Fugitive Piety
Hosea 6:4, 5
O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? for your goodness is as a morning cloud…

A thoughtful reader cannot fail to observe the contrast here suggested between the constancy of Jehovah's grace (ver. 3) and the inconstancy of Israel's piety (ver. 4). If Israel would (rely "return," and "follow on to know the Lord" now, all would yet be well. But, alas! the twelve tribes are as fickle as he is faithful.

I. GOD'S COMPLAINT REGARDING THE JEWISH PEOPLE. (Ver. 4.) In Eastern lands the sky is often heavily hung with clouds at early dawn; lint, so soon as the sun rises, he begins to suck them up - their many-colored glory quickly fades, and in an hour is time they are gone. In the morning, also, the dewdrops adorn the herbage like myriads of sparkling diamonds; but the first acts of radiation after sunrise dissipate all the jewelry, and soon leaf and blade languish in the heat. Those two figures the Lord uses in this touching expostulation. Israel's piety, when the people did show any, was similarly fascinating, promising, and evanescent. It could no more be reckoned up,0n than "a morning cloud." It was short-lived as "the early dew." There are many examples in Scripture of such fugitive piety.

(1) In the national history of Israel. At Sinai the people promised obedience, and then made the golden calf. The age of the Judges was a time of alternate sinning and repenting, and repenting and sinning. Each of the reformations under John, Elijah, and Hezekiah turned out to be "as a morning cloud."

(2) In the lives of individuals. It is enough to mention such cases as King Saul, the young ruler who came to Jesus, Felix, Demas, the Galatian professors (Galatians 5:7). We meet with morning-cloud religion constantly still. It is frequently found:

1. In the time of childhood. "The dew of youth' is always beautiful; and sometimes the grace of the Holy Spirit is in it, and it fertilizes. The morning cloud of childhood's faith is often a "vision splendid," for

"Trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our Home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!"

(Wordsworth.) But the piety of childhood does not always bear the test. It sometimes turns out to be merely emotional, and nothing more. In the hour of temptation "it goeth away."

2. In the season of affliction. Many a man, in the day upon which some storm of sickness or bereavement has strewn his life with wreckage, resolves that when the clouds are removed he will cultivate the friendship of God, and trust in his providence, and keep his Law. But, after prosperity has returned, he does not "pay that which he has vowed."

3. As the result of common grace. Common grace is that influence of the Holy Spirit which is more or less granted to all men. In connection with his operations men who are unregenerate have their seasons of deep conviction, and of anxious thought regarding spiritual things. Sometimes riley "receive the Word with joy" (Matthew 13:20), and are "made partakers of the Holy Ghost" (Hebrews 6:4), and begin to lead an externally religious life. But, if experiences of this kind are not accompanied by a real change of heart, they pass away like "a morning cloud." Such fugitive piety is fatally defective. It is:

(1) Unreal. For, a characteristic mark of true religion is steadfastness. "The path of the just" is not "as a morning cloud," but "as the morning" itself, "that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Proverbs 4:18).

(2) Unhappy. Those who do not "follow on to know the Lord," but allow themselves to be hindered by the discouragements and sufferings which belong to the Christian life, come to identify religion only with these. "Pliable" associates piety with the "Slough of Despond," "Formalist and Hypocrisy" with "the Hill Difficulty," "Timorous and Mistrust" with "the lions." It is only pilgrims like "Christian," who endure to the end, that shall taste the joys of" the House Beautiful," and "the Delectable Mountains," and "the land of Beulah."

(3) Unhopeful. Those who "receive the Word into stony places," or "among the thorns," become a very hopeless class. The habit of taking sudden fits of goodness, each of which is followed by a relapse into sin, is very hardening to the heart.

II. GOD'S METHOD WITH THE PEOPLE. (Ver. 5.) The Lord speaks as if he has been at his wit's end to know what measures to adopt in order to win the nation back to godliness. His words are, "What shall I do unto thee? What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?" (Isaiah 5:4). His wisdom can devise no new expedient. His policy hitherto has been one of mingled goodness and severity, and all that he can do is to continue that policy still. So:

1. He sends his prophets to "hew." The figure here is taken from the art of the statuary. Human souls are like blocks of marble, and God is the great Sculptor. He sent the Hebrew prophets to cut and carve Israel into the Divine image; for, while the nation's piety was thin as vapor, its heart was hard as adamant. This metaphor has a lesson in it regarding the Christian ministry. A large part of the preacher's work is to prick slumbering consciences, and to hammer stony hearts. It is true, of course, that the New Testament message is emphatically "the gospel;" yet the background of the "good news" is necessarily the bad news of guilt and sin and wrath. Christian sermons addressed to the natural man cannot avoid being denunciatory. Our pulpit teaching, both in matter and manner, should reflect as clearly as possible the teaching of the New Testament. In delivering the message of condemnation especially, the speaker should take care to be not only faithful but tender.

2. He uses his Law to "slay." "The words of God's mouth" are fitted to produce the recognition of sin in its true nature and consequences. The ministry of the Law convicts and condemns. God's word "slays" when it convinces of guilt and pollution, and produces thereby self-condemnation and remorse. A man must be thus slain in relation to sin before his heart, can be prepared for the reception of the gospel. "Is not my Word like as a fire? saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:29). "The Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword," etc. (Hebrews 4:12).

3. He comes in a morning of judgment. "Thy judgments" we take to mean the judgments inflicted on thee, i.e. on the Jewish people. God will prepare for them such a morning as they do not desire to see at all. lie will come "as the light" to manifest their sins, and to punish them. The judgments shall be palpable to every eye, and shall be manifestly just. Jehovah shall be "clear when he judges."

CONCLUSION. These two verses remind us

(1) that God's compassions fail net, but

(2) that persistent sinfulness on man's part will shut him out from the enjoyment of the Divine mercy. - C.J.

Parallel Verses
KJV: O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.

WEB: "Ephraim, what shall I do to you? Judah, what shall I do to you? For your love is like a morning cloud, and like the dew that disappears early.

Fugitive Piety
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