Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
But what a contrast is our condition to theirs! See it in the aspects of the fields ere harvest was gathered in. In the gifts of all nurturing powers from heaven - rain, dew, and fountains of water. In the abundance provided for man and beast, and in the contentment and peace of the herds of the field. In the glad congratulations of all classes in the land, from the laborer to the noble, because of what God has given. The whole nation rejoices, a cry not of sorrow but of gladness goes up from the homes of the rich and poor, high and low alike. And this contrast is seen also in the thoughts of God prompted by the two events. "The dearth" made the people think that God was as a stranger in the land, one who knew nothing of them or their need. If we felt concerning our distresses that God was as a stranger to us, they would be much harder to bear. But so Judah and Jerusalem thought. Nor was this the worst thought; for if God knew how they were suffering, and yet no help came, did not a yet darker surmise seem warranted? Was it not as if he were "as a wayfaring man that but turned aside to tarry for the night," and who therefore, having no interest in the place or the people, would care but little for them? This was a terrible thought indeed. If our mind be haunted with the dread thought that God looks on unmoved at our affliction, and cares not for our distress - what, then, can we do? But so they thought. The sun rose and set, the stars looked down upon them just as they had done at other times; but there was no heart of love in their calm, unmoved gaze; and so it seemed there was no heart in God, and that he, unmoved by their appeal, left them to perish. Or could it be that, after all their boasting in him as mighty to save, One mightier than he had arisen and overpowered him; that he was "as one astounded, as a mighty man that cannot save?" Was there some cruel fate which, after all, was ruling over their destinies, and so preventing the mighty One, of whom their fathers told, from coming to their help as in the days of old? Such dark and terrible thoughts float about the minds of men in the hour of dire distress such as this dearth had brought upon them. And so all hope was quenched, the voice of prayer was stifled, their hearts died down in complete despair. The dearth in itself was bad enough, causing bodily agony beyond all description, but its horrors were heightened and awfully intensified by the dark thoughts about God to which their distress gave rise. But in all this, what a contrast does our happier lot present? The thoughts of God which the harvest he has given prompt are the very opposite of those which, as we have seen, haunted the minds of those who suffered under the dearth. Not as a stranger ignorant of us and our wants does God appear, but as One who "knoweth that we have need of all these things," and who openeth his hand and filleth us with good. And still less as a wayfaring man, and who therefore has no concern nor care for land or people. Every golden ear of corn has been a tongue as well, and has told eloquently though silently of our Father's care. The wide-stretching fields of corn have been filled with these myriad witnesses to his love, and have stood up in their serried ranks, to give the lie to the unbelieving heart, that would harbor hard thoughts of God. As all with one consent yield to the summer breeze, so with like oneness of consent, do they attest his unfailing goodness and his never-ceasing care. And they proclaim him, too, as the Hope of his people, and their Savior indeed. He is no "mighty man that cannot save." For all the treasures of the field, created, preserved, and ripened for our use, in spite of all adverse influences which threatened them, all show that he is mighty to save. His hand held in check every hostile power, every destructive storm, every killing frost, every blighting mildew, every creeping caterpillar, and all else that would have robbed us of the corn he has given. Oh, what a gospel do the fields preach! And how differently God might have dealt with us! For whilst there is so vast a contrast between our harvest and that dearth of which these verses tell, there has been no such contrast between our conduct and that which brought upon Judah the calamity from which they suffered. Have we not reason to make the same confession which was made concerning them? - " O Lord... our iniquities testify against us," etc. (Ver. 7). What, gratitude then, does such long-suffering love call for from us? Let, then, our harvest lead us to do that which Judah's dearth led the prophet to do - to turn to God, and confess him as our Hope and our Savior in time of trouble. In this way he is again, standing at our doors and knocking for admission. The "miracle of the loaves is done over again for our comfort and help. We have "the joy of harvest," let him have it also in gathering us into the garner of his faithful souls for time and for eternity. - C.
I. THE BITTER CONSCIOUSNESS THAT AN IMPERATIVE NEED CANNOT BE SATISFIED. Well might there be mourning, languishing, and crying. When we are speaking of need, one of the first questions to be asked is whether the need is natural or artificial. An artificial need, by continued self-indulgence, may come to be very keenly felt; and yet, when circumstances arise which prevent the satisfying of the need, the artificiality of it is clearly seen. But a natural need, when the supplies are stopped, soon shows how clamorous it can become, how productive of unendurable pain. These Israelites had been multiplying artificial needs. They thought they needed visible images, to he richly adorned and constantly worshipped. They thought they needed large external possessions, and so the land became full of covetousness. Rich men tried to increase their riches, and poor men wanted, above all things, to get out of their poverty. But all the while the difference between natural and artificial need was forgotten. The natural needs went on being satisfied, because God, who gives rain from heaven, was long-suffering; and the supply came so habitually that the people did not reckon how there was a hand upon the fountain of the waters which could seal them up in a moment. But now, no sooner is the supply stopped than there is deep and inconceivable misery. The idolater will go on living, even if you take his images away; a rich man need not die because he is stripped of his possessions; but what shall one do who cannot get water to drink? The unendurable pain of Dives in Hades came not from the lost wealth and splendor of earth, but because he could not get the least drop of water to cool his tongue.
II. THE VANITY OF HUMAN RESOURCES. Jerusalem now abounds in pools and cisterns, and the probability is that in the time of Jeremiah there was a similar abundance, both within and without the city. Great cities have always had to see to the providing of water, according to their judgment of what was necessary. A due supply of water is one of the most important charges that can be entrusted to any municipality. The authorities of Jerusalem may have done their best according to their lights; but they had forgotten that the most they could do was to provide receptacles for the Divine bounty. They had hewn cisterns without considering that a time might come when there would be no water to put into the cisterns. That time has come, and where is now the wisdom of the wise and the strength of the mighty? Men may flatter themselves that they rule on earth; but it is very plain that the spaces above, where the clouds gather and whence the rains descend, are beyond their control.
III. THE NULLIFYING OF HUMAN INDUSTRY. The work of the ploughman is in vain. God requires man to work and study in order to get the fruits of the earth; but it is only too easy for him in all his work and study to forget God. He who expects a harvest will not omit ploughing, sowing, irrigating - without these works expectation would be idiotic-but he may very easily omit faith in God. He may neglect the bestowment of the firstfruits, and all that service of God which the fruits of the earth give us strength to render. Well may such a one be ashamed when the ground is chapped and there is no rain in the earth. This is the sign of his own folly in attending to certain secondary requisites and forgetting the one requisite most important of all. When it is so required, God can feed thousands without any sowing and reaping at all; but no man is allowed to reckon that his sowing will assuredly be followed by reaping. He may sow wheat bountifully, only to reap thorns bountifully, because he has forgotten God (Jeremiah 12:13). If the sowing is in prayer and humility, in gratitude for the past and reasonable expectation for the future, then the sower will have no need to be ashamed. Whatever other things God's servants may lack, God will put the true, abiding glory upon them.
IV. THE LINKING OF MAN WITH THE BRUTE CREATION IN A COMMON SUFFERING, The hinds and the wild asses suffer, and doubtless they were prominent representatives of many other classes of the brute creation ('The Land and the Book,' p. 172). A common thirst not only brings down the noble to the level of the mean man, but man in general to the level of the brute. It is well that we should have plain reminders, such as cannot be escaped, of the links that bind us to the lower creation. We cannot, at present at all events, get above some of the wants of the brute, although certainly it cannot rise to some of ours; but it is just the wants of the brute that seem to be the only wants many feel. They have enough if they can eat, drink, and be merry. - Y.
I. PRAYER IS AN INDEX OF THE SPIRITUAL STATE. Here we have the oscillation between fear and hope, doubt and faith, vividly portrayed. There is a flitting to and fro of the soul between the extremes of dejection and of confidence. All real prayer ought thus faithfully to represent the mind of the petitioner. It is a laying bare of secret thoughts and moral convictions; an unconscious as well as a conscious confession. Whilst it may be said that a man's inner being is revealed in his prayer, he is not to be judged by it by his fellow men. It is only God who can truly understand the indications which it affords, and only he who has a right to interpret them. There is a rising, a falling, and a rising again in the course of the prayer. It is the Name of God which serves as a reminder and spiritual confirmation.
II. PRAYER IS A SPIRITUAL EXERCISE AND A MEANS OF GRACE. There is evident in this utterance a wrestling with unbelief. Memories of evil crowd upon the soul and seem to darken the horizon. The sinful nation confesses that in itself there is no hope, but as that conviction is arrived at, another asserts itself, namely, that God is the Hope of Israel, and that in his name or character there is the promise and potency of restoration. It is in spiritual transitions like these that the soul is lost and found again. Temptation is anticipated and overcome, sin is cast away, and God is throned in the heart, It is better to make such honest discovery of ourselves to God, even in our weakness and lack of faith, than that we should carry these into the conduct of life. It is in these transitions of despair and hope reaching to and resting in restored faith and settled purpose of righteousness, that the overcoming of the world is already accomplished.
III. THE PRAYER THAT SEEMS TO BE REJECTED NOW MAY YET PROVE A CONDITION OF ACCEPTANCE. Had Israel herself really adopted the words of this her representative mediator, she would have escaped the awful abyss that yawned before her, but she knew not the day of her opportunity. By slow stages of recovery, marked by many relapses, was she to climb to the great truth from which she had fallen, that the Name of God was her salvation and hope. So it is that many a prayer uttered without apparent answer supplies in itself a spiritual condition of ultimate blessing. Its answer is really begun in the change of attitude assumed, and the spiritual truth laid hold of. By-and-by irresolution and uncertainty will give place to faith, and the windows of heaven will be opened. - M.
Jeremiah 15:9 we find the prophet pleading with God to return. In these verses we are shown -
I. THE CAUSES WHICH HAD BROUGHT ABOUT THE DIVINE WITHDRAWAL FROM THEM. Their "iniquities," "backslidings," "sins" (Ver. 7). Nothing else has such power; sin only can shut out God, but it always will and does.
II. THE HAPPY MEMORIES WHICH MADE IT SO BITTER. God had revealed himself to them in such endearing manner. He had been ever "the Hope of Israel." He had inspired, maintained, and justified that hope again and again. And he had become the Hope of Israel through having shown himself so perpetually "the Savior thereof in the time of trouble." The memory of God's servants was stored with recollections of such deliverances, national and individual, from troubles temporal and spiritual; vouchsafed, too, not because of Israel's deserving, but out of God's pure bounty. Now, it was these happy memories which made God's present dealings with them so terrible to bear.
III. THE SAD CONTRAST BETWEEN THE DIVINE MANIFESTATIONS NOW AND OF OLD. We have seen what he had been to Israel, but now, the prophet complains, he is to them very far from what he was then. He is "as a stranger," "a wayfaring man," as one "taken by surprise," as one strong but yet unable to help. Their enemies would taunt them with the reproach that either God was as a stranger, and therefore did not care for them; or, if they denied that, then it must be that there was a stronger than he, who had taken him by surprise and prevented his rendering help to his afflicted people. Either he would not or he could not - on one of the horns of this dilemma they by the force of their present circumstances were thrown. And there can be no doubt that the great mystery of life, its sins and sorrows, do often force perplexed and troubled minds perilously near to one or other of these 'conclusions, which nevertheless faith affirms to be alike false, and will never admit for one moment.
IV. THE SOURCES OF HOPE UNDER CIRCUMSTANCES LIKE THESE. They are:
1. The Name of God. This the prophet pleads (Ver. 7). He confesses that all their own conduct is altogether against them. They can have no hope in themselves. But the Name of God remains to be urged in his pleading, and therefore it is this Name that he does urge. "Do thou it for thy Name's sake." Here is a fact which cannot change. When driven out of all hope in ourselves by reason of our sins, we may yet hope in God, and plead the grace and goodness that are evermore in him.
2. The presence of his appointed ordinances and his chosen dwelling-place in their midst. This is the meaning of Ver. 9, "Yet thou art in the midst of us," The temple, the altar, the sacrifice, the priests, the ark, were all there; the appointed channels of communication between God and his people. And so long as we may go unto his footstool, and the throne of grace is open to us, there is hope in that. God will come to us again in the way of his holy and appointed ordinances, if we will go along that way to seek him.
3. They were the objects of history. We are called by thy Name." Israel was so. God had chosen them at the first. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him." And it is because of that undying love of God, they who for their sins have lost his presence may yet win it back again.
V. THE PRESENT DUTY. Prayer. The prophet betook himself hereto. "Leave us not," he cries (Ver. 9). And nothing barred the success of this prayer but that the people for whom he prayed had no heart in it. God stood ready to forgive and restore. The prophet's prayer was fully answered on the part of God. But those for whom he prayed were not ready, and so their judgment went on. But for ourselves, if we deplore an absent God, let us betake ourselves to these potent arms of all-prevailing prayer, and God shall ere long be again known to us as of old as our Hope and our Savior in time of trouble. - C.
I. THE APPEAL OF THOSE WHO ADMIT THAT IN THEMSELVES THEY HAVE NO CLAIM UPON GOD. They have no record of faithful service to present; no array of good deeds goes before them to plead for acceptance and approval. It is all the other way. Their iniquities testify against them; they have backslidden; they have sinned against Jehovah; at least, so they say. There is the appearance of having come to themselves. It might seem as if the prodigal nation, so long spending its substance in riotous living, had been brought to a full stop and a place for repentance amid the privations of a waterless land. Why, indeed, should there be any suspicion as to a genuine confession of great iniquities, a genuine and swift submission to Jehovah? Notice that the confession is correct enough as far as the mere words are concerned. But after all, these words were not unlike the statements extorted by the pains of the Inquisition. Confessions and professions have been made by tortured men in their agonies which had no value as genuine utterances of the heart. It is needless to say that, as far as purpose is concerned, no resemblance is to be found between Jehovah depriving Judah of its water and Rome torturing heretics to make them recant. There may be different purposes where there are similar results. This cry of the people showed the severity with which they had been smitten; it did not of necessity show the state of their hearts. All that they said was true; their iniquities did testify against them; they were apostates; they had sinned against Jehovah. Only when we look at past confessions of the like sort, we see how little they meant (Numbers 14:40; Numbers 21:7; Judges 10:10; 1 Samuel 7:6). It was the parched tongue and not the broken heart that made them speak. And therefore it is that their appeal has to be met with a refusal. Earnestly as they cried, the cessation of chastisement would not have been followed by the renewal of a true obedience.
II. THE APPEAL OF THOSE WHO HAVE BECOME CONSCIOUS OF THEIR OWN HELPLESSNESS APART FROM JEHOVAH. They want water, and there is no way of getting it apart from the mercy of an all-powerful God. The very way in which they speak shows how vain they feel all resources to be save one. But if other resources had been possible, assuredly they would have tried them. They come to God's door, not because it is the right one, but because it is the only one left to try. So passengers begin to think of God and eternity when the captain says the tempest-beaten ship cannot be saved. So sick people send for a minister of religion when the doctor says the disease is mortal. So the doomed criminal makes a fashion of giving all his attention to the chaplain when the plea for mitigation is rejected. What a humiliating position men take in making an appearance of coming to God only when they can get nowhere else! What wonder is it that, under such circumstances, they fail to get a right relation established between God and themselves! Prayers in such circumstances, whatever the language employed, may prove no more than the incoherent shriek of despair, a cry without any real turning to God, without any real trust in him.
III. THE APPEAL OF THOSE WHO CAN CALL TO MIND GOD'S CHARACTER AS ALREADY REVEALED. The description of God in his deeds and disposition had ample warrant from the history of his past dealings. He had been in the midst of his people, " the Hope of Israel, the Savior thereof in time of trouble," as a mighty man showing himself able to save in the greatest danger. He who now fastened up the clouds and the springs had given waters in the wilderness. He who now made the earth fruitless had given manna which needed neither sowing nor reaping. Jehovah had been behind all the visible agents towards deliverance, victory, and possession of the promised inheritance. His tabernacle had been in the midst of his people, and his glory in the midst of his tabernacle. How easy it is to remember, when necessary, that which, when convenient, it seems just as easy to forget! The clouds of heaven and the mountains in whose secret depths he had wrought at the water-springs had been suffered to hide God; but now that his gracious works are vanished for a while, men suddenly and painfully miss the worker. They can flatter him whom they have not even despised, but rather simply ignored. When the cisterns are empty, when the land is chapped, when there is no water anywhere for man and beast, then they can talk effusively concerning "the Hope of Israel, and the Savior thereof in time of trouble." What self-accusation is implied in this appeal! It was not in ignorance of Jehovah's claims that they had sinned against him. His past dealings were known and could be recollected under stress of need. If God could speak to Jeremiah as one familiar with the deeds of Moses and Samuel (Jeremiah 15:1), then we may be sure the God connected with those deeds was also known in his historical manifestations - known to some extent at least to the great bulk of the people.
IV. THE APPEAL OF THOSE WHO HAVE BECOME KEENLY SENSITIVE TO GOD'S SEPARATION FROM THEM. This is set forth by two figures. He has become as a stranger in the land, as a wayfarer pitching his tent for the night. The people profess to wonder why it is so, and yet they need not wonder. He who has been in their midst because, first of all, he has gathered them around him as the recipients of measureless privileges, finds rivals raised on every high place and in every grove. His special commands are shut out from influence on the conduct of daily life. His messenger is scorned by rulers and conspired against by his own kinsfolk. What is all this but to become even worse than a stranger? A stranger may advance through successive grades of acquaintanceship into bosom affection and trust; but if he who is and ought to remain the center gets pushed out little by little, even beyond the circumference, what force is there potent and exact enough to bring the former relation back? God had told these people how to treat the stranger, but instead of attending to his commands they had ended by making God himself a stranger. Needless, then, was it to ask the question, "Why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land?" As well might the ebbing sea ask the rock round which it rolled at flood, why it had forsaken it. Jehovah had remained the same in truth, in love, and in purpose. It was the people who had failed, and flowed further and further away from him. They talked of him as a mere wanderer among them, whereas they were the real wanderers, wandering in heart, drifting about from one temporary satisfaction to another (Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 19:9, 10, 33; Matthew 25:35; Hebrews 13:2). - Y.
I. THE OCCASION OF THESE SEVERITIES. This occasion is stated in Ver. 10. The people have spoken of Jehovah as a stranger and traveler, which way of speaking gives opportunity for asserting that it is they who are the real wanderers, straying from Jehovah's highway of righteousness and appointed service; and not only have they strayed, but they have loved to stray. The making of a straight path for Jehovah has been very hard and exacting, and the first voice of temptation to turn into an easier road has been listened to. And even now, out of the midst of their agonies, their cry has no repentance in it. They wish God to come into their midst and protect and comfort them, forgetting that if he is to be really in their midst they must turn from their iniquities. They must show clear signs of forsaking their sins before he can relax his severities. Dreadful as this experience of a waterless land is, they must look for the exciting cause of it in themselves. A disobedient child, suffering punishment at the hands of his parent, while he knows that one cause of his pain is the chastising instrument, knows also that it is a cause which only operates because of the wrong that he himself has done. If we would only give due attention, it is within oar own power to keep the worst pains out of life.
II. VAIN DEFENCES AGAINST THE SEVERITIES.
1. The intercession of good men. Jehovah says once again to his prophet, "Pray not for this people for their good." Jeremiah himself, naturally and commendably enough, is prompted to cry on their behalf. But doubtless they themselves also urge the prophet's intercession.
2. Fasting. Outward and visible humiliation; such attire and such attitudes assumed as were congruous with the cry of Vers. 7-9. All this was easy enough without any humbling or chastening of the heart. Fasting is too often followed by feasting. For a little while the fleshly comforts of life are superstitiously put aside; but there is the full purpose of resuming them, and making up for lost time.
3. Burnt offerings and oblations. The people insulted Jehovah by heaping before him the carcasses of slain beasts. An idol was best served, according to the teaching of its priests, by those who made the largest offerings at its shrine. All these doings only emphasized the disobedience of the people. They were very diligent in giving what Jehovah did not want, vainly thinking it might stand in place of what he imperatively required. When God asks us for repentance and obedience, it is the merest trifling both with his expectations and our interests to bring some unusual demonstration of will-worship. Let quality, not quantity, be the first thing. A little of the right is better than the utmost profession of the wrong. A little of the right, firmly rooted, will increase and strengthen with wonderful rapidity.
III. THE SHAPE OF THE SEVERITIES. Sword, famine, and pestilence are coming; coming, plainly set forth as the consuming agents of Jehovah. When Jehovah makes men his sword, it is vain to contend against them. The history of God's people had often shown how a few could be victorious and a multitude vanquished. It is he who can put strength into the arm that wields the sword or take that strength away. These invading armies were, of course, not conscious that Jehovah was wielding them in this way. They had their own selfish aims, which God could subordinate and mould toward his own ends. It is the worst of blasphemy for the leader of an army to talk as if he were going on God's errands. Attila was not the scourge of God because he said so, though God may have used him in ways beyond Attila's power to conceive. Famine. Here was a destroyer which there was no guarding against. The sword could at least be drawn against the sword, however vain the result. But who could stop a general famine? And even supposing a few rich man could store up grain for a while, there was a third foe in reserve - the pestilence. David had his choice as to which of the three dread agents he would prefer; but here they all come together. God has a variety of weapons, and his enemies cannot evade them all. How wise men would be if, instead of vainly trying to shut out alike Divine Law and penalty, they would at once and forever take up the attitude of entire submission to God! Then they would be defended indeed. By sword, famine, and pestilence, these rich men of Judah and Jerusalem were forever separated from their ill-gotten gains. But "who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Assuredly not famine or sword," says the apostle; nor pestilence either, he would have added, if he had thought of it. We may he persuaded that nothing has power to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The mischief is that we reject the protections of that love and all other benefits flowing from it. - Y.
I. FALSE TEACHING IS SOME EXCUSE FOR EVIL CONDUCT. The deepest instincts of our hearts affirm this. Our Lord himself does so, when he says, "He that knew not his Lord's will and did it not, shall be beaten with few stripes." But this word of his, whilst it allows that lack of teaching is some excuse, denies that it is sufficient (cf. John 19:11). St. Paul also says, concerning the heathen nations, "The time of this ignorance God winked at."
II. BUT IT IS NOT AN ADEQUATE EXCUSE. For:
1. The taught are the creators almost as much as the creatures of their teachers. The people who clamor for smooth things to be prophesied to them will find such prophets forthcoming. Ahab's prophets all of them but Micaiah - were such. It is true, "like priest, like people;" but it is also true, "like people, like priest." The demand creates the supply. The pastors of the Church are the product of the Church, almost as much as the Church is the product of the pastors. What a worldly Church wants it will have, for the woe both of itself and its pastors alike.
2. They have a sure test by which to try all their teachers. "To the Law and to the testimony," etc. Conscience also is ever on the side of God, and is prompt to condemn all teaching that leads to sin. The Holy Spirit likewise pleads in men's hearts for God. And the faithful words of those in whom God's Spirit dwells. None, therefore, are shut up to any human teachers.
3. And where evil teachers have been followed, it has been in spite of the protest which these other higher and surer guides have uttered, or would have uttered had they been suffered so to do.
III. BUT IF IT BE ILL FOR THE TAUGHT, IT IS YET MORE ILL FOR THE TEACHERS. "His blood will I require at the watchman's hands." The most awful of our Lord's denunciations were addressed to such evil teachers (cf. the oft-repeated, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" cf. Ver. 14, etc.). CONCLUSION.
1. Let those who are taught by any human teachers test what they receive by the Word of God. Be as the Bereans (Acts 17:1l).
2. Let those who teach watch anxiously and prayerfully against the temptation to conform their teachings to the likings of their hearers rather than to their needs. Let them remember that the causes of error and false teaching are much more moral than they are intellectual.
3. Let teachers and taught alike sit daily at his feet who said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." - C.
I. THE SIN OF THE PROPHETS. That they are found liars is, comparatively speaking, a small part of their offence. Their lie is productive of so much that adds to the peril of the position - so much that is peculiarly insulting to Jehovah. Their sin and the punishment of it were not unlike the sin and punishment of Ananias and Sapphira. Ananias and Sapphira were smitten, not because they had lied, but because they had lied against the Holy Ghost. So with these false prophets here; they prophesied falsely; but that in itself might not have brought a peculiar doom upon them. The offence lay in this, that the false prophecy came at a time when it was peculiarly obnoxious to Jehovah. It was not a distant danger that these false prophets made light of, but one close to the door. The prophet's difficulties, arising from the natural disposition of his auditors, were already great enough. No false prophet was needed to come in with his contradiction. It must also be remembered that there was a peculiarly insulting sin in that these men told their lies as prophets. What a dreadful thing for a man to go forth with "Thus saith Jehovah" in his mouth, when the words are the deceit of his own heart! This expression, "the deceit of their heart," seems to suggest the possibility that in some instances these false prophets were not deliberate liars, but were themselves deluded by a fanatical exaggeration of patriotism. Nevertheless, even so, the sin was none the less, for the spirits of the prophets were subject to the prophets. We had need be very sure that we are duly commissioned when we undertake to speak in the Name of God, else we may land ourselves in most humiliating exposures, and come to a most admonitory end. Thus we come to notice -
II. HOW THE SIN OF THESE PROPHETS WAS MADE CLEAR. Jeremiah said one thing, the false prophets said the direct contrary, and at the time there seemed no means of vindicating the true prophet beyond all chance of cavil. Doubtless those who were rightly disposed did listen and believe. Their very disposition was in itself a touchstone by which to discriminate between the false and the true; while those disposed to reject could make anything serve for an excuse. The important thing to notice is that the occasion of this great sin was seized upon to predict in due time a terrible, an indisputable, revelation of the sin. Thus an opportunity came for adding detail and emphasis to the prophecy already given. What could not be made plain at the moment would be made abundantly plain hereafter. Sword and famine were not only certain, they were near; coming within the lives of these living men, who would see these very false prophets die by the sword and famine which they had sneered at as impossible. Those who during life had told so many inexpressibly mischievous falsehoods with their lips, were made the instruments, their own will not being at all consulted, of uttering most impressive truth in their death. God and his truth and his true prophets and faithful witnesses can wait. Time is increasingly on the side of all truth, while false prophets are condemned out of their own mouths.
III. THE DECEIVED AUDITORS SUFFER JUST AS MUCH AS THE DECEIVING SPEAKERS. The people were not at liberty to plead contradictions in the messages as a ground for continued inaction in the matter of repentance. Such a plea was certain to be seized on, but, while it might help to drug the conscience, it availed nothing to lighten the judgments which Jehovah was bringing on his unfaithful people. That God who is to be reckoned true, though such reckoning makes every man a liar, has assuredly not left himself without ample witness. False prophets can be tested at once by the heart of each individual to whom they appeal, although their exposure before the whole universe may not come for many ages. God gives us for our own sakes the present means of guarding against them. As to his Name and glory, we may be sure he will vindicate them in his own time and way. - Y.
Numbers 24:4; 1 Kings 22:17; Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 37:1:10; Habakkuk 2:1), and even when they were otherwise, similar phraseology is often used to indicate the prophet's extraordinary power of moral and spiritual insight. But this passage speaks of false prophets - men who assumed the prophetic function when not divinely called to it, mere pretenders to the prophetic gift. Ezekiel calls them the "foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing" (Ezekiel 13:3). Every age has had some such misleading witnesses. Christ warned the people against them in his day (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:24). St. John spoke of their uprising as a characteristic of the "last time" (1 John 2:18; 1 John 4:1). Our own age is certainly no exception. Men may not claim Divine inspiration in the old prophetic sense, but never were there bolder claims to deep spiritual insight, never such adventurous flights into the realms of mystery, never so many dogmatic remedies for the intellectual restlessness or the moral diseases of human nature. Note, here -
I. THAT FREEDOM OF THOUGHT AND OF SPEECH WHICH WOULD SEEM TO BE A FIXED PRINCIPLE OF DIVINE GOVERNMENT. There was nothing to prevent the false prophets from speaking; the people were only forbidden to listen to them. Though it be nothing but a vision of their own diseased fancy, a conceit of their own distempered brain, that men have to deliver, they are allowed to deliver it. Better so, that the false should come out to the light of day, confronting the truth, rather than that it should be suppressed by an external force that may at another time be enlisted on its side. The truth has nothing to fear from public conflict with error and all its forces. A marvelous change, as regards the openness of the conflict, has taken place since the days when Milton wrote his 'Areopagitica' and Jeremy Taylor his 'Liberty of Prophesying.' No doubt it is full of danger to the weak and wavering, to those whose mental eagerness is not tempered by humility and whose hearts are not "established with grace." But this is God's way of leading the world on to fuller, clearer light. And is it not in harmony with his whole moral administration of human affairs? He puts awful, destructive powers into men's hands, and he holds each one responsible for the way in which he wields them. There are boundless possibilities of evil around us all, moral as well as physical, and our case would be sad indeed if there were not equal and still greater possibilities of good. It is well that the false prophets should tell out their "dreams," if only that the light of God may expose their emptiness and the breath of God may scatter them.
II. THE NEED OF A SURE CRITERION OF JUDGMENT. How shall we discern between the false and the true? These supposed prophetic utterances of old were subjected to certain tests.
1. Their verity. If they were falsified by the facts of history or the inner consciousness of the people, they could not be of God.
2. Harmony with Divine Law. They must be favorable to the cause of virtue and morality; could not promise prosperity apart from repentance, or cry, "Peace, peace," when there was "no peace."
3. The personal character of the teacher. The messengers of a holy God must needs be themselves holy. The quality of their message would be reflected in their own life. The same principles hold good now. Such an essential connection exists between truth in thought and truth of feeling, character, life, that every form of doctrine must be judged by its moral influence, both on the teacher and the taught. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Moreover, Christianity refers us to a testing principle of still higher quality and completer efficacy - the presence of the Spirit of truth and grace in our own souls. "He that is spiritual," etc. (1 Corinthians 2:15). "Ye have an unction from the Holy One," etc. (1 John 2:20, 21). There is no safeguard against error but this Divine faculty. As regards an external standard, the Scriptures of eternal truth are the touchstone. "To the Law and to the testimony," etc. (Isaiah 8:20). The voice, the Law, the life of God in your own soul, is a touchstone of still more delicate quality and ready application. ? If what you read or hear wilt not bear this test, it is but the "dream" of a false prophet, "the deceit of his own heart," and no true "burden of the Lord."
III. GOD'S SURE VINDICATION OF THE CAUSE OF HIS OWN TRUTH, WHATEVER FORCES MAY ASSAIL IT. (See Vers. 15, 16.) The ministry of the true prophets was a marvelous revelation of the Divine power that sustained them and verified their words. They were seldom called to. do battle with the false prophets on their own ground, directly to assail their errors by argument and disproof. They were simply called to proclaim the truth, leaving it with God to make it victorious. The apostles of Christ dealt with the abounding theoretical and practical evils of their day on very much the same principle. The thing that is false gains its influence over men's minds by reason of its resemblance to the true. The counterfeit circulates because it seems like the real coin. There is no way in which we can so effectually rebuke it as by setting forth the glory of that of which it is the perversion or the mocking shadow. In the full, clear light and the spreading power of the truth error must, sooner or later, wither and die. Let us have faith in the triumphant force of God's own Word. "What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord," etc. (Jeremiah 23:28, 29). We may well trust in the ultimate victory of that which is the product of infinite wisdom, and is backed by all the resources of omnipotence. - W.
I. THE PROPHET'S EXPOSTULATIONS, (Ver. 19.) Now, God did not "utterly reject Judah," nor did "his soul loathe Zion." It was his love for his people that determined him at all costs to purge them from their evil.
II. HIS COMPLAINTS. (Ver. 19.) He complains that they had been disappointed and implies that God was the cause why their expectations had failed. They had no right to look for peace, being what they were.
III. HIS CONFESSIONS. Nothing could be more appropriate or more sure to gain the mercy of God than such confession as this, if it were indeed sincere and general on the part of those who had sinned. But this it was not; it was because they would not repent, would not return unto the Lord, that therefore his wrath arose against them until there was no remedy.
IV. HIS ENTREATIES. (Ver. 21.) God never "abhorred" his people but only their sins; and that God should be thought to "disgrace" the throne of his glory can only be explained on the grounds we have stated. Nor either is it God's way to "break his covenant."
V. HIS PLEAS. (Ver. 22.) Here the prophet pleads truly. There was no hope in any heathen deity, but in God alone. And had the people indeed "waited" upon God, matters had gone more happily with them. But this was just what they did not do. Now, concerning all such utterances as these:
1. Bear with them. God did so. He rebuked not his servant, though that servant had spoken unadvisedly concerning him.
2. Be very slow to believe them. Cf. Naomi, and her false forebodings of fear. How ill she thought God would deal with her! How gracious, in fact, that dealing was I And St. Paul assures us that "God hath not cast off his people." "All Israel shall be saved." Let us wait on and wait for God.
3. Be ashamed if by our sin we have caused such distress. Jeremiah had not sinned, but he mourns as if the sin were his own. Beholding the sorrow our sin causes to those who love us will, if we be not utterly hardened, arouse shame, sorrow, and contrition in our own hearts. 4. If those who know most of the mind of God tremble for us, have we not reason to tremble for ourselves? - C.
I. IS THE DISCIPLINE AND JUDGMENTS OF LIFE GOD TEACHES MEN HOW TO PRAY. Thereby they learn in a stern school their own sinfulness; the misery and desolation of the soul that is alienated from the life of God and exposed to his wrath and curse; the incapacity of earthly things to deliver or console, and the power of God to forgive and to save. It is in this estimate of themselves and their resources that the foundation is laid for real spiritual desire. When sin has been felt and acknowledged, a relation is established between the soul and God which is immediately recognized in its claims.
II. THE SPIRIT WHICH IS THUS PRODUCED IS ALONE ACCEPTABLE TO GOD. There are many prayers which evidently ought not to be, and with due regard to the needs of the sinner and the honor of his heavenly Father could not be, answered. The chief end of prayer is not gained in the obtaining of the objects that are asked for, but in the gradual assumption of a right relation to God and acknowledgment of his character and authority. Thus it is that some prayers sound like wails of despair, whilst others are full of the breathings of resignation, obedience, faith, and love. It is with this filial tone that true prayer begins. And it is only when we have learned that "whom he loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth," that we are able to adapt it. "Thy will be clone" is the burden of every Christ-taught prayer, as it is the outcome of all true spiritual discipline. - M.
I. AS SINNERS HAVE NO REASON FOR MERCY IN THEMSELVES, THEY MUST APPEAL TO GOD. Mere pity would be inadmissible as a motive to which to appeal. There is no ground of acceptance in the sinner himself, and consequently there remains only that course of action which will illustrate and glorify the character of God. That God had chosen Israel as his servant, and Jerusalem as the seat and center of the theocracy, are the only reasons that are valid in approaching him for mercy. Any course of action which would fail to give due respect to the attributes of his character or the purposes of his grace in the world is already forbidden when it is stated. God has been at pains to pledge himself to the ultimate salvation of men. His Name is itself a promise that no compromise shall be entered into or ineffectual means of salvation adopted. Therefore the necessity of Christ's sacrifice and resurrection. In him the justice of God is honored, and his Name revealed in the hearts of men. It is only as the gospel is perceived as the offspring of the purest, highest motives on the part of God that it can call into existence corresponding motives in the sinner himself.
II. To THE SAINT THE HONOR OF GOD SHOULD EVER BE OF MORE ACCOUNT THAN HIS OWN WELFARE. "For Christ's sake" is a formula in which much of this feeling is implicitly expressed. The exigencies of God's kingdom, the furtherance of his purposes of love and grace, the recognition of the principles of righteousness, are essential to a true Christian life as to true prayer. And the keenest susceptibility should be felt to any conduct on the part of God's servants which would seem to injure his cause in the world or to misrepresent his character.
III. GOD'S NAME IS PLEDGED TO AND BOUND UP WITH THE SALVATION OF MEN. It seems a daring and wondrous plea to urge in the presence of him with whom we have to do; but it is the only one which we can truly offer, and it is of infinite avail. If we accept Christ as representing the honor and righteousness of God, are we not assured that every prayer truly offered in his name shall be answered? The welfare and usefulness of God's servants are guaranteed by such a consideration, and we cannot offer it too often or insist upon it with too great earnestness. - M.
abhor us. Such apprehension filled the prophet's mind, as it has other minds.
I. BUT THIS GOD NEVER DOES. He is our Father; he so loved us as to give Christ for us. It is impossible, therefore, let our apprehensions be what they may, that he can abhor us.
II. BUT HE MAY SEEM TO.
1. No one will think thus of God by reason only of temporal calamities. These have again and again come and do come to God's servants, but produce no such distressing thought as this (cf. Psalm 22., He hath not despised nor abhorred," etc.).
2. Nor will spiritual distress alone cause it. There may be loss of comfort in God; no enjoyment in prayer or worship. Sin may again reassert its mastery, and fill the soul with sorrow. Doubts may insinuate themselves into the soul. But none of these will of themselves lead to the thought that God abhors us.
3. They may do so, however, if the presence of sorrow, temporal or spiritual, be so severe as to throw the mind off its balance. (Cf. former homily.) Despair has for a while under such circumstances wrought this harm, and that in the holiest minds. Even our blessed Lord knew somewhat of this awful experience (cf. the agony in the garden, and the cry on the cross, "My God, my God," etc.). Elijah, John the Baptist, Jeremiah here, and others have been instances. Cowper the poet also, and the not infrequent cases of religious melancholy leading either to settled gloom or even suicide. The tenderest pity and compassion are to be felt for such. 4. Persistent disobedience and repeated backsliding are the chief causes of this apprehension. When the world, the flesh, and the devil fill the heart, especially the heart which has once been cleansed, then "the last state of that man is worse than the first" (cf. Saul, Judas, Ahithophel). Yes; such sin has power to turn the sun into darkness and the moon into blood, and to make the very stars fall from heaven. God becomes the horror of the soul, and men will "make their bed in hell" if but they may flee from his dreadful presence.
III. THE GREAT DESTROYER OF THIS DREAD. It is suggested by the prophet's own words: "Abhor us not, for thy Name's sake." This is the antidote of all such fearful dread. The Name of God, i.e. that by which he has made himself known. And what has been the verdict of all the witness concerning God, which his words and works and ways have borne, but this, that he is plenteous in mercy to all that call upon him - to all that call upon him in truth? He is the "God of all grace." And if Israel of old had proof of this, how much more have we in Christ! Behold God in him; he is the Name of God to us men. Then, where this dread apprehension exists, let Christ be preached, meditated upon, sought in prayer, confessed with the lip, served and followed in the life, waited on continually, and soon this dread shall pass away. - C.