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6 What is the chaff to the wheat ? saith the Lord,” Jer. xxi 28. The answer to this question may be found in every farmyard, or at the door of every threshing-floor. The wheat when winnowed is carefully preserved; the chaff is left exposed until it is either scattered by the wind, or trodden by the feet of cattle into mud, or burnt in the fire. The wheat is preserved because it is valuable, the chaff is neglected because it is worthless. From the connexion in which it stands, the question as proposed by Jeremiah evidently referred to the false prophets, by whom, in his time, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were led astray. In vain was it that he, commissioned by Jehovah, uttered the most solemn warnings, and predicted the approach of the Babylonish captivity ; there were other prophets in Jerusalem who predicted peace and safety. No wonder that while they were popular he was persecuted and proscribed. They professed to be divinely inspired, they spoke apparently with as much authority as he; but the great, the essential difference was this :-that while he uttered the truth--plain, unpalatable, and alarming--they spoke only according to the vain imagination of their hearts; nor could the false be distinguished from the true, except by careful consideration of its character and its effects. “What is the chaff to the wheat ? saith the Lord. Is not my word like as a fire ? saith the Lord ; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces ?”. As if he said, Does it not possess power over the hearts and consciences of men ? Does it not convince and bear inherent evidence of its truth? whereas the predictions of the false prophets, though pleasing, are powerless, light, and worthless as chaff. It is not needful to confine the question to the period and circumstances which called it forth. It is equally applicable to the present age. In every department of life-in the principles, the pursuits, the hopes of men ; in the sanctuary and in the mart of business, in the church and in the world—there is the chaff mingled with the wheat. Everything that is real and genuine has its counterfeit. There is the wheat of true religion, and the chaff of a form of godliness; there is the truth as it is in Jesus, and “another gospel" on which the apostle pronounced a curse; there is true blessedness with the peace which passeth understanding, and also the pleasures which perish in the using, with the laughter which is but as the “ crackling of thorns beneath a pot.” In reference to all these it may be asked, “What is the chaff to the wheat ?” and being well assured that truth alone is imperishable, that nothing but “wheat” is real and substantial, shall we abide amid the terrible storm of divine wrath ? When the earth and all things therein shall be burned up, how vastly important that truth should be sought as the only spiritual nutriment which we require; that truth or reality should be the great object of our existence; and that above all we should be true, genuine, real, ourselves. Nor can it be fairly objected that the difficulty of distinguishing the true from the false is so great as to be almost insuperable, if the Bible be recognised as the inspired word of God: admitting this, we have the touchstone which, applied to error, will, like Ithuriel's spear, reveal it in its native deformity--the standard by which we, and all mankind, must be tested at the last great day. By its light, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we may confidently hope to be led into the way of truth, and be preserved from fatal delusion.
Regarding the question as peculiarly appropriate at the present time, it may be applied to the teachings of all who profess to lead men to a knowledge of God. To this, as we have already seen, the question primarily referred. God speaks of his word, proclaimed by his prophets, as wheat; while the utterances of the false prophets were chaff
In the present day great numbers address themselves to their fellow-men as teachers of truth. The pulpit, the desk of the lecturer, the press, are so many modes of conveying instruction more or less valuable to the world. Ever and anon some one comes forward, and claims, as the discoverer of some new truth, to be heard. As a result of this, men are in danger of being led astray ; their confidence in religious teaching is lessened, and it is to be feared that some have arrived at the melancholy conclusion that amid so many conflicting opinions the truth cannot be found. It is important, therefore, that we should have some sure and satisfactory criterion to which at all times we may appeal. Believing that this is only to be found in the Bible, we may arrive at the following conclusions :— That God's truth, as contained in the sacred scriptures, is wheat, the food of the soul, that which is able to make wise unto salvation ; and that every system which is not based upon the word of God, every enunciation which differs therefrom, is so much chaff. Without entering upon the question of divine inspiration, or bringing forward the various lines of evidence which establish the claims of the Bible to be inspired, we need only refer to the character of its statements and to the effects which they have exerted upon men. As to the statements themselves, all who are conversant with them will admit that there is an essential difference between the Bible and any other book. Nowhere else can we find ethics so pure, revelations so sublime, consolations so rich, motives so powerful, invitations so benevolent and large. Well might the psalmist, after he had depicted the glories of creation and represented the universe as vocal with the Creator's praise, refer as the climax to the written word, and
say, “ The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul : the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple."
When we open the Bible, or enter the sanctuary where the gospel in its simplicity is proclaimed, we have before us the bread of life, of which, if any man eat, “he shall live for ever,” John vi. 51. It tells us of dangers we must shun, of guilt for which we must be penitent, and of a refuge to which we must flee, if we would be delivered from the wrath of God. Its aim is not to please the fancy, but to convert the soul; its language, as addressing those who are seeking truth and happiness elsewhere, is, “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread ? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness,” Isa. lv. 2.
If the reader should hitherto have underrated the sacred scriptures, and have listened to the flippant insinuation so commonly made, that they are below the intellect and advancement of the present day, let him consider impartially their sublime revelation, and compare the God of the Bible with the god of any other religious system--a Being of Light and of Love. Light without darkness ; so pure, that we dare not gaze on the unsullied brightness ; so holy, that the law which reflects his holiness has respect to the heart, and declares that the thought of foolishness is sin; so just, that the least violation of the law demands the punishment of the offender, and cannot be satisfied until full expiation has been made: not only Light but Love, creating the universe for the happiness, the well-being of the myriad intelligences it contains. Love, bestowing favours on the unthankful, the unkind; Love, compassionating the sinner and waiting for his return; especially Love, leading him (in the person of his Son) to become incarnate, to live as a man of sorrows, and to die upon the cross as an atonement for human sin—which Light could not pardon until satisfaction was made. Let him look at Christ as depicted in the New Testament, and gaze on the loveliness of his character ; listen to the purity, the tenderness of his discourses, mark his miracles, watch with him at Gethsemane, stand at the foot of the cross, and then say whether such a union of power, wisdom, and benevolence, can elsewhere be found ! Not only do the scriptures reveal
God, but they also make known to us our destiny. Christ has abolished death, has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, presenting these to us not as beautiful yet cold speculations, shadowy and uninfluential, but as glorious realities, so that we may almost behold the mansions of the heavenly city, and listen to the chorus of its inhabitants, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.”
With equal confidence appeal might be made to the moral effects of these statements. We have a right thus to judge of every system of teaching. What, then, has the gospel done? Already it has changed the aspect of the world. Why are the morality and the civilization of the present age superior to those of classical antiquity? There were intellects as keen then as now, there were tastes as refined and exquisite. If we want a perfect form of artistic beauty we go back to those times for the model. If we wish for poetry immortal as the world, we take the writers of Greece and Rome; and yet their morality was so impure, their civilization was so low, that scarcely any comparison can be drawn : and following out the inquiry, we still find that the change must be referred to the gospel. Or we may mark its moral effects on individuals. Christianity has done what no other system ever could do. It has made the sensualist chaste, the passionate man meek, the miser liberal, the morose man kind, and the selfish man large-hearted; it has raised the poor
in the scale of being, it has asserted for man his dignity, and led numbers who would have grovelled like earthworms to walk erect as the children of God, and to live as the inheritors of heaven. Intended for the world, it will be the world's saviour. It is the antagonist, and will be the conqueror, of every evil which afflicts society; by it the ruins of the fall will be repaired, and again will God, looking down upon the earth, declare it to be a very good.”
If on these grounds the truth as contained in the scriptures be regarded as “wheat," the next conclusion necessarily follows, that every system of religious teaching not based upon it is as so much chaff; it may please, but it will not profit; it may stimulate for the time, but it will starve the soul. To many it will seem very bigoted and illiberal to speak thus sweepingly, and to declare that the men who wrote the scriptures were inspired as no other men ever were or will be; that they “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” 2 Pet. ii. 21. There are many who regard every man as possessing an inspiration by which, apart from scripture, he can arrive at the knowledge and love of God. There are also systems of falsehood professedly founded on the truth, superstructures of “wood, hay, stubble,
in the ways,
avowedly built on the sure foundation : but in reference alike to the charges of illiberality, the teachings of a false philosophy, or the dogmas of a corrupted Christianity, we must exclaim with the prophet, “ To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
How appropriate the caution which the Saviour addressed to his disciples—“Take heed what ye hear.” How important that the commendation which was given to the Christians of Berea should be deserved by us- “ They received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so," Acts xvii. 11.
ye and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls,” Jer. vi. 16.
The question, “What is the chaff to the wheat ?” is also applicable to the aims and the results of a man's life. The word of God, which often speaks of the vanity of man as mortal, also asserts his dignity and importance as immortal. If he have a perishable body like the inferior animals, he has a deathless soul, making him but a little lower than the angels. It is a solemn thought, suggested when we gaze upon a newborn child, “there is a spark of existence which shall never be quenched." Equally solemn is it when we watch the last moments of a dying man, to think, “he is going, not to nothingness, but to retribution:” but with still greater solemnity should this thought be invested, " I must live on eternally, and by this, the initial stage of my existence, the character of my eternity will be determined or modified.” This thought very naturally excites the inquiries, What is the aim and what will be the result of my existence? What is my aim ? Am I pursuing hollow gratifications, devoting my energies to the acquisition of things which will not really profit ? Am I, like the prodigal, wasting my substance, my time, my talents, and then feeding upon chaff, ashes, husks ? Am I living only for time ? my most important questions being, What shall I eat ? what shall I drink? wherewithal shall I be clothed ? Or do I take a higher stand ? Do I adopt a nobler view of life and of its pursuits, cultivating my soul, seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness? Does my soul assert her dignity and her paramount claims ? And especially, as one who has wandered from God, who has incurred his displeasure, am I desiring reconciliation, desiring that the godlike, the image of God, which our first parents had and lost, may be in me restored ? Compared with this, all other aims are unworthy and poor ; chaff, stubble, worthless, and fit only for the flame.