the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of the bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those bringing thank offerings into the house of the LORD, saying: 'Give thanks to the LORD of Hosts, for the LORD is good; His loving devotion endures forever.' For I will restore the land from captivity as in former times, says the LORD.
For I will cause to return the captivity of the land. This declaration is heard again and again. We have it in substance times without number in this and in previous chapters. We have a similar statement in Jeremiah 32:37
. But we have the exact words, the very same form of expression, in Jeremiah 32:44
, and in vers. 7 and 26 of this chapter. Hence we have called it the prophet's refrain. And the like theme of God's purposes of grace towards mankind generally should be the refrain of all the prophets of the Lord in these our days. For -
I. THE BLESSINGS ASSURED ARE SIMILAR. In connection with each several repetition of this promise, "I will cause their captivity to return," is named some specific blessing which that return shall bring along with it. In connection with its first mention (Jeremiah 32:44) God's purpose is given as the reason wherefore his now afflicted people should again possess their land. And there is a life eternal, a true, real, blessed life for humanity; a life compared with which this life is like the hard lot of the captive Israel compared with the glowing glad life promised in the days when their captivity should return. Then in connection with its second mention (ver. 7 of this chapter) there is the promise of "health and cure," moral and spiritual health, when their iniquity should be cleansed and their sin forgiven. And is not the promise of man's redemption like to this? In the eternal life there shall be health and cure indeed. And with the third mention of this promise (ver. 11) there is associated gladness and joy. "There shall be... the voice of joy and the voice of gladness," etc. (ver. 11). And with the fourth there is (ver. 26 of this chapter) the promise of permanence for all that has been before, the permanency as of the covenant of day and night, and the perpetual sovereignty of their own royal house, the seed of David. And so we look for a new order of things, which shall not be as this, troubled and transient, but characterized by a rest and joy that shall be eternal. Thus analogous are the blessings promised to the return of Israel and the redemption of mankind.
II. THE MOTIVES OF SUCH PROCLAMATION OF GOD'S PURPOSES OF GRACE ARE ALIKE. The reason of the prophet's refrain were such as these.
1. He so delighted in the truth he had to tell. Often and often he had been charged with a message of a far less welcome kind; but this was blessed to his soul. And so, would we effectually speak of God's purposes of grace, they must be the joy of our soul. We must ourselves delight in them.
2. He really believed it. The oft repetition of this word shows his confidence in it. He speaks with no bated breath. "I believed, therefore have I spoken." And this must ever be the spiritual force with which our gospel must be charged if it is to have any effect on those who hear it.
3. He knew it would so comfort the cast down. Many already were mourning along with the prophet over the desolations so surely coming on the land, and many more when away in exile would mourn. But the prophet knew that their hearts would be cheered and sustained by the earnest and confident assurance that "their captivity should return." For their sake, therefore, he reiterated this word. And in order to our now earnestly proclaiming the message of God's love, we too must believe that it will do the people good, that it will be for their help and comfort. And we must have for them, as the prophet had for his people, a real love and concern. This has ever been an attendant of and is essential to a successful ministry.
4. He knew that it would so vindicate God. Questionings and perplexities not a few were being occasioned by the prophet's solemn declarations of the coming destruction. They contrasted his terrible word with the oft repeated promises made by God" to David and to his seed forever" and to Zion, concerning which he had said, "There will I dwell, for I have delighted in it." These and the many more like promises seemed forever to forbid the possibility of that which the prophet, and now the actual course of events, declared to be close at hand. How were the two to be reconciled, and the truth and goodness of God to be vindicated? It was by the truth declared in this refrain of the prophet. That rendered both Divine words harmonious and true. Thus the enemies of the prophet would be silenced, and the company of them that feared God would be reassured. The house of God was dear to the prophet; and so must it be to us would we earnestly preach his Word. "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up;" "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" So was it spoken of or by the Lord Jesus Christ; and so in like manner in our measure and degree must it be true of us if we are to be true witnesses for him and for his grace. The gospel is the vindication of God today, as the return of the Captivity was in the days of the prophet. And being jealous for God, he proclaimed incessantly that return, as we must the redemption of mankind. - C.
If there is in us any deep, real, abiding, life-shaping thankfulness for the gift of Jesus Christ, it is impossible that our tongues should cleave to the roof of our mouths, and that we should be contented to live in silence. Loving hearts must speak. What would you think of a husband that never felt any impulse to tell his wife that she was dear to him; a mother that never found it needful to unpack her heart of its tenderness, even in perhaps inarticulate croonings over the little child that she pressed to her heart? It seems to me that a dumb Christian, a man that is thankful for Christ's sacrifice, and never feels the need to say so, is as great an anomaly as either of these I have described.
The voice of Joy, and the voice of gladness.
We are called upon to realise the fullest meaning of desolation. Think of a forsaken city, think of being afraid of the sound of your own footfall! Even in that desolation there comes an overpowering sense of society, as if the air were full of sprites, ghostly presences. What s singular sense there is too of trespass, encroachment, of being where you have no right to be — as if you were intruding upon the sanctuary of the dead — as if you were cutting to the life some spiritual ministry, conducting itself mysteriously but not without some beneficent purpose. You have broken in upon those invisible ones who are watching their dead; you want to escape from the solitude — in one sense it is too sacred for you, wholly too solemn; you would seek the society of your kind, for other society is uncongenial, unknown, and is felt to be a criticism intolerable, a judgment overwhelming. let if you do not fasten your attention upon the possibilities of desolation, darkness, forsakenness, loneliness, how can you appreciate what is to follow? May we not then hasten to inquire what is to follow? Can God work miracles here? It is just here that He works His grandest miracles; it is when all light dies out that He comes forth in His glory; it is when we say, There is no more road, the rock shuts us out, our progress is stayed, — it is then that a path suddenly opens in rocky places, and footprints disclose themselves for the comfort and inspiration of the lone traveller. Notice how exactly God's miracles fit human circumstances. They overflow them, but they first fill all their cavities and all the opportunities which they create and present. Thus God displaces darkness by light; thus God does not drive away the silence with noise but with music: it is no battering of rude violence that brings back human intercourse into plains that have been swept with human desolation; it is a festival, a banquet, a wedding scene, and already the forsaken valley vibrates as if under the clash of wedding bells. What was the quality of the joy that was wrought? It was profoundly religious. The voices that were uplifted were to say, "Praise the Lord of hosts: for the Lord is good; for His mercy endureth for ever." There are times when men must praise the Lord. The heart leads the judgment; the uppermost feeling, elevated and sanctified, tells the whole man what to do, uses the understanding as one might use some inferior creature to help him in carrying out the purposes of life. What is this highest faculty, what is this mysterious power, that takes to itself understanding, imagination, conscience, will, and all elements of energy? It is religious emotion; not sentimentalised and frittered away into mere vapour, but high, intelligent, noble feeling, glowing, passionate enthusiasm, a consecration without break or flaw or self-questioning, a wholeness of consent and devotion to the supreme purpose of life. When this desolation is banished, when this wedding feast is held, by what picture is the safety of the people represented? By a very tender one. We had in England shepherds who long ago spoke of taking care of their flocks under the idiom of "telling their tale" — counting the flock one by one. There shall be no hurrying, crowding into the fold, but one shall follow another, and each shall be looked at in its singularity; there shall be nothing tumultuous, indiscriminate, promiscuous; every process of providence is conducted critically, individually, minutely: so there is no hope for a man getting into the fold without the Shepherd seeing him; every sheep of the flock has to pass under the hand of him that telleth his tale. Until we realise the personality of the Divine supervision we shall flounder in darkness and our prayers will be mere evaporations, bringing back no answer, no blessing, no pledge from heaven. This is the picture presented by the prophet. Not one tittle of this providential order has been changed; the whole mystery of human life is to be found within its few lines. Consider what desolation good men have been called upon to realise. Never let us shut our eyes to the suffering aspect of human life. On the contrary, let us dwell upon it with attentive solicitude, that we may wonder, and learn to pray and trust. Say nought to the mocker, for he is not worth heeding, but say to the poor suffering heart itself, Wait: joy cometh in the morning: it is very sore now; the wind is very high, the darkness is very dense; our best plant poor heart! is to sit down and simply wait for God: He will come we cannot tell when, in the early part of the night, or not until the crowing of the cock, but come He will; it hath pleased Him to keep the times and seasons wholly to Himself, without revelation to narrow human intellects; let us then wait, and there is a way of waiting that amounts to prayer: poor heart! we have no words, we could not pray in terms, because we should be mocked by the echo of our own voice, but there is a way of sitting still that by its heroic patience wins the battle. Consider what changes have been wrought in human experience. You thought you could never sing again when that last tremendous blow was dealt upon your life, yet you are singing more cheerfully now than you ever sung in any day of your history; you thought when you lost commercial position that you never really could look up again, for your heart was overpowered, and behold, whilst you were talking such folly, a light struck upon your path, and a voice called you to still more strenuous endeavour, and to-day you who saw nothing before you but the asylum of poverty are adding field to field and house to house. You have been raised again from the very dead, you have forgotten your desolation, and you are now sitting like guests invited by heaven's own King at heaven's great banqueting table. Hold on; the end will judge all things. Hope stead. lastly in God; prayer is sweetest in the darkness; when there seems to be no road over which to travel up to heaven, then it works its miracles, it finds a pathway in the night-cloud. What is the joy that is depicted in this text? It is religious joy. The joy created by religion is intelligent. It is not a bubble on the stream, it has reason behind it; it is strengthened and uplifted, supported and dignified, by logic, fact, reality. Religious joy is healthy. It is not spurious gladness, it is the natural expression of the highest emotions. Religious joy is permanent. It does not come for a moment, and vanish away as if it were afraid of life and afraid of living in this cold earth-clime; it abides with men. Let us know by way of application that there is only one real deliverance from desolateness. That is a Divine deliverance. Let us flee then to the living God; let us be forced to prayer.
And of them that shall bring the sacrifice Of praise.
If I wanted to use, which I do not, mere theological technicalities, I should talk about the difference between sacrifices of propitiation and sacrifices of thanksgiving. But let us put these well-worn phrases on one side, as far as we can, for a moment. Here, then, is the fact that all the world over, and in the Mosaic ritual, there was expressed a double consciousness — one, that there was, somehow or other, a black dam between the worshipper and his Deity, which needed to be swept sway; and the other, that when that barrier was removed there could be an uninterrupted flow of thanksgiving and of service. So on one altar was laid a bleeding victim, and on another were spread the flowers of the field, the fruits of the earth, all things gracious, lovely, fair, and sweet, as expressions of the thankfulness of the reconciled worshippers. One set of sacrifices expressed the consciousness of sin; the other expressed the joyful recognition of its removal.
The sacrifice is thanksgiving. Then there will be no reluctance because duty is heavy. There will be no grudging because requirements are great. There will be no avoiding of the obligations of the Christian life, and rendering as small a percentage by way of dividend as the Creditor up in the heavens will accept. If the offering is a thank-offering, then it will be given gladly. The grateful heart does not hold the scales like the scrupulous retail dealer, afraid of putting the thousandth part of an ounce more in than will be accepted.
"Give all thou canst — high heaven rejects the love
Of nicely calculated less or more."
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