Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man's, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD.The Heavenly Guide (Sermon to the Young)
We are all travellers, but are not all travellingin the same direction. We need a guide. There is no difficulty in finding one. There is only one to be relied upon.
I. Some of the Reasons Why we Need a Guide.
1. Our ignorance of the way.
2. Our liability to take the wrong path.
3. Our liability to leave the right path after we have chosen it.
II. Some of the Reasons Why we Should Take God as Our Guide.
4. Because He knows the way.
5. Because He knows the trials that will befall us.
6. Because He knows the perils that we shall encounter.
7. Because He is our Father, and therefore kind and considerate.
III. III. Some of the Reasons Why we Should Ask God to Guide us now.
8. Because the present time is the best.
9. Because the present time is the safest.
10. Because the present may be the only time.
—F. J. Austin, Seeds and Saplings, p. 27.
The Limitation of Evil
I. We indicate some of the restraining influences of life.
1. There is the restraint imposed by revelation. That Israel did not fall into the flagrant wickedness of the surrounding nations was not the consequence of their innate strength or goodness—the Lord their God restrained them. The voices of Sinai ringing in their ears warned and strengthened them against the destructive errors of paganism. Are we not Today restrained by the same gracious influence?
2. There is the restraint imposed by grace. The direct Divine action on our mind, will, conscience, feeling. This was the master-restraint of the antediluvian world. So has the selfsame Spirit striven in all hearts, and in all generations.
3. There is the restraint imposed by society. There is the restraint of civil law. There is the restraint of public opinion. There is the restraint of our business. There are the restraints of domesticity.
II. 'Notwithstanding the restraints of life, we discover the wickedness of our nature by going as far as possible in the direction of transgression.' Men have power to fling themselves over a precipice, but for obvious reasons they usually stop short of these desperate deeds. So Israel hitherto had abstained from the extreme acts of transgression which would have involved immediate retribution, but they showed their disposition by playing with the fire, by trifling on the edge of the abyss. The lively manner in which we have used our rarer opportunities to sin shows that increased leisure and facility would only have exaggerated our misdoing.
III. It is sufficiently clear that 'many would at once proceed to greater lengths of wickedness if the restrictive influences of life were withdrawn'.
1. Note the extent to which men 'resist these saving influences'. Opportunity no longer permits us to stone the prophets, or to crucify the Son of man, but we reveal the same hatred of truth and righteousness by doing despite to the Spirit of grace.
2. And the second sign of 'the irregularity and inordinativeness of our desire is found in the popularity of certain imaginative literature'. The lark singing from its little cage in Seven Dials is a pathetic attempt on the part of the city poor to restore in some measure the rural delights they may no longer share; and just as certainly do we seek in our literature to compensate ourselves for liberties and pleasures denied or curtailed by civilization.
We conclude with a few practical reflections:—
1. Let us recognize 'the glory of God's preventing grace'. The Dutch call the chain of dykes which protects their fields and their firesides from the wild sea 'the golden border'. God's grace directly affecting our heart, or expressed in the constitution of society and the circumstances of life, is a golden border shutting out a raging, threatening sea of evil.
2. Let us confess 'the folly of our self-righteousness'. The consciousness of a self-righteousness often stands in the way of men attaining the righteousness which is of God, but the foregoing reflections show how little our self-righteousness may be worth.
3. We see 'the necessity and urgency of the grace which converts and perfects'. It is by no means wholly satisfactory that we are kept by restraining grace; we must go on to seek the grace which renews.
—W. L. Watkinson, The Transfigured Sackcloth, p. 47.
References.—III. 12, 13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1833. III. 12, 14, 22.—Ibid. vol. li. No. 2931. III. 13.—C. Holland, Gleanings from a Ministry of Fifty Years, p. 41. III. 14.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 762. III. 16.—Ibid. vol. xxvii. No. 1621.
The Tenderness of God
The thought of the verse refers not so much to the saying as to the thinking and reflection which go before the speaking. 'I thought how I would put you among the children.' The text comes to us through Jeremiah, to whom we owe so much of true, tender, and adequate teaching about God. He brings men into the secret of the Divine presence, and enables them to hear the consultation of God with Himself.
I. The problem is how to put among the children one who is not a child. The person who is not a child would be miserable and far from home among the children of God. The Bible reveals to us the way which God took to solve the problem. It is the story of the making of man, and it is the story of the Divine patience and hopefulness for man that man will yet be placed among the children. Follow the line of Divine action down through the centuries, follow it on to the greatest manifestation of Divine love in the gift of the only begotten Son, and you have the practical illustration of the answer to the question of our text. All these great doings are a revelation of the Divine thought of how to put men among the children.
The Divine thinking issued in Divine action, and the action is just the story of redemption. The Divine action is also the Divine appeal to man. Answer it by the attempt to see that your place is among the children, and you can never find rest till you take your place.
II. Follow for a little the thought of God as to the way by which a man is to be put among the children. 'I thought thou wouldst call me, My Father; and wouldst not turn away from Me.'
It is the return to the Father of children made in the image of God; it is the restoration of the power of speaking to the Father; it is the placing of a son in his right place in the family of God. With this return there is the new quality of real thought, of spiritual worth, of Divine fellowship.
To say 'My Father' is not merely to say the words, or to take them on our lips; it means experience with God, speaking to Him, hearing Him speak, being filled with the Spirit of God, and being entered into the secret of God's purpose.
III. 'I thought thou wouldst not turn away from Me.' It is enough to break the heart of any one who believes what is here said. This word of the Prophet, this picture of the living God stretching forth hands of tenderness and love to men, saying to them, 'Thou wilt not turn away from Me,' is a real and true portrait of God. It is the truest revelation of Him that man can ever know. Think of Him, finally, as Jesus Christ His Son has revealed Him to us, who through the Son may become children.
—J. Iverach, The Other Side of Greatness, p. 68.
References.—III. 19.—J. T. Forbes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiii. 1903, p. 257. R. J. Drummond, Faith's Certainties, p. 149. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2742. III. 21, 22.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture-Isaiah and Jeremiah, p. 254. III. 22, 23.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2452.
Lift up thine eyes unto the high places, and see where thou hast not been lien with. In the ways hast thou sat for them, as the Arabian in the wilderness; and thou hast polluted the land with thy whoredoms and with thy wickedness.
Therefore the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain; and thou hadst a whore's forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed.
Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My father, thou art the guide of my youth?
Will he reserve his anger for ever? will he keep it to the end? Behold, thou hast spoken and done evil things as thou couldest.
The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot.
And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it.
And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.
And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks.
And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD.
And the LORD said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah.
Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever.
Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the LORD thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the LORD.
Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:
And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.
And it shall come to pass, when ye be multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, saith the LORD, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the LORD: neither shall it come to mind: neither shall they remember it; neither shall they visit it; neither shall that be done any more.
At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart.
In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers.
But I said, How shall I put thee among the children, and give thee a pleasant land, a goodly heritage of the hosts of nations? and I said, Thou shalt call me, My father; and shalt not turn away from me.
Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the LORD.
A voice was heard upon the high places, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel: for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the LORD their God.
Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the LORD our God.
Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel.
For shame hath devoured the labour of our fathers from our youth; their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters.
We lie down in our shame, and our confusion covereth us: for we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.