The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound: therefore I will pour out my wrath on them like water.
The Jews were not a mercantile nor a manufacturing people, but a nation of agriculturists. Each citizen had his own piece of ground allotted to him as the family inheritance; and great pains were taken that his descendants should be secured in it forever. A man might pledge his portion until the year of jubilee, but it was not lawful absolutely to sell it (Numbers 36:7). Hence the sacredness of landmarks, as a means of preserving accurately the boundaries of family possessions. One of the curses spoken from Ebal was directed against the man who should remove them (Deuteronomy 27:17). Elijah pronounced doom upon Ahab, not for the murder of Naboth alone, but also for "removing the bound" of his vineyard (1 Kings 21:19). Our text, however, invites us to consider rather the spiritual truth which this offence suggests. "The princes of Judah" were guilty of still deeper sin than the removal of boundary-stones. They had broken down moral and religious harriers. And this form of evil is a crying one in the world still.
I. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" OF THE INSPIRED WORD. The Bible closes with a curse upon such (Revelation 22:18, 19). Yet the Jews committed this sin in relation to the Old Testament Scriptures by venerating the traditional law, as written in the Talmud, more than "the commandment of God" itself (Matthew 15:6). The Church of Rome errs in the same way, by giving the Apocrypha a place alongside of the canonical Books, and by insisting upon apostolical and ecclesiastical tradition as the complement of Scripture - equally inspired with it, and equally authoritative as a rule of faith. And those Protestants also "remove the bound" who deny the plenary inspiration of the Bible, and adopt the theory of partial inspiration in any of its forms.
II. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE. Both of these are Divine institutions - the one spiritual in its nature, and the other secular. The spheres of the two are distinct; and each within its own sphere is independent of the other. But bow hard have men found it to let the landmarks between Church and state remain where God set them! In one country the Church invades the domain of the state, directing and controlling it - a usurpation which, in its fully developed form, is Vaticanism. In another country the state encroaches upon the domain of the Church, and exercises rule in sacred things - which is Erastianism. "Render therefore unto Caesar," etc. (Matthew 22:21).
III. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" AS REGARDS PURITY OF WORSHIP. "The princes of Judah" had shifted the landmarks between the worship of Jehovah and idolatry. And this offence is committed still by all who introduce modes of worship which are not in accordance with the Word of God. An elaborate sensuous ceremonial, and any form of service which assumes that ministers belong to a distinct sacerdotal order, are a removing of the bound. The secularization of the sabbath belongs to the same class of sins. Those who teach that now every day is alike sacred to the Christian are doing their best, although without intending it, to undermine one of the foundations of morality. For the sabbath law is imbedded in the Decalogue. Not only so, but "Christ hath took in this piece of ground" (George Herbert). So it is at our peril if we remove the boundary-stones which separate the Lord's day from the other days of the week.
IV. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION. The conflict between the two is concerned very much about the landmarks of their respective provinces. In old times it was the theologian who was generally the chief offender. It was the Church that forced Galileo to abjure the sublime truths of his scientific creed, and that condemned the three laws of Kepler as heretical. At present, however, the chief "remover of the bound" is the scientist. The student of physical nature, unless he be decidedly a Christian, is prone to lack ability to appreciate moral evidence. Thus some of our most eminent scientific investigators in these times would have us give up our faith in moral freedom, in personal immortality, and in the existence of God himself. But the domain of physical science is one province of truth, while that of religion is another. Scientific questions are to be settled on scientific grounds, and by men who have had a scientific training. The theologian, on the other hand, must keep within his own frontier, and resolutely defend those moral facts and religious truths with which it belongs to him to deal. It is his function to assert the reality of moral freedom, the supremacy of conscience, the intuition of immortality, and those deep experiences of guilt and soul-hunger to which only the gospel of Christ can respond. A curse shall fall upon those who remove these landmarks.
V. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" OF EVANGELICAL DOCTRINE. Orthodoxy has its landmarks which separate the apostolic doctrine from "another gospel." What are the great historical creeds and confessions, but so many bounds which the Church has erected in order to discriminate truth from error? And is not every article in one of these creeds, as it were, a boundary-stone? Experience has shown Christendom that the most effectual way of exposing heresies is to translate the doctrinal teaching of Scripture into the philosophical language of a confession. Yet there have always been "removers of the bound" of "sound doctrine." The Broad Churchman and the rationalist object to the evangelical boundaries; and they have never done so more loudly than at the present day. Even in some orthodox Churches, doctrines contained in the standards are from some of the pulpits unblushingly contravened. We must "hold fast the form of sound words." It is at our peril if we "remove the bound."
VI. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" AS REGARDS NONCONFORMITY TO THE WORLD. The evil one labors to obliterate as much as possible all distinct boundary-lines between the Church and the world. He tempts ministers always to preach "smooth things." He tempts the rulers of the Church to neglect the administration of discipline. He tempts the members of our congregations to imbibe the spirit of the world, and to try to serve both God and mammon. The Ten Commandments are so many boundary-stones which mark the track of the narrow way; but we often regard the path as too strait, and would fain remove the stones back a little. We ask concerning certain worldly pleasures, - "What harm is there in them?" instead of inquiring what good there is. The tendency of the Church in these times is by no means towards asceticism or Puritanism. Few Christian people are too strait-laced; the danger is rather that we become spiritually lax, and that we "remove the bound." - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound: therefore I will pour out my wrath upon them like water.