Christian Controversy
Jeremiah 2:9-13
Why I will yet plead with you, said the LORD, and with your children's children will I plead.…

The text may be put into other words, thus: "Go over to the islands of the Chittim, the isles and coast lands of the far west; then go to Kedar, away in the eastern desert, — go from east to west, — and ask if any heathen land has given up its idols, and you will find that no such thing has ever taken place; but whilst the heathen have kept to their gods as if they bad strong love for them, My people, for whom I have done so much, whose names are on the palms of My hands, have turned away from Me, and have given up their living and loving God for that which can do them no good." There must be some way of accounting for conduct so clearly unreasonable and ungrateful. We may perhaps find our way to the secret step by step, if we notice one or two things that we ourselves are in the habit of doing. We all know how much easier it is to keep up the form of religion than to be true to its spirit. Say that religion is a number of things to be done, some at this hour and some at that, and you bring it, so to speak, within range of the hand, and make it manageable; but instead of doing this, show that religion means spiritual worship, a sanctified conscience, and a daily, sacrifice of the will, and you at once invoke the severest resistance to its supremacy. Or say that religion simply means a passive acceptance of certain dogmas that can be fully expressed in words, which make no demand upon inquiry or sympathy, and you will awaken the least possible opposition; but make it a spiritual authority, a rigorous and incessant discipline imposed upon the whole life, and you will send a sword upon the earth, and enkindle a great fire. Earnest religious controversy seems to be but the higher aspect of another controversy which has vexed man through all time. The study of God is the higher side of the study of man. It is a singular thing that man has never been able to make himself quite out, though he has been zealously mindful of the doctrine that "the proper study of mankind is man." He wants to know exactly whence he came and what he is; but the voice which answers him is sometimes mocking, and nearly always doubtful. Is it wonderful that man, who has had so much difficulty with himself, should have had proportionately greater difficulty with such a God as is revealed in the Bible? On the contrary, it will be found that the two studies — the study of man and the study of God — always go together, and that the ardour of the one determines the intensity of the other. In this view the text might read thus: Pass over the isles of the Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see whether the inhabitants thereof have studied the physiology and chemistry of their own bodies; but the philosophers of Christendom have built themselves upon protoplasm. Kedar cared nothing about humanity, and therefore it cared nothing about divinity. When man is not deeply interested in himself it is not likely that he will be deeply interested in God. In the doctrine that the very greatness of God is itself the occasion of religious controversy, and even of religious doubt and defective constancy, we find the best answer to a difficulty created by the words of the text. That difficulty may be put thus: If the people of Chittim and of Kedar are faithful to their gods, does it not prove that those gods have power to inspire and retain confidence? and if the people of Israel are always turning away from their God, does it not show that their God is unable to keep His hold upon their occasional love? Such a putting of the case would be valid if inquiry be limited to the letter. But if we go below the surface we must instantly strip it of all worth as a plea on behalf of idolatry. Clearly so; for, not to go further, if it proves anything it proves too much; thus — the marble statue which you prize so highly has never given you a moment's pain; your child has occasioned you days and nights of anxiety; therefore a marble statue has more moral power (power to retain your admiration) than has a child. Your clock you understand thoroughly; you can unmake and make it again, and explain its entire mechanism down to the finest point of its action; but that child of yours is a mystery which seems to increase day by day: therefore you have more satisfaction in the clock than in the child. So the argument in favour of Kedar proves nothing, because it not only proves too much, but lands the reasoner in a practical absurdity. The foundation of this argument is, that of all subjects that engage the human mind, religion (whether true or false) is the most exciting; that in proportion as it enlarges its claims, will it be likely to occasion controversy; and that, as the religion of the Bible enlarges its claims beyond all other religions, assailing the intellect, the conscience, the will, and bringing every thought and every imagination of the heart into subjection, and demanding the corroboration of spiritual faith by works that rise to the point of self-crucifixion, the probability is that there will not only be a controversy between man and man as to its authority and beneficence, but also a controversy between man and God as to its acceptance; and that out of this latter controversy will come the very defection complained of in the text, and will come also the vexatious human controversies which may really be but so many excuses for resisting the moral discipline of the Gospel. This is the whole argument. Specially is to be noted that the principal controversy is not between man and man, but between man and God; our hearts are not loyal to our Maker; His commandments are grievous to souls that love their ease. The God of grace, rich in all comfort and promise, we do not cast off. We want such a God. But the God of law, of purity, of judgment, terrible in wrath and not to be deceived by lies, our hearts can only receive with broken loyalty, loving Him today, and grieving Him tomorrow. It is in this sad fact that we find the only satisfactory explanation of the slowness of the spread of the Christian kingdom. Evil hates goodness, hates light, hates God; and as truth cannot fight with carnal weapons, or force, itself upon the world by physical means, it can only "stand at the door and knock," and mourn the slowness which it cannot accelerate. It is God's will that the rock grow slowly, and that the forest hasten not its maturity; but it is surely not the will of the Lord that His children should grieve Him long, and provoke Him to wrath through many generations. We have been speaking of the controversy respecting the Unseen and Invisible God. There is a distinct effort made in our day to turn the controversy out of historical channels, and to fasten it upon abstract speculation. We must resist this effort, for we, at all events, believe that the discussion concerning essential Deity was started from a new centre when Jesus Christ came into the world. No name given under heaven amongst men has occasioned, and is now occasioning, so much controversy as the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Men do not know what to make of Christ. You cannot get rid of Christ: you exclude Him from your schools by Act of Parliament, but He, passing through the midst of you, says, "Suffer Me and the children to meet; let the flowers see the sun"; you find Him in statute books, in philanthropic institutions, in literature; you find Him now just as His disciples found Him, in out-of-the-way places, doing out-of-the-way things; — "they marvelled that He spake with the woman," — the eternal marvel, the eternal hope! This leads us to remark that how strong soever Christianity may be in force and dignity of pure argument — and in that direction it has proved itself victorious on all fields — its mightiest force for good is in its vital and inexhaustible sympathy. Christianity as a sympathetic religion, tender, hopeful, patient, with morning light forever falling on its uplifted eyes, leaning with all its trust upon the Cross of the atoning Son of God, calling men from sin, ignorance, and death, is a figure the world will not willingly spare in its day of anguish and sore distress. It will be interesting to observe how God Himself meets the controversy which He deplores, for in doing so, we may learn a method of reply. When God answers, His reply must be the best. Look at the Divine challenge: "What iniquity have your fathers found in Me, that they are gone far from Me?" This sublime challenge you cannot find in all the sayings of heathen gods. And this is the invincible defence of the Christian religion in all ages and in all lands, — you have purity at the centre, you have holiness on the throne! Those who have read s immortal work, The City of God, will remember with what fierce eloquence he scourges the gods of pagan Rome. How biting his tone, how keen his retorts, how broad his sarcasm! "Why," he sternly demands, "did the gods publish no laws which might have guided their devotees to a virtuous life?" And again, "Did ever the walls of any of their temples echo to any such warning voice? I myself," he continues, "when I was a young man, used sometimes to go to sacrilegious entertainments and spectacles; I saw the priests raving in religious excitement, and before the couch of the mother of the gods there were sung productions so obscene and filthy for the ear that not even the mother of the foul-mouthed players themselves could have formed one of the audience." History, as you know, is full of such instances. Remembering these things, you may see the force of the inquiry, "What iniquity have your fathers found in Me?" This is the invincible defence of the Christian religion today. Observe how Jesus Christ repeats the very challenge we find in the text, — "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" And, later on, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil." They had accused Him often, but had convicted Him never! We apply this doctrine with timidity, for who would wilfully slay himself, or bring judgment upon a thousand men? Yet the application is this: When the Church is holy, the Christian controversy is ended in universal and immortal triumph!

(J. Parker, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the LORD, and with your children's children will I plead.

WEB: "Therefore I will yet contend with you," says Yahweh, "and I will contend with your children's children.

Changing Gods
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