Therefore thus said the LORD, If you return, then will I bring you again, and you shall stand before me…
My text refers us to three distinct characters of the pastoral office — to be the servant of God; to be the mouth of God; and to be the guide whom the people shall follow. And these involve three several duties, in which the pastor's own personal responsibility is closely linked with the solemn responsibilities of his office — that of preparing his own heart to seek the Lord; that of discriminating the "precious from the vile" in his instruction and conversation; and that of guarding himself and his flock against all declension after the ways of them who depart from God.
I. A DIVINE ADMONITION AS TO PERSONAL RELIGION. "To stand before," implies the office of one who stands in the presence of his sovereign, ready to execute His commands. It is the highest order of dignity and of service to which a subject can be called. He enjoys the privilege of constant access to the presence of majesty, a knowledge of the high affairs of government, and a share in the splendours of courtly life. Such is the relation in which a minister of true religion stands to the court of Heaven, in order that he may bring near a people prepared for the Lord, to whom, when they have received his message, he may say, Ye are a chosen generation, etc. See, then, the unspeakable importance of personal religion in one who shall perform such a ministration. He that would cause the people to hear the words of God must habitually listen to the voice of God in his own conscience, as often as he turns aside — and who is not conscious of too frequently doing so? — saying, "If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before Me." And then with confidence — the confidence of one who comes from a nearer access to the throne on high — he may go forth to his charge, and say, having the words of God in his mouth, "Turn ye, turn ye at My reproof."
II. A DIVINE DIRECTION. "If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as My mouth." The prophet may seem to have been charged with having, in some respect, mistaken his duty. In the view he took of his personal trials he had lost sight of the principal object of his ministry, namely, to cause the precious to come out from the vile. In times like the present, there may be an undue regard to the trials of the Church at large. From a just and pious jealousy of the dangers to which it is exposed, or by which it has been affected as a community, we may lose sight of the especial end of our ministry. In our reasonable remonstrance with unreasonable foes, and from just indignation at the treachery or declension of pretended friends, we may overlook the faithful use of the word "for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." In our zeal to mark an open enemy, or to discriminate an unsound adherent, we may forget the true flock of Christ; or in our eager cooperation with mere defenders of our Church polity, we may put aside from our own view, and obscure from the view of others, the real distinction which must ever be admitted in the doctrine of visible Church communion between the precious and the vile.
III. A DIVINE CAUTION: "Let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them." No object or consideration must induce the prophet to identify himself with their apostasy: he must take a decidedly contrary course. He must so order his life and conversation, his doctrines and his admonitions, that those who desire to return unto God may see in him the way and pattern. In this, as in every age of the Church, no inconsiderable portion of those who profess themselves its members are yet under the influence of that love of the world which is opposed to the love of God. To counteract the tendency of this spirit, rests greatly with the clergy. It is their duty more strictly to define the Christian character by precept and example, and more clearly to exhibit Christian truth, than to allow those who pursue so inconsistent a course to indulge in vain confidence as to their religious state. The clergy at least ought to define the boundary between the world and the people of God. If they are negligent in doing so, it cannot but be obscured. If they pass the boundary, they lead many across it who probably never return. The clergy are preeminently the "salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its savour," woe to the Church, and "woe to them by whom the offence cometh"; "Let them return unto Thee; but return not Thou unto them."
(W. Wilson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Therefore thus saith the LORD, If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me: and if thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth: let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them.
WEB: Therefore thus says Yahweh, If you return, then will I bring you again, that you may stand before me; and if you take forth the precious from the vile, you shall be as my mouth: they shall return to you, but you shall not return to them.