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Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

Jeremiah 4:14

14. O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?

14. Munda a malitia cor tuum, Jerusalem, ut salva sis: quousque manebunt in medio tui cogitationes vanitatis tuae? (alii vertunt, doloris tui; alii, concupiscentiae tuae; alii, iniquitatis, ac si esset vnk.)

Here now the Prophet expressly and avowedly exhorts the people to repent. By bidding Jerusalem to wash from wickedness her heart, that she might be saved, he shews that there was no remedy, except the Jews were reconciled to God; and that this could not be, except they repented of their sins. He had said before, that while God was angry they could not but perish; he now confirms the same thing, -- that thou mayest be saved, wash thine heart from wickedness; as though he had said, that there was war between the Jews and God, and that salvation could by no means be hoped for, since God was armed for their destruction, and shewed himself a judge to punish their vices: he at the same time reminds them of the true way of repentance; it was by washing their heart from wickedness. For hypocrites ever seek to appease God by external rites and observances; but the Prophet shows that God cannot be pacified, except they from the heart return to him. He then means that the beginning of true repentance is an inward feeling. We now perceive what the Prophet means.

But they reason foolishly who maintain that repentance is the cause of salvation, because it is said, |That thou mayest be saved, wash thy heart from wickedness:| and the Papists lay hold on such passages to set up free -- will; and they hold that sins are abolished and punishment remitted through satisfactions made by us. But this is extremely absurd and frivolous. For the Prophet is not speaking of the cause of salvation; but, as I have said, he simply shows that men are extremely thoughtless when they expect a peaceable condition, while they carry on war with God, and when he is armed to execute vengeance on them. We are not then to inquire here, whether a sinner delivers himself from God's hand by his repentance: but the Prophet had only this one thing in view -- that we cannot be safe and secure, except God be reconciled to us. He further shews, that God will not be propitious to us, except we repent, and that from the heart or from a genuine feeling within.

He then adds, How long shall remain within thee the thoughts of thy vanity? He here touches on the hypocrisy of his own nation; and he in effect says, that whatever excuses they might make, they were yet proved guilty before God, and that their evasions were frivolous, because God penetrated into the inmost recesses of their hearts. He indeed speaks most suitably, for he had to do with hypocrites who thought that their outward performances pacified God; and they also thought that when they alleged their evasions they ought to be forgiven, as they could not be condemned by earthly judges. The Prophet derides these delusive thoughts, How long shall thoughts of vanity remain within thee? that is, |Though the whole world were to absolve thee, what yet would it avail thee? For vain thoughts remain in the midst of thee, that is, in the recesses of thy heart; and God knows them, for nothing is hid from him. There is then no reason for you to think that ye will gain anything by your outward display or your excuses; for God is the searcher of hearts. Let not these thoughts continue within thee.|

He calls them the thoughts of vanity The word, 'vn, aun, means sometimes substance, but, it also means power, and sometimes grief, and sometimes vanity or trouble. The Prophet means here, I have no doubt, trouble or vanity. But some expound it as signifying lust; but I know not whether it can be so taken. Either of the two foregoing meanings may suit the passage, though vanity seems the best, How long, then, shall thoughts of vanity remain within thee? that is, by which thou deceivest thyself: for when God suspended his vengeance, the Jews thought that they had escaped from his hand. They might, at the same time, have been called the thoughts of trouble or sorrow from the effect; for how could it have been otherwise, but they must have found that they had procured a heavier judgment for themselves, by trifling with the indulgence and forbearance of God? Too strained is the explanation given by some, who render the words, |thoughts of grief, |because the Jews had done many wrongs to their neighbors, and caused them unjust vexations. I therefore doubt not but that the Prophet refers to those deceptive hopes, by which the Jews grew more perverse against God, so as not to fear any punishment.

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