Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. They are the choice fruit of the land - wholesome, fragrant, delicious. The ideal Israel is compared to "grapes" and "the first ripe in the fig tree" (Hoe. 9:10). The Lord "taketh pleasure" in such; they satisfy the hunger of the Divine heart for godliness in the creature (Psalm 147:11; Psalm 149:4; Proverbs 11:20). So far as they share the spirit of Christ, they are, like him, "beloved of God," and should be attractive to men.
2. They are the salt of the earth - the one element that preserves from universal corruption. The picture presented to us is the gradual dying out of the godly; they "cease" (Psalm 12:1), they "perish" (Isaiah 57:1). Some few remain, "two or three in the top of the uttermost bough," which were not touched, or those unripe which were but imperfect and poor, or those which had fallen, "and thus were fouled and stained, and yet were not utterly carried away." The promise, "Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children" (Psalm 45:16), is no longer fulfilled. The sons and daughters of the godly do not rise up to fill their places in the Church The few godly survivors are heard lamenting and longing for the pious companions of former days; "my soul desireth the first ripe fig" (desiderio tam cari capitis). The fewer the good that remain, the more difficult it is for them to retain the fervour of their piety. Embers dispersed soon die out. It is hard to keep up a June temperature under December skies. From this dearth of the godly many evils follow. There is a loss of confidence, first in spiritual fellowship, and then in social relations (ver. 5). There is a loosening of the most sacred family bends. Depravity and degradation become deeper and darker (vers. 3, 4). The little remnant of God's servants are increasingly depressed and discouraged: "Woe is me!" (cf. Psalm 120:5; Isaiah 6:5). This results from constant contact with sin and from the heart-sickness which it causes; "great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart" (Romans 9:2). Thus we learn:
1. The greatest calamity to a nation is not war, pestilence, or famine, but the withholding of the Spirit of grace to convert the hearts of men, and consequently the dying out of the righteous. The famine of bread is bad; the famine "of hearing the words of the Lord" is worse. But worst of all is the dearth of living witnesses for God in the land.
2. The winning of souls to God is the greatest wisdom and the most enlightened patriotism.
3. The welfare of a nation is bound up with the living God, the true Church, and believing prayer. - E.S.P.
I. THE DEPARTURE OF EXCELLENCE FROM HIS COUNTRY. "The good man is perished out of the earth." Who are the good men referred to here is not known. The statement is put in general terms, and may imply merely that there are no good men to be found in the country. Or do the words, as some think, point especially to Hezekiah, Josiah, or to good men unknown to fame? They had, however, departed. Whether they had emigrated to distant lands or gone into the great eternity, is not said. The latter is the more probable idea. In any case, the departure of such men is a great loss - a loss which true patriots may well bemoan. Good men are the "lights of the world." They are the "salt of the earth." Their influence penetrates the mass, counteracts its tendency to corruption, removes its moral insipidity, gives it a new spirit - a spirit pungent and savoury. They are the conservators of the good and the peaceful reformers of the bad. "Perished out of the earth." It does not say, "perished out of being." They had left the land, but not the universe. They were thinking, feeling, active still. There is a sense, indeed, in which they could not perish out of the land. Good men leave behind them principles, ideas, a character, which will live and spread and work to the end of time.
II. THE RAMPANCY OF AVARICE IN HIS COUNTRY. The workings of avarice are Indicated in the latter end of the second and two following verses.
1. Here we have its working amongst the general community. "They all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net." To get wealth for themselves was with them such a furious passion, that the rights and lives of others were disregarded. Their avarice was as ravenous as the passion of a wild beast. Nay, they looked upon men only as victims for their prey. Does not this avarice work thus in English society? Man has come to value man just in proportion as he can render him service, enrich his exchequer, and advance his aggrandizement. What nets are spread out in every street, in every mart and office, in every journal, in order to catch men! "They hunt every man."
2. Here we have its working amongst the higher classes. "That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward; and the great man, he uttereth his mischievous desire: so they wrap it up." The idea seems to be this - that the "great man," the "prince," for some corrupt motive, seeks the condemnation of some innocent person; and the "judge," for a bribe, gratifies his wish. A judge from avarice will pronounce an innocent man guilty. All this is done very industriously "with two hands." The business must be despatched as soon as possible, lest some event should start up to thwart them; and when it is done "they wrap it up." "So they wrap it up." Avarice, like all sinful passions, seeks to wrap up its crimes. But the Authorized Version is probably wrong, and the rendering should be "they weave it together," i.e. join in plotting (see Exposition).
III. THE MISCHIEVOUSNESS OF THE BEST IN HIS COUNTRY. "The best of them is as a briar: the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge." There is a gradation of wickedness of the men in the country, but the best of them is like a prickly thorn and worse than a thorn hedge. The prophet is so struck with this that the thought of retribution takes hold of him, and he says, "The day of thy watchmen and thy visitation cometh; now shall be their perplexity."
IV. THE LACK OF TRUTHFULNESS IN THE COUNTRY. "Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide," etc. "Place no faith in a companion; trust not a familiar friend; from her that lieth in thy bosom guard the doors of thy mouth. For the son despiseth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man's enemies are the members of his own family" (Henderson). All social faith was gone; a man had lost all confidence in his brother. social scepticism and suspicion prevailed in all circles. No faith was to be put in a friend. The very lips were to be sealed. No confidence in the wife, no longer was she to be treated as an object of trust. No confidence in the son, the daughter, or the mother. The nearest relations were counted as enemies, "A man's enemies are the men of his own house."
CONCLUSION. Such were the evils over which this patriotic prophet pours forth his lamentations. What right-hearted man would not bewail such a moral corruption in his country? Jeremiah said, "Oh that mine head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night!" etc. Paul said, "Would that I were accursed!" etc. Christ said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!" etc. It is the characteristic of a true patriot that he feels a deeper concern for the moral state of his country than for its educational or commercial condition. - D.T.
1. Unity of purpose. They are men of one idea - how to please themselves. As they have abandoned all thought of seeking their pleasure in doing the will of God, and doing "good unto all men;" they concentrate their energies, "both hands," on gratifying every desire whatever the cost may be.
2. Perversion of conscience. We are reminded of this by Jerome's rendering, "They call the evil of their hands good." They speak of the evil done as "well done." They could hardly be so earnest in sin unless they had in some way perverted conscience. Some of the forms of iniquity disclosed in vers. 3-6 imply this. And certainly this is one of the most fatal results of sinning. Acts of sin form habits of sinning which react on the judgment and pervert it till the doom is incurred, "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil!" etc. (Isaiah 5:20).
3. A conspiracy of men of influence. We expect a certain amount of crime and moral obliquity in what has been called the residuum of society; but profligacy in high places is a scandal and "a reproach to any people." See Jeremiah's experience (Jeremiah 5:1-5). Wherever the infection began, it has spread now to the court and the judgment hall: "Death is entered into our palaces." There is such a dearth of good men (vers. 1, 2) that the restraint of their protests, or even of the silent testimony of their presence, is awanting. The princes expect bribes, or "black mail." The judges judge for reward. The testimony of contemporaneous and later prophets on this point is very strong (Isaiah 1:23; Ezekiel 22:27; Hosea 4:18; Amos 5:12). And they veil these crimes under milder names. The prince demands, but calls it "asking." The judge's bribe is called a reward for service rendered. The great man hesitates not to "utter his mischievous desire" in the presence of meaner men, who, he knows, will be ready enough to carry it out, if they can thus curry favour with him or earn money, though it be the price of blood; "thus they weave it together" (Revised Version). Illustrate by the conspiracy of Ahab, Jezebel, and the elders and nobles in the robbery and murder of Naboth.
4. We see this infection extending to the most sacred scenes of family life. What a terrible picture is suggested by vers. 5, 61 The great men who have conspired in crime carry the contagion home with them. They cannot leave their sin on the threshold, like an infected garment. Their children catch the plague. Even a wife is not above suspicion. Thus curses come home to roost. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children. Families are demoralized. "The end of those things is death." Learn.
1. Earnestness is not in itself an excellent thing. The devil is terribly in earnest, "going about as a roaring lion," etc. (1 Peter 5:8). False teachers are sometimes more earnest than the true. "They zealously seek you in no good way" (Galatians 4:17). Earnestness may be as glowing as a fire, and as destructive.
2. Earnest sinners should be a motive and stimulus to the servants of Christ. If they are so eager in the work of destruction, what manner of persons ought we to be in the work of salvation? Yet some move neither hand, but stand all the day idle. Others are half-hearted, and therefore ply their work with but one hand, not devoting all their faculties to him whom they own as both Redeemer and Lord. Illustrate from King Joash's interview with Elisha (2 Kings 13:14 19). Loyalty to our Saviour-King demands concentration of energy and enthusiasm of devotion, that we may do good "with both hands earnestly." - E.S.P.
Judges 14:20), and her that "lay in his bosom." David had found his confidence betrayed by the men of Judah (1 Samuel 23:12, 19), by Joab (2 Samuel 3:22-39), by Ahithophel, and by Absalom. As it was in the days of Micah, so would it be in the days of Jesus Christ, when many of his disciples would go back and walk no more with him, and when an apostle would betray him. No wonder that some of his servants are called to a similar experience (Matthew 10:24, 34-36). The prospect manward is thus dark and depressing in the extreme. Note what a disintegrating and destructive force sin is. It not only separates between man and God (Isaiah 59:2), but has a tendency to alienate friends, to break up families, to destroy human confidences, and gender a pessimism which finds expression in the passionate, though not deliberate, verdict of the psalmist, "All men are liars." If we cannot repose confidence in others, can we trust in ourselves? Our consciousness of sin and utter failure forbids this (vers. 8, 9; Jeremiah 17:9). Thus we are utterly shut up to God. A military man, suffering from some obscure disease of the mind, was in the habit of promenading in a certain track on the ramparts, after sunset. When he walked eastward, and had nothing but the dark sky to look on, extreme dejection oppressed his clouded mind. But no sooner did he turn towards the west, where his eyes caught the brightness left by the sun that had set, than hope and peace revived in his heart. There are times when, if we look anywhere but towards God, our Sun, we may feel ready to despond or despair. Then we know what it is to be shut up to God. "But as for me, I will look unto the Lord." That look implies hope: "I will wait;" and faith: "My God will hear me." When we thus look, wait, trust, our thoughts may express themselves in the following thoughts about God, and our "meditation of him shall be sweet."
I. HOW MUCH WE HAVE IN GOD.
1. His name, Jehovah, describes his nature. He is the eternal, unchangeable, faithful, covenant keeping God. He revealed himself by that new name when he came as the Redeemer of his distressed people. And this Jehovah is "my God." Martin Luther remarks, "There is a great deal of divinity in the pronouns." The theology taught in the term "my God" is worth more than all the lectures ever given on "the attributes."
2. The figures employed for God remind us of the treasure we have in him. Look, for example, at a single group of figures in the sixty-second psalm. There God is described as "my Rock," on which I can safely rest and securely build; as "my high Tower" (Revised Version); "my strong Habitation, whereunto I may continually resort" (Psalm 71:3); and therefore as "my Refuge," where I may be safe from the sword of the avenger of blood, or from any other foe. The city of Metz prided itself in the name "La Pucelle," the virgin fortress; but in October, 1870, its fair fame was tarnished by its fall, and its inhabitants were at the mercy of their foes. But no such disaster can ever overtake those who can say of the Lord, "Fie is my Refuge and my Fortress, my God; in him will I trust."
II. HOW MUCH WE MAY EXPECT FROM GOD. "My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him." Among the blessings we may expect are the two crowning mercies which the prophet claims by faith.
1. Answers to prayer; which will be definite, appropriate, decisive ("My God will hear me"), such as God's servants of old received; e.g. Jacob (Genesis 32.), Moses (Numbers 14:18-20), Asa (2 Chronicles 14:11, 12), Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20.). These prayers will bring:
2. Deliverance; for "my God" is "the God of my salvation." Thus in the midst of dangers from without or from within we can say, with the psalmist," I shall not be greatly moved" (Psalm 62:2). Like the rockingstones on the Cornish coast, we may at tunes be slightly shaken but not "greatly moved;" moved, but not removed. Like the magnet, we may oscillate for a time, and be slightly affected by changing conditions, but never greatly moved from our purpose of witnessing faithfully for God and his truth. Yet our confidence in regard to our stability is not in ourselves, but in our God, in "the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
III. HOW WORTHY HE IS OF UNLIMITED CONFIDENCE. "I will look;" "I will wait;" "My soul, wait thou only upon God;" "Trust in him at all times." "It is comparatively easy," says Dr. Edward Payson, "to wait upon God, but to wait upon him only - to feel, so far as our strength, happiness, and usefulness are concerned, as if all creatures and second causes were annihilated, and we were alone in the universe with God is, I suspect a difficult and rare attainment." This is the unlimited confidence to which we aspire. Then we may not only wait upon God, but wait for God, leaving the tune and method of our deliverance to him (Psalm 37:7-9; Psalm 130:5, 6). Then we shall not only be shut up to God, but shut in with God (Psalm 91:1). With God on our side we are in the majority. "How many do you count me for?" asked an ancient commander of an officer who was alarmed at the disparity of the forces they could array against the foe. "I will fear no evil, for thou art with me."
"Be thou my God, and the whole world is mine;
possibilities of godly?
I. THE POSSIBILITY OF GODLY MEN FALLING INTO GREAT TROUBLE. "Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise." Who is the enemy here referred to scarcely matters, whether Babylon, Edom, or some other persons or peoples. All godly men have ever had their enemies. All who have ever endeavoured to lead a godly life have suffered persecution in some mode and measure. Two things are referred to here concerning the trouble.
1. It was a "fall." Godly men are liable to many falls - falls from health to sickness, from wealth to poverty, from social friendship to desolation; but the greatest fail is moral - the fall of character. To this the best of men are liable, e.g. Moses, David, Peter.
2. The trouble was a "darkness." "When I sit in darkness." Light and darkness are frequently used for prosperity and adversity. There are many things that darken the soul. Disappointment is a cloud, remorse is a cloud, despair is a cloud. Some of these clouds often mantle the mental heaven in sackcloth. Godly men are often permitted to walk in darkness and to have no light.
II. THE POSSIBILITY OF GODLY MEN BEING GLORIOUSLY SUSTAINED IN TROUBLE. "Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation," etc. The godly man has a power within him, with the Divine help, of lifting his soul above the crushing cares, sufferings, and sorrows of life. "Rejoice not over me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me." How does he do it?
1. By looking at God. "Therefore I will look unto the Lord." The man who fastens his eyes on the sun becomes unconscious of the small things around him. The soul which feels God to be the grand object in its horizon can scarcely fail to be buoyant and courageous.
2. By waiting upon God. "I will wait for the God of my salvation." He is sure to come to my deliverance; it is only a question of time, and I will wait. As the farmer in the snows and storms of winter waits for the vernal season, certain that it will come, so the godly man, in trial, waits for God's approach.
3. By trusting in God. "My God will hear me." He has promised,, to do so; he has done so before; he is a prayer hearing God. He has said, "Unto that man will I look," etc.
4. By submitting to God. "I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him." I will not repine nor rebel under my suffering; I will bow to his will, for I deserve punishment, as I have sinned against him. The sufferings I endure are insignificant compared to the sins I have committed.
5. By hoping for God. "He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness." "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh with the morning." Thus it is possible for godly men to rise in courage and even triumph in the greatest calamities. Sunk in the deepest affliction, they may look their enemies in the face and say, "Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise." Though I am now down, I shall rise again. Blessed hope!
"It whispers o'er the cradled child "It soothes the mother's ear with hope, "'Tis heard in manhood's risen day, "It speaks of noble ends to gain, "It falls upon the aged ear "It tells of bliss beyond the grave,
"It soothes the mother's ear with hope, "'Tis heard in manhood's risen day, "It speaks of noble ends to gain, "It falls upon the aged ear "It tells of bliss beyond the grave,
"'Tis heard in manhood's risen day, "It speaks of noble ends to gain, "It falls upon the aged ear "It tells of bliss beyond the grave,
Obadiah 1:8-15) or their Chaldean conquerors. Light came to them in Babylon, through the witness borne by Daniel and his friends, the ministry of Ezekiel, the favour of Cyrus, and above all by their deliverance from the curse of idolatry before their restoration to their land. They may be applied also to a Church in a depressed or fallen state. A godly remnant could yet look forward to deliverance and revival. E.g. Sardis (Revelation 3:1-5). We may also use the words as describing the experience of a sinner humbled before God and man. Notice -
I. HIS PRESENT STATE.
1. He has fallen. Then he had stood before. He has been no hypocrite, but a pilgrim on the highway from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Like Christian in Bunyan's immortal allegory, he has been confronted by Apollyon. In the struggle he has been wounded in the head, the hand, and the foot. "Then Apollyon, espying his opportunity, began to gather up close to Christian, and, wrestling with him, gave him a dreadful fall; and with that Christian's sword flew out of his hand." Prostrate and powerless, he seems "drawn unto death and ready to be slain."
2. He sits in darkness. A hardened sinner in such a crisis may have a light, such as it is ("Walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled," Isaiah 50:11). But the fallen Christian is heard bemoaning himself (Job 29:2, 3). The sun, the light of God's countenance, is gone. It is a night of mist. Not even a star of promise can be seen except when the mist is for a moment or two dispersed before a rising breath of the Divine Comforter, who, though grieved, will not depart.
3. He is exposed to the indignation of the Lord. He cannot attribute his darkness to sickness or nervous depression. In the gloom caused by conscience he sees the shadow caused by the righteous anger of God (lea. 59:1, 2). "Therefore we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness," "For our transgressions are multiplied," etc. (vers. 9, 12).
4. He has to bear the scorn of men. His enemies rejoice. This makes the cup of bitterness overflow. The self-righteous formalist thanks God he is not as other men, or even at this Christian. The profligate man finds one more excuse for asserting that there is no such thing as real religion (cf. Psalm 35:15, 16, 21, 25). We can imagine the morbid curiosity in the streets of Jerusalem, when it began to be whispered that a dark deed had been committed in the palace of King David, and that Uriah's death had been procured by foul means. Would not the men of Belial mock at the royal psalmist - seducer - murderer 1 Samuel 12:14)? How the soldiers and the servants round the fire within the judgment must have chuckled while Peter was weeping without! The world may hold its most riotous carnival, not when martyrs are burning at the stake, or their dead bodies are lying in the street of Sodom, but when the Saviour is wounded in the house of his friends, and the Church is mourning over the lost reputations of its fallen members (Luke 17:1).
II. THE GROUNDS OF HIS CONFIDENCE FOR THE FUTURE. The fallen Christian looks forward to rising again. He anticipates a new day when the Sun of Righteousness shall again rise on him. He speaks boldly (ver. 8). This is either the grossest presumption or the noblest faith. It is like Samson's boast, "I will go out as at other times;" or like David's trustful anticipation, "Then will I teach transgressors thy ways," etc. That these words are no vain vaunting we learn from the grounds of his confidence.
1. He resolves quietly to endure God's chastening strokes. Such submission is one sign of genuine repentance. Illust.: The Jews in captivity (Leviticus 26:40-42, "and they then accept, the punishment of their iniquity; then will I remember my covenant, etc.); Eli (1 Samuel 3:18); David, all through his long chastisement (see e.g, 2 Samuel 12:20; 2 Samuel 15:25, 26; 2 Samuel 16:11; cf. Job 34:81; Lamentations 3:39; Hebrews 12:5-7).
2. He puts his trust entirely is God. He has just before (ver. 7) spoken of himself as shut up to God. Again he returns to him and repeatedly expresses his faith, "The Lord shall be a Light unto me: he shall plead my cause: he will bring me forth to the light." His godly sorrow and cheerful submission are signs that there is a mystic film, a spiritual cord that binds him, even in his fallen state, to his Father-God And he has promises to plead (Psalm 37:24; Proverbs 24:16). Illust.: Jonah (Jonah 2:3, 4), St. Paul (Romans 7:24, 25). Grievous as are the sins of God's adopted children, they are provided for: "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin" - if any one of you little children sin, grievous and aggravated as your sin may be - "we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the Propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:1, 2). God vindicates such a penitent. He restores his soul. He renews his peace. He re-establishes his tarnished reputation. He puts a new song in his mouth (Psalm 40:1-3; Isaiah 12:1, 2; Isaiah 57:18, 19). - E.S.P.
I. THEIR HUMILIATING VISION. "Then she that is mine enemy shall see it, and shame shall cover her." "See" what? The deliverance, the exaltation which God wrought for the victims. Few things are more painful to a malign nature than to witness the prosperity and happiness of the object of its intense aversion. Every beam of delight in the hated one falls as fire on the soul nerves of the hater. Witness Haman and Mordecai. It is destined that every ungodly persecutor shall witness one day the happiness of the godly whom he has tormented. The songs of the martyr shall fall on the ears of the human demons that forged his chains, kindled his fires, and tortured him when living. "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out." Another thing in the passage presented to us concerning religious persecutors is -
II. THEIR TAUNTING SPIRIT. "Where is the Lord thy God?" Scorn is one of the leading dements in the soul of the persecutor. "My tears," said David, "have been my food day and night, while mine enemies continually say, Where is now thy God?" Again, "Mine enemies reproach, saying daily unto me, Where is thy God?" Again, "Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God?" How this taunting spirit was shown in those who persecuted and put to death the Son of God! "They that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross" (Matthew 27:40). The taunting spirit is generally malific. It is fiendish, has in it the venom of hell. The taunting spirit is generally haughty. "Proud and haughty scorner is his name" (Proverbs 21:24). The taunting spirit is generally ignorant. He who deals in ridicule generally lacks the power of information and argument.
III. THEIR UTTER RUIN. "Now shall she be trodden down as the mire of the streets." There is a God that judges on the earth, and his retributive forces are ever on the heels of crime. The blood of martyrs cries to heaven, and stirs these forces to action. "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10).
"Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones Mother with infant down the rooks. Their moans
Mother with infant down the rooks. Their moans
good time coming.
I. IT WILL BE A TIME FOR REBUILDING THE RUINED. "In the day that thy walls are to be built." The walls of Jerusalem are referred to - the walls of fortification, protection; these are to be rebuilt. Daniel said that they were to be rebuilt in troublesome times (Daniel 9:25). There is, however, a more important rebuilding than this - a rebuilding that is going on, and will go on., until the great, moral city shall be complete.
1. The human soul is a building. It is a temple, a "spiritual house" reared as a residence for the Eternal, a home for the Holy Ghost to dwell in. It is "a city whose Builder and Maker is God."
2. The human soul is a building in ruins. The walls are broken down; its columns, arches, roof, rooms, all in ruins.
3. The human soul is a building to be rebuilt. Christ is to be the Foundationstone, etc. "Ye are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22). This rebuilding is going on according to a plan of the great moral Architect; is being worked out by agents that know nothing of the plan. It will be completed one day; the topstone will be brought forth one day, with shouts of "Grace, grace!" (Zechariah 4:7). This new Jerusalem established on earth, what a magnificent city it will be! The words may be used to illustrate another thing concerning the good time coming.
II. IT WILL BE A TIME FOR REGATHERING THE SCATTERED. "In that day also he shall come even to thee from Assyria, and from the fortified cities, and from the fortresses even to the river, and from sea to sea, and from mountain to mountain." "All," says an old writer, "that belong to the land of Israel, whithersoever dispersed and however distressed, far and wide over the face of the whole earth, shall come flocking to it again. He shall come even to thee, having liberty to return and a heart to return from Assyria, whither the ten tribes were carried away, though it lay remote from the fortified cities and from the fortress - those strongholds in which they thought they had them fast; for when God's time comes, though Pharaoh will not let the people go, God will fetch them out with a high hand. They shall come from all the remote parts, from sea to sea, and mountain to mountain, not turning back for fear of your discouragements, but they shall go from strength to strength, till they come to Zion" The human family, which Heaven intended to live as one grand brotherhood, has been riven into moral sections, antagonistic to each other, and scattered all over the world. The time will come when they shall be gathered together, not, of course, in a local sense, but in a spiritual - in unity of sentiment, sympathy, aim, soul. All shall be one in Christ. They will be gathered in spirit together from the four winds of heaven.
CONCLUSION. Haste this good time! May the chariot wheels of Providence revolve with greater speed!
"One song employs all nations; and all cry,
Jeremiah 17:10 God declares, as one of the signs of his omniscient, heart-searching power, that he can not only recompense each individual according to his ways, but "according to the fruit of his doings. In Jeremiah 21:14 a similar declaration is addressed to the royal house of David: I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings." And in Jeremiah 32:17-19 the prophet expresses his admiration at the discriminating omnipotence of God - "great in counsel, and mighty in work: for thine eyes are open upon the ways of the sons of men: to give unto every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." Our text calls for exposition and admits of illustration.
I. EXPOSITION. An act is one thing; the fruit of that act is another thing. By fruit we understand that which is the natural result of the acts we perform. Those natural results under the reign of moral law we might foresee. Acts, like trees, bring forth fruit "after their kind." For such fruit we are held responsible. Responsibility varies according to knowledge acquired or attainable. A child's falsehood, though fraught with lifelong disasters, is lees criminal than the less injurious lie of an adult. But we cannot disconnect our acts and their fruit. We cannot kill them in the seed, or nip them in the bud, or blight them in the flower; they will bear fruit of some kind. We are not held responsible for what we may call the accidental issues of our acts Our good may be evil spoken of. The most unjustifiable inferences may be drawn from our words or deeds. Our Lord's teaching has been the occasion of discord in families and strife in states (Matthew 10:34-36). St. Paul's doctrine was perverted (Romans 3:8). A clear judgment is needed to discern what will be the natural effect of our conduct. We may not, dare not, leave our influence on others out of the account. We must use the enlightening Word, and pray for the aid of the illuminating Spirit, that we may acquire an enlightened conscience. And then we must seek so to live that the fruit of our doings will bring honour to God and be for our own "praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ."
II. ILLUSTRATION. Our first class of illustrations will be those in which the fruit of our doings, like the fruit of the tree in the garden, is "good ' and "pleasant to the eyes," and "to Be desired" as food for the soul,, through all eternity.
1. The life and work of Jesus Christ. The "good Master" "went about doing good." He did the will of him that sent him, and in doing it "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," What is the fruit of these doings? Eternity alone can reveal. His reward will be according to it - according to the glory brought to God and the blessedness to men (Isaiah 53:11, 12).
2. The characters and labours of devoted servants of Christ. The life and work of Christ is a pattern and an encouragement to all his followers (Luke 6:40). Sow now the seed of Christian bring and doing. It may seem to be lost, like the seed cast on the surface of flooded lands, but you shall find it after many days. You may die without seeing the fruitage in this life; you may rest from your labours, but your works will follow you (Galatians 6:7-9). Incidents confirming this frequently come to light. At a Unitarian anniversary in New England a few years ago, one of the ministers, speaking of the small results of his work, added, "It must be remembered where my field is. The Connecticut valley is the home of Jonathan Edwards, and though he has been dead a century, he is a great name and a power for orthodoxy through all that country today." A devoted Pastor, Rev. Thomas Hall, laboured for twenty-seven years at Heckmondwike, Yorkshire amid great discouragement because he saw so little fruit from his labours. His successor could report that for a long time after his death most of those who were added to the fellowship of the Curch acknowledged their indebtedness to their deceased pastor for their first religious impressions or some other special spiritual help. Take courage, fellow labourers. If you seem to have laboured in vain, you can add, "My judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God" (Isaiah 49:4). He will recompense you according to the natural results of your life's work, "the fruit of your doings" (Isaiah 3:10). Yet this fruit must vary with the quality of our work (see this lesson taught in 1 Corinthians 3:8-15). But the truth of our text has its shady as well as its sunny side.
3. A nation will be recompensed according to its national sins and the fruit of them. Illust.: Great Britain and the opium traffic. Even national repentance and reformation may not avert some of the disastrous consequences of past transgressions. Colonial slavery has left some of its foul stains on the present generation.
4. Sinners must await "the harvest which is the end of the world before they can receive the just recompense of their deeds. William Cowper, in a letter to John Newton, alluding to the translation of Homer on which he was engaged, says very truly, An author had need narrowly to watch his pen, lest a line should escape it which by possibility may do mischief when he has been long dead and buried. What we have done when we have written a book will never be known till the day of judgment; then the account will be liquidated, and all the good that it has occasioned will witness either for or against us." Homer himself supplies an illustration of this. We are told it was the 'Iliad' that did much to mould the character of Alexander of Macedon. The life of Alexander was the inspiration of two other notorious warriors - Julius Caesar and Charles XII. of Sweden. In contrast to the posthumous influence of Jonathan Edwards, there stands on record the baneful effect on a village in Berkshire of the infidel, wit, and libertine, Lord Bolingbroke. He died in 1751; but he had so poisoned the minds of the poor villagers against religion, that three quarters of a century afterwards "the fruit of his doings" was most distinctly to be traced. Nor need our acts be flagrantly evil to bring forth bitter fruit. The neglect of duty tends to make others neglect it, and thus to leave that duty altogether undone. The neglect of "assembling ourselves together" in public worship tends to the dissolution of such assemblies and the abandonment of such worship. The fruit of secret discipleship would be the dying out of Christian Churches. What can be the fruit of sin but sorrow, suffering, loss? "The harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow" (Isaiah 17:11). Even though sin be forgiven through repentance and faith, the consequences of misused or wasted years will remain. And as those consequences, ever widening, cannot be summed up till the great day of God, "we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad." Let us therefore "make it our aim... to be well pleasing unto him" (2 Corinthians 5:9, 10). - E.S.P.
Man's ruin the fruit of his own conduct. The reason why the land should be "desolate" before the coming of the glorious times is here stated - "for the fruit of their doings." That man's ruin springs from his conduct is demonstrated by universal experience as well as by the Word of God. "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself... O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity" (Hosea 13:9; Hosea 14:1). It is the man who heareth the sayings of Christ and doeth them not that will be ruined at last. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Assuming it to be a fact that man's ruin is evermore the fruit of his own conduct, four things follow.
I. THAT HIS MISERY WILL BE IDENTIFIED WITH REMORSE. Morally it is impossible for a man to ascribe his ruin to his organization, to circumstances, or to any force over which he has no control. He must feel that he has brought it on himself; and this feeling it is that makes his miserable condition a very hell. The suffering of remorse is the soul of suffering. "A wounded spirit who can bear?"
II. THAT IN HIS SUFFERINGS HE MUST VINDICATE THE DIVINE CHARACTER. Forced to see and feel that all his sin and miseries spring from his own conduct, he will be compelled to say, "Just and right art thou," etc. (Revelation 15:3). Into the deepest heart of such God speaks the words, "They hated knowledge, they despised all my reproof; therefore shall they eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices" (Proverbs 1:29). All their misery is but the eating of the fruit of their own doings; they reap that which they have sown. As fruit answers to seed, as echoes to sound, their calamities answer to their conduct.
III. THAT HIS SALVATION FROM RUIN REQUIRES A CHANGE OF LIFE. Men's conduct is fashioned and ruled by their likings and dislikings, their sympathies and antipathies; in other words, if their conduct is bad, it can only be made good by a change of heart. "Marvel not that I said unto you, Ye must be born again."
IV. THAT CHRISTIANITY IS THE ONLY SYSTEM THAT CAN MEET HIS CASE. The mission of Christianity is to change the heart, to renew the life, and effect a spiritual reformation. This it is designed to do, this it is fitted to do, this it has done, this it is doing; and no other system on earth is capable of accomplishing this work. - D.T.
I. AN INTERESTING RELATION BETWEEN GOD AND HIS PEOPLE, FLOCK AND SHEPHERD. The Jews, here as elsewhere, are metaphorically referred to as a flock, and Jehovah as their Shepherd (Psalm 80:1; Psalm 95:7, etc.). "The Lord is my Shepherd;" "I am the good Shepherd." What a Shepherd is he!
1. He is the absolute Owner of the flock. "My sheep are mine, and I know them." "All souls are mine." How incalculably valuable is one soul! - a free, ever active, influential, undying spirit! How rich is this Shepherd, to own untold millions of such!
2. He has a perfect knowledge of the flock. He knows what they are, what they have been, what they will be through all the future. "I know my sheep," etc. (John 10.).
3. He has an infinite love for the flock. The good Shepherd hath laid down his life for them
4. He has abundant supplies for the flock. Though their wants are varied, numerous, urgent, ever-recurring, he is able to meet them all. "I give unto my sheep eternal life, neither shall any pluck them out of my hands;" "He is able to do exceeding abundantly more than we can ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20); "Feed thy people with thy rod," or staff. It recognizes -
II. THE TRYING CONDITION IN WHICH GOD'S PEOPLE ARE SOMETIMES FOUND. "Which dwell solitarily in the wood, in the midst of Carmel." The primary reference is to their captivity in Babylon. (For another view, see Exposition.) They were as sheep in the forest or wood; in danger of being lost in the thickets or being devoured by beasts of prey. Human souls in this world are in a moral wilderness; beset with perils on every hand. "They are scattered on the mountains as sheep having no shepherd." Two facts render this condition peculiarly distressing.
1. It is caused by self. Souls have not been driven away into moral captivity. "All we like sheep have gone astray."
2. It is undeliverable by self. No soul ever found its way back to God by its own unaided efforts; hence Christ came to "seek and to save the lost."
III. THE IMPORTANCE OF RESTORATION TO FORMER ENJOYMENTS. "Lot; them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old." The regions of Bashan and Gilead, on the east of the Jordan, were celebrated for their rich pasturage, and on this account were chosen by the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh (Numbers 12.; Deuteronomy 3:17). Morally, the great need of man is the restoration of normal rights, normal virtues, normal enjoyments.
"Good Shepherd, hasten thou that glorious day,
I. IT INVOLVES THE EXHIBITION OF THE MARVELLOUS. There were "marvellous things" shown when the Hebrews were delivered from Egypt; marvellous things when they were brought out of Babylonian captivity; but these marvellous things are but mere shadows of the marvels displayed in the moral redemption of mankind. The incarnation of Christ; the wonders that his mighty hand performed; the extraordinary phenomena connected with his death, his resurrection, and ascension to heaven; the revolutions in the moral character and institutions of mankind; - all these are, in truth the wonders of the wonderful, the marvels of the marvellous.
II. IT INVOLVES THE CONFUSION OF ENEMIES. "The nations shall be confounded at their might, they shall lay their hand upon their mouth," etc. As Egypt and Babylon were confounded, humbled, and terrified at God's marvels in their deliverance, so will all the spiritual foes of Christ be ultimately overwhelmed at the wonders displayed at the redemption of the world. Matthew Henry's remarks on this passage are worth quoting. "1. Those that had exulted over the people of God in their distress, and gloried that when they had them down they would keep them down, shall be confounded when they see them thus surprisingly rising up; they shall be confounded at all the might with which the captives shall now exert themselves, whom they thought forever disabled. They shall now lay their hands upon their mouths as being ashamed of what they have said, and not be able to say any more by way of triumph over Israel. Nay, their ears shall be deaf too, so much so that they shall be ashamed at the wonderful deliverance; they shall stop their ears as being not willing to hear any more of God's wonders wrought for that people whom they had so despised and exulted over.
2. Those that had impudently confronted God himself shall now be struck with a fear of him, and thereby brought, in profession at least, to submit w him. They shall lick the dust like a serpent; they shall be so mortified as if they were to be sentenced to the same curse the serpent was laid under (Genesis 3:14). They shall be brought to the lowest abasements imaginable, and shall be so dispirited that they shall tamely submit to them. They shall lick the dust of the Church's feet (Isaiah 49:23). Proud oppressors shall be made sensible how mean and little they are before the great God; and they shall with trembling and the lowest submission move out of the holes into which they had crept, like worms of the earth as they are, being ashamed and afraid to show their heads; so low shall they be brought and such abjects shall they be when they are abased. When God did wonders for his Church, many of the people of the land became Jews because the fear of the Jews and of their God fell on them (Esther 8:17). So it is promised here that they shall be afraid of the Lord our God, and shall fear because of thee, O Israel! Forced submissions are often feigned submissions; yet they redound to the glory of God and the Church, though not to the benefit of the dissemblers themselves." - D.T.
matchless mercy, and anticipates the fulfilment of promises which would only be realized by the coming of the long looked for Deliverer (vers. 18-20; and cf. Luke 1:70-75). This matchless mercy is shown both in God's essential character and in his treatment of sinners. Each clause suggests some fresh thought on this attractive subject.
I. "WHO IS A GOD LIKE UNTO THEE?" The reference to the Exodus (ver. 15) reminds us of Moses' words (Exodus 15:11). If there is none like God, "glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders," what wonder can be so great as deliverance from sin? If even ungodly men are charmed rote adoration for a brief period as some deliverance from danger, how profoundly and unceasingly should we adore and glorify God for salvation from sin, which is a more dreadful evil than cholera, lunacy, or death! Notice how a question like this is often asked or answered; e.g. in regard to God's power (Deuteronomy 33:26), his faithfulness (1 Kings 8:23), his deliverance of the oppressed (Psalm 35:10), his condescension to the lowly (Psalm 113:5, 6). In a word, in his character and in all his dealings he stands alone (Psalm 89:6-8).
II. "THAT PARDONETH INIQUITY." This is as essential a part of God's character as is maternal love in a mother's heart. When Moses said to God, "I Beseech thee, show me thy glory," the answer was, "I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the Name of the Lord before thee" (Exodus 33:18, 19). And when the sublime proclamation was made, one of the essential elements of Jehovah's character, as revealed in his Name, was "forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exodus 34:5-7). God loves to be reminded of his Name, and to see that it is that on which our hopes of pardon rest; e.g. Numbers 14:17-20; Psalm 25:11; Psalm 86:5, 15; Psalm 130:4; Daniel 9:9.
III. "AND PASSETH BY THE TRANSGRESSION OF THE REMNANT OF HIS HERITAGE." This denotes a continual action on the part of God. Isolated acts of pardon would not meet the case. He comes with his eyes as a flame of fire, and yet he does not "mark iniquities" (Psalm 130:3; and cf. Numbers 23:21). What he commends he practises (Proverbs 19:11). Yet not because of any laxity in his relations to sin, but because of his righteous grace. Such declarations of Divine mercy as the Old Testament is full of can only be perfectly understood when read in the light of the New Testament, and of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, "for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant;" "Whom God set forth to be a Propitiation, through faith, by his Mood, to show his righteousness, because of the passing over of the sins done afore time, in the forbearance of God" (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9:15).
IV. "HE RETAINETH NOT HIS ANGER FOREVER, BECAUSE HE DELIGHTETH IN MERCY." In the midst of words of grace we have a distinct recognition of anger as one of God's perfections. So in Exodus 34:7, "that will by no means clear the guilty." If he were not angry with sinners he would be less perfect. This truth needs to be emphasized in the present days of superficial views of sin. But if he were to retain his anger forever, it would be fatal (Isaiah 57:16). So "he will not always chide," etc.; he "will not cast off forever; but though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies" (Psalm 103:9; Lamentations 3:31, 32). And this "because he delighteth in mercy." In its literal sense "he is bent on mercy." Proofs of this crowd on us from every side. We see it in the history of Israel (Nehemiah 9:16-19, 26-31; Psalm 78.), in the cross of Christ (1 John 4:10), in the long lives of many of the most impenitent (Romans 2:4), and in the experience of those who are now rejoicing in salvation (Ephesians 2:4-7; Titus 3:4-7). It is therefore a joy to God to forgive and save. The parables of Luke 15:1-10 remind us of this. The pearl of parables that follows might be called, not "The prodigal son," but "The long suffering and rejoicing father."
V. "HE WILL TURN AGAIN, HE WILL HAVE COMPASSION UPON US." In our idiom "He will again have compassion on us." When God sent Jesus Christ "preaching peace" to Israel, it was no new thing. It was the latest and sublimest illustration of a Divine habit (Hebrews 1:1). In the wilderness days, "he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath" (Psalm 78:38). Thus God treated them all through their history. See the summary of the later history of Judah in 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, "...till there was no remedy," etc. But he again had compassion; he turned again their captivity, according to his promises by Moses (Deuteronomy 30:1-6). And though they crucified the Christ, and were "broken off," they are still "beloved for the father's sake." God will again have compassion on them (Zechariah 12:10-14; Zechariah 13:1). "And so all Israel shall be saved." These repeated acts of the mercy in which God delights may encourage the vilest to appeal for forgiveness, "according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies" (Psalm 51:1).
VI. "HE WILL SUBDUE OUR INIQUITIES" He will tread them down, trample them underfoot. One of the marked peculiarities of the Divine forgiveness is the result on the sinner himself. No one pardons with such a good effect on the sinner pardoned. Some are disappointed in those they forgive. Not so God. Whenever he remits sin he reforms the sinner. His salvation being from the love and the power as well as the punishment of sin; a sinner cannot grasp the pardon and neglect the purity. Nor does he desire to. The most sacred motives forbid. The promise of pardon is accompanied with the assurance of the purifying Spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Romans 8:1, 2; 1 Corinthians 6:11). Sin is a serpent to be crushed under the heel (Romans 16:20). It is a foe to be conquered, and who shall be conquered because we are "not under the Law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14). The victory is God's, though the blessedness of it is ours (Psalm 98:1), "He will subdue our iniquities."
VII. "THOU WILT CAST ALL THEIR SINS INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA." This indicates the completeness of the Divine salvation. Elsewhere we have the promise (Psalm 103:12). Hezekiah says, "Thou hast cast all my sins behind my back," so that the accuser cannot get them without going behind the very throne of God; and God himself will never turn to see them. Here the figure is still more striking; sins cast, not in the shallows, subject to the tidal waves which might throw them up into sight again, but into the depths of the sea (cf. Jeremiah 1:20). Other figures are used to teach the same truth - the cloud blotted out, never to be seen again (Isaiah 44:22); sin forgotten, even by God himself (Isaiah 43:25). Such is God's matchless mercy in pardoning sin. And when our sins are finally subdued as well as pardoned, cast into the depths of the sea, while we are standing on the eternal shore, justified, sanctified, glorified, then we shall sing the final song, "Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." And because we are already being saved by a God of such matchless mercy, in whom we have placed our trust, we have no fear as to the issue (Romans 8:38, 39).
"We lift our hands exulting
Divine pardon suggested here will now have our consideration.
I. THE PREROGATIVE OF PARDON IS CLAIMED BY GOD FOR HIMSELF. He knew the needs of his children, and therefore proclaimed his pardoning love from the first. Even amid the terrors of Sinai he revealed himself as a God "pardoning iniquity." David was emboldened to come into his presence, after the commission of most grievous sins, praying, "Have mercy upon me, O Lord, according to thy loving kindness," etc. He pardons of his own free will, because, as Micah says," he delighteth in mercy; and with a perfect knowledge of what is worst in us, he declares his willingness to forgive all who are penitent. This power he has delegated to no man. If Jesus had simply been human, the Pharisees would have been justified in saying, "This man blasphemeth," when he forgave the sins of the paralytic. Nor did our Lord's declaration to his apostles, "Whose sins soever ye remit, they are remitted unto them," endue them with a super natural or exclusive privilege. Their right was only ministerial and declarative, and is shared by all those who, by Divine grace, have been made "kings and priests unto God."
II. DIVINE PARDON SEEMS THE MORE WONDERFUL WHEN COMPARED WITH MAN'S FORGIVENESS. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways," etc. Suppose the case of an employee, who, having robbed his master, is detected, but on evidence of sincere contrition is reinstated in his position. His restitution is accompanied by hard terms, he is watched suspiciously, and his employer considers that he has been exceptionally generous to restore him at all. Contrast this with what our Lord tells of God's pardoning love in his parable of the prodigal son. Instead of being refused, his father sees him "when a great way off;" instead of angry reproaches, he has "compassion upon him;" instead of cold reserve, he falls on his neck, and kisses him; instead of suspicion, there is gladness, and all the house is filled with music and dancing. Or take, as another contrast, the reception given at home to a girl who has gone wrong, with the touching story of our Lord's love to the woman who was a sinner. And Jesus says, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity?
III. DIVINE PARDON IS PROFFERED FOE ALL KINDS OF SIN. Different words are used here and elsewhere in order to show that no sort of wrong doing is exempt from pardon; so that the moral and the vicious, those who have sinned inwardly or outwardly, may alike be encouraged to return to the Lord. Transgression is an act of evil committed against a Law acknowledged to be holy. It signifies stepping across a line which is drawn and visible. Inquiry" is the inward tendency which responds to suggestions of evil; which we cannot root out, and which makes self-reformation hopeless. "Sins are acts done from wrong motives. All these it is promised shall be done away with on our repentance.
IV. DIVINE PARDON IS COMPLETE AND THOROUGH.
1. Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea." If we drop a knife into a tidal pool, we can see it and regain it; but if we sail out of sight of land, and drop it overboard in the "depths of the sea," it is gone forever. So completely gone are our forgiven sins.
2. "He will subdue our iniquities." If our nature is not sanctified, we shall only do again our evil deeds. All our affections and thoughts must be subjected to the Divine will, and this can only be the result of God's own work.
CONCLUSION. How can God be just, and yet our Justifier! This mystery, which lies at the root of his moral government, finds its only answer in the cross of Christ. God's laws are eternal and inexorable. He cannot swerve from absolute righteousness. Sin must bring shame, misery, and death, here and hereafter. If, therefore, God had said all shall be overlooked, the penalty shall be removed, the Law repealed, it would appear to myriads of intelligent beings (compared with whose multitude the human race is as nothing) that the Law was either unjust in its enunciation or unjust in its repeal. Yet a sense of the perfect integrity of God is the foundation of his creature's bliss. But the Son of God became the Son of man. He gathered up into himself all the sympathies, powers, and sufferings of our race. He stood forth as our Representative, vindicating the Law by his obedience, and dying on the cross for transgressors. This would evoke grander reverence for Law than if the race had been punished; and such a display of love wins all hearts from disobedience.
"My faith would lay her hand
incomparable character of God. "Who is a God like unto thee?" The subject of the two verses (18, 19) is Divine forgiveness, its nature, its source, and its completeness. We shall confine ourselves now to the nature of Divine forgiveness. God's forgiveness here is represented in the words, he "passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage." This does not mean that God is unobservant of sin, for all things are naked and open unto him; nor that it is not an offence to him, for it is "an abomination in his sight" but that he regards it in no fault-finding spirit, but with a noble generosity. As loving parents are disposed to overlook much in their children of which they cannot approve, the great Father is disposed to overlook much. "He is not strict to mark iniquity." He passes it by, pursues his benevolent march as if it did not exist. Theology, which has thrown a haze over many of the bright things of revelation, has clouded this, one of its most glorious orbs. Forgetting that the Bible is a popular book, using language in accommodation to our habits of thought and expression, it has constructed its theories upon the etymology of words. The truth and pertinence of this remark will be seen if, at the outset, we consider the very diversified forms in which the Bible represents to us the doctrine of Divine forgiveness. Generally, indeed, I find it set forth under figures corresponding to the aspects in which sin stands before the mind of the writer at the time. For example -
I. WHEN SIN APPEARS AS A DEBT, AN UNFULFILLED OBLIGATION, THEN PARDON IS SPOKEN OF AS A CANCELING. Thus in the forty-third chapter of Isaiah Jehovah is represented as saying, "I, even I, am he who blotteth out thy transgressions;" and Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, exhorts his vast auditory to "repent, that their sins may be blotted out" When a man has paid his debts, or when some one else has discharged them, the creditor takes his pen in hand and strikes from the ledger both the name of the debtor and the amount. But sin is a debt in a very figurative sense, and therefore such representations of pardon must not be taken in a literal meaning.
II. WHEN SIN APPEARS AS AN ESTRANGEMENT FROM GOD, THEN FORGIVENESS IS REPRESENTED AS RECONCILIATION. But as the estrangement is not mutual, it being exclusively on man's part; in the reconciliation there is no mutual change of mind. God cannot change, and need not change, to be reconciled to the sinner.
III. WHEN SIN APPEARS AS AN INDICTMENT, FORGIVENESS IS SPOKEN OF AS A JUSTIFICATION. But justification can in the nature of the case have but a very remote resemblance to the forensic term as used by men. In civil justification, for instance, the charge has been found false, the accused demands justification as a right, and retires from the court with a high sense of insulted innocence.
IV. WHEN SIN APPEARS AS A POLLUTION, FORGIVENESS IS REPRESENTED AS A CLEANSING. Hence we read of Christ's blood cleansing from all sin. But it is only in a very figurative sense that you can employ the word "washing" to the mind, which is an invisible and impalpable power.
V. WHEN SIN APPEARS AS A DISEASE, FORGIVENESS IS REPRESENTED AS A HEALING. "I will heal your backsliding;" "I am come to bind up the broken hearted."
VI. WHEN KIN APPEARS AS AN OBSTRUCTION BETWEEN THE SOUL AND GOD, FORGIVENESS IS REPRESENTED AS A CLEARING. The mountains are levelled, the clouds are dispersed, the foes are crushed and are buried as Pharaoh and his host were buried in the depths of the sea. There are three points of contrast between Divine forgiveness and human.
1. In human governments forgiveness is exercised with most cautious limitations. Human Sovereigns, however generous their natures, can only bestow pardon on a few out of numerous criminals. Were forgiveness to become general, the power of the government to maintain order would be weakened. There is no such limitation to the exercise of this prerogative in God. He offers pardon to all.
2. In human forelimbs there is no guarantee against future criminality. The prisoner pardoned by a human Sovereign may be inspired by gratitude and prompted perhaps to resolve upon a life of future obedience, and yet his heart remain unchanged. The principles that led to his crime may still be in him, and, being there, they may break forth again. But in Divine forgiveness it is not so. The pardoned man is a changed man: he has a new heart put within him - a heart inspired with such love to the Sovereign as will secure a joyous and constant obedience.
3. Human forgiveness can never put the criminal in such a good position as he had before his transgression. He has his freedom as before, but he has not his self-respect, he has not the same standing in society; his contemporaries will never look upon him in the same light again. Some will shun him, others will suspect him, and few will venture to give him their confidence and their love. But in Divine forgiveness the criminal is raised to a higher status even than that of innocence. I know not whether the angels would have been his servants had he never fallen; but after his forgiveness they become so. They rejoice with him on his conversion, they cheer him on his pilgrimage, they bear him on their pinions to their heavenly scenes. He is brought into an "innumerable company of angels." We see partially from his state in Eden what relations man would have entered into with his Maker had he never sinned; but I believe that he never would have had what the pardoned sinner has - the honour of seeing his Maker, in the Person of Jesus, on the throne of the universe, gazed on by every eye and worshipped by every eye and worshipped by every heart. - D.T.
Isaiah 27:4). Here is the source of forgiveness: "He delighteth in mercy."
I. FORGIVENESS IS A MERCIFUL ACT. It is not an act of equity, but of compassion; not of justice, but of love. It is the prerogative of mercy. "The Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." Again, "The Lord is long suffering and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression." It is mercy that cancels the debt, blots out the cloud, effects the reconciliation, cleanses the stain, and heals the disease. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done," etc. All the redeemed in heaven acknowledge this: "Unto him that loved us, and washed [loosed] us from our sins in his own blood," etc. (Revelation 1:5).
II. THIS ACT OF MERCY IS THE DELIGHT OF GOD. "He delighteth in mercy." Mercy is a modification of benevolence. It always implies misery, for if there were no misery there would be no mercy. Whilst God does not delight in misery, he delights in removing it. What greater delight has a loving parent than in restoring to health and vigour a diseased and suffering child? To a true soul the delight of moral restoration is even greater than this. A noble father has perhaps more delight in the virtues and fellowship of the son whom he has been the means of raising from moral depravity to spiritual purity and power, than in those of the one who has always pursued the virtuous way. It is thus with him from whom all human love proceeds, he delights in mercy. Will not the song of the redeemed have more music in his ear than the lofty strains of those who have never fallen? He delights to welcome to his besom and his home his returning prodigals.
1. If he delights in mercy, then hush forever the pulpits that blasphemously represent him as malign. The God that you have in the Calvinian theology is not the God of the Bible, but the God of ill-natured, morose, and vindictive souls. Hence the masses of England turn away in horror from some modern pulpits. "He delighteth in mercy." Let us declare this! "Let the wicked forsake his way," etc.; "Come, let us reason together," etc.; "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden," etc.
2. If he delights in mercy, then let no sinner despair on account of the enormity of his sins. Let all the sins of the world be embodied in one man's life; let that one man return to God, and he will "abundantly pardon" him, He will do it, not reluctantly, not half-heartedly, but with aboundings of joy. He will rejoice over you. "There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth," etc.
3. If he delights in mercy, may we not hope that one day there will come an end to all the misery of the moral universe? "He retaineth not his anger forever" Who shall say but in some distant future, by some way not revealed, every discord in the moral universe shall be hushed, every prison opened, all sufferers delivered, and all hells quenched? What generous heart would not a thousand times rather believe in this, if they could, than in eternal torment or utter extinction? - D.T.
Exodus 15:4, 10).
I. THE ENTIRE SUBJUGATION OF ALL SINS. "Sin," says Henderson, "must ever be regarded as hostile to man. It is not only contrary to his interests, but it powerfully opposes and combats the moral principles of his nature and the higher principles implanted by grace; and, but for the counteracting energy of Divine influence, must prove victorious. Without the subjugation of evil propensities, pardon would not be a blessing. If the idolatrous and rebellious disposition of the Jews had not been subdued during their stay in Babylon, they would not have been restored." Sin is the enemy of all enemies. If it is in us, it sets the holy, happy heavens against us. Take it from us, and hell becomes our minister for good. This God subdues. In truth, Divine forgiveness is the destruction of sin in us, nothing else. It is not something outside; it is all within.
II. THE ENTIRE SUBMISSION OF ALL SIN. "Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea? Forgiveness is deliverance from sin. How strong is the imagery employed in the Bible to represent the completeness of this deliverance! It is as the blotting out of a thick cloud." See that dark mass of cloud up yonder; how it hides the sun and chills the air! A breeze has sprung up, and it is gone - the sky is azure, the scene is bright, and the flowing air warm with life. That cloud can never come again; no more may thy sins. It is as the throwing of them behind God. "Thou hast cast all my sine behind thy back." Who knows where the beck of God is? I see his face in nature. His smiles are the beauty of the world. I see his face in Jesus, "the Brightness of his glory." But where is his back? It is the fathomless abyss of nothingness. It is a separation as far as the east is from the west. Tell me the distance from the east to the west, and I will tell you the distance which the pardoned. sinner is from sin. It is a casting them into the "depths of the sea." Not on the shore, to be washed back by the incoming waves, but into the "depths." Into the abysses of some mighty Atlantic, where no storms shall stir them up, no trump shall wake them from their graves. "In those days, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and shall not be found." But where are they buried? In the forgetfulness of infinite love. "I will remember their sin no more." Can Infinite Intelligence forget? Yes, and his forgetfulness is one of the radiant attributes of his character. Does not all true forgiveness involve forgetfulness? Those who say they forgive and cannot forget, lack the faculty of forgiveness; as yet, Heaven has not endowed them with the power of granting absolution. It is of the very nature of love to hide injuries. Charity covereth sins. God has the power of forgetting injuries, because he is Love. I see the power of love in hiding injuries working everywhere in nature. The sea hastes to cover up the wounds which ruthless ships have ploughed into its noble besom. The tree, bleeding with the sores which the woodman has inflicted, loses no time in its efforts to conceal the marks of violence it has received. Day by day goes on, until the year comes round, when, amidst its luxurious foliage you look in vain foe the old scars. And thus, as the waves of the sea and the flowing sap, love ever works. It hastes to cover up from the eye of memory the injuries it has received. How soon the love of a wife buries in forgetfulness any injuries she has received from the man she loves too well! The countless pains which the thoughtlessness and waywardness of children in their early days inflict upon the parental heart are soon buried in the sea of parental love. Love digs in the heart of parents a grave for the wrongs, and builds a museum for the virtues of their children. All this is of God, God-like. Infinite love "passeth by the transgression." He leaves it behind him as he proceeds, in the majesty of his goodness, to diffuse wider and wider forever the blessedness of his own being. - D.T.