Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand;Conversion (Ash Wednesday)
A great national calamity, either impending or just passed, was the occasion of the prophecy of Joel. It is traceable to national sin, and its remedy is national repentance.
The words of our text bring before us a matter which is peculiarly fit for Ash Wednesday consideration—the doctrine of Conversion; for conversion is the first step in that life of penitence to which Lent calls us. But conversion is a subject about which there is much misunderstanding.
I. What Conversion is not.
a. Many persons confound conversion with regeneration, with which it has hardly anything in common. The grace of regeneration can be given but once, for we can only be born once, but conversion may be necessary many times in our life, as often indeed as we turn away from God.
b. Conversion is not always the same in every one. With some, like St. Paul, it is instantaneous; with others it is gradual, and so free from any special manifestation that they can hardly tell when they were converted.
(c) Conversion is not everything, it is only the first step in the life of penitence, and of little use if it does not lead to the fullness of Christian fellowship.
II. What Conversion is.—It is the turning of the will to God. By the gift of free will, which God has bestowed upon us, we are able to make our actions meritorious by doing them freely, with the love of God as their motive, and the glory of God as their end.
III. There are Many Degrees of Sin Possible in Man.
a. We can live in open rebellion.
b. We can compromise, and while serving God outwardly, we may fall short of conformity to His will.
a. Must be thorough. We must turn to God with our entire will.
b. The accompaniments of conversion are, fasting, weeping, and mourning; these are signs of deep penitence, and all are fruits of a thorough conversion.
—A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, p. 161.
References.—II. 12.—J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes (1st Series), pp. 36, 38. II. 12, 13.—E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation (2nd Series), p. 138. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons, p. 58. Bishop How, Plain Words (1st Series), p. 33. II. 17.—J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 352. II. 25.—F. W. Farrar, The Fall of Man, p. 292. J. Vaughan, Old Testament Outlines, p. 273. II. 26.—J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 249. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1098. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1541. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (2nd Series), p. 220. II. 28.—E. Bayley, Sermons on the Work and Person of the Holy Spirit, p. 221. II. 28-32.—Ibid. p. 1.
A Message of Deliverance (Ash Wednedsay)
This verse occurs three times over in the Scriptures, once here in the old dispensation, once again on the birthday of the new, and once again thirty years later, when the great Apostle was facing the problem of the admission to the Church of the Gentiles.
I. The Message Proclaimed:—
a. By the Prophet Joel.—Nearly three thousand years ago the words were spoken first. Judea had reached a period of prosperity, but both king and people had forgotten to walk humbly with their God. And Joel tells, in language which cannot be misunderstood, what must happen to a nation which will live without God. Is there then no hope for the people? He passes on to tell them of the hope that there is in the Lord (Joel 2:12-13). Even the fire of prophecy burns up afresh. Joel sings a song which is full of joy (2:24). Further still he looks to the dawn of the new dispensation. 'I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.' Then further still, to the end of the dispensation on earth altogether. Then, even then, it shall come to pass that 'whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered'.
b. By St. Peter.—Eight hundred years later, when the Day of Pentecost has come, St. Peter is about to preach the first Christian sermon, and our text was his text. When the sermon was over, there was such a result as proved God's blessing on his interpretation of the text: for men were moved, not in hundreds but in thousands, to ask the great question, 'What shall I do?'
c. By St. Paul.—The world rolls on again for thirty years, steadily becoming worse, and the Apostle to the Gentiles, grasping for the first time with full force the magnificent width of the Christian Church, also takes up this text, and looking round on all the darkness of the heathen world, on the hollowness which was creeping even then into the infant Church, he declares with emphasis that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
II. A Message for Today.—That was the message with which the Church went out into the world, that is the message the Church has preached ever since, and it is the message the Church delivers Today. And Today, as we enter upon this holy season of Lent, we do well to remember that the message has never at any time lost its force. Do not let us explain it away. Do not let us think it cannot be accepted literally. It is exactly and literally true. By that message we must be judged some day. If it be 'easy' as some say to call upon the Lord, it is only because all that was hard was taken by Him and borne for us. Do not let us think that salvation is so complicated a thing that it cannot be contained in a message like that It is true that salvation is a very wide and deep thing, but the first thing it must mean to every soul is salvation from the wrath of God. The criminal under sentence of death must first be pardoned, and know it, before he can come out and live a life worth living. 'Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord,' aye, even now, 'shall be delivered,' shall be saved from the wrath upon him because of original sin, from the burden of the guilt which belongs to him from actual sin, shall know that he has passed from death into life, the life which Christ gives him as a gift.
III. A Personal Question.—Have you ever made one real effort to call upon the name of the Lord to be saved? This is the question I would press home upon you at this Lenten season. What does the message mean? Simply this—faith, which acknowledges Jesus as the Saviour. Faith first, which looks up to Him believing that He is able to do what I long for Him to do. Then, secondly, simple acceptance. I must be ready to take what He gives, to accept it, to believe it, to rest upon it.
References.—II. 32.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1931. III. 14.—J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. i. p. 109. III. 21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 379. R. F. Norton, The Hidden Guest, p. 233.
A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.
A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.
The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run.
Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array.
Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness.
They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks:
Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path: and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded.
They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief.
The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining:
And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?
Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:
And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.
Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly:
Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.
Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?
Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people.
Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen:
But I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things.
Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things.
Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength.
Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month.
And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil.
And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.
And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.
And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.