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Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain.
A ministry morally awakening
In the first eleven verses of this chapter we have a continuation of the address of the prophet to the priests of Judah. It was the duty of the priests to blow the trumpet for the assembling of the congregation, for the removing of the camp, and when they went forth to war; here the trumpet is blown to announce danger, and the consequent need of attention to certain moral requirements.
I. That there are times when the Church is in especial need of a ministry morally awakening. “Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain.” Zion was the meeting-place of the people of God, and may be taken as a type of the Church of God; here the trumpet was used only for sounds of alarm and fear. There was need that those who dwelt in the holy mountain should be aroused to a sense of the impending danger; we should have thought that they would have been sensitive to the judgment of God without such an awakening cry.
1. The Church needs an awakening ministry when it is not solicitous for the moral rectitude of the nation in which it is placed. It would appear as if Zion were ignorant of, or as if it were indifferent to, the apostasy all around it.
2. The Church needs an awakening ministry when it is not alive to the peril of souls it should endeavour to instruct.
3. The Church needs an awakening ministry when it reposes undue confidence in external organisations.
II. That at such times the ministry morally awakening must be charged with the solemn truths of advancing judgment. “For the day of the Lord cometh, and is nigh at hand.” Thus the ministry of the trumpet announced a terrible day of approaching judgment. The congregations of the present day are averse to these trumpet ministries, they prefer more gentle strains of truth, and prefer to be lulled to slumber rather than to be awakened to stern activity. The Church has need of its sons of thunder as well as of its sons of consolation. It announced these judgments as
III. That the announcement of such truths should have a solemn effect upon those to whom they are addressed. “Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble.”
1. It should awaken solemn apprehension. The people would know that the sounding of the trumpet in Zion would foretoken evil to them, and would be deeply apprehensive of the nature and extent of the judgment to follow.
2. It should awaken deep repentance. The terrors of the Lord should persuade men to deep repentance, and should become a forcible argument for a renewed life.
3. It should awaken devout gratitude. While men mourn the advancing calamities they should indeed be devoutly grateful that their advent is so clearly made known, and that they do not come unexpected upon them.
1. That the Church requires to be aroused to a sense of its duty.
2. That the pulpit must give utterance to solemn and awakening truths.
3. That an earnest Church may avert a national judgment. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The trumpet is lifted up this time in warning. Sometimes it is lifted up in festival. The trumpet will do one of two things, the performer must tell it what to do. So with every ministry, and every instrumentality of life and nature; it is the intelligent, responsive, directing man that must say what is to be done with the silver lute of spring, or the golden instrument of summer, or the cornucopia of autumn, or the great wind of winter that makes the earth cold and bleak. The trumpet will foretell a coming battle, or it will call to an infinite feast; the man behind it must use it according to the occasion. It is even so with the Bible. There is no trumpet like the Bible for warning, alarm, excitement, a great blare at midnight shaking the whole air with tones of alarm; nor is there any instrument like the Bible for sweetness, gentleness, tenderness, an instrument that talks music to the heart, and that assures human fear that the time of apprehension has passed away. Warning has always been given by the Almighty before His judgments have taken effect. Yet there has always been some measure of suddenness about Divine judgments. The reason is that we cannot sufficiently prepare for them. We may know they are coming, we may tell even to a day when the judgment thunder will lift up its voice; yet when it does sound its appeal it startles and shocks and paralyses the world. Yet, though the warning has always been given, it has always been despised. How few people heed the voice of warning! They call that voice sensational. Were the old preachers to return with their old hell they would have but scant welcome to-day. They were men of the iron mouth; they were no Chrysostoms, golden-throated and golden-lipped; they were men who, knowing the terrors of the law, withheld them not from the knowledge of the people, but thundered right mightily even beside the altar of the Cross. Now all this is in many instances ruled out as theologically behind the time, as from a literary point of view vulgar and odious, and as from a spiritual point of view detestable, and not likely to work in man mightily in the direction of persuasion. We become familiar with warning. No man really believes in the day of judgment. But the warnings given us by men are often partial, and are not unfrequently falsely directed There is not a preacher in the world who could not make a great reputation by thundering against heterodoxy. The world loves such vacant thunder; the Church is willing to subscribe liberally to any man who will denounce the heterodoxy of other people. What we do want is, not to thunder warningly against mistaken speculation, but thunders sevenfold in loudness, to be delivered against the current iniquities of the day. Warning is needed, but let it be of the right kind; warning is a needful element in every ministry, but deliver it at the right door. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The trumpet of Zion
I. What is meant by blowing the gospel trumpet? Trumpets were and are used in martial music, and in festive song. Commissioned by the Lord, and in dependence on God the Spirit, the ministers of Jesus Christ come forth before their people, to offer them, in God’s name, and on His own terms, pardon and peace, life and salvation, through Christ; or, if they reject these, to denounce to them, in His name, the sentence of death and destruction. This is “blowing the trumpet.” Not content with this, ministers solemnly warn the self-righteous and the unrighteous, the professor and the hypocrite, and those who are “at ease in Zion,” of their approaching danger. This is “sounding an alarm.” But what reception have you given to this Gospel?
II. To whom, and where, is this trumpet commanded to be blown, and this alarm to be sounded? Had he been sent to Nineveh, or to the profane part of his own people, we should not feel surprised, but he was sent to the princes and nobles, priests and Levites, aged and honourable; even to his neighbours and personal friends. He was to show to “Jacob his transgressions, and to Israel his sins.” What was the duty of Joel is the duty of every minister of the Gospel now; and the difficulties are very nearly the same. A minister must be faithful to his oath, his conscience, his people, and his God. One reason for blowing the trumpet needs consideration. It is this. “The day of the Lord cometh, it is nigh at hand.” (J. White Niblock, D. D.)
The two sentences mean the same thing. To blow the trumpet is to sound an alarm. And the scene is the mount of God’s holiness--the holy mountain where this alarm is to be sounded.
I. What are the enemies against whorl an alarm must be sounded?
4. Conformity to the world.
II. Reasons why this opportunity is taken for sounding an alarm. (The clergyman was pleading on behalf of Sunday and national schools.) The children of the poor need education. The children of this generation will be the fathers and mothers of the next.
III. Offer some encouragement. If you are disposed to listen to the alarm sounded, and endeavour to mind your ways. The first encouraging sign will be that you will learn to know your own state. Second encouraging sign, that you confess your sins. The next sign, your fairly setting to work, from this very hour, to see what can possibly be done for the everlasting good of these children. A most pleasing sign would be this, a looking up to God to do that for these little ones, which you have it not in your power to do for them. (T. Mortimer, B. D.)
Alarm in God’s house
I. A sacred scene. The trumpet is to sound the alarm in Zion--in God’s holy mountain--among His people who professed His name. He was to tell them of the awful judgments the Almighty would bring upon the land.
II. Our places of worship may be designated holy mountains.
1. Because there a holy God is worshipped. We cannot feel too much veneration and respect for the house of God. The places where we draw near to God are sacred spots. Holiness becometh His house.
2. Because there holy gifts are imparted. We meet together to receive blessings from God. There He sits, waiting to bestow on us all needful grace, to dispense His favours and to display His power. Holiness is that which we require in order to our enjoyment of God.
3. Because there holy anticipations are realised. We leave for a time the world and its concerns, and endeavour to attend on God without distraction, and feel ourselves surrounded with the Deity.
III. A solemn charge. Blowing of trumpets an ancient custom in Israel (Numbers 10:3-10). There was a peculiar way of blowing the trumpet when it sounded an alarm. Ministers are to sound the trumpet of invitation, and the trumpet of encouragement. But there are periods when we are to sound an alarm, and show God’s threatened judgments. Concerning four things you need warning.
1. Formality in the exercises of religion. A dead and dull spirit has crept into our churches.
2. Conformity to the world. Here is our special danger in the present day. As Christians, we are delivered from this present evil world. Ought we then to love it, to imbibe its spirit, and follow its maxims? How difficult the line of demarcation between the Church and the world!
3. Deadness to the power of prayer. Prayer is necessary to our prosperity in the Divine life; the more we are in it the more we shall thrive. But is there not a deficiency in the manner and spirit of this exercise, both alone and in the social meeting? God has answered prayer in every age.
4. Inactivity in the cause of Christ. Prayer without exertion is presumption. There is a want of united effort. Union is strength, and there is more of this wanted. A united people is likely to be a prosperous, thriving people--a comfort to the minister, an honour to religion, and a blessing to the world. (Ebenezer Temple.)
Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path.
Order is heaven’s first law
Reference is to the orderly march of locusts. Note the order which reigns throughout the whole of God’s world. After this fashion there should be order and arrangement in the Christian Church. Note the order of the movements of the heavenly bodies. The same law holds good with the whole animal creation. There is also order in the providence of God. An the events in our own little lives are marching straight on to a gracious consummation. We may rise higher; we may think of God Himself. We may say of all His attributes, “neither doth one thrust another, but each one walketh in his path.” The same order is perceptible in the doctrines of the Word. Doctrines which look as if they contradicted each other, are nevertheless fully agreed. Apply the lesson to the Christian life. We should remember that our thoughts, graces, and actions, ought all to keep their proper position. We ought to endeavour, as God shall teach us by His Spirit, to keep our thoughts of God’s Word in their due harmony. Doctrine is not all that is taught in the Word, there are duties and promises also. The same should hold good in the graces which we cultivate. The same proportions and balancings should be found in our Christian duties. God would have us attend to all duties. The difficulty is often felt as to how much is due to diligence in business, and how much to fervency in spirit. Each one must decide and draw the line for himself. There is a greater difficulty with regard to the arrangement of distinct duties, when they are likely to run counter to one another. What is true in the little commonwealth of the heart and home, ought also to be true of the Church at large. There are different orders of workers, and these must co-operate. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The army of the locusts
I. They are very bold and daring. Some of the ancients have observed that the head of a locust is very like in shape to the head of a horse.
2. Very loud and noisy. “Like the noise of chariots,” of many chariots, when driven furiously over rough ground. Historians tell us that the noise made by swarms of locusts in those countries that are infested with them has sometimes been heard six miles off. The noise is compared to that of a roaring fire.
3. They are very regular, and keep ranks in their march. “They shall march every one on his ways,” straight forward, as if they had been trained up by the discipline of war to keep their post and observe their right-hand man. Their number and swiftness shall breed no confusion. See how God can make creatures to act by rule that have no reason to act by, when He designs to serve His own purposes by them. And see how necessary it is that those who are employed in any service for God should observe order and keep rank, should diligently go on in their own work, and not stand in one another’s way. (Matthew Henry.)
The day of the Lord is great and very terrible; who can abide it?
The judgments which shall accompany the day of the Lord
I. Judgments productive of great sorrow. “A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness.” This imagery is probably taken from the flight of locusts. They come in clouds. They darken the sky when they fly. The judgment of the locusts was typical of the day of judgment. Light is always the emblem of joy. Darkness is the emblem of intense sorrow. The day of the Lord will be productive of great sorrow to the impenitent, as then all their plans will be at an end, their hopes will vanish, their ambitions will appear vain, and the great mystery of eternity before them for which they are unprepared will awaken the saddest reflections and anticipations within their souls.
II. Judgments widely spread. “As the morning spread upon the mountains.” Some have thought this to allude to the appearance which the inhabitants of Abyssinia too well knew, as preceding the coming of the locusts. A sombre yellow light is cast on the ground, from the reflection, it was thought, of their yellow wings. But that appearance itself seems to be peculiar to that country, or perhaps to certain flights of locusts. The image naturally describes the suddenness and universality of the darkness, when men looked for light. As the mountain-tops first catch the gladdening rays of the sun, ere yet it riseth on the plains, and the light spreads from height to height, until the whole earth is arrayed in light,: so wide and universal shall the outspreading be, but it Shall be of darkness, not of light; the light itself shall be turned into darkness (Pusey). Thus the ills of the day of the Lord will be rapid in their motion as the spread of the first light of the day, and will fall upon all the myriads of the impenitent who have lived since the commencement of time.
III. Judgments greatly destructive. “A flame devoureth before them, and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.” This is not to be understood of the heat of the sun, or of the great drought that went before and continued after the locusts, but of them themselves, which were like a consuming fire; wherever they came they devoured everything as fire does stubble. This is a picture of the judgments which will accompany the day of the Lord; they will consume as with a terrible flame all that a wicked life holds dear, and there shall be no escape from their terrible ravages.
IV. Judgments eminently warlike. “They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks.” And thus we have pictured the awful judgments of the day of the Lord,--they shall be swift as horsemen (Joel 2:4); they shall inspire terror (Joel 2:6); they shall overcome every obstruction to their effective operation (Joel 2:7); they shall be orderly and well disciplined (Joel 2:7); they shall be incapable of repulse (Joel 2:8); they shall stealthily achieve their ends (Joel 2:9); they shall derange the usual order of nature (Joel 2:10); they shall leave no doubt as to the fact that they are Divinely sent on their work of retribution. Well may the prophet ask, “Who shall be able to stand?”
V. Judgments divinely conducted. “And the Lord shall utter His voice before His army.” And thus amidst the terrors of that awful day there will be heard the Divine voice, commanding the warlike energies which shall be so destructive, and that voice will strike despair into the wicked soul. Lessons--
1. That the day of the Lord is advancing.
2. That it will come full of terror.
3. That it should lead to repentance. (J. S. Exell. M. A.)
Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.
The characteristics and encouragements of true repentance
I. That true repentance consists in the immediate turning of the soul to God, in a mood of deep sorrow for sin. This turning to God must be--
1. Immediate. The prophet tells the people of Judah that they must turn “also now” to the Lord. These little words are full of emphasis, and signify that even though the people had so long abused the Divine forbearance, and although the opportunity of mercy was passing away, yet if they would at once pay heed to the words of warning they should be saved. There was no time for delay.
2. Sincere. The prophet says to the people of Judah, turn unto the Lord “with all your heart.” They were not to simulate a repentance they did not truly feel; it was not to be half-hearted. They were to turn to God in their thoughts, in their affections, in their wills, and in every faculty and capability of their souls,
3. Inward. The prophet says to the people of Judah, “Rend your heart, and not your garments.” Sin is an inward thing, and so must be the repentance which puts it away.
4. Sorrowful. The people of Judah were to turn to the Lord “with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.” A true turning of the soul to God is always accompanied by intense sorrow because the law of God has been broken, because the soul has been injured by sin, because time has been lost in which good might have been done, because it has enfeebled the moral manhood, and because it has moved the anger of God.
II. That true repentance is encouraged by our knowledge of the Divine nature, and by a hope of the Divine blessing. “And turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil. Who knoweth if He will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him?” Here we have the greatest encouragements to repentance--
1. From our knowledge of the Divine character. The prophet here gives a very beautiful revelation of the nature and character of God to the inhabitants of Judah, which they would perhaps hardly regard as consistent with His previous threats of judgment. And we have throughout the Bible such a revelation of the Divine mercy as should be an encouragement to the penitent. It is natural for God to have mercy upon the repentant soul, even as it is natural for fire to burn.
2. From our hope of the Divine blessing. It seems as though the prophet wished to leave the Jews in some uncertainty as to whether God would “return and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him, in order that he might not weaken any impression which his former denunciations had made. God often leaves behind Him a blessing in the repentant soul, even a joy unspeakable and full of glory.
1. That men should turn to God with full purpose of heart.
2. That they should do so while it is called to-day.
3. That they should thus seek His mercy and expect His blessing. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The first day of Lent
From very ancient times Ash Wednesday has been kept by Christians with great strictness. Our Church too marks this day as a specially solemn day, by providing a special service for it, namely, the “Commination, or denouncing of God’s anger and judgments against sinners”--a service well fitted to stir up our dull minds to the thought of our sins, and to rouse our slumbering con sciences to the feeling of our guilt. Now the great use of special days like this is to fill our hearts and minds with some special thought or feeling, to fix it firmly in our memory, to press and stamp it in so deeply that it will not easily be rubbed out by the wear and tear of the world: and on Ash Wednesday the thought that should fill our mind is the thought of our sinfulness; the feeling that should be uppermost in our hearts is the feeling of our deep guilt in the sight of God. This thought and feeling should rise with us in the morning, should go forth with us to our daily toil or business, should be with us wherever we are, and go with us wherever we go, if we would spend this day as it is meant to be spent, as a day of deep and earnest penitence. The very reason why most people’s religion is so poor and weak is because their religious feelings are so shallow, their religious acts so hasty and formal. A day like this is meant to correct the fault. It is meant to deepen the feelings, to give occasion for a more real and searching penitence. It is meant to be a day of much strict self-examination, of much humble confession of sin, of much earnest prayer, of much godly sorrow, of much hearty resolve. To fast on this day, and deny ourselves outwardly, is a mere mockery and snare, tempting us to think well of ourselves, and to fancy we are doing great things, if we have not the inward spirit of fasting, which is the humbling of the soul in secret shame and sorrow before God. Let this be what we aim at, and then we shall be thankful for every aid, such as fasting is, to so good an end. Only we must remember the end is greater than the means. Let us not, then, despise a day and a service which may be so blest to us, and which have been so blest to thousands and thousands of Christian people. Nay, till we can say that our sense of sin cannot be made deeper, that our confessions cannot be more earnest, that our knowledge of self cannot be increased, that our repentance cannot be more sincere,--have we any right to despise these helps? (W. Walsham How, D. D.)
National and personal fasting
It is not always that the voice of the Church hits the mood of the world. Just now there is no thoughtful man, whatever his personal condition, whose spirit is altogether untouched by sadness. We are all breathing an atmosphere of uneasiness, humiliation, and perplexity; our hearts are heavy, and there is much to weigh them down. How can we use the resource which the text proclaims? It is by no lip-uttered penitence that we can so turn unto God. It is by no mere confession of faults which we think others have committed, and petitions that they may be repaired. We may individually feel a sense of impotence in the presence of movements and measures which we cannot control. But, remember, that the whole is made up of parts; several items construct the whole. Every one who honestly tries to see himself and his wishes in the light of the Lord of righteousness, aids in the solution of national and social problems, whatever they may be, whether they concern order, home distress, or troubles beyond the seas. The individual is the unit of humanity. A sense of general vexation must never blot out that of personal responsibility. As each sweeps before his own door, the street is clean. As each honestly turns to the Lord, the attitude of the whole is corrected. Our business is to see to the items of our own conduct, leaving the total to accumulate by inevitable law. How may we individually use the tide of national anxiety in obeying the summons of the Lenten season? We have a common fault, a hectoring tone towards supposed inferiors. If there is anything which should cultivate Christian society and Christian households, it is goodwill and kindliness. Let not the summons of the text demand a mere epoch of religious procedure, when we kneel in the congregation or in the chamber. Let it touch our lives. A turning to the Lord is a turning from self, from its lower passions, aims, and habits. It comes out in audible, visible, material results. It is seen in many a thing; it is perceived in the tone of the voice, and in the look of the eye; it is seen in the fair conduct of commonplace business; it is seen in our correspondence; in the office and the shop; in the amenities of home, and in the rectitude of public life; in the details of our personal conversation, and in the nature of our familiar habits. Pause at one point--“with fasting.” This arrow hits a national and personal blot. Some people fast too much, through poverty. Some people eat too much, through self-indulgence. There are many who need to fast, who need to use such abstinence that the flesh may, as it should, obey the mind, obey the spirit, not on the lowest, but on the highest grounds, that they may be, physically and intellectually, in body and soul, such as God intends them to be. Treat the summons of the Lenten season as a wholesome, reasonable, godly, human call to consider our ways, as in the presence of the Lord in whom we live, and move, and have our being. (Harry Jones.)
Thoughts for Lent
Ash Wednesday is neither a saint’s day, nor a festival. It is simply the first of the forty days of Lent. On this day we read the seven penitential Psalms, and the Commination Service, and thus the day assumes a severe penitential character of its own. The text reminds us that at this time we have an inward and an outward duty to fulfil. The inward duty is, the turning of the heart to God. The outward is, the mortification of our bodily appetites.
1. Fasting is a matter very little discoursed about, and very little practised. Fasting is not for the weak, the sickly, the very young, or the very poor. Fasting is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Fasting should be observed to God. Its essence is mortification,--not the mere act of abstaining from food. The fasting we should all aim at is rather the denying ourselves in respect of whatever we know to be a superfluity. A check imposed on the curiousness of appetite; a curb submitted to in respect of the quantity eaten, this is true fasting.
2. The inward conversion of the heart to God. This is the great duty of the Lenten season. To think over one’s past life, and one’s present state; to review one’s sins, and to loathe and forsake them; to make reparation where it is possible, and to confess one’s fault when one cannot repair it--this is the fast which the Lord approveth. (J. Burgon, M. A.)
The right use of calamities
Two exhortations, whereof the first is, that they should set about sincere repentance and humiliation, testified by holy private fasts and unfeigned sorrow, and so prove that they are really converted to God, and reconciled to Him through faith in the Mediator (verse 12). And that they should study rather to be afflicted for sin, than by performance of external ceremonies to pretend to it only (verse 13). Unto this exhortation two reasons are subjoined, the first whereof is taken from the properties of God, who is merciful and gracious; not easily provoked, rich in kindness, and who, upon sinners’ repentance, is ready to recall His threatenings that they be not executed. Doctrine.
1. Were there never so many plagues on sinners, yet God is not bound to take notice of them so long as they repent not. Were there never so much terror and affliction of spirit upon men, under feared or felt judgments, yet all these serve to no purpose if they stir not up to repentance; and they must be mad who, being in such a condition, yet do not set about that duty. Therefore after all the representation of plagues, and of terror upon men, they are called to this as the only remedy and way to an issue, and as the duty which they cannot but mind who are seriously affected with such a condition. “Therefore, turn ye.”
2. When God is threatening most sadly, and proceeding most severely, He would be still understood as inviting by these to repentance, and willing to accept of it. For the Lord who threatens, doth exhort, and He brings it in with a “therefore,” or upon the back of the former discourse, to show that this is His scope in all of it.
3. Such as have been so long abusers of God’s patience, as matters seem irremediable, and strokes are either imminent or incumbent, should not, for all that, look upon the exercise of repentance as too late and out of season, but ought to judge that it is good even then to set about it, and that it will do good, however matters go. Therefore, notwithstanding they were in this sad plight, yet the Lord exhorts them even now also to turn.”
4. Such as do mind repentance, especially when God declareth Himself angry, would not linger or delay to set about it. So much also may be imported in that “now also” they should “turn.”
5. Whatever doubts such as are humbled by judgments may have, that their repentance will not be accepted; yet they are bound to answer all these from God’s naked word who giveth the invitation to such.
6. Repentance for particular sins, under sad judgments, will neither be right nor acceptable so long as men do not mind conversion to God, and a change of their state by regeneration; that so, the tree being good, the fruits may be answerable. Therefore doth He begin with, “Turn ye unto Me,” where the exhortation doth not import any power in man, but only points out his duty, and showeth that exhortation is a mean which God blesseth to His elect, and not only deals thereby with them as rational creatures, but therewith imparts strength that they may obey.
7. In turning unto God men would beware of being faint or feigned, but would study to be sincere and single, since they cannot attain to perfection, for this, in a Gospel sense, is “to turn even to Me with all your heart.”
8. As men would begin at conversion to God, so they would therewith study to be deeply affected for sin and bygone evils, and under the judgments procured thereby; and would evidence their affliction of spirit by sorrow and humiliation suitable (in some measure) to their condition. Therefore is it added, as an evidence and companion of the former, “turn ye with fasting and with weeping, and with mourning”; or with such sorrow as is usual in mourning for the dead, and expressed not only by wailing, but by smiting on the breast, and the like gestures. It is a change to be suspected where men please themselves with their present good condition, and do lightly pass over their former miscarriages. And albeit signs and expressions of sorrow be not always at command when men are most afflicted, yet repentance for gross and long continuance in iniquity, and under extra ordinary judgments, should not be passed over in an ordinary and common way.
9. God is not pleased, nor will a true penitent be pleased, with external performances and ceremonies, neglecting substance; for saith He, “Rend your hearts and not your garments.”
10. Whatever the Lord be, or will say or do, to the impenitent, yet there is nothing in Him to be terrible to a convert and a penitent. Without the sight of this, conviction and contrition would but end in despair. Therefore, notwithstanding all the former threatenings, this is subjoined to the exhortation, by way of reason and encouragement, “Turn ye, for He is gracious,” etc. (George Hutcheson.)
The day of humiliation a national obligation
Joel, having forewarned the people of Judah of the impending calamities that threatened to overwhelm them, proceeds to point out the necessary instructions for them to follow in the prospect of such an awful national crisis.
I. The various duties suitable to a period of national calamity.
1. The appointment of a day of national humiliation. Joel orders them to assemble the people together in the courts of the temple, where by external purifications and proper instructions they might be fitted for the profitable solemnisation of the same. Is there less obligation on Christian communities to set apart a day of humiliation under similar afflictive dispensations of providence? Properly observed, such seasons of public demonstration are undoubtedly acceptable to God. The assembling of ourselves together will sharpen the desire of the Christian for more devout secret communion with God in the closet of prayer.
2. The first duty is turning unto the Lord. The Israelites were to attend the temple not only in a suitable manner outwardly, but with a deep inward impression of God’s judgments. Their affections were to be estranged from the concerns of this world, and set on the God whom they had offended. Such a solemn day calls for nothing less than the whole heart. Away with frivolity, trifling, indifference. It is a day that calls for the implicit surrender of the inner man.
3. The duty of fasting. The Christian may perform this act if his conscience suggest it as incumbent upon him. But he must remember the Redeemer’s admonition in relation to it. There is a notion that fasting consists in abstinence from particular kinds of flesh. Such an idea is as truly absurd as it is derogatory to that part of the Christian community which entertains it. We must fast in the spirit. It is the motive alone can render fasting acceptable in the eyes of the Creator.
4. The duty of weeping and mourning. The Christian dispensation does not demand outward demonstrations of grief. External signs of grief and humiliation are but faint emblems of the shame experienced by the contrite soul. Our repentance must be accompanied with a change of heart and life; it must exercise a converting influence upon us within. The sorrow we feel must be manifested in reformation of life.
II. The encouragement to this performance. “For the Lord is gracious,” etc. It is on account of His infinite mercies that we are not consumed. From a consideration of this kind we may draw much consolation. The Divine ear will be open to the prayers of all those who call upon Him in sincerity. Let the many mercies of God experienced during the past encourage us to put our trust in His mercy now in “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” Let us praise Him to-day for all that is past; let us depend upon Him for all that is to come. (Richard Jones, B. A.)
Fasting, and duties connected with it
Let me exhort you diligently to examine into the state of your souls at this particular season. A business man has his seasons for taking stock. And are our souls of less consequence than our bodies? It is impossible to determine exactly what must be the outward ceremonies or signs attending our penitential sorrow, so various are the tempers and dispositions of men. Yet nature points at the rule to each individual, namely, his own feelings; since there can be no true compunction for sin, and consequently no repentance, without pain and grief felt on the part of the sinner. If sins arise from the over indulgence of sensual appetites, abstinence and temperance always, and fasting on occasion, may be efficient aids in bringing such appetites into subjection. No man is so little a sinner as not to be capable of advancing his soul’s health by a duo and religious observance of appointed fasting days. The prophet says we are to turn to the Lord with weeping. Tears are generally esteemed the signs of grief, but there are tears of joy. They are rather to be esteemed the effects of a violent perturbation, either of body or mind, proceeding from various causes--from grief, joy, envy, anger, or the exertion of any strong passion. To judge of a man’s repentance solely by the quantity of tears he sheds would be to judge very rashly of it. Tears not being altogether in our own power, can never be essential sign of repentance. A third circumstance mentioned by the prophet is “mourning.” That expression of grief which breaks forth into lamentation and woe, and is accompanied with tearing open the garments to smite on the naked breast: an external appearance of great humility and repentance, but which receives its whole merit from the sincerity of the performer. Weeping, fasting, and mourning receive all their worth from the inward man; they are sanctified by the integrity and sincerity of the heart. The prophet further says, “Rend your heart, and not your garments.” Rend your hearts,” herein lies the essence of true penitential sorrow; from hence will all the necessary acts of outward mortification and self-denial unavoidably ensue. Tear open, as it were, the inmost recesses of your heart, spare not till you have discovered every stain and blemish, wash it away with unremitted diligence, that so you may present it pure and spotless before the Lord. Examine the state of your souls fairly and honestly. (C. Moore, M. A.)
Exhortation to repentance
I. A duty enjoined. Here is at once implied our alienation from God. To say we are turned from Him is to say that we are fallen, depraved, and sinful creatures. We are not to turn from one evil way to another, from one idol to another, from one religious profession to another, but unto God. We cannot turn of ourselves. We need to pray for God’s special and enabling grace. The impossibility is not natural but moral, consequently our inability to turn our selves to Him does not lessen our obligation to do so.
II. The manner of its performance. “With the heart.” No mere change of opinion, or reformation of life, or outward profession of godliness will suffice. “With our whole heart.” God will brook no rival. When the heart, with all its affections, motives, and desires, returns to its rightful owner, there is nothing which delights its owner more than to see it touched with tender contrite sorrow. “With fasting.” We approve of using such abstinence as will tend, through grace, to bring the body into subjection to the Spirit. Self-denial is a primary requisite in the religion of Jesus Christ
III. Our encouragement to fulfil it. Gracious--merciful--slow to anger, and of great kindness, is the Lord our God. Therefore none need be discouraged. (W. Mudge.)
On national repentance
I. The exhortations to the people to return unto the Lord. “Turn ye even unto Me.” What is the nation to turn from? Its evil ways. When we speak of the nation we speak of the individuals that compose the nation. The exhortation implies that the people had turned from God. Notice some of men’s evil ways.
1. Ungodliness. Not one half of our nation makes any profession of godliness. And of those who name “the name of Jesus,” how few depart from iniquity!
2. Hear the blasphemy which pervades the land. God’s solemn message to man is mocked, His Word denied, His sanctuaries too much neglected. From all these evil ways we are called to return unto the Lord.
II. The direction for returning to the Lord. “With all your heart.” Here lies the main business--the heart. It must be solemnly and unreservedly dedicated to God. Without this internal movement, all outward show of obedience, or sorrow for sin, or repentance, or fasting, or prayer will avail nothing. This return of the heart is to be expressed by suitable “outward signs.” With fasting. “With weeping and mourning.”
III. The encouragement presented to the people to return to God. “He is merciful and gracious.” Every moment of the world’s prolonged existence is a demonstration of God’s long suffering and patience--is a practical commentary on His own Word. (E. Edwards.)
Turning to the Lord
I. Repentance as a turning. Repentance is sometimes represented as renewing from a decay. Refining from dross. Recovering from a malady. Cleansing from soil. Rising from fall. Here the figure is turning. To turn is properly applied to them that are out of their right way. Whether a way be good or no, we principally pronounce by the end. Our end, or sovereign good, we call happiness. As we cannot find that here, we are to seek it with God. From God we ought never to turn our steps. The way of sin, of seeking our own pleasure or profit, is the way of turning from God. We are to turn to God. Whither should we turn from sin but to God? Many simply turn from one sin to another. We are to turn with the heart. There is a turning of the brain only. An alteration is required not of the mind only, but of the will, a change too of the affections of the heart. Not of bodily relations only; heart and all must turn. It must be with the whole heart. Not dividing the heart from the body, and not dividing the heart in itself.
II. The manner of it. “With fasting.” Not only by way of regimen to keep the body low, but as a chastisement for sin already past. To be abridged of that which otherwise we might freely use hath in it the nature of a punishment. How must we fast? Two kinds of fasting in Scripture.
1. David’s. No meat at all. That is too hard.
2. Daniel’s fast. He ate no “meats of delight.” The Church mitigates all she may. Content to sustain nature, not to purvey the flesh, to satisfy the lusts thereof. “With weeping.” Thinking of the sins of our past might well make us weep. If we cannot weep, mourn we can, and mourn we must. Mourning is the sorrow which reason itself can yield. We can wish; we can pray; we can complain and bemoan ourselves. “Rend your hearts.” If it is not done with the heart, nothing is done. As in conversion, the purpose of amendment must proceed from the heart; so in our contrition, the sorrow, the anger, for our turning away must pierce to the heart. Rending doth not so properly pertain to the passion of sorrow as to the passion of anger. The apostle puts into his repentance indignation and revenge, as well as sorrow. To say the truth, they are to go together. If we be truly sorry for our sin, we shall be angry with ourselves the sinners. (Bishop Andrewes.)
Conversion unto God
Such was the call of God to Israel of old, when His sore judgments lay heavy upon them, and more were impending. “Turn unto the Lord your God.” Let there be in each one of us an unfeigned repentance towards God.
I. When shall we turn unto Him? Now. Lent is appointed to call us to special repentance, and humbling of ourselves before God. Of all deceits the most common and most dangerous is delay. We all look forward to some time when we intend to be religious. Of what importance, then, is that word “Now.”
II. How must we turn unto God? Outward indications of sorrow are mentioned in the text. They are helpful. But the Spirit of God warns us against resting in the outward show, in any mere signs of sorrow. We must rend our hearts on account of our sins. Repentance must begin in godly sorrow. Can we offer God less than a heart broken and contrite, a heart hating the sins which have dishonoured God, set at nought the Saviour, grieved His Spirit, and wounded our own souls? Will He accept less than all our heart? Let there be deep sincerity. Let there be steadfast resolution.
III. Motives for turning to God. We may declare the “terrors of the Lord.” The motives of the text are the graciousness and mercifulness of God. Judgment is His strange work, mercy is His delight. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
I. Its process. Turning to the Lord. The unregenerate man is an alien from God. Like the prodigal son, he has left his father’s house, and gone into the far country of carnality and sin. Reform is turning and directing his steps back to God. Soul-reformation is not turning from one doctrine or church, or habit, to another, but turning to God, going back with all its deepest love to Him. But in turning there is deep moral contrition; “fasting,” and “weeping,” and “mourning,” and “rending of the heart.” Soul-reformation begins in genuine repentance for past sins.
II. Its urgency. Therefore also now, saith the Lord. There is nothing more urgent; everything must make way for this; until this is done, nothing is done properly. Now, because--
1. The work is of the most paramount importance.
2. The time for accomplishing it is very short. Whatever other work you adjourn to a future time, for your soul’s sake adjourn not this for a single hour.
III. Its encouragement. “For He is gracious and merciful,”. . . “repenteth Him of the evil.” The word “deprecateth” would be better than “repenteth.” The inflicting of sufferings on His creatures is repugnant to His nature. “He desireth not the death of the sinner.” What an encouragement it is to the sinner to turn to the Lord, to be assured that he will be welcomed with all the love and tender sympathy of an affectionate Father. (Homilist.)
God’s design in sending affliction
This exhortation is addressed to all who, like the Israelites in the time of Joel, are living in opposition to the authority of Jehovah. “God commandeth all men everywhere to repent,” and He enforces His Divine command by the solemn threatenings which His law has denounced against sin. Some can only be reached by arousing apprehension and alarm. But even when we speak the threatenings of Divine law, it must always be in accents of tenderness and love, entreating men to be reconciled unto God. Repentance is a turning unto God. It is an exercise of free and deliberate choice. It is not a partial, but a total change of character. What are its external manifestations? Fasting was an ordinance in the Jewish economy designed as an expression of the feelings of sorrow, and as a means of exciting and confirming these feelings in the hearts of the worshippers. Frequently the sorrow of the world makes a man afflict himself in secret. The accumulation of terms, “with fasting and weeping and mourning,” may be viewed as a Hebrew superlative designed to set forth the earnestness and intensity of the grief which fills the heart of the penitent. It is to obtain a season for solemn thought, that the Christian sets apart his times of fasting. “Rend your heart,” etc. The rending of the garments is in Eastern countries a token of grief. In connection with religious worship, it might be dictated by a sense of humility before God. It was, however, by no means an infallible mark of genuine emotion. Dubious marks of penitence are not enough for those who would turn with acceptance to the Lord their God. A broken heart is the emblem of deep anguish. Those who will not yield to threats of judgment, the prophet endeavours to persuade by kindness and love. He tells of God that “He is merciful and gracious,’ etc. “Gracious,” as bestowing His favours upon those who have no inherent claim upon His bounty. “Merciful,” extending His kindness even to those who, by their sins, have merited His wrath. “Slow to anger,” bearing from time to time with those who are living in rebellion against Him. “Of great kindness,” not impoverished by the mercies bestowed on a few, ever enough, and more than enough, for the wants of all who humbly and believingly ask it. “Repenteth him of the evil.” Not that He will positively alter His Divine purposes, but even when the cup of their iniquity is almost filled, if they turn to Him in sorrow and penitence, the threatened wrath will be averted. The believing view of God’s mercy, and the apprehension of God’s wrath, are both, in their own place, instrumental in leading men to repentance. Learn to make a right improvement of our afflictions. Whatever inquiries we may institute in regard to their secondary causes, let us not forget that their great first cause is God; that they are sent upon us for moral purposes; that they speak to us with the authority of heaven-appointed messengers, saying, in God’s name, “Turn ye even unto Me.” (William Beckett.)
Humiliation and confession
The pride of the human heart is sometimes fearful. The sinner will justify or excuse his course and carry a high look, till the Holy Spirit actually conquers His pride and overwhelms his soul with a sense of self-convicted guilt and ruin.
I. Humiliation before God and man is both proper and requisite.
1. Proper, that is, right, enjoined by the fitness of things. The impenitent sinner is openly arrayed against God; his attitude is one of radical, persistent hostility.
2. Requisite. God absolutely requires it, and will not treat with the sinner or pardon him till he penitently surrenders, submits to God’s terms, and truly and openly exhibits his penitence.
II. Confession of sin follows humiliation, and is intimately allied to it. Confession is the language of penitence. The burden of sin is very heavy. The man who is unwilling to confess freely--not only in his closet to God, but openly before men, his heart of enmity, his life of guilt, alienation, and disobedience is a stranger to true penitence. See characteristics of true confession.
1. Sincere. It must come from the heart.
2. It must be radical.
3. It must relate chiefly to God.
4. It must cover up, keep back nothing. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
1. Fasting was a frequent service of old--a principle of Divine original and practical recognition. Instances in the Old Testament, in the New Testament; in the primitive Church, and in the reformed Church.
2. The proper method of fasting. No uniform system has ever obtained. They are regulated by the character of the cause that calls them forth: by the spiritual condition of the State; and by the idiosyncrasies of individuals. Do not presume on the plenty of your spiritual health, nor make an excuse of the poverty of your bodily health.
3. Seasonable suggestions for a fast-day. On no account convert the fast into a festival. On the other hand, do not think, by a simple, stiff, or formal fast you will gain either heavenly rest for yourselves, or earthly relief for your suffering brethren; do not fancy that for an austere demeanour, and a rigid restraint of your appetites and affections, you will merit aught at the hands of God. Reflect on your individual and our national sins; confess and repent. (William Fisher, B. A.)
And rend your heart, and not your garments.--
The rent heart better than the rent garment
“Rend your heart and not your garments.” Above all, important that repentance should be real--the weeping the sign of inward sorrow; the fasting the result of lower desires kept in abeyance by higher. There was danger of a superficial, evanescent revival.
I. Explain the allusion to the rending of the garment. Many signs and symbols among Jews by which they professed to express feeling, desire.
(1) In prayer--kneeling, prostration, standing, lifting the hands, hiding the face, smiting upon the breast.
(2) Rending garment. This expressed strongest, most intense emotion of sorrow, or terror, or horror. (Genesis 37:29; Gen 37:34; 2 Samuel 3:31; 1 Kings 21:27; Jeremiah 36:24; Matthew 26:65; Acts 14:14.) The emotion professedly expressed in Judah at that time--the deepest sorrow for sin; the most earnest contrition and repentance.
II. Remembering the sign and emotion signified, notice different classes of men.
1. Some neither rend their hearts nor their garments. No outward sign of sorrow, and no sorrow without sign. Describe what should lead all to sorrow for sin. The history of sin, its present existence in the world, in us. God’s revelation of His hatred of sin. God’s revelation of love to the sinner. The life of Christ--Gethsemane, Calvary. The voice of conscience; the pleadings of the Holy Ghost. Draw the contrast between what should be and what is. Indifference, coldness of multitudes. Mad delight of many in the world’s great source of misery.
2. Some rend their garments, and not their hearts. The outward sign, but no inward reality. The untruthful, hypocritical. Notice the religion of formal custom. The services of the present day--devout attitudes in prayer--observance of fasts--celebration of feasts--revival services. The danger--the lack of inward reality.
3. Some rend their hearts and not their garments. The inward reality, and not the outward sign. Men of reserve, emotion kept concealed in the heart’s shrine. They shrink from demonstration, from the show of religious feeling, and so apparently they are cold, but not really so. Picture the earnestness of private communion; sorrow’s deep wound which only God can see; sorrow which words, looks, cannot express--too deep for human sympathy.
4. Some rend their hearts and their garments. The inward sorrow; the outward expression. Room in the world for demonstrative and undemonstrative. Notice the tendency of reserved to misjudge those not like them, and the injustice of calling religious excitement worthless. Illustrations: The publican’s outward demonstration; the bitter weeping of Peter. Some must rend their garments when their hearts are rent.
III. Learn the requirement of God.
1. That it is necessary for us to rend our hearts. Repentance for sin a necessity. This the fruit of the law; this the germ of the Gospel. The Baptist’s cry; the Saviour’s cry; the cry of the apostles--“Repent.”
2. As to the rending of the garment. “Rend your hearts,” etc. The text means, “not only your garments.” Other similar expressions.
(1) From the Bible. “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” The meaning, “mercy rather than sacrifice.”
(2) From ordinary conversation. “Give us deeds, not words.” The meaning, that deeds are more important than words. Customary, demonstrative, peculiar experience of feeling was not forbidden. Reality as opposed to mere form insisted on.
3. God does require the pure and holy life. The rent heart the open heart. Christ enters, abides, makes pure. The pure heart expressed by the pure life. The heart made clean, the garment also is made white. This agreement must be. There cannot be the changed heart without the converted life. (J. M. Blackcie, LL. B.)
This chapter is not so much a peremptory prediction, what God absolutely intends, as a communication only, what conditionally He threateneth. Man, in his anger, threatens when he means to strike; God threatens, that He might not strike, but that we might be forewarned and ward off His blow. The Gospel, that offers all mercy and love, strictly exacts and requires repentance. The text is a vehement exhortation to sorrow and repentance; and a direction how and in what manner we should repent.
I. The precept of repentance.
1. An exhortation to contrition. Observe the act expressed in the word “rend”; and the object, which is presented affirmatively. We must rend our heart. And negatively. We must not rend our garments.
2. An exhortation to conversion. “Return unto the Lord your God.” Return implies a motion.
(1) The kind of motion. A returning.
(2) That whereunto we must return, “The Lord.”
(3) That habitude and relation which guides and biasses us unto the term; in the words following, “Your God.”
This is twofold. There is an attraction in the term and place to which the motion tends. And that which carries and disposes the thing moved towards it.
II. The motive to repentance. In these words, “For He is gracious,” etc.
1. The kind and nature of the motive. God contents not Himself by putting us in mind of our duty. He uses no threatenings, intermingles no curses. He urges mercy and favour. Observe the degrees of the motive. They are all set and purposed to prevent and remove all the fears and discouragements that a timorous guilty conscience can forecast to itself. We are here called upon to present ourselves unto the Lord, to hope for and expect His love and favour. But we are not worthy of such favour. True, but He is a gracious God. We have to admit that our lives have been demeritorious, sinful, offensive. True, but He is merciful and compassionate. We daily provoke Him by our rebellions, grieving His Spirit, and increasing His wrath by our offences. True, but He is a patient God, and slow to anger. The cry of our sins has already ascended up to heaven. Yet He is easy to be entreated, and of great kindness. His wrath hath smoked out against us; His prophets have denounced His judgments. Yet there is hope of mercy, for He repenteth of the evil. Then do thy sins discourage thee? Let the offer and invitation of His mercy assure thee. Doth the number and variety of thy transgressions dishearten thee? Consider the multitude of His mercies. Doth the measure and heinousness of thy rebellions affright thee? Let the degrees and plenty of His compassions comfort thee. Consider the duty of contrition. The act and practice of repentance is no less than a rending. And that implies stiffness and obduration in the object to be wrought upon. Hardness and difficulty in the act to be exercised--repentance. And it requires all the strength and might of him that undertakes it. Consider the object upon which repentance must work and exercise itself. In the affirmative sense, your heart. If thy heart be not contrite and sorrowful, it is not true repentance. Except thy sorrow work upon the heart, there is no use or profit in thy repentance. Except thy heart be humble and cast down for sin, it is no pleasing or acceptable repentance. In the negative sense,--“Rend not your garments.” In this counsel the Lord checks and reproves our outward superstition. All outward ceremonious practice of piety, if divided and severed from inward devotion, is rejected of God. Ceremonies, if accompanied with the heart, are useful and acceptable; if divided from it, are sinful and abominable. But the words may be read, “your hearts rather than your garments,” by way of comparison. The contrition of the heart is more necessary and useful than any outward bodily affliction. (Bishop Brownrigg.)
Penitence and conversion
I. A real sorrow for sin.
1. Heartfelt. Rend your heart, and not your garments. Rending stands for the outward expression of sorrow or penitence. The prophet does not intend by the contrast “hearts” not “garments,” to condemn such outward signs, but to insist upon the inward rather than the outward. We are not to affect sorrow, to display penitence. Outward usages are valuable, not as satisfying conscience or pleasing God, but as helps to realise a right spirit.
2. Deliberate. To rend garments is a sudden impulse. To rend the heart is a far harder and slower matter.
3. Intense. Rend--implying a breaking of the heart,--breaking by the irresistible force of conviction. This implies a personal sense of sin, and a holy hatred of sin.
III. A true conversion to God. It is, “Turn unto the Lord.” A broken heart without this would be mere despair. This implies--
1. A change in will. “Turn.”
2. An acceptance of God’s call. “Turn unto the Lord.”
3. An act of faith in Him. “Your God.” An acknowledgment of God’s claim on us. How are we to turn? The prayer of the Lenten season suggests the answer, “Turn Thou us, O good Lord, and so shall we be turned.” (John Ellerton, M. A.)
Repentance, a rending of the heart
I. The exhortation or advice given. Rending the garments was a sign of great sorrow and amazement. This custom, when a sense of the evil of sin and true sorrow for it were wanting, degenerated into a hypocritical form. Therefore comes the command, “Rend your hearts.” From what must they be rent? From sin, especially your besetting sin. From earth and earthly things. From all creatures. From yourselves. From hypocrisy and formality, pride and self-confidence, unbelief, improper diffidence and distrust. How must they be rent? By godly consideration and self-examination; by conviction and humiliation, by shame and sorrow, by confession and abhorrence. Rend your hearts. The conscience must be pierced, the will conquered, the spirit humbled, the affections moved, and the old, hard heart made soft. The broken heart is God’s sacrifice. “And turn unto the Lord.” Do this by contemplation and thought, desire and prayer, faith and confidence, expectation and delight, gratitude and love. Turning we cannot do of ourselves. For what are we to turn? For illumination. For pardon. For Divine favour, communion, and fellowship.
II. The motives which enforce it. Evil is gone forth to chastise or punish sin. God is good, not only to” repent of the evil,” and do it not, but to do good. That He is “of great kindness” witness a dying Jesus, an entreating ministry, so many sweet promises and alluring mercies. Apply to the unconverted, backsliders, and the godly. (J. Benson.)
For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger.
The perfection of the mercy of God
Nothing is more true of God than that He is the first and chiefest good; His prime perfection is goodness, and our truest notion of Him is, that He is almighty goodness.
I. By way of vindication. And to give satisfaction to objections that arise against this great truth. Three objections.
1. Several instances of God’s severity are found recorded in Scripture: e.g., the Deluge; Destruction of Canaanites, etc. To this answer--
(1) When necessaries for our good are afforded, and by any neglected, the blame lies upon them.
(2) Sometimes the sins of nations and persons are come to their height, and God is forced to punish.
(3) The judgments of God in this life are exemplary and disciplinary: and better a mischief should fall on particular persons, than that a general inconvenience should follow.
(4) God sometimes lets us feel something of hell here, to prevent it hereafter.
(5) There may be a particular account given of several scriptural cases; e.g., Nadab and Abihu, and Ananias and Sapphira.
(6) Though we do not know what time or leisure God will allow to sinners to repent, yet we certainly know God will grant forgiveness to penitents.
(7) There is no other way for God’s forgiveness but the way of repentance. This is the tenor of the grace of God.
(8) We cannot competently judge the proceedings of God to His creatures.
2. God is represented as severe, in giving men up to a reprobate sense, stupidity, and hardness of heart. Answer--
(1) This case hath no promise.
(2) It is not fit for the exercise of grace or mercy, for this case is not compassionable. If some think that God, by an irresistible power, might have prevented all sin and misery, it may be answered,--Is it reasonable that God, having made voluntary and intelligent agents, should force them? Then there could be no exercise of virtue, for all virtue is in choice; and no happiness, for we should be under constraint. Of what use, in that case, would our natural faculties be? This would no longer be a probationary state. God draws; He does not force moral beings.
3. The necessity of justice in the case of sin. This objection will be resolved by a true explication of justice. God’s justice is the same with His integrity and uprightness. These consist with the reason of the thing, and the right of the case. It is not necessary that God should punish sin, but He may justly do it, for sin deserves punishment.
II. Explication of the phrases of the text. Five several words.
1. Gracious. Which imports to do good freely, without constraint: to go good above the measure of right and just; to do good without antecedent desert, or after-recompense.
2. Merciful. So as to compassionate His creatures in misery, so as to help them in respect of their infirmities, so as to pardon their iniquities.
3. Slow to anger. So as not to take advantage of His creatures, so as to overlook provocation; and so as to allow space for repentance.
4. Of great kindness. What He doth, He doth in pure good will, and for our good; not in expectation of being benefited by us; not according to the proportion or disposition of the receiver.
5. Repenteth Him of the evil. So as either it comes not at all; or it proves not what we fear and imagine; or it stays but a while if it do come; or He turns it into good.
III. Confirmation of the truth of the proposition of the text. Four names and titles given to God that make this out.
1. His creation in infinite goodness, wisdom, and power. The variety, order, and fitness of things to their ends, declare the wisdom of God.
2. Conservation, protection, and government, declare God to be good, and full of loving-kindness.
3. Restoration and recovery out of the state of sin and misery.
4. Future confirmation and settlement in glory and happiness.
IV. Caution is presented in the text. Seen in two particulars.
1. Not to abuse this declaration of Divine goodness, either by holding the truth in unrighteousness, or turning the grace of God into wanton ness.
2. Not to permit hasty or rash judgment. If anything seem harsh in the dispensation of providence, we may understand it in a little time; therefore he that believes should not make haste.
1. Here is matter of information. We have a true judgment of God when we think of His greatness in connection with His goodness.
2. Here is matter of imitation. We may resemble God.
3. Here is matter of consolation. To all that are willing to do well, and would be good. (B. Whichcote, D. D.)
I. The important direction given. The direction “Turn unto the Lord your God” presupposes--
1. A state of heedless inattention. The position from which they were to turn was one in which the back was upon God.
2. A state of careless and criminal negligence.
3. A state of obstinate disobedience. “Rend your heart.” The action of rending garments indicates--
1. Excessive grief.
2. Great loathing and abhorrence.
3. Deep humility and earnest deprecation.
II. The cheering assurance afforded. “For He is gracious and merciful,” etc.
1. This revelation warrants our approach. The words are expressive of the most melting compassion and tenderness.
2. This revelation requires your return to “the Lord,” your Proprietor, to whom you owe your all, and to whom you must account for all.
3. This revelation encourages your address. Ask, and receive now the effects of His grace and mercy. Pardon, healing, adoption, grace. All the present privileges of children. And finally, all their eternal enjoyments, (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Like some black rock that heaves itself above the surface of a sunlit sea, and the wave runs dashing over it, and the spray as it falls down its sides is all rainbowed, and there comes down beauty into the grimness of the black thing; so a man’s transgressions rear themselves up, and Christ’s great love coming sweeping over them, makes out of the sin an Occasion for the flashing more brightly of the beauty of His mercy, and turns the life of the pardoned soul into a lille of beauty. (Sunday Magazine.)
Who knoweth but He will turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him.
Encouragements to hope
I. The objects of the prophet’s hope.
1. That the Lord would return. This can only be in a way of manifestation; all idea of place or motion being utterly incompatible with a being who fills heaven and earth. God is said to depart when, being provoked by the sins of any people, He withdraws His wonted assistance; and to return when, His anger being appeased, He again shews Himself favourable. There is sometimes a sad parting between God and His people; not owing to any want of faithfulness in Him, but to those things in them which awaken His resentment, as pride, self-confidence, carnality, and worldly-mindedness.
2. That He would “repent.” Not change His nature or purposes, only His conduct. Though God cannot repent as men do, yet He may act as men do when they repent: He may cease to do what He had begun; He may revoke His threatenings, and recall His judgments.
3. He would “leave a blessing behind.”
(1) God never comes to His people empty-handed.
(2) What God gives we should at least in part return.
II. The nature of this hope. It rises no higher than a peradventure, lest they should sink into despondency, or lest they should give way to presumption and carnal security. Their hope must be mixed with fear, and their joy with trembling. A possibility--and much more, a probability--of obtaining mercy at the hand of God is a sufficient encouragement to a poor perishing sinner to seek, to trust in, and wait for Him.
III. The cases in which this hope, founded upon a probability of acceptance, may afford encouragement to souls in distress.
1. With respect to prayer.
2. With respect to repentance.
3. With respect to patient waiting upon God in seasons of trial.
4. With respect to our exertions for the good of others.
1. Improve this consideration so as to restrain and keep under a peevish, fretful, and impatient spirit.
2. Learn that God’s help is only to be expected in the use of appointed means. While we trust in the Lord, we must keep His way.
3. Let none persist in an evil course, on the presumption that He may find mercy at last. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The manner of the expectation is very humble and modest:--“Who knows if He will?” Some think it is expressed thus doubtfully, to check the presumption and security of the people, and to quicken them to a holy carefulness and liveliness in their repentance. Or rather, it is expressed doubtfully, because it is the removal of a temporary judgment that they here promised themselves, of which we cannot be so confident as we can that, in general, God is gracious and merciful. There is no question at all to be made, but that if we truly repent of our sins God will forgive us and be reconciled to us, but whether He will remove this or the other affliction which we are under may well be questioned, and yet the probability of it should encourage us to repent. Promises of temporal good things are often made with a peradventure. (Matthew Henry.)
The hope of repentance
The text is an encouragement to repentance, upon hope of mercy.
I. The matter of their hope.
1. The regaining of God’s grace and favour towards them.
2. The recalling of His threatenings and judgments.
3. The renewing of His mercies to them.
4. The re-establishing of His holy worship among them.
For the understanding the nature of this mercy, this return of God to us, will afford us these three considerations--
1. It is our main happiness to enjoy God’s presence, to have Him dwell amongst us.
2. It is the bitter fruit of sin, that it causeth God to withdraw His presence, and to turn away from us.
3. It is the blessed fruit of repentance, that it recovers God’s presence, causeth God to return graciously to us.
II. The measure of their hope. This is somewhat strange. ‘Tis but a cold encouragement, one would think; puts all their hopes upon a peradventure. ‘Tis but “Who knows? It may be so”; that’s all the assurance. It is a strange speech, seemingly contrary and inconsistent with God’s goodness. It is inconsistent with His present invitation of them to repentance. It is in consistent with His present encouragement. It seems contrary to His absolute covenant and promise to pardon penitents. What shall we think of this kind of speech? Show how this inkling and intimation of hope may be useful. (Bishop Brownrigg.)
Leaving blessings behind
In the Canton of Berne a mountain stream rushes in a torrent toward the valley, as if it would carry destruction to the villages below; but leaping from the sheer precipice of nearly nine hundred feet, it is caught in the clutch of the winds, and sifted down in fine, soft spray, whose benignant showering covers the fields with verdure. So sorrow comes, a dashing torrent, threatening to destroy us; but by the breath of God’s Spirit it is changed as it falls, and pours its soft, gentle powers on our hearts, leaving rich blessings upon our whole life. (J. R. Miller.)
Sanctify a fast.
A penitential assembly
I. It must be an assembly which shall be solemn in the spirit in which it meets. “Call a solemn assembly.” In all probability these words refer to the legal purifications which were enjoined upon the people prior to their entering upon the worship of the temple. They are also indicative of the moral purity and earnestness which should especially characterise a penitential assembly. All who attended this meeting were to be washed from the defilement of their past sin, and were to come and bow before the Lord in a renewed condition of soul. This was not an assembly to inaugurate social reform, to advance scientific research, or to determine a political policy; but to manifest a deep sorrow for national apostasy, and to turn aside the peril which had been awakened thereby. This meeting was not to vaunt the prowess of the nation, hut to confess sin before God; and surely only a solemn mood would avail at such a time. How beneficial would be the effect of such an assembly.
II. It must be an assembly in which every conceivable aid to repentance shall be regarded. “Assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.”
1. There was the pathos of sorrowful old age. Here is old age in tears because of the sin of the nation, and because of the evil of which it is guilty before God. The elders were present. They have known the nation long. They are concerned for its welfare. They are deeply moved by the judgments with which it is visited.
2. There was the pathos of imperilled childhood. The children of the nation were present at this meeting; not even infants were exempt from attendance. And would not the thought of the danger to which these innocent babes were liable, and their piteous cries, lead their parents to humiliation before God?
3. There was the abandonment of domestic festivities. The bridegroom went forth from his chamber, and the bride out of her closet, in order that they might attend the meeting thus imperatively called. The newly-married were not to be exempt from this penitential assembly. The most innocent festivities of life were to yield their joy to the refreshing and saving tears of repentance.
III. It must be an assembly in which the moral leaders of the people shall sustain their appropriate relation. “Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar.” The priests are to utter in public before God the inward feeling of the nation. This was a Divine arrangement. It was conducive to order. It was promotive of repentance. And so in the penitential assembly the moral leaders of the people must intercede on their behalf before God.
IV. It must be an assembly in which the mercy of God shall be earnestly supplicated. “Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?” The priests were not only to weep; they were also to pray. Tears without prayers are vain.
1. The prayer of the priest is for mercy. They ask God to spare their undeserving but repentant people. They make no excuse.
2. The prayer of the priest remembers the covenant of God with His people. They plead that God will save His people and His heritage. In our prayer of repentance we may plead the Divine Ownership of us and the Divine interest in us. Each soul is the heritage of God.
3. The prayer of the priests desires the glory of God. The Jews were the people of God. Thus the priests plead that national salvation may take away from their wicked enemies the opportunity of reproaching the Divine name.
1. That national assemblies should be frequently called to confess sin before God.
2. That they should combine all classes of individuals.
3. That they should be arranged by the ministers of the Gospel.
4. That they should prayerfully seek the glory of God. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
When God visits mankind in judgment, there are three calamities which He sends upon them, the sword, the famine, and pestilence. How are we to “sanctify a fast,” or make a holy thing of it, by a due and proper celebration? This is to be done--
I. By a confession of sin. When we confess, we should begin with confessing that sinfulness of our nature which is the root of all the sins of the world. We should proceed to confess the sins of our time, the first and greatest of which is the want of faith, or the neglect of Christianity. This want of faith is naturally followed by a neglect of Divine worship; for who will worship as a Christian, that does not believe as a Christian? When we are considering the sins of the age, it is hard to know where to begin, or where to end.
II. A resolution of amendment. Not by the devotion of a single day, but by a continued sense of the “terrors of the Lord” upon our lives and actions. While we have the light of the Gospel, let us value it, and walk by it.
III. A dependence upon the goodness and mercy of God. Penitents in the worst of times have everything to hope. What obligations then lie upon you at this moment, to be serious, to be sorrowful for past sin, devout and humble, constant in the worship of God, and sincerely devoted to His service for the time to come. (W. Jones, M. A.)
An urgently demanded meeting
Men are constantly assembling themselves together for one purpose or another,--political, commercial, scientific, entertaining. But of all the meetings none are so urgent as the one indicated in the text.
I. It is a meeting called on account of common sin. All the people of Judah had sinned grievously, and they were now summoned together on that account. No subject is of such urgent importance as this. Sin, this was the root of all the miseries of their country. It behoved them to meet together in order to deliberate how best to tear up this upas-tree, how best to dry up this pestiferous fountain of all their calamities.
II. It is a meeting composed of all classes. The young and the old were there; the sad and the jubilant; even the bridal pair; the priests and the people. The subject concerned them all. All were vitally interested in it. Sin is no class subject. It concerns the man in imperial purple, as well as the man in pauper’s rags.
III. It is a meeting for humiliation and prayer. It was not a meeting for debate or discussion, for mere social intercourse and entertainment, but for profound humiliation before God. Conclusion. No meeting is more urgently demanded to-day than such an one as this. (Homilist.)
Then will the Lord be Jealous for His land, and pity His people.
The Divine attitude towards repentant souls
I. Toward repentant souls God is strict in the manifestation of a jealous regard. “Then will the Lord be jealous for His land, and pity His people.” Thus we see the change which repentance makes in the circumstances and conditions of men. And God is jealous of the welfare and honour of the truly penitent soul. He will save it wisely from former enemies who have endangered it, and He will shield it kindly from all reproach which may threaten. The soul is His. He has redeemed it. He has given it the grace of repentance. He will be jealous for its good.
II. Toward repentant souls God is beneficent in the restoration of withdrawn mercies. “Yea, the Lord will answer.” etc. And happily true it is that while sin despoils life of many of its richest mercies, repentance with kind hand gives them back again. There is a glorious tendency in repentance to ameliorate and remove the loss and woe wrought by moral evil. Repentance does not always heal the pain of sin. It does not erase sad memories. It does not always restore a wasted bodily constitution. It does not always bring back the substance wasted in the far country. But its tendency is to do this The moral touches the material.
III. From the repentant soul God will turn aside the plagues which have previously afflicted it. “But I will remove far off from you the northern army,” etc. The repentant soul is beset by old enemies. They are in the hand of God. He can cover their plans with defeat. Lessons--
1. That God will protect the interests of repentant souls.
2. Let us see in the glad effect of repentance in this life a prophecy of the joy of the sinless life.
3. That the enemies of repentant souls will be brought to shame. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Divine favour the best alliance
These words are a Comfortable promise to Judah, upon a sincere humiliation and repentance, of the Divine kindness and favour; the earnest of all blessings, the fountain of all prosperity, success, and happiness that can attend a people, or they can reasonably wish or hope for.
I. In how exact a posture our affairs stand with those of Judah. Joel is supposed to point to the troubles of the reign of good King Hezekiah. We (1701) shall find that the coast from which we are alarmed and threatened, and the enemy from whom we apprehend our danger, has all the characteristics and marks of those enemies of the Hebrews described here by the prophet. They were powerful, cruel, and numerous. Neither is a foreign power the only evil we have reason to be apprehensive of and to provide against. We are a divided and dissatisfied people, maligning our governors, and murmuring at providence.
II. The necessity for seeking a suitable and seasonable remedy in these times of danger. It is the safest course for nations, when they are apprehensive of danger, to implore the Divine aid and assistance to their consultations and enterprises; to deprecate God’s wrath, and to engage His blessing. Self-preservation should engage us to cure a distemper in its beginnings and first approaches; lest, by indulging too long to it, it prove incurable and mortal. For when diseases are once deeply rooted, and become so mixed with the blood and humours as thoroughly to taint them, it costs the patient much more pain and time to bear the several courses and operations he is enjoined in order to a cure. To how near a crisis the malady of our sins has brought us; then how necessary it is to use the most effectual means for our recovery! There is great danger, if we dissolve our public peace, and do not timely cure our fatal divisions. It is not enough for us to think we have justice on our side, if we ourselves break God’s most holy laws. When people abuse mercies, and receive the grace of God in vain, it is the highest aggravation of guilt, and most apt to incense the goodness of God, thus abused and slighted. Hence He has often raised up wicked men, and wicked nations, as instruments to punish others, who were less such, but transgressed God’s laws against clearer light and plainer evidence. God, like a tender father, is jealous of, and resents deeply the transgressions of His children, whom gratitude and a stricter sense of duty ought to restrain and keep within due bounds.
III. Upon a due application of repentance we shall be safe. True repentance is a healing balm, like that of Gilead, that cures the wounds of our sins, and has a sovereign charm to render a nation invulnerable; having power enough to ward off the force of any stroke of Divine vengeance, though just ready to be given. Illustrate by pious Hezekiah and good Jehoshaphat. Repentance has such influence upon heaven as to reprieve from ruin some of the vilest people and most wicked princes, as in the cases of Nineveh and Ahab. Upon these considerations what should hinder us from speedily closing with God in a duty upon which our safety and happiness so much depend; and which, if we perform seriously and in earnest, we shall not fail of His powerful protection and succour? Every individual person ought to begin at home. Let us therefore acknowledge before God with the deepest sense of humility and contrition how unworthy we have rendered ourselves of the least of His mercies. Let us turn from our evil ways, and walk in those of true virtue, religion, and holiness, that so we may engage Him to be jealous for His land, and pity His people.” (John King, D. D.)
The glorious issue of repentance
The prophet was successful. The people gathered at a great and solemn national fast. Verse 18 reads in R.V., “Then was the Lord jealous for His land, and had pity on His people.” Then the message of the prophet becomes one of joy and hope. The scarcity shall be replaced by abundance. God will give the pledge of His loving regard in the sweet rain upon the burnt up and thirsty soil. He gives this gift of rain at first, because an after gift and a better one is to follow. Thus we reach the re-establishment of confidence and love. But we have reached a higher plane than merely the repose which comes because a terror has departed, and nature is resuming her normal regularity of beneficence. The true ground of the reposeful and confident spirit is this, that the people know the Lord is in their midst, and that He is their God and none else. Repentance if it is to do nothing else must convince men of that. It must establish the eternal fact of God’s presence. It must lead us to feel that we are God’s, and that we owe ourselves to Him. This confidence in the Lord their God alone is the first resting-place of our prophecy after the day of humiliation. But it is only a first resting-place. He who gave the former and the latter rain for the harvest gave them as gifts to be followed by others. A gift was coming which would lift the people into a much higher plane of thought, and into much more spiritual conceptions of life. It is the gift of the Spirit: it is the gift of new power upon repentant souls. The thought of the prophet carries with it a principle which to the men of his day must have been lofty, and perchance strange in its loftiness. This highest gift of God, like all gifts, is to make us great with that greatness which is service. Baptized with the Spirit, the apostles were baptized into the spirit of service. Here we see the higher region of the prophet’s ambition. It is not the restoration of temporal blessings which exhausts his desires on their behalf. He desires for them a spirit of true insight into the meaning and significance of life. One method of raising and rousing others is by awaking aspirations, by painting the possibilities which may yet be achieved. It is the Divine method to inspire by placing high possibilities, yet higher ranges of life and duty before our eyes. No doubt there is always something above earth in all the higher gifts of the Spirit. The poetic gift is the power to see--not what is not--but what is. “Imagination is the power to see things as they are.” The gift of the Spirit enables men to see the real significance of the facts of life--the true meaning of what men are, where they are, and why. This is exactly what the prophet has been leading us up to. The most real of all presences is the spiritual presence of Christ. The most real aspects of life for all men must be their spiritual aspects. The gift of the Spirit was to reveal the tremendous gulf which existed between life as men lived it and the life which God sought to see lived by men. Among the knights of Malta, the cross given and worn was the eight-pointed Maltese cross. The eight points signified the beatitudes. The cross was to be carried in the remembrance of the blessing which belonged to the poor in spirit, the sorrowful, the meek, the hungerers after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted. The Cross of Christ was to be carried in the Spirit of Christ. It is thus that the victory of Christ in the world will be won. More than ever we need the simple, guileless, loving, pure spirit of Christ. (Bishop Boyd Carpenter.)
Interaction of the Divine and human
I. That the material condition of a people depends upon the Divine operations.
1. The withdrawal of calamities. “I will remove far off from you the northern army,” etc. Men may and ought to employ means; but futile for ever will be all human efforts without the co-operation of Almighty power. This fact should teach us ever to look to Him and Him only for deliverance from evil at all times, both material and moral.
2. The bestowment of blessings. “The Lord will answer and say unto His people, Behold, I will send you corn,” etc. The productions of the earth are dependent every moment upon Almighty power.
2. That the Divine operations are influenced by the moral condition of the people. The priests and the ministers of the Lord wept between the altar, and said, “Spare Thy people, O Lord,” etc. “The porch before the temple was a hundred and twenty cubits high, twenty broad from north to south, and ten from east to west. The altar was that of burnt-offering in the court of the priests. Here, with their backs toward the altar, on which they had nothing to offer, and their faces directed towards the residence of the Shekina, they were to weep and make supplication on behalf of the people.” That the Divine conduct towards us depends upon our conduct towards heaven, is inexplicable to us although clearly taught in the Word of God. Indeed consciousness assures us that He is to us what we are to Him. It is absurd to suppose that God will alter the laws of nature because of human prayers and human conduct, says the sceptic scientist. But what laws of nature are more manifest, more universal, settled, and unalterable than the tendency of human souls to personal and intercessory prayer? Every aspiration is a prayer. Scripture abounds with examples of God apparently altering His conduct on account of man’s supplication.
III. That the right moral conduct of a people will ensure them Divine benediction. In these verses there is a beautiful gradation. First the destroyed land is addressed; then the irrational animals; then the inhabitants. All are called to cast off their fears and rejoice in the happy change which God would effect. It is too clear for either argument or illustration, that if you change the moral character of any country from ignorance to intelligence, from indolence to industry, from intemperance to self-discipline, the whole material region in which you live may abound with plentifulness and beauty. (Homilist.)
Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things.
The influence of a repentant soul upon the universe at large
I. There is a tendency in the influence of a repentant soul to bring back to the material universe the forfeited joy it was destined to possess. “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things.” The land is here said to have been in the mend of fear. It had abundant cause for terror. It had been stricken by the retributive hand of God. All its produce had been destroyed. It was desolate. It was yet threatened with more awful agencies of destruction. Sin has made the material universe to tremble. The mood of man is reflected in the material things by which he is surrounded; they reflect the terror of sin and the joy of repentance. Let man obey God, and Eden is a garden of the Lord. Let him disobey God, and earth becomes the abode of Satan. Let man be redeemed, and the earth begins to smile. Let man be glorified, and there is no more curse. When the race is saved, “the Lord will do great things” in nature. He will entirely change her moods. When the new earth dawns, she will know no fear.
II. There is a tendency in the influence of a repentant soul to render more fruitful the beneficent operations of nature. “Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig-tree and the vine do yield their strength And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil.”
1. There is peace. Man has in his soul the key to the quietude of the universe; when his soul is at peace with God, then the entire world is at rest.
2. There is growth. When man is at peace with God, then the earth is most potent in the exercise of its vitalities. The fruits of the earth are not far removed from the fruits of the Spirit.
3. There is super abundance. When man turns to God, the earth in superabundant blessing turns to man. When repentant in soul our cup runneth over. Nature is rich in treasure to the pure in heart. Repentance is a good friend to commerce.
III. There is a tendency in the influence of a repentant soul to cause a spirit of holy satisfaction to rest upon the world. “And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and My people shall never be ashamed.”
1. There is true enjoyment. Man shall eat in plenty. Nature shall not refuse to supply his want.
2. Here is real satisfaction. Not merely shall nature supply the need of man, but shall appropriately satisfy it.
3. Here is devout praise. The gifts of nature shall awaken men to holy thanksgiving. This is an ideal state of society. Thus will it be when all souls repose in the love of the eternal God.
IV. There is a tendency in the influence of a repentant soul to awaken men to a more thoughtful recognition of the presence of God in the midst of life. “And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and none else.” When a nation is given over to a sinful method of life, it has no recognition of God in its midst. It forgets Him. But repentance opens the eye of the moral nature and renders it keen in vision, so that it sees God. To see God in the midst of life is the supreme joy of the pure soul, because all things around partake of the lustre of His presence. This gives a solemn view of life. Lessons--
1. That the joy of the universe is conditioned by the moral sentiments of man.
2. That a pure soul is often the most enriched by nature.
3. That God is in the midst of a repentant humanity. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
A year’s ministry
A prophecy of national adversity, a call to national repentance, and a promise of national blessing, are the three great topics of Joel’s prophetic ministry. The last is represented by the text. The adversity, the repentance, and the blessing indicate a Divine order. If there is reason to fear that days “of darkness and gloominess” are settling down upon our own land, let not the Israel of God despair; the “people” and the “elders” shall assemble before God; lift up the voice of penitential confession, and cry in faith; the vows of a covenanted land shall be remembered and renewed, and the light of God’s countenance shall scatter the darkness. “Fear not, O land . . . the Lord will do great things.” The great things of the Lord’s doing comprehend the mission of the Saviour in the fulness of the time; the subsequent mission of His Holy Spirit; the millennial glory; and the final triumph of truth and righteousness in the world. Looking far beyond the intervening clouds of calamity and penitential sorrow, we behold a glory; and by faith we can hear from the distant future, in the trumpet-tongued voice of some messenger of the Lord, that consoling prophecy of the world’s last resting-time of love. “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things.” (T. Easton.)
Antidotes against the operation of desponding fear
Unto his beloved country Joel is not only the messenger of its misery, but the herald of its prosperity.
I. The promise of doing great things as an antidote to fear. The fear implied is desponding and unreasonable fear.
1. The causes and occasions of such fear are,--the enterprises of the gates of hell, the tyranny of the man of sin, the wrath of the kings of the earth, the bulwarks of superstition, the efficacy of delusion, the battering-rams of infidelity, and the fierce contentions for: dominion of empire with empire, and kingdom with kingdom.
2. Exemplify the strength and sufficiency of the antidote to this fear, in the promise of doing great things. Apply to the above several occasions and causes of the fear.
3. Enforce the caveat entered against this fear with the promise. In order that the strength and sufficiency of the antidote may be felt in experience, read the record of the great things which the Lord hath done: believe the promises of the great things which He will do; assure yourselves that before the Church be swallowed up by the world, the great things which He hath done shall be done over again; and observe that the caveat against desponding fear is entered, and its antidote prescribed and recommended, under the authority of the Lord who is both the doer and the promiser.
II. The promise of doing great things, which is the ground of the admonition, is an excitation to express the joy for which the admonition is given. Mention some great things which the Lord will do. Protect the reformed faith, furnish a ministry to preach it, raise out of every generation professors to hold it, reconcile the remnant of the seed of Abraham, gather in the fulness of the Gentiles, fill the earth with His glory, crush the insurrection of the last days, rend the heavens and come down, raise and judge the dead, dissolve the frame of the world, present the whole Church faultless in the presence of His glory, and reign over it for ever. Consider the nature of the joy for which the admonition is given, and unto which the promise of doing these great things is an excitement. The Father of glory is the fountain of it; the Saviour of the world is the medium of it; the Spirit of holiness is the author of it; the Scriptures of truth are the means of it; the city of God is the cistern in which it collects; the congregations of the citizens are the openings at which it breaks forth; and their lives the plains over which it flows. Then let us provoke ourselves to rejoice in His goodness and truth and power. In our island the Lord hath done great things, is doing great things, and according to our hope will do great things.
III. Excitation to rejoice needs to be accompanied with instruction concerning the expression of our joy. We shall set before your faith some expressions of joy which correspond to the admonition, and by which it ought to be honoured in the city of God. Particularly, by observing the works of the Lord in the administrations of providence; adoring His glory breaking forth in these works; honouring His name appearing in them with the obedience of faith; trusting in His promises; praying for the performance of the promises which remain yet to be fulfilled; and waiting for the performance of these promises. Then take care to express your joy in each of these forms distinctly. (A. Shanks.)
The Divine response to the challenge of evil
I. Our attention is arrested first by the “great things” of sin and judgment. Some scholars give the text and context literal interpretations; they construe it to mean that in consequence of the sins of Israel God will send upon the land swarms of locusts which shall destroy every green thing. Others give the text an allegorical interpretation. They say that God threatens to let loose upon Israel a fierce invading army, which like a swarm of locusts will eat up the nation. Be this as it may, the chapter unmistakably sets forth the terrible, devouring power of sin, and the retributions which arise out of sin, and this is a warning that all generations ought to consider and respect. The swarming locusts remind us of the multitudinousness of evil. Evil envelops us, attacks us, torments us on every side. You may crush a locust, you may crush a score, you may crush a thousand, it makes no appreciable difference, myriads more crowd in hungrily, and give you the sense of hopelessness. So the evils that afflict the world are manifold, and it seems useless to resist them; practically they are infinite and overwhelming. What a picture this chapter gives of the fiery energy, the swiftness, the restlessness, the practical irresistibility of the locusts! “The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen so shall they run.” “Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble.” So there is an awful wrathfulness, facility, and effectiveness about evil passions, evil movements, and evil things. It takes a century to build up an oak, but the lightning flash blasts it in a moment. Again, these locusts remind us of the pervasiveness of evil. “They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall; they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief.” You cannot exclude evil; it penetrates everywhere, it defiles everything. It mocks at personal vigilance. The black locusts swarm on all the roses of our pleasure, they devour the golden fruits of our industry, they strip the vine and fig-tree of our domestic felicity, they defile the pomegranates and palms of our sacred places. These locusts suggest another terrible aspect of evil, namely, that it expresses a certain law, order, and government. “They shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks.” The New Testament makes this clear, that the world of iniquity is a realm of government. Finally, the locusts symbolise the destructiveness of sin. “The land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness.” We cannot to-day look upon this world without feeling how awful sin is, and how terrible its consequences are. How painful are the aspects of the world beyond Christendom, how painful,, the scenes on which we look! Sin has “magnified itself to do great things, and it has done them. It has boasted itself against nature, and filled the earth with disorder, cruelty, and anguish. It has boasted itself against man, and covered him with dishonour, pierced him with misery, dug his grave. It has boasted itself against God, spoiling His works, thwarting His purpose, grieving Him at His heart. It has done great things. It is doing them, it is preparing to do them. We often stand appalled in the presence of evil; we are awed by it, staggered by it. There is something in it that is so mysterious, immeasurable, unfathomable, unaccountable. All our efforts to arrest it seem ridiculous. Scientists identify it with the cosmical force. Philosophers recognise in it the authority of necessity. Reformers and educationists faint as they struggle against the sea-power of evil. And the religious worker often feels the terrible chill of despondency and despair.
II. We dwell upon the “great things” of the Divine grace. “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things.” The adversary has magnified himself, vaunted himself, to do “great things,” and God responds to his challenge: “I, the Lord, will do great things; I will show that My strength prevails against the rage of evil, I will drive the locusts into the sea, I will destroy the destroyer, and bring his work to a perpetual end.”
1. Let us notice the wonderful way in which God limits evil. “But I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate., with his face towards the cast sea, and his hinder part towards the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things.” If we look into nature we see that limits have ever been put to the destructive forces. The geologists tell us this. The wild, terrible, murderous dragons of the primitive age were held in check. According to the theory of some scientists, the stronger animals invariably destroy the weaker, but, if that be so, how is it that these awful primeval monsters, all teeth and claws, did not take possession of the earth and keep possession? It is certain that they did not; palaeontology answers us that the best armed species are those which have almost always disappeared. There were laws and forces which hedged in the wildest elements, and gave security and permanence to the weaker but nobler races. And we to-day see the same restraints put upon the noxious things of nature. The naturalist makes this clear. In New Guinea is a venomous bird known as the “Bird of Death.” Its bite causes excruciating pain, blindness, and lockjaw. No person bitten by it, it is asserted, has recovered, and death comes within a few hours. How is it that this bird of bad omen has not multiplied and taken possession of the forests? How is it that the birds of Paradise manage to survive by its side? Or, to come nearer home, how is it that the hawk does not exterminate the sweet singers of our woods? The “devil plant” of the Mississippi is most fatal; ii kills insects and cattle, and rich meadow lands shrivel at its insidious approach as if they had been touched with fire. How is it that the infernal thing remains within certain regions? In Nicaragua is the “vampire vine,” which seems literally to drain the blood of every living-thing, which comes within its deathdealing touch. How is it that this vampire vine does not prevail, and drive out the vine whose purple clusters make glad the heart of man? One of the old kings had a garden planted solely with poison flowers; how is it that the whole earth has not become such a garden? The fact is, there is a vigilant, benign law, a balance of nature, which keeps these formidable growths within limit beyond which they cannot pass, and, instead of sickly colours, vile odours, and deadly poisons dominating the panorama, the landscape is full of loveliness, fragrance, and health. The octopus, the alligator, the shark threaten the seas, but the same law prevails there that prevails on the land, shielding whatsoever passeth through the depth of the seas. And the physiologist tells us the same story. One would expect that diseases of the blood and brain would be transmitted from one generation to another, until the whole race would become infected, and the earth degenerate into a lazar house; but the physiologist answers us that there is “a limit to the transmission of abnormal characteristics.” And if you look into history you are taught exactly the same lesson. The Pharaohs, the Neros, the Attilas, the Mahomets, the Tamerlanes, the Alvas, the Napoleons now and again threaten civilisation; it lies helpless and bleeding at their feet; but the historian shows that there is always a rock on which their Armadas suffer shipwreck, a Moscow in which their armies perish. And it is thus to-day in this world of ours. All about us are horrible things, infectious literature, vile institutions, degrading practices, which threaten the very life of the nation. And prowling around are thousands of selfish, cruel monsters, ready to prey on their helpless fellows. It is a mystery that they do not eat us up. But they do not. Just as there is a secret law circumscribing the shark, the vampire, the corpse plant, the upas, so God’s eye is upon the drinking, saloon, the infamous press, the gambling club, the camera obscura of lust, the prize ring, the opium den, and all the rest of the terrible things which menace civilisation, and the proud, raging waves of hell foaming out their own shame are broken on unseen, mystic sands which God has fixed as the bounds over which they may not pass. He limits one bad thing by another bad thing; He limits one bad thing by a thing less bad; He limits all bad things by the golden ring of His perfect sovereign government.
2. But God does not merely intend to limit evil; He designs the full triumph of righteousness. It is not enough that He should restrain the force and fury of the devil within given breakwaters; He means to confound evil, to abolish it. “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord hath done great things.” “And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten.” “The Lord hath done great things” in the direction of this absolute victory. The Gospel is a revelation of “great things.” The advent of our Lord; His personal moral glory; His ministry; His passion; His atoning death; His resurrection; His ascension into heaven; His sending forth of the Holy Spirit; His session at the right hand of God,--these are the mighty accomplished facts of redemption which justify our boast that the Lord hath done “great things.” Over against the destructive things and methods of wickedness He has put a “great salvation” which was first spoken by the Lord, and which was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him. And in its application the “great salvation” has vindicated its name. At once in the actual world the first evangelists proved its efficacy. The “great things” of God at once assert themselves against the “great things” of darkness, against the rulers of this world. And is not Christianity the great force that overcomes evil in the world of to-day? It is the saving power in the heathen world. And here at home the “great things” of the Gospel are the hope of society. Not!ling goes to the root of the evil we bemoan but the doctrines of the Gospel; nothing really grapples with sin but the power of grace; nothing creates amongst us a living, organic righteousness except the truth and love and power of God in Jesus Christ. And it will continue to save and bless. Do not lose heart, do not be overwhelmed by the vision of evil. (W. L. Watkinson.)
These promises are applied and amplified. Application is made to the land, that it should not fear, but rejoice seeing God was to do eat things; and to the beasts, that they should lay aside their fear, since the earth was to be blessed with pasture and fruit. Learn--
1. The Lord would have His promises and comforts applied to them to whom they are given, for their refreshment.
2. God’s kindness to penitents will be such, as not only to refresh themselves, but to gladden and refresh their land, their beasts, and all in their kind.
3. Penitents are instrumental to draw down blessings on themselves and on what they enjoy.
4. God’s care of the earth, and of the very cattle, may assure penitents of His respects to them.
5. God, when He pleaseth, can make fears end in joy, and the hope thereof should bring joy, when fear is vet on.
6. God’s great power who promiseth, and who hath given proof thereof in executing threatenings, may guard against fear, and afford ground of hope, were the thing promised never so great and difficult.
7. God can, and in due time will remove the fears of His people, by giving actual proofs of His love, for so are they encouraged by the promises made to the beasts for their sake and good. (George Hutcheson.)
I will restore to you the years which the locust hath eaten.
The great Restorer
Locusts are happily unknown in England. We have only the harmless grasshopper here. Where plagues of locusts are known no one could Wonder that the writer of this book should represent them as a veritable army, leaving the desolations of war in their train, a desolation which would naturally take whole years to repair. Herein is a picture of some years in the life of humanity. A German philosopher has summed up our earthly state in the words, “Man has two and a half minutes here below--one to smile, one to sigh, and half a one to love; for in the midst of this minute he dies.” It is so apart from God. He is the only Restorer. Deny God, and the locusts are victorious for ever; the desolation is final and complete. Some years in some lives, and some lives as a whole, do seem to have fallen a prey to the locusts. We all know when we are wronged. And most of us feel keenly wrongs endured by others. The words of the text are spoken to a repentant nation. “I will restore.” God is pledged to do so by His very being. To that He must be true. So great is this necessity that God--may I say it?--does not trouble to be consistent on any lower plane. He is ever true to that name, which means far more than anything we know under the name Love. Years may be apparently eaten by locusts which are not really so. When God’s hereafter is recognised, what possibilities of restoration appear! The Incarnate Word came to do the work of restoration from sin, and the miseries it has caused and causes. (W. A. Cornaby.)
Lost years can never be restored literally. Time once past is gone for ever. The locusts did not eat the years--the locusts ate the fruit of the years’ labour, the harvests of the field: so that the meaning of the restoration of the years must be restoration of those fruits and of those harvests which the locusts consumed. You cannot have back your time; but there is a strange and wonderful way in which God can give back to you the wasted blessings, the unripened fruits of years over which you have mourned. The fruits of wasted years may yet be yours. By giving to His repentant people larger harvests than the land could naturally yield, God could give back to them, as it were, all they would have had if the locusts had never come; and God, by giving you larger grace in the present and in the future, can make the life which has hitherto been blighted, and eaten up with the locust, the caterpillar and the palmer-worm of sin, and self, and Satan, yet to be a complete, a blessed, and useful life to His praise and glory. Linger over this mystery of love. Picture the spirits of evil, year after year bearing away from the fields of human life all their harvests. Whither have they borne the precious products? The fruits of wasted years are gone--gone past hope. Yet the Lord wilt bring forth life out of the tomb; those long-lost spells shall be restored. Is anything too hard for the Lord? Does not the very difficulty, yea impossibility, of the enterprise make it the more worthy of the Almighty? To him that believeth all things are possible. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The cankered years
The moral not the picturesque aspect of the visitation of locusts is uppermost in the prophet’s mind. He proclaims it as a punishment for the people’s sin, and as a call to repentance. If they shall repent, he promises a blessing which shall amply atone for past suffering. Wasted and blasted years are a fact in most human lives. The appalling thing is the years which have been eaten up by little, scarcely appreciable agencies, like a caterpillar or a canker-worm. Years which have gone, frittered away, we do not know how, and for which we have nothing whatever to show, years devoured in trifles; years that fleeted, as on the wings of a hurricane, in the wild rush of dissipation, and out of which are left only the broken strains of old songs, and a few dry leaves of withered garlands. The exquisitely bitter thought in this vision of wasted years is that of our own share in the desolation; and when our eyes are once fairly opened to the waste, our first impulse is to cast about for some method of restoration. How does God deal with facts like these? Does His economy include any law of restoration? It is evident that any economy of restoration must not only be based on superhuman wisdom, but must include superhuman compassion. “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap,” is a law which God does not violate in morals any more than in the fields. Viewed simply as a matter of law, the wasted years cannot be restored. The element of expiation only evades the difficulty. It does not meet it. Suffering is not a fair equivalent for the results of neglect or of wilful wrong. How contrition may affect one’s moral relations to God is one thing; how it affects the results of his wrong-doing or idleness is quite another and a different thing. An ocean of tears will not give hack life nor innocence. Repentance is a great power, but there are some things which repentance cannot do. On this side the truth is awful in its inflexibility. I pity the materialist when he comes to the question of repairing moral waste. I pity the positivist before the frantic appeal of a remorseful soul. If God does not ignore the action of the physical law, which is none the less His law, that law must at least be taken up and carried somehow in the sweep of a larger law. Perhaps it is not possible to formulate that larger law. At any rate it is not necessary, however desirable it might be. We want to know how it touches a man standing penitently in view of his eaten years. Some things may give us consolation and hope.
1. We have the general sweeping promise of God. “I will restore the eaten years. We might fall confidently back on that alone. Restoration, according to the Divine ideal, is a possibility and a fact in the Divine economy. And some features of the process we know. For example, God turns the man entirely away from the thought and the work of literal restoration. He does not ask him to make good, in the sense of a literal equivalent, the waste of the past. His concern is with the present and the future, not with the past. Whatever God may do with the faultful past, a penitent soul can only leave it in God’s hands. His work now is not to make good the past, but to give himself to the development of his new life as a new creature in Christ Jesus. The self-scrutiny of a repentant and forgiven man ought to be directed not at what he has been, but at what he is. Still, it is not restoration, that a man should simply leave the past behind him. God gives certain things which were forfeited in the wasted years of sin. God does not let the darkness of a man’s past come up like a cloud between the man and the outraying of His Divine tenderness. The faultful past may, and often does, poison human affection. Human nature forgives hesitatingly, and there is a background of suspicion behind reinstated confidence. But God believes in the possibility of a genuine repentance, and frankly accepts it. Repentance is a factor of immense meaning in God’s economy of restoration. When God heals a man’s backslidings, He loves him freely. Restoration is included in restored sonship. There are certain incidents on the line of actual restoration which are noteworthy. God has a wonderful power of bringing good out of evil, and of getting interest even out of the evil of wasted years. In manufacturing communities, large fortunes are sometimes made out of what is technically called “waste.” God discerns facts and possibilities in waste which we cannot see and could not be trusted to see. Illustrate from the story of John B. Gough. God strikes at the evil, but He saves the power out of the wreck, and the man carries the matured power over to the side of God’s kingdom, and makes it an instrument of spiritual victory and conquest. We do not, and we cannot know what God does with the irrevocable and the irremediable in men’s evil past; but we do know that He makes those barren and blasted heritages bloom again, and bring forth thirty, sixty, and an hundredfold. Both the Bible and Christian history are full of the grand fruitful work of restored men, men with large tracts of blasted years behind them. The best thing in restoration is getting back to God. Renewal, fruitfulness, peace, are not in our new resolutions, not in our turning to new duties; they are in His presence, His touch upon us, His guidance. The promise of restoration shall have a higher fulfilment by and by. “In God all lost things are found, and they who habitually plunge themselves in God and abide in Him, never become too rich. Nay, they find more things than they can lose.” Let us not, however, presume upon all this to neglect our heritage. Let us not be tempted by this revelation of God’s amazing goodness and restorative power, to think lightly of blight and bareness. God’s promise of restoration is no encouragement to presumption. It does not make any less terrible the blight and canker which are due to our neglect or waste. God help us all! These lives of ours have been so faulty, so fitful, so unproductive. What shall we do? Surely not unduly mourn over the past, when He says, “I will restore.” (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
These words refer to a twofold restoration.
I. The restoration of lost material mercies. “I will restore you the years that the locust hath eaten.” Restoration is God’s peculiar work. Who but He can restore the earth? An insect may destroy a giant; but God alone can restore the life of a dying flower. Restoration is God’s constant work. From death He brings life to all nature. Spring is the grand annual illustration of it. God restores lost temporal blessings to His people in two ways--
1. By giving back the same in kind, as in the case of Job; and
2. By restoring that which answers the same purpose.
II. The restoration of lost religious privileges. What are these?
1. Worship. “And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and My people shall never be ashamed.”
2. Communion. “And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and none else.” (Homilist.)
And ye shall eat in plenty.
The promise of plenty a motive to gratitude
I. The branches of this promise.
1. “Ye shall eat in plenty.” To eat and to eat in plenty, are pleasures which threatenings have disjoined and separated.
2. Satisfaction. “Be satisfied.”
3. The body is refreshed and nourished.
4. Contentment with our portion.
5. The power to eat.
6. Interest in the promise of eating is manifested and apprehended.
7. The blessing is in satisfaction.
8. God is enjoyed as our God in Christ. “And praise the name of the Lord.”
These words point to a comprehensive duty.
1. Acknowledging the goodness of the Lord our God in creating plenty and bestowing satisfaction.
2. Rejoicing m the goodness of the Lord our God, “who giveth us fruitful seasons, and filleth our heart with food and gladness.” Joy in His name is a chief part of praise. Though the good be a material or sensible good, the joy in which we praise Him is a spiritual joy.
3. Serving the Lord our God, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our life.
4. Exercises concerning the person, and office, and beauty, excellence, riches, treasures, fulness, and sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ, are essential in the praise which glorifies the name of the Lord God.
II. The motive to humble ourselves and praise the name of the Lord God. There is something in God’s dealing that is wondrous. See in Joel’s sphere.
1. Calling off and destroying the devouring army is wondrous.
2. After the devastation, the springing of the earth is wondrous.
3. The season able rain which cooled the air and moistened the earth is wondrous.
4. The uncommon fertility of the years which succeeded the ravages of the army and the drought is wondrous. Make application to those who are in easy and affluent circumstances. Also to poor householders, etc. (A. Shanks.)
Using aright God’s restored blessings
What use should be made of these returns of God’s mercy to them?
1. God shall have all the glory thereof. What is the matter of their rejoicing shall be matter of their thanksgiving. The plenty of our creature comforts is a mercy indeed to us, when by them our hearts are enlarged in love and thankfulness to God, who gives us all things richly to enjoy, though we serve Him but poorly.
2. They shall have the credit, and comfort, and spiritual benefit thereof. When God gives them plenty again, and gives them to be satisfied with it--
(1) Their reputation shall be retrieved.
(2) Their joy shall be revived.
(3) Their faith in God shall be confirmed and increased.
We should labour to grow in our acquaintance with God by all providences, both merciful and afflictive.
3. Even the inferior creatures shall share therein, and be made easy thereby. They had suffered for the sin of man, and for God’s quarrel with him, and now they shall fare the better for man’s repentance and God’s reconciliation to him. This may lead us to think of the restitution of all things, when the creature, that is now made subject to vanity and groans under it, shall be brought, though not into the glorious joy, yet into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21). (Matthew Henry.)
Joel comforts Israel with a declaration of God’s mercies, tie speaks of a change for the better which God would bring upon the Jews’ land,--a change from drought and barrenness, from blight and devouring insect, to fertility and large increase. Joy in harvest is a practice as old as any that is in the world. We find it in heathen as well as in Christian times. Especially do we find it among God’s own people, the Israelites. Their Feast of Tabernacles is also called the Feast of the Ingathering, or the Feast of the Harvest. For seven days they rejoiced together before the Lord. They brought an offering, some fruit of their land, each according to his ability, and as God had blessed him. In this they are our example. To a certain extent this joy at harvest has always been found amongst us. The shouting for the last load, the harvest supper in the master’s barn, witness to this feeling. Of late years there have come into use what are called Harvest Festivals. These do not interfere with the old customs of harvest joy. They only lift that joy into a higher sphere by adding the religious element. Praising God is our bounden duty at this time. And an unusual spirit of thankfulness seems to be now upon our people. Such a general remembering of the name of the Lord God is most refreshing to witness, and fraught with good omen for our country. We take our side with those who depart not from the living God, “Giver to all of life and breath, and all things.” The praise of our lips must be seconded by the praise of our life. (R. D. B. Rawnsley, M. A.)
Praise for plenty
I. The promise of an ample sufficiency of food for the use of man. “Ye shall eat in plenty.” Such, from the productiveness of the earth, the excellence of the weather to ripen, and for the gathering in of the late harvest, ought to be the case with even the most toiling and humble classes of our fellow-countrymen during the winter. The poor are greatly dependent on the bounties of Providence.
II. The duty of praise. “Ye shall praise the name of the Lord your God.” It was a charge brought by Jeremiah against the Jews, that they overlooked the hand of God in filling them with the finest of the wheat. Many considerations are adapted to excite and strengthen our gratitude for the blessings of the harvest. All was suspended on the will of God; and where should we have been if God had rewarded us according to our iniquities? Now turn to consider the higher signification of which the text is capable. Not one thing mentioned, as the subject of promise or the ground of duty, but has an evangelical complexion, and may be applied to the Gospel in its nature and claims.
(1) Look at the provision of the Gospel. There is no emblem under which the blessings of salvation are more commonly or more aptly exhibited than that of food. The Gospel is the bread of life. It is placed before us with unstinted and ungrudging liberality.
(2) Look at the satisfaction. There is this material difference between earthly and heavenly things. The meat for which men labour is perishable. To live in peace as to the safety of the soul, is not that satisfying?
(3) Look at the praise. If praise is duo for temporal blessings, how much more is it due for our eternal redemption, for gospel provisions. (Anon.)
My people shall never be ashamed.--
The courage and confidence of God’s people
Of God the prophet says, “He shall deal wonderfully with you.”
I. The nature and ground of that confidence under which believers “shall never be ashamed.” They that fear the Lord rest upon the strong arm of Omnipotence; therefore they are not afraid. In the hour of their temptation the precepts of God are the source of their spiritual vigour. They build on a foundation which shall never shake under them, therefore they tremble not in the day of adversity. The sure and certain promises of God, given through Christ by the Gospel, afford to the faithful in Christ a never-failing source of courage and confidence in the day of trial. “The righteous is bold as a lion” in the face of danger; for his anchor of hope is thrown out, and holds fast to the eternal rock of his salvation. Time cannot shake the courage of the faithful; for this courage has it’s graft in a Divine stock, which is eternal.
II. The effect of this Godly boldness and confidence. Shame and confusion of face bring distress and disquietude. There cannot be true peace within, where there is habitual feeling of shame, and sense of dread, doubt, and misgiving. The courage of the people of God is a state of peace within, solidly based, strongly secured beneath the adamantine bars of Divine grace, redeeming love, the Gospel’s gladdening voice and elevating spirit. A state of well-tried and well-founded courage is a state of well-assured and well supported peace. And the tranquillity depends not upon outward things for its permanency, but rests upon the watchful guardianship and unchangeable love of the Shepherd and Bishop of souls. See the great excellency of the benefit of this gift of godly courage. Is it not desirable to be enabled to walk through life, securely armed amid its storms, in a track undeviating, fixed, and stedfast, preserving the even tenor of a godly course, without weariness and with out wavering? This is the sound consistency of character which we should all aim after. What shall give you confidence in the day of adversity, but the sure provision of Divine grace laid up in the soul? What shall give you bold ness in the day of Christ’s appearing, but the love you have had for Christ, the concern you have shown for the ‘tone thing needful,” and the diligence you have used in “working out your salvation with fear and trembling “? (W. Stone, M. A.)
No condemnation to the righteous
There are few men in whom the moral sense is so extinguished that they never think at all of a judgment to come. But there are “many deceits by which the worldly minded may impose on themselves. Putting off consideration to a more convenient season. Attempting to serve two masters. But religion is not a thing for half measures. Who are those who shall never be ashamed? They are described as “the people of God.” Not persons wholly free from sin. Those who hate sin, and are earnestly striving to be wholly freed from it. Their sins are sins of ignorance or infirmity; and these, though they call for sorrow, can hardly demand shame. The people of God are those in whom there is honesty and integrity of moral purpose, rather than actual conformity to the whole law of God.
I. The man of God has no cause to be ashamed when he searches into himself. Arraign him before the tribunal of conscience. There could be nothing of shame where there was nothing of sin. Shame entered the world with sin. Our first parents had no sooner transgressed than conscience poured out its reproaches, and they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord. When his own heart is laid open to a man, he shrinks from the scene of foulness and deformity. He cannot look into a single recess of his heart without finding fresh cause for confusion of face. Can a man ever be so transformed that he may search into himself and find no reason to be ashamed? It is not true that he can ever examine himself and find no impurity. But his paramount desire, and unwearying endeavour, may be to obey in everything the law of his God. When he falls into sin, it is not because he loves it; and his every offence is quickly followed by penitence and confession. If a man “have respect unto all God’s commandments,” conscience may produce the catalogue of his sins, and yet not put him to shame. If a man have not sinned deliberately, and if he have repented sincerely, there is nothing of which he needs to be ashamed.
II. The man of God has no cause to be ashamed when he stands before the world. Arraign him before the tribunal of the world. Nothing but a clear conscience will enable us to look the world clearly and calmly in the face. We know how, in extreme cases, the inquietude of conscience will make a man afraid to meet his fellow-man. Probably much of the reluctance that is observable among Christians to reprove unrighteousness and assert cause of truth may be traced to a consciousness of their own inconsistency, which makes them ashamed to condemn what they too often practise, and recommend what they are apt to neglect. It is quite essential, in order that we be not ashamed before men, that we be not ashamed at the tribunal of conscience. The world is very disposed to impute wrong motives to the professors of religion--to put a false construction on actions which should excite the praise of all honest and well-meaning men. What is to secure Christians in the midst of unceasing endeavours to laugh them to scorn? They must uphold the characteristics of God’s people, and have respect unto all God’s commandments. There is no other receipt against shame. The people of God must carry religion with them into every business of life, and see that all scenes are pervaded by its influence. Christians should bear themselves with that lofty dignity which no calumny could disturb.
III. The man of God has no cause to be ashamed when he stands before God. Here it will not serve our argument to say that there is no love of sin, for every offence must be known. Indeed, if the blush is to be removed from our hearts, only by a consciousness that though God may search us and try us, He will find no evil in us, we must be left without confidence. But the people of God have respect unto all God’s commandments; and amongst these from the first have been reckoned the commandments which relate to faith. Here we have the ground-work of confidence before God, notwithstanding our own insufficiency. There is a breadth and fulness in the work of atonement which makes it commensurate with every necessity, leaving nothing unperformed which either human wants or Divine honour could demand. Then how are God’s people to be ashamed before God? (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The explorer may be ashamed because the route he has patiently followed may lose itself in the waste, or the theory he has adopted may fail to explain all the facts. The discoverer may be ashamed because the unknown substance will not yield up its secrets to his tests. But God’s people shall never be ashamed--never in this world, never in the next. In the hour of death and in the day of judgment, never ashamed.
I. Never ashamed in offering prayers which God has Himself indited. There are many prayers, doubtless, in which we shall be ashamed. We endeavour to impose our will on the Eternal, with strong cryings and team, as though to carry His unwillingness by the rush of our assault. Nay, it is not thus that we shall prevail. Of these prayers we shall often have good reason to be ashamed. But the true prayer is far other than this.
II. Never ashamed in our appeal for help against temptation. Temptations do not cease with increasing years. There may be now and then a brief lull and respite, but the storm will break with all the greater intensity. The temptations which you overcame in earlier life will come back again, urged on you by cleverer, subtler, more crafty spirits than before. Our only hope is to remain in union with the Risen, Living Saviour, whose Name is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow of things under the earth.
III. Never ashamed in the result of words which He has given us to speak, or in the missions on which He has sent us. We may be very often ashamed as we consider the result of the elaborated sentences and perfected style; very much ashamed of the net result of enterprises which we have planned and executed with consummate care. Where are your sheaves? I have none. And why is this? Because our work has been in the power of the flesh.
IV. Never ashamed of our hope. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
My people shall never be ashamed.
Religion, a source of constant confidence
Joel was the bearer of very heavy tidings. Their sins had exceeded the bounds of Divine patience.
I. The character under which the persons mentioned in the text appear before us. He calls them “My people.” This shows that they belong to God by some peculiar appropriation. He speaks of them as having His favour, as deriving blessings from Him, and as feeling, under a consciousness of His presence abiding with them, a confidence which the wicked never possess. They are a chosen people; a sanctified people; and an obedient people. They are always set upon obedience, and sorry when they do not render it.
II. The honourable and encouraging statement which God makes concerning them. “My people shall never be ashamed.”
1. They shall not be ashamed of their principles. Which serve them at all times. And they are good, profitable to society, and calculated to advance the interests of men!
2. They are not ashamed of the singularity which distinguishes their conduct.
3. Of the confidence which they repose in God. And they shall not be ashamed amid the terrors of the last great day. (W. Curling, M. A.)
After the desolation caused by the locusts is to come a time of great fruitfulness. In the words, “My people shall never be ashamed,” we have a great principle of God’s government announced, and the promise is emphatically repeated.
I. The significance of the promise. It covers all history, and the whole individual life, and reaches on “within the veil.” The promise involves--
1. An implied assertion of surrounding troubles and conflict. Much which is calculated to put men to shame, and to cause doubt and sorrow; e.g., loathsome diseases, fearful crimes, error perverting and hindering truth, drunkenness, ignorance, immorality at our doors and in our streets. Where sin is, there must be shame.
2. An express encouragement to stedfast faith. God “undertakes for” His people.
3. A sure prediction of final triumph. The promise has progressive fulfilment. Shame and fear are again and again beaten back until the last victory comes, and shame and sin are left behind for ever.
II. The character of those to whom the promise is made. God’s people are put in antithesis with the heathen, the ungodly, the unbelieving. They are those who have turned to Him in true penitence, have experienced His pardoning love, and now trust in Him. They are “led by the Spirit.” Can we take the comfort of this promise? On one side of man’s destinies is certainty of shame; on the other, assurance of glory. Troubles shall issue in joy; trials shall conduct to triumph. (W. Saumarez Smith, B. D.)
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh.
The new Gospel era
The prophet had encouraged the nation to repentance by announcing the temporal blessings which would be consequent thereon. They would get the former rain, they would get the latter rain. The floors would be filled with wheat, and the fats would overflow with wine and oil. Desolation would vanish, plenty would return. This was the lower sphere of benediction consequent upon their repentance. Now the prophet mentions the higher blessing to follow,--the spiritual, of which the temporal was but a type.
I. That the new Gospel era would be characterised by a copious outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28).
1. The time. “Afterward.” “In those days.” To what time does this refer? To the days of the prophet? To the era of the law? Or, to the time when the promised Messiah should come? This outpouring of the Spirit seems to be connected by the prophet with the secular prosperity of which he had been speaking. He probably did not know the time to which his words had reference; but if it was in the future it was as real to his faith as the present to his sight. This promise no doubt had reference to the Messianic age, though Joel may not have been cognizant of the fact. It was not fulfilled at Bethlehem, nor in Gethsemane, nor at Calvary, nor at Olivet. It was still “afterward.” It was partially accomplished at Pentecost (Acts 2:17), though there was concealed in it a deeper meaning than even Pentecost could impart, the entire significance of which we are as yet ignorant. We live in this afterward of time, and know its meaning, as did not the prophets of old; but the afterward of the kingdom of heaven has yet to evolve the universal reign of the Spirit of God.
2. The author. “I will pour.” This outpouring of the Holy Spirit was to be of Divine origin. It is the alone prerogative of the Eternal God to bestow the Spirit upon mankind. Joel did not connect the gift of the Spirit in any way with himself, or with any agency he could command. Nor did Peter on the day of Pentecost. Prophets and apostles, however distinguished they may have been, were not the authors but the channels of spiritual energy. Man cannot give the Holy Spirit to his fellow-man. Thoughtful books cannot bestow it; organisation cannot impart it. This is the testimony of Scripture; this is in conformity with human experience, and with the moral inability of man to originate good. Hence we must go to God for it. We must wait His time. We must comply with the moral conditions necessary to its reception. We must give Him the praise and glory of its advent in any measure. All true spiritual emotion is from above.
3. The extent. “I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh” The Divine Spirit was to be poured out without distinction of age, sex, country, or genius. It should be given to universal man. It would not be confined to the covenant nation. The poor, the slave, the unlearned--all should receive this gift. It would be poured out; not drop by drop, but as a mighty shower; even as copiously as the rain after the prayer of Elijah. The gift of the Spirit is not limited by any restraint upon the Divine ability to give. It is not limited by time. Sin cannot stay it, for grace abounds much more than sin. Then why is not spiritual influence more potently with us?
4. The effect. “And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” This does not limit the universal application of the promise, but simply gives examples of those who shall realise it, and the effect it will have upon them. In the early ages of the church, the miraculous gifts of the spirit were imparted; but they have ceased, and, instead, we have illuminatio of soul, a beauteous insight into the truth of God, bright visions of destiny: for these are the things which now accompany and evince the presence of the Holy Ghost.
II. That the new Gospel era would be characterised by the most alarming temporal commotions. “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke,” etc. God gives successive revelations of Himself; revelations of the spirit of mercy, and also of the spirit of judgment. The phenomena here named are physical in their nature, but have a deep moral significance. The great events of Christianity have been signalised by phenomena in the material universe. The guiding of the star at the birth of Christ. The darkness of the sun at the Crucifixion. The wind and fire at Pentecost. Nature is in sympathy with the great plans of God. The progress of truth occasions many wondrous phenomena. It darkens many suns. It turns many moons into blood. It is in conflict with dark prejudice, with wilful error, with the carnal mind, with sinful passion, with old custom, with proud philosophy; hence the moral commotion intimated in the text, and illustrated by the history of Christ. But all these commotions will be penetrated and mitigated by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, will yield ultimate quietude when the voice of God shall be heard, and the peace of the Divine reign finally established.
III. That the new Gospel era would be characterised by a merciful arrangement for the salvation of all earnest suppliants. “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered,” etc.
1. Salvation in the time of peril. The Gospel era shall provide safety for human souls amidst the awful calamities which shall then befall the world.
2. Salvation in the time of despair.
3. Salvation on easy conditions. There might be mystery in the darkened sun, but not about the salvation to be had. It is to be had from God by prayer.
1. That God is the author of all true reviving influence.
2. That the gift of the Holy Spirit is co-extensive with the range of universal life.
3. That in the Gospel era the Divine Spirit is richly manifest.
4. That while we must anticipate times of moral commotion, we must also expect times when the redemptive purpose shall be more fully manifest. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The nature of the great spiritual change which we anticipate
This prophecy was not finally fulfilled upon the day of Pentecost. The effusion of the Spirit on that day must be regarded as typical of the final outpouring of the Spirit in the last ages of the world.
1. The necessity of an effusion of the Divine Spirit in order to accomplish the change that is needed. There never can be such a transformation, as the principles of Christianity show to be required by the condition of the world, except by a mighty and resistless agency on the hearts of men by the Holy Spirit of God.
The necessity of this effusion will appear if you consider--
1. The absolute and perfect failure of all agency apart from Him, which hitherto has been employed by man.
2. The precise and essential nature of the change which is anticipated and desired. It is not a change in the external aspect of things, it is a change of principle; it is a change of motives; it is the transformation of all opposition on the part of man towards the government of God, and interests of eternity.
3. The appropriation to the Divine Spirit of the various offices which are assigned to Him in the economy of redemption. It is the Spirit who quickens, who converts the soul, who urges to faith, who instructs, guides, consoles, seals, etc.
4. The ascription to the Spirit of the great change in the latter day which we are led to anticipate throughout the whole structure of the prophetic writings. Whoever looks for the renovation of future times, and the amelioration of the state of man, to any agent short of the one to which we now ascribe it, is most grievously mistaken, and does most impiously blaspheme.
II. The mode in which the effusion of the Divine spirit will be conducted.
1. The effusion of the Divine Spirit will he preceded by remark able and extensive providential changes in human society. With regard to the precise instrumentality employed, few would venture on distinct assertion. Possibly much public agitation and national convulsion may he necessary.
2. It will be immediately associated with the propagation of the Word of God, and the use of importunate prayer.
3. The effusion of the Divine Spirit will be imparted with great and extraordinary rapidity. Hitherto there has been but a slow impartation of spiritual influence. Two topics need consideration.
(1) Whether the era of the final effusion of the Spirit will be introduced by miraculous agency.
(2) At what time may the effusion be expected.
III. The effects which the effusion of the spirit will produce. On the Church--removing its ignorance, and healing its divisions: sanctifying its members. On the world--it shall then be given to God. (James Parsons.)
Prosperity and the Spirit
Upon the promises of physical blessing there follows another of the outpouring of the Spirit: the prophecy by which Joel became the prophet of Pentecost, and through which his book is best known among Christians. The order of events makes us pause to question: does Joel mean to imply that physical prosperity must precede spiritual fulness? It would be unfair to assert that he does, without remembering what he understands by the physical blessings. To Joel these are the token that God has returned to His people. The drought and the famine produced by the locusts were signs of His anger and of His divorce of the land. The proofs that He has relented and taken Israel back into a spiritual relation to Himself, can, therefore, from Joel’s point of view, only be given by the healing of the people’s wounds. In plenteous rains and full harvests Goal sets His seal to man’s penitence. Rain and harvest are not merely physical benefits, but religious sacraments: signs that God has returned to His people, and that His zeal is again stirred on their behalf (Joel 1:18). This haste be made clear before there can be talk of any higher blessing. God has to return to His people and to show His love for them before He pours forth His Spirit upon them.. . . From Joel’s standpoint physical blessings may have been as religious as spiritual, but we must go further, and assert that for Joel’s anticipation of the baptism of the Spirit by a return of prosperity, there is an ethical reason, and one which is permanently valid in history. A certain degree of prosperity, and even of comfort, is an indispensable condition of that universal and lavish exercise of the religious faculties, which Joel pictures under the pouring forth of God’s Spirit. The history of prophecy itself furnishes us with proofs of this. And has it been otherwise in the history of Christianity? An acute historian observes that every religious revival in England has happened upon a basis of comparative prosperity. (G. Adam Smith, D. D.)
The manifestation of the Holy Ghost
Joel appears to move “in the circle of moral convictions, and of eschatelogical hopes.” He has been called “the prophet of the manifestation of the Holy Ghost.”
I. A prediction of the coming of the Holy Ghost.
1. “I will pour out.” These words suggest the abundance of the gift.
2. The effusion was to be “Of My Spirit,” that is, the Holy Ghost.
II. The extent of that manifestation.
1. “Upon all flesh.” This means upon all mankind. Giving the idea of an universal religion.
2. The gift is said to descend upon all “flesh, naming that which is lowest in our nature.
3. The outpouring only began on the day of Pentecost.
4. This outpouring will continue to flow on as long as the world lasts. See three effects of the Spirit’s presence and operation in the souls of men, which are of the
Greatest practical moment--
1. His presence has given a greater malignity to sin, m that, through His indwelling, sin is now brought so near to the Holy God; because the light which the Spirit imparts robs sin of the excuse of ignorance. And because sin is now committed, in spite of that new power to resist it which is bestowed by the presence of the Holy Ghost.
2. The presence of the Spirit, with His fruits and gifts, carries with it a higher standard and ideal than that of the old covenant.
3. The presence of the Spirit should impart fervour to all devotional exercises. (Sunday in Church.)
The promise of the Spirit
We, as well as the people of nineteen centuries ago, have an interest in the prophecy of Joel. Whithersoever the quickening influences of the Spirit of God shall come, there shall be spiritual life. And is not this the real want of the age? The term revival is frequently mentioned in these days.
I. What is a revival? It is the renewal in effect and continuation of what took place under the preaching of the Word at Pentecost, when thousands of spiritually ignorant and perishing men were first quickened. Religion is a life, even the life of God in the soul. Without spiritual vitality there can be no real personal religion. Spiritual life is kindled in the soul by the Spirit of God. The first indications of this life are generally, not invariably, alarm. Its first act is faith. This life requires nourishment, and that is supplied chiefly by the Word of God and prayer. It has its inward growth and its outward manifestations. The spiritual life may be likened to an exotic. Revivals, or what is equivalent to them, are in separate departments of life found to be universally and indispensably needed. The Reformation in Germany was a gigantic revival. About 1743, within two or three years, thirty or forty thousand souls were born into the family of heaven. Numbers object, to extended religious manifestations, because of the excitement which sometimes attends them. Some measure of excitement is, however, in the nature of things, inseparable from a time of awakening, either of one or of many. Many object to seasons of revival, because of the suddenness with which some conversions are effected: but there are various operations of the Spirit. A revival is just the gracious sovereign putting forth of Divine power on a great scale, to effect largely what in ordinary times takes place in one here and there through a community.
II. What are the signs that a revival is needed by us? Weakness and fainting in some, and death in others. What is Christian life in its essence? It is the implanted, earnest, ever-expanding taste for and aspiration after the living God, reconciled in Christ, as one’s all in all. It is that this state may become the state of every one of us, we need a revival.
III. What are the hindrances to a revival among us? Their name is legion.
1. Hindrances in the Church. Unbelief is the sin which most easily besets us. It is the common crying sin of the Church. We are straitened in our own faith and hope. Dis union. Conformity to the world.
2. Hindrances in the world. Ignorance, indifference, infidelity, intemperance.
IV. What are the means by which we and others might receive a revival? Earnest, scriptural, impressive preaching. Earnest, instant, individual, and social prayer. Domestic discipline, instruction, and family worship. If we are to be Christians at all, we must be growing Christians. There is no such thing as standing still in the Divine life. Life is a battlefield on which the Christian soldier is either gaining ground or losing it. (James Stirling Muir.)
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit essential to a revival of religion
I. The animating prediction. Note the object promised, it was the Spirit. The term Spirit is used to denote His miraculous and gracious influences. The Spirit is a person. The influences of the Spirit may be considered as miraculous and as common. The former were peculiar to the apostolic age, the latter must be regarded as the privilege of believers in every period of time. Observe the persons who shall receive the Spirit. It will be “poured out upon all flesh.” This embraces the whole human race. Observe the season when this prediction will be verified. The “last days,” i.e., this entire present dispensation, the final economy of mercy to the world.
II. The glorious effects connected with the dispensation of the spirit. Notice the blessings of the Spirit, as seen in the apostles--they were qualified by it for their work. And as it respects the revival of religion, the Gospel is attended with extraordinary success.
III. The means by which this Divine influence may be more eminently enjoyed by us in the present day.
1. By a more decided and elevated tone of piety in the members of our churches.
2. By consecrating much time to devotion.
3. By a distinguished zeal in the promotion of those institutions which advance Immanuel’s cause.
4. By increasing harmony and affection among the disciples of Christ. Love to the brethren is the peculiar excellence of Christianity, the badge of discipleship, and the glory of religion. (W. Yates.)
The promise of the Spirit
This is the great Old Testament promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit; the first in order of time, the first in degree of importance. In the earlier Scriptures we find occasional allusions to the work of the Spirit. The prophecy of Joel contains the first utterance upon this great subject. Joel is thought by some to be the oldest of the Hebrew prophets who wrote. The structure of this prophecy is very simple. In the first we find God’s judgments upon His people. Their obtaining mercy. The punishment of their enemies. In the remainder of the book we have--
1. The call to repentance.
2. The promise of blessing.
3. The judgment of the ungodly.
Of the promise of the Spirit, which is the culminating point in the announcement of blessing, we have the warrant of St. Peter for saying that it received a fulfilment on the day of Pentecost. The expression “pour out” cannot be applied literally to a Divine person. It is symbolical, and adopted from the promise of rain in verse 23. The Lord Jesus, during His ministry, took up the promise, and both expanded and renewed it. There was, however, a condition upon the fulfilment of which the gift of the Spirit was contingent. The glorification of Jesus was to precede the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. It was to be the peculiar office of the Spirit to “testify of,” and “glorify” Christ, by “taking of the things of Christ, and showing them to His people.” But while we see in Pentecost a fulfilment of the prophecy, we may ask whether the Old Testament promise was exhausted upon the day of Pentecost. Certainly it was not. The prophecy is asserted by St. Peter to be co-extensive with the Divine calling, to run side by side with that calling so long as it shall continue, to belong therefore to the whole Christian dispensation. The “last days” is the New Testament term descriptive of the entire interval between the first and second advents. There are certain special and peculiar manifestations of the Spirit. God at times vouchsafes a gracious outpouring both upon the Church and the world. Have we any ground for expecting any such remarkable visitation in the present day? In examining the structure of the prophecy of Joel, we note the following sequences:
(1) The call to repentance, addressed to the professing people of God,
(2) The promise of blessing, culminating in the promise of the Spirit.
(3) The announcements of judgments to be inflicted upon the enemies of God and His Church. This sequence of events took place in connection with Pentecost.
There was then--
(1) The universal preaching of repentance to the Jewish nation.
(2) The outpouring of the Spirit.
(3) The infliction of signal vengeance upon those who proved themselves to be the deadly enemies of the true Church of God.
Are there any events of a similar kind taking place at the present time? It has been too much the habit with Christians to rest satisfied with a very partial and moderate fulfilment of the promise of the Spirit. It is scriptural to indulge the expectation of such a holy revival. It is desirable that such fulfilment should take place. It is possible, may I not say probable, that such blessed results may be accomplished. But in what way are we to act, so that we may reasonably expect the blessing?
1. Remove the hindrances which stand in the way of such outpouring of the Spirit. The unholiness which exists in the Church of God. Ignorance and misapprehension regarding the work of the Spirit, and the nature of religious revival. The personal responsibility of all Christians in relation to the extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom is not felt as it should be.
2. Adopt the means by which a religious revival may be promoted. The faithful preaching of the Divine Word. Real, hearty, believing, united, and persevering prayer. (Emilius Bayley.)
The Holy Spirit promised
The development of the redemptive scheme is by a succession of stages. Each stage is an advance upon the preceding. The finger of prophecy as well as of providence points forward. The eyes of the heathen were turned lack ward. Their golden age was past. Not so the Jews. So Christianity is a religion of expectancy. Though in the final stage of the world’s development, we are far from the end of that stage. The remedial agencies are working, but the remedy is not yet wrought. We have a sufficient revelation, but we have not yet fathomed it. We have a fixed though not a finished faith. Christianity is aspiring, hopeful, confident. The Holy Spirit made known, through Joel, that in the ages to come there would be established, through His own abundant and universal effusion, a new order of things unspeakably more glorious and happy than anything hitherto known.
I. The extent of the blessing. Extent both in the sense of amplitude and degree. The promise is to all, without distinction of age, sex, nationality, or degree. The Spirit of God had been in the world before the last days began, but, in no such plenitude and power as after His effusion. The words “pour out” imply abundance and richness. The three usual forms of special Divine revelation known to the Hebrews,--prophecy, visions, dreams,--indicate the fulness of the blessing; and the inclusion of all classes, down to slaves, shows the extent of the blessing. Nor is the prophecy confined to the Hebrew nation. On the Gentiles as well as the Jews was the Spirit poured out. The true doctrine as to the extent of the Holy Spirit’s operation may be thus summarised.
1. The expression “all flesh” is to be taken literally, including not only all the nations of the earth, but every individual of every nation. Not that the Holy Spirit has the same direct influence upon all. That is not possible, since the means and instruments through which He works are not at hand to the same degree in all. Much of his work in the more favoured nations is in behalf of the less favoured. This is true of individuals also. Man is part spirit, and is capable of receiving and recognising the monitions of the Father Spirit. No soul of man, not even the darkest and most degraded, is neglected by the Holy Spirit. However dull it may be, still there is a con science, a Divine spark, and that is responsive to the breath of the Divine Spirit. In numberless ways does the Spirit make Himself felt all the way from childhood to age. And at times the Spirit makes special appeals.
2. To what extent, in the sense of degree, is the Spirit given? Thus far no response on the part of man has been supposed. The Spirit comes to him self-moved, not because man wants Him, but because He wants man. It is His aim to persuade man to open his heart to receive Him. But man is free, and can open it or bar it closer. With what measure of fulness and blessing does the Spirit come? The language of prophecy leads us to expect great things. The fountain is inexhaustible and the supply abundant. Fulness of possession is the only natural limit of the promises blessing. As a matter of fact the Spirit does fill every soul just so fast and far as He is permitted. It does not follow that, if all were to receive Him to the fullest extent possible, they would have Him in the same measure, or possess the same spiritual power. That depends upon their capacity and ability. Nor does fulness of the Spirit necessarily imply the possession of miraculous power. That power may depend on the possession of peculiar natural gifts.
II. The nature of the blessing.
1. The gift of the Spirit is a gift of enlightenment. The natural man, however highly endowed, fails to under stand “the things of the Spirit.” To them his mind is dark; but when the Spirit comes into a soul, light comes with Him.
2. It is a gift of purification. The Scripture emblems of the purifying power of the Holy Ghost are water and fire. One cleanses by washing away, the other by burning up impurities. Light let into a dungeon does not remove its foulness; no more does illumination purify the heart; the Holy Ghost not only enlightens but cleanses. He is water to wash away the impurities of sin, fire to burn up the dross of nature.
3. It is a gift of power. At Jerusalem the disciples were “endued with power from on high.” The Holy Spirit in a man makes him an engine of power. He is strong to endure, for God is with him. He is bold in speech, efficient in action, prevalent in prayer. Illustrate by St. Paul, Luther, Nettleton, Finney, Moody, etc.
4. It is a gift of joy. Illustrated in the ecstasies of the early disciples. There is a “joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Sermons by Monday Club.)
The outpouring of the Spirit the property and security of the Church of God
I. The subjects of this especial mercy. It is a word from the God of all grace to that people, and touching their increase, who profess to be “the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.” Their increase are designated as “all flesh,” “your sons and your daughters,” “your old men, your young men,” “the servants, the handmaids.” “All that are afar off.” With this limitation, “As many as the Lord our God shaft call.”
II. The mercy itself which is promised. The Spirit is the Holy Ghost, the third person in the ever-blessed and glorious Trinity. The effusion, or pouring out, which is here promised, is the communication of His precious influences, for spiritual life, health, comfort, strength, love, wisdom unto salvation. The similitude is taken from abundant and fertilising showers.
III. The primary displays of its reception are to be noticed. “Sons and daughters prophesy,” etc. See Acts 13:12. Admonitions against the abuse of these special gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Corinthians 14:22.
IV. The permanent power and presence involved in this promise. The power of the infinite Jehovah is involved in His perpetual presence with His people. The accomplishment of this promise constitutes the character, and demonstrates the existence, of the true Church of the living God, wheresoever it is to be found upon earth: and the permanent power and presence therein involved ensures the existence and increase of that Church. (William Borrows, M. A.)
Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.
Dreaming dreams and seeing visions
The age is against us. The youth of the world with its buoyancy has given place to the fin de siecle, the old age of the weary Titan, with its spiritual fatigue. You feel this everywhere. It is not only in our hard, analytic views of nature that we feel this death of dreams; all life is alike. The young man to-day will find the world no way congenial to the dreamer; it will only be through a thick fog that he will see his visions. Take city life. How visionless all life seems to you, covered inch deep with dust, and that not of the cleanest. There is not much space for poetry in the model lodging-house, or furnished apartments. A hive of industry the city may be, but dreams and visions are no part of its output. Turn to the factory. In old times man’s work was itself a dream. The factory system has killed all that. To-day in every sphere of life the young man will find a subtle penetrating realism banishing all visions, a fog that can be felt chilling down every enthusiasm. Nevertheless, the prophet Joel was right: dreams and visions are the very salt for all life, its one reality. All life will ultimately be weighed by this one thing,--the ideals to which men stood true in spite of every difficulty. Take the life of a nation. The study of that life is history. Look then at Greece, Rome, Israel, or any other nation, and you will find that its dreams and visions are the all in a nation’s history which does not die. History is, in fact, but the science of regulated enthusiasms and their results. Hope makes history a progress instead of a cycle. The deathless element in English life and history does not find its way into our text books. Its real gold is those priceless ideas of liberty, law, and true individuality, which have been the lode-star of her destinies. The most certain verdict of history is this: when a nation once loses its dreams and visions, its end has come. That which is true of the nation is no less true of the individual. The value of every man must ultimately be reckoned by the only changeless standard of value--the dreams and visions that were his. We must be careful not to narrow down the currency of heaven to realisations only. The history of religion, in fact, is but the record of how the enthusiasms of some enthusiast have permeated and changed the lives of men. Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Jesuitism, are all the slowly stiffening result of mighty dreams. Urge every young man to be an idealist. Do not be ashamed to have your enthusiasms. The true idealist never lives in cloudland; he ever seeks to have his home amid the stern realities of life. He seeks to lift the real up to the ideal. Take the roughest blocks, and be a seer, like Michael Angelo; see in them what God sees, the possibilities of higher things. It is the idealism of Jesus that is the salvation of the world. You can be an idealist even in business. Take your dreams and visions into life as a citizen; into your politics; into your home; into the Church. (Herbert B. Workman.)
A quickened imagination
Joel dips into the far future and sees the downcoming of the Holy Ghost. So clear is his vision that he minutely notes the effects of this marvellous effusion. But the signs we expect him to enumerate he misses. Not a word about a whiter heart and a nobler life, about miraculous power, or irresistible speech. All these he ignores; it is the unexpected and apparently the secondary and unimportant effects that fasten his attention. To him the outstanding feature of the days of the Holy Ghost is a quickened imagination--a power to dream dreams and see visions. If man be compared to a house, there is the cellar which is dark and self-contained, representing the appetites and impulses, there is the ground floor with the windows of taste and smell looking out upon the immediate neighbourhood, there is the upper storey whose windows of seeing and hearing command a wider prospect, and there is the highest storey with the window of the imagination opening out into the vast unseen. When this house becomes the temple of the Holy Ghost all the rooms are beautified and all the windows cleansed; but to the prophet the window that gleams the brightest is the roof window, the faculty that is stirred the deepest is the imagination. The old men had been dwelling in the lower rooms all the days of their lives, and during all the long years the upper stories had been all but forgotten. The windows of the imagination are darkened by dust and curtained by cobwebs. When the Spirit comes there is cleansing enough, but on account of the long neglect the window will never become translucent again. The objects seen through will be vague and shadowy. The old men only dream dreams. The dreaminess comes from the neglect. But the young men led by curiosity and romance have explored all the rooms from the roof to the basement. All the windows have been put to use, even if the use has not always been the noblest; and under the influence of the Spirit they become clear as crystal, through which are seen definite and luminous the realities of the unseen. The young men see visions. Their imagination is unspoiled by worldliness and neglect. But in old and young the action of the Spirit is the same, only in the one it revives the embers, and in the other it fans the flame. It is strange that the prophet should have singled out the imagination, for the coming of the Spirit is as the coming of the spring. Everything in its track is born again. The spring causes a tide of life to rush through all creation, and all but burst everything. The buds burst into blossom, the hard crust of the earth bursts into green, and the birds burst forth into song. All nature is roused into an extraordinary activity. When God comes into a man’s soul it is the same; every faculty is stirred, every power is quickened, the heart is tenderer, the mind is clearer, the senses are keener, the body is healthier; a wondrous tide of life rushes through the whole man. The Spirit comes as a mighty wind, and as all the multitudinous leaves of a tree are swayed by the wind, so are all the faculties of a man swayed by the Spirit. But stirred as are all the soul’s activities it is the extraordinary activity of the imagination that catches the eye of the prophet. But why this strange selection? The choice is strange because it is right, and daring because it is according to the mind of God. He singles out the imagination because when God’s Spirit descends on men His principal work is to make them realise the spiritual world; and the realisation of the spiritual world is the task of the imagination. All around us there is a world of matter and motion, with its hills and plains, minerals and forests, towns and streets and factories. We see it with our eyes, and are familiar with its features and movements. But vast as this world is, it pales into insignificance beside the great unseen world that is above and around and within us, a world that outleaps all measurement and outruns all duration, more real than the solid earth, more permanent than the everlasting hills; the home of God and Jesus, of angels innumerable and the spirits of just men made perfect, to be seen by no eyes of flesh, seen alone by the eye of the soul--the imagination. (Thos. Phillips.)
Seeing God in dreams
You may say of a dream that it is nocturnal fantasia, or that it is the absurd combination of waking thoughts; but God has honoured the dream by making it the avenue through which He has marched upon the human soul, decided the fate of nations, and changed the course of the world’s history. Does God appear in our day, and reveal Himself through dreams?
1. The Scriptures are so full of revelation from God that if we get no communication from Him in dreams, we ought, nevertheless, to be satisfied.
2. All dreams have an important meaning. They prove that the soul is comparatively independent of the body.
3. The vast majority of dreams are merely the result of disturbed physical conditions, and are not a supernatural message. A great many dreams are merely narcotic disturbance. Do not mistake narcotic disturbance for Divine revelation.
4. Our dreams are apt to be merely the echo of our daytime thoughts. The scholar’s dream is a philosophic echo. The poet’s dream is a rhythmic echo. It is, however, capable of proof that God does sometimes in our day appear to people in dreams. All dreams that make you better are from God. It is possible to prove that God does appear in dreams to warn, to convert, to save men. Illustrate: John Newton’s dreams. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
The properties of the Gospel dispensation
This prophecy was fulfilled to the letter, as described in Acts 2:1-47., nine centuries afterwards. By the Gospel dispensation we mean the Church. The Christian dispensation was to be a spiritual dispensation. The older was a religion of form. It represented truth. It was a school of object-lessons, a kind of kindergarten. It was a system of forms so perfect as to command the admiration of all ages to the present time. The kingdom the prophet foresaw would be set up would not be dependent on these earthly forces--authority, wealth, intelligence--but upon something far beyond and above. The Spirit of God was to be its energy, its potent force. This spiritual outpouring had its power in these facts--
1. It communicated God to us.
2. It associates God with us.
3. It develops God in us.
Observe the development of power when there is this pouring out of the Spirit. A prophesying power; and a witnessing power. We have also brought out in this prophecy the fact of freedom following the outpouring of the Spirit. Freedom from the guilt of sin. Freedom from the bondage of sin. Freedom from all fear because of sin. And we are told that this outpouring of the Spirit would be accompanied with great convulsions, mighty signs. So it proved. In view of our privileges as partakers of the Spirit, what is our duty? We should seek more and more of this outpouring, and we should seek to bear witness everywhere to the truths it reveals to us. (C. H. Tiffany, D. D.)
The Gospel dispensation
This passage exhibits the leading features of Christianity.
I. The gospel dispensation was to be characterised by spirituality. “I will pour out My Spirit.”
1. Formerly the Spirit dwelt with man.
2. Whereas formerly the Spirit dwelt with men, now He dwells in them, There is a sense in which the Spirit was not given to men before the day of Pentecost. This sense is explained in John 14:15-17. Jesus was the first human being in whom the Spirit abode
II. The Gospel dispensation was to be characterised by liberty. “In Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance.”
1. The Gospel finds us in chains.
(1) In bondage under the tyranny of sin.
(2) He also trembles under the tyranny of death.
(3) The terrors of hell are upon him.
2. But the Gospel bursts our bonds in sunder. The believer is justified by the merits of Christ.
III. The Gospel dispensation was to be characterised by power. “I will show wonders,” etc.
1. Here are marvellous spiritual signs. Prophecy, as prediction and as preaching. Visions. At the inauguration of Christianity there were apparitions. Throughout the dispensation there have been spiritual revelations. Dreams.
2. Here also are stupendous physical wonders. Some of these were associated with the great transactions on Calvary. Some were associated with the complementary transactions upon Zion. These wonders show that Omnipotence is behind the truth.
IV. The Gospel dispensation was to be characterised by expansiveness.
1. Its salvation is universally free.
2. The conditions of this salvation are level to all capacities.
3. The expansiveness of the Gospel triumphs over conventionalities. Both the social and the national. (J. Alexander Macdonald.)
The coming conflict
No gift of God is intended to remain a gift only. Gifts are means to serve other ends. The rain is a gift, but it is a means toward the harvest. The gift of the Spirit suggests a harvest for which that precious rain of God descended. The gifts are bestowed in anticipation of the hour when they will be needed. The responsibility is not the responsibility of possession merely, but the responsibility of anticipation. The hour comes when the tests of God will be applied. How very real the vision of the great conflict is in the prophet’s eyes. It is as real and as vivid in its reality as the plague of locusts, He has no doubt that it will take place. He has no doubt about its issue. The power which makes certain the issue, and gives security to the combatants has been vouchsafed. The gift of the Spirit is the gift of safety. The principle of spiritual life is independent of time. There are things which we can prepare for better when we know the hour; but in the things of the Spirit it is better to prepare not knowing the day nor the hour; for the readiness is the readiness of a spiritual quality which cannot be attained in a moment, nor yet by a fixed hour. The spiritual principle in the words of the prophet is, that every gift of the Spirit must be followed by some decisive conflict--in which all the forces which are allied with the Spirit are thrown into antagonism with all that are hostile to the Spirit. Was it not so after the day of Pentecost? The gift of the Spirit was the revelation of the kingdom of the Spirit. But what war followed! It is thus that the order of God succeeds itself. His first gift is love. His second is illumination. His last is conflict. In the Gospels, the gift of earth’s bounties comes first. Christ feeds the multitude. The gift of vision in the darkness follows. He reveals himself in the darkness on the sea. The third stage is achievement, or readiness to face the conflict. To the disciple ready to venture the raging waves He says, “Come.” God never calls men to trial but He first prepares them by a gift of power and illumination. In other words, the fresh baptism of the Spirit is to prepare for the baptism of fire. Fire purges in the truest sense; water cleanses. Fire penetrates to the very heart of things; water may leave much that is corrupt to decay and to destroy. I am no friend of working through mere terrors, but we may remind ourselves that the questions which are stirring around us are just those which are calculated to test in the most complete and thorough way the foundations and structure of society as we now know it. Take the condition of Theology, the tenets of Socialism, the reconstructions demanded by evolutionary theories. But we know enough in current literature and current thought to satisfy ourselves that we need not be shaken in mind or troubled should some fiery trial try us. May we not say that the trial begins in the mind of every man who tries to apply the teaching of Christ his Lord in all loyal simplicity to the facts of life and duty? Who may abide? Who can come forth bright and purged from this flaming baptism that is in store for the men and women of this generation? Would not the answer be, he alone can sustain that ordeal who has been prepared in the fire for the fire; he alone can stand in the day when all things are shaken whose character and spirit are built up of those very things which cannot be shaken? Better fall into His consuming fire that in that flame all evil, self--all folly and weakness may be burned up, than wait unpurged for the day which shall burn like an oven. When He baptized us with the Holy Ghost and with fire, did He not baptize us to sacrifice, even the sacrifice of our bodies and souls, a living sacrifice to Him? He who, led by the Spirit, makes his life a sacrifice, and passes through the fire feeling it for very love’s sake to be no fire--need not fear the day of the Lord, for on such the fire of the fierce trial of the world has no power. (Bishop Boyd Carpenter.)
The preacher need not fear the taunt that he is an other-worldly man, a dreamer, a visionary. He may accept it with satisfaction, for it is true. His main concern lies in the realm of the unseen. He does business in deep waters. He stands face to face with the eternal. The Japanese cherish a tradition concerning Sho-Kaku. They say that, even when a lad, he loved to wander among the beech-trees, and up the green slopes of the mountain, where his solitary musings brought him such gentleness that he never hurt any living thing, and such purity that the tropical rains could not wet the web of wistaria fibres which clothed him! Such virtue and merit became his that at length the material world became quite subject to him. He could walk upon the water, fly through the air, see into the future, and heal the diseases of his friends. Then he was commanded to undertake a more difficult achievement, and, as a means towards success in it, to ascend the summit of Mount Omine in Yamato. He neither doubted nor delayed, but hewed for himself a path to the far-away mountain top; and when at last he reached it, standing on the bare space of jasper, no larger than a threshing-floor, polished smooth with many storms, he beheld a weird sight. There stood a huge white skeleton, grasping in its bony hand a great untarnished sword. An inward voice bade him, if he would triumph in the mighty enterprises marked out for him, to secure that glittering weapon. Yet it was no easy task. He grasped the sword, but the dead hand clung to it; he tried to wrench away the whitened bones, but they were as riveted iron, until he bethought himself of the ‘spells of the spirit,’ and as he uttered them the skeleton limbs relaxed slowly, and the sword dropped, so that he could seize and brandish it triumphantly in the light of the setting sun.” The eastern legend enshrines a truth of universal application. The men who have been most despised as visionaries, as dreamers of dreams, as other-worldly men, have done more to shape this world than have their more practical critics.
I. The preacher must have a vision of Deity. A man who has had no personal experience of the presence and power of God cannot possibly impress others with the august and intense reality of things eternal. In the journal of an old Puritan Divine were found these words: “Resolved that, when I address a large meeting, I shall remember that God is there, and that will make it small. Resolved that, when I address a small meeting, I shall remember that God is there, and that will make it great.” It is said that, when Chrysostom was composing his sermons he was wont to fancy that the communion rails around the pulpit were crowded with listening angels. It was a splendid inspiration. But the truth is grander still. Dr. Gordon dreamed that, when he preached, the Christ sat in the pew. It is verily so. The preacher needs such a vision of Deity as will fill his whole horizon with the grandeur of the Divine, and assure him, in the hours of loneliness and listlessness, of the stupendous fact that God is his Witness and Co-worker.
II. The preacher must have a vision of humanity.
1. He needs a vision of the sinfulness of men.
2. He must have a vision of the inner life of men. He must know that the most careless of his hearers is not really so callous as he seems. Every man, in his secret and silent moments, has thoughts of God, and sin, and eternity, that will not be silenced. And no man who has had a true vision of humanity will take it for granted that any man is absolutely without some prickings of conscience with regard to personal sin. He will carry Christ to every soul that is “aching and longing” after Him.
3. He needs a vision of the possibilities of men. The preacher is like Little Nell in “The Old Curiosity Shop.” You remember how she discovered the sin in which the old man had become absorbed in the dreadful city. So she took him by the hand and led him away from it all, out into the green fields, and away to a happier, purer life. It is the privilege of the man of God to take men by the hand, and lead them out of the murky atmosphere of their sins into the purity and sublimity of the Divine salvation, Christ saves from the nethermost depth to the uttermost height.
III. The preacher must have a vision of eternity. This will add solemnity to all his work. He cannot afford to trifle. The biographer of Archbishop Leighton tells us that, in the days when it was the custom of the presbytery to inquire if all the preachers bad “preached to the times,” Leighton acknowledged on one occasion that he had not. He was asked why. “Surely,” he replied, “if all these brethren have preached to the times, one poor brother may be allowed to preach for eternity!” Napoleon, we are told, found an artist engrossed in his painting. “What are you doing that for?” the Emperor asked. “For immortality!” the artist proudly replied. “How long will your canvas last?” inquired Napoleon. “It will last for at least a thousand years, sire!” answered the man. “Aha!” responded the Emperor, “we have now an artist’s conception of immortality!” We have a loftier ideal than that. The preacher deals face to face with the intensities of eternity. He has a vision of the glories of heaven, and he toils that he may “allure to brighter worlds, and lead the way.” He has a vision of bell, and he is prepared to labour day and night that he may save his fellow-men from such a fearful doom. Harrison Ainsworth has drawn, in Solomon Eagle, a picture of the passionate earnestness that becomes an enthusiast who believes his fellows to be doomed, and would warn them of their peril. Lord Lytton has drawn a similar character in Olinthus, who, on the night on which Pompeii was destroyed, hurried from place to place entreating men to repent. “Are we as anxious about men,” asked Dr. Dale, “as our fathers were? On any theory of eschatology there is a dark and menacing future for those who have been brought face to face with Christ in this life, and have refused to receive His salvation, and to submit to His authority. I do not ask whether the element of fear has a great place in our preaching, but whether it has a great place in our hearts, whether we ourselves are afraid of what will come to men who do not believe in Christ, whether we, whether our people, are filled with an agonising earnestness for their salvation.” (F. W. Boreham.)
The dreams of youth
“The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.” Pity the one who has no dreams, for it means he has no ideals, and if youth has no ideals manhood will be very commonplace. We have no patience with those who cynically sneer at the visions of youth and dash cold water upon all early hope and ardour, prophesying with a cynical assumption of wisdom an inevitable disappointment, a bitter disillusioning
I. Dreams of prosperity. This may seem to be the basest of all the dreams that youth can cherish, and if it simply means a dream of gain to follow gain till the dreamer can take his place among the wealthy, and secure that which money can purchase, it is not a vision to be encouraged. But there is a limited sense in which the dream of prosperity is not unworthy. If a young fellow starting his business career recognises that there are at least three possible courses open to him-
(1) To take always the line of least resistance, and thus to be classed with the great crowd that is to be rated at a current market value for the particular type of labour of which he is capable; or
(2) so to devote himself to the details and affairs of his special calling as to make himself of more value than the average employee, and thus to secure a better financial return for his services, a larger respect from his comrades in toil, and the inward satisfaction of “something attempted, something done”; or
(3) to so further devote himself to his toil as by the concentration of all his energies, the insight of a quicker intelligence, the application of brains to the problems of commerce, and the possession of the rare gift of recognising an opportunity, coupled with the courage to seize it, he may rise to the front rank of the army of commerce; then I say that the settled determination to take according to his ability either the second or third of these courses, and the dream of legitimate prosperity resulting therefrom, is by no means to be condemned or discouraged. But, young men, let me say to you two things, and do you give them careful thought.
(1) In the pursuit of business success many perils are to be encountered; keep a sensitive conscience, and do not purchase gain at the price of guilt. And
(2) Keep in mind the fact that no amount of business success alone can ever be regarded as leading to a complete and worthy life in the sight of God. “The world passeth away, and the desire thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
II. Dreams of service. Probably some of you cherish dreams that do not revolve around self-interest. You want to live so that, amid the forces that make the conditions of life easier for humanity at large, your life and influence may find a place. The details of your dream may vary, whilst the aim of it may be the same. If in any sense this be your dream, it is a glorious one. Let me confirm you therein by recalling the wise words that tell us that he that serves his fellow-men receives honour from God.
III. Dreams of reform. Society must be remodelled; a saner idea of life must be presented to the people; the value of the worker must be recognised; the inalienable right of every individual to the means of subsistence taught, and the lavish waste of the non-producer, the parasite upon the body corporate, sturdily, and if need be forcefully, restrained. By all means recognise the current evils of the day, and, according to your knowledge and opportunity, work for the betterment of all. But at the same time do not let your recognition of wrong lead you to unfair and unjust conclusions; do not indulge in hasty generalisations; do not condemn where no condemnation is deserved, and try honestly to grasp all the facts that go to form the problem in its completeness. Any school-boy will tell you that no problem can be correctly solved if, in your attempted solution, you disregard essential factors. Nor forget that if we could secure to-morrow the equal advantage and opportunity for all that we so desire, the inequalities of to-day would be repeated within a generation. Then to you I say, “Do not put away as idle these fair dreams, but rather learn how they may end in realisation. Spend your energies in resisting abuses, in working for all schemes of worthy reform, but do not forget that the sinfulness of the human heart will militate against their success, and that the heart finds renewal in the power that comes from Calvary, and in that alone.”
IV. Dreams of character. For of this I am confident, that in your dreams you have fair visions of a life controlled by loftiest principle, and by highest ideals, not only of that which you are to do, but also of that which you are to be. It is the noble and almost instinctive hatred of the unreal, the sham and the merely conventional, that makes many a young man so severe and uncompromising a critic of the conduct of others; he makes no allowances, for he does not see that honesty requires that any should be made. As years pass our judgments become kindlier. But this is not the point just now; rather this, that the young man has a splendid ideal of character, a sense of non-attainment, and a dream of future realisation. Herein we wish him “God-speed”; woe to the man who dares to discourage this hope. Only listen while I give you this from the experience of men of all ages. Character is of slow growth; it is the product of a long process, the issue of much stern conflict. The saint is grown, not made, and the stronger and more valuable growths are always slew; an oak takes many years to mature. As you advance in attainment your ideal will advance in its requirements, so that it will ever be, “Not as though I had already attained”; but of this be sure, every year shall bring the richer graces, the kindlier tempers, the fuller satisfaction of the Christlike character, and you shall realise that these dreams of your youth were not only dreams, but also prophecies. (J. W. Butcher.)
Visions of God
(with Joel 2:8; Habakkuk 2:2; Isaiah 6:5):--This is one of the first results of the pentecostal baptism. The young men, the hardened and practical members of the community who look at everything from a commonsense and business standpoint, “shall see visions.” It will not make them visionary. They will find in their vision of God the secret of purity and strength and fidelity. But where shall we see visions? Not by gazing, into the heavens, but by reading our Bibles. So the prophet Habakkuk says, “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables.” This is the great purpose of the Bible. The daily paper opens a window into the world around us, and we see the craft and cunning, the violence and deceit, the strifes and jealousies of men. But the Bible opens a window into heaven, and reveals to us, the love and goodness and power of God. Have you seen the vision? It is so plain that he who reads may run. Nay, you must not run past it. That is the sin of this hurrying pleasure-loving age. Men will not give themselves time to take in the vision of life. But he who reads will have to run. There will be no loitering then. The vision will fire your soul with such Divine enthusiasm that you will run off to make known what you have seen. Have you seen the vision? The prophet adds, “though it tarry, wait for it!” Yes, indeed, for you are of no use in the world until you have seen it. It is the men who have seen God that are a blessing to others. Esau lacked this vision, and it led him to sell his birthright. The birthright meant spiritual blessing. That is why Esau is called a profane man. The bargain he struck was not only a foolish one; it was a profane one. He sold his birthright because he despised it. But when you have seen God and the opened heaven, your birthright, i.e., your right through the atoning sacrifice to become a son of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, outweighs all the pleasures of sin, and it becomes easy for you to keep first things first. It was this which made Joseph so steadfast. In his youth God gave him dreams; they were not the result of indigestion, but visions of the night. His father had already given him as a special token of his love a “coat of many colours.” It was notsurely a mere piece of favouritism. The coat was the outward sign of that supremacy which the dreams indicated, and which probably had already been made known to Jacob. Jacob knew the misery that had resulted in the home of his childhood, where the judgment of God choosing the younger before the elder had not been accepted by Isaac his father, and mother and son stooped to falsehood and trickery in order to bring about the counsels of God. So Jacob determined that in his household God’s purpose should be known and accepted from the first, and he gave to Joseph this robe of honour. The garment stood then for two things, for royalty and purity. Joseph had his visions, because he was a kingly soul, and of a pure heart. And the effect of these visions is seen all through his future life. That is the necessary result of the vision of God. It dwarfs everything else. It reduces to their true proportions the circumstances of daily life. God never changes. God is working His purpose out. The man who trusts in God will never be confounded. The pit, the slave market, the prison cell may lie before us, but these are only for a time. In the long run God’s blessing prevails even in this topsy-turvy world, “and the blessing of the Lord it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it.” But the first result of the vision of God is an overwhelming sense of sin. This is the distinguishing characteristic of the men who have seen God. There is about them a depth, a solemnity, a reverence, a brokenness of soul. Yes, though the immediate effect is an overwhelming sense of sin, you will not be left crushed and overcome. Isaiah received the sacrament of cleansing, the live coal from the altar. To John came the reassuring touch and the strengthening word, “Fear not, I am He.” Christ knows how to bring His servants over from the despair that comes from the knowledge of self into the rest of faith that comes from the knowledge of God. There is no remedy for our sinfulness in ourselves. No, the transformation is wrought not by the discovery of any saving merit or qualification in ourselves, but by a clearer revelation of Jesus Christ. A new view of Jesus, a fresh vision of God, is the secret of all blessing. This made Jacob the supplanter a “prince with God,” this gave Joshua the victory over Jericho and the king thereof and the mighty men of valour; this enabled Elisha to go in and out throughout Israel as a holy man of God, never faint-hearted, never discouraged, never at a loss, able even when shut in by the Syrians on every side to use the reckoning of faith and reply to his terrified servant, “Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” Yes, patience, courage, cheerfulness, strength, all belong to the men who see God. (F. S. Webster, M. A.)
And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
The sirocco suggesting prophetic figures
We have two kinds of sirocco--one accompanied with violent wind, which fills the air with dust and fine sand; and one of a quieter kind, which yet is often mere overpowering. I have often seen the whole heavens veiled in gloom with this sort of sand cloud, through which the sun, shorn of its beams, looked like a globe of dull, smouldering fire. It may have been this phenomenon which suggested the strong prophetic figure of Joel, quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost:--“Wonders in the heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood.” The pillars of smoke are probably those columns of sand and dust raised high in the air by local whirlwinds, which often accompany the sirocco. On the great desert of the Hauran, I have seen a score of them, marching with great rapidity over the plain, and they closely resembled “pillars of smoke.” (W. M. Thomson, “Land and Book. ”)
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
This gracious promise is an instance of the merciful providence of God, so universally displayed in His prophetic revelations, whereby, in the midst of His severest threats of vengeance, He still reserved for His people a refuge against despair. Observe how fatal are the consequences of that state of mind against which it was intended to be a remedy. Despair of God’s forgive ness thrusts men into a recklessness of their own spiritual concerns, from which no reasoning can arouse them as long as their state of desperation continues. For why should a man turn to God if He will not receive him? The universal doctrine of Scripture is, that none shall have recourse to God in vain. The Jews did not understand the full import of Joel’s prophecy. No prophecy explains itself, nor can its meaning be thoroughly understood, until the event predicted has come to pass; and then the event and the prophecy will throw light upon each other, and the wise counsel of God from the beginning will be made manifest. We find the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy in the early times of the Christian dispensation, and especially in the siege and capture of the holy city. From the dangers of those days the converted Jews escaped. That fulfilment is typical of a more general judgment to come. The third chapter of Joel must be considered as a prophecy hitherto unaccomplished. Some think it refers to the return of the Jews to their own land. (James Randall, M. A.)
A great proclamation
I. The time of this proclamation is present. The time spoken of by Joel began at Pentecost. The Holy Ghost, who then came down to earth, has never returned; He is still in the midst of the Church, performing moral and spiritual miracles in our midst. To-day complete salvation is promised to every one that believeth in Jesus.
II. The wide range of the proclamation. “Whosoever.” All classes, all ages, all conditions, all degrees of guilt and misery and wickedness.
III. How plain and simple is the requirement. “Call on the name of the Lord.” This is “The plain man’s pathway to heaven.” Believe and live. What does calling on the name of the Lord mean?
1. To believe in God as He reveals Himself in Scripture.
2. To call upon His name in prayer.
3. To confess that name.
As the requirement is plain, so the assurance of blessing is positive. “Shall be saved.” Remember that this is a personal blessing to you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A wide Gospel
I. As uttered by Joel. It has a special reference to national and temporary circumstances. Joel depicts the judgments of God on Judah, and calls to repentance. He exhorts to trust in the Lord for deliverance. Then predicts extraordinary gifts of the Spirit; and hints at terrible convulsions of nature in the last times.
II. As quoted by St. Peter (Acts 2:21).
1. He gives to the whole passage a Christian signification. Sees in the events of the day of Pentecost an accomplishment of verses 28, 29. Quotes the text as an exhortation to his hearers to call on the Lord Jesus Christ.
III. As reiterated by St. Paul (Romans 10:13). The text now gains its widest Christian meaning.
2. It is coupled here with Isaiah 28:16, and made applicable to the whole world.
3. It is thus extensive; none are excluded. Intensive; every individual is exhorted to personal faith in Jesus.
IV. As true to ourselves.
1. It points to a means of safety.
(1) Proverbs 18:10.
(2) Jesus is our Lord.
(3) Running to and into Him is renouncing all trust in self, and taking shelter in His merits and atonement.
2. By a simple way.
(1) Illustrate by Acts 25:11-12.
(2) A believing appeal to Jesus means deliverance from the curse of an offended law, from the penalty of sin.
(3) Salvation by His intercession.
3. Open to all.
(1) Illustrate by Deuteronomy 19:2-3.
(2) Jesus is the refuge of all sinners.
(3) Every one may be saved by Him.
None are so sin-stricken that they cannot call. None so guilty that they may not call. None so righteous that they have no need to call. (J. H. Barnett.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joel 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent