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THE LAMENTATIONS OF JEREMIAH.
THE Lamentations of Jeremiah-a touching expression of the interest which God feels in the afflictions of His people on account of their sins—will not require much explanation as to the general meaning of the book. A few remarks may, however, be useful, to show the true character of this book, and its connection with the dealings of God, as revealed to us elsewhere. The first interesting point-to which I have already alluded—is that the affliction of His people does not escape the eye of God. He is afflicted in their affliction; His Spirit takes knowledge of it; and, acting in the heart of those whose mouth He uses, gives expression to the feelings He has produced there. Thus Christ wept over the hard-heartedness of Jerusalem, and invited its inhabitants to do so likewise. And here, also, His Spirit not only reproves, and reveals things to come; He gives a form to the grief of those who love what God loves, and furnishes the expression of it Himself. There is nothing more affecting than the sentiments produced in the heart by the conviction that the subject of affliction is beloved of God, that He loves that which He is obliged to smite, and is obliged to smite that which He loves. The prophet, while laying open the affliction of Jerusalem, acknowledges that the sin of the people had caused it. Could that diminish the sorrow of His heart? If on the one hand, it was a consolation, on the other, it humbled and made him hide his face. The pride of the enemy, and their joy in seeing the affliction of the beloved of God, gives occasion to sue for compassion on behalf of the aftsicted, and judgment on the malice of the enemy.
Chap. ii. The desolation of Jerusalem is looked at as the Lord's own work, and not as that of the enemy.
Never had there been such sorrow. But this consideration gives room for appealing to Himself. It is a solemn thing when the Lord is forced to reject that which He acknowledges to be His own. But it must be so if the association of His name is only a means of falsifying the testimony of what He is (verses 6, 7).
In chap. iii. we find the language of faith, of sorrowing faith, of the Spirit of Christ in the remnant, on the occasion of the judgment of Jerusalem, in which God had dwelt. Before, the prophet (or the Spirit of Christ in him) spoke in the name of Jerusalem, deploring her sufferings and confessing her sin, while appealing to the Lord against her enemies, relating what He had done in forsaking His sanctuary, and (from verse 11 of chap. ii.) expressing the depth of her affliction at the sight of the evil. But in chap. iii. he places himself in the midst of the evil, to express the sentiments of the Spirit of Christ; not, it is true, in an absolute manner, according to the perfection of Christ Himself, but as acting in the heart of the prophet (as is generally the case in Jeremiah), expressing his personal distress-a distress produced by the Spirit, but clothed in the feelings of the prophet's own heart, to bring out that which practically was going on in the heart of a faithful Israelite, the reality of that which was most elevated in that day of anguish and affliction, in which, alas ! there was no more hope on the people's side than on that of the enemies who attacked them, and in which the heart of the faithful suffered without hope of remedy, yet much more on account of a people who hearkened not to the voice of the Lord, than on account of enemies raised up in judgment. What has Christ not suffered! That which His Spirit produces in the midst of human weakness, He has Himself undergone and felt in its full extent; only that He was perfect in all that His heart went through in His affliction.
In chap. iii. the prophet expresses then, in his own person, by the Spirit of Christ, all that he felt as sharing the affliction of Israel, and being at the same time the object of their enmity; a position remarkably analogous to that of Christ. What suffering can be like that of one who shares the suffering of God's people, without being able to turn away the evil, because they refuse to hear God's message; like that of one who bears this affliction on his heart, with the feeling that if this foolish people would but have hearkened, the wrath of God should have been turned away. It was the lamentation of Christ Himself, “ Oh, if thou hadst known,” etc. In the main, Jeremiah partook of the same feelings. But we see him more as being of the people, and participating in his own person in the consequences of the evil, seeing himself under these consequences with the people, because they had rejected his testimony. This may be said of the Lord on the cross; but we see that this sentiment, a little known in the case of Job, takes the form of a personal prayer, complaining of personal suffering. Jeremiah suffers for the testimony and for the rejection of the testimony. The first nineteen verses of chap, iii. contain the expression of this state. It is altogether the spirit of the remnant; and with the exception of the sentiment I have just mentioned, it is that expressed in many of the Psalms. The prophet speaks as having borne in his own heart the deep grief of that which the Lord had brought upon Jerusalem; but feeling it as
who knew God to be his God, so that he could experience what it was to be the object of the wrath of God. He suffered with Jerusalem, and he suffered for Jerusalem. But the truth of this relation with the Lord, while making him feel the affliction more deeply, sustained him also (verse 22). He begins to feel that, after all, it is better to have to do with the Lord, although, in another point of view, this made it all the more painful. He feels that it is good to be afflicted, and to wait upon the Lord who smites; for he will not cast off for ever. He does not afflict willingly, but from necessity. Why complain of the chastening of sin? It were better to turn unto the Lord.
He encourages Israel to do so, and while remembering the affliction of his weeping people, faith is in exercise until the Lord shall interpose. It is well that an affliction like this should be felt; the only harm is when it is allowed to weaken confidence in the Lord. The prophet calls to mind the affliction of Jerusalem, and remembering the
way in which he had been succoured himself, he makes use of the kindness he had experienced, to confirm his assurance that God would show the same kindness to the people. But with respect to the proud and careless who reject the truth, their enmity against God, manifesting itself in their enmity against those who were the bearers of His word, he asks for the judgment of God upon them. Thus relieved in spirit, and his heart filled with the sentiment that, since the evil came from the Lord, that which gave so much depth to the sorrow was also a comfort to the heart, he can return to the affliction itself, measuring its whole extent, which the anguish of his soul prevented his apprehending till he had been able to arrive at its true source. Now, he can enter into details, although with deep grief, yet with more calmness, because his heart is with God. The sense of trouble and distress at the thought of God's judgment falling on those He loves, is not sinful, although, in Jeremiah's case, his heart sometimes failed him. It is right to be troubled and, as it were, overwhelmed at God's breaking, not perhaps the relationship, but His present connection with that which was the object of His favour, that which bore the name and the testimony of God. Christ felt this for Himself; “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour.” Only in Christ all is perfect; and if He feels in perfection the profound distress of the object of God's love becoming the object of His judgment, a feeling of unparalleled grief, seeing it at the same time according to the perfection of God's ways, He can say, "For this cause came I unto this hour; Father, glorify Thy name!" Himself the necessary object of all God's affection, and consequently (if the judgment was to glorify God), the object also of a perfect judgment, i.e., of a complete forsaking on God's part. That which is dreadful in this thought is, that the change of relative position was absolute and perfect in His case, according to the very perfection of the relationship. There was something similar in the case of Jerusalem ; and Jeremiah, feeling by the Spirit of Christ the preciousness of this relationship, and entering into it as sharing it, he suffers with
that which was thus judged of God. Only, although moved by the Spirit of Christ, he must find the equilibrium of his thoughts, he must seek the Lord, to bring Him into the affliction, amidst all his personal grief, and the true but human workings of a heart that was shaken and cast down by the circumstances.
He attached himself to Jerusalem, as resting on her position before God, and not solely and absolutely for God and as God Himself, as did our blessed Lord. There was
an object between his soul and God (an object beloved also by God), and it was not loved absolutely in God, and with the affection of God. But there was the right foundation, and he finds the Lord, first of all in spite of the affliction, but soon in the affliction itself, and he recovers himself immediately, not from the affliction, but in the affliction, by the power of God. Christ can say,
“How often would I have gathered,” etc. This was the affection of God. Jeremiah confesses sin, and ought to confess it. But this thought changes so far the character of the feeling (see chap. i. 19, 20). Christ sought for nothing as a resource, as if self was concerned in it. His affliction was unmixed and absolute to Himself alone, more profound, for who could share it! but perfect as being His alone. Thus in John xii., when it is Himself personally (for this Gospel sets the old vine aside as rejected), He cannot desire that the hour of God's forsaking should come ; He ought to fear, and be troubled, and He was, therefore, heard. But it is between God and Himself alone. No other thought comes in between-it is wholly with God. Alas! had it been possible, all was lost. But no—it is the absolute submission of the perfect man, who seeks (and seeks nothing else) that the name of God may be glorified, according to God's perfection; that at His own cost, God's name may be glorified. Not now as God, who must necessarily maintain its glory, but as one who submits to everything, who sacrifices Himself, in order that God may glorify His name. For this cause He has been supremely glorified as man, a glorious mystery in which the glory of God will shine forth throughout eternity, Jeremiah, having now found the Lord in the afflic