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JEREMIAH vü: 5.-They hold fast deceit ; they refuse to return.
This solemn accusation was made by the holy and heart-searching God, against his professed people. It was delivered by the prophet, in the language of Jehovah himself. The message of which this forms a part, begins thus;-—“Moreover thou shalt say unto them, thus saith the Lord, shall they fall and not arise ? shall he turn away and not return ?” That is, if a man has made a misstep and fallen, will he not immediately endeavor to arise? Will he contentedly lay prostrate on the ground, and give up the object he had in view? If he has fallen into a pit, will he not endeavor to get out as speedily as possible? Or, if a man is on a journey and has lost his way, will he not return into the right way as soon as he discovers his error ? If he has turned away into a wrong road, will he not abandon it, and return to the right without delay, when he is correctly informed ? In such cases men are thankful, when their error is pointed out and they are assisted in correcting it.
Why, then, said the Lord, is this people slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast deceit; they refuse to return. Here was a strange case. In regard to duty, the Lord's people would not act on the principles of common prudence and discretion. They had back
VOL. 9. No. 11.
slidden and fallen, and would not endeavor to recover themselves. They were contented to lie in the dirt and filth of sin. They had wandered out of the right way and were in the road to destruction, and would not forsake it. When kindly admonished by the Lord himself, they would not return to the right way. They persisted in the wrong, knowing it to be the wrong. They held fast deceit and refused to return.
I hearkened and heard, saith the Lord, but they spake not aright; no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, what have I done? Every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle. The great God who had condescended to instruct and warn his people, listened to hear if any among them began to confess and repent; —if any began to reflect on his conduct, and to say, what have I done? But they spake not aright. They did not come with humble confession. They did not cry unto the Lord with deep self-abasement. They did not forsake their evil ways; but every one turned to his favorite course, and rushed on, heedless of danger, as the ignorant and furious horse rusheth into the battle. Such were the professed people of God in days of old.
We live in a brighter age. We enjoy the instructions of the Lord from heaven. Our privileges far surpass those which were conferred upon the ancient church : and more abundant and precious fruits of piety may be expected of us. But, as I apprehend, the same disobe dience, unfaithfulness, and backsliding are to be found in the professed people of God now, as in those days, when the prophet Jeremiah wept, and warned, and prayed. Let us look at the proof of this; and let us not be stiffnecked as they were of old; but solemnly regard the truth of God and faithfully apply it to ourselves. The same charge is doubtless true to a great extent, concerning professors now, which was delivered by the prophet against the Jews. They hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.
1. Professors of religion are guilty of this, when they refuse to repent of their backslidings and neglect of duty. They often acknowledge that they are imperfect, and sometimes feel that they ought to do differently. They go to a religious meeting, and conscience is a little aroused, and they perceive that they have no engagedness in religion, and nothing of the true spirit of prayer. They know this is wrong. But, instead of humbling themselves at once for this sinful departure from the Lord, they harden their hearts more and more. They satisfy themselves that they are as good as other professors, and perhaps lay the blame of their deadness and negligence upon their brethren. They think they should not have sunk down into this state of awful declension, if others had not done the same. Ah, brethren, do you flatter yourselves that you who know your Master's will, shall be excused because others do not perform it? Is the conduct of others the rule of duty for you? Be assured, such excuses will avail nothing for your justification in the sight of God. He will not ask you what your brethren have done, but what you have done or neglected to do.
Perhaps you have been saying to yourselves, “ This time of declension is no good time to repent or reform. We must remain as we are, until God pours out his Spirit and revives us.” This is just making one sin an excuse for another. And, furthermore, it is an attempt to throw off the blame of your continuance in sin from yourselves upon the holy God. Is it indeed a time of religious declension? Then it is a time which calls for immediate repentance. If you are guilty of backsliding, then you should come down with deep self abasement before the Lord, and commence within yourself a thorough reformation. A full proportion of the guilt of this declension lies at your door. You may not then wait for your brethren; nor have you a right to wait for God to impel you to do your duty. To put off repentance in the midst of backslidings and negligence, is to hold fast deceit and to refuse to return. It is to act over the sinful conduct of the Jews, for which they were so solemnly reproved.
2. Professors hold fast deceit and refuse to return, when they disregard divine reproof and misimprove the means which are employed to reform them. A very large proportion of the Bible, and especially of the New Testament, is addressed to professed believers. Numerous admonitions and reproofs, commands and exhortations are given, to guard them from error and to quicken them in duty. Let the halting, , wavering, slothful christian open the sacred volume, and admonitions and awakening instructions will meet his eye on every page. If he disregards these and goes on in slothfulness, he holds fast deceit and refuses to return.
The ministry of reconciliation is one of the most important means which God hath instituted for the conversion of sinners and the perfecting of the saints. But how often do faithful ministers, like the prophets of old, deliver God's messages to his people, and show them their sins, without inducing them to repent and reform! How often, not only on the sabbath, but on other occasions of solemn convocation, do they labor to arouse the members of the church and to prevail on them to come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty, and see these labors resisted and made ineffectual. How often do they stand, and plead, and warn in the name of the Lord, before any signs of life can be perceived. The slumbers are so profound, they seem like the