Here the clouds begin to disperse and the sky to clear up; the complaint was very melancholy in the former part of the chapter, and yet here the tune is altered and the mourners in Zion begin to look a little pleasant. But for hope, the heart would break. To save the heart from being quite broken, here is something called to mind, which gives ground for hope (Lam. 3:21), which refers to what comes after, not to what goes before. I make to return to my heart (so the margin words it); what we have had in our hearts, and have laid to our hearts, is sometimes as if it were quite lost and forgotten, till God by his grace make it return to our hearts, that it may be ready to us when we have occasion to use it. “I recall it to mind; therefore have I hope, and am kept from downright despair.” Let us see what these things are which he calls to mind.
I. That, bad as things are, it is owing to the mercy of God that they are not worse. We are afflicted by the rod of his wrath, but it is of the lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, Lam. 3:22. When we are in distress we should, for the encouragement of our faith and hope, observe what makes for us as well as what makes against us. Things are bad but they might have been worse, and therefore there is hope that they may be better. Observe here, 1. The streams of mercy acknowledged: We are not consumed. Note, The church of God is like Moses’s bush, burning, yet not consumed; whatever hardships it has met with, or may meet with, it shall have a being in the world to the end of time. It is persecuted of men, but not forsaken of God, and therefore, though it is cast down, it is not destroyed (2 Cor. 4:9), corrected, yet not consumed, refined in the furnace as silver, but not consumed as dross. 2. These streams followed up to the fountain: It is of the Lord’s mercies. here are mercies in the plural number, denoting the abundance and variety of those mercies. God is an inexhaustible fountain of mercy, the Father of mercies. Note, We all owe it to the sparing mercy of God that we are not consumed. Others have been consumed round about us, and we ourselves have been in the consuming, and yet we are not consumed; we are out of the grave; we are out of hell. Had we been dealt with according to our sins, we should have been consumed long ago; but we have been dealt with according to God’s mercies, and we are bound to acknowledge it to his praise.
II. That even in the depth of their affliction they still have experience of the tenderness of the divine pity and the truth of the divine promise. They had several times complained that God had not pitied (Lam. 2:17, 21), but here they correct themselves, and own, 1. That God’s compassions fail not; they do not really fail, no, not even when in anger he seems to have shut up his tender mercies. These rivers of mercy run fully and constantly, but never run dry. No; they are new every morning; every morning we have fresh instances of God’s compassion towards us; he visits us with them every morning (Job 7:18); every morning does he bring his judgment to light, Zeph. 3:5. When our comforts fail, yet God’s compassions do not. 2. That great is his faithfulness. Though the covenant seemed to be broken, they owned that it still continued in full force; and, though Jerusalem be in ruins, the truth of the Lord endures for ever. Note, Whatever hard things we suffer, we must never entertain any hard thoughts of God, but must still be ready to own that he is both kind and faithful.
III. That God is, and ever will be, the all-sufficient happiness of his people, and they have chosen him and depend upon him to be such (Lam. 3:24): The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; that is, 1. “When I have lost all I have in the world, liberty, and livelihood, and almost life itself, yet I have not lost my interest in God.” Portions on earth are perishing things, but God is portion for ever. 2. “While I have an interest in God, therein I have enough; I have that which is sufficient to counterbalance all my troubles and make up all my losses.” Whatever we are robbed of our portion is safe. 3. “This is that which I depend upon and rest satisfied with: Therefore will I hope in him. I will stay myself upon him, and encourage myself in him, when all other supports and encouragements fail me.” Note, It is our duty to make God the portion of our souls, and then to make use of him as our portion and to take the comfort of it in the midst of our lamentations.
IV. That those who deal with God will find it is not in vain to trust in him; for, 1. He is good to those who do so, Lam. 3:25. He is good to all; his tender mercies are over all his works; all his creatures taste of his goodness. But he is in a particular manner good to those that wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. Note, While trouble is prolonged, and deliverance is deferred, we must patiently wait for God and his gracious returns to us. While we wait for him by faith, we must seek him by prayer: our souls must seek him, else we do not seek so as to find. Our seeking will help to keep up our waiting. And to those who thus wait and seek God will be gracious; he will show them his marvellous lovingkindness. 2. Those that do so will find it good for them (Lam. 3:26): It is good (it is our duty, and will be our unspeakable comfort and satisfaction) to hope and quietly to wait for the salvation of the Lord, to hope that it will come, thought the difficulties that lie in the way of it seem insupportable, to wait till it does come, though it be long delayed, and while we wait to be quiet and silent, not quarrelling with God nor making ourselves uneasy, but acquiescing in the divine disposals. Father, thy will be done. If we call this to mind, we may have hope that all will end well at last.
V. That afflictions are really good for us, and, if we bear them aright, will work very much for our good. It is not only good to hope and wait for the salvation, but it is good to be under the trouble in the mean time (Lam. 3:27): It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Many of the young men were carried into captivity. To make them easy in it, he tells them that it was good for them to bear the yoke of that captivity, and they would find it so if they would but accommodate themselves to their condition, and labour to answer God’s ends in laying that heavy yoke upon them. It is very applicable to the yoke of God’s commands. It is good for young people to take that yoke upon them in their youth; we cannot begin too soon to be religious. It will make our duty the more acceptable to God, and easy to ourselves, if we engage in it when we are young. But here it seems to be meant of the yoke of affliction. Many have found it good to bear this in youth; it has made those humble and serious, and has weaned them from the world, who otherwise would have been proud and unruly, and as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. But when do we bear the yoke so that it is really good for us to bear it in our youth? He answers in the following verses, 1. When we are sedate and quiet under our afflictions, when we sit alone and keep silence, do not run to and fro into all companies with our complaints, aggravating our calamities, and quarrelling with the disposals of Providence concerning us, but retire into privacy, that we may in a day of adversity consider, sit alone, that we may converse with God and commune with our own hearts, silencing all discontented distrustful thoughts, and laying our hand upon our mouth, as Aaron, who, under a very severe trial, held his peace. We must keep silence under the yoke as those that have borne it upon us, not wilfully pulled it upon our own necks, but patiently submitted to it when God laid it upon us. When those who are afflicted in their youth accommodate themselves to their afflictions, fit their necks to the yoke and study to answer God’s end in afflicting them, then they will find it good for them to bear it, for it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who are thus exercised thereby. 2. When we are humble and patient under our affliction. He gets good by the yoke who puts his mouth in the dust, not only lays his hand upon his mouth, in token of submission to the will of God in the affliction, but puts it in the dust, in token of sorrow, and shame, and self-loathing, at the remembrance of sin, and as one perfectly reduced and reclaimed, and brought as those that are vanquished to lick the dust, Ps. 72:9. And we must thus humble ourselves, if so be there may be hope, or (as it is in the original) peradventure there is hope. If there be any way to acquire and secure a good hope under our afflictions, it is this way, and yet we must be very modest in our expectations of it, must look for it with an it may be, as those who own ourselves utterly unworthy of it. Note, Those who are truly humbled for sin will be glad to obtain a good hope, through grace, upon any terms, though they put their mouth in the dust for it; and those who would have hope must do so, and ascribe it to free grace if they have any encouragements, which may keep their hearts from sinking into the dust when they put their mouth there. 3. When we are meek and mild towards those who are the instruments of our trouble, and are of a forgiving spirit, Lam. 3:30. He gets good by the yoke who gives his cheek to him that smites him, and rather turns the other cheek (Matt. 5:39) than returns the second blow. Our Lord Jesus has left us an example of this, for he gave his back to the smiter, Isa. 50:6. He who can bear contempt and reproach, and not render railing for railing, and bitterness for bitterness, who, when he is filled full with reproach, keeps it to himself, and does not retort it and empty it again upon those who filled him with it, but pours it out before the Lord (as those did, Ps. 123:4; whose souls were exceedingly filled with the contempt of the proud), he shall find that it is good to bear the yoke, that it shall turn to his spiritual advantage. The sum is, If tribulation work patience, that patience will work experience, and that experience a hope that makes not ashamed.
VI. That God will graciously return to his people with seasonable comforts according to the time that he has afflicted them, Lam. 3:31, 32. Therefore the sufferer is thus penitent, thus patient, because he believes that God is gracious and merciful, which is the great inducement both to evangelical repentance and to Christian patience. We may bear ourselves up with this, 1. That, when we are cast down, yet we ar 8000 e not cast off; the father’s correcting his son is not a disinheriting of him. 2. That though we may seem to be cast off for a time, while sensible comforts are suspended and desired salvations deferred, yet we are not really cast off, because not cast off for ever; the controversy with us shall not be perpetual. 3. That, whatever sorrow we are in, it is what God has allotted us, and his hand is in it. It is he that causes grief, and therefore we may be assured it is ordered wisely and graciously; and it is but for a season, and when need is, that we are in heaviness, 1 Pet. 1:6. 4. That God has compassions and comforts in store even for those whom he has himself grieved. We must be far from thinking that, though God cause grief, the world will relieve and help us. No; the very same that caused the grief must bring in the favour, or we are undone. Una eademque manus vulnus opemque tulit—The same hand inflicted the wound and healed it. He has torn, and he will heal us, Hos. 6:1. 5. That, when God returns to deal graciously with us, it will not be according to our merits, but according to his mercies, according to the multitude, the abundance, of his mercies. So unworthy we are that nothing but an abundant mercy will relieve us; and from that what may we not expect? And God’s causing our grief ought to be no discouragement at all to those expectations.
VII. That, when God does cause grief, it is for wise and holy ends, and he takes not delight in our calamities, Lam. 3:33. He does indeed afflict, and grieve the children of men; all their grievances and afflictions are from him. But he does not do it willingly, not from the heart; so the word is. 1. He never afflicts us but when we give him cause to do it. He does not dispense his frowns as he does his favours, ex mero motu—from his mere good pleasure. If he show us kindness, it is because so it seems good unto him; but, if he write bitter things against us, it is because we both deserve them and need them. 2. He does not afflict with pleasure. He delights not in the death of sinners, or the disquiet of saints, but punishes with a kind of reluctance. He comes out of his place to punish, for his place is the mercy-seat. He delights not in the misery of any of his creatures, but, as it respects his own people, he is so far from it that in all their afflictions he is afflicted and his soul is grieved for the misery of Israel. 3. He retains his kindness for his people even when he afflicts them. If he does not willingly grieve the children of men, much less his own children. However it be, yet God is good to them (Ps. 73:1), and they may by faith see love in his heart even when they see frowns in his face and a rod in his hand.
VIII. That though he makes use of men as his hand, or rather instruments in his hand, for the correcting of his people, yet he is far from being pleased with the injustice of their proceedings and the wrong they do them, Lam. 3:34-36. Though God serves his own purposes by the violence of wicked and unreasonable men, yet it does no therefore follow that he countenances that violence, as his oppressed people are sometimes tempted to think. Hab. 1:3; Wherefore lookest thou upon those that deal treacherously? Two ways the people of God are injured and oppressed by their enemies, and the prophet here assures us that God does not approve of either of them:—1. If men injure them by force of arms, God does not approve of that. he does not himself crush under his feet the prisoners of the earth, but he regards the cry of the prisoners; nor does he approve of men’s doing it; nay, he is much displeased with it. It is barbarous to trample on those that are down, and to crush those that are bound and cannot help themselves. 2. If men injure them under colour of law, and in the pretended administration of justice,—if they turn aside the right of a man, so that he cannot discover what his rights are or cannot come at them, they are out of his reach,—if they subvert a man in his cause, and bring in a wrong verdict, or give a false judgment, let them know, (1.) That God sees them. It is before the face of the Most High (Lam. 3:35); it is in his sight, under his eye, and is very displeasing to him. They cannot but know it is so, and therefore it is in defiance of him that they do it. He is the Most High, whose authority over them they contemn by abusing their authority over their subjects, not considering that he that is higher than the highest regardeth, Eccl. 5:8. (2.) That God does not approve of them. More is implied than is expressed. The perverting of justice, and the subverting of the just, are a great affront to God; and, though he may make use of them for the correction of his people, yet he will sooner or later severely reckon with those that do thus. Note, However God may for a time suffer evil-doers to prosper, and serve his own purposes by them, yet he does not therefore approve of their evil doings. Far be it from God that he should do iniquity, or countenance those that do it.