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A prophecy, in five stanzas or strophes, vividly describing the judgment and its causes, and enforcing the necessity of repentance.
Arrival of a hostile army from the north, and summons to flee from the doomed city.
O ye children of Benjamin. The political rank of Jerusalem, as the capital of the kingdom of Judah, makes it difficult to realize that Jerusalem was not locally a city of Judah at all. It belonged, strictly speaking, to the tribe of Benjamin, a tribe whose insignificance, in comparison with Judah, seems to have led to the adoption of a form of expression not literally accurate (see Psa 128:1-6 :68). The true state of the ease is evident from an examination of the two parallel passages, Joshua 15:7, Joshua 15:8, and Joshua 18:16, Joshua 18:17. As Mr. Fergusson points out, "The boundary between Judah and Benjamin … ran at the foot of the hill on which the city stands, so that the city itself was actually in Benjamin, while, by crossing the narrow ravine of Hinnom, you set foot on the territory of Judah" (Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' 1.983). It is merely a specimen of the unnatural method of early harmonists when Jewish writers tell us that the altars and the sanctuary were in Benjamin, and the courts of the temple in Judah. The words of "the blessing of Moses" are clear (Deuteronomy 33:12): "The beloved of the Lord! he shall dwell in safety by him, sheltering him continually, and between his shoulders he dwelleth;" i.e. Benjamin is specially protected, the sanctuary being on Benjamite soil. And yet these highly favored "children of Benjamin" are divinely warned to flee from their sacred homes (see Jeremiah 7:4-7). Gather yourselves to flee; more strictly, save your goods by flight. In Jeremiah 4:6 the same advice was given to the inhabitants of the country districts. There, Jerusalem was represented as the only safe refuge; here, the capital being no longer tenable, the wild pasture-land to the south (the foe being expected from the north) becomes the goal of the fugitives of Jerusalem. In Tokoa. Tokoa was a town in the wild hill-county to the south of Judah, the birthplace of the prophet Amos. It is partly mentioned because its name seems to connect it with the verb rendered blow the trumpet. Such paronomasiae are favorite oratorical instruments of the prophets, and especially in connections like the present (comp. Isaiah 10:30; Micah 1:10-15). A sign of fire in Beth-hakkerem; rather, a signal on Beth-hakkerem. The rendering of Authorized Version was suggested by Judges 20:38, Judges 20:40; but there is nothing in the present context (as there is in that passage) to favor the view that a fiery beacon is intended. Beth-hakkerem lay, according to St. Jerome, on an eminence between Jerusalem and Tekoa; i.e. probably the hill known as the Frank Mountain, the Arabic name of which (Djebel el-Furaidis, Little Paradise Mountain) is a not unsuitable equivalent for the Hebrew (Vineyard-house). The "district of Beth-hakkerem" is mentioned in Nehemiah 3:14. The choice of the locality for the signal was a perfect one. "There is no other tell," remarks Dr. Thomson, "of equal height and size in Palestine." Appeareth; rather, bendeth forward, as if it were ready to fall.
I have likened … a comely and delicate woman. This passage is one of the most difficult in the book, and if there is corruption of the text anywhere, it is here. The most generally adopted rendering is, "The comely and delicate one will I destroy, even the daughter of Zion," giving the verb the same sense as in Hosea 4:5 (literally it is, I have brought to silence, or perfect of prophetic certitude). The context, however, seems to favor the rendering "pasturage" (including the idea of a nomad settlement), instead of "comely;" but how to make this fit in with the remainder of the existing text is far from clear. The true and original reading probably only survives in fragments.
The shepherds with their flocks, etc.; rather, To her came shepherds with their flocks; they have pitched their tents round about her; they have pastured each at his side. The best commentary on the last clause is furnished by Numbers 22:4, "Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field."
Prepare ye war; literally, sanctify (or, consecrate) war. The foes are dramatically described as urging each other on at the different stages of the campaign. The war is to be opened with sacrifices (comp. Isaiah 13:3 with 1 Samuel 13:9); next there is a forced march, so as to take the city by storm, when the vigilance of its defenders is relaxed in the fierce noontide heat (comp. Jeremiah 15:8); evening surprises the foe still on the way, but they press steadily on, to do their work of destruction by night. The rapidity of the marches of the Chaldeans impressed another prophet of the reign of Josiah—Habakkuk (see Habakkuk 1:6, Habakkuk 1:8). Woe unto us! for the day goeth away; rather, Alas for us! for the day hath turned.
Let us go; rather, let us go up. "To go up" is the technical term for the movements of armies, whether advancing (as here and Isaiah 7:1) or retreating (as Jeremiah 21:2; Jeremiah 34:21; Jeremiah 37:5, Jeremiah 37:11).
Hew ye down trees; rather, her trees. Hewing down trees was an ordinary feature of Assyrian and Babylonian expeditions. Thus, Assurnacirpal "caused the forests of all (his enemies) to fall" ('Records of the Past,' 3.40, 77), and Shalmaneser calls himself "the trampler on the heads of mountains and all forests ". The timber was partly required for their palaces and fleets, but also, as the context here suggests, for warlike operations. "Trees," as Professor Rawlinson remarks, "were sometimes cut down and built into the mound" (see next note); they would also be used for the "bulwarks" or siege instruments spoken of in Deuteronomy 20:20. Cast a mount; literally, pour a mount (or "bank," as it is elsewhere rendered), with reference to the emptying of the baskets of earth required for building up the "mount" (mound). Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:10) says of the Chaldeans, "He laugheth at every stronghold, and heapeth up earth, and taketh it" (comp, also 2 Samuel 20:15; Isaiah 37:33). The intention of the mound was not so much to bring the besiegers on a level with the top of the walls as to enable them to work the battering-rams to better advantage (Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 1.472). She is wholly oppression, etc.; rather, she is the city that is punished; wholly oppression is in the midst of her.
As a fountain casteth out; rather, as a cistern keepeth fresh (literally, cool). The wickedness of Jerusalem is so thoroughly ingrained that it seems to pass into act by a law of nature, just as a cistern cannot help always yielding a supply of cool, fresh water. Violence and spoil; rather, injustice and violence (so Jeremiah 20:8; Amos 3:10; Habakkuk 1:3). Before me, etc.; rather, before my face continually is sickness and wounding. The ear is constantly dinned with the sounds of oppression, and the eye pained with the sight of the bodily sufferings of the victims. The word for" sickness" is applicable to any kind of infirmity (see Isaiah 53:3, Isaiah 53:4), but the context clearly limits it here to bodily trouble.
Be thou instructed; rather, Let thyself be corrected (Authorized Version misses the sense, a very important one, of the conjugation, which is Nifal tolerativum (comp. Psalms 2:10; Isaiah 53:12). The phrase equivalent to "receive correction" (Jeremiah 2:30; Jeremiah 5:3), and means to accept the warning conveyed in the Divine chastisement. Lest my soul, etc.; rather, lest my soul be rent from thee (Authorized Version renders the same verb in Ezekiel 23:17, "be alienated").
It is an all but complete Judgment, which Jehovah foreshows. Unwilling as the people are to hear it, the disclosure must be made.
They shall thoroughly glean, etc. "Israel" has already been reduced to a "remnant;" the ten tribes have lost their independence, and Judah alone remains (Jeremiah 5:15). Even Judah shall undergo a severe sifting process, which is likened to a gleaning (comp. Isaiah 24:13; Obadiah 1:5; Jeremiah 49:9). The prospect is dark, but believers in God's promises would remember that a few grapes were always left after the gathering (comp. Isaiah 17:6). Turn back thine hand. If the text is correct, the speaker here addresses the leader of the gleaners. Keil thinks this change of construction is to emphasize the certainty of the predicted destruction. But it is much more natural (and in perfect harmony with many other similar phenomena of the received text) to suppose, with Hitzig, that the letter represented in the Authorized Version By "thine" has arisen by a mistaken repetition of the first letter of the following word, and (the verbal form being the same for the infinitive and the imperative) to render turning again the hand. In this case the clause will be dependent on the preceding statement as to the "gleaning" of Judah. Into the baskets; rather, unto the shoots. The gleaners will do their work with a stern thoroughness, laying the hand of destruction again and again upon the vine-shoots.
Their ear is uncircumcised; covered as it were with a foreskin, which prevents the prophetic message from finding admittance. Elsewhere it is the heart (Leviticus 26:41; Ezekiel 44:7), or the lips (Exodus 6:12) which are said to be "circumcised;" a passage in Stephen's speech applies the epithet both to the heart and to the ears (Acts 7:51).
Therefore I am full; rather, But I am full. I will pour it out. The text has "pour it out." The sudden transition to the imperative is certainly harsh, and excuses the conjectural emendation which underlies the rendering of the Authorized Version. If we retain the imperative, we must explain it with reference to Jeremiah's inner experience. There are, we must remember, two selves in the prophet (comp. Isaiah 21:6), and the higher prophetic self here addresses the lower or human self, and calls upon it no longer to withhold the divinely communicated burden. All classes, as the sequel announces, are to share in the dread calamity. Upon the children abroad; literally, upon the child in the street (comp. Zechariah 8:5). The assembly of young men. It is a social assembly which is meant (comp. Jeremiah 15:17, "the assembly of the laughers").
Shall be turned; i.e. transferred. Their fields and wives. Wives are regarded as a property, as in Exodus 20:17 (comp. Deuteronomy 5:21).
Given to covetousness; literally, gaineth gain; but the word here rendered "gain" implies that it is unrighteous gain (the root means "to tear"), Unjust gain and murder are repeatedly singled out in the Old Testament as representative sins (comp. Ezekiel 33:31; Psalms 119:36; Isaiah 1:15; Jeremiah 2:34; and see my note on Isaiah 57:17). There is a special reason for the selection of "covetousness" here. Land was the object of a high-born Jew's ambition, and expulsion from his land was his appropriate punishment (comp. Isaiah 5:8, Isaiah 5:9).
They have healed, etc. The full force of the verb is, "they have busied themselves about healing" (so Jeremiah 8:11; Jeremiah 51:9). Of the daughter. Our translators evidently had before them a text which omitted these words, in accordance with many Hebrew manuscripts and the Septuagint; Van der Hooght's text, however, contains them, as also does the parallel passage (Jeremiah 8:11). Slightly; or, lightly; Septuagint, ἐξουθενοῦντες. Saying, Peace, peace. Always the burden of the mere professional prophets, who, as one of a higher order—the bold, uncompromising Micah—fittingly characterizes them," bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace;" i.e. draw flattering pictures of the state and prospects of their country, in order to "line their own pockets" (Micah 3:5).
Were they ashamed? The Authorized Version certainly meets the requirements of the context; there seems to be an implied interrogation. Most, however, render, "They are brought to shame;" in which ease it seems best to take the verb as a perfect of prophetic certitude, equivalent to "they shall surely be brought to shame." When; rather, because. Nay, they were not at all ashamed; rather, nevertheless they feel no shame (i.e. at present). They shall be cast down; rather, they shall stumble.
Without hearty repentance, there is no hope of escape. But hitherto Judah has rejected all admonitions. What availeth mere ceremonial punctuality?
Stand ye in the ways; literally, station yourselves on (or, by) roads, i.e. at the meeting-point of different roads. There (as the following words state) the Jews are to make inquiry as to the old paths. Antiquity gives a presumption of rightness; the ancients were nearer to the days when God spoke with man; they had the guidance of God's two mighty "shepherds" (Isaiah 63:11); they knew, far better than we, who "are but of yesterday, and know nothing" (Job 8:9), the way of happiness. For though there are many pretended "ways," there is but "one way" (Jeremiah 32:39) which has Jehovah's blessing (Psalms 25:8, Psalms 25:9).
Also I set; rather, and I kept raising up (the frequentative perfect). Watchmen; i.e. prophets (Ezekiel 3:17, and part of Isaiah 52:8; Isaiah 56:10). Hearken, etc. probably the words of Jehovah. Standing on their high watch-tower (Habakkuk 2:1), the prophets scrutinize the horizon for the first appearance of danger, and give warning of it by (metaphorically) blowing a trumpet (so Amos 3:6).
Therefore hear, etc. Remonstrance being useless, the sentence upon Israel can no longer be delayed, and Jehovah summons the nations of the earth as witnesses (comp. Micah 1:2; Isaiah 18:3; Psalms 49:1). O congregation, what is among them. The passage is obscure. "Congregation" can only refer to the foreign nations mentioned in the first clause; for Israel could not be called upon to hear the judgment "upon this people" (Jeremiah 6:19). There is, however, no other passage in which the word has this reference. The words rendered "what is among them," or "what (shall happen) in them," seem unnaturally laconic, and not as weighty as one would expect after the solemn introduction. If correct, they must of course refer to the Israelites. But Graf's conjecture that the text is corrupt lies near at hand. The least alteration which will remove the difficulties of the passage is that presupposed by the rendering of Aquila (not Symmachus, as St. Jerome says; see Field's 'Hexapla') and J. D. Michaelis, "the testimony which is against them."
The fruit of their thoughts. That punishment is the ripe fruit of sin, is the doctrine of the Old as well as of the New Testament (James 1:15).
To what purpose … incense from Sheba? This is the answer to an implied objection on the part of the Jews, that they have faithfully fulfilled their core-menial obligations. "To obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Samuel 15:22); "And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8; comp. Isaiah 1:11; Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8). All these passages must be read in the light of the prophets' circumstances. A purely formal, petrified religion compelled them to attack the existing priesthood, and a holy indignation cannot stop to measure its language. Incense from Sheba; frankincense from south-west Arabia. This was required for the holy incense (Exodus 30:34), and as an addition to the minkhah, or "meal offering." Sweet cane. The "sweet calamus" of Exodus 30:23, which was imported from India. It was an ingredient in the holy anointing oil (Exodus, loc. cit.). Not to be confounded with the sugar-cane.
I will lay stumbling-blocks, etc, Of the regenerate Israel of the future it is prophesied (Isaiah 54:15) that his enemies shall "fall upon him [or, 'by reason of him']." Of the unregenerate Israel of the present, that he shall "fall" (i.e. come to ruin) upon the "stumbling-blocks" presented, not without God's appointment, by the terrible northern invader.
The enemy described; the terror consequent on his arrival; a rumored declaration of the moral cause of the judgment.
From the north country (so Jeremiah 1:14 (see note); Jeremiah 4:6). Shall be raised; rather, shall be aroused. The sides of the earth; rather, "the recesses (i.e. furthest parts) of the earth" (so Jer 35:1-19 :32; Isaiah 14:13).
Spear; rather, javelin (or, lance). They are cruel. The cruelty of the Assyrians and Babylonians seems to have spread general dismay. Nahum calls Nineveh "the city of bloodshed" (Nahum 3:1); Habakkuk styles the Chaldeans "bitter and vehement, terrible and dreadful" (Habakkuk 1:6, Habakkuk 1:7). The customs brought out into view m the monuments justify this most amply, though Professor Rawlinson thinks we cannot call the Assyrians naturally hard. hearted. "The Assyrian listens to the enemy who asks for quarter; he prefers making prisoners go slaying.; he is very terrible in the battle and the assault, but afterwards he forgives and spares" ('Ancient Monarchies,' 1.243). Their voice roareth. The horrid roar of the advancing hosts seems to have greatly struck the Jews (comp. Isaiah 5:30; Isaiah 17:12, Isaiah 17:13).
We have heard the fame thereof. The prophet identifies himself (comp; for the same phenomenon, Jeremiah 4:19-21; Jeremiah 10:19, Jeremiah 10:20) with his people, and expresses the general feeling of anxiety and pain. The phraseology of the closing lines reminds us of Isaiah 13:7, Isaiah 13:8.
Go not forth into the field. The "daughter of Zion" (i.e. the personific population of Jerusalem) is cautioned against venturing outside the walls. The sword of the enemy; rather, the enemy hath a sword. Fear is on every side; Hebrew, magor missabib; one of Jeremiah's favorite expressions (see Jeremiah 20:3, Jeremiah 20:10; Jeremiah 46:5; Jeremiah 49:29; and comp. Psalms 31:13 .). Naturally of a timid, retiring character, the prophet cannot help feeling the anxious and alarming situation into which at the Divine command he has ventured.
Wallow thyself in ashes; rather, sprinkle thyself with ashes, a sign of mourning (2 Samuel 13:19; so Micah 1:10). Mourning, as for an only son. The Septuagint renders πένθος ἀγαπητοῦ. Possibly this was to avoid a supposition which might have occurred to some readers (it has, in fact, occurred to several modern critics) that the "only son" was Adonis, who was certainly "mourned for" by some of the Israelites under the name of Thammuz (Ezekiel 8:14), and whose Phoenician name is given by Philo of Byblus as Ἰεούδ (i.e. probably Yakhidh, only begotten, the word used by Jeremiah; comp. Βηρούθ, equivalent to Berith). M. Renan found a vestige of the ancient festival of Adonis at Djebeil (the Phoenician Gebal) even at the present day. There would be nothing singular in the adoption of a common popular phrase by the prophet, in spite of its reference to a heathen custom (comp. Job 3:8), and the view in question gives additional force to the passage. But the ordinary explanation is perfectly tenable and more obvious. The phrase, "mourning [or, 'lamentation'] for an only begotten one," occurs again in Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10. In the last-mentioned passage it is parallel with "bitter weeping for a firstborn."
I have set thee, etc.; literally, as an assayer have I set thee among my people, a fortress. Various attempts have been made to avoid giving the last word its natural rendering, "a fortress." Ewald, for instance, would alter the points, and render "a separator [of metals]," thus making the word synonymous with that translated "an assayer;" but this is against Hebrew usage. Hitzig, assuming a doubtful interpretation of Job 22:24, renders " … among my people without gold," i.e. "without there being any gold there for thee to essay" (a very awkward form of expression). These are the two most plausible views, and yet neither of them is satisfactory. Nothing remains but the very simple conjecture, supported by not a few similar phenomena, that mibhcar, a fortress, has been inserted by mistake from the margin, where an early glossator had written the word, to remind of the parallel passage (Jeremiah 1:18, "I have made thee this day a fortress-city," 'it mibhcar). In this and the following verses metallurgic phraseology is employed with a moral application (comp. Isaiah 1:22, Isaiah 1:25).
Grievous revolters; literally, rebels of rebels. Walking; rather, going about, as a peddler with his wares (so Proverbs 11:13; Proverbs 20:19; Le Proverbs 19:16). Jeremiah had good reason to specify this characteristic of his enemies (see Jeremiah 18:18). Brass and Iron; rather, copper and iron, in short, base metal,
The bellows are burned. The objection to this rendering is that the burning of the bellows would involve the interruption of the process of assaying. We might, indeed, translate "are scorched" (on the authority of Ezekiel 15:4), and attach the word rendered "of the fire" to the first clause; the half-verse would then run: "The bellows are scorched through the fire; the lead is consumed," i.e. the bellows are even scorched through the heat of the furnace, and the lead has become entirely oxydized. But this requires us to alter the verb from the masculine to the feminine form of third sing. perf. (reading tammah). It is better, therefore, to give the verb (which will be Kal, if the nun be radical) the sense of "snorting," which it has in Aramaic and in Arabic, and which the corresponding noun has in Hebrew (Jeremiah 8:16; Job 39:20; Job 41:12). The masculine form of the verb rendered "is consumed" is still a difficulty; but we have a better right to suppose that the first letter of tittom was dropped, owing to its identity with the second letter, than to append (as the first view would require us) an entirely different letter at the end. This being done, the whole passage becomes clear: "The bellows puff, (that) the lead may be consumed of the fire." In any case, the general meaning is obvious. The assayer has spared no trouble, all the rules of his art have been obeyed, but no silver appears as the result of the process. Lead is mentioned, because, before quicksilver was known, it was employed as a flux in the operation of smelting, Plucked away; rather, separated, like the dross from the silver.
Reprobate silver … rejected them; rather, refuse silver … refused them. The verbal root is the same.
Wells of wickedness.
I. IF WICKEDNESS IS ABUNDANT AND PERSISTENT, IF MUST COME FROM A DEEP SOURCE. The wickedness of Israel is constantly renewed—ever fresh and abundant, like water in a well. Such water must flow out of deep fountains. The continuity of a course of sin proves that its origin is deep seated. The sin of hasty temper is less than that of deliberate calculation, the fall before sudden temptation more excusable than the willful choice of evil, the occasional slip less culpable than the continuous habit of wickedness. This habitual sin must be rooted. in a man's nature. Springing out under all circumstances, it is seen to be, not an outside defect, but a fruit of his own inner life. Constantly flowing in spite of all restraints of law, social influence, and conscience, it shows how thoroughly corrupt the heart must be (Matthew 15:18).
II. IF WICKEDNESS IS DEEP-SEATED IN THE HEART, IT MUST FLOW OUT IN FREQUENT ACTS. The spring cannot restrain its waters; the heart cannot repress its imaginations. These must come forth and express themselves in deeds. Men may aim at living two lives—an inner life of sin and an outer life of propriety; but the attempt must ultimately fail. The greater the evil of the heart, the more completely must this color the life.
III. DEEP-SEATED AND EVER-FLOWING WICKEDNESS PROVOKES THE SEVEREST JUDGMENT FROM GOD. Jeremiah points to this as the terrible justification for the approaching desolation of the land.
1. In itself it is most heinous, and carries the greatest guilt.
2. It is so radically evil that it impregnates the whole nature of the people in whom it dwells, so that they cannot be regarded as doers of wickedness only, but as wicked; not as those who have committed acts of dishonesty, untruth, violence, etc; but as thieves, liars, murderers, etc.
3. Ever-flowing, it promises no better things for the future. If left to itself, it will but repeat the sickening tale of the past with aggravated depravity.
4. It is the source of evil to others. The sin flows out. It must be checked for the protection of all who come under its influence.
Jeremiah 6:10, Jeremiah 6:11
The indifference of men and the burden of truth.
We have here revealed to us a conflict in the mind of the prophet. At first it seems vain for him to speak, for none heed his warnings (Jeremiah 6:10); but then he feels the awful burden of his message compelling utterance. While he looks at his audience he loses heart and sees little good in attempting to influence them; but when he looks within at his trust he finds that this has claims and powers before which he must bow obediently. Thus the teacher of high truth is often discouraged when he considers the unfitness of men to receive it, until he realizes more fully the majesty of the truth itself which possesses him and is not simply a treasure to be regarded as his property, but a Lord demanding his faithful service.
I. THE INDIFFERENCE OF MEN. Here was the source of Jeremiah's discouragement, and we can sympathize with him. What is the use of uttering truths that men are not fit to receive—only to waste our powers, create misunderstandings, and provoke opposition?
1. The reception of truth depends on the condition of the receiving mind. Language requires ears as well as tongues. Outward ears are useless without the inward ears of an understanding mind. An ass has no lack of ears, but what are a prophet's words to him? There are people to whom the solemn utterance of the most awful truths is but so much noise. Therefore
(1) it behooves men to beware of mocking at the supposed folly of any teaching till they have ascertained whether the fault lies with the teacher or with the taught. And
(2) it is not enough to utter truth; we should seek for men the right preparation for receiving it—the plowing of the hard soil in readiness for the sowing of the seed.
2. When the mind is in a wrong condition for the reception of truth this may meet with ridicule and dislike. Truth may meet with ridicule. The word of Jehovah was "a mockery to the Jews." Ridicule may be both a result of misunderstanding the truth and a cause of further mistakes. Truth may also meet with dislike. The Jews had "no delight" in the Divine Word. This was a proof of their not understanding it; for to know it is to love it (Psalms 119:16). It was also a cause of their not rightly receiving it; for dislike to truth Minds the eye to the nature of it.
II. THE BURDEN OF TRUTH. In spite of all these grounds for discouragement, Jeremiah feels that he must utter his message when once he considers its origin and character.
1. Truth is a trust from God. It is "the fury of the Lord ' that possesses the prophet, not the mere passion of his own thoughts. He who holds a Divine truth is a steward of an oracle of God. Woe to him if he consult his own convenience and rely only on his own judgment when, as a steward, he is called to be faithful to his Master's will. His duty is to speak; the consequences may be left to God.
2. Truth is an inspiration from God. Jeremiah is "full of the fury of Jehovah." The Spirit of God has possessed him; he is brought into sympathy with the thought and feeling of God: he must needs utter this. If men feel the inspiration of truth they will be carried away by it and poor considerations of worldly expediency will be swept on one side by the flood of a Divine passion.
3. Truth is a burden on the soul which cries for utterance. Jeremiah exclaims, "I am weary with holding in! Woe is me!" cries St. Paul, as he thinks of the suggestion to restrain his preaching the gospel. Under great passions men do not speak measured words, chosen in strict consideration for their hearers; they speak to give vent to their own souls. The grandest utterances of humanity, in prophecy and in poetry, are free from all calculations as to the reception of them by an audience. They are unrestrainable expressions of the soul; like the songs of birds flowing from the very fullness of the heart.
4. Truth is for the good of mankind. Jeremiah must speak, for what he utters concerns others than himself. No one has a right to the monopoly of any great truth. It is common property, and he who hides it steals it. If his excuse is that men cannot understand it, let him remember
(1) that he is not an infallible judge of the capacities of other men; and
(2) that his duty is to bear his testimony, whether men will hear or no, and to leave all further responsibility with them.
I. THE CRAVING FOR PEACE IS NATURAL. These false prophets gained their influence by professing to satisfy a natural instinct. The Jews dreaded war with their great neighbors.
1. All wicked men are at heart in a stats of unrest. The soul that sins is at war with God, with the law and order of the universe, with its own nature.
2. This condition is distressing. The outward warfare begets inward unrest. Then, above all things, peace is the great want of the soul. Wealth success, happiness, can be spared if but this jewel is still preserved. All great philosophies and all earnest religions set themselves to the task of discovering or creating it.
II. THE PRETENSIONS OF FALSE PEACE ARE PLAUSIBLE. The prophets dissuaded their hearers from attending to the warning words of Jeremiah, and endeavored to make them believe that they were in no danger. There is much that is very popular in arguments such as theirs.
1. They agree with the wishes of the hearers. Men are always inclined to believe what they wish.
2. They flatter the pride of the populace. The people are told that they are too great and too favored of Heaven to suffer any serious calamity, and they are only too ready to believe it.
3. They claim the merits of charity. They promise pleasant things. This looks more charitable than the threatening language of stern censors. Hence the prophets win favor for their apparent geniality and liberal sentiments.
4. They require no sacrifices from those who accept them. The doctrine is popular because the practice flowing from it is easy. The flattering prophets called to no reformation of character.
5. They have appearances in their favor. At present all looks fair. Is not this a presumption that the future will be happy? The sun is rising in gold and crimson; why, then, prophesy the approach of a storm?
III. THE PRETENSIONS OF FALSE PEACE ARE RUINOUS.
1. These pretensions do nothing to secure the peace. They simply lead men to believe that they are to enjoy it. Such a belief cannot alter facts. If there is no peace we do not make peace by crying, "Peace, peace!" This is the language of folly and indolence.
2. These delusions only aggravate the danger. They prevent men from preparing for the calamity by blinding them to the near advent of it.
IV. THERE IS A WAY BY WHICH THE NATURAL CRAVING FOR PEACE MAY BE SATISFIED. The deceiving prophets do not make peace; they only talk of it. Bat in the teaching of true prophets and apostles the way to secure solid peace is revealed.
1. This is shown to be not immediate. Jeremiah was right in saying that the people must suffer before they enjoyed peace. Christ, the Prince of peace, came to "send a sword" (Matthew 10:34). The gospel does not preach "peace at any price," but peace after victory in warfare, rest after patient endurance of tribulation.
2. This is shown to be through repentance and renewal of life. The deceiving prophets promise peace to the people as they are. While we are in sin we cannot have true peace (Isaiah 48:22). Peace follows the advent of the Spirit of Christ (John 14:26, John 14:27).
The old paths.
I. CONSIDER THE RECOMMENDATION TO FOLLOW THE OLD PATHS.
1. The course of life should be determined after thoughtful deliberation. Jeremiah is to "stand in the ways and see." It is foolish to go with the multitude without individual convictions of what is right, or to follow our own private impulses blindly and aimlessly.
2. The choice should fall on a good way. Other ways may be smooth, pleasant, flowery at the starting, only to lose themselves in the pathless wilderness, while this may look more rugged and steep at first; but it should not be the present attractiveness, but the direction, the whole course and the end of a way, which should determine our choice of it.
3. There are old paths of right. Religion has not to be made anew. It is not left for the latest saint to discover the way of holiness.
4. Having found the right way, we should forthwith "walk therein." Knowledge is useless without practice; nay, guilt is aggravated if, knowing the right, we follow the wrong.
5. In the right way is rest for the soul. Even while on the earthly pilgrimage many quiet resting-places may be found (Psalms 23:2), through all the course an inward peace may be enjoyed (Proverbs 3:17), and at the end will be found the perfect rest of the home of God (Hebrews 4:9).
II. CONSIDER THE GROUNDS ON WHICH THIS RECOMMENDATION IS BASED.
1. Old ways have been tested by experience. We choose for a guide one who has already traversed the country. In an unknown land we naturally turn to beaten tracks in preference to following stray footprints across the wild, or striking out for ourselves a pathless way. If others have done rough pioneer work, why should not we avail ourselves of it? If they have reached the goal, they have proved that it is attainable by their way. This is fact; that a new way will be easier or shorter is conjecture. There is, therefore, a presumption in favor of the old.
2. Old ways in religion are nearer to the original fountains of inspiration. Israel was referred back to the old ways marked out by Moses, the great founder of the Jewish faith. Christians are referred back to primitive Christianity, to the teaching of the apostles, to the life and example of Christ. Christianity is not a speculation, a creation of the spirit of the age. It is a tradition, a following of those Divine counsels which are indicated in the New Testament.
III. CONSIDER THE LIMITATIONS TO THE APPLICATION OF THIS RECOMMENDATION.
1. The old ways are to be followed only in so far as they are good. Still we must judge by our own conscience. Antiquity must not be taken as a despotic master. There are bad old ways. The first-born man struck out an evil way; it was left to Abel, the second-born, to show the better course.
2. In considering the character of an old way, we must take note of the character and light of those who founded it. There have been dark ages in the past. Corruption soon crept in. Things are not good just in proportion to their age. Christians must look, not to the Puritans, the Reformers the mediaeval Church, the Fathers, but, passing numerous errors and corruptions, reach back to Christ himself for the true old way. He is the Way (John 14:6).
3. We must ever progress beyond the attainments of the past. We are to follow those old ways that are good; we are to build on the one foundation. But we are not to be content with having the foundation. The fabric must rise higher and higher (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). Christianity is a religion of progress. It is not to be subject to revolutions. Progress must follow the lines laid down by Christ and his apostles. Christianity is not strengthened nor adorned, but only burdened and hidden, by a mere accretion of human ideas and institutions; yet it is a seed which grows, developing larger, fuller life out of its own essential principles (Matthew 13:31). Jeremiah himself took a great stride forward beyond the limits attained by antiquity, though in the direction of the old path, i.e. in the spirit of the religion of his fathers (Jeremiah 31:31-34). "These times are the ancient times, when the world is ancient, and not those which we count ancient, ordine retrogrado, by a computation backwards from ourselves" (Francis Bacon).
I. THE MISSION OF THE WATCHMEN.
1. They are appointed by God. God raises up prophets, preachers, teachers of righteousness. Unless they have a Divine call they are usurping a position to which they have no right (Galatians 1:1, Galatians 1:15). Hence see
(1) the authority of the watchmen;
(2) the merciful kindness of God in providing warning and instruction.
2. They are to observe what goes on around them. The prophets are seers of spiritual truths, observers of events of history in the light of those truths, and thus, as watchmen, able to discern approaching dangers. The Christian teachers must not be wrapped up in abstract truth. They must see the application of this, note the condition and needs of men, discern the "signs of the times." The prophets were political leaders. They discoursed on subjects which in our day would be discussed in the newspaper.
3. They are to blow the trumpet. The seer is to be a prophet. He who knows truth must make it known to others. The watchman must not simply "let his light shine;" he must blow a trumpet, demand attention, compel men to hear. The enemy is at the gate. This is no time for mild disquisitions on military tactics; it is a moment when men must be awaked from their sleep and summoned to arms. The Christian preacher speaks to men who are asleep and in great danger. His duty is not simply to let the truth be known. He must arouse, urge, "compel" men to hear his message.
II. THE RECEPTION OF THE MISSION OF THE WATCHERS. The watchman has done his duty in sounding the trumpet. If none will hear, he is free.
1. Men must hearken to the Divine message before they can profit by it. To be warned is not to be saved. If men refuse to accept the truths of Christianity these can do them no good, and they are left free to follow or to neglect them.
2. Men must obey the Divine message before they can profit by it. It is nothing to tremble at the warning of judgment unless we are moved to actions of precaution. Felix trembled, and was none the better for this proof of the powerful effect of the preaching of St. Paul (Acts 24:25).
3. If the Divine message is heard and disregarded, the folly, guilt, and ruin will only be aggravated. The plea of ignorance is gone. Indifference is converted into obstinate rebellion (Jeremiah 6:19).
I. SACRIFICES ARE WORTHLESS WHEN THEY ARE NOT OFFERED IN THE RIGHT SPIRIT. The mere gifts are of no use to God-(Psalms 50:8-13). They are only valuable as expressing the thoughts and feelings of the giver. Religious services are simply good as the outward expression of worship.
1. Sacrifices are worthless when they are not prompted by spiritual devotion; religious services are unacceptable when they are only external performances. The true sacrifice must be of the will, i.e. self-dedication.
2. Sacrifices are worthless when they are accompanied by immorality of conduct. Worship at church is a mockery if daily conduct in the world is corrupt (Isaiah 1:15).
II. WORTHLESS SACRIFICES MAY HAVE ALL THE EXTERNAL CHARACTERISTICS OF ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICES.
1. They may be offered to God. There may be a real intention to approach God, yet this is vain if the heart is wrong.
2. They may be according to prescribed order. The formally obedient Jews were rigidly subservient to the ordinance of the authorized ritual.
3. They may be costly—incense from Sheba, sweet cane from India. But men cannot buy acceptance with God by signing heavy checks.
III. THE OFFERING OF WORTHLESS SACRIFICES IS A SERIOUS FAULT.
1. It is an insult to God. Better offer nothing than the worthless gift when all he really asks for, the heart, is withheld.
2. It is a source of self-delusion. The offering being given, the conscience feels relieved, false pride is stimulated, and the real spiritual condition is hidden. People have a vague feeling that they have done a good thing in attending church, in sitting out a service, in mechanically following the forms of worship. Yet, as this is really utterly worthless, the impression of self-complacency it produces is highly injurious,
Under the image of an assayer and his fire, Jeremiah is led to regard his mission, and the troubles of Israel, with which this is so much concerned, as means for testing the character of the Jews.
I. THE STANDARD OF MEASUREMENT IS DIVINE TRUTH. The prophet is to be an assayer. Men are to be judged by the truths of righteousness which he is inspired to see and to declare. God has revealed standards of judgment. We are not free to shape our lives according to fancy, taste, or unaided private judgment. The truths of Scripture constitute the standard by which we shall be measured. This will be applied according as it is known. Jeremiah was the watchman before he was the assayer. He blew the trumpet, preached the truth he saw. They who have not received the fuller revelation will be judged by what light they possess (Romans 1:18-20; Romans 2:12).
II. THE TEST IS APPLIED IN THE FIRES OF AFFLICTION. Trouble is not only sent for discipline and chastisement; it is a test, a revealer of character. It reveals a man to himself and to others. If he has any true spiritual life, any precious metal, it must come out when, one after another, the worthless ideas and feelings fail before the searching flames of the baptism of fire. Trouble shows:
1. Whether religion is real and heartfelt, or formal and superficial.
2. How far faith is a practical trust, and how far it is a barren conviction.
3. Whether love and devotion to God are deep enough to stand against the temptation to rebel or despair.
III. THEY ARE UTTERLY WORTHLESS WHO DISPLAY NO GOOD QUALITIES AFTER THE SEARCHING TRIAL OF AFFLICTION. This follows from the preceding statements. It was terribly applicable to Israel. We should ask how far it applies to ourselves, and beware of two delusions, viz.:
1. The delusion that merit may be still, hidden after God has applied his most thorough test. A religion which is completely secret, never discoverable, must be a poor and worthless thing. The heart cannot be right if it never gives proof of good qualities when tested in all ways.
2. The delusion that trial can destroy spiritual worth. The silver is not burnt if it is not forthcoming. True religion will survive the hardest test that may be applied to it. It is only the superficial, unreal sentiment of religion that is scorched up by persecution and affliction; the growth on the barren rock, not that in the good soil (Matthew 13:5, Matthew 13:20, Matthew 13:21).
IV. GOD WILL REJECT NONE WITHOUT FULL TRIAL. Character is to be assayed. God judges before he condemns. The reprobate silver has been well tried. No soul is reprobated by God till every means has been used to search for some good in it. See, then, the merciful intention of trial. The fires are fierce because the intention is to discover some small good thing hidden from every milder test, if only this exists. God is not anxious to find the evil, but to find the good, in men, as the assayer is searching for silver. He will gladly welcome the faintest indication of the least good. No genuine silver can miss the Assayer after his most searching tests. God will abandon no soul till he has sought for all that can be brought in its favor. He is loath to give his children up (Hosea 11:8).
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The apostate city that cannot be let alone.
Godlessness is condemned by its impracticableness as a universal and thorough-going principle of human life. It is also an evil that defies ordinary restraints, and constantly becomes worse. "This is the strongest and most dangerous mining-powder of cities and fortresses when sin, shame, vice, and wantonness get the upper hand" (Cramer). The city that has forsaken God is—
I. A SOURCE OF MISCHIEF AND UNCLEANNESS. It is likened to a fountain casting forth wickedness. It is an originative agent of evil. Its private, social, and public life multiplies occasions and causes of sin. There is no power within itself sufficient to restrain or purify. Its very laws and regulations tend to foster vice. As of the natural heart our Savior said that out of it "proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, etc.," so, where there are multitudes of such, there will be an exaggeration of the individual tendency and influence. As the leader of fashion, and dominant authority in new customs and ideas, there is an eclat transferred from it to what is evil. Its existence becomes, therefore—
II. AN OCCASION OF INJURY AND DANGER TO ALL WHO HAVE TO DO WITH IT. It is as a fire that has broken out amidst combustible material. By-and-by "the wicked city" is felt to be an intolerable evil. It is a menace to the peace and good government of its neighbors. They cannot afford to ignore it. No time must be lost in bringing it to reason. Its excitements and dissipations wax madder and more widespread. No time can be lost. Hence the avengers come from all quarters in baste and eagerly. "Sanctify war against her! Arise, let us go up at noon!"—the heat being no barrier to their setting out; "Arise, and let us go up in the night!"—the darkness and weariness being forgotten in their hatred and vengeance. For the same reason no terms can be made with it. The Mosaic regulations in warfare are set aside (Deuteronomy 20:19, Deuteronomy 20:20). There is no chivalrous respect inspired by it, and as it shows no mercy, none is accorded to it.
III. IT IS A CONTINUAL OFFENCE TO GOD. God's love for it had been great, and he had purposed to make it a center of redeeming love. This aim had been thwarted. So it has been with the city life of man everywhere. As a natural development, and a providential result in human history, the city is intended to enlarge the powers of doing good and to bless the world. But how seldom has this been the case! The centralization of life has but intensified its corruption. Is there any place where the salvation of society seems more hopeless than in our great cities? And God's patience threatens to give out. He cannot bear the noisomeness of its evil. He is about to turn from it in utter loathing and final abandonment. But not yet. Warning is given; a prophet is sent. Nay, the Son himself, if haply they will hear him, in whom alone a sufficient antidote is found. In him is salvation, for of the holy city, the New Jerusalem, the scene of regenerated society, he is Center and Lord. He is the "Fountain opened for sin and for all uncleanness"—M.
The ministry of deceit.
The extent to which corruption prevailed is suggested when even the prophets and priests share the general apostasy: "Every one dealeth falsely."
I. THE DUTY IT HAD TO FULFIL. The priest dealt with ritual, the prophet with moral and doctrinal questions in religion. They had to act as the spiritual guides and overseers of the people of God. Here they are represented as behaving like quack doctors in cases of grave injury or disease. They were appointed for the spiritual health and well-being of men. Circumstances in the condition of their flocks would determine the manner in which they should exercise their functions, and the special direction in which their attention should be directed. Israel had fallen into serious wickedness. It was no isolated acts of transgression of which she was guilty; her whole spiritual state was one of alienation from God. In such a case the utmost faithfulness and severity were required; as the surgeon has to probe the wound, and use sharp instruments for excising the part that is diseased; or the physician has to make a thorough diagnosis of a patient, and in desperate sickness to use desperate remedies. Here an opposite course had been pursued. The gravity of the "hurt" was overlooked or ignored, and merely outward signs of amendment were regarded as complete reconciliation with God.
1. That which separates men from God is no slight matter. It is a deadly thing. If it continues, it must inevitably destroy. The observances of religion will be nullified until it is put fight. Men must be told of their sin, not merely in a round and general manner, but judiciously, and according to the specialties of individual or class peculiarities. The unbelief of the natural man is the parent of his misdeeds and sin, and keeps him from any real communion with God.
2. The minister of religion is bound to be discerning and faithful.
3. It is only through a real and spiritual repentance that reconciliation can be effected. At such a juncture spiritual religion ought to have been insisted on, and the enormity of the offence exposed. Preliminary acts of contrition; experiences and discoveries of the heart such as conviction of sin, etc.; the necessity of love, obedience, and faith ought not to be slurred over.
II. FAILURE IN THIS DUTY AND ITS CAUSES. The root-cause is undoubtedly the share which the religious teachers had in the general depravity. There was also a consequent lack of spiritual discernment. The greatness of the fall from the former position occupied by Israel was not appreciated, and the nature of true religion was not understood. A ministry under court patronage and a merely popular ministry are alike subject to the temptations to please rather than to deal honestly with the evils of individuals, society, and the state, and to rectify them. "They who live to please must please to live." There is such a thing always as a making of religion too easy either in its moral conditions or its doctrinal realizations. It is fearfully wrong to say a man is a Christian when he is not a Christian; or so to deal with him in pastoral relations that he fancies himself in possession of salvation and spiritually secure when he is in heart and life far from God. Flattery has a thousand forms, and there is no falsehood to which it contributes that is more insidious or wide-reaching than this.
III. THE RESULTS. These are terrible in the extreme. From the authority of office they are credited in their declarations, and national and individual offences are condoned and perpetuated. Possible for a man to be deceived on this most vital question; to think himself a child of God when he is in reality a child of Satan. Death-bed repentances.
1. The divorce of morality from religion.
2. The intensified wrath of God at hypocrisy and sham religion.
3. Eternal death and irretrievable loss.—M.
The old paths.
Men are surrounded from their earliest years with various religious systems, the claims of which conflict. To a conscientious mind, intellectual disquietude is the first result of this; in those less in earnest it produces and justifies indifference. All religious tend, under these circumstances, to assume the aspect of speculative questions, and the moral life is increasingly detached from religious sanctions. Morality must thereby be impaired, if it do not ultimately disappear. The prophet, therefore, recalls the people to the consideration of religion as a practical question. It is with him a question not of pure theory, but of conduct and experience. He urges the settlement of the conflict upon these grounds, and furnishes certain criteria by which to determine it.
I. ANTIQUITY IS A TEST OF TRUE RELIGION. Man is a religions being by nature, and God has never left himself without a witness in the world. There has been no generation in which some have not sought and found him. From the very first, therefore, there must have been religions conditions observed, which from their nature must be, as they were intended to be, permanent. The argument for the existence of God, for instance, is greatly strengthened by the evidence of the recognition of him by primitive and ancient peoples. Even in their errors and mistakes, when their views and observances are collated and compared, witness is given to fundamental truths. But the argument is stronger still when the people appealed to are those who, like Israel, have an historical faith. Ages of faith were behind them, illustrated by mighty heroes and saintly men of God, For ages a certain communion had been observed between the nation and its theocratic Head. What was the secular character of those' ages? Were they marked by political strength, social order and purity, and commercial prosperity? Were the leaders of the people men whose ideal of life and actual behavior commended themselves to the general conscience of the world? Was it to be supposed that any essential truth for the spiritual guidance of men had to be discovered thus late in the day? Were men to be always on tiptoe to learn what the last finding of research might be? There were paths that had been tried by holy men. When the nation was at its best, it acknowledged God in these ways. The vast majority of those who were holiest and best had tried them and found them satisfactory.
II. BUT DISCRIMINATION IS REQUIRED, The children of Israel were to "stand in the ways," i.e. to examine the different systems of religion and morals that laid claim to their attention. Critical and historical judgment had to be exercised. It is not simply the oldest religion that is to be retained and followed, but that in the religious history of the past which has most evidently conduced to noble action, spiritual health, and well-being. The' heathenisms of the world are self-condemned; immorality has ever tended to destruction. The Englishman, therefore, is not to look to the Druids for infallible teaching; nor Christians to the saints of the Old Testament times. The dictum of Ignatius is sound: Nobis vera antiquitas est Jesus Christus. But the teaching and personality of Jesus were commended by their essential agreement with Mosaicism in its most ancient form; as that in turn was but a confirmation and elaboration of patriarchal convictions, experiences, and revelations. The truth that has been held in all ages is retained in each new development of revelation and history, but it is spiritualized and grounded upon deeper and wider sanctions.
III. THE NATURAL HUMAN DESIRE FOR MERE NOVELTY HAS TO BE OVERCOME. True religion is not to be despised because it is old. The truth, when carefully studied and spiritually realized, is ever new and fresh. And the "new truths" to which advancing time introduces us are justified only as we can organically and spiritually evolve them from their archaic predecessors. Obligations which are merely relative will change or disappear with the relations upon which they are founded, but the cardinal truths of heart and life must ever retain their authority, and new experience will but tend to deepen and strengthen their hold upon the religious nature. If, on the other hand, the teachings of experience and the warnings of prophets are despised, new heinousness will be added to the wickedness of the wicked. It will be willful disobedience, and as such will be more severely punished.
IV. OBEDIENCE TO THESE DOCTRINES OF EXPERIENCE WILL CONFIRM AND SATISFY THE SOUL. If, in spite of these corroborations, the doctrines were productive of misery and spiritual unrest, then they would go for nothing. But this is the final and absolute criterion—Do they tend to the welfare and increase of spiritual life, and to the satisfaction of the deepest longings of the soul?—M.
The reasonableness of the Divine judgments.
The language employed suggests publicity. The world is called into solemn council—a "congregation" for judgment.
1. Not that upon questions of this nature the carnal mind is any authority of and by itself. "Who art thou that judgest?" might well be asked of any who assumed such an office. It is only as confirming and justifying the action taken by God. Thus understood, the testimony of the world is most valuable, being different from what might be expected. It is a great mystery, this judgment of God's apostate people by the heathen nations.
2. And yet we must not understand it as a mere figure of speech. There is a real endorsement of the righteous judgments of God in the mind of the world—one of those revealing circumstances which show "the Law of God written upon their heart." When the question is a broad, simple, and evident one, even the most perverted soul will affirm the sentence of Heaven. Unbelief is only superficial. Beneath the crust of hardened consciences there still remains a primitive sense of justice; and to this will the final sentence of condemnation appeal, when we shall give account of the deeds done in the body. The sinner will not only hear the decision from the great white throne, but he will stand self-condemned; and the universal assembly will confirm the verdict.
3. How fearful, too, must have been the guilt of God's people that on this occasion such umpires could have been so confidently appealed to! The features of their criminality that are emphasized are these: obstinacy and hypocrisy. The latter is but the abettor of the former. The unreality of Israel's repentance was especially abhorrent to Jehovah. It vitiates all the costly articles and enhancements of their worship, and is but the cloak of a real continuance in sin. If, then, they do in heart refuse to obey God, what more reasonable than that he should suffer the laws of his universe to deal with them, and punish them with "the fruit of their thoughts?" The angels of vengeance that wait upon sin, licentiousness, luxury, and waste, will be suffered to do their work; and they shall learn by experience that "the way of transgressors is hard." But the instant that the spirit of reality and sincerity revisits their hearts, his ear will be open to their cry, and his mercy will redeem.—M.
The prophet a spiritual assayer.
Of interest as a description of process of refining precious metals among ancient peoples. The grinding and washing of the ore to discover and separate the precious metals, the fusing of the silver with lead in order to its further purification, and the repetition of this under severer heat, are processes which are used to illustrate the influence of the words of revelation upon the human heart. These words—
I. REVEAL CHARACTER. "Some believed, and some believed not," is the consequence always following upon the faithful preaching of the truth. "It is a hard saying; who can hear it?" How instantaneous were the results in this way attendant on the proclamations of Biblical prophets and preachers! They addressed the conscience, the affection, and the will, and pressed for a verdict and practical following up of opinion in action. Much more is this the case with the gospel, because of its deeper and more spiritual force. It is by hearing the Word, and looking into the mirror it affords, that a man is discovered to himself.
II. DETERMINE DESTINY. Sometimes in a good, sometimes in a bad sense. In the case before us it is wholly the latter, As there was no reality or earnestness in Israel, so there was no point at which a commencement could be made towards reformation. They are all concluded guilty and worthless. It was a severe judgment, but was meant in mercy to the people themselves. They were thereby warned of the need of radical change, and the supernatural, saving grace of God. It is by the determinations and effects produced by the hearing of the Word that the future is influenced. There is a distinct moral responsibility incurred each time the truth is proclaimed in our hearing. Nothing else so searches into and potently affects the moral nature, because the conscience is most vividly aroused and reality in all its naked force bursts upon the soul. The furthest developments of personal character, interest, and occupation may be thus conditioned: "See, then, how ye hear!"
III. ARE CAREFULLY ADAPTED, BY INCREASINGLY SEVERE PROCESSES, TO EFFECT THEM. They result in rejection, and this is rendered inevitable by the utter worthlessness of character and work exhibited. If there is any good in a man, the truth will discover it, and sympathetically develop and reinforce it; if not, it will only the more utterly and unquestionably condemn him. The ear does not try words more delicately or decisively than words of God try the heart. According to their spiritual state will men be condemned, approved; received or rejected by the hearing of the gospel. Some men have been tried and condemned by it already; to others it opens more and more widely the door of hope.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
A dreadful onlook.
Such was the vision of Jeremiah which he saw concerning the coming wrath upon Judah and Jerusalem. It was the sad sight which the sinners in Jerusalem never, but the seer ever, saw clearly, vividly, heart-brokenly. The vision of Jeremiah for Jerusalem was the forerunner of our Lord's in substance, spirit, and result. Now, with regard to this awful onlook of the prophet which is here related, note—
I. HOW SOLITARY IT WAS. The people of Judah and Jerusalem were in no fear, and for forty years and more this vision was not realized. Other eyes saw nothing to be troubled about, and men generally were at ease in Zion. It was only the purged vision of the prophet that pierced the future and portrayed the dread realities of that fast-coming day. He saw clearly what others saw not at all. And so it is always. But why is this? Why do sinners not see? Take an answer from those senseless exhibitions in which the performers place themselves in positions of frightful peril, so that a moment's unsteadiness of nerve, the slightest slipping of hand or foot, would lead to their immediate inevitable and dreadful death; running all this risk to amuse the gaping, shameless crowds, who stare, stamp, and shout their applause at what never ought to be done. But let these performers provide us a reply to the question we have asked. They will tell you that at first they approached those dangerous places with great fear; how it was long ere they could walk with ease along that slender cord, or stand fearless on that dizzy height. But they got at length so used to these things that now they go through their perilous performances without the slightest fear. And so is it with grievous sinners against God. They have got so used to the threatening of his anger that they think nothing of it after a while, and go on unconcernedly until almost the moment of his vengeance bursts upon them. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore," etc. Their heart wishes that there may be naught to fear. The long-suffering and forbearance of God are perverted, by the deceitfulness of sin, to foster that belief, and so they at length persuade themselves that what God's servants see so clearly and warn them of so faithfully has no real existence, and "as it was in the days of Noah, so is it also in the days when the Son Of man cometh." Oh, what need for the prayer, "From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, good Lord, deliver us"!
II. How VIVIDLY SEEN. Jeremiah sees the hurried flocking of the Benjamites (see Exposition), the terrified inhabitants of Jerusalem, to some common center in the city, and then their hasting away out of the southern gates towards Tekoa, one of the southernmost cities of the land, and furthest off from the dread invaders, who were speeding from the north. The alarm-trumpet sounding its shrill notes amid the quiet streets of Tekoa; he sees the signal-fires blazing froth the height of Beth-hakkerem, and answered by other like fires, all telling of distress; and then, from hill-summits yet further away, he sees the never-ending train of fierce and victory-flushed soldiers marching ruthlessly on in all the pride and pomp of war, streaming along the great northern roads, the open highway whereby they entered the holy land. He sees the various encampments, the spoliation of the whole district round, the eager haste of the foe to attack the great fortress of Jerusalem, the goal of all their hopes and the prize of their arduous campaign; he sees the varied preparations for war, the building of the engines of attack, the burning of her palaces; in short, the whole dread details of a city doomed to destruction at the hands of a besieging army. Thus vivid was the vision. And such clearness of onlook is given to God's seers that they may thereby more deeply impress and more surely move the minds of those they are sent to. It is well to muse over things unseen and eternal until they become real to us, until our faith becomes the evidence of the things not seen, and gives substance, shape, and body to the things hoped for. Then as those who have tasted and handled and felt the powers of the world to come, we shall speak with unwonted power, and men through us will also see what they have never seen before. But—
III. HOW WELL FOUNDED THIS VISION WAS. For the prophet came to the conviction of the coming wrath upon his country, not on any light grounds, but on such as in all ages may lead to a like conviction.
1. There was the extreme importance of Jerusalem, as an almost impregnable mountain fortress. In the frequent wars between Egypt and Assyria this fortress was the object of much solicitude to either side. And besides her strength there was her wealth and her fame, so that Jerusalem became a coveted possession to one great monarchy after another. Jeremiah (verse 2) compares her to a beautiful and luxuriant pasturage (cf. Exposition). And as shepherds would covet such pasturage for their flocks, so the enemies of Jerusalem would covet her. So attractive, so desirable was she in their esteem. This fact, then, of the worth of Jerusalem to Assyria was one reason wherefore Jeremiah knew that that lawless and rapacious nation would certainly attack her.
2. The "delight in war" which characterized Assyria. Verses 4, 5 represent the language of their soldiers, their eagerness to be led to the attack, their impatience at every hindrance, their disregard both of the heat of noon or darkness of night. They were a people ever on the look out for plunder and aggrandizement, and seized on the very first pretext that offered for invasion and capture.
3. The prophet's clear perception that God was on the side of Israel's foes. Verse 6, "Thus hath the Lord of hosts said." It was, therefore, his will. It had been borne in upon his mind that God's wrath was ready to be poured out. He had been told so by the Spirit of God; he "spiritually discerned" the dark facts of the future, so that they stood out vivid and clear before the eye of his soul.
4. And his conviction that such was God's will could not but be deepened by the constant presence before him of the atrocious wickedness of the doomed city. Verse 7, "As a fountain," perpetually, copiously freely, irresistibly, "casts out her waters, so did Jerusalem cast out," etc. The moral corruption of the people made him certain that the holy God of Israel would not suffer it to go on unpunished. And it is ever so. Let a nation, a family, a Church, an individual, give themselves up to wickedness and gross violation of the commands of God, it is certain that sentence of death is on them. Execution may be deferred, but unless there be repentance it will certainly be carried out. There were special features about the vision that was given to Jeremiah, but every believer in God sees in substance the very same. The deep-felt conviction of the godly is the expression of the will of God. What such a one binds on earth is bound in heaven, and whose sins such retain they are retained. It is a terrible fact, then, when any come under the grave moral condemnation of the people of God, for their condemnation is but the echo of those thunders they have heard reverberating around the throne of God.
IV. How MERCIFULLY SENT. Their purpose was obvious. Many years God would yet wait. Thus he gave this call to repentance, and waited long to see if it would be needed. The most loving words of Jesus are those which make our hearts tremble and our spirits quake with fear; those which tell of the everlasting fire and the never-dying worm. For these awful declarations are the expedients of love to drive, to terrify, to force away from the edge of the precipice of ruin those whom no other means will withdraw therefrom. And that this is the intent of these awful representations of God's wrath is seen in verse 8, where God pathetically pleads with Jerusalem to be "instructed" by his words, "lest his soul depart from" her. Remember, then:
1. It is only the eye, purged by the Spirit of truth, that can see the truth as to ourselves or others. Until thus cleansed, we may be going down to our graves with a lie in our right hand.
2. Praise and bless God for his loving warnings to the wicked. Pray that they may be heeded, and be careful not to disguise or diminish them by prophesyings of peace when there is no peace.
3. Hasten to be yourself and to bring others to be safe within the shelter of the love of God, where no evil can befall and no plague ever come nigh.—C.
"Set up a sign of fire in Beth-haccerem." Introduction. ― Illustrate from Homer's description of such signal-fires, or from Macaulay's poem, "Defeat of the Spanish Armada.' Take them as illustrative of the warnings of God against sin.
I. REVIEW SOME OF THESE SIGNAL-FIRES.
1. The Bible.
2. The ministers of God's truth.
4. Present judgments upon men's sin.
II. NOTE WHEREFORE THEY SHOULD BE SET UP.
1. Men are living in grievous sin.
2. God's judgments are near at hand.
3. Men are in a state of false security.
4. They will rally the good to increased exertion.
5. They will arouse and arrest the wicked.
6. That like fires may be enkindled by the faithful, who have seen them and taken the warning, and will therefore send it on.
7. God's sore judgment will come upon those who do not set them up.
III. How THIS MAY BE DONE.
1. By faithful preaching.
2. By living in the fear of God.
3. By separation from the ungodly.
4. By seeking to save all over whom you have influence from the wrath to come.
IV. WHEN DONE, LET THESE WARNINGS BE AS SIGNAL-FIRES.
1. Such as all must observe.
2. Such as all will understand.
3. Set up from sense of the reality both of the threatened danger and the people's need.
4. Kept burning steadily in spite of all that would quench them.
V. THE SIGNAL-FIRES THAT GOD SETS UP HAVE THESE CHARACTERISTICS.
1. The Bible.
3. Present judgments.
VI. LET OURS HAVE THE SAME.—C.
Jeremiah 6:2, Jeremiah 6:3
The Lord's pasture.
Patterns of things spiritual and eternal are scattered broadcast over God's universe. Nothing is more pleasant than to trace these resemblances out. Our Lord was ever "likening" things in the kingdom of heaven to things he saw around him in the world. His own word, "parables," tells of things "placed by the side" of others for comparison of their likenesses or contrasts. The prophet in these verses "likens" Jerusalem—the daughter of Zion—to a beautiful and luxuriant pasturage (cf. Exposition). He was speaking of the material city. But that daughter of Zion leads our thoughts to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God, the Church, "which he has purchased with his own blood." Now, that may be fitly likened to such a pasture; it is the Lord's pasture. For—
I. THESE THE SHEEP OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD FIND REST AND REFRESHMENT AFTER THE OFTEN WEARY JOURNEY OVER THE WAYS OF THE WORLD. (Cf. Psalms 23:1-6; Psalms 84:1-12.) See the many testimonies to the spiritually refreshing and restful influence of the worship of the Church. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures," etc.
II. THERE HIS SHEEP FIND PASTURE. I will abundantly bless her provision: I will feed her poor with bread." By the ministry of God's truth, by the application, through the Holy Spirit's grace, of the things of Christ. Christ's people are fed as with the Bread of life.
III. THE COMELINESS AND BEAUTY OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST JUSTIFY THIS COMPARISON. True, the Church has not yet put on her "beautiful garments." The prophetic visions of her glory and majesty still wait to be realized. "The bride" has not yet" made herself ready." But even as she is, in her garments of humiliation, treading her painful way as a weary pilgrim, who is like unto her? Where are moral beauty and grace to be found such as she possesses, and has shown—yea, is showing still—in spite of all imperfections? Even now—oh, how much more by-and-by!—the Church of Christ, the Lord's pasture, is the fairest, loveliest scene this poor sin and sorrow stricken earth presents. Even now she is Christ's bride, and all spiritual beauty and comeliness are summed up in that.
IV. FOR ATTRACTIVENESS. Cf. Jeremiah 6:3, which tells how other shepherds were irresistibly drawn to this pasturage, and how eagerly they led their flocks there. As concerned the earthly Jerusalem this had no happy meaning, but as concerns Christ's Church its meaning is happy and blessed indeed. It is good that the fowls of the air should lodge in the branches of the great tree, which has sprung from the tiny seed planted by the Lord. And it is good that "nations, and peoples, and tribes, and tongues" should, as many already have been, and as all others will be, drawn by the attractiveness of the rich and luxuriant pasturage which the Lord's pasture offers. It is a weary world; self and sin are cruel taskmasters; they have no green pastures into which they lead their sheep, The opened ear of those whose hearts are touched with Christ's sympathy perpetually hears the cry for help, the longing to be led into the pasture of the Lord. It is a reproach to every professed disciple of Christ if he do not, by what he is and by the spirit of his life, attract others to the Lord's pasture, and lead them to say, "We will go with you, for we see that the Lord is with you."
V. IT IS THERE WHERE THE LORD LEADS HIS SHEEP. Many think they can be Christ's without uniting themselves to his people, keeping amid the world's ways and standing aloof from the Lord's pasture. But this is wrong. There is a sense in which the old saying, "Nulla salus extra ecclesiam," is true, and nothing casts graver doubt on the reality of our discipleship than absence of sympathy with other disciples, and no liking for their companionship. Love for "the brethren" is given as one note of having "passed from death unto life," It is the Lord's will that his people should be banded together in their several folds, and the instinct of the renewed heart almost certainly leads it to desire this pasturage. Hence, as a fact, there are scarce any, if any, of the disciples of Christ who are not found in one or other of the folds into which the one flock of the Good Shepherd is divided.
CONCLUSION. Ask two questions:
1. Of those who are not Christ's. Do you find that the ways of the world are really better than the Lord's pasture? is it better to serve sin and self than Christ? We are sure that there can be but one answer. Why, then, do you not hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and "follow" him?
2. Of those who are his. Are you careful not to blotch and blur that likeness? Many do this, so that the likeness cannot be traced, and the world turns away from it, not drawn by what it sees. Strive to let men see in you somewhat—much—of that spiritual grace and beauty which will lead men greatly to desire to enter the Lord's pasture for themselves.—C.
Sorrow because of eventide.
"Woe unto us! for the day goeth away, for the shadows of the evening are stretched out." It is not thus that we are wont to welcome the going away of the day, the quiet peaceful hours of eventide. How beautiful, even in its outward aspect, is oftentimes the evening hour, the gradual subsidence of the varied sounds of the busy day, the glorious sunsets, the rich radiance of the evening sky, the exquisite tints and colorings of the hills as the mellow light of evening falls upon them, the ruby glow which adorns, glorifies, and almost transfigures the sun-clad peaks of mountainous lands! Yes, eventide is an hour of beauty, in which Nature puts on her almost loveliest garb now that the "garish day" has gone. It is a scene on which the eye delightedly rests. And it is the hour of reunion also. From the scattered districts where one and another have pursued their daily toil, the members of the family, the household, the village, come home, and in pleasant converse talk over the events of the day, and forecast the events of tomorrow. The hearts of the children turn to the fathers, and the heart of the fathers to the children, in the happy intercourse which is only possible on the blessed Sunday or at the evening hour. And it is the hour of rest. The plough stands still in the furrow, for the ploughman has gone home; the toil-worn horse roams in his pasture or feeds peacefully in his stable. The man of business has shut up his ledger, and left the city and the office, and rests quietly amid his family at home. The night has come, in which no man can work. And if we take the symbolic meaning of the day and regard it as telling of the day of life, even then the ideas of calm, rest, and serene quiet gather around it. What a beautiful old age is that described in the seventy-first psalm—beautiful for its confidence in God, for its humility and meekness, for the vigor of its desire for God's glory, and for its bright onlook into the future! And such beauty often belongs to old age, so that "at eventide there is light." We probably all of us know of some on whom the shadows of evening are falling fast, because the day of their life "goeth away;" but how calm, how serene, how peaceful, how bright, is their old age! They do not say, nor I do others say concerning them, "Woe unto us for the day," etc. But in the text we have a precisely opposite feeling, one of dismay and sore grief because of the day's departure. And this lamentation is one uttered, not alone by those of whom the prophet wrote, but by many others also. Therefore let us—
I. LISTEN TO THOSE WHO MAKE THIS LAMENTATION. And:
1. There were those o whom Jeremiah wrote. The Chaldeans, who were about to invade Judaea and Jerusalem. The text occurs in a vivid description of the troubles they would bring upon his people. He is representing their eagerness, their furious haste to assail and capture the doomed city. Hence the interruption of nightfall is fiercely resented by them. They would lengthen out the day if but they could. Like as Joshua bade the sun stand still (Joshua 10:1-43.), that he might complete the overthrow of his enemies, so would these Chaldeans like that the sun should stand still, that they might complete the overthrow of theirs. And because that cannot be, therefore they exclaim, "Woe unto us!" etc. What a lesson these Chaldean soldiers give to the professed soldiers of Christ! Would that we had the like zeal in our endeavor to win the kingdom of heaven! But it is only the violent, those who are in real earnest and put forth all their "force," who shall take it.
2. But if we take the day as referring to the day of life, we shall often hear in Holy Scripture the like lamentation. The saints of the Old Testament, how they shrank from death: "Oh, spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more;" "The dead praise not thee, neither any that go down into silence;" "The living, the living, shall praise thee, as I do this day." The overflowing gratitude of the hundred and sixteenth psalm is because of deliverance from the dreaded death. How Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:1-22.) piteously wept and prayed that he might not die! They knew not that to depart was far better; death was to them only gloomy, silent, dark, and where fellowship with God was not. Hence this "Woe unto us!" etc; expresses the common feeling of Old Testament times at the going away of the day of life.
3. But there are those who still make like lamentation. Let us listen to them.
(1) Those from whom the day of opportunity is going away. We none of us like to miss opportunities. Even to miss a train vexes us. How much more when we see slipping fast from us the power of gaining and doing great good! The scholar who has let slip the opportunities of winning the knowledge which would fit him for his life's work, but now must go forth all ill equipped, and so must with shame take a lower place. The youth or man who has failed to win the confidence of those about him, and now has to leave them without the great advantage which their confidence would have given him. The professed disciple of Christ who has some child, some companion, some one over whom he had influence, leaving him for a distance, or, more grievous still, by death, and he has never used his opportunity of speaking to him on behalf of Christ. This is a woe indeed, a reflection bitter to have resting upon one's conscience. The brother or sister, the husband or wife, the companion or friend, who have let go opportunities of showing kindness, of comforting and helping those who looked to them for such comfort and help, and now it is too late. Ah! that is a dreadful thought, to think of what you might have done for them and ought to have done but did not, and now can never do. All these are instances in which those from whom the day of opportunity is going away will often lament, "Woe unto us!" It is with a bitter pang that we see "the shadows" of that "evening stretched out."
(2) Those from whom the day of prosperity is going away. Listen to the patriarch Job (Job 29:3): "Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me!" And all through the chapter he continues his sad lament over happy days gone by. And so now to see the like befall ourselves—health, wealth, friends, dear children, or those even dearer still, all going from us, what wonder that such say, "Woe is us 1" etc.? But sometimes it is on account of the going away of the day of spiritual prosperity. The mournful retrospect of days of purity, peace, strength, enjoyment of God, delight in his worship, usefulness in his service; but these now all gone or fast disappearing. Ah! the backslider, the man who suffers himself to lose his religion, has many bitter moments of regret and remorse. How he curses the sinful folly which led him to lend-an ear to the deceitful suggestions of the wicked one, and which have brought him to this wretched pass! Yes, it is a terrible thing to see the day of spiritual prosperity going away and the shadows of its evening stretched out.
(3) Those from whom the day of a life lived without God is going away. This must be dreadful indeed. They have drunk up all that the cup of this world has to give them; there is not a drop left, and there is no provision made for the eternity to which they are hastening. With what intensity of bitterness will the "Woe unto us!" of such be uttered! For though such perceive that eternity is near, and God's awful judgment bar, yet how difficult, how all but impossible do they find it to hurry on their preparations as they would fain do! The lips unused to pray cannot pray. The habits of unbelief and worldliness won't be broken. Faith will not come. They have so long turned away from Christ that now they cannot turn to him. Pride holds back the confession which their repentance would make, that all their past life has been one melancholy mistake. Such are some of the great difficulties which stand in the way of him who, at the close of a long life lived without God, would then turn to God. And as he sees that now this world is lost to him, and the next not won and all but impossible to be won, how inevitable the exceeding bitter cry, "Woe unto us!" etc.! But now—
II. LET US ENDEAVOR TO LIGHTEN THIS LAMENTATION, AND TO COMFORT THOSE WHO SAY, "WOE UNTO US!"
1. Those who lament the going away of the day of opportunity. Remember that all opportunity is not gone. "Why should a living man complain?" "A live dog is better than a dead lion." (Illustrate from Foster's essay on 'Decision of Character.' Story of a spendthrift who had lost a vast estate suddenly resolving that he would regain it, and at once setting about to earn money, though ever so little, and at length, by dint of prolonged, hard, and often degrading toil and of rigid economy, accomplishing his resolve. Such victories have been won in spite of temporal loss.) Remember all is not gone. And where spiritual opportunities have been let got sad as such loss is, others yet remain. "Sleep on now, and take your rest;" that was our Savior's way of telling his unwatchful disciples that they had lost the opportunity of ministering to him as he had asked them. But in the next breath he says, "Rise, let us be going: behold, he that betrayeth," etc.; that was his way of telling them that there were opportunities for other service yet awaiting them. Peter, when he went out after his denial of his Lord, and wept bitterly, thought that nevermore would he have opportunity of doing aught for that dear, dear Lord whom he had so shamefully denied. But 'twas after that the Lord said to him, "Feed my lambs," "Feed my sheep." Therefore waste not time in mere brooding over lost opportunities. Confess your faithlessness, and seek forgiveness, and then ask the Lord to show you what yet remains that you may do for him. And be sure that he will graciously deal with you as he did with his apostle of old.
2. Those who lament the going away of the day of prosperity. If you are. not a believer in Christ—one born again of the Holy Ghost unto him, then I know not how to comfort you or how to lighten your lamentation. I can only counsel you to kneel and pray that this loss of temporal good may lead you to him who waits to give you eternal good, in the gain of which all earthly loss will be forgotten. God grant you may follow this counsel. But if you are a child of God, then remember Christ will be with you in your trial. Was there not another with the three Hebrew youths in the furnace of fire, so that its fierce flames burned them not, and they walked up and down as if beneath the cool shade of the trees of Paradise? Manifold and great good to you and through you is undoubtedly designed by letting such trial come to you. To give you holy skill and blessed tenderness in ministering to other troubled souls; to impart to you deeper knowledge of yourself; to make you the means of making known to others what Divine grace can do. This was why God suffered Job to be so tried, and why the Lord pat the faith of the Syro-phoenician woman to so severe a strain. Did not our Lord himself become the "Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?" What do we not all owe to that? And so through his people becoming more or less men of sorrows and acquainted with grief, large blessing shall flow down to others. Then do not think it all "woe" if the day of your earthly prosperity does seem to be "going away," and the shadows of its evening be stretched out.
3. Those who lament the going away of the day of a life lived without God. To such we would say that it is a rare mercy that they are distressed at all. For many die as they have lived, indifferent and unconcerned about God and things eternal. But if alarm and fear have been awakened, that is a token of mercy. The dying robber on the cross beside our Lord, at that last hour turned to him, and was not refused the mercy he craved. Christ "saves to the uttermost all that come unto God by him." Give glory to him by even now turning to him, as he bids you do. But let none presume on the possibilities of such repentance at the very last. "The Gospels tell of one such, that none may despair; but of only one, that none may presume." "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth."
"To Jesus may we fly
Swift as the morning light,
Lest life's young golden beams should die
In sudden endless night."
If we be found in him, then the exceeding bitter cry of our text will never be heard from us. The day of opportunity will not leave us. If the day of earthly prosperity do leave us, then it will be because the Lord hath provided some better thing for us. And- when the day of life goeth away and we with it, it will be but "to depart and be with Christ, which is far better."—C.
Jeremiah 6:4, Jeremiah 6:5
How the kingdom of heaven is to be taken.
"Prepare ye war," etc. It is lawful to learn from the children of this generation, who are wiser in their affairs than the children of light. Therefore, from the way in which the enemies of Judah should assail her, we may learn how the kingdom of heaven is to be won. There is—
I. THE RECOGNITION OF THE REALITY OF THE STRUGGLE. "Prepare ye war," etc.
II. CASTING ASIDE OF ALL SUGGESTIONS OF EASE, "Let us go up at noon;" the burning heat did not matter.
III. IMPATIENCE OF HINDRANCES. "Woe unto us! for the day," etc.
IV. RESOLVE TO ENCOUNTER ANY AND EVERY PERIL RATHER THAN BE PUT BACK FROM THEIR ENTERPRISE. "Let us go up by night."
V. DETERMINATION NOT TO BEST TILL THE POWER OF THE FOE BE UTTERLY DESTROYED. "Let us destroy her palaces," etc.—C.
The real director of human affairs.
"For thus hath the Lord of hosts said, Hew ye down trees," etc. Nothing could seem a more purely human affair than the invasion of Judah and Jerusalem by the armies of Babylon. Its motives, methods, means, results, were all just such as were perfectly comprehensible and according to the manners of that age and the peoples concerned. One event followed another in natural sequence, and was fully explained, so men would say, by what went before. And so in reference to a still more notable event—the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. To the eye of an ordinary historian, that supreme event was brought about in altogether a common and ordinary way. But as concerning that event;, so concerning this of which Jeremiah tells it is distinctly declared that God was overruling and directing all that took place. Not that God was the author of the wickedness which seemed triumphant in these events—especially in the "wicked hands ' by which our Lord was "crucified and slain." No, but just as, when a fire has broken forth and is threatening to devour and destroy on all hands, wise and skilful firemen, when they cannot quench it, will contrive to lead it in a given direction, will order the path it shall take as seems to them best, so God, when he sees the raging fire of wickedness has broken forth, guides and orders the path it shall take, the work it shall do. Wickedness is never attributable to God, but the development and form it shall assume are so. Hence in the text, the Lord of hosts is represented as the real Commander of the armies that were to invade Judah and Jerusalem; it was his orders they were in fact obeying, though nothing was further from their thoughts than this. And so we are taught that God is behind all human affairs, ordering and directing them according to his will.
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will."
And now we ask—
I. WHY SHOULD NOT THIS BE SO? Many reply that if you find an adequate cause for any given effect, there is no need to look for any other. But, in answer, see, I let this book fall; what causes it to fall? The law of gravity will adequately explain it. But was that the real cause? Was not my will to let it fall that real cause? And so in human affairs, we may see the immediate antecedent, but we have a right to ask, "What lies behind that?" You say, "Sufficiently plain motives led to such and such conduct;" but we ask," Who brought these motives into action? who or what set them at work so that these results have come about?" Further—
II. GOD IS A PERFECTLY HOLY BEING, AND THEREFORE MUST DESIRE TO HAVE ALL MORAL NATURES MADE LIKE UNTO HIMSELF. "Good and upright is the Lord, therefore will he teach sinners in the way." "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness;" hence we are bidden, "Give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness." Hence it is certain that he will employ all means consistent with the nature he has given us to bring our wills into harmony with his own. Therefore when we see a whole system of things, an entire course of events, tending to and actually producing this result—for the Captivity did cure Israel of their idolatry, they went no more after false gods, nor have they done so ever since—we at once put it down to him whose nature and whose will we know.
III. AND OUR INDIVIDUAL CONSTITUTION SUPPORTS THIS VIEW. There are Divine laws for the body, the mind, the affections. And to bring us into harmony with his laws, which are the expression of his will, he has "begirt us round" with safeguards and guides which, if we heed, happy are we, but if we neglect, we suffer. It is certain that the health of our whole nature follows obedience to these laws; and, on the other hand, the misery which results from disobedience declares plainly his will, and shows that he is behind all those facts which we call the causes of these results, and is himself the Cause of them all. Now, this is true in the case of each single person. May it not, therefore, be true in the case of the world at large, and in regard to what we call "causes and effects?" Then note further—
IV. THE UNITY OF PURPOSE WHICH IS SEEN THROUGHOUT THE ORDERING OF THE UNIVERSE, SO FAR AS WE CAN TRACE, SEEMS TO INDICATE ONE MIND GOVERNING ALL. Read history, or such a book as Creasy's 'Decisive Battles of the World,' and note how each great struggle has helped forward the advance of humanity, has bettered the condition Of mankind, so that it is terrible to think what, in many instances, would have been the consequences had the events fallen out in an opposite way. The hand of God in history is clearly discernible by all who believe heartily in the living, all-holy, all-loving God.
V. And, of course, THE WHOLE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE SUPPORTS THIS DOCTRINE. (Cf. the story of Joseph, and his answer to his brethren, "It was not you that sent me hither, but God.")
VI. Learn in CONCLUSION:
1. To cast out from your minds every idea or thought of chance, fate, or any mere haphazard coming about of events.
2. How seriously we ought to look at the events of our own lives, and inquire God's meaning in regard to his dealings with us. We are not to be drawn off from this by the imagination that our little lives are far too insignificant for God to care for or direct. Does not God paint the roadside flower, the wing of the moth? Is there anything minute or insignificant in his esteem?
3. Rejoice and be exceeding glad. "Our Father's at the helm." "What we know not now we shall know hereafter." Therefore "rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him."—C.
Sin compared to a fountain.
I. THE COMPARISON JUST. For:
1. Naturalness. A fountain or spring bursting out on the hillside excites no surprise as if it were an unheard-of, an extraordinary thing. Nor does the outflow of sin from the human heart.
2. Continence. The streams of each may sing—
"But men may come and men may go,
But we flow on forever."
3. Having their source "from within." Out of the depths both alike come.
4. Unchangeableness in character. What they were once they are always.
5. Spontaneousness. No force is needed to draw forth their streams.
7. Effectiveness. The course of a stream is ever discernible by its effects. It tells on all that it touches, it leaves nothing as it was before it came.
8. Force. The fountain will have way given to it. It will break all barriers that block its way.
II. THE LESSON IS OBVIOUS. Shall we divert its streams, and compel them to run only in quiet safe places where they will cause us no worldly harm? This is what most men try to do, and very often succeed in doing. But this is not God's plan. His charge is, "Make the fountain good." And this he can do; he can create a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us. "He that believeth in me," said our Savior, "from within him shall flow rivers of living water;" not, as now, rivers of death, O Christ—
"Thou of life the Fountain art,
Freely let me take of thee:
Spring thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity."
The worst woe of the wicked.
"Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul depart from thee."
I. THERE ARE MANY WOES WHICH ACCOMPANY SIN. "Many sorrows shall be to the wicked." All observation attests the truth of this word.
II. BUT THERE IS ONE WHICH MAY FITLY BE SPOKEN OF AS THE WORST OF ALL. It is this—God's soul departing from the sinner. This indeed is terrible. It is so amongst men. We hear at times of those who have worn out the love even of those who loved them most tenderly. They have made the soul of those who loved them to depart from them. Sons have done this for fathers and mothers, friends for friends, husbands for wives and wives for husbands; and to have thus driven away a deep and earnest love is a depth of ruin than which none in this world can be more terrible. But to have worn out the love of God—to have made his soul to depart from us, what woe can compare to that? His providential favor may depart from us, and that is sad. Our realization of his love in our hearts may depart from us, and that is sadder still. But for his love itself to depart, that is the worst of all.
III. WHAT, THEN, CAN CAUSE SO GREAT A CALAMITY TO COME UPON A MAN? It is his refusing instruction (cf. Proverbs 1:1-33; "Seeing thou hatest knowledge," etc.). This Judah and Jerusalem were doing; this all too many are doing now.
IV. BUT THIS GOD DEPRECATES GREATLY, AND IMPLORES US NOT TO BE GUILTY OF. "Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem" (cf. our Savior's tears over Jerusalem). Appeal.—C.
Turn back thine hand.
The text, no doubt, tells of the utter and complete desolation which would result from the Chaldean invasion of Judah and Jerusalem. In vivid dramatic form Jehovah is represented as bidding the invading armies go over their ruthless work again, and make the desolation yet more awful, Like as the grape-gatherer, after he had to all appearances stripped the vine of its clusters, would "turn back his hand" amongst the tendrils, and search once more over the whole branch to see that no solitary cluster had escaped him ("tendrils," rather than "baskets," are what is meant; see Exposition); so, if there were a solitary village or homestead which had escaped the fury of the foe, they are bidden go back on their work, that none whatever might escape. Such the meaning, and it was ruthlessly fulfilled. But the form of expression may be applied, not merely to the ministers of God's vengeance, as in the text, but to those who serve him in ways far more acceptable and ordinary. We, therefore, take the charge, "Turn back thine hand as a grape-gatherer," and address it—
I. To THOSE WHO ARE AT WORK FOR GOD. The self-satisfied, who look at their work with too much content, as if it could not be bettered,—these need this charge. And the discouraged, who are for throwing up their work, abandoning it in sorrow and despair, believing they can do nothing more,—to them God would say," Turn back thine hand." To those who desire to do their work thoroughly. Go over it again. See how Paul was constantly in the habit of "turning back his hand," i.e. going over the Churches that he had established, revisiting them, in order that he might "confirm" them in the faith (cf. Acts, passim). "Line upon line, line upon line," is God's counsel to us in this matter.
II. To THE STUDENTS OF HIS WORD. To none more than to these is this charge necessary, if they are to keep a living interest in God's Word. We come to be so familiar with the main themes, and the forms in which they are expressed, that reading of the Bible comes to be a work in which no thought is aroused, or attention arrested, and we weary of it terribly. Now, it is to the diligent searcher, who will "turn back his hand," go over his work again, and not be content with the truths which lie only on the surface and which every eye can see,—to him shall there be revealed clusters of precious truths which he had never seen before, and the Word of God shall yield to him what it yields only to searchers like himself.
III. TO THOSE ANXIOUS FOR THE FRUITS OF GOD'S GRACE IN THEMSELVES. To true-hearted believers it is often a cause of regret that their fruits seem so few and so poor. How often the confession is made of this spiritual fruitlessness! But we need not, ought not, to stay in complaints and confessions. "Turn back thine hand," and search if there may not be more fruit found, and of a better kind. "In me is thy fruit found," says God, and it may be we have been looking in the wrong places and to wrong sources for that which we so earnestly desire to see. We may "go on unto perfection," for so bids us the Word of God. Our "whole body, soul, and spirit may be preserved blameless," and we maybe "the sons of God without rebuke;" for Christ "is able [has power] to save to the uttermost," and therefore we may be "filled with all the fullness of God." So, Christian brother," turn back thine hand as a grape-gatherer," and think not thou hast gathered all the fruits of the Spirit that may he borne by thee. Thou hast not.
In conclusion, note how the subject tells of:
1. The worth of those objects which we search after. The action of the grape-gatherer, in carefully going over the branch again, testifies to his sense of the value of that for which he searches. And so here in I; II; III.
2. And what is yet left to be gathered will be more readily found because of the others that have been gathered. The solitary remaining clusters are seen more easily now that the others which hid them are cleared away. And he who desires to do more work for God, to know more of the truth of God, to bear more fruit unto God, shall find that his former work has been for his help, and on account thereof he is more sure of success. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit;" therefore "turn back thine hand."—C.
The preacher's bitter cry.
Profound distress marks the prophet's utterances in this section. The lament over the incorrigible wickedness of men and his own baffled work is loud and long and bitter exceedingly (cf. Christ's tears over Jerusalem; Paul's sorrow over his countrymen).
I. WHAT CAUSED THIS BITTER CRY? His perception of the judgment of God drawing nigh (Jeremiah 6:9,Jeremiah 6:12, Jeremiah 6:15). The obstinacy of the people (Jeremiah 6:10, Jeremiah 6:16, Jeremiah 6:17). The hopelessness of reformation (Jeremiah 6:13). All were corrupt, and the prophets and priests were even leaders in sin (Jeremiah 6:14). Even the Lord's voice had been despised (Jeremiah 6:16). Now, when facts like these occur, the judgment of God threatening but those exposed to them obstinately refusing warning; and when those who should have warned them and been their guides in the ways of God are themselves godless, and the voice of God has been heard and deliberately despised, then, as the faithful servant of God sees this awful guilt and its sure, inevitable, and swift-approaching judgment,—then it is that a sense of despair, a deep grief fills the soul, as well it may.
II. WHAT IS A PREACHER TO DO UNDER SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES? The first thought is to turn away from the doomed people and to speak no more to them in God's Name. But it is better to take example from the prophet, who was verily as one of those servants who, when those called to the prepared feast would not come, but "made light ' of the gracious invitation, each saying, "I pray thee have me excused," went out, at his lord's bidding, into the highways and the hedges and compelled them to come in. So did Jeremiah now (verse 11). It grieved him to the heart that God's Word should be despised, and he became "full of the fury of the Lord" (cf. Jeremiah 20:9). Hence he poured out his full heart upon young and old, men, women, and children, wherever he found opportunity of unburdening his soul on this great theme. He was inspired by God to do this, and the fact teaches us that preaching, which may seem to be of no use for the accomplishment of one result, may yet be of much use in regard to another. Jeremiah's testimony, though it did not save the people from captivity, was of great service to them there, and to the whole Jewish people ever after. His words, which seemed as idle tales when he spoke them, became mighty through God in after days. The neglect, therefore, of our message now should not lead us to cease delivering it, but should muse us to more zeal, and make us "weary with holding in" (verse 11). We may be sure that whenever God moves us to speak earnestly his Word, he intends to make our message a means of blessing some when and somewhere.
III. WHAT THE PREACHER'S GRIEF REVEALS. It tells much:
1. Of God.
(1) Of his love; for it is ever he who inspires his servants with deep solicitude for men's salvation: it is he who through them is saying, "How can I give thee up?"
(2) Of his righteousness; for the vivid realization of the coming judgment which his servants have is given them that they may impress upon the impenitent and the ungodly the sure issue of their sins. The prophets who see and declare God's love are they who declare his righteousness also.
2. Of the preacher himself. How truly he is sent of God! It is the Spirit of God speaks through him, the love of God leading him to deep love for his fellow-men. If our hearts are greatly filled with a yearning for men's souls, if "rivers of water run down our eyes because men keep not God's law,"—such solicitude is a sure sign of the presence of God with us, and a pledge of his help in delivering our message.
3. Of men. How desperately set they are against God! how absolute their need of the renewing power of the Holy Ghost! See what the prophet says (verse 10): "Their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken." The habit of sin has caused their ear to be overgrown, and its power of hearing stopped, "so that," etc. How should the preacher ever remember this, and supplicate the mighty aid of the Divine Spirit if his message is to do any good!
IV. QUESTIONS IT SUGGESTS.
1. For preachers and teachers. Do we know anything of the prophet's grief? Facts all too plentiful and too closely resembling those which filled Jeremiah with the fury of the Lord (verse 11) abound in our day. Do they excite any similar feeling in ourselves? What need we have to pray and watch against becoming used to sin! and for sympathy with the prophets of God and yet more with Christ, their Lord and ours!
2. For those who hear the Word of God. Are you becoming the cause of such grief to any of God's servants? Remember theirs is but the foreshadowing of your own, which will be far greater if you heed not their word. Rather heed that Word, and so become not their bitter grief but their joy now, and their cause of rejoicing in the day of the Lord.—C.
The uncircumcised ear.
I. WHAT IS THIS? Not a physical defect, although the figure employed seems to tell of some fleshly growth which has formed over the cavity of the ear, and so destroyed the power of hearing. Nor a mental defect. They were acute enough; they readily understood the prophet's meaning when he spoke to them. Their minds were at that very time busy about all sorts of plots and schemes, which they hoped to carry out. Nor was it a moral defect. They knew the right, the true, the good. Conscience was still at work and goading them with her reproaches. Hence they devise means (Jeremiah 6:14) to lull and quiet it. And they had the power of choice, and deliberately chose ways of their own rather than those of God. True, it is said in the text, "And they cannot hearken." But that tells only of what is the perpetual result of refusing continuously to hear God's Word. Let a man tie his arm to his side for six months, and see what power of using it he has left after that. It will have become atrophied. And so in like manner do the functions of the soul, the limbs of our spiritual nature. The "will not" in regard to their use darkens down into the dreadful "cannot" of the judgment of God. There is no more awful fact for the faithless servant of God, nor more blessed one for the faithful, than this law of habit. The utterance of it concerning the wicked is, as here, "They cannot hearken;" but concerning the good, "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise." But it is a spiritual defect. It is the result of "the alienated will," that which the Bible calls "the unrenewed heart," "the carnal mind," "the unregenerate nation." All such expressions tell of the will of man turned away from God, and having no higher motive than to please and gratify self. That is the radical defect of us all, and it is that which the prophet here terms "the uncircumcised ear." It by no means always involves the outrageous wickedness which is told of in their prophecies; it can exist and yet never "commit abomination," as did these to whom Jeremiah spoke. It is found in company with much outward religiousness, much moral propriety, much amiability of character; but wherever it is, Christ's word concerning all such is, "Ye must be born again." It is in its nature fierce, savage, unsubdued still. It often seems to be tamed, and moves about soft-footed and gently as if it never could do harm; but let some lure be held out to it, some provocation be given, and then its ferocity and all its hideous evil will reveal itself at once. Accustomed as we are to see this evil nature held in check by the usages of society, the habits of civilized life and a refined selfishness, we are often blind to its true character, and "marvel" much at our Savior's reiterated word, "Ye must be born again."
II. ITS EFFECTS.
1. Disregard of and dislike to the Word of God. "To whom shall I speak?" said the prophet. He could get no one to listen to him. And this is the too frequent experience of our own day. How deserted the churches are, and where they are better attended, what kind of listening is it that prevails? Granted the intolerable dullness of many preachers, but the evil is not probed when this is said. The true cause is "the uncircumcised ear" that Jeremiah tells of. But not only have men "no delight in" the Word of God, they count it "a reproach." They come to be ashamed of its being thought that they should regard it with interest or have any real care for it. The tone adopted regarding those who do delight in God's Word is one of scorn and contempt.
2. Men go on unchecked in sin (cf. verses 13, 15, and passim). Surely it is a question not merely for the Church, but for thoughtful men of the world, whether it be well for any community or people to be throwing aside all the restraints of God's Word, as so many are doing. The history of Israel of old is a beacon-light, warning the people of our day of what comes from despising the Word of the Lord.
3. God's judgments come upon such people (verse 12).
4. Men become shameless and hardened (verse 15).
5. The heart of God's faithful servants is sorely troubled (cf. verse 10). Here the prophet mourns over their "uncircumcised ears."
III. ABETTORS AND MINISTERS TO THIS EVIL.
1. Unfaithful priests and prophets (verse 13).
2. The hardening effects of the people's own sin.
IV. THE REMEDY. Yet more impassioned and earnest ministry of the Word. There must be no giving up of work or abandoning it in despair. But—as verse 11—more intense devotedness in the endeavor, futile as it may appear, to save men from death.
2. The fiery disciplines of God. He is "a consuming fire;" and the fire of his love will burn fiercely on until the evil on which it fastens is burnt out of the soul, the Church, the nation, he loves. Oh, the awfulness of the love of God! If God were not love, there might be a possibility of a soul being allowed to perish in its sins and to go its own way to death unchecked; but as the fondest mother will subject her child to terrible suffering for the saving of its life, so, too, will God.
CONCLUSION. What a summons comes to us from these truths:
(1) to seek the renewing grace of the Spirit of God;
(2) to take heed how we hear!—C.
The vampires of the soul.
There is a hideous creature called the vampire bat, that is said to destroy its victims by sucking their life-blood. Whilst thus destroying them, it gently fans them with its wings, and so keeps them in a profound slumber, from which the probabilities are that they will never wake. And what other are they who lull the souls of sinful men to the sleep of death by "saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace?" No greater crime can be imagined than this of which our text tells. The physician who should pamper a man in his disease, who should feed his cancer or inject continual poison into the system, whilst at the same time he promised sound health and a long life,—such a physician would not be one-half so criminal as the professed religious teacher who should knowingly bid those entrusted to his charge to be at ease and to take comfort, when he ought to be crying, "Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion!" The pilot who should pretend to steer a ship toward its proper haven, but all the while was of intent driving her upon unseen rocks, would not be a worse traitor than the man into whose hands the helm of human souls is entrusted, and whose professed duty it is to steer them towards Christ, but who, instead of so doing, was guiding them to utter ruin, by flattering them that all was welt when all was ill. In the great day, when all shall render up their account to God, what awfulness of doom will not be reserved for him who has been chargeable with blood-guiltiness like this? We observe—
I. THAT IT IS AN ALL TOO FREQUENT SIN.
1. The prophets of Judah and Jerusalem were guilty of it, notwithstanding that
(1) they knew the truth;
(2) they professed the truth;
(3) they were ordained to teach the truth.
Still, out of all manner of evil motive they were guilty of this sin. Oh, let all who teach, whether in the pulpit, the home circle, or in the school, remember that their sacred charge and duty may not merely be imperfectly fulfilled—that it ever is; nor even neglected merely, sad as that is; but it may be utterly perverted, and that which was designed to be for our own and others' great good may become the means of our and their more terrible condemnation. From this may God save teachers and taught alike!
2. And there are now those who are bidding men be at peace when there is no peace.
(1) They who bid men be at peace on the ground of their moral integrity, their respectability of character, and of the righteousness with which they are credited amongst their fellow-men. God forbid that we should decry or depreciate the value of character, reputation, and integrity amongst men. go, indeed; but all the same we feel that it is a plea all too feeble, and one that cannot avail such as we are before the bar of the all-holy God.
(2) They who teach men to trust in sacraments or Church ordinances of any kind. These, too, are precious in their proper place, but regarded as a valid claim to eternal life, apart from the disposition of the heart Godwards, they will save no man, and he who trusts them or teaches others to trust them, is guilty of saying, "Peace, peace," etc.
(3) They who rely on a faith which is fruitless in love to God and man. This is the characteristic of all forms of Antinomianism, and though that be "a way which seemeth right unto many men, the end thereof is death."
3. But let us remember that we may practically be preaching this fatal peace. Christian men and women, who do nothing for the salvation of those around you; who are eager about amusements, business, worldly position, and all such things, but who are unmoved or but very little moved at the ungodliness in the midst of which you live; what is the conclusion that others draw from this unconcern? Why, that you don't believe what you profess, and that therefore they need not either. And so you encourage them to say, "Peace, peace," etc. Whose conscience is there that does not smite him here? and who of us is there that has no need of the prayer, "Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation?" And all who are unconcerned about their own eternal welfare. Fathers and mothers who have not sought the Lord, you will die in your sins if you repeat not; but you will die not to yourselves merely; you will drag your children down with you, for you are teaching them to be unconcerned and indifferent, when neither you nor they possess any true peace at all.
4. But after all, those who are the most guilty of saying, "Peace, peace," etc; are sinful men to themselves. The devil taught men the way very early in the history of our race. "Ye shall not surely die;" so he lyingly declared to our first mother, and she, all too willing to believe that there would be peace though she did disobey God, ruined herself, her husband, and all her children by that one deed. And ever since men who love to disobey have encouraged themselves in their sin by this fatal flattery of their souls of which our text tells. They did so in the days of Noah," until the flood came and took them all away." See also Belshazzar's feast at the height of merriment, when the handwriting appeared on the wall, and that night Babylon was taken and her king slain. So has it been with the Jewish people—in Jeremiah's time, and so in our Lord's. The Captivity shattered that first false peace, and the utter destruction of Jerusalem the second. And we are told it will be so at the last, in that "day when the Son of man cometh." Observe, then, some of the deceits whereby men beguile themselves into saying, "Peace, peace," etc. They are such as these:
(1) The infinite mercy of God.
(2) "I am no worse than those who make a religious profession. If they are saved, I shall be too."
(3) "Yes, I am going to repent and turn to God; I certainly mean to one day."
(4) Religious profession: "I am baptized and take the sacrament."
(5) Denying the truth of the Bible: "I have no proof that there is a God, a heaven, or indeed that I have a soul. It is all a ' perhaps; '"so men say. And there are many other such deceits. But now—
II. NOTE HOW THE LIE THAT IS IN ALL SUCK SAYING OF "PEACE, PEACE," ETC; MAY BE DETECTED. A man may hold up a phial of liquid that is colorless, clear, - sparkling, that seems in all respects like pure, wholesome water. But the skilled chemist drops into it the fitting test, and at once the poisonous substance is precipitated, and thus is made evident to all. Now, with all these deceits of which we have been telling, their true nature may be made manifest if we apply those tests which only the true peace of God will endure. For, if the peace in which we are trusting be a true one and not a deception, it will:
1. Always tend to the making of us holier, purer, more Christ-like. God's peace always does this. It "keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus," it "rules" in our hearts.
2. Stand under the hardest blows of misfortune and earthly sorrow. Listen to its voice: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him;" "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord." Now, will peace such as springs from such sources as those told of help a man in straits like those of Job?
3. Be with him in death.
III. SAFEGUARD IS NOT IN OUR BEING ABLE TO DETECT THE FALSE PEACE, BUT IN POSSESSING THE TRUE. That is ours when we surrender our souls to Christ. Then we shall have peace indeed.
(1) Peace from fear of God's condemnation;
(2) peace from dread of guilt;
(3) peace from the tyranny and oppression of "the evil one;"
(4) peace from the crushing power of earthly sorrow;
(5) peace from the terror of the grave and the judgment day;
(6) peace in the conscious possession of the love of God.
Such is the true "peace of God." Oh, how foolish, then, to barter that for the false and fatal pretences of peace which are forever beguiling the hearts of sinful men! May he who is "our Peace," even Christ, cause us to give heed to his own loving call, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!"—C.
The sin against the Holy Ghost.
I. THIS SIN IS SET FORTH HERE. For the sin is no one definite act, but a condition of mind which renders repentance hopeless and persistence in sin certain. But is not this the condition described in the text, described vividly, accurately? They had hardened themselves till repentance, yea, even shame, on account of "abomination" was utterly absent from them. "' They were not at all ashamed,' no tinge of it, not the least ' blush ' was visible. Was it not certain that such people who would go on, as they did, in sin, were in danger of eternal sin?" Hence they had never forgiveness, and the prophet was forbidden (see Jeremiah 7:16) even to pray for them (cf. 1 John 5:16).
II. OTHER INSTANCES OF IT OR APPROXIMATIONS TO IT.
1. Those who with unblushing effrontery ascribed Christ's holy ministry and his deeds of merciful might to Satanic power. They cried out," Show us a sign from heaven," implying that thus far he had only shown them signs from hell.
2. Those who were responsible for the cry," His blood be on us, and on our children!" And there are instances now. The condition of shamelessness in sin and of helplessness as to repentance may be, and we fear at times is, reached. Therefore note—
III. THE STEPS BY WHICH MEN REACH THIS CONDITION.
1. By disregard of the rebukes of conscience, stifling them, instead of going, as they would prompt, to the mercy-seat, and there confessing the sin.
2. By persistence in sin.
3. By the commission of great sins.
4. By loss of self-respect.
5. By forfeiture of character and the esteem of men.
IV. ITS DOOM. "It hath never forgiveness." "They shall fall among them that fall; they shall be cast down, saith the Lord" Wherefore this?
1. Because sin and sorrow are linked together by a chain that cannot be broken. Therefore where there is eternal sin there must be eternal punishment. The latter keeps pace with the former, and dogs its footsteps forever. It cannot but be so.
2. Because such men are murderers of other men's souls. They are centers of rebellion against God, of deadly spiritual contagion. Blood-guiltiness is upon them, yea, they are steeped therein. 3. Because God could not be God and not abhor such condition of soul as this sin betrays.
V. ITS SOLEMN LESSONS.
1. Cherish a holy hatted of sin, for its tendency is ever to reproduce itself, and so to become eternal.
2. Beware of disregarding the monitor within—conscience, God's voice in our souls. To do so is to drive away the trusty sentinel who guards the approaches of the soul against its deadly foes; to pierce and undermine those blessed walls which keep back the inrush of the ocean upon the whole land. Let us not do aught like this. But pray—.
"Quick as the apple of the eye,
O God, my conscience make,
Swift to discern when sin is nigh,
And keep it still awake."
3. Is sin upon your conscience now? At once confess it, and so find from your Lord forgiveness for it, and more—deliverance from it and from all possibility of that dread sin which the text describes and which hath never forgiveness.—C.
The good old paths.
It is noticeable in the order of nature how God has secured the true adjustment and hence the highest well-being of his universe by means of the action of contrasted and opposite forces. By means of that power which the mighty mass of the sun has to draw everything to itself—if this were left alone to operate, the whole of those innumerable orbs that now circle round the sun as their center would be drawn in upon it and perish. But this is prevented by the action of an opposite force, called the centrifugal, as the first-mentioned is called the centripetal. This opposite force tends, by the velocity with which the planets revolve around the sun, to drive them off and away from it: thus, by the effect of these opposite forces, that perfect harmony and unerring order of the whole stellar universe, which has been the admiration of all observers in all ages, are preserved. Chemistry also can furnish illustrations not a few of the beneficent action of opposite forces, where either left alone would work only harm. In the great law of sex, the constitution of all life, plant life as well as animal, as male and female, this in all its aspects is another marked instance of the same Divine method. In political life, the two great tendencies, monarchial and democratic, or the rule of the one versus the rule of the many—the mutual strugglings of these two—keep the world in such equilibrium as we see. In religion, the Catholic principle which makes self nothing, and the Protestant principle which makes self all-important, each man having to give an account of himself to God,—these are both designed to contend the one against the other, and whilst Catholicism is to cheek the selfish individualism into which Protestantism is apt to lapse, Protestantism is in its turn to struggle against that servility of mind into which the principle of self-abnegation, the essential principle of Catholicism, is prone to degenerate. It is in the resultant of these two forces that the purest form of religious life is found. And in regard to the life of obedience to God, the life which he would have us live here on earth, that, too, is governed by the action of opposed laws. There is the law which works through our bodily nature, and which if left alone would make us, not in body only but in soul, of the earth earthy, forever "groveling here below." But there is the opposed law which works through our spiritual nature; but, blessed as it is, it needs to be disciplined and made perfectly healthful to us by means of the salutary necessity of giving heed in due measure to the lesser law just spoken of. The first preserves us from being mere enthusiasts, the second from the far greater peril of enslavement to the world, the flesh, and the devil acting through them. And in those two tendencies, one of which is plainly referred to in this sixteenth verse and the other implied, the love of the old is contrasted with the love of the new. Here, again, we have set before us two great forces in humanity, which by their mutual contentions preserve it in tolerable health and comfort, and ensure its steady, onward progress. Conservatism and liberalism are not the products of any one national revolution, like our own in 1688, but they are two God-implanted tendencies of the human mind, each of which has its appropriate and most useful function, and neither of which can be dispensed with without harm to the whole body politic' in every nation under the sun. To lie like a log on the ocean of human life, useless and despised amid the nationalities of the world, is the doom of those who will blindly close their eyes to the fresh light and truth which are forever breaking forth upon the world; to run upon the rooks and make shipwreck of everything is the doom of those who despise the teachings of experience, and care only to be forever finding out some new way and to follow some new guide. But let these two act and react each on the other—the love of the old upon the love of the new, the tendency to be always looking back upon the tendency to be always looking forward, and then the result is that men will come generally to practically act upon that prudent, though to many minds most prosaic, maxim which counsels—
"Be not the first by whom the new is tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside."
But in regard to the way in which God would have us go, our text teaches—
I. THAT THERE ARE NO NEW WAYS. From the beginning that which the Lord God hath required of man has been, even as it yet is, that we should "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God." The gospel of the Lord Jesus is not to supersede or make void this eternal law, but to establish it as it never had been or could have been before. "What the Law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh," did, "that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us." For this end, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the burden of guilt is taken off from us, and a new heart and a right spirit given. But the law of life is ever the same. It is the old and good way.
II. NEVERTHELESS, MEN ARE CONTINUALLY DEVISING NEW WAYS. It was so in Jeremiah's time; it is so in our own. By denials of truths most surely believed amongst us for many generations, or by additions thereto, or by substitutions of other forms of faith, men have done to-clay as in the days of old. Every magazine and newspaper, besides innumerable volumes ever issuing from the press,—all alike are popular as they throw over old ideas and propound "some new thing." Science and secularism and superstition between them would, lung ere this, have destroyed the good old way, had it not been so firmly constructed that all these powers combined are not adequate for such a task.
III. IN THESE NEW WAYS WHAT IS TRUE WILL BE FOUND TO BE OLD, AND WHAT IS NOT OLD WILL BE FOUND TO BE NOT TRUE. For there are tests by which new teachings may be tried, and ought to be tried, and by which the prophets of God tried the new teachings of their day.
1. The test of conscience. The human conscience confesses God. It is borne in upon the human heart that God is. Nothing can permanently stifle or destroy that confession, which Conscience, left to herself, would ever make. The very word "conscience" implies the recognition of some other being as with us, in us, around and about us. It confesses God. All teachings, therefore, that deny God, or explain him away as a blind force or law, or identify him with his universe, the pantheist's God,—these teachings by this sure test are tried, and found wanting.
2. The test of result. Note what is the result of any professed truth upon personal happiness. God, who has given us so many things richly to enjoy, must from his very nature purpose the blessedness of his children. But if a system be offered us, the inevitable result of which is to blot out hope, to shut us up to this often most miserable life, as all they would do who would take from us the Christian hope. then its drear and dread effect upon the heart of man proclaims it false. See, too, how any teaching tells upon character. Here is a surer test still. Whatever else is dark and obscure, goodness and truth must ever be right. But if any new doctrines tend to deteriorate character, as many of them do, to make sin easier and virtue more difficult; if they throw the reins upon our lower nature; if they take away the great motives to nobleness of life;—then again they are demonstrated false. And note their effect upon society generally. Can the denial of God's existence, of the religious basis of morality, as Mr. Herbert Spencer denies it, of the authority of Holy Scripture, of the sanctity of the sabbath, of the Divine mission of the Son of God, of the resurrection of the dead, the judgment and future blessedness or woe depending upon our lives here;—can the denial of any of these things, which, alas! is common enough now, tend to the good of society? Must not the general well-being of mankind be greatly threatened if such doctrines be generally accepted? But doctrines that would thus destroy good are ipso facto declared to have no part nor lot in the kingdom of truth. By these tests of conscience and result let the new ways be tried, and it will be seen that what in them is true is old, and what is not old is not true.
IV. WHEREFORE, THEN, DO MEN DEVISE THESE NEW WAYS? The causes are sometimes:
1. Intellectual. Mental restlessness on the part of some will lead men, even in the most perilous matters, to be doubting the old and devising what is new. And God often suffers them to wander in the far and drear country of mental unrest, and to feed upon its husks, and so come to themselves, and arise and go back to their Father's heart and home, from whence it had been better had they never strayed.
2. Sometimes, and more often, moral. Religion is that which binds. It is a ligature, a restraining cord upon the evil propensities of our nature. If, therefore, doctrines be offered which will relax that little-loved bond, they will be eagerly welcomed. A faith that will give not true liberty, but "license," men will ever love.
3. And always spiritual. Where the heart is surrendered to Christ the mind will not be ensnared by these subtleties of the evil one. If the Holy Spirit of God have wrought in us the great regenerating change, we shall have liberty and deliverance from all these. Safety from the wanderings of the intellect, as well as from the worse wanderings of our sinful nature, are alike ensured to him who has given himself up unreservedly to God.
V. BUT THOSE WHO WOULD WALK IN THE WAY GOD WOULD HAVE THEM GO MAY KNOW THE WAY BY ITS BEING "OLD" AND GOOD. All old ways are not good, but the way of God is both. It is old, therefore familiar to many; has been often described, is well marked out; its different stages are well known. "The wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein." And it is good. It leads to him who is the supreme Good—God. It has been the chosen way of all the good. It makes those good who walk therein. He who alone on this earth of ours was perfectly good—our Lord Jesus—walked in it, and lives to enable us to walk therein also. It is the will of God that we should walk therein. "Its ways are all ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace." "Ye shall find rest to your souls." For all these reasons it is the good way as well as the old; therefore let us "stand," "see," and "ask" for this way, and this way alone.—C.
At the meeting of the ways.
"Stand ye in the ways," etc.
I. THIS IS WHERE VERY MANY ARE. The young especially. Paths stretch out on either hand, some of them inviting, some repelling. But for the young, and for many others beside who have not yet fully chosen their path, the present is a time when a decided choice must be made. If the matter were to be settled according to the inviting or other aspect of the beginning of the ways, the one we should choose would soon be fixed upon. But we have to take into consideration the progress of the way, and, above all, the end of the way. Here the text gives—
II. GOOD COUNSELS FOR ALL WHO HAVE COME TO THIS MEETING OF THE WAYS. We are bidden:
1. Pause a while. "Stand ye in the ways." Oh, if we could but secure this thoughtful pause! if we could but induce those we are now contemplating to "ponder" a while the paths before them! if it were but realized that the way we take is a matter for consideration, add that only a fool would rush heedlessly on!
2. Investigate. As one at the meeting of the ways, but not certain which was the right one for him, would look along each way in turn, and "see" which appeared to be the most likely to bring him to his desired destination. Therefore we are bidden, not only "stand," but "see."
3. Inquire. Other travelers come along—men who are familiar with the district, who have traversed one or other of these roads themselves. Then let us avail ourselves of their knowledge and experience, and "ask" as to these ways.
4. And let your mind be made up as to the character of the way you desire to walk in. Let there be no mere vague, listless looking over all the paths without much concern which of them you take; but we are bidden, "Ask for the old paths … the good way"
"The way the holy prophets went,
The way that leads from banishment,
The King's highway of holiness."
All the "old" paths are not also "good ways;" far from it. But there is an old, am! therefore well-known, well-trodden, and hence unmistakable way, which also is the good way. One purpose of the lives of God's faithful people is that, by the observation in the record of them, men may be led to ask for the paths in which these walked, feeling sure the way they took must be a good, the good way. Happy they who have been led to resolve they will find out the secret of such men's lives and make it their own. These will ask, not for any way, but for the old paths, the good way.
III. GREAT ENCOURAGEMENTS TO FOLLOW THIS COUNSEL.
1. It is implied that if such guidance be asked it will be given. For, if that guidance were not given, how could any walk in these paths? That it is open to them to do so proves that the guidance asked has been given. And so it ever will be.
2. It is promised that, if we walk in the old and good way, we shall find "rest" to our souls. After all, this is everything. If a man has inward rest and peace, heaven for him has begun below. What matters it what we have if this rest be not? What matters what we have not if this rest be ours? And it is a true rest—not a mere lethargy of the soul or sleep of conscience, but that "rest which remaineth for the people of God," the rest of faith, the rest promised by the Lord Jesus when he said," Come unto me, … and I will," etc.
IV. CHRIST HIMSELF IS THAT WAY—THE OLD, THE GOOD WAY. Let the will be utterly surrendered to him; let our faith daily look to him; then "he shall be made to us of God, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." This is what he meant when he said, "I am the Way."
"This is the way I long had sought,
And mourned because I found it not;
Till late I heard my Savior say,
'Come hither, soul, I am the Way.'"
And so we shall find rest to our souls.—C.
God's appeal for vindication of his vengeance.
I. THE CHALLENGE. (Jeremiah 6:18.) God summons the nations, the Congregations, the earth, to serve as on a grand jury, and to vindicate by their verdict the righteousness of his procedure. Now, from this challenge we learn:
1. The universality of conscience. There is a moral sense, a knowledge of right and wrong, implanted in all men by God. It is "the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world."
2. That God desires to have this universal conscience approving what he has done.
(1) He takes for granted that his procedure wilt be scanned and judged by men.
(2) But this he desires and approves.
(3) He asks only for a true deliverance upon the ease before them.
3. God desires us to regard his actions, not as right because they are his, but as his because they are right. It is a perilous thing to defend the rectitude of Divine actions—as they have been defended, e.g. the massacres of the Canaanites—on the ground that his will makes them right. That is not the method whereby we are to "vindicate the ways of God to man." Abraham did not so, but asked, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Not make right, but do it. But what condescension on the part of God, thus to submit himself to our judgment! But he does this because he so yearns for our love, and because love cannot be apart from moral approval.
II. THE STATEMENT OF THE MATTER ON THE PART OF GOD.
1. God declares what he will do (Jeremiah 6:19-21).
2. How he will accomplish his purpose (Jeremiah 6:22, Jeremiah 6:23).
3. How terrible its accomplishment will be (Jeremiah 6:24-26). And then he gives:
4. The grounds of his procedure (Jeremiah 6:19, Jeremiah 6:28, Jeremiah 6:29).
III. THE CALLING OF THE WITNESS. (Jeremiah 6:27; cf. Exposition.) Jeremiah was to observe and declare the guilt of those whom God condemned.
IV. THE VERDICT ANTICIPATED. (Verse 30.) Men shall call them "reprobate silver."
CONCLUSION. Let us tremble at that righteousness of God which the whole earth will confess when he condemns the sinner. Let us lay hold on that righteousness of God Which is for us in Christ.—C.
The fruit of thought.
I. THOUGHT HAS FRUIT. In all departments of life its fruit is seen—scientific, political, social, moral, religious. Thoughts are born in some one mind. Sown by words spoken or written, and by the influence of the lives of those in whom they are born; they germinate by contact with other minds; they appear above ground in the tendencies of any given age; they bear fruit in the achievements of the age.
II. THOUGHT BEARS GOOD FRUIT OR EVIL, ACCORDING AS THE LAW OF GOD IS HEEDED OR REJECTED. "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to that Word."
III. THE CHIEF PARTAKER OF THE FRUIT OF THOUGHT WILL BE THE THINKER. (Cf. text.) And it is true both of good thoughts and ill. As a man thinketh so is he.
CONCLUSION. Let it be our prayer that we may come into full sympathy with him who said, "How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God!" So shall the fruit of our thoughts be precious likewise.—C.
I. THERE ARE SUCH. (Cf. text; Psalms 1:1-6.; etc.)
II. THEY MAY HAVE MANY OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OF ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICES.
1. Costly "Incense from Sheba."
III. BUT YET THEY ARE ABHORRED OF GOD. "To what purpose," etc.? (Cf. our Lord's denunciations of hypocrites.) This because
1. They lack sincerity.
2. They yield no fruit in holy obedience.
3. They cause the Name and worship of God to be hated of men.
4. They render more hopeless the true repentance of the offerer.
IV. WHEREFORE ARE THEY OFFERED?
1. Conscience will not allow men to throw off all regard for religion.
2. Custom demands it.
3. Worldly interests are served by it.
4. There is a secret reliance upon them as furthering their good before God.
V. WHAT DO SUCH FACTS TEACH US? Not to throw aside outward forms of worship: many do this on the ground of insincerity often associated with them. But to see that whilst we worship outwardly we worship also in spirit and in truth. To measure the worth of our worship by its power over our conduct. To join on all our poor, marred offerings, which is all that at the best they are, with the perfect sacrifice which Christ has offered for us all.—C.
The bellows are burned.
The text is a homely and unusual one, but its graphic force may help all the more to impress the truth taught by it. "The prophet likens the people of Israel to a mass of metal. This mass of metal claimed to be precious ore, such as gold or silver. It was put into the furnace, the object being to fuse it, so that the pure metal should be extracted from the dross. Lead was put in with the ore to act as a flux (that being relied upon by the ancient smelters as quicksilver now is in these more instructed days). A fire was kindled, and then the bellows were used. to create an intense heat, the bellows being the prophet himself. He complains that he spoke with much pathos, much energy, much force of heart, that he exhausted himself, without being able to melt the people's hearts; so hard was the ore that the bellows were burned before the metal was melted—the prophet was exhausted before the people were impressed; he had worn out his lungs, his powers of utterance; he had exhausted his mind, his powers of thought; he had broken his heart, his powers of emotion; but he could not divide his people from their sins, and separate the precious from the vile" (C.H. Spurgeon). Now, from the text learn—
I. IT IS THE PURPOSE OF GOD SO TO MELT AND SUBDUE THE HEART OF MAN THAT HE MAY MOULD IT AFRESH, AND ACCORDING TO HIS OWN GRACIOUS WILL. NOW to this end there are needed:
1. A Divine fire which shall bear upon the heart of man. But the Holy Spirit is such a fire, which, if it be quenched, woe is unto us!
2. That that fire shall glow with fervent heat.
II. To SECURE THIS HE MAKES USE OF MANY AND VARIED APPLIANCES WHICH THE PROPHET HERE LIKENS TO "BELLOWS."
1. The prophets own ministry in the case of Judah and Jerusalem at that time.
2. The faithful ministry of his truth by his prophets now.
3. His Law, his Word, the varied means of grace.
4. His mercies, especially the mercy of God in Christ.
5. His chastisements and judgments. These more especially referred to here. Such are some of these appliances.
III. Now, IT IS POSSIBLE FOR ALL THESE TO BECOME UTTERLY INEFFECTUAL. This is what is here meant. God's messengers, Law, faeries, chastisements,—all in vain. And such things happen now. There are those whom naught can move. What is the cause? Not that the Divine heat did not bear upon the heart that was to be melted. Not that those appliances were left unused whereby the understanding, the conscience, the affections, and the win might be rendered more susceptible of the Divine influences. But the obduracy of the heart. The perversity and evil of that baffled all the earnest endeavors of God's grace in regard to that heart.
IV. NOW, WHEN "THE BELLOWS ARE BURNED," WHEN ALL MEANS HAVE BEEN TRIED AND FAILED TO WIN THE HEART FOR GOD, NO CONDITION CAN BE MORE AWFUL OR DEPLORABLE.
1. It is sad for God's ministers. Jeremiah, Paul, Christ, and thousands of his ministers since have prayed and wept over obdurate hearts.
2. But it is far more sad for these hard-hearted ones themselves.
(1) They are without excuse.
(2) There is no hope of their repentance.
(3) They are in danger of eternal sin.
1. Christ's ministers must expect that, so far as they can see, they will, at times, labor in vain in regard to the salvation of souls. The bellows will be burned, and the ore remain unmelted still.
2. They are to be sustained by the thought that God will deal with them, not according to the results of their work, but according to its fidelity.
3. Let the impenitent be warned.—C.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
The good way.
The prophet here employs the memory of the past as a motive to repentance. He would fain persuade the people to return to the better ways in which their fathers walked. The calamities that were falling so heavily upon them were the result of their having forsaken those good old ways. Let them consider how they have fallen, search out the real causes of the trouble and sorrow they endure, retrace their wandering steps, and the old prosperity shall come back to them again. Note here—
I. THE DIVERSE WAYS MEN TAKE, diverse as regards their moral quality and issues. "Stand ye in the ways." Think of the various kinds of moral life that men are leading. Amid the social conditions and relations of this world we are as travelers with many paths branching out in different directions before them, who must choose their own. We may know little of the internal experiences of our associates in the pilgrimage of life, but the broad types of character, the general tendencies of moral habit, are open enough to our view. The "ways" are many, but there is only one path of eternal rectitude and blessedness. There is the way of reckless transgression, of thoughtless indifference, of base avarice, of exclusive devotion to earthly ambitions, of mere virtuous respectability, of religious indecision, etc.; and there is the way of faith and piety, "the path of the just which is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." Men cannot help to some extent revealing outwardly the tenor of the life within them. Every one of us bears more or less clearly upon him the stamp of a certain distinctive character. Whatever the bent of his spirit may be, it will always betray itself, in look, manner, speech, conduct, by the books he reads, the friendships he forms, the places he frequents, the gratifications in which be delights, through a thousand channels of self-revelation. We are all "living epistles" of something—some type of character, some order of moral life—"known and read of men."
II. THE THOUGHTFUL OBSERVATION THESE CONDITIONS DEMAND. "Stand in the ways, and see." It is a great thing to know how to "see" There are those who "seeing, see not." One of the first lessons in the moral science of life, as in physical science, is observation—to know how to note facts and trace laws and draw conclusions, to know how to learn and to turn what is learnt to good account. The characters and lives of others are not to be to us mere matters of amusement or philosophic speculation, much less ill-natured criticism; but sources of instruction, teachers of practical truth. They all have their admonitory and exemplary use. The higher advantages of social life have never been reaped, the very rudiments of our duty as social beings have not been mastered, till we thoroughly apprehend this. Let the young specially lay the lesson to heart. Their position is favorable—the plain of life before them, not yet entangled in a network of circumstantial difficulties, nothing to undo that ought never to have been done, no false steps to retrace that were rashly taken. But how soon may they be drawn into forbidden and dangerous paths if they do not consider! As the ship glides imperceptibly from the open sea into the broad mouth of the river, whose distant banks are hidden, so easily are they led captive to the power of evil if they allow themselves to drift with the tide of outward influence and inward impulse, and will not think. At the same time, enlarged experience of life may be expected to give added force to its moral lessons. Beset as a man may be with associations that seem to determine his course for him in spite of himself, it is always possible for him to pause and consider his way. The darkness and confusion of the storm may be too great to allow the sailor to take his observations and find out his real place on the pathless ocean; not so with any man as concerns his relation to the heavenly powers and the eternal realities. He has always light enough to "discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not" (Malachi 3:18). The true way of life is clearly revealed to those who are willing to "see." "The wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein" (Isaiah 35:8).
III. THE PRACTICAL RESULT TO WHICH SUCH OBSERVATION MUST LEAD. "Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein." Asking and acting, inquiry after the right way, and a resolute determination to follow it; when these conditions are supplied there can be little doubt as to the issue. A life of practical godliness, based on faith in revealed truth, springing from the inspiration of the spirit of truth and purity in the secret soul,—this is the way. It is the "old way." New as regards the light Christianity has shed upon it, new as regards the revelation of him in whose redeeming work its deep foundations have been laid, it is "old" as regards its essential principles of faith and righteousness. The martyrs, prophets, and holy men of every age have left their glowing footprints upon it. Elijah ascended from it in his chariot of fire. David made the statutes of the Lord his delight as he pursued his pilgrimage along it. Abraham trod the same path, led on by the star of promise. Upon it Enoch walked in lowly fellowship with God. It is stained with the blood of righteous Abel.
"Our glorious Leader claims our praise
For his own pattern given;
While the long cloud of witnesses
Show the same path to heaven."
The way is as plain as Divine teaching and human experience can make it; let us gird up the loins of our minds to "walk in it."
IV. THE REWARD OF PRACTICAL OBEDIENCE. "Ye shall find rest unto your souls." "Rest," for beings such as we are, is the repose of the mind in discovered truth, the pacification of the conscience in the assurance of Divine forgiveness, the satisfaction of the heart in the embrace of real good, the balance of all our powers in a holy service. In the life of faith and godliness, the life Christ gives to all who come to him, can such rest alone be found. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me … and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11:29).—W.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Jerusalem like a fountain casting forth evil.
A fountain, as mentioned in Scripture, is generally suggestive of a most gracious and abundant supply of the highest good; even as in Jeremiah 2:13 and John 4:14. How very noteworthy, then, to find that the fountain, which naturally suggests all that is bright, beautiful, and refreshing, should be so turned away from its common place in poetic use as to become the most impressive illustration of Jerusalem's polluted heart! Indeed, an imaginative writer would probably get severely criticized if he used the figure of a fountain for such a purpose; and yet, when one thinks it over, this very unexpectedness makes the figure more instructive. The poetry of a prophet must, above all things, have arresting power in it. Think, then, of the fountain. Think of it, first of all, in its usual aspect, pouring forth a bright, pleasant-sounding stream, as inspiring to the mind as it is refreshing to the thirsty mouth. But all this view must be instantly and decidedly put away. Instead of the clear, sparkling water there must come into the mind the thought of a feculent, poisonous flood, and of the force that lies behind it, some deep inward energy hidden in the secret places of the earth. A continuity of most pestiferous evil comes from these secret places, and even by such an image as this is the actual wickedness of Jerusalem set forth. The hearts of its people are gathering-places for a destructive stream, always flowing forth and always replenished. They never get tired of their wickedness and never repent of it. Then one remembers that the hearts of men were destined for a very different purpose. Just as the devout heart perceives that God meant these crevices and great caverns in the earth to gather and pour forth the refreshing streams of water, so he meant the hearts of the children of men to gather and pour forth all manner of loving, hopeful, patiently pursued projects for the good of others and for the glory of God. The woman of Samaria evidently came to Jesus with a heart that was indeed a fountain casting out wickedness, but she heard the delightful news that Jesus could give her water which should be in her "a well of water springing up into eternal life." There is another Jerusalem besides this earthly and polluted one. Jeremiah was not the only one who told people to fly out of it because of impending destruction. Jesus, in his prophetic words, spoke with even greater emphasis—a thing to be expected. The earthly Jerusalem, great and glorious as it once was, is now called spiritually Sodom and Egypt, for it is the place where our Lord was crucified (Revelation 11:8). The Jerusalem to be thought of henceforth is the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. It has many glories, many beauties, many surpassing gifts of grace for needy men, and not the least is this, that there is "a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." And may we not say that this river is constituted by the numberless fountains that flow out of every renewed heart? The glory of the river is God's, but the service and dedication which bring that river into existence are the privilege of God's people. We are to let our thoughts dwell on the deplorable fountain Jeremiah speaks of here, only that we may see more clearly and gratefully the spring of true and abiding goodness which he can put in its place.—Y.
Covetousness a universal sin.
It is not so much of covetousness in itself that the prophet is here speaking, as of the universality of it. From the least even to the greatest the spirit of the spoiler is in the hearts of the people. The words, of course, are not to be taken literally as to individuals; but there is this universality about them, that they apply to every class. That a man is rich, and increased with goods, and that he has, indeed, a great deal more than he can ever enjoy in his own person, is far from being a general ground for supposing that he will be contented with his possessions. The more he has and the higher he stands, the more he may want to have and the higher he may want to get. And so all the way up the ladder from the lowest round, men are continually struggling with one another. It is a ladder, the lowest round of which will hold a great multitude, but it ever narrows as it ascends; and the covetous who happen to be also strong and consequently victorious over their feebler competitors, go clambering on as long as one's eye rests upon them. No one ever seems to reach the top of the ladder; and it may be said moreover that, though there seem many who are free from the spoiling spirit, it simply arises from this, that there has been nothing to bring the dormant germ into life and activity. No one can tell what possibilities of evil lie within him. And may not the essential element in covetousness be a strong motive force even when it is hidden away under the appearance of something else? One thing is very certain, that covetousness prevailed from the least even to the greatest in Jerusalem; it will also do so in every other human society. It is in human nature to have strong desires of the heart, strong and imperative even as hunger and thirst; and these desires will go out after things that can be seen and felt, enjoyed with the senses. To whom these things may of right belong is, alas! a secondary consideration with many men. They simply do not reflect upon it at all. Life resolves itself into a struggle between him who wants and him who has, and, if the truth must be spoken, the victor in such a struggle is practically a robber. There may be no physical violence, no shedding of blood; but if there is the enriching of one's self at the expense of another, then the essential wrong is present. Let us allow the covetous man whatever credit there may be in this, that he does not form his covetous designs for any pleasure that he has in rapacity, but rather that he is rapacious in order to carry out his covetous designs. He wants to be rich and strong, and the only way he can do it is by crushing others into poverty. Hence this is reckoned an unavoidable accompaniment. It never strikes men of this sort that there is a more excellent way to satisfy and exhilarate the heart. God's eye is upon this universal desire for large possessions, and he can make a Divine and truly wise use of the desire. He turns our thoughts to the heavenly, the unseen, the eternal. Man does well in having the largest views as to possessions; he does well in looking to an immense increase of goods. It is a grand thing when he can pull down his barns and build greater, if it is only spiritual wealth that he is heaping up. In this gathering of goods there is no spoiling of the brethren, leaving them hungry, naked, and unsheltered. The spiritual wealth of the godly man makes poverty to none. Nay, rather—beautiful contrast-the richer he becomes, the richer he makes all with whom he comes in living contact.—Y.
Healing the hurt slightly.
There is here an illustration of the false dealing referred to in the previous verse—an illustration from the prophets in particular, and, as might be expected, the specimen given shows how seriously this false dealing affected the prospects of the nation. There is, it will be observed, a plain statement of the matter wherein the prophets were deceivers; and there is also a figure setting forth the practical result of the deception.
I. CONSIDER THE PLAIN STATEMENT OF THAT WHEREIN THE PROPHETS ARE FOUND LIARS. They say, "Peace, peace; when there is no peace." The plain statement comes later than the figure, but it is needful to consider it first. War, invasion, humiliating conquest,—these had been threatened by the true prophet, but the false prophets come in and declare that there shall be peace. The word "peace' was probably one of the ordinary mutual salutations of the people; and these prophets, going out into the public places when war had been threatened, may have thrown into the salutation a special emphasis, as much as to say, "This Jeremiah speaks a lie when he prophesies war." And this word of the prophets showed that they did not comprehend where the hostility really lay. The hostile relations between the invading human hosts and Israel amounted to the merest trifle compared with the hostility between Jehovah and those who had been named as his people. The essence of the struggle lay, not in its being a struggle between invader and invaded, but between rightful Master and rebellious servants. The invader indeed may not have been conscious of any particular enmity against Israel. The chief passion in his heart may have been nothing more than savage lust for the exercise of force and the acquirement of spoil. But between God and his people there was a deep breach in all right relations. God wars against them, and therefore they were not to suppose that peace was secured, even if they kept on amicable terms with foreign nations. But, in truth, no amount of finessing, parading, and boasting could keep them permanently right with foreign nations. To suppose this was to suppose that they could pluck the weapons of God's chastening anger from his firm grasp. When God takes the wicked to become his sword, his sword they are, to be wielded with no uncertain efficacy. Men make the blunder of thinking there is peace, when they have only conciliated what enemies they can see and hear into invisibility and silence.
II. CONSIDER THE FIGURE WHICH ADDS TO THE FORCE OF THE PLAIN STATEMENT. It is a figure, which does much to bring to the individual Israelite the serious consequences of this false dealing on the part of the prophets. War, while always a national disaster and anxiety, may leave individuals unscathed; nay, there are always a few who manage to build up some sort of prosperity and renown by successful war. But here is a figure, which speaks of healing and of hurt, and of these who have to heal the hurt. The prophet is set forth as the surgeon, whose business it is to enter the home and put fight again the malady that may be afflicting some member of it. This figure, too, it will be observed, tells us something of the feeling of the people, and thereby goes beyond the plain statement as to the false dealing of the prophets.
1. There is a consciousness that all is not right. There is a hurt. There is something to be healed. There is a sense of uneasiness, a sense which somehow must be taken away. The words of Jeremiah inflict superficial wounds and bruises at the least. There is a pain in the inward consciousness which is like the slashing of a whip upon the tender skin. Such messages as those which God put into the prophet's mouth were sure to hurt the pride of a nation, and rouse its patriotism into egotistic fury. Then we may be sure that some of the people would feel that the prophet might be speaking the truth. Some things he said were undeniable. The idol-worship was plain; so were the trickery and oppression which abounded in the common life of the people. And all this sense of uneasiness, which is really the sign that conscience is not utterly dead, only needs to be treated rightly in order to be roused into a vigorous life.
2. The nature of the hurt is misunderstood. This is the least that can be said. It may have been understood by some of the prophets, and yet, for their own base purposes, misrepresented. Jeremiah describes the hurt by its true name. The word in the Hebrew is a very strong word, meaning something very serious, something which demands great skill and effort, if it is to be put right. Who can exaggerate the seriousness of the crisis, when some malady going to the very heart of a man seems to awaken no corresponding alarm, either in his own mind or in the mind of his physician? And what a serious charge to bring against a physician if he seeks to lull alarm by making out the trouble to be a mere trifle! Yet this is just what many do. When the sense of unrest gets into the life, it is counted but as a physical illness. Change of air and scene are prescribed for symptoms which can only be permanently removed by change of heart. The more worldly and unspiritual a man is, the more dogmatism, recklessness, and overbearing arrogance he will show in lecturing those who have become disturbed in their consciences.
3. There is thus declared to be healing, when there is not the slightest possibility of it. Assurances are given which have no real foundation in anything the assurer knows or has done. He has been giving great attention to the visible cuts and bruises, and the deep, internal, organic injury is more firmly fixed than ever. Men will thus play the physician, try to get credit for their skill, and do untold harm, when they ought rather, in all humility and modesty, to confess their ignorance.—Y.
The ancient paths to be sought and walked in.
I. THE ADDRESS IS TO THOSE WHO ARE ALREADY WALKING IN A CERTAIN WAY. There is activity of the whole life, a conscious and chosen activity. We are sometimes spoken of as being asleep and needing to be awakened out of sleep, and even as being dead and needing to be renewed to life; but here there is rather an approach to the other extreme in the aspect of sinful man that is presented. One kind of movement in human life lies beyond choice. Man must move on, from birth, through time, into eternity. This is a movement which, as he does not produce it, so neither can he in the least retard it. But now we are called to notice another kind of movement, that which man chooses—emphatically chooses—and into which he throws oftentimes his whole energy. Thus there is no man but what is in a path which he has chosen. However much he may seem to be the sport of circumstances, yet it will be found, in the complete inspection of his heart, that he loves to have circumstances moving him rather than that he should do what he can towards controlling circumstances. Moreover, the address is to those who are walking in a wrong way. Evidently they are persisting in it. And it is not only wrong, but seriously, even fatally, wrong. Yet, though the address is to those in the wrong way, there is every reason why those who happily are in the right way should also consider the appeal. If it is very difficult to turn from the wrong way into the right, it is very easy to make some divergence, at first imperceptible, from the right way, and so become most dangerously entangled in the wrong one.
II. THERE IS AN APPEAL TO THOSE ADDRESSED, TO GIVE THE MATTER IN QUESTION MOST EARNEST CONSIDERATION. There is surely a great deal in these two words, see and ask. The difference between right and wrong is also the difference between the soul's highest bliss and deepest misery; but it is a difference only to be comprehended when the soul is thoroughly in earnest to get to the bottom of all that is involved in the difference Hence we are told to look; and we must be sure that we see as we ought to see. It is quite possible to have eyes and to look towards a thing, and yet to be practically blind, not discerning the real nature of it. A man's ways may be right in his own eyes; he may think the warnings of others, or the differing course that they take, to be mere scrupulosity, ending in nothing. Wherefore a man is to distrust his eyes, and add to what they may tell him the information to be gotten by the hearing of the ear. It is interesting to notice how sometimes the eye confirms the ear, and sometimes the ear the eye. Here the man is to make the tongue follow the eye, asking to follow upon seeing; so that he may get information on a matter of the utmost moment from authorities on whom he may depend with the utmost confidence. We must not dare to blame any one but ourselves if we make some gross error in the conduct of our life. God knows how easily the children of men wander; and so he expects them to do all they can by way of making sure that they are in the right road. Consider how alert some people are, in travelling by rail, lest perchance an omitted inquiry may send them in a wrong direction. A prudent man will never miss his way for want of asking. Yet these very people, who are reckoned prudent in such a small matter as finding their way from one place to another on the surface of the earth, are indifferent to an event which it is awful to contemplate, when they are told to see and ask if they be in the right way for eternity.
III. OBSERVE THE DEFINITENESS WHICH IS GIVEN TO THE LOOKING AND THE ASKING. Man is not sent out on a vague quest, with nothing to guide and to limit him. If he will look where God points, and ask the questions which God puts into his mouth, his quest will soon be at an end. The right path is indicated by infallible signs. It is the ancient one; the way which began to he trodden, not one or two generations back, but as far back as the record of human relations extends. The right way is older than the wrong. The way appointed for the first progenitors of mankind, when they stepped out where none had been before them, is the way for us. As to essentials, Christ points out no different way from that which Adam was set to travel. Adam's path was to be the path of strict attention, so that he might understand God's will; of strict obedience in doing the will when understood; and of perfect trust in God, feeling that his commandments for his dependent and finite creatures were the best, even though reasons for them might not be given. The most ancient of all paths prescribed for men is that of a willing handing over of one's life to the will of that wise, loving, and holy One who is supreme. All that Christ has told us, all he has done for us, is for the purpose of leading us into an effectual compliance with the requirement. Does not the experience of Enoch show that the right path is an ancient one? What more can be said of the most devoted Christian, rich in all the resources of grace, than that he has walked with God? What else can there be but true good and rest undisturbed when one is under the immediate influence of that God whose own peace knows not the slightest invasion amid all the commotion of the universe? Real rest, a rest to the heart, was wanted by these people of Israel, and all that was so much wanted would surely come if only the ancient paths were found and once more frequented.—Y.
Sweet and fragrant things made abominable to God.
I. OBSERVE THE TROUBLE WHICH MEN WHO ARE REALLY UNGODLY MAY TAKE IN CONNECTION WITH RELIGION. Real religion means, of course, a great deal of trouble and self-denial, watchfulness and prayer. But when there is only the appearance of religion, there may also be much trouble, considerable time may be appropriated, and there may be considerable expenditure of money. So it was here. Materials for holy service were brought from a far country, and, being probably expensive in themselves, they would become more expensive still by the distance they had to be brought. The expense would also look greater because it was on articles which were not manifestly a necessity of life. Men must spend money for food and raiment and a roof to shelter them, and out of the money so spent they plainly get something; but here, in return for all the trouble and cost of getting the incense, etc; to Jerusalem, there is a very plain intimation that the offering of it does not effect the slightest good, does not in the least improve the position of those who offer. And this very rejection by Jehovah makes us see more clearly the trouble these people took. For we may be sure that the word through Jeremiah would not stop them in their offerings, useless as they were. The less there is of intelligent and pure devotion in religion, the more there is of superstitious, terrified clinging to habitual outward forms; and the same kind of action continues still, in many ways and in all communions. People without any real love to God in their hearts, or real submission to him, go through a great deal in the way of forms and ceremonies, and delude themselves with the notion that somehow they will be the better for it all.
II. OBSERVE THE CERTAINTY THAT THIS TROUBLE IS ALL IN VAIN. Those who bring the offerings are not left in even the slightest doubt. They have not the excuse of being able to say that in some way or other, which they do not understand, there will come a benefit out of their offerings. There is a refusal in the most decided and solemn way. Although these gifts may find their way into the house of God, and the altar itself be used in connection with them, they are not therefore accepted. They are just as much refused as a gift would be if the bringer of it had the door of the house where he brought it slammed in his face.
III. THE REASON OF THE REFUSAL. Though not here expressed, the reason, from what is said elsewhere, is perfectly plain. These gifts, sweet and fragrant as they are in themselves, become an insult because of the men who bring them Growing in their natural place, they play their part in adding to the beauty and perfume of God's world; but now the fragrant has become as it were stinking, because of the defiled hands through which it has passed. What men bring to God they must bring with clean hands and a pure heart. The great use of these gifts with their pleasant qualities was to signify what was sweet and fragrant and devoted in the hearts of the people. But when God knew that the gifts were bestowed through superstition or formality, or through the fear lest neglect might bring disaster on some cherished scheme, how could he accept these gifts? Consider further how, in many instances at least, the money was got that procured these gifts. They were the fruits of robbery, fraud, and oppression. When we read how some of the spoils of conquest in ancient times not infrequently went to enrich an idol temple, how thankful we should be that in God's Word there is such plain dealing with those who think that some great gift to religious uses can condone their wickedness. Then, of course, in such cases the greater the expense of a man's religion the greater also was the amount that had to be gotten in wrongful ways. The Pharisee extortioner had to give several extra turns to the screw in order that he might get just that special sum which was needed to keep up his reputation as a religious man.—Y.
Two important things are to be remembered with regard to the meaning of the words in this verse.
1. That Jeremiah uses the same Hebrew verb where we have the two different words, "reprobate" and "rejected." What Jeremiah really says is that the silver hears the name "rejected silver," because Jehovah has rejected it.
2. The verb employed is commonly used to signify the action which is opposed to choosing; e.g. in Isaiah 7:15 the time is spoken of when a child becomes able to reject the evil and to choose the good, and in Isaiah 41:8, Isaiah 41:9 there is a still more striking instance, because of its bearing on the words now under consideration. These are the words: "Thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not rejected thee." Thus it will be seen that we are not simply to think of rejection over against approval. Silver ore, being put through the most searching test possible, may respond to the test by coming out approved silver. But he who is thus able to approve is not necessarily in the position which requires him to choose. He may only have the duty of an assay agent, which stops with reporting the result of his test; he who has employed is the man to make the choice. Now, God tries in order that he may decide for himself whether to choose or reject; e.g. he rejected Saul from reigning over Israel, which of course means that, from the hour of rejection, Saul's throne was considered vacant. We can now proceed to point out the truths implied in this verse.
1. There can be no adequate discernment of the merit or demerit of any man unless by God himself. Only when God rejects can the stamp "rejected" be put on any one. Men may set up their canons of approval; they may apply their tests, philosophical, or political, or literary, or even theological. They may reject and excommunicate, pursuing with fiercest hatred all who are not approved according to their tests. Thus there will be a partial and temporary rejection, but since it comes from no adequate inquiry, the rejection itself will be rejected by a higher authority. Of this we have a conspicuous, we may even say the supreme, instance in Psalms 118:22, "The stone which the builders rejected [the same Hebrew word as Jeremiah uses, be it observed] is become the head of the corner." It may be, indeed, that he whom some men reject may in the end be rejected by God also, but it will be for very different reasons.
2. The reasons for rejection we must try to discover. The Lord rejects those who claim to be accepted. He will reject the claim when it is that of mere national descent, as when Jesus said to the proud Jews who opposed him, that out of the stones he could make children to Abraham. God rejects all mere formal acknowledgment of him; it is not enough to say, "Lord, Lord." He rejects all that is the mere exercise and effort of intellectual faculties. In short, he rejects all that does not begin with a complete acceptance of Christ, and hence go on in the spirit of entire submission to him. Illustrations of what prompts to rejection are furnished both before and after this verse, e.g. in verse 20, where the incense, etc; is rejected, i.e. of course, the men who offer the incense, and in Jeremiah 7:14, where the admired temple is threatened with overthrow. A mere building is shown to be nothing in God's sight unless it is frequented by such as are themselves acceptable to him. Observe also, in ascertaining the reason for rejection, how the word "silver" is kept. The thing tested is rejected, not because it is counterfeit, but because it is persistently impure. It will not yield up those baser elements which are so intimately blended with it, and effectually destroy the value and hide the luster of the pure silver. And yet remember how high rejected man rises above rejected silver. Man in his freedom may relent from his stubbornness and submit to those renewing and purifying processes which will result in the silver being approved and chosen.
3. There is no chance of establishing and commending what the Lord rejects. Saul did his best to struggle against the Divine decision, but there is no more pitiable sight in all the records of kingship than that which he presents in the struggle. We also must reject those whom God rejects; and there can be no mistake about it that we must reject those who reject God—such as are spoken of in 2 Kings 17:15, those who rejected the statutes of God and the covenant that he had made with their fathers, and the testimonies which he testified against them.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 6". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17