Ch. 7-10.—Severe rebukes of idolatry alternating with announcements of the impending judgment. The circumstances connected with this discourse, or part thereof, appear to be detailed in Jeremiah 26:1-24. Among the parallelisms between the two sections, notice especially the reference to the fate of the temple of Shiloh (comp. Jeremiah 26:14 with Jeremiah 26:6). The date of the original utterance of the prophecy is thus fixed for one of the early years of the reign of Jehoiakim. Jeremiah 10:1-16, however, requires separate consideration.
The Divine requirements and the corresponding promise.
Stand in the gate; i.e. not an outer gate (for the outer court would be filled with the people whom Jeremiah was to address), but one of the three gates which led from the inner court to the outer. Probably it was the gate where Baruch recited the prophecies of Jeremiah at a later period, and which is designated "the new gate of the Lord's house," and said to have been situated in the "upper" i.e. inner court (Jeremiah 36:10; comp. Jeremiah 26:10). We may conjecture that either one of the three great festivals or some extraordinary fast had brought a large number of people together at the temple.
The temple of the Lord. Notice the iteration of the phrase, as if its very sound were a charm against evil. It reminds us of the performances of the howling dervishes at Cairo, who "sometimes remain for hours, incessantly shouting the Muslim confession of faith (la ilaha, etc.)". The phrase is repeated three times to express earnestness of the speakers (comp. Jeremiah 22:29, "O earth, earth, earth"). These false prophets evidently retained a large amount of the old materialistic faith of the Semitic nations (to whom the Israelites belonged by race), which localized the presence and the power of the divinity. The temple was, in fact, their palladium, and as long as it stood, the national independence appeared to them to be secured. They faithfully handed on the teaching of those prophets of the last generation, who, as Micah tells us (Micah 3:11), were wont to "lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us." How Isaiah met this error we may collect from Isaiah 28:16 (see my Commentary). Are these; i.e. these buildings.
If ye thoroughly amend, etc.; a development of the ides of Jeremiah 7:3. The true palladium of Judah would be the faithful performance of Jehovah's moral laws, especially those referring to the conduct of the rulers. Observe the stress which all the prophets lay on the virtues of civil life.
The stranger, the fatherless, and the widow; specially commended to the care of the Israelites (Exodus 22:21, Exodus 22:22—a passage belonging to one of the most evidently primitive portions of the Pentateuch; Deuteronomy 24:17, Deuteronomy 24:19, Deuteronomy 24:21; Deuteronomy 27:19; comp. Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 10:2; Ezekiel 22:7). In plus; i.e. specially in Jerusalem, but not altogether excluding the rest of the kingdom (see Jeremiah 7:3, Jeremiah 7:7).
Forever and ever. It is doubtful, both here and in Jeremiah 25:5, whether these words should be joined to "gave" or "cause you to dwell." Still, the latter connection is both in itself the more probable one, and that suggested first of all by the accentuation. It was not the extent of the original premise, but that of the enjoyment of the gift, which was in question. A more exact rendering of the prophet's formula is that of the Septuagint ἐξ αἰῶνος καὶ ἕως αἰῶνος: i.e. from the most remote antiquity to the most distant future.
The formalism of Jewish religion exposed. The lesson of Shiloh.
Lying words; such as those quoted in Jeremiah 7:4.
Will ye steal, etc.? rather, What I stealing, murdering, etc.? The construction is formed by a series of infinitives, preceded by an interrogative expressing extreme surprise, equivalent to "Is this your way of life—a course of theft, and so forth?"
And come, etc.; rather, and then ye come, etc. We are delivered to do, etc.; rather, we have escaped, in order to do, etc. To make the concluding words of the verse a part of the speech seems hardly fair to the Jews, who would certainly not proclaim that they had made their escape from the threatened judgment with the object of prosecuting abominable acts. Such a view, moreover, greatly weakens the force of the emphatic "We have escaped." "In order to do," etc; are the words of the prophet, who thus lays bare the secret intentions of these formal worshippers.
Even I have seen it; understand, "and I will therefore destroy the house which gives shelter to evil-doers."
But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh. Jeremiah attacks this false confidence in the temple of Jerusalem, by pointing to the destruction of an earlier sanctuary, of which very little is known, indeed only so much as to give an edge to our desire for more. It is certain, from Joshua 18:1 and 1 Samuel 4:3, that the tabernacle and the ark found a resting-place at Shiloh (an Ephraimitish town to the north of Bethel), nearly the whole of the period of the judges, or more exactly between the latter days of Joshua (Joshua 18:1) and the death of Eli (1 Samuel 4:3). Manifestly, then, there must have been some sort of "house," i.e. temple, at Shiloh; a mere tent would not have been sufficient for so long a period. This presumption is confirmed by the language of Jeremiah, and by the expressions of the narrative books. The fate which the prophet is bidden to announce for the existing temple is analogous to that which fell upon "Jehovah's place in Shiloh." The latter was, therefore, not merely a deportation of the ark, such as is referred to in 1 Samuel 5:1-12. And when the narrator of the times of Samuel speaks of Eli as "sitting by the door-post of the temple of Jehovah" (1 Samuel 1:9), is it more natural to suppose t the word "temple" is here applied to the tabernacle, or that there was really a house, however rude, as sacred in the eyes of the faithful as was afterwards the splendid temple at Jerusalem? The latter view is strongly confirmed by 18:31, "All the time that the house of God in Shiloh existed" (Authorized Version is misleading), and 19:18, where the Levite travelling to Mount Ephraim says, "I am going to the house of Jehovah." It is no doubt strange at first sight that so little information is given us as to this central sanctuary of the true religion; but are there not other omissions (especially in the history of the judges), which are equally strange as long as we look upon the Old Testament as primarily an historical document? We do know something, however, and more than is generally suspected; for when the right translation is restored in 18:31, it follows, from a comparison of this and the preceding verse, that the temple of Shiloh was destroyed simultaneously with the captivity of the northern tribes. The impression produced by this emphatic announcement of Jeremiah is revealed to us by a later passage in his book (see Jeremiah 26:1-24.).
Rising up early and speaking; i.e. speaking zealously and continually (so Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 25:4; Jeremiah 26:5; Jeremiah 29:19). It is an expression peculiar to Jeremiah.
To Shiloh. Shiloh and the temple of Shiloh are interchanged, precisely as Jerusalem and the temple of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 26:9; Micah 3:12).
I will cast you out of my sight; viz. into a foreign land (see Deuteronomy 29:28). The land of Israel was in a special sense "Jehovah's land" (Hosea 9:3; Le 25:23). Ephraim; here used for the northern tribes collectively, as Isaiah 7:2; Hosea 4:17; Hosea 5:9; Hosea 12:1.
The hypocrisy of the worship of Jehovah proved; its punishment.
Pray not thou for this people. Abraham prayed for Sodom (Genesis 18:23-32); Moses and Samuel for Israel (Exodus 32:11-14; Exodus 17:11; Numbers 14:13-20; Psalms 106:23; 1 Samuel 7:9, 1 Samuel 7:10; 1 Samuel 12:17, 1 Samuel 12:18, 1 Samuel 12:23); and Jeremiah would fain perform the same pious duty to his people. We have a specimen of his intercession in Jeremiah 14:19-22 (comp. Jeremiah 18:20), followed immediately by a rejection of his prayer, parallel in thought to the present passage. Verbal parallels are Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11. Cry; i.e. cry for help (see on Jeremiah 14:12); parallel with "prayer," as Jeremiah 11:14; Psalms 17:1, Psalms 61:1.
In the streets. A climax. Them is no sense of shame left.
The children … the fathers … the women. All ages were represented in this idolatrous act, thus justifying the sweeping character of the judgment as described in Jeremiah 6:11. Cakes (comp. Jeremiah 44:19). The word is peculiar (kavvanim), and perhaps entered Palestine together with the foreign rite to which the cakes belonged. Various conjectures have been offered as to their nature, but without any demonstrable ground. Sacrificial cakes were not uncommon. Hosea refers to the luscious raisin-cakes used by idolaters (Hosea 3:1). To the queen of heaven. This title of a divinity only occurs in Jeremiah (here and in Jeremiah 44:17-19, Jeremiah 44:25). It reminds us, first, of titles (such as "queen of the gods") of the Babylonic-Assyrian goddesses, Bilat (Beltis) and Istar, who, though divided in later times, were "originally but two forms of the same goddess" (Sayce, Transactions of Society of Biblical Archaeology, 3.169). It is, however, perhaps an objection to the view that Bilat or Istar is intended, that neither here nor in Jeremiah 44:1-30. is there any allusion to that characteristic lascivious custom which was connected in Babylonia with the worship of Istar (Herod; 1.199). The phrase has, however, another association. It reminds us, in the second place, of the Egyptian goddess Neith, "the mother of the gods." The first mention of "the queen of heaven" in Jeremiah occurs in the reign of Jehoiakim, who was placed on the throne by Pharaoh-Necho, one of the Saite dynasty (Says was the seat of the worship of Neith). If the "queen of heaven" were a Babylonic-Assyrian goddess, we should have looked for the introduction of her cultus at an earlier period (e.g. under Ahaz). But it was in accordance with the principles of polytheism (and the mass of the Jews had an irresistible tendency to polytheism), to adopt the patron-deity of the suzerain. Subsequently Judah became the subject of Nebuchadnezzar; thus it was equally natural to give up the worship of an Egyptian deity. Jewish colonists in Migdol would as naturally revert to the cultus of the Egyptian "mother of the gods". The form of the word rendered "queen" being very uncommon, another reading, pronounced in the same way, obtained currency. This should be rendered, not "frame," or "workmanship", but "service." The context, however, evidently requires a person.
Do they provoke me, etc.? literally, Is it me that they provoke (or, vex)? Is it not themselves
Upon man, and upon beast. That all creation shares in the curse of man is repeatedly affirmed in the Old Testament as well as the New. Inferentially, this doctrine appears from the narrative of the Fall, and still more clearly from Isaiah's description of Paradise regained (Isaiah 11:1-16). Hosea speaks of sufferings of the animals arising out of the guilt of Israel (Hosea 4:3), and a consciousness of the "solidarity" of all living creatures is ascribed to a Ninevite king in the Book of Jonah (Jonah 3:7, Jonah 3:8). In general, the origin of this community of suffering is left mysterious, but in Genesis 6:12 it is expressly stated as the cause of the Deluge, that "all flesh [i.e. both man and beast.] had corrupted its way upon the earth;" i.e. apparently, that contact with man had led to a corruption of the original innocence of the lower animals. It is a common experience that intercourse between Christianized (not to say civilized) man and the domestic animals produces a sometimes pathetic change in the psychic phenomena of the latter. Is the reverse process utterly inconceivable?
Jeremiah dispels the illusion that God's claims are satisfied by a merely formal service.
Put your burnt offerings, etc. Throw all your sacrifices into a mass, and eat them at your pleasure. Ye have my perfect permission, for they are of no religions value. According to the Law, the burnt offerings were to be entirely consumed by fire, while the other sacrifices were mostly eaten by the offerers and by their friends. There is a touch of contempt in the phrase, eat flesh; they are merely pieces of flesh, and ye may eat them.
I spake not unto your fathers, etc. An important and much-disputed passage, from which Graf, Colenso, and Kuenen derive one of their chief subsidiary arguments for the post-Exile date of the Levitical legislation. The prophet here appears to deny in tote that Jehovah at Mount Sinai had given any injunctions on the subject of sacrifice. But the prophet must at any rate be consistent with himself; he cannot utter anything by Divine command which is fundamentally at variance with other equally authoritative declarations. Do the statements of Jeremiah elsewhere justify us in accepting the words in their literal, superficial meaning? There are three other passages which have a claim to be considered. In Jeremiah 17:26 the prophet draws a picture of the happy condition in which the Jews might be, were they only obedient. One of the features of this picture is that the Jews would still bring all the various kinds of sacrifices to the house of Jehovah. In Jeremiah 31:14 a similar description is closed with the promise to "satiate the soul of the priests with fatness," implying that there would be a great abundance of thank offerings in regenerate Israel. In Jeremiah 33:11, among other blessings of the future, the prophet mentions the praiseful exclamations of those who would bring the sacrifice of thanksgiving. These passages do not contain any statement respecting the origin of the sacrificial system; but they do expressly assert that Jehovah contemplates that system with pleasure, and apparently that he designs it to be permanent among his people Israel. Let us now turn to Jeremiah 33:17-24. Here the prophet, in the Name of Jehovah, declares that there is a Divine covenant "with the Levites, the priests," who shall never "want a man before me … to do sacrifice continually." A covenant with the priests implies a covenant with the people, the priests being the representatives of the people. This passage, therefore, is more distinct than those previously quoted; it does appear to maintain that the range of the Sinaitic covenant included the duties of the priesthood, i.e. sacrifices. On the other hand, it should be observed that the genuineness of this latter passage is not beyond dispute, the whole section in which it occurs (Jeremiah 33:14-26) being omitted in the Septuagint. We have now to inquire, Is there a real discrepancy between the words of Jeremiah (strictly speaking, of Jehovah) in the verse now before us, interpreted literally, and the passages adduced above? Are they more inconsistent than such an utterance as Jeremiah 6:20 (first half of verse), which appears to deny the utility of sacrifices altogether? If the latter may be explained as a forcible oratorical exaggeration, why not also the present passage? Jeremiah sees the people attaching a pernicious importance to the opus operatum of sacrifice. On one occasion he tells them that Jehovah cares not for sacrifices; he means, as the context shows, the sacrifices of men without spiritual sensibilities. On another, that Jehovah never commanded their fathers to sacrifice; he means the mere outward forms of the ritual, divorced from the sentiment and practice of piety, which, as Hosea tells us (Hosea 6:6), Jehovah "delights in and not [equivalent to 'more than'] sacrifice." There is, therefore, no fundamental inconsistency between the passage before us and the three passages first quoted, and if so there can be no real discrepancy with the last-mentioned passage, for the priests (as was remarked) perform their functions on behalf of the people, and the permanence of Jehovah's covenant with the priests depended on the spiritual life of the people they represented (read Jeremiah 33:1-26, as a whole). This view seems less arbitrary than that of Ewald, who thinks that the sacrifices spoken of in our passage are merely the free-will offerings of the rich; and than that of Dahler, who interprets, "My chief care was not to prescribe rules for holocausts and sacrifices, but this is what I commanded thee above all," viz. moral obedience. According to it, the prophet's denial is not absolute, but relative—relative, that is, to the notion of sacrifices entertained by the Jews whom he addresses. Of course, Graf's view, that the denial is absolute, will equally well suit the context. The people were surprised at Jeremiah's objurgations, because they thought they had fulfilled the claims of the covenant. Jeremiah's purpose is equally well fulfilled whether his denial is qualified or unqualified, absolute or relative. Our object has been to separate the exegesis of our passage from a still doubtful controversy, and to offer a tenable view of it, based upon grounds purely internal to Jeremiah. It may be suggested, however, to the student of Leviticus, that even if the Levitical legislation in its present form were proved to be of a pest-Exile date, it would still be doubtful whether any believing temple-worshipper could help assuming that Jehovah had, from the first existence of the nation, given his direct sanction to the offering of sacrifices. If so, it is comparatively unimportant (except with regard to the progressive revelation of the strictness of the law of truth) whether the Levitical code was given to Moses at Mount Sinai in its present form or not.
But this thing … Obey my voice, etc. Comp. Deuteronomy 6:3, "Hear [the verb rendered here 'obey'] therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee," etc. The words, I will be your God; rather, to you a God, etc; occur in Le Deuteronomy 26:12 (comp. Exodus 6:7; Deuteronomy 29:13). Walk ye in all the ways, etc; is not a citation, but reminds us of passages like Deuteronomy 9:12, Deuteronomy 9:16; Deuteronomy 11:28; Deuteronomy 31:29. That it may be well unto you is a characteristic phrase of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 43:6; Jeremiah 38:20; Jeremiah 40:9); but is also frequent in Deuteronomy (comp; besides the passage quoted above, Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 5:16; Deuteronomy 6:18; Deuteronomy 12:25).
Imagination; rather, stubbornness (see on Jeremiah 3:17). Went backward, and not forward; rather, turned their back, and not their face (literally, became backwards, and not forwards).
Therefore thou shalt speak etc. rather, and though thou speak … yet will they not, etc.; and though thou call unto them, yet will they not answer thee.
But thou shalt say; rather, thou shalt therefore say. A nation; rather, the nation. "What one nation in the earth is like thy people, even like Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to himself?" (2 Samuel 7:23). And yet "this is the nation that have not hearkened," etc. Truth; rather, good faith (as Jeremiah 5:1). Is cut off from their mouth; i.e. their oaths to Jehovah are false oaths (Jeremiah 5:2).
Tophet, the greatest of all abominations; the beginning of the Divine retribution.
Cut off thine hair. The "daughter of Zion," i.e. the community of Jerusalem, is addressed; this appears from the verb being in the feminine. It is a choice expression which the prophet employs—literally, shear off thy crown (i.e. thy chief ornament). The act was to be a sign of mourning (see Job 1:20; Micah 1:16). Some think there is also a reference to the vow of the Nazarite (the word for "crown" being here nezer, which is also the word rendered in Authorized Version, "separation," i.e. "consecration," in the law of the Nazarite (Numbers 6:1-27.). But neither in this context nor anywhere else have we any support for the application of the term "Nazarite" to the people of Israel. On high places; rather, on (the) bare hills (see on Jeremiah 3:21). The generation of his wrath; i.e. on which his wrath is to be poured out (comp. Isaiah 10:6).
They have set their abominations, etc.; alluding, doubtless, to the altars which Manasseh built "for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of Jehovah," and especially to the image of the Canaanitish goddess Asherah, which he set up in the temple itself (2 Kings 21:5, 2 Kings 21:7).
The high places of Tophet; rather, the high places of the Topheth—(on the "high places" (Hebrew bamoth)—here probably artificial mounds to erect the altars upon, and on "the Topheth," see Commentary on 1 Kings). In the valley of the son of Hinnom. Hitzig and others would take Hinnom as a noun meaning "groaning" (Rashi, the great Jewish commentator. had already proposed this view), which is at first sight very plausible. But this name of the valley is already found in the description of the boundaries of Judah and Benjamin in Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16. To burn their sons, etc. (On the worship of Moloch (Saturn), see on Le Joshua 18:21, and comp. Ezekiel 16:20, Ezekiel 16:21, from which it appears that the children were first slain before being "caused to pass through the fire.")
The valley of slaughter; with reference to the great slaughter reserved for the unbelieving Jews. The scene of their sin shall be that of their punishment. Till there be no place; rather, for want of room (elsewhere).
And the carcasses etc.; almost verbally identical with Deuteronomy 28:26.
The land shall be desolate; rather, shall become a waste. The curse denounced upon the disobedient people in Le 26:31, 33 (for another parallel between this chapter and Leviticus 26:1-46; see Leviticus 26:23). In both passages the word for "waste" is khorbah, which, as Dr. Payne Smith remarks, is "used only of places which, having once been inhabited, have then fallen into ruin." Hebrew is rich in synonyms for the idea of "desolation."
I. THE OCCASION. It was in the gate of the temple, where the crowd of worshippers would pass, and at the time of their going up to worship.
1. In a public place,
2. At the entrance to the place of worship, because
II. THE ACCUSATION. The Jews are not accused of Church sins, neglecting religious ordinances, etc. Their sins were against common morality.
1. Though men may be very observant of religious ordinances they may yet be guilty of the grossest wickedness (verse 6).
2. God is most concerned with our conduct in daily life. Here is the true life, the life which occupies the larger part of our time, engages most of our energies, gives freest scope for good or evil.
III. THE EXHORTATION. Practical amendment is sought.
1. There must be an amending. Repentance is not merely sorrow for the past; it is a change of desire and effort for the future.
2. This must be practical. The Jews are to amend their ways. True repentance is more a matter of conduct than of emotion, it must bring forth fruits (Matthew 3:8).
3. This must be definite. Particular sins are specified as to be abandoned (verse 6). Men must repent of their own sins, their characteristic sins, their habitual sins. We are too ready to renounce the sins which do not belong to us, and to pass over our most familiar sins unnoticed.
4. This must be thorough. The Jews are to "thoroughly amend" their ways. A half-hearted repentance is a mockery. As well not flee from the City of Destruction at all as linger regretfully about its vicinity like Lot's wife, only to suffer a similar fate to hers.
IV. THE ADMONITION. The Jews are warned of the danger of a false ground of confidence (verse 4), and threatened with approaching judgment.
1. If we believe that men are in danger, that is a false charity which hides the danger out of consideration for feelings of mere temporary comfort.
2. There is an advantage in using the minatory language of Scripture, though
V. THE PROMISE. (Verse 7.) Repentance is to be followed by forgiveness and the restoration of favor. God charges us with our sins, and threatens judgments, all in love that he may thus lead us to safety and blessedness. The most wicked men may find forgiveness and ultimate salvation if they will but repent and turn to God (verse 6).
The confidence of superstition.
I. CONFIDENT LANGUAGE IS NO GUARANTEE FOR A SECURE FOUNDATION OF TRUST. The Jews are vehement in exclamation; but their words are boastful without ground. Frequent repetition is no evidence of the truth of a saying. Yet, though against all reason, and by mere force of urgency, how many convictions have been thus forced on the belief of mankind! Trite sayings are commonly accepted for true sayings. We do not think to test the genuineness of the old worn coin so much as that of the new coin. We naturally believe that with which we are familiar. Indeed, we may persuade ourselves to believe almost anything by simply dwelling upon the idea of it till this becomes inseparable from our consciousness. And all this without the slightest reason!
II. THE SUPERSTITION OF RELIGION MAY BE FOUND IN MEN WHO HAVE LOST THE SPIRITUALITY OF IT. The Jews neglected the spiritual worship, which was all that was really valuable in the temple service, but they clung to the idea that there must be a sanctity about the very walls of the temple which would make it a place of safety for those who took shelter within them. Superstition is the disease of religion. When spiritual holiness is gone, a sanctity is ascribed to material things. They who have no faith in God may have strange faith in charms and spells, like the Jews who, perhaps, thought to work a charm by the threefold iteration of their cry, "The temple of the Lord," etc.
III. No REAL SECURITY CAN RE FOUND IN EXTERNAL THINGS. The temple building was no palladium to the bad men who sought refuge in it. It is vain to be near the Church if we are far from God. Religious ordinances, membership in a Church, official association with religion as priest, prophet, or minister, and the like outside affairs, contain no promise whatever of protection, and the man who shelters himself beneath the whole of them and does not seek spiritual shelter is as much exposed to the tempest of judgment as if he stood out in the open plain of bare infidelity.
IV. THE TRUE TEMPLE OF THE LORD IS THE HEART OF A GOOD MAN. God does not dwell in temples made with hands. Earthly temples of stone may represent his dwelling, but they cannot bring him nearer to men nor confine his presence within limits. But the soul of a good man is a real temple wherein God's Spirit truly abides and effectively operates (1 Corinthians 6:19). Such a temple is safe from all harm. Thus we must seek safety, not by entering a temple, but by becoming a temple—not by securing the external protection of holy things while the heart and life are unholy, but by receiving God within the heart and sanctifying the life to him.
The voice unheeded.
I. GOD IS EVER SPEAKING TO HIS CHILDREN. There is a Divine voice speaking, not to favored prophets in rare moments of spiritual elevation, but to all men, that all who will may hear. This voice comes to us in many forms.
1. The voice of nature—the proclamation of the power and wisdom of God in the awful, silent speech of the stars (Psalms 19:3), and the gentler language which tells of his tenderness and beneficence in the cheery songs of spring and the glad shout of the harvest.
2. The voice of history. God is in history, and speaks to us through the events of the past, warning by judgments (Jeremiah 7:12), inviting by acts of deliverance and gifts of mercy (see Psalms 105:1-45.).
3. The voice of providence in daily life. Has not God been speaking to us through our own experience—using various prophetic agencies—the advent of a new joy, the cloud of a great sorrow, a visitation of the angel of death to the home? Has he not repeatedly roused, invited, pleaded, and consoled us with voices from out eternity?
4. The voice of prophecy. God had often so spoken to the Jews before the days of Jeremiah, and reference is plainly made to this fact in the text. That voice still lives, because truth is eternal. Thus God speaks to us through the inspired thoughts of the Bible.
5. The voice of Christ. He is the "Word" of God made articulate in the dialect of men (John 1:1-14). He who sees Christ hears the voice of God.
6. The voice of conscience. This is God speaking within the soul. Every time we feel compunction at doing wrong, or an inward urging to do the right, God is pleading in our heart by direct communion, spirit with spirit.
II. THE VOICE OF GOD IS URGENT. God speaks with urgency—"rising up early and speaking."
1. The urgency of God's voice is a proof of his great love to his children. He speaks with frequency, repeating the same unheeded lesson, and even when none attend to his voice. God speaks to his children before they pray to him. The first impulse, to spiritual communion comes from God, not from us (Psalms 27:8). Christ stands at the door and knocks (Revelation 3:20). We may see in this an evidence of the long-suffering mercy of God—a mercy which "endureth forever," and we may see an encouragement to listen and turn to him. Still he "waiteth to be gracious."
2. The urgency of God's voice is a proof of the great importance of what he says. God is urgent. What tremendous destinies must turn on a question which even he must rouse and bestir himself about! We might expect that any voice from the awful majesty of God would be full of deep and vast meaning. What must be the significance of his words when even he speaks with earnest insistence, with pressing urgency? How can such an utterance be passed unheeded?
III. GOD'S VOICE IS OFTEN NOT HEEDED. He speaks with the authority of the majesty of heaven, with the yearning love of a Father, with the urgency which betokens matters of profound interest, and with a direct reference to the most fearful woe and the most glorious blessedness of his children. Yet men turn aside with indifference. What are the causes of this appalling wonder?
1. Spiritual deafness. There are men who have no ears for the voice of God. Yet God can open our ears if we are willing to hear.
2. Hatred to the highest truth. Men stop their ears against the sound of honest words which are hateful to sinful hearts.
3. Consciousness of guilt. Fearing words of doom, men refuse to hear any words from God; but
4. Unbelief. Doubt as to whether a voice is Divine is often natural, and if the doubt grows into widespread skepticism the cause may be intellectual rather than moral. Bat when once a voice is recognized as Divine, unbelief is distrust in God; is "making him a liar."
IV. THE REFUSAL TO GIVE HEED TO GOD'S VOICE IS A FATAL EVIL.
1. It aggravates guilt by adding to it
2. It leaves the purpose of God's voice unaffected. He urges and pleads with his children, but he does not force them to return to him. If they will not heed his voice that voice is lost upon them, and the ruin from which it would call them unaverted.
Certain prayers must be regarded as unlawful.
I. PRAYERS OF POSITIVE DEMAND. Many men pray as though they were dictating to God. Prayer is petition, not command. The suppliant should assume the attitude of a mendicant.
II. PRAYERS WHICH AIM AT TURNING THE WILL OF GOD. We may believe that God will do in answer to prayer what he would not do apart from prayer, because the very prayer may be the one essential condition which makes that fitting which would not be fitting without it. But this must be in accordance with God's will, which is always perfect, while ours is often evil.
III. PRAYERS FOR WHAT IS WRONG IN ITSELF. God cannot grant such prayers. We may pray for all men, but we may not pray for every imaginable favor to be given to all men. Thus it is wrong to pray that the impenitent wicked should not be punished. The purpose of the text seems to be just to forbid this prayer. Jeremiah is not to pray that the calamities he sees approaching may not fall on the guilty people. It would be bad for them and an outrage on justice that, while they refused to hear the Divine voice warning them of their danger and inviting them to the way of safety, God should hear the voice of any intercessor pleading that the threat should not be accomplished, and that the wicked people should be saved from just punishment.
Jeremiah endeavors to rouse a sense of guilt in his hearers by pointing to the sad downward course of their history when this is regarded in the light of Divine requirements and inducements to follow them.
I. THE DIVINE REQUIREMENTS. These were not for the offering of mere formal sacrifices, but for obedience to God in heart and conduct (1 Samuel 15:22). Men need to be repeatedly reminded of this fact, because there is a common tendency to separate religion from morality, to believe that God is pleased with the performance of Church services by those whose lives are spent in sin and selfishness, and that the devotions of the sanctuary atone for the wickedness of daily life. Jeremiah and the prophets generally teach
II. THE INDUCEMENTS TO FULFILL THESE REQUIREMENTS.
1. A clear statement of them. Jeremiah was not the first to reveal them. They were well known and easily understood.
2. Rewards promised for obedience. It would be "well with" the people if they walked in all the ways that God commanded them. Disobedience led to the Captivity. Obedience is the only condition on which we can enjoy liberty.
3. Repeated warnings. (Verse 25.) By all forms in which the Divine voice reaches us God is continually reminding us of his will and urging us to obedience.
III. THE CAUSES OF DECLENSION.
1. Inattention. "They hearkened not." People are too preoccupied by worldly concerns to give the requisite thought to higher interests.
2. Self-will. "They walked in the counsels and stubbornness of their evil heart." Men disobey through the conceit of superior knowledge and through the obstinacy of selfish aims.
IV. THE CHARACTER OF DECLENSION.
1. Departure from God. Israel turned "the back and not the face" to God. In disobeying the will of God we necessarily cease to walk with God, lose the light of his presence, become godless.
2. A constant deterioration of morals. The contemporaries of Jeremiah "did worse than their fathers." Progress is the natural order. But, left to itself, the leaven of wickedness will spread as surely as the seed of goodness would grow if that were allowed free development.
V. THE CONSEQUENCES OF DECLENSION.
1. Hardening against the reception of truth. (Verse 27.) The people have reduced themselves to such a condition that they cannot receive the prophet's message.
2. Inability to profit by correction. "This is a nation that … receiveth not correction" (verse 28).
3. Destruction of the value of religious services. The burnt offering should express the dedication of the worshipper. But as it does nothing of the kind, it is worthless, and may as well serve as flesh for a common meal (verse 21). Religion, which should be the inspiration of morality, is dead and powerless in the hands of people of corrupt lives. The noblest exercise of humanity is thus reduced to a nullity.
Horrors of retribution.
I. THERE IS REASON TO BELIEVE THAT HORRORS OF SIN WILL BE FOLLOWED BY HORRORS OF RETRIBUTION.
1. Justice requires a proportionate relation of punishment to sin. The Jews had sinned greatly. It was right that they should be punished with severity. Mild views of the requirements of punishment may be the result of a dullness of conscience which does not recognize the depth of guilt. When men are most deeply convinced of sin, they are also most apprehensive of the merited wrath of God.
2. Punishment, to be effective, must be proportionate to guilt. In its three functions as deterrent when threatened, chastisement for correction when received, and warning to others when witnessed, it can only be effectual if a due proportion be observed.
3. The nature of God leads us to suppose that he may exact horrible retribution for horrible sin. He is almighty, and if his anger, which is slow to rise, is at length roused, this must be terrible indeed. God is long-suffering, merciful, ready to forgive; but he is not weak and indifferent to the great evils of sin. It is not reasonable to suppose that the Divine anger will be the less in its outpouring because it is long withheld.
II. THERE ARE INDICATIONS OF THE HORRORS OF RETRIBUTION IN THE SCRIPTURAL REVELATIONS CONCERNING IT. Jeremiah is speaking chiefly of physical horrors which are to accompany the overthrow of Jerusalem. But he suggests that these contain certain necessary elements of retribution.
1. Death. Tophet shall be a valley of slaughter. The great and ultimate punishment is always regarded, not as pain, but as death (Romans 6:23).
2. Shame. The corpses are to be unburied and exposed to the ravages of unclean animals—for the Jew a fearful degradation. Sin exposed, confounded, defeated, will reflect burning shame on the sinner.
3. Anguish. "The voice of mirth," etc; will cease; men will prefer death to life (Jeremiah 8:3).
4. A peculiar relation of penalty to offence. Tophet, the scene of horrible wickedness, shall be the spot for retributive slaughter. Where wretched men immolated their children their own dead bodies shall be cast. The sun and moon and stars which they worshipped shall look down on their bones bleaching out in the open.
III. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN IT IS NECESSARY TO MAKE MEN THINK OF THE HORRORS OF RETRIBUTION. The language of Jeremiah is explicit and graphic.
1. Details of future retribution should not take the chief place in instruction. They lose their effect by too frequent repetition. By themselves they are not able to produce a better life, but may result in hardness, unbelief, and disgust. The love of God in Christ is the great power to lead to holiness.
2. Nevertheless we must not shun to declare "the whole counsel of God." Thoughts of retribution may be powerful means for rousing convictions of sin, if they are accompanied by appeals to conscience which make men feel the due proportion of guilt to punishment.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Keeping the temple gate.
It was probably not the outer gate, but one of the gates which led from the outer to the inner or upper court (cf. Jeremiah 19:14; Jeremiah 26:10; Jeremiah 36:10). "From this point the prophet could view the whole assembly of the people in the outer court, as well as the gates leading from without into it' (Lange). Christ seems to have stood thus at times.
I. THE PREACHER OF TRUTH DOES WELL TO CHOOSE THE MOST IMPRESSIVE POSITIONS, OCCASIONS, AND CIRCUMSTANCES FOR THE DELIVERY OF HIS MESSAGE. The great aim of the preacher is to get a hearing for what he has to say. Tact (to a certain degree), artistic juxtaposition and arrangement, sympathy with the spirit of the times, etc; are indispensable qualities to him who would give the Word of God bold and effective expression. Public occasions may, therefore, frequently be utilized for special services, etc. Passing movement and contemporary events may give fresh interest to permanent truth. A curious ingenuity is sometimes exhibited in making the preacher inconspicuous and reducing his office to a matter of routine. He ought always to feel that his message is an extraordinary one, requiring all the earnestness and effort of which he is capable to convey it with due effect. And even then it must have suffered at his hands, and in much he will be an unprofitable servant.
II. RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE MAY BE VERY FASHIONABLE, AND ALL BUT UNIVERSAL, WHERE THERE IS LITTLE REAL RELIGION. One has to distinguish between the outward and the inward, the religion of rite and ceremony and that of the heart. Here apparently the representatives of "all Judah" were assembled, and yet it was no sign of national piety, but rather the contrary. Instead of the carnal nature Being checked and corrected, it was directly fostered by such worship. Public worship is a phrase which often includes elements that have nothing to do with the worship of God. That the services of God's house should be chaste and attractive will be generally admitted. But architectural adornments, musical accessories of an ornate or merely artistic nature, displays of rhetoric, and similar additions to the essential character of the worship, may prove popular and entertaining, and yet be spiritually pernicious. In the case of Judah the whole worship was on a low intellectual and spiritual key. The gods of heathenism and Jehovah were worshipped alike, and the licentious rites of idolatry mingled with the sacrifices of the Law. This had resulted in the temple being polluted and becoming a "den of thieves." Our aims in worship, the purity and concentration of our hearts, the moral relation between our every-day life and our temple service, have all very intimately to do with the question of the value of public religious observances.
III. RIGHTEOUSNESS OUGHT TO BE PRELIMINARY TO WORSHIP. "Amend your ways and your doings" is the demand the prophet makes in proof of the genuineness of their worship. Religion is a matter of life, and not of showy observances and empty protestations. The best proof that we intend serving God is that we have already begun to do so in business and morals. This duty, although difficult, is the best preparation for exalted spiritual experiences and sincere adoration. Men are not fit to appear before God when their misdeeds are still being repeated and their moral habits are not under the influence of his Spirit.
IV. UNREAL WORSHIP OF GOD IS CERTAIN TO BE DETECTED AND EXPOSED. We can imagine the shame of the nobility and people whom the prophet from his unlooked-for vantage-point so sharply rebuked.—M.
Who shall dwell in the house of the Lord?
I. AN UNWARRANTABLE ASSUMPTION. They arrogate to themselves, not only the exclusive possession of a meeting-place between God and man, but they speak of themselves as in a special and peculiar sense the temple of God.
1. There is an argument latent here. The temple is looked upon as a permanent and immovable building—a place of intercourse between Jehovah and his people. It is the only place of the kind, and it will stand for aye. But the Jews are so related to the temple, so bound up with its existence and maintenance, that they esteem themselves identified with it, and therefore partaking of its attributes. By an easy transition, to which language affords many parallels, they come to say, "The temple of the Lord is this [i.e. are we]."
2. And yet this very pretension, when spiritually interpreted, expresses a gracious and mysterious truth. That is the intention and aim of man's creation. Every man, as man, is made to be a temple of the Holy Ghost. This is his purpose and obligation; but, instead of this, how opposite is the actual condition of most men! Not, therefore, as a matter of course, independently of moral resolve and Divine inspiration, but as something to be striven after and earnestly realized in holiness of life, is man the "temple of the Lord."
3. And as is often the ease, the illegitimate narrowing and monopoly of this Divine indwelling is the very sign of its absence. They who rest upon other than moral grounds for the claim to the presence of God within them are usurpers. It is the universal privilege of those who serve God acceptably in spirit and in life. That which has a moral condition cannot be confined to local or sectarian limits.
II. A COMMANDMENT WITH PROMISE. A rehearsal of common duties enjoined by the Law of Moses. It is terse, prosaic, detailed, and altogether opposed to the absurd pretension it is meant to correct. Just those duties, too, are mentioned which the prophet was well aware had been neglected by Judah. There is nothing brilliant or magnificent about the catalogue of deeds. They are just such actions as are obligatory upon all men. It was not even necessary for a man to be a Jew to do them; for when the Gentiles do these things it shows that there must be a law written upon their hearts by nature or grace. And yet the greatest in Jerusalem could not, any more than the heathen, do the least of them perfectly. How gracious that to them, therefore, is attached this premise of temple consecration] So the grand human duties and merciful dispositions, without which life would be so hard, are recommended and enforced by that comprehensive promise, to be immediately realized in personal blessing and consecration, to be completely fulfilled when "the tabernacle of God shall be with men."—M.
Jeremiah 7:13, Jeremiah 7:25
Rising up early.
A striking expression concerning Jehovah. In Jeremiah 7:25 it is strengthened: "Daily rising up early." It speaks to us—
I. OF THE ANXIETY OF JEHOVAH FOR HIS PEOPLE. He who has important business on hand, or dear ones in trying circumstances, or great results dependent upon immediate and strenuous exertion, will show diligence in some such way. He will be unable to rest. So it is with God and his Church. Not that he can be said to fear or be uncertain as to the issues. But the interest he has in the fortunes and spiritual state of his people is of this description. It is no impassive God who is presented to us in Scripture. A profound concern for the interests of our race ever fills the mind of God. His deepest affections are engaged. He mourns the sin and rejoices in the salvation of men.
II. OF HIS DILIGENCE IN PROVIDING FOR THE WANTS OF HIS PEOPLE. It is no aimless, helpless anxiety that fills his breast. The most practical measures of help and direction are devised and carried into execution. Prophets, the plenipotentiaries of Divine grace, are sent in immediate response to the needs and demands of men. No age of the world or the Church but has its thick succession. Heaven is in continual activity on behalf of sinners. The choicest spiritual gifts are ceaselessly rained upon the earth. The most devoted servants of God are raised up and sent. Truth in quick evolution anticipates the spiritual necessities of those who would seek God. There is no flagging, no cessation, from Adam's fall to the uplifting of the second Adam. And onward from that Divine spectacle, in which was displayed the "fullness of the Godhead bodily," events hurry to the culminating glories of Pentecost and the marriage supper of the Lamb.
III. IF THIS BE THE CASE, HOW OUGHT WE TO STUDY AND LAY HOLD OF THE MESSAGE OF SALVATION? Is there not a contrast between the affectionate concern and sacrifice of God and the languid indifference or stubborn refusals of men? How shall we escape if we neglect this infinite mercy? How shall we excuse the manner in which we listen to the Word of God?—M.
Idolatry a detailed insult to Jehovah.
This is frequently stated in the Bible. It must be the case from the very nature of the worship of false gods. It is a denial and robbery of the true God. But the description here given helps us to realize more completely the intense sinfulness of the worship of idols, because of the circumstances attending it.
I. AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. It was done publicly in the streets of Jerusalem and the cities of Judah. God was displaced from the land he had given. The place that was consecrated by the faith and worship of the saints and the ceaseless mercies of Jehovah is desecrated by the orgies and profanities of heathenism. The worship of the "queen of heaven" (the female representative—Astarte—of the nature principle, of which Baal is the male principle) could not but be public. As the Baal worshippers poured forth their libations to the sun-god in broad day, so the worshippers of the moon made no secret of their devotions. It was done literally and perforce "in the face of heaven." And celebrations of the most obscene description mingled with their sacrifices. Yet was there no shame.
2. It absorbed the attention and energies of the people. Here is a picture of a whole family, from the eldest to the least, occupied in tasks connected with the worship of Astarte. How different from the perfunctory or imperfect service rendered to Jehovah! No time was left for the true worship. And is it not just so today under new forms and conditions? The idolatry of pleasure, gain, ambition, personal and social ideals,—does it not absorb the minds and bodies of its devotees? How little time is left for Christian duty and sacrifice! How weary and useless are those faculties which are professedly placed at the service of God! Our life-work is too often in the market-place, in the forum of personal display and self-seeking, etc; instead of the service of Jesus and the house of God.
3. It involved the waste of the natural products of the land.
II. THE DELIBERATE INTENTION. There was not wanting this expressed defiance. The idea is that they would annoy and exasperate Jehovah with impunity to themselves, as mean natures delight in awakening the jealousy, etc; of others. In this way they showed how completely they misunderstood the relations of Jehovah with his world and his people, his command over the forces of nature, and his power of retaliation through the ordinary laws of nature.
III. ITS RECOMPENSE.
1. According to natural laws. Affecting, therefore, the objects they required for their sacrifices to Astarte, and cutting off the supplies requisite for man and beast.
2. To their own confusion. God will be unaffected; they themselves wilt be put to shame. The idolater and atheist are their own worst enemies.
3. Not to be escaped or ended. They are playing with fire. It will soon find its proper objects in themselves and their profaned offerings. Nor will they be able to quench that which they have kindled. So helpless will transgressors ever be. In the least of the calamities that they provoke upon themselves there is a beginning of penal fires and eternal miseries.—M.
The desecration of Tophet.
This valley was the scene of Solomon's Moloch-worship, of the child-sacrifices of Ahaz and Manasseh, and of the varying idolatrous rites of succeeding times. If the temple still maintained externally its consecration to Jehovah and its position as the center of the theocracy, the valley of Ben-Hinnom was the acknowledged center and high place of Moloch. Its vicinity to Jerusalem brought it into prominent opposition to the temple. Some signal exhibition of the Divine wrath is, therefore, called for. This is furnished by the iconoclastic zeal of Josiah, the great slaughter of Israel in war, and the gradual use of it as a receptacle for filth, sewage, unburied dead, etc. The prophecy, repeated in Jeremiah 19:11, is speedily translated into history. We have here an instance of the Divine laws—
I. THAT THAT WHICH IS MORALLY CORRUPT SHALL ENTAIL DESTRUCTION. Where there is filth in God's universe there will be fire. Corruption is the beginning of death, in this world and that which is to come.
II. THE INWARD, MORAL CHARACTER OF THINGS AND PERSONS SHALL HAVE EXTERNAL PHYSICAL EXPRESSION. It will not always be concealed. That which is whispered in the ear shall be spoken from the house-top. The trap will be labeled and the pitfall plainly shown. The externalizing processes of history and development in nations, individuals, etc; tend to declare by outward and unmistakable signs the real character. Of this Tophet is an illustration. The judgment its revolting practices bring upon its votaries is the occasion of its permanent defilement. It gradually is transformed into a scene of physical abomination, and, to the spiritual imagination, the type and symbol of eternal perdition. Gehenna fires—how different their first and last senses, and yet how related! The same law will operate in holy and spiritual men. The inward nature will cast the slough of corruption, and shall be clothed upon with a "body," which shall express, further, and fulfill it. When that which is really and spiritually filthy is sentenced to be ' filthy still," the saints shall find embodiment and circumstances corresponding to their inward condition, and constituting the elements of their reward.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The relations of righteousness and religion.
This chapter, as indeed so much other of Jeremiah's prophecies, teaches not a little Concerning this great theme. In this chapter we note how it shows—
I. THAT RIGHTEOUSNESS IS THE PRINCIPAL THING.
1. It is God's solemn demand (verse 2).
2. It is God's perpetual demand. See the whole chapter, the whole prophecy. "Amend your ways and your doings" (verse 3) is its constant appeal.
3. At first it was his only command, and it is ever his first command. (verse 22). Our first parents were commanded to obey before sacrifice or any rites of religion were appointed. And so with Israel (verse 22). The moral Law was given before the ceremonial. And it was given in a far more imperative form. The moral Law begins "Thou shalt;" the Levitical (Le 1:2—2:1), "If any man will." Hence from all the foregoing it is evident that righteousness stands before all else in the Divine esteem.
II. RELIGION WAS GIVEN FOR THE SAKE OF AND AS AN AID TO RIGHTEOUSNESS. Righteousness is not for the sake of religion, but vice versa. No doubt they render mutual help, but the proper relation of the two is as aforesaid. And religion can be a help to righteousness and ought ever to be, even as it has often been and is.
1. My supplying fresh motives. Apart from religion, righteous conduct becomes simply morality, and bases itself upon laws of expediency, or at best draws its force from motives that rise no higher than earth and man and the present life. But religion gives the love of God in Christ as its all-constraining force. Under the influence of this, what have not men done and borne; and what will they not do and bear?
2. By lending intensity to those already in action. How puny the power of hope, when it has none other recompense than that which this life and this world can furnish, contrasted with its invincible force when the recompenses of eternity, made known to us by religion, are set before it and held out to it! And so with the motive of fear. What an immense addition is made to the deterrent force of fear when the idea of God and his awful displeasure are present before the mind!
"His love will all vain love expel,
His fear all fear beside."
3. By furnishing a perfect example. In our blessed Lord's life, short as it was in duration, and far removed from us as it is in time, place, and circumstance, nevertheless in it there is to be found a standard and model of righteous conduct for all ages and all lands, such as can be found nowhere else. His life has been the compass by which many a saint has steered across the difficult ocean of life, and by its aid arrived safely at the desired haven.
4. By winning for us, in response to our fervent prayers, the ever-present and potent help of the Divine and transforming Spirit. By his aid the very "body of sin" within us is crucified, and we become new creatures in Christ.
5. By its ordinances of worship: its continual teaching, its Church fellowship, and its varied sacred observances, keeping alive within us those beliefs and sentiments which are ever the most powerful prompters to all righteousness of life. Thus the Israelite of old found the Law of God (cf. Psalms 119:1-176.) his perpetual aid, and the worship of God's house a constant solace and strength. And it is so still. By the truths and the ordinances of religion, the weak, wavering will is steadied, the feet are kept from falling, and the soul is preserved from death. Such ought ever to be the case, ever is so, where religion is the worship of God in spirit and in truth; and this was the Divine design and intent in giving it to us.
III. BUT THEY ARE AT TIMES FOUND ASUNDER. Religion may flourish, but righteousness be only conspicuous by its absence. It was so in the time of the prophet. We see a whole apparatus of religion—temple, altar, priests, sacrifices, services; nothing omitted in external observances. And there was a national profession of it; large sums of money were lavished on it, and there was a universal outward regard for it. But, on the other hand, all this went on whilst the most gross unrighteousness characterized the very people who outwardly were so religious (cf. verses 5, 6, 9, 18). This was an appalling fact. Nor, alas! is it one that now has no existence; the same sad separation of religion from righteousness may be too often seen in our days as of old. The murderous banditti of Southern Europe are diligent at Mass, and pay all honor to the Virgin and saints. The midnight assassins of Ireland are all good Catholics. And many a chapel and church in our own land has amongst its seemingly most religious worshippers, men who are cruel, hard, fraudulent, impure—"saints at the prayer-meeting and sacrament, but very devils at home."
IV. THEY MAY BE EVEN OPPOSED TO ONE ANOTHER. Not merely separate, but antagonistic. Yes, religion, which was designed to minister to righteousness, may not only be severed from it, but be actually found undermining it, sapping its very life and strength. Thus:
1. By begetting false confidence. (Cf. verse 4.) The Jews thought that all this religion must guarantee them immunity from the Divine displeasure, must ensure them his safeguard and protection. He, so they thought, could never suffer harm to come to his own temple—"the temple of the Lord." And still it is hard to persuade our hearts that all our religion goes for nothing, and worse than nothing, when it brings forth no fruit of righteousness. So many prayers, such liberal gifts, such good desires, such correctness of creed and of outward demeanor, such devotional fervor,—surely these things must propitiate Heaven, must ward off the Divine displeasure!
2. By teaching men truths which they can readily wrest to evil. (Cf. verse 10.) The meaning (see Exposition) is not "We cannot help ourselves; God has given us over to sin;" but "We are delivered by our religious observances—sacrifices and the like; the score is cleared off; we are secured against harm; we may go and live as we list." Thus they "tamed the grace of God into lasciviousness," and "continued in sin that," etc. And is not this done still? It is to be feared that not a few suck a poisonous pleasure from the Messed doctrine of the forgiving love of God. Thus the gospel itself may become a "savor of death unto death" to those who thus "make Christ the Minister of sin." And because religion has been seen so often severed from righteousness, and sometimes even ministering to unrighteousness, many have been and are eager to sweep it away altogether as a hindrance rather than a help to moral well-being. A highly educated German gentleman, whom the writer met abroad, expressed it as his strong and deliberate conviction that the religiousness and the decay of a people stand related as cause and effect. He argued that England must sink because her leading statesman was an eminently religious man. And were religion necessarily or generally severed from righteousness, still more if it were necessarily or generally opposed to righteousness, then it would deserve the denunciation of all right-minded men, and the sooner it were swept utterly out of the way the better. But all we can say is that if righteousness be not found in company with religion, it is to be found nowhere else; and if the Church of God, the great company of those who profess to be actuated by religious motives and aims, do not furnish and nurture God-like and righteous souls, then there is no other company on the face of the earth that does so. Bad as the Church may be, the world is far worse.
V. WHAT, THEN, IS OUR DUTY? Not to inveigh against religion, still less to seek its destruction, but to do all we can to restore the original and God-designed relationship between it and righteousness. "What God hath joined together, let," etc. And it is on this restoration of right relationship between the two that God so strenuously and sternly insists here and throughout his Word. If (verse 3) they will amend their ways, then his blessing; but if not, he will have no mercy. He cites the instance of Shiloh as a solemn warning to them (verse 14). He forbids Jeremiah even to pray for them whilst they continue as they are (verse 16). He pours his contempt upon all their religion, their burnt offerings, and sacrifices (verse 21), whilst severed from righteousness. He tells them that all along in their history, from the first until now, he had asked for, though he had never received it from them, not religion merely, but righteousness—obedience to his Word (verses 21-28). Instead of that they had committed all abomination, and therefore they should miserably perish (verses 29-34). How dreadful, then, must be the separation, and yet more the antagonism, between these whom God united! As he gave Eve to be a help-meet to Adam, so did he give religion to be the help-meet of righteousness. Let us tremble with a holy fear if we find ourselves able to go on contentedly in religious observances, whilst conscience becomes less and less sensitive, and our love and loyalty to righteousness grow feebler day by day. Our subject shows us that such a disastrous condition is possible. But that we may escape it, let us resolve that, inasmuch as God has given us religion for our help—a help which our blessed Lord himself ever made use of-
"Cold mountains and the midnight air
Witnessed the fervor of his prayer;"
—we will know the possibilities of help towards holiness which undoubtedly it contains. Let us set ourselves to seek the "baptism of the Holy Ghost" and "the endowments of power" which come therefrom. If we do thus set ourselves to seek these, they shall be ours, for they are most certainly promised; so shall religion and righteousness abide in that most intimate and hallowed union which God from the first designed for them, and our righteousness, ministered to by its God-given help-meet religion, shall far exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, yea, shall advance ever nearer to that most glorious attainment, in which we shall be as our Savior bid us be—"perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect."—C.
The indispensable condition of all grace.
"Amend your ways," etc. See how this demand for amendment is reiterated in this chapter and throughout this prophecy. And we observe—
I. IT IS EVER SO.
1. See the Word of God. The prodigal had to come away from the far country first. John the Baptist, our Lord, and his apostles all preached repentance before pardon. The Law comes before the gospel
2. Conscience confirms the justice of this demand. We feel it to be a monstrous thing that, without any turning from sin even in purpose, there should be an expectation of God's grace.
3. Men make this same demand of those who rebel against their laws.
4. God's providence upholds this demand. The constitution of things is for the obedient and against the transgressor (cf. Butler's ' Analogy').
II. AND THE REASONS ARE BECAUSE SIN:
1. Outrages God. What order or happiness can there be in that household where the authority of the head is openly set at naught?
2. Is dogged by sorrow and death. The avenging deities were said to be shod with wool, so that their footsteps, ever following the transgressor, were not heard. It was the vision of sin and its awful issues that caused Jesus to sigh, to be troubled in spirit, and to weep; it was his agony. Now, God would save us, but cannot until we have done with wickedness.
3. Binds the soul to enmity against God. Deeds of wrong are the devil's sacraments, whereby he seals on the soul his own impress and pledges the soul to serve him. Every solitary act of sin deepens that impress and makes that pledge more irrevocable. Therefore, if the soul is to be saved, that bond must be broken.
4. Amendment in conduct is the first step towards the restoration of the soul. A man may break off ill-doing, and yet his heart be very far from right with God. Still, because every victory over sin strengthens the conscience and weakens the power of sin, its held is thus loosened upon the soul, and the work of restoration is so far advanced.
III. BUT COMPLIANCE WITH THIS MOST RIGHTEOUS DEMAND IS.
1. Often very difficult. Ask the drunkard, the impure, the worldling, the gambler, if they find it easy to break away from their besetting sins. How like a set of fiends they clamor for their wonted indulgence! "Hoc opus hic labor est."
2. But never impossible. No; for along with every Divine command goes forth the strength needed for obedience. How absurd, on mere human principles, for our Lord to bid the man with the withered hand to stretch it forth; the palsied to rise, take up his bed, and walk; and Lazarus to come forth from his tomb! But all these facts are recorded to encourage those who would turn to the Lord, but yet "are sore let and hindered." We often ask—
"Oh, how shall feeble flesh and blood
Burst through the bonds of sin?
The holy kingdom of our God,
What soul shall enter in?"
And there could be but one sad answer were it not that he who gives the command gives also the needed help. Yes—
"There is a way for man to rise
To that sublime abode;
An offering and a sacrifice,
A Holy Spirit's energies,
An Advocate with God."
3. And ever blessed. (Cf. Jeremiah 7:3, Jeremiah 7:7.) All those precious sentences with which the sermon on the mount opens, and which we call the Beatitudes, were addressed to those who had resolved, by God's grace, to amend their ways. Christ has no other word for them than that they are blessed, and what his Word affirms all they who have followed his leading do with grateful heart confirm. Yes, "blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city."
4. But if refused, is awfully avenged. Too often it is refused. It was so here. All manner of excuse attempted, and though these "lying words" (Jeremiah 7:4) were and are exposed again, the refusal is persisted in, and then "the wrath of God arises, and there is no remedy." "From all such hardness of heart and contempt of thy Holy Word and commandment, good Lord, deliver us."—C.
How men deceive themselves.
"The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord," etc. The people of Jerusalem were flattering themselves that no harm would come to them because of the presence in their midst of the temple of the Lord. And men flatter themselves in like manner still. Now let us—
I. CONSIDER THEIR ARGUMENT. God had said, "In this house will I dwell." They knew that, and hence it seemed impossible that it should be devastated by the heathen. It was the place of which he had said," There 'mine honor dwelleth." The cloud of glory had filled it, the Sheehinah brightness rested on the mercy-seat. Was it to be imagined that he who of old had smitten with death those who presumed even to look into or to touch the ark of God, who had smitten monarchs with leprosy for lack of due respect to it, would now suffer the bands of the idolaters to lay waste his sanctuary, in which it was enshrined? Moreover, once and again salvation for Israel had gone forth from the temple of God, deliverance and victory had there been won. The prophetic prayer of Solomon who had built it told of mercy and help that should surely come to Israel through that temple. Thus ancient teachings, glorious events, the manifested presence of God, many promises in connection with the temple of the Lord, all combined to lead men to look upon it with an undue trust, and to believe that, so long as it reared its sacred front in their midst, it would prove as a palladium, a shield and defense for them all. Therefore they met all Jeremiah's warnings, and all misgivings of their own consciences, by the oft-repeated cry, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these!" And that which answers in our day to the Jewish trust in these "lying words," as Jeremiah terms them, is the confidence that is placed in the Church, her sacraments and ministers; or in past religious experiences, or in present moods of feeling; and yet more in the endorsement of our religious profession by our acceptance into the Church's fellowship and our admission to her ordinances. Such answer now to the "lying words" Jeremiah denounced then. But note—
II. WHAT OF WORTH THERE IS IN THIS ARGUMENT. There can be no doubt that the tares owe a great deal, owe everything in fact, to the wheat amongst which they have been sown. But for the wheat, they would have been plucked up long ago. And God's dealings with men had so often confirmed what our Lord's parable teaches, that the tares had come to congratulate themselves that they had no cause for fear. For ten righteous men Sodom would have been spared. For Moses' sake all Israel had been borne with, when but for his intercession God's righteous anger would have swept them away. The descendants of David had cause many times to bless themselves that, though so unlike their great ancestor in obedience to God, they were yet of his house and lineage. "For the elect's sake," said our Lord, "those days"—days of Jerusalem's final doom—"shall be shortened." And so here in the text, the people of Jerusalem could not but know that they were wicked in the extreme; but because they, though tares, were blessed with the presence of what they thought God counted as wheat-the temple and all its hallowed associations—they laughed at the idea of any great calamity coming upon them. And in the present-day parallels to that old trust in "lying words," what of worth there was in those words then, there is in the like of them now. The Church, with all its hallowed associations, is God's wheat, or rather, does assuredly contain all there is of it. For what manner of definition of the Church of God will any one presume to lay down other than this, that it consists of all the good? Broader it is not; but so broad it is. The presence, therefore, of the godly in any community is a guarantee of good to that community. "Ye are the salt of the earth," said our Lord. But for his Church the world would rot. Let any who sneer and persecute Christ's servants, whether in school, work-room, office, shop, or where else-and such persecution is common enough—let them remember that, but for such as those on whom they are pleased to pour their contempt, their own career would be cut very short indeed. If, then, the temple of the Lord, to which the Jews were trusting, was as the wheat, then the wicked people who were looking to it for safety were in the right, and their words were not lying words.
III. ITS WORTHLESSNESS NOTWITHSTANDING. In all those instances in which the tares had been spared for the sake of the wheat, there had been two conditions fulfilled. It had been really wheat which sheltered the tares, and there had been sufficiency of it. There was not enough of it when the Deluge came, nor when Sodom was destroyed; and so, in like manner, should ever the wheat fall short, it will go ill with the tares then. But did the temple and its ritual and its associations fulfill either of these conditions? No doubt the mere structure, her very stones, had worth in God's sight. Just as, for the sake of the dearly beloved soul that once has dwelt within that now lifeless corpse, we hang over it with tenderest fondness, and would not put it away from us were we not compelled; so, because of the true worship that had gone up from that temple, and because of the many saintly men who there had drawn near to God, that material shrine had a certain value and would not lightly be allowed to perish. But if there were preciousness in the temple, there was not sufficiency of it to outweigh or to cover over the iniquities which surged around it, yea, invaded its very courts, and of which it was made the unwilling occasion. Instead of being a palladium, or any sort of guarantee of safety to that godless nation, its towers and courts, its altars and ever-ascending sacrifices, were ever calling down vengeance upon those who so shamefully used them. And, indeed, it could hardly be said to be as God's wheat at all. The temple had often been the vehicle of that" worship in spirit and in truth" which alone God desires, and for the sake of such worship it had a relative preciousness. But let that worship cease—as it had long ceased—then the temple became as a mere corpse, beautiful, tenderly loved indeed, but still corruptible, corrupting and spreading corruption, and therefore demanding to be put out of the way. Now apply all this to the false truths of our own day. Will the Church, her sacraments, her ordinances, your membership with her, your frequent moods of religious feeling, your current creed, your loud profession of attachment to her, your manifold religious privileges,—will any or all of these things, precious though they every one of them be, compensate for that surrender of your true self to God which is his perpetual desire and demand? Will they not rather, as did the presence of the temple and their innumerable privileges for the Jews, heighten your guilt, and make more glaring your sin, because they show that you have been amongst those "to whom much has been given," and of whom, therefore, "much will be required?" No worship, however magnificent, costly, constant; however hallowed by association, or authorized by venerable usage, or sanctioned by the holiest of the Church of God, or even owned by God as the means of uplifting many hearts heavenward and Godward; if such worship be wanting, as, alas! it may be, in the all-essential element, the "worship in spirit and in truth;" if there be no outgoings of the heart in it all, as too often there is not,-then it will prove no shield from but a provocative to that holy wrath of God which sooner or later awaits every godless soul.
IV. THE VERY SERIOUS SUGGESTIONS IT OTHERS.
1. The utter hatefulness of sin.
2. The testimony that these refuges of ties, such as that in which the Jews trusted, do surely give of our need of a real refuge, a true defense. Men who deny the Savior most are yet ever confessing that they and all men do need a Savior. They who would not trust in God trusted in the mere material temple.
3. To what are we trusting? In "lying words"—which God forbid!—or—which may God grant!—in those words of the Lord Jesus, which are able to make us wise unto salvation?—C.
I. LOOK AT THEM AS JEREMIAH SAW THEM. Thieves (Jeremiah 7:6, Jeremiah 7:9), most cruel oppressors, murderers, adulterers, etc. Yet they were all going into the temple to worship the Lord. Strange church-goers indeed.
II. ASK IF THERE BE ANY SUCH NOW? What if some angel of God, unseen by us, were to mark on the foreheads of all who enter our churches now their true characters in the sight of God: would there be no fraudulent, no oppressors of the poor, none whose hearts, though not their hands, are chargeable with having shed innocent blood? Let us each one ask, "What name would be put upon me?"
III. INQUIRE WHAT POSSIBLE MOTIVES CAN ACTUATE THEM.
1. With some, no doubt, it is a cloak to cover up their real character.
2. Or a tribute paid to the demands of fashion, custom, society. What would be thought of them if they did not go to church?
3. Or a method of quieting conscience. They come away and think they have wiped off the score that was against them. They say (Jeremiah 7:10), "We are delivered [see Exposition] to do," etc.
4. Or to set an example to those they are pleased to call "the lower orders;" like the philosophers of old, who, whilst they held all religions to be equally false, yet regarded them all as indispensably useful.
5. Or as a means for so many regarded such things—of propitiating the Divine favor and securing a title to heaven by-and-by. But there is no end to the motives which lead such men to do that which, to more honest-hearted people, appears a mockery, an absurdity, and yet worse.
IV. LISTEN TO THE LORD'S WORD TO SUCH. He tells them:
1. They were getting no good whatsoever from such worship (Jeremiah 7:3).
2. They were completely declaring themselves (Jeremiah 7:4).
3. They were neglecting that amendment of their ways which would save them (Jeremiah 7:5).
4. They were grossly insulting nod (Jeremiah 7:10, Jeremiah 7:11).
5. They were blind to notorious facts: e.g. Shiloh (Jeremiah 7:12); Ephraim (Jeremiah 7:15).
6. Thorough reformation was alone the way of life for them (Jeremiah 7:3, Jeremiah 7:7). "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting."—C.
I. WHAT DO WE GENERALLY UNDERSTAND BY THIS WORD?
1. Some use it of disregard of ritual.
2. Others of secular employment of sacred places or things.
3. Others of those persons whom they regard as unauthorized presuming to minister in holy things.
4. Others of robbing churches, etc. But without discussing these, let us note—
II. WHAT GOD COUNTS AS SACRILEGE. It is declared here (Jeremiah 7:11). It is when men turn the Church of God into a den of robbers. Our Lord charged this upon the religionists of his day. Jeremiah charges it, in God's Name, upon those to whom he was sent. Costly, splendid, correct, continual worship was duly carried on. Irreverence—and how much less sacrilege!—would seem to be a charge utterly unfit for those who worshipped in such manner. And yet, though the word be not here used, the thing itself is emphatically told of as the very crime which these people were flagrantly guilty of. Turning God's house, which was called by his Name, into a den of robbers,—if that be not sacrilege, what else is? They robbed one another (verses 5, 6). They robbed God. And the temple was their haunt, as their den is the robbers' haunt; and there they found rest, and prepared themselves for further crime (verse 10), as does the robber in his den. It is an awful indictment. But under one or other of the counts of such indictment they are assuredly chargeable who frequent the house of God, not for the high and holy purposes for which the worship of God was designed, but that, as in verse 10, they may get peace of mind in regard to their past sins and so be free to go and sin again. "With such usage the temple is not a place of salvation, but a refuge for robbers, where they purify themselves from the blood of their evil deeds, so as to be the readier for new ones." Therefore all they who "make Christ a Minister of sin," who, instead of deliverance from sin, get comfort in it by their religious observances, who shelter themselves from all fear of God's anger and silence the warnings of conscience by "coming and standing before God in his house which is called by his Name," though their object be only "to be delivered to do all these abominations," and not at all to be saved from them,—these are the sacrilegious, and their profanation of holy things is the worst of all.
III. THINK OF THE RESULTS OF SUCH SACRILEGE.
1. How God is dishonored!
2. How his service is made hateful in the eyes of men! What a stumbling block it is to those who would turn to God!
3. How it hardens the man's own soul!
4. How it necessitates the judgment of God!
IV. WHAT SHOULD SUCH A SUBJECT TEACH US? Surely, when in the house of God, to pray that if any have come there in sacrilegious manner, God's Spirit, the Lord of the temple, may meet with them and turn them from their evil way. Should we not also search and see if there be any such evil way in ourselves? And let our prayer be unto him who when on earth drove forth with scourges the "robbers" whom he found in the temple, that he would be pleased, by the scourge of his Spirit and his Word, to drive forth from all in his house now all in them that would rob him of his glory and their souls of eternal life.—C.
I. SUCH VOICES ARE PERPETUALLY HEARD. The prophet speaks of three such here.
1. Shiloh (Jeremiah 7:12).
2. The Lord himself (Jeremiah 7:13).
3. Ephraim (Jeremiah 7:15).
II. And THEY TELL EVER THE SAME TRUTHS.
1. The Divine anger against sin (Jeremiah 7:12).
2. The utter uselessness of their "trust in lying words" to escape that auger (Jeremiah 7:14).
3. The absolute need of repentance.
III. And MEET, ALL TOO OFTEN, WITH THE SAME RECEPTION. They were rejected. "Ye heard not; and I called you," etc. (Jeremiah 7:13).
IV. But are VINDICATED IN LIKE AWFUL MANNER.
1. By their sin becoming ineradicable, so that they are given over to a reprobate mind, and are "guilty of an eternal sin". Hence (Jeremiah 7:16) the prophet is forbidden to pray for them (cf. 1 John 5:16).
2. By the judgment of God falling upon them (Jeremiah 7:15).
1. Watch and pray against unbelief in these warnings.
2. Take heed to them yourselves.
3. Hold them up to others.
4. Bless God for them.—C.
Shiloh, or the God-forsaken shrine.
It is to many minds impossible to avoid a feeling of deep sadness when we look upon the ruins, noble even in their desolation, of some former beautiful and august sanctuary of God. There are many such scattered over this and other lands: Tintern, Furness, Melrose, etc. Our imagination pictures them when in the zenith of their glory, with their many stately towers and tapering spires, their long-drawn aisles and lofty roofs, the glorious vista of high-arched nave and choir and glittering sanctuaries stretching away further still in the dim distance, the gleaming altars, the magnificent service, the vast throng of kneeling worshippers, the soul-enchanting music, and the murmur of myriad prayers. The memories of saintly men and women who have worshipped and are buried there crowd upon the mind, and we wistfully wonder where and why that consecrated genius has flown which had power to rear for God shrines so glorious as those whose ruins we are beholding must once have been. It is sad to think of such glory and beauty as these forsaken shrines once had gone forever. The Jews who came back from the Captivity wept when they thought of the glory of the ancient temple, which they never more might see. But if the departure of material glory may cause sadness to the mind, how much more the departure of that which is spiritual! If we mourn that we shall no more have the presence of some fair temple of the Lord, how much more when we lose the Lord of the temple! And it is such sadder loss that Shiloh, the God-forsaken shrine, has to tell of. And we observe upon it that—
I. THERE ARE FEW MORE MOURNFUL HISTORIES THAN THAT OF SHILOH. Shiloh was one of the earliest and most sacred of the Hebrew sanctuaries. There for full three hundred years the ark of God remained and the priests of the Lord ministered. As soon as the promised land was mainly subdued, Joshua brought the ark of God from Gilgal, near the Jordan, to Shiloh. The place was probably chosen for its seclusion and hence its safety, it being off the great highways of the land. Bethel, which otherwise might have been chosen as especially sacred, was yet in the hands of the Canaanites. Hence Shiloh, in the territory of the powerful tribe of Ephraim, and of their great ancestor Joseph, a tribe which more and more had been coming to the front amongst their brethren, was chosen for the sanctuary of the ark of God. There, as afterwards at Jerusalem, "the tribes went up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the Name of the Lord." What glad festivals; what gracious deliverances; what Divine responses to their inquiring of the Lord; what holy memories of thronging worshippers, of accepted sacrifices, of saintly priests and prophets who had dwelt there, were all associated with that shrine at Shiloh! There Eli ministered, and Hannah came to present her offerings, to pour out her prayers and to pay her vows. There she brought Samuel, and there the Lord called him to his high service as he ministered before him. All their truest and noblest life drew its inspiration from the God who had placed his Name there, and whom there they went to worship. But at length, under the rule of Eli, that well-meaning but weak-willed high priest, priesthood and people alike sank down into a state of moral and religious degradation from which Eli was powerless to deliver them. His own sons led the way in abominable wickedness, and became sons of Belial even beyond others. So low had they fallen, that they had come to regard the ark of God as a kind of fetish, and hence they carried it down to battle against the Philistines, thinking thereby to certainly win the day. But the ark of God was taken, its besotted priests slain, and Eli, hearing the dreadful tidings suddenly, died, a worn-out and broken-hearted old man.
From that hour, as the seventy-eighth psalm tells, "God forsook Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;… he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim." And it was all because, as the same psalm tells, Israel "tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies: but turned back, and dealt deceitfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow. For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images." Wherefore "he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel." And now, ages after, Jeremiah bids the people of his day go to Shiloh, and see what God did to it for the wickedness of the people. They might trace out, perhaps, the foundations of her ancient walls, and discover the vestiges of the former sanctuary; but now no altar bore the sacred fire, the smoke of no sacrifice ascended, no priest ministered, no God gave answer, no song of the Lord went up; the whole place was probably ravaged and overthrown by the enemies of Israel, who had carried off their great treasure, the ark of God. Well might the wife of Phinehas, in the hour of her agony, call her new-born, but now fatherless, and soon to be altogether her orphan, child, Ichabod, for indeed the glory had departed, the ark of God was taken, and the Lord had forsaken Shiloh. Oh, the sorrow, the shame, the unavailing remorse which would overwhelm the faithless priesthood and the godless people, when they beheld that God-abandoned shrine, and remembered wherefore this calamity had come upon them! Yes, this story is a sad one; but it is most salutary also, and therefore we may well heed the word of the Lord which says to us, ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my Name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel." But we observe—
II. THAT SHILOH HAS MANY PARALLELS. Shiloh is not the only God-forsaken shrine of which the Bible tells or of which we have had knowledge. No; there are all too many like it. There was the temple of the Lord in Jeremiah's time. All its splendor, its solemn ritual, its lavish sacrifices, its ever-burning altar fire, could not save it. The stern sentence went forth against it, and it was burnt with fire and laid in ashes on the ground. There was the temple which was afterwards built on the return from Captivity, and which was so beautiful and adorned in the time of our Lord; concerning that, too, Jesus said, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate!" And it was the same with many Churches, those "spiritual houses" which, after our Lord's time and in his Name, were reared for a habitation of God through the Spirit. The Christian Church at Jerusalem. The honor of being the mother Church of Christendom was taken from her and transferred to Antioch, and ultimately it was overwhelmed altogether in the destruction that came on the city in which it was gathered. And there were the Churches of Asia; their "candlestick was removed out of its place," as the Lord warned them would be the case, and now secular historians bear their testimony to the truth of that warning word. Gibbon tells how "in the loss of Ephesus the Christians deplored the fall of the first angel, the extinction of the first candlestick of the Revelation; the desolation is complete; and the Temple of Diana or the Church of Mary will equally elude the search of the curious traveler. The circus and the three stately theatres of Laodicea are now peopled with wolves and foxes. Sardis is reduced to a miserable village; the god of Mahomet, without a rival or a son, is invoked in the mosques of Thyatira and Pergamos; and the populousness of Smyrna is supported by the foreign trade of Franks and Armenians. Philadelphia alone has been saved by prophecy or courage. At a distance from the sea, encompassed on all sides by the Turks, her valiant citizens defended their religion and freedom above four score years; and at length capitulated with the proudest of the Ottomans. Among the Greek colonies and Churches of Asia, Philadelphia is still erect; a column in a scene of ruins." They have thus all disappeared, as Christian Churches almost utterly; they are as Shiloh and Jerusalem—their houses in which they worshipped God left unto them desolate. And there have been many other Churches since, and some nearer our own time and in our own land. And many still, perhaps, need sorely the admonitory counsel to go to Shiloh, and see what the Lord has done there. But not in material edifices alone, nor even in those gathered communities to which more properly the name of Churches belongs, need we go to find instances of God-forsaken shrines. For inasmuch as we all are "temples of the Holy Ghost," so St. Paul tells us, and our own experience confirms his word, it is possible to find only too many illustrations of this same mournful fact. Take the ever-memorable example and warning of the fallen apostle Judas. What a shrine of the Holy Ghost he once was! How richly gifted! how gloriously endowed! He came with the rest, saying, "Lord, even the devils are subject to us through thy Name." He with the rest" ate and drank in Christ's presence, and in his Name did many wonderful works." He enjoyed the fellowship of Christ, and by him was sent forth in his Name. But behold him giving place to the devil, yielding his soul up to the demon of covetousness and worldly ambition, and then acting as the guide to them who arrested the Lord, betraying the Son of man with a kiss, and then, when too late he awoke to see the madness and horror of what he had done, rushing forth to seek and find a suicide's grave in the Aceldama, "the field of blood," purchased by the price of his traitorous gain. And Ananias and Sapphira and Demas and yet others, what are they all but deplorable instances and names of these God-forsaken shrines? And have we not known such? Men who prayed, and worshipped, and taught, and preached, and. then, having denied the Lord who bought them, fell away, and found henceforth nothing but "a fearful looking for of judgment" and of the "fiery indignation" of God destined to be poured out on all such as they. Ah! it is a sight which might well make angels weep, and which drew forth the bitter tears of the Son of God himself.
III. AND IN EVERY CASE THE CAUSE OF THIS FORSAKING OF THEM BY GOD WAS ONE AND THE SAME. It was always "wickedness." Not any outward circumstance, not any of those secondary causes which we are so apt to regard as the real cause. But this which these verses so plainly declare. It was so even in those ruined edifices to which we referred at the beginning of this homily. History will tell you how gross immorality and horrible corruption found a too-ready home in those fair fabrics which had been reared for far other purposes and with far other design. But "wickedness" having made them its haunt and home, the people, roused to fierce wrath, rose up and tore them down, and their gray, ivy-clad stones utter forth to this day such message as that in our text. And in all those other instances to which we have pointed, whether temples made with hands, whether Churches or individual men, it has ever been sin, sin, which has wrought all this evil. And in that every-day fact of bodily death We have the standing type of this terrible truth, "The wages of sin is death." That body once so bright, so full of energy, so lit up with intelligence and love, so possessed too, it may have been, with the Spirit of God, so fall so lovely to look upon when life dwelt in it, now in death,—what is it but a God-forsaken shrine, and hence doomed to return, "earth to earth, dust to dust, and ashes to ashes?" We are so accustomed to death that this its solemn lesson we are ever forgetting or putting out of sight.
IV. BUT ALL THESE SHILOHS HAVE A MESSAGE FROM GOD UNTO US, ACCORDING TO WHAT WE ARE. We every one of us are either examples of these forsaken ones, or becoming so, or, blessed be God, still habitations for him through the Spirit. Now, if we be already forsaken of God, then if this fact be—as surely it should be, and as we trust it is—a matter of sore distress to us, then there is a gracious word to us if we be willing to hear it. All of us were once "temples of God." We can look back to the time when none of the unclean spirits that now haunt and harm us so terribly had any home in our souls; when thoughts were pure, hands undefiled, and our lips unpolluted with evil. Our fathers and mothers brought us to be baptized, or in other ways recognized the blessed truth that we belonged to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. And in our childhood days we, as all children are, were members of the kingdom of heaven. But what are we now? O God, it is dreadful to think of what some are now] The desolate ruins of once glorious Churches; the lifeless bodies that we carry to the grave are but faint types of what some of these God-forsaken ones have become. And can it be that any are willing to continue so, and thus make it inevitable that God should sweep you away into the hell of all corruption? Oh no; you cannot be willing that that should be. Well, then, if you tremble at such doom, as well you may, listen: God will re-enter his shrine, and make you once again his temples. Yes, he will do that. He will "restore your souls and lead you in," etc. But first, as when Hezekiah cleansed the temple, you must cast out the manifold uncleanness that is there. There must be a thorough purging, a real repentance. God will not come back to a sin-inhabited and evil-loving soul. You must "thoroughly amend your ways." This is indispensable. See how in this chapter and throughout his Word God insists upon this. And then, as the high priest was wont to do, come bearing the blood of atonement into the presence of God; come, that is, pleading the Name of Jesus for acceptance and pardon and restoration,—and you shall behold, in the shrine of your soul, the cloud of glory once again shining there and the presence of God again manifested there. Thus come day by day, and you shall find how Christ saves "to the uttermost all that," etc. But are you of those whom God is now forsaking? Is the dread process of crowding out God by the bringing into the shrine of your heart those many things God hates and with which he will not abide, going on in you? Ah! that may be so. As others, so you were once the temple of the Holy Ghost, and perhaps there came a day when more than ever you welcomed him as your Ruler, because he had taken of the things of Christ and had shown them unto you. You made your open confession and avowal of your desire to be ruled and governed by him; you pledged yourself by his help to be Christ's faithful servant always. And for a time you were so: you were careful, conscientious; you remembered your Lord's word, "Watch and pray;" you readily abandoned all that stood between you and the doing of his will; you walked with God. But a change has come over you. One by one you received into your heart likings, and desires, and beliefs, and dispositions which were contrary to the Spirit of Christ. These suggestions you listened to, their counsels you obeyed. And so the love of the world fastened on you, propensities and habits which war against the soul took hold of you, and now you, whose heart was once a shrine of God, will, if the sad process I have spoken of goes on much longer, be forsaken of him altogether. Oh that the consideration of the doom of Shiloh may fill us with a holy fear, and lead us to such prayer as that which the well-known verse expresses!—
"Search me, O Lord, and try my heart,
For thou that heart canst see,
And turn each cursed idol out
That dares to rival thee."
But some of you are to be congratulated that you are still temples of God, still shrines of the Holy Ghost. Well, then, cherish his presence as the greatest joy of your life. For "he is your life." You would not invite to meet and abide with a dear and honored earthly friend those with whom you well knew he had no sympathy nor they with him, who were distasteful and hostile to him. You would not treat an earthly friend so. Be careful, then, not so to treat the Spirit of God, who now dwells within you. Be full of solicitude not to grieve him, yet more to do naught that would drive him from you. "Walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." So shall God dwell in you and you in God, and that more and more to your ever-increasing strength and purity and joy. Thus though, as we have now done, you may go in devout thought to Shiloh, and behold what God has done there, yet you shall be able with thankful joy to know that never, never shall you be as that God-forsaken shrine.—C.
The Divine long-suffering worn out.
The above section brings before us, as do many other Scriptures, this very certain and very serious truth of God's patience being not only exhaustible, but exhausted. We observe—
I. THE DIVINE LONG-SUFFERING IS A VERY PRECIOUS FACT. Nations, Churches, individuals have not we ourselves?—have been examples of it. What have not all of us owed to the fact that the Lord is long-suffering, and" willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn," etc.? But—
II. THIS TRUTH HAS VERY OFTEN BEEN MUCH ABUSED.
1. In men's thoughts; for they hope, and to think that in have allowed themselves to pervert the truth of the "eternal " no way can the finite will of man exhaust the infinitude of mercy which there is in God.
2. And in their words also they have so set forth the long-suffering of God as to leave on men's minds the impression that it was practically infinite, We love to sing such verses as those which tell how
"None can measure out thy patience
By the span of human thought,
None can bound the tender mercies
Which thy holy Son hath wrought."
And there is a sense in which these words are most blessedly true, but it is undeniable that such words are often pressed to a meaning which practically encourages the sinner to go on in sin.
3. And yet more is this truth abused in deed. Those to whom the prophet was writing had abused the long-suffering of God (cf. the closing verses of the Second Book of Chronicles). And how fearfully frequent is this abuse in the present day I How many reckon securely on making their peace with God, and having all the great affairs of their souls fully settled for eternity, although they go on, day by day and year by year, living in total disregard both of God and of his will. Therefore it is necessary to insist with all urgency—
III. THAT THE LONG-SUFFERING OF GOD CAN BE WORN OUT. The above section of this prophecy plainly declares this fact. And the fate of Jerusalem stands not alone in evidence of this (cf. the story of the Deluge, and how long then the long-suffering of God waited). Those who perished in the wilderness—how often were they warned! And, indeed, it may be said that God never brings ruin upon nation, Church, or individual soul without warning, repeated, plain, and urgent. But the fact that he does send such ruin proves that men may tempt God too far.
IV. AND THAT WHICH WILL EXHAUST THE LONG-SUFFERING OF GOD IS CLEARLY SHOWN US. It is not the fact of sin, great sin, repeated sin, but it is when, as in the case before us, sin has been persisted in, in spite of every kind and degree of plainest warning. "He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck," etc. (Proverbs 29:1). Now, such was the conduct of those told of here. God had not merely let them know of the peril of their conduct, but his loving solicitude for them had shown itself in the most marked ways. Note expressions in Jeremiah 7:13 : God not only spoke to them, but like as "those who watch for the morning" rise up early, so God himself awoke early, i.e. he chose the most favorable hours, the most probable means for gaining attention to the truths which he, by his prophets, spoke to them. But it was all of no avail. "Ye heard not;… ye answered not" (cf. Jeremiah 6:16, Jeremiah 6:17). Now, it is sin persisted in, in spite of all such Divine solicitude so repeatedly manifested" that God will not pardon (Jeremiah 7:14, Jeremiah 7:15). It is an unpardonable sin, and like such sin its forgiveness is not even to be prayed for (Jeremiah 7:16, and cf. 1 John 4:16).
V. CONSIDER THE REASON OF THIS REFUSAL TO FORGIVE, It is not because there is not love sufficient in God to pardon, but because his love is so great, because he is love. For God's love is not as that of too many earthly parents—a partial and unjust thing, loving one child at the expense of the others—but his love is for the children. His whole family are the subjects of his incessant and tenderest solicitude. Now, if a rebellious child come away from its rebellion, and have done with it, coming and confessing, "Father, I have sinned," with what joy the Father welcomes such returning one back! And so do the angels of God. No harm, but only good, results. But if there be no repentance, and the spirit of rebellion burns on in the heart of the child, how, consistently with true regard for the welfare of the other and obedient children, can the Father deal with that one as he does with these? It would turn heaven into hell, and make the Father's house, now the home of blessedness and the blessed, a scene of eternal discord. It could not be. Now, it is because such despising of the long-suffering of God destroys the hope of repentance, renders impossible the sighing of the contrite heart, and renders certain the going on in rebellion, that therefore this sin wears out the long-suffering of God and hath never forgiveness. The very love of God necessitates that he who is separate and alien in heart from the children of his love should be separate and alien from them in every other respect as well. And therefore, because it would be praying against the well-being of God's children, the prophet is forbidden to pray for the forgiveness of this sin. It is the unpardonable sin, the sin unto death, the sin against the Holy Ghost.
CONCLUSION. We learn what alone bars the mercy of God. Not this or that sin, however great. Still less the circumstance of death. But this "despising the forbearance of God." What need, then, for us all to pray, "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me … I shall be innocent from the great transgression!"—C.
The text a distinct instance. We remark—
I. SUCH PROHIBITION OF PRAYER SEEMS VERY STRANGE. Are we not bidden "pray without ceasing," "in all things by prayer and supplication … make our requests known unto God?" Are we not promised, "Ask, and ye shall receive?" Did not the Lord say, "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint?" And, in a case more nearly resembling the one before us in the text, did not Samuel say to the rebellious people of his day, "But God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you?"
II. IT IS NEVERTHELESS A FACT. And this prohibition is repeated (Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11; cf. also Exodus 32:10).
III. AND WE HAVE WHAT IS SIMILAR NOW. There is no express command not to pray for the reversal of the laws of nature. But yet we never do pray for such things. David's servants wondered that when his child was dead he should altogether cease from fasting and prayer; but he answered, "Wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again?" (2 Samuel 41:23). And even before death has actually taken place, when there is no hope of life, we find it all but impossible to pray for such life. And so in regard to what we know would be derogatory to the honor of God and his righteousness; we should never think of praying for aught like that. Or for what cannot be in the nature of things. Now, in all these things it is as if we had been prohibited to pray for them, seeing that we never do so pray. As children give over praying their parents to do this or that when they see by the expression of their countenance that it cannot be, and, on the contrary, when they see the faintest look of "yes," they urge their request with a renewed importunity of clamor; so is it in our prayers before God. We must see the look of "yes" on the face of God in more or less degree, or our prayers die down. But if it be seen, then they rise up, press on and forward with a vigor unknown before. This is a law of all prayer. And in regard to prayer for such as are told of in the text, it may be that Jeremiah was not expressly told in so many words that he was not to pray for them, but it was borne in upon his mind that he could not. And it is sadly possible that such conviction may be borne in upon the minds of God's people now concerning' some reprobate ones. There comes, over the soul the deep feeling that such and such a one "is joined to his idols, and that you can only "let him alone" The disciples of the Lord were bidden, when their message was spurned, to cast off the dust of their feet as a testimony against them. Paul did so with the hardened Jews. And such solemn conviction as to the utter godlessness of any on the part of a company of God's people is that "binding on earth" which will be ratified by, because it is but the result of, the "binding in heaven." They of whom the Church feels deeply that "their sins are retained," those sins are retained. And so through this solemn conviction, this despair of the soul's turning to God, prayer for such soul may become impossible. God has practically said concerning such to his people, "Pray not thou for this people, neither," etc.
IV. THIS IS A FACT OF MOST MOMENTOUS IMPORT TO THOSE WHOM IT CONCERNS. To be given up by God's servants may be the token that you are given up by God. Their feeling about you may be—we do not say necessarily is, but may be—but the reflection of God's. Happy are they who put joy and gladness into the hearts of God's servants, and for whom they with earnestness and strong faith can pray. But sad is the outlook of those for whom those same servants of God feel they cannot pray. Oh, pray that prayers for you may never be counted by God or by his people as amongst prohibited prayers!—C.
Idolatrous worship both a warning and a model.
The text vividly portrays the worship rendered to the heathen goddess, whose sumptuous and licentious worship had so fascinated those to whom the prophet wrote.
I. IT IS A WARNING. For it shows the deadly contagion of sin. Now, when the head of the household goes after evil, he speedily draws in and down wife and children, until the whole family is corrupted, and they become a household of wickedness. The text reveals whole families engaged in the worship of idolatry, each member taking an active and eager part. They become so many societies for the propagation of ungodliness. In the sanctity or the sin of the parent the children are sure to share. In the first, by the grace of God; in the second, by the fatal force of a father's example. A father can lift his children up to heaven or he can drag them down to hell, and some do. See the text.
II. BUT IT IS A MODEL ALSO. In what we are here told, the heathen shame the Church. Idolatrous worship may well put to the blush much of the worship of God. For in the worship told of in the text, false and horrible as it was, nevertheless we see much that we might well copy.
1. It was a worship that made all work. What a busy hive of workers each household is seen to be! But where is the counterpart of this in the Church of Christ? A whole family eager and active for Christ—the father, the mother, and all the children—would be a unique fact. How lazy, how indolent, is the greater part of our religion!
2. The children were interested in it. We are heartbroken that the great masses of our countrymen stand aloof from the worship of God. Did we interest them in it when they were children? We had them all in our hands, as we have their children now. Are our modes of worship, our representations of God's truth, our methods of instruction, such as shall make them love God's worship when they grow up? What would we not give to see our children so eager in God's worship as were the children told of in the text in idol-worship?
3. Both sides of the house were agreed on this great question. Husband and wife were of one mind, and each did what they could to further it. It was the general rule. Is it so now in regard to God and his service? Does the husband never hinder the wife? Does the wife always help the husband on the heavenward road?
4. There was fit work for each, and each did it. The children could gather sticks, the men kindle the fires, and the women, etc. When will there arise in the Church some who will point out some fresh and wise methods of enlisting all in her work? We have now two or three regular plans in operation; but if any be unfit or unwilling for them, as many are, there is nothing else for them. What we need is what these idolaters in their sad worship seem to have found—a work for every one, and every one at his work. But meanwhile let each one who is standing in the vineyard idle, not because unwilling to work, but because no one has hired him, no one has pointed him to the work for which he is really fit—and there are many such—let him take his case to the Lord, and ask, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" and he may rest assured, no matter whether he be little child or grown-up man, an answer will come to him soon.—C.
The recoil of sin.
I. THE RESULTS OF SIN ON OTHERS ARE TERRIBLE.
1. What may not be their deadly influence upon those with whom the sinner comes in contact? How hereditary, how contagious, how virulent, the poison of sin! As no man liveth unto himself, so also "no man dieth unto himself." If he die by reason of his sin, he ever drags down others into the same doom.
2. And their results Godward. It is said they "provoke him to anger;" "God is angry with the wicked every day;" "God is slow to anger, and of great mercy." But still sin is "the abominable thing that he hates." He will not tolerate it in his children, and hence, however severe the measures necessary to separate it and them, those measures will be taken. "Our God is a consuming fire." But—
II. THE RECOIL OF SIN ON THE SINNER HIMSELF IS TERRIBLE ALSO. It is described in the text.
1. It provokes him to anger. It is not alone the Lord whose anger is aroused, but the sinner's anger also is provoked. As he looks back on the folly, the utter madness, of what he has done, how completely he has been deceived, what rage of remorse fills his soul! How he flogs himself with the lashings of his own self-upbraiding! What epithets of anger and contempt does he heap upon his own head! He is filled with the fruit of his own ways. And another of these bitter fruits is:
2. Confusion of face. He is ashamed, abashed, confounded, because of his sin. He is so
III. THE ALONE CURE FOR THIS CONFUSION OF FACE IS THE CONTRITE CONFESSION OF THAT WHICH HAS CAUSED IT. God's word is passed that such confession shall avail; but let not him who has gone back from God think that the return will be as easy as the departure. It will not. David was never the same after his sin as he was before. Oh, it is dreadful to think of this recoil of sin, and how it staggers and wounds and weakens the soul for the whole life long. We slide back, gliding easily as over smooth ice. Not so do we return. Still, let the return be ever so difficult, the Lord bids us return, and he will heal all our backslidings. Oh, let us all go straight away to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for fear we should be backsliders; for there is the surest standing-ground, there our footsteps never slip! And if we have thus sinned, and sin's recoil is now terribly felt by us, then still go to the same cross; for our only hope of healing is there, and there alone.
"Come, let us to the Lord our God
With contrite hearts return;
Our God is gracious, nor will leave
The penitent to mourn."
The innocent victims of sin.
I. THERE ARE MANY SUCH. All forms of life are mentioned here—human, animal, plant from the stateliest trees down to the lowliest herb—and all shall suffer because of the sin of but a portion of them. How many, even of men, were innocent! And the young children—what had they done? Yet none were to escape, though it was but a portion of the men of the day who had done such wrong.
II. HENCE SOME SAY, "THE WAY OF THE LORD Is NOT EQUAL." But:
1. The summing up of all life in one head, constituting it a corporate unity, giving a solidarity to all life, especially to all human life, is the Divine order.
2. And though sin and sorrow come by means of it, yet a far larger balance of good is produced by it. What do we not owe to our all being members one of another? True, evil comes, but good yet more. Were we all isolated, separated, independent, there would be no guarantee for our good even then, but there would be certainty of infinite loss. If the sins of the fathers are visited on the children unto the third and fourth generation, the mercy of the Lord is unto thousands of generations "of them that love him and keep his commandments"(Exodus 20:6)
3. And though because of it "n Adam all died," yet because of it also in Christ shall all be made alive. This interlinking, of one with all and all with one is, therefore, a matter for great thankfulness, and, though attended with present evils, not at all of complaint.
III. AND THE THOUGHT OF THESE INNOCENT VICTIMS OF SIN IS MOST SALUTARY.
1. It often holds back from sin. This is one way in which God "out of the mouth of babes and sucklings has ordained strength." How often fathers and mothers will, for the sake of their children, that they might not be harmed, keep back from sin, to which but for such motive they might have yielded!
2. It deepens repentance for sin. (Cf. 2 Samuel 24:17.)
3. It makes sin more hateful to us. What must that be which destroys not us only, but our children, innocent of all sin? And it may be that the thus furnishing of additional safeguards against sin, and of additional motives to obedience, was one reason in the Divine mind for constituting us all "members one of another."
IV. AND THE THOUGHT OF THE INNOCENT 'VICTIM OF SIN, OUR LORD JESUS, IS THE MOST SALUTARY OF ALL. For he transforms us from victims into victors—victors over the condemning, the attractive, the defiling, the enslaving power of sin. And it is as we "look unto" him, as our souls habitually trust him to do all this for us, that we cease to be victims of sin, and become victors over it. Let us give glory to him by accepting his off, red grace.—C.
The indispensable condition of well-being.
This is laid down in Jeremiah 7:23—obedience to God. It is the teaching of the entire Bible, of our Lord, the prophets, his apostles. The gospel is for this—to secure it more perfectly; and the sacrifices of the ancient Law were for the same reason. But men have ever rebelled against this. They were doing so in Jeremiah's time. They sought to make their sacrifices and burnt offerings a substitute for the obedience God commanded. Hence, as Hezekiah was compelled to destroy the venerable relic, the brazen serpent, which, intended as an aid to faith, had become the object of faith, so now Jeremiah was compelled to speak slightingly of the appointed sacrifices and worship of the temple for the very same reason. Verse 21: he mocks at their repeated sacrifices, and (Verse 22) declares that at first God never desired or commanded any such things—only that they should obey his voice, He implies that they were afterwards given but as safeguards and helps to their obedience, which, without them, could not be secured. That obedience (Verse 23) he emphasizes as the one thing needful—the only thing for which God cared, but which they had persistently and, what was worse (Verse 26), increasingly refused. So that now (Verse 27) they were fixed in their disobedience, and no words, however divinely authorized, however earnestly urged, would have effect, and there was nothing left but to declare (Verse 28) their utterly abandoned character and condition. And the like conduct is seen still. Men still are ever attempting to evade the Divine rule of life. By reliance on sacraments, profession of religion, adherence to orthodox creeds, resting in feelings and periods of religious excitement when their emotional nature has been deeply stirred,—in almost anything rather than in that God faith in whom is shown only by obedience to his will. And the habit of this grows, and its results, as of old, become worse and worse, and all exhortation and warning fall on deaf ears and hardened hearts, and men still become as those who "obey not the voice," etc. Ever. 28). Let us remember that this is the subtle temptation of all ages, all Churches, and all people; and let us pray that God would write upon our hearts the sure truth that the one only evidence of our having so "named the name of Christ" as to be "in him" is our "departing from iniquity."—C.
The harvest of sin.
I. WE READ IN OTHER SCRIPTURES OF "THE JOY OF HARVEST." Such shall be the joy of God's redeemed people when his purposes of grace are fulfilled in and for them. It will be a joy unspeakably glorious.
II. BUT HERE WE HAVE PORTRAYED ANOTHER HARVEST—that of sin. Here there is no joy, but bitter lamentation and weeping and woe (Verse 29). We are shown:
1. The seed from which this harvest springs (Verse 30)—the doing evil in the sight of the Lord; setting their abominations in his house (Verse 30).
2. We see its growth—in open and unblushing idolatry; in the debasement of their nature. They had come to sacrifice their own children to their idol-god, to such horrible cruelty had they sunk down.
3. We see its hurry,
III. AND THOUGH DIFFERING IN OUTWARD CIRCUMSTANCE, YET IN SUBSTANCE AND REALITY THE SAME HARVEST WILL EVER SPRING FROM THE SAME SEED.
1. All evil-doing is such seed. And sheltering this under the cloak of religion,—this is the same seed.
2. And its growth will be in like manner. Progressive daring in sin; the debasement of our nature.
3. And its harvest will be seen,
CONCLUSION. Remember, "God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soweth," etc.—C.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
These were "lying words," as being used by false men for a false purpose. Literally true, for it was "the temple of the Lord" that stood in the midst of the land, and in the gate of which this message was delivered,—they were false in spirit, for the deceitful prophets thought thus to make the sanctity of the material structure a cover for the iniquities of the people—a charm to ward off their threatened punishment. The cry was indicative of a hollow and rotten condition of things throughout the entire system of social life. "The prophets prophesied falsely, and the priests bore rule by their means, and the people loved to have it so" (Jeremiah 5:31). We may take these words in three different lights, as reflecting—
I. THE SPIRITUAL PRIDE THAT LEADS MEN TO THINK THEMSELVES THE SPECIAL OBJECTS OF THE DIVINE FAVOR. This was the characteristic vice of the Jewish people. The distinctions God conferred on them—that they were separate among the nations as "Abraham's seed' and the chosen covenant people, that they had the temple of the Lord among them—were made occasions for national vain-glory, instead of incentives to holy character and noble deed. The same principle is illustrated whenever superior enlightenment, knowledge of truth, spiritual gifts, personal sanctity, ecclesiastical advantage, etc; lead in any way to self-exaltation. Nothing more unseemly than this. If in any such sense "the temple of the Lord' is with us, it may be expected that the shadow of it will produce in us a solemn sense of responsibility. Special privilege brings with it corresponding obligations. Whatever tokens of his favor God bestows on us, their due effect is to lead us to walk with the greater self-forgetfulness and reverential fear before him.
II. THE HYPOCRISY THAT MAKES THE "FORM OF GODLINESS" A SUBSTITUTE FOR ITS "POWER." What availed it that the temple of the Lord stood among them, if the spirit of devotion had departed? The sacred shrine in which they boasted was but a mockery of their internal falseness. The essence of Pharisaism lies in this resting in the outward and apparent, to the neglect of the inward, the spiritual, the real. None so far from God as they who imagine that a mere round of external observances will please him apart from the sincere homage of the soul. "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips," etc. (Matthew 15:8).
III. THE SELF-DECEPTION THAT PUTS ON THE GARB OF A RELIGIOUS PROFESSION AS A CLOKE FOR SIN AND A SHIELD FROM ITS PENALTY. The people did wickedly, and then went and stood before the Lord in the house called by his Name, and said, "We are delivered" (Jeremiah 7:10)—a striking illustration of the folly of those who dream that, so long as they pay public homage to the sovereignty of God's claims, they may violate his laws with impunity. It is a delusive dream that must have, sooner or later, a dread awakening. The mere material temple, glorious as it may be, is no sanctuary for a guilty conscience and a corrupt life. Simply to "lay hold on the horns of the altar" will not save us from the Divine retributions, the Nemesis that tracks the footsteps of the transgressor. Merely to cry, "Lord, Lord!" will never avert from men the sentence, "Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity ' (Luke 13:25-27).—W.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The doom of the temple.
I. THE MESSAGE TO THOSE CONCERNED CANNOT BE ESCAPED. The message is to men who make their boast and confidence in the temple. To be within temple reach seems to place them in a kind of fortress. Such must evidently be met on their own ground. And thus the prophet is sent to the temple gate. There, assuredly, all who took any deep interest in the temple would be found. Jeremiah himself belonged to the priests, and there is no saying but what, prophet as he was, he had to take an allotted share in the temple service. Possibly the message may have been repeated on several occasions, and likeliest of all on those occasions when the temple precincts were crowded with visitors. And when the temple was destroyed, would there not be many to remember that the threatening of destruction was uttered in the very gates of it? Thus we see that there is no want of directness and closeness in dealing with the unfaithful; and no want of courage and candor on the part of the man who was chosen to warn.
II. THE MESSAGE IS TO MISTAKEN WORSHIPPERS. To look round with pride and say these buildings are the temple of God, was as the utterance of some first principle. These worshippers, precise enough in outward forms, had a superstitious feeling that whatever vicissitudes might come elsewhere, Jehovah would keep the place of worship secure. The mistake lay in thinking that God valued the temple for itself. Yet it had not been made by his command, in the same sense as the tabernacle had been; rather, it was accepted as a sign of David's deep religious feeling and Solomon's pious regard for his father's wishes. There is nothing to show that out of his own will God would ever have commanded the erection of a temple. It was unseemly in the eyes of David that he should be dwelling in a house of cedar, when the ark of God was behind curtains. But this feeling had in it a certain barbaric element, a fondness for outward pomp and display. It was the best that was in the king's heart, and so it was accepted. He did what he could. But there was no inherent sacredness in the temple, that it should be kept inviolate amid the wreck and defilement of everything else. The people needed to be taught this truth in very plain language. The feeling towards the building is made manifest in such a passage as Ezra 3:11-13. In fact, the more the people became alienated in heart from the God of the temple, the more enthusiastic, fanatical even, they seem to have become with regard to the mere building.
III. THE WAY IN WHICH THE MISTAKE IS SOUGHT TO BE REMOVED. There is no heaping of scorn on the feeling of the people. Their feeling is rather made the occasion of strengthening the hold of God's truth upon them. If they really value the temple, they are shown the way by which they may keep it and dwell within it. Jehovah shows very distinctly that in his eyes the true glory of Jerusalem is not the temple, but the sort of people who dwell in the city. It is better to have a community of the pious, the upright, the truly brotherly, dwelling in cottages, than to have whole streets of splendid palaces, inhabited by luxurious, self-indulgent oppressors. Men hold in high esteem buildings, pictures, books, statues, great fruits of human intellect. God looks at good actions; little but significant kindnesses—the giving of the cup of cold water, the visiting of the sick, and the feeding of the hungry. A community of men, selfish to the core, will not be preserved for the sake of a splendid building; but that building may be preserved if a community of good men will be really pleased by its preservation. The truth, however, is that a community, living such a life as God here indicates should be chosen, would care very little about the pomps of a building. They would prefer to spend their substance in satisfying pressing needs of men. Many of the ecclesiastical buildings of today are inexcusably sumptuous. They are put up to gratify the lust of the eye, and meanwhile the spiritual glories of the upper room at Jerusalem and the Pentecostal miracle are quite forgotten. The publican, the penitent after God's own heart; went up to the temple; but what were its material splendors to him, as he stood, smiting his breast, and saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner?"
IV. THE MESSAGE IS CLINCHED BY A CLOSELY FITTING EXAMPLE FROM HISTORY. One instance is enough to prove a negative. The feeling in the hearts of the people is that God will fence the temple site around, for the sake of the temple. But Shiloh is at once brought forward as a capital instance to the contrary. Evidently it still remained in a ruined, neglected state, for any one to go and see it. Israel knew what Shiloh had been at the first, and they could see how different it was now. In reading history, we are bound to profit by all of Divine warning that may appear in what we read.—Y.
The family joined in idolatry.
I. REMEMBER GOD'S IDEAL OF AN ISRAELITE FAMILY. This is not set before us in any particular passage, but we can gather it from different institutions and commandments. Religion not only concerned the individual in his relation to the priest, the altar, and the holy of holies, and in his general relations to his fellow-men; but there was a very special mention of institutions and regulations which made the individual remember his position in the family. These institutions and regulations were as vital bonds, making the family into a true organic unity. There were the dedication of the firstborn, and the institution concerning the meaning of the Passover feast (Exodus 13:1-22.). There was the command to honor father and mother. So connected with the passage now under consideration, there was the setting apart of the dough (Numbers 15:1-41.). A continual instruction and training in Divine things was to be provided for. A mother could have no greater honor than that her children should rise up and call her blessed. Thus gathering together many passages that might be cited, we see that God meant the family to be a great agent for the advancement of his people in all that was good; and the same family ideal comes out with equal prominence and beauty in the New Testament. The natural family may, so far as Christ is concerned, count for much, if only each individual in the family will live up to his opportunities. Still, Christ insists upon the natural family being subordinate to the spiritual family. It is one of the illustrations of the great disintegrating and reconstituting power of the gospel of Christ, that it breaks up the family which is held by nothing stronger than natural bonds. The ideal family of the children of God, those who are the spiritual and abiding Israel, must be gained at any cost. The notion of a family gives one of the aspects in which Christians may be perfectly associated together.
II. LOOK AT THE DEGRADED POSITION IN WHICH THE ISRAELITE FAMILY ACTUALLY WAS. The parents are confirmed idolaters, and are dragging down their children to their own level. The children are sent out to gather fuel towards an idolatrous offering, when they should be learning of the nature, the will, and the promises of Jehovah. A desecrated temple has been spoken of, turned into a den of robbers; but what is that compared with a desecrated family? How insidiously, how gradually, how irresistibly, these children are drawn into idolatry! Gathering wood might be an interesting, amusing occupation, more like play than work. What idea could the children have of the awful insult to which this gathering would contribute? They would grow up, as by a second nature, to kindle fires and knead dough themselves. And it was so easy to treat the child in its way, to tell it to go out and gather wood; far easier than to bear patiently with its waywardness and inattention, and thus lead it on to some understanding of Israel's glorious past. For such treatment meant that the parent should be a learner also, he and his children moving onward together into an enjoyment of the fullness of the Divine promises. And yet God had dons much for these parents to make the teaching of his truth as easy as it could be made. He had given things to be set before the children's eyes at periodic intervals. But here, in this deep and pleasing infection of idolatry, is an influence which seems to work successfully against all that God can do. What could be hoped from rising up early and sending the prophets, when there was all this counter-working in the Israelite home?
III. CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITY OF STILL ACHIEVING THE IDEAL. Much may be done towards making even the natural family a holier and more edifying institution than in most cases it is. The humiliating description here shows how much depends upon the parents. How much there is still, even among families nominally Christian, which is just as horrible in this way as this family idolatry among the Israelites of old? Children are sedulously schooled into the worship of Mammon. Selfish and heedless parents are eager to send them to work, when as yet they should know only the home, the school, and the playground. Too often is the maxim reversed that the parents should provide for the children. Christian parents, at all events, should hold themselves bound by the most solemn obligations to do all they can for the training of their children in godliness. There is an ideal of parental duty, and that ideal is seen in action when we look towards the great Father in heaven. Assuredly there would be more God-fearing children if there were more really God-fearing parents. But what cannot be gained by looking up to human guidance and example, can be gained by looking to God. He gathers his children out of many human households, and gives them his own Word to be an impulse and a guide. He puts into their hearts a love of the spiritual brotherhood, which is a deeper feeling than any that nature knows. And the end of it all will be that his children will be perfectly joined together in one mind, in the praise and service of him who alone is worthy to be Braised and served by all.—Y.
The inveterate disobedience of Israel.
All along, from Jeremiah 7:21, this is the theme, viz. the disobedience of Israel. Now, to give fall force to a charge of disobedience there must be the means of furnishing ample proofs that directions have first been given—plain, earnest, and authoritative. And this is just what we find here. God refers his people back over the long years in which, by divers agencies, he had laid before them his righteous and beneficent will. What he commended was for his glory; for his glory because for his people's good; for his people's good because for his glory. The present state and prospects of the people are very humiliating, but assuredly no part of their humiliation can be laid to the charge of their God. The cloudy and the fiery pillar was but a symbol of most distinct guidance for the whole heart. The people were not suffered to wander for lack of expostulation and warning. When a lad turns out badly, criticizing speech is often directed against the parents, as if somehow they must be at fault. They may be at fault indeed, but there is no must in the matter. Hasty criticism at such a time, from the very injustice of it, adds a cruel intensity to the pain and disappointment already existing. But hasty criticism cannot be silenced by merely deprecating it, and parents at such moments would do well to remember that they stand in relations to their disobedient children not unlike those in which, as is represented here, Jehovah stood towards Israel of old. The most loving and watchful and patient of parents never did for his children near so much as Jehovah did for Israel. There was the instruction of their wonderful career, in which God had moved so sublimely among them. There were the ten commandments, formulated so distinctly, and set in such a grand historical frame. There were all the rites and ceremonies filled with instructing power to those who would seek to understand them. And there was also, accumulating generation after generation, the great mass of prophetic truth. Man is what he is, not for want of light, but for want of disposition to use and obey the light when it appears. There is an indisposition to attend to truth and to fidelity in all duty, until at last the very feeling of what faithfulness and righteousness are vanishes from the breast. But still the excuse is attempted, and persisted in with shameless impudence, that the word which professes to come from God must have in it something defective, something that effectually prevents it from being received. But it is only from the unrenewed mind that talk of this kind comes. Those who have had their eyes opened to the truth of God soon begin to discern that in that truth there is no lack of guidance, or inspiration, or comfort, or any good thing which can uplift and satisfy the heart. And we may be sure that God, who has given this immense and fruitful body of truth, has brought it nearer to the individual conscience than the individual in his perversity will always acknowledge. Men are indulged too much in the complaint that nobody has spoken to them about their souls. A miserable egotism often lies at the bottom of such complaining. If they know by any means whatever—and it matters not how slight the hint may be-that there is something written for the obedience of all mankind and for their consequent advantage, then these complainers are bound to attend to it. Men are not so foolish in the quest of worldly gains. Then they will go upon the slightest hint, and follow it up discreetly and warily. Why, then, should they be so foolish in the matter of spiritual gain? Because "truth is perished, and is cut off from their mouth."—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany