My people are lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray, causing them to roam the mountains. They have wandered from mountain to hill; they have forgotten their resting place.
The extent of their apostasy is here described.
I. IT WAS COMPLETE.
1. They had wandered. The allurements of idolatry had led them on and on, and they had at length yielded to them. They had sought other pastures and acquired preferences for other worship. It is an evil sign when men lose taste for the simple services of a spiritual religion. God should be sought alone and for his own sake.
2. They became alienated. A natural consequence. Step by step they went so far that they could not find their way back. Spiritual unfaithfulness produces confusion and spiritual darkness. They forgot their own fold.
3. They became degraded and morally odious. They bore the sign of their spiritual fall upon them. Their history, too, was the record of their shame to the neighbouring peoples. The backslider can never erase the past. He will bear his Cain mark to the end, and even the heathen and unbeliever will despise him. Their oppressors are so struck with the justice of their sentence that they justify themselves in even greater cruelties than were warranted. There is no corner of the world where the backslider can escape God's curse or hide his shame. Do what he may, he will not be as other men.
II. YET IT DID NOT BAFFLE THE SHEPHERDING OF GOD.
1. To avenge. The overdone punishment is not lost sight of; it will be duly recompensed. And the sacred character of the exiles will add to the guilt of those who used it as an excuse for their cruelties. God is the Judge of his lost ones even to the end. He commits his authority to no other. He who causes a child of God to go further astray, and delights in his degradation and ruin, will have to account terribly for this to his Father and Saviour.
2. To bring back. God's arm is strong to destroy the detaining influences, and outstretched far enough to reach his wanderers, even to the extremities of transgression and ruin. And he can detect them in every hiding place and covert. He is the good Shepherd. No wilderness too wide, no mountain too high or rocky, for him to traverse. He will bring them back to righteousness and then to happiness and peace. - M.
I. THE HUMAN SOUL NEEDS A RESTING-PLACE.
My people have forgotten their resting-place.
1. Many people are weary and very far from restful on account of business cares. You see continually in the newspapers that not only are there many bankruptcies and liquidations, and such like unpleasant occurrences, but the market reports tell us that trade is very unprofitable. Whatever happens, make the best of it. Don't wear away your soul in mourning and repining as if your soul were chained to a perpetually revolving grindstone. Look to the bright side of things. Do the best you can, and do not fear the worst is sure to happen. Remember that God still lives and cares for you. "Trust in the Lord and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed." It is a severe trial of faith in God when death removes the bread-winner from a family. Ah: at such a time of bereavement there is no consolation excepting from trust in God's providential care. He is the Father of the fatherless and the Friend of the widow. Likewise, many a Christian man is ready to say in the desolateness of his sorrow, "I have to tread my path alone!" He does not say that God is dead, but be acts as if he thought so. To doubt the superintending care and consolation of God is practical atheism. When we are in trouble, that is the very time we ought to cast all our care upon Him, for "He careth for us."
2. Then, some may be much troubled because of something going wrong in your family. You may have an undutiful and wicked son or daughter. A man said to me some time ago, "My heart is almost broken!" I asked, "What is the matter?" He answered, "My son — has become an infidel! I would rather have given my life!" Is there no resting-place in such a time of trouble? Yes; there is. Take up your Bible again, and read what God did "for David's sake," how the children of David and their descendants were blest and kept from great evil "for My Servant David's sake." "The prayer of faith shall save the soul."
3. Some of the sharpest troubles experienced in this troublesome world come from misplaced or unrequited affection — what Shakespeare calls in his forcible way "the pangs of despised love." Our only course in this, as in every other heartbreaking matter, is to" take it to the Lord in prayer," trusting in Him, and leaving in His care all the responsibility of one's life.
4. It may be that your trouble is a sinful disposition. You feel that you cannot help yourself. But God can give you relief and rest if you trust in Him. As Jesus restored to health the man who was sick of the palsy, so God can restore your soul by heavenly grace. Lastly, I wished to give you an assurance of rest in God's paradise.
1. This is true of the soul in innocence. As a creature he could not but be dependent. Without unquestioning trust in God, safety and happiness were impossible to man even before the fall.
2. How much more true is this since man has become a sinner. His nature is utterly weary. The cares and anxieties of life are wearing away his strength, and there is nothing binding him to earth but the fear of death The past is guilty, the future is hopeless, and so the present is restless.
II. JESUS CHRIST IS THE RESTING-PLACE THE SOUL NEEDS.
1. In Christ we have full redemption. No anodynes of earth can give the soul the rest that the blood of Christ can.
2. In Him we also have regeneration. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." A new centre has been given to his heart, a new aim to his life, a new joy to his experience.
3. He gives repose to the intellect. Christ is "the truth," and through confidence all mysteries are accepted as unquestioningly as a child accepts the statement of its parent. Jesus Christ alone brings to the soul the element of certainty, and, worn out by vain flights, it folds its weary wings and rests with quiet thankfulness on this tree of knowledge, which is also the tree of life.
4. He also gives repose to the affections of the soul. Earthly objects prove disappointing or fall away from us, or are torn from us and leave the soul all palpitating with agony, but no power can separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
III. THIS RESTING-PLACE OF THE SOUL IS SOMETIMES FORGOTTEN EVEN BY THOSE WHO HAVE KNOWN AND ENJOYED IT. A Christian may frequently have his peace in Christ" disturbed. At moments he may be walking through darkness. Job was a true man of God even when he was crying out, Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!" True, a Christian is not justified in being in this distressed state of mind. He ought to know better, &c.
1. When he falls into perplexity, doubting whether he is forgiven or not.
2. When he depends upon merely human and earthly resources.
3. When he loses his confidence in the midst of affliction.
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
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