Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. A PROOF OF THE FAITHFULNESS AND LONG SUFFERING MERCY OF GOD.
1. Having entered into covenant relations with Israel, he will not withdraw from them, even although their portion of the agreement has not been kept. He remains faithful, notwithstanding human unfaithfulness. The awful guilt of the elect nation cannot invalidate the obligations God has imposed upon himself. He is ready, therefore, at any moment to fulfil these when the conditions are complied with.
2. But it is rather to be taken as illustrating Divine mercy. The purposes of his love are never laid aside. He devises schemes of salvation when we are yet sinners.
3. Though hidden from human eyes, Divine love works continually and through all things. It was hard for mere men to see the favour of God in such times. Many of the Israelites themselves, doubtless, imagined themselves forsaken. Yet was redemption nearer to them in Babylon than when at Jerusalem they insulted and disobeyed him. "All things work together for good to them that love God," ere.; "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15).
II. A REVELATION FULL OF WARNING AND ENCOURAGEMENT.
1. The enemies of the Church are not to presume upon her misfortunes.
2. The Church itself, although cast down and feeble, is to be of good courage, for it is not cast off. Adversity is not forsakenness. "Lo, I am with you alway." There is no room for presumption, for the chastisements of love have greater severities in store for aggravated guilt. But, relying on the grace of God, it may arise and recommence the mission it has forsaken. - M.
I. AN APPARENT FORSAKING. Israel looked forsaken. It was in exile, in captivity, and under the asserted judgment of Jehovah. We have always, to a certain extent, to accept the appearances of things. God's presence had been manifested in outward favour and prosperity, and what was more plausible than to say that the withdrawing of the favour and prosperity meant the withdrawing of God himself? But then it is forgotten that God's presence may be manifested in many ways. Outward prosperity is not essential to signify God's satisfaction with us. Nor must we infer that, because a backsliding Christian has fallen into trouble and misery, therefore God has forsaken him. The signs of man forsaking God are made very clear, so that there may be all possible incentives to repentance; but if God ever does forsake a man, leaving him utterly to his own folly and recklessness, no sign of it is given to us. There is quite enough already in our own wild fancies to make us desponding and despairing.
II. A PLAUSIBLE CAUSE FOR FORSAKING. The land of Israel was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel. Men think of God as they do of themselves. The patience of the human master soon gets exhausted with the servant who disobeys many commandments and obeys others in the most perfunctory way.
III. A REAL CAUSE FOR CLOSE ADHERENCE. That Israel, chosen and beloved of God, fills his land with sin, so far from being a reason for forsaking, is a reason for closer adherence than ever. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep in safety and goes into the wilderness after the lost one. If only men, brought at last to a sense of their wickedness and recklessness, could see how near God is to them, how ready and able to help, they would be filled with hope. "God is love," and therefore the greater our need the greater his nearness. The real difficulty is that we flee to the succours and solaces of self, and so the nearness of Cod, with all his suitable and ample supplies, is only too easily obscured.
IV. A FRESH MANIFESTATION OF THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL. Never does God's holiness so appear as when he is dealing with sinners in the way of long suffering, if perchance they will surrender at last and permit him to restore them to righteousness and peace. Surely God's holiness shines most in his greatest attribute, and that is love. God is marked off from all created things by his power and his righteousness, but most of all by his transcendent love. Here is the most glorious aspect of his holiness, that, no matter how much men may sin against him, neglect his will, and abuse his world, yet, when they are ready to turn, he is close at hand with everything prepared to receive them. - Y.
I. IN WHAT SENSE OBLIGATORY UPON THE CHILDREN OF GOD.
1. Spiritual detachment is always the duty of saints. In heart and life they are to be separate unto the Lord. Their motives, ulterior aims, and dispositions are to be such as the Holy Spirit creates and fosters. They obey the law of the resurrection life, and "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, setting their affection on things above, not on things on the earth" (Colossians 3:1, 2).
2. Physical removal may be requisite when
(1) all hope of saving or benefiting sinful men is at end; or
(2) there is danger that we snail yield to the temptations of their society, or encourage them in their evil courses, and thus share their curse. The Jews were to seek the peace of Babylon so long as that was possible; to share in civic life, business pursuits, and social intercourse, until this prophecy came to their knowledge.
II. THE MOTIVES AND AIMS THAT ARE TO INFLUENCE US IN DOING THIS, They are not selfish. It is only when spiritual interests are at stake. There must be no idleness or lingering when the call of duty comes. The Jew was to arise and seek his long forsaken land at once. His motives were:
1. Allegiance to God. He was to "remember the Lord afar off." God was indeed near to him, even there in Babylon. lie is to seek more closely to serve and honour him. And this ought ever to be the aim of Christians: "a closer walk with God." And if he be spiritually minded, he will feel the attraction of the Divine presence and the blessedness of the Divine communion, which far more than make up for temporal loss or sorrow incurred for conscience' sake. It is the special duty of Christians to call upon God and obey him when amongst those who do not know his Name.
2. The interests of the kingdom of God on earth. God sought to separate and sanctify to himself a peculiar people in olden time, that it might witness to his truth. He still seeks to gather a spiritual Church, whose communion consists of those who are redeemed by the blood of his Son. Through its manifold ministries he is carrying out the salvation of the world. Every Christian is bound to connect himself with it in some form or other, and to take his part in its worship and work. The language of the ancient exile might well be adopted by every member of the new Israel - Psalm 122; Psalm 137:5, 6. - M.
Genesis 19:15). And it seems to anticipate what was afterwards the fact - that many of the Jews would not care to go away from Babylon. Note -
I. WHO ARE TO ESCAPE. This word was not addressed to all. Many of God's people did "let Jerusalem come into their mind," and, as soon as ever opportunity was given them, they returned to their own land. But there were many who chose to stay. They had long dwelt in Babylon. They had got to like her rule, for they had prospered in this world's wealth. The surrounding idolatries did not "vex" their souls. They felt secure in her; they had become morally and spiritually enslaved. Hence they would not return with their brethren when the opportunity came. And how like is the position of men now! They are in bondage and spiritual captivity under the power of "the prince of this world." Some have heard the word and have escaped, but others care not to flee. They are content to be where and as they are.
II. WHENCE THEY ARE TO ESCAPE. Babylon stands for the kingdom of evil, which is ruled over by the spirit of evil. Now, that kingdom is fitly represented by Babylon. The power, the attractiveness, the fascination, the deceptiveness, the widespread and long continued rule of the one find their type and likeness in the other. And the unwillingness which was felt by the great majority of Jews to quit Babylon is paralleled by the more sad unwillingness to abandon that kingdom of evil which God is ever bidding us escape and flee from.
III. WHY WE ARE TO ESCAPE. It is "for our life." This cannot be taken literally of the Jews in Babylon. For, so far as this life was concerned, they prospered greatly under the Persian rule (cf. Book of Esther in proof). And their descendants lived on right down to the times of the apostles, and were those "of the dispersion" of whom we read in the New Testament. But for the most their national and spiritual life was lost by their disobedience to this command. They ceased to be Jews, and were absorbed in the heathen nations around. And, of course, their religious life perished at the same time (see histories of the Captivity). And so in regard to the spiritual analogies of these events. Men will not, do not, literally lose this life by refusing to come away from the kingdom of evil into the kingdom of God. On the contrary, they seem to flourish greatly. The prosperity of the ungodly has been a notorious and perplexing fact in all ages of the world, And it is a sore temptation and trial to those who feel the drawing of the kingdom of God. And the temptation can only be overcome by remembering that the life of the soul depends upon our obedience to this word. It is when the unseen and the eternal are seen by faith that the gloss and glamour of the world are seen at their real and poor value, and the solid worth of the kingdom of God is confessed and yielded to. The angels had to "hasten" even "just Lot," though the fire of the Lord was on the point of descending on "the cities of the plain." And how we need hastening now! How slow to believe that judgment is nigh! For with the advent of death that judgment begins to every soul that enters into eternity unforgiven and unsaved.
IV. HOW WE SHALL ESCAPE. The one all-essential question is - Do you really wish to? For if there be the genuine desire, the path of escape will be soon revealed. No directions are of any use until this desire be awakened in the soul. But where it exists, it will express itself in what the Bible calls "seeking the Lord." And, as this is continued, there will he deepened in the soul that hatred of sin and aspiration after holiness which lie at the root of all true religious life. Repentance will thus be formed within the soul, and will be fostered by careful obedience to the will of God as declared in his Word. But -
V. WHITHER SHALL WE ESCAPE? There is but one answer to this. To the Lord Jesus Christ. It is as we look up to him in lowly, earnest trust, renouncing all self-reliance, that the new life is begotten in us, and we are grafted in him, and so become "new creatures," as St. Paul tells, and so are we in the kingdom of God, and clean escaped from the kingdom of the evil one. We are pardoned, accepted, made possessors of the Holy Ghost and of eternal life. - C.
I. HOW THIS EXHORTATION TO THE INDIVIDUAL SETS BEFORE US CLEARLY THE GENERAL DOOM. All who stay in heedlessness and unbelief must perish. Particular inhabitants of Babylon have not to sin some special sin in order to bring destruction on themselves. All they have to do is just to go on in their buying, selling, and getting gain. So the natural man everywhere has just to go on within the common worldly limits and according to the common worldly traditions. Going on quietly accepting the position of the unregenerate, he will assuredly come to the end of such. "Out of Christ we may perish" is not the word to be said, but "Out of Christ we must perish."
II. GOD'S CONSTANT CONSIDERATION FOR THE INDIVIDUAL. Masses of men have to suffer because the great bulk of them will ever be heedless of the signs of danger. But every wise, foreseeing individual, in whose heart there are steady inclinings to the right, may escape. Certainly we cannot escape always involvement in temporal calamities. It might even be cowardly and selfish to run away from them. To run away from a temporal calamity might be the very way to bring on ourselves the severest spiritual calamity. But with respect to spiritual perils, in comparison with which temporal perils are mere trifles, every individual has his chance. He must have individuality of character in this matter, ability to see danger when others see none, and courage to flee when others stand still and laugh at him. Recollect that there may be flight in one sense, while in another sense things remain unchanged. We may remain in a community, and yet flee from all danger by avoiding its follies and its disobedience to God.
III. THE NEED FOR PROMPTITUDE AND DECISION. Not specified, promptitude is yet evidently implied. Flee at once; for if you wait until you can see danger, it may be too late. - Y.
I. EXPERIENCES OF SAVING GRACE AN OCCASION OF THANKSGIVING AND PRAISE. We owe thankful recognition to God for our creation, preservation, and the recurring, mercies of our temporal life; but there are stronger emotions awakened by the experiences of grace in the spiritual nature.
1. Notice some of these. This deliverance from Babylon. Conversion, or the rescue of the soul from the spiritual Babylon. The triumphs of the gospel; faithfulness of saints; increase of spiritual power and influence; preservation of Christian institutions in times of spiritual apathy or persecution; evangelization of heathen lands, etc. Special answers to prayer, or peace and comfort in private fellowship with our heavenly Father.
2. Their general character. "The Lord hath brought forth our righteousness" ("righteousnesses"). This deliverance was a great act of judgment. The cause of God's people was vindicated, and the guilt of Babylon avenged! (cf. Psalm 37:6). The whole world was witness of the character and meaning of the event. And this is the element in all the experiences of grace that awakens special thanksgiving - they are manifestations of Divine righteousness in the life of men; triumphs of truth and holiness and love.
II. THE SPECIAL DUTY TO WHICH THEY CALL US.
1. Declaring and interpreting God's work to men,
(1) by word;
(2) by work.
2. Public celebration in God's house. Zion was the most fitting and representative, place for such a duty. Public worship should be linked with the experiences of private devotion and the spiritual life. Public and common praise is the privilege and delight of Christians. - M.
I. WHAT THE LORD HATH DONE. "Brought forth our righteousness." Now, by this we may understand:
1. The Lord lath brought forth, made known, revealed, him who is our Righteousness (cf. homily on "The Lord our Righteousness," vol. 1. p. 527). By his representative character, what is done by him is as done by us. "We thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead" (2 Corinthians 5:14). There is nothing unreasonable in this. We are perpetually imputing to others what is not in them or but very faintly in them. We do so when we treat strangers with all kindness for the sake of those - some honoured and beloved ones - who commend them to us. We cause to flow over on them the worth and goodness of those by whom they are commended. They may not merely be strangers, but unworthy and evil, and yet, for the sake of others, we deal with them, not as they are, but as those are from whom they come. So is the Lord Jesus our Righteousness, blessed be his Name!
2. The Lord hath brought forth righteousness in us. But for him there would have been no righteousness at all. Some speak of "natural goodness." There is no such thing. All goodness, like all light, has but one source. Divines tell of ruined arches, stately pillars, etc., relies of the noble fabric that once was. But Scripture rather teaches that sin wrought death. If, then, there be aught that is beautiful and good, fair and righteous - and there is, and much - it is not a relic, but a new creation. It comes from him who is "the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1.; cf. James 1:16). And when a man yields up his soul to Christ, then - vitally grafted into him, the true Vine, and having become a living branch - he will more and more yield the fruit of righteousness, as he never did or could before.
3. The Lord hath brought forth his covenant. That is to say, he hath brought forth in his own mind, so as to remember, his covenant that he made (cf. Psalm 105:8-15; Psalm 111., etc.). It is ever declared to be on the ground of this covenant that God dealt well with his people. Now, that covenant had been, as it were, put out of the Divine mind by the multitude of their sins. But now he brings it forth again.
4. The Lord hath vindicated us. The enemies of the Lord blasphemed his people. Counted them as having no worth or goodness at all; as far inferior to all others. But, despised as his people were and condemned, now, by God's redemption of them, he was to bring forth their righteousness, vindicate them, on and before all (cf. Psalm 37:5-7). This, which he did for Israel, he will do for all his people - "will bring forth their righteousness as the light, and their judgment as the noonday."
II. WHAT, THEREFORE, SHOULD WE DO? "Come, and let us declare in Zion the work of the Lord our God." This is what we are to do.
1. Why should we do this? For the honour of God. It is his due. For our own soul's sake; to keep silence on what he has done for us is not only dishonouring to him, but disastrous to our own souls. For the encouragement of others, that they may be led to trust in him.
2. How should we do this? Openly: "Let us declare in Zion," etc. Not concealing our obligation, not refusing to confess him. Unitedly: "Come, and let us," etc. Join with them of a like mind. Heartily: calling on others to do the like, "Come," etc. In his Church: "In Zion." There taking our place, falling into rank in the army of the Lord. In the heavenly Zion the redeemed of the Lord never tire of thus declaring the work of the Lord. - C.
I. THAT WHICH HAS TO BE DECLARED. The work of Jehovah, the God of Israel, that work being the brining forth of what is described as "our righteousness." What, then, was this righteousness? We can only conjecture, but probably it was that righteousness, ever well pleasing to God, shown by those who believe in his promises and obey his directions. There was ample field for righteousness of this kind on the part of the Israelites in captivity; for had not God told them expressly, however unlikely the event might appear, that they would yet return to their former dwelling place? In due time there was to be a vindication of their faith. But out of that faith there is to be kept every element of self-glorification. It is man's blessedness, but not his praise, that he recognizes the certainty of what a promise keeping, omnipotent One will do for him. Declaring the work of God is always a satisfactory thing, for the work of God itself is always satisfactory. Well begun, thorough, completed, necessary work it is.
II. THOSE WHO DECLARE IT. Those who are the materials of the work and for whom the work is done. They are not mere bystanders and spectators. The sign that real Divine work is being done in a human heart comes when praise and acknowledgment of the great Worker is expressed. We are God's workmanship. It is he who extricates us from our confusions, nullifies the vain doings of the merely natural man, and makes us capable of actions that will abide and glorify him. It is part of God's very work to put into us the spirit of declaration, so that we perceive the change wrought in us, the Worker of it, the continuity of it, in short, all the good connected with it. And perceiving all this, how should we do other than declare in one mingled utterance the glory of God and our gratitude to him?
III. THE PLACE OF DECLARATION. In Zion, with its memories of Jehovah's presence in the past. Zion was a name to humble Israel, in the thought of former apostasy and idolatry; but Zion was nothing but glorious so far as Jehovah was concerned. Zion had been too long neglected, not indeed so far as a certain outward worship was concerned, but the worship of the heart was lacking. Now Zion would appear in an altogether new aspect. Instead of mere words, mere ritual routine, there was an acknowledgment of deeply felt benefit at the hands of God. The place of worship was the same, yet not the same, for the old scene had new associations. We may acknowledge God anywhere; we must acknowledge him everywhere; but yet there is a suitability in making certain acknowledgments in certain places. What could be more appropriate than to utter forth words of true spiritual recognition on that sacred spot where God had been so long misunderstood and defied? - Y.
I. THE RECOGNITION OF NATURAL RESOURCES. The great natural advantages of Babylon are allowed to the fullest extent. She stands on "the great river Euphrates." A great river for navigable purposes means prosperity to a city. There is also to be considered the facility of getting water for all the other purposes of life. The abundance of Babylon's treasures was in part a result of her dwelling on many waters. The waters helped to set off the magnificence and splendour of her buildings. Nothing is gained by minimizing the treasures of this world. Let them be displayed and acknowledged to their fullest extent (see Revelation 18.).
II. THESE RESOURCES CANNOT AVERT DOOM. The fact is that the abundance of these resources can only manifest itself in certain directions. There is abundance of that which ministers to carnal ambition and lust, abundance of that which feeds the pride of individuals and nations, abundance of that which gives merely human security against merely human attack. But when we come to consider the highest satisfactions and the greatest dangers, then we find scantiness instead of abundance. The many waters dry up into a shallow pool here and there. The characteristic of the abundance given by Christ is that it avails for all possible needs. Never can it be said to the Christian, livingly connected as he is with his heavenly treasures, that his end is come. Of his treasure, his blessedness, and his security, there shall be no end.
III. AN INDICATION OF WHAT MADE THESE RESOURCES SO DECEITFUL. They were, largely at least, the accumulations of covetousness. We must not look too closely at the magnificent houses of a great city, with their contents, or else we shall be speedily undeceived as to their real glory. We shall see how much greed and unjust gain and the grinding of the poor had to do with such buildings. Grand buildings for some men to live in can have no charm to the Christian eye, if a necessary condition for their existence is that many others should live in ruinous hovels. The just and loving God must look on splendid cities with a very different eye from the human one. And doing so, he must of necessity fix a limit to covetousness. Covetousness goes on adding to its treasures, until at last it excites the covetousness of others. And even apart from this, outward treasures, unduly esteemed, must in time corrupt the inward man. - Y.
I. THEY ARE RESOURCES IN JEHOVAH HIMSELF. It is from the very being of Jehovah that his works flow forth, whether these works be considered as illustrating his power, his wisdom, or his understanding. When a prophet of Jehovah has to speak of human resources, he speaks of things outside the man. Apart from the soil on which he stands, the world in which he lives, what can man do? His very body is derived from the soil, and to the soil returns. His chosen treasures, the things on which he leans, are treasures upon earth. But when a prophet comes to speak of Jehovah, he can think of him separated from all the visible and tangible. He does not depend on these things, for they would have had no existence but for him. We may, in a certain qualified sense, speak of human power, wisdom, and understanding; we must indeed use such terms, for some men are so weak that others must be spoken of as powerful, some so foolish that others must be spoken of as wise, some so shallow and ignorant that others must be spoken of as men of understanding. But the very power of a man reveals in time his essential weakness, his very wisdom his essential folly, his very understanding his essential ignorance. God alone is power, and in him is no weakness at all; God alone is wisdom, and in him no folly at all; God alone is understanding, and in him nothing of the limited and erroneous knowledge which is so often a humiliation to human pride.
II. THEY ARE RESOURCES UNITED IN ONE BEING. Judged according to human standards, some men are powerful, some men wise, and some are men of understanding; but very seldom, even according to the human standard, are all three qualities united in one man; and it is not very often that even two of them are found. Man may have power, mere muscular strength, the power of the athlete, the power of the ox, without anything worthy the name of wisdom. So there may be wisdom without power; and there may be a very high degree of wisdom apart from large knowledge or a powerful understanding. Men are made so that what is defective in one may be supplied by another. The greatest human works are done when the power of one is joined with the wisdom of a second and the understanding of a third. But with Jehovah all these qualities, in their highest degree, are found united in One. The only account after all that man can give of the making of matter is that it has been made by a God. And then his wisdom has reduced everything to order, arranged the world in all its grades, organisms, and mutual connections. The natural man comes nearest to God when he can combine the power of one, the wisdom of another, and the understanding of yet a third, to make as it were one new man for the doing of special work; and the spiritual man comes nearest to God when, still preserving his individuality of action, he exchanges for his natural weakness the spiritual power of Christ, for his natural folly the spiritual wisdom of Christ, and for his often useless and deluding knowledge of the things of this world that knowledge which comes in the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. - Y.
I. THE NAME BY WHICH JEHOVAH IS HERE INDICATED. The Portion of Jacob. So the psalmist says, "My flesh and my heart faileth... but God is my Portion forever" (Psalm 73:26; see also Psalm 16:5). Men had their appointed portions, and no doubt they varied in value. But few were those who could rise above mere external things and look on the invisible God as their real Portion. And yet these were the only ones who had a portion and inheritance in the fullest sense of the words. For only so were they lifted above all temptation to envy, and above all the consequences of terrestrial impairments and losses. True, we have an inheritance of invisible and everlasting things, of which the present visible possessions give the preparatory conditions; but to possess these things we must possess God, must be sure of his interest, his spiritual providence, his sufficiency, for only in him can even spiritual possessions have their beginning and continuance. Nor must we fail to note what may be called the mutual character of this portion and inheritance. Jehovah being the Portion of Jacob, it is equally true that Jehovah's portion is his people (Deuteronomy 32:9). Even the best possessions of a natural man are not mere legal property, not mere intellectual knowledge, but those human beings whom he can call friends. Such a one is rich according to the quality of his friends, those on whom he has claims and who have claims on him. He is rich according to the opportunities he has of getting service from them; richer still according to his opportunities for rendering service, on the principle that it is more blessed to give than to receive. And so God will be our Inheritance just in proportion as we are God's inheritance. We cannot get satisfaction out of God unless he is getting satisfaction out of us. Our faith, our obedience, our devotion, are the conditions of his peculiar and richest bounty.
II. THE CONTRAST OF JACOB'S PORTION WITH THE PORTION OF OTHERS. They inherit a barren land. It may look promising; it may yield the appearance of fruit; but real and abiding fruit there is none. Babylon has taken Bel for its portion, and now the portion and the possessors are alike turned to confusion. Indeed, the portion has vanished into nothingness; for never was it anything but a name, an imposing fiction, a proof both of man's need of a portion and how incompetent he is to make such a portion for himself. But Jehovah always remains a Portion. The typical Jacob, the typical people of God that is, were unable to keep Jehovah as their Portion; they never had any real grasp of him, never more than the merest external acquaintance. But for those who can lay bold of him he is surely a Portion still. - Y.
I. THE WITNESS OF HISTORY to the truth that God's people are his "battle axe and weapons of war." "I came not to send peace upon earth, but a sword," said Jesus, and in the same sense as this verse declares that word is true. "Magna est veritas, et prevalebit," is another rendering of the same fact.
1. Before the birth of Christ the pure monotheistic faith of Israel had, after their captivity, begun its iconoclastic work. Over large portions of the then civilized world that faith began to permeate and cleave its way. So that the old idolatries were in many places stricken with a mortal blow before even he was proclaimed who was to draw all men unto him.
2. The downfall of paganism. Notwithstanding the many accretions of error and superstition with which the pure faith of Christ so soon became encumbered, there yet remained inherent in it and inseparable from it such vital and mighty energy that it smote as with a "battle axe" one falsehood after another, until they were well nigh all slain. The forces against her in that ancient world were simply tremendous, but the Church went forth conquering and to conquer. In vain the scorn of the great, the fires of awful persecution, the power of venerable superstition; in vain the hindrances which she herself put in her own way; the Church was still God's destroying power against the false religions of that age, until at length the last emperor of Rome who endeavoured to revive paganism, Julian - whom a corrupt hierarchy malignantly branded as "the apostate," though, in fact, he was less apostate than themselves - confessed with his dying breath, "O Galilaean, thou hast conquered!" In all that long and heart-stirring conflict this declaration of the prophet was illustrated again and again.
3. In the Reformation. Not alone in those nations in which the Reformation principles took root, but in the Church of Rome herself, was the error and evil destroying power of the truth that dwelt in the hearts of God's people made manifest. See in such a book as Ranke's 'History of the Popes' what vast difference and improvements were brought about in the Catholic Church itself by the awful discipline through which she had then to pass. Whatever stern censures may have to be passed on that Church since the days of the Reformation - and they are neither few nor light - yet candour must admit that they are far fewer and far lighter than those which the outraged conscience of Christendom heaped upon her in the generations before.
4. In all missionary and evangelistic triumphs over heathendom.
II. THE WITNESS OF INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE. We are wont to speak of the truth of God as "mighty to the pulling down of the strongholds of sin and Satan." This is a Christian commonplace. And is it not true? What but this battle axe slew the giant sins that ruled and oppressed in each soul?
III. THE SECRET OF THIS FORCE. What makes the Church God's battle axe? We answer:
1. The truth that sustains her. The truth concerning God and our relations to him - he our Father and we all his children.
2. The spirit that animates her; not one of hate or disregard to man, as was common before Christ came, but love - love even towards the vilest for Christ's sake.
3. The rule that regulates her. The heathen looked on with amazement at the blamelessness of life and the sanctity of character which the faith of the Church produced, and they felt and owned its power.
4. The love that constrains her. She ever "bore about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus," and, mindful of that, she shrank from no suffering and refused no service.
5. The hope that cheers her. She wrought, not for a corruptible crown, but an incorruptible; and the hope, "that blessed hope," of her Lord's appearing to receive and reward his people, cheered them on amid the awful sufferings which they were called on to bear. And still it is in proportion as these mighty motives animate the Church in the individual soul that faithful and effectual service is done for Christ against the many and mighty adversaries of God with which the world abounds. - C.
I. ITS TRUTH CONFESSED. When Jerusalem was taken the captain of Nebuchadnezzar's army avowed that what had happened was of God (cf. Jeremiah 40:2). So afterwards when, by the Roman army, Jerusalem was again captured, as our Lord foretold it would be, then too we have it on record that a like avowal was made by the leader of the Roman armies. And so here in regard to Babylon, no other conclusion could be come to. So vast was the power of Babylon that only the Divine opposition could explain the calamities that came upon her. And so when we see nations, Churches, men, that have every worldly advantage nevertheless brought low, as Rome was by the Goths, we can account for it only by this fact - "I am against thee."
II. ITS FATALITY SHOWN. If empires like Babylon cannot stand when God is against them, who else can stand? "If these things be done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" If the mightiest fall beneath the Divine opposition, who of lesser power can hope to endure? "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." He is sure to if these do.
III. ITS CONCLUSION EVIDENT. Send an embassage and seek conditions of peace (Luke 14:31). "Be ye reconciled unto God." "Acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace." - C.
I. THE DESTROYING MOUNTAIN. The mountain is a very fitting symbol of a people eminent among the nations and seeming easily to dominate over them. In such a symbol there is involved the undisputed assertion of superiority. The mountain looks down on the plains, and the plains accept the position. But whereas, in nature, the mountain looks down upon the plains with a mingling of benefits and injuries, of which even the injuries are seen to be benefits when looked at more closely, here we have a destroying mountain spoken of - a mountain that destroys the whole earth. God is against Babylon, not merely for the hurt it has inflicted on his own people, but because destruction is the very element in which it lives. Wheresoever Babylon came it brought spoliation, enslavement, and misery. Men and nations are made eminent that, like the mountains in the natural world, they may communicate good everywhere. But if they form destroying purposes then their very eminence increases their destroying power. The mountain that by its very elevation helps to distribute pleasant and profitable waters over the face of the earth, when turned to a volcano is just as well placed for sending down the lava torrents.
II. ITS UTTER DESTRUCTION. That which must be considered first of all is the safety of the whole earth. It is God's way to uproot all that menaces the security and peace of his universe. To impair and enfeeble is not enough; the evil thing must be destroyed. And this is possible because it is God who is against it. He can destroy and obliterate where men would not for a moment dream of such a possibility. Did not Jesus tell his disciples that great mountains could be plucked up and cast into the sea, great obstacles and great menaces to Christian progress be utterly removed? And here the prophet signifies the completeness of the destruction by asserting that Babylon shall become as a mountain reduced as it were to mere ashes. To that mountain men have been in the habit of resorting to find corner stones and foundation stones, but such is their resort no longer. There is complete destruction of the enemies of God's people, and of course this implies complete safety of God's people themselves. (For a corresponding metaphor, see Isaiah 30:14.) - Y.
I. THIS UTTERANCE DOES NOT REPROACH THE WOMAN, BUT THE MAN. Woman has her natural limitations. Her usual place is not in the battlefield or on the walls of the attacked city. An army of women against an army of men would be an unnatural, a revolting spectacle. But this very difference between the proper place of women and the proper place of men intensifies the reproach against a man when it can truly he said of him that he has become as a woman. Those qualities which in a woman are womanly in a man are only effeminate.
II. THE CORRESPONDING POSSIBLE REPROACH UPON WOMEN. A woman must not allow it to be said of her that she has become as a man. She must never forget the limitations and duties of her sex. Yet on the other hand, she must not be too ready to accept common opinion in interpreting those limitations and duties.
III. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN IT MAY BE THE GREATEST HONOUR TO A MAN TO BECOME AS A WOMAN. There are times when the strength of the man, without being lost, becomes unnoticed because of the presence of a woman-like tenderness. And of course there is the corresponding truth that woman may be honoured in becoming as the man, else where would be the fame of Joan of Arc and the Maid of Saragossa? Both men and women alike must have the courage to face mere external reproaches. Nothing is easier than to taunt a man with being unmanly and a woman with being unwomanly, but if only men and women alike persevere in what they feel to be fight, they will in due time escape from the region of baseless taunts. After all, the humanity common to men and women alike is greater than peculiarities of sex. In Jesus Christ there is neither male nor female. - Y.
Similar language has been used of Israel as is here used of Babylon (cf. Isaiah 21:10; Isaiah 41:15). Israel's sins had been the seed of that harvest, and it was a terrible one. All the sorrows of the invasion and destruction of their beloved land and city, their holy city, Jerusalem, and all those which were associated with and sprang out of their bitter exile in Babylon, were but parts of that harvest and strokes of "the bruising flails of God's corrections." But here it is Babylon that is spoken of (cf. Isaiah 21. for a yet earlier prediction of Babylon's fall). She had sown the seed; the cup of her iniquity was full ere the harvests and threshings told of here came upon her. "Dissolute and luxurious in their habits, the Babylonians hid under their soft luxurious exterior a fierceness, an insatiable lust for blood, such as marked many Eastern tribes - such, for instance, as we ourselves have found in 'the mild Hindoo.' The Hebrew prophets describe them as 'a bitter and hasty,' a 'terrible and dreadful' people, 'fiercer than the evening wolves,' a people who 'made the earth tremble and did shake kingdoms.'" They conquered well nigh all the kingdoms of the then known world; they pillaged every country they conquered, and often went far to depopulate the countries they pillaged. In Judaea, for instance, the land became a mere haunt of wild beasts after the Babylonians had subdued it, and from Jerusalem they pillaged even the sacred vessels of the temple. Hence to Isaiah they appeared as "the spoiler spoiling, and the destroyer destroying." And besides all this, there seems to have been an inherent and ineradicable wickedness in the nation itself, or it could hardly have been selected, as it is, as the type of all that is abominable and hateful in the sight of God. For many a generation and century she had been spared. From the beginning to the end of the Bible we read of her. In her decayed greatness there was a little Christian Church there, of which St. Peter tells (1 Peter 5:19). But up to the time of the Exile, and during far the grater portion of it, Babylon seemed only to advance in splendour, in wealth, and power. But at length the time of her harvest - an awful time, indeed - came, and in the sorrows connected with her capture and overthrow, and in the hard and hated rule of her Persian lords, there was the "threshing" of which both Isaiah and Jeremiah tell The contemplation of it filled the Prophet Isaiah with an unspeakable horror: "My loins are filled with pain: pangs have taken hold on me" (Isaiah 21:3, 4). Jew as he was, he could not behold the dread vision of what was to come on Babylon without deep anguish. She "must have filled in his thoughts much the place which Rome held in the mind of a cultivated Spaniard or Carthnginian of the early Christian centuries. To him the Medes and Persians, plunging down from their unknown, mysterious mountain fastnesses upon the wealthy Babylonian plain, must have seemed much as the Goths and Vandals morned to the more civilized races of Europe, when they came pouring down the Alps, to carry sword and fire through the storied plains of Italy. The whole Christian world shuddered when Rome fell; and as her fall to the modern so was the fall of Babylon to the ancient world." Harvest and threshing: these images of the barn commonly suggest that which is peaceful and joyous; but here they tell of the reverse of that - of horror and woe unspeakable. Learn, therefore -
I. SINS ARE SEEDS WHICH MAY HAVE A LATE, BUT SHALL SURELY HAVE A LARGE AND TERRIBLE HARVEST.
II. RELUCTANT AS GOD MAY BE TO AFFLICT THE CHILDREN OF MEN, HE WILL NOT SPARE A SINGLE STROKE SO LONG AS THEY CLING TO THE EVILS WHICH DEGRADE AND DESTROY THEM.
III. THE JUDGMENTS AND PUNISHMENTS OF GOD ARE NOT VINDICTIVE AND FINAL, BUT THE "THRESHINGS OF THE CORN OF HIS FLOOR" (Isaiah 21:10). The separation, that is, of the evil from the good, the worthless from that which is precious and shall be preserved forevermore. - C.
I. MAN'S EFFORT TO SUPPLY HIS NEED. There are the springs breaking forth among the hills and inviting men freely to use them. But there are also the wells men dig for themselves. Men must have water, yet they cannot always go and live by the natural springs, and so where they have to live they dig wells, and wonderfully do they succeed oftentimes in getting what they want. Water comes apparently in exhaustless abundance. Thus it is with the natural resources which man strives to obtain for himself. They open out before him far larger than any present wants. And thus when man sees all this within his reach, he naturally devises great undertakings on the strength of such great resources.
II. THE SELFISH USE OF HIS SUCCESS. It not unfrequently happens that the man who digs a well for himself does it at the expense of others, making their wells to run dry. The thing may be done unintentionally, or almost on a commonly accepted principle of every one looking out for himself; still it is to be looked on as pure selfishness. The resources of Babylon were increased by diminishing the resources of other peoples, This is a point to be always looked at in estimating men of large resources, namely, how far those resources have been gained by leaving others without resource at all or with but a scanty one.
III. GOD'S REMOVAL OF HIS RESOURCES. "I will make her springs dry." God can dry up all humanly provided wells. We must not boast ourselves of their number, their depth, or the ease with which they keep to a certain level in spite of all drains upon them. Powerful nations, proud of their history and their achievements, need to remember this Divine interference. Men, looking hack on a long course of individual success, need to remember the same. One can imagine a city in a time of siege, thoroughly provisioned, knowing exactly how much it had for food, and not troubling itself at all about drink, seeing that it had a deep well, the waters of which showed hardly any difference even in the driest summer. Yet all at once that well may fail, and, however large the other supplies, thirst will compel surrender. God dries up all wells that have been dug in covetousness and injustice.
IV. THE IMPLICATION OF OTHER ENDURING RESOURCES. "With thee is the fountain of life," says the psalmist (Psalm 36:9). We must look, not to the wells of our own digging, but to the springs from the everlasting hills. Especially we must catch the spirit of Psalm 87. There the psalmist praises Zion, and finishes up by saying, "All my springs are in thee." Let our springs be in the holy and abiding mount of God (Hebrews 12:22). - Y.
I. THE SINNER WILL WEEP AND WAIL. This is the constant declaration of the Word of God. "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Would that the sinner would look steadily on to the end, and so consider his ways!
II. HUMAN NATURE, IN SYMPATHY WITH THE SINNER'S WOES, WILL SORROW. (Cf. Isaiah 21:10.) We have need to be on our guard against this. In the present day our sympathy with the suffering leads us to forget the causes and the blessed results that come from the judgment of God. No criminal is ever condemned to die but at once there are those who strive to get his punishment remitted. It is a false sympathy and needs to be resisted.
III. BUT HEAVEN AND EARTH REJOICE. Cf. the many psalms in which we are called on to rejoice because the Lord "cometh to judge the earth." The grounds of this joy are:
1. Righteousness is vindicated.
2. The oppressed are delivered.
3. Men will learn righteousness.
4. They that are judged will be brought to a better mind.
5. The kingdom of God will more speedily come. - C.
I. ALL IN CHRIST ARE SPARED ONES. Spared from:
1. The condemnation due to sin.
2. The abiding tyranny of sin.
3. The crushing power of sorrow.
4. The misery of alienation from God.
5. The might of death.
II. TO SUCH THIS THREEFOLD CHARGE IS ADDRESSED.
1. They are to "go away, stand not still." As Israel from Babylon that had enslaved them, so these from the sins which. God has forgiven them. "Let him that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." Many Jews despised this charge, and stayed on in Babylon. Some not merely stayed in Babylon as Jews, but probably far more of them were "mingled with the heathen, and learned their ways." "Evil communications corrupt good manners." Even those who disobeyed only the letter of the command suffered, whilst those who disobeyed both the letter and the spirit were simply lost, cut off from the house of Israel. And they who have received Christ, if they do not break away from their old sins and from all that would hold them in bondage to such sins, will lose their religion and are in sore peril of apostatizing from Christ. Therefore let such put further and further distance between themselves and their former life, lest again they be entangled and. overcome.
2. To "remember the lord afar off." In their sin and misery God seemed afar off to Israel. "My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God" - such was their grievous lament. But they were to remember him, turn their thoughts and prayers toward him, and believingly wait his promised answer. And to the believer now "it doth not yet appear what we shall be;" we are far off from that; but we are to remember the Lord, though we be yet in condition and character so far off from him. Remember him in our meditations, prayers, purposes, and aims; wait on him, and so renew our strength.
3. "Let Jerusalem come into your mind." How blessed to be there! how she demands our earnest service! - her joys, her sanctity, her children, her employ; our place there prepared for us, and our preparation for the place. So remember her, and so be delivered from being wearied and faint in our minds. - C.
I. THE EMPIRE OF SIN HAS SUCH WALLS. Those referred to here may be taken as a type of them. They were:
1. To separate. Have we not proof of this in the wide distance, the invincible barriers, Which keep the ungodly from sympathizing, associating, or in any way uniting, with the people of God? The kingdom of evil remains shut up from the kingdom of God. Mansoul cannot be entered by way of the gates; the messengers of the King seek admission, but cannot obtain it. And hereafter the Reparation will continue (cf. Luke 16., "Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed"). Separation, which is voluntary now, becomes involuntary then.
2. For security. A terrible security it is. In vain do the ambassadors of God endeavour to penetrate within those walls. In vain do his soldiers seek to scale them and his weapons of war to destroy them. The strong man armed keepeth his goods in peace. What minister of Christ has not again and again retired baffled from before these broad walls, so high, so strong, so impregnable?
3. For enjoyment. The broad walls of cities such as Babylon were places for pleasant walking for recreation and enjoyment. So does the sinner's fancied security lull his soul to rest, make him cry, "Peace, peace!" when there is no peace. But -
II. THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS ITS BROAD WALLS. (cf. Nehemiah 3:8, where we read of the broad walls of Jerusalem.) Let us see to it that we maintain and preserve those walls.
1. For separation. Let us not seek to come close to the world, in its habits, maxims, spirit, behaviour. Keep the wall broad, strong: high. We cannot serve God and mammon. Let there be no attempt at compromise. And these walls are also.
2. For security. If we do not maintain them we run great risk for ourselves. Tampering with sin is perilous work. And let us not think that we are more likely to win the world by such breaking down of the broad walls. The result is all the other way. See how broad a wall Christ maintained between himself and the world. God has built these walls. His power, his wisdom, his love, his promise, are all portions of these walls by which his Church is guarded and against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.
3. For enjoyment. What comfort there is in the thought of them, of the sure defence, the wall of fire, which God will be to his people! And on these walls, as we "walk about Zion, and go round her, and tell the towers thereof," what rest, what communion one with another, and what bright prospects are ours! The broad walls of Babylon shall be "broken down;" but these are eternal. Are we within them? - C.
I. THE FACT THAT EVIL IS WRITTEN AS WELL AS SPOKEN. The evils that Jehovah denounced against Babylon were such as could be written in a book, because the denunciations were not those of selfish and hasty passion, but expressed the calm wrath of a righteous God. The judgment on Babylon arose from the necessity of the position. A righteous God could not have acted otherwise. What a difference between his words in anger and our words! If all our angry, hasty, petulant words were perforce written in a book, what a record of shame there would be! Such a consequence of their utterance might make us a little more cautious, but still the words would come at times. If we are to understand what it is to be really angry and sin not, we must look at the deliberate records of Jehovah's wrath in the Scriptures. We are glad that our angry words should be forgotten; God, so to speak, takes trouble that his words should be remembered.
II. THE NECESSITY THAT THESE WORDS SHOULD BE WRITTEN. It is not enough that the words might be written - there had to be a reason for the writing. This is found in the necessity for doing all that could be done by way of warning and preparation. What was written could be shown first to one and then another. There was a necessity that even people of Babylon themselves should have ample opportunity to profit by the words spoken against their city. A necessity too in history. The fall of Babylon is a remarkable event in history, altogether outside of Scripture records, but the real secret of its fall is only to be known when we read such solemn and sustained predictions as are found in these two chapters.
III. GOD'S DENUNCIATIONS ARE NOT HIS ONLY WRITTEN WORDS. God has to write down his threatenings, but we are bound to remember that they are only a part - and how small a part they are! - of the total that he has caused to be written. How different he is in this respect from men! Their threatenings and angry words would sometimes fill a goodly volume, but their words of kindness and long suffering, on, now few are they! God's delight is to cause words of grace and premises of reward to be written. - Y.
I. GOD'S POWER OF UTTER DESTRUCTION. The impossibility of discovering this stone has to be considered relatively. Strictly speaking, it might perhaps have been recovered if it had been worth while. But for all practical purposes it was finally lost. Here is the difference between human destructions and the Divine destruction. Babylon is a wilderness still. Where God has chosen to make special marks of his wrath with the unrighteousness of men there rests a blight which no human effort can overcome; and generally speaking there is no disposition to overcome it. But where destruction comes simply through human passion and power there may be comparatively speedy recovery. This is a side of war on which we do well to reflect. Wars, with all their terrible accompaniments, may do something to get rid of some evils, and may thus be the condition of great good. Man cannot destroy where God wills to preserve. But where God destroys he destroys finally, and it is just this dreadful possibility of final ruin that should make men cautions in their estimate of the future, and prompt to turn from all evil and selfish paths.
II. THE CHEERING SIDE OF GOD'S UTTER DESTRUCTIONS. With God destruction always means salvation. Destruction is never for its own sake, never an arbitrary, aimless thing. All Divine destruction must be looked on as part of the process of salvation. Nations are scattered, human institutions overthrown, the temporal life of individuals ended, but the individual man in his abiding relations to God remains. This stone lost in one sense was not lost in another. Nay, it was serving a higher purpose than any it could have served simply as a stone. It became a teacher, and it is a teacher still. Abel, being dead, yet speaketh. And this stone from the bottom of Euphrates speaks still, warning all ambitious men and all neglecters of the commandments and predictions of Jehovah. - Y.
The weariness of sin.
I. WEARINESS IS ALWAYS PAIN. It may be of the body, and then exhaustion and fatigue render exertion any longer only so much torture. Or of the mind. The brain becomes dazed, bewildered, incapable of effort. Or of the heart - that which is caused by disappointment, ingratitude, unfulfilled desire, hopelessness. Or that of the soul, which is the weariness told of here. But in all cases it is full of pain.
II. WEARINESS IS A UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE. The child of God is often weary. Such are exhorted not to be "weary in well doing," the exhortation implying the more than possibility of such weariness being experienced. And our Saviour knew this weariness - never of, but often in, his work. In a world like this there are causes enough for such weariness to lay hold on the servants of God. But if they know weariness, yet more do the children of this world; for -
III. THE WORST WEARINESS IS THAT OF SIN. For a while the enjoyment which springs from sin may so intoxicate and dazzle the wrong doer that he will laugh at the idea of weariness, and declare that his is the alone path of pleasure and good. But after a while that ceases, and then comes satiety and weariness.
1. The causes of this are:
(1) Negative. In serving sin we have not those great aids to endurance and restoration of strength which are ever present to the child of God. The servant of sin has no high and noble motive, no worthy motive at all, in what he does. The motives of affection, of duty, of gratitude, of love, which sustain so mightily the mind of the Christian, - these are all lacking in the servant of sin. Good hope also cheers the child of God; but what harvest can the sinner expect to reap? It is such as he dares not, and therefore will not, contemplate. The communion of the Spirit of God - that Spirit who "giveth songs in the night," is present to the Christian, and in the deepest distress enables him to rejoice. But nought of this can the ungodly know in their hard work and service. Drawing near to God is another aid of the child of God. For -
"We may kneel and cast our load,
(2) But there are positive causes of weariness in the service of sin. Jesus said, "Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children." His cup of woe was bitter, but theirs would be more bitter still. Now, the positive causes of the weariness of sin are such as these. The powerlessness of sin to minister pleasure continually. The goadings of conscience, which will not be silent. God's judgments - so full of pain, so inevitable, so irremediable, as these on Babylon. The hopelessness of sin's outlook - nothing but a fearful looking for of judgment.
2. The effects of this weariness are seen in such as Saul and Judas, and in the myriad others who have sought, in self-destruction or by wild plunging into yet deeper sins, to escape that weariness which tracks their footsteps continually. Well might Paul ask, "What profit had ye in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?" Who would begin a career that ends in such a way? What an argument such facts furnish for seeking, if haply we may find it:
3. The cure of all such weariness! The child of God knows it well. The ungodly may know it too if they will. It consists in submission to that Lord who says to all such, "Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden," etc. There alone is the cure. - C.