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Jeremiah 44:1-30 - Homilies By S. Conway

The end of Jeremiah; or, going down in clouds.

With this chapter Jeremiah disappears from view. The sadness which surrounded his first ministry accompanies it to the last and deepens at its close; like a sunset in clouds, going down in darkness and storm, The path along which he had been led had been via crucis, a via dolorosa indeed; a lifelong tragedy, an unceasing pain. We can only hope that death came soon to him after his recorded history closes. We have seen him torn from his native land and carried down to Egypt. We see him in the forty-third chapter at the border of the land; in this, in the heart of Egypt, at Pathros, probably forced to witness the degrading idolatry of his people, and unable to do aught to prevent it. An idol festival, accompanied, doubtless, with all the wonted pollutions of such worship, is proceeding, and he lifts up his voice once more in stern protest. But in vain, as heretofore. He vanishes from our view at an hour when his countrymen, so far from being less addicted to idols, were now open in their sin, vaunting it and declaring their determination to adhere to it, and their reset that they had ever done otherwise. What a farewell between a minister of God and the people of his charge! There never was but one other like it—the farewell of him who said, as he wept over another doomed Jerusalem and a future Jewish people, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." What became of Jeremiah from this date we know not. "No man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day." "There is the Christian tradition resting doubtless on some earlier belief, that the long tragedy of his life ended in actual martyrdom, and that the Jews at Tahpanhes, enraged by his rebukes, at last stoned him to death." The testimony to the martyrs at the close of the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews is thought to contain allusion to him: "They were stoned"—so we read. There is a Jewish tradition, however, which says that he made his escape to Babylon, but Josephus, like the Bible, is utterly silent as to the prophet's end. And it has been suggested that the tradition of the Jew and the silence of the historian are alike owing to a desire to gloss over some great crime. The suggestion is a probable one. "But he did not need a death by violence to make him a true martyr. To die with none to record the time or manner of his death was the right end for one who had spoken all along, not to win the praise of men, but because the Word of the Lord was in him as 'a burning fire.' The darkness and doubt that brood over the last days of the prophet's life are more significant than either of the issues which present themselves to men's imaginations as the winding up of his career." "But a careful examination of his writings show that, whilst the earlier ones are calmer, loftier, more uniform in tone, the latter show marks of age and weariness and sorrow, and are more strongly imbued with the language of individual suffering." How glad we would have been had the clouds lifted ere he died, and a gleam of sunshine had irradiated the hitherto almost unbroken gloom! Some of the prophets were permitted to have a blessed onlook into the better days that were coming. He who wrote the closing portion of Isaiah's prophecies did so; like Moses from Mount Pisgah. But it was not so to be with this prophet of God. His sun was to go down in clouds, and, though he had faithfully kept God's commandments, there was not for him in this life any "great reward." Though out of love for his countrymen he had refused the offer of a peaceful and honoured home in Babylon, like Moses, "choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God" he yet failed to win their affection or obedience; and they remained in the same evil mind to the last. He had walked in the fear of the Lord. But those ways had. not been for him "ways of pleasantness," nor its paths "paths of peace." The brokenhearted old man appeals to God and man, "Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow." The twenty-second psalm—that which seems to tell so clearly of the sufferings of our Lord—is thought by many to have been written by him, and tp tell of his own deep distress. Priest, patriot, prophet, martyr, hero of the faith indeed, what a life was thine from beginning to end, from thy first call by God to thy last rejection by men! These lines, translated for our day, and sung by our comfortable congregations—with what consistency they who sing them best know—

"If I find him, if I follow,

What his guerdon here?

Many a sorrow, many a labour,

Many a tear;"

—are applicable enough to one like that great prophet of God, whose career began, continued, and, most of all, ended, in sorrow, labour, and tears. But the review of such a ministry must assuredly have its lessons. As we think of it are we not reminded—

I. OF " THE MAN OF SORROWS ," OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ? No doubt other great servants of God, whose ministry and especially whose end have been like that of Jeremiah, come into the mind. John the Baptist in Bible history, and Savonarola in later days. The parallel between this great Florentine preacher and our prophet has often been noticed. The insistance upon spiritual religion, the sad and terrible close of his career,—these have led many to look upon Savonaroia as the Jeremiah of the Middle Ages. But these resemblances are incidental and undesigned. That, however, between our Lord and his honoured servant who, in so many ways, preceded him, is not incidental, nor can it be called undesigned. But whilst the prophet is like our Lord in so many respects, yet, great as were his sorrows, those of the Man of sorrows were greater still. For our Lord knew more of the evil of sin and hated it more intensely. He sacrificed more and endured more. And so the experience of the prophets, like that of all God's servants, only goes to show that Christ has sounded deeper depths of sorrow than any that his servants can ever know.

"Christ leads us through no darker room

Than he's been through before."

Hence always "underneath," however deep the depths out of which we cry, "are the everlasting arms" of his sympathy and love and help.

II. OF THE LIGHTNESS OF OUR BURDENS COMPARED WITH THOSE OF MANY OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD ? How it shames us to think of the things we murmur about, when we contrast them with what such men as Jeremiah continually endured! Surely as we think of the severity of his cross, and especially that of our Saviour, we shall cease to complain of what ours may be.

III. OF WHAT THE GRACE OF GOD CAN DO ? Did the prophet of God endure and contend so nobly, and was he faithful unto death? But is not "Jesus Christ the same yesterday," etc.? Then he who so strengthened his servants in days gone by will do the same still. Let us, therefore, go forward without fear.

IV. OF THE NECESSITY OF COUNTING THE COST ERE WE ENTER UPON THE SERVICE OF GOD ? We see in the career of Jeremiah what may be required of us. Our Lord said to one candidate for discipleship, "The foxes have holes, and," etc. He would have the man consider if he were prepared to bear a life like that. And as we read what has been demanded of the Lord's servants, and may be of us, it is well that we, too, should count the cost. But do not count it so as to decline it; no, but that you may hasten to the treasure store of Christ, to the riches of his grace who will make his strength perfect in our weakness.

V. OF THE GREAT ARGUMENT FOR A FUTURE LIFE WHICH SUCH A CAREER AS THAT OF JEREMIAH FURNISHES ? We have seen how uninterruptedly sad his life was, and how darkly it ended. Now, can any say that there is nothing more for such a man as that; that he and all they "who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished"—that is, the noblest, the purest, the best; those whose lives were beautiful, brave, God-like,—that these have perished? And yet, if death ends all, they have. It is incredible.

VI. IF SUCH MEN DEEMED IT WELL TO SACRIFICE ALL THEIR PRESENT FOR THE FAVOUR OF GOD , ARE WE WISE WHO REFUSE TO SACRIFICE ANYTHING , who love the world and cling to it and make it our good?—C.

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