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Thirdly-What their present case was; and this is mentioned to hasten their return unto the Lord their God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. I shall aim to go through each of these particulars. May the Lord be present with me, and guide me through the same, so that it may, through the blessing of the Holy Spirit, be beneficial to the church and people of God. According to the proposed plan, I proceed thus: and shall first attempt to open this part of my text, expressed in these words: 0 Israel, return unto the Lord thy God.
It contains an address from the Lord unto Israel. It may be considered that we may understand by the term Israel, the Ten Tribes which revolted from the house of David, under the reign of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, under the influence of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who became the king of the Ten Tribes: these are commonly stiled the Israelites, or the children of Ephraim, to distinguish them from the two tribes and a half, who continued fast and firm to the house of David, and acknowledged his descendants to be their lawful sovereigns, and who also continued, for the most part, to the worship the Lord God had prescribed, and commanded them by his servant Moses. The Ten Tribes were remarkable for their apostacy from God; they were all of them idolaters; yet the Lord, again and again, sent his prophets to reclaim them. It may
be the whole of this chapter is a prophecy of the restoration of the people of the Jews, and Israel of God in the latter day; when the Lord will turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent. Zephaniah, chap. iii, ver. 9. Be it so: yet, doubtless, we may make use of the same for our use, comfort, and encouragement. The Lord's elect, even the people whom he hath formed for his praise, and brought nigh unto himself by effectual calling, if left one moment to themselves, are prone to backslide from him, the fountain of living waters, and to hew out to themselves broken cisterns, which can hold no water. There is a sovereign and marvellous display of the Lord's grace towards his people, both before calling, and after calling; some of them are permitted to sin most grievously in their unconverted state, whilst some of them, in the very same state, are wonderfully preserved; and some of them, after conversion, have awfully fallen into some most horrible impieties, whilst others of them are preserved, so as never to sin willingly against their consciences, from their first convictions, to the very close of their lives. This reminds me of Dr. Goodwin's observation, that God glorifies his sanctifying grace in some, and his pardoning grace in others. Let the children of God be in what state they may, as it respects their acts of grace or sin, this makes no alteration
in the Lord's love unto them; they are as he loved them in Christ, and chose them in Christ, and accepted them in Christ, and blessed them in Christ, always in his sight, immutably one and the same; so they are, as saved in Christ with an everlasting salvation, the same before the Lord at all times: and as the called of God in Christ, are one and the same, they having the Holy Ghost dwelling in them, yet as they have the body of sin and death dwelling within them, there is a continual propensity in their fallen natures, to slide into themselves; to backslide from the Lord Jesus Christ; to give way to themselves; to fall by their own inherent corruptions; and thus backslide from the Lord their God. The Lord says of Israel, to whom he sent his word by Hosea : And my people are bent to backsliding from me, though they called them to the Most High, none at all would excalt him. Hosea, chap. xi, ver. 7.
As the whole of this prophecy was delivered to a whole nation of backsliders, and even to such as may most justly be denominated the very worst of them ; so I conceive we may from thence derive great support, for the worst of cases the Lord's called people may possibly be in: seeing he says to sucb, O Israel, return unto, the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Israel's case was extreme. He could not return unto the Lord by any strength of his own. His mind oppressed with guilt, must be filled with every discouragement. He must be fallen by his iniquity into a state and kind of desperation. This was the fruit of his iniquity. The words of the text contain, and imply all this. Yet they are the only remedy for him. It is the Lord himself that here speaks. He it is who here addresses Israel. He does it in the language of commiseration. O Israel, (this is very benign and affectionate) I know thy case. I feel for thee, I compassionate thy case, and am still what I ever was: the Lord thy God. Thou art fallen by thine iniquity, and from which thou canst not extricate thyself. I can deliver thee; there, fore hear what I say unto thee. O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. From these words, what an infinity of grace, and blessed encouragement may be derived, so as to encourage the people of the Lord to trust and hope in him. Of all cases which can befal the Lord's people, backsliding is the worst; this all must acknowledge, whether they have had the awful, and sad experience of it or not. None can backslide from the Lord but such as have known the Lord. There must be an external, or an internal knowledge of the Lord, or there cannot be a backsliding from him. It is true all mankind may be said to be backsliders, in consequence of their fall and apostacy from God, by the transgression of the first man; yet that is not the immediate subject of the text, nor of our present consideration. Take in the immediate instance referred to, it concerns such as had made a profession of God, of his truth, of his worship, of his laws, of his covenant, of his prophets: all these they were departed from. They therefore were backsliders. They are charged by the Lord with having slidden back by a perpetual backsliding. Jeremiah, chap. viii. ver. 5. So such only, I conceive, may be properly stiled backsliders, as have either made a legal profession of Christ, and through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, have renounced it, and have given up their profession of the holy name whereby they have been called, or such of the Lord's people who have fallen into actual transgression, whose hearts and affections are thereby removed from the Lord. The former of these fall off from their profession of Christ; all which never sprang from a true knowledge of Christ. The others though the root of the matter was in them, yet have fallen from the steadfastness of their faith in Christ, and into actual sin, and hereby given cause to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. Whilst I do not intend to enter into all the particulars of a backsliding state and case; yet I may comprehend all that is needful for us to know of the same. The subject before us calls for this: O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. If Israel had not