Jeremiah 2:31
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'?
Sermons
Jehovah's Indictment Against IsraelS. Conway Jeremiah 2:20-37
A Just ChallengeJ. Wells.Jeremiah 2:31-37
An Unjust Imputation Repelled by JehovahE. Payson, D. D.Jeremiah 2:31-37
Divine QuestionsJ. Parker, D. D.Jeremiah 2:31-37
God no Barren WildernessT. Horton, D. D.Jeremiah 2:31-37


The spiritual benefits of pain, calamity, etc., are contingent for the most part upon their being received in a right way - as from God, and not by accident. They are intended to discover our sins to us, and to lead us to the love and righteousness of God. Where this result is not effected, "chastisement is not accepted."

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.









Have I been a wilderness unto Israel?
The people were required to answer two questions: "Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? have I been a land of darkness unto Israel?" Speak out. If you have an impeachment to bring even against God, do not fear to bring it. He asks for it. A wondrous tenderness inspires the inquiry. It seems, indeed, to bring its own answer with it. So the father might plead with his child, "Have I been a wilderness unto thee, or a land of darkness? have I been deaf to entreaty? have I been without sympathy in the time of affliction? have I but half-opened the door when you have sought to return to my love and my confidence?" The very inquiry is a defence; the very method of the inquiry means, It is impossible to answer this but in one way. Having answered a question respecting God, they have next to answer a question respecting themselves: "Wherefore say My people, We are lords; we will come no more unto Thee?" Literally, Why do My people say, We will rove at will? That is licence, not liberty. They have lost the centre, and are plunging evermore in chaos, without being able to give an account of themselves or to use what benefit might lie within their power. Why this new cry, namely, We will do as we like? Why this so-called free thought? why this progress which means running round and round and never advancing by one measurable inch? How very early men begin to be free-thinkers! How soon sin says to a man, Rove at will; do what you like: you are a man! Then the poor fool thinks he is a man, and begins to "play fantastic tricks before high heaven." He forgets that we have only, liberty to obey. Then the Lord seems to adopt a kind of taunting tone: "Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?" When did either of them forget a pin, a jewel, a toy, a feather? What, a memory for little things, for dressing, for adornment, for outgoing, for public excitement! What a recollection for dates, when the date is filled up with an amusement, a new sensation! But no memory for sacrifice, for prayer, for holy sacrament, for consecrated day, for revelations from heaven, — a memory that will hold all the fiction that ever was written, but a memory like a sieve in respect of everything that is written in the Bible! What a voice is the Lord's! How strident, how mocking! how tender, beseeching, importunate, full of lamentation! "My people have forgotten Me days without number." Could the complaint have been stated more pensively? The very voice in which it is uttered adds to the poignancy of the distress. Who likes to be forgotten? Who likes to be the one member of the family for whom no flower is brought, for whose birthday no provision is made, for whose little wants, or great, no one cares? Now the voice changes, and the element of accusation enters into it very sharply (ver. 33): "Why trimmest thou thy way to seek love? "— why this continual invention in incidental reforms? why not go to the root of the matter? A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. It is useless to paint the branches, or hang bird cages upon them, or tie to them fruit gathered from other orchards. Down with the tree, up with the roots, burn them, and in its place let there be a tree of the Lord's right-hand planting. But all this trimming and adaptation and partial reform indicates a species of ingenuity and cleverness — "therefore hast thou also taught the wicked ones thy ways." The substantive is feminine — "therefore hast thou also taught wicked women thy ways": you have been inventive, you have issued new programmes of evil; you have said in effect: See how clever we are: here is a new method of profanity, here a novelty in blasphemy, here a cloak that baffles scrutiny, here an impervious garment — waterproof and fireproof, deluge and lightning cannot get through this covering. No doubt there is a great deal of ingenuity in wickedness. Bad men have wonderful sagacity in some cases, great mental penetration, and quite a striking method of doing their own work in their own way; they are inventive, mentally fertile; as to their fecundity in the way of devising evil methods and evil practices, it is immeasurable. But God knows it, and founds a charge upon it. Mark the hardening process of sin in the thirty-fourth verse: "Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents: I have not found it by secret search, but upon all these." The blood of the prophets was found in the skirts of those who had slain the good men. But "in thy skirts," — is not that a term which indicates concealment? God says, I have not found out this blood, or the sin with which it is connected, by secret search — by digging down and finding a hole in the wall, as the prophet Ezekiel found a hole in the wall and entered into the chamber of imagery; this is not a cellarful of blood; this sin is not confined to the basement of the life house: you have advanced beyond that. Cain, who introduced social sin into the world, performed his murder in secret, wiped his lips, and stood before God as an innocent man. We have made advances upon that infantile crime. Now our crime is public. The sin which you are half afraid of today, you will make a boon companion of before very long. The words you now use with blushing and trembling of voice, you will use familiarly by continued practice. We cannot rest at a certain point, saying, I will go no farther than this. Such may be our intention at the time being, but we subtly and imperceptibly advance until we become adept in evil. "Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way? thou also shalt be ashamed of Egypt, as thou wast ashamed of Assyria" (ver. 36). Literally, Why all these shifting policies? why all these new alliances? why be performing a kind of moral conjuring? Are there not many people who are all things by turns and nothing long — men who are wanting in conviction and thorough persuasion of soul, incapable of enthusiasm, driven about by every wind of doctrine; men who have called at all the hovels of heresy, and have, never settled in the sanctuary of truth? We need not alter the terms; they are simple as our best-known mother tongue, and they will stand for the purposes of scrutiny all the while, not needing change or modification. Be something. Belong to somebody. Do not mistake roving at will for a safe dwelling at home. What was the result of this trimming and gadding about, this changing between Assyria and Egypt? "Yea, thou shalt go forth from him, and thine hands upon thine head," etc. (ver. 37). Observe the expression, "Thine hands upon thine head." It was the Oriental sign of dejection and despair. Seeing a man in that attitude, the meaning was: He has no more hope; his spirit is full of chagrin; he has been utterly disappointed, and his soul is dead within him; and his confidences are all battered down; the day of prosperity, even nominal and superficial, is gone forever. There are many confidences, and they look well. What can look better from the outside than golden wealth: the foundations silver, the gates made of precious stones, the front of the house gleaming white marble, the roof of the house one sheet of gold; and behind horses and chariots, and man servants and maid servants, and a retinue endless? What can look better as a confidence than health — rude health, rosy-cheeked health, bright-eyed health: the voice as sound as a bell, the arm as strong as iron, a strength that never knew what it was to be weary — real genuine health of blood and bone and sinew and skin; a man whom death dare not touch? Or the confidence of invention — that fertility of mind which always has a new shift, which can always see a back door out of every difficulty? Or pleasure — sunny, merry, dancing pleasure, with a tune for every hour of the day, and as happy in the night season as in the daytime; bells ringing the whole four-and-twenty hours round; and as for laughter and joke and all kinds of mirthfulness, why here they are? "The Lord hath rejected thy confidences." One bolt of lightning, and the whole gold house has gone down. One chill some damp night, and the health house is ruined from attic to basement. One touch by the invisible hand, and the brain that had in it a thousand inventions trembles, and cannot remember. One keen disappointment, and pleasure is struck dead; its face is an annoyance, its rattle is an insult, its invitations are blasphemies, in face of a woe so terrible. There is but one abiding confidence — "Rock of Ages, cleft for me." There is but one refuge from the storm — "Jesus, refuge of my soul,"

(J. Parker, D. D.)

To an ingenuous mind God never appears so irresistible, so overpowering, as when He addresses His creatures in the language of tender expostulation. Did all men possess such a disposition, He would seldom address them in any other language, and even now, destitute of it as they naturally are, He condescends occasionally to employ it. one instance of its use we have in our text.

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.)

I. A DEMAND.

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)It was without reason.

(2)Against reason. Consider —
(a) Their relation. "My people."
(b) Their indebtedness.

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)As it respects God's own justification.

(2)As it respects Israel's condemnation.

(T. Horton, D. D.)

You cannot hear such a text as this without feeling greatly solemnised. I do not suppose they said this literally, but practically they said, "We are lords; we will come no more unto Thee." Also, how the words impress us with the necessity of a better dispensation, — in other words, of a better covenant, of a better religion, that should take a saving hold of the people, and make them all that which the Lord Himself would approve.

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.

(J. Wells.)

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