The Relations of Righteousness and Religion
Jeremiah 7:1-34
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,…

This chapter, as indeed so much other of Jeremiah's prophecies, teaches not a little Concerning this great theme. In this chapter we note how it shows -


1. It is God's solemn demand (ver. 2).

(1) Jeremiah is charged to proclaim it in the Name of the Lord and as his word.

(2) He is to go where there will be a vast congregation of the people: "In the gate of the Lord's house."

(3) Probably at a time of national gathering, at one of the feasts, so as to secure a yet larger audience.

(4) At a moment when the word of the Lord might be expected to win most attention from them - as they were "entering in at the gates to worship the Lord."

2. It is God's perpetual demand. See the whole chapter, the whole prophecy. "Amend your ways and your doings" (ver. 3) is its constant appeal.

3. At first it was his only command, and it is ever his first command. (ver. 22). Our first parents were commanded to obey before sacrifice or any rites of religion were appointed. And so with Israel (ver. 22). The moral Law was given before the ceremonial. And it was given in a far more imperative form. The moral Law begins "Thou shalt;" the Levitical (Leviticus 1:2 - 2:1), "If any man will." Hence from all the foregoing it is evident that righteousness stands before all else in the Divine esteem.

II. RELIGION WAS GIVEN FOR THE SAKE OF AND AS AN AID TO RIGHTEOUSNESS. Righteousness is not for the sake of religion, but vice versa. No doubt they render mutual help, but the proper relation of the two is as aforesaid. And religion can be a help to righteousness and ought ever to be, even as it has often been and is.

1. My supplying fresh motives. Apart from religion, righteous conduct becomes simply morality, and bases itself upon laws of expediency, or at best draws its force from motives that rise no higher than earth and man and the present life. But religion gives the love of God in Christ as its all-constraining force. Under the influence of this, what have not men done and borne; and what will they not do and bear?

2. By lending intensity to those already in action. How puny the power of hope, when it has none other recompense than that which this life and this world can furnish, contrasted with its invincible force when the recompenses of eternity, made known to us by religion, are set before it and held out to it! And so with the motive of fear. What an immense addition is made to the deterrent force of fear when the idea of God and his awful displeasure are present before the mind!

"His love will all vain love expel,
His fear all fear beside."

3. By furnishing a perfect example. In our blessed Lord's life, short as it was in duration, and far removed from us as it is in time, place, and circumstance, nevertheless in it there is to be found a standard and model of righteous conduct for all ages and all lands, such as can be found nowhere else. His life has been the compass by which many a saint has steered across the difficult ocean of life, and by its aid arrived safely at the desired haven.

4. By winning for us, in response to our fervent prayers, the ever-present and potent help of the Divine and transforming Spirit. By his aid the very "body of sin" within us is crucified, and we become new creatures in Christ.

5. By its ordinances of worship: its continual teaching, its Church fellowship, and its varied sacred observances, keeping alive within us those beliefs and sentiments which are ever the most powerful prompters to all righteousness of life. Thus the Israelite of old found the Law of God (cf. Psalm 119.) his perpetual aid, and the worship of God's house a constant solace and strength. And it is so still. By the truths and the ordinances of religion, the weak, wavering will is steadied, the feet are kept from falling, and the soul is preserved from death. Such ought ever to be the case, ever is so, where religion is the worship of God in spirit and in truth; and this was the Divine design and intent in giving it to us.

III. BUT THEY ARE AT TIMES FOUND ASUNDER. Religion may flourish, but righteousness be only conspicuous by its absence. It was so in the time of the prophet. We see a whole apparatus of religion - temple, altar, priests, sacrifices, services; nothing omitted in external observances. And there was a national profession of it; large sums of money were lavished on it, and there was a universal outward regard for it. But, on the other hand, all this went on whilst the most gross unrighteousness characterized the very people who outwardly were so religious (cf. vers. 5, 6, 9, 18). This was an appalling fact. Nor, alas! is it one that now has no existence; the same sad separation of religion from righteousness may be too often seen in our days as of old. The murderous banditti of Southern Europe are diligent at Mass, and pay all honor to the Virgin and saints. The midnight assassins of Ireland are all good Catholics. And many a chapel and church in our own land has amongst its seemingly most religious worshippers, men who are cruel, hard, fraudulent, impure - "saints at the prayer-meeting and sacrament, but very devils at home."

IV. THEY MAY BE EVEN OPPOSED TO ONE ANOTHER. Not merely separate, but antagonistic. Yes, religion, which was designed to minister to righteousness, may not only be severed from it, but be actually found undermining it, sapping its very life and strength. Thus:

1. By begetting false confidence. (Cf. ver. 4.) The Jews thought that all this religion must guarantee them immunity from the Divine displeasure, must ensure them his safeguard and protection. He, so they thought, could never suffer harm to come to his own temple - "the temple of the Lord." And still it is hard to persuade our hearts that all our religion goes for nothing, and worse than nothing, when it brings forth no fruit of righteousness. So many prayers, such liberal gifts, such good desires, such correctness of creed and of outward demeanor, such devotional fervor, - surely these things must propitiate Heaven, must ward off the Divine displeasure! (Cf. G. Eliot's character, Bulstrode, the fraudulent but very religious banker, in 'Middlemarch.')

2. By teaching men truths which they can readily wrest to evil. (Cf. ver. 10.) The meaning (see Exposition) is not "We cannot help ourselves; God has given us over to sin;" but "We are delivered by our religious observances - sacrifices and the like; the score is cleared off; we are secured against harm; we may go and live as we list." Thus they "tamed the grace of God into lasciviousness," and "continued in sin that," etc. And is not this done still? It is to be feared that not a few suck a poisonous pleasure from the Messed doctrine of the forgiving love of God. Thus the gospel itself may become a "savor of death unto death" to those who thus "make Christ the Minister of sin." And because religion has been seen so often severed from righteousness, and sometimes even ministering to unrighteousness, many have been and are eager to sweep it away altogether as a hindrance rather than a help to moral well-being. A highly educated German gentleman, whom the writer met abroad, expressed it as his strong and deliberate conviction that the religiousness and the decay of a people stand related as cause and effect. He argued that England must sink because her leading statesman was an eminently religious man. And were religion necessarily or generally severed from righteousness, still more if it were necessarily or generally opposed to righteousness, then it would deserve the denunciation of all right-minded men, and the sooner it were swept utterly out of the way the better. But all we can say is that if righteousness be not found in company with religion, it is to be found nowhere else; and if the Church of God, the great company of those who profess to be actuated by religious motives and aims, do not furnish and nurture God-like and righteous souls, then there is no other company on the face of the earth that does so. Bad as the Church may be, the world is far worse.

V. WHAT, THEN, IS OUR DUTY? Not to inveigh against religion, still less to seek its destruction, but to do all we can to restore the original and God-designed relationship between it and righteousness. "What God hath joined together, let," etc. And it is on this restoration of right relationship between the two that God so strenuously and sternly insists here and throughout his Word. If (ver. 3) they will amend their ways, then his blessing; but if not, he will have no mercy. He cites the instance of Shiloh as a solemn warning to them (ver. 14). He forbids Jeremiah even to pray for them whilst they continue as they are (ver. 16). He pours his contempt upon all their religion, their burnt offerings, and sacrifices (ver. 21), whilst severed from righteousness. He tells them that all along in their history, from the first until now, he had asked for, though he had never received it from them, not religion merely, but righteousness - obedience to his Word (vers. 21-28). Instead of that they had committed all abomination, and therefore they should miserably perish (vers. 29-34). How dreadful, then, must be the separation, and yet more the antagonism, between these whom God united! As he gave Eve to be a help-meet to Adam, so did he give religion to be the help-meet of righteousness. Let us tremble with a holy fear if we find ourselves able to go on contentedly in religious observances, whilst conscience becomes less and less sensitive, and our love and loyalty to righteousness grow feebler day by day. Our subject shows us that such a disastrous condition is possible. But that we may escape it, let us resolve that, inasmuch as God has given us religion for our help - a help which our blessed Lord himself ever made use of-

"Cold mountains and the midnight air
Witnessed the fervor of his prayer;"

- we will know the possibilities of help towards holiness which undoubtedly it contains. Let us set ourselves to seek the "baptism of the Holy Ghost" and "the endowments of power" which come therefrom. If we do thus set ourselves to seek these, they shall

Parallel Verses
KJV: The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,

WEB: The word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, saying,

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