A voice is heard on the barren heights, the children of Israel weeping and begging for mercy, because they have perverted their ways and forgotten the LORD their God.
I. THESE HIGH PLACES WERE MOST APPROPRIATE FOR THESE TEARFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENTS AND THESE ENTREATING APPROACHES TO GOD.
1. The thing done had been great public wrong. Where men have sinned is the place for them to confess their sin. Now, this was not a sin in some secret place; it was not a sin confined to the thoughts of the heart, and known only to God; it was not some private, domestic wrongdoing. The whole nation shared in the sin of the high places. Even if some were not actually idolatrous, yet by their silence and inaction they condoned the idolatry. All surrounding nations must be cognizant of it. Sins in public cannot be got rid of without an equally public repentance and suffering. Who can tell what audacious and mocking words the heathen around may have spoken concerning Jehovah? - "Why, this Jehovah, whose temple and service are in Jerusalem, and who has no image, has really no power over the people! He has a name to live, but surely he is dead!" Elijah mocked the priests of Baal, and he had cause, for, unhappy men that they were, they had believed in a lie. But priests of Baal might also many times have mocked the people of Israel, for in one sense they had the truth, but they did not believe in it. Of course, in the end, such people were bound to make a very public acknowledgment of their folly and unbelief.
2. By this weeping, etc., on the high places, there was a particularly impressive condemnation of idolatry. He who forsakes a course of action necessarily condemns that action, and reproaches all who still continue in it, reproaches them none the less because reproach may not be at all intended. Such a return to Jehovah as is indicated in the concluding verses of this chapter is also, by the very act, a downright blow against idolatry. Let men who will persist in wrong courses know that they must be prepared for painful experiences when their companions, every now and then, desert them. There will always be some one discovering that the course is wrong, and going over to the other side. Take a very important instance of such exposure as we find it in the New Testament. Pharisaism and Jewish pride are there condemned from two great sources of judgment. One of these we find in Jesus, who spoke, we know how severely, against the Pharisees and their doings. From his words we feel how bad their spirit must have been and their inner life. But perhaps it is not too much to say that Saul's condemnation of them is still more striking; shown not in words so much, but oh, how clearly in deed! when he came out from them, showing he was no more of them.
3. There is thus a Feat warning to all who are acting doubtfully in the blaze of public life. If such have occasion to turn, they must turn in public. Any one who stands well out before his fellows had need take care what he says and does, for he knows not what may be the force of circumstances, what revolutions there may be in his convictions. How much nations have had to suffer-perhaps will have to suffer to the end of time - just because they are not careful of the beginnings of evil in their midst! Look at what it cost America to get rid of slavery when once it had grown into a far-spreading and lucrative custom. - Y.
I. WHAT IT IS TO BACKSLIDE. In Scripture the word "backslide" means a turning away from God altogether. It is usually, if not always, the sin of idolatry; it is the wife departing from her husband, as in this chapter (vers. 1, 2, 8; Proverbs 14:14). There may be in a spiritual sense a real though not apparent departing from God. There may be an unfaithfulness, not an act only, but a state. There may be half-heartedness for a time. The once tender conscience may become hardened; the once lowly spirit may become lifted up. With some it shows itself in worldly entanglements, seeking increase of business. In the midst of all this there may be no grossness, but specious arguments for exculpation. But there is woeful neglect of secret transactions with God. Prayer is not wholly omitted, but not conscientiously followed up. Perhaps there may be a lightness of spirit in prayer; perhaps there may be hardness. There may be an expressed value for the doctrines of grace; but they are as opiates to lull to sleep, not as stimulants to rouse to action. But, irrespective of all false notions with respect to the truth, there is oft much backsliding. The comforts of life have acted, it may be, as drags upon the wheels. Perhaps the very trials of life, instead of drawing us as magnets, have acted as repellants, and driven us away from God. Perhaps very weariness of body and exhaustion of mind have led to secret neglectings of God, and what was occasional at last became habitual. It is by the small edge of the wedge the whole wedge is at last inserted. When a river bursts through its embankment, one little spadeful of earth might have stopped the flood. He that despiseth small things shall fall by little and little. But the point is this — there may be fearful backsliding in heart, and not a speck of grossness in the life; and satisfied am I, that if we do not feel this, we shall, if we are God's children, be taught it, it may be with many stripes.
I. A KINDLY REMEMBRANCE. God, speaking to backsliders, says, "I remember thee."
Return...and I will heal your backslidings.I. THE CALL FROM GOD. "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings."
1. It is a call to come back to God; and that means, first, remember Him; begin to think of Him; let Him be a living God to you.
2. The next thing is, really turn to Him.
3. There is one word in this call from God which proves that you are invited to come back just as you are, He says, "Return, ye backsliding children"; not "Return, ye penitent children." I notice also that He does not say, "Heal your wounds first, and then come back to Me"; but He says, "Return, ye backsliding" children," with all your backslidings unhealed, — "and I will heal your backslidings."
II. THE METHOD OF OBEYING THIS CALL.
1. He who would return to God, and find salvation, must distinctly renounce all other trust except that which God Himself gives him and sets before him in the Gospel. First, there must be a distinct renunciation of all righteousness of your own. The next thing that you must renounce is, your own strength. With that must also go all trust in your own knowledge and abilities, and even in your own understanding.
2. There must also be a hearty, true-minded acceptance of God alone as our one hope. Notice how the text says, "Truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel." There must be no playing at this acceptance of God as our one hope; there must be no mocking of God by a pretended yielding up of ourselves to Him. It must be a true acceptance of God, to be our God henceforth and forever.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
II. A SHOCKING CALAMITY. Ye who once were as a lighthouse set upon a rock, to guide men, are now a delusion and a snare. Your light has gone out. What a corruption there would be if it were not for the salt of the ocean. When you were converted to God you were the salt in the ocean of humanity, but now the salt hath lost its power. You are useless, and humanity seethes in the pollution of sin. You live probably in a house where there are wicked ones; you work amongst swearers, and sceptics, and drunkards, but you are powerless. The salt has lost its savour. Oh, backslider, dismantled, ruined, empty, may God rebuild you!
III. A LOVING MESSAGE. "Return." Have you read of the widow whose daughter fell into the pathway of wrong! One night the poor girl returned to her mother's cottage. She went up the garden path and stood in the little porchway, and, to her surprise, she saw the door a little way open. She pushed it and entered. She went into the little room which used to be her own, and found a night light burning there, and her bed ready, as it always had been. She lay upon the bed, and was awoke by her mother's kiss. "Mother, how is it that you left the door unlatched and the light burning?" "It was that you might not have a minute to wait when you came back." This is just the way in which our heavenly Father treats us. It is the essence of love!
IV. A GRACIOUS PROMISE. Poor backslider, you are wretchedly miserable; for God's message has sunk very deep into your heart. You have drunk from the cup of sin; but you have also been bitten by the poisonous serpent, and the worm of unhappiness is gnawing at your heart. God says, "I will heal thy backslidings." He will not let wound keep running. He will heal it; not like the burns and scalds that have left terrible marks upon our flesh. When we return to God He heals the wound; and there shall be no mark left of it, for He says, "I have blotted out thy transgressions."
II. THE TENDER EXPOSTULATION. "Return." Here were idolaters in the grossest sense, and yet were they called to return. Before any symptom of amendment, any humblings of soul, yet "Return." So "Hearken unto Me," not ye broken-hearted only that walk, or are beginning to walk, righteously, but "ye stout-hearted that are far from righteousness." What an aspect of tenderness! and what losers are they that see not this! The first overture was from God. The outstretched hand to an idolater, to a rebel. Oh, how clearly does it show us that if there were no election, there would be no salvation. Nature will reject all providences, all mercies, all overtures, even the outstretched hand of God.
III. THE ANSWER. "Behold, we come unto Thee, for Thou art the Lord our God." See the overcoming power of love. There was reproof of their departures, expostulation with them for their sin, there was displeasure for their iniquities, but there was the most winning display of love in them all, and it was this which overcame. Force may compel, fear may deter, reason may persuade, and the Holy Spirit may use them all, but the great principle that moves the human heart is love.
(J. H. Evans, M. A.)
I. THE CHARACTERS ADDRESSED. "Backsliding children."
1. These are undutiful children. They have proved unfaithful to their solemn vows and sacred obligations — to their Christian brethren — to their God and Father. He said, "Surely they are My people, children that will not lie"; but they "turned back and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers; they were turned aside like a deceitful bow." What crime can equal that of rebellion against parental authority? An unfaithful servant or steward is bad enough, but an unfaithful, undutiful child is vastly worse.
2. Ungrateful children. And theirs is ingratitude of the basest kind. It resembles the ingratitude of a freed slave who forgets his emancipator, and sells himself again into bondage.
3. Unwise children. Are they not unwise who forsake their own mercies and follow after lying vanities; who prefer broken cisterns to the fountain of living waters?
4. Unhappy children. They are often unhappy in their circumstances. Others may enjoy the world, but they cannot. Recollections of their "lost Paradise," and apprehensions of future wrath, tend to embitter every earthly comfort.
5. Unsafe children. Heaven's just wrath is awakened against them. Hell's blackest gloom and fiercest flame await them.
6. But children still though they have forfeited the privileges of adoption, and have been deprived of the witness of the Spirit, their relation to God as their Creator is not dissolved, and their former interest in His favour is not forgotten.
II. THE INVITATION GIVEN. "Return."
1. By sincere repentance.
2. Earnest prayer.
3. Evangelical faith — faith in Christ.
4. Renewed self-dedication.
III. THE PROMISE MADE. "I will heal your backslidings." The Lord heals backslidings in many ways, — frequently by restoring.
1. Providential blessings. Many men are chastised here that they may not be punished hereafter. The Israelites never departed from God without feeling the effects of His displeasure in their temporal circumstances.
2. Peace of conscience.
3. Purity of heart. How polluted is the heart of a backslider! His last state is worse than his first.
4. Honour and usefulness.
Behold, we come unto Thee; for Thou art the Lord our GodI. IT PROCEEDS FROM THE INMOST HEART.
1. Weeping (ver. 21).
2. Shame (ver. 25).
II. IT IS FREE FROM ALL DISSIMULATION. Its principle is sorrow at having grieved God by the abuse of His love (ver. 21).
III. IT IS MADE KNOWN BY THE HONEST FRUITS OF REPENTANCE.
1. Apostasies healed (ver. 22).
2. Detestation of evil (ver. 24).
3. Yearning for the Lord (ver. 25).
( Origen.)I. WHAT IS IT FOR SINNERS TO COME TO GOD?
1. A relinquishing of everything that is contrary to God, and keeps us at a distance from Him.
2. A making use of Christ as the way to God.(1) There would have been no place for repentance if Christ had not interposed with His blood.(2) There never would have been any principle or exercise of repentance if Christ did not produce it by His Spirit.
3. A giving up of ourselves to God, and resting in Him as our end.
II. HOW SHOULD SINNERS COME TO GOD, IN OBEDIENCE TO THE PRECEPT, AND UPON THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF THE PROMISE?
1. How must they come in obedience to the precept?(1) Sinners are to come to God humbly; and that in consideration of the command of God, upon two accounts. All acts of obedience to God are to be performed with humbleness of mind. Returning to God after former acts of disobedience requires special humiliation.(2) We are to come to God readily. When God is so kind to admit your return, there is no reason that He should wait for it.
2. How must they come upon the encouragement of the promise?(1) Sinners are to come to God believingly, with regard to the promise: for these two reasons, —(a) If faith be not the spring of all our motions towards God, they cannot be acceptable to Him.(b) The promise does encourage such a faith, as much as we need or can desire. Besides His gracious entreaties, affectionate offers, importunate pleadings, you have His positive assurances that He will receive you if you return (2 Corinthians 6:17).(2) Sinners must come joyfully to God. The promise is ground of rejoicing, as well as of hope and trust; and God never designed that our sorrow for sin should be so extreme as to stifle or drown the joy of conversion. God who makes the promise rejoices in the performance (Zephaniah 3:17; Luke 15:15). We who have the benefit of the promise must needs be still doubtful of it if we do not rejoice in it. If we had faith suitable to the faithfulness of God, it would transport the soul into an ecstasy, that we who have lifted up our heels so oft against God should be taken into His arms.
III. WHEREIN LIES THE BLESSEDNESS OF THIS?
1. When a sinner comes back to God he is brought out of a most miserable, wilderness condition, wherein if he had remained he must have perished.
2. When a sinner comes to God salvation comes to him.
3. When a sinner comes home to God, all his fellow creatures shall be some way or other serviceable to him, either willingly and gladly, or by constraint and over-ruling necessity.
4. When a sinner is come to God he must visit God by prayer in all his necessities, and be sure of sufficient relief.
5. A sinner that is come to God may sweetly walk and converse with God, through the residue of his life; and the benefit and sweetness of such communion is not to be imagined by those that have it not; they that are far from God can be no judges of the blessedness of those that are near unto Him.
6. A sinner that is come to God may go to Him with comfort and confidence at death, whether sooner or later.
1. This shows that they who will not come to God are not come to themselves (Luke 15:17).
2. Ministers will have a dreadful and unpleasing account to give of those whom they leave unpersuaded.
3. God will be justified in their condemnation, to whom His precepts and promises avail nothing.
4. The devil can lay no blocks in our way against our coming unto God but what we may easily remove or courageously leap over, if we look no further than this text.
5. How unreasonable would it be if any of the storms we meet with in our way to God should ever drive us back, or shipwreck our faith!
6. How happy would it be if the efficacy of this doctrine were equal to the concernment of it! It extends to all that are born into the world, and therefore should operate upon all.
(T. Cruso.)I. THE STATE OF THE PERSONS HERE ADDRESSED. "Backsliding children."
1. They had forgotten the Lord their God. All sin may be traced to this. God is forgotten by us. We forget the majesty and purity of His nature; His nearness to us; that His eye is ever upon us; and that darkness and light are both alike to Him. We forget His unspeakable love and goodness, and our manifold, increasing obligations. Strange that, amidst innumerable tokens of remembrance, we should be careless and thoughtless!
2. They had perverted their way. This is the natural effect of forgetting God. Have not we perverted our way? In innumerable instances we have struggled against the voice of reason, the voice of conscience, the voice of God; and, against the plainest dictates of His Word, have wandered in foolish, forbidden paths.
3. They were filled with painful regret. "The high places" were the seat of Israel's idolatry: there they committed abomination, and provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger. But where they sinned, there they gave vent to their sorrow; and there they supplicated Divine forgiveness and favour. And, truly, if we are the subjects of genuine repentance, we shall do the same: where we have sinned, we shall sorrow too.
II. THE GRACIOUS LANGUAGE OF GOD TO THESE BACKSLIDING CHILDREN.
1. A friendly call. "Return." Doubtless authority marks this word, and the word of Jehovah is never to be trifled with. It is an invitation given; but it is also a command, which may not be slighted; a solemn charge, which cannot with impunity be refused.
2. A precious promise. "I will heal," etc.(1) Backsliding inflicts a disease, a dangerous and fatal disease. But the promise before us implies that God is ready to restore health and cure.(2) The effects of sin are numerous and destructive. Sin not only dishonours God, and wounds the soul, but it creates a thick cloud of mental darkness: it is the fruitful source of trouble and disquietude. But when the Lord promises to "heal" backslidings, He engages to extract this bitterness, to avert this punishment.(3) The promise here is not indiscriminately given; it is to the sinner that "returns" to God. "Return, and I will heal your backslidings." He does this by an act of sovereign favour (Micah 7:18, 19).
III. THE OBEDIENT REPLY OF THESE PEOPLE.
1. This reply is practical: "We tome unto Thee." As the prodigal: he did not spend his time in fruitless wishes or satisfy himself with good intentions and right resolutions: his language was, "I will arise, and go to my father." Immediately, "he arose, and came to his father."
2. The reply is prompt; made with the utmost readiness, and given without the least demur. The call is, "Return"; the answer instantly subjoined is, "Behold, we come." It reminds us of the promptness of the Psalmist, in his compliance with the voice of heaven (Psalm 27:8).
3. The reply is deliberate. The note of attention intimates this. "Behold! we come." Though the penitent believer is ready, he is not rash; though, under the influence of Divine grace, he soon determines, he does it advisedly; his repentance is of that kind which never needs to be repented of.
4. The reply is unanimous. Here is the prayer and resolution of the Church: she prays as one person, actuated by one spirit draw me: she resolves as many persons, answering, with cheerful concurrence, "we" will run after Thee.
5. The reply springs from a clear conviction of duty, interest, and obligation. "Thou art the Lord our God." It is the language of faith, and hope, and love; especially of gratitude, and self-dedication.
(T. Kidd.)1. In the first place, we see what a true recovery from this state really is, "Behold, we come unto Thee." This is true repentance. It is coming back to God, a returning home. There may be a turning to doctrinal comfort, and no returning to God. Till this, the backsliding continues. "Behold, we come to Thee," say all returning backsliders; we come and lay our sins, our idols, ourselves, at Thy feet. And nothing short of this is real repentance, anything short of this is, under fair pretexts, soul deceptions.
2. But what else does it imply? Returning by the right way — faith. There is no real return to God but in the way we first met Him — in Jesus: "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me." All the tears, all the sorrow and resolutions of amendment, have no power to bring us back to God. But when faith lays hold upon Jesus and His great atonement, it brings me up at once to God. I hang back no more. I hide myself no more. I make no vain excuses now. I hate my sins. I lie low. It is a valley, and it suits the lowly lily well.
3. And who is the author of all this? The same blessed Spirit who first revealed Jesus, and God the Father in Him. And nothing short of this. When sin in any measure regains power, deadening process instantly begins. The soul is commanded to confess; but in proportion to the length of time of the departure, and the degree of power of it, there seems an inability to confess. There is a want of spiritual sensibility. Oh then, how should we beware of the first "appearance of evil"! "Beware, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."
4. Consider the great motive by which it is led back, the motive by which He works. It is the overcoming power of love. There was displeasure. Wounds were inflicted, wounds pungent and trying — wounds full of anguish were they, such as no human balm could assuage; but it was but the varied countenance of love. These wounds did but speak two things — His unsullied holiness, and equally His untiring love.The subject has a two-fold bearing. First, as it regards our treatment of others, then that of our own souls.
1. First, others. We are all, as saints, more or less called amid our familiar friends and associates, to deal with those in whom we hope there is a spark of grace, yet little true, spiritual, holy light.
2. And now a few words to the believer in reference to himself. It may be that some one may be conscious — This is my own state. I have been not merely today, nor yesterday, but for many yesterdays, departing from God. Alas! that this should be so common. But, however, trifle not with it. It is not to be trifled with. Seek instant healing. Tarry not. Every instant of delay only increases the disease. Nothing but the blood of the Lamb can heal. Take heard that it be applied by none but the Holy Spirit.
(J. H. Evans, M. A.)
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