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Is the punishment thought too severe? Then let the moral condition of Jerusalem be inquired into. Must not such transgressions precipitate its people into ruin? There are four well-marked sections or strophes.
Gladly would Jehovah pardon, if his people showed but a gleam of sound morality. But they are all deaf to the warning voice—the Law of God is flagrantly violated. In particular the marriage tie, as well the typical one between man and woman as the anti-typical between the people and its God, is openly disregarded (comp. Hosea 4:1; Micah 7:2; Isaiah 64:6, Isaiah 64:7; Psalms 14:3).
If ye can find a man. "A man" is explained by the following clauses. It is a man whose practice and whose aims are right, of whom Jeremiah, like Diogenes with his lantern, is in search. (It is evident that the prophet speaks rhetorically, for himself and his disciples, however few, were doubtless "men" in the prophetic sense of the word.) Judgment … the truth; rather, justice … good faith, the primary virtues of civil society.
And though they say, The Lord liveth. Though they asseverate by the most solemn of all oaths (contrast Jeremiah 4:1,Jeremiah 4:2). Surely. So the Syriac. This rendering, however, involves an emendation of one letter in the text. The ordinary reading is literally therefore, but may etymologically be taken to mean "for all this," "nevertheless."
Are not thine eyes upon the truth? rather, surely thine eyes are upon (equivalent to thou lookest for and demandest) good faith, alluding to Jeremiah 5:1.
Therefore I said; rather, and as for me, I said. They are foolish; rather, they act foolishly (as Numbers 12:11). For; rather, because. Their want of religious instruction is the cause of their faulty conduct. In fact, it was only after the return from Babylon that any popular schools were founded in Judaea, and not till shortly before the destruction of the temple that the elementary instruction attained the regularity of a system. The judgment of their God. A similar phrase occurs in Jeremiah 8:7. "Judgment (mishpat) here (as in some other passages) has acquired a technical sense. This may be illustrated by the corresponding word in Arabic (din), which means
(2) a religion,
(3) a statute or ordinance,
(4) a system of usages, rites, and ceremonies" (Lane's 'Lexicon,' s.v.).
"Judgment" is, therefore, here equivalent to "religious law," and "law" is a preferable rendering.
The bonds are the thongs by which the yoke was secured to the neck (comp. Isaiah 58:6). In Jeremiah 2:20 the word is rendered "bands."
This verse reminds us of a famous passage in the first canto of Dante's 'Commedia,' in which Dante the pilgrim is successively opposed by three wild beasts—a panther, a lion, and a she-wolf. That the poet had Jeremiah in his mind cannot be doubted. The deep knowledge of the Scriptures possessed by medieval theologians (and such was Dante) may put many Protestants to shame. Curiously enough, whereas the early commentators on Dante interpret these wild beasts of vices, the moderns find historical references to nations. On the other hand, while modern expositors explain Jeremiah's wild beasts as symbols of calamities, Rashi and St. Jerome understand them of the Chaldeans, Persians, and Greeks. A lion out of the forest. The first of a series of figures for the cruel invaders of Judah (comp. Jeremiah 4:7). The frequent references (see also Jeremiah 12:8; Jeremiah 25:38; Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:4) show how common the lion was in the hills and valleys of the land of Israel. A wolf of the evenings; i.e. a wolf which goes out to seek for prey in the evening. So the Peshito, Targum, Vulgate (comp. "wolves of the evening," Habakkuk 1:8; Zephaniah 3:3). But there is no evidence that ‛erebh, evening, has for its plural ‛arābhōth, which is, in fact, the regular plural of ‛arābāh, desert. Render, therefore, a wolf of the deserts, i.e. one which has its den in the deserts, and falls upon the cultivated parts when it is hungry. Luther, "the wolf out of the desert." A leopard; rather, a panther. The Chaldeans are compared to this animal, on account of its swiftness, in Habakkuk 1:8.
How … for this? rather, Why should I pardon thee? Thy children; i.e. (since "the daughter of Zion" is equivalent to Zion regarded as an ideal entity) the members of the Jewish people (comp. Leviticus 19:18, "the children of thy people"). When I had fed them to the full. So Ewald, following the versions and many manuscripts. This gives a good sense, and may be supported by Jeremiah 5:28; Deuteronomy 32:15; Hosea 13:6. But the reading of the received Hebrew text, though somewhat more difficult, is yet perfectly capable of explanation; and, slight as the difference is in the reading adopted by Ewald (it involves a mere shade of pronunciation), it is not to be preferred to the received reading. Read, therefore, though -r made them to swear (allegiance), yet they committed adultery. The oath may be that of Sinai (Exodus 24:1-2.24.18.), or such au oath as had been recently taken by Josiah and the people (1 Kings 23:3; 2 Chronicles 34:31, 2 Chronicles 34:32). The "adultery" may be taken both in a literal and in a figurative sense, and so also the "harlots' houses" in the next clause. It is also well worthy of consideration whether the prophet may not be referring to certain matrimonial customs handed down from remote antiquity and arising from the ancient system of kinship through women (comp. Ezekiel 22:11).
As fed horses in the morning. The rendering fed horses has considerable authority. "Lustful horses" is also possible; this represents the reading of the Hebrew margin. The following word in the Hebrew is extremely difficult. "In the morning" cannot be right, as it is against grammar; but it is not easy to furnish a substitute. Most modems render "roving about;" Furst prefers "stallions."
Provoked by the open unbelief of the men of Judah, Jehovah repeats his warning of a sore judgment.
Her walls. There is a doubt about "walls," which should, as some think, rather be vine-rows (a change of points is involved; also of shin into sin—the slightest of all changes), or shoots, or branches (comparing the Syriac). The figure would thus gain somewhat in symmetry. However, all the ancient interpreters (whose authority, overrated by some, still counts for something) explain the word as in the Authorized Version, and, as Graf remarks, in order to destroy the vines, it' would be necessary to climb up upon the walls of the vineyard. (For the figure of the vine or the vineyard, scrap, on Jeremiah 2:21.) Take away … not the Lord's. The Septuagint and Peshito read differently, translating "leave her foundations, for they are the Lord's" (supposing the figure be taken from a building). As the text stands, it is better to change battlements into tendrils. Judah's degenerate members are to be removed, but the vine-stock, i.e; the behooving kernel of the nation, is to be left. It is the key-note of the "remnant" which Jeremiah again strikes (see Jeremiah 4:27).
It is not he. Understand "who speaks by the prophets" (Payne Smith). It is hardly conceivable that any of the Jews absolutely denied the existence of Jehovah. They were practical, not speculative unbelievers, like men of the world in general.
And the prophets, etc. A continuation of the speech of the unbelieving Jews. The word is not in them. The Authorized Version gives a good meaning, but it involves an interference with the points. The pointed text must be rendered, he who speaketh (through the prophets, viz. Jehovah) is not in them. Thus the Jews hurl against prophets like Jeremiah the very charge which Jeremiah himself brings against the "false prophets" in Jeremiah 23:25-24.23.32. Thus shall it be done; rather, so be it done; i.e. may the sword and famine, with which they threaten us, fall upon them.
My words in thy mouth fire. (See on Jeremiah 1:9, Jeremiah 1:10.)
O house of Israel. After the captivity of the ten tribes, Judah became the sole representative of the people of Israel (scrap. Jeremiah 2:26). A mighty nation. The Authorized Version certainly gives apart of the meaning. The Hebrew word rendered "mighty" ('ēthān), rather, "perennial," is the epithet of rocks and mountains (Numbers 24:21; Micah 6:2); of a pasture (Jeremiah 49:19); of rivers (Deuteronomy 21:4; Psalms 74:15). As applied in the present instance, it seems to describe the inexhaustible resources of a young nation. Render here, ever replenished; i.e. ever drawing anew from its central fountain of strength. Does not this aptly convey the impression which a long-civilized nation (and the Jews, who have been called "rude," were only so by comparison with the Egyptians and Assyrians) must derive from the tumultuous incursions of nomad hosts? The description-will therefore fit the Scythians; but it is not inappropriate to the Chaldeans, if we take into account the composite nature of their armies. An ancient nation; i.e. one which still occupies its primeval seat in the north (Jeremiah 6:22), undisturbed by invaders. Whose language thou knowest not. So Isaiah of the Assyrians, "(a people) of a stammering tongue, that thou canst not understand." The Jews were no philologists, and were as unlikely to notice the fundamental affinity of Hebrew and Assyrian as an ancient Greek to observe the connection between his own language and the Persian. When the combatants were to each other βάρβαροι, mercy could hardly be expected. The sequence of verses 49 and 50 in Deuteronomy 28:1-5.28.68 speaks volumes.
Their quiver. (See on Jeremiah 4:29.) As an open sepulcher; i.e. furnished with deadly arrows, "fiery darts." So the psalmist, of the "throat" of deceitful persecutors (Psalms 5:9).
Which thy sons and thy daughters, etc.; rather, they shall eat that sons and thy daughters. In the other clauses of the verse the verb is in the singular, the subject being the hostile nation. They shall impoverish, etc.; rather, it shall batter … with weapons of war (so rightly Payne Smith); kherebh, commonly rendered "sword." is applied to any cutting instrument, such as a razor (Ezekiel 5:1), a mason's tool (Exodus 20:25), and, as here and Ezekiel 26:9, weapons of war in general.
Judah's own obstinacy and flagrant disobedience are the causes of this sore judgment.
Like as ye have forsaken me, etc. The law of correspondence between sin and punishment pervades Old Testament prophecy (comp. Isaiah 5:1-23.5.30.). As the Jews served foreign gods in Jehovah's land, they shall become the slaves of foreigners in a land which is not theirs.
Without understanding; literally, without heart. This seems at first sight inconsistent with Jeremiah 5:23, where the people is described as having indeed a "heart," but one hostile to Jehovah. The explanation is that a course of deliberate sin perverts a man's moral perceptions. The prophet first of all states the result, and then the cause. So in Ezekiel 12:2, "Which have eyes and see not," etc.; "for they are a rebellions house."
Fear ye not me? The Hebrew places "me" emphatically at the beginning of the sentence. By a perpetual decree. This is one of the evidences, few but sufficient, of the recognition of natural laws by the Biblical writers; of laws, however, which are but the description of the Divine mode of working, "covenants" (Jeremiah 33:20; comp. Genesis 9:18) made for man's good, but capable of being annulled (Isaiah 54:10). Comp. Proverbs 8:29; Job 38:8-18.38.12.
A revolting and a rebellious heart. The heart is the center of the moral life virtually equivalent to "the will;" it. is "revolting" when it "turns back" (so literally here) from God's Law and service, and "rebellious" when it actively defies and opposes him.
That giveth rain, etc. The second appeal is to the regularity of the rains. Dr. Robinson remarks that there are not at the present day in Palestine "any particular periods of rain, or succession of showers, which might be regarded as distinct rainy seasons," and that …unless there has been some change m the climate of Palestine, the former and the latter rains seem to correspond to "the first showers of autumn, which revived the parched and thirsty earth and prepared it for the seed, and the later showers of spring, which continued to refresh and forward both the ripening crops and the vernal products of the fields" ('Biblical Researches,' 3.98). He reserveth unto us, etc.; literally, he keepeth for us the weeks—the statutes of harvest; i.e. the weeks which are the appointed conditions of harvest. The prophet means the seven weeks which elapsed from the second day of the Passover to the "Feast of Harvest," or "Feast of Weeks" (Pentecost) (Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:9, Deuteronomy 16:10).
Have turned away these things. "These things" are the benefits mentioned in the preceding verse (comp. Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 12:4). Thus the judgment is not entirely future; a foretaste of it has already been given.
They lay wait, etc.; rather, they spy (literally, one spieth), as fowlers lie in wait. A trap; literally, a destroyer; i.e. an instrument of destruction (comp. Isaiah 54:16, where" the waster" (or destroyer) probably means the weapon referred to previously).
A cage. The Hebrew word klub is used in Amos 8:1 for a basket such as was used for fruit; it seems to be the parent of the Greek word κλωβός, used in the 'Anthology' for a bird-cage. The root means to plait or braid; hence some sort of basket-work seems to be meant. Connecting this with the preceding verse, Hitzig seems right in inferring that the "cage" was at the same time a trap (comp. Ecc 11:1-10 :30, "Like as a partridge taken in a cage ἐν καρτάλλῳ, a peculiar kind of basket], so is the heart of the proud"). Canon Tristram suggests that there is an allusion to decoy-birds, which are still much employed in Syria, and are carefully trained for their office, But this seems to go beyond the text. Deceit; i.e. the goods obtained by deceit.
They overpass the deeds of the wicked; rather, they overpass the common measure of wickedness (literally, the cases of wickedness); or, as others, they exceed in deeds of wickedness. Yet they prosper; rather, so that they (the fatherless) might prosper; or, that they (the rich) might make it to prosper.
A repetition of Jeremiah 5:9 in the manner of a refrain.
Jeremiah 5:30, Jeremiah 5:31
The result of the prophet's examination of the moral condition of the people.
A wonderful and horrible thing, etc.; rather, an appalling and horrible thins hath happened in the land. The word rendered "appalling" (or stupefying) has a peculiar force, it only occurs again in Jeremiah 23:14, though a cognate adjective is found in Jeremiah 18:13 (comp. on Jeremiah 2:11).
The prophets … the priests. (See on Jeremiah 2:26.) Bear rule by their means; rather, rule at their beck. (literally, at their hands, comp. Jeremiah 33:13; 1Ch 25:2, 1 Chronicles 25:3; 2 Chronicles 23:18). An example of this interference of the false prophets with the priestly office is given by Jeremiah himself. (Jeremiah 29:24-24.29.26). My people love to have it so. Sometimes the prophets speak as if the governing classes alone were responsible for the sins and consequent calamities of their country. But Jeremiah here expressly declares that the governed were as much to blame as their governors.
Forgiveness for many through the righteousness of one.
I. GOD IS GREATLY DESIROUS TO PARDON HIS CHILDREN. The command is given to "run to and fro" and search for the one righteous man. God thus expresses his anxiety to forgive. "He waiteth to be gracious." The first movement towards exercising pardon comes from God even before men desire it. He will lay hold of the smallest ground for forgiveness. If the one righteous man can but be found, God will forgive the city.
II. SOME RIGHTEOUSNESS IS NECESSARY AS A GROUND FOR FORGIVENESS. If the righteous man cannot be found, the condition of the city is hopeless. There is a propitiatory power in righteousness. Good men are priests, and their lives sacrifices of value for the advantage of others. The righteousness of Christ is an essential element in the atonement (Hebrews 10:9, Hebrews 10:10). It was not possible for the sin of man to be forgiven except on condition of this. Pardon is offered to men only through this (Acts 13:38).
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH AVAILS WITH GOD MUST BE SOLID AND PRACTICAL. A vain, religious boast counts for nothing (Jeremiah 5:2).
1. The goodness to be sought for is not devoutness of demeanor, but the exercise of justice and the effort to keep good faith.
2. This is to be looked for, not in the temple, but in the streets and lanes and places of public concourse, i.e. in daily life. The best evidences of character are to be seen in home life and conduct in business. When the domestic and commercial morality of a city is corrupt, the condition of that city is ruinous; whatever may be the assiduity and decorum with which religious observances are maintained.
IV. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF ONE MAY BE EFFICACIOUS FOR THE SECURITY OF MANY. Sodom and Gomorrah would have been spared for the sake of ten righteous men (Genesis 18:32). Lot was the providential means of saving Zoar (Genesis 19:21). The one man Christ secures salvation for the whole world (Hebrews 7:24, Hebrews 7:25). There is much that is mysterious in the principle of Divine grace which is here revealed—much that we cannot explain. Still, there are truths entering into it which may be discerned, e.g. injustice cannot be done by God in the smallest respect; the righteous are "the salt of the earth," they preserve by preventing complete corruption; there is hope for the city in which but one righteous man lives, since he may be the means of leading others back to righteousness—this principle is one on which God acts in forgiving, not in distributing bare rights; all that he requires is a safe and justifiable ground on which to exercise pardon, not a fund of merit such as could constitute a claim on his grace.
I. THE PURPOSE OF CHASTISEMENT IS CORRECTION.
1. It is to lead men by outward suffering to inward grief ("they have not grieved"). No more hopeless condition can be found than pleasure or indifference in sin. The tears of penitence are the first preparations for reformation.
2. It is to lead men, through outward suffering and inward grief, to a genuine Conversion of character (God looks for a restoration of "good faith"), and to bring them back to God ("they have refused to return"). It is no end in itself, no good except as leading to a further good. It is not given in vindictive rage nor to satisfy the claims of abstract justice. Though it springs directly from the wrath of God, that wrath is based on his eternal love. Because God loves his children he must be angry when they sin. Because he desires their good he must not spare his rod (Proverbs 3:11, Proverbs 3:12). The purpose of chastisement is not so mysterious as is commonly supposed. People often exclaim vaguely, "These troubles must be sent for some good purpose." The purpose is not all hidden. It is mainly that we may be brought nearer to God.
II. THE CORRECTION AIMED AT IN CHASTISEMENT IS NOT ALWAYS ATTAINED. A terrible delusion possesses multitudes of suffering people. They have faith enough to believe that trouble is sent for their good, but not spirituality enough to see how to use it for that end. Such people assume that it must benefit them, however they behave under it. Some suppose that if they suffer in this world they will certainly receive compensation in the next. Such ideas imply that chastisement cannot be deserved, or that the mere endurance of it is meritorious, or that, if not exactly punishment for sin, it must be a necessity to be borne now or hereafter for its own sake or to satisfy some strange will of God. But chastisement is a "means of grace," and, like other "means of grace," may be frustrated. We may receive this grace in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1). Consider the causes of the fruitlessness of chastisement.
1. Stoical hardness. We may be stricken, but not grieve.
2. Thoughtlessness. We may feel inward grief, but not reflect on our condition and need.
3. Pride, which suffers pangs of grief but no contrition for sin.
4. Impenitence. We may "refuse to receive correction," harden our wills against submission, and rebel in impatience and complaining against God, instead of returning to him.
III. FRUITLESS CHASTISEMENT IS WHOLLY AN EVIL THING. Like every other grace, if abused it works injury. Sent to bless, it is converted into a curse.
1. It is wasted suffering. As such it must be reckoned as an evil. Pain in itself is not a good thing. If it works no good, natural instinct is right in regarding it as bad.
2. It leads to an aggravation of wickedness. The very abuse of it is a sin. The wrong temper in which it is received is so much more wickedness added to the long catalogue of unrepented sin. One more call from the Father is spurned by his children.
3. It leaves the heart harder than it finds it. Sorrow, if it does not soften the sufferer, will harden him, as friction, which abrades the tender skin, renders the tough skin more thick and horny.
Jeremiah 5:12, Jeremiah 5:13
The Jews are accused of unbelief as a sin. It is therefore sometimes to be regarded in this light (e.g. Hebrews 4:1-58.4.16.). Let us consider the characteristics of a culpable unbelief and its origin.
I. UNBELIEF IS MORALLY CULPABLE WHEN IT ARISES FROM AN EVIL HEART.
1. This unbelief must be distinguished
(1) from that of ignorance;
(2) from that of prejudice, bad education, etc.;
(3) from that of honest doubt.
2. It is recognized
(1) as residing in the will rather than in the intellect—a result of wishing a thing not to be true; and
(2) as colored by custom, worldly proclivities, base passions, ill feeling against all that the highest truth is concerned with. It is practically equivalent to the willful rejection of truth. He who is blamed for this is not blamed for his opinions, but for the moral determining causes of them. We are not responsible for our beliefs, in so far as they are purely intellectual, but we are responsible for them in so far as they are formed under moral influences.
II. THE EVIL TENDENCIES TOWARDS A CULPABLE UNBELIEF ARE ABUNDANT AND POWERFUL. These are not to be found in a simple proneness to err, a natural weakness of faith, nor in the dangers accompanying daring speculation. They are to be traced in conduct and practical affairs.
1. Untruthful habits. Israel had dealt treacherously with God (Jeremiah 5:11). We must be true to discern truth. If the eye is evil, the whole body is full of darkness. There is a close connection between those two evil things which go under the name of infidelity—treachery and unbelief, lack of faithfulness and lack of faith.
2. Resistance to the will of God. The language of the people betrays an animus, a spirit of enmity to God. "They have belied the Lord." Nothing blinds like hatred.
3. Love of ease. The words of Jeremiah were not pleasant; be threatened terrible things. Therefore his hearers refused to accept his message. Their conduct was most illogical, since truth is not affected by our liking for it—are there not many unpleasant truths?—and most injurious to themselves, since it was for their own interest to give heed to the warning of approaching calamity, that foresight might mitigate the force, if it could not now prevent the falling, of the blow. Yet this conduct was most natural. It is constantly to be observed that people listen to the teachers whom they like rather than to those whom they believe to be speaking the most important truths, and accept the opinions which suit their inclinations rather than those possibly less agreeable ideas which stand on the surest foundation of fact.
4. Spiritual deadness. The Jews deny the inspiration of the prophets. To them weighty words such as those of Jeremiah are mere "wind." So there were those who derided him who spake with the weightiest authority and "as never man spake." Sin deadens the soul to the perception of God's voice in nature, in the Bible, in Christ, in conscience.
In anticipation of their astonishment at the character of the retribution that is to fall upon them the Jews are to be shown that this is fitting and rightly corresponds to their conduct.
I. THEY WHO FORSAKE GOD IN PROSPERITY WILL FEEL THE LOSS OF GOD IN ADVERSITY. According to the religious conduct in sunny days will be the condition of rest or ruin in dark days.
II. THE FALSE GODS OF PROSPERITY PROVE WORTHLESS IN ADVERSITY. Israel served heathen gods in their own laud. In their captivity they are to be slaves to strange men. The gods are then nowhere. Men make gods of wealth, pleasure, fame, etc; and find that, though these may be worshipped, they can do nothing to deliver their devotees.
III. THEY WHO THROW OFF THE SERVICE OF GOD MUST SUBMIT TO HARDER SERVICE. They think to be free, but they really are the slaves of sin (John 8:34). They reject the easy yoke and light burden of Christ only to find themselves bound in the galling fetters of Satan.
IV. THE ABUSE OF BLESSINGS IS NATURALLY PUNISHED BY THE LOSS OF THEM. In their own land the Jews had proved unfaithful to the God who had given it them. They are rightly punished by exile to a strange land, where they must miss his gracious government.
Man rebuked by nature.
Man considers himself to be "the lord of creation." He alone of all creatures is made in the image of God. Yet there are things in nature which should put him to shame. Jeremiah indicates two of these.
I. THE DIVINE ORDER OF NATURE REBUKES THE WILFUL DISOBEDIENCE OF MAN.
1. Nature is ever obedient to the law of God.
(1) The greatest powers of nature submit to Divine ordinances. The sea, vast and mighty, is bound by his decree (Job 38:8-18.38.11).
(2) The wildest convulsions of nature do not transgress these ordinances. The waves may toss and roar, but they cannot pass the bounds that God has set them. Hurricanes, thunder-storms, earthquakes, are as subservient to law as the silent sunshine and the peaceful growth of spring.
(3) The simplest means in accordance with Divine laws are sufficient to restrain the fiercest forces of nature. God has placed the sand as a bound of the sea, and the storms are driven back from the sandy beach as surely as from the coast of iron crags.
(4) The obedience of nature to these Divine ordinances is everlasting and without exception. The sea is bound by perpetual decrees.
2. Man alone is disobedient to the Law of God. He is the great exception to the order of the universe. The wild sea never transgresses God's decrees; man is the sole transgressor. The possibility of this strange, solitary rebellion among all the orders of God's kingdoms of nature is explained by the constitution of man and the character of the obedience which is required by this. Nature is under necessity; man is free. Nature's obedience is unconscious, material; man's is deliberate, moral. He is to fear, to tremble, i.e. to obey under the influence of thoughts and feelings of reverence. Lacking these, he can be bound to the throne of God by no chains of compulsion. But how terrible to use the high endowment of liberty only to set at defiance the august decrees before which all other creatures bow unceasingly!
II. THE DIVINE BENEFICENCE OF NATURE REBUKES THE UNGRATEFUL REBELLION OF MAN.
1. The order of nature is beneficent. God gives the rain "in its season." He keeps for men "the appointed weeks of the harvest." The regularity and harmony of the physical world are beneficial to men. The sun never fails to rise. If it once failed, what disasters would follow! If the motion of the earth were irregular no life could continue to exist. The order of the seasons is a distinct blessing (Genesis 8:22). Instead of shrinking from "the reign of law" as from a cruel tyranny, we should welcome it when we remember that the laws of nature are but the material expression of the will of God, and that will the outcome of his goodness.
2. This beneficence of nature shows all sin to be a mark of ingratitude. God smiles on us in nature (Matthew 5:45). How then can we, while blessed by the very sunshine of that smile, rise up in revolt against him? If the grandeur and splendid harmony of nature do not awe us, shall not its gentleness and kindliness attract us to loyal obedience to him who is at once the Fountain of law and the Father of mercies?
Jeremiah 5:30, Jeremiah 5:31
The most appalling condition to which a nation can sink.
After enumerating the sins of his people in ever-darkening series, the prophet at length reaches a form of evil worse than all others, at the sight of which he starts back with an exclamation of horror; this is corruption at the very fountain of instruction and worship, and the willing acquiescence in it by the nation.
I. CONSIDER THE FEARFUL NATURE OF THIS EVIL.
1. False prophecy. The prophet should be the highest oracle of truth. If he utters lies, knowledge is corrupted at its source. The guilt of such conduct is exceptionally great, because
(1) it is a sin against light;
(2) it is a prostitution of the highest powers to the basest ends; and
(3) it is a cause of widespread ruin to those who follow these "blind leaders of the blind."
2. Subservient priesthood. The priests were at the beck of the false prophets. These men had not the excuse of the prophets. The prophets represented a progressive religion, a religion of inward lights, a religion in which new departures were expected, and therefore one in which the excuse of honest though mistaken enthusiasm might be urged in defense of a lapse into error. But the priests were the custodians of a rigid ritual defined by a written Law. They were put in trust, and their apostasy was a deliberate act of unfaithfulness. The Christian teacher, though free from the letter of the Law, and gifted with the spiritual freedom of prophecy, is put in trust with the gospel (1 Timothy 1:11). If he, while retaining the influence and emoluments of his office, consciously forsakes the guidance of the New Testament for the fascinations of groundless speculation, he too is guilty of unfaithfulness; and if he knows the speculation to be false, but accepts it out of deference to its popularity, he is guilty of base treason like that of the commander of a fortress who surrenders to the enemy from sheer cowardice.
3. Popular acquiescence in these evils. "My people love to have it so." This is pleasing, since
(1) the false prophets flatter and prophesy smooth things, while the true prophets like Jeremiah must often rebuke and denounce judgments; and
(2) the priests are satisfied with an unspiritual religion, ritual without morality, perhaps even immorality in religion. But this fact completes the terrible depravity of the nation. The people cannot plead ignorance nor compulsory obedience. The willing followers of corrupt religious leaders must share their guilt; nay, they are responsible for the aggravation of it by fostering with applause that which would die out if neglected.
II. CONSIDER THE FINAL RESULT OF THIS EVIL. "And what will ye do in the end thereof?" It was characteristic of the false prophets that they aimed only at immediate popularity, and thought only of the present, while the true prophets were concerned with the future. But the future wilt some day be the present. Is it not best to inquire what this is becoming while yet there is time to modify it?
1. Consider the moral results of this depravity, the corruption of conscience, the falsifying of the nature of those who live in falsehood, the destruction of all spiritual life in those who lower spiritual functions before the claims of worldly convenience.
2. Consider the penal results of this depravity. Can this of all evils go unpunished? (See verse 29.)
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
A wicked city spared for the sake of one saint.
The challenge is very bold and striking. It proves how thoroughly the prophet, as taught by the Spirit, had read the national corruption. At the same time it furnishes a gauge of the long, suffering mercy of God, and the influence for good of one true man. Jerusalem, the chief city, is chosen as representing what is best and most influential in the nation; and its streets and lanes as the haunts of the multitude, the merchants, the artisans, and common people, who would represent the general public morality. It is as if he had said, "In practical life, amid the miscellaneous throng, seek for the just and honorable man." What light this throws upon—
I. THE EXTENT OF CORRUPTION POSSIBLE IN HUMAN NATURE! The Jewish metropolis had been highly favored. The priesthood had its head-quarters there. The chief messages of the prophets had been delivered in its precincts. It was the center of influence, national spirit, and intelligence. Yet the effect of all this was morally and spiritually rotten. Worse even than Sodom and Gomorrah in actual spiritual condition, as certainly it would be far less tolerable for it than for them in the day of judgment. Ideally it was the city of the saints and of heavenly peace and order; actually its temple was a den of thieves, and its streets the scenes of universal dishonesty, godlessness, and corruption. As has been said of a certain metropolis of Christendom, it would appear to have been the case that "the more churches the less religion." Allowing it to be a rhetorical exaggeration, it was nevertheless a terrible statement to be able to make. But the great cities of the modern world have filled with a like despair the minds of the wisest thinkers. The measure of man's possible degeneration and depravity who can fix?
II. THE IMPORTANCE OF INDIVIDUAL INFLUENCE IN SPIRITUAL THINGS! The spectacle of Abraham praying for the cities of the plain is most impressive. But may it not be paralleled by the unconscious influence of good men? Even accepting the statement as a challenge, was it not a great thing to say that one man by his holiness could have saved the city? Suppose there had been such a man. One can imagine what would have been his sorrow at the universal evil, and his feeling of helplessness and uselessness amid the prevalent irreligion. Yet would his presence there be no light matter, no vain thing. Though he knew it not, he would have been the savior of the people—immediately from the judgment of God, possibly in the future from the sin that was destroying it. The value, therefore, of individual influence in spiritual matters is incalculable; and no Christian can say that he is of no use. Godward the prayer of the faithful may soar in constant intercession and mediation; manward his character and works are a constant testimony to the unbeliever.
III. THE INFINITENESS OF GOD'S LONG-SUFFERING LOVE. The presence of one good man in the wicked city would have been an appeal to God's justice that could not he despised. He could not "destroy the righteous with the wicked." But far more would it have been an appeal to his love. The hope of the future would have been wrapped up in that solitary saint. In him grace would find a secret sanctuary, and the forces of salvation a vantage-point from which to sally forth to the rescue of perishing souls and the work of national, yea, of world-wide, regeneration. The judgments of God are not inflicted arbitrarily or in haste. He has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked." Any reasonable excuse for merciful intervention or delay is welcome. Countless acts of mercy and forgiveness, countless opportunities for repentance, have occurred ere the uplifted axe has dealt its terrible stroke. Learn, then, from this that:
1. The life as the prayer of a righteous man availeth much with God.
2. That God will save us if we will only let him; and
3. He will begin his work of salvation from the least, and tarry it on even to the greatest.
IV. THE REASONABLENESS AND RIGHTEOUSNESS OF VICARIOUS SUFFERING THROUGH CHRIST.—M.
What God requires of man.
"O Lord, are not thine eyes upon the truth?" This is better rendered, "O Lord, look not thine eyes for fidelity?" Faith is the grand requirement. It is the condition of communion between man and God, and man and man. Scripture lays stress on this. Faith cannot be a mere logical abstraction or a condition beyond the reach of man. It must be practical—within the power of the will, and such as may be reasonably looked for in all. "Fidelity," the Old Testament equivalent for the New Testament "faith," has its expression in reality, honesty, thoroughness. These are the marks of the man God delights to honor, and they are the obligation of all (cf. Micah 6:8).
I. ITS SIMPLICITY, REASONABLENESS, AND NECESSITY OF IT. God could not ask for less than man demands of his fellow, and society requires for its stability and advancement. It is obviously independent of the accidents of culture, fortune, or position; and for any solid understanding between God and man, absolutely indispensable. We are God's stewards, servants, representatives, etc. Having this, we have all; wanting this, all our other acquirements are vain.
II. THE SCARCITY OF IT. A little while ago we read that not a just man could be found in all Jerusalem. Here it is said that even in the most sacred oath there is false swearing. The want of this quality, rather than its presence, strikes the inquirer. This it is that gives rise to wars, jealousies, selfishness, sin in all its forms.
III. THE REASON FOR ITS ABSENCE IN MOST MEN. Because men are sinners, alienated from the life of God and unconscious of his claims. The carnal nature is unable of itself even to be real, to be truly honest, or to discharge faithfully and completely the most ordinary duties. A supernatural aid is required. A Savior must die. Through him the soul must be united with God in a true love and holy understanding. The better nature thus awakened, the trust and confidence and love thus created must be reinforced by the Spirit. How terrible the thoughts, "Thou God seest me!" "Be not deceived: God is not mocked!" "His eyes are as a flame of fire!" "The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword," etc.! Who shall deceive that all-seeing One? The eyes of Jehovah, reading the secrets of the soul, look for fidelity, for faith.—M.
The judgments described as about to be inflicted are very fearful, but they were amply deserved. The wickedness of the people was such as to justify their complete destruction. Yet they were spared ere they were totally extinct! Why this unlooked-for restraint?
I. IT HAS CHARACTERIZED ALL GOD'S JUDGMENTS OF MANKIND ON EARTH. The Fall, the Flood, the Exodus, etc; the sparing of the remnant of Benjamin, etc.
II. THERE IS BUT ONE EXPLANATION FOR IT. It is the possibility of some turning to him truly in the first instance; and, secondly, through them, of the race being saved in the future. God has never utterly cut off even the most sinful. Love, and not. mere vengeance, behaves in this way.
1. Has he not spared us?
2. He has never abandoned his purpose of saving "the whole world."—M.
God's power in restraining the forces of nature.
An old, yet ever new, illustration of his power. The tiny grains of sand, the "Portland Beach" of shingle or pebbles, is enough to bold back the mighty ocean. It is but one of many impressive illustrations of his restraining power and goodness.
I. IT IS CALCULATED TO INSPIRE REVERENCE AND LOVE.
II. OUR HELPLESS DEPENDENCE UPON HIM IS THUS SHOWN.
III. THE POWER OF GOD IN THE SPHERE OF MORAL INFLUENCE AND SAVING GRACE as thereby suggested.
"'Thus far and no further,' when addressed
To the wild waves, or wilder human breast,
Implies authority that never can,
And never ought to be the lot of man."
It is God's prerogative. Let us not defy him or arrogate to ourselves that which is his. Let us rather yield ourselves to his gracious dealings and fatherly purpose.—M.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Can a righteous man be found in Jerusalem?
God's warnings still go on concerning the same thing—the deeply seated, the deeply destructive wickedness of the people. But though the same subject has to be spoken of, there is no monotony in the treatment of it. It can be looked at from fresh points of view, and put into fresh lights. A careful reading of Jeremiah 4:1-24.4.31. will show how many different things can be said concerning wickedness; and now, with Jeremiah 5:1, the reproaches and appeals still continue. Note—
I. THE INDIVIDUALIZING ASPECT OF THE APPEAL. The nation and Jerusalem and the leaders in it have all been referred to; but as long as there are generalities and nothing more individuals will think they can get away from blame under cover of them. Here, then, is a bold challenge which fastens up in a corner every dweller in Jerusalem. The challenge, of course, is not to be taken literally. The true state of things may be known, and known very distinctly, without any running to and fro at all. Let every one take a glance at those whom he knows, and then come home to a candid inquiry concerning the life within his own breast. It is an easy thing to blame others, to throw the fault of disaster upon those who occupy prominent positions. Followers are to blame as well as leaders. The iniquity of Jerusalem, deep, turbid, incessant as the stream of it is, is made of many contributions which, individually considered, may seem very slight. A few men in every age are called to toil for the removal of evils of which, personally, they are not guilty; but every one has the opportunity of improving the world, by doing his best to keep his own heart right. Others are to blame, and there are times when they must be faced, blamed, and resisted; but there is given a daily need, duty, and opportunity to do in cur own hearts what no one else can do for us.
III. HOW COMPREHENSIVE AND CONFIDENT THE CHALLENGE IS. It amounts to this, that there cannot be found in all Jerusalem one man who is just in all his dealings, and a seeker after truth. Not one. Must we, then, take this literally? The answer is, No, and Yes. It would have been strange if Jerusalem had become so utterly bad a place that every soul within it was perverted from the ways of right and truth. There must have been some men desiring and striving to live a right life. We bear in mind what God said to Elijah when Elijah said, in the despair and bitterness of his heart, that only he was left to serve God. Not so by any means; the searching God, who counts hearts where fallible men can only Count heads, told his prophet there were still seven thousand with knees unbowed to Baal. And did not Jeremiah discover from his own experience that there were some on Jehovah's side (Jeremiah 26:24; Jeremiah 39:15-24.39.18)? But they were not enough to exert a leavening and recovering influence. And yet the very men whom we may call good and just and true, seeing something of the right, and trying to do it as far as they saw, would have drawn back in confusion and self-distrust if they had been asked, in a direct way and so that the question could not be evaded, "Do you answer this description?' "Are you doers of justice and seekers after truth?" In trying to answer such a question, would not the moments of unfaithfulness and hesitation come to mind-the occasions when they were tempted to escape from loss and pain by some convenient Compromise? It will never do for us to congratulate ourselves on being a great deal better than others so long as we come short of what God wants us to be.
III. The thing to be specially considered is, how THIS ACCUSATION APPLES TO THE GREAT MASS OF THE PEOPLE. Many would have said, cynically enough, "Justice and truth are no concern of ours." These are words that sound very well in general statements; but directly the attempt is made to bring them close to the individual, it is alleged that they do not apply, or else there is the name and not the thing. Things are called just which are not just, and true which are utterly false. Let men of noble minds talk of justice and truth, and only too many are found to allege that such speaking is but cant and hypocrisy. When Jesus said to Pilate that he came into the world to bear witness to the truth, Pilate answered him with the question, "What has truth got to do with the matter?" Men want to get on, to get rich, to get known, to live easily, to satisfy the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of life; and the claims of justice and truth would make sad havoc with such purposes. Those who have learned from Christ that justice and truth are great necessities of life, necessities in a far higher sense than food and clothing, have often to notice, with great pain and concern, the number of those who do not seem to have any conception of what it is really to do justice and seek after truth. They do not comprehend the objects which God and Christ set before them any more than a blind man comprehends colors. Why, then, blame them? it may be asked. The blame is that they will not come to Christ that they may have sight. To Christians the power and disposition are given to do justice. The spirit is put in them to seek for truth as those who seek for hid treasures, and those who seek with such a zeal and impulse can never seek in vain.—Y.
Chastisement thwarted by universal stubbornness.
I. THE FACT THAT GOD'S CHASTISEMENTS ARE THWARTED. The chastisements are evidently indicated as severe, and the reason of the severity is hinted in the [preliminary question. God is looking for truth, looking for it in the midst of oaths broken and despised. He looks for faithfulness in all the ways in which it can be shown, There must be correspondence between promises and performances; there must be stability of character; the character must be such that men will be the same out of sight as in sight, working as ever in the Great Taskmaster's eye. Moreover, God cannot be put off by the most plausible appearance of fidelity; he knows always whether the heart is steadfast in its affection and zeal. And thus seeing all this insincerity among his people, this carelessness about truth, he chastises them to make them feel their wrong, attend to his will, and alter their deceiving ways so as to correspond with it. They are told beforehand what is coming, and the very instrument of chastisement is displayed before them. They had no ground for saying, "Suffering came upon us, and we knew not why it came." We know that Jeremiah's words must have been very pungent and irritating, and the irritating element was just this, that he persistently spoke of conquest, desolation, and exile as lying in the immediate future for his fellow-country. men. And here Jeremiah, with the prophet's melancholy privilege, sets forth the future as present. The stroke has fallen; the suffering, the loss, the humiliation, is keen; but there is no understanding in the mind, and no sign of repentance and return. Their faces are harder than the rock. If some sculptor could put into a marble face all that outwardly marks the stubborn mind that would be the expression of Israel now towards Jehovah. No subdued look in the eye; no irrepressible quivering of the lips preliminary to saying, "Father, I have sinned … and am no more worthy to be called thy son" (Jeremiah 3:4).
II. THE REASON WHICH THE PROPHET ADVANCES FOR THIS STUBBORNNESS. Remember what we have said already—and let it be said again, for it is essential to a right understanding of the passage—that the purpose of the chastisement was distinctly set forth beforehand. The people had not to grope in the dark as to the reason of their suffering. There was no room for disputing, if only Jeremiah were accepted as indeed a prophet of Jehovah. And to Jeremiah himself the intention of the chastisement was, of course, plain by the very clearest light. And, since it is natural for us to suspect that what is plain to us should be plain to others, Jeremiah could see only one reason for this distressing want of recipiency. Those who are so stubborn he thinks can be but a part of Israel, the poor and foolish, the degraded, brutalized residuum of the nation. Thus Jeremiah illustrates, by this interposed conjecture of his, a very common and perilous tendency among thinking men. We may not be unwilling—indeed, we may only be too eager—to admit the degradation of a large part of mankind, and their stolid indifference to all that is noble, refined, and truly humane. But then, on the other hand, there is an excessive exaltation of the natural man. Genius, intellect, success in research and discovery, such as that of a Newton and a Faraday—these are glorified beyond their due. It is forgotten that while men have natural powers whereby they can climb very high, they must come to God in humility and ask for wings of faith if they are to discover the highest kind of truth, the truth to which man must soar rather than climb. Jeremiah reckons that what he certainly cannot find in some he will assuredly find in others. He will turn away from the ignorant rabble, and go to the men of substance, the men with responsibility, such, doubtless, as the king and the princes, the priests and the prophets. But he goes only to fail only to discover that the wise men of this world are as little disposed to attend to the preaching of the prophet as Paul afterwards discovered them to be to the preaching of the apostle.
III. And so we come to THE REAL REASON OF THE STUBBORNESS. It is something which lies in universal sinful human nature, apart from any special defects or special excellences. The stubbornness may sometimes suddenly vanish where we should expect it to continue, and where we should expect it to vanish it may not only continue but become to all appearance invincible. The heart of unbelief is found in every rank. The experience of Jesus would seem to have been that the poor and the foolish, as Jeremiah would have classified them, were more ready to turn to him than the great. An excellent commentary on the passage we have been considering is to be found in the first and second chapters of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians.—Y.
The vineyard spoiled because of the degenerate branches.
I. Look AT THE FIGURE WHICH UNDERLIES THIS EXHORTATION. We find in other parts of Scripture passages curiously rich in illustration of the emphatic exhortation here. Turn to Isaiah 5:1-23.5.7 : here is presented to us the picture of a vineyard protected by a fence against marauders and wild beasts, planted with the choicest vine, and tilled in the most complete and careful manner. But when the vineyard, in spite of all care, only yields wild grapes, then the hedge and the wall are taken away and the cultivated land lapses into wilderness. Psalms 80:1-19.80.19. contains a very similar passage, save that it is the language of appeal from a suffering people instead of a warning from a disappointed God. God is described as having cast out the heathen to make room for the vine which he had brought from Egypt. And in the land where he planted it, it grew downwards and upwards and outwards, spreading far and wide. "Why then," say the people, "hast thou broken down her hedges, so that all which pass by the way do pluck her? The bear out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it." Once again, there is a very striking passage in Proverbs 24:30, Proverbs 24:31. The wise man passes the vineyard of the man void of understanding, and finds it full of thorns and nettles, and the stone wall thereof broken down. Hence the vineyard, with its need of a strong wall kept in good repair, comes before us almost as distinctly as if it were a familiar sight.
II. CONSIDER NOW THE EXHORTATION ITSELF. The wall round this vineyard of God, even this vineyard which he so plainly set apart and has cared for so much, is to be broken down. We have not far to seek for the reason. The branches of the vine are not Jehovah's. "I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?" (Jeremiah 2:21). The wall is not yet in such case as that round the vineyard of the man void of understanding. It has not dropped to pieces through sloth. Its fate, it may be said, is even worse, for it has to come down by an act of judgment. Protection is a mockery and reproach when the thing protected fails to reward the care that has been lavished upon it. God breaks down the fence that he may make a clear way for the removing of the branches. The branches, one may say, are fixed in a true vine and draw nourishment from good soil; yet wild, sour, deluding, discreditable grapes are all the result. The branches, therefore, are to go, but only the branches. A full end is not to be made. The trunk, the roots, still stay. For indeed a word has, by-and-by, to be spoken by Jesus, concerning the vine and the branches, and the branches which are to abjure in the vine that they may bring forth fruit. God will destroy all profitless connection with himself. If men avail themselves of the strength and opportunity which he gives to bring forth fruit, not such as will glorify him, but such as suits the perverted taste of men, then all the branches on which such fruit comes must be unsparingly cut away. And what a thought that fruit which men so much value is after all in God's sight, which gives the true estimation, a sour and worthless thing!—Y.
Those who call the word of Jehovah a lie.
It has Been a common folly, in connection with all the revelations which God has made at sundry times and in divers manners, to despise the authority of the messengers. Noah, Moses, David, and many others up to Jesus himself, could tell, along with Jeremiah, the same essential experience of contempt, rejection, and persecution. It is not for God to use those outward pomps and recommendations on which men count so much. A message unwelcome in itself is easily made of no repute when the messenger is devoid of outward state. Outward show, as every age can tell, counts for a great deal. Perhaps the visit of the Queen of Sheba would have been made far less of if she had not been a queen, or had come without the barbaric treasures which she spread forth in such great abundance. Simple lovers of truth, when their station happens to be obscure, are not much remarked. Here then was Jeremiah, asserting that he had come with a message from the Lord of the utmost moment, and he is rejected with the brusque intimation that his message is a lie and he himself an impostor. And this rejection is all the more noticeable because the words of the prophet must surely have had a strange impressiveness. None of the prophets could have spoken in the routine fashion of a herald announcing the proclamation which many times, perhaps, he has announced before. They must all, at least in the judgment of a few, have spoken with authority and not as the scribes. And Jeremiah at all events must have stood before the people, having every channel of outward expression filled from the sad experiences and emotions of his own inward life. The sorrows of which he spoke were as sorrows that he saw rising before his mind's eye in all the horrors of their reality. The words, as he says in Jeremiah 20:9, were often words that he tried to keep back, but that which was as a burning fire shut up in his bones must break out at last. And therefore, when the words did come, they were charged with a force of personal conviction and brotherly entreaty which in itself ought to have been enough to arrest attention. Moreover, sword and famine, future calamities with all their aggravations, were not the only things of which the prophet spoke. He had to deal with an actual present as well as a foreshadowed future. The present in which he and his audience lived teemed with idolatry, perjury, fraud, and oppression. These things were not lies. It was no lie to point to the manifest seed that Israel was sowing, and surely there was nothing more really reasonable than that there should be a reaping according to the sowing. At this height of rejection, then, God steps in to vindicate and honor his faithful servant. It is a melancholy kind of distinction, but a distinction nevertheless. His words were not only true words, but most terribly near to their fulfillment. It was not that Jeremiah himself was an agent in destroying, but his words became so immediately true, there was such a rapid production and concentration of the agents of destruction, as to make it quite proper to say that these words of the prophet were as consuming fire. But a few years, and many of these despisers found that the alleged lies were only too painfully true. It is not over lapsing centuries that we have to look for the fulfillment of Jeremiah's gloomy prediction. Isaiah long before had sounded the note of warning, and now the peril is close at hand. It was inevitable that Jeremiah should speak with an urgency and excitement absent from the messages of his great predecessor. As the time of chastisement drew nearer, the warnings had to be louder, more disturbing, possibly more continuous. The mariner setting out on his voyage may be warned of some special danger lying in his track; but the adviser, while he may speak very earnestly, will not speak as does the man who, when the helmsman is close upon the danger, shouts to him, with utmost excitement and agitation, at once to change his course. God gave to Jeremiah this melancholy satisfaction, that while he had been, to his heart's deepest sorrow, a messenger of woe, he had yet been approved, on the surest evidence, as a messenger of truth.—Y.
A lesson from the raging sea.
I. WE OBSERVE GOD FIXING LIMITS WITHIN WHICH HIS CREATURES EXERCISE THEIR POWER. Jehovah speaks here of the sea in particular, but just because it happens to be an excellent representative, for the purpose in view, of the rest of his creation. We may notice God's boundaries in many places and at different seasons, and surely it must often strike thoughtful minds, as they walk by the mighty deep, that there is, in the arrangement of sea and land, an exquisite illustration of the unfailing wisdom of God. Here is this vast mass of water, covering the surface of the globe, ever in motion and yet ever keeping its place. The true state of the case is even more wonderful than that which was presented to Jeremiah. To him the earth was a flat expanse, and the beach would have the aspect of an embankment which really kept the water back. We, aided by the discoveries of science, know that the real limiting forces of the sea work in a much more mysterious manner. But, of course, the fundamental truth is the same. There must be a great and loving intelligence at work, keeping the waters within their appointed bounds.
II. OBSERVE THE COMPARISON WHICH IS MADE BETWEEN DISOBEDIENT MAN AND THE SEA IN A STATE OF STORM. The sea easily gets a kind of personality, and the sea in a storm is very like a proud man chafing against the barriers, which confine him, and trying to break them down. More than that, when God looks down into human society, underneath the (to us) often calm surface, he must see little else than stormy agitation, one human billow dashing against another, each individual in his self-assertion contributing to make a general disturbance, and a disturbance which apparently will not soon have an end. And yet the sea, with all its fury and roar and threatening, with all the destruction it may work out in its own sphere, is powerless to overwhelm the solid land. In the strength of their confidence, men would build large cities close to the ocean-brink and inhabit them without fear. They will go down and look at the tempest in its utmost fury, sure that they are safe. A few yards make all the difference between the agony of deadly peril and perfect ease of mind. The more furious the storm is, the grander it makes the sight without in any wise diminishing the feeling of safety.
III. HENCE THERE IS INDICATED THE FOLLY OF ALL HUMAN OPPOSITION TO GOD. The storm rises; it may destroy many ships and lives; but in due time the calm returns and the great features of the scene appear the same. The land is still there. And so men may chafe against the commandments and purposes of God, and may go on without intervals of calm, even exceeding the sea in the continuity of their violence. But what does all the strife avail? The boundaries are fixed. If in that which is natural God has taken so much care in the line between sea and land, is it not certain that he will take equal care in that which is spiritual? God's work continues on the solid land, away from all disturbance of his foes. Nay, more, looking at the figure here from the Christian point of view, we see that even within what seems its own sphere, the raging of the sea can soon be stopped. Let us think of Jesus quelling the waves, and we shall feel that the greatest storms of opposition and persecution are entirely in the hands of God. How long these storms may rage and what they may do entirely depend on the purpose which he wishes them to subserve.—Y.
The worst kind of wickedness found among the people of Jehovah.
God's people are well acquainted with the voice of those scorners who speak as if hypocrisy was the invariable accompaniment of a religious profession. They do discover, it must be admitted, far more frequently than they ought to discover, that religious profession is a mere pretence; and thereupon they never forget the few well-established instances which are a ground, in season and out of season, for a sweeping charge of hypocrisy. But such people, unfortunately for themselves, are not readers of the Scriptures; else they would discover that God does not wait for outside malevolent critics to make the most of the hypocrisies to be found amongst his people. God not only sees and laments this peculiarly odious form of wickedness, but is exceedingly plain in his description and terribly severe in his denunciation. In this matter outsiders cannot tell God's people anything they do not know already. Note—
I. THAT WHICH OUGHT TO BE FOUND AMONGST GOD'S PEOPLE. This is just the thing which makes the whole discovery so inexpressibly sad—that this wickedness is found where there should have been found a character diametrically opposite. It is the scene of the wickedness that indescribably aggravates the wickedness itself. That a good man, a really good man, should be found in a den of thieves is impossible. Vain would it be for him to continue there and yet plead his uprightness. A den of thieves does actually give character to every one who willingly inhabits it, and so, passing from the bad to the good, a certain high reputation must attach to every one who openly ranks himself among the people of God. It was not because these Israelites dwelt in a certain territory or were descendants from certain ancestors that they were reckoned the people of God. There was a covenant, the terms of which were to be taught to every generation and diligently observed by it. And this covenant emphatically required that these people should live among themselves an upright, brotherly, loving life. Without this, worship was vain; indeed, without this, worship, in the true sense, was impossible. In the home, union was to be preserved by subordination and purity; and in society, by the safety of life and property to the individual. God's people are "the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand," and it is manifest that, in the right order of things, a sheep's clothing should cover a sheep and not a wolf.
II. THAT WHICH ACTUALLY IS FOUND. Wicked men are found where none but the devout, the upright, and the gentle ought to be. Further, this wickedness is so marked off by bold and indignant expressions that every one guilty of it may know Jehovah's eye to be upon him. For such a man there lies no way of escape among vague generalities. He cannot get off by alleging, with apparent seriousness, that, while there are undoubtedly deceivers among the people of God, he at all events is not to be numbered amongst them. If a man is behaving himself after the fashion here described, he certainly must know it. With regard to certain actions, the nature of them may come out so openly that it is easy to effect the consequent exclusion and separation of the offender from the people of God. But there yet remain many wickednesses, the worst of wickednesses, which a man may go on committing and yet keep his name written in the human record of those who profess service to God. He may even make his very position a vantage-ground for the laying of his snares and the perfecting of his wiles. He may be able so to conceal his hand and his purpose as to deceive even his victims, who, instead of arguing that because there is great wickedness the doer of it must be a bad man, begin at the other end and say that a maker of long prayers cannot possibly be bad; he may be driven to the infliction of a painful blow, but, that must be reckoned his calamity rather than his fault. Now, the descriptions in this passage make it evident that God sees into all the doings of such men. And at this particular time these men had become very successful, and we must infer very influential. Wherever money is heaped up it makes influence. And even though such oppressors were not numerous, their very position gave them power. But over against them, with all their power, all their wealth, all their pretensions, there is that God who marks every tear and groan and writhing of the oppressed. This passage is but one out of many in which God shows his hatred to all injustice. Some of the so-called friends of humanity, who are never tired of asserting their friendship and pressing their claims, make one of their great claims to be in this, that they oppose all acknowledgment of God. Depend upon it, God is the true Friend of humanity; he first, and afterwards are those whom he inspires with his own indignation against wrong, and endows with the strength, patience, resolution, and all Divine resources needed to destroy it. What wonder is it that God should speak of vengeance against such a nation as permits and extenuates the monstrous evils denounced in this passage?—Y.
Jeremiah 5:30, Jeremiah 5:31
Mutual helpers in wrong-doing.
I. THE TEMPTATIONS HERE SET FORTH. Three classes are mentioned—the prophet, the priest, and the people in general. Each class plays only too well its iniquitous and deplorable part, just because of the strong assistance which it gains from the attitude of the others. Each class acts as tempter in its turn, and that none the less effectually because it may do it unconsciously. Each one also tempts because he is tempted, and one hardly knows where the malign influence begins save by remembering the words of James, "Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed." The prophet, however, is here put first, and this can hardly be without reason. On him there did indeed lie a peculiar burden of responsibility. The prophets here mentioned, we may take it, were not false prophets, although they spoke falsely. The false prophet was he who pretended to be a prophet, although God never sent him; and of such there were doubtless some in the land at this very time. But the horrible thing here was that men whom God had set apart to speak the truth used the prophetic office to tell convenient lies, such as seemed to afford security and profit. Jonah, in his cowardice fleeing from duty, is an illustration of what many other prophets must have done, only they went further and never came back to truth and peace. We know how men in all ages have sold the heritage of faculty which God has given them to the service of lying and darkness. Instead of fighting where their hearts ought to have been, among the soldiers for truth and liberty, they have become mercenaries under despots. These prophets on whom Jehovah had put his hand had allowed themselves to be filled with fear and greed and schemes for worldly success, instead of with the Spirit of Jehovah. They went not with what was true, but with what was acceptable. How much higher the faithful prophets should stand in our esteem when we consider the temptations they resisted, the pains they suffered, the pious heroism which marked their sometimes long career! Imagine what the consequences would have been if the apostles had altered and trimmed the gospel. Then there were the priests. "The priests bear rule by their means." The allusion may be to the hands of the prophets, but perhaps a better meaning is to take it that the prophet sinned in his way, and the priest again in his way. The prophet's great instrument of service was his mouth, and with this he prophesied falsely. The priest's great instrument of service was his hand, and this he used to get superstitious deference to his privileges, instead of for the purpose of presenting, with his whole heart, offering and atonement for the people. In addition to this, there may have been, and very likely was, a corrupt understanding between priest and prophet. Then both priest and prophet had in their eyes the great mass of the people. God himself looked down on this unfaithfulness of the great officials with a warmth of indignation that would soon burst into flame, but the people regarded it all with a very different feeling. They "loved to have it so." When a true prophet came, speaking truth, his message was so hateful and humiliating that they denied his office. "Surely the man who speaks such things cannot be a prophet; a madman he may be, or a fanatic, or a disloyal man whose Israelite form hides a foreign heart; anything you like, but not a prophet." But when the prophet comes speaking lies, looking into the faces of his audience for all that he has to put into their ears, then his office will be approved. And so with the priest. If he makes it clear that burnt offerings and all sacrifices are nothing without repentance and reform, he will be thought very little of. He must let the people sin and sin as much as they like. They will cram the temple area with multitudes of flocks and herds to take the effect of sin away, if only they may go on sinning. What God had given to teach the dreadful malignity of sin, these priests had turned into an agency for making it seem a mere trifle.
II. THERE WAS ALSO AN OPPORTUNITY OF REBUKE AND REMONSTRANCE. The people were not obliged to accept these priests and prophets on their own ipse dixit. It was not because a man came forth with his "Thus saith the Lord" that he was to be followed. Anybody can say, "Thus saith the Lord." The devil attempted persuasions of this sort when he came to Jesus in the wilderness. There must be a strict searching into what is said. One purpose for which God used prophets and priests was as a test of those whom they had to do with. God wishes to know the extent of our regard for the truth, and he has not left us helpless in discovering that truth with the almost certainty. There is always something to appeal to. Every true prophet with his "Thus saith the Lord" had behind him a Law and testimony, already written and indisputably valid, to which he could point. Each prophet as he came along was more firmly tied to the truth, because he had behind him so many who had already spoken, and whom he must not contradict. So the apostles could be checked in speaking lies or inventions, because an appeal was possible to what Jesus had said in the flesh. There were twelve men with one message, and only as long as the message was one were people bound to receive it. And happily, if a difference had arisen, there was always the means of testing which speaker was right. "No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed." As things stand today, it is perfectly clear that we can test every one professing to be a messenger of Divine truth; we can test him effectually. We are not left unprovided amid modern imposture, knavery, and delusion.—Y.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Without any introduction, let us plunge at once into our subject, which is True manhood. It opens broadly before us in the suggestions which both this verse and the chapter from which it is taken contain. And first of all we will note—
I. THE DIVINE DEFINITION AND DESCRIPTION OF IT. It consists in executing judgment and seeking the truth. The Lord asks importunately that "a man" may be found, and then he defines and describes what he means by "a man," in the words, "one that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth." Such' is his description of true manhood. So, then, the true man is he to whom truth—that which is right, that which is in accordance with the will of God—is the all-important thing. The habit of his mind, the purpose of his life, is to discover this truth—to know what is right. And when what professes to be truth comes before him, he weighs it in the balance of conscience, tests how it tallies with the mind and will of God; and according to its agreement thereto he approves or disapproves, he gives his judgment. And then, when his judgment is formed, his mind made up, as we say, he does not linger in the outer courts of mere approbation, but he presses on into the very sanctuary, the holy of holies, of corresponding action—he "executeth judgment." Having sought, seen, approved the right, he does it; not once now and then, but habitually. Such is the man after God's own heart, such the Divine description of what manhood really is. And now observe:
1. How complete a definition this is! For what form of goodness or excellence is there that this does not include? Whatever is right for a man to do or be comes under this description. Our well-known word, "virtue," will help us here; for what is virtue but simply that which becomes, which properly belongs to the idea of, the vir, the grand old Roman name for man regarded in his higher nature, as contrasted with the lower idea of man in regard to those qualities which he possesses in common with the brutes around him? Man spoken of as merely the human creature was designated by another word; but man as intelligent and moral, man in his nobler being, they designated by that word vir, from which our word" virtue" comes. Therefore" this word ' virtue' corresponds as closely as possible with our word 'manliness.' They are equivalent terms. Then, if we know what virtue is, we know what true manhood is. It includes all moral excellence whatsoever. It is the fruit, the certain fruit, of a man's seeking the truth, and then, when he has found it and conscience tells him that he has found it, of his straightway practically putting it into action, embodying it in word and deed. It is the product of the three highest faculties God has given to man—intellect, conscience, will therefore must embrace all that belongs and is becoming to the vir, the man, and must exclude all that is contrary thereto."
2. And how catholic a description it is! In it "there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, male nor female, bond nor free;" there is neither—that is, neither exclusively—Buddhist, Mohammedan, Christian, Jew; neither Romanist, Eastern, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, nor any other sect nor creed whatsoever. For "God is no respecter of persons," but, as St. Peter said to Cornelius, "In every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of him." Thus catholic, thus all-embracing, is this Divine description of a true man. God's chosen ones consist of all the good.
3. But how condemnatory of the world's standards! Before what tinsel imitations of the true manhood does the world bow down! How many glorify physical strength—the Samsonian type of man! And indeed the possession of a physical frame capable of much toil, much endurance, that shrinks not from hardships, and laughs at bold and daring enterprises before which other men quail; a body well organized, its varied functions all working powerfully and smoothly like the several parts of a perfectly adjusted machine;—that is a great gift of God. But to make a man's physical qualities the measure of his manhood, that cannot be worthily thought of for one moment. And so, too, if we take intellectual distinction—that, though far nobler than the physical, will fall before the high claim of the Divine ideal. And as for secular distinction—that greatness which consists in what a man has, wealth, rank, power, rather than what he is,—that claim will not stand for one moment. The world may, does, fall down before these things, and before the last it absolutely grovels; but in the high courts of God's judgment they go for nothing at all. And at that bar not a little that has the world's free license as consistent with manhood is frowned upon and utterly condemned. No; right, truth, virtue, all that is in harmony with God's will,—this is what the man after God's mind seeks, finds, and habitually does.
4. And how commendatory to the conscience is this Divine definition of manhood! Put it before any thoughtful man, and at once he confesses it worthy of God to set forth and blessed for man to seek after. Here the excellent of the earth in all ages and in all lands have found a common meeting-place, and, when unbiased conscience has spoken, have come to a cordial embrace.
5. But how Christ-compelling is this Divine description of true manhood! For he who sets himself to embody it, and really enters on the glorious endeavor, will speedily find that he wants a model, a motive, and a might which assuredly he cannot find in the world around him. A model; for mere abstract descriptions help but little. What can the most brilliant word-painting do to enable you to realize what a lovely landscape is like? It can do something, but not very much. But let the gifted artist draw the scene, let him in beautiful picture portray it, and how much more vividly we realize it then! The mechanician must have his model to work from if he is to do successful work. And so, would we realize the description God has given us of a true man, we also must have our model. But there is only One who is flawless and altogether perfect—the Lord Jesus Christ. Patriarchs, prophets, psalmists, apostles, saints, even the most worthy, are none of them perfect; for we have to modify here, correct there, and absolutely reject elsewhere. It is, therefore, to the life of our blessed Lord and Master that this Divine description of manhood forces me would I find the one example I may safely, always, and everywhere copy. But I want a motive also; for when I begin my great endeavor I find it no holiday task. It brings no worldly gain, it wins no human applause. My natural bent and bias are utterly against it. Ease and comfort are ever crying, "Spare thyself." Companions on the road are few, and not all of them to my liking, and the way is narrow and rough and steep. What, then, can alone spur me on and constrain me by a compulsion I cannot resist? What but a sense of Christ's great love, and the supreme solicitude to "be accepted of him," which flows therefrom? There is absolutely no other motive which will serve for the whole way. Some will take me a part of the way, and others a further part, but all will fail long ere the true end is reached. Therefore am I again driven to Christ, that, as he is my Model, so he may be my Motive too. But he must also be my Might.' The power to endure, the strength, to, toil, the daily grace for daily need,—whence can it come but from him who has said, Because I live, ye shall live also?" True manhood, real virtue, is therefore an impossible thing apart from Christ. More or less stunted and distorted forms of it there may be, but the Divine ideal, never. May he help us to remember this. Thus, then, complete, catholic, condemnatory of the world's standards, commendatory to the conscience, compelling resort to Christ, is this Divine manhood of which our text tells. But note—
II. THE DIVINE DISAPPOINTMENT AND DISMAY AT NOT FINDING IT WHERE IT MAY SO JUSTLY HAVE SEEN EXPECTED. Observe the words of our text, how they challenge the most thorough search everywhere, implying that the Lord himself had made such search—he whose eyes (Jeremiah 5:3) "are upon the truth," who is keen-visioned to discover his own in the densest crowd or in the most obscure abode. But now he challenges any to make a like search. Let them run to and fro in the by-streets, in the broad ways, in market-places, in all parts where men congregate; let them in every such place see, know, seek, if they can find even one true man. And the challenge is made not in scorn nor in anger, but in disappointment and dismay. For where, if not amongst God's own professed people, and in the center of their worship, Jerusalem; where, if not there, could such as God sought be found? But not even there were they; there were "none righteous; no, not one." But what was found this whole chapter plainly declares. There was horrible wickedness—wickedness which only such appalling images as the seventh and eighth verses of this chapter could fitly describe. And this not amongst the ignorant poor only, but amongst the great, the well instructed also (Jeremiah 5:4, Jeremiah 5:5). And where there was a form of religion the power was wanting, as the second verse tells. They might use devout words, but the Lord, whose eyes were on the truth (Jeremiah 5:3), knew how hollow that profession was. So that there was not one man such as God desired. And, though willing to spare, God was forced to punish (Jeremiah 5:9). This and much more of a like sort prevails all through the chapter. But the contemplation of it fills the Divine mind with disappointment and dismay. It is deep distress to him that he cannot find what he so much desires to find. Are we quite sure that the like question might not be asked in our day? Is the Divine ideal of manhood so constantly realized? Is there not very much to make a devout heart fear lest a like search might lead to a too much like result? Let us remember what it is God looks for in us. Not that which the world thinks so much of, but this manhood; and he mourns when he finds it not. And let it be our prayer that more and more we may be men according to his mind. Note next—
III. THE DIVINE DEMONSTRATION OF THE DELIGHT AND JOY HE HAS IN IT. He says if there be but one such man, he will spare Jerusalem for his sake. Such is the meaning of the last clause of this verse. What higher proof (save one which we will note anon) could he give of his estimate of this manhood? He gave large proof when he told Abraham that if there were ten righteous in Sodom he would spare the city for their sakes. And he is continually doing the like of what he here said he would do. He is continually blessing the Bad for the sake of the good. "Ye are the salt of the earth," said our Lord to his disciples, implying thereby that, but for his people, the world would go to corruption. "For the elect's sake those days shall be shortened"—the days, he meant, of Jerusalem's destruction, which were then, as in Jeremiah's time, swiftly drawing on. And how often we read of bad and wicked descendants and successors on the throne of David, who for his sake were dealt with far other than they deserved! And today, how many godless children of pious parents are for like reason dealt with in like manner! The Church might well, did she choose, challenge the world to say where it would be without the Church. The impious sneer at, persecute, and despise the godly; but were it not for those they so shamefully use, theirs would be a short shrift and a quick going down into hell. And let all who are living godly in Christ Jesus be cheered by knowing that, though persecuted by the world, they are yet most precious in the Lord's sight. Now finally note—
IV. THE SUPREME DEMONSTRATION GOD HAS GIVEN OF HIS DELIGHT AND JOY IN IT. We turn to the gospel for this, and it enables us to reply to the Divine challenge to "find a man;" for we have found him "of whom Moses and the prophets did write"—the man Christ Jesus. He has answered to the Divine description, and for his sake not a city have been—leaving the people still the slaves of sin; but the beginning, of a new life, in which we shall grow more and more into the fullness of the stature of the perfect man, the Divine ideal embodied in Christ Jesus. But such is the Divine delight in this Man that, for his sake, he pardons whosoever believeth on him. God hath laid help for us "on One who is mighty" to save. Let us, then, go and put in our claim, confessing our deep need of pardon, but pleading God's own promise, that for the sake of this Man—his own "beloved Son in whom he is well pleased"—he should pardon us. And the answer will come back, "Go in peace; be of good cheer: thy sins be forgiven thee."—C.
An unfailing appeal,
"O Lord, are not thine eyes upon the truth?" Text uttered in protest against the pretence and hypocrisy everywhere prevailing in the prophet's day. But the appeal is vindicated whatever we understand by "the truth." Consider it in regard—
I. TO THE TRUTH AS SPOKEN BY GOD, IN HIS WORKS AND IN HIS WORD. See this in the constancy and invariability of the order of nature. The reign of law is because "the eyes of the Lord are ever," etc. See it in the fulfillment of ancient prophecies, especially those which concern our Lord Jesus Christ; and we are to believe it in regard to those many promises of God, the fulfillment of which yet waits.
II. TO THE TRUTH WRITTEN—to try and test thereby all our teachings and beliefs. See our Lord, in the temptation, how his eyes were ever on the truth. Hence his "It is written" foiled the tempter again and again. "To the Law and to the testimony," etc. The Bereans—and their example is held up as noble—searched the Scriptures daily, to see if the teachings they heard "were so;" so, that is, as the apostles affirmed.
III. TO THE TRUTH IMPLANTED—to encourage and avenge it. His grace implants truth in the character, and leads to its being acted out in the life. Now, the eyes of the Lord are ever upon such men. As he hates the hypocrites, so he loves the sincere, the "Israelites indeed, in whom there is no guile." His eyes rest on them ever with delight. His Spirit cheers and encourages them amid all outward distress and persecution. His hand will verily avenge them as his own elect, in his own good time
IV. TO THE TRUTH INCARNATE—to behold and bless all those who are in him. I am the Truth," said the Lord Jesus. How we love to attract the attention and to enjoy the smile of recognition and approval on the part of those who are greater than ourselves in this world! Would we come under the notice and smile of the Lord God, we must come to him upon whom his eyes are ever resting with delight, even to his well-beloved Son, the Truth incarnate. Until we are "in him" we are in the cold shade, and without hope or help. In him the eyes of the Lord are on us as they are on him, and "he makes his face to shine upon us."—C.
The sorrow of sorrows.
"Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved," etc.
I. TO BE STRICKEN OF GOD AND AFFLICTED IS IN ITSELF VERY PAINFUL TO CONTEMPLATE. When such sorrow comes it is:
1. To teach the servant of God how to sympathize with and succor other troubled ones.
2. To loosen them from the clinging bands of this world.
3. Because such sorrow is the inevitable pain and distress attendant upon that glorious contest for "the prize of our high calling," for which contest our Father, out of love to us and because of his joy in us, and knowing that we shall win it, has entered us. Still, notwithstanding these facts and others like them, the afflictions of the righteous are painful indeed.
II. BUT SORROW IS YET MORE SORROWFUL WHEN IT IS SELF-CAUSED. Such was the sorrow of many of those whose tears and lamentations we read of in Scripture—David, Peter, Esau. "It was my own fault:" this is the reflection which calls into dread life and activity "the worm that dieth not." But still, when, as with the contrite hearts, Manasseh, David, Peter, etc; of whom Scripture tells, their sorrow is of a godly sort, then, sad as it is, its result makes it blessed.
III. BUT THERE IS A SORROW OF SORROWS, AND IT IS TOLD OF HERE. It is when, as this verse tells, God sends his corrections and sore afflictions upon men, and yet they are none the better for them, but even worse. Pharaoh is the great illustration of this deepest sorrow. It is not all who can say, "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy Word." But of too many that word is true which says, "Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar … yet will not his foolishness depart from him" (cf. Revelation 16:10; Acts 26:14).
1. But what is the cause of these failures on the part of God's chastisements? They are such as these:
(1) Sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily.
(2) The fearful force of the desire after the evil object overwhelms and bears down all thought of the punishment that must follow.
(3) The assigning of the affliction that comes to other causes than the true one. To this day the Jews do not see that their rejection of the Lord Jesus was the reason of God's rejection of them, nor that it is his blood which is upon them and their children.
2. But without question such sorrows are the most lamentable of all; for:
(1) they reveal the virulence, the deep-seated character, and the dread hold which sin has gained;
(2) they necessitate and foretell yet more severe judgments from God;
(3) they cast most sad doubt on the question whether such persons will ever be saved at all.
CONCLUSION. Is sorrow resting upon us? Then:
1. Rest not until you have found out its cause. "Show me wherefore thou contendst with me" should be our appeal.
2. Let the possibility that your sorrows may leave you unblessed, that God's purpose and intent may be lost upon you, send you to the throne of grace with importunate prayer that so it may not be with you.—C.
The rich and the poor meet together.
They do so. IN MOST MOURNFUL WAYS.
1. In their common exposure to sorrow and death.
2. In their yet more mournful subjection to the bondage of moral evil, both alike leagued together in rebellion against God (cf. text). From which learn:
(1) No circumstances alone will shut out sin.
(2) If one condition of life has its moral disadvantages, so has another.
(3) That this does not affirm that all are on one level in this respect. They are not so; they who have knowledge and have been taught God's truth may and will justly be expected to compare favorably in conduct and character with those not so privileged.
(4) That the terribleness of the might of sin is seen in the fact that it leaps over the fences and safeguards of happy circumstances and abundant knowledge, as easily as it finds entrance where there are no such fences at all. But the mournfulness of this meeting of the rich and poor leads us to look out for and rejoice in other and more happy ones. And there are such. Note, therefore—
II. THE BLESSED MEETINGS OF THE RICH AND THE POOR.
1. In their common possession of a moral and spiritual nature. Those great capacities whereby "a man is so much better than a sheep" are the property of rich and poor alike—to love and be loved; to search out knowledge, to worship, trust, and delight in God. Man is God's jewel, whether it be set in all fit and beautiful surroundings or whether by some malign cause it have fallen into the mud. By its nature, not its surroundings, are we to judge of it.
2. In Christ. "He was rich … he for our sakes became poor"—thus forever uniting the two together. He was, whilst on earth, at the same time both rich and poor, having at his command more than the vastest resources of the rich, and yet day-by-day sharing the lot of the poor. He was the Son of man, the Head and Representative of all men—of humanity at large.
3. At the cross. The common malady craves and finds the common medicine. The sorrows of the contrite heart are those of no class at all, but are the experience of rich and poor alike; and the cross alone can soothe them, and thither therefore they alike come. These all are clothed in the robe made white in the blood of the Lamb.
4. In the everlasting kingdom of our God. There the barriers of caste and class, which here seem so fixed that they can never be moved, will be broken down, and character alone will determine whether we shall stand high up or low down on the steps of the eternal throne. The love of God in Christ will be the great uniting bond, and, as that rules and governs us, so will our companionship and our condition be ordered. There the rich shall be rid of the many hindrances of their lot, which make it so "hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God;" and there the poor shall have said farewell forever to all the privation and painful toil of earth. The tears of all shall flow no more. Then let us learn:
(1) To cherish sympathy with all our brethren. The poor with the rich, and they with the poor. It is equally difficult but equally obligatory on each.
(2) To be eager in telling to the poor of this gospel of the meeting of the rich and the poor.
(3) To come to Christ and to his cross, and to abide there, that the Spirit of him who was the Friend and Savior of all may dwell in us more and more.—C.
The moral disadvantages of the poor.
Jeremiah recognizes and refers to these disadvantages as a well-known fact, and he tells, how he expected to find in them an explanation of the deplorable wickedness with which Jerusalem was filled. Therefore I said, Surely these are poor," etc. We note—
I. THAT THESE ARE THE REAL EVILS OF THE LOT OF THE POOR. At once all manner of other distresses which attend poverty arise to our minds, and therefore we would observe:
1. That we do not deny that their physical and social disadvantages are also evils. To be ill fed, ill housed, ill clothed, as so many of the poor are,—who can make light of a lot like theirs? Therefore:
2. Still less do we deny our duty to relieve their physical evils to the utmost of our power.
3. But we do deny that these are their chief evils. For:
(1) Many of these are more than counterbalanced by what is so commonly found amongst the rich. Dr. Channing says, "When I compare together different classes as existing at this moment in the civilized world, I cannot think the difference between the rich and the poor in regard to mere physical suffering so great as is sometimes imagined. That some of the indigent among us die of scanty food is undoubtedly true, but vastly more in this community die from eating too much than from eating too little, vastly more from excess than starvation. So as to clothing: many shiver from want of defenses against the cold; but there is vastly more suffering among the rich from absurd and criminal modes of dress, which fashion has sanctioned, than among the poor from deficiency of raiment. Our daughters are oftener brought to their grave by their rich attire than our beggars by their nakedness. So the poor are often overworked; but they suffer less than many among the rich, who have no work to do, no interesting object to fill up life, to satisfy the infinite cravings of man for action. According to our present modes of education, how many of our daughters are victims of ennui—a misery unknown to the poor, and more intolerable than the weariness of excessive toil! The idle young man, spending the day in exhibiting his person in the street, ought not to excite the envy of the overtasked poor; and this cumberer of the ground is found exclusively among the rich."
(2) And their intellectual disadvantages are nearly as great an evil as those that belong to their outward lot. "Knowledge is power," but to be without knowledge is to lack the power to lighten, to elevate, to refine, to cheer, and in ways manifold to ameliorate our lot in life. Therefore to lack knowledge and education deserves to be looked upon with even more compassion than the lack of physical comforts. But still, the chief evil of poverty is its moral disadvantage. Now—
II. THESE MORAL DISADVANTAGES OF THE POOR ARE SUCH AS ARISE FROM:
1. The difficulty of maintaining self-respect. All the world seems agreed to regard the poor as the "lower orders," and to confine the term "respectable" to those who have enough and to spare. And when poverty necessitates the receiving, and yet more the asking, of charity, how hard it is then to maintain that erect moral bearing, that spirit of independence, which is so essential to the formation of all true, worthy moral character 1
2. The almost impossibility of mental culture. How can the man who has to continue at prolonged and laborious bodily toil from morn to night, day after day all his life long, and only then can earn scarce sufficient to provide for his actual bodily necessities, be expected to be other than rough, rude, illiterate, and contented to be so? What mockery it seems to talk of mental cultivation to a man like that! But shut off from such cultivation, how utterly is the door closed upon him which leads to so much that would cheer and brighten his whole life, and would lift him up in the scale of moral being!
3. The risk to all moral delicacy and refinement which their crowded and wretched habitations involve. If men are obliged to herd like cattle, only less comfortably than they, how can "a man be better than a sheep" in such case?
4. The temptation to envy and sullen discontent at their beholding what seems to them the so much brighter tot of the well-to-do. The patience of the poor beneath the awful injustices and hardships which arise from the unequal distribution of wealth is a marvel. Especially, too, when they have daily to endure the supercilious and half-scornful treatment which the possession of wealth almost invariably begets towards those who have it not.
5. The hard struggle which faith in God and his goodness cannot but have amid the hardships of poverty. It is true that men would be far happier if they were better men, but it is also true that vast numbers of men would be better if they were only happier. When our children are happy they are good; it is unhappiness makes them cross and wrong. There is no more heartbreaking fact to a thoughtful and compassionate mind than this, that the-blessing of faith in God and the love of God, which the poor most of all need, is for them the hardest of all to win and keep.
6. The dread temptation to sensual indulgence which the hardships of their lot expose them to. Can we wonder that these men rush to the gin-shop, the tavern, and there in strong drink forget for a while the miseries of their common life? It is a piteous fact that it is the most wretched of the poor who- drink most desperately. (Let the reader turn to Dr. Channing's sermon on 'Ministry for the Poor,' to see many of these points worked out.) Such are the real evils of the lot of the poor, beside which their outward hardships are small in comparison.
III. FROM ALL THIS WE LEARN WHY WE SHOULD COMPASSIONATE THEIR LOT, AND WHAT IN IT WE SHOULD CHIEFLY ENDEAVOR TO RELIEVE. When their moral disadvantages move our compassion, as they should and as they did our Lord's, we shall strive most of all to counteract and remove them. How shall we do this? We reply, After the manner of our Lord. Chiefly by ministering to their souls. He went about everywhere preaching and teaching. The very greatest kindness that can be done to a poor man is to bring him to Christ, to get him by God's grace thoroughly converted. That will lift him up and bless him every way. It will not despise secondary means. Our Lord fed the poor, healed them, ministered to their temporal relief frequently. But he did not do this indiscriminately. They were by no means his chief works. That chief work was a ministry to their souls. And so those who copy his example will not despise secondary means—charity, wise sanitary laws, education. But all these will be put in the second place, not in point of time and attention, but in esteem and worth. They will be counted only as aids to what is far better than themselves. It may be that the Church has not availed herself of these aids as she should, but has left them to the care of the State more than she should. Still, it is ever those who are most intent on the moral well-being of the poor who are found to the front in all schemes for their physical and social well-being. So that the excellence of our Lord's method is that, whilst it aims at the highest good, it more than any other seeks to promote and indeed secures as a help to that highest, the lower and temporal good of those to whom it ministers. And it has a rich reward. "Blessed are ye poor," said our Lord, "rich in faith and heirs," etc. Not a few of the greatest saints, the martyrs, the heroes of the faith, have been drawn from the ranks of the poor. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ has come to them, and straightway they have been as it were transformed. They have risen up above the low levels of their old life—so mean, sordid, foul, godless oftentimes—and have come to be like the Lord himself. And today, how perpetually may we see amid the godly poor all the disadvantages of their lot which we have enumerated above, completely overcome! They reverence conscience; they envy not the rich; they cultivate and rejoice in the purest and tenderest home affections; though ignorant of most of human learning, they have the fear of God and the knowledge of his Word, and so are wise with a wisdom before which mere human wisdom dwindles into insignificance. They keep themselves from all vice, they love and trust God with a simplicity of utter trust and calm confidence, beautiful and blessed even to contemplate-how much more to possess! "Blessed are ye poor!" Thus, then, after the manner of our Lord, would we strive to meet and overcome the moral disadvantages of the poor.—C.
How men curse their blessings,
"When I had fed them to the full," etc.
I. GOD DOES THIS AT TIMES. Cf. Genesis 3:17, "Cursed is the ground for thy sake," etc.; Haggai 1:11, etc. And whenever he makes our good and pleasant things the means of our punishment. Hezekiah's riches and prosperity were the lure which drew upon him the oppressing Assyrians. And so the body which, when possessed of all its faculties and in health, ministers so much good to man, God, in judgment upon the man's sin, may for the sake of the sinful soul cause that disease, pain, impotence, may curse it. And the mind also—that may become a den of malignant, impure, profane thoughts.
II. BUT MEN DO THIS FAR MORE FREQUENTLY. The noblest physical gifts may be shattered, wrecked, by sins against the body. The mind—capable of such high service and a channel of such vast blessing—men may, do, pollute, corrupt, and pervert and so curse their blessings. The moral nature—this a great gift of God, the power to judge, choose, resolve; but see how soon man cursed that and turned his blessing into a curse. The gifts of providence are also abused in the same way (cf. text). The home. Oh, what joy comes to men through the blessings that were designed to be forever associated with that word! But how often men, by self-indulgence, neglect, evil example, utter failure in parental duty, turn the blessing of home into a curse! And even the gospel of Christ itself—God's unspeakable gift-men may make the knowledge of it to be "a savor of death unto death" for themselves. "This Child is set for the fall of many in Israel," said Simeon of our Lord.
III. BUT IT IS A CRIME WHICH GOD CANNOT AWAY WITH. "How shall I pardon thee for this?" etc. "Shall I not visit," etc.?(Haggai 1:9). Cf. parable of fruitless fig tree" Cut it down," etc.; the talents—"Take from him the talent," etc. And the human conscience everywhere assents to this judgment of God. We judge in like manner ourselves. We feel that such are without excuse. Let us, then, consider our blessings, and ask ourselves, "What are we doing with them? how are we using them?" Let it be our daily prayer and endeavor that we fall not into this great sin.
IV. GOD'S WAY IS TO TURN OUR CURSES INTO BLESSINGS, (Cf. Nehemiah 13:2.)
1. He has done so even with sin. What curse could be greater? Yet, by the redemption there is in Christ, even that is so made subject that now
"We may rise on stepping-stones
Of our dead selves to higher things."
2. And he has done so with sorrow. Grief had been for ages going about the world, a sad-robed, somber, and ever-tearful guest in whatever house she took up her temporary abode: and there was no house she did not visit. But since the Lord Jesus became the "Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," she, in virtue of that acquaintance, has changed her very nature, and the curse is turned into a blessing. She ministers help to the soul, in releasing it from the bonds of this evil world and in uplifting it towards its true Father and home in heaven.
3. And so with death. Its sting-is taken away. To them who are in Christ he is rather a friend than a foe, for he it is who opens the door of our prison-house and lets the soul go free and rise to that place—
"Where loyal hearts and true
Stand ever in the light,
All rapture through and through,
In God's most holy sight."
Battlements not the Lord's.
Jeremiah is telling of the defenses of Judah and Jerusalem. In the approaching invasion they should fall and prove utterly worthless; for, by reason of the people's sin, that blessing of the Lord which had made their battlements impregnable hitherto was withdrawn, and so, the people being no longer the Lord's, their defenses were not either, and so were no defenses at all. But often those who are not under the Divine displeasure—nations, Churches, individuals—are found relying on defenses that are not Divine, thinking to find shelter and safety within battlements that are not the Lord's; and when such is the case the Lord would ever have such battlements taken away. The course of his providence not seldom makes plain his displeasure in these things; for they get torn down and destroyed hopelessly if they who trust in them are not wise in time, and themselves take them away. There are many references in Scripture to such battlements. They are spoken of either as "walls daubed with untempered mortar," or as "broken cisterns which hold no water," or, more plainly, as "refuges of lies," or as "a house built upon the sand," or as the building upon the foundation of "wood, hay, stubble." Such are some of the parallels to the truth taught in the text. But take some illustrations of this erecting of and trusting in battlements not the Lord's.
I. IT HAS BEEN SEEN IN THE DEFENSE OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST. Nothing in the world is so precious, so essential to the world, as the Church of Christ, and he has promised to preserve it unto the end. But men have often tried to plant, maintain, and spread it in anything but Divine ways; e.g. when:
1. They have relied on the secular arm. They have done so, and with what consequences let the present state of Christendom tell. When will men trust the glorious inherent power of the faith of Christ, and throw to the winds those carnal weapons which she wields only to her own wounding? When will she hear the voice of God saying, concerning such battlements, "Take them away; they are not the Lord's?"
2. Organization is another of these very questionable defenses. That it has its use, and is capable of much and valued service, he would be a fool who should deny. But the peril is lest the artificial and merely human supports which organization supplies should be allowed to serve instead of that Divine life which alone is the true defense of any Church. Church arrangements which necessitate that when that life is wanting everything shall collapse about such a Church, that it shall cease to be and not present the mere simulacrum of what it is not,—it is a question if this be not a better order than one which, by means of its elaborate organization, keeps up the show of Church life when the reality is not there.
3. And the same may be said of all those adventitious aids to the Church of Christ upon which men are apt so much to rely. Wealth, social position, learning, eloquence, numbers, gifts, and other such advantages,—let a Church place her trust in any of these, and the command of the text will go forth at once. But the true defense of a Church is the life that is in her, the manifest godliness of her members; that is a battlement which is the Lord's, and which none can take away.
II. IT HAS BEEN SEEN IN THE DEFENSE OF THE FAITH OF THE CHURCH, The faith of the Church is, without doubt, most precious; and it is our duty to contend earnestly for it. But men have sought to guard and defend it in wrong ways.
1. Persecution has been tried.
2. Demanding subscription to fixed creeds. There may be and are good reasons for demanding such subscription, but it cannot be said that such subscription has kept the faith one and entire in all the members of the Church. Probably there is more unity of belief in those Churches which demand no such subscription than in those who do.
3. Relying mostly on the intellectual defenses of the faith. There are such, many, varied, cogent, clear, invaluable, but they may be all read and mastered, and the citadel of the heart be not won. But the true battlement, of the faith is in the fact that it commends itself to every man's conscience in the sight of God. Let conscience be awakened and then the faith presented, and the fitness of the faith to the needs and teachings of conscience are visible at once.
III. IT IS CONTINUALLY SEEN IN MEN'S CONDUCT IN REGARD TO THEIR OWN PERSONAL SALVATION. What else is:
1. Trust in sacraments? They are, without doubt, means of grace to the believer in Christ—the experience of myriads of saints attests that; but he who looks to them as a viaticum that will open a way to heaven for the vilest, surely that is a refuge of lies.
2. Reliance on human priests? This reliance is by no means Confined to the Church of Rome. Deep seated in men's mind is the idea that ministers of religion can really help the soul in its great needs. Much of sending for ministers in cases where death is anticipated is based on this false belief.
3. Trust in such poor righteousness as we can offer to God; what can it do?
4. Resting on an imagined leniency in God, which will prevent his carrying out the threatenings of his holy Law as he has said he would? How many soothe and still all disquiet of conscience by such false confidence as this!—a confidence which the facts of life, apart from the Word of God, utterly shatter and show to be false. But the true defense of the soul is Christ; that battlement is the Lord's, yea, is the Lord himself, and he will keep that which is committed to him even unto the great day.—C.
The silken fetter.
In Jeremiah 5:22 the prophet has spoken of the soft, unstable sand holding in and beating back the mighty surgings of the sea; but here he tells of what would seem a still more unlikely thing, that the goodness of God should lead men to fear him. He selects that prominent proof of God's goodness, the giving of the rains and the harvest, as a type of all, and he takes for granted that men ought to have found in this goodness of God an argument for his fear. Now we remark—
I. THAT THIS IS AN UNUSUAL ARGUMENT. We could understand other attributes of God being appealed to as grounds for fearing him—his majesty, his power, his justice, his wrath—but his goodness seems to call for almost every other feeling than that of fear. Joy, gratitude, benevolence, praise, but not fear. We delight ourselves in his goodness, we bask in it as in the blessed warmth of the sun, but we never fear it, or see in it a reason for such regard of God. And it is certain that this expectation of the prophet, that God's goodness should lead us to his fear, was not based on any supposition or belief that there was aught of fearfulness about the goodness of God. Of the devil's goodness when he turns himself into an angel of light, when he quotes Scripture, as he did at our Lord's temptation, and when he pours honey into our cup,—of his goodness we may be afraid. It is but a mask. And of some men's goodness we may be afraid—men who are "false as the smooth, deceitful sea," "adders' poison under their lips;" they betray with a kiss. And men were wont to fear the goodness of the gods they worshipped. They imagined they would be jealous if they saw a man prospering overmuch. Hence to appease them men would inflict loss and injury on themselves. See the story of Polycrates. Nor either because there is aught of fatality attached to the goodness of God. It is not as the beautiful flush on the countenance, which, lovely as it may appear, is a mark of doom clearly discernible to the experienced eye. For no such reasons as these are we to fear God and his goodness. Nevertheless—
II. GOD'S GOODNESS IS A PROPER REASON FOR A HOLY FEAR.
1. For it reveals a Being so far removed above all our conceptions of human goodness, One who stands on so infinitely higher a level of moral excellency, that a sacred awe fills our soul as we contemplate what God is and what his love is, especially his love to us in Christ. "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared."
"Oh, how I fear thee, living God,
With deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship thee with humble hope
And penitential tears!"
2. And because God's goodness reveals the intensity and depth of his love, and therefore reveals a corresponding wrath against all who outrage that love. The gentlest mother yearning with affection for her children,—let those little ones be wronged, what a fury will she become towards the wrong-doer, and all because her love is so great! And so, "according to God's love, so is his wrath." There is no wrath like that "of the Lamb."
3. And because God's goodness in its temporal manifestations is but granted for a while. He reserves his right to recall it when he will. Hence if riches, or any other form of earthly good and present earthly joy,—if these increase, set not your heart upon them. It is terrible to have all our peace of heart and mind, all the joy of our life, identified with and dependent upon what one day God may recall. Every channel of God's goodness thus becomes a possible channel of deep suffering and distress. If, then, your delight in the gift have not led you to the love and trust of the Giver, what comfort will you have when the gift is withdrawn? What an argument this for the comment of our text! 4. Remember, again, the depraved nature which we carry about with us, which ever seeks to pervert to evil what God gives us for our good. "Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked." Prosperity is a sore temptation, before which many a man falls. God's gifts are the material out of which many build a screen, a wall which shuts them off from God. 5. And because God's goodness heightens our responsibility. How stern the word, "Cut it down; why cumbereth?" etc. Goodness and love and care had been thrown away upon it. If God, then, have pleaded with us by his love, as we know he has, what if our hearts be still estranged from him? "He that from God's mercy gathers no argument for his fear, may conclude thus much—that there is indeed forgiveness with God, but no forgiveness for him" (South). Then let us ask—
"Lord, let thy fear within us dwell,
Thy love our footsteps guide;
That love shall all vain love expel,
That fear all fear beside."
God's gifts of the rains and the harvest.
"The Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us," etc. To a country so liable to drought as Palestine, the regular, periodic rainfall was of the utmost importance. If they had not the former rain—that which came first after seed-time—the seed would not germinate in the soil; and if, when near the harvest, the rain did not come again, there would be no full corn in the ear: it would not swell out and mature in any way to the husbandman's content. "Hence the people of those lands speak of the weather and the crops with a more immediate reference to God than is usual with us. It is said that the common expressions of the peasantry are such as much impress travelers with their apparently devout recognition of the Almighty's agency." A lady and her party were one day traversing, under the conduct of their Arab guide, the fertile plains west of the Carmel range. "Rain began to fall in torrents. Mohammed, our groom," so the lady tells, "threw a large Arab cloak over me, saying, 'May Allah preserve you, O lady, while he is blessing the fields!'" "Blessing the fields,"—what a beautiful synonym for the rain! But it indicates the constant dependence of those lands on these rains, and the people's sense of the high value of this gift of God. The husbandman relies entirely upon the early and the latter rain, and if these do not fall copiously in their season famine will ensue. Therefore, when wishing to point out some signal mark of the Lord's favor to his people, the prophet selects this, that he "giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season," etc. The prophet knew that every heart would assent and own the goodness of the Lord herein. Probably he was more sure of it there and then than he would be here and now. We have got so mystified with the modern doctrines of "the order of nature" and "the uniformity of natural law," that we have come to regard the universe almost as a great machine, the regular working of which excites no surprise, and demands and obtains still less gratitude. But all this is very sad. Happy they who, in the coming round of the seasons, the fall of the rain and the blessed harvest, are both able and glad to confess, "It is the Lord, who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth forever." But let this verse not so much suggest the literal facts here commemorated by the prophet, as those other and higher spiritual facts which they resemble and suggest. The three blessed gifts of God in the natural world here spoken of, tell of gifts like to them in the spiritual world. And first they remind us of—
I. THOSE PERSONS WHO ARE SO HAPPY AS TO REALIZE ALL THE THREE: the two rains—both the former and the latter—and the harvest. Now, there are many such, God be praised for them! In their own religious life they know what God's blessing of the former rain is. There was such vivid realization of the love of Christ, such hatred of sin, such sweet sensitiveness of conscience, such free intercourse with God in prayer, such bright onlooks into the glory to be revealed, such ready delight in worship and in work, such prompt siding with the will of God—in a word, such enjoyment of him, that it is still, and will ever be, a delightful retrospect.
"What peaceful hours we then enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!"
"That was the early rain. The seed had just been sown, and the Master, to make it take deeper root, and to make it spring up faster into the green blade, gave them the sacred shower of his loving presence. And then there came afterwards the fatter rain. For such is needed even in the holiest Christian's life. The early excitement, the power of novelty, which is a power in the religious life as in all other, wore off, as it is its nature to do. Many weary leagues of life's pilgrimage had to be traversed, many disappointments to be met with, many trials to be endured, many temptations—subtle, strange, strong—had to be met and overcome, and they left the soul weary and exhausted. And, but for the blessed latter rain, the strength and vigor of the Divine life in the soul would have died down. But then there came, brought about in one way and another, the second baptism of the Holy Ghost. And, by means of that, separate acts of obedience crystallized into blessed habits, which made their discharge prompt, easy, and effective. The power of prayer became more marked, the knowledge and experience of the truth of God's Word deepened. The unseen and eternal came out of the mist and vagueness of former years into clear, well-defined reality, so that the seeing him who is invisible came to be a daily vision; and the walk with God grew to be constant, delightful, and more intimate each day. And so the harvest of peace with God, of holy calm, of settled obedience, and of loyal, happy service, was daily reaped. And in the case of those who have passed into the skies, the harvest of glory has been reaped also, or rather is being reaped, the joy of which is ever-during with the eternal life of the soul. So again and again has it been in the experience of the Christian life. And likewise has it been also in the work and service rendered to Christ. That, too, in many an instance, has had its former rain of blessing. It was begun in Christ and for Christ. Tokens of the Lord's presence were not wanting even at the very outset. Sinners were converted, believers were edified, souls were saved, as the result of the early toil in the Master's vineyard. The sermons may have been juvenile, unskilled in mere sermonic art, but they had the Divine power with them. The teaching given to the scholars in the class may have been sadly unscientific, and wanting in symmetry and system; but Jesus was commended to the children, and his love so spoken of that they listened, were touched, were persuaded, were saved. And then years after the latter rain came. For a long while the work went on in a quiet, almost monotonous way. There appeared no stir, no great impression made. But he who gave the early rain now sent the latter also. And a new outpouring of the Spirit's influence was given. And again and increasingly the Word was spoken with power; the influence of Christ's servant told with all the added strength that life-long consecration to that work gave to it, and many a soul confessed the might of that ministry which Christ enabled him to discharge. And a blessed harvest was reaped, day after day, week by week; the sickle of the Word seemed never so keen, the hand that wielded it never so vigorous, the sheaves never so large, until the reaper was called away to join in the glad festivities of the eternal harvest-home. Yes, so it has been again and again. And, would we have it so with ourselves,—and would we not? let it not be forgotten that the realization of these blessings—the early and the latter rain, and the harvest—in our work depends upon our personal realization of them in our own souls. The soul not alive in and for God can never accomplish much in his work and service. We must "take heed to ourselves" would we successfully take heed to our work, and be the means of salvation to others. Yes, let us remember this. But be encouraged by remembering also that it is God's way and wont to send this threefold blessing. This verse speaks of his giving these great gifts as his customary habit. It is not an exceptional or strange thing with him, but that which we may, and even should, look for. May he help us so to do, and then give us our heart's desire! But next consider—
II. THOSE LESS HAPPY ONES WHO REALIZE ONLY TWO OUT OF THESE THREE GIFTS OF GOD. They have had the early and the latter rains, but the harvest they have not yet rejoiced in. There are such experiences, both in the Christian life and in Christian work. The men were truly converted to God at the first, and they have in after years felt the power of his Spirit again and again; but that harvest of settled peace and joy, that power habitually to walk with God in the comfort of his love, and in prompt, joyful obedience to his will, has not come to them. And they grieve over it much. And yet more is this delay of the harvest often known in the sphere of Christian work. The whole Christian Church mourns today over this delay of harvest. The early rain of the Pentecostal day fell refreshingly upon them; and since then there have been spring-tides of Divine influence, copious outpourings' of the Spirit of God, latter rains in deed and in truth. But the harvest—where is that? Where is the world, or even one entire nation, won for God? The boundaries of the kingdom of Satan do not seem much diminished, nor those of the kingdom of God much enlarged. And so, too, individual Churches have, in like manner, been blessed with early and latter rains, but the harvest of their work has not come. They can tell you of times in their history when there seemed a general movement Godwards; when the people met for prayer in unwonted numbers and with unwonted fervor. Their early history may have been one of difficulty and struggle, but these were overborne by a glorious awakening, a girding of them with power, by the Spirit of the Lord manifestly setting up his standard in their midst. "And the Lord added to them daily such as should be saved." And in more recent years they have had like and even larger experiences of his glorious presence. But yet the harvest is not reaped. Not only is the neighborhood around hem still for the most part as it was, untouched, unimpressed by the power of the gospel, but many who gather with them Sunday by Sunday, and in their week-day assemblies, are yet unconverted and unsaved. Where is the harvest? Why does it not come? "How long, O Lord, how long?" these servants of God continually cry to him. And so, too, with the individual worker for Christ. He, too, can look back on a time when he began his holy labor, whether in more prominent or more obscure place it matters not; but there was given to him the early, and since then there has been the latter, rain. But he looks round his class, his family, his school, his congregation, and oh, what a scant portion of the field is as yet even begun to be garnered for Christ! How powerless his words seem to fall on many of them! How unanswered his prayers on their behalf still seem to be! Now, what are we to say to all this? Well, these three things we may surely say: First, that God reserves the weeks of harvest. He has appointed them, but the day of their coming he has reserved in his own power. The husbandman must have long patience; the growth and development of the holy seed is an orderly, and is generally a slow, process. All God's greatest works are slow. Science is ever teaching us this. What ages upon ages do the geologist and the astronomer demand for the processes of which they tell! How our little chronologies dwindle into insignificance besides those vast periods which they have conclusively shown to have been occupied by the Creator in perfecting those phenomena of which their several sciences take account! And, in the far greater and more difficult work of the moral and spiritual regeneration of human souls, shall we be impatient if God do not begin, continue, and end it all in the short space of our little lives? Surely this is to be unreasonable, is improper, is wrong. But remember, too, that the harvest itself is a long process. They are "weeks of harvest." The ingathering has begun when only one sheaf in a field has been reaped. The Lord Jesus said, "The fields are white already unto harvest," when he held in his hand only one solitary ripe ear of corn, the conversion of the woman of Samaria. Hence we may possibly be mourning that the harvest has not come, when in fact it has actually begun. Why, my brother, it began in you from the first hour that you were converted to God. He was cutting the bonds that bound you to this world when he first called you to himself; and all the varied means by which he is separating you from the world is but the reaping continually going on; and when the sickle of death comes and cuts down this bodily life of yours, it will be but the last stroke of the reaper that tells that the harvest for you is finished at last. And so with your work. The harvest is begun. That child's heart you won for Christ here, that soul that was brought to Jesus through the Word preached by you there, those others gathered to the Redeemer's feet elsewhere,—what were these blessed facts but the beginning of the harvest, a beginning that is to go on? You are not strong enough to reap all the Lord's field; be content that he lets you reap a part. Other workmen are to enter in where you may not, and to their arm shall fall the sheaves that you may not gather. So say not any more, "The harvest is delayed." Why, you are actually engaged in it now. You are not a mere sower, but you are a reaper too. And remember the full harvest shall be reaped. He is the Lord of it, and will not let it waste; by one means or another it shall all be gathered in. This is what we have to say to you who mourn at the harvest's delay.
III. But there are others less happy still. THOSE WHO CAN CLAIM TO HAVE REALIZED ONLY ONE OF THESE THREE GIFTS OF GOD. The harvest is not theirs, nor both the former and the latter rains, but only one of them. Now, this one may be only the former rain. In their religious life they were blessed with this; the wonted happy results followed; but since then there has been a standstill, and those observing them are, as St. Paul was in reference to the Galatians," in doubt" about them, and sorrowfully ask the question, "Ye did run well; who did hinder you?" Their goodness has been "like the morning cloud and the early dew"—it has gone away. And so also in much of religious work. At the beginning there was a zeal and fervor and force which promised great things, but it all soon died down. They had no staying power, and because all was not accomplished in one vigorous rush and charge, and because the difficulties that had to be overcome presented a more stubborn and obstinate front than was anticipated, those who went forth to do battle with them became discouraged and soon turned back. In these cases, both in the life and the work, though there was the former rain, the latter has not as yet fallen. Now where, as is often the case, this has been owing to neglect of those Divine aids which God has placed within our power—the blessed aids of prayer, watchfulness, and the diligent Use of grace already given—then not pity but censure must be awarded to those of whom we speak. "They have not because they asked not;" or if they asked they "asked amiss." Ah, what a sad amount of such asking amiss there ever is!—asking as a substitute for working, instead of as an aid and encouragement thereto; asking, but with motives marred by selfishness, strife, and many forms of that "regarding iniquity in the heart," which ever bars the coming of the needed answer. And so there have been decline and decay, and a fresh fall of the heavenly rain is indeed wanted. Oh, do these words apply to any of us, either in regard to our stunted life or our ineffectual work? It may be so. But, thank God, such sad facts are not always the cause. God may be pleased, notwithstanding that his servants wait upon him for the outpouring of his Spirit they so much desire, to delay his answer. The rains of God have their season, and he best knows what and when that season is. His purpose is to stir you up to yet more earnest prayer, to greater energy of spiritual endeavor. All the night through did Jacob wrestle with the angel, ere he won the glorious name of Israel. Not till after so long and so arduous a struggle that his physical strength gave way, the sinew of his thigh shrank, and he seemed reduced to utter powerlessness;—not till then was the victory won. If, therefore, any of us, in cur own religious life or work, are still waiting in prayer and watching thereunto, but yet the desired answer has not come, regard it not as denial, but only as a delay sent to test and try your faith—that faith more precious in the sight of God than gold and silver, and which when tested shall come forth triumphant, to the praise and glory of his grace. But there are those who have the latter rain only. Is it not so with all those instances of late repentance, of eleventh-hour turning to God? Such coming to God at the last does now and then occur, and the promise of our Lord, "Whosoever cometh unto me I will," etc; is made good. Such have the latter rain, but they can hardly be said ever to have known the former. And so, too, with those who all their lifetime have been subject to bondage, have walked in darkness and have seen no light,—to these tried children of God light often comes at eventide; they have the latter rain, but not the former. And it is so also in many departments of Christian work. Take the long and painful history of many of our missions. For how many years, amid how many discouragements, from deaths, desertions, disease, and the like, have the pioneers of those missions toiled on as the missionaries in Central Africa, so repeatedly deprived by death of one and another of their little band, are yet doing! The early rain has never come, but the latter we are sure they and all such shall have. Oh, how they deserve and demand our sympathy and our earnest prayers! Shame will it be on the Church at home if these be withheld. But we believe they are not and will not be. These are, however, a third class less blessed than those who have both the former and latter rain, and still less than those who have added on the crown and consummation of all their toil—the joyous harvest. But far, far more blessed are they than that other and last class of whom also we are reminded.
IV. THOSE WHO HAVE NEITHER OF THESE BLESSINGS—NEITHER FORMER NOR LATTER RAIN, NOR HARVEST. The profession of the Christian life may be made, and one or other form of Christian work may be undertaken, but all manner of motives, all manner of reasons, save the alone right and true one, may account for such facts. The religion and the work may alike be hollow, formal, insincere; a life and a work on which neither the former nor the latter rains of God's Spirit will ever come, and the only harvest which shall be reaped will be one of" shame and everlasting contempt." There is no Diane life in the man's soul, and therefore none in his work either. No more pitiful spectacle can any contemplate than this, and from being examples of it may God in his mercy deliver us all. But there is no need of this. The Lord our God is wont to give "rain, both the former and the latter, in Iris season," and to reserve unto us the appointed weeks of harvest. This is his declared will. Why, then, should we be without his blessing? Oh, let every one resolve that if importunity of prayer can for Christ's sake win it, we will know the joy of both the former and the latter rain, and will anticipate and look out for the appointed weeks of harvest. You who have had both the former and the latter rain, be ready for the reaper's work. You who have had but the former rain, plead mightily for the latter too; and you who have had neither, whether in your own life or in your work, remember the fault is your own, but resolve in the strength of God's grace that it shall be so no more. Turn in him your Lord and Savior, who came that you might have life, and might have it more abundantly, and beseech him to give you what you must have or die. And so for you and for us all we would pray—
"Diffuse, O God, those copious showers,
That earth its fruit may yield,
And change this barren wilderness
To Carmel's flowery field."
Jeremiah 5:27, Jeremiah 5:28
The devil's lure.
"Their houses are full of deceit, therefore they are become great," etc.
I. SEVERAL OF THESE LURES ARE NAMED HERE.
1. Wealth: "They are waxen rich."
2. Luxury: "They are waxen fat, they shine."
3. Impunity: "They overpass … they judge not … yet they prosper."
4. Success: "They prosper."
II. AND THE LIKE LURES ARE HELD OUT STILL. Satan is ever seeking, and with sad success, in seduce men by such and similar snares.
III. IT IS WHAT WE MIGHT EXPECT. For that Satan should in this manner tempt men is in keeping with his constant method of parodying and travestying all the good works of God. What virtue, what Christian grace, is there that he does not caricature-modesty by servility, prudence by meanness, generosity by careless waste, etc.? And so here, "The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich," and hence Satan sets to work to devise a blessing of his which also shall make rich—and this is his great lure.
IV. AND THIS LURE IS MADE THE MORE ATTRACTIVE BY THE FACT THAT GOD OFTEN SUFFERS HIS SERVANTS TO FALL INTO GREAT DISTRESS. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous;" "In the world ye shall have tribulation." For God desires that we shall love him for himself, yea, when our earthly interests even plead against him. Such trial of on; faith is exceeding precious in his sight.
V. OUR DUTY AND DEFENSE, THEREFORE, IS:
1. To look right on beyond the present reward, even to "the end."
2. To expose to others the treachery of these apparent rewards.
3. To pray for and cherish the spirit of Nehemiah, who said, "So did not I, because of the fear of God."
4. To yield our heart and soul up to the better attraction of Christ and his cross, until we come to say of him, "Thou art mine exceeding joy.'"—C.
A wonderful and horrible thing indeed.
I. IN WHAT IT CONSISTED.
1. "The prophets prophesy falsely." The prophets were not mere predicters of future events, but the utterers of God's will—those who spoke forth, as the very word "prophet" denotes, the hitherto undeclared mind of God. For this purpose they were specially selected, trained, privileged, commissioned. Hence every inducement that could possibly bear on them to lead them to be faithful to their high charge and trust was theirs: love of their country; approval of their own conscience; the fear of God; the sure, if not present, reward of their fidelity which they would receive from God. But yet they prophesied falsely. We could have understood:
(1) Their hesitation in the discharge of their duty. See how Jeremiah himself shrank from it, so stern and arduous was it. It was no light matter to be a prophet in those days.
(2) Their silence even. Fear may have rendered them dumb, or hopelessness of doing any good may have silenced them. But that they should prophesy falsely—they from whom fidelity at all costs might have been looked for—that was "a wonderful and horrible," etc. The fountains of truth were poisoned, the helm of the ship was in the hands of those who would steer her on to the rocks. The light that was in Israel was darkened, therefore how great was their darkness! What force such a fact as this lends to the urgency with which:
(a) God's prophets—his ministers today are such—should take heed to themselves and to their doctrine; and
(b) God's people should remember in fervent prayer those on whom so high and solemn a charge is laid.
2. "The priests bear rule by their means." The priests were the more familiar ministers of religion. They were a permanent order, not raised up for special occasions, and they came into contact with men continually. They were supposed "to keep knowledge." They had all the traditions of their order, all the memories of their history and of God's favor to them. They were independent of the prophets, but were much bound to the people for their sympathy and support. But whilst independent of the prophets, they were greatly assisted by them in furthering the service of God. And they also had means of knowing the truth. They were able to try the spirits, whether they were of God. Hence they might have known the falsity of the false prophets. And they ought to have exposed it. But instead they combined with them, accepted the aid of their falsehood, and bore rule by their means. For, corrupt as the people were, they would speedily have discovered the wickedness of the priests had not the prophets sided with them. Now the poison spreads. The priests, coming into contact with all the people, propagate the falsehood of the prophets, shelter themselves behind their authority, and deceive those who trusted in them. Yes, it is "a wonderful and horrible," etc. It is in the power of some to originate falsehood: this the prophets did. It is in the power of others to spread that falsehood abroad: this the priests did. Leagued together, the people who trusted them were in evil case indeed. But there was a further element of sorrow to be yet added.
3. The people loved to have it so.
(1) This showed that:
(a) conscience was dead or drugged;
(b) all perception of their true wisdom was gone;
(c) there was no remedy but the fire of the judgment of God.
(2) It is explained by probable facts that:
(a) the poison was disguised;
(b) large license was allowed.
(3) It reveals the awfully contagious nature of moral evil. The dread possibilities of national corruption, against which we are bound to watch and pray.
II. THE QUESTION IT GIVES RISE TO: "What will ye do in the end thereof?" That is, to what lengths will they go when their wickedness has full hold upon them? to what depths of degradation will they fall? to what resources will they turn when God's judgments come? The sadness of the question lies in the impossibility of satisfactorily answering it. It leads us to the brink of an abyss, at which we can only shudder and pray that none of us may fall therein.
1. Thank God that such prophets and priests are the exception to the rule.
2. That when such exceptions are met with, God has provided a remedy against them—in his infallible Word; in his Spirit, leading us into all truth.
3. Try all that human ministers say by these tests.
4. Seeing how much depends upon them, and what power for good or ill they cannot but have, pray with all importunity-that God send only faithful men into his ministry, and preserve in their fidelity those who are there already.—C.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
Nature's witness against blind eyes and rebellious hearts.
Three forms of evil are rebuked here.
I. THE DULNESS OF SPIRITUAL SENSIBILITY THAT FAILS TO DISCERN THE DIVINE MEANING OF NATURE. Israel and Judah are addressed as a "foolish people, without understanding," etc. Their crimes and sorrows sprang in great part out of their blindness and thoughtlessness (Isaiah 1:3; Isaiah 5:12, Isaiah 5:13). They would not use even the powers of spiritual discernment they possessed. They perceived not the Divine presence in natural things—the sounding shore, the revolving seasons—so as to bow with adoring reverence before it. Few things are stranger or sadder than the insensibility of the spirits of men to the Divine in nature. "They have eyes, but do not see" the "invisible things" of the Great Creator "through the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." They must be startled into the recognition of the present God. When some event out of the ordinary course occurs, they stand in awe before it, but in the familiar round of nature they find nothing Divine. We are all more or less open to this charge. The earthquake, the lightning flash, the hurricane, set us thinking of the majesty of him who wields such mighty forces at his will; but we forget the still more marvelous exercise of power that maintains the silent harmony of the spheres, holds the due balance of earth and sea, chases away the darkness of the night by the gently spreading dawn of every new morning, brings the grass blades and the flowers up out of the cold sod, ripens the fruit upon the trees, and changes the green carpet of the springing corn into the golden glory of the harvest. Of course it cannot be expected that any incident in the familiar daily round of nature should produce precisely the same effect on us as some new and startling phenomenon. The glory of the setting sun, that we have gazed upon a thousand times before, must needs be less to us in this respect than that of some flaming meteor that bursts suddenly upon the darkness and is gone. But it is deeply significant of the dullness of our spiritual sensibility that we can gaze so often on the world of wonders around us without being solemnly impressed with the presence of the living God.
II. THE SELF-WILL THAT SPURNS THE DIVINE CONTROL. A contrast is here drawn between the subjection of the great sea to the laws God's will has imposed on it, and the bounds his hand has drawn around it, and the insubordination of the rebellious spirit of man. It is a grand expression of Divine power in the material realm that the sea-shore presents. We are impressed with the majestic force of the rolling tide, but, after all, there is something still more wonderful in the solid strength of the belt of sand that resists and restrains it. (Even as the moral strength of a man is seen not so much in the ungoverned fury of his passions, as in the calm resolution that controls them.) The sea is subject to restraint; not so the wayward spirit of man. The sea, in its wildest raging, obeys the laws that are imposed on it, and "its own appointed limits keeps;" but the rebellious heart of man defies all authority other than its own impulses. How deep the mystery of this difference between material and spiritual forces! How awful the prerogative of a being on whom God has conferred a moral freedom like his own! He will never violate that freedom in any of his dealings with us; that were to destroy the very nature he has given. But in proportion to the dignity of the self-determining power, so dreadful must be the penalty of abusing it.
III. THE INGRATITUDE THAT YIELDS NO RETURN OF LOVE FOR THE DIVINE BENEFICENCE. It was an aggravation of the guilt of Israel that they were as unmoved by the perpetual manifestation of the goodness of God as they were by the revelations of his power. Even that did not lead them to repentance or teach them to fear him. Few evidences of the thoughtful goodness of God have been more conspicuous through all the ages than the beneficent round of the seasons. In spite of all the wickedness of man's ways, "he left not himself without witness, in that he did good," etc. (Acts 14:17). The appeal this great fact makes to the consciences and hearts of men is specially forcible as bearing on those whose calling is to be fellow-workers with God in developing the harvests of the earth. "Labor is a sublime necessity," not as a mere "necessity," but because of its moral meaning and moral uses. And of all physical labor, the husbandry of the earth is most rich in moral associations, as educating men to lowly dependence on God, and grateful devotion to him in response to his fatherly providence and long-suffering grace.
Learn—As all Divine manifestations speak to us alike of infinite power and infinite beneficence, so the result in us should be the blended affections of fear and love.—W.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent