But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers?…
I. THE PASSING AWAY OF HEARERS AND SPEAKERS ALIKE. All ingenious exposition of the words of text suggests that they are a brief dialogue, a kind of duel between the prophet and his hearers, in which the first question is his sword thrust at them, and the second is their return to him. In it they parry and return the prophet's thrust. I prefer to regard the questions as continuous; the remonstrance of the prophet based upon the fact that hearers and speakers alike drift away into the unseen land, and are no more heard of. It is a very familiar and commonplace thought. Try to individualise the thought that is here. Reflect how surely, steadily, stealthily, constantly hearers and speakers of the immortal Word are drifting, drifting into the dark. Did you ever stand in some old cathedral, or ruined church, where for centuries the Word of God had been preached? And did there never come over you, with a strange rush of feeling, the thought, "Where are all the men and women that bowed their knees here, beneath the vanished roof of this place?"
II. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE FLEETING HEARERS AND SPEAKERS AND THE ABIDING WORD. There is nothing so transient as the words that are spoken by Christian teachers. Even where the Word takes root in men's hearts, how swiftly the speaker of it passes and is forgotten. No workers so soon have their work covered with oblivion as preachers. In another way, too, the prophets fade and perish; inasmuch as new circumstances arise about which they know nothing; new phases of thought which antiquate their teachings; new difficulties in which their words have no counsel; new conflicts in which they can strike no blow. Yet, in all this mingled and fleeting human utterance, does there not lie an immortal and imperishable centre, even the Word of the living God? Much ingenuity is expended nowadays in trying to discriminate between the permanent and transient in Christian teaching. The enduring Word is that story of Christ's incarnation, death for our sins, resurrection and ascension, which by the Gospel is preached unto you. Therefore we have to look beyond the dearest of human teachers, and those to whom we owe most. "They truly were not suffered to continue by reason of death," but this Man (Christ) continueth ever our Friend, our Prophet, Priest, and King.
III. THE WITNESS OF PAST GENERATIONS TO THE IMMORTAL WORD. They that heard and he that spake have passed into the silent land; but they passed not thither until they had found, in some measure, that both the warnings and the promises that had been uttered were God's truth, and not man's dreams. God's Word has leaden feet, but steady, and slow, and certain, it overtakes the wrong-doer. Do you take care. The generations that are gone found that the Word of the Lord was true; and if you reject His Word, you too may, before you die, find out, what you will certainly find out when you are dead, that He speaks no vain things.
IV. THE PRACTICAL EFFECTS OF THESE SOLEMN THOUGHTS. I want to urge upon my brethren in the ministry that they should, in all their utterances, try to realise that they are prophets, dying, with a message to dying men. There is a great deal of modern preaching clever, eloquent, cultured, ingenious, which seems to have utterly forgotten that it has got a message of forgiveness and of cleansing by the blood of Christ to proclaim to men. And how these thoughts should influence hearers! How you would listen if you knew that this was your last sermon!
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers? and they returned and said, Like as the LORD of hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so hath he dealt with us.
WEB: But my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, didn't they overtake your fathers? "Then they repented and said, 'Just as Yahweh of Armies determined to do to us, according to our ways, and according to our practices, so he has dealt with us.'"