Jeremiah The Tender-Hearted Prophet of the Nations
With FOREWORD by W. J. HOCKING
Jeremiah's prophecies began in the thirteenth year of Josiah, king of Judah, and continued after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar some forty years later. His testimony was therefore rendered at the time when the kingdom of David was about to be abolished as a national witness for Jehovah in the earth.
There is some analogy in moral character between the last days of Judah and the last days of the church, and as the various truths delivered by Jeremiah were chosen by the Spirit to suit the condition of the Jewish people, this Book has great practical value in the present times. Many salutary lessons of faithfulness and obedience amid prevailing weakness and confusion may be gathered from the prophet's own experiences and from the messages he received from the Lord. These are as needful today as then.
To his office as a spokesman for Jehovah, Jeremiah was sanctified from birth, and he is distinguished among his fellow-prophets of the Old Testament as a prophet to the nations. Jerusalem was set in the midst of the Gentiles as the centre of divine government in the earth. Before the city of Zion was destroyed by the Gentiles, Jeremiah's is the last voice to utter from that centre the word of Jehovah to Judah and Israel and to the surrounding nations.
The prophet himself was a man of keen sensibilities and tender feeling, much hated and despised by his fellow-countrymen for the fidelity of his prophetical service to them. His personal sorrow and actual suffering arose both from his fervent zeal for the glory of Jehovah and from his intense affection for his fellow-Jews. Throughout the Book, the pious exercises of Jeremiah's heart are displayed upon the dark background of the inveterate evil in the hearts of the men of Judah and Jerusalem.
Some of Jeremiah's prophecies have been fulfilled, while others still await fulfilment. In the former class are included the return of Jewish captives from Babylon after an exact period of seventy years, and also the destruction of the empire of Babylon itself, the first great Gentile power to which world-dominion was entrusted by God at the displacement of Israel.
Among those of his prophecies as yet unfulfilled is that relating to the restoration of both Israel and Judah to be Jehovah's peculiar people in the earth, when all the families of Israel will return in prosperity under the direct rule of the long-promised Son of David, Jehovah's righteous Branch and Israel's King. But this introduction of the new and everlasting covenant, which the prophet foretold, will not take place until they have passed through the unprecedented period of Jacob's trouble, the great tribulation out of which the remnant will be saved.
In the comparatively brief outline by the late William Kelly, these and other topics in the Book are indicated as and where they occur. This outline has been prepared from records of his oral ministry. Without being an exposition of Jeremiah's prophecies in their entire range, the outline forms a valuable introduction to their study, a study which cannot be neglected without spiritual loss in this day of appalling declension in the Christian profession and of growing antagonism in the political world.
W. J. HOCKING
31st October 1937
THE different character and style of Jeremiah as compared with Isaiah must strike any careful reader. Here we have not the magnificent unfoldings of the purposes of God for that earth of which Israel was the centre, but we have the prophecy in its moral dealing with the souls of the people of God. No doubt, judgments are pronounced upon the heathen, still the intention was to act upon the conscience of the Jew, and in order to do this we see how much the Spirit of God makes of Jeremiah's own experience. Of all the prophets we have none who so much analysed his own feelings, his own thoughts, his own ways, his own spirit.
Hence Jeremiah is the only one who gives us the Book of Lamentations. These lamentations are the outpourings of his soul to God, which approach very much the character of the Psalms, as indeed his prophecy also does more than any other of the prophets, either greater or lesser.
In this way, then, Jeremiah has quite a character of his own and one of no small importance. Practically, I think, his style is very instructive for the soul of the believer. We shall find that we have the prophet's inward experiences recorded as far as this could be according to the measure of the revelation that God had made of Himself in Old Testament times.
From the very first verse we find these features. Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin. The word of Jehovah came to him in the days of Josiah, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. That is, he was called to the work when God was working powerfully not only in the good king Josiah but in a few of the Jewish people.
Now it is clear that this partial repentance of the people was unsuited to the character of the work entrusted to Jeremiah. His was really an inward work in the conscience. But what brought out the expressions of his grief was that the effect of Josiah's reformation was merely an outward one.
Hence, therefore, this condition of the people gave occasion to the double character of Jeremiah's prophecy. They had outward pretence and profession, great appearance of good, a little real good underneath the surface with a great deal of outward show. Their condition was not precisely as shown in the fig tree that came under the Lord's curse - abundance of leaf and no fruit. In Jeremiah's day, the national state was very much what he said himself (Jer. 24). There were some good figs, and the good figs were very good; but there were very many naughty figs, and the naughty figs were very naughty. This moral character we shall find, then, in this book.
PART 1: Jeremiah 1 - Jeremiah 25
The word of Jehovah, as we are told in Jeremiah 1, came unto Jeremiah, saying, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee: and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee." "I ordained thee," it is carefully added, "a prophet unto the nations." Why unto the nations? This special commission brings before us a peculiarity of Jeremiah's service which we shall find abundantly verified in this book. Although he was a Jew himself and even a priest and although the Jews in Jerusalem have an immense place in his prophecy, the nations also are given great prominence.
Nay, further, we shall find that when the coming judgment of the nations is declared, Jerusalem is put among them as the very first of the nations to be judged. If the Jews did not rise morally above the nations from whom He had separated them, why should God continue to treat them as His own people by a special title? If they surrendered all that was distinctive by lapsing into Gentile idolatry, God would not support them in such false pretensions.
Hence, when the cup of vengeance is in the hand of the Lord (Jer. 25), to give to the nations in His judgment, the Jews come as the first of the nations, not for blessing but for chastening and punishment. Jeremiah, accordingly, was ordained a prophet unto the nations, because the peculiar feature of his prophecy is that Jerusalem is given a priority of judgment when God takes up the world to deal with its sins. This priority is very strikingly shown in Jeremiah 25, but the same thread of truth runs through the whole of the book from beginning to end.
This unusual commission brings out Jeremiah's timorous spirit. "Then said Jeremiah, Ah, Lord Jehovah! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child." Jehovah's answer is, "Say not, I am a child." This was not at all the question but who was sending him. If royal authority chooses a man according to its own wisdom to be its servant, its ambassador, it is of no importance to others who the ambassador is, but what is the power that sends him; and those that despise are not despising the man, but despising the authority that appointed him. Jeremiah was meant to feel that Jehovah was calling him to this office.
"Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith Jehovah. Then Jehovah put forth His hand, and touched my mouth. And Jehovah said unto me, Behold, I have put My words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant."
The meaning of this commission is that Jeremiah was chosen to be the announcer of the troubles and judgment that were coming upon all nations. God therefore, as He surely would accomplish every threat that Jeremiah pronounced upon them, speaks of the prophet as if he were pulling down and planting and building and destroying according to the prophecies that God gave him to utter.
Now this was an extremely painful task to Jeremiah. I think myself that of all the prophets, greater or smaller, that were employed, there never was one to whom it was a greater trial to pronounce judgment than to Jeremiah. He was a man of an unusually tender spirit. He shrank from the work to which he was called for the very reason he was called to it.
Jeremiah was, in a certain sense, to harden himself, not as if he did not feel, but going through the depth of the feeling of what was the import of his prophecies. He was to be the simple vessel and channel of what God put into his lips. Hence, therefore, in this prophet was a heart full of agony at all that he had to announce, but a mouth that spoke boldly whatever God put into it.
Such was the character of Jeremiah, and the first chapter shows it. Hence we find two visions together. Jehovah says, "Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree. Then said Jehovah unto me, Thou hast well seen; for I will hasten My word to perform it," alluding to the early blooming of the almond tree.
"And the word of Jehovah came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north." This is an allusion to the great northern enemy of Israel that was employed not only to put down Judah but also to put down the nations.
Jeremiah first to last dwells very much upon Babylon. Babylon was this northern power that is in the mind of the Spirit of God throughout. It is not the Assyrian. The Assyrian was northern too, but the Assyrian power was now destroyed, and it is only in the latter day that Assyria will rise again. But meanwhile Babylon was the great power that overshadowed the earth, and Jeremiah accordingly draws attention to this new kingdom. "Then Jehovah said unto me, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land."
Therefore he was to gird up his loins and arise and speak unto them: "For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith Jehovah; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah. And I will utter My judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken Me and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands. Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them. For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith Jehovah, to deliver thee."
Then, as we have in Jeremiah 1, his commission and his character shown and the visions that were given to encourage him in going on with the work that the Lord had entrusted to him, so
Jeremiah 2 shows us the state of Israel, more particularly of Jerusalem. There the Lord rehearses what He had been to His people, and what their conduct had been, spite of His favours.
In Jeremiah 3 He says what He is going to do for them.
Now I need not dwell upon the bitter charges of the prophet - the double evil of the Jews by their forsaking the Lord - the only source of living waters, and their recourse to cisterns that could hold no water by their flying to idolatry and all its corrupting influences. But, in Jeremiah 3, we have a pleading of the Lord with them. He shows them that bad as Israel might have been, Judah that had held out for a time and gave fair promises under Josiah would turn out no better. The crisis would surely come; but when a man has sunk to the lowest, God appears in His grace.
So in this very chapter after having pressed it all upon them, he says, "Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against Jehovah thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed My voice, saith Jehovah. Turn, O backsliding children, saith Jehovah, for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion: and I will give you pastors, according to Mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding. And it shall come to pass, when ye be multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, saith Jehovah, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of Jehovah: neither shall it come to mind: neither shall they remember it; neither shall they visit it; neither shall that be done any more. At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of Jehovah; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of Jehovah, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart. In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers" (verses 13-18).
Now nothing can be more distinct than this prediction, nor more gracious; for here we have clearly the intervention of God's grace for the whole people in the latter day, after not only the Assyrian captivity which had already taken place, but the Babylonish one which was going to take place. After all that, God would recall His people - not part of them, but the whole of them - would recall Israel, would recall Judah, would bring them both back into the land, would bless them there so highly that even all the ancient blessing that they had had, namely, the ark of the covenant, which was the grand distinctive feature of David's faith, for which he had made a resting- place on Zion, and which was directly lost after Solomon (for the greater part of the nation then lost the ark, and set up golden calves). So great would be the blessing of the latter day that even what was known under David and Solomon would pass away; and be altogether eclipsed by the still brighter glory of the whole united people in the latter day; and from that time they should never depart from the Lord again.
Now it is perfectly plain that there has not been even an approach to the accomplishment of these national blessings. They are still entirely future. What was known after the Babylonish captivity was the return of a mere handful of the Jews with a few straggling Israelites. So far from that amounting to what had been known under David and Solomon, they never had so much as an independent kingdom; they never had even so much as was known under the most shameful of the sons of David - the Manassehs, the Zedekiahs, the Jehoiakims, the Jehoiachins. All these disgraceful representatives of the royal family were men of great importance, and the state, too, had a measure of independence entirely beyond what was known after the return from captivity.
Here, contrariwise, the prophet speaks of a state surpassing all that had been known under their best monarchs, and as to its being the gospel or that which we know now under Christianity, there is not the slightest resemblance. "At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of Jehovah" (Jer. 3: 17). Now that is not the gospel. The gospel is not the throne of Jehovah. The throne of Jehovah means the governmental power, according to His name, Jehovah, put forth over the whole earth. Jeremiah promises this, and Zechariah (Jer.14) also shows us very distinctly the character of that throne. There are to be no idols; there are to be no rivals: the name of Jehovah is to be the one universal name owned and honoured over the whole earth.
At that time, Jeremiah says, Jerusalem shall be called the throne of Jehovah. Further, "all the nations shall be gathered unto it." What popery has sought under the gospel, namely, to set up a universal spiritual monarchy, will be really done under the only one that is entitled to it, namely, the Lord Jesus. He will have this kingdom upon the earth, Jerusalem His centre, and all the nations His sphere. At the same time, He will have the heavens, and the new Jerusalem will be the metropolis. His will be the renewed universe of God, that is, the heavenly city and glory above, while the earthly Jerusalem will be the centre upon the earth.
Thus, we see that the peculiarity of that glorious time will be not the heavens only for the soul, nor the earth only for men in their bodies, but the heavens and earth both put under the reign of the Lord Jesus, and Christ the acknowledged Head of all things heavenly and earthly, the church reigning with Him in the heavens, and the Jewish people placed under Him here below.
This is what is described here, at least, the latter part. We must have recourse to the New Testament in order to see the former part of it, that is, the heavenly part. The earth is always the grand subject of Old Testament prophecy, and indeed of all prophecy in general, but the New Testament shows also the heavens as they are to be under Christ.
Jeremiah 4 pursues the moral pleadings with the people. "If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith Jehovah, return unto Me." And then comes the call that God could not be satisfied with outward forms. "Circumcise yourselves to Jehovah, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it." You observe the peculiarity. It is the Jew particularly that comes into the scope of the prophet with regard to his moral unfitness for the blessing of God.
So he says later on in the chapter, "The lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way"; - (referring to Nebuchadnezzar) - "he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant." "And it shall come to pass at that day, saith Jehovah, that the heart of the king shall perish, and the heart of the princes; and the priests shall be astonished, and the prophets shall wonder." No power will be found anywhere because God was forsaken.
"Then said I, Ah, Lord Jehovah! surely Thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall have peace; whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul." In verse 14, he appeals to Jerusalem to repent: "O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?" Then later (verses 19, 20), he shows his intense grief over these troubles and destructions that were accumulating against Jerusalem: "My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Destruction upon destruction is cried."
So mighty are the coming disasters that in the vision before him we are reminded of the chaotic state of the world set out in the very beginning of Genesis. "I beheld the earth, and lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of Jehovah, and by His fierce anger." All this was a vision of the trouble that was hanging over the Jews, and, in fact, over the nations generally. This prophecy goes far beyond what Nebuchadnezzar inflicted, and includes retributive judgments still future.
This subject of judgment is pursued in Jeremiah 5, while the prophet still shows the frightful moral condition of Jerusalem, and he warns them of the penalties about to come: "How shall I pardon thee for this? thy children have forsaken Me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses. They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbour's wife. Shall I not visit for these things? saith Jehovah" (verses 7-9).
And the worst phase of the national evil was that not merely a certain portion of the people were guilty, but "a wonderful and horrible thing," he says, "is committed in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and My people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?" (verses 30, 31).
Thus all the springs of moral rectitude were corrupted; and consequently it was plain that nothing but judgment could come to them from the Lord.
This subject is continued to the end of Jeremiah 6. Jeremiah calls upon the nations to hear his message: "Therefore hear, ye nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth: behold I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto My words, nor to My law, but rejected it. To what purpose cometh there to Me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country?" Their ceremonies were vain hopes to stay the judgment. "Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto Me. Therefore thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will lay stumbling-blocks before this people, and the fathers and the sons together shall fall upon them; the neighbour and his friend shall perish." At the same time, the prophet's heart is full of sorrow for the nation. "O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation: for the spoiler shall suddenly come upon us" (verse 26).
In Jeremiah 7 he begins another strain. He takes up the temple itself, and shows that the tide of evil in Judah had completely polluted the very sanctuary of Jehovah. Moreover, in the midst of their peril, they were trusting not in God nor in His word, but in lying words of their own that the outward forms would be a sufficient stay against the destroying Gentile. "Trust ye not" therefore, he says, "in lying words, saying, The temple of Jehovah, The temple of Jehovah, The temple of Jehovah, are these. For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever" (verses 4-7).
And he shows them that their boast in an uninterrupted succession of national privilege was a vain trust. This false confidence was quite as strongly the notion of the Jews as it has ever been of papists and others in Christendom. The delusion was equally destructive to them as it will be to Christendom. There is nothing more certain to bring destruction upon Christendom than the notion of an indefectible security.
I do not mean security for the soul, for the believer. This assurance is quite right. We cannot too strongly hold the eternal life of the believer; but to apply to the state of Christendom the notion that it will go on indefectibly when God, on the contrary, has warned us in His word that Christendom will fall just like the Jewish state before it is to be caught by the wiles of the wicked one. Such a notion is precisely the delusion by which Satan brings about its total departure from God.
What is perfectly true for the soul in Christ is thoroughly ruinous for the general collective state in religion. There is nothing finer than the faith that gives God credit for grace to the soul; but there is no greater pit of delusion than to predicate generally of the apostate state of things in Christendom what is only true of and for the individual soul; because the one is real genuine faith, and the other is most arrogant and lofty presumption, which God will judge.
Now this is precisely the moral of Jeremiah 7. And the prophet makes his text, so to speak, to be the fact that Shiloh had lost its prestige. Shiloh was the place where the tabernacle was originally set up in the land (verse 12). What was Shiloh now? God had profaned it: and God would do the very same thing where the ark was now placed, where the sanctuary was in Jerusalem. Impossible that God should bind Himself to maintain an empty form. He would no longer sustain what was a beautiful figure of His truth, when the state of the people and of the priests was the most offensive evil under the sun in His eye. The greater the truth, the blessing, or at any rate the privileges, that had been accorded to the Jewish people and their priests, the greater the wickedness of their insults to His holiness in His own temple.
Hence, therefore, so far from the temple being their strong fortress against the judgments of the king of Babylon, the temple would be the main point on which all these judgments would converge, and if the city of Jerusalem, in general, would be destroyed by him, the sanctuary would suffer most of all. And we find that the house of God was precisely the great object of the invader's desire; for there was an instinctive feeling of animosity among the Gentiles against this temple where Jehovah had placed His name. They knew right well what Jehovah had done in times past by the overthrow of the nations. The question was whether Jehovah would allow His temple to be plundered now, and the name of Jehovah, as it were, to be razed from the earth.
The campaign by Babylon against Jerusalem was a great venture. What had Jehovah not done to Pharaoh? What had He not done to the kings who attacked the children of Israel in the wilderness and in the land? Thus, no doubt, there was a certain tremor and qualm in the midst of the enemies of Judah. The destruction of the ten tribes by the Assyrian, no doubt, encouraged the king of Babylon to go forward, but still there must have been a certain anxiety till the thing was done.
And it was precisely this vain confidence in the past that supported the Jews. They assumed that such a thing as the conquest of Jerusalem could never be, and that whatever might be their faults God would never allow them to go completely down into the ditch. But this Jehovah did, and He allowed the Gentile to triumph thoroughly over them and over His own sanctuary. But then the very prophets that show the judgment that was coming proclaim the deliverance and restoration that will certainly follow in due time.
Now we live in a state of things where this ultimate recovery is not believed. The reason why men in general in Christendom do not now believe in the restoration of Israel - there are individuals of course who believe it - but the reason why there is general scepticism about the return and restoration of Israel and the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a scene of glory for the Lord, is this: there is an instinctive sense that the blessing of Israel supposes the judgment of Christendom; for if Christendom goes on it is impossible that this reinstatement can take place.
And this view is quite true. There cannot be the restoration of the Jews without the complete judgment of Christendom, because God cannot have two corporate witnesses at the same time on the earth. And if the present witness becomes apostate then God will judge it, and when the judgment has taken place, then He will restore His ancient people. Such is the declared order of Scripture.
Well, naturally, those who consider this judicial overthrow of Christendom an impeachment of their honour, and who shrink from the unwelcome thought of the judgment of the present state of things, are reluctant to hold that God has such a bad opinion of what is being done in Christendom now. Consequently, they fight against this truth to the last, and the way in which their opposition shows itself is by denying the coming of the Lord to the earth in judgment, and consequently the restoration of the ancient people of God.
But the New Testament is perfectly explicit that what these prophets of old maintain is true and divine. What the Old Testament declares, the New Testament does not weaken, but establishes and seals. And the moral reason why the Old Testament will in due time be verified is because the New Testament also discloses that the final result of the gospel will be the setting up of the man of sin (2 Thess. 2). This will be, of course, the result of the gospel abused, perverted, corrupted.
Now this conclusion of the present day of privilege is nothing at all harsh on God's part. Many say, "What an awful end!" No doubt it is. But the corruption of the best thing is always the worst corruption, and therefore it is of necessity that if the corruption of the law of God ended in such a state as God judged by the Assyrian of old and the Babylonian, sweeping both parts of the people into captivity, the result of the corruption of the gospel in Christendom will end in a still more fiery judgment, still more sorrowful to contemplate.
This judicial period is what is spoken of in scripture as the great tribulation when both Jew and Gentile must endure a retributive dealing by God, when, finally, He will put down the pride of man both in Judaism and Christendom and then bring in a blessing - a time of blessing when the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea.
When a dispensation is diverted from its proper character because the people of God are unfaithful to their responsibility, it is no longer a question with them of maintaining its outward forms in their original integrity, because they are invalidated in practice by this departure from the truth. And with the faithful, it is a question of falling back not upon something new but upon whatever is harmonious with the confession of the ruined state.
We must always be in the truth of a state of things, as before God. For instance, if I am a sinner I cannot be blessed unless I take the place of a sinner; and, in like manner, if the outward dispensation is ruined I cannot be fully blessed unless I recognise and feel the ruin. If I think that everything is prosperous when God is preparing to judge, it is plain that I am out of communion with Him, perhaps not as regards my own soul but as regards the general state of things.
The moral difference involved is that when things are all right and smooth at the beginning of a dispensation the duty of a man is faithfully to throw himself into everything when everything is good; but when things are corrupted it is his duty to separate himself from what is corrupt and only to continue with what bears the stamp of the Spirit of God upon it. That is the difference. You will find that in every dispensation outward forms always fall into the hands of deceivers, because an outward form is easily copied and easily maintained. Hence the priests and the false prophets were the persons in Judah and Jerusalem that kept up the name of zealousness for the law, and on this ground they claimed the allegiance of the people.
These are the persons against whom the faithful are warned by Jeremiah and the prophets. So, in the same way, there is no doubt at all that supposing Christendom is to continue uninterruptedly as a religious system the people that have the greatest claims are the Papists, and therefore if Christendom is indefectible we ought all to be Papists. But it is plain that the conscience and spirituality of every believer revolt against such an appalling thought. We all feel that it is impossible that the God of truth and grace should bind us to worship the Virgin Mary or the saints and angels and so on.
We feel that the Papists are idolaters, and we are quite right. They are idolaters, and they are worse idolaters than pagan idolaters, for if it is a bad thing to worship Jupiter and Saturn it is a far worse thing to worship the Virgin Mary. I cannot take knowledge of the Virgin Mary unless I know that she is the mother of the Lord, and knowledge of the Virgin Mary supposes the knowledge of Mary. Therefore I have the knowledge which ought to guard me against worshipping the Virgin. The very fact of knowing that the Virgin Mary was the mother of Christ ought to preserve me from Mariolatry. Therefore, I think that, of all idolatries that have ever been under the sun, the idolatry of the Church of Rome is the vilest.
It may be asked whether the ruin of the church is generally known and considered. It is not, because a great many of God's children have never fairly faced the matter. They think when they hear of the ruin of the church, or of Christendom, that it means somehow that God has not been faithful to His promises, whereas it is no question at all of fidelity to promises. Fidelity to promises goes with faith not with forms; but so far from despising forms the reason why I never could stand the kind of thing that is common in Christendom now was that I would not give up the forms of God's word.
For instance, take a congregation choosing a minister. Well, I never could be a Dissenter for that reason, because that is the invariable plan. I know there are many Dissenters who think the same thing; Isaac Taylor who wrote The Natural History of Enthusiasm and other books was one. He was a congregational deacon, and he wrote a book on this subject.
Scripture provides for the choice of a person to distribute funds. You ought to have confidence in the person who distributes funds or you will shut up your purse, but there is no such idea in God's word as choosing a man to preach. All the great denominations do so; not merely Dissenters, but all sorts of sects.
The whole scheme is out of course. It is wrong in principle. The principle is that he chooses who gives. I give the money and I am allowed to choose a person to be the distributor of it, but I do not give the Holy Spirit to the church, and therefore I must not choose the minister. If God supplies gifts without asking me I am not acting in a proper and becoming way as a Christian in choosing them among my spiritual brothers and sisters.
I own every spiritual person as a brother and sister, and desire grace to behave as such myself. This is perfectly plain, but, of course, just as the relationship of spiritual brothers and sisters is all settled by God's grace and God's will, so much more the appointment of persons to rule or teach or preach. We are not competent to choose. No one is competent. There never was a pretension even on the part of the apostles to do that. The apostles did appoint elders, but it is a mistake to suppose that elders are the same as gifts in the church. There were a great many elders who were not gifts. An elder you cannot have now, for an elder is a direct appointment from the Lord.
I mention this to show that for my own part I am a decided stickler for apostolic forms, and I do not therefore at all hold that one can set up new forms according to his own will. One of the reasons that makes me feel the present ruined state of Christendom is that not only is there unbelief in the authority of the word but there is also an unlawful exercise and assumption of authority without the Lord's having warranted it.
The exercise of man's will in such matters has the deepest possible moral influence on the Christian profession. If you have not the authority of the Lord, you have man's will. I consider that man's will in the things of God is nothing but sin. The whole business of the church and of the Christian is to do the will of God upon the earth. Indeed, there is no reason for us to be on the earth except simply to be the servants of God, and thus we are called to do His will all our life from the time that we are redeemed by blood of Christ. We are not, therefore, allowed by God to do one single thing out of our own heads. I am persuaded that in himself man is incompetent to act aright, and that we need to be guided by the word and by the power of the Spirit of God continually.
Now where the human will is allowed, every evil thing may be the result. When once you bring in the principle of man's will in any one single thing - take, for instance, the choice of a minister by a congregation - you may by the same system vote a cardinal or you may vote a pope. It all rests on the same false principle.
There is, however, ample authority for the present day. There is the standard, and the only one - the word of God. I go upon the assurance that God foresaw the end from the beginning and also every want of the Christian and of the church upon the earth, and that He provided in His word not only for what was then wanted but for all that would be wanted until the Lord comes to receive us up into glory. Then, having confidence in the word of God our first business is to find out what the will of God really is. I discover what His will was when things were right, then I find the direction that He gives when things are wrong. I learn what is the right state of things in what I call the wrong state of the church.
I know that it is thought by some that God has left the mode in which the church is to be governed an open question and that they can change the procedure according to the country or the circumstances. I deny this policy as a first principle, and I say it is false, and not only false, but that it results in the most serious consequences, because the result of it is that I am not divinely guided but I am humanly guided.
I thoroughly hold ministry to be a divine institution, and I do not believe that the ruined state of the church touches ministry in the smallest degree. There are persons over us in the Lord, but the moment you touch the source of ministry, that moment you separate ministry from the principles of the word of God. Now I believe that both the church and ministry are divine institutions, but in order to preserve their divine character they must be regulated by the word of God and not by men's new inventions and shifting ideas.
I contend for the highest antiquity: Iren