« PreviousContinue »
tains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not de part from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, Isa. liv. 10.
To this God, of whose grandeur we form such elevated notions, and upon whose promises we found such exalted hopes, be honor and glory for ever, and ever. Amen.
The greatness of God's wisdom, and the abundance of his power.
Jeremiah xxxii. 19.
Great in counsel and mighty in work.
HESE words are connected with the two pre
ceding verses: Ah, Lord God, behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched-out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee. Thou shewest loving-kindness unto thousands, and recompensest the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them : the great the mighty God, the Lord of hosts is his name, great in counsel, and mighty in work.
The text we have read to you, my brethren, and which, though very short, has doubtless already excited many grand ideas in your minds, is a homage, which the prophet Jeremiah paid to the perfections of God, when they seemed to counteract one another. To make this plain to you, we will endeavor to fix your attention on the circumstances in which our prophet was, when he pronounced the words. This is the best method of explaining the text, and with this we begin.
Jeremiah was actually a martyr to his ministry, when he addressed that prayer to God, of which this text is only a part. He was reduced to the disagreeable necessity of not being able to avail himself of the rights of religion without invalidating the maxims of civil government. This is one
of the most difficult straits, into which the ministers of the living God can be brought ; for, however they may be opposed, people always regard them, if not with entire submission, yet with some degree of respect, while they confine themselves to the duties of their own office, and, while content with the speaking of heavenly things, they leave the reins of government in the hands of those to whom Providence has committed them. But when religion and civil policy are so united that ministers cannot discharge their functions without becoming, in a manner, ministers of state, without determining whether it be proper to make peace, or to declare war, to enter into alliances, or to dissolve them: how extremely delicate and difficult does their ministry become? This was our prophet's case. Jerusalem had been besieged for the space of one year by Nebuchadnezzar's army, and it was doubtful whether the city should capitulate with that prince, or hold out against him. God himself decided this question, by the ministry of the prophet, and commanded him in his name to address the Israelites : Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it. And Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans ; but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon though ye fight with the Chaldeans, ye shall not prosper, ver. 3, 4, 5.
A prediction so alarming was not uttered with impunity; and Jeremiah was thrown into prison for pronouncing it : but, before he could well reflect on this trial, he was exercised with another, that was more painful still. God commanded him to transact an affair, which seems at first sight more likely to sink his ministry into contempt than to
conciliate people's esteem to it. He commanded him to avail himself of the right, which every Israelite enjoyed, when his nearest relation offered an. estate to sale : a right founded upon an institute recorded in Leviticus, ch. xxv. God required the Israelites to consider him as their sovereign, and his sovereignty over them was absolute. They cannot be said to have possessed any thing as proper owners; they held every thing conditionally, and in trust; and they had no other right in their patrimonial estates than what they derived from the arbitrary will of God. In order to preserve in them a sense of this dependence, they were forbidden to sell the lands, which they inherited from their ancestors : The land shall not be sold for ever, saith the levitical law, for the land is mine, and ye are strangers and sojourners røith me, ver. 23. This was unknown to the heathens, for Diodorous says, that the Jews could not sell their inheritances.*
But as it might happen, that a landholder might become indigent, and be reduced by this prohibition to the danger of dying with hunger, even while he had enough to supply all his wants, God had provided, that, in such a case, the lands might be sold under certain restrictions, which were proper to convince the seller of that sovereignty, from which he would never depart. The principal of those restrictions were two; one, that the estate sould be rather mortgaged than sold; and, at the Jubilee, should return to its first master: and hence it is, that, to sell an estate for ever, in the style of the Jewish jurisprudence, is to mortgage it till the Jubilee. The other restriction was, that the near
* The case of the daughters of Zelophedad, related in Numb. xxvii, 8, procured a geneneral law of inheritance. If a man died without a son, his daughters were to inherit: if without children, his brethren were to inherit : if without brethren, bis uncle was to inherit: if without uncle his nearest relation was his heir. Grotius says, that this law, which preferred an uncle before a nephew, passed from the Jews to the Phenicians, and from the Phenicians into all Africa. Saurin. Dissert. Tom. II. Disc. vii.
est relation of him, who was obliged to sell his land, should have the right of purchasing it before any others, either more distant relations or strangers.
In virtue of this law, Jeremiah had a right to purchase an estate, which Hanameel, the son of Shallum, had offered to sale. The land lay at Anathoth, a town in the tribe of Benjamin, where our prophet was born, and was actually occupied by the Chaldeans at that time. Jerusalem was besieged, and Jeremiah was fully persuaded, and had even foretold, that it would be taken ; that the Jews would be carried away into captivity; and would not be re-established in their own country till their return from Babylon at the expiration of seventy years. What a time to purchase an estate! What a season to improve a right of redemption !
But this command of God to the prophet was full of meaning; God gave it with views similar to, but incomparably surer than, those which the Romans had, when they publicly offered to sell the land where Hannibal was encamped when he was besieging the city of Rome. What the prophet was commanded to do, was designed to be an image of what the Jews should have the liberty of doing after their re-establishment. You may ascertain that this was the design of the command given to Jeremiah, by attending to the words, which he addressed to God himself, in the twenty-fourth verse of this chapter: Behold the mounts, the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans : and thou hast said unto me, O Lord God, Buy thee the field for money. To this the Lord answers, Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh, is there any thing too hard for me ? Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them. And fields shall be bought in this land, whereof ye