Here we have,
I. A kind invitation given to sinners to repent, Hos. 14:1. It is directed to Israel, God’s professing people. They are called to return. Note, Conversion must be preached even to those that are within the pale of the church as well as to heathen. “Thou are Israel, and therefore art bound to thy God in duty, gratitude, and interest; thy revolt from him is so much the more heinous, and thy return to him so much the more necessary.” Let Israel see, 1. What work he has made for repentance: “Thou has fallen by thy iniquity.” Thou has stumbled; so some read it. Their idols were their stumbling-blocks. “Thou has fallen from God into sin, fallen off from all good, fallen down under the load of guilt and the curse.” Note, Sin is a fall; and it concerns those that have fallen by sin to get up again by repentance. 2. What work he has to do in his repentance: “Return to the Lord thy God; return to him as the Lord whom thou has a dependence upon, as thy God, thine in covenant, whom thou has an interest in.” Note, It is the great concern of those that have revolted from God to return to God, and so to do their first works. “Return to him from whom thou has fallen, and who alone is able to raise thee up. Return even to the Lord, or quite home to the Lord; do not only look to him, or take some steps towards him, but make thorough work of it.” The ancient Jews had a saying grounded on this, Repentance is a great thing, for it brings men quite up to the throne of glory.
II. Necessary instructions given them how to repent. 1. They must bethink themselves what to say to God when they come to him: Take with you words. They are required to bring, not sacrifices and offerings, but penitential prayers and supplications, the fruit of thy lips, yet not of the lips only, but of the heart, else words are but wind. One of the rabbin says, They must be such words as proceed from what is spoken first in the inner man; the heart must dictate to the tongue. We must take good words with us, by taking good thoughts and good affections with us. Verbaque praevisam rem non invita sequentur—Those who master a subject are seldom at a loss for language. Note, When we come to God we should consider what we have to say to him; for, if we come without an errand, we are likely to go without an answer. Ezra 9:10; What shall we say? We must take with us words from the scripture, take them from the Spirit of grace and supplication, who teaches us to cry, Abba, Father, and makes intercession in us. 2. They must bethink themselves what to do. They must not only take with them words, but must turn to the Lord; inwardly in their hearts, outwardly in their lives.
III. For their assistance herein, and encouragement, God is pleased to put words into their mouths, to teach them what they shall say. Surely we may hope to speed with God, when he himself has ordered our address to be drawn up ready to our hands, and his own Spirit has indited it for us; and no doubt we shall speed if the workings of our souls agree with the words here recommended to us. They are,
1. Petitioning words. Two things we are here directed to petition for:—(1.) To be acquitted from guilt. When we return to the Lord we must say to him, Lord, take away all iniquity. They were now smarting for sin, under the load of affliction, but are taught to pray, not as Pharaoh, Take away this death, but, Take away this sin. Note, When we are in affliction we should be more concerned for the forgiveness of our sins than for the removal of our trouble. “Take away iniquity, lift it off as a burden we are ready to sink under or as the stumbling-block which we have often fallen over. Lord, take it away, that it may not appear against us, to our confusion and condemnation. Take it all away by a free and full remission, for we cannot pretend to strike any of it off by a satisfaction of our own.” When God pardons sin he pardons all, that great debt; and when we pray against sin we must pray against it all and not except any. (2.) To be accepted as righteous in God’s sight: “Receive us graciously. Let us have thy favour and love, and have thou respect to us and to our performances. Receive our prayer graciously; be well pleased with that good which by thy grace we are enabled to do.” Take good (so the word is); take it to bestow upon us, so the margin reads it—Give good. This follows upon the petition for the taking away of iniquity; for, till iniquity is taken away, we have no reason to expect any good from God, but the taking away of iniquity makes way for the conferring of good removendo prohibens—by taking that out of the way which hindered. Give good; they do not say what good, but refer themselves to God; it is not good of the world’s showing (Ps. 4:6), but good of God’s giving. “Give good, that good which we have forfeited, and which thou has promised, and which the necessity of our case calls for.” Note, God’s gracious acceptance, and the blessed fruits and tokens of that acceptance, are to be earnestly desired and prayed for by us in our returning to God. “Give good, that good which will make us good and keep us from returning to iniquity again.”
2. Promising words. These also are put into their mouths, not to move God, or to oblige him to show them mercy, but to move themselves, and oblige themselves to returns of duty. Note, Our prayers for pardon and acceptance with God should be always accompanied with sincere purposes and vows of new obedience. Two things they are to promise and vow:—(1.) Thanksgiving. “Pardon our sins, and accept of us, so will we render the calves of our lips.” The fruit of our lips (so the LXX.), a word they used for burnt-offerings, and so it agrees with the Hebrew. The apostle quotes this phrase (Heb. 13:15), and by the fruit of our lips understands the sacrifice of praise to God, giving thanks to his name. Note, Praise and thanksgiving are our spiritual sacrifice, and, if they come from an upright heart, shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock, Ps. 69:30, 32. And the sense of our pardon and acceptance with God will enlarge our hearts in praise and thankfulness. Those that are received graciously may, and must, render the calves of their lips—poor returns for rich receivings, yet, if sincere, more acceptable than the calves of the stall. (2.) Amendment of life. They are taught to promise, not only verbal acknowledgements, but a real reformation. And we are taught here, [1.] In our returns to God to covenant against sin. We cannot expect that God should take it away by forgiving it if we do not put it away by forsaking it. [2.] To be particular in our covenants and resolutions against sin, as we ought to be in our confession, because deceit lies in generals. [3.] To covenant especially and expressly against those sins which we have been most subject to, which have most easily beset us, and which we have been most frequently overcome by. We must keep ourselves from, and therefore must thus fortify ourselves against, our own iniquity, Ps. 18:23. The sin they here covenant against, owning thereby that they had been guilty of it, is giving that glory to another which is due to God only; this they promise they will never do, First, By putting that confidence in creatures which should be put in God only. They will not trust to their alliances abroad: Asshur (that is, Assyria) shall not save us. “We will not court the help of the Assyrians when we are in distress, as we have done (Hos. 5:13; 7:11; 8:9); we will not contract for it, nor will we confide in it, or depend upon it. Having a God to go to, a God all-sufficient to trust to, we scorn to be beholden to the Assyrians for help.” They will not trust to their warlike preparations at home, especially not those which they were forbidden to multiply: “We will not ride upon horses, that is, we will not make court to Egypt,” for thence they fetched their horses, Deut. 17:16; Isa. 30:16; 31:1, 3. “When our enemies invade us we will depend upon our God to succour our infantry, and will be in no care to remount our cavalry.” Or, “We will not post on horseback, for haste, from one creature to another, to seek relief, but will take the nearest way, and the only sure way, by addressing ourselves to God,” Isa. 20:5. Note, True repentance takes us off from trusting to an arm of flesh, and brings us to rely on God only for all the good we stand in need of. Secondly, Nor will they do it by paying that homage to creatures which is due to God only. We will not say any more to the works of our hands, You are our gods. They must promise never to worship idols again, and for a good reason, because it is the most absurd and senseless thing in the world to pray to that as a god which is the work of our hands. We must promise that we will not set our hearts upon the gains of this world, nor pride ourselves in our external performances in religion, for that is, in effect, to say to the work of our hands, You are our gods.
3. Pleading words are here put into their mouths: For in thee the fatherless find mercy. We must take our encouragement in prayer, not from any merit God finds in us, but purely from the mercy we hope to find in God. This contains in itself a great truth, that God takes special care of fatherless children, Ps. 68:4, 5. So he did in his law, Exod. 22:22. So he does in his providence, Ps. 27:10. It is God’s prerogative to help the helpless. In him there is mercy for such, for they are proper objects of mercy. In him they find it; there it is laid up for them, and there they must seek it; seek and you shall find. It comes in here as a good plea for mercy and grace and an encouraging one to their faith. (1.) They plead the distress of their state and condition: “We are fatherless orphans, destitute of help.” Those may expect to find help in God that are truly sensible of their helplessness in themselves and are willing to acknowledge it. This is a good step towards comfort. “If we have not yet boldness to call God Father, yet we look upon ourselves as fatherless without him, and therefore lay ourselves at his feet, to be looked upon by him with compassion.” (2.) They plead God’s wonted lovingkindness to such as were in that condition: With thee the fatherless not only may find, but does find, and shall find, mercy. It is a great encouragement to our faith and hope, in returning to God, that it is his glory to father the fatherless and help the helpless.