James Nisbet Commentary - Joel 2:12 - 2:12

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James Nisbet Commentary - Joel 2:12 - 2:12

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(For Ash Wednesday)

‘Turn ye unto Me [saith the Lord] with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.’

Joe_2:12 (R.V.)

For whom is Lent ordained? Not merely for the warning of open sinners. Lenten Services have little attraction for them. But Lent is ordained as part of the regular orderly course of each year’s life of a Christian man. Why do it every year as it comes round, and call upon them to mourn and weep, and fast and lament?—to afflict at once the body and the soul, and all this as a part of their Christian lives? There are several steps in our answer.

I. It is not merely that none of us is perfect.—The reason is that in each one of us is planted a domestic enemy. It is not merely that we commit sins. It is that in us there is Sin. We bear about us a tainted nature.

Thus, for every one who is trying to lead a Christian life, there is a perpetual need of keeping under the old nature. Youth has one sort of temptation, manhood another, age another. Never, while life lasts, does Lent come amiss; never is it unnecessary to the Christian who is striving after that holiness without which he can never see His Lord in the eternal Easter.

Why, then, in that case does not Lent last all the year round? The answer is not difficult, and it brings us to the second step in our consideration. For—

II. Secondly, Lent properly observed, will stamp upon our hearts and consciences, for a good while, the solemn sense of the strife between the Flesh and the Spirit, so that it will not die out if we are conscientious and careful.—Like the soldier’s drill, a certain quantity of it is enough for a while. But, then, after a while he must repeat it, or the effect dies out. We want our annual Lents to stamp again and again on our Consciences the sense that there is this deadly enemy—the Flesh—within us, which wants ever keeping down. This is why Lent lasts so long. And it is the longest season of the Christian year, because this matter of subduing the Flesh to the Spirit is the greatest difficulty of all in the Christian life. We all want the Christian soldier’s drill in the practice of self-subdual, and Lent is the time when we are called to our annual self-recollection, and the practice of subjugating our wayward moods and roving tempers to the firm hand of the renewed and spiritual being.

III. Thirdly, it is only natural and right that such a season should be one of some self-denials.—Some self-denial is not only right, but it is the natural instinct of the devout soul. It is the natural and spontaneous instinct of true Christianity. For true Christianity lies in love and sympathy with Christ our Lord.

The incoming of the Spirit will be signalised by some subdual of the Flesh, some marked taming of the natural desires, either those of the indulgent flesh, or of the ambitious mind, or of the merry heart. It was so with our Lord after His Baptism, when the Spirit drove him apart from men to the long Lent in the Wilderness. It will be so with us after every marked working of the Spirit upon our souls.


‘The most striking part of the book is that in which the locust invasion is described. What are we to understand by these locusts? The answer to this question differs as widely as to that concerning the date of the prophecy. Some hold (and this is becoming more and more the general opinion) that the locusts are real, and that the prophet describes an actual locust invasion. Others, believing that the nations summoned for judgment in chapter Joe_3:2 (A.V. ch. Joe_3:2) are represented by the locusts in the previous chapters, explain the references to the locusts allegorically. The creatures are not real, but figurative. What is before the prophet’s mind is the world-powers opposed to the Church, which are allowed to oppress and desolate the Church for a time, but in the end (as in the last chapter of the book) are taken in hand by Jehovah and disposed of. A third opinion is that the locusts are neither real nor figurative, but apocalyptic—a sort of supernatural creatures, which may fitly find a place in a vision of the last things, corresponding to the locusts in the New Testament Apocalypse (cf. Rev_9:2-11). Now, it should be noted that, if the locusts are not real, the prophecy has no direct application to the prophet’s contemporaries, or to the condition of the Church in his day. It is quite true that the prophecy contains a call to repentance of a serious character. It is also plain that the locust invasion supplies the only reason for this appeal suggested by the narrative. But if the allegorical or apocalyptical explanation of the locusts is accepted, there is, of course, no actual invasion by locusts, and the appeal to repentance vanishes into thin air.’