Even from the days of your fathers you are gone away from my ordinances, and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you…
Our life in this world is, in substance, a returning to God. When we were new-born we were set in the path that leads to eternal life, and bidden to keep in it, and so return to God. Few, if any, go straight onward; most of us are like wayward children, following the road for a while, then straying; anon recovering it, and then, with repentance, proceeding. So, all the life through, we are returning to God; lapsing here and there; erring and straying like lost sheep; finding the way back, we often wonder how; and so, as for our general direction, working a slow course toward final safety, through the temptations and dangers of the track by which we go. Often have Christians to check themselves, to deplore errors, and to retrace heedless steps; they must do this when they see or feel that they are out of the straight path. The text asks, "Wherein shall we return?" The question suggests some thought on motives which may act to lead men back to God. How shall they that are astray be brought home? If we grow lax, cold, and hard, how shall we be recovered? There are two great motives that can keep men near to God, and keep God's name in honour in the world. These two are love and fear: the love of God for His mercy, the fear of God for His justice. Either of these may save a man; either may keep a race alive and strong. With the heart we lay fast hold on God as the Father and the Saviour. God calls Himself our Father; the word includes His act in giving us our being, His providence which keeps, upholds, and blesses us day by day. God, as Creator, Ruler, and Governor, asks of us our love. He reveals Himself as God our Saviour. The symbol of the mighty all-constraining love is, and must ever be, the Cross. So first the Lord draws us by love. There are, however, those in the world on whom these considerations have no effect. In that case there remains one, and but one, other motive to bring them to God; it is the lower motive of fear. Not mere fear of punishment, nor the fear of suffering. It is the fear of irreparable disaster, of everlasting loss. That men cannot face. That is the dread of dreads. But there are those in whom there is no such dread; they do not feel the love of God, they cannot be shaken by the fear of God. What other motive can you name when both these fail? There is no answer. Destroy the belief in the Almighty God as a Creator; with that vanishes the belief in Almighty God as a providence. And when that is done the basis on which love rests is gone also. Destroy the belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of the world, and with it vanish also the sense of sin, gratitude for deliverance from its effects, and the love that has filled the hearts of men as they meditated on the mercy of the Saviour, and the sweetness of the "precious blood of Christ." Thus all ground for loving God is taken away. Cast out the belief in eternal death, in perpetual penalty, in irreparable doom, and fear must vanish. If there is no just God to requite me, whom is there to fear? What will men do when fallen so low? Let us consider. Can love and fear die out of the heart? Never. The love and fear of God can die; but love and fear of something will remain. Toward what shall these direct themselves? When man will no longer love God, he must come to loving himself; and when it comes to loving himself, his main fear is lest, in that self-love, he should be interfered with or balked. What would become of a world which had lost its own love and its fear, which neither loved the Redeemer nor feared the pains of hell? One may be pardoned for doubting whether such a world would be worth saving; and for questioning whether it could be saved. We therefore teach, as most necessary for these times, the love of God and the fear of God.
Parallel VersesKJV: Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?
WEB: From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my ordinances, and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says Yahweh of Armies. "But you say, 'How shall we return?'