So let us know--let us press on to know the LORD. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the earth.
Hosea 6:3 (last clause)
I. CONSIDER THE BLESSING IN ITS COMING.
1. Rain is given in the sovereign bounty of God. Few things are less subject to the control of man, who at most can foretell its fall. Human merit, human skill, and human power have nothing to do in ruling it. If God pleased he could, by a comparatively slight change in physical laws, so alter the condition of the world that the clouds would no longer float in the sky, and the verdure no longer beautify the earth. Our home might be transformed into a world like the moon, with its awful crevasses and stupendous mountains ungladdened either by rain or dew. But in the tender mercy of God rain still falls, and under its influence ferns uncurl in the woods, and the cups of forgotten flowers run over with blessing. It is God who "so clothes the grass of the field." He only can transform the moral wilderness into a paradise, arid he does "give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him."
2. Rain falls generously. Suppose you were at variance with your neighbor, and shut yourself off from him by a lorry wall, so that you could not see his garden nor he yours. When a shower fell from heaven it would disregard that distinction, and bless alike the seeds you both had sown; nor would it matter whether his was the splendid park, or only the tiny garden where a few flowers made the soil look beautiful. So generously does the Spirit come down on all assemblies of Christian worshippers; whether they meet in the home or in the church; amidst the uncouth expressions of prayer and song, or the splendors of an ornate ritual. In them all God sees tender flowers of joy and peace whose fragrance is sweet to him, and he comes down on them as the rain.
3. Rain falls seasonably. "As the latter and former rain upon the earth." In Palestine, where the steep hillsides were cultivated in terraces, the soil would suffer readily from drought. "The former," or autumn rain, fell in September, blessing the seed-time, and making the earth soft with showers. "The latter rain," falling in March and April, filled out the ears of corn before the harvest. So that to a Jew there was special significance in the promise, "I will cause the rain to come down in his season." If either of the rains were withheld the harvest would fail. The spiritual life of man is ever needing the nourishment of Divine influence. Christ is "the Author and the Finisher" of our faith. He is the Alpha and the Omega of Christian life. The old Christian cannot rest in past experience, nor the working Christian in service; but each must ever be looking out of and above himself. Nor can we trust to organizations and ritual for revival. It is wise to dig canals, and build tanks, and provide means for directing the rills to the gardens which need them; but of what avail are these, if the rain does not come? We may use our watering-pot during a drought; but how small the patch affected, how poor and unsatisfactory our work, compared with that day when God visits the earth and waters it!
"Diffuse, O God, those copious showers, II. CONSIDER THE BLESSING IN ITS EFFECTS. 1. The revival of drooping life. Describe a corn-field in spring-time after a time of drought. Contrast its condition after a week's rain. Apply these pictures to the moral condition of the Christian Church. Take as a typical instance the condition of the disciples before and after the day of Pentecost. It was the descent of the Holy Spirit which gave them new tongues, and emboldened them to face and to rebuke a hostile world, till those who had crucified the Lord were pricked in their hearts, and cried, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" 2. The attractiveness of fragrant life. Nothing is more beautiful in appearance, more pleasant in fragrance, than the garden just blessed by a shower. The rain has brought nourishment to all the life that is in it; but each plant has transformed the nourishment into its own kind of beauty, so that it is white in the lily, green in the grass, fragrance in the violet, strength in the oak. A Pentecostal blessing would not make all Christians alike, but would increase the beauty and the strength of each. Indicate the different expressions of revived life - in the increase of integrity, self-sacrifice, gentleness, devoutness, joy, etc. The Church should be attractive to the world, and so full of life as to possess heating power. She should be like the Lord, around whom the sin-sick and sad gathered, and virtue went out of him even to the skirts of his garments, and "as many as touched were made perfectly whole." 3. The blessedness of a useful life. The Church, represented by the growing grass, exists as grass does for the world's sake. The grass is not merely the pleasant background on which Nature may weave her gorgeous colors; but it is also the fundamental life by means of which other things and beings live. Directly by his use of corn, indirectly through eating the flesh of animals fed on grass, man is absolutely dependent upon grass as it is on the rain. So through the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the world lives; and in this is found her highest honor, because in it she is like unto her Lord, who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." APPLICATION. 1. To those outside the Church. "Break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you" (Hosea 10:12). 2. To those within the Church. Be like Elijah after his conflict on Carmel. Let the yearning cry arise to heaven, and let your hopes go up often to catch the first sign of the coming blessing; arid we shall "hear the sound of abundance of rain," whereby God will refresh his inheritance when it is weary. - A.R.
II. CONSIDER THE BLESSING IN ITS EFFECTS.
1. The revival of drooping life. Describe a corn-field in spring-time after a time of drought. Contrast its condition after a week's rain. Apply these pictures to the moral condition of the Christian Church. Take as a typical instance the condition of the disciples before and after the day of Pentecost. It was the descent of the Holy Spirit which gave them new tongues, and emboldened them to face and to rebuke a hostile world, till those who had crucified the Lord were pricked in their hearts, and cried, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
2. The attractiveness of fragrant life. Nothing is more beautiful in appearance, more pleasant in fragrance, than the garden just blessed by a shower. The rain has brought nourishment to all the life that is in it; but each plant has transformed the nourishment into its own kind of beauty, so that it is white in the lily, green in the grass, fragrance in the violet, strength in the oak. A Pentecostal blessing would not make all Christians alike, but would increase the beauty and the strength of each. Indicate the different expressions of revived life - in the increase of integrity, self-sacrifice, gentleness, devoutness, joy, etc. The Church should be attractive to the world, and so full of life as to possess heating power. She should be like the Lord, around whom the sin-sick and sad gathered, and virtue went out of him even to the skirts of his garments, and "as many as touched were made perfectly whole."
3. The blessedness of a useful life. The Church, represented by the growing grass, exists as grass does for the world's sake. The grass is not merely the pleasant background on which Nature may weave her gorgeous colors; but it is also the fundamental life by means of which other things and beings live. Directly by his use of corn, indirectly through eating the flesh of animals fed on grass, man is absolutely dependent upon grass as it is on the rain. So through the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the world lives; and in this is found her highest honor, because in it she is like unto her Lord, who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
1. To those outside the Church. "Break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you" (Hosea 10:12).
2. To those within the Church. Be like Elijah after his conflict on Carmel. Let the yearning cry arise to heaven, and let your hopes go up often to catch the first sign of the coming blessing; arid we shall "hear the sound of abundance of rain," whereby God will refresh his inheritance when it is weary. - A.R.
Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord.
I. THE RECOMMENDATION OF OUR TEXT IMPLIES —
1. That the pursuit is worthy.
2. That there is a leader whom we are to follow.
3. That the pursuit is begun. Regeneration has been experienced, pardon has been conferred, spiritual life is possessed.
4. That there is danger of stopping short. There are difficulties without, and foes within.
II. SPECIAL REASONS FOR OBEYING THE TEXT.
1. Only so can the genuineness of our religion be proved.
2. Only so can our mission be fulfilled.
3. Only so can our characters be developed.
4. Only so can heaven be reached. How much there is enfolded in that ward "overcometh." Uncoil it by Divine help in your lives.
III. ENCOURAGEMENTS TO CHEER AND STIMULATE.
1. Bread is provided for the hungry.
2. A staff of promises for the weak.
3. Repose for the Weary.
4. Complete success is guaranteed.
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY KNOWING THE LORD.
1. It is to be scripturally acquainted with His character. No correct knowledge can be acquired concerning God and salvation, but through the instrumentality of the Word. In the volumes of nature and providence there is much to be learned concerning the existence and goodness of God. Only from the volume of inspiration we learn what God is, not only as our Creator and Preserver, but also as our Redeemer.
2. It is to give Him the homage which is due unto His name. There is the necessity of acknowledging Him — returning unto Him in new allegiance, by repentance unto life, and giving Him an unreserved reverence, in obedience to all His laws, ordinances, and commandments. Knowledge without a corresponding practice would only add to our condemnation.
II. EXPLAIN THE PROPOSAL OF FOLLOWING ON TO KNOW THE LORD.
1. It is to persevere in cultivating intercourse and acquaintance with Him. In so far as it has pleased God to reveal Himself unto us in His Word, it is our duty to learn what He hath revealed. We may, however, learn all that is to be theoretically known regarding God, and yet remain spiritually ignorant of His gracious character. His perfections will be best understood by a practical reliance upon them, and on acting agreeably to their nature.
2. Following on to know the Lord shall be crowned with success. Exertion in this Divine pursuit shall be successful. Disappointment is impossible. We shall know all the blessings of the New Covenant, whether pertaining to justification, adoption, or sanctification. We shall know and understand the law of our God, believingly feel its importance, and sincerely practise its requirements.
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO FOLLOW ON TO KNOW THE LORD. This blessing of our Saviour's coming is —
1. Progressive and certain. "Prepared as the morning." A knowledge of Divine things cannot be obtained but by a Divine teacher. The going forth of God the Saviour to enlighten and cherish His people, when they seek after Him, is as certain as the outgoings of the morning, which are a settled and regular constitution of nature.
2. Pleasant and desirable. "His going forth is prepared as the morning." It is ever comfortable to know that in the midst of difficulties there is One prepared to give us relief. Christ, our Almighty Saviour and Friend, is so prepared. As the morning air and light are agreeable to the watchman who has been marching his weary rounds in the dark — to the weather-beaten mariner who has been tempest-tested through the night — so agreeable, and unspeakably more so is the coming of God our Saviour to enlighten and relieve them that are cast down and overwhelmed with the sense of sin, to help and comfort them that are ready to perish.
3. Quickening and salutary. "He shall come unto us as the rain." Rain is not less necessary than heat for the production of vegetable life. It is like the circulation of the blood in the human body, that which keeps the whole system alive.
4. Invigorating and satisfying. "As the latter and former rain unto the earth." The expression, latter and former rain, has reference to the two periodical rains that fell in the land of Canaan. As necessary as these rains are the showers of grace in the Church to water the seed of the Word, that it may spring up in our hearts unto everlasting life, to encourage its growth, and to perfect its fruits of holiness and meetness for the heavenly world. From this subject we may see ground for cherishing large expectations. God is gracious, His promise is large, and His Word is unimpeachable. God is able to carry you on to perfection; trust in Him then for all needful supplies, and you will not be disappointed. From this subject all may see the importance of being possessed by saving knowledge.
( John Calvin.)
I. THE IMPORTANT OBJECT OF THE BELIEVER'S PURSUIT. Of true believers it may be said, " they follow on to know the Lord." In what does this knowledge consist; and in what way is it communicated to the mind? It is not a mere knowledge of such a Being as God, as Creator and Upholder; nor is it such an idea of God as is conceived" by those who exalt one attribute to the exclusion of another, who make Him all mercy, forgetful of His perfect justice. We cannot know the Lord to our comfort, till we know Him as our God and Father in Jesus Christ. By nature, we stand at an immeasurable distance from God; and the more correct are our notions of His power, His holiness, and His glory, the more discouraging will they be if they are unconnected with the Redeemer as our Mediator with the Father. This knowledge is implanted in the soul by the Holy Ghost.
II. THE CERTAINTY OF ITS FINAL SUCCESS. He who "follows on" shall not fail of the grace of God. This truth is plainly declared, and figuratively exhibited. The figures are the morning and the rain. Learn —
1. How needful is this knowledge.
2. The reason why those who have attained some knowledge of Christ do not attain to more enlarged and experimental acquaintance with spiritual things. Be patient in hope, and persevering in prayer.
(W. Mayers, A. M.)
(Thomas Ridley, M. A.)
1. It is growth in faith. Its beginning is, or may be, as small as a grain of mustard-seed. The least bit will do to begin with. Act upon what you now believe to be true and right as relates to our duties to God, to our fellows and ourselves. With God's help I will under take every known duty. Sin is to be eradicated, and holiness is to increase. in such a spirit the seed will germinate, the tree will grow, and strength will come, and what before was impossible will now be easy.
2. In knowledge: acquaint thyself with God. Ascend the mountain. There are ever new disclosures in creation, providence, and redemption.
3. In experience: here faith is verified. If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine. Faith alone blesses our life; unbelief is destructive. It works ruin to all our highest interests to live without faith — in government, in society, and in the family. Principles which cannot with safety to all dearest concerns be followed are necessarily false. Faith is confirmed in life and assured in death: "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee."
4. In good works: religion is also practical. The tree bears good fruit, and bears it perennially. The Christian will improve in the quantity and quality of the good he does. Like the palm-tree, he will be fruitful to the end of life.
(L. O. Thompson.)
I. DIVINE KNOWLEDGE.
1. To know the Lord implies a general knowledge of His being, nature, and attributes,
2. It signifies a more particular and experimental knowledge of God, especially of His justice and mercy, these being the two great attributes exercised in the stupendous work of human redemption. The true believer is happily possessed of an experimental knowledge of the Divine mercy.
3. A more peculiar knowledge of God, especially of His goodness and love, is obtained by the sincere and pure in heart who "follow on to know" Him.
4. To know the Lord includes also, profound veneration; ardent love; humble confidence; and sincere and uniform obedience.
II. THE MEANS OF ACQUIRING DIVINE KNOWLEDGE.
1. God could, no doubt, communicate a perfect knowledge of Himself instantaneously. But in doing so He must work a miracle, and this without answering any valuable end. The gradual operations of God in providence and grace are accommodated to our finite capacities, enabling us, step by step, to trace Him in His wondrous works.
2. To illustrate this Hosea uses two beautiful figures — the "morning" and the "rain."
3. That this is the mode of the Divine manifestations evidently appears —(1) From the media through which they are communicated; His works, His Word, and His Spirit.(2) From the gradual manner in which God has revealed His will unto man by successive dispensations.(3) This appears in the rise and progress of religion in the soul. The understanding is enlightened; the judgment convinced; the heart affected; and the will subdued. Hence contrition, repentance, faith, and prayer. Justification follows, and, in full, sanctification.(4) We see, therefore, the necessity of following on to know the Lord, pressing on as after a guide through a crowd, as after a light in a dark place. When fully sanctified, there is as much necessity as ever for following on. The fountains of Divine knowledge are perennial. There are yet unexplored heights, and lengths, and depths, and breadths of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.
(Thomas Rowe.)I. TO KNOW GOD REQUIRES THAT MEN SHOULD SEEK TO KNOW HIM. The know ledge clothe Most High is not instinctive and intuitive. Now, the world by wisdom knoweth not God. How strange that men should think to know God and religion without diligence, whilst they think not to know any human science or profession without application, and diligence, and exertion! Would to God that men were as wise for eternity as they are for time. It is, however, not merely necessary to give diligence in order to know God, we must "follow on" to know Him. The crowning grace of the Christian is constant perseverance. To him that overcometh, the promise of eternal life is made.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT AS IT IS HERE SO VIVIDLY PORTRAYED. "Then shall we know." God who cannot lie hath spoken this. The prophet adds two beautiful figures. The morning of the day is sure to come. The former and the latter rain will return in their seasons.
(Hugh Stowell, A. M.)
(E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
1. As an address of good men to themselves, being a kind of soliloquy, or self-admonition and encouragement.
2. As addressed to the godly from each other. The language is an expression of holy confidence. This admits of various degrees, but without some degree of it we shall never seek the Lord; shall never cleave to Him with full purpose of heart. Between this holy confidence and presumption there is no resemblance.
I. AN IMPORTANT SUBJECT — Divine knowledge. To be destitute of this knowledge is to be in a perilous and even a perishing condition. Knowledge is the same to the soul as the window is to the building, or the eye to the body. Knowledge is essential to right conduct. It is from ignorance that a disregard to the Saviour springs. It is from ignorance that legality springs. Nothing can be truly religious or moral that is done in ignorance, because then there would be no motive or principle, and to these the Lord looks in all our actions; all righteous conduct is begun and carried on in the renewal of the mind. God's empire is founded in light; the devil's kingdom is founded in darkness. God opens the eyes of all His subjects, and they follow Him from conviction and disposition. Bishop Hall says, "God never works in a dark shop." "He that commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." But what is this knowledge to which such importance is attached? What is it to know the Lord? It is one thing to know that there is a God, and another to know what He is. It is much more than knowing Him to be almighty. It is a knowing Him to be "righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works." Such knowledge as this, if there be no more, will operate upon a sinner's mind conscious of guilt, so as to produce distance, alarm, and fear. It is necessary to the recovery of a fallen creature that God should be known as the justifier of those who believe in Christ. In creation God is above us. In providence He is beyond us. In His holy law He is against us. But in Christ He is with us, and for us, and in us too. This knowledge is not a merely speculative know ledge. It is experimental. Some professors are like December nights, very clear, but alas: very cold. This is all that can be said with regard to their religion. But the knowledge of the Gospel is saving; it is the light of life; it descends from the head to the heart. What a difference there is between a mere conviction and a cordial assent!
II. A NECESSARY DUTY. "Follow on to know the Lord." This includes three things.
1. The practising what we know. Why should God give you more light while you are not disposed to make-use of what you already have?
2. Diligence in the use of appointed means. God has ordained meditation, reading the Scriptures, hearing the Word, conversation with those who know a little more than ourselves, but, above all, prayer to the Father of mercies, as the appointed means.
3. It implies continuance in this active course. You have not only to hear, but also to watch.
III. AN ASSURED PRIVILEGE. "Then shall ye know." If probability is enough to actuate a man, how much more should real certainty do so. The assurance of success should encourage us in regard to others. Do not deal harshly with them. If unable for a time to embrace religious truths, be not impatient. God shall reveal this to them in His own time and way. Let this encourage you with regard to prayer. Are you desirous of knowing more of the blessed Saviour? Go on and you will know more and see more. Two cases in which this encouragement may be applied.
1. If you are in perplexity with regard to the path of duty.
2. Do you wish to know God better by appropriation? Are you anxious to know your own interest in Him?
IV. A STRIKING ILLUSTRATION. Taken from the "morning" and the "rain." As the morning, gradually; as the rain, periodic ally and regularly. He who gives the former rain in its season, will not fail to give the latter rain in its season. Even after the stress and strain of life, there shall be a reviving in your spiritual experience, to your own great comfort, and to the praise of our faithful and covenant-keeping God.
1. By realising to its depth our emptiness and need, and then our utter inability to supply it.
2. By clearing away certain obstacles which commonly clog up and check the flow of the grace of God. Of these the first and most obvious is sin. Then there is worldliness. Then neglect of prayer. Prayer is the key that will unlock the treasures of Divine knowledge.
(R. H. M'Kim, D. D.)
1. If religion is progression, it is surely, before it can be this, a beginning; but as a beginning it is a consciousness. Consciousness which being translated is knowledge. Religion should produce happiness, but that is not the chief idea of religion. A holy heart has three stages in its history.(1) To find something within us tending to evil, contrary to our full and free consent. The first part of our spiritual combat is when the world within awakes, and we find ourselves all wrong.(2) A state in which it is interrupted; when it would do good, and mourns that evil is present with it.(3) A state when it finds itself again sometimes rebelling against the better part. There is a state of apparent religious life which is not a state of consciousness or knowledge; — there is a want of conviction, and also mistaken apprehension. What a power the principle of grace is in the soul! This knowledge is great because God is the substance of the soul. The soul stands on and in God; so long as I stand on and in carnal and notional and phenomenal knowledge, I know not how to say my soul has a substance. When God is the substance of the soul and all its knowledge, then the blessed life and the blessed knowledge give light within.
2. But it is a progression. "Follow on." What states grow out of this first state, the seminal germ of the Christian life? The evidences brighten as we follow on to know the Lord. You should determine to ascend to the knowledge of the higher law of the Christian life. Then shall we know when our knowledge shall no longer be narrowed by limited sensations. Every sense I possess is only a material sheathing of some deeper and higher sense, which cannot find its appropriate expression here. I can only conceive of the state of souls as a state of immortal consciousness, a state where hope and memory are one, and love is only passive in certain and secure possession.
I. WHO THEY ARE WHOM WE MAY CALL TO FOLLOW ON. There are some whom we cannot call to follow on, because they have not yet stirred a foot in religion. There may be some whom the King has brought into His chambers, and assured of His love. Their business is to follow on. Others have got but some glimmerings of solid hope from the Lord. Others have gained some mastery over spiritual foes. Others are yet only striving. Others can only be said to have some desires towards God. Others have only had passing convictions of sin. Yet others know nothing more than inward uneasiness.
II. WHAT IS IT TO FOLLOW ON?
1. You must make religion your great end.
2. You must be persuaded of the weight and worth of religion.
3. You must hold fast what you have.
4. You must be moving forward, labouring for more.
5. You must habitually attend upon religion, and make it your chief business.
6. You must be resolute and vigorous in your endeavours.
7. You must entertain a hope of success.
8. If you fall, you must get up again, and quicken your pace.
III. CONFIRM THIS DOCTRINE. However small your beginnings or hopes may now be, yet persevere. You have God's Word for it. "You shall reap, if you faint not."
1. You have God's Word of promise for it (Matthew 25:29).
2. It is the Lord's ordinary way in His works, to bring great things by degrees out of small beginnings.
3. The works of grace in the soul ordinarily arise from very small beginnings. Consider —
4. The bountiful nature of God, who surely will not always flee from those who follow Him, but will at length be found of them.
5. No person gets a refusal from heaven, but those who court it by their own indifference. A faint way of seeking is to beg a denial.
6. As importunity is usually in all cases the way to come speed, so it has special advantages in this case which promise success.
7. Such followers the Lord does not bid to go back. And this is encouraging.
8. The Lord commands you to follow Him (Luke 11:19).
IV. PRACTICAL IMPROVEMENT.
1. Those who have not yet begun to seek the Lord are neither prospering in their souls, nor are they in the way to it.
2. It is no wonder that back sliders have lean souls.
3. They are in no prospering case who are at a stand in religion.
4. The smallest spark which you now have may be brought to a flame.
5. See what is the ruin of many communicants.It is not that they get nothing, it is that they carry nothing away; they follow nothing on. They do not hold their hands to it when they are at home.
(T. Boston, D. D.)
Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.I. A COURSE OF CONDUCT PROPOSED. Knowledge in general is an excellence. The knowledge here proposed is most excellent, as to its nature and object, and most profitable to its possessor.
1. The proposal implies a previous state of ignorance and estrangement. This was manifestly the case with Israel, and it is but too true a picture of our own times.
2. The proposal implies reformation begun. The obstinacy has given way. They are ashamed. They seek His face "early," earnestly.
3. The proposal is that of following up these good beginnings. We may learn much concerning God in His attributes and relations. The inquiry should be followed up in the way He has prescribed — the way of righteousness, self-denial, prayer, and religious obedience generally. We should follow on in the manner He has prescribed — sincerely, humbly, fervently, perseveringly.
II. THY ENCOURAGEMENT ASSUMED.
1. This "going forth" is a certain blessing. The "outgoings of the morning" are settled by a Divine constitution.
2. This "going forth" is a progressive blessing. The condition suggested is that of improvement — of going on from good to better. It is a state of improving light.The subject should teach us —
1. The importance of saving knowledge. Those who remain at a distance from God must remain in darkness and barrenness and misery.
2. It should encourage exertion.
3. It should induce large expectations.
4. It should confirm us in a patient continuance in well-doing.
(Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
(Joseph Parker, D. D.)
I. THE OBJECT OF THIS KNOWLEDGE. In the works of nature, and without the aid of the Bible, God is merely set forth as God, and not as the Lord; that is, He is known only as Creator. We regard this knowledge of the Lord as absolutely essential to man's happiness. By the knowledge of the Lord, we mean acquaintance with His purposes and plans. For this a preternatural revelation is necessary. We must know God as a being possessing a mind and purpose with respect to human actions and conduct. We can see but a faint shadow of God's purposes in the works of creation. It is desirable to know the Lord, for the sake of His law. Unless there be a law of moral restraint, there must exist a state of misery.
II. THE NATURE AND KIND OF THIS KNOWLEDGE OF THE LORD. It must be of a practical character. It must be capable of the test of good deeds. Unpractical knowledge and imperfect knowledge are one and the same thing. To know is to perceive with certainty, or to see with approbation. Love is not perceived and apprehended by the intellect, but by the heart. Intellectual knowledge should be the handmaid of heart knowledge. And a heart knowledge is identical with a practical know ledge.
III. THE PRESCRIBED MEANS OF ACQUIRING THIS KNOWLEDGE. "Follow on to know the Lord." The advance to the perfect knowledge of the Lord is independent of all external circumstances and all innate abilities; and thus if we all employ the same simple means, then the result will be the same in all.
(W. H. Wright, B. A.)
Old Testament Anecdotes.Arago says, in his Autobiography, that his master in mathematics was a word or two of advice which he found in the binding of one of his text-books. Puzzled and discouraged by the difficulties he met with in his early studies, he was almost ready to give over the pursuit. Some words which he found on the waste leaf used to stiffen the cover of his paper-bound text-book caught his eye and interested him. "Impelled," he says, "by an indefinable curiosity, I dampened the cover of the book, and carefully unrolled the leaf to see what was on the other side. It proved to be a short letter from D'Alembert to a young person disheartened like myself by the difficulties of mathematical study, who had written to him for counsel. 'Go on, sir, go on,' was the counsel which D'Alembert gave him. 'The difficulties you meet will resolve themselves as you advance. Proceed, and light will dawn and shine with increasing clearness on your path.' That maxim," says Arago, "was my greatest master in mathematics." Following out those simple words, "Go on, sir, go on," made him the first astronomical mathematician of his age. What Christians it would make of us!
(Old Testament Anecdotes.)i.e., "edge of the plate," because on each side of the narrow ridge was a sheer precipice of several hundred feet. A thick fog came on which hid from view everything but ourselves and the bit of knife-edge on which we straddled. We knew that the ridge led direct to the summit, which we should reach if we went "forward." We could see two yards beyond us, but not an inch farther. This was enough for the very next advance, when a further similar glimpse was revealed. So by creeping along the first few inches, we saw the next few hitherto hidden. So, as the Scripture says, "Follow on to know the Lord."
(J. B. Ludlow, D. D.)
His going forth is prepared as the morning1. The time of deliverance is the morning, the morning after the sad, dark night, As light is comfortable in the, morning, after a dark and stormy night, so is deliverance after trouble. God s mercies after afflictions are very sweet.
2. The Church has no afflictions unfollowed by a morning.
3. It is God's presence which constitutes the saints' morning.
4. God's mercies to His people are prepared and decreed.
5. The saints in the night of their affliction can comfort themselves in this, that the morning is coming. It is night yet, but the morning will come; it is approaching.
6. The saints' night is darkest a little before their deliverance; as a little before the dawning of the day the darkness is most dense and terrible.
7. God's mode of deliverance is gradual. As the day breaks by degrees, so the saints shine gradually in their lives, answerable to the light which God imparts.
I. THE SOUL EXPERIENCE INDICATED. "A following on to know the Lord." To know the Lord is the desire of every living soul. To know Him by His own Divine manifestations, by the gracious revelation of His grace, His love, His presence, His glory. To know the Lord is to know, experimentally and spiritually, the power of Jesus' blood and righteousness. Thus to know the Lord is the sum and substance of vital godliness. But the expression "follow on" implies that there are many difficulties, obstacles, and hindrances in a man's way, which keep him back from knowing the Lord.
1. Sometimes a man takes up the notion that he is but a self-deceiver and a hypocrite.
2. Sometimes Satan hurls a blasphemous suggestion into our carnal mind.
3. Sometimes the remembrance of past sins, lying as a heavy weight on the conscience, presses a man down with despondency and despair.
4. Sometimes the gusts of infidelity will so blow on a man's mind as to make him doubt the reality of all religion.
5. Sometimes the recollection of many inconsistencies, foolish thoughts, words, and actions, stand like mountains of difficulty in his way.
6. Sometimes great worldly troubles hinder him.
7. Sometimes darkness besets the mind, and clouds of unbelief rest on the soul, and the way is obscure. The work of the Spirit in a man's soul is to carry him on in spite of all these obstacles. It is really astonishing how souls are kept alive. For what are we to follow on? To know the Lord, as the sum and substance of all religion, as the very marrow of vital godliness.
II. SEEKING THE LORD AND NOT FINDING HIM. This is a part of experience through which every soul passeth. Here lies the difference between a living soul in his darkest hours and a dead professor. A living soul knows that God is to be found of His saints, but cannot always find Him for himself; but a dead professor knows nothing about God at all. It is to the living soul walking in darkness, and unable to find God, that the. text. says, "His going forth is prepared as the morning." There is an appointed time for the Lord to go forth: and this is compared to the rising of the sun. All His goings forth are as much prepared, and the moment is as much appointed, as the time is fixed every morning for the sun to rise.
III. THE FRUIT AND EFFECT OF THE LORD'S COMING. As the rain — softening and fertilising. To understand the spiritual, we must first know the meaning of the natural figure. Explain the two rain seasons of Palestine. In the "early rain" is a figure of Christ's first coming to the soul. By the "latter rain " is suggested Christ's coming in Christian experience.
(J. G. Philpot.)
I. THE DAY-DAWN AND THE RAIN REPRESENT SOME RESEMBLANCES BETWEEN THE COMING OF CHRIST IN HIS GOSPEL AND IN HIS SPIRIT.
1. They have the same manifest origin. The day dawn comes from heaven and so does the rain. They are not of man's ordering, but of God's. And it is not less so with the Gospel and Spirit of Christ. Man neither invented them nor discovered them. They carry their evidence with them, like heaven's sun and heaven's rain. We may learn the origin of our faith in a study of the grandeur and comprehensiveness of its plan, and in a feeling of its power in our souls. The same God who makes morning to the world by the sun, gives the dawn of a new creation to the spirits of men through the Saviour.
2. They have the same mode of operation on the part of God. That mode of operation is soft and silent. The greatest powers of nature work most calmly and noiselessly. And like to these in their operations are the Gospel and Spirit of Christ. When our Saviour came into the world, it was silent and alone. So it was with His entrance into the heart. There is no outward crisis to tell of the birth of souls.
3. They have the same form of approach to us — in perfect freeness and fulness. The morning light comes unfettered by any condition, and so, also, descends the rain. The Gospel opens on the world priceless and free as the light which waits but for the eye to be unclosed to see and share it all. As free is the Spirit of Christ. Nor has He less fulness.
4. They have the same object and end. It is the transformation of death into life, and the raising of that which lives into higher and fairer form. The Gospel and Spirit of Christ have the same aim — life and revival. The Gospel of Christ is the Word of life. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of life. As both work together for life, so both must co-operate for revival.
II. SOME POINTS OF THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THEM.
1. Christ's approach to men has a general and yet a special aspect. The sun comes every morning with a broad unbroken look, shining for all, and singling out none. There is a universality of kindness about him which men, with all their powers of limitation, have never been able to abridge. But the rain as it descends, breaks into drops, and hangs with its globules on every blade. There is a wonderfully individualising power in the rain. The Gospel of God's grace enters the world with the broad universal look of daylight. It singles out none that it may exclude none. The arms of God are as wide as His call, and the power of Christ's atonement is as unlimited as the invitation to it. But Christ comes after another manner with His Spirit. Here no man can tell how God is dealing with another.
2. Christ's coming is constant, and yet variable. The sunrise is of all things the most sure and settled. And Christ visits men in His Gospel, steady and unchanging as the sun. But with the Holy Spirit it is other wise. His coming varies in time and place, as the rain, whose arrival depends on causes we have not fathomed.
3. Christ's coming may be with gladness, but also with trouble. What can be more joyful than the returning sun? But God comes also in the cloud, and there is a shade over the face of nature. So Christ comes, through His Spirit, in the conviction of sin.
4. Christ's coming, in His Gospel and Spirit, may be separate for awhile, but they tend to a final and perfect union. They are indispensable to each other. Sunlight without rain, and rain without sunlight, can only work evil. The Gospel without the Spirit, would be the sun shining on a waterless waste. The Spirit without the Gospel, would be the rain falling in a starless night. Some have a very distinct perception of the Gospel in its freeness and fulness, but they have ceased to derive from it the comfort they once enjoyed. They need the rain. They have been too neglectful of the secret life of religion, which is its soul.
(John Ker, D. D.)
I. THE IDEA SUGGESTED BY THIS EXPRESSION IS THAT OF CERTAINTY AS TO THE EVENT. Before the faintest streaks of light appear, we feel no misgivings as to the return of morning. The longest winter night will come to an end. Thus certain and infallible are God's gracious purposes to penitent souls. As soon shall the sun forget to rise, as His goings forth of grace and mercy be frustrated. This may encourage seeking souls, afflicted ones, weeping mothers and fathers, and those who are approaching the end of life.
II. AN IDEA SUGGESTED BY THE FIRST IMAGE IN THE TEXT IS THAT OF CLEARNESS. What a change does the dawning morn produce upon the face of nature and the views of man! We find the path which before was doubtful open to our view. We can go to our avocations without stumbling, or, if travellers, prosecute our journey without fear. By the glorious light which God sheds upon their path, His people are guided into all truth. The most wonderful discoveries are made to their souls, and they see more accurately than they ever did before the marvellous things of God's law. The entrance of God's word gives light, and crooked things become straight before it.
III. ANOTHER IDEA SUGGESTED IS THAT OF GLADNESS AND JOY. "The light is sweet; and a pleasant" thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." As the night is the season of gloom, the morning is one of cheerfulness and joy. In Psalm 130. the truly penitent soul is represented as waiting for the consolations of religion under the image of those who watch for the coming of the morning. Neither the moon in all her beauty, nor the stars in all their brightness, can compare with the splendours of the orb of day. At his rising universal nature is refreshed, and the earth on which he shines puts on a robe of gladness. And it is thus with the "goings forth" of the Lord. Let but the healing beams of the Sun of Righteousness arise upon the soul, and even the wilderness and the solitary place will be glad for them. The whole heart is inspired with a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory.
IV. ANOTHER IDEA SUGGESTED IS THAT OF PROGRESS. Not all at once, but gradual, is the beauty of the morning. So the goings forth of the Lord are gradual upon the soul, until from the first dawnings of spiritual light it is rendered capable of beholding the august glories of the Gospel. The second illustration in the passage is taken from the rain. Between rain that descends upon the earth, and the influences of Divine grace on the soul, many pleasing analogies obtain. Rain is the work of God. It falls according to the appointment of Him who causes it to descend on One city and not upon another. The rain falls sometimes gently and persistently, sometimes violently. Like the former and the latter rain of the East, there are two seasons in the Divine life, when the influences of the Divine Spirit are particularly requisite. Young converts stand in need of the one, and aged saints of the other.
(J. L. Adamson.)
Sunday Companion.A recent traveller gives a striking description of sunrise among the Himalaya Mountains. "We were watching," she says, "the first flash of rosy dawn on a high snowpeak, as the stars disappeared one by one. The song of the first bird blended with the roar of the stream that fretted its way through the narrow gorge. Then we could trace the forms of trees, shrubs, and flowers above and below our path, and enjoy the fragrance of the eglantine blossoms strewn hither and thither like patches of snow." Presently, however, her attention was drawn to a mimosa-tree which seemed quite dead. Its leaves, although green, were closed and drooping. Yet the root had not been disturbed — branches, twigs, blossoms, and the leaves themselves all appeared perfect. Was it dead, or only asleep? "As we watch and wonder, the slanting rays of yellow light from the great sun, hidden hitherto by the mountain opposite, creep toward us. They touch the mimosa-tree, and at the same moment we hear the rustle of the morning breeze among its leaves. Even as we look the delicate twigs are stirred; they flutter in the wind, they lift themselves to the golden rays, and, ere we pass on, the leaves are expanded, the blossoms erect, and the tree seems to rejoice among its fellows in its gracious fulness of life."
Homilist.I. IN GENUINE PIETY THE INDIVIDUAL MAN HAS TO DO WITH THE GREAT GOD. He has to "follow on to know the Lord."
II. IN GENUINE PIETY THE GREAT GOD HAS TO DO WITH INDIVIDUAL MAN, "His going forth is prepared as the morning," etc.
1. He cometh to him as the "morning" — full of promise. What a delightful season is the morning. It rings the knell of the dark night, and heralds the coming day. How delightful the morning to the sufferer on his bed; to the mariner on the ocean, etc. God comes to the man that is "following on" to know Him; puts an end to the night of his guilt, and throws around him the first beams of a glorious day. He comes as the night to the wicked; He comes as the morning to the good. We would not have Him come as the noon to us. He would consume us with His glory.
2. He comes to him as "the rain" — full of refreshing influence. "He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth." What a glorious change do the seasonable showers produce upon the parched earth! they change every part into life and beauty. Thus the Almighty comes to the good man, and he feels it to be a time of refreshing from the "presence of the Lord." Learn from this the glorious destiny of the good. It is a "following on" to know Him, "whom to know is life eternal."
I. BOTH ARE INDEPENDENT OF MAN. "The day is Thine, O Lord, Thou hast prepared the light." "He prepareth rain for the earth." They both emanate from God. How true of grace and mercy! He who gives morning to the world gives dawning to the soul.
1. How softly, and silently come the light and the rain! How true of Christ's coming into the world and of His mission among men! "He shall, not strive," etc. "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation — with spectators looking on.
2. How true of Christ's entrance into the soul! Not in the storm, but in the still small voice. "My conversion," says a French evangelist, "was as gentle as a mother's kiss."
II. BOTH ARE NECESSARY TO MAN. Nansen tells us how they longed for the light! In India and Australia, how the thirsty land cries out for the refreshing showers! So the soul of man needs Christ.
III. BOTH ARE FULL AND FREE FOR MAN. The sun and the rain come for all. No "Trusts" can monopolise them. How true of the Divine love! It is like the great sea whose waves beat upon every shore. "Draw up the blind," said George Dawson; "let in the light." When the gentle rain descends, you put out your ferns and flower-pots. Get where there are showers of blessing that your soul may be refreshed.
(A. Hampden Lee.)
He shall come to us as the rain1. Christ's coming to the heart, and the rain's coming to the flower, are alike in this, that each is by the sovereign ordering of God. Modern science has attained wonderful knowledge of the laws that govern the movements of the clouds. But we are as dependent upon God now, as ever, for the early and the latter rain, for the showers that water and refresh the earth. Equally dependent are we for those influences of the Holy Spirit by which Christ in all His preciousness and graciousness is communicated to the soul.
2. The coming in each case affords scope for the energy and efficacy of prayer. Whilst God is sovereign in His gifts, He is not arbitrary in their bestowment either in nature or in grace. There are innumerable and well-attested instances in which God has heard the prayers of His people for rain. And so the coming of Christ with spiritual power into the heart and into the Church may be secured by earnest and importunate prayer.
3. The coming of Christ in refreshing presence and power is often pre ceded by lightning and tempest. Dark clouds of adversity, fierce winds of temptation disturb and terrify the soul. When the storms of spiritual trial have encompassed the soul, Christ by His blessed Spirit comes in gentlest and most unobtrusive ministry to every parched leaf and drooping flower of the Christian graces.
4. The coming of Christ is like that of the rain in its benign and blessed results. The roots of religious life are fed. The fountains of spiritual energy in the soul are replenished.
(T. D. Witherspoon, D. D. , LL. D.)1. As rain, the influences of the Holy Spirit are copious.
2. Are seasonable.
3. Are refreshing.
4. Are fertilising.
5. Are from above.
Christian Observer.The analogy between nature and grace is very close. God employs nature as a typal thing. He designs through it to image forth Diviner things. He would have us be observers of nature, to look through nature up to nature's God. Years ago, an observing writer told how he "viewed the ravages of winter as the Jews did the desolation of their temple when its expressive types and symbols were demolished or defaced by the Babylonian armies, and thus he viewed spring as the rebuilding of the creation-temple, in which are renewed all the sweet and significant emblems of the everlasting Gospel." In the same spirit may we consider the "early and latter rain," the second of the two images employed by the prophet Hosea. Now, we read about the "former and the latter rain" in other parts of Scripture as well as in Hosea. (Thus in Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 5:24; Joel 2:23; James 5:7.) Rain typifies and sets forth Divine influence and grace. It falls to fertilise where all was dry and fruitless. It falls to renew the face of the earth. It falls to ripen and mature the grain. In Judea the rain fell plentifully twice in the year. About September, and about March, if, chiefly and more copiously fell. Now, the month Abib, or March, was the first month in the ecclesiastical or holy year; and hence we have light thrown on the expression, "the latter rain in the first month." It may be observed, without any undue pressing of the similitude, that rain being the vapours exhaled by the sun, would cease to fall were the sun withdrawn from the firmament. The parallel between growth in nature and growth in grace, being clear, we are taught at once that Divine grace comes not apart from Him who, being the Son of God, died on the Cross for our sins, that through the Holy Ghost sent down, the fruitless soil of our fallen nature might have fertility — be quickened into newness of life. Now, it strikes us as interesting that, in the passages we have cited, beginning with the Book of Deuteronomy, and ending with the Epistle of St. James, there should be seen a certain order which we may follow as we try briefly to exhibit some truths suggested by our subject. In Deuteronomy, we read how God would give the first rain and the latter rain. Passing on to Jeremiah, we see how the people refused to fear the Lord who giveth rain both the former and the latter. In Hosea we read of the fuller knowledge to be enjoyed by those who serve the Lord. In Joel we read of the joy of the children of God to whom had been given the former rain. Then in St. James we read of the patience that becomes the Christian as he waits for the coming of his Lord. Undesigned as this order may be, it is nevertheless interesting. It suggests to us the thought of progressiveness. As the Christian dispensation is fuller, brighter than the Jewish; so the believer should advance, following on to know the Lord. Beginning, then, with the words of Deuteronomy, we read in Deuteronomy 11:13, 14 . — "And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto My commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul; that I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil." As Israel sought spiritual blessings, so should Israel enjoy temporal blessings as well. These were the terms of the Divine covenant. Grace, free and undeserved grace, itself the outflow of the Divine love, would bestow these blessings. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (temporal necessaries) shall be added unto you." Thus the prophet Jeremiah speaks: "But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart,... neither say they in their heart, Let us.now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter in his season." In the days of Moses, multitudes of the Israelites had turned from God. They entered not into the promised land, because of unbelief. On them "the former and the latter rain " never fell. So, in the days of Jeremiah, many feared not God, who yet saw how His covenant with nature was kept, and around whom privileges were gathered. The words of the prophet Hosea (Hosea 6:3) tell of the bright and blessed results of real repentance, "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord." We observe in this verse that "the latter rain" is placed before "the former"; and it may be just said by the way that "the latter rain " (malkusit, from a verb "to delay") was more probably that which fell in the autumn, and "the former rain" (jirah) that which fell in the spring; though this is questioned. (See Calmet's Dict.) Without seeing in this uncertainty any explanation of the precedence of "the latter rain" in the verse in Hosea, something perhaps may be inferred as to the inseparableness of "the former and the latter rain." Grace is glory begun. And so the apostle Peter speaks: "And hope to the end (or, 'hope perfectly,' τελίως ἐλπίσατε), for the grace that is being brought unto you (φερομένην) at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Life eternal being the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ whom He has sent, Divine grace, typified by the early rain, must cause this knowledge to take root in our heart. And then, little and limited though that knowledge be at first, like the shower's first drops, yet "we shall know, if we follow on to know the Lord." Where rain has come, rain will come. "They go from strength to strength." Sin, as they follow on, becomes less strong; God becomes more "the strength of their heart." So the prophet Joel speaks of the joy of Christians: "Be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God, for He hath given you the former rain moderately, and He will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain and the latter rain in the first month." In this verse, we are directed in the margin to observe that "the former rain moderately" is in the Hebrew "the... according to righteousness." In the Septuagint the literal rendering would be, "For He gave to you (the) food (τὰ βρώματα) towards (or 'with reference to') righteousness, and will rain for you rain early and late (latter), according as before." It does not seem quite plain bow we are to take the words, "the former rain according to righteousness," or "a teacher unto righteousness" (as Hebrews will have it), if they are not taken in some way to have regard to a teacher (perhaps Joel himself) typical of the Messiah. Concerning ourselves, however, with the rendering of our Authorised Version, "the former rain moderately" (or "in due measure"), we shall see that the children of Zion were to be glad and rejoice in the Lord their God, giving glory to Him who had kept and remembered His covenant, who had sent and who would send the shower to fructify the earth, and who had shed abroad in their hearts the very grace that shower should typify. "Be glad and rejoice"; your hearts have been disposed to holiness through Divine grace; God will perform the good work in you which He has begun. So spake the inspired prophet. And, in truth, joy becomes the Christian. But this joy, we remember, requires patience. And St. James, in the last passage remaining for us, speaks of "patience": "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord"; and he proceeds to employ an illustration fetched from the tiller and the field. In the purpose and promise of God, precariousness has no place; and between seed-time and harvest nature exacts her needed interval. Time is needed for the early, time for the latter rain to fall. So spiritually; and more also. Natural rain may be withheld; drought may be instead. Grace shall always come, if rightly sought. It cannot fail. Patience becomes the Christian; the Word of God sown in his heart shall not be left waterless. But a span separates the early from the latter rain. To none should the time be either too long or yet too short. "Be patient unto the coming of the Lord." And once again, there is encouragement in the thought of the rain, the latter rain, where there may have been a declension, where watchlessness may have been allowed, or where trial and temptation may have chilled devotion and zeal. Rain sought again, shall fall to revive. Never forsaken by a covenant God, penitent Israel, idolatrous and prayerless no more, will receive the blessing of abundance of rain: "he shall grow as the lily," and "revive as the corn."
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