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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Jeremiah 8

Verse 7

A LESSON FROM THE STORK

‘The stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times.’

Jeremiah 8:7

We could lay down on the map the great highways along which bird-life comes and goes.

How do they know how to journey so unerringly for thousands of miles? It is one of the greatest mysteries in Nature. They do not travel by sight of landmarks; the birds of each year’s brood go straight for the first time to their goal. It is not that they are guided by those who have made the journey before; the lark is a solitary pilgrim, and, in the case of many species, the young and the old travel in separate flocks. We, with all our science, know little more of the matter than did Jeremiah.

I. Consider the fowls of the air.—The mystery of Nature has its parallel in a mystery of grace; we also are birds of passage, and in us also God has put the homing instinct. We come from Him; in His presence is our native land, our home, and however far we have wandered thence, there is an instinct in our hearts which will not suffer us to rest in peace, but now whispers, now loudly cries, Return, return! He who suffers not seedtime and harvest to fail brings round at last the spiritual spring, when we hear Him call, ‘Rise up and come away, for, lo, the winter is past.… The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come. Arise and come away.’ The homing instinct may be feeble now; we have so long resisted, quenched, but it is there; it is in every hardest, vilest heart. Return unto thy rest, O my soul!

II. How far the birds have come!—We too have a long journey back to God, but our very unrest and unhappiness in estrangement from Him are assurance that we are not so very far from home as we fear. It is a long journey, but the yearning which bids us set out is promise that we, like the birds, shall be safely guided. They have their appointed path; we have the true and living Way. The birds of passage come unfailingly when the feet of the coming spring touch the meadows and leave the daisies rosy; the souls come home because the bleeding feet of Christ have reddened the path to Calvary.

III. The birds set out, but not all arrive.—Many are driven from their course by stress of tempest; birds of North America are found on the east coast of England; hundreds, hypnotised by the glare, dash themselves against the lighthouse lanterns; tens of thousands are snared and shot. There is danger for the birds of passage, and there is danger for the returning souls. Some who started once to come to God—whither have the tempests of passion driven them, to what bleak shores of exile? Some, dazzled by sins, are dashing out their life in vain attempt to pass the barrier, invisible but impenetrable, which God has set between the sinner and satisfaction. Some are taken by subtle temptation, as the bird in the net of the fowler. The home-coming here is often sad, so many, yet so few—where are the nine?

And there awaits us all a great mysterious migration by a path which no fowl knoweth, which vulture’s eye hath not seen, a path which, in loneliness, all unerringly follow—the tender infant, man in his prime, the feebleness of age—the great migration, whither? From the great deep to the great deep—who knows save God? Doubt and fear are natural, yet we have not so learned of Christ. He teaches that we come, the glories of dawn tinging the soul’s wings, from God, into the shadowed house of life, and thence emerge into the sun’s noontide splendour. Birds of passage are we all; yes, but we follow the sun.

Illustrations

(1) ‘If we behold such examples in nature we ought surely to be ashamed that irrational creatures are so willing and obedient, and do that for which they are created, but we men (who were made in His image and sealed with the Holy Ghost on the day of redemption) are so opposed, rebellious, and disobedient to Him. This will certainly, in the case of no amendment, lead to a hopelessly bad ending.’

(2) ‘In ordinary life, if one falls he tries to rise again; if he turns away from the right road he endeavours to return to it. But sinful men cling to their self-deceits; they refuse to return ( Jeremiah 8:4-5), and madly rush forward in their headlong course like the horse in the battle. The very instinct of the birds may rebuke men who pride themselves on their intelligence. Those who profess to be wise and the leaders of others are especially exposed to the Divine wrath, and on them the heaviest brunt of judgment must fall.’

(3) ‘It is worthy of observation that the young birds which have been born in this country and have never made the long journey before, yet set forth with the older ones at the appointed time. They are novices in the art of travelling, yet they try their callow wings, and away they fly to the far-off land where the sun shines as it does not in this higher latitude. I wish that our young people were all as wise as the young swallows are: that they knew their appointed time, that they understood that there is no period in life which has so much of hopefulness about it as the period of childhood and youth, that it is the best time in which to seek the Saviour, for it has a special promise attached to it: “Those that seek Me early shall find Me.” I would that they could hear the Lord Jesus Christ’s peculiarly sweet and tender message concerning them: “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Yet, alas! young storks, and swallows, and cranes, and turtle-doves fly at the appointed season, but many young men and maidens delay and waste the joyous hours of the morning of their lives in the ways of sin and folly. Yes, waste the hours which, if consecrated to Christ and to His service, would have brought them a rich return in this life; and, in the life to come, would have tended to increase and intensify their everlasting felicity.’

Verse 20

HARVEST PAST: SUMMER ENDED

‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended.’

Jeremiah 8:20

These words were first spoken of the ruined hopes and blighted fortunes of God’s people, Israel. Truly for that perverse and sinful generation the summer was ended. In the days of Jeremiah, the cup of their sorrow was full mixed; God delivered them into the adversary’s hand, and caused those round about them to lead them away captive. They were fast bound in misery and iron, and as they sat by the waters of Babylon they wept when they remembered Sion. When they remembered! Ah! well might they weep, since

(1) ‘The summer is ended,’ this is true of the old and feeble. It was summer-time with them once; how strong they were! The winter of age has sprinkled snow on the hair, and sent a chill frost into the bones, and frozen the current of the blood. For the old the summer is ended. But though the summer be ended for the body and the mind, though it be winter with the limbs, and the eyes, and the ears, and the brain, it need not be winter for the soul.

(2) For those, too, who have endured severe affliction the summer is ended. It is false and useless to say that we must not be sorry sometimes. We must not be sorry as those without hope, we must not despair, nor rail against God, nor neglect the work which He has given us to do; although our eyes be blinded with tears, we must pray for resignation: but we may be sorry. And for those who have lost their worldly property, whose savings have been swallowed up in bankruptcy when they are too old and infirm to retrieve their fortunes; for those families left destitute by the death of the bread-winner, and reduced from ease and comfort to poverty and dependence, for such as these also, ‘ the summer is ended.’

(3) But every one of these cases is but the type and parable of the deepest meaning of all. There are those who pass through life and neglect the opportunities of grace which lead to salvation, and for them at last a time shall come when it shall indeed be said with awful meaning, the summer is ended. The wise man tells us that ‘there is a time to get, and a time to lose.’ This is true of worldly matters. As with the things of daily life, so with the things of life eternal. There is a time to get a chance of repentance and amendment, a time to escape from the clutches of some bad habit or besetting sin; a time to get, and a time to lose. It is written in the Scriptures, ‘Behold, I set before you an open door’; and again it is written, ‘ The door was shut.’ There is a time when for all the door of opportunity stands open, and there is a time when it is fast closed. Shall not the gathered harvest remind you of God’s goodness to you and to all men, and warn you that the Lord of the harvest is looking for fruit from you, the fruit of a holy life, and the flowers of purity and meekness? Does not the end of another summer teach you that another season of opportunity is gone for ever, and that you are one year nearer the Great Harvest?

Brethren, we must sow for Eternity, if we expect to reap the harvest of eternal joy. For those of you who are doing this, striving after holiness, and letting your light shine before men, it is always summer—summer here, more perfect summer hereafter.

Illustration

(1) ‘Every person who still remains in sin may at the close of the year usefully adopt this lamentation. (2) A season of religious revival is also eminently a time of harvest, and such as lose this season may usefully adopt this lamentation. (3) Another situation to which this melancholy reflection is peculiarly liable is that of a dying sinner, for there is in this text: (i.) The acknowledgment of opportunity; (ii.) The confession of neglect; (iii.) The anticipation of doom.’

Verse 22

‘THE BALM OF GILEAD’

‘Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of My people recovered?’

Jeremiah 8:22

It is wonderful what a parallel of the sacred, and the divine, and the eternal underlies the whole creation.

Now both in the physical and the moral world, it has been God’s law—not so much to prevent the existence of evil, as always to provide a sure and abiding remedy for all the evil which exists.

It was so when sin came into the world, and all creation fell.

‘Gilead’ was a large tract of country to the east of the Jordan; with a mountain called ‘the mountain of Gilead’ rising nearly 3000 feet above the level of the valley of the river. In the early times it was the sojourning place of different flocks; and it was especially noted for its balsam tree; the ‘balm’ from which was well known for its saving and healing properties. It was often applied to sores.

As was natural, the character of the produce of the country attracted scientific men, and made it the abode of many physicians. Hence the question, almost ironically—strongly involving an affirmative—‘Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?’

But Jeremiah, or rather God speaking by Jeremiah, evidently used the words in a metaphorical sense, and addressing the sinful and afflicted people of God refers to a Divine Presence, and a supernatural power and wisdom; and argues with them and remonstrates with them as to why they should continue so afflicted and so distressed when there is such a provision which would effect an aid and cure. ‘Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of My people recovered?’

I. Now, even in this sense, referring it to bodily complaints, physical pains, may we not accept the word as belonging to all sick and sorrowing ones?—Would God have sent that disease or painful trial without providing something to meet the case—its antidote? Isn’t God the Great Healer, and has He not all means at His command, holding the very issues of life and death in His hand? Shouldn’t both patient and doctor alike recognise and remember this? Be it the loss of health, and the anguish which it may bring ever so great, it has its object, it has its voice, which should never be forgotten.

Then why do we not in all our sickness and sufferings go more straight to God? Pray to God, look to God, trust in God, Who Himself has so curiously and so wondrously made us, and knows and remembers all our frames, and Who has Himself given to all nature its secret virtues, and to man all his skill.

Go first, go last, go always to God, and let everything else be secondary—secondary, as an instrument in His hands.

I would that all doctors and all surgeons would always recognise themselves as what they are in their true characters—God’s servants, sent by God, used by God, depending upon God: to work God’s work to God’s glory. Would so many then have to cry, ‘Why is not the health of the daughter of My people recovered?’

Let me say, even upon human grounds, by natural cause and effect—as I have seen thousands of times and know well—there is no medicine in all the world so good and so effectual as peace of mind. And who is to give that quietness of mind, but God only?

II. But I have to look at a deeper and more important meaning attaching to the words.—There are worse diseases than the ills of the body, and there are better recoveries than the restoration of physical health. Christ, while He was upon earth, twice called Himself a Physician, a Physician of the soul! All sin is a disease. You may trace the resemblance. It is infectious, and it comes by contact. It has its degrees; it spreads and increases. But it has its own appointed antidotes and remedies. It may be prevented, or alleviated, or removed. Its course is subject to a law of progress or regress. If permitted, it kills, but taken hold of in time it may be cured.

Now, from this disease of sin every one suffers. Nay, more, every one has the disease. The whole world is a leper-house, and every church is a hospital.

The text positively says that there is One, that there is a Curer; and we know that Physician is infallible. The progress may be very slow, but the result is sure.

At this moment, in this church, there is the Great Physician. More, more than the words represent, He is here to receive, to comfort, to restore, to heal every sick soul. Then why, why is any soul uncured? Why does any soul die? Why is any soul unhappy? Why, why? ‘Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of My people recovered?’ Why are you unhappy? Why? Because you do not believe in Him. You do not really and fully believe it.

There may be some one saying, ‘But the discipline—I am afraid of the discipline!’ It has been a dreadful discipline which could not cure the soul! But listen to the exact word. He does not propose long confinement, or the bitter draught, but ‘ balm’—‘Is there no balm in Gilead?’

The ‘balm’ of forgiveness, the ‘balm’ of a man quite at peace, the ‘balm’ of a loving smile, the ‘balm’ of the tenderness of the Tenderest One in the universe—‘Balm,’ only balm, ‘balm’ will do it.

And yet the cry still goes forth, and which of you hears it: ‘Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of My people recovered?’

Will no poor, sick, dying soul come and be healed? Come, my daughter; come, my son; take the ‘balm,’ and you will be quite well!

—Rev. Jas. Vaughan.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Jeremiah 8". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/jeremiah-8.html. 1876.