Deu_32:21. They have moved me to jealousy with that which it not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
“KNOWN unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” Moses informs us, that, in the very first distribution of men over the face of the earth, God had an especial respect to those, who, at a remote period, should spring from the loins of Abraham; and that he assigned to the descendants of cursed Ham that portion of the globe which, in due time, should be delivered into the hands of Israel, cultivated in every respect, and fit for the accommodation and support of the Jewish nation: “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to (or, in reference to) the number of the children of Israel [Note: ver. 8.]. Yet at the very time when God carried this decree into execution, at the time when the nation of Israel were, by the discipline of forty years in the wilderness, brought to a state of faith and piety that was never equaled at any subsequent period of their history, even then, I say, did God foresee their declension from his ways, and inspire Moses to predict the wickedness which they would commit, and the chastisements which should be inflicted upon them on account of it: he even instructed Moses to record the whole beforehand in a song, which was, in all succeeding ages, to be committed to memory by the children of Israel, and to be a witness for God against them. It was probable that, when he should change his conduct towards them, they would reflect on him either as mutable in his purposes, or as unable to execute his promises towards them: but this song would completely vindicate him from all such aspersions, and be a standing proof to them, that their miseries were the result of their own incorrigible perverseness. “Now,” says God, “write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel. For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant. And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I sware [Note: Deu_31:19-21.].”
In this song are foretold the awful apostasies of the Jewish nation, together with all the judgments that would be inflicted on them, from that time even to the period of their future restoration.
The words which I have chosen for my text, contain the sum and substance of the whole: they specify the ground of God’s displeasure against his people, and the way in which he would manifest that displeasure: and they particularly mark the correspondence which there should be between their sin and their punishment: “They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.”
In discoursing on these words, there are two things to be considered;
The import of this prophecy respecting the Jews
The use to be made of it by us Gentiles.
The import of this prophecy—
The general facts relating to it are so well known, that it will not be necessary to enter very minutely into them. Every one knows how highly favoured a people the Jewish nation have been; how exalted and privileged above all other people upon earth. The manner also in which they requited the kindness of their God, is well known. We are not disposed to think that human nature is worse in them than in others: the reason that it appears so is, that God’s conduct towards them, and theirs towards him, is all exhibited to view, and forms a contrast the most humiliating that can be imagined. On some particular occasions they seem to have been penetrated with a becoming sense of the mercies vouchsafed unto them; but these impressions were of very short duration: within the space of a few days only, they forgot that wonderful deliverance which had been wrought for them at the Red Sea; as it is said, “They remembered not the multitude of his mercies, but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red Sea.” Every fresh difficulty, instead of leading them to God in earnest supplication and humble affiance, only irritated their rebellious spirits, and excited their murmurs against God and his servant Moses. Scarcely had three months elapsed, when, whilst God was graciously revealing to Moses that law by which the people were to be governed, they actually cast off God; and, because Moses had protracted his stay in the holy mount beyond what they thought a reasonable time, they would wait for him no longer; but determined to have other gods in the place of Jehovah, and another guide in the place of Moses: “Up,” said they to Aaron, “make us gods which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.” Immediately “they made a golden calf (in imitation of the Egyptian Apis), and worshipped it, and sacrificed thereto, and said, These by thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” Thus early did they shew that propensity which was so fatal to them in after ages. In process of time they degenerated so far as to adopt all the gods of the heathen for their gods; even those gods who could not protect their own votaries, did this rebellious people worship, in preference to Jehovah, who had done so great things for them: “they worshipped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians, and Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites, and Chemosh, the abomination of the Moabites;” yea, “they made their children to pass through the fire unto Moloch,” and “sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood.” Even in the very house of God itself did they place their idols; as though they were determined to provoke the Lord to jealousy beyond a possibility of endurance; nor were there any rites too base, too impure, or too sanguinary for them to practise in the worship of them. Many times did God punish them for these great iniquities, by delivering them into the hands of their enemies; and as often, in answer to their prayers, did he rescue them again from their oppressors. But at last, as he tells us by the prophet, he was even “broken with their whorish heart:” and, as they would persist in their idolatries notwithstanding all the warnings which from time to time he had sent them by his prophets, he was constrained to execute upon them the judgment threatened in our text.
This is the account given us by the inspired historian: “All the chief priests and the people transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen, and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling-place. But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age; he gave them all into his hand [Note: 2Ch_36:14-17.].”
In confirmation of this exposition of our text, the Jewish writers refer to a passage in the Prophet Isaiah [Note: Isa_23:13.]. The Chaldeans were but very recently risen into power; for, many hundred years after the Jews were established in the land of Canaan, the very name of Babylon was not at all formidable to Israel, or perhaps scarcely known. It was originally owing to the Assyrians that Babylon was exalted into so great and powerful a state: as, says the prophet, in the passage referred to, “Behold, the land of the Chaldeans; this people was not till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness: they set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces thereof.” Now to be vanquished by such a people, and to be carried captive to such a place, appeared a peculiar degradation; which may be supposed to be in part an accomplishment of those words, “I will move them to jealousy with them which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.”
But that there was to be a further accomplishment of those words, we cannot doubt. Indeed, the Jews themselves acknowledge, that their present dispersion through the world is a continuation of those very judgments which were denounced against them by Moses. Not only the learned amongst them acknowledge this, but, as Moses himself foretold, even the most ignorant of the Jews are well aware of it. Moses says, in Deu_31:17-18, “My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not amongst us? And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods.” Now “the Jews themselves (as Bishop Patrick observes) take notice that these words have been fulfilled by the many calamities which have befallen them since the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This appears from Schebet Jehuda, where Solomon Virg
quotes this very verse, to prove that their present sufferings proceed not from nature, but from an angry God, more powerful than nature [Note: Sect. 13.].”
The truth is, that this prophecy received but a very partial accomplishment at that time: for there were but two tribes sent to Babylon; the other ten were carried captive to Assyria. Now the idea of “provoking them to jealousy by those who were not a people,” could have no place in reference to the ten tribes, because Assyria was an empire almost thirteen hundred years before Israel was conquered by them [Note: See Prideaux’s Connexion.]; and to the other two tribes, provided they were to be carried captive at all, it could make but little difference whether the nation that subdued them was of greater or less antiquity. For the full accomplishment of the prophecy, therefore, we must undoubtedly look to the times subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.
And here is a matter for the consideration of every Jew, that wishes to form a correct judgment of the main point that is at issue between the Jews and Christians.
The miseries inflicted on the Jewish nation by the Romans, both in the siege of Jerusalem and in their subsequent dispersion throughout the world, have been incomparably more grievous than any that ever were inflicted on them by the Chaldeans. I would ask then of the Jew, What has been the cause of this severe chastisement? What has your nation done to provoke God in so extraordinary a degree? There must be some particular crime that they have committed: what is it? God is too righteous, and too merciful, to afflict them without a cause. I ask, Are any of your Rabbis able to assign an adequate reason for these severe judgments? Your former idolatries were punished in the Babylonish captivity: and you repented of those sins; insomuch that from the time of your return to your own land, to the destruction of your nation by the Romans, you not only never relapsed into idolatry, but you withstood every attempt to ensnare or to compel you to it. Yet, as your sufferings since that period have been so heavy and protracted, it must be supposed that your fathers committed some crime of deeper die, or at least some that was of equal enormity with your former idolatries. I ask then again, What crime is it? for there is not one of you that will venture to say, that God punishes you without a cause. If you cannot tell me, I will tell you what that crime is: it is the crucifying of your Messiah. You know, and your Rabbis all know, that there was a very general expectation of your Messiah at the precise time that Jesus came into the world. You know that Jesus professed himself to be the Messiah: you know also that he wrought innumerable miracles in confirmation of his claim: you know that he appealed to Moses and the prophets as bearing witness of him: you know that he foretold all that he should suffer; and shewed, that in all those sufferings the prophecies concerning him would be fulfilled: you know also, that the crucifying of him was a national act, in which all ranks and orders of your countrymen concurred; and that when Pilate wished to free himself from the guilt of shedding innocent blood, they all cried, “His blood be on us, and on our children!” You know, moreover, that Jesus foretold the destruction of your city and nation by the Romans, together with your present desolate condition, as the punishment that should be inflicted on you for your murder of him: nay more, that these things should befall your nation before that generation should pass away. You know also, that, agreeably to his predictions, they did come to pass about forty years after his death, and that these judgments have been upon you from that time to the present hour. If you say, that only two of the tribes were thus guilty of putting him to death; I answer, that every Jew in the universe approves and applauds that act; and that therefore the judgments are inflicted on them all, and will continue to be inflicted, till they repent of it. All preceding judgments were removed, when your fathers repented of the crimes on account of which they had been inflicted: and the reason that your present judgments are not removed, is, that your enmity against the Lord Jesus is at this hour as strong as ever; and, if he were to put himself in your power again, you would conspire against him as before, and crucify him again. Yet, if He was not the Messiah, your Messiah is not come; and, consequently, those prophecies in your inspired volume which foretold his advent at that time, are falsified. Your Messiah was to come before the sceptre should finally depart from Judah, and while the second temple was yet standing, and about the time that the seventy weeks of Daniel should expire: but the sceptre is departed, and the temple is destroyed; and Daniel’s weeks are expired; and nearly eighteen hundred years have elapsed, since the period fixed by these prophecies for his appearance. It is evident therefore that all these prophecies have failed of their accomplishment, if your Messiah is not yet come. As for saying, that the coming of the Messiah was deferred by God for the wickedness of your nation, what proof have you of it? Where has God threatened that, as a consequence of your wickedness? No: your Messiah is come; and has been treated in the manner which your own prophecies foretold, and as Jesus himself foretold: and though you, like your forefathers, in order to set aside the testimony of his resurrection, have recourse to that self-destructive falsehood of his being taken away by his own disciples, whilst a whole guard of Roman soldiers were asleep, you know that his disciples did at the very next festival, on the day of Pentecost, attest that he was risen, and attest it too in the very presence of the people who had put him to death, no less than three thousand of whom were converted to him on that very day: you know too, that in a short time myriads of Jews believed in Jesus; and that his Gospel continued to prevail throughout the known world, till the judgments threatened against your nation for destroying their Messiah came upon them.
Now by this act, the crucifying of your Messiah, you did provoke God to jealousy to a greater degree than by any of your former crimes; for God sent you his co-equal, co-eternal Son: he sent you that Divine Person, who was “David’s Lord,” as well as “David’s Son.” The learned men of his own day acknowledged that the names, Son of man, and Son of God, were of the same import; and that, as assumed by Jesus, both the one and the other amounted to an assertion, that he was equal with God. You know also that his claiming these titles was the ground on which they accused him of blasphemy, and demanded sentence against him as a blasphemer. Thus according to your own acknowledgment, supposing him to have been the person foretold by the prophets as the Messiah, you have “crucified the Lord of Glory.” Moreover, about the time that your fathers crucified him, they were ready to follow every impostor that assumed to himself the title of Messiah. “Gamaliel, a member of the Sanhedrim, a doctor of law, a man who was in high repute among all the Jews,” acknowledged this readiness of the people to run after impostors: he mentions a person by the name of Theudas, who, with four hundred adherents, was slain: and after him one Judas of Galilee, who drew away much people after him, and perished [Note: Act_5:34-37.]. We are informed also that Simon Magus, by his enchantments, seduced all the people of Samaria, from the least to the greatest, and persuaded them that “He was the great power of God [Note: Act_8:9-11.].” Your own historian [Note: Josephus, lib. vi. cap. 5.] bears ample testimony to these facts. Here then you can see how you have provoked God to jealousy, in that you have destroyed his own Son, who came down from heaven to instruct and save you: yea, though he brought with him the most unquestionable credentials, and supported his claim by the most satisfactory evidences, you rejected him with all imaginable contempt, whilst you readily adhered to any vile impostor that chose to arrogate to himself the title of Messiah. Your former idolatries, though sinful in the extreme, were less heinous than this, inasmuch as the manifestations of God’s love were far brighter in the gift of his Son, than in all the other dispensations of his grace from the foundation of the world; and the opposition of your fathers to him was attended with aggravations, such as never did, or could, exist in any other crime that ever was committed.
Here then we are arrived at the true reason of the judgments which are at this time inflicted on you.
Now let us investigate the judgments themselves; and you will see that they also are such as were evidently predicted in our text.
You are cut off from being the people of the Lord, and are absolutely incapacitated for serving him in the way of his appointments. On the other hand, God has chosen to himself a people from among the Gentiles, from “those who were not a people,” and were justly considered by you as “a foolish nation,” because they were altogether without light and understanding as it respected God and his ways. This you know to have been predicted by all your prophets, insomuch that your fathers, who looked for a temporal Messiah, expected that he would bring the Gentiles into subjection to himself, and extend his empire over the face of the whole earth. This the Lord Jesus has done: he has taken a people from among the Gentiles, who are become his willing subjects. Now this rejection of the Jews from the Church of God, and this gathering of a Church from among the Gentiles, is the very thing which in all ages has most angered you, and provoked you to jealousy. When Jesus himself merely brought to the remembrance of your fathers, that God had, in the days of Elijah and Elisha, shewn distinguished mercy to a Sidonian widow, and Naaman the Syrian; they were filled with such indignation, that, notwithstanding they greatly admired all the former part of his discourse, they would have instantly cast him down a precipice, if he had not escaped from their hands [Note: Luk_4:22-30.]. When, on another occasion, he spoke a parable to the chief priests and elders, and asked them “what they conceived the lord of the vineyard would do to those husbandmen who beat all his servants, and then murdered his Son in order to retain for themselves the possession of his inheritance, they were constrained to acknowledge, that he would destroy those murderers, and let his vineyard to others who should render him the fruits in their season:” and on his confirming this melancholy truth with respect to them, they exclaimed, “God forbid [Note: Mat_21:33-41 and Luk_20:14-16.]!” When the Apostles of Jesus afterwards preached to the Gentiles, the Jews could not contain themselves; the very mention of the name Gentiles, irritated them to madness [Note: Act_13:44-45; l Thess. 2:15, 16.]”: so indignant were they at the thought of having their privileges transferred to others, whom they so despised. And thus it has been ever since. Nothing is so offensive to a Jew at this day, as the idea of Christians arrogating to themselves the title of God’s peculiar people. The present attempts to bring the Jews into the Church of Christ are most displeasing to them: they regard us as modern Balaams, rising up to bring a curse upon their nation: and when any are converted from among them to the faith of Christ, the old enmity still rises in the hearts of their unbelieving brethren; who are kept only by the powerful arm of our law from manifesting their displeasure, as they were wont to do in the days of old [Note: Act_23:21-22.].
Here then you see the text fulfilled in its utmost extent: here also you see that perfect correspondence between the guilt and the punishment of the Jewish nation, which was predicted: they have provoked God to jealousy by following vile impostors and rejecting his Son; and he has provoked them to jealousy by rejecting them, and receiving into his Church the ignorant and despised Gentiles.
And now let me ask, Is this exposition of the text novel? No: it is that which is sanctioned by your own prophets, supported by our Apostles, and confirmed by actual experience.
Look at the prophets: do they not declare the call of the Gentiles into the Church, saying, “In that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an Ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek, and His rest shall be glorious [Note: Isa_11:10.].” The Prophet Hosea’s language, though primarily applicable to the ten tribes, is certainly to be understood in reference to the Gentiles also: “I will have mercy upon her that hath not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people: and they shall say, Thou art my God [Note: Hos_2:23.].” And again, “It shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God [Note: Hos_1:10 with Rom_9:24-26.].” But the Prophet Isaiah points directly to the Gentiles, when he says, “I am sought of them that asked not for me, I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that wets not called by my name:” I say he points to the Gentiles there; for he immediately contrasts with them the state of his own people, saying, “I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts [Note: Isa_65:1-2 with Rom_10:20-21.].” If you turn to the New Testament, you will find there the very words of our text quoted, not merely to prove that the Gentiles were to be brought into the Church of God, but that Israel was apprised of God’s intentions, and that, however averse they were to that measure, they could not but know that Moses himself had taught them to expect it: I say, Did not Israel know? says the Apostle:—did they not know that “there was to be no difference between the Jew and the Greek; and that the same Lord is rich unto all that call upon him?” Yes; for Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you [Note: Rom_10:19.]. If we look to matter of fact, we find that there are, in every quarter of the globe, thousands and millions of Gentiles who are serving and honouring Jehovah, precisely as Abraham himself did: they are believing in the same God, and walking in the same steps: and the only difference between him and them is, that he looked to that blessed seed of his who should come; and they look to that blessed seed of his who has come, even Jesus, in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed.
It is time that we now inquire,
What use is to be made of this prophecy by us Gentiles?
If ever there was a dispensation calculated to instruct mankind, it is that which is predicted in the words before us. I will mention three lessons in particular which it ought to teach us: and the Lord grant, that they may be engraven in all our hearts!
First, it should lead us to adore the mysterious providence of God. Let us take a view of God’s dealings with that peculiar people, the Jews. When, the whole earth was lying in gross darkness, he was pleased to choose Abraham out of an idolatrous nation and family, and to reveal himself to him. To him he promised a seed, whom he would take as a peculiar people above all the people upon earth. These descendants he promised to multiply as the stars of heaven, and as the sands upon the sea-shore; and in due time to give them the land of Canaan for their inheritance. After he had in a most wonderful manner fulfilled all his promises to them, they rebelled against him, and served other gods, and provoked him to bring upon them many successive troubles, and at last to send them into captivity in Babylon. But during this whole time he still consulted their best interests; and even in the last and heaviest of these judgments, “he sent them into Babylon for their good [Note: Jer_24:5.].” Afflictive as that dispensation was, it was the most profitable to them of all the mercies and judgments that they ever experienced; for by means of it they were cured of their idolatrous propensities; and never have yielded to them any more, even to the present hour.
After seventy years God delivered them from thence also, as he had before delivered them from Egypt; and re-established them, to a certain degree, in their former prosperity. In the fulness of time, he, according to his promise, sent them his only-begotten Son, to establish among them that kingdom of righteousness and peace, which had been shadowed forth among them from the time that they became a nation. But on their destroying him, he determined to cast them off; and accordingly he gave them into the hands of the Romans, who executed upon them such judgments as never had been inflicted on any nation under heaven. But neither was this dispensation unmixed with mercy: for, blinded as they were by prejudice, they never would have renounced their errors, or embraced the Gospel, if they had been able still to satisfy their minds with the rites and ceremonies of their own Church. But as God drove our first parents from Paradise, and precluded them from all access to the tree of life, which was no more to be a sacramental pledge of life to them now in their fallen state; and as he thereby prevented them from deluding their souls with false hopes, and shut them up unto that mercy, which he had revealed to them through the seed of the woman; so now has he cut off the Jews from all possibility of observing the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law, in order that they may be constrained to seek for mercy through the Messiah whom they have crucified.
At the same time that God has ordered this dispensation with an ultimate view to the good of his once-favoured people, he has consulted in it the good of the whole world; for, when he cut them off from the stock on which they grew, he took a people from among the Gentiles, and engrafted them as scions upon the Jewish stock, and made them “partakers of the root and fatness of the olive-tree” which his own right hand had planted. What he might have done for the Gentiles, if the Jews had not provoked him to cut them off, we cannot say: but the Apostle, speaking on this subject, says, that “they became enemies for our sakes,” and “were broken off that we might be graffed in.” Doubtless, the stock was sufficient to bear both them and us; for the time is coming when the whole world, Jews and Gentiles, shall grow together upon it, seeing that it is God’s intention to engraff on it again the natural branches, which for the present he has broken off: but so has he ordained, that they should be cast out of his Church, and we be introduced into it, and that the one event should be preparatory to the other; that so the fall and ruin of the Jews should be the riches and salvation of the Gentile world [Note: Rom_11:11-12; Rom_11:15.]. And it is plain, that this appointment of his is carried into effect; for they are broken off, and are no longer his Church, since there is not one amongst them that either does, or can, serve God according to their law: and we, on the contrary, are his Church; and millions of us, through the world, are rendering to him the service he requires; and, if we are not his Church, then God has not at this hour, nor has he had for above seventeen hundred years, a Church upon earth. God, however, has not cast off his people fully or finally: not fully, for he brought multitudes of them into his Church in the apostolic age: nor finally; for though, through the shameful remissness of the Christian world, he has done but little for the Jews in these latter ages, yet is he, we trust, shewing mercy to them now, and sowing seeds among them, which shall one day bring forth a glorious harvest. Moreover as, by breaking off the Jews, God made room for the Gentiles, so has he ordained, that the bringing in the fulness of the Gentiles shall contribute to the restoration of the Jews themselves; and that, at last, the whole collective body of mankind shall be “one fold under one Shepherd.” What a stupendous mystery is this! Well might St. Paul, in the contemplation of it, exclaim, “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” Truly, this mystery is by no means sufficiently considered amongst us; though it is so great, that not even the Apostles themselves, for six years after the day of Pentecost, could see into it; and even then it was only by a miraculous interference that God prevailed upon them to receive it: it was by repeated visions to Peter and Cornelius, that he induced Peter to preach the Gospel to Cornelius; and it was by the effusion of the Holy Ghost on Cornelius and his family, that he induced the other Apostles to acquiesce in what Peter had done: and, even to the last, it was with reluctance they confessed, “Then hath God to the Gentiles also granted repentance unto life [Note: Acts 10; Act_11:1; Act_11:18.].” Let me recommend you then, my Brethren, to turn your attention to this mystery more than you have ever yet done; and never imagine that you have attained just views of it, till you are transported with wonder at the wisdom displayed in it [Note: Eph_3:6; Eph_3:9-10.], and filled with gratitude for the mercies it conveys.
A second improvement we should make of this subject is, to be afraid of provoking God to jealousy against us also. We have seen that it was the idolatry of the Jews that chiefly provoked God to jealousy against them. But is there not a spiritual idolatry, as well as that which consisted in the worship of graven images? and is it not equally offensive to a jealous God? When his people of old placed idols in their secret chambers, his chief complaint was, that “they set them up in their hearts [Note: Eze_14:3-4; Eze_14:7.]. And has he not told us, that “covetousness is idolatry;” and that we may “make a god of our belly?” What then is this but to say, that ‘the loving and serving the creature more than the Creator,’ whatever that creature be, is idolatry? We know full well, that gods of wood and of stone were “vanities;” but are not pleasure, and riches, and honour, “vanities” when put in competition with our God? and does not the inordinate pursuit of them provoke him to jealousy, as much as the bowing down to stocks and stones ever did? And if the rejection of Jesus by the Jews was that crime which filled up the measure of their iniquities, and brought the wrath of God upon them to the uttermost; shall not “the crucifying of the Son of God afresh, and putting him to an open shame,” as Christians do by their iniquities, be also considered as provoking the Most High God? Let us not think then that the Jews alone can provoke God to anger, or that they alone can ever be cast off for their wickedness; for he has expressly warned us by his Apostle, that he will cast us off, even as he did them, if we provoke him to jealousy by placing on the creature the affections that are due to him. Hear what St. Paul says; “Be not high-minded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed, lest he also spare not thee [Note: Rom_11:21.].” My Brethren, you cannot but see how grievously God is dishonoured by the Christian world: truly, “he is provoked by us every day;” and we, no less than the Jews, are “a rebellious and stiff-necked people.” Look at all ranks and orders of men amongst us, and see whether there be not a lamentable departure from primitive Christianity? Compare the lives of the generality with the examples of Christ and his Apostles, and see, not merely how short they come of the pattern set before them, (for that the best amongst us do,) but how opposite they are in their conduct; insomuch that, if they did not call themselves Christians, no one would ever think of calling them so, from their lives. Those who are in earnest about the salvation of their souls, are still “as men wondered at” amongst us; so that instead of pointing at an unhappy few as exceptions to the Christian character, no one can tread in the steps of Christ and his Apostles, without becoming “a sign and a wonder” among his neighbours. This you cannot but know; what then must we expect, but that God will punish us precisely as he has done the Jews, and provoke us to jealousy, by others whom we despise? The fact is, that God is already dealing with us in this manner. The rich, the great, the noble are, for the most part, so occupied with “vanities,” as to forget the services which they owe to God; and the consequence is, that God overlooks them, and transfers the blessings of his Gospel to the poor. At this day it is true, no less than in the days of the Apostles, that “not many rich, not many mighty, not many noble are called,” but “God has chosen the weak, and base, and foolish things of the world; yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are; that no flesh should glory in his presence:” and this very circumstance does move the rich to anger, precisely as it did in the days of old; “Have any of the rulers, or of the Pharisees, believed on him? As for these poor contemptible people that make such a noise about religion, they are cursed.” But I must go further, and say, that God is dealing in this very way even with those who do profess themselves his peculiar people. Who are the happy Christians? Who have the richest enjoyment of the Gospel, or most adorn it in their life and conversation? Are they the richer professors, whose hearts are set on “vanities,” or who are labouring night and day to procure them? Are they not rather the poor and the destitute, who, haying but little of this world, are more anxious to enjoy their God? We say not indeed that this is universally the case; but it is a general truth: nay more, amongst Indians and Hottentots there is often found a more lively and realizing sense of the divine presence, than amongst the worldly-minded professors of our own day. I must entreat you therefore, Brethren, to reflect, that if we do not, as a people, turn more heartily unto the Lord, we have reason to fear, lest “the candlestick should be removed from us,” and be transferred to a people who shall walk more worthy of it. Lastly, we should be stirred up by this subject to concur with God in his gracious intentions towards the Jews. In the song before us, there are repeated intimations that God will once more restore to his favour his now degenerate and afflicted people. In verse 36, it is said, “The Lord will judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and that there is none shut up or left.” And the song concludes with these remarkable words, “Rejoice, O ye nations! with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and unto his people.” Here then, you see, that there is mercy in reserve for the Jewish people, and that the Gentiles also shall be partakers of their joy. But in our text there is a hint of a very peculiar nature, namely, not merely that God will vouchsafe mercy to them, in the midst of their present chastisement, but that he will render those very chastisements subservient to his gracious designs. He intimates that he is even now provoking them to jealousy, by the mercies he bestows on us; that is, that he is even now endeavouring to inflame them with a holy desire to regain his favour. It is precisely in this sense that St. Paul uses the same expression: indeed, St. Paul tells us, that he himself used the very same means for the same end: “Through the fall of the Jews (says he) is salvation come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. Now I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the Apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office; if by any means I may provoke to jealousy (it is the same word as before
, Rom_11:11; Rom_11:14.]) them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.” This then is the work in which we are to co-operate with God: and, truly, if we were all in earnest about it, we might, with God’s help, do great things. They behold us professing ourselves to be the peculiar people of God: and, if they saw so great a difference between themselves and us as they ought to see, truly they would begin to envy us, and to wish to be partakers of our blessings. But, if they see that we are as covetous and worldly-minded, as lewd and sensual, as proud and vindictive, and, in short, as corrupt in all respects as the very heathen, shall we not prove a stumbling-block, rather than an help, to them? And what if, whilst we ought all to be uniting with one heart and one soul in the blessed work of leading them to Christ, they should find amongst us an utter indifference to their salvation? Yea, what if they behold amongst us some (some too of whom we might hope better things) to whom the exertions of their brethren are rather a matter of offence than of joy; some whose endeavour is rather to frustrate, than advance, our benevolent labours? What if they behold some who, instead of labouring with us to provoke them to jealousy, are themselves provoked to an ungodly jealousy against us, on account of our exertions; and who, like Tobiah and Sanballat of old, “are grieved that we have undertaken to seek the welfare of Israel [Note: Neh_2:10.]?” Will not our Jewish brethren take advantage of this? Will they not impute this to our religion? If they see us thus worldly, or thus malignant, will they not judge of our principles by our practice; and, instead of envying us our privileges and attainments, will they not be ready to glory over us, and to thank God they are not Christians? Oh, Brethren! we little think what guilt we contract, while practising such abominations. It is said of many, that they are no person’s enemy but their own: but this is not true; they are enemies to all around them, whom they vitiate by their example; they are enemies to the Jews, whom they harden in their infidelity; and they are enemies to the heathen, whom they teach to abhor the Christian name. But let it not be so amongst us; let us remember that to us is committed the blessed task of bringing back to God’s fold his wandering, yet beloved, people. Nor let us despair of success; “for, if we were cut out of the olive-tree which is wild by nature, and were graffed contrary to nature into a good olive-tree; how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive-tree? If they abide not in unbelief, they shall be grafted in; for, though we are unable, God is able to graff them in again [Note: Rom_11:23-24.].” But then, how is this to be accomplished? it is to be by our means; (“as for the times and the seasons, we say nothing; God has reserved them in his own power:”) God has appointed us to seek the salvation of his people; and has communicated his blessings to us on purpose that we may be his depository to keep them, and his channel to convey them, for their benefit. Hear his own words: “As ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief; even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy [Note: Rom_11:30-31].” Let us then address ourselves to the blessed work that God has assigned us. Let us, as God’s chosen instruments, endeavour to interest ourselves with him to reinstate them in his favour, and interest ourselves with them to return unto him. Let us make a conscience of praying for them in secret; let us devise plans for furthering the communication of divine knowledge amongst them; let us not shrink from labour, or trouble, or expense; let us not be deterred by any difficulties, or discouraged by any disappointments: but let us labour for them, as their forefathers did for us; let us tread in the steps of the holy Apostles, and be ready to sacrifice time, and interest, and liberty, and life itself, in their service; and account the saving of their souls the richest recompence that God himself can give us. And, that we may the more effectually provoke them to jealousy, let us shew them that God has done for us as much as he ever did for the patriarchs of old, giving us as intimate an access to him, as firm a confidence in him, and as assured prospects of an everlasting acceptance with him, as ever Abraham himself enjoyed. They are apt to think that, in exalting Jesus, we dishonour Jehovah: but let us shew them by our lives, that we render to Jehovah all the love, and honour, and service, that were ever rendered to him by his most eminent saints; and that there is no principle whatever so operative and powerful as the love of our adorable Redeemer. Let us shew them, that communion with the Son has the same effect on us, that communion with the Father had on Moses; that it assimilates us unto God, and constrains all who behold us to acknowledge, that we have been with God. Their eyes are now upon us; upon us especially, who are endeavouring to convert them to the faith of Christ: let them therefore see in us the influence of Christian principles: let them see that, whilst we speak of enjoying peace through the blood of our great Sacrifice, and of having the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Sanctifier, we live as none others can live, exhibiting in our conduct the faith of Abraham, the meekness of Moses, the patience of Job, the piety of David, and the fidelity of Daniel: in a word, let them see in us an assemblage of all the brightest virtues of their most renowned progenitors. O! would to God that there were in all of us such a heart! Would to God that the Holy Spirit might be poured out upon us for this end, and work in us so effectually, that the very sight of us should be sufficient to carry conviction to their minds; that so our Jewish brethren, beholding “the exceeding grace of God in us,” might be constrained to take hold of our skirt, and say, “We will go with you, for we perceive that God is with you of a truth [Note: Zec_8:23.]!”