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Unmasking the Love of Dominion
The attempt to rule mankind by might looks more serious today than in the days of Napoleon, or Julius Caesar. The world, however, is more enlightened as to the nature of the menace. The love of dominion from the love of self is here for judgment. It is diametrically opposed to the love of God, or the love of dominion from the love of use, not for the sake of self, but for the sake of the common good. The former may often be mistaken for the latter. It is important to know both well, and to separate the two, for "he who subjugates the love of dominion from the love of self, easily subjugates all other evil loves, because it is their head" (Divine Providence #146). "The latter prophets" turn the limelight on "Babylon the Great," the leading representative of this root of all kinds of evil.
Humility Precedes Enlightenment
Chapter 1. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah from the time of Josiah, king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem into captivity. The discovery of a long lost book of the law in Josiah’s reign started a great reformation. This revival and the subsequent decadence and captivity form the background of this prophecy. Jeremiah saw clearly the cause of his people’s decline, and yearned to sound the alarm, and save them from the impending fall, but felt incompetent to say the word. A touch of the Divine hand upon his lips, however, conferred the power of speech without fear or favor for the best interests of the last remnant of a great nation. And so humility, and an irrepressible desire to do something to be different and make the world different, open the mind to the meaning of prophecy and its bearing upon evils within that are the source of all the disorder in the world. The vision of the rod of an almond tree, the first to blossom in the spring, is reassuring. "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" Trouble is nigh, a heartburning of alarming intensity. The word comes to uncover the complete collapse of the church, or of religion itself, under pressure from the love of dominion; Babylon will invest Jerusalem with intent to destroy her defenses, and exterminate her kings, and princes, and priests and people. "They shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee."
Self-Surrender Precedes Regeneration
2. It is impossible to unfold even the general significance of the numerous details of this lengthy prophecy. It is enough that we take note of the leading points in each chapter, always bearing in mind the main theme of the whole book. Jeremiah sees the inevitable fall of Jerusalem, because the people refuse to mend their ways. That is Babylon—an unwillingness to admit that we are ever in the wrong. The only hope for the people is to surrender, and go into captivity. Our only hope is to give in, accept our punishment in meekness, and learn to submit our wills to the Divine will. We are often wrong in speech and action, when certain that we are right; and perhaps as often wrong in the spirit, when upholding the right in action. It is frightfully humiliating to face the light, and try to walk in it, for it pierces the most sensitive spot in our nature, the love of self—the selfish bit of us that is our very life, and that nobody dare touch, or even challenge.
The Lord showed kindness to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and in bringing them into a land of plenty, pled with them for spurning "the fountain of living waters," and hewing out "broken cisterns, that can hold no water." "Know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts." "They have turned their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Come and save us." What inconsistency! What simplicity! "Yet thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me. Behold, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned." We simply cannot admit our guilt. In the sight of heaven this is sheer adultery.
3. The prophet complains of the great pollution of the land by harlotry. "Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers." Backsliding Israel committed adultery, and was taken into captivity, through her estrangement from the Lord in this way. "Yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also." "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord, for I am married to you, and I will heal your backslidings." Essential harlotry is the adulteration, or falsification, of the truth. The spirit of Babylon is in evidence when men are unwilling to understand the truth about themselves, and opposed to the reformation of character. "Those who will be of the new church will acknowledge and confess that they have falsities and evils."
4. The appeal of the prophet is the voice of God—the voice of conscience—for purity of life. "Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings. . . . O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? . . . My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart, . . . for my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge." The details in the chapter only intensify the plain message in the words quoted.
5. Jerusalem is safe if a man that executeth judgment, and seeketh the truth, can be found in it. Unfortunately, the people have been stricken, without grieving. "They have refused to receive correction; they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return. . . . Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? . . . Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel, saith the Lord: it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation. . . . And it shall come to pass, when ye shall say, Wherefore doeth the Lord our God all these things unto us? then shalt thou answer them, Like as ye have forsaken me, and served strange gods in your land, so shall ye serve strangers in a land that is not yours. . . . A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof."
6. "Evil approacheth out of the north, and great destruction." This again and again appears in the prophecy, as in the vision of the seething pot facing the north, the region of thick darkness, or no truth. The north also represents "an obscure state as to the truths of faith." The remnant that returned was not entirely bereft of light. Without it the captivity had had no meaning. The voice of the prophet was never silent. "Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken." This obduracy is the spirit of Babylon. We shall see it when the right time comes.
Worship Saves No One
7. Again, the prophet calls for repentance at the gates of the temple. Worship therein is no defense. "Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations? Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord. . . . Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people. . . . But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear but walked in the counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward. . . . This is a nation that obeyeth not the voice of the Lord their God, nor receiveth correction: truth is perished, and is cut off from their mouth." No further comment is necessary. The spirit shines through the letter, with greater penetration today than yesterday. We see waywardness in everyone; but we ourselves are different! We are very respectable persons! We may make a blanket confession of sin—"We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, etc."—but use it only as a subterfuge. We know well how sedulously we argue in our thinking to establish an alibi every time we are under conviction through conscience or criticism.
8. The exhumation of the bones of their kings, princes, priests, prophets and inhabitants of Jerusalem for dung is a desecration of all the best traditions of the nation. It is symptomatic of the terrible profanation in our pseudo civilization today of the best that church and state have given to the world in the past. "Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast deceit, they refuse to return. . . . Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down saith the Lord." Unveilings of the depraved state of the heart, set on having its own way at any cost, to the disintegration of society, proceed slowly. The constant violation of the spirit of the law in the thoughts of our hearts, and our repugnance to correction and to change, becomes more and more apparent. The growing conviction of our horribly unchristian character at last prostrates us through remorse and despair.
9. "Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! . . . Oh that I might leave my people, and go from them! for they be all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men." We falsify the truth in self-defense. One misrepresentation of the truth leads to another. We appear friendly outwardly when inwardly we distrust nearly everyone. We "walk after the stubbornness of our own hearts." We stupidly nurse our sorrows out of self-pity, and exaggerate the sense of our own importance. "Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving kindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord." In these also should be our delight, without as well as within.
The Folly of Idolatry
10. The way of the world is alluring. Money talks, and would have us regard it as indispensable to all well-doing. The things of this world pass away; only the love of God remains. "All truth is from the Lord. Self-intelligence amounts to nothing at all, and will perish." The enemy from the north is hard by to put an end to our religious pretensions. "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing. Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name: for they have eaten up Jacob, and have made his habitation desolate."
Punishment Inseparable from Faithlessness
11. The prophet reminds those in Jerusalem that a curse is inherent in the violation of the law, and a blessing in the possession of the land in obedience to it. The point has been reiterated from generation to generation with an unfailing "Amen" from the lips of the people in response. Nevertheless, they went after other gods to serve them. "Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape, and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them." They shall call upon their gods also and receive no answer. The Lord advised Jeremiah that his own townsmen sought his life. But that may not be. The Lord gives us to see that to silence the voice of conscience would close our partnership with Him.
12. Then arises the question, Why do the wicked prosper? Why are they happy in doing evil? Even boasting over their gains? The boast of a successful dictator is only a reflection of the same frailty in the millions who applaud—the same millions who would have trampled him underfoot if he had failed. Why take any pleasure whatever in doing wrong? Soon or late the consequences are certain to appear. All disorder is evidence of broken laws. "The whole land is desolate, because no man layeth it to heart." We reap just what we sow. When taken to heart we face the almost hopeless task of righting inveterate wrongs beyond recovery. The captivity of Israel and Judah reproduce this hopeless state of mind. Prophecy meets the situation thus: "It shall come to pass, after that I have plucked them out of their land I will return, and have compassion on them, and will bring them again, every man to his heritage, and every man to his land. And if they will diligently learn the ways of my people. . . . then shall they be built in the midst of my people. But if they will not obey, I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation, saith the Lord." The choice lies with us. To see the situation in the heart is prophetic of a decision for the right. It would be profanation to fly in the face of it.
"Seeing but Not Perceiving" the Truth
13. The prophet dramatizes the experience. To gird oneself is to get ready for action. The prophet’s girdle therefore represents the arrangement of the truths of religion to deal with the problem in our hearts, as yet only in intention. Judah refused to hear the Lord’s words by his prophets, but "walked in the stubbornness of their heart, after other gods to worship them." The teachings of Christianity are rendered useless when reason proves them to be impractical (i.e. ruinous to self-interest) in modern life! It is expecting too much of anyone today to resist not evil, to forgive seventy times seven, to return good for evil, to sacrifice everything for one’s friends, etc.! The girdle was good for nothing when taken from its hiding place in the rock by the prophet. The bottle filled with wine here represents the mind full of the spiritual teachings of the Word, imbibed to the point of intoxication. Failure, then, to see straight sets conflicting interpretations at variance to the destruction of the solidarity of the church. "A house (of God) divided against itself cannot stand." "Mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock is carried away captive. . . . This is thy lot. . . . saith the Lord, because thou hast forgotten me, and trusted in falsehood. . . . Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem! Wilt thou not be made clean? When shall it once be?" There is a part of us within that protests against our weaker self, but still lacks backbone to stand firm for the right.
14. In consequence, all instruction from heaven fails altogether. Judah is driven to despair by a great drought. The people pray in vain for deliverance, because they give ear to false prophets. They refuse to accept the truth. Both they and their prophets will suffer. "I will pour their wickedness upon them, . . . for the virgin daughter of my people is broken with a great breach, with a very grievous blow." Nothing is more distressing than a breach in the Church. The prophet intercedes without effect. The pangs of conscience are severe and long, but still ineffectual. The heart will not suffer correction.
15. They have "made their bed in hell," and automatically severed their connection with the living church. "Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me." They who exist to pull down regard the disinterested service of the Lord’s church with contempt. This broke the prophet’s heart, and he cried out: "Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, which refuseth to be healed? Wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar, and as waters that fail?" We are in a most unhappy frame of mind. And yet, the Divine purpose of God is unalterable. "Thus saith the Lord, If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me: . . . for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the terrible."
16. The church has cut loose from the Lord, and is barren of Christian living. To represent this the prophet is forbidden to marry, or have children. Instead, the Church is fertile in engendering strife and dissension. Force breeds force. The prophet may "not enter into the house of mourning. . . . for I have taken away my peace from this people, saith the Lord, even lovingkindness and mercies." It is very difficult to keep the heart right when involved in partisan and contentious divisions in private or public life— refrain from participation in the hard feeling and bitter words that spoil the world’s teamwork. The prophet shall have nothing to do with their debauchery. Their mirth will turn to sadness. And why? "Because ye walk every one after the stubbornness of his evil heart, that they may not hearken unto me." Therefore they shall be carried into captivity in a strange land. Again and again we are confronted by the spirit of obstinacy within that seems to be unconquerable. Yet "retribution will visit those who have previously profaned the church, and those of whom the church will consist will acknowledge the Lord."
17. Again, without being able to account for it, we are in the depths. Our distrust in God seems to be ineradicable. Judah’s sin is graven on the heart with a pen of iron. We cannot get away from ourselves. "Cursed is the man whose heart departeth from the Lord, . . . . and blessed the man whose hope the Lord is." The contrast is evident, but not convincing. Increasing light in meeting life’s trials uncovers the dreadful deceitfulness and wickedness in the heart. The wealth of knowledge we possess about our spiritual status is lost to us, if kept out of use. "He that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool." The Lord is the hope of Israel in the day of evil, to confound our persecutors within, and reject them. That is the day’s work. And when the Lord grants us rest, a temporary surcease from sorrow, let us see to it that we do not spoil it. "Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem." Otherwise, our worship loses its virtue. Take what is, and trust what may be.
Withdraws Man from Evil
18. They who do evil, but repent, are like a marred vessel which the potter refashions as seems good to him. They who turn from good to evil destroy the vessel. The cause of religion is seriously injured when churchmen do not repent of their evils. They "make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing, everyone that passeth by shall be astonished, and wag his head." They threaten the life of the prophet craftily. "Yet, Lord, thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me. Let them be overthrown before thee."
19. The picture is here, that we may see and understand. The earthen bottle is an image of the church as the recipient of the teachings of religion—for us, the Christian life. The prophet shattered the bottle to enforce his arraignment of his people’s profanation of their worship in the valley of Hinnom (Gehenna), which should henceforth be called "The valley of slaughter"— the place of human sacrifices, the receptacle of the offal and filth of the city. What a revolting image of hell! And yet it is far removed from the reality represented. Even so today the slaughter of innocents in warfare is a very imperfect image of the hell in human hearts, callous to the violation of Christianity, at the root of our troubles. Why cannot the nations of the world get together, and put an end to war, and many other social injustices? Because of the universal desecration of the simplest teachings of Christianity in the individual. "Hell is actually there, because there is nothing but the lust of the love of self." The people have "hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words."
Our Proprium—Our Own Selves
20. Tell any man that he is in the wrong—touch his amour propre—and he is up in arms immediately, although he may conceal his hatred of you to save his reputation. Pashur, the priest, smote Jeremiah, and pilloried him. When released the prophet renamed Pashur Magor-missabib—that is, "Terror on every side." Self love resents correction. And why? Because we dread change. We fear being misunderstood, or opposed, or persecuted, or ostracized. We fear the foe within as well as without. We are all cowards when our right to self-judgment is called in question, and self-surrender is our only hope. The more we claim infallibility, the less we trust anyone. The autocrat cannot tolerate any rival. And we are all autocrats, whether we seek to get our own way by self-assertiveness, or by subserviency. This spirit is Babylon, and must perish to receive the Lord at His Coming. Magor-missabib, and all connected with him, shall be carried into captivity, and die there. We are facing a sore trial when the Word becomes our conscience. The prophet’s cry to God tells the story. We defame the Word if we look backward. The Lord is with us if we go forward. But "wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labor and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame."
Surrender When Wrong,
And Do Right with God’s Help
21. Jeremiah advises the people of Jerusalem to capitulate to Nebuchadnezzar, and escape death. "Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death. He that abideth in this city shall die by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goeth out, and falleth to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be unto him for a prey," i.e., he shall snatch it from the destroyer. This recalls Maher-shalal-hash-baz in Isaiah 8. Jeremiah apparently counsels shameless cowardice. That may be so in the letter, but in the spirit it is altogether different. To resent the charge that we seek first our own interests in life is the way of death; to acknowledge it is the way of life. Both church and state have openly scorned the laws of justice and morality on the plea that the end justifies the means. No power in heaven or earth could convince them that they were wrong, fatally wrong. Dictators and authoritarians in every group, large or small, justify the most atrocious actions or intentions in the interests of peace and order, and nothing short of the individual capitulation will change the heart of stone into a heart of flesh, with the Lord’s help.
22. Take again, for instance, the individual who is hypersensitive to criticism. He always carries a chip on his shoulder. He takes offense where no offense is intended. He is the victim of unjust persecution! He hates his enemies, and plots to get even with them, or to withdraw from the field of honor to shame them! Back of all this misunderstanding and resentment is egoism and self-will. We cannot be wrong! God is on our side! These chapters in Jeremiah describe the dawn of a consciousness that we may be wrong, and therefore off God’s side. The prophet is told to go down to the house of the king of Judah and assure him that his throne is safe if he sets his house in order; but if not, disaster is certain to follow. He may build cedar palaces outdoing the splendor of Solomon’s reign; but as a substitute for just rule, it is the token of impotence, and forebodes a downfall. All this images a controversy in the soul. If self-will rules in the issue before us, the love of God will be dethroned, regardless of grandiose professions. We see it all, but table the issue for the present.
23. And so matters must get worse, before the turn of the tide. "Woe be to the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord." What is to become of the better feelings in our hearts entrusted to our care by the Lord when self-will declines to surrender? The Lord will not permit the remnant to be lost forever. We do not grasp what this means to us in our extremity, but are referred to our Gospel for enlightenment. The Lord’s life has a new and deeper relation to our trials when approached in a sympathetic spirit. He is Our Righteousness, and claims our whole soul as his own. To appreciate this measurably exposes the faithlessness and the absurdity of the arguments used to sustain self-willfulness. The Lord’s prophets profane his word, and "cause my people Israel to err. They say unto everyone that walketh after the stubbornness of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you." We hate to admit guilt, and imagine that we are still all right. But the Comforter comes to perpetuate the judgment, and expose the lies and false dreams. The "burden," or cross, is there to be borne, until the false prophets—false conscience—have been discredited, and banished from the scene.
24. Two baskets of figs! The basket of good figs represents those who had been "carried away captive of Judah for their good," and will return to the land afterward. But the residue who remained in the land to be driven out of it, and perish, are like "the evil figs, which could not be eaten, they are so evil." So long as we refuse to give in and to admit that we are self-willed the Lord cannot do anything for us, and we bring upon ourselves increased hardship and suffering. But whenever we confess that we have turned to our own ways, hold ourselves responsible for our misdeeds, learn our lesson well, and change our ways with the Lord’s help, our emancipation is guaranteed. This applies to our ordinary contacts with everyone from day to day. This is the significance of the good figs—actions free from self-will, and accordant with the will of God, good within, as well as without.
Seventy Years in Servitude
25. This purging of the self-life, however, is not effected in a day. The captives were doomed to serve the king of Babylon seventy years. The association of the number seven is chiefly with that which is holy and sacred, especially after temptation. "Six days shalt thou labor, but the seventh" is the day of rest and worship. The seventy years in captivity imply all the trials from first to last under the oppression of a stubborn self-will, until we cease to profane any and every truth that has any connection with our lives, or our conscience has been made free and void of offense. The cup which the nations must drink to their ruin typifies the sources whence spring the temptations to take the name of the Lord in vain. The surrender of our wills to the will of God to regain our lost innocence is the most painful experience in life, increasing with our approach to the end of the three score years and ten. "Howl, ye shepherds, and cry; for the land is desolate, because of the fierceness of the oppressor, and because of his fierce anger."
26. The strain of submitting our wills to the Divine will is beginning to tell on us. We let down on our job. Then we are reminded that both church and state will fail if we quit. Jeremiah said that the temple and the city would be destroyed if the people refused to obey the voice of the prophet. The priests and prophets demanded the death of Jeremiah, but the elders cited Micah’s case in defense of Jeremiah, and the people acquitted him. Urijah, however, was put to death. He upheld the words of Jeremiah, but fled to Egypt when threatened with death. Jeremiah was no coward, and survived the ordeal. Our conscience is stiffened by reflection on past experiences when disinterested loyalty to the still small voice proved to be to the advantage of everyone. Urijah’s conduct also has a meaning for us. It is fatal to know our duty, feel proud of our knowledge, and do nothing further about it, but just talk.
27. As children we had to conform to the customs and manners of our social group many times against our will. Advancing years increase the number of situations in which we require to act, or curb the hand or tongue, against our will to keep the peace. The older we grow the more we see in our environment that is contrary to our liking. Every reaction against our will since infancy is recorded in our inner nature. The hateful side of these reactions is cumulatively our unconquered love of dominion from the love of self back of everything wrong within. Touch it, and hell breaks loose. It makes it impossible for the majority of men and women to live too close together. It is the chief source of our own unhappiness whether we are in the crowd, or all alone. And, when we only glimpse the point that "God so loved the world" that He bowed the heavens, and came down to bring life to his wayward children, we behold profanation in our attitude toward everyone and everything, with few exceptions. There is our burden, our cross, graphically represented by the wooden yoke on the neck and shoulders of the prophet, to be borne by the children of Judah in servitude to Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, and the nations subject unto him. We need to protest against the spirit contrary to God’s love in Christ in our hearts until it is dissipated. And none save the Lord Himself can remove it from us, and strengthen our love of others, every one of whom stands in need of it, and they who seem least worthy, most of all.
28. Seventy years’ servitude! A change of front is a slow and painful process. There are times too when we grow very impatient. It then appears that we can attain our objective— remove the stubbornness in the hearts of our enemies and change the world for the better—by force on short notice. Hananiah claimed that within two years the Lord would restore the temple and the throne of Zedekiah in Jerusalem. In proof of it he took the yoke from the neck of Jeremiah, and broke it in pieces. But the word of the Lord decreed that Hananiah would substitute yokes of iron for those of wood, which taught revolt against the Lord. "Hananiah died in the seventh month." Experience teaches us that love cannot be forced. Force is justified in restraining wrongdoing and protecting the innocent. It also is always in order in self-compulsion. But it is never justifiable in compelling anyone to do right. To do right through fear is a law of hell, but not of heaven. The iron law of necessity can never put an end to war in the world. The law of love alone is adequate to the task, just plain "charity that suffereth long, and is kind, charity that envieth not, nor is puffed up, nor seeketh her own, nor thinketh evil; charity which beareth all things, and hopeth all things."
29. One thing must now be clear: as the heart is cleansed the eyes see the truth; that is, we see when we are under the influence of the love of dominion from the love of self, and not from the love of use, as we had so often supposed. These opposites are often present in our minds. We see when we are impatient, or hateful, and determined to control others, or have our own way. Then and there we require to desist, and build up a new character, and a new social life; build up the spirit of charity in our hearts in hell’s despite—hell without, as well as hell within. The captives in Babylon were instructed by the prophet in Jerusalem to build houses, and dwell in them, to plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them, take wives, and beget sons and daughters, "and seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace." Just think of that! Our peace depends upon the constancy of our spirit of submissiveness. We should not be influenced by specious arguments that mislead us, or break down our morale. The tendency to profane the truths we know will in time be subdued, and enable us to correct many misinterpretations of the Word. The will to do God’s will carries with it the power to know whether the doctrine is of God, or of self.
The Darkest Hour Is Just before the Dawn
30. Now follows what has been called "The Book of Consolation" for the exiles (chapters 30–33). Israel’s fears shall have an end. "I will break his yoke from off his neck. . . . and he shall return, and be in rest. . . . and none shall make him afraid . . . . Thine adversaries, every one of them shall go into captivity. . . . For I will restore health unto thee." The captives shall return, and rebuild the city. And the Lord will come and execute a judgment upon the wicked. The coming of the Lord in newness of life is not a wholesale experience, but piecemeal, according to our resistance or shunning of evils. As we forgive our debtors, so are we forgiven.
31. How tender are the words to the exiles: "I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." And how touching the promise: "Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and with them the blind, and the lame, the woman with child, and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither." It is highly improbable that the unfit went beyond Ramah after leaving Jerusalem on the way to Babylon, for their captors usually killed them as useless impedimenta. This may partially account for the reference to "Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted." The inner meaning, however, covers the significance of the whole situation—the deep sorrow for the sufferings man brings upon himself, through a stubborn disregard of the spirit of the whole Word— the golden rule. By way of contrast the mercy of the Heavenly Father in caring for the maimed and those with child ought to be most reassuring. He is the friend of the needy, to lead them "out of ignorance of truth into the truths of heaven." And more—"the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth. A woman shall compass a man," that is, protect him. When man makes everything of his intelligence, he falls. When he rises, he finds his "better half"—his heart—is his best protection. The dream of the emancipation of the world some day from war is refreshing, if we believe it, and work for it. "Upon this I awaked, and beheld; and my sleep was sweet unto me." The captivity yields "a new covenant," the law written in the heart free, ultimately, from sin. "For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." The Lord will call sin to remembrance no more, because we have, through persistent exclusion, opened the way for Him to give us his love in its place.
32. It is interesting to note that Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, wrote his most consoling words when he was in prison. Out of despair springeth hope, which is never illusory when placed in the Lord. Jeremiah’s action at this juncture clinches the argument. The siege of Jerusalem had begun, the city was doomed, and yet Jeremiah bought a field to which he held a right of preemption for "seven shekels and ten pieces of silver," in proof of his faith in God’s Word. "Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land." The land represents heaven, and the captivity in Babylon represents the suffering which accompanies our acknowledgment that we are slaves to self-will. And Jeremiah’s purchase of the family property has the same significance as the Lord’s last words to his disciples just after He had predicted the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple: "Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. . . . I go to prepare a place for you." To the extent that we have paid the price, and our debts are forgiven, we are heirs to the kingdom. Every protest condemning and controlling thoughts and feelings unworthy of the hallowed Name we bear brings us nearer to the day of our emancipation, and return to our native land.
33. From prison comes the word of the prophet predicting failure for the defenders of Jerusalem, but the return of the captivity both of Israel and Judah with joy throughout the land. The city shall be called in that day "The Lord our Righteousness." The throne of David and the priesthood will return to stay. The old shall perish, and the new shall take its place. These two states of death and life follow each other interminably without time in cycles of ever varying strain and duration. Assimilation and elimination are constants in the growth of the mind, as in the growth of the body. "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I reasoned as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11). Spiritual growth follows the same order on a higher plane. Of Jesus it is said that "the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him." In later years, however, growth is marked by losing, hating and destroying the self-life, or self-willed life, and taking on the life eternal. "The Lord rises again daily in the minds of the regenerate, and even every moment" (Arcana Coelestia #2405).
Asceticism a Cure for Vacillation
34. What follows describes the process of change effected in subordinating self-will to God’s will. The fall of Jerusalem was imminent. King Zedekiah issued an edict that the Hebrew slaves should be set free. This was carried out, but their owners basely revoked their agreement as soon as the Babylonian army had left Jerusalem temporarily. "The truth that makes us free" is the servant, or means to that end. Sometimes when the truth discloses a conflict within between our wills and God’s will, we are deeply penitent. But thoughts emerge that relieve the tension of the conviction before it has completed its work, and we fall back to the old order again. We placed our confidence in the truth through fear or hatred, and not through love. The covenant with the Lord was broken. Conscience, the medium between the love of the Lord and the life of religion, was false, or dead. This is the significance of the owners of Hebrew servants passing between the counterparts of the calf (see Genesis 15). The stability of the church and the world is threatened more by would-be defenders working for their own interests and justifying hatred of the least opposition, when they know, and even believe, that hatred is unchristian. They may temper their feelings on occasion in the interest of unity, but give free rein to their grievances again when the pressure is removed. That is ruinous to character.
35. Our attention is directed to the unpretentious Rechabites, who are the secret mainstay and protection of the people in Jerusalem. They lived in tents, were total abstainers, and were loyal to each other in strong contrast to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Prophecy reminds us that the strongest elements in character are in our childlike simplicity, docility, and unaffected constancy. The self-assertive independence of intellectualism tends to divide and destroy the solidarity of the home. Can we see it, and cut it out? (See Mark 9:43.)
36. The prophecies concerning Israel and Judah are ended. We are now weighed in the balance, the heart in the one scale and the weightless feather, representing impartial judgment, or the truth, in the other scale. "The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). So the prophecy is written in a book, read "in the ears of all the people," then to the princes, and finally to the king, who tore it up and burned it, demanding the apprehension of the prophet. But the Lord hid Jeremiah, and ordered him to rewrite the record, with additions. "Great was the anger and the fury that the Lord pronounced against this people." That is the appearance. The reality is the vehemence of our passions when our record is called in question. We cannot brook interference or correction. The king acts for the people. It an outrage to lay the responsibility for the impending wreckage of civilization at our door! We are fighting for justice in the name of the Lord! The artificial flame of the fire in the dead of winter consumed the record, our own record. We plead not guilty before the bar of conscience; but the evidence is against us.
37. We cannot see straight until our feelings are right. Our judgment is biased when controlled by self-will. Self-will musters all the facts which seem to justify our opposition to change, and exonerate conscience. The Egyptians came to the rescue of king Zedekiah, and the Babylonians raised the siege for fear of Pharaoh’s army. But Jeremiah declared that Pharaoh would return to Egypt, and the Chaldeans would come again, and burn the city. Nothing can justify hatred, or the infraction of any of the commandments in the pursuit of selfish or worldly interests. Any attempt to justify evil when we know that the heart is not right is profanation, which seriously impairs religion, and silences conscience effectually for the time being. On petition that he might die in prison, the king allowed Jeremiah to live in the court of the prison.
38. The princes, however, sought to put him to death, and, with the king’s consent, lowered him into a dungeon where he was without water, and sunk in the mire. From that slow death he was saved by an Ethiopian eunuch. Conscience—the word of the Lord—is all but destroyed in our determination to counteract all opposition to having our own way. Yet, something within foreign to our self-interest tells us that we are running contrary to the spirit of Christianity. We may be old-fashioned in our ideas—like the old clouts and rotten rags in Ebed-melech’s hands— but we feel that we must forgive, we must submit, we must somehow get together and end war. "Guns will not solve this sick world’s problems." The king hears that if only he will surrender, the city will be saved; and if not, he will be taken into captivity, and the city burned. He decrees that Jeremiah should say nothing more about the matter, and live. And so conscience survives. We know for certain that we must love our enemies, must feel friendly to and cooperate with the person whom we never wish to see, or meet, again. But how that is possible, we do not know. We have that to learn through duress.
39. Our first reaction to a really serious issue in which we have become involved, and on which we require to take sides, is to refuse to admit that our judgment may be at fault. There is only one side to the question, and that is my side, the side that is to my best interests. If it’s war, it’s my country, right or wrong. But when an issue—a biased judgment—is forced upon us, against our weaker, but better judgment, we try to escape from it. Our "honor" is challenged, and we back down. Nebuchadnezzar captured Zedekiah, fleeing for his life, put out his eyes, bound him with chains, and slew his sons. Any attempt to have our own way and evade the consequences blinds us to our offense, tightens our subjection to self-will, and destroys our belief in the teachings of religion. Conscience is not dead, but inoperative for the time being through enforced submission to the inevitable. Jeremiah is placed under the care of Gedaliah. The gentile spirit is also preserved in latency against better days. Ebed-melech’s life should be "a prey unto him," to snatch it from the enemy, because he put his trust in the Lord.
40. Jeremiah’s counsel to the besieged in Jerusalem was to surrender unconditionally. His counsel to those left in the land was the same. That is the Lord’s counsel to us when meeting the inevitable consequences of self-will. Don’t rebel when sick in bed on your back. The Lord surrendered Himself to the powers of the world without a murmur. His kingdom was not of this world, otherwise his servants would have fought "that He should not be delivered to the Jews." Zedekiah fought to save Jerusalem. Jeremiah was manacled in prison at the time. The word of the Lord is powerless where men meet intolerance with intolerance, or hatred with hatred, or, in general, resent the permissions of Providence to bend their wills to the Divine will for their salvation. Nebuzar-Adan released Jeremiah. Dictators will make use of the Church as long as she serves their own ends. Jeremiah remained with the remnant left in the land. The Lord is present with his children in their most stubborn moods. And even when they lapse into the recollection of their trials in the interest of self-pity and self-justification the Lord is there to protect them from themselves as far as possible. Jeremiah was taken to Egypt with the last surviving trace of the remnant left in Judea, which perished there, because it rebelled against the rule of Babylon. Is it possible to have a war free from the spirit of retaliation? Is it possible to have quarrels that cripple and disrupt the Church without resentment and recriminations on both sides? Is it possible to accept calamity, or suffering, without complaint, and learn in part what it means to submit one’s will to God’s will? Neither the suffering, nor the complaint, is God’s will. But while the suffering may not be relieved or removed at once by anything we can do, the complaint is wholly within our power to control, if not immediately, at least in the long, or the short, run. It is always ours to do the most possible in the worst possible circumstances, in the best possible spirit, as did our Savior on the cross, turning defeat into a crowning victory.
41. We are wrestling with the love of dominion to determine when it springs from the love of self, and when from the love of use. The desolation of the land is illuminating. Ishmael killed Gedaliah and his retainers, and seventy mourners from Samaria on their way to the house of the Lord, and then went over to the Ammonites to escape the sword of Johanan. Ishmael represents the same as his namesake, the son of Abraham, a wild ass man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him. From the love of ruling the disposition to complain against everything and everybody without pity, and especially in adversity, leads to the denial of any authority above self, and to the profanation of the truth. This is involved in the fate of Gedaliah and Ishmael.
42. As to the fate of Johanan and the remnant in Judah, they were fearful of vengeance from Nebuchadnezzar for the assassination of Gedaliah. They therefore asked Jeremiah to learn the will of God, and pledged themselves to fulfill it. Word came that if they abode in the land, the Lord would save them from the enemy; but if they went down into Egypt they would perish there by the sword, and famine, and pestilence. They would also have broken their word. Johanan, their leader, bears the same name as John, meaning the Lord is merciful. This group has hearts, which make them hypersensitive to injuries, or hardships, or disappointed hopes. They also have an exaggerated idea of their own importance. All might have gone well with them, if they had settled down to take in their situation—in thralldom to selfish conceits—and repressed every inclination to resent discipline. This they were unable to do. From childhood their reverses taught them no other lesson than that of following the line of least resistance. They profess a reverence for the Word of the Lord, but it means nothing to them for guidance, for uplift, or for their salvation from themselves. They live over and over again the memory of past grievances, sadly exaggerated and misinterpreted. They live on the lowest plane of life— Egypt—victims of a temperament that kills conscience, starves the soul, and poisons the atmosphere with petty vexations—"the sword, famine, and pestilence."
43. We either live to learn and practice the truth that makes us free, or to reject it, and then place the blame for all our troubles upon the written Word. Baruch, Jeremiah’s amanuensis, represents that written Word. "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me," the Lord said to the self-righteous Jew of his day. The written Word does say that all would be well with the Jews of Jeremiah’s day if they would surrender, and go into captivity in Babylon. That means for us today that we acknowledge that we are governed by self-will and are prepared to undergo the suffering incident to the submission of our wills to God’s will. The rejection of this law, which is written in bold-faced type in the Gospel, to escape the rigor of a guilty conscience, plunges us into torment from which there is no escape. Jeremiah prophesied in Egypt to the refugees that Nebuchadnezzar would set his throne there. "And when he cometh, he shall smite the land of Egypt, and deliver such as are for death to death; and such as are for captivity to captivity; and such as are for the sword to the sword," etc. Every day, and every hour of the day, we have to make our choice whom we shall serve—God or self.
44. This day Jerusalem and the cities of Judah "are a desolation, and no man dwelleth therein." This day the Church is a dead institution in a war-ridden world. We are reaping the aftermath of the willful misdoings of countless generations in the past, and have yet to learn the simple truth that the keeping of the law is life, and the breaking of it is death. We believe it, but we are like the Jews in Egypt, unconscious of the fatal choice they made, when we apply the law to others but exempt ourselves, or place heavy burdens upon the shoulders of others, but refuse to move a finger to help bear them. How can we be blind to the fact that we then make out a false alibi for every offense we ourselves commit? This assuredly leads finally to the rejection of the Lord. "My name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, The Lord God liveth. Yet a small number that escape the sword shall return out of the land of Egypt into the land of Judah." Thank God, there is always a possibility that we discover our mistake, and repent. The gates of the Holy City are never shut.
45. The picture, however, is decidedly depressing when taken to heart. When Baruch had written it down, he cried out, "Woe is me now! For the Lord hath added grief to my sorrow: I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest." We see the dark side of life, what needs to be broken down and plucked up. The outlook is hopeless. But the Word of life is imperishable. "Thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest." The Word is with us at all times to preserve against all perils, when we make a serious effort to live according to it.
Crosses to Bear While
Subject to the Love of Dominion
46. Following this are the prophecies against the nations, which enable us to analyze the outstanding evils in the race. First, the Egyptian army has been defeated at Carchemish and the men have fallen by the Euphrates river. The proud waters of the Nile cover the earth, but a judgment follows; the daughter of Egypt is incurable, Nebuchadnezzar will subjugate the land, but Jacob may feel comforted after his chastisement. This indicates in general that whatever we learn about life may be seriously abused by false reasoning. We are very familiar with the abuse of science in time of war. The greater the knowledge, the more dangerous the enemy. But the abuse of knowledge in doing wrong and justifying wrong, the greater the pride in it, and the more difficult to cure the habit. Consider vicious propagandism in war time, or in politics, or in advertising. The universal abuse of knowledge is done to vindicate the policy of contestants in the interminable conflict for power or possessions. That is Babylon in Egypt, almost beyond discipline.
47. The word against Philistia. "Waters rise up out of the north" to flood the land. This is figurative of the rushing of the horses and chariots of the Chaldeans, bringing terror and devastation into Philistia. Faith alone, belief without works, is a common weakness in every religion. And why? To please self in the expectation of getting something for nothing. This is Chaldea, or Babylonia. The punishment of Egypt and Philistia by Chaldea represents the punishment brought upon ourselves by self-will in the abuse of knowledge and faith.
48. The word against Moab for "trusting in his works and treasures," for "being at ease from his youth," for "magnifying himself against the Lord," for being proud, arrogant and "haughty of heart." The judgment, the consequences of wrongdoing, is very grievous. The evil in question is the "adulteration of the goods of the Word and the church," which Moab represents. Children mixing with "bad company" pick up bad habits, which adulterate the good in them. Grown up children are more or less liable to be influenced by the selfish ways of their friends. We ought to be above it, but hate to be different, or lose a friend, and prestige too. Prestige! That is Babylon in the background. "Behold, he shall fly as an eagle, and shall spread his wings over Moab." (See Deuteronomy 28:49, also Jeremiah 49:22 and Habakkuk 1:8). It is comforting to note that the trouble is not hopeless. "Yet will I bring again the captivity of Moab in the latter days, saith the Lord. Thus far is the judgment of Moab."
49. The word against the Ammonites. The adulteration of good is followed by "the falsification of the truths of the Word and of the church." We find our own reasons for taking sides with our friends, and for turning down our enemies—the people we like and dislike, largely on account of the balance of power for our own interests. Sometimes our enemies are our best friends, but we are so set in selfish ways that we cannot see it. Fear holds us apart. Yet "afterward I will bring again the captivity of Ammon, saith the Lord."
Against Edom, a close neighbor to Moab and Ammon, which represents "those who falsify the external of the Word," that is, the sense of the letter, which confirms the doctrine of charity. Reference is made to the former reputation of Edom for wisdom and prudence. But the strength of their secret fastnesses in their precipice-protected town Selah, or Petra, deceived them. "Though thou shouldest make thy nest as high as the eagle, I will bring thee down from thence, and Edom shall be a desolation." Self-exultation is a common factor in setting aside the obvious meaning of the ten commandments. And the stubborn heart—Babylon—back of all (verse 22).
Against Damascus, and Kedar, or Arabia, and Elam. These are all farther away from Jerusalem, the center of the church, and represent certain more or less obscure elements in character that are damaged by the determination to have everything go our own way—that is, subject to Babylon. These elements might be related to external interests, as national and international affairs. "But it shall come to pass in the latter days that I will bring again the captivity of Elam, saith the Lord."
50. Biblical critics are of the opinion that chapter 50:1 to 51:58 was not written by Jeremiah, mainly for two reasons: the prophet here calls for vengeance on Babylon, and counsels the exiles to escape from the doomed city, contrary to the tenor of all the preceding chapters. The hand of Providence, however, in recording this changed point of view, whether by Jeremiah or a redactor, is plain. The advice to surrender to Babylon, "my servant," clearly points out what the Lord requires of us in submitting to discipline. We must take up our cross, and not try to evade responsibility, like a coward, or a renegade. No man can be reformed under compulsion. But vengeance on Babylon to release the captives is the only picture possible to express the attitude of the soul under voluntary discipline. We lament the sufferings that fall to our lot, and cry in desperation for deliverance. Deliverance implies that we have learned in part a lesson, and desire to live up to it. For we think from God and from heaven only as we remove evil, or, as we open the way for the Lord to remove it. To the angels "doing the commandments is loving the Lord. To them the Lord’s commandments are the truths in which they receive Him.—There is conjunction of the Lord with them, and of them with the Lord; for they are in the Lord, because they are in good; and the Lord is in them, because they are in truths" (Apocalypse Explained #995).
Finally, the word against Babylon and the land of the Chaldeans. The greatest trouble in the world, and cause of all trouble, is the desire of everyone to set every other person right, and keep him right, while each demands a right of way for himself. We make gods of ourselves. We trust in ourselves, regardless of any protest to the contrary. Wherever this spirit is aggressive, it ranges the one half of the world against the other half. The love of self is the antithesis of mutual love. It thinks of self first all the time, and of others as second, or last, or of no account whatever. It seeks its own by force or by stealth, and is dangerous or ugly when opposed. It is hard to accept the indictment against ourselves. "Israel is a scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away; first the king of Assyria hath devoured him, and last this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. . . . Recompense her [that is, Babylon] according to her work; according to all that she hath done, do unto her: for she hath been proud against the Lord, against the Holy One of Israel. . . . Behold, I am against thee, O thou most proud, saith the Lord God of hosts: for thy day is come, the time that I will visit thee. . . . At the noise of the taking of Babylon the earth is moved, and the cry is heard among the nations."
51. The judgment continues. "Israel hath not been forsaken, nor Judah of his God; though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel. Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul: be not cut off in her iniquity; for this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance; he will render unto her a recompense. Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine, therefore the nations are mad." Drunk from a sense of power: insane from the idea that we have life in ourselves, and can do as we please. We acknowledge responsibility to no one! There is no God, who rules all things and all men! Many thoughts crowd into the mind daily in support of this monstrous delusion and heresy. And when these deranged thoughts spring from a heart oppressed by trial it is hard indeed to detect their true character, and then flee from them, as we would from a house on fire. "The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, and her high gates shall be burned with fire. . . . Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her." These prophecies are for "those, who in the church have been taken captive by such as trust in their own falsities, and have become ‘Babylon,’" for their salvation.
52. The two preceding chapters deal with the end of the captivity. The present chapter brings our thoughts back to the beginning of it. The description follows closely 2 Kings 24 and 25, and Jeremiah 39. In addition the number of the captives is given—"all persons were four thousand and six hundred," multiples of forty and six. The significance of these two numbers throughout the Scriptures in relation to temptations and trial is familiar. So the last thought of the prophecy looks to suffering endured while overcoming the spirit of dominating our own lives, and the lives of other people too. But coupled with this must be considered the kind treatment accorded to Jehoiachin, king of Judah. The law of love to the Lord is enthroned in the heart successively as the idol of the heart—self first— is placed where it rightfully belongs—self last. That comes with the release from captivity. But what terrible sufferings must be endured before we have reached the goal! The Lamentations of Jeremiah give utterance to them. Tears are a wonderful relief in sorrow—a veritable safety valve as against a nervous breakdown.
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