Here, as before, we have,
I. The prophet’s humble address to God, containing a representation both of his integrity and of the hardships he underwent notwithstanding. It is a matter of comfort to us that, whatever ails us, we have a God to go to, before whom we may spread our case and to whose omniscience we may appeal, as the prophet here, “O Lord! thou knowest; thou knowest my sincerity, which men are resolved they will not acknowledge; thou knowest my distress, which men disdain to take notice of.” Observe here,
1. What it is that the prophet prays for, Jer. 15:15. (1.) That God would consider his case and be mindful of him: “O Lord! remember me; think upon me for good.” (2.) That God would communicate strength and comfort to him: “Visit me; not only remember me, but let me know that thou rememberest me, that thou art nigh unto me.” (3.) That he would appear for him against those that did him wrong: Revenge me of my persecutors, or rather, Vindicate me from my persecutors; give judgment against them, and let that judgment be executed so far as is necessary for my vindication and to compel them to acknowledge that they have done me wrong. Further than this a good man will not desire that God should avenge him. Let something be done to convince the world that (whatever blasphemers say to the contrary) Jeremiah is a righteous man and the God whom he serves is a righteous God. (4.) That he would yet spare him and continue him in the land of the living: “Take me not away by a sudden stroke, but in thy long-suffering lengthen out my days.” The best men will own themselves so obnoxious to God’s wrath that they are indebted to his patience for the continuance of their lives. Or, “While thou exercisest long-suffering towards my persecutors, let not them prevail to take me away.” Though in a passion he complained of his birth (Jer. 15:10), yet he desires here that his death might not be hastened; for life is sweet to nature, and the life of a useful man is so to grace. I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world.
2. What it is that he pleads with God for mercy and relief against his enemies, persecutors, and slanderers.
(1.) That God’s honour was interested in this case: Know, and make it known, that for thy sake I have suffered rebuke. Those that lay themselves open to reproach by their own fault and folly have great reason to bear it patiently, but no reason to expect that God should appear for them. But if it is for doing well that we suffer ill, and for righteousness’ sake that we have all manner of evil said against us, we may hope that God will vindicate our honour with his own. To the same purport (Jer. 15:16), I am called by thy name, O Lord of hosts! It was for that reason that his enemies hated him, and therefore for that reason he promised himself that God would own him and stand by him.
(2.) That the word of God, which he was employed to preach to others, he had experienced the power and pleasure of in his own soul, and therefore had the graces of the Spirit to qualify him for the divine favour, as well as his gifts. We find some rejected of God who yet could say, Lord, we have prophesied in thy name. But Jeremiah could say more (Jer. 15:16): “Thy words were found, found by me” (he searched the scripture, diligently studied the law, and found that in it which was reviving to him: if we seek we shall find), “found for me” (the words which he was to deliver to others were laid ready to his hand, were brought to him by inspiration), “and I did not only taste them, but eat them, received them entirely, conversed with them intimately; they were welcome to me, as food to one that is hungry; I entertained them, digested them, turned them in succum et sanguinem—into blood and spirits, and was myself delivered into the mould of those truths which I was to deliver to others.” The prophet was told to eat the roll, Ezek. 2:8; Rev. 10:9. I did eat it—that is, as it follows, it was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart, nothing could be more agreeable. Understand it, [1.] Of the message itself which he was to deliver. Though he was to foretel the ruin of his country, which was dear to him, and in the ruin of which he could not but have a deep share, yet all natural affections were swallowed up in zeal for God’s glory, and even these messages of wrath, being divine messages, were a satisfaction to him. He also rejoiced, at first, in hope that the people would take warning and prevent the judgment. Or, [2.] Of the commission he received to deliver this message. Though the work he was called to was not attended with any secular advantages, but, on the contrary, exposed him to contempt and persecution, yet, because it put him in a way to serve God and do good, he took pleasure in it, was glad to be so employed, and it was his meat and drink to do the will of him that sent him, John 4:34. Or, [3.] Of the promise God gave him that he would assist and own him in his work (Jer. 1:18); he was satisfied in that, and depended upon it, and therefore hoped it should not fail him.
(3.) That he had applied himself to the duty of his office with all possible gravity, seriousness, and self-denial, though he had had of late but little satisfaction in it, Jer. 15:17. [1.] It was his comfort that he had given up himself wholly to the business of his office and had done nothing either to divert himself from it or disfit himself for it. He kept no unsuitable company, denied himself the use even of lawful recreations, abstained from every thing that looked like levity, lest thereby he should make himself mean and less regarded. He sat alone, spent a great deal of time in his closet, because of the hand of the Lord that was strong upon him to carry him on his work, Ezek. 3:14. “For thou hast filled me with indignation, with such messages of wrath against this people as have made me always pensive.” Note, It will be a comfort to God’s ministers, when men despise them, if they have the testimony of their consciences for them that they have not by any vain foolish behaviour made themselves despicable, that they have been dead not only to the wealth of the world, as this prophet was (Jer. 15:10), but to the pleasures of it too, as here. But, [2.] It is his complaint that he had had but little pleasure in his work. It was at first the rejoicing of his heart, but of late it had made him melancholy, so that he had no heart to sit in the meeting of those that make merry. He cared not for company, for indeed no company cared for him. He sat alone, fretting at the people’s obstinacy and the little success of his labours among them. This filled him with a holy indignation. Note, It is the folly and infirmity of some good people that they lose much of the pleasantness of their religion by the fretfulness and uneasiness of their natural temper, which they humour and indulge, instead of mortifying it.
(4.) He throws himself upon God’s pity and promise in a very passionate expostulation (Jer. 15:18): “Why is my pain perpetual, and nothing done to ease it? Why are the wounds which my enemies are continually giving both to my peace and to my reputation incurable, and nothing done to retrieve either my comfort or my credit? I once little thought that I should be thus neglected; will the God that has promised me his presence be to me as a liar, the God on whom I depend to be me as waters that fail?” We are willing to make the best we can of it, and to take it as an appeal, [1.] To the mercy of God: “I know he will not let the pain of his servant be perpetual, but he will ease it, will not let his wound be incurable, but he will heal it; and therefore I will not despair.” [2.] To his faithfulness: “Wilt thou be to me as a liar? No; I know thou wilt not. God is not a man that he should lie. The fountain of life will never be to his people as waters that fail.”
II. God’s gracious answer to this address, Jer. 15:19-21. Though the prophet betrayed much human frailty in his address, yet God vouchsafed to answer him with good words and comfortable words; for he knows our frame. Observe,
1. What God here requires of him as the condition of the further favours he designed him. Jeremiah had done and suffered much for God, yet God is no debtor to him, but he is still upon his good behaviour. God will own him. But, (1.) He must recover his temper, and be reconciled to his work, and friends with it again, and not quarrel with it any more as he had done. He must return, must shake off these distrustful discontented thoughts and passions, and not give way to them, must regain the peaceable possession and enjoyment of himself, and resolve to be easy. Note, When we have stepped aside into any disagreeable frame or way our care must be to return and compose ourselves into a right temper of mind again; and then we may expect God will help us, if thus we endeavour to help ourselves. (2.) He must resolve to be faithful in his work, for he could not expect the divine protection any longer than he did approve himself so. Though there was no cause at all to charge Jeremiah with unfaithfulness, and God knew his heart to be sincere, yet God saw fit to give him this caution. Those that do their duty must not take it ill to be told their duty. In two things he must be faithful:—[1.] He must distinguish between some and others of those he preached to: Thou must take forth the precious from the vile. The righteous are the precious be they ever so mean and poor; the wicked are the vile be they ever so rich and great. In our congregations these are mixed, wheat and chaff in the same floor; we cannot distinguish them by name, but we must by character, and must give to each a portion, speaking comfort to precious saints and terror to vile sinners, neither making the heart of the righteous sad nor strengthening the hands of the wicked (Ezek. 13:22), but rightly dividing the word of truth. Ministers must take those whom they see to be precious into their bosoms, and not sit alone as Jeremiah did, but keep up conversation with those they may do good to and get good by. [2.] He must closely adhere to his instructions, and not in the least vary from them: Let them return to thee, but return not thou to them, that is, he must do the utmost he can, in his preaching, to bring people up to the mind of God; he must tell them they must, at their peril, comply with that. Those that had flown off from him, that did not like the terms upon which God’s favour was offered to them, “Let them return to thee, and, upon second thoughts, come up to the terms and strike the bargain; but do not thou return to them, do not compliment them, nor comply with them, nor think to make the matter easier to them than the word of God has made it.” Men’s hearts and lives must come up to God’s law and comply with that, for God’s law will never come down to them nor comply with them.
2. What God here promises to him upon the performance of these conditions. If he approve himself well, (1.) God will tranquilize his mind and pacify the present tumult of his spirits: If thou return, I will bring thee again, will restore thy soul, as Ps. 23:3. The best and strongest saints, if at any time they have gone aside out of the right way, and are determined to return, need the grace of God to bring them again. (2.) God will employ him in his service as a prophet, whose work, even in those bad times, had comfort and honour enough in it to be its own wages: “Thou shalt stand before me, to receive instructions from me, as a servant from his master; and thou shalt be as my mouth to deliver my messages to the people, as an ambassador is the mouth of the prince that sends him.” Note, Faithful ministers are God’s mouth to us; they are so to look upon themselves, and to speak God’s mind and as becomes the oracles of God; and we are so to look upon them, and to hear God speaking to us by them. Observe, If thou keep close to thy instructions, thou shalt be as my mouth, not otherwise; so far, and no further, God will stand by ministers, as they go by the written word. “Thou shalt be as my mouth, that is, what thou sayest shall be made good, as if I myself had said it.” See Isa. 44:26; 1 Sam. 3:19. (3.) He shall have strength and courage to face the many difficulties he meets with in his work, and his spirit shall not fail again as now it does (Jer. 15:20): “I will make thee unto this people as a fenced brazen wall, which the storm batters and beats violently upon, but cannot shake. Return not thou to them by any sinful compliances, and then trust thy God to arm thee by his grace with holy resolutions. Be not cowardly, and God will make thee daring.” He had complained that he was made a man of strife. “Expect to be so (says God); they will fight against thee, they will still continue their opposition, but they shall not prevail against thee to drive thee off from thy work nor to cut thee off from the land of the living.” (4.) He shall have God for his protector and mighty deliverer: I am with thee to save thee. Those that have God with them have a Saviour with them who has wisdom and strength enough to deal with the most formidable enemy; and those that are with God, and faithful to him, he will deliver (Jer. 15:21) either from trouble or through it. They may perhaps fall into the hand of the wicked, and they may appear terrible to them, but God will rescue them out of their hands. They shall not be able to kill them till they have finished their testimony; they shall not prevent their happiness. God will so deliver them as to preserve them to his heavenly kingdom (2 Tim. 4:18), and that is deliverance enough. There are many things that appear very frightful that yet do not prove at all hurtful to a good man.