The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.Healing and Binding
Man never uttered these words. They seem as if they had originated in the hearts of the sinners whose sin has been portrayed with unutterable blackness. If we suppose that the prodigals invented this desire and this prayer, we are mistaken. God first teaches the prayer, and then answers it. The proof that prayer is divinely answered is that prayer is divinely taught. Lord, teach us how to pray! God will not disappoint himself; the Lord will not mock his own Throne; the Lord will not teach his children to praise and pray, to give thanks and make request, and then treat them as if they had been speaking into the empty clouds. We often pray without praying, and then we have no answer—thank God! If God treated human folly as he treats divine inspiration, where were his discrimination, his omniscience, his Godhead? Sometimes we pray when we have no right to pray, no claim upon the divine attention; our ambition speaks, our vanity importunes, our selfishness utters its greedy plea; then God is absent; he is not to be found by the cry of selfishness. We are to understand by these words that the Lord himself is teaching the people what to say.
The picture is vivid; it represents the Almighty as telling Israel and Judah and all sinning ones in all ages to say, "Come, let us return." Such an exhortation must have come from God. We have been with Judah and Israel in their hell; it was with difficulty we breathed there; never was sin so held up before us in blackness and pestilence; never did wickedness reek out with so horrible a stench as we have just known it It took some courage to go through these five chapters; we would have evaded them if we could, but we had to take them as they came. To read some of the verses aloud was an impossibility; we glanced at them, hinted at them, treated them furtively, but as to making their acquaintance in any sense of familiarity, it would be like hugging the very spirit of darkness and pollution. When we have been travelling in some dark and difficult place, filled with smoke and sulphur, when we have come out of the subterranean way, and stood on the thoroughfare, we have exclaimed spontaneously, How different, how healthy, how fresh the air is! So with us in reference to this opening. After what we have gone through we feel as if we had come suddenly upon a mountain-top, and all the winds were blowing around us, not in violence, but in blessing, every breath a benediction, every breeze a renewal of youth and hope and thankfulness. The great prayers of the Bible are not men's prayers. Solomon never prayed that great dedication prayer out of his own head, until he had taken that head to have it sanctified, refined, ennobled, and enriched by special communion with the Father of all true sanctuaries; and when the prodigal said, far away, "I will arise," it was the Spirit eternal that told him what a fool he was, as well as criminal, to be dying of hunger when he might be eating bread in his father's house. Do not take credit for your own religion. You will spoil it by claiming it. Say rather, when the soul takes wing and seeks the gate of the morning, This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, wonderful in counsel and excellent in working. Never invent your own prayers; simply have nothing to do with them but utter them, with lips of faith and hearts of thankfulness. No man should ever make a prayer—in any sense construct and arrange a prayer—if he wants it answered; he should first say, Lord, I want to pray; now pray in me, and through me, and for me: and the prayer itself shall be its own reply.
Notice the plural form: "Come, and let us—" This is not a grammatical accident. Here is the expression of a great movement that is yet to take place in human history. Whole nations are to be fired with a religious enthusiasm; man is to speak to man and of man as to himself and of himself; the parts are to come together and constitute the totality of the divine idea. A beautiful sight to see a lone pilgrim going on a journey Godward; vivid pictorially and most subduing pathetically is it to see a prodigal lamed, bruised, travel-stained, a face a pictured sorrow, going alone to tell his Father all his sin. Never let us undervalue individuality of contrition, repentance, and pardon; but what is beautiful in the individual is multiplied in its loveliness when we consider that all men with one voice may some day say to one another, "Come, let us..." Can men hide themselves under a common plural? Is there a grammar which belongs to us all,—a moral grammar, a spiritual syntax? Have all men fallen? Have all we like sheep gone astray? Is there none righteous, no not one? This is the plurality of the return; this is the evidence of the common action, that men start from the abyss of a common apostasy, and by the grace and light of Christ and God the Holy Spirit they may seek pardon, peace, truest comfort.
Notice also the word which we are so apt to pass over as a common phrase, namely, the word "return." We may so pronounce it as to find nothing in it but a dissyllable; we may, on the other hand, be so arrested by all its pathetic suggestiveness as to find in it the history of all sin, and the dawning of the everlasting Gospel. How far is it back to God from the sinner's way-going, his wantonness, and his conscious distance from the Eternal Throne? Can we walk back in a day? Say ye who measure distances and talk numbers, how far is it, how long the journey? Can I accomplish it before the sunset? Foolish man! that he should measure some road his feet may take, and never measure or attempt to measure the distance which intervenes between a soul all sin and a God all holiness. Is this a return to be accomplished airily, jauntily, frivolously? Can it be done in a friendly conversation? Is this a matter to be accomplished by a waving of the hand? Can men go this journey, and yet be sitting still all the time? What is the distance? He would be a foolish king who went forth to battle, and did not number his army, count the cost, and beforehand work out the problem of possibilities. How insane the man who never assures himself how far he is from his father's house! The word "repent" is a larger word than it sometimes appears to be; it involves heartache, and heart-inquest, heart-searching, confession, supplication, contrition, shamefacedness, burning of the skin because the heated blood is aflush with the agony of shame. We cannot repent trivially. Earthquakes and tempests, rending winds and burning fires, and pulverising hammers, must all be known in their moral meaning before we enter into rest. This experience will come variously. The dear young child that has never known the vulgarity of sin cannot pass through the same experience as a man who has been familiar with every spirit of it. Yet as to moral meaning and spiritual intent and force, there will be a kindred consciousness, so that the one shall not talk to the other in an unknown tongue. Even when the child hears the criminal's experience, there will be a power of following it with some degree of sympathy and understanding; yet while the young soul shudders at the tale of iniquity and wrong and madness, it will still know that such a tale is no romance, but something that might have taken place in the youngest, tenderest heart.
Observe that the meaning is not given in the next form of the expression:—"For he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up." This God is a surgeon. There is meaning in all the smiting of God; in all the losses and crosses which baffle our life; in all the emptying from vessel to vessel which our experience undergoes; in all the depletions, disappointments, and harassings of the life. God is doing therein a preparatory work; when he rips up the soil, laying back the greensward as by a hand of iron, it is that he may afterwards come and sow the seed that shall grow into an abundant and satisfying harvest. When the surgeon brings his steel into the sick chamber, it is not that he may cut, wound, and give pain; he cuts and wounds and gives pain and tears to pieces that he may heal and comfort and restore. Look at the purpose of the smiting"; look at the meaning of the tearing which our life undergoes. Job, if the Lord hath torn thy nest out of thy favourite branch, it is that he may build thee a better, and bigger, and warmer with his own hands. Cheer thee! All this means that we accept the providence in a filial spirit. The great administration is not carried on without our consent wherever personal culture, refinement, and perfecting of character may be concerned. Herein we are co-workers with God, fellow-labourers with the divine, saying, All things work together for good to them that love God; then shall the tearing and the smiting end in healing and in binding up.
The second verse is the most mysterious in all the prophecy. Perhaps it is hardly second to any other verse in the whole volume in spiritual mystery:—
"After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight" (Hosea 6:2).
What is the prophet talking about? He does not know. No prophet knows his own prophecy. If the prophet knew what he was talking about he would be as a common man; his madness is the seal of his apostleship. When Paul became from the world's point of view insane he most tenderly gripped the hand that saved him. We have instances again and again in which men talk not knowing what they are saying; they use beautiful language and cannot explain it. "And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself; but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." Is it possible for a rational man to be talking what he does not understand? It is one of the raptures and luxuries of the highest life. Arithmetic always knows what it is talking about. Poor arithmetic! Well called by some prophet, who did not know what he was talking about, "simple arithmetic." It knows every button it holds. You cannot escape the claim of arithmetic. It boasts itself of what it calls its audit and its balance-sheet. But poetry, passion, religious enthusiasm, that momentary transport of the soul in which we see more than can be seen with mortal eyes, that strange power, will, uncontrollable, yet always limited by the highest reason, cannot accept language but with a sense of its insufficiency, and cannot commend it, because of conscious contempt.
There have not been wanting those who have seen the resurrection of our Lord predicted in these words. With them I heartily join. Sometimes words have to lie for centuries because the explanation has not come. The prophets often wondered what they were saying; they did not know what the spirit of Christ and the spirit of prophecy within them was saying at any given moment; they wondered, they were alarmed; their very faces indicated the torment of their soul; they called the word they spoke a burden—"the burden of the Lord." There are those who tell us that we import meanings into the Bible. We reply: You import meanings into us, and we do not accept you as our teachers, and we despise you as our critics. And there are those who seem to know exactly what the Bible means and what it cannot mean, and who are very particular not to allow anybody to tell Ezekiel something that Ezekiel never thought about himself. Who knows what a prophecy means? Who understands the higher typology of Scripture? Because there is a spiritualisation of the letter which is superstitious and absurd, it does not follow that there is not a reading of all the apocalypse of the Bible which does not cover all history, all evolution, all sacrifice, and all heroism. Better find more meanings in the Bible than fewer; better say, "It is impossible to drain this goblet," than to treat it as if it were only one of a thousand others to be tasted and rejected as taste may dictate. This is a remarkable expression about the "two days" and "the third day." But is there not here a use of the plural also?—"will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us." Certainly; nor does that interfere with the meaning which has been assigned to the prophecy. It is Christ that is raised, but only as the first-fruits; when Christ rises no saint sleeps. Christ involves the whole, and expresses himself in the totality of the saints. They that sleep in Christ shall only be behind their Lord; they will go up with him as in a cloud of mystery and of glory. "I am the resurrection and the life": does the declaration end there? Does it not go on to say, "He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live"? Is the old thunder "come forth" nothing now but a hollow and impotent whisper? Is not Jesus Christ the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever? If ye then be risen with Christ, prove your resurrection by your consecration.
What is the blessed assurance that is given after the resurrection?—"We shall live in his sight": literally, We shall live in his face. The prophet Hosea refers repeatedly to "the face of God." We have just heard what he said, charged by the divine Word: "In their affliction they will seek me early," and we have heard him declare that when they came the Lord would show them his face in answer to their contrition. "We shall be satisfied when we awake,"—that is to say, we shall be satisfied in our resurrection—"with the likeness," or the face, "of God." We are not called into nothingness, emptiness, vacuity, or a mere sense of largeness and infinity; we are called to definiteness of conception, singularity and high accentuation of consciousness. We are to fix our gaze upon the ineffable beauty, and by looking at Christ we are to become like him. "For we shall see him as he is": some sights are transfiguring; there are some objects we could not look at, and then go away instantly and commit sin. We must put a separation between the sight and the sin: we must, in other words, forget the spectacle before we can accept the drudgery of iniquity. To these exaltations are we called; these are the voices of history and of Providence that address us.
"Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord": there must be no sitting down by the wayside, no loitering, no laziness in all the school of the Church. "We shall know, if we follow on to know": if we practise the little we do know we shall get outlook of things that lie beyond, and confidence to deal with them. Love shall beget love; capacity shall enlarge itself into a still fuller capacity, and practice in prayer should, so to say, end in skill of supplication; we shall know the way to the throne and the seat of mercy, and come boldly to it as of right, not in ourselves, but invested in us by the grace of God. "His going forth is prepared as the morning"—is established as the morning. It is a great action of law, a great movement settled, regulated, determined from eternity. "And he shall come unto us as the rain," not the occasional shower, not the intermittent baptism of soft water, but "as the latter and former rain unto the earth": if the latter rain came only, there was no harvest; if the former rain came only, there was no harvest; the latter and the former rain must both come, each in its own time, and each in its own way, and then the garners were too small for the harvesting. Thus we have law, and thus we have mercy. Here we have philosophy which earthly philosophy has not yet comprehended; condescension that leaves behind no amazement that it can stoop so low as to touch the furtherest away. It is in these mysteries we live; in these voices we hear the only music we care to listen to. Here is a house in which we would abide for ever.