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A THREEFOLD DISEASE AND A TWOFOLD CURE
‘I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against Me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against Me.’
The text at first reading seems to expend a great many unnecessary words in saying the same thing over and over again, but the accumulation of synonyms not only emphasises the completeness of the promise, but also presents different aspects of that promise. The great words of my text are as true a gospel for us—and as much needed by us, God knows!—as they were for Jeremiah’s contemporaries. And we can understand them better than either he or they did, because the days that were to come then have come now, and the King who was to reign in righteousness is reigning to-day, and that is Jesus Christ. I ask your attention to the two things in this text: a threefold view of our sad condition and a twofold bright hope.
I. A threefold view of the sad condition of humanity.—Observe the recurrence of the same idea in our text in different words. ‘Their iniquity whereby they have sinned against Me.’ … ‘Their iniquities whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed, against Me.’ You see, there are three expressions which roughly may be taken as referring to the same ugly fact, but yet not meaning quite the same—‘iniquity, or iniquities, sin, transgressions.’ These three all speak about the same sad element in your experience and mine, but they speak about it from somewhat different points of view, and I want to try and bring out that difference for you.
(1) A sinful life is a twisted or warped life. The word rendered ‘iniquity,’ in the Old Testament, in all probability, literally means something that is not straight; that is bent, or, as I said, twisted or warped. All sin is a twisting of the man from his proper course. Now there underlies that metaphor the notion that there is a certain line to which we are to conform. The schoolmaster draws a firm, straight line in the child’s copybook; and then the little unaccustomed hand takes up on the second line its attempt, and makes tremulous, wavering pothooks and hangers. There is a copyhead for us, and our writing is, alas! all uneven and irregular, as well as blurred and blotted. There is a law, and you know it; and you carry in yourself, I was going to say, the standard measure, and you know whether, when you put your life by the side of that, the two coincide. It is not for me to say; I know about my own, and you may know about yours, if you will be honest. The warped life belongs to us all.
(2) The second word, rendered in our version ‘sin,’ declares that all sin misses the aim. The meaning of the word in the original is simply ‘that which misses its mark.’ And the meaning of the prevalent word in the New Testament for ‘sin’ means, in accordance with the ethical wisdom of the Greek, the same thing. Now, there are two ways in which that thought may be looked at. Every wrong thing that we do misses the aim, if you consider what a man’s aim ought to be.
(3) And, further, there is yet another word here, carrying with it important lessons. The expression which is translated in our text ‘transgressed,’ literally means ‘rebelled.’ And the lesson of it is, that all sin is, however little we think it, a rebellion against God. That introduces a yet graver thought than either of the former have brought us face to face with. Behind the law is the Lawgiver. When we do wrong, we not only blunder, we not only go aside from the right line, we lift up ourselves against our Sovereign King, and we say, ‘Who is the Lord that we should serve Him? Our tongues are our own. Who is Lord over us? Let us break His bands asunder, and cast away His cords from us.’ There are crimes against law; there are faults against one another. Sins are against God; and, dear friends, though you do not realise it, this is plain truth, that the essence, the common characteristic, of all the acts, which, as we have seen, are twisted and foolish, is that in them we are setting up another than the Lord our God to be our ruler. We are enthroning ourselves in His place. Do you not feel that that is true, and that in some small things in which you go wrong, the essence of it is that you are going to please yourself, no matter what duty—which is only a heathen name for God—says to you?
Does not that thought make all these apparently trivial and insignificant things terribly important?
II. The twofold bright hope which comes through this darkness.—‘I will cleanse … I will pardon.’
If sin combines in itself all these characteristics that I have touched upon, then clearly there is guilt, and clearly there are stains; and the gracious promise of this text deals with both the one and the other.
‘I will pardon.’ What is pardon? Do not limit it to the analogy of a criminal court. When the law of the land pardons, or rather when the administrator of the law pardons, that simply means that the penalty is suspended. But is that forgiveness? Certainly it is only a part of it, even if it is a part. What do you fathers and mothers do when you forgive your child? You may use the rod or you may not; that is a question of what is best for the child. Forgiveness does not lie in letting him off the punishment; but forgiveness lies in the flowing to the child, uninterrupted, of the love of the parent’s heart. And that is God’s forgiveness. Penalties, some of them remain—thank God for it! ‘Thou wast a God that forgavest them, though Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions,’ and the chastisement was part of the sign of the forgiveness. The great penalty of all, which is separation from God, is taken away; but the essence of that pardon, which it is my blessed work to proclaim to all men, is, that in spite of the prodigal’s rags, and the stench of the sty, the Father’s love is all round about him. It is round about you, brother.
Pardon and cleansing are our two deepest needs. There is one Hand from which we can receive them both, and one only. There is one condition on which we shall receive them, and that is that we trust in Him, ‘Who was crucified for our offences,’ and lives to hallow us into His own likeness.
(1) ‘God promises great and precious blessings indeed.
Forgiveness is one of them. He cancels my penalty. He remits the sentence written over against my guiltiness. “Christ was bruised for your iniquites,” He tells me, “and therefore they cannot be charged against you any more. Christ was wounded for your transgressions, and therefore they are blotted out for ever and ever.”
But, after pardon, purity—that, too, is His gift. “I will bring Jerusalem health and cure,” He declares. It is not only the penalty of sin which vexes me, it is the dominion and the pollution of sin. I cannot wash it out with tears, I cannot silence it by argument, I cannot burn it from my nature with vigorous self-discipline. But God puts a new tenant into my soul, His own Spirit; and He brings nearer to me every day the purity after which I pant and yearn.
And gladness as of bridegroom and bride, and freedom, and fellowship, and fruitfulness—ah, there never was largess like my God’s. Blessed be His name, as David Brainerd cried, “I repair to a full fountain.” ’
(2) ‘The Czar of Russia was once asked what should be the course of the railway from St. Petersburg to Moscow. And he took up a ruler and drew a straight line upon the chart, and said, “There! that is the line.” There is a straight road, marked out for us all, going, like the old Roman roads, irrespective of physical difficulties in the contour of the country, climbing right over the Alps if necessary, and plunging down into the deepest valleys, never deflecting one hair’s breadth, but going straight to its aim. And we—what are we? What are “our crooked, wandering ways in which we live” by the side of that straight path?’
THE RIGHTEOUS CITY
‘[Jerusalem] shall be called, The Lord our righteousness.’
I. All God’s promises are at the same time fulfilled by the true man, the Son of Man, the pure sprout of David.—He will be a King, in whom we have perfect protection from all destructive agencies, for He will help us from sin, procuring and executing on earth justice and righteousness for all mankind. As we all together inherited sin and death from Adam, so Jesus by His righteousness has brought justification of life for all men, if we would now only take it with joy.
II. Jerusalem will itself bear the King’s name, as he was called in Jeremiah 23:6: Jehovah our Righteousness, i.e., that Jehovah bestows on us the righteousness, which is the bond, which at the same time unites us to the citizens of His celestial city. This is explained by the union of the Church with Christ (see Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 4:12; Ephesians 4:15-16; Ephesians 4:25; Ephesians 6:23-24; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 1:24) so that what belongs to Him is communicated to her. Thus, by virtue of her mystical union with Christ, and by the imputation of His merits, and the infusion of His Spirit, the Name of the Church may be said to be ‘The Lord our Righteousness’; she hides herself in Him, and is seen by God as in Him; she is clothed with Christ the Sun of righteousness (see Revelation 12:1) and is accepted in the Beloved ( Ephesians 1:6).
(1) ‘It is important to note the change of Israel into Jerusalem, this being founded in the connection of the chapter. While the general object of the prophet, as is seen in Ephesians 1:14, is to show that the comforting prophecy given in former times still holds good, notwithstanding the comfortless circumstances in which Jerusalem then was, being sorely pressed by the Chaldeans, yet he cannot avoid somewhat modifying the prophecy in accordance with the present occasion. This occasion, according to Ephesians 1:4, is the sight of the houses thrown down in defence. In view of this mournful spectacle he had in Ephesians 1:6-7 to promise healing of wounds, rebuilding of the city. He has also here the city of Jerusalem especially in view, though he does not by any means forget Israel but, on the contrary, diligently sets forth its share in the promise given to Judah ( Ephesians 1:14). Hence the alteration to Jerusalem. With this it is also connected that the last clause states the name which Jerusalem will bear as a significant symbolical inscription.’
(2) ‘What a sublime gift is Hope, which founds itself on the Divine Word, penetrates the dark shadows of our immediate environment, and throws itself forward into the future, which it renders lustrous with roseate beauty! We need such hope at this time. Abroad and at home there are matters enough to fill the stoutest hearts with fear. But we look for the new heavens and earth, in which dwelleth righteousness; and amongst those glorious events which must soon begin to take place, may we not give a place to a literal fulfilment of the sweet words of this chapter?’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Jeremiah 33". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19