22. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.
22. Quod si stetissent in concilio meo, certe (copula enim ita resolvi debet) udire fecissent verba mea populum meum (hoc est, docuissent populum meum sermones meos) et reduxissent eos a via sua mala, et a malitia studiorum ipsorum.
This verse is as it were an explanation of the former; for many might have been perplexed, if it had only been said to them, that there are none who are fit and legitimate teachers but those who had been sent and entrusted with what God had commanded. Hence the Prophet here calls our attention to the truth which is certain and manifest; for God had delivered the sum of all truth in his Law. As then the perfection of wisdom was found in the Law, from which the prophets drew whatever we read in their writings, no excuses, such as the following, could be admitted, -- |How can we know that the prophets speak from God's mouth, that they bring nothing devised by themselves, that they have the instructions which God approves?|
The Prophet then calls the attention of the Jews to the Law, as though He had said as Moses did,
|There is no need to ascend above the clouds, or to descend into the depths, or to run beyond the sea; for the Law and the word is nigh in thy mouth, that is, God has set before you whatever is necessary and useful to be known.| (Deuteronomy 30:12-14; Romans 10:6.)
This, then, is fully made known to you, nor will the knowledge of anything necessary be obscure, if ye attend to the Law. Hence the cause of error is not only your sloth, but also your perverseness; for ye wilfully neglect the Law, and remain doubtful and inquire, |Which is the way?|
|This is the way,| said Moses, |walk ye in it.| (Deuteronomy 5:33.)
We now then perceive what Jeremiah had in view: he had before said, that none were to be attended to, except they who were sent and spoke from the mouth of God; but he now explains what he meant, even that the Law contained the whole sum of wisdom. But as he had before introduced the false prophets, as boldly deriding the true and faithful servants of God, by objecting to them and saying, |Who had stood in the counsel of God? these imagine that they have fallen from the clouds, they terrify you with dreadful threatenings, as though they were angels from heaven,| -- as then the false prophets were thus wont to speak disdainfully of God's servants, and alleged that they did not stand in God's counsel, Jeremiah now retorts upon them, and says, speaking in God's name, If they had stood in my counsel, they would doubtless have spoken from my Law; as though he had said, |They believe not my servants, because they are men and not angels; they hence deny that they are of my counsel: thus they persuade the whole people to despise the doctrine of salvation. There are, however, some prophets whom I have sent: now, if they wish to be deemed sent, let them prove themselves to be so.| What is the true proof? If they had stood in my counsel, they would have doubtless made known my word to my people. What is that word? the definition follows, even the word of the Law, They would have turned the straying people from their evil way
The passage may seem obscure, but from the context itself we can gather that the real design of the Prophet was to convict the false teachers, that they might no longer boast of God's name, and falsely pretend that they were endued with the prophetic office, and glory in that distinction. He says that it was an evident proof that they were not God's prophets, because they did not faithfully teach what they ought to have derived from the Law.
It is indeed certain, that no one has been God's counsellor, according to what Scripture says in many places, when the object is to check the arrogance of those who, in their curiosity, attempt to penetrate into the hidden judgments of God, (Isaiah 40:13;) and Paul, while speaking of God's eternal election, it being incomprehensible, exclaims, Who has been his counsellor? (Romans 11: 34.) He uses a similar language in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, (1 Corinthians 2:16:) and why? that he might check the temerity of the human mind, which ventures farther than it is lawful. But afterwards Paul adds by way of correction, |But we have the mind of Christ:| how so? because he has made known his counsel to us. When, therefore, the false prophets denied that God's servants were his counsellors, they might indeed have said so, viewing them only as mortal men; but their object was to discredit and to render void the word of God; so that they wished to put a restraint not only on men, but also on God himself. This was an intolerable insult to God.
Moreover the Prophet now turns as it were upon them, |There is then no Prophet of God in the world!| But fixed was that saying, that there would ever be some prophets; and none of the Jews could have dared to deny Moses to have been divinely inspired. This, then, being allowed, the Prophet now indirectly reproves them, |Where are the prophets of God?| and as they laid claim to this distinction, he says, |Doubtless ye stand not in God's counsel. How so? because the counsel of God is included in his Law; and as ye have departed from the doctrine of true religion, as ye have no care to convey instruction, as your doctrine does not teach men the fear of God, nor leads to repentance, it follows that ye are not God's counsellors nor his prophets.| But that this may appear more evident, we must bear in mind what Moses said, that God has his own secret things, but that whatever is taught in the Law belongs to us and to our children. (Deuteronomy 29:29.) There is then no reason why the inquiry should be difficult respecting the true prophets of God; for they, without controversy, deserve to be heard as the angels of God, who are faithful interpreters of his Law; but they who lead us away from the Law ought to be firmly and boldly rejected.
But we must also bear in mind the definition that is given when it is said, that they ought to have turned the people from their evil way, and from the wickedness of their doings We indeed know that the worst men insolently pretend to preach God's word, as the Papists do at this day: though they have inebriated the whole world with their ungodly and delirious doctrines, they yet boast that they are the servants of God. Hence the Prophet, after having spoken generally of God's word, adds a special distinction, -- that the doctrine of God is that which edifies, which teaches and leads men to repentance and the fear of God, according to what Paul says, that the Scripture is useful for these purposes, (2 Timothy 3:16;) for by so saying, he intended to condemn all false interpreters of Scripture, as there were many then who boasted that they were the best teachers, while yet they only pleased itching ears. As then there were many who regarded display and not edification, Paul says, that the Scripture is useful; and therefore he rejected with contempt all expositions in which there was nothing useful. So also in this place the Prophet shews that the right and legitimate use of Scripture was when it was employed to restore men from their evil way.
There is, indeed, here an instance of a part being stated for the whole: for if we only exhort men to repent, there will be no great fruit; and our teaching would be defective, for the doctrine of repentance would be inefficient without faith and without calling on the name of God. But the Prophet did not intend here to mention every part of a sound and useful doctrine; he deemed it enough to confute the false teachers who wished to be alone in repute, while yet they had no care to edify the people; for they saw all things in disorder, they saw crimes prevailing everywhere, they saw a dreadful contempt of God, but to these things they were wholly blind. It might then have been hence easily inferred that they neither faithfully labored for God nor manifested any care for the safety of the Church; for they thus betrayed miserable souls, whose ruin they saw was near at hand.
We now then see the whole design of the Prophet. But there is no doubt but that to the evil way he added the wickedness of their doings, in order that he might more fully expose the insensibility of those who under such an urgency were silent and remained inactive. There is sometimes the need of a moderate reproof; but when people allow themselves an extreme license in wickedness, when impunity is everywhere permitted, and when such corruptions prevail in common, that nothing remains untainted, if then the tongue of the teacher is silent and as it were tied, is he not rightly called an idle and a dumb dog? And thus the Prophet enhances the insensibility, for which he condemns the false teachers; they were silent, as though things were in a good order, while they had to witness not only common crimes, but even a vast accumulation of all kinds of crimes; for the people gave themselves up not only to one kind of wickedness, but to all kinds, and wholly despised God and his Law. It afterwards follows, --