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ZION’S PITIFUL ESTATE
THE first half of this chapter is occupied with details connected with the ruthless overthrow and harrowing incidents in the conquest of Jerusalem. Distinct and vigorous expression is thereafter given to the intense conviction that the terrific disasters were traceable to the iniquities of the people, and especially of the ruling classes. They suffered from the anger of the Lord; but He would not contend for ever. There is hope that, after meting out justice to oppressors, He would arise and have mercy upon Zion, for the time to favour her: yea, the set time had come. The shadows of the night were very dense, but streaks across them betoken to the spiritual eye that day is breaking, the day of restoration.
(א) Lamentations 4:1. How is the gold dimmed. Not a mere diminution of its brightness, but a tarnishing which lowered the estimate of the ore. The most pure gold changed; something more than an alteration in the appearance of the purified metal is observed. The alteration is not in its substance, but in its depreciated value. The stones of the sanctuary—not only were precious stones worn on the garments of the High Priest, but the Temple also was garnished for beauty with them—are poured out at the head of every street. If this is regarded as having reference to the costly stones of the House of the Lord, the objection naturally arises that no enemy would be so reckless as to strew such precious material all over the city. Rather the whole verse is to be considered as a figurative representation of the sad lot of Jerusalem, not of its buildings but of its inhabitants, which will be told of in some verses following. A similar comparison is made by the prophet Zechariah, who foretells that the sons of Zion shall he as the stones of a crown, only not cast down, as here, but lifted on high (Zechariah 9:16).
(ב). Lamentations 4:2 defines the objects of which the preceding verse was an illustration. The precious sous of Zion, grouping all the people together, a kingdom of priests, an holy nation, comparable to, weighed in one scale against fine gold in the other, he is astonished to see as in utter contrast with what they were. Three varieties of gold are mentioned—gold, pure gold, fine gold—as if the sons of Zion were precious beyond the most precious things; but the contrast between the high estimate and the degraded reality, between what the Lord formed them to be and foes had reduced them to, forces out the cry, How are they reckoned as earthen pitchers, made from ignoble materials by human hands, and easily broken to pieces (Jeremiah 19:11).
Their humiliating condition is evidenced in children, adults, nobles, and mothers.
The destruction of Jerusalem was an event so unexpected, so unparalleled, so astounding, that it seemed as if it could not be sufficiently lamented. The grief of the prophet is not yet exhausted. Once more he looks upon the fated city as it gradually but inevitably collapses in the tightening grasp of the relentless besiegers, and as he sees the miseries of his countrymen in their direful extremity, he renews his doleful elegy. He reiterates the doctrine that the sufferings of Judah are the just punishment of her sins, and not until the chastisement has had its proper effect is there any hope of her restoration. These verses describe the moral degradation and wretchedness of the sufferers, and suggest the following reflections.
I. That moral degradation is the more evident when compared with a former condition of superior excellence. The people of God are called “the precious sons of Zion,” and their moral excellence is compared to “the most fine gold,” and to the hallowed “stones of the sanctuary.” Judah was a chosen and consecrated nation, and enjoyed unexampled privileges. She was raised not only into temporal affluence and splendour, but was intended to represent the lofty type of a moral and spiritual commonwealth. She was the custodian and teacher of spiritual blessings that were to enrich the world. She was the medium through which Jehovah sought to express His gracious purpose of salvation to the whole human race. No nation had been so exalted and so honoured. While she remained faithful to her calling, Judah was supreme and invulnerable among the nations. She shone with the lustre of the most fine gold, and her position was as secure as that of an impregnable fortress. But when she sinned she fell, and her fall was the more notable when contrasted with her former greatness and grandeur.
II. That moral degradation is a loss of character and stability. The moral reputation of Judah was tarnished—the gold was dimmed, the most fine gold changed. Three kinds of gold are mentioned in these verses—gold, most fine gold, and fine (or solid) gold. The precious metal not only lost its brilliancy but also its massiveness: it became thin and hollow. The religious character of God’s people, which was compact and strong as the solid building of the sanctuary, is shattered, and lies in a heap of ruins, like the stones of the demolished Temple that now block the streets of Jerusalem. Its moral value is destroyed. It is now of no more worth than a piece of brittle earthenware, which the swift hands of the potter can easily put together and as easily break. Sin is a great disintegrator of character. The external form may appear unchanged long after decay has set in; but the mischief is slowly and surely working, and the final collapse is inevitable. Nothing is safe where righteousness is ignored, whether in individuals or in nations.
III. That moral degradation is the occasion of painful lamentation. “How is the gold become dim! How is the most fine gold changed! How are they esteemed as earthen pitchers” (Lamentations 4:1-2). Even the most callous are sometimes moved to pity as they witness the downfall of excellence which they often envied and could not reach. Misfortune softens the hard-hearted. But who can sound the depths of anguish of the soul that realises the greatness of the disaster occasioned by the fall of morality and religion! It is the loss of personal righteousness, happiness, and peace; the loss of national prestige; the loss of all the safeguards of social life; the loss of untold blessing to the world; and, greatest of all, the loss of the favour and smile of God! In the midst of moral wreckage and ruin, it is a hopeful sign when even one is left who sincerely mourns and laments the catastrophe. The tears of such an one shine with the lustre of the goodness whose loss he deplores.
1. Religion only can make a nation truly illustrious.
2. When religion declines, the glory of the nation is obscured.
3. The loss of religion should be not only lamented, but should lead to diligent search after its recovery.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 4:1-2. Moral character: I. Is the basis of individual worth. II. Gives reputation and stability to individual life. III. Needs to be carefully guarded.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Lack of moral sense. It is no exaggeration to assert that Napoleon I., strangely called the Great, had no moral sense. Carlyle tells the story of a German emperor who, when corrected for a mistake he made in Latin, replied, “I am King of the Romans, and above grammar.” Napoleon’s arrogance was infinitely greater. He thought himself above morality, and really seems to have believed that he had a perfect right to commit any crime, political or personal, that would advance his interests by an iota; and indeed he did commit so many it is almost impossible to recount them.
Moral degradation affects work. The corrupted Papacy of the fifteenth century so injuriously affected the art world, that from that time there was a serious decline in all the arts of painting. sculpture, and architecture. The degradation of religion first touched public morality, and then spread to all the arts. Character tells on skill. Where the heart declines, the hand will soon disclose it. The “work of our hands” is only established as “the beauty of the Lord is upon us.”—Ruskin.
Degeneration. In the Central Park Museum, at New York, there is the skeleton of a huge bird, now extinct. It is 14 feet in height; and by its side is a stuffed specimen of another bird not more than 14 inches. The latter is the nearest living representative of the former, which once abounded in New Zealand.
Degeneration of character. Rarely does a successful merchant who comes to New Orleans as a young man from the cooler latitudes leave a son who inherits the father’s energy. One generation is enough to change character. A city that lies below the level of the river which washes its wharves, and only a few feet above the poisonous swamps surrounding it, and which has six sweltering summer months, must always continue to draw upon the north for new men to carry on its larger business activities.—Smalley.
Moral degradation of drink. It is in the spiritual realm that the ravages of strong drink are most terrible. Many a mother observes, with a heart that grows heavier day by day, the signs of moral decay in the character of her son. It is not the flushed face and heavy eyes that trouble her the most; it is the evidence that his mind is becoming duller and fouler, his sensibilities less acute, his sense of honour less commanding. She discovers that his loyalty to truth is somewhat impaired, that he deceives her frequently without compunction. Coupled with this loss of truthfulness is the weakening of the will, which always accompanies chronic alcoholism. Then comes the loss of self-respect, the lowering of ambition, and the fading out of hope. It is a mournful spectacle—that of the brave, the ingenuous, high-spirited man sinking steadily down to the degradation of inebriety; but how many such spectacles are visible all over the land!
A good character a blessing. “When Peter Cooper, the New York Philanthropist, held a reception at the Women’s Art School shortly before his death, a most impressive testimony was given of the high regard in which his character was held. It was interesting to note the various manners of the crowd who approached him. “Mr. Cooper, we must put our little boy’s hand in yours,” said a young couple, with a child five or six years old at their side. Then a group of boys would come along and stand curiously regarding him from a short distance. “That’s Mr. Cooper,” they whispered in an undertone. And so the evening wore away, and ten thousand people had come and gone through the great bright halls and schoolrooms, and Mr. Cooper’s presence had put a good thought or feeling into everybody’s heart. I can see him now, with his smiling face and interested look, and his soft white hair waving over his shoulders, amid flowers, lights, and cheerful music, whilst his presence brooded like a benediction over the swaying and surging crowd.
(ג). Lamentations 4:3. Beasts of prey show affection for their brood. Even the jackals draw out—present—the breast; a familiar fact testifying that they were true to their instincts, they suckle their whelps; but in miserable contrariety to this, the daughter of my people has become otherwise; unwilling to give nourishment to their babes, they show themselves cruel, like ostriches in the desert. This arraignment of the wild birds is according to ideas current at the time, and reported in the Book of Job. She leaveth her eggs on the earth … she is hardened against her young ones, as if they were not hers (Job 39:14; Job 39:16). Later observations require some modification of this account of the habits of the ostrich; but the writers of the Sacred Scriptures had not a knowledge of Nature beyond their times.
This fearful, unnatural result of the extreme trials of the Israelites had its correlated feature.
(ד). Lamentations 4:4. The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth, because of getting no milk. The young children ask bread, and no one divides to them the cakes in which form it was made.
(ה) Lamentations 4:5. Adults also are distressed. They that did feed delicately, in the fastidiousness of luxury, are desolate in the streets, with no one to serve them, with no means to satisfy hunger, perishing. They that were brought up in scarlet, those of the wealthy classes, accustomed to use the most expensive cloth, lay themselves, in sheer despair, on the dirt-heaps which have accumulated in the ruined city. Like Dives, clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day, they too are in darkness—only they in the visible, he in the invisible world.
(ו) Lamentations 4:6. Those awful distresses were due to the way in which the people had lived. The crying wickedness of Sodom is again and again denounced by prophets as a warning to the Israelites. Here that wickedness is minified, and, from the long drawn out sufferings of the latter, it is implied that the iniquity—not the punishment of the iniquity, a translation which has not been established from the usage of the two corresponding Hebrew words elsewhere—of the daughter of my people is greater than the sin of Sodom. The Cities of the Plain had not the advantage which the Jews had, who were intrusted with the oracles of God, and their guilt was less. The supreme authority of Jesus Christ stands behind the declaration that it would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for those who refused the light of life. Moreover, Sodom was destroyed by a sudden stroke—no protracted sufferings, no starved, wailing children, no mothers eating their own infants, overthrown as in a moment, and by forces in which no human agency had any part; hands did not encircle her. No enemies brandished their swords against her inhabitants, investing her on every side. God can paralyse all industries and destroy a community without man’s aid. The ground of this preference of Sodom is that a trouble direct from God is more bearable than one inflicted by man, and was expressed by King David, Let me fall into the hand of Jehovah … let me not fall into the hand of man (1 Chronicles 21:13).
(ז) Lamentations 4:7. Men under religious vows could not have been so numerous as to form a conspicuous element in the population. Nor is there any reason to suppose that they were noted for a fine physique. Besides, the Hebrew word is not confined to those who are professed Nazarites, but applies to such as were distinguished from others. So Joseph, in Jacob’s dying forecasts, is described as him that was nazin, separate from [marg. that it prince among] his brethren (Genesis 49:26). Her nobles were purer than snow, &c. Still another feature characterised them, they were more ruddy in body than rubies. “The white and red are to be understood as mixed, and shading into one another, as our popular poetry speaks of cheeks which ‘like milk and purple shine’ ” (Delitzsch); My beloved is white and ruddy (Song of Solomon 5:10); “My love is like the red, red rose” (Scottish song). Sapphire was their polishing [lit. figure]. The comparison, however, can only be with the brilliancy of the gem, not with its shape. The appearance of the nobles, as here described, indicates that their faces were not bronzed and seamed by exposure to all kinds of weather; no engrained dust from toiling day after day darkened their complexion. They looked as those who live delicately in king’s courts. But now—
(ח) Lamentations 4:8. Darker than blackness is their visage; they are not recognised in the streets as members of the aristocracy; nothing marks them off from the labouring classes. Their skin cleaveth to their bones, they are emaciated and shrivelled through hunger and anguish, and the skin is become dry as wood.
(ט) Lamentations 4:9. One melancholy contrast suggests another, i.e., between those who are dead and those who are tortured by want. Better are the slain by the sword than the slain by hunger. The next clause is more descriptive of the condition of the former than of the latter. The advantage of less prolonged and gnawing pains is with those who pine away [lit. flow away, as sinking from loss of blood gushing from ghastly wounds], pierced through at a time when there was no lack of food from the fruits of the field.
(י) Lamentations 4:10. A more dreadful fact is related in regard to the little ones than that in Lamentations 4:3-4. The hands of tender-hearted women—not servants or hirelings, but themselves—have boiled their own children; they became meat for them in that climax of sufferings, the destruction of the daughter of my people. Moral duty is sacrificed, and unnatural crimes committed at the shrine of physical cravings.
THE EXTREMITY OF SUFFERING
I. Deadens natural affection (Lamentations 4:3-4). Maternal instincts are demoralised in the straitness of the siege. Little children are left to perish, without any effort to relieve their wants or soothe their sufferings. In vain they ask for bread; no attempt is made to allay their hunger and thirst. Absorbed in their own intolerable miseries, the wretched mothers sink below the instincts of the wild beasts, for even the jackals suckle their young. They are become like the cruel crocodile, which, after laying its eggs in the sand, abandons them without further care. The infants pine to death, unheeded and unmourned. Excessive suffering denaturalises man and woman.
II. Drags down all classes to one level (Lamentations 4:5). The wealthy are now even as the poor. They who fared sumptuously, and whose tastes were pampered with the most delicate viands, are now sullenly starving to death with the crowd. They who were clothed in scarlet, and accustomed to every refinement from their infancy, are now content to stretch themselves on the dirt-heaps of the city, and eager to devour any offal they may pick up amid the general scramble for food. All men find a universal communism in suffering. Human extremity knows no distinction in ranks and titles. Hunger drags every one to the same level.
III. Prefers a swift to a lingering punishment (Lamentations 4:6). The destruction of Sodom, which filled a large space in the Jewish mind as an example of the terrible judgment of Heaven on extreme iniquity, was regarded as light compared with the sufferings of Jerusalem. The punishment of Sodom was sudden, and came direct from God; but the punishment of Judah was by the hands of the Chaldeans, and was slow and lingering. David preferred to be dealt with directly from God, and chose pestilence rather than injuries inflicted by human hands (2 Samuel 24:14). But the iniquity of Judah was greater than the sin of Sodom, and the punishment was therefore more severe. There is a point in suffering when we yearn for a speedy release; when death is welcome.
IV. Reduces the healthiest from beauty to hideousness (Lamentations 4:7-8). The Nazarites, because of their temperance, were remarkable for health and personal beauty, and were held in veneration because of their religious devotion (comp. Numbers 6:0). Their complexion was ruddy as coral, and the beauty of their physical form was as exact and faultless as is the cutting of a sapphire. But the most distinguished of the population, whether Nazarites or of the aristocracy, are involved in the general calamity, and suffer with the rest. Their rosebud complexion is turned to blackness, their frame is shrunk and distorted, and their skin is shrivelled and dry. Famine plays havoc with beauty, and brings the strongest down to helplessness.
V. Recoils not from the most horrible means of appeasing the irresistible pangs of hunger (Lamentations 4:9-10). Such were the sufferings of the famished, that they who were slain with the sword were deemed happier than those who were pierced with the dart of unappeased hunger. So extreme was the famine, that cannibalism became common, and women who were known as tender-hearted mothers actually boiled and ate their own children (comp. 2 Kings 6:28-29; Leviticus 26:29; Deuteronomy 28:56-57; Josephus’s “Wars,” cap. 10:9). It is a fearful experience when the animal in human nature gains the mastery over every other instinct.
1. Extremity makes strange revelations of human nature.
2. The restraints of civilisation are very superficial.
3. Sin acquaints the soul with the lowest depths of degradation.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 4:3-10. The rigour of war. I. Demoralises maternal affection (Lamentations 4:1). II. Involves innocent children in suffering (Lamentations 4:2). III. Reduces all classes to poverty and distress (Lamentations 4:5; Lamentations 4:7-8). IV. Prolongs the misery of its victims (Lamentations 4:6). V. Is attended with the worst results of famine (Lamentations 4:9-10).
Lamentations 4:6. Graduated punishment.
I. Is proportioned to the character and degree of the sin committed. II. Its severity implies the enormity of the offence. III. Cannot be charged with injustice.
Lamentations 4:7-10. The horrors of famine. I. Changes strength into feebleness and beauty into deformity (Lamentations 4:7-8). II. Is more cruel than the sword (Lamentations 4:9). III. Debases the most refined into cannibals (Lamentations 4:10).
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Degradation. Is it not wonderful that base desires should so extinguish in men the sense of their own excellency, as to make them willing that their souls should be like to the souls of beasts, mortal and corruptible with their bodies?—Hooker.
There have been those—
“Who, in the dark dissolving human heart,
And hallowed secrets of this microcosm,
Dabbling, with shameless jest, a shameful band,
Encarnalised their spirits.”
Importance of food. Temperature has less influence in inciting the migration of birds than failure of food; for a few even of the regular migrants will linger throughout the winter at sheltered localities, where food remains accessible, safely daring the severest cold. Hunger means loss of heat and life, and it is this the birds primarily flee. No attraction to Christians like spiritual food. “Tie them up by the teeth,” as Mr. Spurgeon says.
Necessity a teacher. “Life and the necessities of life are the best philosophers, if we will only listen honestly to what they say to us; and dislike the lesson as we may, it is cowardice which refuses to hear it.”—Froude.
—The wife of a certain chieftain who had fallen upon idle habits, one day lifted the dish-cover at dinner, and revealed a pair of spurs; a sign that he must ride and hunt for his next meal.
Help in extremity. In the Magdalen Islands, off the Newfoundland coast, the means of livelihood is almost entirely found in the fisheries, and if these fail, life becomes a burden. In 1883 a famine occurred which came near to decimating the population. The fisheries failed; the ship which was expected to bring the winter’s supply before the ice formed foundered in a storm. By the time spring came, starvation stared the people in the face. Many must have died had not a large ship filled with produce been wrecked off Coffin Island. The news spread like wildfire. The population turned out, and from the cargo of a shipwrecked vessel drew a new lease of life.
Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. It is a current saying, “That the darkest cloud precedes the dawn,” and that “Every dark cloud has a silver lining.” Early risers tell us that the lowest temperature immediately precedes the sun-rising. These things serve to illustrate God’s kingdom of grace. “Before honour is humility.” “Thou has lifted me up and cast me down.” “How long, O Lord, how long?”
(כ) Lamentations 4:11 is a conclusion from the immediately preceding verses, as Lamentations 4:6 is from those preceding it. Jehovah has accomplished, i.e., has put forth a full measure of, His fury; has poured out the fierceness of His anger, and one method of its action is He has kindled a fire in Zion, and has devoured her foundations. The scenes of horror which have been depicted show the meeting-place of Zion’s guilt and its Divine punisher. God’s fierce wrath is the blast which consumes flagrant iniquities. The entire demolition of the former principles dominating the Israelites is thus symbolised, and so signifies that room is made for the new spirit which shall possess the restored captivity when they lay again the foundations of the House of the Lord.
A change of features is to be presented now by sketching, not so much the disasters on classes of the people, as the causes by which they were produced, and the baffled hopes ensuing.
(ל) Lamentations 4:12. The kings of the earth—men who might be considered experts—believed not, neither all the inhabitants of the world—men who were moved by appearances and common hearsay—that an adversary … should enter into the gates of Jerusalem. This belief cannot be merely “a deep subjective conviction.” Whether or not the city was previously taken is a matter of no importance. What is stated is a general opinion. The unverified belief would be grounded on the knowledge of the strong situation and careful fortifications of Jerusalem, which, with the means of siege then at command, might be considered almost impossible of capture. It was invested a year and a half before capture by the greatest warrior of the age. Besides this, there may well have been, since the remarkable repulse of Sennacherib, a wide-spread supposition, as when the tribes emerged from the desert, that the God of Israel was very mighty in the defence of His worshippers, and would not let His sacred city be subjugated.
THE DESTRUCTION OF ZION
I. Was thorough and complete. “The Lord kindled a fire in Zion, and it devoured the foundations thereof” (Lamentations 4:11). The holy city, the pride of the Jews and the envy of their enemies, was utterly overthrown. Not only were its walls, towers, palaces, and Temple demolished, but its very foundations were dug up and scattered: one stone was not left upon another. It was degraded and spurned by the resolute destroyers as a heap of useless rubbish. It was impossible for the rage of man to make a more complete ruin. In the intention of the irate Chaldeans it was destroyed for ever. And yet the Divine Guardian of the holy city allowed all this!
II. Was undeniable evidence of the reality of the Divine anger. “The Lord hath accomplished His fury: He hath poured out His fierce anger” (Lamentations 4:11). There was more of the righteous anger of Jehovah against the obstinate sin of His people in the destruction of Jerusalem, than there were skill and ferocity in the Chaldean army. The enemy would have been powerless to pierce the city bulwarks if the people had remained true to Jehovah, and sheltered themselves in humble trust beneath His all-powerful defence. But the wrath of God was provoked beyond the limit of further endurance, and the Chaldeans were used as the instruments of His vengeance. Surely the eyes of the suffering people were at last opened to see in the utter destruction of their beloved city that Jehovah was indeed angry with them.
III. Was a result deemed incredible by the nations. “The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem” (Lamentations 4:12). Jerusalem was so strongly fortified, not only by massive walls and bulwarks, but by the strength and heroism of its inhabitants, that it was deemed impregnable to all warlike forces of that day. Moreover, it was regarded as the dwelling-place of the Great King, who had hitherto baffled all attempts to capture it. The recent defeat of Sennacherib, one of the greatest warriors of the age, was fresh in the memory of the people. The belief gained general currency that the city could not be taken. It was invested for a year and a half by the Chaldean forces, furnished with the most powerful engines of assault, before it was actually captured. Its fall was the amazement of the world. What was believed impossible had come to pass. Others saw, what the Jews were slow to acknowledge, that their God had deserted them and given them up to the destroyer.
1. The holiest place may be polluted by sin,
2. Persistent sin provokes Divine vengeance.
3. Divine wrath is not poured out till every opportunity is given for repentance.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 4:11. The Divine anger.
1. Will accomplish all it threatens.
2. Is terrible in its active manifestation.
3. May well be dreaded by the impenitent.
Lamentations 4:12. A world’s wonder.
1. That a divinely guarded city should fall.
2. That it should fall by the hands of the godless.
3. That some great sin must have been committed to make such a catastrophe possible.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Terrible destruction. One of the officers at Fredericksburg says:—“Howard, who was with me, says I exclaimed, ‘Oh, great God, see how our men, our poor fellows, are falling!’ I remember that the whole plain was covered with men prostrate and falling. I had never before seen fighting like that—nothing approaching it in terrible uproar and destruction. As they charged, the artillery fire would break up their formation, and they would get mixed; then they would close up, go forward, receive the withering infantry fire, and those who were able would run to their houses and do all they could; then the next brigade coming up in succession would do their duty, and melt. It was like the snow coming down and melting on warm ground.”
Concentration of power destroys. In the eighteenth century an immense burning-glass was constructed in France, in which all the heat falling on a great lens was then concentrated on a smaller one, till at the focus such was the heat that iron, gold, and other metals ran like melted butter. Another one, made in England by Parker, fused the most refractory substances, and diamonds were by it reduced to vapour.
The Divine sovereignty. “God is free because no causes external to Himself have power over Him; and as good men are most free when most a law to themselves, so it is no infringement on God’s freedom to say that He must have acted as He acted; but rather He is absolutely free because absolutely a law Himself to Himself.”—Froude.
The curse of sin. It is the Trojan horse; it hath sword and famine and pestilence in the belly of it. Sin is a coal that not only blacks, but burns. Sin creates all our troubles; it puts gravel in our bread, wormwood in our cup. Sin rots the name, consumes the estates, buries relations. Sin shoots the flying roll of God’s curses into a family and kingdom (Zechariah 5:4). It is reported of Phocas, having built a wall of mighty strength about his city, there was a voice heard, “Sin is in the city, and that will throw down the wall.”
(מ) Lamentations 4:13. It is needful to connect this verse with the last by words like, This incredible thing came to pass, because of the sins of her prophets, the iniquities of her priests—the position which these two classes assumed in the polity of Jerusalem is indicated in various strong terms by Jeremiah, the prophet of this period, and especially in his references to the treatment which he himself received at their hands (chap. 26)—who shed in her midst the blood of the righteous. They are branded as instigators and leaders of the evil, and, like other occupiers of usurped power, their jealousy and anger at those who crossed them in any way urge them to the extreme measure of dooming to death the faithful witnesses for God. In thus declaring the causes of the calamity to Judah, there is once more uplifted the moral standard which has made the Bible to be the impulse to all ethical revivals, the rebuker of wrong by whomsoever committed, the unswerving asserter of the rights of God in the face of man’s injury to man.
(ם נ) Lamentations 4:14-15 seem applicable to the condition of prophets and priests after the city had been taken. They were panicstricken. They staggered [as] blind men in the streets; an effect accounted for in other parts of Scripture as a punishment of sin. They make haste to shed innocent blood … therefore we grope for the wall like the blind, yea, we grope at they that have no eyes (Isaiah 59:7; Isaiah 59:10). Their sin found them out; its marks were palpable; they were defiled with blood when the command to go into exile arrested them. So they were avoided; [men] could not touch their garments. In their blood-stained aspect they were met with the shout which was enjoined upon leprous persons. That it was the leper who was to cry unclean is of little consequence where “poetical license” is exercised. Away unclean one [men], cried to them, away, away; and so such as had, in spiritual pride, said, Come not near me, I am holier titan thou, are abhorred by the people they contemned. The just judgment of God was manifest, so that, as proscribed offenders, When they fled away and staggered blindly as before in the city, they found that, even in other places where they sought ease and rest for the soles of their feet, the natives would not allow them to stay; [men] said among the nations, They shall no longer sojourn [among us]. These references, in all probability, are made to real occurrences.
(פ) Lamentations 4:16. The circumstances of those fugitives are ascribable to Jehovah. Wherever they went, the face of Jehovah had not disappeared; in anger, not in grace, lifted up upon them, it has scattered them, and will no more regard them. This fact was verified on their treatment by tile peoples to whom they had gone. There no respect was paid, no favour shown, on account of office, occupation, or age.
UNFAITHFUL RELIGIOUS LEADERS
I. Ignore the sacred duties of their high office. “The sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests” (Lamentations 4:13). The leaders, whose first duty it was to explain and enforce the Word of God, were the prime movers in the attempt to silence that Word. Their utter dereliction of duty, and the bitter rancour with which they were actuated, were evident in their repeated efforts to put Jeremiah to death, the only man who had the courage to lift up his voice for Jehovah amid the general defection. Had they rallied round the faithful prophet and round their king, who was more weak than vicious, they might have saved the city and the nation from ruin. When the servants of the Lord and the religious guides of the people are false to their sacred vows, the nation is grievously misled, and disaster will follow.
II. Become intoxicated with slaughter. “That have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her; they have wandered (reeled) as blind men in the streets; they have polluted themselves with blood” (Lamentations 4:13-14). They have lost the art of persuasion, even to do wrong, and, like all baffled tyrants, adopt the bloody policy of the sword. The people are coerced into rebellion against God and their beat interests by brute force. Having once tasted blood, they revel in it, and reel through the city blinded by their insatiable lust of slaughter. They who ought to be holy, as God’s ministers consecrated to His service, are defiled with blood, and that the blood not of enemies, but of their own countrymen. There is no fury so maddening and ungovernable as the thirst for blood.
III. Are shunned and abhorred by God and man (Lamentations 4:15-16). They are denounced by the people they had oppressed, and hounded out of the city only to find themselves abhorred by the heathen to whom they fled for shelter. They were hated at home and abroad. “The anger of the Lord divided them,” scattered them, and wherever they wandered, the people despised and shunned them. They were outcasts of God and men. They had sown to the wind, and they reaped the whirlwind. Such is the fate of the faithless and cruel There is no punishment too severe for unfaithful ministers of God’s Word.
1. False teachers are the curse of any community.
2. They are utterly reckless both as to what they say and do.
3. They involve the people in much suffering.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 4:13-16. False ministers of God.
1. Are the authors of the vilest sins (Lamentations 4:13).
2. Are capable of the most revolting cruelty in accomplishing their wicked ends (Lamentations 4:13-14).
3. Are the execration of the people they oppress (Lamentations 4:15).
4. Are divinely punished (Lamentations 4:16).
Lamentations 4:15-16. The tactics of the wicked.
1. Recoil upon themselves.
2. Render them the abhorrence of all classes
3. Are defeated and punished by the vengeance of Heaven.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Unqualified ministers. It is the great wide-spread evil of the Church that it has unrenewed and inexperienced pastors; that so many become preachers before they become Christians, and are consecrated as priests at the altar of God before they are made holy to Christ by the offering of the heart to Him; and thus they worship an unknown God and proclaim an unknown Christ, and pray through an unknown Spirit, and preach a state of holiness and fellowship with Christ, and a glory and a blessedness which are wholly unknown to them, and perhaps will remain unknown through all eternity. He must indeed be a heartless preacher who has not himself in his own heart the Christ and the grace that he declares. Alas! that all scholars in our universities might well ponder this.—Baxter.
Unbelief and ministerial inefficiency. There are dangerous signs at the present day of a relaxation of moral tone in the literature of free-thinking. There is a tendency to palliate the offences of vicious characters and to treat every sin as atoned for by intellectual brilliancy. But it would be in the highest degree unjust to throw the whole blame of his error upon every individual who may happen to be the victim of unbelief. We are all bound up together in this matter; and the sins, the unfaithfulness, the lack of moral energy among Christians themselves contribute, to a great extent, to weaken the testimony to our faith. The ministers of God’s Word must bear their share in this responsibility. So far as they fail to exhibit the moral truth and spiritual force of that Word, so far as they harden it, or obscure it, or misrepresent it, they contribute to weaken its appeal to the hearts and consciences of their fellows, and the result is seen in many an indirect and distant injury to faith. It is the mission of the Church and its ministers to carry on the work of the Apostles by bearing witness to certain truths and revelations; and if that witness be in any instance unworthily delivered, the force with which the truth appeals to the soul of man is proportionately weakened. Wace: Bampton Lectures.
Priestcraft. The whole system is one of Church instead of Christ; priest instead of Gospel; concealment of truth instead of manifestation of truth; ignorant superstition instead of enlightened faith; bondage where we are promised liberty—all tending to load us with whatever is odious in the worst meaning of priestcraft, instead of the free, affectionate, enlarging, elevating, and cheerful liberty of the children of God. Bishop M’Ilwaine.
Penalty of murder. Thales Milesius, one of the wise men of Greece, being asked what was the most difficult thing in life, answered, “For a tyrant to live to old age.” The application may be extended to the cruel, bloodthirsty, and murderers.
The triumph of the wicked. The triumph of the wicked is always short. When they feel themselves secure from evil and begin to boast of their triumph, then judgment overwhelms them. So it was with Belshazzar, Herod, and the fool of the Gospel. How soon Abel’s blood called for vengeance of Cain! We cannot sin so quickly but God seeth us as quickly. How many have been stricken while the oath had been in their mouths, as Jeroboam was stricken while he spoke, that they might see they were stricken. Though a man sin often, and steal his sins as it were without punishment, yet at last he is taken napping, even while the wickedness is in his hand, and his day is set when he shall pay for all, whether it be twelve months or twelve years. “When it cometh, it will be soon.”
(ע) Lamentations 4:17 refers to the persons remaining in the city, who, notwithstanding that God’s righteous judgments had so afflicted prophets and priests, yet thought longingly of human defences; Still our eyes failed [looking] for vain help. This is explained in the succeeding clause, We eagerly watched for a nation that could not save, trusting that Egypt, that broken reed, or perhaps some other equally unsatisfactory auxiliary, would appear to rescue them.
(צ) Lamentations 4:18. Whatever their expectations might be, they were under constant pressure from the besieging army. They hunted our steps; every movement was closely watched, so that we could not go in our streets, there, liable to be laid hold on at every turn, all seemed to be over. The final cessation of their independence was but the question of an hour, our end is come, our national life extinguished.
(ק) Lamentations 4:19. Flight from the city was of no benefit. Fugitives were promptly and hotly followed, whether they betook themselves to the cavernous retreats of the everlasting hills, or to waste and lonely places. Swifter were our pursuers than the eagles of heaven; on the mountains they chased us, in the desert they laid wait for us. So the deportation to Babylon is prepared for, and proof given of the complete break-up of the organised community of Israel.
(ר) Lamentations 4:20. The crowning evidence of the collapse was the seizure of the head of the State, who is considered to have been, not King Josiah but Zedekiah, by most commentators. The breath of our nostrils, the token of our life, is the monarch. An idea like this was prevalent among ancient peoples, and a noticeable confirmation of it is quoted from Seneca, De Clementia: “He (the sovereign) is the vital breath which so many thousands (of citizens) draw.” In his life the nation views the representative of its life. “God made David king, and his posterity, for this end that the life of the people might, in a manner, reside in him;” and so long as he was among them, there seemed to be a pledge of the favour of God, and so of their continued existence as a separated nation. Zedekiah might be irresolute and weak, but it is not personal character, it is office which is regarded—the anointed of Jehovah. “We must observe that these high terms properly belong to Christ only, for David was not the life of the people except as he was a type of and represented His person … and hence we learn that the Church is dead when separated from its Head” (Calvin). The representative of this earthly life of the nation had disappeared, was taken, “like a wild animal driven into a pitfall,” in their pits. His capture by the hostile forces is related in Jeremiah 52:7-11, and was achieved about a month prior to the sack of Jerusalem. It was the prelude to the conviction that their last hopes were being crushed. Of whom we said, Under his shadow we will live among the nations. As a captive to Babylon, there was not the ghost of a chance to rally round him, and no sort of prospect of existing as a semi-independent people in any foreign land. The end had come.
THE LAST HOURS OF A DOOMED PEOPLE
I. Every hope of rescue is disappointed. “Our eyes failed for our vain help: we have watched for a nation that could not save us” (Lamentations 4:17). Israel had been prone to rely on the help of Egypt, and was often bitterly deceived. In this instance the deluded inhabitants looked eagerly, till their eyes were weary, for the coming of a relief force from Egypt, but in vain. That treacherous kingdom, which had failed them so often before, again failed them in their extremity. Whatever aid they might expect from the neighbouring kingdoms with which Judah had been in friendly alliance, it did not come. When the soul is alienated from God, every reliable source of help is cut off. When God will not help us, man cannot.
II. Every avenue of escape is closely guarded. “They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets. Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles; they pursued us, they laid wait for us” (Lamentations 4:18-19). The enemy was drawing his lines more firmly round the city; the investment was complete, and slowly but surely he was gaining the mastery over the city. Impatient with the little progress made and enraged with the stubborn resistance of the besieged, the Chaldeans missed no opportunity to do damage. Every stray wanderer in the streets was a mark for their arrows, and those who attempted to escape from the festering city were at once seized.
III. There is a deepening conviction that the end is near. “Our end is near; our days are fulfilled, for our end is come” (Lamentations 4:18). The sight of the towers erected by the besiegers advancing in height filled the citizens with terror. Weakened with famine and disease, distracted with divisions among themselves, and alarmed with the steady encroachments of the enemy, they felt that further resistance was useless; they waited in sullen helplessness for the end. The end soon came.
IV. The last vestige of hope is destroyed in the capture of their king. “The anointed of the Lord was taken in their pits” (Lamentations 4:20). Feeble as Zedekiah was, he was still their king, “the anointed of the Lord.” “And now that the state was falling, he was the very breath of life to the fugitives, who would have no rallying-point without him; whereas if he escaped, they might with him have found a refuge among some of the neighbouring nations, and as long as they had a king of David’s line all hope of prolonging their national existence would not seem lost.” But the seizure of Zedekiah in his desperate attempt to escape, and the cruelty of his infuriated captors in putting out both his eyes, quenched the last lingering hope of the doomed people. Their king was a sightless, helpless prisoner, and all was over. The national life was extinguished. We cannot but admire the dogged bravery of the people in their resolute defence of king and country; but it was the bravery of desperation and despair. The fiat of destruction had gone forth, and it was now fulfilled in every detail.
1. The nation that rebels against God is defenceless.
2. The threatenings of God against disobedience are not meaningless.
3. Between the threatening of doom and its accomplishment there is ample opportunity for repentance and reform.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 4:17. The weary watcher.
1. Eagerly longs for much-needed help.
2. Impairs his eyesight with the intensity of his vigil.
3. Is bitterly disappointed when he looks for help in vain.
Lamentations 4:18-19. The helplessly baffled. I. Are everywhere menaced with danger. “They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets” (Lamentations 4:18). II. Retreat is cut off in every direction. “Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles” (Lamentations 4:19). III. Sullenly submit to the inevitable. “Our days are fulfilled, for our end is come” (Lamentations 4:18).
Lamentations 4:20. Royalty.
1. Is the symbol of government and protection.
2. Is the representative of national life and character.
3. Its degradation involves national disaster.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Disappointment. When Daniel O’Connell, on account of his ill-health, was ordered to leave England, he started for Rome, having had for many years a desire to see that city. In the city of Genoa he was seized with paralysis, was unable to proceed farther, and died there, never having looked upon the longed-for sight.
A clever escape. When Mazzini fled from France, he had to risk being seized by the French police at Marseilles. He refused to be hidden as a stowaway, and when they came to look for him, they passed without notice a man in his shirt-sleeves coolly washing bottles in the cook’s kitchen.
A sad end. Cardinal Pole, suspected even by Queen Mary, whom he had liked to serve, was on his death-bed when she died. Among the last sounds that fell on his ears must have been the bells of Westminster ringing the knell of the cause to which he had sacrificed his life; and before the evening he too had passed away, a blighted, brokenhearted man, detested by those whom he had laboured most anxiously to serve.
Attachment stronger than death. On the 18th of December 1851, Turner the painter died in the front room of 119 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, fronting the Thames. To an upper window, no longer able to paint, too feeble to walk, he had been wheeled every morning during those last days, that he might lose no light of the December sun on his beloved Thames.
The last parting.
“How shall we know it is the last good-bye?
The skies will not be darkened in that hour,
No sudden blight will fall on leaf and flower,
No single bird will hush its careless cry,
And you will hold my hands, and smile or sigh
Just as before. Perchance the sudden tears
In your dear eyes will answer to my fears;
But there will come no voice of prophecy;
No voice to whisper, ‘Now, and not again,
Space for last words, last kisses, and last prayer,
For all the wild unmitigated pain
Of those who, parting, clasp hands with despair.’
‘Who knows?’ we say; but doubt and fear remain.
Would any choose to part thus unaware?”
A good king a blessing. Speaking of the reign of Leopold I. of Tuscany, as compared with the despotism of the Medicis, Mr. Howells says:—“I confess that it has a great charm for my fancy. It is like a long stretch of sunlight in that lurid, war-clouded landscape of history, full of repose and genial, beneficent growth. For twenty-six years, apparently, the good prince got up at six o’clock in the morning and dried the tears of his people. In his time, ten years passed in which no drop of blood was shed on the scaffold. The hospitals that he founded, the order and propriety in which he kept them, justly entitled him to the name of Father of the Poor. He was happy because he saw his people were happy. He believed in God.”
Uncertainty of royal favours.
“Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye;
I feel my heart new opened. Oh, how wretched
Is that poor man that hangs on prince’s favours!
There is betwixt that smile we should aspire to,
That sweet aspèct of princes, and their ruin,
More pangs and fears than wars or women have;
And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer,
Never to hope again.”—Shakespeare.
(ש) Lamentations 4:21. The children of Edom had exulted over the destruction of Jerusalem, and urgently culled for its completeness. They said, Rase it, rate it, even to the foundations thereof (Psalms 137:7). Now they are addressed in bitter irony, Rejoice and be glad, daughter of Edom, take a full measure of your malicious joy, but with all that your triumphing will be short; you cannot escape pungent woes, however extended your territory may be, that dwellest in the land of Uz, a district of country bordering on Edom’s land, and which seems to have been overrun by Edomites. To thee also shall the cup pass, the cup of the wine of the wrath of God which is mingled in His anger.
The strong feelings of indignation, which were almost hereditary among the Israelites, against the Edomites, may be partly accounted for from the idea that variance with one’s own kith and kin is often expressed by more bitter terms than variance with strangers, and partly by the consciousness which Israel had of its spiritual calling which the “profane” nature of Esau’s descendants tended to render inoperative.
(ת) Lamentations 4:22. No hint marks the transition from the grim scenes of calamity in which the Jews had been involved to this glimpse of light and renewal. The abruptness must be due to the conviction that, as Israel is the people with whom Jehovah has entered into covenant, all cannot be over with them, however they are pressed down by adversity. If they forsake Him, they will be chastised till they acknowledge and repent of their apostasy. Then He will have pity fur His name’s sake. Punishment will come to a termination; Ended is thine iniquity, daughter of Zion. The consequences following an evil procedure would, as it were, drain to the dregs the cup of wrath and grace would begin to appear. “A Messianic hope” is created, He will no more carry thee into captivity, by the Chaldeans, at any rate. This promise is dependent for its fulfilment upon the righteous state of Israel. Avoiding the sins which had brought the present term of punishment, they would not be subjected to such punishment again. The exiles who returned from Babylon were greatly purified and elevated by the trials which had been passed through, and if there had been due progress in spiritual things, as the prophet Malachi declares there was not, no further casting out of the land of promise would have taken place. But they crucified the Lord of glory. Their house is left unto them desolate, and they are scattered over the earth till they turn again to the Lord. The allotment to Edom is a contrast; He visits thine iniquities, daughter of Edom; He discovers thy sins. He sees they are persisted in, and shame and woe follow the exposure. “God covers sin when He forgives it (Psalms 32:1-5). He discovers or reveals it when He punishes it” (Job 20:27). The safety of God’s people connotes the destruction of His enemies (Revelation 19:20).
THE FATE OF THE MALEVOLENT
I. Their malicious joy over the unfortunate is brief. “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom” (Lamentations 4:21). Edom, though related to Judah, was her most relentless enemy. It was the enmity of inveterate envy. Judah had outdistanced Edom, and rose to superior greatness and power. This was the offence Edom could never forgive. She watched the downfall of Judah with a savage delight, and when the catastrophe came, which she did her best to accelerate, she gloated over it with a fiendish joy (Psalms 137:7; Jeremiah 49:7-22). The prophet now ironically calls upon Edom to take her fill of her unnatural merriment, for it would soon be silenced and changed into a song with a different tune. Having made common cause with the enemies of God’s people and become their aiders and abettors in oppression, Edom must share in the calamities that overwhelmed them. Edom is the type of the enemies of the Church in all ages, who, instigated with “envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness,” exult in the misfortunes of God’s people. What a revelation is this of the possible wickedness of the human heart! Well might Vianny write, “The heart of the wicked swarms with sins like an anthill with ants. It is like a piece of bad meat—full of worms.” But the triumph of the morally bad is short.
II. They will be certainly punished for their wickedness.
1. It will be a punishment involving suffering and disgrace. “The cup also shall pass through unto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked” (Lamentations 4:21). “Thou, too, shalt be drunk with the shame of ruin: thou, too, shalt expose thyself to contempt.”—Geikie. The wine-cup of the Divine wrath will by-and-bye be placed in the hands of His enemies, and they must drink it—drink it till they are infatuated with the intoxicating draught, and commit follies and sins that sink them into utter contempt. Now they know something of the bitterness of the suffering over which they had gloated when others were the victims.
2. It will be a righteous punishment. “He will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; He will discover thy sins” (Lamentations 4:22). To uncover and expose sins is equivalent to punishing them. Edom was punished not arbitrarily and from caprice, but because of her iniquity. The Divine chastisements are in harmony with the law of universal righteousness. God knows exactly the time and the measure of punishment. The cup of His wrath is not passed on to either individual or nation until it is full. The wicked cannot escape.
III. Their punishment will be intensified by the deliverance of the people whose miseries they ridiculed. “The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion: He will no more carry thee away into captivity” (Lamentations 4:22). Judah shall not be exiled again for the iniquity, the guilt of which is now expiated. It would be unjust to punish twice for the same offence. She has borne the punishment: it is finished; and she is now free—free to enter upon a course of obedience which will secure promised blessing. The tables are now turned. Judah is free: Edom is the sufferer; and it adds sharpness to the thorns that now distress her to know that her hated rival is delivered and is again in the ascendant. Envy gives the soul no rest, and deteriorates its capacity for nobler feelings.
“The cankering rust corrodes the brightest steel;
The moth frets out your garment, and the worm
Eats its slow way into the solid oak:
But Envy, of all evil things the worst,
The same to-day, to-morrow, and for ever,
Saps and consumes the heart in which it works.”—Cumberland.
We should be careful not to exult over the miseries of others, as we know not how soon we may be in the same plight, and the memory of our inhuman conduct will increase our own suffering.
1. Only the wilfully malicious can rejoice over the distresses of others.
2. Inveterate wickedness is sure to receive its just recompense.
3. Punishment is concerned only with the guilt already incurred.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 4:21-22. Two kinds of joy. I. The joy of the envious. “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom” (Lamentations 4:21).
1. Is full of malice.
2. Is cruel.
3. Is unreal—the dry chuckle of the scornful. II. The joy of the free. “The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion” (Lamentations 4:22).
1. Indicates relief from suffering.
2. Despair has given place to hope.
3. Has the ring of grateful reality.
Punishment. I. Discovers and exposes sin. “He will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; He will discover thy sins” (Lamentations 4:22). II. Stupifies and degrades the victim with the contents of its mingled cup. “Thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked” (Lamentations 4:21). III. Is sure to overtake the transgressor. “The cup also shall pass through unto thee” (Lamentations 4:21). IV. Does not cease till its mission is fulfilled. “The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion” (Lamentations 4:22).
Lamentations 4:22. A message from God to thee. I. Our first message is one of comfort.
1. A joyous fact. “The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished.” Christ hath for His people borne all the punishment which they deserved.
2. To whom this message is sent. To the sinner conscious of his sin.
3. A precious promise. “I will no more carry thee away into captivity.” Thou art in captivity now, sorrowing on account of sin; but it is the last thou shalt ever have. In the world to come there is no captivity for thee. II. A burden of woe. “He will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom.”
1. The daughter of Edom dwelt carelessly in the land of Uz, as if secure from danger.
2. Made merriment over the sorrows of others.
3. Cherished a vain hope, a self-sufficient confidence.
4. Was very proud. III. Why are there these different messages?
1. The reason of the message of mercy is sovereign.
2. Of the message of woe, Divine justice. IV. What claim have these messages on our faith? To be devoutly believed, because both messages are plainly revealed in the Word of God.—C. H. Spurgeon.
“For malice will with joy the lie receive,
Report, and what it wishes true, believe.”
Reproof of malice. St. Augustine is said to have had these two lines inscribed on his table to remind his guests of his wishes—
“Whoever loves an absent friend to jeer,
May hence depart, no room is for him here.”
A malevolent tongue. The tongue of the slanderer is a devouring fire, which tarnishes everything it touches; which exercises its fury on the good grain equally as on the chaff, on the profane as well as on the sacred; which, wherever it passes, leaves only desolation and ruin; digs even into the bowels of the earth and fixes itself on things the most hidden; turns into vile ashes what only a moment before had appeared to us so precious and brilliant; acts with more violence and danger than ever in the time when it was apparently smothered up and almost extinct; which blackens what it cannot consume, and sometimes sparkles and delights before it destroys.—Massillon.
Wickedness. There have been men splendidly wicked whose endowments threw a brightness on their crimes, and whom scarce any villainy made perfectly detestable, because they never could be wholly divested of their excellences; but such have been in all ages the corrupters of the world, and their resemblance ought no more to be preserved than the art of murdering without pain.
—I have seen men who, I thought, ought to have a whole conversion for each one of their faculties. Their natures were so unmitigatedly wicked that it cost more for them to be decent than for other men to be saints.—Beecher.
Sin will find yon out. Men’s sins often find them out, though no visible sign or token may betray this fact to the world. All may outwardly stand fair; there may be no breach in the worldly prosperity; nay, this may be ampler, more strongly established than ever; while yet there may be that within which forbids to rejoice, which takes all the joy and gladness out of life—the memory of that sin which was nothing when committed, but which now darkens all—the deadly arrow poisoning the springs of life, which will not drop from the side, which no force, no art of man’s device can withdraw. To such Dr. Trench’s advice is, to turn the tables on our sins, to find them out, and to take them all to God to be condemned, pardoned, and subdued; “condemned by Thy righteous judgments, O Father; pardoned by the precious blood of Thy dear Son, and subdued by the mighty operation of the Holy Ghost.” This is the good, old-fashioned preaching of Apostles and preachers of the very oldest times.
The downward career of evil. In the Rabbinical books of the Jews they have a curious tradition about the growth of leprosy, that it began with the walls of a man’s house; then, if he did not repent, entered his garments, till at last the disease covered his whole body. And thus it is with the growth of sin. It begins with neglect of duty; it may be of prayer, or the warning voice of conscience is unheeded. Habits of sin are formed, till at last the soul that lets God alone is let alone by God.—Pilkington.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Lamentations 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent