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O Death, where is thy Sting?

[Hos. XIII.

13. The sorrows of a travailing woman shall come upon him : he is an unwise son ; for he should not stay long in the place of the breaking forth of children. “When they shall say “Peace and safety”; then sudden destruction

cometh upon them even as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape' (1,Thessal. v. 3). Here is judgment coming suddenly and irresistibly, like travail pain upon the mother. And the latter part of the verse compares the wayward, hesitating will to a child not able to find its way to light. The child tarries in the womb and causes death to itself and its mother. Israel in the day of danger, on the edge of perishing, yet unable to decide for the only chance of succour, is like this travailing mother, this unlucky babe. Israel's resolutions of good came to no perfection. Nothing came forth that can live.

14. I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues ; O grave, I will be thy destruction : repentance shall be hid from mine eyes. (O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?'

(1 Cor. xv. 55). Here is an irrevocable promise, as irrevocable as was the sentence of death. It was true, 'thou shalt surely die'; and is there not as true a pronouncement in ‘He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live'? Everlasting life is revealed to us by God in Christ Jesus ; and though as yet we bear about with us a dying body, yet the hope of immortality is held out to us, and lightens us along the road of decay. Christ by His Merits and Passion overcame Death, broke those dévouring jaws, gave us a passport to go safely by that road and to return again. Death is not what he was before Christ died and rose again.

15. Though he be fruitful among his brethren, an east wind shall come, the wind of the Lord shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up: he shall spoil the treasure of all pleasant vessels. 16. Samaria shall become desolate ; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up. (Upon the fresh spring, upon the fruitful tree, comes the parching

desert wind and withers up all life. Upon the city sitting at ease comes the remorseless foe, and destroys all even to the unborn babe. Here is the end of the national life of the Ten Tribes. Their

XIV. 3.)

A Father of the Fatherless

39

glory passed away; their cities fell to strangers ; captivity was their portion. And this was because of their turning against their true Strength. O Lord, we know not what is the destiny reserved for England in coming years. We enjoy' now great national wealth, lofty hopes, peace in our time, and yet these not as our own acquisition, but/lent us by Thee. What if we provoked Thy patience too far, and so fell into decay, as other realms have done?

CHAPTER XIV

ISRAEL, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast

fallen by thine iniquity. (In this final chapter is set forth a sincere and fruitful conversion.

The sinner returns again to God, even from 'a far country. He says, I will arise and go unto my Father.' He recalls God's mercies, and his own follies. He ascribes his downfalls to their proper cause. His eyes are now opened, and he sees that it is his own folly, not circumstances, nor chance, nor destiny, that made him fall. Yet all the turning to God cannot be unless God has first turned His face to us. He is our God, as of old. His mercies remain sure. He still pleads with us. After all the sharp denunciations, the woful predictions of impending ruin, which have filled this book, the Prophet in this last chapter speaks only of repentance and of mercy. The terrible forebodings pass from his mind. He utters only tender invitations, hopeful promises of good. This chapter is a kind of anticipation of the Gospel days when God set Himself to win reluctant hearts. It opens great thoughts of the extent of Divine mercy.

2. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously : so will we render the calves of our lips. 3. Asshur shall not save us ; we will not ride upon horses : neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy. V have nought else to bring but words. Alas! my feelings are cold,

my hands empty. Let me at least bring the right words, choose them with care. Holy Scripture helps me in this. Here, in these two verses, is a prayer and a promise. Here is an entire renunciation of falşe hopes and a hearty ascription of praise to the true Giver of good. Lord, cleanse us from the past. Accept and purify our poor service. We will no more trust to strength of arm or power of intellect but to that encompassing Divine Mercy which, though 40

Backsliding healed

[Ho. XIV.

late, we have at last learned to trust. Once we relied on the help of creatures, but we see now that all good that they bring us comes from Thy Love too,) and is to be repaid to Thee above all. We shall best follow the leading of these gracious and instructive verses, if we fill our memories and minds with Psalm words. Psalms have been excellent prayers on the lips of God's people through the ages. They express, like the Prophets, mistrust of self and trust in God. Let me not be hopeless of good, though I have gone grievously astray. Let me remember the great virtue that penitence has, and the gracious promises of my dear Saviour to the penitent, backed up as they were by His actual treatment of wounded souls.

4. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely : for mine anger is turned away from him. Here we think of that old title of God (Exodus xv. 26), 'I am the (Lord that healeth thee.' Here is a good Physician Who loves as well as heals, Who requires no pay nor gifts. Here is wrath gone and mercy come. Here is a speedy answer to the petition of the second verse, that God would take away iniquity and receive His people's prayer graciously. This verse is like an anticipation of Gospel mercies A Healer, a Lover, a Friend ! if God could be all this under the old covenant, how much more perfectly does God in Christ fulfil this ideal! I lost my soul's health by quitting God Who is my true life. Many have remained in this state without recall, and have passed on into spiritual death. What worthiness is there in me that God should have looked on me, put a spark of love in my heart, made me ashamed of myself and anxious to serve Him again? Let me be grateful for His undeserved mercy

5. I will be as the dew unto Israel : he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots 'as Lebanon. 6. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon. 7. They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine : the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. Here is a whole garden—the fragrant lily, the branching cedar, the

rich oliye, beds of fragrant balm, waving corn, vines loaded with grapes. God pours out His marvels on the fruitful earth whose life and growth revive with the opening year. But what is this compared with

The wondrous growth unseen,' the heroic love, unwearied patience, tender sympathy, which the Holy Spirit has awakened from our poor human nature] From hearts once frozen by selfishness, from the common earth and dull

VER. 9.] God's Ways approved by the Righteous

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clay of humanity, beautiful growths of love have been called forth by Christ's Love. God has seen His goodness reflected in hearts renewed after His image. I desire eyes to perceive and wisdom to admire these flowers and fruits of grace.

8. Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found. Renounce idols and God will hear thee and turn His face to thee.

Rejoice in Thy prosperity, but with a humble heart, trusting to Him alone to continue those mercies which he has bestowed. Whether it is green foliage or wholesome fruit; whether thy way be favoured with joyful praise, accepted prayer, souls converted, God's name spread abroad ; whatever be the richness of thy present comforts, ‘be not high-minded but fear.' It is from God only, and that by daily favour, that good comes. Beware lest ingratitude dry up the spring of blessing.)

9. Who is wise, and he shall understand these things ? prudent, and he shall know them ? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them : but the transgressors shall fall therein. (God's ways in Providence are so, God's ways in Scripture are so.

Prudence is required to trace them aright. They are a mixture of light and obscurity that confirms the righteous and causes the wicked to stumble I have heard scoffers reproach God's Providential government with cruelty and folly; and I had not always words ready to answer. I could buţ lay my hand on my mouth and wait patiently, certain that the Judge of all the earth does right. In like manner, I have seen His Revelation of Himself in Holy Scripture found fault with. The philosophers of this world are never weary of picking holes in it; but I for my part am certain that Scripture has been the guide of earnest hearts, the light to a dark world, the helper of all the good that has been done amongst men. Feeling this, I most readily put up with Scripture difficulties and wait for the full daylight to make all clear. Hosea has shown me a heart of Divine Love pleading with unfaithful Israel in old time, as a foretaste of those good days when God Himself came in 11 Person to seek the lost sheep. He Who thus pleads, warns, encourages by His prophet is still Living and True, still speaks and hears.

JOEL

CHAPTER I

MHE word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.

1 2. Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers ? 3. Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. Hand down the memory of God's judgments, as of His mercies.

The whole framework of Israelitish polity was devised for this, that men might keep in mind what God had wrought. Ritual and Feasts and Psalms were all to put believers in mind of God's marvels done in old days. And special judgments had their place in this record, as being warnings of what might again come upon sin. Let me in my day learn of my elders what God has done, and teach it to the generations that come after me. Let me bear a part in preserving a record of sacred truth. When I feel discontented and overwhelmed at present evil days of the Church, or at the follies and miseries that I find around or within, it steadies me to recall that things have been worse in other days.

4. That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten ; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten ; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten. These four kinds of locust, or differently developed stages of the

same insect, are a devouring army, destructive of all vegetable life. Those who live in southern climes tell us of their hateful ravages. But they represent also the ravages of sin, which devour the soul's beauty and leave it foul and desolate. It is too true that lust, selfishness, pride, and covetousness may succeed one another in their woful influence over a soul and spoil it from youth to age of all that would make it pleasant in God's sight. As locusts rush on fair gardens and leave them a waste, so do Satan and his ministers seize on the unguarded heart.

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