24. O LORD, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.
24. Castiga me, Jehova, tantummodo in judicio, non in ira tua, ne imminuas me.
The Prophet again indirectly reproves and condemns the stupor of the people, because he saw that all his threatenings were despised. They had indeed been often punished, and they thought that they had escaped; and though an extreme calamity was approaching, they yet supposed that God was far from them; and thus they cherished their own delusions. Hence the Prophet alone personates the whole people, and undertakes a common and public lamentation. Chastise me, Jehovah, he says, but in judgment The Prophet doubtless is not here solicitous about his own safety only, nor does he plead his own private cause, but he supplicates for the whole people.
But why does he speak of himself alone? Because he personated, as I have already said, the whole community, and thus reproved them for their insensibility, because they were not more attentive to the approaching judgment of God. In short, the Prophet here teaches them how they must all have felt, were they not wholly blinded and, as it were, given up to a reprobate mind;. and thus he shews, that the only thing that remained for them was suppliantly to ask pardon from God, and that they were not wholly to refuse all chastisement, but to supplicate forgiveness only in part, even that God would not exercise such severity as altogether to consume them. In this way he shews how atrocious were the sins of the people; for they were not simply and unreservedly to ask God to pardon them, but only to moderate his vengeance. When any one sins lightly, he may flee to God's mercy, and say, |Lord, forgive me!| but they who have accumulated evils on evils, and after having been often warned have not repented, as though they purposely sought to arm God against themselves and to their own ruin, -- can such seek entire exemption from all punishment? This would not be meet nor reasonable.
The Prophet then shews here briefly, that the Jews had so far advanced in wickedness that God would not wholly forgive them, and that they were not to seek pardon without any chastisement, but only to ask of God, as I have said, to moderate his severity. David did the same thing, though he pleaded his own cause only, and not that of the people. He deprecated God's wrath and indignation; he sought not to be so forgiven as to feel no chastisement; but as he dreaded God's wrath he wished it to be in a measure averted. And hence, in another place, he thanks God that he had been lightly smitten by his hand,
|Chastising, the Lord has chastised me,
but doomed me not to death.| (Psalm 118:18)
But this ought to be especially observed as to the words of Jeremiah, -- that the people ought not to have asked pardon unless they submitted to God's chastisement, for they had most grievously and perversely sinned.
We may hence also gather a general truth: the real character and nature of repentance is, to submit to God's judgment and to suffer with a resigned mind his chastisement, provided it be paternal. For when God deals with us according to strict justice, all hope of salvation is extinguished, so that it cannot be that we shall from the heart repent. Let us then know that this is necessary in repentance -- that he who has offended God should present himself willingly, and of his own accord, before his tribunal and bear his chastisement. For they who are so delicate and tender, that they cannot endure any of his scourges, seem to be still refractory and rebellious. Wherever, then, there is the true feeling of penitence, there is this submission connected with it, -- that God should chastise him who has offended. But a moderation is needed, according to the promise,
|I will chastise them, but with the hand of man; for my mercy will I not take away from them.| (2 Samuel 7:14;
Psalm 89:33, 35)
This was God's promise to Solomon; but we know that it belongs to all the members of Christ. Though then God indiscriminately punishes the sins of the whole world, there is yet a great difference between the elect and the reprobate, for God grants this privilege to his elect, -- that he chastises them paternally as his children, while he deals with the reprobate as a severe judge, so that all the punishments which they endure are fatal, as they cannot see anything but God's wrath in their judgments. The elect also have ever a reason for consolation, for they know God to be their Father; and though they may at first shun his wrath, and being smitten with terror, seek some hiding places, yet having afterwards a taste of his kindness and mercy they take courage; and thus their punishments, though much more grievous than those endured by the reprobate, are yet not fatal to them, for God turns them to remedies. We now then see what is the use and benefit of what the Prophet teaches, when he says, Chastise me, Jehovah, but only in judgment
Judgment is to be taken here for moderation. The word mspht meshepheth, has indeed various meanings: but it is to be regarded here as signifying a measured portion; not that God ever exceeds due limits in inflicting punishment, but because men faint when he exercises rigor, as then there appears to them no hope of pardon. When God therefore executes only the office of a Judge, men must necessarily faint altogether: so Jeremiah means, that there would be no measured dealing, that is, that God's judgment would not be endurable, except he dealt mercifully with him. There is also set in opposition to this another clause, not in fury, or, not in wrath. Here then the want of moderation or excess is not opposed to a measured proportion, but the wrath of God. We also know that no passions belong to God; but, when God's wrath or rigour appears, men must necessarily not only be terrified, but be also reduced to nothing: and yet in many places we read that` God is angry with his elect and the whole Church: but, this is to be referred to the outward appearance; for it is certain that the punishments with which God visits his own children are evidences of his paternal love, as in this way he promotes their salvation. Hence the Apostle says, that they are bastards whom God does not favor with any correction. (Hebrews 12:8.) But yet as to the outward appearance, the punishments which God inflicts on his elect differ nothing from those by which he manifests his wrath, and which he executes on the reprobate. Therefore it is by a sort of impropriety in language that punishments are always said to be evidences and signs of God's wrath, and that God is said to be angry with his Church. But the Prophet speaks here strictly correct when he sets God's wrath in opposition to his judgment, that. is, to that moderation which he exercises towards his elect, when he withholds his hand, which would otherwise overwhelm them in an instant.
Hence he subjoins, Lest thou shouldest diminish them By diminishing he means destruction: as in many other places. It could not be otherwise but that God should diminish us, were he only to touch us with the end of his finger, as we know how dreadful is his power: nor is there any need for him to thunder from heaven, but were he only to shew an angry countenance, it would be all over with us. But the Prophet takes diminution here for demolition. We hence see that he so subjects himself and the whole people to God's chastisement as yet to seek some moderation; for otherwise God's rigor would have consumed them all, from the least to the greatest, according to what is also said by Isaiah,
|I have tried thee, but not as gold and silver, for thou wouldest have been consumed.| (Isaiah 48:10)
God then so deals with miserable sinners, that he regards what they can bear, and not what they deserve. This is simply what the Prophet means.
But we may hence learn, that there is no one who can bear the strict rigour of God; and that therefore our only asylum is his mercy; not that he may pardon us altogether: for it is good for us to be chastised by his hand; but that he may chastise us only according to his paternal kindness. It follows --