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That this chapter (to which the first four verses of Jeremiah 4:1-31. ought to have been attached) belongs to the time of Josiah seems to be proved by Jeremiah 3:6, and the years immediately following the reformation are not obscurely referred to in Jeremiah 3:4, Jeremiah 3:10. Naegelsbach gives a striking distribution of its contents. The general subject is a call to "return." First, the prophet shows that, in spite of Deuteronomy 24:1, etc; a return is possible (Deuteronomy 24:1-5). Then he describes successively an invitation already uttered in the past, and its sad results (Deuteronomy 24:6-10), and the call which will, with a happier issue, be sounded in the future (Deu 24:11 -25); this is followed by an earnest exhortation, addressed first to Israel and then to Judah (Jeremiah 4:1-4).
They say, etc.; as the margin of Authorized Version correctly states, the Hebrew simply has "saying." Various ingenious attempts have been made to explain this. Hitzig, for instance, followed by Dr. Payne Smith, thinks that "saying" may be an unusual equivalent for "that is to say," "for example," or the like; while the Vulgate and Rashi, followed by De Wette and Rosenmüller, assume an ellipsis, and render, "It is commonly said," or "I might say." But far the most natural way is to suppose that "saying" is a fragment of the superscription of the prophecy, the remainder of which has been accidentally placed in Jeremiah 3:6, and that we should read, "And the word of the Lord came unto me in the days of Josiah the king, saying." So J. D. Michaelis, Ewald, Graf, Naegelsbach. If a man put away his wife. The argument is founded on the law of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which forbade an Israelite who had divorced his wife to take her again, if in the interval she had been married to another. The Jews had broken a still more sacred tie, not once only, but repeatedly; they worshipped "gods many and lords many;" so that they had no longer any claim on Jehovah in virtue of his "covenant" with his people. Shall he return, etc.? rather, Ought he to return? The force of the term is potential (comp. Authorized Version of Genesis 34:7, "which thing ought not to be done"). Shall not in the next clause is rather would not. Yet return again to me. So Peshito, Targum, Vulgate, and the view may seem to be confirmed by the invitations in Deuteronomy 24:12, Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 24:22. But as it is obviously inconsistent with the argument of the verse, and as the verb may equally well be the infinitive or the imperative, most recent commentators render, "And thinkest thou to return to me?" (literally, and returning to me! implying that the very idea is inconceivable). Probably Jeremiah was aware that many of the Jews were dissatisfied with the religious condition of the nation (comp. verse 4).
Lift up thine eyes, etc. No superficial reformation can be called "returning to Jehovah." The prophet, therefore, holds up the mirror to the sinful practices which a sincere repentance must extinguish. The high places; rather, the bare hills (comp. on Jeremiah 2:20). In the ways hast thou sat for them. By the roadside (comp. Genesis 38:14; Proverbs 7:12). As the Arabian in the wilderness. So early was the reputation of the Bedouin already won (comp. Judges 6:1-40.). Jerome ad loc. remarks, "Quae gens latrociniis dedita usque hodie incursat terminos Palaestinae."
Wilt thou not, etc.? rather, Truly from this time thou callest unto me (literally, Dost thou not, etc.? a common way of giving an energetic assurance). The prophet admits the apparent revival of faith in Jehovah which attended the compulsory reformation under Josiah, but denies that it was more than apparent (comp, Jeremiah 3:10). The guide of my youth; rather, the companion (the familiar associate); so in Proverbs 2:17. Comp. Jeremiah 2:2, and especially Isaiah 54:6, "and a wife of youth", "that she should be rejected [how incredible a thing!]"
Will he reserve? rather, Will he retain, etc.? It is a continuation of the supposed address of Judah. To the end? rather, everlastingly? Behold, thou hast spoken, etc.; rather, Behold, thou hast spoken it, but hast done these evil things, and hast prevailed (i.e. succeeded). The substance of the two verses (4 and 5) is well given by Ewald: "Unhappily her power truly to return has been exhausted, as not long ago after fresh signs of the Divine displeasure she prayed in beautiful language to [Jehovah] for new favor and abatement of the old sufferings, [but] she immediately fell again into her sin, and carried it out with cool determination."
The Lord said also unto me, etc. It has been suggested (see on Jeremiah 3:1) that this introductory clause belongs rather to Jeremiah 3:1. Some sort of introduction, however, seems called for; Ewald supposes a shorter form, such as "And the Lord said further unto me." The view is not improbable, for although there is evidently a break between Jeremiah 3:5 and Jeremiah 3:6, there are points of contact enough between Jeremiah 3:1-5 and the following discourse to prove that they represent the same prophetic period (comp. Jeremiah 3:10 with Jeremiah 3:3, Jeremiah 3:8, Jeremiah 3:9 with Jeremiah 3:1, Jeremiah 3:12 with Jeremiah 3:5, Jeremiah 3:19 with Jeremiah 3:4). Backsliding Israel; literally, apostasy Israel. Usually a change or modification of a name is a sign of honor; here, however, it marks the disgrace of the bearer. Israel is apostasy personified (comp. Jeremiah 3:14, Jeremiah 3:22). She is gone up; rather, her wont hath been to go up.
And I said after she had done, etc.; rather, and I said, After she hath done all these things, she will return unto me. And her treacherous sister. Observe the distinction between the two sisters. Israel had openly broken the political and religious connection with Jehovah (Hosea 8:4); Judah nominally retained both, but her heart was towards the false gods (comp. the allegory in Ezekiel 23:1-49; which is evidently founded upon our passage).
And I saw, when for all the causes, etc.; rather, and I saw that even because apostate Israel had, etc. But this is exceedingly strange in this connection. The preceding words seem to compel us either (with the Vulgate) to omit "and I saw" altogether, or (with Ewald) to read the first letter of the verb differently, and render "and she saw," taking up the statement of Jeremiah 3:7 ("saw; yea, she saw," etc.). The latter view is favored by a phrase in Jeremiah 3:10 (see note below). The same corruption of the text (which is palaeographically an easy one) occurs probably in Ezekiel 23:13. The error must, however, be a very ancient one, for the Septuagint already has καὶ εἷδον.
Through the lightness of her whoredom; i.e. through the slight importance which she attached to her whoredom. So apparently the ancient versions. The only sense, however, which the word kol ever has in Hebrew is not "lightness," but "sound," "voice," and perhaps "rumor" (Genesis 45:16). Hence it is more strictly accurate to render "through the cry." etc. (comp. Genesis 4:10; Genesis 19:13), or "through the fame," etc.. But neither of these seems quite suitable to the context, and if, as King James's translators seem to have felt it necessary to do, we desert the faithful translation, and enter on the path of conjecture, why not emend kol into klon (there is no vav, and such fragments of true readings are not altogether uncommon in the Hebrew text), which at once yields a good meaning—"through the disgrace of her whoredom ?" Ewald thinks that kol may be taken in the sense of k'lon; but this is really more arbitrary than emending the text. With stones, etc. (see Jeremiah 2:27).
For all this; i.e. though Judah had seen the punishment of apostate Israel (Jeremiah 3:7, Jeremiah 3:8). So Rashi, Naegelsbach, Payne Smith. Most commentators suppose the phrase to refer to Judah's obstinate wickedness (Jeremiah 3:9), but this gives a weak sense. "Judah defiled the land, etc; and yet notwithstanding her repentance was insincere"—this is by no means a natural sequence of ideas. The right exposition increases the probability of the correction proposed at the beginning of Jeremiah 3:8.
It is very noteworthy that Jeremiah should have still so warm a feeling for the exiles of the northern kingdom (more than a hundred years after the great catastrophe). Hath justified herself. "To justify" can mean "to show one's self righteous," as well as "to make one's self righteous," just as "to sanctify" can mean, "to show one's self holy" (Isaiah 8:13), as well as "to make one's self holy." In spite of Israel's apostasy, she has shown herself less worthy of punishment than Judah, who has had before her the warning lesson of Israel's example, and who has been guilty of the most hateful of all sins, hypocrisy (comp. verse 7).
Israel, therefore, shall be recalled from exile. Her sins are less than those of Judah, and how long and bitterly has she suffered for them! Toward the north. For Israel had been carried captive into the regions to the north of the Assyrian empire (2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 18:11). Comp. the pro-raise in Jeremiah 31:8. I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you; rather, my face to fall towards you (i.e. upon your return).
This condition of restoration to favor. Israel is to acknowledge, or perceive, notice, recognize, her guilt. And hast scattered thy ways; alluding to that "gadding about" in quest of foreign alliances, reproved in the preceding chapter (Jeremiah 2:36). Comp. "interlacing her ways," Jeremiah 2:23.
Turn, O backsliding children. There is a play upon words, or rather upon senses, in the original, "Turn, ye turned away ones" (comp. Jeremiah 3:12). To whom is this addressed? To the Israelites in the narrower sense, for there is nothing to indicate a transition. Long as they have been removed from the paternal hearth, they are still "sons." For I am married unto you. The same Hebrew phrase occurs in Jeremiah 31:32. Its signification has been a subject of dispute. From the supposed necessities of exegesis in Jeremiah 31:32, some (e.g. Pococke and Gesenins) have translated, "for I have rejected you," but the connection requires not "for" but "though," which, however, is an inadmissible rendering; besides, the Hebrew verb in question nowhere has the sense of "reject" elsewhere. The literal meaning is for I have been a lord over you, i.e. a husband. Israel is despondent, and fears to return. Jehovah repeats his invitation, assuring Israel that he does not regard the marriage bond as broken. He is still (in spite of Jeremiah 31:8) the husband, and Israel the bride (comp. Hosea 2:1-23.; Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 54:6, etc.). One of a city, and two of a family. The promises of God are primarily to communities, but this does not prevent him from devoting the most special care to individuals. "One of a city, and two of a family," even though there should be but one faithful Lot in a city, and two such in a family (larger than a city, a single tribe containing only a few mishpa-khoth, or clans), yet I will admit these few to the promised blessings." Calvin's remark is worth noticing: "Hie locus dignus est observatu, quia ostendit Deus non esse, cur alii alios expectent; deinde etiam si corpus ipsum populi putreseat in suis peccatis, tamen si pauci ad ipsum redeant, se illis etiam fore placabilem." The historical facts to which the prophecy corresponds are variously regarded. Theodoret, Grotius, etc; suppose it to have been fulfilled exclusively in the return from Babylon; St. Jerome and others think rather of the Messianic period. Hengstenberg finds a continuous fulfillment, beginning at the time of Cyrus, when many belonging to the ten tribes joined themselves to the returning Judahites. He finds a further continuation in the times of the Maccabees, and in fact a continually growing fulfillment in preparation for that complete one brought in by Christ, when the premised blessings were poured out upon the whole δωδεκάφυλον (Luke 2:36). "Zion and the holy land were at that time the seat of the kingdom of God, so that the return to the latter was inseparable from the return to the former." Dr. Guthe, however, the latest critical commentator on Jeremiah, thinks that the passage can be explained otherwise, viz." from each city one by one, and from each family two by two." This gives a more obvious explanation; but the ordinary rendering is more natural, and the explanation based upon it is in the highest degree worthy of the Divine subject. The doubt, of course, is whether in the Old Testament a special providence is extended elsewhere so distinctly to the individual. But Jeremiah is pre-eminently an individualizing prophet; he feels the depth and reality of individual as opposed to corporate life as no one else among the prophets. (At any rate, one point is clear, that the prophet foresees that the number of the exiles who return will be but small compared with the increase to be divinely vouchsafed to them; see verse 16.)
Pastors. In Jeremiah 23:4, the same word is rendered in the Authorized Version "shepherds," which would he less open to misunderstanding here than "pastors," civil and not spiritual authorities being intended (see on Jeremiah 2:8). The prophecy is, of course, not inconsistent with passages like Jeremiah 23:5, but as the national continuance of Israel was guaranteed, it was natural to refer to the subordinate civil authorities. According to mine heart; better, according to my mind; for here, as also in 1 Samuel 13:14, it is something very far from perfection which is ascribed to the chosen rulers. "Heart" is sometimes equivalent to "understanding."
When ye be multiplied; a common feature in pictures of the latter days (Jeremiah 23:3; Ezekiel 36:11; Hosea 2:1). They shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord. A definition of the Messianic period on its negative side—the ark shall he no longer the center of religious worship. We must remember that the ark is represented in the Law as the throne of Jehovah, who was "enthroned upon the cherubim" on the lid of the ark. It is in virtue of this sacramental presence that the temple is called the "dwelling-places" of Jehovah (e.g. Psalms 46:4; Psalms 84:1, where Authorized Version has wrongly "tabernacles"). Now, in the Messianic period the consciousness of Jehovah's presence was to be so widely spread, at any rate in the center of God's kingdom, the holy city, that the ark would no longer be thought of; it would be, if not destroyed (we know, as a matter of fact, that the ark was destroyed in some unrecorded way), yet at least become utterly unimportant. Jerusalem would then naturally succeed to the title "Jehovah's throne" (applied to the temple in Jeremiah 14:12). Neither shall it come to mind. The same phrase is used of the old heaven and earth as compared with the new (Isaiah 65:17). In the concluding clauses, "visit" should rather be "miss," and "that be done" should be "it [viz. the ark] be made." On the whole subject of the prophetic descriptions of the worship of the Messianic period—descriptions which often wear at any rate a superficial appearance of inconsistency, see the luminous remarks of Professor Riehm, 'Messianic Prophecy,' pp. 161-163. At the same time, we must be extremely cautious how far we admit that Old Testament prophecies of the latter days have received a complete fulfillment in the Christian Church, considering how far the latter is from the realizable ideal, and also the importance attached in the New Testament as well as in the Old to the continuance of Israel as a nation.
Jerusalem's spiritual glory. With Jeremiah's description, comp. that of Ezekiel," The name of the city from that day shall be, "The Lord is there" (Ezekiel 48:35). This gives us the positive aspect of the Messianic period (comp. on verse 16). Jerusalem shall be the spiritual center of the universe, because it is pervaded by the presence of the Most High (comp. Isaiah 4:5). May we explain with Dr. Payne Smith, "Jerusalem, i.e. the Christian Church?" Only if the provisional character of the existing Church be kept well in view. All the nations; i.e. all except the chosen people. The word for "nations" (goyim) is that often rendered "heathen." To the name; or, because of the name, i.e. because Jehovah has revealed his name at Jerusalem. The phrase occurs again with a commentary in Joshua 9:9, "Thy servants are come because of the name of Jehovah thy God, for we have heard the fame of him, and all that he did in Egypt." But we must not suppose that "name" is equivalent to "revelation;" rather, there is here an ellipsis—"because of the name" is equivalent to "because of the revelation of the name," or better still, " … of the Name." The "Name of Jehovah" is in fact a distinct hypostasis in the Divine Being; no mere personification of the Divine attributes (as the commentators are fond of saying), but (in the theological sense) a Person. The term, "Name of such and such a God,:' is common to Hebrew with Phoenician religion. In the famous inscription of Eshmunazar, King of Zidon, Ashtoreth is called "Name of Baal;" and to whichever proper name the religious term Name may be attached, it means a personal existence in the Divine nature, specially related to the world of humanity; or, to use the language of Hengstenberg, the bridge between the latter and the transcendent heights of God as he is in himself. In short, the Name of Jehovah is virtually identical with the Logos of St. John, or the second Person in the blessed Trinity. Hence the personal language now and again used of this Name in the Old Testament, e.g. Isaiah 30:27, "The Name of Jehovah cometh from far … his lips are full of indignation;" Isaiah 26:8," The desire of our soul was to thy Name;" Isaiah 59:19, "So shall they fear the Name of Jehovah from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun." Comp. also Proverbs 18:10; men do not run for safety to an abstract idea. Nor will all nations in the latter days resort either to a localized or to a spiritually diffused Jerusalem in the future, to gratify a refined intellectual curiosity. Neither shall they walk, etc.; i.e. the Israelites of the latter days; not the "nations" before mentioned (as Hengstenberg). The phrase occurs eight times in Jeremiah, and is always used of the Israelites. The word rendered "imagination" is peculiar (sheriruth). As Hengstenberg has pointed out, it occurs independently only in a single passage (Deuteronomy 29:18); for in Psalms 81:13, it is plainly derived, not from the living language, from which it had disappeared, but from the written. (The close phraseological affinity between the Books of Deuteronomy and Jeremiah has been already indicated.) The rendering of the Authorized Version, which is supported by the Septuagint, Peshito, Targum, is certainly wrong; the Vulgate has pravitatum; the etymological meaning is "stubbornness." The error of the versions may perhaps have arisen out of a faulty inference from Psalms 81:13, where it stands in parallelism to "their counsels."
The reunion of the separated portions of the nation (comp. Ezekiel 37:16, Ezekiel 37:17; Hosea 1:11; Isaiah 11:12, Isaiah 11:13). Observe, Israel is converted first, then Judah. This detail in the prophecy is not to be pressed. Not that the force of any prophecy is to be evaded, but that in this case the form of the statement is so clearly conditioned by the abounding sympathy of the prophet for the ten tribes. These had been so long languishing in captivity that they needed a special premise. The form of the promise is imaginative; this seems clearly to follow from the fact that in no other passage (except, indeed, Jeremiah 31:9) is there a reference to the spiritual primacy of Etihraim in the restored nation. Out of the land of the north; i.e. Assyria and (Jeremiah 1:14) Babylonia. The Septuagint inserts, "and from all the countries," agreeably to Jeremiah 16:15; Jeremiah 23:3; Jeremiah 32:37. Of course, it would not be an accurate statement that the exiles from Judah were confined to "the land of the north." This is a fair specimen of the supplementing tendency of the Septuagint, though it is possible, and even probable, that the Hebrew text has suffered in a less degree from the same tendency on the part of later copyists.
The concluding words of the last verse have turned the current of the prophet's thoughts. "Unto your fathers." Yes; how bright the prospect when that ideal of Israel was framed in the Divine counsels! Condescending accommodation to human modes of thought; But I said fails to represent the relation of this verse to the preceding. Render, I indeed had said, and continue, How will I, etc. Put thee among the children. This is a very common rendering, but of doubtful correctness. It assumes that, from the point of view adopted (under Divine guidance) in the prophecies of Jeremiah, the various heathen nations were in the relation of sons to Jehovah. This is most improbable; indeed, even Exodus 4:22 does not really favor the doctrine of the universal fatherhood of God in the fullest sense of the word. Moreover, the pronoun rendered "thee" is in the feminine, indicating that the prophet has still in his mind the picture of Israel as Jehovah's bride. It would surely be an absurd statement that Jehovah would put his bride among the children! Render, therefore, How will I found thee with sons! comparing, for the use of the Hebrew verb, 1 Samuel 2:8, and for that of the preposition, Isaiah 54:11. It is, in fact, the familiar figure by which a family or a nation is likened to a building ("house of Abraham," "of Israel"). Jehovah's purpose had been to make Abraham's seed as the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16). Instead of that, the restored exiles would be few, and weak in proportion, so that the Jewish Church of the early restoration period is represented as complaining, "We made not the land salvation, neither were inhabitants of the world produced" (Isaiah 26:18). A special Divine promise was needed to surmount this grave difficulty. A goodly … nations; rather, a heritage the most glorious among the nations. So in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 20:6, Ezekiel 20:15) Palestine is described as "the glory of all lands." The want of irrigation, and the denudation of the land, have no doubt much diminished the natural beauty and fertility of Palestine; but wherever moderate care is bestowed on the soil, how well it rewards it! Thou shalt call me … shalt not turn; rather, thou wilt call me … wilt not turn. It is the continuation of Jehovah's ideal for Israel. In response to his loving gifts, Israel would surely recognize him as her Father, and devote to him all her energies in willing obedience. Father is here used, not in the spiritual and individualizing sense of the New Testament, but in such a sense as a member of a primitive Israelitish family, in which the pairia potestas was fully carried out, could realize. The first instance of the individualizing use of the term is in Ecclesiasticus 23:1-4. (For the Old Testament use, comp. Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 63:16; Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1.)
Surely. The word acquires an adversative sense from the context, as in Isaiah 53:4, and is virtually equivalent to "but surely." From her husband; literally, from her friend or companion. The choice of the word seems to indicate the inner hollowness of the married life. The woman only sees in her husband the companion, behind whoso back she can follow her own inclinations.
Another of those rapid transitions so common in emotional writing like Jeremiah's. The prophet cannot bear to dwell upon the backsliding of his people. He knows the elements of good which still survive, and by faith sees them developed, through the teaching of God's good providence, into a fruitful repentance. How graphic is the description! On the very high places (or rather, bare, treeless heights or downs, as verse 2) where a licentious idolatry used to be practiced, a sound is heard (render so, not was heard)—the sound of the loud and audible weeping of an impulsive Eastern people (comp. Jeremiah 7:29). For they have; this evidently gives the reason of the bitter lamentation; render, because they have.
Return, ye backsliding children, etc.; more literally, Turn, ye turned-away sons; I will heal your turnings (as Hosea 14:4). It seems strange at first sight that this verso does not stand before Jeremiah 3:21. But the truth is that Jeremiah 3:21 describes not so much the "conversion" of the Jews as their willingness to "convert", or "turn" to God. Christ must touch, or at least make his presence felt, in order that the sick man may be healed; a special call of God must be heard, in order that the sinner may truly repent. Behold, we come unto thee. Efficacious, and not "irresistible" grace, is the doctrine of the Old Testament.
Truly in vain, etc. An obscure and (if corruption exists anywhere) corrupt passage, which, however, it is hopeless to attempt to emend, as the corruption consists partly in wrong letters, partly in omitted letters or words (or both); and, moreover, the text employed by the Septuagint appears to have presented the same difficulty. The latter point is especially noteworthy. It is far from proving that the traditional text is correct; what it does suggest is that the writings of the prophets were at first written down in a very insecure manner. The rendering of the Authorized Version is substantially that of Hitzig, who explains "the multitude of [the] mountains," as meaning "the multitude of gods worshipped on the mountains"—too forced an expression for so simple a context. It seems most natural to suppose (with Ewald, Graf, and Keil), a contrast between the wild, noisy cultus of idolatrous religions, and the quiet spiritual worship inculcated by the prophets. Compare by way of illustration, the loud and ostentatious demonstrations of Baal's ritual in 1 Kings 18:1-46; with the sober, serious attitude of Elijah in the same chapter. The word rendered in the Authorized Version "multitude" has a still more obvious and original meaning, viz. "tumult;" and probably the Targum is not far from the true sense in rendering, "In vain have we worshipped upon the hills and not for profit have we raised a tumult on the mountains."
For shame; rather, and the Shame (i.e. the Baal). The words Bosheth ("Shame") and Baal are frequently interchanged; so again in Jeremiah 11:13 (comp. Hosea 9:10). So, too, Jerubbesheth stands for Jerubbaal (2 Samuel 11:21; comp. Judges 6:32); Ishbosheth for Eshbaal. Hath devoured the labor of our fathers, etc.; a condensed way of saying that Baal-worship has brought the judgments' of God upon us,, our flocks, and herds, and all the other labor (or rather "wealth;' i.e. fruit of labor) of our fathers, being destroyed as the punishment of our sins (comp. Deuteronomy 28:30-32). Another view is that the "devouring" had to do with the sacrifices, but it is improbable that the sacrificial worship of Baal bad developed to such a portentous extent, and the former explanation is in itself more suitable to the context.
We lie down; rather, Let us lie down; said in despair, just as Hezekiah says, "Let us enter the gates of Sheol" (Isaiah 38:10). A prostrate position is the natural expression of deep sorrow (2 Samuel 12:16; 2 Samuel 13:31; 1 Kings 21:4). Our confusion covereth us; rather, Let our confusion (or reproach) cover us (like a veil) (comp. Jeremiah 51:51; Psalms 69:7).
Filial reminiscences of God.
We are here brought from the view of God as a Husband to that of him as a Father, for only when we consider his various relations with us can we measure the depth of our sin or the motives we have for returning to him.
I. GOD'S PEOPLE CAN CALL TO MIND OLD MEMORIES OF HIS FATHERLY GOODNESS.
1. In our own experience of his grace he has revealed himself as a Father. He is the Source and Origin of life. In him we continue to exist (Acts 17:28). He is constantly protecting us and enriching us with his gifts.
2. God may be discerned as the Companion of his people's early days.
(1) He was with his people—a Companion—not merely blessing them from a distance.
(2) He was with his people as a Friend, holding kindly intercourse, condescending to intimate communion, accompanying them as a Stay and Solace through their pilgrimage.
(3) He was with his people in their youth. None are too young to be honored with the friendship of God. Happy are they who have been in communion with God from their youth up, instead of only coming to him at the eleventh hour! They enjoy the most of him, have longest time for his service, have most advantages for growing and ripening in religious experience. As we look back on our early days, we may often discern how God has been with us in dark scenes where his presence was unrecognized at the time, and has been sustaining and cheering us when we have not recognized the hand from which the comfort was coming.
II. OLD MEMORIES OF GOD'S FATHERLY GOODNESS MAY BE ABUSED. It would seem that the Jews often fell into this mistake.
1. We may assume that the past blessing of God is all that we need. Because we once enjoyed his presence we may be too ready to rest satisfied as though all must be well with us henceforth forever. But we cannot live in the past. It is vain to waste our time in idle self-congratulations on our early devotion if later years have found us wandering far from God. We must not say that all is done that our souls need if we can point to an early time when we were introduced to filial relations with God. It is nothing to us that God was the Friend of our youth if he has been rejected in our later days. Indeed, this early memory will be our accuser for subsequent unfaithfulness.
2. We may assume that if God was once our Father and Friend he will always stand in those relations to us. But if we lose our first love we lose the blessings which are connected with it. The past is no security for the present. The momentous questions is, Do we now stand in a true filial relation with God? Is he still our Friend? If he was valued as a Companion in the freshness of youth, is he not wanted in the toils and battles of manhood? will he not be needed in the Weariness of age? in the darkness and mystery of the lonely passage of death?
III. OLD MEMORIES OF GOD'S FATHERLY GOODNESS MAY BE CONSIDERED WITH PROFIT.
1. They may reveal our subsequent unfaithfulness. We compare ourselves with ourselves and see how we have fallen.
2. They may lead us to see the blessedness of an earlier estate, to be awakened to the loss we have suffered, and to be roused to the desire for a return to it.
3. They may help us to trust God. He was our Father and our Friend in early days. He is changeless. If, then, we repent and return to him, will he not permit us still to cry, "My Father;" and again to enter into the blessed influences of friendly fellowship with him? So the prodigal remembers his early days, and is induced by old memories to say, "I will arise and go to my father" (Luke 15:18).
I. REPENTANCE IS INSINCERE WHEN IT DOES NOT POSSESS THE WHOLE HEART. Judah is accused of being "false," and of turning to Jehovah "feignedly," because she did not turn "with her whole heart."
1. True repentance must be found in the heart. Mere confession with the lip without a change of feeling is a mockery (Isaiah 29:13). Simple amendment of external conduct is no repentance unless it is prompted by a sincere desire to do better, by a return to the love of goodness.
2. True repentance must possess the whole heart. It is not consistent with a lingering affection for sin. The penitent must not look back regretfully, like Lot's wife, on the pleasant things he is renouncing. Repentance must be for sin, not for certain sins selected from the rest for condemnation; it means the desire to abandon all wickedness. People sometimes repent insincerely by confessing and abandoning trifling faults, while they cling to greater evils. A right repentance searches the dark depths of the soul and brings forth old buried sins, forgotten but not yet forgiven, darling bosom sins which have grown into the very life and can only be torn out from a bleeding heart, common sins which are classed among a man's habits and which he excuses to himself as being "his ways." Such repentance is no superficial emotion, no sentiment of the hour stirred in the church only to be forgotten as soon as a man re-enters his worldly associations. It must be thorough, profound, overwhelming. Yet it is not to be measured by the number of tears shed, but by its practical fruits, the solid proofs of a desire for a better life (Luke 3:8-14).
II. INSINCERE REPENTANCE CANNOT BE ACCEPTED BY GOD.
1. Such repentance is inexcusable. Judah had failed to profit by the solemn lessons of her sister's sin and ruin. In face of such terrible warnings, how foolish to cling still to the old life even while pretending to turn from it!
2. Such repentance is only self-deceiving. The hypocrite would deceive God, but failing to do this he deceives himself. He is the dupe of his own design. For he imagines that his fraud will serve him some good purpose, whereas it is detected by God and frustrated from the first.
3. Such repentance is useless. Judah gains no deliverance by her feigned repentance. God is Spirit, and can only be approached in spirit (John 4:24). Any other pretended return to him is no return. We do not come to God by simply entering a church, nor please him by the mechanical observance of an external service (Isaiah 1:11-15). The insincere repentance is a double mistake, its trouble is all wasted, its tears all shed to no purpose, and the falsehood of it is a new offence increasing guilt before God. To turn to God only with the lip is thus not merely not to turn to him at all, it is to wander still further from him. Let us beware, therefore, of using the familiar language of confession if we are not really desiring to renounce sin and be reconciled to God. Let repentance, of all things, be true and whole-hearted.
Jeremiah 3:12, Jeremiah 3:13
God inviting the return of his sinful children.
This invitation is offered to "backsliding Israel" in preference to "false Judah" (Jeremiah 3:11). There seemed to be more hope of the former. Openly wicked men are more easily led to repentance than hypocritical pretenders to goodness. Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:12, Matthew 9:13), and his invitations were more readily accepted by publicans and reprobates than by Pharisees.
I. THE INVITATION IS FROM GOD. Before men return to God he seeks them. The Father calls to his children while they are yet in rebellion against him. In the quarrel between man and God all the wrong is on man's side, yet God is the first to bring about a reconciliation.
1. We have not to reconcile God to us, but to be reconciled to him (2 Corinthians 5:20). Any difficulty on God's side has been removed by his own act in the sacrifice of his Son. Now it only remains for us to return.
2. We have not to wait for God's willingness to receive us, nor to persuade him. Already he has invited as, and he now waits to be gracious.
II. THE MOTIVE FOR THE INVITATION IS THE GOODNESS OF GOD. We must not imagine that there is in us any inherent attractiveness, any merit which in the eye of God outweighs our sin, any valuable qualities which make us necessary to him. The reason for God's anxiety to have his children return is simply his love for them, and this love is not derived from their worthiness, but from his nature.
1. It is because God is "merciful," i.e. this is his peculiar characteristic; and mercy is exercised not according to desert, but according to need. Therefore the less man's desert is the greater will be the outgoing of God's mercy, because the deeper will be man's wretchedness.
2. It is because God's anger is temporary, while his mercy "endureth forever." God says, "I will not keep mine anger forever;" but he does keep his love forever. We say "God is love," but we do not say "God is anger." He exercises anger when this is required, but to serve an end—to establish justice, to punish sin, etc; whereas he exercises love for its own sake. This latter is more fundamental, in the very heart of God, and outlives the wrath. Hence behind the passing anger that denounces and punishes, there is the eternal love that invites to reconciliation.
III. THE ONE CONDITION FOR ACCEPTING THE INVITATION IS THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF GUILT. "Acknowledge thine iniquity."
1. This acknowledgment is necessary. We can only return to God by forsaking our sin, for it is just our sin which keeps us from him, and as long as this is retained must still keep us from him. Indeed, separation from God and sin are but two aspects of the same spiritual condition. We can only be forgiven when we admit our guilt, and only be welcomed by God when we humble ourselves before him.
2. This acknowledgment must be complete. It must include a recognition of
(1) positive disobedience—"thou hast transgressed," etc.;
(2) the multitudinous variety of sins—"and hast scattered thy ways;"
(3) the disregard of God's voice even when he has spoken in love and urged us to return.
3. This acknowledgment is sufficient. "Only acknowledge thine iniquity. No sacrifice, penance, or partial reformation is first required on our part. The new and better life must begirt with our return to God.
(second clause, "and I will take you," etc.).
I. BY NATURE MEN LIVE SEPARATE, INDIVIDUAL LIVES. Man is social, yet he is personal.
1. Each soul has its own personality, separate from that of every other soul by immeasurable oceans. Sympathy unites souls, but does not destroy this individuality of being. Each soul has its own secret life, and the deeper the spiritual experience is the more lonely, hidden, and incommunicable will it be. There are dark recesses of consciousness in the shallowest heart which no stranger can fathom (Proverbs 14:10).
2. Each soul has its own separate course to live, its peculiar privileges and privations, blessings and trials, its duties which no other soul can fulfill, its reserved heritage, its vast destiny. Starting from near points, our lives may branch out in all directions till they are utterly isolated in the lonely solitudes of the infinite possibilities of being.
3. Each soul has its own necessary Variety of nature. No two are alike. The unity of mankind is a oneness, not of unison, but of harmony.
II. GOD DEALS WITH MEN SEPARATELY AND INDIVIDUALLY.
1. His love is towards men as individuals. The size of the human family is no impediment to this with an Infinite Being who possesses infinite capacities of thought and affection. Even among men the parent of a large family has as individual a love for each of his children as the parent of a small family.
2. God approaches man individually. The outward voice of invitation is general: "whosoever will" is invited. But the inward voice, in conscience and spiritual communion, is private. Yet this fact is not a restriction on our enjoyment of God's favors, for he speaks thus inwardly to all who will listen to him.
III. MEN MUST RETURN TO GOD SEPARATELY AND INDIVIDUALLY. Each must repent, trust, pray for himself. A nation can only return as the units return, "one of a city, and two of a family." We must enter the "wicket-gate" in single file. No association with Christendom, a Christian nation, a Church, a Christian family, will secure our personal redemption. Even families are divided here. Each must say for himself in the singular, "will arise;" "My Father; My God." Still:
(1) We may help one another, and owing to the influence of sympathy there may be "two of a family," while perhaps there is only "one of a city;"
(2) after we return to God we may naturally unite in his service as his family, his Church, the one body of which Christ is the Head; and
(3) though a few may return at first, it is to be the work of these few to increase their number till the whole apostate family is reconciled to God.
The blessings of redemption.
The blessings which are here described as following the restoration of Israel are partly national and material in form, but they contain, in the heart of them, those deep spiritual elements of the Messianic ideas which constitute the blessings of redemption. Note the chief characteristics of these—
I. THE NEGATIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE BLESSINGS OF REDEMPTION.
1. Freedom from the old life of sin. "Neither shall they walk any more after the stubbornness of their evil hearts." This implies
(1) that the conquest of sin is itself a good to God's people, and not merely a painful and self-denying means for securing some other good; and
(2) that this conquest is to be complete and final. Bad as were the subsequent failings of the Jews after the Captivity, they were cured forever of their old sins of idolatry and of participation in the immoral and cruel rites of their neighbors' religions. Many as are the defects and falls of the Christian, these do not equal the evil of his old life.
2. A change from the old habits of religion. The Jews will no longer have the ark, the seat of a localized Divine presence, and they will not want this. We can never exactly recover the past. Paradise cannot be regained. The new Jerusalem will not be like the old garden of Eden. The restored Christian cannot return to the primitive innocence of childhood. But he need not altogether regret this impossibility. With the innocence of childhood there were associated its ignorance, its weakness, its restraints. With redemption there comes a new and larger life. The ark is lost; but this need not be regretted since with it the limitations and material conditions of the Divine visitations are gone also.
II. THE POSITIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE BLESSINGS OF REDEMPTION.
1. The enjoyment of God's full presence. God's throne is to be no longer the mercy-seat at the ark:
(1) confined to one small sanctuary;
(2) separating the religious from the secular;
(3) hidden from the common gaze of men.
All Jerusalem will be God's throne. God will dwell in the midst of his people, revealed to all, consecrating the affairs of daily life (Zechariah 14:20).
2. The glorifying of God in the earth through the instrumentality of his people. "All the nations shall be gathered," etc. God's people are honored by being the means of attracting others to him. Thus they are "a city set on a hill" (Matthew 5:14). The blessings of the gospel in Christ are offered to the world. The glory of the Savior and the joy of his people will be completed by the acceptance of them by all nations.
3. Brotherly love. The old enmity of Israel and Judah will cease (Isaiah 11:12, Isaiah 11:13). Christ is the Prince of peace. His advent prepared the way for peace on earth. As his kingdom spreads, peace must also extend over the troubled world. Even now the individual Christian must find his joy in exercising the peaceful spirit and practicing brotherly love (Hebrews 13:1).
III. THE CONDITIONS FOR RECEIVING THE BLESSINGS OF REDEMPTION.
1. Return to God in repentance. This is implied in the previous verses. Repentance precedes restoration.
2. Multiplication of numbers. These blessings were to come after the people were "multiplied and increased." We cannot expect the full Christian blessings till the Church has grown largely in numbers. God has special blessings for his Church. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, when the whole Church was gathered together (Acts 2:1). These privileges of Christianity are of such a nature that they are not lessened by distribution, but the more they are scattered abroad, the more valuable do they become to every individual who enjoys them.
3. A fitting time. These blessings were not enjoyed at once. For some we still wait. "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed." Its growth is gradual; so is also the enjoyment of its blessings.
Invitation and response.
I. THE INVITATION.
1. The object of the invitation. God calls on his people to return to him. Not simple reformation of morals, but the restoration of personal relations with God as the Father of his people is desired.
2. The condition of the invited. They are apostate children; i.e.
(1) they are far from God, though
(2) they were once near to him, and
(3) they are still his children.
As sinners, men have all lost a first estate of innocence, but have not lost, and can never lose, their filial relationship to God. Hence
(1) the greatness of their guilt and
(2) the hope of their restoration.
3. The accompanying promise. God invites and does not drive; he here exchanges threats for promises. God will heal, not simply receive his children. God alone can heal their apostasies. Man repents of sin, but God cures it. It is our part to turn from the evil, God's to destroy that evil. Sin is washed out, not by the tears of penitence, but by the blood of Christ. The healing is of the apostasies themselves, not simply of their painful effects. Christ saves from sin. This is what God most requires in us, and what we most need for our own blessedness (John 1:29).
II. THE RESPONSE.
1. An expression of willing obedience. "Behold, we come unto thee." This response must be voluntary. God waits for man's return, does not force it; since what he desires is not the abject submission of vanquished enemies, but the loving reconciliation of children. This response must also be active. "We come." The penitent does not simply "accept" the grace of God in a passive faith. He must "arise and go" (Luke 15:18). This implies exertion of will, active obedience.
2. An indication of the grounds of that obedience. "For thou art the Lord our God." God invites by a promise of blessing to his people; they respond by turning from the thought of their own profit to that of the character and claim of God. The great motive to return is found in what God is rather than in what he does, because the return is to him and not merely to his blessings. Men will return to God when they see what there is in him to attract them to his feet. Hence the importance of knowing God (Job 22:21). Christ invites us by revealing the Father (John 14:6, John 14:7).
(1) We should think of the revealed character of God as a ground for returning to him. Israel returns by remembering the ancient Name "Jehovah," with its glorious significance and its sacred memories.
(2) We should think of God's peculiar relations with us. Israel thinks of "Jehovah our God." This relationship points to God's claim upon us, rising out of his recognized authority as "ours," and the special covenant bonds of those who have once yielded themselves to him, and also to the peculiar grace God bestows on his people, which both increases the obligation and facilitates the effort to return.
From false to true salvation.
I. THE NEED OF SALVATION. This seems to be confessed before as much as after repentance. In both conditions Israel must turn somewhere for deliverance.
1. The need is universal. Israel was in national danger; but socially and privately men felt a vague sense of unrest and helplessness, and their heathen rites were a proof of this. The mystery of existence, the weariness of toil, the sorrow and disappointments of common experience, the terror of death, make men feel their helplessness. All religions witness to this fact.
2. The need is felt to be such that only religion can meet it. Men instinctively cry to their gods in the storm (Jonah 1:5). This element of religion is retained when every other vestige of it has vanished. This element is common to the most diverse forms of religion, the most degraded equally with the most elevated. Is not such a fundamental fact of human nature a ground for hope? Can we believe that such a deep, instinctive cry will meet with no response?
II. THE FALSE HOPE OF SALVATION. Israel had turned to the pagan worship on the hills for deliverance; but in vain.
1. Superficially regarded, there was much to recommend this.
(1) It was conspicuous and imposing—on the hilltops.
(2) It was noisy; there was tumult on the mountains. The more noise and hustle there is in a thing the more important does it seem to those who forget that the real power is with "the still small voice" and the "gentleness" that makes great.
(3) It was popular; in religious matters, as in all else, unthinking people go with the multitude.
(4) It was multiform; not one temple service, but sacrifices on every hill. Unspiritual people put faith in the number of prayers, the amount of gifts, etc; rather than in the motive and spirit which prompt them.
(5) It was easy to follow; it required no purity of life, no spiritual effort of faith. Men like a cheap religion.
2. Experience proved the hope to be false. The salvation was hoped for in vain. Heathen gods neither protected from external foes nor cured the internal wretchedness of Israel. This must have been the case, because
(1) they were not gods at all, the ground of the hope did not exist;
(2) the corruption which was permitted and encouraged in the rites with which these gods were served was the very source of the nation's ruin. The hope of salvation was the cause of destruction. So is it whenever men turn from God to lower grounds of confidence. The very apostasy thus committed is the source of the ruin which it is expected to avert. It is a great thing to have made the discovery of this fact. To see the mistake of the false hope is the first step towards deliverance.
III. THE TRUE HOPE OF SALVATION. "Truly in Jehovah our God is the salvation of Israel."
1. God only caw deliver, since he only can control nations and subdue the hearts of individual men.
2. God does deliver by his providence in outward events and his spiritual help in the internal battle with sin.
3. God is known as the Deliverer by his actions in the past. Israel turns to "Jehovah our God," the God who had often shown himself as a Savior. He who rightly reads the story of his own past life will see in it reasons for trusting God for the future.
4. God is sought as the Deliverer when all other refuges fail. After making the painful discovery mentioned in the earlier part of the verse, Israel comes to recognize the true salvation, but not till then. Trouble is good if it reveals the rottenness of our mistaken hope in time to set us free to seek the true hope. Yet how sad that men should need to have the veil thus forcibly torn from their eyes!
Jeremiah 3:24, Jeremiah 3:25
I. SHAME IS A NATURAL ACCOMPANIMENT OF GUILT.
1. Distinguish shame from modesty. Modesty is the fear of shame. Modesty shrinks from doing the thing which when done will result, or ought to result, in shame. Thus modesty pertains to innocence, shame to guilt.
2. Distinguish natural shame from guilty shame. Natural shame results from the exposure of what should be kept private but is pure in itself—this applies to spiritual as well as bodily delicacy; guilty shame is associated with that which, whether revealed or not, is morally bad.
3. Distinguish false from true shame. The blush of innocence when falsely accused, the shrinking from the disapproval by others of conduct which we feel conscientiously bound to pursue, and similar feelings, are instances of the former. They simply result from weakness. Such shame is a needless pain, but it is only culpable when it leads to weak subserviency to what we know is not right—the fear of man which bringeth a snare. True shame is not simply the distressing consciousness of the disapproval of others, but the consciousness that this is well deserved.
II. REPENTANCE LEADS US TO REGARD SIN WITH SHAME. Israel then names Baal, the god of her former worship, "Shame." To the penitent "all things are new." The sins in which he gloried are now objects of the deepest shame.
1. Men must see sin in a true light to regard it with shame. The Israelites are here represented as confessing sin; they feel it is their Own act: "We have sinned;" they feel that their fathers' sin does not extenuate the guilt of the new sin of the children, but, on the contrary, adds to the cumulative guilt of the nation.
2. When sin is thus regarded, the shame is overpowering and overwhelming: overpowering, for Israel says, Let us lie down in our shame," there is no resisting the influence of it, it crushes to the dust in humiliation; and it is overwhelming, "let our confusion cover us;" such shame is no superficial and transient emotion. It is all-absorbing.
III. THE SHAME FOR SIN IS A WHOLESOME CORRECTIVE. Nothing is more painful. Self-love, self-conceit, and self-respect are all cruelly wounded. Yet the bitter medicine is a true antidote to the sweet poison of sin.
1. It opens our eyes to the fatal consequences of wickedness. In regarding Baal as "shame," the people seem to discover for the first time that he had "devoured the labor of their fathers from their youth." The passion of sin throws a false glamour about it and its effects which shame dissolves.
2. It serves as a strong deferrer from future sin. It makes our old ways look horrible, disgusting, contemptible. We wonder how we could have loved them, and so long as the shame lasts nothing could induce us to return to them. Unfortunately, shame soon dies away, and if disregarded leaves men harder than before. Therefore it should not be trusted in by itself, but used as a means to lead us to the enduring security against sin in Christ (Romans 8:1-5).
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
A call to the young.
We need not hesitate so far to turn these words aside from their original meaning as to regard them as a Divine appeal to the young; especially if we understand that the prophet is here calling on Judah to return to the freshness of her "youth;" that "at this time," this hopeful reign of the good King Josiah, she should renew her covenant with Jehovah and the "love of her espousals" (Jeremiah 2:2). In the days of youth the heart is most freely open to Divine influences, and it may be expected to respond readily to such an appeal as this. Note—
I. THE DEEPEST TRUTH OF RELIGION IS THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD. That he is the Father of our spirits is the basis of his claims upon us. The quality of our religious thought, the drift of our religious opinions, the tone of our religious life, depend very greatly on our faith in this truth. Fatherhood is our highest conception of God, and includes within it all aspects of his being, and all the relations he sustains towards us. This crowns them all, embraces all. We cannot rise above and beyond it. Our ideas are essentially defective if we fall short of it. Not that the actual human fatherhood worthily represents it; that, at its best, is but a marred and broken copy—a feeble, distant reflection—of the Divine. And yet the essential elements remain in spite of accidental faults. Power, wisdom, love, judicial authority, kingly rule, protective tenderness,—these are the attributes of its ideal. And from the human, with all its imperfections and perversions, we rise to the Divine.
II. THE APPREHENSION OF THIS SACRED RELATIONSHIP IS SPECIALLY BEFITTING THE SEASON OF YOUTH. What more natural than that young people should think of God as their Father; that this idea of him should give shape and coloring to all their other religious ideas, and blend with all their views of life, and all their impressions of personal duty? Those who have grown old—old in the habit of frivolous thought, in the carnalizing ways of the world, in the debasing service of sin, are often dead to the impression of it. Their hearts are too much estranged to feel its charm. But shall not they who still have the dew of their youth upon them, the bloom of its quick sensibility and pure affection, love to hear a Father's voice?
III. Nevertheless, THE FULL DISCOVERY OF THIS RELATION MARKS A CRISIS IN THE HISTORY OF ANY SOUL. It is generally connected with the painful discovery of sin and need. "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his Name's sake …. because ye have known the Father" (1 John 2:12, 1 John 2:13). How suggestive is this of the bidden causes, the secret springs, the earliest realizations of Divine life in the soul! One of its first evidences is the recognition of the Father. The cry, "Abba, Father!" is the first that it breathes forth. But this comes with and through the recognition of Christ, the Son, the Savior. "No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son shall reveal him "(Matthew 11:27). And it is a revelation that brings the assurance of "forgiveness for his Name's sake." The sense of dreary distance from God—guilt, shame, hunger, degradation,—this is the prelude to the sweet satisfactions of the life of sonship. It is the prodigal "coming to himself." When we are thus painfully feeling our way back to him, God comes forth in Christ to meet us, embracing us in the arms of his great love, breathing, weeping out upon us the infinite tenderness of his fatherly heart. Then we feel that we can dare to take that sacred name "Father" on our lips. It has a deep and blessed meaning in it never known before. And fear and shame and sorrow give place to the joy of eternal reconciliation.
IV. THE NATURAL RESULT OF THIS DISCOVERY WILL BE FULL PERSONAL SURRENDER TO THE FATHER'S GUIDANCE AND CONTROL. "Guide," literally, Husband; and them word "husband "is suggestive of all thoughtful and kindly guardianship, the wisdom that directs, and the strength that sustains. Youth needs such guardianship:
1. Because of its special moral dangers, worldly fascinations, Satanic temptations, acting on quick natural susceptibility.
2. Because of its inexperience. Experience is the growth of years. It is not of itself always the parent of the highest practical wisdom, but the want of it calls for the help of a superior power.
3. Because of its weakness of moral principle. There may be excellent natural dispositions, germs of Christian virtue in the soul, but they are not yet developed. They are but latent possibilities of good. When put to the test, they may be found wanting. God's grace alone can ripen them into mature and steadfast principles.
4. Because beneath its fairest promise there may be hidden seeds of evil, which only need the outward incentive to bring forth deadly fruit.
5. Because the after-destiny depends so much on how the steps of youth are guided. Let the young give heed to the Father's voice, and yield themselves to his loving control, if they would tread the path of honor and safety and blessedness.—W.
"Backsliding" was the characteristic vice of the Jewish people throughout the whole course of their history. Their career was one of perpetual sinning and repenting, until the great apostasy, the final "falling away." And in this we see what is too often a truthful reflection of the individual life of men. The Jews were emphatically a representative people. Not merely does their recorded history represent the method of God's ways, but it illustrates the folly and treachery, the moral weakness and waywardness of our human nature. Dwell on the individual application of this passage. Consider—
I. THE EVIL INDICATED. "Backsliding" is suggestive of a turning away from God, a departure from the path of truth and righteousness, a fall from some higher state of spiritual consciousness or moral life. This evil may assume different forms. It may consist:
1. In the loss of the simplicity and integrity of religious faith. In an age of mental restlessness like the present, men too easily lose their hold of truth, which is the very hope and life of their souls. We may look with perfect composure upon the conflict between truth and error as regards its general and ultimate issues, but dare not forget how disastrous its bearings upon the individual life may be. There are revolutions in the history of religious thought, as in the history of nations, which it is as vain to think of arresting as it would be to attempt to turn back the ocean tide; but it is a mournful thing when, under such conditions, the mind that once had a firm grasp of the vital elements of Christian truth has slipped from its moorings and drifted out into the wild sea of doubt and uncertainty. To a really earnest spirit the recovery of a lost faith is generally a painful process. How many have traveled back, as with wounded, bleeding feet, to positions of clearer vision and firmer standing which they once occupied, but in an evil hour had forsaken! As sometimes after a bright morning, which has been followed by a day of cloud and storm, there is again at sunset a glorious outbursting gleam of the radiance that had been obscured; so is it with their souls. They return to rest calmly in the truth that they had for a while lost sight of, and "at eventide," as in the morning, "it is light."
2. In the decline of religious feeling, the decay of those affections in which religious life consists. This is that secret spiritual "backsliding" that directly affects the soul's personal relation to God, and the consciousness of which sometimes extorts the bitter cry, "Oh that I were as in months past!" etc. (Job 29:2-4). It may arise from no change in religious belief. While a departure from the simplicity of the faith is generally connected with a lowering of the tone of religious feeling, the converse of this is not always true. But the faith has lost its life-giving force. The light it sheds has no warm, kindling glow. It is the light of the moon rather than the sun—clear and cold, having no power to quicken the frame of nature, to develop its beauty and fruitfulness, to awaken its music, and fill it with exulting joy. The carnalizing influences of the world, the wear and tear of daily life, inevitably lead to this internal spiritual decay, unless there is a perpetual renewal of the life "whose springs are hidden and Divine."
3. In practical departure from the standard of religious duty. The backsliding of the heart cannot long be concealed. It betrays itself in many ways—in a forsaking of the paths of Christian service, in some manifest lack of moral integrity, in a relapse into some form of vicious habit, perhaps in a complete loosening of the bonds of religious restraint, and utter abandonment to the pursuits of an ungodly life. It is of such a case that our Lord says, "If the salt have lost his savor," etc. (Matthew 5:13); and again, "No man, having put his hand to the plough," etc. (Luke 9:62); and St. Peter afterwards affirms, "It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness," etc. (2 Peter 2:21).
II. GOD'S METHOD OF HEALING. "I will heal your backslidings." This is the gracious persuasion by which he seeks to reclaim his children from their guilty wanderings. How may we expect him to fulfill the promise?
1. By awakening in us a vivid sense and penitent acknowledgment of the wrong. We can scarcely be delivered from it till we have seen all the sin and shame of it—its real meaning, the source from whence it springs, the end to which it leads. Until all this is deeply felt and freely confessed before God, the first step in the process of recovery has not been taken (see Psalms 51:3, Psalms 51:4; Psa 32:5; 2 Corinthians 7:10, 2 Corinthians 7:11).
2. By moving us to trust simply in his forgiving and renewing mercy. Our only refuge is in the Divine mercy, and there is no other way of mercy than that which the gospel reveals. The guilt of our backslidings can alone be cancelled by the blood of Christ, and the secret cause of them removed by the grace of his Spirit (1 John 2:1, 1 John 2:2; 1 John 3:5-9). "There is no prescription for the sickness of the heart but that which is written in the Redeemer's blood," for in this alone have we both the pledge and the channel of the saving love of God.
3. By creating in us the energy of a nobler life: "Return," etc. It is a question, after all, of moral resolution and serf-determining spiritual power.
"Full seldom does a man repent, or use
Both grace and will to pick the vicious quitch
Of blood and custom wholly out of him,
And make all clean, and plant himself afresh."
But God gives this gracious energy to those who seek it, and such "repentance unto life" is the true "healing."—W.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The offer of a great forgiveness.
I. CONSIDER THE ILLUSTRATION BY WHICH IS SHOWN THE EXTENT OF JEHOVAH'S MERCY TO THE LOST, By an illustration drawn from the power allowed to the Israelite husband, Jehovah shows how great is his spirit of mercy and his desire that the deserting wife, so terribly described in the preceding chapter, should return. The reference is evidently to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. There the husband is invested with an authority which almost seems arbitrary, although from Numbers 5:1-31. it also appears that an accused wife had a right of appeal to ordeal, which ordeal would infallibly certify either innocence or guilt. The essential point here, however, lies in this, that there was an ordained inability for the wife to return to her first husband. The marriage tie, in spite of all the apparent facility of divorce, was not a thing to play fast and loose with. The way of departure might seem comparatively easy, but the way of return was altogether hedged up. We behold a curious mixture of indulgence and severity—indulgence for a time because of the hardness of the people's hearts; severity, in order that society might be kept together at all. For a husband to take back such a wife was ordained a ceremonial pollution, which needed to be cleansed away. But if such a return was impossible, still more evidently impossible was the return of one who had lived as a harlot. Yet thus did Israel, once the loving, devoted spouse (Jeremiah 2:1), now appear to Jehovah. Her life of desertion from Jehovah is described as one continuous, shameless exhibition of the harlot's lust. And it is just in the light of all this terrible impurity that the word comes to her, "Return again to me, saith the Lord."
II. CONSIDER HOW IT COMES THAT GOD CAN ADDRESS SUCH AN INVITATION. It is the old story of God's power to do things which man, however loving and merciful he may be in disposition, finds to be quite beyond his reach. Man, with the best intentions, with the most sympathetic heart, is limited in his resources to the outcast by the necessities of human society. To put one who has been an habitual thief in a position of serious trust, is a thing so hard as to be practically impossible. The victims of vicious inclinations may be deeply pitied, and yet the moment one tries to give them any large measure of help, the claims of others somehow come in to forbid. But God, as he rises far above man in his love and mercy and insight into the sinning human heart, so he rises—if one may thus put it—higher still in his power to give an amply sufficient help. God can bring back into the privileges and possibilities belonging to his Church, he can bring under all the penetrating potencies of his grace, the very worst apostate. What creature can be thought of more defiled than the harlot? Human reclaiming agencies can do nothing to serve her or save her, except as they put in their forefront the loving-kindness of God in Christ Jesus. It is well for us when we have to consider the impure, the degraded, the despairing slaves of vice, to consider also these encouraging words of God, "Return to me." Think much of him who spoke them, and then of the sort of people to whom they were spoken. Those who are most of all suffering in social outlawry may read all the horrible descriptions of abandonment to impurity found not only in this prophet but in others, and then say with the most joyful hope, "If Israel, being such, was pressed to return, I also may return." Hosea gives the appropriate words for such, "I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now" (Hosea 2:7). And to keep up the 'figure, what will the end of such a Divine invitation and such a human resolution be? It is found in Revelation 21:1-27; where we read the following request, "Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." The first Israel sank into an indescribable shame; the second Israel will rise into an indescribable glory.—Y.
Israel's cry to the Father and the Friend.
I. OBSERVE THE SUDDEN CHANGE OF RELATION WHICH IS THUS BROUGHT BEFORE US. Hitherto we have had before us Jehovah's description of Israel under the guise of a wife departing from her husband into the most degrading and shameless conduct. And now our thoughts are suddenly turned, with nothing to prepare for the transition, to a new relation—that of father and child. Note that it is not God who directly presents himself in this relation. "Father" is a term put into the mouths of the people in the preceding chapter and also in this. In Jeremiah 2:27 they are represented as saying to a stock," Thou art my father;" and now they say to Jehovah, "Thou art my Father, the Friend, the Companion of my youth." It may be that there was no depth of real sincerity in the cry, even though it is described as a cry, and not a mere perfunctory recognition—at all events, it sets forth fact. Jehovah was a Father to the nation of Israel in this sense, that it was by his peculiar and necessary power that Israel was separated in all sorts of profoundly significant ways from the great mass of mankind. When Abram started forth, not knowing whither he went, this was to him a sort of Being born again; an- entirely new life lay before him, with expectations that he never could have cherished but that God planted them deep in his heart.. And thus the name is a right and needful name to use. Israel is doing what it ought to do when it says, "Abba, Father!" The idea evidently is that Israel has learned to speak to God much in the same way that an English child learns to say "papa" or "father" (Isaiah 8:4).
II. OBSERVE THE CONDUCT BY WHICH WHAT IS GOOD IS RECOGNIZED RELATION OF FATHER IS MANIFESTED. It was true that Jehovah had been Father to Israel; it was moreover true that he had been Guide, Friend, and Companion to Israel's youth. It is not always the case that fatherhood means a loving and cherishing companionship. But here it is emphatically the case. Jehovah was a very close Companion to Israel in its youth; not really nearer, of course, than he had been since, but near in such a way that the people were compelled to note his proximity to them, and constant watchfulness over them. This, therefore, as Israel looked back upon its youth, was the right way for it to speak of Jehovah. Being Father, he had also been a true Companion and Support. "Guide of my youth' does very well for a rendering, if we bear in mind all that the guiding implies. There is a guiding which is a mere trade, a mere selling of the guide's knowledge. He takes up any stranger, shows him the way, gets his pay, and then the relation is at an end. But the practical guiding here comes from a deep love and solicitude. Further, it must be remembered that Jehovah's friendship and companionship were the friendship and companionship of one competent to guide. Friendship by itself is, of course, not sufficient to constitute guiding capacity. We see, then, that the expression of this verse is a very suggestive one by which to address God. All fathers may learn from it the spirit of a right relation towards their children. It is the name which they should desire their children to associate with their childhood. It should be a remembrance having a binding power when the child has become a man, and the father an old man. It should be possible to look back on a childhood where the father was a true companion, one whose companionship was full of true befriending and guiding. There is also indicated the spirit in which youth should look beyond earthly dependencies to God himself. He who was so much to a youthful nation of old will be of inestimable service to the ignorance, weakness, and abounding need of all youth. Especially should this consideration have force when one thinks of the significance in the doctrine of being born again. He who is born again has then a second youth, even though he be in the full strength of natural manhood. And what is wanted is that the man in his strength and his wide outlook on the possibilities of life should choose a truly humble position before God. The expression is also one that may point back to a submissive, hopeful youth, wherein many Divine impressions were made, and from which there has been a great backsliding. Then how beautifully would such an expression come from the lips of the returning prodigal, "My Father, thou wast the Guide of my youth, and now after a bitter experience of trying to make my own way, which has ended in a mere drifting before the strong currents of passion and self-indulgence, I come back to thee!" It is sad to have the friendship of father and child broken, sad at any time, but saddest of all when it is not through some meddling whisperer or repeater of a matter (Proverbs 16:28; Proverbs 17:9), but through the voluntary and obstinate departure of one of the friends.—Y.
Actions speak louder than words.
Israel, we see, is represented as speaking with a very pathetic remembrance of God's great favors in the remote past. At present, indeed, there is a withholding of the rain that means fruitfulness and prosperity, but that Father who has been the Guide of Israel's youth, surely he will soon bring the rain, with all that follows it, in spite of any appearances to the contrary, such as his anger with Israel suggests. Such is the way that Israel speaks; but how does it act? Is there to be alteration in God without alteration in man? It is of no use for the sinning nation simply to wait as if God's righteous chastisements would be exhausted by lapse of time. There might have to be waiting, but assuredly there would have to be repenting, and the bringing forth of fruits meet for repentance. But instead of this God is confronted with persistent transgression. He who had been Friend, Companion, and Guide in youth could not have been so without a docile acceptance of the companionship. The guidance in youth meant that Jehovah had a right to expect a manhood of holy service. But so far from the people giving this, the expectation in their heart is that God will still provide for them and let them do as they like. They do not seem to understand that it is they who by their transgressions provide for the sustenance and continuance of the anger of Jehovah. That anger is not like a storm which rises one knows not how, and presently subsides without man being able to do anything for its removal. God's anger was as a fire, and the wickedness of the people was like dry and highly combustible fuel before the flame. The one thing needful was to stop the fuel, and the fire would then very speedily burn out. To say with the lips, "My Father, thou wast the Guide of my youth," will only be of use when there is something like correspondence between what is spoken and what is done.—Y.
God will provide pastors according to his own heart.
I. THE NEED SO EMPHATICALLY IMPLIED THAT SUCH PASTORS SHOULD BE GIVEN. The shepherd's occupation, it need hardly be said, is one that comes up again and again in the Scriptures, both in the literal sense of the word and the figurative one. And even in the literal occupation there was, doubtless, often need of men who could be described as shepherds after God's own heart. Every shepherd who was faithful, observant, courageous, and altogether superior to the hireling spirit, was to that extent a shepherd after God's own heart. Such a one might possibly not be after God's own heart in other respects. Many are very watchful over the brutes committed to their charge, and utterly thoughtless about the shepherding of their own souls and of the various human beings dependent on them and influenced by them. Then passing to the figurative flocks and shepherds, there are very pathetic representations in the Scriptures of the mischief consequent on the unfaithfulness of those rulers and providers who had been set over God's people. Take such a man as King Ahab. He was not a man after God's own heart, and what is the result? Going out against the King of Syria, Ahab, not very hopeful of a favoring word, consults Micaiah, the faithful prophet of God: "I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd;" which was not only a warning of utter defeat, but a bitter charge against Ahab that he had been utterly faithless to his trust (1 Kings 22:17). There is so much of the sheep-nature in the human breast. How many have been troubled because there is no shepherd (Zechariah 10:2)! Every time the confession is uttered, "All we like sheep have gone astray," there is a hint of pastoral unfaithfulness somewhere or other. The sheep-nature in the human breast has never been better set forth than in the anxiety of the departing Moses with respect to a competent successor (Numbers 27:17). Food needs to be provided. There must be a guarding against self-willed wandering away from the supplies and comforts belonging to a constant member of the flock. There are the perils from wild beasts (1 Samuel 17:34). There is the work needed to bring back that which is lost. Look at Zechariah 11:16, where there is a hint of what the shepherd has to do—visiting those that are cut off, seeking the young ones, healing the broken, bearing that which standeth still (see also Jeremiah 1:6; Ezekiel 34:1-31.; John 10:1-42.).
II. THE FACT THAT SUCH PASTORS WILL ASSUREDLY BE PROVIDED. Great is the requirement, and there has often been a grievous disappointment in getting it met, but assuredly it can be met. The rulers in Israel had not all been as Ahab. That same Moses, who was so anxious concerning his successor, had been himself taken from faithful oversight of another man's sheep in order to deliver Israel from Pharaoh's clutch, and lead him towards the green pastures and still waters of the promised land (Exodus 3:1-22.). David, who had followed the ewes great with young, no doubt gently leading them when needful, gathering the lambs in his arm and carrying them in his bosom, who also had smitten the lion and the bear, was now taken to feed Jacob the people of God, and Israel his inheritance (Psalms 78:71; Isaiah 40:11). Not only had he been faithful as a shepherd, but he had also grown ever more conscious of the sheep-nature in himself, and the sheep like requirements of his own life, and so, looking away from his flock upwards, he beautifully says, "Jehovah is my Shepherd." He had lions following his own soul (Psalms 7:2; Psalms 10:9; Psalms 17:12; Psalms 22:13). Those are fitted to be shepherds after God's own heart who, feeling their own needs, make Jehovah their Shepherd. It is important to remember how David is declared as the man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 7:46; Acts 13:22). So God is here speaking through Jeremiah, with that confidence which comes from actual experience of the true and the brave among his own chosen. Then there is the great work of Jesus to be considered. It is very significant that in Jeremiah 23:1-40; after a reference to the unfaithful shepherds, there is a promise of faithful ones, their work being set forth more explicitly even than here; and then God goes on to speak of the righteous Branch which shall be raised to David, the King who shall reign and prosper and execute judgment and justice in the earth: he is the Governor who shall feed the Lord's people Israel (Matthew 2:6); he is the Great Shepherd of the sheep brought again from the dead (Hebrews 13:20); he who is also the Lamb in the midst of the throne, shall meet those who are gathered out of the great tribulation, and feed them, and lead them "unto living fountains of waters" (Revelation 7:17); and thus being himself the Great Shepherd, he is competent to convey to all under-shepherds the resources whereby in all wisdom they may feed the hungry with knowledge and understanding. If Jesus makes us truly righteous, then with the lips of the righteous we shall be able to feed many. The duties of a pastor after God's own heart will appear in all their magnitude to one who is considering the pastoral work of Jesus himself. Such a one will take heed to himself, and to all the flock ever which the Holy Ghost hath made him overseer, feeding the Church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood, He will have his eye on the grievous wolves that enter in, not sparing the flock. He will carry out the spirit of the commandment which God gave to Moses at Sinai: "Neither let the flocks nor herds feed before the mount" (Exodus 34:3); by doing his best to keep all within his charge from thoughtless trifling with holy things. It is a great matter to be put in a position of spiritual pastoral responsibility; and all in such positions may joyfully remember that God will give them all needed strength. It is a sad thought for the careless pastor that it should so often be needful for the strangers to stand and feed the flocks he should feed—men that to a certain extent may be reckoned unauthorized. And yet what can be done? Flocks must not die of hunger; and as the real physician is he who cures the disease, whatever his professional standing may be, so the real shepherd is he who feeds the flock, and the brand of interloper is affixed to him in vain. And so God would invite all his people to do what they can to be true shepherds. In one sense the shepherds are as many as the sheep. It is better to be ministering to the deep, undying wants of men, than just to their passing pleasures. He who strives to make himself acceptable to men by an incessant watching of their whims and prejudices is very much like the prodigal who found nothing better to do than feed the swine. It is God's will that we should feed sheep.—Y.
The superseding of the ark.
Along with the denunciations and painful descriptions which Jehovah has put into the mouth of the prophet, there now begins to be mingled a gracious, evangelical element. God's severest condemnations are meant to pave the way for return, repentance, reconciliation, and a reception of still more abundant gifts than before. Far and wide Israel has been scattered, but scattered only to be brought together again. Though there be but one in a city and two in a nation, God will find out the isolated ones and draw them back to him. Then, with pastors after God's own heart, what can there be but increase and multiplication of the flock of God? And then comes what is evidently meant to be considered as a great blessing, though at first it seems to point to another sad apostasy, and to forgetfulness of one of the holiest and most precious treasures of the past. The ark of the covenant, with the tables of the Law deposited within, was the very center of religious associations to the nation. But now it is to be no more spoken of. God, indeed, trusts that the memory of it was to pass away. Reading such a verse as this, how one is made to feel the importance of time as an element necessary to the proper understanding of things! Such words as these spoken by Israel at an earlier date would have been a very bad sign, but spoken at the time when all was ripe for them, they become just as much a sign for good. The ark of the covenant—the literal ark with the literal tables of stone—could not be a permanent institution. For centuries it had been holy—holy not in word only, but also in deed. Consider how God honored it, when for a time it was lodged in Philistia; consider the calamities that came upon the men of Bethshemesh and upon Uzziah, for their thoughtless handling of the ark. Much thus happened to make the Israelite very careful how he dealt with it. David and Solomon in particular were very solicitous to honor the ark to the utmost of their power. This is seen not only in the bringing of the ark up into the city of David, and the putting of it into the temple by Solomon, but perhaps even more in the conduct of Solomon to Abiathar, when Abiathar was implicated in the offence of Adonijah. Solomon spared the man he would otherwise have slain, because he had borne the ark of the Lord God before David (1 Kings 2:26). But there can be no doubt that as generation succeeded generation, the general feeling would become so mixed with superstition as to do more harm than good. The people had said, "The ark of the covenant of the Lord," but their saying had not amounted to much. The ark had been remembered, but the writing on the stones within had been forgotten. The longer it stood as the central object of a unique ritual, the more it became a symbol of separation from other nations. That which had been given so that one set of thoughts should be associated with it, thoughts to help in making pure, reverent, and watchful, had ended in having quite another set of thoughts associated with it. And so both the object itself seems to have vanished, and at the same time its dominion to have ceased. It is surely a very remarkable thing that all through the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah there is no reference to the ark. The vessels of God's house are mentioned, an altar was set up and offerings made, and in due time a temple built; but there is no word of the ark. Its work was done, and we are not so much as told what became of it. We know that the brazen serpent was declared Nehushtan, but the withdrawal of the ark God manages in complete silence. So true it is that—
"God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world."
The gathering of the nations to Jehovah's throne.
I. THE NEW CHARACTER IN WHICH JERUSALEM APPEARS. It is no longer to be considered simply as the center of Israelite affection and devotion, the city where was the palace of a human king, and the temple of Jehovah as the peculiar deity of Israel. It is no longer to be the place of a peculiar worship. Its character henceforth is to be far more glorious, one in which Israel shall lose nothing, yea, rather gain, in remembering what it has been able to contribute in attaining such an end. Jerusalem, that had been associated with all sorts of idolatrous abominations, is first of all to be desolated and humbled, whatever human pride and glory there was in it extinguished; and then the true glory will come. The city shall be Jehovah's throne, the throne of him who is God above all gods and King above all kings. And when men would recognize the authority of a king, his throne is the place they must come to. Hence to Jehovah, seated on his throne, all the nations are to be gathered; forsaking national idols and national ideals, all that is local and narrow and self-originated will vanish. The ark of the covenant passes away, and the tables of stone become unnecessary, for from his throne Jehovah will take means whereby he may write on the fleshy tables of every human heart the two great principles, "Love God and love thy fellow-man."
II. How THE GATHERING IS TO BE BROUGHT ABOUT. How clear it is that, the Ark of the Covenant passing away, mere local, terrestrial Jerusalem must also cease to have any peculiar value! The taking away of the Ark of the Covenant is really the taking away of all in the way of dependence that is merely visible and material. It is plain that the gathering together to Jerusalem cannot mean an actual travelling there from all parts of the earth's surface. Not that the mere local Jerusalem can become as a common spot of earth. After these northern desolators, of whom Jeremiah so often spoke, had done with it, it was rebuilt, and in due time became the scene of great spiritual redeeming acts profoundly affecting every child of man. The thought of the local scenes where-Christ-died, rose again, and ascended into glory, may well help every sinner in his believing approaches to his Savior. Those who gather at Jerusalem gather there by virtue of the power which there is in every believing heart. Innumerable pilgrims, on piety intent, have gone on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, doing laborious penances by the way, only to discover in the end that they have been walking after the imaginations of their evil hearts. There may be great value in a journey to the Holy Land, if only those who go there have first of all had their minds opened to apprehend the work which he who died at Jerusalem did for them; otherwise their travels, whatever the human joy and interest of them, may only add to their subsequent condemnation. To go to Jerusalem spiritually is the great thing. The Jerusalem of our journey is situated in the pages of the New Testament rather than in Palestine. It is as we read the Gospels that we feel how Jerusalem is indeed the throne of Jehovah in this sense, that there, through his Son Jesus, he manifested righteousness, power, and love, all the glorious attributes of his eternal reign. The transactions at Jerusalem are incomparable. No transactions in any one nation, however much they may affect the career of that nation, can rival the transactions at Jerusalem. The Englishman as an Englishman may feel his deep concern in Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights. The American as an American thinks of Philadelphia and the Declaration of Independence. The Negro as a Negro remembers Lincoln and the proclamation, which gave freedom to the slaves. But underneath the natural, the peculiar, the merely terrestrial, there is another man, the man who has to think of sin within him, and death and eternity before him. Such a man, if he thinks rightly, will feel that it is towards Jerusalem that his most earnest considerations should gather. All who truly ponder the great questions of life must gather there, and thence in faith their thoughts will ascend to the true, the heavenly, the everlasting Jerusalem.—Y.
A sincere repentance in an appropriate place.
How came this voice to be heard on the high places—this weeping and this supplication? The answer seems to lie in Jeremiah 3:20, where there is interposed a suggestion that Israel, because of its past defections, would fail to prove capable and worthy of that glorious future which has been just depicted. How then can Israel reply except by an abundant outflow of the signs of penitence? There is weeping; there is deprecation of any such withdrawal of Jehovah's contemplated goodness; there is a most emphatic declaration that they had indeed been utterly perverse and had forgotten Jehovah. The submission to him, the acknowledgment of him, shall now be complete. The words put into the lips of the repentant people (Jeremiah 3:22-25) are not extorted and grudging words, with a counter-resolution underneath to back out if any chance should offer. The eyes of the apostates have been opened; Israel has come to itself. What has been sought in vain on hills and mountains in the cruel service of heathen deities is to be got in full and abiding power from God. Observe now how—
I. THESE HIGH PLACES WERE MOST APPROPRIATE FOR THESE TEARFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENTS AND THESE ENTREATING APPROACHES TO GOD.
1. The thing done had been great public wrong. Where men have sinned is the place for them to confess their sin. Now, this was not a sin in some secret place; it was not a sin confined to the thoughts of the heart, and known only to God; it was not some private, domestic wrongdoing. The whole nation shared in the sin of the high places. Even if some were not actually idolatrous, yet by their silence and inaction they condoned the idolatry. All surrounding nations must be cognizant of it. Sins in public cannot be got rid of without an equally public repentance and suffering. Who can tell what audacious and mocking words the heathen around may have spoken concerning Jehovah? - "Why, this Jehovah, whose temple and service are in Jerusalem, and who has no image, has really no power over the people! He has a name to live, but surely he is dead!" Elijah mocked the priests of Baal, and he had cause, for, unhappy men that they were, they had believed in a lie. But priests of Baal might also many times have mocked the people of Israel, for in one sense they had the truth, but they did not believe in it. Of course, in the end, such people were bound to make a very public acknowledgment of their folly and unbelief.
2. By this weeping, etc; on the high places, there was a particularly impressive condemnation of idolatry. He who forsakes a course of action necessarily condemns that action, and reproaches all who still continue in it, reproaches them none the less because reproach may not be at all intended. Such a return to Jehovah as is indicated in the concluding verses of this chapter is also, by the very act, a downright blow against idolatry. Let men who will persist in wrong courses know that they must be prepared for painful experiences when their companions, every now and then, desert them. There will always be some one discovering that the course is wrong, and going over to the other side. Take a very important instance of such exposure as we find it in the New Testament. Pharisaism and Jewish pride are there condemned from two great sources of judgment. One of these we find in Jesus, who spoke, we know how severely, against the Pharisees and their doings. From his words we feel how bad their spirit must have been and their inner life. But perhaps it is not too much to say that Saul's condemnation of them is still more striking; shown not in words so much, but oh, how clearly in deed! when he came out from them, showing he was no more of them.
3. There is thus a Feat warning to all who are acting doubtfully in the blaze of public life. If such have occasion to turn, they must turn in public. Any one who stands well out before his fellows had need take care what he says and does, for he knows not what may be the force of circumstances, what revolutions there may be in his convictions. How much nations have had to suffer-perhaps will have to suffer to the end of time—just because they are not careful of the beginnings of evil in their midst! Look at what it cost America to get rid of Negro slavery when once it had grown into a far-spreading and lucrative custom.—Y.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Sin Law Grace.
We have here represented to as—
I. SIN IN ITS MOST AWFUL FORM. It was the sin of idolatry. This was especially grievous in the sight of God, since Israel was designed to give light to all other nations. They were raised up for the very purpose that through them the knowledge of God might flow forth to the whole world. The destinies of humanity depended on them. Hence if the light that was in them were darkness, "how great," etc.! Their corruption was the poisoning of the fountain, which would render deadly all its streams. Hence it is that this sin is so commonly represented in the prophetic writings under the images of harlotry and adultery—crimes which, when found in any belonging to him, the Israelite would most fiercely resent. By the nature and measure of their own hatred for such outrages on the purity of their home life, would God have them understand somewhat of the nature and measure of his hatred of that idolatry into which as a nation they had fallen, and against which God's prophets were forever uttering their earnest protest. And to aggravate their wickedness, they had been guilty thereof again and again (Jeremiah 3:1). They had become lost to all sense of shame in regard to it (Jeremiah 3:2, Jeremiah 3:3). They had not waited to be tempted and persuaded, but had gone after their sin, greedily, seeking it rather than it them (Jeremiah 3:2). They had persisted until the land was polluted by their sin (Jeremiah 3:3). They had become so hardened that God's corrections failed to produce any result save to make them more brazen-faced in their wickedness than before (Jeremiah 3:3). And they had gone on to this degree of criminality that they dared to mock God with mere lip service (Jeremiah 3:4, Jeremiah 3:5). "Ay, and from this time forward thou criest to me, My Father, the Friend of my youth art thou. Will he always bear a grudge and keep it up forever? Behold thou speakest thus and doest wickedness and carriest it out" (Keil's translation). Corruptio optimi pessima est. The sin of such as Israel - and we are such, raised up, qualified, designed to be the means of vast blessing to others, as is God's purpose with his Church,—is more aggravated and assumes forms more terrible than is possible to others.
II. LAW IN ITS MOST RIGHTEOUS UTTERANCE. (Jeremiah 3:1; cf. Deuteronomy 24:4.) "They say;" it was a well-known fact that the Law would not hear of the forgiveness and restoration of those who had sinned in the manner Israel had. Such leniency would open the door wide to the most glaring iniquity. "Plato, Plato," said Socrates, "I do not see how God can forgive sin." Sin once committed becomes a fact. Facts have their necessary, immutable and eternal consequences, which only by a miracle can be set aside or escaped. (See sermon by Rev. T. Binney, on 'The Law our Schoolmaster,' etc.; also J Cook, of Boston, 'Monday Lectures' 'The Atonement') There is no gospel for the sinner anywhere outside the gospel. The Law, as here, binds the wrongdoer to the inevitable issues of his own wrong-doing. Forgiveness and restoration are simply impossible. But note—
III. GRACE IN ITS MOST MARVELLOUS MANIFESTATION. Jeremiah 3:1, "Yet return again to me, saith the Lord." There is doubt as to the meaning of this; some read it (see exegesis) as a question to which a negative answer is required. But the whole tone and intent of the chapter (Jeremiah 3:12) uphold the gracious meaning which belongs to the words as they stand and which we therefore accept. But if righteous Law forbids the sinner's return, how can grace invite such return? The elder son in the parable was much scandalized at the father's welcome of his prodigal younger brother. It did seem to be an improper thing to do. The practical reply to all such objections-and they have never ceased to be urged in all ages of the Church—is to point to actual facts. What has been the result of the belief of God's wondrous grace? Has a scriptural faith been proved to foster a sinful life? Are they who humbly rest on God's grace in Christ the licentious, the ungodly, the profane? The Evangelical Church can fearlessly press questions like these. And if it be asked what is the philosophy of this? how is it that what seems likely to produce such ill, in fact does not? the answer is, that when the sinner comes in contrition and faith to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, the new life, the gift of regeneration, which is ever in connection with the cross, is given to him. He is started on a new career, on which he is certain to make progress, slow it may be, but sure nevertheless. And as day by day he repairs again to that same Savior, the powers of the new life are replenished and renewed, and so, instead of the full free forgiveness which, when he returned to God, was bestowed upon him, causing him to take encouragement to live on in sin, it has wrought in him a holy-hatred of it, and led him to turn from it more and more. No, the wondrous grace of God, which is told of in this word, "Yet return again to me," does not make void the Law, but it establishes the Law (cf. Romans 8:1).—C.
An old and sad but very true story.
I. GOD LOOKING FOR FRUIT BUT NONE FORTHCOMING.
1. The fruit God looked for was Judah's repentance (cf. the history of the times to which Jeremiah refers). Idolatry was rampant in the northern kingdom. The southern also had been very far from free from it. But at this time God looked for a true repentance on Judah's part.
2. And such fruit was reasonably expected. There was the personal example and influence of King Josiah and the band of faithful men who were endeavoring to promote a true religious reformation. They had seen the degradation which followed Israel's sin (Jeremiah 3:9); how Israel had fallen so low as to worship stocks and stones, the "most scoundrel idols," as Matthew Henry calls them. They had heard the gracious appeal of God to Israel (verse 7). They had seen the judgments of God which had followed when his grace was rejected. How severe and terrible these had been! God "had put Israel away" (verse 8). For nearly a century Israel had been in dread captivity by reason of their sins. And the sin which had brought down their judgments was the sin which Judah herself was guilty of. And the judgment had not happened to an alien nation or in a remote land. No, but to Judah's own sister, to members of the same family, of one blood and lineage; and close to her Own door, hence under her own eye. What more arousing and alarming call to the unconverted could there have been than all this? And to lend further force to this call, there was in Judah the presence of the temple, the possession of all manner of religious privilege. How reasonable, then, was the expectation that Judah should turn away from her idolatry and unfeignedly repent! But the like of all such reasons for the expectation of a true turning to God exists in the case of many today. Every influence and argument for such turning to God as bore upon Judah then, bears upon many still.
3. But that which God desired was not forthcoming. It is the burden of the prophet's complaint that what Israel had done, and worse, was chargeable against Judah. And as now, all too often, those from whom real religion may reasonably be expected are found not only as evil, but outstripping others in ungodly ways. This is part of the story told us by these verses.
II. Another is that of MEN SEEKING TO PALM OFF ON GOD FICTITIOUS FRUIT INSTEAD OF GENUINE. (Verse 10.) Cf. the history of the reformation in Josiah's day—how justly it is described in this verse! It was sudden, partial, external, short-lived. And such feigned reformations are common enough still. Cf. Luke 11:21-26; and sermon No. 613 by Spurgeon: "And as the devil looks round and finds the place swept, he finds it garnished too. The man has bought some pictures: he has not real faith, but he has a fine picture of it over the fireplace. He has no love to the cross of Christ, but he has a very handsome crucifix hanging on the wall. He has no graces of the Spirit, but he has a fine vase of flowers on the table of other peoples' experiences and other peoples' graces, and they smell tolerably sweet. There is a fireplace without fire, but there is one of the handsomest ornaments for the fireplace that was ever bought for money. It is swept and garnished. Oh, the garnished people I have met with! garnished sometimes with almsgiving, at other times with long-winded prayers; garnished with the profession of zeal and the pretence of reverence. You will find a zealous Protestant—oh, so zealous!—who would go into fits at the sign of a cross, and yet will be guilty of nameless vice. You find persons shocked because another boiled a teakettle on a Sunday, or insured his life, or assisted at a bazaar, who will cheat and draw the eye-teeth out of an orphan child if they could get sixpence by it. They are swept and garnished. Walk in, ladies and gentlemen!Did you ever see a house so delightfully furnished as this? How elegant! how tasteful! Just so: but men may be damned tastefully, and go to hell respectably, just as well as they can in a vulgar and debauched fashion." Wherefore do men thus act? Because conscience has been aroused by God's dealings with them, and it will not let them rest without doing something. The question now comes, how little can they do which will be sufficient to still the inconvenient and uncomfortable clamor of conscience? And such turning to God "feignedly," such reformations as that of Judah under King Josiah, such sweeping and garnishing of the house empty of any true love to God, is the device they resolve upon. Then next, in this sad story, we see—
III. GREATER CONDEMNATION THAN EVER COMING UPON MEN IN CONSEQUENCE.
1. They are branded with a worse name than others (cf. "treacherous Judah," Luke 11:7, Luke 11:10). Under pretence of being faithful to God, guardians of the temple, the priesthood, the Law, making loud profession, they were idolatrous even as Israel. Hence the name of infamy, "treacherous." And Christ's most terrible words were for the "hypocrites" of his day.
2. A place less tolerable in the Day of Judgment will be assigned them, than that of those who sinned in like manner but without any suck religious profession (Luke 11:11). Oh, then, what need for the prayer—
Search me, O God, and try my heart,
For thou that heart canst see;
And turn each cursed idol out
That dares to rival thee."
The comparative advantages of Judah and Israel; professors and non-professors.
I. LET JUDAH AND ISRAEL BE TAKEN AS REPRESENTING RESPECTIVELY PROFESSORS OF RELIGION AND THOSE WHO MAKE NO SUCH PROFESSION. Judah did make such profession, but Israel stood aloof, neither worshipping at the temple nor joining in the appointed feasts.
II. OBSERVE THAT ISRAEL IS SAID TO HAVE "JUSTIFIED HERSELF MORE," ETC. (Jeremiah 3:11.)
1. This was true, for a sterner sentence went out against Judah than against Israel.
(1) A more infamous name is given to her than to Israel; she is called "Treacherous."
(2) And her punishment was more severe. Israel had long been prepared to mingle more or less readily with other nations. An assimilating process had been going on for many generations, religiously, socially, and politically. Hence they were looked upon much as the Pharisees of our Lord's day looked upon the publicans and sinners whom he so graciously welcomed. And we find that, as a fact, they soon became merged into the nations whither they had been carried away captive. They had no such memories, no such antipathies as the people of Judah, and hence their exile must have been more tolerable. The piteous psalms, which bewail the hard lot of the captive, came not from them, but from the exiles of Judah. It was they who "by the rivers of Babylon sat down and wept as they remembered Zion." The iron entered into their soul as it could hardly have done in the case of Israel. And the like facts—(1) and (2)—are seen in the case of unworthy professors of religion. See our Lord's holy hate, hear his scathing words of scorn and doom, in regard to the hypocrites of his day. And the world, too, looks on them with a contempt it keeps for none other. And they suffer as none other can. If the grace of God be still in them, who can describe the remorse, the self-abasement, the shame, with which they view the punishment that has come upon them?
2. And the reasons wherefore it was less tolerable for Judah than for Israel were:
(1) Judah's privileges were so much greater.
(2) Her warnings had been more numerous, more plain, more arousing, more prolonged (cf. the history and previous verses).
(3) Her inducements to loyal obedience were stronger. Hence her sin brought the greater doom, "And the Lord said," etc. (Jeremiah 3:11). And these are the reasons—greater privileges, louder warnings, more powerful inducements to obedience—which, when they are all disregarded and set at naught, compel, yea, create a scourge for the fallen Church, such as they who have never made any such profession can never feel. Therefore—
III. INQUIRE WHAT IS THE JUST CONCLUSION THAT SHOULD BE DRAWN FROM THE FACT NOW OBSERVED.
1. Is it this: that it is better to be Israel than Judah; to stand aloof from all profession of religion than to make such profession?
(1) No; for it was better to be Judah than Israel. There were possibilities, and these generally realized, of greater blessedness in Judah than could be attained in Israel. Compare the histories of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and see if the brightest and most numerous examples of sanctity, as well as the greatest displays of God's favor, to say naught of the joy of his appointed worship, were not in Judah rather than in Israel. And so in like manner we affirm that it is better to be the avowed disciple of Christ, notwithstanding the possibility of a more terrible fall, than to be numbered with the crowd of those who neither possess nor profess any regard for God. For larger blessing, in the form of increased moral resemblance to God, of joy in God, and of greater security from the power of sin,—these certainly belong to those who are as Judah rather than to those who are as Israel. All God's favor is open to them as it is not to those in whom God's fear does not dwell.
(2) And again, No; for we do not reason in such manner in regard to other thing. True, "He that is down need fear no fall;" but we do not, on the strength of that dismal proverb, begin immediately to prefer the lot of the fallen one to that of him who, by God's providence, is set on high and stands Upright. The rich man does not hasten to make himself poor that he may be free from the fear of becoming so. Nor does the man who is blessed with vigorous health desire the condition of the invalid because in that condition there can be no fear of loss of health. Then why should the far less blessed lot of Israel, and of those outside the professed Church of God whom Israel represents, be preferred to the better and brighter lot of Judah and of God's Church, though a fall terrible and sad is possible here which could not be there?
(3) And it would be right still to prefer the lot of Judah, even if Israel had been simply let alone by God. If God had sent no punishment to Israel, it would have been better to be Judah, with the possession of God's favor, although the possession involved the possibility of its loss, than to have been without that favor at all. But when we see that the judgment of God came upon Israel as well as upon Judah, then much more, notwithstanding the sad fact declared in this Jeremiah 3:11, was it better to have been Judah than Israel. And so, were there no judgment on the world, and God's anger came only on a fallen Church, better even then to be of the Church than of the world. But when we know that there is a judgment of the world as well as of the Church, that sin has no immunity anywhere, then, though sin in the Church be worse than sin in the world, still let me be there where the favor, the joy, and the grace of God are, and not where they can never come.
2. But the true lesson of what we have been considering is, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Judah, and the Church of God whom Judah represents, need to remember that, notwithstanding their high position of privilege, corruption and sin may lay hold upon them, and should that happen, their sin and their doom will be the most terrible of all (cf. Epistle to Church at Laodicea). Therefore hearken to our Lord's words, "Watch and pray."—C.
Confession of sin the indispensable prerequisite for its pardon.
That this is so is shown by the evident fact that if it could have been dispensed with it would have been. For the desire of God to pardon his guilty people is, as this section shows, intense. He will not cease to seek after them even when the punishment of their sin has actually come upon them. Hence (Jeremiah 3:12) he addresses them in the lands of their exile, Mesopotamia, Assyria, and Media (2 Kings 17:6), and three times (Jeremiah 3:12, Jeremiah 3:14, Jeremiah 3:22) implores them to "return." He "fills his mouth with arguments," and endeavors by every kind of assurance and promise to induce them to return. Jeremiah 3:12 : they shall be completely forgiven. Jeremiah 3:14 : they ought to return, for they are his by right, as the wife is the rightful possession of the husband. Jeremiah 3:14 : they are the object of his constant regard, so that they cannot be concealed from his eye or hindered from his help. No, though in a whole city, or tribe, or nation, there should be but "two" or even "one," still his hand would reach them there, and bring them out and restore them to Zion. Jeremiah 3:15 : and those who in days gone by had so happy rule they should greatly multiply in the land. And, better still, they should so realize and rejoice in the spiritual presence of God that they should no longer need the aid of the ancient symbols of that presence, such as the ark of the covenant of the old dispensation. Jeremiah 3:17 and Jerusalem should be so filled with the Lord's presence that they should call the city "the throne of the Lord." And the "nations" should be converted, and their wickedness be forsaken. Jeremiah 3:18 : and Judah and Israel should be one, and in unity and affection possess the land. Such were the glorious hopes with which God sought to win back his people's hearts to himself, and they conclusively show how intensely the heart of God was set upon his people's return. But eagerly desirous as God was for this restoration of his lost children to his heart and home again, he is evidently held back from indulging such affectionate promptings by considerations that could not be overlooked. What they were, the demand that he makes for confession of sin plainly shows. They are—
I. The Law of righteousness. Sin is the violation of that Law, and until due atonement and acknowledgment have been made, sin ought not to be forgiven. I may, in accordance with cur Savior's commands, refrain from inflicting punishment on one who has wronged me, even though he have not repented of his wrong; and that refraining from inflicting punishment, or from demanding what is my right, is forgiveness in the sense our Lord meant; but he did not mean, for it would be a command impossible to obey—that I should receive such a one into the same confidence and love which I bear towards a dear friend who has never deserved anything else. Therefore my forgiveness of such an unrepentant offender, though granted in accordance with our Lord's command, and well-pleasing in his sight, and the best I am capable of, is nevertheless not complete, not perfect; for perfect forgiveness, that which God would bestow upon sinful men, means far more than the remission of penalty: it means restoration to the love, the fellowship, and the confidence of God. But this cannot be apart from due atonement made on the part of the wrongdoer. The Law of righteousness, the Law written upon our hearts as well as inherent in the nature of things, forbids such forgiveness apart from the essential condition of such forgiveness.
II. And the well being of his household is that other consideration which restrains the prompting of affection to forgive sin unconditionally and from mere pity. Man is not the whole of God's household. He may be only the one sheep who has gone astray. The rest, the ninety and nine blessed ones who need no repentance. But to pardon sin without atonement would be to confound all moral distinctions, to discourage the good, and to teach the wrong-doer to regard his wrong as a very slight matter; it would be to carry the discords of earth into the presence of God, and to reproduce there the sins and sorrows of this world. Therefore let the love of God towards sinful man be inconceivably great, and it is so, still it is held back in its exercise by these considerations now named. But where sin is confessed as God demands it should be, then, as is promised here and in many other Scriptures beside, God's pardoning love can go forth and the sinner be restored to the favor, which he had lost. And the reason of this is not because the sinner's poor and inadequate confession of his sin is a sufficient atonement for the wrong he has done, but because, when he sincerely makes that confession, he is invested with the acceptableness of Christ.
For Christ has made that atonement perfectly which man can only offer in the most imperfect way; "man's repentance needing too often, to be repented of, and his very tears to be washed in the blood of Christ. But Christ looked upon sin as God looks upon it, hated it as God hates it, consented to God's judgment concerning it by bearing the penalty of it; "he bore our sins in his own body on the tree," and so made that true, that perfect confession and atonement which we can never make. And he did this in our nature, and as our Representative. So now, when we come in his Name, sincerely repenting of sin, though that repentance be inadequate in itself, yet because it is "the mind of Christ," and looks upon sin sorrowing over it as he did, our imperfect atonement is accepted in his perfect one, we have the fellowship of his sufferings, his atonement is in our measure reproduced in us, and we are made conformable to his death. Pardon thus bestowed neither violates the Law of righteousness nor is inconsistent with the well being of the whole family of God. Hence it is that, as in Jeremiah 3:13, the demand is made for confession of sin, and then of their iniquity in all its aggravated forms. Without such confession pardon cannot be bestowed. Not till the prodigal "came to himself," went to his father and said, "I have sinned," was he forgiven, notwithstanding all the yearning of the father's heart after his lost child. Now, to bring men to this looking upon their sin as God looks upon it, as the Lord Jesus looks upon it, is the object of God's disciplines, of the pain and smart which so often accompany sin, and of so much of the teaching of the Bible and of God's providential government. And those who have trusted in Christ are continually to be "looking unto Jesus," for in that trustful look is the sure guarantee of the preservation of the "mind of Christ" in them in regard to sin, and so of their forever abiding in the favor and love of God. This mind of holy hatred and sorrow on account of sin it is the especial work of God's Holy Spirit to produce in men; that Spirit who is given to them that ask his aid, more readily than even parents give to their children what those children they so much love need and ask for.—C.
Married to God.
"Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you."
I. THIS SEEMS AN INCREDIBLE STATEMENT. Had it been spoken of angels, or of unfallen man, or of eminent saints, it would have been more easy of belief. But it is of men desperately wicked, and to such, that God says, "I am married unto you." What infinite condescension and love!
II. BUT NEVERTHELESS IT IS TRUE. For:
1. We have the marriage lines, the record of the transaction, the very words of the covenant deed (cf. Psalms 89:3, Psalms 89:28; Hebrews 8:1-13.; Jeremiah 32:38-40). In all these God declares that he has taken us to be his forever: "They shall be my people, and I will be their God."
2. Our children are his. He bids them all call him by the blessed name of Father.
3. He repeatedly declares that we were the objects of his choice. Cf. Ephesians 1:1-23; "He took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham." And this because we "were partakers of flesh and blood, he himself also took part in the same;" "God so loved the world;" "He came to seek and to save that which was lost" (cf. also Ephesians 5:25-27).
4. He has given us the sign and token of our being his in the sacrament of our baptism. That which the wedding ring is to the wife, baptism is to us: it declares the blessed fact that we are God's, and separates us for his Name, the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
5. He has endowed us with his goods: "All things are yours … the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours" (1 Corinthians 3:22).
6. He is always with us: "In him we live and move," etc. He is not far from any one of us: "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee."
7. He is jealous of our love: "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God." What is the Bible but one long record of the disquiet of the heart of God? When the love of those to whom he is "married" is turned from him? Hence the eternal law, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me;" "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart." A man has a right to claim that she whom he has married should love him. He has no such claim on any other. And so because the Lord God condescends to hold this relationship towards us, he too claims our love: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God."
8. We are on the way to dwell with him in his eternal home. We are not there yet, but we are on the way. "We are coming up from the wilderness," and if we faithfully recognize our relationship to God, we shall be "leaning upon our beloved" (Song of Solomon 8:5).
9. He has done for us, and does for us still, what only such a near and dear relationship can account for. Even the compassionate friend will not feel himself bound, though he will minister relief, to go and share the very same lot as that of those whom he compassionates. And the father of the prodigal did not make himself poor as that prodigal was. He lifted him up, but he did not himself stoop down. To; that which the Lord God has done is more than the love of friend, brother, father; it is the love of the husband alone. For the husband, if he be worthy of the name, will sly. are the lot of the wife. And if she must suffer hardship, he will share it with her. If she dwell in mean abode, he will not be happy to dwell elsewhere. But does not all this describe what the Lord God hath done? "He, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor." The word "married" is not a mere metaphor, it is the alone explanation of the Incarnation and of the Atonement. The general benevolence of God, not even the fatherhood of God, will adequately tell wherefore he so humbled himself and lived here "as a poor meek man upon earth," and then died for us; but the husbandhood of God, the fact that he declares when he says, "I am married unto you," will account for it and explain all. We have to live here in this wilderness world, to be tried, tempted, troubled, and at length to die, and we have also to resist even unto blood, striving against sin; and therefore he himself- also took part in the same. Then if this statement of the text be true—
III. VAST CONSEQUENCES FOLLOW.
1. Forgetfulness or disregard of this relationship in which we stand to God must be utter misery. Perhaps hell is never so nearly brought up and made known in all its hideous wretchedness here on earth as by means of a marriage in which one side has lost all love for the other. Oh, the drag of the marriage bond then! What an iron chain; what a fetter it is! How it frets! How it galls! How simply horrible it has become! Penal servitude for life is but a mild description of it. From ever knowing it by experience, may God deliver us all! But such things, alas, are, and between men and women who have vowed to love and cherish each other "until death do them part." But we do not recognize so readily that well-nigh all the sorrow of this life of ours is because we have forgotten or disregarded our relationship to God. That marriage also is a bond which can never be severed. And if we have no love to God, no delight in him, no trust or confidence, oh, how that bond will gall, will irritate, will fret, and so become the very "strength of sin!" The unrest, the distress, the wild attempts to win happiness in lawless ways, the sting of conscience, the inward remorse, are all accounted for by the consciousness that men have of their obligation to God whilst that obligation is being grievously disregarded. On the other hand:
2. Due response rendered to the love of God towards us must be our deep, our indestructible, our ever-advancing joy. See the proofs of this in the return of the prodigal: "They began to be merry." Listen to David: "O God, thou art my God," etc. "I will go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy." Behold the martyrs. Rather than be severed from God by denial of him, let what shame, agony, loss, death, that might come upon them. Ask those who know what the love of God is, if it be not as we say. That pure joy which a true wife has in the husband she loves and reveres, that is the type of the joy in God which we may have and should have, and to which even the worst of us, the miserable backsliders, are by God himself entreated to return. How happy in his protection! How certain that he will be prompt to help in all peril and emergency! How free the outpouring of the heart in loving confidence! How sure of his love always!—no doubt ever clouding that certainty. And how sure, too, of his sympathy, his wise counsel, his constant support! And to all this God invites us, yea, he by this word of his bids us claim it as our right—a right he will at once recognize. It is wonderful; the condescension and the love of it are so marvelous that we are slow to comprehend, slower still to believe it, and slowest of all to realize and rejoice in it. But yet it is most assuredly true. Therefore, Lord, increase our faith; we believe, but help thou our unbelief.—C.
The great difficulty overcome.
"How shall I," etc.? A different rendering has been proposed for this verse, but inasmuch as the general meaning and spirit of the prophecy are maintained in our common translation, we prefer to abide thereby. So read, the verse brings before us—
I. GOD'S GRACIOUS PURPOSE OF LOVE TOWARDS SINFUL MEN. He would put them, among the children," etc. Think what this involves. Picture to ourselves the lot of the children in the homo of an affluent, affectionate, wise, and godly father. What condition fairer, more enviable, can be conceived? What freedom from all care! What unrestrained, confiding, loving intercourse between the children and their father! What healthful development and direction of character and disposition! How sheltered; how secure; how happy in the abiding consciousness of their father's love! How full of all good their position cannot but be! But the brightest, fairest lot that ever fell to any children in an earthly home fails fully to set forth what it must be to be set amongst God's children, and to be numbered amongst his sons and daughters. Blessed indeed are such; how blessed none but they who are thus "set among the children" can fully know. But such was the gracious purpose of God towards man, nothing less than this. He created us for this very purpose, with this very intent. And it is the reason and motive of the creation of every newly born child. For this every human soul is endowed with faculties which can find their complete exercise and enjoyment only amongst God's children: "God hath made us for himself, and our hearts have no rest until they find rest in him." But the verse, by its very form, indicates—
II. THE TERRIBLE THWARTING AND HINDERING OF THAT GRACIOUS PURPOSE WHICH HAS TAKEN PLACE. "How shall I put thee," etc.? plainly denoting that there is some giant obstacle in the way. In the case of Israel the previous portions of this prophecy show clearly what this was. But it is equally true of us all. And this dread hindrance to God's carrying out his purposes of grace towards us consists not so much in what we have done as in what we are. The heart of man is not right in the sight of God, and whilst that is so, God cannot set us amongst his children. Transgressions and offences are but the symptoms of the deadlier evil that lurks within, not the evil itself. That consists in the state of heart Godwards which, alas! characterizes us all, until the new heart and the right spirit be given. What should we say if towards ourselves as parents our children were to order themselves as we do towards God?—rarely thinking of us, placing no confidence in us; though we would delight to have them speak to us, yet maintaining a sullen silence always; in their hearts disliking us and resenting the expression of our will; disobeying us on the slightest pretext, and choosing for their friends those they well know to be our foes. If any parent was so unhappy as to have such a son or daughter, how could he set such a one amongst his other children who love him as children should? And that this is the case between the unrenewed man and God, let conscience and men's works, words, and ways witness. This being so, how can we "marvel" that our Lord hath said, "Ye must be born again?" But we are shown also—
III. THIS DIFFICULTY, VAST AS IT IS, TRIUMPHANTLY OVERCOME. In the latter part of the verse and in the confessions of the twenty-second and following verses it is clear that a great change has taken place. The rebel heart has gone, the child's heart has come in its place. The erewhile sinful godless soul is heard calling upon God as "My Father," and in daily conduct is found not turning away from him. What a change! No wonder that the Scripture emblems of it are all drawn from contrasts the most vivid and intense that experience furnishes or the mind can conceive: life and death, darkness and light, crimson red and snow whiteness, leprous and pure; as one possessed of the devil, and as one calm, sober, and in his right mind;—such are some of them. But the beholding of so great a change leads of necessity to the inquiry how it was brought about. Hence note—
IV. THE MEANS WHEREBY THIS WAS ACCOMPLISHED. These were as they ever are, the manifestation of the love of God. In Christ God came to seek and to save his self-lost children. But they, instead of welcoming the Christ of God, crucified and slew him. That rebel alienated heart which is common to us all wrought this awful crime. But it is when by the Holy Spirit men are led to see what they have clone to him who so loved them as to come from heaven to save them, there is produced that conviction of sin, that deep and genuine repentance, that sense of his infinite love, and that consequent entire trust in him,—all which are the very elements of that heart of a dear child which calls God "My Father," and which will not turn away from him. I have read of one who was forever reclaimed from the deadly sin of drunkenness by the deep anguish of heart which he experienced when he found that one day, when brutalized by drink, he had smitten to the ground his own dear child, and wounded her with a wound the scar of which she would never lose; and that he had done this whilst she was lovingly seeking to lead him away from the place and the people who were tempting him to his ruin. When he came to himself and knew what he had done, his horror and remorse had no bounds. "The drink! ay, it was all the drink!" he exclaimed when, years after, telling the story. "Could I ever touch it again? I kept my finger lightly on the little maid's forehead, and lifted my face to heaven, and vowed that I would never touch the murderous thing again as long as I lived, and with a broken heart I prayed the Lord to help me." That well-known story serves to illustrate how, in this great matter of man's restoration to God, he who once was a godless rebel becomes filled with another heart, and God can, as he desires to, place him amongst the children. For when I clearly see the wounds which I in my mad sin have inflicted on him who sought to save me, and who tenderly loves me still notwithstanding all I have done, the sight of his cross and of those wounds will fill my soul with such a hatred of sin and love of God that I am no longer what I was; I am born again, I have passed from death unto life. Yes, it is the sight of the love of God in Christ which turns the sinner into the child of God, and wins for him a place amongst the children of God. With what fervor, then, may we pray the blessed Spirit to fulfill his work in and for us and for all men!—C.
God's way of restoration; or, the experiences of a young convert.
In Jeremiah 4:19 we have given us the expression of the Divine perplexity in regard to lost Israel: "How shall I place thee among the children," etc.? But ere the verse closes we behold the problem solved, the seeming impossibility accomplished, for the lost is found, and he that was dead is alive again. The rebel Israel has become the loving obedient child. And now in these verses (20- Jeremiah 4:2) we seem to have a telling of the experience of the restored one, a setting forth of how God had dealt with him. It is given in the form of a dialogue between God and Israel, and is an accurate description of the Divine process of restoration.
I. THERE IS THE BRINGING HOME OF SIN TO THE CONSCIENCE. (Jeremiah 4:20.) God charges upon lost Israel great and grievous sin. He likens the wrong he has suffered at the hands of Israel to the most grievous wrong it is possible for a man to suffer, and which of all others a man resents the most. The accusation is terrible. Thus sharply and sternly does God deal with the soul he would save. He does not gloss over, or palliate, or in any way make little of our sin, as we are apt to do; but he shows it to us so clearly that the sight of it is almost more than the heart can bear.
II. THIS CONVICTION OF SIN IS FOLLOWED BY A DEEP REPENTANCE. (Jeremiah 4:21.) Israel is represented as seeing her sin, and then from the very high places which had witnessed her guilt is heard her weeping and supplication. The soul that has never known the smart and pain of the conviction of sin will never earnestly turn to the Great Physician for the healing that is needed.
III. THE PROCLAMATION OF MERCY FOLLOWS. Jeremiah 4:22, "Return, ye apostate children, I will heal your apostasies." Just as to the enraptured ears of the penitent who was weeping over the Savior's feet there came the blessed sound of his pardoning word, assuring her, her sins were forgiven and that she might go in peace, so here God is represented as declaring his mercy to the weeping, supplicating Israel. And the heart the Lord hath dealt with knows that thus it is. A voice not audible, but real, is heard in the soul, assuring the contrite one of the forgiveness he needs and craves.
IV. IN SUCH A HEART PROMPT BELIEF, INSTANT ACCEPTANCE OF THE OFFERED MERCY, FOLLOWS. Jeremiah 4:22, "Behold, we come unto thee; for," etc. As well might the steel filings refuse to be moved by the magnet that lies by them as the sin-convinced and contrite heart fail to lay hold on the promise set before it in the gospel. No sooner has God said, "Return, I will heal," than the answer is heard, "Behold, we come."
V. Then follows THE CONFESSION AND REPENTANCE OF FAITH. (Jeremiah 4:23-25.) There had been confession and repentance before the soul had heard and accepted the offer of pardon; but that which follows is more full, more deep than that which went before. We repent more deeply of sin after we have known God has pardoned us than before we had that blessed knowledge. See here:
1. Their confession of the utter vanity of all their idols (Jeremiah 4:23).
2. Their confident assurance that God alone can be their salvation (Jeremiah 4:23).
3. Their confession of the disgrace and infatuated folly which had characterized them as a people for so long a time (Jeremiah 4:24). They call their idolatry "shame," and own how it has destroyed both their substance and themselves.
4. They acknowledge the complete righteousness of God's judgment against their sin, and their own just exposure to his wrath (Jeremiah 4:25). "Let us lie in our shame and our disgrace cover us, that we have sinned," etc. (Lange's translation). And thus it ever is: the more we realize God's pardoning love, the more intense will be our perception of the baseness and utter evil of the sin that has been forgiven.
VI. This CONFESSION IS FOLLOWED BY FURTHER ASSURANCES OF GRACE. (Jeremiah 4:1, Jeremiah 4:2.) Return to God shall be followed by return to their own land. "If thou returnest to me, thou shalt return (unto thy land), and if thou puttest away, etc; thou shalt not remove," i.e. into exile again. "And if thou shalt swear by Jehovah with sincere, righteous, and true heart," i.e. "if thou wilt truly give thyself up to God, then the heathen nations outside, seeing how thy God shall bless thee and shall heap his favors upon thee, shall come and bless themselves in him, and shall glory in him," i.e. they shall have done with their idolatries and be converted unto God. With such gracious promises would God encourage Israel in the new and better way in which they are represented as walking; with such gentleness would he make them, as he in like manner makes all who truly turn to him, great.—C.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Supercession of external religious ordinances and institutions.
This is because of the necessarily temporary nature of these, and the spirituality to which they are intended to minister, and which subsequently they may hinder.
I. THE TRUE WORSHIP OF GOD IS SPIRITUAL. It is not to bow before an altar or an ark that God calls us to his temple, but to see himself face to face, to discover our need of him, and to delight in his presence. Nor is this communion to be occasional or intermittent, The whole life is to be affected by spiritual influences. A true life may thereby become worship, and "daily toil temple service." This arises from the nature of God. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth'
II. THE MOST SACRED SYMBOLS ARE ONLY USEFUL AS THEY HELP TO THIS, AND WHEN IT IS ATTAINED ARE NO LONGER REQUIRED. This may be said not only of external church furniture, rites of worship, etc; but even of words and doctrines themselves, which are but imperfect representations of the Divine glory. When the building is finished the scaffolding is removed. The final end of education is not to load the mind with dead knowledge, but to culture and strengthen it. Ceremonial and doctrinal teaching are intended to lead men into personal experience of God and communion with him. When that is attained they fall into the background.
III. THAT RITUAL WORSHIP SHALL GIVE PLACE TO SPIRITUAL IS DISTINCTLY PROMISED.
1. An incentive to the spiritual use of rites.
2. An assurance of Divine favor and love.
3. A promise of Christ and communion through him.—M.
Put among the children.
A promise deeply and tenderly evangelical. Israel and Judah had forfeited this position because they had broken the covenant. But the forgiving love of God is shown in his declaring that they should be reinstated. The force of the phrase is well explained as that of "bestowing a rich paternal benediction," or of restoring to the rights and privileges of inheritance.
I. THE SINNER HAS FORFEITED HIS POSITION IN THE FAMILY OF GOD. All through Scripture this relation is shown as depending upon mutual agreement and obligation. The covenant is the title-deed to the inheritance of God's children. The breaking of this on the part of the sinner destroys his claim and position. In the parable of the prodigal son we have the consciousness of this on the part of the transgressor beautifully described—"I am no more worthy to be called thy son." Moral harmony between the soul of man and God is of the essence of the filial relation. A lost position; a possibility that we have destroyed by our own act. Henceforth the sinner is a spiritual orphan, or a "child of Satan." There is no claim upon God save on condition of renewed obedience. He is subject to the wrath of God's wounded love and outraged honor.
II. READOPTION IS THE GUARANTEE OF ALL HIGHEST BLESSINGS. It is only children of God who are heirs of God; if, then, we would enjoy the privileges and blessings of his house, we must be reinstated in that which we have lost. But this is only possible on repentance and belief. We are assured here and elsewhere that the sinner can regain this title and relation without lessening of the dignity, privilege, and affection. When once this has taken place there is no bar to the bestowal of God's richest benediction. As his children, as those who are actuated by his love and governed by his Spirit, there is ample security that his blessings shall not be abused. A holy confidence and communion are established, and the true end of being is once more secured.
III. THIS IS AN ACT OF GOD'S FREE GRACE. The initiative is not the sinner's. Overtures of mercy come from him he has offended. There is nothing to compel God to do tills. He is perfectly free, and any obligation into which he enters is sealed only by his voluntary promises. There is abundant evidence, too, of a Divine satisfaction and joy in the exercise of pardoning love. It is spoken of as a long hoped for and gladsome consummation. The "Abba, Father!" of the restored one is music in the heart of God. This is the only true joy—the joy of reconciliation. Who can doubt his welcome with such assurances as this? God wills not that any should perish, but that all should come to him and live.—M.
It is difficult if not impossible to fix any historic date for the fulfillment of this prophecy. Not a few competent scholars maintain that it is yet unfulfilled. But in any case it is a picture of the future, and may be accepted as a description of the penitence that is well-pleasing in the sight of God. All through it is spiritual, and the national circumstances involved are put thoroughly into the background.
I. THE UPSPRINGING OF GODLY SORROW FOR SIN. (Jeremiah 3:21.) It is not the expression of annoyance and pain at the consequences of sin. A deeper sentiment inspires the host of weeping supplicants. Sin itself is the grief. The cry is from men who feel they have lost their way, that there is no satisfaction in the foul and inconsequent rites of idolatry. The religion and the life that flows from it are felt to be profoundly and utterly false. Memories of past spiritual privileges and endearing ties overpower their hearts. They do not wait, but pour forth their sorrow on the very scene of transgression. Their sin is before them. God is the Being they have offended, and to him therefore do they cry, in heartfelt and unrestrainable sorrow.
II. THE DIVINE RESPONSE. (Jeremiah 3:22.) The fatherly heart of God cannot resist the "voice heard upon the high places." He waits not, but forthwith addressing them already as "children," encourages their approach. Their offence is declared, but equally is the promise given, "I will heal your backslidings [apostasies]." This expresses the objective and subjective influence of Divine forgiveness. It not only removes the sin so that forthwith and henceforth it is as if it had never been, but it destroys the causes and tendencies of the evil. The source is cleansed, the disposition changed, and the way cleared for thorough reconciliation with God.
III. THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE DIVINE INVITATION. (Jeremiah 3:22.) God is taken at his word. No delay takes place. As the way of return has been shown, so they hasten to avail themselves of it. His authority and relation to them are acknowledged. They obey him.
IV. THE ACCEPTED SINNER'S CONFESSION. (Jeremiah 3:23, Jeremiah 3:24.) The "vanity," waste, and ruin attendant upon idolatry are declared. God is recognized as the only Savior. Testimony like this has often proved more powerful in converting sinners than many sermons. It is due to God, and may be profitable to others.
V. THE ACCOMPANYING EMOTIONS. (Jeremiah 3:25.) Shame predominates. But it is not accompanied by despair. There is a false shame which prevents the sinner coming to God; there is a true shame which coexists with acceptance of proffered mercy, and earnest effort to retrieve the past, We ought not too readily to forget "the wormwood and the gall."—M.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20