O Israel, you have destroyed yourself; but in me is your help.
Others cannot destroy us unless we contribute by our own negligence to our own destruction. The Israelites ought to blame none but themselves if judgments from heaven should overwhelm them, giving them up to the Assyrians in this life, and to punishment after death. Here God condescends to exonerate His conduct in regard to sinners by declaring that they ought to take the whole blame of their oval destruction upon themselves. The difficulties of this subject proceed either from our notion of the nature of God; or of the nature of religion; or of the nature of man.
I. THE NATURE OF GOD. As Creator and Author of every being that exists, and of everything that results from their existence, God seems the only cause of the miseries of His creatures. There are two ways in which we may satisfy ourselves on this subject. One is, to obtain a complete idea of the decrees of God, and to compare them so exactly with the dispositions of sinners, as to make it evident by this comparison that sinners are not under a necessity of committing such crimes, as cause their eternal destruction. The other is, to refer the subject to the determination of a being of the most unsuspected knowledge and veracity, whose testimony we may persuade ourselves is unexceptionable, and whose declaration is an infallible oracle. The first of these ways is impracticable, and always must remain so. Who can boast of knowing the whole arrangement, all the extent and all the combinations, of the decrees of God? Try the second. The question is whether, allowing the decrees of God, God doth any violence to sinners, compelling them to commit sin? God Himself declares that none of His decrees offer violence to His creatures; and their destruction can proceed from none but themselves. He has given this answer in those pathetic expostulations, in those powerful applications, and in those exhortations which He employs to redeem the greatest sinners. He has given the answer by tender complaints concerning the depravity of mankind; by express assurances that He would have all men to be saved; and by such passages as the text, that there are no difficulties insurmountable in our salvation, except such as we choose to seek there.
II. THE NATURE OF RELIGION.
1. As to evangelical morality — how clearly it is revealed. Heresy may attack our religious mysteries, but propositions that concern moral virtues are placed in a light so clear that nothing can diminish its brightness. Religion clearly requires a magistrate to be equitable, and a subject obedient; a father tender, and a son dutiful; a husband affectionate, and a wife faithful; a master gentle, and a servant diligent; a pastor vigilant, and a flock teachable. Religion clearly requires us to exercise moderation in prosperity and patience in adversity. Our moral relations are regulated in a manner so clear, distinct, and intelligible that we not only cannot invent any difficulties, but nobody hath ever pre tended to invent any.
2. The next character of Christian morality is dignity of principle. Why did God give us laws? Because He loves us, and would have us love Him. How pleasant it is to submit to bonds which the love of God imposes on us.
3. Another character is the justice of its dominions. All its claims are founded on justice and equity.
4. Another feature is a character of proportion.
5. Power of motive is another.
III. THE NATURE OF MAN. There are implied four vague and erroneous notions of human depravity.
1. When we speak of our natural impotence to practise virtue we confound it with an insurmountable necessity to commit the greatest crimes.
2. We confound the sure virtue that religion inspires with other virtues, which constitution, education, and motives of worldly honour are sufficient to enable us to practise.
3. We confound the natural depravity of a man born a pagan, and with only the light of reason, with that of a Christian born and educated among Christians, and amidst all the advantages of revelation.
4. We confound the condition of a man, to whom God hath given only exterior revelation, with the conditions of him to whom God offers supernatural aid to assist him against his natural frailty.
Parallel VersesKJV: O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.