Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE INFLUENCE OF GOD UPON HUMAN DESTINY. Some of the forms into which human life builds itself impress the imagination with the presence of a power greater than human, which conditions and determines them. The race, the nation, the Church, represent relations and affinities which are not of merely human origin. But even the individual life, if properly studied, will be found to be associated with the same mystery and full of the same suggestion of a Divine influence. In the case before us it is the Jewish nation which is suggested to the mind of the prophet. The hand of God is apparent in its formation and history. God's influence upon these is felt to be
(4) to create or to destroy.
II. CIRCUMSTANCES IN HUMAN NATURE THAT AFFECT DESTINY. The clay in the hand of the potter was marred and had to he remolded. The allusion here was to the idolatrous practices of the Jews in Jeremiah's own time. The causes at work, therefore, in the marring of the vessel are not mechanical or constitutional in their nature, but moral. The history of the same people has shown that external circumstances are of little account in this question. The chief hindrances to God's purposes with man in nations, institutions, and individuals arise from
(1) original depravity and
(2) willful disobedience. The free-will of man may thwart even the grace of God.
III. THE PURPOSE OF GOD WITH REGARD TO MAN. This is essentially and persistently a creative one. The first effort of the petter is formative; and when, through the marring of the vessel, he has to reduce the clay into the lump again, there still remains an intention to form anew. The effects of sin are shown to be profound from the fact that the potter is obliged to remake what has been marred. The effort of restoring love succeeds upon another, and "where sin abounded grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). There is no nation which has not had many opportunities of recovering its position and influence forfeited by unfaithfulness and unbelief, and there is no sinner hardened in his sins who has not repeatedly rejected a heavenly voice. Each proclamation of God's Word is a fresh opportunity which may avail for salvation to every one who will embrace it. - M.
Romans 9. it has been thought that it taught the absolute sovereignty of God, his right to dispose of men as he pleases; that, in the exercise of that sovereignty, he makes some vessels unto destruction, and that the vessels so made have no ground of complaint whatsoever. Now, we affirm that, whilst there is much truth in these representations, they are not "the whole truth," still less are they" nothing but the truth." God is Sovereign, we cheerfully confess, and has right to dispose of us as he will. But that he exercises these rights in any arbitrary, or capricious, or cruel way, as is taught by this misreading, or that if he did the vessels made for destruction would have no ground of complaint, we altogether deny. Such teaching has clouded the face of God to many souls and made God our Father "a terror" to them. But blessed be his Name, this misreading is not the truth. Let us try to see what that truth is. In passing, we may note how the command to the prophet to go down to the potter's workshop teaches us how workshops and our common work may have precious lessons about God to teach us if we be like as was the prophet, willing to learn them. The star-studying Magi were led by a star to Jesus. The centurion by his soldier-life gained true comprehension of Christ. The fishermen-apostles of how they were to be "fishers of men." Manifold are the ministers and ministries of God to attentive souls.
"There is a book, who runs may read, I. THAT IT DOTH NOT YET APPEAR WHAT WE SHALL BE." We are the clay. But who can tell what is to be fashioned out of that mere mass of material? Every human soul is but as clay in process of formation into some designed result. II. GOD HAS WISE AND GRACIOUS INTENT IN REGARD TO ALL. The meanest vessel that the potter makes is an advance in worth and excellence on the clay ere it was fashioned by him. How much more, then, in the case of the "vessels of honor!" III. BUT THE CLAY CAN FOR A WHILE MAR AND FRUSTRATE THE POTTER'S PURPOSE. The vessel the prophet saw was marred in the making. What innumerable instances there have been and are of this! Not Israel and Judah alone, but other nations, other churches, innumerable separate souls. And they have had to be broken up and set down from the place of honor for which they were at first intended. They have with shame to take a lower place. But - IV. EVENTUALLY THE MAKER'S WILL WILL BE DONE IN REGARD TO THEM. "So he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it." It is never "all the same" to a man if he sins against God. He may not be destroyed, but his will be "another" position and a worse one. V. AND ALL THIS IN HARMONY WITH THE NATURE OF THE MATERIAL WROUGHT UPON. As the potter's work was in harmony with the clay out of which he fashioned his varied vessels, so God's work will be in harmony with the mental and moral nature which he has given to us. It is to us an inexplicable problem - the harmony of the Divine sovereignty and human freedom. We cannot tell how it will be done, only that it will be done. VI. THE LESSONS OF THE WHOLE ARE. 1. Of inquiry. Are we, by obedience to the Divine will, furthering the work designed in us or by disobedience hindering? Ver. 9 teaches that, however good and gracious a purpose God may cherish concerning us, if we "do evil" then God's work will be marred. 2. Of admonitions. Seeing how terrible a process is the "making again" of the marred vessel - what was it not to Judah and Israel? and the process is not finished yet-let us repent of sin and turn to God now, and so be delivered from so great a woe. It has been said that the most terrible part of the road to heaven is that which the sinner goes over three times - once in his first following of Christ next when he by sin goes back that way, and the third time when in bitter repentance he travels over it again. 3. Of praise to God, that he has revealed so gracious a purpose concerning man, and that his will shall be done. 4. Of prayer, that we may be found not resisting but ever obedient to that will. - C.
I. THAT IT DOTH NOT YET APPEAR WHAT WE SHALL BE." We are the clay. But who can tell what is to be fashioned out of that mere mass of material? Every human soul is but as clay in process of formation into some designed result.
II. GOD HAS WISE AND GRACIOUS INTENT IN REGARD TO ALL. The meanest vessel that the potter makes is an advance in worth and excellence on the clay ere it was fashioned by him. How much more, then, in the case of the "vessels of honor!"
III. BUT THE CLAY CAN FOR A WHILE MAR AND FRUSTRATE THE POTTER'S PURPOSE. The vessel the prophet saw was marred in the making. What innumerable instances there have been and are of this! Not Israel and Judah alone, but other nations, other churches, innumerable separate souls. And they have had to be broken up and set down from the place of honor for which they were at first intended. They have with shame to take a lower place. But -
IV. EVENTUALLY THE MAKER'S WILL WILL BE DONE IN REGARD TO THEM. "So he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it." It is never "all the same" to a man if he sins against God. He may not be destroyed, but his will be "another" position and a worse one.
V. AND ALL THIS IN HARMONY WITH THE NATURE OF THE MATERIAL WROUGHT UPON. As the potter's work was in harmony with the clay out of which he fashioned his varied vessels, so God's work will be in harmony with the mental and moral nature which he has given to us. It is to us an inexplicable problem - the harmony of the Divine sovereignty and human freedom. We cannot tell how it will be done, only that it will be done.
VI. THE LESSONS OF THE WHOLE ARE.
1. Of inquiry. Are we, by obedience to the Divine will, furthering the work designed in us or by disobedience hindering? Ver. 9 teaches that, however good and gracious a purpose God may cherish concerning us, if we "do evil" then God's work will be marred.
2. Of admonitions. Seeing how terrible a process is the "making again" of the marred vessel - what was it not to Judah and Israel? and the process is not finished yet-let us repent of sin and turn to God now, and so be delivered from so great a woe. It has been said that the most terrible part of the road to heaven is that which the sinner goes over three times - once in his first following of Christ next when he by sin goes back that way, and the third time when in bitter repentance he travels over it again.
3. Of praise to God, that he has revealed so gracious a purpose concerning man, and that his will shall be done.
4. Of prayer, that we may be found not resisting but ever obedient to that will. - C.
I. THE PURPOSE OF THIS PRACTICAL ILLUSTRATION. It is a practical illustration in the most suggestive sense of the word "practical." Jeremiah had not to go out of his way to produce a sufficiently impressive figure of what God was about to do. He had to go through a very peculiar and protracted experience to bring out the lesson of the marred girdle. But here he has only to go down to the potter at his wheel, a thing he could do at any time; and there is a lesson particularly plain and forcible, as coming out of the daily life, the simple and common life, of the people. Notice, then, that Jeremiah was not sent down to learn just what his own unaided observation might tell him concerning the potter and the clay. He might, indeed, have drawn out many important lessons, yet overlooked the one that was most important of all. God wished the prophet clearly to understand and then distinctly to impress upon the people this truth, that as the potter is to the clay, in respect of the control which he has over it as clay and in its plastic condition, so Jehovah is to Israel in respect of his control over its temporal destiny as a nation. Hence we have to look at the potter's action upon the clay, positively and negatively. We have to recollect both what he can do and what be cannot do. Within certain limits his power is resistless; outside those limits he has no power at all. Give the potter a piece of moist plastic clay; he takes it up, designing to make from ira vessel of a certain shape and for a certain use. Suddenly he finds it desirable to change the shape, and because the clay is still moist and plastic he can do this with the rapidity, expertness, and success which come from long practice It is this particular power of the potter which God would have us to understand is his power over us. What the potter does is limited by the nature of that with which he works. He cannot turn clay into something else than clay. Clay it is when he first touches it: clay it remains when its shape is finally decided. Let the vessel be baked in the furnace and come out hard, its shape cannot then be altered. If it is thrown to the ground it will be broken, it may even be shivered "so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a shard to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit" (Jeremiah 30:14). No volition or power of the potter will give to the clay vessel the qualities of a wooden vessel or one of metal. He may fashion it for a vessel of honor or dishonor, just as he pleases; but whatever its use its material is still of clay. And similarly we must recollect that, whatever God does with us, he does in harmony with our nature. He finds us, as to the affections and purposes of our hearts, free agents, and, however great the changes he may affect in our circumstances and our future, all must be done without touching this freedom. The Divine potter hero was changing the circumstances of the human clay, just because that clay was so stubborn in submitting to his will so clearly, so lovingly, so often expressed. If we refuse to be molded into the shape that means for us true peace, glory, and blessedness, then we must be molded into the shape which will secure at the least peace and blessedness in God's kingdom, and manifest glory to his great Name.
II. THE GREAT RESULT WHICH SHOULD BE PRODUCED BY OUR CONSIDERATION OF THIS ILLUSTRATION. Too readily is it said by many, "If we are as clay in the hands of the potter, then we need not trouble ourselves. God will shape our destiny, whatever we do." But if we look honestly and humbly at this illustration, we shall see that what God would have us above all things to learn from it is that the shaping of our destiny lies practically with ourselves. In selfish and ignorant obstinacy we wish our life to take a certain mold. Strenuously, and heedless of all Divine counsel and warning, we try what self can do toward the shaping. Then at last our purpose comes to be broken off. All that we have been and all that we have done prove useless so far as our aims are concerned. But for all that we cannot be useless to God. God wishes to work in us a change which would make all our circumstances those of liberty. He wishes to renew our hearts and establish in them a holy love as the central principle. If we refuse this Divine appeal, then we must come under ever-narrowing constraints. We are asked to walk in the liberty of God's children; if we refuse and confess ourselves the enemies of God, then we must be loaded with chains and put in the innermost dungeon. Our wisdom is to turn from our hardness and impenitent hearts, and allow God to lead us into the full μετάνοια (Romans 2:4). Then with understanding shall we address God, "We are the clay, and thou our potter" (Isaiah 64:8). If we by repentance come beck to God and make ourselves clay, such as will have in it a peculiar responsiveness to the touch of God, then we may leave ourselves to his loving-kindness. He will fashion us into just that shape whereby we shall be meet for the Master's service. And if men say in their ignorance that we are turning out but vessels of dishonor, let us recollect that of honor and dishonor God alone is judge. If we only stoop from our pride to do the will of God, God will take care of our position. For is not God he who exalts the humble and abases the proud? - Y.
I. GOD'S ABSOLUTE SOVEREIGNTY OVER THE BEING AND LIFE OF EVERY MAN. The figure of the potter and the clay is one of frequent occurrence in Holy Scripture (vide Job 10:9; Isaiah 64:8; Romans 9:10). It vividly represents the subjection of our nature and our personal history to the Divine control. The fact of our moral freedom, the mysterious prerogative that belongs to us of choosing and following our own way, must needs make the comparison defective. There is some point at which all such physical analogies fail duly to set forth the realities of moral and spiritual life. But it is deeply true as suggestive of the power God has over us to mold us as he pleases. Free as our will may be, is not our whole nature as plastic material in the hands of him who made us? Free as we may be to pursue our own chosen course of life, can we ever escape the "Divinity that shapes our ends?" There is a hidden power, whether we acknowledge it or not, the mastery of which over thought, feeling, purpose, and action is the deepest reality of our existence.
II. HIS FORMATIVE PURPOSE. Distinguish between a sovereign power and one that is arbitrary and capricious. Complete as the Divine mastery over us may be, it is not lawless or purposeless. It has always a definite end in view, and that end is wise and holy and good. As the potter seeks to fashion the clay into some beautiful or useful form that his own brain has first conceived, so God, by his providential and spiritual control, seeks to work out a Divine idea in our being and life, to body forth in us some archetype of moral beauty that exists in his own eternal mind. He would fain fashion us into a noble form and fit us for some noble use. In God's "great house" there are many utilities. And even the vessel "unto dishonor" has its place and its purpose. Our faith in the infinitely wise and holy love that governs all leads us to rest in the thought -
"That nothing walks with aimless feet; III. HIS LONG-SUFFERING PATIENCE. When the potter's work is marred, he presses the clay into a shapeless mass and casts it upon the wheel again. We are reminded of the various methods God employs in molding us to his will, and how if one fails he will often subject us to another. There are events that sometimes break up the whole form of a man's life; old ties are severed, old associations pass away; he beans an altogether new career, with new responsibilities, new moral tests, new possibilities of good. There are afflictions that change the whole tenor of a man's inward life; his spirit is crushed, wounded, softened, that it may the better receive Divine impressions. "God maketh my heart soft, etc. (Job 23:16). "My heart is like wax" (Psalm 22:14). Thus does God "humble us to prove us, to know what is in our heart, whether we will keep his commandments or not" (Deuteronomy 8:2). There may come a time when all these Divine methods fail and the soul is found to be reprobate. In Jeremiah 19:1-11 we have a figurative prophecy of the ultimate abandonment of the Jewish people to their fate. In this case the vessel has been baked in the fire; it is incapable of taking a new shape, and is broken so "that it cannot be made whole again." Such is the doom of the finally impenitent and intractable. But God's patience is very wonderful. In this world at least the door of mercy is always open. There is always the possibility of a new and nobler life. He "is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). - W.
III. HIS LONG-SUFFERING PATIENCE. When the potter's work is marred, he presses the clay into a shapeless mass and casts it upon the wheel again. We are reminded of the various methods God employs in molding us to his will, and how if one fails he will often subject us to another. There are events that sometimes break up the whole form of a man's life; old ties are severed, old associations pass away; he beans an altogether new career, with new responsibilities, new moral tests, new possibilities of good. There are afflictions that change the whole tenor of a man's inward life; his spirit is crushed, wounded, softened, that it may the better receive Divine impressions. "God maketh my heart soft, etc. (Job 23:16). "My heart is like wax" (Psalm 22:14). Thus does God "humble us to prove us, to know what is in our heart, whether we will keep his commandments or not" (Deuteronomy 8:2). There may come a time when all these Divine methods fail and the soul is found to be reprobate. In Jeremiah 19:1-11 we have a figurative prophecy of the ultimate abandonment of the Jewish people to their fate. In this case the vessel has been baked in the fire; it is incapable of taking a new shape, and is broken so "that it cannot be made whole again." Such is the doom of the finally impenitent and intractable. But God's patience is very wonderful. In this world at least the door of mercy is always open. There is always the possibility of a new and nobler life. He "is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). - W.
conditional on the continuance of the moral character to which they were addressed. Now, this is -
I. A CORDIAL AGAINST DESPAIR. When the convicted sinner - as the men of Nineveh - hear the awful denunciations of God's judgment, all hope seems to be forbidden. The Ninevites, to encourage themselves in a forlorn hope, could only say, "Who can tell whether God will be gracious?" But this and the like Scriptures, confirmed by so many facts of experience, forbid all such despair.
II. A CHECK TO PRESUMPTION. How many prate concerning final perseverance who are not persevering at all except in sin and worldliness? But they need to be reminded of this sure condition, one which the great adversary of souls is ever striving to make us forget.
III. AN EXPLANATION OF THE STERN WORDS OF SCRIPTURE. When one would give the alarm of fire he does not whisper the word. So when God would warn sinners he does not soften his words, but in most vivid manner sets before men the awful doom of the ungodly. Thus would God, by his terrors, scare men - if naught else will do - to "flee from the wrath to come," so that "he may repent of the evil he thought to do unto them." Such words are not the utterance of absolute decrees against any soul to whom they are addressed, but loving warnings to such soul to turn to God and live.
IV. A REASON FOR ITS WORDS OF WARNING. These are found in varied form, addressed to disciples of Christ, to those to whom the most glorious promise had been made. See the sermon on the mount; how full of warnings! Therefore this conditionalness of God's words speaks:
1. To the believer, and bids him" Be not high-minded, but fear." "If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee"
2. To the ungodly. See the sure end of thy way; how awful! But see, too, God's earnest desire that thou shouldest forsake that way. - C.
I. IN THIS WE HAVE AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE SOWER OF EVIL HABIT. Sin has acquired such influence over the nature that it becomes its ruler. A recklessness born of desperation takes the place of prudent and hopeful counsels. The inward indisposition colors the view that is taken of the possibilities of the situation. Instead of the sinner seeing that his condition is due to a continual withdrawal from God, he declares that he is "past feeling," that God's grace cannot save him, and that it is "no use." But -
II. IT IS NOT JUSTIFIED BY:
1. The condition of God's opposition. It is the perverseness and unreality of man. He refuses to suffer. False religion God will not accept.
2. The circumstances of the simmer. So long as life continues there is hope. The repetition of the gospel's appeal has the same significance. Are there any signs of relenting in his mind now? any stirrings of heavenly aspiration? any shame and sorrow for past sin? God's Spirit has not ceased to strive with him, and he may yet be saved.
3. The means of salvation that offer themselves. Christ is both able and willing to save. His sacrifice on the cross is a finished work and a complete atonement for our sin. "The Spirit helpeth our infirmities." He is able to save "unto the uttermost," etc.
III. IT IS A SUPREME EXPRESSION OF WICKEDNESS AND WILL BE PUNISHED AS SUCH.
Jeremiah 2:25, "A dread snare of the devil"). And to help in overcoming it we would speak -
I. OF ITS CAUSES. They are of varied kinds, but a man is near to despair when he sees:
1. That his sin is inveterate. When year after year goes by and still there the sin is.
2. That it is continually successful in reducing his will to consent to it.
3. That his defenses are only those derived from considerations of the consequences and punishment of his sin. Motives of love to God and Christ, hatred of the sin itself, have ceased to rule him; it is only the fear of what may happen that holds him back, though, indeed, such defense is weak enough.
4. That his sin has rendered ineffectual many special dealings of God with him in relation to it. He has broken through all these gracious barriers one after another. All these are dreadful facts to contemplate, and tend to fill a man with the belief that "there is no hope." The good Lord forbid that we should ever have such facts to contemplate concerning ourselves.
II. ITS CONSEQUENCES. They are dreadful in the extreme. They produce sullen obstinacy in evil. "They said... but we will walk after our own devices." Also unrestrained license. The thought comes, "We can but be lost; we will have what enjoyment we may." This is a frightful fruit of despair. If, then, any considering these dread consequences of despair tremble lest they should yield to it, but yet by reason of such facts as those above named are sore tempted thereto, let them remember there is deliverance for them. Consider, therefore -
III. ITS CURE. It can only be, it ought only to be, by good hope of deliverance from that which is the cause of thy despair - thy sin. But whence can come this deliverance? Wise and godly men have counseled after this manner.
1. Seek to gain and keep before the mind a deep sense:
(1) Of the guilt of thy sin. You who have received such light and grace are involved in far deeper guilt and your sin is far more heinous than that of others.
(2) Of the danger of it. The danger of being hardened by its deceitfulness. Of bringing down on thyself some great temporal judgment as God's punishment of thy sin. Of losing thy peace with God and strength to serve him. Of eternal destruction.
(3) Of the evils of it. It grieves the Holy Spirit of God. The Lord Jesus Christ is wounded afresh by it. All thy usefulness will be destroyed. God will neither bless thee nor make thee a blessing.
2. Wrestle in prayer.
3. Watch against occasions and advantages of sin.
4. Go again to the Lord Jesus Christ, especially to him as your dying, crucified Lord. Live near his cross, for "his blood cleanseth from all sin." Cleave to him and let thy faith fasten upon him. So - his Word assures and experience proves, for there is no instance to the contrary, but innumerable ones in proof - the chain of thy sin shall be broken, and the sight of this shall so cheer thy heart that the demon of despair shall spread its dark wings and depart and leave thy soul unclouded. (See on all this, Owen on the Mortification of Sin.) - C.
I. THOSE WHO FORSAKE GOD DO SO BECAUSE OF THEIR OWN PERVERSITY AND NOT BECAUSE OF GOD'S NEGLECT. "Is his arm shortened that it cannot save?" is a question we ought to ask ere we make up our minds to leave God. The secret of spiritual disaffection and apostasy is in ourselves and not in God.
II. APOSTASY FROM GOD IS A TRANSCENDENT INSTANCE OF INGRATITUDE.
1. The providences of God have been unceasing, manifold, and overflowing. They have come without effort of man. Yet the sinner has gone away and obstinately continues in his sin.
2. But in the grace of God there are elements that appeal to our deepest affection and trust. It is so rich, undeserved, and free. Why should he have chosen any one? How often has he healed the backslidings of his people! The cross of Christ is the grandest expression of love of which we know. It "passeth knowledge."
III. WHEN SINNERS FORSAKE GOD IT IS TO THEIR OWN INJURY.
1. By their pursuit after sinful gratifications they forfeit the enjoyment of Divine mercy. Providential mercies may not always be withdrawn, but their beneficial effect is destroyed. The fellowship and presence of God are lost. His favor and help cannot be expected.
2. The sources of pleasure they apply themselves to are disappointing and fatal. Sinful pleasures soon pall. There is no enduring rapture in the gratification of sense, but an enduring sting remains. The constitution of the sinner is sapped and undermined by his excesses, and the general, social, and political life of the nation corrupted. There is no sorrow so profound and incurable as that which results from the abuse of religious privileges and the loss of the heavenly birthright; it "worketh death." But, in addition to all this, the anger of God is kindled, and who shall extinguish it? He himself can. With him is forgiveness that he may be feared, and plenteous redemption that he may be sought unto. "His mercy endureth forever." It is only needed that we change in heart and life to recover our lost estate and experience again more than our lost joy. - M.
I. THERE ARE MANY WHO BELIEVE IN THE OFFICE OF THE MINISTRY AS AN INDEPENDENT SOURCE OF INSPIRATION AND TRUTH.
II. THIS IS ALLEGED IN EXCUSE FOR:
1. Refusing support to special religious effort.
2. Contempt and opposition of individual ministers.
III. IN CORRECTION OF THIS ERROR MAY BE NOTED:
1. That it is not countenanced by God.
2. History has frequently shown its falsehood.
3. It is really a reliance upon the human and not the Divine.
4. God does his special work nearly always through individuals.
5. The dishonor done to the servant is done to his Master. - M.
I. THESE OPPOSE MORE OR LESS EVERY TRUE MINISTRY. The persecutors of Stephen "stopped their ears and ran upon him."
II. THEY ARE AN INDIRECT TESTIMONY TO THE TRUTH AND FAITHFULNESS OF THE MESSAGE DELIVERED.
III. THEY MAY RETARD, BUT THEY CANNOT STIFLE, THE DIVINE MESSAGE. The slander can be lived down. The voice of just men done to death will speak when they are dead. Magna est veritas et prevalebit.
IV. THERE IS A SILENT WITNESS WHO SHALL TAKE ACCOUNT OF ALL.
1. It is of less consequence to us that men approve and attend than that God should do so. The preacher addresses not only a visible, but an invisible, audience. Of every word that proceeds from his servants' lips God takes note.
2. He will protect his servant until his work has been accomplished.
3. The slanders and indifference of those to whom the Word is spoken will be punished. (Matthew 12:36, 37.) - M.
I. ITS CAUSES. They are ever the same - hatred to the faithful Word which the persecuted one persists in preaching. Persecution, therefore, is inevitable where a faithful messenger of God comes into collision with those who hate and will not submit to his message.
II. ITS PRETEXTS. Zeal for the Church and for sacred institutions imperiled by the prophet's preaching. We see them standing up for the priests and the Law and the prophetic order, all which, of Divine appointing, were wronged and injured by the prophet. Persecutors never will own, even to themselves, their own true motives. Those who sought to kill our Lord ever insisted on the highest motives for their conduct. Persecution is such an odious thing that, unless some fair disguise be thrown over it, no one would have anything to do with it. And no doubt some persecutors - like Saul of Tarsus - have been deceived by this disguise, and have sincerely thought they were doing God service. There is never any need for persecution, though our forefathers thought there was; for if any doctrine be of man only it will come to naught. The facts of life, the Word of God, reason and conscience, are all against falsehoods, and will expose and so extinguish them without persecution. For the nature of man is made for truth, and hence what is contrary to truth cannot long live.
III. ITS INTENT. Revenge and the forcible silencing of an adversary.
IV. ITS METHODS.
1. Defamation. "Let us smite him with the tongue."
2. Ostentatious disregard of his teaching. "Let us not give heed," etc. (ver. 18).
3. Whatever "devices will most of all tell against him. Sometimes open hostility is not safe. It was not against John the Baptist, nor our Lord, nor here (cf. Jeremiah 26:16). And then other devices have to be sought out, and the finding, when sought by the persecuting spirit, does not take long.
V. ITS RELIEF. Not compromise. To give way where conscience commands steadfastness is to incur such spiritual shame and distress, such hiding of the face of God, as to be more intolerable than the fiercest persecution (Cf. the history of Cranmer and his piteous misery). But - as with Jeremiah - turning to the Lord in prayer. We cannot commend the spirit of his prayer, it is all unlike our Lord's in regard to his enemies, and therefore not a pattern for us to follow; but it was right, and ever is so, when persecuted by man to turn to him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself." His grace will keep us from being wearied and faint in our minds. Patience, too, will greatly help. Persecutors soon tire when they find that their methods are of no avail. Prudence, likewise, should not be forgotten. Sometimes we may get out of its way, and at no time is there need to provoke persecution by imprudent, ill-timed, and ill-toned obtrusion of the distasteful theme. There are times when at all costs a man must stand to his pest and speak out, but there are other times, and more of them, when the quiet, consistent life will do more for God and his truth than the longest and loudest speech. But in such difficult circumstances it is well to keep near to God in constant prayer for counsel and direction how to bear one's self wisely as he would have us. Relief also is found in contemplation of -
VI. ITS SURE RESULTS if faithfully endured. It makes us have real fellowship with Christ. It wins for us a glorious recompense at his coming. Even now the soul is cheered by the communications of his approval and the clear vision of the shining of his countenance upon his faithful servant. And not seldom likewise by beholding the lion turned into the lamb, the persecutor becoming an apostle and preacher of the faith he once destroyed. These are consolations indeed. And confirmation in the truth for which we have suffered is gained by seeing the manifest displeasure of God against the persecutors. How it hardens them in their sin! How it fills up the cup of their iniquity! How sore the vengeance that befalls them! These considerations are derived from the contemplation of the persecution of the Lord's servant Jeremiah. They will be all of them strengthened if we mark the sufferings of the Lord himself. Here, but there most vividly, are seen warnings most solemn against this great sin, and consolations most precious to all the "blessed" who endure. - C.
I. THE CAUSE OF HIS SUPPLICATION. His enemies have entered into a plot against him, and he has heard of the plot. He has to do, we may imagine, not only with the open threats of passionate men, face to face, but also with secret wiles. The language of intense provocation in which he speaks must be remembered in trying to estimate the extent, depth, and bitterness of the hostility against him. Who were they that thus proposed to join together in ruining the prophet? Doubtless the three classes embraced by the reference that is made, namely, priest, wise man, and prophet. The priest would go to the wise man and prophet, saying, "See how this fellow speaks against us all." A common hatred and a common peril swallow up for a time all jealousies amongst bad men, and constitute a strong bond of union, a strong incitement to all the ingenuity and designing powers of the mind. We are not left without means of judging as to the motives of these three classes of men and their methods of proceeding when we consider the similar conspiracies against Jesus himself. Men belonging to conspicuous classes of the community attacked him, and they are constantly mentioned as being joined together. This attack gives the strongest evidence, both of the appropriateness of Jeremiah's message and his fidelity in delivering it. Such truth as a prophet has to speak must be met either with penitent friendliness or with bitter and active enmity. It must be reckoned no strange thing if the faithful proclaimer of truth is exposed, not only to reproaches, misrepresentations, and loss of old associates, but even to deep-laid conspiracies. These men, while they were bent on ruining Jeremiah, wished also to do it in a safe and plausible way. It was to be done by a plan. They were going to smite him with the tongue. Very likely they hoped to get him put to death under judicial forms. Again, one asks - How came the prophet to hear of these plans? The wise men must have shown a very imperfect kind of wisdom in not being able to keep their designs secret. Indeed, they may have thought that they were secret. The Jews who swore not to eat or drink till they had killed Paul did not reckon that Paul's own nephew had discovered their designs.
II. THE SUPPLICATION ITSELF. In readings, this supplication, we. vainly try to escape from feeling what a ferocious, savage tone the words have. The dreadful meaning of the words, taken in their natural signification, is only too plain. We must by no means try to defend the prayer; we can only do something to extenuate the language by remembering the provocation the prophet had received, and the spirit of the age in which he lived. It is at least important to remember that he is distinctly conscious of having had good motives towards these enemies. He knew that God meant their good, and he, in speaking, had meant the same. It must be noticed also that, whatever his feelings, he expresses them as a prayer to God. He does not take retaliation into his own hands. His rights and interests, whatever they are, he leaves in the hands of Jehovah. He has, indeed, his own estimate as to what his enemies deserve, but he seeks that they may get their deserts in the way of manifestly Divine judgments. Then he evidently spoke in great excitement. The wrath even of a good man may boil over into language which he would not wish to be held by in cooler moments. We may be perfectly sure that if, in after years, Jeremiah had been reminded of this prayer, and asked if he really, seriously meant that the innocent connections of his enemies should be ruthlessly slaughtered, he would have been quick to plead that his words were those of excitement. Shall it be thought wonderful that he should utter such a wish when the disciples of the meek and lowly Jesus had drunk in so little of the spirit of their Master as to wish fire from heaven to come down upon the inhospitable Samaritans? The passage under consideration is just one of those which strongly shows the difference which has been made by the sermon on the mount. If Jeremiah had been a Christian apostle instead of a Jewish prophet, his prayer would have been a very lamentable utterance indeed. - Y.