It is excellent doctrine that is preached in these verses, and of general concern and use to us all, and it does not appear to have any particular reference to the present state of Judah and Jerusalem. The prophet’s sermons were not all prophetical, but some of them practical; yet this discourse, which probably we have here only the heads of, would be of singular use to them by way of caution not to misplace their confidence in the day of their distress. Let us all learn what we are taught here,
I. Concerning the disappointment and vexation those will certainly meet with who depend upon creatures for success and relief when they are in trouble (Jer. 17:5, 6): Cursed be the man that trusts in man. God pronounces him cursed for the affront he thereby puts upon him. Or, Cursed (that is, miserable) is the man that does so, for he leans upon a broken reed, which will not only fail him, but will run into his hand and pierce it. Observe, 1. The sin here condemned; it is trusting in man, putting that confidence in the wisdom and power, the kindness and faithfulness, of men, which should be placed in those attributes of God only, making our applications to men and raising our expectations from them as principal agents, whereas they are but instruments in the hand of Providence. It is making flesh the arm we stay upon, the arm we work with and with which we hope to work our point, the arm under which we shelter ourselves and on which we depend for protection. God is his people’s arm, Isa. 32:2. We must not think to make any creature to be that to us which God has undertaken to be. Man is called flesh, to show the folly of those that make him their confidence; he is flesh, weak and feeble as flesh without bones or sinews, that has no strength at all in it; he is inactive as flesh without spirit, which is a dead thing; he is mortal and dying as flesh, which soon putrefies and corrupts, and is continually wasting. Nay, he is false and sinful, and has lost his integrity; so his being flesh signifies, Gen. 6:3. The great malignity there is in this sin; it is the departure of the evil heart of unbelief from the living God. Those that trust in man perhaps draw nigh to God with their mouth and honour him with their lips, they call him their hope and say that they trust in him, but really their heart departs from him; they distrust him, despise him, and decline a correspondence with him. Cleaving to the cistern is leaving the fountain, and is resented accordingly. 3. The fatal consequences of this sin. He that puts a confidence in man puts a cheat upon himself; for (Jer. 17:6) he shall be like the heath in the desert, a sorry shrub, the product of barren ground, sapless, useless, and worthless; his comforts shall all fail him and his hopes be blasted; he shall wither, be dejected in himself and trampled on by all about him. When good comes he shall not see it, he shall not share in it; when the times mend they shall not mend with him, but he shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness; his expectation shall be continually frustrated; when others have a harvest he shall have none. Those that trust to their own righteousness and strength, and think they can do well enough without the merit and grace of Christ, thus make flesh their arm, and their souls cannot prosper in graces or comforts; they can neither produce the fruits of acceptable services to God nor reap the fruits of saving blessings from him; they dwell in a dry land.
II. Concerning the abundant satisfaction which those have, and will have, who make God their confidence, who live by faith in his providence and promise, who refer themselves to him and his guidance at all times and repose themselves in him and his love in the most unquiet times, Jer. 17:7, 8. Observe, 1. The duty required of us—to trust in the Lord, to do our duty to him and then depend upon him to bear us out in doing it—when creatures and second causes either deceive or threaten us, either are false to us or fierce against us, to commit ourselves to God as all-sufficient both to fill up the place of those who fail us and to protect us from those who set upon us. It is to make the Lord our hope, his favour the good we hope for and his power the strength we hope in. 2. The comfort that attends the doing of this duty. He that does so shall be as a tree planted by the waters, a choice tree, about which great care has been taken to set it in the best soil, so far from being like the heath in the wilderness; he shall be like a tree that spreads out its roots, and thereby is firmly fixed, spreads them out by the rivers, whence it draws abundance of sap, which denotes both the establishment and the comfort which those have who make God their hope; they are easy, they are pleasant, and enjoy a continual security and serenity of mind. A tree thus planted, thus watered, shall not see when heat comes, shall not sustain any damage from the most scorching heats of summer; it is so well moistened from its roots that it shall be sufficiently guarded against drought. Those that make God their hope, (1.) They shall flourish in credit and comfort, like a tree that is always green, whose leaf does not wither; they shall be cheerful to themselves and beautiful in the eyes of others. Those who thus give honour to God by giving him credit God will put honour upon, and make them the ornament and delight of the places where they live, as green trees are. (2.) They shall be fixed in an inward peace and satisfaction: They shall not be careful in a year of drought, when there is want of rain; for, as the tree has seed in itself, so it has its moisture. Those who make God their hope have enough in him to make up the want of all creature-comforts. We need not be solicitous about the breaking of a cistern as long as we have the fountain. (3.) They shall be fruitful in holiness, and in all good works. Those who trust in God, and by faith derive strength and grace from him, shall not cease from yielding fruit; they shall still be enabled to do that which will redound to the glory of God, the benefit of others, and their own account.
III. Concerning the sinfulness of man’s heart, and the divine inspection it is always under, Jer. 17:9, 10. It is folly to trust in man, for he is not only frail, but false and deceitful. We are apt to think that we trust in God, and are entitled to the blessings here promised to those who do so. But this is a thing about which our own hearts deceive us as much as any thing. We think that we trust in God when really we do not, as appears by this, that our hopes and fears rise or fall according as second causes smile or frown.
1. It is true in general. (1.) There is that wickedness in our hearts which we ourselves are not aware of and do not suspect to be there; nay, it is a common mistake among the children of men to think themselves, their own hearts at least, a great deal better than they really are. The heart, the conscience of man, in his corrupt and fallen state, is deceitful above all things. It is subtle and false; it is apt to supplant (so the word properly signifies); it is that from which Jacob had his name, a supplanter. It calls evil good and good evil, puts false colours upon things, and cries peace to those to whom peace does not belong. When men say in their hearts (that is, suffer their hearts to whisper to them) that there is no God, or he does not see, or he will not require, or they shall have peace though they go on; in these, and a thousand similar suggestions the heart is deceitful. It cheats men into their own ruin; and this will be the aggravation of it, that they are self-deceivers, self-destroyers. Herein the heart is desperately wicked; it is deadly, it is desperate. The case is bad indeed, and in a manner deplorable and past relief, if the conscience which should rectify the errors of the other faculties is itself a mother of falsehood and a ring-leader in the delusion. What will become of a man if that in him which should be the candle of the Lord give a false light, if God’s deputy in the soul, that is entrusted to support his interests, betrays them? Such is the deceitfulness of the heart that we may truly say, Who can know it? Who can describe how bad the heart is? We cannot know our own hearts, not what they will do in an hour of temptation (Hezekiah did not, Peter did not), not what corrupt dispositions there are in them, nor in how many things they have turned aside; who can understand his errors? Much less can we know the hearts of others, or have any dependence upon them. But, (2.) Whatever wickedness there is in the heart God sees it, and knows it, is perfectly acquainted with it and apprised of it: I the Lord search the heart. This is true of all that is in the heart, all the thoughts of it, the quickest, and those that are most carelessly overlooked by ourselves—all the intents of it, the closest, and those that are most artfully disguised, and industriously concealed from others. Men may be imposed upon, but God cannot. He not only searches the heart with a piercing eye, but he tries the reins, to pass a judgment upon what he discovers, to give every thing its true character and due weight. He tries it, as the gold is tried whether it be standard or no, as the prisoner is tried whether he be guilty or no. And this judgment which he makes of the heart is in order to his passing judgment upon the man; it is to give to every man according to his ways (according to the desert and the tendency of them, life to those that walked in the ways of life, and death to those that persisted in the paths of the destroyer) and according to the fruit of his doings, the effect and influence his doings have had upon others, or according to what is settled by the word of God to be the fruit of men’s doings, blessings to the obedient and curses to the disobedient. Note, Therefore God is Judge himself, and he alone, because he, and none besides, knows the hearts of the children of men.
2. It is true especially of all the deceitfulness and wickedness of the heart, all its corrupt devices, desires, and designs. God observes and discerns them; and (which is more than any man can do) he judges of the overt act by the heart. Note, God knows more evil of us than we do of ourselves, which is a good reason why we should not flatter ourselves, but always stand in awe of the judgment of God.
IV. Concerning the curse that attends wealth unjustly gotten. Fraud and violence had been reigning crying sins in Judah and Jerusalem; now the prophet would have those who had been guilty of these sins, and were now stripped of all they had, to read their sin in their punishment (Jer. 17:11): He that gets riches and not by right, though he may make them his hope, shall never have joy of them. Observe, It is possible that those who use unlawful means to get wealth may succeed therein and prosper for a time; and it is a temptation to many to defraud and oppress their neighbours when there is money to be got by it. He who has got treasures by vanity and a lying tongue may hug himself in his success, and say, I am rich; nay, and I am innocent too (Hos. 12:8), but he shall leave them in the midst of his days; they shall be taken from him, or he from them; God shall cut him off with some surprising stroke then when he says, Soul, take thy ease, thou hast goods laid up for many years, Luke 12:19, 20. He shall leave them to he knows not whom, and shall not be able to take any of his riches away with him. It intimates what a great vexation it is to a worldly man at death that he must leave his riches behind him; and justly may it be a terror to those who got them unjustly, for, though the wealth will not follow them to another world, the guilt will, and the torment of an everlasting, Son, remember, Luke 16:25. Thus, at his end, he shall be a fool, a Nabal, whose wealth did him no good, which he had so sordidly hoarded, when his heart became dead as a stone. He was a fool all along; sometimes perhaps his own conscience told him so, but at his end he will appear to be so. Those are fools indeed who are fools in their latter end; and such multitudes will prove who were applauded as wise men, that did well for themselves, Ps. 49:13, 18. Those that get grace will be wise in the latter end, will have the comfort of it in death and the benefit of it to eternity (Prov. 19:20); but those that place their happiness in the wealth of the world, and, right or wrong, will be rich, will rue the folly of it when it is too late to rectify the fatal mistake. This is like the partridge that sits on eggs and hatches them not, but they are broken (as Job 39:15), or stolen (as Isa. 10:14), or they become addle: some sort of fowl there was, well known among the Jews, whose case this commonly was. The rich man takes a great deal of pains to get an estate together, and sits brooding upon it, but never has any comfort nor satisfaction in it; his projects to enrich himself by sinful courses miscarry and come to nothing. Let us therefore be wise in time—what we get to get it honestly, and what we have to use it charitably, that we may lay up in store a good foundation and be wise for eternity.