Friday, June 2nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hosea 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ hosea-7.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hosea 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the wickedness of Samaria.
The great deceiver and spoiler of the nation
We identify the deceiver as strong drink.
I. The dangerous and insinuating character of intoxicating drinks. “The thief cometh in.” Compare the movements of thieves with the manner in which these drinks operate upon different classes of our fellow-men.
1. The thief will often seize the property of others under false pretences. So the strong drinks pretend to give strength to the weak, and to preserve the strong from becoming weak. Those drinks pretend to act favourably upon the sympathies of our nature, and to promote good fellowship among neighbours and friends. But when and where did strong drink perform such wonderful things?
2. The thief commits his depredations under the guise of friendship.
II. you are known to have money, many will offer friendship, and when they have gained your confidence, they will strip you of everything you possess. And it is thus with the friendly glass.
3. The thief pounces upon his prey at unawares. And the thief, strong drink, acts very much in the same way. To be forewarned is in many cases to be forearmed, but too many refuse to take warning, and hence the thief pounces upon them at unawares, and they become an easy prey.
4. The thief pays no respect either to age or sex. The thief is known to seize upon male or female, old or young, any party, or under any circumstance, if he can but meet with a victim. And the thief, strong drink, acts precisely in the same way. In every walk of life, in every condition of society, and under every variety of circumstance this thief commits his depredations.
5. The thief, in the accomplishment of his object, often takes away the life of his victim. Here is another most painful characteristic of strong drink. By this thief multitudes of men die and go to their long home.
II. The evils inflicted upon our country by the traffic in strong drinks. “The troop of robbers spoileth without.”
1. The vast-extent of this source of evil. Thousands are engaged in the manufacture of strong drink.
2. The traffic fails to give an equivalent for what it costs.
3. The traffic in strong drink spoils the morals of our country.
4. The traffic is spoiling the efforts of the Church.
III. The means by which these evils may be removed.
1. The real cause of these evils must be kept distinctly in view. Individual example is the matter requiring supreme attention.
2. The manufacture and sale of intoxicating drinks, except for scientific and medicinal purposes, must be condemned.
3. The practical rather than the doubtful should be steadily pursued. There is always a danger of our having our minds diverted from the real to the visionary. It is a delusion to trust to acts of parliament. Personal and individual abstinence is the one thing to urge. (D. Sunderland.)
And they consider not in their hearts that I do remember all their wickedness.
The evil of inconsideration
What the prophet affirms of God’s ancient people is gravely distressing.
I. The fact asserted. God remembers the wickedness of men. Wickedness denotes what is hateful and destructive. Men may excuse it, deny it, forget it; but God remembers it.
1. This fact is clear from the declarations of His Word.
2. From the perfections of His nature. “The Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed.”
3. From the equity of His government and a future judgment. You that forget God, and forget your sins, know that God remembers.
II. The evil stated. That men forget this fact. The evil lamented is inconsideration. The want of consideration appears--
1. In men’s continued commission of sin.
2. In their doing this without regret.
3. In their readiness to extenuate sin.
4. In their disregard of future consequences.
Wherein then consists the evil of this want of consideration?
(1) They who are thus chargeable neglect the plainest admonitions of Scripture.
(2) They oppose the frequent dictates of conscience.
(3) They allow themselves in the-practice of secret sins.
(4) They may even proceed to the commission of open vice.
(5) Thus proceeding they eventually ruin the soul.
As to the duty of consideration, the authority of God commands it. The grace of God recommends it. The reason of man approves it. The aversion of man to this duty implies its importance. (T. Kidd.)
Man’s sins in God’s mind
God alone knows us perfectly.
I. A fact in the Divine providence or government. “I remember all their wickedness.” “Remember,” as applied to God in Scripture, does not represent a faculty of the Divine mind, but a state of God’s nature, or the conduct of God in some particular instance. The text means, “Your sins are ever before Me.”
1. God remembers all kinds and degrees of sin.
2. All the sins of all men.
3. He remembers accurately and completely.
4. Continually and for ever. And--
5. With a practical result, that He may act upon His recollection.
Then how wonderful is God’s patience and forbearance! How entire must God’s pardon be when He forgives a sinner! How complete will be the transactions of the judgment day! How full will future and final punishment be!
II. This fact is forgotten by those who ought to remember it. They do not think or reflect, at least, so as to feel.
III. God’s complaint of this forgetfulness. God complains of forgetfulness, because it sears the conscience, leads to false views of a man’s position, is personally offensive to God, and is frequently the occasion of final ruin. God does not hate you as a being, but lie does hate your character. And this offensiveness to God is continually increasing. You can consider this matter, and at once. Enter then the path of serious thought and pursue it. (Samuel Martin.)
God’s remembrance of sin
I. God remembers men’s sins. “I remember all their wickedness.”
1. This is a wonderful fact. When we think of the infinite greatness of Him to whom the universe is as nothing. Sin is no trifle in the eye of Him whose glory is His holiness.
2. This is not only a wonderful, bat a solemn fact. God not only observes and knows my sins, but He remembers them.
II. Men disregard God’s remembrance of their sins. Why, then?
1. Because other thoughts engross their minds--thoughts of worldly wealth and power.
2. Because this thought, if it occurs to them for a moment, is too painful to be entertained.
III. That men’s disregard of God’s remembrance of their sins leads them to revel in iniquity. “How their own doings have beset them about; they are before My face.” Here we have--
1. Their sins in general. They are abundant and daring. Their sins encompass them on all sides, and they perpetrate them without shame under the very face of God.
2. Some of their sins are specified here. They made them glad “with their lies,” with the lying praises with which they crowned the favourites of the prince, and the lying calumnies and censures with which they blackened those whom they knew the princes disliked. (Homilist.)
God’s record of our sins
The great stone-book of nature reveals many strange records of the past. In the red sandstone there are found in some places marks which are clearly the impressions of showers of rain, and these so perfect that it can even be determined in what direction the shower inclined, and from what quarter it proceeded; and this ages ago! So sin leaves its track behind it, and God keeps a faithful record of all our sins.
Now their own doings have beset them about.
Man beset by his own doings
Down from the dark ages comes the story--if memory is true to its charge--of an expert blacksmith, who was such a master of his trade, and withal so proud of his skill, that he often boasted no man could break a chain made by him. In time the blacksmith himself was imprisoned and manacled. With the hope that he might make his escape, he examined the chain to see if it was possible to break it, when, to his horror, he discovered that the chain was one made by his own hands, which no living man could break, himself included. The chain forged by his own hands made the blacksmith a helpless, hopeless prisoner in that vile dungeon. Is it not the same with us? Each of us is forging a chain we cannot break. Every bad habit becomes a link in the chain, which will bind, in hopeless slavery, the soul that makes it. Acts form habits. Let your acts be beautiful and Christlike, and your habits will be likewise, (Paul S. Biggs Shipley.)
The sin of the people
The prophet now arraigns all the citizens of Samaria, and in their persons the whole people, because they rendered obedience to the king by flattery, and to the princes in wicked things, respecting which their own consciences convicted them. He shows that the defection which then reigned through all Israel ought not to be ascribed to the king or to few men, but that it was a common evil, which involved all in one and the same guilt, without exception. If they wish to east the blame on their governors, it will be done in vain. As soon as Jeroboam formed the calves, as soon as he built temples, religion instantly collapsed, and whatever was before pure, degenerated. How was the change so sudden? Even because the people had inwardly concocted their wickedness, which, when an occasion was offered, showed itself; for hypocrisy did lie hid in all, and was then discovered. It often happens that some vice creeps in, which proceeds from one man, or from a few; but when all readily embrace what a few introduce, it is quite evident that they have no living root of piety, or of the fear of God. They then who are so prone to adopt vices were before hypocrites; and we daily find this to be the case. When men become corrupt in their whole life, and degenerate from the pure worship of God, they are justly deemed adulterers. The prophet compares them to an oven, because they were not corrupted by some outward impulse, but by their own inclination and propensity of mind. They had been set on fire by an inward sinful instinct, and were like a hot oven. The blame rested wholly on themselves. (John Calvin.)
In the day of our king the princes have made him sick with bottles of wine.--
On the king’s birthday, or some other solemnity yearly observed, the princes induced the king to drink until he became sick, and forgot and prostituted his place and authority by joining with scorners, or men eminently dissolute. Doctrine.
I. Days which men will have observed as days of festivity and solemnity do ordinarily prove days of great miscarriage and provocation against God.
2. Drunkenness and sensuality are heinous and crying sins, especially in rulers. It is a sad challenge that they should be given to “bottles of wine.”
3. Nobles and princes and great courtiers are ordinarily great plagues and snares to kings, who, having their ear and countenance, do make use of it for no other end but to draw them to sin against God.
4. It is the height of sensuality, when men not only become brutish themselves, but dare invite and tempt others to the same excess of riot, and by all means draw them to drunkenness.
5. Men by their intemperance do not only draw on the guilt of misspending time, and abusing the good creatures of God, but of self-murder and abusing their own bodies also.
6. Days of feasting and intemperance do also ordinarily prove days of great insolence and boldness in other sins.
7. It is also the great sin of drunkenness, that by their sensuality they deprive themselves of the use of reason, and render themselves contemptible, and like beasts, that they can neither know their place nor duty. The king debased himself to keep company with lewd persons and look like them. (George Hutcheson.)
Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned.
Much real pain is caused, to a rightly constituted mind, by the failure of fondly cherished anticipations. To trace the causes of moral declensions is a most important exercise. As these are discovered, we are put on our guard.
I. The conduct of ephraim.
1. The persons with whom he associated. Described as “the people,” that is, the idolatrous remnants of the nations originally possessing the land. The separation of Israel from other nations was a type of the separation into which God has ever called His believing people from persons of sinful and worldly principles and character. Scripture injunctions, in relation to this, are far from being regarded by professed Christians as they should.
2. The character of Ephraim’s association with these parties. “Mixed himself among them.” Friendly and intimate association. It is such intercourse the Christian ought to avoid. We are not required to abstain from all intercourse, but from such intimacy as would bring us into evil influence. In unrestrained intercourse with the world, a Christian is often led to go farther than consistency sanctions. A Christian too much mixes himself with the world--
(1) When his chosen associates and most intimate friends are selected from the world.
(2) When he allows himself to participate in the dishonourable principles or pursuits of worldly men.
(3) When he is found frequently mingling in the pleasures of the world.
3. The voluntary and spontaneous nature of this association. Ephraim was not forced into, but he “mixed himself” among them. To a certain extent, the Christian not only may but must mingle with the world. That is a very different thing from courting the society of men of the world.
II. The character of ephraim, as the result of his conduct, “A cake not turned.” The figure intimates--
1. The undecided character of his religion.
2. The worthlessness of such religion.
(1) As the ground of personal safety.
(2) As a source of personal enjoyment, and as the means of support and consolation under trial.
(3) As a means of security against danger and temptation.
(4) In exerting a beneficial influence on the minds of worldly men.
III. The personal instruction which the consideration of such a character may supply.
1. How important that worldly minded men and undecided persons should correctly understand their real position.
2. How needful that they who have any regard to their spiritual interests should exercise great circumspection as to the characters and habits of those with whom they familiarly associate.
3. How desirable that Christians, by a more decided and elevated tone of spirituality in feeling and conduct, should make the line of separation between the Church and the world more apparent. This is required in view of your own spiritual well-being, and in order to the graciousness of your influence on others. (H. Bromley.)
The sin of Ephraim
I. Ephraim’s unhappy mixture. He hath joined himself with the nations in their idolatrous and profane conversation. There was a threefold mixture. A local mixture, of place and company. A civil mixture, of affinity and alliance. A moral mixture, in regard of manners, religion, and conversation. For God’s people to comply with those who are wicked and ungodly in their practices, and to conform themselves to their customs and manners, is a thing very grievous and insufferable. The conformity of God’s people to the world is contrary to their election, and God’s special designation of their persons to eternal life. It is also opposed to their redemption. We are redeemed for another purpose than this. We are called out of the world, and God has thereby distinguished us from other men who are in the world. Our sanctification too is an argument against conformity to the world. It engages us to self-mortification and to spiritual quickening.
II. Ephraim’s indifferent temper. “A cake not turned.” Take the figure as an amplification of their sin. They were only baked on one side, that is, they were of an imperfect and indifferent temper in religion. This may be an expression of hypocrisy and false-heartedness in religion; of neutrality and indifferency in religion; of deficiency and imperfection in religion. Cakes not turned are mere notion and speculation in religion, which proceed not to practice and operation: purposes and resolution without practice; the practice of some things, but omission of others; extravagance and the following of two extremes. Take the figure as an amplification of their punishment. As a hungry man catches the cake from the hearth before it is baked, so the enemies of Ephraim were hurrying to devour her. There was no respite for repentance and turning to God. No opportunity for escape. (T. Herren, D. D.)
A strange text, but there are so many strange people in the world that odd words are sometimes needed to reach them. All can understand about a cake. One that was only half-baked you would say was a deceit. There are people like such a cake. They look beautiful and good when in church, but when you come to try them, they are anything but pleasant. They are cakes not turned. Jesus was once speaking of this kind of thing, and took cups and saucers for His text. He said, “Do not wash the outside only, and make believe about the inside. Do the same with your characters. If you pretend to be good, then be good, inside and out, in your heart and thoughts as well as in your appearance.” That is what this cake is meant to teach. Be thorough; do not try to appear what you are not. The best way to seem good is by being good. What is the good of seeming good if your thoughts are bad? God can see when you are only aa a cake not turned. No one ever yet lost by obeying God. Be thorough, honest, and God-fearing in and out; do not have a religion like a weathercock that shifts with the wind, or one that can be broken with an if or a but. God sees you altogether. A great sculptor in Greece, long ago, made a statue that was to be set on a high column, yet he was as particular about the hair on the top of the statue’s head as about all the rest. “Why take so much pains about that?” some one said. “Nobody will ever see it.” “No,” replied the sculptor, “but God will see it.” Then be true in heart if you would be true in life. (J. Reid Howat.)
One-sidedness in religion
The figures of Scripture are less ornate than homely and expressive. Even a child knows what will happen if the cake be not turned. It will be ruined on both sides, and be wholly unfit for use. Such a cake denotes a type of character at once distempered and untempered, a character that lacks unity, that is spoiled by defect and damaged by excess, an inconsistent whole.
I. The grounds of this impeachment.
1. Ephraim has “mixed himself among the people”; he has missed the practical design, of religion, which is entire separation unto God. Many persons seek to combine in themselves contradictory qualities. They would be spiritual on one side and carnal on the other. They have a side that is religiously baked, and a side that is carnally crude. They are religiously blistered and carnally sodden.
2. Ephraim was indisposed to look to God, to call upon Him, to count on Him as the unit of power against the enemy. Religion was kept for ceremonies and state occasions; it was not an everyday working religion. They had a notional knowledge of God, but they did not seek after an experimental knowledge of Him. Jehovah was in their notions, He was not in their trust. Had He been in their trust they would have turned round to Him in their trouble. The cake would have been browned on both sides. And how many now have a name to live and are dead! To a certain extent they have the right notion, but it does not determine their practice, nor lead them to seek the confirmation of experience. Hence the cake is done only on one side. Better never to have known the truth at all, than for the truth never to influence the practice and issue in experience.
3. Ephraim was proud (Hosea 7:10). Pride is always a one-sided and therefore spiritually false thing. Pride is based on fleshly comparison. No one could be proud who saw himself in the Divine light. If self-complacence creeps into our hearts, it is quite time the cake was turned.
4. Ephraim used temporal things inordinately and licentiously. They were carried into intemperate excesses. There is a possibility of ruining the cake through self-indulgence.
II. The teachings that underlie Ephraim’s impeachment. These teachings strongly emphasise--
1. The need of a proper balance of character. Zeal is only one side of the cake. Zeal without knowledge, or contrary to knowledge, is a cake unturned. The like applies to fidelity and love, knowing and doing, energy and repose. Faith itself is a cake of two sides; because faith has its waiting as well as its working sides.
2. The need of a proper balance of truth.
3. The general drift of the whole subject suggests to our mind the need of a correspondence between what Christ has done for us, and what He-is doing in us by His Spirit. To be well baked we need the Cross of Christ translated into experience. Paul knew Christ’s Cross as a means of experimental crucifixion. To him it meant a death experienced within, in which the world became dead to him and he to it. (James Douglas, M. A.)
The crude cake
In the East it is the custom to heat the hearth, then sweep carefully the portion heated, put the cake upon it, and cover it with ashes and embers. In a little time the cake is turned. It is then covered again, and this process is continued several times, until the cake is found to be sufficiently baked. Ephraim has many representatives at this hour.
1. The man who lives for pleasure alone is a cake not turned. One side of his nature is unduly baked, the other is entirely neglected. Pleasure has its uses, but pleasure as a business is a very poor business indeed. There are many such persons, both in the lower and in the higher grades of society. The man who lives for pleasure is dead while he liveth. He is a wretched parasite; he is a reproach to his species. One side of his nature is burnt to a crust by the fires of unholy desire; the other side of his nature is raw dough. Both are worthless.
2. The man who lives for business alone is a cake not turned Business is good. Even though it be honourable, and the methods of its pursuit unobjectionable, the man who lives for this life alone loses this life as well as the life that is to come. The man to whom this world is a god is a wretched idolater. This life is never truly lived except it is used for the good of others and for the glory of God. If a man lives for business alone, one side of his nature is scorched by the friction of the world’s cares, and the other is raw dough.
3. A man who lives for culture alone is a cake not turned. No man can claim the honours of culture, portions of whose nature lie fallow. A true culture sweeps across every faculty. Man has earthward, manward, and Godward relations. If lacking in any of these directions, it is a partial, defective, and unauthoritative culture. Tried by this true standard many claimants for the honour of culture will be found wanting. That is not true culture which fails to cultivate the nobler, the Diviner elements of the soul.
4. A man who is half-hearted in religion is a cake not turned. Ephraim, though proud and haughty as a tribe, had been lacking in moral back bone, in loyalty, in consecration, in the service of God. There are such professors of religion to-day. A half and half man is a failure always and everywhere. To-day Jesus Christ calls for men with one heart, and that heart on fire with His love. We want no unturned cakes. We want men with convictions. It is said Of some men that they are very pious Godward, and very crooked manward. That is a severe criticism when it is true. That is not Christ’s model man. He is symmetrical: he is baked through and through. Christ alone can make such men. (R. S. M’Arthur, D. D.)
Hosea was a shew herd and hewer of wood. There is nothing conventional in his style. His similes are quaint and abrupt. They show that their author was possessed of a quiet vein of broad humour. “Ephraim is a cake not turned” may be said of most men in their relation--
I. To the social circle. Too often we have--
1. Courtesy minus friendship.
2. Appearance of wealth minus money.
3. Claims to “family” and learning.
The amount of goods in the shop window is generally in inverse ratio to the amount in stock. This comparison may be applied--
II. To men in their relation to commerce. Too often we have--
1. Better goods than “any other house.”
2. Tradesmen “retiring from business.” The words “from this place” being purposely omitted.
3. Sales at a-tremendous sacrifice.
There is ever a-connection between demand and supply. Half-baked customers create Ephraimitish tradesmen. This comparison may be applied--
III. To men in their relation to religion. Too often we have--
1. Profession without practice.
2. Letter without spirit.
Profession is valueless without practice. So also is letter without spirit. So far as we have either without the other, we are as “cakes not turned.” Christ ruling in our hearts adjusts all human relations. (J. S. Swan.)
The spoiled cake
Hosea’s composition epigrammatic and figurative. He compares Ephraim to “a silly dove,” easily enticed into the net. When frightened, will not stay in the cot where she is safe. To “a wild ass alone”--foolish, headstrong, wilful “An empty vine”--“fruitless and useless.” “A child” tenderly brought up, who turns pout rebellious. “A merchant,” deceitful m his balances. A cake not turned, which, for want of turning is burnt on one side, and dough on the other side, but good for nothing on either side. Israel was not completely consecrated to God.
I. God demands the consecration of man’s entire being. The cake should have been baked on both sides. Body, soul, time, possessions, should all be devoted to God. He claims it. The claim is based on--
1. What God is in Himself.
2. What He is relatively to us.
3. Our highest interests. The example of the best beings.
II. Some consecrate to God only a portion of their being. Baked on one side only. This indicates--
2. Lack of supreme love to God.
3. Aversion to submission.
4. Love of present pleasure.
5. Ignorance of the ease of religious service.
6. Indecision of character.
III. The consecration of only a portion of our being to God will end in destruction. It is destructive of--
1. Complete devotion.
2. Force of character.
3. True usefulness.
4. Thorough enjoyment.
5. Final perseverance.
6. Future glory. (B. D, Johns.)
The unturned cake
The text forms part of the energetic remonstrance addressed by the Spirit of God to Israel at a period of national degeneracy. They embody a reproof; but the homely figure must be deemed most appropriate in the circumstances of the case. What is the exact point of resemblance betwixt Ephraim and the unturned cake? At what stage in the process of baking, or in what circumstances are we to contemplate the cake? Is it when but for a while exposed to the heat of the oven, and therefore when the cake is partly cold and partly hot--exhibiting a vivid representation of that religious lukewarmness and indifferency which is so distasteful to God? Or is the allusion to the cake removed from the oven while yet only partially baked, the lower portions, or the outside, having been converted into bread, while the remainder, or the interior, is still dough, thereby pointing to persons who seek to make a composition betwixt their inclinations and sense of duty, by sometimes yielding to the one, and sometimes striving to fulfil the other? Or is the allusion to the position of the cake, and its state as thence to be inferred--cold upwardly and warm beneath--betokening coldness or disregard to things above, and warmth of affection exclusively to things below? Or is the allusion to a cake left behind in the oven till it is scorched, blackened, and altogether destroyed; representing the condition of those who, being given up and let alone of God, gradually become worse and worse?
I. A rebuke to lukewarmness and indifferency with regard to the things of God and eternity. In the Christian community there are numbers who are neither bread nor dough. They have enough of Christian profession to exclude them from the designation of heathen, not enough of heartfelt godliness to entitle them to the name of disciples indeed. They have the name, but want the reality. The Christians of the unturned cake are very skilful in evading all impressions of sacredness. It is not enough to profess Christianity, we must also feel and live it.
II. A rebuke to those who vainly imagine that it is possible to secure the soul’s salvation and yet gratify to the uttermost the sinful propensities of the flesh. There are some who occasionally feel, and that profoundly, the claims of Gospel truth and righteousness. But Wait a little. Swiftly passes the morning cloud. The world and the flesh soon resume their ascendency. There are some whose entire life is a uniform and sustained effort to keep up an alliance betwixt the spirit and the flesh; betwixt God and the world; betwixt duty and carnal inclination. They will not follow the Lord fully. God will not tolerate a rival. We must either serve Him altogether or not at all.
III. A rebuke to the coldness and unspirituality of professed believers. A cake cold upwards and warm underneath. Its baking may be so conducted that while the under side is intensely heated, the upper part is as cold as when first placed over a fire. So many professors. To the heavens they are cold, to the earth only are they warm.
IV. An intimation of the condition and destiny of those who are given up and forsaken of God. Cakes left in the oven to be burnt and destroyed there. (James Cochrane, M. A.)
I. Who are Ephraimites? Three classes. Real Christians, who are entirely for God. The profligate, who make no pretension to religion. Some stand between both, and seem to partake of each. These are the characters we search for.
II. Expose their conduct and their condition.
1. This indecision is unreasonable.
2. It is dishonourable.
3. It is wretched.
4. It is peculiarly dangerous.
III. Endeavour to bring men to decision. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve.” (William Jay.)
I. Half-hearted men never attain to loftiness of character.
II. Half-hearted men never accomplish any great work.
III. Half-hearted men fail to secure life’s greatest blessing. (A. Hampden Lee.)
Inconsisteney and incompleteness
The description is applicable--
I. to men whose consciences are thus constituted. Scrupulous in some things, they are frequently overscrupulous, and sometimes unscrupulous. The evil is aggravated when little things are its subjects, and when the weightier matters of the law are omitted, or when others’ sins and not our own are considered.
II. To those whose zeal is peculiar. Like thorns under a pot, it smokes and crackles to-day and to-morrow is extinct. The religion of those who blaze forth with transcendent glow, for a time, and then disappear, is “a cake not turned.”
III. To those who carry their religion only to certain places. To the sanctuary, the prayer-meeting, and the communion-table, but not into the family, the store, the bank, the senate. Or they may be outwardly consistent amidst home environments, but abroad, or at fashionable watering-places, they follow the multitude to do evil. (Homiletic Review.)
The unturned cake
Ephraim had been “mingled,” steeped, kneaded up into a cake, as it were, with the heathen, their ways, their idolatries, their vices. God would amend them, and they withholding themselves from His discipline, and not yielding themselves wholly to it, were spoiled. The fire of God’s judgment, with which the people should have been amended, made but an outward impression upon them, and reached not within, nor to any thorough change, so that they were but the more hopelessly spoiled through the means which God used for their amendment. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
“Ephraim is a cake not turned”; that is, overdone on one side, and undone on the other. Excellent and apt symbol of much which we now see all about us!
I. Orthodoxy without life. It is the most serious temptation to which Christians are exposed to substitute creed for conduct. If one is sensibly weak in his spirituality, he will try to make up for it by redoubled emphasis laid upon his orthodoxy. It is as though a soldier should plant his flag upon a high position, and then go to sleep under its folds, trusting to his standard to win the battle, instead of to his own viligant and energetic fighting. Creeds are the flags of the Church--very necessary as symbols and summaries of faith, but worthless as a substitute for Christian living. When I see a Christian growing more and more zealous for every punctilio of his creed, while he is growing more and more selfish and worldly in his life, I say he is going forward by the wind, and going backward by the tide; when I see a Christian very unctuous in his prayers and exhortations in the Church, and very bitter and harsh in his conduct in the family, I say he is going forward by the wind and going backward by the tide. There is a constant need that we re-adjust our conduct to our creeds, not that we should believe less, but that we should live more. To avoid inconstancy, some people contract their belief to the size of the life, as a tailor takes in the seams of a coat which is too large, in order to make it fit the wearer. This is a bad method. Most of the heresies and false doctrines which have sprung up in the Church have resulted from the fitting over of theology to conform to a shrunken spirituality.
II. Piety without principle. It is a fearful proof of the deceitfulness of sin, that one may be at the same time very zealous for God and very dishonest towards men, lifting up hands of prayer and exhortation on Sundays and stretching out hands of fraud and peculation on week.days.
III. Morality without religion. It is a saying very hard to be received that morality and holiness are entirely different qualities. Morality is the religion of the natural man; holiness is the religion of the renewed man. The one grows on the stock of Adam; the other grows on the stock of Christ. Morality, even at its highest pitch, is not holiness; for holiness is something of God, wherever found, like the sunbeams which inhere in the sun and are inseparable from it, even while resting on the earth. Honesty, sobriety, purity,--these are the highest qualities of morality; and noble qualities they are. But love to God, communion with God, consecration to God,--these are the attributes of true religion. Let us look to it that our cake is evenly done; that our orthodoxy has life as well as soundness; that our piety has principle, honest and square and straightforward, as well as unction; that our morality has holiness as well as uprightness. (J. A. Garden, D. D.)
Sad aspects of character
I. Wrong companionship. What is a wrong mixing with people? Not intermixture in marriages. Not intercourse in business. Not associating with men for spiritual usefulness. It is doing as the Ten Tribes did, mixing with others for worldly advantage and unholy gratification. It is said that Pythagoras, before he admitted any one to his school, inquired who were his intimates, justly concluding that they who could choose immoral companions would not be much profited by his instructions.
II. Moral worthlessness. Ephraim had become as useless, in a spiritual sense, as a half-baked cake. It no longer fulfilled its Divine mission, maintaining and promoting the worship of the one true and living God. “Usefulness is the grand purpose of our being.” The man who does not make the world better than he found it, must be accursed.
III. Social despoilment. “Strangers devoured his strength.” How many souls lose their strength under the influence in which they mingle! Their intellectual power, social sympathies, moral sensibilities get used up, and they become the mere, creatures of circles and circumstances.
IV. Unconscious decay. Moral strength goes so slowly from men that they are often not conscious of its loss until they are reduced to the utmost prostration, Look at these aspects of character, and learn practical wisdom. Form no friendship with sinners. Avoid a worthless life. Allow not the social influences of your sphere to steal away your strength, to eat up your manhood. Do not think that decay cannot be working in you merely because you are unconscious of it. (Homilist.)
The evil of a one-sided character
The Sierra Nevada Mountains condense the cloudy moisture upon their slopes, and leave the plains beyond them arid deserts. So some great passion or ambition absorbs into itself all the force of the soul, and leaves us without any energy or inclination for other and equally important things. This will account for the moral sterility of many of us. Says Cicero to a young man: “Hold off from sensuality or soon you will be unable to think of anything else.” Vicious thinking seems to rot the tissue of the brain itself. It is so also with less degrading traits of disposition. Thus the passion for money-getting dries out from the soul the more gracious impulse of helpfulness toward others and even the desire for self-culture. Under the spell of greed a man possessed of really brilliant talents becomes content to be a mere “grind” in the counting-house or factory. Similarly, the passion for repute prevents many from obtaining that celebrity which their natural talents might otherwise readily win for them; their souls are so intent on listening for outer applause that they do not concentrate their attention upon the work that is to win the reward. Scores of literary reputations are thus annually wrecked through over-haste in the making. (J. M. Ludlow, D. D.)
Grey hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not.
I. Grey hairs are a sign of decay. God has for wise purposes given distinctive features to the different periods of human life, from the cradle onwards to the grave. Human life between the ages of forty and fifty is a sort of tableland. Growth has ceased, but decay has not begun. After that time decay begins. In this text grey hairs are not associated either with parental honours, or with the ripe wisdom of age, or with the piety of the venerable Simeon. They are here but the tokens of decay, marks of age, the premonitory symptoms of dissolution. The truth it announces is, that men may live in ignorance and act in disregard of signs that should warn and alarm them.
II. This appears in the history of states. The words were first spoken of the kingdom of Israel. In the oppression of the poor and the sighing of the needy, in the corruption of morals and the decline of true religion, the prophet saw the signs of his country’s decay--these the grey hairs that were here and there upon them, which they knew not. Nor is that uncommon.
III. The text applies to the false security of sinners. Be our profession what it may, if we have habits of sin--these are the grey hairs that, unless grace convert and mercy pardon, foretell our doom. Thick as those grey hairs on the head of age, some men’s lives are full of sin. They are going to hell as plainly as one whose form is bent and whose head is hoary is going down to his grave.
IV. This appears in men’s insensibility to the lapse and lessons of time. Our minds are formed to adapt themselves to the circumstances of advancing years. Indeed, we often glide down so gently as to be little disturbed with the premonitions of life’s close. Men with furrows on their brow, and grey hairs on their head, often find it difficult to remember that they are old. Death seems to flee before us, like the horizon which we ever see, but never reach. Where then is the hope of those who have trusted to turning religious when they become old, and attending to the concerns of a better world when they have ceased to feel any interest in this? Death and a man, so runs the story, once made a bargain--the man stipulating, lest he might be taken unawares, that death should send him so many warnings before he came. Well, one day, years thereafter, to his great amazement, the king of terrors stood before him. “He had broken the bargain, so said the man, who clung to life. Death, he alleged, had sent him no warnings. No warnings? His eyes were dim; his ears were dull; his gums were toothless; and spare and thin were the hoar locks on his bent and palsied head; these, death’s heralds, had come, not too late, yet all in vain. Amid warnings which were, however, unnoticed or despised; his salvation was neglected, and his soul lost. And every setting sun, every nodding hearse, every passing Sabbath, warn us that days of darkness come, and opportunities of salvation go. Time has but one lock of hair on his forehead. If we would seize time, we must seize him by the forelock. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Thoughts for autumn
If we come really to know and to think seriously upon the fact that there are grey hairs here and there upon us, and that they tell us in a very simple and truthful and straightforward way that not a little of our work is done, and that many of our earthly days have passed from us, we cannot but ask ourselves, what then? We are not to sink towards nothingness by reason of feebleness increasing by the speeding years; we, if at least we have life in Christ, are not to sink gradually towards natural decay. If waning strength must sooner or later be ours here, if grey hairs here and there upon us tell us of the swift approaching drying up of the springs of natural activity, is there no prospect of any restoring power by which unfading and deathless bloom may yet be ours? Revelation declares to us those things which the speculations of earthly knowledge, or the guesses of human science, or even the certainties of human observation fail to supply us. Faith in the future; faith inspired and made intelligent by the teaching of God; faith in the unseen and eternal tells us that the future is real and truly abiding, and that it is only She extension, the carrying on or forward of our experience of the present. Time will pass on, our work will tell on us, whether we like it or not. If we will not listen to the teaching of the grey hairs, it may be so much the worse for us both in time and in eternity. We are now under a course of education. How to become fitted for another stage of life is the question of supreme interest now. If the passing seasons remind us that here we cannot abide for ever, our walk with God should be more constant than it is. (W. M’Intosh Arthur, M. A.)
A grey hair? It is the signature of time. It is the beginning of the end. It is a ticket which entitles you to a seat amongst the elders. Yet you did not know of that grey hair. This is the point to keep in view. We are all undergoing imperceptible change. What is true of grey hairs is true of many other changes in human life. To what practical uses can we turn the fact of man’s imperceptible decay?
I. Do not such changes remind us in the gentlest possible manner that this is not our rest? We go gradually down the steep, and as a general rule time is given for reflection. What indeed is all life, from the sunny laughter of childhood to the mellow solemnity of old age, but a succession of reminders that our days are few and our strength a bruised reed!
II. Ought not the imperceptible changes of life to modify the estimate which we form of our own powers? Other people could see the grey hairs upon Ephraim, but Ephraim himself could not see them. Application of this may be made--
1. To ministers who are unconscious of the decline of their powers.
2. To men who are officially called upon to adapt old agencies to new circumstances.
III. Ought not such changes to suggest serious inquiry as to the possible decline of spiritual power! It does not follow that physical decline necessitates spiritual decline. But--
1. The spirit must resist the decay to which it is drawn by the flesh.
2. A beneficial moral influence is exerted by such resistance.
The grey-haired Christian should be a tower of strength to the Christian cause. No beauty should exceed the beauty of his charitableness and hopefulness. (J. M. Ludlow, D. D, D. D.)
The punishment of Ephraim
I. The sad and miserable condition of Ephraim considered simply in itself.
I. The good they are deprived of. “Their strength.” God fits the punishment to the sin, in the old dispensation. What a sad and lament able thing it is for men to spend their youth and the strength and prime of their time in the ways of sin. It is--
1. Very disingenuous.
2. Very hazardous.
3. Very grievous and uncomfortable in the reflections upon it, when men shall call them selves to a serious reckoning and an account about it.
Take the words in their notional signification, as setting forth the condition of Israel at this time. “Strangers.” may mean strange gods, strange women, strange enemies. Strange gods include strange worship and strange doctrine.
II. Symptoms of ruin approaching.
1. Unfruitfulness under powerful means and dispensations of grace.
2. Strange sins, which do abound and increase in it.
3. Plagues as forewarnings.
The aggravation lay in Ephraim’s senselessness under all this. This proceeded from the deceitfulness of sin and the blinding of Satan. All this teaches us two lessons- pity for others and caution for ourselves. (T. Herren, D. D.)
Signs of decay
Two great unchanging, compensating laws are eternally at work in the universe--the law of growth or progress and the law of decay. They are compensating laws, because it is the function of the one to correct and balance the action of the other. When growth reaches its limit, then decay begins. This may be illustrated in the tides, the sunshine, the seasons the trees.
The process goes eternally on, growth and decay; a period of infancy and tenderness developing into full growth and maturity; these in turn giving way to decay and death. That which is going on in the world is going on in our selves. As in our bodies there is going on every day a steady process of supply and loss, so is it also in the longer day of a lifetime. Time does not stand still with any of us, though he seems to deal more gently with some than with others. But when we have reached middle life, we all begin to descend. This does not mean a sudden and total break-up. It is a gradual process, but there are not wanting signs to show us that it has begun. The commonest sign is the silvery streak, the grey hairs. There is something saddening about decay in any form. So this herald of the coming end, the grey hair, is often an unwelcome one. It is in the white heat of the furnace of affliction that the first grey hair often appears; and it may soothingly speak to us of the better life beyond the grave. There axe some people who “never grow old.” There are those who, however age may creep on, are always young in heart, whom the world has not been able to spoil. Then there are those of whom we should not say “they never grow old,” but “they will not believe that they ever can grow old.” The mere thought of life’s end is a horror; with decay fast taking hold on them, they will not believe it, and indulge in a miserable burlesque of youthfulness. It was of such people that Hosea was speaking. He lived in gloomy times. National magnificence was dazzling; but never had national sin been so general and so abominable. Hosea lived ahead of his times. He saw the rocks ahead; but he could not persuade his countrymen to see them, or to believe that they were there. Hosea’s prophecy is one long wail for the unhappy people whose day was over and they knew it not. What was true of Israel has been true of many kingdoms, greater and mightier than it. Did we see ourselves as others see us, we might even discern grey hairs here and there upon us. Is there no falling off in our commercial integrity? Is not the Bible dishonoured by a relentless and destructive criticism? Think of the moral plague-spots of licentious literature. These are “grey hairs here and there upon us.” What are we to do? We cannot put the wrong right. This you can do. Never countenance what is wrong. Never consent to any lowering of the standard of Christian morality. Never sacrifice right to expediency. Never condescend to call things by wrong names. Sin is sin. (J. B. O. Murphy.)
Sin in its worst forms was prevalent among the people. Their strength was consumed by their indulgence in kinds of wickedness which strangers had introduced among them: and everything betokened, to those who could read the signs aright, that they were rapidly hastening to national extinction. They were already in the old age of their history, and they knew it not. This unconsciousness of deterioration marks the distinction between the common backslider and the open repudiator of the faith. In ordinary backsliding the most dangerous element is that the man is largely unaware of the change that has come over him. We attempt to account for the fact that a man may have largely fallen away from Christian rectitude of heart and life without being aware of his defection.
I. We are all inclined to look more favourably on ourselves than on others. This is especially true in spiritual matters. A man’s self-love, or self-conceit, or self-security, prevents him from coming to an impartial decision, and he may be far gone in a course of backsliding before lie takes note of the fact. Matthew Henry says, “Apostasy from God generally begins in the place of prayer.” There we axe set in the white light of God’s own purity, and every spot in ourselves is revealed to us. We are afraid of such self revelations.
II. Backsliding steals gradually upon a man. If hair changed from raven blackness to snowy whiteness in a single night, we should be struck by the change. But because the grey hairs come one by one, the transformation is little noticed. Backsliding is a gradual motion; it isa sliding rather than a stepping. How may we counteract this tendency and discover our true position? We shall know where we are if we test ourselves by the Word of God, as that has been vindicated for us by the example and the Spirit of the Lord Jesus.
III. Backsliding may be accounted for by the fact that the individuals are absorbed in other matters to such an extent that the state of the heart is forgotten. It may be thus with the successful merchant. This danger is to be obviated, either by curtailing the business, or by consecrating it as a whole to God. He who in his daily calling is consciously and deliberately seeking to do the best for his Lord, and is trying to serve Him in the store as really as in the closet, has most effectually “overcome the world.” If, then, any one among us has to.day discovered his deterioration, let him not wait a single moment for restoration. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Causes of declension in religion
A nation has often exhibited every outward mark of prosperity, while the elements of decay had already begun their silent work, and were hastening forward the period of its ruin. Illustrate by Rome, in the reign of Augustus. So with Ephraim. The land was wrapped in fatal security, and indulging visions of prosperity, which hindered them from seeing the decay, already visible to the eye of God and His prophets. A wise and skilful physician often discovers symptoms of disease, and even of approaching death, of which the patient himself may have no suspicion. So there may be already much spiritual declension; the evil heart of unbelief may have begun to depart from the living God, and yet the man may be unconscious of his peril. It has been said that “where a man hath real grace, it may be part of a dispensation towards him that he is suffered to decline. He walked carelessly; he was left to stumble and fall that he might be brought to feel his need of prayer, vigilance, and the help of almighty grace.” The causes of declining religion are--
I. An increasing association with the world. The people of Israel had fatally identified themselves with the sons and daughters of idolatry around them. The disciples of Jesus are not of the world; and to them He says, by His servant, “Love not the world neither the things that are in the world.” The love of Christ burns purely and brightly in the heart, when Christ is all in all; but bring it into contact with the world, and gradually but surely it declines, until it becomes insensible.
II. Increasing zeal for partial views of religion. As bread exposed with one surface to the fire would feel the influence of the heat on that side, while the under portion was only partially acted upon, so was it with the divided heart of this people. Some acknowledgment of God was outwardly made, but His fear was not in their hearts. They were a nation made up of contradictions; always in one extreme or the other. Such partial views of religion are common among professors, and they will be invariably found to mark a declining state of heart. Partial views of religion lead to partial and reserved instead of entire and willing obedience.
III. Inattention to our spiritual condition. Israel gave a double proof of this dangerous symptom.
1. By an external weakness, which, however hidden from others, might have been observable by themselves.
2. Ephraim also exhibited external manifestations of weakness, which all around might see, though they were hidden from his own knowledge. Do our exertions to promote the Divine glory relax and become faint? This is a sign which we may disregard, but which others well understand, and they place it as it ought to be placed, to the account of declining religion. (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)
In comparing physical and spiritual decay, attention is confined to the common element of unconsciousness. The decline of the body, and the decline of the soul are alike in this, that both may proceed imperceptibly. Unawares, a man grows older, and, unawares, too, a man may grow worse. Notice the representation of true soul-prosperity. It is a state of perpetual youth. It should be characterised by incessant development, untiring energy, and ever-brightening hope. Whatsoever be the case with nature, grace should know no old age. Old age may crown the life that precedes it with the calm and the fruitage of a mellow autumn. The text shows the believer’s ideal, but it also reminds of the possibility of falling short of it; and it tells us of the real source of danger. That consists in association with the world--contact with its ungodly practices, fellowship with its ungodly men. In communion with God lies the well-spring of exhaustless refreshment, of tireless and immortal youth. The unconsciousness that accompanies spiritual decay is illustrated by the ignorance so often exhibited as regards the advances and infirmities of bodily old age. As with the decays of nature, so with the decays of grace. The waste goes on; the chill steals round; the corroding process makes sure and certain headway; faithlessness in duty, indulgences in sin, conformity to the world, may be making their havocs in the soul, and printing their tokens in the life. And all the time, while God is grieved, the man himself lives in complete unconsciousness of his state. Content with its weakness, accepting its humiliations, and heedless of its ultimate issue.
I. As to the evidences of ignorance concerning spiritual decline.
1. It proves itself by the views which the backslider often entertains as to others. Men are far more alive to the ravages of time in their friends than in themselves. And so men who are themselves inconsistent very frankly and pointedly remark on the alterations they perceive in others. Men lay their fingers so readily on those faults of a brother which society, by common consent, has set down as their own. In laying charges at other men s doors, men too often lay them at their own. The man is ignorant of his own condition, and because ignorant, he is at peace.
2. It is proved by the back-slider’s views of sin. As men decline in years, it is not infrequently the case that they show their unwillingness to believe the fact by the notions they hold as to what old age really is. The boundary line is always receding; as they move, it moves, always away from them and always ahead. So in the Case of spiritual decline. What would once have been regarded as a symptom, is looked at as a symptom no longer, while the decay it betokens is actually going on. Men thus learn to palliate omissions of duty, excuse indulgences in sin, and accustom their consciences with acts which at one time they would have shrunk from.
3. It is proved by the backslider’s views as to circumstances. It is often the tendency of the old to complain; and their discontent is directed against the particular surroundings where their lot for the time being is cast. They blame the rigours of the weather, the fastenings of the house, the texture of their garments, for the feelings which distress them. But the true reason is that they themselves are feebler; the quantity of life in them has gone down. It is so with the decays of the soul. Some men are constantly telling us that religious character and religious agencies around them have changed for the worse. According to them, everything is against them in the situation they occupy; they have neither the Christian fellowship that will suit them, nor the Christian ministry that will profit. But the fault is nearer home. It is this, the eye that discerns things is dim.
4. It is proved by men’s views of truth and duty. Old age painfully betrays its unconsciousness by tricking itself out in the dress and aping the manners of a youth. Time that has long gone by. And does not the ignorance of the backslider betray itself in the same self-willed way? Men in whom the paralysis of a religious decay has begun, continue to use the language, and engage in the services, and involve themselves in the responsibilities that are proper only to those who are in possession of grace,--strong with the strength and bright with the bloom of a youth which their God maintains.
II. The causes of this unconscious decay.
1. This spiritual deterioration is usually so very gradual. If the infirmities of old age leapt forth at a spring, the reality would be plain and undeniable enough. So with the soul. The lapse of strength is so gradual, the progress of decay is so subtle and so slow. Spiritual decline is like physical decline,
2. While the process is gradual, it is sometimes general, affecting others than ourselves. One reason why so many are unconscious of the havocs of old age lies in this, that their companions are getting old round about them. In the spiritual sphere, let a man surround himself with the society of the irreligious and the worldly, let him live where, on every side of him, he sees habits of life and standards of thought that are all but the counterparts of his own; is it so strange that he should be unconscious of his state? It is just such society a backslider seeks, to the silencing of his better nature, and the confirmation of his own self-deception. There is no human standard he can judge by, no human contrast that can rouse him.
3. As the unconsciousness of old age is always associated with the wish to believe one’s self young, so the unconsciousness of spiritual decay is produced by the desire to believe one’s self prosperous. With the man who tries to minimise his shortcomings, and persuade himself that his life and his creed are in harmony, self-examination is neglected, the plain speaking of faithful friends is resented, the home-thrusts of a Gospel ministry are parried, the testimony of the revealing Word is avoided. All the time the decay is going on. The man is unfeeling and in danger of becoming past feeling. What of ourselves, brethren? (W. A. Gray.)
The blindness of a people to their own degeneracy
Grey hairs on Ephraim denoted his moral degeneracy, or spiritual declension. He is described in this chapter as very immoral, corrupt, and profligate. But he was so stupid in his degenerate and languishing state that he took no notice of the visible and mortal symptoms upon him. When a degenerate people are blind to the marks of their degeneracy, they are in a dangerous condition.
I. When do a people bear marks of moral degeneracy?
1. When they neglect the religious duties which they once practised. The children of Israel were once a very religious people. After a while they began to degenerate; forsook the house and worship of God, cast His laws behind their backs, and did what was right in their own eyes. They became formal, insincere, and hypocritical. In the time of Hosea they were covered with grey hairs, the sad marks of religious degeneracy.
2. When they dislike, oppose, and reject the plain and important doctrines of true religion, which they once professed to love and believe. A people generally become corrupt in practice before they become corrupt in principle. God’s people soon became unsteadfast in their covenant, and as corrupt in sentiment as they had been in practice. They took up with the doctrines and delusions of the grossest idolaters.
3. When they run into such irreligious and vicious practices, as they once hated and avoided. This was the case of Israel in the days of their declension. They fell into every species of vice and dissipation. A sure sign of degeneracy.
4. When they justify themselves and others in the evil courses which they once condemned. When Israel became degenerate, they justified unholy, unscriptural, and ungodly conduct in themselves and others. A people often become very wicked when they presume to justify one another in their wickedness. This is one of the most visible and striking signs of a general and gross degeneracy.
II. Why are a degenerate people so blind to the visible marks of their degeneracy?
1. Because they have degenerated gradually. This the metaphor of the text intimates. They neglect one religious duty, then another and another, until they neglect them all. They countenance and justify one sinful course after another, and finally justify all evil and condemn all good.
2. Moral degeneracy is of a blinding nature. It flows from a corrupt heart, which blinds reason and conscience.
3. They choose to be blind, because they are loath to see their own criminality. When they review their past, they feel self-reproach and self-condemnation: so they avoid reviewing. They hold fast deceit and refuse o return.
III. Their voluntary and criminal blindness to their degeneracy exposes them to peculiar danger.
1. It prevents them from using the proper means of reformation. So long as people think they are pursuing a right course, they will have no thought or desire of reforming. A great politician says, “It was never known that any degenerate nation ever reformed themselves.” If reformed, it was owing to some foreign superior power. This is as true of religion as of civil government.
2. It disposes them to resist all means that are used to reform them Such persons may fear that God will say, Let them alone, and use no more means with them. Improvement--
(1) A people may degenerate in religion while they are making great progress in other respects. Success in their secular concerns naturally tends to make them worldly-minded. They ardently desire temporal prosperity, and prefer it to religious attainments and growth in grace.
(2) It is a favour to a degenerate people to have the marks of their degeneracy plainly pointed out. For though they are so visible, yet they are willingly blind to them. The more unwilling they are to see the disagreeable marks of their degeneracy, the more necessary it is that they should be made, if possible, to see them; for without the sight of them, God Himself cannot reform them.
(3) Have you not degenerated in respect to the religious duties which you once practised?
(4) Manifestly the people referred to in the text were in a very dangerous state.
(5) There is peculiar need of special Divine influence to revive the languishing state of religion, over which we may have to mourn.
(6) A time of religious declension is a time for all the sincere, faithful friends of God to seek unto Him for His gracious, renewing, sanctifying, and quickening influences. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The wise man has said, “A hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” It is so, as a symbol of honoured age, bringing deserved veneration; a type of wisdom; a sign of long and faithful service to God and man; and is thus deserving of honour; while the fresh young heart is always moving with its own enthusiasm, though sometimes fettered by increasing infirmities. Over such a grey head no one has need to mourn. Why then does Hosea speak in these terms of Ephraim? Because, as drivelling dotage and decrepitude are the result and penal consequence of a misspent life, and as old age to such is “the sere and yellow leaf,” so its near approach is to be dreaded and shrunk from. Ephraim’s was an ungodly, immoral, irreligious dotage. “Grey hairs” is simply a typical phrase setting forth the loss of the promise of early youth, through a prodigal disregard of Divine favour and support.
I. The twofold sign of religious declension. “Grey hairs,” and ignorance of their existence. The symptoms by which it is manifested.
1. Decline of interest in Divine things. When a man’s enthusiasm cools down, and he forgets the freshness and vigour of his spiritual youth, he exhibits the grey hairs--the first streaks of silver whiteness which betoken spiritual decrepitude. True, there are many godly Christians who, marking that their interest is not so deep and fresh as in the past, are under a constant cloud of dread. Now this concern is not a symptom of real decline, but of intensified and increased anxiety and desire for the things an interest in which we fear to lose. It is not the issuing forth of the verdict of conscience; but such dissatisfaction is similar to that of the apostle Paul: “Not as though I had already attained,” etc. Such concern is salutary and preservative--a sign of watchfulness and vigour, and it will succeed in averting the evil it dreads. It is a great blessing when a Christian’s conscience is sensitive and active. But what I mean is, that listless indifference to the blessings of Christian privileges, that indolent abstinence from the performance of Christian duty which marks the conduct of so many in our churches.
2. Too great a love of worldliness. “Ah!” say you, “there you are again! Worldliness! just one of the counters you ministers play with, words which mean anything or nothing.” Well, so long as the New Testament stands it will be the duty of every minister of Christ to repeat these words: “Love not the world, neither the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” It is all very well to reply “this was said of the heathen world, but times are different now.” Talk about pagan Rome! What about London? What about Oxford? Are our streets so pure that we can dispense with the exhortation, “Love not the world,” etc.? There may be, e.g., too much absorption in permissible things. No man has a right to forbid us to devote a due portion of our time to lawful business; but it is so easy for a man, when he at first becomes lawfully absorbed, to glide insensibly into too much absorption. I value no man’s manhood who is not anxious about his worldly position and reputation; but when this becomes all in all; or when he longs for the condiments and stimulants of worldly pleasure; when a man yawns and looks about him and feels there’s nothing in life worth living for; when Christianity does not satisfy his desires, and so he goes in search of objects which gradually usurp the position of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that the whilom Christian begins by giving undue prominence to worldly things and ends by substituting them for the Divine; then let him beware--“Grey hairs are here and there upon him,” though perhaps he knows it not.
3. Loss of power: for Christian work and for spiritual conflict. You ask a man to undertake some Christian duty, and he says he cannot do it. He means it, and it is true! for it is, alas! very possible for a Christian man to lose not only inclination, but power. Watch that man, and as time goes on his powerlessness is more and more evident, till he becomes a mere creature of circumstances, a waif on the current, a piece of thistle-down, the sport of contrary winds: instead of placing his heel on the neck of his lusts. Your indisposition and incapacity for work have this awful other side: you are unable to resist the power of temptation. You can do nothing for God, and have no power to strive against evil. Beware of loss of energy: your enfeebled state, the result of “wasted substance” is a sure sign that “grey hairs are here and there upon you.”
II. Its causes.
1. Indolence: this always ends in inability. First and foremost the Christian has to cultivate the grace of industry. With activity and watchful earnestness, there is no fear of inability and decrepitude.
2. Neglect of wholesome spiritual food--God’s appointed ordinances and means of grace.
3. Unchristian society. “Strangers have devoured his strength.” Descending to the level of such society makes us feel we are fit for no higher, and disinclines us for the work of God. And with it all, the saddest thing is, “he knoweth not.” “Because thou sayest, and knowest not,” etc. (Revelation 3:1-22.). Awful ignorance, accompanied by a senile conceit. Haven’t looked in the glass of God’s Word.
III. The cure. Not a mere nostrum. You will never get rid of the deep-running evil by cleansing the surface of the stream.
1. Through self-examination. Let us be candid with ourselves. The first result may be panic and shivering dread; but don’t be afraid of the mirror: take it in your hand on bended knees. There must be fair dealing with conscience: let it speak out! If it condemns, well and good! Better to know now than through all eternity what fools we have been. Know the best, or know the worst. Be thankful to God if the best be; be thankful, too, if the worst leads you to return to Him with broken heart. A hearty, humbling sense of sin means sanctification and salvation.
2. Humble application to the Great Physician. He has had many such cases. Poor David became exceedingly grey-headed, but under the bracing remedies of the Great Physician he went forth once more the man after God’s own heart. (J. Dunn.)
Among the reminders and remonstrances which it was the mission of the prophet, the son of Beeri, in the days of Ahaz and Hezekiah, to deliver to Ephraim, there was this significant passage, expressive of a reckless people’s unconscious decline, whose lapses were taken account of on high, and Ephraim knew it not--“Yea, grey hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not.” Who, asks Hartley Coleridge, ever saw their first grey hairs, or marked the crow feet at the angle of the eyes, without a sigh or a tear, a momentaneous self-abasement, a sudden sinking of the soul, a thought that youth is fled for ever? “None but the blessed few that, having dedicated the spring of their life to heaven, behold in the shedding of their vernal blossoms a promise that the season of immortal fruit is near.” Grey hairs, in an advancing stage of the plural number, may be here and there upon us before we know of it. But the actual discovery of the first is a bit of an epoch in one’s life; and if one exclaims, Eureka! it is hardly in the most jubilant of tones, or the most exultant of tempers. It is among the graver of his recreations that a clerical essayist pictures to himself, man or woman, thoughtful, earnest, and pious, sitting down and musing at the sight of the first grey hairs. Here is the slight shadow, he puts it, of “a certain great event which is to come”; the earliest touch of a chili hand that must prevail at length. Here is manifest decay; we have begun to die. (Francis Jacox, B. A.)
Signs of spiritual declension
We note such as may be found in the individual life.
I. Some of the signs of spiritual decay. They are not numerous and obtrusive, betokening one ripe for the grave, but the grey hairs are “here and there,” requiring some attention ere we are aware of them.
1. There is the growth of the critical temper. There is a critical temper which is no sign of health. It is a ready fault-finding. Hosea accuses the people of outspoken and defiant unbelief; “he stretched out his hand with scorners.” That was the ending and consummation of apostasy; but the beginning was the hinted dislike, the cool acquiescence, the captious criticism, the inclination to see spots in the sun, to pick holes in sacred things. The habit of criticism grows as faith declines.
2. An abatement of feeling. A sincere, consecrated soul is full of feeling, emotion, intensity. It regards the good and beautiful with enthusiasm, the evil and ugly with abhorrence. But it is possible for the most intense Christian soul to lose its sensibility and to become callous. And such a process of hardening may be very gradual. There is a creeping moral paralysis.
3. A relaxed conscience. Hosea saw in Ephraim luxury, profligacy, license, idolatry--things they had learned from the pagan. In this direction we too must watch for signs of degeneration. There may be no overt act of iniquity whilst the process of deterioration is still going on. We hear it said of a Christian man, “he is not as particular as he used to be.” That often means that “grey hairs” are seen upon them. Any practical antinomianism is a sure sign of spiritual decay.
4. An increased leaning to the worldly side of life. The world grows upon us, its interests, its friendships, its pleasures. Men choke the higher life with the lust of gold, they strangle it with silken cords of fashion and pleasure; and the gold that chokes is taken in small doses, the cord that strangles is woven a thread at a time. Grey hairs have a tendency to multiply quickly, and secret venial weaknesses may precipitate flagrant backsliding.
II. We may be quite unconscious of the mischief. The complaint, “he knoweth it not,” is repeated with an air of surprise. Men are often unconscious of the decay of their physical powers and mental faculties. It is the same with men morally and spiritually--conscience, faith, feeling, hope, and aspiration decline, and yet they go on as confidently as ever. How do men resist the teaching of the grey hairs?
1. They make light of them. It is quite a humorous event, those first grey hairs. But for all the merriment it is a pathetic signal. So men talk away and smile away the first signs of spiritual declension.
2. They pull out the grey hairs; resolutely refusing to look at the fact of growing weakness and age. There is a corresponding mood to this in the spiritual life. Whenever disquieting signs appear, we absolutely decline to give them a place in our thoughts.
3. Sometimes the grey hairs are hidden. People are very clever in hiding the warning hints of nature. So we have ingenious ways of hiding from ourselves and passing over the ominous signs of a weakened faith, an impaired conscience, a declining spirituality, a less strenuous Christian life. We enlarge upon our excelling good, instead of noting the exceptional and unusual evil which, spreading, may spoil all.
4. Perhaps we give the grey hairs another colour. We are masters in these days of capillary chromatics. The tokens of decay are turned into things of beauty and pride. And we often give to the signs of spiritual decay another colour. We do not call our carping criticism of revelation unbelief; we dub it “an open mind.” We do not brand our coolness and insensibility as indifference; we know it as “the philosophic mind.” We do not call our carnal compliances walking after the flesh; we are getting rid of puritanism. Christian men transfigure the very signs of their backsliding, and glory in the things which ought to fill them with concern (W. L. Watkinson.)
The unobserved grey hairs
Take the text--
1. Grey hairs excite our admiration. Beautiful arrangement of Providence--that old age should be spent in sitting still and taking life easily. The first years of a man’s life are spent in weakness. Why? That he may prepare himself--physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually--for the life that lies before him. So also the last years. Age resembles childhood as sunset resembles sunrise.
2. Grey hairs are matter for gratitude. Life is like a table-land: many die in descending the slope from birth to the age of thirty; many more in walking along the level plain from thirty to fifty; few live to descend the slope on the other side.
3. Grey hairs are matter for serious contemplation. “It is an awful pity,” said Sir Thomas Smith, Queen Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, “that so few men know for what purpose they came into the world until they are ready to go out of it.”
4. Grey hairs are matter for searching of heart. Opportunities wasted: the final opportunity almost gone.
II. Figuratively. The folly of neglecting life’s warnings.
1. We ought not to need special warnings.
(1) Reason speaks to us. We know that as surely as night crones after day and autumn follows summer, so death follows life and eternity time.
(2) Observation and experience speak to us. The noise of weeping is in palace and hovel: old and young, good and evil, fair and frail go in steady procession to the grave.
(3) Revelation warns us that it is appointed unto man once to die, etc.
2. Yet the gradualness of life’s transitions renders these special messengers acceptable. And experience proves them necessary. “Our clock,” says Carlyle, “strikes when there is a change from hour to hour; but no hammer in the horologue of time peals through the universe when there is a change from era to era.” The transitions of our lives from one stage to the next are wrought in similar silence. They are hardly perceptible. And yet--to-day, to-morrow, and the next day, and in all its vivid reality, the sea of glass and the eternal shore will burst upon us. In view of the gradualness of this progress to eternity, and the certainty of our destiny, we may be grateful for the reminder of grey hairs.
3. The angels of God come to us with silent footsteps. Grey hairs are “the first faint streaks of the morning”; but then, what will that morning mean to us?
III. Spiritually. A neglected Bible, listlessness in prayer, coldness towards the Master, indifference towards sin, the shunning of Christian companionships, carelessness as to attendance at the house of God, callousness as to the eternal welfare of others,--these are grey hairs that appear upon us, but we neither notice them, nor the fearful declension of which they tell. One day I met a man of eighty. I said: “My friend, will you not truss the Saviour?” “No, no,” he answered; “I’m too old, too old!” The very next day I met a youth of sixteen. “My friend,” I said again, “will you not trust the Saviour?” “No, no,” he answered; “I’m too young, too young!” And betwixt that “too old” and that “too young” we all go dancing to our everlasting doom. What a strain on the mercy of God! (F. W. Boreham)
Hoariness was upon man
Some understand by this that the Israelites were not improved by long succession of years, by advance of age. But the prophet rather expresses the greatness of their calamities, when he says, “hoariness was sprinkled over him.” When any one is grievously pained and afflicted, he becomes hoary through the very pressure of evils. Israel had been visited with so many evils that he was worn out, as it were, with old age; the prophet intimates that the diseases which prevailed among the people of Israel were incurable, for they could by no remedies be brought to repentance. (John Calvin.)
They do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek Him for this.
I. The duty of seeking God. In the Scriptures this stands for the whole of religion. Religion is thus substantially expressed for two reasons--because it is with God that we have principally to do. Our principal dependence is upon Him; our principal expectations are from Him; our principal connections are with Him. And because, before we can have anything to do with Him, we must find Him. Morally and spiritually considered, we are away from God, and God is away from us. We have left Him criminally, and He has left us penalty. Our first concern, therefore, is to find God, and for this purpose we are to seek after Him. See four purposes for which we are to seek God, and which enter essentially into genuine religion.
1. We are to seek to know Him. Here genuine religion begins.
2. We must seek to enjoy Him, and in order to this we must be reconciled. Till His anger is turned away from us, He cannot comfort us.
3. We are to seek to serve Him. He is our Master to obey and to wait upon.
4. We must seek to resemble Him. It is the essence of religion, to be like Him whom we worship. You cannot resemble His natural perfections; you can His moral perfections.
II. The neglect of this duty. “They do not seek the Lord their God.” Are there no exceptions? Yes, God always has His remnant. But the language of Scripture is awful upon this subject. Its language implies generality, if it does not imply universality. Glance at five classes of delinquents.
1. Infidels. Who deny, at least, the moral providence and government of God, and also a future state.
2. The profligate. These hide not their sin as Sodom, but publish it like unto Gomorrah.
3. The careless. Who are indifferent to everything of a religious nature.
4. Formalists. Who have a name that they live, but are dead.
5. Partial seekers. Whose goodness is like the morning cloud. Not always insincere at the time. Their religion is dependent upon external excitements. This is enough to refute the lies you find in all our churchyards, where every tombstone and every headstone tells you that all the parish has gone to heaven, or is going there.
III. The aggravation of this neglect. “They seek not the Lord their God for all this.” All what? How various and numerous are the means which God is providing, and which He perpetually employs as the prevention of sin and the excitements to holiness; or to induce men to seek the Lord their God. What are they? Profusion of benefits in nature, providence, and grace. The Scriptures, which men have in their own hand, and in their own tongue. Sending His ministers, so that men can hear the words of eternal life. The power of conscience. The various addresses, reproofs, admonitions, encouragements, derived from their various connections, father, mother, etc. Afflictions. Public calamities. The Jews were threatened with four very sore judgments.
1. From wild and noisome beasts.
2. From war.
3. From famine.
Here we recently have awfully resembled them. The sermon was preached on the day of national humiliation on account of the cholera. But repentance is never produced by unmixed terror. Terror may drive, but goodness alone leads to repentance. You are not to yield entirely to the seducements of croaking and brooding. Close with a reflection, turning on the goodness of God and depravity of man. The goodness of God, who sees all sins, and yet forbears. The depravity of man, in that the beneficiaries are constantly neglecting and opposing their kind Benefactor. How the goodness of God and the depravity of man have been displayed in our country. Apply to individuals. Individualise you in your gratitude, your penitence, your danger, and your hope. (William Jay.)
Will not be humbled
1. God expects we should turn upon affliction.
2. Afflictions, if not sanctified, will never turn the heart.
3. It is a great aggravation of men’s sins not to turn under afflictions.
4. Though afflictions may work repentance, yet such repentance is seldom true; it will not often sustain the trial.
5. True repentance is rather a seeking of God’s face than our own case from afflictions. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart.
A silly dove
The race of Ephraim is not extinct. Men are to this day very much like what they were in the days of the prophets.
I. A saintly similitude. “Ephraim is like a dove.” The dove is the figure constantly chosen to set forth the beauty of holiness, the believer, the Church, and the Holy Spirit. In all congregations there are those who are like doves, but not Christ’s doves. You cannot tell them from genuine believers. They are quite harmless. They do no mischief to others in their lives. They are amiable, admirable. They are like doves for loving good company. They have the same meekness, apparently, as distinguishes the dove. They are not sceptics: they frequent the house of God, behave in a seemly manner, and with meekness receive the Word. The dove is a cleanly feeder, and we have many who get as far as that. They have come to know the doctrines of the Gospel. But, while they have an orthodox head, they have a heterodox heart. As a dove is molested by all sorts of birds of prey, so these persons do, for a time, share the lot which befalls the people of God.
II. A secret distinction. “A dove without heart.” “This implies a lack of understanding. The dove knows but little, and is easily snared. It does not seem to possess the wits and senses of stone others of the feathered tribe. So there are many who have no real knowledge of the truth. They rest in the letter, and think that is enough. They also lack a decided heart, and a bold heart, and a powerless heart.
III. A severe description. “A silly dew;” There may be some sort of dignity in being a fool, but to be silly--to attract no attention except ridicule--is so utterly bad, that I do not know how a more sarcastic name could be applied.
IV. A serious consideration. It is no rare thing to find the attendant of the sanctuary an unbeliever. Be not deceived; the Gospel will harden such people as now are. Some of the grossest men were once credulous and apparently meek-hearted hearers of the Word, but they sat under the preaching of the Gospel till they grew ripe enough to deny God and curse Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Simplicity may be unworthy
The prophet blames Israel for foolish credulity, and compares them to a dove, for they had invited the Egyptians and sent to Assyria for help. Simplicity is indeed a commendable virtue when joined to prudence. But as everything reasonable and judicious in men is turned into wickedness, when there is no integrity; so when men are too credulous and void of all judgment and reason, it is then mere folly. And this folly is opposed to the knowledge which God had offered Israel in His law. It was not that they sinned through ignorance, but that they were destitute of all judgment. Men are not to be excused by the pretext of simplicity, for the prophet condemns this weakness in the Israelites. We ought to attend to the rule of Christ, “to be innocent as doves, yet to be prudent as serpents.” When we despise the Word and neglect the Spirit of God, and follow our vagrant imaginations, we despise and quench the light of the Word, and we also wilfully perish, when the Lord would save us. (John Calvin.)
The silliness of sin
When pursued by a bird of prey the dove trusts to the rapidity of its flight, instead of at once throwing itself into the nearest recess, where the interference of man, or the narrowness of the place might render it secure from molestation. So Ephraim, instead of trusting God, rested his hope of defence on negotiations with Assyria or Egypt. What do naturalists say about the dove?
I. It is too silly to defend its own. Most creatures will stand by their young and defend them to the last; but the dove allows them to be captured without resistance. Ephraim had sunk into this state: his most distinguished blessings were going from him, and he did not struggle to retain them. The sinner will not battle with the devil to defend his own--his force of thought--his sensibility of conscience--his freedom of will--his purity of love--he allows these precious things to be taken from him without a struggle.
II. It is too silly to feel its loss. The dove will lose its nest, and not feel it. Men under the influence of sin do not feel their loss. Whatever is taken from them, they still cling to earthly things.
III. It is too silly to escape danger (Proverbs 7:23). So sinners will not flee to the right place of safety. They are too silly to be calm under trial. The dove has not the courage to stay in the dove-house when frightened, it flutters and hovers round, and so exposes itself to new and greater dangers. So Ephraim hurried forth in quest of foreign help, and was the more exposed to calamities and ruin. And it is thus with souls under the influence of sin. (Homilist.)
I will spread My net upon them; I will bring them down as the fowls of the heaven.
The fowler of retribution
Trans. “As they go, I spread My net over them, I bring them down as fowls of the heavens.” As they go to Egypt or Asshur, seeking help in their difficulties. Here the work of retribution is spoken of as the work of the fowler. It includes two things.
I. Entrapment. The retributive providence of God’ employed the Assyrians as a net, which so ensnared the Israelites that they could not escape. How often in the history of the world is this retributive entrapment witnessed! Illustrate--Joseph’s brethren. Crucifixion of Christ. Luther at Wattburg. Bunyan at Bedford. The net that entangled sinners is not manufactured in heaven, it is made on earth, made by themselves.
II. Abasement. However high up they may tower in their ambitious work, retribution has missiles to bring them down. There are men who, in their worldly prosperity, pride, and ambition, soar like the eagles high up in heaven above all the rest. An ancient philosopher, being” asked what Jupiter does in the highest heaven, replied, “He pulls down the haughty, and exalts the humble.” (Homilist.)
The dove brought down from its almost viewless height, fluttering weakly, helplessly, and hopelessly under those same meshes, is a picture of the self-dependent spirit humiliated, overwhelmed by inevitable evils, against which it impotently struggles, from which it seems to see its escape, but by which it is held as fast as if it lay motionless in iron. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
They have not cried unto Me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds.
When called to encounter dangers, every possible precaution should be taken beforehand. Seasons of peril and distress often wring from the most hardened expressions of sorrow and remorse. These are to be attributed, for the most part, to the alarming perplexity in which they are involved, and differ widely from the heart-felt supplications of the humble and contrite. The procrastinating sinner cannot delude the all-seeing God by his selfish attempt to palm off these shrieks of a terrified soul for the sincere sorrow of the penitent. There are few persons so hardened in guilt as not to promise themselves some season of amendment; and, strange as it may appear, a death bed repentance is that upon which they rely.
1. The grand motive which should influence the sinner in turning to God is love to the kind and gracious Father, who has so long borne with his waywardness, and a sincere desire to promote His glory.
2. A reliance on a death-bed repentance implies a doubt of the declarations of the Bible, that God expects us to walk before Him during the days of our earthly pilgrimage in holiness and righteousness. God commands us, most explicitly, to work while it is day, and reminds us of an hour when the Master of the house, having closed the door, all applications for admission, no matter how loud or importunate, will be in vain.
3. It is a prominent feature in the great plan of redemption that we should openly acknowledge our allegiance to God by becoming a member of His Church; and by a holy life and heavenly conversation “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.” If all should look to a death-bed repentance to fit them for heaven, what a prospect the world would present!
4. In these enlightened days, it would be difficult to find one within the limits of civilised life, who had not repeatedly heard of the offers of mercy, through the merits of a crucified Saviour. The world, however, has presented too many charms; business completely engrossed his thoughts; the care of providing for the mere earthly wants of a family engaged too much of his time to leave any for the concerns of his soul. If the thought arises, When shall I prepare for my final account? the devil stands ready to suggest that a few hours of prayer on a death-bed will be preparation enough. And the careless worldling listens most readily to the sly tempter’s advice. (John N. Norton.)
Insufficiency and hypocrisy of death-bed remorse
That religion can never be genuine and saving, lasting and happy, which is not the religion of the heart. By the heart is meant that which universal custom ‘has attached to the term, namely, the choice, the affections, the pleasures, the sincerity of the soul. Religion must be our chosen portion, our beloved employ, our chief delight, our sincere and real character. There is a radical deficiency, an utter worthlessness in the religion that does not reach and possess and penetrate the heart. It is a mere name, a mere form, a mere pretence, a mere delusion. Nothing short of Divine grace can plant religion in the heart. There is in the carnal mind of man an aversion to genuine religion. The renewing of the mind is therefore plainly essential to true godliness. All means must in themselves be insufficient to produce genuine religion.
I. The deep and awful impressions often produced on the minds of sinners by the apparently near approach of death. “They howled upon their beds.” The word “howled” imports the violence of all their emotions and cries and protestations; rage mingled with their terror.
1. At such a time the soul is awakened.
2. As the natural result of the awakening of the soul it is filled with terror.
3. Now the soul of such an awakened sufferer is filled with tormenting regrets and self-upbraidings for past folly, neglect, and wicked ness.
4. Resolutions of repentance and reformation, if life should but be spared, are often most violently expressed; and no more perhaps is said than is at the moment meant. But such resolutions often betray the sufferer’s ignorance of the treachery, corruption, and weakness of his own heart.
II. Frequently such terrors are unaccompanied by any change of heart, and the professions and resolutions made under such circumstances are often hypocritical. Afflictions are, indeed, the established means by which God awakens the careless, slumbering souls of men to an effectual saving sense of Divine things. The man who makes death-bed professions is often more deluded than those Whom he addresses.
III. Found on these considerations an argument to enforce serious attention to the solemn affairs of the soul during the period of health and ease. Man is a being so constituted and circumstanced by his Maker that it becomes his duty and interest to carry forward his Views to the future, and to make a timely provision for it. Religion makes great use of this reasonable principle of our nature. Here is the greatest need, the highest exercise for a wise providence in preparing for futurity. We must die. Take that statement to include all that inseparably attends and follows death. With such a prospect before us can we with any wisdom, with any safety, defer to the last critical hour the great work of preparation for an event so awful and momentous? (A. W.)
Though I have bound and strengthened their arms, yet do they imagine mischief against Me.
Divine dispensations abused
I. God’s dispensations with men are characterised by variety. The events of human life are of a mixed and conflicting character. But all are under the direction of the Great Father. As the soil to be fruitful requires the frosts of winter as well as the sunbeams of spring and summer, man requires trials as well as joys to make his spirit fruitful in good works.
II. Whatever the character of the divine dispensations they are often perverted. “They imagine mischief against Me” It matters not what the treatment, they continue to rebel. They are like the sterile ground, to which all seasons, all weathers are alike. Observe--
1. The force of the human will. It can oppose the influences of God, and turn what He designs for good to ill. Man is a voluntary agent. This links him to moral government, makes him responsible for his actions, and invests his existence with a momentous solemnity.
2. The depravity of the human heart. This force of will explains not man’s rebellion, for regenerate souls and holy angels have it, and they run in the way of the Divine commandments. The reason of the rebellion is the depravity of the human heart, which is desperately wicked. Then open your hearts to the various dispensations of heaven; and be thankful for their variety. (Homilist.)
They return, but not to the Most High.
Sin, in its worst, forms, was rampant in the land, and the very rulers rejoiced in the wickedness of their people. The cause of all this social and national decay was in their original departure from the fear of the Lord. That was the root of the tree which bore such poisonous fruit. A melancholy description of character is given in this chapter. Warned by God’s servants of the dangers that were before them, the people were for a time startled into a kind of thoughtfulness and reformation. But they soon became worse than before. The nation was, by turns, very religious and repenting, and very wicked and iniquitous. In the text we are shown what in them was defective, and led to the disastrous consequences of their ultimate captivity. It was their partial, unspiritual repentance. They returned, but not to God. They returned, and so imagined all was well with them, but not to God, and so, at length, destruction overtook them. Their repentance was a godless thing. So often, when men are aroused from their carelessness, they go a little way, but not the whole way; they retrace their steps, but they do not return to God.
I. Things which indicate the presence of imperfect repentance.
1. The grounds on which sorrow is felt by such a penitent for sin. There is nothing of God in the sorrow. The regret has the character of remorse and not that of repentance. It is grief for the consequences and punishment of sin, and not for the guilt of it in the sight of God. Of such worldly sorrow there are not a few painful instances in the Word of God. Saul, Pharaoh, Ahab, etc.
2. The character of the reformation which such a penitent makes. He returns to what he was before he fell into heinous sin; or, at least, to the worldly standard of respectable morality, but not to God. It is all external, not internal. It makes the man for the time a Pharisee, but not a Christian. This is very common in our times. A man has been addicted to some vice; he is prone to consider that repentance for him just means abstinence from that sin; and so he rests in that as if it were all that is required. He mistakes the laying aside of his besetting sin for the laying aside of every weight. Another form of this partial reformation is to be found in the external formalism of those who imagine that to repent means simply to attend church, take the communion, etc. When a man rests in that, as if it were reformation, he is not returning unto God.
3. The nature of the motive from which this reformation is set about. It is not for God’s sake, but their own sake, and that very much as restricted to this life that they seek to return. It is of the nature of a bargain, in which the sinner covenants to give so much, if God will give so much, and not at all of the nature of a return for many favours received at the hands of God. It is repentance for the sake of his own interest, not for God’s glory, and the work of Christ has had no share in it; it is done without God’s Spirit.
II. Dangerous consequences that result from this partial repentance.
1. It leads to self-deception. The man thinks that all is right with him because he has come so far, while, in point of fact, everything is wrong. He becomes thus in a manner proof against all expostulation, and dexterously turns away from him every appeal that can be made. There is no form of self-deception more common and more dangerous.
2. It leads to self-conceit. The man has done it all himself, and is very well satisfied with the doing. He carries his head higher than his fellows. He is even led to cavil at and decry many of the most important principles of the Gospel. It exalts man into his own saviour, and that is tantamount to saying it leaves a man unsaved.
3. It leads to repeated fallings away. This is a corollary from the last. “A proud look goeth before a fall.” Christians who have true repentance do sometimes fall. But it is when they too have become heady and high-minded. The falls are not legitimate consequences of their repentance. But in the case of partial penitents nothing else could be expected.
4. It leads to the hardened heart. Nothing so tends to indurate the soul as the frequent repetition of such imperfect turnings.
5. It leads to swift and sudden destruction.
III. Indicate what trite repentance is. There is--
1. A proper sense of sin. It is a departure from God.
2. A proper idea of God. That reacts upon the sense of sin, making it more intense and powerful. God now is viewed as the God of love. At the foot of the Cross the revelation comes of what sin is, and of what God is.
3. A genuine reformation. It is a return of the whole man to God. The word implies a new heart as well as a new life, or rather, a new heart in order to a new life. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
I. They return. Some change is effected in their conduct, and perhaps in their disposition.
1. There is a moral distance from God, which is the state of all men by nature. They do not seek Him as the supreme good, nor serve Him as the Sovereign Lord.
2. A sinner’s return, if feigned, still supposes a sense of this distance to be impressed upon the mind, sufficient to warn him at least of his danger.
3. Ephraim’s return supposes some partial change both in the disposition and in the outward behaviour. Some sins are avoided and some duties performed in order to satisfy conscience and appease present convictions. The power of conscience and self-love may carry men a great way in religion, but leave them short of eternal life. Be not content with engaging in this or the other duty, or with making a profession of religion; but let there be a thorough and effectual change, a total renunciation of sin, and a surrender of the whole soul to God.
II. They return, “but not to the most high.” Instances of defective repentance in persons who are under religious impressions.
1. There are some who rest in their convictions, as others do in their sins.
2. Some become satisfied with a mere negative religion.
3. Some are confident of their salvation merely because of their imaginary joys and comforts.
4. Some rest satisfied with Gospel privileges in having a name and a place among the saints, and thus deceive their own souls. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Conscience daily condemns; but the Spirit is ever at hand suggesting godly and penitent thoughts and drawing our hearts to God. Men in general are extremely anxious to pacify and still the upbraiding voice of conscience, but real and heartfelt repentance is the last method which they will make use of for this purpose. Sinners take every way but the right one for quieting their guilty fears. If we could look through the world, and dive into men’s secret thoughts and motives, we should find self-deception prevailing under an immense variety of forms. There is but one kind of repentance which is acceptable to God. There are a thousand ways of stifling the conscience and deceiving ourselves with something like repentance.
1. One of the most common errors on this subject is, when a man imagines that he has repented and forsaken his sin, although the truth is, that he is no longer tempted strongly to the indulgence of that particular sin. He is conscious of an alteration in his life, and, this makes him think that he has amended his life. Illustrate by a young man s giving up his vices, and by the aged man who is become old and infirm. Their hearts may be quite unchanged. You have not repented because you are no longer guilty of certain sins which you once habitually committed.
2. Some persons are alarmed by the voice of conscience to such a degree that they can no longer continue in the unrestrained course of sin and folly which hitherto they have pursued. The Spirit of God strives with them very earnestly in order to bring them to His fold. After many severe struggles with their convictions, they set about the work of repentance and reformation. But these persons, after the first alarm has subsided, grow weary of well-doing. The outward amendment goes as far as a certain point, but no further. Different men will carry it to different lengths. But in all these cases something is kept back. The heart is wrong. There was some selfish end in view. The love of sin still reigns in the heart. Men cast off some outward sinful practices without returning to God.
3. There are some whose repentance consists, not in forsaking sin, but in performing some outward religious duties. They are religious on Sundays only. To lay unpleasant thoughts to sleep they become strict and regular in their attendance at the house of God. Some persons, in order to quiet their consciences by a decent show of religion, will go very far in outward acts of devotion. But the evils in their lives are not put aside.
4. Our Lord has described another description of persons, who lull their consciences to sleep by a false repentance, in the parable of the sower. “Some seed fell among thorns.” They begin well, but their ardour and earnestness soon fall off, they lose their first love. The principal part of their religion consists in right notions and accurate views, but their hearts are still unchanged. It is easier for such persons to learn their own state by serious and honest self-examination, than it is for others to discover it for them. The work, then, must be done by yourselves. (J. Jowett, M. A.)