Jeremiah Chapter Five
The Jews' profession of religion was hypocritical. (1-9) The cruel proceedings of their enemies. (10-18) Their apostacy and idolatry. (19-31)
Commentary on Jeremiah 5:1-9
(Read Jeremiah 5:1-9)
None could be found who behaved as upright and godly men. But the Lord saw the true character of the people through all their disguises. The poor were ignorant, and therefore they were wicked. What can be expected but works of darkness, from people that know nothing of God and religion? There are God's poor, who, notwithstanding poverty, know the way of the Lord, walk in it, and do their duty; but these were willingly ignorant, and their ignorance would not be their excuse. The rich were insolent and haughty, and the abuse of God's favours made their sin worse.
Commentary on Jeremiah 5:10-18
(Read Jeremiah 5:10-18)
Multitudes are ruined by believing that God will not be so strict as his word says he will; by this artifice Satan undid mankind. Sinners are not willing to own any thing to be God's word, that tends to part them from, or to disquiet them in, their sins. Mocking and misusing the Lord's messengers, filled the measure of their iniquity. God can bring trouble upon us from places and causes very remote. He has mercy in store for his people, therefore will set bounds to this desolating judgment. Let us not overlook the "nevertheless," verse 18. This is the Lord's covenant with Israel. He thereby proclaims his holiness, and his utter displeasure against sin while sparing the sinner, Psalm 89:30-35.
Commentary on Jeremiah 5:19-31
(Read Jeremiah 5:19-31)
Unhumbled hearts are ready to charge God with being unjust in their afflictions. But they may read their sin in their punishment. If men will inquire wherefore the Lord doeth hard things unto them, let them think of their sins. The restless waves obeyed the Divine decree, that they should not pass the sandy shores, which were as much a restraint as lofty mountains; but they burst all restraints of God's law, and were wholly gone into wickedness. Neither did they consider their interest. While the Lord, year after year, reserves to us the appointed weeks of harvest, men live on his bounty; yet they transgress against him. Sin deprives us of God's blessings; it makes the heaven as brass, and the earth as iron. Certainly the things of this world are not the best things; and we are not to think, that, because evil men prosper, God allows their practices. Though sentence against evil works is not executed speedily, it will be executed. Shall I not visit for these things? This speaks the certainty and the necessity of God's judgments. Let those who walk in bad ways consider that an end will come, and there will be bitterness in the latter end.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Jeremiah》
 Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth; and I will pardon it.
Run — God gives leave to all the earth to look into the state of Jerusalem, by which he vindicates himself in the face of the whole world from all severity towards his people, whatever he brings upon them.
In the broad places — Even there, where men meet from all quarters.
A man — It seems worse than Sodom and Gomorrah, for God condescends to pardon Jerusalem, if there be but one righteous man found in it; there he came no lower than ten. A man might walk the streets of Jerusalem long enough before he could meet with any one truly religious.
Executeth — Among the magistracy.
Seeketh — Among the commonalty, that deal faithfully and uprightly.
 And though they say, The LORD liveth; surely they swear falsely.
Though — Though when they swear, they use the form of an oath, and say, the Lord liveth, or by the living God: yet it is neither in truth nor righteousness.
 O LORD, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.
O Lord — Dost not thou approve truth and faithfulness.
Grieved — They have not repented.
Consumed — God had not only lightly chastised them, but wasted them by several enemies, yet they have profited nothing by it.
 Therefore I said, Surely these are poor; they are foolish: for they know not the way of the LORD, nor the judgment of their God.
Poor — The vulgar, that understand but little, of less conscience than the better sort.
Judgment — The methods or ways of his providence.
 I will get me unto the great men, and will speak unto them; for they have known the way of the LORD, and the judgment of their God: but these have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds.
But — These are more refractory than the other; no law of God is able to hold them.
 Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities: every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased.
A lion — Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldean army are here pointed at under the metaphor of beasts of prey of three kinds; compared to a lion, which denotes his great power, courage, and pride.
A wolf — For their greediness and unsatiableness.
A leopard — The Chaldean army is compared to a leopard, not for its speed only, but for its vigilancy and subtilty.
 How shall I pardon thee for this? thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses.
They then — Such is the natural effect of unsanctified prosperity.
 Go ye up upon her walls, and destroy; but make not a full end: take away her battlements; for they are not the LORD's.
Ye — Ye Babylonians, go execute my vengeance on them.
Battlements — Lay her and all her fortifications level with the ground.
For — I disown them.
 They have belied the LORD, and said, It is not he; neither shall evil come upon us; neither shall we see sword nor famine:
Belied — Not believing that these words of the prophet were God's word.
 And the prophets shall become wind, and the word is not in them: thus shall it be done unto them.
Became wind — A proverbial expression, all the prophet's threats shall come to nothing.
The word — The prophet's words are not from God.
Thus — It shall fall upon their own heads that have thus threatened us.
 Wherefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.
It — The Chaldean army, shall consume and eat them up like fire.
 Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel, saith the LORD: it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say.
Israel — By these are meant Judah; for Israel were in captivity before: called the house of Israel, not only because they descended from Jacob, but because they were the chief of that stock.
 Nevertheless in those days, saith the LORD, I will not make a full end with you.
Nevertheless — I have not done with you yet.
 Declare this in the house of Jacob, and publish it in Judah, saying,
Judah — By Judah and Jacob we are to understand the two tribes only.
 Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not:
And hear not — They are wilfully blind, and obstinately deaf, will neither see, nor hear the word, will, or works of God, of which he giveth two instances in the two following verses.
 Fear ye not me? saith the LORD: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?
The sand — That need not make rocks for walls unto it, but can give a check to it by so small a matter as the sand.
 But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone.
Gone — From me.
 Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.
The former rain — The former to prepare the ground for sowing, and the latter to prepare the corn for ripening.
Reserveth — He gives seasonable harvests according to his appointment. God would let them know what a foolish, as well as wicked thing it is to set themselves against that God, that keeps the whole order of nature at his own disposal, which he can order as he sees men behave towards him.
 For among my people are found wicked men: they lay wait, as he that setteth snares; they set a trap, they catch men.
 As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great, and waxen rich.
Their houses — They fill their houses with the goods of those they deceive, and over-reach.
 They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge.
Overpass — They go beyond the Heathens themselves in wickedness.
 A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land;
The land — Heb. This land: aggravating the greatness of the wonder, that such a thing should be in such a land.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Jeremiah》
05 Chapter 5
Run ye . . . and see . . . if ye can find a man.
A man; or, The Divine ideal unrealised
I. The Divine idea of a man. One “that executeth Judgment, that seeketh the truth.” This involves--
1. A righteous working out of the Divine will so far as it is apprehended.
2. An earnest endeavour for further knowledge of the Divine will.
3. How different is the Divine ideal of a man from that which popularly prevails.
II. The lamentable rarity of a man.
1. A sad revelation of the moral condition of Jerusalem in the days of the prophet. Such corruption amongst a people who had such religious privileges, and in the very scene where the temple stood, shows the wonderful forbearance of God and the terrible perversity of the human heart!
2. The condition of our own age. Verily, we are a fallen people.
III. The social value of a man. “And I will pardon it.” For the sake of a man, God promises to pardon Jerusalem. The value of a man to society, to the race, is everywhere represented in the Bible.
1. A man is a condition on which God favours the race. Sodom and Gomorrah.
2. A man is an agent by which God improves the condition of the race. He educates, purifies, saves man by man. (Homilist.)
The sinfulness of Jerusalem
1. Deliberate and wilful perjury (Jeremiah 5:2). So familiarised with oaths as not to care whether the matter sworn to was true or false.
2. Idolatry. Strange to see how madly this people ran after the lying vanities of the Gentiles, after they had received such manifold and undeniable proofs of the power, wisdom, and goodness of a living God, who was present with them; after so many laws enacted against idolatry, so many signal judgments inflicted on them for falling into this sin, such a hedge set about them to keep them from mingling with other nations, lest they should learn their ways.
3. Adulteries and fornications. This was a crime of a high nature, a complication of sins, and productive of so many sad consequences that death was the just punishment allotted to it.
4. Their shameful prevaricating with God’s Word, and torturing it to make it speak contrary to its genuine meaning. To this end they encouraged false prophets, who would prophesy smooth things, etc.
5. They were very unthankful to God, and insensible of His blessings conferred upon them.
6. They were very fraudulent in their dealings one with another, both in word and deed.
7. That which portended the extirpation of these Jews was, that not only all the fore cited iniquities were notorious in practice, but were moreover approved of, as it were, and settled among them by common consent.
8. This is enough to prove that it was fit for nothing but the fire, and it hath received that just recompense of reward. And the history of it is recorded for the instruction of all other cities who have the sacred Scriptures to instruct them. They may hear Jerusalem warning them, saying, “Look upon me, and learn to fear God. Will ye steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, and sacrifice to the idols of your own imagination, and hope to escape the wrath of God better than I have done? Let my calamities conduce to your salvation, and put away those sins from among you which have laid me in ruinous heaps, and turned me into a monument of the Divine fury. Look upon me, and learn to fear God.”
9. Those who are enemies to religion, and help to banish the fear of God out of the world, by denying the authority of His Word, or by putting a wrong sense and construction upon it, are as bad members as can be found in any society of men, because they do what they can to subvert the very foundations of truth, and deprive us of the last remedy which is left to repair the breaches of piety and virtue in a sinful world. (W. Reading, M. A.)
We all know the two meanings of the word man--the one which distinguishes a human being from a beast, the other which is applied only to those who possess the highest qualities of manhood. Such are the salt of the earth, such would have been the saviours of Jerusalem. Ay, such an one was the Saviour of this world, the man Christ Jesus. A union of qualities is needed to make up a man in this high but true sense. These qualities are partly physical, partly mental, and partly spiritual. We know what false ideas are attached to manliness. It is often entirely associated with brute strength. He is a man, think many, who has the greatest strength of arm and power of body. But though beneficial, and often beautiful, this manly strength does not make the man. In some of the most splendid specimens of bodily physique you have the mind of a child and the weakness of a fool, or, still worse, the unrestrained appetites of the beast, or the desperate wickedness of a fiend. How often, too, are the views of men taken as the stamp of manhood. Too often the youthful ideal of manliness is not self-restraint, but self-indulgence, to abandon duty, to pursue pleasure, to wreck the happiness of others, to be lord of one’s self, that heritage of woe--how many cherish these as the highest functions of a man! There may be other false ideals, but I wish to come to the scriptural ideal of the man who, if he could be found, would have saved the city and state of Jerusalem. What are the leading characteristics? To do justly, to seek truth. How commonplace, how stripped of the glory and pride dear to young imaginations, how possible for all to reach.
I. The first test, whether we are worthy to be called men, is the rightness of our actions, the integrity or justice of our doings. What is our conduct in life? Are we conforming ourselves to the Divine standard? Let us look at detail in right-doing in the different positions which we are called to fill. A deal of our lives is spent in our homes. There, if anywhere, we are genuine. We cannot seem to be what we are not before those who know us best, and who can read us through and through. How often there we fail to be men! The man who does justly is eminently tender, willing to enter into the feelings of others, to deal justly with them, to extend to them the sympathy of his strong nature. He is also helpful. The very presence of some men is helpful; you may not ask their advice, but to know they are near you is in itself a strength; and in the home relationships is it not the special province of the father, the husband, the son, the brother, to be helpful, to lift burdens, to smooth difficulties, to unravel the knots of this tangled existence? Do you not know homes where they who should be helpful only hinder the family life, where they are burdens and disgraces, taxing not only the family love, but wasting means all too narrow, and depriving their own kindred of their due share of life’s blessings? Such are not men, still less are they men who presume on others’ weakness. Many a husband shelters himself under his wife’s love from the penalties of his neglect, if not of worse treatment. Many a lad, who, above all, wants to be thought manly, takes advantage of his parents’ fondness, and wastes their hard-earned money in riotous living, while they believe it is being usefully spent on his education or advancement in life. Such men will never save a State, will never rise to such a height of nobility that they can leaven with the true spirit of goodness and righteousness the mass around them.
II. The second test of manhood is seeking truth. Truth is, in the Old Testament, not only mental but moral, is not only intellectual knowledge, but the knowledge of God and of His will. We need in this present day men equally ready to seek truth in all spheres of knowledge--in science, in philosophy, in politics, in religion. We cannot be too earnest in seeking all light, wherever it comes from. We should remember the words of the poet: “Truth is the strong thing; let man’s life be true,” and we should pursue our search in humility, in reverence, and in faith--above all, in regard to Divine things. That is a duty laid upon us all--to seek God, who is truth; to cleave to Him at all costs; to do His will, whatever it be. We may be mistaken as to what His will is; we may be troubled by doubts and difficulties, moral or intellectual; but we must remember that if we try to do justly we shall know the doctrine whether it be of God.
III. In doing justly, in seeking truth, you will be men because you will be followers of the man Christ Jesus. When we think of Christ as man we too often think only of His sorrow, of His persecution, of His death. True man He was in all these points, and nothing soothes us more in our time of trouble than that blessed knowledge. But I wish you to realise Him as man not only in the weakness but in the strength of humanity. I wish you to recognise in Him the ideal man, who did justly and sought truth. Think of His life, of His tenderness to His mother, of His helpfulness to His friends. Think of the ideal which He set before men. “Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment?” is His counsel to the multitude eager for the outward. “Lay not up treasure upon earth” is His warning to the rich and over-careful. “One thing is needful” is His reply to the cumbered housewife. Read these Gospels, and tell me if there ever breathed a purer, more righteous, more unselfish spirit. (J. R. Mitford Mitchell, D. D.)
The courage of the true prophet
“It is difficult,” says a great historian, “to conceive any situation more painful than that of a great man condemned to watch the lingering agony of an exhausted country, to tend it during the alternate fits of stupefaction and raving which precede its dissolution; and to see the symptoms of vitality disappear, one by one, until nothing is left but coldness, darkness, and corruption.” Such was the fate of Jeremiah. His writings are among the saddest in Scripture. He was no Elijah, no Isaiah, no John the Baptist, no Savonarola, not a man of mighty thunderings, whose strong spirit can face corrupted nations and never quail. There are some men whose courage seems to rise in proportion as they have to face insensate fury of opposition. Such was the spirit of Phocion. “Have I said anything wrong then?” he exclaimed, when the Athenians cheered his speech. Such was the spirit of Coriolanus. Such was the spirit of the great Scipio. Christians who believe that Christ really did mean something when He said, “Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you,”--Christians, a few of them, have also believed that there is a beatitude of insolence and of malediction. “Heavens! what mistake have I made!” was the answer of a strong governor when told that he was beginning to get popular. But Jeremiah was not naturally a man of this strong fibre. Timid, shrinking, sensitive, he was yet placed by God in the forefront of a forlorn hope, in which he was, as it were, predestined to failure and to martyrdom. In this chapter Jeremiah is striving to bring home to his people that things are not as they should be. Diogenes, in Athens, searched the streets with a lantern at noonday to find a man; Jeremiah, in Jerusalem, says that neither in its streets, nor in its broad places, can he find one man, one just, strong servant of the Lord. He thought, perhaps, that had there been such, God might pardon Jerusalem as He had once pardoned Sodom. But he could not find them. He found profession, but not sincerity; chastisement, but not amendment; remorse, but not repentance. Then he thought, “I have been too much among the multitude, who are ignorant and foolish; I will go to the upper strata of society; I will get me to the great men, to the priests, the statesmen, the men of culture; they surely have had leisure to learn the way of the Lord and the judgment of their God.” But the prophet was utterly disappointed; the upper thousands were worse and more helpless than the lower myriads; they had altogether broken the yoke and burst the bands, and so he adds--“Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, a wolf of the evening shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities.” What was the exact idea of the threatened punishment we do not know. The general meaning is clear; the days were evil alike among high and low; there were carelessness, unbelief, self-seeking, insincerity, and, amid all, men were completely at their ease; they were quite secure that no evil could happen to them. Jeremiah thought differently; he knew that greed, falsity, unreality, corruption, cannot last. God cannot forever bear with them; men cannot forever endure their burden; they may be long-lived, but doomsday comes to them in the end. Has it not always been so? The great world empires of idolatry--what could once have seemed more secure than they were in cruel strength? Where are they now? In any age, whenever any true prophet has spoken, the world has always been thrown into violent antagonism; it denies him every quality he possesses; he may be the humblest of men, but he will assuredly be charged with pride, Whom makest thou thyself? If he be hopeful, he will be called Utopian and unpractical; if he be despondent, he will be called maudlin; if he feels strongly, he is excited and an enthusiast; if he speaks strongly, he is gushing and hysterical; in the one case he is a Samaritan, and in the other “he has a devil.” A sneer has been made on the very name of the prophet of whom we are speaking, and the world thinks it has effectually depreciated any warning about present evil or future peril, when it has called it a Jeremiad. Neither the world nor the Church can tolerate a prophet until they have killed him: kings cannot away with him. Ahab imprisons Micaiah, Joash kills Zechariah, Herod slays John in prison, Eudoxia banishes Chrysostom, Sigismund burns Huss. Priests hate him with still more perfect hatred; the priests of Jerusalem ridicule Isaiah; the priest Pashur put Jeremiah into the stocks; the priest Amaziah expels Amos; the priests Annas and Caiaphas slew the Lord of glory; the priest Ananias bid them smite Paul over the mouth. The true prophet, if God ever give us one again, must face all this. He, like St. Paul, must be weak and despised for Christ’s sake. But, besides this, he will especially have to bear the one charge which has always been brought against all prophets since the world began--that what he says is exaggerated, and that what he says is uncharitable. Doubtless, the impatient Amaziahs and the Pashurs of Jeremiah’s day said, “What business has this man to bring such sweeping accusations? Look at our priests, how active they are, how many services they have, how careful they are to burn exactly the two kidneys with the fat; look at the scribes, how accurate they are in counting the very letters of Scripture; look at all the eminently respectable persons who go to church and pay their tithes of mint and of anise and of cumin. And as for danger, that is all hysterical nonsense. This is not the Lord’s messenger; evil shall not come upon us.” Yes, but it did come before Jeremiah was hurried to his death; it came as with a deluge; it came as with a thunder crash; it came as with a hurricane. On these conventional priests, on these careless aristocrats, on these money-making middle classes, on these immoral multitudes the flash fell, and the glory and freedom of Israel were hurled forever into the dust. Thousands who are not prophets might draw a very flattering picture of this age, which might be represented as nearly all that could be wished; they could point to its placid comfort, its domestic virtues, its slightly expanded egotism, and say there never was an age so respectable; they would point to all the threepenny pieces, and even to all the shillings in the plate, and say there never was an age so charitable; they would point to the endless multiplication of sermons and services, and say there never was an age so deeply religious they would point to the mushroom growth of fussy organisations, and say that the Church never was so vigorously, zealous. I fear that the truth would force the prophet to speak; he would point out the great gulf fixed between true religion and sentimental formalism; he would say that the sums that the nation dribbles in charity are in relation to its wealth no proof of our magnanimity, but the measure of our indifference; he might say that in spite of all our organisation, all the religious machinery in London is put into play on Hospital Sunday with the result of collecting some £20,000, which you will see perhaps in the paper the next day has been given in a two days’ sale for china and bric-a-brac. He might say that sermons and services, day after day, may perhaps only be treading into deader callosity the self-satisfaction of Pharisaic hearts; he might say that the praise of our languid virtues was the best opiate to lull our souls into indifference and let them rot asleep into the grave. (Dean Farrar.)
We are to set before us an ideal of manly character and life, and practically to seek its realisation. Of the elements of true manhood, let us specify the following:--
I. Integrity. There are statesmen who tell us that morals have no place in politics. But the true statesman makes a conscience of politics. Again, there is perhaps a higher moral sentiment developing in business; yet one still hears of an undue advantage being taken of profiting by a man’s ignorance or necessities, and that even by religious tradesmen.
II. Purity. Some men boast of foul passions as the marks of manhood. It is effeminate to be pure. Initiation into vice is the baptism of manhood. But moral determination is altering that. A total abstainer is no longer jeered at.
III. Religion. I do not mean the religion of monks, or of ecclesiastics, or of sentimentalists, but the religion of Jesus Christ, a reverent recognition of God, of holiness, of human life. Can anything be more noble than fidelity to the noblest things we know T Has the world any nobleness like the nobleness of holy character? (H. Allon, D. D.)
Right kind of men
I. In the estimation of God the true excellence of man is moral and religious.
1. A strict obedience to the Divine will as far as it is known.
2. An earnest endeavour to attain an accurate acquaintance with the Divine Word.
II. There are states of society in which men of this description are exceedingly rare.
1. They may be removed by death.
2. They may be withdrawn into concealment.
3. They may be reduced in numbers by the progress of degeneracy.
III. In the worst states of society such men are very valuable.
1. They avert Divine judgments
2. Draw down Divine blessings.
3. Promote the work of reformation. (G. Brooks.)
Philosophers in all ages have complained that human creatures are plentiful, but men are scarce. But philosophers made their ideal too high, their conception of what man ought to be too lofty. I have no sympathy with the cynic of whom history informs us, that, being ordered to summon the good men of the city before the Roman censor, proceeded immediately to the graveyard, called to the dead below, saying he knew not where to find a good man alive; or that gloomy sage, that prince of grumblers, Thomas Carlyle, who described the population of his country as consisting of so many millions, “mostly fools,” and who could speak in praise of no one but himself and Mrs. Carlyle, the latter deserving all the praise she got for enduring him. When anyone complains, as Diogenes did, that he has to hunt the streets with candles at noonday to find an honest man, we are apt to think that his nearest neighbour would have quite as much difficulty as himself in making the discovery. If you think there is not a ,true man living, you had better, for appearance, put off saying it until you are dead yourself. In looking for a man, look for a man with a conscience--a man who, like Longfellow’s honest blacksmith, can “look the whole world in the face, and fear not any man.” Look for a being that has a heart. A warm, loving nature is true manliness. In looking for a man, look for a magnanimous man; a broad mind, that not only observes what passes in the limited range of its own sphere, but is not afraid to look abroad; is far-sighted and not afraid of excellence in others. In your search for “a man,” look for a being that has a soul--the capability of solemn thought. Thousands today worship Bacchus and Venus. Their hearts are set on “having a good time.” Others apply themselves so intensely to their business that they find pleasure only in worshipping the mighty dollar. The man who so inordinately loves money for its own sake, and becomes insensible to all refined enjoyments, after a while ceases to be a man. Faith in Jesus Christ makes manly men. He is our model--a model containing all the elements of true manhood; a model of sympathy and love; a model of purity and uprightness. Christ-men are wanted. (M. C. Peters.)
Two things, according to this text, are needed to make a man: practice and principle--principle sought out with a view to practice, practice conform to principle, and both according to what is right and true; both are morally, mutually helpful, both are necessary. You may be as strong as a lion, fleet as a deer, brave as a bulldog, beautiful as a gazelle, clever as Satan, but unless you seek the truth, and do the right first and foremost in the face of day, you have not yet come up to the mark of a man. Is that what the world says and thinks? Oh no. Its heroes, perhaps yours, are too often not the morally good, but daring adventurers, successful soldiers, lithe athletes, quick-witted speculators, fortune-making merchants, subtle-tongued declaimers, gifted writers, skilful artists, politic statesmen, wearers of titles, and so on. These are the men that too often the world takes its praises and its prizes to, heedless of character and principles, pleading its own large-mindedness in putting truthful and righteous men behind and below mere physical and intellectual power and agility. These are the favourites that the base and meaner sort go gaping after and copying, and thus it is that it often happens that real men are comparatively rare and hard to find. (J. S. Drummond.)
The value of one true man to the State
What have men and women to look to for the defence and prosperity of nations? Astute diplomatists, enlarged navies and armies, and forts and guns, scientific discoveries, commercial treaties, cultivation of art, legislative enactments? Think of these what you please. I tell you that these are not, any nor all of them, the true shields and saviours of nations; these do not form the backbone and centre of a strong body politic. It is not for these that God is sending upon us any blessing; not the providing of such that will lead Him to say, “I will pardon Jerusalem and scatter the swollen storm clouds” What was it then? It was a man. Goethe says no greater good can happen to a town than for several educated men thinking in the same way about what is good and true living in it. But Goethe’s standard is insufficient; it falls short of the Divine. The defenders and the benefactors of nations and of their fellow men are the morally and religiously good in them; men whose lives are regulated by the teachings of God; men who seek to act as Christ did are the men that are worthy, and that are looked upon by God as blessings to the nations. Ay, and even one such is a mighty pillar, and on occasion even one such may be the saviour and mainstay of the State. (J. S. Drummond.)
Make yourself a man
When President Garfield was a boy, and was asked what he would be, his reply was: “Well, first of all, I must make myself a man; for, if I do not succeed in that, I shall not succeed in anything.”
Godly men the preservative of society
One of the greatest services which a man can render society is to believe the truths of God sincerely, and maintain them steadfastly. It is the happiest state for a community when there exists within it a vigorous Christianity--a phalanx of strong minds, fully persuaded as to the revealings and requirements of the Most High. Like the willows by the water courses which are not only green, but whose roots, penetrating and interlacing in the soft and spongy soil, prevent it from being swept away by the rushing torrent, these men of gentle manners, but profound convictions, are the living network, the rampart of roots unnoticed and unthanked, who keep society from crumbling piecemeal into the gulf of licentiousness and atheism and crime, which is forever surging and foaming past it Like the metallic clamps and rivets, the bands and girders, which, in a region of earthquake, keep the precarious houses from tumbling to pieces, law and police magistracy are a mere mud masonry, and but for the binding power of such consciences, but for the fastening force of their convictions who believe in God, in the upheavings of man’s passions, in the volcanic throes of his lust and violence, the framework of society would soon be shaken all to pieces. Like the fragments of iron in a mass of stone, which draw it towards the magnet, it is the “faith which He finds in the earth,” which at any period draws the earth towards its Maker, or makes a community “a people near to God.” (James Hamilton, D. D.)
A hero is a real man
What is it to be a “hero”? A “hero” is simply the English form of the Greek “heros,” which primarily meant a “man,” a real man, a separate and unmistakable man, as distinct from “anthropos,” or mankind in general. By a recognition of this very truth, that a man’s distinctness as a man among men works and measures his exceptional character and capabilities, the Greeks came to call a grand man, or a great or preeminent man, a hero, as another way of saying that he was “distinguished” man. “Dost thou know what a hero is?” asks Longfellow and then gives answer, “Why, a hero is as much as one should say--a hero.” A hero is a man. There is heroism in all real manliness. A real man is a real hero. This it is which gives force to Carlyle’s question, “If hero means sincere man, why may not every one of us be a hero?” The answer is, that it requires character, exceptional character, to make one willing to be a man. Most men are afraid to be themselves. They shrink from being “distinguished.” Their preference is to conform themselves to the common standard of their sphere--to be like others, rather than to be like themselves alone. Where this feeling prevails, heroism is an impossibility. One acting on this preference cannot be distinguished. He who is unwilling to exercise and assert his character, in spite of all the world, cannot be recognised as the possessor of character. He cannot be measured apart from the common standard to which he, of choice, conforms himself. (Great Thoughts.)
Ask a young woman what quality in a man she admires most, and the answer you are sure to get is manliness. The answer is highly creditable to the feminine taste. God also puts a great value on true manhood.
I. True manhood. Many spurious standards of manhood are met with in the world. By many young men, unfortunately, it is thought manly to be a proficient in swearing, in gambling, in drinking, in forbidden pleasure Not to “toe the line” in these evil customs is to be pronounced no man at all According to this breed of youth, piety is held at a considerable discount; it is not a thing for men, however it may suit parsons, Sunday school children, and old women of both sexes. Now look at the type of manhood spoken of in our text. According to our text a man is one who doeth righteousness and seeketh after the truth. Not the man of great muscularity and great physical power. Not the man who has seen much of the world, so called, which too often means a man who has worked for the wages of sin, which is death; neither of these is the true type of manhood according to Scripture. Let no one, misled by a popular confusion of ideas, dislike our text because it brings a man’s own imperfect righteousness before our attention. It is most true that no measure of human righteousness can ever avail the sinner as a substitute for the righteousness of Christ by faith. A sinner’s heart resembles Lady Macbeth’s hands, stained beyond all human cleansing. We cannot and we need not by our own efforts establish a righteousness able to justify and make reconciliation for the ungodly. Yet that does not mean that we may be callous about the sovereign claims of God’s eternal laws of righteousness. It is of the essence of Christian duty and Christian manhood to love righteousness and hate wickedness. The true man is he that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth. See where the true man should be found, in the broad places, in the streets, in the thoroughfares, the market places; the spot where the struggle of daffy life is fought out. In other words, the true man is contemplated under the character of a man right in the whirl of the stream--a merchant, a craftsman, a trader. And as every varied situation in life has its own special temptations and virtues--as the virtue of the soldier is courage and his temptation faint-heartedness. There are graces and virtues that belong to the home, domestic virtues, cloister graces--gentleness, forbearance, devoutness; and these, too, form part of a true man’s outfit in life. But the virtue of the marketplace is right dealing and integrity, and he who in the competition of the marketplace, in its barterings and changes, keeps his hands clean, his name honourable, his character honest, is, according to the verdict of Scripture, a true man. From these words it would appear that such men were scarce in Jeremiah’s day. Are they more plentiful now? Yes, I believe they are. A dreadful state of society. Multitudes of males, but not one mare Multitudes of gentlemen, but not one honest man. Yes, surely we are better today, thank God. Yes, we all know men who would rather empty their pockets of shillings than fill their mouths with lies. And what are they? They are men. They are the saviours of society, they are the salt of the earth. But unrighteousness is still, as it ever has been, man’s chiefest sin.
II. The value of true manhood. The value of true manhood is seen, not in its scarceness, but in the splendour of its reward. What is true manhood’s reward? God does a wonderful thing, all because a true man or two are found in the wicked city. What is that? He forgives the wickedness of the corrupt and unfaithful city (Jeremiah 5:7-9; Jeremiah 5:23-31). Could it be easy for God to overlook the errors Of such a people? You think so? Easy for God Almighty, though not for us. Well, perhaps you are right. If so, why stand aloof from such a forgiving and merciful God? Let us not fail to see that here in Jeremiah’s time God expresses Himself willing to pardon the wicked for the sake of the righteous few, as He undertook to do in the time of the patriarch Abraham (Genesis 18:23). See, then, the nature of true manhood’s rewards. God does not promise that when the true man is found He will honour and reward him. Surely in being a true man he has honours and rewards that cannot be exceeded. Jerusalem is to enjoy the reward. She is to be spared for his sake. Something like this happens in the experience of our great military heroes, our Wellingtons, our Wolseleys, our Robertses. No doubt some of these splendid captains have, at duty’s call, covered the battlefield with their men and scored brilliant fighting victories that had very little meaning or importance to us as a nation But putting aside these cases--take the case of wars in which both great heroism has been shown and the cause has been worth fighting for when the great captain comes home, what does he find awaiting him: stars and stripes, treasure and titles? Ay, all that, but more than that. Not only has his heroism won all these more or less precious honours for himself, but what is better, because it concerns more people than himself, he has secured for his country a standing, a place, a position, which it may be she never enjoyed before. And that to a true man is reward more sweet and satisfying than all the poor personal honours that can be put upon his head. The worst calamity to a people is not when its trade and commerce decline, but when its supply of true men fails. Our thoughts, when we think of truest manhood, cannot help turning to the Lord Jesus Christ, that man who is our” hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest.” For the sake of this one Man, all our sins are freely pardoned. (H. F. Henderson, M. A.)
O Lord, are not Thine eyes upon the truth?
The allusion is not to doctrinal truth, or truth in the abstract, but to practical truth as it should exist in the hearts and lives of men. The Lord bade them produce a single truthful man in all Jerusalem, and Jeremiah answers that if truth were to be found the Lord Himself best knew where it was, for His eyes were ever upon it. Look well at this picture of the progress of the deceitful. They begin with being dishonest to their fellow men, and at last they become Satan’s commission agents, trappers for the devil, fowlers who ensnare men as bird catchers take the winged fowl. This was the state of affairs in Jeremiah’s time. We have not, I trust, quite such a condition of things among us today, as a plague universally prevalent, but we have much of the disease of deceit in all quarters, high and low, and to what a head it may come time alone can show.
I. The utter folly of all pretence.
1. Hypocrisy is useless altogether, for God sees through it. The instantaneous imagination which flits across the mind like a stray bird, leaving nor track nor trace, God knows it altogether.
2. Nor is it only useless: it is injurious. You spoil your sacrifice if there be any tincture of the odious gall of hypocrisy about it. Everything about you and me that is unreal God hates, and hates it more in His own people than anywhere else.
3. Moreover, pretence is deadening, for he that begins with tampering with truth will go on from bad to worse. Once begin to sail by the wind of policy and trickery and you must tack, and then tack again and again; and as surely as you are alive, you will yet have to tack again; but if you have the motive force of truth within you, as a steamboat has its own engine, then you can go straight in the teeth of wind and tempest.
4. Falsehood and pretence before God are damnable. I cannot use a less forcible word than that. I have constantly seen almost all sorts of people converted--great blasphemers, pleasure seekers, thieves, drunkards, unchaste persons, and hardened reprobates,--but rarely have I seen a man converted who has been a thorough-paced liar. The heart which is crammed with craft and treachery seems as if it had passed out of the reach of grace.
II. The great value of truthfulness. The great value of it is this--that it alone is regarded by God in matters of religion: His eyes are upon that which is truthful about us. For instance, suppose I say “I repent.” The question is--Do I really and from my heart sorrow for sin! The same holds good in reference to faith. A man may say, “I believe,” as thousands say their creed,--“I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” and so on. Ah, but do you trust in God with your whole heart! Are you sincerely believing in God and God’s Word, and God’s Son, and God’s Gospel?--refer, if not, all your professed faith is useless. As to love to Christ, you know how very easy it is to sing sweet hymns about love to Jesus, and yet how few are living so as to prove their attachment to the Redeemer. The same truth bears upon all the ordinances of religion. When we professed to worship God, how much praise was there in the song? As much as the heart made. As to prayer. “A large prayer meeting.” Yes, but the largeness of the number of attendants is not always a gauge of the quantity and power of prayer. The quantity of heart in the prayer decides its quality. This is equally true of all your private worship. That daffy reading of the chapter is a very excellent thing; but do you read with your soul as well as with your eyes? That morning prayer and that evening prayer, those few minutes snatched in the middle of the day--these are good. I will not wish you to alter the regularity of your devotion, but still it may all be clockwork, godliness with no life in it. Oh, for one single groan from the heart!
III. The influence of truthful men.
1. It is so great with God that one of them can save a city from destruction. Hence the value of good men in bad localities. When you go into a hamlet or village where there is no religion, do not be so very sorry at your position, for God may have great ends to be served by you. All light must not be stored up in the sun; scatter it over earth’s poor lands that need it, lest all the trees of the field die in perpetual night. God blesses us to make us blessings. Ask of God that you may be so sincere, so truthful, that He may bless those round about you for your sake.
2. This influence is such that it never was attributed to any man on account of his riches. No. The Lord is no respecter of persons, and He seeth not as man seeth. Sincerity before God is approved; true reliance upon Christ the Lord accepts: and for this He blesses us, and others through us.
3. And, mark you one other thing. If you are upright before God, and you should happen to fall among people that despise you and reject you--it is a sad thing to have to say, but it is true, and a proof of the great influence of truthful men,--your word, when you speak for God, shall be like fire, and those round about you shall be wood, and it shall devour them. If you are not a savour of life to life to men, you will be a savour of death to death to them.
IV. The necessity and the means of our being true and sincere before Him whose eyes behold truthfulness.
1. These times require it. This is an age of tricks and policies. Oh, the lying puffs you meet with everywhere in books and broadsides innumerable. Meet the prince of darkness with the light; he cannot stand against it. Our times require our sincerity.
2. So does our God also require it. I have already spoken to this, and I need not repeat the solemn strain.
3. So do our souls require it. Our eternal welfare demands it. Oh, there must be no mistake about our being true before God, for when it comes to dying work, nothing will stand us then but sincerity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved.
God’s chastisements designed for man’s conversion
I. Turning to the Lord presupposes a deep conviction that you have gone astray, both from way of duty and of safety. That all your highest interests have been neglected.
1. The exceeding sinfulness of sin.
2. The purity and strictness of God’s law, the equity and terror of its penalty.
3. Your obligations to Him as Creator, Preserver, Redeemer.
II. Turning to God supposes a pull conviction of the necessity of immediate response.
1. If you die in your present condition, you will certainly be lost.
2. You have no time for delay.
3. It will wound your heart to think this work has not been done long ago.
III. If afflictions should prove the means of turning you to God, they will rouse you to most earnest persevering endeavours that you may truly find Him.
1. Pray without ceasing.
2. Accustom yourself to solemn meditation.
3. Seek the society of those who know the Lord.
IV. If afflictions should turn you to God, you will be made deeply sensible of your inability and the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s grace to your conversion.
1. Your endeavours avail to avoid hindrances and seek helps.
2. Yet your own heart is against you, and the disease of sin is irrecoverable but by Divine grace.
V. If ever you turn to the Lord, you will realise that Christ is the only way of access to God. You will come as criminals upon the footing of grace, not merit; will renounce all your righteousness; a broken-hearted rebel. Till then, you have nothing to do with Jesus.
VI. If you are turned to God, you will experience a great change in temper and conduct.
1. Heart and mind will take a new bias; thoughts and affections towards God; aspirations towards heaven; Jesus dear to you; all things become new.
2. Your practices will follow the inward impulse and principle of religion.
VII. If turned to the Lord, your mind will habitually retain that turn. Your religion not a transient fit, but permanent and persevering. (President Davies.)
I. Some of the forms of unsanctified affliction.
II. Some of the means by which this evil may be kept away.
1. By seeking ascertain and to accomplish the design of our affliction.
2. By repressing every tendency to murmuring or impatience.
3. By avoiding immoderate sorrow. (G. Brooks.)
Chastisement is designed by God to bear fruit in a purged and penitent heart; but it may be so neglected, resisted, or abused, as to become fruitless.
I. The sign of fruitless chastisement is impenitence.
1. Chastisement is the red lamp warning of danger, and urging us to stop in the course we are pursuing.
2. But, that it may serve this purpose, there must be--
II. The cause of fruitless chastisement is hardness of heart.
1. Insensitiveness. The sufferer may feel the smart of the lash on his back, and yet be dead to the sting of shame in his heart.
2. Wilful resistance. The evil is in the will that refuses to yield to the mercy that comes disguised in bitterness.
III. The consequence of fruitless chastisement is an aggravation of future evils. The rebellious sufferer may imagine that he is free to do as he will with his sufferings; but even they are talents for which he will be called to account. For observe--
1. God’s searching watchfulness. “O Lord, are not Thine eyes,” etc. God searches the heart He chastises. He sees the rebellious thought, the stubborn self-will.
2. Man’s increased guilt. The more there is done to awaken a consciousness of sin, the more culpable is the indifference still persisted in.
IV. The remedy for fruitless chastisement is to be found in the grace of the Gospel. This will give--
1. The new heart;
2. The promise of forgiveness. Christ brings love and hope, and thus He brings also the tears of repentance. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
This might not unfitly be called one of the lamentations of Jeremiah. The words may suggest to us the consideration of a subject more or less belonging to all of us, namely, the danger of unsanctified or unimproved afflictions. The remedies of heaven cannot be inoperative; they must aggravate the maladies which they are not allowed to heal, and will make the face harder than a rock, if they induce not a tender and softened heart.
I. Unsanctified or unimproved chastening.
1. The first impression in the text seems to set forth that misuse of it which comes of insensibility. “Thou has stricken them, but they have not grieved; Thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction.” The language may be taken to describe, not so much the receiving of correction in the spirit of defiant and avowed contempt, as the act of setting lightly by affliction, of not bestowing upon it the attention it deserves, having no reverence for its Author, and no consideration for its design or end. A calamity may visit us, but we think only of its human author; sickness may lay us prostrate, but science is sufficient to explain how it came,--it is chance or a skilled hand that causeth the shaft to pierce between the joints of the harness, and there is some poison in the atmosphere which has caused the withering of our favourite gourd. Thus, placing secondary agencies before our eyes, we can see no further, and look no higher. We see, then, why God was angry with the Jews, and why He will be angry with us, when His chastisements are received with unreflecting indifference. It is that, whether avowedly or not, such insensibility amounts to atheism. On this view--unavowed, of course--is based the indifference of unconverted men under chastisement: they feel that it is not correction, but the natural result of some law which no one can help. Why should they grieve at that which comes of an unhindered, self-governing, moral necessity
2. But the text adverts to a yet more offending and presumptuous deportment under affliction, namely, when the chastisements of God are received in a stouthearted, rebellious, defying spirit. Not only have they refused to receive correction, but they have made their faces harder than a rock. In this case, as we see, God is net left out of sight. On the contrary, He is believed and felt to be the Author of all permitted sufferings. The awful impiety is, that He is regarded as the unjust Author. We stand amazed at the impiety of that Roman emperor, who, because the lightning flash interrupted the pleasures of his banquet, feared not to hurl his blasphemous reproach against the powers of heaven. But let us consider how much of the spirit of these men is in us, when we indulge in angry chafings at the arrangements of Divine Providence; full of fury, like a wild bull in the net, or fretting as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. How often do you find people under bitter reverses angry and out of humour with everybody about them; with friends who have had nothing whatever to do with their trouble, nay, who perhaps are trying all in their power to lighten them; but the fire of anger is in their bosom, and it must vent itself somewhere; it would vent it on God if it dared, but this is too dreadful to think of; yet it is with Him that they are at anger, and the thought of the heart is as much theirs as ever it was Jonah’s, that they do well to be angry. Extreme, therefore, as the ease of the text may seem to be, it is an extreme to which any rebellious thoughts may ultimately lead us, if not watched over and prayed against in their first beginnings.
II. How these dreadful effects may be prevented and the chastenings of God turned to a sanctified account.
1. First, we must he careful to acknowledge the design of God in sending our trials, and do all we can to bring that design about. Our trials may be of different kinds, one man being afflicted with this and another with that. Every heart has its own plague, and every soul its own leprous spot, and the Great Physician mixes our cup accordingly; that is, as pride lifts up the heart, or covetousness enslaves the will, or as vanity fills the mind, as human idols are exalted to Christ’s throne, or the love of this present world makes us slothful in the ways of God, does He apportion to each His remedial sorrow, to each His purging fire. Now this being so, can it be otherwise than displeasing unto God, if we take the smiting patiently, but still refuse the correction; if we submit to the discipline, but disregard the profit; if we allow the ploughshare of affliction to go over us, and yet cheek the springing up of those peaceable fruits of righteousness which chastisement yieldeth to them that are exercised thereby? The rod has a voice, and you must hear what it says.
2. Again, in order that chastening may be blessed to us, we must have a care that we do not become weary under it, however long it may continue. He who faints under the Divine correction first makes sure that he shall faint, and then, by casting off all effort, brings about the fulfilment of his own prophecy. He makes himself helpless. The feebleness of his graces arises from want of exorcise. He has hung up his shield of faith, he has cast off his helmet of hope, he wields the sword of the Spirit with an unsoldierly and trembling hand, and then he wonders that he faints in the day of battle. Chastisement thus received will yield no peaceable fruits of righteousness. So far from our trials being designed to supersede the exercise of our spiritual graces, the great battle of our faith is to be fought on this field.
3. In like manner we are in danger of losing the benefit of chastening, when, through immoderate grief, we unfit ourselves for the active duties of life. The connection between our bodily and mental states is so intimate, that long-continued disturbance of the one will always be followed by serious derangement of the other. Hence it is that protracted and cherished griefs are found to produce a general disturbance in our active and intellectual powers; duties are neglected, a state of apathy is induced, and all the higher demands of our social position are made to wait on a sinful and unprofitable grief. Conceive rightly of Him from whom that chastening comes, as of infinite holiness to do nothing unjust, of infinite love to do nothing unkind, of infinite wisdom to do nothing unsuitable to your best, truest, everlasting interests. And then conceive rightly of yourselves, as transgressors from the womb, as children of disobedience, as outcasts by nature from light and hope, and enemies by works from truth and godliness. And then consider what God sends trials for, and the certainty that, received aright, they shall all work together for good. The arrows of God can never miss their aim; with Him there are no bows drawn at a venture; His shafts speed home infallibly. Taken from the quiver of infinite love, winged with purposes of unerring mercy, they make no heart wounds which they do not more kindly heal, and kill nothing in us which were not better dead. (D. Moore, M. A.)
They have refused to return.--
I. Who have refused to return?
1. Those who have said as much. With unusual honesty or presumption, they have made public declaration that they will never quit their sinful ways.
2. Those who have made a promise to repent, but have not performed it.
3. Those who have offered other things instead of practical return to God--ceremonies, religiousness, morality, and the like.
4. Those who have only returned in appearance. Formalists, mere professors, hypocrites.
5. Those who have only returned in part. Hugging some sins while hanging others.
II. What this refusal unveils.
1. An intense love of sin.
2. A want of love to the great Father, who bids them return.
3. A disbelief of God: they neither believe in what He has revealed concerning the evil consequences of their sin, nor in what He promises as to the benefit of returning from it.
4. A despising of God: they reject His counsel, His command, and even Himself.
5. A resolve to continue in evil. This is their proud ultimatum, “they have refused to return.”
6. A trifling with serious concerns. They are too busy, too fond of gaiety, etc.
III. What deepens the sin of this refusal?
1. When correction brings no repentance.
2. When conscience is violated, and the Spirit of God is resisted. Repentance seen to be right, but yet refused: duty known, but declined.
3. When repentance is known to be the happiest course, and yet it is obstinately neglected against the plainest reasons.
4. When this obstinacy is long-continued, and is persevered in against convictions and inward promptings.
5. When vile reasons are at the bottom: such as secret sins, which the sinner dares not confess or quit; or the fear of man, which makes the mind cowardly.
IV. What is the real reason of this refusal?
1. It may be ignorance, but that can be only in part, for it is plainly a man’s duty to return to his Lord. No mystery surrounds this simple precept--“Return.”
2. It may be self-conceit: perhaps they dream that they are already in the right road.
3. It is at times sheer recklessness. The man refuses to consider his own best interests. He resolves to be a trifler; death and hell and heaven are to him as toys to sport with.
4. It is a dislike of holiness. That lies at the bottom of it: men cannot endure humility, self-denial, and obedience to God.
5. It is a preference for the present above the eternal future. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Refusal to return
Lord Byron, a short time before death, was heard to say, “Shall I sue for mercy?” After a long pause he added: “Come, come, no weakness; let’s be a man to the last!”
Surely these are poor;. . .I will get me unto the great.--
The ignorance of the poor and the insolence of the great
I. The character of many of the poor as here described.
1. Their obstinacy in sin was owing to their ignorance.
2. Their ignorance was in great measure occasioned by their poverty.
II. The character of the great as here described.
1. They had a better knowledge of religion than the poor.
2. They acted as bad as the poor, or worse.
3. Their conduct was chiefly owing to their greatness.
1. Learn what is the most important and profitable knowledge.
2. The advantages of being placed in the middle condition of life (Proverbs 30:8).
3. What an excellent charity it is to furnish the poor with the means of knowledge. (Job Orton, D. D.)
Shall I not visit for these things?
Unsanctified affliction followed by heavier judgments
The physician, when he findeth that the potion which he hath given his patient will not work, he seconds it with one more violent; but if he perceive the disease to be settled, then he puts him into a course of physic, so that he shall have at present but small comfort of his life. And thus doth the surgeon, too: if a gentle plaister will not serve, then he applies that which is more corroding; and to prevent a gangrene, he makes use of his cauterising knife, and takes off the joint or member that is so ill-affected. Even so God, when men profit not by such crosses as He hath formerly exercised them with, when they are not bettered by lighter afflictions, then He sends heavier, and proceeds from milder to sharper crosses. If the dross of their sins will not come off, He will throw them into the melting pot again and again, crush them harder in the press, and lay on such irons as shall enter more deep into their souls. If He strikes and they grieve not, if they be so foolish that they will not know the judgment of their God, He will bring seven times more plagues upon them, cross upon cross, loss upon loss, trouble upon trouble, one sorrow on the neck of another, till they are in a manner wasted and consumed. (J. Spencer.)
Go ye up upon her walls, and destroy; but make not a full end: take away her battlements; for they are not the Lord’s.
Storming the battlements
I. I shall regard this text as spoken concerning the Church. The Church has very often gone to king Jareb for help, or to the world for aid; and then God has said to her enemies, “Go ye up against her; but make not a full end: take away her battlements; for they are not the Lord’s. She shall not have them. I am her battlement. She is to have none other.”
1. The Church of God has sometimes sought to make the government its battlements.
2. There are churches who make battlements out of the wealth of their members. Now, we do love to have wealth and rank in our own midst; we always thank God when we have brought among us men who can do something for the cause of truth; we do bless God when we see Zaccheus, who had abundance of gold and silver, giving some of his gifts to the poor of the Lord’s family; we like to see the princes and kings bringing presents and bowing before the King of all the earth:--but if any church bows before the golden calf, there will go forth the mandate, “Go ye upon her walls; but make not a full end: take away her battlements; for they are not the Lord’s.”
3. There are some other churches relying upon learning and erudition. The learning of their minister seems to be a great fort and castle. Never let it be said that I have despised learning, or true knowledge. Let us have as much as we can. We thank God when men of learning are brought into the Church, when God renders them useful. But the Church nowadays is beginning to trust too much to learning; relying too much on philosophy, and upon the understanding of man, instead of the Word of God.
4. But I think that the worst battlement the churches have now is an earthwork of great and extreme caution. It is held to be improper that certain obnoxious truths in the Bible should be preached; sundry reasons are given why they should be withheld. One is, because it tends to discourage men from coming to Christ. Another is, because certain persons will be offended on account of these rough edges of the Gospel. God’s Church must be brought once more to rely upon the pure truth, upon the simple Gospel, the unalloyed doctrines of the grace of God. Oh, may this Church never have any bulwark but the promises of God!
II. We shall now address the text to the Christian--the real child of God. The true believer also has a proneness to build up sundry “battlements,” which “are not the Lord’s,” and to put his hope, his affection, in something else besides the word of the God of Israel.
1. The first thing whereof we often make a fortress wherein to hide is--the love of the creature. The Christian’s happiness should be in God alone. He should be able to say, “All my springs are in Thee. From Thee alone I ever draw my bliss.” We fix our love on some dear friend, and there is our hope and trust. God says, “What though ye take counsel together, ye have not taken counsel of Me, and therefore I will take away your trust. What though ye have walked in piety, ye have not walked with Me as ye should. Go ye no against her, O Death! Go ye up against her, O affliction! Take away that battlement--It is not the Lord’s.”
2. Many of us are too prone to make battlements out of our past experience, and to rely upon that instead of confiding in Jesus Christ. There is a sort of self-complacency which reviews the past, and says, “There I fought Apollyon; there I climbed the hill Difficulty; there I waded through the Slough of Despond.” The next thought is, “And what a fine fellow am I! I have done all this. Why, there is nothing can hurt me. No. If I have done all this, I can do everything else that is to be accomplished.” What does God say whenever His people do not want Him; but live on what they used to have of Him, and are content with the love He once gave them? “Ah! I will take away your battlements.” He calls out to doubts and fears--“Go ye up upon his walls; take away his battlements, for they are not the Lord’s.”
3. Then again we sometimes get trusting too much to evidences and good works. We often get a pleasing opinion of ourselves: we are preaching so many times a week; we attend so many prayer meetings; we are doing good in the Sabbath school; we are important members of the Church; we are giving away so much in charity, and we say, “Surely I am a child of God. I am an heir of heaven. Look at me! See what robes I wear. Have I not, indeed,” a righteousness about me that proves me to be a child of God?” Then we begin to trust in ourselves, and say, Surely of your graces, Christians!
III. Now, to bring the text to the young convert, to the man in that stage of our religious history which we call conversion to God.
1. In the forefront of the city of Mansoul frowns the wall of carelessness--an erection of satanic masonry. It is made of black granite, and mortal art cannot injure it. Bring law, like a huge pickaxe, to break it: you cannot knock a single chip off. At last a gracious God cries out--“Take away her battlements, they are not the Lord’s.” And at a glance down crumbles the battlement. The careless man becomes tender-hearted; the soul that was hard as iron has become soft as wax; the man who once could laugh at gospel warnings, and despise the preaching of the minister, now sits down and trembles at every word.
2. The first wall is surmounted, but the city is not yet taken: the Christian minister, under the hand of God, has to storm the next wall--that is the wall of self-righteousness. How hard it is to storm this wall! it must be carried at the point of the bayonet of faithful warning; there is no taking it except by boldly climbing up with the shout of, “By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
3. Thus the double rampart is passed, but another still opposes our progress--Christ’s warriors know it by the name of self-sufficiency. Oh! blessed day when God directs His shots against that.
IV. I take this passage as it respects the ungodly and the sinner at last. How many there shall be at the last great day who will sit down very comfortably behind certain battlements that they have builded! There is one man--a monarch: “I am irresponsible, says he; “who shall ever bring anything to my charge? I am an autocrat: I give no account of my matters.” Oh! he will find out at last that God is Master of emperors, and Judge of princes; when his battlements shall be taken away. Another says, “Cannot I do as I like with my own? What if God did make me, I shall not serve Him. I shall follow my own will. I have in my own nature everything that is good, and I shall do as my nature dictates. I shall trust in that, and if there be a higher power He will exonerate me, because I only followed my nature.” But he will find his hopes to be visionary, and his reasons to be foolish, when God shall say, “The soul that sinneth it shall die”; and when His thundering voice shall pronounce the sentence--“Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire.” Again, there is a company of men joined hand in hand, and they think they will resist the Eternal, yea, they have a plan for subverting the kingdom of Christ. They say, “We are wise and mighty. We have fortified ourselves. We have made a covenant with death and a league with hell.” Ah! they little think what will become of their battlements at the last great day, when they shall see it all crumble and fall. With what fear and alarm will they then cry: “Rocks, hide us! Mountains, on us fall!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Man’s battlements or God’s battlements
These words show us that if we would ensure safety we must embrace God’s plan of salvation.
I. Man’s battlements.
1. Some build battlements without Christ as the corner stone. To read His history, admire His character, wonder at His miracles; but to leave out all the mystery of the Incarnation, to deny the efficacy of the bloodshedding, to substitute reason for faith, is to build battlements which are not “the Lord’s.”
2. Some build battlements with their own merits. As in the former case the foundation was faulty; so here is the superstructure. The “good heart” and the “good life” and the “good intentions” will not bear scrutiny. Salvation is of grace, and not of debt.
3. Others build battlements of external forms and ceremonies. They are like that foreign people who rear walls of painted canvas, guarded by painted sentinels, and armed with painted guns. There is no reality in such a religion.
II. What, then, are God’s battlements?
1. Repentance. No one strikes the penitent who confesses error, and asks forgiveness with many tears.
2. The second line of defence is Faith. Repentance does not save. We are saved by grace, through faith.
3. There is a third range, higher still, Holiness. A man may tremble behind the battlements of faith, even as the devils believe and tremble. That man only is safe and happy who is penitent, believing, and holy. (J. Batsman, M. A.)
The danger of false confidences
Oh, that England would learn that increased wealth and swollen fortunes and material prosperity are no signs of a nation’s strength. Pagan Rome was never richer than when she had scarce a freeman left. In the Middle Ages, Papal Rome stood raking into chests the countless gold of her jubilee, just before she suffered her most humiliating shame. Spain was dropping to pieces of inward decay when all the gold of the New World was flowing into the treasure of her kings. “Your glory,” said Oliver Cromwell, “is the ditch which guards your shores. I tell you your ditch will not save you if you do not reform yourselves.” Some nations have had a false ideal of absolutism, many, and especially modern nations, have had a false ideal of liberty. (Dean Farrar.)
The removal of false trusts and defences
It was a great mercy for our city of London that the great fire cleared away all the old buildings which were the lair of the plague, a far healthier city was then built; and it is a great mercy for a man when God sweeps all his own righteousness and strength, when He makes him feel that he is nothing and drives him to confess that Christ is all in all, and that his only strength lies in the might of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes in a house of business an old system has been going on for years, and it has caused much confusion and allowed much dishonesty. You come in as a new manager, and you adopt an entirely new plan. Now try if you can, and graft your method on to the old system. How it will worry you. Year after year you say to yourself, “I cannot work it; if I had swept the whole away and started afresh, clear from the beginning, it would not have given me one-tenth of the trouble.” God does not intend to graft the system of grace upon corrupt nature, nor to make the new Adam grow out of the old. Salvation is not of the flesh, but of the Lord alone. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. Worthless refuges trusted in.
1. Infidelity. Such a rampart is nothing more than a deliberate closing of the eyes to danger. It is like the sand in which the foolish ostrich hides its head and thinks himself safe. It is like watching an avalanche descending upon us and consoling ourselves that we are only led by a fanciful vision.
2. Personal merit. There are those who exercise far higher thoughts of human nature and of their own particular abilities than the case justifies. And they estimate their good qualities so highly that they think they surely ought to obtain some recognition from the Almighty.
3. Divine Fatherhood. Some think that because God made man He is therefore a universal Father, and they assume that a Father could not, be so unkind to His children as to let justice overpower mercy.
II. Worthless refuges denounced. “Go ye up and destroy.”
1. The Author of this destruction. The immediate instrument may be man’s natural enemies, but the real author is God. He will cast down all false hopes and crush all evil anticipations.
2. The reason assigned--“For they are not the Lord’s.”
3. The limitation--“Make not a full end.” The object is not destruction of the soul, but the taking away the false hopes which lull it into fancied security. God takes away earthly hopes, so that He may bestow heavenly ones. He crushes worthless props, so that He may lay under us His eternal arms. (J. J. S. Bird, B. A.)
I will make My words in thy mouth fire.
The potential word
Three elements of the power of the Gospel are here found.
I. The I will of the Almighty. That will is an ocean deep and wide as eternity and infinity. In that shoreless deep all the mighty orbs, suns, systems floated first by mere will of Jehovah. To that will every line of inspiration becomes either a ray of light, law, and peace, or a thunderbolt of justice.
II. “the words of thy mouth.” The language is human, but Divine in its source. In all the dealings of heaven with our race, created instruments have been used. A long line of prophets and patriots have been guided with the authority and power from the eternal throne. So that whether Jehovah will to rouse all the stormy elements of clouds above, and waters beneath, as by a shepherd’s staff, and styled the rod of God, on the kingdom of Egypt, or drive a broad dusty highway through the waves of the sea,--it is the same glorious God that is present in this sacred book. Ten thousand angels of the lifeguard around heaven’s throne could not change the heart of the weakest child. But aided by the will of the eternal majestic “I” of the text, a babe in the manger at Bethlehem will awaken a song that shall ring out in anthem heard far up among the golden spheres of heaven, and echo round and round our redeemed and regenerated world.
III. A fire purifies but consumes the chaff. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
God’s Word as fire
seems to me that the Word of God in our churches is too much like a sight which you not infrequently see in our streets in winter: a heap of coals cast down from a cart in front of a house upon the frosty ground, with the snow lying all around it, and falling upon it from the bosom of the storm. It is a remarkable conjunction when you come to think of it--a heap of coals and a heap of snow. The snow lies upon the heap of coals as cold and unmoved as it could lie over a heap of granite stones; and yet that heap of coal contains a vast quantity of potential heat, heat enough to melt all the snow in the street and convert for the time being the winter around into summer. But so long as the coal is as cold as the snow, so long does it produce no effect. Supposing you were able to apply a burning coal from your kitchen fire to the cold coal outside, what a wonderful change you would produce. You would let loose the potential heat; you would transform that cold inert mass of coal into a fiery furnace, which would melt and evaporate all the snow around it. And more marvellous still would the effect of the Word of God be upon you, coming to your cold, hard, frost-bound heart, with power from on high kindled with the fire of God’s Holy Spirit. The potential heat in it would be set free, and it would transform your whole nature and life. (H. Macmillan.)
When ye shall say, Wherefore doeth the Lord our God these things unto us?
In the time of tribulation
I. Acknowledgment of God as that Supreme Ruler of all from whose hand afflictions come. It is one great secret of that peace which passeth all understanding to mark the hand of God in all the changes and sorrows of this ever-varying scene of things; the want of this it is which so frequently leaves the men of the world a prey to vexation and despair. Secondary causes are but the links in the chain of providence; follow them by the light of God’s Word and the guidance of a simple faith, and you will find that chain depending from the very throne of God Himself, held in His own hand; every part of it adjusted as He sees it best to permit, according to the counsel of His own will.
II. A conviction that when God sends affliction He has a reason for what He does.
1. God often uses affliction for the purpose of correcting His children’s faults, and bringing them to a sense of their guilt.
2. The promotion of our growth in grace is another reason of God’s afflictive dispensations. Holy men are by trial weaned from a vain and evil world; are brought more and more to realise experimentally what religion is; and are enabled to enjoy in a peculiar manner the consolation of the Gospel of Christ.
III. A wish to know what that reason is. Not that we may be satisfied that God is just in what He does. But that understanding what the reason of His dispensation is, we may ask ourselves, have, then, those dispensations wrought in us the result designed? But how is he to ascertain it? I apprehend that we shall generally be guided to it when depending on the Holy Spirit for direction; we simply look at the nature of the trial, and the state of our own hearts. (J. Harding.)
O foolish people, and without understanding.
God’s judgment of self-will
The text is part of a message which was to be declared in the house of Jacob, and published in Israel. It shows that three results were produced by self-assertion against the rule of God; will the same cause produce the same effect? Let us see the results of self-will as shown in the text, and compare them with the testimony of our own experience.
I. Self-will in relation to the Divine government destroys the natural capacities and faculties of man. “Foolish people, without understanding,” etc. How different this description to the original portraiture of man! Foolish, blind, deaf--such is man when he has turned his back upon God, and taken life into his own hands. It would seem as if all the faculties of our nature were dependent for continuance upon their religious use; moral paralysis is equivalent to intellectual stagnation; not to pray is to die. Is it not much the same as if a flower should be shut out from the light and dew? The soul is, so to speak, withdrawn from the source of its being--cut off from the fountain of life, and allowed to exhaust its little resources, to languish in loneliness, and to die of hunger. If, then, we leave God, how soon does our poverty come as an armed man, and our want as one that travaileth? We shall most clearly see how the natural faculties of man are impaired, and indeed destroyed, by irreligion, by considering that the same truth holds good in the ordinary business of life,--separation from God means folly, blindness, and general incapacity, even in earthly things. Take the case of our daily bread, and see how the doctrine is sustained. Let any man set aside God’s plan of obtaining daffy bread, and call upon his own genius to supply it; let the earth remain uncultivated; let the seed remain unsown: can it be doubted that the insane man would soon be taught by famine what he would not learn from reason or infer from revelation? There is no violence in transferring the argument from the body to the soul: on the contrary, such transference would seem to be a logical necessity; for if God is essential to the inferior, is He not essential to the superior? If man cannot do the less, how can he do the greater? A man who would not eat bread because he could not make his own will dominant through every detail of the process of germination would be pitied or despised; yet men who cannot by their own will or power make one grain of corn for the support of the body are often found resenting God’s offers of enlightenment and guidance of the soul! What wonder that God should call upon the heavens to be astonished and the earth to be horribly afraid? And what wonder, repelled and dishonoured as He is, that He should say: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land,” etc. Think of God sending a famine upon the soul,--of minds pining and dying because Divine messages have been withdrawn! We know what the effect would be if God were to withhold the dew, or to trouble the air with a plague, or to avert the beams of the sun: the garden would be a desert, the fruitful field a sandy plain, the wind a bearer of death, summer a stormy night, and life itself a cruel variation of death,--so penetrating, so boundless is the influence of God in nature. Is it conceivable that the withdrawment of God’s influence would be less disastrous upon the spirit of man? Out of God there is no true being; the spasm, the convulsion, which is mistaken for existence is an impious sarcasm upon life.
II. Self-will in relation to the Divine government plunges the soul into irreverence. The “fear” spoken of (Jeremiah 5:22) may be taken as expressive of homage, veneration, and, in fact, everything that enters into a complete idea of worship. The destruction of veneration may be regarded as the final triumph of self-will. There is a very simple philosophy of spiritual retrogression. It turns upon man’s self-magnifying power, and his consequent ambition for self-government. He says: “If there be a God, He is at all events unseen; I am the highest power that comes within the cognisance of my own senses; other beings, such as demons and angels, have been spoken of; but they are fictions of genius, dreams of ill-regulated minds; I am king, I am god.” This is the natural creed of Sight, and it has many virtual subscribers. Now, it is to the senses themselves that God addresses the appeal of the text. He would appoint the ocean as umpire in the great controversy. Look, He says in effect, at the sea: it is bounded by the sand; its great fury cannot prevail against the limit which I have appointed: can you enlarge the decree which determinates the movement of the deep? Can you beat back the waves, or silence the roar of the billows? Stand by the seashore, then, and learn that there is a will higher than your own, a power which could crush your puny arm; listen, and let your soul hear a voice mightier than man’s; incline your ear, and let the spirit hear the going of God upon the quiet or troubled waves; reflect, wonder, bow down, and worship.
III. Self-will dissociates the gifts of nature from the Giver (Jeremiah 5:24). Revolted man will accept the rain because he cannot live without it, but the Giver will not be so much as named; the corn will be gathered, but those who bear the sheaves will have no harvest hymn for God. How rapid, tumultuous, fatal is the course of moral revolt! The purpose of God was evidently to have His Name identified with the common mercies of life, that our very bread and water might remind us constantly of His gentle and liberal care. He was not to be confided to purely spiritual contemplation, to be the subject of the soul’s dream when lost in high reverie, or to be thought of as a Being far off, enclosed within the circle of the planets, or throned in the unapproachable palaces of an undiscovered universe: He desires to be seen spreading our table in the wilderness, causing the earth to bring forth and bud for our benefit, turning our weary feel towards the water springs, and nourishing us in the time of weakness. Men may eat unblessed bread, and be bodily the stronger for it, but it is a sore and lasting reproach to the soul. The course of moral revolt ends in this, ends in the deposition of God and in the worship of self. Man ploughs, sows, reaps, and considers all the influences which cooperate in the production of results as mere features of inanimate nature existing and working apart altogether from intelligent or moral will. The universe becomes a stupendous machine; they who get good crops have used the machine skilfully, and they whose fields are fruitless have misunderstood or misapplied the machine. The universe was designed to be the temple, the very coveting, of God; but the worship of self has wrought a bad transfiguration upon it, and now the thief, the unclean beast, and the lying prophet prevail on every hand. The demoralisation of man may have a mischievous effect upon nature itself. We sometimes speak of a bad harvest: what if behind it there has been a bad life? When the heart is right towards God, God will not withhold His blessing from the earth: “Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise Thee: then shall the earth yield her increase.” Physical blessing will follow spiritual worship; no good thing will be withheld from them that walk uprightly. In the light of these statements we have a double view of the unity of the moral and material systems of government. One view is from the human side: when man sins, commits a trespass in the spiritual region, he finds the result of his sin in the physical department; the reflection of his spiritual misrule is seen in dried fountains and fruitless fields, in devastating storms and fatal plagues; the universe takes up arms in defence of law. Another view is from the Divine side. God shows favour upon the earth for reasons derived from the spiritual character of the people, and demonstrates the superiority of the soul over the body by making its condition the measure of His material benefactions. How terrific, how hopeless, then, is the condition of the sinner! (J. Parker, D. D.)
I. What God has done to produce pious consideration.
1. He has given powers of mind adapted to it. Eyes--to see, discern, read, etc. Ears--to hearken, messengers of truth. Understanding--to know, weigh, reflect, etc.
2. He has given us the means to answer to these powers. His Word, His servants, His providence, etc.
3. He has given us His Holy Spirit--to strive, convince, etc.
II. The indifference men often exhibit.
1. The indifference of some is total, without any concern. Live stocks and stones.
2. Others are considerate only of the externals of religion.
3. The consideration of some is only to the intellectual parts of the truth. A mental study; philosophical attention; such as they give to literature.
4. The consideration of others is occasional. Under very arousing discourses, providences, sickness, bereavements, etc.
III. The consequences of this indifference.
1. It is extremely foolish. Moral insanity.
2. Detrimental to the soul. Makes it blind, deaf; robs it of spiritual food and enjoyment; degrades it.
3. Specially offensive to God. Rebellion. Gratitude.
4. Must end in the soul’s ruin. No moral fitness without devout consideration.
1. Examine and test yourselves.
2. Seek the quickening influences of the Divine Spirit.
3. Be resolved and wise now, lest you perish. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Fear ye not Me? saith the Lord.--
Solemn reasons for fearing the Lord
I. Argument from God’s government of the sea.
1. Suited to impress man with an idea of--
(a) Negatively, in checking the threatening invasion of the sea;
(b) Affirmatively, in giving rain, etc.
2. Man’s revolting tendencies.
(a) Man has a heart, the sea has not; a will power.
(b) This power in man has been prostituted to evil.
II. Argument from God’s bestowment of the harvest.
1. Until the Gospel was communicated to the world, attentive observance of the dispensation of providence was the principal means whereby God’s Spirit drew the Gentiles to Himself, and led them to piety and obedience.
2. Although we enjoy the full light of the glorious Gospel, we can never too closely keep in mind the fact that all things we see and enjoy are ordained by God.
3. From the natural events around us we may--
Persuasives to the fear of God
I. He complains of the shameful stupidity of this people.
1. Their understandings were darkened. Possessing intellectual faculties and capacities, they did not employ and improve them.
2. Their wills were stubborn: not submit to rules of Divine law.
II. He ascribes this to the want of the fear of God.
1. If you keep up awe of God you will be observant of what He says.
2. Because we neglect to stir up our wills to holy awe of God we are so apt to rebel.
III. He suggests some things proper to possess us with a holy fear of God.
1. We must fear the Lord and His greatness. He keeps and manages the sea.
2. We must fear the Lord, and His goodness.
Which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea.--
Adoration of God in nature
1. The more blessings they enjoyed, the more thankful they should have been.
2. Having rejected God spiritually, He yet continued to manifest Himself to them in nature.
3. Gratitude to God for the fruits of the seasons is a common ground on which to argue effectually even with the darkest heathen.
4. The heathen are denied excuse for their ignorance and idolatry, because of the marks of God’s love and power in the world around them.
5. Yet the heathen, in outward forms at least, surpassed Jews and Christians.
6. There was, then, great sin on the part of Israel when, even as natural men, they ignored the mercies of God’s ordinary providence, and were not softened and converted by His unmerited goodness.
7. A bounteous season ought to awaken love and thankfulness to God.
8. God is exceedingly jealous of the honour due unto His name.
9. The eye is blind to God in natural wonders, and the ear deaf amid His works, because the heart has not embraced Him in the Gospel of His Son. (J. Garbett, M. A.)
God’s government of the sea and man’s revolting tendencies
1. God is the Author and Governor of the sea.
2. God binds the sea within certain limits by law.
3. God’s laws are permanent till He wills a change “by a perpetual decree.”
4. God is ever prevent in His laws and contrivances.
5. God’s presence in the laws of the sea, as well as in every other law, should have a restraining and reverencing influence upon men.
I. God’s government of the sea. Suited to impress man with an idea of--
1. Infinite power.
2. Consummate wisdom.
3. Special goodness.
II. Man’s revolting tendencies.
1. God has prescribed the bounds of man’s actions and thoughts by befitting laws. Love to God and man.
2. To overstep these limits is rebellion against the great Lawgiver. When thoughts are unholy and imagination irreverent, the soul has overstepped its proper limits, and is in rebellion against its Creator.
3. Man has overstepped his proper limits, and therefore rebelled. “They are revolted and gone.” Differing in this from the sea.
4. Man can do what the sea can not, namely, overstep his proper limits and transgress the laws of his being.
1. God must govern heart and will by heart and will influences.
2. It is easier for God to rule suns and systems and oceans than one man, because he has a heart, and a rebellious one.
3. Man, as a rebel, contrasts unfavourably with the material creation--the earth and sea, etc. God notices this with a painful emotion. “Fear ye not Me,” etc. (Homilist.)
The sand barrier
Take a handful of sand up; and how easily it filters through the fingers. This slippery sand is part of God’s wall against the sea. By agglomeration it is strong. The restraining of the waters has made the earth habitable. Every coastline, however indented, flat, or rocky, has been traced by that Hand which “gave to the sea its decree.”
I. There are natural laws which are, like the boundaries of the sea, not to be passed. We all know what would be the result if the force of gravitation did not hold us in our place on the earth’s surface, or if we determined to ignore the law by leaping from a precipice. There are also laws of health which restrain us. We can easily damage our physical frame by neglect. Pains we must then endure, compelling to obedience.
II. In society we have limits, bounds and restraints which are of greatest value. The opinions of our fellows are restraints. Laws are the bounds within which the moral would secure the immoral. The good man fears them not, because he has no wish to break them. He values them, because they protect him from the lawless.
III. There are in knowledge certain limits and bounds which are of great value. Those who think deeply are the most conscious of this. Let us be thankful for such bounds. Let us remember what ennui and pride would follow if we could know all. Further, where would be the need for faith--that noblest act of the soul? Let us be humble. What is all we know, compared with what God has to reveal to us? Let us seek to become more fitted to pass beyond the limitations of the present, and to appreciate more the widening of our sphere of knowledge in the future world.
IV. As the sea has its bounds, so has life its limits. Decay and death must come sooner or later. Hearts can beat only a determined number of times, even as a watch, when once wound up, can go only a certain time. Every tick brings it nearer to the last beat. When the spring runs down, another beat cannot be got out of it. What are man’s years to immortality? (Job 14:5). There is wisdom in this decree. If men were to live beyond a certain point they would be hindrances; and if there were no death, men would be altogether forgetful of God their Judge.
V. We may apply the text to the trials to which man is subjected. God sets bounds to them. He will not allow us to be crushed or swamped. He knows what we can bear, and how much is good for us. Murmur not. Trust in Him. He can deliver, check, remove the restraints, hindrances, and trials, and even bring blessing out of them. (Homiletic Magazine.)
God the ruler of the waves
God rules the waves, not Britannia. (John Newton.)
Sea and soil; Divine providence
By the mouth of His prophet, Jeremiah, God upbraids His people for their impiety; but it is worthy of notice that He reproaches them not for their forgetfulness of His miraculous deliverances, but for their heedlessness of His regular kindness to them. It is not that they are neglecting Him who saved them from the wrath of the Egyptians by the marvels of the Red Sea passage; it is that they are failing to honour Him who has always been keeping the sea in its bed.
I. God’s constant kindness to us.
1. In keeping in check the destructive forces upon the earth (verse 22). The sea at rest, kept within its bounds, is an object of surpassing beauty; its surface is the great highway of the nations. But when it breaks its bounds, it causes terrible destruction. As with the sea, so with the air. The pure air we breathe is life itself; the soft breeze is refreshment and invigoration; the wind aids us in our industries and carries our ships across the water. But the cyclone, the hurricane, is danger, destruction, death. The occasional storm reminds us of the continuance from week to week of that balance in the atmospheric forces which the wisdom and the power of God sustain, and which makes possible and practicable our pleasant lives. This also holds with the interior of the earth. Beneath a thin crust of rock are stored and hidden great central fires. What if they were loosened! The earthquake and the volcano are the reminders that there are forces beneath our feet and of which we have no control whatever; but a mightier hand than ours has shut them in, and keeps us in safety and in peace.
2. In putting into exercise productive powers (verse 24). God has been fulfilling His promise, and neither seedtime nor harvest has failed from the earth. There have come droughts and storms: our trust and our patience have been tried; our intellectual resources have been developed, and our character has been disciplined thereby; adverse material conditions have been strengthening and quickening our manhood; the culture of the field has been the culture of the race; the method of God’s giving has greatly enhanced the value of His gift. Divine wisdom has accompanied Divine bounty at every step.
II. Our human response. Too often it has been--
1. That which is our reproach. Men have taken everything from the God of their life, and they, have--
2. Which is becoming and acceptable.
God’s barriers against man’s sin
The majesty of God, as displayed in creation and providence, ought to stir up our hearts in adoring wonder and melt them down in willing obedience to His commands. The almighty power of Jehovah, so clearly manifest in the works of His hands, should constrain us, His creatures, to fear His name and prostrate ourselves in humble reverence before His throne. The contemplation of the marvellous works which He doth upon “the great and wide sea,” where He tosseth the waves to and fro, and yet keepeth them in their ordained courses, should draw forth our devoutest emotions, and I could almost say, inspire us with homage. Have these great things of God, these wondrous works of His, no lesson to teach us? Do they not while declaring His glory reveal our duty? Our poets, both the sacred and the uninspired, have feigned consciousness to those inanimate agents that they might the more truthfully represent their honourable service. But if because we are intelligent beings, we withhold our allegiance from our rightful Sovereign, then our privileges are a curse, and our glory is a shame. We might learn, even without the written oracles of Scripture, that we ought to obey God, if our foolish hearts were not so darkened; thus unbelief of the Almighty Creator is a crime of the first magnitude. If it were a petty sovereign against whom ye rebelled, it might be pardonable; if He were a man like yourselves, ye might expect that your faults would easily find forgiveness; but since He is the God who reigns alone where clouds and darkness are round about Him, the God to whom all nature is obedient, and whose high behests are obeyed both in heaven and in hell, it becomes a crime, the terrible character of which words cannot portray, that you should ever sin against a God so marvellously great. The greatness of God enhances the greatness of our sin. I believe this is one lesson which the prophet intended to teach us by the text. But while it is a lesson, I do not think it is the lesson of the text. There is something else which we are to learn from it. God here contrasts the obedience of the strong, the mighty, the untamed sea, with the rebellious character of His own people. The doctrine of the text seems to be this--that without supernatural means God can make all creatures obedient save man; but man is so disobedient in his heart, that only some supernatural agency can make him obedient to God, while the simple agency of sand can restrain the sea, without any stupendous effort of Divine power more than He ordinarily puts out in nature: He cannot thus make man obedient to His will. Now, look back into history, and see if it has not been so. What has been a greater problem, if we may so speak concerning the Divine mind, than that of restraining men from sin? How many restraints God has put upon man! “But what of this fact?”--you say--“we know it is true; verified in your own ease. Come, now, I want to ask of you, whether it cannot be said of you truly, “The sea is bound by sand; but I am one of those people who are bent on revolting from God, neither can any of His restraints keep me from sin.” Let us review the various restraints which God has put upon His people to keep them from sins which, nevertheless, are altogether ineffectual, without the accompanying power of grace.
1. Then, remember there is a restraint of gratitude which, to the lowly regenerated heart, must necessarily form a very strong motive to obedience. I ask thee, O saint, viewing thy sins as sins against love and mercy, against covenant promises, covenant oaths, covenant engagements, ay, and covenant fulfillments, is not thy sin a desperate thing, and art not thou thyself a rebellious and revolting being, seeing that thou canst not be restrained by such a barrier of adamant as thy soul acknowledges? Next notice, that the saint has not only this barrier against sin, but many others.
2. He has the whole of God’s Word given him by way of warning; its pages he is accustomed to read; he reads there, that if he break the statutes and keep not the commandments of the Lord, his Father will visit his transgressions with a rod, and his iniquity with stripes. And yet, O Christian, against all warning and against all precept, thou darest to sin. Oh! art thou not a rebellious creature, and mayest thou not humble thyself at the thought of the greatness of thine iniquity?
3. Again, the saint sins against his own experience. When he looks back upon his past life he finds that sin has always been a loss to him; he has never found any profit, but has always lost by it. Will you put the poisoned goblet to your lips again? Yes, you will; but because you do so in the teeth of your experience, it ought to make you weep, that you should be such desperate rebels against such a loving God, who has put not merely a barrier of sand, but a barrier of tried steel to keep in your lusts, and yet they will break forth; verily, ye are a rebellious and revolting people.
4. Then again, God guards all His children with providence, in order to keep them from sin. Ah! strange things happen to some of us. It was only a providence which on some solemn occasion, to which you never look back without regret, saved you from sin which would have been a scab on your character. Bless God for that! But remember, notwithstanding the girdlings of His providence, how many times you have offended; and let the frequency of your sin remind you that you must indeed be a rebellious creature.
5. Yet, once more let me remind you, that the ordinances of God’s house are all intended to be checks to sin. Bow down your heads with shame while ye consider your ways, and then lift up your hearts, Christians, in adoring love, that He has kept you when your feet were making haste to hell, where you would have gone, but for His preserving grace. Will you not pray, that God should not cast you away, nor take His Holy Spirit from you, though you are a rebellious creature, and though you have revolted against Him?
II. Apply it to sinners. Come, then, sinner; in the first place, I bid thee consider thy guilt. The mighty ocean is kept in obedience by God, and restrained within its channel by simple sand; and thou, a pitiful worm, the creature of a day, the ephemera of an hour, thou art a rebel against God. The sea obeys Him; thou dost not. Consider how many restraints God has put on thee: He has not checked thy lusts with sand but with beetling cliffs; and yet thou hast burst through every bound in the violence of thy transgressions. Perhaps He has checked thy soul by the remembrance of thy guilt. Thou hast felt thyself a despiser of God; or if not a despiser, thou art a mere hearer, and hast no part nor lot in this matter. Dost thou not remember thy sins in the face of thy mother’s counsels and thy father’s strong admonitions? Thou knowest the threatenings of God; it is no new tale to thee, when I warn thee that sinners must be condemned. Consider, then, how great is thy guilt; thou hast sinned against light and knowledge; thou art not the Hottentot sinner, who sins in darkness; thou hast not sinned ignorantly, thou hast done it when thou knewest better. Some of you have had other things. Don’t you remember, some little time ago, when sickness was rife, you were stretched on your bed? Methinks I see you; you turned your face to the wall, and you cried, “O God, if Thou wilt save my life, I will give myself to Thee!” Perhaps it was an accident; thou didst fear that death was very near; the terrors of death laid hold of thee, and thou didst cry, “O God, let me but reach home in safety, and my bended knees and my tears pouring in torrents, shall prove that I am sincere in the vow I make!” But didst thou perform that vow? Nay, thou hast sinned against God; thy broken vows have gone before thee to judgment. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone.
Our state of heart and mind toward God is shown, not by those emotions which are kindled in us on receiving any extraordinary mercy, nor by what we do under the influence of those emotions, but by the habitual condition of our hearts and minds toward God as concerned in His everyday gifts and our everyday doings.
I. The accusation made.
I. God complains of revolt and rebellion against Him. The only rightful ruler over all: whose power is absolute and independent, whose wisdom is unerring, whose justice perfect, and whose goodness infinite: whose “statutes are” all “right,” rejoicing the right-hearted, whose commandment is all pure, enlightening the eye that is single.
2. And what thought was it in their hearts, which God construed as rebellion against Him? It took in Israel’s heart the simple and familiar form of mere unthankfulness to God for “common mercies.”
II. The proof of their rebellion and revolt.
1. They did not in the gift of a good harvest discern God at all.
2. If, as I feel too much afraid it is, this part of the proof of a rebellious heart be in us, of necessity the other part will not be wanting: and as God saith in the text of His people of old, “Neither say they in their hearts, Let us now fear the Lord our God,” so neither shall we say the same. The goodness of God is meant to lead men to repentance. (F. C. Clark, B. A.)
Sin is revolt and rebellion against Christ-our King
One day, over in Australia, at Maryboro’, an unusually fine-looking man came in and said, “I want to talk with you. I don’t know about your preaching. I am a moral, upright man, and nobody can deny it. I should like you to tell me what you have got against me.” I said, “Are you a Christian? No, sir.” “Well, then, I charge you with high treason against your King. God made Him so, and I charge you”--and I looked him right in the eye--“with the crime of high treason against your King.” An awful cloud came over the man’s face. He got up and walked out of the room. Months passed away. We had been over to Tasmania, and got back to Australia, and were preaching at Ballarat, about forty miles, I think, from Maryboro’. At the close of one of my meetings, a fine-looking man came and said, “Do you remember me?” I replied, “I have seen you somewhere but 1 cannot trace you.” “Do you remember charging a man with high treason?” I said, “I have charged many a man with high treason.” He said, “Do you remember charging a specific man?” and he narrated the circumstances. “Yes,” I said, “I do.” He replied, “I am the man. You will never charge me with it again.” He held out his hand and I held out mine. He took me in his mighty grip, and dropped on his knees and I on mine. He looked up and said, “Lord Jesus, I hand in my allegiance; I give up my treason and take Thee as my King.” You men ought to do it tonight. (A. Torrey.)
Let us now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: He reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.
The former and the latter rain
Such are the climate and soil of Palestine, that all agricultural operations are most manifestly dependent upon the periodical rainfall. Hence the people speak of the weather and the crops with a more immediate reference to God than is usual with us. It is said that the common expressions of the peasantry are such as quite strike travellers with their apparently devout recognition of the Almighty agency. Certainly we may account for a very large number of what may be called the agricultural promises of the Old Testament, from the fact that little of the food of the people was gained by manufacture or commerce, and the whole population depended upon the field, and the field upon the rain. Although our climate does not so immediately remind us of our dependence upon God, yet it would be well if we remembered whence all our blessings come, and looked up to the hand from which our daily bread is distributed. When He giveth seasons propitious for the harvest, let us thank Him for it; and if at any time He restraineth the blessings of the elements, and leadeth the air with blight and mildew, let us fear and tremble before Him, and humble ourselves before His chastening hand. Gratitude for providential mercies is not, however, the subject of this discourse. I intend to use the text rather in a spiritual sense. As it is in the outward world, so is it in the inward; as it is in the physical, so is it in the spiritual: man is a microcosm, a little world, and all weather and seasons find their image in him. The earth is dependent upon the rain from heaven, so are the souls of men, and so are their holy works, dependent upon the grace shower which cometh from the great Father of Light, the giver of every good and perfect gift.
I. The work of God as it is carried on without. It is needful, whenever any holy enterprise is commenced, that it should be early watered by the helpful Spirit of God. Nothing beginneth well unless it beginneth in God. It cannot take root, it cannot Spring up in hopefulness, except the Holy Spirit shall descend upon it; it will wither like the grass upon the housetops if the celestial dew of the morning fall not early upon it. The like grace is equally needful after years of growth; there is urgent need of the latter rain, the shower of revival, in which the old work shall be freshened, and the first verdure shall be restored; for without this latter rain, the period of harvest, which is the end aimed at, will be disappointing.
II. Apply the text to our spiritual life within us.
1. Here note that usually the spiritual life, as soon as it is commenced, experiences a former rain, or a delightful visitation of grace. So blessed was our first conversion to some of us, that those first days are as green and fragrant in our memories as if they were but yesterday; they are as fresh and fair as if they had but just budded in the garden of time. To hear anyone talk of a precious Christ and of pardon bought with blood, and of full and free salvation, was heaven to us. If, in those days, we had to suffer anything for Jesus, we only regretted we could not suffer more. That was the early rain. The seed had just been sown, and the Master to make it take deeper root and spring up faster into the green blade, gave us the sacred shower of His loving presence. There was much tender wisdom in this gentleness, for the newborn soul is very weak then. Besides, our Master at that time gave us the early rain, as it were, to give our young plant a start in commencing our heavenly growth--a growth to which we might look back in after years. How often have we been refreshed since then in our times of sorrow, by recollecting the months past, when the candle of the Lord shone round about our head! Beloved Christian, if thou art now this day in the dark, pluck a torch from the altars of yesterday, with which to kindle the lights of today. The faithful Promiser was with thee then; thou hadst His love to cheer thee then: go to Him yet once more, and thou shalt receive the latter rain of renewed grace from Him who giveth grace upon grace.
2. It is very usual in the life of grace, for the soul to receive in after years, a second very remarkable visitation of the Holy Spirit, which may be compared to the latter rain. Believe me, the life of grace is no dead level, it is not a fen country, a vast fiat. There are mountains, and there are valleys. There are tribes of Christians who live in the valleys, like the poor Swiss of the Valais, who live in the midst of the miasma, where fever has its lair, and the frame is languid and enfeebled. Such dwellers in the lowlands of unbelief are forever doubting, fearing, troubled about their interest in Christ, and tossed to and fro; but there are other believers, who, by God’s grace, have climbed the mountain of full assurance and near communion. Their place is with the eagle in his eyrie, high aloft. They are like the strong mountaineer, who has trodden the virgin snow, who has breathed the fresh, free air of the Alpine regions, and therefore his sinews are braced, and limbs are vigorous; these are they who do great exploits, being mighty men, men of renown. The saints who dwell on high in the clear atmosphere of faith, are rejoicing Christians, holy and devout men, doing service for the Master all over the world, and everywhere conquerors through Him that loved them. And I desire, oh, how earnestly I desire you to be such men!
3. The text speaks of a third thing. There is the former rain, and the latter rain, and then he says, “He has reserved for us the appointed weeks of harvest.” Yes, if we shall get this latter rain--and may we have it!--it will then be time to be looking forward to our harvest. Consider well that the harvest begins in the field, though it ends in the garner. Going to heaven begins upon earth; and as the text tells us of weeks, so may I add that going to glory is often a long work. We are like a balloon while it is tied to the earth, it cannot mount; even so our ascent to heaven is delayed by a thousand detaining cords and bands, and the process of setting us free is cutting the ropes one by one. The wheat may well rejoice for the sharp cuts of the sickle, because it is the sign of going home to the garner. After the wheat is cut it stands in shocks, shocks of corn fully ripe, not growing out of the earth, but merely standing on it. The shock is quite disconnected from the soil. How happy is the state of a Christian when he is in the world but is not linked to it! His ripeness drops here and there a grain into the soil, for he is still ready to do good, but he has no longer any vital connection with aught below, he is waiting to be in heaven. Here comes the wain. The corn is put into it, and with shoutings it is carried home. Soon will our Heavenly Father send His chariot, and we who have been ripened by the latter rain, and separated from earth by His Spirit’s sickle, shall be borne in the chariot of triumph, amidst the shoutings of the angels, and the songs of thrice blessed spirits, up to the eternal garner. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The God of harvest
I. Some of the aspects of the operations of the God of harvest. The artist will not be called a painting, or the poet an ode, although it is his production; neither will God allow creation to stand for Himself. But the artist’s painting, and the poet’s ode, reveal perception, and genius, and feeling, and inspiration, which lead us to the threshold of their personality. So creation is brimful of the power, wisdom, and goodness of its Maker, and providence teems with evidences of care, beneficence, and tenderness on the part of its Author.
1. The God of harvest is the God of life. Take upon the palm of your hand one grain of corn, and examine it. We are told that it is one leaf folded up tightly. Whether it is strictly so or not, there is an outer garment to ward off the severity of the weather, and there is a finer inner garment, with underclothing. But where is life? Is it between the folds, or is there some small particle of matter in the centre which is its secret cell? What is the action which takes place when life springs forth? What are light, and heat, and moisture in relation to life? How does life appropriate to itself substances that have in them no life? And lastly we ask, How does life rise up a hundredfold from the ashes of its own death? These are questions which we cannot answer. To answer them would destroy their very design, for they are there to conduct an inquiry which ends not in themselves but in God.
2. The God of harvest is the God of progress and beauty. There is a process which appears to us to be death, and not any step towards the expansion of life. When the grain has been in the earth some time there is a dissolving of its compactness, as if it could not hold its own against contending forces. It bursts also, as if its girdles were broken. The next step which might be expected to follow is its reduction to the consistency of the clod in which it is lodged. But we are not correct in our estimate of that process. Life has found in the earth what she delights to find at all times--a secret spot to unfold her powers. Silently and unobserved she unfolds the leaf, and sends it forth into the blade and the ear. The process we have alluded to is one of repulsion, without a single comely feature to relieve it. But the fact is, nature is there in her laboratory preparing to send forth life dressed in magnificent beauty. The cornfield, width its golden crop, is one of the loveliest sights in nature. Progressive steps develop the hidden beauties of life. If we further continue our observation, that which we consider to be the termination of all life is its real commencement. The present is the time of ploughing and sowing, the reaping will come by and by.
3. The God of harvest is the God of final and beneficent issues. God works in cycles, but providence is not without intermissions in the turn of the wheel. Periods of action are sharply marked off. Summer and winter may be said to reverse each other, although their revolutions accomplish but one end. These changes prove the existence of a guiding hand, as much as the tacks which the ship makes prove that the man is at the wheel. The thought that all these changes, with a direct and a reversible action, bring about ends transcending in goodness and beauty everything of the kind in the actions themselves, ought to influence us not to seek in labour the joy of harvest. The husbandman does not grind and bake all his corn, but is as careful to keep the best of it for seed, as he is anxious the other part should be wholesome food for his family. So we cannot hope for future joy if no present seed is sown. Good seed cast into good ground--the Word of God sown in the heart--will be watered by His Spirit, Words spoken from the heart, and actions prompted by love, sown in the breasts of others, will grow into a plenteous harvest. The Lord has reserved a period of rejoicing for Christian workers.
II. Reverence and gratitude are due to the God of harvest.
1. A due regard for His honour. Reverence is a state of feeling produced by a sense of the majesty of God, and is the principal element in true worship. This holy passion is better felt than described. It is not a passion wholly created by a sense of sinfulness, which would be simply a dread of His displeasure, but an intense regard for God’s glory. His name is never pronounced except with a feeling of awe, and His works with a sense of reverence. His Word is holy, and His presence sought in the deepest humility. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
2. A deep sense of gratitude. Reverence for God does not crush the love of the soul. It has no frowns, but a smile. We worship and look up. We read the heart of the Giver in the gifts. All His servants are loaded with gifts for us. “The earth has He given to the children of men.” Its magnificence, its attractions, its beauties, its riches, its harvests, are all ours. More than the earth, yea, and more than the heavens, hath He given unto us, “Who gave His only begotten Son.”
3. An earnest desire for service. The hurry must be fed, and the naked clothed. The widow needs a friend and the orphan a father. Have we nothing to lend to the Lord by giving to the poor? Is there not a holy ambition in our souls to emulate Him who went about doing good? (T. Davies, M. A.)
Voices of God in the harvest
I. There are voices of God in the yearly harvest. God has mercifully set our lot in an age when the perils of famine and of desolating wars are very seldom known, and in very limited degrees. In past ages the yearly harvest was much more hazardous than it is now that countries are more settled and agricultural science so much farther advanced. Yet in those days God did not withhold His promised harvests from the world, only from parts of it. Not one single year of the world’s history has passed by without a gathered harvest somewhere; only the imperfect communication between distant countries did not then permit the surplus of one land to supply the deficiencies of another. Can any true soul look upon the “valleys covered over with corn,” and fail to hear them “shouting for joy and also singing” of the goodness of God? What merciful care of His creatures is thus displayed! How surely a moment’s failing interest on the part of God would leave our harvest only “a heap in a day of sadness and of desperate sorrow”! There are many who can discern something of the goodness of the God of providence, who yet try to persuade themselves that it is another kind of God who deals with men as sinners--another God, and this God only a God of stern demands, severities, and vengeance. It is not so. The God of redemption is the very God of bounteous nature. His yearly mercy is designed to carry home to our hearts the very call made by Christ, and by the Word--the call to repentance and trust. In the salvation by Jesus Christ we ought to see in sublime glory that very goodness that spreads our fields with waving corn. In the yearly harvest there is also a voice speaking out God’s faithfulness. Every year He is only doing what He promised our forefather He would do for him and for his descendants; He is only keeping His word. God’s faithfulness to His promise is painted in splendid colours right across the sky in every sun-glinted shower. God’s faithfulness to His promise is sung out by every cloud-flecked, waving cornfield, every gathered sheaf, and every loaded barn.
II. The special voices of God in this year’s harvest.
III. The voices of God in the scripture use of the harvest.
1. In Scripture, and by the Lord Jesus Christ, the harvest is used as an illustration, and employed to impress Christian duty, especially the duty of working diligently and earnestly in Christ’s work, the ingathering of sinners to His love, salvation, Church, and heaven.
2. Harvest is also used in Scripture to point a call to us to prepare for the judgment day, and the eternal world. (R. Tuck, B. A.)
The harvest, with its long train of preparatory works--ploughing and seed time, spring and autumn rains, the rest of winter and the heat of summer--is not only the great support of our life in this world--the great business of the year, as far as bodily health and strength are concerned; but it is throughout an instance of our Heavenly Father’s teaching us, without book, many of the truths which it most concerns us to know.
1. He meant us to take notice, first, of His continual presence and power in bringing forward the fruits of the earth. We are not so stupid as to imagine that corn will spring up of itself in our fields, whether it be sown at all or no. When we see a piece of land well stored with it and free from weeds, we do not ascribe it to chance, but we acknowledge that the hand of man has been busy in that place. But consider how much more skilful the work is, to form out of a dry seed, by mixture with a little earth and water, the several parts of an entire plant--the root, the stalk, the blade, the flower, the grain--and be ashamed to recollect how seldom you have thought of that infinite skill and wisdom, in comparison with the notice you have taken of man’s part, so very fax inferior, in the work of bringing food out of the earth. Man does his portion of labour and goes away, and sets about something else: but the work of God is forever going on, and therefore we may be sure the workman is forever present.
2. It is the more shameful not to take notice of this; because the growth of corn is, from beginning to end, a work of God’s mercy as well as of His power. It is a sort of token, to our very outward senses, that He has not left us nor forsaken us, for all we have done to provoke Him; and who is there, that has a just sense of his own sin and unworthiness, who will not thankfully receive every thing, both in nature and in Scripture, which encourages him to meditate on so cheering a truth as this?
3. Then, the manner in which the harvest is made available for the supply of our wants may offer abundance of useful instruction although He does so much for us, in forming, watching over, nourishing, and ripening the plant, yet it is not His will we should enjoy the benefit of it without exertion on our own part. “In the sweat of our face we must eat bread”: we must put it in the ground in the first instance: we must fence, manure, weed, and reap, or all God’s mercy in giving us the fruits of the earth, will at last be thrown away upon us. It is no otherwise in what concerns our spiritual happiness and eternal salvation. We must do our part by faith and prayer and sincere obedience, or we cannot expect God to do His. We must employ so much common sense, as to look forward to another world, and not to mind trifles any more than we can help, while eternal things are open before us. The cultivation of the earth, like the other employments of this life, is not blessed alike to all; and it very often may happen, that God sends prosperity on a bad man’s harvest, while the crop of the righteous fails. This, to unbelieving dispositions, is another excuse for irreligious thoughts, and practices; as if God had not warned us beforehand, “that He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” God does not think so much of the good things of this world, as to account them a sufficient reward for His faithful servants; by them, or by the want of them, He is trying us in this world, to fit us for our real reward in the next: and to murmur because good harvests, or any other worldly goods, are not bestowed on men according to their behaviour, is as if a man on a journey should be angry and discontented, because he does not find all the comforts of repose and home whilst he is moving along the road. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times.”)
The God of nature
I. The doctrine asserted. “The Lord our God giveth,” etc. He is the immediate bestower of what we call natural benefits.
1. The Giver of rain.
2. The Appointer of harvest. “He reserveth,” etc. Important and interesting season. God has appointed it--
II. The duty inferred.
1. Cultivate continual acknowledgment of God.
2. Exercise entire dependence upon God.
3. Render perpetual thanksgiving to God.
4. Devote ourselves to the faithful service of God. (H. Parr.)
Is there not a modern tendency to exclude God from the harvest field, to put an atheistic trust in secondary causes--subsoil ploughing, artificial manures, the rotation of crops and the like? Nature to the seeing eye and listening ear is sacramental. “Earth is crammed with heaven,” and the air is redolent with a celestial music.
1. The prophet would have us cherish that filial, reverent and thankful fear towards the great Giver of all which will save us from perverting His gifts. Without a due recognition of God our temporal prosperity becomes a curse. Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked. An engraving by Retseh illustrating a great poem gives us the angels dropping roses from the skies on the heads of denizens in Inferno. Reaching them these fragrant gifts turn to molten lead but to scorch and burn. Is it not thus when the blessings of a kindly providence fall on selfish and ungrateful hearts? The intended boon becomes a bane and the perverted gift a corrosion and a blight. Such is the characteristic sign of worldliness. It is a profanation of life’s gifts to basest uses, and a missing of the higher good. But the bounteousness of each glad harvest time should remind us that we are pensioners on the lavish goodness of our Heavenly Father in order that we may use it as He alone wills, for we are beneficiaries every one, and, as such, trustees of heaven’s manifold mercies and gifts.
2. The thought of “life out of death” is conveyed to the spiritual mind. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”
3. Another suggestion from the harvest is that of cooperation with God. Take a field of corn; it has not come of itself. Geologists never find amid the fossilised remains of primeval vegetation a trace of corn. It is specifically a human product. Wild wheat is unknown. Corn is the product of civilised man. It implies tillage, and this in a sense not true of many other products that minister to man’s need. So also is it in the development of Christian character. We are “workers together with God.” We do not attain to eminence by accident, or, as it were, automatically. It is true that “salvation is of God”; we are “saved by grace through faith; and that not of ourselves: it is the gift of God.” But there is sense in which salvation is a process, a diligent culture, a strenuous warfare, a glad but real obedience. We must work out what God works in if we are to come to a real possession of truth and of Christian excellence. The graces of Christian life are not like pictures thrown on a screen by a magic lantern, they are rather like the strands woven in a costly fabric by the weaver at his loom. To change the figure, finished husbandry of soul involves sedulous and patient culture, prayerful self-examination, and a mastery of that inner realm of our being where desire, motive, volition play their determining part in human character. Truth is real, something trowed, when it has become a working and victorious principle in the life. Other than this, it is like so much unused capital locked up in a bank, or so much unworked land on a farm. The Chinese, it is said, discovered the magnetic needle centuries before it was known in the western world. But it was a mere toy. They did not use it for new voyages of discovery or for enterprise in commerce. Its practical utility was nil. May not we commit a similar futility in Christianity?
4. Again, “Everything in its season,” the harvest seems to say, “First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” So each period in human life has its appropriate work. We cannot postpone duty and expect the reward of honest diligence. A pious, well-instructed youthhood should go before the active responsibilities and burdens of mid life, as both of these must precede and determine the mellow ripeness of advanced age. No one period in life can do the work of another period. Each has its own function and opportunity. Religion is a sublime forecast to be made use of in life’s early season, and not an afterthought darkened only with unavailing regrets when the summer has ended and the harvest we had wished is forever beyond our reaping. “Know thy opportunity” was written on the temple of Delphos. It is written deep on the face of time.
5. Let us remember that as the grain of one harvest is the seed of the next, so our life is reproductive, and its influence far-reaching and beyond our power to compute. Moreover, there is a wondrously cumulative power in Christian work and influence; the reaping is larger than the sowing. A self-multiplying process is ever going forward, and the results lie beyond our reckoning. We think of the beginning of things, the initial stages of great reform movements, the so-called forlorn hopes of the past, and with grateful wonder we greet today their fruitful, immeasurable issues. It is difficult for even the most sceptical and slow of belief to resist the lesson of history, that moral and spiritual forces rule and shape the destiny of this world, and that humanity and Christianity are meant the one for the other. (Aldersgate Magazine.)
Lessons from the harvest
I. In reference to God.
2. Dependence. We can only lay the seed down in the ground and cover it with the soil. God does all the rest.
3. Gratitude. Remember how many difficulties are in the way of every harvest, and how nicely He must adjust the balance of all the influences required to produce it. Too much rain or too little; too powerful and constant sunshine, or too unfrequent; too violent winds, or too dell and general calm, would render our autumn unfruitful. Consider, also, how many arrests there are which we have seen, and of whose fruits we have partaken.
4. Confidence. The sun may fail to ripen the corn, the seed may lose its germinating power, the rain may spoil it, or the wind may shake it; but God has said we shall have harvest, and we always have it. But nothing can by any possibility deprive the blood of Christ of its purifying and saving efficacy: how much more, then, may we expect that promise to be accomplished which says, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life”?
II. In reference to ourselves.
1. Activity. Although the corn may be ripe in the fields, it will be useless unless gathered into the barn. So is it with God’s blessings through Christ. Our Saviour has died; but what will this avail unless we use the means by which we may obtain the benefits He has purchased?
3. Judgment. (W. Dickson.)
Reflections on harvest
I. The regular return of harvest is an obvious proof of the existence and providence of God. The fruits of the earth, so necessary to the support of animal life, depend on causes beyond the reach of human power. The whole management of the natural world is in hands superior to ours, in the hands of an invisible, almighty Being.
II. The time of harvest naturally calls us to pious meditations and reflections.
1. The seasons are so ordered, as to remind us of the shortness of human foresight. From past experience we expect a harvest in its appointed weeks, and rarely is our expectation frustrated. But the event is not always adjusted to the measure of our hopes. It often falls short, and often exceeds them. The management of the seasons, however, is in unerring hands. Rational beings, in the care of infinite wisdom and goodness are always safe, while they proceed in the line of their duty, and never ought they to indulge anxiety. With Him who governs futurity, they may calmly trust all events.
2. Our dependence is apparent, as in many other things, so especially in the return of harvest. If God sends His blessing, none can revoke it. If He withhold His smiles, our toil is fruitless.
3. Scripture speaks of harvest as a season of gratitude and joy.
4. Harvest teaches diligence and frugality.
5. Harvest inculcates benevolence. Religion consists in an imitation of God’s moral character, especially of His diffusive and disinterested goodness.
6. Harvest reminds us of the shortness of life, and calls us to the diligent improvement of our time. Food and raiment are needful for the body; seek them you may; but rather seek the kingdom of God, and these things will be added.
7. Harvest should be a season of self-examination. We are God’s husbandry. Much has He done for us. What could He have done more? Have we answered His cost? The field, which bringeth forth herbs, meet for Him by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God. But that which beareth thorns and briars, is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned.
8. Harvest reminds us of our obligation to faith and patience. We have a kind of natural faith, which, standing on the ground of past experience, looks forward with expectation of a future harvest. Let Christians, enlightened by revelation, look beyond this world to things unseen; and, relying on the promise, truth, and grace of God, anticipate the blessings of the heavenly state. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
Lessons from the harvest
I. The blessings. Fruitful showers, and brilliant suns, and azure skies, and earth covered with its bright green clothing, are, indeed, in themselves, blessings; but this character is much more emphatically applied to them when we remember that they are not only beautiful spectacles to delight our eyes and to minister to our senses of enjoyment, but that they yield that sustenance, without which, the globe would soon be thinned of the tribes which inhabit it, and there would be no human eye to rejoice in its beauties. Yes, the great blessing is, that human life is to be sustained by the produce which the fruitful seasons have thus secured to us. What blessings, then, are “the former and the latter rain” and “the appointed weeks of the harvest,” which supply this food. But it is chiefly on account of our never-dying souls that the fruitful seasons are a blessing. There is this and that person who now, perhaps, are but cumberers of the ground, bus who are upheld in life one year longer, that the seed of eternal life may be now sown in their hearts--that they may, at length, be made fruitful unto God, and become heirs of a glorious immortality.
II. The source of these blessings.
1. Man, when he would account for any event, in his ungodliness, frequently ascribes is to chance or good luck. But there is no such word in a Christian man’s vocabulary. We must carefully distinguish between the agency of “the Lord our God” and second causes. There is a sad tendency in man to put the instruments which God makes use of to bring to pass all His will in the place of God Himself.
III. The return which God requires.
1. As individuals, let the undeserved goodness of the Lord lead you to fear Him. Ask the gift of the Holy Ghost, to impress your heart with a deep and abiding sense of God’s goodness, at the present time--to humble you under a sense of your own ingratitude; to lead you to Jesus Christ for pardon, peace, and acceptance with God.
2. As heads of families, “let us fear the Lord our God.” “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
3. As subjects of our beloved Sovereign--as members of the commonwealth--“let us fear the Lord our God.” The national character is made up of the aggregate of individual character. (H. Caddell, M. A.)
As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great and waxen rich.
Wicked professors the bane of the Church
I. God has a people on earth.
1. His creation.
2. Called by Him from darkness to light.
3. Privileged, pardoned, regenerated, adopted.
II. In the Church there is an unhappy admixture of wicked men. This applies to--
1. Those religious establishments whose constitution and discipline offer no restraints to the admission of such characters.
2. Mere hearers of the Gospel.
3. Those who have entered the Church without real conversion.
4. Those wilfully inactive in the Church.
5. Those who interrupt the peace and harmony of the Church.
III. This mixture of the wicked with the godly is a fact. “Are found”--by whom?
1. Frequently by themselves (1 John 2:19).
2. Persecution has, and so has temptation.
3. By Christians, to whom their unholy course is a grief.
4. By God (Revelation 3:18). Odious to Him.
IV. The injurious influence of the conduct of such professors.
1. They bring reproach upon religion (Romans 2:24).
3. The Church is in danger of being injured by them (Hosea 5:3).
4. It frequently prevents accessions to the Church.
5. The guilt of such persons is highly aggravated, and their punishment will be awful. (Helps for the Pulpit.)
Wickedness rampant in the city
We have, in this chapter, a most melancholy set of pictures of untruthful men, which are drawn to the life with a grimly graphic touch which strongly reminds one of the series of Hogarth’s sketches known as the “Rake’s Progress.” They hold the mirror up not only to the life, but to the heart of the men of the times. Jerusalem was rotten at the core: the nation was deceitful through and through. “As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit.” They had schemes without number, plots without end, and tricks without limit, moving about in their minds like birds herded together in a little cage. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
My people love to have it so.--
God’s people love to have it so
Earnest people like to believe that the world is growing better all the time. They look upon the bright side of things; they behold the spread of the spirit of Christianity more and more in the affairs of nations; wars are discouraged; a higher standard of personal obligation obtains; the wrongs of the wretched and oppressed are being championed, and in many very important particulars redressed; man everywhere in civilised lands seems possessed of an enthusiasm to make the best of himself.
1. All of this sort of thing had its counterpart in the story of Israel in the olden time. We have gone beyond the ancient people of God in all sorts of ways; nevertheless, human nature is strangely akin still to what it was in those days.
2. It is a very common temptation to rail at the degeneracy of our own time, at the shortcomings of our own Church. We are all of us apt to fancy ourselves prophets of the Lord when we know that we are in earnest, and the reason we fancy ourselves so strong in that role is because one cannot easily see all sides of a question at one time. Most earnest people are very one-sided, often very unfair in their judgments. So I would not have you fancy for a moment that I wish to pose as a Jeremiah denouncing and endeavouring to reform the abuses of the Church of his time. We have an impersonal Jeremiah to utter the solemn warnings of the Lord in our ears. It is the voice of the Church herself. Well, we are very much concerned with the rest of the verse, “My people love to have it so.” Is that true?
And what will ye do in the end thereof?--
What will ye do in the end?
I. There is an end. Every step is getting nearer to the termination.
II. It would seem to be of great importance at the end, what has been the character of the course. It is not so much a question with God how the man died, as what the man was when he came to die.
III. It is the part of a thoughtful and wise man, often to consider the connection between the present and the anticipated result. Every one admits this in matters of worldly experience.
IV. This question should be frequently and earnestly entertained by young men. It is most important how you begin, so that as you go on habit may be on your side and become your friend. (T. Binney, D. D.)
A question for the beginning
A large part of the wise conduct of life depends on grave consideration of consequences. It is a sharp pointed question, that pricks many a bubble, and brings much wisdom down into the category of folly.
I. A question which every wise man will ask himself. The consideration of consequences is not the highest guide, or always a sufficient one; or, by any means, in every case, an easily applied one. Do right! and face any results therefrom. He who is always forecasting possible issues will be so afraid of results that he will not dare to move; and his creeping prudence will often turn out the truest imprudence. But whilst many deductions must be made from the principle laid down, that the consideration of circumstances is a good guide in life, yet there are regions in which the question comes home with illuminating force. I believe that, in the long run, condition is the result of character and of conduct, and, for the most part, men are the architects of their own condition, and that they make the houses that they dwell in to fit the convolutions of the body that dwells within them. That being so, there can be nothing more ridiculous than that a man should refrain from marking the issue of his conduct, and saying to himself, “What am I to do in the end?” If you would only do that in regard of hosts of things in your daily life you could not be the men and women that you are. If the lazy student would only bring clearly before his mind the examination room, and the unanswerable paper, and the bitter mortification when the pass list comes out and his name is not there, he would not trifle as he does, but bind himself to his desk and his task. If the young man that begins to tamper with purity could see, as the older of us have seen, men with their bones full of the iniquity of their youth, do you think the temptations of the streets and low places of amusement would not be stripped of their fascination? “What will you do in the end?” Use that question as the Ithuriel spear which will touch the squatting tempter at your ear, and there will start up, in its own shape, the fiend. But the main application that I would ask you to make of the text is in reference to the final end, the passing from life. Death, the end, is likewise death, the beginning. Surely every wise man will take that into consideration. Surely, if it be true that we all of us are silently drifting to that one little gateway through which we have to pass one by one, and then find ourselves in a region all full of consequences of the present, he has a good claim to be counted a prince of fools who “jumps the life to come,” and, in all his calculations of consequences, which he applies wisely and prudently to the trifles of the present, forgets to ask himself, “And, after all that is done, what shall I do then?”
II. A question which a great many of us never think about. “What will you do in the end?” Why! half of us put away that question with the thought in our minds, if not expressed, at least most operative, “There is not going to be any end; and it is always going to be just like what it is today.” Did you ever think that there is no good ground for being sure that the sun will rise tomorrow; that it rose for the first time once; that there will come a day when it will rise for the last time? The uniformity of nature may be a postulate, but you cannot find any logical basis for it. Or, to come down from heights of that sort, have you ever laid to heart, that the only unchangeable thing in this world is change, and the only thing certain, that there is no continuance of anything; and that, therefore, you and I are bound, if we are wise, to look that fact in the face, and not to allow ourselves to be befooled by the difficulty of imagining that things will ever be different from what they are? Another reason why so many of us shirk this question is the lamentable want of the habit of living by principle and reflection. They tell us that in nature there is such a thing as protective mimicry, as it is called--animals having the power--some of them to a much larger extent than others--of changing their hues in order to match the gravel of the stream in which they swim or the leaves of the trees on which they feed. It is like what a great many of us do. Put us into a place where certain forms of frivolity or vice are common, and we go in for them. Take us away from these, and we change our hue to something a little whiter. But all through we never know what it is to put forth a good solid force of resistance, and to say, “No! I will not!” or, what is sometimes quite as hard to say, “Yes! though”--as Luther said in his strong way--“there were as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the housetops, I will!” If people would live more by reflection and by the power of a resisting will, this question of my text would come oftener to them. And there is another cause that I must touch on for one moment, why so many people neglect this question, and that is because they know they durst not face it. What would you think of a man that never took stock because he knew he was insolvent, and yet did not want to know it? And what do you think of yourselves if, knowing that the thought of passing into that solemn eternity is anything but a cheering one, and that you have to pass into it, you never turn your head to look at it?
III. A question especially directed to you young folk. It is so because with your buoyancy, with your necessarily limited experience, with the small accumulation of results that you have already in your possession, and with the tendencies of your age to live rather by impulse than by reflection, you are specially tempted to forget the solemn significance of this interrogation. And it is a question especially for you, because you have special advantages in the matter of putting it. We older people are all fixed and fossils, as you are very fond of telling us. The iron has cooled and gone into rigid shapes with us. It is all fluent with you. You may be pretty nearly what you like. You have not yet acquired habits--that awful thing that may be our worst foe or our best friend--you have not yet acquired habits that almost smother the power of reform and change. You have perhaps years before you in which you may practise the lessons of wisdom, the self-restraint which this question fairly fronted would bring.
IV. A question which Jesus Christ alone enables a man to answer with calm confidence. As I have said, the end is a beginning; the passage from life is the entrance on a progressive and eternal state of retribution. And Jesus Christ tells us two other things. He tells us that that state has two parts: that in one there is union with Him, life, blessedness forever; and that in the other there is darkness, separation from Him, death, and misery. These are the facts as revealed by the incarnate Word of God on which answers to this question must be shaped. “What will you do in the end?” If I am trusting to Him; if I have brought my poor, weak nature and sinful soul to Him, and cast them upon His merciful sacrifice and mighty intercession and life-giving Spirit, then I can say: “As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
What will ye do in the end thereof
This is the message of God to sinful men in all times; and its characteristics are the same now as they were when it was first uttered.
I. An unwelcome question. As the bankrupt does not dare investigate his affairs, and the man who is contracting intemperate habits or tampering with his employer’s property does not dare think of the ruin and disgrace to which he is hastening, so the man whose conscience is not easy, who suspects there is something wrong, dreads to look into the future, and counts that man his enemy who ventures to insist on his doing so. The whisper of this question sometimes comes into the heart of the procrastinator--the worldling--the trifler--the backslider; and, with one horrified glance forward, he too often shrinks back and tries to forget all about it.
II. An unanswerable question. The moment a man stands in thought in the midst of the degradation, ruin, and misery he has brought on himself, all his excuses fly; like the man without the wedding garment, he is “speechless.” How mad to persevere in a course that has such an end!
III. An imperative question.
1. Because no forgetfulness of consequences will prevent them coming. A man may put to sea in a leaky vessel and refuse to consider the remonstrances of friends--he may even be ignorant of the facts; but that will not prevent his foundering in the storm.
2. Because it furnishes the direct antidote to the seductions of sin. The burnt child dreads the fire. The sailor avoids the sunken rock.
3. Because the end may be avoided. “Now is the accepted time.” (J Ogle.)
Think about the end
Lange translates as follows: “What will they do when the end of the song comes?”--I wonder if you are like some people whom I know: do you ever turn to the end of the book in order that you may see how it finishes? It is not a good method of reading, but this is what the prophet wished the Jews to do: he desired them to think about the end of life. So many people forget all about the end until it actually comes upon them. The farmer does not do so, for while he sows he thinks about the harvest that will end his toil; it is good for us all to consider often what the future will be. In the East there are men who have most wonderful power over serpents. They play music and the snakes remain quite still and obedient all the time that the song lasts; but what when the song is done? While people are well and prosperous in doing evil they do not think much about God, but what will they do when the song is all over? Then they will find that they have been deceived. There were some wicked men who once induced a large number of people to come together. These people paid their money to the men and they came into the hall; but the men ran away with the money. The people found then that they had been deceived. Some people do worse, for they deceive themselves; they hope that they are all right with God, they hope that they shall reach heaven at last, and do no more. Others are deceived by the opinions or books of those who seek to harm them. All sinners, we know, will one day find that they have been deceived, unless they repent at once and believe on Jesus. And then they will also learn that they are unhealed. What a dreadful thing it will be, if, when we die, we find that our hearts are evil still! When people are in very great pain the doctors sometimes give to them medicines that make the sick people sleep. They are not cured because they sleep, but they do not feel the pain quite so much. So business and other things deaden the feelings, but they do not cure the soul, for only Jesus can do that. There is a fable that illustrates what I mean. A piper once played such sweet music that all the children enjoyed it very much. While the piper played upon his pipe the children were delighted. They followed him from their homes until they were enticed into a cavern, and thus the song ended. This is what Satan does: he entices us by his promises, but when the song is done we shall find out that he has led us away from happiness and into suffering and pain. Think about the end when you are tempted, and think also about the end when it appears to be hard to do good. Ask yourselves, what will come after the end? (J. J. Ellis.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》