"They knew not... the voices of the
prophets which are read every sabbath" (Acts 13:27).
Peril of Self-interest
great things for thyself? seek them not"
When the Apostle Paul
used the words of our title to the "Brethren,
children of the stock of Abraham, and God-fearers"
in Antioch in Pisidia, as the context shows, he was
relating the "Voices of the Prophets"
particularly to Israel's attitude and actions to Jesus of
Nazareth: "A Saviour, Jesus". In these chapters
we have, so far, widened the application of the
statement, but, we feel, not illegitimately. The voices
of the Prophets do speak to many needs and situations,
but it will be understood that we are all the time
keeping in mind the possibility of a discrepancy between
hearing words and hearing the "voice". Jeremiah
had definitely said something like this. "To whom
shall I speak and testify, that they may hear? behold
their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot
hearken..." (Jeremiah 6:10).
Jesus Himself said
something with the same meaning. "Why do ye not
understand my speech? because ye cannot hear my
word" (John 8:43). This gap between hearing all the
words of teaching and hearing the voice in it, as we have
said, can account for the lack of life and power even
where there is much knowledge of the truth. It can also
account for violent contradictions, as in the case of
We proceed to our next
"Voice" - the peril of self-interest.
The story of Baruch's
association with the Prophet Jeremiah is a very touching
one. Baruch was younger than Jeremiah. His relationship
with the Prophet was more than an association: it was a
friendship; it was no empty attachment, but his loyalty
to his older friend cost him almost everything. From the
first time that Baruch appeared on the scene he never
seemed to have been far from the Prophet's side. When
Jeremiah was shut up in prison, Baruch was a constant
visitor and helper; and when Jerusalem was at last
captured, he refused the option of release and stayed
alongside his worn-out old friend. When, finally,
Jeremiah was carried off into Egypt, Baruch follows in
his train. Baruch goes down in history, and in immortal
records, as "a friend that sticketh closer than a
brother". Oh, for more Baruchs!
survived one of the greatest tests that any man, and
especially a young man, could be put to. The Roll had
been written by him at Jeremiah's dictation, and it had
been cut to pieces and destroyed in the fire by the king.
The second one had been written, with additional
judgments. Chapter 45 indicates that Baruch had gone down
deep in despair at what had been written; then Jeremiah
(or the Lord) added to the woes. Then follow these
warning, and could-be desolating, words: "And
seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them
If we feel that this
was too hard and cruel and unkind to say to a young man
of such fidelity and devotion, our answer will come along
the line of a wider horizon. We must look further and
take in the long view. Perhaps we may find the most
satisfactory answer to our question if we leave Jeremiah
and Baruch for a moment and look a long way ahead to
another situation which had many features similar to
theirs. From vales of Galilee and vicinities of Jerusalem
querulous voices can be heard:
"Lord, who is the
greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?" ... "And
they disputed who was the greatest" ... "And
there arose a contention among them, which of them is
accounted to be the greatest" ... "Lord, grant
that one may sit on thy right hand, and the other on thy
left hand when thou comest in thy Kingdom" ...
"Jesus began to show unto his disciples how that he
must go up to Jerusalem and suffer many things... and be
killed..." ... "And Peter began to rebuke him,
saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall never be to
thee" ... "All ye shall be offended because
of me, this night" ... "And they all forsook
him and fled" ... "We had hoped that it had
been he who should redeem Israel" ... "Lord,
dost thou at this time restore the Kingdom to
How very appropriate it
would have been for Jesus to have used the warning words
of Jeremiah over all the above:
great things for thyself? seek them not."
We must remember that
as with Jeremiah and Baruch, so with Jesus, dark clouds
were on the horizon. Many things had been said by both
which pointed to ominous and distressing days. The great
ordeal by fire was prophesied. For the disciples that was
to be the Cross. For Israel, the devastating and
desolating ordeal of A.D. 70 had been definitely
intimated by Jesus. In view of both these pending
tragedies it was no time to seek great things for
themselves. But, there, in the last two words, we have
the clue: "For thyself."
In the sovereign
counsels and righteousness of God, both Jeremiah and
Baruch have been vindicated. Baruch has greater things
than he could have had in a perishing kingdom of this
world. And we have only to read Peter's first Letter to
know whether he thought that the loss of all earthly and
temporal "great things" for the 'preciousness'
of Christ was a poor exchange, a bad bargain. Everything
turned upon the object of ambition; "thyself"
or the Lord. When their Lord became the object and the
end of all their seeking, they came into the greatest things
of all! "Great things"? Yes; a thousand times,
Yes! Not for ourselves, but for Him.
Israel lost everything
by holding to themselves and denying Jesus His
rights. It was a desolating self-interest. Peter, John,
Paul, and ten thousand others have gained the
transcendent things of eternity and glory by that change
of object. "No longer I", 'not myself', but
"unto him be the glory for ever and ever".
"As the serpent
beguiled Eve..." (2 Corinthians 11:3). The key to
all beguiling is selfhood. It is as subtle as the serpent
and intrudes into the most sacred things. Hidden beneath
our most convinced sincerity and devotion to God (as we
believe, and as Peter believed) there may lurk that
element of desire for place, for power, for
self-realization. Only a shattering defeat can disclose
this hang-over of the original 'Fall'. Herein, then, lies
the imperative of a real and deep work of the Cross at
the root of the self-life.