge provided, and runs his risk of meeting with the avenger.
3. The expected time of consideration may never arrive. Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and we have not the least reason to think that he ever returned.
4. God may justly deny heartmollifying grace. They rebelled and vexed His holy Spirit, and He was turned to be their enemy.
5. He may cease to be a reprover. This is often the case. When the sinner continues to stifle convictions, God takes away His messengers. Or, the means may be continued, and yet be altogether blasted to them. The Bible becomes a book that is sealed. The Word is a dead letter. The most awakening sermons leave them as fast asleep in sin as they found them. For the Lord hath said, My Spirit will not always strive with man.
6. He may contend with them in the course of His providence. He hath long fought against them, as He threatens the Church of Sardis, with the sword of His mouth. Now He will fight against them with the sword of His hand.
7. God gives them up to their own lusts. A man needs no other devil to possess him than these. The name of such a possession is legion. Thus he becomes exceeding fierce in sin, and hurries on headlong to destruction, as if it advanced of itself, with too slow a pace.
8. In judgment He may lay occasions of sin in their way. God can tempt no man. He forces no man to sin, because He infinitely hates it. But when He sees sinners determined on iniquity, He sometimes chooses their delusions, as He threatens in His Word: I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them.
9. God may judicially harden their hearts. It is one of the inconceivable mysteries of Divine operation, that God should in righteous judgment give up a sinner to obduracy, and yet be at an infinite distance from the sin. But so it is.
10. God may refuse to hear, although they should call. He laughs at the sinner when trying to break His bands. But His holy scorn will be far more awful in the end. (J. J. Jameson, M. A.)
I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done?
1. That God hath an ear and an eye to our carriage and dispositions, to our speeches and courses. If we had one always at our backs that would inform such a man what we say, one that should book our words, and after lay them to our charge, it would make us careful of our words. Now, though we be never so much alone, there are two always that hear us. God hears, and God’s deputy in us, conscience, “hearkens and hears.” God books it, and conscience books it. This doth impose upon us the duty of careful and reverent walking with God. Would we speak carelessly or ill of any man if He heard us? When we slight a man, we say we care not if he heard us himself. But shall we slight God so? Shall we swear, and lie, and blaspheme, and say we care not though God hear us, that will lay everything to our charge, not only words but thoughts? “No man spake aright.” But what evidence doth He give upon this inquisition? “They spake not aright,” which is amplified from the generality of this sin When God had threatened judgments, He hearkened and heard what use they made of them, but “they spake not aright.” In how many respects do we not speak aright in regard of the judgments of God?
1. In regard of God, men speak not aright when they do not see Him in the judgment, but look to the creature, to the second causes.
2. We talk amiss in regard of others, when we begin to slight them in our thoughts and speeches. Oh, they were careless people; they adventured into company, and it was the carelessness of the magistrates; they were not well looked to; they were unmerciful persons, etc. Is it not God’s hand?
3. We talk amiss of God’s judgments in regard of ourselves.
(1) When we murmur and fret any way against God, and do not submit ourselves under His mighty hand as we should.
(2) When we take liberty to inquire of the judgments of God abroad, and never make use of them. So much for the evidence. Come we now to God’s complaint upon this evidence. “No man repented him of his wickedness.” They did not repent of their wickedness, and the fault was general: “No man repented.” The first yields this instruction. That it is a state much offending God, not to repent when His judgments are threatened. The longer we live in any sin unrepented of, the more our hearts will be hardened; the more Satan takes advantage against us, the more hardly he is driven out of his old possession, the more just it may be with God to give us up from one sin to another. The understanding will be more dark upon every repetition of sin, and conscience will be more dulled. Those that are young, therefore, let them take the advantage of the youth, and strength, and freshness of their years to serve God. That which is blasted in the bud, what fruit may we look for from it afterwards? Again, what welcome shall we expect, when we have sacrificed the marrow of our years to our lusts, to bring our old age to God? Can this be any other than self-love? Such late repentance is seldom sound. Our hearts are so false and so dull, we have need to take all advantages of withdrawing ourselves from our sinful courses.
And to encourage us to do it, let us consider, if we do this, and do it in time, we shall have the sweetness of the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. You will say, We shall lose the sweetness of sin; ay, but--
1. You shall have a most sweet communion with God.
2. It is the way to prevent God’s judgments, as we see in Nineveh and others.
3. Should we be stricken, if we have made our peace with God, if we have repented, all shall be welcome, all shall be turned to our good. We know the sting is pulled out. “No man repented of his evil ways.” We see, then, that generality is no plea. “We must not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2). We must not follow the stream, to do as the world doth. It hath been the commendation of God’s children, that they have striven against the stream and been good in evil times. If there be but one Lot in Sodom, one Noah and his family in the old world, he shall be looked to as a jewel among much dross. God will single him out as a man doth his jewels, when the rubbish is burnt. God will have a special care to gather His jewels. It shows sincerity and strength of grace, when a man is not tainted with the common corruptions. “No man repented.” They did not say in their hearts and tongues, “What have I done?”
They were inconsiderate, they did not examine their ways.
1. A man can return upon himself; he can try his own ways, and arrest, and arraign himself. “What have I done?” This shows the dignity of man; and considering that God hath set up a throne and seat of judgment in the heart, we should labour to exercise this judgment.
2. God having given man this excellent prerogative to cite himself and to judge his own courses, when man doth not this, it is the cause of all mischief, of all sin and misery.
3. The exercising of this judgment, it makes a man’s life lightsome. He knows who he is and whither he goes.
4. Whatsoever we do without this consideration, it is not put upon our account for comfort. When we do things upon judgment, it is with examination whether it be according to the rule or no. Our service of God is especially in our affections, when we joy, and fear, and delight aright. Now how can a man do this without consideration? For the affections, wheresoever they are ordinate and good, they are raised up by judgment. Now if we would practise this duty, we must labour to avoid the hindrances. The main hindrances of this consideration are--
(1) The rage of lusts, that will not give the judgment leave to consider of a man’s ways; but they are impetuous and tyrannous, carrying men, as we shall see in the next clause, “as the horse rusheth into the battle.”
(2) Too much business, when men are distracted with the things of this life.
(3) It is a secret and hard action; because it is to work upon a man’s self. The world doth not applaud a man for speaking of his own faults. Men are not given to retired actions. They care not for them, unless they have sound hearts.
(4) This returning upon a man’s self, presents to a man a spectacle that is unwelcome. If a man consider his own ways, it will present to him a terrible object. Therefore as the elephant troubles the waters, that he may not see his own visage, so men trouble their souls, that they may not see what they are. “Every one turns to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle.” Every one hath his course, his way, whether good or evil. The course of a wicked man is a smooth way perhaps, but it is a going from God; it leads from Him. And where doth it end? for every way hath its end. It is a going from God to hell. There all the courses of wicked men end. “As the horse rusheth into the battle.” Here it is comparatively set down. If you would see how the “horse rusheth into the battle,” it is lively and Divinely expressed (Job 39:19).
The horse rusheth into the battle--
(1) Eagerly, as in the place of Job.
(2) Desperately, he will not be pulled away by any means.
(3) Dangerously, for he rusheth upon the pikes, and ofttimes falls down suddenly dead.
Herein wicked men are like unto the horse, going on in their course eagerly, desperately, dangerously.
1. They go on eagerly. It is meat and drink unto them. “They cannot sleep until they have done wickedness.”
2. As they go eagerly, so desperately and irreclaimably too; nothing will restrain them. Though God hedge in their ways with thorns, they break through all (Hosea 2:6).
3. As they go eagerly and desperately, so dangerously too; for is it not dangerous to provoke God? to rush upon the pikes? to run against thorns? “Do you provoke Me to jealousy,” saith God, “and not yourselves to destruction?” (1 Corinthians 10:22.) No. They go both together. “Yea, the stork in the heavens knoweth her appointed times,” etc. God confounds the proud dispositions of wicked men by poor, silly creatures--the crane, the turtle, the swallow, and the like. What their wisdom is we see by experience. They have an instinct put in them by God to preserve their being by removing from place to place, and to use that which may keep life. Now, man is made for a better life; and there be dangers concerning the soul in another world, yet he is not so wise for his soul and his best being as the poor creatures are to preserve their being by the instinct of nature. When sharp weather comes they avoid it, and go where a better season is, and a better temper of the air; but man, when God’s judgments are threatened and sent on him, and God would have him part with his sinful courses, and is ready to fire him, and to force him out of them, yet he is not so careful as the creatures. He will rather perish and die, and rot in his sins, and settle upon his dregs, than alter his course. So he is more sottish than the silly creatures. He will not go into a better estate, to the heat, to the sunbeams to warm him. He will not seek for the favour of God, to be cherished with the assurance of His love, as the poor creature goeth to the sun to warm it till it be over hot for it. The thing most material, is this: That God, after long patience, hath judgments to come on people; and it should be the part of people to know when the judgment is coming.
But how shall we know when a judgment is near hand?
1. By comparing the sins with the judgments. If there be such sins that such judgments are threatened for, then as the thread followeth the needle, and the shadow the body, so those judgments follow such and such courses. For God hath knit and linked these together.
2. There is a nearer way to know a judgment, when it hath seized on us in part already. He that is not brutish and sottish, and drunk with cares and sensuality, must needs know a judgment when it is already inflicted, when part of the house is on fire.
3. We may know it by the example of others. God keeps His old walks. What ground have we to hope for immunity more than others? We may rather expect it less, because we have their examples; and so they wanted those examples to teach them which we have.
4. General security is a great sign of some judgment coming. There is never more cause of fear, than when there is least fear. The reason is, want of fear springs from infidelity, for faith stirs up fearfulness and care to please God.
5. We may know that some judgment is coming, by the universality and generality of sin, when it spreads over all. As the deluge of sin made way for the deluge of water, so the overflow of sin will make way for a flood of fire. God will one day purge the world with fire. But now for particular sins, whereby we may know when judgment is coming.
(1) Injustice. Is not innocency trodden down ofttimes?
(2) And so for religion. It is generally neglected. Indifferency and formality.
(3) Persecution of religion and religious men.
(4) When men will go on incorrigibly in sin, as these here, “they rush as the horse rote the battle”; when they will not be reclaimed, it is a forerunner of destruction.
(5) Another particular sin whereby we may discern a judgment coming is, unfruitfulness under the means; as the fig tree, when it was digged and dunged, and yet was unfruitful, then it was near a curse.
(6) Nay more, decay in our first love is a forerunner of judgment, when we love not God as we were wont (Revelation 2:5).
Well, but what shall we do when judgments are coming?
1. First, In the interim between the threatening and the execution. Oh improve it, make use of this little time; get into covenant with God; hide yourselves in the providence and promises of God; make your peace, defer it no longer.
2. Mourn for the sins of the time, that when any judgment shall come, you may be marked with those that mourn.
3. Be watchful. Let us shake off security, and do everything we do sincerely to God. We may come to God to make our account, we know not how soon. Let us do everything as in His presence, and to Him. In our particular callings, let us be conscionable, and careful, and fruitful. (R. Sibbes.)
Man on earth
I. As thy. Special object of Divine attention. Why? We may imagine that--
1. Man’s spiritual infirmities on earth would draw towards him the special notice of his Maker.
2. Man’s critical position.
3. Man’s social influence.
II. As the probationary subject of redemptive discipline. Under this system three things are required of him--
1. Rectitude of language. In conformity with moral truth.
2. Contrition of heart.
3. Self-searching thought.
III. As the wicked abuser of the system under which he lives.
1. Reckless obstinacy.
2. Unnatural ignorance. Yea, the stork, etc.
(1) These creatures have remarkable instincts, suitable to the external circumstances of their nature. So have you. They have the instinct of perceiving coming changes, and the instinct of adjusting themselves to those changes.
(2) These creatures invariably render obedience to their instincts. You do not. How unnatural! (Homilist.)
Interrogating our conduct
How attentive God is to us and our actions! He sees His prodigals when yet a great way off; to Him there is music in our sigh, and beauty in a tear. Never do we have a desire towards God, or breathe a prayer to heaven, but God has been watching and hearkening for it: it was but one tear on the cheek, yet the Father noticed it as a hopeful sign; but one throb went through the heart, yet He heeded it as an omen that not quite hardened by sin.
I. Words of earnest persuasion, urging all, and especially the unconverted, to ask this question, each for himself, and solemnly answer it.
1. Searching yourself can do you no hurt. Little can be lost by taking stock.
2. You may be a great deal better for the process: for, if your affairs are all right with God, you may cheer and comfort yourself; but there are many probabilities that they are wrong; so many are deceived and anything rather than self-delusion.
3. The time for self-examination is short: soon you will know the secret, death will rend off the mask.
4. Though you may deceive yourself, you cannot God.
II. Words of assistance in trying to answer the question.
1. To Christians: “What hast thou done?” You reply, “Nothing to save myself; that was done for me. Nothing to make a righteousness for myself; Christ said, It is finished! Nothing to merit heaven; Jesus did that for me before I was born!” Yes; but say, What hast thou done for Him? for His Church? for the salvation of the world? to promote thine own spiritual growth in grace?
2. To moralists: “What hast thou done?” You answer, “All I ought to have done! You may tell me of sins, but I have done my duty: observed Sabbath, said prayers, given to poor, etc.; and if good works have any merit, I have done a great deal!” True, if any merit; but very unfortunate that they have not, for our good works, if we do them to save ourselves by them, are no better than our sins.
3. To the worldly. “What done? It is very little I do amiss; now and then just a little mirth.” Stop; let us have the right name for that mirth. What do you call it in anyone else? “Drunkenness.” “I have been a little loose in talk sometimes!” Write it down, “Lascivious conversation.” Sometimes you have been out on the Sabbath? “Sabbath breaking.” You may have quoted texts of Scripture to make jokes of them, and used God’s name in foolish talk? “Swearing.” Did you ever adulterate in your trade? “Stealing.” Wished you could get your neighbour’s prosperity?” Covetousness, which is idolatry. Ever really prayed? Prayerlessness. Neglected God and Bible? “Despising Him.” May the Spirit touch your consciences, and convince you of your sins!
4. To the unconverted: “What done?” By your sins you have destroyed your soul, resisted the Gospel, spurned Christ. Yes; and think what you have done to your children: taught them the ways of spiritual ruin. To your companions: tempted some to take the first stray step into folly, indulgence, iniquity. Doth not your heart quaff within you because of self-ruin and ruin of others?
III. Words of affectionate admonition to those who have had to answer the question against themselves.
1. Solemn that the years roll on and yet you are unsaved. You, not altogether hardened, yet “done” nothing to determine for Christ, and lay hold on eternity.
2. There will be a time when you will ask the question, but it will be too late. If you only knew what they feel, and could see what they endure, who have lost opportunity and lost themselves, you would, ere too late, pause and ask, “what have I done?” As immortal spirits, bound for endless weal or woe, fly ye to Christ, seek for mercy at His hand, trust in Him, and be saved. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The figure is a graphic and vivid one; it is that of the Divine Being stooping from heaven, and with inclined ear listening critically yet hopefully to human speech, if mayhap there be but one bright word, one tone of music, one sigh of contrition. The Lord did not listen generally, promiscuously, as if listening to a confused noise of sound; but He listened specifically, He tried every word, He detained every syllable, if haply He could detect in it one sound or sign that He might construe hopefully. But it was in vain. Even Divinest kindness could make nothing but black ingratitude of all the energetic speech: it was a torrent of iniquity; it was a river black, foul; it was a rain of poison. God does not bring these charges against the human family lightly. God can see flowers if there are any. He can see them before they open their mystery, and proclaim in fragrance their gospel; He knows where they are sown and planted. But He looked, and there was none; He expected, and was struck to the heart with disappointment. “No man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done?” There was no self-cross-examination. When men cease to soliloquise they cease to pray. The hardest witness man undertakes to interrogate is his own soul. Yet philosophy has found out the advantages of self-inquest. The Pythagoreans asked themselves once a day, “What have I done?” The inquiry creates a space in the day for itself, makes one inch of praying ground in the desert of the day’s life. How few men dare probe themselves with that inquiry! It is a question double-edged. It is recorded of Cicero, in pressing one of his accusations against an adversary, that he told that adversary that if he had but put two words to himself he might have cooled his passion, controlled his desires, and turned his impulses to high utility. Said the orator, “If thou hadst said to thyself, Quid ego? thou mightest have stopped thyself in this tremendous assault.” That is, What have I done? What do I? What is my course? What are the facts of the case? (J. Parker, D. D.)
But My people know not the Judgment of the Lord.
A set time for judgment
The judgment of God is either directive, corrective, or destructive. This last is meant here. It is spoken of the judgment of utter ruin and desolation upon whom the former judgment has not taken due effect. In the count of the Holy Ghost in Scripture, a man knows no more than he believes, and is affected with, and makes use of: they knew not, they considered not, believed not, were not affected with, neither did they make use of it, either the judgment itself, nor the time of the judgment, either to fear it, or to fly from it: so that they were more unwise for themselves, and for their temporal and eternal safety, than the unreasonable creatures; they knew not the judgment of the Lord.
I. There is unto a sinful nation a set and appointed time of judgment.
1. There is a time of sinning, a set and an appointed time.
(1) A fulness of sin, appointed by God that it shall have its period (Genesis 15:16; Zechariah 5:6).
(2) A measure of wrath, which every vessel of wrath shall treasure up (Romans 2:4-45.2.5).
2. There is a time of patience, when the Lord holds His peace and reproves not (Psalms 50:21; Psalms 50:23). There is a time of repentance, when God defers the judgment after sinning, on purpose that man may return and come in (Revelation 2:21).
3. The times of patience and repentance have their periods; indeed these times are not of the same length to all: to some God shows but a little patience, and to others a great deal, riches of patience and forbearance. But the longest day hath its evening.
4. When the time of patience is expired, there is then a time for judgment, a day of recompense, a year of vengeance, a time for the expending of those treasures of wrath that have been so long laying in; because there was by sinning a time of treasuring: and so there shall also come a time of spending (Romans 2:4-45.2.5); a time for the wall that is swelled out to hang, but there will come a time also when it will fall (Isaiah 30:13).
5. When this time doth come, the Lord will forbear a people no longer: this determinating of judgment in the time of it is exceedingly set before us in the Word, and that under divers expressions.
(1) The Lord doth express it by a full and a peremptory resolution that He will do it (Ezekiel 21:27).
(2) It is called a decree, or the bringing forth the decree (Zephaniah 2:2). Decrees are acts of authority. They are established and firm.
(3) It is called swearing in His wrath (Psalms 9:11).
(4) Those means that usually prevail with God, and turn away threatened judgment, prevail nothing in the time of judgment. Repentance, prayer, fasting, intercession of the godly. When once the set time for judgment is come, the Lord will forbear a people no longer.
II. This time of judgment may and most be known. Otherwise they could not be blamed. What, then, are the signs preceding judgment?
1. A fulness of sin (Joel 3:16; Jeremiah 1:11-24.1.12). An almond tree hath the first ripe fruit of any tree, and it notes the hastening of them to ripen their sins; and the Lord saith, as they did hasten their sins to a ripeness, so He would hasten to ripen His judgments, so that this is a certain sign foregoing judgment. But when is sin full? When is it ripe in a nation?
(1) When a people seeks to make void the law.
(2) Corrupting the worship of God by human inventions.
(3) Confederacy with idolaters.
(4) Abusing the messengers of God.
(5) Not laying to heart the afflictions of our brethren.
2. The beginnings of judgment are an evident token that the time of judgment draws near (Luke 2:30-42.2.31). By a lesser judgment God makes way for His anger, for a perfect and an utter ruin (Psalms 78:50).
(1) All nations about them were against them (Jeremiah 12:9).
(2) The general corruption and decay of truth and wisdom of men in places of greatest trust (Isaiah 1:22).
(3) The subversion of fundamental laws (Psalms 82:5).
(4) Private and intestine divisions.
1. Not to know the time is misery enough; therefore men are taken suddenly and unawares (Ecclesiastes 9:12).
2. That you may know the time to improve this promise (Ecclesiastes 8:5).
3. A wise man foresees the evil, and hides himself, but fools pass on and are punished (Proverbs 22:3).
(1) By a work of humiliation (Habakkuk 3:16).
(2) A work of reformation (Zephaniah 2:3).
(3) Improve all the promises.
(4) Be much in prayer.
(5) Betake thyself to the mediation of Christ. (W. Strong.)
Seek safety before the storm comes
Merchants take care to insure their goods before the ship clears the dock. It would be useless, when the news of a terrible sea storm came, to run to the office, and then expect to make all safe and right. O living but dying man, at once, today, prepare for the coming storm. (E. Foster.)
The stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times.
Instinct contrasted with reason in its discernment of times
I. The birds of passage show in their periodic migrations, their discernment of seasons, and this both as regards the time of their visiting and the time of their leaving us. Probably some peculiarity in the material structure of migratory birds renders them extremely sensitive to changes of temperature--and as these changes always recur at certain seasons of the year, they observe seasons, and make a corresponding change in their places of abode. So great is their sagacity, so true their instinct.
II. Consider the operation of unsanctified reason in discerning times.
1. Consider the invitations of this season of grace.
(1) The Saviour’s voice issuing forth from the pages of the written Word, addresses sinners in such soothing accents, and holds forth to them promises so refreshing, that one would think it could hardly fail of winning an entrance into their hearts, and finding a response there!
(2) But we believe that in every case in which the sinner has made a nominal profession of Christ’s religion, and been formally admitted to the participation of Christian privileges, the Holy Spirit seconds, by an inward action upon the conscience, this external call of the Saviour. In the abysmal depths of the consciousness He strives with the reluctant soul, and whispers in accents, which even the giddy whirl of vanity and frivolity cannot entirely drown or shut out, “Come.”
(3) God employs subordinate human agents to herald in the ears of His people His invitations of grace. The bride, that is the Church, says “Come.” She says so by her ministers, who are her commissioned representatives.
(4) God invites us to return in penitence and faith to His bosom by the dispensations of His providence, no less than by more immediate and direct summons (Hosea 5:15; Micah 6:9).
2. But if the majority of sinners be not gently won by the invitations of grace, they will haply be driven by terror to take refuge in those offers. Let growing age and infirmity bring death and judgment very near--the prospect will surely urge the wanderer to return with hurried steps to the sheepfold! When hoar hairs are here and there upon him, he will lay to heart the cheerless desolate prospect which lies before him in the vista of futurity, and fly before the approaching winter of God’s wrath! (Dean Goulburn.)
When God would set fast a beautiful thought, He plants it in a tree. When He would put it afloat, He fashions it into a fish. When He would have it glide the air, He moulds it into a bird. The prophet was out of doors, thinking of the impenitences of the people of his day, when he heard a great cry overhead. He looks up, and there are flocks of storks, and turtledoves, and cranes, and swallows, drawn out in long line for flight southwards. As is their habit, the cranes had arranged themselves into two lines, making an angle--a wedge--splitting the air with wild velocity; the old crane, with commanding call, bidding them onward, until the towns, and the cities, and the continents slid under them. The prophet, almost blinded from looking into the dazzling heavens, stoops down and begins to think how much superior the birds are in sagacity about their safety than men.
I. They mingle music with their work. The most serious undertaking of a bird’s life is this annual travel. Naturalists tell us that they arrive weary and plumage ruffled, and yet they go singing all the way, the ground the lower line of the music, the sky the upper line of the music, themselves the notes scattered up and down between. I suppose their song gives elasticity to their wings, and helps on the journey. Would God that we were as wise as they, mingling Christian song with our everyday work. A violin, chorded and strung, if something accidentally strike it, makes music; and I suppose there is such a thing as having our hearts so attuned by Divine glory that even the rough collisions of life will make heavenly vibration. Some one asked Haydn why he always composed such cheerful music. “Why,” he said, “I cannot do otherwise. When I think of God, my soul is so full of joy that the notes leap and dance from my pen.” I wish we might all exult melodiously before the Lord. The Church of God will never become a triumphal Church until it becomes a singing Church.
II. They fly very high. During the summer, when they are in the fields, they often come within reach of the gun; but when they start for their annual flight southward they take their places mid-heaven, and go straight as a mark. The longest rifle that was ever brought to shoulder cannot reach them. We fly so low that we are within range of the world, the flesh, and the devil. So poor is the type of piety in the Church of God at this day that men actually caricature the idea that there is any such thing as a higher life. Moles never did believe in eagles. But because we have not reached these heights ourselves, shall we deride the fact that there are any such heights? I do not believe that God exhausted all His grace in Paul, and Latimer, and Edward Payson. I believe there are higher points of Christian attainment to be reached in the future ages of the Christian world.
III. They know when to start. If you should go out now, and shout, “Stop, storks and cranes, don’t be in a hurry,” they would say, “No, we cannot stop. Last night we heard the roaring of the woods bidding us away, and the shrill flute of the north wind has sounded the retreat. We must go.” So they gather themselves into companies, and turning not aside for storm or mountain top, or shock of musketry, over land and sea, straight as an arrow to the mark, they go. And if you come out this morning with a sack of corn, and throw it in the fields, and try to get them to stop, they are so far up that they would hardly see it. They are on their way south. You could not stop them. Oh! that we were as wise about the best time to start for God and heaven. I was reading of an entertainment given in a king’s court, and there were musicians there with elaborate pieces of music. After a while Mozart came and began to play, and he had a blank piece of paper before him, and the king familiarly looked over his shoulder and said, “What are you playing? I see no music before you.” And Mozart put his hand on his brow, as much as to say, “I am making it up as I go along.” It was very well for him; but, oh! we cannot extemporise heaven. If we do not get prepared in this world, we will never take part in the orchestral harmonies of the saved. Oh! that we were as wise as the crane and the stork, flying away, flying away from the tempest. Some of you have felt the pinching frost of sin. You feel it today. You are not happy. There are voices within your soul that will not be silenced, telling you that you are sinners, and that without the pardon of God you are undone forever. Oh! that you would go away into the warm heart of God’s mercy. The southern grove, redolent with the magnolia and cactus, never waited for northern flocks as God has waited for you. Another frost is bidding you away: it is the frost of trouble. Where do you live now? Oh, you say, “I have moved.” Why did you move? You say, “I don’t want as large a house now as I used to want.” Why do you not want as large a house? You say, “My family is not so large.” Where have they gone to? Eternity! (T. De Witt Talmage.)
(children’s address):--It is very remarkable that in the whole globe there is no place suitable all the year round for birds of this order; and that these untaught and unthinking creatures should shift their habitation, and make long voyages through the vast empire of the air. God has imprinted upon their nature that wonderful instinct which enables them to determine when to go and which way to take. The prophet, with the deep instinct of a poet, sees, and declares to Israel, the inner meaning and lessons of the laws and habits of these aerial voyagers.
I. We must obey the “call” of God. At “the appointed time” the birds feel an impulse or moving within them that they must be going, they congregate together, like swallows in autumn, all ready for their long journey. So in the same way, by the movements of conscience and the voice of Divine truth, God is calling us. Abraham obeyed that “call,” and left his idolatrous surroundings, and so did the fishers of Galilee, they left their nets and followed Christ. In the second part of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, you see how the children left the city of destruction and went on the heavenly journey.
II. Do not delay to start. You have noticed the birds preparing: the trees and hedgerows are covered with them, and there is such a chattering! Stragglers are coming in, one after the other, and, at last, the signal is given, wings flutter, and then, like a moving dark cloud, the birds begin their wonderful passage across the pathless seas. But some swallows are too late, they are left behind, and perish in the cold. We read in the Bible that Lot’s wife lingered and was overtaken by death: the five foolish virgins were all unprepared and “too late”; but the Psalmist was of a different character; he said, “I made haste, I delayed not to keep Thy commandments.”
III. Beware of temptations. What is it that makes some of the birds late, so that they cannot start with the others? Perhaps, the sunshine! Everything looked so beautiful, the trees were decked in splendour, like Joseph’s coat of many colours, and the fat red berries glowed like little balls of fire, and so the birds were tempted to delay their journey until it was too late. It was so with the Jews in Babylon. God called them out of the land of captivity, and opened a way for them through the desert, back to the temple and city of their fathers, but many of them were tempted to remain behind; they had nice houses in Babylon, and there were many pleasant things there, from which it was hard to break away. So the world today will seek to keep you back from God, and prevent you beginning the heavenward journey. Beware of its temptations, and pray God to make you strong to overcome.
IV. Like birds, fly high, that is, live near to God. There are two advantages the birds have when they fly high up in the air, they can see farther, and they are a greater distance from the guns and snares of the earth, and the weapon of the enemy. In churches, the lectern, on which rests the Bible, is generally a burnished eagle, as if to say, that just as the eagle soars upward and upward towards the sun, so the Bible, if we daily and prayerfully read it, will bring us into the light of God’s own presence. Then shall we see the way of life more clearly, and “escape the fiery darts of the evil one.” God, too, will fit us for our long journey just as He strengthens the birds for theirs, giving to the swallow long and powerful wings, and to the quail and other birds of shorter pinions marvellous strength of body. Cullen Bryant beautifully says of the waterfowl--
“He who from zone to zone,
Guides thro’ the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way which I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.”
(A. Hampden Lee.)
Duty of repentance illustrated
I. Respecting the nature of the duty; the similitude in the text directs us to consider it as a return, a treading back our steps, as birds of passage return to the country from which they departed. We may then define repentance to be, A change of mind, operating in a change of conduct.
1. The leading step in the process must of necessity be conviction. No man will think of returning into the right way, unless he be made sensible that he has wandered out of it. Conviction is produced gradually. Upon some hint given to a man, either from within or from without, he begins to suspect himself in the wrong; and then, if he be honest enough to prosecute the inquiry, discovers at length that he actually is so. Sometimes it is flashed upon the mind at once--he awakes, and the dream is at an end. It is produced by various means, by disappointments, by crosses, by losses, by sickness, by the death of a friend, by a passage in Scripture, or a discourse upon one, by the incidents of common life, or the changes that happen in the natural world; in short, there is hardly a circumstance of so trivial a nature, but that providence, in some instance or other, has been pleased to make it instrumental to this salutary purpose.
2. The next step to conviction, in the process of repentance, is sorrow. The man who has offended his Maker, and is become thoroughly sensible that he has done so, and of the consequences of his having done so, cannot but be grieved to find himself in such a situation. The degree of this sorrow is varied almost infinitely by the different temperaments of mind and body in the penitents, and the different views under which sin presents itself to their several imaginations. And, therefore, the same degree is not to be exacted of all. By enthusiasm it has been, not unfrequently, aggravated even to frenzy and madness. In Scripture it is drawn with an aspect perfectly sober, but yet described, in many instances, as very intense, like that occasioned by the languors of sickness in its last stage, or the pain arising from dislocated or broken bones, and venting itself in complaints and lamentations, in sighs and tears. There are temporal ealamities, which can draw tears plentifully from most persons; nay, a fictitious representation of them can produce the effect. Spiritual ones, perhaps, would do the same, if we felt them as we ought to feel them; as due retirement and meditation would cause us to feel them; and as we shall one day feel them, when death shall be seen levelling his dart at our pillow, and the throne of judgment rising to the view, beyond him.
3. A third step is confession. One of an ingenuous mind, who is heartily sorry for his offences, will not be ashamed or backward to own that sorrow.
4. A fourth step is resolution to amend.
5. One step more remains, and only one, but that very steep and difficult of ascent, which is, to carry what we have resolved into execution. It is this which finishes and crowns all the rest.
II. The motives to it. Evil to be avoided, and good to be obtained, are the motives, which influence and produce all human actions. To escape from the rigours and storms of winter, and to enjoy the sweets of a milder and more gracious season, is the instinctive cause, why the heaven-taught monitors, to whom we are referred, migrate from one country to another. It is to avoid the judgments of God, and partake of His mercies, that man is called to repent.
1. The evil, then, to be avoided, is “the judgment of God,” consequent upon sin, and sure to overtake it, if unrepented of Sin, which is the transgression of the law, cannot but be noticed by Him who gave that law; and if noticed, must be punished, either in this life, or that which is to come. Sin is often punished in this life; much oftener than we are aware; indeed so often, that we may say to you as Moses to Israel (Numbers 32:23). It would be in vain, however, to dissemble, that in the present state, as is the offence, such is not always the punishment. Notorious sinners often partake not, to appearance, the common evils of life, but pass their days in prosperity and health, and die without any visible tokens of the Divine displeasure. To take off, in some measure, the force of the objection, it must be remarked, that, besides those judgments of God, which lie open to the observation of mankind, there are others, even in the present life, of a secret and invisible kind, known only to the party by whom they are felt. In the brilliant scenes of splendor, of luxury and dissipation, surrounded by the companions of his pleasures, and the flatterers of his vices, amidst the flashes of wit and merriment, when all wears the face of gaiety and festivity, the profligate often reads his doom, written by the hand whose characters are indelible. Should he turn away his eyes from beholding it, and succeed in the great work, during the course of his revels, yet the time will come, when from scenes like these he must retire, and be alone: and then, as Dr. South says, “What is all that a man can enjoy in this way for a week, a month, or a year, compared with what he feels for one hour, when his conscience shall take him aside, and rate him by himself?” There is likewise another hour which will come, and that soon--the hour when life must end; when the accumulated wealth of the east and the west, with all the assistance it is able to procure, will not be competent to obtain the respite of a moment. It will still be alleged, perhaps, that instances are not wanting of the worst of men, in principle and practice, going out of life with no less composure than the best. I believe these instances to be very rare indeed. But however, by habits either of sensuality or infidelity, the conscience may be drugged, and laid asleep in this world, let it not be forgotten that there is another world beyond this, in which it must awake, to sleep no more. And if in this world some sins are punished, as we have assurance they are, while others of far greater magnitude and more atrocious guilt are permitted to go unpunished, it will follow, by a consequence which the wit of man cannot gainsay, should he study for a thousand years to do it, that such sins, not being punished here, will most inevitably be punished there.
2. The good to be obtained needeth few words.
(1) The light of heaven shining upon our tabernacle, the Divine favour attending us and ours, through every stage of our existence, sanctifying prosperity, and turning adversity itself into a blessing, while it becomes an instrument to rectify the disorders of our minds, to soften the few hard places remaining in our hearts, to smooth and lay even the little roughnesses in our tempers; thus gradually and gently preparing us for our departure hence, and fitting us for the company of “the spirits of just men made perfect.”
(2) The answer of a good conscience, diffusing peace and serenity over all the powers and faculties of the soul, refreshing like the dew falling on the top of Hermon, exhilarating as the flagrance of the holy oil descending from the head of Aaron; sweetening the converse of society, and the charities of active life, and affording, in retirement and solitude, pleasures concealed from the world around us, joys in which “a stranger intermeddleth not.”
(3) The reward in heaven, the glory that shall be revealed, to be known only when it shall be revealed; the bliss without alloy, and without end, which he cannot conceive who has not experienced, and which he who has experienced can find no human language able to express.
III. Some short rules for the conduct of our repentance.
1. Stifle not convictions. Attend to every suggestion of this salutary kind, from what quarter soever it may proceed: attend and slight it not. It is the voice of God calling you to repentance. Listen, and obey.
2. Be serious. The subject will cause any man to become so, who considers it as he ought to do; who reflects, what sin is in the sight of God, what sorrow it occasioned to the Son of God, what destruction it hath brought upon the world, and is about to bring upon himself, unless prevented by a timely repentance. (Bp. Borne.)
They have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.
Healed or deluded? Which?
The people among whom Jeremiah dwelt had received a grievous hurt, and they felt it, for they were invaded by cruel enemies, their goods were plundered, their children were slain, and their cities burned. Jeremiah, with true love to his nation, warned them that the cause of all their trouble was that they had forsaken their God. Today God’s servants have a task before them sterner even than that of the ancient seers. It is not ours to point to smoking ruins and the carcases of the unburied dead--plain evidences of a grievous hurt; but our work is to deal with spiritual sickness, and to come among a people who confess no hurt. Great multitudes of our hearers do not welcome the news of a heavenly remedy, because they are not aware that they are sick. A physician who has to commence his practice by convincing his neighbours that they are sick has not a very hopeful sphere before him. Such is our work: we have first of all to declare in the name of the God of truth that man is fallen, that his heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, that he is a sinner doomed to die, and such a sinner that there is no reclaiming him unless the Ethiopian can change his skin and the leopard his spots. Truths so humiliating to human pride are by no means popular; men prefer to hear the smooth periods of those who parade the dignity of human nature. Many there are who confess their disease, but the disease of sin has wrought in them a spiritual lethargy, so that they find a horrible rest in their lost estate, and have no longing to rise to spiritual health, of which, indeed, they know nothing. They are guilty, and willing to remain guilty; inclined to evil, and content with the inclination. Ah, me! but we’ must bring them out of this. They will perish unless they are quickened out of this indifference: they will sleep themselves into hell unless we can find an antidote to the opiates of sin. After these things are done, we have but stormed the outworks of the castle, for there still remains another difficulty. Convinced that they want healing, and made in a measure anxious to find it, the danger with the awakened is lest they should rest content with an apparent cure, and miss the real work of grace.
I. It is very easy for us to be the subjects of a false healing.
1. We might infer this from the fact that no doubt a large number of persons are so deceived. If a large number of persons are so, then why should not we be? The tendency of other men is probably in us also. Why not? Are there not many persons who consider that all is well with them because they have been observant of church ordinances from their youth up, and their parents were observant for them before they actually came upon the stage of responsibility? Too many are reliant entirely upon external religion. If that be attended to carefully they conclude that all is right. I am afraid, too, that many who do not rely upon religious forms yet confide in doctrinal beliefs. They are sound in the faith--orthodox, evangelical. They heartily detest any doctrine that is not scriptural. I am glad to find that it is so with them; but let them not rest in this. To cover a wound with a royal garment is not to heal it, and to conceal a sinful disposition beneath a sound creed is not salvation.
2. Depend upon this, that if there is a chance of our being deceived at all we are always ready to aid in the deception. We are almost all of us on the side of that which is most easy and comfortable to ourselves: the exceptions to this rule are a few morbid spirits who habitually write bitter things against themselves, and a few gracious souls whom the Holy Spirit has convinced of sin, who would comfort themselves if they could, but dare not do so. Take this, then, for granted, that there are many ways of being slightly healed, and we are most of us likely to be pleased with one or other of them.
3. Besides, flatterers are not yet an extinct race. False prophets abounded in Jeremiah’s day, and they may be met with still.
4. Slight healing is sure to be fashionable among a great many, because it requires so little thought. People will do anything but think according to the Word of God. How few sit down and answer the question, “How much owest thou unto my Lord?” They would sooner hear a thunder clap than be asked to consider their ways.
5. Superficial religion also will always be fashionable, because it does not require self-denial. Do you wonder that vital godliness is at a discount when it proclaims war to the knife against a lifelong indulgence?
6. Slight healing, also, is sought by men, because it does not require spirituality.
7. But let me warn you with all the energy I possess against ever being satisfied with any of the slight healings that are cried up nowadays, because they will all end in disappointment, as sure as you are living men. Remember that if you pass through this life deceived there will await you an awful undeceiving in the next world.
II. Be it ours to seek true healing. But then, as we have already said, this true healing must be radical. Oh, pray to have it so! Oh that we might each one now lie at Christ’s feet as dead till He shall touch us and say, “Live.” Truly, I desire no life but that which He gives. I would be quickened by His Spirit, and find in Him my life, my all. Now go a step further. The healing we want must be a healing from the guilt of sin. Every offence you have ever committed must be washed right out, even the least stain of it must vanish, and it must be as though it had never been, and you must be as though you never had offended at all “How can that be?” say you. It is clear it cannot be by anything that you can do; and this again drives you to the prayer of my text, “Heal me, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved.” How can it be? Only by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Saviour. But you must not only be free from sin, you must be freed from sinfulness: a work must be wrought in you, and in me, by which we shall be clean rid of every tendency to do evil. Does not this make you cry, “Heal me, O God, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved”? It ought to do so, and in so doing it will work your safety. In answer to your cry the eternal Spirit shall come upon you, creating you anew in Christ Jesus: He shall come and dwell in you, and shall break down the reigning power of sin, putting it beneath your feet. It is most desirable to be so healed in soul as to stand the test of this present life. I have known friends discharged from the hospital as healed of disease who were bitterly disappointed when they came into everyday life: a little exertion made them as ill as ever. A person had a piece of diseased bone in the wrist; it was taken out by the hospital surgeon, and the arm seemed perfectly healed, but when she began to work the old pain returned, and it was evident that the old mischief was there still, and that a part of the decayed bone remained. Thus some are saved, so they think; but it is only in seeming, for when they get into the world, and are tried with temptation, they are just the same as they used to be. They have not received a practical salvation; and nothing but practical salvation is worth having. A sham cure is worse than none.
III. Let us go where true healing is to be had. It is quite certain that God is able to heal us of all our sins: for He who created can restore. Whatever our diseases, nothing can surpass the power of omnipotent love. Blessed be the name of the Lord, no work of grace can be beyond His will, for He delighteth in mercy. The Lord is so fond of healing sin-sick souls, that He had but one Son, and He made a physician of Him that He might come and heal mankind of their deadly wound: and He being made a physician came down among us, and sought out for His patients, not the good and excellent, but the most guilty, for He said, “The whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus, then, the beloved Physician is able and willing to meet the case of every one of us. His wounds are an unfailing remedy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Two kinds of peace; the false and the true
It was the fault of the Jews, on whom Jeremiah denounced the judgment of God for their sins, that, instead of repenting, they comforted themselves with false hopes of mercy, and cried, Peace, peace, when there was no peace. “I hearkened, and heard,” saith the prophet, “that they spake not right: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done!” “They did not amend their doings; they did not execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; but they still oppressed the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.” And the alarm which might be caused by the awful declarations of the prophet they soon forgot: they healed the hurt slightly; they believed the false prophets, who spake smooth things to them. Too often do we meet with cases exactly similar amongst ourselves. God has denounced judgments upon sinners; the ministers of God proclaim these judgments, and, if possible, to alarm the consciences of sinners. There would scarcely be anything more surprising, were we not so accustomed to it, than the general indifference and fearlessness which is shown in respect to the judgments of God. Is it true that God has actually appointed a judgment seat, at which we must all appear? Is it certain, that a punishment which is eternal awaits transgressors? Still, however, it sometimes happens, where the Word of God is faithfully preached, that an uneasy suspicion of danger will arise, and an alarm be produced in the mind, respecting the judgment to come. Inquiry will then, perhaps, be made as to the way of safety. I wish them to consider the uneasiness they feel, however painful, as a great blessing, for which they have more reason to offer up thanksgivings to God than perhaps for any mercy they ever before experienced. A state of careless ease is the state of danger. Let us not, therefore, stifle such convictions; let us not look upon them as an evil; let us not lament that our quiet has been interrupted; but rather cherish them, as the means used by Providence for our good. Let such persons, however, beware of laying too great a stress upon present peace. It should ever be laid down as a rule, that grace is to be sought in the first place; then peace. But many reverse this. Comfort should never be made our principal or direct end; though it too often happens that doctrines are valued, ministers chosen, and means used, only on account of the degree of comfort which they excite. The bad effects of thus unduly valuing present peace are very serious. That uneasiness of mind which is the parent of humility and the nurse of repentance; that uneasiness, which, if cultivated, would produce a spirit of holy jealousy and watchfulness over ourselves, a just and extensive view of our duty, and a tenderness of conscience, is stifled in its very birth; and the consequence is obvious: superficial convictions produce superficial peace and superficial practice.
I. The false ways by which men endeavour to obtain peace. Here I must begin with remarking, that the strength of a person’s peace is no proof of the soundness of it. It is not unusual to see even notorious sinners dying in peace, and to meet with enthusiasts of various and opposite kinds rejoicing in a peace of mind which is not clouded by a single doubt. For let a person be only firmly convinced that he is right, and peace will follow naturally. Hence it will vary according to a person’s natural temper, his modesty or his arrogance, his knowledge or his ignorance, as well as according to the doctrines he imbibes. We may learn from this view of the subject the great importance of sound scriptural knowledge and true religious principles. A false peace must be built on error or ignorance, and these are removed by a thorough knowledge of the truths of Scripture. We must examine whether our views are just concerning the terms of salvation, and the necessary evidence of the safety of our state.
1. It is far from being uncommon to hear a person declare his religious creed in such terms as these: “Whatever bigots may affirm, or enthusiasts believe, I am certain that God is our merciful Father, and will make allowance for the frailties of His creatures, He knows what passions He gave us, and will surely consider their strength and our weakness. It is dishouourable to Him to indulge any fear of His goodness. Such cases as those, to which human laws do not extend, Divine justice may reach; but as for those whose lives, allowing for human infirmity, are on the whole respectable, surely they need entertain no uneasy apprehensions.” Let a person receive these sentiments, it matters not upon how slight evidence--it matters not that the Word of God contradicts them--and he will have peace; and this peace he will enjoy so long as he continues firm in these sentiments. It is only some uneasy fear that sin may not be so easily forgiven; some secret suggestion of conscience that all is not right within, which can shake this man’s peace. Such a peace as this can only be the result of gross ignorance, and neglect of serious inquiry. Where the conscience is enlightened by some degree of scriptural knowledge, there must be something much more than this to serve as a foundation for the peace of the soul. There are persons, therefore who seek peace by the adoption of a new religious system, perhaps a true one. They read the Scriptures, and they attend to religious conversation with much curiosity and desire to know the truth: a complete change perhaps takes place in their religious opinions: their imagination is alive to religion; their thoughts are occupied with it. Now, supposing the system of religion which they have adopted to be the true one, still it may be asked, does the mere belief even of the truth save the soul? Can a mere speculative faith, however true, save a man? Does our Saviour, or do His apostles tell us to depend on our opinions, on the fancies of our minds, or the clearness of our conceptions?
2. Another class of persons build their peace, not upon the declarations of Scripture respecting the character of those who shall be accepted, but upon some secret suggestions, some impression made on the mind, some vision or rome, some uncommon feeling by which they imagine they are assured of the favour of God towards them. God does not give one revelation to supersede another: He does not point out a hope in His Word upon which we may and ought to rely, and then, rejecting that as imperfect, communicate one in a different way. “We are saved,” saith the apostle, “by faith”; in another place, “by hope.” They both imply the same thing, and both prove that it is not by sight, by feeling, by impressions: for these are not faith; these have not the truth revealed in Scripture for their object, but the truth revealed to ourselves. What a door is here opened for delusion and enthusiasm! How is the attention thus drawn from the Word of God, to follow an unknown guide! How do we leave the promises, to build upon the phantoms of fancy! It must be allowed, indeed, that the Holy Spirit is the great Author of light and peace: but He communicates them, as we learn from Scripture, by impressing the truths revealed in the Bible on our hearts; by removing our prejudices against them; by disposing our hearts to attend to them; by exciting holy affections in consequence of the view we have of them. Thus the Spirit testifies of Christ, not of us; fills us with joy in believing the old, not in receiving a new, revelation; makes known the truths of Scripture, not truths with which Scripture is unconcerned.
II. What is the true foundation of Christian peace?
1. It is not to be denied, that some good Persons have built their peace on those evidences which I have just laid down as unsatisfactory; but in this case, it has been their error that they have neglected what was truly a good evidence, and dwelt upon what was imperfect and unsound. We are apt to lay too much stress upon what is peculiar to ourselves and to our party, and too little upon what is really important, and what is held to be so in Scripture.
2. We may lay it down as a maxim, that grace in the heart is far more important than light in the understanding, or than comfort and Peace, however founded. The peace of the Gospel has a close connection with sanctification, as well as a manifest influence upon it. And one great evil which arises from all false ways of obtaining Peace is this, that they have no necessary connection with sanctification. Whatever peace, or whatever feelings we have, let us mark their practical influence: if they tend to produce, not a partial, but an universal respect to all God’s will, so far they are right, and all true Christian peace will tend to produce that effect. It remains now to explain what is the just and proper foundation on which a solid Peace may be built. Here it is hardly necessary to premise that Scripture is our only unerring guide in such inquiries. Now, in his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul treats of this subject, not indirectly or briefly, but expressly and fully. In the fifth chapter he states the way in which a Christian obtains peace with God, and is enabled to rejoice in hope of His glory. This foundation appears to be faith. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Peace, I have said, is at first to be obtained by believing. But suppose a person, who fancies himself a believer, still lives in the practice of sin; is he, nevertheless, to maintain peace, to stifle the alarms of conscience, and to look only to his faith in the revelation of Christ? God forbid. His conduct proves that his faith is insincere. He must humble himself before God as a sinner, and pray for true faith; for an influential, purifying view of the Gospel. Thus, then, faith must be the foundation of our peace, but uprightness the guard of it. Faith and peace will then go hand in hand, attending the true Christian in his journey to heaven. Does he fall into sin? His peace will decay. Would he have it renewed? It must be by renewed repentance, and renewed application to the Saviour, who takes away sin and communicates pardon and sanctifying grace. Thus his faith will be strengthened, and his peace restored. Let us examine on what our peace towards God is founded. Is it on our own good life? If so, it is false. Is it on our faith? If so, is our faith sincere? Does it teach us reliance on Christ, and lead us to continual applications to Him for grace? Does the love of Christ constrain us to live to Him rather than to ourselves? Does it produce in us a uniform and sincere obedience to His holy will? If not, we may justly fear that our faith is vain, and that we are yet in our sins. Lastly, let us ever bear in mind, that to Christ alone must we be indebted for salvation. Though the Scriptures speak of our being saved by faith, yet, properly speaking, it is Christ alone who can save us. He has made a full and sufficient atonement for sin. (Christian Observer.)
I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you.
There are countries that are desolated by animals; there have been harvests eaten by locusts; there have been vineyards stripped by insects; there is, therefore, no violence in the figure, and there is nothing of the nature of exaggeration. The animals have one keeper. God can make them live where tie likes. The sight of that cockatrice might make a man almost pray. It would turn many a blustering, blatant sinner in the city into a coward if he could but once catch sight of it on the counting house floor; then any prophet would be welcome who could charm the evil thing. But this cockatrice will not be charmed. It will look with proud disdain upon your traps and snares and all your offered flatteries, and all your bribes to its cruel dignity; it has come to do God’s judgment work and it will not accept the compromise the sinner proposes. These words are full of sadness, full of horribleness: but we must be horrible before we can be gracious; we must know what the law is before we can know what the Gospel is; we must preach--oh, sad confession, and hurtful to a dainty and irrational sentimentality!--we must preach hell, if haply men may, by the terror of the Lord, be brought to know the meaning of His grace. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Is not the Lord in Zion?
A discourse for a revival season
These words, as they stand in the Book of Jeremiah, were probably meant to set forth the sin of Israel. The prophet’s heart is very full of sadness; he can hear the cries of the people in the streets of Jerusalem. They are moaning for sorrow, because of the oppression of the Chaldeans--the nation that dwelt afar off; and in the midst of their bitterness they remember the God whom they had forgotten in their prosperity: but this remembrance is not a gracious one; they do not remember Him to humble themselves, but to bring accusations against Him. They inquire, “Is not the Lord in Zion? is not her King in her?” As if they felt, “The people of the Lord, the people of the Lord are we, and therefore He is bound to send us a deliverance.” They accuse the faithfulness of Jehovah, because He greatly suitors them to be downtrodden for their sins. Then the Lord, speaking by the prophet, tells them the reason why, although present among them, he did not help them: “Why have they provoked Me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities?” If they believed Him to be present, why did they set up false gods?
I. We have in the text a cry.
1. Observe the word “Behold.” The “behold” here is the mark of astonishment. We are to “Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of My people” as an unusual thing. So seldom does Israel cry unto the Lord, she is so negligent of prayer, she is so silent when she ought to be incessant in her petitions, that when at last she does cry, her voice is a wonder in God’s ears. And yet it ought not to be a wonder, it ought not to be a strange thing for God’s people to be in earnest, or for sinners to feel brokenness of heart. If prayer be the Christian’s breath, why then, to see a multitude breathing, should never be a spectacle. If to pray unto God be the Christian’s daffy privilege, then to approach the throne of God with prevalent earnestness, should never be looked upon with astonishment.
2. Notice how this prayer is described. It is a cry: “Behold the cry.” A cry is the most natural form of utterance. It is a natural expression made up of pain and desire for relief. When a brother merely prays what we call prayer, he stands up and utters very proper words, very edifying, very suitable, no doubt, and then he has done. Another brother comes forward; he wants a blessing, he tells the Lord what he desires; he takes the promises, he wrestles with God, and then he seems to say, “I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me.” He cannot be satisfied till, with the cry of “Abba, Father,” he has come before the throne and really obtained an audience with the Most High.
3. Note again, for every word of our text is suggestive, it is Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of My people. It is not enough to be earnest, you must know what you are earnest about; the cry must have a voice which is as far as possible understood by yourself, and a voice which has a meaning in it before God. I must direct my prayer unto God, as David says, pull my bow, direct the arrow, take aim at the centre of the target, and then when the arrow flies it is likely to reach its place.
4. Further, study the matter of the voice--it was “for them that dwell in a far country.” In what a far country does every sinner dwell! Now, the prayers, I hope, of God’s people, have been going up for all the far-off ones, that infinite mercy would make them nigh by the blood of Christ.
5. Remark another word in the text--for “those that dwell in a far country”: there are some of you who make a long abode in a far country. The fact is, you have taken up your dwellings; you have made a settlement in one of the parishes of the city of destruction; you are making out a claim to be enrolled in the devil’s register; you dwell in the far-off land. If you were uneasy and felt yourselves to be strangers and foreigners in the land of destruction, how would I clap my hands for joy; for you would soon be rid of your old master if you once felt sick of him.
6. The cry is “The cry of the daughter of My people.” Oh, it is so sweet to think that our prayers, poor as they are, are the prayers of God’s own people, and therefore they must be heard. You are the Lord’s children, therefore He will hear you. Would you let your child constantly cry to you and not answer Him?
II. We will now turn to the question: “Is not the Lord in Zion? is not her King in her?” I will answer that question at once in the affirmative. “The Lord is in Zion: her King is in the midst of her.” Having answered this question, it suggests many more.
1. If the Lord be indeed in Zion, and the King he in the midst of her, why do we pray as if He were not? He is with you, ready to answer by fire, if, like Elias, you have but faith with which to challenge His promise and His power.
2. Why do you despond because of your own weakness? “We have not a sufficient number of ministers; we have little wealth; we have few places of public worship; we have few gifted members,” and so on. So some unbelievingly talk. “Is not the Lord in Zion? is not her King in her?” What more do you want? “Oh! we would like to be strong.” Why would you be strong? That you must be disqualified to be used by God? Why, any fool can kill the enemy with a cannon, but it takes a Samson to smite them with the jawbone of an ass. And so, when God has the choice of weapons, and He always has, He chooses the weaker weapon, that He may get to Himself the greater renown.
3. If God be with us, why these great fears about the prosperity of the Church? The God of Zion is here, the King of Zion is here. I grant you, we do not sufficiently recognise His presence; we are not, as we should be, obedient to His commands but I charge you, O ye soldiers of the Cross, believe in the presence of your Captain, and press where ye see His helmet amidst the din of war. His Cross is the great emblazoned banner which leads you on to glory. Press forward! to suffer, to deny yourselves, to bear witness for Christ; for the battle is the Lord’s, and the King Himself fights in the van.
III. Another question. “Why have they provoked Me to anger with their graven images and with strange vanities?”
1. Here is a question for the Lord’s people. It becomes a very solemn thing when God is in His Church how that Church behaves herself. Suppose that Church to set up false principles: if her King were not there she might take the kings of the earth to be her head. But dare she do that when her King Himself is there?
2. This text has a particular voice to sinners. You have been saying, “God is in the midst of His people--how is it I have not had a blessing?” I will ask you this question, “Why have they provoked Me to anger with their graven images and with strange vanities?” Do not ask why the Word is not blessed to you; do not ask why you do not enjoy the prayer meeting: answer my question first. Why hast thou provoked Me to anger with thy tricks in trade, with thy Sabbathbreaking, with thy lying, with thy loose songs, with thy miring up with worldly company, with thy profanity?
IV. Another cry. I wish I might hear this cry this morning, for then I should not hear it in the world to come, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Manifestations of the presence of God
The ancient polity of the Jewish nation was a pure and splendid theocracy. Jehovah was their King. He gave them their laws, selected their judges, appointed their prophets, and He reigned the Lord supreme, having chosen them to be His peculiar people, and special possession.
I. It is possible for the members of a professing Church to be deceived concerning the presence of God, and conclude that he is with them, when in reality he is far from them.
1. Deceived on this important point are those who conclude God is with them because they have imposing forms and splendid places of worship. If pompous forms of worship and gorgeous temples marked the presence of God with men, the evidence would go to show that God was more with the ancient heathen than with the ancient Jews. It would exalt Mahomet and Mohammedanism over Christ and Christianity.
2. Deceived on this important point are those professing churches who conclude God is with them, because they have creeds and councils in their favour. Were, however, this conclusion correct, it would prove that the presence of God might be found with the mere letter of truth, or even error.
3. Deceived on this important point are those professing churches who conclude God is with them because they have extensive knowledge and numerous gifts. In danger of this error were many who were members of the Church of God at Corinth. An error St. Paul fully exposed, showing that those things which they so highly valued were worthless in comparison with sacred charity, true love to God, and pure love to man.
4. Deceived also on this important point are those churches and individuals who conclude God is with them because He was once with them. Who will question the truth, that He was with the Jews as a people, when Moses sang (Exodus 15:13)? But is He with them now as a nation, as the rod of His inheritance, the Zion wherein He delighteth to dwell? Has not the evil He warned them against come upon them (Jeremiah 6:8)? Then in reference unto individuals, having once been with them, is no certainty that He abides with them. Was He not with Saul when chosen of God to be the King of Israel (1 Samuel 10:7)? Was He not with Solomon when he devoutly dedicated the temple to the Lord, and prayed (2 Chronicles 6:41)? Was He not with Judas when called to the apostleship? Now to say nothing concerning the hour of death, was His presence perpetually with these through life? Then let us net, neither as churches nor as individual members, depend on the past, nor be satisfied with anything short of having God indisputably with us now; bearing in remembrance that His presence is conditional (2 Chronicles 15:2).
II. It is possible for the members of a professing Church to be fully assured of the presence of God among them--King in Zion.
1. God is where the Word of truth is faithfully preached and believingly received.
2. God is where the ministry of the Gospel is effectual to accomplish the purposes for which it is proclaimed.
3. God is where the members of the Church grow in sacred knowledge, and increase in holiness of heart and life.
4. God is where the discipline of Christ is scripturally observed and maintained.
5. God is where a professing people dwell together in the bonds of Christian charity. To this Christians are called by their name, their profession, and hope of eternal life.
III. It behoves the members of a professing Christian Church frequently and faithfully to press on themselves the solemn, weighty inquiry, is the Lord in our Zion, is her King with us? Have we the marks of the Divine presence already stated? Let us examine ourselves as a Christian community on this subject, and that with the sincerity of those who would not be deceived.
1. Is the Word of truth faithfully preached by us as ministers?
2. Is the ministry of the Gospel among us successful to accomplish its gracious designs?
3. Are we as people wise in sacred knowledge and intent on full conformity of the will and image of God?
4. Have we a wholesome scriptural discipline?
5. Are we as a professing Church united in the bonds of Christian charity?
IV. It becomes a Christian Church, sensible of the Divine presence but desirous of a more special manifestation of God with them and to them, to employ those means which are calculated to promote His more glorious abode in Zion.
1. This they should do by a full and constant acknowledgment of the sovereign authority and rule of Christ (Ephesians 1:22). His kingship in Zion is not a supposed character, but a positive possessed office; and weighty must be the guilt and condemnation of these who deny His claim, and reject His rule.
2. This they should do by diligently seeking an increase of personal holiness (Psalms 132:14; Psalms 132:16).
3. The more glorious presence of God should also be sought by the members of the Church, in the exercise of fervent, persevering prayer. (W. Naylor.)
The royal presence
The great thing is to ascertain the fact of the Lord’s presence with His people. Now, where the Lord’s presence is, there are tokens special, peculiar, and infallible, by which it is evidenced. Where the Lord is, everything will go well: the Gospel will triumph, and the righteous will be glad. On the contrary, the Lord’s absence is marked by wickedness, carnality, darkness, and dissolution.
1. An indispensable evidence that God is in the churches, we think to be a united, loving people. The Spirit is the source of love; and it is His first fruit.
2. Where this love is present, and in powerful operation, it will produce another evidence--a consistent, holy deportment. Love and purity are inseparable; but purity of heart will be indicated by purity of life.
3. The Lord’s presence is always accompanied by special zeal for His glory: a desire to promote His honour, and to extend His kingdom.
4. An invariable accompaniment of the King’s presence is liberality in the disposition of worldly substance. His people realise the fact that they are not proprietors, but stewards, to whom is committed treasure, which is exclusively His own.
5. The spirit of humble wailing at His footstool, for the lessons of His wisdom, is another indication of His presence. The churches will be teachable, devout, and obedient in all things.
6. A further evidence of the royal presence is, the possession of high attainments in spiritual things: the citizens of Zion will largely enjoy the comfort of love, the patience of hope, and every blessing provided for them.
7. As a rule, another token of the Lord’s presence will be, that while His people walk in His fear, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, they will be multiplied. The message of love, spoken in love, will operate with melting power on the hearts of men. (The Christian Witness.)
The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
Harvest past, summer ended, and men unsaved
The passage is full of lamentation and woe, and yet it is somewhat singular that the chief mourner here is not one who needed chiefly to be in trouble. Jeremiah was under the special protection of God, and he escaped in the evil day. Even when Nebuchadnezzar was exercising his utmost rage, Jeremiah was in no danger, for the heart of the fierce monarch was kindly towards him. “Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying, Take him, and look well to him, and do him no harm; but do unto him even as he shall say unto thee.” The man of God, who personally had least cause to mourn, was filled with heavy grief, while the people who were about to lose their all, and to lose their lives, still remained but half awakened; complaining, but not repenting; afraid, but yet not humbled before God. A preacher whom God sends will often feel more care for the souls of men than men feel for themselves or their own salvation. Is it not sad that there should be an anxious pain in the heart of one who is himself saved, while those who are unsaved, and are obliged to own it, feel little or no concern? See yonder man about to be condemned to die, standing at the bar, the judge putting on the black cap is scarcely able to pronounce the sentence for emotion, and all around him in the court break down with distress on his account, while he himself is brazen faced, and feels no more than the floor he stands upon I How hardened has he become! Pity is lost upon him, if pity ever can be lost.
I. The language of complaint. These Jews said, “The seasons are going by, the year is spending itself, the harvest is past, the vintage also is ended, and yet we are not saved.” In effect they complained of God that He had not saved them, as if He was under some obligation to have done so, as if they had a kind of claim upon Him to interpose: and so they spoke as if they were an ill-used people, a nation that had been neglected by their Protector. This complaint was a very unjust one, for there were many reasons why they were not saved, and why God had not delivered them.
1. They had looked to the wrong quarter: they expected that the Egyptians would deliver them. The same folly dwells in multitudes of men. They are not saved, and they never will be while they continue to look where they do look. All dependence upon ourselves is looking to Egypt for help, and leaning our weight upon a broken reed. Whether that dependence upon self takes the form of relying upon ceremonies, or depending upon prayers, or trusting in our own attempts to improve ourselves morally, it is still the same proud folly of self-dependence. All trust but that which is found in Jesus is a delusion and a falsehood. No man can help you. Eternal barrenness is the portion of those who trust in man and make flesh their arm.
2. Those people had prided themselves upon their outward privileges; they had presumed upon their favoured position, for they say in the nineteenth verse, “Is not the Lord in Zion? is not her King in her?” Faith in Jesus is the one thing needful; vain is the fact that you were born of Christian parents, ye must be born again; vain is your sitting as God’s people sit in the solemn service of the sanctuary, your heart must be changed; vain is your observance of the Lord’s day, and vain your Bible reading and your form of prayer night and morning, unless you are washed in Jesus’ blood; vain are all things without living faith in the living Jesus.
3. Them was another and very powerful reason why these people were not saved, for, with all their religiousness and their national boast as to God’s being among them, they had continued in provoking the Lord. Thou must have done with the indulgence of sin if thou wouldst be clansed from the guilt of it. There is no going on in transgression, and yet obtaining salvation: it is a licentious supposition. Christ comes to save us from our sins, not to make it safe to do evil.
4. Another reason why they were not saved was because they made being saved from trouble the principal matter. Was there ever a murderer yet who did not wish to be saved from the gallows? When a man is tied up to be flogged for a deed of brutal violence, and his back is bared for the lash, depend upon it he repents of what he did; that is to say, he repents that he has to suffer for it; but that is all, and a sorry all too. He has no sorrow for the agony which he inflicted on his innocent victim; no regret for maiming him for life. What is the value of such a repentance?
5. There was another reason why these people were not saved and could not be. “Lo, they have rejected the Word of the Lord, and what wisdom is in them?” Do you read your Bible privately? Did you ever read it with an earnest prayer that God would teach you what you really are, and make you to be a true believer in Christ? Have you read it with regard to yourself, asking God to teach you its meaning, and to make the sense of it press upon your conscience? Do you reply, “I have not done that”? Why then do you wonder that you are not saved? To put a slighter test than the former: when you hear the Gospel, do you always inquire, “What has this to do with me?” or do you listen to it as a general truth with which you have no peculiar concern?
6. There is a further reason why some men are not saved, and that is because they have a great preference for slight measures. They love to hear the flattering voice whispering, “Peace, peace, where there is no peace” and they choose those for leaders who will heal their hurt slightly. He who is wise will go where the Word has most power, both to kill and to make alive. Do you want a physician when you call upon him to please you with a flattering opinion? Must he needs say, “My dear friend, it is a very small matter; you want nothing but pleasant diet, and you will soon be all right”? If he talks thus smoothly when he knows that a deadly disease is commencing its work upon you, is he not a deceiver? Do you not think you are very foolish if you pay such a man your guinea, and denounce his neighbour who tells you the plain truth? Do you want to be deluded? Are you eager to be duped? Do you want to dream of heaven, and then wake up in hell?
7. All this while these people have wondered that they were not saved, and yet they never repented of their sin. Repentance was a jest with them, they had not grace enough even to feel shame, and yet they made a complaint against God, saying, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” What monstrous folly was this!
II. Now, may the Spirit of God help us while we would lead unconverted persons into the consideration of this matter.
1. First consideration, “We are not saved.” I do not want to talk, I want you to think. “We are not saved.” Put it in the personal, first person singular.
2. Furthermore, not only am I not saved, but I have been a long time not saved. What opportunities I had! I have been through revivals, but the sacred power passed over me; I remember several wonderful occasions when the Spirit of God was poured out, and yet I am not saved.
3. Worse still, habits harden. Harvests have dried me, summers have parched me, age has shrivelled my soul: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer, I am getting to be old hay, or as withered weeds fit for the burning.
4. The last summer will soon come, and the last harvest will soon be reaped, and you, dear friend, must go to your long home. I will apply it mainly to myself: I must go upstairs for the last time, and I must lay me down upon the bed from which I shall never rise again; if I am unsaved my room will be a prison chamber to me, and the bed will be hard as a plank, if I have to lie there and know that I must die,--that a few more days or hours must end this struggle for existence, and I am bound to stand before God. O my God, save me from an unready deathbed! Souls, I charge you by everything that is rational within you, escape for your lives, and seek to find eternal salvation for your undying spirits. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The prophet’s lament
There is no much sadder and heavier burden than that borne by him who is profoundly conscious of evils, and of threatened disaster, in some popular policy--some policy with which all around him are content and pleased, and of the happy issue of which they are confident who, while his friends and fellows are entirely satisfied with things as they are, and flatter themselves that the course pursued will be surely productive of or conducive to good, carries about with him daily a deep conviction of existing serious defects, and of involved mischief and woe. No hope, no hope! That was the peculiar burden of Jeremiah, that was the vision forced upon him, the message he was constrained to deliver, while the people and their leaders were nursing the assurance that all was going well, that a work was being prosecuted which would secure salvation. Few things are more unpalatable and painful, than to feel it incumbent on you to say to any for whom you entertain sentiments of friendship and affection, what is calculated to damp and dishearten, to spoil the dreams of those who are dreaming pleasantly, deliciously, to destroy or disturb fond hopes; than to feel it incumbent upon you, instead of sympathising with the joy of such hopes,--as you fain would, were it possible,--to shake your head and contradict them. There are cases in which upon the whole it may be best to refrain from meddling with hopes, the baselessness of which we perceive with pity, to let the possessors go on indulging them without any interference from us, until they shall awaken at length, in the course of events, to the chill of the disappointing reality. Unfounded and fallacious as their hopes are, and certain ere long to be painfully shattered, they may be less harmful, less fraught with mischief, than our present interruption of them might be. But eases there are, on the other hand, in which the right thing, the wisest and the kindest thing, will be at once to attack and scatter, or endeavour to scatter them, however unwelcome the task, and whatever suffering we may cause. The sooner the subjects of them can be shaken out of their hold, can be made to recognise their falsity, and be set face to face with the severity of the actual, the better. It was thus with the people of Judah in Jeremiah’s time. Their hope that the reforms in progress were securing them against the rod that had been threatened, was not only a delusion but a snare; it was creating and fostering within them a false spirit, was preventing any true discernment on their part of what was really wanting in them, of their real unwholesomeness and corruption, and was unfitting them to bear the rod when it should fall, with the meek resignation, the humble submission, requisite to render it a purifying and chastening discipline. But this cry of his over his country in the streets of Jerusalem,--by how many has something like it been breathed inwardly, with sorrow and bitterness, concerning themselves, as they have stood contemplating what they have, and what they are, after seasons in their history, seasons that had enfolded golden opportunity or shone bright with promise. Who is there, beyond the boundaries of youth at all, who has not had his seasons of promise, that have left him sighing forlornly over broken hopes? Infinite, in this respect, is the pathos of human life, crying dumbly evermore for the infinite pity of God. Or again, is it not frequently the case that bygone circumstances and situations are recalled with a sorrowful, humiliating sense of our not being the men in moral stature, in moral fibre and feature, which they should have contributed to make us, which they gave us in vain the opportunity of becoming--that remembering them, we feel with a pang of grief and shame, the good thing they might have wrought in us which they have not wrought; how we might have been disciplined by them, or stimulated to larger growth, to culturing action and endurance,--and were not? “Oh, could we weep,” some are saying to themselves. “Oh, could we weep as once we wept, when similar situations and circumstances returned. If the recurrence now and again, of former scenes, of former contacts and conjunctures, could but stir in us the transient hopeful emotion which they used to excite, could but set us temporarily sighing, aspiring, resolving, as they used to do, when they always brought with them the promise at least, of our going on to better things; but the promise, alas! was never fulfilled, the transient hopeful emotion faded without producing aught; and now, the recurrence of the former scenes, the former contacts and conjunctures, ceases to awaken the emotion. The birthdays, the anniversaries, the quiet Sunday mornings, the hours of silence and solitude, that once agitated us with rushes of unwonted tenderness, with little wavelets of earnest thought, and higher impulse, which might have led to something further, to something of permanent effect,--they no longer touch us thus as they come and go; they have no longer the slightly quickening influence that they had: our harvest in them is past, our summer in them is ended, and we are not saved.” Is not such the secret cry of some, who yet, however, are not unsalveable by any means, since they are still able to weep that they cannot weep? What is it, in conclusion, with the best of us, but failure? Let the pity of the Lord our God be upon us! And yet may we not believe, do we not feel to our solace, that at the least, something has always been reaped?--reaped for sowing, albeit with tears, in fields beyond; nay, that even in the mere lowly and penitent sense of shortcoming, which seems perhaps almost all that has been gained, we shall be carrying away with us from hence, a gathered seed grain, to be for fruit, perchance for the fruit we have hitherto missed, “behind the veil.” (S. A. Tipple.)
The course of time
What different emotions prevail in the mind, through different periods of human life! In our early hours, when health is high, and the heart warm, hope is the feeling that takes the lead; and who, that calls to mind the events of his youth, can fail to remember his train of lively and sanguine opinions. The boy views everything through the magic telescope of an eager fancy. He longs for the future: every day seems to him to go on tardy pinions; keeping him from he knows not what, but still from something which strongly impresses his mind with imaginary beauties, and which he is sure is to make him happier at some approaching period. But as time advances, the spirit of the dream is changed; manhood begins to find out what the world is really made of. When we come to mingle, as interested actors, in its schemes and tumults, its winding and turnings; when we come to perceive its selfishness and its rigour; to mix up in the everyday exertions of its dull routine; and to suffer the various disappointments of its fickle favours,--we then conclude that hope and reality are two different things; and that like the clouds about the evening sun, though at first they are brightly coloured, yet that they are but clouds after all, and that when the light is gone, the tempest often remains. Then it is that another feeling arises in the mind: we fly from hope to memory. It is with these reflections I would desire you to consider the text. What is hope, if it enter not within the veil, sure and steadfast, an anchor of the soul? And what is memory, if it look back on worldly pleasures only, and be not accompanied by that “looking forward,” and that “pressing towards the mark,” which will induce us rather “to forget the things which are behind” in the anticipations of “that blessed hope,” and that “glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ”? It often happens to us to walk over those scenes of nature in winter which we had visited in summer; and the contrast is sometimes peculiarly striking. “Is this the spot that gave us such pleasure? are these all the remains of our former entertainment?” Alas! the same reasoning often comes upon us in the strange realities of a chequered life. Nature in her revolutions is but a model of the existence of man. We, too, have our summer of pleasure, and our winter of sorrows. Let it teach us this--not to value the world at more than it is worth; to use it without abusing it; and to find out a surer refuge for our hearts to fix on. This brings me to another way, less allegorical, of considering the text. “The earth bringing forth grass; the herb yielding seed; and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself,” all bespeak a design from the great Designer, and the workmanship of a Divine hand. No art can imitate the nicety of nature. The brightest robe of Solomon in all his glory must yield to the lily of the field. The meanest insect that preys upon a fruit tree is the workmanship of Him who made the universe. “Shall He not take care, then, of you, O ye of little faith?” “The summer is ended, and we are not saved.” We have not looked from nature up to nature’s God. We are not led by gratitude and affection to love the Author of all this assemblage of mercies. We cannot yet say to Him with filial truth, “Abba, Father.” This is what every summer should teach us, and the state it should bring us to. This is what the bounty of God should encourage in our hearts, namely, “to love Him, because He has first loved us.” This is taking, like Moses, a distant view of the heavenly Canaan, and making the wilderness of earth, while it leads us towards the promised land, “to rejoice, and be glad, and blossom as the rose.” But we come now to a still more personal sense in which the words of the text may be applied. “The harvest is past, the summer is ended”: you have had your spring time of youth, with all its hopes; your summer of manhood, with all its bloom; and the autumn of enjoyment, with all its maturities. These seasons have passed from you, and the winter of age is arrived,--that gloomy time which we once shrunk back from even in idea, and which we always determined, whenever it did come, should find us servants of God, and sincere candidates for “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Let me ask you, first, how it has found you Has it found you with lamps trimmed, and with oil to burn in the night of the grave? Are you in a state of salvation? As earth retires from before you, does heaven arise the more to your sight? As you grow older, do you grow wiser?--wiser, not in art, or science, or human philosophy, but in the wisdom of the heart, in a knowledge of yourselves, of your own insufficiency, of the power and riches of Christ, of the vanity of the world and its vexation of spirit, of the necessity of resting your all in the ark of a covenant God? But the words of the text by no means apply exclusively to the aged. Their sound is gone out unto all ages; and they utter intelligible language to the young. The winter of age, or the winter of another year, may never arrive to you. Why do you not put on that armour of your Saviour which will carry you unharmed through every change and chance of this mortal warfare? You are as much answerable to God for the talents committed to you, as the oldest man alive. Employ them in the service of Him who gave them, and who gave them also for this very purpose--to redound to His glory, and to work out your own salvation. If pleasure be your aim, Jesus Christ will interfere with no real pleasure, and will give you new ones of the choicest kind. Is tranquillity your object? Christianity has a “peace which passeth understanding”! Are sublime and noble contemplations the employment of your mind? What facts are so noble as the eternal truths of the Gospel? Is fancy your delight? what field for imagination can be so brilliant as those bright visions which human eye hath never seen, where the future destinies of the faithful in the Lamb are mysteriously but gloriously pointed out; where every present faculty of the soul shall be expanded and perfected; and new ones and better ones added an hundredfold? And all this accompanied, in the united testimony of God’s Spirit with our spirit, by a happiness which every converted man must feel in the sacred consciousness that he is justified through Christ, and reconciled in the sight of God. (E. Scobell, M. A.)
The harvest past
There is scarcely a more painful reflection to the mind of man, than that the season of avoiding great calamities, and of securing great blessings, has been neglected, and is irrecoverably gone. The distress will be heightened in proportion to the magnitude of the evil which might have been avoided, and of the blessings which might have been secured.
1. The season of youth passed in impenitence, is to multitudes such a season. The sensibilities of the soul are more easily touched, conscience is more susceptible and faithful, the affections are more easily moved, the soul is capable of receiving more permanent impressions--the whole inner man is peculiarly accessible to the influence of eternal things.
2. The same precious season is often terminated by some single acts of wickedness, or by yielding in some single instance to temptation. Could we draw aside the veil that conceals the providence of God, we should doubtless see, in the history of every soul that is lost, some act, some purpose, some state of heart, some violence done to conscience, which was the fatal step away from the grace of God--the commencement of that downward career, in which mercy was never to reach him--the turning point of life and death eternal--the hour in which his day of grace terminated, and from which the only result of his protracted life, was the accumulation of wrath--the hour when the harvest was past, when the summer ended.
3. The same precious season is often terminated by the abuse and perversion of distinguishing grace. It is related that in a place where Mr. Whitefield preached, and was greatly opposed by many, that not me of his opposers was known afterward to give evidence of piety, and that nothing like a revival of religion was known there, until every such opposer was dead. When, in addition to the more ordinary means of grace, opportunities of hearing the Gospel preached, are multiplied--when religion and the concerns of the soul become extensively the topics of conversation in families and among neighbours--when the professed followers of Christ awake to a faithful discharge of these duties and converse with sinners, solemnly and pungently, about the neglected concerns of the soul--and when these extra opportunities and means are resolutely shunned and neglected, or when, in any way, their influence is resisted, then it is that multitudes put themselves beyond the influence of the most powerful means that will ever be used for their salvation, and live only to “treasure up wrath against the day of wrath.”
4. This season of mercy often terminates with a season of peculiar Divine influence. There are periods in the life of almost every one when the truths of religion have peculiar efficacy. The Spirit of God carries those truths to the conscience with a power which cannot be wholly resisted. Such intervals of conviction may be longer or shorter, the conviction itself may be more or less pungent, but let the subject resist and grieve away the Spirit of God, and the last state of that man is worse than the first. At such a season, God seems to make His last, highest efforts to save; and those unhappy men who resist them, and still persevere in impenitence, of all others run the most fearful risk of final abandonment of that God who has done so much to save them. It is of such that God says, “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.”
5. Death ends the day of grace to all. It ushers the soul that is unprepared into the presence of its Judge to receive its unchangeable doom. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment.” The end of probation must come. The mighty angel standing on the earth and the sea shall lift his hand to heaven, and swear that time shall be no longer. Then all will be eternal, unchangeable retribution. (N. W. Taylor.)
The harvest past
I. Life is made up of a series of probations. Its various parts are favourable periods for affecting the future. The present may be so used as to be of advantage to us hereafter.
1. Life is a probation in regard to the friendship and favour of our fellow men. We do not at once step into their confidence without a trial. Many a man toils through a long and weary life to secure by his good conduct something which his fellow men have to bestow in the shape of honour or office, content at last, if even when grey hairs are thick upon him, he may lay his hand on the prize which has glittered before him in all the journey of life.
2. Especially is this true of the young. Of no young man is it presumed that he is qualified for office, or business, or friendship, until he has given evidence of such qualification.
3. The study of a profession, or apprenticeship, is such a probation. It is just a trial to determine whether the young man will be worthy of the confidence which he desires, and it will decide the amount of honour or success which the world will give him. There is an eye of public vigilance on every young man from which he cannot escape. The world watches his movements; learns his character; marks his defects; records and remembers his virtues.
4. The whole of this probation for the future often depends on some single action that shall determine the character, and that shall send an influence ever onward. Everything seems to be concentrated on a single point. A right or a wrong decision then settles everything. The moment when in the battle at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington could say, “This will do,” decided the fate of the battle, and of kingdoms. A wrong movement just at that point might have changed the condition of the world for centuries. In every man’s life there are such periods; and probably in the lives of most men their future course is more certainly determined by one such far-reaching and central decision, than by many actions in other circumstances. They are those moments when honour, wealth, usefulness, health, and salvation seem all to depend on a single resolution. Everything is concentrated on that point--like one of Napoleon’s movements at the bridge of Lodi, or at Austerlitz. If that one point is carried, the whole field may soon be won. In the decision which a young man often makes at that point, there is such a breach made on his virtuous principles; there is such an array of temptations pouring into the breach--like an army pouring into a city when a breach is made in a wall--that henceforward there is almost no resistance, and the citadel is taken.
II. When a time of probation is passed, it cannot be recalled. If it has been improved aright, the advantages which it conferred in shaping the future life, will abide; if it has been misimproved or abused, it will be too late to repair the evil. A young man is fitting for a profession, or for commercial life. If he suffers the time usually allotted to such a preparation to pass away in idleness or vice, it will soon be too late to recall his neglected or wasted opportunities. There are advantages in preparing for a profession in youth, which cannot be secured at a subsequent period of life. A young man is professedly acquiring an education. If he suffers the time of youth to be spent in indolence, the period will soon arrive when it will be too late for him to repair the evil. In the acquisition of languages; in the formation of industrious habits; in cultivating an acquaintance with past events, he has opportunities then which can be secured at no other time of life. At no future period can he do what he was fitted to do then, and what ought to have been done then. Whatever opportunities there were then to prepare for the future, are now lost, and it is too late to recall them. The period has passed away, and all that follows must be unavailing regret. I need not pause here to remark on the painful emotions which visit the bosom in the few cases of those who are reformed after a wasted and dissipated youth. Cases of such reformation sometimes occur. A man after the errors and follies of a dissipated early life; after he has wasted the opportunities which he had to obtain an education; after all the abused care and anxiety of a parent to prepare him for future usefulness and happiness, sometimes is aroused to see the error and folly of his course. What would he not give to be able to retrace that course, and to live over again that abused and wasted life! But it is too late. The die is east for this life--whatever may be the case in regard to the life to come.
III. There are favourable seasons for securing the salvation of the soul, which, if suffered to pass away unimproved, cannot be recalled. The grand purpose for which God has placed us on earth, is not to obtain wealth, or to acquire honour, or to enjoy pleasure here; it is to prepare for the world beyond. On the same principle, therefore, on which He has made future character and happiness in this life dependent on our conduct in those seasons which are times of probation, has He made all the eternity of our existence dependent on the conduct of life regarded as a season of probation. And on the same principle on which He has appointed favourable seasons for sowing and reaping, He has appointed favourable seasons to secure our salvation. For it is no more to be presumed of any man without trial that he is prepared for heaven, than it is that a young man will be a good merchant, lawyer, or physician, without trial. There are periods, therefore, which God has appointed as favourable seasons for salvation; times when there are peculiar advantages for securing religion, and which will not occur again.
1. Foremost among them is youth--the most favourable time always for becoming a Christian. Then the heart is tender, and the conscience is easily impressed, and the mind is more free from cares than at a future period, and there is less difficulty in breaking away from the world, and usually less dread of the ridicule of others. The time of youth compared with old age has about the same relation to salvation, which spring time and summer compared with winter have with reference to a harvest. The chills and frosts of age are about as unfavourable to conversion to God as the frosts and snows of December are to the cultivation of the earth. But suppose that youth is to be all of your life, and you were to die before you reached middle life, what then will be your doom?
2. A season when your mind is awakened to the subject of religion, is such a favourable time for salvation. All persons experience such seasons; times when there is an unusual impression of the vanity of the world, of the evil of sin, of the need of a Saviour, and of the importance of being prepared for heaven. These are times of mercy, when God is speaking to the soul. Compared with the agitations and strifes of public life, they are with reference to salvation what gentle summer suns are to the husbandman, compared with the storm and tempest when the lightnings flash, and the hail beats down the harvest which he had hoped to reap. And the farmer may as well expect to till his soil, and sow and reap his harvest, when the black cloud rolls up the sky, and the pelting storm drives on, as a man expect to prepare for heaven in the din of business, in political conflicts, and in the struggles of gain and ambition. But all--all that is favourable for salvation, in such serious moments, will soon pass away, and when gone they cannot be recalled.
3. A revival of religion, in like manner, is a favourable time for securing salvation. It is a time when there is all the power of the appeal from sympathy; all the force of the fact that your companions and friends are leaving you four heaven; when the strong ties of love for them draw your mind towards religion; when all the confidence which you had in them becomes an argument for religion; and when, most of all, the Holy Spirit makes your heart tender, and speaks with any unusual power to the soul. But such a time, with all its advantages, usually soon passes away; and those advantages for salvation you cannot again create, or recall--any more than you can call up the bloom of spring in the snows of December.
IV. Various classes who will utter this unavailing lamentation, and the reflections of the soul, as it goes unforgiven up to God.
1. Such words will be uttered by the aged man who has suffered his long life to pass away without preparation to meet his Judge.
2. The language of the text will be uttered at last by the man who often resolved to attend to the subject of religion, but who deferred it until it was too late.
3. These words will be uttered by the thoughtless and the gay. Life to them has been a summer scene in more senses than one. It has been--or they have tried to make it so--just what a summer day is to the gaudy insects that you see playing in the rays of the setting sun. It has been just as volatile, as frivolous, as useless. But the time has come at last when all this gaiety and vanity is to be left. The beautiful summer, that seemed so full of flowers and sweet odours, passes away. The sun of life hastens to its setting. The circle of fashion has been visited for the last time; the theatre has been entered for the last time; the pleasures of the ball-room have been enjoyed for the last time; music has poured its last notes on the ear, and the last silvery tones of flattery are dying away, and now has come the serious hour to die. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
The goodness of God a motive to gratitude, and an incentive to spiritual activity
I. The feelings that ought to be suggested to our minds by the literal harvest.
1. The recollection of God’s faithfulness. We ask for the corn, and the wine, and the oil; we cry to the earth, by which they can be produced; the earth calls to the heavens, by whose genial influences alone the earth can yield them; the heavens look up to God, and God hears the heavens, and the earth receives, and the earth gives us all that we need; and thus we receive it directly from the hands of God Himself.
2. To feel our dependence. All the science and ingenuity of mankind united together, cannot produce one drop of water, or a single blade of grass.
3. The exercise of gratitude. Fears we may have had on account of the apparent unfavourableness of the season, but we have reason to rejoice that these fears have, in a great measure, been disappointed; that God has fulfilled His promise, and given us plenty in our borders for man and beast.
4. God’s forbearance. Only reflect upon it, that while men are never thinking of God, while they are blaspheming His holy name, putting away His Gospel, finding reasons in this very world He has made in order to deny His existence and providence, while men are doing this, He is pitying them and giving them of His fulness, opening His hand and supplying liberally their wants!
5. We should regard the end that God must be supposed to have in view in all this. Every putting forth of His beneficence, every ray of light that comes on our world, while they furnish us with a beautiful manifestation of the Divine character, are designed as invitations to come to be reconciled to that God who has been giving us all things richly to enjoy.
6. A recollection of the flight of time. What do we mean by the “harvest”? That the seasons have again rolled around--that we are so much nearer death, and eternity, and the final destiny of our immortal spirits. It is a solemnising thought!
II. Notice some of those uses which are made of the season by the sacred writers, for the purpose of illustrating and conveying religious truth.
1. The completion of religion in the soul. Contemplating an individual as the subject of God’s grace, we have an illustration in the figure before us of the rise, progress, and completion of religion in the soul. We find this very beautifully described by our Lord Himself (Mark 4:26).
2. Another idea is suggested--the secret and mysterious origin and operation of religion in the heart. To this our Lord has Himself beautifully alluded in the parable I have read, “The seed springs and groweth up, he knoweth not how.”
3. Another thing that is beautifully taught us in this parable is the progressive nature of the advancement of religion in the character. “For the earth bringeth forth fruit in itself, first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.”
4. The last idea is the termination of all the anxiety which was necessarily connected with the watching of this progress, and the bringing forth of this fruit. The end of the present dispensation of things in the world and in the Church. There will be an end of the preaching of the Gospel, of prayer, of the Saviour’s intercession. All these things are to come to an end. “Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.”
5. The appearances of things at that time will be connected with all that is passing now. All the results of the present dispensation of things will be observed. Everything will appear as it really is.
III. The figure seems, in this passage, to refer, not so much literally to the harvest itself, as the result of agencies, but rather to the enjoyment of these agencies--the enjoyment of the summer and autumn, when opportunity was given, and improvement might have been made. “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” We might take up the property of sufficiency as expressing the particular feature of the harvest to which I wish to advert.
1. What a sufficiency of knowledge you have! God hath spoken once, yea, twice; He hath given you line upon line, precept upon precept; He hath taught you to conceive rightly of Himself, of His nature, His designs, His will, in regard to us; He has revealed man to himself, as well as revealed Himself to man.
2. There is a sufficiency of provision.
3. You have abundance of motives and inducements. Think of God’s exceeding great and precious promises--think of their freeness, their universality, their adaptation to your rotate and circumstances--think of God actually waiting to be gracious, inviting you to come to Him.
4. Do you lack opportunity! Have you no cessation from labour, no hours for retirement? Have you not time--have you really not time to reflect, to reason, to read God’s Word, to offer prayer to God, to scrutinise and examine the real state of your own character?
5. You have a sufficiency of capacity. God does not require of you to do that by your own efforts of which you are incapable; He does not require you to find a Holy Spirit for the purification of your hearts; but He does require that when He has found these, when He has found this Saviour, when He has provided this Holy Spirit, He does require you to receive His truth, to come to that Saviour, to accept His salvation, to ask for the influences of that Sanctifier. So that “if ye have not,” says our Saviour, it is for this reason, “because ye ask not.” (T. Binney.)
Seasons of grace
I. To promote our salvation from the dominion and consequences of sin, we are graciously favoured of God with an abundance of spiritual blessings.
1. The teaching of His Gospel. By it we are instructed concerning--
(1) The necessity of salvation.
(2) The provision of salvation.
(3) The method of salvation.
2. Warnings of His providence.
(1) Jehovah warns by dreadful calamities.
(2) By prevailing sickness and disease.
(3) By sudden death.
3. Influence of His Spirit.
(1) Convincing men of the evil of sin.
(2) Drawing men from sin.
(3) Reproving men for sin.
4. Labours of faithful ministers.
II. To promote our salvation, we are not only favoured of God with an abundance of spiritual blessings, but also with numerous gracious seasons and favourable opportunities.
1. A summer season of youth.
2. Summer seasons of affliction. They afford opportunities for solemn thought, holy meditation, serious inquiry, important reflection, and faithful self-examination.
3. Summer season of special visitations of grace.
III. It is possible for spiritual blessings and favourable opportunities to pass away, and leave man a stranger to salvation.
1. The Word of God asserts the truth.
2. Numerous facts establish the truth.
IV. The state of those who are not saved by grace is most deplorable and perilous.
1. unsaved state is a state of guilt.
2. An unsaved state is a state of misery.
3. An unsaved state is a state of danger.
V. Apply these important truths. In doing so, we would consider the language of this Scripture as the language of--
1. Penitential regret--for having abused such precious blessings, and neglected such favourable opportunities.
2. Awakened fear--the fear of a person who discovers his danger, and is concerned about it.
3. Serious inquiry. “Can I, after abusing so much goodness--after placing myself in such circumstances of jeopardy, yet obtain salvation?” Thanks to the long-suffering grace of God, it is possible.
4. Affectionate warning. Your privileges are passing away--your time is consuming--your careless conduct is inexcusable--and your eternal destiny will soon be fixed. (W. Naylor.)
To understand fully the import of these words it would be useful to consider the state of the people in whose name they were uttered by the prophet, namely, the Jews, who were at this period on the eve of destruction. But there are many situations in the life of every man to which this lamentation may be applied with the utmost propriety and force.
I. Every person who still remains in sin may, at the close of a year, or the recurrence of any other marked interval of time, usefully adopt this lamentation. Every passing hour removes the sinner farther from eternal life. Mankind are never stationary in their moral condition, any more than in their being. He who does not become better, becomes worse. Nor is this all. The declension is more rapid than we ever imagine. Blindness is a common name for sin in the Scriptures, and is strongly descriptive of one important part of its nature. Nor is it blindness to Divine things only, to God and Christ, to its duty and to its salvation; but it is also blindness with respect to itself. Hence his state is in every respect more dangerous than he does or will believe, and his declension more rapid than with these views he can possibly imagine. This is true of every period of his life. Of consequence, the loss of a year, a day, an hour, is a greater loss than he can be induced even to suspect. He ought to remember, that he has not only lost that period, but converted it into the means of sin and ruin; that he is more sinful, more guilty, and more odious to God, than at the beginning of it; that all the difficulties which lie between him and salvation are increased beyond his imagination; his evil habits strengthened, and his hopes of returning lessened, far more than he is aware. He ought also to cast his eyes around him, and see that all, or almost all, others, who have, like himself, trusted to a future repentance, have from year to year become more hardened in sin by these very means; have thought less and less of turning back, and taking hold of the paths of life. Such as they are, will he be. Their thoughts, their conclusions, their conduct have been the same; their end, therefore, will be his. God has, with infinite patience, and mercy, prolonged your lives; and, in spite of all your sins, has renewed His blessings to you every morning. The gate of salvation is still open. The Sabbath still smiles with peace and hope. The sceptre of forgiveness is still held out for you to touch and live. In what manner have you lived in the midst of these blessings? Have you solemnly, often, and effectually, thought on the great subject of religion? Are you nearer to heaven, or nearer to hell? To what good purpose have you lived? Is not the harvest, in one important sense, past to you?
II. Another situation, to which this melancholy reflection is peculiarly applicable, is that of a dying sinner. Human life is one continued scene of delusion. Present objects too often gain all our attention, and all our care. To them alone we attach importance, and that, an importance far beyond what their value will warrant. They engage, they engross, our labours, our anxiety, our hopes, our fears, our joys, and our sorrows. By such men the health and well-being of the soul are contemned and forgotten; and the soul itself is scarcely remembered amid the vehement pursuit of wealth, honour, and pleasure. But do these things accord with truth and wisdom? The blessings of this world are necessary to the life, support, and comfort of man, while he is here; and they are also means of enabling him to do good to his fellow men, and in this way to benefit his soul. In this view I acknowledge their value. But for what else can they be valuable? They are means, not ends. As means, they are useful; as ends, they are but dross. Future things, on the contrary, have far less value in our eyes than they really possess, especially eternal things. We think them distant, but they are near; we think them uncertain, but they are sure; we think them trifles unconnected with our happiness, whereas they are things of infinite moment and of infinite concern to us. This delusion not uncommonly travels with us through life, and is not shaken off till we appear before the bar of God. On a dying bed, however, it often vanishes; and, if sickness and patience leave us in the possession of our reason, juster views prevail, with respect both to things present and things future, things temporal and things spiritual. Under the influence of this clear discernment, in this new state of the mind, the following observations will show with how much propriety he may take up this despairing lamentation. Among the objects which may be supposed most naturally to arise to the view of a sinner on his dying bed, his youth would undoubtedly occupy a place of primary importance. In what colours will his various conduct during this period appear? He is now on the verge of eternity, and just bidding his last adieu to the present world and all its cares, and hopes, and pleasures. Where are now his high hopes of sublunary good? Where his lively, brilliant spirits, his ardent thirst for worldly enjoyment, for gay amusement, for sportive companions, and for the haunts of festivity, mirth, and joy? These once engrossed all his thoughts, wishes, and labours. Where are they now? They have vanished with the gaiety of the morning cloud, they have fled with the glitter of the early dew. In this precious, golden season God called to him from heaven, and proclaimed aloud, “I love them that love Me, and those who seek Me early shall find Me. Receive My instruction, and not silver; and knowledge, rather than fine gold. For wisdom is better than rubies, and all things that may be desired are not to be compared to it. I will cause those that love Me to inherit substance, and I will fill their treasures.” His face was then clothed in smiles, and His voice only tenderness and compassion. Christ also, with the benignity of redeeming love, invited him to come and take the water of life freely. The Spirit of grace, with the same boundless affection, whispered to him to turn from every evil way, and every unrighteous thought, to the Lord his God, who was ready to have mercy on him, and abundantly to pardon him. With what amazement will he now look back, and see that he refused these infinite blessings; that he turned his back on a forgiving God; closed his ears to the calls of a crucified Redeemer; and hardened his heart against the whispers of salvation, communicated by the Spirit of truth and life! Riper years will naturally next offer themselves to his view. The bustle of this period seemed at the time to be of real importance; and, although not devoted to godliness, yet to he occupied by business serious and solid. But now, how suddenly will this specious garb drop, and leave, in all their nakedness, his avarice, his ambition and his graver sensuality! Of what value now are the treasures which he struggled to heap up? On what mere wind did he labour to satisfy the hunger of his soul! How will his boasted reason appear to have been busied! Instead of being employed in discovering truth, and performing duty, he will see it, throughout this most discreet period of life, labouring to flatter, to justify, to perpetrate iniquity; to persuade himself that safety might be found in sin Blind to heaven, it had eyes only for this world. Deaf to the calls of salvation, it listened solely to those of pride. Insensible to the eternal love of God, it opened its feelings only to the solicitations of time and sense. Behind manhood, we behold age next advancing; age, to him the melancholy evening of a dark and distressing day. Here he stood upon the verge of the grave, and advanced daily to see it open and receive him. How will he now be amazed, that, as death drew nigh, he was still in no degree aware of its approach. In all these periods with what emotion will he regard his innumerable sins! How many will he see to have been committed in a single day, a month, a year, of omission, of commission, of childhood and of riper years Among the sins which will most affectingly oppress his heart, his negligence and abuse of the means of grace will especially overwhelm him. How will he now exclaim, Oh, that my lost and squandered days might once more return, that I might again go up to the house of God. “Oh, that one year, one month, one Sabbath, might be added to my wretched forfeited life! But, ah! the day of grace is past; my wishes, nay, my prayers, are in vain.” Such will be the natural retrospect of a dying sinner. What will be his prospects? Before him, robed in all his terrors, stands Death, the messenger of God, now come to summon him away. To what, to whom, is he summoned? To that final judgment, into which every work of his hands will be speedily brought, with every secret thing. To the judgment succeeds the boundless extent of eternity. Live he must: die he cannot. But where, how, with whom, is he to live? The world of darkness, sorrow, and despair is his final habitation. Sin, endless and increasing sin, is his dreadful character; and sinners like himself are his miserable and eternal companions. (Christian Observer.)
At the dose of the year
I. The occasion. Jeremiah represents this as the cry of the captive Jews in Babylon. He contemplates them as already in captivity, although it had not yet actually taken place. He forewarns them that it would take place. At the time he wrote, the Jews did not believe his warning of a Chaldean expedition against them. They were filled with vain confidence, boasting that God was their defender and their city impregnable. It is when this doom has overtaken them that they are represented as taking up the language of the text. In the preceding verse the prophet records the tenor of their language in exile, and also God’s reply: “Hark the voice of the cry of the daughter of My people from distant land, Was not God in Zion? Was not her King in her?” This would be their complaint against God on finding themselves deprived of their country and overtaken with calamity. They would begin to expostulate as if they had been unfairly dealt with. Why, then, did not God defend the city and protect His people? The Divine reply shows how groundless this charge was. “I have not forsaken you, but ye have forsaken Me. Why have ye provoked Me with your graven images and your strange vanities!” God had, indeed, promised to dwell in Zion, and to cast His protecting shield over the descendants of Abraham, on condition that they faithfully worshipped and served Him. But they, by their carvings and foreign vanities, had polluted the holy temple, trusting more to the temple than to the God of the temple. Thus they forfeited their right to Divine protection, and are now left to take the consequences of their choice. They see their mistake when too late. The text implies an acknowledgment that their calamities were the just reward of their disobedience, and they accept their doom in desperate agony.
II. The meaning.
1. Opportunity acknowledged. As a nation we have received privileges greater than ever the Jews enjoyed, but with all these privileges comes a corresponding responsibility. “To whom much is given, of them also shall much be required.” The temple did not save the Jews, so neither will the mere institution of a religion in our midst save us from national decline without the righteousness which exalteth a nation. But our opportunities as individuals are not less conspicuous than our privileges as a nation, and a mere profession of religion will not save us. To every man on earth there comes, at some time or other, an opportunity sufficient to make him an heir of a better portion if he embraces it; sufficient also to condemn him if he rejects it.
2. Neglect confessed. How apt are we to throw the blame of our wrong-doing on others, to plead the force of circumstances, the pressure of business, and so forth, as reasons for neglect. Such reasons may obscure for a time the real issues, but when memory lights her flaming fires and concentrates thought on the actions of a misspent life, everything will then be seen in its due propertions. Forgotten acts of iniquity, secret sins, will come to light and cluster round the memory.
3. Doom incurred. “We are not saved.” This is the result of neglected opportunities, the necessary consequence of continued transgression. The Jews, in putting their trust in human allies, neglected the moral defence, and therefore fell before the invader. Carnal weapons cannot be used with impunity by spiritual men.
III. The application. The sentiment of the text may be appropriately adopted--
1. By those who have been the subjects of deep religious impressions without being led to repentance. There is no greater danger than that of playing fast and loose with one’s feelings. The original impression may return, but it will return with diminished force. Act while the Godward impressions are strong.
2. By an impenitent sinner at the close of life. This is the saddest application that the words can possibly have.
3. At the close of the year, by every one who continues in sin. Begin the New Year with God. When Christopher Columbus, four hundred years ago, landed on the shores of America, the first thing he did was to plant the Cross on the newly-discovered land. What Columbus did in the New World let us do in the New Year. Let us enter upon it in the name of heaven’s King, and whatever may be before us, joy or sorrow, prosperity or disaster, life or death, all will be well, for God is with us. (D. Merson.)
Soul-restoring seasons neglected
I. Heaven vouchsafes to men here seasons for soul restoration. Whole of life a season; day of grace. But periods and moods specially favourable; youth, leisure, association with godly men. Moods of mind too. Soul has its seasons as well as nature--pensive, thoughtful, susceptible, and impressed with moral considerations. All such specially favourable to soul restoration. Hours dawn in a man’s life specially favourable for the effectuation of certain purposes.
II. The departure of these seasons, leaving the soul unrestored, is lamentable beyond expression. “The harvest is past.” Awful wail in this language. (Homilist.)
I. God has special seasons for conveying special gifts.
1. In nature. Must sow in spring, or season lost. Must gather in harvest time, or fruit spoilt.
2. In the spiritual kingdom. Youth. Sabbath. Days of affliction and bereavement.
II. These special seasons ought to be improved.
1. Men improve the natural seasons.
2. Spiritual realm. God has done His part: Atonement made; Spirit given. We must repent, believe, abandon evil, fight the good fight, etc.
III. These special seasons speedily pass. Life short. Health uncertain. Refusal of mercy today may be irreparable ruin.
IV. Special seasons of grace misused end in unspeakable ruin. Past feeling. Conscience seared. (J. D. Davies, M. A.)
Then there are measured opportunities in life, times of limitation, times of beginning and ending. Even now there are little circles not complete. The universe is a circle, eternity is a circle, infinity is a circle; these can never be completed; they live in continual progress towards self-completion: but there are little circles, small as wedding rings, that can be quite finished,--the day is one, the year is one, the seasons constitute four little circles, each of which can be completed, turned off, sent forward with its gospel or its cry and confession of penitence and failure. “The harvest is past”; the barn door is shut, the granary is supplied: it is either full or empty; one or the other, there it is. We cannot get rid of these views of doom. There are those who would try to persuade the young that after all the sun is but a momentary blessing, and when he is gone there will be as good as he come up again. Them is no authority for saying so; experience has nothing to say in corroboration of that wild suggestion. Scripture bases its appeals on a totally different view, saying, Work while it is called day, the night cometh wherein no man can work. The whole biblical appeal is towards immediacy of action: “Buy up the opportunity” is the Gospel appeal to the common sense of the world. “The harvest is past.” Then we are or we are not provided for the winter. It is of no use repining now. Harvest finds the food, winter finds the hunger. We know this in nature: we have no difficulty about this in all practical matters, as we call them,--as if spiritual matters were not practical, whereas they are the most practical and urgent of all. Why not reason from nature to spirit, and say, If it be so in things natural, that there is a seed time, and that the harvest depends upon it, there may also be a corresponding truth in the spiritual universe: hear it: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” It is his own harvest; he must put into it his own sickle. The harvest may be very plentiful, and yet very much may depend upon the way in which it is gathered. Some people do not know when to gather the harvest in any department of life; they have their opportunities and never see them. Others spend so much time in whetting their sickle that the corn is never cut at all. Others spend so much time in contemplating the golden fields that they forget that the fields were intended to be cut down and the fruits thereof garnered for the winter. God has given us everything we need, and all we want; but we must find the sagacity that discerns the situation, we must find the common sense that notes the beginning, continuance, and culmination of the opportunity. A meditation of this kind brings several points before us that may be applied usefully to our whole life. For example, there is brought before us the time of vain regrets--“The harvest is past.” The coach has gone on, and we have missed it; the tide flowed, and we might have caught it, but we have waited so long that it has ebbed. We neglected our opportunities at home, we were disobedient, unfilial, hard-hearted, and now we stand at the gate post and cry our hearts out, because we had not a chance of doing something for the father and the mother whom we neglected in their lifetime. Oh, the time of vain regrets that we should have spoken that cruel word; that we should have been guilty of that base neglect; that we should have been lured away from paths of loveliness and peace by some urgent temptation; that we should have done a thousand things which now rise up against us as criminal memories! They are vain regrets. You can never repair a shattered crystal, so that it shall be as it was at first; you can never take the metal, the iron, out of the pierced wood, and really obliterate the wound. A nail cut is never cured. The old may hear these words with dismay, the young should hear them as voices of warning. Such points bring before us also the times of honest satisfaction. Blessed be God, there are times when we may be really moved to tears and to joy by contemplating the results of a lifetime. The hard working author says, I have written all this; God gave me strength and guided my hand, and now when I look back upon these pages it is like reading my own life over again; I do not know how it was done, God taught my fingers this mystery of labour. And the honest merchantman has a right to say in his old age, God has been good to me, He has enabled me to lay up for what is called a rainy day, He has prospered my industry, He has blessed me in basket and in store,--praise God from whom all blessings flow! How are we going to treat our own harvests? We can treat them in three different ways. There are men who treat everything as a mere matter of course. They are not men to be trusted or reverenced: keep no company with them; they will never elevate your thought, or expand and illuminate your mind, or give a richer bloom to your life. There is another way of receiving the harvest which our Lord Himself condenmed parabolically (Luke 12:16-42.12.20). What about the barns? what about the stored granaries? The man never said what he would do for the poor, the famishing, and the sad-hearted; he never said, God has given me all these things, and to His glory I will consecrate them. We may receive our harvests gratefully, claiming no property in them beyond the right of honest labour. See the harvest-man: he says, I sowed for this; thank God I have got it; I meant my fields to be plentiful, I spent myself upon them, I did not work in them as a hireling, but I worked in them as a man who loved them, and here are the fruits, blessed be God: here, Lord, is Thy tithe, Thy half, here is God’s dole; He shall have a handful of this wheat, anyhow; He won’t take it, but the poor shall have it; the harvest is only mine to use in God’s interest. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The harvest past
I remember once passing by a bleak hillside in Scotland, when winter was already far advanced, and seeing a field of oats still green, though harvest had long since been closed. There was something most melancholy and almost weird in the aspect of that ill-starred crop, There it stood in the cold hillside, seeming as if nature and man had alike over looked and forgotten it. You could almost have thought you heard those green ears, shrivelled with the early frost, but still unripe, sighing, as they swayed to and fro in the wintry gusts--“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” I wonder what became of that crop? Perhaps it may have been given to the dunghill; perhaps it may have been eaten down and trampled under foot by the cattle where it stood; but very sure I am the shout of harvest home was never heard in that field that season, as the laden cart passed to the granary with its golden freight. It had failed, for some reason or other, to answer its proper purpose; it had missed its season; and there it was, rubbish rather than treasure. Each of us has a season allotted to us in which we may bring forth “the peaceable fruits of righteousness,” and with each of us this season is a period necessarily limited in extent, a period which it is possible to trifle away, so that when the time for the harvest comes there shall be nothing for God to gather, nothing that can be saved into the eternal garner and treasured among the precious things of heaven. Heaven’s resources have been taxed to the uttermost to make earth spiritually fruitful; no expense has been spared, and He who is the Lord of the soil has a right to expect some adequate return. How is this living harvest to be produced, and from whence shall it spring? Christ Himself shall give us an answer, as we hear Him say, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” He was the spiritual “corn of wheat” from which the spiritual harvest is ordained to spring, and He fell to the ground and died in order that from Him, as from the true seed, we might spring up into newness of life, and grow up as the harvest crop of living souls in a world which He hath redeemed. And “He shall see His seed.” In every age of the world’s history the harvest will continue to be produced, until at last the great harvest day comes. Then, when a multitude that no man can number stands before the throne, with joyful acclamations ascribing “salvation unto our God and unto the Lamb,” it will be seen at last how vast a product has sprung from that solitary corn of wheat which fell to the ground and died eighteen hundred years ago. What and if any of you should be found left behind in that great harvest day, like the bundles of tares that lie there waiting for the burning, while the wheat is carried into the barn? There is something strangely sad in these familiar words of our text, in whatever sense they are employed, but surely this will be the saddest sense of all. Oh, think of that moment, that terrible and tragic moment, when the gates of the heavenly granary shut, as the last sheaf passes in, and some of you, perhaps, find yourselves left behind l With what unspeakable anguish, with what dire despair, must this cry then be wrung from your sinking hearts, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved!” And then to have to thank yourselves for it all! For think how inevitable, how righteously inevitable, is this doom of exclusion! You have not answered the end of your existence; you have failed of the proper purpose and object of life. How can you hope to be stored amongst the precious things of eternity, and to add in your own persons to the treasures of heaven! You might as reasonably expect to see a sane farmer crowding his barn with thistles and darnel as to see Almighty God filling heaven with those who have never been “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God.” But now I want to point out to you further, that with us, as with the Israelites of old, the harvest is a thing of the present as well as of the future. It is possible even now to be garnered in safety, by being brought into our proper relations with the Saviour. And just as from time to time God was pleased of old to give special seasons of visitation to His ancient people--times of religious revival, when many no doubt were gathered in, and when the nation as a whole might have been--even so now He sends from time to time a special call, and moves upon localities and individuals with special power. But, remember, no mission, no season of special visitation, can leave you as it found you. With each fresh opportunity wasted the heart necessarily becomes harder, and thus the harvest season of your life must needs at length be lost. The time in which God might have reaped a harvest in you will at last have passed away, and then,--What then? What then! Surely such a curse as fell upon the barren fig tree of old: “No man eat fruit of thee henceforth and forever.” What then l Then the terrible sentence: “Ephraim is joined to his idols, let him alone.” But why should this be so? “Is not the Lord in Zion? is not her King in her?” Here in our very midst He is today, willing to enter your heart, and bring His own salvation with Him. You need not be left behind; you need not continue unsaved. “Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no Physician there?” There is! There is! A thousand joyous voices can attest it--voices of those who once were wounded and stricken and dying. It seemed as if they were once like a blighted crop, too sorely diseased to be capable of any satisfactory harvest; but in their barrenness they found a Healer, and now they are themselves the harvest of the Lord. Why should not you be healed too? Ah, think of what it has cost Him to obtain the right and the power to heal such sin-stricken souls as we! Some physicians amongst ourselves risk their lives in attending their plague-stricken patients, and who can deny to such their meed of praise; but our good Physician actually laid down His life as the preliminary condition of His being able to exercise His healing skill. Only because He has taken our diseases upon Himself, was it possible for Him to cure them. Only because He died our death, is it possible for Him to bring life and immortality to light by His Gospel. But He has borne our sicknesses, and died our death, and now He has the right to heal and to save, and He is in our midst to do it today. I saw an interesting inscription on the wall of a country church, not long ago, on a stone erected in memory of God’s preserving mercy shown to a man wile fell from half-way up the steeple in the year 1718, and yet escaped with his life, and actually lived to be seventy-three. But the inscription went on to state that he died in the year 1761, some forty-three years after the accident. As I stood there reading it, more than a hundred years after the man’s death, what a small acquisition after all did it seem, those forty years added to the life that had been so nearly cut short--what were they now? Passed as a watch in the night. Yet we do not wonder at his being grateful for even such a prolongation. But here is a good Physician who offers to heal your dying soul and to impart the blessing of life for evermore--to do it freely, and to do it now. Why, then, oh why, in the name of reason, is not your health recovered? (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The two harvests
The text sets nature in solemn contrast with human life,--suggesting to us for serious thought, not merely that a certain length of time has elapsed and we have been spiritually listless, not simply that an opportunity has gone by which we have not filled with duty, but that something beneficent and sacred has been going on in the outward world with which we have not been in harmony; that the elements have been doing their work while we have been misdoing ours; and that, measured against nature, at the close of one of its fruitful seasons, we seem out of order, discordant, away from God, unserviceable, and unprofitable: in a word, “we are not saved.” The harvest is past. Not a spear of wheat has grown, not a kernel of corn has hardened, not a beet has reddened in the ground, not an apple or a plum has nursed sweet juices through the tree out of the ground, that has not revealed or illustrated, in the process of its growth, a principle which ought to be carried out in nobler ways by human souls. Our dependence on God, our reception of His light and His spiritual rain, our fidelity to the duty of the circumstances in which we are set, our success in bending chilly days and gusts of adversity to usefulness in strengthening character, ought to fulfil the lessons which every vine and every tree publish in their use of sunshine and soil and dew and storm. And the bounty of the harvest is for this purpose. Think what that bounty has been. If the whole bounty of Providence during the creative season of the year should be massed by the Almighty, and our people should be obliged to go, person by person or family by family, to such a monstrous bin to receive their share of the land’s exuberance, how poetic and how impressive would the munificence of God through the harvest seem, how vividly would our dependence be revealed to us, how unnatural would the taking of the heavenly gifts without gratitude appear! And if now we take the fruit of the earth, which is only the varied expression of the punctuality of Providence in the weaving of the seasons and the alternations of sunshine and shower, and if we renew our strength from it day after day with no reverence in our thought and no thankfulness in our heart to the unsparing and unwearied Giver, then the truth of the text is directly revealed in our state; the harvest stands as the background to show off the truth that “we are not saved,”--that we are out of harmony, through the coldness of our sentiment, with the boundless beneficence,--since, while every loaded ear of grain bends as if in adoration of creative liberality, we, for whom it was designed and nourished by the Infinite, receive from it no motive to reverent thanksgiving, no impulse to joyous prayer! Suppose that the human race should be turned by miracle into portions of the natural world,--should be transformed into a part of the vegetable domain, and should express there the same qualities that they exhibit now in human ways, the same passions, the same bitterness, the same impurity, the same selfishness, the same hatred, instead of the beauty and bounty that now adorn and load the valleys and the hills, what a scanty, shrivelled, sour, and ugly harvest would appear! Suppose that you, leading a life unregulated and alien from God, should be turned, just as you are, into a tree, and should act, as a tree, precisely as you now act as a man. Your disobedience of spiritual laws would be shown in the refusal of the tree to throw out its roots to be rightly balanced in nature. Your lack of spiritual growth would be exhibited in the neglect of the tree to widen its rings, and stretch its bark, and rear its trunk, and push out its boughs every year, in order to reach its intended stature. The poverty of your spiritual sensibilities would appear in wan and shrivelled leaves; your denial of heavenly grace in the opposition of the tree to quickening sunshine, and its resistance to mellowing rains; the wrong thoughts you cherish, in foul insect webs and broods that would net the branches with their vile and deadening threads; your lack of service, in the refusal of the tree to bear any fruit, although it was the intention of God that it should glorify His providence in branches laden with sweet benefactions to the race; your vices, in the rust, the mould, or the canker on the bark, telling of corrupt juices within. The wealth of the harvest, you know, is, in large measure, from the seed scattered or planted in the spring. And see how, in this aspect of it, the faithfulness of nature supplies a serious background to set off the poverty, the unsaved and unsafe condition, of human life. What a terrible calamity it would be to society if the readiness of the earth to receive and welcome the seeds dropped into her bosom, and protected by human watchfulness, should be broken! What a dreadful judgment upon us all, if the soil should have the power and the tendency to cast them out from its furrows, to refuse them shelter and nutriment, and, instead, to take down into its mellowed substance the germs of briers and weeds! And yet, would such a change in the disposition and forces of the soil do anything more than bring nature, which we live in, into accord with the tendencies and habits of our inward life? God is showering seed upon your soul continually. He does not leave you a day without sending a quickening lesson or a noble thought or a conviction of sinfulness or a pure motive into your soul. Another truth which the contemplation of nature in contrast with humanity suggests, and especially of the harvest in comparison with human fruitfulness in virtue, is the openness of the external world to the inflowing of as much of the Divine life aa it can hold. Here we touch the deepest lesson which our subject can yield. All goodness comes from reception of the Divine Spirit. All increase of goodness comes from enlarging or multiplying the channels for the reception and absorption of the Divine life. All evil is from the shutting out of God, or the perversion of His bounty and vitality by disease or sin, in the forms which He has fashioned to receive it. We are nothing of ourselves. “Neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase.” “Our sufficiency is of God.” Now nature is always open to God. The harvest is the beneficent transmutation of God’s quickening vitality through vegetable veins into palpable sustenance for the children of men, the annual proof that there is no sin in the arteries of nature. But we are not in accord with it. We are not saved in this supreme sense. God is ever striving to pour Himself through humanity as freely as He does through nature. We resist Him. We beat back the infinite truth and love. We close the valves through which He must enter. Do you ever ask why there is so much evil, wretchedness, wrong, in the social world?--why God does not stay it or cripple it or annihilate it, why He suffers it under His pure and loving eye? I tell you, my troubled friend, God is trying to reach it. He can reach it only through human affection, human labour, human organisation. When He makes a perfect apple it is not by dropping one from the skies, but by effusing His Spirit through the substance of a tree made as the form for His life, and until the tree is ready the fruit must be delayed. And so God does not, perhaps we may say cannot, come immediately into society, into history, to grapple with evil. He must move against it by His charity through human hearts, the form of charity; by His justice, through human consciences; by His truth, through human intellects; by His energy, through human wills. “Behold I stand at the door and knock” is the keynote of His relations to humanity. In nature there is no sinful choice or will to stop Him. In us there is. That we have such a will is our glory, the stamp of our heavenly birth, the possibility of our sonship. That we use it so is our shame, guilt, and peril. (T. Starr King.)
The summer is ended
Nature is a school,--primary school, grammar school, high school, university, all in one. She teaches little children their alphabets, while they are at play; teaches them elementary lessons of the qualities of things, of hard and soft, heavy and light, resistance, momentum, ductile, malleable, and elastic. These are her object lessons. Then she takes those a little older, and shows them the grammar of the world, the laws of language in sea and sky. The men who dig and plant and mine and manufacture, who make shoos and hats, who spin and weave, manufacture glass, make watches, print books,--learn necessarily the qualities of things and the laws of nature. Children playing are in the primary school; man working is in the grammar school. But we only enter the high school and university when we go further, and take up that greatest work of life, of which the elements are conscience, liberty, and love. To this all things lead, all invite. Summer and winter, nature and society, success and failure, life and death,--all point to this highest aim of all--spiritual growth, religious progress, the salvation of the soul. If the summer has brought you only passive pleasure, only selfish indulgence, then it has been wasted. Rest is good, and joy is good, but as they lead to something higher and better. For man is so made that he can never rest contented in any merely passive joy. He can only be contented when he is making progress. There are no landing places on the stairway of human ascent. You may give a man or woman every wish of their heart. You may give them the purse of Fortunatus, never empty; the miraculous carpet, on which they can journey through the air, from place to place, over sea and land, by a mere wish. They may have St. Leon’s gift of renewed youth; they may go to the tropics, and have a perpetual summer. But all this is not heaven. All this, by itself, will not satisfy them for more than a few weeks. The soul is not made to be satisfied so. The only thing which satisfies it, and makes a perfect rest, which turns all things to gold, and earth to heaven, is a heavenly life; that is, a life in which we have plenty to know, plenty to love, and plenty to do, and are making progress to more knowledge, love, and use, all the time. It was to teach us this that Christ came; to teach us this that the Holy Spirit comes daily to our soul; that God knocks at the door of our hearts. This teaches us that we only have plenty to know, when we see God in all things; only plenty to love, when we love God in all His creatures; only plenty to do, when we serve Him by making ourselves useful to all. I have taken my text from the passage in Jeremiah which says, “The harvest is passed, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” I also would ask, “Are we saved? “Summer rest and joy will not save us. All the joy in the universe heaped on us would not save us. Put us into heaven, put us by the right hand of God,--that will not save us. It is to drink of the cup which Christ drinks of, and to be baptized with His baptism, that saves us. We are safe, then,--safe from the perils which belong to the great power of freedom which is in all of us,--only when we are doing what Christ did; seeing God in all things, loving God in all things, and serving God by serving all His children. He who is living in this spirit, even though he has a thousand faults, though he is stumbling and falling day by day, though he seems to himself a poor creature, and does not seem much better to anyone else, is safe--safe here, safe hereafter. All things will work for his good, and he will not be afraid of any evil tidings. Evil tidings are always arriving. Danger is always near. We seem to have been living, even in this peaceful summer, in the midst of terrible dangers and fearful crimes. The sweetness of nature has not saved us. Fiends in the form of men commit awful crimes in the midst of our peaceful villages, and pollute serene nature with their brutal deeds. What shall make us safe? Not summer days, not the shield of devoted love, not all the bulwarks which civilisation and fortune place around us: nothing can make us safe but a life hid with Christ in God. And by this I mean nothing mystical, nothing extraordinary: I mean the simple purpose and habit of living with our heavenly Father wherever we are,--being in His presence; seeing Him in nature, history, life; and going, as Christ went, about His business, while we do our own. Then we are safe. Then, if we fall, struck dead by sudden accident, we fall, through death, into the arms of God outspread to receive us. We fall from love into larger love; from knowledge into deeper knowledge; from usefulness here into the uses, whatever they may be, of the great world yonder. The sun, which makes summer, seems the natural type of Deity. Astronomers tell us, indeed, that in winter the earth is nearer the sun than in summer. So sometimes we are nearer God in the chill and loneliness of our heart, than in our joy. We feel that we are wandering away into outer darkness; but God holds us near Himself, waiting till our hearts turn towards Him, and so receive their summer affluence and influence out of His radiance. Summer comes, not because the sun is any nearer to us, but because our part of the earth is turned up to it. Turn up your hearts to God. Sursum corda. Lift them up towards God,--the God of peace and love,--who images Himself in nature, in this magnificent orb of day. All life, movement, activity, it is well said, come from the sun. It hides itself from us, like God, in an excess of light. The most brilliant light which man can produce, even the electric light, makes only a black spot on the surface of the sun, and so our brightest wisdom is only folly before God. As the sun marches through his twelve houses he creates the seasons--spring, summer, autumn, winter; and so God creates evermore in human life the revolving seasons of childhood, youth, manhood, and age. As the sun reaches out into the farthest depths of space with irresistible force, and yet moves all things according to a great unchanging order, so God governs the universe, not by pure will, but by will and law. Even the spots on the solar surface are now found to have their law of periodic return, and come and go in cycles of years. So the darkness which seems to hide the face of God, the total eclipse of faith which chills the heart and mind, and the doubts which pass across our belief like spots on the sun, have also their laws, which we shall one day understand, as we now understand the laws of the solar eclipse, which once terrified impious nations with fear of an eternal night. So, as we never tire of sunlight, let us rejoice in the sunshine of God. The final question is, Are we saved with a Christian salvation? Are we living with or without God in the world? Have we, with this human peace which makes our land rejoice, also the peace of God which passes all understanding? So, though summer he ended, the better part of summer need not be ended. We shall take it with us into winter. Whatever we have seen of God in nature, felt of God in our hearts, and done for God with our hands, makes a perpetual summer within. The outward summer comes and goes: the summer of the heart shall abide for evermore. (J. Freeman Clarke.)
Just now all nature is saying to us, “The summer is ended.” The plashing rain and fierce winds proclaim it, the lightning writes, it in fiery letters on the sky. The dying leaves lie like monuments bearing the epitaph, “The summer is ended.” And now that the harvest is past, and the summer ended, and the fruit gathered, will you not think a little of yourselves, about the time that is past, about the harvest for which God looks, about the future of your souls? There are various classes among us to which the text applies.
1. “The summer is ended.” This is true of the old and feeble. The winter of age has sprinkled snow on the hair, and sent a chill frost into the bones, and frozen the current of the blood. For the old the summer is ended. But though the summer be ended for the body and the mind, though it be winter with the limbs, and the eyes, and the ears, and the brain, it need not be winter for the soul.
2. For those, too, who have endured severe affliction the summer is ended. For those whose house is left unto them desolate, whose fireside shall never more be bright with happy faces, or merry with the music of children’s voices, and who know that on earth they shall see their dear ones no more, except in memory, for such as these “the summer is ended.” And for those who have lost their worldly property, whose savings have been swallowed up in bankruptcy when they are too old and infirm to retrieve their fortunes; for those families left destitute by the death of the bread winner, and reduced from ease and comfort to poverty and dependence, for such as these, also, “the summer is ended.” But every one of these cases is but the type and parable of the deepest meaning of all. The wise man tells us that “there is a time to get and a time to lose.” You know that this is true of worldly matters. It is thus with the things of daily life, it is thus with the things of life eternal. There is a time to get a chance of repentance and amendment, a time to escape from the clutches of some bad habit or besetting sin; a time to get, and a time to lose. Shall not the gathered harvest remind you of God’s goodness to you and to all men, and warn you that the Lord of the harvest is looking for fruit from you, the fruit of a holy life and the flowers of purity and meekness? You who live in the summer time of pleasure, sitting down to eat and rising up to play, flitting through life as a summer butterfly flits from flower to flower, will you not be serious when you remember that the summer is ended, and that your gay, useless life must likewise end one day? And you who are living in the summer dream of careless indifference, who say, “Tomorrow shall be as today,” how long will you sleep before the awakening comes? Think of the death bed of the worldling, of the indifferent, of the careless. It is related that a certain Eastern slave was once bidden by his master to go and sow barley in a certain field. The slave sowed oats instead, and when his master reproached him, he answered that he had sown oats in the hope that barley might spring from them. The master reproved the servant for his folly, but the man answered, “You yourself are ever sowing the seeds of evil in the field of the world, and yet expect to reap in the resurrection day the fruits of virtue.” You have doubtless heard of the great painter who, when asked by a brother artist why he produced so few pictures, answered, “You paint for time; I paint for eternity.” We must sow for eternity, if we expect to reap the harvest of eternal joy. (The Literary Churchman.)
The arrival of autumn
The soul of the intelligent Christian reflects the natural world from all sides. The year is to him a great temple of praise, on whose altar, as an offering, spring puts its blossoms, and summer its sheaf of grain, and autumn its branch of fruits, while winter, like a white-bearded priest, stands at the altar praising God with psalm of snow, and hail, and tempest. The summer season is the perfection of the year. The trees are in full foliage. The rose--God’s favourite flower, for He has made nearly five hundred varieties of it--flames with Divine beauty. Summer is the season of beauty. The world itself is only one drop from the overflowing cup of God’s joy. All the sweet sounds ever heard are but one tone from the harp of God’s infinite melody. But that summer wave of beauty is receding. The sap of the tree is halting in its upward current. The night is fast conquering the day. Summer, with fever heats, has perished, and tonight we twist a wreath of scarlet sage and China asters for her brow, and bury her under the scattered rose leaves, while we beat amid the woods and by the water courses this solemn dirge, “The summer is ended!” There are three or four classes of persons of whom the words of my text are descriptive.
1. They are appropriate to the aged. They stop at the top of the stairs, all out of breath, and say, “I can’t walk upstairs as well as I used to.” They hold the book off on the other side of the light when they read. Their eye is not so quick to catch a sight, nor their ear a sound. The bloom and verdure of their life have drooped--June has melted into July. July has fallen back into August. August has cooled into September. “The summer is ended.” I congratulate those who have come to the Indian summer of their life. On sunny afternoons grandfather goes out in the churchyard, and sees on the tombstones the names--the very names--that sixty years ago he wrote on his slate at school. He looks down where his children sleep their last sleep, and before the tears have fallen, says, “So much more in heaven!” Patiently he awaits his appointed time, until his life goes out gently as a tide, and the bell tolls him to his last home under the shadow of the church that he loved so long and loved so well. Blessed old age, if it be found in the way of righteousness!
2. My text is appropriate for all those whose fortunes have perished. In 1857 it was estimated that, for many years previous to that time, annually there had been 30,000 failures in the United States. Many of those persons never recovered from the misfortune. The leaves of worldly prosperity all scattered. The day book, and the ledger, and the money safe, and the package of broken securities, cried out, “The summer is ended.” But let me give a word of comfort in passing. The sheriff may sell you out of many things, but there are some things of which he cannot sell you out. He cannot sell out your health. He cannot sell out your family. He cannot sell out your Bible. He cannot sell out your God. He cannot sell out your heaven! You have got more than you have lost. Instead of complaining how hard you have it, go home tonight, take up your Bible full of promises, get down on your knees before God, and thank Him for what you have, instead of spending so much time in complaining about what you have not.
3. The words of the text are appropriate to all those who have passed through luxuriant seasons of grace without improvement. You remember the time--many of you do, at any rate--when the engine houses were turned into prayer meetings; when in one day, to one of our ports, there came five vessels with sea captains, who had been brought to God in the last voyage. Religion broke out of church into places of business and amusement. Christian songs floated into the temple of mammon, while the devotees were counting their golden beads. A company of merchants in Chambers Street, New York, at their own expense, hired Burton’s old theatre, and every day, at twelve o’clock, the place was filled with men crying after God. Some of you went through all that, and are not saved. It required more resolution and determination for you not to be saved than, under God, would have made you a Christian. But all that process has hardened your soul. Through all these seasons of revival you have come, and you are tonight living without God, on the way to a death without hope. “The summer is ended!”
4. The text is appropriate to all those who expire after a wasted life. There are two things that I do not want to bother me in my last hour. The one is, my worldly affairs. I want all those affairs so plain and disentangled that the most ignorant administrator could see what was right at a glance, and there should be no standing around about the office of the surrogate, devouring widows’ houses. The other thing I do not want to be bothered about in my last hour is the safety of my soul God forbid that I should crowd into that last, feeble, languishing, delirious hour questions momentous enough to swamp an archangel! If you have ever slept in a house on the prairie, where in the morning, without rising from your pillow, you could look off on the prairie, you could see the prairie miles away, clear to the horizon: it is a very bewildering scene. But how much more intense the prospect when from the last pillow a soul looks back on life, and sees one vast reach of mercies, mercies, mercies unimproved, and then gets upon one elbow, and puts the head on the hand to see beyond all that, but seeing nothing beyond but mercies, mercies, mercies unimproved. The bells of sorrow will toll through all the past, and the years of early life and mid life wail with a great lamentation. A dying woman, after a life of frivolity, says to me, “Mr. Talmage, do you think that I can be pardoned?” I say, “Oh, yes.” Then, gathering herself up in the concentrated dismay of a departing spirit, she looks at me, and says, “Sir, I know I shall not!” Then she looks up as though she hears the click of the hoofs of the pale horse, and her long locks toss on the pillow as she whispers, “The summer is ended.”
5. The text is appropriate to all those who wake up in a discomfited eternity. I know there are those who say, “It don’t make any difference how we live or what we believe. We will come out at the golden gate.” No! No! The good must go up, and the bad must go down. I want no Bible to tell me that truth. There is something within my heart that says it is not possible that a man whose life has been all rotten can, in the future world without repentance, be associated with men who have been consecrated to Christ. What does the Bible say? It says that “as we sow we shall reap.” It says, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal.” Does that look as though they were coming out at the same place? “And there was a great gulf fixed.” “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever.” Now, suppose a man goes out from Brooklyn--a city in which there are as many religious advantages as in any city under the sun--and suppose he wakes up in a discomfited eternity--how will he feel? Having become a serf of darkness, how will he feel when he thinks that he might have been a prince of light! There are no words of lamentation sufficient to express that sorrow. You can take the whole group of sad words--pain, pang, convulsion, excruciation, torment, agony, woe--and they come short of the reality. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Lost opportunities deplored
I. The import of the lamentation.
1. It implies a full conviction that those who use it are not in a state of salvation. Once the aged sinner imagined his state was safe, that he was rich and increased with goods, and stood in need of nothing; yet now he sees that he is poor and miserable, wretched, blind, and naked. How immaterial does it seem to him in such a state of mind what he is in a worldly point of view. The sad reflection, I am not saved, makes him cry out, in the bitterness of his spirit, “Yet all this availeth me nothing.”
2. It implies the recollection of the various opportunities of salvation with which they have been favoured, and their regret for the loss of these. Loathsome insects rioting on the blossoms of the tree are an emblem of the blasting influences of the vices of youth.
3. It implies a conviction of their folly and guilt in suffering those opportunities to pass away unimproved. The sinner uttering the lamentation in the text is like one who has gone to a rock far within the course of the sea. In vain is he reminded before he goes, that the way to it is open only while the tide has retired, and that when it swells, the rock and the surrounding sand will be covered. He despises these cautions, and amuses himself on the rock till the gathering of the waters forces him to remain and to perish; he then condemns the objects which absorbed his attention, the security which made him deaf to warning, and the presumption which rendered him insensible to the voice of passing time, and to the advance of the devouring sea.
4. There is in this lamentation a dreadful apprehension of utter perdition. I am not saved, and never may be, is the fear which the expression suggests.
II. The circumstances which, in the case of the aged sinner, give to this lamentation peculiar bitterness.
1. The length of time during which he has enjoyed these opportunities. Had there been but one offer of mercy, the disregard of it would have been felt as highly criminal; but most aggravated is the guilt and inexcusable the folly of rejecting offers of mercy without number.
2. The idea that others haw been saved under these opportunities aggravates this regret. He calls to remembrance the young who remembered their Creator in the days of their youth, and laments that the kindness of his youth was devoted to objects which he ought to have abhorred and shunned; and the sick, who rose from beds of distress, to show, by their wisdom and sobriety, that the discipline of affliction had reclaimed them completely from folly, while he returned “like the dog to his vomit,” etc.
3. Despair of their renewal. With regard to the season of youth, it is as impossible to restore its simplicity, its docility, its pliableness, its ardent feeling, its detachment from engrossing cares, as it is to bring back its fresh bloom to the wrinkled face of age, and its brisk movements to its palsied limbs. And with regard to other seasons of mercy, we have reason to think that God will not still vouchsafe them to those who, after His long patience with them, remain foolish and disobedient.
1. Let the young be admonished by this text.
2. Let me address some exhortations to those who are in the situation which I have been describing. Your state is indeed awful, but do not conceive it to be desperate.
3. Let true Christians be thankful to Him who hath made them to differ. Pity the wretched sinner described in the text, and pray that he may obtain mercy.
4. Let me call on the aged, who feel no regret at the loss of religious opportunities, to consider their ways and to be wise. Amidst the words of eternal life you are dying in your sins, and amidst the dispensation of the Spirit you are ending in the flesh. (H. Belfrage, D. D.)
Promising seasons of salvation lost
I. Some favourable seasons for the salvation of the soul, which if lost, must be the subject of bitter regret.
1. The season of youth. Young prayers, young vows, and young services, are most acceptable in the sight of heaven--most useful to the subject of them; and most beneficial in the way of example to others.
2. The season of health. When it is not till sickness overtakes us that an attention is paid to religion, it will be regarded as forced on us and it will be regarded with pity rather than admiration. The consequences of deferring religion to a death bed, are equally unhappy as respects the individual himself.
3. The period of the present life. Imagination itself cannot picture the horror felt by the impenitent disembodied spirit when the dread realities of an eternal world burst upon the view. What earthly condition so dreadful, that it would not give ten thousand worlds to regain, might there be but another opportunity of listening to the Divinely commissioned messengers of mercy, and of escaping from a miserable hereafter?
II. The causes why these hopeful seasons are lost.
1. Inconsideration and unbelief. It is the insensibility of the victim filleted for the sacrifice, of the mariner sleeping on the mast, or of the patient in the delirium of fever.
2. The spirit of procrastination. To defer our religious concerns while the truth of the Divine threatening is admitted, argues an aversion to that temper and conduct which form a meetness for heaven which is strong and permanent. (R. Brodie, M. A.)
I. “Not saved,” and salvation provided so dearly! Do you ask “How dearly?” Inquire of the Son of God, who, though He was the heir of all things, the outshining of the Father’s glory, the equal of God, and rich--transcendently rich--in all the honours, treasures, splendours, and resources of eternity, for “your sakes became poor,” ignoble, despised, and distressed, that you, “through His poverty, might be rich.” Follow Him in all His travels of mercy, in all His errands of good, in all His miracles of love, in all His sayings of truth. Track Him on His walks from Jordan to Golgotha,--in His sorrows, His sighs, His sufferings, His tears, His anguish, His reproach, His persecutions, His agonies, His terrible, terrible death, and you may form some faint idea of the “cost price” of that salvation for you provided, but by you despised.
II. “Not saved,” and salvation offered so freely! I could understand the reason of your delay if the conditions of salvation were difficult, complex, and severely exacting; if so much intelligence, or so much suffering, or so much money were demanded. Such conditions might suit the philosophic, the superstitious, or the millionaire, but not the poor, the simple-minded, and the illiterate. Whereas the terms laid down are such as admirably suit all classes, all ranks, all parties, ranging from the rustic with narrow brains and shallow mind bordering on the fool, to the giant in letters and lore, and from the beggar in his rags to the king in his robes of state and splendour. Your delay, therefore, cannot be excused on the ground of impracticable conditions; yet, perhaps, some of you may feel your paltry pride mortified by the simplicity of the means and the cheapness of the blessing; so that the conditions are a hindrance and a “stone of stumbling” to you. Like Naaman, the Syrian nobleman and leper, you feel proudly indignant because the terms and method of the cure are so simple. But I reply to you tonight, in words analogous to those of Naaman’s servants, “If you had been bidden to do some great thing, would you not have done it?” How much rather, then, when you are commanded to “wash and be clean, believe and be saved”? Would you despise the dew which gems the hedgerows, refreshes the flowers, and mirrors the sun, because it comes silent and free? Would you disdain the cooling, teeming, beautiful rain which fills the pools and wells, quickens the drooping, freshens the withering, stirs the decaying life in vegetation, and falls indiscriminately on mountain and dell, on desert waste and meadow bloom, on garden and graveyard, on cottage growths and palace rarities, because it is free? Would you refuse and despise the sunlight because it is free for all and to all? Emphatically, No. Then will you dare reject, madly refuse and despise salvation, God’s greatest gift to man, because it is free to all without distinction, and for all without money and without price?
III. “Not saved,” and salvation so necessary and important! Perishing amid the foaming frenzied breakers of sin, you refuse to get into the lifeboat of mercy, which hastens to your rescue. Blinded by the “god of this world,” you stumble in the dangerous dark, and refuse the eyesalve and anointing of grace that you might see. Dying from the gnawings of soul-hunger, you refuse the “Bread of Life.” Trembling in nakedness of spirit, and cramped by the awful chills of moral winter, you refuse “the garment of praise,” and the mantle of righteousness, and the fire baptism of the Holy Ghost. Full of “wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores,” afflicted, stricken with the leprosy of evil, of necessity perishing, and it may be speedily and it must be forever; yet, you refuse the “Balm of Gilead” and the Physician there; you won’t have the healing touch, the restoring word, the saving remedy!
IV. “Not saved,” and time passing so swiftly! The orbs are slow in their motions, the cataract is tardy in its rush, compared with the swift on-rushing of time. What you do, then, you must do quickly. Your opportunities are fast hurrying by, your heartbeats are growing less, your circle is hourly contracting; the road behind is lengthening, but the path before is shortening; grim death is stealing marches on you, and eternity is on tramp to meet you! Soon! soon! will its heavy footfalls send a shudder through the chambers of your being, if “not saved” quickly. Time! it is either fitting you for a throne or for a dungeon; either preparing you as jewels for the diadem of Immanuel, or preparing you for perdition, according to your use or abuse of it. Time! it is increasing the volume and value of your being, or shrivelling you into a despicable dwarfism of soul; it is building for you a fortune, a mansion, a kingdom forever and ever, or hurling you in swiftest speed to beggary, bankruptcy, and servitude to all eternity!
V. “Not saved,” and life pendent on so great uncertainty! Nothing, perhaps, is so precarious as human life, and yet nothing do men trifle more with. We are ignorant of the issues of the next hour; still we plan, and plod, and purpose for future days; or like the wealthy fool of sacred story, say, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry”; not thinking that the “years” are God’s property, and that at any moment the awful decree may ring like a death knell in our ears, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee!” If you value your life, if you respect Christ, if you love heaven, if you dread hell, if you desire an immortality of brightness, and beauty, and bliss, then trifle not with salvation, live not without forgiveness, wait not for a more “convenient season,” lest it never come. Procrastination is a wholesale destructionist. It has swung into the dark and woeful abysses multitudes of souls. Be careful! lest it allure you too far, and then recompense you by adjusting the fatal rope, and giving the fatal swing; by branding “too late” on your coffin lid, and “not saved” on your soul. (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
The unavailing lamentation
I. God has given you the gracious seasons of summer and harvest.
1. The summer of--
2. The harvest of--
II. These may pass away unimproved. Many--
1. Do not think.
2. Will not forsake their sins.
3. Will not believe.
4. Will procrastinate.
III. The regrets of such will be awful and unavailing.
1. Sometimes their regrets are expressed in this world.
2. They will surely be uttered in eternity.
(1) Regrets of intense agony, of recollection, of self-condemnation.
(2) Regrets will be unavailing.
(3) Regrets of black despair.
1. None would choose this portion.
2. Who would risk it?
3. Who will flee from it? (J. Burns, D. D.)
Life’s solemn opportunity
I. What considerations involved.
1. The object. “Harvest.”
2. The opportunity. “Summer.”
3. The limitation. “Past.” “Ended.”
4. The neglect irreparable. “We are not saved.”
II. To what circumstances applicable.
1. Neglect of decision for God.
2. Neglect of spiritual culture.
3. Neglect of Christian service.
III. Lessons. Importance of--
1. Present opportunity.
2. Present dedication. (J. Farren.)
Cautions and consolations
I. Language of final and absolute despair. That, having neglected means, wasted opportunity, resisted Spirit, now no longer hope of mercy: nothing to expect but judgment and misery.
II. Language of deep and humbling conviction. That, having abused their only opportunity for seeking salvation, for fulfilling the solemn object of life, it is gone forever. Awakened at last to interests of souls, but too late.
III. Language of distressing and gloomy despondency. Such despondency as the afflicted and tempted servants of Christ sometimes experience: their minds clouded, peace gone, hope perished, they take up cry of text. (E. Cooper, M. A.)
William III made proclamation, when there was a revolution in the north of Scotland, that all who came and took the oath of allegiance by the 31st of December should be pardoned. Mac Ian, a chieftain of a prominent clan, resolved to return with the rest of the rebels, but had some pride in being the very last one that should take the oath. He consequently postponed starting for this purpose until two days before the expiration of the term. A snowstorm impeded his way, and before he got up to take the oath and receive a pardon from the throne the time was up and past. While the others were set free Mac Ian was miserably put to death. In like manner, some of you are in prospect of losing forever the amnesty of the Gospel. He started too late and arrived too late. Many of you are going to be forever too late. Remember the mistake of Mac Inn, and decide for God and heaven today.
The twelfth hour
Mr. Moody used to tell of a man who raised his hand in one of the meetings. The evangelist went to him and said, “I am glad you have decided to be a Christian.” “No,” said the man, “I have not decided, but will later on.” His address was taken, and Mr. Moody visited the man when ill, and said, “Now decide.” He replied, “No. If I decide now, people will say I was frightened into being a Christian.” The man recovered and went into the country and again had a severe relapse, Moody again visited him, and urged him to decide. The sick man said, “It is too late now.” “But,” said Mr. Moody, “there is mercy at the eleventh hour.” He replied, “It is too late for me; this is my twelfth hour.” A few hours afterwards he died. Mr Moody said, “We wrapped him in a Christless shroud, we put him in a Christless coffin, buried him in a Christless grave, and he went to spend a Christless eternity, outside the kingdom of God.” To profess anxiety for your soul’s welfare, and stop short of real conversion to God, will end in going right back into sin, and final loss.
An aged man’s remorse
An old man took a little child into his arms and put his fingers into the abundant curls of his sunny hair, and he said, “Oh, dear child, while your mother sings to you, and tells you about Jesus, think of Him and trust Him.” “Grandpa,” said the little boy, “don’t you trust Him?” “No, dear,” he said, “I might have done so years ago, but my heart has got so hard now, nothing ever touches me now.” And the old man dropped a tear as he said it. “I wish,” said he, “that I had a curly head like yours, and was beginning life like you.”
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of My people recovered?
Physic from heaven
I. The balsam tree is a little shrub, never growing past the height of two cubits, and spreading like a vine. The tree is of an ash colour, the boughs small and tender, the leaves are like to rue. Pliny saith the tree is all medicinable: the chief virtue is in the juice, the second in the seed, the third in the rind, the last and weakest in the stock. It comforts both by tasting and smelling. This Holy Word is here called balm: and, if we may compare spiritual with natural things, they agree in many resemblances. We may call God’s Word that balm tree whereon the fruit of life grows; a tree that heals, a tree that helps; a tree of both medicament and nutriment; like the “tree of life” (Revelation 22:2). Neither is the fruit only nourishing, but even” the leaves of the tree were for healing of the nations.” Now though the balm here, whereunto the Word is compared, is more generally taken for the juice, now fitted and ready for application; yet, I see not why it may not so be likened, both for general and particular properties. The tree itself is the Word. We find the eternal Word so compared (John 15:1). He is a tree, but the root of this tree is in heaven at was once “made flesh, and dwelt among us,” etc. (John 1:14). Now He is in heaven. Only this Word still speaks unto us by His Word: the Word incarnate by the Word written; made sounding in the mouth of His ministers. This Word of His is compared and expressed by many metaphors, to leaven, for seasoning; to honey, for sweetening; to the hammer, for breaking the stony heart (Jeremiah 23:29). It is here a tree, a balm tree, a salving, a saving tree. Albumasar saith that the more medicinable a plant is, the less it nourisheth. But this tree makes a sick soul sound, and a whole one sounder. It is not only physic when men be sick, but meat when they be whole. It carries a seed with it, an “immortal and incorruptible seed” (1 Peter 1:13), which concurs to the begetting of a new man, the old dying away: for it hath power of both, to mortify the flesh, to revive the spirit (Matthew 13:3). Happy is the good ground of the heart that receives it! The juice is no less powerful to mollify the stony heart, and make it tender and soft, as “a heart of flesh.” The seed convinceth the understanding; the juice mollifieth the affections. All is excellent; but still, the root that yields this seed, this juice, is the power of God. A tree hath manifest to the eye, leaves, and flowers, and fruits; but the root, most precious, lies hidden. In all things we see the accidents, not the form, not the substance. There are but few that rightly taste the seed and the juice; but who hath comprehended the root of this balm?
1. It spreads. No sharp frosts, nor nipping blasts, nor chilling airs, nor drizzling sleet can mar the beauty or enervate the virtue of this spiritual tree. The more it is stopped, the further it groweth. The Jews would have cut down this tree at the root; the Gentiles would have lopped off the branches. They struck at Christ, these at His ministers; both struck short. If they killed the messenger, they could not reach the message. The blood of the martyrs, spilt at the root of this tree, did make it spread more largely.
2. As it gives boughs spaciously, so fruit pregnantly, plentifully. The graces of God hang upon this tree in clusters (Song of Solomon 1:14). No hungry soul shall go away from this tree unsatisfied. It is an effectual Word, never failing of the intended success What God’s Word affirms His truth performs, whether it be judgment or mercy.
3. As this balm spreads patently for shadow, potently for fruit, so all this ariseth from a little seed. God’s smallest springs prove at length main oceans. His least beginnings grow into great works, great wonders. Now, there is no action without motion, no motion without will, no will without knowledge, no knowledge without hearing (Romans 10:14).
God must then, by this Word, call us to Himself. Let us come when and whiles He calls us, leaving our former evil loves and evil lives.
1. The leaves of the balsam are white; the Word of God is pure and spotless. Peter saith there is sincerity in it (1 Peter 2:2). It is white, immaculate, and so unblemishable that the very mouth of the devil could not sully it.
2. The balsam, say the physicians, is sharp and biting in the taste, but wholesome in digestion. The Holy Word is no otherwise to the unregenerate palate, but to the sanctified soul it is sweeter than the honeycomb. The Word may relish bitter to many, but is wholesome. There cannot be sharper pills given to the usurer than to cast up his unjust gains.
3. They write of the balsamum, that the manner of getting out the juice is by wounding the tree.
1. The balsam tree weeps out a kind of gum, like tears; the Word of God doth compassionately bemoan our sins. Christ wept not only tears for Jerusalem, but blood for the world.
2. The way to get out the juice of balm from God’s Word is by cutting it, skilful division of it, “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). It is true that God’s Word is “the bread of life”; but whiles it is in the whole loaf, many cannot help themselves: it is needful for children to have it cut to them in pieces. Though the spice unbroken be sweet and excellent, yet doth it then treble the savour in delicacy when it is pounded in a mortar. There must be wisdom both in the dispensers and hearers of God’s mysteries; in the former to distribute, in the other to apportion their due and fit share of this balm.
3. The balsam tree being wounded too deep, dies; the Word of God cannot be marred, it may be martyred, and forced to suffer injurious interpretations.
4. When the balsam is cut, they use to set vials in the dens, to receive the juice or sap; when the Word is divided by preaching, the people should bring vials with them, to gather this saving balm. How many sermons are lost whiles you bring not with you the vessels of attention! Philosophy saith that there is no vacuity, no vessel is empty; if of water or other such liquid and material substances, yet not of air. So perhaps you bring hither vials to receive this balm of grace, and carry them away full, but only full of wind; a vast, incircumscribed, and swimming knowledge, a notion, a mere implicit and confused tendency of many things, which lie like corn, loose on the floor of their brains. How rare is it to see a vial carried from the Church full of balm, a conscience of grace!
5. The balsam tree was granted sometimes to one only people--Judea, as Pliny (Lib. 12. cap. 17) testifies. It was thence derived to other nations. Who that is a Christian doth not confess the appropriation of this spiritual balm once to that only nation? (Psalms 147:19-19.147.20.) Now, as their earthly balm was by their civil merchants transported to other nations; so when this heavenly balm was given to any Gentile, a merchant of their own, a prophet of Israel, carried it. Nineveh could not have it without a Jonah; nor Babylon without some Daniels; and though Paul and the apostles had a commission from Christ to preach the Gospel to all nations, yet observe how they take their leave of the Jews (Acts 13:46).
6. Pliny affirms, that even when the balsam tree grew only in Jewry, yet it was not growing commonly in the land, as other trees, either for timber, fruit, or medicine; but only in the king’s garden. There is but one truth, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” etc. (Ephesians 4:5). Even they that have held the greatest falsehoods, hold that there is but one truth. Nay, most will confess that this balsam tree is only in God’s garden; but they presume to temper the balm at their own pleasure, and will not minister it to the world except their own fancy hath compounded it, confounded it with their impure mixtures.
7. They write of the balsam tree, that though it spread spaciously as a vine, yet the boughs bear up themselves; and as you heard before that they must not be pruned, so now here, that they need not be supported: God’s Word needs no undersetting. It is firmly rooted in heaven, and all the cold storms of human reluctancy and opposition cannot shake it. Nay, the more it is shaken, the faster it grows.
8. Physicians write of balsamum, that it is easy and excellent to be prepared. This spiritual balm is prepared to our hands: it is but the administration that is required of us, and the application of you.
9. Balm is good against all diseases. Catholicon is a drug, a drudge to it. It purifieth our hearts from all defilings and obstructions in them. A better cornucopia than ever nature, had she been true to their desires and wants, could have produced: the bread of heaven, by which a man lives forever. A very supernatural stone, more precious than the Indies, if they were consolidate into one quarry; that turns all into purer gold than ever the land of Havilah boasted. A stronger armour than was Vulcan’s, to shield us from a more strange and savage enemy than ever Anak begot, the devil (Ephesians 6:11). It is a pantry of wholesome food, against fenowed traditions; a physician’s shop of antidotes, against the poisons of heresies and the plague of iniquities; a pandect of profitable laws, against rebellious spirits; a treasure of costly jewels, against beggarly rudiments. You have here the similitudes.
Hear one or two discrepancies of these natural and supernatural balms.
1. This earthly balm cannot preserve the body of itself, but by the accession of the spiritual balm. Nature itself declines her ordinary working, when God’s revocation hath chidden it. The Word without balm can cure; not the best balm without the Word.
2. So this natural balm, when the blessing of the Word is even added to it, can at utmost but keep the body living till the life’s taper be burnt out; or after death, give a short and insensible preservation to it in the sareophagal grave. But this balm gives life after death, life against death, life without death.
II. The physicians. “Is there no balm at Gilead? is there no physician there?” The prophets are allegorically called physicians, as the Word is balm. So are the ministers of the Gospel in due measure, in their place. To speak properly and fully, Christ is our only physician, and we are but His ministers, bound to apply His saving physic to the sickly souls of His people.
It is He only that cures the carcass, the conscience.
1. No physician can heal the body without Him.
2. No minister can heal the conscience where Christ hath not given a blessing to it.
1. We must administer the means of your redress which our God hath taught us, doing it with love, with alacrity.
2. The physician that lives among many patients, if he would have them tenderly and carefully preserve their healths, must himself keep a good diet among them. It is a strong argument to persuade the goodness of that he administers.
This for ourselves. For you, I will contract all into these three uses, which necessarily arise from the present or precedent consideration--
1. Despise not your physicians.
2. If your physician be worthy blame, yet sport not, with cursed Ham, at your father’s nakedness.
3. Lastly, let this teach you to get yourselves familiar acquaintance with the Scriptures, that if you be put to it, in the absence of your physician, you may yet help yourselves. (T. Adams.)
The balm of Gilead
Through fifty generations Gilead was famed for its plantations of aromatic and medicinal herbs. The balsam was a lowly tree--little better than a shrub, with scanty foliage and inconspicuous flower. Looking at it, you would scarcely have thought it profitable for any purpose,--for shade, for beauty, or for fruit. But on wounding its stem there flowed a pellucid gum, which was carefully collected, and was considered of all the substances known to pharmacy the most sovereign and wonderful. So early as the days of Joseph, this balm was an object of commerce, and was carried down from Gilead to Egypt. In the days of Solomon, the gardens where it grew were annexed to the crown, and become an item in the royal revenue. So precious were they deemed, that in the days of the Roman invasion a battle was fought for their possession; and among the other symbols of victory which Vespasian carried to Rome,--a balsam tree was borne through the streets in triumphal procession. But being an exotic, and being from that period entirely neglected, it has perished from the face of Palestine, and there is no balm in Gilead now. (J. Hamilton.)
Spiritual disease and its remedy
I. The melancholy fact that sin prevails. Sin is here, as in other places of Scripture, represented under the figurative character of a disease. And the representation is appropriate; for sin affects the soul much in the same way as disease affects the body. It is a derangement of the spiritual frame, by which its functions are impeded, its strength enfeebled, its comfort impaired, its proper ends counteracted, and its very existence, as a creature destined to immortal felicity, endangered or destroyed.
1. It is a hereditary disease--not induced by outward or accidental circumstances, but entailed upon us as an attribute of our fallen nature, and cleaving to us with as much tenacity as if it were a part of our original being.
2. It is a pervading disease--not limited to any one portion of our constitution, but dwelling in every department of it--influencing its intellectual powers, its moral dispositions, its sensitive organs: “the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.”
3. It is a vital and inveterate disease--not touching merely the extreme or superficial parts of our system, and resisted in its progress by any inherent energies--but corrupting and preying upon our inmost soul, and so congenial to all that is within, and to all that is around us, as to grow with our growth, and strengthen with our strength.
4. It is a deceitful disease--not always accompanied with those violent and decided symptoms which forbid us to mistake the nature or disregard the perils of our condition--but often assuming that gentle form which allays our apprehensions, and flatters us with the hopes of recovery.
5. It is often withal a pailful and harassing disease--filling us with dissatisfaction and fear and trembling--rendering our days gloomy and our nights restless--or piercing us with agonies to which we can find neither utterance nor relief.
6. It is a mortal disease--not inflicting upon us a momentary pang, and then giving place to renovated vigour--but mocking at all human attempts to throw it off--sooner or later subduing us by its resistless, power--and consigning us to the pains and the terrors of the second death.
II. “Is there no balm in gilead,” no remedy by which the disease of sin may be cured? “Is there no physician there,” no physician qualified to apply the remedy and able to make it effectual? Christ is set forth as the great Physician of souls. He has wisdom to devise whatever method may be necessary for rescuing the victims whom He has been sent to deliver. He has tenderness and compassion to induce Him to do, and bestow, and suffer all, whatever it may be, which their circumstances require. He has power to conquer every obstacle that would frustrate His exertions in their behalf, and to render effectual every means that may be employed for their recovery. And He has all these attributes in an indefinite degree; so that He is competent to heal those in whose instance the disease has assumed its most inveterate form, and even to call them back from the very gates of the grave. In the annals of Christianity we read of many who, though sin was preying on their very vitals as a deep seated and mortal distemper, and though they were ready to perish, because they had no ability to stay or to withstand its progress, yet escaped from its destroying power--felt that it had departed from them, manifested all the symptoms of renovated ragout, and rejoiced in the active exertion of those faculties which had been paralysed, and in the return of those comforts and those hopes which seemed to have fled from them forever. And they have testified that this happy change was wrought in their condition--because there “is balm in Gilead, and because there is a Physician there.”
III. Some of the causes of such a melancholy phenomenon in the history of sinful men.
1. Many sinners are insensible to their need of a spiritual physician. They shut their eyes against all the light by which they might be made aware of the perils and the horrors of their condition. They palliate or explain away all the circumstances by which we would prove that guilt does attach to them.
2. There are many who, though aware in some measure of the disease of sin, of its inveteracy and of its danger, and not unconvinced of the necessity of applying to Him who alone can save them from its power and consequences, are yet indisposed from doing so, by carelessness, or procrastination, or dislike to the remedies which they know will be prescribed.
3. Sinners are not saved, or have not their spiritual health recovered, because they will not take the remedy simply and submissively as it is administered by Christ. They put their own ignorance on a level with His wisdom--their own weakness with His power--their own depravity with His merit. And thus they defeat the purpose of all that He offers to do for them. They counteract His saving work. They render fruitless the remedies that He prescribes. (A. Thomson, D. D.)
Treacle, or like cures like
The word treacle is derived from the Greek word therion, which meant primarily a wild beast of any kind, but was afterwards more especially applied to animals which had a venomous bite. By many Greek writers the term was used to denote a serpent or viper specifically. But what connection, it may well be asked, can there be between a viper and treacle? How came such a sweet substance to have such a venomous origin? It was a popular belief at one time, that the bite of the viper could only be cured by the application to the wound of a piece of the viper’s flesh, or a decoction called viper’s wine, or Venice treacle made by boiling the flesh in some fluid or other. Galen, the celebrated Greek physician of Pergamos, who lived in the second century, describes the custom as very prevalent in his time. At Aquileia, under the patronage of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, he prepared a system of pharmacy, which he published under the name of Theriaca, in allusion to this superstition. The name given to the extraordinary electuary of viper’s flesh was theriake, from therion, a viper. By the usual process of alteration which takes place in the course of a few generations in words that are commonly used, theriake became theriac. Then it was transformed into the diminutive theriacle, afterwards triacle, in which form it was used by Chaucer; and, finally, it assumed its present mode of spelling as early as the time of Milton and Waller. It changed its meaning and application with its various changes of form, signifying first the confection of the viper’s flesh applied to the wound inflicted by the viper’s sting; then any antidote, whatever might be its nature, or whatever might be the origin of the evil it was intended to cure. The fundamental principle that gave origin to treacle was one that was extensively adopted and acted upon in ancient times. Similia similibus curantur--“Like cures like”--was the motto of nearly all the medical practitioners from Galen downwards. There are traces in the Bible of the principle of treacle as applied in the cure of disease, which are exceedingly interesting and instructive. Some of the most remarkable of our Lord’s miracles were based upon it. We are told by St. Mark of the healing of a man deaf and dumb in Galilee, by our Saviour putting His fingers to his ears and touching his tongue with His own spittle. Saliva jejuna was supposed by the ancients to possess general curative properties, and to be especially efficacious in ophthalmia and other inflammatory diseases of the eyes. We are not, however, to suppose for a moment that our Lord was misled by this popular notion and that He was here acting merely as an ordinary physician acquainted with certain remedies in use among men. It was not for its medicinal virtue that He made use of the spittle. The application of it was entirely a symbolical action, indicating that as it was the man’s tongue that was bound, so the moisture of the tongue was to be the sign of its unloosing, and the means by which it would be enabled to move freely in the mouth, and to articulate words. And the use of Christ’s own saliva in the cure showed that the healing virtue resided in and came forth from Christ’s own body alone, and was imparted through loss of His substance. All Christ’s miracles, without exception, were in one sense illustrations of the principle. The effects of the curse in the diseases and disabilities of mankind were removed by Christ bearing the curse while performing the miracles. “Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses.” The evil that He cured He suffered in His own soul. The sorrow that He alleviated cost Himself an equal degree of sorrow. Virtue went out of Him in proportion to the amount of healing virtue imparted. Gain to others was loss to Him. By fasting and prayer He cast out unclean spirits; by groaning in spirit and weeping He raised the dead Lazarus to life. The curse that He removed He came under Himself. In the economy of redemption we find many remarkable examples of the principle of treacle. The rule that “like cures like” is engraved on the very forefront of our salvation. It is shadowed forth in type and symbol; it is foretold in prophecy; it is clearly seen in realised fact. The brazen serpent was lifted up by Moses in the wilderness to heal those who were bitten by the fiery serpents, as a prophetic symbol that the Son of Man would be lifted up on the Cross to heal those who had been deceived into sin by the old serpent, the devil. And in this type there was a significant fitness. It was not an actual dead serpent that was exhibited; for that would have implied that Christ was really sinful. It was a brazen serpent, formed of the brass of which the brazen altar and the brazen laver were made, in token that though Christ was our substitute, He was yet holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. Throughout the whole of our Saviour’s propitiatory work, we can trace this similarity between the evil and the cure; a similarity indicated very plainly and emphatically in the first announcement of the scheme of redemption to our fallen first parents. The serpent’s head could only be bruised through the heel of the woman’s seed being wounded by the serpent’s fang. By faithlessness and pride, man sinned and fell; by treachery, false witness, and a cross, man is redeemed. It was not as God that Christ wrought out man’s salvation, but as man. It was in the likeness of sinful flesh that He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. So, also, in order that we may realise personally and individually the benefits of Christ’s redemption, we must be identified with Him by faith; there must be mutual sympathy, partnership, and reciprocity of feeling--“I in you, and ye in Me.” We must be partakers of His nature as He was partaker of ours. We must take up our cross and follow Him. We must know the fellowship of His sufferings. If we be planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection; if we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him. In medicine, also, the same principle may be found. Homoeopathy was anticipated by the ancient use of treacle. The essential character of Hahnemann’s famous system is that such remedies should be employed against any disease, as in a healthy person would produce a similar, though not precisely the same disease. The method of administering remedies in infinitesimal doses is not necessarily a part of the system, and it was not originally practised, although in the end it was adopted as a vital article of the creed. The fundamental principle of homoeopathy is that “like cures like”; and, to find suitable medicines against any disease, experiments are made on healthy persons, in order to determine the effect upon them. Thus whooping cough and certain eruptions of the skin of a chronic nature are supposed to be cured by an attack of measles; inflammation of the eyes, asthma, and dysentery, are homoeopathically cured by smallpox; arnica heals bruises because it produces the nervous symptoms which accompany bruises; camphor cures typhus fever because in a poisonous dose it lowers the vitality of the system; wine is a good remedy for inflammation because it inflames the constitution; quinine or Peruvian bark is the best remedy against intermittent fever or ague because, when taken in considerable quantity by a healthy person, it produces feverishness and furred tongue; and so on over a long list of medicines. There is a profound philosophy in this principle of treacle that applies to all the relations and interest of life. In the sweat of a man’s face does he take away the curse that causes his face to sweat. Not by ease and idleness and self-indulgence does a man remove the remediable evils of the world; but by the evils of toil and trouble and care. It is the tear of sympathy that dries the tear of sorrow; the salt of the grief that springs from fellow feeling that heals the salt spring of the grief that flows from human bereavement. We all know the relief to imprisoned feeling with which the heart is bursting--when we can find one whose susceptibilities can take it in as we outpour it all, Who can understand our emotions and take interest in our disclosures. There is no earthly solace like that; and it is only a higher degree of it that we experience when we feel that we have “a brother born for adversity,” who is afflicted in all our afflictions. That “Jesus wept,”--that He still sheds tears as salt and as round as ours--when He sees us sorrowing; this is the blessed homeopathy of suffering--this is the balm, the treacle to every heart wound. Then, too, why is repentance bitter? Is it not because sin is bitter? Conviction and conversion, whether on the lower levels of ordinary moral conduct and worldly well-being, or on the higher heights of spiritual life and Gospel experience, must always be attended with acute sorrow; and the measure of the pain in the loss of the soul must be the measure of the pain in its recovery and gain. Look again at love. What does it require? Is it wealth, or rank, or fame, or any of the outward possessions and glories of life? The Song of Songs says, and the experience of every true loving heart echoes the sentiment, “If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.” Love can only be satisfied with love. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Jesus Christ the Physician of His people
I. To describe your spiritual disease. Sin itself, and all its pernicious consequences, comprehends the whole disease of human nature.
1. This disease has infected the whole race of mankind.
2. This disease has infected the whole person of every individual. The members of the body are likewise infected with the disease of sin.
3. What especially renders this disease an object of apprehension and sorrow is, that it is mortal. It has not only entirely deprived mankind of strength but has involved them in death itself.
II. To explain and illustrate the nature of the remedy.
1. Though this Physician healed the most inveterate diseases of the body with a word, He could cure the distempers of the soul with no other medicine but the balm of His own blood.
2. With this precious balm our Physician heals all manner of diseases.
3. The cures which the Physician performs by the balm of His blood are all forever perfect.
4. This wonderful Physician heals His patients without money and without price. When Zeuxis the Grecian painter presented his incomparable paintings for nothing, his vanity prompted him to give this reason for his own conduct, that they were above all price. So Jesus, our Almighty Physician, who can never be suspected of having indulged a vain-glorious pride, performed His mighty work of healing freely, and without reward, because it was impossible to propose to Him any remuneration that would either merit His favour, or claim His acceptance. The case is precisely the same to this very day.
III. Why, then, are there so many diseased souls among us?
1. Because multitudes are ignorant and insensible of their real condition. The patient who labours under the violence of a fever may, in a fit of delirium, affirm that he is completely recovered from his indisposition; but this very circumstance is one of the most unpromising symptoms of his disease.
2. Others refuse the Physician’s grace, and reject His kind offers of assistance, from an opinion that it is so near and easy to be obtained, that they may have it at whatever time they choose to ask it. What greater dishonour can you offer to the Physician? What greater abuse can you make of this precious remedy?
3. A third class continue under the power of their spiritual disease on account of their contempt for the person of the Physician, and their obstinate prejudices against His prescriptions.
4. Another reason why so many remain under the power of their spiritual distemper is, that they spend their all upon other physicians.
1. Are you among the “whole who need not the Physician”? Awfully dangerous condition! Death approaches, and ye perceive it not! Beseech the Physician Himself to quicken you, and make you thoroughly sensible of your real condition by nature, that finding yourselves guilty, polluted, and condemned sinners, and feeling the plagues of your own deceitful and wicked hearts, you may humbly sue for mercy, and without delay repair to that all-sufficient Physician, whose blood is a balm for every wound of the sin-sick soul, who “of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.”
2. Are ye among “the sick who need the Physician”? Be not discouraged. Of such sickness it may be truly said, that it is not unto death, but for the glory of God. The more heinous your guilt, the more imminent your danger, so much more reason have you to apply for relief. Oh, then, speedily have recourse to this Physician! Thankfully accept of His remedy, and you shall find to your present comfort and everlasting joy that “He is both able and willing to save to the very uttermost all who come unto God through Him.”
3. Are ye now made whole? “Go, and sin no more.” Rejoice in the Physician and in His salutary aid. (T. Thomson.)
Balm in Gilead
I. The all-sufficiency of the salvation provided for our perishing souls.
1. The glorious constitution of His person as God and Man in one Christ. He, who has undertaken the office of our great Physician, is “Lord of lords, and King of kings.” “All the angels of God worship Him.” He is Himself “God over all, blessed for evermore.” Yet, wonderful to tell, He is also Man, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, and made in all things, sin only excepted, like unto us; whom He is therefore not ashamed to call His brethren.
2. The wonderful way which He has taken to save us from sin. This way was by giving up to death this Person so gloriously constituted, that by thus dying He might atone for our sins.
II. The reason why so many persons, notwithstanding, continue in a perishing condition.
1. Some are altogether insensible of their disease. Engrossed with worldly business, sunk in sensual pleasures, they give no thought at all, or no serious thought, to the state of their soul. As to their sin, it gives them no concern. They regard it as light and trifling.
2. Some are too proud to accept or use the proffered medicine. They think that they can heal and cure themselves. The proposition of being saved wholly through the blood and sacrifice of another is too humbling for them. They cannot submit to be thus indebted to grace.
3. Others there are who use not the remedy prescribed because of its holy tendency. They know that, while it brings them to the Cross of Christ, it requires them to take up their cross, to crucify the flesh, and to be crucified to the world. But to these things, these acts of self-denial and godliness, they have no mind; therefore they go not to the Physician to heal them. (E. Cooper, M. A.)
The balm of Gilead
Appalling as our condition may now be, the spectacle of a world abandoned to the reign of sin, without any corrective or mitigation, would be far more lawful. It is an instance of the Divine mercy for which we can never be sufficiently grateful, that “where sin abounded grace doth much more abound.” The interrogative form of this statement seems to contemplate, not so much cases of want or woe indiscriminately, as examples of peculiar and signal distress. Such examples every community might supply. There are families here and there whose afflictions have given them a sad preeminence among their neighbours. Stroke after stroke has fallen upon them, until their cup of bitterness seems filled to the very brim. A blessed thing it is to be allowed to go to a family in these circumstances, and say, “We will not mock you with the tender of such consolations as the world may have to bestow. But rest assured there is balm in Gilead which can soothe your wounds, and a Physician there who knows how to apply it.” It was long ago said, “the heart knoweth his own bitterness.” And the older we grow, the deeper must become the conviction of every thoughtful person, that the hearts are not few in number which have some secret sorrow.
1. Very many of these examples belong to the realm of the affections. Misplaced love, morbid sensibility, disappointed hopes, abused or unrequited confidence,--who can compute the measure of unhappiness in the world which flows from these sources? The world may sneer at the “sentimentalism” of such experiences. The essential spirit of the world is as coarse and cynical where human affections are concerned, as it is arrogant and impious in dealing with the prerogatives of the Deity. It may very well be that, in many instances, there is an ill-balanced constitution, or that a passion has been cherished in opposition to all reason, or that, in some way, the calamity has been self-imposed. But the consciousness of this only increases the bitterness of the cup; as it may also prompt to a more careful seclusion of it from every eye. It were a mission of Godlike philanthropy could one seek out all these afflicted ones, bowed down with their crushed hearts, and languishing under the weight of griefs too sacred to be shared by any earthly bosom, and say to them, “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no Physician there?” Do not repel the suggestion as either unsuited to your state of mind or as unseasonable. What you need is a Friend whose sympathy can avail to relieve you, and whose arm can keep you from sinking; a Friend upon whom you can fix your lacerated affections with a confidence that He will never betray you; and whom you can love with the conviction that your attachment to Him can never become so absorbing as to be an occasion of self-reproach or of sin. Jesus of Nazareth will not disappoint you. Such is the essential perfection of His nature,--such its boundless amplitude,--that in Him all your griefs may be assuaged and all your cravings after happiness satisfied.
2. The moment we pass from the sphere of the affections into the realm of spiritual things, new forms of suffering meet the eye, as diversified in character as they are various in intensity. And here, no less than among the tribes of sickness and sorrow and disappointment, we have but too much occasion to ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead, and no Physician there?”
(1) You have seen individuals under the terrors of an awakened conscience. God has come near to them and set their sins in order before their eyes. How hopeless is it to attempt to minister relief to a soul in this condition with any mere earthly specifics! Something widely different from this you must have before that agitated breast can be tranquillised. And the boundless mercy of God proffers you all that you need. “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no Physician there?” Yes, thou heavy-laden sinner. Great as thy sins are, there is a greater Saviour. Ponderous as is thy burden, what will it be to Him whose hand holds up the firmament and guides the spheres in their orbits? Deep as may be the crimson dye of thy soul, the blood which cleansed Manasseh, and the dying thief, and Saul of Tarsus, can cleanse thee.
(2) A second glance around the realm we are now traversing reveals another class of sufferers. These are the doubting, the tempted, the desponding,--the bruised reeds and the smoking flax,--who “desire to follow Christ,” and would “give worlds” to know that He owned them as His disciples, but who walk in darkness. Long accustomed to dwell on their conscious sins and infirmities, their sense of personal unworthiness forbids them to appropriate the promises, and even restrains them from looking, with any confidence, to the Saviour. These doubts and misgivings have their rooting in unbelief, and in unworthy conceptions of the character of the Redeemer. Conscious ill-desert keeps you from going to Christ. But is there anything either in His character or in the events of His life to justify this feeling? How can you say, as you do practically say, “There is no balm in Gilead, and no Physician there”?
(3) It is a dark portraiture which the Spirit has drawn of man’s moral character, when, with a single graphic touch of the pencil, he is depicted as having “a heart of stone.” The sceptic resents the great indignity. “A heart of stone! Look at the virtues which cluster around humanity! See the integrity and the truthfulness, the high-toned honour and the magnanimity, which embellish society! Let these testify how gross a libel that is upon the race, which ascribes to man ‘a heart of stone’!” Granted all. Make the flattering inventory still more flattering, and its every item shall be acknowledged. The brighter the vestments in which you infold your idol, the clearer do you bring out the demonstration that his heart is “a heart of stone.” It is of his relations Godward that the Scriptures affirm this quality of him. But we are not now dealing with sceptics. There are those who, so far from cavilling at this representation, freely concede its truth. They have reasoned with themselves on the surpassing folly and impiety of living for this world only. They are convinced that Jesus Christ ought to be in their eyes the chief among ten thousand; that they ought to enthrone Him in their hearts with a grateful and confiding devotion; that they ought to delight in prayer, and to find their happiness in doing God’s will. They long for this. They would make any earthly sacrifice to accomplish it. They have laboured and struggled to bring themselves into this state of mind. But all in vain. The wayward affections will not relax their hold of earth at the bidding of reason and conscience. Here, at least, is a class of sufferers whom no earth-born philosophy can reach. But are they therefore to be abandoned to despair? Far from it. Your case is not hopeless. That heart of stone can be broken in pieces. That proud will can be subdued. Those intractable affections can be detached from earth and lifted to the skies. The love of Christ may yet burn with seraphic ardour in that breast which has hitherto refused Him its homage. In place of the ingratitude and distrust with which you have requited Him, your joyful protestation may yet be heard, “Lord, Thou knowest all things: Thou knowest that I love Thee.” Be it so, that your sins are of colossal magnitude, and as the stars of heaven for multitude. That is a cogent reason for repentance and contrition; it is no reason for declining to accept “the balm in Gilead and the Physician there.” You “have no real sorrow for your sins.” Christ is “exalted as a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.” One glimpse of Him whom you have pierced, such as the Spirit can afford you, will make streams of penitential sorrow burst from that heart of stone as the waters gushed from the smitten rock. You have no faith. But can you not cry, Lord, I would believe. Help thou mine unbelief? You have no love. Who ever loved Him, except as he was loved by Him? “We love Him, because He first loved us.” Let Him but reveal His love to you, and that will “kindle yours” as nothing else can. (H. A. Boardman, D. D.)
The balm of Gilead
or every wrong there is a remedy. God is Almighty. The prophets of old believed this. The Church of Christ, in all ages, professes to believe this.
I. “There is balm in Gilead.” And to Gilead we must go to seek and to find it. That is, the remedy for every wrong must be made the object of our effort to attain. Gilead--as all students of the Bible know--is the mountainous region east of Jordan, forming the frontier of the Holy Land. The name itself signifies “a hard, rocky region,” and there the fragrant, resinous gum, possessed of such famous healing properties, was to be found--found, however, not by the casual, unobservant traveller who happened to pass by that way, but by the man who clambered up the rocks, scaled the heights, diligently searched among the precious, storm-stunted shrubs, yielding the healing gum. And so, surely, is it the same with that which the balm of Gilead symbolises. The remedy for every, or for any, wrong is not to be found in religious idleness. It must ever be a serious business--a search, requiring an effort upwards, taxing all the strength that is vouchsafed. And does it very much matter by what name they are called, who in sincerity attempt the search? or, indeed, whether the balm they find is all identical in outward appearance? For instance, “the balm of Gilead,” the remedy for wrong, comes to us in modern times, certainly in one way, in the form of scientific truth. Scientific ignorance is the fruitful cause of how vast a waste of human life!--of disease, and wretchedness, and pain, and bereavement, and idiocy, and drink, and death! God’s laws and nature’s laws are one and the same, and the high priests of science serve at the altar of the Most High God. Or, again, the balm of Gilead, the remedy for wrong, comes to us in the form of philosophic thought. Social science, based upon historical research and experience, economic problems, thought out in the light of what has been, and what men are, and need--labelled by whatever name--if they are not self-condemned by insincerity, are all possessed with some healing virtue. So, too, with politics in the true and highest sense; but, alas! not with party “politicalism,” unless indeed that balm serves the purpose of an emetic. Again, the true “balm of Gilead,” the remedy for every wrong, is to be found upon the mountain top of revelation. The balm of revealed knowledge, the comfort of the Holy Ghost, the insight into the spiritual, is within the reach of all.
II. But who is the Physician qualified to administer the balm, to tell us how, and where, and in what proportion it should be applied? For, indeed, without proper knowledge, a remedy itself may become a poison; the cure may be more fatal than the disease. In matters social and spiritual we have many teachers, and some who seem to be more interested in their own nostrums than in the cures they effect. But is there no true physician, is there none whose direction and advice we may follow with absolute confidence? An answer to that question some will immediately give. “Our blessed Lord,” they say, “is the good Physician” (a title which by implication only our Lord applies to Himself), “and to follow Jesus Christ is to be healed of all that is wrong.” Nothing could be truer, and yet is this all the truth? Does not our Lord Himself point onwards, to the revelation of the Holy Ghost, as the perfect Physician, as the Teacher, and Leader, and Guide, and Comforter of men’s souls? “He shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you.” Every spiritual man is a physician qualified, according to the measure of the light which he enjoys, to apply the healing balm to the sorrows and distresses of others. (A. A. Toms, M. A.)
A cure for diseased souls
I. Mankind universally are in a diseased state.
1. Atheism, infidelity, or unbelief of Divine truths.
2. Ignorance of God and Gospel truths, even among those who profess to know Him (Hosea 4:6).
3. Hardness of heart.
4. Earthly mindedness.
5. Aversion to spiritual duties.
6. Hypocrisy and formality in God’s service.
7. Trusting to our own righteousness.
8. Indwelling corruption.
II. There is a Physician who can cure all diseases.
1. He is infinite in knowledge, and understands all diseases, with the proper remedies, so that He never can err (John 21:17).
2. He has sovereign authority and almighty power, so can command diseases to obey (Matthew 9:2).
3. He has infinite pity, ready to help the distressed, even unasked (Luke 10:33).
4. He has wonderful patience towards the distressed; bears with their ingratitude, and works their perfect cure.
III. The remedy which he applies to effect the cure.
1. Principally, His own blood.
2. But Scripture speaks of other subservient means.
(1) The Spirit of God, with His gracious operations on the soul.
(2) The Word and ordinances of Christ.
(4) Faithful ministers.
(5) Prayers of pious Christians.
IV. His method of applying the remedy.
1. He makes sinners sensible that they are sick.
2. He works faith in the soul by His Holy Spirit.
3. He accomplishes and perfects the cure by the sanctifying influences of the Spirit.
V. Why so few are healed, notwithstanding there is balm in gilead and a Physician there.
1. Many are ignorant of their disease, and wilfully so.
2. Many are in love with their disease more than with their Physician.
3. Many neglect the season of healing (Jeremiah 8:20).
4. Many will not trust Christ wholly for healing.
5. Many will not submit to the prescriptions of Christ; self-examination, repentance, godly sorrow, mortification.
1. Let those in a diseased state see their danger, for it is great.
2. Balm of Gilead is freely offered in the Gospel.
3. Consider how long you have slighted this balm already.
4. Those whom Christ has healed, manifest their gratitude by living to His glory. (T. Hannam.)
Is there no Physician there?--
The Divine Physician
I. The physician is Jesus Christ the Son of God, who, being the Son of God, must needs be able and skilful; since He is the Christ, He wants not a call to the office, etc.; as He is Jesus, He cannot but be ready and willing to the work,--who can desire a better, who would seek after another Physician than Him in whom skill, and will, and ability, and authority do meet?
II. The patients are those who stand in need of this Physician, and they most need Him who think they have least.
III. The disease of these patients is sin--a disease both hereditary, as to the root of it, which together with our nature we receive from our parents, and likewise contracted by ourselves, in the daily eruption of this corruption, by thoughts, words, and works.
IV. The medicine or “balm” which this Physician administereth to the patient for the cure of his disease is “His own blood,” which He is content to part with for our sakes.
V. The method by which the cure is effected is by cleansing; no cordial like this to comfort our hearts and to rid us of the ill-humours of our sins, thereby restoring our spiritual health. (Nath. Hardy.)
The balm and the physician
A distressed father, that had just left the sick bed of a beloved daughter, and was wandering through the streets in all the dejection of grief, may easily be supposed to have uttered himself in the language of the text. And if we may suppose that she had been long subjected to the want of a physician and a nurse, while death must now ensue as a consequence of that neglect, while there was a remedy at hand, and a physician hard by; but there was none at hand to call in that physician, or to apply that balm, by the application of which she might have been restored to health, joy, and life. One would grieve to hear the solitary moan of such a father, and haste to know if it is altogether too late to call in the kind and timely physician.
I. The disease is one of universal application. There has been no nation found that is not totally depraved. They all practised a gross and God-provoking idolatry. They made their idols as stupid and as devilish as they could, practising as gross a perversion of their Supreme Deity as possible, and then they practised upon man all the outrages that a perverted intellect could contrive.
II. This disease is, of all others, the most contagious. It has been communicated through the wide world, and gone into every little ramification of every kingdom under the whole heaven. It poisons all the human relations, and mars every human compact; and, first of all, man’s covenant with his God. The result of this is, that it has filled and loaded him with misery to the full, and all nature “groans and travails to be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and be brought into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.”
III. Why is not the plague healed?
1. Sinners are not sensible that they are the subjects of this deplorable disease. The first object of a preached Gospel is to convince them of this fact.
2. If to any extent they are conscious of their condition, they love the very disease that cleaves to them.
3. They do not love the Physician.
4. They do not love the price at which they can be healed. It must be with Christ a mere gratuitous healing.
5. Sinners do not relish the manner of the application. This deep repentance, and this being healed by faith, destroys all human agency and contrivance, and gives God all the glory. (D. A. Clark.)
Reasons for the irreligion of the masses
I. Our mortal and evangelical resources.
1. No country in the world in all respects equal in privileges.
2. No age comparable to this.
(1) Plenitude of God’s Word
(2) Good books.
(3) Evangelical ministry.
(4) Rich variety of social institutions.
II. The fearful evils which still exist.
1. Avowed infidelity.
2. General neglect of Divine worship.
3. Juvenile precocity and profligacy.
5. Overwhelming intemperance.
III. The affecting inquiry presented. “Why, then,” etc. Three classes of reasons.
1. In the Church.
(1) Prevalence of spiritual indifference.
(2) Sectarian contentions.
(3) Fewness of workers.
(4) Want of spiritual self-denial.
(5) Coldness in prayer.
(6) Feeble faith.
2. Reasons in the persons themselves. Feel separated from other classes; neglected, despised on account of poverty, etc.
3. Reasons in the world. Seductive temptations, dissipating scenes.
1. We appeal to Church of Christ. Great responsibility.
2. Sinners are inexcusable. Every man must give account.
3. God’s mercy and grace are all-sufficient.
4. The provisions of the Gospel are freely published. (J. Burnt, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 8". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent