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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—1. Chronological and Historical position of this chapter the same. (Comp. notes on 3, 4, 5.)
2. Geographical References.—Jeremiah 6:1. “Tekoa:” a small town of defence in Judah (2 Chronicles 11:6), six Roman miles from Bethlehem (Jerome), lies on the range of hills which stretch from near Hebron eastward; about eleven miles due south of Jerusalem. Its ruins scarcely cover five acres: they consist of walls of houses, broken columns, cisterns, &c. Birthplace of Amos (Jeremiah 7:14). Tekoites helped in rebuilding walls of Jerusalem after Captivity (Nehemiah 3:5; Nehemiah 3:27). Town now called Tekua. “Beth-haccaress” means vineyard house; situate halfway between Tekoa and Jerusalem, on a mountain, probably “Herodium,” the site of Herod’s castle; known now as Frank Mountain. Town had a ruler in Nehemiah’s time (Nehemiah 3:14). This verse indicates that it was used as a beacon station. Jerome, who wrote at Bethlehem, says, “Every one knows that Jerusalem is situated in the tribe of Benjamin As for Tekoa, we see every day with our own eyes that it is a little town upon a hill about twelve [Roman] miles from Jerusalem. Between these is a other village, called in the Hebrew and Syriac tongues Bethacharma, which also is placed upon a hill.” Jeremiah 6:20. “Sheba:” the kingdom of Sheba in Southern Arabia, embracing the greater part of the Yemen (Dr. W. Smith), Arabia Felix; or the chief city of Yemen, the principal province of Arabia (Kalisch). Arabic, Sebà. (Comp. Ezekiel 27:22.) The tribe and home of the Sabaens in Southern Arabia (Naeg.). “A far country:” India; “cane,” brought thence in the caravans. Jeremiah 6:22. “Sides of the earth;” i.e., most remote regions; the scenes of their captivity; and from whence they would return (Jeremiah 31:8); Chaldea, therefore.
3. Personal Allusions.—Jeremiah 6:1. “Children of Benjamin:” Jeremiah’s fellow-countrymen, he being of that tribe, Anathoth being one of the cities of Benjamin. Originally the tribal territory was bounded on the north by Ephraim, and south by the hills of Jerusalem; but the limits were soon extended southward to the valley of Hinnom.
4. Natural History.—Jeremiah 6:20. “Sweet cane:” probably the Calamus aromaticus, native of Central India, remarkable for its fragrance (Dr. Royle); or it may be the lemon grass of India and Arabia (Dr. W. Smith). The sweet cane, or calamus (Exodus 30:23), when dried and pulverised, is richly fragrant (so Dioscorides informs us); while according to Strabo its origin must be traced to Sheba in Arabia. Pliny says it was common to India and Syria. The best came from India.
5. Manners and Customs.—Jeremiah 6:1. “Set up a sign of fire:” when the enemy approached, the besieged made their peril known and summoned assistance by raising a column of smoke in the daytime, or piling a blazing fire in the night. Or a lighted torch was “lifted up” and waved violently as a “sign” of pressing danger. Here it may mean, kindle a fire on the heights, mountain tops. Jeremiah 6:4. “Go up at noon:” the noon was generally too hot for aught but rest; but the eagerness of the Chaldean army is such that they are alert even at midday. Jeremiah 6:6. “Hew trees and cast a mount:” the besiegers in all ancient sieges ruthlessly cut down the trees around the city, and with them filled up ditches and constructed embankments. From these “mounts” they attacked the city (2 Samuel 20:15; Jeremiah 32:24). The Jews were emphatically forbidden to hew down fruit-bearing trees (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). (See Addenda on Jeremiah 6:6.) Jeremiah 6:9. “Turn back thine hand:” the gleaner is to bring his hand back again along the branches, and go carefully once more over the tendrils, lest any clusters escape: thus would Nebuchadnezzar repeat his invasions till the land was swept clean of inhabitants. Jeremiah 6:17. “Watchmen:” sentinels (1 Samuel 14:16). The watchmen patrolled the city during the night and called the hours. In times of alarm and danger, watchmen were posted i. towers over the city’s gates (Isaiah 21:8; Isaiah 62:6). They were menaced with heaviest punishments if faithless to their trust (Ezekiel 33:2-6). Metaphorically, this was the office of prophets (see refs. above, and Habakkuk 2:1). “Bow and spear:” for “bow” see notes on Jeremiah 4:29, Jeremiah 5:16. “Spear:” a javelin for hurling at the enemy; or lance (Jeremiah 50:42), used by mounted soldiers, rushing upon the enemy at full speed with lances levelled against their foe. Layard’s “Mon. of Nin.” show this the ordinary weapon of war used by the Babylonians. Jeremiah 6:26. “Wallow thyself in ashes:” to throw ashes upon the head, the symbol of intense grief (2 Samuel 13:19); but to “sit down in them” (Job 2:8) is a more desperate manifestation of misery and sorrow: to “wallow in ashes” indicates a grief wholly unbearable; a superlative figure of wretchedness. Jeremiah 6:27-30. “A tower and fortress to try,” &c. (For correct rendering of words see Lit. Crit. below.) Metaphorical language taken from metallurgy; smelting and proving ore; “brass,” “iron,” “lead,” “silver.” In ancient times, ere the use of quicksilver was known, lead was employed as a flux to assist the silver to melt; its action being so penetrating that it ran through other metals, dissolving them, and gathering to itself the alloy, thus separating the precious metals from dross. But in Judah’s case the smelter or assayer could obtain no pure silver at all; the refiner’s art in their case failed.
6. Literary Citicisms.—Jeremiah 6:1. “Gather yourselves to fee:” same word as in Jeremiah 4:6, translated “retire:” see notes in loc. Hend., “Flee for refuge;” Keil and Lange, simply “flee;” Blayney, “Retire in a body.” “Blow in Tekoa:” an alliteration, תְקוֹעַ תּקְעוּ surely not a literary vanity, having no design beyond producing a paronomasia (as Keil conceives), but because Tekoa was the most southerly town where the fugitives would halt when driven by alarm of war from Jerusalem. Jeremiah 6:2. “I have likened,” &c. In Hosea 4:5, this word is rendered “destroy;” i.e., reduced to silence by destroying. Keil, “I lay waste.” Speaker’s Com. retains “likened. “Comely and delicate:” Speaker’s Com. takes נָוָה as in Isaiah 65:10. “fold;” Jeremiah 23:3, “folds;” i.e., a pasture on which “the shepherds” (Jeremiah 6:3.) have made a temporary encampment; so that the verse stands in full, “To a pasturage, yea, a luxuriant, have I likened the daughter of Zion.” With this interpretation Jeremiah 6:3 naturally coincides. Lange, “Thou art like the meadow, the tenderly cared for.” Sharpe, “I will destroy the comely and delicate daughter of Zion.” Jeremiah 6:3. “In his place;” lit. “They shall pasture each his hand;” i.e., what lies to hand, close beside him (2 Samuel 14:30). Jeremiah 6:4. “Prepare war:” sanctify war; i.e., prepare by religious inaugurations (cf. Deuteronomy 20:2; Ezekiel 21:21-23; Isaiah 13:3). “Woe unto us;” this is an outcry, not of the assailed but the assailing armies, which lament being held back from attack till noon heat subsides (see Manners,&c., on verse above), that time sped faster than their designs; so eager were they to execute the overthrow of Judea. Jeremiah 6:5. Gives the answer of the military commanders to this impatient outcry of the Chaldean soldiery. Jeremiah 6:10. “Word made unto them a reproach:” a mockery, the theme of their ridicule and contempt. Jeremiah 6:14. “Slightly:” LXX. = “making nothing of it;” triflingly, as but a frivolous matter; as if there were nothing serious or dangerous. Jeremiah 6:15. “Were they ashamed,” &c.: not interrog. They were put to shame; nevertheless they are not ashamed. Jeremiah 6:16. “The good way:” Keil urges that הַטּוֹב cannot be accus. appended to, but is genit. dependent on דֶּרֶךְ; hence “way of the good;” leads to the good, to salvation; but he is alone in suggesting this. Jeremiah 6:18. “What is among them;” or, what happens in their midst, what befalls them. Vulg., “what great things I will do to them.” Jeremiah 6:25. “Fear on every side.” Magor-Missabib (Jeremiah 20:3); an ever-recurring phrase in Jeremiah’s preaching (Jeremiah 20:10; Jeremiah 46:5; Jeremiah 49:29). This text, so frequently reiterated, he took from Psalms 31:13; effectively expounded in his discourses, and certainly suited to his age. Jeremiah 6:27. “Tower:” בָּחוֹן, from בָּחַן, to search out, to prove, especially metals (Gesen.) (comp. Jeremiah 9:7 and Job 23:10), whence the derived noun בָּחוֹן, a trier, assayer of metals. “Fortress:” מִבְצָר, from בָּצַר, to cut off, cut out, dig out, used of metals בֶּצֶר, (ore of gold and silver (Job 22:24); the metal as cut out or dug out from mines). Although מִבְצָר is an irregular form to be derived from this root, and might have as its origin בָּצַר, to fortify, yet the previous word seems to determine its connection with metallurgy. Hence Ewald, “a cutter of ores,” i.e., in order to separate bad metal from good. “I have set thee an assayer and tester of ores.” Jeremiah 6:28. Grievous revoltert:” סָרֵי סוֹרְרִים; paronomasia; superlative form of sentence; “rebels of rebels” (Speaker’s Com.); “lebels so the rebellious” (Hitzig). Jeremiah 6:29. “Bellows are burned;” נָחַר, either Niphil of חָרַר, to burn, or the root נָחַר, to snort (cf. Jeremiah 8:16), i.e., blow furiously in the process of smelting the ore. Lange, Speaker’s Com., and Keil prefer the former; the very bellows are burned with the intense heat of the fire. Hend., Rosen., Umbriet, &c., the latter; the roaring noise occasioned by blowing the bellows. “Wicked are not plucked away;” i.e., separated; the dross cannot be removed by all the smelter’s arts. Nothing satisfactory results the ore is hopelessly and irremediably base.
HOMILIES ON SECTIONS OF CHAPTER 6
A vision of retributive war.
God’s messenger baffled and repudiated.
Bitter issues of impious effrontery.
A frustrated ministry of grace.
Jeremiah 6:1-9. A VISION OF RETRIBUTIVE WAR
As yet no invader had set foot on the land; the city apprehended no assault: this forewarning cry (Jeremiah 6:1) sounded, therefore, like a groundless alarm. But the improbable quickly glides into the actual in common life, and emphatically so in Divine providence. To ignore a warning cry is to invite the sword. God never foreshadows evil too soon, never sends a seer with message of terror without the danger being imminent, and always gives forewarning that the imperilled may escape. (See Addenda to chap. 6. Jeremiah 6:1, “Set up a sign of fire.”)
I. Vivid portrayal of imminent calamity. Clearly and forcibly delineated, so that none could plead ignorance of danger. Nor can any now hide themselves under the excuse that they knew not the calamities which menace sin. 1. Zion offers a choice prize to the foe (Jeremiah 6:2-3). 2. The enemy is impatient to conquer (Jeremiah 6:4-5). 3. God commissions and commands the assault (Jeremiah 6:4; Jeremiah 6:6), even as He did the attack on Job (Jeremiah 2:3-7), and on Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7); but in their case with how different a design and result! 4. From the destroyer’s hand none would escape (Jeremiah 6:9). (See Manners and Customs, above on Jeremiah 6:9.) Thus “the daughter of Zion” would find the threatened evil not imaginary, or easily avoided. When God commands vengeance on those who defy or despise Him, who shall “stay His hand?” Where escape be found? “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish.”
II. Urgent appeals to seek safety in retreat. Hide ere calamity comes, not delay until destruction overtakes, (a.) Their defenced city, Zion, though the strongest fortress in the land, was condemned to overthrow; therefore “flee!” (Jeremiah 6:1). Equally, (b.) the strongholds of sinners will be overthrown; by affliction, calamity, ruthless changes which befall men in this life, and certainly by the final judgment: forsake them; “flee for refuge to the hope set before you.”
1. They would need shelter themselves (Jeremiah 6:1); though they might deem Jerusalem secure, as sinners do their “refuge of lies,” God forewarned them that they would want a more safe retreat; and He knew. 2. They should warn and rally their neighbours (Jeremiah 6:1), for they were involved in like doom, and needed like salvation. 3. Timely wisdom might propitiate God and obtain mercy (Jeremiah 6:8).
III. Pathetic denunciations of their hardened impiety. No appeals, however plaintive and powerful, could rouse this guilty people to fear the evil or seek defence. 1. Delineation of appalling guilt. It was (a.) Everywhere prevalent; “wholly oppression” (Jeremiah 6:6); every social grade lost to all except extortion and worldly aggrandisement. (b.) Spontaneous and ceaseless (Jeremiah 6:7), like a stream of foul and poisonous waters which would not cease. 2. Announcement of consequent doom, (a.) Attendant sufferings (Jeremiah 6:7), “grief and wounds;” yet alas! these did not dispose them to seek the Divine remedy, the one Physician. (b.) Abandonment by God (Jeremiah 6:8). Pitifully God pleads, and expostulates, and warns (Jeremiah 6:8); but the nation is unimpressionable; “desolation” therefore follows. How lamentable the contrast in Zion’s condition! (Jeremiah 6:3, comp. Jeremiah 6:8). Sinners who despise God’s warnings and mercy entail on themselves the saddest desolations.
Jeremiah 6:10-17. GOD’S MESSENGER BAFFLED AND REPUDIATED
A heavy “burden of the Lord” to carry; it wearied the prophet’s spirit. Who would not sorrow to “prophesy evil” against his own people? Patriotism and philanthropy alike shrink. Yet, when only by prophesying evil can the people be aroused to realise their peril and “flee,” both patriotism and philanthropy urge to the sorrowful task. Then, even the meek and gentle Jesus must reiterate His “woes,” and the noble-hearted Paul must “with many tears” portray his nation’s spiritual blindness and doom.
I. A prophet in despair for an audience (Jeremiah 6:10). “To whom shall I speak?” &c. None who either could or would “hear.” 1. Deaf; “ear uncircumcised;” closed with a foreskin; a suggestive figure to Jews; shutting out the sound. 2. Derisive (see Lit. Crit. on verse). 3. Depreciating; “no delight in it;” lost all regard and desire for communications from God. Prophet found none heedful (Isaiah 53:1).
II. A prophet irresistibly constrained to preach (Jeremiah 6:11). Silence was not optional or possible; speak he must, “whether men would hear or forbear.” 1. A mighty inspiration filled him. 2. His weakness compelled him to yield; he grew “weary” with keeping silence and restraining the sorrowful message. 3. The whole truth must be outpoured. 4. For it refers to all, and all must be forewarned. Messages for every one, all ages included, from “children” to “aged.” God’s messenger must utter the truths he brings.
III. A prophet bearing evil tidings (Jeremiah 6:11-12). Bethink 1. How unwilling is the gracious God to send them. 2. How dreadful is man’s rebellion which necessitates them. 3. How beautifully the Gospel reverses them. 4. How, in every case, timely repentance of sin averts them (cf. Jonah 3:5).
IV. A prophet defeated by lying messengers (Jeremiah 6:13-15). Forgery and falsehood tread upon the heels of truth; the “enemy” with “tares” follows the footsteps of the “sower” who carries “good seed.” “Lying spirits” are ever in conflict with prophets of truth. 1. Willing dupes. The people were more prepared for the “false” than for the “true” (Jeremiah 6:13). Sordid hearts set on this world love flattery, care not for Divine communications. 2. Plausible teachers (Jeremiah 6:14). They abound; trifle with human wrong; “heal slightly;” their influence is disastrous; delude sufferers, but not deliver them. 3. Shameless ungodliness (Jeremiah 6:15). The effect of resisting Divine messages and warnings is to harden sinners in their iniquity. Jeremiah saw that his ministry was neutralised by the false teachings which abounded, and by the impious indifference of the people.
V. A prophet treated with open repudiation (Jeremiah 6:16-17). Here is suggested, 1. A preacher’s varied modes of appeal. (a.) He appealed to their judgment: “Stand in ways and see;” examine whether the “old paths” are not safest and happiest. (b.) To their self-love, their spiritual advantage: “Rest to your souls.” (c.) To their fears and apprehensions: “Hearken to sound of trumpet;” the threatenings of evil. 2. The hostile attitude of sinners. (a.) They will not stir themselves to action (Jeremiah 6:16), either to test whether their way is good or leads to good, nor yet to gain the “rest of soul” which God offers and they truly need: “We will not walk therein.” (b.) They will not listen to the voice of sacred teachers (Jeremiah 6:17); they have no desire to learn their malady, to be healed thoroughly, to be guided into the “good way,” to gain the precious “rest” which Jesus gives; and they fearlessly answer all appeals from God’s servants with “We will not hearken.”
Jeremiah 6:18-26. BITTER ISSUES OF IMPIOUS EFFRONTERY
Rejecters of God’s Word imprecate His wrath (Jeremiah 6:19). Defiance of His warnings and pleadings merits but brief forbearance. Insulted mercy interposes no longer between the guilty and their doom. God has other resources at command when His messages are despised. He would persuade to repentance; but, that failing, He can summon calamities and subdue those who revolt (Jeremiah 6:22-26). Yet is He “slow to anger,” and never calls for judgment till defiance is not alone outspoken (Jeremiah 6:16-17), but incorrigible (Jeremiah 6:28). Even then God treats their case, not vengefully and imperiously, but judicially; calls them to trial and judgment, and appeals to the universe concerning the equity of His proceedings.
I. The court of witness (Jeremiah 6:18-19). God calls upon “the nations,” Gentiles; “the congregation,” probably counsellors of state; “the earth,” i.e., all humanity, to observe His procedure with these Jewish criminals. It foreshadows another judgment, to be conducted in the sight of the whole universe. How appalling the event! how solemnly does God conduct the sinner’s trial!
II. The offender arraigned. Who is the criminal? (Jeremiah 6:19), “this people.” God emphasises the identity: “this people.” Not a people without a history, without national distinction, without a noble ancestry, without religious advantages, without inducements to piety. Every item relating to “this people” formed a reason for faithful, loving allegiance with their God, and a protest against their sin.
III. The accusation against Judah (Jeremiah 6:19). It was not so much practical irreligion, though practices were evil and loathsome (Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 6:15); it was the alienation of the intelligence and heart, expressed here as “fruit of their thoughts.” “An evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” This showed itself in their effrontery,—meeting God’s pleadings with an unblushing refusal (Jeremiah 6:16-17): “Paid no heed to My words, and My law have they spurned.” Insolent indifference to God.
IV. The mocking pretence of piety (Jeremiah 6:20). They made a “fair show” of religion, though their heart had revolted. “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” God repudiates a religion of ritual: “He looketh at the heart.” This blatant hypocrisy, keeping up a parade of loyalty to God while their “thoughts” were estranged and hostile, made them more criminal and offensive. It amounted to a confession that they knew Jehovah deserved worship, yet, “knowing the Lord’s will, they did it not.”
V. The sentence of retribution (Jeremiah 6:21). 1. The Author of calamity: “I will lay.” &c. 2. The form of calamity: “stumbling-blocks,” i.e., incursions of Babylonians. 3. The distresses of calamity: “they shall fall, … shall perish.” 4. The devastations of calamity: totality is implied in the enumeration of “fathers and sons together, neighbour and friend.”
VI. The avenging scourge (Jeremiah 6:22-23). 1. Remote: “north, sides of earth.” 2. Mighty: “great nation.” 3. Warlike: “lay hold on bow,” &c. 4. Barbarous: “cruel, no mercy.” 5. Ferocious: “voice roareth,” &c. 6. Determined: “ride on horses, set in array as men for war,” &c. Consider, therefore, that a messenger with gracious words from God being rejected, emissaries with avenging wrath from God will follow.
VII. The consternation of the condemned (Jeremiah 6:24-25). 1. The terror of anticipation (Jeremiah 6:24) suggests the sinner’s anguish of fear, dreading death, and meeting the Judge, and enduring the dire sentence beyond. 2. Hiding from destruction (Jeremiah 6:25), even as in Revelation 6:15 et seq.
VIII. The anguish of punishment (Jeremiah 6:26). 1. Abject wretchedness: “wallow in ashes.” 2. Excruciating grief: “most bitter lamentation.” 3. Melancholy loss: “as for only son,” for “spoiler come upon us.” The loss of God’s love, the sacred inheritance, inward peace, all comfort; and the endurance of shame, misery, and bitter oppression. “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Oh, that the “mourning” were timely,—not after the ruin as a fruitless consequence, but before the ruin as a preventative. For penitential tears might avert the doom. Weeping for suffering brings no remedy, but weeping for sin ere judgment comes, prepares the mourner to welcome the Saviour.
Jeremiah 6:27-30. A FRUSTRATED MINISTRY OF GRACE.
(See Lit. Crit, on verses.) In language of metallurgy, God sets forth the design of Jeremiah’s ministry in the midst of Judah, and the hopeless moral condition of the nation; for not even the most earnest efforts to call them back to true religion could regenerate or restore a people so irremediably debased. (See Addenda to chap. Jeremiah 6:30, “Reprobate silver.”)
I. A tentative ministry (Jeremiah 6:27). “An assayer and tester of metals.” God’s preachers prove their hearers, test their real state, their thoughts and aims, their spiritual attitude. Even as with our Lord (Matthew 3:12); and the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12-13).
II. Base material (Jeremiah 6:28). Either (1.) their ignoble quality; mere “copper and iron,” not silver and gold; or (2.) their obduracy; hard and defiant. Described as “revolters;” i.e., they resist good: “walk with slanders;” i.e., they deprecate good; “all corrupters;” i.e., they mar and spoil whatever good they hear or find; communicate their own badness to others.
III. Unavailing remedies. 1. Intense zeal effected nothing. Jeremiah’s fervour, metaphorically suggested in the “bellows” which became burned by the very fierceness of the heat produced, indicates the prophet’s self-consuming earnestness to reform Judah. 2. Prolonged endeavours proved impotent. The smelter continued his toils and kept the heat at full glow till the very “lead was consumed.” 3. Evil was inseparable. The founder’s work could not effect a separation of Judah from her corruptions and idolatries (John 3:19; Matthew 23:37).
IV. Hopeless abandonment. 1. God despairs of them; gives over any further effort to restore them to piety. 2. God surrenders them; as worthless: no longer will He claim them, or own them. “None of His,” is the sentence of their irrevocable doom. They are “cast away.” All divine grace and forbearance became lost upon them; they frustrated every effort on God’s part for their good. He came seeking fruit, yet found not. Regenerative aids were applied (Luke 13:8); opportunity was patiently allowed for utilising advantages; all failed, and the tree was cut down, for it “cumbered the ground.” The lesson: “Except repent, likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).
HOMILIES AND OUTLINES ON VERSES OF CHAPTER 6
Jeremiah 6:1. Theme: IRONICAL CALLS TO SALVATION.
Impossible that the prophet could encourage hope that they would escape the foe by quitting Jerusalem—the fortress most capable of resisting the Chaldean army—and securing themselves in Tekoa and Bethhaccerem. The call is full of irony: Seek a secure refuge from the advancing enemy, and evade God’s threatened judgments if any method of escape avail: none shall be found, destructions will be great. Let the soul who is without Christ, defenceless against death and judgment, see well to his resources of safety when “sudden destruction cometh upon him.”
I. Mocking challenges. Having refused God’s salvation, save yourselves! Desert the Rock of Ages; shelter yourselves in a more secure fortress. Rejecting Divine grace, take care of your own spiritual interests. Apply to rejecters of Christ, self-righteous, fatalists.
1. Leave your impregnable fortress, on whose strength you complacently relied: “Flee out of Jerusalem.” When the peril and panic come, men will see at once they must surrender their old defences, their cherished delusions, their refuted theories, their failing hopes.
2. Find a safe retreat, if you can. Tekoa is the remotest city of defence, most distant from the foe who advances from the north; flee to that. Or, if you deem a mountain height safer, hasten to Bethhaccerem. Is there no sure refuge for the soul which finds itself suddenly driven forth from its complacent assurances, its falling strongholds? “Oh where can rest be found?”
3. Defend yourselves against assault. “Blow a trumpet;” muster all your forces of resistance.” Struggle with the foe ere you yield: do not let death easily vanquish you; will not courage serve you in that emergency? will not your righteousness save you from the charges of the foe? “When the enemy cometh in like a flood,” when Justice calls the sinner to God’s bar, let him summon to his aid all his resources of self-sufficiency, and stand in his own integrity if he can.
4. Rally others to resistance of the foe. “Set up sign,” &c. Warn them of peril, point them to safety; for none should limit his efforts to self-salvation. Let those who can save themselves lend aid also to others. “Each is his brother’s keeper;” owes duties of help and deliverance to those in peril. Will they who are secure in their own religious theories and refuges “rescue the perishing,” and save him that bath no helper? That is a poor substitute for Christianity which leaves a soul so impotent that it has no hope or help to spare for others in danger. A Christian is both saved himself, and he can “save a soul from death” (James 5:20).
II. Menacing realities. Man’s resources of salvation are mere fictions, but the perils from which he needs salvation are appalling facts.
1. Insecure defences. Zion would become a retreat at the first (Jeremiah 4:6); yet here the refugees and residents within Jerusalem are forwarned that its fortifications would not protect them. The stoutest stronghold would fail. No security in which the sinner intrenches himself will prove a source of safety when the “evil” comes. Our defences cannot keep out sorrow, nor conscience, nor terror of an outraged God, nor death, nor the punishments of sin.
2. Invincible foes. Irresistible in their force, and Divinely authorised in their assault, certain therefore to conquer. Ours is an unequal war with powers mightier than we, a hopeless struggle against the evils which God lets loose upon those who refuse His salvation. Confront them not; brave not rashly the fearful issues. “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself.” “Flee for refuge,” &c.
3. Inevitable ruin. “A great destruction.” “Great” in what it destroys: God’s nation; the human soul; precious hopes. “Great” in the completeness of the overthrow: dire devastation; irremediable ruin. For no ray of light illumes the profound gloom of man’s final appalling overthrow. “Seek ye the Lord; seek righteousness, seek meekness; it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.”
Jeremiah 6:2. Theme: DELICACY AND DESIRABLENESS OF ZION.
(a.) As a possession of God’s people. No spot so sacred, so restful, so longed for, so beloved. Type of the Christian’s home.
(b.) As a prize for the spoiler. Every nation coveted it, and fought for it. Even as—if Milton be right—Satan conspired to grasp the Eternal City of light, and as sinners still crave to secure it; for every man eyes the splendid prize. “Blessed are they that have right to enter through the gates into the city.” (cf. Revelation 22:14-15). Contemplate the:
I. Pre-eminent graces Divinely lavished upon her. “Beautiful for situation,” &c. Her temple the “perfection of beauty.” The pride and glory of God’s people. “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.” Suggests the Celestial City, the “realm and home” of Christ’s redeemed people (Revelation 21:0).
II. Honours and privileges enjoyed within her.
To “ascend the hill of the Lord, and stand within His holy place,” was the rapturous dream of Jewish youths, the holiest joy of devout Israelites. “Thither the tribes go up.” With songs to Zion: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates,” &c. There realised “in Thy presence fulness of joy.”
III. Sacred facts attested by her history.
That “God will in very deed dwell with man upon the earth;” that He has “desired to dwell” amid His people; that propitiation may be made before Him, and offerings presented for His acceptance; that “streams make glad the city of God,”
“Streams of mercy never ceasing;”
that there may be blessed communication between “God who is in heaven, and man upon the earth;” that “the High Priest enters into the holy place for us,” and we are free to seek God’s face.
IV. Glorious promises encircling her future.
Nations shall gather there; God’s light shine thence; millennial glories centre there (Isaiah 2:2-4). And when “the first earth shall have passed away” (Revelation 21:1), then the New Jerusalem shall “descend out of heaven from God, having the glory of God,” and “the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it;” while “the glory and honour of the nations” shall be accumulated within it.
Within that “holy city” only they can have a place “who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Note: The word “woman” is not in the Hebrew text; some supply the word pasturage:—I have likened the daughter of Zion to an inviting and luxuriant pasturage.
1. Where only the flock of God may feed. 2. Where green pastures and still waters abound. 3. Where the Good Shepherd guards the sheep He “knows.” 4. Wherein no “ravening wolf” may intrude. 5. Where blessed rest of soul may be enjoyed.
Jeremiah 6:3. Comments:
“Shepherds,” i.e., hostile leaders; “with their flocks,” i.e., armies (cf. Jeremiah 1:15; Jeremiah 4:17; Jeremiah 49:20; Jeremiah 50:45); “pitch their tents,” besiege; “feed every one in his place,” consume all that is near him; so abundant is the pasturage, the treasures, that each one is satiated with the booty he plunders. The Chaldean princes with their armies would sack Jerusalem, consuming and appropriating all her rich possessions.
Jeremiah 6:4-5. Theme: IMPATIENCE TO POSSESS JERUSALEM.
The sentences arrange themselves thus:
I. A royal proclamation of war.
This emanates from the palace at Babylon: “Prepare ye war against her.” Yet it originates with the King of kings, whose will Nebuchadnezzar works out. “Prepare:” properly sanctify war. Religious solemnities always preceded war in ancient times. This royal summons implied a set purpose, due preparation, and prompt action.
Christ calls His army to war against “spiritual wickedness in high places;” and on their part there must be (a.) set purpose; (b.) religious preparation; (c.) prompt action.
“Soldiers of Christ, arise!”
The King of kings calls His forces to conflict (Ephesians 6:11 et seq.).
II. The eagerness of invading armies. No sooner commissioned than they encourage each other to instant and concerted action. “Arise, and let us go up at noon!”
(a.) Their impatience of conquest; would make assault at once.
(b.) Their indifference as to convenience or comfort; “at noon,” though the scorching sun usually led to suspension of hostility until the fierce heat was gone.
All this should have analogy in our efforts to win the kingdom; delaying not an hour, disregarding all thought of “a more convenient season.” “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” “Arise, and let us go up!”
III. A cry of restless disappointment. “Woe unto us, for the day goeth away,” &c. (See Addenda to chap. Jeremiah 6:4, “Propitious opportunities lost.”)
(a.) Propitious hours for acquiring conquest soon end. They set to the task promptly, yet the “day went away” all too quickly; “the shadows of evening” fell upon them with their designs incomplete. “The night cometh!” “What thou doest, do quickly.” Nevertheless, the light fades too soon, our plans are not accomplished so easily or so early as we had thought. “Redeem the time.”
(b.) Delay in conquest lamented as a grievous loss. “Alas! for us.” They feel themselves seriously to be losers by even a temporary postponement of victory. And are we not sufferers, lamentably losers, by the delay of spiritual conquests? Every hour which interposes between us and the accomplishment of our aims, in seeking victory over sin and hostile forces, and in attempting to possess ourselves of the Divine heritage, is a painful loss, a personal calamity. With alacrity let us besiege the kingdom, losing not an hour.
IV. No obstacle should defer their assault. “Arise, let us go by night!” Not even the darkness should stay their zeal.
(a.) Their dauntless purpose; nothing deters or defeats them. “The king’s business requires haste.” Determination despises difficulties.
(b.) The unfavourable season. How many have their “night season,” all dark and bewildering: yet keep on vigorously, not suspending your efforts to gain victory over evil, to seize the prize, to secure the precious spoils of the kingdom. Wrestle on, as did Jacob, through the night.
(c.) Rewards encouraged their persistence; “palaces.” These contained rare treasures and vast wealth; hence their zeal. But who wins the “kingdom of heaven” by determined assault gains “unsearchable riches” and “many mansions.” Arise! let us claim those palaces.
Jeremiah 6:6. Theme: SET APART FOR JUDGMENT. “This is the city to be visited.”
God points out Jerusalem to the invaders: their stroke must not miss its true mark; judgment shall not miscarry. He leads forth the guilty one to her merited doom; He leads on His ministers of justice to the right transgressor. How terrifying this thought: a soul branded, set apart, delivered over to the “due reward of sin”!
I. Individuality of the transgressor. “This is the city.” Each stands out distinct in the Divine gaze. We are not massed together in a general estimate by God. “Every one shall give account of himself to God.” Each sinner dwells alone in God’s thoughts. Therefore, “though hand join in hand,” God does not lose sight of the individuality of each; He discriminates. You are distinctively watched by the EYE which never errs.
II. Definiteness of human sin. “She is wholly oppression.” All sin is not alike, either in nature or degree. The “Judge of all” distinguishes; associates the special iniquity with the individual transgressor. “He sets our secret sin in the light of His countenance.” Jerusalem is “oppression;” that is her distinctive crime: she is “wholly oppression;” that marks the extent of her criminality. Your sin is known to God; and “be sure your sin will find you out.”
III. Public presentation of the criminal. “This is the city.” God exposes her to view; of angels, that they may know how “righteous are His judgments;” of men, fellow-sinners, that they may be warned, lest they “come into like condemnation;” of foes, that their assault may be directed to the right object; for “every one shall bear his own iniquity.” The great judgment of men will be public, and the transgressor will be placed in the open gaze of the universe.
IV. Deliberate consignment to punishment. “The city to be visited,” punished. What! so fair a city, so delicate (Jeremiah 6:2), so long honoured by God, “the joy of the whole earth,” the “city of the great King”! Ask you incredulously, Can a soul, so noble, formed for God, long privileged with sacred favours, be abandoned to foes? Look for answer on Jerusalem, ravaged and consumed with fire! Beauty only intensified her loathsomeness when linked to villany. Nobleness adds to the horrors of degradation when it becomes prostituted to baseness. Shall God spare Jerusalem, or us, because of an historic dignity? That fact increases our guilt, for we abused our birthright, sold it for a mess of pottage. “The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression” (Ezekiel 33:12). “Depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity.” “If any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:38).
Jeremiah 6:7. Theme: SPONTANEITY AND SPOLIATIONS OF GUILT. “As a fountain casteth out her waters,” &c.
Within ourselves is such a fountain. From the fount of evil, even in childhood, flows such waters as disobedience, passion, falsehood, &c. In youth, they flow more abundantly, “increase unto more ungodliness;” impurity, vanity, wilfulness, outraging conscience, wronging Christ, &c. In maturity the streams pour forth in steady, habitual wrong: “All the imaginations of the heart are only evil continually.” Such the case of a depraved heart, into which no purifying grace enters. Yet, as the tree cast into the bitter waters made them sweet (Exodus 15:25), so Divine love can make all the outgoings of the human heart pure and good.
I. The exhaustless outflow of sin.
1. As something which is natural to us: “Casteth out her waters, her wickedness.” Leave ourselves free, and sin follows naturally.
2. As something which easily gratifies itself: the waters flow forth spontaneously, without effort. We “enjoy the pleasures of sin.” Wrong-doing is congenial, gratifying. “Out of the heart proceed (easily and pleasurably) evil thoughts,” &c.
3. As something which has a perennial source. Its waters never pause. The more we sin, the more copious our capacity and versatile our resources of sinning. Guilt never runs dry. “As a fountain,” whose waters ceaselessly flow, sin will not be restrained; it will find and force a way out.
4. As something which pours itself out in plenitude. Good and gracious thoughts and deeds come forth even from the best of us in feeble quantities; but the heart “casts out her wickedness” in full flow: “Out of the abundance of the heart.” What copious streams of evil flow forth from one sinner! What magnitude of sins in one life, one day! If they could be reckoned up! (See Addenda to chap. Jeremiah 6:7, “Continuity of sin.”)
II. The woful outrages of sin. “Violence and spoil,” &c.
The outflow of sin is pleasurable to the sinner; it is gratifying as being natural. It costs no effort or restraint. But it works direful ravages on others—e.g., drunkenness, libertinism, extortion malice, &c., destroys homes, breaks hearts. Like deadly blight across fair plantation, or fire over golden harvest fields. Look on the disease and death in the world, all the bitter effects of sin.
1. The external wrongs done by sin. “Violence and spoil.”
2. The internal wounds suffered by the sinner. “Grief and wounds.”
Man estimates the external ravages of sin above the internal miseries; he cries out because of “violence,” &c.; he laments the misfortunes, the “spoil,” which sin brings upon his life.
But God looks within. “Before Me continually is grief and wounds.” What a spectacle of inward corruption does the eye of God behold! Oh, the hidden griefs of sinners! How dreadful the spoliations of conscience, of affections, of the godlike soul!
There avails for us the healing, redeeming grace of Jesus. He is “acquainted with grief,” our grief; and He can heal our “wounds,” for “He was wounded for our transgressions, and with His stripes we are healed.”
Jeremiah 6:8. Theme: GOD’S UNWILLING SEPARATION FROM JUDAH. “Lest my soul depart from thee.”
It implies God’s soul was knit to, fixed upon His people. “Depart,” is a strongly expressive word; be torn from thee. “God was tenderly attached to the holy city, had chosen to put His name there, and nothing but the extreme wickedness of its inhabitants could have moved Him to withdraw His affection from it”—Henderson.
“Note: 1. The God of mercy is loth to depart even from a provoking people, and is earnest with them by true repentance and reformation to prevent things from coming to that extremity. 2. Their case is very miserable from whom God’s soul is disjoined; it intimates the loss not only of outward blessings, but of those comforts and favours which are the more immediate and peculiar tokens of His love and presence. 3. Those who forsake God are certainly undone; when God’s soul departs from Jerusalem she soon becomes desolate and uninhabited (Matthew 23:38).”—M. Henry.
i. The infinite goodness and patience of God towards a sinful people, and His great unwillingness to bring ruin upon them.
ii. The proper and effectual means of preventing the misery and ruin of a sinful people. “Be thou instructed.”
iii. The miserable case and condition of a people when God takes off His affection from them.—Tillotson. (See Addenda to chap. Jeremiah 6:8, “God’s withdrawment from man.”)
Jeremiah 6:9. Comments:
The Jews are the grapes, too choice to let any remain unplucked; the Chaldeans are the unsparing gleaners, intent on thoroughly cleansing the vine of all its valuable produce.
As the vintagers return again and again to the vine so long as any clusters can be gathered, so would the Babylonians renew their invasions till all Judah was carried into captivity, and the land left bare: “They shall thoroughly glean,” &c.
This is God’s address to the Chaldeans, “Turn back thine hand,” &c.; and they literally obeyed the Divine bidding (cf. Jeremiah 52:28-30). (See Addenda to chap. Jeremiah 6:9, “Glean Israel as a vine.”)
Jeremiah 6:10. Theme: PREACHING RENDERED USELESS.
This is marvellous, that words from God could become void of effect. For bethink:
1. That preaching is God’s chosen method of awakening and conversion.
2. That preaching is the appropriate and established agency by which the Holy Spirit works in quickening human souls.
3. That there is a conscience in man upon which Divine messages act with startling force.
4. That the Word of God is itself quick and powerful.
5. That manifold Divine promises guarantee the preacher against failure when speaking for God. Yet text.
I. A bearer of tidings from Heaven finds none to whom to address them. He stands like one who arrives with a proclamation on the borders of an uninhabited desert, bewildered to discover no hearers. What is he to do? The case is no better when a preacher finds hearers, but they refuse him a hearing, or let him preach on without the slightest heed. The prophet is:
1. In distress that none were prepared to regard his “warnings;” amazed at their stolidity, defiant unconcern, immovable complacency, indifference to peril. Men still obdurate and frivolous.
2. In perplexity as to what course to adopt to enlist their attention. He could, of course, “speak and give warning;” but he wished so to do this “that they may hear.” Always the preacher’s perplexity, how to arouse men’s serious heed to the things he speaks. Without this responsive attention, the preacher warns to no purpose, without hope of success. Paul tried all resources (1 Corinthians 9:20-23). Yet what solemn tidings Jeremiah brought! What “glad tidings” the Christian preacher brings! (Isaiah 52:7-10).
II. Men who need these tidings from Heaven are without capacity for hearing Divine truths. Other sounds can enter their ears, but not sounds from Heaven. A whisper from earth concerning “earthly things” is instantly and eagerly heard, but the thunder’s roar from the skies concerning “heavenly things” finds them deaf to sound. Why? “Their ear is uncircumcised.”
1. They do not want to hear: hearing disquiets them.
2. They do not intend to hear: have resolved to hear nothing from God, nothing against themselves or their sins. Thus “they cannot hearken.” Prejudice deafens men; unbelief deafens; wilful ignorance deafens (comp. Galatians 3:1). Hence men hear from God and of Christ in vain. Yet THEY NEED these tidings. Judah did, so as to escape destruction which was imminent. We need tidings from Heaven, for they announce the only salvation available, the Jesus our souls want.
III. Divine messages repelled by men with antipathy and scorn.
Note: The prophet’s cry of amazement and fear. “Behold the word,” &c. It fills him with alarm. To trifle with words from Jehovah! To throw from us the saving truths of the Gospel! How astounding man’s conduct in putting aside with heedlessness the invaluable messages of Heaven! (See Addenda to chap. Jeremiah 6:10, “God’s Word; no delight in it.”)
1. God’s chiding words are resented as a calumny, as an undeserved “reproach;” they felt themselves aggrieved and affronted by the remonstrances and condemnations Jeremiah brought. What blinding pride, what besotting vanity this reveals! They determine not to hearken to God’s Word because it lashes their sins.
2. God’s pleading words are received with contumely; depreciated and derided as being uncalled for. What had they to fear? They saw no danger, recognised no urgency in propitiating God. “They have no delight in it,” means they turn away with aversion, they appreciate not the Divine mercy which sends the “Word;” they believe not in the necessity for such a message. Hence they scorn. “They would none of my counsel; they despised all my reproof” (Proverbs 1:30). Jerome remarks: “Inability [“they cannot hearken”] which proceeds from scorn and unbelief is not exempted from punishment.” God must rebuke such wilful insensibility (comp. Jeremiah 6:19).
Jeremiah 6:11-13. PREACHING MADE INEVITABLE.
If men repudiate the preacher’s word (see above on Jeremiah 6:10), may he keep silence? Silence is impossible, he cannot restrain himself; speech is imperative, for God commands him to speak: “Pour it out.” God’s communications to him must be communicated to men. “We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard.” “Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel.” Thus utterance is necessitated:
I. By the irresistible force of inward Divine impulse. “I am full of the fury of the Lord; I am weary with holding in.”
1. How unwilling to proclaim the evil tidings! Sad task for God’s messenger. “Tell you even weeping.”
2. How exhausting the burden of the Lord! “Wearies” the heart. Painful to have to utter sad truths; more painful to refrain.
“God’s anger at the wickness of the people had been, as it were, poured into Jeremiah’s heart, and he tried to restrain it in vain.”—Speaker’s Com.
This “fury” was not Jeremiah’s holy ardour, which was irrepressible in him, but burning displeasure Divinely awakened in him towards the insensate nation. “The fury of the Lord,” which did not refer to or reflect upon himself, therefore must not be kept to himself, but poured out.
II. By the necessity of society to hear the Divine threatenings. 1. Whether they wish to hear them or not. 2. Whether they regard and act upon them or not. 3. Whether they profit by their hearing, or, by abusing warning, increase their condemnation. God (a.) allows none to dwell in ignorance; He “sets before us life and death;” (b.) leaves man without excuse; if he despise warning and perish, his blood is upon his own head. But, whether as “life unto life, or death unto death,” men must hear.
III. By the inclusive application of the solemn messages. They relate to all ages and sexes. (See Addenda to chap. Jeremiah 6:11.)
1. The inclusive consequences of sin. From “child” to “aged,” “man and wife,” all had sinned,—all condemned. “So death passed upon all, for that all have sinned.” Disease of sin is upon all.
2. The comprehensive displeasure of God. “Pour it out” (the fury of the Lord), upon the children, young men, parents, of ripe years, and very aged. This anger of God is justified by Jeremiah 6:13.
IV. By the terrible character of the nearing woes (Jeremiah 6:12).
1. The merciless severity of the invading foe. Less severe than “our adversary the devil” (1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:12; Luke 12:5).
2. The clear and emphatic predictions of these woes. (See Deuteronomy 28:30.) Possessions greatly prized, “houses and fields;” treasures jealously guarded, “wives.” Homes seized, affections disregarded, life’s dearest ties severed. So in the “judgment to come,” sinners will lose all they had, and be sundered from all they love. Our woe, if unsaved, is clearly foretold (Hebrews 10:26-29).
3. The hand of God will accomplish the sinner’s overthrow. For I will stretch out my hand,” &c. (cf. Hebrews 10:30-31).
V. By the appalling corruptions which invoked the judgments (Jeremiah 6:13). Against such sinfulness the preacher must protest and pronounce. Amid such a corrupted society, God’s messenger can only utter woes. He has no promise or pleading for men sunk in wilful and defiant iniquity. (See Addenda to chap. Jeremiah 6:13. “Covetousness.”)
“Knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men.”
Jeremiah 6:14. Theme: HEALING OUR WOUNDS SLIGHTLY. (See Addenda to chap. Jeremiah 6:14. “Peace where no peace.”)
Accommodating prophets, who taught delusions, because corrupt hearers said, “Prophesy unto us smooth things; prophesy deceits.” Thus lulled to sleep in their sins, while heaviest judgments of God impended. Lament such delusive ministrations (Ezekiel 13:22; Deuteronomy 29:19-20). Yet men love to deceive themselves, to silence convictions of conscience. Show:
I. What need we all have of healing. Sin has affected all the powers of our souls. 1. Asserted in Scriptures. 2. Confirmed by experience. But, as many think themselves healed whilst in perishing condition, show:
II. Who they are that heal their wounds slightly. 1. They who rely on the uncovenanted mercy of God, fatally deceive their souls by expecting mercy contrary to Gospel. 2. They who take refuge in a round of duties; no attainments can stand in the place of Christ (Philippians 3:9). 3. They who rest in a faith that is unproductive of good works; but the faith that apprehends Christ will “work by love,” and “purify the heart,” and “overcome the world.”
III. How we may have them healed effectually.
1. The Lord Jesus has provided a remedy for sin (Isaiah 53:5). 2. That remedy applied by faith shall be effectual for all who trust in it (Isaiah 1:18).
Address: i. Those who feel not their need of healing. Christianity is a remedy, and presupposes a deep malady, which nothing finite can heal. ii. Those who, after having derived some benefits from Christ, have relapsed into sin. If continue thus, “last end worse than first” (Jeremiah 3:12). iii. Those who are enjoying health in their souls. A man under power of sin feels spiritual duties irksome; but he whose “soul prospers, and is in health,” finds the ways of God full of delight.—Simeon.
Theme: EVILS OF FALSE SECURITY.
Though people live thoughtlessly about their souls, they generally satisfy themselves with some maxim of security: on the strength of this they hush within them every alarm of conscience. A large class of such slender and sentimental religionists, who profess reverence, maintain outward decencies, are visited with occasional tender thoughts of its solemnities, would be shocked at infidel opinion, and have their minds comfortably made up. Yet in their tranquillity there is not a single ingredient of the Gospel, “joy and peace in believing.”
This deceitful complacency needs salutary alarm. How is it persons reach this state of easy confidence?
1. There is a disposition to acknowledge, in a general way, that they are sinners, though also to palliate the enormity of sin, and to gloss it over with the gentle epithet of an infirmity.
2. Then to make all right, and secure, and comfortable, the sentiment is cherished that God is a merciful God, and will overlook our infirmities.
A slight hurt needs but a slight remedy; being but gently alarmed, a gentle application avails to pacify.
I. This mercy, so slenderly spoken of and vaguely trusted in, is not the mercy which has been made the subject of an actual offer from God to man. He has stepped forth to relieve us from the debt of sin; but He has taken His own way of it (John 3:36).
II. The evils of such a false confidence.
1. It casts an aspersion on the character of God. Those who find their way to comfort without any reference to Christ, ignore God’s truth or His righteousness; His threatenings, purposes, the everlasting distinction between obedience and sin, &c., become a meaningless parade.
2. It is hostile to the cause of practical righteousness. Though a man confess to “infirmities,” he will smother all apprehensions, and regale his fancy with the smile of an indulgent God. It tends to obliterate all restraints, on the specious plea of all-availing mercy, and leaves every man to sin just as much as he likes. Thus “peace, where there is no peace,” spreads its deadly poison over the face of society, and a sentiment of deep and fatal tranquillity concerning salvation and God’s demands on the soul takes up its firm residence in a world which sends up a cry of rebellion against Him. This is a sore evil.—Chalmers.
Jeremiah 6:15. Theme: SHAMELESSNESS IN SIN THE CERTAIN FORERUNNER OF DESTRUCTION.
He who has thus sinned himself past feeling, may be justly supposed to have sinned himself past grace.
i. Extraordinary guilt. “They had committed abomination.”
ii. Their deportment under their guilt. “They were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush.”
iii. God’s high resentment of their monstrous shamelessness, implied in the vehement interrogation, “Were they ashamed?”
iv. The judgment consequent thereupon. “Therefore shall they fall,” &c.
I. Show what shame is, and its influence upon men’s manners.
II. By what ways men come to cast off shame, and grow impudent in sin. 1. By the commission of great sins. 2. Custom in sinning. 3. Criminal example of great persons. 4. General and common practice. 5. To have been once greatly and irrecoverably ashamed.
III. The several degrees of shamelessness in sin. 1. Showing respect to sinful persons. 2. Defending sin. 3. Glorying in it.
IV. Why it brings down judgment and destruction upon the sinner. 1. Because shamelessness in sin presupposes a long course of sin. 2. Because of its destructive influence upon the government of the world.
V. What those judgments are by which it procures the sinner’s destruction. Scripture supplies instances of judgment on shameless sinners. 1. A sudden and disastrous death: e.g., Zimri, slain by sword of Phinehas. 2. War and desolation: e.g., Benjamites (Judges 19:20). 3. Captivity: e.g., Judah, whom the prophet here denounces.
Where there is no place for shame, there can be “no place for repentance.” Shamelessness means impenitence, and impenitence, destruction.—R. South, D.D.
Jeremiah 6:16. Theme: THE OLD PATHS.
I. The denomination: “Old paths,” i.e., way of obedience, worship, piety. “Old,” because: 1. Ordained from eternity. 2. Herein all the saints have walked. 3. Tried, and found pleasant and profitable.
II. The description: “Good way.” A path may be “old,” yet not “good;” this is both. When may a path be called “good”? 1. When safe. 2. Direct. 3. Frequented. 4. Pleasant. 5. Firm and passable.
III. The directions: “Stand, see, ask, walk.” None can find this path at random, none walk in it ignorant of where they are. They who seek this path should be: 1. Cautious in their observations. 2. Earnest in their inquiries. 3. Prompt in entering thereon.
IV. The destination: “Ye shall find rest to your souls.” 1. In the journey many blessings of rest will be enjoyed, as contentment, satisfaction, cheerfulness, security. 2. Afterwards there will be fulness of rest: the path leads to eternal repose, happiness, glory.
It is the path of faith; they who tread it first journey to the cross; then, leaning on arm of the Beloved, travel to home of saints. Christ beckons to all who inquire, and says, “I am the Way.”—“Sermon Framework.”
Theme: THE GOOD OLD WAY.
Whatever bears stamp of antiquity upon it finds favourable reception; innovations are distrusted. Inquire:
I. What is that old and good way? Not holiness alone, but, 1. A penitential affiance in God, through Christ’s mediation (John 14:6). 2. A cheerful obedience to Him: “Take my yoke,” &c. (Matthew 11:29). Both of these bear mark of antiquity, from “righteous Abel” downwards. And they must be good, for (a.) Appointed by God Himself. (b.) Approved by all His saints. (c.) Tend to the perfecting of our nature; and (d.) To the adornment of our religion.
II. What is our duty respecting it? It becomes us, 1. To inquire after it; not presume we are right, but “stand and see;” ask those whom God has appointed as guides, search sacred oracles, implore teaching of Holy Spirit. 2. To walk in it. Knowledge useless without practice. Come into it, renouncing every other: continue in it.
III. Encouragement given to us. They who walk herein shall find: 1. Rest in their way (Romans 5:1-2). “The work of righteousness is peace,” &c. 2. Rest in their end. “Rest remaining to the people of God.”—Hannum.
I. The way. This cannot be the way of the wicked (Psalms 36:4). It is the way of scriptural piety; the course of faith and love. Called “a way,” because leads to enjoyment of eternal life (Matthew 7:4); is the certain way to it (Romans 2:7), and the only way (Hebrews 12:14).
1. Called the old way. Moses was actuated by faith (Hebrews 11:24-27); and taught the way of love (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Old as the days of Noah (Hebrews 11:7) and Enoch (Genesis 5:24). Certainly for us as old as Christianity (John 14:1; John 15:12).
2. Called the good way; for those walking in it are good (James 3:17); and do good—to their families (Deuteronomy 5:29), their country (Proverbs 14:34), and to the world (Matthew 5:13-14). And the way itself is good; in its origin (Psalms 143:10), and its tendency (Proverbs 19:23).
II. God’s command.
1. “Stand ye in the ways and see.” (1.) Some facts are here assumed: that though but one good way, there are many evil ways; that all men are walking in evil ways (Isaiah 53:6); that we are naturally ignorant of the good old way (Jeremiah 10:23); yet we are capable of discovering and walking in it. (2.) Some duties are here enjoined: make an immediate pause for purposes of examination; “stand” (Haggai 1:5); seriously examine in what way you are walking; “see” (2 Corinthians 13:5); observe well the tendency of evil ways (Romans 6:21).
2. “Ask for the old paths, where is the good way.” Inquire by searching Scriptures (John 5:39); asking direction of God (James 1:5); associating with the pious (Proverbs 13:20).
3. “And walk therein.” (1.) Get into it: not remain out of it, by delay (Job 22:21; Job 36:18); not stop short of it, by resting in deficient attainment, merely talking of, thinking about, or desiring it (Matthew 11:29; John 14:6). (2.) Keep in it: by resisting temptation (1 Peter 5:8-9; Luke 21:36), by improving in piety (2 Corinthians 7:1).
III. The promise. “Rest for your souls.”
1. The blessing promised. (1.) In this world: from anguish of guilt (Isaiah 12:5); from oppression of Satan (Matthew 11:28); from torturing fears (Psalms 34:4); from inward defilement (John 15:2; 1 Corinthians 1:9). (2.) Glorious rest in heaven: from all temptation (Job 3:17), suffering (Revelation 21:4), danger (Matthew 6:20). Rest for your souls; the consciousness of enjoyment in this life (Romans 8:1-2), and after death (Revelation 7:14; Revelation 7:17). “Rest” such as souls require: eternal (Psalms 16:11).
2. Its certainty. “Ye shall find.” Seek it as God requires you, and it is certain. (1.) From His all-sufficiency (Genesis 14:22); His kindness (Isaiah 45:19); His truth (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
Application: Falsehood of some objections to a course of piety—
1. “That this strict religion is a new way.” Nay; sin is Satan’s novelty. 2. “That it is an injurious way; unfavourable to the interests of men.” Rather, the good way, most beneficial (1 Timothy 4:8). 3. “That it is a melancholy way.” No; peace through life (Luke 1:78-79), peace in death (Psalms 37:37), and rest for ever (Revelation 14:13).—“Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.”
Theme: RESOLUTE SPIRITUAL INACTION. “Walk therein; but they said, We will not walk therein.”
It is more than an invitation from God; an imperative demand.
I. The summons to spiritual exertion. Ruin may ensue from mere sloth: “neglect of salvation.” Need not be active resistance, only inactive indifference. “Therefore he saith, Awake, thou that sleepest, arise from the dead,” &c. We are called to exertion—
1. To discover the right. 2. To gain the good. 3. To find the sacred rest.
Indolence is disastrous in itself and issues, offensive to God, and prohibited alike by the Gospel of Christ and the cravings of our soul.
II. The necessity of personal effort. Never yet did a soul glide passively and insensibly into salvation, “from death unto life.” 1. An erroneous and wandering life is one of activity. “We have turned every one to his own way.” 2. Our spiritual return demands both our volition and endeavour: repentance and reformation must be done by us, cannot be done for us. 3. No force from without ourselves will set us right. God commands, persuades, and calls; Christ invites and pleads; the Spirit strives; but no power forces. We must “walk.” Active, earnest concurrence.
III. The defiance of godless inaction. “We will not walk!” 1. No disposition to leave the evil: prefer wrong ways. 2. No effort to find the good way: “Men love darkness rather than light;” “Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life.” 3. No appreciation of the offered rest: enjoy rioting and pleasures of sin. 4. No apprehension of the awful issues: eternal unrest of soul. “No peace to wicked,” “tribulation and anguish,” &c. (Romans 2:9). “It is high time to awake out of sleep.” “Strive to enter in at the straight gate.” “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). (See Addenda to chap. Jeremiah 6:16. “Rest for your souls.”)
Jeremiah 6:17. Theme: RECKLESS INATTENTION TO WARNING.
“Watchmen,” used of sentinels (1 Samuel 14:16), but metaphorically of prophets (Isaiah 52:8; Ezekiel 3:17; Habakkuk 2:1). “Sound of trumpet” was the signal for flight (see Jeremiah 6:1; cf. Amos 3:6).
I. Approaching calamity (Jeremiah 6:19).
1. Merited. 2. Devastating. 3. Long-delayed. 4. Unrecognised. 5. Imminent. Compare the nearing invasion by Babylonish foes to the subtle yet terrible spiritual disasters approaching the sinner.
II. Reiterated forewarnings. Not one watchman, but many, through the successive years of Judah’s (and our) decline. 1. God’s reluctance. 2. Man’s opportunities. 3. None left unwarned. 4. All called to escape.
III. Rousing alarms. “Sound of trumpet.” The case is too urgent for gentle means, the peril too appalling! 1. Clearly heard by all. 2. Easy to understand. 3. Startling calls from God. 4. Offers of propitious interval. Escape possible, if men will but listen and hide.
IV. Deliberate inattention. “We will not hearken. 1. Incredulity: “Surely a false alarm.” 2. Insensibility: “We have nothing to fear; deserve no judgments.” 3. Wilful delusion: “Have no desire or intention to be disturbed in our sins.” 4. Ruinous infatuation: meanwhile the northern foe speeds towards his unsuspecting prey (Jeremiah 6:22). So likewise do death and doom hasten to the Christless: and “how shall ye escape if ye neglect so great salvation?”
Jeremiah 6:18. Comments.
“Hear, ye nations.” As the Jewish Church refuses to hear God’s voice speaking by the prophets, He now summons the Gentiles to witness its condemnation.—Speaker’s Com.
“And know, O congregation,” i.e., the few godly souls in the midst of apostate Judah forming the “congregation of My people;” or else the statesmen and counsellors of surrounding nations, who are called to observe in Judah’s overthrow that “verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth.”
“What is among them,” i.e., what deeds are committed by Judah, and what punishments (righteous and inevitable) are to be inflicted upon them.
Jeremiah 6:18-21. Theme: THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENTS OF GOD.
i. They do not shun publicity, but rather appeal to the moral sense of the whole world. ii. They bring upon men their merited recompense. iii. They can be averted, not by outward worship, but by honest submission to God’s Word (Jeremiah 6:19-20).—Lange.
Jeremiah 6:19. Comments.
“Hear, O earth.” A decree so solemnly proclaimed can be of no light importance; and, therefore, the Fathers, not without reason, understood it of the rejection of the Jews from being the Church—Speaker’s Com.
God appeals to the whole world as to the equity of His proceedings. Observe what is doing among those of Judah and Jerusalem; you hear of the desolations brought upon them; the earth rings with it, trembles under it; you all wonder that I should “bring evil upon this people” that are in covenant with Me, profess relation to Me, have worshipped Me, and been highly favoured by Me. “Know,” then:
i. That it is the natural product of their devices. The “evil” is “the fruit of their thoughts.” They thought to strengthen themselves by alliance with foreigners, and by these forbiden alliances shall they be overthrown.
ii. That it is the just punishment of their disobedience and rebellion: “because they have not hearkened,” &c. They would never have been ruined thus by the judgments of God’s hand if they had not refused to be ruled by the judgments of His mouth.—M. Henry.
Jeremiah 6:20. Theme: SUBSTITUTES FOR PIETY REPUDIATED.
The text reads literally, “To what purpose is this to me that incense cometh from Sheba,” &c. God wanted what was nearer home, their faithful allegiance and their heart’s love; and what was of greater value, “truth in the inward parts.”
Note that God repudiated this ritual homage at a time when Josiah was engaged on temple restoration; thus emphatically refusing the most elaborate and devoutly arranged ceremonialism as a substitute for personal holiness and practical piety.
I. The resources of religious insincerity. “Incense from Sheba; sweet cane from a far country.”
1. Costly substitutes. 2. Foreign importations. 3. Fragrant offerings. So the modern innovations in Christian sanctuaries: ritualism is costly, foreign in its origin, and not a little fragrance mingles with its sensational services. So the theological vagaries of our age, theories which cost the sacrifice of precious truths, foreign speculations which intrude upon the simple Word of God, fragrant to many who have lost all enjoyment of the “things of Christ.” Men take great trouble to substitute the true.
II. The performance of superficial worship.
1. The outward forms of religion may be continued where inward homage has perished; “burnt-offerings and sacrifices.” 2. Externals are frequently multiplied as an extenuation of conscious inward defalcations. 3. Outward homage it proper and pleasing to God as an expression of heart allegiance: “show faith by works.” 4. Mere external piety it a solemn mockery and a hollow pretence: their altar offerings and personal sacrifices were both a “lie unto God.”
III. The rejection of heartless piety. “Not acceptable, nor sweet unto Me.” Sacrifice and incense were asked by God as suggestive of repentance, and an incentive to their faith in a Mediator; but they became an abomination and outrage when used to cover and excuse sin. 1. “Acceptable” offerings necessitate truth in the offerer. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” 2. Sacrifices are only “sweet” as they express the heart’s true love of God. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,” &c. He prizes the oblations of contrition, affection, and faith; these are “in the sight of God of great price.” Let all our sacrifices bear to God “the sweet savour of Christ,” being offered in dependence on His merits and mediation; for “with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
Jeremiah 6:21. Comments.
“Stumbling-blocks.” The Babylonian invaders (so Keil, Hend.), who would be instruments of Judah’s utter overthrow, eventuating in indiscriminate ruin. But another meaning may be given: The Jews having established themselves in courses of insincerity towards God, would sink into such general habits of insincerity among themselves (for the step is natural from falsity with God to falsity one with another), as to lead to utter social hypocrisy, anarchy, recrimination, antagonism, ruin. Every tie of family and friendship severed by the prevailing deceitfulness which wrecked all honour and alienated all affection. This is indeed but the fulfilment of a natural and moral law; the ultimate overthrow of deceivers, taken in their own nets; Haman hanged on the gallows he made for Mordecai.
“I will lay stumbling-blocks;” for it is God’s punitive law which works this infliction on the sinner of his own sin. “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
Jeremiah 6:22-26. See Homily on section, supra.
1. How furious the foe (Jeremiah 6:22-23). 2. How terrifying their attitude (Jeremiah 6:23). “Set in array,” &c. 3. How indefensible and weak the assailed. “Against thee, O daughter of Zion.” “Hide me, O my Saviour, hide!” 4. How paralysed with apprehension (Jeremiah 6:24). 5. How encompassed by the merciless adversary (Jeremiah 6:25). To “flee” (Jeremiah 6:1) is now impossible. What a literal foreshadowing and exposition is here of events at the “day of the Lord”! (comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). “Then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”
Jeremiah 6:26. Theme: A WOFUL SPECTACLE OF RUIN.
On the coming disasters the prophet’s eye now gazed; he foresaw it in all its vivid details, and from his pallid lips rose a wail of consternation, a cry of anguish over Zion.
I. A sight for patriotic anguish. “O daughter of my people!” He loved his nation, felt her woes, pitied her very weakness, lamented the dreadful spoliation at hand; yet could not interpose or save. How distressing this helpless pity! A father watches his dearest daughter agonise and die; but can do nothing—only writhe and weep. A patriot sees his nation wounded, wronged; yet is powerless to rescue or avenge. A pastor beholds the tender ones of his flock fall a prey to the despoiler; cannot deliver, only deplore. But Jesus saw humanity perishing; with infinite pity He sorrowed, and with infinite power He saved.
II. Judah abandoned to misery. “Gird with sackcloth, and wallow in ashes.” Yet this was not repentant anguish; for she still loved the sins which wrought her woe. Nor was it remedial anguish; for now rescue and redemption were for ever gone; her day of hope had passed. “The spoiler is come!” 1. It was permanent abandonment to misery. “Gird thee with sackcloth;” not merely clothe thee with it as if for a day only, but fasten it to thee as thine unchangeable attire; for the woe will not be transient.
2. It was extreme abandonment. “Wallow thyself in ashes.” To cast ashes upon the head showed deep grief; to sit down in ashes, yet deeper distress; but to “wallow” in them expresses unbearable anguish and intense self-abhorrence. Oh, how dreadful this condition for the tender and “delicate daughter of Zion”! (Jeremiah 6:2); how fearful the degradation and misery with which a sinful career closes!
III. The woful grief of despair. “Make thee mourning, as for an only son; most bitter lamentation.” Lit. “a lamentation of bitternesses” (plural): suggesting the many and aggravated occasions for her grief. 1. For her wilful career of rebellion against her patient God. 2. For the depths and intensity of her iniquities. 3. For the repudiation of her many opportunities of escape. 4. For the shameful and excruciating ruin into which she has fallen. 5. For the utter loss of all her honour and happiness. 6. For the dishonours which her conduct and ruin cast upon Jehovah’s name. 7. For the most bitter thought that hope and redemption were finally and irretrievably forfeited. “Oh, that thou hadst known, even thou, in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes” (Luke 19:41-44).
IV. Merciless spoliation of the foe. “The spoiler shall suddenly come upon thee.” Contrast Zion—“the perfection of beauty” before Nebuchadnezzar laid hand upon her; and the wild waste—blackened with fire, temple and walls demolished, and all her people carried away—to which she was reduced. How rightly called “the spoiler”! Contrast man—“in image of God,” redeemed by Jesus, visited by the Holy Spirit; with what he becomes when “earthly, sensual, devilish;” and when the soul is finally surrendered to the arch-spoiler’s ruin.
Is there no hope? None was left for Judah; but for us it is written, “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ!”
Jeremiah 6:27. Comments.
“I have set thee for a tower;” rather for a prover or refiner of metals. (Comp. Jeremiah 9:7.) “I will melt them and try them” (same verb). The prophet was set by God to be a touchstone to try the people, and prove what manner of spirit they were of. If they received his word, they were sterling ore; if not, they were reprobate silver, mere dross. In a larger sense, the Written Word, and also the Incarnate Word, are set for the trial of the world, “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”—Wordsworth.
“The power dwells in Christ’s word generally to compel men to separation and decision; for no one can remain neutral towards Him long. He makes manifest the real condition of the heart.”—Naeg.
Jeremiah 6:28. This gives the issue of the testing; the moral character of the people is hopelessly, irremediably bad; Jeremiah’s ministry had made that evident; they were like brass and iron, base and obdurate.
Jeremiah 6:29. “Bellows,” the prophets: “are burned,” consumed, worn out by continual blowing. Prophecy has exhausted all its fervour upon Judah. Jeremiah’s heart, consumed by the intensity and heat of divine inspiration, can labour no longer.
“As the bellows of the refiner are burnt in the midst of the fire, so the voice of the prophet is silenced which said, Turn ye to My law! And as the lead which melts in the fire, so the words of the prophets who prophesy to them are made of none effect, and the people are not profited by the teaching of their preacher, and do not repent of their sins.”—Targum.
“The lead is consumed of the fire.” Anciently, instead of quicksilver, lead was used for the liquefaction of silver, so as to separate the base ingredients from the precious metal. “When goldsmiths wish to purify the silver, they add lead to it. When preachers would try their hearers, they must apply the law. The fire is God’s Word (Jeremiah 23:29); the bellows, the Holy Spirit in the mouth of the teacher; the metal, the hearers.”—Cramer.
“The wicked are not plucked away.” “The bad are not separated,” i.e., the base ingredients, the bad principles and habits which prevail so much, and adhere so closely, that all the endeavours and pains of the refiner prove ineffectual, so that nothing remains but to throw them aside as a metal disallowed and cried down (Jeremiah 6:30) by authority, as counterfeiting silver, but not capable of being brought to the sterling standard.—Dr. Blayney. (See Addenda to chap. Jeremiah 6:27-30.)
i. God’s dealings and messages are designed to separate sinners from their sins. ii. He uses all means to qualify sinners for salvation ere He consigns them to destruction. iii. God proclaims them “reprobate” and “castaway” upon whom the energies of His grace are spent in vain.
Jeremiah 6:29. Theme: THE BELLOWS BURNED.
Prophets spoke in parables to excite attention, to illuminate a doctrine, to fix truth on the memory. “The bellows are burned.” Words apply:
I. To the prophet himself. He complains that he spake with such pathos, energy, force of heart, that he exhausted himself without being able to melt the people’s hearts; so hard was the ore that the bellows were burned before the metal was melted; the prophet was exhausted before the people were impressed. So also with Noah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Jesus Himself, though “never man spake like that Man.” Nor since, by apostles, confessors, zeal-consuming preachers has the iron-hearted world become melted; but they themselves have suffered and perished amid their work. “Bellows burned.”
1. It is the preacher’s business to continue labouring till he is worn out. 2. The Gospel he preaches is the infallible test between the precious and the vile.
II. To the afflictions which God sends upon ungodly men. Sent to see if they will melt in the furnace or not. But where there is no grace in affliction the afflictions are sooner exhausted than the sinner’s heart is made to melt under the heat caused thereby—e.g., Pharaoh, not softened by all the plagues. Ahaz, “when he was afflicted, he sinned yet more and more.” Jerusalem, often chastised, yet incorrigible. Sinners, upon whom God’s judgments exert no melting power.
III. To the chastisements which God sends upon His own people. The Great Refiner will have His gold pure, and will utterly remove our tin. There are unloving children, who will even rebel till they draw down blows upon themselves. Do not let it be said that the bellows are used till they are worn out before our afflictions melt us to repentance and cause us to let go our sins.
IV. The time is coming when the excitement of ungodly men will fail them. Many activities are kept up by outward energies inciting men. 1. Excitement in pursuit of wealth. Yet how little will the joys of wealth stimulate you in your last moments! 2. Excitement in pursuing fame. Alas! men burn away their lives for the approbation of fellow-creatures; and these fires will die down into darkness. 3. Living for pleasure; but satiety follows, and the flame of joy goes out. 4. Hypocrisy is with some their “bellows;” but this feigned zeal and pretended piety will end in black despair.
V. To those excitements which keep alive the Christian’s zeal. In certain Churches we have seen great blazings of enthusiasm, misnamed “revivals,” mere agitations. Genuine revivals I love; but these spurious things are fanaticism. Why was it the fire soon went out? The man who blew the bellows left the scene of excitement, and darkness ensued. Our earnestness is worthless which depends on such special ministrations. Is the fire in our soul burning less vehemently than in years past? Our obligations to live for Christ are the same; our Master’s claims on our love are as strong; the objects for which we served God in the past are as important. Should we grow less heavenly the nearer we come to the New Jerusalem? Of the true excitements of a Christian’s zeal it can never be said “the bellows are burned;” but if zeal is flagging, some other motive than a heavenly must have acted at the first. “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith;” if not, no wonder your piety declines.
“Let every flying hour confess
We bring Thy Gospel fresh renown;
And when our lives and labours cease
May we possess the promised crown.”
—C. H. Spurgeon.
NOTICEABLE TOPICS IN CHAPTER 6
Topic: DIFFICULTIES OF OLD AGE WITHOUT RELIGION. Text: “Woe unto us! for the day goeth away; for the shadows of the evening are stretched out” (Jeremiah 6:4).
A painful subject, but one to which it is necessary to call the attention of procrastinating man: the difficulties and sorrows of old age without a vital union with Christ and the comforts of His love.
I. That period of life during which the Saviour grants to men the privileges of the Gospel is known under the appellation of a day of grace; a day in which He waits for the sinner’s repentance, and is peculiarly ready to aid his efforts.
The great object to attain during continuance of this “day” is reconciliation to God. They who “seek Him early” are promised they “shall find Him.” If man be wise in the morning of that day of privilege, the way of return to God is filled with encouragement. In old age this reconciliation is rendered painful and embarrassing by this difficulty, “The day goeth away.” Period of grace almost come to a close. The aged sinner must necessarily reflect on long duration of mercy passed unimproved. Every privilege of the Gospel brought individual responsibility; render account therefore to holy God.
“Day goeth away:” it has been enjoyed in the fulness of its privileges; but since unimproved, tended only to increase the guilt and danger of the soul. For fifty years the Redeemer has called you, angels of mercy have watched for conversion, Divine Providence crowned your way with loving-kindness and tender mercy. How hard and difficult now to arouse your soul; or, if aroused, how difficult to combat your fears of being too late, of hope being lost through long delay!
II. Second difficulty to prevent the return of the aged sinner to Christ is, the short period of grace now left to him. “The shadows of evening are stretched out.”
Many wasted years gone; very few now remain for the soul’s salvation. As life passes away, the work to be done increases, yet time is diminished. Death now stands at the door. Aged sinner is tempted to despair of escaping the ruin so close upon him. Satan uses this difficulty which his own heart presents, and allures him to quiet himself under the load of his sins: there is now no opportunity for any slow work of grace.
III. Third difficulty in the way of aged sinners arises from the increased hardness of their hearts.
When young, conviction agitated their minds: solemn proclamation of Divine truth awoke attention; their eyes could weep under gospel preaching; affections could be attracted by hopes and promises; often felt excited towards a life of holiness and peace. Now, no such feelings. Unmoved. This hardness of heart, the necessary accompaniment of age, and of a long continuance in an unconverted state, forms a serious difficulty to returning to God.
IV. Fourth difficulty, as hedging up the aged sinner’s return, is the pride of character which attends the advanced periods of life.
Heart may be moved, conscience awakened, desire roused to lay down burden and find peace; but an assumed dignity and coldness of manner, are drawn over a broken and bleeding spirit, because the acknowledgment would be humiliating to the age and station of the individual. Yet soul must humble himself, if find rest. Age furnishes no exception; rather requires deeper abasement. This acknowledgment of sin and misery, to children, domestics, and friends—confession that all these years he has been wrong, is painful and repulsive.
Your time is short, difficulties are many. Yet “nothing impossible with God.” Immediately turn to Christ. Flee for refuge!—Rev. Stephen H. Tyng, Philadelphia.
Topic: THE GOOD WAY. Children’s Sermon. Text: “Ask for the good way” (Jeremiah 6:16).
A dream of children who went through gate, regardless of placard warning of danger, because bright and smiling flowers grew among the tall grass. Went on picking them; merry voices rang with glee; unconsciously went further into the tangled wood, lost all knowledge of way out, and terrified to find among the thick grass loathsome and poisonous snakes; hurrying from them they slipped down over hidden rocks into deep stagnant water, and lost. “Turn ye from evil ways, for why will ye die?” (See Isaiah 30:31.) Keep in “the old paths,” where taught to tread, though others invite.
I. Wrong ways are not so happy as they promise to be.
We do not deny that ways look inviting and “seem right,” even promise to prove “good,” but are evil and “end in death.” “Pleasures of sin,” although “wages of sin is death.” Very inviting, or not so many go. Excursion train dashed off gaily; but line insecure, and dreadful disaster ensued: would so many have gone had they known the way was dangerous? If you leave “old paths” because you think new ways not disastrous and more enjoyable.
1. Inviting ways do not always prove “good.” Do not judge that to be best which looks most attractive. Flowers not sweetest which are gayest. Nor fruit. You find out the delusion by trying them. Yes; you say, “We should like to try for ourselves the different ways, even those forbidden!” Rather prove for yourselves than take the word of others. But on a bottle at home is a label “Poison:” will you take the word of others, or try for yourselves? On rocks a lighthouse, warning ships of ruin: will any captain be so rash as try for himself, and steer ship to death? (Proverbs 14:12.) Scenes of amusement, self-indulgences, courses of irreligion, neglect of sanctuary and prayer: these invite you from “old paths;” but remember the degradation and misery of the prodigal son!
2. Your own way is not always happiest or best (Proverbs 13:15). We all like to have “our own way.” Many of us did for years, but heard Voice of Mercy call “Repent!” Remember that having their own way is just what the world of sinners is doing! (Isaiah 53:6.) As silly sheep. Will you do as the doomed world? Why, all home and Sabbath teaching is to warn you from that! (Comp. text with Jeremiah 6:7.) By doing this you “grieve the Spirit,” set yourself against Christ, allow yourself to be led captive by devil, and court doom. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian got out of “Slough,” but, instead of going to “Wicket Gate,” turned aside and wandered into terrors and troubles. But “Evangelist” met him, and put him in right way again. Who is Evangelist? Read Bible; obey text; hear Jesus, “I am the Way!” “Follow Me!”
II. The good way is happier far than it looks.
False thought that Christian life means sadness, “all joy darkened.” Yet true that Jesus says, “Take up cross and come after Me.”
1. Why is not the Christian way all easy? Bird teaching young to fly, how distressed the young seem! She might have spared them. Would it have been kindest? No; better they should learn to soar, though not easy. So child learns to walk; youth to breast the stream; boy brave the ordeals and trials of school. Nobler men. Boy with every fancy gratified, no hardships or self-denials, becomes selfish, self-willed, ruined. Crosses are rugged blessings.
2. Though not so attractive as other paths, the Christian way is really best. Two heaps of coins: new bright copper, old dull gold: yet the gold, though smaller and duller, the best.
3. The Christian way brings rest to those who tread it. Walking through open country, became lost amid different paths; worried and wearied; at length right, and soon at “rest;” for knew it was the one right way, and led safe home. Not wait till home (heaven) before have “rest.” Peace within now (Proverbs 12:28).
Think how many have gone that “good way” to heaven! B.C. 612 Jeremiah called it “old.” Now nearly A.D. 1900. Yet millions tread therein (Matthew 7:13-14). Take your place with the Christian followers. “Ways of pleasantness, and paths all peace.”
Topic: THE ANCIENT PATHS. Text: “Ask for the old paths” (Jeremiah 6:16).
In Palestine paths are the only thoroughfares; through indolence or selfishness even these became obliterated; then men who went from tribe to tribe were obliged to thread their way through thickets and over rocks in the most inconvenient way. Transition is easy from an outward physical path to a moral meaning: roads men walk with their feet suggest the road men’s thoughts habitually walk in, the path in which their feelings are accustomed to move, the way in which their conduct naturally flows.
In this secondary sense use text to point out the necessity, in all who would go right, of keeping upon the old ways, the ascertained ways, which, in the experience of mankind, have been proved beneficial. We are not to hold on to anything as if it were the perfect form of thought, or the final form of principle; but we are to hold on to all those things which long and ripe experience had shown to be beneficial until something more beneficial can be put in their place.
I. Our boast of novelty, our glorying in our newness, as if we were in advance of everybody and everything else, is a fanciful mistake. Our thoughts, and all the channels of our thoughts, are the result of the thought and experience of thousands of years that are gone by. Political habits and customs, knowledge of right and equity—these have been gradually unfolded through ages past. Combinations are new, elements are old. We did not first dig up the precious gold, nor first unlock the secrets of philosophy. Yet we congratulate ourselves that we do not belong to the old, slowly-moving ages; are proud of our progressiveness, and it is fashionable to make it a matter of boasting.
II. The present time is noticeable for an extraordinary outbreak of activity along new lines of thought and belief. Historic researches, disclosures of truths of the past, scientific discoveries and prophecies, have set imagination on fire; and men feel as though old things were passing away, and all becoming new. The consequences are
(a.) Men are inclined to doubt generally the social and moral results of past experience, to repudiate long accepted social maxims and customs. (b.) General distrust is being thrown upon religious teachings: not positive unbelief, but uncertainty. And by shaking confidence in religion its real power is destroyed. Thus thousands are abandoning old paths—old thoughts, usages, customs, habits, convictions, virtues. Tendency developed in this direction in art and literature. Leading men in history and science are tending away from the old grounds of Christianity. This is a fact of profound importance, and should command the attention of those who believe Christianity to be of God.
III. Consider that there are certain great permanencies of thought, character, and custom, especially necessary in our time. Note: (a.) That moral and social progress can never be so rapid as physical developments. Men cannot be changed in their principles, feelings, and inner life in the same ratio as external changes go on. Progress is always fastest in the lowest stages. You can teach men to accomplish great physical results, as in steam, telegraphy, &c.; but if you go higher and teach them to be more just, merciful, and pure, the process is slower. There is no proportion between the rapidity with which we develop in physical things and the rapidity with which we develop in that part of our manhood which is highest and divinest. (b.) There is danger in giving up any belief or custom which has been entwined in our moral sense. Regard as sacred the first principles of truth. What would be thought of a man who considered it necessary to perfection in literature that he should despise the alphabet? It was as necessary to Isaac Newton when he was fifty as when he was five years of age. It goes on with a man all his life long. It is not safe to remove even the imperfect things of man’s earlier life until they are superseded by something higher. Better the Parsee should worship light than by astronomical proofs to destroy his delusions, and so leave him with no God. So with heathenism; with those who slavishly bow their souls to authority of the Church; with votaries of Romish error,—it is not safe to take away a man’s view because it is inaccurate, unless you give him a more accurate view. You thereby destroy his faith, however faulty, and thus have destroyed the life that was in him, and left him a desert. (c.) In the transition from a lower to a higher form of belief there is peril. Dangerous to pass from one religion espoused in youth, to another espoused in manhood. Many have sailed out of the harbour of Popery, and been wrecked ere they reached the harbour of Protestantism. Thousands have deserted the orthodoxy in which early taught, and never got into any other religion at all. Hence, we are not to think it our duty in a headlong way to change men’s belief simply because they are erroneous. As if changing from one mode of belief to another was going to change the conscience, reason, moral susceptibility, and character.
IV. The relinquishment of trust or of practice should always be from worse to better. If a man has a poor way of looking at religion, care less to convince him of his poverty than quietly to convince him of a better way. If you want a traveller to have a better road, make that better road, and then he will need no argument to persuade him to walk in it. If you are teaching that one intellectual system is better than another, and that one religious organisation, church, or creed, is better, prove it by presenting better fruit than the other, and men will need little argument beyond. The first proof that a man holds a better system of religion than his neighbour, should be in himself: the life will be the evidence. If a Church breeds meekness, fortitude, love, courage, disinterestedness; if it makes noble men—uncrowned but undoubted princes—then it is a Church, a living epistle which will convince men. What we want is not change, except for betterment.
V. All new truths, like new wines, must have a period of fermentation. Daring leaders in science—I believe them to be men who are throwing out ore which, when it is smelted and purified, is to be precious indeed. Germs of truth are in their moral teaching. But, shall men abandon old beliefs, and take these germs of truth that lie in the heavens like mere nebulous clouds?
(a.) All truths are at first on probation; must be scrutinised, persecuted, ransacked, vindicated. We are not wise if we follow these new lights before knowing what they are, their extent and practical application.
(b.) Guard against wild and unreasonable urgency in throwing off traditional faiths and truths, for those you can discover for yourselves. Accept what other men construct for you. This is a factor in civilisation. Yet when men come to questions of religious belief they deem it unmanly that others should think for them! We are so related, by the laws of God, one to another, that no man can think out everything for himself. Is it then wiser to plunge into the realm of nothingness or the unknown, to give up your belief at once when its validity is questioned? or is it not wiser to hold on to the faith of your father and mother till you can see something better still? It is wiser for man to abide by the truths and laws of God till better ones can be substituted.
VI. We do well to look cautiously at new truths and those who advocate them. There is a tendency to praise scientific men as though they were the only persons who applied themselves to find out facts. But remember scientific men are no better than other men; no more likely to be right in spirit, just as likely to be vain and arrogant. They are all human; are to be absolute authorities for nobody. There is a conceit, a dogmatism, a bigotry of science, as really as there is of religion. Application:
1. That all the tendencies which narrow the moral sense and enlarge the liberty of the passions are dangerous. 2. All tendencies which increase self-conceit are to be suspected and disowned. “Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? There is more hope of a fool than of him.” 3. Those tendencies which extinguish in a man all spiritual elements, such as arise from faith in God, in our spirituality and immortality, must inevitably degrade our manhood. No heroism ever grows out of abnegation of these great truths. 4. All tendencies which take away your hope of and belief in another world, take away your motive for striving to reach a higher life. Without this hope men will have a weary pilgrimage in a world of unbelief.
Make better paths if you will, but abandon not the old: and least of all abandon that one which leads straight to Jerusalem. For along that way the ransomed of the Lord shall return with songs unto Zion.—H. Ward Beecher.
ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 6 ILLUSTRATIONS AND SUGGESTIVE EXTRACTS
Jeremiah 6:1. “Set up a sign of fire.” Fire signs are used as a telegraph in some parts of the South Seas. A native at Tanna, in giving me the news one morning, said, “There will be a party over from the island of Anciteum to-day or to-morrow.” “How do you know?” “Because we saw a great bonfire rising there last night.” The natives of heathen islands are also in the habit of kindling fires as a smoke signal to attract the notice of a vessel which may be off their shore. Sometimes, when we are wondering whether there are any natives among the dense bush which we see from the ship, up goes a column of smoke and removes all doubt.”—Turner’s “Polynesia.”
Jeremiah 6:4. “Woe unto us, for the day goeth away.”
Propitious opportunities lost. “Opportunities are the golden spots of time, like the pearl in the oyster-shell, of much more value than the shell that contains it. There is much time in a short opportunity.”—Flavel.
The proverb, “Take time by the forelock,” had its origin in the old pictures of Father Time, who appeared as bald-headed, excepting a lock of hair upon his forehead. Our fathers were accustomed to bury an hour-glass with the dead, as a symbol of time and opportunity utterly past away.—J. G. Pilkington.
Grotius, the laborious scholar, had for his motto, “Hora ruit.” Seneca taught that time was the only thing of which it is a virtue to be covetous.
“In the city of Basle, Switzerland, it was the custom to have all the clocks of the city an hour a-head of time, for the following reason: Once an enemy was moving upon the city, and their stratagem was to take the city at 12 o’clock; but the cathedral clock, by mistake, struck 1 instead of 12, and so the enemy thought that they were too late to carry out the stratagem, and gave up the assault, and the city was saved.”—Talmage.
Jeremiah 6:6. “Hew ye down trees.” The importance of preserving fruit-bearing trees from destruction in sieges [cf. Deuteronomy 20:19-20] is evident, when we remember how much larger a proportion of man’s subsistence than in our climates is, in the East, derived from fruit-bearing trees. Among the Syro-Arabian nations, their destruction is regarded as a sacrilege. It is related that in one of his wars, Mohammed cut down the date-trees of the Ben Nadi (a tribe of Jews in Arabia); and, in order to justify this act to his own indignant followers, he had to produce a pretended revelation sanctioning the deed: “This revelation came down: What palm-trees ye cut down, or left standing on their roots, were so cut down or left by the will of God, that He might disgrace the evil-doers.” Plutarch says that similar regulations restrained the Egyptians from destroying fruit-trees. Other nations were less scrupulous, as among them the Assyrians (and, doubtless, the Babylonians also); for, in at least one instance, we have noticed a palm-tree being cut down outside a besieged city. Josephus expressly records the destruction of trees by the Romans. So completely has this prophecy been fulfilled, that the neighbourhood of Jerusalem has become entirely divested of trees in the course of the successive sieges to which the city has been exposed. When the Crusaders under Godfrey commenced their siege, no timber could be found for the construction of their engines.—Kitto.
Jeremiah 6:7. Continuity of sin. “If you commit one sin, it is like the melting of the lower glacier upon the Alps, the others must follow in time. Set the coral insect at work, you cannot decree where it shall stay its work. It will not build its rock just as high as you please, it will not stay until an island be created.”—Spurgeon.
Jeremiah 6:8. “Lest my soul depart from thee.”
God’s withdrawment from man. “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 withdraw 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?”—Joseph Parker.
Jeremiah 6:9. “Glean Israel as a vine.” “God has two kinds of vintage: one is in grace, when He plucks His glorious grapes, the fruit of good works, and says, ‘Destroy it not, for there is a blessing with it’ (Isaiah 65:8). But where He finds only poisonous berries (Isaiah 5:2), He employs other vintagers with iron gloves, and presses them out in His anger (Revelation 14:20), till neither stem nor stalk is left.”—Cramer.
Jeremiah 6:10. “God’s Word: no delight in it.” A wealthy gentleman invited his servants, on a festive occasion, into his house to receive presents. “What will you have?” said he, addressing the groom, “this Bible, or a twenty-dollar note?” “I would take the Bible, sir, but I cannot read; so I think the money will do me more good.” “And you?” he asked the gardener. “There is illness at home, sir, and I sadly want the money.” “You can read,” said the old man, turning to the cook, “will you have this Bible?” “I can read,” was her reply, “but I never have time to look into a book, and I need fresh garments most.” Last came the errand-boy. “My lad,” said his kind benefactor, “will you take these twenty dollars, for you surely want new clothes, or would you like the Bible?” “Thank you, sir, my mother has taught me that the law of the Lord is better than thousands of gold and silver, I will have the good book, if you please.” As the boy received the Bible and unclasped its covers, a bright gold piece rolled on the floor. Quickly turning its pages, he found them interleaved with bank notes, while his fellow-servants, discovering the mistake of their worldly covetousness, hastily departed in chagrin.—Dictionary of Illustrations.
Jeremiah 6:11. “A classification of society.” “Children, young men,” &c. Five stages of human life are successively marked out. The children, with no higher object in life than a game of play in the streets (Zechariah 8:5). The youths, in what in modern phrase we should call their clubs, for such is the meaning of the word rendered “assembly,” whether they meet there for friendly converse (Psalms 89:7), for merriment (Jeremiah 15:17), or for that love of secret combination so natural at their age (Proverbs 15:22, cf. Psalms 55:14). Next comes middle age, represented by the “husband with his wife.” Then the elder, the man who has grown-up children (here called “the aged”), but is strong and vigorous. Lastly, the man whose “days are full,” whose work is done, and who has but one thing left—to die.—Speaker’s Com.
Jeremiah 6:13. “Every one given to covetousness.” As the dog in Æsop’s fable lost the real flesh for the shadow of it, so the covetous man casts away the true riches for the love of the shadowy.—Adams.
Jeremiah 6:14. “Peace, where there is no peace.” It is a lamentable fact that, without any hireling shepherd to cry “Peace,” men will cry that for themselves. They need not the syren song to entice them to the rocks of presumption and rash confidence. There is a tendency in their own hearts to put sweet for bitter,—to think well of their evil estate and foster themselves in proud conceit. Let men alone, let no deluder seek to deceive them, bush for ever every false and tempting voice, they will themselves, impelled by their own pride, run to an evil conceit, and make themselves at ease, though God Himself is in arms against them. To be tormented on account of sin is the path to peace, and happy shall I be if I can hurl a firebrand into your hearts.—Spurgeon.
Jeremiah 6:16. “Old path: good way.” The case assumed is that of a traveller, who, on his journey, finds himself at the opening of many ways, and knows not with any assurance which of them leads by the safest and most direct road to his resting-place. He seeks a most ancient city, the way to which men have traversed in all ages. That fresh footpath, through the flowery meadows—that bridle-path round by the marshes—this fresh cutting through the hills,—these will not do for him: he must ask for the old path. But there may be more old paths than one. The broad and pleasant way that leadeth to destruction is as old as the straight road that leadeth unto life, and far better frequented. It is, therefore, necessary to seek not only “the old path,” but the good way.” Although every old way may not be good, the good way is certainly old; if, therefore, the traveller finds and follows the way that is both old and good, he is safe—he shall without fail reach his home at last, and “find rest for his soul.”—Kitto.
Jeremiah 6:16. “Rest for your souls.” St. Augustine, after having given himself to every form of pleasure and gratification which the world provided, was at length brought to repose in the faith, and began his “Confessions” with the words, “Thou, O Lord, hast created us for Thyself, and restless is our heart until it finds rest in Thee.” Dryden used to avow himself contented when sitting under the statue of Shakespeare; and Buffon, the naturalist, spoke of the happiness he felt when sitting at the feet of Sir Isaac Newton; but we know Him who invites us to sit at His feet, thus choosing, as Mary did, “the good part,” and says, “Learn of me, and ye shall find rest to your souls.”
Jeremiah 6:27-30. The prophet, in the first figure, represents himself as a trier of metals, who first takes the rough ore in hand in order mineralogically to distinguish its constituent parts. In the second figure, the ore is exposed to fire, in order in that way to test its metallic value (Jeremiah 6:29). In what follows, he makes use of a third figure: Israel is here definitely presented as silver ore; but in the smelting, it appears that the silver is so mingled with the stone that the production of clear, pure silver is impossible.—Naeg.
Jeremiah 6:30. “Reprobate silver.” This, then, is the end: “The Lord hath rejected them.” The smelter is God’s prophet, the bellows the breath of inspiration; the flux, his earnestness in preaching. But in vain does the fervour of prophecy essay to melt the hearts of the people. They are so utterly corrupt that no particle even of pure metal can be found in them. All the refiner’s art is in vain. They have rejected all God’s gifts and motives for their repentance, and, therefore, Jehovah has rejected them as an alloy too utterly adulterate to repay the refiner’s toils.—Speaker’s Com.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Jeremiah 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13