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A chapter of promises, having reference, first, to the people and kingdom in general (Jeremiah 33:4-13), and then to the royal and priestly offices in particular (Jeremiah 33:14-26). The first part is but the expansion of passages in the preceding prophecy, to which this chapter is attached by the opening verse. The remaining portion is less closely connected; it is occupied by promises of the perpetual duration of the house of David and of the Levites. It should be noticed by the student that there are difficulties connected with the authorship of Jeremiah 33:14, Jeremiah 33:26 (see below).
In the court of the prison; rather, of the guard (Jeremiah 32:2).
Thus saith the Lord, the Maker thereof, etc.; rather, Thus saith Jehovah, who doeth it, Jehovah who frameth it that he may establish it, whose name is Jehovah. It was needless to express the object of the verbs. Jehovah's great purpose is the regeneration of his people. To "frame" or "form" is synonomous with "purpose" (see on. Jeremiah 38:11). The meaning of the verse is that Jehovah's very Name is a pledge of his fidelity to his promises (comp. Jeremiah 32:18). To "establish" is synonymous with "to carry out."
Mighty things; rather, secret things (literally, inaccessible). It must be admitted that this introduction hardly corresponds to the sequel, which does not contain any special secrets, as we should have thought. Either Jeremiah 33:2, Jeremiah 33:3 have been inserted by a later (inspired) editor, whose mind was absorbed in high thoughts of the latter days—for this view may be urged the style and phraseology, which are hardly those of the surrounding chapters, hardly those of Jeremiah; or else we must adopt Hengstenberg's perhaps over subtle suggestion, which, however, does not touch the question of the phraseology, "that throughout Scripture dead knowledge is not regarded as knowledge; that the hope of restoration had, in the natural man, in the prophet, as well as in all believers, an enemy who strove to darken and extinguish it; that therefore it was ever new," or, in the words of Jeremiah, "great and secret things, which thou knowest not."
The houses of Jerusalem, destroyed by the engines of the besiegers or filled with dead bodies, shall be restored; the captives shall be brought back; their sins shall be forgiven, and God be glorified.
By the mounts, and by the sword; rather, because of the mounds (see on Jeremiah 32:24) and because of the weapons of war. The latter are the warlike instruments used by the besiegers from their batteries or breastworks.
They come to fight with the Chaldeans, but it is, etc. The passage is obscure, so obscure that we cannot avoid inferring that it is corrupt. "They come" could only refer to the Jews, but these would rather be said to "go out;" the Hebrew writers are particular in distinguishing between to "come" and to "go out." Besides, there is no grammatical connection with the preceding verse. The Septuagint omits "they come," but the passage still remains enigmatical.
I will bring it health and cure, etc. "Health" is properly the fresh skin which grows over a healing wound (as Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 30:17). First the city is spoken of, then its inhabitants. Will reveal unto them; or perhaps, will roll unto them (comp. Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 20:12). In this ease the figure will be that of a mighty stream (comp. Amos 5:24; Isaiah 48:18; Isaiah 66:12). Truth; rather, continuance (comp. Jeremiah 14:13).
I will cause the captivity … to return (see on Jeremiah 29:14). Will build them (see on Jeremiah 31:14).
I will cleanse them, etc. Restored prosperity without spiritual purification would be of no avail; how could it give happiness (comp. Jeremiah 31:34)?
And it shall be; viz. Jerusalem. A name of joy; rather, on the analogy of Isaiah 55:13. etc; a monument of joy; i.e. joy giving. They shall fear and tremble. As feeling the contrast between their "unprofitable" idol gods and the faithful God of Israel.
In this place; i.e. "in this land," as in Jeremiah 7:7 and elsewhere. Shall be desolate; rather, is desolate.
The sacrifice of praise (see on Jeremiah 17:26).
An habitation; rather, a pasture (including the idea of an encampment). The expression reminds us of Jeremiah 23:3, Jeremiah 23:4, but it is preferable to take the present passage in its literal sense rather than as metaphorical.
In the cities, etc. A parallel description to Jeremiah 17:26; Jeremiah 32:44. The vale; rather, the lowland (about the Mediterranean, on the south). The south. It is the Negeb, or south country, which is meant. Under the hands; rather, at the beck. Of him that telleth them. Comp. Milton, 'L'Allegro'—
"And every shepherd tolls his tale
Under the hawthorn in the dale."
Virgil, 'Eel.,' 3.34—
"Bisque die numerant ambo pecus, alter et haedos."
These verses are omitted in the Septuagint, and some leading critics think that both the style and the contents point to a different author from our prophet. In particular it is urged that the promise of a multitude of Levites and of descendants of David is isolated among the prophecies of Jeremiah, who elsewhere speaks of a single great representative of David as the object of pious hope, and of the intercourse between Jehovah and his people as being closer and more immediate than under the old Law. A variation in the form of expressing the Messianic hope is, however, not of much importance. Isaiah, for instance, sometimes refers to a single ideal king (Isaiah 9:6, etc.); sometimes to a succession of noble, God-fearing kings (Isaiah 32:1; Isaiah 33:17).
That good thing which I have promised; viz. in the parallel passage, Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah 23:6 (which see).
The Branch of righteousness; rather, the Plant of righteousness (see on Jeremiah 23:5).
Wherewith she shall be called; viz. Jerusalem; in Jeremiah 23:6, the parallel passage, the subject is "Israel," unless there is a corruption of the text. The Lord our righteousness; rather, The Lord (is) our righteousness.
David shall never want a man, etc. This is, in fact, a republication of the promise given by Nathan in 2 Samuel 7:12-16. It agrees in form with the announcements in 1 Kings 2:4; 1 Kings 8:25; 1 Kings 9:5.
Neither shall the priests the Levites, etc. It has Been thought that this passage is inconsistent with the prophecies of a time when the ark should no more be remembered (Jeremiah 3:16), and when all should know Jehovah from the least to the greatest (Jeremiah 31:34). But though sin offerings would in this glorious time become things of the past, yet thank offerings are expressly excepted from abolition (Jeremiah 33:11), and in Jeremiah 31:14 a special latter-day promise is given to the priests. Moreover, Ezekiel, who repeats the prophecy of the new spiritual covenant (Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26; Ezekiel 37:26), gives an elaborate sketch of a new temple with a sacrificial system (Ezekiel 40:1-49; etc.); and, if there is any inconsistency, we find the same one in the latter part of Isaiah. In Isaiah 61:6 the whole regenerate people of Israel is called "the priests of Jehovah;" but in Isaiah 66:21 the prophet distinctly states that there will be, in some sense, a priestly class within the chosen people.
The constant, regular succession of day and night is an emblem of the equally regular supply of royal descendants of David and of Levitical priests, and the countless grains of sand are symbolic of the wonderful increase of their numbers. At first sight the latter part of the promise seems a little unlike a blessing. But we have seen already (on Jeremiah 19:3) that the members of the various branches of the royal family probably occupied the principal offices of the state, and the prophet imagines the future in forms borrowed from the present. A numerous sacerdotal class seemed equally necessary for the due magnificence of the ritual; and we must remember that preternatural fertility of the soil was a standing element of Messianic descriptions. The expressions used are, no doubt, hyperbolical, but the meaning seems clear enough. (Hengstenberg's notion, that the prophet rather indicates the abolition of the royal and sacerdotal distinctions (comp. Exodus 19:6), is surely very far fetched.)
The permanence of Israel as the people of God, with rulers of the house of David.
This people; i.e. not Egyptians or Babylonians (as some have supposed), but the people of Judah, regarded as alienated from Jehovah (hence the touch of disparagement), as elsewhere in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:10, Jeremiah 4:11; Jeremiah 5:14, Jeremiah 5:23; Jeremiah 6:19; Jeremiah 7:33, etc.). There were unworthy Jews, who, seeing their nation fallen from its high estate, despaired of its deliverance and regeneration. That they should be no more, etc.; rather, so that they are no more a people—no more an independent people The "two families," of course, are the "two houses of Israel" (Isaiah 8:14), i.e. the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
An invitation to prayer.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE INVITATION. (Jeremiah 33:1.)
1. It was to Jeremiah; i.e.
(1) to a good man. All men may pray, but it is "the supplication of a righteous man that availeth much in its working" (James 5:16); and
(2) a prophet. Therefore a prophet needs to pray. No man knows so much or is so far advanced spiritually as to be able to dispense with prayer. Christ prayed.
2. The invitation came to Jeremiah in prison. Stone walls cannot shut out God from us, nor prevent our souls from rising in prayer to him. The persecutor cannot rob his victim of his choicest jewel. God often visits the soul in scenes of earthly distress.
3. The invitation came a second time. God repeatedly visits his troubled children. The prayer of yesterday will not make that of today needless.
4. The invitation to prayer did not bring deliverance from trouble. Though God visited Jeremiah in prison once and again, the prophet still remained there. We have no right to think that when God visits us for good he will remove our earthly trouble; he may find it better to bless us in it. Therefore, on the other hand, the continuance of the trouble is no evidence that we are deserted by God—perhaps the reverse, because "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth."
II. THE GROUNDS OF THE INVITATION. (Verse 2.) God gives to Jeremiah good grounds for assurance in prayer before inviting him to pray. We cannot pray to an unknown God with intelligence and earnestness. To pray with faith we must have grounds of confidence. These are offered to the prophet in the manifestation of the nature of God in his works, and the revelation of his higher character in the sacred Name, Jehovah.
1. The manifestation of God in his works.
(1) He is the Maker of all things; therefore he has power to make all right again.
(2) He established the world; therefore there is a permanence in the law, and will, and procedure of God, which no passing accidents can set aside.
2. The revelation of his higher Name, "Jehovah;" "The Lord in his Name." This revelation not only suggests the self-existent and eternal supremacy of God, so infinitely superior to all those evil powers of life feared by us timid mortals; it is also associated with the willingness of God to save, since it was revealed in connection with the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 3:14), it may well be quoted in anticipation of the deliverance from Babylon.
III. THE CHARACTER OF THE INVITATION. (Verse 3.)
1. God invites to prayer. Therefore
(1) we may have good assurance that he will hear prayer; and
(2) nevertheless, we are reminded that, though he is favourably disposed to us, he waits to bless us until we "call unto" him.
2. God promises a revelation in response to prayer. Here is an encouragement that the prayer will not be fruitless. The Bible does not represent prayer as a mere subjective exercise; it treats it as a power prevailing with God, securing from him blessings asked. We have here a special encouragement for the perplexed to pray for light. Mysteries are not necessarily eternally hidden. Some once hidden have been revealed (e.g. Colossians 1:26); others may yet be made more clear. The seeker after truth should be a man of prayer. The deepest spiritual truth is not discoverable by speculation; it is revealed in communion. It is seen through spiritual thought and sympathy with God, aided by his Spirit's inspiration.
(See on Jeremiah 30:17.)
Forgiveness and cleansing.
I. FORGIVENESS AND CLEANSING MUST BE CLOSELY ASSOCIATED. When God pardons he also cleanses. The first justification that treats as righteous by forgiveness is the seed of the second justification that makes righteous. It is often noted that it would be neither just in God nor wholesome for us that sin should be pardoned without the creation of a clean heart. But we should observe further that it would not even be possible for this to happen. For the essence of forgiveness is reconciliation, not a mere remission of penalties. Even if these are remitted, while personal enmity is cherished there can be no forgiving. To forgive is to effect a mutual reconciliation after alienation through wrong doing on one side, by concession on the other. The very act of reconciliation implies such a change in the person forgiven as involves the cessation of all opposition on his side. Now, in the root of it sin is just departure from God, and its ripe fruit is enmity to God. Forgiveness must, therefore, by its very nature, imply a cleansing from this sin.
II. GOD PROMISES PERFECT CLEANSING AND FORGIVENESS.
1. This is given by God. He only can forgive, since it is against him that we have sinned. He only can cleanse, since only the Creator can create anew.
2. This is given through Christ. Hints of the means only appear in the Old Testament. The gospel revelation brings it more clearly before us (1 Peter 2:24). In the sight of the cross we see the great assurance of deliverance from sin in the revelation of the means by which this is brought about. Since Christ has died for our sins we have good reason to ask for forgiveness and cleansing.
3. The promised cleansing and forgiveness are perfect; i.e.
(1) from all sins—none can be too black for the "Lord of all flesh" to overcome, for "is there anything too hard for him"? and
(2) a complete deliverance—a forgiveness that forgets and boars no grudge, a cleansing that leaves no stain and produces a regeneration of life.
III. PERFECT FORGIVENESS AND CLEANSING ARE TO BE RECEIVED THROUGH REPENTANCE AND FAITH.
1. As God accomplishes the perfect deliverance from sin, it is foolish for us to begin a small and imperfect and certainly futile cleansing on our own account. But we must desire the justification and the pardon, else it is unreasonable to expect God to bestow them. This desire, real and active, is repentance.
2. Then must follow faith. It is not necessary for us to understand the rationale of the atonement in order to profit by the fruits of it. But it is necessary to trust in the Saviour. Faith is a very different thing from an intellectual comprehension and conviction of a complex set of doctrines. It is a personal trust. This trust is an essential condition of cleansing and forgiveness. Till we yield ourselves to the influence of God's grace, and trust to his love, we cannot expect him to deliver us.
The Church an honour to God.
What is here promised to the Jews finds its fulfilment, not in the Jews alone, nor in them at all until they submit to the Christian influences of the new covenant, but in all the spiritual Israel—in the Church of Christ.
I. CONSIDER THE FACT THAT THE CHURCH IS AN HONOUR TO GOD. It is described as a "monument of joy" because God takes delight in it (Jeremiah 32:41), and as "a praise and an honour" because by means of it God's glory is manifested abroad. This, in turn, is an honour to the Church. Though God picks his fallen children up from the mire of sin he does not leave them in shame and degradation. The prodigal is stripped of his rags and clothed with the best robe. God regards his Church, even here, with the stains of war and toil and sin upon her, as capable of manifesting forth his glory. What greater mission could she have?
II. INQUIRE INTO THE SOURCES OF THIS HONOUR. How comes it that the Church is an honour to God? Her own excellences can scarcely be considered as glorious in themselves. It is not in the inherent worth of these that we find the secret of the glory given by the Church to God. The Church is formed by God, redeemed by his mercy, delivered by his power, maintained by his help. Her very existence is a witness to God's forgiving and restoring grace. All that she does for good is not accomplished by her own might, but through the inspiration of his Spirit. The picture is an honour to the painter because it is the fruit of his well directed labour. We do not admire it only for its simple beauty. If it is a representation of the humblest scene in nature, the reality must be infinitely more beautiful than the picture; yet we give great admiration to the work of art because it is a work and because it reveals art. So the Church is an honour to God as the fruit of his work and of Christ's sacrifice.
III. NOTE THE EFFECTS OF THIS HONOUR.
1. It is to impress the world. The Jews were a standing witness of the power and goodness of God to the neighbouring nations. The Church of Christ is called to a similar mission on a world wide scale. The very existence of the Church as the ark upon the waters preserved and blessed by God is one of the greatest means of making known the grace and glory of redemption. More eloquent than any words is the silent testimony of the good and peaceful lives of godly men.
2. Therefore a great responsibility rests upon all Christians. God entrusts his honour to his Church. If, therefore, she can glorify him, she has also the power to bring dishonour on his Name. The "good soldier of Jesus Christ" is an honour to his Captain; but the sluggard, the coward, and the traitor are a discredit to his high name, and their faithlessness does something to smirch the beauty of the banner of redemption.
Town and country life.
In describing the happy future of Israel after the restoration Jeremiah draws a pair of idyllic pictures of town and country life. Both the city of Jerusalem and the outlying regions were so depopulated and wasted by the Chaldean invasion that it was difficult to believe the sun of prosperity would ever shine on them again. But under the providence of God there is a wonderful recuperative power in the human world as well as in the natural. It is remarkable how soon the battlefield with its hideous relics becomes a flowery meadow. The rapid revival of the French nation after the war of 1870 was an astonishment to Europe. This may be accounted for partly on natural principles, since war rarely touches the permanent resources of a country; if it drains the stream, it does not stanch the fountainhead. The capital of a country is always being consumed and remade in peaceful times, so that the destruction of it in war is not so great a calamity as might appear at first sight. But a true revival of prosperity depends on higher causes. A nation is only really prosperous when its people are advancing in moral tone, when there is a Divine root to their recovery. This is implied in the description of restored Israel. Let us consider the two pictures of the restoration.
I. TOWN LIFE. In the happy city described by Jeremiah there is a repopulation of the deserted streets. What a melancholy sight is a city in ruins, silent and solitary! The very suggestion of life and bustle increases the gloom of the unnatural stillness that haunts the place. The first step towards restoration is to bring back the inhabitants. The strength of a nation resides ultimately in its population. No empire has yet been ruined through over population; many, from Rome downwards, by the decay of population. There was a great economic truth in the Hebrew estimate of the value of a thickly inhabited country. In the city we see this concentrated. That is a human world in itself. If man is a social being, if cooperation and sympathy are good things, there we may look for true advancing prosperity. But the congregation of human beings in a city aggravates the evils of life when these are not restrained. In the city disease, misery, vice, and crime find their victims. The saddest sight in modern civilization (?) is the wretched condition of the back slums of the greatest cities of Europe, and the moral state of too much of the remainder. Men do not find prosperity and happiness by merely crowding together. In Jeremiah's picture of the new Jerusalem there is no room for those ugly scenes that Victor Hugo and Dickens make familiar in their representations of Paris and London. There is joy. There is worship. There is sacrifice and devotion to God. When the temple is the true centre of the city, when religion presides over her commerce and her pleasure, then, and then only, can true happiness be enjoyed by the citizens.
II. COUNTRY LIFE. Jeremiah paints a companion picture of country life with skilful adaptation of parallels and contrasts. The scene is pastoral. Prosperity is witnessed in quiet industry and growing wealth of flocks and herds. Such a life is no more idle than that of the city—often less so, and it is more calm. The stimulus of competition and the aid of cooperation are lost, but the reflections of solitude are gained; communion with nature takes the place of communion with man. This may be an ideal state of happiness to him who knows how to enjoy it. Both forms of life will be blessed when rightly followed; neither when abused. Dr. Johnson showed his wisdom in appreciating the merits of town life, but Cowper had good reasons for preferring the country. Country life has its vices, its ignorance, narrowness, and brutality, its poverty and lonely distresses. This also needs a higher life to keep it pure and happy. The Christian may find good in whichever condition his lot is cast, since God can bless both to him,
The Branch of righteousness.
If these words were intended by the prophet to refer to a succession of kings the promise they contain is nevertheless fulfilled in one, and one only, Jesus Christ. The glory of redeemed Israel is to find its consummation in the restoration of the throne of David with righteous government. The true glory of redemption is seen in the righteous rule of Christ. Much of what is taught here is similar to the suggestions of a former passage (Jeremiah 23:5). But the verse before us has also some lessons of its own, viz.—
I. CHRIST IS A BRANCH (OR SPROUT) OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. He is of the stock of David, preserving the tradition and inheriting the rights of the royal family. But he is far above the old kings in character as well as in nature. Jeremiah repeatedly insisted on a fact that is only too apparent in the historical books of the Old Testament—the fact that the ruin of Israel was largely due to the bad conduct of her kings. Christ is the one perfectly righteous King. This righteousness of Christ is of great significance.
1. It secures and justifies his position. There is no reason to depose him as there was to depose many of the ancient kings.
2. It gives him great claims for honour and obedience from his subjects. Such a king deserves loyal service.
3. It gives worth to his sacrifice. Christ is a Priest as well as a King—the Melchisedec of the New Testament. When he intercedes for the world, and so redeems to himself "a people of acquisition" (1 Peter 2:9), his righteousness affords weight to his pleading.
4. It makes his example to be of supreme authority. As the righteous King he is the type of what the righteous subject should be. A further inference, drawn by the prophet himself, is worth more extended notice.
II. CHRIST MAINTAINS A RIGHTEOUS GOVERNMENT. Under a personal rule the character of the administration is an exact reflex of the character of the monarch. We see in the history of the Jews how bad conduct in the kings meant iniquitous treatment of the subjects. Christ, the righteous King, will necessarily rule righteously. From this fact certain important consequences flow.
1. Negatively, Christ will abolish the injustice under which many of his people suffer. It may be necessary that the process shall be slow. But it must be accomplished in the golden future. Meanwhile it is a consolation for the wronged to feel that even now they are not unfairly dealt with by their great Master; and surely to the Christian Christ's behaviour should be far more important than anything the world may do.
2. Positively, Christ will maintain the right, and effectually rebuke the wrong within his kingdom; he is a King as well as a Saviour, and a righteous King executing judgment. Mild and gentle, he is yet holy and firm. The Christian who would enjoy the favour of his Master must win his approval by loyal obedience and pure living. Christ is no lax and careless Monarch. It would be ill for his Church if he were so.
3. Christ will lead his people into righteousness. He rules in righteousness, not only to execute justice, but to make his people righteous. This is the highest idea of righteous government. How do we stand in relation to this righteous kingship of Christ? Are we submitting to it for our own improvement and his glory? Are we ignoring, or resisting, or dishonouring it only to bring a judgment from the righteous God upon our heads. Let the careless remember that the Saviour is a King and a Judge.
(See on Jeremiah 23:6.)
Nature's aids to faith.
We see faith and science flung into conflict. In the Bible they not only harmonize, but science is regarded as a stay to faith, and nature, instead of being treated as a hindrance to faith, is repeatedly called in to strengthen it. As science advances old formulae are necessarily discarded. But may we not approach the difficulties of our age in the spirit of the Bible, and hope for some large synthesis which shall restore the old relation of science as the handmaid of religion? In the mean time the general correspondences suggested by Jeremiah are as true now as they were in his day.
I. THE PERMANENCE OF NATURE IS AN ASSURANCE OF THE PERMANENCE OF GRACE. The same God rules in the physical and spiritual spheres. In the one he is not capricious and uncertain. Why should we fear his being so in the other? Night, tempest, winter—things dark and wild—do not set aside the eternal ordinances of beneficent nature. The blue sky survives the black cloud that hides it for a season only to reveal it the more clearly after shedding itself in thundershowers. Why, then, should we think that the heavenly grace of God's love should be less enduring? If the ordinances of nature fail we may expect the same of the covenant of grace, but not till then, since both depend on the same Divine endurance.
II. THE SUCCESSIONS OF NATURE ARE PLEDGES OF THE SUCCESSIONS OF GRACE. Nature is ever changing, though changing according to uniform laws. In spiritual experience we meet with change. Neither of God's kingdoms is a Chinese empire. Progress marks both; and progress means change. But the change, though it alters events, does not alter principles; it only develops them to fuller exercise. Do the changes of life make us fear the loss of God's blessing? Let us remember that the changes in nature do not upset its laws, Our experience varies, but God's love is changeless. He shows this love, however, rather by a succession of blessings than by maintaining present blessings unaltered. So is it in nature day and night, summer and winter, alternate. Today's grace will not last for tomorrow; but new grace will be bestowed then if we seek it. The succession does not fail in nature, nor will it in grace.
III. THE ABUNDANCE OF NATURE IS A PROMISE OF THE ABUNDANCE OF GRACE. We cannot count the stars. Can we count the contents of our own world? of one small section of it? The great and multitudinous variety of nature was a wonder to the ancient Hebrews. How much more wonderful is it to us! There we see no failing of resources, but an infinite abundance, an almost reckless prodigality that sometimes shocks our economic notions, founded as they are on the requirements of limited means, but not applicable to an infinite wealth. Why then should we fear that the fountains of grace that flow from the same God should ever run dry? God administers his grace with a royal bounty. There is enough for all; there is abundance for each.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
(Cf. Jeremiah 32:1-5.)—M.
Revelation of God's purpose to him who performs his will.
Jeremiah had resolutely witnessed to the truth, and now he was confined in the king's prison in order to his being silenced. But so far from the Divine communications being less frequent, they were more so, and, if possible, more weighty and important. The word of the Lord came to him the second time (verse 1), and a gracious revelation of God's power and willingness to bless.
I. GOD IS WITH THOSE WHO SUFFER FOR HIS SAKE. It was a token of his love that Jeremiah should receive this assurance, and one which he was most certain to appreciate. Prisoners and martyrs for conscience' sake in all ages of the Church have been similarly consoled. There are special and peculiar consolations for persons so situated. God is nearer then than at other times. His promises are greater and brighter, and his presence more felt. Who would not suffer thus to be thus comforted?
II. GOD REQUESTS US TO ASK OF HIM THE THINGS WE MOST DESIRE. Not that there are not circumstances of such a character as to call forth spontaneous proofs of his favour and love. But seeking and asking are exercises of faith, which cannot long be dispensed with in our intercourse with our heavenly Father, even although "he knoweth what things we have need of before we ask him" (Matthew 6:8). And this because:
1. The exercises of the soul in prayer and faith are greater benefits in them selves than most things that are to be procured through them.
2. Such exercises are a preparation of the soul for heavenly gifts and communications, and keep it in readiness for them.
3. They are pleasing to God, and gratify his love. The answer is certain, and, indeed, waiting; but he loves to be asked. There is no more endearing position in the sight of God than that of prayer.
III. THOSE WHO FAITHFULLY OBEY GOD'S WILL, WILL LEARN SOMETHING OF HIS PURPOSE. Revelations of surpassing magnitude await the prophet in the darkness of his prison house. He did not hesitate to proclaim God s will, and to submit to the consequences of so doing; he is to receive his reward in further disclosures. And these are of the most gracious and consolatory description. But apart from this, the mere communication of the Divine purpose to him was a sign of favour and honour; his truest satisfaction and peace were to be found in hearing God's voice, and being considered worthy to share the secrets of the Divine future. Man is steward of the present; God retains his hold upon the future, and only discloses it for the reward of faithful men, and for great and merciful ends.
1. Great things, in their scope, character, and influences as belonging to salvation.
2. Secret things (Authorized Version renders this word "mighty"). Not belonging to ordinary experience, but to God's counsel.—M.
Jeremiah 33:15, Jeremiah 33:16
(Vide on Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah 23:6.)—M.
Jeremiah 33:17, Jeremiah 33:18
Perpetuation of the kingly and priestly stock.
I. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THESE OFFICES. To single out these two offices from the others existing within the Jewish nation is to emphasize their importance. They are thereby recognized as the pillars of the theocratic constitution.
1. The king. The grandest unit of human society. Evidently no accidental office, but an ordained and significant one. The king, as representative of God, was the supreme authority of the state, As the chosen of God, or as legitimately descended from such a one, he ruled by Divine right. He was the centre of patriotic attachment, and the authoritative embodiment and enforcer of Divine righteousness—at least that was the ideal. How few of the princes of the Davidic succession realized this the history of Judah can witness. But it was ever held before the people as a sacred promise that a "king should reign in righteousness."
2. The priest. The covenant of priesthood was a covenant of peace (Numbers 25:12), of life and peace (Malachi 2:5). It was the mediatorial or reconciling element in the constitution that through which the nation in its individual citizens, and as a whole, was related acceptably with God, and made partaker of his righteousness. The consecration of the priesthood in a mediate sense sanctified the people; and in the continued existence of the priesthood a guarantee was afforded of the favour of God and the permanence of Israel's mission as the righteous servant of God.
II. HOW THE PROMISE WAS FULFILLED. What is actually predicted concerning the Davidic and Levitical succession is that it will never be quite cut off; it will never happen that there is wanting any one in whom the house may be perpetuated. In the Captivity such a gap took place: Jeconiah was written childless. But it was never to occur again. Now, how are we to understand this promise? In its literal sense it was only approximately fulfilled; spiritually and figuratively the fulfilment was complete:
1. In our Lord Jesus Christ. Of the house of David after the flesh, he is eternal King and Lord of the spiritual Israel. He is also "a Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec." As the great High Priest of mankind, he appears before God "making continual intercession" (Hebrews 8:3).
2. Christians, too, realize the ideal here presented. Through the atoning work of Christ they are made "kings and priests," a "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5-8). The identification of the Lord with his servant dignifies and ennobles the latter, making him a new centre of spiritual dominion and of intercessory and reconciling influence. "If we suffer [endure] we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:12) is a promise which looks forward to the completion of the Messianic kingdom. The Levitical priesthood, too, is lost and absorbed in the priestly character of Christ and his people.—M.
The covenant of God permanent as the laws of nature.
A curious inversion of Genesis 8:22, but very instructive. There, what is considered by the secular mind as secured by the laws of matter operating mechanically, is declared as a promise, and consequently as dependent upon the good will and gracious purpose of God; here, what appears at first to be within the power of one or both parties to it, is stated to be as absolute and permanent as if it were not a moral engagement but a material law. Accepting, as in Genesis 8:17 and Genesis 8:18, the Messianic as the true fulfilment of this prediction, what do we learn?
I. THE INTRINSIC POWER OF GOD'S WORD. The creative flat was omnipotent; the promise is to be not less so. It is as if a power dwelt within it to bring to pass what it declares. Of course this is not so in the one case any more than in the other. God is in his Word, making it effectual even to its remotest end. We are reminded of Christ's utterance, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away," which seems to make an even stronger assertion. Equally potent is the Word of God in the gospel, its warnings, invitations, and transforming energies.
II. THE ABSOLUTE, ETERNAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PERSON AND WORK OF CHRIST. The human element in the Divine covenant relation has ever been the variable and uncertain one. But through the unique personality of the God Man, and of his atoning sacrifice, that element is strengthened and made secure. An incarnation like that of Emmanuel, an act like the death on the cross, once achieved is irreversible, and its consequences must affect the remotest eternity. The spiritual laws comprehended and illustrated in the transactions of the gospel are as irreversible as those of nature; and in the person and work of Christ there is an objective basis presented that can never be destroyed by the weaknesses or unbelief of men, any more than "my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night."
III. THE SPIRITUAL INFLUENCE OF THE NEW COVENANT. (Genesis 8:22.) It is really a creative word, because it calls into existence the Church or community of believers, who are the true successors of the seed of David and the Levitical priesthood. In its constant triumphs and the ever increasing nature of the Messianic kingdom, fresh securities are given for the perpetuation of the kingly and priestly functions as developed through the grace of God in human nature. Where the gospel is faithfully preached, and spiritual life truly energizes, believers will, as at Pentecost, be "added daily" and "multiplied." It is like leaven, a seed, etc. As appealing to the deepest needs and yearnings of human nature, it is bound to overcome the world and comprehend the whole race within the zone of its influence. "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11).—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The reasonableness of prayer.
"Call upon me, and I will answer thee" etc. This is one of the blessed promises of God given for the help of sorrowful and struggling men. None but God knows how many have been helped by it and by the glorious throng of Divine words which are like unto it, or how often, or how mightily. "Ah! you think so," replies a voice not unfrequently nor too modestly heard in these days. 'Tis the voice of the disciples of science, which says, "Yes; you religious people think God answers your prayers and hears you when you call upon him; but really it is no such thing; it is all a mistake, and, what is more, you ought to know and confess it, and therefore give over what you are pleased to call your prayers. Prayer! how is such a thing possible in a universe governed everywhere by fixed laws as ours is? Where in such an order is there room for what you call 'answers to prayer'? It is scientifically impossible, not to say absurd, and the marvel is that people don't see this." So speak, and some of them with far more of arrogance and scorn than now represented, not a few of the scientists of the day. The calling upon God in the day of trouble is nothing more, so one of the most distinguished of modern philosophers has said, than the piteous cry of the hare when she knows that the hounds are upon her. A bitter cry of distress wrung out from the soul. It is thought by those who utter it to go up to God, and that God will hear it and help; but that is all a vain imagination; it goes out into mere space; nothing does come of it, and nothing can. This is what is said, and it is based upon the observed uniformity and inflexibility of law. All science is built up upon this faith of the unbroken order and regularity of law, and without it there could be no science, and indeed no life at all. The reign of law is everywhere; how then can prayer be reasonable? and where is there room for those Divine interpositions which prayer asks for and thinks it receives? What is the use, then, of the mother weeping her heart out in her prayers that God would give back the health of her beloved child? What the use of national fasts and days of prayer for rain, for removal of pestilence, for restoration of the health of princes, and the like? If these things lie in the order of fixed law, they will come to pass without any prayer; if not, they will not be in spite of all the prayers of all the Churches in all the world. Now, this is what is so loudly and largely being said on all sides. What have we to reply? Has the Christian preacher nought to urge on the other side? We think he has. He has a right to ask the scientists such questions as these—
I. HAS SCIENCE DISCOVERED ALL GOD'S FIXED LAWS? Are you quite sure that nowhere there may be some law which shall provide for these results which Christians call "answers to prayer"? We are bound to be grateful for the magnificent discoveries of the laws of the universe which science has already made. But has it discovered all these laws? and if not, why amongst those as yet undiscovered ones may there not be that which the Christian needs to justify his prayer? It is the same argument as John Foster urges against the atheistic doctrine that there is no God! "What ages and lights are requisite for this attainment, the knowing that there is no God! This intelligence involves the very attributes of divinity, while a God is denied. For unless this man is omnipresent, unless he is at this moment in every place in the universe, he cannot know but that in some place there may be manifestations of a Deity by which even he would be overpowered Unless he knows all things, that is, precludes another deity by being one himself, he cannot know that the Being whose existence he rejects does not exist." Now, in like manner, the Christian may meet the scientific unbeliever by asking him whether he has traced every effect up to its cause. May not, then, the cause you do not know be the one which meets the Christian's need and secures answer to his legitimate prayers?
II. WHAT MORE RIGHT HAS SCIENCE TO REJECT THE FACTS FROM WHICH THE CHRISTIAN DEDUCES HIS DOCTRINE THAT GOD ANSWERS PRAYER, THAN THE CHRISTIAN HAS TO REJECT THE FACTS UPON WHICH SCIENCE BASES HER DOCTRINE OF INVARIABLE LAW? Science marshals her facts. They are a goodly array, and drawn from all departments of creation, animate and inanimate; from all kinds of living organisms, whether animal or vegetable; and they have forced upon you, we readily admit, the conviction of the universality and invariability of natural law. Christians are bound to believe you. We are not going to question your facts, though we may some of your inferences from them. Let your facts once be proved to be facts, as so many of them have been, and we will candidly accept them. Yes, though they compel us to set aside some old and cherished interpretations of Scripture, and to confess that we have read our Bibles wrongly in more than one instance. We trust you in your statement of facts; we believe you to be good men and true. Now we turn and ask you to deal with us and our facts in like manner. For we, too, have facts from which we have drawn the conclusion that, let prayer be according to the will of God, he will assuredly answer it. Some of our facts which have much force with us you perhaps would not admit, since you would explain them on the ground of mere coincidence, and we could not prove that, apart from prayer, they could not have been. E.g. persons in distress have called upon God; relief has unexpectedly come and in very remarkable ways. The believer looks on such instances as answers to prayer; nothing can persuade him that they are not. Still, it cannot be denied that they may have occurred without such prayer. Other such instances are those in which life despaired of has been given back in answer to, or in connection with, fervent prayer for such restoration; as the Prince of Wales's recovery in 1872. Now, this recovery might have been—we cannot prove that it could not—apart from prayer, and therefore, whilst these instances are very convincing to the believer, they are not so to others. But there are facts concerning which we can say they are valid for our argument, because they never have occurred and never do occur, apart from prayer. E.g. in the coming away of any soul from its attachment to the world to surrender itself in trust and love to Christ—that which is called conversion; was this ever known apart from prayer? Did ever any find the Lord without seeking him—i.e without prayer? Also in the ordinary conduct of the Christian life, who among us is able to keep his garments unspotted from the world, to overcome besetting sin, to confront and conquer temptation, to preserve the hands clean and the heart pure, without continual prayer? Again, who are they that have attained to a high degree of spiritual life and vigour, to whom it is their habit to walk with God; who "rejoice in the Lord always;" who are God's saints indeed, the very elect, about whose being born of God we have no doubt? Now, every one of these will tell you that they owed their all to the habit their Lord enabled them to maintain of constant prayer. Press on in thought to the realms of the blest, move up and down amid the throng of God's redeemed; is there one who has or could have attained that blessedness if on earth he had not sought God in prayer and called on the Name of the Lord? So with any really living Church, a Church that is a power for good, a blessing to the neighbourhood, a Church at peace, at work, and blessed with the prosperity of God, is the life of such a Church ever possible apart from this same power of prayer? Its life is nurtured, not by its wealth, numbers, rank, culture, intellect, eloquence, or any such gifts, but by its prayers. All the rest would let it starve; by prayer alone it lives. One other instance—the winning of our children for God. Does any parent or teacher ever secure this great joy without prayer? Never. Such are our facts; in them we are sure that God answers prayer; and hence we believe also that in the material world he does the same. And as we receive the facts of science, so we ask that our facts may be received likewise.
III. IS NOT GOD OUR FATHER? The scientific hypothesis denies his fatherhood, if not his very existence altogether. If he do exist, he is, according to the scientist, so enclosed in his own laws and in the visible adjustment of things that he has no room for freedom of choice, for exercise of will. Like the mainspring of a watch, he is shut up in his own works, and can only act in one given way. Or, like the locomotives on our railways, he must keep to the rigid appointed iron track, and not swerve therefrom in the least. But that is not our conception of God. We believe him to have a mind, a will, a heart; and hence we conclude that, like the best earthly parents, whilst keeping ever in view the true welfare of his children, he yet allows himself, within those limits, freedom of action as may seem to him wisest and best. Now, within these limits there is room for prayer and room for answers to prayer. We cannot believe him to be so tied down by his physical laws that, when it is consistent with the highest good of his children, and yet more when it is necessary for that good, he is unable to modify or alter them even though he would. A God so bound by physical law is really no God, and the creed of the atheist will alone harmonize with the assertions of science. If there be a God, he must be a personal God; but if he be a Person, then he must have will, the power of choice; but if he have will, he must be able to modify the action of his laws, as we can and do continually; and if he be our Father, as we believe, then we need not doubt that the fervent believing prayer of his children will avail much to induce him to modify his laws for our good. And hence we maintain that it is good to call upon him, and that he is nigh unto such and will save them. Prayer, then, is not unreasonable if there be a God; not unreasonable if we adopt the very methods of science itself, and deduce our doctrine from our facts; not unreasonable, unless it can be shown that science is aware of and has registered every fixed law of God.—C.
The Divine treatment of sin.
"Behold, I will bring it health and cure, and I will cure them." Here, as in so many other Scriptures, the moral, political, social, and spiritual recovery of Israel is spoken of under the image of bodily healing. For all healings of the body are types and pledges of the better healing. If God so cares for the body, which today is and tomorrow is cast into the tomb, shall he not care for the soul, which is eternal? This Jeremiah 33:6 is a promise that the Divine treatment of sin shall be effectual. The Lord is Jehovah-rophi. He heals them that have need of healing.
I. SIN IS AN AWFUL FACT. All nations have recognized this and mourned over it. But it has not been created by Christianity. True, the Christian faith brands it with the stigma of shame as none other does; foreverywhere sin has cast its deep shadow and driven noble souls, not a few, to utter despair. But it was here before Christianity. Hence—
II. THE QUESTION OF QUESTIONS HAS BEEN—WHAT IS TO BE DONE WITH IT? And the answers have been very different. Note:
1. The answer of the philosopher, which extenuates it, on the ground:
(1) Of the imperfection of our nature. If we knew more, it is said, had larger comprehension of truth, we should not sin. But is that true? Is increase of knowledge always increase of virtue? Are little children, who know so little, less virtuous than many an educated man? The names that are accursed forever, Nero, Herod, Balaam, Philip II. of Spain, Alva, and many more, were all educated men.
(2) Of the tyranny of the body. It is this cursed flesh, they say. Get rid of that, and the soul will be pure. Hence one reason wherefore St. Paul's doctrine of the resurrection was so opposed at Corinth, because they thought it was a bringing back of all that dread source of evil which it was hoped was done with forever when death came. Now, no doubt, the flesh is the occasion of sins not a few. But there are many sins, and those which probably God will most sternly condemn, which are quite independent of the body. Malice, envy, hatred, and all uncharitableness need no "flesh" for their existence. And even in those sins which are especially of the flesh, myriads of victories over it, victories continually renewed, prove that it can, as it ought to, be kept under and brought into subjection.
(3) Of its being a form of good. Without it, it is urged, virtue could not be attained; for it is in the conflict with sin that virtue is developed, disciplined, and strengthened. Virtue would lie dormant, lethargic, and be a miserable weakling, were it not that sin roused her up, exasperated her, and forced her to stand on her defence. But such argument confounds temptation with sin. What is urged is true of temptation, but never of sin. Nor is sin needed as the foil, the dark background on which virtue shall shine out with greater lustre than but for this foil had been possible to it. For sin is, some affirm, a necessary condition, almost an ingredient, of good. Moral evil cannot be so evil as it is thought. The devil is not so black as he is painted. But is sin necessary to manifest goodness? Where, then, is such background in God, or in the angels, or in the saints in glory? None, therefore, of these extenuations will stand. Reason, conscience, and God's Word alike condemn them.
2. There is the answer of despair, which regards it as inevitable and invincible. This answer does not make light of it, but regards it as that which can neither be helped nor overcome. They believe there is a kingdom of evil, independent of God, with its all but omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient head, like unto God. This was the creed of ancient Persia, against which, that his countrymen might not be carried away by it, Isaiah protested with all his might; cf. Isaiah 45:5-7, "I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me … I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things." And Manicheism was a like heresy. And the moral despair which regards sin as inevitable is practical Manicheism. But this is a terrible error; for he who has come to believe in the existence of a god of evil as well as a God of goodness will soon come to believe only in the former and not in the latter at all. Moreover, conscience in her deepest utterances gives no countenance to this invincibility of evil. "Father, I have sinned," is its confession. It never urges that it had no power to resist—that it was forced to sin. It is a dread snare of the devil to persuade men that sin is invincible. Believe him not. Myriads of holy souls give him the lie; and, through the might of Christ your Lord, you may give him the lie likewise. But note now—
III. CHRIST'S ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION. This verse is one of innumerable others which affirm the same truth.
1. He does not make light of it or extenuate it. His high and holy teaching, his blameless life, the doom he pronounced on sin, above all, the death he died, were one emphatic protest against and condemnation of sin. But:
2. He did not regard it as invincible. He distinctly promises deliverance from it, and:
3. This he gives. By blotting out the record of the past. By the present help of his Spirit. By the bright prospect of eternal life. Facts prove all this. He healed them that had need of healing. No disease baffled him. His resources did not run out, and the healing was a real one. And so it is still. Let us come to him and see.—C.
Fruits of pardon.
Some of these are declared here; e.g.—
I. IN REGARD TO GOD.
1. Joy. God, not Deus impassibilis—a God who does not feel.
2. Praise and honour. The theme of the Church on earth, and especially in heaven, is this, "Unto him that loved us," etc. There is no glory equal to that which shall accrue to God by "Jesus Christ," for through him pardon comes to guilty men.
II. IN REGARD TO THE PARDONED THEMSELVES. They enjoy the goodness and prosperity which God procures them. Pardon is not mere acquittal, but acceptance and adoption, and hence the goodness and prosperity.
III. IN REGARD TO THE WORLD AT LARGE. "They shall fear and tremble." Why this?
1. Because of its manifestation of power. His people a feeble flock, but thus raised and exalted.
2. Because of its exposure of idolatry. It will be seen how foolish they have been to trust in their false gods.
3. Because of its manifestation of grace. The fear and trembling shall not be of dread so much as of repentance—repentance wrought by the evident grace of God in the rich pardon he has bestowed.—C.
Paradise lost and regained.
I. THE PICTURE OF A PARADISE LOST. This is given in Jeremiah 33:10. The land desolate; the flocks and herds all gone; no human being to be seen; the cities laid waste. Now, this meagre outline would recall to the mind of the Jews the blessed days when the land teemed with inhabitants; when the cities were numerous, wealthy, populous, and strong; when the hills and dales of their countryside were covered over with flocks; and when, in the glad prosperity of all, the very fields were said "to shout for joy and also sing" (Psalms 65:1-13.). But all that is past; desolation reigns, the lands stripped, the cities burnt with fire, and the people slain or in exile; the whole land desolate of both man and beast.
II. PARADISE REGAINED. Such is the bright, joyous picture set forth in these verses (11-18). Its elements are:
1. Righteousness. Not mere innocence, as in Eden, but virtue tested and triumphant, and so issuing in a settled righteousness. This must be the basis of all truly blessed life. The people must be all righteous. This secured by him who is called "the righteous Branch, the Lord our Righteousness."
2. Love. (See Jeremiah 33:11.) The joyous picture of the gladness of the bridegroom and the bride. And that companionship which is the most blessed in the world, and that love which is deepest and purest of all, are fitly taken as the symbol of that love which shall constitute the home of God's redeemed more than a paradise regained.
3. Worship. (Jeremiah 33:11.) The picture of the temple service has risen up before the prophet's mind. He hears the glad chant, the loud response of the people, "Praise the Lord." He sees the altar fire and the priests and sacrifices, and by this representation he teaches us that worship is part of the blessedness that is to be.
4. Healthful and universal employ. (Jeremiah 33:12, Jeremiah 33:13.) It has often been said, "God made the country, man made the town; and the saying may be read truly or falsely, as each one wills. For he who says there is nought of God in the city speaks as falsely as he who says there is only God in the country. But there can be no doubt that the highest, purest, and most healthful forms of life are connected with the country. "Four words, each of them full of meaning, comprise the conceptions which we attribute to the paradisaical state. They are these innocence, love, rural life, piety; and it is towards these conditions of earthly happiness that the human mind reverts, as often as it turns, sickened and disappointed, from the pursuit of whatever else it may have ever laboured to acquire. The innocence we here think of is not virtue recovered, but it is moral perfectness, darkened by no thought or knowledge of the contrary. This paradisaical love is conjugal fondness, free from sensuous taint. This rural life is the constant flow of summer days, spent in garden and field, exempt from our exacted toil. This piety of paradise is the grateful approach of the finite to the Infinite—a correspondence that is neither clouded nor apprehensive of a cloud" (Isaac Taylor). Now, in these verses, when the prophet would set forth the blessed life that the restored people should enjoy, he draws a picture, not of city, but of country life; not of hard exacting toil, but of healthful, peaceful occupation—the pastoral life of a quiet, beautiful land. It is a symbol of all healthful employ, and such employ shall be a further feature in the blessedness that is to be. Therefore, "Sursum corda!" a righteous, loving, worshipful, and healthful life awaits the sons of men "for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them," saith the Lord.—C.
The prophet's refrain.
"For I will cause to return the captivity of the land." This declaration is heard again and again. We have it in substance times without number in this and in previous chapters. We have a similar statement in Jeremiah 32:37. But we have the exact words, the very same form of expression, in Jeremiah 32:44, and in Jeremiah 32:7 and Jeremiah 32:26 of this chapter. Hence we have called it the prophet's refrain. And the like theme of God's purposes of grace towards mankind generally should be the refrain of all the prophets of the Lord in these our days. For—
I. THE BLESSINGS ASSURED ARE SIMILAR. In connection with each several repetition of this promise, "I will cause their captivity to return," is named some specific blessing which that return shall bring along with it. In connection with its first mention (Jeremiah 32:44) God's purpose is given as the reason wherefore his now afflicted people should again possess their land. And there is a life eternal, a true, real, blessed life for humanity; a life compared with which this life is like the hard lot of the captive Israel compared with the glowing glad life promised in the days when their captivity should return. Then in connection with its second mention (Jeremiah 32:7 of this chapter) there is the promise of "health and cure," moral and spiritual health, when their iniquity should be cleansed and their sin forgiven. And is not the promise of man's redemption like to this? In the eternal life there shall be health and cure indeed. And with the third mention of this promise (Jeremiah 32:11) there is associated gladness and joy. "There shall be … the voice of joy and the voice of gladness," etc. (Jeremiah 32:11). And with the fourth there is (Jeremiah 32:26 of this chapter) the promise of permanence for all that has been before, the permanency as of the covenant of day and night, and the perpetual sovereignty of their own royal house, the seed of David. And so we look for a new order of things, which shall not be as this, troubled and transient, but characterized by a rest and joy that shall be eternal. Thus analogous are the blessings promised to the return of Israel and the redemption of mankind.
II. THE MOTIVES OF SUCH PROCLAMATION OF GOD'S PURPOSES OF GRACE ARE ALIKE. The reason of the prophet's refrain were such as these.
1. He so delighted in the truth he had to tell. Often and often he had been charged with a message of a far less welcome kind; but this was blessed to his soul. And so, would we effectually speak of God's purposes of grace, they must be the joy of our soul. We must ourselves delight in them.
2. He really believed it. The oft repetition of this word shows his confidence in it. He speaks with no bated breath. "I believed, therefore have I spoken." And this must ever be the spiritual force with which our gospel must be charged if it is to have any effect on those who hear it.
3. He knew it would so comfort the cast down. Many already were mourning along with the prophet over the desolations so surely coming on the land, and many more when away in exile would mourn. But the prophet knew that their hearts would be cheered and sustained by the earnest and confident assurance that "their captivity should return." For their sake, therefore, he reiterated this word. And in order to our now earnestly proclaiming the message of God's love, we too must believe that it will do the people good, that it will be for their help and comfort. And we must have for them, as the prophet had for his people, a real love and concern. This has ever been an attendant of and is essential to a successful ministry.
4. He knew that it would so vindicate God. Questionings and perplexities not a few were being occasioned by the prophet's solemn declarations of the coming destruction. They contrasted his terrible word with the oft repeated promises made by God" to David and to his seed forever" and to Zion, concerning which he had said, "There will I dwell, for I have delighted in it." These and the many more like promises seemed forever to forbid the possibility of that which the prophet, and now the actual course of events, declared to be close at hand. How were the two to be reconciled, and the truth and goodness of God to be vindicated? It was by the truth declared in this refrain of the prophet. That rendered both Divine words harmonious and true. Thus the enemies of the prophet would be silenced, and the company of them that feared God would be reassured. The house of God was dear to the prophet; and so must it be to us would we earnestly preach his Word. "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up;" "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" So was it spoken of or by the Lord Jesus Christ; and so in like manner in our measure and degree must it be true of us if we are to be true witnesses for him and for his grace. The gospel is the vindication of God today, as the return of the Captivity was in the days of the prophet. And being jealous for God, he proclaimed incessantly that return, as we must the redemption of mankind.—C.
The Lord our Righteousness.
(Cf. homily on Jeremiah 23:6.)—C.
Jeremiah 33:17, Jeremiah 33:18
Do the prophets prophesy falsely?
If the statements of these verses be taken literally, it would seem as if they did. The house of Israel never, since its exile, has had a throne at all, nor has any descendant of David been acknowledged as its prince. Yet these verses say, "David shall never want," etc. And, literally, it never can come to pass, for in the lapse and confusion of the ages their genealogical tables have been utterly lost, so that none can certainly say who is of the house of David or who of the house of Levi. The Asmonean princes who occupied the throne of Judah were of the tribe of Levi, and Herod was no Jew at all. Now, the promise of these verses is one that is perpetually repeated (cf. 2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Kings 2:4; Psalms 89:4, Psalms 89:29, Psalms 89:36; Numbers 25:12, etc.). How, then, are they to be understood, since events have most surely, falsified them if understood in any literal way? And so the Prophet Hoses cheered the ten tribes of Israel—those of whom we speak now as the lost ten tribes—by promises of their restoration, and Jeremiah does the same (cf. Hosea 6:2; Jeremiah 3:14, etc.; Jer 1:17 -20, etc.). But in spite of all these prophecies, the "tea tribes never were restored, and never, as a whole, received any favour from God after they went into captivity" (Pusey). Now, what shall we say to these things? Shall we say—
I. THE PROPHETS WERE BUT MEN, AND HENCE THEY WERE CERTAIN TO BE WRONG WHEN THEY VENTURED INTO THE DOMAIN OF THE FUTURE? This is the rationalist's reply. He attributes all these utterances to the wish to cheer their countrymen in their sorrow, and perhaps to maintain their own credit. Sanguine enthusiasm will account for all. Is, then, the estimate that our Lord and his apostles and the Church universal held concerning these "holy men of old, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost," to be regarded as false? Are the prophets themselves to be convicted as liars, affirming, "Thus saith the Lord," when not the Lord, but only their own poor weak selves were speaking? And are all the manifest fulfilments of prophecy to go for nothing in establishing their authority? The rationalist's reply will not do.
II. THAT THE EXILES DID NOT FULFIL THE CONDITIONS OF THE PROMISED RESTORATION? But does this principle apply here? No; for the promise of restoration carries along with it the promise of the "new covenant," which included "the new heart"—the heart of stone taken away and the heart of flesh given instead. The conditions necessary for the restoration were the subjects of promise as much as the restoration itself. God took the whole matter into his own hand.
III. THAT THE PROPHETS, LIKE THE APOSTLES CONCERNING THE RETURN OF THE LORD, DID NOT KNOW CONCERNING THE RETURN OF THE CAPTIVITY? The apostles do undoubtedly speak of the Lord's return as a thing close at hand, to be looked for in their own day. But such language is to be regarded rather as the language of desire than of knowledge. For the Lord had distinctly told them that it was not for them to know the times and the seasons. Therefore we can only regard their words as those of desire, hope—permitted hope, indeed, but not of Divine assurance. May we do thus with the prophetic word on the return of the Captivity? No; because they so distinctly claim the Divine authority. The apostles do not; 1 Thessalonians 4:15, "By the word of the Lord" is an exception. The Lord's revelation referred only to such as should be alive and remain at his coming, not to that generation then living.
IV. THAT THE PROMISE IS BUT DELAYED? This is loudly maintained by many. They who believe that the Jews will be restored to their native land, expect it on the express ground that Canaan has never been actually and permanently theirs. A certain tract of country, three hundred miles in length by two hundred in breadth, must be given, or else they think the promise has been broken. "If there be nothing yet future for Israel, then the magnificence of the promise has been lost in the poverty of its accomplishment." This reply is not to be lightly dismissed. If the kingdom of God, for whose coming we daily pray, do mean that which all who heard our Lord so perpetually speak about it, understood it to mean—and he never, in the main substance of their belief, even hinted that they were wrong—if it mean the reign of God upon earth, as we believe it does, in which, under Christ, the Israel of God, the Church, shall be first in the kingdom of heaven, having been of those blessed ones who had part in "the first resurrection," then the literal fulfilment of the prophetic word may reasonably be looked for. This was "the hope of Israel," of which St. Paul spoke; "the restitution of all things," and "the times of refreshing," of which St. Peter spoke; and this belief has at least this vast advantage, that it enables those who hold it to read the Scriptures literally, and to understand by David, Jerusalem, Levi, Israel, etc; that which they seem to mean, and not whatsoever the too facile process of spiritualizing may say that they mean. Of course, if the kingdom is of this world, this age, as our Lord distinctly told Pilate it was not, then a literal fulfilment of these prophecies is out.of the question; but regarded as the kingdom to be revealed in another age, after the resurrection and the Lord's return, then all is as possible as it will be blessed.
V. THAT IT IS FULFILLED ALREADY? This is what they affirm who regard our Lord as embodying in himself both the regal and priestly functions, and the Church as being the nation whom God has restored. The Jew's national life and his religion were the two things most dear to him. These, it is said, have been preserved to him in the Church, and in him who is the Church's Head. But surely these are the exigencies of exegesis, and but preteroea nihil.
VI. THAT SUCH PREDICTIONS ARE INSTANCES OF GOD'S LAW OF ILLUSION? We have illusions in nature. The sun, etc; seem to move round us whilst we are at rest. The hedges, fields, etc; fly along whilst the train in which we are seems to be stationary. The mirage. We have them in moral and mental life.
"Hope springs eternal in the human breast,
Which never is, but always to be, blest."
What pictures we draw in our youth of what life is going to be for us! Then see what life really turns out. We are all subjects of the law of illusion. Now, was it so in these Bible histories? Abraham was promised Canaan. But he never had a foot of it to call his own (cf. Acts 7:5). All the patriarchs "died in the faith, not having received the promises, but were persuaded of them" (cf. Hebrews 11:1-40.). The early Church was persuaded that "the Lord was at hand;" "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." And yet he never came, and has not come to this day. Now, may not these predictions be further instances of this law of illusion? Ten thousand times "No," exclaim as many people; "it is to make God a liar." Is it so? Of course, then, we would rather not be deceived; we would have all our illusions done away. Would we? As for "Hope," let her be put an end to, seeing what an incurable liar she is. But distinguish between being subject to delusion and illusion. He who is subject to the former hopes for some good thing and gets nothing. He who is subject to the latter, hopes for some good thing and, if the illusion be of God's permission, gets something better. Our hopes lure us on. We acquire character, habits of patient industry, etc; better far than the mere material thing hoped for. The patriarchs hoped for an earthly Canaan; they won such faith in God that by it they all "obtained a good report." They never complained of God deceiving them (read Hebrews 11:1-40.); for they knew that, if not the thing they hoped for was given, God had provided that which was better (Hebrews 11:8-10). Our own belief is that, in regard to this world, these promises were illusions, but in regard to the world to come, they shall in substance and reality be fulfilled there. Meanwhile let us all have faith in God, who, in ways better far than we think, will fulfil that which now it sometimes seems as if he never fulfilled at all.—C.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The abundance of peace and truth.
I. THE NEED OF SUCH A REVELATION. There is already abundance of discord, mutual hostility, instability, deceit. What a picture of misery is at once suggested by contrast with the state presented in this promise! Instead of the welcome salutation of peace, there is too often threatening. And when the salutation does come, it is too often only a mere conventional expression, and in some instances even an elaborated hypocrisy put forward to carry on war behind it, and instead of the feeling that one is on a sure foundation, there are continual quakings that disturb what is underneath, and continual blasts that disturb what is above. And beside what attacks man from without, there is within a spirit of hostility and rivalry to others, a spirit striving to shake their position and triumph over them. So that peace and truth need to be revealed within us first of all. We need, not merely to have amicable feelings towards others, freedom from envy and malice, but we need positive cordiality. Loving, unselfish cohesion is the true way to escape bitter habitual contention. Moreover, this peace and truth are needed in abundance. It must be said of them, as is said in the New Testament of God's Spirit, that they are given without measure. The promise of the peace that passeth all understanding is assuredly a promise correspondent to our necessity.
II. THE FACT OF SUCH A REVELATION. Peace is revealed in Jesus Christ. In him there is the secret of a composure and a steadfastness unaffected by all the common causes of discord and instability. He had an unusual number of enemies, and this because he was so persistent in declaring righteousness; and yet all the time he had that peace within which showed how outside forces only affected the mere shell of life. In this life there was ever the joint manifestation of peace and steadfastness, and the steadfastness was explained by the fact that he came from God, continued in God, did the will of God, and so, ever having this hold on the Eternal, and being held by the Eternal, the shaking influences of time did ever more and more both to reveal his strength and their own weakness. All the exhortations of Jesus with respect to faith are meant to reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth. With what pity Jesus must look on the abortive, melancholy attempts of men to trust in the untrustworthy! and yet the unveiled magnificence of peace and truth is unseen. What we have to do is to look desiringly, hopefully, towards God's revelation; for surely the complete revelation includes not only something gracious to be seen, but full insight to see it. The apocalypse to John in Patmos came to one who "was in the Spirit on the Lord's day."—Y.
Jeremiah 33:10, Jeremiah 33:11
The mournful stillness of the present, and the gladsome voices of the future.
I. THE PRESENT STILLNESS. What makes it so painful? Not all stillness is painful; indeed, stillness is often very grateful, a thing to be sought, a timely refuge for those who are stunned and confused by the clamours of the world. The stillness of night is pleasant after the noise of day. The stillness of the mountain and the wilderness seems more still when one has come from the city's bustle. There is even something suggestive of escape into everlasting peace when one looks at the stillness of death as contrasted with all the power of sound in the previous life. But the stillness here is painful, because it does not come in any normal way; it is stillness where there ought to be sound—sounds of traffic, sounds of friendly intercourse, sounds of children playing, sounds of worship. To come into the individual life, it is the silence of the dumb, the silence of that which was made to speak, intended to speak, and can only be silent because of some inexplicable interference with natural constitution. Dumbness ought not to be, and so the state of things here represented, when in the houses and streets of Jerusalem there was sound neither of man nor beast, was one which ought not to have been. There was no occasion for it in the very constitution of things. It came by man's own bringing of it. The present silence had been preceded by many voices that ought never to have been heard—voices of threatening, voices of greedy demand, voices of revenge, voices of complaint and of indignant appeal against injustice.
II. THE VOICES OF THE FUTURE. The sounds of life are to flow back into the now desolate streets, but they are to be the sounds of a different kind of life. Sounds springing from righteousness within and from a principle of obedience to Jehovah. Sounds that come from a universally satisfied people. Not sounds of joy and gladness in palaces, and sounds of privation and despair in hovels; but sunshine falling everywhere, and everywhere the hearts of the people ready to break forth into song. In the eleventh verse there is first of all the general indication of gladness. Every one is full of healthy life, which, as a matter of course, breaks forth into joyful manifestation. Then, as a very significant illustration, there is the gladness of the bridegroom and the bride. This signifies a stable society, a hopeful prospect, the joys of home life. Probably there was no joy so demonstrative as that connected with wedding festivities. Then the joy of religion comes in to crown and conclude all. Praise to Jehovah for his goodness and his enduring mercy, and offerings of thanksgiving in his house. If joy of this kind had been absent, the other joy would not long have lasted. From what God sends down into our lives as causes of abiding joy, we must send back to him responses of intelligent and heartfelt praise.—Y.
Jeremiah 33:12, Jeremiah 33:13
In Jeremiah 31:1-40. there has been mention of planting vineyards, and of God's goodness with respect to the corn, the wine, the oil. But agriculture was only one of the important industries of the land. To have set ploughmen and vine dressers to work again, and left shepherds unprovided for, would have meant only a partial restoration. God has a remembrance of all classes of the community, and all varieties of the surface of the earth. Shepherds were not to go away into exile without a special promise to comfort them. By "causing the flocks to lie down" we may take to be meant that a sense of security and restfulness will be established; and that "the flocks will pass again under the hands of him that telleth them" suggests their numerousness.. There seems to be also a distinct remembrance of the places most appropriate for flocks. Nor must we let slip the spiritual sense of this prophecy when we call to mind the references to pastoral life in the New Testament. It is the power of Christ, the Branch of righteousness growing up unto David, who makes spiritual flocks and spiritual pastors to abound. And instead of the selection from the literal flocks for sacrifices, there is the self-presentation of every one in the spiritual flock as a living sacrifice.—Y.
The righteous Scion of David.
Here is a great leading prediction, which enables us to interpret as to the time and mode in which the rest of the glorious predictions connected with it were to be fulfilled. We know full well who this righteous Scion was, and when we lock at his work, we can translate all the figurative language into spiritual realities. We no longer go looking for Israel and Jerusalem in any mere local way, and the vineyards and corn lands and pastures of the restored people of God we understand to be only feeble indications of the spiritual satisfactions coming through Christ. Note—
I. THE ORIGIN OF THIS RIGHTEOUS SCION. He springs from David. According to the flesh, he is connected with a name suggestive of past days of prosperity and glory. David himself is emphatically to be reckoned as a righteous stock. That he fell into grievous backslidings is not to be denied; but we know his aspirations, his sighings and strugglings after conformity with the Law of God.
II. THE IMPLIED CONTRAST WITH OTHER SCIONS WHO WERE NOT RIGHTEOUS. Scions of unrighteousness had already sprung up, had their day, and done their mischief. Their position made their character and doings peculiarly pernicious. With a disposition to act unjustly and unrighteously, they had power to act over a very large area. So we should over contrast Christ with the men of large powers who have widely influenced the world, and yet have influenced it for evil, because their powers have been directed by selfishness and error. There can be no doubt that a son of David means here one who will act as a king; and that reminds us how many kings have been tyrants, looking on those under them as merely so much convenient material, by which they might effect their plans. The exiled people, thinking of their restoration, would have to include the thought of king in the complete ideal; and surely this would bring very distinctly before them the evil some of their kings had wrought in the past.
III. THE COMING SCION IN HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Righteousness is emphasized as his great quality. It is needed in a king above all things that he should be just. He must not be an Ahab stealing Naboth's vineyard. Being in a fiercer light than other men, he must be unusually careful as to the aspect of his actions. Love is not mentioned here as a quality of this Scion, not because it is not needed, but because righteousness is the great quality that, for the comfort of Jeremiah's auditors, needed to be emphasized. Nevertheless, it is well for us to remember that this Scion of David secures righteousness, because he ever acts from a loving heart.—Y.
Jeremiah 33:17, Jeremiah 33:18
King and priest in perpetuity.
The declarations of these verses come by a natural association after the declaration of his advent who is the righteous Scion of David. Kingship and priesthood in perpetuity—that is the general assurance; but what a difference between the assurance looked at from the point of view given by Jeremiah's time and the point of view given by ours! We look back on the achievements of history, and then see how much more a prediction means than anything that could have been supposed possible at the time it was spoken. Observe—
I. THE NEEDFUL PERPETUITY OF THE OFFICES. Kingship and priesthood cannot perish out of God's true Israel There must always be a king; there must always be a priest. These offices, properly discharged and honoured, are as needful to the prosperity of Israel as fruitful lands and pastures well occupied with flocks. All government has to come at last to some personal authority. That the authority of some single person rests on the choice and acceptance of the many does not make that authority less needful, less real. And so with priesthood. The priestly office is needed, however it may change its forms and channels. Mediation between God and man is a necessity, which more and more unfolds its depths as man reflects more on the possibilities of his being. Even priestcraft, with its marked repugnances to intelligence and liberty, has at least this much good about it, that it is a testimony to man's need of mediation.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH THE PERPETUITY IS MANIFESTED. The king is one; the priest is one. Looking back, we are made to see this clearly. "Of his reign there shall be no end," says Gabriel to Mary. Whatever wisdom, power, and beneficence are in Jesus, are in perpetual exercise. Death, which ends the authority of purely human kings, only enlarged and deepened the authority of Jesus. He not only claims perpetuity for his demands, but we have ample reason now to say that the claim is admitted, And as to priesthood, what more need be said than]make a reference to the expositions of the priesthood of Jesus made in the epistle to the Hebrews? It is the priesthood forever according to the order of Melchisedec. What an abidingly helpful thought it should be that we look to a Mediator ever active in sympathy with human wants, ever understanding them, knowing them indeed far better than the subjects of them! All the externalities are gone—sacrifices of beasts, furnishings of the holy place, symbolic garments of the priests, symbolic ordinances of service; but the reality remains and must remain in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The deepest evils of human life, the evils that cause all others, are swept away by the priesthood of Jesus. And so also the greatest goods of human life, those that are seminal and full of energy towards the production of other goods, come through the same priesthood. Compared with the possibilities of the future, the predictions of these verses are, indeed, only at the beginning of their fulfilment.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 33". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25