Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
Joel 2:12-14. Now, says the Lord, Turn you even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments; and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repents him of the evil. Who knows if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, even a meat-offering and a drink-offering unto the Lord your God?
THE season of Lent has, for many centuries, been set apart in the Church of Christ, for the purpose of promoting in the minds of Christians a deeper humiliation before God, and of preparing them for a more profitable celebration of those mysteries which we commemorate in the Passion-week. The utility of consecrating that season to the end proposed was felt by the fathers of our Church at the time of the Reformation; and they have enjoined on all the members of our community to employ it in a more than ordinary course of penitence and prayer. But, unhappily, the superstitions of the Church of Rome, from which we separated, have excited such disgust in the minds of the generality among us, that we have run to a contrary extreme, so that at this day we put scarcely any difference between this season and the other parts of the year. Our Church expresses a regret that she is not able to enforce the rites of penance on offenders, as the custom of earlier ages had sanctioned: and if, in the stead of penance, we put penitence, I can most cordially unite in that sentiment. For, so entirely are the duties of this season neglected, that it will appear to many strange that we take such a subject as that before us, unless indeed on that day with which the season commences, and which is still observed among us as a public fast. But, in reality, the exhortation before us is suited to all seasons: and therefore, without apology, I will call your attention to it, and set before you,
I. Our duty—
All acknowledge, in general terms, the duty of repentance: and here we are led to contemplate it,
1. In its outward expressions—
"Fasting, and weeping, and mourning," are the proper expressions of penitence in the soul. But "fasting" is grievously neglected among us; and all are ready to excuse themselves from it, as unprofitable to their souls. But why should it not be as profitable to us as it was to the saints of old? Or why should our blessed Lord have given us directions for the performance of this duty, if it were a matter of indifference whether we performed it or not? The truth is, that we are as far from observing those other duties, of "weeping and mourning," as we are that of "fasting:" and hence it is that "fasting" is so little in request among us. Do but call to mind your state before God, my Brethren; and see how rarely, if ever, you have wept on account of your sins; and how rarely, if ever, you have so "looked on Him whom you have pierced by your sins, as to mourn and be in bitterness, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born Zechariah 12:10.": Yet these, so to speak, are only the outward expressions of repentance. Let me call your attention to it,
2. In the inward experience of the soul—
"To rend the garments," however passionately it were done, would be a small matter, if we did not at the same time "rend the heart." But O! what an idea does this convey! We can easily conceive, and see as it were before our eyes, a garment rent: but who can conceive of a heart torn, and rent as it were to pieces, by distress on account of sin? Yet this is the experience of one who is truly penitent and contrite: this is what God requires of us; and anything short of this he will utterly despise Psalm 51:17.
Further than this, God says to us in my text, "Turn you unto me with all your heart, even turn unto the Lord your God." And how shall I represent to you this duty? Methinks it would occupy a long space of time to enter particularly into this part of my subject. But I will set it before you, so that you may comprehend it perfectly, and in an instant. Who among you has ever seen a river that is affected with the tide? At one time you have seen the waters flowing with majestic force towards the ocean; and a few hours afterwards you have seen them returning with equal copiousness towards their fountain-head. This shows how all the powers of the soul have been engaged in the service of the world; and how they are to be employed in the service of our God. It is no partial change that will suffice; it must be entire: and all our faculties, whether of body or soul, which have been used as instruments of sin, must become instruments of righteousness unto God Romans 6:13."
Now think of this, my Brethren: dismiss from your minds those partial views of repentance with which you have hitherto been satisfied; and address yourselves to this duty in its full extent.
And that I may prevail with you, let me proceed to set before you,
II. Our encouragement—
1. From the general character of God—
See God in his own essential perfections: "he is merciful and gracious," and delights altogether in the exercise of mercy towards sinful men. See him also in his dealings with us: how "slow has he been to anger!" Against whom among us might he not have broken forth in anger a thousand times, just as he did against Korah and his company, or against Dathan and Abiram, or Ananias and Sapphira, whom he struck dead upon the spot? View him, also, when ready to execute upon us his wrathful indignation: how often has he, in his answer to the intercession of his dear Son, returned the sword to its scabbard, and "repented of the evil that he thought to do unto us!" And are these no encouragements to repentance? Can you willingly go on to insult so gracious a God, and to provoke him, until his anger break forth without a remedy, and "burn to the lowest Hell?" I pray you, Brethren, "run not thus on the thick bosses of his buckler," and defy him not thus to his face; but fall before him with the deepest self-abasement, and "seek his face while yet he may be found Isaiah 55:6."
2. From the hope which this character inspires—
God, in the preceding context, has threatened to send an army that should lay waste the whole land of Israel; and so destroy it, that the very worship of God should be set aside for want of an offering to present to him. At this day, also, he often visits sin with temporal calamities, until he has reduced us to the greatest imaginable distress. And, in reference to these visitations, it is uncertain whether God will remove them from us on our repentance, or not. David, though pardoned as to his soul, was visited with severe trials in his family. And so may we be visited: nor can we be certain, that, "though God forgive us our sins," he will not "take vengeance of our inventions Psalm 99:8." Yet may we hope for the removal even of these judgments: and "who knows if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him," even such a blessing as shall bring you into a state of sweet communion with your God?
But if the question be put in reference to the remission of sins, and the ultimate enjoyment of Heaven, I will undertake, with reverence and humility, to say, "I Know." Yes, the whole word of God declares that he will return in mercy to the contrite soul; and "blot out our iniquities as a morning cloud," and "remember them against us no more forever." Even though he had given the command for our destruction, yet would he revoke it, even as he did in reference to Nineveh, if he saw us, in penitence and faith, returning to him: and though we had not an hour to live, he would hear our prayer, and take us, like the dying thief, to be with him in Paradise. This hope is founded on his perfections, as set forth in the Holy Scriptures, and on the word of promise which he has given to returning penitents. And therefore I cannot but urge and encourage every one of you to humble yourselves before him, and to "seek at his hands the blessings which he is so ready to bestow."
And now let me ask,
1. Is not this repentance necessary?
Yes, for every one among you. I readily grant, that many of you are free from anything that comes under the character of gross sin: but who among you has not grievously departed from God? Who has not shamefully slighted our blessed Savior? Who has not resisted the motions of the Holy Spirit? Who has not lived for time, rather than for eternity; and to himself, rather than unto his God? Here, then, is reason enough for every one of you to weep and mourn, and to rend your very souls to pieces before God. I entreat, therefore, you who are young, and you also who are moral, to reflect on these things, and to turn to God without delay; yes, to turn unto him with your whole hearts.
2. Are not the considerations with which the duty is enforced sufficient encouragements to the performance of it?
I might have enforced the duty with far different arguments, and "persuaded you rather by the terrors of the Lord" to turn unto him. But I greatly prefer the views of God, as he is exhibited in the text. It is in this light that he is revealed to us in the Gospel; even as coming down to this earth to seek and save us, and to reconcile us unto himself in the person of his dear Son. And these considerations have a far greater tendency to humble the soul; which, if terrified for a moment by the threatenings of the law, is ready, like fused metal, to return in a little time to its usual hardness. "Let, then, the riches of his goodness and long-suffering and forbearance be duly regarded by you; and let the goodness of your God lead you to repentance Romans 2:4."
3. Will not the mercies offered you amply compensate for all the efforts which you may make to obtain them?
Truly, if there were but a "perhaps" that you should find mercy, it were worth all the labor of ten thousand years to obtain it. Think only what it must be, to be monuments of God's righteous indignation to all eternity; and what it must be, on the other hand, to be everlasting monuments of his grace and love. Can you contemplate this alternative, and duly estimate its importance? No: you must go down to Hell, and taste the misery of the damned, and be exalted to Heaven, to enjoy the blessedness of the saints in glory, before you can form any just idea of what is before you, either to be suffered or enjoyed, according as your state shall be found before God. I pray you not to trifle with your souls; but now, while the opportunity is afforded you, "flee from the wrath to come, and lay hold on eternal life." Could you ask of Manasseh, or David, or Peter, or any of the saints, whether they wept too much; you can easily conceive the answer that would be returned you by them. To every one among you then, I say, "Begin, without delay, to sow in tears; and then expect, without a doubt, to reap in joy."
REMOVAL OF JUDGMENTS A GROUND OF PRAISE
Joel 2:26. You shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that has dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.
MOST encouraging is that appellation whereby David addresses the Most High God: "O You that hear prayer!" It is this view of the Deity which alone keeps men from despair, and prevents this sinful world from becoming a counterpart of Hell itself. God does indeed hear the prayer of the poor destitute, and not despise their desire. Of this there is a striking illustration in the passage before us. A plague of locusts had been sent, like an immense army, to destroy the whole land of Israel. The desolation spread by them had reduced the people to the deepest distress. But God encouraged them to humble themselves before him, and assured them, that, on their so doing, he would "be jealous for the land, and pity his people." He even tells them what answer he would give to their petitions, even such an one as should secure to them the removal of all their troubles, and a complete restoration to his favor: instead of perishing by famine, they should "eat and be satisfied;" and instead of being put to confusion by him, they should "never more be ashamed" of their confidence in him.
The words thus explained, will lead us to consider in what light God would have us regard the removal of his judgments: it is to be regarded by us as a call,
I. To more fervent gratitude—
This it is, whether our trials have been,
1. Of a temporal nature—
Temporal judgments, when heavy and of long continuance, are extremely afflictive Here the unprecedented distresses of the year (1816–1817) were spoken of: and any other calamities that may hereafter occur may be mentioned; And the removal of them, whether they have been public or private, social or personal, is a just ground for joy and thanksgiving. In such a dispensation of mercy we may often behold "wonderful" efforts of Divine goodness: and our acknowledgments should be devout and fervent, in proportion to the occasion that calls them forth. As "the very land," and "the beasts of the field," no less than "the children of Zion verse 21–23," were here called upon to rejoice in the mercies given unto them, so should we call forth "all that is within us to bless God's holy name" for the blessings which we now commemorate.
2. Of a spiritual nature—
Spiritual judgments, though less generally felt, are infinitely more grievous, than those which affect only our present interests. Say, you who have been bowed down under a sense of guilt, and the fears of final dereliction, whether this be not a burden too heavy for you to bear? How should you rejoice then, and bless your God, if he has removed it from you! Surely God "has dealt wondrously with you." In providing such means for your restoration to his favor; (the death of his own Son, and the influences of his Spirit;) and in overcoming the reluctance of your hearts, and inclining you to embrace his offered mercy; say, is not this wonderful? May you not behold wonders in every step of your way? Truly then there should be no bounds to your gratitude and love. The frame of your mind should be like that of the pious Hezekiah, "The living, the living, he shall praise you, as I do this day: the fathers to the children shall make known your truth. The Lord was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments, all the days of our life, in the house of the Lord Isaiah 38:19-20."
The removal of his judgments from us is also a call from God,
II. For more entire affiance—
While we are under the pressure of our afflictions, we are ready to think that it is in vain to call upon God. But God assures us that it is not: he tells us that "his people," namely, "those who wait upon him," shall never be ashamed Compare Isaiah 49:23 with the text. They may assuredly expect from him all that they stand in need of. They shall never want,
1. The gifts of his providence—
This is abundantly declared in the Holy Scriptures. "They that fear the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good." There may be want to the lions; but there shall be none to them Psalm 34:9-10. "Those who seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, shall have a due supply of all needful things added unto them."
The extent to which these promises are fulfilled is little understood by those who have much of this world's goods: but by the godly man who exists by his daily labor, it is known and felt. He sees often in his small pittance such "wondrous dealings," as fill him with utter astonishment, and constrain him to cry out as Israel after the passage of the Red Sea, "Who is a God like unto you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders Exodus 15:11."
2. The blessings of his grace—
Where shall we find one contrite sinner whom God ever refused to hear? Never was there one, from the foundation of the world. "Never did God say to any, Seek you my face in vain." Not even a Manasseh, who had filled the streets of Jerusalem with the blood of innocents, was rejected, when once he humbled himself before his God. And our blessed Lord has said without any exception whatever, "Him that comes unto me I will in no wise cast out." "Where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound;" and it shall prove sufficient for our necessities, even though our trials and difficulties be multiplied above the sands upon the sea-shore. The Christian's hope is firm, and "shall never make him ashamed:" for God has said, that "Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation: he shall not be ashamed or confounded, world without end Isaiah 45:17." This is repeated with yet greater emphasis in the verse following my text, in that it is associated with an assurance that his people shall be made sensible of his presence with them, and his relation to them as their God forever and ever. This is the heritage of all who believe in Christ Romans 9:33; Romans 10:11, and make him the one foundation of all their hopes 1 Peter 2:6.
1. Those who are under any trouble—
Whatever be your trouble, give not way to despondency; but betake yourselves to the remedy which God has prescribed, even that of "turning to him with weeping and with mourning and with fasting verse 12." Were it a mere perhaps that God would hear you after a long trial of your faith and patience, it would be quite sufficient encouragement to call upon him verse 14. But his return to you in a way of mercy is sure, if only you seek him in a way of penitential sorrow: for he will be "the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel Joel 3:16." Only pour out your complaints into his bosom, and your prayer shall not go forth in vain. He will give you to eat of the bread of life and be satisfied, and turn all your sorrows into joy Isaiah 61:3.
2. To those who have experienced any great deliverance—
Be not unmindful of your great Deliverer, but praise and magnify him with your whole hearts Isaiah 12:4-6; Learn also to confide in him. Fresh troubles may arise, even heavier than you have ever yet experienced: but there is the same gracious God for you to go unto; and he will hear and answer you, as in the days of old. Nor is it to this world only that he will confine the tokens of his love: he will bear you, as on eagles' wings, throughout all this dreary wilderness; and finally put you into the full and everlasting fruition of the promised land, where neither want nor pain shall be any more experienced to all eternity.
SIGNS OF THE MESSIAH'S ADVENT
Joel 2:28-32. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days, will I pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens, and in the earth, blood and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.
IT is much to be regretted that the obscurities which occur in the prophetic writings (especially those of the lesser prophets) deter many from reading so large a portion of the inspired volume. If there are some parts hard to be understood, there are some parts plain and highly instructive: and the very figures, which from their boldness and sublimity appear intricate, will be found easy and intelligible, through the light reflected on them in the New Testament. The passage before us would, on a cursory perusal, be deemed incapable of any sober construction, or, at least, of any proper application to ourselves: but it plainly declares to us,
I. The signs of the Messiah's advent—
Numberless were the signs by which the world were taught to know the true Messiah: we here notice only two:
1. The effusion of his Spirit for the conversion of his elect—
The Spirit in preceding ages had been given to those of the Jewish nation only, and to but few even of those, and in a scanty measure; but was "afterward," that is, in the times of the Messiah, to be "poured out" abundantly, on Gentiles as well as Jews, and without any distinction of age, gender, or quality, the meanest as well as the greatest being chosen to participate this benefit. This was literally fulfilled, as Peter affirms, on the day of Pentecost Acts 2:16-21. We must not however limit the operations of the Spirit to the imparting of miraculous gifts: the terms used by the prophet import, that they who should receive the Spirit should be so instructed in the mind and will of God, as to be led to "call on" the Messiah, and enjoy "the deliverance" which he was coming to effect. Nor must the prophecy be confined to the apostolic age: for Peter also testifies that the promise is to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call Acts 2:39.
2. The execution of judgments for the punishment of his enemies—
As an Apostle has explained the former part of the text, so has our Lord himself that which now presents itself to our view Matthew 24:7; Matthew 24:29 and Luke 21:11; Luke 21:25. The immediate subject, to which these figurative expressions refer, is the destruction of Jerusalem: nor, whether we consider the prodigies that accompanied the siege See Doddridge's note on Acts 2:19, or the devastation and bloodshed occasioned by the Roman armies, are they too strong to represent the scenes which occurred in that devoted city. But those calamities were only shadows of infinitely heavier judgments that shall fall on the ungodly in the last day Our Lord so blends the two events together in Matthew 24. that it is not always easy to determine to which of the two his expressions are to be referred. Then, while "the heavens pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat, and the earth and the works also that are therein are burnt up," will all the despisers of the Messiah wail because of his wrath and fiery indignation 2 Peter 3:10 with Revelation 1:7. It is indeed in the former sense only that this can be a sign to convince the world at present; but in the latter sense it will hereafter be a demonstration to the whole universe, that all which had been spoken of Christ was true.
To encourage a pledge expectation of the Messiah, the prophet declares,
II. The blessedness of those that believe on him—
The subjects of the Messiah's kingdom are characterized as "calling upon his name"—
To call upon Christ is, to give him all that honor and worship that are due to the Supreme Being. This was done by the first martyr, Stephen, and by all the Christian Church Acts 7:59 and 1 Corinthians 1:2. It was that which rendered them so odious to the Jews Acts 9:14; Acts 9:21, and so distinguished among the Gentiles Pliny, in his letter to the Emperor Trajan, stating for his information the conduct of Christians, says, "they met on certain days before it was light to sing a hymn to Christ as God." And, at this hour, it justly describes all those who are endued with the Spirit. All, without exception, regard Christ as the only source of life and salvation, and depend on him for daily supplies of grace and strength: "the life which they now live in the flesh, is altogether by faith in the Son of God."
Nor shall any of that description ever experience the calamities that were foretold as coming on the ungodly world—
The "deliverance" mentioned in the prophecy before us, doubtless referred primarily to the escape of the Christians from Jerusalem, while the Jews, hemmed in on every side, were reduced to the greatest miseries. But we must extend our views to a more important deliverance, even from sin and Satan, death and Hell: it is from these that the sincere follower of Christ will be saved, while all who reject him will perish under the displeasure of an incensed God. In this view Paul quotes the very words before us, expressly applying them to Christ as the object of our worship, and confining the blessings of salvation to those who call upon him Romans 10:12-13. At the same time we must observe that none who comply with this direction are excluded; "Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord," whatever he may have been, or whatever he may have done in times past, provided he call in sincerity and truth, shall find the Lord rich in mercy towards him.
This subject will be found of use,
1. To confirm our faith against the cavils of infidels—
There have been in every age some, who have rejected Christianity as a cunningly devised fable. But we would ask, Was the effusion of the Spirit predicted? or could the accomplishment of that prediction be counterfeited? Was the destruction of Jerusalem foretold? Did Jesus apply the very words of our text to that event, and declare that they should be accomplished before that generation should pass away? And did this also happen within the time specified, attended with such prodigies as strictly corresponded with the terms of this prophecy? Then Christianity must be of divine original; Jesus must be the true Messiah; and salvation must be, as he has declared, through faith in him. Let us then "never be moved away from the hope of the Gospel," but "hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering."
2. To vindicate our experience against the calumnies of scoffers—
St. Peter adduces this passage in vindication of those who had received the miraculous influences of the Spirit; and asserts that, what was profanely imputed to intoxication, was indeed a fulfillment of the words of Joel. Thus scoffers of the present day deride all pretensions to the enlightening and sanctifying influences of the Spirit, and, without any candid examination, impute them to folly or hypocrisy. Our professions of faith in Christ, our simple dependence on him, and assured hope of salvation by him, are also deemed enthusiasm. But if we can say, "This is that which was spoken by the Prophet Joel," or by Peter, or by any other inspired writer, we need not regard their calumnies. If it was said to the apostles, 'You are drunk,' we may be content to have it said of us, 'You are fools.' Let us then seek more and more earnestly the operations of the Spirit, and be daily calling on the Lord Jesus for grace and mercy: so shall our experience accord with the sacred oracles, and our deliverance be completed, when the sufferings of infidels and scoffers shall commence.
THE FINAL JUDGMENT REPRESENTED BY THE HARVEST
Joel 3:13. Put you in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.
THIS is a remarkable prophecy of the destruction of God's enemies. The prophet summons the executioners of vengeance to come up against them The valley of Jehoshaphat, or of decision, to which they are summoned, verse 12, 14. seems to be not any particular place: It may rather be considered as an allusion to the utter destruction which his enemies (the Syrians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Grecians, and Romans) should successively bring on each other. And it may have a further reference to the destruction of Antichrist, and of the wicked at the last day. They are represented as a field of corn; the command is given to cut them down; and the prophet instantly sees them fall; "multitudes," etc. Our Lord delivers a parable resembling this in reference to the whole world. In a similar manner we shall improve the passage before us, by inquiring,
I. What it is that ripens men for the great harvest—
There is a ripeness to which every one must attain. The wicked have a measure of sin which they must fill up Genesis 15:16; the righteous have degrees of holiness for which they are reserved Ephesians 4:7; Ephesians 4:13. Not that there is any general standard either of sin or holiness to which all persons must attain: There is no degree of sin to which any shall be impelled against their will; nor of holiness, which any shall be prevented from surpassing. But some are kept from more sin, and others are excited to more holiness, by the preventing of assisting grace of God; for sinners would commit more sin unless prevented, and saints attain less holiness unless excited; there are growing in the great field of the world both tares and wheat; and both are ripening for their proper end.
Sin is ripening some for vengeance—
It unfits the soul for the enjoyment of God. It renders a person meet for destruction As dry wood for the fire. See Luke 23:31. It creates many horrors, which are foretastes of Hell itself.
Holiness, on the other hand, is ripening others for glory—
It unfits the soul for the society of the wicked. It induces a "fitness for the heavenly inheritance." It is a source of joys which shall be consummated in glory.
The Holy Scriptures enable us to discern,
II. What are the marks of our being ripe—
Nothing can be more awful than the thought that a sinner is ripe for everlasting misery. Yet it may be justly apprehended that he is so,
1. When he is given over to a total insensibility—
Custom in sinning will harden the heart and sear the conscience. When a person is arrived at such a state, he is fitted for destruction. This is both figuratively Hebrews 6:8 and plainly Proverbs 29:1 declared in the Scriptures.
2. When he continues willfully in sin against conviction—
There are some who determine to hold fast their sins. These have reason to think that God's Spirit will be taken from them Genesis 6:3. They may expect to be utterly given up to their own lusts Romans 1:28 Ezekiel 24:13-14.
Saints, on the other hand, may be judged ripe for glory,
1. When they simply rely on the Lord Jesus—
We fix upon the lowest marks of true grace. Faith in Christ is exercised by the weakest saint. yet to that is eternal happiness annexed John 3:36. Of consequence, he who possesses it must be fit for glory.
2. When they sincerely desire to be conformed to his image—
There is a great difference in the attainments of different Christians, and much allowance must be made for a difference in their respective advantages; but all desire to be "holy as God is holy." "Vessels thus sanctified are meet for their Master's use 2 Timothy 2:21.
While space is yet allowed us, it becomes us to consider,
III. What shall be done when we are ripe—
When the corn has attained maturity, the sickle is put to it; thus, when our measure of sin or holiness is complete, we shall be reaped down—
Our existence in the world is entirely dependent upon God Psalm 31:15." None can shorten or protract it beyond its appointed bounds Job 14:5.
The saints will be "gathered into the garner of their Lord"—
Saints, at their departure, ascend immediately to God Luke 23:43; but in the day of judgment their bodies also will rise. They shall then be carried to their eternal home.
The wicked will be "bound in bundles, and cast into the fire"—
They, who die in sin, immediately sustain their just punishment Luke 16:23; but at the last day their bodies also shall be restored to life. Then shall they too be collected by the ministry of angels, and receive their final doom in fire unquenchable.
1. Those who are ripening for destruction—
You may easily discern your real state, but who can express the misery of it? You ripen, however involuntarily, every day. Notwithstanding your security, you will quickly fall. The great gardener will easily distinguish you from the saints; and he will most assuredly, yes, eternally, separate you from them. But, through the mercy of God, you may yet be changed. Though you be tares at present, God can make you wheat 2 Corinthians 5:17. Seek then this divine change before it be too late.
2. Those who are ripening for glory—
What thanks do you owe to God for his distinguishing grace! And how well may you be reconciled to the afflictions of life! There is no event which does not promote your maturity. Look forward then for the blessed period of the harvest. Reflect on the happiness of the state for which you are preparing No Wintry blasts, no scorching suns, no worm at the root, etc. Still seek the showers of the Spirit, and the influences of the Sun of Righteousness. Thus shall you, in due season, be transmitted to the mansions of eternal bliss.
Joel 3:18. It shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the House of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim.
THE return of the Jews to their own land at some future period seems to be predicted so plainly and so frequently, that no reasonable doubt can be entertained respecting it. As for their future conversion to the faith of Christ, that is absolutely certain. But previous to their final settlement in their own land, there will be a violent contest with them in Palestine: but their enemies will be defeated with great slaughter: and after that will the long-wished-for period arrive, when all, both Jews and Gentiles, shall turn unto the Lord, and all "become one fold, under one Shepherd."
Had the metaphorical expressions "of the mountains dropping with new wine, and the hills flowing with milk" been used alone, we might have supposed that the prediction related only to temporal prosperity, and the restoration of Canaan to that measure of fertility which it possessed in the days of old: but "the fountain coming forth from the House of the Lord" must have a spiritual import; and consequently the whole passage must be understood as designating and describing the Millennial period.
From this sublime passage we shall take occasion to consider,
I. The blessings of that day—
The terms under which these blessings are set forth, will lead us to notice,
1. Their richness and variety—
There are no terms whatever that can give us a sublimer idea of the Gospel than these: its blessings are here represented as most reviving and comforting, most salubrious and nutritious, suited to every age, and every condition of the human race.
Let us contemplate them a moment. Reconciliation with God through the blood of the cross, is the first that obtrudes itself upon our notice: and O! who can tell how refreshing this is to a weary heavy-laden soul? With this, peace is introduced into the conscience, even that "peace of God which passes all understanding." Friendship being thus cemented between God and man, the person who was until lately an enemy to his God, and an object of his everlasting indignation, is now adopted into his family, and enabled to look up with a spirit of adoption, crying Abba, Father! To the Lord Jesus Christ he now looks as his friend and his beloved; and to the Father he draws near with confidence, saying "O God, you are my God!" Now he has access to God at all times, with a liberty to pour out his heart before him, and an assurance that "whatever he shall ask shall be done unto him." Now also he enjoys an union with the Lord Jesus Christ, even such an union as a branch has with the vine, or a member with the head: and, by means of that union, he receives constant communications from the fullness that has been treasured up for him in that living Fountain of all good. The Holy Spirit is now poured out upon him as a Comforter, and is imparted in all his sanctifying operations, to mortify all his corruptions, and to transform him into the Divine image. Assured prospects of glory are now opened to him, so that he has both the earnest and foretaste of his heavenly inheritance. But where shall we end, if we attempt to enumerate one hundredth part of the blessings which the Gospel makes over to us, and which are here characterized as "hills flowing with milk, and mountains dropping down new wine?" Suffice it to say, that all the blessings of the everlasting covenant, all that Christ has purchased by his blood, and all that are made over to us in the exceeding great and precious promises, all are ours, if we are Christ's The blessings here enumerated should not be treated distinctly and separately, but collectively; and at the close of them, a few observations should be made on their richness and variety; But to declare fully their richness and variety exceeds the powers of any finite intelligence.
2. Their universality and abundance—
These blessings will not be so limited as they now are, either in the measure of their communication, or the objects on whom they are bestowed: they will "flow" in all the abundance of the most majestic "rivers," and that even "to the valley of Shittim;" which being situated on the borders of Moab, and the shores of the Dead Sea, may well be considered as characterizing the most distant and barren places of the earth. There shall not be a human being to whom its blessings do not extend: for "all flesh shall see the salvation of God." The high and the low, the rich and the poor, shall equally be partakers of them; for "all shall know the Lord, from the least to the greatest." "Kings will be the nursing-fathers of the Church, and queens her nursing-mothers:" and with "the lofty firs and pines shall be united the humble box, to glorify the house of God's glory, and to make the place of his feet glorious Isaiah 60:13." So universal shall be the reign of Christ on earth, that "holiness to the Lord shall be written upon the bells of the horses" which the peasants use in agriculture: the smallest vessel in the sanctuary shall be as highly sanctified as the largest; and "there shall no more be the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Hosts Zechariah 14:20-21." "All in that day will be righteous;" and so righteous as to need no addition to their happiness from any creature-comforts: "The sun shall be no more their light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto them; but the Lord shall be unto them an everlasting light, and their God their glory Isaiah 60:19-22." It is not in respect of universality only that "the knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea," but of depth also; for "the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun seven-fold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord binds up the breach of his people, and heals the stroke of their wound Isaiah 30:26."
O glorious period! "May the Lord hasten it, in His time!"
While we behold such a period predicted, it becomes us to consider,
II. Our duty in the prospect of it—
This is doubtless,
1. To help it forward by all possible means—
God works by means: and, however fixed the times and the seasons may be in the Divine mind, it is by the use of means that he will accomplish these most glorious events. The first advent of Christ was proclaimed by his Forerunner, John the Baptist, who by his ministrations "made ready a people prepared for the Lord." And we in like manner are to act as heralds and harbingers of the Messiah's second advent. As pioneers, we are to prepare his way. By us must his path be leveled, to facilitate his march: we must go before him, to "prepare his way, to make strait in the desert a highway for our God." Through the instrumentality of men "shall every valley be exalted, and every mountain and hill be made low; and the crooked be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord be revealed, and all flesh see it together:" yes, "by a voice crying in the wilderness shall all this be done: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it Isaiah 40:3-5 with 62:10–12."
Is it asked then, What shall we do to advance this glorious work? I answer, God has already gone out before us, and shown us what to do. The Societies which, by his gracious providence, have already been established, show in what line we may direct our efforts to the best advantage. The Bible is now translating into the different languages of men, and circulating to the ends of the earth: that is obviously the first and most important method of diffusing the knowledge of of salvation through the world. Mission Societies also are in full activity, sending forth pious men to preach the everlasting Gospel, and to explain to the benighted nations of the earth the glorious mysteries which are there revealed. At last, too, attention begins to be paid to that "people, wonderful from their beginning hitherto," the lost sheep of the House of Israel. They are the people spoken of more especially by the prophet, in the preceding context; and they are the people whom God will make use of for the bringing in the period described in our text: "the fullness of the Jews will be the riches of the world;" and "the receiving of the Jews will be to the whole world as life from the dead Romans 11:12; Romans 11:15." To aid these Societies, therefore, and to unite our efforts with them, and especially by prayer to bring down the Divine blessing upon them, is the most effectual way we can take to accelerate the arrival of that glorious day. And, if we should not live to see the temple raised ourselves, we shall at least have the satisfaction of having provided materials for it, and contributed towards it to the utmost of our power.
2. To seek the foretaste of it in our own souls—
All these blessings are to be enjoyed now, as well as at the period before referred to. They are all promised to us under the very same images: "Ho! every one that thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money; come you, buy and eat; come, buy wine and milk, without money, and without price Isaiah 55:1." This invitation is given to all without exception: "Whoever will, let him come, and take of the water of life freely Revelation 22:17." Nor is it in small measure only that these blessings may be now possessed: for our Divine Master says, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink; and out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water John 7:37-38." Let those who desire these blessings be in as unfavorable a state as "the valley of Shittim," they have no need to be discouraged on that account: for "God will open for them rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: he will make the wilderness a pool of water, and dry land springs of water Isaiah 41:17-18." What hinders then, but that we should partake of all those mercies ourselves? If we really believe, as all profess to do, that the enjoyment of them will exalt man so highly in the latter ages of the world, and bring down, as it were, a Heaven upon earth, surely we should now aspire after a foretaste of that heavenly feast; and "not give rest unto our God Isaiah 62:1; Isaiah 62:7," until he "bring us to his banqueting-house, and until his banner over us be love Son. 2:4." To entertain an idea of the Millennium being a state of inconceivable felicity, and not to seek those graces and consolations which constitute its happiness, is a grievous inconsistency. Let all then be consistent: and now take their portion at that glorious feast which is spread for them in the Gospel, even "the feast of fat things, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined Isaiah 25:6. The particulars of pardon, peace, etc. may be here again touched upon.
1. To those who think of religion as a source of melancholy—
Does it wear that aspect in the passage before us? or can language be found to depict it in more lovely colors? Truly, if the transformation of a wilderness into the garden of the Lord be a joyful change, then is religion a source of unmingled joy and blessedness. But it may be said, that repentance and mortification of sin are painful works. True; but whence do they proceed? not from religion, but from sin, which must be repented of, and must be mortified. We are diseased, and must be cured, before we can enjoy health in our souls. If we were diseased in body, and needed a painful course of medicine, or the amputation of a limb, would any one ascribe our pains to health? Health would supersede the necessity of such a process: and when the soul is brought to the enjoyment of God's presence, and the possession of his image, it shall "have beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness": Let this erroneous notion then be put away; and let religion be regarded in its true light, as an anticipation and foretaste of the heavenly bliss.
2. To those who profess to regard religion as a source of joy—
You are correct in your sentiments on this momentous subject; but you must remember, that religion is a source of joy to those only who live near to God, and devote themselves unreservedly to his service. To those who give to God only a divided heart, it can administer no solid comfort. Indeed they are less happy than the ignorant ungodly world; for, while their profession keeps them from enjoying the vanities of the world, their distance from God prevents them from having any delight in him: so that there is nothing but an aching void, or a corroding anguish, in their hearts. O you professors of godliness, either follow not the Lord at all, or "follow him fully." Live near to him, and walk with him, as Enoch did, and you shall never be disappointed of your hope: you shall never find that "he is a wilderness to you;" but you shall have the light of his countenance lifted up upon you, and "your mouth shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, while you are praising him with joyful lips."
But we trust that many do really experience all the blessedness of true piety: and they will need no exhortation to diffuse the blessings which they themselves enjoy. The wine and milk which they find so nutritious and comforting to their own souls, they will gladly impart to others. Combine then, brethren, your energies for that purpose. The whole world, except a small inclosure, is at this hour a wilderness. The Jewish people, with all their advantages, have reduced themselves almost to a level with the Gentile world: for while the Gentiles are "without God," the Jews are "without Christ, and therefore without hope" of ultimate acceptance before God. They believe not that Jesus is their Messiah; and therefore, as Jesus has said, "they die in their sins." O! rise you as one man, and hold out to them the cup of salvation; and labor by all possible means to lead them to the "living Fountain of waters," that they may drink thereof, and live forever.