Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THEY REGARD THE TRUTH AND ITS MINISTERS AS THEIR GREATEST ENEMIES. If Pashur had known better he would have refrained from such exhibitions of temper. The prophet would then have been accounted the greatest benefactor of his country. Not the soldier on the battlefield nor the statesman in the councils of empire could have rendered so signal a service as Jeremiah did in simply but persistently telling the truth. Much of what he said was patent to every honest observer. By saying what he did the prophet did not bring into existence that which did not exist before; and, if it really existed, it was better that it should be recognized and reckoned with. The evils he denounced were the real enemies of the country, and not those who pointed them out and suggested their reform. It is, however, unpleasant to the carnal mind to have its faults and sins exposed. With many the calamity is not that evil should be done, but that it should be found out.
II. THEY ARE NOT SCRUPULOUS AS TO THE MEANS THEY EMPLOY TO SILENCE THEM. He smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks." These means of punishment were at hand, and he used them at once. It was legal power used illegally, or law employed to the detriment of righteousness. Passionate hatred is shown by the whole course of action. Could anything else be expected of those who tried to subvert righteousness? They must needs do it unrighteously. Even the condemnation of Christ was legal only in appearance.
III. THE BEHAVIOR OF THE OPPONENTS OF THE TRUTH IS FREQUENTLY CONDEMNED BY ITS OWN INCONSISTENCY AND VACILLATION. "It came to pass on the morrow, that Pashur brought forth Jeremiah out of the stocks."
1. The course dictated by passion is seen to be impolitic and foolish.
2. The guilty intention is weakened by the outcries of conscience. It is this conscience which makes cowards of us all - or heroes. Here it led to vacillation, which discredited the policy to which Pashur was already committed, and made its author ridiculous. This is one of the reasons why men can do nothing against the truth. It shines by its own light and confounds the machinations that have been wrought in darkness.
3. Truth has a powerful ally in the bosoms of its worst enemies.
IV. OPPOSITION TO THE TRUTH IS CERTAIN TO FAIL. "Then said Jeremiah unto him," etc. (ver. 3). The prophet is only the more vehement and enthusiastic. Ill-timed antagonism to his message has provoked him to coin a nickname for Pashur, which linked the impending judgment inseparably with his memory. It was a bad eminence richly deserved. He was to be the refutation of himself, to see all his predictions falsified, and to reap the curses of those he had deceived as they perished in their sins. How often in his disgraceful exile he must have wished he had let the messenger of God alone (Acts 5:38, 39). - M.
I. THE NAME BEFORE THE CHANGE. Whatever doubt there may be as to the precise signification of the name Pashur, it seems quite clear that the very meaning of the word had in it something peculiarly honorable. The man himself belonged to a privileged order and held an office of influence and honor; and the name must have been given to him because of something auspicious in the circumstances of his birth. An honorable name is an advantage to its bearer, and to a certain extent also a challenge. He who bears it may so live that in the end there will be the greatest contrast between the name and the character. A less suggestive name, one less provocative of contrasts, might have saved Pashur from the new and portentous name which, once given, would never be forgotten. We are bound to consider well the associations which will gradually gather around the name we happen to bear. Now, at least, the particular name has very little signification in itself; but the longer we bear it the more significant it becomes to all who know us. Every time it is mentioned it brings to mind, more or less, our character. Even on prudential considerations one must ever become increasingly careful of what he does, for a single act may obliterate all the associations of respect and confidence which belong to his name. Instead of becoming, what every one may become, the object of respect and confidence to at least a few, he may end in being an object of execration far and wide.
II. WHAT BROUGHT THE CHANGE. His treatment of Jeremiah. His treatment of him, bear in mind, as a prophet. We feel that Jeremiah was not put in prison on even a plausible allegation that he was an evildoer. That he was a false prophet was the only possible charge to lay against him. Now, Pashur must have known that he himself was a false prophet, speaking as God's truth what was only the fabrication of his own self-willed and deceitful heart. If Jeremiah was speaking falsehood, Pashur's duty was to convince him of error, and show the people that he was either a fanatic or a mere impostor. We are not allowed to suppose that what Pashur did he did from some excusable outbreak of zeal on behalf of the building of which he was custodian. A great punishment from the hand of God always argues a correspondingly great offence. It is not so amongst men; there may be a great punishment and a very small offence; sometimes, indeed, no offence at all, measured by the highest law. But when God punishes severely it lets in light upon the character of him whom he punishes. We know that Pashur must have been a bad man; we know it as well as if all his iniquity had been detailed in the most forcible language.
III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CHANGE. We have not information enough to give us the exact meaning of Pashur; and one might almost think this was meant to heighten the certainty as to the meaning of Magor-Missabib. At present Pashur was in a position of comparative security. If security can be claimed for anything in this world, it seems sometimes to belong to such as hold official positions. But with regard to Pashur all depended on the continuance of Jerusalem. The Lord's house where he was governor was to be destroyed, and then where would he be? Hitherto Pashur has been a nameless unit, involved, but not peculiarly involved, in the general doom. But now he has a prediction all to himself. Henceforth he will be known, must be known, as the man whom Jeremiah threatened with this new and dreadful name. Evidently the name stuck. Some speakers and writers have had this power of giving names that stick. It is not an enviable one, and has often been cruelly used. But God, on whose lips it will always be rightly used, can make it to serve good purposes. The best proof that the name stuck is seen in this, that the prophet's enemies tried straightway to fix the name on him (ver. 10). But everything depends on who gives a name. Jeremiah's enemies might speak of terror, but they could not terrify. God both spoke of terror and in due time brought the terrifying realities around the doomed man. There was nothing at present, and might not be for some time, to show what was coming. But God can wait. We have no doubt that in due time Pashur was forced to the confession that the name was fully justified. -Y.
I. THE INFLUENCE HE EXERCISED.
1. Its character. Absolute and despotic. At the suggestion of his own evil heart. Capable of destroying civil rights and character itself. The whole civil and sacred machinery of the laud was at his disposal. The public trusted him. The state of things condemned by Jeremiah it was his immediate interest to support, and in turn he could rely upon official support. He identifies himself with the ruling party and becomes its representative and mouthpiece. Vested rights, traditional religion, etc., are his watchwords, because he owes everything to them.
2. How it was acquired. Family connection - "the son of Immer the priest." Not by striving to reform abuses, but by fostering and upholding the status quo. He who was so oblivious to the wrongs of which the prophet spoke could not have been scrupulous as to the means by which he rose to position and influence. Oriental corruption and intrigue had doubtless had their part in securing his elevation. ("Pashur" probably means "extension," "pride," "eminence.")
3. How it was employed. Hastily, on the passionate impulse of the moment. Without regard to the essential justice of the case. And when the error is discovered no true repentance or effort at amends is visible. Cf. the time-serving policy of Agrippa (Acts 26:32).
II. THE CHARACTER AND DESTINY HE EARNED. By making himself the champion of apostle Judah, and insulting the prophet of God, he is sentenced to the same fate, but in a peculiar and aggravated degree.
1. It would be his fortune to be looked upon as the representative and embodiment of the system of falsehood which had ruined his country. He who prophesied falsely will be justly punished by such an association. Instead of saying, "It was Moloch or Astarte that deceived us," the victims of the common disaster, will say, - "It was the prophet of these false gods who led us astray." How readily does personal influence acquire such a representative character! There are many evil forces and influences at work in society, the state, the Church, etc., which would cease to exist were it not for their accidental connection with some personage who becomes their advocate or their bulwark.
2. His character and influence would be exposed. The assurances he had given would one by one be falsified by the fulfillments of Jeremiah's predictions. Instead of being honored and looked up to, he would become a loathing and a byword. He would outlive his credit, his self-esteem, and his happiness. Shunned by others, he would be unable to trust himself. Each fresh catastrophe would deepen his disgrace and remorse. A "terror round about" would be the name he would earn.
3. His exemption from immediate destruction would but enhance his punishment. Like the criminal obliged to stand in the dock and hear all the counts of his indictment made good by the evidence of witnesses, he should outlive the first effects of the national ruin, see all his statements falsified, bear the reproach of his own wicked lies, and yet linger on when life had ceased to be desirable. There is a grotesqueness about this punishment that would make it ludicrous were it not so sad and awful. A more severe punishment could hardly be conceived. And yet it is not more than Pashur deserved. Would that our modern "prophets of lies" could be compelled to witness the consequences of their advice and example! A modified degree of this experience has, indeed, been the sentence inflicted upon many a good man. But Christ takes up the entail of sin and breaks it. We may do better than to stand by and see the evil consequences of former folly; it is for us to strive to rectify them. So the past may be retrieved and the evil days redeemed by those who have been servants of sin "turning many to righteousness." - M.
I. THE SPIRITUAL NECESSITY OF HIS POSITION IS ALTERNATELY COMPLAINED OF AND ACQUIESCED IN. The saint cannot always continue amidst his highest experiences. There are ups and downs, not only of our actual outward circumstances, but of our inward spiritual states. Do not condemn Jeremiah until you are able to acquit yourself. The heavenly mind is not formed easily or at once. There is an inward cross m every true heart, upon which it must needs "die daily." But "the powers of the world to come" ever tend to increase their hold upon the believer. This alternation of mood and feeling is a necessary accompaniment of spiritual growth. Some day the heart will be fixed. "The reproach of Christ" will then be esteemed "greater riches than the treasures of Egypt." This is what we should strive after - inward oneness of heart and purpose with our Master.
II. HIS EXPERIENCE IS TRANSITIONAL.
1. From doubt to faith. (Vers. 11, 12.)
2. From sorrow to joy. (Ver. 13.)
3. One day the struggle will end in triumph. - M.
I. THE DIVINELY PRODUCED CONVICTION UNDER THE FORCE OF WHICH HE BEGAN THIS WORK. The people might say, "You speak irritating words to us, and you must not complain if we speak irritating words to you. Those who live in glass houses must not throw stones." Thus it is well for the prophet to assert most emphatically, as he does in ver. 7, that he spoke from a divinely produced conviction of duty. God impressed - as God alone can impress-certain irresistible considerations on his mind. Not only was he persuaded, but it was God who had persuaded him. The reasons for his prophetic action were not such as he had sought out and discovered for himself. God put them before him in their proper aspect, order, and totality,
II. THE FIRST PAINFUL RESULT OF FIDELITY TO GOD. Perhaps in the youthful confidence with which he began his prophecies he would anticipate that since God had so clearly sent him, the people would as trustfully and obediently receive him. But not all the genuineness of a Divine message can commend it any more to the selfish man who naturally hates to be disturbed and threatened. The prophet intimates that the reception he met with was daily, universal, invariable. He seemed to be ordained to stir up the nests and dens and hiding-places of every noxious being amongst men. He who goes among hornets and scorpions must not complain if he has to suffer great agonies from their venomous sting. We are sure, indeed, that the prophet must have had some sympathizers, but the treatment which caused him such agony would also have the effect of making friends keep silent, lest they might be the next to suffer. It is no strange thing that men should become resentful and savage under the home-thrusts of spiritual truth. Men who love evil resent even the gentlest approaches of God in trying to take that evil away.
III. THE EARLIER RESULT PRODUCED BY THIS INTOLERABLE TREATMENT IN JEREMIAH'S OWN MIND. It is easy to criticize the prophet, and say that he should not have been so much affected by all these hard words. But it was just the multitude of them that made them intolerable. A man would be cowardly to complain of being stung now and then; but if he is to be exposed to stinging insects every hour of the day, that is an altogether different matter. God made one of the terrible plagues of Egypt out of multitudes of tiny creatures, such as, individually, counted for almost nothing. Let us not, then, talk condemningly of this proposed repression of the prophetic message. He had reached a crisis in which, we may well believe, Jehovah, who sent him, was peculiarly near to him. May we not reverently say that even as Jesus reached the inexpressible culmination of his mental agony in Gethsemane, so the prophets, in their lesser measure, may have had crises, not unlike that of Gethsemane, when the forces arrayed against them seemed more than they could possibly resist? Profound should our feeling be that it may become a very hard thing to bear faithful testimony for God in an ungodly world.
IV. THE FINAL RESULT. The risk of unfaithfulness is put beyond Jeremiah's control. He is put between two great "cannots." He cannot bear the reproaches of the people. That on the one hand. But, on the other hand, he finds that he cannot keep unexpressed the message of Jehovah. God takes his Word into his own keeping. The pain of prophesying, great as it was, was less than the pain of withholding the prophecy. It is not fill we come to deal with God that we learn the real meaning of the word" intolerable." It is ever a mark of God's true servants, that in times when there is great need of testimony they cannot keep silent. Better to burn at the stake than to have one's true, inner life burnt up in resisting God. Paul is a grand example of a man who was forced to speak by the fire within. He could not be silent; he could not temporize, compromise, or postpone. Luther is another instance. Those destitute of the fire in their hearts cannot understand those who have it; and therefore it is the very height of ignorant audacity to censure it. Nothing is more to be desired, whatever pain it may bring with it, than that we should have God's truth as a living and growing fire in our hearts; and in order to do this, we must be careful not to quench it in the beginnings of its risings within us. - Y.
Exodus 5:22; Numbers 11:11); and how Elijah faltered beneath his burden (1 Kings 19:4); and John the Baptist (Matthew 11:3); and even the holy Savior himself (John 12:29; Luke 22:42). Such is the stress which doing the will of God amongst wicked men puts upon the human spirit; no wonder that it well-nigh gives way. From the experience, then, of our Savior and of so many of his servants we must all of us who are his servants lay our account with manifold and often great discouragements, and yet more with being tried by the temptation on account of these discouragements to abandon our work altogether and to speak no more in the Name of the Lord. Now, where is the spirit that will resist this temptation, that will prevent the half-formed resolve to cease endeavor from being wholly formed and carried out? There is such a spirit. This strong temptation may be and has been resisted again and again. What is the secret of Christian constancy and steadfastness in the work of the Lord? We have the answer in this verse. However much any of God's servants may be tempted, as Jeremiah was, to give up his work, he still will not do so if, as was the case with Jeremiah, "the Word of the Lord is in his heart as a burning fire shut up in his bones;" then he will be "weary with forbearing," and he will find that he cannot stay. Even as Elihu (Job 27:18), who said, "I am full of matter," etc.; and as Peter (Acts 4:20), and Paul (Acts 17:6; Acts 18:5; 1 Corinthians 9:16); and our Savior (Luke 2:49; Luke 12:50). In all these utterances we have the expression of that spirit which alone can, but surely will, bear up the servant of God amid all his difficulties and hold him steadfast to his duty in spite of every discouragement. But dropping all metaphor, let us inquire into this excellent spirit which renders such service to the tried and desponding soul. It does exist. The records of the mission work of the Church at home and abroad will furnish not a few instances of men and women whose hearts the Lord hath touched, and who, moved by this Divine impulse, have felt themselves constrained to be up and doing, to penetrate the spiritual darkness around them, and to resist the power of the devil everywhere present. Under the influence of this holy zeal, such servants of God have looked upon the heathen, the degraded, the vile, not with the natural eye alone. That revealed to them only a foul mass of vice and cruelty, sensuality and all human degradation. From such scenes and people nature turns away and would let them alone. But amid and beneath all this moral, spiritual, and physical repulsiveness, the ardent soul of God's servant sees jewels which may be won for Christ, spirits which may be regenerated and restored. His eye looks fight on to what, through the grace of the gospel, these degraded ones may become; and absorbed, swallowed up by a holy Christ-like love, he determines to spend and be spent in bringing to bear on that mass of sin and evil the power of that gospel which has done so much already and which is "the power of God unto salvation unto every one that believeth. The Word of God has been in their heart as," etc. There have been times in our history when we have known somewhat of this sacred impulse which fired the soul of the prophet Jeremiah. Have we not known seasons when the impulse was strong on us to say something for God? It has come when we have been preaching or teaching, and we have broken away from the calm, not to say cold, tone in which we have been going on, and have spoken to those before us words which have come up from the very depths of our soul, and we have seen in the countenances of our children or our congregation that they, too, were conscious that they were being spoken to in a manner other than usual, and that portion of the day's lesson or the sermon has been remembered when all the rest has been forgotten. And sometimes this impossibility of keeping silence for God has come to us on the railway Journey, in the quiet walk with a friend or child, or in social converse, or in the casual talk with a stranger into whose society we may have been for a while thrown; and then we have felt we must say something for God, and it has been said feebly, weakly perhaps, but nevertheless the testimony has been borne, the endeavor has been made. God would not let us be silent; we could not stay from speaking; necessity was laid upon us. These are in their measure instances of the same Spirit as that which moved the prophets and apostles of old, though in a far less degree. But it is evident how well it would be for us all who bear Christ's name to possess in far larger measure than we do this holy and irresistible impulse. The spur is what we too often need; how rarely the bridle! not the holding back, but the urging on. Whence, then, comes this sacred and mighty Spirit, under whose influence so many of the saints of God, even as the Son of God, have labored on in spite of all discouragement and suffering and wrong? It is evident, from the history of Jeremiah and of all other faithful servants of God, that the method by which God impelled them to their work was by bestowing on them such gifts as these -
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF SIN. For he who has this knows how appalling is the evil under which men live. To him this present world and its inhabitants present but one aspect, that of being under a yoke which no man can bear. He has seen the vision of sin, and it was a sight so terrible that he can never forget it. It haunts him, for he knew it was no dream of the night, but a dreadful reality of the day and of every day. It was no chimera, no fiction of his own imagination, but a real and awful power that has ruled men and still is ruling over men. What scenes of beauty it has destroyed! What fearful misery it evermore produces. There was the garden of Eden in all its loveliness, with every fair flower and noble tree, with luscious fruit and every herb fit for the food of man or beast; it was all beautiful, so beautiful that even God pronounced it "very good." And as chief over this fair inheritance there were the first created of our race, in form and mind and soul harmonizing with the beauty and goodness that was all around them. How blest their condition! But the scene changes. We see no longer the garden of Eden, but a weary land bearing thorns and briars; we see, too, haggard and careworn people bending in sore agony over the murdered corpse of their child, murdered by his own brother, their eldest born. What hath wrought this change? An enemy, without doubt, but what enemy? It is sin - the heart of man in rebellion against God. The Bible is full of scenes like these - misery, shame, ruin, death, all, all the work of sin. And sin reigns yet, as he to whom God has given to see the vision of sin knows full well. Who can recount its doings? Who can describe the woes it causes? What ocean would be vast enough to receive the tears it has made to flow? What colors dark enough to depict the moral and spiritual evil it has engendered? And then the sorrows of the souls that are lost, the doom of the accursed of God - the antitype of that which Jesus describes as the "fire that is never quenched, and the worm that never dies." It is the vision of this, - the appalling evil, past, present, and most of all to come, - that has risen up before the soul of him who, beholding those around him under its dominion, finds himself utterly unable to forbear telling them of the Word of the Lord to the end that they may be saved. No wonder that, in view of these dread calamities, "the Word of the Lord was in his heart;" etc.
II. But a further knowledge has been given to him to contribute to this same result. Were the vision of sin all, utter and dreadful despair would be alone left to him; but it is not all. Along with the knowledge of sin there is given to him THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GOSPEL in the Word of the Lord. It is brought home to his soul, by evidence he cannot question, that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the sure remedy for all human ill. He has a deep conviction that trust in the Redeemer, reliance on his atoning death and sacrifice, will bring peace to the conscience, purity to the mind, strength to the will, hope to the heart, and final and eternal acceptance in the presence of God. Very much of what it can do for the soul in this life he knows it has done for him, and he has seen it do yet more for others. He sees, not only the need of such great salvation as God has provided in Christ Jesus for guilty and miserable man, but also the fitness and adaptation and the actual power of this grace of God. Such is his conviction concerning the Word of the Lord, the gospel of the grace of God; and, thus persuaded of its power to bless and save mankind, he hears on all sides, and coming up from all depths of sorrow and sin, the imperative summons to him to tell of this Savior and this salvation, and by no means to keep silence. From every hospital and asylum where the victims of vice and sin are reaping what they have sown; from every prison cell; from every place where the ruined in health, in fortune, in character, and in soul are dragging out the remainder of their wretched life; from every gallows-tree; from every impenitent's grave; and from the sinner's hell; - there comes the solemn adjuration which the apostle so keenly felt, "Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!" And not the sins alone, though they most, but the sorrows of mankind also, utter forth the same appeal. For the gospel of the Savior is a healing balm to the sick at heart, oil and wine to the wounded spirit; it is the gospel of consolation, of hope, and of peace to the sorrowing myriads of mankind. Feeling all this, how can it be otherwise that "the Word of the Lord is in his heart as," etc.?
III. But there is one other gift needed to the full possession of that Divine Spirit which finds expression in our text. It is THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST. By this is meant, not merely an acquaintance with and belief in the truths concerning our Lord's nature and work, nor even simply such belief in him as will save the soul, but such knowledge of him as is involved in deep love to him and sympathy with those objects on which his heart is set. To know Christ as your own loving Savior, who has died for you, redeemed and pardoned and accepted you, and given you an inheritance amongst his own; to know him by oft and earnest communion with him, by toil and suffering for him; - this is that knowledge of Christ which, when added on to that other knowledge of sin and of the gospel of which we have already spoken, will lead to that irresistible desire to serve him which his true servants have so often felt and shown. The love of Christ must be the constraining motive, and then there will come love and labor for the souls for whom Christ died. I do not know that it is possible for us to have a deep regard and concern for those whom we have never seen or known unless we see in each individual member of mankind one of the brethren or sisters of Christ, part of Christ's body, one of his members, he being the Head of all. If this be believed, then we see that the soul of each of these men and women, though they may be of different clime and color, and be altogether strange and perhaps repulsive to us, still, the soul of each of them is as precious to Christ as our own, and as capable of honoring and as ready to honor him as was our own. This love of Christ will lead to the love of Christ in all men, for indeed he is in all men, and this will beget a Divine charity which will be ever a mighty motive to seek their good. Then shall we possess the mind which was in him who wept over Jerusalem and prayed for his very murderers. Then shall we willingly bear disappointment, reproach, loss, or aught other ill which may come to us as we toil on in our Master's service. Here, then, in this deep knowledge of sin, of the gospel, and of Christ, have we the secret of that burning zeal which consumed the heart of Jeremiah and of others like minded to him. May God, of his mercy, give to all who labor in his cause this holy and quenchless zeal! Laboring under such impulse, let come what will to us in this world as the result of our toil, we will still labor on. Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, let thy Word be in our hearts as a burning fire, so that when tempted to forbear making mention of thee and speaking any more in thy Name, we may be weary of such forbearing and feel we cannot stay. - C.
I. THE INHERENT PROPERTY OF THE WORD OF GOD AS A LIVING POWER IN THE SOULS OF MEN. "A burning fire" (see also Jeremiah 23:29). All Divine truth possesses a quality that may justly be thus represented. The Law that came By Moses was a "fiery Law," of which the thunders and lightnings of Sinai were the appropriate associations (Deuteronomy 32:2). And even the inspiration of gospel truth was fitly symbolized by "cloven tongues of fire" (Acts 2:3). There is not only light but heat, not only a flame but fire. The moral effects are manifest.
1. Melting. Icy coldness, hard indifference, stubborn self-will, impenitence, etc. - all these are softened by the fire of God when it really enters into the soul. A tender sensibility is thus created that prepares it to receive all Divine impressions.
2. Kindling. Heaven-tending affections are awakened by it that did not exist before. Latent germs of nobler and better feeling are quickened into new life. There is no limit to the holy energies that may be developed in our nature by the inspiration of the truth of God. In this good sense we may say, "Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!"
3. Consuming. It destroys everything in us that is destructible. All that is false, selfish, sensual - all that is "of the earth, earthy" - has in it the elements of dissolution and decay, and cannot resist the purging, purifying force of Divine truth. The dross is consumed that the precious gold may come forth in all its beauty and purity. The solid grain is quickened into fruitful life, the chaff is burnt up as with unquenchable fire.
II. THE OBLIGATION IT IMPOSES. "I was weary with forbearing," etc. (see Jeremiah 6:11). The soul of the prophet was acted upon by a force that overcame, not only the weakness of his fears, but the strength of his self-will and of every motive that would induce him to relinquish his work. Every earnest, heroic servant of truth is sensible of this inward constraint. It is the constraint
(1) of a Divine call,
(2) of a masterful conscience,
(3) of conscious power to benefit others,
(4) of an instinctive impulse to communicate the good one's own soul possesses.
St. Paul stands before us as a conspicuous example of this when he says, "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me," etc. (1 Corinthians 9:16). There is no clearer mark of a noble, Christ-like nature than submission to such a constraint as this. - W.
I. THE HOPES OF JEREMIAH'S ENEMIES. We have seen in the preceding passage (vers. 7-9) how the prophet 'was incessantly exposed to exceedingly irritating taunts from his enemies; and how the pain of these taunts in a measure tempted him to try if he could not escape the pain by ceasing to prophesy. Jehovah perfectly preserved him from this danger. The prophetic fire within him, divinely kindled and sustained, was too strong to be thus extinguished. It grew more and more, and the very taunts of the ungodly became as fuel to make it burn more fiercely. But this very faithfulness of the prophet only increased his danger as an object of persecution. His enemies will themselves begin to feel in danger from this continual reference to their evil doings. Mere mockery has itself a tendency to go further. Bengel, referring to the development of the persecuting spirit, as illustrated in the apostolic days, says, "The world begins with ridicule; then afterwards it proceeds to questioning; to threats; to imprisoning; to inflicting stripes; to murder (see 'Gnomon' on Acts 2:13). Jeremiah has already been for a night in prison, and he knows not how soon a longer and worse imprisonment may come. He hears threatenings on every hand. The name Magor-Missabib that, by Divine direction, he has applied to Pashur, is retorted on him, as being, in the opinion of his enemies, a name eminently appropriate to his present circumstances. So far as the human elements were concerned, his chances of safety appeared very poor indeed, His enemies are numerous and crafty; and, sharpened by self-interest, they needed no exhortation to be watchful. Those who compare these confessions of the prophet at different times with the experiences of Jesus at the hands of his enemies, will notice a remarkable parallelism. What Jesus said with respect to the scribes and Pharisees is peculiarly forcible when considered in the light of Jeremiah's trials: Ye are the children of them which killed the prophets" (Matthew 23:31).
II. THE SUFFICIENCY OF JEREMIAH'S PROTECTION. Here is the man of strong faith, and of a speech full of confidence and calmness. 'He may well be depressed; beset as he is with so much malice, brought into close contact with the worst wickedness of the h-man heart. But, on the other hand, he has this for his comfort, that, the closer wicked men come to him, the closer he finds himself to God. This is the service the wicked render to the witnesses of God, that, the more they persecute them, the more they press them towards the great Helper. The ungodly little dream of the service they render in this respect. So far as abiding results are concerned, the spirit of intolerance has done the direct contrary of what it was intended to do. The purposes of evil -might have been better served if the Church of Christ had had an easier time of it in the beginning. He who is potentially the mighty, terrible One in the midst of his people, needs the opposition of the wicked in order that all his power to defend his people may be known. This, indeed, is one of the lessons taught by the sufferings of Jesus even to death. Darkness was to get its hour and its power, that so the Light of the world might be more fully glorified. Never was it more emphatically true than when Jesus was laid in the grave, that Jehovah was with him as a mighty, terrible One. We look with the natural eye, and we see a cold corpse apparently gone the way of all flesh; we look with the eye of faith, and we discern One Standing by who at the appointed hour will raise that corpse, and make it the channel of manifestations of life such as were not possible before. - Y.
Job 3., where the patriarch, in almost identical language, deplores the fact of his birth. And Moses prayed that God would kill him out of hand (Numbers 11:15); and Elijah (1 Kings 19:4). And there have been a whole host of men who have in the most emphatic way affirmed their belief that life is not worth living by refusing to live it any longer - Saul, Ahithophel, Judas, and the suicides of all ages declare this. And many more who have not given this dread proof of their sincerity have yet maintained the same. Sophocles said, "Not to be born is best in every way. Once born, by far the better lot is then at once to go back whence we came." Goethe, as he drew near his end, notwithstanding that all men regarded his career as one which had been highly favored and very enviable, is reported to have said, "They have called me a child of fortune, nor have I any wish to complain of the course of my life. Yet it has been nothing but sorrow and labor; and I may truly say that in seventy-five years I have not had four weeks of true comfort. It was the constant rolling of a stone that was always to be lifted anew. When I look back upon my earlier and middle life and consider how few are those left who were young with me, I am reminded of a summer visit to a watering-place. On arriving one makes the acquaintance of those who have already been some time there and leave the week following. This loss is painful. Now one becomes attached to the second generation, with which one lives for a time and becomes intimately connected. But this also passes away and leaves us solitary with the third, which arrives shortly before our own departure, and with which we have no desire to have much intercourse." And the gloomy musings of Hamlet, "To be or not to be, that is the question," is another example, which-has been followed by the whole tribe of those who are called pessimists, of representing life as a curse rather than a blessing. And we cannot deny that there are many now whose lot in life is so sad, that, if we looked only at the present, we could not vindicate the justice and still less the goodness of God in regard to them. And the terrible lottery that life is, a lottery in which the blanks far outnumber the prizes, goes far to account for the apathetic indifference with which the deaths of such myriads of children are regarded. If all parents knew for certain that the lot of their children would be bright or mainly so, how much mole jealously would their lives be guarded and avenged! And there are many men who, whilst they stammer out some kind of thanksgiving for their "preservation and all the blessings of this life," fail utterly to feel thankful for their "creation." They would much rather not have been. So that there can be no doubt that there is a larger and it is to be feared an increasing number of people who are desperately or despairingly asking the question which stands at the head of this homily, and which this passionate protest of the prophet against his birth has suggested. But how is all this? Let us therefore inquire -
I. WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF SUCH CHEERLESS THINKING AND SPEAKING? We reply:
1. Temperament has a great deal to do with it. Some are born with a sunny, bright, cheerful disposition; let them go down on their knees and give God thanks for it, for it is a better gift to them, more surely secures their happiness, than thousands of gold and silver. But others are born with a temperament the very reverse-pessimists from their mothers' womb, always seeing the dark side of things, melancholy, foreboding, complaining. It Is a positive disease, and calls for mingled pity and careful discipline.
2. But more often still it is, the continued and sore pressure of sorrow. So was it with Job and here with Jeremiah. And it is still the bitter disappointments, the miserable failures, "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," trouble upon trouble, - these are prolific sources of the sad views of life of which we speak.
3. But most of all, sin - moral evil - is the real cause. The "philosophy of melancholy" finds its true parentage there. It is this which causes that unrest and torment of soul, that hiding of the face of God and uplifting of the scourge of conscience, which throws all life into shadow and blots out the sun from the heavens. It is this which leads it to be said of and felt by a man, that it had been better for him that he had never been born.
II. WHAT IS THE TRUTH ON THE MATTER? Such conclusion as that of the pessimist never can be right, for our deepest moral instincts teach us that, if life were more of a curse than a blessing, he who is the God of mercy and righteousness would never have given it; and that if it were better for a man that he had not been born, he would not have been born. Life must be a blessing or it would not be given.
1. Universal instinct says so. See how men cling to life. The law of self-preservation is the first law of nature.
2. The summing up of the hours in which we have enjoyed peace and satisfaction, and of those which have been darkened by pain and distress, would probably in all lives show a vast balance on the side of the former. Let any one honestly make the calculation for themselves.
3. The laws of life all tend to produce happiness; "In keeping of God's commandments there is great reward."
4. Good men who may have held dark views of life have done so "in haste," as Psalm 31:22 and Psalms 116:11; or through looking at one point of their lives only (cf. the joyous praise of ver. 13; what a contrast and contradiction to the verses that follow!); or in ignorance of the truths and consolations which the gospel has introduced. Thus was it with Job and the Old Testament saints generally, and, of course, with all pagan nations.
5. Evil men are not to be credited. They have themselves poisoned life's springs, and whilst they speak truly enough concerning their own life, they are not competent witnesses as to what all life is.
6. Then "it is the Lord that hath made us, and not we ourselves," and because of this all lands are bidden "be joyful in the Lord" (Psalm c.). Now, how could this be if life were not worth living?
7. The future which Christ has prepared. Let that be taken into view and quoestio coedit. Life is but the porch way to that which is life indeed - the eternal life. Our afflictions, therefore, which here we suffer are light, and "but for a moment," and so, "not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed."
(1) Then, "Sursum corda," "Lift up your hearts;" "Be joyful in the Lord," because he hath made us.
(2) Be reticent of such thoughts and words as these of Jeremiah. How far short he falls of the apostles of our Lord! They rejoiced in tribulations. Jeremiah had better not have so spoken; better have copied him who said, "If I speak thus I shall offend against the generation of thy children."
(3) Pray to be kept from temptation so to speak or even think, for such temptation is hard to overcome. - C.
I. THE FEELING THAT UNDERLIES THIS TERRIBLE IMPRECATION. The form of the imprecation is not to be too much regarded. The same feeling will be very differently expressed in different languages and among different races. What Jeremiah means is made clear in ver. 18. Just at this particular time it seems to him that life has been nothing but one huge failure. He has no heart to accept suggestions such as might mitigate his gloom. He will not even allow that life has had any other possibilities than those of failure and shame, and therefore the congratulations attending his birth were misplaced. The more we look into his language here, the more we see that it was very wild and foolish. The important matter is that, in approaching the consideration of these words, we should have a distinct impression of how recklessly even a good man may talk. A recollection of Jeremiah's utterance here will keep us from wondering that there should be so much of foolish and impious talk in the world.
II. THE FACT WAS AS FAR AS POSSIBLE FROM CORRESPONDING TO THE FEELING. We look at Jeremiah's career as a whole, and at the permanent value of his prophesies, and then we see how little moods and feelings count for just by themselves. We gain nothing by saying of any man that it might have been better for him if he had never been born. It is true that Jesus spoke thus of Judas, but we are not at liberty to say what he says; and besides, he was speaking in the language of necessary hyperbole, in order to emphasize the dreadful wickedness of the traitor. The safe ground for us to take is that entrance upon human life in this world is a good thing. Even with all the trials of life, the position of a human being in this world is a noble one, and his possibilities for the future are beyond imagination. While it is right that we should have the deepest compassion for the deformed, the defective, the infirm, we must also recollect that it is better to be the most deformed of human beings than the shapeliest and healthiest of brutes. In face of all the present afflictions of human nature, one thought should be sufficient to brighten them all, namely, the thought of how perfectly comprehensive is the renewing power of God. Within its grasp it comprehends the most imperfect and distorted of human organizations. Jeremiah was making the huge blunder of looking at things entirely from the point of view of his own feelings, and his present feelings. His actions were better than his words. Speaking out of his own feelings, he talked great folly and falsehood; speaking as the prophet of God, his utterances were those of wisdom and truth. The fact was that of no one belonging to his generation could it be more truly said than of him that his birth was a good thing; good for the nation, good for himself, good for the glory and service of Jehovah. We must not bemoan existence because there is suffering in it. Suffering may be very protracted and intense, and yet life be full of blessing. Jesus had to suffer more than any man. He shrank from the approach of death with a sensitiveness which we cannot conceive, who have in us the mortal taint by reason of indwelling sin. Nothing reconciled him to the thought of all he had thus to endure save that it was the clear will of God. What was Jeremiah's mental suffering compared with that of Jesus? Anal yet, though the life of Jesus was to be one of peculiar and unparalleled sufferings, his birth had angels to announce and celebrate it. - Y.