Joel 2:12

God is not satisfied to utter threatenings and to foretell evil It is truly characteristic of him that he adds words of gracious entreaty, expostulation, and counsel. He would be deserving of our adoring gratitude did he merely express his willingness to receive the returning sinner; but in this passage he deigns to invite and beseech those who have rebelled and who are in danger of perdition, that they convert and repent.

I. WHO ARE THEY WHO ARE THUS ADMONISHED? They are such as have been highly favoured, and have nevertheless disobeyed the Father who has cared for them, rebelled against the King who has been gracious to them. Who amongst men must not be included in this class?

II. TO WHOM ARE THEY INSTRUCTED TO RETURN? "To me," saith the Lord. It is the offended One, who himself condescends to invite transgressors to reverse their steps, to renounce their disobedience, to cleave unto himself. This is a miracle of grace.

III. WHAT KIND OF CONVERSION DOES GOD REQUIRE? In this passage we have as clear a statement as even the New Testament can supply of the spirituality of true religion. God does not ask for verbal, formal submission; he asks for the return of the heart. Here is involved true penitence - heart-sorrow for sin. Here is involved true faith - heart-attachment to God. The heart is emphatically God's, and it is the heart he asks.

IV. WHAT TOKENS OF SINCERITY IN CONVERSION DOES GOD EXPECT? The true conversion is within; but there will be appropriate evidences that sin is loathed and forsaken. For this purpose the tears and mourning, etc., here described, are to be desired by God and presented by man. - T.

Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.

1. Immediate. The prophet tells the people of Judah that they must turn "also now" to the Lord. These little words are full of emphasis, and signify that even though the people had so long abused the Divine forbearance, and although the opportunity of mercy was passing away, yet if they would at once pay heed to the words of warning they should be saved. There was no time for delay.

2. Sincere. The prophet says to the people of Judah, turn unto the Lord "with all your heart." They were not to simulate a repentance they did not truly feel; it was not to be half-hearted. They were to turn to God in their thoughts, in their affections, in their wills, and in every faculty and capability of their souls,

3. Inward. The prophet says to the people of Judah, "Rend your heart, and not your garments." Sin is an inward thing, and so must be the repentance which puts it away.

4. Sorrowful. The people of Judah were to turn to the Lord "with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning." A true turning of the soul to God is always accompanied by intense sorrow because the law of God has been broken, because the soul has been injured by sin, because time has been lost in which good might have been done, because it has enfeebled the moral manhood, and because it has moved the anger of God.

II. THAT TRUE REPENTANCE IS ENCOURAGED BY OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE DIVINE NATURE, AND BY A HOPE OF THE DIVINE BLESSING. "And turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil. Who knoweth if He will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him?" Here we have the greatest encouragements to repentance —

1. From our knowledge of the Divine character. The prophet here gives a very beautiful revelation of the nature and character of God to the inhabitants of Judah, which they would perhaps hardly regard as consistent with His previous threats of judgment. And we have throughout the Bible such a revelation of the Divine mercy as should be an encouragement to the penitent. It is natural for God to have mercy upon the repentant soul, even as it is natural for fire to burn.

2. From our hope of the Divine blessing. It seems as though the prophet wished to leave the Jews in some uncertainty as to whether God would "return and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him, in order that he might not weaken any impression which his former denunciations had made. God often leaves behind Him a blessing in the repentant soul, even a joy unspeakable and full of glory.Lessons —

1. That men should turn to God with full purpose of heart.

2. That they should do so while it is called to-day.

3. That they should thus seek His mercy and expect His blessing.

(J. S. Exell, M. A.)

From very ancient times Ash Wednesday has been kept by Christians with great strictness. Our Church too marks this day as a specially solemn day, by providing a special service for it, namely, the "Commination, or denouncing of God's anger and judgments against sinners" — a service well fitted to stir up our dull minds to the thought of our sins, and to rouse our slumbering con sciences to the feeling of our guilt. Now the great use of special days like this is to fill our hearts and minds with some special thought or feeling, to fix it firmly in our memory, to press and stamp it in so deeply that it will not easily be rubbed out by the wear and tear of the world: and on Ash Wednesday the thought that should fill our mind is the thought of our sinfulness; the feeling that should be uppermost in our hearts is the feeling of our deep guilt in the sight of God. This thought and feeling should rise with us in the morning, should go forth with us to our daily toil or business, should be with us wherever we are, and go with us wherever we go, if we would spend this day as it is meant to be spent, as a day of deep and earnest penitence. The very reason why most people's religion is so poor and weak is because their religious feelings are so shallow, their religious acts so hasty and formal. A day like this is meant to correct the fault. It is meant to deepen the feelings, to give occasion for a more real and searching penitence. It is meant to be a day of much strict self-examination, of much humble confession of sin, of much earnest prayer, of much godly sorrow, of much hearty resolve. To fast on this day, and deny ourselves outwardly, is a mere mockery and snare, tempting us to think well of ourselves, and to fancy we are doing great things, if we have not the inward spirit of fasting, which is the humbling of the soul in secret shame and sorrow before God. Let this be what we aim at, and then we shall be thankful for every aid, such as fasting is, to so good an end. Only we must remember the end is greater than the means. Let us not, then, despise a day and a service which may be so blest to us, and which have been so blest to thousands and thousands of Christian people. Nay, till we can say that our sense of sin cannot be made deeper, that our confessions cannot be more earnest, that our knowledge of self cannot be increased, that our repentance cannot be more sincere, — have we any right to despise these helps?

(W. Walsham How, D. D.)

It is not always that the voice of the Church hits the mood of the world. Just now there is no thoughtful man, whatever his personal condition, whose spirit is altogether untouched by sadness. We are all breathing an atmosphere of uneasiness, humiliation, and perplexity; our hearts are heavy, and there is much to weigh them down. How can we use the resource which the text proclaims? It is by no lip-uttered penitence that we can so turn unto God. It is by no mere confession of faults which we think others have committed, and petitions that they may be repaired. We may individually feel a sense of impotence in the presence of movements and measures which we cannot control. But, remember, that the whole is made up of parts; several items construct the whole. Every one who honestly tries to see himself and his wishes in the light of the Lord of righteousness, aids in the solution of national and social problems, whatever they may be, whether they concern order, home distress, or troubles beyond the seas. The individual is the unit of humanity. A sense of general vexation must never blot out that of personal responsibility. As each sweeps before his own door, the street is clean. As each honestly turns to the Lord, the attitude of the whole is corrected. Our business is to see to the items of our own conduct, leaving the total to accumulate by inevitable law. How may we individually use the tide of national anxiety in obeying the summons of the Lenten season? We have a common fault, a hectoring tone towards supposed inferiors. If there is anything which should cultivate Christian society and Christian households, it is goodwill and kindliness. Let not the summons of the text demand a mere epoch of religious procedure, when we kneel in the congregation or in the chamber. Let it touch our lives. A turning to the Lord is a turning from self, from its lower passions, aims, and habits. It comes out in audible, visible, material results. It is seen in many a thing; it is perceived in the tone of the voice, and in the look of the eye; it is seen in the fair conduct of commonplace business; it is seen in our correspondence; in the office and the shop; in the amenities of home, and in the rectitude of public life; in the details of our personal conversation, and in the nature of our familiar habits. Pause at one point — "with fasting." This arrow hits a national and personal blot. Some people fast too much, through poverty. Some people eat too much, through self-indulgence. There are many who need to fast, who need to use such abstinence that the flesh may, as it should, obey the mind, obey the spirit, not on the lowest, but on the highest grounds, that they may be, physically and intellectually, in body and soul, such as God intends them to be. Treat the summons of the Lenten season as a wholesome, reasonable, godly, human call to consider our ways, as in the presence of the Lord in whom we live, and move, and have our being.

(Harry Jones.)

Ash Wednesday is neither a saint's day, nor a festival. It is simply the first of the forty days of Lent. On this day we read the seven penitential Psalms, and the Commination Service, and thus the day assumes a severe penitential character of its own. The text reminds us that at this time we have an inward and an outward duty to fulfil. The inward duty is, the turning of the heart to God. The outward is, the mortification of our bodily appetites.

1. Fasting is a matter very little discoursed about, and very little practised. Fasting is not for the weak, the sickly, the very young, or the very poor. Fasting is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Fasting should be observed to God. Its essence is mortification, — not the mere act of abstaining from food. The fasting we should all aim at is rather the denying ourselves in respect of whatever we know to be a superfluity. A check imposed on the curiousness of appetite; a curb submitted to in respect of the quantity eaten, this is true fasting.

2. The inward conversion of the heart to God. This is the great duty of the Lenten season. To think over one's past life, and one's present state; to review one's sins, and to loathe and forsake them; to make reparation where it is possible, and to confess one's fault when one cannot repair it — this is the fast which the Lord approveth.

(J. Burgon, M. A.)

Two exhortations, whereof the first is, that they should set about sincere repentance and humiliation, testified by holy private fasts and unfeigned sorrow, and so prove that they are really converted to God, and reconciled to Him through faith in the Mediator (ver. 12). And that they should study rather to be afflicted for sin, than by performance of external ceremonies to pretend to it only (ver. 13). Unto this exhortation two reasons are subjoined, the first whereof is taken from the properties of God, who is merciful and gracious; not easily provoked, rich in kindness, and who, upon sinners' repentance, is ready to recall His threatenings that they be not executed. Doctrine.

1. Were there never so many plagues on sinners, yet God is not bound to take notice of them so long as they repent not. Were there never so much terror and affliction of spirit upon men, under feared or felt judgments, yet all these serve to no purpose if they stir not up to repentance; and they must be mad who, being in such a condition, yet do not set about that duty. Therefore after all the representation of plagues, and of terror upon men, they are called to this as the only remedy and way to an issue, and as the duty which they cannot but mind who are seriously affected with such a condition. "Therefore, turn ye."

2. When God is threatening most sadly, and proceeding most severely, He would be still understood as inviting by these to repentance, and willing to accept of it. For the Lord who threatens, doth exhort, and He brings it in with a "therefore," or upon the back of the former discourse, to show that this is His scope in all of it.

3. Such as have been so long abusers of God's patience, as matters seem irremediable, and strokes are either imminent or incumbent, should not, for all that, look upon the exercise of repentance as too late and out of season, but ought to judge that it is good even then to set about it, and that it will do good, however matters go. Therefore, notwithstanding they were in this sad plight, yet the Lord exhorts them even now also to turn."

4. Such as do mind repentance, especially when God declareth Himself angry, would not linger or delay to set about it. So much also may be imported in that "now also" they should "turn."

5. Whatever doubts such as are humbled by judgments may have, that their repentance will not be accepted; yet they are bound to answer all these from God's naked word who giveth the invitation to such.

6. Repentance for particular sins, under sad judgments, will neither be right nor acceptable so long as men do not mind conversion to God, and a change of their state by regeneration; that so, the tree being good, the fruits may be answerable. Therefore doth He begin with, "Turn ye unto Me," where the exhortation doth not import any power in man, but only points out his duty, and showeth that exhortation is a mean which God blesseth to His elect, and not only deals thereby with them as rational creatures, but therewith imparts strength that they may obey.

7. In turning unto God men would beware of being faint or feigned, but would study to be sincere and single, since they cannot attain to perfection, for this, in a Gospel sense, is "to turn even to Me with all your heart."

8. As men would begin at conversion to God, so they would therewith study to be deeply affected for sin and bygone evils, and under the judgments procured thereby; and would evidence their affliction of spirit by sorrow and humiliation suitable (in some measure) to their condition. Therefore is it added, as an evidence and companion of the former, "turn ye with fasting and with weeping, and with mourning"; or with such sorrow as is usual in mourning for the dead, and expressed not only by wailing, but by smiting on the breast, and the like gestures. It is a change to be suspected where men please themselves with their present good condition, and do lightly pass over their former miscarriages. And albeit signs and expressions of sorrow be not always at command when men are most afflicted, yet repentance for gross and long continuance in iniquity, and under extra ordinary judgments, should not be passed over in an ordinary and common way.

9. God is not pleased, nor will a true penitent be pleased, with external performances and ceremonies, neglecting substance; for saith He, "Rend your hearts and not your garments."

10. Whatever the Lord be, or will say or do, to the impenitent, yet there is nothing in Him to be terrible to a convert and a penitent. Without the sight of this, conviction and contrition would but end in despair. Therefore, notwithstanding all the former threatenings, this is subjoined to the exhortation, by way of reason and encouragement, "Turn ye, for He is gracious," etc.

(George Hutcheson.)

Joel, having forewarned the people of Judah of the impending calamities that threatened to overwhelm them, proceeds to point out the necessary instructions for them to follow in the prospect of such an awful national crisis.


1. The appointment of a day of national humiliation. Joel orders them to assemble the people together in the courts of the temple, where by external purifications and proper instructions they might be fitted for the profitable solemnisation of the same. Is there less obligation on Christian communities to set apart a day of humiliation under similar afflictive dispensations of providence? Properly observed, such seasons of public demonstration are undoubtedly acceptable to God. The assembling of ourselves together will sharpen the desire of the Christian for more devout secret communion with God in the closet of prayer.

2. The first duty is turning unto the Lord. The Israelites were to attend the temple not only in a suitable manner outwardly, but with a deep inward impression of God's judgments. Their affections were to be estranged from the concerns of this world, and set on the God whom they had offended. Such a solemn day calls for nothing less than the whole heart. Away with frivolity, trifling, indifference. It is a day that calls for the implicit surrender of the inner man.

3. The duty of fasting. The Christian may perform this act if his conscience suggest it as incumbent upon him. But he must remember the Redeemer's admonition in relation to it. There is a notion that fasting consists in abstinence from particular kinds of flesh. Such an idea is as truly absurd as it is derogatory to that part of the Christian community which entertains it. We must fast in the spirit. It is the motive alone can render fasting acceptable in the eyes of the Creator.

4. The duty of weeping and mourning. The Christian dispensation does not demand outward demonstrations of grief. External signs of grief and humiliation are but faint emblems of the shame experienced by the contrite soul. Our repentance must be accompanied with a change of heart and life; it must exercise a converting influence upon us within. The sorrow we feel must be manifested in reformation of life.

II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO THIS PERFORMANCE. "For the Lord is gracious," etc. It is on account of His infinite mercies that we are not consumed. From a consideration of this kind we may draw much consolation. The Divine ear will be open to the prayers of all those who call upon Him in sincerity. Let the many mercies of God experienced during the past encourage us to put our trust in His mercy now in "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." Let us praise Him to-day for all that is past; let us depend upon Him for all that is to come.

(Richard Jones, B. A.)

Let me exhort you diligently to examine into the state of your souls at this particular season. A business man has his seasons for taking stock. And are our souls of less consequence than our bodies? It is impossible to determine exactly what must be the outward ceremonies or signs attending our penitential sorrow, so various are the tempers and dispositions of men. Yet nature points at the rule to each individual, namely, his own feelings; since there can be no true compunction for sin, and consequently no repentance, without pain and grief felt on the part of the sinner. If sins arise from the over indulgence of sensual appetites, abstinence and temperance always, and fasting on occasion, may be efficient aids in bringing such appetites into subjection. No man is so little a sinner as not to be capable of advancing his soul's health by a duo and religious observance of appointed fasting days. The prophet says we are to turn to the Lord with weeping. Tears are generally esteemed the signs of grief, but there are tears of joy. They are rather to be esteemed the effects of a violent perturbation, either of body or mind, proceeding from various causes — from grief, joy, envy, anger, or the exertion of any strong passion. To judge of a man's repentance solely by the quantity of tears he sheds would be to judge very rashly of it. Tears not being altogether in our own power, can never be essential sign of repentance. A third circumstance mentioned by the prophet is "mourning." That expression of grief which breaks forth into lamentation and woe, and is accompanied with tearing open the garments to smite on the naked breast: an external appearance of great humility and repentance, but which receives its whole merit from the sincerity of the performer. Weeping, fasting, and mourning receive all their worth from the inward man; they are sanctified by the integrity and sincerity of the heart. The prophet further says, "Rend your heart, and not your garments." Rend your hearts," herein lies the essence of true penitential sorrow; from hence will all the necessary acts of outward mortification and self-denial unavoidably ensue. Tear open, as it were, the inmost recesses of your heart, spare not till you have discovered every stain and blemish, wash it away with unremitted diligence, that so you may present it pure and spotless before the Lord. Examine the state of your souls fairly and honestly.

(C. Moore, M. A.)

I. A DUTY ENJOINED. Here is at once implied our alienation from God. To say we are turned from Him is to say that we are fallen, depraved, and sinful creatures. We are not to turn from one evil way to another, from one idol to another, from one religious profession to another, but unto God. We cannot turn of ourselves. We need to pray for God's special and enabling grace. The impossibility is not natural but moral, consequently our inability to turn our selves to Him does not lessen our obligation to do so.

II. THE MANNER OF ITS PERFORMANCE. "With the heart." No mere change of opinion, or reformation of life, or outward profession of godliness will suffice. "With our whole heart." God will brook no rival. When the heart, with all its affections, motives, and desires, returns to its rightful owner, there is nothing which delights its owner more than to see it touched with tender contrite sorrow. "With fasting." We approve of using such abstinence as will tend, through grace, to bring the body into subjection to the Spirit. Self-denial is a primary requisite in the religion of Jesus Christ

III. OUR ENCOURAGEMENT TO FULFIL IT. Gracious — merciful — slow to anger, and of great kindness, is the Lord our God. Therefore none need be discouraged.

(W. Mudge.)

I. THE EXHORTATIONS TO THE PEOPLE TO RETURN UNTO THE LORD. "Turn ye even unto Me." What is the nation to turn from? Its evil ways. When we speak of the nation we speak of the individuals that compose the nation. The exhortation implies that the people had turned from God. Notice some of men's evil ways.

1. Ungodliness. Not one half of our nation makes any profession of godliness. And of those who name "the name of Jesus," how few depart from iniquity!

2. Hear the blasphemy which pervades the land. God's solemn message to man is mocked, His Word denied, His sanctuaries too much neglected. From all these evil ways we are called to return unto the Lord.

II. THE DIRECTION FOR RETURNING TO THE LORD. "With all your heart." Here lies the main business — the heart. It must be solemnly and unreservedly dedicated to God. Without this internal movement, all outward show of obedience, or sorrow for sin, or repentance, or fasting, or prayer will avail nothing. This return of the heart is to be expressed by suitable "outward signs." With fasting. "With weeping and mourning."

III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT PRESENTED TO THE PEOPLE TO RETURN TO GOD. "He is merciful and gracious." Every moment of the world's prolonged existence is a demonstration of God's long suffering and patience — is a practical commentary on His own Word.

(E. Edwards.)

I. REPENTANCE AS A TURNING. Repentance is sometimes represented as renewing from a decay. Refining from dross. Recovering from a malady. Cleansing from soil. Rising from fall. Here the figure is turning. To turn is properly applied to them that are out of their right way. Whether a way be good or no, we principally pronounce by the end. Our end, or sovereign good, we call happiness. As we cannot find that here, we are to seek it with God. From God we ought never to turn our steps. The way of sin, of seeking our own pleasure or profit, is the way of turning from God. We are to turn to God. Whither should we turn from sin but to God? Many simply turn from one sin to another. We are to turn with the heart. There is a turning of the brain only. An alteration is required not of the mind only, but of the will, a change too of the affections of the heart. Not of bodily relations only; heart and all must turn. It must be with the whole heart. Not dividing the heart from the body, and not dividing the heart in itself.

II. THE MANNER OF IT. "With fasting." Not only by way of regimen to keep the body low, but as a chastisement for sin already past. To be abridged of that which otherwise we might freely use hath in it the nature of a punishment. How must we fast? Two kinds of fasting in Scripture.

1. David's. No meat at all. That is too hard.

2. Daniel's fast. He ate no "meats of delight." The Church mitigates all she may. Content to sustain nature, not to purvey the flesh, to satisfy the lusts thereof. "With weeping." Thinking of the sins of our past might well make us weep. If we cannot weep, mourn we can, and mourn we must. Mourning is the sorrow which reason itself can yield. We can wish; we can pray; we can complain and bemoan ourselves. "Rend your hearts." If it is not done with the heart, nothing is done. As in conversion, the purpose of amendment must proceed from the heart; so in our contrition, the sorrow, the anger, for our turning away must pierce to the heart. Rending doth not so properly pertain to the passion of sorrow as to the passion of anger. The apostle puts into his repentance indignation and revenge, as well as sorrow. To say the truth, they are to go together. If we be truly sorry for our sin, we shall be angry with ourselves the sinners.

(Bishop Andrewes.)

Such was the call of God to Israel of old, when His sore judgments lay heavy upon them, and more were impending. "Turn unto the Lord your God." Let there be in each one of us an unfeigned repentance towards God.

I. WHEN SHALL WE TURN UNTO HIM? Now. Lent is appointed to call us to special repentance, and humbling of ourselves before God. Of all deceits the most common and most dangerous is delay. We all look forward to some time when we intend to be religious. Of what importance, then, is that word "Now."

II. HOW MUST WE TURN UNTO GOD? Outward indications of sorrow are mentioned in the text. They are helpful. But the Spirit of God warns us against resting in the outward show, in any mere signs of sorrow. We must rend our hearts on account of our sins. Repentance must begin in godly sorrow. Can we offer God less than a heart broken and contrite, a heart hating the sins which have dishonoured God, set at nought the Saviour, grieved His Spirit, and wounded our own souls? Will He accept less than all our heart? Let there be deep sincerity. Let there be steadfast resolution.

III. MOTIVES FOR TURNING TO GOD. We may declare the "terrors of the Lord." The motives of the text are the graciousness and mercifulness of God. Judgment is His strange work, mercy is His delight.

(E. Blencowe, M. A.)

Three things.

I. ITS PROCESS. Turning to the Lord. The unregenerate man is an alien from God. Like the prodigal son, he has left his father's house, and gone into the far country of carnality and sin. Reform is turning and directing his steps back to God. Soul-reformation is not turning from one doctrine or church, or habit, to another, but turning to God, going back with all its deepest love to Him. But in turning there is deep moral contrition; "fasting," and "weeping," and "mourning," and "rending of the heart." Soul-reformation begins in genuine repentance for past sins.

II. ITS URGENCY. Therefore also now, saith the Lord. There is nothing more urgent; everything must make way for this; until this is done, nothing is done properly. Now, because —

1. The work is of the most paramount importance.

2. The time for accomplishing it is very short. Whatever other work you adjourn to a future time, for your soul's sake adjourn not this for a single hour.

III. ITS ENCOURAGEMENT. "For He is gracious and merciful,"... "repenteth Him of the evil." The word "deprecateth" would be better than "repenteth." The inflicting of sufferings on His creatures is repugnant to His nature. "He desireth not the death of the sinner." What an encouragement it is to the sinner to turn to the Lord, to be assured that he will be welcomed with all the love and tender sympathy of an affectionate Father.


This exhortation is addressed to all who, like the Israelites in the time of Joel, are living in opposition to the authority of Jehovah. "God commandeth all men everywhere to repent," and He enforces His Divine command by the solemn threatenings which His law has denounced against sin. Some can only be reached by arousing apprehension and alarm. But even when we speak the threatenings of Divine law, it must always be in accents of tenderness and love, entreating men to be reconciled unto God. Repentance is a turning unto God. It is an exercise of free and deliberate choice. It is not a partial, but a total change of character. What are its external manifestations? Fasting was an ordinance in the Jewish economy designed as an expression of the feelings of sorrow, and as a means of exciting and confirming these feelings in the hearts of the worshippers. Frequently the sorrow of the world makes a man afflict himself in secret. The accumulation of terms, "with fasting and weeping and mourning," may be viewed as a Hebrew superlative designed to set forth the earnestness and intensity of the grief which fills the heart of the penitent. It is to obtain a season for solemn thought, that the Christian sets apart his times of fasting. "Rend your heart," etc. The rending of the garments is in Eastern countries a token of grief. In connection with religious worship, it might be dictated by a sense of humility before God. It was, however, by no means an infallible mark of genuine emotion. Dubious marks of penitence are not enough for those who would turn with acceptance to the Lord their God. A broken heart is the emblem of deep anguish. Those who will not yield to threats of judgment, the prophet endeavours to persuade by kindness and love. He tells of God that "He is merciful and gracious,' etc. "Gracious," as bestowing His favours upon those who have no inherent claim upon His bounty. "Merciful," extending His kindness even to those who, by their sins, have merited His wrath. "Slow to anger," bearing from time to time with those who are living in rebellion against Him. "Of great kindness," not impoverished by the mercies bestowed on a few, ever enough, and more than enough, for the wants of all who humbly and believingly ask it. "Repenteth him of the evil." Not that He will positively alter His Divine purposes, but even when the cup of their iniquity is almost filled, if they turn to Him in sorrow and penitence, the threatened wrath will be averted. The believing view of God's mercy, and the apprehension of God's wrath, are both, in their own place, instrumental in leading men to repentance. Learn to make a right improvement of our afflictions. Whatever inquiries we may institute in regard to their secondary causes, let us not forget that their great first cause is God; that they are sent upon us for moral purposes; that they speak to us with the authority of heaven-appointed messengers, saying, in God's name, "Turn ye even unto Me."

(William Beckett.)

The pride of the human heart is sometimes fearful. The sinner will justify or excuse his course and carry a high look, till the Holy Spirit actually conquers His pride and overwhelms his soul with a sense of self-convicted guilt and ruin.


1. Proper, that is, right, enjoined by the fitness of things. The impenitent sinner is openly arrayed against God; his attitude is one of radical, persistent hostility.

2. Requisite. God absolutely requires it, and will not treat with the sinner or pardon him till he penitently surrenders, submits to God's terms, and truly and openly exhibits his penitence.

II. CONFESSION OF SIN FOLLOWS HUMILIATION, AND IS INTIMATELY ALLIED TO IT. Confession is the language of penitence. The burden of sin is very heavy. The man who is unwilling to confess freely — not only in his closet to God, but openly before men, his heart of enmity, his life of guilt, alienation, and disobedience is a stranger to true penitence. See characteristics of true confession.

1. Sincere. It must come from the heart.

2. It must be radical.

3. It must relate chiefly to God.

4. It must cover up, keep back nothing.

(J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)

1. Fasting was a frequent service of old — a principle of Divine original and practical recognition. Instances in the Old Testament, in the New Testament; in the primitive Church, and in the reformed Church.

2. The proper method of fasting. No uniform system has ever obtained. They are regulated by the character of the cause that calls them forth: by the spiritual condition of the State; and by the idiosyncrasies of individuals. Do not presume on the plenty of your spiritual health, nor make an excuse of the poverty of your bodily health.

3. Seasonable suggestions for a fast-day. On no account convert the fast into a festival. On the other hand, do not think, by a simple, stiff, or formal fast you will gain either heavenly rest for yourselves, or earthly relief for your suffering brethren; do not fancy that for an austere demeanour, and a rigid restraint of your appetites and affections, you will merit aught at the hands of God. Reflect on your individual and our national sins; confess and repent.

(William Fisher, B. A.)

And rend your heart, and not your garments
"Rend your heart and not your garments." Above all, important that repentance should be real — the weeping the sign of inward sorrow; the fasting the result of lower desires kept in abeyance by higher. There was danger of a superficial, evanescent revival.

I. EXPLAIN THE ALLUSION TO THE RENDING OF THE GARMENT. Many signs and symbols among Jews by which they professed to express feeling, desire.(1) In prayer — kneeling, prostration, standing, lifting the hands, hiding the face, smiting upon the breast.(2) Rending garment. This expressed strongest, most intense emotion of sorrow, or terror, or horror. (Genesis 37:29, 34; 2 Samuel 3:31; 1 Kings 21:27; Jeremiah 36:24; Matthew 26:65; Acts 14:14.) The emotion professedly expressed in Judah at that time — the deepest sorrow for sin; the most earnest contrition and repentance.


1. Some neither rend their hearts nor their garments. No outward sign of sorrow, and no sorrow without sign. Describe what should lead all to sorrow for sin. The history of sin, its present existence in the world, in us. God's revelation of His hatred of sin. God's revelation of love to the sinner. The life of Christ — Gethsemane, Calvary. The voice of conscience; the pleadings of the Holy Ghost. Draw the contrast between what should be and what is. Indifference, coldness of multitudes. Mad delight of many in the world's great source of misery.

2. Some rend their garments, and not their hearts. The outward sign, but no inward reality. The untruthful, hypocritical. Notice the religion of formal custom. The services of the present day — devout attitudes in prayer — observance of fasts — celebration of feasts — revival services. The danger — the lack of inward reality.

3. Some rend their hearts and not their garments. The inward reality, and not the outward sign. Men of reserve, emotion kept concealed in the heart's shrine. They shrink from demonstration, from the show of religious feeling, and so apparently they are cold, but not really so. Picture the earnestness of private communion; sorrow's deep wound which only God can see; sorrow which words, looks, cannot express — too deep for human sympathy.

4. Some rend their hearts and their garments. The inward sorrow; the outward expression. Room in the world for demonstrative and undemonstrative. Notice the tendency of reserved to misjudge those not like them, and the injustice of calling religious excitement worthless. Illustrations: The publican's outward demonstration; the bitter weeping of Peter. Some must rend their garments when their hearts are rent.


1. That it is necessary for us to rend our hearts. Repentance for sin a necessity. This the fruit of the law; this the germ of the Gospel. The Baptist's cry; the Saviour's cry; the cry of the apostles — "Repent."

2. As to the rending of the garment. "Rend your hearts," etc. The text means, "not only your garments." Other similar expressions.(1) From the Bible. "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." The meaning, "mercy rather than sacrifice."(2) From ordinary conversation. "Give us deeds, not words." The meaning, that deeds are more important than words. Customary, demonstrative, peculiar experience of feeling was not forbidden. Reality as opposed to mere form insisted on.

3. God does require the pure and holy life. The rent heart the open heart. Christ enters, abides, makes pure. The pure heart expressed by the pure life. The heart made clean, the garment also is made white. This agreement must be. There cannot be the changed heart without the converted life.

(J. M. Blackcie, LL. B.)

This chapter is not so much a peremptory prediction, what God absolutely intends, as a communication only, what conditionally He threateneth. Man, in his anger, threatens when he means to strike; God threatens, that He might not strike, but that we might be forewarned and ward off His blow. The Gospel, that offers all mercy and love, strictly exacts and requires repentance. The text is a vehement exhortation to sorrow and repentance; and a direction how and in what manner we should repent.


1. An exhortation to contrition. Observe the act expressed in the word "rend"; and the object, which is presented affirmatively. We must rend our heart. And negatively. We must not rend our garments.

2. An exhortation to conversion. "Return unto the Lord your God." Return implies a motion.

(1)The kind of motion. A returning.

(2)That whereunto we must return, "The Lord."

(3)That habitude and relation which guides and biasses us unto the term; in the words following, "Your God."This is twofold. There is an attraction in the term and place to which the motion tends. And that which carries and disposes the thing moved towards it.

II. THE MOTIVE TO REPENTANCE. In these words, "For He is gracious," etc.

1. The kind and nature of the motive. God contents not Himself by putting us in mind of our duty. He uses no threatenings, intermingles no curses. He urges mercy and favour. Observe the degrees of the motive. They are all set and purposed to prevent and remove all the fears and discouragements that a timorous guilty conscience can forecast to itself. We are here called upon to present ourselves unto the Lord, to hope for and expect His love and favour. But we are not worthy of such favour. True, but He is a gracious God. We have to admit that our lives have been demeritorious, sinful, offensive. True, but He is merciful and compassionate. We daily provoke Him by our rebellions, grieving His Spirit, and increasing His wrath by our offences. True, but He is a patient God, and slow to anger. The cry of our sins has already ascended up to heaven. Yet He is easy to be entreated, and of great kindness. His wrath hath smoked out against us; His prophets have denounced His judgments. Yet there is hope of mercy, for He repenteth of the evil. Then do thy sins discourage thee? Let the offer and invitation of His mercy assure thee. Doth the number and variety of thy transgressions dishearten thee? Consider the multitude of His mercies. Doth the measure and heinousness of thy rebellions affright thee? Let the degrees and plenty of His compassions comfort thee. Consider the duty of contrition. The act and practice of repentance is no less than a rending. And that implies stiffness and obduration in the object to be wrought upon. Hardness and difficulty in the act to be exercised — repentance. And it requires all the strength and might of him that undertakes it. Consider the object upon which repentance must work and exercise itself. In the affirmative sense, your heart. If thy heart be not contrite and sorrowful, it is not true repentance. Except thy sorrow work upon the heart, there is no use or profit in thy repentance. Except thy heart be humble and cast down for sin, it is no pleasing or acceptable repentance. In the negative sense, — "Rend not your garments." In this counsel the Lord checks and reproves our outward superstition. All outward ceremonious practice of piety, if divided and severed from inward devotion, is rejected of God. Ceremonies, if accompanied with the heart, are useful and acceptable; if divided from it, are sinful and abominable. But the words may be read, "your hearts rather than your garments," by way of comparison. The contrition of the heart is more necessary and useful than any outward bodily affliction.

(Bishop Brownrigg.)


1. Heartfelt. Rend your heart, and not your garments. Rending stands for the outward expression of sorrow or penitence. The prophet does not intend by the contrast "hearts" not "garments," to condemn such outward signs, but to insist upon the inward rather than the outward. We are not to affect sorrow, to display penitence. Outward usages are valuable, not as satisfying conscience or pleasing God, but as helps to realise a right spirit.

2. Deliberate. To rend garments is a sudden impulse. To rend the heart is a far harder and slower matter.

3. Intense. Rend — implying a breaking of the heart, — breaking by the irresistible force of conviction. This implies a personal sense of sin, and a holy hatred of sin.

III. A TRUE CONVERSION TO GOD. It is, "Turn unto the Lord." A broken heart without this would be mere despair. This implies —

1. A change in will. "Turn."

2. An acceptance of God's call. "Turn unto the Lord."

3. An act of faith in Him. "Your God." An acknowledgment of God's claim on us. How are we to turn? The prayer of the Lenten season suggests the answer, "Turn Thou us, O good Lord, and so shall we be turned."

(John Ellerton, M. A.)

I. THE EXHORTATION OR ADVICE GIVEN. Rending the garments was a sign of great sorrow and amazement. This custom, when a sense of the evil of sin and true sorrow for it were wanting, degenerated into a hypocritical form. Therefore comes the command, "Rend your hearts." From what must they be rent? From sin, especially your besetting sin. From earth and earthly things. From all creatures. From yourselves. From hypocrisy and formality, pride and self-confidence, unbelief, improper diffidence and distrust. How must they be rent? By godly consideration and self-examination; by conviction and humiliation, by shame and sorrow, by confession and abhorrence. Rend your hearts. The conscience must be pierced, the will conquered, the spirit humbled, the affections moved, and the old, hard heart made soft. The broken heart is God's sacrifice. "And turn unto the Lord." Do this by contemplation and thought, desire and prayer, faith and confidence, expectation and delight, gratitude and love. Turning we cannot do of ourselves. For what are we to turn? For illumination. For pardon. For Divine favour, communion, and fellowship.

II. THE MOTIVES WHICH ENFORCE IT. Evil is gone forth to chastise or punish sin. God is good, not only to" repent of the evil," and do it not, but to do good. That He is "of great kindness" witness a dying Jesus, an entreating ministry, so many sweet promises and alluring mercies. Apply to the unconverted, backsliders, and the godly.

(J. Benson.)

For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger
Nothing is more true of God than that He is the first and chiefest good; His prime perfection is goodness, and our truest notion of Him is, that He is almighty goodness.

I. BY WAY OF VINDICATION. And to give satisfaction to objections that arise against this great truth. Three objections.

1. Several instances of God's severity are found recorded in Scripture: e.g., the Deluge; Destruction of Canaanites, etc. To this answer —(1) When necessaries for our good are afforded, and by any neglected, the blame lies upon them.(2) Sometimes the sins of nations and persons are come to their height, and God is forced to punish.(3) The judgments of God in this life are exemplary and disciplinary: and better a mischief should fall on particular persons, than that a general inconvenience should follow.(4) God sometimes lets us feel something of hell here, to prevent it hereafter.(5) There may be a particular account given of several scriptural cases; e.g., Nadab and Abihu, and Ananias and Sapphira.(6) Though we do not know what time or leisure God will allow to sinners to repent, yet we certainly know God will grant forgiveness to penitents.(7) There is no other way for God's forgiveness but the way of repentance. This is the tenor of the grace of God.(8) We cannot competently judge the proceedings of God to His creatures.

2. God is represented as severe, in giving men up to a reprobate sense, stupidity, and hardness of heart. Answer —(1) This case hath no promise.(2) It is not fit for the exercise of grace or mercy, for this case is not compassionable. If some think that God, by an irresistible power, might have prevented all sin and misery, it may be answered, — Is it reasonable that God, having made voluntary and intelligent agents, should force them? Then there could be no exercise of virtue, for all virtue is in choice; and no happiness, for we should be under constraint. Of what use, in that case, would our natural faculties be? This would no longer be a probationary state. God draws; He does not force moral beings.

3. The necessity of justice in the case of sin. This objection will be resolved by a true explication of justice. God's justice is the same with His integrity and uprightness. These consist with the reason of the thing, and the right of the case. It is not necessary that God should punish sin, but He may justly do it, for sin deserves punishment.


1. Gracious. Which imports to do good freely, without constraint: to go good above the measure of right and just; to do good without antecedent desert, or after-recompense.

2. Merciful. So as to compassionate His creatures in misery, so as to help them in respect of their infirmities, so as to pardon their iniquities.

3. Slow to anger. So as not to take advantage of His creatures, so as to overlook provocation; and so as to allow space for repentance.

4. Of great kindness. What He doth, He doth in pure good will, and for our good; not in expectation of being benefited by us; not according to the proportion or disposition of the receiver.

5. Repenteth Him of the evil. So as either it comes not at all; or it proves not what we fear and imagine; or it stays but a while if it do come; or He turns it into good.

III. CONFIRMATION OF THE TRUTH OF THE PROPOSITION OF THE TEXT. Four names and titles given to God that make this out.

1. His creation in infinite goodness, wisdom, and power. The variety, order, and fitness of things to their ends, declare the wisdom of God.

2. Conservation, protection, and government, declare God to be good, and full of loving-kindness.

3. Restoration and recovery out of the state of sin and misery.

4. Future confirmation and settlement in glory and happiness.

IV. CAUTION IS PRESENTED IN THE TEXT. Seen in two particulars.

1. Not to abuse this declaration of Divine goodness, either by holding the truth in unrighteousness, or turning the grace of God into wanton ness.

2. Not to permit hasty or rash judgment. If anything seem harsh in the dispensation of providence, we may understand it in a little time; therefore he that believes should not make haste.


1. Here is matter of information. We have a true judgment of God when we think of His greatness in connection with His goodness.

2. Here is matter of imitation. We may resemble God.

3. Here is matter of consolation. To all that are willing to do well, and would be good.

(B. Whichcote, D. D.)

Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.
I. THE IMPORTANT DIRECTION GIVEN. The direction "Turn unto the Lord your God" presupposes —

1. A state of heedless inattention. The position from which they were to turn was one in which the back was upon God.

2. A state of careless and criminal negligence.

3. A state of obstinate disobedience. "Rend your heart." The action of rending garments indicates —

1. Excessive grief.

2. Great loathing and abhorrence.

3. Deep humility and earnest deprecation.

II. THE CHEERING ASSURANCE AFFORDED. "For He is gracious and merciful," etc.

1. This revelation warrants our approach. The words are expressive of the most melting compassion and tenderness.

2. This revelation requires your return to "the Lord," your Proprietor, to whom you owe your all, and to whom you must account for all.

3. This revelation encourages your address. Ask, and receive now the effects of His grace and mercy. Pardon, healing, adoption, grace. All the present privileges of children. And finally, all their eternal enjoyments,

(Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)

Sunday Magazine.
Like some black rock that heaves itself above the surface of a sunlit sea, and the wave runs dashing over it, and the spray as it falls down its sides is all rainbowed, and there comes down beauty into the grimness of the black thing; so a man's transgressions rear themselves up, and Christ's great love coming sweeping over them, makes out of the sin an Occasion for the flashing more brightly of the beauty of His mercy, and turns the life of the pardoned soul into a lille of beauty.

(Sunday Magazine.)

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