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The chapter falls into two parts—the one describing a divinely commanded action of the prophet, symbolical of the approaching rejection of the Jewish people, the other announcing in literal language the ruin especially of the king and the queen-mother, and emphasizing the inveterate corruption which rendered such a blow necessary. The mention of the queen-mother (see Jeremiah 13:18) renders it probable that Jehoiachin is the king under whom the prophecy was composed. It is true that other kings besides Jehoiachin ascended the throne in the lifetime of their mother; but the express and repeated mention of the queen-mother in the account of Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:12, 2 Kings 24:15; comp. Jeremiah 29:2; Jeremiah 22:26) warrants the inference that Nehushta, Jehoiachin's mother, was a more powerful personage than other queen-mothers. This will be confirmed if, with Hitzig and Bertheau, we accept the statement of the text of the Chronicles (2 Chronicles 36:9), that Jehoiachin was eight (not eighteen) years old on his accession (see on Jer 21:1-14 :28).
The entire people of the Jews is like a good-for-nothing apron.
A linen girdle; rather, a linen apron. "Girdle" is one of the meanings of the Hebrew ('ezor), but is here unsuitable. As Jeremiah 13:11 shows, it is an inner garment that is meant, one that "cleaveth to the loins of a man". The corresponding Arabic word, 'izar, has, according to Lane, the meaning of "waist-wrapper.' Israel was to Jehovah in as close a relation spiritually as that in which the inner garment referred to is to him who wears it materially. There is an Arabic proverb which well illustrates this: "He is to me in place of an 'izar". "A linen apron" may perhaps be specified, because linen was the material of the priestly dress (Le Jeremiah 16:4), and Israel was to be spiritually" a kingdom of priests." But this is not absolutely necessary. The common man used linen in his dress as well as the priest; the only difference between them was that the priest was confined to linen garments. But an ,' apron" would in any case naturally be made of linen. Linen; literally, flax (a product of Judah, Hosea 2:5). Put it not in water. The object of the prohibition is well stated by St. Jerome. It was at once to symbolize the character of the people of Israel, stiff and impure, like unwashed linen, and to suggest the fate in store for it (Jeremiah 13:9).
After Jeremiah has worn the apron for some time, he is directed to take it to P'rath, and hide it there in a cleft (not "hole") of the rock. A long interval elapses, and he is commanded to make a second journey to the same place, and fetch away the apron. What does this P'rath mean? It is by no means easy to decide. Hardly "the Euphrates,"
(1) because the common prefix, "the river," is wanting, though in so extraordinary a narrative it was peculiarly needed;
(2) because of the length of the journey to Babylonia, which has ex hyp. to be made twice; and
(3) because the Euphrates is not a rocky river.
Ewald suggested that "some wet place near Jerusalem" probably had the name of P'rath, and indicates a valley and spring called Forah, about six English miles north-east of Jerusalem. Mr. Birch appears to have hit independently on the same spot, which he identifies with the Parah of Joshua 18:23, about three miles north-east of Anatbeth, and describes as a picturesque gorge between savage rocks, with a copious stream. This combination, however, involves an emendation of the text (P'rath into Parah)—logically it involves this, as Mr. Birch has seen; Ewald's comparison of the Arabic furat, sweet water, seems inconsistent with his reference to Parah—for which there does not seem to be sufficient necessity; and it is better to adopt the view of the great old French Protestant scholar, Bochart, that P'rath is a shortened form of Ephrath, i.e. at once Bethlehem and the district in which Bethlehem lay (see 1Ch 2:50; 1 Chronicles 4:4; and perhaps Psalms 132:6). It need hardly be said that the limestone hills of this region afforded abundance of secluded rocks. There may, of course, be at the same time an allusion to the ordinary meaning of P'rath, viz. Euphrates, on the analogy of the allusion in Isaiah 27:12. Those who hold the view here rejected, that P'rath is equivalent to the Euphrates, sometimes suppose that the narrative is a parable or symbolical fiction, such as Luther, Calvin, and others find in Hosea 1:1-11; Hosea 3:1-5, the thing signified being in this case the carrying captive of the people to Babylon; and this seems the best way of making this interpretation plausible.
After many days. To allow time for the apron to become rotten.
I went … and digged. The apron, then, had been covered with a thick layer of earth.
Explanation of the symbol. Could there be a greater humiliation for Judah and Jerusalem than to be compared to a rotting linen apron? The hard things said of this evil people in Jeremiah 13:10 must of course be understood with the limitations indicated in the note on Jeremiah 9:15, Jeremiah 9:16. Imagination should (as usual) be stubbornness. The explanation in Jeremiah 9:11 is a strong argument for the rendering "apron" (see above, on Jeremiah 9:1).
Here another symbol is introduced—a symbolic phrase rather than a symbolic action. The first symbol referred to the people as a whole; the second represents the fate of the individual members of the people. The words, Thus saith the lord God of Israel, are omitted in the Septuagint, and certainly the form of the following phrase seems hardly worthy of so solemn an introduction. Every bottle. It is an earthenware bottle, or pitcher, which seems from Jeremiah 13:13 to be meant (comp. Isaiah 30:14), though the Septuagint renders here ἀσκός. The kings that sit upon David's throne; rather, that sit for David upon his throne; i.e. as David's heirs and successors. The plural "kings" is to include all the kings who reigned during the final period of impending ruin. With drunkenness. The effect of the "wine-cup of [the Divine] fury" (Jeremiah 25:15). Dash them one against another. This is merely the development of the figure of the pitchers; not a prediction of civil war. The pitchers, when cast down, must of course fall together into pieces.
An admonition to seize upon the only means of escape.
Give glory, etc. Let your tribute to your King be that of humble submission to his will. The precise application of the phrase must be derived from the context (comp. Joshua 7:19; Malachi 2:2). Upon the dark mountains; rather, upon mountains of twilight. A "mountain" is an image of a great obstacle (Zechariah 4:7; Matthew 21:21). As Judah is walking along, the hitherto even tenor of his way gives place to huge mountains wrapped in an impenetrable dusk, over which he will stumble and fall if he does not repent in time.
Should all admonitions be in vain, Jeremiah will return (like Samuel, 1 Samuel 15:35) and give vent to his sorrowful emotion. The Lord's flock. Jehovah is likened to a shepherd (comp. Zechariah 10:3).
The extent of the calamity shown in individual instances. For the fulfillment, see 2 Kings 24:15. After a reign of three months, the young prince and his mother were carried to Babylon. And to the queen; rather, and to the queen-mother (literally, the mistress). It will be noticed that, except in two cases, the names of the mothers of the reigning kings of Judah are scrupulously mentioned in the Books of Kings. This and the title of "mistress" are indications of the high rank they enjoyed in the social system. In the case of Asa, we are told that he removed his mother, Maachah, from her position as "mistress," or queen-mother, on account of her idolatry (1 Kings 15:13). The political value of the station is strikingly shown by the ease with which Athaliah, as queen-mother, usurped the supreme authority (2 Kings 11:1-21.). From an historical point of view, the "queen-mother" of the Jews is a most interesting personage; she is a relic of the primitive age in which relationship was reckoned with regard to the mother (so with the Accadians, Etruseans, Finns, etc.). It should be added, however, that once (viz. 1 Kings 11:19) the same title, "mistress," is applied to the queen-consort. Humble yourselves, sit down; rather, sit down in abase-sent; i.e. take the station suitable for your abased circumstances (comp. Isaiah 47:1). Your principalities; rather, your head. ornaments.
The rendering of the Authorized Version is substantially right, as the events referred to are obviously future. The tense, however, in the Hebrew, is the perfect—viz. that of prophetic certitude. Jeremiah sees it all in prophetic vision, as if it were actually taking place. The cities of the south; i.e. of the dry, southern country of Judah, called the Negeb—shall be [are] shut up—i.e. blocked up with ruins (as Isaiah 24:10)—and none shall open them (openeth them), because all Judah will have been carried captive. (For fulfillment, see Jeremiah 34:7.)
Jeremiah 13:20, Jeremiah 13:21
The captivity being still (in spite of the perfect tense) a thing of the future, the prophet can seek to awaken the conscience of the careless under-shepherd by showing how serf-caused is his (or rather her) punishment.
Lift up your eyes. The verb is fern. sing; the pronoun (in suffix form) masc. plu,—a clear indication that the person addressed is a collective. Probably the "daughter of Zion" is intended, which, in a certain sense, might be called the "shepherd" or leader of the rest of the nation. From the north. Again this horror of the north as the source of calamity (see on Jeremiah 14:1-22).
What wilt thou say, etc.? The rendering of the verse is uncertain, though the Authorized Version undoubtedly requires correction. The alternatives are, What wilt thou say when he shall appoint over thee (but thou thyself hast trained them against thee) familiar friends as thy head? and, What wilt thou say when he shall appoint over thee those whom thou hast taught thy familiar friends as thy head? The rendering "familiar friends" is justified by Psalms 55:13; Proverbs 16:28; Proverbs 17:9; Micah 7:5. The "captains" of Authorized Version, or rather "tribal chiefs," is unsuitable.
Thy heels made bare; rather, treated with violence. The fate held out to the daughter of Zion (trained to walk about with "tinkling ornaments," Isaiah 2:18) is to plod wearily along with bare feet (comp. Isaiah 47:1).
As the stubble. "The word means not what we call stubble, but the broken straw which had to be separated from the wheat after the corn had been trampled out by the oxen. Sometimes it was burnt as useless; at other times left to be blown away by the wind coming from the desert, on which see Jeremiah 4:11; Job 1:19" (Payne Smith).
The portion of thy measures; i.e. thy measured portion. But it is probably safer to render, the portion of thy garment, the upper garment being used instead of a bag to hold anything (comp. Ruth 3:15; 2 Kings 4:39). In falsehood; i.e. in false gods (Jeremiah 16:19).
Therefore will I, etc. But the Hebrew is much more forcible, "And I also," etc; implying, as Calvin remarks (comp. Proverbs 1:26), a certain retaliation. Upon thy face; an allusion to Nahum 3:5.
I have seen, etc. The Hebrew is again more forcible than the English. It runs, "Thine adulteries and thy neighings," etc. l (this is an exclamation as it were; then more reflectively)," I have seen thine abominations." Neighings; i.e. passionate craving for illegitimate objects of worship (comp. Jeremiah 2:24, Jeremiah 2:25; Jeremiah 5:8). In the fields. The Hebrew has the singular. The "field," as usual, means the open country. Wilt thou not, etc.? rather, How long ere thou be made clean? In Jeremiah 13:23 the prophet had vehemently declared his people to be incorrigible. But, like the tender Hoses, he cannot continue to hold such gloomy thoughts; surely Israel, God's people, must eventually be "made clean!" But this can only be as the result of judicial affliction, and these afflictions will be no slight or transient ones.
The spoiled girdle.
I. GOD'S PEOPLE ARE LIKE A GIRDLE TO GOD.
1. They are his peculiar property. The girdle is a private personal possession. It belongs solely to the wearer. When all ordinary property is taken from him he retains the clothes on his body. Even the bankrupt has a right to these.
2. They are near to God. This girdle—really an under-garment—is close to the person of the wearer. God does not simply hold his people as an absentee landlord holds his property. 'He draws them near to himself. He cherishes them with affection, sustains the burden of them, carries them with him in his glorious out-going to works of wonder and mercy and in his blessed in-coming to Divine peace and sabbatic repose.
3. They are a glory to God. (Jeremiah 13:11.) Garments are worn, not only for clothing, but to add grace and beauty. God's people are more than safe with him; they are glorious. It is true that they have no inherent grace which they can add to the splendor of God, but they can adorn that splendor by reflecting it, as the clouds which gird about the rising sun seem to increase its beauty by reflecting its own rich rays.
4. They are required to cleave to God. God graciously takes his people near to himself; yet they must voluntarily bind themselves to him in love, in devotion, in submission, in obedience.
II. GOD'S PEOPLE, IN THEIR SIN, ARE LIKE A GIRDLE DEFILED AND UNWASHED.
1. Jeremiah was forbidden to put the girdle in water (Verse 1). Whilst living in this world the best men daily contract stains of sin; but God has provided a fountain for cleansing, and by daily penitence and faith in his purifying grace the soul may be made and preserved pure (Zechariah 13:1). As all have sinned and do sin, all need this constant cleansing. To neglect it is to become increasingly foul and unfit for the honor that God bestows upon his people.
2. This corruption is manifest
(1) in neglect of the will-of God—"they refuse to hear my words;"
(2) in willful obstinacy—they "walk in the stubbornness of their heart;"
(3) in positive disobedience and impurity—they "they walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them;"
(4) in inveterate impenitence—they "would not hear."
III. THE PUNISHMENT OF GOD'S SINFUL PEOPLE IS LIKE THE SPOILING OF THE GIRDLE.
1. They are cast off. The unwashed girdle can be worn no longer. In their holiness God's people were his glory; in their defilement they are his dishonor God can endure the presence of nothing impure (Hebrews 12:14).
2. They are left to their own increasing defilement. The unwashed garment is buried, and becomes only worse. The most terrible punishment of sin is to be left to sin unchecked. Vice then becomes ingrained—a second nature.
3. They are dishonored. The girdle is visibly marred with the earth in which it is buried. Internal impurity is punished with external shame. Punishment is appropriate to guilt. Pride is chastised by humiliation.
4. Though their sin may be hidden for a time, it will be revealed at last. The girdle is buried only to be exhumed. The longer it was buried the worse must have been its condition when it was again exposed to view. The corruption of the heart cannot be ultimately concealed; it must reveal itself in the life. In the resurrection-life, wherein the body is spiritual and fits truly and expresses clearly the soul that inhabits it, the foul soul will be compelled to inhabit a foul body.
5. They are rendered worthless. The girdle is utterly spoiled—profitable for nothing. Sin not only dishonors, it destroys. The girdle becomes rotten. As dirt rots a garment, so sin rots a soul. It not only makes it foul and hideous, but it destroys its faculties and energies, degrades its essential nature, and introduces the corruption of death (James 1:15).
The parable of the wine-flagons.
I. THE PROUD ARE LIKE WINE-FLAGONS. Jeremiah is thinking chiefly of the aristocracy of his nation (Verse 13) and their pride (Verse 17). The metaphor, therefore, specially designates the proud. These are swelled-out and pretentious, but not solid, and do not contain anything good of their own. They are brittle. Pride is itself a source of danger (Proverbs 16:18).
II. THE WRATH OF GOD IS LIKE FERMENTING WINE. It is a disturbing influence, breaking in upon the quiet of serf-complacency. The more its natural tendency to reduce us to repentance is suppressed by pride, the more terribly will its presence agitate us. The larger the flagon, the more wine will it contain; the greater the rank, the greater the trouble when universal retribution comes. The more empty the flagon, the more wine will it contain; so the less of real solid worth there is in a man's life, the more room will there be for the exercise of Divine wrath against his wretched condition.
III. THE EFFECT OF THE WRATH OF GOD ON THE PROUD IS LIKE THE ROLLING OF WINE-FLAGONS FILLED WITH FERMENTING WINE. The flagons are imagined to be drunken, and to behave as drunken men would behave. In this condition they exemplify the state of those into whom God has poured the vials of his wrath. This does not simply work in them, leaving their exterior undisturbed. Spiritual though it is, it affects the whole life. We cannot escape the effect of God's anger by ignoring spiritual facts and living in the outside, worldly life alone. This and all our experience will be disturbed. The flagons strike one another. Companions in the pleasures of sin become mutual enemies in the punishment of it. Moral corruption leads to social discord. Civil war is one of the greatest calamities which can overtake a nation, and when this arises, not from any contention for right or liberty, but from the outburst of wild passions, selfish greed, etc; it is doubly destructive. In such an event wickedness becomes its own executioner.
I. SIN PLUNGES THE SOUL INTO DARKNESS. "Light is sown for the righteous" (Psalms 97:11). The darkness of evil thoughts and an evil will throws its shadow out on the world, and ultimately brings gloom over the whole of life.
1. This darkness is distressing. The benighted feel a horror of great darkness falling upon them amid the wild and lonely mountains. When God withdraws the sunshine of his grace this mournful condition must be the experience of the godless.
2. It is confusing. They "stumble upon the twilight mountains." Without God we have no true guide in life. There are mountains of difficulty to be overcome in our earthly pilgrimage, steep and toilsome and dangerous. How dreadful to venture unenlightened and unguided through such pathless wilds! If the life were to be spent in a paradise, it would be sad to dwell amidst its beauties in perpetual gloom; but, seeing that it is a pilgrimage over the mountains, it is fearful to be left in darkness.
3. It will grow into deeper darkness. At first it is a twilight. Some hope that this is the herald of the dawn; but they are mistaken—it is the portend of the night. The mingled lights and shadows will melt into the blackness of midnight. The mixed joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, of this life, which some sanguine souls suppose to be the worst condition they will be in, and likely to give place to rest and joy hereafter, will end to the sinner in the terrible darkness of a much worse future retribution.
4. The present light is no guarantee that the darkness is not approaching. The brightest day may be followed by the blackest night.
II. THE PROSPECT OF THIS DARKNESS SHOULD WARN MEN TO AVERT IT.
1. It is not inevitable. It has not yet come. There is still time to escape. If there were no remedy, all warnings would be useless. The very utterance of warnings implies that the terrors to which they refer may be avoided.
2. The contemplation of its approaching advent should urge men to seek an escape. The prospect is gloomy, and many will not face a gloomy prospect. They dislike allusions to unpleasant subjects. But it is necessary to contemplate such sad truths, that men may be roused by selfish fear when they will not be moved by the love of God.
3. The way of escape is to be found in "giving glory to God." It is returning from rebellion to the service of God, humbling ourselves, rejecting the pride which clings to the old sin, and regarding God alone as worthy of honor, and so submitting to his will and obeying his commands as to glorify him by our acts. To the Christian all this is implied in faith in Christ which involves the humbling of ourselves before him, and our trust in his grace which glorifies his love, and loyalty to his will which honors his rights of royalty.
I. GOD IS THE JUDGE OF KINGS. They are as far beneath God as are the meanest beggars. Their rank is no protection against the execution of Divine justice; their power no security against the consequences of the wrath of God. No earthly honor or power will serve men when they stand before the great throne of judgment.
II. WICKED KINGS WILL MEET WITH SEVERE PUNISHMENT. The greater the privileges they have had, the more have they been able to abuse them, and therefore the greater their guilt. The larger their influence has been, the more harm have they done in using that influence for evil purposes. All who are entrusted with exceptional power should remember that this incurs exceptional responsibility.
III. THE PRIDE OF KINGS WILL BE PUNISHED WITH HUMILIATION. Every sin will have its appropriate retribution. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," not only in the main characteristics, but in particular features. Pride thus naturally sows the seed of shame (Proverbs 29:23).
IV. THE GREATNESS OF THE PRESENT PROSPERITY OF WICKED KINGS WILL ENHANCE THE SUFFERING OF THEIR FUTURE RETRIBUTION. They who stand highest can fall lowest. Poverty is felt more keenly by people who were once in affluence than by the children of the poor. The memory of his former luxuries must have added keenness to the sufferings of Dives in Hades. We are not to infer from this that future retribution is only a compensation for the inequality of the joys and sorrows of this life, that kings will suffer for their very greatness (for the wicked poor will be wretched hereafter, while the good and great will be blessed in the future with heavenly treasures), but that if we are unfaithful, the measure of future distress will necessarily be partly determined by that of present enjoyment. We need not, therefore, be envious of the prosperity of the wicked. Rather it should fill us with horror, grief, and pity as we consider what a fool's paradise they live in—what anguish will grow out of the contrast of it with the certain retribution of all sin!
The Ethiopian's skin and the leopard's spots.
I. SIN BECOMES INHERENT IN THE NATURE OF MEN. The black of the Ethiopian's skin and the spots of the leopard are natural. Sin is, of course, originally unnatural. Yet it is so engrafted into the very life of men that it becomes part of their nature.
1. Men inherit tendencies to evil; e.g. the child of the drunkard is likely to feel strong temptation to intemperance, etc. We are not to blame for what we inherit; but we do suffer through it. The degraded moral nature is a fact, and one for which the possessor of it suffers, although he will not be responsible for it, nor punished simply for having it, but only for the way in which, with his free-will, he yields to it, and, on his own account, makes it still more corrupt.
2. Men habituate themselves to sin. Habit is second nature. The sin which is willfully chosen becomes a tyrannous habit. We are coloring our very being by the tone of our thoughts and actions. What we do today, that we will be to-morrow. We are the result of our own past deeds. He who speaks or acts a lie becomes a liar; he who indulges in impurity becomes an unclean being; he who follows selfish impulses becomes a creature of selfishness. Thus every man is building up a habitation for his soul by his own deeds. What shall this house be? A temple of divinity? a palace of pure delights? a charnel-house of corruption? or a prison of gloom?
II. THIS INHERENT CONDITION OF SIN MAKES IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR ANY MAN TO IRRADICATE IT.
1. Self-reformation is impossible. Sin is not a mere defilement to be washed off. It is ingrained. It is in the blood, in the life, in the nature. Action is according to character. If the character is corrupt, so must be the action. It is true we are free to do as we will, but so long as our nature is corrupt we shall will to do evil, because the will is part of the nature. But apart from the vexed question of the freedom of the will, every man is conscious of the difficulty of overcoming opposing habits, even when his will is roused against them. When he would do good evil is present with him, and this evil is so strong that it can only be regarded as a law of (corrupted) nature (Romans 7:21-23).
2. Perfect reformation must be sought from God. This must be regeneration (John 3:3). Man can do much with himself, but only God can "create" in him" a clean heart" and make him" a new creature." Therefore, to be born again, we must be born "from above." Regeneration must be the work of the Spirit, which is the brooding source of all life. But this is possible for all (Matthew 19:26). The impossibility for self-reformation should not leave us in sullen indifference, but should rouse us to seek the one sure means of renewal in crucifixion of the old life and spiritual resurrection to a new life, through yielding ourselves up to the influence of the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The marred girdle.
This and the following emblem are intended to symbolize the characters and punishment of pride in spiritual and carnal men respectively. The "girdle" of linen cloth worn by the priest represents the close relation of Judah and Jerusalem to Jehovah. He had chosen them, and taken them into closest fellowship. They were as his cincture to declare his character and glory to men. But they had abused his confidence. For them, therefore, the fate was reserved which is described in connection with the girdle. Where the cleft of the rock was, in Ephrath or Euphrates, is not quite plain; but the probability is that the last-mentioned is really meant, and that a journey to it was indeed made by the prophet.
I. THE DIGNITY AND IDEAL CHARACTER OF GOD'S PEOPLE THUS SET FORTH. The linen girdle worn by the priests was a portion of their appointed and consecrated garments. It represented, therefore, the idea of consecration arising from nearness and closeness. They were highly favored amongst the nations as being brought into immediate relation with Jehovah. "As the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel, and the whole house of Judah, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 13:11). And as the girdle, by bracing the body, becomes a means of strength, so Israel was to be the power of God amongst the nations of the world. They were to be as kings and priests before God, to show forth his righteousness and to execute his will.
II. THE CONDITION UPON WHICH THESE HAVE TO BE MAINTAINED. Simply because they had been so designed in the eternal purpose. They had no security for this position being retained. It would not do for them to rely upon prestige. With spiritual strength relaxed and moral pretty lost, they were no longer fit for the honorable service to which they had been called. It was only as their spiritual life rose to the height of their calling, and maintained itself from age to age by means of Divine truth and continual exercise of faith, that they could expect to retain their privileges. But this Israel was far from seeing. She required, therefore, to be taught the truth of it by experience, and nothing would do this better than that which the symbol suggested. Their outward circumstances and position would be made to correspond with their inward character, so that all men, and even they themselves, would cease to be deceived. This is ever the order of the Divine government. He will set our secret sins in the light of his countenance.
II. THE MESSENGER OF GOD SHOULD SPARE NO EFFORT TO EMBODY AND ENFORCE THE TRUTH HE HAS TO DECLARE. Whether Ephrath in Israel or Euphrates was meant, a journey of considerable length had to be taken, and much trouble was involved. But the prophet did not grudge this if thereby he might appeal through the imagination the more forcibly to the heart of his people. So sometimes ancient prophets had to submit to themselves being made signs that were spoken against. There can be no question that the manner adopted by the prophet of illustrating his message was most effective and striking. And it was clear even to the simplest understanding. An illustrative style of discourse is carefully to be distinguished from a florid one; and anything which conveys more vivid impressions to one's self is more likely to add impressiveness and vivid force to what one has to say to others. This going to Euphrates on the part of the prophet was quite an important business, but it was justified by its result. And so preachers should spare no pains to link the truth of God with the actions, the experiences, and the interests of men.—M.
Jeremiah 13:12, Jeremiah 13:15
Broken pitchers; or, worldly sufficiency and its punishment.
I. THE SIGNS OF THIS DISPOSITION. The threatenings of God are interpreted as if they had been truisms of blessing justified by the unbelievers' own experience. The prophet is therefore despised, and his message wrested from its original meaning. The people were so oblivious to their own guilt that they looked forward without fear to the future, or they professed to do so. They had clothed themselves in triple armor of self-sufficiency against Divine warnings. So the worldly mind continually prophecies good for itself instead of evil, and inverts the messages of Divine grace. The sharpest experiences and most signal reverses are not enough to rid it of this folly, and thereby it condemns itself.
II. HOW IT IS DEALT WITH BY GOD. That this is provoking to the Divine mind is evident. It is a fresh element added to the guilt already denounced. The insult to the messenger of God must be avenged, and this is accomplished:
1. By removing all ambiguity from his words. Their real meaning is explained so that no one can mistake it. In this pointed disillusion there is the greater emphasis imparted to the original message. God will not suffer any one to remain in ignorance of his final destiny, whether it be good or evil.
2. The doom already predicted is repeated with expressions of Divine determination and anger. Civil discord and national destruction are plainly set forth, and whilst these take place the ear of an offended God is turned away. He will "not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them."
III. IT IS WELL, THEREFORE, FOR MEN TO GIVE REVERENT HEED TO DIVINE WARNINGS AND INSTRUCTIONS. Sometimes in the history of the Church omens, dreams, and visions have been given whose meaning was not clear, but on prayerful solicitation it has been revealed. Willful blindness cannot escape punishment, because it provokes the just anger of God. But to those who ask in humble inquiry what the will of the Lord may be, he will return a gracious answer, and declare how the evil may be averted.—M.
Days of grace and how they should be spent
The mind of the prophet was full of the doom which he had predicted, and he was apprehensive of the spiritual results of exile and confusion with heathen nations. The people themselves, however, did not exhibit any such anxiety. They treated his words as idle tales, or as the expression of ill nature and enmity. The relation of these two is a typical one. From age to age the preacher of righteousness urges his pleas and presses for immediate attention to reformation of life. As constantly those addressed put off the needed repentance and waste the time which is afforded them for working out their salvation.
I. THE PRESENT IS TO BE REGARDED AS A GRACIOUS OPPORTUNITY FOR REPENTANCE AND SPIRITUAL SERVICE. The element of time in these, as in other prophecies, is left for the most part indefinite. Exact dates would defeat the purpose the message of the prophet has in view. It was sufficient for him to impress upon them that there would be but a short time between the present and the fate he had described. It was a sign of God's grace that he had been sent to warn them. They were to listen to his voice as to the voice of Jehovah. And in the event of repentance, that which was near at hand might be indefinitely postponed or altogether averted. But in any case the really essential work of repentance ought to be done whilst they had clear views of the nature of their sin and the requirements of God's Law. From Joshua 7:19 it is evident that the phrase, "Give glory to the Lord," meant nothing else than to repeat. It suggests the honor of God, which is acknowledged and felt by the humbled sinner as he bows before the footstool of grace and tells out the dark history of his sin. The lower he is in his own estimation the higher is that throne of glory before which he lies prostrate. And at such a time the grandest conceptions are given of the greatness, the power, and the love of God. His forgiveness shines forth in new, unspeakable splendor. And the restored sinner is eager to declare to others the grace which he himself has received. But all this is necessarily a work of time, and demands for its adequate fulfillment the full possession of our faculties and the clearest perceptions of truth.
II. THE RISKS INCURRED BY DELAY IN THESE DUTIES ARE THEN DESCRIBED. The figure is that of a traveler in a mountainous region who loses his way amongst the dark rocks until eventually the deepening gloom leaves him in despair and death. The picture is very vivid, and appeals to the deepest human feeling. It suggested the mental and spiritual confusion which were likely to arise from unlooked-for reverses, from captivity in a heathen land, and from forgetfulness of the traditions of Israel. But it is even more truly correspondent with the condition of those who have delayed making their peace with God until they have suffered mental eclipse, or been overtaken by the terror, the weakness, etc; of a death-bed. The worth of "a death-bed repentance" has been rightly discounted by every preacher and writer of the Church. There is but one instance of such a thing in Scripture. It is but seldom that resolutions formed under such circumstances, in the event of restoration to health, avail against the temptations and lifelong habits of the sinner. ― M.
(See on Jeremiah 10:19.)—M.
Moral helplessness: how induced.
I. THE EXTENT TO WHICH IT MAY GO. The metaphors employed are intended to illustrate the difficulty of getting rid of that which has become a part of one's self, or which has become natural to one. It is evident that superficial means would never produce the effect supposed, because that which seems to be superficial has really its root in the nature, and would be reproduced similarly in place of that which was removed. The doctrine is that there are certain evils into which men fall which may appear to be external, matters of custom and observance, but which have really their origin in the depravity of the heart. Any merely external reform, like that of Josiah, would fail to effect a permanent change, because the source of the errors and transgressions which were corrected was deeper than the remedy could reach. And this is the case with the sins of men. To cease to do evil we have not only to stay the hand but to purify the heart. To cease to do evil we must cease to think it, to feel it, and to conceive it. So helpless is the sinner when he stands face to face with the problem of reformation. Effort after effort is made and fails. It is bound to fail because the source of the wrong-doing has net been rectified. To change himself—who is capable of this feat?
II. CAUSES OF IT, REAL AND UNREAL. Excuses readily suggest themselves to the sinner who would avoid the humiliation of repentance. He may ask the question, as if it were a mystery, "Wherefore come these things upon me?" Or, ignoring the witness of conscience, he may attribute his weakness to circumstances and external influences. This is the error which the prophet refutes. With great skill he shows the terrible power of habit: how men continue to do that which they have been doing simply because they have been doing it. The feet acquire a fatal facility in transgression, and the, hands a skill in working evil. They almost act automatically when things forbidden are suggested. But when the commandments of God are concerned they are unfamiliar with the duties enjoined, and the will is not resolute enough to persevere in them.
III. ITS GREAT REMEDY. Seeing that in himself the sinner is without strength, it would appear at first as if he could only despair. But this is not the teaching of the prophet. He has already counseled vigorous effort, and implied that a commencement and continuance in well-doing were possible. But the change could only begin at a spiritual point, viz. repentance. And this, as Scripture abundantly shows, though within the power of every one, is a supernatural grace. A true sorrow for sin may be induced in answer to prayer, by the study of Scripture, and the contemplation of Christ; but it is always the work of the Holy Spirit. When that grace, however, has once been attained, it is open to the sinner to reverse the process by which he has been enslaved. After conversion evil habit will assert itself, and can only be met by constant dependence upon Divine grace and constant effort after holiness. The good habit formed by repeated and regular actions according to the Law of God is the best antidote to the evil one.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The ruined girdle; or, it may be too late to mend.
The much-needed lesson of this section was taught by means of one of those acted parables of which we have so many instances both in the Old Testament and in the New: e.g. Zedekiah's horns of iron (1 Kings 22:11); the strange marriages of Isaiah 8:1, Hosea 1:2; the two yokes (Jeremiah 27:2); and in the New Testament, our Lord's standing the little child in the midst of the disciples; the washing the disciples' feet; the withering of the fig tree; the taking of Paul's girdle (Acts 21:11), etc. The present instance seems very strange, and to us it would have appeared unmeaning, uncouth, and simply grotesque. But to Orientals, and especially to Jews, the dramatic action of the prophet—for we regard what is here said as having been literally done—would be very impressive. It was a strange garb for the prophet to be arrayed in. It would attract attention, be the subject of much comment, and, when the prophet continued to wear it, though soiled and in much need of washing, this would cause more comment still, and would indicate to the people that the strange garb and conduct of the prophet had meaning and intent which it would be well for them to give heed to. Then the taking of the girdle to Euphrates—whatever place be meant—burying it there, leaving it; and then finding it and fetching it back, and no doubt exhibiting it, ruined, worthless, good for nothing;—all this would rivet the people's attention, and deeply impress their minds. Now, one evident, if not the chief, lesson designed to be taught by this to us curious procedure, was the irreparable ruin that would come upon the people through the exile and captivity which they were by their sin bringing upon themselves. Many, no doubt, had comforted themselves with the idea—as is the manner of all transgressors—that if trouble did come to them it would not be so bad as the prophet made out. They would get over it, and be but little the worse. This dramatic parable was designed to shatter all such notions, and to show that Judah, like the much-marred girdle, would be, after and in consequence of their exile, "good for nothing." Note, then—
I. THE FIRST PART OF THE PARABLE—THE GIRDLE WORN. This would encourage their delusion. For the likening of them to a girdle, especially to a linen girdle—a priestly and therefore a sacred vestment-and to a chosen and purchased girdle, would vividly declare to them how precious they were in God's sight.
1. For as the girdle (Hosea 1:11) was worn close to the person of the wearer, it denoted how very near to the heart of God they were who by this similitude were set forth. The known favor of God led them, as it had led others, to presume that they could never try God too much. He would be sure to bear with them and forgive them, do what they might.
2. Then the girdle was a portion of the dress most necessary to the wearer, and so denoted how necessary his people were to God. Had not God said, over and over again, in every variety of way, "How can I give thee up? how can I make thee as Sodom?" (Hosea 11:8; Jeremiah 9:7) As the girdle was indispensable to the comfort, the decorousness, the strength of the wearer, so God taught by this figure that he could not do without his people.
3. Moreover, as the girdle was adorned and ornamented, and thus was a most valuable portion of the dress, so it showed that his people were to God a cherished ornament and praise. They were to be to him "for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory" (Hosea 1:11). And as such God had worn this girdle and put it on him. And his people knew all this, and presumed upon it.
II. THE SECOND PART—THE GIRDLE UNCLEANSED. This would show wherefore their ideas must be a delusion. "Put it not in water" (Hosea 1:1). The prophet was hidden to wear it in this soiled and foul condition, and no doubt he did so. It would provoke the contempt, which adornments associated with uncleanliness ever excite. But its intent in thus being worn unwashed was to depict the moral state of those to whom the prophet was sent. As they would put away from them a soiled and unclean girdle, so they were to learn that God, though he might bear long with a morally unclean people, would not always do so. And—
III. THE THIRD PART OF THE PARABLE—THE GIRDLE PUT AWAY. This would show that their presumptuous ideas were actually a delusion. The girdle was so spoiled by its burial by the Euphrates that it was henceforth "good for nothing." And all this came true. It was but a miserable remnant of the people that came back from Babylon, and as an independent nation they have never since regained the position that they then lost. All their national glory came to an end; the lesson of the marred girdle was literally fulfilled.
IV. THE WHOLE A PARABLE THAT HAS MANY APPLICATIONS. TO Churches, to individuals, to all the gifted of God's grace in time, talents, opportunities, and, above all, in the presence and help of the Holy Spirit. They will be tempted to presume, to think they can never forfeit these things, that God will be ever gracious to them as he has been in the past. This parable is a word for all such, and should prompt the earnest and constant putting up of the psalmist's prayer, "Keep back thy servant … from presumptuous sins," etc.—C.
Vessels of wrath.
This is another similitude having the same general purpose as the former one. "Every earthen flagon (cf. Jeremiah 48:12)—the inhabitants of Jerusalem, her king, her priests, and prophets—will be filled with the wine of the intoxicating beverage of God's wrath (cf. Jeremiah 25:15; Isaiah 28:7; Isaiah 51:17; Ezekiel 23:31; Psalms 60:3; Psalms 75:8) given them as a punishment for the pride and cruelty and impiety which they drank greedily as wine; cf. Revelation 14:8; Revelation 18:3, where the harlot drinks the wine of her own fornication and gives it to others, and intoxicates herself and them with it (Revelation 17:2; Revelation 18:6), and therefore God gives her the cup of his wrath, and she reels under it" (Wordsworth). The awful threatenings of these verses teach us much concerning the characteristics of those whom the Lord "will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy" (Revelation 18:14).
I. THEY GRADUALLY BECOME VESSELS OF WRATH. Not till they are filled with their intoxicating sin are they certainly to be so called. But this goes on day by day.
II. THEY COME TO JEER AND MOCK AT BOTH THE MESSAGE AND THE MESSENGERS GOD SENDS TO WARN THEM. Revelation 18:12, "Do we not certainly know," etc; as if they would say, "Tell us something we do not know." It is an utterance of unbelieving and mocking contempt.
III. THEY ARE AS DRUNKEN MEN: bereft of reason, unable to help themselves or their brethren, the sport of fools, and at the mercy of the most contemptible foe. Either torpid and insensible to all that concerns them, or else filled with fury and lost to all natural affection, hurting and destroying those nearest and dearest to them (Revelation 18:14).
IV. ALL VESSELS, LARGE AND SMALL, ARE FILLED ALIKE. (Revelation 18:13.) Not alone the common people were to be thus filled, but the magnates of the land—king, priests, etc.
V. THEY ARE MUTUALLY DESTRUCTIVE. (Revelation 18:14.) Such is the doom of sin. CONCLUSION. We all are vessels. We all shall be filled. But what with? Pray that it may not be with the wine of the wrath of God, but "with the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:1-21.).—C.
The last results of sin.
I. GOD AND HIS MESSAGE MOCKED.
II. OUR ENTIRE NATURE UNDER ITS CONTROL.
III. ALL RANKS AND ORDERS POSSESSED BY IT.
IV. EVERY MAN'S HAND AGAINST HIS FELLOW.
V. GOD KNOWN ONLY AS THE GOD OF WRATH.—C
Be not proud.
It is difficult to see what those whom the prophet was addressing had to proud of; but it is certain that they were proud, and that thereby they were, more than by aught else, hindered from receiving the word of God. The inflated shape, the mean material, and the easily destroyed nature of those" bottles" to which he had likened them, as well as the arrogant boastful talk of the drunkard, whose doings theirs he predicted should resemble; both these comparisons show how vividly the prophet discerned in them this besetting sin of pride, and the ruin it would be sure to work them. Let us, therefore, note—
I. SOME OF THE REASONS FOR THIS EXHORTATION, "Be not proud."
1. The main reason which the prophet here urges is its antagonism to the Word of God. Now, such antagonism cannot but be, for:
(1) The Word of God despises what men most esteem.
(a) Their own moral worth. How high men's estimate of this! how low that of the Word of God!
(b) Their own capacities. Man deems himself capable of self-support, self-deliverance, and self-salvation. The Word of God tells him he is utterly dependent on God for all things, be he who he may.
(c) The world—its maxims, honors, wealth, etc.
(2) It esteems what men most despise.
(a) Such qualities of mind as meekness, forgiveness of injuries, humility, indifference to the world, great regard to the unseen and the spiritual.
(b) Persons who have nothing but moral excellence to recommend them, be they poor, obscure, and despicable in the world's esteem.
(c) Courses of life which may involve "the loss of all things," so only as we "may be accepted of him."
2. Its other terrible fruits. Some of these are given in the verses following. It will not suffer men to give glory to God; it leads men into deadly peril (Jeremiah 13:16). It causes deep distress to those who care for their souls; it will end in their utter ruin (Jeremiah 13:17).
II. How OBEDIENCE MAY BE RENDERED TO IT. Probably there is nothing but that threefold work of the Holy Spirit of which our Lord speaks which will ensure such obedience. Pride is too deeply rooted in the hearts of men to yield to any lesser force but:
1. The conviction of sin—destroying all man's self-complacency.
2. Of righteousness—filling him at the same time with admiration of the righteousness of Christ, with despair of attainment of it, but with joy that, though he cannot have it in himself, he yet has it by virtue of his faith in Christ.
3. Of judgment—destroying the supremacy of the world over his mind, and so delivering him from the temptation to its pride. This work of the Holy Spirit lays the axe at the root of the tree, and ere long hews it down. Let, then, this Holy Spirit be sought in all sincerity, and let his guidance be ever followed; so shall "the mind of Christ" be increasingly formed in us, and we shall learn of him who was "meek and lowly in heart," and so find rest in our Souls.—C.
Jeremiah 13:16, Jeremiah 13:17
Lost upon the dark mountains.
"Give glory to the Lord," etc.
I. THE SCENE PORTRAYED. It is that of unhappy travelers overtaken by night, when crossing some of the perilous mountain tracks of Palestine. A traveler overtaken as these seem to have been by a night storm, is in imminent danger of falling over precipices and perishing miserably. Even by day the way is perilous: the paths are easily lost, or are strewn with rocks, or they lead along steep and slippery slopes, or by overhanging cliffs, where a single foot slip may plunge the heedless passenger headlong to a frightful death in the far depths below. But how much more dangerous such journey must be when night overtakes the travelers, is evident. The fading light has gone, but the journey has still to be pursued. And now comes that stumbling upon the dark mountains, which is so terrible and inevitable. There is the anxious looking for the fitful light of moon or stars, and occasionally hope arises that the clouds will break and some glimmer appear. But this hope has been speedily quenched by the clouds gathering over again, and with the added darkness of the rain-storm, so that the darkness is "gross," like unto that of the shadow of death. Every step, therefore, is fraught with frightful peril, and not a few thus benighted amid such mountain passes perish miserably ere the morning dawn. Such is the scene portrayed.
II. THAT WHICH IT REPRESENTS.
1. The temporal calamities which God sends—as to the Jews—in punishment for their sins. All earthly distress has the sad tendency to unhinge the mind, to fill with foreboding fear, and greatly to perplex and overwhelm; but when to the natural effects of such earthly distress there is added the consciousness of guilt and of having deserved what God has sent, then the dismay, distress, and despair which are suggested by the prophetic picture are miserably increase.
2. The hardened sinner's despair of God's mercy. The vision of judgment and wrath has come upon him, but the remembrance of his sins crushes hope of mercy (cf. Judas "going out and hanging himself").
3. The entanglements of sin. It is a great mistake to imagine that those who are enslaved by any sin are happy in it. Not a few of them endure a very hell in their frantic but futile endeavors to break the chain which long indulgence has forged and fastened around them. The bitter repentance, the unavailing remorse, every gleam of hope of deliverance so soon quenched, the recklessness of despair, the groaning as of the prisoner appointed to death,—all these are realities known to the slaves of sin, and should make every soul shudder lest the like should come upon him.
4. The procrastinator's death-bed. He who has been convinced over and over again that he ought to seek the Lord, but has ever put it off,—his feet are likely to "stumble upon the dark mountains "when the night of the shadow of death draws upon him.
III. HOW SUCH MISERY MAY BE AVOIDED. It was very near: the prophet's words imply that the' oft-threatened doom was at their very doors. And so the like doom may be near to many now. But yet it may be avoided. Giving heed to God's Word (Jeremiah 13:15). We have much hope when we see an earnest heeding of that Word, a really serious attention paid to it. But that by itself is not enough. There must be the actual "giving glory to God;" by confession of sin, acknowledging the wrong done; by casting the soul on God for forgiveness in lowly trust; by forsaking the evil that has roused the just anger of God. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man," etc.
IV. THE GREAT REASON FOR FEAR THAT THIS MISERY WILL NOT BE AVOIDED AFTER ALL. It was and it ever is the accursed pride (Jeremiah 13:15, Jeremiah 13:17) that will not allow of such giving heed to the Divine Word and such giving glory to him. All the instincts of the unrenewed heart are up in arms against such self-abasement. Any sacrifice will be brought rather than that of the broken and contrite heart.
V. THE UTTERLY HOPELESS CONDITION OF THOSE THUS LOST. (Jeremiah 13:17.) See the prophet's piteous tears. He can do nothing—every resource has been tried and failed, and he can but "weep sore in secret places" for the "pride" that has ruined those he would fain have saved. Oh then, sinful heart, down, down before thy God, and "give glory to him," as he would have thee do, as it is so fight and reasonable and good for thee to do, as the ministers of God entreat thee to do.—C.
The neglected trust demanded.
"Where is the flock that was given thee," etc.? This word is addressed to the rulers of Judah and Jerusalem. Their people, the nation over whom they ruled, were God's flock, his "beautiful flock." That flock had been entrusted to the rulers' care. The influence of those in power was very great. As were the leaders of the people—especially the king—so were the people themselves. They could be led like a flock, and were so. Tremendous, therefore, was the responsibility of those in power, to whom was entrusted this flock of the Lord. But they had used their great authority and power badly. Ruin had come or was about to come upon the flock (cf. Jeremiah 13:18, Jeremiah 13:19); they were to be scattered, scattered wholly, and the greater portion of them lost. To these careless and guilty shepherds the Lord now comes, and asks for the flock he had placed in their hands. "Give an account of thy stewardship," was said to those who were to be no longer stewards because of their faithlessness. Now, this question, "Where is the flock," etc.? is one which should be often heard sounding in the ears of many others besides those to Whom it was first addressed, e.g.—
I. TO THE PASTORS OF THE CHURCH. The Church of God is his flock, his "beautiful flock." Its members are very dear to him, "purchased with his own blood." The Church is given, entrusted, to pastors. When Christ ascended up on high he gave some "pastors." This method of ordering his Church is the one he has willed. His blessing has evidently rested on it. What does not the Church of God owe to her faithful pastors? But whatever their character they cannot but have great influence. They are trusted by the people. They have received special gifts for their work in the form of mental and moral endowments. They are much prayed for. They are specially set apart for the charge of the Church of God. They have every inducement to fidelity. Faithful, the love of their charge will gather round them; the fear of God will dwell within them; the crown of life awaits them. And these mighty motives, acting upon hearts already prepared by God's grace and devoted to this high office, have for the most part secured a great degree of fidelity in it. Hence a character and reputation have become associated with the office, which cannot but invest with much influence, as it does with much responsibility, all those who occupy it. But in spite of all this there may be, as there has been at times, great unfaithfulness. Hence the flock has been scattered. The Church has suffered in numbers, in purity of doctrine, in consistency of life, in spirituality of character. Its enjoyment in all holy service goes; its power for good in the neighborhood where it dwells goes; its regard for all that marks vigorous life in a Church all goes; and ere long its "candlestick is removed out of its place." Perhaps its numbers may not greatly diminish. There shall be the observance of the sabbath, its services, its sermons, its sacraments—orderly, Pedlar, frequent. Many things may conduce to this. Its name may live, but it is dead. Oh, the awfulness of this! And if it have been through the negligence and unfaithfulness of the pastor, who shall deliver him from the charge of blood-guiltiness which will lie at his door? What will he answer when the question is addressed to him, as one day it surely will be, "Where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock?" Let every pastor of Christ's Church consider this and pray—
"Chief Shepherd of thy chosen sheep,
From death and sin set free,
Let every under-shepherd keep
His eye intent on thee."
II. TO ALL PARENTS. Our children are the Lord's flock, his "beautiful flock." They are very dear to him. He puts his arm round every one of them; he takes them all up in his arms and blesses them. He declares by his Word and by their baptism that they are of his kingdom, and he both promises vast reward to those that receive them in his Name, and threatens with dreadful doom all those who "offend" them. But parents have unspeakable influence over them. They mould and fashion them, not in outward form and habits alone, but in inward character. For a long time they are as God to their children, who know no higher authority, no higher help. Hence they trust their parents utterly. And to guard against the abuse of this tremendous trust, God has implanted the instincts of parental love, and given every motive to parents to guard and keep well those he has entrusted to their care. Now, if through parental unfaithfulness those children become renegades from God, he will surely ask this question, "Where is the flock," etc.? Let remembrance of this lead to earnest prayer and diligent heed so that each parent at last may have the unspeakable joy—as he may have—of standing at last before God, and saying, with glad thankfulness, "Behold, here am I, and the children, thou hast given me."
III. TO EVERY INDIVIDUAL SOUL. For the sum of all the faculties, opportunities, talents, the whole of the varied gifts and capacities which together form our spiritual nature—judgment, affection, conscience, intellect, will,—all these are the flock of God which is entrusted to every individual man; and by due care and cultivation of them he can preserve and develop them into an offering of worship and consecration which God will ever accept and bless. Every man has the making of his own life by the help of God. There is scarce any degree of honor and joy which he may not win by faithfulness in the use of that which God has entrusted to him. Concerning them all God says, "Occupy till I come." And how vast and varied is the help God gives to us in this great work! What means of grace are provided! What recompense even here and now is given! Victory over self; a mind at peace; blessed influence over others; the love and esteem of the good; free communion and intercourse with God himself; the consciousness of the Divine love; the bright and blessed hope of the eternal life hereafter. So that even now "in keeping of God's commandments there is great reward." But if we be unfaithful here and waste all our goods—these high gifts, faculties, and opportunities—sowing to the flesh when we should be sowing to the Spirit, then this question will be heard concerning all these things, "Where is the flock," etc.? And then we search in vain for any answer to the next question (Jeremiah 13:21), "What wilt thou say when he shall punish thee?" Therefore let us each keep continually before our minds such truths as those that are taught in the well-known hymn—
"A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save
And fit it for the sky.
"Help me to watch and pray,
And on thyself rely;
Assured if I my trust betray
I shall forever die."
Jeremiah 13:21, Jeremiah 13:22
Sin its own scourge.
I. THERE ARE OTHER SCOURGES FOR SIN. The direct and positive inflictions of the Divine wrath. Not alone the Bible but the great books of history and experience must all be denied if we deny such positive punishment of sin. Never has there been yet any system of laws for moral beings which has been left to be simply self-acting, and which therefore have had no positive sanctions of penalty for transgression added. And God's Law is not such. As the Jews and other nations and individuals have found, and as the unrepentant will find hereafter, if not now, God's Word upon this matter is most assuredly true.
II. BUT SIN IS ITS OWN SCOURGE. That scourge is woven and knotted with many cords.
1. Conscience, ever passing sentence of judgment.
2. Habits of wrong-doing, hateful but fast clinging to the soul, and by which it is "tied and bound."
3. The manifold difficulty of repentance. The man would heartily turn from his evil way, but he has got into the current just above the falls, and it is bearing him on and down, resist as he will.
4. The sight of children, companions, etc; corrupted and perhaps ruined by our evil example. Oh, what a horror is this: seeing those whom, for every reason human and Divine we were bound to cherish and guard from evil, cursed by our sin!
5. The moral disapprobation of the good around us. Their sentence of condemnation is felt to have a binding power. What they "bind on earth is bound in heaven."
6. The "fearful looking for of judgment." Such are some of the cords which, woven together, make up the dreadful scourge wherewith sin scourges itself.
III. AND THIS SELF-MADE SCOURGE IS THE MOST TERRIBLE OF ANY. Deep and unfathomable as were the sufferings of our Lord, he distinctly declared that those coming on his enemies were worse. "Weep not for me," he said, "but weep for yourselves, and for your children If they do these things in a green tree," etc. It is evident, therefore, that suffering in which the consciousness of sin enters must be worst of all. Those "stripes by which we are healed," though they "ploughed deep furrows" on the body of our blessed Lord, yea, upon his inmost soul, still there are stripes more terrible even than they. The quenchless fire of God's positive inflictions would be more tolerable were it not for the gnawing of that undying worm—the sinner's own remorse. Are not they, then, "fools" indeed who "make a mock at sin"?—C.
An awful condition indeed.
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin," etc.? This verse tells of one who as brought himself to such a pass that he cannot cease from sin. It is an awful condition indeed. Note—
I. SOME OF THE ELEMENTS WHICH MAKE IT SO. They are:
1. The memories of a better past. There was a time when his soul was unsullied, his hands clean, his heart pure, his life unstained; when he could hold up his head in conscious integrity by the grace of God. But that is all gone.
2. The prostration of his will He is continually making resolves, but they are frail as cobwebs, they are broken through by the slightest temptation now. The power to firmly and steadfastly resolve seems gone from him. He has resolved so often, but in vain, that his will now refuses to rise to the endeavor.
3. The powerlessness of all means of deliverance. He attends God's house, he reads the Scriptures, he kneels in prayer, he goes to the Lord's table still it may be, but they have lost their power to hold him back from his sin. They seem to be of no use at all.
4. The fearful on look to God's judgment. He sees it coming swiftly upon him. He is ever terrified at the near approach of the day when he will be utterly lost. "Lost! lost!" he is ever saying to himself. He fears exposure, he fears the final doom, and knows not how to escape.
5. Shame is the presence of the good. He is haunted by the feeling, "If they but knew me as I am!" and he knows the day is coming when they will know, and he will be cast out as vile.
6. The thought of the misery and shame he will bring upon others. Perhaps he has wife, children, father, mother, a number of friends and relations, whom he knows he will drag down with him in his own ruin.
7. The temptation to recklessness born of despair. Satan is ever suggesting to him that, as he cannot regain what he has lost, he had better take Ms fill of such pleasure as he has. And too often he yields.
8. The perversion of his understanding. It is his interest to believe there is no God, and hence his intellect is busy in gathering together materials for this belief and for doubting and denying all religions truth. And so he sinks down into atheism and all ungodliness. Yes; his is an awful condition indeed. But consider—
II. SOME COUNSELS, TO THOSE WHOM THESE TERRIBLE TRUTHS CONCERN.
1. Remember you cannot be certain that you have come to this condition. Satan will endeavor to persuade you that there is no hope. But believe him not. You are lost if you believe him. Steadfastly refuse to believe.
2. If the thought that such should be your condition distresses you, take it as a token for good that God has not given you up.
3. Remember that others have been saved who were as near being lost as you.
4. Rouse yourself to use all means of help which God has given you.
(1) Let there be special seasons of prayer.
(2) Avoid the occasions of your sin.
(3) Put every hindrance you can in the way of your Sin; such as altering your manner of life, avoiding being alone, reading such Scriptures and such books as will tend to deepen your sense of the sin and show you how to escape from it.
(4) Avail yourself of the counsels of some wise and godly friend.
(5) Fill up your time, hands, and thoughts with useful and absorbing work.
(6) Do not despise small victories; they lead on to greater ones.
(7) "Pray without ceasing. Remember that God is able and has promised to "save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Christ." Thus doing, even thou shalt be saved.—C.
The one thing needful.
"Wilt thou not be made clean? When," etc.?
I. MEN ARE SPIRITUALLY UNCLEAN. Like as the Lord looked down upon the occupants of the porches at Bethesda, and saw but a multitude of impotent folk (John 5:1-47.); so now, as "his eyes behold the children of men," he sees a similar though a far more terrible sight—the mass of mankind spiritually diseased. This is manifestly true of the heathen world. The abominations and the cruelties that are practiced there show the virulence of the soul's malady amongst them. And if we look at the mass of those who profess and call themselves Christians, in how many of these is the profession only, a veneer of religious customs covering a corrupt and sin-loving heart. And if it be so with the professing Church, what must it be with those who reject all the means of grace which the Christian Church enjoys?
II. BUT GOD GREATLY DESIRES THAT MEN SHOULD BE DELIVERED FROM THIS UNCLEANNESS. "He will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." He desires this:
1. From his very nature. He himself is the most holy God. But all moral qualities ever strive to reproduce themselves in those around them. Let a man be characterized by orderliness, truthfulness, sobriety, purity, and in proportion as he is so the contact of those of opposite character will be painful to him, and he will endeavor to make them like himself. And so, because "good and upright is the Lord, therefore will he teach sinners in the way."
2. His righteousness also. The sense of outrage and wrong which sin must produce in the heart of God makes him angry with the wicked every day.
3. His compassion. Sin is sorrow. We wonder at the priests of Baal persisting in cutting and wounding themselves. But is not every sinner just such a one? And with this added sorrow—that their wounds are for eternity, and not for the short lira here alone. On the other hand, to be "made whole" spiritually is to be made blessed forever.
III. YET MEN WILL NOT. The tone of the question, the woe which precedes it, the comparison of the sinner with the Ethiopian and the leopard, etc. (Jeremiah 13:23), the half-despairing cry, "When shall it once be?" (Jeremiah 13:27),—all this shows the prophet's conviction of man's persistent clinging to his sin. Were the question concerning bodily disease, it would be unnecessary. Who would not be delivered from that? But when it is spiritual healing, men will not. From the consequences of their sin they are willing to be delivered—the punishment, the remorse, the shame, etc.—but not from the sin itself. True, at times, in the first keen pangs of remorse, and under the vivid sense of shame, they would be willing then to be rid of the sin itself. But their return to their sin shows how momentary and superficial this feeling was. And men would be willing, perhaps, if by some one act the whole cure could be effected; if the being made whole was not so slow, so difficult, so self-denying a process. And, in fact, they do hope that by some one act—a death-bed repentance—the whole process will be accomplished.
IV. BUT WITHOUT MAN'S OWN CONSENT HE CANNOT BE MADE WHOLE. God does not by a mere act of power make a man spiritually whole, as he makes one tree an oak, another an elm. The will must consent. We have this awful power of compelling Christ to "stand at the door and knock;" for the door of our hearts is opened from the inside. We must undo the bolts and remove the bars. No view of the Holy Sprat s influence which contradicts this can be a true view. We can, and alas! do, say "No" to God. But also we can, and he is ever pleading with us to, say "Yes" to his call.
V. BUT ONE DAY IT SHALL BE GIVEN. "My people shall be willing in the day of my power." Christ wept over Jerusalem, but yet he told them that when next he came they should say, "Blessed be he that cometh in the Name of the Lord; el. also the predicted repentance of the Jews, "They also which pierced him," etc. (Zechariah 14:1-21.). But oh, what "everlasting burnings," what awful scourgings, has Jerusalem had to go through before, like the prodigal, she came to herself! Let none abuse this doctrine. If we will say "Yes" to God now, and come to Christ in loving self-surrender, we shall find his yoke easy and his burden light; but if we will say "No," then we shall have to come to ourselves; and what may not that involve? Truly, "now is the accepted time," etc.—C.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
A solemn warning.
This is an appeal to the fears of the people; one of the many instances in which the prophet seeks to win them to the way of righteousness by the presage of impending woe. Utter destruction is before them (Jeremiah 13:14), the twilight is fast deepening into "gross darkness." But even now it is not too late for them to avert the calamity by their repentance. It is not mainly through their fears that Christianity exerts its influence over men. But, as many of the discourses of Christ show, men may sometimes sink into conditions of moral insensibility from which only an alarming voice will awaken them. And the gospel has its side of terror. Even the gracious Savior and his apostles spoke of" wrath to come." Consider
(1) the duty,
(2) the motive.
I. THE DUTY. "Give glory to your God." Several distinct elements of thought and life are involved in this.
1. A recognition of the sacred and indissoluble relation in which we stand towards God. However we may have forsaken him, he is still "the Lord our God." We are still his dependent creatures, his needy children. To please him, to serve his purposes, to show forth his glory, must, in the very nature of things, be the end of our existence. All religious life begins with the devout acknowledgment of this supreme personal relationship.
2. A due sense of the claims God has, on the ground of what he is in himself, on our regard. The true glory of the Divine Being is his infinite moral perfections. When Moses said, "I beseech thee show me thy glory," God answered, "I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the Name of the Lord before thee." We "give glory to God" when, gazing upon the beauty and majesty of his intrinsic moral excellences, we yield back to him a due response of reverence, and admiration, and trust, and love.
3. Practical surrender to his service. "Glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:20). The actual homage of a godly life is indicated here—the consecration of all the powers of our nature as a "living sacrifice upon the altar of the Lord. If the Name of the Lord our God is hallowed in our hearts, we shall thus give ourselves and our all to him. Practical goodness akin to his own is the best and most acceptable tribute we can pay. We honor him most when we most strive to be like him in all holy character and Godlike deed.
II. THE MOTIVE. "Before he cause darkness," etc. Here is a prospect that may well awaken fear. Something more than mere external calamity is suggested. There is internal distress, mental perplexity and bewilderment; a condition in which the spirits of the people become a prey to all kinds of misleading and deluding influences, wildly groping after a good that is lost and gone from them forever. Few pictures of imagination could be sadder than that of men looking and longing for the light, only to find the darkness growing more and more deep and dense around them. It is often something like this when men are unfaithful to their real convictions and negligent el the acknowledged claims of God. Trifle with truth and conscience, and you cannot wonder that truth should become to you a mere mocking shadow, and conscience a perpetual foe to your peace. Despise the sacred privileges and obligations of life, and you make them to be sources of heavy condemnation. Let the light be scorned or abused, and it turns into "the shadow of death." "Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth" (John 12:35).—W.
A moral impossibility.
This passage expresses the hopelessness of the prophet as regards the success of any human effort to persuade the people to forsake their evil ways, or by any efforts of their own to save themselves. It suggests—
I. THE INVETERACY OF SIN.
1. Arising from the depravity of nature. The dark spots and the ebon skin have a hidden cause. Sins are the natural outcome of sin. All forms of wrong-doing are but symptoms on the surface of a secret moral disease. "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts," etc. (Matthew 15:19).
2. The force of habit. "Use is second nature." Custom has a power over men that rivals that of native propensity. As good habit is a most effective educator of every form of virtue, so, on the other hand, when habit has been allowed to foster the evil tendencies of a man's nature, he becomes hopelessly "tied and bound with the chain of his sins."
II. THE MORAL IMPOTENCE IT ENGENDERS. Sin not only corrupts the springs of a man's moral life, but paralyzes all his nobler powers, robs him of the ability to act out the better instincts of his nature. The voice of natural conscience may not be wholly silenced, the natural heart may not be utterly destitute of good impulses; but there is no redeeming power in these. As well expect the darkness to give birth to light, and life to spring spontaneously out of death, as suppose that a sin-loving, sin-hardened man will of himself forsake his evil ways. He will never be able by his own hand "to pluck the vicious quitch of blood and custom wholly out of him." The complete moral helplessness of humanity was made abundantly evident before the full revelation of gospel grace. It was when we were "without strength" that Christ "died for the ungodly."
III. THE WONDROUS EFFICACY OF THE REGENERATING POWER OF GOD. The most defiled and degraded nature may be transformed by the touch of him who made it. Even the skin of the Ethiopian and the leopard's spots must yield to the sovereignty of the Divine energy. Deep-rooted and habitual as the evil in a man's heart and life may be, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth him from it, and when the Spirit of Christ moulds the substance of his being he becomes "a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).—W.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The marred girdle.
I. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE GIRDLE. This is set before us clearly in Jeremiah 13:11. God chose something which should illustrate the close connection between Israel and himself, and yet which should illustrate at the same time how easily that connection could be severed. The girdle was, of course, a familiar part of an Israelite's apparel. Not exactly a necessity, for a man could perhaps do without it; and yet a necessity in this sense, that habit had made it so. The very function of the girdle was to bind; otherwise it was, as a girdle, of no use. Thus, by likening the people to a girdle, God indicated that, in a certain sense, he had made them necessary to himself. He had placed them in a conspicuous position, where the service they could render was very important. He meant that he and his people should be viewed together; he always in relation to them, they always in relation to him. Hence the variety of terms in which he indicates his purpose in making the children of Israel to be as his girdle. "That they might be unto me for a people." Jehovah was to look on them with a feeling of ownership and mastery Which he was not able to feel with regard to other nations; and they, in turn, were to look up to Jehovah, feeling that all their purposes and actions were to be determined by his will. Jehovah meant that one of the most suggestive and comforting names by which he could be known should be that of the God of his people Israel, and that in turn Israel should be known as the people of Jehovah. In them Jehovah was to be praised; in them he was to be glorified. Other nations might play the part of girdle to their deities, but there was really nothing of substance to gird. But when Jehovah drew Israel to himself, there was the opportunity of a real, glorious, and ever-extending service before them. Other nations chose and fabricated their gods; Jehovah chose and separated Israel, and in doing so intended the connection to be a very close one, and provided all the means by which it might become such.
II. THE INSTABILITY OF THE GIRDLE. The very Israelite who was to be taught lessons by this girdle, when he chose a girdle for himself, was generally able to make it serve his purpose. He would get it of some durable substance, to wear long. Elijah and John the Baptist were girt with leathern girdles. The Israelite, in the girdle with which he was familiar, dealt with that which was altogether under his control. The longer he wore it, the easier he found it, and the more amenable to his touch. If it began to tear and slip, and to slacken and hinder just when it should have been tightest and most helpful, its owner would very soon get rid of it as a deceiving girdle. But while Jehovah could bring his people very close, and compel them in a certain sense to remain with him, he could not make them cleave to him. Cleaving could only be done with purpose of heart, and must be a voluntary action. These people were not as a piece of linen or leather, to be folded exactly as the wearer might choose. If they had been they could not have rendered the service Jehovah wished from them, and in the result they showed that they did not wish to cleave to God. He could not trust them. Again and again he tried them, only to find that they cared nothing for their relation to him, nothing for the golden opportunity of setting forth his praise and glory.
III. THE HUMILIATION OF THE GIRDLE. Jeremiah was told to take this linen girdle and bind it round his loins. Linen was the material of the priests' garments; and was not Israel a consecrated people? Jeremiah, belonging to a priestly family, would easily be able to get hold of a linen girdle; although the directions given to him here would seem to show that this particular girdle was, in some way, to excite special attention. Notice how the instructions were given to the prophet bit by bit. At first he is simply told to put on the girdle. It was there to teach its own lesson to all who had eyes to observe and a disposition towards timely repentance. Then with his girdle he was to take a journey to Euphrates. That such a journey was long, difficult, and dangerous, is true as men count length, difficulty, and danger, but to a prophet the greatest difficulties and dangers come from refusing to take the way of God, however long it may be. Jonah had to go to Nineveh; what is there unreasonable in supposing that Jeremiah had to go to the neighborhood of Babylon? It may have been just as profitable a use of time to take long journeys there as to go on giving testimony against those who resolutely closed their ears. Besides, it was by Euphrates that the girdle Israel was to be marred. It was to be shown to them that, if they would not act as a girdle, they could easily be made useless for any other purpose. If they would not be God's people, they should achieve no position for themselves. If they would not honor the name which he had given them, there was no other name by which they could get distinction. If they would not be to his praise and glory, as the girdle cleaving firmly and serviceably to him, then they should be to his praise and glory as the marred girdle. If we will not do what God wishes us to do, then he takes care that we shall not do what we ourselves wish to do. The girdle brought back from Euphrates was found profitable for nothing. That which is meant for salt of the earth and loses its savor, is thenceforth good for nothing but to be east out and to be trodden underfoot of men.—Y.
Jeremiah 13:15, Jeremiah 13:16
A demand for the timely giving of what is due to Jehovah.
It will be observed that the previous verses of this chapter set forth the doom of Jehovah's apostate people by two very expressive figures. There is the figure of the girdle, marred and become good for nothing by lying so long in the damp recess of the rock. There is also the figure of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, from those high in station down to the common people, every one of them become as it were a living wine-skin, filled with drunken fury, destroying one another and being destroyed. This figure, bordering on the grotesque, presents as impending a very terrible scene. But with the verses now to be considered there returns what we may call an evangelical interval. Though in these prophecies of Jeremiah gloom of necessity predominates, yet there are equally necessary intervals of light, intervals where the mercy of Jehovah is clearly revealed, and his never-falling desire that his people should return to him. There is, of course, practically, no hope for these people so far as their present social state is concerned. They will go on their own way; but to the last God will also make his appeal. Notice now the things which God asks for here.
I. ATTENTION. "Hear ye, and give ear." These people have never really attended to the import of the prophetic messages. Either they have been totally indifferent or they have been irritated by some word they did not like, and so the complete message has fallen uncomprehended upon their ears. For instance, the why and wherefore of the prophet's extraordinary journey to the Euphrates, they did not trouble themselves to consider. And it is plain from Verse 12 how entirely they missed the meaning of the prophet's saying respecting the bottles being filled with wine. The parabolic sentence was to them nothing more than mere commonplace. And of course, so long as attention was lacking, truth was of no use. There is an analogy between the receiving of truth and the receiving of bodily food. As food must be properly introduced into the physical system, so truth must be properly introduced into the mind, brought before the understanding of the individual, firmly grasped by him in its reality, so that it may become a real and beneficial element in the life.
II. HUMILITY. There must be submission to the prophet as a proved messenger from God. Pride is going to be the ruin of these people. The prophet himself was humbly obedient to all commandments of God; why, then, should his audience be proud? The grandees of Jerusalem do not like to be talked to by the comparative rustic from Anathoth. The elders resent remonstrances from a man comparatively young. Those whose boast it perhaps was that they had never been in bondage to any man, do not like to hear of conquest and captivity. There is no getting at truth and right without humility. Because truth means, not only the reception of that which is true, but the casting out of the old and the loved and the often boasted of. It is very hard for a man to cut himself off from the past and show by a very different future how he feels the errors and follies of which he has been guilty. It is hard for the διδάσκαλος like Nicodemus to go down from his chair and become a μαθητής, stumbling among the rudimentary principles of the kingdom of heaven.
III. THE GIVING OF GLORY TO JEHOVAH. "Give glory to Jehovah your God." These people had been giving elsewhere what they reckoned to be glory, but which, so far from being glory, was indeed their own deepest shame. Glory of a certain sort they had plenty of, but they came short of the glory of God. They did not, in the conduct of their life, show a proper response to the wisdom by which God had created them as men and separated them as a people. By their present doings they were exposing the Name of Jehovah to insult and scorn from all round about. This asking for glory to be given was a request reasonable in itself. If a master is a good master, it is not right that his servant should act so as to make the master's reputation suffer. If a father is a good father, it is not right for his child to act as if he had been deprived of all beneficial influences in the way of teaching and training. What is thought of a man who basely forgets his nationality and laughs at the feelings that gather around the idea of fatherland? And hence the Name of Jehovah was a name to be magnified in word and deed and every outcome of life on the part of his people. We ourselves must labor to praise God with our whole hearts. And more than that, we must live as those who show the power of God, saving us and lifting us into an altogether higher life.
IV. THE GIVING OF THIS GLORY PROMPTLY ON ACCOUNT OF PERIL TO THOSE WHO REFUSE TO GIVE. The figure employed is that of a traveler on a journey. He gets into the wrong road, gets indeed altogether out of any proper road; but he persists in mere wandering, refuses to be warned, will not accept guidance back to the proper path. He sees dangers, many dangers; but because it is daylight he manages to escape them. And now, as the darkness momentarily increases, the warnings also increase in urgency. When the darkness is fully come, where will he be. On the mountains, not able to take one confident step in any direction, lest it be over the precipice. Furthermore, in the case of a traveler, he has always this resort, that if darkness comes amid such dangers he can stand still till the return of the dawn. But here is the contrast in that the expected dawn will never come. This rebellious, God-dishonoring generation is virtually walking into captivity of its own accord. As far as it is concerned, it will look in vain for restoration. The restoration will belong, not to it, nor even to its children, but rather to its children's children. Those who wander from God wander into a state where they are self destroyed, because the resources of which they boasted themselves have come to nothing. Glorify God, willingly, in the light, or you will end by glorifying him unwillingly, in the darkness. Think of what came to Herod because he did not give the glory to God.—Y.
A searching question to the shepherd.
The position of a king towards his people wag illustrated by the position of a shepherd towards his flock. Hence the question here was doubtless meant for the special attention of the king. The nation was largely in the hands of the king for the time being. Formal authority belonged to him, and it was generally joined with corresponding power; hence the responsibility by which he was justly held for the exercise of his authority, and yet it is plain that such a question as this could only have a partial application to the responsibilities of any particular king. Whoever the king may have been at the time this prophecy was uttered, it was no "beautiful flock" that had been handed to him. He had received it after the neglect and abuse of many predecessors. The nation itself, considered in its collective capacity and through all its past growth, is here impersonated and addressed. Consider—
I. TO WHAT CLASSES OF PERSONS SUCH A QUESTION AS THIS MAY BE CONSIDERED AS STILL ADDRESSED. Evidently it bears on all who have to do with the government of any people. Just, firm government has much to do—though how much cannot be exactly expressed—with the welfare of every community. The personal conduct and example of governors is also a very important matter. Better kings in Israel might have helped to make a better people, and this influence of government becomes ever a more important thing to recollect, because the people are becoming more and more their own governors. Each individual has only an infinitesimal part, but it is a real part, and therefore the conduct of each most surely affects the aggregate. It is plain how this question bears on the parental relation. It did so bear on Israel of old, and it bears equally on all who have offspring put in their charge, to train as far as they can, for the service of Christ, in their day and generation. Teachers may be said to have a "beautiful flock ' in their charge. The deep influence of Dr. Arnold on his pupils shows how a teacher may bring out all the beauty of his flock. The application to spiritual teachers and pastors under Christ, the great Teacher and Pastor, is obvious. And, generally, every one must consider those around him, on whom, by daily companionship or any way of sufficient contact, he exercises influence. Every one is responsible, not only for that which is formally handed to him, but just as much for all that he can in any way keep. Let no one suppose that he himself has nothing to do but be cared for. Just as we are every one of us sheep in one sense, so we are shepherds in another.
II. WHAT IS REQUIRED IN ORDER TO GIVE THE RIGHT ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION. Nothing but this, that we can truthfully assert ourselves to have been faithful. It cannot be required that we should lose none of the sheep. Not even the most faithful shepherd that trod the pastures of Palestine could manage that. He could only do his best to be provident, watchful, and courageous, so as to be himself free from blame if a sheep was lost or fell a prey to the wild beast. And not one of the kings of Israel or Judah could have said quite so much as this. Some of them, indeed, showed not the slightest notion that sheep had been put into their hands at all. Depend upon it, if there were more of this faithfulness there would be more success in gathering and preserving a flock for God. Faithfulness is the least that can be shown in our relations to others. Of course, meddlesomeness, censoriousness, bigotry, must not be mistaken for it. No good can be done if individual liberty is not respected, but nothing must prevail on us to deviate in the slightest from the line Christ has marked out. Those of Christ's sheep who, being most conscious of their own incapacity to make a way, keep their eyes fixed on the way their Master makes for them, are really doing something of the shepherd's work. Every one living and acting by the rule Christ has given is more of a shepherd than he thinks. Then, for comfort, let it be kept in mind that no faithfulness of ours will prevent the waywardness and willfulness of others. Jesus warned Judas, but Judas went obstinately off into his own way. Paul, faithful as none of us can ever hope to be, had to bewail many who, professing faith, yet walked contrary to the will of Christ. The great thing to be aimed at is that we should be clear from the blood of all men (Acts 20:26-30).
III. It will be seen that this was a question FOR FLOCKS AS WELL AS FOR SHEPHERDS. Rulers are responsible for right leading, but subjects and followers are not altogether as sheep, that they should blindly follow those in formal authority. Truth has not been put within the formal shepherd's exclusive protection. We must take care whom we follow. It is a delusion to suppose that we can hand ourselves over spiritually to the guidance of any one less than Christ. Others may help and suggest; only he can command. Paul came to his hearers with arguments and persuasions, laying before them the truth, which they were able to receive because it was the truth, not because the authority of the speaker made it true. All New Testament preaching goes on the assumption that every one can be fully persuaded in his own mind. The same Scriptures are open to reader as to preacher. None can have their eternal interests periled except by their own negligence.—Y.
A natural impossibility.
I. THE NATURAL IMPOSSIBILITY HERE PRESENTED. It is a profound and momentous truth, God himself being the witness—the heart-searching God—that man who is accustomed to do evil cannot turn to good. This truth is not baldly stated here, but is illustrated in such a way that there can be no possible doubt as to God's meaning. Observe that the impossibility referred to is a natural one. It is not said that under no circumstances whatever can a man accustomed to do evil be enabled to do good. The thing affirmed is that the power of habit and custom is so strong that he cannot turn himself. If we are inclined to doubt this, and indulge in that glorification of human nature which is at once so easy and so perilous, we have only to think of the illustrations here employed. It is vain to discuss with a man who is determined to magnify the power of the natural man towards that which is right and good. The better plan is to assure one's own heart of the truth which God would make plain by these illustrations of his own giving. If any one asserted that an Ethiopian could change his skin or a leopard his spots, he would be reckoned a fool past arguing with. But there are multitudes who think it is very good advice to tell the poor slave of worldliness and passion to be a man and exert the strength of his will and turn away from evil. Now, what God says here by his prophet is that every such attempt must end in disappointment. No doubt there are certain times and stages in life when it is hard to accept such a view. It is a humbling and limiting view, one which exhibits in such an uncompromising way our weakness. But the sooner we come to take such a view—to take it practically and not in a mere speculative manner—to feel that the way of self-recovery and self-perfecting is closed against us, the better it will be for us.
II. THE CONSEQUENT NEED OF A GRACIOUS INTERVENTION. This is not stated here, but we know that it is meant to be remembered. In all such emphatic assertions of human inability there lies the suggestion that we may look confidently and ought to look promptly for abundance of Divine help. God puts his hand on our mouths to step all proud words, but at the same time he would lead us to lay hold of his promises and be filled with his strength. A clear vision of our own inability means a clear vision of the need of Divine intervention, and a clear vision of the need of Divine intervention may be expected to prepare for an equally clear vision of the reality of that intervention. That which measures the impossibilities in the corrupted natural man helps to measure the reasonable purposes and expectations of the man who is renewed by the Spirit of God. When we have got the life that is hid with Christ in God, we have something within us which defies the corruptions so powerful before. The Christian, fall of the Divine Spirit, is found able to utter all sorts of paradoxes. Though he cannot, of himself, make one hair white or black, he can be "suffering, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich." There is a way, then, by which those accustomed to do evil can be brought to do good. There are resources which more than make up for the greatest lack of natural strength. If we only seek for those resources in the right place, we cannot fail to find them.
III. THE TEACHING TO BE DERIVED FROM THE EMPLOYMENT OF THESE PECULIAR ILLUSTRATIONS. Thousands of images were available to show natural impossibilities, but these two are employed. It will be observed that they relate to the alteration of external appearance. God could change the skin of the Ethiopian, could change the spots of the leopard; but he leaves them as they are, because no good purpose could be served by the alteration. Where an alteration is really wanted, he can make it, with results that are profitable now and promise a far greater profit in eternity. So far as the merely agreeable is concerned, it would certainly have been pleasanter for the Negro if those features which make him an object of ridicule to the ignorant, the proud, and the fastidious, were taken away. But it is God's principle to interfere with nature only where sin has made the interference necessary. Many Negroes—God be thanked—have found the better part, the one thing needful; and, compared with this, what is the most disturbing of surface discomforts? Continual comfort at the heart, a comfort which cannot be taken from him, makes him forget all these. There would be no object in changing the spots of the leopard; let us rather rejoice that God takes away from men the leopard-ferocity which makes them as dangerous as any beast of prey. How often we seek vain and useless things, making ourselves miserable over physical defects and peculiarities, and continuing quite indifferent to the washing of the heart from wickedness. Instead of being anxious after things we cannot change and need not change, let us pray and strive after that possible, fundamental, radical change which will bring in due time perfection of the whole man. God, working from the heart, will cause that in due time we shall be perfect and entire, lacking nothing.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20