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Return again to Me, saith the Lord.
The backslider invited to return
We have here a wonderful display of God’s character: forbearance, pity, and love.
I. What is inferred. A departure from God.
1. The life of an ungodly man is one long departure from God. Every step he takes leads him farther away.
2. What departures we find even in the holiest and best! Secret neglects. Seductions in daily avocations and companions. Tampering with sin.
II. What is declared. A returning to God as a promising God, as a forgiving God, as our God and Father in Christ Jesus, in real humiliation of spirit before Him; for “whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall have mercy.” Observe, the return is not a mere turning away from sin; it is finding the way back again to God. The very fruit and work of the blessed Spirit.
III. What is displayed. Touching tenderness.
1. God Himself speaks.
2. He points to the Cross. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
Return to God
1. Let Christian believers behold in these words with whom it is that they have to do. There have been times when the Lord made you rejoice before Him--when your fellowship with Him was delight. And so He would have had you to continue. But your joy changed into sorrow, your light was quenched in darkness; not because you were forsaken, but because you forsook. You did evil in the sight of the Lord, and He delivered you into the hands of the Philistines. But He did not forsake you utterly, nor cast you off forever. He brought you back, and restored to you “the joy of His salvation.” Soon you forgot it all. You did evil again in His sight. He departed from you, and you were carried captive by your enemies. In the land of Babylon you wept, and hung your tuneless harps upon the willows, for you could not sing the Lord’s song in a strange land! You remembered Zion, and eagerly longed that your captivity might come to an end. And the Lord ended your captivity and brought you back. Yet, notwithstanding all your sad experiences, you have again and again forgotten and forsaken Him. What should be your feelings when you think of these things? Should there be any sorrow like unto your sorrow? Yet be not afraid; conclude not that your sins must of necessity have separated forever between you and God; say not that for you there is no hope in Israel, and no place left for repentance. Had you to do with man it might be so. Were you to be dealt with as you have sinned, It could not but be so. But the Lord God is merciful and gracious, His love continues as strong as ever. He cannot bear to give you up. He compassionates your weakness. He laments your folly.
2. Let those who are still in the gall of bitterness--alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, be assured that this language is addressed even to them. You are His, although you are now strangers and foreigners; for His hand did form you, and you were not designed to be His enemies. You have chosen to be so; but all the enmity is on your side. Your enemy He has never been; nor is He now your enemy! He is emphatically the friend of sinners. (R. J. Johnstone, M. A.)
A church is sometimes astounded by the fall of some professor in it: this is the fruit, not the seed or the beginning of backsliding. So a man is laid on a sick bed, but the disorder has only now arrived at its crisis; it has for some time been working in his system, and has at length burst out and laid him low. So the sin of departing from God and secretly declining has been going on while the profession has still been maintained; the process of backsliding has been working silently yet surely until a temptation has at last opened the way for its bursting forth, to the scandal of God’s people and true religion. In the sight of God the man was fallen before, we only now have first discovered it. (H. G. Salter.)
Therefore the showers have been withholden.
God inflicting punishment on those who turn away from Him
If God is immanent in the universe, not a Deity immeasurable distances away from His creation; if without Him it could not hold together for a moment, there is nothing unreasonable in the thought that He should sometimes show resentment at the spirit of evil, indicate some emotion at least in the presence of ingratitude. We do the sage ourselves. Parents sometimes give children to feel that the penalty of ill-behaviour is the withdrawment of a privilege, the abbreviation of a holiday, the suspension of a pleasure. Sometimes by deprivation God inflicts punishment upon those who turn away from Him. In this case the penalty was one of deprivation--the showers had been withholden. Sometimes the penalty is positive, and there are too many showers. God drowns the world that denies Him. He does not withhold the showers for want of water; the debt, go is always ready: the river of God is full of water. It may be unscientific and ignorant to think that God interferes with nature, but it stands to our highest reason as a probable truth. If He made it, He may interfere with it; if He constructed it, He may sometimes wind it up, visit it, operate upon it, assert His eternal proprietorship. If the great landlord allows us to walk through his fields freely and joyously, he may sometimes, say, once in twenty-one years, put up a fence or a boundary, which being interpreted means, This path is mine, not yours; the boundary will be taken down again tomorrow, but it is here today to signify that you have acquired no rights by constant use. It is not an unnatural intervention, nor do we see that it is an unreasonable intervention on the part of God if we deny Him, neglect Him, scorn Him, operate wholly against the spirit of His holiness, that He should now and again withhold the shower, or send such deluges upon the earth as shall wash away our seed and make a desert of our garden. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The chief cause of calamities
Great honour has always been paid by all nations to their supposed gods, and it has always been reckoned a crime to rob them of the glory of which they were supposed to be so jealous. One of the Greek comedians in a stage play asks this question, “Who was the wicked author of the vines being blasted by the frost?” And he gives the answer, “He who gave the honours of the gods to men.” This heathen writer teaches us a lesson when we fail to trace our trials to the first cause. Who shall say that some dishonour of the name of God may not be the cause of our afflictions? Sorrow does not come out of the dust. The seeds of disease are not driven about recklessly. The lightning does not strike by chance. There are reasons for what seems evil which we cannot trace, and perhaps one of the chief causes of the calamities which befall men may be found in their want of regard for the honour and glory of the Divine Name. (Quiver.)
Writ thou not from this time cry unto Me, My Father, Thou art the guide of my youth?
The Divine Guide
We are all travellers, but are not all travelling in the tame direction. We need a guide. There is only One to be relied upon.
I. Why we need a guide.
1. Because of our ignorance of the way.
2. Because of our liability to take the wrong path.
3. Because of our liability to leave the right path after we have chosen it.
II. We should take God as our guide.
1. Because He knows the way.
2. Because He knows the trials that will befall us.
3. Because He knows the perils that we shall encounter.
4. Because He is our Father, and therefore kind and considerate.
III. We should ask God to guide us now.
1. Because the present time is the best.
2. Because the present time is the safest.
3. Because the present may be the only time. (Homilist.)
Taking God as our Guide in youth
I. It is due to God.
1. He is your Maker, who gives you all things; therefore He has a supreme and sole right to you.
2. He has bought you at a vast expense, that you might be delivered from the curse of sin and the wrath to come. If an artist pays a large sum of money to get back his own painting from some one into whose hands it has fallen, and then labours to improve it, would you not say that he has a good title to such painting? Thus with the ransomed children of God.
II. It will be good for yourselves.
1. You need a guide.
(1) Consider your character. Ignorance of the future, and without experience, should you not tremble to go alone?
(2) Consider your situation. The road is beset with dangers, infested with robbers, filled with bypaths!
(3) Consider the importance of your steps. Begin to wander, and who shall tell the issue? Worn out with fatigue, benighted in that trackless wilderness, you fall a prey to the forest beast, or are dashed in pieces over a hidden precipice. One evil habit may lead you to ruin, must cause you pain and trouble. One false step in youth may mar you forever.
2. God is infinitely the best Guide. That He is a sure and safe Guide, none can doubt. He is wise, knows all things, and can proportion trials to your strength. He never fails. You live in a world of changes; but He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But He is also a pleasant Guide. He is powerful to bring you out of trouble; He is gracious in it. In the day of the east wind He stays His rough wind, and “tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.” (J. C. Herdman, M. A.)
God’s tender expostulation with the young
I. The particulars of the proposal.
1. That you should make God your Father; to love honour, and obey.
2. To choose God for the Guide of your youth; to regard His authority, follow His will, and comply with His directions.
(1) By His Word.
(2) By His Spirit.
3. To do these things instantly, without delay.
II. Motives for co-reliance.
1. The grace and condescension of the proposal.
2. The reasonableness of such a proceeding. Refuse the offer of His heavenly guidance, and you will be like a vessel in a boisterous sea without a pilot to direct your course.
3. The seasonableness of the proposal. “From this time.” The time past cannot be recalled. You may deeply regret that you have hitherto neglected to make God your Father, and to choose Him for the Guide of your youth. But regret will not recover the time which is past. Opportunities lost are gone forever. Your business is to improve those which remain. The present time is still your own. (E. Cooper, M. A.)
God the Guide of youth
I. The proposal.
1. It requires penitence. You must feel your depravity and lament your guilt.
2. It includes prayer. A life of communion with God.
3. It implies yielding yourself up to God, to walk in His ways, be guided by His counsel, and glorify His name.
II. Your obligations. To whom will you give your affections if you withhold them from Him?
III. Advantages to be gained by compliance.
1. Safety. While leaning on your own wisdom, and walking in your own strength, you are liable to stray, stumble, fall.
2. Happiness. “In His favour is life.” “No peace to the wicked.”
3. Honour. Associated with the servants of God, angels, archangels, etc. Yes, and with Christ Himself, whose meat was to do God’s will.
IV. Combat objections.
1. Sins too great for pardon. Christ’s grace sufficient.
2. So weak. He takes by the hand, helps, upholds.
3. What need for being so religious? But you have no religion at all, if not wholly in earnest.
4. Not yet. This is impious as well as foolish. Every day and hour you are on the brink of death.
V. Your reply. Only two answers: will, or will not. Turn not away. (J. Wooldridge.)
The importance of early dedication to God
I. The assumption. That the person is in a state of unregeneracy. Multitudes are thus. Refusing to listen to God. In the neglect of the claims of God there is an amount of daring of which we can hardly form a conception, especially in the case of the child of many prayers.
II. The imitation. Why should you from this time say, “Thou art the Guide of my youth?”
1. The claims of Him who asks it.
2. The dangers of delay.
3. The final consequences of refusal. (D. E. Ford.)
God condescending to be the Guide of youth
I. Has not God already acted a most wise and friendly part?
1. Review your general privileges. Who formed you from nothing into being? who assigned you a rank among human creatures? who prepared in a parent’s heart the affections which welcomed and nourished the helpless stranger? who reared you up to youth? who kindled the dawn of mason? whose hand opened for you the warm and widening circle of friendship?
2. You are bound by peculiar obligations. It is no small thing that an heritage has been found for you in Britain. You are not the children of savages, mingling in their barbarous manners.
II. Is not God able to fill up, through all future periods, the relations to which He invites your notice? He offers Himself as a Father and as a Guide. His power, His wisdom, and His goodness will support the titles.
III. Does not the season of youth need such a Father and such a Guide? What can preserve the morals of youth? Shall the frail bark live in the tempest? Shall flames surround a military magazine, and not produce an explosion? Can a lamb make its way through a herd of wolves?
IV. May not the season of youth be the only one that shall display such advantages as are attached to it? You know not that you shall survive this age; that you are under sentence is felt by yourselves, and sometimes lamented. Can you charm death away? Can you obtain a momentary respite? (Evangelist.)
An address to youth
I. Youth needs a guide.
1. We are expressly assured by the prophet, “That the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” And if this be true of old travellers who have long been moving Zion-ward, how much more of those who are only beginning to start!
2. There is one kind of knowledge in which the young must be deficient--that which is derived from trial, and which we call experience.
3. Now, too, the passions and appetites begin to rage in their violence. These becloud the understanding, and prevent reflection; and rendering them averse to reproof and impatient of control, urge them on, and plunge them into a thousand improprieties and embarrassments.
II. God is ready to become your leader, and it is your duty and privilege to place yourselves under His direction. He is infinitely wise, and cannot lead you astray. He has conducted millions; and “the wayfaring man, though a fool, has not erred” under His direction. He is infinitely powerful. He can support you under the heaviest burdens, deliver you from every adversary, and “make all things work together for your good.” He is infinitely kind. He will bear with your infirmities, and sympathise with you in all your troubles. And He is infinitely faithful: not a word shall fail of all that He has spoken.
III. How you are to engage His attention. “Cry unto” Him. This familiar expression intends prayer and supplication; and it prevents you from using as an excuse for the omission of the duty--that you are not masters of words, and cannot deliver yourselves in proper language. For what is prayer? Is it not the desire of the heart towards God? If you cannot pray--cannot you cry unto Him?
IV. There are particular seasons in which He expects to be sought after by the young, and from which He dates the expostulation--“Wilt thou not from this time,” etc.
1. When they leave the house of their friends, and the wing of their relations.
2. When bereaved of their parents.
3. At the commencement of a new period of life.
4. When the young see friends or companions carried off by a premature death.
5. At times of peculiar convictions and impressions. (W. Jay.)
Youth encouraged to seek unto God
I. The import of this language.
4. A determined compliance with God’s will.
II. The force of the appeal made by God.
1. Tender expostulation.
2. Seasonable admonition.
3. As arising from events which point out most clearly your need of an interest in the Divine favour. (R. Winter, D. D.)
God to be chosen as a Guide by the young
I. You greatly need some faithful and effective guidance in the shaping of your lives.
1. Because the path of duty and of safety is often exceedingly difficult to find. Often, when determining what you are bound to accept as duty or to receive as truth, you have many circumstances to consider, many probabilities to estimate, many opposing arguments to weigh. While the general direction in which you are to move, if you intend to live wisely, is obvious enough, you may still find perplexities at every point, to extricate yourself from which will try, perhaps baffle, your utmost wisdom, who is sufficient for these things?
2. Because your own strong impulses are likely to mislead you. It is easy to believe that to be right or useful which accords with inclination. It is hard to think that to be obligatory, or best, to which the feelings are averse, and which involves the necessity of self-denial.
3. Because there are many who will studiously seek your ruin.
(1) There are found even in the best conditions of society, the openly debased and vicious.
(2) Besides these, there are many--corrupt in heart--who will seek to reach you with influences fitted to destroy your virtuous sentiments, and principles, and ultimate well-being.
4. Because so many are continually ruined. Where many fall, there is reason that all should fear.
II. The reasonableness, the wisdom, of making God your guide.
1. You owe it to God Himself thus to honour Him with your confidence. It is His right.
2. God alone can afford you a sufficient guidance. Where can you find another to whose care and leading you can safely and without anxiety, commit the infinitely precious interests of your being?
III. When should God’s offered guidance be accepted? “From this time.”
1. The present is a practicable time--a time in which without hindrance God may be intelligently” and cordially accepted as a guide.
2. The present is the very time that God Himself proposes. Remember now thy Creator.”
3. It is at the present time that your need of the blessing in question is becoming manifest and urgent.
4. The present may not improbably be the only time in which you will have it in your power to secure the Divine guidance (Proverbs 1:24-29). (Ray Palmer, D. D.)
Divine guidance for life’s journey
Rev. Mark Guy Pearse says: “I have read somewhere of one of our naval officers who sailed from Mexico round the Cape Horn to Rio, a distance of eight thousand miles, and for ninety days neither touched land nor scarcely saw a sail. At last he judged himself to be some twenty miles from Rio, and lay-to for the night. The next morning it was a dense fog, and he came on very cautiously, and when the fog suddenly lifted there in front of them rose the well-known Sugar-loaf Rock at the entrance of Rio Harbour. Thus it is that in spite of the great and wide sea where no landmarks or guide marks are, where are restless tides and currents and changeful winds, yet heaven stoops to teach men if they will be taught. The sun in the heavens gives every day its unerring counsel, the stars come out at night to whisper their cheery assurance. So He bringeth men to their desired haven. Now, if men can believe that, and so believe it as to trust themselves to it, I do not wonder that any can doubt that heaven bends over us to teach us where we are and whither we are going. If it is scientific to believe that heaven can grade us over the great sea, it does seem to be just simple common sense to think that heaven can lead us safe.
God the best Guide
The sailor, out on the restless sea, has one unfailing star to which he can always look with confidence, knowing that it will always be found at the same place. He may perhaps admire the brilliancy of Venus, or look with wonder at the ever-changing moon, but when he wants to take his bearings he looks at the unfailing, unchangeable polar star. Thank God that we have an unfailing Guide that will remain the same when the heavens have passed away. He, our Lord and Master, is the one absolutely unfailing star of hope to which we can look with implicit confidence.
Thou hast spoken and done evil things as thou couldest.
The limitation of evil
I. Some of the restraining influences of life. “As thou couldest.” By many considerations we are restrained from fulfilling the evil impulses and designs of which we are conscious; our potential wickedness is not allowed to become actual.
1. There is the restraint imposed by revelation. The possession of God’s Word was a grand discipline to the people of Israel. To know the moral perfections of God, to discern the moral significance of human life, to possess the moral law expressed with such clearness, fulness, and force, was a rare privilege. This kept Israel back from the things of lust and cruelty and shame which defiled and destroyed their heathen neighbours. Are we not today restrained by the same gracious influence? Our poet speaks of “the silver streak” that comes between us and the Continent, delivering our nation from fears, wars, and contagions. Is not that revelation which is in our hands a silver streak coming between us and contemporaneous paganism?
2. There is the restraint imposed by grace. The direct Divine action on our mind, will, conscience, feeling. This was the master-restraint of the antediluvian world. As a horse is held in by bit and bridle, as a ship on some rocky coast is held by her anchor, so have we all in dangerous clays been restrained by the Spirit of grace. Let men quench that Spirit, and the disastrous consequence is soon revealed.
3. There is the restraint imposed by society. Our civilisation, which is the grace of God organised, is full of restraining influences to which we owe far more than we sometimes think. The civil law. Public opinion. Social etiquette. Business. Domesticity. If it should be suggested that the laws, institutions, and properties of society which forbid excess are themselves expressions of the moral sense, it will at once be palpable to most that these circumscriptions are dictated by fear, policy, and selfishness rather than by any love of righteousness for its own sake. That one wolf holds another wolf in check must not be construed to mean that we are a flock of lambs.
II. Notwithstanding the restraints of life, we discover the wickedness of our nature by going as far as possible in the direction of transgression. Israel hitherto had abstained from the extreme acts of transgression which would have involved immediate retribution, but they showed their disposition by playing with the fire, by trifling on the edge of the abyss. So in these days we show what we really are by going as far as we dare or can in actual disobedience. We go as far as our material will permit. “As thou couldest.” As thou couldest with impunity. We are intemperate, with a due regard to our health; freer indulgence would destroy us, and that is not what we mean. We are uncharitable, with a due regard to our reputation; we must not infringe the law of libel. We are ambitious and vain; but our ostentation must be limited by considerations of pride and covetousness. As thou couldest with decency. We must not qualify our reputation; we must not be guilty of bad manners, bad form, bad taste. As thou couldest with advantage. Carrying out unrighteousness right up to the point where it ceases to be lucrative, and breaking it off just there. And let none conclude that sins toned down by such considerations are of less malignant quality, or less offensive before God, than are sins of a more violent or exaggerated order.
III. Many would at once proceed to greater lengths of wickedness if the restrictive influences of life were withdrawn.
1. Note the extent to which men resist these saving influences. As some engineers are wishful to drive a tunnel under the Channel and establish immediate relations with the Continent, so men are busy in all directions ingeniously attempting to evade the silver streaks which heaven has mercifully placed between them and the excesses of passion and appetite. The criticism of the Bible in the literary world, the impatience felt with it in the individual life, are frequently nothing more than a revolt against its noble righteousness. We fret at the narrowness of the way which leadeth unto life. In the name of free thought, of a free press, of free restitutions, the nude m art must be encouraged, outspoken writings protected, sexual life must be unfettered. With what strange infatuation do we rebel against and seek to escape the crystal deep which God has established between us and ruin!
2. The second sign of the irregularity and inordinativeness of our desire is found in the popularity of certain imaginative literature Modern society has put distinct and authoritative limits to many forms of indulgence; but human nature shows its old quality unchanged, for when it can no longer gratify itself in the actual world it betakes itself to the ideal world.
1. Let us recognise the glory of God’s preventing grace. The Dutch call the chain of dykes which protects their fields and their firesides from the wild sea, “the golden border.” God’s grace directly affecting our heart, or expressed in the constitution of society and the circumstances of life, is a golden border shutting out a raging threatening sea of evil.
(2) Let us confess the folly of our self-righteousness. The consciousness of a self-righteousness often stands in the way of men attaining the righteousness which is of God, but the foregoing reflections show how little our self-righteousness is worth. Looking into our heart, we know ourselves to be worse than the world takes us to be. As Victor Hugo expresses it, “Our dark side is unfathomable . . . One of the hardest labours of the just man is to expunge from his soul a malevolence which it is difficult to efface. Almost all our desires, when examined, contain what we dare not avow.”
(3) We see the necessity and urgency of the grace which converts and perfects. It is by no means wholly satisfactory that we are kept by restraining grace; the grace which converts us into a new self is what we must most earnestly covet and pursue. Christianity brings us a motive of unparalleled grandeur; it fills the soul with the highest visions, convictions, loves, ambitions. And there is a sublime concurrence of forces in its motive. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The sinner’s desperate depravity
I. God in His providence has surrounded the sinner with many circumstances operating powerfully to modify human character.
1. Education. This makes Christendom differ from the dark places of the earth, which are full of the habitations of cruelty.
2. Human law. Look at some country in a state of anarchy. Look at some city or village where law is suspended. Look at France, while under the reign of terror, when law was abrogated, and see one company after another pass under the guillotine; and the executioners of today the victims of tomorrow; and, tell us, is not character greatly modified by municipal law?
3. The law of God. If men have no other belief in it, but that which may be denominated the faith of history, it still greatly modifies human character.
4. The troublesome supervision of conscience. This everlasting censorship, while it has held men back from sin, has been hated, warred against, scowled upon, by the whole human family.
5. The whole Gospel has modified human character beyond all calculation. It so commends itself to their reason, and applies such power to their consciences, that it becomes exceedingly difficult to understand it. It is so tender, majestic, commanding, and reasonable, that it for a time melts and overawes many who ultimately reject its provisions.
6. All the Gospel institutions--every thing associated with Christian worship operates in modifying human character, and rendering it in appearance better than it is.
7. The desire of heaven has the same effect. None, perhaps, are so abandoned as not to hope that they may, after all, live and be happy after death.
8. The fear of hell
9. The expectation of judgment.
10. Public sentiment.
11. Domestic affection. The silken cords which entwine round the family circle prevent the commission of many a crime.
II. By these circumstances every sinner is actually restrained in his wickedness and held down in his downward career.
1. Men are uneasy under these circumstances, which shows them to be restraints. Let men be unrestrained, and they will be easy. It is only pain of some kind that renders them uneasy, and willing to change their position. Hence they will not come to the light, lest their deeds should be reproved.
2. Men are constantly trying to alter their circumstances. But they are too indolent by nature to try to alter their circumstances, unless they are circumstances of restraint.
3. When men at length alter their circumstances in any of these respects, they often show out a worse character; manifesting what they would have been before, if they might, if these restraints had been sundered and they let loose upon the world.
4. When these restraints are all removed, men are uniformly far more wicked than if they had not been imposed.
III. Every sinner does make the attempt and succeeds as far as God will let him to sunder these ligatures that would hold him fast to reason, hope, and heaven.
1. See how he breaks over and breaks through the restraints of education. He Cries to throw off what he knew of God, and all he had learned of the Saviour, and of the operations of the Holy Spirit; all he had learned of the operations of the Godhead, in the history of the Church. And when he cannot forget, he raves at his own recollections.
2. When he has tried for a time, but has tried in vain, to retrace the process of education, he finds himself reined in by human laws. If he cannot forget God, perhaps he can snap asunder the power of human control. He can evade all human ties. He can rise above the law, and tread it down like the mire of the street. Or he can violate its precepts and despise its regulations, and hold on and hold out in despite of all its sanctions, presuming in his heart that God will not know, neither will the Almighty consider it. Thus he blesses himself in his own delusion, and trusts for safety in his own righteousness. But he meets with more disturbance yet.
3. From the law of God. Impenitent and unbelieving, he has read in that law what, if he cannot put down, he is a ruined man: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Thus is dashed, at the first stroke, the whole fabric of a dark and fatal idolatry. If man worships his money, or his merchandise, or his farm, or his friend, or anything but God, or gives anything else his supreme affection, even if he does not professedly worship it, he is condemned of God. And He adds, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” But how unfashionable it would be to care about this commandment, and let the apprehension that God “will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain,” produce a serious moment, or a pang of distress!
4. Not quite so easily does he dispose of the troublesome supervision of conscience. This vicegerent of Heaven stays often many a month after open war is declared. It sometimes will hold close conference with the heart, although the heart may wish to be alone. It will not go to sleep in the grave: it will watch, even while the wretch is dying, to secure the honour of God, and gather courage for a fresh attack just by the dying pillow And the agony of its first onset in the unseen world, hard by the place of dying, devils cannot know. For they have never spurned a dying Saviour, and they have never died. But all the embrasures that can be opened upon the soul by this moral avenger must be closed, or its eternal thunders will be heard and felt.
5. But still he has a slight conflict with the institutions of the Gospel. Every church-going bell fills his conscience with guilt, and each return of the day of rest reminds him of a mother’s prayers. He must pervert its holy design, or writhe under the lashes of a guilty conscience.
6. The hardened sinner would dislodge himself from all thought of heaven or fear of hell. And yet these are very powerful ligatures, and often the last to be sundered. When men think of relinquishing heaven, they sometimes forget, that awakening previous question, “If I abandon the thought of heaven, where shall I then be? What means that worm which never dies? What mean those chains of darkness--and that gnashing of teeth--and that quenchless fire?”
7. The sinner must have broken through all the restraints of public sentiment, before we can know how bad he would be; and this ligature he tries to snap asunder. But he will find that public very populous, before he gets through. After he has gone his round with mortals, and has learned not to care what men think of his conduct, he must cease, too, to care what is thought of his deeds in heaven.
8. There yet remains to be noticed one of the most powerful motives of restraint, the domestic affections. It is impossible to guess what men would be, till they throw off the hold, for instance, that a mother has upon a profligate son. (D. A. Clark.)
Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.
I. State this decision of the Lord.
1. Israel, from the time they became a distinct nation, cast off God; therefore, given into Assyrian captivity and divorced by God.
2. Judah had retained the worship of God, but revelled in idolatry.
3. Because of their apparent superiority, Judah would scarcely own her relationship to Israel.
4. Though their sins were ostensibly less, they were committed with tenfold aggravations. Their advantages had been greater; larger number of prophets sent them; enjoyed stated ordinances; presence of God in their midst (in Temple).
II. Confirm this decision of the Lord. Specious insincerity is worse than open profaneness, because--
1. It argues a deeper depravity of heart.
2. It casts more dishonour upon God.
3. It does more extensive injury to man. Address--
(1) Those who are careless about religion.
(2) Those who profess religion. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
Judah hath not turned unto Me with her whole heart, but feignedly:--
The word “feignedly” is literally, with a lie. See the picture: here is one figured as a penitent woman, who comes to pray--in other words, to tell lies in the sanctuary, and to heap up falsehoods upon the altar where the fire has gone out. But is this possible? It is not only possible, it is actual, it is the history of today. Could we but see things as they really are, we should see that the largest figure amongst many competitive figures is that of hypocrisy. That admits of many colours and many definitions and modifications. All hypocrisy is not the same as to external attitude and bulk and colour. How subtle it is! It likes a little prayer; it does not object to go where the music is good, and where the preaching is pointless; it can speak smoothly, when it is full of anger; it can promise musically, and disappoint mockingly and triumphantly; it can sit like a saint, whilst its heart is far away or is plotting mischief. There is, then, a return to God which is no return; there is a going to Church which is not going to church; there is a piety which is impious; there is a calling to God as Father which God Himself replies to ironically, as if men would call Him anything to flatter Him into the suspension of His judgment or the conferring of an immediate favour. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Return, thou backsliding Israel.
The backslider’s return
I. The invitation to return.
1. From one who
(1) has been wronged (Jeremiah 3:13);
(2) might therefore justly be angry;
(3) but is “merciful” (Jeremiah 3:12).
2. To one who
(1) has been grossly disobedient;
(2) has been equally ungrateful;
(3) is reaping consequences of disobedience and ingratitude.
II. The condition of return. Confession is the condition of return, because--
1. Genuine confession of sin can proceed only from genuine contrition for sin, which is not unfrequently brought about (Luke 15:17) by a comparison of the lamentable consequences of backsliding, with happiness previously enjoyed.
2. “Godly sorrow” or genuine contrition “worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of”; i.e. it finds relief only in that confession which is the condition of return. True repentance involves--
(1) Contrition for sin against God.
(2) Confession of sin to God.
(3) Return from sin “towards God” (Acts 20:21).
III. Results of the return.
1. God’s anger will be averted (Jeremiah 3:12).
2. God will Himself escort the wanderer home.
3. A happy future. Comprising
(1) life under a rule which can commit no errors, legislative or judicial (Jeremiah 3:15);
(2) a promise that the restored shall not “walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart” (Jeremiah 3:17), the cause of their backsliding. (H. A. Hall, B. D.)
1. It is a fearful thing that a believer should backslide.
(1) Such mercy has been shown to him.
(2) Such love has been enjoyed by him.
(3) Such prospects lie before him.
(4) Such comfort is sacrificed by his backsliding.
2. It is a wretched business for the man himself, since by it nothing is gained, and everything is endangered.
3. It is injurious to the whole church to which the backslider belongs.
4. It is mischievous to the outside world.
5. What is the immediate duty of the backslider? the immediate remedy for his backsliding?--“Return.”
I. Wonder awakened by the call.
1. The usual jealousy of love.
2. The abundance of the sin (Jeremiah 3:2).
3. The obstinate continuance in evil, notwithstanding chastisements (Jeremiah 3:3).
4. The refusal of tender persuasion (Jeremiah 3:4).
5. The perversion of mercy (Jeremiah 3:5).
6. The warnings which had been despised (Jeremiah 3:6-11). It is a great increase of iniquity when we perceive the suffering which it causes others, and yet persevere m it ourselves.
II. Memories aroused by the call.
1. Does it not remind you of other days?
(1) When you first came to Jesus.
(2) When you were happy with other believers.
(3) When you could teach and warn others.
(4) When you began to go aside, a little.
(5) When you have sinned grievously through this backsliding.
2. Indulge these memories till they affect your heart.
III. Reasons urged for obeying the call.
1. It is God Himself who utters it.
2. Anger will be removed (Jeremiah 3:12).
3. Love continues (Jeremiah 3:14).
4. Healing will be given (Jeremiah 3:22).
IV. Directions given to make obedience to the call easy.
1. “Only acknowledge thine iniquity” (Jeremiah 3:13). What a simple matter!
2. Lament the evil (Jeremiah 3:21).
3. Own the sad result (Jeremiah 3:25).
4. Trust in God for restoration (Jeremiah 3:23).
5. Heartily renew allegiance (Jeremiah 3:22).
V. Promises made to those answering to the call.
1. Special guidance (Jeremiah 3:14).
2. Suitable food (Jeremiah 3:15).
3. Spiritual insight (Jeremiah 3:16-17).
4. Childlike spirit (Jeremiah 3:19). (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Let us have up the backsliders, and ask them why they slid back. Of course they have excuses. All wrongdoers have. You interview any defaulting bank officer, etc., and they will tell you a tale of sweet and childlike artlessness to account for their weakness, as they will call it.
1. I was deluded into being confirmed by the urgent solicitations of the rector, or my parents, or my Sunday school teacher. I was over-persuaded by my wife or my friends. I acted hastily. Now just put this into plain English and look at it. You were deluded into an attempt to rise to a higher plane. You were over-persuaded to strive to be a better: man or woman. You acted hastily in resolving to strive to get the better of evil passions and ugly habits. How does that sound?
2. My rector said that there would be a great comfort in being a communicant, that it would bring a peaceful conscience, and a joy in life, and a satisfaction of heart. Now I did not find it so. After I became a communicant, my old bad feelings returned, and I gave way often to evil thoughts, words, and deeds, and the world did not change, and I was not very different, and so I stopped the whole thing. Now, if you had a very sick friend, and the doctor should leave pills which if steadily taken would bring relief, what would you reply on hearing your friend say after taking two or three, “I feel no better, I will take no more”? You would reply: “The doctor never said a dose or two would answer. He said that if persevered in the pills would bring relief.” Would you blame the doctor or the medicine, if your friend’s bad symptoms still continued?
3. It was such hard work. Why, there was no end to the care we had to take. We had to watch our words all the time to see that we let out no scandalous or ugly or impure ones, and our steps that we went nowhere which would be likely to peril our Christian profession. We found that to be consistent we had to struggle, and to meet opposition, and to go contrary to our own wishes, and when we fell, it was so hard to get back, we got discouraged and gave up. Young men have told me that, whom I saw, just to keep their places in the store, working like very galley slaves, thinking no self-denial too great to hold on there, rising early, going without sleep, hurrying through their meals, restraining their tempers, bearing patiently with troublesome customers and overbearing employers. Do you not see the awful inconsistency, the poor futility, of this excuse? (C. Locke, D. D.)
Israel invited to renew her marriage by repentance
I. God sends messengers of mercy and not of judgment (Jeremiah 3:12).
II. God requires that they humble themselves before Him (Jeremiah 3:13).
III. God urges the most affecting considerations, in order to prevail upon them.
1. The merciful disposition He felt towards them.
2. The relation under which He still regarded them.
3. The benefits which He was still ready to confer upon them. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
A proclamation from the King of kings
Backsliders are very many. Departing from the living God is no strange thing. Many Christians are one while hot, and another lukewarm, and even cold. They are diligent and fervent today, but idle and indifferent tomorrow. Even the best of believers are not always at their best. Who among us has not had cause to make confession that he has not kept up to his first love at all times; neither has his lamp been always clearly burning?
I. The proclamation: “Go and proclaim these words towards the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith” the Lord.”
1. It was to be a proclamation, for God is King; and if His subjects rebel He does not lose the rights of His sovereignty. He sends, therefore, to them a royal message with all the power which belongs to the word of a king. “Go and proclaim.”
2. This proclamation is sent to the worst of sinners, to the very basest of backsliders. They broke their marriage bonds to the one living and true God, and made themselves loathsome in His sight by the most detestable idolatries. It is sad that there should have been such a race of backsliders; but it is glorious to think that to such as these the message of God’s mercy was sent.
3. The Israelitish people were not only the worst kind of backsliders, but they had already reaped in a very large measure the result of their backslidings, for they had been carried away captive. They had suffered the loss of all things because they had departed from their God, and yet they had not learned the lesson which affliction was meant to teach It was still needful to call them to repentance, and God bade them return to Him: His proclamation was to them.
4. I see some mercy, and that of no little kind, in the messenger who was sent to deliver this message, for it was Jeremiah, that man of a broken spirit, who could say of himself, “I am the man that hath seen affliction.”
II. A precept. It is a very simple one, and as short as it is clear. It is given in the proclamation,--“Return, thou backsliding Israel.”
1. Return,--be as you were; come back: repent, and do your first works. Hearken this is the precept; return unto your Saviour; just as you are, come back to Him. Come back as you came at first, with your sin acknowledged, looking to His Cross for pardon. Did you grow too great, and think you could live without your Saviour? Return! Did you dream of being so perfect that you did not want His righteousness, for your own would suffice? Away with that glittering bauble, that idle notion of thy perfection, and come back, and beat upon thy breast, and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Repent of thy pride, and return again to thy Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Return at once. Delays are always dangerous, but never so dangerous as when they are proposed by backsliders.
3. And come thou back with all thy heart. Let there be no mimic repentance; no pretended returning. Thou shalt find the Lord if thou seek Him with all thy heart, and all thy soul.
4. And mind that thou return practically; that is, that thy life shall be changed, thy idols broken, thy omitted duties fulfilled with eagerness, neglected means of grace pursued with fervour; that done which thou hast left undone, and that evil forsaken into which thou hast gone with such headlong folly.
III. The promise. “I will not cause Mine anger to fall upon you.” See that anger, like a black cloud, charged not with refreshing rain, but with fire flakes that shall bum as they fall: ay, burn their way into the very core of your being, as with the fires of hell. Not a flake of it shall burn you if you return unto your God. There is full, free, and immediate forgiveness to be had. “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins. Return unto Me.” This is a grand motive for coming back: the sin that separates is put away. He will wash you thoroughly from your iniquity, and cleanse you from your sin, and whatsoever you need He will give to you, and He will not upbraid you. I find that the passage might be read, “I will not cause My face to fall upon you,” meaning this--that if the child of God comes back, God will not look angry at him any more. “I will not cause My anger to fall upon you. I will not even cause My face to fall at the sight of you; but I will receive you graciously; I will in tender mercy put away your transgressions, and reveal My love to you.”
IV. The argument.
1. Here is, first, God’s mercy. Nothing delights God more than to forgive sin: at this blessed work He is at home. He is happy at it; He finds pleasure in man’s turning to Him, and finding life. Mercy as His last-born attribute. Until sin came there was no room for mercy--the mercy that forgives, and therefore mercy is God’s Benjamin, the son of His right hand, and He delights to give to it ten times as much as to His other attributes when they feast together. It is the heaven of His heaven to receive a hell-black sinner to His heart, and put away his sin. “I am merciful,” saith the Lord. Therefore come to Him, and believe in His mercy; and doubt no longer, but lovingly receive what He lovingly gives.
2. As for you who once knew Him, and loved Him, and rejoiced in Him, I want you just to dwell on that second argument, namely, marriage. “Return, for I am married unto you, saith the Lord.” It is done, and though you do not stand to it He does, the great transaction still stands on His part: though you believe not, He abideth faithful. He has bought you with His blood, and the price will never return into His veins. Wherefore, come back to Him.
V. The advice that He here gives as to how we are to return. He says, “Only acknowledge thine iniquity.” “Alas, I have so wandered!” Acknowledge it. “But I have done it so many times!” Acknowledge it. “But I have wandered against light and knowledge!” Acknowledge it. It is not a hard thing to do, to get thee to thy chamber, and before God confess thy faults. You have, first of all, to have a knowledge of it, and then to acknowledge it. Feel thy sin, and then confess it. Be convinced of it, and then plead guilty at the judgment seat. “What am I to acknowledge?”
1. Your breach of covenant--that you have transgressed against Jehovah your God.
2. Next acknowledge your greedy sin--that thou “hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree.”
3. Confess also your hardness of heart. God has spoken, and you would not hear; He has entreated, and you would not regard Him; He has come very near to you, and you have turned your back upon Him.
4. Confess also your ingratitude. His voice, which is your Father’s voice, you have not heard or obeyed. What unnaturalness! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Love of the world
I. The ground of the appeal. “I am married unto you.” A man to have slidden back must at one time have been forward. He cannot have truly wandered from the Lord, unless he has personally known Him. To those, therefore, who are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus is the appeal made, “Turn, O backsliding children,” etc.
II. To whom the appeal is addressed. The Christian who seeks first his worldly advantage, and fails to see that his “chief end is to glorify God,” is led step by step farther and farther from the Most High.
III. The appeal itself.
1. The context shows the spirit in which it is to be complied with (verse 13). First must come confession. As the old proverb has it, “Sensibility to a fault is half-way to amendment.”
2. In the text itself we have the appeal in one word--“Turn.”
3. The promise associated with this appeal (verse 23). This is a promise of Almighty power. I remember hearing a brother who, when asked who converted him, replied, “God converted me, who else could do it?” So may we say of the healing of the backslider, “Who but God can do it?” Blessed be the name of the Almighty, He promises to do it.
4. The language used by the backslider as setting forth the One to whom he returns (verse 22). (W. P. Lockhart.)
I. The nature of backsliding.
1. It is going back.
2. It is generally preceded by--
(1) Pride (Proverbs 16:18).
(2) Vain confidence (Matthew 26:33).
(3) Negligence (Matthew 26:58).
3. A man may be--
(1) Enticed by sinful pleasures.
(2) Led back by sinful companions (1 Kings 11:1-43).
(3) Driven back by sinful fears (Matthew 26:69-74).
II. The misery of backsliding.
1. Heavy losses.
(2) Tender conscience.
(3) Sweetest enjoyments.
(4) Brightest hopes.
2. Severe disappointment. His holy expectations are lost, of what he might have been and done for Christ, and the after rewards.
3. Terrible disgrace.
(1) Before the world, as a hypocrite.
(2) Before the Church, as “the thief” (Jeremiah 2:12).
(3) Before God (Psalms 51:3-9).
III. The remedy for backsliding. “Return,” etc.
(1) Delay makes your case worse.
(2) God is willing to pardon.
(3) The Church is waiting to receive you.
(1) Confessing sin.
(2) Abhorring sin.
(3) Forsaking sin.
3. Believingly. Remember--
(1) The love of your espousals.
(2) The individuality of your relationship.
(3) The love of your husband.
(4) Your own duty. (The Study.)
The mercifulness of the Divine nature
When the Duke of Argyll was taken in rebellion in Scotland, and brought before James the Second, the King said to him, “You know that it is in my power to pardon you?” It is reported that the prisoner answered, “It may be m your power, but it is not in your nature to forgive,”--a speech which, whether true or not, cost him his life. He died like a stoic, executed at Temple Gate. What a contrast to the Divine. To err is human, to forgive is Divine.
I am married unto you.
The relationship of marriage
These be dainty words--a grateful anodyne for a troubled conscience. Such singular comfort is fitted to cheer up the soul, and put the brightest hue on all her prospects. The person to whom it is addressed hath an eminently happy position. God speaks to His Church in her most abject estate, and though He does not fail to rebuke her sin, to lament it, and to make her lament it too, yet still in such an estate He says to her, “I am married unto you.” Oh! it is grace that He should be married to any of us, but it is grace at its highest pitch, it is the ocean of grace at its flood tide, that He should speak thus of “backsliding children.”
I. Consider the relationship which is here spoken of.
1. The affinity of marriage, though exceedingly near of kin, is not one of birth. Marriage is not a relationship of natural birth but of voluntary contract or covenant. Such is the relationship which exists between the believer and his God. Whatever relation there was originally between God and man, it was extinguished by the fall. Now, Christian, just contemplate what you were, and the degraded family to which you belonged, that you may magnify the riches of His grace who espoused you in your low estate, and hath so bound Himself with all the pledges of a husband that He saith, “I am married unto you.”
2. Marriage union is the result of choice. The first choice is with God. That choice was made, we believe, before the foundation of the world. God never began to love His people. He saw them in the glass of His decrees; He foresaw them, with His eye of prescience, in the mass of creatureship, all fallen and ruined; but yet He beheld them, and pitied and loved them. “They shall be Mine,” saith the Lord. Here we are all agreed; and we ought to be all agreed upon the second point, namely, that we also have chosen our God.
3. Marriage is cemented by mutual love. Where there is not this mutual affection, it deserves not the name of marriage. Need I talk to you of the love of God? It is a theme we are scarcely competent to talk of.
4. This marriage necessitates certain mutual relations. I cannot say “duties,” for the word seems out of place on either side. How can I speak of the great God making pledges of faithfulness? and yet with reverence, let me word it so, for in my vocabulary I have hardly words to set it forth. When God becomes a husband, He undertakes to do a husband’s part--to nourish, to cherish, to shield, to protect, to bless those with whom He condescends, in infinite mercy, to enter into union. And now, what upon our side? The wife has to reverence her husband, and to be subject unto him in all things. That is precisely our position towards Him who has married us. Let His will be our will. Let His wish be our law.
5. It also involves mutual confidences. In a true marriage, the husband and wife become one. Henceforth their joys and their cares, their hopes and their labours, their sorrows and their pleasures, rise and blend together in one stream. The Lord our God has said it. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant. Now, Christian, just see: you stand in the relation of a spouse, and you must tell your very heart out to Christ.
6. This marriage implies fellowship in all its relations. Whatsoever a husband possesses becomes his wife’s. She cannot be poor if he be rich; and what little she has, whatever it may be, comes to him. When Christ took His people, He gave them all He had. Now, it is saying but very little when I add, that, therefore, whatever we have, belongs to Him--oh! it is so little, so very little, but one wishes it were more.
7. The very crown of marriage is mutual delight and complacency. The wife of a Persian nobleman, having gone to a feast which was given by the great Darius, was asked by her husband whether she did not think that Darius was the finest man in the world. No, she said, she did not think so; she never saw any one in the world who was comparable to her husband. And doubtless that is just the opinion which a husband forms of his wife and a wife of her husband where the marriage is such as it should be. Now, certainly Christ sets a very high store upon us. He does not see us as we are, but in His infinite grace He sees us as we are to be. The sculptor says he can see a bust in a block of marble, and that all he has to do is to chip away the extra marble, and let the bust appear. So Christ can see a perfect being in every one of us, if we are His people; and what He is about with us day by day is taking off the excrescences, making us to be like Himself. And as for us, who are His people, I am sure we can say that there is no delight which can equal communion with Christ.
II. How far do you and I experimentally understand this? Oh! blind eyes, that cannot see beauty in the Saviour! Jesus! they are besotted, they are mad, who cannot love Thee! It is a strange infatuation of the sons of men to think that they can do without Thee, that they can see any light apart from Thee, Thou Son of Righteousness, or anything like beauty in all the gardens of the world apart from Thee, Thou Rose of Sharon, Thou Lily of the Valley! O that they knew Thee! But, Christian, I speak to you. Surely you know something about this, that God is married to you? If you do, can you not say with me, “Yes, and He has been a very faithful husband to me”? Well, then, speak well of Him, speak well of Him! Make this world hear His praise! As for you who do not know Him, I should like to ask you this question, and do you answer it for yourselves. Do you want to be married to Christ? Do you wish to have Him? Oh! then, there will be no difficulties in the way of the match. If thy heart goes after Christ, He will have thee. Whoever thou mayst be, He win not refuse thee. Oh! He seeks thee! And when thou seekest Him, that is a sure sign that He has found thee. Though thou mayst not have found Him, yet He has found thee already. The wedding ring is ready. Faith is the golden ring which is the token of the marriage bond. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
One of a city.--
One by one
The revelation of God to man is progressive. A revelation depends upon the power of the person revealing to give, and equally upon the power of the person receiving to receive. God could not, if He would, reveal the whole truth concerning Himself to the human race at the outset--not because He was unable to impart, but because the human race was unable to accept. The revelation of God in human history has therefore been a gradual and a progressive revelation. The wise men of all nations have always believed in one God. But there was one nation in which the wise men were wise enough to believe that the common people should also be taught that there is one God; and so, while in all the surrounding nations the doctrine of the unity of God was an esoteric doctrine--that is, a doctrine reserved for the few--in the Hebrew nation the prophets took this interior and secret doctrine, and, by many a trope and figure, and by many a direct affirmation, gave it to the common people. And thence they went on to learn and to teach that this God is a righteous God. The gods of the nations about were either unmoral or immoral; but the doctrine of the prophets, of the Old Testament was, God is a righteous God, deals righteously, expects righteousness. Connected with that was the teaching that God stands in relation, not to the whole human race, for that was too large a doctrine for them to accept at first, but in special relation to the Jewish race; and then that He did stand in relation to the other people also, but in the relation to the other people of a judge, and in the relation to the Jewish people of a Father. And so grew up, in the earlier period of Jewish history, the notion that God had chosen one nation, and was dealing with that nation--guiding, guarding, inspiring, redeeming it. Time passes on. This nation sins more and more, and the prophets see the gathering clouds--gathering for its destruction. They see the Assyrians and the Chaldeans on the north and east gathering against the nation, and they begin to say, Although you are God’s chosen people, God will punish you and carry you away captive; but still Israel is God’s nation, and God will save Israel; though He carries you away captive, He will so discipline you that He will bring you back as a nation, and as a nation you shall be saved and redeemed. Time went on another hundred years or so, and the prophesied disaster drew near, and Jeremiah came, and he brought another message. He said, No, this nation is not to be saved; but God will gather out of the nation here one and there another; He is married to the nation, but the nation as a nation He has given up as hopeless; nevertheless, He will take one out of a city, and two out of a family, and will bring them to Zion; He will deal with them one by one. When Christ came upon the earth, He met the old impression that Israel was to be treated as a nation, and it almost seems at first as though He shared that hope; but His later message was, God will take away the kingdom from Israel; and will give it to a new people that will bring forth the fruits thereof; this people He will gather one at a time from all the world, gathering them into the one great Israel of God.
I. God as a Creator and Ruler over nature deals in individual ways. Mr. Ruskin has called attention with great eloquence to the difference between the old-time workman and the new-time workman. The old-time workman worked individually, himself carved the whole piece, whatever it was, and so put himself into that carving; it was the product of his hand not only, but of his brain and his heart, and was the manifestation of himself. The modern industrial products are the products of machinery They are multiplied and cheapened, but they are no longer individual. Now, men think of God as one who puts a great machinery in operation, and that works out the product. But not so does the Bible represent Him, and not so does modern philosophy represent Him. God is not a first great cause. He is the perpetual, eternal, everlasting, and only cause, the cause that lies beneath all phenomena, so that every product of nature is a new and different manifestation of a God who is in every phenomenon. This is the reason for the infinite variation in phenomena. God never made two faces alike; never made two blades of grass alike; nothing that ever came from God’s hand, was exactly the repetition of anything else that ever came from God’s hand.
II. As in nature, so in His dealings with humanity.
1. He gives to each individual in the Church and each citizen in the nation His personal work. Humanity is not like a great army that is marching along in serried rank, and if one man drops out another man can take his place; nor like a factory in which a thousand men are working, and if one drops out some one else can come in and carry on his work. It is individual and personal work, and God comes to you, and says, “I have something for you to do, and if you do not do it, it will be left undone; there will be one vacancy, one citizen left out of the assembly, one blank space in the page.”
2. So He deals with each individual in all the discipline of life. He never sends a tear, a heartache, a failure, what men call a disaster, except as He sees the need for it. He knows what each soul wants, and to each one He adjusts the medicine according to the necessity.
3. So, in all the administration of His love, God deals with you one by one. We discuss the question of indiscriminate charity. The phrase is a contradiction in terms. Charity is discrimination. Love cannot be undiscriminating. God does not give His benefits by wholesale. God does not sound a trumpet when He does His alms, to gather the people to receive them. In all His benefactions, He deals with one at a time. “My God shall supply all your need”--that is Paul’s declaration. Special providences! There are no other. All providences are special. God does not throw men out to the influence of certain great generic laws and then interfere to help them on special occasions. God’s loving kindness and tender mercies are over all His works. Every life is guided and directed by the hand of an infinite love, if we only will allow it to guide. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
I will give you pastors according to Mine heart.
The character and teaching of Christ’s ministers
I. Their character. To be a “pastor after God’s heart,” a man must not only theoretically understand, but practically feel the truths he sets forth in his teaching. How describe the burden of a guilty conscience, if he has never felt it himself? How expatiate on the love and unfold the preciousness of a Saviour, whilst himself still out of Christ? How exhort hearers to set affections on things above, when his own thoughts are entirely absorbed by things below?
II. Their teaching. What they have found to be, by God’s blessing, useful to themselves, they will bring before their people. They will not daub the wall with untempered mortar, crying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace; but, will “cry aloud and lift up their voice like a trumpet,” to warn the unconverted of their danger, and convince them of their guilt. Nor will they show the disease without, at the same time, declaring the remedy. They will prove to their hearers their numberless shortcomings, in order that they may be led the more highly to prize the Saviour’s merits. Conclusion--
1. Seek the increase of such pastors.
2. Help to provide for such pastors. (C. Clayton, M. A.)
The duty of a pastor
I. To feed the Church with knowledge and understanding. This is by preaching the Gospel.
1. There is spiritual wisdom in understanding the mysteries of the Gospel, that we may be able to declare the whole counsel of God, and the riches and treasures of the grace of Christ unto the souls of men (Acts 20:27; 1 Corinthians 2:1-4; Ephesians 3:7-9).
2. Authority is required. What is authority in a preaching ministry? It is a consequent of unction, and not of office.
3. Experience of the things preached.
4. Skill to divide the Word aright.
5. The knowledge and consideration of the state of the flock.
6. To be actuated by zeal for the glory of God, and compassion to the souls of men.
II. Continual prayer for the Churches over which Christ has made them overseers.
1. No man can have any evidence in his own soul, that he doth conscientiously perform any ministerial duty towards his flock, who doth not continually pray for them.
2. This is the way whereby we may bless our congregations.
3. What shall we pray for?
(1) For the success of the Word that we preach unto them.
(2) For the presence of Christ in all our assemblies.
III. To preserve the truth and doctrine of the Gospel that is committed to the Church. What is required hereunto?
1. A clear apprehension in ourselves of those doctrines and truths which we are so to defend.
2. Love of the truth.
3. Let us take heed in ourselves of any inclination to novel opinions, especially in, or about, or against such points of faith, as those wherein they who are fallen asleep, found life, comfort, and power.
4. There is skill and ability required hereunto, to discover and be able to oppose and confound the cunning sophistry of adversaries. Great prayer, watchfulness, and diligence are required, that we may be able to attend unto these things. And those who are less skilled may do well to advise with those who are more exercised in them to give them assistance.
5. That we labour diligently for the conversion of souls. (John Owen, D. D.)
The true teacher
1. There are some teachers of religion who are teachers “according to God’s heart.”
2. All such teachers are the gift of God.
(1) He prepares them for their office.
(2) He designates the sphere of their ministry
3. They are distinguished by the care and fidelity with which they minister to the spiritual wants of their people. (E. Cooper, M. A.)
Pastors according to God’s own heart
I. What those qualifications are which render men pastors after God’s own heart.
1. Their being sent and commissioned by God.
2. Their being thoroughly instructed in the knowledge of God’s mind and will.
3. Their being exemplary in their conversation of the goodness and purity of their own doctrine (1 Timothy 3:12).
(1) In word, that is, in observing a decent gravity in discourse.
(2) In conversation; a sweet and obliging deportment.
(3) In charity; a hearty goodwill to all men as we have opportunity.
(4) In spirit; that is, in an active zeal for the glory of God, and the good of souls.
(5) In faith, that is, in an immoveable constancy and fidelity to our religion, in holding fast the form of sound words, and contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.
(6) In purity, that is, in abstaining from all fleshy lusts, from worldly mindedness, intemperance, and wantonness.
II. How much such pastors do conduce to the glory, and beauty, and perfection of the Church.
1. In soundness of faith, to which there is nothing can more conduce than pious and learned pastors; who being not only purged from vicious affections, and inspired with an hearty zeal for truth; but also accomplished with parts and learning to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and to separate the innovations of false teachers from the ancient truths of Christianity, cannot but be highly instrumental to the restoring the faith of their Churches, wherever they find it corrupted and sophisticated, to its primitive lustre and simplicity.
2. In purity of worship; for the end of all Church assemblies being to worship God, and the worship of God consisting in a devout acknowledgment of the infinite perfections of His nature, by such internal and external acts, as right, reason, and revelation directs: all such as are truly devout, and sincerely affected with the Divine perfections, must look upon themselves, as greatly concerned to worship God, in such manner as is most suitable to His will and nature. And this the pastors of the Church are more peculiarly concerned in, being the guides of the public worship.
3. A Church’s glory and perfection consists also in the vigour of its discipline, in the just and vigilant administration of the power of the keys, in admonishing such as go astray, in excluding them the communion of the Church if they continue obstinate, and readmitting them upon their repentance.
4. A Church’s glory and perfection consists in unity of communion and affections, so that there be no schisms in the body, but that all its members, being incorporate in the same communion, be knit and fastened to one another by the ligaments of mutual love and charity; to which excellent effect there is nothing in the world can more conduce than learned, prudent, and pious pastors.
5. The glory and perfection of a Church consists also in sanctity of manners; to promote which, also, nothing can be more conducive than pastors according to God’s own heart.
(1) Their being commissioned from God to teach and govern His flock must give their doctrine a very great authority in the minds of all that have any reverence for God, and thereby render it more prevalent and effectual
(2) Their doctrine, supposing they are pious and learned, will be throughout holy, and in all points tending to promote the interest of piety and virtue.
(3) Their holy doctrine will be enforced by their holy examples, which will preach more effectually than their tongues. (John Scott, D. D.)
The constitution, character, and duties of the Gospel ministry
I. God is engaged by covenant to provide a perpetual public ministry for His Church.
1. A public stated ministry in the Christian Church is a Divine institution.
2. It is the ordinance of God that a public ministry should be continued in His Church unto the end of the world.
3. God hath covenanted with His Church to supply her congregations with a public ministry--“And I will give you pastors.”
(1) Promises, made upon the footing of a permanent relation between God and His Church, which have respect to a benefit of a permanent nature, are to be understood as securing to the Church that benefit indefinitely throughout every period of time.
(2) Many promises delivered by the prophets were designed to refer immediately to the New Testament Church; and were so applied by the apostles of our Lord. Some of these refer to the Christian ministry (Isaiah Iii. 6, 7, 10; Romans 10:14-15).
(3) The Redeemer, in whom the promises are made, and in whom they are accomplished, has solemnly engaged never to leave His Church entirely destitute of a public ministry. He walks amidst the golden candlesticks. He holds the stars in His right hand. He gives power to His witnesses.
II. God hath set distinguishing marks upon the ministry, of which He approves--“Pastors according to Mine heart.”
1. The pastor according to God’s heart has received a regular call to the ministry.
(1) The call of God to ecclesiastical office is inward, when there is a Divine influence experienced upon the mind, inclining and commanding the person to devote himself to the service of the Church.
(2) It is outward, when accompanied with external evidence for the satisfaction of the Church. The inward call may satisfy a man’s own mind; but others must, in order to receive Him, have some external evidence.
(a) Ordination constitutes the call of God to the ministry of reconciliation in the Gospel Church (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; Romans 10:15).
(b) Ordination to the holy ministry is to be performed by imposition of hands (1Ti 5:22; 1 Timothy 4:14; Hebrews 6:2; Acts 13:2-3).
2. The pastor according to God’s heart has a life corresponding to the functions of his holy office.
(1) A ministry evidently impious will meet with few advocates. This evil can be tolerated only in a Church which has far departed from truth and holiness.
(2) The pious minister is constrained by the love of a crucified Saviour to diligence in his sacred office. He perceives the danger of sinners; and, anxious for their salvation, he warns them of it frequently and fervently. From house to house he visits, examines, exhorts. In afflictions, he soothes; in temptation, admonishes; in sickness, comforts; and in death, resigns their departing spirits into the hands of that God who created both him and them.
(3) The pastor, who is near the heart of God, is faithful to God and His Church. He deals plainly with sinners, uninfluenced by their frowns or their smiles.
III. The sum of pastoral duty is the edification of the Church.
1. The pastor according to God’s heart preaches to his congregation the Gospel of Christ. This is the food which he diligently provides for immortal souls.
2. The pastor of whom God approves is in duty bound, from time to time, to examine the religious state of his congregation.
3. It is the duty of the Christian pastor to administer the sacraments of the New Testament to the members of his Church.
4. It is the duty of a Christian minister to exercise authority over his flock. This is necessary to their edification, and is implied in feeding with knowledge. The power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven is in the hands of every Christian minister. (A. M’Leod, D. D.)
Pastor’s office no sinecure
To a person who regretted, to the celebrated Dr. Johnson, that he had become a clergyman, because he considered the life of a clergyman an easy and comfortable one, the Doctor made this memorable reply: “The life of a conscientious clergyman is not easy. I have always considered a clergyman as the father of a larger family than he is able to maintain. No, sir, I do not envy a clergyman’s life as an easy life, nor do I envy the clergyman who makes it an easy life.”
The pastor’s obligation to feed the people
The Rev. Robert Hall of Bristol was asked what he thought of a sermon which had been delivered by a proverbially fine preacher, and which had seemed to excite a great sensation among the congregation: “Very fine, sir,” he replied, “but a man cannot feed upon flowers.”
The ark of the covenant of the Lord.
The ark of the covenant
When inward piety is low the externals of religion are frequently cried up. Those who know nothing of God are the very people to exclaim concerning themselves and their brethren, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.” The more phylactery, the less sanctity. On the other hand, whenever the Spirit of God is largely poured out, although the ordinances of God are carefully attended to, yet as external things they are sure to be put into their proper place, and that proper place is a secondary one.
I. The symbol reverenced.
1. The ark of the covenant was the object of great reverence, and very fitly so, because it symbolised God’s presence, the presence of Jehovah, the living God, in the midst of His people.
2. That presence of God meant blessing; for God was with His people in love to them. The Lord abides not with His enemies, but with His chosen. So long as He gave the token of His presence it was a sign that He had not cast them off as hopeless.
3. The ark was held in reverence by the Israelites because it was their leader. When the time came to march through the wilderness the ark went in the forefront.
4. The ark was to the Israelites, after their wanderings were over, the fixed centre of their nationality, even as while they were in the wilderness it had always been placed in the centre of the camp.
5. Marvel not that the men of Judah paid great reverence to this ark when, in so many ways, it was a token for good to them. What they did to this ark is mentioned in the text. First, they recognised it as the ark of the covenant of the Lord. They were wont to say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” They spoke much of it, and prided themselves upon the possession of it. Nay, they not only spoke of it: but they loved it; for we read, “Neither shall it come to mind,” or as the margin has it, “Neither shall it come upon the heart.” In the next place, they remembered it, as the text plainly informs us. If they were captives they prayed in the direction in which the ark was situated; wherever they wandered they thought of God and of the coffer which represented His presence. Next, they visited it. On certain holy days they came from the utmost ends of their land, in joyful companies, singing from stage to stage, and making joyful holiday as they went up to the place where God did dwell between the cherubim. Visiting it, they were accustomed also to speak highly of it; for in the margin of your Bibles you will find, “Neither shall they magnify it any more.” They used to tell to one another what the ark had done; the glory that shone forth from it, the acceptance of the offering whose blood was sprinkled upon it on the day of atonement, and the testimony which was heard from between the cherubic wings.
II. That reverence obliterated. They were to say no more, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” Yet that fact was to be a blessing. They were no more to speak of the ark itself, because they would have that which the ark was intended to foreshadow.
1. Our Lord Jesus by His coming has put out of His people’s thoughts the material ark of the covenant, because its meaning is fulfilled in Him; and this, first, in the sense of preservation. He said, “Thy law is within My heart.” It was not within His heart alone, but within all. His life; His whole thoughts, words, and acts went to make up a golden chest in which the precious treasure of the perfect law of God should be contained.
2. Next, the ark signified propitiation; for over the top of the sacred box, which held the two tables of the law, was the slab of gold called the mercy seat, which covered all. When God looks down upon His law, He does not see it nakedly, but He beholds it in the person of His Son. He sees it there perfectly preserved, without taint or flaw of any kind, and He rejoices therein.
3. The next word is a very blessed one, and that is covenant. The ark was called “the ark of the covenant.” Ah, how soon we should lose the sweet things of God if we were under the covenant of works, and how soon we should miss the gentle sovereignty of His shepherd rod! I thank God that in Christ Jesus we have a covenant of grace which can never fail, and never can be broken, and in Him we have all that our souls desire: pot of manna and rod of Aaron, covenant provision and covenant rule we find in Him.
4. Because this ark was the ark of the covenant of God it was from it that He was accustomed to reveal Himself, and so it is called the “ark of testimony.” We say no more, “The ark of the testimony,” but we rejoice that God was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, and saw the Father in the Son.
5. This ark also signified enthronement; for the top of the ark was, so to speak, the throne of God. It was “the throne of the heavenly grace.” If you would see the throne of God, behold the person of the Christ; for in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. Oh, what a blessing to have such a throne to come to--to Jesus Himself, who is the throne of the invisible God!
6. As it was the place of God’s enthronement, so it was the door of man’s approach. You and I need not speak of the ark of the covenant; for we have a blessed way of approach. We do not come to Christ once in the year only, but every day in the year, and every hour of the day.
7. The ark was the place of gracious power. On the top of the mercy seat stood cherubic figures, types of angelic power, and of all the powers of providence which God is pleased to use in the behalf of His people. Yet we will not speak of the ark, neither will we remember it, neither will we visit it; for we see in Christ Jesus that all the power of God is on our side: He is “God with us,” and if God be with us, who can be against us?
8. The ark was much reverenced by the Jews, because it was the centre of their nationality. Find me a dozen spiritual men, and describe their different modes of thought; but let them sit together and begin to talk of the things of God, and of the covenant of grace, and of the work of the Spirit in the soul, and of the preciousness of the blood of Jesus, and you will see that they are one. There is, there must be, an essential unity among those who are quickened by the Spirit: and I rejoice that the name, the person, and the work of Jesus are at this hour the centre of Christendom.
III. This reverence transferred.
1. Let us say that Jesus is our covenant. We are told, “They shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” People must talk, it is natural to them--what else are their tongues for? Let us, then, say concerning Christ that He is the ark of the covenant of the Lord. Say this, say it often, nobody will rebuke you; it is a subject upon which you may be as fluent as you please. This is a kind of note of which the human ear, when once it is cleansed, never grows weary.
2. The text takes you a step further; for it says of the original ark, “Neither shall it come to mind.” or (I give the margin), “Neither shall it come upon your heart.” Let Christ come upon your heart and dwell there. Oh, love the Lord, alive His saints! You can love other things too much; but not your Lord.
3. And, next, if we should ever grow dull or cold at any time, let us take the third step in the text, and let us remember the Lord. O memory, leave no other name than that of Jesus recorded upon thy tablets.
4. The next thing is, let us visit Him. We cannot set out on journeys now to go to Jerusalem on foot,--little bands of us together; yet let us visit Jesus. Let us continually come to the mercy seat. No prayer, no power. The ark of the covenant is gone when the people no longer come together to cry unto the Lord.
5. The last thing is, “Neither shall that he done any more”; but the margin has it, “Neither shall that be magnified any more.” Transfer your reverence, then, and as you cannot magnify the literal mercy seat, come and magnify Christ, who is the real mercy seat. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ, the true ark of the covenant
I. A most alarming and unwelcome announcement. That the ark would disappear, and another not be made. Israel’s safety and prosperity were connected with the ark of covenant. By some regarded with superstitious awe rather than reverential fear; yet by all as of incalculable value to the nations.
II. A bitter and irreconcilable loss.
1. Prophecy soon fulfilled.
2. Loss deeply lamented.
III. A surpassing compensation predicted.
1. Must have seemed incredible at the time; yet afterwards proved consolatory.
2. How was the prediction fulfilled? In the appearing of Christ, the antitype of the ark.
IV. The realisation in Christ of the ark symbolised.
1. The Divine nearness.
2. The Deity bending mercifully over mere
3. The helpful and healing grace of God.
1. Israelites who early became Christians, and enjoyed the presence of Christ on earth, must have readily surrendered and forgotten the ark in the realisation of Jesus and His tender grace.
2. Believers, though now not realising Christ bodily among them, experience His Spirit’s indwelling, revealing Christ within.
3. Contrite sinners can rejoice in the tenderness, lowliness, and compassion of Christ. (R. Gordon, D. D.)
The throne of the Lord.
The Church Christ’s throne
1. Jerusalem had been of old the throne of God: the symbol of God rested on the ark. Hence called “the city of the Great King.”
2. Jerusalem became the throne of God as never before when Emmanuel visited her. Yet she rejected her King.
3. Christ by His death founded a kingdom in which His Church has become the true throne of God.
I. In the conversion of sinners the kingly power and authority of Christ is manifested. Each case is a victory of Christ over the “enmity” of the carnal mind and the resistance of hellish foes.
II. In maintaining his ascendency over the lives and affections of His converts. “Law in their members” at war with Him. The world strives to wrest them from His rule. Satan strives to recover his lost power. But they are held “in obedience to Christ,” and “kept by the power of God unto salvation.”
III. In governing the world providentially for His Church’s advantage. Christ reigns as mediator: works all things for our good and His glory; and by, and for, and from His Church He puts forth His power, that shall subdue all enemies under His feet. How does Christ’s rule affect individual members of His Church?
1. To what extent can and may they enjoy personally the presence of their King? Sits enthroned in their heart and affections individually.
2. Christ must hold unrivalled and unlimited sway and sovereignty over their liven His kingship absolute: their affections undivided: they habitually and entirely under the constraining influences of His love.
3. They will recognise that His care extends to every individual believer, sending expressions of His kindness and love to each, and never--save in faithfulness--afflicting them. (R. Gordon, D. D.)
How shall I put thee among the children.
Put among the children
I. A most delightful condition of privilege and enjoyment.
1. A real and endearing relation, not a mere figure or shadow. Though all worlds wait on His will, God’s heart is a Father’s heart; and its home, its place of joy and singing, is “among the children.”
2. This relationship implies dependence. The two principles of trust and obedience constitute the great requirements which the Head of the redeemed family urges upon all His children.
3. The relation between child and parent implies solemn obligations. The children of God are required to exhibit a character and conduct in harmony with their illustrious relationship. The glory of the Father, the honour of His name; the welfare of the whole household of faith; the furtherance of sacred truth in the world are interests dear to their hearts. They are partakers of the Divine nature, “each one resembles the children of a king.”
4. This relation implies the possession of privileges--“If children then heirs,” etc. All that the Jew possessed in Canaan, all that Adam delighted to see in Paradise, falls short of the expectations of the believer. The inheritance is incorruptible, undefiled, and it fadeth not away.
II. Some formidable difficulties in the way of conferring the blessings of sonship.
1. This relation between God and man is not natural “By nature children of wrath,” etc.
2. Justice demands the infliction of the penalty of sire Mercy pleads for compassion and forgiveness. In the courts of earthly sovereigns there is no escape from the dilemma. The sovereign can punish, and thus inflict justice; or pardon and show mercy. But in Christ all the requirements of law are satisfied, while the freest manifestation of mercy is made.
3. The character and condition of the sinner himself. Shall the leper be brought into companionship with the pure and the sound? Shall the outcast and the profligate nestle with the virgin and the holy?
III. The solution of the difficulty and the process of attaining the full enjoyment of the privilege. “Thou shalt call Me, My Father.”
1. Prayer is the birth cry of the soul. Like that first welcome sound by which the mother knows she has a living child. Every kind of sorrow and distress have driven men to their knees, but there are no prayers, for their fervour, like those which are the fruit of conviction of sin.
2. The spirit of adoption. “My Father.” Not by the thunders of Sinai, or the curses of Mount Ebal, are men preserved in Christ Jesus, but by the all-powerful grace of the Holy Spirit.
3. The salvation of a child of God is evinced by the spirit of perseverance. (W. G. Lewis.)
Among the children
I. A difficult question.
1. As to the Holy Lord.
2. As to the unholy person.
3. As to the family.
4. As to the inheritance.
II. A wonderful answer.
1. It is from God Himself, and is therefore a perfect answer.
2. It is in the Divine style: “Thou shalt”; and “thou shalt not.” Omnipotence speaks, and grace reveals its unconditional character.
3. It is concerning a Divine work.
4. It is effectual for its purpose.
III. A matchless privilege.
1. We are indeed made children of God, and joint heirs with Christ.
2. We are as much loved as the children.
3. We are treated as the children.
(1) We are forgiven as a father forgives his children.
(2) We are clothed, fed, and housed as children.
(3) We are taught, ruled, and chastened as children.
(4) We are honoured and enriched as children.
4. We are placed under filial obligations--to love, honour, obey, and serve our Father. This should be regarded as a high honour, not a burden. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
is not a change of the old nature, but an introduction of a new nature. Not “Ishmael changed,” but “Isaac born,” is the son of the promise. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Whom God adopts, He anoints; whom He makes sons, He makes saints. (Watson.)
A wonderful change
One of my parishioners at East Hampton, converted after having lived, through three or four revivals, to the age of fifty, and having given up hope, used to exclaim for several weeks after his change, “Is it I? Am I the same man who used to think it so hard to be converted, and my case so hopeless? Is it I? Is it I? Oh, wonderful!” (Lyman Beecher.)
The true source of salvation
I. How the obstructions to the restoration of the Jews shall be surmounted.
1. God Himself presents to them the formidable difficulty. Jews always obdurate. How restored to favour of God?
(1) Extent of their wickedness forbids it.
(2) Honour of God forbids it. To admit rebels to privileges encourages rebellion.
2. These obstacles, though formidable, shall be surmounted. As God spake the universe into existence, so will He form the “new creation.”
II. How alone the difficulties in the way of our salvation can ever be overcome.
1. There are immense difficulties. Our wickedness equals or exceeds that of the Jews.
2. But these shall be overcome. God will interfere for us in way of sovereign grace and by the exercise of His almighty power.
1. To those who question the possibility of their own salvation. God is able.
2. To those who have entertained no such fears. You think salvation easy; but only Christ’s blood could atone for such sin as yours; only the Divine Spirit could renew your depraved heart.
3. To those who profess to have been brought into the family of God. Obey and trust Him, as your “Father”; let nothing lead you to “turn away from Him.” (C. Simeon, M. A.)
Return . . . and I will heal your backslidings.
Hope for the worst backsliders
I. The call from God. “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings.”
1. It is a call to come back to God; and that means, first, remember Him; begin to think of Him; let Him be a living God to you.
2. The next thing is, really turn to Him.
3. There is one word in this call from God which proves that you are invited to come back just as you are, He says, “Return, ye backsliding children”; not “Return, ye penitent children.” I notice also that He does not say, “Heal your wounds first, and then come back to Me”; but He says, “Return, ye backsliding” children,” with all your backslidings unhealed,--“and I will heal your backslidings.”
II. The method of obeying this call.
1. He who would return to God, and find salvation, must distinctly renounce all other trust except that which God Himself gives him and sets before him in the Gospel. First, there must be a distinct renunciation of all righteousness of your own. The next thing that you must renounce is, your own strength. With that must also go all trust in your own knowledge and abilities, and even in your own understanding.
2. There must also be a hearty, true-minded acceptance of God alone as our one hope. Notice how the text says, “Truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel.” There must be no playing at this acceptance of God as our one hope; there must be no mocking of God by a pretended yielding up of ourselves to Him. It must be a true acceptance of God, to be our God henceforth and forever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The essence of love
I. A kindly remembrance. God, speaking to backsliders, says, “I remember thee.”
II. A shocking calamity. Ye who once were as a lighthouse set upon a rock, to guide men, are now a delusion and a snare. Your light has gone out. What a corruption there would be if it were not for the salt of the ocean. When you were converted to God you were the salt in the ocean of humanity, but now the salt hath lost its power. You are useless, and humanity seethes in the pollution of sin. You live probably in a house where there are wicked ones; you work amongst swearers, and sceptics, and drunkards, but you are powerless. The salt has lost its savour. Oh, backslider, dismantled, ruined, empty, may God rebuild you!
III. A loving message. “Return.” Have you read of the widow whose daughter fell into the pathway of wrong! One night the poor girl returned to her mother’s cottage. She went up the garden path and stood in the little porchway, and, to her surprise, she saw the door a little way open. She pushed it and entered. She went into the little room which used to be her own, and found a night light burning there, and her bed ready, as it always had been. She lay upon the bed, and was awoke by her mother’s kiss. “Mother, how is it that you left the door unlatched and the light burning?” “It was that you might not have a minute to wait when you came back.” This is just the way in which our heavenly Father treats us. It is the essence of love!
IV. A gracious promise. Poor backslider, you are wretchedly miserable; for God’s message has sunk very deep into your heart. You have drunk from the cup of sin; but you have also been bitten by the poisonous serpent, and the worm of unhappiness is gnawing at your heart. God says, “I will heal thy backslidings.” He will not let wound keep running. He will heal it; not like the burns and scalds that have left terrible marks upon our flesh. When we return to God He heals the wound; and there shall be no mark left of it, for He says, “I have blotted out thy transgressions.” (W. Birch.)
I. What it is to backslide. In Scripture the word “backslide” means a turning away from God altogether. It is usually, if not always, the sin of idolatry; it is the wife departing from her husband, as in this chapter (Jeremiah 3:1-2; Jeremiah 3:8; Proverbs 14:14). There may be in a spiritual sense a real though not apparent departing from God. There may be an unfaithfulness, not an act only, but a state. There may be half-heartedness for a time. The once tender conscience may become hardened; the once lowly spirit may become lifted up. With some it shows itself in worldly entanglements, seeking increase of business. In the midst of all this there may be no grossness, but specious arguments for exculpation. But there is woeful neglect of secret transactions with God. Prayer is not wholly omitted, but not conscientiously followed up. Perhaps there may be a lightness of spirit in prayer; perhaps there may be hardness. There may be an expressed value for the doctrines of grace; but they are as opiates to lull to sleep, not as stimulants to rouse to action. But, irrespective of all false notions with respect to the truth, there is oft much backsliding. The comforts of life have acted, it may be, as drags upon the wheels. Perhaps the very trials of life, instead of drawing us as magnets, have acted as repellants, and driven us away from God. Perhaps very weariness of body and exhaustion of mind have led to secret neglectings of God, and what was occasional at last became habitual. It is by the small edge of the wedge the whole wedge is at last inserted. When a river bursts through its embankment, one little spadeful of earth might have stopped the flood. He that despiseth small things shall fall by little and little. But the point is this--there may be fearful backsliding in heart, and not a speck of grossness in the life; and satisfied am I, that if we do not feel this, we shall, if we are God’s children, be taught it, it may be with many stripes.
II. The tender expostulation. “Return.” Here were idolaters in the grossest sense, and yet were they called to return. Before any symptom of amendment, any humblings of soul, yet “Return.” So “Hearken unto Me,” not ye broken-hearted only that walk, or are beginning to walk, righteously, but “ye stout-hearted that are far from righteousness.” What an aspect of tenderness! and what losers are they that see not this! The first overture was from God. The outstretched hand to an idolater, to a rebel. Oh, how clearly does it show us that if there were no election, there would be no salvation. Nature will reject all providences, all mercies, all overtures, even the outstretched hand of God.
III. The answer. “Behold, we come unto Thee, for Thou art the Lord our God.” See the overcoming power of love. There was reproof of their departures, expostulation with them for their sin, there was displeasure for their iniquities, but there was the most winning display of love in them all, and it was this which overcame. Force may compel, fear may deter, reason may persuade, and the Holy Spirit may use them all, but the great principle that moves the human heart is love. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
An invitation to backsliders
The Jews were a people prone to idolatry. Though favoured with peculiar privileges, they were “bent to backsliding.” At the time when these words were addressed to them, Josiah sat on the throne. He was a pious king and strove to uproot idolatry. His efforts were seconded by Jeremiah; but both king and prophet failed. Many years before, the ten tribes of Israel, for their apostasy, had been carried into captivity. “And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto Me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the Lord” (verse 10). This state of things deeply affected the prophet’s mind, and caused him to give utterance to the most plaintive and pathetic language.
I. The characters addressed. “Backsliding children.”
1. These are undutiful children. They have proved unfaithful to their solemn vows and sacred obligations--to their Christian brethren--to their God and Father. He said, “Surely they are My people, children that will not lie”; but they “turned back and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers; they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.” What crime can equal that of rebellion against parental authority? An unfaithful servant or steward is bad enough, but an unfaithful, undutiful child is vastly worse.
2. Ungrateful children. And theirs is ingratitude of the basest kind. It resembles the ingratitude of a freed slave who forgets his emancipator, and sells himself again into bondage.
3. Unwise children. Are they not unwise who forsake their own mercies and follow after lying vanities; who prefer broken cisterns to the fountain of living waters?
4. Unhappy children. They are often unhappy in their circumstances. Others may enjoy the world, but they cannot. Recollections of their “lost Paradise,” and apprehensions of future wrath, tend to embitter every earthly comfort.
5. Unsafe children. Heaven’s just wrath is awakened against them. Hell’s blackest gloom and fiercest flame await them.
6. But children still though they have forfeited the privileges of adoption, and have been deprived of the witness of the Spirit, their relation to God as their Creator is not dissolved, and their former interest in His favour is not forgotten.
II. The invitation given. “Return.”
1. By sincere repentance.
2. Earnest prayer.
3. Evangelical faith--faith in Christ.
4. Renewed self-dedication.
III. The promise made. “I will heal your backslidings.” The Lord heals backslidings in many ways,--frequently by restoring.
1. Providential blessings. Many men are chastised here that they may not be punished hereafter. The Israelites never departed from God without feeling the effects of His displeasure in their temporal circumstances.
2. Peace of conscience.
3. Purity of heart. How polluted is the heart of a backslider! His last state is worse than his first.
4. Honour and usefulness. (J. Hodgson.)
Behold, we come unto Thee; for Thou art the Lord our God.
I. It proceeds from the inmost heart.
1. Weeping (verse 21).
2. Shame (verse 25).
II. It is free from all dissimulation. Its principle is sorrow at having grieved God by the abuse of His love (verse 21).
III. It is made known by the honest fruits of repentance.
1. Apostasies healed (verse 22).
2. Detestation of evil (verse 24).
3. Yearning for the Lord (verse 25). (Origen.)
Conversion to God
I. What is it for sinners to come to God?
1. A relinquishing of everything that is contrary to God, and keeps us at a distance from Him.
2. A making use of Christ as the way to God.
(1) There would have been no place for repentance if Christ had not interposed with His blood.
(2) There never would have been any principle or exercise of repentance if Christ did not produce it by His Spirit.
3. A giving up of ourselves to God, and resting in Him as our end.
II. How should sinners come to God, in obedience to the precept, and upon the encouragement of the promise?
1. How must they come in obedience to the precept?
(1) Sinners are to come to God humbly; and that in consideration of the command of God, upon two accounts. All acts of obedience to God are to be performed with humbleness of mind. Returning to God after former acts of disobedience requires special humiliation.
(2) We are to come to God readily. When God is so kind to admit your return, there is no reason that He should wait for it.
2. How must they come upon the encouragement of the promise?
(1) Sinners are to come to God believingly, with regard to the promise: for these two reasons,--
(a) If faith be not the spring of all our motions towards God, they cannot be acceptable to Him.
(b) The promise does encourage such a faith, as much as we need or can desire. Besides His gracious entreaties, affectionate offers, importunate pleadings, you have His positive assurances that He will receive you if you return (2 Corinthians 6:17).
(2) Sinners must come joyfully to God. The promise is ground of rejoicing, as well as of hope and trust; and God never designed that our sorrow for sin should be so extreme as to stifle or drown the joy of conversion. God who makes the promise rejoices in the performance (Zephaniah 3:17; Luke 15:15). We who have the benefit of the promise must needs be still doubtful of it if we do not rejoice in it. If we had faith suitable to the faithfulness of God, it would transport the soul into an ecstasy, that we who have lifted up our heels so oft against God should be taken into His arms.
III. Wherein lies the blessedness of this?
1. When a sinner comes back to God he is brought out of a most miserable, wilderness condition, wherein if he had remained he must have perished.
2. When a sinner comes to God salvation comes to him.
3. When a sinner comes home to God, all his fellow creatures shall be some way or other serviceable to him, either willingly and gladly, or by constraint and over-ruling necessity.
4. When a sinner is come to God he must visit God by prayer in all his necessities, and be sure of sufficient relief.
5. A sinner that is come to God may sweetly walk and converse with God, through the residue of his life; and the benefit and sweetness of such communion is not to be imagined by those that have it not; they that are far from God can be no judges of the blessedness of those that are near unto Him.
6. A sinner that is come to God may go to Him with comfort and confidence at death, whether sooner or later.
1. This shows that they who will not come to God are not come to themselves (Luke 15:17).
2. Ministers will have a dreadful and unpleasing account to give of those whom they leave unpersuaded.
3. God will be justified in their condemnation, to whom His precepts and promises avail nothing.
4. The devil can lay no blocks in our way against our coming unto God but what we may easily remove or courageously leap over, if we look no further than this text.
5. How unreasonable would it be if any of the storms we meet with in our way to God should ever drive us back, or shipwreck our faith!
6. How happy would it be if the efficacy of this doctrine were equal to the concernment of it! It extends to all that are born into the world, and therefore should operate upon all. (T. Cruso.)
The call of God obeyed
I. The state of the persons here addressed. “Backsliding children.”
1. They had forgotten the Lord their God. All sin may be traced to this. God is forgotten by us. We forget the majesty and purity of His nature; His nearness to us; that His eye is ever upon us; and that darkness and light are both alike to Him. We forget His unspeakable love and goodness, and our manifold, increasing obligations. Strange that, amidst innumerable tokens of remembrance, we should be careless and thoughtless!
2. They had perverted their way. This is the natural effect of forgetting God. Have not we perverted our way? In innumerable instances we have struggled against the voice of reason, the voice of conscience, the voice of God; and, against the plainest dictates of His Word, have wandered in foolish, forbidden paths.
3. They were filled with painful regret. “The high places” were the seat of Israel’s idolatry: there they committed abomination, and provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger. But where they sinned, there they gave vent to their sorrow; and there they supplicated Divine forgiveness and favour. And, truly, if we are the subjects of genuine repentance, we shall do the same: where we have sinned, we shall sorrow too.
II. The gracious language of God to these backsliding children.
1. A friendly call. “Return.” Doubtless authority marks this word, and the word of Jehovah is never to be trifled with. It is an invitation given; but it is also a command, which may not be slighted; a solemn charge, which cannot with impunity be refused.
2. A precious promise. “I will heal,” etc.
(1) Backsliding inflicts a disease, a dangerous and fatal disease. But the promise before us implies that God is ready to restore health and cure.
(2) The effects of sin are numerous and destructive. Sin not only dishonours God, and wounds the soul, but it creates a thick cloud of mental darkness: it is the fruitful source of trouble and disquietude. But when the Lord promises to “heal” backslidings, He engages to extract this bitterness, to avert this punishment.
(3) The promise here is not indiscriminately given; it is to the sinner that “returns” to God. “Return, and I will heal your backslidings.” He does this by an act of sovereign favour (Micah 7:18-19).
III. The obedient reply of these people.
1. This reply is practical: “We tome unto Thee.” As the prodigal: he did not spend his time in fruitless wishes or satisfy himself with good intentions and right resolutions: his language was, “I will arise, and go to my father.” Immediately, “he arose, and came to his father.”
2. The reply is prompt; made with the utmost readiness, and given without the least demur. The call is, “Return”; the answer instantly subjoined is, “Behold, we come.” It reminds us of the promptness of the Psalmist, in his compliance with the voice of heaven (Psalms 27:8).
3. The reply is deliberate. The note of attention intimates this. “Behold! we come.” Though the penitent believer is ready, he is not rash; though, under the influence of Divine grace, he soon determines, he does it advisedly; his repentance is of that kind which never needs to be repented of.
4. The reply is unanimous. Here is the prayer and resolution of the Church: she prays as one person, actuated by one spirit draw me: she resolves as many persons, answering, with cheerful concurrence, “we” will run after Thee.
5. The reply springs from a clear conviction of duty, interest, and obligation. “Thou art the Lord our God.” It is the language of faith, and hope, and love; especially of gratitude, and self-dedication. (T. Kidd.)
Return to God
1. In the first place, we see what a true recovery from this state really is, “Behold, we come unto Thee.” This is true repentance. It is coming back to God, a returning home. There may be a turning to doctrinal comfort, and no returning to God. Till this, the backsliding continues. “Behold, we come to Thee,” say all returning backsliders; we come and lay our sins, our idols, ourselves, at Thy feet. And nothing short of this is real repentance, anything short of this is, under fair pretexts, soul deceptions.
2. But what else does it imply? Returning by the right way--faith. There is no real return to God but in the way we first met Him--in Jesus: “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” All the tears, all the sorrow and resolutions of amendment, have no power to bring us back to God. But when faith lays hold upon Jesus and His great atonement, it brings me up at once to God. I hang back no more. I hide myself no more. I make no vain excuses now. I hate my sins. I lie low. It is a valley, and it suits the lowly lily well.
3. And who is the author of all this? The same blessed Spirit who first revealed Jesus, and God the Father in Him. And nothing short of this. When sin in any measure regains power, deadening process instantly begins. The soul is commanded to confess; but in proportion to the length of time of the departure, and the degree of power of it, there seems an inability to confess. There is a want of spiritual sensibility. Oh then, how should we beware of the first “appearance of evil”! “Beware, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
4. Consider the great motive by which it is led back, the motive by which He works. It is the overcoming power of love. There was displeasure. Wounds were inflicted, wounds pungent and trying--wounds full of anguish were they, such as no human balm could assuage; but it was but the varied countenance of love. These wounds did but speak two things--His unsullied holiness, and equally His untiring love.
The subject has a two-fold bearing. First, as it regards our treatment of others, then that of our own souls.
1. First, others. We are all, as saints, more or less called amid our familiar friends and associates, to deal with those in whom we hope there is a spark of grace, yet little true, spiritual, holy light.
2. And now a few words to the believer in reference to himself. It may be that some one may be conscious--This is my own state. I have been not merely today, nor yesterday, but for many yesterdays, departing from God. Alas! that this should be so common. But, however, trifle not with it. It is not to be trifled with. Seek instant healing. Tarry not. Every instant of delay only increases the disease. Nothing but the blood of the Lamb can heal. Take heard that it be applied by none but the Holy Spirit. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
Lady Glenorchy, in her diary, relates her being seized with a fever, which threatened her life, “during the course of which,” she says, “the first question of the Assembly’s Catechism was brought to my mind--‘What is the chief end of man?’--as if some one had asked it. When I considered the answer to it,--‘To glorify, God and to enjoy Him forever,’--I was struck with shame and confusion. I found I had never sought to glorify God in my life, nor had I any idea of what was meant by enjoying Him forever. Death and judgment were set before me; my past sins came to my remembrance; I saw no way to escape the punishment due unto them, nor had I the least glimmering hope of obtaining pardon through the righteousness of another.” From this unhappy state she was shortly after delivered, by faith in the Lord Jesus. (W. Whitecross.)
The call to repentance and its response
You may pound a lump of ice with a pestle into a thousand fragments, but it will still continue ice. But bring it beside your own bright and blazing fire, and soon in that genial glow, the living waters flow. A man may try to make himself contrite. He may search out his sins and dwell on all their enormity and still feel no repentance. But come to Jesus with His words of grace and truth. Let that flinty, stony spirit bask in the beams of the Sun of Righteousness, then will it melt. (James Hamilton.)
Responding to the call
It is as when a man is in court, and is called for, to go into the witness box. He is standing in the crowd, and his name is celled: what happens? As soon as he hears his name he begins to push through the throng to reach his place. “What are you at?” says one. “I am called,” says he. “Stand back; why do you push so!” says another. “I am called by the judge,” says he. A big policeman demands, “Why are you making such confusion in court?” But, says the man, “I am called. My name was called out, and I must go.” If he cannot come, if it is not possible for him to get through the throng, one of the authorities calls out, “Make way for that man--he is summoned by the court. Officers, clear a passage and let him come.” Such is the kind of response which God looks for as He calls sinners to repentance. “Behold, we come unto Thee; for Thou art the Lord our God.”
The far-reaching consequences of sin
For many years the trees of the forest had been lopped, and now, though the new ownership and laws forbade that any hatchet should be lifted up upon any tree, they could not outgrow the olden days. The drunkard is such a pollarded tree, he may stop drinking, but his body will long suffer. The same applies to all unchastity. Sometimes the mind rather than the body suffers, and memories of sin deform the intellectual powers, even after the sin is discontinued. False teaching is another form of lopping, affecting the soul. What branches of Bible truth some are giving up, with the result of hindered and deformed growth--growth never recovered. Thus in the natural, physical, mental, and spiritual realm lopping is a serious business.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany