You people of this generation, consider the word of the LORD: Have I been a wilderness to Israel or a land of dense darkness? Why do My people say, 'We are free to roam; we will come to You no more'?
I. THE POSSIBILITY OF REFUSING CHASTISEMENT.
II. MISERY AND PAIN ARE NOT OF THEMSELVES MINISTERS OF GRACE.
III. RIGHTLY RECEIVED, OUR GREATEST GRIEFS MAY BECOME OUR GREATEST MERCIES.
I. A DEMAND.
Have I been a wilderness unto Israel?
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. SHOW WHEN PROFESSED CHRISTIANS TREAT THEIR GOD AND REDEEMER AS IF HE WERE TO THEM A WILDERNESS, A LAND OF DARKNESS. The mention of a wilderness, especially of a wilderness as it appears at night, when darkness prevails, suggests to us ideas of dreariness, solitude, and gloom; of a place where there is nothing to cheer, to nourish, or shelter us, where numberless obstacles impede the wanderer's progress, and through which is no discoverable path. Every declining professor of religion, every one who serves God with reluctance, who does not find pleasure in His service, regards Him precisely in this light, and treats Him as if He were a wilderness, a land of darkness. When a professor becomes slack and remiss in waiting upon God, careless in walking with Him, and negligent in seeking communion with Him, does he not practically say, God is, to me, a wilderness? In the same manner does every one regard it, who in any place of worship, whether private, social, or public, feels as if he were detained there, and as if he would prefer some other situation or employment. Still more loudly does the professing Christian declare that he regards God as a wilderness, when he repairs, in search of happiness, to the scenes of worldly pleasure, or to the society of worldly-minded men. He then says to them in effect, the ways of wisdom are not ways of pleasantness; a religious life is a life of constraint and melancholy; I should die with hunger and thirst, did I not occasionally forsake the wilderness in which I am doomed to live, and refresh myself with the fruits on which you are feasting.
II. APPLY TO ALL, WHO HAVE TREATED HIM IN THIS MANNER, THE PATHETIC, MELTING EXPOSTULATION IN OUR TEXT.
1. The temporal blessings which you enjoy. Look at your comforts, your possessions, your children, your friends, your liberty, your security. Did you find all these blessings in a wilderness, or did they come to you out of a land of darkness?
2. The religious privileges with which you have been favoured. Did you find the Bible, the sanctuary of God, and the Gospel of salvation, in a wilderness? Surely, a wilderness, where such blessings are to be found, must be preferable to the most fertile spot on earth!
3. Those who are professors of religion, we may remind of the spiritual blessings which they have, or profess to have enjoyed.(1) You have found the table of Christ spread for your refreshment. You have enjoyed precious seasons of communion with Him. You have tasted the first-fruits of the heavenly inheritance, celestial fruits, the food of angels, such as earth does not produce. Was it a wilderness which produced the celestial fruits, on which you have feasted?(2) Has God been a wilderness, a land of darkness to this Church, considered as a body? Look back and see what it was twenty years since. Consider how it has been preserved, blessed, increased, during the intervening period.
4. Yet, notwithstanding all that has been said, there are probably some who feel as if, in one respect at least, God has been to them no better than a dark and dreary wilderness. We allude to those who, though they have professedly paid some attention to religious subjects, and have perhaps enrolled themselves among the visible followers of Christ, have found no happiness in religion. Such persons often say in their hearts, We have spent much time in religious pursuits, and have made many endeavours to find that rest and peace and consolation which Christ promises to His disciples, and of which many Christians talk so much. But all our endeavours have been in vain; and we must say, if we speak the truth, that our way has been like that of a man travelling through a wilderness, where he finds no path, no refreshment, but meets with thorns and briars and obstacles at every step. In reply to such complaints, we remark, that the persons who make them compose several different classes, and that the complaints of each of these classes are wholly unreasonable and without foundation.(1) The first class we shall mention, is composed of those who, to use the apostle's language, go about to establish their own righteousness, and do not submit to the righteousness of God. That such persons find no happiness in God, in religion, is not wonderful; for to God, and to religion, they are entire strangers. It is only by believing in Jesus Christ, that men are filled with joy and peace.(2) The second class we shall mention, is composed of the slothful. That they should find no happiness in religion, is not surprising; for inspiration declares, that the way of the slothful man is a hedge of thorns.(3) A third class of complainers is composed of such as an apostle calls double-minded men, who are unstable in all their ways. They are engaged in a vain attempt to reconcile the service of God and that of mammon. In making this attempt they wander from God, and lose themselves in a wilderness; and then inconsistently complain, that wisdom's ways are not paths of peace, that God is to them a land of darkness. But their complaints are as unreasonable as those of a man, who should bury himself in a dungeon, and then complain that the sun gave no light. Permit me now to improve the subject —
1. By applying it to the members of this Church, and to all the professed disciples of Christ before me. Let me say to each of them, Have you never treated your God and Redeemer as if He were a wilderness, a land of darkness?
2. In the second place, let me apply this subject to impenitent sinners.
(E. Payson, D. D.)
1. It has the force of a remonstrance or protestation. Men are wrongly opinionated respecting God.(1) Because God is pleased sometimes to suspend and delay the expressions of His goodness to them.(2) Because God does not always reward them as they desire and expect.
2. It has the force of a remembrance or seasonable intimation; i.e., I have been the contrary, I have in reality been a paradise.
3. It has the force of a reproach; i.e., Israel hath rather been a wilderness to Me! And so it represents to us the unfruitfulness of God's people. Three things aggravate this.(1) The mercies they enjoy.(2) The means (of improvement, advantages) they partake of.(3) The expectations which are upon them.
4. It has the force of an appeal or provocation to them; i.e., let Israel speak what they know of Me.
II. AN EXPOSTULATION.
1. The charge is two fold.(1) Their assertion: "We are lords," whereby they hold forth their own greatness, self-sufficiency, and independence.(2) Their resolution: "We will come no more," etc.
2. The censure, "wherefore?" signifies that —
(1) (2) III. AN INVITATION. By "generation" He meant the people of the time. There is a reflection in the phrase upon the sinfulness and wretchedness of the age, as if to say, Into what a time and age are we fallen! 1. Unto what this generation is invited. To "see the Word of the Lord," i.e., mind it and attend to it. 2. The weightiness and seriousness of it. (1) (2) (T. Horton, D. D.)
(2) III. AN INVITATION. By "generation" He meant the people of the time. There is a reflection in the phrase upon the sinfulness and wretchedness of the age, as if to say, Into what a time and age are we fallen! 1. Unto what this generation is invited. To "see the Word of the Lord," i.e., mind it and attend to it. 2. The weightiness and seriousness of it. (1) (2) (T. Horton, D. D.)
III. AN INVITATION. By "generation" He meant the people of the time. There is a reflection in the phrase upon the sinfulness and wretchedness of the age, as if to say, Into what a time and age are we fallen!
1. Unto what this generation is invited. To "see the Word of the Lord," i.e., mind it and attend to it.
2. The weightiness and seriousness of it.
(1) (2) (T. Horton, D. D.)
(2) (T. Horton, D. D.)
(T. Horton, D. D.)
I. THE JUST CHALLENGE.
1. What the Lord was to them. Salvation. Those among them who were spiritually minded, and were taught of God, saw in the Paschal lamb, Christ Jesus; saw in the salvation from Egypt, Christ Jesus; saw in the victory that was wrought for them, Christ Jesus.
2. How it was they failed. They defiled the land.
II. THE SELF-EXALTATION. "We are lords." What does it mean? It means that they set their authority above the truth of God. Now it becomes us to see that all the parts of our religion are of Divine authority. So far from the Christian as he goes on finding that he is lord over his own self, and lord over this, and that, and the other, he finds out, as he goes along, more and more of his poverty; he decreases more and more. Ah! he says, If I were black in my own eyes a few years ago, I am blacker now: if vile in my own estimation a few years ago, I am viler now. And thus as we sink the Saviour rises, grace reigns, and we glory in being poor sinners at the feet of Jesus, indebted to God from first to last for our eternal salvation.
III. THE BLIND DECISION. "We will come no more unto Thee." I do not apprehend that this means that they would give up the supreme God, but that they would come no more unto Him in that representation of Him which His truth gave, in that representation of Him which His prophets gave. We will thus come no more unto Thee — not in that way. In Isaiah 29 you have these instructive words, "This people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour Me, but have removed their heart far from Me." They are not conscious of that, You say to the Pharisee in the Saviour's day, Do you love God? Of course I do. But is not your heart removed from Him? No; — they were not conscious of it. Every erroneous seeker says he loves God; what, then, is the sense in which their hearts were removed from God? what is the sense in which they would come no more to Him? "Their fear," saith Isaiah (29), "toward Me is taught by the precept of men." The Saviour comes to the same point when He says, "Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life." And when He had opened up the beauties of the everlasting Gospel in John 6, it was not the supreme God abstractedly, but it was God in His own way of saving a sinner that they hated, and they went back and walked no more with Him.
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