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Buy my field, I pray thee.
I. Faith is here illustrated as resting exclusively upon the word of God. All that Jeremiah did in this matter he did just because he had a command from the Lord. Whilst he was in prison, God told him that his cousin should come and offer him the redemption of a part at least of the family inheritance. The man came, and he “knew that this was the Word of the Lord”; therefore he bought the field. It is not to be supposed that he was rich. The probability is that he may have had to get the money for the purchase from his friend Baruch. Neither had he any expectation of himself obtaining any personal benefit from the purchase, for he believed that the city would be given into the hands of the Chaldeans, that the people would be taken for seventy years as exiles to Babylon. This is the very nature of true faith; it does the thing, or it receives the thing, it fears or it hopes, as the case may be wholly because God has spoken. If it embraces a promise, it rests its hope upon the Word of the Lord. If it is moved by fear, it is because God has denounced an impending punishment. If it acts in a particular way, it follows exactly the path which God has marked out. Resting as it does entirely upon the Word of God, it is altogether independent of reason, although it does not refuse to listen to its voice. Faith receives testimony; our faith in men leads us to receive the testimony of men. We often receive that testimony although we have no other evidence whatever of the facts we believe. Nay, we receive it although we have found the very persons whose testimony we are now relying upon to have been, in some instances, at least, mistaken. Faith in men goes thus far; it must go thus far; we are compelled to act in this way, or we should cut ourselves off from mankind and the activities of life. But if this be so, if we find it necessary and reasonable to act in this way, receiving the testimony of men, shall we not receive the testimony of God? When He speaks it is for us simply to listen. How wondrously has God spoken! “In the beginning” “God created the heavens and the earth. Going on from that primary revelation, He has revealed more and more of His truth; and in proportion as our minds rise, in proportion as our moral sense is cultivated, in proportion as we get free from the degrading power of evil which perverts our moral judgment, we find the revelation to be in accordance with everything we might expect. He speaks to us of things which are far beyond the reach of human knowledge and experience, testimony or deduction. He sets before us His own dear Son incarnate in our nature, and tells us of the great purpose for which He came.
II. This passage teaches us also that faith takes account of difficulties and improbabilities only so far as to refer them to him. We must pass on to a later portion of the chapter to illustrate this. When Jeremiah had purchased the field, and subscribed the deeds and sealed them, and they were deposited in the custody of Baruch in an earthen jar to be kept for a considerable time, he seems to have experienced what we all know, some kind of reaction Of feeling; and then, as if he almost felt that he had done something that he was hardly warranted in doing, he goes and lays the matter before God (verses 17-25). This must certainly have seemed strange to any person who did not understand that it was God’s Word. That a man who was in prison should buy an estate, believing as he did that before long the country would be in the hands of the Chaldeans, who would recognise no title-deeds whatever; that he should carefully go through the forms of Jewish law to acquire the estate, really appeared a most foolish thing. It seems as if those thoughts, so natural to us, came back upon Jeremiah’s mind, and he began to think of the difficulties and the probabilities of the case. You see that this is not a prayer for a blessing upon what he had done; it is not a prayer that the matter in which he had been engaged should be successful; but it is an utterance of wavering and distracted feeling; and that wavering and distracted feeling is rightly uttered to God. We all know perfectly well that faith as it exists in us is not complete in its power. Sometimes we can look over, we might almost say, the boundaries of our earthly horizon and see the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem and the hills of the celestial city, but at other times the depths of the valley of the shadow of death seem to hide it all from our view. Sometimes we can hold firmly to the truth which God has been pleased to set before us with unequivocal assertion, and with demonstration of power to our believing heart; but at other times our grasp upon it seems to relax, and it appears almost as if it would slip through our hands. When there is anything of this, what will a person who really has faith do, although that faith may not be in the most perfect state and in the fullest exercise? He will take all his difficulty to God. Do we find any difficulties about the way of salvation? Let us go and ask God to throw light, as far as that light is necessary, upon the truths whereby we are to be saved. Is there any question about my own connection with, or interest in, the work of Christ? Let me go and spread it before God, and ask Him to make my salvation clear to me. God never said that there should be no difficulty in the Christian’s path. God never told us that there should be nothing hard to understand in the truth that the Christian has to believe respecting Himself.
III. Again, we have this illustration of the nature and the power of true faith:--it joins obedience prompt and full with reliance implicit and abiding. Why does the inspired writer tell us the little particulars of the transaction? Would it not have been enough to say, “I bought the field”? No, because the object was to show that, in the full confidence that what God had said would come to pass, Jeremiah had left nothing whatever undone. There was no flaw in the document; all legal forms were complied with exactly; the two kinds of deeds that were always used, the one sealed and the other open, were provided; the earthen jar was obtained; the deeds were put in it and intrusted to a man of rank and standing; the money was paid; and all was done in the presence of witnesses, just as if Jeremiah had hoped to take possession of the little estates the very next day. This shows that the obedience of faith will be prompt and full and will omit nothing. Jeremiah never expected to get possession of that estate personally. He himself spoke of seventy years as the period of the captivity, and he did not therefore expect that he should ever be put in possession of the little piece of land, the reversion to which he had purchased. Faith does not bind its expectations to the present; it does not limit them to a man’s own life here; it looks beyond. And the faith of a Christian looks farther still than Jeremiah’s. It does not look merely to a deliverance at the end of seventy years, and a possession by some of our descendants or representatives at that time of a little spot in the earthly Canaan. It looks to the close of this mortal life, to the day of resurrection, and to glory with the risen Saviour throughout eternity. (W. A. Salter.)
I. The reasons for this purchase.
1. We may perhaps suppose that kindness to a kinsman, as Matthew Henry suggests, had something to do with it; for kindness is kinnedness, and it is very hard if we cannot show kindness to our kith and kin when they are in need. If Jeremiah has no need of the land, we may still infer, under the circumstances of Jerusalem in a state of siege, that his cousin Hanameel has great need of money. Some of us, perhaps, who maintain that business is business, and should be conducted always on the strictest business principles, may think that as to this matter of kindness to a kinsman, about the most inexpedient way of showing it is by mixing it with matters of business. As nearest kinsman his was the right of redemption, and it was already his in reversion in case of the death of his cousin; this cousin being, as we assume, in straits for want of money, and Jeremiah being a considerate, reasonable, and kind-hearted man, concedes to his cousin’s proposal, buying the land for what it is worth, and perhaps for something more. And if the opportunity should occur to us of helping a needy relative in some such way--if with anything like a reasonable prospect of success we can give him another chance, a new start in life, helping him to help himself--then, looking at the example of Jeremiah, I think we may all hear a voice speaking to us, and saying, “Go thou and do likewise.”
2. We may suggest, as another reason for this purchase, Jeremiah’s interest in future generations. Anathoth was one of the cities of the priests, and this field was ecclesiastical property. It might well be, therefore, that, unless Jeremiah bought it, it might in those confused times pass into other hands, by which it would become alienated from its sacred purposes, and so the law of Moses suffer violation. He was a Jew, and we know how the Jews looked on to the future and backward to the past, linking the past to the present and the present to the future, finding in the present a focus in which both past and future met, and so in the nation’s unity finding its immortality. We know how that great national anthem, that prayer of Moses the man of God, begins, “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations”; and we know how it closes, “Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants, and Thy glory unto their children, and establish Thou the work of our hands upon us, yea, the work of our hands establish Thou it.” We have a more sure word of prophecy, we anticipate a more glorious future, and we also know that even as to this life the best that we can do for those who are to come after us is not by making “purchases,” not buying fields or houses, not saving fortunes for our children, but by living godly, devout, Christ-like lives, shall we leave to them the best inheritance.
3. Let us assume, again, that Jeremiah, magnifying his prophet’s office, would have it made plain that he himself believed in his own predictions. The land was indeed to be desolate for seventy years, to have its Sabbaths, and to lie fallow; but after that time the people were to return from their captivity, take joyful possession once more of houses, and fields, and lands: and this particular piece of land, Jeremiah believed, would then revert to its rightful owners, the priests and Levites. For ourselves, making no pretension to the prophet’s office--that is, in the sense of foretelling--yet let us take care that our practice shall not conflict with our theory, that we practise what we preach, and so adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. “Let your conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ.”
4. Lastly, as summing up all, we may say that Jeremiah evidently believed it to be the will of God. I marvel much how anyone calling himself a Christian, can ever hesitate as to doing what he believes to be the will of God, especially when the question is of something simple and easily done. I am asked sometimes, Is baptism necessary to salvation? and I answer, No, a thousand times, no. Salvation precedes baptism, and is in nowise a consequence of it; but surely, if we once admit that it is the will of God, that we have for it at once the example and precept of the Lord, that should be enough for us.
II. Jeremiah’s doubts and difficulties as to this purchase. No sooner was it completed than he seems to have been oppressed as with a burden, his brain clouded, and his nervous system rendered irritable by it.
1. Perhaps he is beginning to doubt whether after all he had rightly interpreted the vision, and the subsequent visits of Hanameel, as making it quite certain that he was to accept his kinsman’s offer. He still thinks so, as it would seem, upon the whole, but yet his mind is opening to a doubt, and he is in sore perplexity of spirit.
2. It may be also that he is distressed at the thought that perhaps his very confidence in the promises of God, and his wish to show that he believed in his own predictions, may be turned against him. The sneering, who understand so well the motives of others, may be saying, “Don’t tell me that this man is so unselfish as to part with his money for a piece of land that somebody else seventy years hence is to enjoy! He knows better than that, and fully expects before very long to take possession of it himself”; and possibly, hearing such things, he might be in the confused condition of Bunyan’s Christian in the valley of the shadow of death, when the foul fiend whispered into his ear those terrible thoughts which he could hardly distinguish from his own. There is nothing at all unusual, moreover, in such an experience as this, that when a man, acting by such light as he has, has done what seems to him a wise thing and a good thing, there comes for a time a sort of morbid reaction, by which he sinks into despondency and gloom. And herein lies the difference between those who fall away and those who, enduring to the end, are saved: not that either is exempt from doubts, conflicts, and temptations; but that in the one case these are yielded to, and in the other, faith ultimately gains the victory over them.
III. How Jeremiah overcame and solved his doubts and difficulties. “I prayed unto the Lord.” Whether or not he prayed to the Lord about his purchase before he made it we are not told. Perhaps he did not. There are some things that seem so plain to us as matters of duty and of daily habit, that there is no need to pray for Divine direction concerning them. As the Lord said to Moses when Israel’s duty was so plain, “Wherefore criest thou unto Me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” But in any case we are sure that the spirit of prayer, the continued lifting up of the heart to God, was in all that Jeremiah had done. But when we find him bringing this matter of the “purchase” specially before the Lord, seeking as he does for help and strength and grace, in weakness, perplexity, and trouble, we are encouraged by his example to bring all our affairs to the throne of the heavenly grace, however commonplace, mechanical, and routine they may be. (J. W. Lance.)
A patriot’s faith in the future
This was bravely done, to make a purchase at such a time, when the enemy was seizing upon all. That Roman is famous in history who adventured to purchase that field near Rome wherein Hannibal had pitched his camp. But the Romans were nothing near so low at that time as the Jews were at this. A striking parallel to this confidence of Jeremiah, in the midst of near and present troubles, as to the ultimate glory of his nation, is furnished in the recently published Memoir of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whoso father, Gabriel Rossetti, an Italian patriot who sought asylum in this country, yet never lost faith in the future of his native land. His biographer says: “When he died in 1854, the outlook seemed exceedingly dark; yet heart and hope did not abate in him. The latest letter of his which I have seen published was written in September or October 1853, and contains this passage, equally strong-spirited and prophetic: ‘The Arpa Evangelica . . . ought to find free circulation through all Italy. I do not say the like of three other unpublished volumes, which all seethe with love of country and hatred for tyrants. These await a better time--which will come, be very sure of it. The present fatal period will pass, and serves to whet the universal desire Let us look to the future. Our tribulations, dear Madam, will not finish very soon, but finish they will at last. Reason has awakened in all Europe, although her enemies are strong. We shall pass various years in this state of degradation; then we shall rouse up. I assuredly shall not see it, for day by day--nay, hour by hour, I expect the much-longed-for death; but you will see it.’”
Into the ground to die
Whilst shut up in the court of the prison, perhaps fastened by a chain that restrained his liberty, Jeremiah received a Divine intimation that his uncle would shortly come to him with a request for him to purchase the family property at Anathoth. This greatly startled him; because he had so clear a conviction, which he cherished as divinely given, of the approaching overthrow of the kingdom, and the consequent desolation of the land. He gave, however, no outward sign of his perplexities; but when his uncle’s son entered the courtyard with his request, the prophet at once assented to the proposal, and purchased the property for seventeen shekels (about £2). In addition to this, Jeremiah took care to have the purchase recorded and witnessed with the same elaborate pains as if he were at once to be entering on occupation. The two deeds of contract--the one sealed with the more private details of price; the other open, and bearing the signatures of witnesses--were deposited in the charge of Baruch, with the injunction to put them in an earthen vessel and preserve them. They were probably not opened again until the return from the captivity. But Jeremiah was not a sharer in that glad scene. He did as God bade him, though the shadow of a great darkness lay upon his soul, for which he could only find relief, as the Lord on the Cross, in recourse to the Father. He fell into the ground to die, as the seed does, which holds at its heart a principle of life, that can only express itself through death, and can only bless men when its sowing, amid the depression and decay of autumn, has been complete.
I. Hours of midnight darkness. It is only in service that anything reaches its fullest life. A bit of iron is condemned to solitude and uselessness till it becomes part of a great machine. A man who lives a self-contained life, of which the gratification of his own ambition and selfhood is the supreme aim, never drinks the sweets of existence, nor attains his full development. It is only when we live for God, and, in doing so, for man, that we are able to appropriate the rarest blessedness of which our nature is capable, or to unfold into all the proportions of full growth in Christ. In the deepest sense, therefore, Jeremiah could never regret that he had given the strength and measure of his days to the service of others. But none can give themselves to the service of others except at bitter cost of much that this world holds dear. This will explain the privations and sorrows to which Jeremiah was subjected. Death wrought in him, that life might work in Israel, and in all who should read the Book of his prophecy.
1. He died to the dear ties of human love. “Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place,” was early said to him. What he held in his heart belonged to the race, and might not be poured forth within the narrower circle of the home, of priestly temple-duty, or of the little village of Anathoth.
2. He died to the goodwill of his fellows. None can be indifferent to this. It is easy to do or suffer, when the bark of life is wafted on its way by favouring breezes, or the air thrills with expressions of love and adulation. Then a man is nerved to dare to do his best. It was his bitter lot to encounter from the first an incessant stream of vituperation and dislike. “Woe is me, my mother,” he cried sadly, “that thou hast borne me a man of strife and contention to the whole earth. I have not lent on usury, neither have men lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me.”
3. He died to the pride of national patriotism. No patriot allows himself to despair of his country. However dark the louring storm clouds and strong the adverse current, he believes that the ship of State will weather the storm. He chokes back words of despondency and depression, lest they should breed dismay. But Jeremiah was driven along an opposite course. A loftier patriotism than his never hazarded itself in the last breach. His belief in Israel was part of his belief in God. But he found himself compelled to speak in such a fashion that the princes proposed, not without show of reason, to put him to death, because he weakened the hands of the men of war.
4. He died to the sweets of personal liberty. A large portion of his ministry was exerted from the precincts of a prison. Repeatedly we read of his being shut up and not able to go forth.
5. He died, also, to the meaning he had been wont to place on his own prophecies. Up to the moment when Jehovah bade him purchase the property of Hanameel, he had never questioned the impending fate of Jerusalem. It was certainly and inevitably to be destroyed by sword, famine, pestilence, and fire. But now the Word of God, demanding an act of obedience, seemed to indicate that the land was to remain under the cultivation of the families that owned it.
II. Jeremiah’s behaviour. But amid it all he derived solace and support in three main directions.
1. He prayed. Take this extract from his own diary: “Now, after I had delivered the deed of the purchase unto Baruch, the son of Neriah, I prayed unto the Lord, saying, Ah, Lord God!” There is no help to the troubled soul like that which comes through prayer.
2. He rested on the word of God. The soul of the prophet was nourished and fed by the Divine word. “Thy words were found,” he cries, “and I did eat them: and Thy words were unto me the joy and the rejoicing of my heart.”
3. He faithfully kept to the path of duty. “And I bought the field.” It does not always happen that our service to men will be met by rebuff, ill-will, and hard treatment; but when it does there should be no swerving, or flinching, or drawing back. The fierce snow-laden blast, driving straight in your teeth, is not so pleasant as the breath of summer, laden with the scent of the heather; but if you can see the track, you must follow it. To be anywhere off it, either right or left, would be dangerous in the extreme. Such are the resorts of the soul in its seasons of anguish.
III. Compensations. To all valleys there are mountains, to all depths heights; for all midnight hours there are hours of sunrise; for Gethsemane, an Olivet. We can never give up aught for God or man, without discovering that at the moment of surrender He begins to repay as He foretold to the prophet; “For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will Bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron.” Nor does God keep these compensations for the new world, “where light and darkness fuse.” It were long to wait, if that were so. But here and now we learn that there are compensations. The first movement from the selfish life may strain and try us, the indifference of our fellows be hard to bear; hut God has such things to reveal and give, as pass the wildest imaginings of the self-centred soul. So Jeremiah found it. His compensations came. God became his Comforter, and wiped, away his tears; and opened to him the vista of the future, down whose long aisles he beheld his people planted again in their own land. He saw men buying fields for money, and subscribing deeds and sealing them, as he had done. There was compensation also in the confidence with which Nebuchadnezzar treated him, and in the evident reliance which his decimated people placed in his intercessions, as we shall see. So it will be with all who fall into the ground to die. God will not forget or forsake them. The grave may be dark and deep, the winter long, the frost keen and penetrating; but spring will come, and the stone be rolled away; and the golden stalk shall wave in the sunshine, bearing its crown of fruit; and men shall thrive on the bread of our experience, the product of our tears, and sufferings, and prayers. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Then I knew that this was the Word of the Lord.
No person who understands, and still less he who values, life as a sacred opportunity of doing something for the world before he dies, but has often wished that he could overleap the bounds of the present and understand what the result of his action shall be, so that, with the larger experience of the future, he might go the better armed against the perplexing problems and conditions of duty which beset him in the present. If only we had the education which will come in the future, how we should be protected against the mistakes of the present! And thus we feel a certain impatience against time. Now, the incident recorded in this chapter suggests to us exactly that thought of the way in which time may rebuke our rashness and rebuke also our dulness. The incident which is recorded is a very simple one, but it is suggestive and significant. A certain sort of dream, as we might call it, passed through the mind of Jeremiah, then in close imprisonment because of the jealous anger of the king. Whatever else he was, he was a Jew at heart, and he had that capacity which was singularly, I suppose, possessed by the Jew--the tenacious love of the soil which gave him birth. It was a joy for him to think that the land which was given by God to his forefathers belonged in succession of family inheritance to his own kinsman of that day; and the dream crossed his mind that perchance that moment might come when he would have the opportunity of becoming the possessor of his ancestral heritage. That was his thought. It came to him as a dream; he describes it afterwards as the direction of the Word of the Lord coming to him. But it was not, I imagine, realised as the Word of God at the first moment of its approach: it was only a later circumstance an actual incident which occurred in his life--which enabled him to see that the first suggested thought was, indeed, the Word of the Lord. Now, the first thought which naturally arises from a thing like that is this. We may act upon our first impressions, our impressions may be very strong, and they may be ready to link themselves with our natural ambitions, but it is not every impression that is the word of light, still less the Word of the Lord. Religion divides itself very often, if we were to classify it, into two families or types. It has often been made the subject of mere mental impressions. The presence of the Spirit, the consciousness of a spirit working within, that has been emphasised to such a degree that at last men, driven by their impulse or suggestion of some passing impression, have committed deeds of violence and wrong which the common conscience of humanity condemns. That is to say, early impressions, strong impressions, even impressions which jump with the spirit of what we believe to be right, impressions which wed themselves to our darling dreams, however much they may justify themselves by the exercise of our imaginative conscience, are not in themselves to be accepted as truly Divine suggestions. We must wait for the light of other circumstances. Authority in religion is never on the one side or the other; authority is never wholly within, nor yet wholly without. If it is wholly within, it is open to the declaration of being a mere subjective impression; if it is wholly without, it lays no weight upon the spiritual nature of man, and receives no response from his conscience. But, when there comes to us this which, on the one hand, links itself with our inner nature, and by its own commanding presence makes us feel that it is true, and brings to it also the verifying evidence of providential opportunity--then duty leaps up and can draw her sword, because she knows that she is not the victim of a passing impression alone, but that two things, the law without and the law within, have been combining within his life--then he may know that this also is the Word of the Lord. But if, on the one side, an accident like this may be taken to rebuke the rash impulsiveness of men who would act upon their own subjective impressions, it also, and I think still more strikingly, witnesses against our dulness, which fails to perceive the true significance of the incidents of life as they occur. It was an impression on Jeremiah’s mind, and it was only afterwards, when the light of that later circumstance of Hanameel’s visit occurred, that he perceived its full significance. “Then I knew that this was the Word of the Lord.” Now mark that this experience is very true in our ordinary life. How often it happens that we have failed to realise the full value of our opportunities till later circumstances flash new light on their meaning! To take the simplest illustration which might come to our minds, you are in the midst of a crowd; you are anxiously looking out because it is a crowd where many of the celebrities of life are gathered; and after you have passed some one suddenly says to you, “Did you see him?” and immediately there flashes upon you the thought, you have been close to one whose name you have heard, whose works perchance you have read, of whom you have had the greatest desire to have some knowledge. Just then the after circumstance of the utterance of your friend flashes upon you the true meaning of this; you have been close to that greatness which you have worshipped, you have massed the opportunity. Or there are incidents in your own life. Have you never had some friend who in early life was your familiar companion? You played with him, studied the same tasks with him; and now life has diverged, and he has risen to greatness, and we remain where we were on the commonplace level of life. People meet us and say, “You knew him; tell me some incidents of his early life.” But now the dimness of the past comes upon your memory, and all the anecdotes have dropped away; the multitude of other affairs has obscured your recollection. But then, by the light of this after greatness, you know you have been by the side of one who was possessed of conspicuous genius, one of whom you would say, “Would that I had husbanded those stories of the past; would that I had observed him, for his life would have a further meaning to me had I been one who had noted carefully the characteristics, the features of his talent, of his life.” In other words, later circumstances are constantly forcing upon us the dulness with which we have confronted the incidents of life as they have occurred. And surely that is the common witness of history. What is the history of all human progress? What is the history of literary life? “Who killed John Keats?” has often been asked. To the men of his day he was but a raw youth, full of a kind of rude desire for poetic fame; but now we recognise the genius which lay there; we go back and say how true it is that the men of their day failed to recognise the glory of these men, have persecuted them, and let them starve, and afterwards have built their monuments. It is the same in the history of our Lord. You are not surprised that the same thing should be fulfilled in His life who was in all points as we are--tempted, yet without sin. We say, “If we had lived in those days our hand would not have been lifted up against that sacred life, we should have torn the crown of thorns from His brow, we should have welcomed His mission, we should have adored Him.” But the men of that day did not see the beauty that they should desire Him. “Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil,” were the words with which He was greeted. John the Baptist pointed out their dulness--“There standeth One among you Whom ye know not.” But we forget that this may be true in us. Even in our midst Christ stands, and we fail to recognise Him. Why is it we are perpetually visiting with our severe criticism the dulness of the past, when we may be dull ourselves--dull to duty, dull to opportunity, dull to the meaning of the age in which we are living, dull to the very call of God, dull to the presence of Christ? Every duty, every opportunity of kindness, every incident of our life, if we are alive to see it in its brighter light, in its true significance, would never be deemed to be trivial and insignificant at all. When we begin to see light, when the light shall flash upon it, when the grave is opening upon us, this very flash of the circumstance which we call death may shine so back upon the trivial incidents of our life, that we shall realise for the first time that those commonplace things, those duties which I shirked, those things from which I turned away, thinking them of no moment at all--those also were the Word of the Lord. May I, then, ask you to observe the application of that truth, that time reveals to us our dulness in relation to certain aspects of our life?
1. First, the circumstances of the presence of God. We are often disposed to say that our lot in this century is cast in what we may call unfavourable circumstances for faith. Splendid miracles no longer happen. May not the presence of God be as real amongst the ordinary conventional aspects of our daily life--in the sun that rises and sets, in the harvests that are sown and reaped? And may it not be also that the hour might come upon us when the light from some new combination of circumstances might so flash upon our present or our past life as to reveal to us “God was there indeed”?
2. Or take it with regard to what we may call the providential circumstances of life. Have you never felt that your burden in life is a larger one to bear than your neighbour’s? We think that others who go cheerily through the world have less affliction than we; we wish we could change with them. But suppose the Lord Almighty did meet you, who understands exactly the conditions of flesh and blood, who knows those special conditions which you have inherited through the long succession of your ancestors, if He were to come to you and say, “I am about to bring upon you this sorrow you will lose pecuniarily, or you shall have this illness, or that true one shall be swept from your side; I ask you to bear for My sake, My child, this burden; and if that measure your strength, I know exactly what you can bear; and I know also the sweet and the glorious bounty of grace which shall come to you in the bearing of it.” Not one amongst us with the face of God’s strength looking into ours, and the smile of God encouraging us to patience and fortitude, would ever bear to shrink from the burden; we would gird up the loins of our mature to bear whatever it was--sorrow, bereavement, loss. But that which we would do if God so spake to us is surely that which we might lucre the faith to do--seeing that later circumstances may just flash upon us this revelation--“It was God, indeed, who brought that burden upon me.” That loss, that bereavement, that sickness--were brought by the loving hand of God, who sought to help you through the discipline of life into a better and truer faith and spirit.
3. Lastly, I would ask you to see the light which that thought throws upon the suggestions of duty--duty, stern daughter of the voice of God. If that has any meaning, it has a claim upon your life and mine. But what I ask you to observe is this. We never realise the splendour and the significance of the duties which are laid upon us, when measured by our own small life; they seem so trifling. Look for a moment at the prophet. That which he did might, from one standpoint, be said to be merely the desire of a man to possess some landed property, merely the wish of a man that he may be in the possession of his ancestral heritage; but when the opportunity came he said, “This suggestion is the Word of the Lord.” For his action was no longer a commercial action done between himself and his kinsman; it became then a great action, typical, representative, manifesting to Israel the real attitude of strength with which Israel should confront its dangers. Like the old Roman, it was the purchase of the land while the enemy was in possession which gave dignity to his action. The Roman by his action said, “Though the enemy be at the gates, I do not despair of the welfare of the republic.” Jeremiah’s action said more: “I do not believe that one rood of the sacred soil shall ever permanently be in the possession of the enemies of God”; and it was the splendour therefore, the significance, of the action which was flashed upon him at the moment when the opportunity of the purchase came; and that which was once a dream is become a reality. And he could therefore prove to the people the reality of his faith in the hope and in the destiny of Israel. The meaning and the significance of that action none of his countrymen could gainsay, because he was ready to venture his money. That is the spirit of it. Every duty costs something: it costs some trouble, some pains, some thought, some money. Duty, whatever is in your life, is not always an easy thing, unless your nature has been celestialised, and duty has become a delight. But that, after all, belongs rather to the higher levels of life than that commonly apportioned to humankind. Would duty be less noble if duty were easy? Is it not precisely because the steep up which you climb is rocky; because you must sometimes fall, and climb on hands and knees ere you can get to the height where the light of God is shining; because it means the expenditure of fame, money--whatever it is; because the duty is shirked--that therefore the duty is noble? It does cost something; and the man who talks glibly about duty, but is never ready to pay the price of his duty, to purchase his duty by the laying down of some present price, either of money or of time--that man, whatever else he may say, does not believe in the splendid imperative of duty, he does not believe in the voice of God behind it. If I want now to correct the dulness of my eyesight and be illumined by that light which will enable me to perceive that the Divine light is there, which will enable me to hear in every call the voice of the Lord, what shall be my best means of achieving this? Let the past illumine the present; go back on your life and observe it. You now can perceive exactly where it was you missed your way, because you now know that, if you had done this or omitted to do that, if you had not been the victim of that delusion, you would have been in a different position- You see now that that voice at your side was indeed the voice of the Lord. Let the past illumine the present. Do not treat duties as trivial and commonplace, because as your present life illuminates your past life, and shows you how God’s voice has been in it, so the future may illumine the duties which appeal to you to-day. We often say that the dead are canonised in our memory. When they pass away with their greatness, they seem to move from the crowd of men and march with stately steps, and take their place in the great banquet-halls of those whom memory holds illustrious and dear; and from out those banquet-halls they look down with eyes brimming with reproach, because we do not value them as we might. So our duties, canonised by the light which the present throws upon them, march stately before us; they take their place high above, and there are reproaches in their eyes; and the future will have reproaches like this, if we do not perceive the voice of the Lord at our side. The real thing which dims our eyes is the limited light we bring, measuring all the incidents of life by self. Bring in the larger light. Why, that old Roman brought in the larger light, when he saw in the purchase of the land not his own private gain but the welfare of the republic. He saw his duty in the larger light of the well-being of the men and women about him. Let in the light of other men’s interests, let in the light of the welfare of those about you, and then you cannot say that the duties are insignificant, then their voice will be to you the voice of humanity’s need, and you will see a dignity in obeying it. Look upon every action of your life, not in relation to self or to the men and women about you, but in relation to God. Let in that larger light. Then every action of yours has its transcendent significance; then His Divine voice appeals to you; then you say, Every habit I contract, every word I speak, every opportunity I miss, may be a Divine opportunity slighted, the Divine voice turned back upon.” (Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)
Take these evidences,. . . and put them in an earthen vessel.
Sealed and open evidences
I am going to make a parable, not to bring out what the text teaches, but to use it parable-wise. When Jeremiah bought this piece of land, it was transferred to him by two documents. The first was a title-deed, drawn up and signed by witnesses and then sealed up, not to be opened any more unless required to settle a dispute. That was his real title-deed. Then there was a counterpart of this transfer made, and signed by witnesses. This was not rolled up, and not sealed; but left open, so that Jeremiah might refer to it, and that, when desired, the open deed might be read and examined by others. Now, with regard to our redemption, our inheritance which Christ has bought for us, at a price immense, we, too, have two sets of evidences. The one is sealed up from all eyes but our own; in part, too, I might say that it is sealed up from our own eyes. The other, the counterpart of that, equally valid, is open to ourselves and open to others.
I. The Sealed Evidences Of Our Faith, the evidences which are sealed, at least in a measure, from our fellow-men.
1. And, first, I would say, among the sealed evidences is this: the Word of the Lord has come to us with power. If anyone asked himself, “Have I a right to the covenant of grace, and to the ‘all things’ which are ours if we are in that covenant? Have I a right to the purchased possession? Have I a right to the Lord Jesus Christ, and all that comes to believers in Him?”--in part, the answer must be, “Has the Word of the Lord come to you with power, not as the word of man, but as it is in truth, the Word of God?” There is a mystic influence, a Divine unction, which really goes with the Word of God, in many cases, so that it enters the heart, sheds a radiance upon the understanding, pours a flood of delightful peace and joy upon the soul, and affects the whole mental and spiritual being m a way which nothing else does. You cannot explain this to others; do you know it yourself? If so, that will be to you the sealed evidence that the eternal heritage is yours. The Lord has given you the spiritual perception of these things.
2. The next one of these sealed evidences is this, if indeed this heavenly heritage is ours, we have a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.”
3. Another sealed evidence of our interest in Christ is that we have life in Jesus. You have risen from the lower sphere of mere soulish life into the higher condition of spiritual life, and now you consort with God, you speak with Christ, you have become familiar with heavenly things, and are raised up to sit in the heavenlies with Christ Jesus.
4. This leads me to the fourth evidence, which is that now we have communion with God in prayer. The prophet Micah said, “My God will hear me,” and if you can truly, from your soul, say the same, you have a blessed evidence that you are an heir of heaven.
5. I rank very highly among the sealed evidences of our inheritance the fact that we have the fear of God before our eyes. That holy awe of God, that consciousness of His majestic presence, that dread of doing anything contrary to His will, that tender, loving, filial fear, which love does not cast out, but rather nourishes and cherishes, he that has this holy fear is a child of God.
6. Another evidence is this: we have secret supports in the time of trouble. “Underneath are the everlasting arms”; you are sustained when enduring awful pain, comforted under deep depression of spirit, strengthened for the work for which in yourself alone you are quite unequal, borne upward with holy joy in the midst of cruel slander; surely that is enough evidence for you.
7. Another sealed evidence is the secret love which the child of God has to all others of the children of God “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. As to the love we have to Jesus, We love Him because He first loved us,” and our love to Him is one of the evidences of His love to us. We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
8. Those inward conflicts which you now have, that struggling in your soul between right and wrong, the new man seeking to get the victory over the old corrupt nature, all these are your sealed evidences. So, also, are the victories which God gives you, when He treads evil passions beneath the feet of the new-born Man-child, who is the image of Christ within you, when you conquer yourself, when you subdue anger, when you go forth to do, by the strength of God, what else your nature would shrink from; all these are blessed evidences, signed, and sealed, to be rolled up, and put away, to be seen by no eye but your own, and the eye of the Most High.
II. The open evidences of our faith.
1. The first of such evidences that we are the children of God must be the open Word of God itself. I read the Bible, and I say, “Well, if this Book be true, I am a saved man: if this is really a Divine revelation, then I am saved.” Beloved, have you that open evidence of your salvation? That is the best evidence in the whole world.
2. Next to that, the open evidence of our right to the inheritance is a thorough change of life such as other people can see. Is it so with you? Has there been a distinct crisis in your being? Have you been turned from darkness unto light? Have you been brought from the power of Satan unto God?
3. Another open evidence is separation from the world. A man who is really a child of God cannot, after his conversion, consort with his old companions.
4. The next open evidence is found in union with the people of God, making them your companions, taking a delight in them.
5. One very clear open evidence is strict honesty, uprightness, and integrity in business. Your word must be your bond, and you must sooner fail in business than do the smallest thing that would be contrary to the strictest integrity.
6. One very open evidence of a change of heart, and of our possession of the inheritance, is a readiness to forgive.
7. Another open evidence is one which we often get, and do not like, that is, the opposition of the world. Thank God, Isaac, when Ishmael mocks you; for it is a mark that you are of the true seed, and that Ishmael is not.
8. Another open evidence, and one that is very sweet, is a holy patience in time of trouble, and especially in the hour of death.
III. The uses to which we put these evidences.
1. One of them is that they often yield us comfort. It takes the sting out of every trouble when we know that the heavenly inheritance is surely ours.
2. Then again, these evidences answer the unjust charges of Satan when he comes and says, “You are not a child of God.”
3. And above all things, I think that we ought to value these evidences because they will be produced in court at the last day. That is the most solemn thing of all. “I was an hungered and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink”: and so on. He produces this evidence of a work of grace in their hearts, and says to them, “Come, ye blessed of My Father,” &c. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thou hast made the heaven and the earth.
Creation-an argument for faith
I would to God we had in the religion of these modern times a more potent infusion of this heroic faith in God. When Edward Irving preached that memorable sermon concerning the missionary, who he thought was bound to go forth without purse or scrip, and trusting in his God alone, to preach the Word, a howl went up to heaven against the man as a fanatic. They said he was visionary, unpractical, mad, and all because he dared to preach a sermon full of faith in God. If once again we could, like the world, be hanged upon nothing but the simple power and providence of God, I am sure we should find it a blessed and a safe way of living, glorious to God, and honourable to ourselves.
I. To stimulate the evangelist. And who is the evangelist? Every man and woman who has tasted that the Lord is gracious. Here is your encouragement: the work is God’s, and your success is in the hand of Him who made the heaven and the earth.
1. Remember that the world was created from nothing. He spake and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. The case of the sinner is a parallel one. You say there is nothing in the sinner. Ay, then, there is room here for a re-creating work; for the Eternal God to come, and with His outstretched arm to create a new heart and a right spirit, and put His grace where there was none before.
2. But you have none to help you or go forth in your work with you. When God made the world--and the same God is with thee--He worked alone.
3. But you reply, “My sorrow lieth not so much in that I am alone, as in the melancholy fact that I am very conscious of my own weakness, and of my want of adaptation for my peculiar work. I am not sufficient for these things; but rather I feel like Jonah, that I would flee into Tarshish, that I might escape from the burden of the Lord against this Nineveh.” Ay, but cast thy thoughts back again upon creation. The Eternal needed no instruments in creation. He sayeth not by man’s strength, nor by human learning, and eloquence, and talent. It is His strength, and not the strength or weakness of the instruments to which we must look.
4. Dost thou still complain, and say--“Alas! it is little I can say! When I speak, I can but utter a few plain words--true and earnest, but not mighty. I have no power to plead with souls with the tears and the seraphic zeal of a Whitfield. I can only tell the tale of mercy simply, and leave it there.” Well, and did not God create all things by His naked word? At this day, is not the Gospel in itself the rod of Jehovah’s strength? Is it not the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth?
5. Another pleads, “You are not aware of the darkness of the district in which I labour. I toil among a benighted, unintelligent, ignorant people. I cannot expect to see fruit there, toil as I may.” Ah! brother, and while you talk so you never will see any fruit, for God giveth not great things to unbelieving men. But for the encouragement of thy faith, let me remind thee that it is the God that made the heavens and the earth on whom thou hast to lean.
6. “Ay,” saith one, “but the men among whom I labour are so confused in their notions, they put darkness for light and light for darkness; their moral sense is blunted; if I try to teach them, their ears are dull of hearing and their hearts are given to slumber. Besides, they are full of vain janglings and oppose themselves to the truth; I endure much contradiction of sinners, and they will not receive the truth in the love of it.” Did not the Holy Spirit brood with shadowing wings over the earth when it was chaos? Did He not bring out order from confusion?
7. “Ah,” say you, “they are all so dead, so dead!” Ay, and remember how the waters brought forth life abundantly; and how the earth brought forth the creeping thing, and the cattle after its kind; and how, at last, man was made out of the very dust of the earth.
8. See how fair and glorious this earth is now! Well might the morning stars sing together, and the sons of God shout for joy! And dost thou think that God cannot make as fair a heart in man, and make it bud and blossom, and teem with hallowed life?
II. To encourage the inquirer. Many really desirous to be saved are full of doubts, and difficulties, and questionings.
1. Your mind is so dark. “I cannot see Christ,” says one; “I feel benighted; it is all darkness, thick as night with me.” Yes, but then there is the question, Can God roll this night away? And the answer comes, He who said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, can certainly repeat the miracle.
2. Another of your doubts will arise from the fact that you feel so weak. You cannot do what you would. You would leave sin, but still fall into it; would lay hold on Christ, but cannot. Then comes the question, Can God do it? And we answer, He who made the heavens and the earth without a helper, can certainly Bare thee when thou canst not help thyself.
3. “Ay,” sayest thou again, “but I am in such an awful state of mind; there is such a confusion within me; I cannot tell what is the matter with me; I know not what I am; I cannot understand myself.” Was not the world just so of old, and did not all the beauty of all lands rise out of this dire confusion?
4. There is more hope in thy case than there was in the creation of the world, for in the creation there was nothing done beforehand. The plan was drawn, no doubt, but no material was provided; no stores laid in to effect the purpose. But in thy case the work is done already, beforehand. On the bloody tree Christ has carried sin; in the grave He has vanquished death; in resurrection He has rent for ever the bends of the grave; in ascension He has opened heaven to all believers; and in His intercession He is pleading still for them that trust Him.
5. Yet again, God has done something more in thee than there was done before He made the world. Emptiness did not cry, “O God! create me.” Darkness could not pray, O Lord give me light.” Confusion could not cry, “O God! ordain me into order.” But see what He has done for you. He has taught you to cry, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
6. It was in God’s power to make the world or not, just as He pleased. No promise bound Him; no covenant made it imperative upon Him that His arm should be outstretched. Sinner, the Lord is not bound to save thee except from His own promise, and that promise is, “He that calleth upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” He cannot withhold saving thee if thou callest upon Him.
7. It is certain that there is more room in your case for God to glorify Himself than there was in the making of the world. In making the world He glorified His wisdom and He magnified His power, but He could not show His mercy.
III. To comfort believers. You are greatly troubled, are you? It is a common lot with us all And you have nothing on earth to trust to now, and are going to be cast on your God alone? Happy trouble that drives thee to thy Father! Blessed storm that wrecks thee on the Rock of Ages! Glorious billow that washes thee upon this heavenly shore! And now thou hast nothing but thy God to trust to, what art thou going to do? To fret? Oh, do not thus dishonour thy Lord! Show the world that thy God is worth ton thousand worlds to thee. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The power of God
I. Look at the power of God in what He has made. A little child can take a grain of wheat, and drop it into the earth; by the aid of the earth, the air, the sun, the rain, and the dew, it grows and fills the carol wheat. By a lithe grinding at the mill, the coarse and fine parts are separated, and you have flour. By a little adding of water, and by baking, you have bread. You eat the bread, and it becomes flesh, and blood, and bone. But suppose you had to do all this. Could you make the grain of wheat? Could you make it grow when made? Could you make it turn into blood, and bone, and flesh? What power of God is seen in every grain of wheat! You can bring two drops of water together, and you might, by great digging, and much hard work, turn the channel of the small brook, and make the brook run in a different place; but could you make a basin of waters, ton thousand miles across its top, and so deep, that no man can measure it even with the longest rope? Could you make such basins again and again, till all the oceans on the earth were made? Could you dig great channels, some of them many miles wide, and fill them all with waters, and thus make all those great rivers which pour their waters on towards the great ocean, and which will thus run as long as the world lasts? No, you cannot. No man can. But God can do all this! Men can shoot a bird on the wing; they can subdue the horse and the elephant; they can spear the fish, and crush the insect with the foot. But who has power to make the smallest insect that creeps or flies, or the most tiny fish that swims? God can do all this. Suppose you could see a chain held in the hand of God, which holds every weed and flower, every insect and creature that lives, every mind that thinks, whether in this or in any other world, would you not feel that the hand of God was strong, to hold all up, every moment, from the morning of creation to the end of all things? “He fainteth not, neither is He weary.” “There is nothing too hard for the Lord.” Men are born and die; trees grow up and fall away; nations grow and perish; but all the works of God continue as they were from the beginning, because from age to age God remains the same, almighty in power, unaltered, undiminished, untired, unceasing! What a being God is!
II. Look at the power of god as he governs the world. God made the body, and the spirit in the body, and knows just how to reach and guide the spirit. Herod and Pilate may lay their plans just as will please themselves; and the wicked in hell may curse and swear day and night for ever, if they wish; but God knows how to make all this wickedness turn, so as to bring honour to His own name.
1. He can make great joy to come from great sorrows.
2. The power of God can keep His people when in danger.
3. The power of God is seen in turning the plans of Satan, the greatest sinner, against himself.
III. Having proved that god has almighty power i infer some things.
1. I infer that He can aid us to carry the, Bible to all people.
2. That the power of God gives us faith in His government.
3. That the power of God is terrible to wicked people. What an eye God has! No darkness can hide from it: no cave shut it out!
4. That the power of God should make His people feel happy. (John Todd, D. D.)
The Creator’s regard and provision for man
I see a mother that, as the twilight falls and the baby sleeps, and because it sleeps out of her arms, goes about gathering from the floor its playthings, and carries them to the closet, and carries away the vestments that have been cast down, and stirring the fire, sweeping up the hearth, winding the clock, and gathering up dispersed books, she hums to herself low melodies as she moves about the room, until the whole place is once again neat and clean, and in order. Why is it that the room is so precious to her? Is it because there is such beautiful paper on the walls? because there is so goodly a carpet on the floor? because the furniture in the room is so pleasing to the eye? All these are nothing in her estimation except as servants of that little creature of hers--the baby in the cradle. She says, “All these things serve my heart while I rock my child.” The whole round globe is but a cradle, and our God rocks it, and regards all things, even the world itself, as so many instruments for the promotion of our welfare. When He makes the tempest, the pestilence, or the storm, when He causes ages in their revolutions to change the world, it is all to serve His own heart through His children--men when we are walking through this world, we are not walking through long files of laws that have no design; we are walking through a world that has natural laws, which we must both know and observe; yet these must have their master, and Christ is He. And all of these are made to be our servants because we are God’s children. (Christian Age.)
Great in counsel, and mighty in work.
The greatness of God’s wisdom, and the abundance of His power
I. Consider the subject speculatively.
1. My first proofs shall be taken from the nature of God. The nature of God proves that He is great in counsel. Consider the perfect knowledge that He hath of all possible beings, as well as of all the beings which do actually exist. The knowledge of all possible beings, diversified without end by the same intelligence that imagines them: What designs, or, as our prophet expresseth himself, What greatness of counsel doth it afford the Supreme Being? But let us not lose ourselves in the world of possible beings; let us confine our attention to real existences. I am willing even to reduce them to two classes. Let each of you imagine, as far as his ability can reach, how great the counsel of an intelligence must be, who perfectly knows all that can result from the various arrangements of matter, and from the different modifications of mind. The Supreme Being perfectly knows what must result from every different arrangement of the parts of bodies infinitely small; and He perfectly knows what must result from every different arrangement of the parts of bodies infinitely great. What treasures of plans! What myriads of designs! or, to use the language of my text, What greatness of counsel must this knowledge supply! But God knows spirits also as perfectly as He knows bodies. If He knows all that must result from the various arrangements of matter, He also knows all that must result from the different modifications of mind. Human spirits, of which we have but an imperfect knowledge, are thoroughly known to Him. He knows the conceptions of our minds, the passions of our hearts, all our purposes, and all our powers. But what is this object of the Divine knowledge? What is this handful of mankind, in comparison of all the other spirits that compose the whole intelligent world, of which we are only an inconsiderable part? God knows them as He knows us; and He diversifies the counsels of His own wisdom according to the different thoughts, deliberations, and wishes of these different spirits. We have proved then, by considering the Divine perfections, that God is great in counsel, and we shall endeavour to prove by the same method that He is mighty in work. These two, wisdom and power, are not always united; yet it is on their union that the happiness of intelligent beings depends. In God, the Supreme Being, there is a perfect harmony of wisdom and power: The efficiency of His will, and the extent of His knowledge are equal Carry your thoughts back into those periods in which the Perfect Being existed alone. Sound reason must allow that He hath so existed. What could then have been the rule or model of beings which should in future exist? The ideas of God were those models. And what could cause those beings, that had only an ideal existence in the intelligence of God, actually to exist out of it? The efficiency of His will was the cause. The will of the same Being then, whose ideas had been the exemplars, or models, of the attributes of creatures, caused their existence. The Supreme Being therefore, who is great in counsel, is mighty in work. This being granted, consider now the ocean of God’s power, as ye have already considered the greatness of His counsel. God not only knows what motion of your brain will excite such or such an idea in your mind, but He excites or prevents that idea as He pleaseth, because He produceth or preventeth that motion of your brain as He pleaseth. God not only knows what objects will excite certain passions within you, but He excites or diverts those passions as He pleaseth. God not only knows what projects your passions will produce, when they have gained an ascendency over you, but He inclines you to form, or not to form, such projects, because, as it seems best to Him, He excites those passions, or He curbs them.
2. Let us take another method (and here I allege the second proof of the truth of my text, that is, the history of the world, or of the Church): Let us take, I say, another method of proving that God, who is great in counsel, is also mighty in work. What counsel can ye imagine too great for God to execute, or which He hath not really executed? Let the most fruitful imagination exert its fertility to the utmost; let it make every possible effort to form plans worthy of an infinite intelligence, it can invent nothing so difficult that God hath not realised.
(1) God hath the power of making the deepest of His children’s afflictions produce their highest happiness.
(2) God establisheth His Church by the very means that tyrants use to destroy it.
(3) God turneth the victories of Satan to the ruin of his empire. Here fix your attention upon the work of redemption, for the perfections of God, which we celebrate to-day, are more illustriously displayed in it than in any other of the Creator’s wonders.
II. Consider the greatness of God’s counsel, and the omnipotence of His working, in a practical light. When we have proved that God is great in counsel, and mighty in work, in my opinion, we have sufficiently shown, on the one hand, the extravagance of those madmen who pretend to exercise wisdom and understanding, and counsel against the Lord: and, on the other, the wisdom of those who, taking His laws for the only rules of their conversation, commit their peace, their lives, and their salvation, to the disposal of His providence. Only let us take care that we do not flatter ourselves into an opinion that we possess this wisdom while we are destitute of it: and let us take care, while we exclaim against the extravagance of those madmen, that we do not imitate their dangerous examples. But what! Is it possible to find, among beings who have the least spark of reason, an individual mad enough to suppose himself wiser than that God who is great in counsel, or, is there one who dare resist a God mighty in working? But who then, ye will ask me, who are those men, who presumptuously think of overcoming God by their superior knowledge and power? Who? It is that soldier, who, with a brutal courage, defies danger, affronts death, resolutely marches amidst fires and flames, even though he hath taken no care to have an interest in the Lord of hosts, or to commit his soul to His trust. Who? It is that statesman, who, despising the suggestions of evangelical prudence, pursues stratagems altogether worldly; who makes no scruple of committing what are called State crimes; who, with a disdainful air, affects to pity us, when we affirm that the most advantageous service that a wise legislator can perform for society is to render the Deity propitious to it; that the happiest nations are those whose God is the Lord. Who? It is that philosopher, who makes a parade of I know not what stoical firmness; who conceits himself superior to all the vicissitudes of life; who boasts of his tranquil expectation of death, yea, who affects to desire its approach, for the sake of enjoying the pleasure of insulting his casuist, who hath ventured to foretell that he will be terrified at it. Who? It is that voluptuary, who opposeth to all our exhortations and threatenings, to the most affecting denunciations of calamities from God in this life, and to the most awful descriptions of judgment to come in the next, to all our representations of hell, of an eternity spent in the most execrable company, and in the most excruciating pain; who opposeth to all these the buzz of amusements, the hurry of company, gaming at home or diversions abroad. Let us abhor this disposition of mind; let us entertain right notions of sin; let us consider him who commits it as a madman, who hath taken it into his head that he hath more knowledge than God, the fountain of intelligence, more strength than He beneath whose power all the creatures of the universe are compelled to bow. When we are tempted to sin, let us remember what sin is. Let each of us ask himself, What can I, a miserable man, mean? Do I mean to provoke the Lord to jealousy? Do I pretend to be stronger than He? Can I resist His will? (J. Saurin.)
For Thine eyes are upon the sons of men.--
Perfect observation and estimation of character
In the course of a discussion in a society of artists, a singular fact was mentioned about a well-known painter. It is that he paints beyond the “skin-deep” beauty and expression of his sitters, and where the character has warranted it, he has brought out all of the latent beauty and portrayed almost the very soul of the person. He sometimes has made enemies of his sitters because of his conscientious efforts to portray character. There is the story of a society beauty, who, when she received her portrait from this artist, took it to her room, studied it for a while, recognised the fact that the artist had laid bare her true character on the canvas, and in a moment of fury cut out the face and destroyed it. She did not want that peculiar nature of hers staring her in the face from the walls of her room. Yet an unerring portrait of character is really being painted of every one, and will at last be exposed.
They have done nothing of all that Thou commandedst them to do.
Sins of omission
Omissions cannot be trivial, if we only reflect what an influence they would have upon an ordinary commonwealth, if they were perpetrated as they are in God’s commonwealth. If one person has a right to omit his duty, another has and all have. Then the watchman would omit to guard the house, the policeman would omit to arrest the thief, the judge would omit to sentence the offender, the sheriff would omit to punish the culprit, the government would omit to carry out its laws; then every occupation would cease, and the world die of stagnation; the merchant would omit to attend to his calling, the husband-man would omit to plough his land: where would the commonwealth be? The kingdom would be out of joint; the machine would break down, for no cog of the wheel would act upon its fellow. How would societies exist at all? And surely if this is not to be tolerated in a society of men, much less in that great commonwealth of which God is king. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for Me?
“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
This method of questioning the person to be instructed is known to teachers as the Socratic method. Socrates was wont, not so much to state a fact, as to ask a question and draw out thoughts from those whom he taught. His method had long before been used by a far greater teacher. Putting questions is Jehovah’s frequent method of instruction. Questions from the Lord are very often the strongest affirmations. He would have us perceive their absolute certainty. They are put in this particular form because He would have us think over His great thought, and confirm it by our own reflections. The Lord shines upon us in the question, and our answer to it is the reflection of His light.
I. Consider the wonderful question of our text which the Lord put to the prophet, viewing it as necessary.
1. It was needful to tell the prophet this, though he knew it. He never doubted that the Lord is almighty, and yet it was needful for Jehovah Himself to speak home this truth to his mind and heart. It is often necessary for the Lord Himself to drive home a truth into the mind of His most faithful servant. We learn much in many ways, but we learn nothing vitally and practically till the Spirit of God becomes our schoolmaster. The God of truth must teach us the truth of God or we shall never learn it.
2. It is necessary for us to be thus specially instructed, even though we know a truth well enough to plead it in prayer, as Jeremiah did when he cried, “There is nothing too hard for Thee.” That man is no mean scholar in the classes of Christ who has learned to handle scriptural truths when pleading with the Lord. Oh, that we used more argument in prayer! Prayers are weak when they lack pleadings.
3. It is necessary for God thus to reveal truth individually to each of our hearts even though we may have acted on it. Jeremiah had acted on the fact that nothing was too hard for God. After his obedience, he began to look back on what he had done, and to be considerably bewildered, while trying to make out how God would justify what he had done. The best of men are men at the best. If the Lord lifts you up into the purity and dignity of a childlike faith, yet you will have your moments when you will cry, Lord, speak to me Thyself again, even though it be out of the whirlwind; and let me know that I have done all these things according to Thy Word, and not after my own fancy.” Even the practice of truth does not raise us above the need of having it again and again laid home to the soul.
4. Another necessity for this arises out of further manifestations with which we are to be favoured. God had caused Jeremiah to know His omnipotence so far, but he was to see still more of it. Faith has led you into marvellous places; but there are greater things before you, and the Lord presses truth upon you that you may receive more of it.
II. Look at the text regarding it as decisive.
1. For the argument is fetched from the Lord Himself. When we look to God alone, and think, by the help of His Spirit, of who He is and what He must be, then we realise that nothing can be too hard for Him. Meditate much upon the Divine Father, Creator and Preserver; upon the Divine Son, the risen Redeemer, who hath all power in heaven and in earth; upon the sacred Spirit, of whom the rushing mighty mind in the tornado is but a faint symbol, and you will feel that here is the source of all might.
2. But He means us also to see the argument as founded on His name, “I am Jehovah.” The name brings out the personality of God. It also signifies self-existence. God does not exist because of His surroundings: He draws nothing from without, His life is in Himself. All things were made by Him, and He sustaineth all things by the Word of His power. The name of Jehovah reminds us that He has within Himself sufficiency for all His will; He hath adequate power of performance for all His purposes and decrees; Jehovah wills, and it is done. Moreover, the name sets forth the truth that He is immutable: He is “I am that I am.” Time does not affect Him, nor change come near Him. He is never less than Jehovah; He cannot be more.
3. The argument is also founded on the Lord’s relation to man. “I am the Lord, the God of all flesh.” How is the worm linked to the immortal! Happy men who have such a God! Not that flesh and blood, as they are, can inherit the kingdom of God, nor that corruption can dwell with incorruption; but for believers in the Lord Jesus there is a resurrection which shall lift us into a body of a nobler sort. The argument is that, since Jehovah is the God of all flesh, He can effect His purposes by men, and work among them things which seem impossible.
4. The argument is so great that it puts all other arguments out of court. Is anything too hard for Jehovah? Come, Jeremiah, rake up your difficulties; set in order the discouraging circumstances; call in your friends, who all shako their heads at you, and point their fingers to their brows, as much as to insinuate that you are a little gone from your senses; and then, answer them all with this, “Nothing is too hard for Jehovah.” This clears the deck of every doubt that would board your vessel. Blessed argument which answers every difficulty, and sets faith upon a rock from which it cannot be removed! “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.”
III. Applying it in detail.
1. Apply this question to the justification of your obedience. If you do what God bids you, the responsibility of your conduct lies with Him, and He will bear you through. He will bring forth our judgment as the light, and our righteousness as the noonday.
2. Apply this glorious truth to the sure fulfilment of all the Divine promises. Consider a great one to begin with. This chapter evidently shows that the Jews are one day to be converted and restored. They that crucified the Lord of Glory shall look on Him whom they pierced, and shall mourn for Him. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
3. Apply this to any case of great sin. Select any one whom you know to be especially hard-hearted, and pray for him earnestly and hopefully.
4. Apply this to difficult truths. I will put before you a problem. If man acts freely in his sinful actions how can predestination be a fact? If every man acts after his own will, how, then, does God foreordain all things? I answer, “Is anything too hard for Jehovah?” The solving of this great problem constrains me to worship the Lord; for He does solve it in actual history. Consider another hard case--the hardest of all: human salvation. How can it be possible for God to exercise the fulness of His mercy, and yet discharge the necessities of His justice? All men and all angels put together would have made but one fool in trying to solve that difficulty. The Lord has answered it. He gave His Son to bear our sin. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
5. Bring hither your own little problems. You are always getting into tangles and snarls. Prudent friends try to help you, but the tangle grows worse. Bring your hard cases to one who is wiser than Solomon, and He will draw out a clear thread for you.
IV. Treat the text as using it with delight.
1. Use the text as a preventive of unbelieving sin. Do God’s work thoroughly, heartily, intensely, and God will reward you in His grace.
2. Use it next for consolation in the time of trouble. Jehovah hath delivered those who trust in Him, and He will yet deliver us.
3. Next, use the text as a window through which you look with expectation. The Lard’s blessing is coming upon the Churches: look for it!
4. Let this text be a stimulus to you to engage in great enterprises. Launch out into the deep. Fall back upon omnipotence, and then go forward in the strength of it.
5. Let the text be a reason for adoration. O Thou to whom nothing is hard, we adore Thee! We worship Thee with all our hearts, and this day we believingly link our weakness with Thine omnipotence. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God above us all
In one of his letters to John Sterling from Scotsbrig, Thomas Carlyle says, “One night, late, I rode through the village where I was born. The old kirkyard tree, a huge old gnarled ash, was nestling itself softly against the great twilight in the north. A star or two looked out, and the old graves were all there, and my father and my sister; and God was above us all.” What comfort in this for the soul bewildered by life’s sudden changes! He is watching: He knows: He will not fail us. Above the graves where His saints are sleeping, above the homesteads where His children are weeping, God is above us all. (Quiver.)
There are three particulars connected with the wording of the text, to which it is desirable to direct attention. You observe the notice of time, “Then came the Word of the Lord unto Jeremiah.” The context shows you that this was in answer to Jeremiah’s prayer. In the next place, we notice that Jehovah claims to be the “God of all flesh”; an expression which evidently answers the question, whether the Scriptures of the Old Testament, such as this with which we have to do, are confined to the Jewish people? Then, thirdly, we observe the question, “Is there anything too hard for Me?” We have before us, then, Jeremiah as an example of faith--as one who possessed and exercised that faith for which Abraham was so remarkable. Let us consider how faith deals with mysteries. Jeremiah’s faith was tried by what was a great mystery to him upon this occasion, in connection with God’s providential dealings. What use was there in purchasing land which was in possession of the enemy? And yet God told him to do it. Then, if God told him to do it, why give the whole of the land into the possession of the enemy? Here was a mystery. Jeremiah’s faith had to grapple with that mystery, and to persevere, as he did, in that holy consistency by which he had an opportunity of testifying both to Israel and to Israel s foes concerning the honour and the truth of the God of Israel. Now, we too have, in the course of our lives, to meet with mysterious dispensations in God’s providence. There are difficulties before us. There are two clear convictions in our minds; first of all, we can have no doubt, as believers, that God directed us to pray, and heard our prayers; but then, on the other hand, we can have no doubt that God is permitting, in His providence, these difficulties that now perplex us. And these two plain facts coming together at the same point of time do not harmonise with each other; but they come, as it were, into collision, and they clash; and we say, “How can this be? How mysterious this is, that it should be God’s will that I should seek Him in prayer, and yet God’s will that, notwithstanding my prayer, there should be this difficulty connected with this matter, or these circumstances should arise!” It is a blessing when, under such circumstances, you are enabled still to hold fast to the confidence of faith. Some persons may say, “Why does God permit mystery?” An answer may be easily given. Bring common sense to bear upon this question. How is it that a father deals with the children of the family of which he is the head? There are many things which the father must necessarily say and do, that must occasion perplexity to the children who listen to what he says and observe what he does. Those children will have recourse to their father again and again, to ask for an explanation of what they cannot understand. Sometimes the parent will give the explanation, but at other times the parent declines to explain; he knows that the subject is beyond the present capacity and intelligence which his children possess; and, therefore, he points them into the way of duty, but tells them to wait until they can more fully understand before they ask anxiously for reasons to account for things that now are difficult and perplexing to them; and their confidence in their father, their faith in their father s word, promotes the proper discipline of such a well-regulated family. Now, we are all of us children with reference to our Heavenly Father’s dealings with us. “Why do you say so much of faith?” some people ask. The simple answer is, that the creature that is happy must be dependent upon the Creator, and that dependence can only be felt or maintained by the exercise of faith. God in Christ has manifested Himself in such a way that we, His poor sinful creatures, may approach Him; and if we are enabled to rest upon that Saviour who is almighty, whatever mysteries there be around us, or connected with our own experience, faith in the Lord Jesus--that feeling of the soul which leads us to rest upon Him as our Saviour and Friend, though it cannot solve the mysteries, will be contented to wait until time shall so bring things to light, and eternity shall so manifest the purposes and counsels of God, that the Saviour’s assurance shall be fulfilled. “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” But now take the ease of impossibilities, and see how faith deals with them. Jeremiah might have argued, “Why should I go and purchase this piece of land? it can never be mine; it is impossible.” Now, how did Jeremiah’s faith deal with this? He simply did what God told him; and he left the solution of the difficulty with God. Now, this obedience of faith is that to which we need give attention. There can be no difficulty about duty, though there may be difficulty about the reasons why God calls us to that particular duty. We may have this plainly before us by an illustration. I may say to my child, “Go and fetch me that book”; the child may not know my reasons for asking him to fetch that book; it might be possible that I could not explain my reasons to the child, or if I did explain them, that the child would only be puzzled, and his difficulty increased. It might be utterly impossible for the child to understand why I asked him to do this particular act of obedience; but there is no difficulty at all in the child going and fetching the book. The path of duty is quite plain, but the reasons in the parent’s mind for commanding the duty at a particular time might be unintelligible and inexplicable. And so with reference to our position with God; the path of duty which He calls us to tread is always plain to him that seeks understanding and wisdom from Him. It is only when we begin to ask the why and wherefore that difficulties spring up; when we ask, “Lord, why art Thou doing this?” then we come into the presence of impossibilities. But when we ask, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” then the path of duty lies before us, and with our hearts set at liberty we run in the way of God’s commandments. But now we have to consider the promise of faith in connection with the difficulties of our daily experience; and here, too, the example of Jeremiah is instructive. We have seen that he maintained the exercise of faith and resisted temptations, notwithstanding mysteries; that he went forward in the path of simple obedience, notwithstanding seeming impossibilities; but was he not severely exercised and tried with all this mystery, and difficulty, and seeming impossibility? Certainly he was. But faith led him to prayer. And this is the way in which faith deals with difficulty--it takes men to God. (W. Cadman, M. A.)
The infinite capability of God
It is the glory of God, that there is nothing “too hard” for Him but wrong. The fact of God’s infinite capability should lead us--
I. To render Him supreme homage. Surely, before Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will, all should bow with profoundest reverence and awe.
II. To place in Him unbounded confidence. Confide in Him--
1. To supply all wants. He can do “exceeding abundantly,” &c.
2. To fulfil all promises. There are wonderful promises--the conversion of the whole world, the resurrection of the mighty dead. He is able to fulfil them all; and He is” faithful that hath promised.”
III. To expect from Him wonderful manifestations. He is always at work. He has done wonders, is doing wonders, and will continue to do wonders through all ages. He “fainteth not, neither is weary.” With such a God, what wonderful things await us! (Homilist.)
They have turned unto Me the back, and not the face
As condemning Divine authority. To turn the back upon any one, not only indicates an utter lack of interest in him, but a dislike. To turn the back upon God means--
1. An ignorement of His existence. The language of wickedness is, “Depart from me, I desire not a knowledge of Thy ways.” The wicked are “without God in the world.” They shut their eyes to the greatest fact of facts. God is not in all their thoughts.
2. A repugnance to His presence. What a monstrous sight is this, man turning his back on God.
II. As regardless of Divine instruction. God is constantly teaching men early and late--teaching them--
1. In the operations of nature.
2. In the events of their history.
3. In the monitions of their consciences.
4. In the declarations of His Word. (Homilist.)
Though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not hearkened to receive instruction.
Disregard of God’s teaching
I. God’s merciful instruction is given to man according to man’s capacity and present situation; and is of that special and particular nature that no one need mistake it; and is so simple and yet so full and impressive in itself that a child even may comprehend it.
1. We have no cloudy pillar resting over our churches, no fire from heaven blazing forth upon an altar of sacrifice, no voice of prophecy attended with signs and wonders, no mysterious “Urim and Thummim” sparkling on the breastplate of a high priest, nor do we hear the voice of God speaking to us audibly from the summit of a mountain encircled with fire and with loud peals of thunder: but the Deity nevertheless teaches us by means equally potent. We have gathered into one source of Divine instruction the accumulated experience of many centuries--the Bible, and this carries with it the evidence of its own Divinity. We have the Church with her solemn sacraments, her public forms of worship, her large assemblies of believers, and her glorious history of martyrs and confessors of the faith. We have the Divine Spirit entering the hearts of the humble, and by the glory of His light piercing the darkest abodes of ignorance, and leading the teachable disciple of Christ into all truth. We have the providence of God showing us in many ways how quickly the sands of life drop away, how uncertain and how frail it is, how like the flower of the field we look for an instant bright and joyous, but the next, droop from the blight of disease, and crumble away into the ashes of the grave God teaches us also through our own everyday feelings, and the very common concerns of our daily existence
2. The words of Jeremiah express an earnestness in the Divine teaching. God is spoken of as “rising up early and teaching them.” He is the first among teachers. He is so desirous that His people should be guided by His counsels that He will be with them in the earliest dawn of their existence, both nationally as well as personally.
II. Man’s disregard of the Divine instruction. “They have turned unto Me,” saith the Lord, “the back and not the face”: and again, “they have not hearkened to receive instruction.” The Jews stand not alone in this matter. We may see some such strange manifestations in our own day. The same spirit of practical infidelity is abroad now, and the same infatuation which makes the most sublime subjects of religion matters for scorn and mockery, may be witnessed in our own land of freedom and enlightenment. We are happy to say the good sense of society and the spread of intelligence keeps this spirit down within narrow boundaries; but nevertheless it may be observed publishing itself with the godless jest, with the boast of independence, and with the mocking contempt of all which bears the stamp of religious profession. (W. D. Horwood.)
I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear Me for ever.
In reference to the heart, one of the earliest works of Divine grace is to unite it in one. Strange to say, I should be equally truthful if I said that one of the first works of grace is to break the heart; but so paradoxical is man that when his heart is unbroken it is divided, and when his heart is broken, then, for the first time, it is united; for a broken heart in every fragment of it mourns over sin, and cries out for mercy. Every shattered particle of a contrite spirit is united in one desire to be reconciled to God. There is no union of the heart with itself till it is broken for sin and from sin.
I. Unitedness of the heart.
1. It is naturally divided. Sin is confusion, and at its entrance it created a Babel, or a confusion, within the heart of mare The lusts crave for that which the intellect condemns; the passions demand that which the reason would deny; the will persists in that which the judgment would forego. To many a man it is given to admire things that are excellent, and still to delight in things which are abominable. His conscience bids him rise to a pure and noble life, but his baser passions hold him down to that which is earthly and sensual. Frequently, too, there is a very great division between a man’s inward knowledge and his outward conduct. Men are often wise in the head and foolish in the hand: ,they know the right and do the wrong Man is a puzzle, and none can put him together but He that made him at the first. He is a self-contradiction, a house divided against itself, a mystery of iniquity, a maze of folly, a mass of perversity, obstinacy, and contention.
2. If our heart be not whole and entire in following after God we cannot meet with acceptance. God never did and never will receive the homage of a divided heart. Alexander, when Darius proposed that the two great monarchs should divide the world, replied that there was only room for one sun in the heavens. What his ambition affirmed that God declareth from the necessity of the case. Since one God fills all things there is no room for another. It is idle to attempt to serve two such masters as holiness and iniquity. It was once proposed to the Roman senate to set up the image of Christ in the Pantheon among the gods, but when they were informed that He would not agree that any worship should be mingled with His own, the senate straightway refused Him a shrine. In this they acted in a manner consistent with itself; but those are altogether inexcusable “who swear by the Lord and swear by Malcham.”
3. It must be united for sincerity: a divided heart is a false heart. Declare that thou wilt serve Belial ever so little, and I know that thy service of Christ is but Judas’ service--mercenary, temporary, traitorous.
4. Our heart must be united, next, for intensity of life. True religion needs the soul to be ever at a fervent heat. None climb the hill whereon the New Jerusalem is built except such as go on hands and knees, and laying aside every weight give themselves wholly to the Divine ascent.
5. The heart must be united to be consecrated. Will God be served with broken cups and cracked flagons, and shall His altars be polluted with torn and mangled sacrifices?
6. We must have our heart united, or else none of the blessings which, are to follow in covenant order can possibly reach us. For, look, “I will give them one heart,” and then it follows, “one way”; no man will have a consistent, uniform way while he has a divided heart, Read next, “That they shall fear Me for ever”; but no man will fear God for ever unless fear has taken possession of his whole heart. The convert may profess to follow the Lord for awhile, but he will soon turn aside; he who does not begin with his whole heart will soon tire of the race.
7. God will give His chosen this unified heart. “I will give them one heart.” This the Lord does in part by enlightenment through the light of His Holy Spirit. He shows us the worthlessness and deceptiveness of everything that would attract our hearts away from Jesus and from our God; and when we see the evil of the rival, we give our heart entirely to Him whom we worship. The Lord works this also by a process more thorough still; for He weans us from all idolatrous loves.
II. If we have this we may now advance to the second blessing of the covenant here mentioned, which is consistency of walk. “I will give them one way.”
1. Without this unity there can be no truth in a man’s life. If he spins by day, and unravels at night, he is acting out a falsehood.
2. We must have one walk, or else our life will make no progress. He who travels in two opposite directions will find himself no forwarder.
3. We must choose and keep to one way, or we cannot attain to usefulness. If a man speak for God to-day, and so lives to-morrow that he virtually speaks for the devil, what power has he over those around him? How can he lead who has no way of his own?
4. No person can come to any true personal assurance while his life is of a double character. But if I know that I have one heart, and that my heart belongs to my Lord, and that I have one way, a way of obedience to Him, then may I be assured that I am His. A plain way will make our condition plain. This unity of way is a covenant blessing: it comes not of man, neither by man, but God gives it to His own elect as one of the choice favours of His grace. “I will give them one heart and one way.”
III. Notice the next covenant blessing, steadfastness of principle. “That they may fear Me for ever.” Get the heart and the way right, and then the spiritual force of the fear of God will abide in us in all days to come. Notice the basis of true religion,--it is the fear of God: it is not said that they shall join a church and make a profession, and speak holy words for ever; but that “They may fear Me for ever.” When God has given us a true spiritual fear of Him it will abide all tests. Outward religion depends upon the excitement which created it; but the fear of the Lord lives on when all around it is frost-bitten. Persecution comes, Christians are ridiculed in the workshop, they are pointed out in the street, and an opprobrious name is hooted at them; now we shall know who are God’s elect and who are not. Then, perhaps, comes a more serious test, the trial of prosperity. A man grows rich, he rises into another class of society. If he is not a real Christian he will forsake the Lord, but if he be a true-born heir of the kingdom he will fear the Lord for ever, and consecrate his substance to Him. A heart wholly given to God will stand the wear and tear of life in all conditions, whether in honour or in contempt. With some of you old age is creeping on; but I rejoice to know that your grace is not decaying. Oh, what a mercy it is to have within us a fear of God, which is not to last for a period of years, but for ever!
IV. Personal blessedness. “For the good of them.” Where God gives us one heart and one way, and steadfast principle, it must be for our good in the highest sense. Tell me who are the happiest Christians. They will be found to be whole-hearted Christians. Plunge into the river of life; let body, soul, and spirit be immersed into its floods, and you shall swim in joy unspeakable. Lose sight of the shores of worldliness and you shall see God’s wonders in the deeps. In intense devotion to the Lord, you will find the rare jewel, satisfaction.
V. The last is a relative blessing. “And for their children after them.” Wholehearted Christians are usually blessed with a posterity of a like kind. Be thorough and true, and your family will respect your faith. The almost inevitable consequence of respect in a child towards his parent is a desire to imitate him. It is not always so, but as a rule it is so: if the parents live unto God in a thorough, hearted way, their sons and daughters aspire to the same thing. They see the beauty of religion at home around the fireside, and their conscience being quickened they are led to pray to God that they may have the like piety, so that when they themselves commence a household they may enjoy the like happiness. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I win not turn away from them, to do them good.
The application of the covenant of grace
I. It is all of grace. Its grand end seems to be, to glorify all God’s attributes, indeed, but especially to manifest “the exceeding riches of His grace.”
1. God was under no necessity of making such a covenant. Man, as fallen, guilty, and depraved, might most justly have been left in the destruction into which his sins had brought him. He could have no claim upon God for a second covenant, merely because he had ruined himself by his breach of the first. God is indeed merciful and gracious, but He is not thereby laid under any necessity to show His goodness in the way of saving sinners of the human race, any more than He was obliged to save the angels who fell. Grace and mercy are, and must be, absolutely free, and spontaneous, and self-moved. God, too, is infinitely independent of all His creatures--self-sufficient, yea, self-satisfied. Though all sinners had been left to perish, His happiness and glory would not have been thereby diminished.
2. God is the party contracting in the covenant for both sides. God the Father engages for the Godhead; and God the Son, as the God-man Mediator, engages for sinners. Moreover, it is an absolute covenant of the richest and the freest promises; for, so far as we sinners are personally concerned, there are no meritorious conditions or prerequisite qualifications.
3. If you consider the character of those persons to whom the covenant is fulfilled, that they are not only all heinous sinners, but that, very often, they are the oldest and the vilest sinners that burden and pollute God’s earth, who are brought to enjoy it; you will see another proof, that it must be a covenant of the freest grace, since it embraces such hell-deserving sinners. “It begins at Jerusalem.” “The publicans and harlots are brought into the kingdom,” while, generally, “the scribes and Pharisees,” the decent, moral, respectable men and women, are left out. “Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in Thy sight.”
II. It is very kind and beneficent. It is all about doing us good, especially by making us good, holy, and happy. Coming from God, the infinitely good one, “the author of every good and perfect gift,” it is just one great promise of ceaseless and unmixed love to us. It is just a constellation of blessings. Observe, too, their certainty. Nothing will provoke God to turn away from thus doing His people constant good; and even with regard to afflictions and temptations, they shall be enabled to say, “It was good for us that we were afflicted.” You will observe that there is no limitation upon the good here promised, and why should we restrict? We must view it in its universal comprehensiveness. It includes all good--good temporal, spiritual, and eternal--good for the body, the mind, and the soul--all true happiness in time, at death, and through eternity--grace and glory--all the good that God can bestow, or that we can receive. It includes good in three distinct periods of time. Good before our conversion--to bring us into being--to preserve us alive notwithstanding all dangers--to prevent our committing the unpardonable sin, or in any other way putting a tombstone upon our souls, and sealing them over under the curse--and to bring about an effectual calling at the appointed time. Good after conversion and union to Christ, comprehending all the blessings of grace. And glory in eternity. In the first period, eternal life is only coming certainly towards them, and as yet they have no personal title to or enjoyment of it; during the second period, they have the title, and a begun but still an imperfect enjoyment; and during the last period they have both the perfect title and the perfect enjoyment, and that for ever, too!
III. It is very full and comprehensive. The three following ideas will illustrate its amplitude and completeness.
1. First, you will observe that it not only provides for all on the part of God, but that it also secures everything on the part of the sinner with relation to his enjoyment of it, which, strictly speaking, is all that he has to do with it. Hence, it is so suitable to our helpless spiritual condition, who, of ourselves, could do nothing but just sin on, and so deserve fresh wrath, and the upbreaking of the covenant, if that were possible.
2. Again, you will notice that God here provides for the making of this covenant with each and all of His people in the way of their being brought to close with it. The application of it is as much God’s work and promise as is the decreeing of it or the fulfilling of its conditions. “I will make,” and who will or can prevent Him? Neither the devil, nor guilt, nor their own wicked and unbelieving hearts shall.
3. Once more, you will observe that the line of this covenant runs through all time. It is from everlasting to everlasting, like its parties--as endless as the soul of the sinner on which its blessings are to be bestowed. How ample then--how all-comprehensive is God’s covenant! There is no redundancy, but there is no deficiency.
IV. It is personal and particular. It is made or fulfilled with each and all of God’s people individually and separately, and not merely with the whole Church as s corporate body. The persons with whom it is actually made, are not all men without exception. The countless heathen never so much as hear of its existence or offer. It includes, then, only all God’s elect people--all those given to Christ as Mediator by the Father, and accepted by Him as such--all Christ’s mystical members--His spiritual seed--God’s true spiritual Israel. Their names are all enrolled in the book of life, and engraven on Jesus’ breastplate. They are constantly in His eye, and in His breast, and so they are in His prayers, and in His working, and in His dying. “The Lord knoweth them that are His,” directly and unerringly. We again can ascertain them only in so far as we can see this covenant fulfilled to them, enjoyed by them, and exemplified (extracted as it were) in their lives. But when we see the Lord thus doing good to any soul, and putting His fear into any heart, then and there we see God’s seal and mark, and behold His election realised in their sanctification.
V. It is very holy. God, the maker of it, is holy in all His works, and peculiarly so here in this, the glory of them all. Hence, we find Zecharias calling it (Luke 1:72), “God’s holy covenant.” Two observations will show its sanctity. First, it preserves unsullied, yea it peculiarly displays the righteousness and holiness of God’s character and government in at all saving sinners, only through the infinite and vicarious sufferings, death, and obedience of the God-man Mediator, in their room, and on their behalf. Secondly, it secures the personal holiness of all who are brought into the covenant. God here engages to do them good, and especially in the way of making them really and spiritually good. It gives to each a twofold righteousness, corresponding to the twofold unrighteousness he inherited from Adam--the imputed righteousness of Christ for justification, and the inwrought righteousness of the Spirit for sanctification of heart and life; and it never gives the one without the other.
VI. It is everlasting. It would be comparatively valueless, if it could ever end. Oh, how tantalising it would be to be stripped of the enjoyment of its blessings after we had enjoyed them for a period, and so had just come to know their incalculable value l Deprivation of such blessedness would be torture, exquisite just in proportion as we had tasted its sweetness. The reminiscence and the contrast would then make the loss all the more agonising. But it is “everlasting “--“a covenant of salt”--which can never fail, or change or intermit, or end. It must be so; for you will remember that the condition of the covenant has been already performed by Christ, and accepted by the Father. Now, God will not--indeed, He cannot,--alter or reverse what has been already done, for that is an impossibility. Moreover, the condition being the infinitely perfect, unchangeable, and everlasting righteousness of Jesus, the covenant founded thereon must be absolutely unalterable and eternal The very holiness, justice, and truth of God are all pledged to Christ to secure its permanency and everlasting continuance.
VII. Faith in Christ is the only way of our being brought into the enjoyment of it. Faith is just a receiving and resting upon Christ fist and upon all the promises as in Him yea and amen to the glory of God. Nothing more is requisite in us. The fidelity and omnipotence of the promises ensures their fulfilment to, the soul that believes and rests on them. There is nothing left for us to do but thus just to receive and rely upon these promises, and Christ in them, by the empty hand of faith. And even this faith, and its act of closing with the covenant, is here previously secured. It is included in the “good” to be done to us. Faith is God’s gift--one of His promises and one of the operations of His Spirit. Faith and repentance, and new obedience, are all blessings in the covenant, and not conditions of it. At the very most, they are only conditions of connection and of order in the enjoyment of its various and well-regulated blessings. (F. Gillies.)
I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me.
Perseverance in holiness
I. The everlasting covenant. “I will make an everlasting covenant with them.” In the previous chapter, in the thirty-first verse, this covenant is called “a new covenant”; and it is new in contrast with the former one which the Lord made with Israel when He brought them out of Egypt. It is new as to the principle upon which it is based. Brethren, take care to distinguish between the old and the new covenants; for they must never be mingled. If salvation be of grace, it is not of works, otherwise grace is no more grace; and if it be of works, it is not of grace, otherwise work is no more work. The new covenant is all of grace, from its first letter to its closing word; and we shall have to show you this as we go on. It is an “everlasting” covenant, however: that is the point upon which the text insists. The other covenant was of very short duration; but this is an “everlasting covenant.”
1. The first reason why it is an everlasting covenant is, that it was made with us in Christ Jesus. He is, both in His nature, and in His work, eternally qualified to stand before the living God. He stands in absolute perfectness under every strain, and, therefore, the covenant stands in Him.
2. Next, the covenant cannot fail because the human side of it has been fulfilled. The human side might be regarded as the weak side of it; but when Jesus became the representative of man that side was sure. He has at this hour fulfilled to the letter every stipulation upon that side of which He was the surety. Since, then, that side of the covenant has been fulfilled which appertains to man, there remaineth only God’s side of it to be fulfilled, which consists of promises--unconditional promises, full of grace and truth. Will not God be true to HIS engagements? Yes, verily. Even to the jots and tittles, all shall be carried out.
3. Furthermore, the covenant must be everlasting, for it is founded upon the free grace of God. Sovereign grace declares that He will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy, and will have compassion on whom He will have compassion. This basis of sovereignty cannot be shaken.
4. Again, in the covenant, everything that can be supposed to be a condition is provided. If there be, anywhere in the Word of God, any act or grace mentioned as though it were a condition of salvation, it is in another Scripture described as a covenant gift, which will be bestowed upon the heirs of salvation by Christ Jesus.
5. Moreover, the covenant must be everlasting, because it cannot be superseded by anything more glorious. The moon gives way to the sun, and the sun gives way to a lustre which shall exceed the light of seven days; but what is to supersede the light of free grace and dying love, the glory of the love which gave the Only-begotten that we might live through Him!
II. The unchanging God of the covenant. “I will not turn away from them, to do them good.”
1. He will not turn away from doing them good, first, because He has said so. That is enough. Jehovah speaks, and in His voice lies the end of all controversy.
2. Still, let us remember that there is no valid reason why He should turn away from them to do them good. You remind me of their unworthiness. Yes, but observe that when He began to do them good they were as unworthy as they could possibly be. Moreover, there can be no reason in the faultiness of the believer why the Lord should cease to do him good, seeing that He foresaw all the evil that would be in us. He entered into a covenant that He would not turn away from us, to do us good; and no circumstance has arisen, or can arise, which was unknown to Him when He thus pledged His Word of grace. Moreover, I would have you remember that we are by God at this day viewed in the same light as ever. We were undeserving objects upon whom He bestowed His mercy, out of no motive but that which He drew from His own nature; and if we are undeserving still, His grace is still the same. If it be so, that He still deals with us in the way of grace, it is evident that He still views us as undeserving; and why should He not do good towards us now as He did at the first? Moreover, remember that He sees us now in Christ. Behold, He has put His people into the hands of His dear Son. He sees us in Christ to have died, in Him to have been buried, and in Him to have risen again. As the Lord Jesus Christ is well pleasing to the Father, so in Him are we well pleasing to the Father also; for our being in Him identifies us with Him.
3. The Lord will not turn away from His people, from doing them good, because He has shown them so much kindness already; and all that He has done would be lest if He did not go through with it. When He gave His Son, He gave us a sure pledge that He meant to finish His work of love.
4. We feel sure that He will not cease to bless us, because we have proved that even when He has hidden His face He has not turned away from doing us good. When the Lord has turned away His face from His people, it has been to do them good, by making them sick of self and eager for His love.
5. I close with this argument, that He has involved His honour in the salvation of His people. H the Lord’s chosen and redeemed are cast away, where is the glory of His redemption?
III. The persevering people in the covenant. “I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me.” The salvation of those who are in covenant with God is herein provided for by an absolute promise of the omnipotent God, which must be carried out. It is plain, clear, unconditional, positive. “They shall not depart from Me.”
1. It is not carried out by altering the effect of apostasy. If they did depart from God, it would be fatal If the Holy Ghost has indeed regenerated a soul, and yet that regeneration does not save it from total apostasy, what can be done?
2. Neither does this perseverance of the saints come in by the removal of temptation. No, the Lord does not take His people out of the world; but He allows them to fight the battle of life in the same field as others. He does not remove us from the conflict, but “He giveth us the victory.”
3. This is affected by putting a Divine principle within their hearts. The Lord saith, “I will put My fear in their hearts.” It would never be found there if He did not put it there. What is this fear of God? It is, first, a holy awe and reverence of the great God. Taught of God, we come to see His infinite greatness, and the fact that He is everywhere present with us; and then, filled with a devout sense of His Godhead, we dare not sin. The words, “My fear,” also intend filial fear. God is our Father, and we feel the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father.” There moves also in our hearts a deep sense of grateful obligation. God is so good to me, how can I sin? He loves me so, how can I vex Him? But if you ask, By what instrumentality does God maintain this fear in the hearts of His people? I answer, It is the work of the Spirit of God: but the Holy Spirit usually works by means. The fear of God is kept alive in our hearts by the hearing of the Word; for faith cometh by hearing, and holy fear cometh through faith. Be diligent, then, in hearing the Word. That fear is kept alive in our hearts by reading the Scriptures; for as we feed on the Word, it breathes within us that fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom. This fear of God is maintained in us by the belief of revealed truth, and meditation thereon. Study the doctrines of grace, and be instructed in the analogy of the faith. Know the Gospel well and thoroughly, and this will bring fuel to the fire of the fear of God in your hearts. Be much in private prayer; for that stirs up the fire, and makes it burn more brilliantly. In fine, seek to live near to God, to abide in Him; for as you abide in Him, and His Words abide in you, you shall bring forth much fruit, and so shall you be His disciples. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The world abounds with religions. There is but one true religion, that of the Bible. It is sometimes spoken of as “trust” in God, sometimes as “love” for God, sometimes “obedience” to God; here it is spoken of as the “fear” of God. It is the fear of not pleasing in all things the object of the affections. The fear of not coming up to the Divine idea of goodness.
I. As having its seat in the heart. “Fear in their hearts” There is something in man’s spiritual nature analogous to the heart in his physical organisation. The heart of the body is the most vital of all its organs; it sends the life-blood through all the parts. What in man’s spiritual nature is like his heart, and which the Bible calls his “heart”? It is the chief liking of the soul. The chief liking is the spring of human activity; it works and controls all the faculties of man. Bible religion takes possession of this, inspires this, makes goodness and God the chief objects of liking, so that the soul feels that God is its all in all.
1. Bible religion is in the heart, not merely in the intellect.
2. Not merely in the sentiments.
3. Not merely in occasional service.
II. As imparted by God. How does He put this priceless principle into the heart? Not miraculously, not irrespective of man’s activities.
1. By the revelation of Himself to man.
2. By the ministry of His servants.
III. As a safeguard against apostasy. IS it possible for man to depart from his Maker? In a sense, no. No more than from the atmosphere he breathes, no more than from himself. But there is a solemn sense in which men can and do depart from Him. It is in sympathy of aim. All unregenerate souls are far off from God, vagrants, ever wandering, settling nowhere. To depart from Him is to depart from light, health, harmony, friendship, all in fact that makes life worth having. What can prevent this, the chief of calamities? God s fear in the heart. This is that law of moral attraction that will bind the soul for ever to God as its centre. (Homilist.)
I will plant them in this land assuredly with My whole heart and with My whole soul
The whole-heartedness of God in blessing His people
consider our text for instruction.
1. God blesses His people heartily. “With My whole heart.” Notice, in passing, that word “assuredly”; for it confirms the word as full of truth and certainty. He is slow to wrath, but He is swift to mercy, for He delighteth in it. When He deals out His grace to His people, then you see the loving God, for “God is love”; and you see the living God, for He blesses you with His whole soul.
2. He does this work of blessing His people thoughtfully, for it is added, “and with My whole soul.” Not only the affections of God, speaking after the manner of man, but the great mind and life of God is thrown into the work of saving and blessing His people. His essence, His soul, is here at home. The design argument, when brought to bear upon nature, proves the existence of God. Much more when that argument is brought to bear upon the works of grace do we see the Lord; for in the transactions of grace them is design in everything.
3. We notice, next, that if that be so, then He employs all His resources to bless His elect. The Lord our God--I speak as a man, and with deep reverence--is absorbed in doing good to His people: there is nothing that He is, there is nothing that He has, but what He will bring it to bear upon the design upon which He has set His whole heart and His whole soul. Behold ye, what God hath done for His people! He has given them His all: all the wisdom of His providence shall be theirs while here, and all the glory of His heaven hereafter. God has His abode in heaven; behold, He makes it the abode of His chosen for ever. Angels are His courtiers--they shall be ministering spirits to His elect. The throne of His Son they shall sit upon with Him. The victories of God shall furnish them with palms, and the delight of God shall find them harps. But stop, there is something more than all! It was little for God to give earth and heaven, but He must needs give His Son, the express image of His glory, His other self.
4. The Lord subordinates all other works to that of His love. Everything, whether of creation or destruction, mercy or judgment, shall work, like the wheels of some vast machinery, to produce good to those who are the people of the living God.
5. The Lord gives to His people and for His people without stint. When He feeds His children, though once they would have been thankful to eat the crumbs from His table, He sets them among princes, and gives them to eat of the king’s meat. He lays eternity under contribution to provide for the needs, nay, for the desires, for the joys of His people.
6. Another point sets forth most plainly that the Lord blesses His people with His whole heart and with His whole soul, for He perseveres in it. Are you not surprised with the variety of His favours towards you? An old writer says that “God’s flowers bloom double,” for He sends two blessings where there seems but one; but I would say they are like the light: they are sevenfold, even as in every ray from the sun we have seven colours blended in harmony. What sevens and sevens of infinite love are contained in every beam of mercy that comes to the redeemed!
7. As the Lord Perseveres in His work, so He succeeds in it. God is determined to make something of His People, and He will.
8. God delights in all that He does for His own. We are happy when God blesses us, but not so happy as God is. Our God has all the instincts of motherhood and fatherhood blended in one; and when He looks upon His Church He calls her “Hephzibah”--“My delight is in her.” He does not rejoice in the works of His hands so much as in the works of His heart.
II. Consider the text with the evidence. In order to prove that God doth thus bless us with His whole heart and with His whole soul, I would remind you that the whole Trinity is engaged in the blessing of the chosen.
1. First comes the Father. It was He that chose us--chose us, not because He must choose us or none, but freely with “His whole heart.” Wisdom from her throne determined the way in which God would lead His People, and bless His people, and sanctify His people, and perfect His people.
2. In reference to the ever-blessed Son of God, whom we worship as most truly God, we have the same truth to state. He loved us ages before He came to earth am man.
3. I must not omit the Holy Spirit, “to whom be all honour and glory.” When we were mad with sin, and ravenous after the pleasures of it, He followed us, to check us in our headlong career, to beckon us to better things, to draw us thither, and to help us when we began to incline to the right. He gave us life, and light, and liberty.
III. Consider the inferences which flow from the text.
1. The first inference is one of consolation. Does God bless us with His whole heart and with His whole soul? Oh, then, how happy we ought to be!
2. Another inference, and I have done: it is one of exhortation. Let us love our God with our whole heart and with our whole soul. Trust Him for the past, the present, and the future; trust Him completely, implicitly, unhesitatingly. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The enthusiasm of God
Who can but admire a man who speaks thus? Enthusiasm quickens life. It is salt and light for common days. It makes earth flash with heaven. But was it a man who said this? No. This voice came from heaven. Then of Cod. Well may Calvin annotate my text, saying, “The words are indeed did some strong and radiant angel thus avow himself? No. This is the voice singular.” God is telling His people the great things He purposes to do for them, and He declares He will accomplish all with His whole heart and with His whole soul. Here we are brought face to face with the kindling fact that God is a God of enthusiasm. In one sense, Calvin’s remark on the singularity of these words is very pertinent. But surveying them from another view-point, the Divine declaration is not “singular.” Enthusiasm is an impressive element of Bible theology. Scripture gives us peeps into God’s nature. Only peeps. The open vision would blind us. And assuredly we frequently behold in the Holy Book the outflashing of the Divine enthusiasm. Isaiah uses the wonderful phrase, “The zeal of the God of hosts.” It is God’s quenchless enthusiasm which is to establish in triumph the ever-increasing kingdom and peace of Emmanuel. This quality of God is one Isaiah delights in. Isaiah on the enthusiasm of God is a stimulating study. He says of a wonderful and apparently impossible deliverance of God’s people from their iron oppressor, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this.” Courage, sad-hearted and foe-encircled brother! The enthusiasm of God is pledged to thy deliverance! In another place the poet-theologian describes God as a warrior, and cries, “He . . . was clad with zeal as a cloak.” Grand is the vision of God as He appears in ruby-red robe of zeal. Ezekiel, “his feet on earth, his soul floating amid the cherubim,” represents God’s enthusiasm in its vengeful form when he declares how the wrath Divine shall bruise impenitent transgressors, “and they shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it in My zeal, when I have accomplished My fury in them” If enthusiasm be a quality which Old Testament theology ascribes to God, it is also emphatically accredited to Him by the theology of the new covenant. It is revealed as an outstanding feature of Him to have seen whom is to have seen the Father. “With My whole heart and with My whole soul,” was the motto of His incarnate life. Holy enthusiasm was the temper of His words and deeds. “The zeal of Thy house will eat me up.” Thus our Lord fulfilled the scriptural ideal of enthusiasm as He fulfilled all scriptural ideals. God in Christ is always a God of enthusiasm. How intense He is! How He prays! The fervour of His prayers is never chilled. How He meditates! His inexplorable thoughts breathe themselves through eternity. The Christ of the New Testament is the Jehovah of the Old Testament, in white-hot enthusiasm, as in everything, august, and gentle, and lovely. Enthusiasm must surely be an essential of a true theology. One cannot conceive of an impassionate God. An apathetic God would depress the universe. An ancient Greek finely described enthusiasm as “a God within.” And such all grand enthusiasm is, and must be evermore. How attractive is our God by reason of His enthusiasm. Who would not love Him with his might who is ready to bless with His whole heart and with His whole soul? Such a God allures us. Who are they for whom God promises to labour so enthusiastically? Notice the repetitions “them” in this verse. Equally recurrent is the “them” in the previous verse. In verse 38 the “them” is indicated. It refers to “My people.” God will do wonderfully for His people. He prizes His people beyond compare. Nothing is too great for Him to do for those who are in His sight so lovely. And no enthusiasm is too lavish to expend upon their interests. Is there caprice in this wealthy enthusiasm over His people? By no means. God’s “people” represent character. And God’s enthusiasm for character is shown in His enthusiasm for His people. God’s enthusiasm is evoked by character. Our poor unworthy enthusiasms are often pitifully raise directed. The zeal of God never misses the true mark. God is enthusiastic to help men of character. See how in the neighbourhood of this text He rains golden showers of promises upon such. “I will not turn away from them, to do them good” (verse 40). “I will rejoice over them to do them good” (verse 41). “I will plant them in this land” (verse 41). “I will bring upon them all the good that I have promised them” (verse 42). “And fields shall be bought in this land” (verse 43). The enthusiasm of God runs forth in temporal helpfulness to men whose ways please Him. He cares even for “fields” which belong to His people. Lay tide to heart, burdened business man, if thou art one of God’s people! Consider this, depressed agriculturist, who art a man of God! God makes your interests His own interests. God is enthusiastic in respect of the creation and development of character. How abundantly that can be demonstrated from the context! “I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear Me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them” (verse 39). “I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me.” What do these golden words portend? That with all His heart and with all His soul God will perfect the character of His people. The fact is, nothing in man creates such enthusiasm on God’s part as the instituting and enhancing of character. Your soul is that in you in which God is most interested, and He is interested in everything about you. He is enthusiastic in incomparable degree for your salvation. The supernatural rectification of the will and of the being which we commonly call conversion draws forth God’s intense enthusiasm. With His whole heart and with His whole soul He proposes to develop the good He has already created. He pines to perfect His servants. He has splendid ideals for them. He strongly yearns to make their to-morrows better than their yesterdays. There are those whose so-called enthusiasm is self-centred. Certain “intense” people are intensely selfish. Some have ineffectual enthusiasms. No altruism irradiates them. Nobody is anything bettered for them. They are “fruitless” fires. Not so the enthusiasm of God. God’s zeal is to help, to bless, to enrich men. To illumine what is dark in men. To raise what is low. To glorify what is sordid. Temporally and spiritually beneficent is the enthusiasm of God. He delights to help us. Nor can the strong years conquer His enthusiasm. In this, as in respect of all the qualities of the Divine character, we are to be “imitators of God, as beloved children.” An enthusiasm is contagious. Throbs thrill. The awful peril is that we imitate evil enthusiasms. Souls of men, be admonished against such devil-born enthusiasm. God’s enthusiasm is the true ideal for man. “Be ye imitators of God.” Be ours enthusiasm for holy living. What a rebuke to our tepidity is the enthusiasm of God! What is more remote from God than moral and spiritual coldness? Oh, this Divine enthusiasm is the crying need of modern religion! It is very instructive to study the Bible teaching concerning the enthusiasm of God. It is even more impressive on the negative than on the positive side. God has no spark of enthusiasm for much that man burns about. What discordance there often is between God and man! This is apparent in the objects of their respective enthusiasms. God has no enthusiasm for self-centredness. God has no enthusiasm for worldliness. No matter what form it assumes, He cares not for it. It is all “vanity” to Him. God has no enthusiasm for indifferency. Some are zealous for nothing but apathy. They have dead hearts, and there is no death so deadly as the death of the heart. Stoicism is not sanctity. God is quick with sympathy. The omissions from the revealed enthusiasms of God are intensely significant. Take heed lest thou art enthusiastic where thy God is not. A God who, with His whole heart and with His whole soul, seeks man’s highest good, is a God who constrains our devotion. He attracts us. He captivates us. Were He a cold, unresponsive God, I should shrink from Him. But being an enthusiastic God, my heart is His. Here is a ground of trustfulness--the enthusiasm of God. Can I fear for the morrow when this God is mine? Here is a ground of hope--the enthusiasm of God. All shall always be well, seeing such a God is mine. Here is a ground of service--the enthusiasm of God. Too much one cannot do for such a God. When He declares, “With My whole heart, and with My whole soul,” He prefixes another delectable word, “assuredly.” The margin renders it “in truth,” or “in stability.” So the good Lord assures us of the perpetuity of His kindly enthusiasm. It will never fail His people. Whoever cools toward us, the enthusiastic God of grace will be faithful and fervent still (D. T. Young.)
All the good that I have promised.
The religion, of the promise
(with Numbers 10:29):--Obeying a true instinct, the Church of Christ has from the beginning understood the whole story of the transfer of the chosen people from the land of bondage to the land of promise as possessing, over and above its historical value, the preciousness of a divinely-planned allegory. For us, to-day, just as really as for them in days of old, the stimulus continues to be simply this--a promise. Heaven cannot be demonstrated. We merely take God’s Word for it. Not enough, in our times, is said--soberly and intelligently said, I mean--about heaven. Very “many people have the feeling that the old-fashioned heaven of their childhood’s thoughts and hopes has been explained away by the progress ex discovery. It seems to them as if heaven were pushed farther and farther off, just in proportion as the telescope penetrates farther and farther into space. The gates of pearl recede with the enlargement of the object-glass, and the search for tee Paradise of God, like that for the earthly Eden, seems to become more hopeless, the more accurate our knowledge of the map. The primitive Christians found it comparatively easy to think of heaven as a place just above the stars. To us, who have learned to think of the sun itself as but a star seen near at hand, and of the stars as suns, such localisation of the dwelling-place of the Most Highest is far from easy. Another, and a very different reason for keeping heaven, as it were, in the background, holding the mention of it in reserve, comes from those who believe that there is such a danger as that of cheapening and vulgarising sacred things by too much fluency in talking about them. It cannot be denied that there is a certain amount of reason for this fastidiousness, some strength in this protest. An indulgent rhetoric may throw open the gates with a freedom so careless as to make us wonder why there should be any gates at all; and lips to which the common prose speech of the real heaven would perhaps come hard, were they compelled to try it, can sing of “Jerusalem the Golden,” and of the Paradise for which “tis weary waiting here” with a glibness at which possibly the angels stand aghast. This is a second reason, a very different reason from the first, but still a reason, for observing reticence about heaven. And yet, m the face of both of these reasons, I think it is a sad pity, our hearing so little as we do about the hope of heaven as a motive power in human life. For after all that has been said, or can be said, these two facts remain indisputable; they stare us in the face: first, that this life of ours, however we may account for it, does bear a certain resemblance to a journey, in that the one is a movement through time, as the other is a movement through space; secondly, that any journey which lacks a destination is, and must of necessity be a dismal thing. Human nature being what it is, we need the attractive power of something to look forward to, as we say, to keep our strength and courage up to the living standard. Christians are men with a hope, men who have been called to inherit a blessing. Nor is the Old Testament lacking in this element of promise. It runs through the whole Bible. What book anywhere can you point to so forward-looking as that Book? As we watch the worthies of many generations pass in long procession onwards, from the day when the promise was first given of the One who should come and bruise the serpent’s head, down to the day when the aged Simeon in the Temple took the Child Jesus into his arms and blessed Him, we seem to see upon every forehead a glow of light. These men have a hope. They are looking for something, and they look as those look who expect in due time to find. If this be true of the general tone of the Old Testament Scriptures, doubly, trebly is it true of the New Testament. The coming of Christ has only quickened and made more intense in us that instinct of hope which the old prophecies of His coming first inspired. For when He came, He brought in larger hopes, and opened to us far-reaching vistas of promise, such as had never been dreamed of before. A solemn joy pervades the atmosphere in which apostle and evangelist move before our eyes. They are as men who, in the face of the wreck of earthly hopes, have yet no inclination to tears, because there has been opened to them a vision of things unseen, and granted to them a foretaste of the peace eternal. “The glory that shall be revealed”; “the things eye hath not seen,” prepared for those who love God; “the house not made with hands,” waiting for occupancy; “the crown of righteousness, laid up”--you remember how prominent a place these hold in the persuasive oratory of St. Paul. The complaint that the progress of human knowledge has made it difficult to think and speak of heaven as believing men used to think and speak of it, is a complaint to which we ought to return for a few moments; for, from our leaving it as we did, the impression may have been conveyed to some minds that the difficulty is insuperable. Let me observe, then, that while there is a certain grain of reasonableness in this argument for silence with respect to heaven and the things of heaven, there is by no means so much weight to be attached to it as many people seem to suppose. For after all, when we come to think of it, this changed conception of what heaven may be like is not traceable so much to any marvellous revolution that has come over the whole character of human thought since you and I were children, as it is to the changes which have taken place in our own several minds, and which necessarily take place in every mind in its progress from infancy to maturity. The really serious blow at old-time notions upon the subject was dealt long before any of us were born, when the truth was established beyond serious doubts that this planet is not the centre about which all else in the universe revolves. But the explanation of our personal sense of grievance at being robbed of the heaven we were used to believe in is to be sought in the familiar saying, “When I was a child, I spake as a child,” &c. We instinctively, and without knowing it, project this childish way of looking at things upon the whole thinking world that was contemporary with our childhood, and infer from the change that has come over our own mind that corresponding change has been going on in the mind of the world at large. This fallacy is the more easily fallen into, because it is a fact that, if we go back far enough in the history of thought, we do find even the mature minds seeing things much as we ourselves saw them in our early childhood. But let me try to strike closer home and meet the difficulty in a more direct and helpful way. I do it by asking whether we ought not to feel ashamed of ourselves, thus to talk about having been robbed of the promise simply because the Father of heaven has been showing us, lust as fast as our poor minds could bear the strain, to how immeasurable an area the Fatherhood extends. Instead of repining because we cannot dwarf God’s universe so as to make it fit perfectly the smallness of our notions, let us turn all our energies to seeking to enlarge the capacity of our faith so that it shall be able to hold more. What all this means is, that we are to believe better things of God, not worse things. It may turn out,--who can tell?--that heaven lies nearer to us than even in our childhood we ever ventured to suppose; that it is not only nearer than the sky, but nearer than the clouds. The reality of heaven, happily, is not dependent on the ability of our five senses to discover its whereabouts. Doubtless a sixth or seventh sense might speedily reveal much, very much of which the five we now have take no notice. Be this as it may, the reasonableness of our believing in Christ’s promise, that in the world whither He went He would prepare a place for us, is in nowise impugned by anything that the busy wit of man has yet found out, or is likely to find out. There is no period of life from which we can afford to spare the presence of this heavenly hope. We need it in youth, to give point and purpose and direction to the newly launched life. We need it in middle life to help us cover patiently that long stretch which parts youth from old age--the time of the fading out of illusions in the dry light of experience; the time when we discover the extent of our personal range, and the narrow limit of our possible achievement. Above all shall we find such a hope the staff of old age, should the pilgrimage last so long. But let us not imagine that we can postpone believing until then. Faith is a habit of the soul, and old men would be the first to warn us against the notion that it is a habit that may be acquired in a day. Those of us who are wise will take up the matter now, at whatever point of age the word may happen to have found us. (W. R. Huntington, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 32". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany