The dead profession of the day

by J. C. Philpot

"An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land—the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?" (Jeremiah 5:30-31)

When the outward and visible church of Christ has become deeply sunk into a carnal, lifeless profession, the Lord has generally been pleased to raise up a testimony against a state of things so evil in his eyes, so contrary to his revealed will and word. Is she not a city set on a hill? Shall she then sink into a valley amid mist and fog? or if she retains her seat of eminence, shall she become so beclouded with smoke that she is no longer seen from afar, and the Lord not testify against her? But as he invariably works by instruments, and "surely will do nothing but he reveals his secret unto his servants the prophets," he qualifies and commissions his own ministering messengers, into whose heart and mouth he puts his word, to sound an alarm in his holy mountain, that his own people may be aroused out of their sleep, and that those who will not hear may be left without excuse.

There cannot be a more striking instance of this general truth than the case of the prophet Jeremiah. It is scarcely possible to read his prophecies with an enlightened eye without seeing into what a state of dead, and we may add, wicked profession the people of God in external covenant were sunk in Judah and Jerusalem, just previous to the Babylonish captivity. Sin ran down the streets of Jerusalem like water, for "as a fountain casts forth her waters, so she cast out her wickedness." (Jer. 6:7.) So rife was falsehood that, "from the prophet even unto the priest, every one dealt falsely;" so glaring was open sin that they "assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses;" and so prevalent was idolatry, even in the midst of the holy city, that "the children gathered the wood, and the fathers kindled the fire, and the women kneaded the dough to make cakes to the queen of heaven." (Jer. 5:7; 7:18; 8:10.)

And yet in the midst and in the very face of all their crying sins and aggravated iniquities there was an amount of profession and a height of confidence springing out of it which seem to strike us with amazement at their blindness and obstinacy. Because, as the descendants of Abraham, they were the people of God by external covenant; because their fathers had seen his miracles and eaten manna in the wilderness; because there were priests and prophets among them; and because the temple reared its stately front in their midst, they viewed themselves as a holy nation and thus privileged to commit sin with impunity. How sharply does the Lord reprove this awful state of profession where he says, "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are delivered!'—only to go on doing all these abominations?" (Jer. 7:9, 10.) But, so confident were they of the favor of the Lord that even when, by the mouth of his true prophets, he denounced his judgments against them, they would not believe his words, but said, "He will do nothing; no disaster will come upon us, nor shall we see sword or famine." (Jer. 5:12.)

But who encouraged them in this deceptive confidence? The very people who, as professed servants of God, should have testified against it—the prophets and the priests. What a state of things is opened up in the following verses—"An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; My people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?" (Jer. 5:30, 31.) To whom should the people look for instruction but to the prophets who professed to speak in the name of the Lord as inspired by his Spirit, and to the priests whose lips should keep knowledge, and at whose mouth they should seek the law? for they were the messengers of the Lord of hosts. (Mal. 2:7.) Was it not, then, "an appalling and horrible thing" that these very prophets should prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and that the people, instead of detecting their hypocrisy and hating their deceit, should love to have it so, that they might be more comfortably deceived and enjoy their sins with greater quietude of conscience?

To testify, then, against this deceitful profession, to warn the elect remnant against being entangled in it, and to leave the rebellious and the unbelieving without excuse, the Lord raised up the prophet Jeremiah, put his words in his mouth, and set him over the nations and over the kingdoms, "to root out, to pull down, to destroy, and to throw down" all dead profession, as well as "to build and to plant" the truth of God in contrite spirits and believing hearts.

It is not however our present intention to dwell upon the character of Jeremiah and the circumstances under which he prophesied in the name of the Lord in those evil times in which his lot was cast, our object being rather to name him as an instance of one raised up by the Lord as a witness against the dead, wicked profession of his day than to draw out the distinguishing features of his personal experience or prophetical ministry.

We continually see what a deep insight many sharp-witted men have into the motives of human conduct, and how keenly and cuttingly by word or pen they can lay bare the thoughts and actions of their fellow men. How truthfully and yet how ruthlessly will they tear off the cloaks and wrappers under which poor human nature vainly seeks to hide its deformity, and with what eager delight will they expose to public view its hideous ulcers and sores. But these very men, while in the language of most withering scorn they are expressing their detestation of the shams of this hollow world, are its veriest slaves. So a man may see and denounce the state of the professing church from a mere natural keenness of perception and a moral honesty of purpose, and yet himself be a slave to sin or under the dominion of pride and self-righteousness.