The words of the last verse of the eighteenth chapter we gave yesterday. Let us now see what the Prophet means by them, and what fruit we ought to gather from them. He says, that God was a witness of the wickedness of his enemies -- that all their counsels had in view his destruction. There is, moreover, to be understood a contrast, -- that the Prophet, as we have before seen, cared faithfully for their salvation. It was then a most base ingratitude in them to plot the death of the holy Prophet, who was not only innocent, but highly deserved their thanks for laboring for their salvation. We hence conclude that they deserved no mercy. Thou knowest, he says, their counsel, that what they consult among themselves tends to bring death on me: be not thou then propitious to their iniquity, and blot not out their sin
We said in our last lecture that this vehemence, as it was dictated by the Holy Spirit, is not to be condemned, nor ought it to be made an example of, for it was peculiar to the Prophet to know that they were reprobates: and we also shewed why no common law is to be made from particular examples: for Jeremiah was endued with the spirit of wisdom and judgment, and zeal also for God's glory so ruled in his heart, that the feelings of the flesh were wholly subdued, or at least brought under subjection; and farther, he pleaded not a private cause. We said in the first place, that it was oracular; for God designed to make it known, that they who thus obstinately resisted true doctrine were reprobate and irreclaimable. As all these things fall not to our lot, we ought not indiscriminately to imitate Jeremiah in this prayer: for that would then apply to us which Christ said to his disciples,
|Ye know not what spirit, governs you.| (Luke 9:55.)
And doubtless it ought to fill us with dread when we hear, Be not propitious to them, nor blot out their sin. God testifies in many plaices that he is gracious and inclined to mercy, and that when he is angry it is only for a moment. (Numbers 14:18; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 30:5) There seems then a great difference between the words of the Prophet and these testimonies, by which God makes known his own nature. But we have said already that the destruction of the people, against whom the Prophet thus prayed, had been made evident to him: and we must also bear in mind what we have stated, that he did not include the people without exception; for he knew that there was a seed remaining among them. He then confined his imprecation to the reprobate and irreclaimable, as he knew that they were already doomed to ruin, even by the eternal purpose of God' and as they had over and over again destroyed themselves, he boldly declares that God would never be propitious to them.
To the same purpose is what follows, Let them ever stumble before thy face. He mentions face here for manifest judgment; for the wicked exult as long as he spares them. The Prophet then would have God to sit on his throne, that he might appear as a Judge, and thus check the wantonness of those who despised his judgment, being constrained to know that they could not escape. There is also a contrast to be understood here between the presence and the absence of God. For hypocrites think that God is absent as long as he is indulgent to them and does not take vengeance hence they grow wanton, as though they had a permission to deceive him: but when God constrains them to acknowledge what they are unwilling to do, they are said to stand in his presence; for they are pressed too near to render it possible for them to evade, and willing or unwilling they are held fast, as the Lord proves that he is their Judge. We hence see the meaning of the expression when the Prophet says, Let them stumble before thy face.
He in the last place adds, In the time of thy wrath deal thus with them. The manner of his presence is set forth. There is, however, no doubt but that the Prophet here checks both himself and all the godly, that they may not be hasty, for we are often too precipitant in our wishes; for we would that God would fulminate every moment from heaven. This hastiness ought to be moderated; and the Prophet here prescribes to us the rule of moderation, by saying, In the time of thy wrath; as though he had said, |Even though thou deferrest and seemest now to connive at these great crimes, yet the time will eventually come in which thou wilt take vengeance on the reprobate.|
Whenever then the Scripture speaks of the time of God's wrath, let us know that under this form of speaking there is an exhortation to patience, so that excessive ardor may not lead us beyond the limits of moderation, but that we may wait with resigned minds until the due time of judgment comes. This is one thing; but at the same time the Prophet expresses also something more: for he would have the reprobate of whom he speaks, to be so involved in endless judgment as never to be able to extricate themselves. It is said in Psalm 106:4,
|Remember me, O Lord, with the favor of thy people,|
that is, |O Lord, this only I ask, to be joined to thy people; for even when thy Church is afflicted and deemed miserable, it will still be enough for me to be of the number of those whom thou honorest with thy paternal favor.| The favor then of God's people is that paternal regard which he entertains for his Church. So, on the other hand, the time of wrath is that judgment by which God devotes the reprobate to eternal perdition, so that there is no hope of salvation remaining for them. Deal thou with them, but when? even in the time of thy wrath; that is, deal with them as thou art wont to deal with thine irreclaimable enemies, to whom thou wilt never be reconcilable. This is the meaning. Now another discourse follows.