"If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in a peaceful land, how will you do in the thickets of the Jordan?
I. THE WORD OF GOD IS NOT ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF THE FLESH, AND THEREFORE MAY BE EXPECTED TO EXCITE HATRED AND OPPOSITION WHERE THAT ASSERTS ITSELF.
II. THE SERVANT OF GOD WILL OFTEN BE TRIED BY THE FAILURE AND DEFECTION OF HIS MOST CHERISHED FRIENDS.
III. IT BEHOVES ALL WHO ARE ENTRUSTED WITH DIVINE TRUTH TO ASK THEMSELVES WHAT IS THE GROUND OF THEIR CONFIDENCE. - M.
I. THE UNHAPPY DISPOSITION WHICH SHOWS ITSELF IN MANY PERSONS TO DISQUIET THEMSELVES UNDULY ON ACCOUNT OF COMPARATIVELY SMALL TRIALS. That man should, under any circumstances, seek to become his own tormentor is a singular anomaly, and strikingly proves how sin infatuates the human mind. The desire of happiness is a native and universal feeling in the breast. We do not assert that men are required to stifle all natural feeling, and to maintain a stoical apathy in reference to what we term "inferior trials." The inconveniences and lighter evils of life must be felt. One person is seen to brood over what is called "the badness of the times": another is in trouble, because his mercantile or household affairs are disarranged through the unfaithfulness of servants or dependants: a third is unhappy because the tongue of slander has gone forth against him: and a fourth is out of sorts because he had ardently aspired at something which he has failed to obtain. It is observable, moreover, that persons are often wont to complain in connection with those very points where they have the least possible ground for complaint. This man makes a trial of a bad speculation in trade, though his barns are filled with plenty, and his presses burst out with new wine; and that man makes a trial of certain domestic irregularities, while, in the main, he is thickly encompassed with domestic mercies.
If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?
I. DUTIES. If in the ordinary duties of life you have been wearied, how will you be able to meet the higher and special duties to which you may be called? Manfully and courageously face these, and then you may hope to meet the others with strength equal to their performance.
II. TRIALS. If the trials which are common to man tax your patience, how will you do when called to pass through extraordinary? Do not give way under these, but endure them without shrinking, then when the Job-like trials come, you may bear them as he did.
III. TEMPTATIONS. If those, common to man, have taxed your strength, and led you to complain of their severity, how will you do when special and more than ordinary temptations come upon you? Resist the devil in the first temptation, and you will be better able to resist him in the second, and so on.
IV. TROUBLES. Do the ripples on the waters of the sea of life affect you, then how will you do when the surges of the tempest come upon you? Do the dark clouds of the sky frighten you, then how will you feel when the lurid lightning and terrible thunders fill the heavens?
II. THE BEARING WHICH THE DISPOSITION OR PROPENSITY OF WHICH WE HAVE SPOKEN, HAS UPON THE REAL AFFLICTIONS OF LIFE, AS WELL AS UPON THE SOUL'S SPIRITUAL CONFLICT.
1. In the natural course of things we may expect that man to be ill prepared for a season of sorrow, who is wont to fret and disquiet himself on common and frequently recurring occasions. The mind which is not inured to salutary discipline will, sooner or later, be found an enemy to its own peace.
2. But let us take higher ground, and view the subject in a spiritual light. In the case of the true believer, we cannot, for a moment, doubt that God designs every circumstance which befalls him, however minute, and every trial which comes upon him, however slight, to work for his good. Neither can we doubt that. this gracious design is answered or defeated, according to the disposition of mind in which either comforts or crosses are received.
3. All the crosses and inconveniences of life should have the effect of sending the Christian to a throne of grace. No circumstance which threatens to harass the mind is too trivial to be carried to God in prayer, with a view to the obtaining of that assistance which is promised for every time of need. It will seldom, however, be found that persons who yield to the habit of magnifying inferior evils, and discomposing their minds with comparatively trifling occurrences, will see fit to pray for a right spirit in connection with these things, and for grace suited to the occasion. The consequence of the omission can hardly fail to be experienced in the darker day of adversity, when large supplies of strength are needed, and when increased exertion is called for.
4. In spiritual as well as in providential dispensations, the lesser has its bearing upon the greater. A propensity to be discouraged or alarmed, if perchance an envenomed dart is, now and then, hurled from Satan's quiver, or if a cloud occasionally overcasts the soul's experience, is by no means a desirable preparative for that severer discipline of the life of grace, with which few of the Lord's people are entirely unacquainted.Lessons —
1. The language of Divine reproof should put every Christian upon serious and faithful self-examination.
2. It is well, in a certain way, to anticipate seasons of heavy affliction. Think how soon health may be interrupted, friends removed, schemes defeated, and hopes forever blasted! Such thoughts, if sanctified in answer to prayer, will have a happy effect upon the general character of your experience.
3. Seasons of intense suffering are often made occasions of signal interpositions in behalf of God's people. Your emergency shall prove your Heavenly Father's opportunity; your heaviest trials shall be made the marked occasions of your realising the greatness of His power, and the intensity of His love.
4. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ which imparts to the gloomy foliage of this wilderness world every particle of the radiance with which it is tinged. To see in Christ Jesus, the foundation of our every hope, the source of our strength, the channel of our consolations, the vitality of every spiritual principle and movement in our souls, — this is truly to know Him as "the power of God, and the wisdom of God."
(W. Knight, M. A.)
I. MAN IS LESS A MATCH FOR SATAN NOW THAN WHEN SATAN, AT THEIR FIRST ENCOUNTER, PROVED HIMSELF MORE THAN A MATCH FOR MAN. The bravest soldiers hang back from the breach, where, as it belches forth fire and smoke, they have seen the flower of the army fall; mowed down like grass. The bravest seamen dread the storm which has wrecked, with the stout ship, the gallant lifeboat that had gone to save its crew; men saying, If with her brave hands and buoyant power she, whelmed among the waves, could not live in such a sea, what chance for common craft? And what chance for us where our first parents perished? how can guilt stand where innocence fell? Hope there is none for us out of Christ.
II. IF WE WERE OVERCOME BY SIN ERE IT HAD GROWN INTO STRENGTH, WE ARE NOW LESS ABLE TO RESIST IT. Fallen though we are, there remains a purity, modesty, ingenuousness, and tenderness of conscience, about childhood, that looks as if the glory of Eden yet lingered over it, like the light of day on hilltops at even, when the sun is down. It has wrung our heart, as we looked on some lost and loathsome creature — the pest of society, and the shame of her sex — to think of the days when she was a smiling infant in a mother's happy arms, or, ignorant of evil, lisped long-forgotten prayers at a mother's knee; when her voice rose in the psalms of family worship, or of the house of God, like the song of a seraph in the skies. Alas! "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" Justifying this sad description, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies," — alas, how soon does sin cloud life's brightest dawn! If we were no match for the cub, how shall we conquer the grown lion? If we had not strength to pull out the sapling, how are we to root up the tree? Every new act of sin casts up an additional impediment in our way of return to virtue, and to God; until that which was once only a molehill swells into a mountain that nothing can remove, but the faith at whose bidding mountains are removed, and cast into the depths of the sea. I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.
III. SHOW HOW THESE DIFFICULTIES ARE TO BE OVERCOME. The Spirit and the flesh, grace and nature, heavenly and earthly influences, are sometimes so fairly balanced, that like a ship with wind and tide acting on her with equal power, but in opposite directions, the believer makes no progress in the Divine life. He loses headway. He does not become worse, but he grows no better; and it is all he can do to hold his own. Sometimes, indeed, he loses ground; falling into old sins. Temptation comes like a roaring sea squall, and, finding him asleep at his post, drives him backward on his course; and farther now from heaven than once he was, he has to pray, Heal my backsliding, renew me graciously, love me freely — For Thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great. Are we never to grow fit for heaven? is our hope of it but a pious dream, a beautiful delusion? Daily called to contend with temptation, the battle often goes against us; in these passions, and tempers, and old habits, the sons of Zeruiah are too strong for us. Not that we do not fight. That startling cry, "The Philistines are on thee, Samson!" rouses us; we make some little fight; but too often resisting only to be conquered, we are ready to give up the struggle, saying, It is useless; and like Saul in Gilboa's battle, to throw away sword and shield. We would; but that, cheered by a voice from above, and sustained by hope in God's grace and mercy, we can turn to our souls to say, Why art thou cast down, my soul; why is my spirit disquieted within me? — rise; resume thy arms; renew the combat; never surrender — Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
( T. Guthrie, D. D.)I. The troubles of THE MIND in this life are often sharp and bitter, enough to tax its powers to the seeming limit of endurance. When the mind looks back upon its past history, views its present state, and anticipates its future destiny, and finds in them respectively occasions of regret, shame, and alarm, it is filled with acute suffering. And if this survey is directed to its moral condition and relations, if it is led to view itself as endowed with a capacity to know and choose good and evil, as having its being under the government of God, bound to obey His laws, and liable to answer at His throne for all its faults and offences, it tastes the bitterness of an accusing conscience, and is stung with keen remorse, and agitated with horrible dread. Yet, in such moments of unwonted moral illumination, we do but guess of that which shortly shall be. What the eye then sees, it sees, after all, but "through a glass darkly." And oh! if the glimpse be so horrible, what shall be the naked vision? If such periods be so rich in suffering, what shall be the eternity they foreshadow? For memory is now exceedingly imperfect, and self-knowledge partial, and the horrors of the prospect before us mitigated by the medium of future opportunity and preparation, through which they are seen. Time covers up much of our wickedness from ourselves; and self-love and the "deceitfulness of sin" so ten the ugliness of our faults; and futurity presents a thousand avenues of escape, and "convenient seasons" of reformation. Thus we now have resorts and refuges whither we can betake ourselves from the arrows of conscience. Then, oh! "if in this land of peace wherein we trust," — wherein there is so much in which the soul may confide, so much to stay it up, and give it quietness in reference to its controversy and reckoning with God, — we find the sense of our sinfulness and the apprehensions of wrath too much for us, a wearisome "burden too heavy to be borne," what, oh! what "shall we do in the swelling of Jordan," when "the waters shall overflow our hiding places"? And if "a wounded spirit we cannot bear," now, while there are so many nostrums of our own to soothe its pains, while there is a sovereign balm at hand to heal it, and a good Physician near to bind it up; how, oh! how shall we endure its smart, when "indignation shall vex it as a thing that is raw" beneath its own eye; and the eye of God, shining into it with an insufferable brightness, shall give it a keen sense of what it has been, is, and shall be, and all the universe cannot afford it a covert, or a balsam to assuage its agony?
II. THE BODY has its pains, too, in this life, and they are many and exquisite. We are "fearfully" as well as "wonderfully made," compacted of an infinite number of frail, delicate, and sensitive fibres, which are broken and lacerated by very trivial causes and accidents. What, then, may be the sufferings of which an immortal and "spiritual body" may be capable? And how intolerable the anguish, of which the refined and exquisite texture of that indestructible and everlasting organisation which awaits us at the resurrection, may be susceptible!
III. We are here forced to endure distresses of estate, of OUTWARD AND RELATIVE SITUATION. Here is one who wears the outward paraphernalia of consequence and prosperity, but there is a worm gnawing at the heart of his happiness. There is some hidden mischief that spoils all; some vicious, or sickly, or idiot child, it may be, some wayward spirit in his family, some "root of bitterness" in his domestic circumstances, which men either do not see, or justly estimate, that poisons all his good things. Yonder is a man who might be happy, if there were not so many above him in society, whose level he cannot reach. A little matter will suffice to destroy the sweetness of a thousand blessings. Now, if we find it so hard to bear the inconveniences and annoyances of this life, where is the strength to endure the discomforts of a situation in a world, where all the society is vile and malignant, "hateful, and hating one another," and all the circumstances fraught with nothing but mortification, disgrace, restraint, impotent desire, ineffectual effort, and hopeless resistance? Oh! then, let the exhaustion and vexation wherewith our Omnipotent Antagonist makes known His power in the milder visitings of His displeasure that reach us this side the grave, persuade us to leave off our mad rebellion, and seek a timely peace.
(R. A. Hallam, D. D.)I. TO THOSE WHO ARE DISCOURAGED BY TRIFLING DIFFICULTIES, IN THE SERVICE OF GOD. To renounce Christian service because of its difficulties, is to faint among the footmen, and ultimately to contend with the horses. For how will it be when awakened conscience, with its multiplied rebukes, assails thee? How wilt thou assuage the mourning over lost opportunities, and the deep remorse called up by the retrospect of a wasted life?
II. TO THOSE WHO SUCCUMB TO BUT FEEBLE TEMPTATIONS. Take the case of one who has recently fallen into the commission of sin — open, known sin. The inducements to commit the great transgression were not powerful in themselves, but the unhappy victim was ensnared almost without resistance; perhaps from want of vigilance, or it may have been through desperate carelessness. The circumstances may even have proved favourable for a triumph over the powers of darkness. A few urgent cries for deliverance would have been successful, escape was close at hand, but the effort, alas! was not made, or feebly made; and now the memory of that sin haunts the conscience, destroys the peace, and embitters all the joys of life. Falling thus easily into the wiles of Satan, what will become of you when he cometh in like a flood? How will you endure when resistance must be unto blood striving against sin? In that hour, unless the heart be established by grace, you will be driven like chaff from the threshing floor. Or, take the case of the young man who, while yet in his father's house, surrounded by all the amenities of domestic love, and sheltered by the sanctions of a Christian home, has fallen, nevertheless, into sinful habits. What will become of him when all these restraints are removed?
III. TO THOSE WHO SINK UNDER LIGHT AFFLICTIONS. It is not insensibility which is required of us, because there can be no courage in bearing what we do not feel; nor are we to sink into despair in the hour of suffering, because that would sacrifice the virtue of the trial. The happy medium is prescribed (Hebrews 12:5). It is, however, a very narrow pathway this, between too much and too little feeling of Divine chastisement. There is too much sensibility when we are rendered incapable of the worship of God, or are thrown out of sympathy with our fellow men, or when we are utterly absorbed in sorrow to the neglect of all the pressing claims of duty. There is too little feeling of Divine chastisement when we are not, by its agency brought to faithful heart searching, and to anxious inquiry respecting the purpose of our Heavenly Father in the correction. Let us look at all our trials as opportunities of personal advantage. The exercise of patience is of itself a grand moral lesson. To be joyous in tribulation is greater grace than to be zealous in the time of strength. It may help us in the season of depression and suffering to compare our condition with that of others. The most accumulated of distresses, the strangest combination of griefs, will not make us the worst off in the world. Least of all can we count our sorrows against His "who gave Himself an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour." We can also in the midst of all afflictions anticipate the rapidly approaching hour of deliverance. We shall presently cast off all earth's calamities as the drops of a summer shower that have scarcely penetrated through our garments.
IV. TO THOSE WHO ARE NOT PROFITING BY FAVOURABLE PROVIDENCES. One of the later Latin poets has an apologue on the missing of opportunity worthy of our attention. A visitor to the studio of Phidias having inspected the statues of the different deities, inquired the name of one unknown object. It had winged feet, — to show how swiftly it flies; its features were covered with hair, — because, when approaching the spectator, it is rarely identified; it was bald behind, — because when once gone none can seize upon it; — closely following at its heels was a slavish form. The first is Opportunity, — the last Repentance. Men miss the goddess Opportunity, and fall into the arms of Repentance. "So are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them."
(W. G. Lewis.)
Homilist.The preceding verses display two things in the spiritual history of the prophet, which good men in all ages have often deeply felt —
1. An apparent incongruity between a fundamental article of religious belief, and the common facts of society. The righteousness of God he grasped with the tenacity of an earnest faith, it lay as the basis of all his religious views; and yet the facts of society, everywhere, seemed to contradict it. He saw, on all hands, the wicked prosperous and happy.
2. An incongruity between the fundamental spirit of religion and the passing feelings of the moment. The underlying spirit of religion is love; love to God and love to man — love even to enemies; but the prophet here expresses feelings in direct opposition to this spirit. How does he feel towards these wicked men? Commiseration? No, vengeance! Now, the text must be regarded as a gentle but impressive reproof, addressed by the great God to the prophet, for his want of forbearance and self-control.
I. THE TRIALS IN LIFE'S MISSION ARE OF VARIOUS DEGREES OF POWER IN THE HISTORY OF THE SAME MAN.
1. None ever sailed the sea of mortal life and found every wind and tide propitious, the ocean always calm, and the horizon ever bright. But we are to speak of trials of a certain class, not the trials which come upon a man independent of his conduct, such as physical pain, bereavement, etc.; rather of such as are connected with the prosecution of his duties, — the trials of endeavour.
2. Every man has a mission; and every man who endeavours to fulfil it will meet with trials.(1) There are trials in the endeavour to get knowledge. These obstruct the child in studying his alphabet, and the sage in grappling with the last problem.(2) There are trials in the endeavour to get a living.(3) There are trials in the endeavour to get moral excellence.(4) There are trials in his endeavour to serve his age. What stolid ignorance — what warping prejudices — what base habits — what moral obtuseness — what indifference, ingratitude, and sometimes malignity!
II. THE MAN WHO FAILS TO CONTEND SUCCESSFULLY WITH THE LESSER TRIALS, WILL NOT BE ABLE TO WITHSTAND THE GREATER. This principle is capable of application to all the departments of action to which we have referred: but we shall apply it exclusively to the comparative difficulties of getting religion in different periods of life.
1. We apply it to youth and age. With youth there are docility of disposition, tenderness of feeling, and freedom of intellect. As age comes on these disappear, and prejudices, indifference, and confirmed habits take their place.
2. We apply it to health and disease. There is required, especially in adult life and for investigating minds, a large amount of mental abstraction as the necessary means of attaining religion. Disease and suffering are not only unfavourable to such abstraction, but, in many cases, necessarily prevent its exercise.
3. We apply it to life and death. What is religion? The surrendering of our all to God, — the yielding up of ourselves as a living sacrifice. How can the man, therefore, who cannot resign himself to a commercial loss, or who responds most inadequately, if at all, to the claims of benevolence in life, be able, cheerfully, to yield his friends, property, and all he has, and is, to the great God in death?
I. ORDINARY LIFE, COMMON EVERYDAY LIFE, IS THE "RUNNING WITH THE FOOTMEN," IS "THE LAND OF PEACE, WHERE WE ARE SECURE." It tries our temper, our patience, our principles. It puts us to the proof whether we honour God most and best. Look where you will, be what you may, life is a trial. Riches, learning, piety, nothing can ward off trouble. It is a condition, not an accident of humanity.
II. THERE IS A BENEVOLENT PREPARATION AND EDUCATION FOR GREATER AND MORE DISTRESSING CONFLICTS BY ACCUSTOMING US TO THOSE WHICH ARE COMMON. The unerring eye sees the cup, the strong fatherly hand measures the draught. But we must bear in mind, when we have to tread the winepress alone, that God has a purpose in every vexation of daily life, in every cross, in every baffled enterprise, in every silent tear; and that that purpose is to prepare us by steadfastness in what is little and easy to bear, for confidence in Him under greater perils, in troubles which are hard to bear. The light in the darkness of today's disappointment is designed to make us hold fast the lamp against the hour of that "darkness which may be felt." Let no one think these lessons of daily life unimportant. "He that despiseth little things shall perish by little and little." We must learn the secret of strength while running with the footmen.
III. IN THIS DIVINE REMONSTRANCE IT IS DISTINCTLY IMPLIED THAT WE SHALL BE CALLED TO CONTEND WITH THE HORSEMEN. The future is dark with shadows, but the Lord's words will hold good of us all. Prepared or unprepared we must meet the storm, and if a little rain frighten us, how shall we meet it? Our sins, our weaknesses, our temptations, the virulence of the enemy, all render the coming struggles inevitable. Whatever you have gone through in this way is but a preparation for the hour of darkness; you will be called to contend with an enemy stronger than yourself, as a horseman is stronger than a footman; and you will be trodden down unless you are clothed with the strength of Him who is able to make you confident, "though a host should encamp against you."
(W. L. Watkinson.)
And if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?I. EXPOSTULATION.
1. God has appointed to all of us our peculiar trials; some have a heavy burden, and are inclined, on looking upon the events which befall them, to join in the complaint of the patriarch, "All these things are against me." "Deep calleth unto deep," etc. (Psalm 42:7); while that which has fallen to the lot of others is so slight as hardly to be called trial at all. The point in question, however, is not as to the degree of trial, but as to the way in which it is borne, and the results it is producing. All trials have their own work to perform, their result to produce, which could be produced in no other way; but then let us ask ourselves individually, Are these trials producing that result in my own case? We know what those fruits are; the patience, the bringing under the impatient and rebellious will, and the disciplining it to wait in humble submission upon God, the experience of self, and of the evil within, of God's love as exactly suiting the need felt — the hope, not impulsive and uncertain, but sure and steady, and making not ashamed.
2. Similar thoughts may be suggested with regard to our conflict with sin and internal corruption. We are apt to complain of the difficulties of our Christian course. The way of self-denial and cross-bearing is found to be a hard way, the power of indwelling corruption is great, and love is cold. This is all true; but God warned us on our setting out, that the race we were engaging in was no easy matter, but that it would call for every energy, and that at no time could vigilance be laid aside with safety. The question is, then, have those difficulties complained of led to increased distrust of self — more constant watchfulness? There may be greater difficulties yet to be overcome, a greater and more important work to be done for the Master's sake, and how can utter failure be avoided in these more difficult contests, unless we are gaining ground in that to which we have already been called? The question is (and this point is a most important one), not what success might you be gaining under other conditions, with temptations less strong, with fuller opportunities of good, and so forth; but in that particular conflict to which you are called, with those very besetting sins, prone to this infirmity or that, are you striving in the strength of the Lord earnestly and unremittingly?
3. There is a thought which may be brought to our minds by the typical idea familiarly attached to Jordan, as the emblem of death. Is there not often too wide a difference between a Christian employed in the active duties of life, and the same man when cast upon a bed of sickness, and knowing that perhaps his end may be near? There is necessarily a difference in the demonstration of feeling, but should there be this difference in the whole tone as it were of our religion? Unless now, while all is peaceful, and matters are going on in their accustomed course, there is the habitual living upon Christ, with a frequent sense of His presence, and delight in communion with Him, how shall we do in the swelling of Jordan?
II. ENCOURAGEMENT FROM THE CONVERSE THOUGHT. If you have been faithful in that which is less, there is room for hope that you will be upheld in that which is greater, that if you have not been wearied and neglectful in the lesser conflict in which you have already been engaged, you will not be suffered to fall or be overcome in any that may yet threaten you. Have you misgivings and doubts as to future attacks of sin, and the strength of temptation under some new circumstances which may hereafter arise? As far as your own strength is concerned there is indeed much reason for that fear, but you know whom you have believed, whose strength has been put forth for you, on whose arm you have leant in the past, and therefore although your race were to become far more arduous than it is now, although hundreds of difficulties now unforeseen should spring up into being, yet you will not doubt His love, or distrust His power. What you have learnt of His past faithfulness and love forbids you to be apprehensive for the future; you will trust and not be afraid, knowing that you can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth you. The question is worthy of serious consideration, especially by those who, convinced of the vanity of earth's gratifications, and of the value of the Christian portion, are yet withholding their hearts from Christ, and are yet unwilling to be wholly His. This, indeed, is the land of peace wherein you trust; but is yours indeed a true peace which will abide? Peace is truly offered, reconciliation provided, all ready on God's part. Peace will surely follow upon pardon — upon the purging away of sin in the blood of Jesus, but is that peace truly yours now?
(J. H. Holford, M. A.)
Then how wilt thou do In the swelling of Jordan?I. THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE AND PRIMARY MEANING OF THE WORDS. Like many of the names that occur in Old Testament Scripture, that of Jeremiah — "raised up," or "appointed by God," — has a peculiar significance, if we consider the duties, important, yet hazardous, he was called upon to discharge during successive reigns. Jeremiah was very young when the Word of the Lord first came to him, in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, while he was resident at Anathoth, his native city. There, after the prophetic gift was imparted, he continued to live for several years, until the hostility, not only of his fellow townsmen, but of the members of his own family having been aroused, on account, probably, of the holiness of his life, and the fidelity of his remonstrances, he quitted Anathoth, and took up his residence at Jerusalem. The finding of the Book of the Law, five years after he had begun to prophesy, must have had a powerful influence on the mind of Jeremiah, in whom, doubtless, the young and right-minded king Josiah found valuable help in the efforts he put forth with a view to promote national reformation. No sooner, however, was the influence of the court in favour of true religion withdrawn, than Jeremiah became an object of attack, as he had doubtless been long an object of dislike, on the part of those whose anger had been roused by his rebukes. This bitterness of opposition continued during successive reigns, and at various times his life was threatened. At the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, he was "put in confinement by Pashur, the chief governor of the house of the Lord"; but he seems soon to have been liberated, for we find that he was not in prison at the time when Nebuchadnezzar's army commenced the siege of Jerusalem. The prophet Jeremiah had severe trials and manifold difficulties and discouragements to contend against. His counsels were rejected, and his voice was lifted up in the name of Jehovah seemingly in vain; his soul yearned with solicitude and tender affection towards those who turned a deaf ear to his admonitory voice, despised his "counsels," and would have none of the reproofs he was commissioned to utter. By footmen some understand the Philistines and Edomites, whose armies were composed principally of infantry, and by "horses" the Chaldeans, who had abundance of cavalry and chariots in their army, and who subsequently ravaged Palestine, at the time of Nebuchadnezzar's invasion. But whether such be the force of the allusion or not, the gist of the argument seems to be as follows: — if lesser trials seem hard to be borne; if earthly losses have a sting of bitterness, and often inflict a severe wound; is there not need of holy resolution, based on a sure foundation, when, in addition to minor ills, as in the swelling of Jordan, which periodically overflowed its banks in the time of harvest, men's lives might be placed in jeopardy, their flocks exposed to lions driven out of their lairs, and the produce of the harvest fields submerged or swept away; so the more ordinary trials of life, which yet demanded patience and meekness, would be followed by graver emergencies, such as a heaven-derived and supported hope, resting on no insecure or shifting foundation, but upon the Rock, the "Rock of Ages," could alone enable men to bear up under; when, so to speak, the heavens grew dark, the waters raged, the banks were overflowed, the lashing hail fell, the earth "shook and trembled," the lightning glanced and the thunder rolled, as in the severity of an almost tropical storm? "How wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?"
II. PRACTICAL LESSONS, APPLICABLE TO VARIOUS CLASSES OF PERSONS.
1. To those who are careless about religion and its claims. It were almost ludicrous, if it were not also most melancholy, to notice man, who is indebted to God for all that he possesses, thus standing to "defy the Omnipotent in arms"; yet such is the attitude assumed by everyone who defies, maligns, insults the Great Benefactor, who, if strong to save, is also mighty to inflict just and condign punishment upon His foes. "Now, consider this," says the Psalmist, "ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver."
2. To the undecided. The position resembles that of a man on shifting sand, liable to the encroachment of the swiftly flowing stream. Ah! if at certain times uneasiness could not be banished, but care ate as a canker into the heart of what had the semblance of joy; an angry God, as it were, seen above; the abyss of darkness opening beneath; "blackness of darkness," as if around; what need of arriving at a proper and satisfactory decision! Now, while, mercy can be found; while God's invitation through Christ is heard, of "turning to the Stronghold as a prisoner of hope"; for if lesser difficulties have been perplexing; if grief and disappointment have already planted furrows on the brow, "what shall be the end of them that will not obey the Gospel of God"; who will not comply with a Saviour's bidding, nor give their minds to the truth, nor allow of the Holy Spirit's action upon the heart?
3. To such as are living in antagonism and opposition to God's holy mind and will. Judgment may appear to be deferred; it is impending nevertheless — God hath spoken it.
4. To doubting Christians. Pilgrim, come: there "is bread enough, and to spare." Tempted one, come: strength shall be given and decision imparted to repel the evil suggestion, as Paul at Melita cast aside the viper that sprang out of the fire, and fastened upon his hand. Mourner, approach; the Friend of mourners can support under earthly blanks and losses.
(A. R. Bonar.)I. CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH MAKE DEATH MORE APPALLING THAN ANY OTHER CALAMITY.
1. Death must be met alone.
2. Not only the solace of thine accustomed society, but every other temporal result will then fail thee.
3. Death ushers us into a new and strange world. Well may flesh and blood shrink from the prospect of being effectually unhinged from all that is usual and accustomed — effectually divested of every material and earthly association, and of dipping its foot in the brink of that cold river, whose flood is appointed to roll over the head of all flesh.
4. Our great Enemy, as in all our trials so in this especially, will be at hand to improve it to our ruin.
II. TO EVERY SINCERE BELIEVER IN CHRIST THE HORROR WITH WHICH THE ABOVE CIRCUMSTANCES INVEST DEATH IS ENTIRELY DISPELLED.
1. Although the Christian, in the trying hour of dissolution, cannot, any more than others, fall back upon the sympathy and support of his fellow men, still he is not left in the pitiful plight of the worldling and sinner to encounter death alone (Psalm 23:4).
2. What is it to him, if all earthly stays and confidences be broken up? He has not built his hopes of eternity on refuges of lies. He has "an anchor of the soul sure and stedfast." He has first the sure word of promise, assuring him that his Lord will be with him when he passes through the rivers (Isaiah 43:2). And then he has the gracious and glorious work of atonement and mediation, upon which is based the everlasting covenant which God has made with him in Christ, and from the consideration of which he may draw up endless supplies of peace and satisfaction, even in those dark hours of disquietude.
3. It follows next to speak of the acquaintance which the Christian's soul has during life contracted with the new sphere into which the swelling of Jordan bears him away. Some regards and respects to things terrestrial he must have entertained as dwelling on the earth — but this home, the home of his affections, has never, since he became a sincere Christian, been situated here below. This is only the house of his pilgrimage, and he accounts it so to be. While walking on the earth he has his "conversation in heaven." Accordingly death ushers him into no strange scene, and introduces him to no strange company. No. he is already "come to Mount Sion," etc. (Hebrews 12:22, 23, 24).
4. The "Lion of the tribe of Judah" is at hand to wrestle with the lion who "walketh about seeking whom he may devour," and to bear away triumphantly from the conflict his own redeemed servant without the loss of a hair of his head, thus asserting his claim to "divide a portion with the great, and to divide the spoil with the strong."
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
I. This is an EXCEEDINGLY PRACTICAL QUESTION. How wilt thou do? is the inquiry. There are some subjects which are more or less matters of pure faith and personal feeling; and though all Christian doctrines bear more or less directly upon the Christian life, yet they are not what is commonly meant by practical subjects. Our text, however, brings us face to face with a matter which is essentially a matter of doing and of acting: it asks how we mean to conduct ourselves in the hour of death. Christians may differ from me on some points, but I am sure that here we are united in belief — we must die, and ought not to die unprepared.
II. It is UNDOUBTEDLY A PERSONAL QUESTION. How wilt "thou" do? It individualises us, and makes us each one to come face to face with a dying hour. Now we all need this, and it will be well for each one of us to look for a minute into the grave. We are too apt to regard all men as mortal but ourselves. The ancient warrior who wept because before a hundred years were passed he knew his immense army would be gone, and not a man remain behind to tell the tale, would have been wiser if he had wept also for himself, and left alone his bloody wars, and lived as a man who must one day die, and find after death a day of judgment. Each one of you must die. We all come into the world one by one, and will go out of it also alone. We had better therefore take the question up as individuals, seeing that it is one in which we shall be dealt with singly, and be unable then to claim or use the help of an earthly friend.
III. It is one of the MOST SOLEMN questions. Death and life are stern and awful realities. To say that anything "is a matter of life and death," is to bring one of the most emphatic and solemn subjects under our notice. Now, the question we are considering is of this character, and we must deal with it as it becomes us, when we investigate a subject involving the everlasting interest of souls.
IV. This question was put by way of REBUKE to the prophet Jeremiah. He seems to have been a little afraid of the people among whom he dwelt. They had evidently persecuted him very much, and laughed him to scorn; but God tells him to make his face like flint, and not to care for them, for, says He, If thou art afraid of them, "how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?" This ought to be a rebuke to every Christian who is subject to the fear of man. There is an old proverb, that "he is a great fool that is laughed out of his coat," and there was an improvement on it, that "he was a greater fool who was laughed out of his skin"; and there is another, that "he is the greatest fool of all who is laughed out of his soul." He that will be content to be damned in order to be fashionable, pays dear indeed for what he gets. Oh, to dare to be singular, if to be singular is to be right; but if you are afraid of man, what will you do in the swelling of Jordan? The same rebuke might be applied to us when we get fretful under the little troubles of life. You have losses in business, vexations in the family — you have all crosses to carry — but my text comes to you, and it says, "If you cannot bear this, how will you do in the swelling of Jordan?" When one of the martyrs, whose name is the somewhat singular one of Pommily, was confined previous to his burning, his wife was also taken up upon the charge of heresy. She, good woman, had resolved to die with her husband, and she appeared, as far as most people could judge, to be very firm in her faith. But the jailer's wife, though she had no religion, took a merciful view of the case as far as she could do so, and thought, "I am afraid this woman will never stand the test, she will never burn with her husband, she has neither faith nor strength enough to endure the trial"; and therefore, one day calling her out from her cell, she said to her, "Lass, run to the garden and fetch me the key that lies there." The poor woman ran willingly enough; she took the key up and it burned her fingers, for the jailer's wife had made it red hot; she came running back crying with pain. "Ay, wench," said she, "if you cannot bear a little burn in your hand, how will you bear to be burned in your whole body?" and this, I am sorry to add, was the means of bringing her to recant the faith which she professed, but which never had been in her heart. I apply the story thus: If we cannot bear the little trifling pangs which come upon us in our ordinary circumstances, which are but as it were the burning of your hands, what shall we do when every pulse beats pain, and every throb is an agony, and the whole tenement begins to crumble about the spirit that is so soon to be disturbed?
V. The question may be put as A MATTER OF CAUTION. There are some who have no hope, no faith in Christ. Now I think, if they will look within at their own experience, they will find that already they are by no means completely at ease. The pleasures of this world are very sweet; but how soon they cloy, if they do not sicken the appetite. After the night of merriment there is often the morning of regret. "Who hath woe? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine." It is an almost universal confession that the joys of earth promise more than they perform, and that in looking back upon them, the wisest must confess with Solomon, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Now if these things seem to be vanity while you are in good bodily health, how will they look when you are in sickness? If vanity while you can enjoy them, what will they appear when you must say farewell to them all?
VI. I use the question as EXCITING MEDITATION in the breasts of those who have given their hearts to Christ, and who consequently are prepared to die whenever the summons may come. Well, what do we mean to do, how shall we behave ourselves when we come to die? I sat down to try and think this matter over, but I cannot, in the short time allotted to me, even give you a brief view of the thoughts that passed through my mind. I began thus, "How shall I do in the swelling of Jordan?" Well, as a believer in Christ, perhaps, I may never come there at all, for there are some that will be alive and remain at the coming of the Son of Man, and these will never die. A sweet truth, which we place first in our meditation. I may not sleep, but I must and shall be changed. Then I thought again, "How shall I do in the swelling of Jordan?" I may go through it in the twinkling of an eye. When Ananias, martyr, knelt to lay his white head upon the block, it was said to him as he closed his eyes to receive the stroke, "Shut thine eyes a little, old man, and immediately thou shalt see the light of God." I could envy such a calm departing. Sudden death, sudden glory; taken away in Elijah's chariot of fire, with the horses driven at the rate of lightning, so that the spirit scarcely knows that it has left the clay, before it sees the brightness of the beatific vision. Well, that may take away — some of the alarm of death, the thought that we may not be even a moment in the swelling of Jordan. Then again, I thought, if I must pass through the swelling of Jordan, yet the real act of death takes no time. We hear of suffering on a dying bed; the suffering is all connected with life, it is not death. A dying bed is sometimes very painful; with certain diseases, and especially with strong men, it is often hard for the body and soul to part asunder. But it has been my happy lot to see some deaths so extremely pleasing, that I could not help remarking, that it were worth while living, only for the sake of dying as some have died. Well, then, as I cannot tell in what physical state I may be when I come to die, I just tried to think again, how shall I do in the swelling of the Jordan? I hope I shall do as others have done before me, who have built on the same rock, and had the same promises to be their succour. They cried "Victory!" So shall I, and after that die quietly and in peace. If the same transporting scene may not be mine, I will at least lay my head upon my Saviour's bosom, and breathe my life out gently there.
VII. "How wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?" may be well used by way of WARNING. You grant that you will die, and you may die soon. Is it not foolish to be living in this world without a thought of what you will do at last? A man goes into an inn, and as soon as he sits down he begins to order his wine, his dinner, his bed; there is no delicacy in season which he forgets to bespeak, there is no luxury which he denies himself. He stops at the inn for some time. By and by there comes in a bill, and he says, "Oh, I never thought of that — I never thought of that." "Why," says the landlord, "here is a man who is either a born fool or else a knave. What I never thought of the reckoning — never thought of settling day!" And yet this is how some of you live. You have this, and that, and the other thing in this world's inn (for it is nothing but an inn) and you have soon to go your way, and yet you have never thought of settling day! "Well," says one, "I was casting up my accounts this morning." Yes, I remember a minister making this remark when he heard of one that east up his accounts on Sunday. He said, "I hope that is not true, sir." "Yes," he said, "I do cast up my accounts on Sunday." "Ah, well," he said, "the day of judgment will be spent in a similar manner — in casting up accounts, and it will go ill with those people who found no other time in which to serve themselves except the time which was given them that they might serve God." You have either been a dishonest man, or else you must be supremely foolish, to be spending every day in this world's inn, and yet to be ignoring the thought of the great day of account. But remember, though you forget it, God forgets not.
VIII. Before I close I must guide your thoughts to what is THE TRUE PREPARATION FOR DEATH. Three things present themselves to my mind as being our duty in connection with the dying hour. First seek to be washed in the Red Sea of the dear Redeemer's blood, come in contact with the death of Christ, and by faith in it you will be prepared to meet your own. Again, learn of the Apostle Paul to die "daily." Practise the duty of self-denial and mortifying of the flesh till it shall become a habit with you, and when you have to lay down the flesh and part with everything, you will be only continuing the course of life you have pursued all along. And as the last preparation for the end of life, I should advise a continual course of active service and obedience to the command of God. I have frequently thought that no happier place to die in could be found than one's post of duty. If I were a soldier, I think I should like to die as Wolfe died, with victory shouting in my ear, or as Nelson died, in the midst of his greatest success. Preparation for death does not mean going alone into the chamber and retiring from the world, but active service, doing the duty of the day in the day." The best preparation for sleep, the healthiest soporific, is hard work, and one of the best things to prepare us for sleeping in Jesus, is to live in Him an active life of going about doing good.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)Jeremiah 11:18; Jeremiah 12:6) how, somewhat early in his history, some of them tried to kill him. The prophet was paying a visit to his native village of Anathoth, a few miles from Jerusalem. He was ignorant of danger. And all the while his own townsmen and brethren were plotting his death. But for some special providence of God his career would have reached a too early close. But now, when the danger is past, a strange thing is seen. There is no record of any psalm of deliverance to help the praise of our later generations. But, as if in its place, there falls on the prophet one of those terrible moods of depression when, in Bunyan's language, he is held in the grasp of Giant Despair and thrown into Doubting Castle. Why must he face with single hand the troops of the wicked? Why cannot God strike in and cut short the struggle? He who by nature was sensitive as a reed became by God's grace as an iron pillar and a brazen wall. And so it is here. In the words of the text, the demon of depression is driven off and retires for a season. Jeremiah crushes the cowardly thoughts that had arisen within him by the vision of sterner trials in the future. The brush with the men of Anathoth is a small affair, a mere race with footmen; Jerusalem in the days to come will see him try his speed against horses. Soon he will look back to the present time as to a mild land of peace, girdled by a summer-dried river. Ah, you say, we have little in common with a great prophet. He was set to do a loud-resounding task, while our days are passed in obscurity, far away from the roar of a battle of the nations. Yes, but all human lives run up to a centre. The inner struggle of every soul is the same, whether it is fought out in the cottage, or in the tent of the soldier, or in the fiery heart of the prophet. It has come readily to men to liken human life to a stream descending to the sea. But it is not the precise image of the text, which rather compares the life of man to the flat meadows that adjoin some mighty stream. For long months of the year there is a time of holy quiet. The flowers are gay, the grass is green, the river murmurs gently as if singing a song of rest, the boys and girls are shouting at their play. But one day a change seems to come over the stream. Its gentle murmur swells into a threatening roar. The days of dreadful ease are gone; desolation looks men in the face with a grey and grim reality; the evil days have come. That is the image of the text. What of its practical meaning? There are times when our duty seems almost easy, when it is not hard to beat off temptation. Such times are our "land of peace." But there are other times, when the need is sore and the contest cruel. Every nerve is strained. Such times are for us as "the swelling of Jordan." The text puts into heightened and rhythmic words a very obvious truth, which surely wins emphasis and illumination from the stern history to which it belongs. It should make us cease moaning over our trivial griefs, when we find that God speaks so lightly of a serious trouble. Jeremiah had barely escaped with his life, yet his foretaste of the bitterness of death is compared to "a land of peace." He gets no petting, and is promised no relief from such trial in the future. He is merely asked to reflect on the principle that underlies all moral heroism. "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much." Let us follow out this principle in two or three illustrations. Take first of all the everyday calls of duty, what Keble has named "the trivial round, the common task." To all of us, at some time in our lives, there come periods of crisis when a heavy demand is made on our store of courage and endurance. Then it is that the dire need sifts our character and declares the moral poverty or wealth. As the man is, so is his strength. The text tells us that this great clay of "the swelling of Jordan" is bound together with our easy days in "the land of peace." Those deeds of vast renown, which the grace of God calls out on occasion, do not come flashing out of a background of moral laxity or shame. They are not idle, lawless lights of heaven, coming we know not whence, going we know not whither. They have been prepared for by long and quiet days of lowly service. In the "Character of the Happy Warrior" Wordsworth insists that a soldier's brave feats of daring in battle are just the outcome of faithfulness to duty in days of peace. In "the mild concerns of ordinary life" the genuine hero is training for a mightier task. Suddenly he confronts some awful moment, weighty with solemn issues. Then the hidden strength leaps forth. He is "attired with sudden brightness, like a man inspired." Water; we say, does not rise higher than its source, and certainly men and women do not leap to a height and marvel of self-sacrifice until their daily practice has subdued them to a resolute self-mastery. Take, as a second illustration of the principle of the text, our everyday experiences of temptation and moral defeat. The man who brings his conscience to bear on his everyday tasks is training for higher things in a future that may rush on him at any moment. But there is also the sad opposite of that truth. Neither for good nor for evil can we wholly cut ourselves away from our past life. The years that are no more have a part on shaping the years that are to be. The fall from grace today was easier because yesterday you did not strive mightily against sin. Habits and desires move on to their climax and fulfilment. Alike in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of sin, you have no permission to stand still. Every day of our lives puts us to some proof or trial. These things are so, yet it is only in our high moments that we fully realise and act upon them. We forget that the oft-repeated story of a ruined life tells not of one great fall, but of many little ones. Men overlook the tiny breaches which sin has made in the wall of resistance. They are weary of this endless running with the footmen. After long days there steals on them the drowsiness of the enchanted ground. But the weariness is fatal, as the soft sleep of the tired traveller amid the falling snow. Let us remember that those periods of moral crisis struck even upon the stainless Christ. He was tempted, an apostolic writer tells us, in all points as we are. But temptation concentrated its powers in great turning points of His history, in the wilderness and in the agony of the garden, in the remonstrance of a chosen apostle and in the hour of darkness on the Cross. All the disastrous forces with which the moral atmosphere was charged gathered themselves together and burst in furious storm. And the life of Jesus resembles in this the life of men. All our history is in part a history of temptation. But there are times in the lives of all of us when temptation concentrates its powers. Our life is no longer a series of skirmishes. Now at length it is a pitched battle with the enemy in full armour, and all his forces set in array against us.
(D. Conner, M. A.)
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