The sin of Judah is written with an iron stylus, engraved with a diamond point on the tablet of their hearts and on the horns of their altars.
I. THE RECORD IS INEFFACEABLE. This is contrary to the notions of very many. Sin, when it is committed, wears the aspect of insignificance and triflingness. It is the gratification of a momentary impulse, of a personal and individual character; and it is not supposed that any one else, or at any rate any large number of persons, can be affected by it. The sinner supposes that he himself will be able to condone it, and that, when the active prompting of which he is conscious retires into the background, he will be as he was before. All sins, e.g. idolatry, which deeply engage the affections and the highest capacities of men, have a lasting influence upon their character. And when they are systematized into a religion they exert a daily influence which at last fixes itself. But the same is true, in a very serious degree, with all sins. They are contradictions of conscience and the Law of God, and can only be repeated without scruple by inverting and hardening the moral nature. In this sense we are all guilty before God. Our every sin has had its influence upon us, and has left its indelible impress. Conscience stores the guilty memory in its archives; habit perpetuates the evil impulse in conduct; and our relations and associations are involved in the wicked practices which ensue.
II. HOW USELESS, THEREFORE, ATTEMPTING TO EXCULPATE OURSELVES! This arrangement, by which sin leaves its impress upon the character and life, is of God. It is a law of nature, and cannot be set aside by private understanding. Even where it appears to be inoperative, its effects are only accumulating themselves in a more hidden manner, and some day they will be the more overwhelming in their manifestation. It is the common question of the sinner, when addressed by the ministers of God, "Wherein have we sinned?" But this only shows a dullness of spiritual self-knowledge and a general lowering of the moral standard. Others are not so oblivious to the fact. They have witnessed the excesses and been involved in the complications of their immorality. In this case the children whose companions had been sacrificed to Moloch looked on the horns of the altars with aversion and loathing. It was a memory of horrid cruelty never to be effaced. There is every reason to believe that the sin we commit does not cease its work when its immediate outward effects take place. An ever deepening and widening circle of influence results. And, just as now it is impossible for us to plead innocence with so many proofs of our guilt staring us in the face, in the great day of judgment the secret sins will be set in the light of God's countenance, and the thoughts and intents of the heart revealed. Our character will be our condemnation, and many witnesses will rise on every side to swell its testimony.
III. HOW NECESSARY, TOO, THAT THE PRINCIPLE OF SALVATION SHOULD BE RADICAL AND THOROUGH. The sinner needs a saving power that can penetrate to his inmost nature, cleansing the conscience, rectifying the character, and making the weaknesses and defects created by sin a means of grace. And this is supplied by the gospel, which furnishes a new motive and principle to the character and a new law to the conduct. So profound is its effect that it may be said by the saved sinner, "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new," It is as a character-power that the "cross" asserts its preeminence over every other principle of reformation. There is nothing superficial, partial, or one-sided about it. - M.
Manton says: "If conscience speaketh not, it writeth; for it is not only a witness, but a register, and a book of record: 'The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and the point of a diamond' (Jeremiah 17:1). We know not what conscience writeth, being occupied and taken up with carnal vanities, but we shall know hereafter, when the books are opened (Revelation 20:12). Conscience keepeth a diary, and sets down everything. This book, though it be in the sinner's keeping, cannot be razed and blotted out. Well, then, a sleepy conscience will not always sleep; if we suffer it not to awaken here, it will awaken in hell; for the present it sleepeth in many, in regard of motion, check, or smiting, but not in regard of notice and observation." Let those who forget their sins take note of this. There is a chiel within you taking notes, and he will publish all where all will hear it. Never say, "nobody will see me," for you will see yourself, and your conscience will turn king's evidence against you. What a volume Mr. Recorder Conscience has written already! How many blotted pages he has in store, to be produced upon my trial. O Thou who alone canst erase this dreadful handwriting, look on me in mercy, as I now look on Thee by faith.
Bishop Latimer was on trial for his life, a trial which ended in his being burned at the stake, he at first answered without duly considering how much a single unguarded word might cost him. Presently he heard the pen of a secretary, who was seated behind the tapestry, taking down every expression which fell from his lips. It would be well for us all to remember that there is a pen now recording behind the curtain of the skies, our every evil deed and word and thought and that for all these things God will bring us into judgment. The iron pen suggests two thoughts.
The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond.I. WHAT IS SIN? If you ask the Pharisee of old what sin was — "Well," he said, "it is eating without washing your hands; it is drinking wine without having first of all strained out the gnats, for those insects are unclean, and if you should swallow any of them they will render you defiled." Many in these days have the same notion, with a variation. We have read of a Spanish bandit, who, when he confessed before his father confessor, complained that one sin hung with peculiar weight upon his soul that was of peculiar atrocity. He had stabbed a man on a Friday, and a few drops of the blood of the wound had fallen on his lips, by which he had broken the precepts of holy Church, in having tasted animal food on a fast day. The murder did not seem to arouse in his conscience any feeling of remorse at all — not one atom — he would have done the same tomorrow; but an accidental violation of the canons of mother Church excited all his fears. Singular, indeed, are the ideas which many men have of transgression. But such is not God's view of sin. Sin is a want of conformity to the will of God; sin is disobedience to God's command; sin is a forgetfulness of the obligations of the relation which exists between the creature and the Creator. This is the very essence of sin. Injustice to my fellow creature is truly sin, but its essence lies in the fact that it is sin against God, who constituted the relation which I have violated. It is a great and intolerable wrong that, being created by God, we yet refuse to yield to His will. It is right that He who is so good to us should have our love: it is sin that, living upon God's goodness, we do not return to Him our heart's affection. It is right that, being sustained by Divine beneficence from day to day, we should give to Him constant thankfulness; but, being so sustained, we do not thank Him, and herein lies the very soul of sin. Now, in the light of this truth, let me ask the believer to humble himself very greatly on account of sin. That I have not loved my God with all my heart; that I have not trusted Him with all my confidence; that I have not given to Him the glory due unto His name; that I have not acted as a creature should do, much less as a new creature is bound to do; that, receiving priceless mercies, I have made so small a return — let me confess this in dust and ashes, and then bless the name of the Atoner who, by His precious blood, hath put even this away, so that it shall not be mentioned against us any more forever.
II. HOW IS THE FIXEDNESS OF SIN WHICH IS DECLARED IN THE TEXT PROVED? The prophet tells us that man's sinfulness is as much fixed in him as an inscription carved with an iron pen in granite. How is this fixedness proved? It is proved in two ways in the text, namely, that it is graven upon the table of their heart, and secondly, upon the horns of their altar. It clearly proves how deeply evil is fixed in man, when we reflect that sin is in the very heart of man. When a sin becomes intertwisted with the roots of the affections, you cannot uproot it; when the leprosy eats deep into the heart of humanity, who can expel it? It becomes henceforth a hopeless case, so far as human power is concerned. Since sin reigns and rules in man's affections, it is deep ingrained indeed. The second proof the prophet gives of the infixedness of human sin is, that it was written on the horns of their altars. These people sinned by setting up idols and departing from Jehovah: we sin in quite another way. When you get the unconverted man to be religious — which is a very easy thing — what form does the religion take? Frequently he prefers that which most gratifies his taste, his ears, or his sight. If your heart is touched, that is the worship of God; if your heart is drawn to God, that is the service of God; but if it is the mere ringing of the words, and the falling of the periods, and the cadence of the voice that you regard, why, you do not worship God, but on the very horns of your altars are your sins. You are bringing a delight of your own sensuous faculties and putting that in the place of true faith and love, and then saying to your soul, "I have pleased God," whereas you have only pleased yourself. When men become serious in religion, and look somewhat to the inward, they then defile the Lord's altar by relying upon their own righteousness. Man is much like a silkworm, he is a spinner and weaver by nature. A robe of righteousness is wrought out for him, but he will not have it; he will spin for himself, and like the silkworm, he spins, and spins, and he only spins himself a shroud. All the righteousness that a sinner can make will only be a shroud in which to wrap up his soul, his destroyed soul, for God will cast him away who relies upon the works of the law. In other ways men stain the horns of their altars. Some do it by carelessness. Those lips must be depraved indeed which even in prayer and praise still continue to sin. The horns of our altars are defiled by hypocrisy. You may have seen two fencers practising their art, and noticed how they seem to be seeking each other's death; how they strike and thrust as though they were earnestly contending for life; but after the show is over, they sit down and shake hands, and are good friends. Often so it is in your prayers and confessions; you will acknowledge your sins, and profess to hate them, and make resolutions against them, but it is all outward show — fencing, not real fighting — and when the fencing bout is over, the soul shakes hands with its old enemy, and returns to its former ways of sin. Oh, this foul hypocrisy is a staining of the horns of the altar with a vengeance!
III. WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF THIS? First, we must never forget the fall. We are none of us today as God made us. The human judgment is out of balance, it uses false weights and false measures. "It puts darkness for light and light for darkness." The human will is no longer supple, as it should be, to the Divine will; our neck is naturally as an iron sinew, and will not bow to Jehovah's golden sceptre. Our affections also are twisted away from their right bent. Whereas we ought to have been seeking after Jesus, and casting out the tendrils of our affections towards Him, we cling to anything but the right, and climb upon anything but the true. "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint." Human nature is like a magnificent temple all in ruins. In addition, however, to our natural depravity, there come in, in the second place, our habits of sin. Well may sin be deeply engraven in the man who has for twenty, forty, fifty, or perhaps seventy years, continued in his iniquity. Put the wool into the scarlet dye, and if it lie there but a week, the colour will be so ingrained in the fabric that you cannot get it out; but if you keep it there for so many years, how shall you possibly be able to bleach it? You must recollect, in addition to this, that sin is a most clinging and defiling thing. Who does not know that if a man sins once, it is much easier to sin that way the next time, nay, that he is much more inclinable towards that sin? I may add that the prince of the power of the air, the evil spirit, takes care, so far as he can, to add to all this. He chimes in with every suggestion of fallen nature. He will never let the tinder lie idle for want of sparks, nor the ground lie waste for want of the seeds of thorns and thistles.
IV. WHAT IS THE CURE FOR ALL THIS? Sin thus stamped into us, thus ingrained into our nature, can it ever be got out? It must be got out, or we cannot enter heaven, for there shall by no means enter within those pearly gates anything that defileth. We must be cleansed and purified, but how can it be done? It can only be done by supernatural process. Your only help lies in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became the Son of Man that He might lift the sons of men up from their natural degradation and ruin. How does Jesus Christ then take away these deeply-inscribed lines of sin from human nature? I answer, He does it first in this way. If our heart be like granite, and sin be written on it, Christ's ready method is to take that heart away. "A new heart also will I give you, and a right spirit will I put within you." Next to that, inasmuch as the guiltiness of sin is as permanent as sin itself, Jesus Christ is able to take our guilt away. His dying upon the Cross is the means by which the blackest sinner out of hell can be made white as the angels of God, and that, too, in a single instant. The Holy Spirit also comes in: the new nature being given and sin being forgiven, the Holy Ghost comes and dwells in us, as a Prince in his palace, as a God in his temple. Do I hear any say, "Then, I would to God that I may experience the Divine process — the new nature given, which is regeneration, the washing away of sin, which constitutes pardon and justification, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, which insures final perseverance and complete sanctification. Oh, how can I have these precious things?" Thou mayst have them, whoever thou mayst be, by simply believing in Jesus.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. The record which it makes is deep and indelible. So, also, with the items which are filling up page after page in the book of God's remembrance. A wealthy English landlord was once guilty of an act of tyrannical injustice to a poor, helpless widow, who rented a small cottage from him. The widow's son, whose blood boiled with indignation when he witnessed this, grew up to be a distinguished painter, and he portrayed the scene, and placed it where the eye of the cruel landlord must rest upon it. When the hard-hearted oppressor saw it, he turned pale, and trembled, and offered any sum for it, that the terrible picture might be destroyed.
2. The iron pen with its diamond point does not wear out. Be the record of one's sins as long as it may, that record will assuredly be made. It is a moment of profound interest in the life of an antiquarian, when he drags forth from the sands of Egypt some ancient obelisk, on which the iron pen has engraved, so many ages ago, the portraits of those who, in the shadowy past, acted their part on the crowded theatre of a bustling world. This, however, is as nothing, compared with the disclosures of that day, when, from the stillness and silence of the grave, shall be brought out into the dazzling light of noon, tablets covered with the sculptured history of the soul; a history which no power nor skill can then erase. And thus the prophet would teach us, by the striking figure of the iron pen with its diamond point, that sin is no trifling thing; that one single violation of the Divine law does not pass unnoticed; and that they who die with the guilt of sins unrepented of, and unpardoned, resting on their souls, have nothing to expect but the outpouring of God's terrible wrath. Vainly do we apologise for our shortcomings, on the ground of our natural bias to sin; or that the power of temptation proved too strong for us to resist. Forewarned, we ought to have been forearmed. Alas! who can contemplate his own sins against light and knowledge, against the strivings of conscience and the earnest pleadings of the Holy Spirit; who can count up his broken vows, and his contradictions of solemn confessions before God, and not tremble at the thought of the black catalogue which the iron pen has been writing down against him! When the great plague raged in London, in 1666, it was common to write over every infected house, "Lord, have mercy upon us!" Should the same inscription now be made over every abode where the plague of sin has entered, which of our habitations would not require to be thus labelled?
(J. N. Norton, D. D.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
(J. C. Hare.)
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