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Second rejection of Jeremiah's intercession; awfulness of the impending judgment.
Though Moses and Samuel, etc. It is a mere supposition which is here made; there is no allusion to any popular view of the intercession of saints (see my note on Isaiah 63:16). If even a Moses or a Samuel would intercede in vain, the ease of the Judahites must indeed be desperate. For these were the nearest of all the prophets to Jehovah, and repeatedly prayed their people out of grievous calamity (comp. Psalms 99:6). Jeremiah had already sought to intercede for his people (see on Jeremiah 7:16). Cast them out of my sight; rather, Dismiss them from my presence. The people are represented as praying or sacrificing in the fore courts of the temple.
Such as are for death, etc.; a sternly ironical answer. Death, sword, famine, captivity, lie in wait for them in every possible road. "Death" here means "pestilence" (comp. "the black death" in the Middle Ages), as in Jeremiah 18:21; Job 27:15. Similar combinations of evils occur in Jeremiah 43:11; Ezekiel 14:21; Ezekiel 33:27.
Appoint; i.e. give full power to them as my vicegerents (Jeremiah 1:10). Four kinds; literally, families; i.e. kinds of things. The first-mentioned has reference to the living; the remaining ones to the unburied corpses (Jeremiah 14:16; Jeremiah 19:7; Jeremiah 34:20). To tear; rather, to drag along.
Cause them to be removed into; rather, make them a shuddering unto. So in the Deuteronomic curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:25).
For who shall have pity? or, for who can have pity, etc.? (the imperfect in its potential sense). The horror which will seize upon the spectators will effectually preclude pity. Who shall go aside? As one turns aside to call at a house. So Genesis 19:2 (literally, turn aside, not "turn in").
Will I stretch; literally, I stretched—the perfect of prophetic certitude (so in next verse). I am weary with repenting; i.e. with recalling my (conditional) sentence of punishment (see on Jeremiah 18:1-10).
The gates of the land. The phrase might mean either the cities in general (comp. Micah 5:5; Isaiah 3:26) or the fortresses commanding the entrance into the land (comp. Nahum 3:13). The context decides in favor of the latter view. Ewald's explanation, "borders of the earth" (i.e. the most distant countries), seems less natural. I will bereave them, etc. The proper object of the verb is my people (personified as a mother). The population are to fall in war (comp. the same figure in Ezekiel 5:17). The tense is the perfect of prophetic certitude; literally, I have bereaved, etc.
To me; i.e. at my bidding. It is the dative of cause. Against the mother of the young men; rather, upon … young man. The widow has lost her husband, the mother her son, so that no human power can repel the barbarous foe. The word rendered "young man" is specially used for "young warriors," e.g. Jeremiah 18:21; Jeremiah 49:26; Jeremiah 51:3. Others following Rashi, take "mother" in the sense of "metropolis," or "chief city", in which case "young man" must be connected with the participle rendered "a spoiler;" but though the word has this sense in 2 Samuel 20:19, it is there coupled with "city," so that no doubt can exist. Hero the prophet would certainly not have used the word in so unusual a sense without giving some guide to his meaning. The rendering adopted above has the support of Ewald, Hitzig, and Dr. Payne Smith. At noonday; at the most unlooked-for moment (see on Jeremiah 6:4). I have caused him, etc.; rather, I have caused pangs and terrors to fall upon her suddenly.
That hath borne seven; a proverbial expression. Her sun is gone down, etc. The figure is that of an eclipse (comp. Amos 9:9). She hath been ashamed, etc.; rather, she ashamed, etc. Ewald supposes the sun, which is sometimes feminine in Hebrew, to be the subject (comp. Isaiah 24:23); but the view of the Authorized Version is more probable. The shame of childlessness is repeatedly referred to (comp. Jeremiah 1:12; Isaiah 54:4; Genesis 16:4; Genesis 30:1, Genesis 30:23).
These verses come in very unexpectedly, and are certainly not to be regarded as a continuation of the preceding discourse. They describe some deeply pathetic moment of the prophet's inner life, and in all probability belong to a later period of the history of Judah. At any rate, the appreciation of the next chapter will be facilitated by reading it in close connection with Jeremiah 15:9 of the present chapter. But the section before us is too impressive to be east adrift without an attempt to find a place for it in the life of the prophet. The attempt has been made with some plausibility by a Jewish scholar, Dr. Gratz, who considers the background of these verses to be the sojourn of Jeremiah at Ramah, referred to in Jeremiah 40:1, and groups them, therefore, with another prophecy (Jeremiah 31:15-17), in which Ramah is mentioned by name as the temporary abode of the Jewish captives. We are told in Jeremiah 40:4, Jeremiah 40:5, that Jeremiah had the choice given him of either going to Babylon with the exiles, or dwelling with the Jews who were allowed to remain under Gedaliah the governor. He chose, as the narrative in Jeremiah 40:1-16. tells us, to stay with Gedaliah; but the narrative could not, in accordance with the reserve which characterizes the inspired writers, reveal the state of mind in which this difficult choice was made. This omission is supplied in the paragraph before us. Jeremiah, with that lyric tendency peculiar to him among the prophets, gives a vent to his emotion in these impassioned verses. He tells his friends that the resolution to go to Gedaliah may cost him a severe struggle. He longs for rest, and in Babylon he would have more chance of a quiet life than among the turbulent Jews at home. But he has looked up to God for guidance, and, however painful to the flesh, God's will must be obeyed. He gives us the substance of the revelation which he received. The Divine counselor points out that he has already interposed in the most striking manner for Jeremiah, and declares that if he will devote himself to the Jews under Gedaliah, a new and fruitful field will be open to him, in which, moreover, by Divine appointment, no harm can happen to him. Whether this is really the background of the paragraph must remain uncertain. In a case of this kind, we are obliged to call in the help of the imagination, if the words of the prophet are to be realized with any degree of vividness. There are some great difficulties in the text, and apparently one interpolation.
Woe is me, my mother! This is one of those passages (comp. Introduction) which illustrate the sensitive and shrinking character of our prophet.
"If his meek spirit erred, opprest
That God denied repose,
What sin is ours, to whom Heaven's rest
Is pledged to heal earth's woes?"
(Cardinal Newman, in 'Lyra Apostolica,' 88.).
I have neither lent on usury, etc.; a speaking figure to men of the ancient world, to whom, as Dr. Payne Smith remarks, "the relations between the money-lender and the debtor were the most fruitful source of lawsuits and quarrellings."
The Lord said. The prophets are usually so tenacious of the same formulae that even their slight deviations are noteworthy. "The Lord said," for "Thus saith the Lord," occurs only here and in Jeremiah 46:25 (where, however, the phrase has possibly been detached by mistake from the preceding verse). It shall be well with thy remnant; rather, I have loosed thee for (thy) good, or, thy loosing (shall be) for (thy good), according as we adopt the reading of the Hebrew text or that of the margin, which differs in form as slightly as it is possible to do. If we accept the historical setting proposed by Gratz for this paragraph, the reference will be to the "loosing" of Jeremiah from his chains mentioned in Jeremiah 40:4. The rendering given here is, however, only a probable one; it is in conformity with the Aramaic usage of the verb (the Targum uses it in this sense in Jeremiah 40:4), and is supported by its suitability to the context and, philologically, by the fact of the growing influence of Aramaic upon Hebrew. Gesenius, in his anxiety to keep close to the native use of the root, produces a rendering which does not suit the context, viz. "I afflict thee for (thy) good." Jeremiah does not complain of being afflicted by God, but that all the world is against him; Ewald, comparing a different Aramaic verb to that appealed to above, renders, "I strengthen thee," etc; which is adopted by Keil, but does not accord with the second half of the verse so well as the rendering adopted. The Authorized Version follows the Targum, the Vulgate, Aquila, Symmachus, Rashi, and Kimchi, assuming that sherith is contracted from sh'erith (as in 1 Chronicles 12:38), and that "remnant" is equivalent to "remnant of life." But, though the sense is not unacceptable (comp. Verses 20, 21), the form of expression is unnatural; we should have expected akharith'ka, "thy latter end" (comp. Job 8:7). I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well. This expression is as difficult as the preceding, and our rendering of it will depend entirely on our view of the context. If "the enemy" means the Chaldeans, the Authorized Version will be substantially correct. Rashi has already mentioned the view that the phrase alludes to Nebnzar-adan's respectful inquiry as to the wishes of Jeremiah in Jeremiah 40:2-5. In this ease, the literal rendering is, I will cause the enemy to meet thee (as a friend); comp. Isaiah 47:3; Isaiah 64:4. But if "the enemy" means the Jews, then we must render, I grill cause the enemy to supplicate thee, and illustrate the phrase by the repeated applications of Zedekiah to the prophet (Jeremiah 21:1, Jeremiah 21:2; Jeremiah 37:3; Jeremiah 38:14), and the similar appeal of the "captains of the forces," in Jeremiah 42:1-3.
Shall iron break, etc.? Again an enigmatical saying. The rendering of the Authorized Version assumes that by the northern iron Jeremiah means the Babylonian empire. But the "breaking" of the Babylonian empire was not a subject which lay within the thoughts of the prophet. It was not the fate of Babylon, but his own troubled existence, and the possibility that his foes would ultimately succeed in crushing him, which disquieted this conscientious but timid spokesman of Jehovah. The Divine interlocutor has reminded him in the preceding verse of the mercy which has been already extended to him, and now recalls to his recollection the encouraging assurances given him in his inaugural vision (Jeremiah h 18, 19). Render, therefore, Can one break iron, northern iron, and bronze? The steel of the Authorized Version is evidently a slip. The Hebrew word is n'khosheth, which means sometimes (e.g. Jeremiah 6:28; Deuteronomy 8:9; Deuteronomy 33:25; Job 28:2) copper, but more commonly bronze, since "copper unalloyed seems to have been but rarely used after its alloys with tin became known" (Professor Maskelyne). "Steel" would have been more fitly introduced as the second of the three names of metals. "Northern iron" at once suggests the Chalybes, famous in antiquity for their skill in hardening iron, and, according to classical authors (e.g. Stephanus the geographer), the neighbors of the Tibareni, in the country adjoining the Euxine Sea, the Tibareni being, of course, the people of Tubal, whom Ezekiel mentions (Ezekiel 27:13) as trafficking in vessels of bronze. Any Jew, familiar with the wares of the bazaar, would at once appreciate the force of such a question as this. Even if iron could be broken, yet surely not steel nor bronze. Thus the verse simply reaffirms the original promises to Jeremiah, and prepares the way for verses 20, 21.
Jeremiah 15:13, Jeremiah 15:14
Thy substance, etc. These verses form an unlooked-for digression. The prophet has been in a state of profound melancholy, and the object of Jehovah is to rouse him from it. In Jeremiah 15:11, Jeremiah 15:12, the most encouraging assurances have been given him. Suddenly comes the overwhelming declaration contained in Jeremiah 15:13, Jeremiah 15:14. And when we look closely at these verses, two points strike us, which make it difficult to conceive that Jeremiah intended them to stand here. First, their contents are not at all adapted to Jeremiah, and clearly belong to the people of Judah; and next, they are repeated, with some variations, in Jeremiah 17:3, Jeremiah 17:4. It should also be observed that the Septuagint (which omits Jeremiah 17:1-4) only gives them here, which seems to indicate an early opinion that the passage only ought to occur once in the Book of Jeremiah, though the Septuagint translator failed to choose the right position for it. Without price; literally, not for a price. In the parallel passage there is another reading, "thy high places," which forms part of the next clause. Hitzig and Graf suppose this to be the original reading, the Hebrew letters having been partly effaced and then misread, after which "not" was prefixed to make sense. However this may be, the present reading is unintelligible, if we compare Isaiah 52:3, where Jehovah declares that his people were sold for nothing, i.e. were given up entirely to the enemy, without any compensating advantage to Jehovah. And that for all thy sins, even, etc.; literally, and in all thy sins and in all thy borders. The text is certainly difficult. Externally a parallelism exists between the two halves of the clause, and one is therefore tempted to render literally. As this will not make sense, however, we are forced either to render as the Authorized Version, or to suppose that the text is not accurately preserved. The parallel passage has a different but not a more intelligible reading. Ewald omits "and" in both halves of the clause, which slightly diminishes the awkwardness. And I will make thee to pass, etc. The natural rendering of the Hebrew is, "And I will make thine enemies to pass," etc; which clearly cannot be the prophet's meaning. The parallel passage (Jeremiah 17:4) has, "And I will make thee to serve thine enemies," etc.; and so the Septuagint, the Syriac, the Targum, and many manuscripts here. For a fire is kindled in mine anger; a reminiscence of Deuteronomy 32:22, suggesting that the judgment described in the Song of Moses is about to fall upon Judah.
O Lord, thou knowest, etc. The prophet renews his complaints. God's omniscience is the thought which comforts him (comp. Jeremiah 17:6; Jeremiah 18:23; Psalms 69:19). But he desires some visible proof of God's continued care for his servant. Visit me, equivalent to "be attentive to my wants "-an anthropomorphic expression for the operation of Providence. Take me not away in thy long-suffering; i.e. "suffer not my persecutors to destroy me through the long-suffering which thou displayest towards them." "Take away," viz. my life (comp. Ezekiel 33:4, "If the sword come and take him away"). Rebuke; rather, reproach; cutup. Psalms 69:7 (Psalms 69:1-36. is in the style of Jeremiah, and, as Delitzsch remarks, suits his circumstances better than those of David).
Thy words were found. Jeremiah here describes his first reception of a Divine revelation. Truth is like "treasure hid in a field;" he alone who seeks it with an unprejudiced mind can "find" it. But there are some things which no "searching" of the intellect can "find" (Job 11:7; Job 37:23; Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 8:17); yet by a special revelation they may be "found" by God's "spokesmen," or prophets. This is the train of thought which underlies Jeremiah's expression here. The "words," or revelations, of Jehovah are regarded as having an objective existence in the ideal world of which God is the light, and as "descending" from thence (comp. Isaiah 9:8) into the consciousness of the prophet. So Ezekiel 3:1, "Eat that thou findest." I did eat them; I assimilated them, as it were (comp. Ezekiel 2:8; Ezekiel 3:3). I am called by thy name; literally, thy name hath been (or, had been) called upon me; i.e. I have (or, had) been specially dedicated to thy service. The phrase is often used of Israel (see on Jeremiah 14:9), and, as here applied, intimates that a faithful prophet was, as it were, the embodied ideal of an Israelite.
In the assembly of the mockers; rather, of the laughers. The serious thoughts arising out of his sacred office restrained him from taking part in the festive meetings to which his youth would naturally incline him (cutup. on Jeremiah 16:2). Because of thy hand. The Hand of Jehovah is a figurative expression for the self-revealing and irresistible power of Jehovah; it is, therefore, equivalent to the Arm of Jehovah (Isaiah 53:1), but is used in preference with regard to the divinely ordained actions and words of the prophets. Thus we are told, in the accounts of Elijah and Elisha, that "the hand of the Lord came upon" them (1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 3:15). Such a phrase was probably at first descriptive of a completely passive ecstatic state, and was retained when ecstasies had become rare, with a somewhat laxer meaning. Isaiah uses a similar expression but once (Isaiah 8:11); Ezekiel, however, who appears to have been unusually rifled with the overpowering thought of the supernatural world, is constantly mentioning "the hand of Jehovah" (see Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:22; Ezekiel 37:1; and especially Ezekiel 3:14; Ezekiel 8:3). We may infer from this variation in the practice of inspired writers that, though symbolical, anthropomorphic language is not always equally necessary in speaking of Divine things, yet it cannot be entirely dispensed with, even by the most gifted and spiritual teachers. Thou hast filled me with indignation; rather, thou hadst filled me. Jeremiah was too full of his Divine message to indulge in impracticable sentimentalities. There was no thought of self when Jeremiah received his mission, nor any bitterness towards those who up-posed him. His "indignation" was that of Jehovah, whose simple instrument he was (comp. Jeremiah 6:11, "I am full of the fury of the Lord").
Why is my pain perpetual? One who could honestly speak of himself in terms such as those of Jeremiah 15:16, Jeremiah 15:17, seemed to have a special claim on the Divine protection. But Jeremiah's hopes have been disappointed. His vexation is perpetual, and his wounded spirit finds no comfort. As a liar; rather, as a deceitful stream. The word "stream" has to be understood as in Micah 1:14. Many of the water courses of Palestine are filled with a rushing torrent in the winter, but dry in summer. Hence the pathetic complaint of Job (Job 6:15). The opposite phrase to that used by Jeremiah is "a perennial stream" (Amos 5:24). The force of the passage is increased if we read it in the light of Dr. Gratz's hypothesis.
If thou return, etc. Most commentators regard these words as containing a gentle rebuke to Jeremiah for his doubts respecting God's care of him. It may be questioned, however, whether such passing doubts could be described as a turning away from Jehovah. If the word "return" is to be interpreted in a spiritual sense, we must surely conclude that the people is addressed (comp. Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 4:1). But this does not agree with the context. Hence Gratz's view seems very plausible, that the reference is to the proposal that Jeremiah should place himself under the protection of Gedaliah (comp. Jeremiah 40:5, "Go back also to Gedaliah," etc.). Then will I bring thee again; viz. into the right relation to me, so as to be my minister (Keil). But by altering one of the vowel-points (which form no part of the text), on the authority of the Septuagint, we get a more satisfactory sense, I will give thee a settled place. The verb must in any case be coupled with the following one. Jeremiah longs for a quiet home, only as supplying the conditions of prophetic activity. Thou shalt stand before me. The phrase is taken from the wont of slaves to stand in their masters' presence, waiting for commands. It is also applied to courtiers (Proverbs 22:29) and royal councilors (1 Kings 12:6), to angels (Luke 1:19) and to prophets (1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 3:14). Jeremiah was by God's will to find a new and important mission to the Jews with Gedaliah. If thou take forth the precious from the vile, etc. The metaphor is derived from metallurgy (comp. Jeremiah 6:27-30). The prophet is compared to a smelter. By the fervor of his inspired exhortations, he seeks to draw away from the mass of unbelievers all those who are spiritually capable of better things. The "vine-dressers and husbandmen," whom Nebuzar-adan had left after the capture of Jerusalem, though outwardly "the poor of the laud," might yet be ennobled by the word and example of Jeremiah. [Some explain "the precious" and "the vile" differently, taking the former to be the pure Word of God (comp. Psalms 12:6; Proverbs 30:5), the latter the base, human elements which are apt to be mixed with the Divine message (comp. Jeremiah 23:28). But was it not the very fidelity of Jeremiah which exposed him to the persecutions of which he has been complaining? Others suppose an inward purification of Jeremiah himself to be intended, "the vile" being those human infirmities of which he had just given evidence, as opposed to "the precious," i.e. the spiritual impulses which come from above. But is not such an explanation too evangelical, too Pauline, for this context?] Thou shalt be as my mouth. For devoting himself to this possible "mustard seed" of a better and holier people, the prophet should be rewarded
(1) by close prophetic intercourse with his God, and
(2), as the next clause states, by a moral victory over his opponents.
"Mouth" for "prophet," as Exodus 4:16 (comp. Exodus 7:1). Let them return unto thee, etc.; rather, they shall return unto thee, but thou shalt not return unto them. They shall come over to thy side, and thou shalt not need to make humiliating advances to them.
And I will make thee, etc.; a solemn confirmation of the promises in Jeremiah 1:18, Jeremiah 1:19.
Out of the hand of the wicked, etc. The "wicked" (literally, evil) and the "terrible" may be the banditti, composed of desperate patriots, who ultimately assassinated Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:1-3).
Various destinies of punishment.
I. PUNISHMENT WILL BE ASSIGNED AS A DEFINITE DESTINY. It is not casual. It cannot be evaded. It is decidedly appointed and inflexibly executed. The destiny it involves, though not original but a consequence of voluntary actions, is as certain as if it were in accordance with a primary law of nature (Galatians 6:7, Galatians 6:8).
II. PUNISHMENT WILL BE ASSIGNED IN A VARIETY OF DESTINIES. All the wicked will not suffer alike. There will be various forms of penalty and various degrees of suffering. Some are appointed to the painful death of the plague, some to the sudden death of the sword, some not to death at all but to exile. Punishment will be various,
(1) because men's constitutions, capacities, and susceptibilities are various, so that the form of suffering which is suitable for one may not be suitable for another; and
(2) because guilt varies in degree (Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48).
III. PUNISHMENT WILL BE ASSIGNED TO ALL THE GUILTY WITHOUT EXCEPTION. They may be numerous, yet some penalty will be found for all. The variety of destinies might suggest that among them some would find a way of escape, but, alas! they are all penal. This variety will ever secure the punishment of all. They who escape one form of punishment will only fall into another. Some hope to elude justice because their case is very exceptional. But exceptional punishment is found for exceptional crime.
IV. PUNISHMENT WILL BE SEVERE IN ALL CASES. There is a choice of destinies, but the list is given with somewhat of irony. How terrible is the mildest fate! All future punishment must be inexpressibly awful (Hebrews 10:31). Therefore let us not delude ourselves with hoping that ours will be of the milder kind, but seek deliverance from the certain fearful doom of sin in the forgiving mercy of God in Christ.
God weary of repenting.
I. GOD OFTEN APPEARS TO REPENT. He seems to repent of his merciful intentions when the conduct of men has called forth his righteous indignation—even repenting that he had ever made men (Genesis 6:6), and to repent of his wrathful intentions when his children repent of their sins (e.g. Exodus 32:14). Absolutely it cannot be said that God repents (1 Samuel 15:29). He never does wrong, never errs, is never moved from reason by passion, knows the end from the beginning, and therefore never sees a new thing to modify his thoughts. Yet he acts as if he repented, i.e. he grieves for the sorrow he has righteously brought, and desires that it may cease as soon as possible; and he changes his action towards his children as they change their conduct towards him. This fact is not inconsistent with the essential Divine immutability. The sun does not vary in itself because, after developing a flower in moist weather, it withers it in drought. A government does not change its policy if it enters into amicable arrangements with a loyal dependency, though it was carrying out warlike measures so long as the province was in revolt. So God does not change in his own nature because his action is varied according to the varied requirements of his people. Such variation is rather a result of his essential changelessness. Righteousness, which requires the punishment of the guilty, approves of the forgiveness of the penitent; so that if the action of God did not change from wrath to mercy with the change of the guilty person to penitence, it would seem as though the nature of God had been turned aside from its essential righteousness. Because the sun is stationary it appears to rise and set as the earth revolves; if it did not so appear it must be moving too; and because God is eternally good it must seem to us, who are constantly giving occasion for differences of treatment from the hand of God, that he repents. We can only speak of God after the manner of men; therefore we say he repents.
II. GOD MAY BE WEARY OF REPENTING. Here is a second anthropomorphic expression, which corresponds to a great and terrible fact.
1. We may cease to repent of our sin; then God will cease to repent of his wrath.
2. We may sin so deeply and so persistently that he may no longer find it possible to withhold his threatened punishment. God is long-suffering; he waits for the return of his children. Though the recompense of evil-doing is due, it is deferred; God spares the guilty for the sake of the intercession of the righteous. But this cannot be forever. We may sin away the grace of God. Though God's mercy endureth forever the enjoyment of it by the impenitent cannot be perpetual. Eternal mercy may have to give place to eternal justice.
(1) the wonderful love of God in repeatedly "repenting" of his wrathful intentions, showing that he does not desire the woe of his children, but does all that is possible to avert it;
(2) the great sin of persisting in impenitence after God has shown so wonderful a love; and
(3) the danger that God may be weary with repenting, and therefore the folly and presumption of relying upon our present immunity for future safety.
Sunset at noon.
A premature ending of any human affairs may be compared to sunset at noon.
I. THIS IS A COMMON OCCURRENCE. A nation suddenly collapses; a sovereign is overthrown in the height of his power; a life is cut off in middle age. How often do we see these things?
II. THIS IS AN UNNATURAL OCCURRENCE. No such event could occur in the physical world. Therefore it proves that the human world is deranged.
III. THIS IS A CALAMITOUS OCCURRENCE. National modifications may be both peaceful and profitable. Empires are slowly welded together, colonies gradually assume powers and rights of independence, internal reforms are quietly effacing the old order. To the individual natural death in old age is painless. It is the violent and premature end that causes disaster.
IV. THIS IS AN OCCURRENCE RESULTING FROM ERROR OR WRONGDOING. We cannot say that the cause is always to be traced immediately to the sufferers. With nations it may be generally so, but not with individuals. But still a law of morality, of social order of nature, has been broken, if not by the sufferers still by some agent.
V. THIS IS AN OCCURRENCE THAT MAY COME AS AN ACT OF DIVINE JUDGMENT. It is not universally so, particularly in regard to individuals. But it often is the case. Thus it was with the Jews, with Rome, in the dark ages, etc. Therefore let us beware of presuming on the apparent distance of the day of judgment.
The prayer of the persecuted.
I. THE GROUNDS OF HIS PLEA.
1. A confessor's fidelity. Jeremiah was suffering for God's sake. This plea implies
(2) a special claim for God's help.
He who can urge such a plea is the heir of one of the great beatitudes (Matthew 5:10). It is important to note that the promise of Christ rests, not on the mere fact of persecution, nor even on unjust persecution, but on persecution for righteousness' sake. The martyr is honored, not for his suffering, but for his fidelity.
2. The knowledge of God. "O Lord, thou knowest." When men misjudge, God knows all. They who are cruelly maligned by men may take refuge in the fact that God knows their innocence. It is better to have his approval in face of a world's scorn and hate, than the flattery of the world for false merits together with the anger of the all-seeing God. How happy to be in such a case that we can fearlessly appeal to God's knowledge of our fidelity in suffering! Too often trouble is consciously deserved.
3. The long-suffering of God. The best man can but ask for God's mercy. Often has that been sought in the past. Yet God is not weary of hearing his helpless children's repeated cries. "His mercy endureth forever."
II. THE OBJECTS OF HIS PRAYER.
1. To be remembered by God. It is something to know that God thinks of us. His sympathy is a great consolation. The traveler in the desert is not utterly alone when he calls to mind those dear ones at home, in whose memory he is constantly cherished, and who are therefore with him in spirit, while the unfortunate man who is buried in a crowded city, neglected and forgotten by his old friends, is essentially lonely and desolate. God's remembrance of us is the prelude to his active help. He remembers" for good." If Christ remembered the dying malefactor when he came into his kingdom, that fact carried with it the assurance that the poor man should be with Christ in paradise (Luke 23:42, Luke 23:43).
2. To be visited by God. Our consolation is not in a pitying though absent God, but in an abiding presence and a close communion. If God visits he will come in power to save.
3. To be avenged of his enemies. This was a natural desire, considering that
(1) the prophet was in the midst of his distresses,—it is easy to judge coolly from the outside when we are not feeling the oppression of cruel persecution;
(2) he lived in Old Testament times; and
(3) he did not desire to execute vengeance himself but appealed only to the great Judge. For us Christians the right prayer is, not for harm to come upon our enemies, but for their forgiveness, as Christ and Stephen prayed. Still, we may rightly seek for the overthrow of wicked powers, the frustration of iniquitous schemes, and the just and necessary punishment of persistent evildoers.
4. For life to be spared. Jeremiah does not ask for triumph, for comfort and ease, for liberation from his arduous lifelong task, but simply for life. The love of life is natural. Men have work to do, a mission to fulfill, and it is right to desire to have time to complete this. Others were benefited by the life of Jeremiah. He was the prophet of his age, and a voice speaking for all ages. It is our duty to seek to escape persecution if we can do so honorably, that we may continue to serve God and work for the good of mankind (Matthew 10:23). Courting a martyr's death is practically equivalent to committing suicide out of personal vanity, and much the same thing as falling under the second of Christ's temptations. Yet if martyrdom is unavoidable without unfaithfulness, we may honor God and benefit me-more by our death than by our life.
The words of God found and eaten.
I. THE WORDS OF GOD REQUIRE TO BE FOUND. They are not emblazoned on the face of the world that the most careless may fret miss them. They are hidden treasures to be dug for, pearls of great price to be sought after. Divine truth in nature is only discoverable after thoughtful observation and reflection. The prophets were especially commissioned to toil in deep mines of spiritual thought. Revelation was born in them with labor, fasting, watching, praying. But the words of God are not so hidden that they cannot be discovered by the earnest and prayerful seeker after truth. He that seeks shall find (Matthew 7:8). Many honest, earnest men pass through a season of doubt, but few such remain hopeless skeptics all their lives. Of those who never find the light probably some are suffering from some moral or intellectual perversity which distorts their vision, and others are not content to trust to the measure of light that has been given to them, and remain restless and questioning because they desire satisfaction in a 'direction wherein it cannot yet be afforded. But so long as all such men do not convert doubt into settled unbelief, and are not satisfied with doubt, we may be assured that ultimately the Father of lights will dispel the darkness that now troubles their souls.
II. THE WORDS OF GOD ARE FOOD. Truth is food for the soul. Christ, the "Word made flesh," is the "Bread of life." Truth is not simply revealed to amuse our curiosity; it is intended to feed our starving souls. The object of revelation is practical The result of rightly using revelation is seen in an increase of spiritual vitality, 'in refreshment, heightened energy and growth in the inner life. If the words of God have not attained this end, they have failed of their object. They are food because they are not empty breath but the vehicles of vital truths—of spirit and life (John 6:63). God is in his own words. They are inspired words. With the spoken words we receive the life-giving Spirit.
III. THE WORDS OF GOD MUST BE EATEN TO PROFIT US. It is not enough that they are spoken, heard, understood, believed, remembered, admired; they must be eaten.
1. We must apply them to ourselves. The starving man gains nothing by looking at food through a shop-window. The external intellectual study of truth is profitless to the soul. We must bring it to bear upon our own circumstances—hear the voice of God speaking directly to us and in regard to our immediate conduct.
2. We must meditate over the words of God. Food must be masticated and digested. Truth must be analyzed, ideas separated and compared, "inwardly digested," hidden in the soul and quietly thought over. Our common habit is to treat it too superficially and hastily.
3. We must abstract the vital ideas from the dry husk of words. Words are not profitable so long as they are regarded from the outside as mere language. We must break the shell and get at the kernel, casting aside the flesh that profiteth nothing and assimilating the spirit that quickeneth.
IV. THE WORDS OF GOD BRING JOY WHEN THEY ARE FOUND AND EATEN. To some they appear to be dull sayings, to some stern utterances of law, to some harsh messages of judgment. This is because they are not properly applied. They must first be truly found and eaten—applied, meditated on, spiritually assimilated. Then they lead to joy, for:
1. All truth is essentially noble, beautiful, and glorious.
2. Even the darker truth is wholesome as a warning, like nauseous medicine that cures pain and restores the serenity of health.
3. The highest truth is a revelation of the love of God—a gospel of good will to men.
V. THE SECRET OF THE JOY AND PROFIT OF GOD'S WORDS IS IN THE RELATION OF THE SOUL TO GOD. Jeremiah is called by the Name of Jehovah, the God of hosts. If we are strangers to God, his words will seem distant and of little interest. We prize the words of those we love. God speaks helpful and comforting words to his own reconciled children.
The sadness and solitude of a prophet.
I. A PROPHET'S COMMUNION WITH GOD DOES NOT PRECLUDE EARTHLY SADNESS AND SOLITUDE. Jeremiah was not plunged into grief through any unfaithfulness; he was under no shadow in regard to heavenly communications; yet he was sad and solitary.
1. Consider the sadness. While we am in this world we suffer with it and from its action upon us, even though we may be living very near to God. Christ was a man of sorrows; he sighed and wept and groaned in spirit. It is not sinful to grieve. It is not a proof of unbelief. Faith should engender patience, resignation, peace, and hope; but it cannot destroy natural sorrow. It would not be pious but simply unnatural for the Christian mother not to be wrung with grief at the death of her child.
2. Consider the solitude. A good man will not be wrapped up in himself, for out of the love of God springs naturally the love of man. Godliness rouses human sympathy, and this inclines to sociability. So Christ was remarkable for his social habits. Yet there may be an inevitable solitude, and a solitude which is good both for self and for others. The more a good man sympathizes for his brother men the less can he sympathize with them when their conduct is wicked.
II. A PROPHET'S COMMUNION WITH GOD MAY LEAD TO EARTHLY SADNESS AND SOLITUDE. Jeremiah was sad and solitary because he was filled with Divine indignation. His was no atrabiliar moroseness, no theatrical Byronic self-pity. The prophet's sorrow and solitude were reflections of the grief of God for his people's sin and the aloofness of God produced by their wanderings from fidelity.
1. A prophet's communion with God will induce sorrow for the world's sin and wretchedness. Jeremiah was a young man. The scenes of mirth which he shunned may have been pure, innocent, and naturally attractive; but his vision of the thought and heart of God made him look behind this superficial joy to the wretchedness it sought to cover, and then it Seemed but a mockery to him.
2. This will lead to a separation from the world. It will cause a perpetual separation from the spirit of the world as far as that is earthly and sensual, and at times a complete withdrawal to solitude. The Christian is to live in the world as its salt, its light, its leaven of righteousness, and not to flee to the wilderness, selfishly cultivating his own soul for heaven, while he leaves his task undone and his fellow-men in hopeless sin and ruin. But he will meet with occasions for solitude and scenes from which he must withdraw himself, and sometimes feel an inner sense of loneliness as he moves among the gay crowds, since he is a pilgrim and stranger, a citizen of another country, possessed by thoughts and swayed by motives quite outside those of worldly life. Thus Christ, in character and outward habit the most social of men, was in inner life and in secret thought the most lonely. The Christian has a life which is "hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).
A wide recognition of the good without compromise with the evil.
Jeremiah is bidden to return from his solitude to his mission among his people when he will owned and encouraged by God if he will see the goodness that still lingers among them- and yet not enter into any unrighteous compromise with the wicked ways of the multitude of them.
I. WE SHOULD EXERCISE A WIDE RECOGNITION OF THE GOOD IN ALL THINGS—take out the precious from the vile. The gold-washer may find but a grain of gold in a ton of gavel; yet he will search diligently for it, and treasure it when he finds it. Carelessness and uncharitableness lead to an unjust, wholesale repudiation of what is no doubt largely corrupt. But it is not right to judge of things thus "in the lump."
1. Apply the principle to persons. Because ninety-nine men out of a company of a hundred are guilty, it is grossly iniquitous to condemn the whole hundred—the one innocent man with the rest. Jeremiah was directed to look out for the pious remnant among the mass of the unfaithful people. We are too ready to ignore the existence of the seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Goodness should be recognized in bad society, in heathen nations, in corrupt Christian communities, in questionable avocations. We should beware of sweeping condemnations of a whole class; e.g. of actors, of publicans, etc.
2. Apply the principle to religious systems. Few are wholly good; but few are wholly bad. The dross and precious metal are mixed, though in varying degrees, in all of them. The various Church systems of Christendom partake of this mixed character. Most Churches have some peculiarly precious ideas to which it seems to be their mission each severally to testify. It is well if we have the insight to seize on these, and the charity to begrudge none of their value because of the error, the superstition, or the perversion with which they may be associated. Thus, not by an amorphous eclecticism which can minister to no deep, organic unity of life, but by a genuine assimilating power, we should learn to gather from all sources the good of spiritual thought. The same process should be observed in dealing with non-Christian religions. Beneath a vast heap of the vile a few glittering gems of precious merit may be found in the Talmud, and also in the Zeud-Avesta, in the Koran, in the religious writings of Greece, India, China, etc.
3. Apply the principle to life generally. Take the precious from the vile in literature, in conversation, in social usage, in recreation, in politics. Discriminate in all these things. Do not reject the whole of any of them, even if the larger part may be bad, but select the pure and good and reject the evil.
II. WE SHOULD MAINTAIN A STOUT REFUSAL TO COMPROMISE WITH THE EVIL IN ANYTHING. Jeremiah is not to sacrifice principle for the sake of any advantage. He is not to embrace the vile for the sake of the precious, but to separate the two. He is not to yield his position of truth and right for the sake of winning the friendship of his neighbors, but patiently to expect them to come over to him. It is the very love of truth that should make us welcome it in the most unlikely quarters; but if we go on to receive the error that is closely associated with it, we at once become unfaithful to the very motive of our search. The silver is useless so long as the dross is preserved with it. The largest charity cannot sanction any compromise with evil. Compromise belongs to the region of expediency, not to that of truth and righteousness. It is a mistake to conciliate our enemies by yielding up our fortress. If we abandon the essential mysteries of Christianity for the sake of winning over our opponents, we are really only giving them the victory. Should we come to terms, this is at best on their grounds, and the peace we ratify is no record of a victory for Christ. In the end the policy of compromise fails. It indicates weakness and leaves no decided position about which to rally. We must dare to be firm to our principles, and wait patiently till the world comes round to them. This was how Christ acted. If we eagerly recognize the good in everything and earnestly desire to take forth the precious from the vile, we shall find our uncompromising fidelity to principle resting on a firmer and safer basis than if we are narrowly jealous of all good outside our own little circle of notions and habits.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Sins for which saintly intercession cannot avail.
Moses is spoken of as an intercessor in Exodus 17:11; Exodus 32:11; Numbers 14:13; Psalms 106:23 : Samuel in 1Sa 7:1-17; 1 Samuel 8:1-22; 1 Samuel 8:6; 1 Samuel 12:16-23; 1 Samuel 15:11; Psalms 99:6. Noah, Daniel, and Job are mentioned similarly (Ezekiel 14:14). It is, then, in their special intercessory character that these fathers are referred to. At the time when their intercessions took place they were the leaders and representatives of Israel, and because of their saintliness they had favor with God. But the sins for which Judah and Jerusalem are now to be punished are by this reference declared of a more heinous description than any that took place in those days, It is a mere supposition which is made, evidently no description of the normal relation of glorified saints to Jehovah, but simply a hypothetical statement as to what they, in their earthly capacity, would have failed to do.
I. THE INTERCESSIONS OF RIGHTEOUS MEN AVAIL MUCH. Many a time in the wilderness had Moses stayed the impending wrath of God because of murmuring and disobedience; and this not simply because he was the civil leader of the people, but through his own saintly, high-priestly character. This is a principle of God's dealings with men. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much;" and one of the chief occupations of the Church is represented as praying for the salvation of the world and the coming of the kingdom of God. It is because such men represent the future hope of the race, being a kind of firstfruits of them that shall be saved, that they have this power. In themselves too, because of what they are, they are pleasing to God, who delights in their prayers and praises. There is something very striking and touching in this spectacle of one standing for many, and we have to think of how great has been the blessing which has been thus secured to the world through its saints. But they all appear trifling compared with that which Christ has secured through the intercession of his prayers, obedience, and sacrifice. In his case (what could scarcely be said of any saint) his intercession has a solid objective worth because of what it is in itself, and avails as a consideration with God for the cleansing of all who identify themselves with him through faith.
II. BUT THERE ARE CONDITIONS WHICH DESTROY THE EFFICACY OF SUCH INTERCESSION. Their influence is but partial and imperfect, depending as it does upon their own inadequate fulfillment of the Law and will of God. If it were a question of strict account, they themselves would not be able to stand in his presence. It is of his grace that, even for a moment, they may be said to have influence for others. And it may be said that their intercession is but provisional, and, if not followed up By the obedience of those for whom they pray, it will be followed with the more condign punishment upon the transgressors. It is a great tribute to the vicarious power possible to saints that even the most eminent of them should be quoted in such a connection. But it shows how inadequate such a mediatorship would be for the general sin of man. We may do much, each of us, to avert just judgments, to secure opportunities of salvation, and to bring the grace of God to bear upon the hearts of others; but we cannot save them by any communication of our own acceptance with God to them. They must stand or fall according to their own relation to the will of God and the person of his Son. And there are degrees of guilt which far surpass any intercession of this kind. The sin of unbelief especially, if it be unrepented of, will prevent any benefit being received. The permanent position of our souls with respect to Divine grace will depend, therefore, upon their own action or belief. Even Christ cannot save if we do not believe in his Name and obey him.—M.
The offense of faithful preaching.
That the preaching of the gospel should stir up the evil passions of men would at first appear strange. It is the declaration of good news to them that are perishing, and an effort to restore men to happiness and peace. But that it has been accompanied with such manifestations of ill will from the beginning is sufficiently well known. The preaching of the cross has in every age been resisted and resented by the world. It is "to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but to them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:23).
1. WITH WHAT THE FAITHFUL PREACHER COMPARES HIMSELF. Jeremiah says that he might have been a brawler, a dishonest debtor, or a usurer to have stirred up the strife and hatred which he experienced. As has been said, lending and borrowing cause most lawsuits. "'I have not lent nor borrowed.' My dear Jeremiah! Thou mightest have done that; that is according to the custom of the country; there would be no such noise about that" (Zinzendorf). Elijah was reproached by Ahab, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?' (1 Kings 19:17). St. Paul was persecuted. Even Christ himself was accused of stirring up sedition, and the preaching of the Word has often been accompanied by demonstrations of violence.
II. To WHAT THIS MAY BE ATTRIBUTED. It is due chiefly to the dislike of men to the truth itself, in whatever shape presented. The natural heart is enmity against God and his Word. Care must be taken to distinguish between accidental and essential provocations of this spirit. The manner of the preacher should never be such as of itself to dispose men unfavorably towards his message. The greatest care ought to be taken to conciliate and to win. But the original hatred of men to truth must not be ignored. It exists, and will have to be reckoned with in one form or another. One man will object to it in toto; another to the degree of obedience which it exacts. With some the idea will be pleasing but the practice irksome. If men hated Christ, we need not suppose that they will be more amiable towards us if we are faithful.
III. CONSOLATIONS. These troubles need not afflict us if we remember, with respect to our hearers, that it is not theirs but them we desire. The worst enemies have been reconciled and the fiercest natures subdued by the power of the Word. It is well too in the midst of suffering to have the testimony of a good conscience. To him also who is faithful in the midst of opposition and hatred is that beatitude, Matthew 5:11. But perhaps the strongest consolation of all is in the fellowship of him for whose sake the opposition is experienced.—M.
Thou knowest it.
There is One to whom the true prophet and saint must stand or fall. He is anxious, therefore, for his approval. He labors ever as in the great Taskmasters eye. "Thou God seest me," which is the terror of the sinner, is the chief reward and comfort of the saint. The prophet here consoles himself—
I. BY AN APPEAL TO THE JUDGMENT OF GOD. In this connection it is as if conscience itself had been invoked. And yet, better still, if conscience should vacillate God would remain the same. In this way it is well for the best of men to test their motives by continual reference to God. There is no better way of self-examination.
II. BY A REFERENCE TO THE SYMPATHY OF GOD. The mere fact that the all-knowing One was constantly regarding his sufferings for his sake, that he had put his tears in his bottle, and that he was able to appreciate his motives, was a comfort to the prophet. If possible, this source of consolation is deepened and enlarged by the greater nearness of God in Christ. The fellow-feeling of our great High Priest and Elder Brother is real and can be depended upon from moment to moment. It is a well of salvation from which we can draw inexhaustible supplies.
III. BY COMMITTING IT TO THE DIVINE RESPONSIBILITY. it was in God's hands because it was in God's knowledge. It was not for the prophet to trouble himself as to means of retaliation. He could commit his cause to his Father. The wider issues of it, nay, even its mightiest results, were beyond his own power. What he had to do was to be faithful and trusting and diligent.—M.
God's words a heartfelt joy.
In the midst of the prophet's sorrow this passage occurs as a relieving feature—a memory of spiritual joy. At the same time it is recalled as a consideration that will weigh with him to whom he addresses himself. It defines his entire relation to God and to Israel, and describes his claim.
I. THE WORDS OF GOD TEST AND EXHIBIT THE INWARD LOYALTY OF THE SAINT. It is not merely that a certain feeling has been excited in the mind, but that a welcome has been given to God's revelation. A profound difference is thereby instituted between the prophet and those who were opposed to him. As the psalmist cries, "Thy word have I hid in my heart, m proof of his earnestness and his love of truth, so the prophet would commend himself to God by the attitude he had assumed to the message when it was revealed to him. It is as if he had said, "I have never resisted thy Word, but ever held myself ready to utter and obey it." The test which they apply to the spiritual nature is full of dread to the unworthy; but to those whose hearts are right with God it is a satisfaction and a source of confidence. "The thoughts and intents of the heart" thereby disclosed are seen to be right and good.
II. THEY REFRESH AND STRENGTHEN HIM FOR SUFFERING AND DUTY. It is as if the prophet were drawing comfort from recollection because his present circumstances are so troublous. But many a time the Word of God comes in a time of perplexity and darkness, bringing with it comforting light. It is greedily welcomed at such seasons and is devoured as by one who has long fasted. It penetrates thereby more deeply into the spiritual nature and more radically influences the springs and motives of conduct. It comes as a distinctly supernatural aid and makes men masters of what had previously overpowered them.
III. THEY BIND HIM MORE CLOSELY TO THE AUTHOR. The nature which has been so affected by the words of God cannot be nor regard itself as in the same position with others. Its whole character and destiny are altered. The life is leavened by that which supports and nourishes it. The indwelling Word is a consecrating influence and withdraws men from the pursuits and fellowship of the world. In this way the saint becomes identified with his Lord; a child of grace; a worker in the same great cause; a subject of like hatred and opposition, and an heir of the same kingdom. By producing the character of holiness they inscribe the Divine Name upon the heart, and link the life and destiny of the saint with the cause of God.—M.
The preacher's weakness and strength.
I. HUMAN MOTIVES OFTEN LEAD HIM ASIDE FROM THE PATH OF DUTY ETC. The prophet is a man like other men and subject to the same passions. It is difficult for him to maintain the attitude of continual spiritual loyalty. Flesh and blood will fail and he will fall into temptations peculiar to his office. Of these he must be especially jealous, and a stricter standard of holiness should govern his conduct. Unfaithfulness in such a position will produce an exaggerated effect upon those whom he influences. His influence itself will cease to be purely spiritual, his love less certain, and his conduct less irreproachable. Deflection like this should be at once corrected, and he who tries the reins is especially watchful over those who have to deliver his message and represent his cause. "If thou return." How instant and yet how gentle the reproof!
II. REPENTANT FIDELITY WILL BE REWARDED WITH USEFULNESS AND STRENGTH.
1. Mediatorship—to "stand before me."
2. Infallibility—"As my mouth."
3. Irresistible power—a "brazen wall;" "but not prevail over thee."
4. The presence and protection of God.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Fearful aspects of the Divine character.
These verses and this whole discourse reveal to us an implacable God. He will not turn away from his wrath nor be moved:
1. By the spectacle of misery presented (Jeremiah 14:1-22.).
2. By the remembrance of former love (Jeremiah 14:8).
3. By the earnest prayers of his faithful servant (Jeremiah 15:1).
4. By the prospect of more terrible miseries yet to come (Jeremiah 14:17-9). Therefore—
I. INQUIRE. Why is God thus? The answer is, he will not change, because the sinner will not. "To the froward he will ever show himself froward."
II. LEARN. That while God's mercy is infinite to those who turn to him, for those who refuse there is no mercy at all.—C.
The limits of intercessory prayer.
"Though Moses and Samuel," etc.
1. This verse seems at first sight to be in contradiction to the many Scriptures which assure us that the "effectual fervent prayers of righteous men avail much." The Bible teems with promises that God will hear when we call upon him. But here is a decided declaration that let even the holiest and the most eminent for their intercessions stand before God in prayer, they should not avail to secure what was denied.
2. And were there only this verse, the difficulty would not be so great. But experience is continually supplying us with fresh instances in which bleatings earnestly sought have yet beer denied.
3. And this also in regard to spiritual things. Were it only temporal blessings God refused to give although we asked him for them, we could readily understand that, though they seemed so good in our eyes, in his they might be seen to be hurtful. We know that in such things we do not know what is best. But the refusal of prayer is found in regard to things that we know are good and well pleasing to God—in regard to things spiritual and eternal, e.g. in the prayers of parents for the conversion of their children, of teachers and pastors for those committed to their charge.
4. Hence from this verse and from such experience of rejected prayer, the sad conclusion has been drawn that, in spite of the most earnest intercession, the souls we pray for may be lost, our intercession be of no avail. For does it not say even to Jeremiah, who himself was an eminent intercessor with God, that there were yet greater than he—such as Moses and Samuel—but that if even they, etc. (cf. references for instances of their intercession).
5. And some have tried to escape the difficulty by drawing a sharp contrast between the intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ and that of these men of God. They have said, had Jesus interceded, it would have been otherwise. But this is not true, for our Lord would not have interceded as Jeremiah did. He also foretold great calamities as overhanging Jerusalem and her people, but we have no record of his ever having prayed that they might not come. He sought unceasingly their eternal salvation, but he did not pray against the destruction of Jerusalem. It is not permissible, therefore, to account for the failure of such intercession as that of Jeremiah, on the ground that it is only human intercession and not that of the Son of God.
6. But before we certainly conclude that intercession for the eternal spiritual well-being of others may after all be in vain, though the intercession have been such as that of the great servants of God here spoken of, who touched the utmost limits of intercessory prayer, let us note
(1) That it was not for spiritual blessings that. Jeremiah was interceding. His piteous entreaties were "concerning the dearth" (Jeremiah 14:1), that that might be removed. It was strictly a prayer for temporal mercies and deliverances. It is, therefore, unjust to conclude that intercession for things spiritual and eternal may fail because, as we well know, it may fail for things material and temporal. Note also
(2) That the utmost limits of intercession had been reached. The prophet himself had offered no scant or insincere petition, and the intercession of these great saints of God spoken of was, we know, of the mightiest order. Before, then, we conclude that such intercession in regard to spiritual things can be of no avail, let us be sure that such intercession has been tried. Is our own such? There may be customary and too often formal prayers offered by parents) pastors, teachers, for the spiritual good of those about them. But can we say that such prayers are mighty intercessions, like those of Moses and Samuel? If we know they have not been such, let us pause before we conclude that such intercession avails not. But in order to ascertain if our intercession has been real, let us note if we are in earnest about our own soul's salvation. If we care not for our own acceptance before God, how can we be solicitous for that of others? And are our prayers followed up by practical effort in the direction of our prayers? Do the lead us to see what can be clone to secure the ends for which we pray? Or are they substitutes for such endeavor? Hence it may very often be that we ask and have not, because we ask amiss. We do not intercede in that real, believing, earnest way which alone has a right to expect the blessing it seeks. It is by no means intercession such as that of Moses and Samuel
7. But if intercession have been such as theirs, then, though answer may be delayed, we are to believe that it will yet come. Delay is not denial.
8. Neither this verse nor experience sets aside the many promises which encourage such intercession.
9. And experience proves its worth. The Church of today is in the main the product of the intercession of the Church that has passed into the heavens. Instead of the fathers have risen up the children.
10. Learn, therefore,
(1) if God refuse us temporal blessings, it is because he knows better than we do what is best;
(2) how best to deal with transgressors God alone knows, and what his wisdom determines none may set aside;
(3) that intercession for souls is well pleasing to God and full of hope, since the beloved of God have been ever distinguished for such intercession, and, above all, God's well-beloved Son.—C.
I. SUCH ARE MENTIONED HERE. Moses, Samuel, etc. (cf. Exodus 17:11; Exodus 32:11; Numbers 14:13; Psalms 106:23; 1Sa 7:8; 1 Samuel 8:6; 1 Samuel 12:16-23; 1 Samuel 15:11; Psalms 90:6; Ecclesiasticus 46:6). Noah, Daniel, and Job are mentioned in similar way (Ezekiel 14:14), and Jeremiah himself (2 Macc. 15:14). And there have been such oftentimes granted to nations, Churches, families. And who has not known such intercessors in connection with Christian Churches—men and women whose prayers were amongst the main supports of the life, joy, and strength of those for whom they were offered?
II. THEIR VALUE IS UNSPEAKABLE. Cf. Abraham praying for Sodom. Though the cities of the plain were destroyed, yet what an amount of sin God was ready to pardon in answer to his prayer, if but the conditions which should have been so easy to fulfill had been forthcoming! And "the few names even in Sardis" (Revelation 2:1-29.), who can doubt that they, as all such do, warded off for long periods those visitations of God's anger which otherwise would have come upon that Church? And it is not only the evils from which they defend a Church, but the positive good they confer. Such power with God is ever accompanied by a consistency and sanctity of character which is blessedly attractive, inspiring, contagious; and as a magnet they gather round them a band of kindred souls, like as our Lord gathered his disciples round himself. And thus a hallowed influence is sent throughout a whole community.
III. THEIR QUALIFICATIONS.
1. Sympathy with God. They must see sin as God sees it—as utterly hateful and wrong. There must be no weak condoning of it or any failure to behold it in its true character. If we ask God to forgive sin, indeed, if we seek forgiveness for wrong done from a fellow-man, are we likely to be acceptable in our request if we regard him who has been wronged as not having much to complain of after all? No; he who would wish God to forgive sin must see it as God sees it, and consent to his judgment concerning it.
2. Deep love for those for whom he intercedes. And this cannot be created in a moment. It must be the result of much thought, labor, and pains spent upon them. When we have thus given ourselves to them, we are sure to love them. Places, persons, things, most unattractive to others are deeply loved by those who have devoted themselves to them. And all great intercessors have been such, and must be such as become so, not on the spur of the moment or from any mere movement of pity, but as the result of long and loving labor lavished for their good.
3. Freedom from the guilt of the transgression, the pardon of which is sought. Under the Old Testament the priest first offered atonement for himself and then for the sins of the people. Not until he was purged from sin himself could he intercede for others. The intercessor must be one untainted with the guilt he prays to be removed. The prayer of the wicked can never aid.
4. Experimental knowledge both of the blessings which he craves and of the sorrows and sufferings which he intercedes against. Of our Savior, the great Intercessor, it is said, "He himself took our infirmities, and hare our diseases." He was made "in all points like unto his brethren." The joy of God's love and also, by holy sympathy, the bitterness of the dregs of that cup of which the wicked have to drink—were alike known to him. Thus, though he knew no sin, he was made sin for us. It was to him as if all the sin of those he so loved were his own, so intensely did its shame, its misery, its guilt, fill up his soul. And with human intercessors there must be like experience.
5. Faith in God, which firmly holds to the belief that his love for the sinner is deeper than his hatred of the sin. Unless we believe this we can have no hope in interceding either for ourselves or for others. Faith in the infinitude of the love of God is essential.
IV. THEIR GREAT EXEMPLAR—the Lord Jesus Christ. See how all the qualifications above named combine in him.
1. To the sorrowful and sinful. You need a great intercessor. You have one in Christ. "Give him, my soul, thy cause to plead."
2. To the believer in Christ. Seek to become as Moses and Samuel, and, above all, as our Lord—mighty in intercession.—C.
The sins of the fathers visited upon the children.
This verse contains an explicit declaration that such is God's rule. The calamities about to fall on Judah and Jerusalem were "because of Manasseh the son of," etc. No doubt the sins of Manasseh were flagrant in the extreme, and they were the more aggravated because he was the son of the godly Hezekiah. No doubt his reign was one of dark disgrace and disaster. The sacred writers dismiss it with a few short statements, hurrying over its long stretch of years—it was the longest reign of all the kings of Judah—as if they were (as they were) a period too melancholy and shameful to be dwelt upon. But why should we find that his guilt and sin were to fall upon those who were unborn at the time, and who therefore could have had no share therein?
I. SUCH VISITATION IS AN UNDOUBTED FACT. It is plainly declared to be a Divine rule, and that once and again (cf. Exodus 20:1-26; etc.). And apart from the Bible—in the manifest law of heredity—there is the dread fact patent to all. Workhouses, prisons, hospitals, asylums, all attest the visitation of God for the fathers' sins.
II. IT IS A GREAT MYSTERY. It is one branch of that all-pervading mystery into which all other mysteries sooner or later run up—the mystery of evil. There is nothing to be done, so far as its present solution is concerned, but to "trust," and so "not be afraid."
III. BUT NOT WITHOUT ALLEVIATIONS; e.g.
1. If the sins of the fathers are visited on their descendants, yet more are God's mercies. The sins descend to "the third and fourth generation," but the mercies to "thousands" of generations—for this is meant.
2. The descent is not entire. The sins come down, it is true, upon the descendants, but in their fruits rather than in their roots. A father cannot force on his child his wickedness, though he may his diseases and tendencies.
3. The entail may be cut off in its worst part at any moment, and very often is. Coming to Christ may not deliver me from physical suffering, but it will from sin. Grafted into Christ a new life will begin, the whole tendency of which in me and in mine is to counteract and undo the results of the former evil life.
4. And the visitation of the fathers' sins is but rarely because of the fathers' sins only. The descendants of the age of Manasseh did their works, and what wonder that they should inherit their woes?
5. And it is a salutary law. Children are a means of grace to tens of thousands of parents. "Out of the mouth of babes," etc. For, for their children's sakes, parents will exercise a watchfulness and self-restraint, will seek after God and goodness as otherwise they would never have done. The remembrance of what they will inflict on their children by virtue of this law fills them with a holy fear, as God designed it should.
1. Parents. What legacy are you leaving for your children? Shall they have to curse or bless you? O father, mother, "do not sin against" your "child."
2. Children. What have you received? Is it a legacy of evil example, evil tendency, evil habit? God's grace will help you to break the succession. Refuse it for yourselves, determine you will not hand it on to others. But is it a legacy of holy example, tendencies, and habits? Blessed be God if it be so. What responsibility this involves! What blessing it renders possible for you and those who come after you!—C.
The darkened home.
"She that hath borne … was yet day." Perhaps in all the range of human sorrows there is none greater than that which befalls a home when the dearly beloved mother of many children, yet needing sorely her care, is early cut off. Such a piteous case is described here. The prophet, bewailing the coming calamities of his country, adopts the heartbroken language of a husband bitterly mourning the death of his wife and the mother of his many children. He seems to think of her who is gone, and all her sweetness and grace and goodness rise up before him. He thinks of their children and how they will need their mother's care, terribly need it, though never more can they have it, and his heart dies down within him. He thinks of himself and how utterly lonely his lot must be. At such times heart and mind almost give way, and faith and love Godward receive a blow beneath which they reel and sometimes never recover themselves, But this verse is as a holy angel of God, and enters that darkened home; and—
I. IT CALLS TO MEMORY WHAT THE LOST ONE WAS. Her life was as the shining of the sun—bright, cheerful, generous, inspiriting, attracting, healthful, and joy-giving to all.
II. IT DENIES NOT THE FACT WHICH IS so BITTERLY MOURNED. Her premature death, her sun went down, etc. Nothing can alter that fact. And perhaps, as the very words indicate, circumstances of peculiar sorrow may have surrounded her death. Like her told of in this verse, "she may have breathed out her life as if in labored sighs, expiring in heavy heart-breaths of grief." Not a calm, gradual, bright sunset, but the very reverse, the sun going down in dark clouds. The power to utter those blessed parting words of counsel and comfort taken from her, and in darkness and silence she had to wend her way to the unseen. But amid all this depth of gloom this verse—
III. SUGGESTS MOST BLESSED TRUTH. The sun of her life has not perished but shines elsewhere. We know that when the sun sinks below our horizon it has gone to gladden and bless other shores. And so with the life of the blessed dead. They all live unto God. All that in them which was so pure, so sweet, so full of the grace of God, has not perished; it is shining elsewhere, it has risen on another shore, flue eternal and the blessed. And on us it shall rise again, as the sunrise follows in due time the sunset. That life is not lost but is hidden with Christ in God, and so "when he who is our life shall appear" then shall that now hidden life "appear with him in glory,"—C.
A vain contest.
"Shall iron break the northern iron and the steel?" So asks the Lord God of his, at this time not simply lamenting prophet, he was rarely anything but that, but also his complaining prophet. And as we read these verses with which the striking inquiry contained in this verse is connected, we cannot help feeling that his lamentations become him far more than his complaints. Still, who are we, to criticize a great hero of the faith such as Jeremiah undoubtedly was? These verses, from the tenth onwards, are no doubt on a lower, a less spiritual and less self-forgetful level than that which the common strain of his prophecies and prayers maintain. It will be seen that these verses come at the close of a long and most earnest appeal addressed by him to God on behalf of his countrymen. They were suffering fearfully from the dearth of which the opening of the fourteenth chapter tells. Now, all this was then present before the prophet's mind, and these chapters record the expostulations, the pathetic appeals, and the almost agonized prayers which he pours forth on behalf of his suffering land and people. He makes full confession of their sins, but pleads the all-merciful Name of the Lord, and when that did not suffice, he urges the evil teaching that they had received from their prophets and that therefore they may be held guiltless or far less guilty, and when that plea also was rejected he returns to his confessions and earnest entreaties; but it is all of no avail. At the opening of this chapter God says, "Though Moses and Samuel"—men who had once and again proved themselves mighty intercessors for the people, yet even if they—"stood before me, my mind could not be toward this people." The crimes of Manasseh, King of Judah, that king who reigned so long, so disgracefully, and with such disastrous results over Judah, had never been repented of, and never really forsaken. They were rampant still, and therefore the Lord declares this judgment which he had sent upon them must go on—no prayers of his faithful servant could avail to stay its execution. Upon this the prophet pours out a piteous lamentation over the woes of his people, and then, turning to his own position, he complains bitterly of the hatred which was felt towards him by those whom he had sought to bless. "Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth!" He had been no usurer nor fraudulent debtor, "yet every one," he cries, "curses me." Then to him the Lord replies, promising him deliverance in the time of evil, and asks the question, "Shall iron break.; steel?" The ancients knew comparatively little of the manufactures of iron and steel. Amongst the Israelites it was very coarsely wrought, but the best iron was from the north. So bad was their own that an admixture of brass, which among us would be rather thought to lessen its value, was regarded as in improvement. But the iron and steel procured from the people who lived in the far north, on the shores of the Black Sea, was the most celebrated for its tenacity and hardness. Against it the common iron of every-day use could offer but little resistance, and when opposed to it could make little or no impression; it could not "break the northern iron and the steel." And the question of this verse is a proverb denoting the impossibility of any force, though great in itself, overcoming one which by its very nature and by its effects had been proved to be greater still. Our Lord teaches the same truth when he speaks of the folly of that king who thought, with his army of ten thousand, to encounter and overcome another king who came against him with twenty thousand. But whilst the meaning of this verse is plain enough, its application is not so clear. If we connect it with the verses that immediately precede, as many do, then it is a question whose tone is bright, cheerful, and reassuring. But if we connect it with those that immediately follow, its tone is altered and is full of solemn admonition and serious warning. In the first case it refers to Jeremiah himself, and is for his comfort and confidence. It tells him that the enemies who are against him, however iron like they might be-cold, hard, fierce, strong—and however much they may oppress and afflict him, yet assuredly they shall not prevail against him; for God will make him as the northern iron and the steel, against which all their might shall be in vain. God had promised at the very outset of the prophet's ministry that he would thus strengthen him. Behold, he says, in the first chapter, "I have made thee this day a defensed city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land … and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee." And in the twentieth verse of this chapter the like promise is given over again. So that they have much reason on their side who regard these words as a heart-cheering assurance conveyed to the prophet under the form of a question, and assuring him that, let the power of those who hated him be what it might—as iron like as it would—the grace of God which would be given him would make him stronger still, would make him as the northern iron and the steel. Let us, then, view these words—
I. AS A REASSURING PROMISE, and make two or three applications of them.
1. And first, to such as Jeremiah himself was at this time—a faithful servant of God, but muck troubled and tried. What right have we to expect that all things will go smoothly with us in this world, or to be surprised when sore troubles come? Did not our Lord say, "Behold, I send you forth as sheep amongst wolves"? Well, it would be strange if the sheep were to find all things just as they wished amid such surroundings as that. But, as one has said, the sheep have beaten the wolves after all. There are today tens of thousands of sheep for every wolf prowling on the face of the earth. It did seem very likely, when the sheep were so few, that the wolves would most certainly have quickly made a clearance of them. But, though here and there one like Saul "made havoc of the Church," the flock, the Lord's fold, went on increasing and multiplying in a marvelous way. Spiritually as well as literally the sheep outnumber the wolves who would destroy them. And what is the explanation but this, that to those who have no might the Lord has increased strength? He has let the wolves be indeed like iron, but his sheep he has strengthened as the northern iron, etc. And this he will ever do. God can temper our souls to such degree of hardness and tenacity that they shall blunt and beat back every weapon that is formed against them. The arrows hurled against us shall fall pointless to the ground, and the armor of God wherein we stand engirt shall more than defend us from the adversary's power. The shield of faith is made, not of our enemies' untempered iron, but of the northern iron and steel told of here. Oh, then, child of God, how is it with thee? Is the world frowning upon thee? are circumstances adverse and involved, and thy way hedged with difficulties? Has death invaded thy home or is it about to do so, and is thy heart saddened thereby? Does disappointment dog thy steps and baffle all thy best-meant endeavors? Is anxiety creeping over thee and filling thee with foreboding fear? Hearken to this word of God, "Can iron," etc.? Can these things, hard and terrible as they are, break down thy defense or break through thy shield? Oh, bring thy soul to Christ, tell him how weak, how defenseless, in thyself, thou art; come to him for the armor of proof thou needest; ask him to give thee good courage and to strengthen thine heart; and then, as thou comest off more than conqueror over all these things, thou shalt triumphantly ask this question for thyself.
2. And we may ask it again in reference to the opposition of the world against the Church of God. For that Church is girt with invincible power, and stands like a rock amid the raging of the sea. In vain the tempests hurl the mighty waves against it, in vain do they fiercely smite it as with force sufficient to make it stagger and fall; but whilst you look expecting to see it overthrown, lo, the huge seas that smote it are shivered into clouds of spray, and multitudes of foaming cataracts are seen rushing down its sides but leaving it unharmed and immovable still. And—to return to the metaphor of this verse—the iron of its adversary's weapon has broken against the steel of its impenetrable shield, and the Church of God is unconquered still. Heresy has sought with insidious power to turn it from the truth. Persecution with its fires and all manner of deadly cruelties has threatened every member of its communion, and slain thousands upon thousands of them. Superstition has come with its priestcraft and pretended supernatural powers and taught men to worship idols in the name of God. Infidelity, the sure offspring of Superstition, disgusted with the miserable shams and the mass of wretched fables which Superstition has taught men for truth, has thrown off all belief, and denied the very existence of God and the whole of the precious faith that the Church has received. The world, a more deadly foe still, with her soft blandishments and her mighty bribes, has done more to pervert the right ways of the Lord than perhaps all the other enemies of the Church altogether; just as on the mass of iron used in the construction of the great railway bridges which span so many of the valleys, straits, and rivers of our land, it is found that a warm morning's sunshine does more to deflect them from their true horizontal line than is accomplished by the ponderous weight of the heaviest engines and trains rushing over them at their highest speed. The soft warmth does more than the heaviest weight. And again and again in the history of the Church of God it has been found that when the world is most smiling then is it most deadly to the best interests of the Church. And in our day, fresh forms of unbelief or disbelief are gathering round the Church, and like a mist enwrapping the minds and hearts of not a few, so that the blessed firmness of faith which once was the common characteristic of the Church is giving way to a general doubt, vagueness, and uncertainty, upon which no firm foothold can be had. But what is our confidence in view of all this? Is it not in the truth, made sure to us by the experience of all the ages, that the Church of God is his especial care, and that therefore his omnipotence is around it, and all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it. Here the Church of God is today, in numbers, zeal, faith, charity, not one whit behind the former days. Here in this direction and that there may be loss, but if so, then in other directions we find gain. And the witness of all the history of the Church is this, that the forces that oppose her are but as untempered iron, whilst the power that defends her is as the northern, etc. And should there be any anxious heart who is in much doubt and fear as to his own personal salvation because of the multitude and magnitude of his sins, we would bid such a one take home to him the truth of our text. For although his sins be all he thinks them, and even more—of strength like iron—yet the Savior's will to save is as the northern iron and the steel. True, the retrospect over the past may be grievous, and since that was forgiven it may have been too often reproduced again. "Thy backslidings," as God told Israel, "have been many;" but art thou hoping in God? dost thou grieve and mourn over sin and truly desire to be made whole? Then it shall be so with thee; thy salvation shall be accomplished, for thine accusers' power is but as the iron, whilst thy Savior's is as the northern, etc. Therefore yield not to doubt, still less to despair, but go to him who is mighty to save, and ask him to give thee of his strength that thou mayst now conquer thy sin; so shalt thou no more doubt of his grace or of thine interest therein. Such are some of the applications of this question which, taking it as an implied promise, we are justified in making. But as we said at the outset, if we connect our text with the verses that follow, it will rather supply lessons of serious warning and admonition. For thus understood, the iron tells of the power of Israel and "the northern.; steel" of the invincible power of the Chaldean armies that were so soon to come against them, and therefore this question is a declaration of the sure overthrow of Israel when the time of conflict came. The power of God was against Israel, and then what hope could there be? Their poor defense would be soon broken, and they would lie at the mercy of their foe. It is, therefore—
II. A SAMPLE OF THE FATE THAT ATTENDS ALL RANGING OF MERE HUMAN POWERS AGAINST THE WILL OF GOD. Whenever any such unequal contest is contemplated or being carried on, this question may be fitly asked. And therefore we ask it:
1. Of all these, and they are very many, who think that they can, unarmed of God, successfully wage the war with sin. We would be unfeignedly thankful that there is felt the desire to wage this war at all, that there is no fatal apathy or content with sin, but that there is a real purpose to subdue it and keep it under and to live in all righteousness. Yes, wherever that purpose is, let thanks be given to God. But what all such need to remember, yet what they very often do not remember, is that the evil of their own hearts is as "the northern steel," whilst all the strength of their own resolves is but as common "iron," and when these two come in collision we know the result. Remember that first of all there is the guilt of sin to be provided for, and even supposing you were to contract no further sin, what is to be said of all the past? How can your own right resolves and correct future conduct—if it be indeed correct—atone for that? But supposing it were true that in an amended life there is atonement for the past, as we overlook the sins of youth, if the mature life be what it should be—supposing that were true, which it is not, even amongst men, if the past crimes have been of a serious kind—but supposing it were, and that if a man really turned over a new leaf all the records of the foregoing leaves should be destroyed, no matter what those records were—have you any guarantee that the future leaves will be altogether different from those that went before? The Word of God, and experience also, teach us that we have not. No doubt some sins may be given up, some evil actions forsaken, especially if they be such as bring upon us the reproach of man, but the true nature of the man remains unchanged—he is in himself what he was. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin," etc.? "then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." So speaks the prophet of God; so, too, speaks the experience of life. Of course we do not affirm all this in regard to the coming up to the standard of society, or of maintaining an external decency of life, but we do affirm it in regard to the attainment of that renewed and alone morally excellent character to which God calls us and of which our Lord Jesus Christ set us the example. You cannot bore through rock with wooden tools; you cannot with soft iron cut or pierce the hardened steel. And so you cannot, by the power of your own resolves, break that heart of evil, hardened like very steel, which every man carries about in him until it is regenerated by the Spirit of God. The grace of God alone can help you. It is at the cross of Christ, where you gain forgiveness from all the guilt of the past, that you gain also strength for the better life of the future; and it is in daily coming to that cross, daily looking unto Jesus, that blessed Lord who is both your Redeemer and your perfect Pattern, that you become changed into the same image and made like him. Iron is striving to "break the … steel," whilst you are endeavoring of yourself to save yourself from the past results and the present power of sin. You cannot do it, and in view of the gracious help the Lord Jesus Christ offers you it is a sin and an insult to him to persist in the attempt.
2. Finally, I think of another hopeless contest in which also many are still engaged, in which the iron is thinking to "break … steel." It is the contest with God, the combat with the Most High. God has made us all for himself, Now, he himself so obeys the law of truth and righteousness and goodness that we say he is righteousness. "The Lord is righteous in all his ways and holy in all his works" "God is love." Therefore he bids us surrender our hearts, our wills, to him, to obey, love, and serve him. It is not simply right, but most blessed for us as for all his creatures to do this, and the vast majority of them do, and are blessed in consequence. But man has the power of saying "Nay" to God's "Yea," and "Yea" to God's "Nay," and that power he has chosen to exercise. In other words, he has set up his will against the Divine will, and refuses obedience where the will of God and his own are opposed. This is the contest that is ever going on—God seeking to win man's will, his heart to himself, and man persistently refusing. Man wants to have his own way, believing and insisting that it is the good way for him, whilst God knows well that it is a way of evil and of evil only. Therefore by all means God is seeking to draw us from that way to his own. By the voice of conscience and of his Spirit pleading within us, by his providences, his Word, his ordinances, and in other ways still, mostly gentle and gracious, others of them of a sterner kind, but by them all he is aiming at but one result—this, of inducing us to yield to him, to acknowledge his authority, and confess him Lord. And remember this will of his is no passing wish, one which, when he finds he cannot have it, he will cease to care for. Oh no, but it is his steadfast purpose, that upon which his heart is set. "As I live, saith the Lord, all the earth shall be filled with my glory." "To Jesus every knee shall bow, and … Father." Can we think, then, that instead of this, God will be content with simply destroying man? That would be to confess failure on his part, and so would also the mere infliction of vengeance. Therefore we feel sure that the rebel will have to yield, and the stoutest heart to bow. The iron cannot "break … steel" Shall the will of man forever defy God, and hold out against him? But ah! what of agony and woe will not the rebel will have to go through ere it will own itself wrong! All the awful words of Christ about the quenchless fire and the undying worm—those dreadful sayings of his at which the soul shudders—still are his setting forth thereof. Oh, you whose hearts are still unsurrendered to him, will you provoke him to this? will you force him to hold you down to the consequences of your own doings until you come to see them as he sees them? Then not alone because of the sorrow that must attend the refusal to yield to him, but because such yielding is so right, so blessed, let us cease from the vain and sinful conflict; let the iron no more foolishly think to "break the northern iron and steel," But "let us come and worship and bow down"—not with the knee alone, but in heart "before the Lord our Maker" and our Redeemer.—C.
How to study the Scriptures.
This verse declares—
I. HOW WE SHOULD DEAL WITH GOD'S WORDS.
1. We are to "find' them. We are not to be content with mere surface reading, but to "search the Scriptures." It is certain that without this searching they will never be found. Now, it is this conviction which has led to the recent revision of the Scriptures. They who undertook that work were not ignorant of nor indifferent to the many objections which would be brought against their enterprise. They knew it would be said that such revision would disturb the faith of simple men and women, that it would provoke discord, that it would encourage restless spirits to be ever seeking change, that it would destroy old and sacred associations, that it was unnecessary because by means of commentaries and sermons the true meaning of any passage could be given; but they felt it to be their duty to set forth, as clearly as possible, the very words of Scripture, so that men may "find" them as before they could not do. They knew such work was needed, and they were encouraged by the history of former revisions, that of Jerome and that of our present Authorized Version, against which all the present objections were brought but were soon seen to be futile. Faith has not been disturbed; union and not discord has followed, the meaning of Scripture has been made more manifest, and what is and what is not of real authority—as the Apocrypha—has been declared. And they were encouraged by the fact that the present was an especially favorable time for their work: the existence of so many capable scholars, not only to do the work, but to test it after it was done; the increased knowledge of the Greek language and literature—a knowledge that, in view of the growing disregard for the languages of antiquity, was not likely to be ever greater than at present; the deep-felt love for the English of our Bible, thus ensuring the preservation to a great extent of its present tone and style; the spirit of concord which the proposal has elicited between this country and America, and between all sections of the Christian Church. Hence for all these reasons it was felt to be a favorable time to set out afresh on the search for the very words of God, in order that men might be enabled to" find" them the more readily. And we may gratefully believe that to a large extent the ends proposed have been secured, and that by the labors of the revisionists God's words in the New Testament Scriptures have been "found" as they have not been heretofore.
2. But this which others have done for us we must do for ourselves. We must "find" God's Word. We must study it, diligently read it, exercise ourselves in the Scriptures by careful, frequent, continuous reading, resolved that we will not merely read over the words, but know their meaning. For the Word of God needs finding. It is hidden away beneath the sound of familiar words and phrases which, from frequent hearing or repetition, have lost their power either to arrest or arouse our thought. And prejudice, formality, indolence, indifference, and other besetments of the soul beside, all do their part to hide from us the true sense of God's Word.
3. And, when found, God's Word should be spiritually "eaten," i.e. we must take his words so into our soul's life that, as our daily food ministers to our bodily life, these words of God shall minister to our soul's life. By the strength derived from our daily food all the organs of our body, all its functions and forces, are sustained in health and in working power—brain, heart, limbs, etc. And so, when God's words are "eaten," they sustain and strengthen the functions and forces of the soul—its faith, courage, hope, joy, etc. Abraham so believed God's word that he was able to offer up his son Isaac in obedience to what he believed was God's command. Job, by the same means, bore in glorious patience his heavy trials. Our blessed Lord baffled and vanquished the tempter by his threefold thrust of the sword of the Spirit—It is written. And all the heroes of the faith have become heroes by reason of this same "eating" of God's Word. Now, God's Word is thus taken into and made the life of our souls, not by memory alone. Mere learning page after page by heart, as we say, will not feed the soul. Let Sunday school teachers remember this. Nor will meditation and reflection upon it be sufficient. There must be added fervent prayer that, by the Divine Spirit, God's Word may be so inwrought in us that it shall be for us as a sacrament, a veritable eating of the flesh of Christ. Now, if the Word of God be thus found and eaten, see—
II. HOW GOD'S WORD WILL DEAL WITH US. It will become "the joy and rejoicing of our hearts." True religion is ever a joyful thing. "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and," etc. What is that entire hundred and nineteenth psalm but one continuous affirmation of joy in God's Word? We shall see in the histories which the Bible records the evidence of a Divine overruling, in its prophecies the proof that the future as well as the past is under the same control; in its precepts and its holy Law the righteousness of the Divine rule; and in the Gospels the love that is beneath, around, amidst, and above all. And to the man of God, what can all this be but "the joy and rejoicing of his heart"? God's words have done much for us when they have brought us to repentance, more when we are led to trust in God, yet more when they enable us to live the life of obedience; but they have not done all they were designed and are able and willing to do, until they have become "the joy," etc. But we cannot have the joy first; repentance, trust, obedience, must precede and accompany; let these be lacking, and joy cannot be.
III. THE GROUND OF THIS JOY AND REJOICING. "For I am called by thy Name," etc. The prophet was known as the "man of God." He was so identified with God, so notoriously consecrated to him, as to be called by his Name. It was the prophet's joy and delight to be so called, and yet more to be so in reality. Therefore everything that was the Lord's had interest for him, as an affectionate child rejoices in the letters of his parents, reads them over and over again, treasures them, obeys them. And he would joy in these words also because by them he had been led to the joy of his present favor with God, and by them he was sustained therein. Hence, he being so unreservedly and joyfully the Lord's, all the Lord's words could not but be what they were to him. And it is ever so, in proportion as we are the Lord's by a living, loving consecration, will his words be "the joy and," etc.—C.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
These words are addressed to the prophet in his character of intercessor for the people. He had already been told to plead no longer for them (Jeremiah 14:11), seeing that their case was hopeless, and the Divine sentence that had gone out against them was irrevocable. Observe—
I. THE POWER THAT HUMAN INTERCESSION MAY HAVE WITH GOD. The fact that such intercession is declared in this case to be vain implies that, under other conditions, it might be effectual Moses and Samuel often stood before the Lord as mediators on behalf of the people whom they represented (Numbers 14:13-20; 1 Samuel 7:9; Psalms 99:6). Not that they had officially any priestly function. They were not priests; their power with God lay in the elevation of their character and the intimacy of their fellowship with him. Every age has borne witness to the reality and efficacy of this power. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" on behalf of his fellow-men. Who can tell how much it is owing to such intercession that a guilty world has been saved from hopeless abandonment?
II. THE LIMIT MAN S OBDURACY PUTS TO THAT POWER. There are times when no human intervention is of any avail. Even the pleading of Moses and Samuel could not have averted the threatened judgments. "My mind could not be towards this people" Why? Simply because of the obstinacy of their unbelief and irreligion. It is not that God is not merciful and gracious and ready to forgive, or that the pleadings of good and holy men nave no power with him. It is that the inveterate obduracy of men nullifies all the persuasive influence alike of Divine and human love. God's mind cannot be towards those who with obstinate impenitence refuse his grace. There is a limit beyond which even Divine patience cannot go. The very pleading love of the great Intercessor is defeated in the case of those who will not forsake their false and evil ways. It is not so much an irrevocable Divine decree, it is their own self-willed perversity that dooms them and leaves the stern, retributive laws of God to take their course.—W.
The living Word.
The prophet, remonstrating with God on account of the hardness of his lot, here looks back regretfully to the time of his first call to the prophetic office. It is the language of one disappointed and disheartened by the apparent issue of his life, and the bitterness of whose grief is intensified by the remembrance of hopes unfulfilled, and a joy that has forever passed away. It is as if God were "altogether unto him as a liar, and as waters that fail." Apart, however, from the peculiar experiences that called it forth, this passage is full of instruction. Note—
I. THE METHOD OF GOD'S REVELATION OF HIMSELF TO MEN. "Thy words were found." The term "found," in a case like this, is suggestive of that which comes to the soul, not so much as the result of its own seeking, but of a spontaneous Divine purpose. All those on whom the quickening light of Divine truth has shone feel more or less distinctly the reality of this. The inspiration has come to them in mysterious and unexpected ways. It has "pleased God to reveal his Son in them." It is not so much that they "know God" as that they are "known of God" (Galatians 1:15, Galatians 1:16; Galatians 3:9). The initiatory step in this gracious process is his, not ours. "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," etc. (John 15:16).
II. THE VITAL RELATION TRUTH BEARS TO THE DIVINELY ENLIGHTENED SOUL. "I did eat it." No physical image could be more suggestive of the intimacy of this spiritual relationship. It indicates:
1. The soul's reparation to welcome the truth. There is a divinely awakened appetite.
2. The active participation of the powers of the soul in the process. It is more than a mere passive reception.
3. The assimilation of the truth into the very being of the man. As food is transformed into the living fiber of the body, so that truth becomes a part of the very substance of his spiritual nature, the stay of his strength, the inspiration of his life. The word is translated into the form of holy character and Godlike deed.
III. THE GLADDENING EFFECT OF DISCOVERED TRUTH. "Thy Word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart." There can be no purer, nobler joy than that which springs from conscious communion with the mind of God. His Word admits us to the realities of a world undarkened by the shadows and undisturbed by the storms that trouble this. Rising through it to the heights of Divine contemplation, the glory of the unseen and eternal surrounds us, and we drink of "the river of the pleasures of God."
IV. THE SELF-CONSECRATION THAT IS THE RESULT OF THE REALIZED POWER OF DIVINE TRUTH OVER THE SOUL. "I am called by thy Name," literally, "Thy Name is called over me." This was the seal and symbol of his personal dedication to his prophetic work. The Word of the Lord dwelling richly in the soul is the unfailing spring of a consecrated and holy life. "Sanctify them in thy truth: thy Word is truth," etc. (John 17:17, John 17:19).—W.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The uselessness of intercession once more emphatically stated.
I. A REMINDER OF GOD'S LONG-SUFFERING IN THE PAST. MOSES and Samuel had stood interceding before him, and again and again he had glorified himself in mercy and pardon. The mention of these two great historic names suggests to Jeremiah that God can appeal to all the past, confident that no man can complain of him as wanting in long-suffering with the waywardness of his people. They had wandered far and often, and often needed mercy and restoration; but when God forgave them, they soon forgot the mercy and renewed favor. Thus we are enabled to feel how very bad their condition must have become in the time of the prophet. To have listened to the plea of any intercessor would have been to show a mercy which yet was no mercy—a mercy which, while doing no real good to Israel, would have done evil in confusing the boundaries of truth and falsehood. God's mercy must ever be shown as part of his wisdom, and the time comes when severity to one or two generations may be the truest mercy to the whole world.
II. THE HONOR DONE TO THE MEMORY OF THE GOOD. As servants of Jehovah, Moses and Samuel were great in many ways, but in none greater than as urgent prevailing intercessors. With regard to Moses, see Exodus 32:11-14, Exodus 32:31, Exodus 32:32; Numbers 14:13-19. With regard to Samuel, see 1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 12:23. The listenings of God to these men showed that his general will was that supplications should ever be made on behalf of all sinners. God delights in seeing his servants pitiful towards all the needs of men, especially those needs which arise from their forgetfulness of God himself. This reference was surely meant to teach Jeremiah, for one thing, that God not only permitted intercession but expected it. Further, the intercessions here referred to were those of righteous men. Moses and Samuel fully appreciated the evil-doings of those for whom they interceded. Doubtless they quite apprehended that evil-doing might on certain occasions reach such a height that intercession could not be expected to prove successful. Those who had had the opportunity of pondering God's dealings in the Deluge and the destruction of Sodom would well understand that intercession had its limits.
III. JEREMIAH WAS THUS REMINDED OF THE DIFFICULTIES OF GOD'S SERVANTS IN FORMER DAYS. Moses and Samuel were not only intercessors, they were intercessors for those who had made life largely a burden and a grief to them. It was not upon a scene where they were comparative strangers that they came in, did their interceding work, and then passed out to return no more. The success of their intercession meant the renewal of their struggles with a wayward and careless nation. If only Jeremiah considered the whole history of Moses and the whole history of Samuel, he would be led to say, "Who am I that I should complain?" These conspiracies, this bitter opposition, this feeling of solitude, were nothing new. We can only serve God in our own day and generation, and we must accept that generation with all its difficulties, only let this be remembered, that there is no servant of God, in any generation, but will need all his faith and meekness and endurance to encounter and vanquish these difficulties in a right spirit.
IV. HONOR WAS PUT UPON JEREMIAH HIMSELF. His influence with God as a faithful servant was shown every whir as clearly as if he had been successful in his intercession, That influence, indeed, the people might fail to recognize; but this was a small matter if only the prophet himself was made to feel that his God respected the spirit of his prayer. God's way of honoring us is not by making us stand well with the fickle crowd, but by his own smile shining into our hearts and making gladness there. The mention of these two great historic names lifts Jeremiah in the esteem of God to something like a level with them—Y.
The man who felt he had been born to strife and contention.
These words of the prophet are not, of course, to be taken too literally. They are the language of excited feeling and of poetry, and would not be permissible as a prosaic statement to which the man who makes it may be expected deliberately to adhere. The proper way of regarding the words is to take them as vividly indicating a position which no words could sufficiently describe. Jeremiah sometimes felt himself so hated and so isolated that there seemed but one way of accounting for his experience, and that was that he had been born to it. We know, indeed, that the truth was far otherwise (see Jeremiah 1:5). There we see how Jehovah himself reckoned Jeremiah to have come into this earthly existence, not for suffering, but for a career of noble and useful action, which, rightly considered, was a high privilege. But a man who is constantly suffering from the sin of his fellow-men in all its shapes and all its degrees, cannot be always looking at the bright side and speaking in harmony with such a view.
I. A SERVANT OF GOD MAY HAVE TO LIVE A LIFE OF INCESSANT CONFLICT. Jeremiah's case appears to have been an extreme one, and yet the history of the Church shows that a company by no means few might be reckoned as companions in his peculiar tribulation. It is not for us to say how far our lives shall be marked by external conflict. We must not seek conflict; but we must be ready for it if it comes. God gives to every one who is willing to be his servant a way in which to walk, a way which does not infringe on a single real right of a single human being. From beginning to end that way may be trodden, not only without injury to others, but with positive benefit to them. At the same time, nothing is more possible than that treading in such a way may expose him who strives to walk in it to all the various forms which, according to circumstances or opportunity, opposition may take. And therefore, when we are beginning to feel our way to the carrying out of God's will, we must lay our account with opposition. How much of it may come, how far it may go, how long it may last, we cannot tell; and as we must not provoke it through mere exuberance of energy, so neither must we avoid it for the sake of a temporary peace which is really no peace. If opposition comes—even intense opposition—to the truth faithfully proclaimed, this only shows that the truth has proved itself an arrow, striking home and making its wound, whatever the ultimate consequence of that wound may be.
II. THE MESSAGE OF GOD IS NOT THE ONLY CAUSE OF STRIFE AND CONTENTION. Jeremiah was reckoned as a troubler of Israel, and so in one sense he was; but Israel could only have been troubled by him because, first of all, it was in a condition which admitted of commotion. The wind troubles the waters and raises the waves into destructive fury; but this is just because they are in a condition easily acted on. The prophet, however, has another answer, an answer which served to show how much he marveled at the universality and intensity of the opposition with which he was met. He is far from being the only troubler of Israel. Suppose he becomes silent; strife and contention would not therefore cease. When he comes in with his reproofs, warnings, and threatenings, it is not upon a scene hitherto tranquil and harmonious that he enters. He finds abundance of quarrelling already, and one fertile source of the quarrelling lies in the relations between borrower and lender. They may cease their strife, and join their forces for a little while against the prophet who is their common enemy; but their mutual exasperation is not forgotten, their quarrel is by no means composed. They will return to it with as much bitterness as ever. The prophet, it will be noticed, speaks as if the hostility to him was a marvel. God has sent him to these men for their good; he has come to turn their steps from the way leading to destruction; and yet, because he tells them the truth, he has become their enemy. We see that his faith in human nature, as easily knowing its own best interests, is hard to shake. He does not at all wonder that the borrower should hate the rapacious lender and the lender hate the defaulting borrower; but there is a deep mystery when the man who comes to warn of danger is hated for his message, and hated all the more just as he becomes more earnest and persistent in the utterance of it.
III. WE SEE THE PROPHET'S CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE PURITY OF HIS OWN MOTIVES. He is sure that in him there is no reason for hostility. He had defrauded none; he had oppressed none. With all his complainings here, it was well that he had no cause for self-reproach. Difficulties we must ever expect from that action of others which we cannot control; but let them not be increased needlessly by our own selfishness, obstinacy, and arrogance.—Y.
The prophet's claim upon Jehovah, and the grounds of the claim.
That which urged the prophet thus to cry to God for succor is stated with great emphasis in Jeremiah 15:18. He is suffering as from a perpetual pain and an incurable wound. It is by such a cry as this that we are able to estimate something of the continuous reproach which he must have had to endure. We know how, in later days, the Jews dogged the steps of Christ and afterwards of Paul; and these persecutors of Jeremiah were their ancestors. Against them Jeremiah could do nothing himself. So far as human sympathy was concerned, he was alone or nearly alone, not able to command even the forbearance of his own kindred, and therefore he had to turn all the more to God. It was well, indeed, that he was thus shut up to the one resort. In his approach to God, we find him stating three claims for God's immediate attention to his position.
I. SUFFERING FOR JEHOVAH'S SAKE. Every suffering man has a claim upon God, even when his suffering comes by his own transgression. God is very pitiful to the tortured conscience of the man who has been wakened up out of a selfish and disobedient life. It can be no pleasure to him to see a being of such sensibility as man suffering from any cause whatever; and when a man is suffering for truth, for righteousness, for the gospel and the kingdom of God, then we may be sure that there is a peculiar movement of the Divine nature to help and strengthen such a sufferer. God would help his servant in this very instance, by enabling him to look at his suffering in the right way. The suffering was an evidence of successful work; successful because it had been faithfully and courageously done. If only the prophet had softened some words the Lord had put into his mouth and omitted others, he might have escaped reproach. But reproach smiting on a good conscience is better than contempt falling deservedly on the coward who trims to stand well with everybody. Then the prophet would also be made to feel that it was a good thing to bear what God was bearing himself. His long-suffering towards his enemies requires that his friends should also be patient. It is better to be abused in bearing testimony for God than to share in the rancorous conflicts of selfish men. Prophet and apostle alike had this for their experience that they were compelled to suffer for the Lord's sake; and he who bore the clearest, purest testimony of all, viz. Jesus himself, was the one who suffered the most. That good and true men, trying to serve God, should often become impatient under biting, bitter words is not wonderful. The true thing to be desired in such a state of mind is not to escape the reproaches, but to have the inward joy increased, so that it may be an effectual counterbalance to all that comes from outside. "If ye be reproached for the Name of Christ, happy are ye" (1 Peter 4:14).
II. THE COMPLETE ASSOCIATION OF THE PROPHET WITH THE PROPHETIC WORD. He did not receive it into his mind reluctantly and listlessly, but as one who hungered and thirsted after righteousness. As the word fell on his inner ear it was devoured. It came to him as from the excellent glory; he recognized it as Divine. He was not as many, who will pamper and cram themselves with delicacies that are pleasant to the taste, and turn away with unconcealed aversion from food full of nutrition and health. Hence they became to him the joy and rejoicing of his inward life. All words of God, apprehended in their real meaning, give strength, peace, satisfaction, harmony in the nobler parts of human nature. Jeremiah is thinking of the parallel which may be drawn between food for the body and food for the spirit. The food which we take, just because it is pleasant for the taste, may be anything but a joy and rejoicing to the heart. We must eat what is really good for food, evidently intended for food, if we would be kept from ill consequences. It was because these words were readily accepted and fully received that they became a joy and rejoicing to the heart, and then in the strength, fortitude, zeal, thus communicated, the prophet went forth to his arduous work. Here surely is the secret of his steadfastness. God had put his words in his servant's mouth (Jeremiah 1:9); but that was all he could do. It was for the prophet himself so to treat the words that he should give them with all the added force of his own sanctified personality. Other men might have uttered the same words, yet so as to rob them of all force and sting. Notice in particular that if these words of God to the prophet—words mostly so stern, spoken nearly all from the judgment-seat—were nevertheless the joy and rejoicing of his heart, how much more may such an experience be expected from receiving the evident gospel words of the Lord Jesus! "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life" (John 6:63).
III. THE PROPHET'S LIFE WAS CONSISTENT WITH HIS MESSAGE. According to his message, which was soon proved to be a word of truth, the whole land was advancing ever more swiftly into a season of the greatest suffering and sorrow. Yet the people would not believe the message, but went on, just as usual, assembling for their merry-makings. If now the prophet had joined in these merry, makings, the people would have had some plea for their neglect. As it was, they could find no excuse in any inconsistent conduct of his; as he spoke, so he acted. Probably some of them tried to draw him in, to get him away from what, in their shallowness and haste, they would reckon mere morbid fancies. Others would accuse him as being one who cared for no pleasure of life himself, unless it was the pleasure of souring the pleasure of others. And yet we see the prophet could be as thankful for joy and rejoicing of heart as any one. It is the greatest possible mistake to suppose that those who keep away from the world's pleasures are filled with gloom. A service of God, filled with joy, may soon become a real experience. But if talking about it stands instead of the reality, then the pretence will soon be shown by the avidity of our turning towards worldly pleasures.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 15". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13