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It may be.
It may be
I. This word shows us the heart of God. Displeased because of sin, but longing to show mercy to the sinner. All His counsels and warnings, promises and threatenings, are for good (Deuteronomy 5:29-33; Deuteronomy 32:44-47; Isaiah 1:18-20; Jeremiah 8:7-11; Ezekiel 12:3; Ezekiel 18:31; Hosea 11:1-8; John 3:16-17; Luke 19:10; Luke 19:41-42).
II. This word reveals the grand possibilities of human life.
1. Earnest attention (Jeremiah 36:3).
2. Penitential prayer (Jeremiah 36:7).
3. Moral reconciliation. The hindrances to peace are not with God, but with us.
III. This word holds out encouragement to all true workers for Christ.
2. Holy endeavour.
3. Missionary enterprise. (W. Forsyth, M. A.)
I am shut up.
Jeremiah in prison
1. Jeremiah’s age was one of great political troubles.
2. It was also an age of signal religious privileges.
3. It was an age of great moral corruption.
I. His imprisonment suggests the sad moral character of his age. The prisons of an age are often criteria by which to determine its character. When prisons are filled with men of signal excellence of character, force of conscience, and self-denying philanthropy, you have sad moral proofs of the deep moral corruption of the age that could tolerate such enormity.
II. His imprisonment suggests God’s method of raising humanity. Heaven’s plan embraces the agency of good men. The agency is twofold, primary and secondary. There are spiritual seers and spiritual mechanics.
1. Jeremiah may be regarded as a type of the primary human agents whom God employs. They are frequently in the lowest secular condition; yet in that condition God communes with them, and gives them a message for the world.
2. Baruch may be regarded as a type of the secondary agents. In this age the Baruchs are numerous. Men abound who will take down the thoughts of great thinkers; but the Jeremiahs are rare. Thought power, rather than tongue power, is wanted now.
III. His imprisonment suggests the inability of the external to crush a holy soul.
1. He is free in his communion with heaven. From the dungeon he cried, and God heard him (Lamentations 3:56-57).
2. He was free in his sympathies with the race. He could not go out in body to the house of the Lord, but he went out in soul. Walls of granite, massive iron bars, chains of adamant, cannot confine the soul; nor can the densest darkness throw on it a single shadow. (Homilist.)
God’s servant imprisoned
When Henry Burton, two centuries ago, was persecuted for the name of Christ and put in prison, “I found,” he said, “the comforts of my God in the Fleet Prison exceedingly, it being the first time of my being a prisoner.” Go thou, and read in the roll.
The prophet and the roll:--
I. The solicitude of Jeremiah--(verses 4, 5).
II. The command of Jeremiah (verse 6).
III. The hope of Jeremiah (verse 7).
If Divine mercy could not woo them back to righteousness, he hoped that Divine justice might drive them. Alas! he was disappointed. The national heart, with a few rare exceptions, hardened into granite. And then they were overwhelmed with calamities. (E. Davies, D. D.)
The utility of Holy Scripture
See here the utility of the Holy Scriptures and the excellent use that may be made of reading them. A man maybe thereby doubtless converted, where preaching is wanting, as divers were in Queen Mary’s days, when the Word of God was precious; as Augustine was, by reading Romans 13:1-14.; Fulgentius, by the prophet Jonah; Franciscus Junius, by John 1:1-51., &c. (John Trapp.)
Symbolism of a fast
I. It exhibits the duty of a wise self-restraint or self-denial, in receiving the good gifts of heaven. What could more exactly typify this than the temporary withdrawing from innocent pleasure, and even from the proper nourishment of the frame? It is temporary, and not absolute; an occasion, and not a permanency; a suspension, and not a renunciation. It admonishes us by an example, and does not crush us by a law. It reminds us of the obligation of sobriety in the use of the world s offerings. It bids us reflect that it is good for us to break away at times from what is plentiful, contenting ourselves with what is scanty; and to interrupt the course of the enjoyments that only do not reproach us, in order to make room for higher satisfactions. It exhorts us to be frugal, to be watchful, to be provident. It enjoins to be temperate in all things, and to let our moderation be known to all men; to learn how to lack as well as how to abound; and to show to others and prove to ourselves how well we can resign what we would fain keep, and refrain from what we desire to do, controlling tongue and hand, wish and passion, at the call of any holy commandment.
2. It typifies our weak and subject condition. When we pause in the midst of our blessings, and put them at a distance for a while that we may see them the better, we remember how precarious is our hold upon them, and how easily what we dispense with for a day may be withdrawn from us for ever. Fulness may shrink. Strength and activity may be crippled. Resources heaped up ever so high may be scattered to the winds. Opportunity and desire may perish together. It is good to be impressed with this at intervals, though it would not be good to dwell upon it perpetually; for you make a man none the better by making him habitually sad.
3. It presents an image of the sorrows of the world. These are a part of our subjection, and a peculiar part. While it is foolish and ungrateful to anticipate trouble, every day having enough to do with its own; and it is one of the worst occupations we can engage in, to torment ourselves with unarrived calamities, and paint the white blank of the future with woe; yet it becomes thoughtful persons, and has no tendency to make them less thankful, to consider She evils of humanity. They may be thus preserved from presumption, thus guarded against surprises, thus furnished with a fellow-feeling for the sufferings of others, and thus better prepared for their own trial when God shall send it.
4. Fasting represents penitence. It does so on the principle already mentioned, since penitence is one kind of grief. It does so on another ground. When a man is thoroughly stricken with the sense of sin, and seeks to express that consciousness, he describes his unworthiness to receive the bounties of heaven by declining to partake of them. (N. L. Frothingham.)
He cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth until an the ton was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth
The burnt roll
The incidents connected with the text.
II. A few observations upon them.
1. The piety of the parent is no assured guarantee for the religion of the son. The life of the Spirit can alone come from God, and it is given and withheld in a way to us past finding out. There are many instances in which we should not be justified in attributing any neglect to the parent, though the child may not by any means have walked in his steps; and, where this does occur, men not unfrequently become monsters of iniquity; for it has been well remarked that none are more abandoned than those who become wicked after a religions education: they cannot have quietness in vice till they have stupefied their consciences; and the greater the obstacles before men can fully indulge their lusts, the more depraved they are afterwards. The testimony of the Spirit, respecting Josiah, the father of Jehoiakim, is this, “that he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of his father David.”
2. However men may slight and pour contempt upon the threatenings of God, they can in no way prevent their fulfilment. Jehoiakim and his princes mocked at the message of God, despised His gracious warnings, and purposed the infliction of punishment upon the prophet and scribe concerned in their delivery; but by so doing they did but provoke the wrath of the Lord till there was no remedy: God at length brought upon them the King of Babylon. And all this, we are told, took place, that “the Word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled.” The destruction of the world in the time of Noah was long delayed; but it came at length, and that when men were little expecting it. And, if men will not be prevailed upon to flee to the refuge which God hath in infinite mercy provided, this warning must be fulfilled in their destruction.
3. Those who slight God’s warnings increase their condemnation. It was declared by the Lord through Huldah, the prophetess, to Josiah, the father of Jehoiakim, Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God when thou heardest His words against this place and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before Me, and didst rend thy clothes and weep before Me, I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord: behold I will gather thee to thy fathers; and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace” (2 Chronicles 34:27).
III. The applicability of this subject to present times. Are there not those in this our land who endeavour, by the keen knife of wit and sarcasm, to cut the Bible in pieces, and thus bring it into contempt, and cause it to be neglected? And why do they act thus? They hate the Bible because they perceive that its threatenings are pointed at them and their sins; they are against the Bible because they see that the Bible is against them; they Know very well that, if the Bible be true, if it be indeed the Word of the living God, they are in a very awful case--in danger of feeling the wrath of God for ever in another world: this they cannot bear to think of, and therefore they first begin to wish that it may not be true; next, indulge a faint hope that it is not; and, lastly, are led on by. Satan to believe that it is nothing else but a cunningly-devised fable, fitted to frighten and alarm the minds of the weak; forgetting that the very circumstance which makes it so distasteful to themselves, namely, that it forbids the indulgence of every sinful desire and the practice of every wicked act, is of itself one of the very strongest proofs that it is not the Word of man, but of God.
IV. Some lessons of instruction.
1. The duty of reverencing God’s Word.
2. The duty of making it known according to our ability among others.
3. The duty of dealing ,faithfully with those who live in disobedience to God’s commands. (T. Grantham.)
The burnt roll and the Scriptures
I. The words in the roll were inspired by God; so are the Scriptures.
1. Christ appealed to and taught out of them (Matthew 4:4; Mark 12:10; John 7:42; Acts 1:16; Hebrews 3:7; 2 Peter 1:19; 2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16).
2. Further proof--
(1) Their harmony and agreement.
(2) The perfect moral scheme they unfold.
(3) Their power over men’s hearts.
(4) Their wonderful preservation.
II. The words in the roll contained Divine threatenings against sin. So throughout the Scriptures.
III. The words in the roll were intended to produce penitence and result in forgiveness (verse 3). “To the Lord our God belong--mercies,” &c.
IV. The words in the roll are despised by the hardened and rebellious (verses 22-24). Burning was merely the outward and visible sign of contempt, neglect, and disdain.
V. The words in the roll are, nevertheless, reverenced by some (verse 25). (Homiletic Magazine.)
Rejection of God’s message
I. Deep and varied interest of the Book of Jeremiah.
1. Divine truth of doctrine and promise (Jeremiah 17:1-27; Jeremiah 30:1-24; Jeremiah 31:1-40, &c.).
2. Views of a prophet’s inner life of anguish and faith (chaps. 1, 9, 10, 12).
3. Passages of vivid narrative (this chapter).
II. A strange scene.
III. A searching lesson for the soul. The possibility of complete indifference to the most urgent warnings from God, even without open rejection of religion. Let us take the case of Zedekiah thus in some few respects.
1. His act as a specimen of the soul’s acts now.
2. His excuses.
3. His doom.
IV. Zedekiah hears a message from one whom, on the whole, he owns as God’s messenger, and, by way of reply, he burns it. Countless souls own the Bible, as, on the whole, God’s Word. Perhaps in a time of distress, like Zedekiah (chap. 38.), they will anxiously turn to it. But in their hour of security, when grief or conscience is silent, the Bible may warn mere, but in vain. Church lessons, sermon texts, family portions, private reading, all bring them God’s warnings. The soul, while it dares not say it is false, can yet cast the unfelt truth aside.
V. Zedekiah, perhaps, explained his act in some vague way to himself. “Jeremiah is a prophet; but cannot a prophet be prejudiced and exaggerate?” So Bible readers will let sceptical depreciation off the Bible so far warp them as just to take the edge off the reality of its warnings. “Ye shall not surely die.”
VI. But much more than this: Zedekiah positively rejected the message from wounded pride. He did not want it: he was well enough as he was. This blinded him in great measure to the question whether it were from God or not. So self will rise against the very words of Jesus, till it has seen its need and misery as it is (Revelation 3:17).
VII. Zedekiah, for all this security and indifference, was on the verge of a real and dreadful doom. Ruin, captivity, blindness, bereavement (chap. 39.). So now, indifference to Divine warnings is no disproof of their truth. The Judge of all the earth will act, not on our view of things, but on His own.
VIII. He who threatens is He who atones, saves, and loves. He sends His real threatenings to drive us to His real mercy (Revelation 3:19). (H. C. G. Moule, D. D.)
Jeremiah’s roll burnt
The history with which our text is connected is soon told. It appears that Jeremiah the prophet, at the command of the Lord, had instructed Baruch the scribe to write, in a roll of a book, an abstract or an abridgment of all the sermons which during the last three-and-twenty years he had preached, as well as an account of the various judgments which the Lord had denounced against Judah by reason of their sins. This was done that the king and his people might be put in remembrance of what they had heard, and that they might the better understand it, when they had it all before them at one view.
I. The importance of the written word. Our Lord and His apostles speak to us by their written words in the New Testament; and they attest the inspiration of the written Old Testament by the numberless quotations from its various hooks. These Scriptures we are commanded to “talk of, when we walk by the way, and when we sit in the house.” We are also especially to heed them when they are read or explained to us in the sanctuary of public worship.
II. The value of Divine ordinances. We should come up to the house of God, my brethren, “to ask those things that be necessary as well for the body as the soul.” We should come up “to set forth God’s most worthy praise.” We should also come up to hear “His most holy Word.”
III. The Lord’s object in the Scriptures. The object which God has in view in giving us His Word, is to save our souls. He therein tells us, first, of our danger, and then of our refuge. The Scriptures, therefore, when rightly received, issue in our salvation. This was the Lord’s object in reference to Judah. Judah had sinned; and the Lord had threatened, by Jeremiah, to punish those sins. Mean-while, however, he tried once more to bring them to repentance. He therefore commanded Jeremiah to commit to writing all the evils he had pronounced against that nation, in the hope that, when they read what was written, they might be alarmed at their danger, and seek pardon from their God before their destruction came.
IV. The rebellion of the carnal mind. “The carnal mind,” we are told, “is enmity against God.” It on this account opposes God’s Word, and hates and persecutes God’s faithful servants.
V. The folly of destroying God’s word. Those men destroy God’s Word who will not receive its sayings. It matters not, however, my brethren, whether you receive the whole Word of God, or not. By it you must be one day judged. The judgment will be set, and the books will be opened. If you could get together and burn all the Bibles in the universe, that flame would never destroy God’s truth. Hell would be the same: eternity would be the same: death and judgment would be unaltered. Reject not, then, the inspired Word. Receive it most thankfully. Pray, over it most earnestly. (C. Clayton, M. A.)
The rash penknife
Jehoiakim s last opportunity was now to come. The Spirit of God comes upon the prophet Jeremiah, and inspires him with a message from Heaven. Baruch, the scribe, is summoned to take it down in writing from his lips. I see him coming to the prophet’s chamber with ink and pen and sheets of parchment. The people are awed and amazed. One of them, named Michaiah, instantly hastens off to the palace, and, finding a number of the princes gathered together, acquaints them with what has taken place, and gives them the substance of the prophecy. Presently one of these is commissioned to go into the monarch’s presence and inform him. Jehoiakim, professing great indifference, has yet his curiosity aroused, and wishes the document itself to be brought to him. So Jehudi runs and fetches the roll, telling of the awful judgments that are about to descend upon the throne and upon the land, and proceeds to read it aloud to the king. The tragic sequel you already know, So Jehoiakim’s day of grace closed. In that moment the door of mercy was shut against him for ever! His doom was sealed. The Spirit of God was quenched. The man was given up. Not, observe, that his life was ended; he lived at least four years after this; but he had sinned away his day of grace, and never more was God to ply him with the offers of mercy. His soul’s ruin was now complete.
I. Those who, in their early days, have resisted holy influences, generally turn out the most wicked of men. I hardly know an exception to this rule. Nor can you much wonder that it is so. It is just what we might expect. When a man deliberately tramples on conviction, and resists the dealings of God’s Spirit, he uses the most effectual means to sear his conscience and harden his heart. If, in early days, you have been hedged round with Christian influences, and loving counsels, and bright examples, and fervent prayers: and you have withstood all these things, you are just the person most likely to make a rebound to the other extreme, and plunge headlong into gross iniquity.
II. If a man’s religion is not genuine and heart-deep, it often happens that troubles and calamities only drive him farther away from God. Do you remember what is written of King Ahaz? It might be written of many a one besides him. “In the time of stress did he trespass yet more against the Lord.” Yes, with some men the more they suffer the more they sin. Adversity angers them against God. It is well known that times of pestilence, whilst they have brought out an unwonted religious earnestness on the one side, have brought out an unusual amount of wickedness on the other. The plague of London developed the vices of the metropolis to a frightful extent. Men patrolled the streets singing ribald songs beside the dead cart. When a ship is wrecked, and about to go to the bottom, if some fall on their knees and pray, others fly to drink and cursing. Nothing is a truer touchstone of character than the way in which a man treats the chastenings of God.
III. As the heart gets hardened in sin, there is a growing unwillingness to listen to the voice of God. As soon as a young man begins an evil course, and resolves to take his fill of sinful pleasure, he acquires a hatred of his Bible, and a disinclination to attend the house of God. If he cannot silence God’s ministers, he will keep as far as possible from them, and shut his ears against all good counsel I know a man to whom the sound of the church bells is so hateful, that in the warmest day in summer he will close all his windows, if possible, to keep it out. He was once a very different man, but now the devil has got such possession of him, that he abhors every vestige of religion; and I verily believe that were you to put a Bible into his hand, he would cut it in pieces with his penknife, and pitch it into the fire. If I want to know something of your state of heart, I ask, what value do you put on, and what use do you make of the law of God? (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
The Bible disposed of, what then?
Were the Bible proved to be quite unworthy of confidence, were it shown to be dotted everywhere with error as thick as a leper with his loathsome scales, what advantage would it be to godless men?
I. God would still remain. The Bible does not make God; it does not even demonstrate the being of God. It assumes Him. Its opening words are, “In the beginning God created.” The simplest argument in all the world is that which phrases itself thus: Design supposes a designer. Were I to say that John Milton made Paradise Lost by jumbling letters in a bag and tossing them forth, all reasonable men would laugh at me; but this would be no more preposterous than is the allegation that our universe is a fortuitous concourse of atoms. All men know that back of law is the Lawgiver, back of order the Arranger, back of design an Infinite Contriver. But while the world would retain its belief in God, it would, in the absence of the Scriptures, know nothing of His Providence or of His Fatherhood.
II. The sense of sin would remain. The Bible is not responsible for the sense of sin. If there were no Bible, our consciences would still speak to us. When Prof. Webster was lying in prison awaiting his doom he made formal complaint that he was affronted by his keepers, who shouted at him, “Oh, you bloody man!” and by his fellow-prisoners, who pounded on the walls of his cell, shouting, “Oh, you bloody man!” A watch was set, but no voice was heard; it was his guilty conscience that was crying out against him. It is not the Bible that gives us Ixion on the wheel, or Sisyphus vainly rolling the stone up the mountain-side, or Tantalus up to his lips in the ever-receding waters. No, in any case conscience would remain; but in the absence of revelation we should know no remedy for its sting.
III. Were the bible destroyed, our sense of duty would still remain. The moral law is set forth in the Scriptures in the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount. The Decalogue, however, was written in the human constitution long before it found expression in Scripture. It is interwoven with the nerves and sinews of the race. The Sermon on the Mount is simply a broad and glorious exposition of the Decalogue. There is nothing new or original here. We are reminded that the Golden Rule itself did not originate with Christ. The ethical system of the Bible is merely an authoritative statement of certain laws which are written in the soul of man. God here places His imprimatur on those otherwise anonymous precepts which the whole world recognises as right. So, were the Bible to vanish, the moral distinctions would remain, and a man would know his duty while, alas! ever sensible of not doing it.
IV. The bible gone, death would still remain; death-and judgment following after. It needs no revelation from on high to tell us that, as Abd-el-Kader says, “the black camel kneels at our gate.” That admonition is written on the grave-stones that line the journey of our life.
“The air is full of farewells to the dying
And mournings for the dead.”
But without the Scriptures we should have no hope of triumph over death.
V. The dream of immortality would still remain. This is quite independent of Scripture. The Greeks put an obolus upon the tongue of the dead to pay their ferriage across the Styx because there might be a happy land beyond. The Indian chic was buried with his bows and arrows at his side, because, if there should by chance be a happy hunting-ground, he would need them there. Thus immortality has always been a fond dream--a dream only. When Cicero lighted the lamp in the grave of his daughter it was with the thought that possibly her life, though extinguished for a time, might be rekindled. When Socrates put the cup of hemlock to his lips, he said, “I go; whether to perish or to live again I know not.” The old fable of the Phoenix expressed the fondest of pagan hopes. No, no, we should not lose the dream but we should lose the certainty, for in the Gospel life and immortality are brought to light. The twilight vanishes, the dream becomes a splendid reality. The Bible is our noonday sun. Its glories are far away from the multitude who will not receive it. There are mysteries, vast and incomprehensible here; but burn the Book, or what is the same, let the world lose its confidence in it, and all that makes life worth living goes from us. But the Bible is in no danger; it has come to stay; it will glorify life and illuminate the valley of death until the last penitent sinner has gone through heaven’s gate. Voltaire said that he would pass through the forest of the Scriptures and girdle all its trees so that in a hundred years Christianity would be only a vanishing memory. The hundred years have expired; Voltaire is gone, and “none so poor to do him reverence,” but Christianity is still here, and the trees of the Lord are full of sap. The brazier of Jehoiakim is a golden altar, the fumes of which, like frankincense, have gone through all the earth. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
The mutilated Bible
1. Consider the object which God has in view in writing His Word and sending His written messages to mankind. This object is most pathetically set forth (verse 3). That is why God has given us the Bible! Not to bewilder us, not to start us on courses of intellectual speculation, not to tempt our curiosity, not to found rival sects, but to bring us to Himself to obtain forgiveness of iniquity and sin.
2. Man is so unwilling to hear anything unpleasant or disagreeable about himself that lie gets into a wrong temper before he actually knows what God s object is. Jehoiakim did not hear the whole roll. Did any man ever destroy the Bible who knew it wholly? The difficulty is in the “three or four leaves.” There are men to-day who having heard three or four leaves of Genesis have cut it with the penknife. They cannot get over the six days and the talking serpent, so they cut the roll with the penknife. Or if they begin another book, they are offended by the extraordinary numbers of people killed in war, and the romantic ages of the patriarchs; so they cut the roll with the penknife. Or if they begin elsewhere, they are offended by the descriptions of human nature, its depravity, its helplessness, its horrible sin; and having heard three or four leaves, they cut the roll with the penknife. Now the Bible must be read in its entirety, that all its parts may assume their just proportions and their appropriate colour.
3. Though Jehoiakim cut the roll and cast it into the fire, the words were all rewritten, and the impious king fell under the severe and fatal judgment of God (verse 30). Men have not destroyed revelation when they have destroyed the Bible. “The Word of the Lord abideth for ever.” The penknife, cannot reach its spirit, the fire cannot touch its life. The history of the Bible is one of the proofs of its inspiration.
4. The desire to cut the Bible with the penknife and to cast it into the fire, is quite intelligible because in a sense profoundly natural. The Bible never lures human attention by flattering compliments. What wonder if the leper should break the mirror which shows him his loathsomeness?
5. This desire to mutilate the holy Word shows itself in various ways, some of them apparently innocent, others of them dignified with fine names and claiming attention as the last developments of human progress.
(1) Look, for example, at the use made of the sectarian penknife.
(2) Look at the use of the philosophical penknife. The letter is cut down to nothing, and revelation becomes a question of consciousness, so that the inquiry is not so much, What is written? as, What do you feel? From these reflections we may well learn to hold the roll as inviolable, holy, sufficient, final. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The indestructible Book
There are thousands of Jehoiakims yet alive who cut the Word of God with their penknives; and my object is to designate a few of them. The first man I shall mention as thus treating the Word of God is the one who receives a part of the Bible, but cuts out portions of it with his penknife, and rejects them. Jehoiakim showed as much indignity toward the scroll when he cut one way as when he cut the other. You might as well behead Moses as to behead Jonah. Yes, I shall take all the Bible or none. No; you shall not rob me of a single word of a single verse of a single chapter of a single book of my Bible. When life, like an ocean, billows up with Rouble, and death comes, and our barque is sea-smitten, with halyards cracked, and white sails flying in shreds, like a maniac’s grey locks in the wind--then we will want God’s Word to steer us off the rocks, and shine like lighthouses through the dark channels of death, and with hands of light beckon our storm-tossed souls into the harbour. In that last hour take from me my pillow, take away all soothing draughts, take away the faces of family and kindred, take away every helping hand and every consoling voice--alone let me die, on the mountain, on a bed of rock, covered only by a sheet of embroidered frost, under the slap of the night-wind, and breathing out my life on the bosom of the wild, wintry blast, rather than in that last hour take from me my Bible. Stand off, then, ye carping, clipping, meddling critics, with your penknives! I can think of only one right way in which the Bible may be divided. A minister went into a house, and saw a Bible on the stand and said, “What a pity that this Bible should be so torn! You do not seem to take much care of it. Half the leaves are gone.” Said the man: “This was my mother’s Bible; and my brother John wanted it, and I wanted it; and we could not agree about the matter, and so each took a half. My half has been blessed to my soul, and his half has been blessed to his soul.” That is the only way that I can think of in which the Word of God may be rightfully cut with a penknife. The next man that I shall mention as following Jehoiakim’s example is the infidel who runs his knife through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, and rejects everything. Men strike their knife through this Book, because they say that the light of nature is sufficient. Indeed! Have the fire-worshippers of India, cutting themselves with lancets, until the blood spurts at every pore, found the light of nature sufficient? Has the Bornesian cannibal, gnawing the roasted flesh from human bones, found the light of nature sufficient? No! I call upon the pagodas of superstition, the Brahminic tortures, the infanticide of the Ganges, the bloody wheels of the Juggernaut, to prove the light of nature is not sufficient. A star is beautiful, but it pours no light into the midnight of a sinful soul. The flower is sweet, but it exudes no balm for the heart’s wound. All the odours that ever floated from royal conservatory, or princely hanging gardens, give not so much sweetness as is found in one waft from this scriptural mountain of myrrh and frankincense. All the waters that ever leaped in torrent, or foamed in cascade, or fell in summer shower, or hung in morning dew, gave no such coolness to the fevered soul as the smallest drop that ever flashed out from the showering fountains of this Divine Book. The light of nature is not sufficient. Infidels strike their penknife through this Book because they say that it is cruel and indecent. There are things in Ezekiel and Solomon’s Song that they don’t want read in the families. Ah! if the Bible is so pernicious just show me somebody that has been spoiled by it. Again, they strike their penknife through the Bible because it is full of unexplained mysteries. What, will you not believe anything you cannot explain? Have you finger-nails? You say, “Yes.” Explain why, on the tip of your finger, there comes a nail. You cannot tell me. You believe in the law of gravitation; explain it, if you can. I can ask you a hundred questions about your eyes, about your ears, about your face, about your feet, that you cannot answer. And yet you find fault that I cannot answer all the questions you may ask about this Bible. I would not give a farthing for the Bible if I could understand everything in it. I would know that the heights and depths of God’s truth were not very great if, with my poor, finite mind, I could reach everything. Again, the infidel strikes his penknife through this Book because he says, if it were God’s Book, the whole world would have it. He says that it is not to be supposed that if God had anything to say to the world He would say it only to the small part of the human race who actually possess the Bible. To this I reply that the fact that only a part of the race receives anything is no ground for believing that God did not bestow it. Who made oranges and bananas? You say, God. I ask, How can that be, when thousands of our race never saw an orange or a banana? If God were going to give such things why did He not give them to all? If all the human race had the same climate, tile same harvests, the same health, the same advantages, then you might by analogy argue that if He had a Bible at all He would give it to the whole race at the same time. Again, the infidel strikes his penknife through the Book by saying: “You have no right to make the Bible so prominent, because there are other books that have in them great beauty and value.” There are grand things in books professing no more than human intelligence. The heathen Bible of the Persians says: “The heavens are a point from the pen of God’s perfection.’’ “The world is a bud from the bower of His beauty.” “The sun is a spark from the light of His wisdom.” “The sky is a bubble on the sea of His power.” Beautiful! Beautiful! Confucius taught kindness to enemies; the Shaster has great affluence of imagery; the Veda of the Brahmins has ennobling sentiment; but what have you proved by all this? Simply that the Author of the Bible was as wise as all the great men that have ever lived put together; because, after you have gone through all lands, and all ages, and all literatures, and after you have heaped everything excellent together and boiled it down, you have found in all that realm of all the ages but a portion of the wisdom that you find in this one Book. Take it into your heart! Take it into your house! Take it into your shop! Take it into your store! Though you may seem to get along quite well without this Book in your days of prosperity, there will come a time to us all when our only consolation will be this blessed Gospel. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The written Word
Jeremiah continued to prophesy close up to the time of the first captivity. The days were evil, the cup of the nation’s iniquity was filling rapidly, as rapidly, indeed, as the cup of its predicted desolation and sorrow, yet the people discerned not the signs of the times.
I. The circumstances which led to the preparation of this roll. Jeremiah had now been a preacher to the people for three-and-twenty years, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and warning the nation” every one night and day with tears.” The effect of these spoken addresses, however, had been utterly disappointing; under Divine guidance he must now have recourse to another expedient. He must prepare a summary of all his sermons, revive upon the minds of the people the warnings which seemed to have passed away; must enable them to read, each in the solitude of his secret chamber, words which, as heard with the outward ears, had neither moved them to repentance nor kindled in them any sense of alarm. “And the word came unto Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day.” It is worthy your noting how frequently in the Old Testament the Almighty gives instructions to have His words committed to writing; to Habakkuk it is said, “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables.” The commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai must be preserved on two tables of testimony,--tables of stone, written with the finger of God; and the commission given to Ezekiel shall be contained in “the roll of a book, written within and without.” Of all this, no doubt the design is to make us appreciate the value of a written revelation, of a written rule of faith, of a written charter of salvation, of a written and inspired record of the mind and will of God. In a matter so vital to man’s happiness, God would not leave us at the mercy of man’s memories--to the fidelity with which oral traditions might be handed down. But let us see what this history teaches us is the avowed purpose of the Most High in giving us this written revelation. “Write all these words, for it may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them”; and the same thought is repeated in the seventh verse, where Baruch is instructed to go and read the writing to the assembled people. “It may be, they will present their supplication before the Lord, and will return every one from his evil way.” But how striking is this language on the part of Almighty God. “It may be” that such and such effects will follow on the use of certain means. In the infinite prescience of the everlasting mind we know there can be no such thing as a “may be”; gathering into its sweep as that mind does the issues of all being, chance, time, space, every circumstance with regard to every soul, is an inevitable must be. While still further, with regard to this very people of whom it is said, “It may be that they will turn,” we know it was a settled fact, in the order of the Divine omniscience, that they would not turn, but would “deal very treacherously.” Too humble we cannot be in dealing with those apparently conflicting difficulties of moral state, nor too thankful either. They teach us that in relation to the acts and purposes of an infinite mind there are things which are too high for us; that however much two statements may seem to cross each other, if they are clearly revealed we must accept both. “An intellect to which nothing would be paradoxical,” says Bishop Horsley, “would be an infinite intellect.” It is a bad way of reconciling two Scripture doctrines to ignore or overlook or hide under a bushel one of them. The denial of the doctrine of the Divine predestination, of a knowledge on the part of God of how you or I shall act at any given moment of our future history, is simple atheism; the dethronement of God from the rule of the universe, and a passing of the sceptre to the hands of a thousand wild contingencies, that each may contend for it as it will. And yet with all this “must be” in the Divine purposes, room should be left for the “may be” in the human volition and acts. I bid you take a practical example. Look at the apostle Paul and his companions in the storm. All the men in that ship were to be saved; he knew that, as an absolute purpose of God, which nothing could prevent. It was “a must be”; but the sailors did not believe in this assurance. Hope was gone, the ship must be abandoned. “Down with, the boats instantly, and let each for himself take his chance of deliverance.” Now, how did Paul act, with his foreknowledge that all the passengers should be saved? Did he sit quietly? Just the reverse; with all the earnestness and solemnity of one who felt that on the assistance of these sailors he and all that sailed with him were dependent for their life, he cried out, “Except these abide in the ship ye cannot be saved.” I have told you that there shall be no loss of any man’s life among us and I believe that It shall be even as it was told. He seems to add, God s predestinations are accomplished not by the superseding of human efforts, but by the employment of them; not by forcing our moral liberty, but in harmony therewith. The end is fixed; but for the fulfilment of it my earnestness is necessary, your submission to my directions is necessary; the labour and skill of these seamen to lighten the ship, to take up the anchor, to loose the rudder-bands, to hoist up the mainsail to the wind are necessary. There is a sense in which it “must be” that you shall be saved, and there is a sense in which it may be that you shall perish. You have, to do, not with the certainty, but with the contingency, and it hangs upon this, “Except these abide in the ship.” And it is under like limitations that God uses the expression, “it may be,” in regard to the effect which the writings of Jeremiah might have upon the minds of those who should read them,--whether the Jews or ourselves. But, in our case, the putting of the Bible into our hands is, so to speak, a moral experiment. To us, His ministering servants, God says, “Here is a book fitted by the nature of its discoveries to commend itself to every man’s conscience; calculated by its discoveries of a Saviour’s love, and power, and tenderness, to win the most hardened heart to repentance, and accompanied, moreover, with such piercing and persuasive energy, through the influences of the Spirit, that only on the supposition of the most resolved obduracy and pride can any conscience remain unconvinced of its guilt, or any sinner continue in the error of his ways. I, in My infinite foresight, may know that in the case of this man, or of that, the message will fail, but I will have the experiment tried with all. Thou shalt speak My word unto them, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.’” You must preach upon contingencies; “Take thee a roll of a book, ‘it may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil that I purpose to do unto them.’” But let us look at this “may be”--this merciful contingency that God, in condescension to our forms of thought, is pleased to speak of. These possible results, which it is in the heart of God to do, should be produced by our taking the Book of Scripture into our hands. First, God hopes thereby to excite in us a holy fear of His just displeasure--“It may be that they will hear all the evil that I purpose to do unto them.” Yes, will hear it and believe in it--will not suppose that I speak parables, will not think that I have just menaced merely to humble, or have drawn pictures of calamity only to terrify, but will be persuaded of a truth that if My message be not accepted these results will follow. I will leave men to themselves, I will withdraw from them the influences of My Holy Spirit, I will bid the great High Priest offer up no more prayers for them, I will even suffer them to delude themselves into a false peace. Oh! ye who despise the Word, will ye hear all the evil which God purposes to do unto you? But see, God has better hope of His work. He trusts it may produce amendment of life, accompanied with earnest desires for forgiveness--“It may be that they may return every man from his evil way, that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.” Do not fail to note here the import of that expression. “That I may forgive.” It touches upon another of God s deep things, namely, upon what God is able to do, what are the limits imposed upon Him by the nature of His own attributes, upon some things which cannot be done by Him, to whom, nevertheless, we are accustomed to say that “all things are possible.” Sins of longest life I can forgive, and sins of the blackest dye; I can forgive infirmity, forgive years of despised grace and despised opportunity, but it is beyond the power of My holy nature, beyond the reach of the great propitiation, to forgive where there is no returning, where the heart is still in love with evil, enslaved under the uncast-off yoke of sin. “It may be that they may return, that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.” I must note one other of these contingent results which God hopes for through His written Word, put by the Spirit into the mouth of Jeremiah; namely, that it will set the people upon much earnest prayer. “It may be,” he says to Baruch, in the seventh verse, “that they will present their supplications before the Lord, and will return every one from his evil way.” Very beautifully does this come in, for none of the other results were to be expected without this the sense of spiritual danger, the heart to turn from sin, the desire for experimental assurance of the Divine forgiveness, are, it is true, not things that we could ever obtain by ourselves, but are the gifts of God, promised to earnest and persevering prayer. You are told to pray, told that it is the will of God that you should pray. There you have something; use that, and then God will give more. You pray that you may know how to pray; if the heart so turned to God be not yours, yet you desire that you may have that heart, and all hinges upon your honest use of God’s kind” contingencies. This merciful experiment He is making with you as to the use of His written Word, “it may be they wall present their supplications before the Lord.” If they do, the next step will follow, “they will return every one from his evil way.” Such is the design of a gracious God, in ordering Jeremiah to prepare the roll; such were His ends in restoring it after it was destroyed, and presenting it, with all its subsequent enrichments, for the use of us and of our children unto this day.
II. The roll destroyed. Jeremiah, as we learn from the narrative, was at this time under restraint; not in prison, where he was not placed until afterwards, but only forbidden by Jehoiakim to exercise his prophetic functions, or even to be present at the services of the temple. Accordingly he gives it in charge to Baruch, a man who had taken all the Lord’s words in his mouth, to go up and recite all the words of the Lord in the ears of the people who would assemble in the Lord’s house on the fast day. Whether there was no congregation assembled, or in obedience to some unrecorded instruction, the first reading of the roll seems to have taken place in the hearing of a single person only, in one of the side courts in the entrance of the gates of the Lord’s house. This noble hearer was Michaiah, the son of Gemariah, the son of Shaphan, the scribe, who was so arrested by the words he had heard that he lost no time in going to tell them, as well as he could remember, to the princes at the time resident in the court of Jehoiakim. Interested in this second-hand recital, the princes thought they should like to hear for themselves, and they accordingly sent for Baruch to the palace, that they might have a private hearing of the words of this roll. And here it concerns us nearly, to watch what effect the reading of this roll had upon the princes. Well, in the first instance, it produced in the minds of these princes sentiments of deep emotion. “It came to pass, when they had heard all the words, they were afraid, both one and the other, and said unto Baruch, We will surely tell the king all these words.” Easily can we conceive how encouraged Baruch would be by this first fruit of a faithful message; he had stirred up the dormant activities of conscience; the arrows of conviction were rankling sharply in the soul, a sudden fear had evidently taken hold of the men,--“they trembled.” For this, as we know, is the sequel: the princes tell the matter to the king, the king sends for the book, commands one of his servants to read out of it, and is so irritated at its disclosures, that at the end of the third or fourth leaf he takes the roll from the hand of Jehudi, and having cut it up to pieces that no part of it might be recovered, waits with awful deliberation until all the roll is consumed in the fire on the hearth. The marvel of the sacred writer seems to be less at the burning than at what followed the burning, or rather at what did not follow the blasphemous hardihood that could go so far and not tremble at the mischief itself had wrought, “yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king nor any of his servants that heard all these words.” It is just here that an important practical lesson comes in for us, for it tells us what despised religious conviction may lead to; what a soul-hardening tendency there is in warnings which we have felt once, and felt keenly too, but which we resolved afterwards we would put aside and try to forget all about; and the danger is the same to this day. Show me a man who has never been the subject of one serious or solemn thought, whom the Word, whether read or preached, has never penetrated with a sense of sin or danger, and of that man, I say, I have hope. The arrow is yet on the wing, it may pierce him yet. But when we come to the case of a man who, like Judah’s princes, has trembled under the power of the Word, or who, like Jehoiakim himself, has felt it to be so pointedly addressed to his own heart that he could bear its presence no longer, then I say there is room for nothing but the most distressing apprehension, and fearful standings in doubt. Ay! better had it been for Elnathan, and Delaiah, and Gemariah never to have seen that roll at which their consciences trembled, than having seen it and having trembled at it, to have relapsed into their former indifference, and even to stand by whilst its dishonoured pages were blazing on the hearth.
III. The roll restored and replenished with more awful judgments. Who ever hardened his heart against God and prospered? Who ever kicked against the pricks of an accusing conscience and did not live to mourn in bitterness his folly? The anger of Jehoiakim against the roll was great, because it told him that the king of Babylon should certainly come and destroy the land. And so, like the foolish Brahmin who crushed the microscope with a stone because it showed him insects in his food, he thought to be revenged on the roll by burning it in the fire. Well, what are the consequences? Why, the new roll Jeremiah was to write contained not only the former things, but some worse, even the utter ruin of the royal house, the condemnation of Jehoiakim’s posterity to captivity and shame, and the exposure of his own body to the burial of an ass, as an eternal monument of God’s displeasure against all who despised the warnings of His written Word. Not only was Jeremiah to rewrite all the words of the Book which had been burned in the fire, but, says the sacred historian, “There were added besides unto them many like words.” And what is the great practical lesson I wish you to derive from this part of the history? That the Word of God is imperishable. A singular and wonderful Providence, as we all know, has watched over that Word. Every jot and tittle shall have its complete fulfilment, for indeed there is something beyond the mere writing. Oh, suffer me to remind you of its double aspect, its double lesson, its double tendency, either to strengthen the mind and hopes of the righteous, or to cover with overwhelming hopelessness the prospects of the ungodly and the sinner. Let me say a word first to those who feel that they do not belong to Christ, have no part in the covenant, know well enough they are not washed, not sanctified, not justified by the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God. Must I not in all faithfulness say to them, even as Baruch would have said to Jehoiakim when he threw the strips and shreds of heavenly truth into the flame, “Be thou well assured that all the words written in this roll shall come to pass, yes, and there shall be added unto them many like words”? The neglect of the preached Word can but aggravate the condemnation. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” More grateful, however, is it to the minister of the Gospel of love and peace to approach this imperishableness of the written Word from its other side, and see what are the promises to them that fear God. And to them I say, even to all that are in Christ Jesus, to all that have found peace, this unfailing certainty of all that God hath written in His Word is like a footing on the everlasting rock. Yes, it is yours to live in a world of change, changes in nature, changes in Providence, changes in the Church of God, changes in the rolling seasons, changes in your own frames and feelings, and desires and spiritual experiences; and what protection and refuge against your own inconstancy, your own fluctuations of purpose, and will, and power, is it to be able to fall back on the unchanging, eternal, indefeasible Word of promise of the Most High God, of Jesus “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” (D. Moore, M. A.)
We read in the first lesson this morning the earliest instance of Bible-burning on record, and also the uselessness of the experiment. On this page of the Bible we have two extremes brought into juxtaposition--there is the extreme of utter obedience, as illustrated by the Rechabites, in the preceding chapter, and the extreme of disobedience, recorded here. Between these two cases lies the life conduct of the men and women of our generation. Few are so obedient as to follow out to the very letter the duties enjoined on us by God’s holy Word. We like to shirk the more disagreeable, and to modify others so as to justify a partial obedience; and yet, though we may try to find loopholes through which to escape distasteful duties, I question much whether any would go to the extreme of defiance, represented by Jehoiakim’s conduct in burning the Book itself. Whether the teachings of the Book are followed out as they should be, or disregarded, people generally admit their duty to obey and yield honour and respect to the Book itself, if not from proper motives, then from a superstitious, unreasoning veneration. The holy Bible ought to be treated by us with respect at least; the Book ought not to be treated as any other book, but should occupy a place peculiarly its own, and that because it is the gift of God to man, the gift which shows us the way of salvation, which tells us of God’s relationship to us as our Father, which tells the story of a Saviour’s love and compassion. Jehoiakim is a beacon to us to warn us of the danger of hardening our hearts and resisting holy influences. Sins persisted in bring sorrow and reverses, and the effect of reverses is either to bring us to God or to drive us far away from Him into the outer darkness of misery and ruin. Unless the heart is illuminated by the light of true religion, man will rebel when God chastens; misfortunes will but drive him into evil excesses, and, instead of quickening within his breast the sense of sin and inciting to repentance, he will go from bad to worse, he will be unwilling to hear the voice of God, will shut his eyes to his danger, and will, in effect, dismiss those whose duty it is to recall him to his better self, with the old answer of Felix to Paul. (M. P. Maturin, M.A.)
Time is the material of our lives, but do not those people out it with a penknife, and cast it into the fire, who talk of “killing time,” and put their words into practice? But if it perishes it is recorded, and an hour will come when they would give all that they possess for a moment of it. Youth is one of the precious opportunities of life--rich in blessings if we choose to make it so, but having in it the materials of undying remorse if we out it with a penknife, and cast it into the fire. Health is another of God’s most precious gifts which is too often cut with a penknife and thrown into the fire of passionate sin. “Never treat money affairs with levity--money is character.” This is a wise precept, for money is a power lent to us by God, not for our own use only, but for the good of others. There is then such a thing as conscientious money-spending, and it is very sinful to cut money, so to speak, with a penknife and cast it into the fire. If we are to be saved, we must use the means of salvation which God gives to us as He gave this roll of a book to Jehoiakim. Above all, we must not treat with contempt the gracious invitations of our Saviour to come unto Him. If we despise or neglect so great salvation, we shall kill our souls. No doubt Jehoiakim fancied when he burned the roll upon which God’s threatenings against his sins were written, that these would somehow be prevented from taking effect. But the truth of God is not so easily destroyed. Jeremiah caused another and a longer roll to be written. From this we may learn the often-forgotten fact that the truth of God does not depend upon men. They may believe or they may not believe, but though this matters to themselves it cannot destroy truth. It is well to remember this fact, which, when stated, seems so obvious, for many men have a contemptuous patronising way of talking about religion as if it would perish if they ceased to believe it. And as it is with truth, so is it with our responsibilities. We do not get rid of them by simply ignoring them and treating them with contempt. (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)
A homely writer says, “Jehoiakim’s patent has expired, and a whole army of followers of his are fond of cutting at God’s Word.” God gives very sharp, earnest, forcible warnings. He gives them in Scripture; He gives them in our daily lives. Do not let us handle Jehoiakim’s penknife to pare down the long dark columns of warning against sin and heedlessness and godlessness, which are written in His book. Shall I tell you how this absurd childish folly comes about? It comes of small pieces of heedlessness, gentle warnings not heeded, then stronger ones are sent, and they too are soon tossed aside. I cannot believe that Jehoiakim became such a downright fighter against God by any sudden visitation; he probably went on from smaller neglects to greater; from neglects to rejections; from rejections to defiance, till at last he thought as little of cutting God’s Word into fragments, as he once would have thought of putting off a serious thought to a more convenient season. (J. Kempthorne, M. A.)
Burning the roll
I remember, when on a mission, coming down from a pulpit where I had been pleading with souls, and going up to a respectably dressed man, one on whom my eye had rested more than once while preaching. I saw the tear was in his eye; I knew that the Word had gone home to his heart. I entreated him then and there to give himself up to the Lord. I daresay I talked with him for a quarter of an hour, till at last I found he too seemed to burn the roll. He began by listening to me politely and civilly, but as I went on earnestly pleading with him, pressing him to surrender himself to God, I saw he was resisting and hardening his heart, till at last he said something to the effect that he wished I would not talk to him any more. So after offering a short prayer I had to withdraw. A few weeks after, that man was struck on the head in a drunken broil, and never had time to say, “God save my soul.” His day of grace ended in that church, he too had burned the roll. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Unbelief does not alter facts
Jehoiakim made the other mistake of thinking that he had removed the danger when he had destroyed the roll that told of it. He could burn the parchment, but did that arrest the tramp of Nebuchadnezzar’s army? Putting out the lighthouse lamps does not blow up the reef. Its merciless fangs are as sharp as ever, and all the more surely fatal because they are hid in the darkness. We do not alter facts by refusing to believe them, or to attend to the statement of them. As Bishop Butler says, “Things are as they are,” and burning Jeremiah’s roll changed nothing. Only it was the throwing away of one more possibility of escape, and made the king a more hopeless victim of the fierce conqueror. (A. Maclaren.)
We have before us one of the most tragic acts of wickedness recorded in the history of the kings of Judah. It is in striking contrast with the act of the good King Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:15-33), who, when the lost book of the law was found, humbled himself and gave instant heed to its warnings and precepts; all the more so because the good king was father of this wicked and defiant one. Truly grace does not run in the blood. The chapter before us relates how Jeremiah had written out a summary of the prophecies concerning the impending captivity, and caused it to be read to the people assembled at a great and special fast in the Temple, and afterward to the princes in private, and finally to the king (verses 1-19). The object of the special message was one of compassion and pity on the part of Jehovah (verses 3, 7). It is wonderful how, in the midst of His wrath, God always remembers mercy. The reading of the prophecy to the people evidently made a deep impression, for the news of it was carried to the princes, who sent for Baruch and had him read it to them. They in turn were deeply affected, and said it must be brought before the king. They, however, knew his tyrannical temper, and took two precautions. First, after hearing from Baruch s lips how he came to write this prophecy of woe, they warned him to go with Jeremiah, and both to secrete themselves from the wrath of the king; then they laid the writing up in the house of the scribe (verses 15-19), and lastly went in to report the matter to the king. These princes seemed favourable to the prophet and to the Word of God, but they feared the king. An evil king can suppress the good that is in his people and prevent a whole nation from repentance or reformation. Men in authority have great privilege, but also great responsibility.
I. The Word of God destroyed. The burden of the word of Jeremiah, which was a summary of all his prophecies on this point, was that Judah should be carried away captive by the King of Babylon (verse 29). This was not the first warning, but the gathering up of all past threats; it was God’s final word to the king and the people. As it was read, he ordered it bit by bit to be cut away and thrown into the fire until all was consumed. In this action the following points may be noted--
1. The contempt of the king. The princes had put the writing away in the house of the scribe (verse 20) before they went in to the king. This was a testimony of their respect for a message sent by a prophet of the Lord, and of their fear for its safety. The king, however, had no such feelings of reverence for God’s Word. He did not even dignify the document by sending a proper official to bring it; but showed his contempt by telling a page or under-secretary to fetch it. This act was a suggestive prelude to what followed afterward. The Bible, of all books, is entitled to the place of highest honour, and it is a bad sign when this due respect ceases to be manifest.
2. The rage of the king. As the book was being read, the king overlooked the message, which undoubtedly was incorporated, that God hoped that the reading of it might induce them to turn from their sins and claim His promised mercy. Many people, who declaim against what they call the hard and bitter denunciation of sin and of the judgments of God, seem persistently to forget that the Book which condemns sinners to death and hell is mostly taken up with earnest and loving entreaties to repentance, with promises of life and salvation. God was beyond his reach, but” His Word being within his grasp, he poured out his wrath against that. He ordered it to be cut to pieces and burned with fire. This was not a hasty and impulsive action on the part of the king, but deliberate and premeditated. He perseveres in his evil work, notwithstanding the remonstrances of his princes. He was a “proud and haughty scorner, who dealt in proud wrath” (Proverbs 21:24). There are times when remonstrance ceases to be wise, and a wilful sinner must be given up to his chosen way. The reason for his wrath was the evil tidings which the prophet’s words brought him. Yet how foolish was his wrath--how impotent his rage! For what did he destroy? Only the parchment on which the Word of God was written; not the Word of God itself. It is related of a heathen princess of hideous countenance, that on looking into a mirror which a missionary had, and seeing her ugliness, she destroyed the glass in rage, and ordered that no more mirrors should be brought into her kingdom. I once saw a man in a railway carriage to whom a leaf of the New Testament had been given, crumple it up in his hand, fling it on the floor, spit on it, and grind it under his heel. This action was as ridiculous as it was impotent. The rage of the hater of God’s Word was evoked, but the Word of God was not destroyed.
3. The attitude of the witnesses. There were two classes of witnesses present.
(1) The king’s servants; his pages and immediate attendants. “Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king nor any of his servants that heard all these words.” This implies that the message not only failed to bring about any repentance or desire that the evils threatened might be averted (compare 2 Chronicles 34:19), but that the servants were not even horrified at the action of the king in ordering the writing to be destroyed. They became parties to the act of the king in his wilful unbelief, in his contempt and deliberate defiance of Jehovah. When we join ourselves either in service or companionship with unbelieving men, we must be prepared either to go with them or break from them, when a crisis comes by reason of God’s Word. We may serve an ungodly king, like Daniel, if we have the courage to take God’s part when occasion comes, or we may have social and business relations with unbelievers, if we are prepared to act in a like loyal manner. But how often a timid Christian finds himself overborne by his wicked companions when they warm themselves at their fire, as with Peter in the High Priest’s palace.
(2) On the other hand, there were three princes present who “made intercession to the king, that he would not burn the roll; but he would not hear them.” They had, however, cleared their skirts and washed their souls from the iniquity. Are we as faithful in all such like emergencies?
4. The baffled king. Having destroyed the writing, the king began to reflect that he had not avoided God’s Word or put himself beyond the further reach of it, so long as the scribe and the prophet were at large. He therefore sent to have them arrested. Probably he contemplated their murder, thinking thus he would get rid of the Word. This is an old method with the haters of God. “But the Lord hid them.” Let us suppose he had succeeded in getting hold of the prophet and had killed him; would he next seek to destroy God too? This would be the logical course. How men forget that when they have destroyed the outward revelation they have not destroyed the Word of God; and when they have killed the prophets they have not baffled the Spirit by whom the prophets speak. God hid His prophet and His scribe. Man is immortal till God has no further need of him. Let all God s witnesses know of a truth that God can deliver His servants from any manifestation of the wrath of man, if it is best for them and for His cause; and let them know when He does not deliver, it is neither for want of love, faithfulness, nor power, but because all round it is best that they should seal their testimony with suffering or death.
II. The indestructible Word. The facts in this incident bring out clearly the truth, that man’s hatred and rage against God’s Word are as impotent as is the broken wave that falls back in spray from the rock against which it has spent itself. In this conflict of man against God’s message, we see that it is neither a book nor a man against which the enemies of Christ fight. God can reproduce His Word, either by the same prophet, as He did in this case, or by another. Before the world can get rid of the Gospel it must kill all the believers in the world, and then they must not be too sure that God has not hidden His Word as He hid His prophet, to come forth unexpectedly, as the law came forth in the time of Josiah. Millions of Bibles may be destroyed, and the preachers and witnesses of the Word burned and put to the sword, but it only serves to both increase the Word of God and multiply the witnesses. When will the world learn that they cannot fight against God? Look only at the impotence of men in this conflict in the past. One Herod destroyed the little children, but God hid His Christ; another Herod beheaded John the Baptist, but failed utterly to destroy his testimony. The world crucified Christ; but God raised Him from the dead. The world imprisoned the apostles, stoned Stephen, put James to the sword, persecuted the young Church, but this only served to increase the number of believers and multiply the revelation. Paul wrote more Epistles while in prison than he would have if he had been free. John wrote the Revelation while he was exiled for the Word of God. “The Word of God cannot be broken,” or defeated,--as this foolish and wicked king found out. Several points more may be noted in connection with this latter half of our study.
1. God takes note of our treatment of His Word. It is evident that the eyes of the Lord were upon the king while he was burning the roll, from the fact that, immediately afterward, He commissioned Jeremiah to rewrite it.
2. The Word rewritten. “Not one jot or tittle” of God’s Word shall pass away till all be fulfilled. What was the king advantaged by his work? What are any of us advantaged by our unbelief? Suppose we say, “I do not believe God’s Word,” will that alter the fact that it will be carried out to the letter? Suppose instead of destroying God’s Word, we keep it closed, never look into it and never go where it is preached, or, reading and hearing, do not heed it; will that prevent it from being fulfilled? Shall our unbelief make God’s Word to be a lie? Did the unbelief of the antediluvians prevent the flood?
3. More words added. In the first message God had simply told the king that he and the people would be carried away captive, but now He adds more, saying that for this act of wickedness he himself should be deprived of a direct heir, and his body should be cast out and exposed to the heat of the day and the frost of the night. He would not only bring upon the men of Judah all that He had first declared, but would add an especial punishment to the king. Cumulative unbelief brings cumulative punishment. With the burial of an ass shall he be buried; dragged and east out far from the gates of Jerusalem, and none shall mourn for him, either as brother, or kindred, or king (Jeremiah 22:19). To mutilate the Word of God, either by adding to it or destroying it, is to bring special additional plagues and sufferings upon the transgressor (Revelation 22:18-19). Let us learn this solemn lesson in connection with the Word of God. His Word is eternal; it can neither be bound nor broken; that it will not cease in the world until all that is written therein be fulfilled. All the unbelief, neglect, and rage against it are utterly futile (Isaiah 40:6-8). (G. F. Pentecost.)
The story of a penknife
I. Jehoiakim’s use or misuse of the penknife. Let us talk a little about this famous penknife. In itself it was a very insignificant article. Very unlike was it to its namesakes of to-day, which contain so many other things beside the knife blades that one feels as if one were carrying about an engineer’s tool bag and a portable carpenter’s shop. The knife Jehoiakim used was a rough specimen of workmanship, doubtless, even though, as it belonged to me king s confidential secretary, it is likely to have been the very best of its kind. Probably it was a straight bit of metal thickened at one end for a handle, flattened and sharpened for a blade at the other end. A pocket-knife it was not, being carried in the oblong writing-case or box along with the ink horn and reed pen. That rough bit of bladed iron was the instrument of the king’s spiritual suicide.
II. The meaning of Jehoiakim’s conduct.
1. He had formed a resolution against God. The message of the roll asserts the Divine authority over Jehoiakim and his kingdom. He would not permit such interference. He would manage his own affairs. How bright a day was it for some of us when we resolved that we would serve God! But what a black day it must be when the decision is taken that God shall not be served. That was what Jehoiakim meant. He doomed himself henceforward to follow his own will.
2. This resolution was avowed by a public act. Among our red-letter days, if the day of decision for Christ comes first, the day of professing Christ comes next in importance. As days are reckoned in heaven, that would be the exact order. But what a terrible thing to express the opposite decision! It may be quickly and easily done-by the tone of a laugh. Jehoiakim’s courtiers would all know, as well as if he had said the words, punctuating each word with a slash of the penknife at the manuscript, “I will not serve God.”
3. The decision and profession were impatient and hasty. The entire roll was God’s message to the king. Only three or four columns--a very small portion comparatively, was read before the whole was destroyed. To decide against God without hearing Him out, is a madman’s act. “Let our minds be open a while longer.” Jehoiakim had committed himself, and all the greater part of his people.
4. This hasty action was an insult to God. To tear up a letter unread or in public--and Jehoiakim did both--can have but one meaning. “This letter ought never to have been written.” But fancy acting like this towards God, and saying to your Maker, “You have no business to interfere with me!”
III. The use of the penknife by imitators of Jehoiakim in other times. In many ways it is possible to insult Almighty God by professing a hasty, half-conscious decision that we will let Him manage our life. The penknife is still at work in various ways.
1. One favourite kind of penknife is an insult or injury to God’s messenger. God’s message is often represented by the man who brings it, and pulling the servant to pieces, in one way or another, is a common expression of revolt against God. Herod’s penknife was the sharp sword of his executioner, putting an end to the life of the prophet who had become an incarnate rebuke. Cruelty is not always necessary. A passing slight is quite enough.
2. Similar results may be effected by staying away from a meeting, or severing oneself from a society or class, breaking off an acquaintance with an earnest Christian, and so on. The Bible class is getting rather “warm,” as you call it. Conversions are frequent, and it will be your turn soon. So you absent yourself.
3. A more or less sincere profession of scepticism will serve the purpose well. Are there some here ready to decide hastily against God and heaven? Have you listened to the entire message which, in various ways, God has spoken? Have some of us used the penknife in days gone by? Has the message of the Saviour no power to affect us now, because of certain action of ours in the past, which has torn up, as it were, the communication between God and ourselves? Are we on this account conscious of no desire or inclination to be better than we are? Let us humbly entreat the Lord we have insulted to speak again. Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth. No, I am not Thy servant; but I fain would be; nor am I sure that I can hear. I destroyed my hearing by my own act; but oh, for the sake of the dear Saviour, who bade the Gospel be preached to every creature, speak again, Lord, and make me listen. (W. Carey Sage, M. A.)
A fool and his penknife
All things were hastening to a general clash and ruin unless they speedily mended their ways; and the king and his flatterers were living, as such gentry do, in a fools’ paradise. Jeremiah saw it with the seer’s illumined eyes. It came to him as the Word of the Lord, and as the Word of the Lord he wrote it down on a roll of parchment. The roll was brought to the king, as he sat enthroned in one of his palaces, with his courtly parasites and sycophants around him. It contained no flattery. It was a black picture of the king’s misdoings, and the terrible consequences which some near morrow would bring. The royal sinner did not like it. What sinner does, whether he be king or beggar? He did not want to think about to-morrow. No man on the highway to destruction does.
I. Now that picture of the king with the penknife is often repeated in various ways. The Bible has been so often attacked by that instrument that if it were not the indestructible Word and work of God it would long since have disappeared. People have always been so busy cutting out what they did not believe, or what they did not like, that really it is only by a perpetual miracle that there is any of it left. I thank God that I have still my Bible, and believe in it in spite of all the cutting and paring down that has been done. Somehow it stands the fire and comes out unharmed, no matter what furnace you pass it through. Critics have their day, and Jehoiakims do their fooling and die, but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever.
II. I am afraid we all keep that instrument for special occasions, and use it when we do not wish to face an inconvenient or unwelcome truth. Men who profess the greatest reverence for the Bible sometimes manage to put out parts which do not harmonise with their conduct and views. There are our good friends who admire, honour, revere, and love Christ as the highest man, but stop short of worshipping Him as Divine. It must surely be a difficult thing for them to read the New Testament without the penknife.
III. I fear we are all sinners, either with penknife or the paste. We often cut out moral precepts and commandments if they do not quite accord with our conduct. Most of us use the knife on those many words of Jesus and His apostles which warn us against Mammon worship and covetousness and the love of money, and tell us not to pay all our devotions to the people who have it. It makes our conscience easier if we can somehow get these texts put out. Some people do not always like the Fourth Commandment and kindred injunctions which speak to us about honouring father and mother and reverencing the hoary head. “That is quite antiquated prejudice, and out of date,” they say; “let the penknife deal with it.” There are people who talk far too freely, and not always too truthfully, discussing the faults of friends, and passing on mischievous scandal. I read them what Jesus said: “For every idle word you shall give account.” “Oh! is that there?” they say. “I do not believe it; lend me a penknife.” And there are Christian people who find it desperately hard to forgive; it is as hard as to get a camel through the eye of s needle. They will keep a grudge and maintain a silent quarrel with a fellow-Christian for years. I open the book for them and read: “If thy brother offend thee seventy times, and seventy times repent, thou shalt forgive him,” &c. “Be ye kind, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any.” And they stop me and say, “These things are not in my Bible; I have cut them all out.” And there are all those sayings of the Master and His apostles about cheerfulness, gladness, thankfulness--“Be of good cheer; in all things give thanks; be content with such things as ye have; rejoice always, and again I say rejoice.” They are the brightest and pleasantest sunshine in the Bible; but some of us use the penknife on them every day. We should all be better Christians if we could lust take the Book as it is, and not be always forgetting or putting out the parts we least like. But let me not forget to say that the penknife is used far more constantly, and more in Jehoiakim’s fashion, by those who are not Christians at all, by those who are living wholly irreligious lives. Away with all the warnings, threatenings, counsels, and invitations which stand in the way of our desires. “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” “The wages of sin is death.” “For all these things God will surely bring thee into judgment.” “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap” Cut away the roll; burn it; let us forget the words; out of mind is out of existence; the day of reckoning will never come. But it does come, nevertheless! The inevitable hour creeps on; the debt stands though you tear the bill in two and burn both halves. You cannot burn God’s ledger in which all the accounts are kept. You will have to pay that bill unless, through faith and repentance and the merits of Jesus, it is all forgiven. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
The indestructible Word
I. Eyes opened to see. There was a vast difference between Baruch, whose heart was in perfect sympathy with Jeremiah, and Jehudi or the princes. But there was almost as much between the faithful scribe and the heaven-illumined prophet. The one could only write as the words streamed from those burning lips; he saw nothing, he realised nothing; to him the walls of the chamber were the utmost bound of vision; whilst the other beheld the whole landscape of truth outspread before him, the rocks and shoals on the margin of the ocean, the inrolling storm-billows tipped with angry foam, the gathering clouds, the ship straining in every timber and driving sheer on the shore. This was the work of the Spirit who inspired him, and whose special function it was to open the eye of the seers of the old time to the great facts of the unseen and eternal world, which were shortly to be reduplicated in the world of the temporal and visible. To speak what he knew, and to testify what he had seen--such was the mission of the prophet. In our case there is no likelihood of this. Yet men may be seers still. Two men may sit together side by side. The veil of sense may hang darkly before the one, whilst for the other it is rent in twain from the top to the bottom. Happy are they the eyes of whose heart are opened, to know what is the hope of His calling, what the riches of His inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of His power toward them that believe. It is very important that all Christians should be alive to and possess this power of vision. It is deeper than intellectual, since it is spiritual; it is not the result of reasoning or learning, but of intuition; it cannot be acquired in the school of earthly science, but is the gift of Him who alone can open the eyes of the blind, and remove the films of earthliness that shut out the eternal and unseen. It is a thousand pities to be blind, and not able to see afar off, when all around stand the mountains of God in solemn majesty; as the Alps around the Swiss hostelry, where the traveller arrives after nightfall, to eat and drink and sleep, unconscious of the proximity of so much loveliness. If, on the other hand, you have the opened eye, yon will not need books of evidences to establish to your satisfaction the truth of our holy religion; the glory of the risen Lord; the world of the unseen. With the woman of Samaria you will say, “We have seen it for ourselves.” They who see these things are indifferent to the privations of the tent-life, or, as in Jeremiah’s case, rise superior to the hatred of man and the terrors of a siege.
II. The use of the penknife. It is probable that no one is free from the almost unconscious habit of evading or toning down certain passages which conflict with the doctrinal or ecclesiastical position in which we were reared, or which we have assumed. In our private reading of the Scripture we must beware of using the penknife. Whole books and tracts of truth are practically cut out of the Bible of some earnest Christians. But we can only eliminate these things at our peril. The Bible is like good wheaten bread, which contains all the properties necessary to support life. And we cannot eliminate its starch or sugar, its nitrates or phosphates, without becoming enfeebled and unhealthy. It is a golden rule to read the Bible as a whole.
III. The indestructible word. Jeremiah wrote another roll. And the facts to which Jeremiah bore witness all came to pass. Neither knife nor fire could arrest the inevitable doom of king, city, and people. The drunken captain may cut in pieces the chart that tells of the rocks in the vessel’s course, and put in irons the sailor who calls his attention to it; but neither will avert the crash that must ensue unless the helm is turned. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Yet they were not afraid.
The hardening power of sin
Is it conceivable that men who believed Jeremiah to be a prophet of God should despise his words? Is it credible that, after preaching for twenty years, those who listened to him should think him a prophet, and yet throw his sermons in the fire? I am afraid this is very conceivable and very credible: I see nothing in it a whir more incredible than in this, that men who dare not deny the Bible to be the Word of God, should know what is right and not do it, that they should have warning of a far more fearful captivity than that which was coming on the Jews, and yet should never tremble. The king of Judah and his people were not in the condition of men who had been sinning in ignorance, and to whom a sudden message had come from God to warn them to repent; they had no excuse of this kind, they had been deliberately disobeying God in spite of the warnings of Jeremiah, they had sinned against light, as we say, and so they had become blinded and hardened. At first probably, when they heard the prophet, they felt that they were living wickedly and made resolutions to amend, but by and by temptation came again and they gave way; then once more they would hear the warning voice, but somehow it would not this time be so terrible. Is it difficult to find examples of the like thing now? of men who by little and little fall from one sin to another, who have been taught as children the way of God and have been told of heaven and hell, and so are scared at first when they think that “the wages of sin is death”; but by and by this truth seems to lose its edge, sin has gained more hold, and Satan has said as he did to Eve, “Ye shall not surely die”; one sin leads to another, and each seems easier than the one before it; things which once appeared frightful now seem simple and familiar, and thus after a time the man becomes hardened. This is what the confession of many criminals confirms, they trace their wretchedness hack to some much smaller sin committed when young: a boy disobeys his parents, and perhaps would not believe you if you told him that he had taken one step towards the gallows; and let this may be true. This I understand by the deceitfulness of sin, to which the apostle refers its hardening power (Hebrews 3:13); it is deceitful, because what we call a small sin appears trifling, because we judge of sins merely in themselves, without considering to what they lead. If in a war a general were to see a few of the enemy’s soldiers straggling over the hills, he might say that they were so few that they were not worth considering, but would he say so? or would he not rather look upon them as the forerunners of a great army, would he not prepare at once to resist the host of enemies which he must know lurked behind? In like manner the sins of childhood are the forerunners of the great army of the world, the flesh, and the devil, which comes up in maturer years, and the only safe course is to look upon no sin as trifling, but to root out every enemy whether small or great, lest perhaps we allow our enemy to gain such strength as shall end in our overthrow. We will consider first the ease of a man who seldom or never goes to church. Now I suppose the reason such a man would give is, that he does not see the use of it. Did he always think so? Most probably he had been taught differently when a child, he had been taught that God is with His people gathered together in His Name, that our Lord Jesus Christ is there; he was taught this, and he once believed it, but now he thinks he is as well at home: how has this change come about? has he reasoned about it? probably not at all: has any one for whom he has any respect told him so? certainly not: then what has changed him? it is the effect of habit; he has been “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” What I have just said will apply almost without change to the case of a man who never prays. He was taught to pray as a child, and perhaps he continues the practice, till at length, because he does not act up to his prayers, he finds the practice tiresome, and so he finds an excuse to omit prayer occasionally; then he grows more careless and more irregular, and yet the omission costs him less and less pain, till at last the time comes when he forgets God altogether, and so starves his soul to death. Or again, what shall we say of those who continually hear of their duty, and do not do it, or at all events do it in a very stinted degree? One man is just and kind and liberal, being scarcely aware of it himself, and another is niggardly and churlish, not because he thinks it right to be so, but because he has become hardened. It is a thing for every one of us to think over and pray over, whether we are in all things following God without reserve, and whether there may not be some point in which we are falling very grievously short, but to which habit has hardened us. (Bishop Harvey Goodwin.)
Afraid of the Bible
A celebrated infidel once said, “There is one thing which mars all the pleasure of my life.” “Indeed,” replied his friend; “what is that? I am afraid the Bible is true,” was the answer. “If I could know for certain that death is an eternal sleep, I should be happy--my joy would be complete. But here is the thorn that stings me--this is the sword that pierces my very soul: if the Bible is true, I am lost for ever.” This is the Bible upon the truths of which many have lived, and in the belief of which many have died. Oh, how terribly afraid would they have been if anyone had been able to show that it was untrue! For upon its truths all their hopes are built. An untrue Bible would mean an untrue Christ; and a Christless death would be a death of doom to them. (Quiver.)
A foolish bravery
I. It is a foolish bravery to ignore facts. Just that did Jehoiakim. It was a fact that he had sinned. It was a fact that Jeremiah was God’s prophet. It was a fact that God, by the mouth of Jeremiah, had spoken doom for the sin of Jehoiakim unless he should repent. But Jehoiakim would have nothing of these facts. He cut the roll to pieces and threw it in the fire, &c. This did not change the facts.
1. It is a fact that good is what ought to be.
2. It is a fact that God is the good.
3. It is a fact that evil is what ought not to be.
4. It is a fact that the good which ought to be must be against the evil which ought not to be.
5. It is therefore a fact that God, who is the good which ought to be, must be Himself against the evil which ought not to be.
6. It is, therefore, a further fact that if I choose the evil which ought not to be, the good God, who must be against the evil which ought not to be, must be against me.
II. It is a foolish bravery to imagine yourself an exception from the working of the Divine law. Have you never been subdued into a vast awe, as the absolute irreversibleness of natural law has been pressed upon you? It is because natural law is so unchanging that we may build our cities, and send our ships, and plough our fields, and reap our harvests. But there is another and a fearful side to this irreversibleness of natural law. When, for any reason, man stands athwart one of these great natural laws, the penalty for violation is sure to smite. And this is as true in the moral realm. It is a foolish bravery to think yourself an exception to God’s law. He said it--there am many who think it who do not so plainly say it--that young man, whom I was seeking to dissuade from courses of dissipation. “Oh,” he answered, “it may hurt other fellows, but it won’t me; I am an exception.” How crammed with folly such temerity!
III. It is a foolish bravery to refuse truth which you dislike.
IV. It is a foolish bravery to go on heedlessly, saying, “i don’t care.”
V. It is a foolish bravery to refuse repentance. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
The guilt of indifference to Divine threatenings
1. The man who hears God’s threatenings without being afraid, and His kind invitations and promises without being melted, does in effect say to His face, I consider nothing which Thou canst utter as of sufficient importance to excite the smallest emotion; neither Thy favour nor Thy displeasure is of the least consequence to me; I dread not Thy threatenings, I regard not Thy promises; after Thou hast said all that Thou canst say, I remain perfectly unmoved, and prepared to execute, not Thy pleasure, but my own. And if this does not express the utmost contempt of God, what can express it?
2. This sin also involves and indicates the highest degree of unbelief, of that unbelief which makes God a liar. When a man brings us intelligence of most important events, of events in which, if true, we are deeply interested, we cannot tell him more plainly that we disbelieve everything which he has said, than by remaining perfectly unaffected. He then who is but in a small degree affected by God’s Word, has but little faith in it, and he who is not at all affected by it has no faith in it at all. He is as completely an infidel as anyone who ever gloried in the name.
3. Those who hear or read the Word of God without being affected, display extreme hardness of heart. They show that their hearts are absolutely unimpressible by any motives or considerations which infinite wisdom itself can suggest; that they are of so much more than flinty hardness, as to resist that Word which God Himself declares to be like a fire, and a hammer, that breaketh the rock in pieces. (E. Payson, D. D.)
But the Lord hid him.
Hidden, but radiant
“The Lord hid him.” What that precisely means it is impossible to say: Was there a John of Gaunt for this Wycliff, an Elector of Saxony for this Luther? Did Ahikam, who had before interposed on his behalf, or his sons--Gemariah, who lent Jeremiah his room in the Temple for the reading of his roll, and Gedaliah, who became Governor of Judah after Zedekiah’s deportation--take the prophet under their care? Or was this hiding something more Divine and blessed still? These Divine hidings are needed by us all. We must obey the voice that cries to us, as it did to Elijah, “Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself.” We are too prominent, too self-important, too conscious of ourselves. And God must sometimes hide us in the sick-chamber, the valley of shadow, the cleft of the rock. He calls us to Zarephath, or Carmel, to the privacy of obscurity, or of solitude. It is stated that on one occasion when the dragoons of Claverhouse were scouring the mountains of Scotland in search of the Covenanters, a little party of these godly folk, gathered on the hillside for prayer, must have fallen into their hands had not a cloud suddenly settled, down, effectually concealing them from their pursuers. Thus the Son of God still interposes for His own.
II. He re-edited his prophecies. To this period we may refer the Divine injunction: “Thus speaketh the Lord, the God of Israel, saying, Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book” (Jeremiah 36:2). It may be that throughout, this period Baruch continued to act as his faithful amanuensis and scribe. He, at least, was certainly included in the Divine hidings (Jeremiah 36:26-32). It was at great cost to his earthly prospects. He came of a good family, his brother being Seraiah, who held high office under King Zedekiah, and he cherished the ambition of distinguishing himself amongst his compeers. “He sought great things for himself.” But he was reconciled to the lot of suffering and sorrow to which his close identification with Jeremiah led him, by a special revelation assuring him of the speedy overthrow of the State; and that, in the general chaos, he would escape with his life (45). By the aid of this faithful friend, Jeremiah gathered together the prophecies which he had uttered on various occasions, and put them in order, specially elaborating the predictions given in the fourth year of Jehoiakim against the surrounding nations. The word of the Lord came to him concerning the Philistines, and Moab, and the children of Ammon and Edom, Damascus and Kedar. This time of Jeremiah’s seclusion was therefore not lost to the world. It was fruitful as Bunyan’s in Bedford Gaol; Luther’s in the Wartburg; Madame Guyon’s in the Bastille. Unseen, the prophet busied himself, as the night settled down on his country, in kindling the sure light of prophecy, that should cast its radiant beams over the dark waters of time, until the day should dawn, and the day-star glimmer out in the eastern sky. (F. B. Meyer,. B. A.)
Take thee again another roll, and write in it all the former words.
The Word of God cannot be burnt
I. The Word of God is imperishable. The truth is not pen and ink, parchment and words, but a force of an unchangeable character. It borrows material forms for garments, and uses outward methods for expression; these change, but truth never. Changes are observable in nature, but its laws remain firm. The process of destruction and restitution is ever on the march. The lily will fade, and the rose will perish, but the law of their life will say to the elements, “Take thee another roll,” and write another lily and another rose. The pattern is never destroyed. Truth, law, symmetry, beauty, and life are emanations from the Eternal Mind, abiding immutable in the midst of change. Revelation has assumed aspects, many of which have passed away. The centre of all religious truth is the Saviour--“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” Whatever talents we possess, or whatever circumstances affect us, if there is a straight line from the heart to Jesus--if we are bound to Him by the radius of love--our lives will express the old truths, and present the old faith which animated patriarch, prophet, priest, apostle, and martyr.
II. Opposition to the Word of God will not avert the consequences of sin. Why did the king precipitate the destruction of the Book before its contents were examined? If the moral condition of the people was wrongly described, facts would have disproved the fiction; if the threatened invasion by the King of Babylon was a myth, time would have revealed it. Evidently Jehoiakim found that the entrance of God’s Word brought with it light, and that the spectacle it discovered was too frightful to contemplate. Either he must burn the roll, or the roll would burn him. Sin prevailed, and the roll was burnt. Was it a victory? Three months before the destruction of the city, Jehoiakim died a miserable death. The Florentine philosopher declined to look through Galileo’s telescope, fearing he might see in the heavens some movement which would contradict his old view that the sun revolved, and the earth stood still Sinners fear to look at themselves through the Word of God. Dr. South wrote many years ago those words, “Truth is so connatural to the mind of man, that it would certainly be entertained by all men, did it not by accident contradict some beloved interest or other. The thief hates the break of day; not hut that he naturally loves the light as well as other men, but his condition makes him dread and abhor that which, of all things, he knows to be the likeliest means of his discovery.” God is not in all the thoughts of the wicked, but there is another roll, and God is there. Impressions of sin, of death, and of a judgment to come have suffered violence, and have been wiped off human recollection, at least for a time, but they are written in the other roll. The last vision which terrified the soul of Jehoiakim was the other roll The authority of truth is inviolable, which no penknife can cut, and no fire burn. Let the Word of God shine into our heart, expose its follies and impurities, and the blush on the cheek will be the dawn of a better day.
III. There is a gracious purpose in the reiteration of the Word of God. Jeremiah and Baruch retired to re-commit to writing the contents of the first roll This was done to give Judah another chance of escape from the impending storm. Although the roll was fun of denunciation and warning, yet the terms of peace are included in the declaration of war. Prophet after prophet brought to Israel the re-written message. This is set forth in the parable of the barren fig-tree; the end of all God’s dealings is fruit unto life everlasting. What have we done with the second roll? Nature has re-written her message. Providence speaks again in terms of mercy. Gospel truths come up afresh, like the flowers in the garden. True, we have turned a deaf ear; but is it so still? Do we persist in unbelief?
IV. All attempts to frustrate the Word of the Lord must ignominiously fail. The Word of God has been assailed by every conceivable opposition. The learned, with the sharp penknife of criticism, and the unlearned, with the fire of raillery, have made the attempt to destroy the authority of God’s written Word, but they no more succeeded than if they had dug a grave in which to bury the law of gravitation. Julian the apostate, and Gibbon the historian, cut and burnt the roll, but they were as grass, “The grass withereth,” &c. There was once a printing-press used solely to manufacture penknives to cut the roll; that press was afterwards used to print Bibles. The house in which Hume wrote against miracles was converted into a committee-room for the promotion of religious truth. Conviction of sin is the voice of God in the soul. Drown it you never can. Close the covers of the Bible, and fasten them with a clasp, but its very silence is louder than thunder. Messages and messengers come anew to remind us of our duty towards God and man. Let us bear in mind that the Word of the Lord is a hammer to break the rock; a fire to consume the stubble. Its wisdom is unbounded, backed by infinite power. Heaven and earth will dissolve before one iota of the Word will fail. Let us surrender our hearts to its power. (T. Davies, M. A.)
The sacred oracles
I. The committing of the mind and will of God to writing. This is important.
1. Because the knowledge of them must be preserved and extended.
2. Because there was no way of preserving and extending this knowledge to be compared to this.
II. What think you of those who would destroy the Scriptures?
1. The enemies who deny its authenticity. Surely those precious pieces of antiquity which are found in the Book of Genesis--who would not wish to admire and preserve them? But the Vandalism of infidelity would fling them all into the fire, and fix our eyes on the darkness and dreariness of two thousand years ago.
2. View these men as to their patriotism, or their regard to public good. What benevolence was seen in the pagan world? Produce one instance in which the philosophy of Greece or Rome ever established an infirmary or an hospital.
3. View the enemies of the Bible, with regard to their charity and compassion. What do you think of the human being that would take away the Bible, dash this only cup of consolation from the parched lip--that would pull down the only refuge to which the polluted sinner can escape from the storms of life--that would deprive him of a resource to which, by and by, there will be an entire enjoyment, and that gives him the consciousness of present support? What can you think of a man that would do this, while he knows that he has nothing to substitute in the room of it, and that if the thing be a delusion, it is a solace which can be obtained in no other way?
4. View these men once more as to their guilt. This may be fairly determined from their doom. “Oh,” say some, “we are not accountable for our belief!” To which we answer that if we are not accountable for our belief we are accountable for nothing; for all our actions spring from belief; and infidelity does not arise from want of evidence, but from want of inclination.
III. Some things which seem likely to injure revelation, and which yet prove its advantage.
1. The attacks of the infidel on its divinity. What has been the consequence of all his opposition? Why zeal in its diffusion; and able articles brought forth in its favour; for inquiry is always friendly to truth, as darkness and concealment are friendly to error.
2. The sufferings of its followers by persecution. The periods of suffering have been always the most glorious for Christianity; the brethren have been united and endeared the more to each other; the Spirit of glory and of God has rested upon them; their sufferings have arrested attention and induced sympathy; the witness of their sufferings has been found to be impressed, and they have been led to inspire the principles that would produce such effects.
3. The divisions and parties that have sprung up among its professors. The differences which subsist amongst all those who hold the Head do not affect the oneness of the Church; they are only so many branches which form one tree--so many members which form one body. By these they have always proved stimulations to each other: they have awakened and increased emulation and zeal; and religion has always been upon the whole a gainer by them.
4. The failings of its members. It would seem impossible any good should arise from these to the cause of the Gospel. And yet what is the fact? No thanks to themselves--even these scandals have been overruled for good. These scandals were foretold by the Scriptures; and, therefore, they are pledges of their truth; these have shown that the Gospel is Divine and almighty--because it can bear to be betrayed from within as well as assaulted from without. The excommunication of these persons has always strikingly shown the purity of the Church, and that they cannot bear those that are evil; while the true professors have been led, by these instances, to fear, and tremble, and pray.
1. Be persuaded of the stability of the cause of revelation.
2. Apply Scripture to your own use, and apply it to the purposes for which it has been given.
3. Be concerned for the spread and diffusion of it. (W. Jay.)
Cutting up and burning his Bible
True, those were very anxious times. Party feeling ran high, and we may find this much excuse for the foolish king, that party feeling carried him away. The last days of the kingdom of Judah had come. Two rival nations were seeking her alliance, each as a protection against the other. The good Josiah had favoured Babylon, and even fought against Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt. In the great battle of Carchemish, Josiah lost his life, but the party favouring alliance with Babylon was strong enough to secure the election of his son Shallum as king, rather than the elder son, Jehoiakim, who seems to have favoured the Egyptians. Shallum, however, only held the throne for three months, and then Jehoiakim succeeded. Now Jeremiah, as the prophet of God, had distinctly, and over and over again, advised alliance with Babylon. He was consequently in disgrace when Jehoiakim came to the throne, and the Egyptian party gained the upper hand. He was no longer able to declare the Divine message freely in the streets, and at the court. But what is to be done with the roll? It was a great fast day; a national humiliation on account of the national peril. The people were crowding in from the district round, and were assembling for solemn services in the Temple courts. There the roll must be read. Baruch knew the peril, and shrank from the task, until comforted by an assurance of personal protection. They felt the news of all this must be taken to the king. They knew his impulsive willfulness so well that they feared to take the roll into his presence. Jehudi began to read, and the king began to grow angry at the Divine disapproval of his plans, and presently he seized the scribe s knife, as it lay on the ground, stripped a piece of the skin off, and threw it on the fire; and then, emboldened by his wilful act, proceeded to cut strip after strip, until the entire roll was consumed. What a daring act! And what a foolish act! More foolish than wicked, for he could not silence God’s Word, or alter God’s will in that way. It is very important that we should recognise the distinction between the revelation of God’s will to a man, and the particular form in which that will may be made known to him. It is not the mere wording of the message that is our chief concern, it is the message itself. Men nowadays are finding so much to complain of in the mere form and wording of the Bible, that there is grave danger of their failing to heed that Bible as it comes closely up to each one of them, saying, “I have a message from God unto thee. And is our message to be refused because the form of its setting is unpleasing to fastidious tastes?
I. God’s message to us may be an offence to us. It is when it opposes our inclinations. It is a wholly wrong attitude in which to stand towards God’s Word, if we think to judge it by our inclinations and preferences, approving it only if it accords with them. God’s will and Word are the standard by which we must test our inclinations, and they are stamped as wrong if we cannot gain the Divine approval. But so often our condition of approving the Bible is, that it shall comfortably allow us to “follow the devices and desires of our own hearts.” We shut it up, we put it on the upper shelf, out of reach, when we have a half fear that it will-speak with an arresting voice, and say, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” And the Bible is an offence when it convicts us of our sins. The sin of our day is this--we are attempting to judge God’s Word instead of to receive it. We conceitedly criticise it, instead of reverently listening to it. We are making ourselves the standard for ourselves; and are determined that we will have nothing in the Bible that we do not like.
II. Our offence may end expression in injury to the Word. That injury is not always coarse and vulgar like the injury done to the roll by Jehoiakim.
1. In subtle ways we injure it, nowadays, by making it out to mean what it suits us to think it means, and by picking out bits here and there which are of doubtful authority; and so creating a general suspicion of the authority of the whole.
(1) Generally undermining its authority. Men begin at the Old Testament. They cut strips out here and there. They would persuade us that the early chapters of Genesis are only legends, and the history of the patriarchs only uncertain traditions. Oh, poor Bible of our fathers!
(2) Evaporating or changing its meaning. If anything strikes hard against sin, explain it away. If any dark shadows are thrown on the eternal future of impenitent sinners, exaggerate your representations of the love of God, be quite unqualified in your statements, and boldly declare that you would not punish sinners so vigorously, and therefore you are sure God will not. If you hardly dare cut a piece out of the Word, use the knife to scratch out what you do not like, and write over what you think would be suitable.
(3) Refusing to admit the applications of the Word to ourselves.
2. How utterly foolish all this is! We cannot change one declaration of Holy Scripture. We cannot prevent the execution of one threatening. We cannot, by any of our devices, secure a comfortable arrangement for impenitent sinners in the next life.
III. God’s will can never be frustrated by any injury we may do to His messengers, or to His message. Because though it is in a message, it exists apart from the message. Jeremiah can soon write it all over again. Moreover, the attempted injury cannot fail to rouse further vindications of God’s outraged majesty. Kings never pass lightly by the insults that are offered to their ambassadors. And the Word of God does but tell of providential workings that go on, in spite of anything that may happen to the message that reports them to us. To destroy the Word is as foolish and as useless as for the ostrich to hide her head in the sand, and convince herself that there is no danger, when the hunters are every moment nearing her. (The Weekly Pulpit.)
Burning the Scripture
The 98th annual report (1902) of “The British and Foreign Bible Society” contains the following experience of Colporteur Galibert: “Calling at a handsome house, he explained his object to madame. ‘How much do you ask for your whole load of books?’ she inquired. ‘Nine francs,’ he answered, supposing that the lady wished to make a free distribution of the Scriptures. She paid the price and then called the servant, ‘Take all these books and throw them into the fire.’ ‘Madame’ said Galibert, ‘here is your money; give me back my books.’ ‘No!’ said the lady. ‘I have paid you, and you may go. But when you pass this way again, don’t forget to call; I’ll buy your books again.’ ‘Madame,’ says Galibert, ‘I will go; but let me tell you that the very Word of God which you have destroyed will rise up to judge you at the last day.’”
Hatred of the truth teller
Macaulay tells of a rich Brahman who saw a drop of sacred Ganges water under the microscope, and bought the instrument and dashed it to atoms that it might not by its revelations rebuke his superstitious practices. In a similar way did Jehoiakim treat God’s Word because it revealed his character in its true light, and set in array the judgments for sin which were gathering about him. (C. Deal.)
The indestructible power of God’s Word
It was burned, but Jeremiah lived, and Jeremiah’s God lived. Therefore to burn it was not to destroy it. Another spell of work for Baruch, and the loss was repaired. Like the fabled blood-stains on some palace floor where murder has been done, and all the planing in the world will not remove the dark spots, God’s threatenings are destroyed, as men think, and presently there they are again, as plain as ever. It is true of the written Word, which men have tried to make away with many a time in many a way, but it “liveth and abideth for ever.” It is true of the echoes of that Word in conscience, which may be neglected, sophisticated, drugged, and stifled, but still sometimes wakes and solemnly reiterates its message. And all that Jehoiakim made by his foolish attempt was that the new roll had added to it “many like words.” The indestructible Word of God grows by every attempt to silence it. Each warning neglected increases guilt, and therefore punishment. The fabled sibyl came back, after each rejection of her offered books, with fewer volumes at a higher price. God’s Word comes back after each rejection with additions of heavier penalties for darker sins. We but draw down surer and more terrible destruction on our own heads by refusing to listen to the merciful voice which warns us that the floods are out, and the ruin of the house impending, and bids us floe from it before the crash comes. (A. Maclaren.)
Efforts to destroy the Christian books in Madagascar
The purpose to extinguish Christianity was firmly determined on. The week after the Queen Ranavalona’s message had been delivered, every person who had received books was ordered to deliver them up, without retaining even a single leaf, on pain of death. This order was severely felt; few obeyed it literally, and in the distant provinces scarcely any obeyed it at all (Jacox.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 36". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter