for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you words
and return to the LORD;
say to him,
“Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good,
and we will pay with bulls
the vows of our lips.
I will heal their apostasy;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily;
he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon;
his shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive,
and his fragrance like Lebanon.
They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
from me comes your fruit.
(Hosea 14:1-2, 4-8 ESV)
In writing about how God heals our “spiritual decays” and “backslidings,” John Owen makes several excellent points about the interplay of the Lord’s sovereign grace and our responsibility, and what the results of this healing will be in the end. Listen closely to what he has to say:
“Although God will repair our spiritual decays and heal our backsliding freely, yet he will do it so, or in such a way as he may communicate grace to us, to the praise of his own glory. Therefore are these duties [repentance, abandoning self-confidence and false worship, and renewed wholehearted trust and confidence in Christ and his mercy and grace] prescribed to us for that reason … for as God promises that he would heal their backsliding out of his free love (v. 4), and would do it by the communication of effectual grace (v. 5), so he enjoins them all these duties for that reason.… Then, and then only, we may expect a gracious reviving from all our decays, when serious repentance, working in the ways declared, is found in us. This grace will not surprise us in our sloth, negligence, and security, but will make way for itself by stirring us up to sincere endeavours after it in the perseverance of these duties. And until we see better evidences of this repentance among us than as yet appears, we can have but small hopes of a general recovery from our present decays…. [The sure sign of the Lord’s healing] is a much more abundant fruitfulness in holiness and obedience, in peace and love, than ever [we] had before attained” (The Glory of Christ: His Office and Grace, 282-283).