Here is, I. A challenge to produce any one right honest man, or at least any considerable number of such, in Jerusalem, Jer. 5:1. Jerusalem had become like the old world, in which all flesh had corrupted their way. There were some perhaps who flattered themselves with hopes that there were yet many good men in Jerusalem, who would stand in the gap to turn away the wrath of God; and there might be others who boasted of its being the holy city and thought that this would save it. But God bids them search the town, and intimates that they should scarcely find a man in it who executed judgment and made conscience of what he said and did: “Look in the streets, where they make their appearance and converse together, and in the broad places, where they keep their markets; see if you can find a man, a magistrate (so some), that executes judgment, and administers justice impartially, that will put the laws in execution against vice and profaneness.” When the faithful thus cease and fail it is time to cry Woe is me! (Mic. 7:1, 2), high time to cry, Help Lord, Ps. 12:1. “If there be here and there a man that is truly conscientious, and does at least speak the truth, yet you shall not find him in the streets and broad places; he dares not appear publicly, lest he should be abused and run down. Truth has fallen in the street (Isa. 59:14), and is forced to seek for corners.” So pleasing would it be to God to find any such that for their sake he would pardon the city; if there were but ten righteous men in Sodom, if but one of a thousand, of ten thousand, in Jerusalem, it should be spared. See how ready God is to forgive, how swift to show mercy. But it might be said, “What do you make of those in Jerusalem that continue to make profession of religion and relation to God? Are not they men for whose sakes Jerusalem may be spared?” No, for they are not sincere in their profession (Jer. 5:2): They say, The Lord liveth, and will swear by his name only, but they swear falsely, that is, 1. They are not sincere in the profession they make of respect to God, but are false to him; they honour him with their lips, but their hearts are far from him. 2. Though they appeal to God only, they make no conscience of calling him to witness to a lie. Though they do not swear by idols, they forswear themselves, which is no less an affront to God, as the God of truth, than the other is as the only true God.
II. A complaint which the prophet makes to God of the obstinacy and wilfulness of these people. God had appealed to their eyes (Jer. 5:1); but here the prophet appeals to his eyes (Jer. 5:3): “Are not thy eyes upon the truth? Dost thou not see every man’s true character? And is not this the truth of their character, that they have made their faces harder than a rock?” Or, “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward part; but where is it to be found among the men of this generation? For though they say, The Lord liveth, yet they never regard him; thou hast stricken them with one affliction after another, but they have not grieved for the affliction, they have been as stocks and stones under it, much less have they grieved for the sin by which they have brought it upon themselves. Thou hast gone further yet, hast consumed them, hast corrected them yet more severely; but they have refused to receive correction, to accommodate themselves to thy design in correcting them and to answer to it. They would not receive instruction by the correction. The have set themselves to outface the divine sentence and to outbrave the execution of it, for they have made their faces harder than a rock; they cannot change countenance, neither blush for shame nor look pale for fear, cannot be beaten back from the pursuit of their lusts, whatever check is given them; for, though often called to it, they have refused to return, and would go forward, right or wrong, as the horse into the battle.”
III. The trial made both of rich and poor, and the bad character given of both.
1. The poor were ignorant, and therefore they were wicked. He found many that refused to return, for whom he was willing to make the best excuse their case would bear, and it was this (Jer. 5:4): “Surely, these are poor, they are foolish. They never had the advantage of a good education, nor have they wherewithal to help themselves now with the means of instruction. They are forced to work hard for their living, and have no time nor capacity for reading or hearing, so that they know not the way of the Lord, nor the judgments of their God; they understand neither the way in which God by his precepts will have them to walk towards him nor the way in which he by his providence is walking towards them.” Note, (1.) Prevailing ignorance is the lamentable cause of abounding impiety and iniquity. What can one expect but works of darkness from brutish sottish people that know nothing of God and religion, but choose to sit in darkness? (2.) This is commonly a reigning sin among poor people. There are the devil’s poor as well as God’s, who, notwithstanding their poverty, might know the way of the Lord, so as to walk in it and do their duty, without being book-learned; but they are willingly ignorant, and therefore their ignorance will not be their excuse.
2. The rich were insolent and haughty, and therefore they were wicked (Jer. 5:5): “I will get me to the great men, and see if I can find them more pliable to the word and providence of God. I will speak to them, preach at court, in hopes to make some impression upon men of polite literature. But all in vain; for, though they know the way of the Lord and the judgment of their God, yet they are too stiff to stoop to his government: These have altogether broken the yoke and burst the bonds. They know their Master’s will, but are resolved to have their own will, to walk in the way of their heart and in the sight of their eyes. They think themselves too goodly to be controlled, too big to be corrected, even by the sovereign Lord of all himself. They are for breaking even his bands asunder, Ps. 2:3. The poor are weak, the rich are wilful, and so neither do their duty.”
IV. Some particular sins specified, which they were notoriously guilty of, and which cried most loudly to heaven for vengeance. Their transgressions indeed were many, of many kinds and often repeated, and their backslidings were increased; they added to the number of them and grew more and more impudent in them, Jer. 5:6. But two sins especially were justly to be looked upon as unpardonable crimes:—1. Their spiritual whoredom, giving that honour to idols which is due to God only. “Thy children have forsaken me, to whom they were born and dedicated and under whom they have been brought up, and they have sworn by those that are no gods, have made their appeal to them as if they had been omniscient and their proper judges.” This is here put for all acts of religious worship due to God only, but with which they had honoured their idols. They have sworn to them (so it may be read), have joined themselves to them and covenanted with them. Those that forsake God make a bad change for those that are no gods. 2. Their corporal whoredom. Because they had forsaken God and served idols, he gave them up to vile affections; and those that dishonoured him were left to dishonour themselves and their own families. They committed adultery most scandalously, without sense of shame or fear of punishment, for they assembled themselves by troops in the harlots’ houses and did not blush to be seen by one another in the most scandalous places. So impudent and violent was their lust, so impatient of check, and so eager to be gratified, that they became perfect beasts (Jer. 5:8); like high-fed horses, they neighed every one after his neighbour’s wife, Jer. 5:8. Unbridled lusts make men like natural brute beasts, such monstrous odious things are they. And that which aggravated their sin was that it was the abuse of God’s favours to them: When they were fed to the full, then their lusts grew thus furious. Fulness of bread was fuel to the fire of Sodom’s lusts. Sine Cerere et Bacchio friget Venu—Luxurious living feeds the flames of lust. Fasting would help to tame the unruly evil that is so full of deadly poison, and bring the body into subjection.
V. A threatening of God’s wrath against them for their wickedness and the universal debauchery of their land.
1. The particular judgment that is threatened, Jer. 5:6. A foreign enemy shall break in upon them, get dominion over them, and shall lay waste: their country shall be as if it were overrun and perfectly mastered by wild beasts. This enemy shall be, (1.) Like a lion of the forest; so strong, so furious, so irresistible; and he shall slay them. (2.) Like a wolf of the evening, which comes out at night, when he is hungry, to seek his prey, and is very fierce and ravenous; and the noise both of the lions’ roaring and of the wolves’ howling is very hideous. (3.) Like a leopard, which is very swift and very cruel, and withal careful not to miss his prey. The army of the enemy shall watch over their cities so strictly as to put the inhabitants to this sad dilemma—if they stay in, they are starved; if they stir out, they are stabbed; Every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces, which intimates that in many places the enemy gave no quarter. And all this bloody work is owing to the multitude of their transgressions. It is sin that makes the great slaughter.
2. An appeal to themselves concerning the equity of it (Jer. 5:9); “Shall I not visit for these things? Can you yourselves think that the God whose name is Jealous will let such idolatries go unpunished, or that a God of infinite purity will connive at such abominable uncleanness?” These are things that must be reckoned for, else the honour of God’s government cannot be maintained, nor his laws saved from contempt; but sinners will be tempted to think him altogether such a one as themselves, contrary to that conviction of their own consciences concerning the judgment of God which is necessary to be supported, That those who do such things are worthy of death, Rom. 1:32. Observe, when God punishes sin, he is said to visit for it, or enquire into it; for he weighs the cause before he passes sentence. Sinners have reason to expect punishment upon the account of God’s holiness, to which sin is highly offensive, as well as upon the account of his justice, to which it renders us obnoxious; this is intimated in that, Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? It is not only the word of God, but his soul, that takes vengeance. And he has national judgments wherewith to take vengeance for national sins. Such nations as this was cannot long go unpunished. How shall I pardon thee for this? Jer. 5:7. Not but that those who have been guilty of these sins have found mercy with God, as to their eternal state (Manasseh himself did, though so much accessory to the iniquity of these times); but nations, as such, being rewardable and punishable only in this life, it would not be for the glory of God to let a nation so very wicked as this pass without some manifest tokens of his displeasure.
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