Is not my word like as a fire? said the LORD; and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?
The circumstances of Judah were new and strange when this question was put by God into the mouth of Jeremiah. The name of Jehovah was now falsely used to cover those deceits for which Baal's was of old the cloak. Against this new form of an old temptation God now warns the people. He bids them winnow the wheat, and cast away the chaff, and not slight necessary truth because falsehood was abroad. "What is the chaff to the wheat?" The counterfeit cannot have the inner life and power of the original "Is not My Word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer," &c. Here is the mark of My true message: there is a power and might about it which cannot be caught by imitation. The figure is natural and expressive. The custom on which it is founded still prevails in the East. In Madeira, for example, at this day, if a new road is to be carried through a set of rocky obstacles, a fire is lighted on the bed of rock; and when by its action the solid mass is charred and its cleavage loosened, the hammer of the workman soon breaks it thoroughly away. And this same power, says God, is the true credential of My message: as "the hammer and the fire" against the rock of the wilderness, so shall be My Word and My message against the stoutness of man's heart. In this sense, evidently, the "Word of God" must not be limited to His written Word; in its first application it did not describe the written Word at all: it was the living ministry of the prophet of the Lord, and not the written law, which was to be discerned from that of all pretenders by its possession of this inner power: and it is therefore a strong and impressive assertion of this great truth, that the power of God, and that only, avails for the real subjection and renewal of man's heart — that this "fire," and that "hammer" can break it up; and that this is so exclusively their work, that the possession of this power is truly a mark and a countersign of that administration with which God is coworking. Who can watch himself without seeing how far too strong evil always is, and has been, for his own unaided resistance? When did our best resolutions stand long before the hotness of a pressing temptation and the seeming safety of a fitting opportunity? when did the frost-work of the morning stand before the sunshine of the noon? how often do we find old habits of sin breaking out again, when we deemed them long since quenched; showing, like revived volcanoes, that what seemed extinction was but a temporary lull! On the other hand, who that has noted what is passing round him has not marked some instances in which God's grace has evidently changed the heart and formed anew the spring of its affections? Who has not seen this heavenly power bow the swelling passions of youth to the pure and peaceable rule of a willing obedience? Who has not seen the proud made humble, the rough-tempered gentle, and the indolent laborious? How broadly too has this truth been sometimes written in the alteration of a nation's character, and its submission to the Gospel yoke. Whenever the "stone cut out without hands" has indeed smitten a people or nation, how have they and all their former manners crumbled into dust before it. Such then is the witness of experience; and right reason would lead us to expect this difference between the work of God and all inferior power. For, if the hypothesis be true; if man's nature be thoroughly corrupted to its deepest springs; how can he indeed renew himself to righteousness? That on which he has to work, and that with which he has to work, are both alike defiled; how can the one cleanse the other? From the very nature of things it is impossible. And yet who is there that has closely watched others, or still more himself, who does not know that one of the last and hardest things which we can do, is to bring the mind and soul in very deed to hold this truth? The peculiar attempt of infidelity at present is silently and decently to supersede religion — to speak of it as an excellent thing in its way: but to be always able to do without it. It is the monstrous folly of confessing that God is, and treating Him as if He were not our God. This new form of infidelity might easily be traced as more or less harassing society at present. But what is most to our present purpose, nowhere is it more plainly to be found than in the schemes of education which we hear every day buzzed on every side of us. It is asserted, and with a painful truth, that our people are not now educated as they should be: but what remedy is set before us? A scheme of national education which, more or less, evidently is indeed so framed as to exclude religion. What, then, even for this world, is the object of national education? Doubtless, to form amongst the masses of our population a high-toned character; to make them brave, honest, industrious, and unselfish; and then, to add to this as much of knowledge upon other matters as will enlarge their powers of mind without diverting them from the peculiar duties of their several stations; for this will make them wealthy, powerful, and happy: that is, in one word, you educate your people to give them a higher moral tone; and can mere earthly learning give a man this moral tone? Surely not. The most learned man may, in spite of his learning, continue the most thoroughly depraved. What human understanding can come up in subtlety and power to his who is God's enemy and man's: who once was, as we deem, second in power and wisdom to none of God's highest creatures, and whom spiritual, not carnal wickedness, drew into rebellion and cast down to hell? So that the highest spiritual wickedness may be combined with the greatest mental cultivation. What, then, but God can purify man's heart? And is it not, then, the mere naked madness of the infidel to endeavour to do this without religion? Is it not, in very deed, to shut God out of His own world, to believe that other means besides His power can be, in truth, "the hammer" and the "fire" to break the heart of man?
(Bp. Samuel Wilberforce.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?