“HOSEA”— HOSEA 1 AND 3
[Preached thirty times from 1/9/44 at Bondgate, Darlington to 11/24/02 at Shiney Row]
The story of Hosea is well-known. I almost said too well know. It is so familiar that we fail to ask ourselves whether we should have been likely to act as Hosea did, and to see what the prophet makes of his tale. We take it for granted that because it is in the Bible it must be ordinary, commonplace, tame, whereas the case is, as usual, precisely the opposite. You can generally be sure that if anything is in the Bible, it is out of the ordinary, whatever else may be said about it. How may fathers welcome prodigal sons? How many persons of his day thought of slaves as Paul did? How many crucified men rise from the dead, or even were believed to have risen from the dead?
So I shall put an ordinary story with that of Hosea, so that you may appreciate the latter better. The extraordinary story is in the Bible, the ordinary story (none the less good for being ordinary) is in Homer. Oenone was a strange wise woman. She knew things most people didn’t know. She knew where all the country plants and shrubs grew, and she knew how to mix and brew them to make medicines of magical effect. She could cure diseases that no one else could cure. Wounds that must have been mortal were healed by her. She was something of a doctor and something of a magician; and she lived in Troy, and was married to Paris, the King’s son. But Paris went away from home and travelled in Greece, and there he met Helen, the famous Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, the Helen whose ‘face launched a thousand ships, and burned the topless towers of Ilium.’ And Paris fell in love with her, and carried her off to Troy. Her husband, Menelaus, infuriated, raise the whole of Greece, and that, according to Homer, was the cause of the Trojan war.
Paris reached Troy safely with Helen; which was very nice for him, but not so nice for Oenone, his wife—unwanted, despised, forlorn. She wandered through the city a wild, mad thing. For ten years the Greeks besieged Troy. At the very end of the siege, Paris, who had set it all going, was wounded, mortally wounded. They carried him back from the lines and laid him on his bed. Plainly he was dying. Then someone thought— Oenone! She could cure him though none else could; and she was his wife. But would she come? They went to ask her ‘Oenone, we know he’s treated you badly, but he is your husband. And for Troy’s sake; the war is going badly, and he is the king’s son and a mighty warrior. He’s dying and no one can save him but you.’ ‘Dying is he,’ she answered, well let him send for Helen, and see what she can do for him.’ That, I say, is an ordinary story, of the sort that is repeated again and again, not only in literature, but in life. It’s theme is so old, and so new, that we have given it the title eternal.
Now, briefly, the story of Hosea to set over against that. He married a woman, Gomer was her name, and they lived together and had children. Then she left him, left him for the life of a professional prostitute. Give Paris his due, he never made money out of what he did. For a time Gomer seemed to vanish, submerged under the dark waters of life. But Hosea would not leave her there. He went to find her and to bring her back; and so he did. Only she was not to come back immediately. There was to be an interval, a time when she was no man’s wife, a time for quietness, for recollection, for real preparation for the end of the story.
There is the contrast for you, and there is one verse in Hosea which sums up the situation. Hosea 11.9—‘I will not execute the fierceness of my anger. I will not return to destroy Ephraim, for I am God and not a human being.’ God and not a human being. That is the difference. God’s love, not mere human love. If you say Hosea was a man, the answer is twofold: 1) I am not sure whether Hosea means us to understand his story as something that really happened, or whether it is simply an allegory of God’s love. If you read Chapter 2, you will see how probably the latter alternative is; 2) in any case, if the story really happened, we have not merely a pattern of God’s love, but the influence of it. Hosea knows what God’s love is and imitates it. As every Christian is bound to do, as we shall see. What then may we learn of God and of his love from this story and its human contrast? First—-
THE FREEDOM OF GOD’S LOVE
It is not calculated and bestowed in due preparation upon those who deserve to have it. If God loved in that way, there would be no human being for him to love at all! For what human being is there that deserves to be loved by God? No, God loves freely, he loves because he is love, he loves sinners. He loves us on our own level. I know I have said this before, I hope I have said it in every sermon I have preached to you, and I hope I shall continue to say it in every sermon. I make no apology for doing so. There really is nothing else for a Christian preacher to say. And so many Christians simply don’t believe it, or understand it. I have many times had to talk to people who have lost friends or relatives by death, and again and again they have said, ‘He must be alright, he lived such a good life.’ Do you think that? About yourself or other people? It is my duty to tell you that in the article of death, the best human life is not worth a brass button. However well we have lived, that will not save you or me from going to Hell. Only the free, unmerited love of God will do that.
‘Love moved him to die,
And on this we rely,
He hath loved, he hath loved us, we cannot tell why.
But this we can tell,
He hath loved us so well,
As to lay down his life to redeem us from hell’ (C. Wesley)
Anything less than that is not Christian. It is because we have not grasped this, that the Church is so dumb and hesitant today. As Gordon Rupp says in Is This a Christian Country? ‘If we have a Gospel, and are possessed by it, we shall be taught how to speak it. But if we have nothing to say that the world does not already know, and cannot indeed say better than we can, by its own philosophies, idealisms, and experiences, if we are not sure of what we claim to know, and if the climax of our thought is not ‘O that the world might take and see the riches of his grace!’ but ‘how may the Church seek to save its life?’ then we shall be confused, stammering, dull and divided in our counsels, and the great world will pass us by, rightly preferring the wireless or the cinema.’
Every great outbreak of Christian activity has proceeded from the recognition of the spontaneous free love of God for human beings, the love that is not deserved but freely chooses its object without regard for merit. So it was with St. Paul: ‘O the depths and the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! He loved me and gave himself for me.’ So it was with Augustine—‘this is ineffable grace, for what were we, when we had not yet chosen Christ and consequently did not love him?… What else but unrighteous and lost? All my hope is nowhere if not in the exceeding great mercy. Give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt. So it was with Luther, ‘God’s grace and his kingdom with all its virtues must come to us, if we are to attain it. We can never come to him; just as Christ from heaven came to us on earth, and not we from earth ascended to him in heaven.’
So it was with Wesley—
‘O Love, Thou bottomless abyss,
My sins are swallowed up in Thee!
Covered is my unrighteousness,
Nor spot of guilt remains on me,
While Jesus’ blood, through earth and skies,
Mercy, free, boundless mercy, cries.’ (J.A. Rothe, translated by J. Wesley)
So will it be now. If the Church is to be recovered, it will not be because we rescue our organization but because God leads us back to see the mystery of his love, and makes us to know that we are saved by grace only, and through faith only. Let us get down on our knees, with strong crying to God that he will make us grasp this incomprehensible mercy of his! Organization will not save us, money will not save us, only the victorious love of God will quicken our dull hearts and spread his sovereign power. But let us observe secondly—
THE DISCIPLINE OF GOD’S LOVE
Gomer was not to return immediately to Hosea. There was to be a period of probation. Notice that that does not mean there was a period when Hosea did not love her; there was no such period, nor had Gomer to attain a certain standard of goodness and blot out the past before she could return. Far from it. The meaning is this—that divine love consist in sending upon its objects an uninterrupted stream of pleasant things. ‘In bringing many sons and daughters into glory, it was necessary that the Christ himself should suffer’. It is sometimes necessary that the sons and daughters also should suffer.
I do not pretend to know why that is so, but it is so. Suffering is woven into the warp and woof of life and I do not believe it is there by chance, nor do I believe that it is independent of God. It is there in order that his holy name may be glorified— in us. God’s righteousness is bestowed upon us without any regard to any actual goodness of ours; but life, being what it is, it has to be visibly worked out in the cries and conflicts of daily life. The Christian life is a life of obedience.
This is where the objection that a doctrine of free grace must result in moral disorder breaks down. If we become obedient to Christ, how can we want to continue in sin? And this too will explain to us, as far as explanation goes, many of the dark experiences of life. Only the superficial say that pain contradicts God’s love. I think the person of faith learns more of God’s love through the pain of life, than in its happiness. It is when we cry to God out of the depths that we truly learn that ‘deep answers to deep’. We only know the deep things of God when the strong tools of sorrow have hollowed out a corresponding depth in us. The result of this I want to put briefly in a third point. If God so loved us—
WE OUGHT ALSO TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER
That is Christian love, love with the same character, the same method as God’s. We shall only know it if we recognize what God’s love is like. If we know that he has loved us regardless of our worth and merits, we shall not be too particular about our love of other people. This is not the way the world loves. Do you remember Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion? I expect so. For Hamlet and Pygmalion are the two plays from which everyone can quote. At one place Shaw enjoys poking fun at what he calls ‘middle-class morality’ in the person of Doolittle the dustman. ‘I’m one of the undeserving poor, that’s what I am. Think of what that means to a man. It means that he is up against middle class morality all the time. If there’s anything going, and I put in for a bit of it, it’s always the same story—you’re undeserving, so you can’t have it!’ Middle class morality may be necessary for running the world, but it has no place in the Church. The Church is the vineyard where the man who has worked but one hour gets as great a reward as the man who has toiled all day.
Do you see the tremendous implications of that? Do you see what life is like in a Church where everyone has been humiliated and exalted by God’s love? Such a Church would overcome the world. It would rise above all its differences. In the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, there would pulse a community of power. We could do what the Wesley’s prayed for their Societies— ‘’show how true believers live.’ But you don’t get there by a great effort. You get there by being a true believer, by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you. And faith means casting yourself on God’s mercy. From that faith springs the love of God in us. The faith itself arises in us when God himself makes us to see his infinite and eternal love for us in Christ.