Yes, the sons of Jonadab son of Rechab carried out the command their forefather gave them, but these people have not listened to Me.
The men of Judah were the children, inmates of God's house, members especially of his family. These Rechabites, a wandering tribe of the desert, were the stranger. But their fidelity to the command laid upon them by their ancestor Jonadab is contrasted with and rebukes the shameful disregard of the laws of God, of which the men of Judah were so guilty. For near three hundred years the Rechabites had, out of regard for their father's ordinance, adhered to their self-denying customs, and were adhering to them still, whilst God's own people had set at nought all his counsel and would none of his Law.
I. OBSERVE THIS CONTRAST.
1. In the motives for obedience which existed on either side. The one was an earthly father, the other Divine; the one man, the other God. The one, long dead, and whose right to control the actions of his descendants had therefore lapsed; the other, the ever-living God, whose right is as eternal as himself. The one had given an arbitrary command against which much might have been urged; the other had given commands which reason, conscience, and experience alike consented to as wise and good.
2. In the nature of the obedience rendered. The one was full of self-denial - a hard, stern law; the other contemplated life in a land flowing with milk and honey, and its ways were ways of pleasantness, and all its paths peace.
3. In the results of obedience. In the one, obedience had kept together a small, hardy tribe of half-barbarian herdsmen, without home, friends, religion, wealth, or any marked earthly good. In the other, obedience had been crowned with every blessing, so that all men confessed," Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord." And yet, notwithstanding the service of the Lord was every way better, that service was disregarded by his people, whilst the ill-requited obedience to a long deceased ancestor had been so faithfully maintained.
II. AND SUCH CONTRAST STILL EXISTS. Look at the obedience rendered to the laws of the Koran by the followers of Mahomet; to the laws of honour, of trade, of human masters; everywhere we may see human law obeyed, whilst. Divine are set at nought. The world can Command the prompt, implicit obedience of her votaries; but God calls, and no man answers.
III. EXPLAIN SUCH CONTRASTS. It is because to those who faithfully obey human laws the transient and inferior are as if they were eternal and supreme, whilst to those who profess to be bound by Divine laws the eternal and supreme are as if they were transient and inferior.
IV. WHAT DO SUCH FACTS SAY TO US? Seek the purged vision, that we may clearly see the relative values of things, that our estimates may be corrected, and so we may come to regard as "first" the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and "all other things" as secondary thereto. - C.
I will bring upon Judah and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the evil that I have pronounced against them: because I have spoken unto them, but they have not heard; and I have called unto them, but they have not answered.
How did the obedience of the Rechabites prove inexcusable, and therefore worthy of the severest punishment, the disobedience of the Jews? Their obedience was the obedience of children to their father, and sufficiently showed that even in a matter which crossed their natural inclinations men were capable of acting on a parental command and practising self-denial. The Jews then could not plead that they had no power of hearkening unto God. The Rechabites were witnesses against them. If Jonadab were obeyed because he was a father, had not Jehovah a right to expect to be obeyed, seeing that He was a father unto Israel? If the Rechabites could obey, obey as children, the Israelites might have obeyed, obeyed as children. Thus the instance or example of the Rechabites rose up in the sternest condemnation of the Jews, and in the clearest vindication of the judgments with which God was about to visit their transgressions. Now let us extend the argument, and exhibit it in such shape as may make it applicable to ourselves. It is a very hard doctrine which we have to enforce, when we press on your attention the utter worthlessness, so far as our procuring favour with God is concerned, of those virtues and excellences which are so much admired in society. There is something so graceful, and beautiful, and beneficial around a man of unblemished morals, of high rectitude, of large generosity — the dutiful son, the affectionate husband and parent, the loyal subject, the staunch friend — that you seem to shrink instinctively from statements which go to the bringing him to a level with those whom you abhor as the hardened and the injurious, and to the declaring him possibly as far off from the kingdom of heaven as though he lived a dissolute life, or were dishonourable in his dealings. But the statements are not the less true because they may jar with your feelings; and the minister cannot,, without the worst dishonesty, soften down facts on which Scripture is most explicit, and which even experience sufficiently establishes — the facts that there may be as thorough enmity to God beneath the aspect which is most attractive, as beneath that which is most repulsive, and that the virtues which shed a blandness over domestic life, and a dignity over commercial transactions, and a strength over political relations, may as well coexist with complete want of the religion of the heart, as those vices which break up the peace of families, and outrage all the decencies of a neighbourhood. But the principle involved in the text requires us to go even further than this, and to maintain, not only that there is no justifying power in these virtues, hut that there is even a condemning power — that they may be brought up as witnesses against their possessors, and used as proofs of their being without excuse in their neglect of God and disobedience to His Gospel. The man of great native kindliness of heart has evidently even less excuse than one of worse nature for withholding from God the offerings of thankfulness. Where there is a fine generosity, a gushing sensibility, a quick appreciation of what is noble and disinterested, what shall extenuate indifference to the Gospel, with all its holy story of love and condescension and conquest? We have thus engaged you with the general argument, rather than with the particular case presented by our text. You will, probably, however, understand the argument better, if we now confine ourselves to the relation which subsists between parent and child; for it is on this that God grounds His complaint against the Jews. Now there is no more beautiful and graceful affection of our nature than that which subsists between parents and children. We cannot but admire this affection, even as exhibited amongst inferior animals; and no passage in natural history is so attractive as that which tells how tenderly the wild beast of the forest will watch over her young, or with what assiduousness the fowls of the air will tend their helpless brood. But with the inferior animals the affection is but an instinct which lasts for a time, just long enough to ensure attention to the offspring whilst yet unable to provide for themselves; when this time is past, the tie is for the most part altogether broken; there is no keeping up of the relationship; however exquisitely the beast of the field and the fowl of the air may have nourished their young during their weeks of helplessness, they become afterwards as strangers to them, and seem not to distinguish them from others of their tribe. There is for a time a great exhibition of parental affection, but comparatively little of filial; there is apparently no reciprocity, for when the offspring has reached an age at which the kindness might be returned, the connection seems at an end, and the offspring goes away from the parent, though, becoming a parent itself, it displays the very instinct of which it has been the object. But in the human race the connection goes beyond this; if not so very intense at the first, it is abiding and reciprocal; the love of a parent for a child does not terminate when the child has grown into strength and asks no further help — it continues through life, increasing, for the most part, rather than diminishing, so that though the child may have been long absent from his home, wandering in foreign lands, or domesticated among strangers, yet can he always reckon that the hearts of his father and mother are beating kindly towards him, and that he has only again to present himself at their door, to unlock a tide of rich sensibilities, and be folded in an ardent embrace, and welcomed with deep gratulations. But whilst parents are thus abidingly and profitably actuated by affection for their children, children entertain an affection towards their parents which is scarcely less graceful and scarcely less advantageous. Of course there are exceptions, but they provoke unmingled reprobation, as though all the feelings of a community rose up against that unnatural being, a thankless child, and prompted the fitness of ejecting him from its circles. It is comparatively but seldom that children show themselves void of affection towards a father and a mother, when that father and that mother have done their part as parents; on the contrary, whether it be in the highest or the lowest families of the land, there is generally a frank yielding to its heads of that respect and that gratitude which they have a right to look for from their offspring. And from this fact, illustrated in the particular case of the Rechabites, God proceeds in our text to justify His complaint against the Jews. We stay not to demonstrate to you the paternal character of God; it is the character which pervades the whole of revelation, and is outlined by the whole of providence. The question is not as to whether God acts towards us as a father — it is only whether we act towards God as children; and here comes the melancholy contrast between men as members of particular families, and men as members of the universal family. The very beings who can recognise most cordially the claims of earthly parents, who can manifest themselves a reverence and a homage which give to the domestic picture an exquisite moral beauty, and who would show themselves monstrously indignant at any tale of filial disobedience or unthankfulness, have only to be viewed as children of God, and presently they would be convicted of all that unnaturalness, all that ingratitude, and all that baseness, on which they are so ready to pour unmingled reprobation. You cannot for a moment profess to deny, that in the heart which is all alive to filial emotions, and which beats with so true an affection towards a father and a mother, that the whole strength is gathered in the showing them respect and ministering to their comfort, there may be an utter indifference towards the heavenly Parent — ay, no more practical remembrance of Him "in whom we live, and move, and have our being," than if it were the heart of one of those blots upon our race, in which all the family charities appear to have been extinguished, or never to have grown. Then do ye not further perceive how thoroughly self-condemned must all of us stand, if we act faithfully the part of a child toward an earthly parent, but utterly fail to act that part towards a heavenly? It will be demonstrable from our own actions that we were quite without excuse, as members of the universal family; we shall be put to shame by our very excellence as members of individual families.
has said, "To me it is especially appalling that a man should perish through wilfully rejecting the Divine salvation. A drowning man throwing away the life-belt, a poisoned man pouring the antidote upon the floor, a wounded man tearing open his wounds — any of these is a sad sight. But what shall we say of a soul refusing its Saviour and choosing its own destruction?"
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