Zephaniah like Habakkuk will be found to have some points of resemblance with the prophet Jeremiah; and this not merely in the fact that the Chaldean is the enemy of which both treat, but also in their both setting forth the blessedness reserved for Israel and Jerusalem when the judgments of Jehovah shall have been executed on the nations. Nevertheless there is this wide difference between the two lesser prophets; that Zephaniah in treating of the glory of God is much more external, while Habakkuk dwells far more on the needed exercises of heart with God’s answer to the Jew both now and hereafter. Thus the two minor prophets take up each a separate item of the prophet of Anathoth. Jeremiah’s prophecy abounds in internal exercises of heart, and here Habakkuk resembled him: we see his grief and hear his complaints and laments to Jehovah when evil was allowed to prevail. On the other hand he shows us the execution of divine judgment which will set aside the proud Gentiles, and reduce the people of God to their true place, in order that, being abased in heart, they may be exalted outwardly. Zephaniah presents rather the latter, as Habakkuk the former. Jerusalem is in the foreground, but in connection with the general judgment of the nations from whose evils the Jews had in no way kept themselves apart. Thus there is no precise mention of the apostate powers of the latter day. As Antichrist therefore is not named or specially described, so neither is the Messiah, save generally as the Jehovah God of Israel.
“The word of Jehovah which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.” Thus we have a full and clear account of Zephaniah, as also of the time in which he wrote. It was of no small importance that there should be prophets raised up during the time of Josiah and subsequently. Jeremiah was rather the latest of the three already named. The importance morally of their prophecies then was, that no one either at the time of Josiah or afterwards should be deceived as to the facts of the partial reformation accomplished during the reign of that pious prince. There is nothing that is more apt to deceive and to disappoint than a wave of blessing which passes over a nation so far gone from righteousness as the Jews of that day. Josiah’s eminent piety, his remarkable zeal in dealing sternly with what profaned the name of Jehovah, above all the subjection of heart to the word of God which peculiarly characterized himself, in no way set the nation right. Undoubtedly there must have been then, as always, sanguine hopes indulged by the excellent of the earth. It was of great moment therefore that God’s mind about the matter should be made known in order that none, if deceived for the moment, should be too bitterly disappointed at last. We ought to appreciate heartily whatever of blessing God gives, and seek to be kept from a passive or insensible spirit.
On the other hand to look for more than a partial and passing accomplishment of good to individuals through the grace of God is not wise. The blessing that is given, while a matter of immense thankfulness towards souls and of praise to His own mercy, really leaves the moral state of those who reject it worse than before. It does not fail in the end to accelerate the downward course of the mass, and thus brings in a time of deeper ruin. So we see that there was but a short space indeed that separated Josiah’s bright burst of pious effort for God’s glory from the awful evils which succeeded and brought an insupportable judgment from God on the guilty people. Zephaniah was one of those who spoke in Jehovah’s name during these promising times; and thus he begins his message: “I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith Jehovah.”
I do not doubt that such times as those of Josiah answer more or less to revivals of religion, or awakenings in our own or other days under the gospel. And assuredly it is solemn to feel that, besides the blessing to souls here and there, the general result is that they only increase much the responsibility of those who do not profit by the testimony God thus renders. We may and ought to be thankful for fruit to His grace, but should not forget that they evidently seem on the background to be a visitation not without grave consequences to the despisers.
At the same time, I think that the resemblance is stronger to such a dealing of God as the Reformation. For a revival is more a work of awakening sinners; whereas this was a recall of the people of God also to their place from idols and profanity. No doubt sinners were awakened, but there was a loud call to the people of God generally to hear the word of God instead of acquiescing in their own declension and dishonour. Now this is not always the case. We hear of some such effects locally; for instance in the revival which God wrought by Jonathan Edwards and others of his day in their districts of America. The Whitfield-Wesleyan movement was widespread in arousing sinners, but extremely partial as to any dealings with the state of Christian people. They were both, however zealous, too ignorant of the word and ways of God to help the church of God to any appreciable extent. I need not speak much of the comparatively recent revival chiefly in the North of Ireland, which spread over various parts of the world about the same time; but it seems plain that whatever may be God’s goodness in a revival, it is in general a rebuke to the wickedness of man in its day — a strong reclamation on God’s part against the routine in which the mass consent to go on, as well as a display of grace exceptionally. But the effect of slighting such a summons of His, not only in others, but even in those who have shared the revival and thus enjoyed blessing from God, leaves them as the rule in a worse state than before. This seems to have always been the history of such movements.
Some I know believe that there has been a change in a large part of Christendom outwardly since the revival in the North of Ireland and in America, from 1857 to 1860, especially in its operation, so as to call forth a great many preachers of all sorts outside the clergy or the various official guides of the denominations. But I am disposed to attribute the impulse given to lay preaching to a very different testimony, though it is possible that the distress among the souls awakened at that time may have impressed on it a more practical shape. And this continues. The force of free preaching does not appear to be spent as yet, so far as outward appearances go. Whether, and how far this may be an important event towards the close has been a question sometimes. The worst sign is that in a large part even of that evangelizing which continues, it takes the shape of considerable bitterness against such truth as condemns themselves. Those who do so cannot but help on the Laodiceanism of Christendom in these days. Latitudinarianism will be increasingly a snare; and the most systematic and guilty part comes from those who should know better, but are really so much the worse because of the mercy God had shown them and of their deliverance in measure from mere traditionalism. What an ungrateful return from the heart for such goodness of God! — the using grace to slight what is due to Christ and the truth and holiness of God, who calls us to a thorough renunciation of self and of the world for His name. This certainly cannot be said to have been the effect of the movement hitherto; is it so still less as time goes on? If not, a free spread of truth which does not separate to Christ from worldliness, and forms which ignore the Holy Spirit, must in the long run contribute to help on the apostacy more or less decidedly. In fact, as far as we can see, everything moves in that direction.
It would be hard to say what does not in one way or another tend to lessen the authority of divine truth in men’s minds. Take, for instance, the Ecumenical Council. The promulgation of absurd decrees about the infallibility of the Pope will no doubt largely increase the superstitious party and their pride of heart and blindness. On the other hand there is the reaction of those that despise and laugh it to scorn, knowing who and what are those who put forth such exorbitant pretensions, that the claim of God’s truth is the merest imposture, covering over a group of ambitious priests working out their own glory by the most glaring perversion of the word of God, and this in a way highly calculated to deceive many, because they say a great deal that is unquestionably true and right. They talk about the church just as if there was reality in the Romish system; they also decry the amazing pride and profanity of modern science in setting itself against the word of God; so that in this way there is an immense deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish. Thus on every side is seen that which leads both directly and indirectly to the abandonment of divine revelation and more particularly of Christianity, which is called the apostacy.
The Lord then pronounces through Zephaniah the clean destruction that is coming, not only in a general sentence, but by a minute enumeration of particulars. “I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumbling-blocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith Jehovah.” The completeness of the ruin would prove the hand of Jehovah; for why else beast as well as man? why birds of heaven and fishes of the sea? But the root lay in the stumbling-blocks (or idols) of the wicked, who should all perish together. Hence the cutting off man from the face of the land (or earth) closes this emphatic sentence of Jehovah. The judgment should be universal.
But there is more than that: — “I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, the name of the Chemarim [that is, idolatrous priests only named besides in 2 Kings 23:5, Hosea 10:5, and supposed by Gesenius to be so designated from their black ecclesiastical dress] with the priests.” What made this idolatry so offensive was the joining of the idols of the nations with Jehovah. To be what we might call a plain right-down idolater was not nearly so evil as to show that you know the true God and yet put false gods on a level with Him. Such an outrage against God as this is specially described here. “And them that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops; and them that worship and that swear to Jehovah, and that swear by Malcham.” And certainly, to apply the principle to the present day, as we have just now been speaking of revivals such as Josiah’s and their bearing on the future crisis of Christendom, as then on the crisis of Judah, this confusion is remarkably characteristic of both times. “And them that are turned back from Jehovah; and those that have not sought Jehovah, nor enquired for him.” There might be both — two rather different classes — those on the one hand who owned Jehovah in a measure, and then had abandoned Him with slight and insult; and those on the other hand who never had been even outwardly awakened to care for Him or even enquire after Him. Then comes the warning. “Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord Jehovah: for the day of Jehovah is at hand: for Jehovah hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests. And it shall come to pass in the day of Jehovah’s sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.” He would begin with those who had the chief responsibility.
“In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit. And it shall come to pass in that day, saith Jehovah, that there shall be the noise of a cry from the fish gate, and an howling from the second, land a great crashing from the hills.” It will be universal consternation and chastening from God. “Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh, for all the merchant people1 are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off. And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles.” Not merely those that were openly violent — no one should escape, no class or condition. They “say in their heart, Jehovah will not do good, neither will he do evil.” It is Sadduceanism before the Sadducees. “Therefore their goods shall become a booty, and their houses a desolation: they shall also build houses, but not inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof;” that is, they shall be struck in the very point of their unbelief. “The great day of Jehovah is near, it is near,, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of Jehovah.” They denied this altogether; they said Jehovah would do neither good nor harm: He was a God that took His ease as they did. “Even the voice of the day of Jehovah: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.”
It is of great importance that we should hold and testify “that day,” — not merely the coming of the Lord but His day. Although it indicates undoubtedly much more for the state that the coming of the Lord is dear to us as our heavenly hope, nevertheless there may be an unwillingness to face the solemn truth of the day of Jehovah. Where there is high truth and low practice, the day of Jehovah can never be honestly testified; it does not then receive that place in our practical service which it has in the word of God. It will not satisfy the heart to substitute for our proper hope that which bears on the world in the judicial excision of evil here below; it will never do to live in or on it, because it is not the suited food for the soul; still it is a solemn and necessary truth to hold up before our own eyes and those of all others. Were there truthfulness with a graciously exercised heart, not only would there be a free and joyful waiting for Christ, but nothing could be allowed knowingly inconsistent with His mind to call forth His judgment. For instance we constantly find this kind of self-deceit where a Christian lives in worldliness, which leads him to say that at all events his heart is not in it.
Now it is quite possible there may be cases where one can quite understand meek trust to be the genuine feeling, as where a wife or a child may be held responsible to obey. Thus suppose such an one in the worldly mansion belonging to a worldly Christian of rank: clearly one under authority is not at liberty to enter on a crusade against splendours of furniture, equipage, or the general style of living that belongs to a great house. Nevertheless the Christian child should undoubtedly seek, while personally a Nazarite, to abstain from offensive demonstrations to its parents. This would not hinder a decided taking part with what was despised and rejected whenever an opportunity was allowed. Faith now as ever shares the afflictions of the people of God, and more particularly identifies itself with what is scorned and hated in separation from the world. But it is most happy where, along with fidelity to the Lord, one sees a meek and lowly mind giving conspicuous honour to father and mother, from which I need not say Christ in no way absolves. At the same time there should be the constant manifestation that the heart is with Him who is the treasure in the heavens. If possession came, such an one would know how to turn all to a testimony, not of sanctified worldliness, as if this could be, but to Him who suffered on the cross, whereby he is crucified to the world and the world to him. Love for Christ’s appearing strengthens the pilgrim in his path, though only Christ’s love makes one a pilgrim. But it is evil where one perseveres in going on with what grieves the Lord on the plea that He will set all to rights in His day.
Nor is it to be doubted that in the day of the Lord there will be something like a reflection of what the path has been here, loss in case of unfaithfulness and reward for the service of His name. But it would appear from the New Testament, I think, that this to us is rather called the day of Christ, thus distinguishing between it and the day of Jehovah. Assuredly Christ is Jehovah; but still it is a very different thought where He is so styled, as in the Revelation. And it is remarkable that in Zephaniah — so external is its usage comparatively — we never see Him brought in as Christ at all. We find simply Jehovah here. It is therefore more judicial. If “the day of Christ” may be received as judicial too, it has certainly more application, even in that character, to what was based on and flowed from Christ. “The day of Christ” is that aspect of the day of the Lord in which those who have lived and walked and suffered in grace will have their portion assigned to them by the Master. Hence the apostle Paul says a good deal about “the day of Christ” in the Epistle to the Philippians. There we have the results of service and of suffering, of thorough identification with Christ now.
In the common version of the second Epistle to the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 2:2), it is a twofold mistake to present the error then at work among the saints, as “the day of Christ is at hand.”2 Had the false teachers said this, they had not gone far astray. But they pretended the authority of the apostle and indeed of the Spirit for the assertion that the day of the Lord was actually arrived, or then present — not “at hand;” just as in another epistle we hear of such as affirmed the resurrection to have taken place already. Thus “present” was what they meant. They had, no doubt, some idea of a figurative day of the Lord, pretty much like what obtains at the present time in Christendom generally. For, strange to say, not a few theologians hold that the baptized are in the first resurrection, and that we are all throughout the Christian period reigning with Christ! The thousand years are thus of course taken as an indefinite period in a similarly vague sense. The chief difference is that the saints at Thessalonica had better knowledge than those who indulge in such thoughts now. They saw that the day of the Lord was a day of darkness and trouble; and in danger of feeling overmuch the troubles then come on themselves (cf. 1 Thess. 3:3-5), they too readily believed them to be at any rate the beginning of that day. Encountering persecution, they thought that the day of the Lord had come at last. But the very error shows they were so full of the coming of the Lord as to be open through lack of intelligence to a delusion on that side. Only observe it was not through excited hope but terror; because, when their troubles came, they thought that the day of the Lord was actually on them. They needed to be recalled to their hope and the gathering of the saints to the Lord so as to come with Him in that day. Such is the apostolic correction; not putting off the hope (as most do now), but distinguishing it from the day of the Lord which few seem to see; for that day cannot be till the evil is ripe which is to be then only put down.
Thus “that day,” “the day of Christ,” is to have an aspect toward those who are now Christians, who will be with Him in the glory in the heavens. But it is “the day of Christ” more particularly which affects a Christian. “The day of Jehovah” in scripture is invariably that which deals with the world, with living men and their works on the earth, and finally with the frame and elements of the universe itself, but this rather at the close of His day than at its beginning, as we gather from the comparison of several scriptures. “The great day of Jehovah is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of Jehovah: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against Jehovah: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of Jehovah’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.” Nothing can be plainer. It is distinctly judicial, and this as regards the habitable world. “The day of Christ” has also a discriminative bearing, and this with a view to rewarding the saints who shall have laboured for the Lord or suffered meanwhile. All will be made up to them then. It is possible that this has been overlooked: what has not been? Excellent men, in their desire to give grace its scope in redemption and our justification by faith, have failed now and then to leave room for another principle equally plain. The apostle Paul, if weighed, would keep us by the Spirit both large in heart, and free from the confusion of things that differ. It is he who insists that we “are saved by grace,” and that “every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” Not only will God be justified by our account of all as it is to Christ, but the ways and work and suffering with Christ of those who are His will have their due place and display in the glory of the kingdom by and by.
The apostle had this certainty before him as a measure and test of the present. See it in 1 Cor. 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 15, to take but one epistle; and this not the most abundant in such interweaving of the future with all the present life. “That day” becomes even more before his spirit as he approaches the end of his own labours, though we know that from the first he had not failed to preach the kingdom. I admire the exceeding breadth of Paul, as indeed well one may in every one who, steering clear of laxity, its counterfeit, proves spiritual capacity for it. It becomes not the Christian to be narrow. Nevertheless who can avoid seeing the tendency to be so on this or that? Be assured that it is not only weakness but a danger wherever it may be. I grant, however, that even narrowness in and for God’s truth is far better than that lax uncertainty and spurious liberalism in divine things which is growingly a snare in this evil day.
Take the contrary of this in the apostle and his preaching. The very man to whom all are most indebted for the gospel of the grace of God, set forth as none else did that particular phase of it which is called the gospel of the glory of Christ. At the same time he preached the kingdom of God as decidedly as possible. He never was afraid of the ignorant outcry that this is low ground. The fact is that hasty and little minds say so, unable to take in more than one idea, and apt to be intoxicated with that one; but the apostle exhibits that excellent largeness and elasticity which gives its place to every message which God has revealed, which pretends not to choose in scripture, but thankfully takes and uses the testimony of God as it is given. It seems to me that we really lower the revival of truth grace has wrought by allowing the idea that this truth or that is the only truth for the day. The speciality of our blessing is that we have got into a large place, contemptible as it looks to unbelief — that no truth comes amiss, and that all truth is for this day. I hold this to be an important point for us, avoiding the pettiness of fancying or seeking a factitious value for whatever happens to be dawning with especial force on our own minds.
It is a snare the more to be dreaded because it has ever led to the making of sects through an active mind laying hold of (or rather taken captive by) some favourite notion or even truth. I consider it then an essentially sectarian bias; and that the true and distinctive blessing of what God has given us now in these days is not so much laying hold of this or that truth higher than others accept, though this be true, but the heart open to the truth in all its extent, and this bound up with Christ personally, as the only possible means of deliverance, if by grace we walk there in the power of the Spirit, from every kind of pettiness. It will be found too, that it is immensely important practically for holiness, because we are so weak that we are likely to take just what we like and what at the time suits our own character, habits, position, circumstances, and capacity; whereas what we want is to detect, judge, and thus be saved from self; not that which ever spares flesh, but what gives us to mortify our members on the earth, as well as what in divine love suits the varying wants of souls around us, and above all His glory, who has given us not only a particular part of His mind, but the whole of it. Thus, as it has been well said, the peculiarity really of the right position is its universality. That is, it is not merely a special portion or phase of truth, no matter how blessed, but the truth in all its fulness as the divinely given safeguard from particular views, and the communication of the exceeding largeness of God’s grace and truth and ways for us in the world. “All things are yours.” Anything that tends by distinctive marks to make a party by bringing forward one’s self or one’s own views as practically a centre is self-condemned.
For this reason it is, I think, that, while holding fast, for instance, the precious hope of Christ’s heavenly glory, and that which is so connected with its revelation, namely, the church in its heavenly relationship and privileges, to see every other aspect is in its own place of great importance. Again, the individual is important just as much as the body, and in a certain sense more so. Above all to hold up Christ is to my mind of incomparably greater moment than either the Christian or the body. Indeed the way most of all to profit both the body and the individual saint is by the constant maintenance of Christ’s glory, and this too not more as the exalted man in heaven than as a divine person in the fulness of His grace on earth, yet withal the dependent and obedient man, who never sought His own will or aught save the glory of His Father who sent Him.
And as we touch on the subject, let me just make the passing remark, which may be helpful to those who desire an entrance into God’s revealed mind, that a phrase too often misunderstood spite of its plain force in 1 John 1:1 — “That which was from the beginning” — does not refer to Christ in eternity or in heaven, but to Him on earth: so utterly mistaken is the principle of merely directing attention to that which seems the nearest object or the highest point of view. The truth is, that the snare lies in this, because the mighty work of redemption, and the position which Christ has taken, may be too much regarded in its resulting consequences for us. What brings ourselves into such special blessedness is thus in danger of being made more important than what has even glorified God the Father morally. For this last we must look not to our heavenly place and privileges but to Christ’s person and work in all its extent. Here the manifestation of Christ on earth is of capital moment. It is the beginning of His presence and path here. In the beginning (John 1) He was before all things were created. The only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father declared Him. The work lays the ground for an association with Him; but His manifestation here is the beginning from which God revealed Himself in grace. In due time redemption and union with Him in heavenly places and all else follow. We must thus leave room for all the truth; if one is merely occupied with a particular point of truth, very great harm may result to one’s own soul and to others.
A few words on a subject often referred to, the difference between the gospel of grace and the gospel of glory, may be seasonable here. The gospel of the grace of God is the larger expression; the gospel of the glory of Christ is a part of it. It is therefore an error to set the two in contrast, though we may distinguish and use in due season, as we find each used in the word of God. But that the one is an advance on the other is a blunder. The gospel of the grace of God includes the gospel of the glory of Christ, while it embraces a great deal more. It takes in the unfolding of redemption such as we have it for instance in Romans, — “propitiation through his blood;” it takes in His death and resurrection with its immense consequences. On the other hand, in looking only at the gospel of the glory, all this may be left out; souls carried away by what is new to them are even in danger of slighting what is deepest without intending it. Let us then beware of making a system, instead of being subject to the truth. Of course it would be done unconsciously by every godly person; but in itself it is always a serious feature.
If the first chapter set forth the coming ruin of Judea because of the corruption of people and princes, and the. horrors of the day of Jehovah falling on their selfish security and vainly trusted appliances, we have a call to repentance in the second. “Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired; before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of Jehovah come upon you, before the day of Jehovah’s anger come upon you.” It is an appeal to humble themselves before the Lord. “Seek ye Jehovah, all ye meek of the earth.” We see there are these two calls. To the nation there is a suited warning; but an earnest appeal is made to the remnant of righteous Jews. These were “the meek of the earth.” “Seek ye Jehovah, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of Jehovah’s anger.”
Throughout scripture we see this to be the portion of the godly Jew. They do not look to be caught up to heaven as we do, but they hope to be hidden on earth. They are not removed from the scene and then the wicked judged, neither are they displayed with the Lord returning from heaven for that day; but they are hidden in the day of His anger. It is the precise opposite of the Christian’s portion, though both are to be blessed. When the day comes, we shall come along with Him who brings it. In that day of judgment on the world they will be hidden in His mercy and faithfulness. Instead of their going to the Father’s house, they will have their chambers to hide them on the earth. This is what Isaiah (Isa. 26) shows clearly in his ample account of that day. “Come, my people, enter thou” — not into My mansions, but — “into thy chambers.” Before the dawning of that day we enter into the heavenly chambers, or the Father’s house. We are taken and seen there before the judgments begin. Compare Rev. 4, 5. When the day comes, instead of being hidden, we are displayed, whereas the Jews (the godly alone, of course) will not be seen, or at least they will enter into their chambers till the indignation is overpass. That hiding place is prepared for them by the pity of God. We see something analogous in Rev. 12 where the woman had a place prepared of God for her in the wilderness. It is the same substantial truth whether before the day comes, or when it does come. “Hide thyself as it were for a little moment until the indignation be overpass.” By the “indignation” is meant God’s wrath, which will be poured out on the nations, and more particularly on the apostate Jews. The indignation of God takes in both; but it is very evident that the Christian has nothing to do with either. He is called out from the earth and man’s portion here, and is entitled to wait for heavenly hopes with Christ.
Not so even the faithful Jews at the end of this age. Their hope can only be enjoyed when their enemies are destroyed by divine judgments, during which they are preserved of God. For “behold Jehovah cometh out of his place to punish.” But our hope is to be taken into the Lord’s place before He comes out of it in vengeance. Thus in every respect the position and hopes of the Christian are contrasted even with those of the righteous remnant who follow us on earth.
We go out in spirit to meet the Bridegroom, and will have our hope at His coming for us in peace. It is no question of a special tribulation, or of being hidden, as far as the heavenly saints are concerned. To the godly remnant of Jews it will be so when the Lord deals retributively with their guilty brethren after the flesh and the nations. With the remnant common views hastily confound the hopes of the Christian; whereas a closer knowledge of the scriptures proves them to be distinct.
The essential difference arises from this, that all through a Christian is one not of the world, even as Christ is not, and hence is looking to be taken out of the earth. Accordingly it is not only true morally from the time when he is brought to God, but it runs through his calling up to the end: I do not say from conversion simply as such. For important as this may be, the work of conversion is more what takes place always in every renewed soul, Jew or not. But certainly in the believer’s separation to Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost he is called out of everything here to God as manifesting Himself in Christ; and the issue will be that he, as thus called out, will be taken up to be with the Lord without disturbing things or people outside. The world goes on. The Christian hears what the world does not hear; the Christian sees a glory that is invisible to man as such. Truly if the rulers of this world had seen it, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” We do see it. Accordingly our portion is to be thus called out from first to last; and so it will be when’ Christ comes for us. Then we shall be taken, as we have remarked, into His chambers — not merely enter chambers of our own on the earth, as the Jew at a later day, and be hidden there till the indignation is passed away. We are called out for heaven in the day of grace: they will be hidden in their chambers in the time of Jehovah’s indignation. At that time will they be severed to Jehovah; and then will He come out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth; whereas during the whole dealing with the church of God the earth and its inhabitants are left to pursue their own way. The only testimony which goes on is one of grace towards them, if peradventure they might hear and believe.
Then we have the warning of what will take place in the day of Jehovah’s anger, which no doubt has, been partially accomplished, and will be yet more. “For Gaza shall be forsaken, and Ashkelon a desolation: they shall drive out Ashdod at the noon day, and Ekron shall be rooted up.” These were cities of Philistine power. “Woe unto the inhabitants of the sea coast, the nation of the Cherethites! the word of Jehovah is against you; O Canaan, the land of the Philistines, I will even destroy thee, that there shall be no inhabitant. And the sea coast shall be dwellings and cottages for shepherds, and folds for flocks. And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; they shall feed thereupon;” which has clearly not been accomplished yet to the full. “In the houses of Ashkelon they shall lie down in the evening: for Jehovah their God shall visit them, and turn away their captivity.” In fact the Jews have. been carried off into a longer dispersion since then. The captivity in the days of Nebuchadnezzar was nothing at all so extreme as their scattering to the ends of the earth, consequent on the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.
“I have heard the reproach of Moab.” It is not merely the Philistines on the west, but Moab, etc., on the east who must come into judgment for their proud enmity. “I have heard the reproach of Moab, and the revilings of the children of Ammon, whereby they have reproached my people, and magnified themselves against their border. Therefore as I live, saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, even the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation: the residue of my people shall spoil them, and the remnant of my people shall possess them. This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of Jehovah of hosts. Jehovah will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen.”
It is not here the rejected Son of God turning away from the jealous religionists of tradition, and opening out the grace of the Father and the power of the Spirit, which characterize the hour that now is, during which neither Jerusalem nor Samaria is more than Japan or Sierra Leone for sanctity, but Christ received by faith displaces the old man, and flesh and forms vanish before the gift of the Holy Ghost consequent on redemption. In the period which Zephaniah contemplates there is no such absolute blotting out of special place and outward show as according to John 4:21-24 we now know or ought to know in Christianity. Hence we see no sentence of death as it were on the ancient city of solemnities, but only, as in Malachi 1:11, the opening for worship elsewhere “each from his place,” even all the isles of the nations.
That the great change for the earth — the full putting down of idolatry — awaits the execution of divine judgment is plain everywhere. We can clearly see that idolatry goes on, with the worst forms in Christendom itself; for there is nothing so bad as idolatry where Christ is named, and there is nothing that more characterizes Christendom than the prevalence of Romanism which is essentially idolatrous, besides the monstrous assumption of the Papacy more than ever towering up in its vanity against God. For what is idolatry, if not the worship of images, in whatever measure they may mete it, the worship too of saints, angels, and the Virgin Mary? Whatever may be judged of the Greek and Oriental bodies, I should say that idolatry is not characteristic of Protestantism at all, but rather headiness, and, among the worst, high-minded self-will, which sets up to judge the word of God. This is much more the public vice of corrupt Protestantism, which therefore tends to rationalism. But the ritualistic system is another root of evil, which does not tend to idolatry only, but is in fact idolatrous. (Gal. 4:9, 10) I should not however call it Protestant. We all know that a certain portion among the Reformed in these and other lands is falling into Ritualism and ripe for Rome whenever it suits both.
Having seen the divine dealing with their neighbours, we find a judgment that takes place on some of those who, though farther off, came into contact with the chosen people — the Ethiopians on the extreme south, and again, on the north-east, Assyria: “Ye Ethiopians also shall be slain by my sword. And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness.”
It is evident, save to those who regard the prophets as impostors, that this utterance of Zephaniah must have preceded the destruction of Nineveh. He lived, there can be little doubt, in Josiah’s reign. “And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations. Both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds: for he shall uncover the cedar work. This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me: how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand.” Thus we find it is a judgment which selects two classes, nations near and others afar off, to show the character of an universal judgment upon the world. It is the day of Jehovah on the earth.
But there follows a closer threat for the Jew. “Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city!” This is not Nineveh, but Jerusalem. The most solemn word of God is always reserved for His own people, city, and sanctuary. Judgment must begin at His house: the denunciation may end with it, but judgment begins there. Hence, therefore, we find this woe to complete all. “She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in Jehovah; she drew not near to her God. Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow.” We find here therefore failure first towards Jehovah, then towards every one else — oppressive cruelty, and this persisted in too. Shamelessness in evil, once it is yielded to, always characterizes the fall of those that enjoyed better light but gave it up. There is nothing more blessed than light from God: where the heart basks in it, the conscience is quickened by it; but there is nothing so tremendous as where it is despised and becomes a name, a profane and common thing. “Her prophets are light and treacherous persons.” They ought to have had most of all the mind of God. “Her priests have polluted the sanctuary.” This would have been bad enough in the dwellings of Israel; what was it for the priests in the temple of Jehovah? “They have done violence to the law. The just Jehovah is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame.” He abides faithful; so much the worse that “the unjust” should be not a heathen but an Israelite.
Consequently we have what Jehovah must do not merely to the heathen but to Jerusalem. “I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate; I made their streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant. I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction; so their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them: but they rose early, and corrupted all their doings.” As Jehovah rose early to send them messages and warnings, they rose early to indulge in their wickedness. Hence comes the sentence, “Therefore wait ye upon me, saith Jehovah, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.”
But the day of judgment on the quick ushers in the predicted era of earth’s blessedness: as it is said by an earlier prophet, “the acceptable year of Jehovah and the day of vengeance of our God.” How strange that good men should overlook what God’s word makes so plain, if one knew not the blinding power of tradition! “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of Jehovah, to serve him with one consent.” This does not mean the people of Israel, but the peoples in relationship with Jehovah among the nations. But it does not hence follow that the spread of Christianity and any check thereby given to idolatry throughout the world are here specifically predicted. When it is fulfilled, it will be no dislodgment of idolatry here or there in parts of the globe, still less will it admit of the rising up of the pollutions of anti-christian systems, while vast regions still remain the theatre of varied and most degrading idolatry. Scripture reveals an age to come, distinct from the present and before the judgment of the great white throne (Rev. 20), during which divine mercy will bless the nations far and wide. This, and not Christianity properly so called, is here set forth.
Then again we read, “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed shall bring mine offering.” These suppliant worshippers are the Jews who return from beyond the rivers of Cush (the Nile and the Euphrates) which ordinarily girded them round.3 In that day shame for the past will be taken from the Jews: not of course that they shall not deeply mourn and truly repent, but the reproach shall be removed from them. Their vain self-exaltation shall disappear, and they shall be the meek of the earth. The reference is not to gospel but to Messianic times, after the execution of the judgments just spoken of. It is impossible therefore justly to bring in here the spread of Christianity, which has not overthrown idolatry, but after subverting it within the Roman Empire has apostatized to it largely far and wide. Hence even the advocates of such a loose interpretation are obliged to own that it has hitherto been only partially fulfilled. There is anything but the “one shoulder” in Christendom for the service of the Lord. Do they not understand that it is only when divine judgment has been poured out on all the assembled nations that then Jehovah will work this mighty and beneficent change to His own glory? It is the blessedness of the earthly kingdom of our Lord.
For along with God’s judgment of the nations will be a new heart to Israel, and upon Jerusalem shall be the glory for a defence. There shall be then the returning tide of divine mercy, when the promises shall be fulfilled to the full and established for ever. “In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings wherein thou hast transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain.” It is the fruit of grace undoubtedly; but it is want of intelligence to see in this the picture of the gospel state. We must leave room for the varied dealings of God according to His word. It is the new age, not the present evil age. “I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people.” There must be moral integrity as well as true lowliness before they can be entrusted with the throne. They are destined to have the first dominion: ere that they will know a humiliation not by circumstances only but by grace in spirit which will fit them for their future greatness.
And the afflicted and poor people “shall trust in the name of Jehovah. The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies” — the very faults they have been so notorious for during their sorrowful and often persecuted sojourn among the Gentiles. Deceit has peculiarly marked the Jew in his exiled state: it is apt to be the character of a down-trodden people. Those who have things their own way can afford to have a kind of honesty after the flesh; but in the case of people for ages hunted and destroyed, and the object of unprecedented rapine and cruelty as the poor Jews were, it was not to be wondered at. Where grace is not known in Christ, persecution generates this kind of deceit in language as well as iniquity in many an other way. But the change is at hand and here announced: “The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.” There will be the removal of all the old occasion for fear externally; and even before this a moral change will have been produced by the grace of God within them. It is not in outward things really to form the heart in any case. But where mind and conscience are depraved, circumstances furnish incentives to the inroad and practice of evil, and thus aggravate, no doubt. On the other hand Jehovah in His mercy will work His own mighty work within, as He also will mow down their adversaries. Thus circumstances will be turned in their favour at the very time when Jehovah has wrought His great work. It will be what the Lord Jesus calls “the regeneration” (Matt. 19), when the twelve tribes of Israel shall judge and be blessed in more than royal glory under the Son of man. For we must remember that “regeneration” does not mean as is commonly supposed a subjective change or a new nature given as in the new birth, but a blessed position into which we are brought now by divine power in Christ, or by and by established publicly when He comes in glory. It is now known to faith of course, yet is not so much the inward work of the Spirit, but rather the new place that we enter by resurrection in virtue of His death.
Hence we read of being saved by the washing of regeneration. (Titus 3; compare 1 Peter 3) It is not merely that we are born again, but we have left the old behind and are now a new creation. Of course it supposes the new birth, or it is only a hollow form. The two things are identified in ecclesiastical writings, and frequently too in baptismal services we see the same mistake perpetrated which the Fathers first introduced. They always confound new birth and regeneration. Few Protestants have emancipated themselves from the error. But post-apostolic ecclesiastics were those that brought in the error. Regeneration goes beyond new birth, and supposes a passage into the new order of Christ, of which baptism therefore is the sign. Accordingly I should say that all saints were born again from the beginning, but that none (in this the only true sense of the word) were regenerate till after Christ’s death and resurrection, when Christian baptism was instituted to set forth this truth. It is thus in my judgment not less but more full and significant. And though many may be baptized who are not born again, every one regenerate (save only in form) must à fortiori be born again. The theologians, like the Fathers, hold that every baptized person is born again, using the phrases as interchangeable. If baptized, a man was regenerate or born again according to their system. It appears to be true, however, that the washing of regeneration in Titus iii. refers to baptism; but then, as it seems to me, the language of the passage proves that the introduction into the quite new order of things in Christ is accompanied by a new nature or life; that in short the new creation supposes new life and much more, all being bound up together. “But after that the kindness and love of God appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.” It is not man merely dead in sins or owning it, but “he saved us by the washing of regeneration.” We must not neutralise nor attenuate salvation. It would be dangerous to take “he saved us” as here spoken of the Christian in any sense barely external.
Indeed I think a great vice at the present moment is making “salvation” too cheap and too common a word. You will find many evangelicals constantly saying when a man is converted that he is saved; whereas it is probably quite premature to say so. If truly converted he will be saved; but it is unwarrantable to say that every converted person is saved, because he may still be under doubts and fears — that is, under law more or less in conscience. “Saved” brings one out from all sense of condemnation — brings one to God consciously free in Christ, not merely before God with earnestness of desire after godliness. A soul is not converted unless brought to God in conscience; but then one might be the more miserable and all but despairing in this state. Does scripture allow us to call such an one “saved”? Certainly not. He who is saved as here in Titus is one who being justified by faith has peace with God. It seems therefore that the distinction between what some call being safe and being saved is quite true and even helpful. Not that those safe could be lost, but that they are not yet brought out of all difficulties into rest of soul by faith. Then they are not safe only but saved. But it clearly is not possible that a converted person can be lost, for the life is eternal. One might be enlightened, and even be a partaker of the Holy Ghost, and yet be lost. Such a statement may surprise some; but such is the unequivocal intimation of Heb. 6; and no believer need be in the least afraid of standing to the word of God. To state it so is but repeating what scripture says: it is another matter whether we can help people to understand it. Let the truth be ever so clear and sure, with some you may not always succeed. It is easy enough to give scripture for it, which ought to be sufficient.
Hence it is a mistake to regard as saved any person who is not brought into happy relationship with God through our Lord Jesus. Thus, to take a scripture example, Cornelius was obviously converted, and not a mere self-righteous man, before Peter went to him; but he certainly was not saved until Peter preached the word which he and his house received as the glad tidings of God. Thereon they were not born again, but they received the Holy Ghost; and who could forbid water? They were saved. Such is the whole matter to my mind. It is not the difference between quickening and conversion, which is only one of different aspects of the same substantial truth. Quickening regards man, and conversion is a turning to God; but the quickened soul is converted, and the converted soul is quickened. Such distinctions may be true enough, but require more delicate handling than they too often receive; for those who could treat them properly would hardly think it worth their while. As they have no practical value for the soul or the Lord, and no particular bearing on the word of God, they should be avoided. It seems to me trifling with souls to dwell on them. One ought almost to apologize for saying so much about the matter, which I do chiefly to warn all, and especially those who are young in the enjoyment of truth, from occupying their minds with shades of distinction which have no solidity whatever in them. Wherever the word is received, there is conversion, or turning to God, and there must be life in order that this should be real, not the mere effort of nature. If there be life, assuredly they must turn to God. It must be that the life is in a feeble state if the turning to God is not manifest. We cannot affirm that there is life unless there be a manifest turning to God. We may hope that life and conversion are there; but it must be felt to be serious when anything is equivocal about the soul in such a question. It is dangerous to be over-sanguine or to foster ungrounded hopes, though nothing excuses our encouraging souls to doubt. Uncertainty here is a wretched condition; but the feeblest desire Godward is not a thing to be crushed. It is right to foster the soul spite of that state, to entreat and warn, if they may thus get through their obstacles.
The only remark I would further make about “conversion” is, that scripture uses it not merely for the first turning to God, but for a turning again to Him if one has slipped away. This is really the main distinction between conversion and quickening. For quickening can be only once, but “conversion” may be repeated. Though this is not at all its usage in our tongue, it is the fact that scripture uses the word for both turning to God, and turning back if He have been departed from. That is, it includes what we call restoration of soul; as Peter after his first conversion was “converted.” (Luke 22) Here restoring may be a fair paraphrase; but the literal meaning of the word is “converted.” Conversion, however, in modern phraseology is restricted, especially by Calvinists, to the first effectual work. This, however, is not well. Those who identify quickening with salvation naturally slip into a disuse of scriptural language if not really bad doctrine. Such is the effect always of an error — it puts you in collision with scripture. Do not think it so slight a matter after all. Although we should never force the thought on any one, at the same time there need not be the slightest doubt of the distinctness of quickening from salvation, and of its importance. Identify quickening with salvation, and you are driven to think that Cornelius was a mere formalist at the time that he is said to be such a pious and prayerful man, abounding in almsgiving, which was not forgotten by God. Undoubtedly he was no common Gentile: there was, I doubt not, a wise choice of him to whom the gospel was sent first. To me there is not the slightest difficulty, because the same principle applies to every Old Testament saint. The peculiarity here is, that he, a pious Gentile, was brought into the proper New Testament or Christian state, (and this is what is called “salvation,”) not when quickened or converted, which he may long have been, but only on hearing the gospel.
The two things then coalesced. This is sometimes important to remember; for supposing a soul heard the truth preached, and received it, there might be not conversion and quickening only, but also “salvation,” practically all at once, though not, I think, ever at the same instant in any case. I doubt that it ever has been since the world began that a soul has known precisely together both conversion and salvation. So far from this, I admire God’s wisdom that it is not so; if it were, it would be no small injury to a soul, because this supposes it passing in a moment out of its sense of guilt, and consequently of sin and sins of every sort, into perfect peace with God, without time left for the most needed moral exercise. To my mind such an instantaneous transition would be a real loss, not gain. That life is imparted by receiving the Lord Jesus at once is most true; as forgiveness is when the soul bows to the gospel. But we must leave room for all, without hurrying ourselves into a system which agrees neither with scripture nor experience.
In most of the epistles salvation is spoken of as a future thing. But I have spoken here of salvation as an accomplished fact, as in the Epistle to the Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles. But the twelve men who formed the first nucleus of the church at Ephesus were clearly converted, and in a transition state before they received the gift of the Holy Ghost in the name of the Lord Jesus. They were meeting as disciples, not knowing anything beyond the testimony and baptism of John. Were not they converted? They were as truly converted as the Baptist was, and this was a very real thing no doubt: nevertheless they had not yet received the Holy Ghost in the way that they afterwards experienced. In this we have the case clearly; and it was many years after Pentecost.
There is another sense of the word “save,” etc. in Timothy, where it has a providential bearing. “The Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe.” To Timothy and Titus it is the truth of salvation already effected, and the subject is looked at from the same point of view. Put the way people reason on the point is quite a mistake. They assume, because it is said, “He hath saved us,” that we were brought into the whole blessing from the first moment of our faith. I am not aware that this is ever said in scripture. If it be without scripture, they have no right to lay down so absolutely, “He hath saved us;” for this is said, not when we were first attracted and broken down in soul and truly converted, but when we have submitted to the righteousness of God and received the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation.
“The Lord added to the church [or together] daily such as should be saved.” This is doubtless a peculiar expression, meaning those destined to salvation out of the Jews, who as a people were on the way to judgment, and to the prison in which they still lie. Such as should be saved are the righteous remnant, really who are now added to the church instead of being left in their old place as Jews. We must remember there were a great many brethren — not only the hundred and twenty, but other names in Jerusalem. We hear of six hundred who saw the Lord at one time, and must have come to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. There may have been more. No doubt all these composed the assembly on whom the Holy Ghost first came. Then there were three thousand souls converted, who were added to those before, and all formed the assembly on the day of Pentecost. But the point here is that salvation precedes and is by the washing of regeneration. “He hath saved us by the washing of regeneration.” This is not an expression of man, but of God; and of this change of place or standing baptism is the sign.
But besides “the washing of regeneration” there is “the renewing of the Holy Ghost,” the washing of regeneration being, as I suppose, our introduction into the new place given us in Christ risen, as the renewing of the Holy Ghost is His mighty action internally, but operating in us conformably to it. That accompanies union; but I do not see that such is the point here. Regeneration is thus the new order of things seen in Christ risen, who makes all things new. As Christians we have this new place in Christ. So it is said in Rom. 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” That is the position, but of course there is also an internal reality which those have who are there. Its being a position, and so objective, does not set aside a real subjective change: still it is a position. The Christian is no longer in Adam: he is (not merely going to be) in Christ Jesus. Along with that there is a real life given. Of this verse 2 treats, which may perhaps answer to the renewing of the Holy Ghost here. “For the law of the spiritual life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”
It is thus the work of the Spirit, and not merely so because the work of the Spirit is true in a new nature, but the new internal work of the Spirit is suitable to our new place. Of the renewing of the Holy Ghost it is therefore said, “which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” It is the full place and life of the Christian by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Thus there are three things in this text. First, there is salvation distinctly stated, secondly, there is position by the washing of regeneration; and thirdly there is full nature and power of the Christian by the Holy Ghost. The salvation is made ours by the grace of God; then follows what puts us into our new place and attests it outwardly; and lastly the new power of the Spirit in the new nature which accompanies the Christian position. There is the general result, and then the means by which that result is attained, as I think. The great fact is that He saved us, and this is the way in which it is effectuated and enjoyed; and this abundantly. In John 10 it is rather “life more abundantly,” life in resurrection power and fulness. Here it is said that the Holy Ghost is shed abundantly. Life in Christ is the main doctrine of John. Here the fulness of the Spirit’s power is brought before us in connection with the work of regeneration. I think that there is an allusion to baptism in “the washing” of regeneration (and I agree with the Auth. Version that the sense is “washing,” not laver as some critics have hastily assumed), because I believe that this is what baptism does show. Baptism sets forth not merely Christ’s death, and that I am dead with Him, but, as we find here, it goes onward to the new position. It is not only death but more; and not at all death in sins, but death to sin with Christ. To suppose that it is but death is another instance of merely taking a particular part and making it the whole.
What might confirm this to some is Peter’s way of looking at the matter. He says, “the like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us.” Here again it is not merely what Christianity assumes of all mankind, but the sign of Christ’s work in grace that is complete as far as the soul is concerned — salvation of soul. We have not yet salvation of body, but we have what is more important after all than the body could be if the soul were not saved. Hence it is not the mere outward act of washing away the filth of the flesh. As we are told, it is the request of a good conscience by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The expression used, complicated by our habit of reading it as given in the Authorized Version, may make this a little difficult; but as we are on the point, it had better be said that it is the thing requested rather than the answer. It is what a good conscience wants. When the conscience is dealt with savingly by God, a man will not be satisfied with anything less than acceptance in Christ. This is really “the request of a good conscience toward God.” He wants to be as Christ is; to be free from self, free from sin as well as from condemnation. This is the true meaning: “the request of a good conscience by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” I take the resurrection as connected both with saving and with this request. Here we must close the long discussion into which the notice of “the regeneration” has led us. We know it in Christ; Israel will enjoy it manifestly when the prophets are fulfilled.
The close of the prophecy is a call to rejoice and exult. The daughter of Zion is summoned to shout for joy. “Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.” This confirms what has been said already, that it is the general place of future blessing, and not a special one. When we hear of the peculiar position of Judah, as brought back from captivity and subjected to a fresh test to which Israel was not, then the rejected Messiah is brought in. Such is not the case with Zephaniah. We should not know from Zephaniah but that Messiah would come and bring in His glory as Jehovah all at once. In fact we do not hear Him called Messiah as such, but rather the king Jehovah. Verses 15-17 explain why they should thus rejoice. “Jehovah hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even Jehovah, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack. Jehovah thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” What indeed is lacking? There is no finer description in the Bible of His complacent satisfaction when mercy has done all for the people that He loved. But the dark and cold night of oppression is supposed in verse 18. God does not disguise that up to the time of deliverance their position will be desolate, as in other respects, so especially in relation to the solemn assemblies. “I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden.” Now He appears for their exaltation from the dust as well as putting down their oppressors. “At that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out: and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame. At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith Jehovah.” Most gracious promise! Jehovah will remember all the sorrows and bring the Jews in for a name and a praise among all lands and tongues of the earth, when He reverses their captivity in their own sight as also before the eyes of all men.
1 It is literally “all the people of Canaan,” which may be as has been thought, a cutting designation of the men of Jerusalem generally, rather than of the trading classes. It appears to me, however, that the clause which follows is favourable to the more common version.
2 The true reading is the day of the Lord, not “Christ,” and the proper rendering would be is present, not “at hand.
3 The meaning is not, as Dr. Henderson seems to incline to, a people in the west of Abyssinia, called Falashas. Isaiah (Isa. 18:1) tells as that a nation beyond the rivers of Cush (for there was an Asiatic as well as African Cush) should interfere for Israel; but this would come to nothing. Here Jehovah promises that the Jews shall bring His offering from beyond the seats of their old enemies of chief power.