A prophecy, in five stanzas or strophes, vividly describing the judgment and its causes, and enforcing the necessity of repentance.
Arrival of a hostile army from the north, and summons to flee from the doomed city.
O ye children of Benjamin. The political rank of Jerusalem, as the capital of the kingdom of Judah, makes it difficult to realize that Jerusalem was not locally a city of Judah at all. It belonged, strictly speaking, to the tribe of Benjamin, a tribe whose insignificance, in comparison with Judah, seems to have led to the adoption of a form of expression not literally accurate (see Psalms 128:1-6 :68). The true state of the ease is evident from an examination of the two parallel passages, Joshua 15:7, Joshua 15:8, and Joshua 18:16, Joshua 18:17. As Mr. Fergusson points out, "The boundary between Judah and Benjamin … ran at the foot of the hill on which the city stands, so that the city itself was actually in Benjamin, while, by crossing the narrow ravine of Hinnom, you set foot on the territory of Judah" (Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' 1.983). It is merely a specimen of the unnatural method of early harmonists when Jewish writers tell us that the altars and the sanctuary were in Benjamin, and the courts of the temple in Judah. The words of "the blessing of Moses" are clear (Deuteronomy 33:12): "The beloved of the Lord! he shall dwell in safety by him, sheltering him continually, and between his shoulders he dwelleth;" i.e. Benjamin is specially protected, the sanctuary being on Benjamite soil. And yet these highly favored "children of Benjamin" are divinely warned to flee from their sacred homes (see Jeremiah 7:4-7). Gather yourselves to flee; more strictly, save your goods by flight. In Jeremiah 4:6 the same advice was given to the inhabitants of the country districts. There, Jerusalem was represented as the only safe refuge; here, the capital being no longer tenable, the wild pasture-land to the south (the foe being expected from the north) becomes the goal of the fugitives of Jerusalem. In Tokoa. Tokoa was a town in the wild hill-county to the south of Judah, the birthplace of the prophet Amos. It is partly mentioned because its name seems to connect it with the verb rendered blow the trumpet. Such paronomasiae are favorite oratorical instruments of the prophets, and especially in connections like the present (comp. Isaiah 10:30; Micah 1:10-15). A sign of fire in Beth-hakkerem; rather, a signal on Beth-hakkerem. The rendering of Authorized Version was suggested by 20:38, 20:40; but there is nothing in the present context (as there is in that passage) to favor the view that a fiery beacon is intended. Beth-hakkerem lay, according to St. Jerome, on an eminence between Jerusalem and Tekoa; i.e. probably the hill known as the Frank Mountain, the Arabic name of which (Djebel el-Furaidis, Little Paradise Mountain) is a not unsuitable equivalent for the Hebrew (Vineyard-house). The "district of Beth-hakkerem" is mentioned in Nehemiah 3:14. The choice of the locality for the signal was a perfect one. "There is no other tell," remarks Dr. Thomson, "of equal height and size in Palestine." Appeareth; rather, bendeth forward, as if it were ready to fall.
I have likened … a comely and delicate woman. This passage is one of the most difficult in the book, and if there is corruption of the text anywhere, it is here. The most generally adopted rendering is, "The comely and delicate one will I destroy, even the daughter of Zion," giving the verb the same sense as in Hosea 4:5 (literally it is, I have brought to silence, or perfect of prophetic certitude). The context, however, seems to favor the rendering "pasturage" (including the idea of a nomad settlement), instead of "comely;" but how to make this fit in with the remainder of the existing text is far from clear. The true and original reading probably only survives in fragments.
The shepherds with their flocks, etc.; rather, To her came shepherds with their flocks; they have pitched their tents round about her; they have pastured each at his side. The best commentary on the last clause is furnished by Numbers 22:4, "Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field."
Prepare ye war; literally, sanctify (or, consecrate) war. The foes are dramatically described as urging each other on at the different stages of the campaign. The war is to be opened with sacrifices (comp. Isaiah 13:3 with 1 Samuel 13:9); next there is a forced march, so as to take the city by storm, when the vigilance of its defenders is relaxed in the fierce noontide heat (comp. Jeremiah 15:8); evening surprises the foe still on the way, but they press steadily on, to do their work of destruction by night. The rapidity of the marches of the Chaldeans impressed another prophet of the reign of Josiah—Habakkuk (see Habakkuk 1:6, Habakkuk 1:8). Woe unto us! for the day goeth away; rather, Alas for us! for the day hath turned.
Let us go; rather, let us go up. "To go up" is the technical term for the movements of armies, whether advancing (as here and Isaiah 7:1) or retreating (as Jeremiah 21:2; Jeremiah 34:21; Jeremiah 37:5, Jeremiah 37:11).
Hew ye down trees; rather, her trees. Hewing down trees was an ordinary feature of Assyrian and Babylonian expeditions. Thus, Assurnacirpal "caused the forests of all (his enemies) to fall" ('Records of the Past,' 3.40, 77), and Shalmaneser calls himself "the trampler on the heads of mountains and all forests ". The timber was partly required for their palaces and fleets, but also, as the context here suggests, for warlike operations. "Trees," as Professor Rawlinson remarks, "were sometimes cut down and built into the mound" (see next note); they would also be used for the "bulwarks" or siege instruments spoken of in Deuteronomy 20:20. Cast a mount; literally, pour a mount (or "bank," as it is elsewhere rendered), with reference to the emptying of the baskets of earth required for building up the "mount" (mound). Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:10) says of the Chaldeans, "He laugheth at every stronghold, and heapeth up earth, and taketh it" (comp, also 2 Samuel 20:15; Isaiah 37:33). The intention of the mound was not so much to bring the besiegers on a level with the top of the walls as to enable them to work the battering-rams to better advantage (Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 1.472). She is wholly oppression, etc.; rather, she is the city that is punished; wholly oppression is in the midst of her.
As a fountain casteth out; rather, as a cistern keepeth fresh (literally, cool). The wickedness of Jerusalem is so thoroughly ingrained that it seems to pass into act by a law of nature, just as a cistern cannot help always yielding a supply of cool, fresh water. Violence and spoil; rather, injustice and violence (so Jeremiah 20:8; Amos 3:10; Habakkuk 1:3). Before me, etc.; rather, before my face continually is sickness and wounding. The ear is constantly dinned with the sounds of oppression, and the eye pained with the sight of the bodily sufferings of the victims. The word for" sickness" is applicable to any kind of infirmity (see Isaiah 53:3, Isaiah 53:4), but the context clearly limits it here to bodily trouble.
Be thou instructed; rather, Let thyself be corrected (Authorized Version misses the sense, a very important one, of the conjugation, which is Nifal tolerativum (comp. Psalms 2:10; Isaiah 53:12). The phrase equivalent to "receive correction" (Jeremiah 2:30; Jeremiah 5:3), and means to accept the warning conveyed in the Divine chastisement. Lest my soul, etc.; rather, lest my soul be rent from thee (Authorized Version renders the same verb in Ezekiel 23:17, "be alienated").
It is an all but complete Judgment, which Jehovah foreshows. Unwilling as the people are to hear it, the disclosure must be made.
They shall thoroughly glean, etc. "Israel" has already been reduced to a "remnant;" the ten tribes have lost their independence, and Judah alone remains (Jeremiah 5:15). Even Judah shall undergo a severe sifting process, which is likened to a gleaning (comp. Isaiah 24:13; Obadiah 1:5; Jeremiah 49:9). The prospect is dark, but believers in God's promises would remember that a few grapes were always left after the gathering (comp. Isaiah 17:6). Turn back thine hand. If the text is correct, the speaker here addresses the leader of the gleaners. Keil thinks this change of construction is to emphasize the certainty of the predicted destruction. But it is much more natural (and in perfect harmony with many other similar phenomena of the received text) to suppose, with Hitzig, that the letter represented in the Authorized Version By "thine" has arisen by a mistaken repetition of the first letter of the following word, and (the verbal form being the same for the infinitive and the imperative) to render turning again the hand. In this case the clause will be dependent on the preceding statement as to the "gleaning" of Judah. Into the baskets; rather, unto the shoots. The gleaners will do their work with a stern thoroughness, laying the hand of destruction again and again upon the vine-shoots.
Their ear is uncircumcised; covered as it were with a foreskin, which prevents the prophetic message from finding admittance. Elsewhere it is the heart (Le 26:41; Ezekiel 44:7), or the lips (Exodus 6:12) which are said to be "circumcised;" a passage in Stephen's speech applies the epithet both to the heart and to the ears (Acts 7:51).
Therefore I am full; rather, But I am full. I will pour it out. The text has "pour it out." The sudden transition to the imperative is certainly harsh, and excuses the conjectural emendation which underlies the rendering of the Authorized Version. If we retain the imperative, we must explain it with reference to Jeremiah's inner experience. There are, we must remember, two selves in the prophet (comp. Isaiah 21:6), and the higher prophetic self here addresses the lower or human self, and calls upon it no longer to withhold the divinely communicated burden. All classes, as the sequel announces, are to share in the dread calamity. Upon the children abroad; literally, upon the child in the street (comp. Zechariah 8:5). The assembly of young men. It is a social assembly which is meant (comp. Jeremiah 15:17, "the assembly of the laughers").
Shall be turned; i.e. transferred. Their fields and wives. Wives are regarded as a property, as in Exodus 20:17 (comp. Deuteronomy 5:21).
Given to covetousness; literally, gaineth gain; but the word here rendered "gain" implies that it is unrighteous gain (the root means "to tear"), Unjust gain and murder are repeatedly singled out in the Old Testament as representative sins (comp. Ezekiel 33:31; Psalms 119:36; Isaiah 1:15; Jeremiah 2:34; and see my note on Isaiah 57:17). There is a special reason for the selection of "covetousness" here. Land was the object of a high-born Jew's ambition, and expulsion from his land was his appropriate punishment (comp. Isaiah 5:8, Isaiah 5:9).
They have healed, etc. The full force of the verb is, "they have busied themselves about healing" (so Jeremiah 8:11; Jeremiah 51:9). Of the daughter. Our translators evidently had before them a text which omitted these words, in accordance with many Hebrew manuscripts and the Septuagint; Van der Hooght's text, however, contains them, as also does the parallel passage (Jeremiah 8:11). Slightly; or, lightly; Septuagint, ἐξουθενοῦντες. Saying, Peace, peace. Always the burden of the mere professional prophets, who, as one of a higher order—the bold, uncompromising Micah—fittingly characterizes them," bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace;" i.e. draw flattering pictures of the state and prospects of their country, in order to "line their own pockets" (Micah 3:5).
Were they ashamed? The Authorized Version certainly meets the requirements of the context; there seems to be an implied interrogation. Most, however, render, "They are brought to shame;" in which ease it seems best to take the verb as a perfect of prophetic certitude, equivalent to "they shall surely be brought to shame." When; rather, because. Nay, they were not at all ashamed; rather, nevertheless they feel no shame (i.e. at present). They shall be cast down; rather, they shall stumble.
Without hearty repentance, there is no hope of escape. But hitherto Judah has rejected all admonitions. What availeth mere ceremonial punctuality?
Stand ye in the ways; literally, station yourselves on (or, by) roads, i.e. at the meeting-point of different roads. There (as the following words state) the Jews are to make inquiry as to the old paths. Antiquity gives a presumption of rightness; the ancients were nearer to the days when God spoke with man; they had the guidance of God's two mighty "shepherds" (Isaiah 63:11); they knew, far better than we, who "are but of yesterday, and know nothing" (Job 8:9), the way of happiness. For though there are many pretended "ways," there is but "one way" (Jeremiah 32:39) which has Jehovah's blessing (Psalms 25:8, Psalms 25:9).
Also I set; rather, and I kept raising up (the frequentative perfect). Watchmen; i.e. prophets (Ezekiel 3:17, and part of Isaiah 52:8; Isaiah 56:10). Hearken, etc. probably the words of Jehovah. Standing on their high watch-tower (Habakkuk 2:1), the prophets scrutinize the horizon for the first appearance of danger, and give warning of it by (metaphorically) blowing a trumpet (so Amos 3:6).
Therefore hear, etc. Remonstrance being useless, the sentence upon Israel can no longer be delayed, and Jehovah summons the nations of the earth as witnesses (comp. Micah 1:2; Isaiah 18:3; Psalms 49:1). O congregation, what is among them. The passage is obscure. "Congregation" can only refer to the foreign nations mentioned in the first clause; for Israel could not be called upon to hear the judgment "upon this people" (Jeremiah 6:19). There is, however, no other passage in which the word has this reference. The words rendered "what is among them," or "what (shall happen) in them," seem unnaturally laconic, and not as weighty as one would expect after the solemn introduction. If correct, they must of course refer to the Israelites. But Graf's conjecture that the text is corrupt lies near at hand. The least alteration which will remove the difficulties of the passage is that presupposed by the rendering of Aquila (not Symmachus, as St. Jerome says; see Field's 'Hexapla') and J. D. Michaelis, "the testimony which is against them."
The fruit of their thoughts. That punishment is the ripe fruit of sin, is the doctrine of the Old as well as of the New Testament (James 1:15).
To what purpose … incense from Sheba? This is the answer to an implied objection on the part of the Jews, that they have faithfully fulfilled their core-menial obligations. "To obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Samuel 15:22); "And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8; comp. Isaiah 1:11; Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8). All these passages must be read in the light of the prophets' circumstances. A purely formal, petrified religion compelled them to attack the existing priesthood, and a holy indignation cannot stop to measure its language. Incense from Sheba; frankincense from south-west Arabia. This was required for the holy incense (Exodus 30:34), and as an addition to the minkhah, or "meal offering." Sweet cane. The "sweet calamus" of Exodus 30:23, which was imported from India. It was an ingredient in the holy anointing oil (Exodus, loc. cit.). Not to be confounded with the sugar-cane.
I will lay stumbling-blocks, etc, Of the regenerate Israel of the future it is prophesied (Isaiah 54:15) that his enemies shall "fall upon him [or, 'by reason of him']." Of the unregenerate Israel of the present, that he shall "fall" (i.e. come to ruin) upon the "stumbling-blocks" presented, not without God's appointment, by the terrible northern invader.
The enemy described; the terror consequent on his arrival; a rumored declaration of the moral cause of the judgment.
From the north country (so Jeremiah 1:14 (see note); Jeremiah 4:6). Shall be raised; rather, shall be aroused. The sides of the earth; rather, "the recesses (i.e. furthest parts) of the earth" (so Jeremiah 35:1-19 :32; Isaiah 14:13).
Spear; rather, javelin (or, lance). They are cruel. The cruelty of the Assyrians and Babylonians seems to have spread general dismay. Nahum calls Nineveh "the city of bloodshed" (Nahum 3:1); Habakkuk styles the Chaldeans "bitter and vehement, terrible and dreadful" (Habakkuk 1:6, Habakkuk 1:7). The customs brought out into view m the monuments justify this most amply, though Professor Rawlinson thinks we cannot call the Assyrians naturally hard. hearted. "The Assyrian listens to the enemy who asks for quarter; he prefers making prisoners go slaying.; he is very terrible in the battle and the assault, but afterwards he forgives and spares" ('Ancient Monarchies,' 1.243). Their voice roareth. The horrid roar of the advancing hosts seems to have greatly struck the Jews (comp. Isaiah 5:30; Isaiah 17:12, Isaiah 17:13).
We have heard the fame thereof. The prophet identifies himself (comp; for the same phenomenon, Jeremiah 4:19-21; Jeremiah 10:19, Jeremiah 10:20) with his people, and expresses the general feeling of anxiety and pain. The phraseology of the closing lines reminds us of Isaiah 13:7, Isaiah 13:8.
Go not forth into the field. The "daughter of Zion" (i.e. the personific population of Jerusalem) is cautioned against venturing outside the walls. The sword of the enemy; rather, the enemy hath a sword. Fear is on every side; Hebrew, magor missabib; one of Jeremiah's favorite expressions (see Jeremiah 20:3, Jeremiah 20:10; Jeremiah 46:5; Jeremiah 49:29; and comp. Psalms 31:13 (14).). Naturally of a timid, retiring character, the prophet cannot help feeling the anxious and alarming situation into which at the Divine command he has ventured.
Wallow thyself in ashes; rather, sprinkle thyself with ashes, a sign of mourning (2 Samuel 13:19; so Micah 1:10). Mourning, as for an only son. The Septuagint renders πένθος ἀγαπητοῦ. Possibly this was to avoid a supposition which might have occurred to some readers (it has, in fact, occurred to several modern critics) that the "only son" was Adonis, who was certainly "mourned for" by some of the Israelites under the name of Thammuz (Ezekiel 8:14), and whose Phoenician name is given by Philo of Byblus as ἰεούδ (i.e. probably Yakhidh, only begotten, the word used by Jeremiah; comp. βηρούθ, equivalent to Berith). M. Renan found a vestige of the ancient festival of Adonis at Djebeil (the Phoenician Gebal) even at the present day. There would be nothing singular in the adoption of a common popular phrase by the prophet, in spite of its reference to a heathen custom (comp. Job 3:8), and the view in question gives additional force to the passage. But the ordinary explanation is perfectly tenable and more obvious. The phrase, "mourning [or, 'lamentation'] for an only begotten one," occurs again in Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10. In the last-mentioned passage it is parallel with "bitter weeping for a firstborn."
I have set thee, etc.; literally, as an assayer have I set thee among my people, a fortress. Various attempts have been made to avoid giving the last word its natural rendering, "a fortress." Ewald, for instance, would alter the points, and render "a separator [of metals]," thus making the word synonymous with that translated "an assayer;" but this is against Hebrew usage. Hitzig, assuming a doubtful interpretation of Job 22:24, renders " … among my people without gold," i.e. "without there being any gold there for thee to essay" (a very awkward form of expression). These are the two most plausible views, and yet neither of them is satisfactory. Nothing remains but the very simple conjecture, supported by not a few similar phenomena, that mibhcar, a fortress, has been inserted by mistake from the margin, where an early glossator had written the word, to remind of the parallel passage (Jeremiah 1:18, "I have made thee this day a fortress-city," 'it mibhcar). In this and the following verses metallurgic phraseology is employed with a moral application (comp. Isaiah 1:22, Isaiah 1:25).
Grievous revolters; literally, rebels of rebels. Walking; rather, going about, as a peddler with his wares (so Proverbs 11:13; Proverbs 20:19; Le Proverbs 19:16). Jeremiah had good reason to specify this characteristic of his enemies (see Jeremiah 18:18). Brass and Iron; rather, copper and iron, in short, base metal,
The bellows are burned. The objection to this rendering is that the burning of the bellows would involve the interruption of the process of assaying. We might, indeed, translate "are scorched" (on the authority of Ezekiel 15:4), and attach the word rendered "of the fire" to the first clause; the half-verse would then run: "The bellows are scorched through the fire; the lead is consumed," i.e. the bellows are even scorched through the heat of the furnace, and the lead has become entirely oxydized. But this requires us to alter the verb from the masculine to the feminine form of third sing. perf. (reading tammah). It is better, therefore, to give the verb (which will be Kal, if the nun be radical) the sense of "snorting," which it has in Aramaic and in Arabic, and which the corresponding noun has in Hebrew (Jeremiah 8:16; Job 39:20; Job 41:12). The masculine form of the verb rendered "is consumed" is still a difficulty; but we have a better right to suppose that the first letter of tittom was dropped, owing to its identity with the second letter, than to append (as the first view would require us) an entirely different letter at the end. This being done, the whole passage becomes clear: "The bellows puff, (that) the lead may be consumed of the fire." In any case, the general meaning is obvious. The assayer has spared no trouble, all the rules of his art have been obeyed, but no silver appears as the result of the process. Lead is mentioned, because, before quicksilver was known, it was employed as a flux in the operation of smelting, Plucked away; rather, separated, like the dross from the silver.
Reprobate silver … rejected them; rather, refuse silver … refused them. The verbal root is the same.
Wells of wickedness.
I. IF WICKEDNESS IS ABUNDANT AND PERSISTENT, IF MUST COME FROM A DEEP SOURCE. The wickedness of Israel is constantly renewed—ever fresh and abundant, like water in a well. Such water must flow out of deep fountains. The continuity of a course of sin proves that its origin is deep seated. The sin of hasty temper is less than that of deliberate calculation, the fall before sudden temptation more excusable than the willful choice of evil, the occasional slip less culpable than the continuous habit of wickedness. This habitual sin must be rooted. in a man's nature. Springing out under all circumstances, it is seen to be, not an outside defect, but a fruit of his own inner life. Constantly flowing in spite of all restraints of law, social influence, and conscience, it shows how thoroughly corrupt the heart must be (Matthew 15:18).
II. IF WICKEDNESS IS DEEP-SEATED IN THE HEART, IT MUST FLOW OUT IN FREQUENT ACTS. The spring cannot restrain its waters; the heart cannot repress its imaginations. These must come forth and express themselves in deeds. Men may aim at living two lives—an inner life of sin and an outer life of propriety; but the attempt must ultimately fail. The greater the evil of the heart, the more completely must this color the life.
III. DEEP-SEATED AND EVER-FLOWING WICKEDNESS PROVOKES THE SEVEREST JUDGMENT FROM GOD. Jeremiah points to this as the terrible justification for the approaching desolation of the land.
1. In itself it is most heinous, and carries the greatest guilt.
2. It is so radically evil that it impregnates the whole nature of the people in whom it dwells, so that they cannot be regarded as doers of wickedness only, but as wicked; not as those who have committed acts of dishonesty, untruth, violence, etc; but as thieves, liars, murderers, etc.
3. Ever-flowing, it promises no better things for the future. If left to itself, it will but repeat the sickening tale of the past with aggravated depravity.
4. It is the source of evil to others. The sin flows out. It must be checked for the protection of all who come under its influence.
Jeremiah 6:10, Jeremiah 6:11
The indifference of men and the burden of truth.
We have here revealed to us a conflict in the mind of the prophet. At first it seems vain for him to speak, for none heed his warnings (Jeremiah 6:10); but then he feels the awful burden of his message compelling utterance. While he looks at his audience he loses heart and sees little good in attempting to influence them; but when he looks within at his trust he finds that this has claims and powers before which he must bow obediently. Thus the teacher of high truth is often discouraged when he considers the unfitness of men to receive it, until he realizes more fully the majesty of the truth itself which possesses him and is not simply a treasure to be regarded as his property, but a Lord demanding his faithful service.
I. THE INDIFFERENCE OF MEN. Here was the source of Jeremiah's discouragement, and we can sympathize with him. What is the use of uttering truths that men are not fit to receive—only to waste our powers, create misunderstandings, and provoke opposition?
1. The reception of truth depends on the condition of the receiving mind. Language requires ears as well as tongues. Outward ears are useless without the inward ears of an understanding mind. An ass has no lack of ears, but what are a prophet's words to him? There are people to whom the solemn utterance of the most awful truths is but so much noise. Therefore
2. When the mind is in a wrong condition for the reception of truth this may meet with ridicule and dislike. Truth may meet with ridicule. The word of Jehovah was "a mockery to the Jews." Ridicule may be both a result of misunderstanding the truth and a cause of further mistakes. Truth may also meet with dislike. The Jews had "no delight" in the Divine Word. This was a proof of their not understanding it; for to know it is to love it (Psalms 119:16). It was also a cause of their not rightly receiving it; for dislike to truth Minds the eye to the nature of it.
II. THE BURDEN OF TRUTH. In spite of all these grounds for discouragement, Jeremiah feels that he must utter his message when once he considers its origin and character.
1. Truth is a trust from God. It is "the fury of the Lord ' that possesses the prophet, not the mere passion of his own thoughts. He who holds a Divine truth is a steward of an oracle of God. Woe to him if he consult his own convenience and rely only on his own judgment when, as a steward, he is called to be faithful to his Master's will. His duty is to speak; the consequences may be left to God.
2. Truth is an inspiration from God. Jeremiah is "full of the fury of Jehovah." The Spirit of God has possessed him; he is brought into sympathy with the thought and feeling of God: he must needs utter this. If men feel the inspiration of truth they will be carried away by it and poor considerations of worldly expediency will be swept on one side by the flood of a Divine passion.
3. Truth is a burden on the soul which cries for utterance. Jeremiah exclaims, "I am weary with holding in! Woe is me!" cries St. Paul, as he thinks of the suggestion to restrain his preaching the gospel. Under great passions men do not speak measured words, chosen in strict consideration for their hearers; they speak to give vent to their own souls. The grandest utterances of humanity, in prophecy and in poetry, are free from all calculations as to the reception of them by an audience. They are unrestrainable expressions of the soul; like the songs of birds flowing from the very fullness of the heart.
4. Truth is for the good of mankind. Jeremiah must speak, for what he utters concerns others than himself. No one has a right to the monopoly of any great truth. It is common property, and he who hides it steals it. If his excuse is that men cannot understand it, let him remember
I. THE CRAVING FOR PEACE IS NATURAL. These false prophets gained their influence by professing to satisfy a natural instinct. The Jews dreaded war with their great neighbors.
1. All wicked men are at heart in a stats of unrest. The soul that sins is at war with God, with the law and order of the universe, with its own nature.
2. This condition is distressing. The outward warfare begets inward unrest. Then, above all things, peace is the great want of the soul. Wealth success, happiness, can be spared if but this jewel is still preserved. All great philosophies and all earnest religions set themselves to the task of discovering or creating it.
II. THE PRETENSIONS OF FALSE PEACE ARE PLAUSIBLE. The prophets dissuaded their hearers from attending to the warning words of Jeremiah, and endeavored to make them believe that they were in no danger. There is much that is very popular in arguments such as theirs.
1. They agree with the wishes of the hearers. Men are always inclined to believe what they wish.
2. They flatter the pride of the populace. The people are told that they are too great and too favored of Heaven to suffer any serious calamity, and they are only too ready to believe it.
3. They claim the merits of charity. They promise pleasant things. This looks more charitable than the threatening language of stern censors. Hence the prophets win favor for their apparent geniality and liberal sentiments.
4. They require no sacrifices from those who accept them. The doctrine is popular because the practice flowing from it is easy. The flattering prophets called to no reformation of character.
5. They have appearances in their favor. At present all looks fair. Is not this a presumption that the future will be happy? The sun is rising in gold and crimson; why, then, prophesy the approach of a storm?
III. THE PRETENSIONS OF FALSE PEACE ARE RUINOUS.
1. These pretensions do nothing to secure the peace. They simply lead men to believe that they are to enjoy it. Such a belief cannot alter facts. If there is no peace we do not make peace by crying, "Peace, peace!" This is the language of folly and indolence.
2. These delusions only aggravate the danger. They prevent men from preparing for the calamity by blinding them to the near advent of it.
IV. THERE IS A WAY BY WHICH THE NATURAL CRAVING FOR PEACE MAY BE SATISFIED. The deceiving prophets do not make peace; they only talk of it. Bat in the teaching of true prophets and apostles the way to secure solid peace is revealed.
1. This is shown to be not immediate. Jeremiah was right in saying that the people must suffer before they enjoyed peace. Christ, the Prince of peace, came to "send a sword" (Matthew 10:34). The gospel does not preach "peace at any price," but peace after victory in warfare, rest after patient endurance of tribulation.
2. This is shown to be through repentance and renewal of life. The deceiving prophets promise peace to the people as they are. While we are in sin we cannot have true peace (Isaiah 48:22). Peace follows the advent of the Spirit of Christ (John 14:26, John 14:27).
The old paths.
I. CONSIDER THE RECOMMENDATION TO FOLLOW THE OLD PATHS.
1. The course of life should be determined after thoughtful deliberation. Jeremiah is to "stand in the ways and see." It is foolish to go with the multitude without individual convictions of what is right, or to follow our own private impulses blindly and aimlessly.
2. The choice should fall on a good way. Other ways may be smooth, pleasant, flowery at the starting, only to lose themselves in the pathless wilderness, while this may look more rugged and steep at first; but it should not be the present attractiveness, but the direction, the whole course and the end of a way, which should determine our choice of it.
3. There are old paths of right. Religion has not to be made anew. It is not left for the latest saint to discover the way of holiness.
4. Having found the right way, we should forthwith "walk therein." Knowledge is useless without practice; nay, guilt is aggravated if, knowing the right, we follow the wrong.
5. In the right way is rest for the soul. Even while on the earthly pilgrimage many quiet resting-places may be found (Psalms 23:2), through all the course an inward peace may be enjoyed (Proverbs 3:17), and at the end will be found the perfect rest of the home of God (Hebrews 4:9).
II. CONSIDER THE GROUNDS ON WHICH THIS RECOMMENDATION IS BASED.
1. Old ways have been tested by experience. We choose for a guide one who has already traversed the country. In an unknown land we naturally turn to beaten tracks in preference to following stray footprints across the wild, or striking out for ourselves a pathless way. If others have done rough pioneer work, why should not we avail ourselves of it? If they have reached the goal, they have proved that it is attainable by their way. This is fact; that a new way will be easier or shorter is conjecture. There is, therefore, a presumption in favor of the old.
2. Old ways in religion are nearer to the original fountains of inspiration. Israel was referred back to the old ways marked out by Moses, the great founder of the Jewish faith. Christians are referred back to primitive Christianity, to the teaching of the apostles, to the life and example of Christ. Christianity is not a speculation, a creation of the spirit of the age. It is a tradition, a following of those Divine counsels which are indicated in the New Testament.
III. CONSIDER THE LIMITATIONS TO THE APPLICATION OF THIS RECOMMENDATION.
1. The old ways are to be followed only in so far as they are good. Still we must judge by our own conscience. Antiquity must not be taken as a despotic master. There are bad old ways. The first-born man struck out an evil way; it was left to Abel, the second-born, to show the better course.
2. In considering the character of an old way, we must take note of the character and light of those who founded it. There have been dark ages in the past. Corruption soon crept in. Things are not good just in proportion to their age. Christians must look, not to the Puritans, the Reformers the mediaeval Church, the Fathers, but, passing numerous errors and corruptions, reach back to Christ himself for the true old way. He is the Way (John 14:6).
3. We must ever progress beyond the attainments of the past. We are to follow those old ways that are good; we are to build on the one foundation. But we are not to be content with having the foundation. The fabric must rise higher and higher (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). Christianity is a religion of progress. It is not to be subject to revolutions. Progress must follow the lines laid down by Christ and his apostles. Christianity is not strengthened nor adorned, but only burdened and hidden, by a mere accretion of human ideas and institutions; yet it is a seed which grows, developing larger, fuller life out of its own essential principles (Matthew 13:31). Jeremiah himself took a great stride forward beyond the limits attained by antiquity, though in the direction of the old path, i.e. in the spirit of the religion of his fathers (Jeremiah 31:31-34). "These times are the ancient times, when the world is ancient, and not those which we count ancient, ordine retrogrado, by a computation backwards from ourselves" (Francis Bacon).
I. THE MISSION OF THE WATCHMEN.
1. They are appointed by God. God raises up prophets, preachers, teachers of righteousness. Unless they have a Divine call they are usurping a position to which they have no right (Galatians 1:1, Galatians 1:15). Hence see
2. They are to observe what goes on around them. The prophets are seers of spiritual truths, observers of events of history in the light of those truths, and thus, as watchmen, able to discern approaching dangers. The Christian teachers must not be wrapped up in abstract truth. They must see the application of this, note the condition and needs of men, discern the "signs of the times." The prophets were political leaders. They discoursed on subjects which in our day would be discussed in the newspaper.
3. They are to blow the trumpet. The seer is to be a prophet. He who knows truth must make it known to others. The watchman must not simply "let his light shine;" he must blow a trumpet, demand attention, compel men to hear. The enemy is at the gate. This is no time for mild disquisitions on military tactics; it is a moment when men must be awaked from their sleep and summoned to arms. The Christian preacher speaks to men who are asleep and in great danger. His duty is not simply to let the truth be known. He must arouse, urge, "compel" men to hear his message.
II. THE RECEPTION OF THE MISSION OF THE WATCHERS. The watchman has done his duty in sounding the trumpet. If none will hear, he is free.
1. Men must hearken to the Divine message before they can profit by it. To be warned is not to be saved. If men refuse to accept the truths of Christianity these can do them no good, and they are left free to follow or to neglect them.
2. Men must obey the Divine message before they can profit by it. It is nothing to tremble at the warning of judgment unless we are moved to actions of precaution. Felix trembled, and was none the better for this proof of the powerful effect of the preaching of St. Paul (Acts 24:25).
3. If the Divine message is heard and disregarded, the folly, guilt, and ruin will only be aggravated. The plea of ignorance is gone. Indifference is converted into obstinate rebellion (Jeremiah 6:19).