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The princes of Judah, with the carpenters and smiths from Jerusalem.
The nobility of work
I. All labour becomes truly noble regarded as the service of God. To regard labour simply as a stern necessity of human life is to convert the workman into a slave, and his toil into drudgery. The glory of the angels is found in the fact they are messengers of God. And all the work of our hand attains its highest glory wrought out in the love and fear of God. The apostle gives us the true point of view (Ephesians 6:6-8). Here we have God the Taskmaster. “Doing the will of God.” Not only what we are pleased to call our highest work for Him, but our lowliest toil also, serving Him with two brown hands as Gabriel serves in the presence of the throne with two white wings. Here we have also God the Paymaster. “Whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.” God is a grand paymaster, He is a sure one, and rich beyond all hope are they who do His bidding. In the class-meeting a poor man said to me, “It was very strange, sir, but the other day, whilst I was looking after my horses, God visited me and wonderfully blessed me; it was very strange He should visit me like this in a stable.” “Not at all,” said I, “it is a fulfilment of the prophecy: ‘In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses Holiness unto the Lord,’” &c. In an old book I was reading the other day the writer laughed at some commoner who had just been made a peer, because he had his coat of arms burned and painted even upon his shovels and wheelbarrows. In my reckoning, that was a very fine action, and full of significance. If a man is a true man he is a man of God, a prince of God; and he ought to pat the stamp of his nobility on the commonest things with which he has to do.
II. All labour becomes truly noble regarded as a ministry to humanity. Few men, comparatively, realise the social bearing of their toil, and therefore know it as an insipid thing, when in truth it is their rich privilege to taste in all their work the joy of a good Samaritan, for all conscientious work is an essential philanthropy. With one hand we work for ourselves, with the other for the race, and it is one of the purest joys of life to remember this. Let us be blind workers no more, but consciously, lovingly, do our daily work, rejoicing in the social glory and fruitfulness of it. Princes, smiths, carpenters, let us not forget we too toil for the larger happiness of all men, so shall we prove in our toil some of the sublime pleasure Howard knew when he opened the door of the prison, that Wilberforce felt striking off the fetters of the slave, that Peabody tasted when he built homes for the poor.
III. All labour becomes truly noble regarded as a discipline to our higher nature. Many, alas! sink with their work, but the Divine design in the duty of life was the perfection of the worker. Our toil is to develop our whole nature. Our physical being. Our work is neither to pollute nor destroy, but to purify and build up the temple of the body. Sweat does not mean blood, and there is a blessing in the curse. Our work should develop our intellectual self also. Much of our business may become a direct mental education, and it need never hinder the flowering of the mind. But chiefly the work of life ought to subserve our spiritual perfecting. In all true work the soul works and gains in purity and power by its work. The carpenter’s work tests his moral qualities, and Whilst he builds with brick and stone, timber and glass, he may build up also character with silver, gold, and precious stones; the smith fashions his soul whilst he shapes the iron on ringing anvil; the husbandman may enrich his heart whilst he adorns the landscape; and the weaver at the loom weave two fabrics at once, one that the moth shall fret, the other of gold and fine needlework, immortal raiment for the spirit. The King of glory has consecrated the workshop by His presence and glorified work by His example. (W. L. Watkinson.)
One basket had very good figs.
Two baskets of figs
I. The same nation may contain two distinct characters, yet both may be equally involved in a national visitation. There are laws of retribution m operation in relation to nations which, so far as the outward condition is concerned-, are no respecters of persons.
II. Submission to Divine chastisement will lead, in time, to deliverance from it, while resistance will bring ruin. Two members of a family may be suffering from the same disease; the physician will insist upon submission to his treatment from both his patients. If one refuses, he must not complain of the physician, supposing he grows worse. God desired to heal the Jewish nation of its idolatrous tendencies; for this purpose He had decreed that it should go into captivity. Those who submitted willingly are hem promised that the discipline should be “for their good,” and that they should be brought again to their own land; while those who resisted, would be “consumed from off the land that He gave unto them and their fathers.”
1. In this life retribution to nations is more certain than to individuals. God can deal with individual characters in any world, therefore we sometimes find the greatest villains apparently unmarked by Him now.
2. Outward circumstance is no standard by which to judge God’s estimate of character. Job’s friends were not afflicted as he was, but God esteemed him far more highly than He did them.
3. Moral crime is commercial ruin to a nation. Israel lost God first, and then her national prosperity and greatness. A body soon decays when the life has departed, and a putrid carcase will soon be visited by the birds of prey. (A London Minister.)
What seest thou, Jeremiah?--
Reflections on some of the characteristics of the age we live in
It is not difficult to see the force and application of this homely but sententious little allegory. Jeremiah lived in those days of declension and disaster in which the invasion of Judea by the King of Babylon was not only threatened, but actually took place. He saw the departure of “the King of Judah, and the princes of Judah, with the carpenters and smiths, from Jerusalem,” and these were all “carried away captive” to Babylon. Nevertheless, many of every class were left behind, and these were placed under the government of that weak and wicked king, Zedekiah. Those who were “carried away” comprised the best of the population with regard to intelligence, religious feeling, and patriotism. Their sorrows and afflictions humbled them, so that they repented of their idolatries and obtained mercy of the Lord. In due time the way was prepared for the return of the exiles to their own land; and there, under the leadership of such men as Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel, they founded afresh a pious commonwealth, in which the worship of the true God was ever afterwards main-rained down to the time of the coming of Christ. In them was fulfilled the promise contained in verses 4-7. On the other hand, the Jews who remained at home with Zedekiah “and his princes” revolted against God more and more. They abandoned themselves openly to licentiousness and idolatry. Their temper fiery and mutinous, their language blasphemous, their whole conduct infamous. (See verses 8-13.) These were the evil figs, so evil that they could not be eaten. The point suggested to us by Jeremiah’s vision is, that there occur periods, or special circumstances, in the religious life of nations, which tend to develop and force the maturation of character with unusual energy and astonishing rapidity. In such times, you do not find people merely good or bad; but the good are very good, and the evil very evil. Now, it is evident that no parallel whatever can be drawn between our position and circumstances in England at the present time and those of Judea in the days of Jeremiah. We are not, as a nation, suffering either from internal anarchy or from external assault. But still it may be, that other influences and conditions of society are at work, producing an exactly analogous result to that at the time referred to in the text.
I. Certain peculiarities of our times and position my be noted.
1. This is an age of extraordinary intellectual and social activity. The most absolute liberty of speech exists, and men shrink from the utterance of no opinion, the broaching of no speculation. This unusual activity and daring of thought produces rapid and extraordinary changes in both political and ecclesiastical affairs. Amid the astonishment and whirl of such events, it requires a great effort to keep the mind calm, and hold fast in our judgments, utterances, and actions to the sober requirements of sound principle and acknowledged truth (Proverbs 17:27, margin).
2. The very full and clear religious light which we enjoy.
3. The corresponding increase of activity in the Church. All manner of special devices are being tried and carried out vigorously whereby to reach all classes, to instruct the most ignorant and reform the most vicious, whilst ancient and ordinary means of grace are sustained with unprecedented interest and efficiency.
II. What do all these things import? and what do they necessitate on our part individually? Truly we find here divers potent and stimulating agencies in operation, calculated to arouse us up to repentance and godly solicitude, and then to prompt us on to vigorous Christian life and action. If we yield to them, how fast and far may we soon be carried in the path of faith, in a career of usefulness! What bold, what firm, what fruitful Christians we must become if we enter fully into “the spirit of the times,” considered as engaged on the side of Christ and His Gospel! But if we refuse to do so, if we set ourselves to resist these powerful influences, how strenuous must that resistance be! how determined and how self-conscious that action of the will which still fights against God and clings to worldliness and sin! Facts are in harmony with these reasonings. Illustrations abound on every side. In this earnest age you find earnest men both for good and evil. Was ever war conducted on so fearful a scale as we have lately witnessed? In our day, we have also seen such specimens of commercial roguery and robbery, conceived on so magnificent a scale, and executed under so clever and admirable a cloak of hypocrisy, as no previous age has ever presented to the world. On the other hand, look at the men who stand foremost in the van of religion and philanthropy. These are God’s heroes; men are still living amongst us worthy of comparison with the spiritual heroes of ancient times, in regard to all that is noble in faith, self-denying in zeal, munificent in giving, or abundant in labours. These, indeed, are among the good figs, which by God’s grace are very good: and to the production of such instances of exalted and matured piety, the present times are not in the least unfavourable. One might speak of books, as well as men. And if, on the other hand, it be true that infidelity and immorality were never so speciously or so boldly advocated as now, in sensational novels, in shallow critiques, or in vulgar serials; so, again, we defy any age to show such noble and masterly treatises as are now written by men of sanctified learning and genius, either in exposition of the Scriptures, or in vindication of their contents. Then there are public institutions and societies to be looked at. If chapels are multiplied, so are theatres. Look at the state of our large towns and cities. Were ever such facilities for evil doing? such criminal attractions for the young? so many places where vice is seductive and sin made easy? The kingdom of Satan is as active and roused up to new exertions as is the kingdom of Christ. It is said that, in the early colonisation of Van Diemen’s Land, one man took a hive of bees, and soon the island was filled with swarms, and both the trees and rocks dropped with honey; another took a handful of thistle-down, and ere long the country was overrun with prickly and gigantic weeds. Like such actions, are the deeds of all men now. Shall we, then, multiply honey-hives, or scatter thistles in the earth? Let us seek to be good, and do good: and then, behold what glorious possibilities belong to us, of being pre-eminently holy, blest and useful! (T. G. Horon.)
Figs good and bad
Events are divided. “What seest thou?” I see two kinds of events, one good, and the other vile: and there they are in life. It is so in families: how do you account for it that one son prays, and the other never saw the need of prayer? The one is filial; the other has a heart of stone. Look at life broadly. What seest thou, O prophet, O man of the piercing eyes, what seest thou? Two events, or series of events, one excellent, the other vile; one leading upward, the other downward. What seest thou? Heaven---hell. The vision is still before us; we need to have our attention called to it. He who deals in singularities, in isolations, never enters into the philosophy of Providence, the method of the sublime organisation which is denominated the universe. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good.
The action of love
The Lord says He will send His people into captivity “for their good.” How marvellous is the action of love! The parent sends away the child he cannot live without for the child’s good; men undertake long and perilous and costly journeys that they may accomplish a purpose that is good. Jesus Christ Himself said to His wondering disciples, “It is expedient for you that I go away.” Who can understand this action of love? It would seem to us to be otherwise: that it would be best for Jesus to remain until the very last wanderer is home. Are we not sent away? have we not lost fortune, station, standing? have we not been punished in a thousand different ways-chastised, humiliated, afflicted? have we not been suddenly surrounded with clouds in which there was no light--yea, and clouds in which there was no rain, simply darkness, sevenfold night? Yet it was for our good; it was that our vanity might be rebuked, that the centre of dependence might be found, that the throne of righteousness might be seen and approached. Let us look upon our afflictions, distresses, and losses in that light. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Outward circumstances no standard by which to judge of one’s true state
The captives already in Babylon are compared to good fruit, such as is fit for use and sweet to the taste. The party in Jerusalem as yet free, is compared to bad fruit, unfit for use, and nauseous to the palate. And yet if one judged by the mere outward aspect of things, the state of the captives in the enemies’ city seemed a much more undesirable one than that of their brethren in the metropolis of their own land. Hence we see that the good or evil of one’s circumstances is not to be judged by outward appearances. Often what seems a peculiarly hard and distressing position proves to have been the very best for us. God humbles us, and tries us sorely at the first, in order to do us good in our latter end. (A. R. Fausset, M. A.)
For I will set Mine eyes upon them for good, and l will bring them again to this land.
God’s regard for His people
I. The nature of God’s declaration respecting Himself, “I will set Mine eves upon them for good.”
1. This denotes--
(1) His omniscience over them (Job 34:21, compared with 31:4).
(2) His providence for them (2 Chronicles 16:9).
(3) His grace to save them (Romans 8:29).
2. It implies--
(1) Divine personality--“For I” (Ezekiel 34:11).
(2) Divine attention--“Will set Mine eyes” (Psalms 32:8).
(3) Personal affection--“Upon them” (Ezekiel 16:5-6).
(4) Great kindness--“For their good” (Isaiah 54:8).
II. A description of the deliverance here declared, “I will bring them into this land”
1. Here we have the idea of distance (Ephesians 2:17).
2. How He brings them back.
(1) By the death of His Son (Revelation 5:9).
(2) By the obedience of His Son (Romans 5:19).
(3) By virtue of His intercession (Hebrews 7:25).
3. This is--
(1) A rich land.
(2) A large land.
(3) A peaceful land.
(4) A land of security.
III. The blessings designed fob them on their return.
1. Negatively “Not pull them down.”
(1) Not condemn them (Romans 8:1).
(2) Not visit their sins upon them (Hebrews 8:12).
2. Positively--“I will build them up.”
(1) The foundation of the building (1 Corinthians 3:11).
(2) The dimensions (Romans 11:5).
(3) The materials (Ephesians 2:1).
(4) The cement by which this building is united (Colossians 2:2-3).
(5) The instruments employed in building (2 Corinthians 4:7).
3. These plants had been--
(3) Injurious. Yet God did not pluck them up.
4. But He transplanted them to a superior soil: “I will plant them.”
(1) In a delightful situation (Psalms 48:2).
(2) In a good and fertile soil (Psalms 1:3).
(3) Where there is plenty of sun and rain (Psalms 84:11).
IV. The results of all this.
1. “And I will give them a heart to know Me.”
(1) As a gracious God.
(2) A covenant-keeping God.
(3) A faithful God.
(4) A mighty God.
(5) And a God of salvation to His people.
2. “And they shall be My people.” As proved by their--
(1) Studying the Bible.
(2) Offering up prayers and praises.
(3) Attendance on His house.
(4) Living to God.
(5) And simply believing on Christ.
3. “And I will be their God.”
(1) By ruling in their understandings.
(2) Subduing their wills.
(3) And living in their hearts.
4. “For they shall return unto Me with their whole heart.”
(1) Positively-Nothing shall prevent them, for “they shall” return.
(2) Cordially--Their “heart” shall be delighted in returning.
(3) Personality--Each and all shall return in the same person, “unto Me.”
(4) Dissatisfaction--They return from all things sinful to God. (T. B. Baker.)
I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord.--
Heart-knowledge of God
By this great promise of the text is not merely meant that God will lead the converted to know that there is a God, because that may be known without s new heart. Any man possessed of reason may know that there is a Supreme Being, who created all things and preserves the universe in existence. The text promises that the favoured ones shall know that God to be Jehovah. Man fashions for himself a god after his own liking; he makes to himself, if not out of wood or stone, yet out of what he calls his own consciousness, or his cultured thought, a deity to his taste, who will not be too severe with his iniquities, or deal out strict justice to the impenitent. The Holy Spirit, however, when He illuminates the mind, leads us to see that Jehovah is God, and beside Him there is none else. He teaches His people to know that the God of heaven and earth is the God d the Bible, a God whose attributes are completely balanced, mercy attended by justice, love accompanied by holiness, grace arrayed in truth, and power linked with tenderness. When the heart is content to believe in God as He is revealed, and no longer goes about to fashion a deity for itself according to its own fancies and notions, it is a hopeful sign. The main stress of the promise lies, however, in this: “I will give them a heart to know ME”; that is, not merely to know that I am, and that I am Jehovah, but to have a personal knowledge of Myself. It is not enough to know that our Creator is the Jehovah of the Bible, and that He is perfect in character, and glorious beyond thought; but to know God we must have perceived Him, we must have spoken to Him, we must have been made at peace with Him, we must have lifted up our heart to Him, and received communications from Him. If you know the Lord your secret is with Him, and His secret is with you; He has manifested Himself unto you as He does not unto the world. He must have made Himself known unto you by the mysterious influences of His Spirit, and because of this you know Him. I the seat of this knowledge “I will give them a heart to know Me.” Observe that it is not said, “I will give them a head to know Me.” The first and primary impediment to man’s knowledge of God lies in the affections The heart is the seat of the blindness; there lies the darkness which beclouds the whole mind. Hence to the heart the light must come, and to the heart that light is promised.
1. I understand by the fact that the knowledge of God here promised lies in the heart, first, that God renews the heart so that it admires the character of God. The understanding perceives that God is just, powerful, faithful, wise, true, gracious, longsuffering, and the like; then the heart being purified admires all these glorious attributes, and adores Him because of them.
2. The heart-knowledge promised in the covenant of grace means, however, much more than approval: grace enables the renewed heart to take another step and appropriate the Lord, saying, “O God, Thou art my God, early will I seek Thee.” All the saved ones cry, “This God is our God for ever and ever; He shall be our guide even unto death”
3. All true knowledge of God is attended by affection for Him.” In spiritual language to. Know God is to love Him. “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.” It is the great passion of the renewed soul to glorify God, whom he knows and loves; knowledge without love would be a powerless thing, but God has joined this knowledge and love together in a sacred wedlock, and they can never be put asunder. As we love God we know Him, and as we know Him we love Him. Admiration, appropriation, affection are crowned with adhesion. To know a thing by heart is, in our common talk, to know it thoroughly, Memories of the heart abide when all others depart. A mother’s love, a wife’s fondness, a sweet child’s affection, will come before us even in the last hours of life; when the mind will lose its learning and the hand forget its cunning, the dear names of our beloved ones will linger on our lips; and their sweet faces will be before us even when our eyes are dim with the shadow of approaching death. If we can sing, “O God, my heart is fixed, my heart is fixed,” then the knowledge which it possesses will never be taken away from it.
II. The necessity of this knowledge.
1. To know God is a needful preparation for every other true knowledge, because the Lord is the centre of the universe, the basis, the pillar, the essential force, the all in all, the fulness of all things. You may learn the doctrines of the Bible, but you do not know them truly till you know the God of the doctrines. You may understand the precepts in the letter of them, and the promises in their outward wording, but neither precept nor promise do you truly know until you know the God from whose lips they fell. The ancient sage said, “Man, know thyself.” He spake well, but even for this man must first know his God. I venture to say that no man rightly knows himself till he knows his God, because it is by the light and purity of God that we see our own darkness and sinfulness.
2. The knowledge of God is necessary to any real peace of mind. Suppose a man to be in the world and feel that he is right every way except with regard to God, and as to Him he knows nothing. Hear him say, “I go about the world and see many faces which I can recognise, and I perceive many friends upon whom I can trust, but there is a God somewhere, and I know nothing at all about Him. Whether He be my friend or my foe I know not.” If thoughtful and intelligent he must suffer unrest in his spirit, because he will say to himself, “Suppose this God should turn out to be a just God, and I should be a breaker of His laws! What a peril hangs over me. How is it possible for me to be at peace till this dreadful ignorance is removed?” He is the God of peace, and there can be no peace till the soul knows Him.
3. That this knowledge of God is necessary is clear, for how could it be possible for a man to have spiritual life and yet not to know God? If you do not know Him you are not a partaker of His grace, but you abide in darkness Into His heaven you can never enter till He has given you a heart to know Him; do not forget this warning, or trifle with it.
III. The excellency of this knowledge.
1. One of the first effects of knowing God in the soul is that it turns out our idols. God so enamours the soul of the converted man, so engrosses every spiritual faculty, that he cannot endure an idol, however dear in former times; and if perchance in some back-sliding moment an earthly love intrudes, it is because the man has withdrawn his eye from the splendour of the Deity.
2. The second good effect of the knowledge of God is that it creates faith in the soul; to prove which I might give a great many texts, but one will suffice (Psalms 9:10): “They that know Thy Name will put their trust in Thee.” We cannot trust an unknown God, but when He reveals Himself to us by His Spirit, then to trust Him is no longer difficult; it is, indeed, inevitable.
3. This knowledge of God creates good works also (1 John 2:3). A heart to know the Lord begets and nurtures every virtue and every grace, and is the basis of the noblest character, the food which feeds grace till it matures into glory.
4. To know God has over us a transforming power. Remember how the apostle writes (2 Corinthians 3:18). Every thought which crosses the mind affects it for the better or the worse, every glance is moulding us, every wish fashions the character. A sight of God is the most wonderfully sanctifying influence that can be conceived of. Know God, and you will grow to be like Him.
5. The knowledge of God causes us to praise Him. “In Judah is God known; His name is great in Israel.” It is not possible for us to have low thoughts of Him, or to give forth mean utterances concerning Him, or to act in a miserly way towards His cause, when we practically know Him.
6. The knowledge of God brings comfort, and that is a very desirable thing in a world of trouble. What saith the Psalmist? “God is known in her palaces for a refuge.”
7. To know God also brings a man great honour. “Because he hath set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because e hath known My name.” Think of it--“set on high,” and set on high by the Lord Himself, and all as the result of knowing the name of the Lord.
8. The man who knows the Lord will have usefulness given him (2 Corinthians 2:14). We cannot teach others of things which we do not know ourselves. If we have no savour in us there cannot be a savour coming out of us. We shall only be a drag upon the Church in any position if we are destitute of the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus; but if we are filled with a knowledge of Christ, then the sweet savour of His name will pour forth from us as perfume from the flowers.
IV. The source of this knowledge. None but the Creator can give a man a new heart, the change is too radical for any other hand. It would be hard to give a new eye, or a new arm, but a new heart is still more out of the question. The Lord Himself must do it.
1. It is evidently a work of pure grace. He freely gives to whomsoever He wills, according to His own declaration, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”
2. It is evidently a work which is possible. All things are possible to God, and He says, “I will give it to them.” He does not speak of it as a blessing desirable, but unattainable; on me contrary He says, “I will give them a heart to know Me”
3. It is a work which the Lord has covenanted to do (Hosea 2:19; Jeremiah 31:32-34). (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A believing knowledge of God
The manner of knowing the difference between believers and unbelievers as to knowledge, is not as much in the matter of their knowledge as in the manner of knowing. Unbelievers, some of them, may know more and be able to say more of God, His perfections and will, than many believers; but they know nothing as they ought, nothing in a right manner, nothing spiritually and savingly, nothing with a holy, heavenly light. The-excellency of a believer is not that he hath a large apprehension of things, but that what he doth apprehend, which may perhaps be very little, he sees it in the light of the Spirit of God, in a saving, soul-transforming light: and this is that which gives us communion with God, and not prying thoughts, or curious raised notions. (J. Owen.)
To know God-a new, a gladdening experience
A touching story is told of the child of a French painter. The little girl lost her sight in infancy, and her blindness was supposed to be incurable. A famous oculist in Paris, however: performed an operation on her eyes and restored her sight. Her mother had long been dead, and her father had been her only friend and companion, when she was told that her blindness could be cured, her one thought was that she could see him; and when the cure was complete, and the bandages were removed, she ran to him, and, trembling, pored over his features, shutting her eyes now and then, and passing her fingers over his face, as if to make sure that it was he. The father had a noble head and presence, and his every look and motion were watched by his daughter with the keenest delight. For the first time his constant tenderness and care seemed real to her. If he caressed her, or even looked upon her kindly, it brought tears to her eyes. “To think,” she cried, holding his hand close in hers, “that I had this father so many years and never knew him!”
They shall return unto life with their whole heart.
The whole heart must be given to God
Suppose a mother gave her child a beautiful flower-plant in bloom, and told her to carry it to a sick friend. The child takes it away, and when she reaches the friend’s door she plucks off one leaf and gives it to her, keeping the plant herself. Has she obeyed her mother’s command? Then afterwards, once a day, she plucks off another leaf, or a bud, or a flower, and takes it to the friend, still retaining the plant. Did she obey the command of her mother? Nothing but the giving of the whole plant could fulfil the mother’s direction. Now, is not that a simple illustration of what we give to God? He commands us to love Him with all our heart and with all our being, and we pluck off a little leaf of love now sad then, a little bud or flower of affection, or one cluster of fruit from the bending branches, and give to Him; and we call that obeying. (J. R. Miller.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 24". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter