From “The Wonderful Tree,”
a sermon by Geerhardus Vos, 1862-1949
“I am like a green fir-tree; from me is thy fruit found.”
( Hosea XIV, 8 )
The fruition of himself granted by God to us is individual. There can be no division to it; each must of necessity receive the whole if he is to receive it at all. This follows from the nature of the gift itself. If the gift consisted of impersonal values, either material or spiritual, the supply might be quantitatively distributed over many persons. But being, as it is, the personal favour of God, it must be poured as a whole into the receptacle of the human heart. The parable of marriage not only teaches that the covenant relation is a monogamic one, but implies besides that it is a bond binding unitary soul to soul. There is an inner sanctuary of communion, where all else disappears from sight, and the believer shut in with God gazes upon his loveliness and appropriates him, as though outside of him nothing mattered or existed. These may be fugitive moments, and they may be rare in our experience, but we surely must know them, if God’s fruit-bearing for us is to be a reality in our lives.
The prophet, Hosea, evidently had a feeling for this, although the dispensation of the covenant under which he lived made it far more difficult to attain than in our time. The collective method of procedure pursued at that stage, related everything in the first instance to the nation of Israel. To it belong the election, the love, the union with God, the future. It is quite in accordance with this that Israel as a body appears as the bride and wife of Jehovah, or in the terms of a different figure as the son he has called out of Egypt. None the less it yields a pure abstraction when this is carried to the extreme of a denial of every individual bond between the single Israelite and Jehovah. On the basis of the collective relationship, in which the many unite as one, there must of necessity have sprung up an individual attachment, in which the single believer and Jehovah directly touched each other. As there was private sacrifice alongside of the public ritual service, so there must have flourished personal worship and affection for God in the hearts of the pious. The devotional fragrance wafted to us from so many a page in the Old Testament bears abundant witness to this. But, while no true Israelite could be entirely without this, there existed doubtless many degrees in the individualising of what was so largely a common possession.
The nature of the prophetic office brought with it a certain detachment from the mass and a peculiar intimacy with Jehovah. And yet the note of individualism is not equally strong in all the prophets. It is interesting to observe where and when and how it emerges. Its two great exponents before the exile are Hosea and Jeremiah. These two speak not only from and for Jehovah but also to Jehovah. They are pre-eminently the prophets of prayer. In the case of each, there appears to be some connection between the temperament of the prophet and the cultivation of this element. Both exceptionally endowed in their emotional nature, they instinctively sought, and under the influence of the Spirit were enabled to find, what could satisfy this deep instinct. Religion, as centred in the heart, cannot but incline towards individualism, for the heart with its hidden feelings is the most incapable of duplication of all the factors that enter into it. Belief and intent of will may be standardised; the emotional reaction is like the wind of heaven: we hear its sound, yet know not where it comes from nor where it goes. So it is with the world of religious feeling; it has a colouring and tone of its own in each individual child of God.
Hosea being of a most tender and impressionable temperament was on that account chosen to secure for the covenant-bond in his own life, and through his influence in the life of others, that sweet privacy and inwardness which forms the most precious possession of every pious soul. Here lies the cause of that vivid, life-like personification to which the prophet subjects the people of Israel, putting words upon their lips expressing a mode of feeling such as, strictly speaking, only an individual can experience. It is his own heart that the prophet has put into the body of Israel. The construction is in the plural, but the spirit is in the singular, and it needs only to be translated back into the singular, to render it a most appropriate speech for every believer in addressing Jehovah:
“Come and let us return unto Jehovah; for he has torn, and he will heal us; he has smitten and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live before him. And let us know, let us follow on to know Jehovah: his going forth is sure as the morning; and he will come unto us as the rain, as the latter rain that waters the earth.”
And thus the prophet, and through him, doubtless others, had the wonderful experience that the God of Israel could give himself to a single person with the same individual interest and undivided devotion as if that person were the only one to whom his favour extended. This is necessary to complete the fruition of God. Every child of God, no matter how broad their vision and enlarged their sympathies, is conscious of carrying within themselves a private sanctuary, an inner guest-chamber of the heart, where they desire to be at times alone with God and have their Saviour to themselves.
So instinctive and irrepressible is the craving for this, that it may easily give rise to a sort of spiritual jealousy, making it difficult to believe that the God who has given himself to millions of others should receive us alone into absolute intimacy and show us the secret of his covenant.
Does it seem improper to pray, “Come, Lord, to me alone, and close the door, that I may have you to myself for a day and an hour?”
Should this feeling come to us and perplex us, the best way to meet it is to consider the existence of the same mystery in the relation of earthly parents to their children. It matters not whether there be one or ten, each child has the full affection of the father’s and mother’s heart. If we that are creatures can experience the working of this miracle in our finite lives, how much more can the infinite God be present to a countless number of souls and give to each one of them the same ineffable gift? He is God and not man, the Holy One, both in our midst and in our hearts.