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This chapter must be read in connection with the following one. They describe chiefly Jeremiah's twofold attempt at intercession (see verses 7-9 and 19-22)—a tender and appealing attempt indeed. The terrible sufferings of the people during a drought went to the prophet's heart. He even ventured, when repelled the first time, to intercede anew, on the ground of the covenant, but in vain. On receiving (Jeremiah 15:2-9) a revelation of the bitter fate in store for his people, he bursts out into a heartrending complaint that his own destiny should throw him into such a whirlpool of strife. His Lord at once corrects and consoles him (Jeremiah 15:10-21). There are doubts, however, about the connection of these latter verses—The date of the drought is not stated; but as the punishment of Judah is described as future, and no reference is made to the captivity of Jehoiachin, we shall probably be right in setting it during the reign of Jehoiakim.
The dearth; rather, the drought, or, more literally, the droughts, the plural being used to indicate the length of time the drought lasted.
The tenses in the following description should be perfects and presents; the Authorized Version, by its inconsistency, destroys the unity of the picture. The gates thereof; i.e. the people assembled there. They are black unto the ground. "To be black," in Hebrew, is "to be dressed in mourning" (so e.g. Psalms 35:14, "I bowed down in black"). Here we must understand the same verb which is expressed in the psalm, "They bowed down in mourning attire to the ground." "Black," however, is not to be taken literally; it means rather "squalid, unwashed" (of garments).
Their nobles—i.e. the upper classes of Judah and Jerusalem—have sent their little ones; rather, their mean ones; i.e. their servants, or perhaps (as Naegelsbach and Payne Smith) simply, "the common people;" it was not a matter concerning the rich alone. To the pits; i.e. to the cisterns. Covered their heads; a sign of the deepest mourning (2 Samuel 15:30; 2 Samuel 19:4; Esther 6:12).
The ground is chapt. Perhaps: but it is more obvious to render, is dismayed, according to the usual meaning of the word. Words which properly belong to human beings are often, by a "poetic fallacy," applied to inanimate objects (as in Jeremiah 14:2). In the earth; rather, in the land.
Even the animals starve. Yea, the hind also. The hind, contrary to that intense natural affection for which she was famous among the ancients, abandons her young.
The wild asses … in the high places; rather, on the bare heights. "The wild asses," says a traveler cited by Rosenmüller," are especially fond of treeless mountains." Like dragons; render rather, like jackals (as Jeremiah 9:11; Jeremiah 10:22). The allusion is to the way jackals hold their head as they howl. We are told that even the keen eyes of the wild asses fail, because there was [is] no grass; rather, herbage. They grow dim first with seeking it so long in vain, and then from lack of nourishment.
The intercession of Jeremiah begins. Do thou it; a pregnant expression, equivalent to "act gloriously" (as Psalms 22:31; Isaiah 44:23); For thy name's sake. Jehovah s" Name pledges him to be merciful to his people, and not to make a full end of them, even when they have offended (comp." Our Redeemer was thy name from of old" Isaiah 63:16).
How pathetic a supplication! Jehovah will surely not be as a stranger in the land—the strangers, or" sojourners," like the μέτοικοι, enjoyed no civic rights, and consequently had no interest in the highest concerns of the state, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside—or perhaps, pitcketh his tent; for the traveler in Palestine doubtless carried his tent with him then as now—to tarry for a night. With the latter figure compare the beautiful comparison of the hope of the ungodly to "the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day" (Wis. 5:14).
As a man astonished; rather (comparing the Arabic dahama), as one struck dumb. But Dr. Payne Smith, with much reason, is more than half inclined to follow the Septuagint reading, equivalent to "as one in a deep sleep." Leave us not; literally, lay us not down; as if a burden of which the bearer is tired.
The answer of Jehovah.
Thus have they loved to wander, … therefore the Lord doth not accept them; i.e. with such pertinacity have they been set upon "wandering" (roving lawlessly about), that the Lord hath no more pleasure in them. "Therefore," is, literally, and. "Thus," or "so," is used in the same sense as in 1 Kings 10:12, which runs literally, " … there came not so [abundantly] among timber." The particle of comparison has given much occupation to the commentators (see Payne Smith's note), but the above view is at once simple and suitable to the context; for Jeremiah has already admitted that "our backslidings are multiplied" (verse 7). The Lord doth not, etc. (to the end of the verse), is quoted verbatim from Hosea 8:13. Jeremiah puts conspicuous honor on the older inspired writers; he has no craving for originality. Nearly all has been said already; what he has to do is chiefly to adapt and to apply, He will now remember, etc. The emphasis is on "now" Nothing is more remarkable in the prophets than the stress laid on the unerring justness of the time chosen for Divine interpositions. When the iniquity is fully ripe, it as it were attracts the punishment, which till then is laid up in store (comp. Genesis 15:16; Isaiah 18:5; Isaiah 33:10).
Pray not for this people. So in Jeremiah 7:16 (on which see note); Jeremiah 11:14.
Their cry. The word is very forcible; it is the shriek in which an unsophisticated man gives vent to his pain and grief. An oblation. It is the vegetable offering (Authorized Version, "meat offering;" Luther, "speisopfer") which is referred to in the so-called minkhah (literally, gift). Though sometimes offered separately, it regularly accompanied a burnt offering. I will not accept them. Dr. Payne Smith tries to soften the rejection of these worshippers by the remark that "there is a time when the most genuine repentance avails nothing to avert the temporal consequences of sin." But the analogy of other similar passages (e.g. Isaiah 1:15) warrants the view of Keil that the ground of the rejection of the worship is its heartless formalism and insincerity, which was equally a bar to Jehovah's favor and the prophet's intercession.
"Pleading with Providence, the good prophet lays the blame on ill teaching, but the stern answer (Jeremiah 14:14), admitting the plea as true, rejects it as inadequate (Jeremiah 14:14), and denounces sorrows which (Jeremiah 14:17-22) the prophet passionately deprecates" (Rowland Williams). Ah, Lord God! rather, Alas! O Lord Jehovah (see on Jeremiah 1:6). The prophets say unto them. The greater part of the prophetic order had not kept pace with its more spiritual members (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.). They still traded on those natural gifts of divination (Micah 3:6) which were, no doubt, where genuine, of Divine origin, but which, even then, needed to be supple-merited and controlled by a special impulse from the Spirit of holiness. Jeremiah, however, declares, on the authority of a revelation, that these prophets did not divine by any God-given faculty, but "the deceit of their own heart" (Verse 14). The Deuteronomic Torah, discovered after a period of concealment at the outset of Jeremiah's ministry, energetically forbids the practice of the art of divination (Deuteronomy 18:10).
A thing of naught. The word, however, is collective, and means all the various futile means adopted for prying into the future.
I will pour their wickedness; i.e. the fruits of their wickedness (comp. Jeremiah 2:19, "Thine own wickedness shall correct thee").
The prophet's grief, and second intercession.
Therefore thou shalt say, etc. There is something strange and contrary to verisimilitude in the prefixing of this formula, not to a Divine revelation, but to a mere expression of the pained human feelings of the prophet. It is possible that the editor of Jeremiah's prophecies thought the paragraph which begins here needed something to link it with the preceding passage, and selected his formula rather unsuitably. Let mine eyes run down, etc. (comp. Jeremiah 13:27). Jeremiah's tender compassion shows itself in his choice of the expression, the virgin daughter of my people, just as we feel an added bitterness in the premature death of a cherished maiden.
A picture of the state of things after the capture of Jerusalem: the slain without, the famine-stricken within. The latter are described allusively as "sicknesses of famine" (so literally). As a peculiarly striking evidence of the downfall of greatness, it is added that even prophet and priest have to go about into a land that they know not. The verb used here can obviously not have its ordinary sense of going about for purposes of traffic. Aramaic usage suggests, however, a suitable meaning; what the prophet sketches before us is a company of these ex-grandees "begging their way" into an unknown land.
We looked for peace, etc.; a repetition of Jeremiah 8:15.
Our wickedness, and the iniquity of our fathers. There is a mysterious connection between the sin of the past and of the present. So in another prophet we read, "Your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together [will I requite]."
The throne of thy glory; i.e. the temple (Jeremiah 17:12; Ezekiel 43:7), or Jerusalem (Jeremiah 3:17). It is the same conception where Jehovah is said to "dwell between" [or, 'sit upon'] "the cherubim" (Isaiah 37:16; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1).
None of the vanities, or false gods (Jeremiah 3:17), of the heathen can deliver us in this our strait (want of rain). "Rainmakers" is still a common name of soothsayers among savage nations. Thou alone art God, and our God; or, in Jeremiah's phrase (not, Art not thou he, etc.? but) Art thou not Jehovah our God? and the ground of the appeal follows, Jehovah is the Maker of all these things; i.e. all the heavenly phenomena, especially the clouds and the rain.
A plague of drought.
I. A PLAGUE OF DROUGHT IS AN INSTANCE OF A NATURAL CALAMITY OCCASIONING GREAT DISTRESS. Jeremiah gives a vivid picture of the trouble such a plague causes. Men of all classes, from the noble to the ploughman, suffer under it; the animal world is driven from its natural instincts; universal desolation and agony prevail. Yet this is all natural. It is not the result of war nor of any human interference; it is a natural calamity. Nature is not always placid and pleasing. She has her frowns, her storms, her droughts. The world is not a. waste, howling wilderness; but neither is it a garden of Eden. Thorns spring up among the wheat. Even away from the perpetual deserts fertile fields are occasionally parched and withered. We must expect a mixed experience in human life, as we meet with it in nature. Showers of blessing are not always failing. There come also periods of dearth, seasons of natural distress.
II. A PLAGUE OF DROUGHT IS AM EXAMPLE OF ONE FORM OF THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN. Though the drought is natural, it is not, therefore, to be separated from all relation to human and moral affairs. God rules Nature through her laws when he does not supersede them. In his government of men God may overrule natural events to the execution of his decrees. When such a calamity as a plague of drought falls upon a land, it is well to ask whether there are no national sins for which it is sent as chastisement. Sometimes the calamities of nature are the direct result of human conduct. Thus Palestine now suffers from lack of water, partly because the felling of trees has diminished the rainfall, and partly because what rain there is is quickly drained off for want of proper irrigation arrangements. Still, we must not assume that every natural calamity is sent for the punishment of sin. This is but one among many Divine purposes. Wholesome discipline, ulterior advantages, the avoiding of worse though unseen calamities, etc; may enter into the Divine reasons for permitting the trouble. Such calamities should make us examine ourselves, not humiliate ourselves without thought and clear conviction of conscience.
III. A PLAGUE OF DROUGHT IN NATURE SHOULD SUGGEST THE POSSIBILITY OF SPIRITUAL DROUGHT. Outward things are symbolical of inward experiences. There is a drought of the soul—when the soul is not partaking of the "water of life," and it is the most fearful kind of drought. Yet, while the physical calamity excites all attention and occasions universal distress, this calamity is often unheeded. But the effects of it are not the less destructive. The soil becomes barren, unfruitful; the heavenly graces within, the instincts of Christian charity, are lost; the spiritual vision fails. It is unnatural not to feel thirst in a season of drought. The soul that is in this condition will first come to itself with a feeling of deep distress, a pain of inward, longing, a panting and thirsting after God (Psalms 63:1).
IV. A PLAGUE OF DROUGHT SHOULD MAKE US MORE THANKFUL FOR THE COMMON BLESSINGS OF DAILY LIFE. The commonest blessings are the most valuable. The first necessary of life is air, and air is the most abundant thing in nature. The next most important requirement is water, and water is usually exceedingly plentiful. Gold and diamonds are rare, but these can easily be spared. This very fact, which is a result of God's providential care, induces an ungrateful neglect. We take without thought that which we are always receiving. We must lose it to appreciate it. In sickness we prize health; in thirst we value water. It would be more wise and grateful to acknowledge God's blessings while we have them, instead of requiring him to take them from us to teach us their worth.
A plea for mercy in spite of grout.
I. WE CAN ONLY PLEAD FOR GOD'S MERCY AFTER A FRANK ADMISSION OF OUR OWN GUILT. The common habit of people is to take the opposite course—to excuse themselves, extenuate their faults, or ignore, or even deny them. But this is vain before God, and while persisted in it shuts the door against forgiveness. God can only forgive sin that is confessed, can only have mercy on the humble and penitent. This confession must be frank and full. Such a confession is contained in the prayer of Jeremiah.
1. Personal guilt is admitted—"our iniquities."
2. The shame of increasing guilt is admitted—"our backslidings." If we feel we are better than we once were, we excuse our present imperfection on the ground that it is at least an improvement on the past. It requires a genuine penitence to admit that we have been growing worse.
3. Sin is seen to be an offence against God—"We have sinned against thee." It is not a mere fault in ourselves; it is a direct act of warfare with Heaven. David said this (Psalms 51:4); so did the prodigal son (Luke 15:18).
4. Sin is recognized as abundant—" Our backslidings are many." It is vain to confess some sins whilst denying others, or to attempt to represent them as leas numerous than they really are. This keeping back of part of the confession mars the whole of it.
5. Guilt is acknowledged to be open before God—" Our sins testify."
6. It is seen to be a bar to our claim of simple right—they testify "against us." Condemnation, therefore, may justly follow the plain evidence of guilt. Our own sins are witnesses to oppose any plea we may found on our personal deserts.
II. OUR OWN GUILT, WHEN FRANKLY ADMITTED, IS NO HINDRANCE TO THE MERCY OF GOD. The only hindrance is impenitence. The ground of God's mercy is not our desert, but Iris goodness. If there is anything in us which predisposes him to be gracious, this is not our worth, but our want. The more wretched the condition to which our sin has brought us, the more urgent the call to his pity. The one plea is" for his Name's sake."
1. For the sake of God's character. His Name expresses what he is. His highest name is "Love." By this name we plead for mercy. Because of what he is, because of his inherent goodness, love, and pity, we implore his help.
2. For the sake of God's honor. He has promised to have mercy on the penitent (e.g. Deuteronomy 30:1-10). Thus he has pledged his Name, bound himself by his own certain faithfulness.
3. For the sake of God's glory. His highest glory is his goodness. When he delivers his children his own Name is glorified. Redemption honors God more than creation. The song of the redeemed at the end of the world will be more sweet and more noble than the song of the sons of the morning at the dawn of creation. As Christians we see these truths more clearly revealed in Christ. He is the "Word" incarnate, the "Name," the highest manifestation of the character of God, the fulfillment of his greatest promises, the expression of his brightest glory. For us to pray "for Christ's sake" is the same as praying "for God's Name's sake."
Jeremiah 14:8, Jeremiah 14:9
The Hope of Israel a stranger in the land.
I. GOD IS THE HOPE AND SAVIOR OF HIS PEOPLE.
1. God is the Hope.
(1) He inspires hope;
(2) in him is the ground for the realization of hope;
(3) our highest hope is for the possession and enjoyment of God himself;
(4) this hope is justifiable in the people of God.
He is the Hope of Israel, truly the Hope of the spiritual Israel.
2. God is the Savior in trouble. He is remembered in trouble if he is forgotten in prosperity. In our greatest need he is found nearest to us. Though he does not always prevent us from falling into trouble, he is always ready to help us when we are in. There is to us no more important character of God than that of the Savior, since, as "man is born to trouble," we all need a Savior, and he alone can deliver from the great sorrows and sins of life.
II. GOD MAY BE WITH US AS A STRANGER.
1. He may be with us and unknown—like the stranger who passes through a country unrecognized. He was received by Abraham as a stranger (Genesis 18:2). Hagar and Jacob failed at first to discern his presence. Christ was treated as an unknown stranger by the two disciples journeying to Emmaus.
2. He may be with us but for a season—like the traveler who sojourns for a night and is gone the next morning. We may receive temporary visitations of God without enjoying his abiding presence, casual glimpses of the Divine instead of a constant walking with God, the light of Heaven falling now and again on our path while earthly clouds fling long stretches of dreary shadow over the most of it.
3. He may be with us without having communion with us—as a stranger, not as a companion—as the traveler who pitches his tent in our land, not as the guest whom we welcome to our hearth. Thus God may be near to us without our receiving him into our hearts as our great Friend.
4. He may be with us without acting for our good—like a mighty man slumbering. So he may see our need and yet we may not be saved.
III. IT IS MOST SAD THAT GOD SHOULD BE WITH US AS A STRANGER.
1. It is sad because the blessings of his presence are then not received.
(1) He must be known if we are to benefit by his aid.
(2) We need his constant presence for constant distresses.
(3) God helps by inward grace, which must come through close personal communion.
(4) We need the active aid of God, not the mere fact of his presence.
2. It is sad because it is a violation of our natural relations with God. God is our Father. Shall our Father be but as a stranger passing through our midst? He is changeless in his eternal love to us. We are bound to him by close and perpetual obligations, and we are in great and constant need of him. How, then, do we ever find ourselves in this unnatural condition? The cause is in us (Jeremiah 14:10). Great sin cherished in impenitence severs us from God, and makes it necessary that he should depart from us. God is a stranger when with us,
(1) because we are too earthly minded to discern his presence, and too occupied with worldly things to think of it;
(2) because we do not open our hearts to receive him in inward companionship; and
(3) because we do not seek and trust his help in our need (Romans 10:21).
I. OFFICIAL TEACHERS MAY BE FALSE TEACHERS. The false prophets belonged to the recognized order of prophets. No rank in the Church confers infallibility. Popes have been heretics. The authority of a teacher must be sought in his message, not in his office. It is our duty to try the spirits by their correspondence with known revelation (1 John 4:2), by the fruits of their lives and doctrines (Matthew 7:16), and by the standard of our own conscience (2 Corinthians 4:2).
II. PREACHING WHICH IS NOT INSPIRED BY THE DIVINE SPIRIT OF HOLINESS IS LIKELY BE FALSE. The prophet may have a piercing intellect and a towering imagination. Yet he will err if he be blinded by unholiness and excluded from the revelations of spiritual communion. He speaks only out of his own heart; but the heart is "deceitful above all things." Attempts are constantly made to evolve religious truth out of the inner consciousness of the thinker. No idle dreams are more delusive, since
(1) men have not the materials out of which to build a theology of their own;
(2) they have not the faculties capable of using those materials—sin perverts the spiritual vision, prejudice and self-interest distort views of truth.
III. CONSCIOUSLY TEACHING FALSE IDEAS OF RELIGION IS A HEINOUS CRIME. It is using the Name of God in vain (Jeremiah 14:14). It is abusing the trust of a high office for low purposes. It is likely to involve many in the toils of a fatal deception. It is easy to prophesy smooth things—easy thus to gain a vulgar popularity. But if this is done at the expense of truth, it is an awful sin. All Christian teachers should beware of the temptation to degrade their mission by aiming at pleasing their hearers instead of faithfully proclaiming the will of God.
IV. FALSE TEACHING IN RELIGION WILL BE PUNISHED BY FATAL RESULTS. It ought to be clear to everybody that the first question concerning any teaching is whether it is true. Yet this question is often ignored. The prophet is eloquent; the doctrine is pleasing; the prediction is inviting. But what of all that if it is false? The prophecy will be punished when truth is revealed by facts. Then the false prophet will suffer by the fulfillment in himself of the prophecy he denied, and the people by the coming of the evil day they were too ready to hear discredited.
Prayer for mercy rejected.
I. THE PRAYER IS BASED ON URGENT PLEAS.
1. A complete confession of sin. (Jeremiah 15:20.) It is acknowledged as hereditary, bug as also personal. Therefore all claims must rest on Divine considerations, since no ground for prayer can be found in anything human.
2. The plea of the Name of God. This is a plea all men can urge. The character, the honor, and the glory of God are suggested by his Name. For the sake of what he is, and the glory that his mercy will reflect, we may plead for pardon. By his love we beg for his forgiveness.
3. The plea of disgrace to the throne of God's glory. This is a more special plea. The temple was the house of God, wherein his glory was manifested. To destroy it was to put an end to the manifestation of Divine glory associated with it. God's glory is reflected on his Church. If the Church is humiliated, disgrace falls on the throne of God's glory. Yet, note, it is only the throne that is directly disgraced, not the glory itself. The tarnished mirror can no longer reflect the radiance of the sun; this is a discredit to the mirror, but not directly to the sun, since there is no diminution of the sun's brightness. Still, indirectly, dishonor is done to the original source of glory. The sun is less admired if its light is less reflected. God is less honored if his glory is less manifested.
4. Plea of the Divine covenant. This is the most special plea. God has made promises. To the fulfillment of these his faithfulness is bound. He has made a covenant with his own people. They who have accepted the covenant plead its special claims. The Christian has not only the universal mercy of God to trust in; he has the special promises of the gospel, the assurance of the privileges of God's restored Children.
II. NEVERTHELESS THE PRAYER IS REJECTED.
1. Intercession is useless for those who will not repent and seek mercy for themselves. The prayer was that of the prophet on behalf of his impenitent countrymen. The intercession of good men is recognized as powerful. Their character adds weight to their intercession (James 5:16). But not only must Jeremiah's prayer be rejected, even Moses the founder of the nation and Samuel the father of the prophets could not prevail in the present case. The intercession of one greater than Moses, of Christ himself, will not save those who are obstinately hardened against returning to God.
2. The Name of God includes reference to his justice as wall as his mercy. For his Name's sake he must vindicate the fight. The one-sided view of God which excludes all reference to his wrath is dishonoring. Even a man who can never feel righteous indignation is weak and imperfect. For a judge to acquit all criminals would be fatal to justice.
3. The throne of God's glory is more dishonored by sin than by external disaster. The Jews feared discredit to the temple in its desecration by the heathen. It was more desecrated by their corrupt practices in it. To make the temple a den of thieves is more dishonoring than to overthrow it so as not to leave one stone upon another. The sins of Christ's Church are more dishonoring to his Name than her sufferings, her willing subservience to the spirit of the world more humiliating than her apparent lowly condition when trampled under the feet of persecutors. The pure martyred Church is a glory to Christ, the corrupt prosperous Church a shame to his Name.
4. God's covenant has human conditions. He condescends to bind himself to bless us so long as we fulfill our obligations to submit to him. Disobedience breaks the covenant. The faithless Christian cannot urge the pleas of the privileges of the gospel
Prayer for rain.
I. OBJECTIONS TO PRAYER FOR RAIN.
1. The universality of law. It seems to have been vaguely imagined till recently that the weather was not subject to laws of nature in the same strict form in which most material things are thus bound. But this surmise was simply based on ignorance. Recently more indications of law have been discovered, and we see the dawn of a meteorological science. How, then, can we expect God to change the weather in response to our prayers?
2. The limitations of knowledge. We really do not know what weather is best. What is good for one place is bad for another. The effects of rain and of drought are so far-reaching that it seems vain for us to judge what is best regarding them. But God knows all and is infinitely wise. Why should we not trust to his unerring discretion?
3. The goodness of God. If God is well disposed to his creatures, will he not give them what is for their good? Why, then, even if it were possible for the weather to be affected by our prayer, and if we were wise enough to know what was best for the world, should it be necessary for us to pray about the weather, as if God needed to be urged to govern the world for our benefit?
II. REASONS IN FAVOR OF PRAYER FOR RAIN.
1. The control of God over the laws of nature. God is not the slave of his own legislation. Without changing his laws, he can act through them, as men who cannot alter the laws of nature can still alter the facts of nature by their use of those laws. Moreover, are there no spiritual laws? Yet, without violating the principles of the constitution of the spiritual universe, we believe that God can answer prayer for spiritual blessings.
2. The conditional character of prayer. The limitation to our knowledge makes it necessary for us to pray on the condition that God will only answer our requests so far as they agree with his wise and righteous will. Prayer for rain, of all prayers, must not be an absolute demand, but a submissive and humble request, accompanied by the desire that not our will but God's be done. We have no right to dictate to God in prayer, and wisdom would not desire such a right. But there need be no limit to the greatness of the objects of prayer when the right condition of trust in God's higher will is observed.
3. The fact that prayer alters our condition before God. It may be wise and right for God to do after our prayer what it would not be well for him to do without it. The very prayer may be a link in a chain of causation. Drought may be sent to us, as it was to Judah, with a Divine purpose concerning our conduct. A change in our conduct will then modify the action of that purpose. Prayer may be the best indication of such a change. We have distinct promises that we may receive, when we seek them in prayer, blessings which are withheld so long as we abstain from asking for them (Matthew 7:7, Matthew 7:8).
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Jeremiah 14:7, Jeremiah 14:9
A prayer for God's people in time of his judgments.
The prophet's words, as he intuitively places himself in the position of those who are about to be afflicted. Not, therefore, to be regarded as an ideal prayer, but a true representation of the spiritual state of those who are conscious of their sin and their need of salvation. They explain the lack of apparent answer to prayer, and truthfully interpret the spiritual condition of the awakened sinner.
I. PRAYER IS AN INDEX OF THE SPIRITUAL STATE. Here we have the oscillation between fear and hope, doubt and faith, vividly portrayed. There is a flitting to and fro of the soul between the extremes of dejection and of confidence. All real prayer ought thus faithfully to represent the mind of the petitioner. It is a laying bare of secret thoughts and moral convictions; an unconscious as well as a conscious confession. Whilst it may be said that a man's inner being is revealed in his prayer, he is not to be judged by it by his fellow men. It is only God who can truly understand the indications which it affords, and only he who has a right to interpret them. There is a rising, a falling, and a rising again in the course of the prayer. It is the Name of God which serves as a reminder and spiritual confirmation.
II. PRAYER IS A SPIRITUAL EXERCISE AND A MEANS OF GRACE. There is evident in this utterance a wrestling with unbelief. Memories of evil crowd upon the soul and seem to darken the horizon. The sinful nation confesses that in itself there is no hope, but as that conviction is arrived at, another asserts itself, namely, that God is the Hope of Israel, and that in his name or character there is the promise and potency of restoration. It is in spiritual transitions like these that the soul is lost and found again. Temptation is anticipated and overcome, sin is cast away, and God is throned in the heart, It is better to make such honest discovery of ourselves to God, even in our weakness and lack of faith, than that we should carry these into the conduct of life. It is in these transitions of despair and hope reaching to and resting in restored faith and settled purpose of righteousness, that the overcoming of the world is already accomplished.
III. THE PRAYER THAT SEEMS TO BE REJECTED NOW MAY YET PROVE A CONDITION OF ACCEPTANCE. Had Israel herself really adopted the words of this her representative mediator, she would have escaped the awful abyss that yawned before her, but she knew not the day of her opportunity. By slow stages of recovery, marked by many relapses, was she to climb to the great truth from which she had fallen, that the Name of God was her salvation and hope. So it is that many a prayer uttered without apparent answer supplies in itself a spiritual condition of ultimate blessing. Its answer is really begun in the change of attitude assumed, and the spiritual truth laid hold of. By-and-by irresolution and uncertainty will give place to faith, and the windows of heaven will be opened.—M.
Jeremiah 14:19, Jeremiah 14:22
Prayer a fruit of chastisement.
There is a deeper and more spiritual gone in this utterance. The heart of Israel is conceived of as having been searched and revealed. Repentance is felt, and confession made. The true source of peace and help is sought after; and the false ones which have been tested are rejected.
I. IS THE DISCIPLINE AND JUDGMENTS OF LIFE GOD TEACHES MEN HOW TO PRAY. Thereby they learn in a stern school their own sinfulness; the misery and desolation of the soul that is alienated from the life of God and exposed to his wrath and curse; the incapacity of earthly things to deliver or console, and the power of God to forgive and to save. It is in this estimate of themselves and their resources that the foundation is laid for real spiritual desire. When sin has been felt and acknowledged, a relation is established between the soul and God which is immediately recognized in its claims.
II. THE SPIRIT WHICH IS THUS PRODUCED IS ALONE ACCEPTABLE TO GOD. There are many prayers which evidently ought not to be, and with due regard to the needs of the sinner and the honor of his heavenly Father could not be, answered. The chief end of prayer is not gained in the obtaining of the objects that are asked for, but in the gradual assumption of a right relation to God and acknowledgment of his character and authority. Thus it is that some prayers sound like wails of despair, whilst others are full of the breathings of resignation, obedience, faith, and love. It is with this filial tone that true prayer begins. And it is only when we have learned that "whom he loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth," that we are able to adapt it. "Thy will be clone" is the burden of every Christ-taught prayer, as it is the outcome of all true spiritual discipline.—M.
Invoking the honor of God.
Not along ago this phrase," Do not disgrace the throne of thy glory," was employed in prayer by a convert in a certain religious meeting. Shortly after a letter was sent to the papers, inveighing against the "pro-faulty" of the idea; in apparently complete ignorance of its scriptural origin and warrant. Often the language of humility may conceal a conception of real arrogance, and so, on the other hand, the most daring appeals to the promises, the character, and the honor of God may have their root in the profoundest reverence and faith. It is high ground go take, simply because no other ground is available.
I. AS SINNERS HAVE NO REASON FOR MERCY IN THEMSELVES, THEY MUST APPEAL TO GOD. Mere pity would be inadmissible as a motive to which to appeal. There is no ground of acceptance in the sinner himself, and consequently there remains only that course of action which will illustrate and glorify the character of God. That God had chosen Israel as his servant, and Jerusalem as the seat and center of the theocracy, are the only reasons that are valid in approaching him for mercy. Any course of action which would fail to give due respect to the attributes of his character or the purposes of his grace in the world is already forbidden when it is stated. God has been at pains to pledge himself to the ultimate salvation of men. His Name is itself a promise that no compromise shall be entered into or ineffectual means of salvation adopted. Therefore the necessity of Christ's sacrifice and resurrection. In him the justice of God is honored, and his Name revealed in the hearts of men. It is only as the gospel is perceived as the offspring of the purest, highest motives on the part of God that it can call into existence corresponding motives in the sinner himself.
II. To THE SAINT THE HONOR OF GOD SHOULD EVER BE OF MORE ACCOUNT THAN HIS OWN WELFARE. "For Christ's sake" is a formula in which much of this feeling is implicitly expressed. The exigencies of God's kingdom, the furtherance of his purposes of love and grace, the recognition of the principles of righteousness, are essential to a true Christian life as to true prayer. And the keenest susceptibility should be felt to any conduct on the part of God's servants which would seem to injure his cause in the world or to misrepresent his character.
III. GOD'S NAME IS PLEDGED TO AND BOUND UP WITH THE SALVATION OF MEN. It seems a daring and wondrous plea to urge in the presence of him with whom we have to do; but it is the only one which we can truly offer, and it is of infinite avail. If we accept Christ as representing the honor and righteousness of God, are we not assured that every prayer truly offered in his name shall be answered? The welfare and usefulness of God's servants are guaranteed by such a consideration, and we cannot offer it too often or insist upon it with too great earnestness.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Thankfulness through contrast: a harvest sermon.
These verses are a terrible picture of drought and famine. Our thankfulness for what God has done for us in the bounteous harvest he has given may be called forth the more by considering the contrast with our happy lot which these verses present. Contrast is a great teacher. It is the black board on which the teacher's white markings are more clearly seen, the dark background of the sky on the face of which the stars shine out the more. Now, this chapter is all concerning, not a bountiful harvest, but a dread famine. We cannot determine the date of this famine, but it appears to have been one of those premonitory judgments of God sent to teach his sinful people wisdom, so that the more terrible judgments of the future years might not be needed. "A terrible drought had fallen upon the land, and the prophet's picture of it is like some of Dante's in its realism, its pathos, and in its terror. In the presence of a common calamity all distinctions of class have vanished, and the nobles send their little ones to the wells, and they come back with empty vessels and drooping heads, instead of with the gladness that used to be heard in the places of drawing water. Far afield the ploughmen are standing among the cracked furrows, gazing with despair at the brown chapped earth, and out in the field the very dumb creatures are sharing in the common sorrow. And the imperious law of self-preservation overpowers and crushes the maternal instincts. 'Yea, the hind also calved in the field, and forsook it, because there was no grass.' And on every hill-top, where cooler air might be found, the once untameable wild asses are standing with open nostrils, punting for air, their filmy eyes failing them, gazing for the rain that will not come. It is a true description—so they say who know what drought in Eastern lands is and does. How it distressed the earth, the beasts, and man, is all vividly portrayed." The pits, some of them natural hollows in the hard rock and in caves, where evaporation was less speedy; others of them dykes and cisterns, the works of man;—but all alike were empty. The ground was split by reason of the long drought into wide and deep fissures; earth's wounds for man's sin, mute mouths crying to Heaven for pity, the lips of earth suffering, waiting for a drop of water to relieve the torment of its awful thirst. And not the land only, but the dumb brutes were involved in the common woe. The hind, driven down from her high places into the fields in search of the grass that has disappeared from the lofty heights, meets with disappointment here also, and in her agony of hunger and thirst forgot and forsook her young, whom she, above most other of the beasts of the field, was wont to care for and cherish tenderly; and the hardy wild asses (Jeremiah 14:6) found their hunger even greater than they could bear, and punted in terror and distress. And man-all ranks and ages were smitten, the people generally were languishing. The gates of the cities and other chief places of concourse were "black unto the ground," with the sad, colored garments of the mourners who bent prostrate there; and one long, loud, bitter cry went up from the whole city of God. But what a contrast is our condition to theirs! See it in the aspects of the fields ere harvest was gathered in. In the gifts of all nurturing powers from heaven—rain, dew, and fountains of water. In the abundance provided for man and beast, and in the contentment and peace of the herds of the field. In the glad congratulations of all classes in the land, from the laborer to the noble, because of what God has given. The whole nation rejoices, a cry not of sorrow but of gladness goes up from the homes of the rich and poor, high and low alike. And this contrast is seen also in the thoughts of God prompted by the two events. "The dearth" made the people think that God was as a stranger in the land, one who knew nothing of them or their need. If we felt concerning our distresses that God was as a stranger to us, they would be much harder to bear. But so Judah and Jerusalem thought. Nor was this the worst thought; for if God knew how they were suffering, and yet no help came, did not a yet darker surmise seem warranted? Was it not as if he were "as a wayfaring man that but turned aside to tarry for the night," and who therefore, having no interest in the place or the people, would care but little for them? This was a terrible thought indeed. If our mind be haunted with the dread thought that God looks on unmoved at our affliction, and cares not for our distress—what, then, can we do? But so they thought. The sun rose and set, the stars looked down upon them just as they had done at other times; but there was no heart of love in their calm, unmoved gaze; and so it seemed there was no heart in God, and that he, unmoved by their appeal, left them to perish. Or could it be that, after all their boasting in him as mighty to save, One mightier than he had arisen and overpowered him; that he was "as one astounded, as a mighty man that cannot save?" Was there some cruel fate which, after all, was ruling over their destinies, and so preventing the mighty One, of whom their fathers told, from coming to their help as in the days of old? Such dark and terrible thoughts float about the minds of men in the hour of dire distress such as this dearth had brought upon them. And so all hope was quenched, the voice of prayer was stifled, their hearts died down in complete despair. The dearth in itself was bad enough, causing bodily agony beyond all description, but its horrors were heightened and awfully intensified by the dark thoughts about God to which their distress gave rise. But in all this, what a contrast does our happier lot present? The thoughts of God which the harvest he has given prompt are the very opposite of those which, as we have seen, haunted the minds of those who suffered under the dearth. Not as a stranger ignorant of us and our wants does God appear, but as One who "knoweth that we have need of all these things," and who openeth his hand and filleth us with good. And still less as a wayfaring man, and who therefore has no concern nor care for land or people. Every golden ear of corn has been a tongue as well, and has told eloquently though silently of our Father's care. The wide-stretching fields of corn have been filled with these myriad witnesses to his love, and have stood up in their serried ranks, to give the lie to the unbelieving heart, that would harbor hard thoughts of God. As all with one consent yield to the summer breeze, so with like oneness of consent, do they attest his unfailing goodness and his never-ceasing care. And they proclaim him, too, as the Hope of his people, and their Savior indeed. He is no "mighty man that cannot save." For all the treasures of the field, created, preserved, and ripened for our use, in spite of all adverse influences which threatened them, all show that he is mighty to save. His hand held in check every hostile power, every destructive storm, every killing frost, every blighting mildew, every creeping caterpillar, and all else that would have robbed us of the corn he has given. Oh, what a gospel do the fields preach! And how differently God might have dealt with us! For whilst there is so vast a contrast between our harvest and that dearth of which these verses tell, there has been no such contrast between our conduct and that which brought upon Judah the calamity from which they suffered. Have we not reason to make the same confession which was made concerning them?—" O Lord … our iniquities testify against us," etc. (Jeremiah 14:7). What, gratitude then, does such long-suffering love call for from us? Let, then, our harvest lead us to do that which Judah's dearth led the prophet to do—to turn to God, and confess him as our Hope and our Savior in time of trouble. In this way he is again, standing at our doors and knocking for admission. The "miracle of the loaves is done over again for our comfort and help. We have "the joy of harvest," let him have it also in gathering us into the garner of his faithful souls for time and for eternity.—C.
An absent God deplored.
The dearth told of in foregoing verses and the misery caused thereby led to the conviction that God had abandoned his people. In these verses and throughout this section down to Jeremiah 15:9 we find the prophet pleading with God to return. In these verses we are shown—
I. THE CAUSES WHICH HAD BROUGHT ABOUT THE DIVINE WITHDRAWAL FROM THEM. Their "iniquities," "backslidings," "sins" (Jeremiah 15:7). Nothing else has such power; sin only can shut out God, but it always will and does.
II. THE HAPPY MEMORIES WHICH MADE IT SO BITTER. God had revealed himself to them in such endearing manner. He had been ever "the Hope of Israel." He had inspired, maintained, and justified that hope again and again. And he had become the Hope of Israel through having shown himself so perpetually "the Savior thereof in the time of trouble." The memory of God's servants was stored with recollections of such deliverances, national and individual, from troubles temporal and spiritual; vouchsafed, too, not because of Israel's deserving, but out of God's pure bounty. Now, it was these happy memories which made God's present dealings with them so terrible to bear.
III. THE SAD CONTRAST BETWEEN THE DIVINE MANIFESTATIONS NOW AND OF OLD. We have seen what he had been to Israel, but now, the prophet complains, he is to them very far from what he was then. He is "as a stranger," "a wayfaring man," as one "taken by surprise," as one strong but yet unable to help. Their enemies would taunt them with the reproach that either God was as a stranger, and therefore did not care for them; or, if they denied that, then it must be that there was a stronger than he, who had taken him by surprise and prevented his rendering help to his afflicted people. Either he would not or he could not—on one of the horns of this dilemma they by the force of their present circumstances were thrown. And there can be no doubt that the great mystery of life, its sins and sorrows, do often force perplexed and troubled minds perilously near to one or other of these 'conclusions, which nevertheless faith affirms to be alike false, and will never admit for one moment.
IV. THE SOURCES OF HOPE UNDER CIRCUMSTANCES LIKE THESE. They are:
1. The Name of God. This the prophet pleads (Jeremiah 15:7). He confesses that all their own conduct is altogether against them. They can have no hope in themselves. But the Name of God remains to be urged in his pleading, and therefore it is this Name that he does urge. "Do thou it for thy Name's sake." Here is a fact which cannot change. When driven out of all hope in ourselves by reason of our sins, we may yet hope in God, and plead the grace and goodness that are evermore in him.
2. The presence of his appointed ordinances and his chosen dwelling-place in their midst. This is the meaning of Jeremiah 15:9, "Yet thou art in the midst of us," The temple, the altar, the sacrifice, the priests, the ark, were all there; the appointed channels of communication between God and his people. And so long as we may go unto his footstool, and the throne of grace is open to us, there is hope in that. God will come to us again in the way of his holy and appointed ordinances, if we will go along that way to seek him.
3. They were the objects of history. We are called by thy Name." Israel was so. God had chosen them at the first. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him." And it is because of that undying love of God, they who for their sins have lost his presence may yet win it back again.
V. THE PRESENT DUTY. Prayer. The prophet betook himself hereto. "Leave us not," he cries (Jeremiah 15:9). And nothing barred the success of this prayer but that the people for whom he prayed had no heart in it. God stood ready to forgive and restore. The prophet's prayer was fully answered on the part of God. But those for whom he prayed were not ready, and so their judgment went on. But for ourselves, if we deplore an absent God, let us betake ourselves to these potent arms of all-prevailing prayer, and God shall ere long be again known to us as of old as our Hope and our Savior in time of trouble.—C.
False teachers no adequate excuse for evil conduct.
No doubt the people to whom Jeremiah was sent had been encouraged in their ungodliness by the faithlessness and sin of their prophets. Blind guides were leading the blind, and with the inevitable result. And here Jeremiah pleads, as an excuse for his people's sin, that they had been thus misled. But God refuses to admit the plea. Now, on this, note—
I. FALSE TEACHING IS SOME EXCUSE FOR EVIL CONDUCT. The deepest instincts of our hearts affirm this. Our Lord himself does so, when he says, "He that knew not his Lord's will and did it not, shall be beaten with few stripes." But this word of his, whilst it allows that lack of teaching is some excuse, denies that it is sufficient (cf. John 19:11). St. Paul also says, concerning the heathen nations, "The time of this ignorance God winked at."
II. BUT IT IS NOT AN ADEQUATE EXCUSE. For:
1. The taught are the creators almost as much as the creatures of their teachers. The people who clamor for smooth things to be prophesied to them will find such prophets forthcoming. Ahab's prophets all of them but Micaiah—were such. It is true, "like priest, like people;" but it is also true, "like people, like priest." The demand creates the supply. The pastors of the Church are the product of the Church, almost as much as the Church is the product of the pastors. What a worldly Church wants it will have, for the woe both of itself and its pastors alike.
2. They have a sure test by which to try all their teachers. "To the Law and to the testimony," etc. Conscience also is ever on the side of God, and is prompt to condemn all teaching that leads to sin. The Holy Spirit likewise pleads in men's hearts for God. And the faithful words of those in whom God's Spirit dwells. None, therefore, are shut up to any human teachers.
3. And where evil teachers have been followed, it has been in spite of the protest which these other higher and surer guides have uttered, or would have uttered had they been suffered so to do.
III. BUT IF IT BE ILL FOR THE TAUGHT, IT IS YET MORE ILL FOR THE TEACHERS. "His blood will I require at the watchman's hands." The most awful of our Lord's denunciations were addressed to such evil teachers (cf. the oft-repeated, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" cf. Verse 14, etc.).
1. Let those who are taught by any human teachers test what they receive by the Word of God. Be as the Bereans (Acts 17:1).
2. Let those who teach watch anxiously and prayerfully against the temptation to conform their teachings to the likings of their hearers rather than to their needs. Let them remember that the causes of error and false teaching are much more moral than they are intellectual.
3. Let teachers and taught alike sit daily at his feet who said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."—C.
The distracting power of great distress.
The prophet seems blinded by his tears. The distress portrayed here is terrible indeed, and the prophet so realized it that his mind appears to have reeled beneath his apprehensions of the coming calamities. Hence he falls into utterances which can only be regarded, however pardonable and comprehensible under his piteous circumstances (cf. Jeremiah 14:18), as exaggerated, and in many respects, as all such utterances are, incorrect. Every sentence in Jeremiah 14:19, etc; is open to grave question. It would be dreadful if they were not. Note-
I. THE PROPHET'S EXPOSTULATIONS, (Jeremiah 14:19.) Now, God did not "utterly reject Judah," nor did "his soul loathe Zion." It was his love for his people that determined him at all costs to purge them from their evil.
II. HIS COMPLAINTS. (Jeremiah 14:19.) He complains that they had been disappointed and implies that God was the cause why their expectations had failed. They had no right to look for peace, being what they were.
III. HIS CONFESSIONS. Nothing could be more appropriate or more sure to gain the mercy of God than such confession as this, if it were indeed sincere and general on the part of those who had sinned. But this it was not; it was because they would not repent, would not return unto the Lord, that therefore his wrath arose against them until there was no remedy.
IV. HIS ENTREATIES. (Jeremiah 14:21.) God never "abhorred" his people but only their sins; and that God should be thought to "disgrace" the throne of his glory can only be explained on the grounds we have stated. Nor either is it God's way to "break his covenant."
V. HIS PLEAS. (Jeremiah 14:22.) Here the prophet pleads truly. There was no hope in any heathen deity, but in God alone. And had the people indeed "waited" upon God, matters had gone more happily with them. But this was just what they did not do. Now, concerning all such utterances as these:
1. Bear with them. God did so. He rebuked not his servant, though that servant had spoken unadvisedly concerning him.
2. Be very slow to believe them. Cf. Naomi, and her false forebodings of fear. How ill she thought God would deal with her! How gracious, in fact, that dealing was I And St. Paul assures us that "God hath not cast off his people." "All Israel shall be saved." Let us wait on and wait for God.
3. Be ashamed if by our sin we have caused such distress. Jeremiah had not sinned, but he mourns as if the sin were his own. Beholding the sorrow our sin causes to those who love us will, if we be not utterly hardened, arouse shame, sorrow, and contrition in our own hearts. 4. If those who know most of the mind of God tremble for us, have we not reason to tremble for ourselves?—C.
A dreadful apprehension.
That God should "abhor" us. Such apprehension filled the prophet's mind, as it has other minds.
I. BUT THIS GOD NEVER DOES. He is our Father; he so loved us as to give Christ for us. It is impossible, therefore, let our apprehensions be what they may, that he can abhor us.
II. BUT HE MAY SEEM TO.
1. No one will think thus of God by reason only of temporal calamities. These have again and again come and do come to God's servants, but produce no such distressing thought as this (cf. Psalms 22:1-31; "He hath not despised nor abhorred," etc.).
2. Nor will spiritual distress alone cause it. There may be loss of comfort in God; no enjoyment in prayer or worship. Sin may again reassert its mastery, and fill the soul with sorrow. Doubts may insinuate themselves into the soul. But none of these will of themselves lead to the thought that God abhors us.
3. They may do so, however, if the presence of sorrow, temporal or spiritual, be so severe as to throw the mind off its balance. (Cf. former homily.) Despair has for a while under such circumstances wrought this harm, and that in the holiest minds. Even our blessed Lord knew somewhat of this awful experience (cf. the agony in the garden, and the cry on the cross, "My God, my God," etc.). Elijah, John the Baptist, Jeremiah here, and others have been instances. Cowper the poet also, and the not infrequent cases of religious melancholy leading either to settled gloom or even suicide. The tenderest pity and compassion are to be felt for such.
4. Persistent disobedience and repeated backsliding are the chief causes of this apprehension. When the world, the flesh, and the devil fill the heart, especially the heart which has once been cleansed, then "the last state of that man is worse than the first" (cf. Saul, Judas, Ahithophel). Yes; such sin has power to turn the sun into darkness and the moon into blood, and to make the very stars fall from heaven. God becomes the horror of the soul, and men will "make their bed in hell" if but they may flee from his dreadful presence.
III. THE GREAT DESTROYER OF THIS DREAD. It is suggested by the prophet's own words: "Abhor us not, for thy Name's sake." This is the antidote of all such fearful dread. The Name of God, i.e. that by which he has made himself known. And what has been the verdict of all the witness concerning God, which his words and works and ways have borne, but this, that he is plenteous in mercy to all that call upon him—to all that call upon him in truth? He is the "God of all grace." And if Israel of old had proof of this, how much more have we in Christ! Behold God in him; he is the Name of God to us men. Then, where this dread apprehension exists, let Christ be preached, meditated upon, sought in prayer, confessed with the lip, served and followed in the life, waited on continually, and soon this dread shall pass away.—C.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
Every divinely inspired prophet of the olden times was emphatically a "seer," gifted with the power of looking, as other men could not, into the inmost heart of things—passing events, natural laws, Divine providences—so as to discern their deeper meaning. The past, the present, and the future all came under his survey, inasmuch as he had to do mainly with those absolute and universal truths which are in no way subject to the conditions of time. As the prophet is called a seer, so the subject of his prophecy is often called a" vision." It is remarkable how large a proportion of the prophetic revelations of the Old Testament were of a pictorial, symbolic character (see Num 24:4; 1 Kings 22:17; Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 37:1 :10; Habakkuk 2:1), and even when they were otherwise, similar phraseology is often used to indicate the prophet's extraordinary power of moral and spiritual insight. But this passage speaks of false prophets—men who assumed the prophetic function when not divinely called to it, mere pretenders to the prophetic gift. Ezekiel calls them the "foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing" (Ezekiel 13:3). Every age has had some such misleading witnesses. Christ warned the people against them in his day (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:24). St. John spoke of their uprising as a characteristic of the "last time" (1 John 2:18; 1 John 4:1). Our own age is certainly no exception. Men may not claim Divine inspiration in the old prophetic sense, but never were there bolder claims to deep spiritual insight, never such adventurous flights into the realms of mystery, never so many dogmatic remedies for the intellectual restlessness or the moral diseases of human nature. Note, here—
I. THAT FREEDOM OF THOUGHT AND OF SPEECH WHICH WOULD SEEM TO BE A FIXED PRINCIPLE OF DIVINE GOVERNMENT. There was nothing to prevent the false prophets from speaking; the people were only forbidden to listen to them. Though it be nothing but a vision of their own diseased fancy, a conceit of their own distempered brain, that men have to deliver, they are allowed to deliver it. Better so, that the false should come out to the light of day, confronting the truth, rather than that it should be suppressed by an external force that may at another time be enlisted on its side. The truth has nothing to fear from public conflict with error and all its forces. A marvelous change, as regards the openness of the conflict, has taken place since the days when Milton wrote his 'Areopagitica' and Jeremy Taylor his 'Liberty of Prophesying.' No doubt it is full of danger to the weak and wavering, to those whose mental eagerness is not tempered by humility and whose hearts are not "established with grace." But this is God's way of leading the world on to fuller, clearer light. And is it not in harmony with his whole moral administration of human affairs? He puts awful, destructive powers into men's hands, and he holds each one responsible for the way in which he wields them. There are boundless possibilities of evil around us all, moral as well as physical, and our case would be sad indeed if there were not equal and still greater possibilities of good. It is well that the false prophets should tell out their "dreams," if only that the light of God may expose their emptiness and the breath of God may scatter them.
II. THE NEED OF A SURE CRITERION OF JUDGMENT. How shall we discern between the false and the true? These supposed prophetic utterances of old were subjected to certain tests.
1. Their verity. If they were falsified by the facts of history or the inner consciousness of the people, they could not be of God.
2. Harmony with Divine Law. They must be favorable to the cause of virtue and morality; could not promise prosperity apart from repentance, or cry, "Peace, peace," when there was "no peace."
3. The personal character of the teacher. The messengers of a holy God must needs be themselves holy. The quality of their message would be reflected in their own life. The same principles hold good now. Such an essential connection exists between truth in thought and truth of feeling, character, life, that every form of doctrine must be judged by its moral influence, both on the teacher and the taught. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Moreover, Christianity refers us to a testing principle of still higher quality and completer efficacy—the presence of the Spirit of truth and grace in our own souls. "He that is spiritual," etc. (1 Corinthians 2:15). "Ye have an unction from the Holy One," etc. (1 John 2:20, 1 John 2:21). There is no safeguard against error but this Divine faculty. As regards an external standard, the Scriptures of eternal truth are the touchstone. "To the Law and to the testimony," etc. (Isaiah 8:20). The voice, the Law, the life of God in your own soul, is a touchstone of still more delicate quality and ready application. ― If what you read or hear wilt not bear this test, it is but the "dream" of a false prophet, "the deceit of his own heart," and no true "burden of the Lord."
III. GOD'S SURE VINDICATION OF THE CAUSE OF HIS OWN TRUTH, WHATEVER FORCES MAY ASSAIL IT. (See Verses 15, 16.) The ministry of the true prophets was a marvelous revelation of the Divine power that sustained them and verified their words. They were seldom called to. do battle with the false prophets on their own ground, directly to assail their errors by argument and disproof. They were simply called to proclaim the truth, leaving it with God to make it victorious. The apostles of Christ dealt with the abounding theoretical and practical evils of their day on very much the same principle. The thing that is false gains its influence over men's minds by reason of its resemblance to the true. The counterfeit circulates because it seems like the real coin. There is no way in which we can so effectually rebuke it as by setting forth the glory of that of which it is the perversion or the mocking shadow. In the full, clear light and the spreading power of the truth error must, sooner or later, wither and die. Let us have faith in the triumphant force of God's own Word. "What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord," etc. (Jeremiah 23:28, Jeremiah 23:29). We may well trust in the ultimate victory of that which is the product of infinite wisdom, and is backed by all the resources of omnipotence.—W.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The miseries produced by lack of water.
I. THE BITTER CONSCIOUSNESS THAT AN IMPERATIVE NEED CANNOT BE SATISFIED. Well might there be mourning, languishing, and crying. When we are speaking of need, one of the first questions to be asked is whether the need is natural or artificial. An artificial need, by continued self-indulgence, may come to be very keenly felt; and yet, when circumstances arise which prevent the satisfying of the need, the artificiality of it is clearly seen. But a natural need, when the supplies are stopped, soon shows how clamorous it can become, how productive of unendurable pain. These Israelites had been multiplying artificial needs. They thought they needed visible images, to he richly adorned and constantly worshipped. They thought they needed large external possessions, and so the land became full of covetousness. Rich men tried to increase their riches, and poor men wanted, above all things, to get out of their poverty. But all the while the difference between natural and artificial need was forgotten. The natural needs went on being satisfied, because God, who gives rain from heaven, was long-suffering; and the supply came so habitually that the people did not reckon how there was a hand upon the fountain of the waters which could seal them up in a moment. But now, no sooner is the supply stopped than there is deep and inconceivable misery. The idolater will go on living, even if you take his images away; a rich man need not die because he is stripped of his possessions; but what shall one do who cannot get water to drink? The unendurable pain of Dives in Hades came not from the lost wealth and splendor of earth, but because he could not get the least drop of water to cool his tongue.
II. THE VANITY OF HUMAN RESOURCES. Jerusalem now abounds in pools and cisterns, and the probability is that in the time of Jeremiah there was a similar abundance, both within and without the city. Great cities have always had to see to the providing of water, according to their judgment of what was necessary. A due supply of water is one of the most important charges that can be entrusted to any municipality. The authorities of Jerusalem may have done their best according to their lights; but they had forgotten that the most they could do was to provide receptacles for the Divine bounty. They had hewn cisterns without considering that a time might come when there would be no water to put into the cisterns. That time has come, and where is now the wisdom of the wise and the strength of the mighty? Men may flatter themselves that they rule on earth; but it is very plain that the spaces above, where the clouds gather and whence the rains descend, are beyond their control.
III. THE NULLIFYING OF HUMAN INDUSTRY. The work of the ploughman is in vain. God requires man to work and study in order to get the fruits of the earth; but it is only too easy for him in all his work and study to forget God. tie who expects a harvest will not omit ploughing, sowing, irrigating—without these works expectation would be idiotic-but he may very easily omit faith in God. He may neglect the bestowment of the firstfruits, and all that service of God which the fruits of the earth give us strength to render. Well may such a one be ashamed when the ground is chapped and there is no rain in the earth. This is the sign of his own folly in attending to certain secondary requisites and forgetting the one requisite most important of all. When it is so required, God can feed thousands without any sowing and reaping at all; but no man is allowed to reckon that his sowing will assuredly be followed by reaping. He may sow wheat bountifully, only to reap thorns bountifully, because he has forgotten God (Jeremiah 12:13). If the sowing is in prayer and humility, in gratitude for the past and reasonable expectation for the future, then the sower will have no need to be ashamed. Whatever other things God's servants may lack, God will put the true, abiding glory upon them.
IV. THE LINKING OF MAN WITH THE BRUTE CREATION IN A COMMON SUFFERING, The hinds and the wild asses suffer, and doubtless they were prominent representatives of many other classes of the brute creation. A common thirst not only brings down the noble to the level of the mean man, but man in general to the level of the brute. It is well that we should have plain reminders, such as cannot be escaped, of the links that bind us to the lower creation. We cannot, at present at all events, get above some of the wants of the brute, although certainly it cannot rise to some of ours; but it is just the wants of the brute that seem to be the only wants many feel. They have enough if they can eat, drink, and be merry.—Y.
An appeal out of the depths of separation from God.
I. THE APPEAL OF THOSE WHO ADMIT THAT IN THEMSELVES THEY HAVE NO CLAIM UPON GOD. They have no record of faithful service to present; no array of good deeds goes before them to plead for acceptance and approval. It is all the other way. Their iniquities testify against them; they have backslidden; they have sinned against Jehovah; at least, so they say. There is the appearance of having come to themselves. It might seem as if the prodigal nation, so long spending its substance in riotous living, had been brought to a full stop and a place for repentance amid the privations of a waterless land. Why, indeed, should there be any suspicion as to a genuine confession of great iniquities, a genuine and swift submission to Jehovah? Notice that the confession is correct enough as far as the mere words are concerned. But after all, these words were not unlike the statements extorted by the pains of the Inquisition. Confessions and professions have been made by tortured men in their agonies which had no value as genuine utterances of the heart. It is needless to say that, as far as purpose is concerned, no resemblance is to be found between Jehovah depriving Judah of its water and Rome torturing heretics to make them recant. There may be different purposes where there are similar results. This cry of the people showed the severity with which they had been smitten; it did not of necessity show the state of their hearts. All that they said was true; their iniquities did testify against them; they were apostates; they had sinned against Jehovah. Only when we look at past confessions of the like sort, we see how little they meant (Numbers 14:40; Numbers 21:7; Judges 10:10; 1 Samuel 7:6). It was the parched tongue and not the broken heart that made them speak. And therefore it is that their appeal has to be met with a refusal. Earnestly as they cried, the cessation of chastisement would not have been followed by the renewal of a true obedience.
II. THE APPEAL OF THOSE WHO HAVE BECOME CONSCIOUS OF THEIR OWN HELPLESSNESS APART FROM JEHOVAH. They want water, and there is no way of getting it apart from the mercy of an all-powerful God. The very way in which they speak shows how vain they feel all resources to be save one. But if other resources had been possible, assuredly they would have tried them. They come to God's door, not because it is the right one, but because it is the only one left to try. So passengers begin to think of God and eternity when the captain says the tempest-beaten ship cannot be saved. So sick people send for a minister of religion when the doctor says the disease is mortal. So the doomed criminal makes a fashion of giving all his attention to the chaplain when the plea for mitigation is rejected. What a humiliating position men take in making an appearance of coming to God only when they can get nowhere else! What wonder is it that, under such circumstances, they fail to get a right relation established between God and themselves! Prayers in such circumstances, whatever the language employed, may prove no more than the incoherent shriek of despair, a cry without any real turning to God, without any real trust in him.
III. THE APPEAL OF THOSE WHO CAN CALL TO MIND GOD'S CHARACTER AS ALREADY REVEALED. The description of God in his deeds and disposition had ample warrant from the history of his past dealings. He had been in the midst of his people, " the Hope of Israel, the Savior thereof in time of trouble," as a mighty man showing himself able to save in the greatest danger. He who now fastened up the clouds and the springs had given waters in the wilderness. He who now made the earth fruitless had given manna which needed neither sowing nor reaping. Jehovah had been behind all the visible agents towards deliverance, victory, and possession of the promised inheritance. His tabernacle had been in the midst of his people, and his glory in the midst of his tabernacle. How easy it is to remember, when necessary, that which, when convenient, it seems just as easy to forget! The clouds of heaven and the mountains in whose secret depths he had wrought at the water-springs had been suffered to hide God; but now that his gracious works are vanished for a while, men suddenly and painfully miss the worker. They can flatter him whom they have not even despised, but rather simply ignored. When the cisterns are empty, when the land is chapped, when there is no water anywhere for man and beast, then they can talk effusively concerning "the Hope of Israel, and the Savior thereof in time of trouble." What self-accusation is implied in this appeal! It was not in ignorance of Jehovah's claims that they had sinned against him. His past dealings were known and could be recollected under stress of need. If God could speak to Jeremiah as one familiar with the deeds of Moses and Samuel (Jeremiah 15:1), then we may be sure the God connected with those deeds was also known in his historical manifestations—known to some extent at least to the great bulk of the people.
IV. THE APPEAL OF THOSE WHO HAVE BECOME KEENLY SENSITIVE TO GOD'S SEPARATION FROM THEM. This is set forth by two figures. He has become as a stranger in the land, as a wayfarer pitching his tent for the night. The people profess to wonder why it is so, and yet they need not wonder. He who has been in their midst because, first of all, he has gathered them around him as the recipients of measureless privileges, finds rivals raised on every high place and in every grove. His special commands are shut out from influence on the conduct of daily life. His messenger is scorned by rulers and conspired against by his own kinsfolk. What is all this but to become even worse than a stranger? A stranger may advance through successive grades of acquaintanceship into bosom affection and trust; but if he who is and ought to remain the center gets pushed out little by little, even beyond the circumference, what force is there potent and exact enough to bring the former relation back? God had told these people how to treat the stranger, but instead of attending to his commands they had ended by making God himself a stranger. Needless, then, was it to ask the question, "Why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land?" As well might the ebbing sea ask the rock round which it rolled at flood, why it had forsaken it. Jehovah had remained the same in truth, in love, and in purpose. It was the people who had failed, and flowed further and further away from him. They talked of him as a mere wanderer among them, whereas they were the real wanderers, wandering in heart, drifting about from one temporary satisfaction to another (Exodus 22:21; Le Exodus 19:9, Exodus 19:10, 33; Matthew 25:35; Hebrews 13:2).—Y.
The severities of Jehovah-sword, famine, and pestilence.
I. THE OCCASION OF THESE SEVERITIES. This occasion is stated in Jeremiah 14:10. The people have spoken of Jehovah as a stranger and traveler, which way of speaking gives opportunity for asserting that it is they who are the real wanderers, straying from Jehovah's highway of righteousness and appointed service; and not only have they strayed, but they have loved to stray. The making of a straight path for Jehovah has been very hard and exacting, and the first voice of temptation to turn into an easier road has been listened to. And even now, out of the midst of their agonies, their cry has no repentance in it. They wish God to come into their midst and protect and comfort them, forgetting that if he is to be really in their midst they must turn from their iniquities. They must show clear signs of forsaking their sins before he can relax his severities. Dreadful as this experience of a waterless land is, they must look for the exciting cause of it in themselves. A disobedient child, suffering punishment at the hands of his parent, while he knows that one cause of his pain is the chastising instrument, knows also that it is a cause which only operates because of the wrong that he himself has done. If we would only give due attention, it is within oar own power to keep the worst pains out of life.
II. VAIN DEFENCES AGAINST THE SEVERITIES.
1. The intercession of good men. Jehovah says once again to his prophet, "Pray not for this people for their good." Jeremiah himself, naturally and commendably enough, is prompted to cry on their behalf. But doubtless they themselves also urge the prophet's intercession.
2. Fasting. Outward and visible humiliation; such attire and such attitudes assumed as were congruous with the cry of Verses 7-9. All this was easy enough without any humbling or chastening of the heart. Fasting is too often followed by feasting. For a little while the fleshly comforts of life are superstitiously put aside; but there is the full purpose of resuming them, and making up for lost time.
3. Burnt offerings and oblations. The people insulted Jehovah by heaping before him the carcasses of slain beasts. An idol was best served, according to the teaching of its priests, by those who made the largest offerings at its shrine. All these doings only emphasized the disobedience of the people. They were very diligent in giving what Jehovah did not want, vainly thinking it might stand in place of what he imperatively required. When God asks us for repentance and obedience, it is the merest trifling both with his expectations and our interests to bring some unusual demonstration of will-worship. Let quality, not quantity, be the first thing. A little of the right is better than the utmost profession of the wrong. A little of the right, firmly rooted, will increase and strengthen with wonderful rapidity.
III. THE SHAPE OF THE SEVERITIES. Sword, famine, and pestilence are coming; coming, plainly set forth as the consuming agents of Jehovah. When Jehovah makes men his sword, it is vain to contend against them. The history of God's people had often shown how a few could be victorious and a multitude vanquished. It is he who can put strength into the arm that wields the sword or take that strength away. These invading armies were, of course, not conscious that Jehovah was wielding them in this way. They had their own selfish aims, which God could subordinate and mould toward his own ends. It is the worst of blasphemy for the leader of an army to talk as if he were going on God's errands. Attila was not the scourge of God because he said so, though God may have used him in ways beyond Attila's power to conceive. Famine. Here was a destroyer which there was no guarding against. The sword could at least be drawn against the sword, however vain the result. But who could stop a general famine? And even supposing a few rich man could store up grain for a while, there was a third foe in reserve—the pestilence. David had his choice as to which of the three dread agents he would prefer; but here they all come together. God has a variety of weapons, and his enemies cannot evade them all. How wise men would be if, instead of vainly trying to shut out alike Divine Law and penalty, they would at once and forever take up the attitude of entire submission to God! Then they would be defended indeed. By sword, famine, and pestilence, these rich men of Judah and Jerusalem were forever separated from their ill-gotten gains. But "who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Assuredly not famine or sword," says the apostle; nor pestilence either, he would have added, if he had thought of it. We may he persuaded that nothing has power to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The mischief is that we reject the protections of that love and all other benefits flowing from it.—Y.
The peculiar doom of the false prophets.
I. THE SIN OF THE PROPHETS. That they are found liars is, comparatively speaking, a small part of their offence. Their lie is productive of so much that adds to the peril of the position—so much that is peculiarly insulting to Jehovah. Their sin and the punishment of it were not unlike the sin and punishment of Ananias and Sapphira. Ananias and Sapphira were smitten, not because they had lied, but because they had lied against the Holy Ghost. So with these false prophets here; they prophesied falsely; but that in itself might not have brought a peculiar doom upon them. The offence lay in this, that the false prophecy came at a time when it was peculiarly obnoxious to Jehovah. It was not a distant danger that these false prophets made light of, but one close to the door. The prophet's difficulties, arising from the natural disposition of his auditors, were already great enough. No false prophet was needed to come in with his contradiction. It must also be remembered that there was a peculiarly insulting sin in that these men told their lies as prophets. What a dreadful thing for a man to go forth with "Thus saith Jehovah" in his mouth, when the words are the deceit of his own heart! This expression, "the deceit of their heart," seems to suggest the possibility that in some instances these false prophets were not deliberate liars, but were themselves deluded by a fanatical exaggeration of patriotism. Nevertheless, even so, the sin was none the less, for the spirits of the prophets were subject to the prophets. We had need be very sure that we are duly commissioned when we undertake to speak in the Name of God, else we may land ourselves in most humiliating exposures, and come to a most admonitory end. Thus we come to notice—
II. HOW THE SIN OF THESE PROPHETS WAS MADE CLEAR. Jeremiah said one thing, the false prophets said the direct contrary, and at the time there seemed no means of vindicating the true prophet beyond all chance of cavil. Doubtless those who were rightly disposed did listen and believe. Their very disposition was in itself a touchstone by which to discriminate between the false and the true; while those disposed to reject could make anything serve for an excuse. The important thing to notice is that the occasion of this great sin was seized upon to predict in due time a terrible, an indisputable, revelation of the sin. Thus an opportunity came for adding detail and emphasis to the prophecy already given. What could not be made plain at the moment would be made abundantly plain hereafter. Sword and famine were not only certain, they were near; coming within the lives of these living men, who would see these very false prophets die by the sword and famine which they had sneered at as impossible. Those who during life had told so many inexpressibly mischievous falsehoods with their lips, were made the instruments, their own will not being at all consulted, of uttering most impressive truth in their death. God and his truth and his true prophets and faithful witnesses can wait. Time is increasingly on the side of all truth, while false prophets are condemned out of their own mouths.
III. THE DECEIVED AUDITORS SUFFER JUST AS MUCH AS THE DECEIVING SPEAKERS. The people were not at liberty to plead contradictions in the messages as a ground for continued inaction in the matter of repentance. Such a plea was certain to be seized on, but, while it might help to drug the conscience, it availed nothing to lighten the judgments which Jehovah was bringing on his unfaithful people. That God who is to be reckoned true, though such reckoning makes every man a liar, has assuredly not left himself without ample witness. False prophets can be tested at once by the heart of each individual to whom they appeal, although their exposure before the whole universe may not come for many ages. God gives us for our own sakes the present means of guarding against them. As to his Name and glory, we may be sure he will vindicate them in his own time and way.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12