“For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and I will heal him.”
The history of the twelve tribes of Israel is full of instruction to those who fear the Lord. This highly favored nation had committed unto them the oracles of God, and setting forth their peculiar preeminence Paul says, “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” Moses declared that such should be the exaltation of his people in the sight of the surrounding nations that they would exclaim, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” Then he spreads before assembled Israel their peculiar blessedness and exaltation: “What nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such tiling as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did over people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the lire, as thou hast heard, and live! Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him. Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire. And because he loved thy fathers, therefore be chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt; to drive out the nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as it is this day. Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else. Thou shalt keep therefore his statutes, and his commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the earth, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, forever.” Well may Israel’s blessedness be crowned with the song, “Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! and thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places.” But they rebelled and vexed God, they often turned aside from him and corrupted their ways, they provoked him to auger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images. Then the Lord pleads with them face to face, and declares that their conduct was more inconstant and shameful than the nations of the Gentiles. “For pass over the isles of Chittim and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be any such a thing: hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Bo astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” – Jer. ii. 10-13. “Hear, O heavens; and give ear, O earth; for the Lord hath spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me: the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” – Isaiah i. 2, 15. Shall such a sinful, ungrateful nation be cast aside by God? Let this be the answer of his sovereign grace: “Israel hath not been forsaken, nor Judah of his God, of the Lord of hosts; though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel.” – Jer. Ii. 5.
Having glanced at this picture of typical Israel, let us come to our text as applicable to the true and spiritual Israel of God. That one born again, called by God’s grace unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ, who has been made to feel the burden of sin, and then has tasted the blessedness of the man whose transgressions are all forgiven, should go on in a froward spirit in forbidden paths, is a dark and shameful mystery. That among the children of God such behavior is to be found, is evident from the testimony of the Scriptures. It is humiliating, heart-saddening to read of this and that signally blessed child of God falling into outward iniquities, wandering far away from the statutes of the Lord, but O how our hearts melt and glow with affection to them, and to our God, when with broken and contrite hearts, with cries and tears they are turned to him who forgiveth transgression and sin because he delighteth in mercy. (Micah vii. 18.) Many, very many of the children of God are mercifully preserved from what may be described as outward sinfulness. In the eyes of their fellows there appears to be nothing froward, but among even these so graciously kept from portraying the depravities of their natures, there are those to whom at times in their invisible life the language of the text is applicable. “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
“For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him.” “His covetousness.” This covers a very extensive field of our sinfulness. The vain delights of earth appeal with much power to the depravity of our natures. The child of God learns that there are listings in his flesh which, if not restrained, are capable of finding gratification in all that is of the world. (I John ii. 16.) Having such a nature in us we are easily allured by temptations to walk in the iniquities of covetousness. Ah, unless the flesh is crucified with the lusts thereof, we shall ere long find ourselves numbered with those who “pant after the dust of the earth.” – Amos ii. 7. What a picture! Here is one with all eagerness reaching forth, pursuing after lying vanities, till in the chase he is panting with his exertions to grasp the illusive prize, for this covetousness is as a raging thirst which the open mouth, parched tongue and panting breath declare only the dust of the earth can quench. “They pant after the dust of the earth.” This is surely the antithesis of “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” If covetousness be not constantly mortified through the gracious power of the Spirit of God, it will grow, and the iniquity of his covetousness will soon be apparent in the life of that one. Covetousness contains in it innumerable iniquities, it will shrivel us up, it will shut up the bowels of compassion, it will at length so harden our spirit, and it will say, It is no matter who sinks so long as I swim; though others are grieved, afflicted and have manifold adversities, of what moment is it so long as I am not touched! We may say we pity the poor and needy, but do we help them! Do we in acts as well as words feel for them? Perhaps we excuse our covetousness by casting the blame of adversity upon the afflicted and needy, saying of them, It is their own fault, they brought it upon themselves, they should have done differently, and they would not thank me if I were to assist them; so in very selfishness we shut up the bowels of our compassion. Shut up! Perhaps at this stage selfishness has so taken possession that it would be hard to find any bowels of compassion to shut up. O, when one is going on as the very slave of the iniquity of his covetousness, there will be no visibility in us of the likeness of the compassionate Savior.
I tell you, beloved ones of God, there are avenues of covetousness that are very hateful, and I have not had to go outside of my own poor life to see and feel them. Little things in my own experience, known only to the Lord, have made me to hate myself, to hang down my head, to blush, to hide my face away from the Lord; I have felt I was too mean for him to look upon. It is not in vain that Jesus said, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness.” It is that spirit in us that reaches after that which will benefit us; it is self, first, last and all the time; it is self-gratification, and in its broad aspect covetousness is that which in any degree witnesseth a departure from the fulfillment of “the royal law, according to the Scripture, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” – James ii. 8. How do you stand, guilty or not guilty? So comprehensive is the iniquity of covetousness that Paul says, “I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” – Romans vii. 7. Well may one exclaim, “I have seen the end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad.” – Psalm scxix.96. Though covetousness is in the natural hearts of all the human family, yet through God’s reigning grace there are times when it is crucified, and in some Christ-like lives of the dear family of God it is so hidden, so subdued, that they are ever sacrificing themselves for their fellows, ever seeking the comfort, welfare and exaltation of others, and the last thing thought of is themselves; they are so unselfish. Have you not had glimpses of such ones! Are they not lovely? Then by way of contrast look at yourself. Perhaps some of us are blind, and can neither see the beauty of others nor the ugliness of ourselves. “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him.” That the Lord should thus be wroth very plainly reveals the character of God. We behold him the Holy One, who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and who cannot look upon sin. (Hab. i. 13.) Ah, we could not have faith in and reverence a God that hath pleasure in wickedness. (Psalms v. 4.) Yes, one of the dearest revelations of God to our hearts is that he is holy and righteous, and hateth wickedness. With what affection therefore do those who are taught of the Lord cleave to him, and each one adoringly calls him the “Lord my God, mine Holy One.” – Hab. i. 12. “He is the Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.”
“And smote him.” The chastisements of the Lord are twofold, there are chastenings from within and chastenings from without. The Lord chastised his people with the rod of men. (2 Sam. vii, 14.) The Assyrian was the rod of the Lord’s anger. (Isaiah x. 5.) The wicked is his sword. (Psalms xvii. 13.) He smote his people with temporal adversities, and his outstretched arm blasted their possessions with rust and mildew, he sent among them the cankerworm, the caterpillar and grasshoppers, and thus Jacob was made small. (Amos vii. 2.) I hewed them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of my mouth, (Hosea vi. 5.) Ah, the prophets of the Holy One are not always declaring pleasant things unto Israel, but sent of God and inspired of him they bring heavy tidings, they speak against us. (Jer. xxxi. 20.) The word of the Lord as a sharp axe cuts and hews us, and we are sorely wounded, our sins are shewn us, and as our iniquities are spread before our faces we are cut down and slain by the revealed displeasure of the Lord, and as the slain in Ezekiel xxxvii. 11, we say, “Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; and we are cut off for our parts.” The trials and afflictions of his saints are oftentimes the smitings of the Lord, his fatherly chastenings. These trials that come upon us from without all have a voice, and blessed it is to have the hearing ear to hear the rod, and the Lord our God who hath appointed it. (Micah vi. 9.) Then there are the inward smitings, the strokes of the Lord’s displeasure in our conscience, the guilt of our lives as a smiting rod removes far from us all spiritual blessedness. What a difference there is between a good conscience and an evil conscience! The one is darkness, guilt and affliction, the other righteousness, peace and blessedness in the blood and righteousness of the Son of God.
Saith the Lord, “And smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.” Truly the way of the transgressor is hard, for when the child of God transgresses, the Lord his God will shew him hard things. (Psalms lx. 3.) The blessing of the Lord is that he makes his face to shine upon us, (Num. vi. 25,) and the prayer of the humble in heart is, “Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.” O, in the smiles of his face there is comfort, healing and strength. we are animated to worship and praise his name, and prove so wondrously that the light of his countenance is the health of our countenance. But when he hideth himself and is wroth, when his face we cannot see, when we are excluded and shut out from his presence, with no looks of compassion, with no pitying glances of a Father’s love, then we are as wretched outcasts. Then also to have the dreadful knowledge that God is wroth, to know we have provoked him to anger with the iniquity of our covetousness, and that our sins have hidden his face from us. What then! Shall we not turn unto him that smiteth us, shall we not bow down and in contriteness of heart seek reconciliation with our God? Is this not becoming us as children of the Most High? O it is becoming us, but so strong are the depravities of our flesh that unless divine help is afforded us we shall be driven headlong, and the terrible testimony concerning us will be, “he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.” In spite of the prickings of his conscience he went on in the paths of folly, “in the way of his heart,” and he would have gone on and on to perdition if the Lord had not in due time hedged up his way that he should not find his paths, (Hosea ii. 6.) It is a vain thing for one born of God to think to live in fleshly self-gratification, for such paths are the former lusts of our ignorance, (1 Peter i. 4,) so unbecoming, so dishonoring to our God. O what would become of us miserable sinners but for God’s reigning grace? Are you going on in the frowardness of your heart? Take a thought, examine and see. Are you striving against sin? (Heb. xii. 4.) Are you crucifying the flesh with the affections and lusts? Though you may veil your life so that your fellows cannot know it, you cannot screen your ways from the eyes of the Holy One that inhabiteth eternity. However fair outlives may be in the sight of mortals, to God all things are naked and open.
“Great God, from thee there’s naught concealed,
Thou seest my inward frame;
To thee I always stand revealed
Exactly as I am.”
“I have seen his ways, and will heal him.” One of the sacred, awe-inspiring yet comforting things that has entered into my life has been this, “Thou God seest me.” Sometimes amidst afflictions and temptations in my infirmity I have thought God seeth not, he has no regard for poor, harrassed, sinful me. Then it has dawned upon me that the eyes of the Lord are upon me, he seeth, he knows; all my anxieties, all my oppressions, all the rugged, troubled scenes that I am passing through, he knoweth the way that I take. O this has quieted, rested, comforted me, and I have been again strengthened to hope in the Lord. And when my feet were almost gone and my steps had well nigh slipped, when sorely tempted to the indulgence of my sinful appetites, O what a defence, what salvation I have found in the precious thought being given me that our heavenly Father seeth me. Ah, I have been ashamed and pained in his sight, but my wounded heart has turned with all affection to him whose eyes are upon me, and I have said, Ah, Lord, thou seest I am a poor, vile sinner, so weak, so apt to be enticed into iniquities; have pity upon me, forgive me, hold thou me up and I shall be safe.
“I have seen his ways.” His selfishness, the iniquity of his covetousness; I have seen his perverseness, going on frowardly in the way of his heart. How unlovely! Ah, wretched, wayward child, thy feet are not comely now. Where are thy shoes that make the feet of believers so beautiful? (Song vii. 1; Eph. vi. 15.) “I have seen his ways, and will heal him.” What! heal him, such an ungrateful, unprofitable, froward sinner? O this is matchless grace, this is the everlasting love of God our heavenly Father. Thus saith the Lord, “Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child! for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still; therefore my bowels are troubled for him: I will surely have mercy upon him.” – Jer. xxxi. 20. “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” – Isaiah lxvi. 13. Such Scriptures very blessedly reveal to our faith the depths and tenderness of Jehovah’s love to his people. Thou art high and holy, Lord God Almighty, thy glory covers the heavens, and the earth is full of thy praise. Thou art infinite in majesty, O thou art far, far above our highest thought. “What is man, that thou art mindful of him ‘? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” Mindful of man? sinful, rebellious man?
“Pause, my soul, adore and wonder!
Ask, ‘O why such love to me?
Grace hath put me in the number
Of the Savior’s family:
Hallelujah! thanks, eternal thanks to thee.”
There is grace in the Lord to heal our foul backslidings, he has his own efficacious ways of turning his wayward children to himself again; he has his way of hedging up our way with thorns, that we cannot find our paths where formerly we walked in the selfishness of our flesh; instead of gratification we meet with thorns that make the way painful. Our very selfishness itself becomes briars and thorns to lacerate our consciences. Thus torn and wounded we become ashamed and humbled over our departures from the Lord and his truth. The Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy, and this is shewn in most graciously bringing our guilty, chastened souls to repentance, and we are brought in godly sorrow to sigh and mourn before him. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” – Psalms li. 17. O this contrite heart is all the fruit of God’s graciousness; without his divine work in our souls we should still be going on and on most frowardly in the evils of our nature. But now in the Lord’s healing time there pours forth from our contrite hearts sighs and supplications for the forgiveness of our sins.
“Of this the best of men have need,
This I, the worst, receive.”
It is in very kindness that the Holy Spirit shews us our iniquities, and so effectually brings us to loathe, to mourn over and to turn from all sinful gratifications. This repentance has very blessed fruits described by the apostle in 2 Cor. vii. 11:” For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge!” During this time of healing, the child of God finds that in himself he has “no healing medicines” (Jer. xxx. 13,) for his wounds, and his soul under divine leading will cry to the Lord, “Be merciful unto me; heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.” – Psalms xli. 4. Though in our backslidings we have gone far, far astray from the paths of sacred communion with God, yet he will not cast away his people whom he foreknew. One of the most affecting scenes in which the tender, immutable and everlasting love of God to his people is portrayed is found in Jer. iii. 14, 22: “Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you; and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion.” “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God.” This, O believers, is the voice of thy Maker, who is thy Husband; he will not put thee away, he will never write thee a bill of divorcement, for he hateth putting away. (Mai. ii. 16.) And here he is pleased to represent himself to our faith as the constant, loving Husband, who cannot, will not part with his church, and who now in his undying, unquenchable love seeketh alter his sinful, backsliding people. He will win back his wife to himself again, though she has treacherously departed from him. Let me present the picture again, and may you with eyes of faith and love look and look and feast upon it: “Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you.” As fellow creatures one may love another, but here, in the new covenant, is Jehovah, our Maker, and his church, creatures, insignificant, less than nothing and vanity, (Isaiah xl. 17,) base things, things that are not, (1 Cor. i. 28,) unholy, ungrateful, unprofitable, corruptible mortals, and yet to such, his chosen ones, he says, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” O, I am such an unworthy one, I find I am in need of the working of his own divine power in my soul to brace me up, to strengthen me to believe that I am one that God hath so loved. And if we are so loved, who shall separate us from the love of Christ! shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” 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.”
“I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners.” Ah, the wayward, the “prone to wander,” need the Lord as their Shepherd. He will lead his Hock like a shepherd. And where does he lead the humbled, contrite, returning ones? He leadeth them in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He leadeth us, we are drawn, drawn away from the iniquity of our covetousness, from the follies of our flesh, from that selfishness so inherent in our poor earthly lives. O we need every day, all the time, this divine drawing, or else we are drawn astray, we are pulled back and draw down in the dark paths and realms of the depravities of our fleshly hearts.
“He drew me, and I followed on,
Charmed to confess the power divine.”
The Lord takes hold of his people by revealing in their hearts this and that precious truth in the doctrine of Christ, and as their hearts are captivated, feasted and consoled by these openings up to them of the heart of the Lord their God they are constrained to follow on to know the Lord. We are led in the paths of righteousness, led through the wilderness, through our every day cares and vexations, over the rugged and rough places, through temptations and trials, through Hoods and flames, and thus drawn and led we are found worshiping God in spirit and in truth.
“I will restore comforts to him and to his mourners.” Ah, when we are turned aside to pursue lying vanities we forsake our own mercies; our souls are then bereaved of the consolations of the gospel for we cannot be walking after the flesh and in the Spirit of Jesus Christ at the same moment; we cannot be feasting the depravities of our flesh and sitting at the King’s table at the same time. The flesh may intrude, it may dare approach us even when we feast at the banqueting-house with our dear Redeemer, but our heart will be shocked and will cry out, Begone! O while we are tasting the comforts of Christ Jesus we shall not be found indulging the lust of the flesh, but in love to our dear Lord Jesus, and in hatred and loathing of all iniquity, we shall be found crucifying the flesh with the affections and lusts.
“While we are hold in thy embrace,
There’s not a thought attempts to rove;
Each smile upon thy beauteous face
Fixes, and charms, and Cues our love.”
It is truly blessed to have once more the comforts of our covenant God. All is of grace, for these new covenant mercies are restored to God’s chastened children without money and without price. God saith, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.” – Hosea xiv. 4. And while his comforts delight our souls in our fervent gratitude we say, “O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.” – Isaiah xii. 1.
FREDERICK W. KEENE.
North Berwick, Maine.
Signs Of The Times
Volume 74., No. 3.
FEBRUARY 1, 1906.