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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Jeremiah 29

 

 

Verse 1

Jeremiah 29:1

Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent.

Messages to exiles

I. The very fact that a message was sent to them under an express Divine appointment was consolatory. Wherever God’s children are scattered, the written Word is to them a source of permanent encouragement. In the severest ways of justice God does not forget His own children, but has in reserve ample consolations for them, when they lie under the common judgment

II. The particular providence of God, appearing on their behalf under all their calamities, was a source of consolation.

1. He is the Lord of hosts, of all the armies above and below, and yet is the God of Israel; and though He permits their captivity, He does not break His relation to them--their covenant-God still, though under a cloud.

2. He assumes the active agency in their dispersion. “I have caused them to be carried away.” Certainly it must be a great sin which induces a loving father to cast his child out of doors. But sin is a great scatterer, and is always followed by a driving away and a casting out. Yet the fact of God’s being the agent in their dispersion is referred to as a ground of consolation; since it reconciles us to our troubles to see the hand of God in them, and to trace an all-gracious and merciful design in them.

III. The promise of the stability and security of their social and domestic interests was given.

IV. The prospect of a certain and favourable issue to their trials (verse 11). (S. Thodey.)


Verses 1-32

Verse 7

Jeremiah 29:7

Seek the peace of the city.

The best Christians the best citizens

1. They know that the prosperity of the whole is their own prosperity. They o not, therefore, selfishly seek their own advantage.

2. They actually labour with all diligence for the furtherance of the common good.

3. They employ for this end the power of Christian prayer. (Naegelsbach.)

The duties of Christians to their country

I. What are the things absolutely necessary to the security and prosperity, the true glory and happiness, of our country?

1. The true honour of a nation, like that of the individual, lies in character.

2. The security and prosperity of our nation are inseparably associated with the advancement of religion among the people.

II. What are the best means for securing those things which are essential to our country’s highest welfare?

1. General diffusion of education. “Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.”

2. Equally essential that the people be virtuous. Knowledge is power, but unsanctified power is power for evil.

3. The general distribution of the Bible--the great instrument for enlightening the conscience and purifying the heart.

4. Preaching the Gospel Our nature is a wreck, a chaos, which the Cross of Christ alone can adjust.

5. Prayer (2 Chronicles 7:13-14; Psalms 106:23; Exodus 32:10).

III. What arguments may enforce the duties of personal and combined activity in seeking the highest good of our land?

1. Because our own individual good is intimately connected with its general happiness and prosperity. “For in the peace thereof ye shall have peace.”

2. We shall thereby recommend the religion we profess.

3. The work of supplying our land with the preached Gospel, and with religious institutions, is the most important work to which Christians can devote their energies. (Samuel Baker, D. D.)

The civil obligations of Christian people

When a man becomes a Christian does he cease to be a member of civil society? Allowing that he be not the owner of the ship, but only a passenger in it, has he nothing to awaken his concern in the voyage? If he be only a traveller towards a better country, is he to be told that because he is at an inn which he is soon to leave, it should not excite any emotion in him, whether it be invaded by robbers, or consumed by flames before the morning? “In the peace thereof ye shall have peace.” Is not religion variously affected by public transactions? Can a Christian, for instance, be indifferent to the cause of freedom, even on a pious principle? Does not civil liberty necessarily include religious, and is it not necessary to the spreading of the Gospel? (W. Jay.)


Verses 8-13

Jeremiah 29:8-13

I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

The thoughts of God to His people, peace and not evil

These words were addressed to the Jews, when they were captives in Babylon. It is very delightful when we have kind thoughts of our fellow-men; for suspicion is always a great misery. But it is especially delightful to have kind thoughts of God, when we possess enlarged and noble conceptions of His excellency and glory.

I. The ground and reason of our suspicion respecting God, that He has unkind intentions or evil thoughts towards us. The chief, if not the only cause, is sin. Wicked men know that the wages of sin is death; that sin must be cancelled, or God is against them, and they are ruined. But what is the evil which men anticipate from God, and in respect to which they entertain suspicions? There is the evil of affliction. This is the sense in which the text is to be taken. It relates to temporal evil, the evil of calamity, losses, changes, and disasters. And why should men fear or anticipate evil in this form? We are not to forebode anything. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Take no thought for the morrow. We hear often of pleasures disappointed, and of hopes unrealised. Might we not speak of evils anticipated which never come? Then there is an ulterior evil; that which is far off, or apparently more remote. Are you afraid of death, or of dying? Are you afraid, when Christ has said, He that believeth in Me shall never die; I am the resurrection and the life; I will raise you up at the last day? Are you afraid of eternity, of which we hear so much, and know so little? I ask, is the bird afraid, when the shell opens, and he begins to feel the soft sweet plumage grow? Is the newborn child afraid, when it comes into this world of sin and sorrow? And shall you be afraid to awake and emerge, anywhere in God’s great empire, anywhere or at anytime, in His unbounded and infinite dominion? Are we afraid of the love of God? God is love. Christ is love. God invites you and me in love. He says, Come, and I will bless you. Come, and I will pour My Spirit upon you. Come, and I will make you happy, and call you sons and daughters. Come, and I will save you, and I will soon put you in possession of heaven.

II. The manner in which it pleases God to contradict these suspicions, and to deny that there is any truth in them. Suppose you are a wicked man: what does God say? Forsake your evil ways. I will multiply to pardon. Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die? I desire not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn and live. God thinks no evil: if so, could He not crush and extinguish thee, O man, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye? His thoughts towards thee are thoughts of peace, and not of evil. Then to the backsliders He says, Return, O backsliding children; I will receive you graciously, and love you freely. Are you penitent? He will give you beauty for ashes; the oil of joy for mourning; the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. You say that you are sinful, and not worthy of being called a child. What does God say? Bring the best robe. Take off the filthy garments. Put the fair mitre on his head. O God of peace! how peaceful, how pacific Thou art! You may have had changes. You may have passed through storms; but the darker the cloud, the brighter is the rainbow of promise that is stretched across it. And God intends to give His people everlasting peace.

III. The expected end. What is it? To the Jews in Babylon, it was restoration to the temple and the altar, to the priests, and to the sacrifices; and by the Jews this “end” was realised. To the Hebrews of later times, the expected end is recovery to greater blessings. They are forsaken for a small moment; but with great mercy they will be gathered in again. The expected end, both to Jews and Gentiles, is the millennial light, repose, and happiness. The expected end is the end of all sin. It is to endure no more conflicts, to undergo no more labours; to be wise by intuition; to possess boundless knowledge, and perfect purity, derived immediately from Him who is the source and fountain of all purity and all perfection. They who go in, shall never go out again. (J. Stratten.)

God’s thoughts of/ peace, and our expected end

I. The Lord’s thoughts towards His people.

1. It is noteworthy that He does think of them, and towards them. Observe that this Scripture saith not, “I know the thoughts that I have thought toward you.” It would be possible for you to have thought out a plan of kindness towards a friend, and you might have so arranged it that it would henceforth be a natural fountain of good to him without your thinking any more about it; but that is not after the method of God. His eye and His hand are towards His people continually. It is true He did so think of us that He has arranged everything about us, and provided for every need, and against every danger; but yet He has not ceased to think of us. His infinite mind, whose thoughts are as high above our thoughts as the heavens are above the earth, continues to exercise itself about us. “The Lord hath been mindful of us,” and He is still mindful of us. The Lord not only thinks of you, but towards you. His thoughts are all drifting your way. This is the way the south wind of His thoughts of peace is moving: it is towards you. A person may happen to do you a good turn; but if you are sure that he did it by accident, or with no more thought than that wherewith a passing stranger throws a penny to a beggar, you are not impressed with gratitude. But when the action of your friend is the result of earnest deliberation, and you see that he acts in the tenderest regard to your welfare, you are far more thankful: traces of anxiety to do you good are very pleasant. Have I not heard persons say, “It was so kind and so thoughtful of him”? Do you not notice that men value kindly thought, and set great store by tender consideration? Remember, then, that there is never a thoughtless action on the part of God. His mind goes with His hand: His heart is in His acts.

2. The thoughts of God are only perfectly known to Himself. It would be a mere truism for God to say, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you.” Even a man usually knows his own thoughts; but the meaning is this: when you do not know the thoughts that I have towards you, yet I know them. “Truly the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” God alone understands Himself and His thoughts. We stand by a powerful machine, and we see the wheels moving this way and that, but we do not understand its working. What does it matter? He who made the engine and controls it, perfectly understands it, and this is practically the main concern; for it does not matter whether we understand the engine or not, it will work its purpose if he who has the control of it is at home with all its hands and wheels. Despite our ignorance, nothing can go wrong while the Lord in infinite knowledge ruleth over all. The child playing on the deck does not understand the tremendous engine whose beat is the throbbing heart of the stately Atlantic liner, and yet all is safe; for the engineer, the captain and the pilot are in their places, and well know what is being done. Let not the child trouble itself about things too great for it. Leave you the discovery of doubtful causes to Him whose understanding is infinite; and as for yourself, be you still, and know that Jehovah is God.

3. The Lord would have us know that His thoughts toward us are settled and definite. Sometimes a man may hardly know his own thoughts, because he has scarcely made up his mind. The case is far otherwise with the only wise God. The Lord is not a man that He should need to hesitate; His infinite mind is made up, and He knows His thoughts. With the Lord there is neither question nor debate. “He is in one mind, and none can turn Him.” His purpose is settled, and He adheres to it. He is resolved to reward them that diligently seek Him, and to honour those that trust in Him.

4. God’s thoughts toward His people are always thoughts of peace. He is at peace with them through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. He delights in them; He seeks their peace, He creates their peace, He sustains their peace, and thus all His thoughts toward them are peace. Note well the negative, which is expressly inserted. It might have appeared enough to say, “My thoughts are thoughts of peace.” Yes, it would be quite sufficient, when all things are bright with us; but those words, “and not of evil,” are admirably adapted to keep off the goblins of the night, the vampires of suspicion which fly in the darkness.

5. The Lord’s thoughts are all working towards “an expected end,” or, as the R.V. has it, “to give you hope in your latter end.” Some read it, “a future and a hope.” Goal is working with a motive. All things are working together for one object: the good of those who love God. We see only the beginning; God sooth the end from the beginning. He regardeth not only the tearing up of the soil with the plough, but the clothing of that soil with the golden harvest. He sees the after consequences of affliction, and He accounts those painful incidents to be blessed which lead up to so much of happiness. Let us comfort ourselves with this.

II. The proper attitude of God’s people towards their Lord.

1. You will all agree with me when I say that our attitude should be that of submission. If God, in all that He does towards us, is acting with an object, and that object a loving one, then let Him do what seemeth Him good.

2. Next, let our position be one of great hopefulness, seeing the end of God, in all He does, is to give us “a future and a hope.” We are not driven into growing darkness, but led into increasing light. There is always something to be hoped for in the Christian’s life.

3. Our relation to God should, next, be one of continual expectancy, especially expectancy of the fulfilment of His promises. “I will perform My good Word toward you.” His promises are good words: good indeed, and sweetly refreshing. When your hearts are faint, then is the promise emphatically good. Expect the Lord to be as good as His good Word.

4. Again, our position towards God should be one of happy hope, as to blessed ends being answered even now. Affliction is the seal of the Lord s election. I remember a story of Mr. Mack, who was a Baptist minister in Northamptonshire. In his youth he was a soldier, and calling on Robert Hall, when his regiment marched through Leicester, that great man became interested in him, and procured his release from the ranks. When he went to preach in Glasgow, he sought out his aged mother, whom he had not seen for many years. He knew his mother the moment he saw her; but the old lady did not recognise her son. It so happened that when he was a child, his mother had accidentally wounded his wrist with a knife. To comfort him she cried, “Never mind, my bonnie bairn, your mither will ken you by that when ye are a man.” When Mack’s mother would not believe that a grave, fine-looking minister could be her own child, he turned up his sleeve and cried, “Mither, mither, dinna ye ken that?” In a moment they were in each other’s arms. Ah, the Lord knows the spot of His children. He acknowledges them by the mark of correction. What God is doing to us in the way of trouble and trial is but His acknowledgment of us as true heirs, and the marks of His rod shall be our proof that we are not bastards, but true sons. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

God’s thoughts

I. God thinks of His people. That seems a very simple thing to say, does it not? It is as sublime as it is simple! God thinks of His people. Though so occupied--I had almost said, “though so busy,”--God finds time and opportunity to give thought to His children. He numbers the hairs of our head; He knows every inch of our path; our sorrows and our joys are all calculated and catalogued by Him. He knows our uprising and our downsitting, our going out and our coming in. What is there of which He has not perfect cognisance? What is there in which He is not interested? Oh, wonder of wonders, that this busy God of ours knows us, loves us, cares for us, enters into the petty details of our fleeting life, and counts no grief too slight for us to take to Him in prayer. The current of His thoughts sets our way. Like a great warm gaff-stream, the loving thoughts of God lave the shores of every believing soul, and bring life and verdure to the full, by means of their helpful influences.

1. This is the more wonderful, when we remember how sinful we are. He sees and knows all about you, and you He loveth still.

2. I learn hence, also, that God thinks very definitely and deliberately about His people.

3. Best of all is it He thinks so tenderly about us. “Thoughts of peace.” It is He who has made peace possible ’twixt God and man, for He longs to have us reconciled to Him. It is Jesus who has made peace by the death of His Cross. It is the Holy Ghost who speaks peace to troubled hearts and consciences. It is His kind providence that keeps us in perfect peace, our minds being stayed on Him.

II. God’s thoughts concerning His people are often of a private nature. The emphasis of this verse should come upon the personal pronoun. “I know the thoughts that I think towards you.” They are hidden from you. “My way,” says God, “is not yet discovered.” My purposes remain unrevealed. None can know perfectly the mind and will of God. How can we reach to such an awful height? How can we plunge into such abysmal depths?

1. Let the fact that God Knows His thoughts satisfy our curiosity. It is childish in the extreme to lift the plant that has been lately put into the ground, and it will fail to grow if treated thus. It is childish--is it not?--to break the drum-bead, in order to discover whence the music comes. But we are not less childish who want to know what God has not revealed, and who are not content to do His bidding without saying, “But why?” The why and the wherefore may not concern us. But the duty does concern us. Let us hasten in the way of His commandment.

2. This, also, should calm our restlessness. Let the spirit of patience possess you. Wait, wait, wait, till God sees fit to bless.

3. Meanwhile, let there be no distrust. It is fear that misconstrues the purposes of God. It is unbelief that misinterprets the words and ways of Jehovah. Even when things appear to be against us, let us trust and not be afraid.

III. When god thinks, he thinks to purpose. “To give you an expected end.” God always works to an end, and with a motive. Here He speaks about the people’s dreams. They were mere dreams--“the baseless fabric of a vision.” But God has no dreams. His thoughts are honest, earnest, fruitful, resultful. Moreover, His works ever agree with the thoughts from which they spring. God does not leave His people to haphazard, nor does He do anything by halves. Trust Him in all His works and ways, and you will see that “as for God, His way is perfect.” When He sets Himself to make a world, He rests not till He has made it perfectly, and can pronounce it good. When He sets Himself to destroy sinful men, He makes a clean sweep of them, whether it be with flood or flame. And when He comes from heaven to redeem a sinful race of men, His tears do not stop, nor does His blood cease flowing, till He can cry, “It is finished.” (Thomas Spurgeon.)

God’s thoughts

God’s thoughts are like God,--they are wonderful as Himself, and worthy of Himself. His ways are the results of His thoughts, and their revelation to us. Creation, in all its vastness and completeness, is the thought of God,--a thought that embraced not only the great outlines, but all the details of the work of His Word,--a thought that did not require to be supplemented or enlarged. Providence, in its heights and depths, its lengths and breadths, is His thought,--a thought that takes in the entire history of our race, and is ever at work to bring about one great purpose, one glorious design. Redemption, in all its surpassing glory, is His thought,-a thought of which the whole Gospel is the revelation.

I. God’s thoughts must be revealed. They are known only to His Spirit, “for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” These deep things are known to us, for God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit. We are permitted to know the thoughts of God that have had reference to ourselves; we are assisted in our conceptions of these thoughts, and it is wonderful to be told that they come into our minds, that they dwell in our hearts, and that we have communion with the thoughts of God. God is ever at work in the world, not only on its great stage, but on the narrow platform of our own dwellings; and we are permitted, in our brief lives, to see the impressions that are thrown off from the mind of God, the thoughts of God, in the dispensations of His providence. “Many, O Lord my God, are Thy wonderful works, and Thy thoughts which are to us-ward.” God has spoken to man. He spake unto the fathers by the prophets, but He hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son. All that God has to say cannot be spoken; all that He has to reveal cannot be told us in words. We must have the death as well as the life of Jesus.

II. God’s thoughts are revealed, and they are thoughts concerning us. However wonderful these thoughts, they might not concern us, they might not be about us; they might be about angels, and not about men,--about other worlds, and not this small province in God’s empire. But these thoughts become to us of the greatest moment, when we are told that they are about us--that God thought of us long ago--that before the world began, the thoughts of God were concerning us. How is man magnified by this very fact!

III. What is the character of these thoughts concerning us

1. Sometimes we think God’s thoughts towards us are evil, because His ways are so full of mystery. We see the means to the end--we do not see the end. But the way to it is dark and sorrowful, and the events by which it is to be brought about, we baptise by the name of evil.

2. God’s thoughts are eminently practical They are thoughts to an end. God is “wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.” God alone could originate the thoughts that fill His mind; He only can accomplish them. He does not merely think,--He speaks, He works, and fulfils His designs.

IV. God has the most perfect acquaintance with his own thoughts, and with their character.

1. “I know the thoughts that l, think toward you.” The Infinite Mind knows no change. God’s thoughts are the same to-day as yesterday; and hence His promises are like thoughts that have just been breathed in our world; and His gifts and calling are without repentance.

2. Let us acquaint ourselves with these thoughts. We have the record. We have the words of Him who spake as never man spake. Let us get these Divine thoughts into our minds, that our thoughts may be quickened and strengthened, that we may think the thoughts of God, that we may have communion with the mind of God.

V. If God has placed His thoughts before our minds, let us place our thoughts before God. Let us not only think about Him, but to Him. Let us thus have fellowship with Him.

VI. Let us so act and live, as to carry out and exemplify God’s thoughts. “The grace of God has appeared to us, teaching us that we should deny ungodliness.” Let us profit by its teaching; let us act out its teaching by living Godlike. (H. J. Bevis.)

To give you an expected end.

God’s future and hope for human race

I. The human race is under Divine training for a blessed and glorious future. God cannot create a single creature to hate and to leave in sin and misery, and if He could, how could He be God?

II. Let us with reverence and humility try to learn something of God’s great thoughts respecting the future of fallen men. Try to think of the future of God’s lost children in the light of what He has done for them. If we consider it in the light of the Incarnation of the Son, His heavenly teaching, His mighty works, and His voluntary sufferings, we shall never despair. Think further of what God is doing through His Spirit; for He is through His Spirit enlightening men’s minds, leading them to the truth, convincing them of sin, and purifying the nature and perfecting the character of believers. If earthly fathers are so anxious for making a worthy and honourable future for their children, is it likely that the Divine Father will be heedless about the future of His children? No; that cannot be. In all the sufferings, trials, and discipline of the present, He has their future perfection, happiness, and glory in view.

1. Holiness of nature.

2. Perfection of character.

3. Perfection of service.

4. Perfection of joy. (Z. Mather.)

Ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.

Divine purposes fulfilled in answer to prayer

I. A certain danger declared (Jeremiah 29:8-9). We have here the same caution which the Redeemer subsequently gave, to “beware of false prophets.” In all ages have they appeared, and most disastrous have been the effects produced by their teaching (Ezekiel 13:10-14).

II. A blessed deliverance promised.

1. The grounds on which it rested. “For thus saith the Lord.”

2. The time of their return is expressly declared (Jeremiah 29:10). God’s time is always the best.

3. In their restoration the Divine faithfulness would be strikingly manifested. “I will visit you,” &c.

4. The procuring cause of their deliverance was the boundless compassion of Jehovah (Jeremiah 29:11).

III. An important duty enjoined. Prayer.

1. It is a duty Divinely ordained.

2. It is a duty to the observance of which the greatest encouragement is afforded. “I will hearken unto you.”

3. This duty, in order to be successful, must not be attended to in a formal and lifeless manner. (Anon.)

Captivities and how to improve them

I. We may describe every real affliction which comes upon the christian as a captivity. To be in a condition which we never should have voluntarily preferred, or to be held back, by the power of something which we cannot control, from that which we eagerly desire to do,--is not that the very thing in an experience which makes it a trial? Take bodily illness, for example, and when you get at the root of the discomfort of it, you find it in the union of these two things: you are where you do not want to be, and where you would never have thought of putting yourself, and you are held there, whether you will or not, by the irresistible might of your own weakness. The same thing comes out in every sort of affliction. You are, let me suppose, in business perplexities. Well, that is not of your own choosing. If you could have accomplished it, you would have been in quite different circumstances. But, in spite of you, things have gone crooked. You have been carried from the Jerusalem of comfort to the Babylon of perplexity, by no effort of yours, nay, perhaps, against the utmost resistance on your part, and now you can do nothing. So sometimes, also, our providential duties are a kind of affliction to us. We had no choice in determining whether we would assume them. They came to us, unbidden, at least, if not undesired, and they have chained us to themselves, so that when we are asked to take part in some effort for the benefit of others we are compelled to say “No.”

II. Every captivity of which the Christian is the victim will have an end. “Time and the hour run through the roughest day.” “Be the day weary, or be the day long, at last it ringeth to evensong.” It is but a little while, at the longest, and we shall be where “sorrow and sighing shall for ever flee away.” This state of limitation, this conflict between our aspirations and our abilities, is not to last for ever. Not for ever shall we be in bondage to the weakness of the body, hampered by its liability to disease, and hindered by its proneness to fatigue. Not always shall we be at the mercy of the unscrupulous and dishonest. Not continually shall we be held down by the encumbrances that overweight us here on earth. For in the fatherland above we shall work without weariness, and serve God without imperfection. But, while there is much in this view of the case to sustain us, we must not lose sight of the moral end which God has in view in sending us into our captivity. Ah! how many of our idolatries He has rebuked and rectified by our captivities! We had been worshipping our reputation, and lo! an illness came which laid us aside, and our names were by and by forgotten, as new men came to the front; and then, learning the folly of out false ambition, we turned from the idolatry of self to the homage of Jehovah. Or, we had made an idol of our business; but now it is in ruins, and as we see the perishableness of earthly things, we turn to Him who is unchanging and eternal. Or, we had made a god of our dwelling, and by some reverse of fortune it is swept away from us, just that we might learn the meaning of that old song of Moses (Psalms 90:1). How many portions of His Word, also, have been explained to us by our trials! There is no commentator of the Scriptures half so valuable as a captivity. It unfolds new beauties where all had appeared to be beautiful before; and where formerly there was what we thought a wilderness, it has revealed to us a fruitful field.

III. If we would have such results from our captivity, there are certain important things which we must cultivate.

1. A willing acceptance of God’s discipline, and patient submission to it. The impatient horse which will not quietly endure his halter only strangles himself in his stall. The high-mettled animal that is restive in the yoke only galls his shoulders; and every one will understand the difference between the restless starling of which Sterne has written, breaking its wings against the bars of its cage, and crying, “I can’t get out,” “I can’t get out,” and the docile canary that sits upon its perch and sings as if he would outrival the lark soaring to heaven’s gate, and so moves his mistress to open the door of his prison-house and give him the full range of the room. He who is constantly looking back and bewailing that which he has lost, does only thereby unfit himself for improving in any way the discipline to which God has subjected him; whereas the man who brings his mind down to his lower lot, and deliberately examines how he can serve God best in that, is already on the way to happiness and to restoration.

2. Unswerving confidence in God. If we doubt Him we at once become the prey to despondency, impatience, and rebellion. Confidence in your physician is itself more than half the cure, and trust in God is absolutely essential if we would gain benefit from His discipline. Yet because a change in men’s conduct toward us is usually the indication of a difference in their disposition toward us, we think that God has ceased to care for us when He puts us into trial or sends us into captivity. But it is not so. To-day the medical man gives his patient liberty to take anything he chooses; to-morrow he cuts off all indulgence, and uses severe and painful remedies; but does he care the less for him because he thus changes his treatment, or has his purpose regarding him undergone an alteration? Not at all In both cases he is equally earnest to have his health restored. And it is quite similar with God in His dealings with His people.

3. Fervent prayer. No calamity can be to us an unmixed evil if we carry it in direct and fervent prayer to God, for even as one in taking shelter from the rain beneath a tree may find on its branches fruit which he looked not for, so we, in fleeing for refuge beneath the shadow of God’s wing, will always find more in God than we had seen or known before. It is thus through our afflictions that God gives us fresh revelations of Himself; and the Jabbok ford, which we crossed to seek His help, leads to the Peniel, where, as the result of our wrestling, we “see God face to face,” and our lives are preserved. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Finding God

To search after God is really to educate oneself. To know God requires that we should be educated in the Divine qualities. The knowledge of God is not something outside of us, and far removed from us. It is revealed in us, and by some quality that is within us. Now, to search after God has always been considered or spoken of as a work involving the expenditure of great zeal and intensity; and the question arises, Is it so difficult for men to know God? Fellowship and a knowledge of God are the food of the soul; they are the conditions of a true and large manhood; and axe we pushed so far from Him by the intrinsic difficulties of knowledge that we cannot know Him? We surely can know God by the use of our ordinary senses so far as He is made manifest in the exterior world, as the Maker, as the Sustainer, as the Architect, and the Engineer; we behold what He is by what He has done; and yet, we have thus approached but a very little way toward Him. Can we, then, by sitting down to contemplation, can we by any such method as that of the laboratory, or that analysis which the philosopher employs, draw out a more perfect knowledge of God? Only in after stages, and only in a subsidiary sphere, can men gain knowledge by the internal philosophical method. It succeeds other methods, and methods of more importance. So the difficulty of searching after God is real; but it is not the kind of difficulty which men suspect. It is not that God is purposely hidden. It is because the overruling of our lower nature, the subjugation of pride, the restraint of vanity, the putting down of avarice, the overcoming of the fever of ambition, and the regulation of the passions--it is because these things are so difficult, that the strife and the seeking are made necessary by the required formation of a God-like nature in ourselves; for we shall see God only through so much of the impartation of the Divine nature as is given to us and received by us, The Divine qualities--the qualities of truth, justice, mercy, long-suffering, love, kindness, self-sacrifice, disinterested benevolence--these can be appreciated only by those who have something of them in themselves; and when we seek after God to know Him, we are seeking really to know ourselves, and to fashion ourselves. It is a work of self-education through which we come to a knowledge of the supreme Being; and this does require searching. How, then, do men seek after God? They have been told that the knowledge of God, that the presence of God in their souls, is quite necessary for their safety in death, and for their remission from hell in the life that is to come; and out of the most selfish or the most superstitious feeling they often make a languid and feeble search after God purely for protective purposes--not from honour; not from love; not from conscious weakness to be impleted; not from a sense of their inferiority and a desire of aggrandisement by things that make nobility in the soul; not from any worthy purpose, but that they may have a barrier to keep off the avalanche of death. There are others who join with me in denouncing folly upon such, who are scarcely better, although they are frivolous in a higher mood. There are many who seek after God as poets seek after conceits. They love God as they love music; they love Him as they love the chant of the singer, or the effusion of the smooth-rhymed poet; and only thus do they seek after God. To them He is a vision; He is a floating cloud; He is a spring morning; He is a thundering sea; He is a landscape; He is a poem; but He is not Jehovah; He is not Father; He is not Governor, or Judge, or Rewarder. Well, there be others that seek after God, as a philosopher seeks after a proposition, disentangling intellectual conceptions, framing new ideas in some collected form into a speculative and philosophic God--a God of propositions; a God of attributes; a God of syllogisms; a logical God; a rhetorical God; a demonstrative, conceptional God. Whatever may come through the moulds of the intellect they employ in building up a bloodless God, a soulless God, a God of abstractions; and they think when they have hedged Him in with one and another and another distinction sharply drawn, and have clearly rounded out their conception, that they have sought after God, and that they have found Him--and God laughs. For who by such searching can find out God; as if a man who never talked with you, who never walked with you, who never worked with you, who never lived with you, and who was never loved by you; as if one that had no personal acquaintance with you could ever out of his own consciousness deduce a correct idea of what you are! Searching for God with one’s heart is the way to find Him out; for God is discerned by the heart. That is the temple in the soul of God; and only they that enter into the searching of God by the heart can come near to Him or know Him. All they who seek after God then, irresolutely, occasionally, with fluctuating zeal, for selfish ends, dreamily, imaginatively, poetically, or by speculation and the lines of a dry philosophy--all such come short. They never can reproduce God. Only they who have framed in themselves some conception of high moral qualities, and have learned out of their own experience to frame a notion of God for the sake of making that notion their governor, their schoolmaster--only they can reproduce God. Frame a conception of God as of a Father full of pitifulness, full of tenderness, full of gentleness, full of wrath, but wrath that protects; full of severity, but the severity of a father for the cleansing of his son; frame a conception of God as reigning not to destroy but to recover, not to beat down but to lift up, not to shut men in prisons but to open the prison-doors, not to weld shackles or to impose them, hut to break them; frame a conception of God which is eminent in characteristics of motherhood, and give to it the magnitude of infinity; and then when these moral qualities are once established in thy sympathy and in thy thought, and magnified by the imagination, and lifted into the heavenly sphere, and thou mayest bow down before it, and say to it, “Thou God of reason, Thou God of compassion, Thou God of infinite love, Thou God whose thoughts rain bounty, Thou God who livest not for Thyself but for Thy creatures, Thee I behold; to Thee I submit, because Thou art infinitely good beyond all conception- Thee I worship and Thee I obey.” And then, having framed some such initial conception of God, be thou trained into the same likeness, and develop in thyself whatever is in harmony with this image of the Creator. You find portrayed in the Gospels the mind and will of God. That men may know Him personally, four lives are given of the Lord Jesus Christ, besides the interpretations and comments that are found in the letters and epistles. Study earnestly that slight yet wonderful sketch and portraiture of this superior Being. Keep it before your mind until you have a distinct conception of the personality of the Lord Jesus Christ. The critical and determinative question with you is this-Wilt thou have such an One to rule over you? Are you willing to lift, in your conception, into the heavenly places, such an idea of God as you derive from the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you willing to say, “Thy will, and not mine, be done”? Are you willing to take this oath and covenant of allegiance, never to be broken, “I dedicate my life to the fulfilment of Thy commands, and to the development in myself of Thy disposition”? If you are, you have found your God. The moment you have this conception of a loving Being, with a determinate moral character, who requires of you a corresponding moral character, and the moment there is in you a genuine volition and purpose to love and obey such an One, the work is begun, and you have been introduced to your Master. Now, after that, the very first step which you take in your attempt to act justly, you will be environed by the bands and hoops of society; by its imperfections; by the injustice which custom always imposes; and you will have a conflict with the prevailing tendencies by which you are surrounded. Your large and Christian conception of justice will stand in marked contrast with the contracted and worldly conception of justice which is prevalent; and you will become a reformer; and you will feel, “I must take up my cross; and if I follow Christ I must suffer.” Yes, you must suffer if you would enjoy. Not that you are to suffer as if religion itself were a suffering, for religion itself is just the opposite; but you are coming out of a state of ignorance and bondage into a state of knowledge and freedom. You are going toward the right; and having once come to the right, it will be a blessing; for the right is s reward in over-measure. Your first impulse should be to act beneficently; and there is to be a power of beneficence in your soul. You should have a feeling that you are not your own. You that are strong should bear with the weak. You should carry one another’s burdens. You should manifest towards your fellow-men the disposition of love. Working out, then, your conception of God little by little; gathering conceptions of the Divine Being from all that is good and high and noble in practical life, and bringing back to yourself as motives in your own soul corresponding qualities, that your nature in its measure may become like God, growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, you will find that your sense of the Divine Presence purifies itself, cleanses itself, augments itself, makes itself more and more powerful, until the time comes in which you can say, literally, “I walk with God. My God made the heavens and the earth He is a God of force, and a God of tranquillity. My God is father and mother to my thought. He is all that is transcendent in patience and meekness and goodness; and not because He is inert; not because He is weak; for He will by no means clear the guilty. He upholds the right. He stands for the oppressed. He is a God who is determined that good shall prevail as against evil. But He works with a mother-heart, by tears, by groans, by death itself. He gives Himself for the poor, and the outcast, and the sinful, and the needy. He bore our sins in His own body; and by His stripes we are healed.” (H. W. Beecher.)

Seekers directed and encouraged

I. To the unconverted. Our text has a word for you. You have lost your God: you m e at a distance from Him; your sins have separated you from your Maker, and nothing will ever be really right--till you get back to your God. The prodigal said, “I will arise and go to my father,” and some such spirit must be in you, or we cannot hope well of you. You must search after the Lord. You are allowed to search for Him, and what a privilege that is. When Adam sinned, he could not go back to Paradise, for with a flaming sword in his hand there stood the mailed cherub to keep the way that he might not touch the tree of life. But God, as far as the garden of His mercy is concerned, has moved that fiery sentinel, and Jesus Christ has set angels of love to welcome you at mercy’s gate. You may come to God, for God has come to you. He has taken upon Himself your nature, and His name is Emmanuel, God with us. Search for Him, and you must find Him, for so stands His own Word, “Ye shall seek Me, and find Me.” The text, however, demands that our searching after God should be done with all our heart. There axe several ways of seeking God which must prove failures. One is to seek Him with no heart at all. This is done by those who take their book and read prayers, never thinking what they say; or who attend a dissenting place of worship, and hear another person pray, but never join in it. If any of you have fallen into a formal religion, and seek the Lord without your heart, your seeking is in vain. Some seek God with a false heart. Their piety is an affectation of feeling, and not deep soul-work; it is sentimentality, and not the graving of God’s Spirit upon the heart. God grant us to be saved from a lie in the heart, for it is a deadly canker, fatal to all hope of finding the Lord. Some seek Him, too, with a double heart--a heart and a heart, as the Hebrew puts it. If one oar pulls towards earth and the other towards heaven the boat of the soul will revolve in a circle of folly, but never reach the happy shore. Beware of a double heart. And some seek God with half a heart. They have a little concern, and are not altogether indifferent; they do think when they pray, or read, or sing, but the thought is not very intense. Superficial in all things, the seed is sown in stony ground, and soon it is withered away, because there is no depth of earth. The Lord save us from this! Now, ye that are seeking Christ, remember that if you would find Him you must neither seek Him without heart, nor with a false heart, nor with a double heart, nor with a half heart, but “Ye shall find Me,” saith the Lord, “when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.” What did Jesus say?--“The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” Heaven’s celestial bastions must be stormed by downright importunity. But why is it that when men search with all their heart they do find God? I will tell you. The only way in which we can find God is in Jesus Christ. There He meets with men, but nowhere else, and to get to Jesus Christ there is nothing on earth to be done but simply to believe in Him. The saving Word is near thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, and that is why when men seek the Lord with their whole hearts they find Him, for before they called the Lord was ready to answer. Jesus was always ready; but other wishes and other thoughts made the seeker unready. Sins were there, and lusts of the flesh, and all manner of hamper to hinder the man. When a man comes to seek God with all his heart, he lets those things go, and soon sees Jesus. Then, too, a man becomes teachable, for when a man is in earnest to escape from danger he is glad enough to be told by anybody. I charge you, then, you that seek the Lord, to be whole-hearted in it, for you cannot expect peace and joy in the Holy Ghost till all those straggling affections and wandering desires are tied up into one bundle, and your entire being is eager in the search for God in Christ Jesus.

II. The backslider. Backsliders, you have left your Lord. Oh, you who once made a profession of religion, I cannot understand how you can dare to think of the judgment day, for you will not be able to plead ignorance, for you knew the truth and professed to believe it. If a prince of the blood were sent to a common gaol, what a misery it would be to him. I pity every man who has to work upon the treadmill, so far as he can deserve pity, but most of all the man who has been delicately brought up and scarce knows what labour means, for it must be hard indeed to him. Ah, you delicate sons and daughters of Zion, you whose mouths were never stained with a curse, and whose hands have never been defiled with outward sin, if your hearts be not right with God, you must take your place with the profane and share with them. What say you to this? Do you say, “I would fain return and find acceptance in Christ”? To you the text speaks expressly. Then shall you “find Me when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.”

III. My last word is to you, the members of this Church. Thus saith the Lord, “Ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Heart searchings

1. Man, through all the ages of time, has been influenced by a principle of reform. The pathway of the generations has been trodden amidst the Babel-tongued shouts of “Progress!” True progress has ever been characterised by diligent research. So we may well-nigh estimate the excellence of acquirement by intensity of endeavour to attain, and calculate worth by the economics of moral labour.

2. This searching is the child of necessity. For possession begets desire; the perfecting of one design reveals the incompleteness of another, or the converse; the failure of one scheme throws into bolder relief the success of another.

3. The searching, to be successful, must also be thorough: “with all your heart.” The discoveries of insincerity are accidental. “Heart searchings” are illumined by the light of heaven.

4. Application--

Searching with all the heart

Kepler, first in fact and in genius of modern astronomers, deservedly called “the legislator of the heavens,” sought with all his heart to solve astronomical problems. With agony he strove to enter the straight gate and narrow way that led to the secret chamber of science, and explain the enigmas of six thousand yearn Vainly did the secrets of planetary and stellar worlds seek to elude him. He forged key after key, that he might unlock the doors of these mysteries. His courage and patience transfigured even failure into success. If one theory proved inadequate, there was at least one less to try, and so the limits became narrower within which truth would be found. He exhausted eight years of toil, only to prove worthless nineteen successive experiments. At last, driven to abandon the circular orbit, he founded his twentieth hypothesis on the curve which is next to the circle in simplicity, namely, the ellipse, and as all the conditions were met, the problem was solved. Bursting with enthusiasm, he cried: “O Almighty God, I am thinking Thy thoughts after Thee!” Pressing his research further, he established his second and third laws, and, almost wild with triumph, exclaimed: “Nothing holds me! I will indulge my sacred fury! The book is written to be read either now or by posterity; I care not which! It may well wait a century for a reader, since God has waited six thousand years for an observer.” If Kepler was the minister of science, Agassiz was her missionary. He had no time to make money; but was found wandering alone on Pacific slopes, a pilgrim, to gather specimens of flora and fauna, minerals and metals, shells and pebbles, for the cabinets of science. What would not such zeal accomplish in religion! (A. T. Pierson.)

Concentration of heart

A broken heart is a great blessing, when it is broken by contrition for sin; but a divided heart is often a fatal disease. One secret of success in life is concentration; and many of our young men find it out too late. The founder of the Vanderbilt family bent his whole powers upon money-making, and left the richest family on the Continent. Sir Isaac Newton’s famous explanation of his splendid success was, “I intend my whole mind upon it.” Prof. Joseph Henry, of Washington, our great Christian scientist, used to say: “I have no faith in universal geniuses: my rule is to train all my guns on one point until I make a breach.” In these days of hot competition there is no room on the street for any man who puts only a fraction of himself into his business.


Verse 17

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 29:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/jeremiah-29.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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