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The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ jeremiah-20.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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The continuation of the preceding narrative. Pashur the son of Trainer. This man belonged to the sixteenth of the sacerdotal families or classes (1 Chronicles 24:14). Another of the same name is referred to in Jeremiah 21:1 (see note). The one here mentioned was "chief overseer" (there were several inferior overseers, 2 Chronicles 31:13); the eminence of the position appears from the fact that Zephaniah, Pashur's successor (Jeremiah 29:26), is second only to the high priest (Jeremiah 52:24). Heard that Jeremiah prophesied; rather, heard Jeremiah prophesying.
Pashur, being charged with the police of the temple, smites Jeremiah, i.e. causes stripes to be given him, and then orders him to be put into the stocks; literally, that which distorts—some instrument of punishment which held the body in a bent or crooked position (comp. Jeremiah 29:26). The "stocks" were sometimes kept in a special house (2 Chronicles 16:10); these mentioned here, however, apparently stood in public, at the high—or rather, upper—gate of Benjamin, which was by—or, at—the house of the Lord. The gate, then, was one of the temple gates, and is called "the upper" to distinguish it from one of the city gates which bore the same name (Jeremiah 37:13; Jeremiah 38:7). It is presumably the same which is called "the new gate of the Lord's house" (Jeremiah 26:10; Jeremiah 36:10), as having been comparatively lately built (2 Kings 15:35).
Symbolic change of name. Not … Pashur, but Magor-missabib; i.e. terror on every side. There is probably no allusion to the (by no means obvious) etymology of Pashur. Jeremiah simply means to say that Pashur would one day become an object of general horror (see on verse 10).
The strength; rather, the stores. The labors; rather, the fruits of labor; i.e. the profits.
Comp. the prophecy against Shebna (Isaiah 22:18). Since we find, in Jeremiah 29:26, Pashur's office occupied by another, it is probable that the prediction was fulfilled by the captivity of Pashur with Jehoiachin. To whom thou hast prophesied lies (comp. Jeremiah 14:13). Pashur, then, claimed to be a prophet.
A lyric passage, expressing the conflict in the prophet's mind owing to the mockery and the slander which his preaching has brought upon him, and at the same time his confidence of victory through the protection of Jehovah; a suitable sequel to the narrative which goes before, even if not originally written to occupy this position (see general Introduction).
Thou hast deceived me, etc.; rather, thou didst entice me, and I let myself be enticed. Jeremiah refers to the hesitation he originally felt to accepting the prophetic office (Jeremiah 1:1-19.). The verb does not mean "to deceive," but "to entice" (so rendered in verse 10, Authorized Version), or "allure." The same word is used in that remarkable narrative of "the spirit" who offered to "entice" (Authorized Version, to "persuade") Ahab to "go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead" (1 Kings 22:21). In Ezekiel, too, the same case is supposed as possible of Jehovah's "enticing" a prophet (Eze 15:1-8 :9). The expression implies that all events are, in some sense, caused by God, even those which are, or appear to be, injurious to the individual. Was Goethe thinking of this passage when he wrote the words, "Wen Gott betrugt, ist wohl betrogon?" Applying the words in a Christian sense, we may say (with F. W. Robertson) that God teaches us by our illusions. Thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed; rather, thou didst take hold on me, and didst prevail. The expression is like "Jehovah spake thus to me with a grasp of the hand" (Isaiah 8:11).
For since I spake, I cried out, etc.; rather, For as often as I speak, I must shout; I must cry, Violence and spoil; I can take up no other tone but that of indignant denunciation, no other theme but that of the acts of injustice constantly committed (not merely, nor indeed chiefly, against the prophet himself). Was made; rather, is made.
Then I said, etc.; rather, And when I say, I will not make mention of him, etc; then it becometh (i.e. I am conscious of a feeling) in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I weary myself to hold it in, but cannot. The prophet has repeatedly been tempted to withdraw from the painful duty, but his other and higher self (comp. 'Old Self and New Self' in the 'Lyra Apostolica') overpowers these lower bayings for peace and quiet. The fire of the Divine wrath against sin burns so fiercely within him that he cannot help resuming his work.
For I heard, etc.; rather, For I have heard the whispering of many; there is terror on every side. Inform (say they), and let us inform against him. This gives us the reason for Ms momentary inclinations to silence. He was surrounded by bitter enemies, who were no longer content with malicious words, but urged each other on to lay an information against him with the authorities as a public criminal. The first clause agrees verbatim with part of Psalms 31:13 (this is one of the psalms attributed, by a too bold conjecture, to Jeremiah). "There is terror on every side" (see above, Psalms 31:3, and also note on Jeremiah 6:25) means "everything about me inspires me with terror." All my familiars is, literally, all the men of my peace; i.e. all those with whom I have been on terms of friendship (same phrase, Jeremiah 38:22). Watched for my halting; i.e. either laid traps for me or waited for me to commit some error for them to take advantage of. The phrase, "my halting," is borrowed (?) from Psalms 35:15; Psalms 38:18 (Hebrew). He will be enticed; viz. to say something on which a charge of treason can be based.
As a mighty terrible one; rather, as a formidable warrior. They shall not prevail. This was in fact, the Divine promise to Jeremiah at the outset of his ministry (Jeremiah 1:19). For they shall not prosper; rather, because they have not pros-pored.
Repeated, with slight variations, from Jeremiah 11:20.
In the confidence of faith Jeremiah sees himself already delivered. He writes in the style of the psalmists, who constantly pass from the language of prayer to that of fruition.
Jeremiah curses the day of his birth. The passage is a further development of the complaint in Jeremiah 15:10, and stands in no connection with the consolatory close of the preceding passage. There is a very striking parallel in Job 3:3-12, and the question cannot be evaded, Which is the original? It is difficult to believe that Jeremiah copied from an earlier poem. Deep emotion expresses itself in language suggested by the moment; and, even after retouching his discourses, Jeremiah would leave much of the original expression. But impressions of this sort cannot be unreservedly trusted. The argument from parallel passages is only a subsidiary one in the determination of the date of books.
As the cities which the Lord overthrow. It is, so to speak, the "technical term" for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah which Jeremiah employs. So deeply imprinted was the tradition on the Hebrew mind, that a special word was appropriated to it, which at once called up thoughts of the awful justice of God (see Genesis 19:25; Isaiah 1:7 (?); Isaiah 13:19; Amos 4:11; Deuteronomy 29:23 ; Jeremiah 49:18; Jeremiah 50:40). The cry … the shouting. The cry of the besieged for help; the shouting of the suddenly appearing assailants (comp. Jeremiah 15:8).
At length the smoldering opposition to Jeremiah breaks out into open persecution. Hitherto, though he has been answered by words (Jeremiah 18:18) and threatened with violence, no overt act has been committed. Secret enemies have elaborated dark designs, which are alarming enough but come to no serious issue. But now violent hands are laid upon the prophet; and it is not an obscure band of illegal conspirators who contrive evil against him, but the official head of the temple guards formally arrests him and executes upon him the recognized punishment of a criminal. This action bears testimony to the excitement produced by the burning words of the discourse in the valley of Hinnom. So overawing were the utterances of the prophet that no one dared to touch him then; but when he confirmed them in the temple courts the circumstances were altered, and, either from alarm or from rage, Pashur, the chief of the temple police, laid hold of the prophet and brought him to severe punishment. The conduct of Pashur and the fate that is threatened him deserve our careful examination.
I. THE CONDUCT OF PASHUR.
1. Pashur was a priest and of high rank in the service of the temple of Jehovah. Such a man should have been able to recognize a true prophet of Jehovah as his fellow-servant. Yet he was first in persecuting him. Official religious positions are no guarantees for spiritual wisdom. But it is scandalous when the professed leaders of the Church are foremost in resisting the declaration of Divine truth and the execution of the will of God.
2. Pashur was a responsible officer of justice. Such a man should not have allowed himself to be carried away by a flood of popular indignation, influences of class jealousy, or impulses of personal spite, Judicial crimes are always the most atrocious crimes. They poison justice at its very Fountain, they abuse high trusts, they disorganize society, and all this in addition to the inherent wickedness of the acts, which is the same in all who commit them with similar motives.
3. Pashur replied to the words of prophecy with the arm of force. He could not answer Jeremiah, so he attempted to repress him. Unable to refute the arguments of the prophet, he endeavored to restrain the utterance of them. Here we recognize the folly, the injustice, and the cruelty of such persecution: the folly, for to silence a voice is not to destroy the unpleasant truth it declares; injustice, for nothing can be more unfair than to do violence to a man for uttering words which we cannot deny to be rote; and cruelty, for it is a man's duty to make known what he believes to be important truths.
II. THE THREATENED FATE OF PASHUR. Jeremiah stood alone, unpopular and unprotected. Pashur was strong in the powers of office and supported by the sentiment of the country. Yet the prophet was more than a match for the officer. Sensitive and naturally retiring, Jeremiah was bold in the conviction of truth, the sense of duty, and the consciousness of the Divine presence. Pashur's policy proved a failure. Jeremiah was not silenced by scourge and stocks. Either Pashur had too much sense of justice leg. to retain the prophet in prison, or he feared that such an action would be recognized as illegal and damage his position, or he thought the severe but brief corporal punishment of the prophet sufficient. Jeremiah was set at liberty on the day after he was arrested, and then, instead of cautiously measuring his language, he boldly threatened Pashur with a share of suffering in the coming calamity. This was peculiar. Pashur was not to experience the worst, but to witness it.
1. He was to be punished by fear. Tyrants are cowards. A long-enduring, harassing fear is more painful to bear than a short, sharp, visible trouble. Many evils are worse in prospect than in experience. Courage and active resistance may make the facing of danger easy, but to be haunted with vague terrors, powerless to do anything to avert them, lashed and stung by innumerable ideal and therefore intangible torments,—this is torture. You can fight a foe of flesh and blood, but a fear is like a ghost. The blow aimed at it passes through it, and it remains still glaring at its victim till his blood freezes with horror. May God deliver us from the awful punishment of an eternal fear!
2. He was to see the words of the prophet verified by experience. He tried to silence the warning voice; he could not stay the approaching evil. They who have rejected warnings will be dismayed and confounded when they see them realized in facts.
3. He was to witness the calamity of his nation. Probably there was a genuine love of his country in this man. His attack on Jeremiah may have been influenced by a sincere desire for the national welfare. But if so he had put his country before his God. His punishment would come in the humiliation of his nation. Patriotism is no excuse for resisting the will of God. The godless patriot may be punished by seeing the troubles that are brought on his country through its irreligion.
Enticed and overpowered by God.
I. GOD ENTICES HIS SERVANTS. Jeremiah had been led to undertake the prophetic mission with assurances of success and victory (Jeremiah 1:17-19), and he was surprised when he met only with contempt and apparent failure. So others have entered God's service with much confidence in the joy and but little anticipation of the trouble it would bring. There is really nothing either false or unkind in this.
1. Nothing false; for
(1) though all the future trouble is not predicted, its approach is not denied; we are simply left in the dark in regard to it; and
(2) ultimately the servants of God will triumph, and the trouble will be all forgotten and swallowed up in victory. But if the darker experience were clearly revealed at first, it would throw such a shadow over the future that the ultimate triumph would be scarcely thought of, and thus a more false idea of the whole course of life would be produced than that which comes from hiding from us some of its darker scenes.
2. Nothing unkind. If the trouble must be faced it need not be anticipated (Mat 6:1-34 :84). If God hides approaching trouble from us he does not forget to provide against it. He takes the burden of it upon himself, so that when the trouble is revealed the grace to endure it is also revealed. Moreover, on the whole, the blessedness of the service of God vastly outweighs its distresses. If the alarm of the latter drove us from the service, the result would be loss to ourselves. It is, therefore, merciful in God to condescend to our weakness and thus lead us on through partial views of truth until we are strong enough to grasp the whole. Still, when the prospect of trouble is revealed it should be faced. Something of this must be considered by us or we may make an ignominious failure. Jeremiah was warned of opposition. Christ discouraged rash, heedless enthusiasm (Luke 9:57, Luke 9:58), and bade men count the cost of his service.
II. GOD OVERPOWERS HIS SERVANTS. Jeremiah complained that he was not only enticed but prevailed upon by God by force. "Thou art stronger than I." God never forces a man's will. But still he hedges a man in and uses such influences upon him that many of the experiences of his life may be ascribed to God's supreme power rather than to the man's spontaneous action. If these result in shame and apparent failure, as they often may, at first sight it seems as though God had been dealing harshly with his servant.
1. But we should remember that it is a blessed thing to suffer for God. It is an honor to be a true martyr to God's will (Matthew 5:10, Matthew 5:11).
2. We should understand that good purposes are being effected through such suffering. It is not without its end. God is honoring us as he glorifies his Son, by making us the sacrifices for the accomplishment of a blessing to mankind.
3. We should believe that a great reward in heaven will compensate for the patient endurance of these brief earthly troubles. Without this the problem would be inexplicable. With it all wrongs will be righted.
The burning fire of inspiration.
I. THESE WORDS ARE A PROOF OF THE GENUINE INSPIRATION OF THE PROPHET. He is not thinking of convincing others of the fact of his inspiration, but simply pouring out the trouble of soul that it occasions. The ingenuousness of the utterance and the indirect allusion to the inspiration make them the more valuable. Then, the words of prophecy gained the prophet no power nor popularity, but only contempt and persecution It is impossible to stud the language of Jeremiah without feeling that he was overwhelmed with the consciousness of a Divine spiritual influence, while the dignity, vigor, and moral sublimity of his prophecies make it unreasonable to suppose that he was a self-deceived fanatic.
II. THESE WORDS ARE AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE POWERFUL INFLUENCE OF INSPIRATION. This was not a mere illumination; it was a power. The inspired prophet was not simply gifted with insight into truth; he was swayed by the might of it. He did not feel at liberty to deal with it as he pleased, to mediate on it by himself, to suppress it, to utter it only as his convenience was suited; it was his master, a hand laid heavily upon him, a fire burning in his bosom, that must come out. The same experience is felt by all men who have spiritual relations with truth. They do not hold truth; they find that truth holds them. That inspiration influences the will as well as the intellect is strikingly proved in the case of Balaam (Numbers 24:1-25.). The reason of this is found in the real presence of the Spirit of God. Revelation is by inspiration, and inspiration is the breathing of God's Spirit into a man's spirit, so that he becomes possessed by it. The tremendous importance of the truth revealed increases this compulsion of utterance. Jeremiah had revealed to him no barren, abstract dogmas, no trivial religious notions, no empty answers to curious prying questions of little practical moment, but terrible truths concerning his people and their highest interests. How could he hide such truths as we liars seen he had been entrusted with? If God speaks it must be to utter important words. The burden of them urges their custodian to declare them.
III. THESE WORDS ARE AN EVIDENCE OF THE PAINFUL EFFECTS OF INSPIRATION. No man need desire to be a prophet from motives of worldly ambition or selfish pleasure. The high privilege of inspiration carries with it danger, toil, anguish, terror. Prophecy has its Gethsemanes and its Golgothas. If its mission is faithfully carried out it leads to the cross. If this is faithlessly abandoned the prophet is consumed with inward fires. Inspiration is no substitute for mental labor, no excuse for intellectual indolence. On the contrary, it rouses the whole soul, quickens its energies, and works them to weariness. In so far as any of us are possessed in varying degrees by spiritual influences we shall find the Word of God a fire within us, which burns till we have discharged the minion it brings.
Jeremiah 20:10, Jeremiah 20:11
A prophet persecuted by spies.
I. THE PERSECUTION BY SPIES.
1. Consider the persons persecuting.
(1) They were mean and weak. Their names are not given; we know little of their characters and actions; yet the despicable conduct here ascribed to them proclaims them to have been of low and shallow natures. Only such can play the part of a spy. Yet these men could trouble Jeremiah. A spy can persecute a prophet. A gnat can sting a lion. Mean and despicable creatures that can do little good have considerable power of doing harm. This fact is humiliating to our common human nature, and it shows the great need of a Providence to restrain the outrages of wickedness which are so easily executed.
(2) They were numerous. The prophet stood alone beset on every side with malicious spies. How difficult to be faithful in that dreadful solitude of a crowd of unsympathizing persons!
(3) They were Jeremiah's familiar acquaintances. Religious and political differences separate the best of friends. When a man's own near acquaintances turn against him the very ground he stands upon seems to be breaking away from beneath his feet. Such men have peculiar power for harm, because
(a) they have been trusted and
(b) they know the weak places in a man's armor.
2. Consider the character of the persecution. The persecution of spies must have been peculiarly harassing.
(1) It was not open. It is so much easier to meet a frank foe in the field than to cope with the secret devices of spies.
(2) It must have been tainted with untruth. The spy would hear enough to misunderstand, and would unconsciously misrepresent in the effort to make his report consistent and telling. The "whispering" would heighten the color of every tale as it passed from one to another.
(3) It was perpetual. The spies were always on the watch, ready to take advantage of the first unguarded moment.
(4) It was malicious. The spies were eager for Jeremiah's halting, hoping to entice him to some mistake.
II. THE REFUGE FROM THIS PERSECUTION. Jeremiah found his refuge in God.
1. He could do so because he was innocent and because he was suffering in the service of God. How happy to be able thus fearlessly to challenge the arbitration of God between ourselves arid our detractors!
2. The help of God is sought because he knows all. He sees "the reins and the heart." If the spy is watchful, with his prying looks capable of seeing only the surface of things and with only partial views, and listening only to catch up broken fragments of speech to distort and misrepresent, God is righteously watchful of all that his creatures say and do.
3. The help of God is trusted in because he is "a mighty terrible one." "The God is a man of war." The might and majesty of God—so terrible to the godless—are the refuge of his people. It should be remembered by all of us that God is actively concerned with human affairs, and in his providence, without requiring what we call "miracle," can frustrate the devices of the wise and defeat the efforts of the strong.
Thanksgiving for future blessings.
I. WE MAY BE THANKFUL FOR BLESSINGS NOT YET RECEIVED. Jeremiah closes his prayer with praise. No sooner has he asked for God's help than he feels so assured of receiving it that he anticipates it in imagination, and breaks forth into grateful song as though he were already enjoying it. This is a proof of genuine faith. Faith makes the absent seem near and the future appear present (Hebrews 11:1). It influences our whole being—the imagination among other faculties—so that it enables us to conceive the good thing trusted for so vividly and so confidently that the thought of it affects the mind just as strongly as if we saw the object with our eyes and grasped it in our hands. Such an effect is a test of the earnestness and faith of prayer. Some people could not be more surprised than by receiving the exact answer to their prayers.
II. THE FULL DELIVERANCE FROM ALL HARM IS A FUTURE BLESSING FOR WHICH WE MAY BE GRATEFUL.
1. It is a future blessing. Jeremiah was not delivered immediately. His life was beset with danger to the end. After the time to which our text refers, he met with worse troubles than any that had hitherto befallen him. The Christian must not expect a sudden and perfect escape from all distress and temptation the moment he prays to God for he]p. Perfect deliverance can only come with the conquest of the last enemy, death. "Now is our salvation"—our perfect deliverance—"nearer than when we first believed" (Romans 13:11), but it is not yet enjoyed.
2. It is, nevertheless, a blessing for which we may be truly thankful at once. For it is positively assured to the Christian. The heir of a great inheritance may rejoice in his prospects, though for the present he is in want. But earthly pleasures of hope are checked by fears of possible disappointment. The buds may be nipped by frost; the promising young man may break down before achieving any great work. Nevertheless God is too powerful, as well as too faithful, to fail in fulfilling his promises. Therefore we should anticipate the praises of heaven on earth, sing the songs of Zion in the strange land, and enjoy the vision of the celestial city from Beulah heights though valleys of humiliation and waters of death may lie between.
III. IT IS A GOOD THING TO EXPRESS OUR GRATITUDE FOR FUTURE BLESSINGS.
1. All gratitude should find utterance in praise. The grateful heart should rouse the singing voice. Of all feelings thankfulness should be the last to be mute. We may pray for mercy in secret communion with God; we should utter praise as a public testimony to others and as an uncontrollable gladness that must relieve itself in song.
2. The utterance of praise for future blessings is an assurance of our faith. It will react upon us and strengthen faith. It will be a solace for the dark hours that may yet intervene before the enjoyment of the anticipated good.
Jeremiah cursing the day of his birth.
I. TROUBLE MAY LEAD A GOOD MAN TO THE VERGE OF DESPAIR. Jeremiah was a prophet, a good man, a man of faith, a man of prayer. Yet he cursed the day of his birth. Jeremiah was not without precedents for his conduct. Not to mention Jonah, whose character is by no means exemplary, the patient Job and the courageous Elijah had both regarded existence as a curse, and cried passionately for death. Jeremiah had great provocations to despair. His mission seemed to be a failure; his old friends had become spies in league with his inveterate foes; he stood alone, watched, maligned, hated, cruelly misjudged. We cannot be surprised that his patience broke down. Though impatience and a yielding to despair are proofs of weakness, they are far less culpable than unfaithfulness. Many would have quietly declined the tasks which Jeremiah manfully performed, though they led him to the verge of despair. It must be noted that, though the prophet cursed the day of his birth, he did not flee from the mission of his life; though he longed for death, he did not commit suicide. From his experience,
(1) the sorrowful may learn that deeper depths of sorrow have been traversed than any they are in, and yet the light has been reached on the further side;
(2) the desponding may see how good men have been near despair before them, and so be encouraged by knowing that their despondency is not a sin of fatal unbelief.
II. IT IS FOOLISH AND WRONG FOR A MAN TO CURSE THE DAY OF HIS BIRTH. He may be a good man who falls into despair, still his despair is a failing. This condition of Jeremiah must be distinguished from that of Simeon. Simeon was ready to depart when his life's work was finished and at God's time. His prayer was one of placid submission to the will of God (Luke 2:29). But Jeremiah had not finished his life's work; life itself was regarded by him as an evil; his despair was contrary to a spirit of resignation to the Divine will Jeremiah's language should also be distinguished from that of St. Paul when he expressed his longing to "depart and be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23). The apostle was inspired with a hope of heaven, the prophet moved only by a loathing of life; the apostle was willing patiently to remain and do his work, the prophet felt impatient of life.
1. Such conduct is foolish, for the whole value of life is thus judged by one hasty thought in a mood of gloom and distress. Life is too large and multifarious to be estimated in this way. There are recuperative energies in all of us beyond what we can imagine in our moments of weakness. Besides, if the present is dark, who knows what the future will produce?
2. Such conduct is wrong. We are not the judges of our own lives. To despair is to complain of the justice of God. The mistake of Jeremiah's hasty impatience is apparent when we consider the value of his life. Jeremiah's life worthless! Why, it was the most valuable life of the age. There may be persons of whom it can be said that it were better for those men if they had never been born. But these are not the men who are usually most ready to despair of their lives. The despondent may take courage from the mistake of Jeremiah, and know that when they think their lives most worthless they may really be of most service.
III. THE CHRISTIAN HAS STRONG INDUCEMENTS NOT TO CURSE THE DAY OF HIS BIRTH. Jeremiah lived before the light and grace of Christianity had been bestowed. We should be without excuse if, while enjoying higher advantages, we imitated his despair.
1. Christianity sheds light on the purpose of sorrow. This was a profound mystery to the Jew, Christ has shown us the blessedness of sorrow, the glory of the cross, the utility of sacrifice.
2. Christianity brings new grace to help in the endurance of sorrow. Christians have the example of the suffering Christ, the sympathy and healing of the great Physician and the new baptism of the Spirit, to help them to endure the baptism of sorrow.
3. Christianity reveals fresh gourd for confidence in God in the darkness of trouble. God is seen as our Father. His will must be wise and good. All life must be wisely ordered by him. Thus we are taught to bend submissively to the higher wilt that we cannot understand.
4. Christianity inspires hope in the final triumph over trouble. It lifts the veil from eternal things and makes known the "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." It assures us that no true life can ultimately fail, that no true man lives in vain, that, though evil may vaunt itself in the present, ultimately truth and right shall triumph.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The behavior of the wicked towards the truth.
I. THEY REGARD THE TRUTH AND ITS MINISTERS AS THEIR GREATEST ENEMIES. If Pashur had known better he would have refrained from such exhibitions of temper. The prophet would then have been accounted the greatest benefactor of his country. Not the soldier on the battlefield nor the statesman in the councils of empire could have rendered so signal a service as Jeremiah did in simply but persistently telling the truth. Much of what he said was patent to every honest observer. By saying what he did the prophet did not bring into existence that which did not exist before; and, if it really existed, it was better that it should be recognized and reckoned with. The evils he denounced were the real enemies of the country, and not those who pointed them out and suggested their reform. It is, however, unpleasant to the carnal mind to have its faults and sins exposed. With many the calamity is not that evil should be done, but that it should be found out.
II. THEY ARE NOT SCRUPULOUS AS TO THE MEANS THEY EMPLOY TO SILENCE THEM. He smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks." These means of punishment were at hand, and he used them at once. It was legal power used illegally, or law employed to the detriment of righteousness. Passionate hatred is shown by the whole course of action. Could anything else be expected of those who tried to subvert righteousness? They must needs do it unrighteously. Even the condemnation of Christ was legal only in appearance.
III. THE BEHAVIOR OF THE OPPONENTS OF THE TRUTH IS FREQUENTLY CONDEMNED BY ITS OWN INCONSISTENCY AND VACILLATION. "It came to pass on the morrow, that Pashur brought forth Jeremiah out of the stocks."
1. The course dictated by passion is seen to be impolitic and foolish.
2. The guilty intention is weakened by the outcries of conscience. It is this conscience which makes cowards of us all—or heroes. Here it led to vacillation, which discredited the policy to which Pashur was already committed, and made its author ridiculous. This is one of the reasons why men can do nothing against the truth. It shines by its own light and confounds the machinations that have been wrought in darkness.
3. Truth has a powerful ally in the bosoms of its worst enemies.
IV. OPPOSITION TO THE TRUTH IS CERTAIN TO FAIL. "Then said Jeremiah unto him," etc. (verse 3). The prophet is only the more vehement and enthusiastic. Ill-timed antagonism to his message has provoked him to coin a nickname for Pashur, which linked the impending judgment inseparably with his memory. It was a bad eminence richly deserved. He was to be the refutation of himself, to see all his predictions falsified, and to reap the curses of those he had deceived as they perished in their sins. How often in his disgraceful exile he must have wished he had let the messenger of God alone (Acts 5:38, Acts 5:39).—M.
Magor-Missabib; or, the fate of a false prophet.
The person hero mentioned cannot with certainty be identified. He will the better serve as a type and representative of his kind. There is no age or country that has not had its Pashur.
I. THE INFLUENCE HE EXERCISED.
1. Its character. Absolute and despotic. At the suggestion of his own evil heart. Capable of destroying civil rights and character itself. The whole civil and sacred machinery of the laud was at his disposal. The public trusted him. The state of things condemned by Jeremiah it was his immediate interest to support, and in turn he could rely upon official support. He identifies himself with the ruling party and becomes its representative and mouthpiece. Vested rights, traditional religion, etc; are his watchwords, because he owes everything to them.
2. How it was acquired. Family connection—"the son of Immer the priest." Not by striving to reform abuses, but by fostering and upholding the status quo. He who was so oblivious to the wrongs of which the prophet spoke could not have been scrupulous as to the means by which he rose to position and influence. Oriental corruption and intrigue had doubtless had their part in securing his elevation. ("Pashur" probably means "extension," "pride," "eminence.")
3. How it was employed. Hastily, on the passionate impulse of the moment. Without regard to the essential justice of the case. And when the error is discovered no true repentance or effort at amends is visible. Cf. the time-serving policy of Agrippa (Acts 26:32).
II. THE CHARACTER AND DESTINY HE EARNED. By making himself the champion of apostle Judah, and insulting the prophet of God, he is sentenced to the same fate, but in a peculiar and aggravated degree.
1. It would be his fortune to be looked upon as the representative and embodiment of the system of falsehood which had ruined his country. He who prophesied falsely will be justly punished by such an association. Instead of saying, "It was Moloch or Astarte that deceived us," the victims of the common disaster, will say,—"It was the prophet of these false gods who led us astray." How readily does personal influence acquire such a representative character! There are many evil forces and influences at work in society, the state, the Church, etc; which would cease to exist were it not for their accidental connection with some personage who becomes their advocate or their bulwark.
2. His character and influence would be exposed. The assurances he had given would one by one be falsified by the fulfillments of Jeremiah's predictions. Instead of being honored and looked up to, he would become a loathing and a byword. He would outlive his credit, his self-esteem, and his happiness. Shunned by others, he would be unable to trust himself. Each fresh catastrophe would deepen his disgrace and remorse. A "terror round about" would be the name he would earn.
3. His exemption from immediate destruction would but enhance his punishment. Like the criminal obliged to stand in the dock and hear all the counts of his indictment made good by the evidence of witnesses, he should outlive the first effects of the national ruin, see all his statements falsified, bear the reproach of his own wicked lies, and yet linger on when life had ceased to be desirable. There is a grotesqueness about this punishment that would make it ludicrous were it not so sad and awful. A more severe punishment could hardly be conceived. And yet it is not more than Pashur deserved. Would that our modern "prophets of lies" could be compelled to witness the consequences of their advice and example! A modified degree of this experience has, indeed, been the sentence inflicted upon many a good man. But Christ takes up the entail of sin and breaks it. We may do better than to stand by and see the evil consequences of former folly; it is for us to strive to rectify them. So the past may be retrieved and the evil days redeemed by those who have been servants of sin "turning many to righteousness."—M.
The sorrow and joy of God's servant.
There are many such photographs of the inner heart-life of God's people. It is the touch of nature which brings them near to us. The words and work of Jeremiah become more living and influential when we witness his spiritual struggles.
I. THE SPIRITUAL NECESSITY OF HIS POSITION IS ALTERNATELY COMPLAINED OF AND ACQUIESCED IN. The saint cannot always continue amidst his highest experiences. There are ups and downs, not only of our actual outward circumstances, but of our inward spiritual states. Do not condemn Jeremiah until you are able to acquit yourself. The heavenly mind is not formed easily or at once. There is an inward cross m every true heart, upon which it must needs "die daily." But "the powers of the world to come" ever tend to increase their hold upon the believer. This alternation of mood and feeling is a necessary accompaniment of spiritual growth. Some day the heart will be fixed. "The reproach of Christ" will then be esteemed "greater riches than the treasures of Egypt." This is what we should strive after—inward oneness of heart and purpose with our Master.
II. HIS EXPERIENCE IS TRANSITIONAL.
1. From doubt to faith. (Verses 11, 12.)
2. From sorrow to joy. (Verse 13.)
3. One day the struggle will end in triumph.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Why God's servants labor on.
"Then I said, I will not make mention," etc. It was under no small provocation that Jeremiah uttered these words. It was in no fit of mere indolence or infidelity that he cried, "I will not make mention of God, nor speak anymore in his Name." He had stretched out his hand, but the people to whom he was sent refused; he had called, but they would not answer. And this had been their wont persistently, until he was weary, utterly weary, and out of heart, and then it was he spoke as we read here and declared he would try no more. If any one be inclined to judge him harshly, let us but read the story of his life—a story most sad, yet glorious too, so far as the grace of God and the true honor of his servant are concerned; but yet a sad story, and one which, when we have read it, will most assuredly check all disposition to censure, with anything like severity, the deeply tried servant of God who in his utter weariness said he would speak no more in the Name of God. Now, all of us who are familiar with our Bibles or who know anything of the way in which those who labor for God often fail, will know that Jeremiah by no means stands alone in his sense of hopelessness and weariness in his work. We remember Moses (Exodus 5:22; Numbers 11:11); and how Elijah faltered beneath his burden (1 Kings 19:4); and John the Baptist (Matthew 11:3); and even the holy Savior himself (John 12:29; Luke 22:42). Such is the stress which doing the will of God amongst wicked men puts upon the human spirit; no wonder that it well-nigh gives way. From the experience, then, of our Savior and of so many of his servants we must all of us who are his servants lay our account with manifold and often great discouragements, and yet more with being tried by the temptation on account of these discouragements to abandon our work altogether and to speak no more in the Name of the Lord. Now, where is the spirit that will resist this temptation, that will prevent the half-formed resolve to cease endeavor from being wholly formed and carried out? There is such a spirit. This strong temptation may be and has been resisted again and again. What is the secret of Christian constancy and steadfastness in the work of the Lord? We have the answer in this verse. However much any of God's servants may be tempted, as Jeremiah was, to give up his work, he still will not do so if, as was the case with Jeremiah, "the Word of the Lord is in his heart as a burning fire shut up in his bones;" then he will be "weary with forbearing," and he will find that he cannot stay. Even as Elihu (Job 27:18), who said, "I am full of matter," etc.; and as Peter (Acts 4:20), and Paul (Acts 17:6; Acts 18:5; 1 Corinthians 9:16); and our Savior (Luke 2:49; Luke 12:50). In all these utterances we have the expression of that spirit which alone can, bat surely will, bear up the servant of God amid all his difficulties and hold him steadfast to his duty in spite of every discouragement. But dropping all metaphor, let us inquire into this excellent spirit which renders such service to the tried and desponding soul. It does exist. The records of the mission work of the Church at home and abroad will furnish not a few instances of men and women whose hearts the Lord hath touched, and who, moved by this Divine impulse, have felt themselves constrained to be up and doing, to penetrate the spiritual darkness around them, and to resist the power of the devil everywhere present. Under the influence of this holy zeal, such servants of God have looked upon the heathen, the degraded, the vile, not with the natural eye alone. That revealed to them only a foul mass of vice and cruelty, sensuality and all human degradation. From such scenes and people nature turns away and would let them alone. But amid and beneath all this moral, spiritual, and physical repulsiveness, the ardent soul of God's servant sees jewels which may be won for Christ, spirits which may be regenerated and restored. His eye looks fight on to what, through the grace of the gospel, these degraded ones may become; and absorbed, swallowed up by a holy Christ-like love, he determines to spend and be spent in bringing to bear on that mass of sin and evil the power of that gospel which has done so much already and which is "the power of God unto salvation unto every one that believeth. The Word of God has been in their heart as," etc. There have been times in our history when we have known somewhat of this sacred impulse which fired the soul of the prophet Jeremiah. Have we not known seasons when the impulse was strong on us to say something for God? It has come when we have been preaching or teaching, and we have broken away from the calm, not to say cold, tone in which we have been going on, and have spoken to those before us words which have come up from the very depths of our soul, and we have seen in the countenances of our children or our congregation that they, too, were conscious that they were being spoken to in a manner other than usual, and that portion of the day's lesson or the sermon has been remembered when all the rest has been forgotten. And sometimes this impossibility of keeping silence for God has come to us on the railway Journey, in the quiet walk with a friend or child, or in social converse, or in the casual talk with a stranger into whose society we may have been for a while thrown; and then we have felt we must say something for God, and it has been said feebly, weakly perhaps, but nevertheless the testimony has been borne, the endeavor has been made. God would not let us be silent; we could not stay from speaking; necessity was laid upon us. These are in their measure instances of the same Spirit as that which moved the prophets and apostles of old, though in a far less degree. But it is evident how well it would be for us all who bear Christ's name to possess in far larger measure than we do this holy and irresistible impulse. The spur is what we too often need; how rarely the bridle! not the holding back, but the urging on. Whence, then, comes this sacred and mighty Spirit, under whose influence so many of the saints of God, even as the Son of God, have labored on in spite of all discouragement and suffering and wrong? It is evident, from the history of Jeremiah and of all other faithful servants of God, that the method by which God impelled them to their work was by bestowing on them such gifts as these—
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF SIN. For he who has this knows how appalling is the evil under which men live. To him this present world and its inhabitants present but one aspect, that of being under a yoke which no man can bear. He has seen the vision of sin, and it was a sight so terrible that he can never forget it. It haunts him, for he knew it was no dream of the night, but a dreadful reality of the day and of every day. It was no chimera, no fiction of his own imagination, but a real and awful power that has ruled men and still is ruling over men. What scenes of beauty it has destroyed! What fearful misery it evermore produces. There was the garden of Eden in all its loveliness, with every fair flower and noble tree, with luscious fruit and every herb fit for the food of man or beast; it was all beautiful, so beautiful that even God pronounced it "very good." And as chief over this fair inheritance there were the first created of our race, in form and mind and soul harmonizing with the beauty and goodness that was all around them. How blest their condition! But the scene changes. We see no longer the garden of Eden, but a weary land bearing thorns and briars; we see, too, haggard and careworn people bending in sore agony over the murdered corpse of their child, murdered by his own brother, their eldest born. What hath wrought this change? An enemy, without doubt, but what enemy? It is sin—the heart of man in rebellion against God. The Bible is full of scenes like these—misery, shame, ruin, death, all, all the work of sin. And sin reigns yet, as he to whom God has given to see the vision of sin knows full well. Who can recount its doings? Who can describe the woes it causes? What ocean would be vast enough to receive the tears it has made to flow? What colors dark enough to depict the moral and spiritual evil it has engendered? And then the sorrows of the souls that are lost, the doom of the accursed of God—the antitype of that which Jesus describes as the "fire that is never quenched, and the worm that never dies." It is the vision of this,—the appalling evil, past, present, and most of all to come,—that has risen up before the soul of him who, beholding those around him under its dominion, finds himself utterly unable to forbear telling them of the Word of the Lord to the end that they may be saved. No wonder that, in view of these dread calamities, "the Word of the Lord was in his heart;" etc.
II. But a further knowledge has been given to him to contribute to this same result. Were the vision of sin all, utter and dreadful despair would be alone left to him; but it is not all. Along with the knowledge of sin there is given to him THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GOSPEL in the Word of the Lord. It is brought home to his soul, by evidence he cannot question, that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the sure remedy for all human ill. He has a deep conviction that trust in the Redeemer, reliance on his atoning death and sacrifice, will bring peace to the conscience, purity to the mind, strength to the will, hope to the heart, and final and eternal acceptance in the presence of God. Very much of what it can do for the soul in this life he knows it has done for him, and he has seen it do yet more for others. He sees, not only the need of such great salvation as God has provided in Christ Jesus for guilty and miserable man, but also the fitness and adaptation and the actual power of this grace of God. Such is his conviction concerning the Word of the Lord, the gospel of the grace of God; and, thus persuaded of its power to bless and save mankind, he hears on all sides, and coming up from all depths of sorrow and sin, the imperative summons to him to tell of this Savior and this salvation, and by no means to keep silence. From every hospital and asylum where the victims of vice and sin are reaping what they have sown; from every prison cell; from every place where the ruined in health, in fortune, in character, and in soul are dragging out the remainder of their wretched life; from every gallows-tree; from every impenitent's grave; and from the sinner's hell;—there comes the solemn adjuration which the apostle so keenly felt, "Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!" And not the sins alone, though they most, but the sorrows of mankind also, utter forth the same appeal. For the gospel of the Savior is a healing balm to the sick at heart, oil and wine to the wounded spirit; it is the gospel of consolation, of hope, and of peace to the sorrowing myriads of mankind. Feeling all this, how can it be otherwise that "the Word of the Lord is in his heart as," etc.?
III. But there is one other gift needed to the full possession of that Divine Spirit which finds expression in our text. It is THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST. By this is meant, not merely an acquaintance with and belief in the truths concerning our Lord's nature and work, nor even simply such belief in him as will save the soul, but such knowledge of him as is involved in deep love to him and sympathy with those objects on which his heart is set. To know Christ as your own loving Savior, who has died for you, redeemed and pardoned and accepted you, and given you an inheritance amongst his own; to know him by oft and earnest communion with him, by toil and suffering for him;—this is that knowledge of Christ which, when added on to that other knowledge of sin and of the gospel of which we have already spoken, will lead to that irresistible desire to serve him which his true servants have so often felt and shown. The love of Christ must be the constraining motive, and then there will come love and labor for the souls for whom Christ died. I do not know that it is possible for us to have a deep regard and concern for those whom we have never seen or known unless we see in each individual member of mankind one of the brethren or sisters of Christ, part of Christ's body, one of his members, he being the Head of all. If this be believed, then we see that the soul of each of these men and women, though they may be of different clime and color, and be altogether strange and perhaps repulsive to us, still, the soul of each of them is as precious to Christ as our own, and as capable of honoring and as ready to honor him as was our own. This love of Christ will lead to the love of Christ in all men, for indeed he is in all men, and this will beget a Divine charity which will be ever a mighty motive to seek their good. Then shall we possess the mind which was in him who wept over Jerusalem and prayed for his very murderers. Then shall we willingly bear disappointment, reproach, loss, or aught other ill which may come to us as we toil on in our Master's service. Here, then, in this deep knowledge of sin, of the gospel, and of Christ, have we the secret of that burning zeal which consumed the heart of Jeremiah and of others like minded to him. May God, of his mercy, give to all who labor in his cause this holy and quenchless zeal! Laboring under such impulse, let come what will to us in this world as the result of our toil, we will still labor on. Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, let thy Word be in our hearts as a burning fire, so that when tempted to forbear making mention of thee and speaking any more in thy Name, we may be weary of such forbearing and feel we cannot stay.—C.
Is life worth living?
Here is one who evidently thought it was not. How bitterly he grieves over the fact that he was ever brought into existence! It is an illustration, as has been pointed out, of the maddening force of suffering.. It drives a man to the use of wild language. For great sufferings generate great passions in the soul. They rouse the whole man into action. And these great passions thus roused often become irrepressible. Many men of no ordinary meekness and self-control are overborne at such times—Jeremiah, Job, Moses, Elijah; and then they express themselves in unmeasured terms. It is as a flood broken loose. Its rushing, foaming waters pour along, and over all that lies in their path. Hence it is that the prophet here, not content with cursing the day of his birth, utters wild execrations on the messenger that announced it to his father. Thus passionately does he protest against the misery and misfortune of his life. Nor has he been alone in such dark thoughts concerning life. Cf. Job 3:1-26; where the patriarch, in almost identical language, deplores the fact of his birth. And Moses prayed that God would kill him out of hand (Numbers 11:15); and Elijah (1 Kings 19:4). And there have been a whole host of men who have in the most emphatic way affirmed their belief that life is not worth living by refusing to live it any longer—Saul, Ahithophel, Judas, and the suicides of all ages declare this. And many more who have not given this dread proof of their sincerity have yet maintained the same. Sophocles said, "Not to be born is best in every way. Once born, by far the better lot is then at once to go back whence we came." Goethe, as he drew near his end, notwithstanding that all men regarded his career as one which had been highly favored and very enviable, is reported to have said, "They have called me a child of fortune, nor have I any wish to complain of the course of my life. Yet it has been nothing but sorrow and labor; and I may truly say that in seventy-five years I have not had four weeks of true comfort. It was the constant rolling of a stone that was always to be lifted anew. When I look back upon my earlier and middle life and consider how few are those left who were young with me, I am reminded of a summer visit to a watering-place. On arriving one makes the acquaintance of those who have already been some time there and leave the week following. This loss is painful. Now one becomes attached to the second generation, with which one lives for a time and becomes intimately connected. But this also passes away and leaves us solitary with the third, which arrives shortly before our own departure, and with which we have no desire to have much intercourse." And the gloomy musings of Hamlet, "To be or not to be, that is the question," is another example, which-has been followed by the whole tribe of those who are called pessimists, of representing life as a curse rather than a blessing. And we cannot deny that there are many now whose lot in life is so sad, that, if we looked only at the present, we could not vindicate the justice and still less the goodness of God in regard to them. And the terrible lottery that life is, a lottery in which the blanks far outnumber the prizes, goes far to account for the apathetic indifference with which the deaths of such myriads of children are regarded. If all parents knew for certain that the lot of their children would be bright or mainly so, how much mole jealously would their lives be guarded and avenged! And there are many men who, whilst they stammer out some kind of thanksgiving for their "preservation and all the blessings of this life," fail utterly to feel thankful for their "creation." They would much rather not have been. So that there can be no doubt that there is a larger and it is to be feared an increasing number of people who are desperately or despairingly asking the question which stands at the head of this homily, and which this passionate protest of the prophet against his birth has suggested. But how is all this? Let us therefore inquire—
I. WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF SUCH CHEERLESS THINKING AND SPEAKING? We reply:
1. Temperament has a great deal to do with it. Some are born with a sunny, bright, cheerful disposition; let them go down on their knees and give God thanks for it, for it is a better gift to them, more surely secures their happiness, than thousands of gold and silver. But others are born with a temperament the very reverse-pessimists from their mothers' womb, always seeing the dark side of things, melancholy, foreboding, complaining. It Is a positive disease, and calls for mingled pity and careful discipline.
2. But more often still it is, the continued and sore pressure of sorrow. So was it with Job and here with Jeremiah. And it is still the bitter disappointments, the miserable failures, "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," trouble upon trouble,—these are prolific sources of the sad views of life of which we speak.
3. But most of all, sin—moral evil—is the real cause. The "philosophy of melancholy" finds its true parentage there. It is this which causes that unrest and torment of soul, that hiding of the face of God and uplifting of the scourge of conscience, which throws all life into shadow and blots out the sun from the heavens. It is this which leads it to be said of and felt by a man, that it had been better for him that he had never been born.
II. WHAT IS THE TRUTH ON THE MATTER? Such conclusion as that of the pessimist never can be right, for our deepest moral instincts teach us that, if life were more of a curse than a blessing, he who is the God of mercy and righteousness would never have given it; and that if it were better for a man that he had not been born, he would not have been born. Life must be a blessing or it would not be given.
1. Universal instinct says so. See how men cling to life. The law of self-preservation is the first law of nature.
2. The summing up of the hours in which we have enjoyed peace and satisfaction, and of those which have been darkened by pain and distress, would probably in all lives show a vast balance on the side of the former. Let any one honestly make the calculation for themselves.
3. The laws of life all tend to produce happiness; "In keeping of God's commandments there is great reward."
4. Good men who may have held dark views of life have done so "in haste," as Psalms 31:22 and Psalms 116:11; or through looking at one point of their lives only (cf. the joyous praise of Psalms 116:13; what a contrast and contradiction to the verses that follow!); or in ignorance of the truths and consolations which the gospel has introduced. Thus was it with Job and the Old Testament saints generally, and, of course, with all pagan nations.
5. Evil men are not to be credited. They have themselves poisoned life's springs, and whilst they speak truly enough concerning their own life, they are not competent witnesses as to what all life is.
6. Then "it is the Lord that hath made us, and not we ourselves," and because of this all lands are bidden "be joyful in the Lord" (Psalm c.). Now, how could this be if life were not worth living?
7. The future which Christ has prepared. Let that be taken into view and quoestio coedit. Life is but the porch way to that which is life indeed—the eternal life. Our afflictions, therefore, which here we suffer are light, and "but for a moment," and so, "not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed."
(1) Then, "Sursum corda," "Lift up your hearts;" "Be joyful in the Lord," because he hath made us.
(2) Be reticent of such thoughts and words as these of Jeremiah. How far short he falls of the apostles of our Lord! They rejoiced in tribulations. Jeremiah had better not have so spoken; better have copied him who said, "If I speak thus I shall offend against the generation of thy children."
(3) Pray to be kept from temptation so to speak or even think, for such temptation is hard to overcome.—C.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
A burning fire within.
The mental condition of the prophet here recalls the beginning of his ministry. Just as he then shrank from taking its responsibility upon him, so now he is ready to throw it up in despair. His life seems to him altogether a failure. He is a disappointed and defeated man. He will "make mention of the Lord no more, nor speak any longer in his Name." Many an earnest ministering spirit has felt like this, overborne by the force of the world's evil, impatient of the slow progress of the kingdom of truth and righteousness. But the prophet cannot so easily throw up his work. God, as at the beginning, is "stronger than he," and holds him firmly in his grasp; holds him to his office and ministry by the force, not so much of outward circumstance as of a spiritual persuasion, by the strong necessity of an inward law. "His Word was in my heart as a burning fire," etc. Note here—
I. THE INHERENT PROPERTY OF THE WORD OF GOD AS A LIVING POWER IN THE SOULS OF MEN. "A burning fire" (see also Jeremiah 23:29). All Divine truth possesses a quality that may justly be thus represented. The Law that came By Moses was a "fiery Law," of which the thunders and lightnings of Sinai were the appropriate associations (Deuteronomy 32:2). And even the inspiration of gospel truth was fitly symbolized by "cloven tongues of fire" (Acts 2:3). There is not only light but heat, not only a flame but fire. The moral effects are manifest.
1. Melting. Icy coldness, hard indifference, stubborn self-will, impenitence, etc.—all these are softened by the fire of God when it really enters into the soul. A tender sensibility is thus created that prepares it to receive all Divine impressions.
2. Kindling. Heaven-tending affections are awakened by it that did not exist before. Latent germs of nobler and better feeling are quickened into new life. There is no limit to the holy energies that may be developed in our nature by the inspiration of the truth of God. In this good sense we may say, "Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!"
3. Consuming. It destroys everything in us that is destructible. All that is false, selfish, sensual—all that is "of the earth, earthy"—has in it the elements of dissolution and decay, and cannot resist the purging, purifying force of Divine truth. The dross is consumed that the precious gold may come forth in all its beauty and purity. The solid grain is quickened into fruitful life, the chaff is burnt up as with unquenchable fire.
II. THE OBLIGATION IT IMPOSES. "I was weary with forbearing," etc. (see Jeremiah 6:11). The soul of the prophet was acted upon by a force that overcame, not only the weakness of his fears, but the strength of his self-will and of every motive that would induce him to relinquish his work. Every earnest, heroic servant of truth is sensible of this inward constraint. It is the constraint
(1) of a Divine call,
(2) of a masterful conscience,
(3) of conscious power to benefit others,
(4) of an instinctive impulse to communicate the good one's own soul possesses.
St. Paul stands before us as a conspicuous example of this when he says, "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me," etc. (1 Corinthians 9:16). There is no clearer mark of a noble, Christ-like nature than submission to such a constraint as this.—W.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
A changed name and a dreadful doom.
The change here, from Pashur to Magor-Missabib, reminds us of other divinely indicated changes of name in Scripture; e.g. from Abram to Abraham, from Jacob to Israel, from Simon to Peter, from Zacharias to John. These changes, however, were indicative of advancement and honor; were suggestive of the rise out of nature into grace. But here is a name which becomes at once the memorial of great wickedness and of the sure judgment following upon it.
I. THE NAME BEFORE THE CHANGE. Whatever doubt there may be as to the precise signification of the name Pashur, it seems quite clear that the very meaning of the word had in it something peculiarly honorable. The man himself belonged to a privileged order and held an office of influence and honor; and the name must have been given to him because of something auspicious in the circumstances of his birth. An honorable name is an advantage to its bearer, and to a certain extent also a challenge. He who bears it may so live that in the end there will be the greatest contrast between the name and the character. A less suggestive name, one less provocative of contrasts, might have saved Pashur from the new and portentous name which, once given, would never be forgotten. We are bound to consider well the associations which will gradually gather around the name we happen to bear. Now, at least, the particular name has very little signification in itself; but the longer we bear it the more significant it becomes to all who know us. Every time it is mentioned it brings to mind, more or less, our character. Even on prudential considerations one must ever become increasingly careful of what he does, for a single act may obliterate all the associations of respect and confidence which belong to his name. Instead of becoming, what every one may become, the object of respect and confidence to at least a few, he may end in being an object of execration far and wide.
II. WHAT BROUGHT THE CHANGE. His treatment of Jeremiah. His treatment of him, bear in mind, as a prophet. We feel that Jeremiah was not put in prison on even a plausible allegation that he was an evildoer. That he was a false prophet was the only possible charge to lay against him. Now, Pashur must have known that he himself was a false prophet, speaking as God's truth what was only the fabrication of his own self-willed and deceitful heart. If Jeremiah was speaking falsehood, Pashur's duty was to convince him of error, and show the people that he was either a fanatic or a mere impostor. We are not allowed to suppose that what Pashur did he did from some excusable outbreak of zeal on behalf of the building of which he was custodian. A great punishment from the hand of God always argues a correspondingly great offence. It is not so amongst men; there may be a great punishment and a very small offence; sometimes, indeed, no offence at all, measured by the highest law. But when God punishes severely it lets in light upon the character of him whom he punishes. We know that Pashur must have been a bad man; we know it as well as if all his iniquity had been detailed in the most forcible language.
III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CHANGE. We have not information enough to give us the exact meaning of Pashur; and one might almost think this was meant to heighten the certainty as to the meaning of Magor-Missabib. At present Pashur was in a position of comparative security. If security can be claimed for anything in this world, it seems sometimes to belong to such as hold official positions. But with regard to Pashur all depended on the continuance of Jerusalem. The Lord's house where he was governor was to be destroyed, and then where would he be? Hitherto Pashur has been a nameless unit, involved, but not peculiarly involved, in the general doom. But now he has a prediction all to himself. Henceforth he will be known, must be known, as the man whom Jeremiah threatened with this new and dreadful name. Evidently the name stuck. Some speakers and writers have had this power of giving names that stick. It is not an enviable one, and has often been cruelly used. But God, on whose lips it will always be rightly used, can make it to serve good purposes. The best proof that the name stuck is seen in this, that the prophet's enemies tried straightway to fix the name on him (verse 10). But everything depends on who gives a name. Jeremiah's enemies might speak of terror, but they could not terrify. God both spoke of terror and in due time brought the terrifying realities around the doomed man. There was nothing at present, and might not be for some time, to show what was coming. But God can wait. We have no doubt that in due time Pashur was forced to the confession that the name was fully justified.—Y.
A conflict not to be avoided.
The heart of the prophet is here revealed to us as the scene of a bitter conflict between two sets of motives; one set originating with the vehement will of God, the other in the utterly unsympathizing dispositions of men. The prophet makes us feel that it is utterly insufficient to describe his work simply as difficult. It is done amid a continuity of reproaches, some of which a less sensitive man might not have felt, but which were peculiarly irritating to a man of Jeremiah's sensibilities. Generally it may be observed that God did not send thick-skinned men to be his prophets.
I. THE DIVINELY PRODUCED CONVICTION UNDER THE FORCE OF WHICH HE BEGAN THIS WORK. The people might say, "You speak irritating words to us, and you must not complain if we speak irritating words to you. Those who live in glass houses must not throw stones." Thus it is well for the prophet to assert most emphatically, as he does in verse 7, that he spoke from a divinely produced conviction of duty. God impressed—as God alone can impress-certain irresistible considerations on his mind. Not only was he persuaded, but it was God who had persuaded him. The reasons for his prophetic action were not such as he had sought out and discovered for himself. God put them before him in their proper aspect, order, and totality,
II. THE FIRST PAINFUL RESULT OF FIDELITY TO GOD. Perhaps in the youthful confidence with which he began his prophecies he would anticipate that since God had so clearly sent him, the people would as trustfully and obediently receive him. But not all the genuineness of a Divine message can commend it any more to the selfish man who naturally hates to be disturbed and threatened. The prophet intimates that the reception he met with was daily, universal, invariable. He seemed to be ordained to stir up the nests and dens and hiding-places of every noxious being amongst men. He who goes among hornets and scorpions must not complain if he has to suffer great agonies from their venomous sting. We are sure, indeed, that the prophet must have had some sympathizers, but the treatment which caused him such agony would also have the effect of making friends keep silent, lest they might be the next to suffer. It is no strange thing that men should become resentful and savage under the home-thrusts of spiritual truth. Men who love evil resent even the gentlest approaches of God in trying to take that evil away.
III. THE EARLIER RESULT PRODUCED BY THIS INTOLERABLE TREATMENT IN JEREMIAH'S OWN MIND. It is easy to criticize the prophet, and say that he should not have been so much affected by all these hard words. But it was just the multitude of them that made them intolerable. A man would be cowardly to complain of being stung now and then; but if he is to be exposed to stinging insects every hour of the day, that is an altogether different matter. God made one of the terrible plagues of Egypt out of multitudes of tiny creatures, such as, individually, counted for almost nothing. Let us not, then, talk condemningly of this proposed repression of the prophetic message. He had reached a crisis in which, we may well believe, Jehovah, who sent him, was peculiarly near to him. May we not reverently say that even as Jesus reached the inexpressible culmination of his mental agony in Gethsemane, so the prophets, in their lesser measure, may have had crises, not unlike that of Gethsemane, when the forces arrayed against them seemed more than they could possibly resist? Profound should our feeling be that it may become a very hard thing to bear faithful testimony for God in an ungodly world.
IV. THE FINAL RESULT. The risk of unfaithfulness is put beyond Jeremiah's control. He is put between two great "cannots." He cannot bear the reproaches of the people. That on the one hand. But, on the other hand, he finds that he cannot keep unexpressed the message of Jehovah. God takes his Word into his own keeping. The pain of prophesying, great as it was, was less than the pain of withholding the prophecy. It is not fill we come to deal with God that we learn the real meaning of the word" intolerable." Iris ever a mark of God's true servants, that in times when there is great need of testimony they cannot keep silent. Better to burn at the stake than to have one's true, inner life burnt up in resisting God. Paul is a grand example of a man who was forced to speak by the fire within. He could not be silent; he could not temporize, compromise, or postpone. Luther is another instance. Those destitute of the fire in their hearts cannot understand those who have it; and therefore it is the very height of ignorant audacity to censure it. Nothing is more to be desired, whatever pain it may bring with it, than that we should have God's truth as a living and growing fire in our hearts; and in order to do this, we must be careful not to quench it in the beginnings of its risings within us.—Y.
The name Magor-Missabib wrongly applied.
I. THE HOPES OF JEREMIAH'S ENEMIES. We have seen in the preceding passage (Jeremiah 20:7-9) how the prophet 'was incessantly exposed to exceedingly irritating taunts from his enemies; and how the pain of these taunts in a measure tempted him to try if he could not escape the pain by ceasing to prophesy. Jehovah perfectly preserved him from this danger. The prophetic fire within him, divinely kindled and sustained, was too strong to be thus extinguished. It grew more and more, and the very taunts of the ungodly became as fuel to make it burn more fiercely. But this very faithfulness of the prophet only increased his danger as an object of persecution. His enemies will themselves begin to feel in danger from this continual reference to their evil doings. Mere mockery has itself a tendency to go further. Bengel, referring to the development of the persecuting spirit, as illustrated in the apostolic days, says, "The world begins with ridicule; then afterwards it proceeds to questioning; to threats; to imprisoning; to inflicting stripes; to murder" (see 'Gnomon' on Acts 2:13). Jeremiah has already been for a night in prison, and he knows not how soon a longer and worse imprisonment may come. He hears threatenings on every hand. The name Magor-Missabib that, by Divine direction, he has applied to Pashur, is retorted on him, as being, in the opinion of his enemies, a name eminently appropriate to his present circumstances. So far as the human elements were concerned, his chances of safety appeared very poor indeed, His enemies are numerous and crafty; and, sharpened by self-interest, they needed no exhortation to be watchful. Those who compare these confessions of the prophet at different times with the experiences of Jesus at the hands of his enemies, will notice a remarkable parallelism. What Jesus said with respect to the scribes and Pharisees is peculiarly forcible when considered in the light of Jeremiah's trials: "Ye are the children of them which killed the prophets" (Matthew 23:31).
II. THE SUFFICIENCY OF JEREMIAH'S PROTECTION. Here is the man of strong faith, and of a speech full of confidence and calmness. 'He may well be depressed; beset as he is with so much malice, brought into close contact with the worst wickedness of the h-man heart. But, on the other hand, he has this for his comfort, that, the closer wicked men come to him, the closer he finds himself to God. This is the service the wicked render to the witnesses of God, that, the more they persecute them, the more they press them towards the great Helper. The ungodly little dream of the service they render in this respect. So far as abiding results are concerned, the spirit of intolerance has done the direct contrary of what it was intended to do. The purposes of evil -might have been better served if the Church of Christ had had an easier time of it in the beginning. He who is potentially the mighty, terrible One in the midst of his people, needs the opposition of the wicked in order that all his power to defend his people may be known. This, indeed, is one of the lessons taught by the sufferings of Jesus even to death. Darkness was to get its hour and its power, that so the Light of the world might be more fully glorified. Never was it more emphatically true than when Jesus was laid in the grave, that Jehovah was with him as a mighty, terrible One. We look with the natural eye, and we see a cold corpse apparently gone the way of all flesh; we look with the eye of faith, and we discern One Standing by who at the appointed hour will raise that corpse, and make it the channel of manifestations of life such as were not possible before.—Y.
The prophet cursing the day of his birth.
It is very perplexing to find these words following so closely upon the confidences expressed in Jeremiah 20:11-13. And yet the perplexity is to some extent removed when we recollect how largely man is the creature of his moods. That he is bright and confident today may not hinder him from being in the depths of despair tomorrow. It is well for us to see how low a real and faithful prophet of God can sink. One is reminded at once of the similar words put into the mouth of Job. We have advantages, however, in considering this expression of Jeremiah which we lack in considering the similar expression of Job. Of Job we know nothing except as the subject of one of the sublimest poems in the world. What substance of fact may have suggested the poem it is beyond our powers to determine. But Jeremiah stands before us unquestionably a real man, a prominent character in the highway of history.
I. THE FEELING THAT UNDERLIES THIS TERRIBLE IMPRECATION. The form of the imprecation is not to be too much regarded. The same feeling will be very differently expressed in different languages and among different races. What Jeremiah means is made clear in verse 18. Just at this particular time it seems to him that life has been nothing but one huge failure. He has no heart to accept suggestions such as might mitigate his gloom. He will not even allow that life has had any other possibilities than those of failure and shame, and therefore the congratulations attending his birth were misplaced. The more we look into his language here, the more we see that it was very wild and foolish. The important matter is that, in approaching the consideration of these words, we should have a distinct impression of how recklessly even a good man may talk. A recollection of Jeremiah's utterance here will keep us from wondering that there should be so much of foolish and impious talk in the world.
II. THE FACT WAS AS FAR AS POSSIBLE FROM CORRESPONDING TO THE FEELING. We look at Jeremiah's career as a whole, and at the permanent value of his prophesies, and then we see how little moods and feelings count for just by themselves. We gain nothing by saying of any man that it might have been better for him if he had never been born. It is true that Jesus spoke thus of Judas, but we are not at liberty to say what he says; and besides, he was speaking in the language of necessary hyperbole, in order to emphasize the dreadful wickedness of the traitor. The safe ground for us to take is that entrance upon human life in this world is a good thing. Even with all the trials of life, the position of a human being in this world is a noble one, and his possibilities for the future are beyond imagination. While it is right that we should have the deepest compassion for the deformed, the defective, the infirm, we must also recollect that it is better to be the most deformed of human beings than the shapeliest and healthiest of brutes. In face of all the present afflictions of human nature, one thought should be sufficient to brighten them all, namely, the thought of how perfectly comprehensive is the renewing power of God. Within its grasp it comprehends the most imperfect and distorted of human organizations. Jeremiah was making the huge blunder of looking at things entirely from the point of view of his own feelings, and his present feelings. His actions were better than his words. Speaking out of his own feelings, he talked great folly and falsehood; speaking as the prophet of God, his utterances were those of wisdom and truth. The fact was that of no one belonging to his generation could it be more truly said than of him that his birth was a good thing; good for the nation, good for himself, good for the glory and service of Jehovah. We must not bemoan existence because there is suffering in it. Suffering may be very protracted and intense, and yet life be full of blessing. Jesus had to suffer more than any man. He shrank from the approach of death with a sensitiveness which we cannot conceive, who have in us the mortal taint by reason of indwelling sin. Nothing reconciled him to the thought of all he had thus to endure save that it was the clear will of God. What was Jeremiah's mental suffering compared with that of Jesus? Anal yet, though the life of Jesus was to be one of peculiar and unparalleled sufferings, his birth had angels to announce and celebrate it.—Y.