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That was fall of people!
Reverses of fortune
The picture in this verse is strong by contrasts: solitary, and full of people; a widow, once a queen great among the nations; a princess receiving homage, now stooping in the act of paying tribute to a higher power.
No nest is built so high that God’s lightning may not strike it. To human vision, it certainly does appear impossible that certain estates can ever be turned to desolation; the owners are so full of health and high spirits, and they apparently have so much reason to congratulate themselves upon the exercise of their own sagacity and strength, that it would really appear as if no bolt could shatter the castle of their greatness. Yet that castle we have teen torn down, until there was not one stone left upon another. We are only strong in proportion as we spend our strength for others, and only rich in proportion as we invest our gold in the cause of human beneficence. The ruins of history ought to be monitors and guides to those who take a large view of human life. Is not the whole of human history a succession of ruins? Where is Greece? Rome? proud Babylon? the Seven Churches of Asia? We do not despair when we look at the ruins which strew antiquity; we rather reason that certain institutions have served their day, and what was good in them has been transferred into surviving activities. In the text, however, we have no question of ruin that comes by the mere lapse of time. Such ruin as is here depicted expresses a great moral catastrophe. Judah did not go into captivity because of her excellency or faithfulness; she was driven into servitude because of her disobedience to her Lord. What was true of Judah will be true of every man amongst us. No man can sin, and prosper. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Changes in the outward estate of the Church
1. God often alters the outward estate of His Church in this world.
(1) That He may daily declare Himself the disposer and governor of all things.
(2) To take from us all occasions of promising ourselves any certainty here. Therefore let us prepare ourselves to all conditions (Philippians 4:11-12); settle our affections on heaven and the things that lead thereto.
2. It is our duty to strive with ourselves to be affected with the miseries of God’s people (2Ch 11:28-29). For we are fellow members of one body, whereof Christ is the Head (1 Corinthians 12:25-26).
(1) This reproves those who seek only their own good.
(2) It teaches us to put on tender compassion and labour to profit the whole Church and every member thereof.
3. God sometimes giveth His Church an outward estate that flourisheth both in wealth and peace.
(1) That He may give His people’s taste even of all kinds of earthly blessings (Deuteronomy 28:2; Psalms 84:11).
(2) That they may have all opportunity to serve Him, and every kind of encouragement thereto.
4. The outward flourishing state of God’s Church lasts not always, but is often changed into affliction and adversity.
5. God often changes the condition of His servants in this life from one extreme to another. Joseph; Job; Israel
(1) That His mighty power may appear to all
(2) That we may learn to ascribe all to Him.
6. It is a great blessing of God for a nation to be populous (Genesis 12:2).
7. God often makes His people in their prosperity most admired of all.
(1) That He may show Him, self to love His servants.
(2) That the godly may know that godliness is not without reward.
(3) That the wicked may have all excuse taken from them, in that they are not allured by such notable spectacles of God’s love to them that fear Him.
8. God often humbles His servants under all His foes and their adversaries, because of their disobedience to His word (Deuteronomy 28:36).
(1) This shows us how great God’s anger is for sin.
(2) This teaches us not to measure the favour of God towards ourselves or others by the blessings or adversities of this life. (J. Udall.)
How is she become as a widow!--
It would not be just to read into the image of widowhood ideas collected from utterances of the prophets about the wedded union of Israel and her Lord; we have no hint of anything of the sort here. Apparently the image is selected in order to express the more vividly the utter lonesomeness of the city. It is clear that the attribute “solitary” has no bearing on the external relations of Jerusalem--her isolation among the Syrian hills, or the desertion of her allies, mentioned a little later (Lamentations 1:2); it points to a more ghostly solitude, streets without traffic, tenantless houses. The widow is solitary because she has been robbed of her children. And in this, her desolation, “she sits.” The attitude, so simple and natural and easy under ordinary circumstances, here suggests a settled continuance of wretchedness; it is helpless and hopeless. The first wild agony of the severance of the closest natural ties has passed, and with it the stimulus of conflict; now there has supervened the dull monotony of despair. It is a fearful thing simply to sit in sorrow. The mourner sits “in the night,” while the world around lies in the peace of sleep. The darkness has fallen, yet she does not stir, for day and night are alike to her--both dark. In this dread night of misery her one occupation is weeping. The mourner knows how the hidden fountains of tears which have been sealed to the world for the day will break out in the silent solitude of night; then the bravest will “wet his couch with his tears.” The forlorn woman “weepeth sore”; to use the expressive Hebraism, “weeping she weepeth.” “Her tears are on her cheeks”; they are continually flowing; she has no thought of drying them; there is no One else to wipe them away. This is not the frantic torrent of youthful tears, soon to be forgotten in sudden sunshine, like a spring shower; it is the dreary winter rain, falling more silently, but from leaden clouds that never break. The woe of Jerusalem is intensified by reason of its contrast with the previous splendour of the proud city. This thought of a tremendous fall gives the greatest force to the portrait. It is Rembrandtesque; the black shadows on the foreground are the deeper because they stand sharply out against the brilliant radiance that streams in from the sunset of the past. The pitiableness of the comfortless present lies in this, that there had been lovers whose consolations would now have been a solace; the bitterness of the enmity now experienced is its having been distilled from the dregs of poisoned friendship. Against the protests of her faithful prophets Jerusalem had courted alliance with her heathen neighbours only to be cruelly deserted in her hour of need. It is the old story of friendship with the world, keenly accentuated in the life of Israel because this favoured people had already seen glimpses of a rich, rare privilege, the friendship of heaven. This is the irony of the situation; it is the tragic irony of all Hebrew history. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
She weepeth sore in the night.
1. According to the measure of God’s correcting hand upon us, must our grief be.
(1) Because God is sure to be (at the least) so angry as His rods are heavy.
(2) Our sins do cause Him to afflict us, which we must repent of according to the measure of God’s anger against them appearing by His smiting of us. This reproves them that remain unrepentant, when the correcting hand of God is upon them. It teaches us to increase in sorrow and lamentation, seeing the trouble of the Church in general, and our own crosses in particular are daily increased.
2. Weeping for sin and its punishment is such a sign of true repentance as we must labour to show forth, especially in time of calamity.
(1) Because the heart appeareth then to be truly affected when it breaketh into tears.
(2) The godly have always been brought thereunto (Joel 2:12). This reproves our corruption, that can easily be brought to weep for a worldly loss, but hardly for our sins. We must labour against this with all diligence, carefully using all the means of grace.
3. It is a grievous plague to lack comforts in affliction; the contrary whereof is a great blessing.
(1) Because the comfortable words and deeds of others will mitigate the sense of the misery.
(2) It adds to the grief to be left alone in it.
4. It is an intolerable grief to have friends become foes.
(1) Because we put great trust in our friends, and promise ourselves much assistance by them.
(2). They having been most inward with us, may do us more harm than those whom we have always esteemed enemies. Let us take heed with what men we make friendship. Let us not be dismayed though our friends become our foes, seeing it hath been often the lot of the godly, but seek to God the more earnestly for His assistance.
5. God often leaveth His people destitute of all outward help and comfort, to teach us to rest upon Him alone at whose disposition all things are, and not upon any outward thing, seem it never so glorious to our outward eyes. (J. Udall.)
All her friends have dealt treacherously with her.
Adversity the test of friendship
We do not know our friends until we are in some extremity. Fair-weather friends are not to be implicitly trusted. You cannot know a man until you have had occasion to test him by some practical sacrifice; until you have opposed a man you do not know what his temper is; until you have disappointed a man you cannot tell the extent of his good nature; until you have seen a man in trial you know nothing whatever of his grace or his virtue. Many persons shine the more brightly because of the surrounding darkness; they have no genius for conversation, they cannot display themselves in public, they are but poorly feathered and coloured, so that they have nothing to attract and gratify the attention of curiosity: but how full of life they are when their friends are in trouble, how constant in watchfulness, how liberal in contribution, how patient under exasperation! These are the men to trust! As we should never see the stars but for the darkness, so we never should see real friendship but for our affliction and sorrow. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction.
1. The outward things of this life are the soonest lost; and being enjoyed, the most uncertain.
(1) They are most subject to all kinds of enemies.
(2) God knoweth that we may best want them.
Learn to make least account of them, as things without which we may be perfectly happy. Endeavour most of all to obtain the true knowledge and fear of God, which is the treasure laid up in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).
2. It is natural for a man to seek to better his outward estate, and his duty to seek far and near for the freedom and rest of conscience (2 Chronicles 11:13-17).
3. It is better to live anywhere than in our own country where our governors seek to oppress us, for their hatred being assisted with their might will never let us live in any tolerable peace.
4. Of two evils, we may and ought to choose the less, to avoid the greater.
5. It is grievous and dangerous to dwell among the ungodly.
(1) They can administer no true comfort unto us.
(2) They are strong to draw us to evil.
6. When God means to punish, He stirs up means; but when He means it not, the means shall not prosper.
7. There is no place or means to escape God’s hand, when He means to punish.
8. There is no kind of people so generally and so evil entreated in their adversity as the godly.
9. This people seemeth to be utterly overthrown for ever, and yet they returned unto their land and became a commonwealth again. So is it often with the Church of God (Psalms 139:1, etc.). This teaches us--
(1) Never to despair, though our calamities be never so many and grievous.
(2) That there is no assured safety, but in the true fear of God. (J. Udall.)
The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts.
The decay of religion mournful
1. The overthrow of the commonwealth bringeth with it the overthrow of the Church’s outward peace.
2. When the things that God hath given us here are not applied to the appointed use, we have just cause to mourn, seeing our sins have caused the let thereof (Deuteronomy 28:15-68; Isaiah 13:19, etc.).
3. The earth and earthly things do often admonish men of their sins, either by denying that comfort which naturally they bring with them (Leviticus 18:25), or bringing grief or punishment with them (Micah 2:10).
(1) God hath made all His creatures as written books, wherein man may read his sins.
(2) That man may have no show of excuse left him at that great day of account.
4. All God’s creatures mourn when God is disobeyed, and rejoice when He is obeyed by His people.
5. The service of God is not tied to any place, but upon condition of their obedience that dwell therein (Jeremiah 26:4).
6. It is a great grief to God’s ministers to be deprived of their ministry or to see it unprofitable to the Church.
(1) God is greatly dishonoured thereby.
(2) It giveth occasion of interrupting all good things among the people, and matter of all kinds of sin.
7. The ministers must be guides to the people, to lead them to mourning (when there is cause), as also to all other duties.
8. They that seem most exempt from it must mourn at the decay of religion.
(1) This reproves them that lay not to heart the distress of God’s people for the truth, thinking it sufficient that themselves live in safety.
(2) It teaches us to strive to be grieved when we hear of the decay of true religion in any place, though it be safe where we are.
9. The greatest loss that can befall God’s people is the loss of the exercise of the Word and Sacraments. Because God hath appointed them to be the means of begetting and confirming faith in us. (J. Udall.)
All her gates are desolate.
A pathetic picture indeed is this, that the feast is spread and no man comes to the banqueting table; every gate is open in token of welcome and hospitality, yet no wandering soul asks for admittance; the priests once so noble in the service of song, the virgins once so beautiful as images of innocence, now stand with hands thrown down, with eyes full of tears, with hearts sighing in expressive silence their bitterness and disappointment. All this can God do even to His chosen place, and to altars on which He has written His name. Officialism is no guarantee of spiritual perpetuity. Pomp and ceremony, with all their mechanical and external decorations and attractions, are no pledge of the presence of the Spirit of the Living God. The sanctuary is nothing but for the Lord’s presence. Eloquent preaching is but eloquent noise if the Spirit of the Lord be not in it, giving it intellectual value, spiritual dignity, and practical usefulness. Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord; because men have forgotten this doctrine, they have trusted to themselves and have seen their hopes perishing in complete and bitter disappointment. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Her adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper.
The adversaries of the good
1. The cause apparent of all the miseries of God’s people is the prospering and prevailing of their enemies.
2. It often comes to pass that the wicked prosper in all things of this life, and the godly contrary (Psalms 73:4; Job 21:7).
(1) God will, by giving them prosperity, make the wicked without excuse.
(2) The godly being assured of God’s favour and yet pinched, they may the more earnestly bend their affections to the inheritance which is prepared for them.
3. It is the natural disposition of the wicked towards the godly to oppress them in action and hate them in affliction.
4. The wicked never prevail against the godly, further than the Lord giveth strength unto them (Job 1:11-12; 1 Kings 22:22; Matthew 8:31-32). This teaches us--
(1) To he more patient towards the instruments, and not to be as the dog that snatcheth at the stone cast at him, not regarding the thrower.
(2) To seek the cause of our afflictions in ourselves, for else the just Judge of the world would not correct us.
5. All our afflictions come from the Lord, who is the chief worker thereof.
6. It is the sin of the godly that causeth the Lord to lay all their troubles upon them (Daniel 9:6; Nehemiah 1:6).
7. When God withdraweth His strength from His servants, they fall into many grievous sins, one after another.
8. When God meaneth to punish man, He will not spare to deprive him of that which is more dear unto him.
9. The wicked bear such malice unto the truth that when they get the advantage they spate neither age nor sex, thinking to root out the godly from under heaven. (J. Udall.)
And from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed.
1. The Church of God doth esteem the exercises of religion e most excellent and glorious thing that can be had in this life.
(1) They are notable signs of God’s favour and presence.
(2) There is more true comfort in them than in the whole world besides.
2. The weakening of the rulers is the height of misery upon the rest of the members of that body.
3. That people hath a heavy judgment upon them whose guides are destitute and deprived of necessary courage.
4. They that have the greatest outward privilege do often come the soonest into distress when God punisheth for sin (Amos 6:7). (J. Udall.)
Sin ruinous and destructive
We do our utmost to protect great buildings from fire and tempest, and yet all the time those buildings are liable to another peril not less severe--the subtle decay of the very framework of the structure itself. The tissue of the wood silently and mysteriously deteriorates, and calamity as dire as a conflagration is precipitated. The whole of the magnificent roofing of the church of St. Paul in Rome had to be taken out at enormous expense because of the dry rot. Scientific men, by microscopic and chemical methods, have investigated the causes of this premature decay, and after patient search they have discovered not only the fungi which destroy the wood tissue, but also the spore that acts as the seed of the fungus. So this obscure, malign vegetation goes on in the heart of the wood, destroying the glory and strength of minister and palace. Character is liable to a similar danger. All evils do not come from the outside. Some of the worst possibilities of loss, weakness, and ruin emerge from within; the destroying agents work obscurely and stealthily, and are almost unsuspected until they nave wrought fatal mischief.
Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction, and of her miseries, all her pleasant things.
The action of the memory in pain
I. It generally refers to the “pleasant things” of the past. This it does by a necessary law of its nature--the law of contrast. All men must meet with trials sooner or later--physical, social, moral, etc. Now in the painful memory reverts to the pleasant. It is ever so. Men under the infirmities of age revert to the bright joys of youth hood; the rich man who has sunk into bankruptcy reverts to the days when he had more than heart could wish; souls in perdition recall the sunny day of grace.
II. Its reference to the “pleasant things” of the past always intensifies the sufferings of the sufferer. There are two things that tend to this:
(1) The consciousness that the “pleasant things” are irrevocably lost: Innocency of childhood, glowing hopes of youth, pleasures of mature manhood, sacred impressions made upon the young heart by books, sermons, and parental piety,--these can never be regained.
(2) The consciousness that the “pleasant things” have been morally abused. This makes the action of memory m hell so overwhelmingly painful. “Son, remember,” etc. Memory involves receptivity--retention--reproduction (Homilist.)
The memory of pleasant things in the time of trial:--
1. In the time of affliction we do better consider of the blessings that our prosperity yielded unto us, than when we enjoyed them.
2. The time of adversity is fit, wherein we may best recount the prosperity that in former times we have enjoyed.
3. God often maketh an men adversaries to His children, that they may learn to rest on Him alone.
4. The enemies of religion do inquire into the decay of God’s Church, and rejoice at it.
5. It is a certain note of an enemy to religion, to mock and deride the exercises of the same. (J. Udall.)
The mockery of bad men
What would the nightingale care if the toad despised her singing! She would still sing on, and leave the cold toad to his dank shadows. And what care I for the sneers of men who grovel upon earth? I will sing on in the ear and bosom of God. (H. W. Beecher.)
Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed.
The captivity of Judah
The emphatic word is “therefore.” It rings with sad and solemn cadence through the most mournful of all the books of the Bible. It is the epitaph of the nation to which once the conquest of the world was possible, but whose persistent resistance to the will of God secured at last its complete destruction The processes by which it ruined itself are those by which individuals are destroyed. This “therefore” is the monumental inscription over a dead nation, which may serve as a warning and guide to every living soul.
I. The sins which brought about the downfall of Judah.
1. Unbelief. They refused to see God, and they gradually lost the power to see Him. When they found that their kings could not be trusted, could not take care of them° they trusted, not to God, but to other nations. One day they were vassals of the king of Egypt; the next, of the king of Babylon Nothing but trust in God can make men free. As soon as we begin to doubt his word, and trust in human opinions, we expose ourselves to become the prey of untrustworthy powers. No confidence in our own learning or judgment, no trust in the boastful words of others, can ever take the place of confidence in the simple Word of God, and leave us sound and safe.
2. Pride. They could not accept God’s way. They could not wait for other nations to be uplifted and join them. They chose to join other nations. Doubtless they said it would more quickly bring the world to God; that to be singular would only repel men, and make God repulsive to them. They preferred their way to the way of God, ostensibly because They thought their way was wiser, really because they could not bear to lose esteem in the eyes of tree world God’s way is the same now. He still calls disciples a peculiar people. He still says, “Come ye out from among them and be ye separate.” He still finds only occasionally a hearty response. But to these who do respond with willing love, what wonderful rewards He gives!
3. Sensuality. Outward contamination soon resulted in inward corruption. Vice belongs with separation from God, and association with the world. In time it will as surely follow as it is sure that man is made subject to temptation.
4. Idolatry. When men or nations become polluted, they seek to make religion justify their wickedness. Often the most self-indulgent are those most devoted to their ideas of religion. They make their gods responsible for their sins, and therefore treat them with greatest care.
II. The consequences of Judah’s sins.
1. Blindness. They could not see the ruin they were approaching. When we cease to lay bare our sins and call them by their real names, we cease to feel them. We enter into moral darkness. The light of the world shines as before, but there is nothing in us which answers to that light. All knowledge of what we ought to do rests on some knowledge of what God is and does. We speak of seeing God, and though He is not visible to the bodily eye, there is no other description which expresses our perception of His character and presence surrounding us in all our ways. Men have eyes which behold Him; eyes which He Himself has opened to that light which is not the light of the sun, but which is the light of the celestial city. But when men turn away from that light, His character becomes to them distorted and unreal.
2. Untrustworthiness. When they became false to God they became false to all trusts. They substituted forms for righteousness, and increased them in proportion as they lost the spirit of truth.
3. Misery. The consequences of sin were seen too late. They were not foreseen.
1. The captivity of Judah was the fault of her religious men. Beware of seeking to justify what your conscience condemns by appeals to God in prayer, or by observing forms of worship.
2. Outward reformation but slightly arrests the progress of destruction. We cannot hope for much from the reform which aims only at self-protection. It is not deep, honest, hearty, unless we choose to renounce sins because we hate sin, and follow God because we love His ways.
3. Sin destroys the choicest qualities of human character.
4. The one thing necessary is to keep the eye on God. (A. E. Dunning.)
Sin’s dire consequence
Sin produceth all temporal evil. Jerusalem hath grievously sinned, therefore she is removed. It is the Trojan horse; it hath sword and famine and pestilence within it. (T. Watson.)
Sin the cause of affliction
1. Their sins the cause of their afflictions being again mentioned unto them, teacheth this doctrine: that it is necessary whensoever we are afflicted, to recount often our sins to have procured the same to fall upon us.
(1) We are naturally unwilling to blame ourselves for anything, and ready to impute the cause of any evil to others.
(2) If we rightly charge ourselves and our sins, we shall be the better prepared thereby to true repentance and right humiliation.
2. It is peculiar to the godly to impute the cause of all their miseries unto their own sins. The wicked either lay the cause upon other things, or extenuate their fault, blaming God for rigour; or else break out into raging impatience or blasphemy.
3. It is our sin that depriveth us of any good thing we have heretofore enjoyed.
4. When we truly fear and serve the Lord, He honoureth us in the sight of men (1 Samuel 2:30).
(1) That it may appear that godliness is not without her reward even in this life.
(2) To give a taste unto the godly here, of that honour which they shall hereafter enjoy without measure or end.
5. It is our sin that maketh us odious and contemptible amongst men.
6. The estimation that the godly have among worldlings is only whilst they are in outward prosperity.
7. The wicked, that have no knowledge or consciousness of their own faults, can see the offences of the godly, and upbraid them with them.
8. There is nothing that maketh men so filthily naked as sin.
9. The godly do take to heart with earnest affection the crosses that the Lord layeth upon them.
10. The godly are sometimes brought into so hard estate as that they are in men’s judgment utterly deprived of all the signs of God’s favour. (J. Udall.)
She remembereth not her last end: therefore she came down wonderfully.
The wicked surprised by their own destruction
There are certain great principles in the Divine administration, the operation of which gives a degree of uniformity to the Divine proceedings. For instance, it is the manner of our God to visit with signal destruction those who have proudly set at naught His authority in a course of prosperous wickedness. Such was His treatment of Jerusalem. So it has been with individuals. Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, etc. Destruction came upon them, not only in a terrible form, but at an hour when they did not expect it. The same thing will hold true, in a greater or less degree, of all sinners, as it respects their final doom; while it will be especially true of those who have sinned against great light, and with a high hand. The destruction which will overtake sinners at last will be to them a matter of awful surprise. It will be at once unexpectedly dreadful, and dreadfully unexpected.
I. God’s wrath against the wicked is constantly accumulating. If the first sin you ever committed provoked God, do you think that the second provoked Him less; and that as He saw you become accustomed to sin, He came to think as little of it as yourself, and has not even charged your sin against you? Do you not remember that the Bible speaks of the sinner treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath?
II. The destruction which will come upon sinners will be to them a matter of fearful surprise, inasmuch as in the present life God’s wrath, for the most part, seems to slumber; at least they perceive no direct expression of it. It is true, indeed, that God is giving them warnings enough, both in His Word and providence; and if they did not close their ears against them, they could not fail to be alarmed; and they will never be able, in the day of their calamity, to charge God with having concealed from them their danger. Nevertheless, He treats them here as probationers for eternity; He sets life and death before them, but He does not unsheath His sword, and point it at the sinner’s heart. He does not find that the elements are armed for his destruction. The thundercloud rises, and rolls, and looks terrific, as if it were borne along by an avenging hand, but the lightning that blazes from it passes him by unhurt. In short, not one of the vials of God’s wrath can be said to be open upon him. There is nothing which he interprets as an indication of anything dreadful in the future. Now, must not all this be a preparation for a fearful surprise at last?
III. Not only have the wicked, during the present life, received no signal expressions of Divine vengeance, but they have been constantly receiving expressions of the Divine goodness; and this is another circumstance which will serve to increase the surprise that will be occasioned by their destruction. What a fearful transition will it be from this world, in which there are so many blessings, to a world in which existence itself becomes a curse! Oh, will not the sinner feel that he has “come down wonderfully”?
IV. God sometimes not only gives to the wicked a common share of temporal blessings, but distinguishes them by worldly prosperity; hence another reason of the surprise which they will experience at last. Think of the rich, and the great, and the noble of this world, who have been accustomed to receive a homage which has sometimes fallen little short of idolatry, finding themselves in the prison of despair, with no sound but the sound of their own wailing--with no society but the society of the reprobate! Have not these persons come down wonderfully?
V. The destruction which will finally overtake the wicked will be to them a matter of great surprise, inasmuch as they will, in some way or other, have made confident calculation foe escaping it. It will be found, no doubt, that many of them had flattered themselves with the hope that the doctrine of future punishment might turn out to be false; and some will have been left through their own perverseness to believe the lie, that the good and the bad will at last be equally happy. There will be others who will have wrought themselves into a conviction that destruction might be averted by some easier means than those which the Gospel prescribes, and may have chosen to trust to the orthodoxy of their creed, or the kindness of their temper, or the morality of their life. There will be others who will have intended ultimately to escape destruction by becoming true Christians, but who were looking out for some more convenient season. One thing will be certain in respect to all,--they will have intended to come out well at last. Not an individual among all the sufferers in hell but will have expected finally to be saved. Lessons.
1. How blinding is the influence of depravity.
2. It is a most awful calamity to relapse into a habit of carelessness after being awakened.
3. There is no class of men so much to be pitied as those who are perhaps most frequently the objects of envy, and none whose condition is so much to be envied as those whose circumstances are often looked upon as the most undesirable.
4. Who of you will turn a deaf ear to the warning which this subject suggests, to flee from the wrath to come? (W. B. Sprague, D. D.)
1. They that be hardened in sin by despising destruction, do grow to forget those things which continual experience and the light of reason daily call to remembrance.
(1) The daily custom of things, without grace to esteem them aright, breedeth contempt of them in our corrupt nature.
(2) Satan blindeth the children of disobedience, lest they should rightly regard good things and profit by them.
2. The forgetfulness of the reward of sin throweth men headlong into iniquity; but the remembrance of it stayeth us from many evils (Amos 6:3; Psalms 16:8). (J. Udall.)
Forgetfulness of the end
I. Why is man so forgetful of his end?
(1) Not because he can have any doubt as to the importance of it.
(2) Not because he lacks reminders of the sad event.
(3) Not because he has the slightest hope of avoiding it. Why then?
1. His instinctive repugnance to it.
2. The difficulty of realising it.
3. The commonness of the occurrence of the event.
4. The prevalent expectation of long life.
5. The secular engrossments of life.
6. The systematic efforts to render man oblivious of the subject.
II. Why should man remember his end?
1. That we may duly estimate our sinful condition.
2. To moderate our attachments to this passing life.
3. To stimulate us to a right preparation for the event.
4. To enable us to welcome the event when it comes. (Homilist.)
The end in view should control conduct
If the lazy student would only bring clearly before his mind the examination room, and the unanswerable paper, and the bitter mortification when the pass list comes out and his name is not there, he would not trifle and dawdle and seek all manner of diversions as he does, but he would bind himself to his desk and his task. If the young man that begins to tamper with purity, and in the midst of the temptations of a great city to gratify the lust of the eye and the lust of the flesh, because he is away from the shelter of his father’s house, and the rebuke of his mother’s purity, could see, as the older of us have seen, men with their bones full of the iniquity of their youth, or drifted away from their home to die down in the country like a rat in a hole, do you think the temptations of the streets and low places of amusement would not be stripped of their fascination? If the man beginning to drink was to say to himself, “What am I to do in the end” when the craving becomes physical, and volition is suspended, and anything is sacrificed in order to still the domineering devil within, do you think he would begin? I do not believe that all sin comes from ignorance, but sure I am that if the sinful man saw what the end is, he would, in nine cases out of ten, be held back. “What will you do in the end?” Use that question, dear friends, as the Ithuriel spear which will touch the squatting tempter at your ear, and there will start up, in its own shape, the fiend. (A. Maclaren.)
O Lord, behold my affliction.--
Refuge in distress
1. The only refuge in distress is to fly to the Lord by faithful and fervent prayer.
(1) He it is that smiteth, and none else can heal.
(2) He hath promised to hear and deliver us, calling upon Him in the day of our troubles (Psalms 50:15).
2. This prayer being made by the prophet in the name of the people, teacheth us: it is a great blessing of God to that people that hath a minister who is both able and willing not only to teach them the truth, but also to be their mouth to direct them.
3. God so pitieth His people that the view of their miseries moveth Him to help them, even when all men are against them.
(1) He loveth them with an everlasting love.
(2) He will not suffer them to be trodden down of their enemies for ever. (J. Udall.)
The adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things.
1. The wicked are usually merciless towards the godly, spoiling them and theirs in most cruel manner, if the Lord restrain them not (Psalms 53:4; Psalms 137:7).
2. The outward things of this world are uncertain, and made subject to the violence of the wicked.
(1) Learn not to desire the things of this life too much.
(2) Learn, when God guideth them unto us, to employ them aright.
3. The outward things and means of God’s service are often made a prey to the enemies; especially upon our abusing of them (Jeremiah 7:13; Luke 19:44).
4. The injuries that the wicked do unto the godly in their sight, are more grievous unto them than those that they do only hear of.
5. The wicked make havoc of and scorn all the exercises of religion.
6. The outward ordinances of God are of reverent account to them that fear His name.
7. Those that be open wicked ones are not (without their open repentance) to be admitted to the holy exercises of religion. (J. Udall.)
All her people sigh, they seek bread.
Grief at losses
I. It is awful for the godly to be grieved with and take to heart their worldly losses--
(1) Because the things of this life are God’s blessings.
(2) They are necessary to support us here, and (being well used) to make us the fitter to serve Him.
2. For the preservation of the life, we must be willing to forego the dearest of these outward blessings.
(1) Because life is the most precious of all earthly things, they being given for the use of it, and not it for them.
(2) God hath given greater charge to preserve it than them.
3. In all our miseries we must seek relief only at God’s hands.
(1) He hath so commanded (Psalms 50:15, etc.).
(2) All power to help is in His hands alone (2 Chronicles 20:6).
4. No extremity can drive the godly from trusting in God, and praying to Him (Job 13:15; Psalms 44:17). (J. Udall)
They have given their pleasant things for meat to relieve the soul.--
Surrender of luxuries for necessaries
Our forefathers gave five marks or more for a good book; a load of hay for a few chapters of St. James or of St. Paul, in English, saith Mr. Foxe. The Queen of Castile sold her jewels to furnish Columbus for his discovering voyage to the West Indies, when he had showed his maps, though our Henry VII, loath to part with money, slighted his offers, and thereby the gold mines were found and gained to the Spanish crown. Let no man think much to part with his pleasant things for his precious soul, or to sacrifice all that he hath to the service of his life, which, next to his soul, should be most dear to him. Our ancestors in Queen Mary’s days were glad to eat the bread of their souls in peril of their lives. (J. Trapp.)
Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?
1. The whole passage evidently expresses a deep yearning for sympathy. Mere strangers, roving Bedouin, any people who may chance to be passing by Jerusalem, are implored to behold her incomparable woes. The wounded animal creeps into a corner to suffer and die in secret, perhaps on account of the habit of herds, in tormenting a suffering mate. But among mankind the instinct of a sufferer is to crave sympathy, from a friend, if possible; but if such be not available, then even from a stranger. This sympathy, if it is real, would help if it could; and under all circumstances it is the reality of the sympathy that is most prized, not its issues. It should be remembered, further, that the first condition of active aid is a genuine sense of compassion, which can only be awakened by means of knowledge and the impressions which a contemplation of suffering produce. Evil is wrought not only from want of thought, but also from lack of knowledge; and good-doing is withheld for the same reason. Therefore the first requisite is to arrest attention. We are responsible for our ignorance and its consequences wherever the opportunity of knowledge is within our reach.
2. The appeal to all who pass by is most familiar to us in its later association with our Lord’s sufferings on the Cross. But this is not in any sense a Messianic passage; it is confined in its purpose to the miseries of Jerusalem. Of course there can be no objection to illustrating the grief and pain of the Man of Sorrows by using the classic language of an ancient lament if we note that this is only an illustration.
3. In order to impress the magnitude of her miseries on the minds of the strangers whose attention she would arrest, the city, now personified as a suppliant, describes her dreadful condition in a series of brief, pointed metaphors. Thus the imagination is excited; and the imagination is one of the roads to the heart. Let us look at the various images under which the distress of Jerusalem is here presented.
(1) It is like a fire in the bones (Lamentations 1:13). It burns, consumes, pains with intolerable torment; it is no skin-deep trouble, it penetrates to the very marrow.
(2) It is like a net (Lamentations 1:13). We see a wild creature caught in the bush, or perhaps a fugitive arrested in his flight and flung down by hidden snares at his feet. Here is the shock of surprise, the humiliation of deceit, the vexation of being thwarted. The result is a baffled, bewildered, helpless condition.
(3) It is like faintness. The desolate sufferer is ill. It is bad enough to have to bear calamities in the strength of health. Jerusalem is made sick and kept faint “all the day”--with a faintness that is not a momentary collapse, but a continuous condition of failure.
(4) It is like a yoke (Lamentations 1:14) which is wreathed upon the neck--fixed on, as with twisted withes. The poet is here more definite. The yoke is made out of the transgressions of Jerusalem. As there is nothing so invigorating as the assurance that one is suffering for a righteous cause, so there is nothing so wretchedly depressing as the consciousness of guilt.
(5) It is like a winepress (Lamentations 1:15). Wine is to be made, but the grapes crushed to produce it are the people who were accustomed to feast and drink of the fruits of God’s bounty in the happy days of their prosperity. So the mighty men are set at nought, their prowess counting as nothing against the brutal rush of the enemy; and the young men are crushed, their spirit and vigour failing them in the great destruction.
4. The most terrible trait in these pictures, one that is common to all of them, is the Divine origin of the troubles. Yet there is no complaint of barbarity, no idea that the Judge of all the earth is not doing right. The miserable city does not bring any railing accusation against her Lord; she takes all the blame upon herself. The grief is all the greater because there is no thought of rebellion. The daring doubts that struggle into expression in Job never obtrude themselves here to check the even flow of tears. The melancholy is profound, but comparatively calm, since it does not once give place to anger. It is natural that the succession of images of misery conceived in this spirit should be followed by a burst of tears. Zion weeps because the comforter who should refresh her soul is far away, and she is left utterly desolate (verse 16).
5. Here the supposed utterance of Jerusalem is broken for the poet to insert a description of the suppliant making her piteous appeal (verse 17). He shows us Zion spreading out her hands, that is to say, in the well-known attitude of prayer. She is comfortless, oppressed by her neighbours in accordance with the will of her God, and treated as an unclean thing; she who had despised the idolatrous Gentiles in her pride of superior sanctity has now become foul and despicable in their eyes!
6. After the poet’s brief interjection describing the suppliant, the personified city continues her plaintive appeal, but with a considerable enlargement of its scope. She makes the most distinct acknowledgment of the two vital elements of the case--God’s righteousness and her own rebellion (verse 18). These carry us beneath the visible scenes of trouble so graphically illustrated earlier, and fix our attention on deep seated principles. Although it cannot be said that all trouble is the direct punishment of sin, and although it is manifestly insincere to make confession of guilt one does not inwardly admit, to be firmly settled in the conviction that God is right in what He does even when it all looks most wrong, that if there is a fault it must be on man’s side, is to have reached the centre of truth.
7. Enlarging the area of her appeal, no longer content to snatch at the casual pity of individual travellers on the road, Jerusalem now calls upon all the “peoples”--i.e., all neighbouring tribes--to hear the tale of her woes (verse 18). The appeal to the nations contains three particulars. It deplores the captivity of the virgins and young men; the treachery of allies--“lovers” who have been called upon for assistance, but in vain; and the awful fact that men of such consequence as the elders and priests, the very aristocracy of Jerusalem, had died of starvation after an ineffectual search for food--a lurid picture of the horrors of the siege (verses 18, 19).
8. In drawing to a close the appeal goes further, and, rising altogether above man, seeks the attention of God (verses 20-22). This is an utterance of faith where faith is tried to the uttermost. It is distinctly recognised that the calamities bewailed have been sent by God; and yet the stricken city turns to God for consolation. Not only is there no complaint against the justice of His acts; in spite of them all, He is still regarded as the greatest Friend and Helper of the victims of His wrath. This apparently paradoxical position issues in what might otherwise be a contradiction of thought. The ruin of Jerusalem is attributed to the righteous judgment of God, against which no shadow of complaint is raised; and yet God is asked to pour vengeance on the heads of the human agents of His wrath! The vengeance here sought for cannot be brought into line with Christian principles; but the poet had never heard the Sermon on the Mount. It would not have occurred to him that the spirit of revenge was not right, any more than it occurred to the writers of maledictory Psalms. There is one more point in this final appeal to God which should be noticed, because it is very characteristic of the elegy throughout. Zion bewails her friendless condition, declaring, “there is none to comfort me.” This is the fifth reference to the absence of a comforter (see 1:2, 9, 16, 17, 21). The idea may be merely introduced in order to accentuate the description of utter desolation. And yet when we compare the several allusions to it, the conclusion seems to be forced upon us that the poet has a more specific intention. Our thoughts instinctively turn to the Paraclete of St. John’s Gospel. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
I. An earnest expostulation. If there is anything in all the world that ought to interest a man, it is the death of Christ. Yet do I find men, learned men, spending year after year in sorting out butterflies, beetles, and gnats, or in making out the various orders of shells, or in digging into the earth and seeking to discover what strange creatures once floundered through the boundless mire, or swam in the vast seas. I find men occupied with things of no sort of practical moment, yet the story of God Himself is thought to be too small a trifle for intelligent minds to dwell upon it. O reason! where art thou gone? O judgment! whither art thou fled? It is strange that even the sufferings of Christ should not attract the attention of men, for generally, if we hear any sad story of the misfortunes of our fellow creatures, we are interested. How is it earth does not stretch out her hands and say, “Come and tell us of the God that loved us, and came down to our low estate, and suffered for us men and for our salvation”? It ought to interest us, if nothing more. Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? And should it not be more than interesting? Should it not excite our admiration? You cannot read of a man sacrificing himself for the good of his fellow creatures without feeling at once that you wish you had known that fine fellow, and you feel instinctively that you would do anything in the world to serve him if he still lives, or to help relatives left behind if he has died in a brave attempt. Is it nothing to you that Jesus should die for men? If I had no share in His blood, I think I should love Him. The life of Christ enchants me; the death of Christ binds me to His Cross. Even were I never washed in His blood, and were myself cast away into hell, if that were possible, I still feel I must admire Him for His love to others. Yea, and I must adore Him, too, for His Godlike character, His superhuman love in suffering for the sons of men. But why, why is it that such a Christ, so lovely and so admirable, is forgotten by the most of mankind, and it is nothing to them?
II. A solemn question. The Lord Jesus Christ may be represented here as bidding men see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow, which is done unto Him.
1. Truly the sufferings of Jesus were altogether unique; they stand alone. History or poetry can find no parallel. King of kings and Lord of lords was He, and the government was upon His shoulders, and His name was called Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. All the hallelujahs of eternity rolled up at his august feet. But He was despised and rejected of men, a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised and we esteemed Him not. Never one so falsely accused. Oh! was ever grief like His! exonerated yet condemned! adjudged to be without fault, yet delivered up to His direst foes! treated as a felon, put to death as a traitor; immolated on a gibbet which bore triple testimony to His innocence by its inscription. With none to pity, no one to administer comfort, forsaken utterly, our Saviour died, with accessories of sorrow that were to be found in no other decease than that which was accomplished at Jerusalem. Still, the singularity of His death lies in another respect.
2. There was never sorrow like unto the sorrow which was done unto Christ, because all His sorrow was borne for others. His Godhead gave Him an infinite capacity, and infused a boundless degree of compensation into all the pangs He bore. You have no more idea of what Christ suffered in His soul than you have, when you take up in a shell a drop of sea-water, power to guess from that the area of the entire boundless, bottomless ocean. What Christ suffered is utterly inconceivable. Was ever grief like Thine? Needless question; needless question; all but shameful question; for were all griefs that ever were felt condensed into one, they were no more worthy to be compared therewith than the glowworm’s tiny lamp with the ever-blazing sun. If Christ be thus alone in suffering, what then?
3. Why, let Him stand alone in our love. High, high, set up Christ high in your heart. Love Him; you cannot match His love to you; seek at least to let your little stream run side by side of the mighty river. If Christ be thus alone in suffering, let us seek to make Him, if we can, alone in our service. I wish we had more Marys who would break the alabaster box of precious ointment upon His dear head. Oh! for a little extravagance of love, a little fanaticism of affection for Him, for He deserves ten thousand times more than the most enthusiastic devotees ever dream of rendering.
4. If He be thus so far beyond all others in His sorrow, let Him also be first and foremost in our praise. If ye have poetic minds, weave no garlands except for His dear brow. If ye be men of eloquence, speak no glowing periods except to His honour. If ye be men of wit and scholarship, oh seek to lay your classic attainments at the foot of His Cross! Come hither with all your talents, and yield them to Him who bought you with His blood. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“Is it nothing to you?”
The crucified Christ is still amongst us. We may even now by faith behold the Lamb of God in the very act of sacrificing Himself for the sin of the world. There are many who do not pass by the Cross on which He hangs. Come joy or sorrow, come honour or disgrace, whether others join you or whether you should be alone, in life and in death, you are resolved in penitential love and joyful obedience to dwell beneath the shadow of the Cross of Christ. But there are others who “pass by.” There are scorners and scoffers now, as in the times of old. All who live profligate and wicked lives; all who deliberately indulge in fleshly lusts; the licentious, the intemperate, the covetous, the proud, the revengeful; all who cherish some secret sin and will not give it up; all such “pass by”; for the sight of the great Example of self-sacrifice so condemns those who are resolved on a life of self-indulgence, and the sufferings He endured to save from sin so reproach those who determine to commit sin, that they cannot find any pleasure in their wickedness except as they banish Him from their thoughts; and so they “pass by.” It is possible that none of you may be fairly classed either with scorners or profligates. But nevertheless you may pass by Christ. Here are some in holiday attire, tripping and dancing along. Listening to the syren voice of pleasure, they wander off, some in one direction, some in another, in quest of new delights and fresh excitements. They often come within reach of the Cross, but they do not even see it, or they look at it so listlessly that it produces no effect. Others rush past, eager to grasp the phantom forms which beckon them onward and still fly before them. Here comes one bending beneath a heavy load which eagerly he increases, as ever and anon he picks up some shining bit of earth and adds it to his store. Stooping down and gazing intently on the ground, he does not see the Cross. Miserable man! Eager to multiply riches which increase your cares and which you must soon lose, you neglect the only true, the imperishable treasure, and pass by! Now approach a sorrowful company, in dark attire, their cheeks bedewed with tears, their heads bowed down with grief. Oh, why do you not look up to that great Example of suffering, that Brother in adversity? You are passing by Him who is able to remove at once the heaviest portion of your burden, and by His sympathy to wipe your tears and heal your wounds! Others approach who have often been here before. They stopped at first, and admired, and went on; but now the Cross is too familiar to attract their notice. Here come others apparently determined to remain. They are much interested in the Cross. One sits down to sketch it. Another examines the wood of which it is made. A third measures its height and thickness. It is possible to be profound theologians and eloquent preachers, and yet pass by Christ. Others approach who are too intent in contemplating themselves to consider the crucified One. Not confessing themselves to be sinners, they pass by the Saviour, as having no need of Him. At length others come who resolve not to pass by. They are arrested by the sight of that patient sufferer; they wonder, they admire, they regret their former ignorance and folly, they will amend their lives, they will abandon their sins, they will remain beside the Cross; but it shall be--tomorrow! And so they also pass by! In order to pass by Christ it is not necessary to insult. Ye who have never yet really mourned for sin and forsaken it; who are not earnestly seeking Christ and relying on Him as your only Saviour; who do not imitate His example and obey His commands; ye who are not, for His sake, crucifying the flesh, dying with Christ to sin, that you may live with Christ in holiness; whatever your external behaviour, in heart you are amongst those to whom Jesus appeals, “Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by?” Do not say it is nothing to you because you are not included in the favoured few for whom Christ died. He is the “propitiation for the sins of the whole world,” and therefore for yours! You helped to fasten Christ to the Cross. Every sin was a blow of the hammer to drive in the nails. Is this nothing to you? On the Cross God proclaims that He is ready to pardon you and receive you home as His child; and that for this He gave Jesus to die for you. Is this nothing to you? Will you refuse to give heed to the earnest appeal of Him who beseeches you to be saved? What is anything to you if not Christ? If you heard a cry of “Fire,” you might selfishly say, “It is nothing to me.” But suppose it was your own house in flames? Sinner! it is your own soul which is in jeopardy, and it is for you that Jesus dies. (Newman Hall, D. D.)
The appeal of the Saviour’s sorrows
There is a most striking and close parallel between the sufferings of Jerusalem here impersonated as crying, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?” and those endured by our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
1. The city that was in ruins, was, of all earth’s cities, the one most intimately associated with God. The suffering Saviour was “the only begotten Son of God”; He alone, of all living beings, could say, “I and the Father are one.”
2. The misery of Jerusalem consisted largely in the wrongs and insults of foes. “Is this the city that men call the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth?” And as His enemies passed by the suffering Saviour on Calvary, they wagged their heads, and said, “He saved others, etc.
3. The misfortunes of Jerusalem were greatly aggravated, because her friends dealt treacherously with her, and became her enemies. The suffering Saviour was betrayed by one disciple, denied by another, and at last “they all forsook Him and fled.”
4. In her sorrows, Jerusalem cried unto God “who had left her, and delivered her into the hand of her enemies,” The suffering Saviour too appealed to God in the profoundly awful cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
5. Jerusalem was enduring the greatest misfortunes that history records of any city in any war. The suffering Saviour bore agony that no other being could endure. Every man has to “bear his own burden,” but “the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
I. Those who sorrow claim our special attention.
1. Because by sorrow sympathy is excited. Even those men who are most depraved are quickened to sympathise by any suffering that is placed before them in the peculiar phase they can understand. The best men will be quickened to sympathise with it in whatever form it appears. Christ was. No sort of sorrow was beneath His compassion, nor beyond the limits of HIS sympathy.
2. Because sorrow will generally teach us some lesson. The asking of “Why” this sorrow? How can it be destroyed? will often lead to the discovery of the profoundest and most necessary truths. Parents endure sorrow and suffering that their sons may learn lessons; neighbours, that their neighbours; nations, that surrounding nations may. But if the son will thoughtlessly “pass by” the sorrow of his parent; or the neighbour will “pass by” that of the neighbour; or the nation will “pass by” that of the nation--the son, the neighbour, the nation, must sorrow for themselves.
II. Of all who ever have sorrowed, Jesus Christ preeminently claims our attention.
1. He sorrowed more intensely than all others. He held Himself back from no grief, shrank from no abyss, refused no cross. Others have crowned themselves with royalty. He put the crown of sorrows upon his own brow. The solitariness of the Saviour’s sufferings, moreover, gives Him preeminence in grief. Others have known the creeping shadows of loneliness; He its midnight.
2. As a sorrower, He taught infinitely more important lessons than all others.
(1) The evil of sire If sin could cause that sorrow in a holy Being, what will it cause in us?
(2) God’s hatred of sin. He loved His Son, and yet He thus gave Him to bruising and to death for us.
(3) God’s love for man, and way of saving him. Comprehend God’s mercy, by comprehending Christ’s agony. (A. R. Thomas.)
The sufferings of Christ demand the attention of all
I. Let us, first, inquire into the true meaning of these words; and, in order to that, examine the connection in which they stand. Jerusalem is here represented as speaking, in the character of a female person, and that of a widow, bitterly lamenting her desolate condition, and calling for compassion. Whether any sorrow was like unto her sorrow at this period, we cannot determine, nor is this material. It was, undoubtedly, very great; and it was not unnatural for them to suppose it peculiar and unexampled. This is a common ease, both with bodies of people and individuals. Persons, when exercised with heavy and complicated afflictions, are very apt to suppose no sufferings equal to their own, and no sorrow like theirs. It is also very common and very natural for persons under heavy afflictions to feel it as a high aggravation that they have none to sympathise with them under their troubles, or to show any disposition to afford them relief.
1. This is a very grievous and pitiable condition for any to be in.
2. To exercise sympathy towards the afflicted is what may most reasonably be expected, and the neglect of it is highly culpable.
II. How applicable the description in the text is to the Lord Jesus Christ.
III. There are many who may be said to pass by with unconcern, as if all this was nothing to them and they had no concern in it.
1. What think yon of the great number of those who are called by the name of Christ, who never set themselves seriously to contemplate His sufferings: who never, or but seldom, attend the preaching of Christ crucified; or who, though they may sometimes hear the doctrine of the Cross, never bestow a serious thought about the ends and designs of the Saviour’s sufferings, or the concern which they themselves have in them?
2. And what shall we say of those persons, who even profess faith in Christ and love to His name, and attend the ordinary worship of His house with apparent decency, who yet neglect to fulfil His dying command to commemorate His sufferings and death in that peculiar ordinance, in which we have a visible representation of them, designed to perpetuate the memory of them in the world, and affect the heart with a sense of His love. (S. Palmer.)
Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow.
Searchings of heart
The greatest natures are capable of the greatest sorrow. It is utterly inconceivable to man of how much sorrow a nature like that of Jesus is capable. What sorrow would be ours if, for a single day, we were endowed with a power of vision which enabled us to see underneath all the coverings of life, into the heart of things; if all persons were laid bare to us, and we saw the stern reality below the veneer and polish and dress and shows of things! Let us not forget that the sufferings of our Lord historically recorded, are but part of His sufferings. The apostle speaks of “filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ.” There are sorrows for the Son of Man still, for He has identified Himself with us, and become one with us. Does not His Church cause Him sorrow? Is it not like raw material, so very hard to His hand as to be almost incapable of being moulded into any shape or form of beauty? Does He not sorrow over our ignorance? Our mental dulness? Our pride of knowledge which is often worse than ignorance? Our unloveliness of spirit and unlovableness? Our hard thoughts of others? Do not these things cause Him sorrow? Again, our want of patience in doing His work? Our expecting to reap on the very day we sow? Does not our Lord sorrow over our legalism--that old Jewish spirit of slavishness to mere forms and customs which are of human device--the letter which killeth; the rigidity which knows not how to bend or adapt itself to weakness and feebleness and infirmity? Must He not sorrow over our sectarianisms--our thinking more of mere sectional names than of the real unity which underlies all these? Yea, sometimes, must not our very prayers be a source of sorrow to Him? Yes, truly, our Lord may well say, as He looks into the hearts of the members of His professing Church, “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow.” When, in a court of justice, a man’s own witnesses seem to damage his cause, the ease is indeed painful And yet, our Lord’s deepest, profoundest, tenderest sorrow does not arise from any inconsistencies, or defects, or blunders, or ignorances, or wilfulnesses which He sees among those who believe in Him, trust Him and look to Him, many of whom do their feeble, blundering best, to serve Him. For, every man who names the name of Christ, and departs from iniquity, honours Christ. His chief sorrow is not over His Church, with all its multiplied inconsistencies, ignorances, and wilfulnesses, but over others; over you young man, to whom He has given a godly father and mother, who daily pray for you, though you hear it not, who love you with a love that, as far as a finite thing can represent an infinite thing, is like the love of God. Over you also, fathers and mothers, men and women bearing the holiest names that this world knows; into whose arms a gift has been placed than which this earth can furnish none so marvellous or wonderful--have you appreciated that gift at its true value? Have you realised that the flesh was only a platform for an immortal spirit to stand upon! Must there not be sorrow in the heart of Christ as He sees fathers and mothers treating children as though they were mere animal forms, or, at the most, mere children of this world, to be trained for this world, everything nurtured in them except that which is highest, that which is distinctive, that which makes them men? When our Lord looks from the height of His infinite knowledge upon the world of fathers and mothers, and sees how, by their example, they are bending their children’s souls away from Him, how often must His feeling be like to that expressed in these words, “Is any sorrow like unto My sorrow?” Does not this line of reflection touch every one of us? What sorrow greater than that of being perpetually misunderstood? And who knows this sorrow as the Son of God knows it? Have we not misunderstood Him most egregiously? Have we not thought of Him as the condemner? Yet is He the Saviour. Have we not resisted the Holy Spirit’s movements in our souls? Have we not almost forced ourselves into darkness? And all this has been so much of sorrow poured into the lot of the Son of Man. Yet still He broods over us, with a love that many waters cannot quench. (R. Thomas.)
Everyone disposed to think his afflictions peculiarly severe
I. The afflicted are very apt to imagine that God afflicts them too severely.
1. There are many degrees and shades of difference in those evils which may be properly called afflictions. But those who suffer lighter troubles are very apt to let their imagination have its free scope, which can easily magnify light afflictions into great and heavy ones. So that mankind commonly afflict themselves more than God afflicts them.
2. There is another way, by which the afflicted are apt to magnify their afflictions. They compare their present afflictions, not only with their past prosperity, but with the afflictions of others; which leads them to imagine that their afflictions are not only great, but singular, and such as nobody else has suffered; at least, to such a great degree.
II. This is a great and unhappy mistake.
1. None that are afflicted ever know that God lays His hand heavier upon them than upon others. Mankind are extremely apt to judge erroneously, concerning the nature and weight of their own afflictions, and the nature and weight of the afflictions which others around them suffer. They have a high estimation of the good which they see others enjoy, but a low estimation of the evil they suffer. And, on the other hand, they cherish a low idea of their own prosperity, and a high idea of their own adversity.
2. The afflicted never have any reason to imagine that God afflicts them too severely, because He never afflicts them more than they know they deserve. Every person has sinned and come short of the glory of God. Every sin deserves punishment; and it belongs to God to inflict any punishment that sin deserves.
3. The afflicted have no reason to think that God afflicts them too severely, because He never afflicts them more than they need to be afflicted. God afflicts some to draw forth the corruption of their hearts, and make them sensible that they are under the entire dominion of a carnal mind, which is opposed to His character, His law, His government, and the Gospel of His grace, and of course exposed not only to His present, but His future and everlasting displeasure. This is suited to alarm their fears, and excite them to flee from the wrath to come. God afflicts others to try their hearts, and draw forth their right affections, and give them sensible evidence of their having the spirit of adoption, and belonging to the number of His family and friends, and thereby removing their past painful doubts and fears. And He afflicts others, to give them an opportunity to display the beauties of holiness, by patience, submission, and cordial obedience in the darkest and most trying seasons.
4. The afflicted have no reason to think that God afflicts them too severely, because He never afflicts them any more than His glory requires Him to afflict them.
1. It is very unwise, as well as criminal, for the afflicted to brood over and aggravate the greatness of their affliction.
2. If the afflicted have no reason to think hard of God, or indulge the feeling that He corrects them too severely, then as long as they do indulge such a thought and feeling, they can receive no benefit from the afflictions they suffer.
3. If the afflicted have no reason to think that God afflicts them too severely, then they always have reason to submit to Him under His correcting hand.
4. It appears from what has been said, that men may derive more benefit from great than from light afflictions. They are suited to make deeper and better impressions on the mind.
5. It is as easy to submit to heavy as to light afflictions. As there are greater and stronger reasons to submit to heavy than to lighter evils, so these reasons render it mere easy to submit to heavy than light afflictions.
6. If men are apt to think that God afflicts them too severely, then their afflictions give them the best opportunity to know their own hearts. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
1. The godly in all their afflictions must look unto the Lord the striker, and not respect the rod wherewith He smiteth.
2. Corrections laid upon others ought not to be neglected, but duly considered of, as the rest of God’s works.
(1) God often smiteth some to instruct others thereby.
(2) We being of one mould should take to heart the condition one of another.
3. Man is not to be proud though God do many things by him and for him that seem both strange and commendable.
4. The wicked have no cause to rejoice when they prevail against the godly, though they do so usually.
(1) They are but the Lord’s rods, who (without repentance) shall be cast into the fire.
(2) They do not, as they imagine, overthrow the godly and establish themselves, but the clean contrary.
5. The godly endure more trouble in this world, both inwardly and outwardly, than any other.
(1) God loveth us, and would wean us from delighting in this world.
(2) Our nature is so perverse that it will not he framed to any spiritual things without many and grievous corrections.
(3) Satan and the world do hate us, and labour continually for our destruction.
6. It is a usual thing with us, to think our own troubles more heavy and intolerable than any others suffer.
(1) We feel all the smart of our own, and do only afar off behold that which others bear.
(2) We are more discontented with our own crosses than we should, which maketh us bear them the more impatiently, and think them the more intolerable.
7. The afflictions that God layeth upon His servants are and ought to be grievous unto them for the present time (Hebrews 12:11).
(1) We justly have deserved them through our sins.
(2) We must be led by them to repentance, or we abuse them.
8. Though our sins do always deserve it, and our foes do daily desire, yet can no punishment befall the godly till God see it meet to lay it upon them.
9. The anger of God is hot against sin, even in His dearest servants.
(1) He is most righteous, and cannot bear with any evil.
(2) It tendeth to His great dishonour.
10. God doth not always afflict His servants, but at such special times as He seeth it meetest for them. (J. Udall.)
I. Some of the particulars in which our Saviour’s sufferings were above those of all others.
1. He endured bodily torture the most severe.
2. Jesus suffered still deeper sorrows of the soul. All that pierces our hearts with sorrow was heaped on Christ. What so grievous as the treachery of a friend? And Judas, His own familiar friend, betrayed Him. What so bitter as to be forsaken? Yet all His disciples forsook Him and fled. Mockery and scorn and reviling are more cruel than the pains of the body; and He suffered them all, though He had done no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. Often man has much to soothe his dying moments; the eye of love watches by his pillow, and the hand of affection tries to lighten his pains. But this was denied to Jesus. When He died, malice and hatred were by, to pour fresh bitterness into His cup of death.
3. But will not God support Him? will not His Heavenly Father’s presence and consolation supply the place of all others? No: Christ is in the sinner’s stead; He is made sin for us, and His Father’s countenance is turned away.
II. How are we to think of what Christ has done and suffered? Why are we come together on this day, if it concerns us not? This day is our day of redemption. Hope, this day, has risen to a lost and sinful world. The things we hear and read of today are no vain story of years gone by: they are our very life. You who are passing by, as it were, in the carelessness and thoughtlessness of youth, young men and young women! you are called today to think of Jesus Christ. He speaks to you, and says, Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow, which I have borne for you. It is for your redemption. He will count all His sorrows as lightly borne, if you will let Him save your souls alive. Go to Him now in the first and best of your days. Give them to God, and not to sin; and so will He be with you in all your journey through this evil world, so shall you enjoy true peace of conscience. You who are passing by in manhood! to you also Jesus speaks. What are His sorrows to you? Do you find time and leisure to think of Him amidst the business, the labour, the burdens of life? Do you know anything of the power of His Cross? Has it led you to hate sin? Are you become new creatures in Christ Jesus? Do you pray for His Spirit to lead and sanctify you? You who are old, on the brink of the grave and of eternity! have you ever listened to the Saviour’s call? Have you believed upon His name? How has your faith been shown? Has it appeared in a life devoted to His service, or have your years been spent in deadness to God? You who are living in the practice and love of any known sin, in profaneness, in the lusts of the flesh, in general carelessness about religion, trample not under your feet the precious blood as on this day shed. Oh, may you seek Him while He may be found, and call upon Him while He is near. Christian! is the death of Christ nothing to you? Nay; it is all in all. It is your hope, your life, the source of pardon and of peace. What is the voice that speaks to you from the Cross of Christ? It bids you die wholly unto sin, rise more truly unto righteousness. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
Sorrow seen in its true light
“Everybody is so sorry for me except myself!” These are the words of Frances Ridley Havergal, that sweet singing spirit who dragged about through many years a weary, fragile, pain-ridden body. Everybody poured their sympathy upon her, and yet she half resented it. What is the secret of her triumph? She gives it us in one of the letters she wrote to her friends: “I see my pain in the light of Calvary.” Everything depends upon the light in which we view things. There are objects in the material world which, seen in certain lights, are visions of glory. Deprived of that revealing light, they are grey and commonplace. The Screes at Wastwater, looked at in dull light, are only vast slopes of common pebble and common clay, but when the sunlight falls upon them they shine resplendent with the varied colours of a pigeon’s neck. We must set our things in the right light. Frances Havergal set her pain in the light of Calvary, and so could almost welcome it. I remember another of her phrases, in which she said she never understood the meaning of the apostle’s words, “In His own body,” until she was in great pain herself, and then it seemed as though a new page of her Master’s love had been unfolded to her. Bring your common drudgery, your dull duties, your oommonplace tasks, your heavy, sullen griefs, into the light of the Saviour s sacrifice, and they will glow and burn with new and unexpected glory. “In Thy light shall we see light.” (Hartley Aspen.)
Our sorrows rightly estimated
Wilt we see in the water seemeth greater than at is, so is the waters Marah. All our sufferings, saith Luther, are but chips of His Cross, not worthy to ye names in the same day. (J. Trapp.)
On the Passion of our Saviour
I. The greatness of our Saviour’s sufferings.
II. The interest that we have in our Saviour’s sufferings.
1. We were the occasion of them.
2. Their benefits redound unto us (Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 10:19-20; Romans 3:15; Hebrews 10:20).
III. The regard and consideration we should bestow on them. Fix the eyes of your mind, and call up your most serious attention; reach hither the hand of your faith, and thrust it into your Saviour’s side; put your fingers into the print of the nails; lay to heart all the passages of His lamentable story; and this cannot but melt your heart, unless it be harder than the rocks, and dealer than the bodies in the graves. (H. Scougal, M. A.)
From above hath He sent fire into my bones.
1. This often mention of God’s hand teacheth this doctrine: When God punisheth us by the hands of the wicked, we are hardly brought to ascribe it to Him alone; and they from thinking that their own hand and power hath done it.
2. When God layeth afflictions upon us, they ransack the most secret parts that are in us.
3. God often bringeth His servants to the greatest misery that can be sustained by man.
4. God doth govern, and that in special manner, the particular course of all those afflictions which He layeth upon His people.
5. We can no more wind ourselves out of those afflictions that God layeth upon us, than the entangled soul can escape the net that compasseth him.
6. Nothing can go forward, or come to any good issue, but that only which the Lord furthereth.
7. It is God that giveth friends, health, etc.; and taketh all away at His pleasure.
8. According to the measure and continuance of God’s afflicting hand upon us, so must the measure and continuance of our sorrows be. (J. Udall.)
The yoke of my transgressions is bound by His hand.
A guilty conscience
I. Its sense of oppression. It feels itself under a “yoke.” It is heavy iron a crushing “yoke” is sin It is on the neck, there is no breaking away from it.
II. Its sense of degradation. It feels itself held m a miserable vassalage, carnally sold under sin.
III. Its sense of retribution. It feels that the heavy, degrading yoke is bound by “His hand,” the hand of justice: that his transgression is like a chain wreathed by retributive law upon the neck. The guilty conscience awakened feels that God is in all its sufferings, that there is justice in all. (Homilist.)
The misery of sin
1. The sins of God’s people are the heaviest burden they can possibly bear in this life.
(1) They make a separation between God and them.
(2) They give Satan matter to tyrannise over them.
(3) They do, after a sort, possess the soul with the very torments of hell.
2. When God meaneth to punish us for our sins, He calleth them all to remembrance.
(1) That His justice may find just matter why to smite us.
(2) That He may lay His corrections upon us according as He shall see meet, by viewing the quality of our sins and obstinacy therein, or proudness to repentance.
3. When God meaneth to correct, He will so do it as it cannot be escaped.
4. God giveth strength and courage to men, and taketh it away at His pleasure (Deuteronomy 28:7; Deuteronomy 28:25).
5. The issue of battle is in the hand of God alone (Psalms 44:3).
6. God often delivereth His servants into the hands of the ungodly.
(1) To exercise them, and bring them to repentance, or to perfect His power in their weakness.
(2) To give the wicked occasion to show forth their cruel disposition.
7. God sometimes afflicteth His people so grievously that their state seemeth desperate and irrecoverable in the judgment of flesh and blood.
(1) That He may show His mighty power in restoring them.
(2) That all means being taken away, they may learn to look up to heaven and rest upon Him only. (J. Udall.)
The Lord hath trodden under foot all my mighty men.
1. When God meaneth to afflict us, He will spoil us of all our helps wherein we may have any confidence.
2. God can as easily destroy in a fenced city as in a battle.
3. It is God that ruleth even the wicked, and setteth them on work against His servants.
4. Men can no more escape God’s hand in punishing them, than the grapes can fly from the treader of the winepress.
5. The niceness of those that have lived daintily (“the virgin”) is no reason to free them, but rather a provocation to bring afflictions upon them.
(1) The pampering of ourselves is none of the ends for which God bestoweth His blessings upon us.
(2) Such coy niceness as many be of is seldom without special sins that are incident to that condition, which God will not let pass unpunished.
6. Except the children forsake their sins, they shall not be spared for the godliness of their parents. (J. Udall.)
For these things I weep.
Grief in view of punishment
1. It is not only lawful, but also necessary, for the godly to be so greatly grieved, when God punisheth them for their sins, as may draw them into extreme weeping.
2. No adversity hath warrant to grieve us so much as the punishment of God upon us for our sins (Luke 23:28).
3. There is none so stout, or hardhearted, but afflictions will bring him down.
4. It is a grievous plague to be deprived of comforters in affliction; the contrary whereof is an exceeding blessing.
5. It is the duty of everyone to comfort and relieve others that be in distress.
(1) God hath so commanded (Galatians 6:2).
(2) We are members one of another (1 Corinthians 12:27).
(3) We may have the like need ourselves another time.
6. The Church, as also the commonwealth, is to declare herself a kind mother to everyone that is trained up therein, and to have compassion of their miseries, helping them to the uttermost.
7. It is the property of carnal friends to be friendly only whilst prosperity is upon us; but if our adversaries prevail against us, they are gone. (J. Udall.)
Zion spreadeth forth her hands.--
The appeal for help
1. It is a necessary duty in God’s people to seek out all good means of their release from troubles.
2. God often frustrateth the lawful endeavours of His children of that good issue which is expected, and yet liketh well that they should use means to bring the same to pass.
3. The wicked have no power against God’s people, but that which is given them from the Lord.
4. God’s people are more grievously afflicted and reproached in the world than any else, and the godliest most of all. (J. Udall.)
The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled.
A right view of punishment
When we see God in our punishments, we begin to take a right view of them; when they are nothing to us but self-humiliations or signs of contempt, they embitter us and harden our hearts; but when we see God at work in the very desolation of our fortunes, we axe sure that He has a reason for thus scourging us, and that if we accept the penalty, and bow down before His majesty, we shall be lifted up by His mighty hand. Zion says that the Lord hath made her strength to fail, the Lord hath trodden under foot all her mighty men, the Lord hath trodden the virgin, the daughter of Judah, as in a winepress. But Zion does not accept these results with a hard heart; no: rather she says, “For these things I weep,” etc. Whatever brings us to this softness of heart is a helper to the soul in all upward and Divine directions. Zion confesses the righteousness of the Lord. In proportion as we can recognise the justice of our punishment, may we bear that punishment with some dignity. It has been pointed out that with this beginning of conversion the name of the Lord, or Jehovah, reappears. The people whom God has punished on account of their sins have, in the result, been enabled to recognise the justice of their punishment. Of this we have an example in the Book of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:33-34). In the case of the Captivity, we see the extreme rigour of the law in the expression, “My virgins and my young men,” etc.: the most honoured and the most beautiful have perished of hunger, as it were, in the open streets. How impartial and tremendous are the judgments of God! May not virgins be spared? May not His priests be exempted from the operation of the law of judgment? Will not an official robe protect a soul against the lightning of Divine wrath? All history answers No; all experience testifies to the contrary, and thereby re-establishes and infinitely confirms our confidence in the living God. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The equity of punishment acknowledged
1. God’s people do acknowledge His justice in all His works, yea, even in His punishments laid upon them.
(1) His Word and Spirit hath reformed their judgments, teaching them how to think of His holy majesty in all things.
(2) The consciousness of their own sins causeth them to justify the Lord, and to accuse themselves.
2. It is the duty of God’s children to seek the cause of all their evils in themselves.
(1) God is righteous, and layeth nothing upon them but what they justly deserve.
(2) They know their own manifold sins, and their exceeding weakness in well-doing, which they cannot see in any others.
3. Though God punish us oft for other causes, yet the matter that He worketh upon is our sins.
4. We must not lessen our sins, but account them most heinous in our own eyes.
5. It is our duty (especially in religion) neither to go further nor to come shorter than God’s revealed will; but attend unto it as the servant’s eye doth unto his master’s hand (Psalms 123:2).
6. It is rebellion against the Lord Himself to be disobedient unto the voice of His ministers teaching His truth (Luke 10:16).
7. We are constrained in our adversity to acknowledge God’s hand in those things which in our prosperity we neglected.
8. When God’s people are punished, they are not ashamed but willing to tell all men of it, and to declare their sins to be the cause of it.
(1) Above all things they desire to have the Lord justified in all men’s judgments.
(2) They desire that their own example may teach others to serve God better.
9. The manifesting of our punishments unto the world as from God’s hand because of our sins can neither dishonour the Lord nor harden others in their wickedness, but is a just occasion of the contrary. (J. Udall.)
Acknowledging the righteousness of God’s judgments
The cure token of Judah’s and Israel’s repentance shall be when, accepting the punishment of their iniquity as their just due, they shall justify God. It is the most hopeful sign in any sinner, when the Holy Spirit applying inwardly the lesson taught by outward distresses, teaches him to cry, “The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against His commandments.” (A. R. Fausset, M. A.)
I called for my lovers, but they deceived me.
1. It is an increase of sorrow to be disappointed of their help by whom we looked to be delivered out of our troubles.
2. God often maketh our friends, that love us unfeignedly, utterly unable to do us any good in our distress.
3. The misery of that people must needs be great, whose rulers can neither hold themselves nor others.
4. God’s plagues do often overtake the great ones, as well as others.
5. God’s people may come to the extremest beggary that can be in this life.
(1) Outward things are no part of their felicity, which is purchased for them by Christ Jesus.
(2) God will now and then show Himself the preserver of His people, when all means do fail. (J. Udall.)
Behold, O Lord; for I am in distress.--
Prayer in distress
1. We must not give over, but continue in prayer, though we be not heard in that we entreat for. God hath commanded us to pray without ceasing, and set no time when we shall be heard.
2. God seeth all things; but we must with lamentation lay open our miseries before Him.
(1) Mercy is denied to them that hide their sins.
(2) Forgiveness is granted upon a free confession.
3. We then pray most earnestly when we feet most sensibly the burden of that we would be rid of, and the want of that we would have.
4. There is no rest or quietness within us, when God presseth us with the weight of our own sins.
5. The godly do always, in the due consideration of their sins, aggravate them against themselves in greatest measure.
(1) They see best into their own offences.
(2) They measure them by the heavy anger of God, deserved by the same (Luke 18:13).
6. The things that are ordained for our greatest good in this life, do turn to our greatest harm when our sins provoke God’s anger to break forth against us. (J. Udall.)
There is none to comfort me.
1. It is the duty of all men to comfort the afflicted, and not to add to their miseries (Matthew 25:40; Jam 1:27; 1 Corinthians 12:26; Hebrews 13:3).
(1) We owe this duty one to another.
(2) No misery can befall another, but when God will it may light upon ourselves.
2. It is the property of the wicked to rejoice at the miseries of the godly, with whom they should mourn (Psalms 69:12; Psalms 137:3; Judges 16:25).
(1) They are affected as their father the devil, who rejoiceth in nothing but the calamity of mankind.
(2) Their hatred maketh them glad when any evil lighteth on the righteous.
3. We are the fittest scholars to learn God’s Word and make right use of it, when afflictions are upon us.
(1) In prosperity we forget God and ourselves also.
(2) We are in our corrupt nature as naughty children that will not learn except they be well whipped.
(3) In afflictions we can more easily consider of our estate, both present, past, and to come.
4. Every tittle of God’s Word shall be accomplished in due season (Matthew 5:18).
5. Though the troubles of the righteous be many, yet arc not the elect to be discerned from the reprobate by affliction.
6. It greatly easeth the godly in their afflictions to consider that their foes shall be destroyed (Revelation 18:20).
7. The punishments that God’s people sustain in this life are sure tokens that the wicked shall be plagued, howsoever they escape for a time. (J. Udall.)
Thou wilt bring the day that Thou hast called.--
The day that right all wrongs
In that day--
1. God shall no longer be shut out of His own world.
2. Christ shall no longer be denied and blasphemed.
3. Evil shall no longer prevail.
4. Error shall give place to truth.
5. The saints shall no longer be maligned. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Lamentations 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany