As surely as I live, declares the Lord GOD, with a strong hand, an outstretched arm, and outpoured wrath I will rule over you.
I. GOD'S RULE IS DIRECTED SOLELY FOR MAN'S PURITY. Such is his own holiness of nature, that he cannot tolerate impurity of any kind in his kingdom. Or, if he does tolerate it for a season, it is only for the purpose of more effectually purifying his saints. To distribute his own happiness, he created men; but that happiness can only reach perfection when it is rooted in purity. Purity or perdition is the only alternative under the sceptre of Jehovah.
II. THE PLACE APPOINTED FOR THE TEST. "I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I plead with you face to face." Already this had been done in the wilderness of Sinai, and now it shall be done again. This wilderness is not Babylon, nor the desert between Babylon and Judaea. It denotes the isolated condition of the people, when they should be scattered among all the nations. A desert is the outward emblem of man's desolation through sin. Iniquity has made a desert in his heart, in his home, in the nation - a desert in all his surroundings. There, under a sense of his folly and misfortune, God condescends to plead with men.
III. A WINNOWING PROCESS IS TO BE PURSUED. "I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me." If the nation, following its lower passions and following foolish kings, refuse God's salvation, God will deal with them individually. As a nation they shall be destroyed; but an election shall be saved. God will appear as a Thresher, and will purge his floor, and separate the chaff from the wheat. Would that the entire nation had yielded to his righteous rule! Yet, if the majority reject his grace, a minority will accept it. Not a single penitent shall be swept away with the rebellious. Divine wisdom can and will discriminate.
IV. THE OBDURATE SHALL BE ABANDONED. "Go ye, serve ye every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto me." Lightly as men may esteem the severity of such a sentence, it is the most crushing doom that can befall them - to be given over to the indulgence of their vices. For God to withdraw the restraints of his grace, and allow them the liberty they crave, would be the heaviest scourge, the beginning of perdition. Said God of Ephraim, "He is joined to his idols: let him alone!" Of some it is declared by Jesus the Christ, "He is guilty of eternal sin."
V. THE PENITENT SHALL RISE TO EMINENT PIETY. (See vers. 40 and 41.) They shall worship again in the consecrated mount. Their offerings shall be spontaneous and abundant. Their gifts and sacrifices shall send a sweet savour Godward. Best of all, they shall find acceptance with God. The Most High will be honoured in their midst. His presence will be felt as a purifying power. "I will be sanctified in you." The remembrance of their past ways and past experiences shall open their eyes to the foulness and loathsomeness of sin. Their inmost tastes and affections shall be refined. Self-condemnation is an essential element in repentance.
VI. THE RESULT WILL BE LARGER ACQUAINTANCE WITH GOD. "Ye shall know that I am the Lord." The manifestation of God's patience, condescension, and tender love will enlarge their conception of God. He will gain a larger place in their esteem and confidence. His true glory will come forth. In this way even human sin will contribute to human elevation; man's guilt will promote God's glory. In the widest sense, "all things shall work together for good." The darkest disaster will serve as a setting for the jewels of God's goodness. - D.
I. THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE TEXT ON THE HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE. The Israelites had the most distinguished privileges. No other nation had a history like theirs. It was the history of Divine interpositions, manifestations, and revelations. No other nation had such statutes and laws. They had heard the blast of the trumpet which no earthly lips could have blown. No other nation had such songs; they were the odes in which they rehearsed in their homes and in the sanctuary God's wonderful dealings with their race, so that the history of the past was perpetuated. God had a local residence in their midst. He had His palace and His court. The symbol of the Divine presence dwelt between the outstretched wings of the cherubim, and as the worshipper bowed down he could almost see the veil of the temple wave, as if by the presence of Him who dwelt in the Holy of Holies. The God of Israel had His altars and sacrifices, His ministers and priests. Other nations had their gods, but they had never at any time heard their voice; there had been no manifestations of their power and glory. Others nations had their sacrifices, but no fire had ever come down from heaven on their altars. Idolatry was perpetuated by the heathen; they made no change in their gods. It mattered not how uncouth and grim the idol, it was not exchanged for another. It mattered not how revolting and debasing the superstition, it was perpetuated. The Israelites sought to extinguish the last ray of Divine light, to obliterate the last traces of the Divine law, to silence the faint echoes of the Divine voice which yet lingered around them. They sought to become as "the heathen, and as the families of the countries, that worshipped wood and stone." But God said, "That which cometh unto your mind shall not be at all." He interposed to prevent this fearful consummation. He visited them with chastisement upon chastisement. The Jews are the aristocracy of Scripture without their coronets. They are like a river running through the deep sea, but never mingling with its waters. They are yet separate and distinct, thus proving the truth of the text.
We will be as the heathen.
Homilist.I. AS AN EVIL TO WHICH THE GODLY ARE LIABLE.
1. The force of early habits. The spirit of self-indulgence and sensualism was the first spirit that animated us all. Its death requires time. Hence in unguarded moods it comes up again.
2. The force of social influence. In our industries, recreations, our literature and institutions, the spirit of Paganism breathes in all, and it tends to possess us of itself.
3. The force of satanic agency. The devil's great wish is that men should endeavour to get their "bread" — their happiness — out of "stones."
II. AS AN EVIL AGAINST WHICH THE GODLY SHOULD STRUGGLE.
1. By the growth of heavenly sentiments.
2. By closer fellowship with the Divine.
3. By a moral conquest over spiritual foes.
4. By a translation into the heavenly world.
I. BECAUSE THE THOUGHT OF THEIR MINDS IS OPPOSED TO THE PRINCIPLES OF THEIR NATURE AND THE FACTS OF THEIR HISTORY. The Jewish people spoke in denial and forgetfulness of their own condition. They assumed what was impossible, namely, that they could dismiss and annihilate all the past, and bow down before gods of wood and stone, and enter upon a course of unregulated enjoyment, with a satisfaction equal to theirs who had never known Jehovah and His holy law. It could not be. There is no river of forgetfulness in which men can bathe. We may think as they did, but "it shall not be at all," for —
1. We have an enlightened conscience, and that will prevent it. What others call pleasure would be to us sin — sin against God.
2. We have the memory of better things, and that will prevent it. The heathen knew nothing better than his heathenism. The Jew could look back, was often compelled to look back, upon much that made his fallen position hateful. We turn from religion, but bitter memories remain to us.
3. We bring to it the knowledge of Divine truth, and that will prevent it. Truth once imparted and received cannot be wholly lost. It will live, and often present itself to trouble the soul. This applies specially to those who turn to superstitious courses. There is something significant in the expression "to serve wood and stone." It seems to intimate that to the Jew, with his knowledge, the gods of heathenism could never be anything better. A man who loses his sight by disease or accident can never equal in cheerfulness and in free unembarrassed movement a man who was born blind. No more can those who have known religious truth and religious experiences be equal with those who have never risen above the world, and whose lives throughout have been shadowed by error and falsehood.
II. BECAUSE IT IS SUBJECT TO THE COUNTERACTING OPERATIONS OF THE GREAT GOD. There are two ways in which God defeats the thought of their minds.
1. By His correcting providences. The afflictions, losses, bereavements, sorrows of life.
2. By His pursuing love. By His Spirit making memory a living picture of the better past.Learn —
1. The weakness and littleness of fallen human nature. Men who have tested the heavenly manna can yet turn from it to the coarsest food.
2. The safeguards against such a spirit. Ponder the truth here asserted. Patient, earnest work; the cultivation of a cheerful, joyous frame; the glorious future.
3. The folly and evil of such conduct. And if it has been yours, come back to Christ at once.
II. THE APPLICATION OF THE GREAT PRINCIPLE CONTAINED IN THE TEXT TO YOURSELVES. Our privileges are greater than those of the Israelites, so that we may even say that the past "had no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth." There has been a manifestation of God; but it has been in the flesh. There has been a sacrifice for sin, of which all other sacrifices were but the prefiguration. There has been a diviner Pentecost; for the Holy Ghost rent the heavens and came down. There has been a more glorious Gospel; for we have a Gospel of facts. The truth is the highest and divinest power in the world, and has authority over men. All human laws and polities may change, the world may be burnt up to its last cinder, the heavens may pass away with a great noise; but the truth is eternal — it can never pass away. It is the light; it illumines or blinds: it is the fire; it softens or hardens: it is the power that saves or destroys; it is either "life unto life or death unto death." Men cannot believe the truth if they have never heard it; but we cannot justify our unbelief through our want of acquaintance with the truth. With what authority it comes to us! The truth overawes you, and, unconsciously it may be, you do partial homage to it, but you have no true affinity with it; your heart returns no response to its voice; you do not want to believe. There is an awful power in man by which lie comes into collision with God, by which he puts an affront on the truth, and refuses to believe or obey it. Men would change all things, they would change the true into the untrue. The truth is as though it were untrue to them. They would have no law with its majestic sanctions and awful penalties. They would have no everlasting distinction between right and wrong. They would have no Gospel with its Saviour and its Cross — with its blessed words of promise and of hope for guilty men. Man's unbelief is his protest against truth. It is the manifestation of the disloyalty of his whole nature to the truth. Men may let go their hold on the truth, but the truth does not let go its hold on them. If a man has stood on an exceeding high mountain, and has seen the grand panorama unfold itself to his view, can he ever forget it? If he has seen the sea when the tempest has passed over it and the floods have lifted up their hands, can he ever forget it? And can a man who has heard the truth ever forget it? It is graven on his memory as in characters of eternal fire — he can never divest himself of the associations and recollections of truth. God interposes to prevent the utter apostasy of nations and of men. "And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people," etc. We have been brought into the wilderness — into the scene of utter desolation — we have been stript of everything, and in fearful silence God has come to us and pleaded with us. And what has been the character of His pleadings? Has He upbraided us — has He threatened us with terrible punishment? We were silent, and we heard Him say, "Come now, and let us reason together." We had no excuses, no arguments, but to our utter amazement He said, "Though your sins be as scarlet," etc. Or we have been sent into captivity, a foe mightier than the Chaldean has led us away, and there in the deep degradation and fearful servitude of sin, our eyes have been opened to our folly and wickedness. We have thought of the past, and its remembrance has awakened the bitterest regrets. Our responsibilities are proportionate to our privileges.
(H. J. Boris.)
(H. Melvill, B. D.)I. WE CANNOT, IF WE WOULD, ESCAPE FROM THE SERVICE OF GOD. We are now, as Israel of old, instructed in His will by His word. If we dislike what we there learn to be our duty, there is no help for it. It will continue to be our duty nevertheless; and we shall be made to answer for non-performance. We may, by carelessness, or obstinate rejection of the Word, very much confuse our recollection of what we already know, and shut ourselves out from the attainment of any further knowledge; but we shall never be able to make our minds quite like a sheet of blank paper, clear from any notion of religion. The behaviour and conversation of his neighbours, the very sight of the house of prayer, which he has studied God's commandments, he knows well enough that he has offended against them in many and glaring instances. He may keep them at bay when he is in high health and spirits, when his affairs prosper, and when he is surrounded by companions, ready to encourage him in his impiety. But what will he do when infirmity or sickness comes upon him? when misfortune has deprived him of all the worldly goods wherein he trusted; and when his friends have either deserted him, or been taken from him by some such visitation as shall make him tremble for his own safety? In times like these he will feel that. God is ruling over him with fury poured out. It will be well if he has grace to seek for refuge from that wrath where refuge may be found, through faith, attended by repentance and amendment of life. God's dispensations will all be good to those that use them rightly; they will all be evil to those that do not receive them as from His hand. His chastisements will become mercies to those who undergo them with a penitent and obedient heart; His gifts will be turned into curses to those that revel in them without acknowledging the Giver.
II. ALL THESE EVILS ARE ENTIRELY BROUGHT UPON MEN BY THEIR OWN HARDNESS OF HEART. Will it be said that men ought to have had a choice whether they would have a revelation made to them or no; and that, not having been allowed such a choice beforehand, they ought now to be permitted to renounce religion if they please, and become unbelievers? That would be to pronounce the most precious gift that God has ever made to mankind, a gift purchased by the blood of His Son, to be of no value. The very desire of such liberty is a sin of the deepest dye. It is a refusal of the advice and admonition of God, and amounts to charging Him with folly and tyranny, as though He gave us commands not calculated for our benefit. For if we believe that His laws are for our good, how can we doubt that it is good for us to know them and to de them? And nobody does doubt it, but they whose hearts are enslaved to sin, and alienated from all that is holy and upright and godly. The wish, then, to be released from the obligation of God's laws is practical atheism.
III. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF WITHDRAWING FROM THE OBLIGATIONS WHICH OUR CHRISTIAN COVENANT IMPOSES ON US NEED NOT ALARM ANY TRULY PIOUS MIND. God will judge the heathen as well as us His chosen people; and though He will require more of us than He will of them, in just proportion to our greater advantages, yet the knowledge and power communicated to us more than compensate for the greater perfection and precision of the work expected from us. We have served a regular apprenticeship of Christian education; the designs and will of God, our employer, are fully made known to us; and we may seek for instruction from Him at any time in His Word, and for assistance from His Holy Spirit. It is no more than justice that much should be required of us, to whom so much has been given.
(J. Randall, M. A.)
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