Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
second time (ver. 1), and a gracious revelation of God's power and willingness to bless.
I. GOD IS WITH THOSE WHO SUFFER FOR HIS SAKE. It was a token of his love that Jeremiah should receive this assurance, and one which he was most certain to appreciate. Prisoners and martyrs for conscience' sake in all ages of the Church have been similarly consoled. There are special and peculiar consolations for persons so situated. God is nearer then than at other times. His promises are greater and brighter, and his presence more felt. Who would not suffer thus to be thus comforted?
II. GOD REQUESTS US TO ASK OF HIM THE THINGS WE MOST DESIRE. Not that there are not circumstances of such a character as to call forth spontaneous proofs of his favour and love. But seeking and asking are exercises of faith, which cannot long be dispensed with in our intercourse with our heavenly Father, even although "he knoweth what things we have need of before we ask him" (Matthew 6:8). And this because:
1. The exercises of the soul in prayer and faith are greater benefits in them selves than most things that are to be procured through them.
2. Such exercises are a preparation of the soul for heavenly gifts and communications, and keep it in readiness for them.
3. They are pleasing to God, and gratify his love. The answer is certain, and, indeed, waiting; but he loves to be asked. There is no more endearing position in the sight of God than that of prayer.
III. THOSE WHO FAITHFULLY OBEY GOD'S WILL, WILL LEARN SOMETHING OF HIS PURPOSE. Revelations of surpassing magnitude await the prophet in the darkness of his prison house. He did not hesitate to proclaim God's will, and to submit to the consequences of so doing; he is to receive his reward in further disclosures. And these are of the most gracious and consolatory description. But apart from this, the mere communication of the Divine purpose to him was a sign of favour and honour; his truest satisfaction and peace were to be found in hearing God's voice, and being considered worthy to share the secrets of the Divine future. Man is steward of the present; God retains his hold upon the future, and only discloses it for the reward of faithful men, and for great and merciful ends.
1. Great things, in their scope, character, and influences as belonging to salvation.
2. Secret things (Authorized Version renders this word "mighty"). Not belonging to ordinary experience, but to God's counsel. - M.
I. HAS SCIENCE DISCOVERED ALL GOD'S FIXED LAWS? Are you quite sure that nowhere there may be some law which shall provide for these results which Christians call "answers to prayer"? We are bound to be grateful for the magnificent discoveries of the laws of the universe which science has already made. But has it discovered all these laws? and if not, why amongst those as yet undiscovered ones may there not be that which the Christian needs to justify his prayer? It is the same argument as John Foster urges against the atheistic doctrine that there is no God! "What ages and lights are requisite for this attainment, the knowing that there is no God! This intelligence involves the very attributes of divinity, while a God is denied. For unless this man is omnipresent, unless he is at this moment in every place in the universe, he cannot know but that in some place there may be manifestations of a Deity by which even he would be overpowered Unless he knows all things, that is, precludes another deity by being one himself, he cannot know that the Being whose existence he rejects does not exist." Now, in like manner, the Christian may meet the scientific unbeliever by asking him whether he has traced every effect up to its cause. May not, then, the cause you do not know be the one which meets the Christian's need and secures answer to his legitimate prayers?
II. WHAT MORE RIGHT HAS SCIENCE TO REJECT THE FACTS FROM WHICH THE CHRISTIAN DEDUCES HIS DOCTRINE THAT GOD ANSWERS PRAYER, THAN THE CHRISTIAN HAS TO REJECT THE FACTS UPON WHICH SCIENCE BASES HER DOCTRINE OF INVARIABLE LAW? Science marshals her facts. They are a goodly array, and drawn from all departments of creation, animate and inanimate; from all kinds of living organisms, whether animal or vegetable; and they have forced upon you, we readily admit, the conviction of the universality and invariability of natural law. Christians are bound to believe you. We are not going to question your facts, though we may some of your inferences from them. Let your facts once be proved to be facts, as so many of them have been, and we will candidly accept them. Yes, though they compel us to set aside some old and cherished interpretations of Scripture, and to confess that we have read our Bibles wrongly in more than one instance. We trust you in your statement of facts; we believe you to be good men and true. Now we turn and ask you to deal with us and our facts in like manner. For we, too, have facts from which we have drawn the conclusion that, let prayer be according to the will of God, he will assuredly answer it. Some of our facts which have much force with us you perhaps would not admit, since you would explain them on the ground of mere coincidence, and we could not prove that, apart from prayer, they could not have been. E.g. persons in distress have called upon God; relief has unexpectedly come and in very remarkable ways. The believer looks on such instances as answers to prayer; nothing can persuade him that they are not. Still, it cannot be denied that they may have occurred without such prayer. Other such instances are those in which life despaired of has been given back in answer to, or in connection with, fervent prayer for such restoration; as the Prince of Wales's recovery in 1872. Now, this recovery might have been - we cannot prove that it could not - apart from prayer, and therefore, whilst these instances are very convincing to the believer, they are not so to others. But there are facts concerning which we can say they are valid for our argument, because they never have occurred and never do occur, apart from prayer. E.g. in the coming away of any soul from its attachment to the world to surrender itself in trust and love to Christ - that which is called conversion; was this ever known apart from prayer? Did ever any find the Lord without seeking him - i.e without prayer? Also in the ordinary conduct of the Christian life, who among us is able to keep his garments unspotted from the world, to overcome besetting sin, to confront and conquer temptation, to preserve the hands clean and the heart pure, without continual prayer? Again, who are they that have attained to a high degree of spiritual life and vigour, to whom it is their habit to walk with God; who "rejoice in the Lord always;" who are God's saints indeed, the very elect, about whose being born of God we have no doubt? Now, every one of these will tell you that they owed their all to the habit their Lord enabled them to maintain of constant prayer. Press on in thought to the realms of the blest, move up and down amid the throng of God's redeemed; is there one who has or could have attained that blessedness if on earth he had not sought God in prayer and called on the Name of the Lord? So with any really living Church, a Church that is a power for good, a blessing to the neighbourhood, a Church at peace, at work, and blessed with the prosperity of God, is the life of such a Church ever possible apart from this same power of prayer? Its life is nurtured, not by its wealth, numbers, rank, culture, intellect, eloquence, or any such gifts, but by its prayers. All the rest would let it starve; by prayer alone it lives. One other instance - the winning of our children for God. Does any parent or teacher ever secure this great joy without prayer? Never. Such are our facts; in them we are sure that God answers prayer; and hence we believe also that in the material world he does the same. And as we receive the facts of science, so we ask that our facts may be received likewise.
III. IS NOT GOD OUR FATHER? The scientific hypothesis denies his fatherhood, if not his very existence altogether. If he do exist, he is, according to the scientist, so enclosed in his own laws and in the visible adjustment of things that he has no room for freedom of choice, for exercise of will. Like the mainspring of a watch, he is shut up in his own works, and can only act in one given way. Or, like the locomotives on our railways, he must keep to the rigid appointed iron track, and not swerve therefrom in the least. But that is not our conception of God. We believe him to have a mind, a will, a heart; and hence we conclude that, like the best earthly parents, whilst keeping ever in view the true welfare of his children, he yet allows himself, within those limits, freedom of action as may seem to him wisest and best. Now, within these limits there is room for prayer and room for answers to prayer. We cannot believe him to be so tied down by his physical laws that, when it is consistent with the highest good of his children, and yet more when it is necessary for that good, he is unable to modify or alter them even though he would. A God so bound by physical law is really no God, and the creed of the atheist will alone harmonize with the assertions of science. If there be a God, he must be a personal God; but if he be a Person, then he must have will, the power of choice; but if he have will, he must be able to modify the action of his laws, as we can and do continually; and if he be our Father, as we believe, then we need not doubt that the fervent believing prayer of his children will avail much to induce him to modify his laws for our good. And hence we maintain that it is good to call upon him, and that he is nigh unto such and will save them. Prayer, then, is not unreasonable if there be a God; not unreasonable if we adopt the very methods of science itself, and deduce our doctrine from our facts; not unreasonable, unless it can be shown that science is aware of and has registered every fixed law of God. - C.
I. SIN IS AN AWFUL FACT. All nations have recognized this and mourned over it. But it has not been created by Christianity. True, the Christian faith brands it with the stigma of shame as none other does; foreverywhere sin has cast its deep shadow and driven noble souls, not a few, to utter despair. But it was here before Christianity. Hence -
II. THE QUESTION OF QUESTIONS HAS BEEN - WHAT IS TO BE DONE WITH IT? And the answers have been very different. Note:
1. The answer of the philosopher, which extenuates it, on the ground:
(1) Of the imperfection of our nature. If we knew more, it is said, had larger comprehension of truth, we should not sin. But is that true? Is increase of knowledge always increase of virtue? Are little children, who know so little, less virtuous than many an educated man? The names that are accursed forever, Nero, Herod, Balaam, Philip II. of Spain, Alva, and many more, were all educated men.
(2) Of the tyranny of the body. It is this cursed flesh, they say. Get rid of that, and the soul will be pure. Hence one reason wherefore St. Paul's doctrine of the resurrection was so opposed at Corinth, because they thought it was a bringing back of all that dread source of evil which it was hoped was done with forever when death came. Now, no doubt, the flesh is the occasion of sins not a few. But there are many sins, and those which probably God will most sternly condemn, which are quite independent of the body. Malice, envy, hatred, and all uncharitableness need no "flesh" for their existence. And even in those sins which are especially of the flesh, myriads of victories over it, victories continually renewed, prove that it can, as it ought to, be kept under and brought into subjection.
(3) Of its being a form of good. Without it, it is urged, virtue could not be attained; for it is in the conflict with sin that virtue is developed, disciplined, and strengthened. Virtue would lie dormant, lethargic, and be a miserable weakling, were it not that sin roused her up, exasperated her, and forced her to stand on her defence. But such argument confounds temptation with sin. What is urged is true of temptation, but never of sin. Nor is sin needed as the foil, the dark background on which virtue shall shine out with greater lustre than but for this foil had been possible to it. For sin is, some affirm, a necessary condition, almost an ingredient, of good. Moral evil cannot be so evil as it is thought. The devil is not so black as he is painted. But is sin necessary to manifest goodness? Where, then, is such background in God, or in the angels, or in the saints in glory? None, therefore, of these extenuations will stand. Reason, conscience, and God's Word alike condemn them.
2. There is the answer of despair, which regards it as inevitable and invincible. This answer does not make light of it, but regards it as that which can neither be helped nor overcome. They believe there is a kingdom of evil, independent of God, with its all but omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient head, like unto God. This was the creed of ancient Persia, against which, that his countrymen might not be carried away by it, Isaiah protested with all his might; cf. Isaiah 45:5-7, "I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me... I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things." And Manicheism was a like heresy. And the moral despair which regards sin as inevitable is practical Manicheism. But this is a terrible error; for he who has come to believe in the existence of a god of evil as well as a God of goodness will soon come to believe only in the former and not in the latter at all. Moreover, conscience in her deepest utterances gives no countenance to this invincibility of evil. "Father, I have sinned," is its confession. It never urges that it had no power to resist - that it was forced to sin. It is a dread snare of the devil to persuade men that sin is invincible. Believe him not. Myriads of holy souls give him the lie; and, through the might of Christ your Lord, you may give him the lie likewise. But note now -
III. CHRIST'S ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION. This verse is one of innumerable others which affirm the same truth.
1. He does not make light of it or extenuate it. His high and holy teaching, his blameless life, the doom he pronounced on sin, above all, the death he died, were one emphatic protest against and condemnation of sin. But:
2. He did not regard it as invincible. He distinctly promises deliverance from it, and:
3. This he gives. By blotting out the record of the past. By the present help of his Spirit. By the bright prospect of eternal life. Facts prove all this. He healed them that had need of healing. No disease baffled him. His resources did not run out, and the healing was a real one. And so it is still. Let us come to him and see. - C.
I. THE NEED OF SUCH A REVELATION. There is already abundance of discord, mutual hostility, instability, deceit. What a picture of misery is at once suggested by contrast with the state presented in this promise! Instead of the welcome salutation of peace, there is too often threatening. And when the salutation does come, it is too often only a mere conventional expression, and in some instances even an elaborated hypocrisy put forward to carry on war behind it, and instead of the feeling that one is on a sure foundation, there are continual quakings that disturb what is underneath, and continual blasts that disturb what is above. And beside what attacks man from without, there is within a spirit of hostility and rivalry to others, a spirit striving to shake their position and triumph over them. So that peace and truth need to be revealed within us first of all. We need, not merely to have amicable feelings towards others, freedom from envy and malice, but we need positive cordiality. Loving, unselfish cohesion is the true way to escape bitter habitual contention. Moreover, this peace and truth are needed in abundance. It must be said of them, as is said in the New Testament of God's Spirit, that they are given without measure. The promise of the peace that passeth all understanding is assuredly a promise correspondent to our necessity.
II. THE FACT OF SUCH A REVELATION. Peace is revealed in Jesus Christ. In him there is the secret of a composure and a steadfastness unaffected by all the common causes of discord and instability. He had an unusual number of enemies, and this because he was so persistent in declaring righteousness; and yet all the time he had that peace within which showed how outside forces only affected the mere shell of life. In this life there was ever the joint manifestation of peace and steadfastness, and the steadfastness was explained by the fact that he came from God, continued in God, did the will of God, and so, ever having this hold on the Eternal, and being held by the Eternal, the shaking influences of time did ever more and more both to reveal his strength and their own weakness. All the exhortations of Jesus with respect to faith are meant to reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth. With what pity Jesus must look on the abortive, melancholy attempts of men to trust in the untrustworthy! and yet the unveiled magnificence of peace and truth is unseen. What we have to do is to look desiringly, hopefully, towards God's revelation; for surely the complete revelation includes not only something gracious to be seen, but full insight to see it. The apocalypse to John in Patmos came to one who "was in the Spirit on the Lord's day." - Y.
I. IN REGARD TO GOD.
1. Joy. God, not Deus impassibilis - a God who does not feel.
2. Praise and honour. The theme of the Church on earth, and especially in heaven, is this, "Unto him that loved us," etc. There is no glory equal to that which shall accrue to God by "Jesus Christ," for through him pardon comes to guilty men.
II. IN REGARD TO THE PARDONED THEMSELVES. They enjoy the goodness and prosperity which God procures them. Pardon is not mere acquittal, but acceptance and adoption, and hence the goodness and prosperity.
III. IN REGARD TO THE WORLD AT LARGE. "They shall fear and tremble." Why this?
1. Because of its manifestation of power. His people a feeble flock, but thus raised and exalted.
2. Because of its exposure of idolatry. It will be seen how foolish they have been to trust in their false gods.
3. Because of its manifestation of grace. The fear and trembling shall not be of dread so much as of repentance - repentance wrought by the evident grace of God in the rich pardon he has bestowed. - C.
I. THE PICTURE OF A PARADISE LOST. This is given in ver. 10. The land desolate; the flocks and herds all gone; no human being to be seen; the cities laid waste. Now, this meagre outline would recall to the mind of the Jews the blessed days when the land teemed with inhabitants; when the cities were numerous, wealthy, populous, and strong; when the hills and dales of their countryside were covered over with flocks; and when, in the glad prosperity of all, the very fields were said "to shout for joy and also sing" (Psalm 65.). But all that is past; desolation reigns, the lands stripped, the cities burnt with fire, and the people slain or in exile; the whole land desolate of both man and beast.
II. PARADISE REGAINED. Such is the bright, joyous picture set forth in these verses (11-18). Its elements are:
1. Righteousness. Not mere innocence, as in Eden, but virtue tested and triumphant, and so issuing in a settled righteousness. This must be the basis of all truly blessed life. The people must be all righteous. This secured by him who is called "the righteous Branch, the Lord our Righteousness."
2. Love. (See ver. 11.) The joyous picture of the gladness of the bridegroom and the bride. And that companionship which is the most blessed in the world, and that love which is deepest and purest of all, are fitly taken as the symbol of that love which shall constitute the home of God's redeemed more than a paradise regained.
3. Worship. (Ver. 11.) The picture of the temple service has risen up before the prophet's mind. He hears the glad chant, the loud response of the people, "Praise the Lord." He sees the altar fire and the priests and sacrifices, and by this representation he teaches us that worship is part of the blessedness that is to be.
4. Healthful and universal employ. (Vers. 12, 13.) It has often been said, "God made the country, man made the town; and the saying may be read truly or falsely, as each one wills. For he who says there is nought of God in the city speaks as falsely as he who says there is only God in the country. But there can be no doubt that the highest, purest, and most healthful forms of life are connected with the country. "Four words, each of them full of meaning, comprise the conceptions which we attribute to the paradisaical state. They are these innocence, love, rural life, piety; and it is towards these conditions of earthly happiness that the human mind reverts, as often as it turns, sickened and disappointed, from the pursuit of whatever else it may have ever laboured to acquire. The innocence we here think of is not virtue recovered, but it is moral perfectness, darkened by no thought or knowledge of the contrary. This paradisaical love is conjugal fondness, free from sensuous taint. This rural life is the constant flow of summer days, spent in garden and field, exempt from our exacted toil. This piety of paradise is the grateful approach of the finite to the Infinite - a correspondence that is neither clouded nor apprehensive of a cloud" (Isaac Taylor). Now, in these verses, when the prophet would set forth the blessed life that the restored people should enjoy, he draws a picture, not of city, but of country life; not of hard exacting toil, but of healthful, peaceful occupation - the pastoral life of a quiet, beautiful land. It is a symbol of all healthful employ, and such employ shall be a further feature in the blessedness that is to be. Therefore, "Sursum corda!" a righteous, loving, worshipful, and healthful life awaits the sons of men "for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them," saith the Lord. - C.
I. THE PRESENT STILLNESS. What makes it so painful? Not all stillness is painful; indeed, stillness is often very grateful, a thing to be sought, a timely refuge for those who are stunned and confused by the clamours of the world. The stillness of night is pleasant after the noise of day. The stillness of the mountain and the wilderness seems more still when one has come from the city's bustle. There is even something suggestive of escape into everlasting peace when one looks at the stillness of death as contrasted with all the power of sound in the previous life. But the stillness here is painful, because it does not come in any normal way; it is stillness where there ought to be sound - sounds of traffic, sounds of friendly intercourse, sounds of children playing, sounds of worship. To come into the individual life, it is the silence of the dumb, the silence of that which was made to speak, intended to speak, and can only be silent because of some inexplicable interference with natural constitution. Dumbness ought not to be, and so the state of things here represented, when in the houses and streets of Jerusalem there was sound neither of man nor beast, was one which ought not to have been. There was no occasion for it in the very constitution of things. It came by man's own bringing of it. The present silence had been preceded by many voices that ought never to have been heard - voices of threatening, voices of greedy demand, voices of revenge, voices of complaint and of indignant appeal against injustice.
II. THE VOICES OF THE FUTURE. The sounds of life are to flow back into the now desolate streets, but they are to be the sounds of a different kind of life. Sounds springing from righteousness within and from a principle of obedience to Jehovah. Sounds that come from a universally satisfied people. Not sounds of joy and gladness in palaces, and sounds of privation and despair in hovels; but sunshine falling everywhere, and everywhere the hearts of the people ready to break forth into song. In the eleventh verse there is first of all the general indication of gladness. Every one is full of healthy life, which, as a matter of course, breaks forth into joyful manifestation. Then, as a very significant illustration, there is the gladness of the bridegroom and the bride. This signifies a stable society, a hopeful prospect, the joys of home life. Probably there was no joy so demonstrative as that connected with wedding festivities. Then the joy of religion comes in to crown and conclude all. Praise to Jehovah for his goodness and his enduring mercy, and offerings of thanksgiving in his house. If joy of this kind had been absent, the other joy would not long have lasted. From what God sends down into our lives as causes of abiding joy, we must send back to him responses of intelligent and heartfelt praise. - Y.
Jeremiah 32:37. But we have the exact words, the very same form of expression, in Jeremiah 32:44, and in vers. 7 and 26 of this chapter. Hence we have called it the prophet's refrain. And the like theme of God's purposes of grace towards mankind generally should be the refrain of all the prophets of the Lord in these our days. For -
I. THE BLESSINGS ASSURED ARE SIMILAR. In connection with each several repetition of this promise, "I will cause their captivity to return," is named some specific blessing which that return shall bring along with it. In connection with its first mention (Jeremiah 32:44) God's purpose is given as the reason wherefore his now afflicted people should again possess their land. And there is a life eternal, a true, real, blessed life for humanity; a life compared with which this life is like the hard lot of the captive Israel compared with the glowing glad life promised in the days when their captivity should return. Then in connection with its second mention (ver. 7 of this chapter) there is the promise of "health and cure," moral and spiritual health, when their iniquity should be cleansed and their sin forgiven. And is not the promise of man's redemption like to this? In the eternal life there shall be health and cure indeed. And with the third mention of this promise (ver. 11) there is associated gladness and joy. "There shall be... the voice of joy and the voice of gladness," etc. (ver. 11). And with the fourth there is (ver. 26 of this chapter) the promise of permanence for all that has been before, the permanency as of the covenant of day and night, and the perpetual sovereignty of their own royal house, the seed of David. And so we look for a new order of things, which shall not be as this, troubled and transient, but characterized by a rest and joy that shall be eternal. Thus analogous are the blessings promised to the return of Israel and the redemption of mankind.
II. THE MOTIVES OF SUCH PROCLAMATION OF GOD'S PURPOSES OF GRACE ARE ALIKE. The reason of the prophet's refrain were such as these.
1. He so delighted in the truth he had to tell. Often and often he had been charged with a message of a far less welcome kind; but this was blessed to his soul. And so, would we effectually speak of God's purposes of grace, they must be the joy of our soul. We must ourselves delight in them.
2. He really believed it. The oft repetition of this word shows his confidence in it. He speaks with no bated breath. "I believed, therefore have I spoken." And this must ever be the spiritual force with which our gospel must be charged if it is to have any effect on those who hear it.
3. He knew it would so comfort the cast down. Many already were mourning along with the prophet over the desolations so surely coming on the land, and many more when away in exile would mourn. But the prophet knew that their hearts would be cheered and sustained by the earnest and confident assurance that "their captivity should return." For their sake, therefore, he reiterated this word. And in order to our now earnestly proclaiming the message of God's love, we too must believe that it will do the people good, that it will be for their help and comfort. And we must have for them, as the prophet had for his people, a real love and concern. This has ever been an attendant of and is essential to a successful ministry.
4. He knew that it would so vindicate God. Questionings and perplexities not a few were being occasioned by the prophet's solemn declarations of the coming destruction. They contrasted his terrible word with the oft repeated promises made by God" to David and to his seed forever" and to Zion, concerning which he had said, "There will I dwell, for I have delighted in it." These and the many more like promises seemed forever to forbid the possibility of that which the prophet, and now the actual course of events, declared to be close at hand. How were the two to be reconciled, and the truth and goodness of God to be vindicated? It was by the truth declared in this refrain of the prophet. That rendered both Divine words harmonious and true. Thus the enemies of the prophet would be silenced, and the company of them that feared God would be reassured. The house of God was dear to the prophet; and so must it be to us would we earnestly preach his Word. "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up;" "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" So was it spoken of or by the Lord Jesus Christ; and so in like manner in our measure and degree must it be true of us if we are to be true witnesses for him and for his grace. The gospel is the vindication of God today, as the return of the Captivity was in the days of the prophet. And being jealous for God, he proclaimed incessantly that return, as we must the redemption of mankind. - C.
us to interpret as to the time and mode in which the rest of the glorious predictions connected with it were to be fulfilled. We know full well who this righteous Scion was, and when we lock at his work, we can translate all the figurative language into spiritual realities. We no longer go looking for Israel and Jerusalem in any mere local way, and the vineyards and corn lands and pastures of the restored people of God we understand to be only feeble indications of the spiritual satisfactions coming through Christ. Note -
I. THE ORIGIN OF THIS RIGHTEOUS SCION. He springs from David. According to the flesh, he is connected with a name suggestive of past days of prosperity and glory. David himself is emphatically to be reckoned as a righteous stock. That he fell into grievous backslidings is not to be denied; but we know his aspirations, his sighings and strugglings after conformity with the Law of God.
II. THE IMPLIED CONTRAST WITH OTHER SCIONS WHO WERE NOT RIGHTEOUS. Scions of unrighteousness had already sprung up, had their day, and done their mischief. Their position made their character and doings peculiarly pernicious. With a disposition to act unjustly and unrighteously, they had power to act over a very large area. So we should over contrast Christ with the men of large powers who have widely influenced the world, and yet have influenced it for evil, because their powers have been directed by selfishness and error. There can be no doubt that a son of David means here one who will act as a king; and that reminds us how many kings have been tyrants, looking on those under them as merely so much convenient material, by which they might effect their plans. The exiled people, thinking of their restoration, would have to include the thought of king in the complete ideal; and surely this would bring very distinctly before them the evil some of their kings had wrought in the past.
III. THE COMING SCION IN HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Righteousness is emphasized as his great quality. It is needed in a king above all things that he should be just. He must not be an Ahab stealing Naboth's vineyard. Being in a fiercer light than other men, he must be unusually careful as to the aspect of his actions. Love is not mentioned here as a quality of this Scion, not because it is not needed, but because righteousness is the great quality that, for the comfort of Jeremiah's auditors, needed to be emphasized. Nevertheless, it is well for us to remember that this Scion of David secures righteousness, because he ever acts from a loving heart. - Y.
I. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THESE OFFICES. To single out these two offices from the others existing within the Jewish nation is to emphasize their importance. They are thereby recognized as the pillars of the theocratic constitution.
1. The king. The grandest unit of human society. Evidently no accidental office, but an ordained and significant one. The king, as representative of God, was the supreme authority of the state, As the chosen of God, or as legitimately descended from such a one, he ruled by Divine right. He was the centre of patriotic attachment, and the authoritative embodiment and enforcer of Divine righteousness - at least that was the ideal. How few of the princes of the Davidic succession realized this the history of Judah can witness. But it was ever held before the people as a sacred promise that a "king should reign in righteousness."
2. The priest. The covenant of priesthood was a covenant of peace (Numbers 25:12), of life and peace (Malachi 2:5). It was the mediatorial or reconciling element in the constitution that through which the nation in its individual citizens, and as a whole, was related acceptably with God, and made partaker of his righteousness. The consecration of the priesthood in a mediate sense sanctified the people; and in the continued existence of the priesthood a guarantee was afforded of the favour of God and the permanence of Israel's mission as the righteous servant of God.
II. HOW THE PROMISE WAS FULFILLED. What is actually predicted concerning the Davidic and Levitical succession is that it will never be quite cut off; it will never happen that there is wanting any one in whom the house may be perpetuated. In the Captivity such a gap took place: Jeconiah was written childless. But it was never to occur again. Now, how are we to understand this promise? In its literal sense it was only approximately fulfilled; spiritually and figuratively the fulfilment was complete:
1. In our Lord Jesus Christ. Of the house of David after the flesh, he is eternal King and Lord of the spiritual Israel. He is also "a Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec." As the great High Priest of mankind, he appears before God "making continual intercession" (Hebrews 8:3).
2. Christians, too, realize the ideal here presented. Through the atoning work of Christ they are made "kings and priests," a "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5-8). The identification of the Lord with his servant dignifies and ennobles the latter, making him a new centre of spiritual dominion and of intercessory and reconciling influence. "If we suffer [endure] we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:12) is a promise which looks forward to the completion of the Messianic kingdom. The Levitical priesthood, too, is lost and absorbed in the priestly character of Christ and his people. - M.
2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Kings 2:4; Psalm 89:4, 29, 36; Numbers 25:12, etc.). How, then, are they to be understood, since events have most surely, falsified them if understood in any literal way? And so the Prophet Hoses cheered the ten tribes of Israel - those of whom we speak now as the lost ten tribes - by promises of their restoration, and Jeremiah does the same (cf. Hosea 6:2; Jeremiah 3:14, etc.; Jeremiah 50:17-20, etc.). But in spite of all these prophecies, the "tea tribes never were restored, and never, as a whole, received any favour from God after they went into captivity" (Pusey). Now, what shall we say to these things? Shall we say -
I. THE PROPHETS WERE BUT MEN, AND HENCE THEY WERE CERTAIN TO BE WRONG WHEN THEY VENTURED INTO THE DOMAIN OF THE FUTURE? This is the rationalist's reply. He attributes all these utterances to the wish to cheer their countrymen in their sorrow, and perhaps to maintain their own credit. Sanguine enthusiasm will account for all. Is, then, the estimate that our Lord and his apostles and the Church universal held concerning these "holy men of old, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost," to be regarded as false? Are the prophets themselves to be convicted as liars, affirming, "Thus saith the Lord," when not the Lord, but only their own poor weak selves were speaking? And are all the manifest fulfilments of prophecy to go for nothing in establishing their authority? The rationalist's reply will not do.
II. THAT THE EXILES DID NOT FULFIL THE CONDITIONS OF THE PROMISED RESTORATION? (Cf. homily on A never-to-be-forgotten principle of interpretation, vol. 1. p. 451.) But does this principle apply here? No; for the promise of restoration carries along with it the promise of the "new covenant," which included "the new heart" - the heart of stone taken away and the heart of flesh given instead. The conditions necessary for the restoration were the subjects of promise as much as the restoration itself. God took the whole matter into his own hand.
III. THAT THE PROPHETS, LIKE THE APOSTLES CONCERNING THE RETURN OF THE LORD, DID NOT KNOW CONCERNING THE RETURN OF THE CAPTIVITY? The apostles do undoubtedly speak of the Lord's return as a thing close at hand, to be looked for in their own day. But such language is to be regarded rather as the language of desire than of knowledge. For the Lord had distinctly told them that it was not for them to know the times and the seasons. Therefore we can only regard their words as those of desire, hope - permitted hope, indeed, but not of Divine assurance. May we do thus with the prophetic word on the return of the Captivity? No; because they so distinctly claim the Divine authority (cf. vers. 25 and 26 of this chapter and passim, for what they affirm). The apostles do not; 1 Thessalonians 4:15, "By the word of the Lord" is an exception. The Lord's revelation referred only to such as should be alive and remain at his coming, not to that generation then living.
IV. THAT THE PROMISE IS BUT DELAYED? This is loudly maintained by many. They who believe that the Jews will be restored to their native land, expect it on the express ground that Canaan has never been actually and permanently theirs. A certain tract of country, three hundred miles in length by two hundred in breadth, must be given, or else they think the promise has been broken. "If there be nothing yet future for Israel, then the magnificence of the promise has been lost in the poverty of its accomplishment." This reply is not to be lightly dismissed. If the kingdom of God, for whose coming we daily pray, do mean that which all who heard our Lord so perpetually speak about it, understood it to mean - and he never, in the main substance of their belief, even hinted that they were wrong - if it mean the reign of God upon earth, as we believe it does, in which, under Christ, the Israel of God, the Church, shall be first in the kingdom of heaven, having been of those blessed ones who had part in "the first resurrection," then the literal fulfilment of the prophetic word may reasonably be looked for. This was "the hope of Israel," of which St. Paul spoke; "the restitution of all things," and "the times of refreshing," of which St. Peter spoke; and this belief has at least this vast advantage, that it enables those who hold it to read the Scriptures literally, and to understand by David, Jerusalem, Levi, Israel, etc., that which they seem to mean, and not whatsoever the too facile process of spiritualizing may say that they mean. Of course, if the kingdom is of this world, this age, as our Lord distinctly told Pilate it was not, then a literal fulfilment of these prophecies is out.of the question; but regarded as the kingdom to be revealed in another age, after the resurrection and the Lord's return, then all is as possible as it will be blessed.
V. THAT IT IS FULFILLED ALREADY? This is what they affirm who regard our Lord as embodying in himself both the regal and priestly functions, and the Church as being the nation whom God has restored. The Jew's national life and his religion were the two things most dear to him. These, it is said, have been preserved to him in the Church, and in him who is the Church's Head. But surely these are the exigencies of exegesis, and but preteroea nihil.
VI. THAT SUCH PREDICTIONS ARE INSTANCES OF GOD'S LAW OF ILLUSION? (cf. on this F. Robertson's sermons on the 'Illusions of Life,' vol. 3. p. 83.) We have illusions in nature. The sun, etc., seem to move round us whilst we are at rest. The hedges, fields, etc., fly along whilst the train in which we are seems to be stationary. The mirage. We have them in moral and mental life.
"hope springs eternal in the human breast,
I. THE NEEDFUL PERPETUITY OF THE OFFICES. Kingship and priesthood cannot perish out of God's true Israel There must always be a king; there must always be a priest. These offices, properly discharged and honoured, are as needful to the prosperity of Israel as fruitful lands and pastures well occupied with flocks. All government has to come at last to some personal authority. That the authority of some single person rests on the choice and acceptance of the many does not make that authority less needful, less real. And so with priesthood. The priestly office is needed, however it may change its forms and channels. Mediation between God and man is a necessity, which more and more unfolds its depths as man reflects more on the possibilities of his being. Even priestcraft, with its marked repugnances to intelligence and liberty, has at least this much good about it, that it is a testimony to man's need of mediation.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH THE PERPETUITY IS MANIFESTED. The king is one; the priest is one. Looking back, we are made to see this clearly. "Of his reign there shall be no end," says Gabriel to Mary. Whatever wisdom, power, and beneficence are in Jesus, are in perpetual exercise. Death, which ends the authority of purely human kings, only enlarged and deepened the authority of Jesus. He not only claims perpetuity for his demands, but we have ample reason now to say that the claim is admitted, And as to priesthood, what more need be said than]make a reference to the expositions of the priesthood of Jesus made in the epistle to the Hebrews? It is the priesthood forever according to the order of Melchisedec. What an abidingly helpful thought it should be that we look to a Mediator ever active in sympathy with human wants, ever understanding them, knowing them indeed far better than the subjects of them! All the externalities are gone - sacrifices of beasts, furnishings of the holy place, symbolic garments of the priests, symbolic ordinances of service; but the reality remains and must remain in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The deepest evils of human life, the evils that cause all others, are swept away by the priesthood of Jesus. And so also the greatest goods of human life, those that are seminal and full of energy towards the production of other goods, come through the same priesthood. Compared with the possibilities of the future, the predictions of these verses are, indeed, only at the beginning of their fulfilment. - Y.
Genesis 8:22, but very instructive. There, what is considered by the secular mind as secured by the laws of matter operating mechanically, is declared as a promise, and consequently as dependent upon the good will and gracious purpose of God; here, what appears at first to be within the power of one or both parties to it, is stated to be as absolute and permanent as if it were not a moral engagement but a material law. Accepting, as in vers. 17 and 18, the Messianic as the true fulfilment of this prediction, what do we learn?
I. THE INTRINSIC POWER OF GOD'S WORD. The creative flat was omnipotent; the promise is to be not less so. It is as if a power dwelt within it to bring to pass what it declares. Of course this is not so in the one case any more than in the other. God is in his Word, making it effectual even to its remotest end. We are reminded of Christ's utterance, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away," which seems to make an even stronger assertion. Equally potent is the Word of God in the gospel, its warnings, invitations, and transforming energies.
II. THE ABSOLUTE, ETERNAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PERSON AND WORK OF CHRIST. The human element in the Divine covenant relation has ever been the variable and uncertain one. But through the unique personality of the God Man, and of his atoning sacrifice, that element is strengthened and made secure. An incarnation like that of Emmanuel, an act like the death on the cross, once achieved is irreversible, and its consequences must affect the remotest eternity. The spiritual laws comprehended and illustrated in the transactions of the gospel are as irreversible as those of nature; and in the person and work of Christ there is an objective basis presented that can never be destroyed by the weaknesses or unbelief of men, any more than "my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night."
III. THE SPIRITUAL INFLUENCE OF THE NEW COVENANT. (Ver. 22.) It is really a creative word, because it calls into existence the Church or community of believers, who are the true successors of the seed of David and the Levitical priesthood. In its constant triumphs and the ever increasing nature of the Messianic kingdom, fresh securities are given for the perpetuation of the kingly and priestly functions as developed through the grace of God in human nature. Where the gospel is faithfully preached, and spiritual life truly energizes, believers will, as at Pentecost, be "added daily" and "multiplied." It is like leaven, a seed, etc. As appealing to the deepest needs and yearnings of human nature, it is bound to overcome the world and comprehend the whole race within the zone of its influence. "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). - M.