The prophet here is instructed to set before this people the folly of their impenitence, which was it that brought this ruin upon them. They are here represented as the most stupid senseless people in the world, that would not be made wise by all the methods that Infinite Wisdom took to bring them to themselves and their right mind, and so to prevent the ruin that was coming upon them.
I. They would not attend to the dictates of reason. They would not act in the affairs of their souls with the same common prudence with which they acted in other things. Sinners would become saints if they would but show themselves men, and religion would soon rule them if right reason might. Observe it here. Come, and let us reason together, saith the Lord (Jer. 8:4, 5): Shall men fall and not arise? If men happen to fall to the ground, to fall into the dirt, will they not get up again as fast as they can? They are not such fools as to lie still when they are down. Shall a man turn aside out of the right way? Yes, the most careful traveller may miss his way; but then, as soon as he is aware of it, will he not return? Yes, certainly he will, with all speed, and will thank him that showed him his mistake. Thus men do in other things. Why then has this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? Why do not they, when they have fallen into sin, hasten to get up again by repentance? Why do not they, when they see they have missed their way, correct their error and reform? No man in his wits will go on in a way that he knows will never bring him to his journey’s end; why then has this people slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? See the nature of sin—it is a backsliding it is going back from the right way, not only into a by-path, but into a contrary path, back from the way that leads to life to that which leads to utter destruction. And this backsliding, if almighty grace do not interpose to prevent it, will be a perpetual backsliding. The sinner not only wanders endlessly, but proceeds end-ways towards ruin. The same subtlety of the tempter that brings men to sin holds them fast in it, and they contribute to their own captivity: They hold fast deceit. Sin is a great cheat, and they hold it fast; they love it dearly, and resolve to stick to it, and baffle all the methods God takes to separate between them and their sins. The excuses they make for their sins are deceits, and so are all their hopes of impunity; yet they hold fast these, and will not be undeceived, and therefore they refuse to return. Note, There is some deceit or other which those hold fast that go on wilfully in sinful ways, some lie in their right hand, by which they keep hold of their sins.
II. They would not attend to the dictates of conscience, which is our reason reflecting upon ourselves and our own actions, Jer. 8:6. Observe, 1. What expectations there were from them, that they would bethink themselves: I hearkened and heard. The prophet listened to see what effect his preaching had upon them; God himself listened, as one that desires not the death of sinners, that would have been glad to hear any thing that promised repentance, that would certainly have heard it if there had been any thing said of that tendency, and would soon have answered it with comfort, as he did David when he said, I will confess, Ps. 32:5. God looks upon men when they have done amiss (Job 33:27), to see what they will do next; he hearkens and hears. 2. How these expectations were disappointed: They spoke not aright, as I thought they would have done. They did not only not do right, but not so much as speak right; God could not get a good word from them, nothing on which to ground any favour to them or hopes concerning them. There was none of them that spoke aright, none that repented him of his wickedness. those that have sinned then, and then only, speak aright when they speak of repenting; and it is sad when those that have made so much work for repentance do not say a word of repenting. Not only did God not find any repenting of the national wickedness, which might have helped to empty the measure of public guilt, but none repented of that particular wickedness which he knew himself guilty of. (1.) They did not so much as take the first step towards repentance; they did not so much as say, What have I done? There was no motion towards it, not the least sign or token of it. Note, True repentance beings in a serious and impartial inquiry into ourselves, what have we done, arising from a conviction that we have done amiss. (2.) They were so far from repenting of their sins that they went on resolutely in their sins: Every one turned to his course, his wicked course, that course of sin which he had chosen and accustomed himself to, as the horse rushes into the battle, eager upon action, and scorning to be curbed. How the horse rushes into the battle is elegantly described, Job 39:21 He mocks at fear and is not affrighted. Thus the daring sinner laughs at the threatenings of the word as bugbears, and runs violently upon the instruments of death and slaughter, and nothing will be restrained from him.
III. They would not attend to the dictates of providence, nor understand the voice of God in them, Jer. 8:7. It is an instance of their sottishness that, though they are God’s people, and therefore should readily understand his mind upon every intimation of it, yet they know not the judgment of the Lord; they apprehend not the meaning either of a mercy or an affliction, not how to accommodate themselves to either, nor to answer God’s intention in either. They know not how to improve the seasons of grave that God affords them when he sends them his prophets, nor how to make use of the rebukes they are under when his voice cries in the city. They discern not the signs of the times (Matt. 16:3), nor are aware how God is dealing with them. They know not that way of duty which God had prescribed them, though it be written both in their hearts and in their books. 2. It is an aggravation of their sottishness that there is so much sagacity in the inferior creatures. The stork in the heaven knows her appointed times of coming and continuing; so do other season-birds, the turtle, the crane, and the swallow. These by a natural instinct change their quarters, as the temper of the air alters; they come when the spring comes, and go, we know not whither, when the winter approaches, probably into warmer climates, as some birds come with winter and go when that is over.
IV. They would not attend to the dictates of the written word. They say, We are wise; but how can they say so? Jer. 8:8. With what face can they pretend to any thing of wisdom, when they do not understand themselves so well as the brute-creatures? Why, truly, they think they are wise because the law of the Lord is with them, the book of the law and the interpreters of it; and their neighbours, for the same reason, conclude they are wise, Deut. 4:6. But their pretensions are groundless for all this: Lo, certainly in vain made he it; surely never any people had Bibles to so little purpose as they have. They might as well have been without the law, unless they had made a better use of it. God has indeed made it able to make men wise to salvation, but as to them it is made so in vain, for they are never the wiser for it: The pen of the scribes, of those that first wrote the law and of those that now write expositions of it, is in vain. Both the favour of their God and the labour of their scribes are lost upon them; they receive the grace of God therein in vain. Note, There are many that enjoy abundance of the means of grace, that have great plenty of Bibles and ministers, but they have them in vain; they do not answer the end of their having them. But it might be said, They have some wise men among them, to whom the law and the pen of the scribes are not in vain. To this it is answered (Jer. 8:9): The wise men are ashamed, that is, they have reasons to be so, that they have not made a better use of their wisdom, and lived more up to it. They are confounded and taken; all their wisdom has not served to keep them from those courses that tend to their ruin. They are taken in the same snares that others of their neighbours, who have not pretended to so much wisdom, are taken in, and filled with the same confusion. Those that have more knowledge than others, and yet do no better than others for their own souls, have reason to be ashamed. They talk of their wisdom, but, Lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; they would not be governed by it, would not follow its direction, would not do what they knew; and then what wisdom is in them? None to any purpose; none that will be found to their praise at the great day, how much soever it is found to their pride now. The pretenders to wisdom, who said, “We are wise and the law of the Lord is with us,” were the priests and the false prophets; with them the prophet here deals plainly. 1. He threatens the judgments of God against them. Their families and estates shall be ruined (Jer. 8:10): Their wives shall be given to others, when they are taken captives, and their fields. shall be taken from them by their victorious enemy and shall be given to those that shall inherit them, not only strip them for once, but take possession of them as their own and acquire a property in them as their own and acquire a property in them, which they shall transmit to their posterity. And (Jer. 8:12), notwithstanding all their pretensions to wisdom and sanctity, they shall fall among those that fall; for, if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall together into the ditch. In the time of their visitation, when the wickedness of the land comes to be enquired into, it will be found that they have contributed to it more than any, and therefore they shall be sure to be cast down and cast out. 2. He gives a reason for these judgments (Jer. 8:10-12), even the same account of their badness which we meet with before (Jer. 6:13-15), where it was opened at large. (1.) They were greedy of the wealth of this world, which is bad enough in any, but worst in prophets and priests, who should be best acquainted with another world and therefore should be most dead to this. But these, from the least to the greatest, were given to covetousness. The priests teach for hire and the prophets divine for money, Mic. 3:11. (2.) They made no conscience of speaking truth, no, not when they spoke as priests and prophets: Every one deals falsely, looks one way and rows another. There is no such thing as sincerity among them. (3.) They flattered people in their sins, and so flattered them into destruction. They pretended to be the physicians of the state, but knew not how to apply proper remedies to its growing maladies; they healed them slightly, killed the patient with palliative cures, silencing their fears and complaints with, “Peace, peace, all is well, and there is no danger,” when the God of heaven was proceeding in his controversy with them, so that there could be no peace to them. (4.) When it was made to appear how basely they prevaricated they were not at all ashamed of it, but rather gloried in it, (Jer. 8:12): They could not blush, so perfectly lost were they to all sense of virtue and honour. When they were convicted of the grossest forgeries they would justify what they had done, and laugh at those whom they had imposed upon. Such as these were ripe for ruin.