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Jeremiah 4:1, Jeremiah 4:2
The form and structure of the translation require a change. Render, If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith Jehovah, wilt return unto me; and if thou wilt put away, etc; and not wander; and wilt swear, As Jehovah liveth, with good faith, with justice, and with righteousness; then shall the nations bless themselves by him, and in him shall they glory. The clause, "and not wander," seems too short; the Septuagint had a choicer reading, "and put away, etc; from his [thy] mouth, and not wander from before me." It is the close of the prophecy which we have here. The prophet subjoins a promise which he has heard from Jehovah. True, it does not appeal to Israel's self-love (as Isaiah 48:18, Isaiah 48:19; Psalms 81:13-16), but to a nobler feeling of responsibility for the world's welfare. Israel has been entrusted with a mission, and on the due performance of this mission hangs the weal or woe of humanity. Hence Jehovah's longing for Israel's repentance. If Israel will but "return," and obey God's commandments, all nations will be attracted to the true religion. The form of expression used for the latter statement is borrowed probably from Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4 (it is less closely parallel with Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18). To "bless by" any one is to use his name in the benediction formula. Seeing Israel so blessed through his allegiance to Jehovah, all nations shall wish themselves a similar blessing (the reverse of the process in Jeremiah 29:22; comp. Isaiah 65:16). To "swear, As Jehovah liveth," means to call Jehovah to witness to the truth of a statement. This is to be done "with good faith," etc; i.e. the object of the oath must be consistent with honesty and probity. Abominations; i.e. idols, as often (see 2 Kings 23:24).
There is no occasion to separate Jeremiah 4:3, Jeremiah 4:4, from the preceding prophecy. We have other instances of as sudden a transition from the Israelites (in the narrower sense) to the men of Judah (see Isaiah 8:6-14; Isaiah 10:1-4; Isaiah 28:1-6; in the writer's commentary). For thus, etc. "For" is here not causal, but explanatory: "I say this not only to the men of Israel, but to you, O men of Judah, who need the admonition to repentance, how deeply!" (see Jeremiah 5:2). Break up your fallow ground; the same figure as in Hosea 10:12. To understand it we must read the clause in connection with the following one. Sow not among thorns. The prophet means, though he does not say so, the roots which will spring up into thorns. "Do not plant your good resolutions in a heart filled up with the roots of thorns, but first rake up the soil, and clear it of noxious germs, and then sow the seed which will grow up in a holy life" (comp. Matthew 13:7).
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord. A significant passage. All the Jews were circumcised, but not all were "circumcised to the Lord." There were but too many who were "circumcised in uncircumcision" (Jeremiah 9:25), and the prophet sternly reduces ouch circumcision to the level of the heathenish rite of cutting off the hair (Jeremiah 9:26; comp. Herod. 3.8). Jeremiah seems to have been specially anxious to counteract a merely formal, ritualistic notion of circumcision, sharing in this, as in other points, the influence of the Book of Deuteronomy, so lately found in the temple (comp. Deuteronomy 10:16). To him the venerable rite of circumcision (older, certainly, than Abraham) is a symbol of the devotion of the heart to its rightful Lord (comp. St. Paul in Romans 2:28, Romans 2:29; Colossians 2:11; Philippians 3:3).
A revelation of grievous purport has suddenly reached the prophet. See how the foe draws nearer and nearer, and how alarm drives the scattered population to seek for refuge in the fortified cities. Can such be the issue of the promises of peace with which Jehovah has encouraged his people? Such are the contents of the first paragraph (Jeremiah 4:5-10). Next,-in short, detached figures the prophet sets forth the sin of the people and its punishment. Like a scorching simoom is the former; like swift clouds, and like a whirlwind, is the onward march of the instruments of the latter. Swift, indeed, must repentance be, if it is to outrun punishment. For the northern peoples are already here (Jeremiah 4:11-18). The impression is so strong on the mind of the prophet that he vents himself in language such as the last man might employ on the morrow of the final judgment day (Jeremiah 4:19-26). And now, "lest what precedes might seem only poetry" (Payne Smith), the Divine decree is solemnly announced. The judgment is irrevocable; but there is a gleam of hope: "I will not make a full end." On the question whether the Scythians or the Baby-Ionians are mainly alluded to, see Introduction.)
Cry, gather together; rather, cry aloud.
Set up the standard. The "standard" was a tall pole with a flag, pointing in the direction of Zion, for the guidance of fugitives. Retire, stay not; rather, save your goods by flight; linger not. The former verb occurs again in the same sense in Exodus 9:19; Isaiah 10:31. From the north. The expression suits either the Scythians or the Chaldeans (see on Jeremiah 1:14).
The lion; the symbol of irresistible might and royalty (Genesis 49:7; Revelation 5:5). Of the Gentiles; rather, of the nations. There is no reference to the distinction between Jews and Gentiles; the Jews themselves are not allowed to escape. An ordinary lion attacks individual men; this lion destroys nations. Is on his way; literally, has broken up his encampment—a phrase perhaps suggested by the nomad Scythiaus.
Is not turned back from us. As we in our folly believed (Jeremiah 2:35).
The heart … shall perish; i.e. they shall lose their reason. The same verb in Ethiopic means "to be mad." The "heart" in Old Testament language is the center of the intellectual as well as of the moral life (comp. Hosea 4:11; Job 12:24; Proverbs 15:28). So St. Ephrem the Syrian says ('Works,' in Syriac, 2.316, quoted by Delitzsch), "The reason expatiates in the heart as in a palace."
Ah, Lord God! rather, Alas! O Lord Jehovah (see on Jeremiah 1:6). Thou hast greatly deceived this people, etc. Much difficulty has been felt in interpreting this verse, partly because it seems directly to charge Jehovah with "deceit," and partly because the prophecy, Ye shall have peace, on which this charge is founded, accords exactly with the strain of the "false prophets" (see Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 14:13; Jeremiah 23:17). Hence some (e.g. Ewald) have altered the points of the verb at the beginning of the verse; so as] to enable them to render. "And one shall say," the subject understood being either a "false prophet" or one of the people. This view is not in itself impossible (Keil's objection will not bear examination), but is not absolutely necessary, for the present is not the only passage in which Jeremiah, under the influence of strong emotion, charges Jehovah with "deceit", and the words, "Ye shall have peace, may be meant to summarize the cheering promises in Jeremiah 3:14-18. Jeremiah may (it is not incorrect to conjecture) have supposed the fulfillment of his prophecy to be nearer than it really was; hence his disappointment, and hence his strong language. So St. Jerome, "Quia supra dixerat, In illo tempore vocabunt Jerusalem solium Dei, etc.. et nunc dicit, Peribit cor regis, turbatur propheta et in se Deum putat esse meutitum; nec intelligit, illud multa post tempera repromissum, hoc autem vicino futurum tempore." To suppose, with Keil, that Jeremiah refers the prophecies of the "false prophets" to God as their ultimate Author, seems inconsistent with Jeremiah's own statements in Jeremiah 14:14 (comp. Jeremiah 5:13). Moreover, we have parallels elsewhere in the prophets, as well as in the Book of Job, for the use of language with regard to Providence which a calmer judgment would condemn. A notable instance is Isaiah 63:17, where the Jewish Church, through its mouthpiece the prophet, throws the responsibility of its errors upon Jehovah. Depressed by melancholy, they give way for the moment to those human "thoughts" which are not as "My thoughts." They felt the "burden of the mystery." Unto the soul; i.e. unto the life.
Shall it be said to this people; i.e. words like these may be used with reference to this people. A dry wind, etc.; literally, a clear wind (but the notions of dryness and heat are closely connected with that of heat; comp. Isaiah 18:4). The prophet doubtless means the east wind, which is very violent in Palestine, and, of course, quite unsuitable for the winnowing process. High places should rather be bare hills. Toward; or (is) the way of. So Hitzig, supposing the conduct of the Jews to be likened to a wind which brings no blessing, but only drought and desolation.
Even a full wind from those places. The passage is obscure, but this is a very possible rendering. "Full," equivalent to "violent;" "those (places)," equivalent to the bare hills spoken of in Jeremiah 4:11. Keil and Payne Smith, however, render, "a fuller wind than those," i.e. a more violent wind than those which serve for winnowing the corn; while Hitzig (see on Jeremiah 4:11) supposes "from those" to mean the persons described in Jeremiah 4:11 as "the daughter of my people." Unto me; or perhaps for me, at my beck and call. Now also will I, etc. We must supply the other term of the antithesis from the context: "As they have sinned against me, so will I also now hold a court of justice upon them" (see on Jeremiah 1:16).
He shall come up as clouds, etc. It is needless to name the subject; who can it be but the host of Jehovah's warlike instruments? (For the first figure, comp. Ezekiel 38:16; for the second, Isaiah 5:28; Isaiah 66:15; and for the third, Habakkuk 1:8; Deuteronomy 28:49.) Woe unto us! etc. The cry of lamentation of the Jews (comp. Jeremiah 4:20; Jeremiah 9:18).
Thy vain thoughts. The phrase specially belongs to sins against one's neighbor—such sins as are described in Jeremiah 7:5-9 (Keil). "Vain" should rather be "wicked" (immoral); the root-meaning of the noun is "a breath" (the symbol of material or moral emptiness).
For a voice declareth, etc. There is no time to lose, for already news of the foe has arrived. He is now at Dan, the northern frontier-town, and is heard of almost as soon in the hill-country of Ephraim.
Make ye mention, etc. This verse contains a call to the neighboring nations to take notice of an event which nearly concerns them all. True, it is only the investment of Jerusalem which can as yet be reported, but there can hardly be a doubt of the issue, and the capture of the principal fortress will at once be followed by that of the other fortified "cities of Judah." Against in the second clause should rather be concerning. (For the use of "behold" before an imperative, comp. Psalms 134:1.) Watchers; i.e. besiegers (comp. Jeremiah 4:17), who like the panther lie in wait for every one who comes out of the city, to kill him (Jeremiah 5:6; comp. Jeremiah 6:25).
As keepers of a field. The prophet compares the tents, or perhaps the booths (1 Kings 20:12, 1 Kings 20:16), of the besieging army to the booths of the guardians of the crepe (Isaiah 1:8; Job 27:18).
This is thy wickedness; i.e. the effect of thy wickedness. (For the following words, comp. Jeremiah 2:19; Jeremiah 4:10.) Because; rather, truly.
My bowels. It is doubted whether the speaker in Jeremiah 4:19-21 is the prophet or the whole nation. Jeremiah 4:19 reminds us of Isaiah 15:5; Isaiah 16:11 and Isaiah 21:3, Isaiah 21:4, and would be quite in harmony with the elegiac tone of our prophet elsewhere; the Targum too already regards the passage as an exclamation of the prophet. On the other hand, the phrase "my tents" (verse 20) certainly implies that the people, or the pious section of the people, is the speaker. Both views may perhaps be united. The prophet may be the speaker in verse 19, but simply (as is the case with so many of the psalmists) as the representative of his fellow-believers, whom in verse 20 he brings on the stage more directly. Verse 19 is best rendered as a series of exclamations—
"My bowels! my bowels! I must writhe in pain!
The walls of my heart! My heart moaneth unto me!
I cannot hold my peace!
For thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet,
The alarm of war!"
Observe, the "soul" hears; the "heart" is pained. So generally the one is more active, the other more passive. The Hebrew margin gives, for "I must writhe," "I must wait" (comp. Micah 7:7); but this rendering does not suit the context. The walls of my heart. A poetical way of saying, "My heart beats."
My tents. Jeremiah uses a similar phrase in Jeremiah 30:18 (comp. also 2 Samuel 20:1; 1 Kings 8:66; 1 Kings 12:16; Psalms 132:3; also Isaiah 29:1, "city where David encamped, i.e. dwelt"). The expression is evidently a "survival" of the nomadic, tent-dwelling age. (Comp. the parallel phrase, "my curtains," i.e. my tent-curtains; comp. Jeremiah 10:20; Isaiah 54:2; Song of Solomon 1:5.)
Shall I see the standard. (See on Jeremiah 4:6.)
For my people is foolish. The Lord gives no direct answer to the complaining question in Jeremiah 4:21. He simply states the moral ground for Judah's calamity, and implies that this will last so long as the people continue to be "foolish," i.e. virtual deniers of the true God.
I beheld. The prophet is again the speaker, but in a calmer mood. God's judgment has been pronounced, and it is not for him to rebel. He has now simply to record the vision of woe which has been granted him. He foresees the utter desolation into which not only the land of Judah, but the earth in general, will be brought, and which reminds him of nothing so much as the "waste and wild" condition of the earth previous to the first creative word. But why is "the earth" mentioned in this connection? Because the judgment upon Judah is but one act in the great general judgment which, when completed, will issue in a fresh order of things (comp. Isaiah 3:14, Isaiah 3:15, where side by side are mentioned Jehovah's judgment of "the peoples" and of "his people," and Isaiah 24:1-23; where the judgment upon the enemies of Israel is interwoven with the judgment upon "the earth"). Without form, and void; rather, waste and wild (to represent in some degree the characteristic assonance of the original—tohu va-bohu); more literally, immovable and lifeless. It is the phrase used in Genesis L 2 for primeval chaos. Tohu and bohu occur in parallel lines in Isaiah 34:11, to express utter desolation; tohu alone five times in the Book of Isaiah, and once in Job. They had no light. The heavens were in the same condition as on the third day, subsequently to the creation of the heavens, but prior to that of the luminaries.
Moved lightly; rather, moved to and fro.
The fruitful place; rather, the garden-land (see on Jeremiah 2:7). Not "the Carmel" (Keil, Payne Smith) for the context refers to the whole of the country, not to any single tract. The article before the two appellatives is the generic. At the presence of; rather, by reason of.
The vision breaks off, and the prophet emphasizes its truthfulness by the announcement of the Divine decree. "Desolation, and yet not a full end," is its burden. This is the same doctrine of the" remnant" which formed so important a part of the prophetic message of Isaiah and his contemporaries. However severe the punishment of Judah may be, there will be a "remnant" which shall escape, and become the seed of a holier nation (Amos 9:8; Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 10:20; Isaiah 11:11; Hosea 6:1,Hosea 6:2).
For this; i.e. because of the impending judgment. Be black. "To be black" is equivalent to "to put on mourning" (comp.Jeremiah 8:21; Jeremiah 8:21; Jeremiah 14:2).
The whole city. The reading of which this is a version can hardly be the right one; for "the whole city" can only be Jerusalem, and in Jeremiah 4:6 the people outside are bidden to take refuge in the capital. Hence Ewald, Hitzig, and Payne Smith would slightly amend the word rendered "city," so as to translate "the whole land" (of Judah). Shall flee; literally, fleeth. So afterwards render, "have gone … is forsaken," "dwelleth." It is a vivid dramatic representation of the effects of the invasion. Bowmen. It is singular that Herodotus should say nothing about the use of the bow by the Chaldeans. But the monuments give ample evidence that they were a people of archers. So of course were the Scythians, as Herodotus testifies. The rooks; i.e. the limestone caverns which abound in Palestine, and which were frequently used as strongholds and hiding-places (see Judges 6:2; Judges 15:8; 1Sa 13:6; 1 Samuel 14:11; 1 Samuel 24:3 (especially); 1 Kings 18:13).
And when thou art spoiled, etc. It is Jerusalem who is addressed—Jerusalem, personified as a woman, who decks herself out finely to please her admirers. All these arts are in vain, for a violent repulsion has converted her lovers into her deadly enemies. And when Jerusalem is "spoiled," or taken by storm, what device will there be left to attempt? The "lovers" are the foreign powers to whom the Jews paid court (Jeremiah 2:18, Jeremiah 2:36, 87). Though thou rentest thy face, etc; alluding to the custom of Eastern women, who try to make their eyes seem larger by putting powdered antimony (the Arabic kohl) upon their eyelids. So, for instance, did Jezebel (see 2Ki 11:1-21 :30); and one of Job's daughters received the name Keren-happuch, "box of antimony," i.e. one who sets off the company in which she is, as antimony does the eye. An old author, Dr. Shaw, writes thus: "None of these ladies take themselves to be completely dressed till they have tinged the hair and edges of their eyelids with the powder of lead ore. And as this operation is performed by dipping first into this powder a small wooden bodkin of the thickness of a quill, and then drawing it afterwards through the eyelids over the ball of the eye, we have a lively image of what the prophet (Jeremiah 4:30) may be supposed to mean".
For I have heard a voice, etc. This explains the preceding statement, "They will seek thy life." It is this murderous plot which calls forth the "cry as of a woman in pangs." Bewaileth herself; rather, sigheth deeply. Her hands; literally, her palms. Is wearied because of murderers; rather, fainteth into the hands of (literally, is treaty unto) the murderers.
Fallow ground is land that has fallen out of cultivation, or that has never been cultivated, and this has its counterpart in the broad fields of humanity, in the nations or individual men who are not under the influence of spiritual cultivation.
I. FALLOW GROUND IS COMPARATIVELY FRUITLESS. It may not be utterly fruitless. Even the bramble bears its wholesome fruit, and good thoughts and good deeds spring up in the midst of heathen nations and irreligious people. God's Spirit has not wholly deserted any. But such fruit is poor compared with the fruit of cultivation, and the crop of it is thin. The good which still pertains to a neglected soul is imperfect, and small in the extreme compared with the good which would spring up in that soul under proper spiritual influences. The highest thought, the purest morality, the noblest effort, the largest charity, are only to be found where the spiritual life is cultivated by worship, instruction, and discipline.
II. FALLOW GROUND BEARS WEEDS. If there are no flowers in a neglected garden, the soil will not be unoccupied. Dropped by birds in their flight, borne on the wings of the wind, in some way, myriads of seeds will find entrance into that garden and spring up in luxuriant growth. The neglected garden is not a barren desert; it is a wilderness. The neglected soul will not be merely deficient of good; it will bear a crop of evil. The heart cannot endure a void. If it is not filled with pure thoughts, it will indulge in unholy imaginations; if it has no object of worthy love, its affections will descend and twine about some debased object; if it is not active in doing good, it will be diligent in doing harm. In proportion to the gifts and powers of the soul will be the evil that will come out of it when neglected; the more fertile the soft, the more abundant the crop of weeds.
III. FALLOW GROUND IS SUSCEPTIBLE OF CULTIVATION. It is not rock, but good soil. The most brutalized man is not yet a brute. Conscience slumbers, is not killed. The Divine image in the soul is worn in the traffic of worldliness and fouled in the mire of sin, but it is not effaced. The disobedient son is still a son. Hence there is hope for the most neglected heathen, the worst sinner, the oldest enemy of Christ.
IV. FALLOW GROUND MUST BE BROKEN UP. Throw bushels of wheat among the thorns, and the thorns will only "choke" it (Matthew 13:7). Till the old evil is torn from the heart, the new truth cannot grow and bear fruit there. Men must repent of sin before they can receive the seed of eternal life to profit. John the Baptist must precede Christ. So long as we are cherishing any sin we are preventing the growth of fruitful graces. The mere hearing of the truth is not enough. If the heart is hard, it will not receive it (Isaiah 6:10). If the heart is preoccupied, the truth will be soon forgotten, or as best will be crushed out of all living energy. Hence the heart must not only be cleared of weeds, it must be softened. The plough must break up the fallow ground.
V. IT IS OUR DUTY TO BREAK UP THE FALLOW GROUND. Men must be prepared for receiving the gospel of Christ. We are too eager to sow the seed. Hence the slight returns we have for so much effort and expenditure. People are called to "accept Christ" who do not know Christ, and would have no room in their hearts to receive him if they did know him. Much So-called "gospel preaching" thus meets with ridicule, or indifference, or bewildered surprise. If we were less hasty in seeking brilliant results we should see more true, fruitful returns for our work. Christ was not always and only crying, "Come unto me!" "Follow me!" Less pleasing, and in some eyes less important, words were often seen by him to be necessary. Men need instructing as well as inviting, rebuking as well as exhorting.
VI. THE DUTY OF BREAKING UP THE FALLOW GROUND IS GREAT AND PRESSING. How much fallow ground there is
(1) in the world!—think of India, China, Africa, the godless of Europe;
(2) in the Church!—how many enjoy its privileges! How few maintain its work! and
(3) in our own hearts!—what faculties are wasted! What opportunities for good neglected!
I. GOOD MEN MAY MISJUDGE GOD'S ACTIONS. The words of the text are not spoken with Divine authority; on the contrary, they are given in historical narrative as a record of the personal utterance of the prophet. He does not preface them with the august claim of authority, "Thus saith the Lord;" he distinctly says, "Then said I." Without needing to look for any other rendering of the text, we may consider it as throwing light on the condition of the prophet's mind, rather than as a difficult scriptural declaration of God's character and mode of acting. Thus we may see in it an expression of hasty judgment, misunderstanding, irritable impatience, complaint. If so, it warns us to beware of the prejudiced or impassioned utterances of the best and wisest men (Psalms 116:11), and to be more cautious in forming judgments on difficult aspects of providence and religion, since even prophets err.
II. IT IS DIFFICULT TO JUDGE RIGHTLY OF GOD'S ACTIONS WHILE WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF THEM. We are too near to have the right perspective. The character of an action cannot be judged till its ultimate design is revealed. Many things look wrong because they are parts of a whole the remainder of which is unseen. Pride, passion, self-interest, and prejudice pervert our judgment. We must wait for time to clear up many dark passages in earthly providence (John 13:7). The inconsistency which seemed palpable to Jeremiah is less felt by us.
III. GOD'S ACTIONS ARE SOMETIMES ILLUSORY TO US. There was a measure of truth in the rash cry of the prophet. God never deceives. Yet his utterance may be misunderstood by us. God is said to harden the heart when his action results in this evil condition through the misconduct of men, and not at all through his wish to bring that evil about. So God might almost be said to deceive (though the expression is misleading) when his Word is such that we fall into a misconception in hearing it.
IV. THE ILLUSORY CHARACTER OF SOME OF GOD'S ACTIONS IS DETERMINED BY COMMON LIMITATIONS AND IMPERFECTIONS. Some truths are revealed, while qualifying truths are necessarily hidden because we could not understand them. No mention is made of the time of the fulfillment of a promise; hence we think it will be immediate, and are disappointed when we see delay and find unexpected troubles coming first. One part of God's Word may seem to contradict another when they refer to different conditions, but conditions not yet revealed to us.
V. TRUTH AND HUMAN WELFARE ARE BETTER SERVED BY THESE ILLUSIONS THAN BY REVELATIONS WHICH ADMIT OF NO MISCONSTRUCTION. If the child were never allowed to stumble, he would never learn to walk. We are educated by temporary illusions for higher truths than could be attained by plainer paths. Thus we know more of God and of heaven through the anthropomorphic and materialistic language of much of Scripture, which has resulted in gross misconceptions at times, than we should have learnt from language made bare enough to be unmistakable.
The cleansing of the heart a necessary condition of salvation.
I. SALVATION IS PROMISED ON THE SIMPLEST POSSIBLE CONDITIONS. The very mention of conditions suggests difficulties, delays, barriers. But the only conditions required are in our own power, are simply such as are necessary to make the reception of the salvation of God possible to us, and do not refer to the source of it. We are not to save ourselves, not to purchase nor to merit salvation, but only to be in a right condition to receive it.
II. SALVATION IS ONLY POSSIBLE WHERE THERE IS A CLEANSING FROM WICKEDNESS. The soul that clings to sin cannot also grasp the Savior. If it would be right to deliver men from the painful consequences of wickedness while they remained under the power of it, it must have been wrong ever to have permitted those consequences. If it is not unjust to forgive the impenitent, it is unjust to punish them, which is absurd.
III. THE CLEANSING FROM WICKEDNESS MUST BE IN THE HEART. There all sin has its origin. Clean hands are vain without a pure heart. Reformation must not simply be moral, it must be spiritual—not a change of habits, but a purification of thought, affection, and desire.
IV. THE DUTY OF CLEANSING OUR HEARTS FROM WICKEDNESS RESTS UPON OURSELVES The text is not a promise, but an exhortation. True, no one can purify himself by hit own efforts alone (Jeremiah 2:22). God has provided the fountain for uncleanness, and only they who wash in this are clean. But men must plunge into the purifying flood, must make the effort of repentance, must seek the cleansing which is promised through Christ, must submit to the baptism of the Holy Ghost, must actively apply themselves to the execution of good deeds in the power given by God. Compare the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:16).
V. THERE IS NO REASON TO DELAY THE CLEANSING OF OUR HEARTS. "How long shall thoughts of wickedness lodge within thee?" The longer repentance is postponed, the more difficult does it become; the more numerous are the stains of sin, the nearer is the approach of doom. Since it is for men to seek the cleansing of their souls, any delay must be attributed to their negligence, not to God's unwillingness to help them.
The folly of misdirected wisdom.
I. WICKEDNESS IS FOLLY. The "fool," according to Scripture, is both morally corrupt and intellectually imbecile (e g. Psalms 107:17). There is a truth underlying the saying of Socrates, that "Virtue is knowledge, and vice is ignorance." It is apparent, indeed, that men may have an intellectual conception of the right while they do wrong, as also that good men may fall into error. But, on the other hand:
1. We cannot progress in goodness till we discern the way; we must know God to love him, recognize the good to choose it.
2. Immorality deadens the faculty of spiritual intuition; purity purges the vision of the soul.
3. Wisdom is not mere intelligence, but applied intelligence, practical intelligence. It is not perfected till it is practiced. He who knows the good is not wise until he does it; and he who does right from instinct, habit, or mere inclination is not really performing a moral action. An action is moral when it is performed with an intelligent regard to principle, i.e. when it is under the direction of spiritual wisdom.
II. THE FOLLY OF WICKEDNESS MAY BE ASSOCIATED WITH MISDIRECTED WISDOM. The "fool" in spiritual things may be a worldly wise man and clever in the execution of wickedness. Ironical as is the language of the text, it may often find a literal application. Shrewd business men may be spiritually blind. Men who are wakeful and eager in material concerns become dull and listless when they touch higher interests. This may be explained by two considerations.
1. We develop most wisdom in regard to those things which interest us most. Interest rouses attention, quickens perception, excites inquiry, stimulates intellectual activity; while lack of interest leaves the mind in a slumberous condition, working at half-power. If we feel no interest in goodness, we shall be dull and foolish in regard to it.
2. Spiritual wisdom depends upon a spiritual tone of mind. The greatest intelligence is not capable of detecting subtle harmonies and discords if it is not accompanied by "an ear for music." The cold intellect, which is but a huge calculating-machine, has not the fitting powers of perception for discerning spiritual truth. This requires a spiritual sympathy (1 Corinthians 2:14). Therefore
(1) let the man of conscious intellectual power beware of the danger of assuming to judge spiritual questions before he has acquired the requisite spiritual qualification; and
(2) let us all beware of attaching too much weight to the religious motives of people who may be able business men, clever literary critics, and even profound students of science, and yet in moral regions "blind leaders of the blind."
III. MISDIRECTED WISDOM IS THE HEIGHT OF FOLLY. The very ability, misapplied, witnesses for the foolishness which permitted so gross a mistake. These people who are "wise to do evil' are on the whole "foolish," "sottish," and "have no understanding." The man who is prudent enough to exercise forethought for this life only enhances his folly in having none for the future life (Luke 12:16-21). He who knows much of worldly things is convicted of grossest darkness in not knowing God. The born fool is excused by his misfortune of nature. But how foolish for the man who shows himself capable of wisdom to neglect the highest wisdom! Note, in conclusion,
(1) the common mistake of honoring men for their intellectual ability rather than for their moral character;
(2) the error of those who pride themselves in "knowing the world,'* while they are ignorant of God (Romans 16:19); and
(3) the need to turn from intellectual pride to childlike trust for the source of true wisdom (Matthew 11:25).
Chaos the result of sin.
I. SIN HAS A RETROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT. In his vision of the earth desolated by a Divine judgment on sin, Jeremiah sees a relapse to the primeval condition before the dawn of creation, and in his graphic description uses the very words of the narrative in Genesis. He describes the earth as "waste and wild." Every step in sin is a step downward, backward. It is backsliding. How rapid this is! One generation sees the fall back to the condition from which it had taken ages to build up the order of the world. One day's sin may undo the work of years in a soul's progress. One age of misrule may throw a nation back for centuries.
II. SIN HAS A DISINTEGRATING INFLUENCE. It breaks up the fair order of the world and tends to reduce it to chaos. Religion and morality are the chief securities for order, the strongest bands of social unity. Vice is a social solvent, destroying ties of trust and affection, undermining the foundations of industrial co-operation. It is corruption, and corruption means decomposition. This may be applied
III. SIN HAS A DESOLATING EFFECT. The earth is seen as not only wild; it is "waste," i.e. fruitless, solitary, desolate. The fruitful place becomes a wilderness, and the whole land desolate, the result of the retrogressive and disintegrating influences of sin is not to reduce the world to a state of elementary simplicity. It introduces confusion, turmoil, disaster, death. The loss of goodness involves the admission of evil passions, and the advent of these is followed by the irruption of misery with no prospect of peace but in death and destruction (James 1:15).
The abject helplessness which resorts to false pretensions and its failure.
I. ABJECT HELPLESSNESS. This follows the discovery or punishment of sin. It is when Israel "is spoiled." Israel is boastful and self-confident before the disaster comes; the prophet advises him to consider what he will do after it has fallen on him. What can be done in such a case? The sin cannot be undone; once revealed it cannot be hidden again; punishment from God cannot be successfully resisted by man. It is vain, then, to call on the mountains to fall and cover us (Luke 23:30). How dreadful to be thus confounded! Left without excuse, without refuge, without remedy! How much better to anticipate this conclusion and prevent it!
II. FALSE PRETENSIONS. There are the refuges now resorted to and trusted in for the future, but in vain.
1. Outward glory is a mockery when once internal wretchedness is discovered. What use are purple and fine linen to the leper?
2. When character is revealed, profession counts for nothing.
3. When true worth is destroyed, the most frantic attempts to recover it at the last moment will prove fruitless. The character once lost is hard to retrieve. Consider, then, the common mistake of living for appearances, making the outside of life respectable while the heart is corrupt, and, in the event of discovery, not repenting and amending, but simply excusing one's self, "making the best of the matter, trying still to put on a fair show. This is common at all times. So many people are more anxious to seem good than to be good. All the petty contrivances and miserable deceptions of such lives will be one day disclosed.
III. ULTIMATE FAILURE. "Thy lovers will despise thee, they will seek thy life."
1. Once discovered, the attempt to win favor by false appearances will not only defeat its own object; it will aggravate the evil it is intended to avoid. It aims at securing honor; but when detected it is the butt of ridicule, the deserved occasion of contempt.
2. The friends of sinful days become foes in the time of trouble. The lovers of the daughter of Zion are the first to despise her and seek her life. The ties of friendship in wickedness are brittle. This is based on selfishness. No high constancy can be expected from people of bad character. The only friend who will be a refuge in the shame and ruin which follow sin, is not the partner in guilt, but the very God against whom the sin is committed.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The duty of reality in religious profession.
The reformations of Jehu and Josiah were superficial and short-lived. Something more thorough was required. A real, immediate return to Jehovah was demanded.
I. THE SIGNS OF UNREALITY.
1. Retention of the memories and symbols of the guilty past. They may not be used, but they are there. There has not been strength of will to remove them, or the fear of man has produced vacillation. Externally the heathen temple stands side by side with the house of God, and may claim equal respect with it.
2. An uncertain and wavering attitude. Blowing hot and blowing cold. Compromising with existent evils. Postponing needed reforms.
3. Unrighteousness of life. This is one of the gravest evils. A creed which does not affect conduct must be either untrue or not heartily believed. An enigma of the anti-slavery times was the fact that amongst the pro-slavery advocates were many of the most orthodox clergy, whereas the leaders of the agitation for freedom were secularists, Unitarians, and men of vague or heterodox religious opinions.
II. EVILS ATTENDANT UPON UNREALITY.
1. Confusion is created between the true and the false religions.
2. A constant temptation exists in the relics and practices of evil that are retained.
3. Moral influence upon unbelievers is lost, and unrighteousness encouraged.
4. Spiritual growth is seriously impeded. It is a "sowing among thorns, or upon the exhausted and unfruitful soil of superficial emotion and fancy." As Wild land can be cleansed from weeds only by deep and repeated plowing, so the spiritual nature must be thoroughly moved by penitence and steadfast resolution.
III. GOD'S FEELING TOWARDS UNREAL WORSHIPPERS. He cannot accept their penitence. Their services are an abomination to him. His anger is represented as a smoldering fire ready to break forth in destruction.—M.
Human uncertainty coexisting with Divine illumination.
The prophecy now uttered does not harmonize with that of Jeremiah 3:12-25. The times of fulfillment are unknown to the prophet. This element of uncertainty in all prophecies, even those of Christ ("for of the times and the seasons knoweth no man," etc.) is noteworthy. This outburst of annoyance and misconception illustrates—
I. THE TEMPTATION LATENT IN SUPERIOR DIVINE KNOWLEDGE. The moral balance and perspective are threatened with disturbance. Hence the impulse to expostulate with God—to speak as if from a superior standpoint of morality. Seeming contradictions are encountered which would have no existence to a simpler or less illuminated spirit. It is as if the moral nature of man were only practically sufficient for what is revealed to him by the ordinary faculties and means of knowledge.
II. THE SORROW ACCOMPANYING EXCEPTIONAL GIFTS. The prophet, no more than the poet or man of genius, is to be envied. How hard to be the custodian of a truth men will not receive! To be conscious of evils impending which one cannot avert! The intentional sensitiveness of the prophetic temperament, and the keener vision of the seer, are the occasions of an incommunicable sadness, and even, at times, of overwhelming concern. Especially is this the case where patriotic feeling identifies the prophet on the one side with his people, and devout spirituality leads him nevertheless to acknowledge the righteousness of God. There was no more human or loving heart in Israel than Jeremiah's, and if they would not heed his counsels, he was helpless. To be "before the age" in such a sense is not so enviable as we might imagine.
III. THE RESERVE THAT MARKS THE COMMUNICATION OF TRUTH. Partly necessitated by limitation of human nature; partly due to the subordination of the prophet, teacher, etc; to the special task before him. We should lose more than we should gain if, constituted as we are, we were to receive unlimited revelations of the future. The practical and immediate import of Divine revelation is therefore our first concern. Today is a little space cleared for duty. Opportunities of well-doing occur in constant succession. "What is that to thee?" might well be asked of many a one that concerns himself with things beyond his ken: "follow thou me."—M.
The wisdom of this world.
That there is such a thing we may well believe, for Christ himself noticed and commended it: "The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light." Within a certain range it is often seen to the disadvantage of the "wisdom that is from above."
I. IT IS GREAT IN QUESTIONS OF MEANS, METHODS, AND POLICY. Attention is directed to these continually. A certain pride is exhibited in skill and power of manipulation. There is something very attractive to a certain order of mind in the opportunities the world affords for maneuver, dexterity, intrigue. The world prizes and encourages cleverness in practical, external matters. It can even appreciate the business qualities and the reliable character of Christians, when their inspiring principle is utterly ignored or intensely disliked. How much has the Church of today to learn of the world in merely practical concerns, knowledge of human nature, and adaptation of herself to her surroundings!
II. IT IS MARKED BY:
1. Dislike to what is worthy and good. Disillusion from worldly dreams may coexist with this. But men without lofty ideals cannot be happy or satisfied.
2. Heedlessness as to the impending judgments of God and the eternal future.
3. Consciousness of worthlessness and uselessness of its own efforts.—M.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
Such an analogy as this reminds us that the materials of the highest wisdom are always lying close within our reach, sometimes in very unlikely places. The world without is a mirror in which we see our own moral life and the laws that govern it reflected. Air, earth, and sea are full of teachers whom God has sent to rebuke in us all that is false and evil, and lead us into all that is true and good. The prophet, in the text, does but give an articulate voice to the silent eloquence of one of these. Apply personally some of the lessons taught.
I. THE LIFE OF EVERY MAN IS A PROCESS OF SPIRITUAL HUSBANDRY. There is a true analogy between the soul of a man and the field in which a farmer sows his seed. In each case there are latent productive elements that may be turned either to good or evil according to the conditions of their development—capacities of indefinite improvement or of indefinite deterioration, of boundless fruitfulness or of boundless waste. The prolific virtue of the soil will nourish alike the germs of precious corn or of noisome weeds; and, whichever it be, the heavens above, by all the influences they shed down upon it, will promote the process. Thus will the faculties of our spiritual nature foster either the seeds of Divine excellence or of satanic corruption, and then all the laws to which our nature is subject, and all the associations of our life, will help to elaborate the issue, until we reap either a glad harvest of fruits that will endure forever, or one of shame and sorrow—thorns and weeds and briars fit only for the flames. "He that soweth to his flesh," etc. (Galatians 6:8). Hence the solemn necessity for some Divine power so to control and govern the secret dispositions and tendencies of our nature as that in our case the law shall be fulfilled in the nobler and better way. "Make the tree good," etc. (Matthew 12:33).
II. In this husbandry of the soul, NEGLECT LEADS TO LOSS AND WASTE AND RUIN. "Fallow ground" is land untilled, uncultivated, which no plough turns up and into which no seed is cast. It may be purposely left to rest, that it may not exhaust itself, and that its internal resources may be all the richer afterwards. But the point of the analogy is this—that it naturally becomes encumbered with "thorns." In the spiritual husbandry, while fruitfulness is the result only of diligent labor, ruin follows from simple neglect. The land of the slothful husbandman will soon present the picture of weedy, thorny desolation. To be ruined, to sink into a state of utter poverty and barrenness and destitution of all satisfying good, the souls of men only need to be left alone. "While men sleep the enemy sows tares." "What shall it profit a man," etc.? (Mark 8:36). Our Lord speaks of the soul as being "lost" simply through being forgotten in the eager pursuit of a kind of good which can never of itself enrich and satisfy it. This implies that its native propensities are for the most part of a downward tendency. It bears within it the seeds of moral decay. The "fallow ground" spontaneously produces "thorns."
III. IT IS VAIN TO SOW SEEDS OF TRUTH AND GOODNESS IN HEARTS PREOCCUPIED WITH OTHER AND INCONGRUOUS THINGS. How many there are whose religious career may well be described as a "sowing among thorns!" They have religious susceptibilities; they are familiar with religious influences; but their secret hearts are the home of mean ambitions, tainted with the "lust of the eye and the pride of life," or they are entangled with a network of worldly associations or bound by the chains of some bad habit, from which they have not the courage or the strength to set themselves free. And so their spiritual condition is a strange medley of good and evil. Every better affection and impulse within them has some form of moral weakness by its side that nullifies it. Strong as their heavenward aspirations may sometimes be, there is nothing like whole-heartedness in their pursuit of the nobler good. No wonder they are "barren and unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ." The ground must be cleared before a better result can be expected. How many a sower, going forth in the name of the Great Husbandman, is oppressed in spirit with the thought that much of the seed that he scatters falls "among thorns!" He has to contend with a thousand obstructive forces in men's hearts, and knows well that, unless some mightier force goes with his message to overbear all these, they will "choke the Word." Let the young especially watch and pray against the encroachment upon them of influences fatal to their higher life. It is a comparatively easy thing to overmaster the sins and follies of youth. Far otherwise when they have become the confirmed and cherished habits of the man. "Break up your fallow ground l" It is hard to do this. It involves much self-crucifixion. We all like to live at ease—to yield to the strongest influences of the passing hour, as the sluggard does, who allows himself to be overcome by the spell of sleep, and to dream away the hours and moments that ought to be spent in the wakeful activities of life. But this is not the way to reach the heights of heavenly glory and blessedness. It is the certain road to poverty and ruin, to despair and death. Not on grounds of self-interest alone is the appeal of the text to be urged. Consider what a loss to the world is involved in every barren, undeveloped human soul and life. It is a great calamity to a country to have large tracts of its territory lying waste and desolate, while many of its people, perhaps, are perishing for lack of bread, or compelled to flee to other lands to find a field and reward for their labor. How sad that, in a world of such overwhelming spiritual need and destitution as this, the powers of any human soul, that might exercise a redeeming influence upon it, should be left idle or allowed to run to waste!—W.
I. THE LIFE OF EVERY MAN IS GOVERENED BY HIS THOUGHTS. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). True as it is that the essential moral quality of the man will always determine the order of his thinking, the converse also is equally true. Thought is the formative principle of all personal life—kindles feeling, touches the springs of purpose, guides the course of moral action. What are character and conduct but the definite expression of secret thought?
"That subtle husbandman,
That sows its little seed of good or ill
In the moist, unsunned surface of the heart.
And what it there in secrecy cloth plant,
Stands with its ripe fruit at the judgment day."
II. EVERY MAN IS RESPONSIBLE FOB THE TENOR OF HIS THOUGHTS. If not, there could be no room in this matter for remonstrance or appeal. The law of the association of ideas may be such that it is as impossible to prevent some particular thought from recurring to the mind as to stay the tide of the ocean; but it is certainly possible for us to regulate our habitual mental conditions. It is given to us by watchful, prayerful self-discipline, especially by occupying the mind with higher and nobler things, to secure that the main drift of our thinking shall be in the right direction. We can choose our own fields of daily contemplation. Those thoughts will "lodge" in us which we most encourage and cherish, and for this we are accountable.
III. THE CHERISHING OF VAIN THOUGHTS IS NECESSARILY DEGRADING IN ITS EFFECT. "Vain thoughts" are iniquitous thoughts, sinful thoughts. "The thought of foolishness is sin" (Proverbs 24:9). It is impossible to measure the corrupting power of such thoughts.' No evil imagination or purpose can enter the mind, and be allowed for a moment to dwell there, without leaving some moral stain behind it. Accustom yourself to any extent to the play of such influences, your whole being becomes contaminated by them, and—
"The baseness of their nature
Shall have power to drag you down."
Our minds cannot be in frequent contact with mean or groveling objects of contemplation without finding that they poison all the streams of moral life within us. "To be carnally minded is death" (Romans 8:6).
IV. THE ONLY CURE FOR THIS EVIL TENDENCY IS THE DIVINE RENEWAL OF OUR SPIRITUAL NATURE. "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts" (Matthew 15:19). Let that be sanctified, and their power over us shall cease. Superficial expedients, mere external restraints and corrections, are of little use. We need something that shall go to the root of the disease. The fountain of life within must be cleansed if the streams that flow from it are to be pure. The temple at Jerusalem was externally beautiful, its roof so bright with burnished gold that nothing less pure than the glorious sunbeams could rest upon it; but that did not prevent it from being internally the haunt of many a form of hollow hypocrisy, and the scene of a base, worldly traffic—"a den of thieves." Let the Spirit of God make our souls his temple, and that holy Presence shall effectually scatter all vain and corrupt imaginations. They cannot" lodge" where the heavenly glory dwells. Every thought of our hearts shall then be "brought into captivity to Christ."—W.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Jeremiah 4:3, Jeremiah 4:4
The peril of profession without possession of real religion.
This will be shown if we consider—
I. THE SCENE HERE PRESENTED TO US.
1. The fallow ground; that is, ground unoccupied, free. Not hardened, as the wayside (cf. Matthew 13:1-58.); not shallow-soiled, as the stony ground; not poor and barren, but capable of yielding rich return.
2. Sowers about to cast in seed—good seed.
3. A stern prohibition of their work. They are commanded to "sow not." A reason is given—the fallow ground that looks so fair is full of thorns. They are bidden "break up," i.e. purge, cleanse, this ground. And all this on penalty of God's sore displeasure (Jeremiah 4:4, etc.).
II. ITS SIGNIFICANCE.
1. For those to whom Jeremiah wrote.
(1) They were as the fallow ground, at this time free from open visible idolatry which had been their disgrace and ruin. All that King Josiah had put a stop to. So now they were free to begin afresh, to take a new departure, to turn over a new leaf, as fallow ground is ready for a new sowing (cf. the history of the times).
(2) And they were about to sow the seed; i.e. they were about to adopt the outward forms of the divinely appointed Jewish worship. Externally they would conform to the ancient faith, and in large measure they did so.
(3) But now there comes the strange, stern prohibition of the text, and in so much that follows. They are bidden to refrain from this external religion, these outward rites. And the reason is given—their hearts were yet unchanged, full of the seeds of all their former wickedness, and until these "thorns" were purged out no good, but only evil, could come of any mere external conformity. It had no value in the eyes of God, it only aroused his sore wrath. But let them "break up the fallow ground" (cf. verses 4, 14). Let there be a true inward repentance before they approach God with the visible signs and forms of his worship. Let them not think that by any such mere formal service they could turn aside the anger of God. Such the significance of this scene in regard to Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah. But note:
2. Its significance for ourselves.
(1) There are many whose character corresponds to the "fallow ground." Free from gross external fault, morally fair, decent, and reputable. Not thoughtless and trifling, as the wayside hearers (cf. Matthew 13:1-58.). Not obstinately self-willed, as the stony-ground hearers, who are represented by the emblem of a superficial soil having stretched beneath it a hard, pavement-like rock, through which the rootlets of the sown seed cannot thrust themselves to reach the nourishment of the soil beneath. Nor are they incapable of yielding good service to God; on the contrary, they have, like the fallow ground, all capacities for yielding a rich return.
(2) And such persons often sow the seed of religious profession and observance, and assume the varied external signs of true religion. It is not necessary to inquire their motives, but they do this. And when we see them we are all well pleased. We hope very much from them, as no doubt Josiah hoped much from the external religiousness of the people with whom he had to do. But God sees not as man seeth. His eye penetrates beneath the surface. And the fallow ground may be full of thorns; that is, the heart of him who makes all this external profession—comes to the Lord's table, teaches in a Sunday school, leads in prayer, perhaps enters the ministry of the Church,—his heart may all the while be uurenewed, impure, filled with the seeds of thorns, which wait only their opportunity to bear their baneful harvest.
(3) Hence God forbids such sowing amongst thorns. How stern his denunciations, how awful his threatenings, to those who are guilty of this sin! Do any inquire, Wherefore this severity? The reply is
(a) Hypocrisy is hateful to him. See our Savior's denunciations of hypocrisy (cf. Matthew 23:1-39.). He who was gentle and full of grace to all others, had no words too scathing for this sin. No doubt his stern words were designed also to open the eyes of the people who were deceived by the false professions of those to whom our Lord spoke so severely. And we can hardly doubt, either, that there was a gracious purpose in regard to the men themselves, to awaken and alarm them, if by any means it might be possible. But still, he who to us is the Manifestation of God, makes evident how hateful in his sight is all religious profession that rests on no reality within.
(b) A further reason for the severity which is so marked here is the extreme peril of such sowing amongst thorns to the sowers themselves. Few things are more deceiving to a man's soul than to be professing religion, and to be accounted by others as truly religious, when he is not so. It is bad to be an unregenerate man; it is worse to be such and not to know it; but the worst condition of all is to be such, and to be believing all the while that you are the reverse, and. that for you salvation is sure. But this dread self-deception is fearfully fostered by this sin, which God here so severely condemns.
(c) And yet another reason for this Divine condemnation is that by this sin the Name of God is blasphemed. The world is keen-eyed, and soon detects the mere outside religion of those whom this word contemplates. And because of the base coin the genuine is suspected, and the way of godliness despised. Therefore note—
III. THE SOLEMN SUGGESTIONS OF THIS SUBJECT TO OURSELVES.
1. To those who have been guilty of this sin. You have been, you are now, it may be, making loud religious profession, and yet your heart is not right in the sight of God. We do say, "Throw up your profession, abandon all religious ways;" but we do say, "Have done with insincerity." Resolve that the fallow ground shall be broken up, the heart truly yielded to God. Implore him to give you the reality, that your profession may be a lie no more.
2. Let all remember that this purging of our hearts, this cleansing of our souls, needs to be continually done. The thorn seeds float continually over the fallow ground, and, if it be not continually cleansed, they will take root, and the good seed will be choked.
3. The Divine condemnation of sowing amongst thorns is not designed to deter our sowing where the grace of God has cleansed us from such thorns. Many read these terrible threatenings, and fear to take upon them a religious profession, lest they should be found unworthy and untrue. But if God has given you to repent of sin, to long after holiness, to look daily to your Lord for grace and help, then he has washed your heart from wickedness (verse 14), and you may, you ought, openly to avow his name, observe his appointed ordinances, and engage in any way his providence may invite you in his direct and recognized service.
4. And let not those who neither possess nor profess religion deem themselves better off because those who profess without possessing are so severely dealt with. Let them remember that if the righteous—and to the outward eye these are righteous—scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?—C.
The proclamation of woe.
Such is the character of this entire section, and we observe upon this proclamation—
I. THAT, LIKE ALL SUCH, IT IS PROMPTED BY DIVINE LOVE. The most fearful judgments contained in the whole Bible are those denounced by our Lord Jesus Christ. The most awful words ever spoken are those which proceeded out of the mouth of him at whose graciousness all-men wondered. It is evident, therefore, that they were the utterances, as is this one here, of Divine love. They are beacon-lights set up as a warning, that men may not suffer their vessels to run on those rocks against which they warn, and of whose peril they are the evidence and sign. There was time for those to whom Jeremiah spoke to turn unto the Lord and find salvation, though indeed it was the eleventh hour. And that they might be driven to this, morally compelled to come in to the mercy of God, is the object of these terrible threatenings, these blasts of the alarm-trumpet of God's love. And in keeping with this intent, this proclamation—
II. SETS FORTH IN A VIVID, STRIKING FORM THE JUDGMENTS THAT IT DENOUNCES.
1. Under the emblem of a lion bursting forth from its thicket upon its defenseless prey (verses 7, 8).
2. Under that of a terrible tempest (verses 11-13).
3. Under that of a cordon of "watchers," who guard every corner and the entire circumference of a field in which the game they are hunting for has taken refuge. So should Judah and Jerusalem Be beleaguered and hemmed in until captured and destroyed (verses 16, 17). They who would lead men away from sin to God must not shun to set forth in the most impressive way possible to them the dread evil of that which they would have them forsake. Hence the lurid pictures of the unquenchable flame and the undying worm which our Savior presents to us, and hence these vivid representations of the prophet Jeremiah.
III. IS INTERMINGLED, AS IT HAS BEEN PRECEDED, WITH EXHORTATIONS TO THAT REPENTANCE BY WHICH THE THREATENED JUDGMENTS WOULD BE TURNED ASIDE: (Verses 8, 14.) So in declaring the judgments of God against sin, we should never let it be forgotten how God hath said, "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but rather," etc. This section is a model of the method in which the more awful portions of our message to men should be declared. Hence note how it—
IV. IS A BURDEN OF THE LORD ON THOSE WHO ARE CHARGED WITH IT. (Verses 19-31.) Jeremiah could not refrain from delivering his message, and could not but know that to many it would be delivered in vain; but it was with grief and pain of heart he foretold what he knew must come. See our Savior's tears over Jerusalem. Listen to St. Paul, "Of whom I tell you even weeping." Would that we all knew how to combine this faithfulness and this yearning tenderness in the delivery of this message! Then would men be aroused, as too often they are not now, to "flee from the wrath to come."
V. IS CERTAIN TO BE FULFILLED IF THE SIN WHICH IS THE CAUSE OF IT RE NOT FORSAKEN. Few things are more solemnizing to the careless soul than to have plainly brought before him the sure fact that God has never gone from his word, awful though that word might have been. He did not here. All that Jeremiah foretold came to pass. The anguish of his heart was not caused, any more than were the Redeemer's tears, by a merely fancied calamity. We are not able to tell what will be all the characteristics and elements of the Divine retribution on sin, but of its reality none who read the book of God's written records, or the book of his providence as seen in historic facts, can for one moment doubt. Oh for a far deeper conviction of these soul-subduing truths on the part of all who preach and all who hear God's holy Word!—C.
"Ah, Lord God! surely thou," etc.
Inflicted infatuation, or the deceived of God.
I. THERE ARE SUCH. How else can they be described who, in spite of the plainest declarations of God against their wickedness, persist therein, persuading themselves that they have no cause to fear? Such was the way of these to whom Jeremiah spoke. They and their false prophets were continually saying, "We shall have peace" (cf. Jeremiah 5:12, Jeremiah 5:31). And there have been other instances (cf. Pharaoh, hardening his heart against God). And there are many now. The Bible speaks, providence speaks, conscience speaks, Christ's ministers speak, the Holy Spirit speaks pleading with them; but they heed not, they turn a deaf ear to every voice. What can this be called but infatuation? And it can only be explained as Jeremiah here explains it, as a Divine judgment. "Ah, Lord God! surely thou hast deceived them." The evidence that their course was one that must bring punishment was so glaring, so strong, so irresistible, that none but the infatuated could possibly disregard it. Now, it is the testimony the Word of God that such blindness is judicial, is from God. God hardened Pharaoh's heart. Our Lord refers more often than to any other Old Testament Scripture, to that word of Isaiah's which tells of the Divine will, that "seeing, they [his enemies] may see and not perceive, and hearing, they may hear and not understand." Men who will not hear come at length to find they cannot. So with Judah and Jerusalem; they were at this time "given up to a strong delusion, that they should believe the lie"—that peace could be their lot in spite of what they were. We speak of gospel-hardened men, and, alas! we too often see such. And this is in keeping with God's law of habit—a law most beneficent to those who obey him, but terrible in its effects on the disobedient. For separate actions crystallize into habits, whereby such actions, no matter what their character, become easy to us, and at last can be performed without any effort of our will. So that separate acts of obedience to God will at length become a blessed and holy habit of obedience, and separate acts of sin repeated again and again will become a direful habit of sin, from which we cannot break away. And because all this is in accordance with a Divine law, therefore God is said to harden men's hearts, to hinder their understanding of his Word, to give them over to strong delusions and, as here, to "deceive the people."
II. THE CAUSE IS CLEAR. Verse 18, "Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee." It is from no decree of reprobation, from no predestination to sin, but from the inevitable action of the law of God which ordains that "ways" and "doings" such as Judah's were shall at length so utterly deceive those who are guilty of them that the most glaring falsehood is not too glaring for them to believe.
III. ITS DOOM IS JUST. Is it unjust that a man shall be filled with the fruit of his own ways? that what a man soweth that he shall also reap? Holiness must become impossible if its opposite be not possible too. The same law necessitates both. It is no arbitrary infliction, but the natural outcome of what a man has been and of what he has persistently done. It is as natural as that the harvest should follow the sowing of its own seed. The most dreadful element in the sinner's doom—the worm that dieth not—will be the ever-present reflection that he has brought it all upon himself. He himself made the bed on which he has to lie. And if still the doom of these wicked men be objected to, as it is, we reply, remembering how it is ever the necessity of any moral condition to be seeking to assimilate its surroundings to itself, so that goodness seeks to make others good, and evil seeks to make others evil—remembering this we say, with the late Dr. Arnold, "It is better that the wicked should be destroyed a hundred times over than that they should tempt those who are yet innocent to join their company." And this is what they would be sure, from the very necessity which arises from what they are, to be ever seeking to accomplish. Therefore we say their doom is just.
IV. THE AWAKENING AWFUL. (Verse 9.) See the picture of dismay and despair which the prophet draws (cf. Revelation 6:17). Self-deception, however hardened into habit by long years' use, cannot endure forever. There will be an awakening.
V. THE LESSON PLAIN. Break away at once from sin lest it coil round thee like a serpent, lest repeated transgression become links, and the links a chain which will bind thee so fast that thou canst not escape. Therefore break away now, turn to the Lord Jesus, invoke his aid, day by day look to him, and thou art saved.—C.
"O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved."
The loving charge of the Great Searcher of hearts.
The text shows us—
I. GOD INTENSELY DESIRING MAN'S SALVATION. This is evident from the pleading tone of the text. It is like the pathetic cry of the Savior over the same Jerusalem, when her people rejected him. And this Divine distress over the sinner's rejection of salvation, or in any wise missing of it, is attested not by any one Scripture alone, but by many, and by a multitude of other witnesses beside. How many Divine utterances there are which breathe the like loving concern to that well-known one which says, "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezekiel 33:11)! And the Divine words of love are confirmed by the supreme deed of love. "God so loved the world." Surely the remembrance of this Divine yearning for our eternal salvation should touch and subdue our hearts. If we knew of one who, when we were prostrate with disease, out of love came despising all risk of contagion, and watched over us night and day, on the alert turn and stage of the dread foe that was threatening our life, who in every way showed himself heedless of his own comfort or safety, so only as he might win us back to health; how in after years should we regard such a one? Would not even the most selfish cherish a warm regard, a grateful recollection? And most men would take care to let it be known what was their estimate of such self-sacrificing love. "But," saith God, "Israel doth not know; my people doth not consider."
II. GOD DECLARING THAT MAN MUST DO HIS PART IF THAT SALVATION IS TO BE WON. If the whole matter rested with God, such language as our text, in which man is charged, importuned to bestir himself, would have no meaning, would he what we will not even suggest. And our text but embodies the same truth as to the need of man's cooperation with God which lies upon the surface of every "Come unto me" uttered by our Lord or by his apostles and ministers in his Name. Our salvation is not a case in which God but speaks and all is done, and commands and all stands fast. The work of grace is not accomplished as one tree is made an oak, the other an elm. We look with delight and wonder at the manifold triumphs of mind over matter which the varied discoveries of science have in this century achieved. But the salvation of a soul has the higher glory of the triumph of mind over mind—that in strict harmony with the laws and liberties of mind, and in spite of inherent and inveterate opposition, the love of God shall conquer and subdue, and the "unruly wills of sinful men" shall cheerfully own and yield to the Divine sway. But in such a salvation man must do his part; he is not left out in the scheme, and here, as in so many other Scriptures, he is called upon to be a worker together with God that he "may be saved." How this truth shatters the delusion and the fatal self-deception of those who comfort themselves in their disregard of God by a wresting of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit's work, as if it were one which absolved them from all endeavor, instead of prompting them thereto and aiding them therein. And some Christian workers need also to be reminded of this same truth; for they are tempted at times to excuse and account for their want of success on the ground of the sovereignty of the Divine working—the Spirit, like the wind, blowing where it listeth—rather than on the ground of their own laggard following of the Divine leading and their failure to co-operate with God. Man must do his part—this is the law writ large over all God's Word and works and ways.
III. GOD SHOWING TO MAN WHAT HIS PART IS. "Wash thine heart," etc. Then:
1. Wickedness is a defiling thing. It is to the soul what the mud and mire of the street, what all material foulness, are to the body. Sometimes this is made manifest' even now. On a man's face may be read the moral defilement of his soul. But generally men are too cautious for that, and in this world men take care not to let the inward defilement appear. We are formed to love what is fair-looking and pure and wholesome, and we turn away from its opposite. And wicked men know this, and are careful to maintain appearances. But if hereafter, as now, God "gives to every seed its own body," he shall then, as is plainly taught, give to every soul its own body—a body that will take its nature, shape, and form from the moral characteristics of the soul. Oh, what transformations there may be then! The character of the soul determining what the body shall be. Some then, who here have had no form nor comeliness, shall be seen then as the angels of God; and others who here have lacked no natural beauty, shall be shunned as were those who in our Lord's days on earth were possessed with an unclean spirit. Oh for the purged vision, that we might see our souls as God always sees them! Then surely we, seeing how wickedness ever pollutes and defiles, should turn from it with loathing, as now we too seldom do.
2. And the defilement is such as cleats to the soul. "Wash thine heart," etc. The abode from which the evil spirit went forth for a while, but then in his lordly manner declared he would return to it, as he did—that abode was only "swept," not washed; that defilement which lay loose and light about the house could be thus got rid of, but that which cleaved to it continued there still. He who would be saved must deal thoroughly with his soul. No light, easy, partial amendment will do. This God teaches us by this earnest word, "Wash thine heart," etc.
3. And this cleansing must be of the heart. The whole chapter is a protest against the mere external purifying which the sinful people were seeking to palm off upon God instead of the tree inward cleansing which he demanded, and with which alone he would or ever will be content.
4. And this must do. Had we been told that the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ can alone do or had we been bidden pray like David, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." "Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin;"—such declarations and counsels we could readily have understood, but for us to be told to do ourselves what so many Scriptures repeatedly declare God alone can do—how is this? Well, let the story of the blind man whom our Lord bade go and wash in the pool of Siloam, and who because he obeyed won back his sight,—let his story answer the question. It was the grace of the Lord Jesus restored him, but yet this much that he could do he had to do. But never, never on the ground of that washing in Siloam would the restored man claim for himself the credit of his own restoration, and so, although we be bidden wash our hearts from wickedness, yet who does not know that there lies behind these words the promise of the cleansing fountain, in which alone we can wash and be clean? And every one who seeks to obey this word will soon find his own utter powerlessness to rid himself of the clinging, cleaving wickedness of his heart, and the necessity he is under to answer back to this word of the Lord's, "Lead me, then, Lord, to that cleansing stream, where only it is of any avail that I seek to wash my heart from wickedness."
IV. GOD ENCOURAGING MAN TO DO HIS PART BY THE PROMISE OF SALVATION. "Wash thine heart … that thou mayest be saved." The promise is contained in the command. We can appeal to experience to verify this implied promise. In the hour when sin would assert its mastery, let the soul turn in instant trust and prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ, and he shall find that he is saved. Sin will slink away, like Satan did at the word of the Lord, and in such experience of Christ's saving power we have the pledge and earnest of the full salvation which shall be ours when he who has begum the work in us has perfected it according to his word.—C.
"How long shall," etc.?
I. THEY ARE THE PROLIFIC SOURCE AND CAUSE OF ALL WICKEDNESS. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." St. Paul, desiring all things lovely and of good report, all that has praise and virtue, to abound in the disciples of Christ, bids them "think on these things" (Philippians 4:1-23.). Therefore vain thoughts must lead to and produce wickedness. "They are the spawn of the evil heart, from which all other wickedness is produced." They are not to be here understood as merely trifling, foolish, empty thoughts, but thoughts that are evil, impious, sinful, wicked. They are the thoughts which bring forth sin, which in its turn brings forth death. "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it," etc.
II. THEY RENDER SALVATION IMPOSSIBLE. The cleansing of the heart from them, their dislodgement therefore, is set forth as indispensable to Jerusalem being saved—a condition that must be fulfilled. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." The converse of this is true also and equally, "Without holiness," that is, without this pureness of heart, "no man shall see the Lord." How manifestly true this is! What would a man whose heart is full of these thoughts do in the "Father's house?" It would be hell to him. He would be anywhere rather 'than there.
III. THEY ARE VOLUNTARILY ENTERTAINED. They have come to the door and have sought and obtained entrance. They have been bidden "come in," and the heart has consented to "lodge" them. The protest that the prophet utters against them, were they not voluntarily admitted and retained, would be unmeaning. There would be occasion for profound pity, but none for blame. But conscience owns the truth that the prophet's word implies.
IV. THEY CAN BE GOTTEN RID OF. Men are called upon to "wash their hearts" from them and to expel them. It is, therefore, plainly within men's power to do this. The words of these exhortations suggest the method.
1. Turn to Christ, in trust and prayer, especially to him as your crucified Lord. Behold the fountain of his blood. Such turning to Christ for pardon and for purity will "wash thine heart from wickedness."
2. By a vigorous act of the will, like as when our Messed Lord found the evil one lodging wrong thoughts in his mind, he gave him no place, but sternly bade him and his be gone. And this was ever his way. It must be ours.
3. But leave not the heart empty. Bring in at once other thoughts, holy, Christ-like, that demand prompt, vigorous and continuous work for Christ; so shall vain thoughts quit their hold and home in thy heart, and lodge there no more.
V. THEY ARE GRIEVOUS IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. Note the pathos and pleading of the appeal, "O Jerusalem … How long?" Men take cognizance only of words and deeds and are content if these be in keeping with the laws society has laid down. But God notes the thoughts of the heart, and grieves when they are "vain." What fervor this fact should lend to our prayers for purity of heart, that its thoughts may be cleansed by the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit!
VI. THEY ARE RUINOUS IN THEIR EFFECTS. (Cf. Jeremiah 4:15-17.) They lead to sin and that to death. Are we conscious that such thoughts have lodged or are lodging within us? Listen to the Divine appeal, and implore his grace that you may respond thereto as he would desire.—C.
"Yet will I not make a full end"
God's reserve of mercy.
This Divine resolve regarding the reserved remnant of the people of Judah and Jerusalem, who should be excepted from the desolation that was coming, is declared several times. Here in the text, then again in Jeremiah 5:10; Jeremiah 30:11, and once again in Jeremiah 46:28. And these are but the echo of what God said to Israel long ages before in the desert of Sinai, as we read in Leviticus 26:44. And in other parts of Jeremiah's prophecies, and in the writings of all the prophets, this Divine resolve to mercifully reserve from destruction a portion of Israel is more or less plainly declared. Thus, then, God does not conceal that the end he makes will not be a full end. And there were many reasons why this fact should be declared.
1. It would show that God was mindful of his covenant with their fathers; that their "unfaithfulness could not make the faithfulness of God of none effect." The scoff of the unbeliever, the dismay of the true-hearted, would be alike prevented, for, by God's not making a full end, the way was yet plain for the accomplishment of all that he had spoken.
2. Moreover, such declaration would sustain the faith of the faithful. They would see how they were not forgotten, that God's watchful care was over them, and that amid the coming desolations he would find means to deliver those who put their trust in him.
3. And the keeping open of this door of hope was calculated to persuade some to enter through that door and so be saved. This is why, even when a man has sinned away well-nigh all his life, when he has made an end of nearly every opportunity of return to God, we go and stand by his bedside, dying sinner as he is, and tell him that "a full end" is not yet made; even now Christ waits to be gracious, and will in no wise cast out. We toll of this hope in the trust that now, even at the last, the guilty one may turn to Christ and live. But we know that an "end" was indeed made to the national life of Israel. The terrific judgments which came upon them, and which the prophet in this chapter so vividly describes and so bitterly bewails, did make an end to all their national glory. Their land became desolate, their cities were destroyed, the holy and beautiful house of God was burnt with fire, their kings were slain, the throne overturned, the whole people carried into captivity; their cup of national sorrow was full to overflowing. But God did not suffer the agents of his righteous judgment to make a full end. Accordingly, in the days of Cyrus and his successors there came a restoration, although partial, poor, and incomplete, and under Ezra and Nehemiah Jerusalem and the house of the Lord were raised from their ruins and rebuilt. A remnant of the people was saved, the full end was not allowed to come, has never been allowed to come, though Israel's national glory, yea, their very existence as a nation, has long since passed away. But whilst the oft-repeated words of the text refer mainly to Judah and Jerusalem, they really declare a principle of the Divine procedure, a continual law of his government and rule. God's way is, when making an end, not to make a full end. He has ever a reserve of mercy. Now, concerning this principle, we observe
I. IT IS IN PERPETUAL OPERATION.
1. It finds illustration, yea, may be said to be ever ruthlessly at work, in the kingdom of nature. Look at the story of oration. Whatever may have been the material condition of our globe prior to the period told of in the sacred record, we cannot conceive of it as having been eternally "without form and void." The researches of science seem to give a very different account from that. But whatever may have been its condition, and we can hardly doubt that it had an order and beauty of its own, an end was made to all that ere the last creation era dawned. But yet not a full end. The material for the new creation was there and it took new form and order according to the creative word. All had become desolate, but out of that God brought forth a new condition of things, which he himself declared to be "very good." And what is this doctrine of evolution, concerning which in these days we hear so much—what is it but a further illustration in the kingdom of nature of the law of the text? "The survival of the fittest"—what does that imply but that there has been an end made of all the unfit and the less fit. But the whole order has not perished; there has been an end, but not a full end, and the fittest have been reserved.
2. And how frequent in the pages of history are the illustrations and examples of this principle of the Divine procedure! The destruction of the world by the Flood,—that was an end, but not a full end, for Noah and his house were saved Earlier still, when God drove out from Eden the parents of our race,—what an end was then made of all that was bright and blessed in their lives! but still not a full end. For, as St. Paul tells us, "the creature was made subject to vanity, in hope." Hope, the hope, of redemption and restoration through the promised Seed of the woman, was God's illustration of this law then. The destruction of the generation of Israel that came up out of Egypt with Moses, and whose carcasses fell in the wilderness; but their children were God's reserve of mercy in their case. And outside the pages of the Bible, thoughtful students of history, who love to trace the hand of God therein, are able to point to many an illustration of this law. Take the story of one man—Alfred the Great: he and the little Saxon band that clave to him were God's reserve of mercy for our land in those dark days, and saved us from coming to a full end, though we had come so near to it. And there are many, many more to which we cannot now allude. And in the history of the Church also how often has this been seen! Take the call of Abraham, for example. The religion of the ancient patriarchs had all but died out, an end had nearly come. But by the Divine call of Abraham it was prevented from being a full end; a new era was introduced when he became "the father of the faithful and the friend of God." And to pass over all intermediate illustrations of this same law, though they be many, and some of them most notable, we may refer to the revival of evangelical religion in the last century. An end had come to well nigh all earnest religion; the land was desolate with more than a material desolation. There was "a famine, not of bread, but of the hearing of the Word of the Lord." But God suffered it not to be a full end. Wesley and his trusty band, Whitefield and those who labored with him, became, under God, the means of a new departure, the introducers of a better order of things, which has continued to this day. And it has been the same in families. Take the prophetic family in the days of Samuel. But for him it would have come to a full end. Take the most illustrious instance of all,—the house and lineage of David. To what nearness to extinction it had come when the Savior, the predicted Stem who should grow out of the root of Jesse, was born at Bethlehem, and that course of events began which have made the name of David, great before, yet infinitely and eternally great now by means of him of whom it was foretold by the angel to his mother, that he should" sit upon the throne of his father David," and of whose kingdom David himself sang that it "should have no end."
3. And what are many of God's providential dealings with men, his afflictive dispensations especially, but further illustrations of this same law? "Ye have heard of the patience of Job." The lives of Joseph, of David, of Elijah, of Daniel, of Paul, and, above all, of our Lord,—what are they but instances in which "it pleased the Lord to bruise them, and to put them to grief?" He saw fit to make an end to much of that which naturally they loved, and for a weary while to cloud over and conceal well-nigh all the brightness of their lives. But in no ease was there a full end made, nor ever will there be. To many of us the Lord God comes and makes an end of what we would so much like to guard and keep—health, wealth, friends, prosperity, our inward joys, our outward gladness; God sends his angel of discipline and bids him make an end—though not a full end—of these things. Yes, it is oftentimes God's way.
4. And what are his spiritual disciplines but the carrying out of the same principle? Do we not read, "Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God?" of the prodigal, that "he came to himself," and said, "I will arise and go to my father, and say unto him, Father, I have sinned?" of Peter, "he went out and wept bitterly?" Yes, often does he bring down our hearts so that we cry out, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?" But he never makes a full end. False hope and trust have to go, but trust that is, real, hope that is of God, come under the law of his reserve of mercy—they are the pared remnant, and whilst an end is made of all the rest, these survive.
5. And what will death itself be but our last experience of this law? Heart and flesh shall fail, the outward man shall perish, there shall be an end made of all that belongs to this world so far as we are concerned, and the place that has known us here shall know us no more forever. But whilst it will be an end, so much so that our bodies shall return, "earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes," still it will not be "a full end." We—the true self—shall still remain; though the body go back to its earth, "the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." Yes, the law of the text is seen everywhere. It is a principle of the Divine procedure that is in perpetual operation; it was brought to bear upon Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah, and it bears upon nations, Churches, families, individuals, men, whenever God sees that the time has come for its application. But—
II. IT IS A PRINCIPLE THAT PROMPTS INQUIRY AS TO ITS REASON AND INTENT. This making an end, even though it be not a full end, has much about it that may well, if not perplex, yet give rise to earnest, thoughtful inquiry on the part of him who observes it. Without question, it is often a severe law, a principle prolific in pain. It was so in the case of those to whom Jeremiah wrote. "The righteous scarcely were saved," but "the ungodly and the sinners," who formed the vast majority, were not saved at all. Yes, though God made not a full end, the end he did make was terrible indeed. Now, we know it is not possible for us so to understand all the ways of God that we may fully rise to—
"The height of this high argument,
And justify the ways of God to me."
But this much we may say: the surgeon's knife that cuts away the poisoned flesh in order to save life is a severe operation, yet one that even he who writhes beneath it will consent to and be thankful for. The burning houses that cannot be saved are allowed to burn on, and men's efforts are all turned towards the saving of those that are yet untouched. If Israel was to be preserved faithful as the keeper of the oracles of God—and, humanly speaking, the welfare of the whole world depended upon her fidelity in this matter—then the cankered portion of her people must be cut off, that the rest, yet in health, might continue so. "Our God is a consuming fire." His judgments will, must, burn on until all that is rotten and unsound has perished from the way. The dread doom of the world to come is described by a word that tells of the action of the surgeon's knife, or of the vine-dresser's pruning implements, which are used to cut away that which is evil or worthless, that that which is healthful may be preserved, strengthened, and developed according to the will of God. Yes, it is dreadful when God comes forth to make an end of wickedness and the wicked; but it would be more dreadful still—the whole history of mankind attests it—if he did not. But it is a work from which he shrinks. "As I live, saith the Lord"—and can we dare, or would we wish, to disbelieve him?—"I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live." "Why will ye die, O ye house of Israel?" And we may say more than this. In the repetition of our text, which we have in the tenth verse of the next chapter, we see another purpose designed by these terrible dealings of God with his people. They were getting behind "battlements," trusting in defenses and safeguards which were of no avail; withdrawing their confidence from God, who had never failed them, to place it in those professed protectors who would always fail them, even as they had ever done. Hence one purpose of the stern process through which Judah and Jerusalem bad to pass was the taking away of those "battlements" which were "not the Lord's." Their looking to the rulers of other nations, the gods of other nations, or to such poor material resources as they could themselves supply, was fatal to that reliance on the Lord God, which had been their distinguishing feature in their happiest and most glorious days. But it was essential to the fulfillment of God's purposes in regard to them that this reliance upon God should by any means be restored. Therefore it was necessary that God should make an end of and destroy these "battlements," taking them utterly away. And in pursuance of this same main design, God would set the faithful amongst them free to live a new, a happier, holier, and every way better life. For they were hampered, entangled, ensnared, thwarted, and hindered at every turn by the hideous mass of moral wreckage by which they were surrounded. They could hardly move for it. There must, therefore, be a clearance made if God's people were to enter upon, as he was determined that they should, that new that better life, to which he recommended them, and after which they yearned. "Now all these things happened unto them for an ensample," and we may see in them, we will, the motive and intent of the like dealings of God with men in our day. Thou troubled child of God, afflicted very much, of whose earthly comforts, enjoyments, and possessions God has been pleased to make so large an end, thou seest the reason why. And thou whose soul he has brought very low, taking from thee all thy trust and confidence, so that now he has made "thy very spirit poor," canst thou not understand wherefore he hath so dealt with thee? And our death, which makes an end of all that in this world we have called our own, it too finds its explanation in what was the evident purpose of God's dealing with his ancient people. It was and it is, either for the putting away—if even by a terrible process—of the evil and wrong that are yet in men; or for the destruction of every false confidence, or for the setting the soul free—as his disciplines do, and as at last his messenger, Death, will do—to serve him in newness of life to his honor and glory, and to our own eternal joy. But in what has now been advanced we have only spoken of the reason wherefore God makes an end of so much, why he comes in these often terrible ways. We have yet to ask," Why are we spared? Why is there this reserve of mercy. Why is not a full end made?" And looking at the history of God's ancient people, answers to these questions also may readily be found. To have made a full end would have given occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme. We remember how Moses pleaded this argument when sore wrath had gone out against Israel, and it seemed as if a full end was to be made. And the promise of God to Abraham would have been set aside, the covenant which he made with their fathers in the days of old. And the language which we find in the Scriptures, the language of intense tenderness and love towards his people, proves that to have made a full end would have broken the heart of God. "How shall I give thee up?" "I have written thee on the palms of my hands." "Can a mother forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, she may forget; yet will not I forget thee." In view of such love, how could there be a full end? And the Lord Jesus Christ has rendered such condemnation needless. For they who are spared when God judges the world, are spared not for any inherent intrinsic excellency in themselves, but they are they who have believed on the Name of God's dear Son. Hence they have the righteousness of faith, the germ, the guarantee, the generator of all righteousness; and they have the indwelling of the Holy Ghost by whom they shall be strengthened to live in newness of life. All the possibilities to secure which God makes an end of so much in those who have not come to faith, they already have, and hence God is able, even as he is willing, to except them from the destruction that comes on all beside. And to mention but one other reason for this reserve of mercy—for God not making a full end; he sees in these spared ones those by whom his "way shall be made known upon earth, and his saving health among all nations." They are to be the instruments of his grace, his channel of untold blessing to all mankind. Therefore doth God care for and guard them, and amid all destruction no evil is suffered to befall them, nor any plague to come nigh their dwelling.
III. And now, lastly, we note that this principle of the Divine procedure which we have been considering. Is ONE WHICH WE MUST ALL OF US BE PREPARED TO HAVE APPLIED TO OURSELVES. Yes, God will look down upon us all, as Churches, families, individuals, and will mark What in us and who of us will be found worthy to stand in the great day when he separates the chaff from the wheat. Ah! this is the great question which concerns us. "Where, then, shall I myself be? Shall it be amongst those whom God must put away, or amongst those whom he shall delightedly spare?" What question can compare with this? But the material for its answer may be found by asking—Where are we now? The destroying powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil are abroad; they are slaying their thousands and their tens of thousands. But are they destroying us? Or are we—as God grant it may be—amongst his "reserve of mercy ?" Are we living unto God? Can we look up to our Lord and Savior and appeal to him who knoweth all things, to attest the love and trust towards him that abide in our heart? Oh, if it be so, and the life of prayer, of obedience, of self-surrender, be ours now, then we can, with humble but strong confidence, predict that when the last destroyer comes, even Death, whilst he will be permitted to make an end of much that here we rejoice in, yet he shall by no means make "a full end" of us. No, his coming, which is so terrible to the unbeliever, shall for us be but a setting us free, a delivering us from the bondage of corruption" into the glorious liberty of the children of God," so that our soul shall escape as a bird from out the snare of the fowler, and we henceforth shall "live unto God."
"Then shall the day, dear Lord, appear
That we shall mount and dwell above,
And stand and how amongst them there,
And see thy face and sing thy love."
An end, a full end, will have been made of all that is corruptible, all that distresses, all that defiles, all that death can in any way touch; but it shall not be a full end of us, rather shall it be the beginning of a life so holy, so blessed, that all the past shall seem to have been no life at all. Look, then, at the two companies which have been brought before us. There are those whom God's judgments are making an end of, and there are those whom those judgments cannot touch—God's reserve of mercy. Look at these latter again; they are clothed in white robes, and they have palms in their hands. For they have come "out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple They hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither doth the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and, God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." Therefore, O Lord, make us to be numbered with thy saints now and in glory everlasting.—C.
Jeremiah 4:20, Jeremiah 4:30
"Suddenly are my tents spoiled." "When thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do?"
A surely coming confession compelling a present serious question.
Note the historic reference of the words to the people to whom the prophet spoke. Applying them in more general sense, let us observe—
I. THE CONFESSION. "Suddenly," etc. This confession.
1. Not that of the child of God, for his tents cannot be spoiled.
(1) The peace of mind which he enjoys. That rests on the sure basis of what Christ has done for him. The varied disturbing powers of this world cannot touch that. Nothing can separate him from the love of God (Romans 8:1-39. at end).
(2) The righteousness which God has given him. That springs from a source, and is sustained by a power, that is supernatural and therefore beyond the power of this world to give or take away.
(3) His most cherished possessions. True, the child of God is subject, like other men, and at times it seems more than other men, to sudden reverses of fortune, to loss, bereavement, and the other manifold sorrows of this life. But though he cannot but lose his earthly treasures, and deeply feel their loss, yet all the while his true treasure remains intact, for it is not here, but yonder. And even when with one hand God takes away his earthly treasures, with the other he so graciously ministers support and consolation that, in the might of a Divine faith and love, he is able to say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord."
(4) His life. That is not capable of being spoiled. If he is called upon suddenly to lay it down, or to give it up amid much pain and distress, he is able to say, as dear old Richard Baxter did when he lay a-dying, and when asked by a friend how he was, "Almost well." Yes, the nearer death, the nearer life to the child of God. It is a blessed exchange for him, come how, come when, come where it will Therefore this confession cannot be his. But, as it was in the days of Jeremiah, it is:
2. The confession of the worldling and all those who are living without God. For their tents are suddenly spoiled.
(1) The peace of mind in which they often seem so established. To our eyes they appear not to be troubled, neither to be plagued as other men are (cf. Psalms 37:1-40.). How easy and unconcerned they are! but the text comes true to them. Remorse may suddenly spoil their tents. Like "Esau, who found no place of repentance, though," etc. The events of God's providence may be the spoiler; carrying off their riches, striking down their wealth, turning away their friends. Everything may seem to be slipping away from them. And then, oh how true our text is of them then! And the approach of death, with the "fearful looking for of judgment." And should none of these have succeeded in this life to shatter their false trust, how will the dread solemnities of God's judgment day certainly do this! See the consternation of those on the left-hand side of the Judge, who asked, "When saw we thee," etc.?
(2) The moral rectitude, the credit for righteous character, on which they have stayed their souls. This too may be, will be, suddenly spoiled. Sometimes sudden temptation will do this. Unguarded by any Divine power, the man's weak resolves give way under unusual pressure, and character is blasted and the good name gone, as m a moment. Transient visions of the Divine holiness, the claims and requirements of God's Law flashing upon him as did the lightnings from Mount Sinai,—such manifestations will reveal the man to himself, and "spoil" his self-complacency forever. The light of eternity must do this. Tried by the standard God has given, self-righteousness must give way.
(3) His external prosperity on which his heart was fixed. To have nothing but what this world can give, and to have that suddenly taken away, as it often is, as at death it all must be,—whose should this confession be if not his of whom we are speaking?
(4) His life itself, to which he clung so tenaciously, oh, what a wrench that will be when the man to whom this life was all is by the hand of death ruthlessly torn away from it! And oftentimes this is sudden, unlooked for, at such an hour as he thinks not, as he has made up his mind that it will not come. Like him to whom God said, "Thou fool!" These, then, are they from whom this confession—bitter lamentation and wail of woe rather should it be called—is heard. What agony of heart can be conceived more awful than that of the worldling and the godless, when "suddenly their tents are spoiled?" God grant it may not be ours. Note—
II. THE QUESTION, "What wilt thou do," etc.? Who can tell what the delirium of dismay and despair will drive a man to under such circumstances? See Judas the traitor. Suddenly his tent—the hope of his gains—was "spoiled," and we know what, in the remorse and despair which fastened upon him, he did. But some will harden themselves still more. Others will plunge into business, pleasure, sin, and there seek to drown the tortures of the mind. It is impossible to forecast what one and another will do, and least of all can they tell themselves. But it is God who asks this question, and that with the gracious intent that we should turn to him for the answer. Let us do so. Perhaps your tents are spoiled already. Before, therefore, you say what you will do, ask of God what thou shouldest do.
1. Is it thy inward peace, the calm and unconcern of thy life, that is spoiled? Then "acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace."
2. Is it thine estimate of thine own righteousness? Do not seek to mend or patch it up in any way (cf. Philippians 3:1-21). Seek from Christ the righteousness that is of faith.
3. Is it thine earthly prosperity that is shattered? "Set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth." Have your treasure for the future in heaven. There, "where neither moth nor rust," etc.
4. Is it thy very life that is being taken from thee? Oh, wait not until this tent is actually spoiled.
"To Jesus do thou fly,
Swift as the morning light,
Lest life's young golden beams should die,
In sudden endless night."
III. THE ORDER IN WHICH THIS CONFESSION AND QUESTION ARE PLACED. The question is asked before the spoiling takes place. Like as it is asked, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?' The intent is that we should, by turning to God and coming within his sure defense, escape that spoiling of our tents which must come on all not within that defense. And so in the other question, which is like unto it, the intent manifestly is that we should not neglect so great salvation. Then let this good will of the Lord be done. Come over amongst those whose tents cannot be spoiled, and away from those upon whom the spoilers shall fall certainly, suddenly, and soon.—C.
The fellowship of Christ's sufferings.
The extreme anguish of the prophet which is revealed in these verses justifies the affirmation that, like St. Paul, Jeremiah also knew "the fellowship of Christ's sufferings." Consider—
I. THEIR NATURE.
1. The sight of the constant dishonor done to God. This was part of our Lord's suffering. Living amongst men at all involved it. It has been said truly that, if the Son of God became incarnate, he must be a "man of sorrows." But if it be a pain and outrage to an affectionate son to hear his father, whom he knows to be worthy of all honor, yet nevertheless insulted, and to see him daily dishonored, what must have been the sufferings of our Lord at what he daily had to see and hear! And to Jeremiah this was one chief part of his sorrow. To him the Name of God was dear; his honor and glory precious; but let these chapters tell what scenes continually came before him. "Rivers of water run down mine eyes because men keep not thy Law." Dishonor done to God has ever been distress and pain to his servants.
2. The endurance of the scorn and hate of men. To some men this is nothing. They answer scorn by scorn and hate by hate. They choose war rather than peace. But in proportion as a man is of a loving disposition, and has lavished his love upon any, he will desire, yea, yearn for, a response. Do not parents desire it in their children? Would they not be distressed indeed if they did not receive it? And so with our Lord. He had no armor of indifference, or contempt, or hate against men. But he opened his heart to them. There was no stint in the love he lavished upon them. Hence he could not but long to receive a response to that love. The cross itself was wreathed with attractiveness for him, because it, though nothing else would, would draw all men unto him. And in the fellowship of this suffering Jeremiah shared. He, though deeply loving his people and faithfully serving them, yet was denied the response of trust and love which he would fain have gained. He, too, "was despised and rejected of men."
3. The realizing, by the power of affectionate sympathy, the awful consequences of his countrymen's sin. It is the effect of such sympathy to cause the sufferings of those we love to come before us in such terrible vividness that they fill the soul with an anguish that is almost intolerable. Hence our Lord's deep distress (cf. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!" etc. and his lament over the doomed city and people). But in this suffering of our Lord Jeremiah had indeed fellowship (cf. verses 23-30.) He saw the destruction that was coming on Judah and Jerusalem in its entireness. "The whole land is spoiled;" "The whole land shall be desolate." In its suddenness. "Suddenly are," etc. (verse 20). In its duration. Verse 21, "How long shall I see the standard?" etc. It could not be a passing storm, but an abiding wrath. And mere still, he sees how deserved it all was (verses 18, 22). And then how awful! It was as if original chaos had come again (verse 23; cf. Genesis 1:1-31.). It was as the dread and never-to-be-forgotten manifestation of God at Sinai, when the mountains trembled and all who beheld were stricken with fear (verse 24). For the devastation caused by the "spoilers" had been so thorough, they had done their work in such fearful fashion, that districts heretofore teeming with population were now solitary and lone as the desert; and so stripped were they of all that could minister to life, that the very birds had fled away (verses 25, 26). The awful spectacle was clearly visible to the prophet's eye, and, as he looked upon it all and knew how certain was its advent, he cries out as in the agony of dread bodily pain (verse 19).
4. The witnessing day by day the decay of all goodness and the firmer hold of sin. Our blessed Lord's tears over Jerusalem, his oft "sighing," his agony, his long lament over the guilty people, were not caused only, nor chiefly, by the mere fact of their sufferings, but it was because of the increasing alienation from God, the ever-hardening heart, the mighty power of sin upon them, that his bitterest tears were shed and his deepest agony endured. And so with Jeremiah. Pain and distress were evils undoubtedly, but they were as naught compared with the moral degradation, the spiritual wickedness, which he saw around him and increasing every day.
5. The being compelled to utter the "amen" of his soul to the judgment of God as "true and righteous altogether." With what agony would a father witness the accumulation of proof upon proof that his son whom he loved had been guilty of crime that deserved and must receive condign punishment! To be obliged to own to himself that his beloved son is righteously condemned—what sorrow that! And this confession our Lord made. His death meant this—his assent to the judgment of God against sin that that judgment was just. Death was the penalty, and he submitted to it. And never has death been, nor can it be to any child of God, what it was to our Lord. The realization of sin, the consciousness that on him was the iniquity of us all, and how awful but how just was the wrath of God against it,—this explains that exceeding bitter cry from out the darkness, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" And, in his measure and degree, Jeremiah had the fellowship of this suffering also. It is the sorrow of sorrows to him that there was no alternative; God must punish sin like that of his countrymen. How glad would he have been could he have seen any—however little—light in the darkness! But it was all dark; there-was not a solitary redeeming ray. The condemnation was awful, but God was just who judged so.
II. THE UNIVERSALITY OF THIS FELLOWSHIP. Like as in every leaf of the tree the whole fabric of the tree is portrayed, root and trunk, branch and foliage, so in the experience of every member of Christ's mystical body, however humble that member may be, there is shown the resemblance of Christ himself. See Abraham interceding for Sodom, Moses for Israel, Samuel mourning for Saul; Elijah's ministry and that of all the prophets, Paul's and that of all the apostles, and where there are any who have "the mind that was in Christ Jesus," who are filled with love to God and love to man, to whom sin is hateful and holiness dear. It will be a measure and a test of our own possession of the mind of Christ if those sad facts, which were the source to him and to all his truehearted servants of such great sorrow, are likewise sources of sorrow to us and make us know the fellowship of his sufferings.
III. ITS EXCEEDING BLESSEDNESS, It may seem an anomaly and contradiction to speak of "blessedness" as appertaining to "suffering," but it is nevertheless true that exceeding blessedness does belong to the fellowship of Christ's sufferings. For:
1. It wins for us the ministries that sustained our Lord. These were such as the full enjoyment of the love of God, uninterrupted communion and intercourse with him, the open vision of the "joy set before him" in the winning back of the world to God, such were the supports of Christ's ministry, and the like has been given to all who have entered into his sufferings. See the bright onlook of Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 3:15-18 and Jeremiah 3:11) and of all the prophets; of St. Paul and all the apostles. And see, too, their joy in God, the rest of their hearts in his love. Such have been and such will be the supports of such souls.
2. It fortifies us impregnably against all the power of the wicked one. Satan will not waste his time and energy on those who are within the sure defense of this holy fellowship. His darts cannot reach where they stand, or, if they reach and strike, they cannot penetrate the "armor of God" in which they are clad. Sin has no charm, but repels: holiness attracts with a magnetic might. "They are born of God, and the wicked one toucheth them not."
3. It gives tremendous power over the hearts of men. What is the great need of our day but this, a ministry that has entered into this fellowship? one penetrated with the love of God and the love of men, to whom the favor of God is life, and the judgments of God the un-unspeakable woe of the soul? How would such men speak and pray and plead? It was the secret of St. Paul's power, and of the great ministers for Christ in all ages. It won all the triumphs of the early Church, it was manifest in Bernard, Francis, Wesley, Whitefield, and many more. Men cannot resist the power with which such speak. It constitutes those who have entered into it God's true priests. They have power when they plead with God for men, and when they plead with men for God. Such is another element of the exceeding blessedness of this fellowship of Christ's sufferings.
IV. ITS ALONE ENTRANCE. This entrance is by fellowship with Christ in our daily life. Let us look much upon him as he is shown to us in his gospel and in the Scriptures generally, and as we see his likeness reproduced in the lives of the truest of his people. Let there be much looking to him in the exercise of daily trust, committing and commending our whole interests to his care. Let there be much converse with him in devout meditation, worship, and prayer. Let there be much service done for him in all such ways as he points out for us, and the result will be that we shall come so to see, hear, touch him, so to realize his living presence, and then so to love him, that all that affects him will affect us. We shall have fellowship in it all, and, therefore, in this fellowship of his sufferings in which all his chosen have shared.—C.
Jeremiah 4:30, Jeremiah 4:31
concerning which note—
I. WHAT THEY ARE. They are the friends that are kept simply by either:
1.Wealth. "Though thou clothest thyself with crimson" (Jeremiah 4:30). The garb of the rich, telling how Jerusalem had won some of her professed friends.
2. Splendor. "Deckest thee with ornaments of gold." Jerusalem could make a grand show, put on much pomp by which the eyes of men were dazzled and deceived. And outward show will deceive many men. But those thus attracted know how, when the splendor pales and the outward show can no more be kept up, to fall away and show what "broken reeds" they are.
3. Eternal beauty. The "painting" spoken of was an Oriental device to increase the beauty of the countenance. But weak indeed is the hold which mere outward beauty can have on any who have been attracted by it. It fades, and they along with it.
II. THEIR APPARENT TRUSTWORTHINESS. Had there never been anything at all like helpfulness in them, no reliance could have been placed upon them. But the lures which drew them had power enough to make them profess much and then to practice somewhat. Hence they seemed to be real friends.
III. THEIR TRUE CHARACTER. When they can no longer gain aught by her who believed in them, they turn round upon her and "seek her life" (Jeremiah 4:30). It was so with Jerusalem, it will be so with such as are like her. And yet men go on seeking after these outward things which can win for them only friends of this wretched sort, whilst those inward qualities which have no charm for such, but have all charm for the worthy and the good, are little valued and therefore little cultivated.
IV. THE DREAD INCREASE OF SORROW THEY ARE THE CAUSE OF. A more appalling picture of utter agony and distress of soul cannot be imagined than that given in Jeremiah 4:31. It is said that when Caesar saw Brutus amid his assassins, he covered his face with his mantle and let his murderers do their worst. No stab could be so deadly as the discovery that his trusted friend had become his murderer. "Et tu, Brute!" And part of the deep sorrow of our Lord was that Judas, "his own familiar friend," should betray him. If, then, to the stainless soul the discovery of such treachery can cause such sorrow, how must the sorrow of those who, in addition to this, have the memory of their own sin, be deeper and more dreadful still?
V. THE WAY OF WISDOM, WHICH KNOWLEDGE OF THEM POINTS TO. Surely it is this—to turn from all such "broken reeds" to "the rod and the staff" which Christ furnishes for all his pilgrims.
"One there is above all others,
Well deserves the name of Friend," etc.
There shall be weeping.
The text is a solemn and awful declaration of the retribution of God upon impenitent men.
I. NO TRUTH MORE DOUBTED OR DENIED THAN THIS. Lot was "to his sons in law as one that mocked." And so it is still; this truth scarce gains any hearing and yet less belief. Reasons of this are: the prevalent skepticism as to all religious belief; the special dislike to such a subject as this; false views as to the love of God; the busy energy of the evil one, who will not suffer men to consider and ponder this truth.
II. BUT IT IS NEVERTHELESS THE TRUTH OF GOD. Scripture is full, plain, and earnest in the matter. The premonitions of conscience endorse the Word of God. The course of observed events lends its strong testimony. The common consent of the wisest and best of men confirms it. The analogy of all human government supports it.
III. AND DEMANDS THEREFORE TO BE MADE KNOWN. Compassion would prompt to its proclamation. The severe displeasure of God against the watchman who neglects to warn the people urges this. The example of our Lord, who ever insisted on it. Its manifest fitness to arouse and arrest the sinner. Beware, therefore, of yielding to the temptation to be silent on this theme.
IV. BUT TO BE PREACHED ONLY BY SUCH AS BELIEVE AND FEEL ITS TRUTH. Unbelieving or unfeeling setting forth of these awful verities will but steel the heart of the ungodly against them. But in the spirit of Jeremiah, and yet more in the spirit of our Lord, let men be warned that for the impenitent there remaineth the dread retribution of God.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The kind of return which Jehovah requires,
In Jeremiah 3:1-25. there has been much spoken concerning return. There is the impossibility pointed out of a divorced wife returning to her husband; yet Jehovah's own people, whose conduct has been even worse, he presses to return. The fact is mentioned that Israel had been told to turn, yet had not turned. There is also the fact that Judah had made a feigned turning. A true return is seen to be the prime condition of all the glorious future which God bad. shadowed forth, first for Israel, and then for all nations. And then the chapter concludes with a touching outburst of penitential emotion. From all which it will be clearly seen how timely and needful is the exhortation which introduces Jeremiah 4:1-31. Return of a certain kind is, after all, not so difficult, if only there be certain conspiring circumstances. The most undemonstrative and unlikely man may have his feelings roused up, and then comes decided utterance. Right words are spoken, right purposes declared. But what of the carrying of them out? What about the difficulties in the future—the fightings without and the fears within? The return which God desires is a permanent return, just as when, after a long frost, there comes a complete thaw, and, with genial warmth following, renewed life, growth, and fruitfulness.
I. OBSERVE HOW GOD RECOGNIZES THE INSTABILITY OF THE APOSTATE PEOPLE. It is not simply that he apprehends instability in their resolutions towards himself. Their very apostasy is itself an unstable thing. With all the hold which idolatry seems to have upon them, they are not thoroughly fixed in it. Evidently there are ways of appealing to them which draw forth a resolve to make some sort of turning. Never should we forget that sinners, even the most persistent of them, are unstable in their ways. Instability there of course is from the common fluctuations of life; but, more than that, the very purposes of the sinner are more unstable than he thinks. A thick-skinned conscience is often more in appearance than in reality; the penetrable point has not been discovered—that is all. Even when to all outward appearance a man seems quite contented with the life which others condemn, he may have very trying διαλογισμοί within him. Hence the strange anomaly sometimes presented of wicked men doing deeds of helpfulness to others. Gamblers, out of their unrighteous gains, are known to indulge in most eccentric acts of beneficence. After all, the powers of evil have a most uncertain tenure over those who may seem most their slaves.
II. THE ONLY TURNING FROM EVIL WHICH CAN BE COMPLETE AND PROFITABLE IS THE TURNING TOWARDS GOD. Not only from sin, but towards God. That is the only way of keeping clear both of Scylla and Charybdis. To turn from a life that is self-condemned, by trying to make another path of one's own, may seem to be successful for a while, but in truth it is only travelling in a circle. The man whose springs of knowledge and strength are in himself, or in the counsels of men, will come back to where he started. Think, for instance, of those drunkards who have taken pledges of total abstinence, and set their feet towards a manlier and purer life, only to find very soon that appetite and habit are not so easily mastered. At last, after many failures, a permanent keeping comes. There is a struggle, crowned with Victory, because the soul, having lost all its self-confidence, has really turned to God. The departure into sin is from God, and to him must be the only satisfactory return.
III. THE FORSAKING OF SIN MUST BE A COMPLETE FORSAKING. Into this demand for completeness there must be put the utmost significance of the word. God's people might visit all the high places in turn, and laboriously erase every outward vestige of idolatry. On everything like an approach to idolatry the most rigorous penalties might be imposed. There might be a domiciliary visitation, and a ransacking of every house from garret to basement, lest there should be anything hidden away, such as Laban's seraphim which Rachel stole. But what of all such exertions? They could only end in the taking of abominations out of the sight of man. The essential thing was to take them out of the sight of God. The high places and groves in every heart must be purged of their idolatries. Here the edicts of a king and the vigilance of reforming enthusiasts were of no avail. By the very necessity of the case, the putting away must be an individual act. Forth from the heart proceed the outward visible abominations, and the only way of stopping the procession was by a thorough cleansing of the source whence it came. Such prayers are wanted as for the creating of a clean heart, and the setting of one's secret sins in the light of God's countenance. The heart, deceitful and desperately wicked, only God can know, and only God can cleanse. He himself must be besought to direct affections, purposes, iron, nations, towards things pure, holy, and Divine. Remember, then, that a thing may be out of man's sight and yet right over against the eyes of God. Even that which may not at present disturb your conscience may yet be very offensive to him. Thus it will be seen that a real turning to God is very difficult, and needs much submission and humility. One has to walk very circumspectly. Wavering is one of the greatest perils, and may very soon be fatal. He who wavers, vacillates, and turns to look round to the things that are left, loses the direction; and that direction, once lost, who knows how much else may be lost before it can be recovered?—Y.
Jehovah's requirement with respect to the oath.
Jehovah has just told his people that, with unwavering resolve, they must put their abominations out of his Sight. This exhortation, general as it is, is very emphatic; but it chiefly serves to lead on to something more explicit. Jehovah singles out one peculiar abomination, and fixes the attention of his people on that. The truth is, if they sweep this abomination away, all is done that needs to be done. These abominations, so odious to the pure eyes of Jehovah, were bound together in a kind of organic unity. The infliction of a fatal blow on any one of them inevitably brought death and withering on the others. Just as he who stops the action of one of the vital organs of the body stops the action of them all. Look, then—
I. AT WHAT JEHOVAH REQUIRES WITH REGARD TO THE OATH. There were many solemn appeals that had in them the nature of an oath. God at once directs attention to the most solemn of all, the appeal to himself by his own peculiar Name and his own enduring existence. The passages are too numerous to mention in which there is record of people saying, "As Jehovah liveth." Now and then, no doubt, the words were spoken with solemnity and sincerity, and also with a steady remembrance afterwards of the holy Name, which had thus come to the lips. But in the great bulk of instances it was only an idle word. A man gets excited, and then the most solemn words rush from his mouth, with no thought of the meaning they express. Or, worse still, there may be the deliberate attempt to consecrate a falsity, and get it received for undoubted truth, so that others may act from it and rest upon it with the utmost confidence. Now, to the removal of all this false swearing, God would have his people earnestly to apply themselves. Note that God does not say here what Jesus afterwards said, "Swear not at all." The time was not ripe for such an exhortation. The words of Jesus aim directly at that ideal state when every man shall speak truth as naturally as he breathes pure air; when it shall be as impossible for him to speak or even think the false as to live amid carbonic acid gas. One may say that even here, in this word through Jeremiah, there is nothing to bind the hearer to an oath. The injunction has a permissive element. A man needs not to say, "Jehovah liveth;" but if he does say so, let him bear in mind all that the expression involves. It is the most solemn way of securing that all speaking and acting shall be true and sincere; that all judgments shall be according to proven facts and Jehovah's declared principles of justice; and that all life, in short, should be pervaded and filled with energy by a spirit of righteousness. To begin with, what an abomination it was to say, "As Jehovah liveth," when the practice showed that whatever true recognition of Deity obtained among these people was on the high places and towards the heathen idols! Then from this it was only too easy to bring forward Jehovah's Name in connection with all sorts of falsehood, cruelty, and oppression. The change is to come by bringing truth into the oath. There must ever live in the mind of the oath-taker a distinct apprehension and conviction as to Jehovah's real, enduring existence. It must be remembered how he said to Moses, "I am that I am." And, following the history of Israel onward, there must be an ever-clearer perception of his character, of his power, of his constant observation of individual life, and his fiery, consuming anger against all iniquity. Then, if all this truth, justice, and righteousness appear where before there was such a loathsome sink of deception and corruption, what will be the result?
II. THE NATIONS WILL ENTER INTO AN INEXPRESSIBLY SATISFACTORY RELATION TOWARDS JEHOVAH. His aspect, in their eyes, altogether alters. A step is taken—a great step, and one that makes all others easy—towards that gathering of the nations to Jehovah's throne which is mentioned in Jeremiah 3:17. There is now something to awe and to attract the hitherto worshippers of idols. They say that a man is known by his friends. If the man be one not yet seen, living at a distance, he can only be judged of by those professing to be his friends, with whom we come into actual intercourse. If those whom we see be upright, generous, magnanimous, loving, we shall have no difficulty in crediting that the unseen one is the same. Israel having been what it had been, it was little wonder if the heathen came to have a very poor opinion of Jehovah. But Israel is now called to a very different life, and, in particular, to make such a use of the oath as that the nations shall not merely have their opinion of Jehovah altered, but shall find in him a source of blessing to themselves and one in whom, without risk of shame and confusion, they can continually glory. Jehovah, God of Israel, whom Israel at last has truly honored, obtains then more than a bare acknowledgment. He is exulted in as Lord and Benefactor to all the nations of the earth. "And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" (Revelation 19:6). This is the consummation of creation's choral song, and it comes from practicing truth, justice, and righteousness in such a way as will fully please Jehovah.—Y.
Thoroughness in spiritual culture.
There is put before us here an agricultural figure, which our observation of fallow ground in England, at present, fails to give us the power of understanding. When we look at an English ploughman turning a piece of meadowland into arable, there does not seem anything very difficult about his work. Why, then, should breaking up the fallow ground be so hard? Why should this be reckoned an appropriate figure for something evidently difficult, something, it would seem, habitually shirked and the necessity of attending to which the men of Judah and Jerusalem did not sufficiently recognize? The answer is to be found in a state of things which, after all our efforts, will probably present itself imperfectly to the mind. By many of the Hebrew husbandmen the cultivation of their land seems to have been managed in a very imperfect, careless, happy-go-lucky sort of way. In the moveless East, what things are today tell us pretty well what they were two thousand years ago. Dr. Thomson, speaking of the plain of Gennesaret—a district which Josephus describes as extremely fruitful—says, "Gennesaret is now pre-eminently fruitful, in thorns. They grow, up among the grain, or the gram' among them." And again on the same page, "These farmers all need the exhortation of Jeremiah, 'Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.' They are too slot to neglect this; and the thorns, springing up, choke the seed, so that it cannot come to maturity". The truth, then, was that the land was but half reclaimed from the wilderness. To have properly reclaimed it, and then kept it in a satisfactory state, would have required a great deal of trouble. And since from such fertile land the husbandman, with but little effort, could get enough to serve the passing day, he did not concern himself to make the land do its best.
Hence we see that this admonition, whatever its first aspect of obscurity, is really a most important one for all of us. The exhortation is to nothing less than thoroughness in spiritual culture. Thoroughness in the cultivation of the heart, as a soil wherein the seeds of Divine truth are sown, pays in the highest sense of the word. Look at what science, skill, and the bold investment of capital for the enrichment of the soil and for machinery to save labor, have done for modern farming. The full productiveness of God's earth seems to be apprehended by comparatively few. And if this is so in things natural, there is no wonder at all that we should be so little conscious of this thoroughness required in cultivating our spiritual nature. There are many human hearts where subsoil plowing is as yet unknown. There is g soil that grows an abundant crop from plants of human origin, but the seed that God sows either falls dead or dies after a brief struggle to find hold and sustenance in the heart. The word through Jeremiah here is but the germ from which our Lord expounded his parable of the four kinds of soil. There is laid on each one of us a heavy burden—the stewardship of a human heart. And yet it is a precious and honorable burden. Far beyond the ripest, sweetest, and most copious fruits of the soil beneath our feet, is the fruit that may come from within us. But the culture must be thorough. True, that means toil, patience, watchfulness, discrimination; but what great work was ever done without them?—Y.
Despair among the leaders in Israel.
Let us consider how Jehovah leads the prophet up to the emphatic, and what we may call consummating, announcement of this verse. One severe sentence comes on another, until at last the prophet himself, crushed and overwhelmed, gives utterance to the sense he feels of contradiction to former gracious words. This cheerless outlook to Israel, he says, is as a sword piercing to the soul. Looking back, then, through the previous eight verses, we find a spirit of thoroughness running through the whole. Jehovah has asked for thoroughness, and seems to intimate that the-demand will be practically neglected. Thoroughness in turning to him; thoroughness in the putting away of all abominations; thoroughness in observing the sanctity and obligation of the oath; thoroughness in the culture of spiritual life; thoroughness in circumcision of heart; thoroughness everywhere, is the order of the day. Then on the other hand—because, in spite of all remonstrances, there is a clinging to the superficial modes in which all merely human reformations are managed—we are confronted with the thoroughness of God's work. If men will not be thorough, at all events God will be so. His fury will come forth like the unquenchable flame; his agents, in the shape of invincible armies, will bear down resistlessly on his unfaithful people; and, as a sort of climax, the very heads and guides will acknowledge themselves utterly overcome. Such is the scene presented in Jeremiah 4:9. Consider—
I. HOW THE CONSTERNATION AND HUMILIATION OF THESE MEN NOW IS IN CONTRAST TO THEIR PREVIOUS CONDUCT. We do not stay here to make discriminations among the four classes of prominent men here indicated. The general truth underlying the conduct of all of them is that the leading persons in the State would assuredly lose their self-confidence. Brazen and complacent as that self-confidence is, Jehovah is undermining it in secret, and it wilt come down with a crash. These men were associated in deception; each one deceived, first of all, himself; and then by a continuous mutual action and reaction, the power both of deceiving and of being deceived became very great indeed. The king, upon giving the slightest encouragement, would become a center for all sorts of flatteries and arrogant assurances; and indeed, as long as it was a matter of keeping their own people in subjection, these leaders might have comparatively little difficulty. They knew what they were dealing with, and could keep it in bounds by virtue of long practice and cleverly transmitted tricks of management. There was a certain ground of experience which they went upon in all their contemptuous refusals to listen to God's prophet. But now there comes up, all at once, a danger outside their experience, and not only defying their resources, but coming down on those resources like a deluge, and utterly sweeping them away. When the downtrodden and aggrieved in their own borders begin to mutter sedition and meditate conspiracy, they may, perhaps, stop this peril in its beginning; but when the majestic destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way, how shall he be met? The lion out of the thicket is manageable enough if the man against whom he advances happens to have a loaded rifle in his hand, and the power of using it with unerring aim; but what if he has nothing more than a cudgel? Kings and princes, priests and prophets, might successfully join in counsel to mislead and keep down their own people; but a strong and proud army, that has come forth like a mighty wild beast intent on prey, is not to be turned back by mere counsels. In the last resort strength must be opposed to strength. The sole virtue of skill lies in this, that it can make the most of strength. But where the strength is lacking, skill can do nothing. No amount of skill can wake a walking-stick do the work of a rifle, and the great peril of most human lives lies just in this, that they go on in the contented use of ordinary resources for ordinary needs. Practically speaking, extraordinary needs are not thought of till they come. There are voices to us, even as to these kings, princes, priests, and prophets of old; but we do not heed them, and meanwhile the lion out of the thicket, all unsuspected, is coming nearer and nearer to us.
II. NOTE THE FORCIBLE EXPRESSION WITH REGARD TO THE KINGS AND PRINCES. Their hearts are to perish, not but what priests and prophets may have the same experience. Hebrew parallelism is to be borne in mind. The description of king and princes applies also to priest and prophet, and vice versa. They were overwhelmed in a common catastrophe. It is the heart-perishing itself we would call attention to, whoever the subject of it might he. One is reminded of the similar expression, tolerably frequent in the Old Testament, of the heart melting. With regard to the king, there would be an utter collapse of all kingly dignity and pretension. It is not the mere conquest of territory and the desolation of it that can turn the supreme master into a complete slave. Complete subjection is only achieved when body and mind are alike in bondage. Many a captive has shown himself nobler than his captor; his heart being swelled out with even an increase of vitality, courage, and resource in the very hour-when the ungodly seem to have triumphed. Discrowned kings have sometimes been more regal than on the coronation-day itself. The thing to be marked here is that these leaders being cast down outwardly were equally cast down inwardly. The whole nature crashes down in ruins. The dispossessed leader becomes as dejected in soul as he is in station. What a warning for us, then, is this melancholy prediction! It is very certain that to us the outward casting down, at all events, must come. Natural resources, limited and temporary at the best, are always showing weak points, always needing patching up, and the most that can be done is to postpone the evil day. And then what is the end to be? Are our hearts also to perish? Is there to come on us utter despair and brokenness of spirit? It need not be so. Look on the courage of genuine Christians in captivity, in martyrdom, in poverty, amid the attacks of slander, in the midst of spiritual non-success. If the heart perish, it will be for want of believing resort to the succors which come down from the heavenly places. God can so unite, inspire, instruct, and gladden the heart of every believer, as effectually to deliver At from perishing. And remember, we are every one called to be, if not kings, at all events viceroys in our own life. There must be no yielding to presumptuous and audacious dictation of men. He who leans upon the mere assertions of others, because he is himself indisposed to make the necessary effort for finding out truth, must be prepared at last to get into that state which is described as one in which the heart perishes.—Y.
The uses of the wind.
Not all the uses of the wind are set forth here, but enough is mentioned to remind us how God can turn a beneficial agent into a destructive one very rapidly and decisively. The force Of the unquenchable fire has already been spoken of (Jeremiah 4:4); and it is a sufficiently dreadful thought that fire, so genial, so useful, with such a place in the house, and—so far as Israel was concerned—such a place in the service of God, should thus have become, in the thoughts to be associated with it, dreadful as sword, famine, or pestilence. The man who has had his house burned down, to the utter loss of all his goods, will henceforth be apt to make grim comments in his own heart when he hears men extolling the benefactor fire. And now God comes to another great force in the material world, and shows how it can be the symbol of the workings out of his holy wrath.
1. Observe how he calls attention to the beneficial working of the wind. Frequently the force of the wind is of such a moderated, yet effectual kind, that it is used to fan and to cleanse. These invading hosts, it was to be remembered, were not essentially destructive. They were made up of human individuals, each of whom had measureless capabilities of benefiting his fellow men. Possibly from these very northern lands there had come buyers and sellers, bringing commercial prosperity to Israel. Is it not plain that we should always consider, when one approaches us in a hostile and threatening way, that it may be possible by a certain course of conduct to have him come in a very different way? Many enemies have been friends, and after their enmity has come to a head and done much damage, it is possible for them to become friends again. This destroying wind, fierce and dreadful as it was for a time, would yet subside, and fanning and cleansing work be done again.
2. It is worth noticing that the Spirit of God which has such large power to bless has also power to destroy. The Spirit of God is, on the highest authority, compared to the wind. Indeed, that is what the name signifies—the breath or wind from God. Working through Peter in the glorious apostolic days, we see that Spirit healing the lame man; we hear him speaking mighty, convincing, renewing words to thousands hitherto indifferent; bringing men into correct and firm apprehensions of truth that had been misunderstood or not understood at all; and filling their minds with such a light of promise as gave reality and indescribable charm to the future. But that same Spirit struck down Ananias and Sapphira with an appalling and fatal blow, and made Elymas the sorcerer suddenly blind. Only a turn is needed, and the open hand which God extends, the hollow of it filled with the gifts of his grace, can be closed so as to smite in wrath. God does not need to go far afield for the instruments of his chastisement. The energy of his Holy Spirit can destroy as well as make alive; and Jesus, who is Savior, is also appointed to judge and condemn.—Y.
The unwashed heart and the vain purposes cherished in it.
There are here an exhortation and a question which, taken together, pierce very deep, and suggest once more the true cause of all the terrible calamities which are to befall Israel; for though Jerusalem is addressed, the repentance and remedy for all the evils in question must come from the action of a united people. Jeremiah's words in verse 10 are in a measure representative words; they indicate the way in which the nation would conclude that Jehovah had promised one thing; whereas unite another thing had happened, and that evidently by his disposition. And so Jehovah meets Jeremiah with this word, so that he shall not persist in a mistaken attempt to harmonize Jehovah's predictions. Further, he is to declare the same thing to Jerusalem, that being the great center where kings and princes, priests and prophets are gathered together. Instead of looking outward and ignorantly complaining of God, let them look inward, with practical intent, and see what they can do by way of heart-reformation. These stupendous perils can all be removed, but Jehovah by himself cannot remove them. In one sense, of course, he could do so. The wind might be made to subside, the lion be driven back to his thicket, the destroyer of the Gentiles annihilated. But there would be no permanent putting right in this if Israel remained the same. Israel indeed might think that, if only the enemies vanished, then the sword would indeed be withdrawn from the soul. The hearts of the king and princes did not perish simply because of the hosts that were gathered against them. This was a reason so far; but in another sense no reason at all, seeing it did not go to the root of the matter. But now Jehovah does go to the root of the matter; his Word is indeed a sword reaching deeper than the superficial thoughts of the people.
I. THE EXHORTATION.
1. The heart is to be cleansed. The heart. Persistently does God drag these people to look within. Either they were not willing to do so; or not able to do so, or, what is perhaps a more correct way of putting it, they lacked both willingness and ability. They would look anywhere but to the true cause of all their ills and to the true sphere where redemption and security were to be worked out. If they would only attend to their hearts and see in their hearts what God saw in them, all the seeds of peril, corruption, and everlasting shame, then they would get on to the right way, and being delivered from fundamental errors in their thoughts, they would come to the apprehension and practice of fundamental truths. They had already been told of the mockery of a mere outward circumcision, and enjoined to circumcise their hearts. Now the figure is varied, and they are told to cleanse their hearts. It is because the heart of the king and the prince is so polluted that it perishes. If it were a clean heart it would be a strong heart, invincible against panic and despair.
2. The filth that is to be taken out of the heart is wickedness. It takes a long time to work the conviction into the minds of many people that wickedness is as filth. These very people loathe the waifs and strays who think nothing of being constantly begrimed with dirt. To such the impurity of the great unwashed is a loathsome thing; it nauseates them to come within sight or scent of it. But let such recollect that even if, as far as their bodies are concerned, they have daily changes of fine linen, white and clean, that is a mere trifle if the consciousness within be habitually defiled by inhuman and degrading thoughts. There is, of course, a very practical truth in the common saying that "Cleanliness is next to godliness;" but cleanliness of the conscience, removal of every slimy stain of self, is but one of the aspects, of perfect godliness. If only we are laboring to cleanse our hearts from wickedness, all other cleanliness will assuredly follow. In proportion as wickedness is cleansed out, there will follow all outward decencies, courtesy of manner and refinement of tastes. The right inwardly grows to the comely outwardly; but if that inward right be lacked, then all apparent comeliness is but the whited sepulcher.
3. The mode of cleansing. The word chosen to indicate this is a very significant one. The mere general term for cleansing is not sufficient; nor even the more restricted but still general term for cleansing with water. The washing to be done is that sort which in the literal instance is to be done by a vigorous trampling of the feet. The Hebrew word is the same one in which the profoundly penitent David prays that God would wash him from his iniquity, and again to wash him so that he should be whiter than snow (Psalms 51:1-19.). And so here we have another instance of the unremitting thoroughness which marks this chapter. It is the heart that is to be cleansed, and that by the most vigorous kind of washing. The accumulated filth of years has entered into the very texture of the fabric. The truth is that the only way of carrying out the exhortation is to submit the heart to him in exactly the same spirit as David did. God is the Cleanser, and only when our nature has passed through all his purifying agencies shall we really know what perfect human nature is. We do indeed see that perfection in Jesus, but with such distorted vision that the seeing cannot be called seeing as we ought to see.
II. THE QUESTION. The thoughts with respect to which the question is asked are really purposes. This will come out more clearly on considering some of the expressions in which the same Hebrew word is used; e.g. when the woman of Tekcah spoke to David of God devising means to bring back his banished (2 Samuel 14:14); so Eliphaz tells Job that God disappoints the devices of the crafty (Job 5:12). Several of the Proverbs contain the word. The thoughts, i.e. counsels, of the righteous are just (Proverbs 12:5). Where there is no deliberation, purposes are disappointed (Proverbs 15:22). There are many devices in a man s heart, but the counsel of God shall stand (Proverbs 19:21). Purposes are established by counsel, i.e. there must be wisdom in forming them, and prudence in carrying them out. A comparison of these selected passages will amply suffice to show what God means by vain thoughts, and what sort of practical thoughts he would wish us to put in their place. Man is meant to live wish definite ends in view, on which he may expend his strength and faculties. But when these ends are his own—self-originated and self-gratifying—then they are emphatically vain. They can only continue by deceiving the mind that proposes them and holds to them. The question therefore is as to when our eyes shall be opened to perceive the right purposes of life, the solid and attainable ones, the purposes that are not vain, because they are God's purposes and because he provides all resources needed for carrying them out. Jerusalem wished these terrible troubles from outside to be at an end, just that it might resume its own projects. On the other hand, God wished it from the very heart to adopt his projects in order that then he might take all obstacles and enemies completely out of the way.—Y.
Those who are wise to do evil.
This description of "my people" has a curious resemblance to the exhortation of our Lord when he told his friends to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. These people, according to Jeremiah's observation, had all the wisdom of the serpent, but it was for serpentine purposes. And the worst of it was that they hurt themselves the most. Note—
I. THE REFERENCE TO MAN'S GREAT POWERS. Even in his headlong, infatuated descent to ruin, the great powers are manifest. It is the very perversion and ruin of what is so noble in its original constitution that helps to give one an insight, deep even though melancholy, into all that makes up the nobility. A temple in ruins fills one with thoughts which could never be excited by looking at a dilapidated shed. Jeremiah looks upon Jerusalem and the men who are leaders there (verse 9), and their great human faculties cannot he concealed from him. When man sinks into sin, this does not destroy the great human powers; it simply distorts their operation. We look at men as they are, and whatever the sad reflections coming into our minds, we still see the supremacy in terrestrial creation, the power to adapt means to ends, and all that strength and suppleness of intellect which are so much more than the greatest strength of a brute.
II. THESE GREAT POWERS MUST BE USED. The human intellect cannot be left to lie like a dead sword in the scabbard. In one sense the intellect is but an instrument. having in itself no character either for good or evil, any more than a piece of machinery. Everything depends on the disposition and intents of the man using it. But then the intellect, instrumental as it is, is not a mere instrument, but has a living connection with the rest of human nature. It must act, with more or less energy, according to the individuality of its possessor. These faculties must be used, if not for good, then for evil. History abounds in instances of wicked and selfish men who have achieved their mischievous ends by that very intellectual force which was given for something very different. Hence the importance of early training and direction, so far as one will can alter the course of another. Every individual whose faculties are diverted from good purposes is so much gain to the powers of evil. There is no neutral ground to which to retire. To go out of the one path is to go into the other. This was the sad thought that, even while Jerusalem was going down, lower, lower, towards the hour of its capture and desolation, there were yet in it many men who had the power, if only their hearts had been fight, to do much towards saving and blessing their country. But all their thoughts, their utmost acuteness of mind, were given to build and enrich self.—Y.
A threatened return from cosmos to chaos.
It is impossible to read this passage without having the first chapter of Genesis brought to mind. Moreover, it was intended that it should be brought to mind. In Genesis 1:1-31. we have the brief, sublime description, impossible to forget, of the advance from chaos to cosmos. Here in Jeremiah we have a very sad and suggestive indication of possible return from cosmos to chaos. These two words, it will be admitted, are often used very loosely. Particularly is this true of the latter. We talk of things having got into a chaotic condition, when if such really were so, it would be a very terrible condition indeed. For what is chaos? It is the state indicated at the very beginning of the Scriptures, the state out of which God fashioned what we call the cosmos or the world. Bear in mind that the creation described in Genesis is not the making of something out of nothing, but the fashioning of formless, empty matter into an orderly collection of appropriate parts and beyond that an innumerable array of living, active organisms. "The earth was without form and void." Strictly speaking, the earth spoken of in Genesis was as yet an ideal thing. "And darkness was on the face of the abyss." As the writer of the narrative conceived it, there stretched out from the formless, empty earth an impenetrable, rayless depth of space. This is chaos, where there is no ray of light, not even the slightest beginning of order, not even the smallest seed of life. But with the moving of God's breath upon the face of the water cosmos begins. Light comes; and then day and night are defined, and heaven and earth, and so on through the familiar procession of God's wonderful works, till cosmos gets its terrestrial crown in the fashioning of man. It is worth while for all who would rejoice in the works and ways of God to get a clear notion of the difference between chaos and cosmos.
Then bearing this difference in mind, WHAT A TERRIBLE PROSPECT JEREMIAH HINTS AT IN THIS PASSAGE! Just by the profit and glory of the ascent from chaos to cosmos in Genesis do we measure the loss and shame of the descent from cosmos to chaos in Jeremiah. It is earth we see, with the men and women, the domestic and social bends, city and country, all occupations of mankind, all that is highest in human attainments; and this aggregation, which comes from man's toiling development of the cosmical elements presented to him, is seen sliding back to chaos again. There can be no mistake about it. Mark, it is not what the prophet hears, but what he sees. "I beheld' is repeated. And looking out he sees not the accustomed scene of life and activity, but the earth without form and void. He looks for the heavens where dwell the sun by day and moon and stars by night, but there is no light of any sort. The mountains and hills, which always were so significant of strength and grandeur to the Hebrew imagination, show signs of being moved away. No man could be seen. There are several words in Hebrew all rendered by the English word "man," but Jeremiah's word here is the same with that in Genesis 1:26. Then, moreover, all the birds of the heaven fly away. Other inhabited and cultivated places have become as the wilderness, but not as an uninhabited wilderness. Note Isaiah 14:23 : Babylon is there described as being made a possession for the bittern. Thus it is indeed desolated, but evidently the birds do not fly away from it. Here, however, even the birds, which so easily flit from place to place, disappear as if they had no hope of making in this place their nests and finding in it their sustenance. Thus every detail points to the chance, the possibility, of Chaos resuming his ancient reign. But now observe—
THERE IS AN ARREST BEFORE SUCH A DEPLORABLE CONSUMMATION. "I will not make a full end." Man the individual and men the social community may slide a long way towards destruction, may be as it were on the brink, without a remedy; and yet God can so act as to arrest, restore, and consolidate anew, with such internal purity and coherency as will defy further lapse. Note the full significance of the use of the word κόσμος in the Greek Testament. It was into the κόμος that the true Light came. John's great directing word to his disciples as he saw Jesus coming to him was, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the κόσμος." Where all should be perfect order, vigorous life, and exuberant fruitfulness, there is discord, contradiction; everything jars, and there is a never-intermitting groan of pain. All this Jesus can take away, and must take away. It is through him that whatever promises and hopes lie in verse 27 are to be carried into effect. This whole passage, therefore, suggests an aspect in which the need of Christ's work and the reality of it may be very profitably considered.—Y.
Departed charms that cannot be restored.
The figure here is of a woman, once beautiful and attractive. There is thus a return to the theme of Jeremiah 2:1-37; where the idolatrous land is set forth as a wife departing from her husband. In the days of her beauty she has fascinated many lovers; but now the beauty is gone, and she makes desperate attempts to compensate for vanished charms by external adornments; only to find her efforts cause for deeper humiliation. Consider—
I. THE CHARM OF NATURAL ATTRACTIONS. There is a time when youth and beauty are comparatively independent of external aids. So there was a time in Israel when no special devices were needed to keep the admiration and envy of the world. David and Solomon made the kingdom great, not by a dexterous concealment of poverty and hollowness under external magnificence, but by a simple and scarcely avoidable exhibition of the greatness of real resources. The kingdom was one of strong men, valiant warriors, and overflowing material wealth. So it is with individuals still. They attract and influence, not by vain pretensions, but by what they really are. The attractive element in them may be overvalued, but at all events it is not a mere appearance. Nothing is gained by refusing to admit the success and charm of natural resources. Confidence in them is justified by the way in which the world receives and encourages those who possess them.
II. THE FOLLY OF FORGETTING THAT NATURAL ATTRACTIONS MUST FADE AND DISAPPEAR. Probably they are but comparatively few—those vain men and women who use dyes, cosmetics, and paints, under the notion that thereby they conceal the ravages of time. Nevertheless, ludicrous as such devices are, there are only too many who do the same thing, so far as the essential principle is concerned. They cannot be got to admit the failure of power and faculty. Habit is too strong to enable them rightly to apprehend their diminished resources. Hosea said of Ephraim, "Gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not" (Hosea 7:9). There may even be a nobler side to such a spirit, viz. the resolution not to give way before difficulties. But we must take care that an admirable element in conduct does not blind us to what may be disadvantageous or even perilous in it; e.g. one hears sometimes of judges afflicted with deafness—a most dangerous infirmity in the administration of justice, and at least a most discommoding one to all who have to address the judge. What is needed is that, even in the days of youth and strength, of unimpaired faculties of sense and intellect, one should remember that far other days are coming. Consider in connection with this the last eighteen verses of Ecclesiastes. The spectacles and the speaking-trumpet are all very well in their way, so far as they make an easier, smoother slope to the grave; but what folly it is to be assiduous about these things, and utterly careless about that new, Divine, and eternal life which shows itself in all the grandeur of its peculiar principle and strength, precisely amid the decays of the natural man! What sadder sight can there be than an old man, clinging to the worn, torn, weather-beaten, age-marked sides of his earthly tabernacle, and doing his best to resist every incursion from the forerunners of death; simply because he knows of no better mansion, because he is utterly ignorant of the "house of God not made with hands, eternal in the heavens!"—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent