Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE MISCHIEF OF FALSE SHEPHERDING. This is twofold, viz. scattering and destroying. The false shepherd has no real interest in the sheep; being but a hireling, his chief consideration is a selfish one. The kings of Judah had sought to realize their own ambitions and to indulge their own lusts. The moral and spiritual advancement of the people - the foundation of all real material prosperity - was not sought. The royal example which ought to have been influential for righteousness was directly opposed to this, and all classes of the people were infected with the licentiousness of prince and noble. The results appeared in crime, idolatry, and banishment.
II. ITS JUDGMENT. The calamity was to come chiefly upon those who had been unfaithful stewards of great responsibilities. Office which is thus abused will soon be taken away. According to responsibility will be punishment. He who causes to offend is worse than the offender, and will meet with corresponding severity of judgment. The nation outlives the dynasty. Unfaithful shepherds of the theocracy sink in ignominy and ruin, but God preserves a seed to serve him, and a generation to call him blessed.
III. ITS CORRECTION. The deceived of God's people, being distinguished from the deceivers, will undergo a kindlier discipline. The shepherd's care, as the symbol of royal responsibility, is intended as an ideal corrective. It teaches the principle that the king exists for the people, and not vice versa. It is under Christianity that popular liberties, national development, and social purity have become the aims of rulers. In modern times there have been many who have illustrated this ideal of royalty; but Christ alone is the Head of redeemed humanity - the good Shepherd that lays down his life for his flock. In him the throne of David is eternally restored. Not yet do we see all things put under him, but the time draws nigh when he shall reign from shore to shore, and from the river even unto the ends of the earth. Ancient Israel depended for its very existence upon spiritual obedience to God's Law. The Church of Christ in all its offices must respect his authority and be actuated by love to him. Its character and influence must be purely spiritual, or its message will be neutralized and soon perverted to unholy ends. - M.
I. THE SENTENCE ON THE UNFAITHFUL, SHEPHERDS. This is perhaps the most special and emphatic of all Jeremiah's references to the unfaithful shepherds. Nowhere does he go into such detail as Ezekiel does (Jeremiah 34.). But whatever may be lacking in illustrative detail, the essential facts are mentioned. Here are men upon whom is laid a charge such as is laid on a shepherd by the owner of the pasture and the flock. The business of such a man is to provide food for the flock, defend it from beasts of prey, prevent as far as he can any of the flock from wandering; and if any should wander do his best to restore them. This might be a task of no small difficulty to the literal shepherd of the literal sheep. It required courage, watchfulness, patience, promptitude, and above all, fidelity. And yet even a shepherd enriched by these virtues might have many losses and failures. God knew, indeed, that for kings and persons in authority to guide those under them was a task more arduous far than that of shepherding sheep; and it was not mere failure that he complained of. He complained because there had been no serious attempt to attain success. The very men who should have ruled firmly and righteously and with fidelity to Jehovah had been spoilers of the sheep, using them to serve their own ends, and leaving every one to do what was right in his own eyes. The rulers had thus rejected the authority and service of Jehovah and set up self in his place. Self was to rule, self was to be served. The sentence upon this traitorous conduct is given in very general terms, but was nonetheless real and effective. God did visit on these rulers the evil of their doings. It was necessary to give a hint of this in passing, to show that, while God delights in mercy, he must also always be just. The great matter to be spoken of here is the restoring and securing of the scattered flock, and if the judgment on those who have helped to make the mischief is simply mentioned in passing, it is enough. Besides, we must remember that the sheep also had their share of the shame. The rulers could not have done so much harm if under them there had been a people of a widely different spirit.
II. THE RESTORATION OF THE SCATTERED. The pastors are spoken of as those who have destroyed and scattered the sheep. The mischief they do is therefore not confined to a simple scattering. That which is destroyed cannot be restored. But the part that has been scattered, God has in his keeping; and in due time he will bring it together again. Note how Jehovah, Who announces punishment to the unfaithful shepherds because they have scattered and dispersed his flock, goes on to say that his own hand has been concerned in this same dispersion. Here is a beautiful illustration of how God overrules calamities. Though it is the recklessness of evil men that has scattered Israel, yet the good hand of God is stronger than any hand of man; and the dispersion has been into such directions as God saw to be best. Though these remnants of the duck were far from their proper pasturage, they were nevertheless in safe places, where they would be exercised in a truly profitable discipline. They were perhaps but a very feeble remnant as man counts feebleness, and yet in God's hands a small part may be more effectual for his purposes than the incongruous whole from which it has been separated. There may be in it a peculiar coherency and submissiveness, and a peculiar energy of growth; so that the promise of fruitfulness and increase will be amply fulfilled. The Divine course of action with this remnant seems to be much the same as that followed with Noah and his family in the re-peopling of the world after the Deluge.
III. THE SUFFICIENCY OF PASTORAL OVERSIGHT PROMISED FOR THE FUTURE. Of bad shepherds there have been only too many, and of good shepherds none have been so good but what they might have been a great deal better. The cause of all these bitter experiences has, however, lain with the people themselves. Wanting to be like nations round about, they desired kings; and God gave them these desires to the full, to show what the end would be. Then when the folly of the sheep, in trying to choose shepherds of their own devising, has been illustrated sufficiently, God sends shepherds who shall be true shepherds. He alone is able, as he alone has fight, to appoint such shepherds as will be equal to all the serious charge put into their hands. No pastors will be able to do anything for God's flock save those who are indubitably of God's appointment. Our wisdom is to allow God to provide out of his knowledge, rather than try ourselves to provide, seeing how ignorant we are. The acceptance of God's true teachers and guides has to come at the last, and many disappointments and vexations would be spared if this acceptance were allowed to come at the first. - Y.
I. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD WOULD RULE IN THE MIDST OF HIS PEOPLE. The question of the singular or plural interpretation of the word "scion" need not trouble us. To the prophet it was enough to declare that the offspring of David would yet reign in righteousness. All lesser fulfillments of this prophecy are thrown into insignificance by the great Son of David, who so grandly fulfilled the essential conditions of the prediction.
1. Righteousness would yet become the law of human life.
2. This would be achieved through a personal influence. The King of men will wield a spiritual scepter, but his influence will be the more real. Righteousness will be manifested as a life and vindicated in sacrificial death.
3. The house of David would be restored in him as its offspring.
II. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD WOULD BE TRANSFERRED TO HIS PEOPLE. "The Lord our Righteousness," be it the title of Prince or people, is sufficiently significant to explain its own essential meaning. There would be a transfer of the righteous character of the Ruler to the ruled; their spirit and aims would be identical with his; and he would embody their ideal life and present it to God. Through him the Divine righteousness would be the possession of the least saint. This evidently could only be perfectly accomplished in Christ. Nothing less than a unity of spirit and life with Jesus Christ, through faith, could achieve such a result.
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD THUS EMBODIED AND COMMUNICATED WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE.
1. The power of this righteousness.
2. Its desirability.
3. Its attainableness. The ideal future of Israel and the Church. - M.
2 Samuel 23:3, 4) rather King who shall "reign in righteousness," and of the "increase of whose government and peace there shall be no end" (Isaiah 9:6, 7; Isaiah 11:1-6; Isaiah 32:1; Zechariah 9:9). Towards him the hopes of loyal, hearts, through, every previous age reached forth in him the "desire of all nations finds its glorious fulfillment. "And this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness." In unfolding the full significance of this name, consider
(1) the personal righteousness of Christ,
(2) the way in which that righteousness becomes ours.
I. HIS PERSONAL RIGHTEOUSNESS. He is emphatically "Jesus Christ the Righteous," the one only absolutely righteous being ever born into the world. Our human nature, the beauty and harmony of which, in the person of Adam, the father of oar race, the touch of moral evil had defaced and destroyed, appeared again in him, the "second Adam," in all its sinless, faultless perfection, absolutely free from the taint of evil. And this not as a development, but as a new Divine revelation; not as the consummate product of moral forces inherent in our nature, but as a supernatural phenomenon, a miracle, in the sphere of man's moral life. In him the "righteousness of God" appeared, embodied and illustrated in human form. Our faith in this historic fact rests on different grounds.
1. The angelic testimony (Luke 1:35).
4. The witness of his enemies (Judas, Herod, Pilate and his wife, the Roman centurion).
6. The profound impression left on our spirits by a careful study of the Gospel records. The absolute sinlessness of Jesus is one of the foundation stones in the fabric of Christian doctrine, and to doubt or deny it is to undermine and destroy the whole. But his righteousness means more than faultless personal character. It includes the positive fulfillment of the Father's purposes and of the work the Father had given him to do. "I have glorified thee on the earth," etc. (John 17:4). "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering," etc. (Hebrews 10:5-10). His was a righteousness wrought out through all the patient obedience of a blameless life, consummated in the vicarious shame and sorrow of the cross. As the sunbeam receives no contamination from the foulest thing on which it may chance to fall, so did he pass triumphantly through all the evil of the world and go back to the bosom of the Father with a purity as unsullied as that in which he came. "Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4).
II. HOW HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS BECOMES OURS.
1. As the ground of our forgiveness. Faith in him as our righteous "Advocate with the Father" delivers us from condemnation. We believe in no "transference of a moral quality." As a man's sins are his own and not another's, so whatever of virtue there may be in him belongs to himself alone. But is it incredible that God should deal with sinful men in the way of mercy because of the perfect righteousness of "the man Christ Jesus?" "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). There is an instinctive witness in our souls to the fact that if "grace reigns" towards us it must be through righteousness. This is God's answer to that instruct: "By the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life" (Romans 5:18).
2. As the inspiring cause of our personal sanctification. The gospel is God's method of making men righteous, not a scheme by virtue of which he reckons them to be so when they are not. Faith in Christ's mediatorial work as the ground of forgiveness draws the soul irresistibly into living sympathy with himself. It is impossible to dwell in fellowship with him without sharing his spirit and becoming "righteous even as he is righteous." Not more surely does the prepared surface receive the picture the sun's rays paint upon it, than does the reverent, trustful, loving soul reflect his image. "We all, with open face beholding as in a glass," etc. (2 Corinthians 3:18). Thus does his righteousness become ours.
3. As the rectifying power in the general life of the world. "A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of his kingdom," and wherever he reigns the discords of the world are resolved into a blessed harmony. He is the Creator of "the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." - W.
I. A SCION OF DAVID. "Branch" is a somewhat misleading word here, especially considering the use which is made of the branch in the New Testament. The branch is properly taken in relation to the trunk, both being parts of a living whole. "I am the Vine, ye are the branches." Instead of the Christ being spoken of as a Branch from David, David is rather to be spoken of, by virtue of his faith in the coming One, as a branch of the Christ. The real meaning, of course, is that, at some time in the future, one of the lineal descendants of David will fulfill these purposes of God and the consequent hopes of devout men. Hence the importance which belongs to the genealogies in Matthew and Luke. The more the Gospels are looked into, the more it will be seen how they are constructed on certain lines indicated in the prophecies. The two Gospel genealogies become additionally credible when we reflect what a motive there was to preserve the record of lineal succession from David. Considering how uncertain it is that any man will have lineal descendants centuries after his own times, it is a peculiarly noticeable miracle that he who appeared something like a thousand years after David to do such great works, should have been unquestionably David's descendant, born at Bethlehem and named as Son of David by the common people.
II. A RIGHTEOUS SCION OF DAVID. In a not unreasonable sense of the word, David was himself a righteous man. We cannot say anything for him, any more than for ourselves, if we contrast him with the righteous God. But we have also to look at him over against the vile men with whom he was so often in conflict, men who appear not to have had one generous feeling or upward aspiration. Especially we must contrast him with some of his own descendants. When we look down the line as far as history gives the opportunity, we see first good men and then bad men. And it is a great mystery in the Christ's human nature that he should have been a Scion of the bad as well as the good in this line. We are, therefore, obliged to recollect:
1. That David, who was righteous in a modified sense, was in due time followed by a descendant who was completely righteous. He who was ever reaching forward, trying to approximate more and more to the will of God, was followed by One who revealed that will in all the conduct of his life on earth.
2. That even as a bad father had a good son (or take, as a very striking illustration, the bad grandfather Manasseh and the good grandson Josiah), so all these bad kings had in due time a successor in Jesus of Nazareth, who was undefiled by any taint that might reasonably be supposed to have come down from them. As we think of the contrasts thus furnished, the use of all these deplorable records in the Books of Kings and Chronicles comes manifestly out. The mischief and misery which wicked kings can work must be seen in all their hideousness, so that all the more a disposition may be excited to attend to the blessings which Jesus will secure and multiply when he comes to reign as King.
III. THE PROSPERITY OF THIS RIGHTEOUS KING. It must be made clear in some great and everlastingly conspicuous instance that practical righteousness is followed by prosperity, and that nowhere is the connection more sure between a cause allowed fully to operate and its full effect. The most hurtful kind of wickedness, the men who commit it do not. delight in for its own sake. Their aim is outward prosperity, to secure riches in the easiest, and most rapid way; and this may necessitate a degree of wickedness of which oftentimes they seem not in the least conscious. Then, of course, in the end the prosperity proves corrupt and ruins the man who risked everything for it. But now turn to the individual experience of Jesus. His course in this world had nothing in it of prosperity as some count prosperity. He lived in poverty; he did not live long; and he died as criminals die. All these experiences, however, only bring out the real prosperity. After the cross the manifestation of his glory and power bedaub, in the acceptance of him by hearts that he had completely subdued. There never has been such a king as Jesus of Nazareth; never any one who has elicited such whole-hearted homage, such complete, faithful, self-denying service. He prospers and he makes his servants prosper. The more his glory shines, the more their lives are brightened. This surely is indeed a royal prosperity.
IV. THE PROSPERITY OF THE PEOPLE IS INDICATED:
1. By the king's own action in judgment and righteousness, or, as we might otherwise put it, in righteous judgment. As one in authority and power, he has to give decisions, and these decisions are always righteous. Human kings were arbitrary and capricious; their likes and dislikes, their political necessities, had much to do with the decisions they gave. But with this righteous Scion of David it is very different. He lays down great principles which, if men would only attend to them and take in the spirit of them, would stop all disputings and litigations.
2. By the security of the people. The subjects of Jesus have true safety. They are safe in themselves and safe in their spiritual possessions. He who enables them to acquire the true riches shows also how to hold them fast; else the riches would not be true riches at all. And it is not the least boon that he gives them the power, if only they have faith to exercise it, of living without anxiety and distraction. It is very dishonoring to our great King not to believe that all our best interests are perfectly safe in his charge. - Y.
I. THIS NAME BELONGS TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. It is impossible to conceive of any devout Jew ascribing the name of Jehovah to an ordinary earthly monarch, however great or famous he might be. Every Israelite would count it blasphemy so to speak of him. Moreover, the extravagance of the assertions here made, if regarded as descriptive of an earthly monarch, preclude the possibility of their having been so intended. How could any such be called the righteousness of his people? Zerubbabel was undoubtedly a noble prince, and in such measure as was possible to him answered to the prophetic description. He was a branch of the house of David, and nothing is known against him. But his power was very limited, and in no sense did he fill up the portraiture that is given here. Jew and Christian alike agree that neither he nor any of his obscure descendants could possibly answer to this name of "the Lord our Righteousness." Both alike affirm that the promised Messiah is meant, and to him along can it belong. And that our Lord Jesus was that Messiah the Scriptures constantly assert. He was "the Root and the Offspring of David," was born "of the house and lineage of David" according to the flesh. He was the tender Shoot, the Sprout that sprang from the original root when all the stock and branches of the stately tree that had once grown on that root had died down, decayed, and disappeared. But he was more than the Branch of Jesse: he was the Lord from heaven, the Son of God. Therefore to speak of him as Jehovah is consistent with all the Scripture representations of his Divine dignity. And although the day of his complete triumph has not yet come, nor is his kingdom fully set up, still we clearly see its beginnings, its advance, and its continual growth, so that it is not hard to believe in all those coming glories of his reign on which the ancient prophets, as Jeremiah here, loved to dwell. On all these grounds, therefore, we claim this high and sacred title for the Lord Jesus Christ. He the Church has held all along is "the Lord our Righteousness" whom the inspired prophet foretold. And -
II. THIS NAME IS ALTOGETHER APPROPRIATE TO HIM. Not because of the righteousness of his character alone, nor either because of the happy condition to which he would one day bring the Jewish people. We believe that he will do for them all that is here said. We see no objection to the taking of the promises made concerning them in their literal meaning. But if this were all that is contained in this name, then St. Paul could not be justified in claiming, as he perpetually does, the righteousness of Christ to be to and upon all them that believe. This view is limited to no one age, no one country, no one people, but reaches out to all everywhere and of every age. But the true justification of this glorious title lies in such facts as these:
1. The Lord Jesus makes us righteous in God's esteem. God ever demands righteousness. It is his incessant appeal here in all these prophecies. But it is here that men have ever failed. They have evaded this Divine demand, and have endeavored to substitute all manner of things in its place, and so to compensate for it. They have refused nothing so long as they might be let off this. Hence the word of the Lord, "There is none righteous, no, not one." It is in this emergency that "the Lord our Righteousness" comes forward, takes up our case, and causes us to be esteemed righteous before God - causes us to be looked upon as what we really are not; as righteous when there is much unrighteousness in us all, and scarce aught else in some. Of course this is objected to and caviled at not a little, and many fail to see how it can righteously be. But all the while the like is occurring every day. Does not the government of a land continually do things which involve the whole people of the land, although many of them may entirely disapprove? Still it is the whole country that is regarded as acting by and through its government. And yet we assent to this arrangement, this principle of representation, as equitable, just, and necessary. And not merely in dealings between man and man, but in those between God and man, this same principle of representation may be seen perpetually at work. Assuredly the whole human race was represented in its first parents, and God held it to be so, so that the consequences of their actions have passed over to their posterity right down to the present day. And in each family the head of it involves all the members, so that there are many innocent victims of their fathers' sin, and more, we trust, who are recipients of favors won by their fathers' virtues and obedience to God's will rather than their own. It is the principle of representation again. Is it, then, a thing to wonder at that a good and gracious God should devise another system of representation to meet and counteract that which has wrought so much ill? That is, is it to be wondered at that the Lord Jesus Christ should be constituted as much the Head and Representative of his people as Adam was constituted the head and representative of all who have descended from him; that there should be a second Adam as well as a first, and that Christ should be that second Adam, as St. Paul declares he is? Surely there is nothing unreasonable in all this. It is in harmony with what we perpetually see. And if he who is our Representative desired so to be, as our Lord did - for he yearned to draw all men unto and into him - surely this, his own desire, makes his being constituted our Representative more reasonable still. And because he qualified himself for this office so perfectly. He came and was one of us, lived our life, bore our burdens, submitted to our sorrows, bore the penalty of our sins, "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin., Now, if the principle of representation be just at all, surely it is still more so that the Lord Jesus should be that Representative. But if he be, then, because he is altogether righteous, acceptable, and well pleasing before God, we must be so too; yea, we are so, for he is "the Lord our Righteousness." God looks not upon us, but he beholds Christ, who is "our Shield;" he looks on "the face of his Anointed." "We are accepted in the Beloved." "Christ is made unto us righteousness."
2. And he makes us to be as the righteous in our conditions. So only can the paramount and predominant features of God's dealing with us now be accounted for. Man being what he is, why should he be dealt with so mercifully as he is? The answer is, because it is the Lord who is our Righteousness. I see a number of poor destitute people taken, and clothed, and fed, and dealt with in all kind and beautiful ways, and I ask the explanation, I am at once pointed to some one who has secured all this favor for them, and by whose kindness it has become theirs. And when I see man, despising God, prayerless, sinning daringly day by day, ungrateful, evil, disobedient continually, destitute of all goodness, and yet treated with all kindness and love, must I not conclude that the righteousness of another is the secret of his mercies, and the real cause of the goodly portion he enjoys?
3. But Christ is "the Lord our Righteousness" because he makes us righteous in ourselves. If it were possible that God could forever esteem and deal with as righteous, not only those who were not righteous, but who never could become so, we should find it difficult to maintain the truth taught us by this name. But God's counting us righteous in Christ is reasonable and right, because we are in the sure way to become so. For when any come to the Lord Jesus Christ in living faith, a new will is given them. They are, as our Lord says, "born again." It is as on a railway, where by one movement of the points the whole train is turned on to another line, and proceeds afterwards in quite a different direction. So by this coming to Christ the man is placed on another line, started in a new direction; a new will is his, and he is a new man. When the turbid stream of the Rhone falls into the Lake of Geneva it loses its old character, and its waters assimilate themselves to the exquisite clearness and color of that lake, so that when they flow out at the other end they are as a new river altogether - " old things have passed away, and all things are become new." So is it in the great change when a man comes to Christ. And when we remember that whilst man looketh at the outward appearance, God looketh at the heart, it is easy to see that God may count a man to be righteous whom we should not think so at all. If the will, the heart, be Christ's, though it may be once and again overborne by the fierce rush of temptation, as David's was, yet, because the heart is right, God counts that man righteous still. And this new will, the new heart, ever tends to embody and express itself in act. It will be like a hidden fire, struggling and struggling on till it can find vent and work its good desire. And it shall do this in due time. Meanwhile God but anticipates; looks on to the harvest as the husbandman does even when the blade has not shown itself as yet above the ground. But he imputes the righteousness of the harvest to those fields though not a blade appears. The parent imputes the righteousness of the intelligent, loving youth to the little infant just born, not because it has it, but because he believes it will have it. And God counts us as righteous, not alone because Christ is our Representative, but because he will restore our souls. He will make us righteous in ourselves as well as before God. And he does this by setting before us in his own life the perfect example, and attracting us thereto by an ever-increasing attraction; and by imparting to us his own Spirit, who nourishes us in all goodness; and by bringing to bear upon us the mightiest motives which can ever control or influence the human heart - love, gratitude, holy fear, bright, blessed hope, - all these and yet others; so day by day does he strengthen and confirm the good will which, when we first came to him, he gave us as his first gift. Thus does he make those righteous whom God for his sake now counts to be so. And now -
III. CAN WE SAY THAT THE LORD IS "OUR" RIGHTEOUSNESS? We may have correct views on this great doctrine, we may believe in a general and abstract way that the Lord is the Righteousness of his people, but all this is far short of being able to say that the Lord is our Righteousness. We can only say this as we daily and habitually trust him - as we "keep touch" with him, as it were, continually looking to him and. relying upon him. For faith, it is which vitalizes our connection with him. The wires of the electric cable may stretch all the way beneath the ocean, and each shore of the Atlantic be joined together by them; but there is no communication until the electric current is sent along that cable, and then the circuit is complete. And so the channel along which our faith may pass is provided; but until faith goes from our heart - that electric force of faith - the connecting bond may almost as well not be. Until then Christ is a Representative of-man before God, but he is not our Representative. It is faith that vitalizes that connection, and he is not our Righteousness until we believe. Faith brings us into real union with him, reproduces in us the mind which was in him, lays hold on the grace which he holds out to us, leads us to repent, to love, to obey, to follow him in the daily walk and conversation. Remember, the Lord demands righteousness. We have it not in ourselves. In this our destitution the Lord comes to us and offers to be our Righteousness. We have but to appropriate and claim that which he offers. Shall we be so sinful, so mad, as to refuse? The great day when the banquet for God's saints shall be spread is hastening on, and we shall all of us be eager to crowd in and take our place there with the blessed. But what if, when the King comes in to view his guests, we have not on the wedding-garment, but are dressed in some robe of our own, which we think will answer as well? You know how he was dealt with who presumed so to do. Oh, then, that such may not be our doom, let us hasten unto Christ, and pray him now and forever to be "the Lord our Righteousness." - C.
I. THE PROPHET IS REQUIRED IN A SPECIAL MANNER TO DO WHAT HE CAN TO WEAKEN THE HANDS OF EVILDOERS. All who respect the will of God, and feel sympathy with what is right and trim and Divine, are bound to hinder bad men in their actions; but he who held the office of a prophet among the people of God was looked to as speaking with an authority higher than that of a private person. Officialism, with all its drawbacks and perils, with all its risk of self-assertion, has been of great advantage to practical religion. It is true, on the one hand, that to put a bad man into a holy office is to bring that office into contempt, but surely it is also true, on the other hand, that a good man in a holy office has his power for good much increased. Here in Israel at this time there was a multitude of evildoers, doing evil with both hands earnestly. At the same time, there were doubtless those who did evil with weak and uncertain hands. It is matter of thankfulness that evildoers are so often practically restrained in this way. Disposition is willing, but resolution is weak. There is the desire to do very bad things, but the courage is lacking. We have an instance of this in those enemies of our Lord who were so often hindered in their designs because they feared the people. If all the evil could be done that is desired to be done, society would become intolerable. Now, the peculiar mischief that these prophets did was in strengthening the hands of wicked men who were also weak. They spoke encouragingly, and perhaps drew them on by example. Hence evil was done openly that otherwise might have been done secretly. Conspiracies and alliances became more practicable. Evil was made to put on the aspect of good, and men did energetically with perverted consciences what otherwise they might have done with much hesitation, and therefore with diminished force. There are certain men always to whom evil doing becomes easy when it becomes respectable. Thus we see how great were the responsibilities and opportunities of the old Hebrew prophets.
II. Hence we see something of what A DUTY AND OPPORTUNITY BELONG TO ALL CHRISTIAN PEOPLE. Are not all the Lord's people prophets, if only they choose to regard their opportunities? With regard to evil men, it is especially laid on us to hinder their action by all wise and rightful means. The formation of their designs we cannot hinder; we cannot see beneath the surface, and prevent the germination of the poisonous growth; but when it appears above the surface, we may do our best to pluck it out. Under the specious guise of love for individual liberty we may tolerate the greatest evils till they grow beyond our control. The man who took a tiger's cub for a pet found it become perilous long before he expected. We should do all we can to strengthen those who are the modern equivalents to the Hebrew prophets. Such men appear from time to time, and we should pray for insight that we may discern their mission and claims. Such men are sent to weaken, and ultimately to paralyze, the strong hands of the wicked. They are the representatives of great causes; and if through cowardice, self-indulgence, and fear of being thought peculiar, we neglect them, then we may do much harm.
III. THE GREAT IMPORTANCE OF STRENGTHENING THE HANDS OF ALL WHO WANT TO BE GOOD. They are so often weak in action. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." They are hindered by strong temptations which come in their way, when they are striving to get nearer God's ideal for them. They are in need of sympathy. They have to be helped in reaching encouraging views of Divine truth. They need to be remembered in prayer, and generally to have more heart and spirit put into them; then, having abundant life within, they will not lack force, steadiness, and persistency of hand. If we are actively engaged in strengthening the hands of the good, we are to this extent weakening the hands of the evil And, finally, it is very consoling to recollect that when those who profess to be good are found strengthening the hands of evildoers, this is precisely the time when God's indignation is aroused and his opposition. most effective. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" - Y.
I. HEARERS ARE TO DISCRIMINATE BETWEEN FALSE PROPHETS AND TRUE. A very serious permission. But not for an occasion only: to be exercised whenever the witnesses conflict. The essential principle of Protestantism. The prophet is one who speaks in God's Name and reveals his will. The question, therefore, is of interest for all time; is exceedingly important, but not morally difficult.
1. The effect of false prophecy is disastrous.
2. Earnest and prayerful discrimination is the best safeguard against religious indifference.
II. A DISTINGUISHING TEST IS FURNISHED. It is a moral one. By their relation to the Law of Moses were the different prophets to be judged of.
1. The marks of the false prophet. His influence is an unrighteous one. He encourages evildoers, either by directly unrighteous teaching or through the indirect influence which he exercises.
2. The marks of the true prophet. He is as unmistakably in favor of morality and religion. He is distinguished:
(1) By his reverence. "He who hath stood in the counsel of Jehovah." To sit in that counsel would be to pretend to be equal and advise; but the true prophet has no word from himself. His messages proceed from God, and in his Name he speaks. In every age the messenger of God is one who has communion with him, is conscious of a living Presence and a revealing Spirit. "That which I received of the Lord, delivered I unto you:" not "I think; I am of opinion" etc. No pretence of infallibility.
(2) By diligent and devout attention to God's revelations. In the first place the written Word, and in the next the spoken. Of the latter, only the prayerful and studious soul can be the vehicle. We have to be silent that God may speak. The Word of God already revealed will be respectfully and faithfully observed. Consecration and quietness are marks of waiting upon God. And the message delivered will be faithful to the original that was seen or heard, and agreeable to what is already known of the will of God. The careless arrogance of the false prophet is soon corrected by what God has already revealed of himself. It is the devout "hearer who alone has right to speak in God's Name, and his testimony will be approved by the spiritual sense of believers and signs following." The spiritual character of the messenger of God - how much of his message does it represent? - M.
I. THERE IS THE PUTTING OF ONE'S OWN IMAGINATION IN THE PLACE OF GOD'S TRUTH. A prophet, divinely sent, expresses the words which God has put into his mouth, or reports the vision which God has made to rise before him. If, then, it was true that these prophets, as prophets, were speaking only the vision of their own heart it was quite enough to condemn them. It is very possible that they had' brought themselves to believe that they were speaking the truth. In the days when prophetic vision was vouchsafed to man nothing was easier than for a heated imagination to see whatever it wanted to see; and then the subject of this vision would persuade himself that the vision was of God. How, then, was a prophet to know that what he had seen was truly of God? The answer is very largely to be found in considering the sense of burden and responsibility which evidently rested on true prophets. About a true prophet there was nothing egotistic, conceited, or impetuous. Generally, too, he had to say things which were painful for a sensitive man to speak, and humiliating for self willed people to hear; whereas these prophets against whom Jeremiah warns the people managed to say things very agreeable. We read that they proclaimed peace and prosperity to the evildoer. Now, whatever peculiarity there was in the visions given to the prophets, it is plain that there could be nothing contradictory to God's holiness and his laws, so clearly expressed, for human life. When prophets came with visions contradicting human self-will and human expectations, there was in this a presumption that they were sent of God. David desired to build a house for God in place of the old tabernacle, and doubtless the desire seemed to be one to which there could be no possible objection. Nathan, however, bad a vision by which David was forbidden to build. It would have been pleasanter to go to the king with a message more accordant to his wishes, but he could only speak what God had shown him - a word requiring submission of the human will to a higher and a wiser one. So, turning to the New Testament, we find Ananias at Damascus and Peter at Joppa receiving visions which seemed to them full of incredibility, going right in the face of all their previous experiences and convictions. Furthermore, it must not be forgotten that some, at least, of these lying prophecies were purchased with money. People paid the diviners to hear pleasant things, and pleasant things must be told them even if they were false.
II. THERE WERE EFFECTIVE TESTS FOR THESE VAIN IMAGINATIONS FOR ANY WHO CARED TO EMPLOY THEM. Honest minds know how to receive a true prophet. There is a subtle sympathy between speakers of the right sort and hearers of the right sort. God, who sent so many prophets to Israel, was not likely to leave Israel without a sure way of testing them. So if the prophet or dreamer of dreams gave the people a sign or wonder, and then told them to go after other gods, they might thereby know that he was a deceiver. No sign, however specious and wonderful it be, can make that a truth today which yesterday was a lie. Every fresh prophet must be in harmony with the tried and approved prophets who have gone before him, There is, indeed, no greater peril than to turn away from any true messenger of God; and happily there is no need to do so, through uncertainty as to his credentials, Any one who points out a present wrong in our lives that needs to be put right immediately, is to that extent a prophet of God; and if, in addition, he ventures on certain predictions, then all we can do is to wait. Gamaliel's shrewd advice cannot be too constantly kept in mind. What we cannot be certain about while a thing is in the seed will be made clear when it comes to the fruit. The most important matters are ever those on which we have to decide at once; and God never fails to send forth his light and truth so as to make the decision right. - Y.
I. THE CONDITIONS OF LEGITIMATE SERVICE IN GOD'S NAME.
1. Those who minister in his Name must be appointed by himself. "I have not sent them." For the sake of order an outward and conventional human recognition of office may be requisite. But that is not the essential thing. The minister of God - prophet, priest, Christian minister - must be sent and set apart in the first instance by God. This is an immediate spiritual, Divine act. It may be performed variously, as we find in Scripture it actually was; but the original impulse and impression of obligation are from the Spirit of God. It may be impossible to define the mode, yet the fact and the nature of it cannot be mistaken. So as to the degree of intensity with which the "call" should be attended difference of opinion may exist; but the greatest ministers of God have been those who waited until the Divine ordination was certain and confirmed. A feeble impulse at the outset is less likely to result in a grand consecrated ministry. And yet there is a sense in which the "calling" cannot be made sure until after it has been acted upon. So little is it a mechanical act that sinks into historical background, - the individual must ever have it present to his consciousness and crescent through active fulfillment of it. And the "call" is ever a differentiated one, having regard to special service. It is not enough for one to assume the minister's office merely because he is fired with the general spirit of Christian enthusiasm.
2. Only as he reveals it to men can they declare his truth. "I have not spoken to them." The prophecies of the Old Testament were the outcome of special and particular inspirations, as a reference to the descriptions of prophets themselves will prove. With some the period of active inspired utterance was comparatively brief; others were visited by the inspirations of God all through life. But even the (generally) inspired prophet might be destitute of inspiration on particular occasions, or might outlive it. In such cases silence is highest duty and truest wisdom. "The Word of God" on special occasions, as generally, is a finely organized spiritual emanation, a delicate creation or outbirth of the infinite Spirit, and may be misrepresented by unsympathetic, unenthusiastic reception. He must first be a reverent, believing "hearer" who would worthily prophesy or preach (the modern phase of the same essential work). It is only as the Spirit takes the "things of Christ" and shows them to us that we can understand, appreciate, and livingly present them to others. This necessary experience is finely expressed in the old phrase, "It was laid upon me," or, as Jeremiah has it, "But his word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones" (Jeremiah 25:9).
II. HE WHO USURPS THE SACRED OFFICE IS GUILTY OF THE GRAVEST SIN. It is instructive to observe that that which, when worthily fulfilled, is pleasing to God, is altogether otherwise if illegitimately performed. Because:
1. True prophets are thereby discredited.
2. Divine truth is misrepresented. By bald unsympathetic literalism, etc.
3. Divine truth is actually contradicted.
III. GOD WILL REPUDIATE AND DISCREDIT ALL SUCH. Through genuine revelations. In the event. By the results attendant upon faithful preaching. In the great day of account. - M.
I. A PERSONAL ATTRIBUTE.
1. Infinitely near to all his creatures.
3. Filling all in all.
II. A MORAL INFLUENCE. The question is asked. Every conscience confesses it. The dispensation of the Spirit which convinces the world "of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment" is the latest expression of this.
3. Encouraging. - M.
I. THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD HERE INDICATED. Two attributes - omnipresence and omniscience - are asserted. But they are so mutually dependent and so inseparable as to be virtually one. By the very necessity of his Being as the infinite Spirit, God is not more in one place or sphere of existence than another, but alike in all, "afar off" as well as "at hand," filling heaven and earth; and wherever he is, there he is in all the fullness of his perfect intelligence, not observant or cognizant of some things or beings more than others, but having infallible knowledge of all. Note respecting this divine attribute:
1. Its mystery. The being of One who is thus superior to the limitations of space and time and to all our finite conditions - to whom there is no nearness and no distance, neither past nor future, nothing new and nothing old, to whom "all things are naked and opened," - must needs be inscrutable to us. Our boldest images are but the veil of our ignorance, and even the sublimest representations of the inspired Word leave the problem as insoluble as ever. The celebrated dictum, "His center is everywhere and his circumference nowhere," in no way helps us to any real comprehension of infinity; and such grand poetic utterances as those of the hundred and thirty-ninth psalm, however much they may find their echo in the depths of our spiritual consciousness, only call forth the confession, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it."
2. Its moral significance. The moral conditions involved, the moral attributes associated with it, and their direct relation to ourselves, clothe it with profound interest and solemn importance. If God were at an impassable distance, it might little signify to us what his moral attributes were. But now that he is thus near - a presence from which we cannot escape, an eye that is always searching us through and through, a hand that is always laid upon us - the question as to what his dispositions towards us are is one of unspeakable moment. ]is absolute knowledge of us is connected with a present secret act of judgment, prophetic of the open judgment to come. And it is his perfection that is thus coming into perpetual contact with our imperfect thoughts and ways. His holy love is the light that searches into us, the fire that tries us. This attribute of omniscience derives tremendous importance from the fact that "our God is a consuming fire."
3. The individuality of its application. "Can any hide himself?" Like all other Divine truths, this is nothing to us until we bring it to bear on our own personal condition and doings. The fact itself is independent of all our thoughts about it, and even of our very existence. But for it to have any real influence over us we must reduce it from its vague generality to the narrow compass of our own being, and concentrate the force of it upon the single line of our own daily history - "Thou God seest me." We apprehend the universal truth aright only so far as that cry of Hagar expresses our soul's deepest consciousness - as if the whole world of accountable beings around us were annihilated, and we stood, as in the solitudes of a desert, alone with God.
II. THE PRACTICAL EFFECT THAT TRUTH MAY BE EXPECTED TO PRODUCE. We cannot imagine one more fitted to have a salutary influence in every way upon us. Let God be to you only a distant object of contemplation, as he is to the mere theological disputant, and with whatever attributes you may clothe him, they touch no part of your being with any living power. Conceive of him, in a dreamy pantheistic way, as a mere impersonal, all-pervading force, and there is nothing in your belief to elevate your moral character and ennoble your life. But believe in the God of the Bible, whose voice is heard in the text, and you embrace the grandest and most influential truth the human soul is capable of entertaining. The truth, rather, will touch you, as no other truth can, molding and governing your whole nature, and adapting itself in an infinite variety of ways to every aspect of your being and life. Chiefly two lessons are enforced:
1. Self-scrutiny. We shall be concerned to become acquainted with ourselves that we may know how far the spirit and tenor of our moral life is in harmony with the will and the life of God. Not that a mere curious and anxious habit of testing the quality of one's own feelings, and weighing and measuring one's motives, has necessarily any healthy moral effect. It may be the reverse. But the sense of God will naturally awaken a desire that the relation in which we stand towards him may be a right and happy one. "If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart," etc. (1 John 3:23, 24). The loyalty of the heart to God is the essential principle of a religious life. The sin of these false prophets was the loosening of the bond of their spiritual allegiance to him. "They stood not in the counsel of the Lord." In the case of the Pharisees, their external proprieties were but the veil of internal hollowness and corruption and death; and Christ said to them," Ye are they that approve yourselves unto men, but God knoweth your hearts." Let our hearts be right with God, let the main stream of our inner life be flowing heavenwards, and we need not tremble to know that "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do."
2. Earnest preparation for the future and final judgment. "He hath appointed a day," etc. (Acts 17:31); "We must all appear," etc. (2 Corinthians 5:10). Your personal alienation from God may give you little trouble now, but "what will you do when he riseth up? when he visiteth, what will you answer him?' (Job 31:14). There is no way of preparation for the solemn judgment of the future but in that personal forgiveness and reconciliation, that moral cleansing and righteousness of life, that comes through fellowship with the Savior (Philippians 3:9).
"Low at his cross we view the day
I. GOD'S UNFAILING OBSERVATION. All the reasonings within the minds of these false prophets are open to God. They themselves, audacious, and to some extent self-deluded, reckon on not being detected. They speak what the people wish to believe, and are thus pretty certain of finding acceptance from them. But they forget, or rather they have never properly understood, the omnipresence of God. If this attribute of God had been a reality to their minds, they would not have come so much under idolatrous influences. The possibility of lying or in any way distorting and manipulating the truth seems to depend on an utter forgetfulness of the fact that God is indeed everywhere, filling all space, so that his eye and ear are everywhere. When we read of God appearing to men in different places, we know that the men traveled from one place to another; but God, even when he appeared to them in the new place, was not a whit the less remaining in the old. That God is everywhere is a truth meant to have a most confirming and cheering influence upon the mind of man; but because this truth is not apprehended man both loses what he was meant to enjoy, and becomes presumptuous and reckless in his practical denial of God's authority. God, therefore, makes his assurance through the true prophet that his eye is upon every movement of the false ones. Those who assure themselves that God is ignorant would be far wiser in reckoning on the ignorance of the most vigilant and penetrating mind among their fellow men.
II. God's observation being such, THE PROCEEDINGS OF THESE PROPHETS CAN BE EXACTLY KNOWN. What is here said of the false representations of these prophets is given forth, not as the result of human inquiry, but of a divinely perfect observation. Not all that God thus saw was here described, but only such things as the needs of the times demanded to be made known. Far more might have been told that was true, but there was no need to tell it. God does not publish the wickedness of these prophets for any delight that he has in exposing them, but that he may be justified in the sight of the people for the things that he is about to do. In their hearts, the prophets must have known that the thoughts of those hearts ware discovered. How important it is to bear in mind that many of the indications as to the wickedness of wicked men in the Scriptures come from him who is the omnipresent and omniscient One, who sees everything exactly as it is, and who puts into the mouth of those speaking his Word just those expressions which will describe the things essential to be known! God published the deeds and character of these false prophets that those who were true to him might guard against them. So Jesus warned his disciples against the time-honored, time-consecrated pretensions of the Pharisees. God puts into the hearts of those who keep near him a feeling which guards them against all who for their own selfish ends make a pretence of being interested in holy things.
III. There is in this passage a special charge against the prophets, to which the preliminary and more general accusations lead up. The prophets are charged with making a CONFUSION BETWEEN THE HUMAN AND THE DIVINE IN THEIR UTTERANCES. This charge is summed up in the question, "What is the chaff to the wheat?" or, as it is more nearly rendered, "What has the straw to do with the grain?" The straw and the grain, close together as they may be for a while, are separated at last; and one will by no means serve the purpose of the other. Grain is meant for man's support, and straw will not take its place. Straw has its own place, and may be very useful, so long as it is kept in it. But if straw and grain are to be all mixed up together, the result will be very unsatisfactory. We all need to bear in mind this illustration, for we may all have, to some extent, the duty and opportunity of being prophets of God. He is a rare man who can tell forth things exactly as they are. It is not for man, by a plausible eclecticism, to take something of human experience and something of Divine revelation and mix them up into what he trusts may somehow prove acceptable to men. Human experiences and conjectures have their part. When a man honestly tells us what he thinks and feels, we know how to estimate his statement; and when he comes professedly with a Divine message we have some notion how to test him. But what shall we do with him who claims to limit and modify Divine revelation, so that it may fit into what he is pleased to call the inexorable molds of human reason? We must ever make the distinction between the straw and the grain in our search for truth. Some truth is discoverable by observation, experiment, deduction; other truth only by the spiritual intuitions of a devout and humble mind placing itself before the statements of Divine revelation. So with regard to human and Divine government. There is no possibility of acting so as to please both God and men. There is no possibility of building up a perfect society out of such elements as we have at present. On one hand, we have to bear in mind the limitations of society in the actual existence of it. What we make a law to ourselves, in our own individual relations to God, we cannot impose on others. On the other hand, we must not allow the low conceptions which others may have of God's claims to drag us down to their level. Let God's Law stand out distinct and authoritative before our minds to guide us in our individual life. That Law must not be in any way modified, under a notion that compliance with it is impossible of attainment. If we persevere in receiving God's Word and persevere in repeating it, we shall find that it will make its way mightily, not as by brute force, but because it is the Word of truth, the Word that has abiding fitness for the deepest needs of men. - Y.
I. PERSONS MAY SPEAK IN GOD'S NAME WHO ARE REALLY HIS ENEMIES. These false prophets used the Name of God to commend their own deceitful doctrines and practices. The latter would have no permanent influence apart from this association. It is a favorite device of Satan to appear as an angel of light. There is nothing more diabolical, and the pretence should ever be regarded with critical suspicion, and exposed without hesitation when discovered. "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my Name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many" (Matthew 24:5).
II. IT IS EASY TO IMPART A RELIGIOUS ASPECT TO THAT WHICH IS OPPOSED TO TRUE RELIGION. Here one of the chief vehicles of inspiration is employed for quite another purpose than the revelation of God's truth. Its mystery, vagueness, etc., imposed upon the people; and detection was rendered difficult, as no one could be sure whether the prophet dreamt or not. The real message they delivered was one of personal ambition, lust, etc. So men baptize their carnal dreams and desires with Christian names. It is very necessary to discriminate and to be sincere. Now it is a dream, an ordinance, at another time a doctrine.
III. FALSEHOOD IS MOST TO BE DREADED WHEN IT SIMULATES TRUTH.
1. Because it is essentially unaltered. By saying this is truth, it is really no more so than at first, but it gets the character of it.
2. The association thus created greatly increases its power. The sanctions of religion are given to ungodly and sinful practices. Delusion is most inveterate when it blends with superstition.
3. It destroys those whom it professes to bless. The mental habit is thereby corrupted, and the spiritual nature rendered unfit for real Divine communications. The danger is not discovered until it has made fearful advances and worked irrevocable mischief.
IV. IT SPECIALLY PROVOKES THE ANGER OF GOD. It is blasphemy; mocks him; and arrogates his place and functions, becoming more daring with apparent impunity. - M.
I. TO THE PROPHESYING OF THE PRESENT DAY. The occasion and connection of the words we are considering at once suggest this application. And let us be grateful to God that, amid the much prophesying of our own day, we have much of that" sure Word" to which St. Peter bids us give heed, as to a light shining in a dark place. Yes, there are faithful ministries, blessed be God for them; and that they are like the precious wheat, in contrast to the worthless chaff, has been proved over and over again by the testimony God himself has given to them. For, like the pure grain, they nourish the souls that are fed upon the Word they minister. The instruction that builds up, consolidates, and strengthens the spiritual frame is shown by that very fact to be not as chaff, but as wheat. And he would not only be ungrateful, but untruthful, who should deny that God has given and is maintaining many who minister to his people, whether young or old, in the congregation, the family, or the school, the pure Word of God. And the other striking characteristics of the true Word of God which are here spoken of are also found in their prophesyings. The Word of God which they minister is as a fire. How it enlightens, how it cheers, as on a cold wintry day. How it consumes the dross of the evil nature, burning on until all the evil in us be burnt out! Ah, yes, the pure Word of God - which still, thank God, is preached - is as a fire consuming the miserable pretences of self-righteousness in which the souls whom it touches have hitherto been trusting, and compelling them to hasten for shelter to him who is" the Lord our Righteousness." And it is a hammer, which, smiting the obdurate heart, causes the tears of true repentance to flow forth and refresh those who long have been thirsting to see such living waters. As at Pentecost the hammer of that Word fell upon those hearts which had been hard enough to crucify the Lord, and it so smote them as to break them, rock-like though they were, and they cried out, "What shall we do?" These are the signs of the Word of God, and they are not wanting still. But yet there is much of instruction given that is far different from this - as unlike it as chaff is unlike wheat. It may be the ministry of eloquence, or of ritual, or of philosophy, or of human learning, or of taste, or of fashion; and not a little of such ministry there is in the present day. It is brilliant, attractive, followed by crowds, admired, applauded; it is associated with all that art, culture, music, and ritual pomp can supply; it is very fashionable; for the sake of it humbler worship is abandoned, though that which is abandoned may be purer and more wholesome by far. But because in connection with all this ministry so pleasing to human likings there may be lacking that which alone nourishes the soul, and which has upon it the sure tokens of the Word of God, therefore, when there is this lack, God calls it chaff, and despises it accordingly. Do not think that all these things are in themselves to be despised. No; we would fain have the ministry of the Word of God surrounded with all that can serve to win attention, command reverence, and excite interest; we should be alert to look out for such things, and to secure them so far as we may; but let us see to it that they be but subordinate, that they all are used as aids to what is far higher and more important than themselves - that within this husk the pure grain of God's Word is enshrined and preserved. What is the good of any preaching or instruction, however pleasing or attractive it may be, that does not set the pure wheat of God's Word before hungry souls? Souls must live, and they cannot live on chaff. Oh that all those who preach and teach may more and more hear ever sounding in their ears this startling word, "What is the chaff," etc.! Apply this word -
II. TO OUR OWN INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER - what we, each one, are. If we are the children of God, believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, and humbly striving day by day to do his will and to be well pleasing to him, then there is much that is wheat-like in us. That repentance, that faith, that regenerating grace, that law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, its meekness, patience, zeal, love, - all these things are as the wheat, and blessed be God they are to he found in some measure - would that it were larger - in us all. But there is so much of a contrary nature, so chaff-like, as well. Yes, verily, as chaff lying close by the side of our heart, wrapping it round, long associated with it, grown up with it, hard, hard indeed, to be parted from it; so is the evil of our hearts, the fleshly nature, the carnal mind, which yet clings to us as the husk does to the grain. And often we are at a complete loss to tell whether there is more of wheat or chaff about us - whether our destiny is to be stored in the garner, or to be as the chaff which the wind driveth away. But do we think about the chaff and the wheat as God thinks about them? Are we willing - yea, longing - to be utterly rid of the chaff? Are we content to bear "the bruising flails of God's corrections "until they have "threshed off from us our vain affections?" Do we desire that every portion of this chaff may be got rid of, and "that we, wholesome grain and pure may be," and that only? Perhaps God's flails are laid upon us now, or his winnowing work is stripping off much from us, and making "our very spirit poor." Oh, if it be but to rid us of this chaff, let us not complain. Death itself is but God's chief flail" to purge the husk of this our flesh away, and leave the soul uncovered." Complain not, for "what is the chaff," etc.? And not only the sin in us, but much that looks and is reckoned as far other than sin, may be, after all, only chaff. Much of that feeling and conduct which is associated with our religious life may be of itself of a very worthless sort. Those tears which flow so freely when the preacher is in a pathetic mood - what are they all worth if they never lead to a genuine repentance, a real turning of the soul to Christ? And that open profession of religion, coming to the table of the Lord and partaking of the sacred bread and wine, what is that if it be not the index and outward sign of a heart that trusts, that loves, that is consecrated to Christ? And that correct and orthodox creed for which we are so ready to show fight, and the deniers or doubters of which we so eagerly condemn, what is the good of it if it be not the guardian of a God-fearing and righteous life? And that giving of money - for it is to the amount kept back after we have given, and to the motive which prompts the gift, that God looks to determine which is wheat and which is chaff. And that eager activity in many forms of Christian work which some show, unless it be the outcome of a heart aglow with love to Christ, counts for very little with him who here asks, "What is the chaff," etc.? Again we say we do not despise these things - we would that there were more of them; but if at the heart of them there be not faith and love towards Christ, which alone are the wheat which these things are intended to serve and minister to, then they are but as the chaff which the wind driveth away. We are apt to think a great deal of them, and to rely upon them not a little for ourselves and for others. But they are not the wheat, only its husk, and" what... Lord." Apply this question -
III. TO THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE CHURCH. And without doubt it may be alarmed that if the pure wheat of God's garner be not to be found in the fellowship of the Church, it is to be found nowhere. What our Lord said of his Church at the beginning," Ye are the salt of the earth.., ye are the light of the world," is true still. Oh, how many, thank God, of meek, pure, devout, consecrated souls has the Church ever numbered in her fellowship, and does so even yet! But still, even on the best threshing-floors the chaff is mingled with the wheat. Even those Churches which claim to be most careful over admission to their fellowship, and demand valid evidence to be given that there has been a real change of heart, a true conversion to God - even those can no more keep out the chaff than others who throw the responsibility of religious profession entirely on those who make it. But the presence of the chaff along with the wheat could be better borne if the two were always estimated as they should be. But it is not so. Let an unspiritual, worldly minded, hard, and unloving man find his way into a Church - and many such do - and if he be rich, or hold a good position in the world, he will at once be allowed an influence and an authority which he ought not to have - no, not for an hour. And if a Church can get hold of a number of such people, if wealth, and social influence, and education, and fashion flock to their doors, there you have the Church of Laodicea reproduced in most exact form. They will count themselves, and others also will count them, to be "rich, and increased with goods, and to have need of nothing." But what will the Lord say when he cometh with his winnowing fan to thoroughly purge his floor? We are sorely tempted, all of us, to crave with a great craving the presence amongst us of persons of influence, wealth, and power. And all well and good if they be earnest, godly men at the same time. But we are in danger of welcoming them even if this great qualification be largely absent. And that we do too often find this sad intermixture of the worthless with God's wheat, is seen in the quick falling off of some of those who once were gathered with the Church of God. A little persecution, loss of worldly advantage, desire to stand well with those around, - these have all served as pretexts for not a few to break away altogether. Like "the nautilus, which is often seen sailing in tiny fleets in the Mediterranean Sea, upon the smooth surface of the water. It is a beautiful sight, but as soon as ever the tempest begins to blow, and the first ripple appears upon the surface of the sea, the little mariners draw in their sails and betake themselves to the bottom of the sea, and you see them no more. How many are like that! When all goes well with Christianity many go sailing along fairly in the summer tide, but no sooner does trouble, or affliction, or persecution arise, than where are they? Ah, where are they? They have gone." Let us see to it that we esteem the wheat, however poor its surroundings, above all chaff, however richly it may be endowed. And above all, let us by our own loyalty to God, our sympathy with Christ, our love to our brethren, our cheerful self-sacrifice, our daily obedience, show that we are of those whom the Lord will own at the last, and not as the chaff which he will despise and destroy.
IV. TO GOD'S FINAL ESTIMATE OF US ALL. For the great question which concerns every man who reads or hears these words is - Which am I, chaff or wheat? And that question is to be decided, not according to man's estimate, but God's. It is what he will judge, not what we may. Here in this world we are all mingled together, in every Church, family, town, village, society, or community whatsoever. In all places, under all circumstances and in all ways in this world, this commingling of the evil and the good is found; the chaff is ever closely associated with the wheat. "Let both grow together until the harvest," is our Lord's command, and no endeavor of ours can sever the two completely. But the very word" until" which our Savior employs shows that there shall be a separating time; the two shall not forever be conjoined as they are now. "Then two shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left." In the same church, sitting side by side in the same pew, there may be found both chaff and wheat. Anticipate that awful separating time. It will come upon us as it came upon those ten virgins, five of whom were wise and five were foolish, but which was which none knew until the cry was heard, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh!" And so, though now none of us can tell what those are who gather with us, and join in the same holy service, listen to the same gospel, and unite in the same prayers, praises, and confessions, though outwardly we are all as the wheat of God, yet whether we be so or no God alone can tell. But do any ask - How can I, though consciously worthless as the chaff, yet become as the wheat? Blessed be God, such a great change is possible. Go to the Lord Jesus Christ; tell him how poor, wretched, evil, you know yourself to be. Cast yourself down at his feet. Call upon him for his aid. Thou shalt become a new creature in Christ, old things shall pass away, all things shall become new. The chaff shall be changed into the wheat, death shall be exchanged for life, and now, worthless once, thou art in Christ precious forever, and the garner of the Lord shall be thine everlasting home. Come unto Christ in faith and love, for the heart so yielded is alone God's wheat; but if when the great separating day comes thou seekest to find safety in aught else, however precious you and others may deem it, he will spurn both it and you. For "what is... Lord." - C.
I. HUMAN INTERMIXTURES WITH DIVINE TRUTH ARE HURTFUL AND WEAKENING IN THEIR INFLUENCE. The word of human origin is placed on the same level with the Divine. When the former is proved fallible or untrue, the latter is discredited. Efforts after novelty and strangeness generally ensue; and these are condemned by the Word of God (vers. 30, 31).
II. THESE ARE WHOLLY UNNECESSARY, AS THE WORD OF GOD IS SUFFICIENT FOR ITS PURPOSE. "God's Word shall not return unto him void" (Isaiah 55:11). It is the truth, and must prevail.
III. THE SPURIOUS INTERMIXTURE WILL BE REVEALED BY THE DIFFERENCE OF ITS EFFECTS. "What has the straw to do with the grain?" - a question sure to arise in those who receive such messages. The connection of the one element with the other is evidently incongruous. The stalk sustains the ear which develops from it whilst growing; but when the field has been harvested the two are separated, and have to be used apart. To mix up the chopped straw with the grain would only be to spoil the latter. And so it is when human ideas are mixed with Divine revelations: the mixture fails to edify or satisfy. And in its effect upon the moral nature the true message distinguishes itself from the false. "Fire," in its scorching, consuming power, cannot well be counterfeited; but such is the effect of the Word of God. The "hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces" demonstrates its legitimacy as an instrument of grace by its power upon the hard and impenitent heart (Hebrews 4:12). - M.
I. THE HONOR OF GOD IS BOUND UP WITH HIS WORD.
1. It expresses his character. A careful, gradual unfolding of himself in his attributes and personal relations.
2. It declares his will.
(1) His Law;
(2) his gospel; both of which express his purpose.
The prophecies of God with his promises and appeals.
3. In its loftiest embodiment - Jesus Christ - it is identified with himself. (John 1:1.)
II. HE WILL NOT SUFFER IT TO BE TREATED LIGHTLY. To do so would be to court contempt, if not to condone the offence. As a sign of his displeasure:
1. He will give the false prophets another message to deliver. This is said satirically (ver. 33); their circumstances will prove that the true message is not one of acceptance but of rejection. The whole nation will be thrust out of covenant relationship.
2. Special penalties will be inflicted upon particular offenders. (Ver. 34.) Handling the Word of God deceitfully will bring upon a man evident tokens of the Divine displeasure.
3. The word "burden itself will have a new and fearful significance. It was a spiritual offence to talk about burdens" so lightly. People to whom the true message of God had no awful impressiveness would be taught reverence and fear by that which he would inflict upon them. It would be a true "burden," not so readily got rid of (vers. 39, 40). - M.