O you that are named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the LORD straitened? are these his doings?…
The greatest blessings when perverted become the greatest curses. An unimproved or an abused privilege becomes a positive evil. It were easy to adduce a host of illustrations to confirm the justice of these observations. There is hardly a temporal blessing to be named, in respect of which it may not be shown that its abuse becomes a curse to the possessor. Take the endowment of intellect or of reason. Or the case of one to whom providence has allotted a more than common abundance of this world's wealth. Spiritual mercies may be equally abused with temporal, and the result which ensues from their misuse is to the full as disastrous. The prophet, speaking in the name of God, demands, "Do not My words do good to him that walketh uprightly?" But the form of interrogation clearly implies, that to such as walk not in uprightness, the words of the Almighty will rather do injury. It was in reply to the solicitations of those who entreated of the prophet not to prophesy that he delivered the emphatic appeal which we have in the verse containing our text. We are, however, concerned with the broad principle which it seems to imply. There is pointed out the condition of all profitable hearing of God's words. It is — upright walking. The precept must be embodied in practice, or it will not only be useless, it will be positively injurious.
I. WHAT REASONS THERE ARE FOR EXPECTING THAT THE HEARING OF GOD'S WORDS WILL INJURE, RATHER THAN BENEFIT, THE INDIVIDUAL WHO WALKS NOT UPRIGHTLY. Some qualification is necessary at the outset to obviate an erroneous conclusion which might be drawn. It might be said, "What, then, becomes of the utility of the proclamation to the disobedient? And what remains of the office of the Word to convince and to convert the soul?" The apparent contradiction is easily explained. The prophet is clearly speaking of such persons as, under the hearing of God's words, refused to repent and be obedient. The message he had to deliver was calculated to reclaim and convert them, but they refused submission to the authority of Him in whose name the messenger spake, and it was in this case that the tidings injured, in place of benefiting. The guilt and the responsibility were all their own; the fault was not in the Word. The prophet was not to desist from proclaiming that Word, simply because, when its statements were rejected, moral injury would result. And we are not to be deterred from communicating God's words to the disobedient, simply because there is a possibility that they will continue to be disobedient, and in that case be injured and not advantaged by the message, Now take the case of one to whom God's words are sent, but they have never yet led him to a walk of uprightness. God's words have been practically a dead letter. This is the ease in which we are prepared to contend that the words of God are turning to that man's injury; the blessing is being converted into a curse. We assume that every man's real and highest enjoyment, his greatest moral advantage, depends upon his conformity to the precepts of God's Word. Each instance in which God's words are heard, and no result towards holiness produced, diminishes the probability of ultimate obedience. He is becoming more hard and inflexible, and less likely ever to become the subject of genuine repentance. It is a law of man's moral constitution, that feelings once aroused, which are not carried out into practice, gradually become feebler and less capable of being wakened afresh. There is no case in which there is greater cause for apprehension than that of an individual who has long been accustomed to the ministrations of the Gospel, without being converted beneath them;
II. THE POSITIVE GOOD WHICH RESULTS TO THE UPRIGHT FROM HEARING GOD'S WORDS.
1. Look at the knowledge which revelation imparts.
2. The words of God accomplish a most important purpose with reference to the believer's sanctification, or his actual preparation for heaven. The promise cannot advantage any but the Consistent disciple. No man has a right to appropriate a single promise of God's Word, who is not resolved upon striving after obedience. It is the "upright" walker to whom alone the promise in reality belongs. May we carry away with us the recollection of this great truth, — that in order to profit by God's words, whether as communicated to us on the page of inspiration, or by the ministrations of the Gospel, there must be an endeavour on our parts to walk uprightly, or to walk in agreement with what God's Word prescribes.
(Robert Bickersteth, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the LORD straitened? are these his doings? do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?