« PreviousContinue »
of the people's humiliation: “A voice was heard upon the high places, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel : for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the Lord their God.”
Then follows our text: “ Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings.' ” It is the voice of a tender Father addressing a once rebel, but now penitent, sorrowing, and supplicating family, bidding them to cast away their fears, and assuring them of his goodwill towards them.
And what is the effect of this? You hear the reply-the reply of their thus comforted and grateful hearts, —"Behold! we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God.”
And thus it is that our God is ever wont to bring back wandering sinners to himself. As with Israel so with us, the same is his most gracious method of recovering the fallen sinner to his love and service. “ I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins ; return unto me for I have redeemed thee.”
Let me proceed, dear brethren, to make the words before you, as God shall enable me, profitable for your instruction, by grounding upon them some reflections in reference to our own spiritual state.
You will observe that they contain two things :
I. THE ALMIGHTY'S MESSAGE TO HIS PEOPLE ISRAEL, “ Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings.” And
II. THE EFFECT PRODUCED BY THAT MESSAGE, AS EXPRESSED IN THE PENITENT PEOPLE'S REPLY, “Behold! we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God."
I. WE HAVE THE ALMIGHTY'S MESSAGE. To whom is it sent? It is sent to his " backsliding children.” And what does it bid them do? It bids them to return. And what is the promise that accompanies the call ? “I will heal your backslidings.” How shall we apply these things to ourselves? Israel were the party first concerned. But is there not much that comes home, my brethren, to you and me?
1. The characters to whom this message of God is sent: "backsliding children.” Such at that time were Israel ; and surely such are we. Let us for a moment consider how the term belongs to us, even as it did to them.
Israel was a nation in covenant with God. They were pledged to Him as his people. But they had broken the yoke and burst the bonds : they had set at nought their vows: they had revolted from their God. As the Psalmist testifies, “their hearts were not whole with Him, neither continued they stedfast in his covenant.”
Now you and I, brethren, are also pledged by a solemn vow to be the Lord's. Our baptism sealed us as his. We have been given to Him. Unless we have formally renounced his service, and told our Maker that we will not have him to reign over us, if we have not distinctly and
deliberately cancelled the bond, then most clearly the vows of God are upon us, and He has a right to require that we yield our hearts and lives to Him. And why are we here this day ? Is it not an acknowledgment on our part, that the Lord is the God we are bound to serve ? But the question is, have we kept to our engagement? Or, while yet outwardly acknowledging its obligations, have we not in truth thrown off its claims? What was Israel's sin ?
Did they give up the name of God's people ? No, they boasted in it. Did they pull down his sanctuary, destroy his altars, abolish his worship altogether out of the land ? No, these were their pride. “The temple of the Lord,” they cried “are we.' Where then lay their sin ? How was it they revolted ? In what way had they become backsliding children?
Their sin was this, that while yet calling themselves the people of the Lord, they had worshipped other gods. “According to the number of thy cities, are thy gods, O Judah.” Idolatry, idolatry, mingled with a profession of worship to their own true God, this was Israel's sin, and here was their backsliding.
So it is with us. True, we do not set up altars to Baal: we do not sacrifice to graven images; but there are other kinds of idolatry beside these. There is a setting up of idols in our hearts; the loving of any thing whatsoever in preference to God. That is idolatry. Jehovah is then dethroned. His claim is denied.
Sin, self, the world, gain, honour, pleasure, these are elevated into his place. Under ten thousand forms how have we chosen these, and other things, as objects to be loved, to be trusted, to be counted our portion, rather than God our Maker.
Yes, brethren, it is thus we all have broken God's first and great commandment—the command which requires that we should love Him with all our hearts. Here has been our revolt. It is thus we have backslidden from the Lord. We have made mention of his name, as saith the Prophet, “ but not in truth and righteousness. No, we have mocked our God, have trifled with his honour, and in heart have departed from Him.
O, for a deep conviction of this in all our breasts! We have owned indeed that it is so. We have this day confessed, how in the wayward folly of our wills, we have done that which we ought not to have done, and have left undone that which we should have done, going astray as lost sheep, and following the devices and desires of our own hearts.
May the Holy Spirit make us to feel grieved and pained and humbled at the thought of our iniquity. Ah, brethren, let your own hearts be really laid open before you in the sight of God, let
your lives be examined under the light of his holy law, let all your secret sins be brought out to your view, your evil desires, your unholy lusts, your earthly affections, your bad passions, your pride, your vanity, your forgetfulness of God, your neglect of his will, your disregard of his grace: 0, let the sin of your hearts and lives, the black and foul rebellion and ingratitude there exhibited be seen and felt, and with Job you will cry out, “Behold I am vile :” with the Publican you will entreat, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
Now we have said that in the passage to which our text belongs, the prophet is foretelling Israel's repentance : and that it is to a people mourning over their sin, and crying for mercy, that the message before us is sent. The voice heard upon Israel's high places, is “a voice of weeping and of supplication.” And then it is that the words of the text are addressed to them.
Brethren, I do believe that God, who seeth not as man seeth, who trieth the hearts and reins, does behold at this time not a few in this his house who thus are mourning and supplicating as true penitents are wont to do. The Lord, the Holy Spirit, has opened their eyes to see their sin to be “ exceeding sinful ;” and they loathe themselves in their own sight on account of their iniquities.
I cannot know, but there is One who does know at this moment how many among us are in this state of mind. Our text will lead us now to turn to them. Let me speak to those before me who feel that theirs is the character described. They have come to the house of God this day, with a remembrance of sin that is grievous unto them, a burden too heavy for them to bear, and perhaps they almost hesitate