Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
AN EXHORTATION TO TURN TO GOD
Zechariah 1:3-6. Say you unto them, Thus says the Lord of Hosts; Turn you unto me, says the Lord of Hosts, and I will turn unto you, says the Lord of Hosts. Be not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets have cried, saying, Thus says the Lord of Hosts; Turn you now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings: but they did not hear, nor hearken unto me, says the Lord. Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live forever? But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers? and they returned, and said, Like as the Lord of Hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so has he dealt with us.
TO those who look for novelties, and enjoy nothing but deep and curious speculations, the words before us will appear uninteresting: but to those who love practical religion, they will convey sentiments and feelings worthy to be cherished by every child of man. It is a sickly taste that cannot relish them; and that minister who cannot find in them a proper subject for his discourse, must either labor in a more fruitful part of the Lord's vineyard than any we are acquainted with, or have different views of Christian edification from those which we are accustomed to entertain. Men at this day, as well as in former ages, are departed from God; and need to be exhorted to "turn unto him" in newness of heart and life. They also need the same warnings and the same encouragements, as those did to whom the prophet spoke. We therefore, without thinking any apology necessary for the selection of so plain a subject, (from which nothing can be offered which is not already familiar to all your minds,) proceed to call your attention to this solemn address: in which you may notice,
I. A friendly exhortation—
The Jews, after their return from Babylon, had been extremely remiss in rebuilding their temple; but they were almost instantaneously wrought upon by the preaching of the Prophet Haggai to resume the work which had been intermitted: and on this account God sent them another prophet, who by his exhortations and instructions should encourage them to proceed, and keep alive the zeal which had been kindled in their minds. But where is there not remissness in the work of God? Where is there one who does not need the direction and encouragement here offered? O brethren, hear you the direction; "Turn you unto me, says the Lord of Hosts"—
We have all revolted, and turned aside from God: we have "all gone after vanity, and become vain:" we "have turned every one of us to his own way;" some after their vile lusts and passions; others after the world with all its cares and vanities; others in the more creditable, but not less fatal, way of self-righteous formality. But we should turn to the Lord, to him only, to him entirely, and with the whole heart. We should turn to him in a way of deep contrition for our past offences, of lively faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy and forgiveness, and of unreserved obedience to his commandments. This is the way in which God expects us to turn unto him Jeremiah 3:10; and to this alone does he give any promise of a favorable acceptance Jeremiah 29:12-13."
Hear you also the encouragement; "I will turn unto you, says the Lord of Hosts"—
God is alienated from us, as we are from him; and from us he turns, while in our unconverted state, with wrathful indignation. But, if we "turn to him, he will turn to us:" "if we draw near to him, he will draw near to us:" if we will call upon him in truth, he will hear, accept, and bless us. To the impenitent "he is a consuming fire:" but to the penitent, a Savior and a friend. Search the inspired volume, search the annals of the whole world, and find, if you can, one mourning and believing penitent whom he cast out; or find, if you can, any limit to his mercy and grace. In "turning unto us" is implied not only a reversal of all the judgments which he had purposed to inflict upon us, but a communication of all that a Father's love, and a Savior's grace can bestow—pardon, and peace, and holiness, and glory.
And here it will be proper to notice the frequent repetition of his name, "The Lord of Hosts." Was that repetition without design? No: it is intended to impress on our minds, that, as the message is from him, so is the particular direction stamped with his authority, and the particular promise confirmed by his unchanging truth and faithfulness. It is in the name of the Lord of Hosts that we come; it is the word of the Lord of Hosts that we speak: it is the veracity of the Lord of Hosts that is pledged for its accomplishment.
To this exhortation is added,
II. A beneficial caution—
We are apt to follow the examples of our fathers, and to tread the path which they have trod before us. Not that we so readily conform to the practice of godly parents: their example, though not destitute of weight, finds more than a counterpoise in our evil passions, and in the conduct of those around us: but in justification of our own evil ways we are glad enough to plead the habits and authority of those who have gone before us. This however will be of no avail. Such examples form no precedent for us. The word of God is our rule: and according to that we must walk, regardless of all that others have done, or may do, to establish any other rule. Attend then to this beneficial caution:
Walk not as your disobedient fathers have done—
The generality of those who have gone before us have walked just as the great mass around us do at this time. But a state of worldliness, or sensuality, or carnal indifference was not therefore right, because they lived in it; nor is it therefore safe, because they died in it. In like manner, the conduct of our superiors at this day is no rule for us. If they truly and unreservedly obey the voice of God in his word, cleaving to the Lord Jesus Christ with full purpose of heart, and devoting themselves in body, soul, and spirit to his service, we may follow them: but even then we must not regard them as infallible: we must not follow even Paul himself any farther than he followed Christ: and wherein soever they deviate from the path marked out for them by Almighty God, there we must choose the more perfect way, and adhere exclusively to that which unerring wisdom has prescribed to us, knowing no other rule than that of God's commands.
Doubtless in dubious matters we would recommend much deliberation, and diffidence, and circumspection. We would not have young people setting up their judgment hastily against that of their superiors in age and station: for the young and inexperienced are apt to see things in a very partial light, and not to take a sufficiently comprehensive view of any subject; and hence they often err, when in their own judgment they are most confident that they are acting right. But still the word of God must be your rule: you must try everything by that standard: if what you see, or what is recommended to you, be evidently contrary to that, you must not do it, though it be sanctioned by the authority of the whole world: nor, if a line of conduct be clearly and undoubtedly agreeable to that, must you be diverted from it even though the whole world rose up to oppose you. It is by the word of God that you will be judged in the last day; and therefore by that, and that only, must you be regulated now.
This beneficial caution is further confirmed by,
III. A convincing appeal— "Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live forever?" No: both the one and the other are gone to give up their account to God, and to receive from him their proper doom. Now, whatever they may have thought or done, they know that God's word is true, and that it shall stand forever. But to a certain degree this may be seen even in this world.
Has not the word of God taken hold of multitudes who have gone before us?
Look at the Antediluvian world: were not God's threatenings verified in them? Look at the Jews at the time of the Babylonish captivity: did the word of God fail with respect to them? They put to death their prophets for predicting that captivity; but were the predictions falsified? Were the Jews able to avert, or to escape, the judgments that had been denounced? Look at the Jews at this present time, and compare their state with all the prophecies concerning them, from the time of Moses to that of Christ and his Apostles: has one word fallen to the ground? Has not the word of God found them out? In like manner, if we could go into the invisible world, we should there see, what now we are so unwilling to believe, that not so much as one jot or tittle of God's word has ever failed. Of the unregenerate, not one has entered into the kingdom of God; and of the impenitent and unbelieving, not one has "escaped the damnation of Hell." This is a fearful thought: but, if in no instance that is visible has God's word ever failed, so neither has it, or shall it fail in those which are invisible.
Have not many who have gone before us borne testimony to this truth?
The Jews on many occasions acknowledged it Lamentations 2:17; Lamentations 4:11-12. Daniel 9:11-13, and actually returned to God in consequence of the conviction impressed by it on their minds. In fact, every real penitent is a witness for this truth. He confesses, that his sins have found him out, and that, if mercy interpose not for his deliverance, all the judgments denounced against sin will in due season come upon him. Be convinced, then, while conviction may be of some avail: and wait not to learn, by bitter experience, what now, if credited, you might escape. Let not that come upon you, of which you are forewarned in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The Rich Man would not believe the evil and danger of a carnal life, until he was made to experience its bitter fruits. His surviving brethren, too, who walked in his steps, accounted themselves sure of happiness in the eternal world, when, if a message could have been sent to them from the dead, they would have been better informed Luke 16:27-28. But they had Moses and the prophets; and so have you; yes, and Christ and his Apostles also, all bearing the same testimony. And therefore as unto dying men I would speak; knowing that I myself also am soon to die, and that both preacher and hearers must, in a very little time, appear at the judgment-seat of Christ; I, to give an account of my ministry; and you, of the use you have made of it. I beseech you, receive not the grace of God in vain! In the name of the Lord of Hosts I declare unto you, that, if you will turn unto him in humiliation and faith, he will turn unto you in reconciliation and love; and that, if you will "turn from all your transgressions unto the Lord Jesus Christ, your iniquities, great and manifold as they have been, shall not be your ruin."
GOD THE AVENGER OF SIN
Zechariah 1:5. Your fathers, where are they?
THE preachers of God's blessed word have in all ages had reason to complain, "Who has believed our report?" True it is, that a faithful ministration of the Gospel is, to a certain degree, approved: but it is also true, that the approbation given to it is very different from that entire submission which it requires. The very people that commend the ministry will not obey the word delivered to them. They are pleased with an exhibition of truth; but they do not feel its force, or give themselves up to its influence. But the word of God will stand, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear. Now, that the judgments of God are almost exclusively of a spiritual nature, and therefore invisible, we can only declare what God has spoken: but when the commands of God were enforced with temporal sanctions, the prophets could appeal to what he had done. God had threatened, that if his people were disobedient to his voice, they should be subjected to a great variety of calamities, and be cut off by his four sore judgments— by wild beasts, and pestilence, and famine, and the sword. Hence the prophet exhorted the Jews, after the Babylonish captivity, not to walk in the steps of their rebellious progenitors: and, to convince them of the fatal consequences that would ensue if they despised his voice, he appealed to them, "Your fathers, where are they?" that is, 'Have they not, agreeably to the predictions of former prophets, been made monuments of God's indignation? and have not you, therefore, reason to expect, that, if you resemble them in their disobedience, you will, like them, be made to experience also the bitter consequences of your transgressions?'
The question thus put to them, may be considered in a twofold view:
I. As a devout reflection—
Have those of former generations been able to protract their existence beyond the period allotted to them by Almighty God?
No: however little they might think of death, they were overtaken by it; and, in the appointed season, fell beneath its stroke. Neither the people, nor the prophets who ministered unto them, could "live forever." They had a space assigned to them for the discharge of their respective duties; and when that period had elapsed, they were summoned into the eternal world, to give an account of themselves to the Judge of quick and dead.
And shall we continue here beyond our appointed time?
Not an hour; no, nor a single moment. "Our times are in God's hands:" and, when called by him, we must bid an everlasting farewell to everything here below. A tree, cut down, may sprout again: but man, once dead, can live no more Cite the whole of Job 14:7-10. "However esteemed, however admired, however regretted, he falls to rise no more in this world: he perishes like his own dung," as Job observes; and "they that have seen him in all his glory, shall say, Where is he?" Truly, "his place shall know him no more Cite also Job 20:4-7." Death will show no respect of persons. Whether we be unprepared to meet our God (and therefore desirous of a further respite); or be, like the holy prophets, actively engaged in his service (and therefore desirous of completing our work); we must equally obey the summons of Jehovah; "our bodies returning to their native dust, and our spirit ascending unto Him who gave it."
Let us then reflect on the transitoriness of earthly things, and the certainty of our approaching dissolution—
We have our occupations and enjoyments, even as our fathers had: but how speedily will they pass away, and come to an end! We are apt to be promising ourselves months and years of pleasure; but "we know not what a single day may bring forth." The fate of the Rich Fool may be ours before tomorrow: "this very night may our souls be required of us;" and all the things from which we hoped to reap such a harvest of joy may be delivered over to some unknown possessor.
Truly this is a reflection which we ought to cherish, and on which we should dwell with deep concern: for, until we have learned to estimate the vanity of time, we shall never feel as we ought, the importance of eternity.
Let us next notice the question,
II. As a solemn admonition—
Their fathers had been disobedient, and had despised the warnings of Jehovah: but they were made to feel his righteous indignation, and to acknowledge that he had dealt with them according to their deserts verse 5. In this view the question has the force of a most solemn warning to all who are disobedient to God's commands—
"Your fathers, where are they?" We will not speak of persons, but of characters. Of persons we know nothing: of characters we can speak on the authority of God himself. I ask, then, Can it be supposed that all who have passed into the eternal world are alike happy? Are none saying, "Like as the Lord of Hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways and according to our doings, so has he dealt with us?" Do we believe, or does any one among us believe, that God will put no "difference between those who serve him, and those who serve him not?" We cannot but know, that many, while they were living among us, gave no evidence of real piety: and that, as far as we had any opportunity of judging, or have any just reason to believe, they were never truly and savingly converted to God. Now, our blessed Lord has said, "Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven Matthew 18:3." Is this word true then, or is it not? If it be true, where are they who have died in an unconverted state? If not in Heaven, there is but one other place in which they can be. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we hear of the one as "carried by angels into Abraham's bosom;" and of the other, that, immediately after his decease, he was "in Hell, lifting up his eyes in torments." And such, we are assured, will be the condition of all in a little time, according as they shall be found at the time of death. I know how backward men are to believe this; and how fondly we cherish the delusion, that all, on their departure hence, are happy In the writings of the pious Baxter, a fact, of which he was himself an eye-witness, is adduced, as illustrative of this truth. A flock of sheep being frightened as they were passing over a bridge, one leaped over the side of the bridge: the rest, in succession, having no apprehension of evil having befallen him, followed the example; and found not, until it was too late, how fatally they had been misled. Precisely thus it is that successive generations rush into the eternal world, deceiving and deceived. We will not even admit a thought to the contrary: and perhaps in our whole lives we never had the suggestion seriously proposed to us in reference to any departed soul, "Where is he?" To entertain a doubt of the happiness of any, would be deemed uncharitable in the extreme. But, be it known to you, that, however the wheat and the tares may resemble each other while growing in the field, a different end awaits them: the one is growing for the granary; the other for the fire, which, at their separation in the last day, will assuredly be their doom.
Forcible as the question is when considered generally, it will acquire tenfold importance if we regard it with a special Application of it to our own souls—
1. Where are we?
The general answer to this would be, "I am in a vain and transitory world." This is true. But there is another answer, to which I would wish to draw your attention; and it is this; "I am on Mercy's ground." Could we but view life in this light, what an insight should we have into the great ends of life! We are sinners, condemned sinners, respited for a little season, until it shall be seen whether we will avail ourselves of the overtures of mercy which our God and King has sent us. Regardless of the sentence that has been passed upon us, we are wasting our time in thoughtless gaiety, or spending it in unprofitable pursuits. One and another is led forth to execution; but, not being eye-witnesses of their fate, we continue unaffected by their removal, until we ourselves are summoned to participate their lot. The Rich Man, of whom we have before spoken, had five brethren, who were following the steps which lie had trodden before them, and were hastening unconsciously to the same awful end. So it is with us. We see not the state of those who have gone before us; and we put far from us all thought of the destruction in which their ways have issued, until, by bitter experience, we find that the warnings which have been given us are true.
Remember, then, that the time which is yet allotted us is given on purpose that we may seek reconciliation with our offended God, and avert, by a believing application to the Lord Jesus, the misery that awaits us. If we will consider life in this light, and improve it for this end, we shall be truly happy.
2. Where shall we be in a little time?
This is the question which every one of us should ask from day to day: nor should we ever rest, until we can give to it a satisfactory answer. Let us, then, put it to ourselves with all seriousness at this time. Suppose, by disease or accident, we had been removed, as many others have been who were once as likely to live as we; where should we have been at this moment? Shall we reply, "I do not know?" What! Have we lived twenty, or perhaps twice twenty, years in the world, and left it still in doubt what our portion should be at our departure hence? According to our own acknowledgment, then, it appears that we might at this very moment have been in Hell, writhing in anguish inconceivable, and looking forward to a never-ending eternity of woe. What an overwhelming thought is this! And what madness is it, to leave for one hour longer in uncertainty our acceptance with God! Let us come, then, to our present state: Where should we be, if we were to die this day? Are we prepared to meet our God? Have we washed in the fountain of the Redeemer's blood, and clothed ourselves in the spotless robe of his righteousness? Are we living, from day to day, not to ourselves, but unto him? And is the one object of our lives to advance in our heavenly course, so as ultimately to win the prize? If this be not our state, what but misery could await us, if we were taken hence? Awake, my beloved brethren! awake to your true condition! Can you give sleep to your eyes, or slumber to your eye-lids, in such a state as this? Will not the thought of eternity appal you? If any of your fathers, who have gone before, could be restored for any fixed time to your state, think you that they would trifle away their hours as they once did, and as you now do? or, if permitted to come to you from the dead, would they not speak in far stronger accents than ever you were addressed by me? O! arise, and "redeem the time!" and "what your hand finds to do, do it with all your might."
Let us not, however, close the subject without contemplating the state of those who have "fallen asleep in Christ." "Where are they?" O, how delightful the thought! They are at this moment with Christ in Paradise, and joining with all the hosts of the redeemed in everlasting Hallelujahs to God and to the Lamb. Think then, I say, of their state If this were a Funeral Sermon, here the character and state of the deceased might be drawn, for the comfort and encouragement of survivors; And endeavor so to live, that, at whatever hour your summons may arrive, you may be found ready, and "have an abundant entrance into the presence of your Lord."
CHRIST'S INTERCESSION FOR JERUSALEM
Zechariah 1:12-13. Then the angel of the Lord answered and said, O Lord of Hosts, how long will you not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which you have had indignation these threescore and ten years? And the Lord answered the angel that talked with me with good words, and comfortable words.
TO the ancient prophets revelations were often made by visions. It was in a vision by night that this communication respecting God's designs towards Jerusalem was made to the Prophet Zechariah There were presented to his view "a Man riding upon a red horse, standing among myrtle-trees in a bottom: and behind him a number of others, on red horses, and speckled, and white verse 8." The "myrtle trees in the bottom" represented the Lord's people in a low and debased state. "The Man on the red horse standing among them" was the Lord Jesus Christ (as we shall see more fully in the sequel); and "those on other horses behind him" were angels attendant on him, to execute his will. The prophet, anxious to know who these attendants were, asked the question, and gained from the Man (who is also called "the Angel") the desired information; namely, that they were beings, "whom Jehovah had sent to walk to and fro through the earth," and to bring him intelligence respecting the state of its inhabitants. These attendant angels being then interrogated respecting the result of their inquiries, informed the Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, that "all the earth was sitting still and at rest verse 9–11." Upon this, "the Man," "the Angel," the Lord Jesus Christ, poured forth before his heavenly Father his intercession in behalf of Jerusalem under her present desolate condition, entreating that mercy might at last be given unto her: and by his Father he is "answered with good words, and comfortable words."
The two points then for our consideration are,
I. The Angel's intercession—
"The Angel" is no other than the Lord Jesus Christ—
"The Man," and "the Angel," are evidently the same person, even the Angel of the Covenant, who on many occasions, while he assumed the appearance of a "man," demonstrated himself to be of a superior order of Beings, even an angel, yes, and superior also to all the angelic host, even God himself, who had condescended to take on him the human and angelic appearance, in order to manifest himself to his people in a way suited to the weakness of their corporeal and mental faculties. It was in this way that he appeared to Jacob, wrestling with him as a man, and an angel, yet blessing him as God Compare Genesis 32:24-30 with Hosea 12:3-5. See also Joshua 5:13-15. The Prophet Zechariah also speaks of him in another place as "the Man, that was Jehovah's fellow," or equal Zechariah 13:7.
As the great Advocate of his people, he intercedes for them on all occasions, yes, "ever lives on purpose to make intercession for them:" and in the passage before us he prophetically and mystically proclaimed his future office, which in our nature he should execute at the right hand of God.
His intercession was for the restoration of God's favor to his chosen people—
Though the Jews had returned from Babylon, yet had they not in any degree recovered from the desolations which had been spread through their whole country. The rebuilding of their temple, though begun, had been for some time suspended; and no prospect remained of their recovering their former prosperity, unless God by his special providence should interpose for them, and, by a richer effusion of his grace, stir them up to the exertions that were necessary for the occasion. The time was now particularly favorable: the attendant angels, whom he had sent forth to explore the state of the world, had brought word, "The whole earth was still, and at rest;" and consequently there was no just reason to fear those powerful interruptions which they had hitherto experienced: and, if other nations were prospering, how painful was it to see Jerusalem excluded from participating the blessings which were diffused all around her! Already had she endured the indignation of God during the space of threescore and ten years: it might be hoped therefore, that now, at last, the season was arrived when she should once more experience the blessedness of his favor.
While we contemplate this intercession for the Jews at that period, how strongly are we reminded of our duty towards them at this time, when they have borne the indignation of Jehovah, not for seventy, but seventeen hundred, years; and when, so far from being restored to their country, they are still scattered over the face of the whole earth! The state of peace too which Europe now enjoys, leave us at liberty to seek their welfare in a way which was scarcely practical in the midst of war. Our attention now may be more deeply fixed on them, and our means be more liberally employed in their service. And shall we neglect to improve the opportunity? Shall we see all the nations recovering from their distresses, and feel no desire to impart blessings to God's ancient people, who are still in as disconsolate a state as ever? Does not gratitude to God, and love to immortal souls, demand this at our hands? Methinks the present circumstances of the world afford us an occasion, not unlike to that which the Samaritan woman enjoyed, when conversing with Jesus; who said to her, "If you had known who it is that says to you, Give me to drink, you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water John 4:10. Yes, if we duly appreciated the benefits we now enjoy, we should labor to improve them, for the spiritual welfare of ourselves, and of all around us.
What success we might hope for is manifest from the whole tenor of,
II. Jehovah's answer—
"The Lord answered the Angel with good and comfortable words."
What this answer was, we are afterwards more distinctly informed—
The Angel who had interceded, kept not the answer within his own bosom, but imparted it to the prophet, and commanded him to communicate it to the people, for whom the intercession had been made. In substance it was this; That God had determined to restore Jerusalem; and that, notwithstanding her condition was in appearance hopeless, it should become more prosperous than at any period of her former history. As for those who had oppressed her, or were now at ease and regardless of her welfare, he was "sore displeased with them," and would require it at their hands: but Jerusalem herself should yet become the joy of the whole earth, enriched and comforted with all imaginable blessings verse 14–17.
The promises contained in this answer, doubtless have a primary reference to Judea at that time: but they also look forward to a period yet future, when the Jews shall return from their present dispersion, and be re-established in their own land. A beautiful description of that period is given in a subsequent chapter of this prophecy Zechariah 8:2-8; as also in numberless other passages of Holy Writ See Jeremiah 30:3; Jeremiah 30:9-10; Jeremiah 30:17-22; Jeremiah 31:3-14.
Say now whether these be not "good words, and comfortable words?"
The re-establishment of the Jews in their own land at that time, and the restoration of divine worship in the midst of them, was an unspeakable blessing, for which no adequate thanks or praise could be rendered. But what will their future restoration be? How replete with happiness to them, and with honor to their God! Taken in connection too with their spiritual welfare, and the welfare of the whole Gentile world, which will be promoted by it, how utterly will it surpass all human expectation, and all finite conception! Truly, "the light of the moon will in that day be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun seven-fold, as the light of seven days." Let the promises then that relate to it be "good" in our estimation, and a source of "comfort" to all our souls.
From hence we may see,
1. What encouragement we have to pray for our own souls—
Alas! in what a low state is even the Christian world! Scarcely, if at all, are the generality of Christians in a better condition than the Jews themselves: the same neglect of God, the same worldly and carnal habits, the same indifference to the concerns of the soul, are found among the one as the other. For the most part, we are in the very same predicament as they were previous to the establishment of the Gospel among the Gentiles. They rested in the law, and made their boast of God, and, in consequence of their possessing a revelation of his will, assumed the high-sounding titles of 'guides of the blind, instructors of the foolish, teachers of babes;' and yet, though professing to be teachers of others, they taught not themselves, and, while making their boast of the law, through breaking the law they dishonored God Romans 2:17-24. Thus do we act in relation to the Gospel. We glory over the Jews who are ignorant of the Messiah whom we worship; and yet, in point of pure morality and solid piety, we are not a jot superior to them. Nevertheless, if we implored mercy at the hands of God in the name and for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we should assuredly obtain an answer of peace. O what good and comfortable words does the Gospel contain! What exceeding great and precious promises are there made to every true penitent! Will Christ ever cast out one of this description? Never. Is there to be found so much as one single word in all the Bible that should prove a source of discouragement to such a character? No, not one; on the contrary, if there were but one such being in the universe, God would fix his eyes upon him with pleasure, and press him to his bosom with more than parental kindness. Call then upon Him, whoever you are that mourn your low condition; and know, that, as sure as ever you humblest yourself before God, you shall be exalted in due time.
2. What encouragement we have to intercede for the Church of God—
Whether we contemplate the state of the Jews or Gentiles, we find equal need to importune God in their behalf. Even the Christian world are far from being in that state of purity and blessedness which their superior privileges authorize them to expect. We should therefore lay to heart the state of the world around us: "our eyes should be as a fountain of tears, to run down day and night" in behalf of the myriads who are perishing in their sins. We should implore of God to take to him his great power, and reign among us, and to hasten the season when "all the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ." Our blessed Lord teaches us to make it a part of our daily prayer, and never to approach our God without saying, "Your kingdom come." Did we but thus plead with God from day to day, what might we not hope for? Truly, our prayer should not go forth in vain: nor should it be with "good and comfortable words" only that God would answer us, but with an abundant effusion of his Spirit, as in the days of old. Then should "a little one become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation; for the Lord would hasten it in his time Isaiah 60:22."
GOD THE PROTECTION AND GLORY OF HIS PEOPLE
Zechariah 2:5. I, says the Lord, will he unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.
IF some of the prophecies of Zechariah be dark and intricate, some are peculiarly clear. Such is that in the close of the preceding chapter, respecting "four horns, and four carpenters;"—"the horns" denoting the enemies who had scattered Israel; and "the carpenters," those whom God would raise up for their restoration and protection. To the same effect is the vision of "a man with a measuring-line, going forth to measure Jerusalem;" in order that the city might be re-constructed on its former site, and be of the dimensions which God had previously ordained. As the former vision denoted the removal of all obstacles to this work, this marked its speedy and well-ordered accomplishment. But, as enemies had prevailed against the city before, so, it was feared, they might again: God therefore promises, that, though walls should be constructed, such should be the concourse of people to Jerusalem, that multitudes should live without the walls: yet should they be safe from every enemy, because God himself would be to them both a wall of fire for their protection, and the glory in the midst of them for their honor. What he had been to Israel when coming out of Egypt, that he would be to them again.
But, as the prophecy before us admits of a general application, I shall consider it,
I. In reference to the Jewish Church—
Respecting that, at the time the prophecy was delivered, it must be understood, in the first place—
The Jews, after their restoration, were impeded in their endeavors to rebuild their city and temple; and it seemed as if they would never be able to accomplish it. But God promised that their enemies should not be able finally to prevail; for that he himself would be an effectual protection to them; not only as a wall which might keep off their assailants, but as "a wall of fire," that should devour them: and that his worship should be re-established among them, as in former days; so that they should again, as they had formerly been, become the joy and glory of the whole earth. Through the energy with which the people were inspired, they rebuilt the wall with incredible speed See Nehemiah 4:7-8; Nehemiah 4:13-18; Nehemiah 6:15; and the temple itself also, after many hindrances, was raised; and in some respects, especially by the presence of the Messiah himself in it, the glory of it was made to exceed even that of the former house Haggai 2:9.
But it has a further reference to that Church in the latter-days—
Their future restoration will be opposed with far greater vehemence and malignity than it was after the Babylonish captivity. Great and mighty nations will come against them, to destroy them Ezekiel 38:14-16. But then will God be a wall of fire round about them; and not only will he protect them effectually, but he will spread such desolation among their enemies as has never yet been heard of, from the foundation of the world. When Pharaoh pursued them, God made the Red Sea a wall for their defense, and by that swallowed up all the hosts of Egypt: but when God and Magog shall come up against them, such shall be the extent of the victories that, shall be gained by Israel, that the weapons with which they have been assailed, shall suffice for fire-wood in the whole land, for the space of seven years; and it shall occupy the whole people of the land seven months to bury the slain Ezekiel 39:8-13.
And how exalted shall be the piety of that Church in the latter day, the Prophet Isaiah very fully describes. The 60th chapter of his prophecies is generally understood as referring to the Gentiles: but, beyond all doubt, it relates primarily to the Jewish Church; which will then be so glorious, by reason of God's presence with her, that no earthly distinction can augment her glory: "The sun shall be no more your light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto you: but the Lord shall be unto you an everlasting light, and your God your glory Isaiah 60:19."
But the text may he understood also,
II. In reference to the Church of God in all ages—
To the Church at large, and to every individual in it, God promises,
1. The protection of his providence—
Wonderfully was the Church of Christ preserved in the first ages of its establishment. What but Omnipotence could have kept it, amidst all the assaults which it had to endure on every side? But God had said, that "the gates of Hell should not prevail against it:" and it yet exists, a monument of his Almighty power. And what is every individual believer, but a spark kept alive in the midst of the ocean? Truly, if "He who dwelt in the bush," which, though burning, was not consumed, had not dwelt in us, we must all have been consumed long ago. But the mercy given to the Prophet Elisha has been renewed to us; yes, and is renewed at this very moment, if we had but eyes to see it. There are chariots of fire, and horses of fire, round about us: and it is through their incessant and effectual interposition that no enemy has been able to prevail against us. There is not one of us that is not a witness for God, in this behalf.
2. The blessings of his grace—
What glory was seen in the Church on the day of Pentecost! That out-pouring of the Spirit, by which such miraculous effects were instantaneously produced, and so many souls converted unto God, when was anything like it seen, from the foundation of the world? Such extraordinary manifestations of the Divine glory have, indeed, long since ceased in the Church: but is not God yet present with us? Yes, he is present, as he has said: "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world." Wherever his Gospel is preached with fidelity, there may the lighting down of his arm be seen; there are sinners quickened from their death in trespasses and sins, and enabled to live unto their God in righteousness and true holiness. And are there none here present who can bear witness to this truth? Yes, brethren, I bless God that there are those among you who can bear witness that God is with his Church: and that his word is still, as formerly, the power of God unto salvation! Nor is it only by the manifestations of his love to your souls that God is seen: he has raised up from among you, I trust, many who, by making their light to shine before men, constrain even the ungodly world to glorify him. His people are yet "lights shining in a dark world," and "cities set on a hill." They are still, as heretofore, "epistles of Christ, known and read of all men:" and "God is glorified in them," as he is not in the whole world besides.
How he shall be seen, admired, and glorified in them at the last day, when the whole number of his elect shall be assembled before his throne, every one shining forth in his Savior's image, I forbear to say. But, in a measure, that time is already commenced; and we enjoy even now, in our better moments, the dawn of that bright and blessed day.
As an improvement of our subject, let us contemplate,
1. What reason we have for thankfulness in the review of the past—
As, at the rebuilding of Jerusalem, enemies arose to obstruct its progress, so, in every place where a Church is erected for the Lord, are enemies without number ready to destroy it. The same I may say respecting every soul that sets himself to seek the Lord. Where shall we find one who has not many difficulties to contend with; and that too, not only from avowed enemies, but from professed friends. But here we are, this day, monuments of God's tender care; and, I would hope too, of his effectual grace. Let us not overlook this great transcendent mercy. Let us remember to whom alone we are indebted, if we have not long since fallen by the devices of our great adversary, and made shipwreck of our faith: and let us give glory to God, as a faithful and promise-keeping God.
2. What ground we have of hope, prospectively, in the time to come—
"The name of the Lord is a strong tower; to which, if we run, we shall be safe." Let no confederacy then, of men or devils, alarm us. "Greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world."Our enemies may be mighty; but our Friend is Almighty. He can do everything for us, and everything in us. Only let us look to Him, and rely on Him, and "no weapon that is formed against us shall ever prosper."
GOD'S SYMPATHY WITH HIS PEOPLE
Zechariah 2:8. He who touches you touches the apple of his eye.
GOD makes use of the wicked as his rod, with which to chastise his own children. But while he accomplishes his own gracious ends with respect to them, he is not indifferent to the conduct of his agents, who unwittingly fulfill his will; he notices their motives, and will call them into judgment for the dispositions they have manifested Isaiah 10:5-7; Isaiah 10:12; and because they exceed their commission, and seek the destruction, rather than the benefit, of his people, he will vindicate the cause of the oppressed, and recompense upon their own heads the wickedness of their oppressors Isaiah 47:6-9. This assurance the prophet gave to those who yet remained in Babylon after that the greater part of the captive Jews had returned to Jerusalem: he exhorted them instantly to come forth from that wicked city; for that God had tenderly sympathized with them in the midst of all his chastisements, and had determined to visit with very signal judgments the Babylonish nation for the needless and excessive severities they had exercised towards them Zechariah 1:15; Zechariah 2:6-8.
From these remarkable words we may observe,
I. God sympathizes with his people in all their troubles—
No terms can more strongly convey this idea than those used in the text—
The eye is the tenderest part of the whole body; it not only is susceptible of injury from the smallest accident, but it feels most acutely any injury it may sustain. What exquisite concern then must God feel for his people, when their afflictions pierce him in so deep a manner; yes, when even that, which is but as a slight "touch" to them, inflicts on him so severe a wound! Can our imagination conceive a more expressive image, a more astonishing declaration?
Nor is there any truth more abundantly confirmed in the Holy Scriptures—
Look we for examples of it? how pitifully did he regard the afflictions of his people in Egypt Acts 7:34, and how was "his soul grieved for the misery of Israel" (though they were but ill-deserving of such mercy) when the Ammonites came up to fight against them Judges. 10:16. Nor does he sympathize with them under temporal troubles only, but still more under spiritual afflictions. When Ephraim bemoaned his guilty state, how attentively did God listen to his complaints, and how compassionately did his affections yearn over him Jeremiah 31:18-20. Look we for promises of similar regard? how does God represent himself to us as "the comforter of them that are cast down," yes, as a "God of all comfort 2 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 7:6." He calls himself the "God that pleads the cause of his people Isaiah 51:22;" He assures us that he pities them even as a father pities his own children Psalm 103:13, and he illustrates his compassion by the most tender image that the whole universe affords, even by that of "a mother dandling upon her knee her suckling child," and striving by all possible methods to soothe and please it Isaiah 66:12-13. Nor is he ever more ready to hear and answer our petitions, than when we plead like the Church of old, "Where is your zeal, and your strength, the sounding of your affections, and of your mercies towards me? Are they restrained? doubtless you are my father, though Abraham be ignorant of me, and Israel acknowledge me not Isaiah 63:15-16."
This truth, glorious as it is, is far from comprehending the full extent of God's love to his people; for,
II. He has communion with them in all their interests—
God considers himself as altogether one with his people—
There is an union subsisting between him and them; yet not merely such as exists between a husband and wife, or a vine and its branches Romans 7:4. John 15:1, but one far closer; for he is the head, and his people are his members Ephesians 4:15-16; he dwells in them, and they in him 1 John 4:12-16; he is one with them, and they with him; in short, they are so united, as to be one body 1 Corinthians 12:12; 1 Corinthians 12:27, and one spirit, with the Lord 1 Corinthians 6:17. And when our Lord himself was pleased to illustrate this subject, in order, if possible, to convey to us some adequate idea of it, he set forth the union of the different persons of the Godhead as the truest pattern of that which exists between himself and his people John 17:21.
Hence he participates in everything which relates to them—
Are any of them relieved? he acknowledges the kindness as shown to him Matthew 25:40. On the other hand, are they despised? he does not scruple to declare, that he will consider himself as the object of that contempt which is poured on them Luke 10:16. We have a memorable example of this in the account which Paul gives us of his own conversion: he was going with a commission to Damascus to extirpate, if possible, the Christian name: and, if be bad been asked, Who were the objects of his rage? he would doubtless have branded the Christians with some odious name, and affirmed, that he was treating them as they deserved. Little did he think that the Lord of Glory himself was the person at whom his shafts were hurled. But Jesus stopped him in his mad career, and asked, "Saul, Saul, why persecutes! you me Acts 9:4." Thus at this day everything done to the Lord's people is done to God himself; or, as the text expresses it, "Whoever touches them touches the apple of his eye."
Nor is his a mere inactive sympathy; for,
III. He will avenge every injury inflicted on them—
Often has he interposed to rebuke and confound their enemies—
What signal vengeance did he take on the Egyptians in ten successive plagues, and in the destruction of Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea! And with what righteous severity did he command the Israelites to blot out the very remembrance of Amalek from under Heaven, on account of the cruel ties they had exercised towards them forty years before Deuteronomy 25:17-19. Nor is it injurious treatment only that God notices, but even a neglect to support them: he denounces the bitterest curses against Meroz for refusing to help them, and bestows the highest encomiums on Jael for her exertions in their favor Judges. 5:23-24. Indeed the Jews at this hour are a living monument of the indignation which God will manifest against all who hate his Christ, and persecute his people.
And he will still plead their cause against all that injure them—
Doubtless "the blood of his saints is as precious to him" as ever. And he accounts his own justice and holiness as pledged to render tribulation unto their persecutors 2 Thessalonians. 1:6. Let those who revile and ridicule the Lord's people well consider this. He makes use of this as an argument why his people should forbear to avenge their own cause, namely, that vengeance will one day be executed on their enemies by himself, and that too in a more equitable and more effectual manner than it could be by an arm of flesh Romans 12:19. Nor will he punish only the positive evils that may be inflicted on them; he will mark also an inattention to their wants, and treat as despisers of himself, those who did not actively administer to their necessities Matthew 25:41-42.
1. How low are our conceptions of God's love to man!
How little are any of us able to realize the idea in the text! how little can we comprehend the heights and depths of such unsearchable love! Still is he dealing with us as with his people of old Deuteronomy 32:9-12 and Isaiah 63:9. Yet we, like little infants, are almost unconscious of our Father's love. But O that every heart might "praise the Lord for his goodness, and declare the wonders that he does for the children of men!"
2. How tender ought to be our concern for God!
In general we think but little of his honor in the world. But shall he be so mindful of us, and we be forgetful of him? Shall he be so concerned for our welfare, and we be indifferent about his glory See the conduct of Moses, Exodus 32:11-13 and of Joshua, Joshua 7:9. Shall not sin, the accursed thing which he hates, be a source of pain and anguish to our minds? Could we see the eye of an earthly parent pierced, and be unconcerned about it? Let "rivers of waters then run down our eyes because men keep not God's law Psalm 119:136."Let us especially weep over the sins of his professing people Philippians 3:18. And above all, let us loath and abhor ourselves for all the evils of our hearts and lives. Let us feel, as it becomes us, our obligations to God, and labor to requite his kindness by a suitable deportment. Yes, while we entreat him to "keep us as the apple of his eye Psalm 17:8, let us keep his "law as the apple of our eye Proverbs 7:2," and, "whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, do all to his glory 1 Corinthians 10:31."
3. How strong a motive have we to beneficence!
If God be so sensible of any injuries we receive, surely he cannot be regardless of any benefits conferred upon us: if he avenge the one, surely he will also reward the other. Nor is this an uncertain deduction of human reason: he himself tells us, that at the last day every kindness that was shown to us shall be recorded as shown to himself, and a suitable recompense be awarded for it Matthew 25:34-35; nor shall even a cup of cold water given to one of his disciples lose its reward Matthew 10:42. Shall not then this thought stimulate us to acts of beneficence? Has "Christ so pitied us as to give himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor," and shall not we endeavor to show love to him Ephesians 5:1-2. Can I, in administering to the poor, relieve him who is my Lord and my God? Can I assist him, who, as my great High Priest, is yet daily and hourly touched with the feeling of all my infirmities Hebrews 4:15. O let no opportunity then be lost; nor let me ever think much of anything that I can do for such a tender Friend, such an adorable Benefactor!
THE RESTORATION OF THE JEWISH CHURCH PREDICTED
Zechariah 3:1-5. And he showed me Joshua the high-priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke you, O Satan, even the Lord that has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the Angel. And he answered and spoke unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said. Behold, I have caused your iniquity to pass from you, and I will clothe you with change of clothing. And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the Angel of the Lord stood by.
THE prophecies of Zechariah are by no means easy to be understood: but by attending to the general scope of his subject, we shall generally get an insight into their true meaning. It is not any one particular expression that will give us the best clue to the meaning of the prophet: on the contrary, we may, by laying an undue stress on some word or form of expression, involve the whole in insurmountable difficulty. For instance; if, because it is said, "The Lord has chosen Jerusalem," we suppose Joshua to represent Jerusalem, and the whole people of the Jews; or, because "Satan is said to stand at Joshua's right hand,"(the place of the accuser in a court of justice,) we interpret the whole as a judicial process, we shall never acquire a just and consistent view of the prophecy: we must bear in mind the prophet's main object, and then every part of his prophecy will appear easy, natural, and clear.
It shall be my endeavor to set before you,
I. Its primary and prophetic import—
The prophet was sent on purpose to encourage the Jews to rebuild their temple, and restore the whole worship of the temple as it had been prescribed by Moses. The former of these objects he had already attempted, by assurances that Jerusalem should be restored to a great measure of its former splendor and prosperity: and the latter he now endeavors to promote, by declaring to them a vision with which he had been favored, wherein it had been shown him, that, however improbable such an event might be, it was ordained of God, and should surely and speedily be accomplished.
Joshua the high priest is here represented as ministering before the Lord Jesus Christ, in the regular exercise of his priestly office The priests stood to minister. See Deuteronomy 10:8.
What the precise state of Joshua's mind was at the time, we are not certainly informed: but, from the whole of the vision, it appears, that he was bemoaning his own sins, and the sins both of the priests and people, and entreating God to interpose for the restoration of his own worship among them.
To obstruct his efforts, Satan put forth all his power. Satan is peculiarly active when the honor of God and the interests of immortal souls are to be opposed. He knew how greatly the restoration of divine worship would advance both the one and the other of these objects, and therefore he set himself instantly to counteract the designs of Joshua. It is probable that the means he used for this end were, first, by representing to God the greatness of the people's sins, to alienate the mind of God from them (in this way it was that he resisted Job; Job 1:6-12; Job 2:1-6;) and then by similar representations to discourage the heart of Joshua, and to fill him with despondency.
In support of Joshua, "the Angel of the Lord," that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, rebuked Satan, saying, "The Lord rebuke you, O Satan." In this form of speaking, a distinction of Persons in the Godhead is clearly marked, as it is also in many other places Genesis 19:24. Psalm 110:1. The Angel of the Lord is here exercising the unalienable prerogative of Jehovah in forgiving sins; yet refers it to the Father to rebuke Satan, because he is acting the part of an Advocate with the Father in behalf of Joshua and the Jewish Church: and in the rebuke itself, he assures Satan, that all his attempts against Joshua shall fail. "The Lord had chosen Jerusalem;"and would not suffer his own eternal purposes to be defeated. Besides, Joshua, and the Jewish Church whom he represented, were "as a brand plucked out of the fire." This Satan could not but know and acknowledge: could he think therefore that they had been plucked out of the fire in order to be cast back again into it? Was this ever the way in which Jehovah acted? Were not rather the manifestations of his mercy and love pledges and earnests of yet further blessings? Thus was Satan confounded before him, and Joshua comforted with the hope of ultimate success.
Satan being thus baffled, the angel proceeds to impart more fully to Joshua the assurance he so much desired. The temple not being rebuilt, Joshua had none but old and "filthy garments" wherein to minister before the Lord: the Lord Jesus therefore commands that these be taken from him, and exchanged for others more worthy of the office which Joshua was called to execute. And, as a mitre was no less requisite for the high priest than pure and holy garments, he orders "a fair mitre to be put upon his head." This signified two things; first, the removal of all guilt from Joshua and those whom he represented, so that they might stand with acceptance before God; and next, the restoration of the temple service in all its excellency and glory. These were the points which Joshua had been pleading for before the angel; and these were the points assured to him in this vision.
The attendant angels were employed in executing Jehovah's purpose in relation to these things: and "the Angel of the Lord," the Lord Jesus Christ, "stood by," to see that completed, which, by his effectual mediation, he had obtained.
This appears to me to be the primary and prophetic import of the vision before us. We proceed to notice,
II. Its secondary and mystical import—
As individuals, no less than the Church at large, are the temple of Jehovah, so every true believer, no less than Joshua, is a priest unto his God 1 Peter 2:9. Revelation 1:6. Hence we may fitly consider Joshua as the representative of individual saints; all of whom minister before the Lord from day to day, under diversified discouragements, but with certainty of ultimate success. See here,
1. 1. Their discouragements—
The state of the Jews at that time may not unfitly be regarded as characterizing the state of a believer in the earlier stages of his progress. He has been delivered indeed from bondage; but he is still in a very low and destitute condition, and is ready to doubt whether the work that has been begun within him can ever be perfected. He goes before his God from day to day; but comes away more discouraged than before. Satan, that malignant adversary, is more especially active at such seasons, and stands at his right hand to resist him. Numberless are the stratagems which this subtle enemy uses to obstruct his progress and to damp his hopes. He represents to the believer's mind the enormity of his sills; and intimates, that they are too great to be forgiven. He adduces them as proofs that God has not elected him; and that therefore to seek for mercy is a hopeless task. It is on this account that Satan is called "The accuser of the brethren," because he accuses them to God, and God to them; yes, and accuses them also to themselves, in order to bring them to despair.
We forbear to notice the outward opposition which Satan raises against them, by persecutions and temptations of different kinds, because it is of that opposition which he makes to them at the throne of grace that we are more particularly led to speak. But "he desires to have them," as he did to have Peter of old, "that he may sift them as wheat:" and if he were left without control from a higher power, he would soon reduce them all to chaff.
2. Their certainty of final success—
Believers "have an Advocate with the Father," the Lord Jesus Christ, "who is also the atoning sacrifice for our sins 1 John 2:1;" and through the care of this ever watchful Protector they are secured, so that "no weapon that is formed against them can prosper." In the rebuke which this Almighty Friend gives to Satan, there are two things which afford them peculiar consolation; namely, the evidence which they have, that, notwithstanding all their remaining infirmities, a work of grace has been begun upon them; and, the immutability of Him who has thus distinguished them by his grace. True, they see in themselves the fearful marks of the fire in which they have been burned, and a lamentable susceptibility of impression from fire, if by any means they come in contact with it. But from these very things a question arises in their minds, How is it that I am not wholly consumed? If "the bush burn with fire and is not consumed," is there not reason to hope that God is in the bush? Then I will hope, and not be afraid: for though with man it would be impossible to make use of me as a part of God's temple, it is not so with God; for with him all things are possible; and "his gifts and calling are without repentance Romans 11:29."
Further; while deploring their extreme unworthiness to serve and enjoy God, they hear the order given, "Take from him his filthy garments, and give him a change of clothing:" and, clothed in the unspotted robe of their Redeemer's righteousness Revelation 3:18, they know that "their iniquity is taken away, and their sin covered Isaiah 61:10." They see that there is a sufficiency in the provision thus made for them Revelation 3:18, and they rejoice in it: and, thus habited, they hope to minister before God with increasing pleasure upon earth, and to stand before him with acceptance in his temple above.
Here is their hope; "The Angel of the Lord stands by." That Angel has said, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world: and, with such an Advocate and Intercessor, they defy all the power of their enemy; assured, that "neither the power nor policy of Hell shall ever prevail against them."
Would we make a suitable improvement of this passage?
1. Let us not despair of the Church's prosperity, however low or desolate her present condition may be—
The prophet's word was accomplished: and low as the state of the Jewish Church is, all that is spoken respecting her shall yet be accomplished. She is destined to be the joy and glory of the whole earth. The degradation and dispersion of her members shall not always continue. Glorious days are yet in reserve for her Zechariah 1:17; Zechariah 2:10-12; Zechariah 8:1-8; and, "when she shall turn to the Lord, her Messiah, ungodliness shall be turned away from her, and all Israel shall be saved Romans 11:26."
The Gentiles also, though now so dark,—millions upon millions of them being as ignorant of God and his Christ as the very beasts that perish,—shall one day be joined to the Lord, and, as a royal priesthood, shall offer to him the sacrifices of prayer and praise continually, throughout the whole earth. Who that sees the state of the Heathen world would suppose that this could ever be? But God has said, that "all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God:" and "he is not a man, that he should lie; nor the son of man, that he should repent."
2. Let us commit our own souls altogether to the care of our all-prevailing Advocate and Mediator—
Jesus lives: and because he lives, we shall live also; for "he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him." If we be his people, we must expect that Satan will use his utmost efforts to destroy us: but he is a vanquished enemy; and "if we resist him manfully, he will flee from us." When he seems as if he would overpower us, let us call in Omnipotence to our aid, and say, "The Lord rebuke you, O Satan." Let us never doubt the power of our Almighty Friend to support us, or his faithfulness to preserve us. If we look to ourselves, or if we look to our great adversary, there is nothing but discouragement: but if we look unto Jesus, there is no ground for fear: he can overcome the strong man armed, and liberate us from his yoke. He who "spoiled principalities and powers upon the cross," and "led captivity captive" in his ascension, can he not bruise Satan under our feet now? He can; he will: and the weakest believer who trusts in him shall "be more than conqueror" over earth and Hell. "Faithful is He who has promised; who also will do it."
ALL IS OF GOD
Zechariah 4:6. This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.
MANY parts of the prophetic writings are extremely dark: but many, which appear dark, would become clear, if we were contented to explain their main scope, without descending to every particular contained in them. Indeed they are, for the most part, explained by God himself; so far, at least, as to leave us in no doubt respecting their general import. The vision before us appears to be of difficult interpretation: to the Jews, methinks, it was altogether inexplicable; but the design of it was plainly declared in the words which we have just read: and, indeed, the declaration of its chief design reflects no inconsiderable light on every part of it. Perhaps we may say, that the lamps are the Church of God; the oil which feeds them is the Holy Spirit; the pipes conveying it are the ordinances; the bowl which supplies those pipes is the Gospel; and the olive-trees, which pour continually their sacred stores into the bowl, are the Lord Jesus Christ, in his offices of Priest and Prophet See this more fully treated, in the Discourse on verse 11–14. But, supposing we are mistaken in the precise meaning which we have assigned to these several parts, the import of the whole together is perfectly clear. You perceive that these lamps are kept alight, not by human agency, in any respect: the oil is secretly conveyed, from God himself, to every lamp, through the means of his own appointment: and this is the precise meaning which God himself, by his angel, annexes to the vision: "Know you not what these be? And I said, No, my Lord. Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts."
Let us consider these words,
I. In reference to the work which was then in hand—
Zechariah was sent to encourage the Jews to rebuild their city and temple. Great opposition was made to them; so that they despaired of ever accomplishing so great a work. But God, by this vision, instructed the prophet what to say unto them. He was to show them,
1. That they needed not to desire the aid of men, nor to fear their opposition—
Men are only what God is pleased to make them. They can do neither good nor evil, any further than he for his own glory enables them to do it. He had not sent armies to deliver them from Egypt: nor could all the power of Pharaoh detain them there. Nor had he brought them out of Babylon by human might or power. Mighty as the Chaldean empire was, and powerful as were the Medo-Persian conquerors of that empire, he had brought them forth, without force, to their native land: and therefore they should bear in mind how impotent the creature was, either to effect or prevent anything, but in perfect accordance with his purpose, and in subserviency to his will.
2. That they needed only to trust in Him alone—
Nothing in the vision could either promote or obstruct the supplies of oil from the olives to the lamp: yet not a lamp was left destitute, or ceased to exhibit a splendid light. The Spirit of God did all; and kept alive the lamps, by a secret, continued, and effectual communication. It was the Spirit, that, by operating on the hearts of men, supplied every part of the furniture belonging to the tabernacle Exodus 35:21-22; Exodus 35:26. It was the Spirit alone that moved the heart of Cyrus to issue his proclamation for their return from Babylon 2 Chronicles 36:22-23. And it was the same Spirit that raised up Zerubbabel, and inspired them with a zeal to forward the great work which they had in hand Haggai 1:14. And was He not still as able as ever to accomplish his own gracious purposes? or did they need to indulge either hope or fear with respect to man, when they had the Almighty God for their help?
But, as the words are spoken generally, let us consider them more at large,
II. In reference to the work which was therein typified—
The whole work of redemption from Babylon was typical; and had respect to,
1. 1. The establishment of Christianity in the world—
What was then done for the Lord in the erection of a material temple, was done by Jesus Christ in the formation of a spiritual temple, "of which the Prophets and Apostles were the foundation, and he himself the Chief Corner-stone; and the whole being fitly framed together, is continually growing up a holy temple to the Lord Ephesians 2:19-22." But how has this been built? or how is it carried on? Is it, or has it at any time been, by might or by power? Who instructed the Prophets and Apostles? Who gave effect to their word? Who digs out the stones from the quarry, if I may so speak, and fits them for their places in this spiritual building 1 Peter 2:5-6. It is the Spirit of God altogether. The powers of the world have been exerted to the uttermost against it: yes, men and devils have been confederate against it from the very beginning: but "it is founded on a rock; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it."
2. The maintenance of religion in the souls of men—
The soul of every individual believer is a temple of the Lord 1 Corinthians 3:16. But every such temple is "the workmanship of Jehovah" altogether Ephesians 2:10; it is a new creation. In the natural man there is not anything of which such a building can be formed: there is not in him either power or inclination to serve God: it is the Spirit of God alone that "gives him either to will or to do, and that altogether of his own good pleasure." Human power has no part in effecting it: "We are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God John 1:13." "It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy Romans 9:16;" and, in the bestowment of his blessings, "the Spirit divides to every man severally as he will 1 Corinthians 12:11."
3. The future restoration of the Jews—
The restoration from Babylon was but a partial accomplishment of what is to be more completely fulfilled at a future period. If we look into the prophecies of Zechariah, we shall find that he peculiarly and pre-eminently delights to dwell on this subject Compare chapter 1:16, 17 and 2:10–12 and 6:12–15 and especially the whole 8th chapter. And how shall this future restoration be effected? Not by human might or power; for all the power of man will be exerted to prevent it Micah 4:11-13; but by the power of the Holy Spirit: for the Prophet Hosea, speaking of the time when "the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall he gathered together and appoint themselves one head, and shall come out of the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel," says expressly, "I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the Lord their God; and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen Hosea 1:7; Hosea 1:11."
Thus we have ascertained the import of the declaration before us. Now let us proceed to the improvement of it.
It is clear, that when Almighty God saw fit to give a special vision to his servant, for the express purpose of fixing more deeply on his mind, and on the minds of the Jewish people, this particular truth, it must deserve at our hands the strictest attention. Learn then from it,
1. On whom alone to depend—
We are prone to creature-confidence, and to place our reliance on an arm of flesh. But God denounces a curse on all who indulge this propensity: "Cursed is the man that trusts in man, or that makes flesh his arm; and whose heart departs from the Lord Jeremiah 17:5." And the truly godly are particularly distinguished by their victory over this sin: "We are the circumcision, who have no confidence in the flesh Philippians 3:3." It is not possible to divest ourselves of this propensity in too great a degree: for not even so small a matter as the falling of a sparrow takes place without the special direction of the Almighty. We see how dependent a little infant is on its mother; and such must we be in the arms of God. We must undertake nothing in our own strength: in no circumstances whatever may we lean to our own understanding: whatever is devised, or whatever is done, the creature must be nothing; but God must be all in all.
2. To whom alone to give the glory of all that is done—
We must not "sacrifice to our own net, or burn incense to our own drag Habakkuk 1:16." God is a jealous God, and will not give his glory to another. When Herod was pleased with the adulation of his courtiers, and took honor to himself, instead of giving it to the Lord, he was smitten and eaten up with worms Acts 12:21-23. And we also shall be made monuments of his displeasure, if we ascribe not to Him the glory due unto his name. Wherein soever our success has been, whether in temporal or spiritual concerns, this must be our invariable acknowledgment, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto your name, be the praise Psalm 115:1."
3. In what light to view the very beginnings of grace—
Were we left to accomplish anything by our own might or power, we might well despond. But when we recollect that "all is of God," and that "He is a Being that changes not," we may take comfort in the slightest expressions of his love, and in the smallest tokens of his grace. This is a very particular lesson to be learned from our text. We are "not to despise the day of small things verse 10;" but to believe, that "He who has laid the foundation of good within us will also finish it verse 9." And, if any enemy vaunt himself as sure to prevail against us, we should address him in that triumphant language, "Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain verse 7." The communication between the olives and the lamps could not be intercepted by mortal man; nor can the effectual aids of the Holy Spirit be kept from us. These lessons, well learned, are worth a vision: for in the practice of them shall all imaginable good flow down unto us, and God eternally be glorified.
ZERUBBABEL A TYPE OF CHRIST
Zechariah 4:7. Who are you, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain.
OUR eyes are generally fixed more on the creature than on God. Hence we are apt to entertain many unnecessary fears. Nor are we unfrequently diverted by them from the path of duty. This was the case with the Jews when rebuilding their temple. Cyrus had given them permission to rebuild it. But they met with opposition from their envious neighbors. And through this they were intimidated and disheartened. But God encouraged them with an assurance of success verse 6, 7.—
We may notice,
I. The difficulties that obstruct the building of God's spiritual temple—
The temple at Jerusalem was typical of that, which God erects visibly in the world, and invisibly in the hearts of men In proof of this, see Ephesians 2:21 and 1 Corinthians 3:16.—
1. The visible temple of the Church has much to obstruct its erection in the world—
With what inconceivable difficulty are men hewn from the quarry, where they by nature lie! What an impenetrable hardness is there in their hearts! They pay little, if any, attention to the word of God. They set themselves against what is spoken to them in God's name. Their state seems almost to destroy all hope that the Gospel should ever operate effectually among them. There is also much opposition made to them by all descriptions of people. Many pretended friends, as well as open enemies, strove to impede the building of the material temple Ezra. 4:1-4. They sought to prevent it even by means of a legal process Ezra. 4:5. Thus both force and stratagem are used to stop the progress of the Gospel, and the united opposition of all ranks of men seems like an impassable mountain in its way. Those too who are employed in erecting this spiritual temple, are weak and insufficient. The work might call forth all the wisdom and energy of angels; but God has put his "treasure into earthen vessels." Even Paul cried, "Who is sufficient for these things?" Much more may inferior ministers adopt his language. Whoever knows his own insufficiency for so great a work, must often have felt it a source of discouragement, and almost of despondency.
2. The invisible temple also which God is erecting in men's hearts, is retarded by many difficulties and obstructions—
The Christian finds many outward impediments. The terrors and allurements of the world have great influence, and every Christian is, more or less, beset with these. Many, after running well for a season, are turned aside by them: yes, all find them obstacles very difficult to be surmounted. He has also many inward difficulties to encounter. The believer still feels sad remains of corruption within him. These are ever counteracting the efforts of his better principle Galatians 5:17, and he is often apprehensive that sin will regain its dominion. Above all, he finds his strength to he perfect weakness. He has learned by bitter experience, how weak he is. He has found, how his strongest resolutions have failed him. Hence he is led to fear, that he shall not persevere to the end.
But whatever obstructions there be to God's work, God will manifest,
II. Their utter inefficacy to arrest its progress—
God enabled Zerubbabel to proceed in spite of all opposition. Nor will He suffer any obstacles to counteract his designs—
1. The visible temple of his Church shall still be carried on—
In the first ages of Christianity the Gospel was victorious. Neither the lusts nor prejudices of men could withstand its power. The very persecutions raised against it were overruled by Him to promote its progress Acts 8:1; Acts 8:4 and Philippians 1:12-14; nor did the weakness of those who preached it prevent its success. That promise had then a glorious accomplishment Psalm 72:16. So now neither open nor secret assaults shall prevail against the Church. Of this we are assured by Him who governs all Matthew 16:18.
2. The invisible temple also shall be advanced in our hearts—
The work has hitherto been maintained, notwithstanding the most unpromising appearances. It has often been advanced by the very things which seemed most likely to counteract it. There is an invisible and Almighty Agent engaged to carry it on Isaiah 54:17. Psalm 138:8. He will fulfill what he has spoken by the prophet Luke 3:5. Of this comforting truth we may be confidently assured Philippians 1:6.
1. In what manner we should regard difficulties—
We are apt to exaggerate the difficulties that lie in our way; but, if we inspected them more narrowly, they would often appear contemptible. "Who are you, O great mountain?" Are you a fiery furnace, or a den of lions? I am ready to encounter you: for, great as you are, "you are not worthy to be compared with the sufferings I shall escape, or the glory that shall follow Romans 8:18. Acts 21:13." However great they be, we should not be afraid to address them in the exulting language of the text. They will always, in the issue, be the means of glorifying Christ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. Let us therefore go forward in dependence on that promise "Fear not, you worm Jacob.…You shall thresh the mountains." Isaiah 41:14-16. The whole passage is replete with beauty.
2. In what manner we may overcome difficulties—
Remember who the Builder is: it is Zerubbabel, the Lord Jesus Christ; and is there anything too hard for him? The greatest mountains before him will become a plain: he therefore must be viewed as our all-sufficient helper. If we trust in him, we shall never be disappointed. We shall surely experience the truth of that declaration Zechariah 4:9. To him then let us commit ourselves with thankful adoration Jude, verse 24, 25.
THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS
Zechariah 4:10. For who has despised the day of small things?
IT is observable in the dispensations both of nature and of providence, that the greatest things take their rise from very small beginnings. From a view of a new-born infant we might be ready to imagine that it would never be capable of any exertions: but, when its faculties are strengthened and matured, it may astonish the world with its profound wisdom, or its heroic exploits. Thus in the dealings of God towards the Jewish nation, they were frequently so reduced, as to be, to all appearance, incapable of attaining that state, which their prophets had given them reason to expect. After their restoration from the Babylonish captivity, their difficulties seemed absolutely insurmountable: but God, in the passage before us, assured them, that the very person, who had laid the foundation of their temple, should live to finish it; and exhorted them not to despise the present small beginnings; for that, in spite of every obstacle, they should have a favorable termination; the temple and city should be rebuilt, and the nation be restored, in a measure at least, to its pristine grandeur. Thus in the literal sense this promise refers to the material temple at Jerusalem; but it may well be applied,
I. To the mystical temple which God has erected in the world—
The very names of "Zion" and "Jerusalem" are often given to the Church of Christ. Nor can there be a doubt, but that the history to which the text relates was a typical representation of Christ's Church, which is brought out of bondage, and erected in the midst of unnumbered difficulties—
There have been many seasons when it has been "a day of small things" with the Church of God—
If we look back to the days of Noah, Abraham, Elijah, and the prophets, we shall find that the true worshipers of God were so few as to be "for signs and wonders" in the age and nation where they lived Isaiah 8:18. After our Lord had preached for three or four years, the number of his disciples was no more than a hundred and twenty: and even at this day the are very few in comparison of those who serve mammon: they are "a little flock," who walk in a "narrow and unfrequented way Matthew 7:14."
But we must not "despise" the Church, however low it may appear—
God has promised that his Church shall one day fill the world; that "all shall be righteous;" that "all shall know the Lord from the least to the greatest;" and that "Christ shall have the heathen for his inheritance, and the utmost ends of the earth for his possession Psalm 2:8." True it is that there is very little prospect of such an event at present; but "faithful is he who has promised: who also will do it 1 Thessalonians. 5:24." "Before our Zerubbabel the mountains shall become a plain verse 7;" he shall "ride on. in the chariots of the everlasting Gospel, conquering, and to conquer Revelation 6:2;" and "the knowledge of him shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea Isaiah 11:9." Instead therefore of despising the present low appearances, we must regard them as a pledge of that universal empire of Christ which shall in due season be erected in the world.
The text is yet further applicable,
II. To the spiritual temple which is founded by God in the hearts of his people—
Believers are often called the Temple of God 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; but so imperfect is their present state that it may well be said to be with them only as "a day of small things"—
In some sense the most established believer is but in a low and despicable condition. What are any man's attainments when compared with the law, which is our rule, or with Christ, who is our pattern, or even with Paul, who was a man of like passions with ourselves? But to weak believers the text may be more properly applied. They have indeed been liberated from their sore bondage, and have had the foundations of grace laid in their hearts; but alas! how slowly has the work advanced! and how many obstacles do they meet with, that weaken their hands, and discourage their hearts! often are they ready to question, whether the work have been begun in them or not? and to say in despair, "There is no hope."
But they should not despise the operations of grace, however small—
The mode in which this part of the promise is conveyed, is worthy of notice. The interrogatory form of it puts the desponding soul, as it were, upon an inquiry, that by finding how important the day of small things is in the eyes of those who are competent to judge, it may not yield to its disquieting fears. Let the inquiry then be made; Who has despised the day of small things? Did the Father, when he ran to meet the yet distant prodigal, and fell on his neck and kissed him? Does Christ, who "carries the lambs in his bosom," and has promised never to "break the bruised reed," though it be so unfit for his use, nor to "quench the smoking flax," notwithstanding there is so much in it to disgust, and so little to please, him? Do the angels, who, instead of waiting until the penitent becomes established, shout for joy at the very first appearances of his conversion? Does Satan? Does he not act precisely like the kings of Canaan, who, the very instant they found the Gibeonites had made a league with Joshua, confederated to destroy them Joshua 10:1-5. This seems to have been a typical event. Yes; the moment we submit to Jesus, that roaring lion seeks, if possible, to devour us. If then they who best know the worth of true grace do not despise the very smallest portion of it, shall we? Shall we not rather value it, rejoice in it, adore our God for it, and take occasion from it to seek for more? Consider the author of it, God; his design in it, to make us his habitation; the benefits resulting from it, present peace and everlasting glory; and shall we despise it; especially when God himself has assured us, that, "wherever he has begun the good work, he will carry it on, and perfect it to the day of Christ Philippians 1:6." Did he notice "some good thing" in the heart of young Abijah 1 Kings 14:13, and will he forget you? Let not the thought be entertained one moment; but let the weak be strong, and the faint-hearted dissipate their fears; for behold, "the temple shall be built, though in troublous times Daniel 9:25;" and "the head-stone thereof shall be brought forth with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it!"
To this encouraging subject we should subjoin a word or two of caution:
1. Do not mistake the day of small things—
As the wheat and the tares may be mistaken for each other in the early stage of their growth, so may good purposes and good desires be easily mistaken for the operations of saving grace. Religion may be counterfeited so well, as, in some instances, to deceive an apostle Acts 8:13; Acts 8:21; and in ten thousand instances are men led from very false or equivocal appearances to fancy themselves possessed of the reality. To guard against so fatal an error, we should inquire whether the foundation be laid deep in humility and contrition; for, where this is not done, the superstructure, how beautiful soever it may appear, will inevitably fall, and bury us in its ruins.
2. Do not think too highly of the day of small things—
If we have solid grounds for believing that God has begun a good work in our hearts, we must still remember that much remains to be done: many conflicts must be sustained before we can get the victory; and "it ill becomes him who girds on the armor, to boast as one that puts it off 1 Kings 20:11." The difficulties which the builders of the material temple experienced, were shadows of those which we must expect in the divine life. Numberless are the devices of our subtle enemy; nor can we defeat his purposes, unless, while we build with one hand, we hold our sword in the other Nehemiah 4:17. Be not then high-minded, but fear; and, while you rejoice in what God has done for your souls, "rejoice with trembling."
THE VISION OF THE OLIVE-TREES
Zechariah 4:11-14. Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive-trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof? And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive-branches, which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves? And he answered me, and said, Know you not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.
VISIONS, under the Old Testament dispensation, were like parables under the New: they gave a shadowy representation of some important truths. They are frequently very obscure: yet there is almost invariably a clue given us, whereby to discover their real import; and not unfrequently an explanation of them is given by God himself. As in the parables, there will be sometimes found circumstances, the precise drift of which is not easy to be explained: but an attention to the main scope of the whole will keep us from ever deviating far from the true interpretation.
The vision which we are about to consider is certainly not very obvious at first sight; and it requires to be investigated with great sobriety of mind: but, when properly understood, it will richly repay the care we have used in the investigation of it. The prophet's solicitude to understand it, shows us the propriety of inquiring into it with care and diligence. Let us therefore endeavor to ascertain,
I. The import of the vision—
The general scope of it is declared by God himself—
The Prophet Zechariah was commissioned to encourage Zerubbabel and Joshua to proceed with the re-building of the temple, which had been long neglected. The Jews who had returned from Babylon were poor and feeble; while their adversaries were numerous and powerful. Hence they despaired of accomplishing, under such unfavorable circumstances, so great a work. But in this vision they were taught to look to God, who, if they confided in him, would assuredly crown their labors with success. With him on their side, they needed not either to regret the want of power in themselves, or to dread the existence of it in their adversaries, since he was almighty and all-sufficient for them. This was the construction which the prophet himself was taught to put upon the vision: "Know you not what these be?" said the angel unto him: "And I said, No, my lord. Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts verse 5, 6."
The particular parts of it will be found to bear upon this point with much beauty and exactness—
In the second and third verses we have the vision: "What see you? And I said, I have looked, and behold, a candle-stick, all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps which are upon the top thereof; and two olive-trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl, and the other on the left side thereof." In our text there is an additional circumstance mentioned, namely, that "the olive-branches empty out of themselves golden oil through the two golden pipes." What the import of all this was, the prophet was very anxious to know; and therefore repeated his inquiries with a kind of holy impatience Mark the repetition, verse 11, 12; and the answer given him was, "The two olive-trees are the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth." From this answer we may gather both the literal and mystical interpretation of the whole.
The literal import then was this. Zerubbabel and Joshua were the two persons anointed of God to superintend, the one the civil, and the other the ecclesiastical, affairs of the Jews at that time. They had but little power in themselves, yet were they ordained of God to effect great things: and God engaged through them to impart unto the people such supplies of wisdom and strength, as should enable the whole nation to shine with their former splendor. However weak therefore they were in themselves, they must not despair; for every mountain should, before Zerubbabel, become a plain.
The mystical import must be more minutely explained. It must never be forgotten that that whole dispensation was typical. The return of the Jews from Babylon, and the restoration of their civil and ecclesiastical polity, were typical of the deliverance of sinners from their spiritual bondage, and the establishment of the Redeemer's kingdom in the world. Bearing this in mind, we shall see how this vision illustrates the purposes of God, in relation to the Church of Christ. The lamps are emblems of his Church, which shines as a light in a dark world. The pipes are the ordinances of religion, by means of which continual supplies of oil are imparted to them, that their light may never be extinguished. The bowl is the Gospel, which abounds with blessings for all, according to their several necessities. The oil is the Holy Spirit, by whom alone the light that has been set up can be kept alive. And the two olive-trees, from whence that oil spontaneously flows into the bowl, are the kingly and priestly offices of Christ, who, like Zerubbabel and Joshua, is appointed of God to establish Jerusalem, and to build the spiritual temple of the Lord. He is exalted to the right hand of God, and "stands by the Lord of the whole earth," that he may carry on everything in conformity with the Divine will, and accomplish, in due season, the work that has been committed to him. He himself, as the Messiah, the Christ, is the Anointed of the Lord; (the words Messiah and Christ both mean Anointed;) and from him flows "the unction of the Holy One," by which all spiritual light and life are communicated to the Church 1 John 2:20-27.
The proof of these several points will be more advantageously adduced under the next head of our discourse, in which we propose to point out the proper improvement of the vision, or,
II. The instruction to be derived from it—
To ascertain this, we must bear in mind the scope of the vision: for, if we forget that, the whole interpretation of it may be thought fanciful: but, if we duly regard that, the whole instruction derived from the vision will appear sober, just, and pertinent. It teaches us, then,
1. That Christ is, by his offices, qualified to support and perfect his Church—
The offices filled by Zerubbabel and Joshua both unite in Christ. He is the High Priest of his Church; and in that capacity he is now officiating at the right hand of God. He offered himself a sacrifice for us at the appointed time; and he is now entered with his own blood into the Holy of Holies, to plead the merit of that blood, and to make intercession for us before the mercy-seat of Jehovah. Hence he is called "The Apostle and High-Priest of our profession Hebrews 3:1;" and it is from the consideration that we have such an High-Priest, that we are encouraged to hold fast our profession Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 9:11-12; Hebrews 10:21-22. Moreover he is a King; God has "set him as his King upon the holy hill of Zion Psalm 2:6." And to this the Apostle Peter bore witness on the day of Pentecost, saying, "God has made that same Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ Acts 2:36." From the union of these two offices in him arises his ability to build his Church. Were either of them wanting, he would fail; but, by the concentration of infinite merit and almighty power in his sacred person, he is fully qualified for the work assigned him. This is particularly marked by Zechariah in a following chapter, where he says, "Behold the Man whose name is The Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the Temple of the Lord: even He shall build the Temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both Zechariah 6:12-13. It is remarkable, that in this passage, where our Lord is called a King and a Priest, he is particularly designated as The Branch." Thus standing by the Lord of the whole earth, and sustaining in himself the united offices of Zerubbabel and Joshua, he is really to the Church what they were in a shadow, the source of all that is necessary for her spiritual edification."
2. That the fullness which is in him is expressly committed to him, for the use and benefit of his Church—
"It has pleased the Lord that in Him should all fullness dwell Colossians 1:19." But for whose sake is it committed to him? His own? No; but ours. He appears in Heaven, not in a private, but public capacity, even as the Head of his Church. At his ascension thither he received gifts; and received them in order to impart them to rebellious man Compare Psalm 68:18 with Ephesians 4:8. "received," "gave." He ascended, on purpose "that he might fill all things Ephesians 4:10." He is the Head; and "the Church is his body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all Ephesians 1:20-23." Hence we find, that when the Holy Spirit was poured forth on the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter confidently traced the gift to him, even to that very Jesus who had so recently been crucified as a malefactor: "This Jesus has God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses: therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has shed forth this which you now see and hear Acts 2:32-33." And to the same effect Paul also says, that God "saves us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior Titus 3:5-6." These passages reflect great light upon our text, inasmuch as they show that Christ is the true source of all spiritual blessings to the Church; and that the Holy Spirit, with all his graces and consolations, flows from him according to the Father's will, just as the oil in the vision dropped from the olive-trees into the bowl, for the continual supply of the lamps dependent on it.
3. That in the use of his ordinances, we may expect all needful supplies—
It was through the pipes only that the lumps received the oil; and it is through the ordinances only that we can receive "supplies of the Spirit from Jesus Christ Philippians 1:19." He will be inquired of for all that he has promised us Ezekiel 36:37. "If we ask not, we cannot have James 4:2." We must wait upon him in private, reading his word, meditating upon it, and praying over it. We must wait upon him also in public, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together," but expecting more particular manifestations of his love, and richer communications of his grace, through the medium of his preached Gospel. "Where two or three are met together in his name,"there it is that he sheds forth his Spirit in a more abundant measure Matthew 18:20. Truly, if we watch unto prayer, and abound therein with thanksgiving, we shall never be disappointed of our hope. We shall have just reason to say, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." "The hungry he will fill with good things: it is the rich only," and the self-sufficient, "that he ever sends empty away." "The diligent soul shall be made fat."
And here let me observe, that, in the vision, the lamps, the pipes, the bowl, the oil, were all of gold. Those who wait upon the Lord in sincerity and truth are in themselves as superior to unregenerate men as gold is to the baser metals? And what is there of such value as the grace of which they have been made partakers? in comparison of it, all else is but as dung and dross. And are there not in the Gospel "unsearchable riches?" And may we not well say, that under the ordinances, whether public or private, we have enjoyed many golden opportunities? Yes indeed: and if we be careful to keep up the communication between Christ and our souls, we shall have all our wants abundantly supplied Philippians 4:19, and the "salvation ministered unto us shall be as a lamp that burns Isaiah 62:1."
4. That however low our state may be, or powerful our enemies, His grace shall be sufficient for us—
Of this were Zerubbabel and Joshua assured: and the event corresponded with the vision. Of this too may we be assured; for to us, no less than to Paul, does the Lord Jesus say, "My grace is sufficient for you." Is that grace at present imparted in but a low degree? Still God says to us, "Who has despised the day of small things verse 10." 'I do not: and therefore let not any of you do it.' Are our enemies exceeding powerful? God teaches us again to say, "Who are you, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain verse 7." Have we an evidence in ourselves that the Lord Jesus Christ has begun a work of grace within us? God again teaches us to say, "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house: his hands also shall finish it verse 9." Shall it be thought that these passages relate only to that particular occasion? Look then to the New Testament, and there you will find all the same assurances and triumphs. We are told that "He, who has been the author, will also be the finisher of our faith Hebrews 12:2." We may be confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in us, will perform it "until the day of Christ Philippians 1:10." And even now, while yet conflicting with our enemies, we may say, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? Who is he who shall condemn? Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No: I am persuaded, that neither angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord Romans 8:31-39." "The plummet is in the hands of our Zerubbabel, with those seven" attendant spirits, "who are the eyes of the Lord, and run to and fro through the whole earth;" and he will see that the work is perfected in us according to his will verse 10 with Zechariah 1:8-11.
Look you then, beloved, to our adorable Lord and Savior, and let nothing interrupt your communication with him. It is your privilege to be daily and hourly "receiving, out of his fullness, grace," according to the grace that is in him, and sufficient for all your necessities John 1:16. Do you feel your need of repentance, or pardon, or any blessing whatever? Know that "he is exalted to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance unto Israel, and remission of sins Acts 5:31;" and though you are not to expect the Holy Spirit to be imparted to you in his miraculous powers, you may in his gracious influences: yes, "you shall receive the Holy Spirit; for the promise is to you, and to your children, and to as many as are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call Acts 2:38-39." And though you may still have many conflicts, the time is not far distant, when, the work being completed in you, "the head-stone thereof shall be brought forth with shouting;" and to all eternity you shall cry, "Grace, grace unto it! verse 7."
CHRIST SAVING BY HIS UNITED OFFICES
Zechariah 6:12-13. Thus speaks the Lord of Hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch: and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord; even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.
MANY of the most important prophecies were introduced with remarkable and appropriate signs. When God foretold to Moses the deliverance of his people from their bondage in Egypt, he appeared to him in a burning bush, which represented the state of his Church as persecuted on every side, but preserved from injury by his presence in it. Thus was Joshua the high-priest now made to receive an honor which described in a very significant manner the glory and dignity of the promised Messiah. Some of the Jews who had chosen to remain in Babylon after that their brethren had returned to their own land, showed that they were not altogether unmindful of their brethren or their God, by bringing a present of gold and silver for the use of the newly erected temple: and God instantly commanded that two crowns should be made of the gold and silver, and that these crowns should, in the presence of the donors, be put upon the head of Joshua: then, in explanation of this sign, the prophet was ordered to direct their attention to the promised Messiah, in whom all honor and power, whether regal or priestly, should be combined verse 9–11.
This prophecy will lead us to consider,
I. The name and work of the Messiah—
Christ is here referred to as "the man whose name is The Branch"—
Frequently is he characterized by the prophets under this appellation Zechariah 3:8. Isaiah 4:2. Its import is, that he was to be a scion or shoot springing out of the stem of Jesse, that is, to be born of the house of David, when it was cut down and reduced to the lowest state Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 53:2. But though he was to appear in such a weak and mean condition, yet he was to "sit upon the throne of his father David and to reign forever." Nor can we err in applying this prophecy to Christ, since another prophet, speaking of him by the very same name, expatiates in exalted terms upon the glory of his majesty, and declares that the name whereby he should be still more eminently distinguished, should be, Jehovah our Righteousness Jeremiah 23:5-6. In due time he "grew up out of his place," both out of Bethlehem, where he was born, and out of Nazareth, where he was brought up. We do not indeed find him called "The Branch" by any of the New Testament writers; but, as the place where this branch was to grow up seems to be so particularly specified, it is not impossible but that this prophecy received its accomplishment in that contemptuous appellation given to him, "The Nazarene Matthew 2:23. The Hebrew word Netzer signifies a Branch;" at all events it was fulfilled in that title so often ascribed to him, "The Son of David Matthew 20:30-31; Matthew 21:9."
The work to which he was appointed was, to build the temple—
The material temple was now rebuilding under the auspices of Zerubbabel and Joshua. In reference to that, the prophet speaks of another temple (of which that which was now erecting was but a type or shadow,) which should in due time be raised by the Messiah himself; and he repeats his declaration both to denote the great importance of it, and the certainty of its accomplishment. This temple is no other than the Church of God, which Jesus Christ has founded on the earth, and against which neither the power nor the policy of Hell shall ever prevail Matthew 16:18. Ephesians 2:20-21.
To him also, as the only builder, was to be given all "the glory"—
Whatever instruments he uses, they can effect nothing but through the agency of his Spirit. Whether Paul plant or Apollos water, it is Christ alone that can give the increase 1 Corinthians 3:7. The workmen in the material temple might say of the carved work, This and that was the work of my hands; it was formed by my skill, and is a monument of my power: but, in the Church of God, there is not one stone laid in the whole building, which was not dug from the quarry, fitted for its place, and fixed in its station by the hand of Jesus: and the chisel has as much right to boast against him who works with it, as any instrument, which the Lord may use, has to arrogate to himself any part of his honor Isaiah 10:15. When "the top-stone shall be brought forth with shoutings," there shall not be one in Heaven or earth, who will not ascribe the glory to the Divine Architect, crying, "Grace, grace unto it Zechariah 4:7."
As his work was to be glorious, so were also,
II. The offices whereby he was to execute that work—
Mean as his appearance was, he was appointed to bear the highest offices:
1. He was to rule both as a King and as a Priest—
As "King of kings and Lord of lords," he erects his throne over all in Heaven and earth. But he exercises also a government which the Father has committed to him in his mediatorial capacity. This relates more immediately to the Church, the minutest concerns of which are all subject to his control Ephesians 1:22. But though a King, he executes also the office of a Priest; and appeared to the beloved Apostle arrayed in priestly vestments, in token that he still carries on the work which he began on earth Revelation 1:13. In him the kingly power of Zerubbabel, and the priestly office of Joshua, were to be united: and it was for this reason that both the crowns were put upon the head of Joshua, who in so remarkable a manner represented him. Being "a priest upon his throne," his government was to be mild, like that of a compassionate Priest; and his intercession effectual, like that of an Almighty King.
2. By these united offices he was to perform the work assigned him—
The salvation of men has been contrived by infinite wisdom, and is effected only in that way which God has appointed. It is not accomplished either by power alone or by price alone; but by price and by power. Christ in his priestly office atones; and in his kingly office imparts the benefit of that atonement: "the counsel of peace is between them both." However meritorious the death of Christ might be as a sacrifice, we can receive no salvation by it, unless he exert his almighty power to renew and sanctify our nature; nor, on the other hand, would his grace be sufficient to bring us unto God, unless he had offered a sacrifice for our sins, and continued in Heaven to make intercession for us. But by making satisfaction to the injured Majesty of Heaven, and delivering us out of the hands of all our spiritual enemies, he both effects our reconciliation with God, and renders us meet for our heavenly inheritance.
1. What abundant provision has God made for our peace!
A guilty conscience is not easily pacified: in the midst of all its endeavors to divert its attention from the state of the soul, it will feel many fears and secret misgivings: it will always suspect, either that something which they do not possess, is necessary for the securing of pardon, or that the exertions used for the attainment of holiness, are inadequate to the end proposed. But God has given us a Savior, who equally bears the sacerdotal censer, and the regal diadem; and unites in himself the compassion of a Priest, with the power and authority of a King. What then can be wanting to satisfy our minds? Surely we need only believe; and "according to our faith so shall it be done unto us." If our minds be but "stayed on Christ" as a willing and all-sufficient Savior, we shall, according to his word, be "kept in perfect peace."
2. How evidently must all the glory of our salvation be given to Christ!
We always wish to ascribe some of the glory to ourselves: but the whole work is his from the foundation to the top-stone: He is "the author and the finisher of our faith."Are we reconciled to God? it is through the blood of his cross. Is our peace maintained with God? it is through his prevailing intercession. Are we freed from the bondage of sin and Satan? it is through his mighty power, and victorious grace. Let him then "bear the glory:" on him "let us hang all the glory of his Father's house Isaiah 22:24;" and let us now sing, as we hope to do to all eternity, "To him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen Revelation 1:5-6.
OUTWARD SERVICES VAIN WITHOUT OBEDIENCE
Zechariah 7:4-7. Then came the word of the Lord of Hosts unto me, saying, Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did you at all fast unto me, even to me? And when you did eat, and when you did drink, did you not eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves? Should you not hear the words which the Lord has cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity?
THIS was an answer to a question which had been proposed to the prophet, by persons who had been sent from Babylon to consult him on a matter of considerable importance. The Jews, when carried captive to Babylon, instituted four annual fasts Zechariah 8:19, two of which are mentioned in the text; that in the fifth month, in remembrance of the destruction of their temple and city by Nebuzaradan, the Chaldean general; and the other, in remembrance of the murder of Gedaliah, who had been placed, as governor, over the poorer part of the Jewish population that were left in the land 2 Kings 25:8-10; 2 Kings 25:22-25. But the people were now restored to their land; and the temple was in part rebuilt; and therefore it was justly doubted, by those who yet remained in Babylon, whether it was proper to continue those fasts, now that the judgments on account of which the fasts were instituted were removed. This was a question which could not be satisfactorily answered, but by one who was inspired of God to declare his will respecting it. But before a direct answer was given to it, the prophet was instructed to reprove the whole nation, priests as well as people, for the manner in which those fasts had been observed. They are not blamed for instituting the fasts, but for the hypocrisy which they had manifested in the observance of them.
The reproof here given to the Jewish nation furnishes us with a fit occasion,
I. To inquire into the principles by which we have been actuated in our religious duties—
External acts are of no value in the sight of God, any farther than as they express the real dispositions of the mind. It is to the principle from which we act, and not to the mere act itself, that God looks: and it is to that that we also must look, in order to form a right estimate of our character. Consider then,
1. To whom we ought to have performed all our religious services—
That "fasting and mourning" were religious services, is obvious: and that "eating and drinking"are here used in the same sense, is also obvious. The Jews were ordered by the Mosaic law to carry up their tithes, and their first-fruits, and their free-will offerings, to Jerusalem, and to eat them, in the temple before the Lord Deuteronomy 12:17-18; and not being able to carry them thither, they observed the same rites in Babylon. Hence we may properly notice our own religious services in general, whether those of greater solemnity, as public fasts, or those which are of more ordinary occurrence, both public and private: in all of them we ought to have had respect to God; to his will, as the cause; his word, as the rule; his glory, as the end 1 Corinthians 10:31. If not done for him, they are not acceptable to him: and the more entirely we have respect to him in them, the more pleasing they are in his sight. But if we examine our religious services in this view, how few will be found to have been such as God could accept! Enter distinctly into those three points: and then say what answer you can return to that searching interrogation, "Did you perform them to me, even unto me?"
2. To whom we have performed them—
Self was the spring of all their services in Babylon; and self has been, for the most part, the true source of ours. With some they have been no more than a decent regard for the customs of the place wherein they live. With others, they have originated in pride, having been performed only to set a good example to others, or to gratify a self-complacent spirit in themselves. With others again, the observance of them has been prompted by self-righteousness, and a vain desire of establishing a righteousness of their own before God. With some too, it is to be feared, their services have been debased by, if not founded in, hypocrisy, having been little else than an endeavor to preserve a fair appearance before men, and to get advantage for the promoting of their temporal interests.
In any of these points of view, what is the principle that actuates us? Is it love for God, or zeal for his glory? No: it is self, and nothing but self; and inasmuch as we have performed religious services under any of these impressions, it must be said that we have done it "for ourselves," and not for God. Of Pharisaic hypocrisy we would fondly hope, that it is not a common principle among us: but formality, and pride, and self-righteousness operate to a vast extent. O let us search and try ourselves in relation to these things: and we shall find abundant ground for humiliation, where perhaps we imagined there was cause for nothing but self-approbation and joy.
That we may not perform our services in vain, I will proceed,
II. To show what practice is necessary to the acceptance of them before God—
The prophet appealed to the Jews, whether their attention ought not rather to be called to the commands of God, which in their more prosperous state they had neglected, and which even now they overlooked?
This is the duty to which we are called—
Under all circumstances, our first duty is to obey the commands of God: and to bring us to obedience is the end of all his dispensations towards us. If he gives prosperity, it is to encourage us to what is good; and, if he send adversity, it is to reclaim us from evil. Even in the gift of his only-begotten Son he aimed particularly at this, the reducing of men to a state of holy obedience, and of an unreserved devotedness to their God Romans 14:7-10. Titus 2:14.
Without this, all services, of whatever kind they be, are of no avail—
In numberless places is this declared by the voice of inspiration: the universal testimony of God's prophets is, "that God has not such pleasure in sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord; but that to obey is better than sacrifice; and to hearken than the fat of rams." The Prophet Isaiah in particular insists upon this truth, and in the strongest terms Isaiah 1:11-16; Isaiah 58:1-7; Indeed such is God's abhorrence even of the most exalted services, if offered as a substitute for obedience, that he accounts them no better than idolatry and murder Isaiah 66:3. Our blessed Lord in like manner expresses his indignation against those who profess regard for him without manifesting it by a life of holy obedience: "Why call you me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" And, as the prophet appealed to the Jews respecting this, so we would make our appeal to you, assured that, if conscience be allowed to speak, there can be but one sentiment on this subject. It is an incontrovertible and fearful truth, that "He is an empty vine, who brings forth fruit to himself Hosea 10:1."
Let this subject be improved,
1. For our humiliation—
Who among us does not, on a review of his past conduct, find abundant cause for self-condemnation in his religious duties? Who has not too much consulted self, and too little had regard to God? Truly, we all need one to "bear the iniquity of our holiest things," as well as of the things which have been more palpably contrary to the will of God. Let us look to that adorable Savior on whom all our iniquities were laid, and seek through him alone that gracious acceptance, which services like ours can never merit.
2. For our direction in future life—
It is good to serve the Lord: and we must not be discouraged because we cannot serve him so perfectly as we could wish. Self, that subtle enemy, will more or less intrude into all we do. But let us be on our guard against this evil principle, and beg of God to deliver us from it. Let us endeavor to get a deeper sense of our obligations to God our Savior, for all the wonders of redeeming love. This will do more than anything else to counteract our natural depravity, and to make us "live in all things, not unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us, and rose again 2 Corinthians 5:14-15."
THE RESTORATION OF THE JEWS
Zechariah 8:3-8. Thus says the Lord: I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem, shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of Hosts the holy mountain. Thus says the Lord of Hosts: There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof. Thus says the Lord of Hosts; If it be marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvelous in my eyes? says the Lord of Hosts. Thus says the Lord of Hosts; Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country; and I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness.
THE restoration of the Jews from their present dispersion forms a very principal subject of all the prophetic writings; and one cannot but be amazed that it should occupy so small a share of attention among the ministers of religion, as scarcely to be noticed by them. Indeed those who do notice the passages relating to that event, pervert them for the most part, by applying them to the Church of Christ, and giving them an interpretation which they were never designed to bear. From whatever cause this proceeds, it tends exceedingly to keep out of view the mercy of God towards his once-favored people, and to foster in our bosoms an indifference to their welfare. But let us indulge a more benevolent disposition towards them, and contemplate with pleasure,
I. Their interest in this prophecy—
In its primary sense, it was applicable to the Jews of that day—
They were at present but a small "remnant," and under circumstances that were very discouraging. They had long been afflicted, both by God and man. Previous to their captivity, the judgments of God had been so heavily inflicted on them, that scarcely an old man was to be found among them; and nothing but want and misery was to be seen in the streets verse 10; but now peace and plenty should be restored to them verse 11, 12. In a moral view, also, there should be a great and general improvement, insomuch that their city, which had been the seat of the most abominable idolatries, should be called "A city of truth;" and the mountain where their temple was rebuilding, "The holy mountain."
But it had respect to the Jewish nation in days that are yet future—
Of this there is abundant evidence: for Judah alone returned from captivity; whereas the chapter before us speaks of "Israel and Judah." Moreover, the Jews after their return never displayed any great piety; whereas they were, in this prophecy, designated as a holy people. They were also to "be a blessing among the heathen, as before they had been a curse verse 13." But never, at any period, were they so execrated among the heathen, as since their dispersion by the Romans: nor, with the exception of the Savior and his Apostles, have they ever been such a blessing to the world, as they will be at a future period, when they shall rise up as missionaries in all the countries where they have been scattered, and be the means of converting the whole Gentile world to the faith of Christ Micah 5:7. Nor can the concluding part of this chapter be referred to any events that have hitherto taken place in the world. The time is yet to come, when "many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem;" and when "ten men out of all languages of the nations shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you verse 20–23."
What then are the things here predicted? First, the return of the Jews to their own land. And this is an event which shall certainly be accomplished in due season Isaiah 27:13. Jeremiah 30:3; Jeremiah 30:18-19; Next it declares their conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ as their Messiah, and their instrumentality in converting the heathen world. This also shall be accomplished at the appointed time Hosea 3:5. Isaiah 66:19-20. Romans 11:12; Romans 11:15.
God, foreseeing the incredulity of all to whom this prophecy should come, declares,
II. The certainty of its accomplishment, notwithstanding all the difficulties which lie in the way—
When things are far beyond the powers of man we are apt to judge that they can never be effected—
Unbelief is deeply rooted in the heart of man. When Sarah was informed, that she, notwithstanding the advanced age of herself and her husband, should bear a child, she laughed at the idea, as altogether incredible Genesis 18:9-15. The Israelites in the wilderness, notwithstanding they had seen all God's wonders in Egypt and at the Red Sea, conceived it impossible that God should ever give them flesh to eat in the wilderness Psalm 78:19-20; and Moses himself staggered at this promise through unbelief Numbers 11:18-23. So it is with us all: "we limit the Holy One of Israel Psalm 78:41," and "judge of him as if he were altogether such an one as ourselves Psalm 50:21."
But this is erroneous and absurd—
Very pointed is that interrogation in the text: "Thus says the Lord of Hosts; If it be marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvelous in my eyes? says the Lord of Hosts." "There is nothing impossible to God." He who by a word called the whole universe into existence, What can he not do? There were many in our Lord's days who doubted the resurrection of the body, because they could not conceive how the scattered atoms could ever be brought together and re-united into the same corporeal mass, so that every human being from the beginning to the end of the world should have his own proper body. But our blessed Lord said to them, "You do err, not knowing the Scriptures and the power of God Matthew 22:29." A just consideration of God's omnipotence would at once have removed all their doubts on this subject, as it will also on every other subject connected with prophecy. Particularly in reference to the final restoration and conversion of the Jews is the power of God insisted on, as a pledge and security for the performance of his promised mercy: "They shall be engrafted into their own olive-tree again; for God is able to engraft them in again Romans 11:23." When therefore we see the desperate state to which the Jews are reduced, and feel inclined to ask, "Can these dry bones live?" let us bear in mind, that God has declared they shall live Ezekiel 37:3-5, and that "what he has promised he is able also to perform Romans 4:21."
1. Let none indulge unbelief, in reference to their own souls—
Frequently are persons ready to despond, as though their difficulties in the divine life were too great to be surmounted. And truly, if our salvation depended on our own efforts only, we might well despond. But has not God engaged to keep his people 1 Samuel 2:9. Job 17:9. Philippians 1:6.: Has not the Lord Jesus Christ assured us, that "his grace shall be sufficient for us 2 Corinthians 12:9." Why then should we be cast down, as though there were no hope? See how tenderly God chides us for such unworthy and unfitting fears Isaiah 40:27-31; and learn to "live by faith in the Lord Jesus," and to be "strong in faith, giving glory to God Romans 4:20."
2. Let none indulge it, in reference to the Church of God—
We confess, "it is marvelous in our eyes," that the Jews should ever become such a people as we are taught to expect. But we are not therefore to doubt whether the promises of God respecting them will be fulfilled. What the prophet predicted respecting the speedy re-establishment of the Jews after their captivity, was fulfilled: and so will his predictions relative to their future restoration. Hence, in the words immediately following the text, it is said, "Let your hands be strong, you that hear, in these days, these words by the mouth of the prophets:" and again, in verse 13 "Fear not, but let your hands be strong." So then say I to you at this time: You who are engaged in promoting the welfare of the Jewish nation, "fear not, but let your hands be strong." Your prospects, humanly speaking, are discouraging; but God is on your side; and he who by the sound of rams' horns cast down the walls of Jericho, will, by your feeble efforts, "glorify himself, and make his own strength perfect in your weakness."
THE CONVERSION OF THE GENTILES
Zechariah 8:20-23. Thus says the Lord of Hosts, It shall yet come to pass, that there shall, come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts: I will go also. Yes, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus says the Lord of Hosts, In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.
IF we did not see that the generality of Christians, with the Scriptures in their hands, are yet ignorant of the plainest and most fundamental doctrines of our religion, we should wonder how the Jews, with the sacred oracles before them, could be such strangers to God's design of bringing the Gentiles into his Church. If there were no other passage, in all the inspired volume, relating to the subject, besides that which we have now read, they would have had abundant reason to expect that glorious event.
But the prophecy before us, however fulfilled in part in the apostolic and succeeding ages, is yet to receive, at a future period, a more complete accomplishment. In unfolding its meaning, we shall be led to consider,
I. The conversion of the Gentiles—
To human appearance, it must be granted, this event is very improbable: but,
It is certain—
It is an event foretold from the earliest ages by Moses Deuteronomy 32:21 with Romans 10:19-20. and the prophets Psalm 72:8-11. Isaiah. 49.and 60; and we are confirmed in our expectation of it by Christ Luke 21:24, and his apostles Romans 15:8-12; Romans 11:25.
It will, however, be sudden—
There will probably be no more prospect of its arrival, than there was of the restoration of the Jews from Babylon a little time before it took effect. "A nation shall then, as it were, be born in a day Isaiah 66:8." "As soon as the people hear of Christ, they shall obey him Psalm 18:43-44." No sooner shall his standard be erected, than they shall flock to it in crowds, "like doves to their windows Isaiah 60:2-3; Isaiah 60:8." Like persons eager for some great and unexpected good, they shall "lay hold of the skirt" of him, who they think can aid them in the attainment of it. Yes, so vast and sudden will be the accession of converts to the church, that the places appropriated to divine worship shall not be able to contain them, and the people of God themselves shall be filled with wonder and astonishment Isaiah 49:18-22.
It will also be universal—
"All the ends of the world are given to Christ as his possession Psalm 2:8." And in that day "many and strong nations" shall unite themselves to the Lord; and "men shall fear him from the rising to the setting sun Malachi 1:11." "All shall know him, from the least of them even to the greatest Jeremiah 31:34." All shall be righteous Isaiah 60:21; even the most ignorant countrymen shall be consecrated to the Lord Zechariah 14:20-21. None, or next to none, shall remain in an heathenish unconverted state Zechariah 14:21. The knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as universally as the waters cover the channel of the sea Habakkuk 2:14.
Together with this assurance of the event itself, the text further sets before us,
II. The way in which it will be manifested—
Conversion, wherever it exists, uniformly produces the effects mentioned in the text:
1. A cordial delight in God's ordinances—
A proud pharisee will go to the temple as well, and perhaps as often, as a repenting publican: but he never can find delight in the worship of God. Prayer is a task, that he performs either from necessity, or with a view to establish a righteousness of his own. But the true convert rejoices in opportunities of approaching God both in public and in private Psalm 148:14. Psalm 42:1-2. 1 John 1:3; There will indeed be many seasons when he will find his mind lamentably indisposed for holy exercises: but, when he is in a proper frame, his joy is in God alone Romans 5:11.
Nor will any true Christian be satisfied to serve God alone: when once he has tasted the benefits of communion with God, he will desire to bring all he can to a participation of his bliss John 1:41-42; John 1:45. Son. 1:4. Nor will he readily be put off with vain excuses: he knows the danger of procrastination; and therefore says, Come, "let us go speedily, and seek the Lord:" yes, to give more efficacy to his advice, he is glad to lead the way "I will go also.", and to profit others by his example, as well as by his precepts.
This will be an universally prevalent disposition in the latter day Micah 4:1-2; and it will assuredly prevail, wherever the grace of God is received in truth.
2. A zealous attachment to his people—
A person truly converted to God can no longer associate with those who would turn him from the paths of righteousness 2 Corinthians 6:14-15. He seeks rather those who will aid him in his journey heaven-ward. He sees that God is with his people, "comforting them with his presence John 16:21-22," and "blessing them with all spiritual blessings Ephesians 1:3." He therefore desires to cast in his lot with them Psalm 16:3. Isaiah 44:5 with Acts 2:41; he "takes the Lord's people, as it were, by the skirt, saying, I will go with you;" and, with Moses, accounts it better to renounce all the vanities of the world, and to "suffer affliction with the Lord's people, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season Hebrews 11:24-26." In this choice, he is not instigated by fear, as the heathen were in the days of Esther Esther 8:17, but from a firm persuasion that God is with his Church, and that there is no solid happiness to be enjoyed but in connection with it 1 Corinthians 14:25.
This subject affords ample matter,
1. For reproof—
With all our profession of Christianity, the generality never once in all their lives have manifested such a disposition as is described above. We frequently say to each other, 'Let us go to this or that amusement;' but never, "Let us go speedily and seek the Lord." On the contrary, though frequently and earnestly exhorted by the ministers of God, we cannot even be persuaded to seek the Lord for ourselves. What resemblance then is there between such persons, and the Christians of the latter day? Let us know that to call ourselves Christians, while we are wholly destitute of Christian principles and Christian habits, is a fond and fatal delusion.
2. For encouragement—
God is with his church at this time, as well as in the days of old Matthew 28:20; and his people can testify, that it is well with those who seek his face Ecclesiastes 8:12 with 2 Chronicles 26:5. Behold, then, we say to all, as Moses to his father-in-law, "We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you: and it shall be, if you go with us, yes, it shall be, that what goodness the Lord shall do unto us, the same will he do to you See Numbers 10:29; Numbers 10:32." Let the day then, the blessed day commence among us, when that prophecy shall be accomplished, "The children of Israel shall come together, going, and weeping; they shall go and seek the Lord their God: they shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten Jeremiah 50:4-5." This was written and published before the Author's attention was directed to the Jews. He has now added another Discourse on the same text, more illustrative, he trust, of its true meaning. And he leaves this as a lasting reproach to himself, for having passed over them in a passage, where, had he been duly alive to their welfare, he could not have overlooked them. Dr. Lowth has fallen into the same error.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE CONVERSION OF THE JEWS AND GENTILES
Zechariah 8:20-23. Thus says the Lord of Hosts; It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts: I will go also. Yes, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus says the Lord of Hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you.
WHEN the conversion of the Jews is proposed as an object proper to occupy the attention, and to call forth the exertions of the Christian world, it is often regarded as a visionary scheme, which it is in vain to hope will be realized in any other way than by miracle. The attempt also is deemed premature, because it is supposed that their conversion cannot be accomplished until the great mass of the Gentile world shall have embraced the faith of Christ. But the Scriptures give us no more reason to expect a miraculous interposition in behalf of the one, than of the other. The conversion of both will be effected as in the apostolic age. Though miracles were wrought then for the confirmation of the word, neither Jews nor Gentiles were converted by miracle, but by the preaching of the word, and the mighty operation of the Holy Spirit upon their souls. So, also, will it be in the latter day; and in somewhat of a similar order too. In the apostolic age, a number of Jews were first called, and then the Gentiles. So, in the Millennial period, the awakening will commence among the Gentiles; and then shall come the conversion of the Jews; who, being turned to the faith, will be God's instruments for the bringing-in of the whole Gentile world. This, I apprehend, is strongly intimated in the passage before us; in considering which, we shall have to state,
I. The conversion of the Gentiles—
This is an event which shall certainly take place in God's appointed time, and that, too, through the instrumentality of human efforts. As, in the apostolic age, the saints, on being driven from Jerusalem, "went everywhere preaching the word Acts 8:1-4;" so, at the period we are now speaking of, all, as soon as they are themselves awakened to see and feel the excellence of religion, will exert themselves to propagate it to the utmost of their power; the inhabitants of one city going to those of another, and exhorting them without delay to seek the Lord. This has certainly never yet been accomplished: for, though it is true that great multitudes of Gentiles were converted in the apostolic age, and their union with the Christian Church may be fitly considered as a fulfillment of the prophecy which says, They should "come up to worship the Lord in Jerusalem," as all Israel were accustomed to do three times in the year; yet nothing has ever yet taken place that has corresponded with the strong expressions in our text. There has never yet been such a conflux of Gentiles to the Christian Church as has answered to the declaration, that "many people and strong nations" should come unto it. While we admit, therefore, that there was, in the first ages of Christianity, a partial accomplishment of this prophecy, we must affirm, that its complete fulfillment is yet future, and that it is reserved for that time which is generally designated "the latter days." Then will a spirit of piety be diffused throughout the whole earth; insomuch that, "from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof, the name" of Jesus shall be adored Malachi 1:11, and "all the nations of the earth shall worship before him Psalm 72:8-11; Psalm 86:9." "Then shall there be but one King over all the earth Zechariah 14:9;" and "all the kingdoms of the world be the kingdom of the Lord, and of his Christ Revelation 11:15."
This point, the future conversion of the whole Gentile world, being generally known and admitted, I forbear to enlarge upon it; and proceed to mark, what is less known and less considered,
II. Its connection with, and dependence on, the conversion of the Jews—
The latter part of our text, like the former, may be regarded as having had a partial accomplishment in the days of the Apostles, through whose ministry vast multitudes were converted to the faith of Christ: for, as the Apostles were Jews, and as the Gentile converts, seeing, by the miracles which they wrought, that God was with them, freely and unreservedly submitted to their word; it might be said, that, in embracing the Gospel, they "took hold of the skirt of him that was a Jew." But we have already shown that the whole prophecy relates to a future period, even to that period when all, both Jews and Gentiles, shall be united under one Head, and form one glorious Church, under the true David, the Lord Jesus Christ Hosea 3:5. Then shall the Jews, who reaped the first-fruits among the Gentiles, be employed to gather in the whole harvest; and, to an extent that has never been seen before, shall ten men, out of all the languages of the nations, lay hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew; saying, "We will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you."
To these words different interpretations have been given. Some suppose "the Jew" here spoken of, is the Gospel, as revealed by the Apostles, who were Jews: others understand the word as designating Christians generally, who are sometimes called "Jews." Others think that Christ himself is spoken of under this name. But I understand it as relating literally to the Jewish nation; and as declaring, that the Jews shall be first converted to the faith of Christ; that their conversion shall attract the notice and admiration of the Gentiles; and that they shall be eminently instrumental in converting the whole Gentile world.
1. From the whole scope of the preceding context—
Can any one read the first eight verses of the chapter, and imagine for a moment that the Apostles are spoken of; or that their word is spoken of; or that Christians are spoken of, under the name of Jews? Beyond a doubt, the persons referred to are the descendants of Israel and Judah, who shall be restored to their own land, and enjoy there a state of unprecedented prosperity Cite the whole of the passages here referred to.
2. From many particular expressions throughout the context—
"The House of Israel and the House of Judah" are spoken of as the persons to whom the prophecy pertains, and as the persons who are to be instrumental in conveying "the blessings to the Gentile world." And these are the persons who have been "a curse" to the world. Can this refer to the Apostles, or to the word which they have transmitted to us, or to converted Christians, in any age? Have the Apostles ever been a curse to the world, or their word a curse, or pious Christians a curse? Have they ever been anything but "a blessing?" But the Jewish people have been execrated all the world over; yes, and have been the occasions of many judgments to the people among whom they have dwelt: and of them it is said, that they shall be "a blessing verse 13."
Again: God says, that as He repented not, but executed upon the Jews his threatened judgments, so will he assuredly fulfill to them his "promises to do them good verse 14, 15." What reference can this have to the Apostles, or their word, or to the Church of Christ?
Again: He exhorts them to "speak the truth, and love no false oath verse 16, 17." To whom can this refer, but to the Jews who shall exist at that time?
Again: He tells them, that the Fasts instituted in remembrance of the evils which had brought upon them the Divine judgments, and of the calamities which the Chaldeans had inflicted on them, should, at the appointed season, be turned to Feasts verse 18, 19. The two former of these, the Fast of the fifth month and of the seventh, are mentioned in chapter 7:3, 5.That of the fifth month (July) was in remembrance of the City and Temple burnt by the Chaldeans. See 2 Kings 25:8-9. That of the seventh (Sept.) in memory of the murder of Gedaliah. See 2 Kings 25:25 with Jeremiah 41:17-18. That of the fourth month (June) commemorated the taking of Jerusalem. See Jeremiah 52:6-7 : and that of the tenth (Dec.) the commencement of the siege by the Chaldean army. See Jeremiah 52:4. What sense can there be in this, as applied to the
Apostles, or their word; or to the Christian Church? It can relate to none but the Jews personally; even those who shall be alive in the latter day.
3. From the express words of our text—
On a supposition that the great body of the Gentiles are to be converted first, and that they are to be the means of bringing in the Jews, the language of the text must be altogether changed. The Gentiles are more than a hundred times as numerous as the Jews; and if they are to be converted first, and then bring in the Jews, they must say, not as in the text, "Ten men shall take hold of the skirt of one Jew;" but, "we ten, out of all the languages of the nations, hold out our skirts to you, a poor Jew, saying, Come with US; for you have heard and seen that God is with us." But this were to reverse the text altogether, which represents ten Gentiles as taking hold of the skirt of one Jew.
4. From the passage to which the text itself evidently refers—
There can be no doubt but that the prophet had in his mind the language used by Moses to Hobab, his father-in-law, when he endeavored to persuade him to go up to the earthly Canaan: "Come you with us, and we will do you good: for the Lord has spoken good concerning Israel. And it shall be, if you go with us; yes, it shall be, that what goodness the Lord shall do unto us, the same will we do unto you Numbers 10:29; Numbers 10:32." Thus, in the latter days, the Gentiles, seeing beyond a doubt that God is with his people the Jews, will be anxious to go up with them to "the New Jerusalem, the city that comes down from God out of Heaven."
5. From the whole Scriptures of truth—
The whole Scriptures declare, with one voice, that the Jews shall be converted first, and be God's honored instruments for the converting of the whole Gentile world. The Prophet Micah says, "The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass, that tarries not for man, nor waits for the sons of men Micah 5:7." The dew and the clouds come not at man's call; but go when and where the Lord is pleased to send them: and, unconscious of the ends for which they are sent, they fertilize the ground in God's appointed time, and diffuse life wherever they descend. So are the Jews scattered unwittingly, and unconscious of the ends for which they are sent, over the face of the whole earth, to impart, in due season, all the blessings of life and salvation to a perishing world. And to this effect does the Prophet Isaiah also speak, when of them, in their present scattered state, he says, "They shall declare my glory among the Gentiles; and shall bring all their Brethren, as the Children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the House of the Lord Isaiah 66:19-20 with Romans 15:16." Whether the persons, here called their brethren, be their brethren of the ten tribes, whose place of residence is not known; or of the Gentiles, who may be called brethren by anticipation; I cannot exactly say: but this is plain; "They shall declare God's glory among the Gentiles." And speaks not the Apostle Paul also to the same purpose? He says, "If the fall of them (the Jews) be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fullness? If the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead Romans 11:12; Romans 11:15." Yes, it is the admission of the Jews into the Christian Church that will be the means of awakening the attention of the whole Gentile world; who, beholding and admiring the grace of God in them, will, with holy zeal, embrace the Gospel of Christ, and fly to him with unanimity, "as a cloud," and with speed, "as doves to their windows Isaiah 60:8 with Zephaniah 3:20 and Jeremiah 33:9."
Thus I think it appears, both from the Scriptures in general, and from my text in particular, that the Jews must be converted first, before the great body of the Gentiles be gathered in; and that they are ordained of God to be his honored instruments for the conversion of the whole world.
As for the notion of some Commentators, that Christ is the Jew, on whose skirt the Gentiles shall lay hold, it really is so foreign to the whole context, that it does not deserve a moment's consideration. The Jews themselves are far nearer to the true interpretation than such expositors as these. The Jews adduce this passage, to prove, that, instead of their ever embracing Christianity, the Christian world are to become Jews; since it is said, that the whole world shall "take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you." The Jews, I say, are so far right in this interpretation, that they are the persons designated in the text: only the passage must be understood of Jews who have embraced their Messiah, and not of Jews who continue to reject him. With this only proviso, the Jews are right: and we Christians should exert ourselves to the utmost, to prepare them for the work they are destined to perform.
Learn, then, from hence,
1. The great importance of the Jewish cause—
By the Jewish cause, I mean the endeavors which are now making for the conversion of the Jews. It is a lamentable fact, that the Christian world has never yet, since the time of the Apostles, paid to it the attention it deserves. The situation of the Gentile world has not been overlooked; but that of the Jews has been altogether forgotten, except in one or two instances, where partial exertions have been made for their welfare. But why should they be thus excepted, and be the only people upon earth that are to be cut off from the flow of Christian benevolence? Are not their souls of as much value as the souls of others? Is it a small matter that six or eight millions of souls should be daily and hourly going down into perdition; and be left, in all their successive generations, to "perish for lack of knowledge?" But consider them as "beloved of God;" as no doubt they still are, notwithstanding all that they are suffering at his hands; consider them, I say, as "beloved of God;" and will you think it right that they should be despised by us?
But come more closely to the point: view them as God's instruments for the conversion of the world; and then say, whether we should not seek to bring them to the knowledge of the truth? Truly, if we have no regard but for the Gentiles, we ought, even for their sakes, to express love to the Jews, and to labor, to the utmost of our power, to fit them for their destined work: yes, the greater our concern for the Gentiles, the more earnest should be our efforts for the Jews. Permit me then, if it be only for the Gentiles' sake, to urge upon you an attention to the Jews; and henceforth to labor for them, as their ancestors in the apostolic age labored and endured for you: The gardener, when his corn is ripe, looks out for reapers. Do you the same now. The Gentile field is ripening apace: the Jews are God's appointed reapers. Engage them, then, without delay, that the harvest may be gathered throughout all the earth.
2. The duty of Christians in all ages—
You have seen the religion which will characterize that blessed period to which we are looking forward. There will be a delight in worshiping and serving God: there will be zealous exertions, too, in all, to stir up one another to a holy emulation in this good work. None will be satisfied with going to Heaven alone, or serving God alone. All will be anxious for the good of all: all will be active, too, in honoring their God, and in promoting the interests of the Redeemer's kingdom. The people of one city will go to another city, to exhort and urge them to an active concurrence in every good work. Methinks the means, which are now used on so contracted a scale that a few only embark in this service of love, will then be adopted on the largest scale; and whole societies, or rather whole cities, shall unite to provoke one another unto love and to good works.
Yet, let me say, I would not have any to imagine that a zeal either for Jews or Gentiles will stand in the place of personal religion. If we commend to any the blessed word of God, or the embracing of our holy religion, let us take care to lead the way, in the study of the one, and in the practice of the other. Let us never say to any, "Come," without adding at the same time, "I will go also." Yes, and let us so lead the way, as the Jew will do at the period before referred to: let us so walk before others, that they may see, and be constrained to acknowledge, "that God is with us of a truth." Let us be living "epistles of Christ, known and read of all men;" so that others may "lay hold of our skirt," and wish to "go with us," and have "their portion with us," in the realms of bliss. Let us "be as lights shining in a dark world;" and "so make our light to shine before men, that they, seeing our good works, may glorify our Father which is in Heaven." This is our duty, no less than it will be of those who shall live in the latter day. Our religion must be neither wholly personal, nor wholly official; but a just combination of both: and, while we are laboring to the uttermost to "save ourselves," we must use all diligence to save every other person who can by any means be brought within the sphere of our influence."
THE ADVENT OF JESUS A GROUND OF JOY
Zechariah 9:9. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, your King comes unto you: he is just, and having salvation: lowly, and riding upon an donkey, and upon a colt the foal of an donkey.
THERE is scarcely any circumstance relating to the life and death of Christ which was not made a subject of prophecy many hundred years before he came into the world. Even things the most improbable in themselves were predicted, that by their accomplishment the truth of his divine mission might be more fully manifest. That the words before us do indeed relate to him, is certain; because the voice of inspiration assures us that they were fulfilled when he entered into Jerusalem riding on the foal of an donkey. In discoursing on them we shall consider,
I. The description here given of Jesus—
In his office he is the "King of Zion"—
The whole universe is under his dominion, seeing that he is "King of kings, and Lord of lords." But he is in a more eminent manner King of Zion, because all the members of Zion are his subjects willingly and by an sincere surrender of themselves to him. They gladly receive his laws; and he constantly affords them his protection. As the Church in the wilderness was under a visible theocracy, so is the Church in all ages, and every individual in the Church, really, though invisibly, under the care and government of Jesus Ephesians 1:22.
In his character he is the best of princes—
He is just—
His justice appears in every law which he has enacted, and his righteousness in every part of his administration. There are indeed many things in his government, which we are not at present able to account for; but the day of judgment will clear up all the present obscurities, and manifest, that every the minutest occurrence was ordered by him with unerring wisdom, goodness, and truth. It will then be seen that "righteousness was at all times the belt of his loins, and faithfulness the belt of his reins Isaiah 11:5."
He is powerful—
Earthly kings may be just, yet not be able to screen their subjects from the injustice of others. But Jesus "has salvation" in his hand for all those who call upon him. Does sin oppress us? he can deliver us both from its guilt and power. Does Satan assault and buffet us? "His grace shall he sufficient" for the weakest of his people. Does "the fear of death keep us in bondage?" He can make us triumphant both in the prospect of it now, and in a happy resurrection at the last day.
He is lowly—
Great power and dignity are too often the means of engendering pride in our hearts. The kings of the earth would think it a degradation to converse familiarly with their meanest subjects; but our Almighty Monarch possesses a lowliness of mind, which makes him accessible to every subject in his dominions. There is not any moment when we may not enter into his presence, nor any complaint which we may not pour into his bosom. His ear is ever open to hear, and his hand ever stretched out to relieve, his needy suppliants. The same lowliness which induced him, at his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, to ride upon a young donkey, with no other furniture than the clothes of his poor disciples, when he might as easily have commanded all the pomp and splendor of an earthly monarch, still actuates him in his exalted state. There is no office to which he will not condescend for the benefit of those who wait upon him.
From this description of Jesus we may well be prepared to hear,
II. The exhortation to rejoice in his advent—
The advent of such a prince is a proper ground of joy for all people—
When first he came in the flesh, the event was announced by angels as glad-tidings of great joy to all people. And all the multitudes who surrounded him at the time referred to in the text, were penetrated with the liveliest joy. And is there not now as much cause for joy as on either of those occasions? Are not the great ends of his advent better understood now than at his incarnation? and the nature of his kingdom more clearly seen than at the time of his triumphant entry into Jerusalem? Surely then our joy should far surpass all that could be experienced at those seasons. How should poor captives now rejoice to hear that there is one proclaiming liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound! If an earthly king were coming not only to redress all the grievances of his people, but to relieve all their wants, and enrich them with all that their hearts could desire, would not all exult and leap for joy? Would not every one be impatient to see him, and to receive his benefits? Why then should not all rejoice in the advent of Him, who is come to bind up the broken-hearted, and to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness?
But the "daughters of Zion" in particular should rejoice in this event—
The daughters of Zion are the true members of the church, who have been begotten by the Word and Spirit of God. These are addressed by the prophet, and are bidden to exult and "shout" for joy. Well does the prophet select them as the persons to whom he should direct his exhortation. "Let them give thanks whom the Lord has redeemed." They know the glorious character of their prince. They have found both his laws and government to be "holy and just and good." They have experienced his power to save, "to save to the uttermost those that call upon him." They have continual proofs of his lowliness, being admitted daily to the most intimate fellowship with him. Should not they then rejoice? "Surely the very stones would cry out against them it they held their peace." "Behold" then, believers, your King, even he whom you have chosen to reign over you, is come. He now waits for you. "Arise, lo! he calls you." Go, enter into his presence-chamber, and receive the blessings which he is come to bestow.
Are there any who feel no disposition to rejoice in this event? Alas! too many, like Herod and the Pharisees, cannot join in the general chorus. Let them not, however, imagine themselves related to the church of God: they are daughters of the world, but not daughters of Zion; nor need they have any other evidence of their alienation from God, than their want of joy in the Lord. How base is their ingratitude! that the Lord of glory should come down from Heaven for them, and they have no hearts to welcome his arrival: that they should be gratified with the company of an earthly friend, and have no delight in communion with Jesus. Surely if they were to have all the curses of God's law inflicted on them, who served not the Lord with joyfulness and gladness of heart on account of the temporal benefits bestowed upon them Deuteronomy 28:45; Deuteronomy 28:47, they must have a far heavier condemnation, who so despise the condescension and love of our incarnate God. Mark then the alternative to which you are reduced; you must begin now that joy in the Lord which you shall possess forever, or, by continuing insensible of his mercy, continue destitute of any interest in it to all eternity. Choose you now whether you will have life or death: remember, however necessary it may be at other times to weep for your sins, it is to joy that we now invite you; not to carnal joy, but to that which is spiritual and heavenly. We unite with the Apostle in saying, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say, Rejoice." Methinks such an exhortation should not be slighted, especially when your present joy is to be a certain prelude to eternal happiness: but if you will still despise the mercies of your God, behold this King comes shortly to judge the world; behold he comes riding upon the heavens with myriads of the heavenly host: know too that he is just and powerful; but his justice will condemn, and his power punish you. Go to him then in this day of salvation, welcome him in this the accepted time; so shall you, at his second coming, behold his face with joy, and join the choir of Heaven in everlasting hallelujahs.
CHRIST A STRONG HOLD
Zechariah 9:12. Turn you to the strong hold, you prisoners of hope: even today do I declare that I will render double unto you.
IF the declarations of God be humiliating, and the denunciations of his vengeance awful, we must acknowledge that his invitations and promises afford us all the encouragement we can desire; inasmuch as they are addressed to persons in those very circumstances wherein we are. Nor should we be averse to confess the truth of our state, when we see what provision God has made for our happiness and salvation. The words before us lead us to consider,
I. The persons addressed—
All men, as sinners, are condemned by the law of God, and may therefore be considered as prisoners arrested by divine justice, and sentenced to eternal death. But they who hear the Gospel are "prisoners of hope:"
1. Though they be prisoners, yet they have a hope—
Those, who have died in their sins, are utterly without hope, being reserved in chains of darkness unto the judgment of the great day. But as long as we continue in the world, we need not to despair. The invitations of the Gospel are sent to us; nor can any thing but an obstinate rejection of divine mercy cut us off from the blessings of salvation. Though we are condemned, and are every hour in danger of having the sentence executed upon us, yet there is a way opened for us to escape, and we may obtain mercy even at the eleventh hour.
2. There is however but one hope, unto which all are shut up Galatians 3:23.—
Christ is set before us as the way, the truth, and the life; nor is there any other name given under Heaven whereby we can be saved. We are all enclosed as the prophets of Baal: and the order is given, Go in and slay 2 Kings 10:18-25; but Christ says, "1 am the door John 10:9;" and if we will flee out at that door, we shall live; if not, we shall perish in our sins. Christ came on purpose to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound: to them that are sitting in the prison-house, lie says, Go forth, and show yourselves Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 49:9; Isaiah 61:1. But if we spend our time in devising other methods of escape besides that which he has provided, the hour appointed for execution will come, and we shall suffer the punishment which our sins have merited.
Thus while we see that all, who need the provisions of the Gospel, are addressed by it, let us consider,
II. The invitation given them—
Christ is here represented as a strong hold—
Christ is evidently the person referred to in the whole preceding context. He is that meek but powerful King, who comes to subdue all nations to himself, not by carnal weapons, but by speaking peace to them; and who confirms his kindness towards them by a covenant sealed with his own blood Zechariah 9:9-11. He is represented as a strong hold to which, not the righteous only, but the most ungodly, may run for safety. Here may be some allusion to the cities of refuge to which the manslayer was appointed to flee, and in which he found protection from his blood-thirsty pursuer Numbers 35:11-12. Such a refuge is Christ, an impregnable fortress, which defies the assaults of earth and Hell.
To this we are all invited to turn—
The Gospel thus exhibits Christ, not as an abstract speculation, but as a remedy which we greatly need: and in exhorting us to "turn to this strong hold,"it recommends us to renounce all false refuges, to regard Christ as our only Savior, and to seek in him that protection which he alone can afford us. It stretches out the hand to us, as Christ did to Peter, when he was sinking in the waves. It urges us to go without hesitation, and without delay, to him, who alone can deliver us from the wrath to come, and bring us into the liberty of God's children. To the same effect it speaks in numberless other passages: it calls the thirsty to come for refreshment, the weary to come for rest, and to the dying says, "Look unto Christ and be saved."
But because even the most needy are apt to turn a deaf ear to the calls of the Gospel, we would direct your attention to,
III. The promise with which the invitation is enforced—
The terms in which the promise is conveyed, are somewhat obscure—
The expression of "rendering double"will be best understood by comparing it with other passages of the same kind Isaiah 40:2; Isaiah 61:7. From them its import appears to be, that God will give us blessings in rich abundance; not according to the sufferings we have endured Psalm 90:15, but double; not corresponding to the punishment we have deserved, but double; not equal to the blessings enjoyed by our fathers, but double. Or perhaps it may be best explained by the Apostle's declaration, that God will give us "abundantly, exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think."Certainly the promise implies, that we shall not only be delivered from prison, but be restored to the favor of our God; not only have our debt discharged, but be enriched with a glorious inheritance.
The manner in which it is given is peculiarly solemn and energetic—
God is desirous that we should give implicit credit to his word: hence he speaks as one who would on no account recede from it: he speaks as in the presence of ten thousand witnesses, and pledges all his perfections for the performance of his promise. And as the day of our desponding fears is long remembered by us, and as we, in that day, find a want of all the support which God himself can administer, he dates his promise as made to us in that very day; not at a time when our difficulties were not foreseen, but when they were at the height, and when nothing but the immediate hand of God could deliver us. Yes, God would have us consider the promise as made to us this day, this very day, this very hour, when we most need the application of it to our souls; and, that every individual may take it to himself and rely on it as intended for himself alone, the promise is made particular, while the invitation is general.
1. How astonishing are the condescension and compassion of God!
Behold the Judge offers mercy to the prisoners, and urges them in the most affectionate manner to accept it! Methinks prisoners in general would need no entreaty to leave their dungeons; if their prison doors were open, and their chains were beaten off, they would be glad enough to effect their escape, though at the risk of a severer punishment. Nor would a manslayer need much importunity to enter into the city of refuge, if an armed avenger were closely pursuing him. Yet we slight the invitations of our God, and the security he has provided for us. Well then might he leave us to perish! But behold, he enforces his invitations with the most gracious promises: he engages to exceed our utmost wishes or conceptions. And shall we not admire such transcendent grace? Shall we not adore him for such marvelous loving-kindness? O let every heart glow with love to him, and every tongue declare his praise!
2. How reasonable is zeal in the concerns of religion!
Zeal is approved in everything, but in that which most of all deserves it. But would any one ask a defeated army, why they fled with haste to an impregnable fortress? Surely, it is no less absurd to condemn the prisoners of hope for any earnestness they may manifest in turning to their strong hold. Coldness in such circumstances is the most deplorable infatuation. Let all then exert themselves to the utmost of their power. Let them never regard the scoffs of those who are in love with their chains, and regardless of the salvation offered them. But let them strive, as men wrestling for the mastery, and run as those that are determined to win the prize.
3. How great is the danger of delay!
Now we are prisoners of hope! but soon we may be in that prison from whence there is no escape, and into which not one ray of hope can ever enter. Shall we not then turn, while the strong hold is open to us? Shall we stay until the gate is shut; and thus, instead of obtaining double mercies, procure to ourselves an aggravated condemnation? Today God invites and promises; tomorrow may terminate our day of grace. Let us then no longer delay; but "today, while it is called today, let us hear his voice," and "flee for refuge to the hope set before us."
THE GLORY OF CHRIST
Zechariah 9:17. How great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty!
THE glory of Christ is manifested throughout all the Holy Scriptures. This is attested both by the Apostles and by our Lord himself Acts 10:43. Luke 24:27. John 5:39. In the New Testament he shines like the sun in an unclouded atmosphere: in the Old, though generally veiled, he often bursts forth as from behind a cloud with astonishing beauty and splendor. Such a view of him is exhibited in the chapter now before us After foretelling the preservation of the Jews amidst the destruction of surrounding nations, the prophet called their attention to Christ, as their lowly but triumphant king (verse 9.), who should redeem them by his blood (verse 11.), be a strong hold to all who should turn unto him (verse 12.), and save them with an everlasting salvation, (verse 16.): nor could the prophet himself forbear exclaiming with wonder and admiration, "How great is his goodness!"etc.
We cannot have our minds more delightfully occupied than in contemplating,
I. The goodness of our Lord—
In the context he is set forth as the God of providence and grace: and, in order to behold his goodness, we must view him in both respects:
1. As the God of providence—
As all things wove created, so are they upheld and governed by him. To him we owe the preservation of our corporeal and intellectual powers. We are continually fed by his bounty, and protected by his arm. The meanest creature in the universe has abundant reason to adore him. His own people in particular may discern unnumbered instances of his goodness in his dispensations towards them. His most afflictive as well as his more pleasing dispensations afford them much occasion for gratitude and thanksgiving Psalm 119:75.
2. As a God of grace—
Jesus is the one fountain of spiritual blessings to his Church Ephesians 1:22. Neither Prophets nor Apostles had any grace but from him John 1:16. To him we must ascribe every good disposition that is in our hearts Philippians 2:13. Hebrews 12:2. What reason then have his faithful followers to bless his name! How thankful should they be that he called them by his grace! That he so distinguished them, not only from the fallen angels, but from multitudes of the human race! With what gratitude should they acknowledge his continued kindness! Though they have often turned back from him, he has not cast them off. Yes, rather, he has "healed their backslidings and loved them freely." Surely, every blessing they receive, and every victory they gain, should fill them with admiring thoughts of his goodness 2 Corinthians 2:14. Let every soul then comply with that injunction of the Psalmist Psalm 145:7. And, like him, repeat the wish, which a sense of his mercies must inspire Psalm 107:8; Psalm 107:15; Psalm 107:21; Psalm 107:31.
If we have just conceptions of his goodness we shall be more able to behold,
II. His beauty—
The world behold "no beauty nor loveliness" in the face of Jesus; but the saints of "old saw his glory as the glory of the only-begotten of the Father"—
This we also may see, if we survey him,
1. In his divine character—
"We cannot by searching find out the Almighty to perfection." Little do we know of the greatness of his majesty, or the thunder of his power Job 26:14. We cannot comprehend his unsearchable wisdom, his unspotted holiness, his inviolable truth and faithfulness. We can scarcely form any idea of the inflexibility of his justice, the extent of his mercy, or the heights and depths of his love Ephesians 3:19; We know that Jesus is the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person Hebrews 1:3; but, when we attempt to delineate that image, we only "darken counsel by words without knowledge Job 38:2." His glory is more than the feeble language of mortality can express.
2. In his human character—
Here we look at him, as the Jews at Moses when his face was veiled, and can contemplate him more easily, because he shines with a less radiant luster. Doubtless while he lay in the manger the virtues of his mind beamed forth in his countenance. Nor is it to be wondered at that the Jewish doctors were so filled with admiration at him while he was yet a child Luke 2:46-47. But principally must we view him during the course of his ministry. What marvelous compassion did he manifest to the souls and bodies of men! Not one applied to him for bodily or spiritual health without obtaining his request. And when many were hardened in their sins he wept over them Luke 19:41; yes, he even pleaded the cause of those who mocked and reviled him on the cross Luke 23:34. His zeal for God was ardent and unremitted. It was "his meat and drink to do the will of his heavenly Father;" nor could anything for one moment divert or deter him from the prosecution of his work. His meekness, patience, fortitude, were altogether invincible. Whatever was amiable and excellent in man abounded in him Psalm 45:2. He was not merely virtuous, but virtue itself incarnate. Nor, though continually tried in the hottest furnace, was there found in him the smallest imperfection or alloy John 14:30.
3. In his mediatorial character—
With what readiness did he become a surety for sinful man Psalm 40:7-8. What astonishing condescension did he manifest in uniting himself to our nature! How cheerfully did he go forth to meet the sufferings that were appointed for him. In the garden and on the cross, when to the eye of sense "his visage was marred more than any man's," his beauty was most conspicuous to the eye of faith. His obedience unto death was the fruit of his love, and the price of our redemption. How beautiful is he now in the eyes of those who behold his glory! And how will he "be admired and glorified by all" in the last day! Satan must have blinded us indeed if we be yet insensible to his charms 2 Corinthians 4:4. If we be true believers, he cannot but be precious to our souls 1 Peter 2:7.
1. To those who have never yet beheld the goodness and beauty of the Lord—
We speak not now to those who seek his face, and long to enjoy him; for though their sorrow endure for a night, joy will come to them in the morning. But they, who pant not after him, are miserably ignorant of his excellency. Their views of Christ are different from those of the most competent judges To the Father he is "chosen and precious," 1 Peter 2:4; to the angels, the subject of their praise, Revelation 5:11-12; to saints of old, an object of great desire, Haggai 2:7. John 8:56; to all pious men at this time, their supreme good, Philippians 3:7-8, and different from what they will shortly be in the eternal world. Let such persons diligently consider the Savior's character, and cry to God for that spirit whose office it is to reveal Christ unto us. Then shall they both see the King in his beauty, and be changed into his image Isaiah 33:17. 2 Corinthians 3:18.
2. To those whose eyes have been opened to behold him—
Let your meditations of him be more sweet and frequent. However much you know of him, there are unsearchable depths unfathomed. Let your determination therefore accord with that of David Psalm 27:4. View him as appointing your trials, and dispensing your mercies. Consider him as the fountain from whence you are to have supplies of grace. Look to him as the example which you are continually to follow. Above all, rely on him as expiating your guilt, and interceding for you. Thus will you glory in him as your "friend and your beloved;" and at last will see him as he is, and be like him forever.
CHRIST THE STRENGTH OF HIS PEOPLE
Zechariah 10:12. I will strengthen them in the Lord; and they shall walk up and down in His name, says the Lord.
IF we were to judge of Christianity from what we behold around us, we should give it a preference, perhaps, to all other religions; but we should be far from thinking very highly of its nature and effects. The generality of those who profess it, are but little elevated above the better orders of the heathen world; and, in some respects perhaps, have a lower standard of morals than they. If it were asked of the great mass of nominal Christians, What has Christianity done for you? in what respect are you either a better or a happier man, than you would have been if Christ had never come into the world? it would be difficult for them to give any satisfactory answer, consistent with truth. Even those who do feel somewhat of its influence are far from manifesting its full power. In order to judge of its real excellence, we must go back to former days, and see how it wrought in the apostolic age; or must look forward to that glorious period, when it shall prevail over the face of the globe, and exercise a more complete sway over the hearts of men. It is to this period that my text refers; a period, when, in comparison of the present, "the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun sevenfold, as the light of seven days Isaiah 30:26."
In opening the passage to your view, I shall be led to speak of,
I. The state to which the Jews shall, in due season, be restored—
The Jews will, at a future season, be restored to God—
Of this, no man who believes the Scriptures can entertain a doubt. The passage before us, even if it stood alone, would be amply sufficient to warrant our expectation of this event. But it is one of many: for the prophets all, with one voice, agree in declaring that God has not finally cast off his people; but that they shall return to him, and enjoy under their Messiah a state of prosperity far exceeding anything that they ever experienced since they became a nation. That that event is spoken of in the passage before us, will be evident to any one who will consult the context. Read it from the sixth verse. The persons spoken of are both Judah and Israel: "I will strengthen the House of Judah, and I will save the House of Joseph." It was the former only that were brought from Babylon: and therefore the prophecy must relate to a period yet future, even to the return of the whole nation from their present dispersion. "The Lord will hiss for them," as men in Eastern countries are accustomed to do when they would collect their bees Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 7:18.with verse 8; and "they shall come from Egypt and Assyria," and from all countries where they have been driven, "unto the land of Gilead and Lebanon," where they shall increase as rapidly as they did in former times; insomuch that "place shall not be found for them to dwell in verse 10." This circumstance, which is considered by many as an objection to the literal interpretation of those prophecies which speak of their return to their own land, instead of being an objection to such an interpretation, is actually contemplated in the prophecy, and specifically predicted. In their present dispersion, they seem as if they were cast off: but, though scattered over the face of the globe, they are only "sown" there, as seed which the gardener casts over his field, with a view to reap, and gather it to greater advantage at a future period verse 9. Their return will be a season of most sublime joy, both to them and their children verse 7; and the interpositions of God in their behalf will be as visible and as effectual as those which were given at the Red Sea, on their departure from Egypt; or at the river Jordan, on their entrance into Canaan. Every obstacle shall be removed from before them, and every opposing enemy be destroyed verse 11.
Persons who are adverse to the idea of a literal restoration of the Jews to their own land, will satisfy themselves with saying, that the whole of this description is figurative: but if this be figurative, where, I would ask, shall anything be found that is to be taken in a literal sense? or, supposing God to have ordained to accomplish anything literally, by what plainer terms could he possibly declare it? There must, I think, be an end of all certainty in language, if the event here predicted be not to be understood in its literal and most obvious sense.
Their restoration, however, will be, not literal only, but spiritual also—
At their triumphant entrance into Canaan, they were strong in the Lord Jehovah, in whose name they took possession of the land, and in dependence upon whom they walked through its length and breadth. At their future restoration to God, such also will be their confidence in their Messiah; whom they will then acknowledge as their Lord, and their God. The Prophet Hosea plainly declares this: "Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their King; and shall fear the Lord, and his goodness, in the latter days Hosea 3:5." In his name, and in his strength, will they then go forth against their spiritual, no less than against their temporal, enemies: and their victories over both the one and the other will be complete. It cannot be doubted, but that, in that day, they will be as much distinguished for righteousness as for prowess in arms Isaiah 60:1-2; for "they shall be all righteous Isaiah 60:21;" their penitence will be exceeding deep Zechariah 12:10, their piety most refined Zechariah 13:9, their devotion to God universal and entire Zechariah 14:20-21.
Christianity being already embraced by us, we may see in this passage,
II. The state which it is our privilege to enjoy at this day—
We have been redeemed, if not by the power of divine grace, at least by the price once paid for us on Calvary. As the Lord's people, therefore, we are privileged to live by faith on Christ, and to possess in him,
1. Invincible strength—
In ourselves, we remain as weak as ever: but in Christ we are strong: for in him there is all fullness treasured up for us Colossians 1:19; and out of that fullness we are privileged to receive even grace corresponding with all the grace that is in him John 1:16. He is appointed "Head over all things to the Church," for that very end Ephesians 1:22-23; that we, as members, may be "strengthened with all might, by his Spirit in the inner man Ephesians 3:16, and have all our "enemies bruised under our feet." We are commanded to "be strong, not in ourselves, but in the Lord, and in the power of his might Ephesians 6:10;" and to regard our own weakness rather as an encouragement, than as any ground of despondency; because he will delight to "perfect his own strength in our weakness 2 Corinthians 12:9."
Without hesitation, then, do I say to every believing soul, "Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus 2 Timothy 2:1;" and never contemplate the strength of your adversaries, but the power of your heavenly Lord. Never doubt, for a moment, but that "his grace shall be sufficient for you:" and let your daily consolation be, "that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you Philippians 4:13.
2. Assured confidence—
St. Paul's direction, probably in allusion to this very passage, is, "As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk you in him Colossians 2:6." Never for a moment forget "in whom you have believed, or how able he is to keep that which you have committed to him." Wherever you turn your steps, you will doubtless meet with many adversaries: but "in him" you may "walk up and down" with confidence, defying every enemy, and saying, "If God be for me, who can be against me?" See how the Messiah himself exulted in the days of his flesh; and what an example he has therein afforded you! "The Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint; and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifies me; who will contend with me? let us stand together. Who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God will help me; who is he who shall condemn me? To, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up Isaiah 50:7-9." Indeed, this very language is adopted by the Apostle Paul, who proceeds yet further to challenge every created being: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord Romans 8:33-39." Here we have a perfect comment on the words of our text: here we see what that confidence is which every Christian should feel, when he says, "In the Lord have I righteousness and strength Isaiah 45:24-25." Thus it is, that "in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified; and thus it is, that they should glory." To all of you, then, I say, "Walk in Christ, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith as you have been taught, abounding therein with thanks-giving."
Is this, then, the state to which the whole world shall in due time be brought?
1. Contemplate it in reference to the Jews—
Does it not rejoice you to reflect on the mercy which is in reserve for them; for them, to whose ancestors you yourselves are so greatly indebted? As far as relates to their restoration to their own land, it is no otherwise of importance, than as fulfilling the Divine promises, and magnifying the grace of God towards them. But their believing in Christ, and experiencing the blessedness of his salvation, how ardently is it to be desired! and how should the prospect of it fill every soul with joy! Be not indifferent to it, beloved brethren. The Scriptures are full of this glorious subject; and universal nature is called upon to exult and glory in it. If you had no concern but for the benighted Gentiles, you should take an interest in the welfare of the Jews; seeing that the "receiving them into the Christian fold will be as life from the dead to the whole world Romans 11:15."
But put aside all consideration, except for the honor of your Lord and Savior. Shall it be no joy to you that his kingdom shall be extended throughout all the earth; and that upon the whole face of the globe there shall be but "one Lord, and his name one?" Truly, if you have the smallest measure of love to his name, you will strive, and pray that this blessed period may be hastened, and that he may speedily be the "King over all the earth."
2. Seek to enjoy it in your own souls—
Hear the determination of the Church of old: "All people will walk every one in the name of his God: and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever Micah 4:5." And is not this the proper resolution for us to adopt? Adopt it then, my brethren; and may Almighty "God strengthen you" to fulfill it! and may your whole "walk" and conversation, to your latest hour, illustrate and confirm it!.
THE MUTUAL ABHORRENCE BETWEEN GOD AND SINNERS
Zechariah 11:8. My soul loathed them; and their soul also abhorred me.
THE judgments of God that from time to time are inflicted on mankind are standing proofs that man has offended his Maker, and that God is displeased with his creatures. In this view they are continually represented in the Scriptures; and in this light the prophet taught his hearers to consider them. God had determined to "abolish that covenant which he had made with his people," and to destroy the Jewish polity, the sacred part of which he called "Beauty," and the civil "Bands." He speaks of himself as having already cut off (or perhaps, in prophetic language, as determined to cut off) three shepherds, the princes, the prophets, and the priests, in one month; and assigns as a reason for it, that there was a mutual abhorrence between himself and them; and that consequently there was abundant reason for the judgments he denounced against them.
The prophet, throughout this chapter, personates the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom a part of it was very remarkably fulfilled, and to whom it is expressly applied in the New Testament verse 11, 12 with Matthew 27:9-10. But it is simply to the words before us that we would now draw your attention: and we will take occasion from them to show,
I. What a deep-rooted enmity exists between God and sinners—
View it, where it first commenced:
1. On man's part—
Ungodly men neither seek to please God Job 35:10, nor are at all grieved at having displeased him Jeremiah 8:6; they like not to speak, hear, or even think of him Psalm 10:4; they cannot endure (a melancholy proof of their aversion to him!) to be with him alone As men can meet their bitterest enemy in a crowd, but would be uneasy to be left alone with him; so the ungodly can meet God in his house, but cannot bear to commune with him in their secret chamber; they hate everything in proportion as it exhibits God to them, or would lead them to God Hence faithful ministers, and godly people, and searching discourses, yes, and the Bible itself, are neglected and despised; they even wish there were no God Psalm 14:1. This is a wish. The words, "there is," are not in the original; yes, when God actually put himself into their power, they sold him at the price of a slave, and crucified and slew him verse 11, 12 with Matthew 27:9-10.
What abundant proof is here, that "the carnal mind is enmity against God Romans 8:7." And what an evidence of that abhorrence in which, according to the Scriptures, our adorable Savior was to be held Isaiah 49:7.
2. On God's part—
Towards penitent sinners (as we shall have occasion to show) God is reconciled: but, while they continue obstinate in their sins, he "loathes them," nor can even look upon them without the utmost abhorrence Habakkuk 1:13. He will not grant them the smallest taste of those blessings which he imparts to others in the richest abundance Compare Psalm 119:165 with Isaiah 57:21 and 1 Peter 1:8 with Proverbs 14:10; he gives them up into the hands of their greatest enemies, to Satan and their own hearts' lusts 2 Timothy 2:26. Psalm 81:12. Romans 1:24; Romans 1:26; Romans 1:28; he prepares his instruments of vengeance against the time when they shall have filled up the measure of their iniquities Psalm 7:12-13. Deuteronomy 32:19-20; Deuteronomy 32:35; Deuteronomy 32:41-42. He even kindles with his own breath the fire that is to consume them. Isaiah 30:33; he even comforts himself with the prospect of pouring out his wrath upon them to the uttermost Isaiah 1:24. Ezekiel 21:15; Ezekiel 5:13.
What awful evidences are these of the truth in question! what proofs that he even loathes and abhors all the workers of iniquity Psalm 5:5; Psalm 10:3.
But, notwithstanding this mutual enmity, the Gospel shows us,
II. How it may be turned into mutual love—
There is, in truth, but one way in which reconciliation can be effected between God and sinners. Yet we may not unprofitably divide it into two heads:
1. Repentance towards God—
This can never purchase our peace with God; yet is it absolutely necessary to prepare our minds for the reception of his favor. And wherever it manifests itself in deed and in truth, God will instantly put away his anger, and embrace the sinner in the arms of his mercy Jeremiah 3:13. Isaiah 55:7. Psalm 51:17. Luke 15:20. Jeremiah 31:20.
2. Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ—
It is this which unites us unto Christ, and gives us an interest in all that he has done and suffered on our behalf. If his hand were stretched forth, to plunge his sword into the bosom of any one among us, the very first act of faith should make it fall from his hands, and induce him to return it instantly to its scabbard John 3:16; John 6:37. Acts 13:39. Isaiah 1:18. Acts 16:30; Nor would he from that moment account any expression of his love too great for us Jeremiah 32:41. Zephaniah 3:17.
Nor is God only reconciled to us by these means, but we also are reconciled to him—
It is in this view that the Scriptures most generally represent our return to God 2 Corinthians 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:20. Colossians 1:21. And it is certain that from the very instant we repent and believe in Christ, our enmity against God is slain, and we delight in him as much as ever we once abhorred him. We love to hear and think and speak of him, and to maintain the closest fellowship with him: we love all who love him, and that too in proportion as they resemble him: and everything that can discover him to us, or draw us nearer unto him, is on that very account unspeakably precious to our souls. As for the Savior, who was sold for the price of the meanest slave, and who was once altogether despised by us, his name is as music in our ears; and the whole world is as dung in comparison of him Philippians 3:8.
We subjoin a word,
1. Of caution—
We may suppose that, because our enmity against God is the ground and reason of his aversion to us, our love to him is the ground and reason of his love to us. No: if we love him, it is because he first loved us 1 John 4:19. Were it not that he of his own mere mercy given to send us his grace, we never should have our enmity to him in the smallest degree abated. We must therefore take nothing but shame to ourselves; and give nothing but glory unto him. We must confess that our hatred of him was altogether without a cause John 15:25; whereas his aversion to us was just and merited. On the other hand, his love to us is free and sovereign; whereas ours is the tardy, forced, and disproportioned fruit of his victorious grace.
2. Of encouragement—
"The wicked man is loathsome Proverbs 13:5;" but how loathsome soever he be, he need not fear but that God is ready to receive him to the arms of mercy If instead of continuing the contest we apply to God through Christ, our peace with him shall soon be made. Isaiah 27:4-5; Let this be contemplated by all, until a lively hope is begotten in their hearts, and they are constrained to say, I will no more "abhor the Holy One, and the Just Acts 3:14," but will turn to him, and love, and serve, and glorify him, with my whole heart.
THE CONTEMPT POURED ON CHRIST
Zechariah 11:12-13. And I said unto them, If you think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prized at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord The text may properly consist of these words only. Zechariah 11:13. A goodly price that I was prized at of them! And they may be treated 1. In reference to the Jews, who fulfilled the prophecy. (Here the first head might be introduced.) 2. In reference to ourselves. (Here the second entire head, and all the Application, would come in easily.)—If the subject have no immediate reference to the passion week, I would rather recommend this mode of treating it.
THE prophet, under the character of a shepherd, is declaring what reception he had met with from the flock committed to his charge, and what judgments awaited them for their treatment of him. Extremely beautiful and grand is the address at the beginning of the chapter, where he calls on all orders of the Jewish community to prepare for the sentence that was gone forth against them Zechariah 11:1-3; Zechariah 11:6,: and threatens to abandon them to their fate Zechariah 11:9. He then takes two staves or wands, one of which he called Beauty, and the other, Bands; and in their presence cut asunder the one that was designated by the name of Beauty, in order to intimate, that their whole ecclesiastical polity, which was the beauty and glory of the whole world, should be dissolved Zechariah 11:10. Obscure as this intimation was, it was understood by the poor, the humble, and the pious, who trembled at the voice of the Lord Zechariah 11:11. The other stick, named Bands, represented the civil polity of the Jews: and before he proceeded to cut asunder that also, and to declare the utter destruction of the whole nation, he made one more effort in their favor, and desired the chief priests and elders to signify their regard for his services by such a financial tender as they deemed adequate to their value. They, in compliance with this demand, weighed out to him thirty pieces of silver, the price of a common slave Exodus 21:32. Upon this, the Lord, full of indignation against them for so undervaluing his richest mercies, ordered the prophet to cast the money to a potter who happened to be in the temple, and then to cut asunder the other staff, in token of his giving them up to internal commotions and to utter destruction Zechariah 11:13-14.
But the whole of this transaction had respect also to other times, and other circumstances; and must be understood,
I. As a prophetic intimation—
The prophet was a type of that great and good Shepherd, who was in due time to come into the world, and "to lay down his life for the sheep:" and the treatment which he received, was typical of what should afterwards be accomplished by the Jews of later days in reference to their Messiah.
How exactly it was accomplished, the New Testament will inform us—
When Judas conceived the design of betraying his Lord, he bargained with the chief priests, who offered him this precise sum, thirty pieces of silver, which he took accordingly, as the price of the Redeemer's blood Matthew 26:14-16. After he had betrayed his Lord, he went to return them their money: and finding that they would not regard his overtures, he cast down the money in the temple, and went and hanged himself. And what did they with the money? They would not put it into the treasury, because it was the price of blood; but, after consultation had, they bought with it a potter's field, to bury strangers in: and thus, as an inspired Apostle informs us, fulfilled what had so many hundred years before been predicted concerning them Matthew 27:3-10.
From this minute accomplishment of it we derive most important instruction—
Mark how many circumstances in this extraordinary transaction concurred to fulfill the prophecy: The person whose services were so valued; the good Shepherd. The price fixed; thirty pieces of silver. The application of the money; given to a potter. The spot where the transaction took place; the temple of the Lord. The persons chiefly concerned in it; the priests and elders. All this was predicted, in order to attest the truth of Christ's Messiahship. And was there any concert, think you, to fulfill the prophecy? Did Judas and the chief priests commune together, to prove beyond a possibility of doubt that Jesus was the person to whom all the law and the prophets bare witness as the Savior of the world? Behold then, from one proof out of a hundred, on how firm a basis our faith is fixed!
Nor is the accomplishment of this prophecy instructive only as confirming our faith: it goes much farther, and gives us an insight into all God's dispensations, whether of providence or grace.
God has ordered everything, both in Heaven and earth, both in time and eternity. But are men therefore to be considered as mere passive instruments in his hands? No: they are free agents in all that they do. The chief priests sought only the gratification of their own malice, as Judas did of his own covetous desires: neither the one nor the other acted from any impulse but of their own hearts. The spot where the transaction took place, the presence of a potter, the circumstance of his having a field of the precise value to sell, with various other circumstances, were all, as we should call them, accidental: but God foresaw all, and fore-ordained to accomplish his own will by means of all. And this shows us how God's decrees respecting the salvation of his people are accomplished. Men are not at all the less free because of his decrees; nor are the decrees of God the less certain because of man's free agency. There are ten thousand minute and accidental circumstances, as we should call them, necessary, as links in the chain of God's purposes; but not one shall be wanting; not one shall fail; nor shall one jot or tittle of God's word ever pass away. The responsibility of man will be precisely the same as if God had made no decrees: and the termination of events will be the same, as if God himself had produced them without the agency of man. With respect to man, all is uncertain: but with respect to God, all is as fixed, as if it were already done: "His counsel shall stand: and he will do all his will." Deep as these truths are, they are not at all inconsistent with each other: and if men will only mark in what way the prophecies have been fulfilled, they will have a key to all the difficulties which have embarrassed, and incensed against each other, the whole Christian world.
But the transaction in our text must be yet further viewed,
II. As an emblematic act—
It was foretold by Isaiah, that the Messiah should be "despised and rejected of men Isaiah 53:2-3." But was it by the men of one generation only that he was to be so treated? No; but by men of every nation, and of every age. It is indeed humiliating to think that the prophecy in our text has been fulfilled in us: but it is not more humiliating than true. Consider,
1. What we have done to obtain an interest in Christ—
After the things of this world we have burned with most intense desire: pleasure, riches, honor, have been in such request, that no measure of attainment of them could ever satisfy us: but after the knowledge of Christ we have felt no such longings: a small measure would satisfy us at any time: and we could be quite content to leave it in doubt whether he were our friend or not. Anxieties and disappointments in abundance we have felt in relation to earthly things; but not in reference to him; because it has been a matter of indifference to us, whether we possessed an interest in him or not. For earthly things we could consume the midnight oil, or encounter perils and fatigues: but an hour spent in prayer, in our secret chamber, has been a labor too irksome for us to endure. Whole years have passed; and not a single day been devoted by us to fasting and prayer for the obtaining of his salvation. Such a price as this has appeared an unreasonable demand; nor could we ever be prevailed upon to pay it: a faint wish, or formal service, has been the full amount of the estimate which we have set on His love. How justly then may God reject us with indignation, saying, "A goodly price truly is this at which I have been prized of you!"
2. What we have been willing to suffer for him—
Great are the sacrifices which we have made for the poor vanities of time and sense: but what have we sacrificed for the Lord? Paul counted not his life dear to him, so that he might but honor and glorify his Lord: but we have felt no such constraining sense of his excellency, no such disposition to part with all for him. An interest equivalent to the purchase of a potter's field has been at any time a sufficient barrier in our way to obstruct our progress, and prevent us from confessing him openly before men. It is really grievous to think how little we have been willing to bear for him. A frown, a threat, an ignominious name, have been quite sufficient to intimidate us; when, if we had valued Christ aright, ten thousand worlds would, in comparison of him, have weighed no more with us than the dust upon the balance.
3. What efforts we have made for promoting his glory in the world—
The Apostles and primitive Christians counted not their lives dear to them, so that they might but diffuse the knowledge of his salvation. And thus it should be with us. Our hearts should be ever intent on that object: we should never lose sight of it: we should live altogether for it. But, alas! how inactive have we been in his service! We have seen millions perishing for lack of knowledge, and used scarcely any means for their instruction. We have seen the kingdom of Christ invaded and usurped by the prince of darkness, and put forth no efforts to bring it to its rightful Owner. Say, would it have been thus, if we had valued him as we ought? Would the advancement of his glory have been so light a matter in our eyes, if we had formed a just estimate of his kingdom and glory? Surely God has had too much reason to cast this reflection upon us, "A goodly price it was that I was prized at by them." And all our worthless services he may well cast away with indignation, as unworthy his acceptance, and fit only for the purchase of a potter's field.
1. Those who are indifferent about Christ—
Can it be so, that there should be any found of this description? Alas! they constitute the great mass, not of the heathens only, but of those who name the name of Christ. But will it be so always? Will it be so when you get into the eternal world? You can sleep now like the foolish virgins: but will you not in that day, when excluded from the marriage feast, cry, "Lord, Lord, open unto us?" Yes: you will then at least form a correct estimate, if you will not now: but I pray God you may learn to do it now, while it may be available for your good, and not wait until you shall know his value only by your loss. Better to know him now by the manifestations of his love, than to know him then by the terrors of his avenging arm.
2. Those who desire to obtain an interest in him—
Be ready to pay the price which your God demands. The wise merchant, when he has found this pearl of great price, will sell all to procure it. And this is what our blessed Lord himself requires at your hands. You must "forsake all, and follow him:" you must not love father or mother more than him. You must even "hate father and mother, yes, and your own life also," in comparison of him. He must have no rival in your estimation. There must be nothing which you will not do for him; nothing which you will not sacrifice. Be not like the Rich Youth, who renounced him rather than his wealth. The greater the sacrifices you make, the more must you account them grounds only of self-congratulation, and of joy Philippians 2:17. O beg of God the Spirit to reveal him in your hearts; and so to make his glory pass before your eyes, that you may henceforth have no wish but to enjoy his presence, and to glorify his name!
3. Those who profess that they do already possess this inestimable treasure—
I can have no doubt but that there are many of this description here present: and I greatly rejoice that the Lord Jesus Christ is valued among us in some measure as he ought to be. But I tremble to think what changes may yet be wrought even in the most hopeful among us. Who that had seen the piety of Demas, would have expected such an issue of it as we read of: "Demas has forsaken us, having loved this present world 2 Timothy 4:10." Who that had beheld the Galatian converts, so full of love to the Apostles, that they would have "plucked out their own eyes, and given them to him," would have expected to find them afterwards so "bewitched" through the influence of false teachers, that they "accounted him their enemy for telling them the truth Galatians 3:1; Galatians 4:15-16." But Paul, in all his epistles, complains, as Peter does also, that, as there had been "false prophets in former ages, so were there in their days false teachers, who brought in damnable heresies, and prevailed on many to follow their pernicious ways 1 Timothy 4:11. 2 Peter 2:1-2." We read of "whole families being subverted and turned from the faith Titus 1:10-11;" some through the instrumentality of Judaizing teachers, who blended with the Gospel the observance of the Mosaic rites Galatians 2:14; and others, through the delusive statements of self-conceited philosophers, who, by their specious refinements, despoiled Christianity of all its simplicity and glory Colossians 2:8. And as then multitudes were "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine," so it is now; as, indeed, we have been taught to expect it would be in these latter days. Paul says, "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables 2 Timothy 4:3-4. Mark here, 1. The principle, "after their own lusts." 2. The habit of mind, "itching ears," that love to be scratched. See the Greek. 3. The conduct, "heaping to themselves teachers." 4. The effect, "turning from the truth to fables." What an accurate and awful picture is here!: And what is the effect of this among us? it is precisely the same as in the Apostle's days; the minds of the simple are distracted; and instead of hearing, in every place, the praises of our adorable Redeemer, we hear of little but a "doting about questions and strifes of words;" and see little, but envy, and strife, and railing, and evil surmisings, and perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds 1 Timothy 6:4-5." And this is the price at which our blessed Lord is prized by us! Any new opinion, or fond conceit, has more attraction for us, than the contemplation of his love, and the adoring of his grace! Dear Brethren, "I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one Husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ: but I fear lest, by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve, through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ 2 Corinthians 11:2-3." Be on your guard, I pray you, against his devices. He can now, as well as formerly, "transform himself into an angel of light, and make his ministers to appear as the ministers of righteousness 2 Corinthians 11:13-15." But I appeal to all, whether the listening to "questions and strifes of words" does not divert the mind from Christ, and indispose the soul for communion with him. Then, I say, have a higher regard for Christ than to run after novelties, which only draw you from him. It is but little that you can know of him, how intent soever your minds may be upon him; and but little that you can do to requite his love, how devoted soever you may be to his service. Value him then as you ought; love him as you ought; serve him as you ought: let "all created things be as dung" in your estimation in comparison of him Philippians 3:8; and endeavor now to keep your mind engaged, as it will to all eternity be occupied in Heaven, in praising and magnifying him, who "loved you, and washed you from your sins in his own blood Revelation 1:5-6."
Take care that you be not robbed of it. Satan will leave nothing undone to prevail against you. How he has prevailed over others, let the history of Demas inform you. Do not imagine, that because the world is as nothing to you now, it will always appear so vain and worthless. No: a change of circumstances often produces a change of views and habits. What changes may await you, God alone knows: but O! pray that there may never be a change in your regards for Christ, unless indeed that he may be increasingly precious in your eyes, and that your devotion to him may be more entire. And be assured that in the eternal world it will be no grief to you that you did too much for him, or suffered too much for him. Let it be to you "Christ to live; and it will in due time be gain to die."
THE MEANS OF EVANGELICAL REPENTANCE
Zechariah 12:10. I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.
REPENTANCE is a subject, with which every one supposes himself to be sufficiently acquainted, but which is indeed very rarely understood. The Scriptures speak of a repentance unto salvation, not to be repented of 2 Corinthians 7:10; intimating thereby, that there is a repentance, which is not unto salvation; and which therefore itself needs to be repented of. The text in this view deserves our deepest attention, since it opens to us,
I. The nature of evangelical repentance—
The sorrow, produced in the heart of a true penitent, is exceeding deep—
Nothing can be more pungent than the grief of a parent who has lost "his first-born," "his only son Luke 7:12." Yet to that is the mourning of a penitent twice compared. In either case, the soul is bowed down greatly; it is indisposed for receiving gratifications from those vanities, with which it was before amused; and loves to indulge in pensive solitude, and painful reflections. The parent's anguish indeed may be softened by the assiduities of surviving friends; and may wholly lose its pungency through the lapse of time. But nothing can mitigate the pangs of a wounded spirit, nothing silence the accusations of a guilty conscience, until "the balm of Gilead," the blood of Jesus, be applied to it: nor even then will sin ever cease to be the grief and burden of the soul Ezekiel 16:63.
But repentance is then only to be called evangelical, when it has immediate respect to Christ—
Twice is it said in the text, that men shall mourn "for him," that is, for Christ Comp. John 19:37. Not that the miseries, which Christ endured on the cross, are the proper grounds of a penitent's sorrow; but rather, it is his grief that he has so dishonored Christ by his sins, and that he has yet again and again "crucified him afresh" by continuing in sin. Many, who are not really humbled, are concerned for their sins as having subjected them to God's displeasure Exodus 10:16-17. 1 Kings 21:29; but it is the true penitent alone, who mourns for sin, as dishonoring Christ, and as counteracting all the gracious purposes of his love.
This will more fully appear by considering,
II. The means by which it is to be attained—
The effusion of the Spirit is the primary means of producing penitence in our hearts—
The Holy Spirit is called "the Spirit of grace and of supplication," because he is the Author and Giver of all grace, and because it is through his agency alone that we are able to pray. And this Spirit Christ will "pour out" upon us. He not only has a right to send the Holy Spirit, as being God equal with the Father, but in his mediatorial capacity he is authorized and empowered to send forth the Spirit, "having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit," on purpose that he may impart to us out of his own immeasurable fullness. To him all must look for this blessing Acts 5:31; and all may look with an assurance of obtaining it, provided they truly and earnestly desire it John 14:13-17. The great and learned, "the house of David," must submit themselves to his influence; nor shall the poorest or most illiterate of "the inhabitants of Jerusalem" be destitute of this mercy, if they will but ask it of their heavenly Father Luke 11:13. Nor until this Spirit convince us of our sin, can any of us know our state, so as to be suitably and abidingly affected with it John 16:7-8.
As a secondary mean, the Spirit turns our eyes unto a crucified Savior—
Nothing but a view of Christ as dying for us, can ever thoroughly break our obdurate hearts. But this has a powerful tendency to produce sincere sorrow; because, while it shows us the malignity of sin in most awful colors, it discovers to us also the remedy provided for the expiation of sin. In the one view, we are humbled by a sense of our extreme vileness; in the other, we are overwhelmed with a sense of the Redeemer's love: and a combination of these two effects constitutes that sincere shame and sorrow, which may be denominated evangelical repentance.
We may improve this subject,
1. For conviction—
All acknowledge that they need repentance, and profess an intention to repent. But let not any imagine that the slight acknowledgments, and faint purposes of amendment, which are usually made on dying beds, are sufficient. If the comparison in the text be just, nothing will suffice, but a heart broken and contrite under a sense of sin. And precisely such is the view which the Apostles also give of true repentance 2 Corinthians 7:11. James 4:9. O that we may never rest in anything short of such repentance, lest, instead of looking now on Christ with beneficial contrition, we behold him hereafter (as we must do) with endless and unavailing sorrow Revelation 1:7.
2. For encouragement—
Many are discouraged by reason of the hardness and obduracy of their hearts. Indeed we all feel, that notwithstanding we have so much cause to weep day and night for our sins, and are really desirous to do so, we can rarely, if ever, bring our souls to any measure of tenderness and grief. But let us look more at Christ as dying for us; and not confine our attention, as we too often do, to our sins. Let us particularly beg of Christ to pour out his Spirit upon us, and then the heart of stone shall soon give way to a heart of flesh Ezekiel 36:26. The Spirit of grace and of supplications will easily effect, what, without his aid, is impossible to man: and the rocky heart, once struck by him, shall yield its penitential streams through all this dreary wilderness Alluding to Numbers 20:11.
CHRIST, THE FOUNTAIN OPENED
Zechariah 13:1. In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin, and for impurity.
THE various metaphors by which our Lord is described in Scripture, while they give just representations of him, are frequently calculated in a peculiar manner to impress the minds of those who heard them. This remark admits of the fullest confirmation from our Lord's own discourses See John 6:35; John 11:25; it may also be illustrated by the prophecy before us. The Jews had heard of the wanderings of their ancestors in the wilderness; and they had themselves traversed a much larger tract of country in their return from the Babylonish captivity. To them therefore the tidings of a fountain to be opened would convey very strong and pleasing sensations. Nor shall we be unaffected by them if we lament our spiritual defilements.
We propose to consider,
I. The meaning of the prophecy—
The Scriptures often mention a time under the expression "that day"—
This expression sometimes refers to the apostolic, and sometimes to the millennial period. It is to be understood in this place as designing the former. That was a day in comparison of which all preceding ages were but as the morning dawn: then the mists of Gentile ignorance and Jewish superstition were dispelled before the Sun of Righteousness.
At that period Christ was to be known under the notion of "a fountain"—
Christ is frequently spoken of under the metaphor of a fountain Jeremiah 2:13. Isaiah 12:3. He virtually applies the name to himself The Jews after their return from Babylon used on a certain day to fetch water in a joyous and triumphant manner from the pool of Siloam, in reference, it is supposed, to Isaiah 12:3. And on that day our Lord addressed them, and pointed them to himself as the true well of salvation, John 7:37-38. He is described nearly by the same character even in Heaven Revelation 22:1. The river, which John beheld, proceeded out of the throne of the Lamb. He justly answers to this description, having within himself an inexhaustible source of blessings.
He was to be a fountain "opened"—
From eternity was he as "a fountain sealed," having in himself all fullness, before there existed any creatures to whom he might impart of it. Before his incarnation he afforded a scanty measure of his Spirit The meanest Christian is more enlightened than the greatest of the prophets, Luke 7:28. At the time of his death he properly became a fountain opened.
The persons for whom it was to be opened were "the house of David," etc.—
"The house of David" are the spiritual seed of Christ He is the root as well as the offspring of David, Revelation 22:16. "The inhabitants of Jerusalem" are the members of the Christian Church. Both together import all believers, high and low, rich and poor; none are excluded who wish to participate his blessings.
The end for which it was to be opened was, to cleanse from "sin"—
There had been fountains for ceremonial impurity There was a brazen sea, above fifty feet in circumference, and almost ten in depth, wherein the priests were to wash their hands and feet: there were also ten lavers wherein the things offered for sacrifice were washed, and from whence the water for the sprinkling of the offerers was taken, 2 Chronicles 4:6. There were also fountains for the cure of bodily disorders The pool of Siloam, where our Lord sent the blind man to wash, (John 9:11.) and which was typical of Him who was the Shiloh of the tribe of Judah, (Genesis 49:10.) and eminently the sent of God. Compare John 9:7; John 6:38-40. Bethesda was still more appropriate to this use, John 5:2-4. But Christ was a fountain for moral defilement, and spiritual maladies.
In due season this prophecy received its accomplishment.
II. The completion of it—
From the incarnation of Christ this fountain was more fully exhibited: during his ministry its waters flowed in partial streams; but at his death it was fully opened:
It was broken open on the cross—
In our Lord's agony, the blood had flowed through every pore Luke 22:44; previous to his crucifixion his back had been torn with scourges John 19:1. Psalm 129:3; the crown of thorns pierced his sacred temples Mark 15:17; Mark 15:19; his hands and feet were nailed to the accursed tree Psalm 22:16; and his side, pierced with the spear, emitted blood and water John 19:34. This imported that he should cleanse both from the guilt and power of sin, 1 John 5:6. Thus did men and devils concur in breaking open this fountain. The dying thief was made a monument of its cleansing efficacy Luke 23:43.
It was set open on the day of Pentecost—
Then the Spirit was poured out in a more abundant measure: thousands, even of the murderers of our Lord, were cleansed by it. The effects produced were instantaneous and abiding Acts 2:42-47; the blackest guilt was purged, the most ferocious natures changed. Nor was its influence to be confined any longer to one age or nation.
It was left open in the promises to all succeeding generations—
We may say of this fountain as Paul does of the Gospel Romans 10:6-8. The word is the channel in which it flows: it has already spread its streams to the ends of the earth Romans 10:18; it will flow until that prophecy be fully accomplished Habakkuk 2:14; the invitations to it are yet sounding in the ears of all Isaiah 55:1. Revelation 22:17.
1. To those who expect salvation while they live in sin—
If men could be saved in their sins, why was this fountain opened? Would God have given up his Son to death without necessity? or shall they who neglect the fountain be cleansed like those who wash in it? Let none deceive their own souls: to wash in this fountain is the one thing needful. They who cry with the leper, shall receive the same answer Matthew 8:2-3.
2. To those who hope to cleanse themselves in some other way—
Many hope to wash away their guilt by tears of repentance. But would God have opened this fountain, if any other would have sufficed? How lamentable that there should still be such cause for those expostulations 2 Kings 5:13.—! Let those who say like Peter, remember the answer given him John 13:8.
3. To those who doubt whether they may come to this fountain—
Many imagine that the greatness of their guilt is a bar to their acceptance; but the fountain was opened for sin and for impurity. What would have been the effect of such hesitation at the pool of Bethesda John 5:4; John 5:7. Be it remembered that all, who have a need, have a right to wash: let every one then press forward, lest he lose the blessing.
4. To those who have experienced its cleansing efficacy—
It is in you that the efficacy of this fountain must be seen. Let it appear that it has cleansed you from earthly and sensual desires. But still you have need to wash in it daily We contract defilement every step we take. Bishop Beveridge justly observes, "Our very tears need to be washed, and our repentances to be repented of." This do, and you shall soon join in that triumphant song Revelation 1:5-6.—
CHRIST SMITTEN FOR OUR SINS
Zechariah 13:7. Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, says the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.
THIS is generally thought to be the beginning of a distinct prophecy: yet it seems not only to be connected with, but in a measure to arise out of, the preceding context. The connection, it is true, is not obvious: but it must be remembered, that this is the way in which some of the most important predictions in all the Scriptures are introduced. Take, for instance, the prophecy that Christ should be born of a pure virgin; a more wonderful event than which is not predicted in all the inspired volume: there was no necessary connection between that, and the destruction of the ten tribes; nor between that, and the obstinate incredulity of Ahab: yet, on Ahab's declining to ask a sign that the deliverance promised to Judah should speedily be accomplished, the Lord gave him this sign; "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel Isaiah 7:10-14." In that prophecy, the event predicted appeared wholly foreign to the subject that was in hand: but in the prophecy before us it is not so. The chapter begins with a plain declaration, that in due time Christ, by the shedding of his blood upon the cross, should open unto mankind "a fountain to wash them from sin and impurity." It then goes on to say, that by him idolatry should be destroyed; and that both men and women, if tempted to idolatry by their own children, should immediately execute judgment upon them, and thrust them through with a sword or dart This was agreeable to the law of Moses, Deuteronomy 13:6-10; and that so general should be men's abhorrence of idolatry, that those who had been disposed towards it, and had even marked their bodies in honor of their idols, should deny their having ever felt any disposition towards it, and should ascribe the marks that were on their flesh to some "wounds which they had received, either accidentally, or for some particular purpose, in the house of their friends."
Then in our text God says, As the false prophet shall be slain by his own father for endeavoring to turn you from God, so shall the true prophet be slain by his father in order to turn you to God: "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, says the Lord of hosts."
In discoursing on these words we shall consider,
I. The commission given to Jehovah's sword—
It is bidden to "awake and smite:" but here two questions arise;
1. Whom was it to smite?
It was assuredly the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone answers to the character here described. He is the Shepherd of Israel," appointed to that office by God himself Psalm 80:1. Ezekiel 34:23. He designates himself by that very name, and as the person to be smitten under that very character John 10:11. Moreover, he alone can be called "Jehovah's fellow," for he was God as well as man John 1:1, even the true God 1 John 5:20, the mighty God Isaiah 9:6, altogether One with the Father himself John 10:30, "God over all, blessed forever;" and, being-God in his own nature, and therefore incapable of suffering, he assumed our nature on purpose that he might suffer Philippians 2:6-8.
2. In whose hand was it to inflict the stroke?
It was the Father himself who was to wield it, even he who here calls upon it to arise and smite. True it was that men and devils were the more immediate agents Luke 22:53; but they were only instruments in the Father's hands: "they could have had no power at all against him, if it had not been given them from above." They were willing agents, no doubt, and executed what their own malignant dispositions dictated: but God overruled their designs for the accomplishment of his own eternal purposes Acts 2:23; Acts 4:37. There was not one thing done by them which had not been foretold; nor one thing predicted, which they did not unwittingly and exactly perform John 19:28; John 19:30.
But even without the intervention either of men or devils, the Father himself smote him. What was it but a sense of God's wrath upon his soul that made him sweat great drops of blood in the garden? It was the Father himself who put that bitter cup into his hands. Upon the cross too, when Jesus uttered no complaints respecting inferior agents, he bitterly bewailed the hidings of his Father's face: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Thus was verified that awful prediction of the prophet, "It pleased the Lord, even Jehovah himself, to bruise him Isaiah 53:10."
Let us next inquire into,
II. The grounds and reasons of this commission—
It was the Father's purpose to exercise mercy towards our fallen race: but he would do it in a way that should be consistent with his own perfections. Hence he gave us his only-begotten Son to be our substitute and surety: and against him, when standing in that capacity, he called forth the sword;
1. To show his indignation against sin—
We presume not to say what God might have done, if it had pleased him: but we are sure that "it became him, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings Hebrews 2:11." As the Moral Governor of the Universe, it became him to vindicate the honor of his broken law, and to mark his utter abhorrence of iniquity: and this he did more strongly and effectually in smiting his only-begotten Son, than if he had smitten the whole human race. As for the children of men, they are but worms of the earth, far inferior to the angels that fell: but Christ was his co-equal, co-eternal Son, his fellow, his equal. O what an evil must sin be, when God would not suffer it to pass unpunished even in the person of his own Son, on whom it was found only by imputation! We may be well assured, that, on whoever it be found in the last day, it will be visited with "wrath to the uttermost."
2. To reconcile justice with mercy in the salvation of sinners—
Had sin been pardoned without any atonement, the claims of justice must have been superseded. But God would not exalt mercy at the expense of justice; and therefore he devised a way of satisfying the demands of justice, while he listened with delight to the voice of mercy. "He laid our iniquities upon" his only dear Son, and exacted of him the debt which had been incurred by us: and that debt he paid to the uttermost farthing; so that justice itself has nothing more to require of us, provided only we plead what Christ has done and suffered in our behalf. Thus has God become "a just God and a Savior," or, as Paul expresses it, he is "just, and yet the justifier of them that believe in Jesus."
Such being the reasons for this mysterious commission, we proceed to notice,
III. The effects and consequences of it—
The immediate effect was the scattering of our Lord's disciples—
One would have thought that our Lord's more intimate disciples, who for above three years had heard all his discourses, and seen all his miracles, would have firmly adhered to him, even to the end; more especially as they had promised, in the most solemn manner, to follow him, even unto death: but God, who knew what was in man, foretold that they would shamefully desert him in the hour of trial: yes, our Lord himself forewarned his disciples that they would forsake him, and thereby fulfill the prophecy in our text Matthew 26:31; and the event, alas! corresponded with these predictions: the "Shepherd being smitten, the sheep were immediately scattered abroad;" "they all forsook him and fled Matthew 26:56." What a poignancy must this circumstance have given to all the other wounds inflicted on our Lord! Where were all the myriads whom he had miraculously healed? Where were those whom he had raised from the dead? Were they all afraid to own him? Was not so much as one found to stand forth in his defense, or even to speak a word in his behalf? No: all were panic-struck and mute. Hear how our blessed Lord himself complains of this, as a bitter aggravation of his sorrows Psalm 69:20; Psalm 142:4; But utter dereliction, unmitigated sorrows, were our desert; and he, as our substitute, endured it all in our behalf.
The ultimate effect was their restoration and recovery—
This is intimated in the last clause of our text. By "turning his hand upon his little ones," is meant, that he would accomplish upon them all his merciful designs, recovering them from their fears, and restoring them to the Divine favor Compare Isaiah 1:25. This he did as soon as ever he was risen from the dead: he did not even except Peter, who had so shamefully denied him with oaths and curses Mark 16:7. John 20:17. On the day of Pentecost he so "strengthened his little ones," that they were henceforth no more intimidated, but boldly confessed him before all the rulers of their nation, and braved death in all its most tremendous forms, for the honor of his name. Similar effects were instantly produced on thousands of his followers: and to this hour is the same divine energy communicated to the feeblest of his people: though but "a little flock," they fear not the threats of any adversaries, because they know that it "is the Father's good pleasure to give them the kingdom;" and, that they shall be "more than conquerors through Him that loved them."
Such were intended to be the effects of our Redeemer's death: "He suffered, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God:" and to God he will bring us; so that "of those whom the Father has given him, not one shall be lost."
Let us take occasion from this prophecy,
1. To admire the love of God the Father—
When God called to his sword to "awake and smite," whom should we suppose to be the objects of his vengeance? Should we not conclude of course that we were to be the monuments of his wrath? we, towards whom he had so long exercised forbearance, and who had so obstinately persisted in our rebellion? Yes, methinks God would say, "Sword, go and smite those my incorrigible enemies; go and smite them to their inmost soul." But, behold, he sends his Son, "his fellow," and directs the sword to execute vengeance upon him, as our substitute! We wonder not so much that the Jews should cry out, "Spare not this man, but Barabbas:" but that Jehovah should give his direction to his sword, "Spare not my dear Son, my fellow, but Barabbas," is truly wonderful. Yet this, in effect, he did say: 'Spare the vilest of the human race, even though they be robbers and murderers; but "smite my Son, my fellow," and spare not him, in order that you may spare them.' O wondrous love! Who can estimate it? What tongue can utter it? What imagination can conceive it? Well is it said, "God so loved the world, as to give his only-begotten Son:" but the heights and depths of that love are unsearchable, either by men or angels.
2. To follow the steps of the good Shepherd—
Jesus, Jehovah's fellow, is our shepherd; and we, as sheep of his pasture, are under his protection. Let us then, however weak in ourselves, despise the threats of all our enemies. Let us never for a moment indulge the fear of man, or entertain a thought of forsaking him who has laid down his life for us. Let us consider our obligations to him: let us consider them, until we feel our whole souls inflamed with love to him; and, under the constraining influence of his love, let us "follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach," and "rejoicing, if we are counted worthy to suffer shame, or even death itself, for his sake." Let us "know in whom we have believed;" and say with David, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want;" nor "will I fear what man can do unto me."
3. To seek the effectual influence of his grace—
What shall we not be able to do, if "he turn his hand upon us for good?" Could Paul say, "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthened me?" so then may we say. He was by nature no stronger than the weakest among us: and the weakest of us, by grace, may be as strong as he: "Christ's strength shall be perfected in our weakness," as it was in his. Let our eyes then be unto Jesus; that, as he has been "the author, so also he may be the finisher, of our faith." Let our expectations from him be enlarged: and, whatever our difficulties be, let us remember, that "our Redeemer is mighty," is almighty; and that he has pledged himself to us, that "none shall ever pluck us out of his hands."
GOD'S METHOD OF DEALING WITH HIS PEOPLE
Zechariah 13:9. I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, it is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God.
AFFLICTION is the lot of mankind in general, and more especially of those who fear the Lord, who are all, in their measure, "predestined to he conformed to the image of Christ," as well in sufferings as in glory. In the context we are told what Christ would have to endure when once he should become incarnate; "Awake, O my sword, against the man that is my fellow, says the Lord of hosts; smite the shepherd." It is true, that Christ was to make satisfaction for sin by his sufferings and death; and in that view there is no occasion for us to "drink of his cup:" but it is true also that "he learned obedience, and was made perfect, by the things which he suffered;" and these ends are no less necessary to be accomplished in us; nor can they be effected in any better way. On this account God has determined to "bring the third part through the fire;" that so he may fit them for the fuller enjoyment of himself, both in this world and the world to come.
The text informs us how God deals with his people,
I. In respect of trials—
he people of God are but a small remnant—
Perhaps the text may refer to that period when the Christian Church was to be delivered from the destruction which was coming on the Jewish nation. At that time they were very numerous in Judea, and might, in general terms, be represented as a "third part." But in every age and place they have been comparatively a "little flock," or, as the Apostle calls them, "a remnant according to the election of grace." Even in one of the most distinguished Churches in the apostolic age we read that there were "but few who had kept their garments undefiled:" and, if those who bear the Christian name at this day were tried by the standard of God's word, the number of true disciples would be found very disproportioned to the collective body.
But, whether few or many, they are all "brought to God through the fire"—
It is no uncommon thing for persons to receive their first serious impressions by means of some afflictive dispensation: many must say with David, "Before I was afflicted I went astray." But, in whatever way they are converted to God, they seldom continue long in his service without experiencing some temporal or spiritual affliction. God, who is a wise physician, knows what is most conducive to the health of our souls. He sees that there is much "folly bound up in our hearts, and that nothing but the rod of correction can effectually drive it out." He sees it necessary "to try us, as gold, and to purify us as silver," that we may both manifest what we are, and become what we should be. If we be only superficial Christians, who, like "the stony-ground hearers, have no root in ourselves," we shall "be offended as soon as tribulation or persecution arises because of the word:" but if we be "Israelites indeed," the trial of our faith, which is much more precious than gold, which, though it stand the trial of fire, yet perishes at last, will be found to praise, and honor, and glory in the day of his appearing 1 Peter 4:12; 1 Peter 1:6-7." Besides, the very best have much amiss within them, which escapes their notice, until "God counsels them in the night season" of affliction, and discovers to them the hidden abominations of their hearts. On this account especially the saints have testified with one consent that they have found it "good to be afflicted;" and have seen reason to bless God more for their heaviest trials, than for their richest comforts.
That their trials, however, are not unmixed, will appear by considering how God deals with them,
II. In respect of enjoyments—
If the Christian has much "bitterness of heart," with which others are unacquainted, so has he also much "joy, with which a stranger intermeddles not." He enjoys,
1. Communion with God—
Before he was converted he knew nothing of fellowship with a reconciled God and Father. He performed perhaps many outward acts of worship, but never prayed from his inmost soul. He felt not the greatness of his wants; he knew not the excellency of spiritual attainments: he was not persuaded of the efficacy of prayer: no wonder therefore that he never cried to God in earnest, and consequently, that he never obtained an answer to his prayer. Not even Paul himself, notwithstanding all his zeal, had ever prayed aright, until Christ appeared to him in his way to Damascus Acts 9:11. But the true Christian is enabled to "pour out his soul before God:" and to him is that promise fulfilled: "Before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear Isaiah 65:24." Often does he go to God weak, weary, or disconsolate, and return from a throne of grace strengthened with might, and filled with peace and joy.
Nor is this happy state a little promoted by his trials. When he is long at ease, he is too apt to relax his exertions, and to rest in a cold and carnal frame: but afflictions drive him to his God, and necessitate him to wrestle in prayer until he obtains the desired aid Genesis 32:24-26.
2. Confidence before God—
God is unspeakably gracious to the soul that seeks him. He will not only answer the prayers of his people, but will "shed abroad his love in their hearts," and give them such tokens of acceptance with him, as, in effect, to say to them, "You are mine." He will "seal them with the Holy Spirit of promise," and set his mark upon them in such a manner, that they themselves may know their relation to him. Moreover, by these manifestations of his favor he will embolden them to claim him as their God. Like the Church of old they shall make their boast of him; "My beloved is mine, and I am his," "This God is my God forever and ever Son. 2:16. Psalm 48:14."
This assurance too, no less than their fellowship with God, is advanced by means of afflictive dispensations. Their tribulation makes them apply to God for patience; the acquisition of patience gives them an experience of his truth and faithfulness; and this experience begets a lively hope Romans 5:3-4, yes, oftentimes an unshaken confidence in God, which is as "an anchor of their souls both sure and steadfast."
1. Those who are but little conversant with trials—
Doubtless it is a mercy to be free from troubles, because "they are not joyous at the present, but grievous." But what do you find to have been the effect of this exemption? Have you not, like Jeshurun, "waxed fat and kicked?" "When you have eaten and been filled, have you not forgotten the Lord your God Deuteronomy 8:10-14; Deuteronomy 32:15." Do you not find that your corruptions are unmortified? Are you not conscious that you have never yet experienced that exalted state of communion with God, and of confidence before him, which it is both your privilege and your duty to enjoy? Guard then against these pernicious effects of ease; for the prosperity of fools, as we are told, will destroy them Proverbs 1:32. Let the attainment of a holy and heavenly frame be desired by you far more than any temporal comfort. In a little time all present things, whether pleasing or painful, will come to an end: and then they only will be found happy, who sought an interest in Christ, and "had the Lord for their God Psalm 144:15."
2. Those who are "tossed with tempests and not comforted"—
Though God brings his dearest children into the fire, he does not leave them there; he engages to bring them "through" it. While they are yet in it, he will be with them, that they may not be burned Isaiah 43:2; yes, "he will sit by them as a refiner and purifier of silver," to watch the process which he has ordained for their good Malachi 3:3. He knows what heat is requisite for the accomplishment of his gracious purposes; and, when their dross is purged out, he will bring them forth as "vessels of honor meet for their Master's use Job 23:10." Be patient then under your trials, knowing from whom they proceed, and for what blessed ends he has appointed them: and be rather solicitous to have your troubles sanctified than removed. Only let them drive you to a throne of grace, and not, as they too often do, discourage you from drawing near to God. Let them make you more earnest in seeking an assured confidence in his love, and an increasing fitness for his glory. Then shall you in due time be numbered with those blessed spirits, "who came out of great tribulation, and made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb." Nor need you fear but that the "eternal weight of glory" which you shall possess, shall abundantly compensate "the light and momentary afflictions" which you endured in the way to it.
THE CONVERSION OF THE JEWS—OUR ENCOURAGEMENT TO PROMOTE IT
Zechariah 14:7. It shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.
IN the writings of the prophets, there are, as might be expected, many things difficult to be understood. Yet, even when a passage, in respect of its full import, is involved in the deepest obscurity, there may be some things perfectly clear, and capable of an easy application, for the elucidating of points that are of great importance. The prophecy before us is of this kind. It is generally understood as referring, in the first instance, to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies: it then, after some circumstances, which the events alone, when they shall have occurred, will enable us satisfactorily to explain, leads us forward to the period fixed in the Divine counsels for the conversion of the Jews to the faith of Christ; when "the Lord shall be king over all the earth, and when there shall be one Lord, and his name one verse 9." The manner in which that day shall be introduced is particularly specified in the words immediately preceding my text: "It shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark: but it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light." By this I understand, not, as some do, that there shall be one continued day, in which there will be no darkness at all; for it is not of the Millennium itself that the prophet is speaking, but of the time when the Millennium shall be introduced: and that will be a time "neither perfectly clear, nor altogether dark;" "not entire day, nor entire night:" but a time like the evening, when, though there is some light remaining, it seems gradually drawing towards extinction. When the Church is so circumstanced, that shall be the period for God's appearance in behalf of his people: and when, according to general expectation, increasing darkness might rather be expected to ensue, then shall light arise in God's Church, and his purposes respecting it be accomplished.
For the purpose of confirming this interpretation of the passage, I will first consider the text in reference to God's general dispensations; and then, in reference to the period more especially described.
I. Let us consider the text in reference to God's general dispensations.
The more we examine the dealings of God with mankind, the more we shall see that he has, in all ages, permitted difficulties to arise, in order to make his people feel their dependence on him; and to display, eventually, in a more striking manner, his interposition in their behalf. In the 107th Psalm, this plan of the Divine government is illustrated in a great variety of particulars: Travelers "wandering in a wilderness Psalm 107:3-7;" captives "sitting bound in affliction and iron Psalm 107:10-14;" sick persons "drawing near to the gates of death Psalm 107:17-20;" and mariners, in their tempest-tossed vessels, "at their wit's end Psalm 107:23-30;" all having been brought to the utmost extremity, are made to know, by happy experience, that there is a God who hears prayer, and who is able to save, from every kind of danger, all those who call upon him Psalm 107:23-30.
Nor is this his mode of dealing only in relation to temporal matters; it obtains equally in reference to men's spiritual concerns. The parable of the Prodigal Son is not unfrequently realized among ourselves. How often have persons been left to run to the utmost excess of riot, until the very extremities of want and misery, to which they have reduced themselves, are made the occasions of suggesting to their minds that beneficial reflection; "In my Father's house there is bread enough and to spare, while I am perishing with hunger: I will return unto my Father." And in this way they have found that mercy which their souls desired.
Nor is this process observed only at the first conversion of men to God. The saints are sometimes permitted, through the violence of temptation, to fall into the very depths of despondency. What can be conceived more distressing than the state of Asaph's mind, as depicted in the 77th Psalm? "Will the Lord cast off forever? and will he be favorable no more? is his mercy clean gone forever? does his promise fail for evermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? has he in anger shut up his tender mercies?" In this extremity God mercifully interposed, to show him that these fears were altogether groundless: and then the desponding saint acknowledged, that "this was his own infirmity Psalm 77:7-10." Multitudes of others also, in every age of the Church, are enabled to bear the same testimony; and to say with David, "I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry: he brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay; and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings: and he has put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God Psalm 40:1-3." In truth, this is what may be well expected under all trials, whether of a temporal or spiritual nature: for, from the days of Abraham to this present hour, has that proverb been verified, "In the mount the Lord shall be seen Genesis 22:14."
We must not, however, suppose that these dispensations are limited to individuals: they may be seen with equal clearness in God's dealings with the Church at large. Let us go back to those two redemptions which his people experienced from Egypt and from Babylon. In Egypt they were reduced to the lowest ebb of misery Judges. 10:16 with Acts 7:34, and had their afflictions for a time augmented by the very means used for their deliverance; so that they were in utter despair Exodus 5:20-23; but then it was that God interposed with a mighty hand, and a stretched-out arm, to bring them out from their captivity. Yet there was not even then an end put to their troubles: on the contrary, their danger became speedily more imminent than ever. Though they went forth out of Egypt, they soon found themselves enclosed by mountains and morasses on either side of them; by the sea before them, and by the Egyptian army in their rear: now their fears rose as high as ever, and they regretted that they had come out of Egypt at all. "They said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Is not this the word that we did tell you in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness Exodus 14:11-12." Then did God open a way for them through the Red Sea; and complete their deliverance, by making a channel through the great deep a path to Israel, and a grave to Egypt.
The deliverance of Israel from Babylon, also, was scarcely more within the reach of reasonable expectation. It might possibly be hoped, that, after having kept them seventy years in a state of rigorous servitude, their Babylonish oppressors should relent, and suffer them to return to their own country. But who would have supposed, that the Persian conqueror of Babylon should confer on them so great a benefit? Yet was that very conquest the means of their deliverance; and Cyrus, as had been foretold three hundred years before, freely dismissed them to their own land, laden with the spoils which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from them. How surprising this event was to them, may be seen in a psalm composed on the occasion; "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream Psalm 126:1-3." As Peter, when rescued from prison by an angel, could not believe the fact, but thought he saw a vision; so the people of Israel, when liberated by Cyrus, could scarcely believe that so great a mercy had been given to them; so strange was it in itself, and so contrary to all human expectation.
But from the Jewish, let us turn our attention to the Christian Church; for in the establishment of that, also, we shall see the same truth illustrated with peculiar force. Behold the Founder of this Church riding triumphant into Jerusalem, amidst the acclamations and hosannahs of the multitude, and you will think the day of his reign had begun to dawn: but see him, in the space of four short days, apprehended, crucified, entombed, and his little band of followers scattered, without a ray of hope in their minds; and you will say, that all prospect of his reign has forever vanished. Yet behold, within how short a space of time light rises up in obscurity, and the darkness becomes as the noon-day! On the third day he rises from the dead; and, after giving to his disciples many infallible proofs of his resurrection, he ascends to Heaven, in the presence of no less than five hundred brethren; and then sends down the Holy Spirit to testify of him, and to confirm the word which his disciples should preach in his name. Here indeed it may be said, that "at evening time it was light:" and it is probable that at that period the prophecy before us received a partial accomplishment; for then did "the living waters go out from Jerusalem," even those waters of salvation which have since, in a measure, flowed towards every quarter of the globe, and which in due season shall "cover the earth as the waters cover the sea."
Thus we see how the text has already marked and characterized God's general dispensations, as well towards his Church at large, as towards individuals in particular. And let not the time spent in this statement be grudged, as though it did not bear sufficiently on the main subject of our consideration: for when we have seen to what an extent the leading features of our text have been illustrated in the dispensations of God, whether general or particular, from the foundation of the world, we are more disposed to admit, that such a mode of procedure is likely to be adopted in the latter day, and consequently are better prepared to view the text,
II. In reference to the period more especially described.
The declaration, that "in that day the Lord shall be king over all the earth; and that there shall be one Lord, and his name One;" clearly shows, that the period referred to has not yet arrived. From the very time when the prophecy was delivered, to the present hour, there have been lords and gods without number, worshiped by the different nations of the earth. But the time is coming, when the Gospel shall be preached to all nations, and "all the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of the Lord and his Christ:" and to that time the text clearly refers. The whole concluding part of the chapter also, whether literally or spiritually interpreted, manifestly determines our views to that period.
We have then, in our text, an intimation of the time when we may expect this great work to commence: it will be a time when it is "neither day nor night," but, as it were, "the evening time," partaking in a measure of both.
The conversion of the Jews to the faith of Christ is an event which every one who believes the Scriptures looks forward to as certain. But the time for it is supposed to be yet far distant; and all attempts to promote it are deemed visionary and absurd. Persons will say, 'Look at the Jews: see in what a low degraded state they are; how deep and inveterate are their prejudices against the very name of Christ; how intrenched they are in their own forms and ceremonies; and how inaccessible to the Christian world: they will not suffer you to converse with them on the subject of Christianity: they will not read the books which you put into their hands. As for the Christian Scriptures, they will not look into them. Look at the efforts which have been made for their conversion; how vain and nugatory they have been. If some have professed to embrace the faith of Christ, it has only been for the purpose of advancing their temporal welfare: and they have no sooner gained their end, than they have proved themselves to be the most consummate hypocrites, and been an utter disgrace to the religion which they have professed to honor. What has the Society The London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, which has now existed a dozen years, effected in their behalf? There has been no want of zeal in them, or of liberality in the public; and what have they done, but waste the public money in unprofitable speculations? This is a clear proof, that the time for the conversion of that people is not come, and that there is no hope of effecting it by any human efforts.'
I hope it will be allowed, that I have stated with sufficient force what is urged by those who deride the efforts of the Society: and though I must declare, that these objections are by no means true, to the extent that they are urged, yet I willingly admit that they are true in part. I acknowledge also, that the difficulty of the work is great; and that the efforts, which have been already made, have not succeeded so far as might have been wished, or so far as persons of a sanguine temperament, and unacquainted with the difficulty of the undertaking, were induced at first to expect: consequently, I acknowledge, that, in relation to this great work, there is abundant evidence that it is not "day."
But, if it be not "day," must it therefore be "night?" Does not my text speak of a time when it shall be "neither day nor night?" Allowing, then, that it is not day, I ask, Is it night? Let any candid person hear and judge.
Consider the state of the Christian world. For eighteen hundred years, if we except a partial effort or two made in their behalf, the Christian world have been altogether asleep, as it respects this object: but now they have begun to awake to a sense of their duty, and to the necessities of this outcast nation. Societies have been formed in different parts of Britain, for the express purpose of aiding the efforts of persons whose time and attention are mainly fixed on this object: and a work has been accomplished, a work which one would have supposed should have been executed many centuries ago, but which has never before been attempted for circulation among the Jews—the translation of the New Testament into pure Biblical Hebrew. It is well known, that the Jews will not read the Christian Scriptures in the vernacular languages of the countries where they dwell; but it was hoped that they would read it in the language which they venerate as sacred; (and in this hope, as I shall show presently, the Society has not been disappointed:) and thus have they opened a channel of communication with them, whereby all the most intelligent among them are rendered comparatively easy of access. Until this was effected, it was not to be wondered at that no great success attended the Society's labors; but now they may hope to exert themselves with more effect. It is well known, that the long extant and widely-diffused translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek afforded great facilities for the spread of Christianity among the Gentiles; and it may well be hoped, that the translation of our Greek Scriptures into the Hebrew tongue will subserve, in no small degree, the reception of the Gospel among the Jewish nation. Add to this, the interest which many crowned heads in Europe have begun to take in the welfare of their Jewish subjects. It may be said, that this attention to them respects only their temporal advancement in the scale of society: still, it tends to remove that stumbling-block which has been so long laid in their way; and to diminish the odium with which they have ever regarded (yes, and too justly regarded) the Christian name. And if the generality of these monarchs have in view no higher object than that which is merely political, it is by no means so with one of them, at least; who, by providing an asylum for those who shall be persecuted for embracing Christianity, has rendered a most essential service to the Christian cause. Is this, then, I would ask, to be called "night?"
But consider, also, the state of the Jews themselves. We have sent forth a few missionaries among them, (others are now in a course of preparatory studies, in a seminary recently established for them,) and they have, in many instances, been most kindly received by the Jews; who, instead of rejecting the offer of the Hebrew Testament, as in the preceding objections is supposed, have most gladly and thankfully received it; and, indeed, have expressed the most ardent desire to obtain it. They have shown a great willingness, also, to be instructed in the knowledge of Christianity; and, to a very great extent, have they shaken off the yoke of Rabbinical tyranny and Talmudical superstition: so that, when we shall be able to send forth among them a larger number of well-instructed missionaries, there is every reason to hope that the light of Divine Truth will arise upon them, and "the word of the Lord have free course, and be glorified" among them.
While, then, on the one hand, I readily acknowledge that it is not "day," I think that any person of candor, who shall compare the present state of the Christian world towards them, and of the Jews themselves, with what it has been in past times, must admit that it is not "night."
Is it then, "neither day nor night?" Methinks there is reason to hope that it is the very time fixed in the Divine counsels, even "the evening time," wherein the prophet tells us "there shall be light." Whether it be the full time for the calling in of the Jewish people generally, I presume not to determine; but that it is at least the proper time for our exertion, there can be, I think, no doubt. If a sign, whereby we may ascertain this fact, be demanded, I ask, What sign can any man reasonably require? He will not surely call for a gift of prophecy, or for a power of working miracles; but if, with the exception of these, he demand the same signs to mark the Messiah's advent to convert his Jewish brethren as were given to mark his advent in the flesh, I am not sure but that we may venture to put the matter upon that issue. For what were the principal signs which marked his advent in the flesh? There was a general expectation of him among the Jews themselves; there were some more particularly "waiting for redemption" in Jerusalem, and ready to welcome his arrival; and there were some actually converted to the faith of Christ by the ministry of John the Baptist. And is there not a general expectation among the Jews at this time, that the Messiah is near at hand? Yes; and in a degree that has not existed before. Nor will I say this on mere report: for a prophet of their own, writing expressly against the Society, to correct their too sanguine expectations, has undertaken to fix the time; and, after giving it as the opinion of one great and eminent Rabbi, that there were only twenty-nine years more to the coming of the Messiah, he gives a calculation of his own, and says, "There are yet thirty-six years to the end of the jubilee of Israel; and before the end of these thirty-six years, Israel will be restored, and the Messiah will take possession of his empire Rabbi Crooll on the Restoration of Israel, people. 48, 66." So that, according to these two Rabbis, the period now remaining at this time, (for that calculation was made eight years ago,) it is not more than twenty-one, or, at the utmost, twenty-eight years This Discourse was delivered before the University of Cambridge, 1820. As for the opinions, I lay no stress on the one or the other; but I adduce them, to show that the Jews themselves, even those who are averse to the idea of his speedy advent, expect assuredly that their Messiah is, at no distant period, to appear.
That there are many, especially among the Christian world, ready to welcome the Messiah's arrival and to advance his kingdom, is sufficiently evident, both in Europe and America: and that some of the Jewish nation have been truly converted to God, is a fact to which we can appeal with perfect confidence. Some are at this time employed as missionaries to their brethren; some, of whose piety we can no more doubt than we doubt the piety of multitudes among ourselves: and the New Testament, distributed among the Jews, is doing its work silently, but effectually; being "mighty through God to the pulling down of strong-holds, and casting down imaginations, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." Whether they shall all continue steadfast unto the end, I pretend not to say; for, after the most eminent saints recorded in Scripture have fallen, I know no man under Heaven respecting whom a continued steadfastness can be certainly and unerringly predicted: but this I say, that, if there be genuine piety depicted in any human composition whatever, it is depicted in the experience of some who are at this moment in connection with our Society: so that, if we cannot boast of Pentecostal conversions, we have seen some, the first-fruits before the harvest, the drop before the shower.
If, then, there exist at this time signs similar to those which marked the Messiah's advent in the flesh, I think we have abundant evidence, that, whether the time for the national conversion of the Jews be come, or not, the time for our exertion is come; and we ought to "go forth to the contest with them, seeing that our God is gone out before us Judges. 4:14. 2 Samuel 5:24." To prevent misapprehension, I repeat, that of "the times and seasons which God has reserved in his own power," I presume not to speak: but of our duty I do speak, and that with confidence: and if the time for the light to arise be that of "evening-time, when it is neither day nor night," then do I think, that at this hour we have all the encouragement to exert ourselves that we can reasonably desire.
But it is in vain to urge on men the performance of their duty, while so many objections lurk against it in their minds. Of the duty itself, I am well assured, nothing need be added to what I spoke in my former Discourse See Disc. on Jeremiah 30:17. I hope and trust, that, on that subject, there is but one feeling among us all. But, as I then observed, we too readily listen to objections; and perhaps feel somewhat of a pleasure in embracing anything which may serve as a plea for postponing at least, if not altogether neglecting, our duty. Hence, on the last occasion, I observed, that, in the present Discourse, I would address myself somewhat more fully to this part of my subject. And if, in doing this, I should trespass somewhat longer than usual on your time and patience, I trust that the importance of the subject will plead my excuse, and be kindly received by you as an apology.
To the first and most common objection, that the time is not come, I need add little to what I have already said. If only it be borne in mind, that I am not speaking of the complete in-gathering of the Jews, but only of our duty to seek their conversion, I may reply to the objector, 'When is the time not come? What period has there been, from the first establishment of Christianity to the present hour, when we were released from all obligation to fulfill this duty?' And, if to this I add, that the present moment singularly accords with that which is described in my text, I conceive that the objection will be allowed by all to have no reasonable weight. If the fallacy of it was made apparent, when urged by the Jews for their delay in building the second temple Haggai 1:2-4, much more will it be found altogether vain, when urged by us as an excuse for our neglect to re-edify his spiritual temple among the Jews. Some, indeed, have been led to this idea by that passage of Scripture, "Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in:" from whence they conclude, that the great body of the Gentiles must first be brought into the fold of Christ; and that then the conversion of the Jews is to commence. But what, then, is the meaning of those words in the very same chapter, "If the fall of them (the Jews) be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fullness?" And again: "If the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead Romans 11:12; Romans 11:15; Romans 11:25." Here we see that it is the fullness of the Jews that is ordained to be "as life from the dead" to the whole Gentile world. That there is no real opposition between these two passages, we may be well assured. The question is, how to reconcile them? In order to this, I would observe, that, in my apprehension, the word 'fullness' is not to be understood of a complete and universal change in either case, but only of the commencement of the two periods referred to. The commencement of a work among the Gentiles will introduce the in-gathering of the Jews: and in like manner, when once the Jews shall begin generally to be converted to the faith, they will be the means of awakening the great body of the Gentiles, and of bringing them also into the fold of Christ This interpretation makes the import of the word 'fullness' the same in both passages; and, in the author's opinion, it is the most plain and simple. But, in many parts of the earth, the Gentiles, through the unprecedented dissemination of the word of God, and the multitude of missions established among them, are already beginning to experience the blessings of the Gospel; and therefore we may well conceive, that the period for the conversion of the Jews also is near at hand. And the man who most earnestly desires the salvation of the Gentiles ought, on his own principles, to be the warmest friend to the Jews.
An idea prevails with some, that the Jews are to be converted by miracle; and, that it is presumptuous in us to attempt so great a work. But this is altogether a mistake. They are to be converted precisely in the same way as they were in the first ages, and as the Gentiles also were; namely, by the ministration of the Gospel. Let any one examine the prophetic writings, and he shall find that there is no difference whatever between the conversion of the Jews and the calling-in of the Gentiles at the latter day; except, indeed, that the Jews shall be gathered in first, and be God's instruments for the conversion of the Gentile world. The fullness, both of one and of the other, shall be brought in; and be, though not perfectly simultaneous, yet as nearly so as the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles were, at the first establishment of Christianity See Acts 13:46. That it is to be wrought by human means, and not by miracle, is clear from those injunctions which the Prophet Isaiah has given us: "Go through, go through the gates: prepare you the way of the people: cast up, cast up the highway: gather out the stones: lift up a standard for the people. Behold, the Lord has proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say you to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your salvation comes Isaiah 62:10-11." Here it must particularly be observed, that the proclamation respecting the Messiah's advent is not made by Jehovah himself, but by the Gentile world: "The Lord has proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say you to the daughter of Zion; you Gentiles, deliver you this message; Say you to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your salvation comes!" Here, then, our duty is clear: we are commanded by God himself to remove every obstacle out of their way; to prepare, with great labor and diligence, a path for them; and to direct them, by all possible means, to their Savior and their God.
Some, however, who will not call it presumptuous, yet regard it as a hopeless task. But why should not the Jews be converted, as well as the Gentiles? Whatever blindness there may be in their minds, God is able to remove it now, as well as in former ages. Who is it that has wrought effectually for the Gentiles? Is his arm so shortened, that he cannot effect the same for the Jews? Shall we say, like those of old, "He has smitten the rock indeed, that the waters gushed out like a river; but can he give bread also, or provide flesh for his people Psalm 78:19-20. The same power is alike competent for both; and he who has engaged that his outcast people shall be restored, will be at no loss to effect it. Paul puts this matter beyond a doubt: "They, if they abide not in unbelief, shall be engrafted in; for God is able to engraft them in again. For, if you were cut out of the olive-tree, which is wild by nature; and were grafted, contrary to nature, into a good olive-tree; how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be engrafted into their own olive-tree Romans 11:23-24."
If, notwithstanding these assertions, any one still think that the low estate of the Jews is a just cause for despairing of success in our efforts with them, be it known, that the lower their degradation is, and the more desperate, according to all human appearance, their condition, the more assurance we have that the season for their restoration is near at hand: for God's express declaration concerning them is, "The Lord will judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he sees that their power is gone, and that there is none shut up or left Deuteronomy 32:36."
By many it is objected, that the labors of the Society are a mere party-matter, being not set on foot by authority; and prosecuted chiefly by a few, whose opinions and habits differ widely from those of the generality. But, with submission, I would ask, With whom did Christianity originate? or, with whom the Reformation? In reference to both, great stress was laid on the objection, that it was not supported by the rulers. But was either the one or the other less excellent in itself, or less worthy of support on this account? Supposing, then, that the objection were admitted as true, it would have no real weight. But it is far from true in reference to the Society of which we speak; for that is patronized by some, whose names would add weight to any cause: and I doubt not, but that, when the object itself shall be better understood, it will be more justly appreciated, and more universally espoused, among the higher orders, as well as among the community at large. As for its being advocated by persons of a peculiar class, if it were true, whose fault would it be? It is the duty of every Christian in the universe to seek the salvation of the Jews: and if any neglect to do it, the fault must rest with them. We invite all to unite in this good work. It does not belong to a party; it is the work of God, and the duty of all, without exception; and we would have all, of every rank, and every class, to co-operate with us in the performance of it. It is a curious fact, that, while Churchmen urge this objection, it is equally alleged against the Society by Dissenters also, who, because the Society is now conducted by members of the Established Church, imagine that their great object is to enlarge and aggrandize the Establishment. But the object of the Society is to convert the Jews to Christianity; and not in Britain only, but in every part of the world; and this is a work in which every Christian under Heaven, to whatever Church he may belong, may well join. For, whatever be men's peculiar sentiments in relation to Church government, there can be no reason why they should not help forward the circulation of the New Testament among the Jews, and their conversion to the faith of Christ; this being a labor of love, which both requires and deserves the united efforts of all who "love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity."
Not very different from this is the objection arising from a disapprobation of some parts of the plan adopted by the Society. Some do not approve of the education of Jewish children; because, as they think, it operates as an inducement with parents to violate the dictates of their conscience, in permitting their children to be instructed in a faith which is contrary to their own. But to this I would say, that the same argument will hold equally against every missionary society for the conversion of the Gentiles; since the education of their children has uniformly constituted a very leading feature of such Societies: and, if we reflect from what a state of depravity and ignorance these children are rescued, and what attention is paid to their best interests, every benevolent mind must rejoice that so great a benefit is accorded to them. Some have thought that the children were collected by undue means; but none are admitted, except a written request be delivered in by the parents themselves; some of whom are altogether indifferent what religion their children embrace; while others would gladly inquire after Christianity themselves, if the fear of utter destitution did not constrain them to decline it.
Exceptions have been taken against the affording of temporal relief to such Jews as have embraced our holy religion, as though that operated with them as a bribe to profess what they did not believe. But this plan has been abandoned, in compliance with what appeared to be the general wish: though it may well be doubted, whether we have not thereby rendered the gate of Heaven more strait than God ever designed it to be: for the first converts, when cast off by their former friends, were not left to perish with hunger, but were supplied with necessities out of a common fund. One benefit, however, accrues from this; namely, that the funds of the Society, which are very inadequate to the objects we have in view, are by these means more entirely devoted to what may be called the primary and more important parts of the institution: and it is to be hoped that private benevolence will supply what necessity alone constrains us to withhold.
The objection which, perhaps, is urged with most confidence is, that the Society has spent much money, and effected but little, if any, good. That large sums have been spent, is certain: and that several of the plans first prosecuted were unsuccessful, must also be acknowledged. But the object was altogether new: and it is not to be wondered at, that, where the path was untrodden, the most perfect way should not be found at once. It must be confessed, also, that there was too little attention to economy among those who first established the Society. But the plans have since been simplified; every improvident scheme has been laid aside; and the utmost attention paid to economy in every part of the institution. As to that part of the objection, that little good has been effected, it is what I can by no means admit. It was to be expected, that the work of conversion among the Jews should be slow and gradual. Their prejudices are strong; and, until lately, they were almost inaccessible to us: but, since the publication of the New Testament in Biblical Hebrew, the effects have been as great as could reasonably be expected: for some, at least, have been truly converted to God; and vast multitudes have been stirred up to inquire after Christianity; so that I might almost say of different, parts, both of Germany and Poland, that "the fields are white already to harvest." But, were it not so, shall it be said that little has been done, when a work has been sent forth into the world which, since the first promulgation of Christianity, was never before attempted; and which, of all the works that ever can be conceived, is the most likely to be effectual for the desired end? If we look forward to its ultimate results, as likely to be the one great means of qualifying the Jews in every quarter of the globe to become at a future period the instructors of the Gentile world, the importance of it can scarcely ever be duly appreciated. There are also many other things now in operation, which until lately could not be brought to bear: missionaries are sent out to different parts: others are receiving appropriate instruction in a seminary recently instituted for that special purpose: and a variety of other plans are now in full activity, and, I would hope, with good effect: so that it can by no means be said, that there is little doing, or little done. In point of efficiency, the Society will be found, especially since it came under the management of its present directors, to bear a comparison with other institutions of a similar nature. As to its progress, compare it with the Reformation: Was that wrought in a day? How long had Wickliffe protested against the abominations of Popery, before any considerable portion of the Church could be effectually purged from its corruptions? and how little has been done towards the diffusion of the Protestant religion in a neighboring portion of the United Kingdom during the space of above two hundred years? Nay, let any one of us labor only in a single parish, with every possible advantage, for a number of years, and see how few are truly converted to God; and, of those few who profess to have received the word into their hearts, how very small a portion "bring forth fruit unto perfection," and "endure unto the end!" Let us but judge candidly in this matter, and we shall see indeed but little reason for this complaint.
Regretting that I have been necessitated to detain you so long, I will mention but one objection more; and it is this: I will wait and see what others do, before I will commit myself as a friend and patron of this Society. But, if all proceed on this plan, how is anything to be done? If the thing be good, we should aid it, even though no one else should either lead the way, or follow our example. Instead of hesitating or delaying, we should all vie with each other in this long-neglected duty, and labor to redeem the time we have lost. If any would still procrastinate, I would ask, Have not the Jews been neglected long enough? Will not seventeen centuries suffice to have left them in their perishing condition? Would we still leave generation after generation to die in the ignorance of that Savior whom God has sent for them as well as us, and through whom we profess ourselves to have obtained eternal life? Have we not yet filled up a sufficient measure of iniquity by our neglect? Would we add yet more to all the inhumanity we have been guilty of? Would we carry on to an indefinite period our injustice and ingratitude towards them, and continue our impiety, until it is past a remedy? If the Jews have no claim upon us, let us acknowledge none: if the reproofs of God respecting our neglect are not deserving of attention, let us disregard them: if there be no excellency in love, let us forbear to exercise it: and if our own souls be of no value, let us continue to trifle with them, even unto the end. But if, as was shown in our former Discourse, God will resent this apathy, and call us into judgment for it, let every one of us act for himself, and obey, without delay, the dictates of his conscience, and the commands of God. Let none think it beneath them to espouse the cause of that despised people. Let none suppose, that, because they stand pre-eminent for rank or learning, they should account themselves excused from this sacred work. I ask of all, Are the Jews at this day in a more desperate or degraded state than they were when laboring at the brick-kilns in Egypt? or are any among us more distinguished for rank or talents than Moses, who was "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," and, in the first court at that time in the universe, was inferior only to the king himself? yet did he not merely condescend to patronize that injured people, but, at the peril of his own life, he espoused their cause, yes, and joined himself to them, that he might participate their afflictions; "esteeming even the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt Hebrews 11:24-26." To any such exercise of self-denial as this, I readily grant, we are not called. But to a zeal for God's honor, and his people's good, we are called: and I feel assured, that if, in this benevolent and holy cause, we do make some sacrifice, the time is coming when we shall not regret it. In the court of Pharaoh, it is highly probable that all those who were ignorant of the high principles by which Moses was actuated, regarded his condescension as folly, and his zeal as madness. But far different is the estimate that has been formed, both of the one and of the other, by the Christian, no less than by the Jewish, Church; among whom, from that very hour, it has been an acknowledged principle, that it is "better to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." This I say, in case it should please God to raise up among us men of piety and talent, who shall enter fully into this subject, and devote themselves to the arduous and long-neglected office of enlightening and converting the Jews. Of course, this can be expected of few, and of those only who feel themselves at liberty to consecrate their time and talents to this blessed work. But, after the statement you have heard, I hope I may be permitted to say, without offence, If you are convinced that the cause in which we are engaged is good, aid us by your patronage and your contributions: and let it be seen, that, while Monarchs are declaring before the whole world that such efforts 'equally become the statesman and the friend of humanity.
CHRIST'S REIGN ON EARTH
Zechariah 14:9. The Lord shall be King over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one.
UNDER the Jewish dispensation, the saints looked forward to the first coming of our Lord; at the prospect of which, though at the distance of two thousand years, Abraham exulted, and leaped for joy. Under the Christian dispensation, we look forward to his second advent: when he shall take to him his great power, and reign over the face of the whole earth. The near approach of this great event should make us more intent upon it, and fill us with delightful anticipations of the blessings which will then be diffused throughout all the world. The words which we have just read will furnish us with an occasion to consider,
I. The incalculable importance of this prophecy—
It is of importance,
1. To the world at large—
At present, our blessed Savior reigns over a very small part of the globe. By far the greater part of mankind are sunk in the grossest idolatry: But there is a time coming, when every Dagon in the universe shall fall before the ark, and Christ shall be King over all the earth. In every place under Heaven shall men "cast their idols to the moles and to the bats," and Christ be made the one object of supreme and universal regard.
The delusions of Mohammadanism shall also then be banished; the worshipers of that false prophet shall be undeceived; and Christ be acknowledged as that Prophet of whom Moses spoke, as ordained of God to be supremely and exclusively the Teacher of the world.
God's ancient people, too, shall then be brought to "look on Him whom they pierced, and mourn; and be in bitterness, as one that mourns for his only son." To him shall they submit, as King in Zion; and thus all, both Jews and Gentiles, shall become "one fold under one Shepherd."
To all these things the Scriptures bear witness, in so plain and abundant a measure, that we must doubt altogether the inspiration of the sacred volume, if we can doubt that these things shall be fulfilled in their season Psalm 2:6; Psalm 2:8; Psalm 22:27-28; Psalm 72:8; Psalm 72:11; Daniel 2:44-45.
2. To the Church in particular—
Even in the Christian world there is almost as little subjection to one Head as in the world at large. Both in the Roman Church and the Greek Church, superstition prevails to such a degree, as in a great measure to supersede the work and offices of Christ. And even among Protestants, the divisions which exist tend greatly to embitter their minds against each other, and to prevent that union which ought to exist among the members of Christ's mystical body. As, of old, the tribes of Judah and of Ephraim were in a state of most inveterate hostility against each other, even so it is now. But as, in reference to them, we are told that the two sticks in the prophet's hand became one, as shadowing forth their future union Ezekiel 37:16-22, "(Ephraim no longer envying Judah, nor Judah vexing Ephraim Isaiah 11:13," but both living together in harmony and love,) so we may assuredly expect, that, at the season predicted in my text, all will become, as at the day of Pentecost, "of one heart and one mind;" all, as it were, "being like-minded one towards another, according to Christ Jesus; and all, with one mind and one mouth, glorifying God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ Romans 15:5-6."
3. To every individual of mankind—
Who among us has not reason to confess, that "other lords besides Jehovah have had dominion over us?" But at that time we shall all say, "By you, and the influence of your grace, will we henceforth make mention of your name, even of your only Isaiah 26:13." An entire subjection of the soul to Christ is a very rare attainment. But in that day there shall be none to "say, Lord, Lord, without doing the things which he commands." Hypocrisy will then be banished from the world; and all who are called Israel, will be "Israelites indeed John 1:47." "All will be righteous in that day Isaiah 60:21." Every vessel in the Lord's house, from the greatest to the least, will be holiness to the Lord: nor shall there any more be the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts verse 20, 21."
Is this the true import of the prophecy? How great then must be,
II. The blessedness of the period to which it refers—
Surely it will be a season of great temporal prosperity—
There will then exist few, if any, of those calamities which now overrun the world. Do wars now rage, and desolate the earth? They shall then cease: "the swords shall be beat into plow-shares, and the spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more Micah 4:3." Do unfruitful seasons reduce men to great distress? There shall then be such fertility in the earth, that "every man shall sit under his own vine and fig-tree Micah 4:4," in the undisturbed possession both of peace and plenty. Do injustice and oppression prevail? Universal righteousness will then obtain; and neither fraud nor violence be suffered upon earth Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 60:17-18. Do diseases bring men to an untimely end? To such a degree shall the constitutions of men be strengthened, that a person at the age of a hundred years shall be accounted only a child; and if he die at that early age, he shall be judged as cut off prematurely by a judicial act of God's displeasure. In truth, the whole system of things will appear like "a new creation;" "a new Heaven, and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness Isaiah 65:17-20 and 2 Peter 3:13."
Then, also, shall spiritual blessings most richly abound—
Men's knowledge of the Gospel shall then far exceed anything that is possessed at this day: "The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun sevenfold, 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." At present, our views of Christ are obscure: we see him only as a shadow, or, at the best, only "as in a glass darkly:" but then "we shall see him eye to eye," and, as it were, face to face Isaiah 52:8. The grace also that shall accompany this knowledge will be proportionably enlarged. Exceeding beautiful is the description which the Prophet Joel gives us of the state of things in that day: "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 Joel 3:18," a place proverbially dry and barren. In fact, so universal and abundant will be the prevalence of real piety, that it will seem as if all the saints that have ever died had risen again, and Christ himself were dwelling and reigning in the midst of them Revelation 20:6; Revelation 21:2-4.
Above all, it will be a season when God will manifest himself on earth, almost as he does in Heaven itself—
Some think that Christ will personally reign on earth, during the whole Millennium. But, without acceding to that opinion, I think it clear that he will manifest himself on some special occasions, as once he did upon Mount Tabor in his transfiguration: and so bright will be his glory, that the moon shall be confounded and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously Isaiah 24:23." In fact, the city in which we shall dwell will have no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it: for the glory of God will lighten it, and the Lamb will be the light thereof See Revelation 21:22-26." See the exultations of the saints in that day, as expressed in the prophetic writings Psalm 98:1-9 and Isaiah 12:3-6; See them, also, as declared in the book of Revelation, where they refer expressly to the period when "the saints shall reign on the earth Revelation 5:9-10;" and, methinks, you will say that that season will be to every living man a pledge and a foretaste of Heaven itself.
Let me then entreat you, Brethren,
1. To seek the establishment of Christ's kingdom in your own souls—
If He is to reign over all at the period referred to, should not his kingdom be established in our hearts? O, let him not find a rival there! Let everything that exalts itself against him be cast down; and every thought and desire of your hearts be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
2. To promote its establishment throughout the world Here may be an exhortation, suited to the occasion, and to the particular circumstances of the case at that time.—
THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
Zechariah 14:16-19. It shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whose will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain. And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, that have no rain; there shall be the plague, with which the Lord will smite the heathen that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles. This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.
MANY passages of Holy Writ derive an interest from the plainness of their import, and the force with which they are expressed; and many attract our attention from the peculiarity of the subject, and even from the difficulty of finding the just interpretation of them. It is in this latter view that I propose to call your attention to the passage which I have now read. That vast importance is attached to the subject by the prophet himself, is evident: and therefore it should not be overlooked by us. But, whether the true sense of it has yet been ascertained, may well admit of doubt.
There are two points of view in which it may be considered:
I. As a prediction to be accomplished in due season—
That the event which it refers to is yet future, can admit of no doubt. It is not to take place until the period shall arrive, when "the Lord shall be King over all the earth;" and when, instead of the multitudes of gods that are now worshiped, "there shall be but one Lord, and his name one verse 9."
By the Mosaic law there were appointed three great feasts, for the observance of which all the males in Israel were to go up to Jerusalem: these were the feast of the Passover, the feast of Pentecost, and the feast of Tabernacles; and they were all partly commemorative, and partly predictive. The Passover referred to the deliverance of the Hebrew first-born through the sprinkling of the blood of the paschal lamb, when the Egyptian first-born were slain; the Pentecost reminded them of the giving of the law from Mount Sinai: and the feast of Tabernacles brought to their remembrance their dwelling in tents for forty years in the wilderness. The event predicted by the Passover was the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ for the sins of the whole world 1 Corinthians 5:7; and that predicted by the Pentecost was the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit upon the fiftieth day after the deliverance by Christ's death should have been effected, and the writing of God's law by him upon our hearts Acts 2:1-4. But now comes the difficulty: What was the event predicted by the feast of Tabernacles? Commentators have mentioned two; namely, the incarnation of our blessed Lord, and the state in which all his people should live in this dreary wilderness. For the former of these, there appears some foundation in Scripture: for our blessed Lord's advent was, in all probability, at that season of the year, the autumn; and not, as we generally imagine, in the winter: and the expression whereby his incarnation is designated by John seems to have a special reference to this feast; "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt (tabernacled) among us." And this being so wonderful an event, and withal so accordant with the other two, it may well be supposed that the expectation of it should be kept up by a particular feast instituted for that express purpose. But then there arises a great difficulty; Why should this be so particularly, and so exclusively, celebrated in the latter day? Why should such heavy judgments be denounced against those who should omit to celebrate this, while yet no notice at all is taken of the other two? This necessitates one to look for some other event, which is of sufficient importance to justify the appointment of a feast, and which demands that peculiar honor which is here exclusively reserved for it. As for the state in which all are to live under the Christian dispensation, there is nothing at all mysterious in that, nothing that calls for such a typical prefiguration, and nothing that is peculiarly appropriate to the latter-day. We therefore dismiss that altogether from our thoughts, as far as the prediction is concerned,
In order to discover what event there is, which the prophet had in view, and which, either by itself, or in connection with Christ's first advent, corresponds with the feast of Tabernacles, and which moreover calls for such distinguished honor in the latter day; we must examine the whole preceding context. The prophet is speaking respecting the future restoration and conversion of the Jews verse 11. He foretells, that it will be opposed to the uttermost by the heathen nations: but that the Jews will triumph over all their enemies verse 12–14. See also Zechariah 12:3; Zechariah 12:6-9, and having destroyed immense multitudes of them, will be the instruments of converting the rest to the faith of Christ Isaiah 66:14-16; Isaiah 66:19. Now, it is obvious, that the Jews, in going up to their own land, must dwell in booths made of the branches of trees; or, at best, in tents, such as soldiers use when they take the field. It is equally obvious, that, in appearance, they will be as likely to fall a prey to their enemies, as when they came out of Egypt to sojourn in the wilderness. Yet shall they be as miraculously preserved then as heretofore; not only through the destruction of their enemies, but by a supply of all their wants: and they shall have renewed to them all their former mercies under their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will then reign over them, and fix his Tabernacle in the midst of them, as their Head and King Ezekiel 34:23-24 with Revelation 21:3. By this blessed event, their surviving enemies will be convinced, and converted to the faith of Christ: and all who shall resist the evidence thus afforded them, and refuse to join them in the worshiping of the Savior, shall be visited with plagues, which shall mark plainly the indignation of God against them. At the feast of Tabernacles they were accustomed to pray for the latter rain, which fell at that season of the year Joel 2:23; and God threatens, that they who should not unite with them in these holy exercises "should have no rain." And whereas Egypt was independent of rain, their land being fertilized by the overflowing of the Nile, they should have some other plague equivalent to that inflicted on other disobedient nations verse 18; for God would sorely chastise all who should refuse to unite in celebrating this wonderful event, and in honoring the Savior who shall have brought it to pass.
Now, here we have an object worthy of such an ordinance to prefigure it: for it is the consummation of all the prophecies, relating either to the Jewish or Gentile world. And here we see why this feast is to be observed, not only in preference to, but to the exclusion of, the other two. And certainly, if we conceive, as many do, that the Lord Jesus Christ will then descend, and personally reign on earth, the connection between his first and second advent will more strongly appear, and the authoritative injunction respecting the observance of that feast will be more fully accounted for. Could we make up our minds to this point, it must be confessed it would throw great light on the passage before us; because this feast would then have the same direct reference to Christ as is unquestionably found in the other two. But of his spiritual reign there can be no doubt: and that being then more glorious than ever, and over both the Jewish and Gentile world in one collective body, it may well be regarded as a renewal of his presence upon earth, and an accomplishment of the prophecy before us.
But there is yet further reason for supposing the conversion of the Gentile world to be the immediate subject of this prophecy: for the feast of Tabernacles was expressly called "the feast of in-gathering Exodus 23:16;" and therefore it might well prefigure that second advent of "Shiloh, to whom shall the gathering of the Gentiles be Genesis 49:10." And, in fact, the whole current of prophecy seems to determine the point: for "at that period shall many people and strong nations come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem; and ten men out of all languages of the nations shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you Zechariah 8:22-23. See also Isaiah 60:10-14; Isaiah 66:13."
Having endeavored to throw light on my text as a prediction, I shall now proceed to notice it,
II. As a command, to be obeyed in all ages—
Beyond all doubt, that which is so authoritatively required of the whole world at a future period, must, in spirit at least, be required of the Church in all ages. Now, the spirit of the ordinance plainly inculcates,
1. A grateful remembrance of past mercies—
This was indisputably one great end of the feast, as it was originally established: "You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths; that your generations may know, that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt Leviticus 23:39-43." In that state they were exposed to the want of every necessary of life, and to numberless dangers, both from men and beasts: yet were they preserved by the continued care of their Heavenly Protector. And have not we, also, similar mercies to recount? With respect to our bodies, what care has God taken of us, from the first moment that we came into the world! How many millions of the children of men have never attained to our age, or had such blessings multiplied to them as we! And if we speak of our souls, we must know all the devices of Satan himself, before we can estimate aright the care which we have experienced at the hands of our heavenly Father. There has not been an hour in which we should not have been destroyed, if God had permitted Satan to sift us, as he gladly would have done. It is through God's unbounded mercy that "we continue to this day" following after God, and that we have not long since "turned back unto perdition." If, through mercy, we can say, "My foot stands fast;" it becomes us gratefully to add, "In the congregations will I bless the Lord Psalm 26:12."
2. An humble dependence on God for future blessings—
In the passage before cited, to show that the ordinance was appointed for the remembrance of past mercies, it is added, "I am the Lord your God Leviticus 23:43." This taught the Hebrews to expect a continuance of those blessings at his hands. And to whom shall we look? Where shall we go for blessings, either temporal or spiritual? If we lean on the creature, we shall find it a broken reed. We must rely on God alone. We must look to Him, as "our Sun and our Shield:" we must "rely on him both for grace and glory;" and rest assured, that "he will withhold no good thing from us, if only we walk uprightly before him;" "acknowledging him in all our ways," and "committing" our every concern "into his hands Proverbs 3:6."
It is worthy of observation, that, on the last day of this feast, the Jews were accustomed to go to the pool of Siloam, and to pour out water with joy; referring, in their minds, to the promise, that at that time "living waters should go out from Jerusalem verse 8;" and to that particular song which the Prophet Isaiah had taught them, "With joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation Isaiah 12:3." In the midst of that ceremony, our blessed Lord addressed the whole multitude, saying, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He who believes on me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. And this spoke he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him should receive John 7:37-39." If only we look to Him, "we shall want no manner of thing that is good In the Church of England we have Rogation-days, for the express purpose of supplicating God's blessing in reference to the fruits of the earth, and the out-pouring of his Spirit on the Church: and these begin the Sunday before Whitsunday."
3. A self-denying surrender of our whole selves to God—
It was no little act of self-denial, for the whole nation to leave their houses, and live in booths (not in tents of canvass, as we are apt to imagine; but in booths, made of the branches of trees) for seven days every year. In truth, this ordinance was so contrary to flesh and blood, that, from the days of Joshua, until after their return from the Babylonish captivity, the people never once observed it. But we must not draw back from any act of self-denial whatever. We must forsake all, and follow Christ: father, mother, houses, lands, yes, and life itself, must be hated by us in comparison of him. Though in the world, "we must not be of the world;" but "be crucified to it," and "have our conversation altogether in Heaven." This is our duty: "we must live not to ourselves, but to Him who died for us, and rose again." Nor must we account anything hard: we should rather "rejoice, if we are counted worthy to suffer shame or loss for the Lord's sake;" and "not count even our lives dear to us, if only we may honor him, and"finish our course with joy." At the discovery of their long-neglected duty through the instructions of Ezra, the people, even all the congregation of those who were come out of captivity, made themselves booths, on the roof of their houses, and in their courts, and in the courts of the House of God, and in the street of the water-gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim: and there was very great gladness Nehemiah 8:14-17." O, that there were in us also such a heart! For I hesitate not to affirm, that the more self-denying readiness we manifest to obey the commands of God, the more solid joy shall we possess. Verily,"in keeping God's commandments there is great reward."
4. A joyful anticipation of the period more especially referred to—
Abraham, two thousand years before the Savior's advent, was filled with joy at the glimmering view of it which he beheld: and shall not we rejoice in the prospect of his second advent, when all the ends of his incarnation and death will be gloriously accomplished; and when all, both Jews and Gentiles, shall be gathered together as "one fold under one Shepherd?" "Woe be to us, if we are at ease in Zion," and altogether insensible to these great events! Were "the Ammonite and the Moabite forbidden to enter into the congregation of the Lord, even to the tenth generation, because they met not the Hebrews with supplies of bread and water, when they came out of Egypt Deuteronomy 23:3-4;" what judgment, then, think you, may we expect, if we help not forward, to the utmost of our power, this glorious consummation, of which their deliverance from Egypt was but a faint shadow! Truly, God calls us to enter into the subject with our whole hearts, and to help it forward with our whole souls. "Thus says the Lord: Sing with gladness for Jacob: shout among the chief of the nations: publish you; praise you; and say, O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel Jeremiah 31:7." This is addressed to us: and if it was the duty of Gentiles five hundred years before the first coming of Christ, what must it be now that his second advent is so near at hand? Come, Brethren; rise to the occasion: prepare to keep the feast. If you refuse to participate in this joy, no wonder "you have no rain"upon your souls; no wonder you are visited with plagues: but, if you will enter fully into the design of this mystery, then shall you "come with singing unto Zion, and with everlasting joy upon your heads."
THE MILLENNIAL GLORY
Zechariah 14:20-21. In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD; and the pots in the Lord's house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yes, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein: and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts.
THE period to which the text refers is yet future. If there be in the preceding context much that is difficult to be understood, there is much also that is plain. It is here plainly foretold, that the Jews shall be restored once more to their own land verse 11; that those who oppose their settlement there, how numerous or powerful soever they may be, shall be destroyed verse 12–15; that both Jews and Gentiles shall embrace the faith of Christ verse 9; that those who refuse to do so, whether Jews or Gentiles, shall be visited with heavy plagues verse 16–19; and that, among those who do turn unto the Lord, there shall be such high degrees of holiness as have never yet been generally found in the Church of God The text.
By "the bells or bridles of the horses" may be meant the ornaments of horses, not merely of those used in war, but rather of those used for common purposes, whether of labor or pleasure. On them shall be inscribed "Holiness unto the Lord,"just as there was on the mitre of the high-priest Exodus 28:36, in order to show, that the owners of the horses consider them as consecrated to the Lord, and desire to glorify God in the use of them. By this I understand, that, in all the comforts and conveniences of life, God will be acknowledged, as much as he formerly was in the most sacred ordinances and appointments.
Every service then will be, in fact, a religious service. In the tabernacle and the temple were "pots,"both of earth and brass, for the use of the priests; and "bowls" of gold for the blood of the sacrifices, which was to be sprinkled according to the prescribed forms. These were more holy as being used in the more immediate service of God. But in that day, "the pots in the Lord's house shall be like the bowls before the altar," every meal being partaken of in the same devout spirit as a sacrifice, and every common office of life being performed as unto God himself. Nor will this obtain among the priests only, but among the people also, and that of every rank and order in society; for "every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord." The seething of the flesh of the sacrifices in the pots formerly belonged only to the priests Leviticus 6:25-28; but under the Christian dispensation all are priests, even "a royal priesthood 1 Peter 2:9. Revelation 5:10, "and are therefore entitled to "seethe therein;" "the people who sacrifice" being in this respect as the priests themselves.
So universal will holiness then be, that "there will no more be the Canaanite in the house of the Lord." In the Promised Land the Canaanites retained a possession for many centuries, and were with great difficulty extirpated at last. At this time too there are in the Church many who dishonor their holy profession; nor can the tares be in any tolerable degree separated from the wheat; but at that day "Jerusalem shall be altogether holy Joel 3:17," and in the Lord's highway no unclean thing or person shall be found Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 60:21.
From the text thus explained, we may see,
I. The true character of the Gospel dispensation—
The law was holy; and not the moral law only, but the ceremonial law also: for though, in comparison of the Gospel, it consisted only of poor and "beggarly elements," yet it tended to render sin odious, and to impress on the mind the fear and love of God. But the Gospel is yet more holy, being itself the substance of those things of which the law was only a shadow. The whole character of it is holiness:
1. It displays above all things the holiness of God—
Sec what an atonement was offered for sin! nothing but the blood of God's only dear Son could make satisfaction for it: What a holy God must he be, who required such a sacrifice!.
2. It proposes to us no lower pattern than God himself—
We are required by it to "be holy, as God is holy;" and "perfect, as our Father which is in Heaven is perfect." Far as we are from this, we must press forward for it, and rest in nothing short of it.
3. The holiness which it requires of us, it promises to us—
It makes not any one perfect in this life; but it delivers us from the dominion of all sin and transforms us into "the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness," and that "from one degree of glory to another, even as by the Spirit of the Lord 2 Corinthians 3:18." This it does for all who receive it aright: for "every one that has a good hope in Christ, purifies himself, even as he is pure 1 John 3:3."
To illustrate this yet farther, we shall mark,
II. The effect which it produces, in proportion as its influence is felt—
"It brings forth fruit in all the world:" and that fruit is of the richest kind, even as the fruit of Paradise itself. In the last day it will operate in its full extent: and now, if we cordially embrace it,
1. We shall regard all that we have as consecrated to the Lord—
Whatever we possess, whether for use or pleasure, "Holiness unto the Lord" will be inscribed upon it. Our bodies with all their members, our souls with all their faculties, our time, our property, our influence, all will be considered as talents received from him, and to be improved for him Isaiah 23:18; Isaiah 63:9.
2. We shall perform our most common services in a religious manner—
As the ungodly carry a worldly spirit into their most sacred duties, so, on the contrary, do the saints endeavor to do everything for God. This is shown us particularly in reference to religious servants, whose privilege it is in the most menial offices to serve the Lord Christ Ephesians 6:5-8; In like manner all of us are to regard "our pots and cups as the bowls before the altar," and "whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, to do it all for the glory of God 1 Corinthians 10:31."
3. We shall suffer no sin willingly to abide in our hearts—
The Canaanite will be expelled, and no truce be made with him. "The right eye will be plucked out, and the right hand or foot will be cut off." To the harboring of one sin the penalty of "Hell fire" is annexed: and no candidate for Heaven will knowingly subject himself to this fearful alternative Mark 9:42-48.
1. Let none be ashamed of religion, which ought to shine before men—
2. Let none rest in any measure of religion short of that which will characterize the Millennial age.