Hypocrites Beyond All Hope of Cure
The first three verses of Hosea chapter six, as we discovered last week, provide for all the elect remnant a most hopeful and comfortable promise of the mercy and life which will certainly follow all of God's righteous tearing and breaking down of his people. This sure promise of grace, to which the faithful clung for many generations, finally received its full vindication and ultimate fulfillment on the third day after the death of Christ, the last legitimate Seed of Abraham and true Israel in himself, when, true to the prophecy, God raised him from the dead, and in him, all of his people as well, who had been broken down by exile, plague, captivity, and many other such things. This final confirmation of God's promise of grace was so great beyond all expectation, that even today, we who are in any distress whatsoever, if we belong to Christ, may look to his resurrection and consider it a seal and pledge that God will work everything, even the most difficult of things, for our eternal good, just as the apostle later assures us at the end of Romans chapter eight.
We may see from these verses that God is swift to pity his poor, struggling people, and hastens to give them assurances of his everlasting favor toward them, whenever he pours out his judgment and wrath; and yet, the central theme of the book, that the people of God as a whole had become so incorrigible and corrupt that God was about to cast them off and destroy them, had not changed at all; and therefore, lest the hypocrites who comprised by far the greater part of the nation should be lifted up and wrest this promise unnaturally to themselves, when they had no part in it, he immediately denounces again in very strong terms the unyielding hypocrisy of the nation, and prophesies certain judgment to it. We may learn, from this, that hypocrites among God's people, while utterly ignoring and despising all of God's threatened judgments, will seize upon his promises of grace, not with brokenhearted, repentant tears, but rather in presumption, daring even to use the Lord's great grace as a cloak for their maliciousness (cf. 1 Peter 2:16).
Now, it is evident in this passage, as indeed in many others, that often the greater part of those who are externally called by the name of the Lord are in fact impostors; and yet, for all their blatant hypocrisy, they never seem to question themselves, but confidently presume that they are beyond all threat of judgment; when really, the truth of the matter is that they are beyond all hope of cure. So then, if we would preserve our own souls from this great error, the first step we must be willing to take is to examine our lives against the portrait God paints of the hypocrites, and with the Spirit's assistance ask ourselves whether we are in fact such as they, to whom all hope of mercy will surely be cut off; or if, rather, we are as the brokenhearted faithful, whom nothing can finally harm at all.
In order to this end, we will show from this passage that God has employed every means conceivable for the conversion of hypocrites; that, nevertheless, their hypocrisy is utterly incorrigible; and that, therefore, their destruction is certain; and we will then apply these truths in various appropriate ways to all who are listening.
I. God Has Employed Every Means Conceivable for the Conversion of Hypocrites
When God returns to the people of Ephraim and Judah as a whole, in verse four, he immediately asks the rhetorical question, â€œWhat shall I do with you?â€, as if to say, â€œI have done everything that it is possible to do in order to capture your attention and bring you to repentance, and all to no availâ€.
If you remember the subject of last week's sermon, you will understand how fittingly God employed this expression: for he had said just before this, that he had made use of every kind of judgment conceivable to chastise his people. He had been to them as moth and dry rot, that is, he had broken them down through slow, wasting plagues; and further, he had set himself against them as a young, ravenous lion, tearing them pitilessly, that is, he had terrified them with sudden, great calamities â€“ and nothing had succeeded in capturing their attention, so that they might turn to him in repentance. And so their state proved to be just as the Lord described elsewhere through Isaiah: â€œWhy should you be beaten anymore? â€¨Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundnessâ€” â€¨only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil. Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangersâ€ (Isaiah 1:5-7, ESV). In other words, no matter how severe the woundings and judgments that God had dealt to them, yet they still persisted in their rebellion so that, in his righteous wrath he was constrained to deal out more.
In the next verse, when God says, â€œI have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouthâ€ [ESV], he shows that they have no room to complain, â€œWe have been afflicted, but we never knew the reason why! What evil did you see in us, that you have smitten us? What have we done to deserve this treatment?â€ No, God did not strike his people for no cause, as Balaam struck his donkey and was put to shame by a question from the brute beast; but rather, by strong warnings and fierce denunciations, he also showed his people why he was bringing them into affliction, and what he expected them to do, so that he might cease, and heal them instead.
But consider how hypocrites will do the same even today: when they are in a state of peace and prosperity, then they despise God and either give him outward, meaningless acts of devotion, or else abandon worship of him entirely, and consider their summer recreations and secular entertainments and pleasures of the flesh far better than the spiritual worship of the people of God. David said, â€œI would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of the Lord than dwell in the rich and luxurious tents of the wickedâ€ (see Psalm 84:10) â€“ but hypocrites, even when they consider themselves worshipers of God, so strongly prefer the tents of this world's pleasures that, when things are all well with them, they are seldom to be found gathered together with God's people; or if they are still found in God's house, yet their devotions are as light and fleeting as the morning dew, and they forget them all before the day is over; or else, they misuse their acts of devotion entirely, and think they are putting God into their debt by the great works they do for him, as we will see a little later in our text.
But then, when God in his mercy sees fit to take away some physical delight or the health of their flesh, or some other thing, they do not seek from his Word why he might be doing this to them, but they complain in their hearts, and say, â€œWhy have you afflicted me thus?â€ â€“ whereas, if they only but glanced at the Law written all throughout the scriptures, they could see many reasons why, and would only be able to ask instead, â€œWhy have you not afflicted me much, much more, except for your immense grace?â€. But when they grow bitter at affliction, and foolishly fail to listen to the words of the prophets, who everywhere command men to repent and turn to God, they show that their hypocritical obstinacy is beyond cure.
Revelation of His Will
No, but how much more are they rendered without excuse by this further consideration, that God has been pleased to send out his judgment to them as light (vs. 5)! Even the Gentiles, who had never received God's special revelation, were utterly to be condemned because they despised what may be known about God from creation (Rom. 1); of how much worse punishment do you suppose they will be counted worthy, who have not only known God from general revelation, but have also been given the Law by all the prophets? And of how much worse punishment yet will they be counted worthy, who have not just received the testimony of Moses and the prophets, but even the final, perfect revelation of the Son of God, who took on human flesh to reveal and accomplish God's great salvation (cf. Heb. 10:28-29)? If the hypocrites who refused to understand why they were being afflicted, even though the prophets everywhere proclaimed the reason, were dealt with so harshly here, then when we refuse to understand, who have been given a far fuller revelation, and upon whom the Light of God's truth has shined all the more brilliantly, what punishment do you suppose awaits us?
One final consideration we may gather from these verses is this: inasmuch as God did not send his judgments right away, but rather threatened and expostulated with his people for many years, we may learn all the more fully that God had truly employed every means conceivable for the conversion of the hypocrites: he had told them all that he required of them in his Law; he had shown every reason for which he was about to punish them through the prophets; he had been patient and exercised immense forbearance, so that, if possible, his longsuffering might lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4-5); and finally, he had poured out upon them every kind of punishment and plague conceivable, so that he might awaken them in some manner to their need of repentance â€“ but in everything, they had remained hard and obdurate, and could not in any manner be brought to any kind of repentance.
II. The Hypocrisy of the Hypocrites is Utterly Incorrigible
Their religious affections are light, frivolous, and ephemeral
God has therefore employed all manner of conducements to bring his wayward people to repentance; and yet, in spite of everything, their hypocrisy is utterly beyond cure. For first of all, Hosea says of them, that their love is like a morning cloud, and as the dew that vanishes away (vs. 4). Now, in this, he is probably contrasting their acts of devotion with God's own steadfast love, which he had just before likened to the early Spring rains (vs. 3). Because God's love is so sure and faithful, there is no winter that can finally prevent him from sending the necessary rain to bring his dead and frozen world back to new and fruitful life. Every year there is a reminder for us that God's mercy will finally prevail over his judgment, and a renewed prophecy of the final redemption and restoration of all things. But the love of Judah, on the other hand, is like a cloud that promises rain, but then goes away and leaves the land dry and parched. Or else, it is like a light, morning dew, that provides some little semblance of moisture, but is soon burnt away by the midday sun, and is of no profit at all to the thirsty earth.
So the religion of hypocrites is light, frivolous, and ephemeral. They may go to church on Sunday morning and put their thoughts on God for a few moments, but just as the morning dew, every thought of piety vanishes away, and all week long they are concerned only with the things of the flesh; or else, they may begin well, by following after all the means and disciplines of grace and the gospel, but soon, they grow weary of them, and turn away completely; or else, lose all their heart, and just go through a few feeble motions. They have a little dew, but no real rain of the Spirit's sanctification, that could cause the soil of their hearts to flourish in true fruits of godliness and love.
Their religious duties are empty and outward
So as well, the religion of the hypocrites tends to be outward, formal only, and empty with regards to any real substance. In fact, hypocrites may excel at all the outward forms of religion, and make the outside of their cup so clean as to dazzle the world, and never consider that within they are full of dead men's bones (Mat. 23:25-27). Thus, in verse seven, the Lord tells his people, â€œI desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offeringsâ€. This is a very significant passage, and so our Lord quoted it twice in his earthly dealings with hypocrites. First, he used it when the Pharisees despised him for eating with sinners, and showed them that they ought to love mercy and delight in grace being shown to the wicked (Mat. 9:10-13). And second, he used it when the Pharisees condemned the disciples for breaking their stringent list of rules concerning the Sabbath, and turned that which had been created for man's good into an intolerable burden (Mat. 12:1-8); and in this, he was showing that the inward essence of true religion was a more important consideration than the outward form alone.
Now, when God makes the expression â€œsteadfast loveâ€ to be parallel with â€œthe knowledge of God,â€ he is showing that, ultimately, the love here treated of as the essence of true religion is a Godward love; and so, when Jesus condemned the hypocrites on the basis of this verse, it is as if he were saying, â€œYou have no love and mercy for the people of God because you neither know nor love God himselfâ€ â€“ and in this way, we can see that true religion involves, first of all, loving God with all our hearts; and second, because we love God, also loving man who was made in the image of God, and especially those of the household of faith, who have acknowledged their sin and found mercy (Mat. 22:37-40; 1 John 4:20-21).
But hypocrites cling to the outward form of religion, and despise this twofold essence of true Christianity. Just as the nation in Hosea's day put their trust in the outward forms of sacrifice and burnt offering, never considering how they were designed to teach of the mercy that would be won for the penitent sinner by the sacrifice of Christ, and to stir up in them a love for such a work of grace, so today, people trust they are fine, Christian people because of the outward things of belonging to a church, leading outwardly moral lives, and so on, when within they are not full of love and thankfulness for God's mercy, and a delight in the mercy which is shown to other sinners.
They seek God's favor as it were of works
In the next verse, God says of his rebellious people, â€œlike Adam, they transgressed the Covenantâ€. Now, the covenant here spoken of is doubtless the Mosaic Covenant, for all the Laws that the prophet indicts them for breaking are the Mosaic Laws, and all the curses with which he threatens them are curses which the Pentateuch promised for failure to keep the Law. Now, Adam had broken the Covenant of Works, and all people naturally, if they have not entered into the Covenant of Grace, to be represented by Christ, the second Adam, still relate to God on these same terms, and try to please him by their works â€“ but without exception, they all fall far short of the required standard. When the Lord says here that his people broke the Covenant like Adam, therefore, or else like natural men, which equates to the same thing, he is saying that they had failed to understand and accept those terms of the Covenant of Grace, which God had first promised to Abraham and signified most fully through the Levitical sacrificial images of Christ, the Lamb of God, who would suffer and die for sinners. So fully was the natural tendency to relate to God on the basis of their own works ingrained in them, that they even used sacrifices and offerings as meritorious works, although they existed to show the principles of forgiveness won by the vicarious guilt-bearing of a spotless substitute, that is, through pure grace alone!
But consider how many hypocrites are of the same nature today: many people think that if they do good things all their lives, treat others well, go to church faithfully, or at least once in awhile, earn an honest living, and so on, then they are good Christians, and will certainly go to heaven when they die. But God says of them, if they would relate to me as Adam, on the basis of their works, then they will certainly transgress the Covenant as Adam, and receive the wages of death as Adam.
Their hypocrisy is deep-rooted and widespread
Finally, we may see how deep-rooted and widespread the hypocrisy is: for even Gilead is spoken of here as a city renowned for its wickedness. Now, the name Gilead usually refers to an entire region, and not just a city; so Hosea is likely either referring to Ramoth in Gilead, which is notable in that it was a City of Refuge; or else, perhaps he has reference to the â€œGileadâ€ that Jacob and Laban established as a covenant between them, and is indicating that this city here treated of was likewise supposed to be a â€œHeap of Testimonyâ€ to God's covenant mercy, even as the name means. But in any case, Gilead was not only no paragon of covenant faithfulness or place of refuge to the distressed sinner, but was instead a city of evildoers, full of the blood of innocents (vs. 8).
Furthermore, the priests, who were supposed to be outstanding examples and ministers of God's grace, were instead villainous murders and robbers (vs. 9). And in fact, all throughout the House of Israel and Ephraim, which ought to have stood out in a world of wicked nations as righteous and merciful, God had only seen horrible whoredoms and defilings (vs. 10).
Only consider how true this still is in our day: for of all who bear the name of Christians, how many spiritual whoredoms and shocking misdeeds may still be seen? The Roman and Orthodox Churches are full of blasphemous doctrines, the Protestant Churches have been infiltrated on every hand by liberal convictions and doctrines and practice of shocking filth, and scarcely a day goes by in which some scandal is not perpetrated in the name of Christianity. Even pastors and ministers have defiled their hands with things too shameful to be named, as the priests in Ephraim of old; even those churches and denominations that have a history and doctrinal standards of great purity have been plunged into sin, as Gilead, the fallen heap of testimony. Surely, the words of our Savior, that the gate is strait and the way is narrow which leads to eternal life may be seen today, as well as at any time of history (Mat. 7:13-14)! And yet, it is easy to look at the faults of everyone all around us without taking stock of our own â€“ but let us worry more about our own selves, whether we be on the narrow path, and not just content ourselves with noticing the apostasy and hypocrisy of others, which abounds today even as it did back then. What will we find in our own hearts? Hypocrites do not like to consider that question honestly; but will you?
III. Therefore, the Destruction of the Hypocrites is Utterly Certain
Judgment is as certain as the harvest
It is a most amazing truth that religious hypocrites, while demanding strict justice against all who offend them in any way, can blind themselves to the fact that the Judge of all the earth will most certainly do what is right! Does not all creation â€“ yes, and what's more, the inmost thoughts of the heart of every man â€“ testify unceasingly that there will be a coming judgment? And yet, because judgment is delayed, men are not brought to repentance by God's patience, but are rather hardened to perform more evil still, and heap up to themselves wrath (Ecc. 8:11-12). And yet, for all that, God is not mocked, but will certainly bring every matter into judgment, and destroy every hypocrite from the midst of his people.
Ah, how many bitter tears and wailing and lamentations beyond all words will there be on that day, when the Lord Christ calls all before his throne, separates every goat from the sheep of his flock, gathers together all the tares from his fields of wheat and sends them to eternal torment! There is no truth more certain in all of creation than that God will punish every hypocrite and unrepentant sinner. But tell me, all you who despise the righteous judgment of God, do you suppose that in all your hardheartedness and arrogant pride you are more acceptable and lovable to God than his own eternal Son, who never did any sin, and never lifted himself up in pride against his God? And yet, when he took the sins of his people upon himself, did God then spare even him, the Beloved? Did he not put him to unimaginable torments, all for sin? Was his righteousness not severe enough even to bruise the wonderful Son of God? And will his righteousness not put you to eternal torment as well? How foolish and mad are men in their pride, that they can see the crucifixion of the Christ of God, and still not repent of their hypocrisy, but trust that they will pass through the same just judgment unscathed! If that terror of wrath was great enough to cast into death even him who is in himself eternal Life, then what will it do to you? Torments beyond imagination will be yours for all eternity, if you do not repent and turn to him who alone is able to save.
â€œBe not deceived,â€ the apostle admonishes us; â€œGod is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that he will also reap. For the one who sows unto his flesh shall of the flesh reap destructionâ€ (Gal. 6:7-8). This is the same truth that the Lord here teaches hypocrites, when he proclaims, â€œFor you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointedâ€ [ESV]; for many generations, Judah had been sowing impenitence, plowing their fields with arrogant hatred and pride, causing the bitter fruits of oppression and bloodshed to spring up all across the land â€“ but they blinded themselves to the fact that a harvest of judgment was coming, which would be more severe than they could have conceived of. They had sown the wind; but they would reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). We may look at their example and deride their amazing folly; but it would be better for us to look much closer to home, yes, even into our own hearts. Are we as they? Well, then, will our judgment not be even worse, since we have been given light and revelation and blessings which far surpass theirs? What fiery tempest of wrath will we reap, if we do not break up again the fields of our hearts, sow them with true repentance and water them with tears of contrition?
Judgment will come at the restoration of the faithful
But when will this terrible judgment come upon hypocritical Israel? As the latter part of the verse tells us, even when the Lord has restored the fortunes of those who were truly his own. How true was this prophecy proven to be in history! For when God had fully restored his people's fortunes, when he raised them up from death and gave them eternal life and every spiritual blessing, when he won for them unimaginable joy by the suffering and resurrection of Christ, then his judgment came upon the hypocritical nation, and it was immense beyond all expectation. The tales of all the horrors and atrocities that took place in Jerusalem in AD 70 are too terrible to speak of aloud when there are children in the room. The harvest came, as God had said it would. And a harvest is coming again.
Many thousands of years have passed since God first destroyed the world with water; and because of that, mockers have arisen, who despise God's immense forbearance. But have no doubt; the day will come like a thief, when all this world will be dissolved in a fury of fire, and they who do not belong to Christ will learn that the destruction of Jerusalem was only a feeble type of their own calamity, which will overwhelm them suddenly and completely (2 Pet. 3).
This harvest, too, will come when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people. Those who belong to Christ are in this age burdened down with sin, mocked by the wicked, and often persecuted and tormented by them. But the Lord considers it righteous â€œto repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesusâ€ (2 Thes. 1:6-8, ESV). Just as surely, therefore, as a harvest of judgment is coming for the wicked, even so surely will there be relief and vindication for all the saints, who hope in Jesus steadfastly, and do not abandon him to pursue the pleasures of the flesh.
IV. Uses of This Doctrine
I would encourage all of you here today, on the basis of the truths we have been speaking of, to examine your own hearts and see if you are a true believer in Christ, or only a hypocrite. The answer will not be found in whether or not you have done many great things for the Savior â€“ for on that day, many will say to him, â€œLord, Lord, did we not do all these good things in your name?â€; and he will say to them, â€œI never knew youâ€ (Mat. 7:21-23). Many hypocrites do things that are outwardly good, and Christians sometimes commit even very great sins, as David did. But the question is this: are your religious affections very light and fleeting, is your religious worship only an external form in which you engage, do you trust that you will be pleasing to God because of all those outward good deeds that you have done? Or instead, do you have in your inmost heart a love for God which overflows into a true love for your neighbor? God is love; and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7-8); but whoever does not have some degree of this divine love supernaturally implanted in his heart by the Spirit of God is not his. There are certain times in which it is wise for those who confess Christ to â€œexamine themselves, whether they be in the faithâ€ (2 Cor. 13:5); and perhaps today is such a time for you.
Perhaps you may be able to think back upon signs and evidences of true love for Christ and for others, but your first love has begun to grow cold, and the difficulties of the Christian life have become particularly burdensome to you. If this is the case, how desperately do you need to be stirred up again to press hard after Christ! Do you not realize that some soil springs up well, but later withers away and is destroyed (Mat. 13:20-21)? Look well to the soil of your heart, take care that this be not the case with you! How sweet the reward will be for all who persevere in the faith, how great the treasure of Christ in you! And you have become partakers of Christ, if you hold your first confidence firm to the end (Heb. 3:14).
But perhaps you may never have known this true love of God, but have been as the hypocrites described here â€“ your religion has been an outward form only, you pass away a few moments in church and then run back to spend all your time and energy on pleasing yourself with the physical pleasures and securities of the world. If this is the case, I would pull you from the fire by any means necessary, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 23). Sinner, it is not yet too late! The door is not yet closed, there is still time to put on the wedding garment of Christ's own spotless righteousness. Flee to him at once! Cry out to him for mercy, plead with him to change your stony heart into a heart of flesh! The day will come soon, and it could be today, when God will slam the doors to his Kingdom shut â€“ and if you have not yet been clothed with the righteousness of Christ, then you may plead and bargain at his gates with many bitter tears and expostulations, but that door will never open to you. â€œToo late, too late,â€ will be the terrible, anguished cry of your heart, for all eternity you will groan in despair, â€œOh! too lateâ€. Perhaps God's Spirit is convicting you of your sin and rebellion one last time. Perhaps if you refuse to hear his voice, he will snatch you away from this earth today. Your immortal soul is too important to play such dangerous games with! God is no gamester, to sit and wait patiently while you gamble away your eternal soul with a shake of the dice, and think to yourself, â€œI still have tomorrowâ€. No, God has never said you have tomorrow, he says only this â€œBehold, now is the day of salvation!â€ (2 Cor. 6:2). Come to him now, or you may be forever damned.
The coming again of our Lord Christ will be terrible to all the hypocrites; but to the saints, it will be a comfort beyond imagination. And so I would speak to you who have come to Christ, and are trusting in him alone for salvation, but who may be burdened down with many cares, weary of the struggle against sin, or despised and persecuted by the enemies of Christ and his cross. Is this life not a fleeting affair? Is it not a vapor (James 4:14)? If only you could see how great and eternal a weight of glory he is laying up for you, you would be much readier to bear your light and momentary afflictions with joy (2 Cor. 4:16-18). You may be evil-spoken of by those who do not love Christ â€“ but your vindication is coming, and their eternal destruction! Will you envy their prosperity and moan and lament over their lies? Ought you not rather to pity them? In some parts of the world, Christians are tortured and killed, and yet they rejoice in the eternal reward that is theirs because they loved Christ even unto death; and will you not rejoice too at persecutions much lighter in comparison?
But maybe indwelling sin, chronic sickness, toilsome labor, and many other such vexing things are so burdensome to you that you feel utterly overwhelmed; but if you hold fast, and cling to Christ, and hope earnestly for his appearing, then all these things will soon be over, and you will receive a crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8). Keep your eyes fixed on him, love and long for his appearing, and no matter what trials you may have to face, all will soon be well, and you will receive your eternal reward.