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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Jeremiah 31

 

 

Verse 3

DISCOURSE: 1068

GRACIOUS INFLUENCES THE FRUIT OF ELECTING LOVE

Jeremiah 31:3. The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.

THERE is a most glorious connexion subsisting between the Lord and his people: He is their God, even “the God of all the families of Israel;” and they are his people, devoted altogether to his service. He is the God of every individual, as much as if no other object of his love existed in the whole creation besides; and they are his exclusively, and without reserve. But here two questions arise: How are they brought into this connexion with him? and, From whence does this exalted privilege arise? Our text enables us to answer these questions; and we will answer them in their order.

I. How are God’s people brought into this glorious connexion with him?

Our text informs us, that we are “drawn” to it by the Father himself. We shall therefore answer this first question by shewing,

1. How he draws them—

[The term “drawing” is supposed to import somewhat of a force that is inconsistent with the free agency of man: and, were that idea just, we should be found among the first that would oppose such a doctrine as unscriptural and absurd. But the drawings of God’s Spirit do not in the least interfere with the liberty of human actions. The drawing of which our text speaks, is “with the cords of a man, and with the bands of love [Note: Hosea 11:4.]:” it is through the medium of the understanding, the will, and the affections: the understanding, as enlightened with divine truth; the will, as determined by sound judgment; and the affections, as engaged by the excellence of those things which the will is bent to follow. True it is, that we cannot precisely declare the manner in which the operations of the Holy Spirit influence the soul; for we do not even know honour own spirit acts upon the body: but we know infallibly, that God does influence the minds of men; not however by making them to act contrary to their will, but by milking them “willing in the day of his power [Note: Psalms 110:3.].”]

2. That their connexion with him is altogether owing to his influence—

[If the most express declarations of Scripture can determine any thing, the point in hand is established beyond a doubt: for our blessed Lord says, that “no man,” whatever his quality or talents, “can come to him,” in the exercise of true faith, “unless the Father draw him [Note: John 6:44.].” This testimony is decisive. But the truth of the point established by it is no less clear, from the representation which the Scriptures give us of the work which is wrought on the minds of all who are truly brought to God. It is called “a creation [Note: Ephesians 2:10.],” which we all know to be the work of God; and a resurrection from the dead, which is equally beyond any finite power to effect [Note: Ephesians 2:1. with 1:19, 20.]. Whatever may be supposed to have effected the good work within us, it is expressly excluded, that God may have all the glory [Note: John 1:13. Romans 11:16.]. If it be said, that such difficulties exist only in more abandoned characters, we answer, that the Apostles themselves put themselves, in this respect, on a level with the vilest of mankind [Note: Ephesians 2:3-5. Titus 3:3-6.]: and thereby fully confirm the testimony of our Lord above cited.]

The next question that arises is,

II. To what must this exalted mercy be traced?

Is it any peculiar fitness in this or that man, which occasions God to single him out as an object to be drawn by him; or is the mercy vouchsafed by God to whomsoever he will, according to his own sovereign will and pleasure? We cannot hesitate to declare, that the whole salvation, from first to last, is purely of grace.

[St. Paul himself was constrained to say, “By the grace of God I am what I am:” and, of course, every one else must do the same. But we cannot but have observed, on many occasions, how indignantly the natural man revolts from this doctrine. We do not doubt the sovereignty of God in rescuing man from destruction rather than the fallen angels; or in making the Jews his peculiar people, in preference to all others upon earth; or in selecting Isaac and Jacob whilst he rejected Ishmael and Esau: nor can we doubt that we ourselves, as enjoying the light of revelation, are objects of his sovereign choice, when we see far the greater part of mankind involved in midnight darkness: and yet we cannot endure the doctrine, when applied to the more immediate communication of God’s mercy to our souls. But to God’s everlasting love is our salvation ascribed in our text; and to that alone can it with truth or propriety ever be ascribed: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.”]

Now this is the plain doctrine of Scripture—

[God does not lore us because we first loved him; but “we love him because he first loved us [Note: 1 John 4:19.].” It was thus also with the Apostles themselves: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain [Note: John 15:16.].” To us the terms, Election and Predestination, almost sound like blasphemy: but the Apostles did not view them in this light: they considered every blessing we enjoy as the fruit of God’s electing love, and of his sovereign will predestinating us from all eternity to the enjoyment of it [Note: See Ephesians 1:3-6 and 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.] — — — They are particularly careful to exclude all works of ours from forming a ground of God’s electing love, lest we should boast as having in some degree merited his favour [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9.]. The whole tenour of the Scriptures shews, that “God hath compassion on whom he will have compassion [Note: Romans 9:15.];” and that his people are “a remnant according to the election of grace [Note: Romans 11:5.].”]

And in relation to this subject God is peculiarly jealous—

[How strongly did he guard his people of old against imagining that his distinguishing favour to them was founded in any superior goodness of theirs [Note: Deuteronomy 7:7-8.]! In like manner he puts it to us; “Who made thee to differ? and What hast thou which thou hast not received? and, If thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.]?” The whole of his Gospel is purposely designed to cut off all ground of glorying from man, that God alone may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ [Note: Romans 3:27. Ephesians 2:8-9. 1 Corinthians 1:28-29.].]

Address—

1. To those who cannot receive this doctrine—

[Would it not be well to search and examine what is the real foundation of your objections to it? Nothing can be more clear, than that the doctrine of Divine influences pervades the Holy Scriptures, and that these influences are constantly represented as imparted to men according to God’s sovereign will and pleasure: yet the generality of men reject those doctrines merely because they cannot explain all the difficulties involved in them. But does the denial of these doctrines involve no difficulties? Yes indeed, and incomparably greater: nor is there a single doctrine, even of natural religion, and much more of that which is revealed, that has not some difficulty attached to it. But the truth is, that our proud hearts do not like to be so stripped of all goodness, or to be made so entirely dependent on God. Here is the root of the whole controversy: and, when once the soul is humbled in the dust before God, we shall readily receive God’s declarations without gainsaying, and thankfully accept his mercy as a free unmerited gift.

But it is not wise for persons who are mere novices in religion to be disputing about abstract doctrines: it were better far to seek after God according to the light they have. All must acknowledge, that they ought to take God as their God, and to give themselves to him as his people. Let me then urge you to do this with your whole hearts: and we have no fear but that, if once you be enabled to do this, you will say, “Not unto me, O Lord, not unto me, but unto thy name he the praise.”]

2. To those who profess to have the experience of it in their own souls—

[Have you been “drawn” by divine grace? and have you a good hope that you are of the number of God’s elect? Then remember for what end he has drawn you, and for what end he has chosen you: it has been to make you “a holy and a peculiar people to himself.” Has he chosen you? it is “that you should be holy [Note: Ephesians 1:4.].” Has he predestinated you? it is “to be conformed to the image of his Son [Note: Romans 8:29.].” Has he created you anew? it is “unto good works, which God hath before ordained that you should walk in them [Note: Ephesians 2:10.].” Hence God makes the consideration of his electing love a motive and a reason for following after holiness of heart and life: “The Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them; and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked [Note: Deuteronomy 10:15-16.].” O, beg of him that you may be enabled thus to improve the blessings he has conferred upon you. This will best “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men,” who imagine that the doctrines of grace are subversive of morality, and that the honour which you give to God is only a cloak for idleness and sin. For this end alone are the drawings of God’s Spirit desirable, namely, to make you more holy, more spiritual, more heavenly than any person without those influences can be. Say then, with the Church of old, “Draw me, and I will run after thee [Note: Song of Solomon 1:4.];” and prove, by the steadiness of your heavenly course, that you do not pray in vain, and that God does not bestow upon you his grace in vain.]

3. To those who desire to embrace and feel it—

[Many there are who wish to submit to the revealed will of God, and yet never can contemplate his sovereignty without a fear and dread arising in their souls: but this is occasioned by their looking only on the dark side of the question, and thinking what must become of them if they are not elect: they contemplate sovereignty in connexion only with justice, and not in connexion with love and mercy. If they turned their thoughts more to his everlasting love, they would soon feel its attractive and constraining influence. We do not say that terror is not often made use of by God to awaken men; but it is by “loving-kindness that he draws” them into sweet communion with himself. Think then generally of his love to man, in providing redemption for him when he had passed by the fallen angels without any such gracious provision for their restoration to his favour: from thence proceed to think more particularly of his love to you, in having sent you the tidings of his salvation, and in having given you a desire to possess an interest in it; and you will then soon find a sweet confidence springing up in your souls: you will look to him as a Father; you will regard him as a Friend; you will feel encouragement to cast yourselves upon him, and pleasure in giving up yourselves to his service. Seek only to know how much he has loved you, and you will soon be constrained to love him, and to delight yourselves in him.]


Verses 7-9

DISCOURSE: 1069

THE RESTORATION OF THE JEWS

Jeremiah 31:7-9. Thus saith the Lord; Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations; publish ye, praise ye, and say, O Lord, save thy people, the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together; a great company shall return thither. They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born.

IT was expressly commanded by God, that all the males belonging to the twelve tribes of Israel should go up thrice every year to worship the Lord at Jerusalem. If we paint to ourselves the concourse which this would occasion at the appointed seasons, we may form some conception of what shall take place, in due season, from every quarter of the world. If it be said, that the land of Israel will be too small to hold the numbers that, in that case, would be assembled; I answer, that this very circumstance is adverted to in prophecy, where it is said, “The land shall be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants; so that they shall say, The place is too strait for me: give place to me that I may dwell [Note: Isaiah 49:19-20.].” That the Jews shall be restored to their own land, is, I think, as plainly declared in Scripture, as any truth in the Bible: though, if any be disposed to doubt it, I am not anxious to maintain a controversy respecting it; because, however important it may be to the Jews, it is to us a matter of small moment. To me it appears, that the preceding chapter, together with that before us, is fully upon this point. But, at all events, the future conversion of the Jews is absolutely certain, and indeed is universally admitted: and the multitudes of converts to the Christian Church in that day will be a visible accomplishment of the words preceding my text, which say, that “the watchmen on the Mount Ephraim will cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion, unto the Lord our God!”

In reference to the restoration of the Jews, we have in our text,

I. A command to us—

The Most High God is he that speaks to us in this place; and he enjoins us here,

1. To take an interest in the welfare of his people—

[It is a great reproach to the Christian world, that, from the close of the apostolic age, they have shewn very little attention to the Jews. Indeed, they have overlooked the prophecies relating to them; and thought little more, either of God s interest in them, or theirs in him, than if not a word had been spoken respecting them in Scripture. But God says to us, “Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations.” Here it is evident that we ought so to keep in view God’s gracious designs respecting them, as to have our hearts filled with joy in the contemplation of the blessings that await them. This is enjoined in other passages of Holy Writ [Note: Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 66:10-12.] — — — and I again say, that we have exceeding great reason to be humbled, when we look back on our past indifference towards them — — —]

2. To express that interest in every suitable way—

[We should give to them the benefit, and to God the honour, of what the Scripture has revealed concerning them; “publishing it” wheresoever we go, whether to Jews or Gentiles; and “praising God for it,” as a stupendous display of his glorious perfections — — — And whilst we endeavour to engage their attention to these things, we must, by fervent intercession, endeavour to engage God also in their behalf. We should, together with our public efforts, exert ourselves in secret also, saying, “O Lord, save thy people, the remnant of Israel.” This is especially commanded: we are even enjoined so to abound in importunity, as “not to give any rest to God till he arises to make Jerusalem a praise in the earth [Note: Isaiah 62:6-7.].” Alas! how shamefully negligent have we all been in this duty! We know how fervently Moses interceded for them on many occasions; and even prayed to have “his own name blotted out of the book of God’s remembrance,” rather than that they should be subjected to God’s heavy displeasure. Let us seek to attain somewhat of the same spirit; and “labour fervently for them night and clay in prayer,” that they may be restored to the favour and the image of their God — — —]

Verily our labour should not be in vain; since to this command, without the intervention of a single word, God adds,

II. A promise to them—

In the promise here given, you observe,

1. Their restoration to God—

[God himself will, in duo season, interpose for their recovery. However distant they are from him, he can, and will, bring them home to himself — — — and, however discouraging their circumstances, will work effectually for them. View them when they came out of Egypt: nothing could exceed their weakness: yet he brought them out safely, with a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm. So now, though they be blind, and lame, and in a state either of pregnancy or actual travail, he will crown their efforts with success; yea, and as in that day, so at the time appointed, a great company shall return thither.” Whatever “mountains be in the way, before Zerubbabel they shall become a plain [Note: See Isaiah 49:9-11.]” — — —]

2. The manner in which it shall be effected—

[“With weeping and supplication shall they come;” as says the Prophet Zechariah also, “God will pour out upon them a spirit of grace and of supplication: and they shall look on Him whom they have pierced, and mourn, and be in bitterness, as one is in bitterness for his first-born [Note: Zechariah 12:10.].” In the whole of their progress they shall be carried forward with an abundance of peace, and joy, and holiness: for God will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble.” The wonders transacted in the wilderness shall, in a spiritual way at least, be realized again: for God will guide them by his counsel, and strengthen them by his grace, and comfort them with the consolations of his Spirit, till he bring them in safety to his glory — — —]

3. The pledge that it shall surely be accomplished—

[When Moses urged Pharaoh to liberate that people, he particularly enforced his request with this consideration, that they were “God’s first-born [Note: Exodus 4:12.].” And in that light he still regards them, though he has cast them off for a season. To them, therefore, will he again reveal himself as a father; and for them will he again interpose as “his first-born,” whom nothing shall induce him finally to disinherit. As he has sworn that the waters of Noah shall no more go over the earth, so has he sworn that he will not be wrath with them, nor rebuke them; and that, though the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, his kindness shall not depart from them, nor the covenant of his peace be removed from them [Note: ver. 37. with Isaiah 54:9-10.].”]

Application—

1. Look well to it that you are yourselves restored to God—

[You have the same need of it as the Jews — — — and must return in the same way — — — Inquire, I pray you, whether you have come to the Lord Jesus with weeping and supplication” — — — and are walking steadily and uniformly in his holy way — — — This is as necessary for your salvation, as for theirs — — —]

2. Endeavour to help forward the restoration of your Jewish Brethren—

[You have seen that God enjoins you to interest yourselves in their behalf, exerting yourselves with God for them, and with them for God. To intercede for them in secret, is your bounden duty, and to labour for them in public — — — What you cannot do by your own personal efforts, you may accomplish through the Society which solicits your aid — — — — — —]


Verse 8-9

DISCOURSE: 1070

THE CHRISTIAN PILGRIMS

Jeremiah 31:8-9. Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child, and her that traraileth with child together: a great company shall return thither. They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way wherein they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. [Note: In the foregoing Discourse this passage is treated more particularly in reference to the Jews: in this, as applicable to the Church at large.] THE language in which the prophets speak of the return of the Jews from Babylon, necessitates us to look to some other event for the full accomplishment of their predictions. In a measure, they were fulfilled in the conversion of so many myriads to God in the apostolic age: but they will receive their final completion in the Millennial period, when all flesh shall see the salvation of God. In speaking of those whom God would bring back from their captivity, and by whom he would re-establish his worship upon Mount Zion, the prophet has respect to those who should come out from their earthly bondage to serve God in the Church of Christ. He here gives us a highly figurative description of,

I. Their character—

If we should select those who were of all others most incapable of undertaking a journey of many hundred miles through a trackless desert, we should certainly fix on those mentioned in the text: yet those are the persons specified by God as chosen by him for that very purpose. We cannot doubt but that something peculiarly important is intended to be conveyed under this striking representation. It implies then, we apprehend,

1. That there are no discouragements which God will not enable us to surmount—

[Persons, when exhorted to begin their journey heavenward, are ready to urge the peculiarity of their situation and circumstances, either as an excuse for their not attempting the work, or as a reason for procrastination. But however specious their pleas may be (and certainly none can appear stronger than those which the persons referred to in the text might offer), God would have them to know, that, under his auspices, the feeblest person in the universe may undertake the hardest services, assured that “through Christ strengthening him he shall be able to do all things [Note: Philippians 4:13.].” “The blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness [Note: Isaiah 29:18.];” “the lame man shall leap as an hart [Note: Isaiah 35:5-6.];” “the travailing woman shall be delivered without pain” or consequent weakness [Note: Isaiah 66:7-9.]; the very dead shall arise out of their graves, to perform the functions of life [Note: Ezekiel 37:1-12.]; nor shall any thing be impossible to them that believe [Note: Mark 9:23.].

Let none then excuse themselves on account of ignorance or weakness, or wait for a more convenient season; but rather let all with one heart obey the call of God, and go forth “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” As on the departure of Israel from Egypt “there was not one feeble person among their tribes [Note: Psalms 105:37.],” so neither shall there be one at this time whose “strength shall not be according to his day [Note: Deuteronomy 33:25.].”]

2. That God has chosen those who are in the most discouraging circumstances, on purpose that his own power may De the more displayed and glorified—

[If none but the strong and active were to enter on the Christian course, or none but the moral and the wise were to embrace the truth, we should be ready to ascribe the glory to man. But God has reserved all the glory to himself, by taking the poor and ignorant and vile in preference to others [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.], and by converting them to himself through the instrumentality of the weakest means [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:7.]. Apparent discouragements therefore may rather operate to increase our expectations of more effectual aid; since the weaker we are in ourselves, the more will Christ’s strength be perfected in our weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.]. Instead of pleading our unfitness and imbecility as reasons for declining the path of duty, we should rather glory in our unfitness, “that the power of Christ may rest upon us [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:10.].”]

Curious as the description of the persons is, it is not more so than the representation of,

II. Their journey—

Many there have been, and infinitely more shall there hereafter be, even “a multitude that no man can number,” who shall be brought to Zion. But how shall they come? Their journey is here described,

1. In its commencement—

“Weeping and supplication” well become those who are “turning from the power of Satan unto God.” How can they reflect on their former bondage without the deepest humiliation, or without crying mightily to God for pardon and deliverance? How can they stir one step towards Zion, and not be overwhelmed with admiring and adoring thoughts of God’s goodness to them, and entreating that the good work which he has begun may be carried on and perfected in their souls? The more ardent their desire is after God, the more will weeping and prayer abound in their experience [Note: Zechariah 12:10. with Jeremiah 50:4-5.].]

2. In its progress—

[As the journey from Babylon to Judea was both wearisome and dangerous, especially for persons circumstanced as the Jews were in their return to Zion, so the Christian’s path lies through many difficulties and dangers. But God promises him the things he so much needs; refreshing consolation, and unerring direction.

There are times when the “souls of God’s people are discouraged by reason of the way [Note: Numbers 21:4. Psalms 107:4-5.].” Their trials and temptations overwhelm their spirit; and they would “utterly fail,” if not succoured by seasonable communications of grace and peace. But God has provided a Comforter for them, even the Holy Ghost, whom he will send into their drooping and desponding souls, and by whoso agency he will revive and strengthen them [Note: Isaiah 43:19-20; Isaiah 40:29-31.]. None can be in so distressed a state, but they shall have “rivers” of consolation at hand for their refreshment [Note: Isaiah 41:17-18.].

Is their path peculiarly intricate and slippery? God will “make their way plain before their face:” “the rough places shall be plain, and the crooked paths straight.” In seasons of difficulty “they shall hear a voice behind them saying, This is the way, walk ye in it [Note: Isaiah 30:21; Isaiah 35:8.].” And if at any time their foot slide, he will put “his everlasting arms underneath them,” and uphold them that they may not fall.

Of these seasonable communications the Christian may be assured, because of the near relation in which he stands to God himself. “God is his father, and considers him as his firstborn [Note: Exodus 4:22-23.].” Whatever therefore is suited to that high relation shall certainly be imparted to him, in such a measure, and such a manner, as shall most conduce to his eternal welfare.]

Address—

1. Those who are yet in a state of bondage—

[Whatever diversity there may be in the states and characters of those who return to Zion, there is not one who does not see abundant reason to class himself among those mentioned in the text: and if we have never felt ourselves in a state resembling theirs, we may be assured that we are yet in bondage to sin and Satan. Behold then, to such persons we have a message from God himself: as God’s “watchmen, we would cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God [Note: ver. 6.]!” Make no excuses, no delays. The Lord Jesus Christ has “proclaimed liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” Be not then like those in Babylon, who, because of their comfortable settlements there, sat down regardless of the Holy Land; but put yourselves under the guidance of your Divine Leader; brave the dangers and difficulties of the way; and look to the honour and felicity of serving him, as an ample recompence for all that you can do or suffer in the ways of his appointment.]

2. Those who are travelling towards Zion—

[Adored be God, who “has brought you out with a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm!” But beware how you ever think of returning to your former bondage: for “then will your last end be worse than your beginning [Note: 2 Peter 2:20.].” You must expect difficulties: your faith and patience will be tried: it is “through faith and patience that you must inherit the promises [Note: Hebrews 6:12.].” But, when God is for you, you need not care who, or what, is against you. Only “encourage yourselves in the Lord your God:” “in the mount of difficulty the Lord will be seen [Note: Genesis 22:14.]:” though you are no better armed than Gideon’s band with their lamps and pitchers, you shall put to flight all that oppose your progress [Note: Judges 7:20-21.]: and though you are as unfit for exertion as a travailing woman, you shall reach in safety the Zion that is above.]


Verses 10-14

DISCOURSE: 1071

THE PREACHED GOSPEL A SOURCE OF BLESSINGS TO THE WORLD

Jeremiah 31:10-14. Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattereth Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for nine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their souls shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord.

THERE is a beauty and richness in the inspired volume which is not to be found in any human composition: and we cannot but consider it as a very serious injury to the Church, that the habit of expounding Scripture, which was so prevalent amongst the Reformers, is now almost wholly laid aside. Though we may speak many good things from a detached portion of Scripture, yet we never can give so great weight to any passage by our own comments, as it receives from its own context: and the more entirely God himself is permitted to speak, provided there be unity in the subject, the better. Take the passage which we have just read: it is capable of being made the ground-work of many discourses; but the force and interest which it derives from being considered in one connected view, would be lost. It is an exceedingly beautiful portion of Holy Writ; in elucidating which I shall be led to set before you,

I. The event which we are here commanded to proclaim—

You perceive that all “the nations” of the earth, are called upon to “hearfrom God, and to “proclaim,” as from God, to the remotest islands of the sea, and say, “He that scattereth Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd doth his flock.” This, beyond all doubt, refers, in the first instance, to the restoration of the Jews from Babylon. But it did not by any means receive its full accomplishment in that; since instead of their “not sorrowing any more at all,” their sorrows have, by means of their dispersion by the Romans, been multiplied beyond measure, and at times almost beyond endurance. But there is a time coming, and it is now very near at hand, when God will redeem them from all their enemies, and restore them to the full possession of their own land. And a blessed event will that be! Consider,

1. The manner in which it shall be accomplished—

[You well know how a river, with ten thousand tributary streams, flows into the ocean. But to see it flow up a mountain would fill you with utter astonishment. Yet thus it is that God’s ancient people will “flow unto the height of Zion.” “The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains; and God’s Israel, contrary to the course of nature, shall flow unto it,” coming, as it were, from every quarter of the globe [Note: Isaiah 2:2.], in one simultaneous movement, to worship the Lord in Jerusalem, just as all the males in Israel were wont to do at the three great and stated feasts.]

2. The object which all will have in view—

[“They will flow together for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd.” Beyond all doubt they will be blessed at that time with great temporal prosperity, perhaps greater than was ever enjoyed even in the days of Solomon. But under the image of temporal benefits, no doubt spiritual blessings are principally designed. Indeed, it must be remembered, that the things here mentioned were in fact, the chief articles which were presented unto God in sacrifice; and consequently they designate those services winch conduced at the same time to the honour of God, and to the refreshment of man. Under these are comprehended the word and ordinances of Jehovah, and especially those great and precious promises of his which minister strength and comfort to all his waiting people. To have communion with God in his worship, and to derive from him all the blessings of salvation, will doubtless be the chief objects of desire amongst all the people who shall assemble at Jerusalem. And by this will they obtain a most abundant communication of spiritual blessings to their souls, insomuch that, from having hitherto resembled only a desolate wilderness, they will become, in all the fruits of righteousness, “like a well watered garden;” and will from that time “dismiss all the sorrows” with which for so many centuries they have been oppressed. This shews, that the prophecy before us has not ever yet been fulfilled but in a very slight and partial manner; and that its full accomplishment yet waits for the arrival of the Millennial age.]

3. The effect which will be produced—

[Unutterable will be the joy that will then pervade the whole nation: “Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.” In that all ranks and orders of men will unite; the priests and the people vying with each other in the expressions of their joy.

But here also it is evident that this was to take place under the Christian dispensation. The sacrifices which were offered under the law, were for the support of the priests only, with their families: nor was the fat to be eaten even by them: That must on all occasions be consumed upon the altar: whereas at the time to which this prophecy refers, “the priests shall satiate their souls with fatness,” and all the people indiscriminately, together with the priests, (being all of them a royal priesthood,) shall “be satisfied with the goodness of the Lord [Note: Compare 1 Samuel 2:15-17. with Isaiah 55:2.],” Other things, to whatever extent they may be enjoyed, are empty and unsatisfying: but those who attain these things shall be so satisfied,” as never to thirst after any thing else [Note: John 6:35.]. Who can conceive the full import of expressions like these? — — —]

II. The interest we have in it—

An especial command is issued to the whole Gentile world, both to consider, and to proclaim this glad event. It is our duty to contemplate it,

1. As it respects the Jews—

[The Christian world has been strangely inattentive to their duty in this respect, from the apostolic age even to the times in which we live. In reference to the heathen world, some little interest has been felt: but the Jewish nation has been almost wholly overlooked; and the promises of God in his word which have referred to their restoration to his favour, have been applied almost wholly to the Gentiles. I cannot but mention in particular the 60th chapter of the prophecies of Isaiah, which, if read in connexion with the two closing verses of the preceding chapter, one would have supposed must have filled the minds of all with an eager expectation of the benefits which await the Jews; but which has been interpreted as referring almost exclusively to the Gentiles: yes, and even the 11th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans has interested us as little in behalf of the Jews, as if, instead of conveying truths as clear and full as language could express them, it had contained nothing but a mass of unintelligible jargon. Brethren, we are highly criminal in this matter. Why has God so strongly called our attention to this subject, and constituted us his heralds to proclaim it; but to call forth our desire after this blessed period, and our efforts to help it forward? Shall it be said that the accomplishment of these events must be left to God? I grant that none but God can accomplish them. But neither can any power less than his effect the conversion of the Gentiles, let was this any reason why men should not exert themselves to promote it? Did “Paul forbear to plant, or Apollos to water, because God alone could give the increase?” No: we are to be “workers together with God,” even as the Apostles were. The souls of God’s ancient people should be as dear to us, as the souls of the idolatrous Gentiles were to the Apostles: and the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom, whether amongst Jews or Gentiles, should call forth our utmost efforts, in a dependence upon God for his promised blessing.

I call upon you then, in the very name and with the authority of God himself, to unite, every one of you in his sphere, according to your respective abilities, to help forward this great and glorious event.]

2. As it respects ourselves—

[Though in its primary meaning this passage refers to the Jews, the whole tenour of it shews that it belongs to us under the Christian dispensation. (The mourning of Rachel for her children, mentioned in the words following my text, was fulfilled in the slaughter of the babes of Bethlehem.) To us is promised, no less than to God’s ancient people, a transition from bondage to liberty, from sin to holiness, from sorrow to joy. We are wandering from the fold of God, and need to be “gathered, and kept by the Good Shepherd,” even by him who “ransomed us” with a price, and “laid down his life for the sheep” — — — We too, in coming to Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, may expect a full enjoyment of all the same benefits; all of us, as “a royal priesthood,” being partakers of God’s altar, and living upon the sacrifice there offered — — — Absurd and impious beyond measure are the modes adopted amongst us for expressing our joy at the glad tidings of redemption: (carnal feastings and dances are very ill suited to express the feelings of a soul redeemed by the incarnation and death of the Son of God:) but to “delight our souls in fatness,” and to “satiate ourselves with the goodness of the Lord,” is the employment which I would commend to every one of you to the latest hour of your lives — — —]

On a review of this subject we are naturally led to inquire,

1. Whence is it that the Gospel produces so little effect in the present day?

[The glad tidings of redemption through the blood of Christ are professedly proclaimed by all who have entered into the ministerial office: yet in many places no change whatever is wrought in the manners and habits of the people. What can be the reason of this? Has the Gospel lost its power? No: but there is some essential defect in the ministration of it: in many places the doctrine of the cross is not made sufficiently prominent; yea, in some, it is kept almost out of sight; and no other use is made of the atonement and righteousness of Christ than to supply the defects of man’s obedience. And where Christ is more fully preached, he is often represented as purchasing only a pardon for our past sins, and then as leaving us to “maintain our warfare at our own cost,” and work out our salvation by our own arm: whereas the Scripture speaks of him as not only redeeming his people, but “gathering them” by his own care, and “keeping them” by his own power through faith unto everlasting salvation [Note: 1 Peter 1:5.]. Now a mutilated Gospel is in reality no Gospel: salvation must be preached as altogether of grace through faith: the whole glory of it belongs to God: nor will he ever honour any ministry that robs him of it.

But even where the Gospel is most faithfully preached, it produces, in comparison of the apostolic age, but little effect. The reason of this we apprehend to be, that our hearers, being Christians in name, and educated in a profession of Christian doctrines, are ready to imagine that they are Christians in deed, and that they have a saving acquaintance with the Gospel: they are, like the Laodiceans of old, “rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing” in their own estimation, and unconscious that “they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked [Note: Revelation 3:17.]:” and whilst they continue so unconscious of their need of a Redeemer, it is not to be wondered at that they are so little affected with the tidings of redemption. O remember, that a “ransom” implies captivity, and “redemption” bondage: and beg of God to shew you what slaves you nave been to sin and Satan, in order that you may appreciate as you ought the Gospel of Christ. “The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick:” and till you feel your disorder, you will despise the remedy.]

2. What is to be done in order to render it more effectual?

[In hearing the ministers of Christ, we do not sufficiently bear in mind whose word it is that they preach unto us, or the deep interest we have in it: we rather consider them as performing an official duty when they deliver a discourse, and ourselves as having performed our duty when we have heard it. But we must have far other views of the Gospel than, these: we must consider the word we hear, as God’s word, and as God’s word to ourselves in particular. We must consider God as looking down with pity upon us in our destitute condition, and saying, “Deliver him from going down into the pit; for I have found a ransom.” We must regard him as longing for our happiness, and seeking to fill us with his richest consolations. In a word, we must view the Gospel as Jeremiah did the ropes and other materials which Ebed-melech let down to extricate him from the dungeon, where he must otherwise have perished. He needed no persuasion to fit the materials to his arms, in order to secure the proffered deliverance [Note: Jeremiah 38:9-12.]: so we should thankfully embrace the salvation of Christ, regarding it as altogether the fruit of his love, and the effect of his power. Did we but attend the ordinances in such a frame as this, they would soon prove “the power of God to the salvation” of our souls.]


Verses 18-20

DISCOURSE: 1072

THE REFLECTIONS OF A PENITENT

Jeremiah 31:18-20. I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.

THERE is a wide difference between ostentatious sanctity and true piety. Hypocrites always endeavour to attract the attention of the world. The true penitent, on the contrary, affects privacy and retirement: though cheerful before men, his sorrows are deep before God: were his groanings overheard by the world, he would probably be made an object of pity or derision; but God beholds him with pleasure and complacency [Note: Isaiah 66:2.]. Ephraim, or the ten tribes, are represented in the text as penitent; the secret working of their minds is here opened to our view: and this accords with the experience of every repenting sinner. God then declares how acceptable such repentance is in his sight.

The passage naturally leads us to consider,

I. The reflections of a true penitent—

We first see the state of his mind in the beginning of his repentance

He reflects on his incorrigibleness in the ways of sin—

[Men seldom turn to God, till subdued by heavy afflictions: nor does the rod at first produce any thing but impatience, The penitent calls to mind his perverseness under such a state. He compares his conduct with an untamed heifer [Note: The bullock, while unaccustomed to the yoke, rebels against the will of his master: though nourished and supported by him, it will not subserve his interests: when chastised, it rebels the more; yea, repeated strokes serve only to inflame its rage, and to call forth its more strenuous resistance: nor will it ever submit, until it be wearied out, and unable to maintain its opposition. Thus the sinner generally fights against God.]. He laments that there is such enmity in his heart against God.]

He pleads with God to turn and convert his soul—

[He feels the necessity of divine grace to change his heart [Note: John 6:44.]. He therefore cries to God, “Turn thou me.” He ventures like the prodigal to address God as his God. He urges this relation as a plea to enforce his request.]

We next see the state of his mind in the progress of his repentance

He reflects upon the progress he has made—

[He has felt very pungent grief on account of his iniquities [Note: This is the import of that significant action of “smiting upon the thigh:” see Ezekiel 21:12.]. Through the remonstrances of his conscience he has been “ashamed.” He has been “even confounded” by discoveries of his own corruptions. His constitutional propensities, which were the reproach of his youth, are still his burthen, and his grief [Note: The expressions of his grief rise in a climax; he repents, he smites on his thigh; he is filled with shame; he is confounded before God. This, though an afflictive process, is a salutary and blessed experience; as it argues deeper self-knowledge, and an increasing view of the purity of God’s law.].]

But he gives the glory of his advancement to God alone—

[He had cried to God for the gift of converting grace. He now acknowledges that grace to have come from God. He ascribes his deeper insight into the corruptions of his own heart to the illuminating operations of God’s Spirit. Thus he adopts from his heart the confessions of Job [Note: Job 40:4.], and of Paul [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:10.]—]

How acceptable to God such a penitent is, appears from,

II. The reflections of God over him—

The penitent can scarcely find terms whereby to express his own vileness; but God accounts no honours too great for such a person—

He owns the penitent as a “dear and pleasant child”—

[The lower thoughts we have of ourselves, the higher God has of us, While we are confounded before him, he “rejoices over us with joy.” While we are saying, “Surely such an one as I cannot be a child of God,” He delights in testifying that we are his children [Note: The force of these positive interrogations is the same as if they had been expressed negatively: they import a strong affirmation: see 1 Samuel 2:27-28.]. God appeals, as it were, to our contrition, in proof that we are his.]

He further expresses his compassionate regard for him—

[The chidings and rebukes of God are all in love [Note: Hebrews 12:6.]. But the afflicted penitent is apt to complain with Zion of old [Note: Isaiah 49:14.]—God however never feels for us more than when he hides his face from us. Like a tender parent, he longs to renew to us the tokens of his love [Note: Isaiah 49:15-16.]. The contrite soul may apply to itself those gracious declarations [Note: Isaiah 54:7-8.]—]

He promises to manifest his mercy towards him—

[God never will despise the broken in heart [Note: Psalms 51:17.]. No past sins, however heinous, snail be remembered against them [Note: Isaiah 1:18.]. For such God has prepared a glorious inheritance in heaven [Note: Matthew 25:34.].]

He grants to him all that he himself could possibly desire—

[What more could the penitent ask of God than an assurance of his adoption into God’s family, a declaration of God’s love towards him, and a promise that he shall find mercy at the last day? Yet these are all expressed in God’s reflections over Ephraim. What inexpressible comfort should this administer to drooping penitents!]

Application—

[Can God testify of us as of Ephraim in the text? — — — If he cannot, we must expect shame, confusion, and agony at the last day [Note: Daniel 12:2 and Matthew 13:49-50.]. If he can, we are assured of happiness both in this world and the next [Note: Psalms 126:5-6.].]


Verse 30

DISCOURSE: 1073

THE SURE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN

Jeremiah 31:30. Every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.

POPULAR sentiments, even when they become so general as to be reduced to a standing proverb, are not therefore to be received as true: they must be tried, exactly as if they were the suggestions of any solitary individual; since the direction given us by God himself is, “Prove all things, and hold fast that only which is good [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:21.].” There was amongst the Jews an established proverb, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” The Prophet Ezekiel, as well as Jeremiah, mentions this [Note: ver. 29. with Ezekiel 18:2-4.]: and both of the prophets declare, that, whatever ground for it had existed in past times, God would in future visit with his judgments offenders themselves, and not deal with men in a way that should involve the innocent with the guilty. True it is, that, in the very Decalogue itself, he had said, that he would “visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him [Note: Exodus 20:5.]:” but his dispensations henceforth, and especially “in the latter days,” should bear rather the stamp of individuality, in accordance with men’s personal habits; responsibility attaching to those only whose conduct should merit his displeasure: “Every one should die for his own iniquity; and every man that should eat the sour grape, his teeth should be set on edge.”

In considering this solemn declaration, I shall notice it,

I. As an answer to the prevailing sentiment of that day—

It must be confessed that there was ground for this sentiment—

[God, in his conduct towards the whole human race, had given occasion for it. Our first parents sinned; and all their posterity became heirs of their guilt and misery. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, even over those who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression [Note: Romans 5:12-14.]:” yes, “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners; and by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation [Note: Romans 5:18-19.].” This alone, methinks, would justify the proverb, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

But besides this, God, in his dealings with his own peculiar people, had, on many occasions, caused the children to suffer for the iniquities of their parents. At the general deluge, and at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha, the new-born infant suffered no less than the most abandoned parent; as was the case also when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with all their respective families, went down alive into the depths of the earth. There were instances, also, wherein the offenders themselves had either been removed from this world, and their survivors were left to suffer for their iniquities; or where the offender himself escaped, whilst others were punished on his account. It was in David’s days that a famine of three years was sent to punish Saul’s violation of the engagements which, many hundreds of years before, had been made with the Gibeonites [Note: 2 Samuel 21:1; 2 Samuel 21:6.]: and, for David’s numbering of the people, seventy thousand of his subjects were slain, whilst he himself was spared [Note: 2 Samuel 24:10; 2 Samuel 24:15.]. Manasseh, too, had been taken to his rest, when for “his iniquities, which the Lord would not pardon,” the whole nation of Judah was carried into captivity in Babylon [Note: 2 Kings 23:26-27; 2 Kings 24:3-4.]. And even in the dispersion of the Jewish nation by the Romans, and in all the calamities they have suffered to this time, “on them has come all the blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel, unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom they slew between the temple and the altar [Note: Matthew 23:35.].” The people, who murdered their Messiah, said, “His blood be on us and on our children;” and, verily, his blood has been on their children, even to the present hour.

In truth, constituted as the world is, there is a necessity that the happiness of children should, to a very great extent, depend on their parents. It is scarcely possible but that, both in our civil and social relations, evil should arise from this source; since the welfare of subjects must, of necessity, be affected by the conduct of their governors; and the welfare of children by the conduct of their parents.]

But though in some respects this proverb was true, yet, as uttered by them, it was false and impious—

[In this proverb the Jews intended to exculpate themselves, and to cast reflections upon their God. They wished it to be understood that they were not suffering for their own sins, but for the sins of others; and that God dealt hardly with them, in making them amenable for sins which they had not committed. But, not to mention that a man himself is in some respect punished in his children, where is there, on the face of the whole earth, a person who has not merited all that has ever come upon him? and who has not reason to acknowledge that “God has punished him far less than his iniquities have deserved [Note: Ezra 9:13.]?” Whatever may have been the primary occasion of our troubles, there is abundant ground for them within our-selves: “A living man can have no just reason to complain [Note: Lamentations 3:39.]:” for, if we had had our just desert, there is not one amongst us that would not have been in the very depths of hell, long, long ago. Those who have been partners in iniquity may, and will, reproach each other in that place of torment; but none shall be able to reproach their God: every one of those un-happy spirits shall be constrained to say, “True and righteous are thy judgments, Lord God Almighty [Note: Revelation 16:7.]:” and the day that is appointed for assigning to men their respective doom, is on this very account declared to be “the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God [Note: Romans 2:5.].” This proverb, therefore, when uttered with a view to justify man as innocent, or to reproach God as unjust, must be regarded as profane and impious in the extreme.]

The answer given to it in my text is singularly important,

II. As a declaration of God’s established rule of procedure in all ages—

Sin, by whomsoever committed, shall not go unpunished. It shall be followed with evil,

1. In this world—

[“A sour grape,” whether eaten by one or many, “will set the teeth on edge:” and sin, whether of a more open or secret kind, will be followed with evil to the soul. Let the profligate and abandoned sinner, the drunkard, the whore-monger, the adulterer, say, whether what he has followed with such avidity, and regarded as such a source of exquisite delight, has not, in the issue, been productive of pain? Let the injury which he has sustained, in his name, his health, his property, be taken into the account, and he will be constrained to acknowledge that “the way of transgressors is hard [Note: Proverbs 13:15.].” We may appeal with confidence to every sinner in the universe; “What fruit had ye, even at the time, of those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” Verily, not an hour had elapsed after your sweetest gratifications, before they were embittered with shame, and fear, and self-reproach.

But, not to confine ourselves to the licentious profligate, let us ask of the man who, whilst externally moral, is yet under the influence of evil tempers, Who ever harboured envy in his bosom, and did not find it “as rottenness in his bones [Note: Proverbs 14:30.]”? Or, who ever gave way to anger, malice, revenge, and did not experience in his own soul a disquietude, that of itself was sufficient to shew the hateful character of the dispositions he indulged?

Let us, however, pass by the positive violations of God’s Law, and notice only those which, for distinction sake, I will call negative. Suppose a person to be “blameless” as Paul himself, in relation to outward sin, but only to be lukewarm in relation to the course of life prescribed by the Gospel: suppose him to be observant of all “the forms of godliness, but yet destitute of its power:” will that man be happy? No, in truth: he is wicked in God’s estimation: and “there is no peace to the wicked [Note: Isaiah 57:21.]” “Throughout his whole life,” he is, and must of necessity be, “in bondage to the fear of death [Note: Hebrews 2:15.]:” and to speak to him of death and judgment, is to rob him of all the false peace that he enjoys.

Then I say, that even in this world “no man can eat the sour grape without having his teeth set on edge;” so indissoluble is the connexion between sin and misery; and so irreversible is God’s decree, that “it shall be ill with the wicked [Note: Isaiah 3:11.].”]

2. In the world to come—

[Here there may be mitigations of the pain which sin brings with it: but hereafter the misery of sinners will be unmixed and unabated to all eternity. God cautions us not to deceive ourselves with any false hopes respecting this: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap: he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting [Note: Galatians 6:7-8.].” It matters not who he be: he may be the first monarch upon earth; yet shall not his earthly dignity protect him: for God has said, that “though hand join in hand, he shall not go unpunished [Note: Proverbs 11:21.]” Whatever be the inequalities of God’s dispensations now; some suffering in consequence of the sins of other men, whilst the perpetrators of those evils escape with impunity; in that world to which we are hastening, “every man shall bear his own burthen [Note: Galatians 6:5.],” and shall “receive from God according to his works: to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honour and immortality, God will give eternal life; but to those who are contentious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil [Note: Romans 2:6-9.].”]

To all of you then I say—

1. Contemplate, not so much the immediate, as the more remote, consequences of sin—

[Sinful indulgences no doubt bring with them a present gratification; but it is the part of wisdom to inquire what the ultimate effects of them will be, A man with a cup of poison in his hand would not consider whether its contents were pleasant to his taste, but whether it would not soon be productive of agonies and death. Now we are told respecting the sinner, that “though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, though he hide it under his tongue; though he spare it, and forsake it not, but keep it still within his mouth; yet his meat in his bowels is turned; it is the gall of asps within him [Note: Job 20:12-14.].” To the truth of this every soul of man must tear witness: and most of all is the truth of it felt in that land from whence no traveller returns. Is it not madness, then, to purchase any momentary gratification at so vast an expense; knowing, as we do, that if we repent of it, our sorrows must be proportionably great; and that, if we repent not of it, they must be infinitely greater to all eternity? I pray you, Brethren, bear in mind the instruction in my text, and calculate well the evils that will ensue, ere you venture any more to taste forbidden fruit — — —]

2. Contemplate the provision which God has made for those who repent them of their sins—

[You have heard that men may suffer for the sins of others. But know, that they may also be benefited by the sufferings of another. Yes, my Brethren, if in Adam you died, in Christ you may be made alive; and through the sufferings of your adorable Lord you may be not only delivered from the sufferings which you yourselves have merited, but may be made partakers of a glory and felicity which you could never otherwise have obtained. If, then, you have been ready to apply to yourselves that proverb, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” now apply to yourselves the converse of it, which is contained in the Gospel; where you are told, that Christ died, the just for the unjust [Note: 1 Peter 3:18.]” and that “by his stripes you may be healed [Note: 1 Peter 2:24.].” Wonderful, indeed, is this truth, and well calculated to reconcile us to the loss which we sustained by the first Adam. Yes, know that the Son of the living God “has become a curse for us [Note: Galatians 3:13.];” and that “God has made him, who knew no sin, to become sin for us, that we, who had no righteousness, might be made the righteousness of God in him [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:21.].” O, bear in mind this stupendous mystery, which must for ever silence every murmur against those dispensations which appear to us so dark, and which have given rise to the proverb before us. Know, of a surety, that “if you die, it is for your own iniquity;” but if ever you be saved, it is for the righteousness of your incarnate God. Rely then on him. Look to him to remedy all that your own iniquities have brought upon you: and thus, where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound; and as sin hath reigned unto death, so shall grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord [Note: Romans 5:20-21.].]


Verses 31-34

DISCOURSE: 1074

THE NEW COVENANT

Jeremiah 31:31-34. Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the Home of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; (which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:) but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

THOUGH there is among us a general idea that Christianity is founded on the Jewish religion, yet the specific difference between them is very little understood. It would be well for us to have clear views of this subject: for unless we know the comparative excellency of the new covenant above that which it superseded, we can never justly appreciate the great advantages we enjoy. In the passage before us, the Mosaic and Christian covenants are contrasted; and the abolition of the one, and the establishment of the other, are foretold. But before we enter on the comparison between the two, it will be necessary to observe, that there are, properly speaking, only two great covenants; under the one or other of which all the world are living: the one is the Adamic covenant, which was made with Adam in Paradise, and which is entirely a covenant of works; the other is the Christian covenant, which, though made with Christ, and ratified by his blood upon the cross, was more or less clearly revealed from the beginning of the world. It was first announced in that promise, “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” It was afterwards more plainly opened to Abraham, and afterwards still more fully to Moses. The Mosaic covenant, properly speaking, was distinct from both of these: it was not altogether a covenant of works, or a covenant of grace; but it partook of the nature of both. As containing the moral law, it was a re-publication of the covenant of works: and as containing the ceremonial law, it was a dark and shadowy representation of the covenant of grace. It was a mixed covenant, designed for one particular nation; and given to them, in order to introduce the covenant under which we live. Of that the prophet says, that it should in due time be superseded by a new and better covenant; and the Apostle, quoting this whole passage, says, that “it had then waxed old, and was vanishing away [Note: Hebrews 8:8-13.].”

In order to give a clear view of this subject, we shall state,

I. The blessings of the new covenant—

These being specified by the prophet, and copied exactly by the Apostle, we shall adhere strictly to them, without attempting to reduce them to any other order than that which is here observed. In the new covenant then, God undertakes,

1. To write his law in our hearts—

[This is a work which none but God can effect. The kings were commanded to write a copy of their law, each one for himself: but, though they might write it on parchment, they could not inscribe it on their own hearts. This however God engages to do for all who embrace the new covenant. He will make all the laws which he has revealed, agreeable to us: he will discover to us the excellency of them; and “cause us to delight in them after our inward man.” He will make us to see, that the moral “law is holy and just and good,” even while it condemns us for our disobedience to its commands; and that “the law of faith” also (that is, the Gospel) is a marvellous exhibition of God’s mercy and grace, and exactly suited to the necessities of our souls. He will engage our wills to submit to his; and dispose our souls to put forth all their energies in obedience to his commands. This he has repeatedly promised [Note: Ezekiel 36:26-27.];” and this he will fulfil to all who trust in him.]

2. To establish a relation between himself and us—

[By nature we are enemies to him, and he to us. But on our embracing of this covenant, he will “give himself to us as our God, and take us for his people.” In being our God, he will exercise all his perfections for our good; his wisdom to guide us, his power to protect us, his love and mercy to make us happy, his truth and faithfulness to preserve us to the end. In taking us for his people, he will incline us to employ all our faculties in his service. Our time, our wealth, our influence, yea, all the members of our bodies, and all the powers of our souls, will be used as his, for the accomplishment of his will, and the promotion of his glory. We may see this illustrated in the life of the Apostle Paul. God took as much care of him, as if there had been no other creature in the universe; and he devoted himself to God, as much as if his faculties had not been capable of any other use or application. The effects of this relation are not indeed equally visible in all the Lord’s people: but the difference is in the degree only, and not in the substance and reality.]

3. To give us the knowledge of himself—

[There is a knowledge of God which cannot be attained by human teaching; a spiritual experimental knowledge, a knowledge accompanied with suitable dispositions and affections. But this God will give to those who lay hold on his covenant: “He will reveal himself to them, as he does not unto the world.” He will “put them into the cleft of the rock, and make all his glory to pass before their eyes;” and proclaim to them his name, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious [Note: Exodus 33:18-23; Exodus 34:5-7.], &c. He has promised, that “all his people shall be taught of him [Note: Isaiah 54:13. John 6:45.],” “the least as well as the greatest,” yea, the least often in preference to the greatest [Note: Matthew 11:25. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.]. And in proof that this promise is really fulfilled to all who receive the Gospel, St. John declares it to be a known acknowledged fact: “we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding to know him that is true [Note: 1 John 5:20.].”]

4. To pardon all our iniquities—

[Under this new covenant, we have access to “the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness;” and by washing in it “we are cleansed from all sin [Note: 1 John 1:7.].” Whatever transgressions we may have committed in our unregenerate state, they are all put away; “though they may have been as scarlet, they have become white as snow; though they have been red like crimson, they are as wool” — — —]

Hitherto we have spoken only in a general way of the blessings of the new covenant: we proceed to notice them more particularly, while we state,

II. The difference between the old and new covenants—

We have already observed, that by “the old covenant” is meant the Mosaic covenant, made with the Jews on Mount Sinai. Between this and the Gospel covenant there is a wide difference. They differ,

1. In the freeness of their grants—

[The Mosaic covenant imposed certain conditions to be fulfilled on the part of the Jews; and on their fidelity to their engagements all the blessings of that covenant were suspended [Note: Exodus 24:6-8.]. But we find no condition specified in the new covenant. Must we attain the knowledge of God, and become his people; and have his law written in our hearts? true: but these are not acts of ours, which God requires in order to the bestowing of other blessings upon us; but blessings which he himself undertakes to give. if any say, that repentance and faith are conditions which we are to perform, we will not dispute about a term; you may call them conditions, if you please; but that which we affirm respecting them is, that they constitute a part of God’s free grant in the Gospel covenant; so that they are not conditions, in the same sense that the obedience of the Jews was the condition upon which they held the promised land: they are, as we have just said, blessings freely given us by God; and not acts of ours, whereon to found our claim to other blessings.

It is worthy of observation, that the Apostle, mentioning this grant of the new covenant, particularly specifies, that God, “finding fault with” the Jews for their violations of the old covenant, says, “I will make a new covenant [Note: Hebrews 8:8.].” Had he said, “Commending them for their observation of the inferior covenant, God said, I will give you a better covenant,” we might have supposed, that it was given as a reward for services performed: but when it was given in consequence of the hopeless state to which their violations of the former covenant had reduced them, the freeness of this covenant appears in the strongest light.]

2. In the extent of their provisions—

[We shall again notice the different blessings as they lie in our text. God wrote his law upon tables of stone, and put it into the hands of those with whom his old covenant was made: but, according to his new covenant, he undertakes to put it into our inward parts, and to write it on our hearts. What a glorious difference is this! and how beautifully and exultingly does the Apostle point it out to his Corinthian converts [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:3.]!

God established indeed a relation between himself and his people of old: but this relation, though nominally the same with ours, was by no means realized to the same extent. To true believers amongst them he was the same that he now is: but what was he to the people at large, with whom the covenant was made? He interposed for them doubtless, on many occasions, in an external way; and they externally acknowledged him: but his Communications to us are internal, and our devotion to him is real and spiritual.

Under the old covenant, God revealed himself to his people in types and shadows; and the ceremonies which he appointed were so dark and various, that they could not be known to the generality, unless the people carefully instructed each other. On this account it was commanded that the children should inquire into the reason of various institutions (as that of the passover, and the feast of unleavened bread, and the redemption of the first-born); and their parents were to explain them [Note: Exodus 12:26-27; Exodus 13:8; Exodus 13:14-15.]. But with us, there are only two institutions, and those the plainest that can be imagined; and the great truths of our religion are so interwoven with our feelings, that a person whose desires are after God, needs no other teaching than that of God’s word and Spirit; and though the instructions of ministers, of masters, and of parents, are still extremely useful, yet may a person obtain the knowledge of God and of salvation without being indebted to any one of them: and it is a fact, that many persons remote from ordinances, and from instruction of every kind, except the blessed book of God, are often so richly taught by the Spirit of God, as to put to shame those who enjoy the greatest external advantages [Note: See 1 John 2:27. where the Apostle manifestly refers to the expressions in our text.].

The forgiveness of sins which was vouchsafed under the old covenant, was not such as to bring peace into the conscience of the offender: (“the sacrifices which he offered, could not make him perfect as pertaining to the conscience [Note: Hebrews 9:9.]:”) nor indeed were any means appointed for the obtaining of pardon for some particular offences: but under the new covenant, “all who believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses [Note: Acts 13:39.]” and, “being justified by faith, they have peace with God [Note: Romans 5:1.],” “a peace that passeth understanding,” “a joy unspeakable and glorified.”

How glorious does the new covenant appear in this contrasted view! and what reason have we to adore our God for the rich provisions contained in it!]

3. In the duration of their benefits—

[The annual repetition of the same sacrifices under the old covenant was intended to intimate to the people, that their pardon was not final: had their guilt been perfectly removed by them, the Apostle observes very justly, that “they would then have ceased to be offered; because the worshippers would have had no more conscience of sins:” but, inasmuch as the sacrifices were annually renewed, they were, in fact, no more than “a remembrance of sins made every year [Note: Hebrews 10:1-3.].” But under the new covenant God engages to “remember our sins and iniquities no more:” they are not only forgiven by him, but forgotten; not only cancelled, but “blotted out as a morning cloud [Note: Isaiah 44:22.]” not only removed from before his face, but “cast behind his back into the depths of the sea [Note: Micah 7:19.].” His former people he put away, “though he was an husband unto them:” but to us his “gifts and callings are without repentance [Note: Romans 11:29.].” This is particularly marked by the prophet, in the verses following our text [Note: ver. 35–37.]; and by an inspired Apostle, in his comment on the very words we are considering. He is shewing the superiority of Christ’s priesthood to that appointed under the law: and he confirms his position from this circumstance; that the sacrifices offered by the Levitical priests could never take away sin, and therefore were continually repeated; whereas Christ’s sacrifice, once offered, would for ever take away sin, and “perfect for ever all them that are sanctified.” He then adduces the very words of our text; and says, that, in these words, “the Holy Ghost is a witness to us;” for that, in promising first, that “the law should be written in our hearts,” and then, that “our sins and iniquities should be remembered no more,” he had attested fully the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice, and given ample assurance, that those who relied upon it should never have their sins imputed to them [Note: Hebrews 10:11-18.].

It is needless to multiply words any further upon this subject; for the old covenant, with all its benefits, was to continue only for a limited period; whereas the new covenant is to continue to the end of the world; and its benefits to the remotest ages of eternity.]

Infer—

1. The folly of making self-righteous covenants of our own—

[Why did God give us another covenant, but because the former was inadequate to our necessities? Shall we then be recurring to the old covenant, or forming new ones of our own upon the same principle? Take your own covenants, and examine them, and see what grounds of hope they afford you. We will give you have to dictate your own terms: say, if you please, “You are to repent and amend your lives: and on those conditions God shall give you eternal life:” Can you repent, can you amend your lives, by any power of your own? Have you agreed with God what shall be the precise measure of your repentance and amendment? Have you attained the measure which you yourselves think to be necessary, so that you can say, My conscience witnesses for me, that I am fully prepared to meet my God? If not, see to what a state you reduce yourselves: you need none other to condemn you: for God may say, “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee.” O be not thus infatuated: cast not away the Lord’s covenant for such delusive projects of your own: but, instead of depending on your own weak endeavours, go and lay hold on that better covenant, which provides every thing for you, as the free gift of God in Christ Jesus.]

2. The blessedness of those who obey the Gospel—

[You have “a covenant which is ordered in all things, and sure [Note: 2 Samuel 23:5.]:” and you have a Mediator, who, having purchased for you all the blessings of this covenant, will infallibly secure them to you by his efficacious grace, and all-prevailing intercession. Place then your confidence in him. Employ him daily (if I may so speak) to maintain your interest in it; and give him the glory of every blessing you receive. Your enjoyment of its benefits must be progressive, as long as you continue in the word — — — Let your desires after them be more and more enlarged: and in due time you shall enjoy them in all their fulness. It is in heaven alone that you will fully possess them: but there you shall perfectly comprehend the meaning of that promise, “Ye shall be my people, and I will be your God [Note: Revelation 21:3.].”]


Verses 35-37

DISCOURSE: 1075

THE CHURCH’S SECURITY

Jeremiah 31:35-37. Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which dirideth the sea when the wares thereof roar; The Lord of Hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also; hall cease from being a nation before me for ever. Thus saith the Lord; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also east off all the seed of Israel for all that they hare done, saith the Lord.

THE study of the prophecies is most instructive. We are apt to read them as though they did not concern us: whereas in them we see the purposes of God unfolded to us; and, by a comparison of them with past and passing events, we see God so ordering every thing in heaven and earth, that all should be accomplished in their season. Into futurity, also, we gain au insight. And shall not that, which so interests Jehovah himself, as to be predicted by him in terms the most solemn that can possibly be imagined, interest us? Behold, how the Almighty here describes himself in all his majesty and glory; behold, too, the solemnity of his assertions, equivalent, in fact, to oaths; And to what has all this respect! It has respect to his Church and people, for whom he has the richest mercies in reserve, and to whom he pledges himself that these mercies shall be vouchsafed in due season. Let us contemplate, then,

I. The promises here made to God’s Church and people—

Certainly they refer,

1. To God’s ancient people, the Jews—

[To them he here promises, that, whatever they may suffer, they shall not be lost, as other nations have been, amongst their conquerors; but shall be preserved a distinct people, even to the end; and shall, notwithstanding all that they have done to provoke him utterly to cast them off, be restored once more to his favour, as in the days of old.

The manner in which these promises are made deserves particular attention, Who is it that pledges himself for the accomplishment of these things? It is no other than the Creator and Governor of heaven and earth. And what assurance does he give that they shall be fulfilled? He declares that the heavenly bodies shall sooner be annihilated, than his word be forgotten; and that never, till we had measured the highest heavens, and penetrated to the inmost recesses of the earth, should one jot or tittle of it fail.

And if we look into their history, we find every thing fulfilled hitherto. In their captivity in Babylon, their national character was still preserved; and after it, they were restored to their own land. So at this hour, though for above seventeen centuries they have been scattered over the face of the whole earth, they are still a peculiar people as much as ever: and if we knew for certainty where the ten tribes are, I think they also would be found to have retained so much of their original character, as clearly to distinguish them from all the people amongst whom they sojourn. Nor can we doubt for a moment but that God will again manifest himself to them, as in former days. He has not cast them off for ever: “they are still beloved of him for their fathers’ sakes:” and “his gifts and calling to them are without repentance [Note: Romans 11:28-29.].” Forsaken as they are at present, it is but for a little moment: for as God, by the rainbow in the heavens, has given a pledge that his oath relative to any future deluge shall be fulfilled; so has he sworn that his kindness shall not ultimately depart from Israel, or his “covenant with them ever be dissolved [Note: Isaiah 54:7-10.].”]

2. To the Christian Church—

[To apply the passage exclusively to the Church of Christ is shamefully to pervert it. Yet we must not withhold from her, her share of the blessings which God has promised to her. Throughout all the prophecies, the Church of God, previous to the coming of the Messiah, and subsequent to the establishment of his kingdom upon earth, is considered as one; that which first existed being the foundation, and that which was afterwards erected being the superstructure, of the same heavenly temple: and the promises made to it, so far as they respect it in its former state, will have a literal accomplishment; and, so far as they pertain to it in its latter state, a spiritual or mystical accomplishment. In this latter sense we may properly apply to the Christian Church the prophecy before us. For it has enemies, even as Israel of old; yet “shall not the gates of hell ever prevail against it.” Notwithstanding it has often been at a very low ebb in the world, yet is it preserved by the power of God: and though, for its degeneracy, God’s wrath might well break forth against it to destroy it, yet is it preserved for good, and shall at a future period be greatly honoured of the Lord; being extended far and wide, and being established over the face of the whole earth. For the accomplishment of this, we have the same security as the Jewish Church has for the fulfilment of the promises made to her, namely, the promise and the oath of Almighty God: and we may be as sure that the honour reserved for her shall be accorded to her in due time, as if we saw it imparted before our eyes. As sure as God himself is true, “all the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdom of the Lord and of his Christ;” and “the whole earth, both of Jews and Gentiles, shall be one fold under one Shepherd,” “there being only one Lord, and his name One.”]

But to enter fully into these promises, we should consider also,

II. The use which is to be made of them by individual Believers—

They certainly may be applied by believers to themselves, for the comfort of their own souls. The promise that was made, in the first instance, to Israel, relative to the possession of the promised land [Note: Deuteronomy 31:6.], is represented by St. Paul as applicable to every believer, throughout all ages: “The Lord hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me [Note: Hebrews 13:5-6.].” And the confirmation of these promises by an oath [Note: See Note b.] was intended by God to administer consolation to us, no less than to those to whom they were immediately delivered; as St. Paul further assures us: “God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath; that, by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us [Note: Hebrews 6:17-18.].” Yet I must confess that they are to be used with caution. We should be careful,

1. As to the persons to whom they belong—

[It is the believer alone who is really interested in the promises of God. What part or lot in them has the unbeliever? None at all. It is “in Christ alone that they are made over to us:” and we must be “in Christ,” before they can truly belong to us. Before we take hold, then, on any particular promise as belonging to us, we should ask ourselves, whether we have really come to Christ, and are living by faith upon him? There are many who speak with extreme boldness on this subject, as though every promise in the Bible must be fulfilled to them, whilst yet they have never truly repented of their sins, nor over experienced a thorough change of heart and life. There are in some a surprising hardness, and boldness, and confidence, which, in my estimation, mark them as lying under a very desperate delusion: and the more confident they are, the more I tremble for their state. The promises of God’s blessed word are for the humble, the broken, the contrite: they are entitled to take to themselves every promise in the word of God: but, where these dispositions are wanting, faith is a mere phantom, and confidence a delusion. Let this, then, be well and clearly ascertained. “Examine carefully whether ye be in the faith.” “Prove and try your ownselves,” and, when that point is satisfactorily determined, then take to yourselves every promise of the Lord: and look upon all that he has promised, as your inalienable, everlasting inheritance.]

2. As to the extent to which they are to be applied—

[A distinction must be made between that which, in the first instance, was personal or temporal, and that which was intended for the Church at Large. The promises are not to be applied to ourselves, any further than as our circumstances accord with those of the persons to whom they were made: and the accomplishment of them is to be expected chiefly, if not exclusively, in a spiritual view. Take, for instance, the promises made to Moses and to all Israel, under the peculiar difficulties to which they were reduced: it would be perfectly absurd to expect the fulfilment of them to ourselves at this day, any further than a correspondence of circumstances rendered them applicable to our own case, If this rule be not attended to, we shall both raise in ourselves the most unwarrantable expectations, and subject God himself to the imputation of violating his own word.]

3. As to the use that is to be made of them when so applied—

[Doubtless they are intended to comfort and encourage the Lord’s people, under all their trials. But they are not intended to supersede the exertions of any, or to foster in them any undue security. God will not work, but by means: and he expects us to use the means, as if we were labouring to accomplish every thing by our own unassisted efforts; whilst yet we renounce all confidence in ourselves, and rely only upon him. Take, for instance, the promises in our text. Are we to hope that God will keep us as a peculiar people, unless we “come out from the world [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:17.],” and endeavour to “keep ourselves unspotted from it [Note: James 1:27.]?” Or are we to assure ourselves that “God will not cast us off for all that we have done,” if we never humble ourselves for our past sins, or endeavour to avoid sin in future? The great use of the promises is, to convey to us those blessings which in ourselves we are unable to attain: and, if we improve them not for these ends, we do but deceive ourselves, and betray to ruin our own souls.]

Lay down, therefore, for yourselves the following rules:

1. Seek to gain Christ himself, as your portion—

[“The promise of life,” and of every thing pertaining to it, “is in Christ Jesus [Note: 2 Timothy 1:1.].” And if we apprehend him, we become possessed of every thing that is good, in title at least, if not in actual possession; for “all things are ours, if we are Christ’s [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:22-23.]” In him all the promises of God are Yea, and in him Amen [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:20.],” sure, irreversible, eternal. Our first object, therefore, must be to obtain an interest in Christ. And I can never too strongly inculcate this: for if, “instead of entering into the fold by the door, you climb up some other way,” you will only deceive yourselves to your ruiu [Note: John 10:1; John 10:9.].]

2. Embrace his promises with humility—

[By humility, I do not mean a hesitation whether you shall rely upon them, or a doubting whether you are worthy to embrace them. Those are the actings, not of humility, but of pride and unbelief. For who in the whole universe is worthy? Or what humility is there in questioning the truth of God? It is, as unworthy, that you are to lay hold of them, and to plead them before God in faith and prayer: and, provided only you embrace them as unworthy, and regard them as made to you only in Christ, and for Christ’s sake, you can never place too strong an affiance in them: “the stronger you are in faith, the more will you give glory to God [Note: Romans 4:20.]”. “But that against which I wish to guard you, is, the hardness of which I before spoke. Truly, there is, amongst some professors of religion, a mode of speaking about their own interest in the promises which is disgusting in the highest degree, and, I really think, impious. Their want of reverence for God shews, that they are deluded by the devil, who has appeared to them under the semblance of “an angel of light [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:14.].” I wish not to rob you of one atom of joy: but I would have you always to “rejoice with trembling [Note: Psalms 2:11.]” and, however strong your faith may be, I would say, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:12.]:” “Be not high-minded, but fear [Note: Romans 11:20.].”]

3. Improve them all with care—

[What will be the effect of the promises on the Jews, in the day that they shall be restored to the Divine favour? “They will come with weeping; and with supplication will God lead them [Note: ver. 8, 9.].” Nor shall this frame be incompatible with joy: on the contrary, it. shall be a prelude to joy [Note: ver. 12, 13.],” even as the seed-time is to the harvest [Note: Psalms 126:5-6.]: and it will be followed with holiness as its never-failing attendant [Note: Ezekiel 36:25-28.]. Hear what St. Peter says: “God has given to us exceeding great and precious promises, that by them we may be partakers of a divine nature, and escape the corruptions that are in the world through lust [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.].” Only improve them to this end, and you can never rely on them too strongly, or plead them too confidently before God. To all of you, then, I would say, having so many and grant promises, Dearly beloved, let us use them to their proper end, even to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].”]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Jeremiah 31:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/jeremiah-31.html. 1832.

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Tuesday, February 19th, 2019
the Sixth Week after Epiphany
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