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Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 4 by Jean Calvin

Lecture One hundred and Twenty-First

In the last lecture, the Prophet told us that Ephraim, until he had been chastised by God's hand, was like an untamed bullock, and that, therefore, exile was useful to him. He now adds, Turn me, and I shall be turned

This second clause seems not to be in accordance with the former; for the Israelites had before confessed that they had turned, and now they pray God to turn them. Why is this said? For it seems useless to ask for what we have already obtained. But the solution is obvious. It may first be answered, that men never so repent but that they have need of the continual aid of God; for we must be renewed from day to day, and by degrees renounce the lusts of our flesh; nor is it in one day that we put off the old man. And when the Prophet in the Psalms speaks of the deliverance of the people, he says that it was a miracle, that the people had been restored beyond all hope;

|We were,| he says, |like those who dream;|

he afterwards adds,

|Turn our captivity, O Lord,| (Psalm 116:1, 4)

and this he said because God had restored but a small number. The same also happens as to spiritual turning, both with regard to the whole body and to individual members. We turn, as I have already said, by little and little to God, and by various steps; for repentance has its progress. There is, therefore, nothing improper when we say that the Prophet, in the name of the ten tribes, asks God to go on with his work. But as this explanation is rather strained, I prefer a simpler view of the words, |Turn me, and I shall be turned.| They mean the same thing as though the Prophet had said, |O Lord, this is thy work.| He does not then simply refer to a future time, but speaks of God's favor, as though he had said, that men do not turn by their own impulse, but that God, by the hidden power of his Spirit, turns them.

The Israelites had before confessed that they had been profitably chastised by God's hand, because punishment had instructed them; but now he adds that this was the singular kindness of God. But, as we before observed, punishment is what the elect and the reprobate have in common; but the end and fruit of punishment is far different; for the reprobate become more and more hardened, the very reverse of being submissive to God; but the elect are subdued, for God not only smites them with his rods, but also tames them within, subdues their pride, and, in a word, bends their hearts to obedience by his Spirit.

We now then understand the purpose of the Prophet: for in the name of the people, he first confesses that punishment, inflicted by God, had been useful, and secondly, he adds, that it was not through the power of men that they willingly returned to a right mind, but that God had bent their hearts by his Spirit, so that they did not become hardened by punishment, nor obstinately resisted, as the case most commonly is. We hence, then, conclude that repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit. God, indeed, invites us, and even urges us by external means to repent; for what is the design of punishment, but to lead us to repentance? But we must still remember that were God only to chastise us, it would have no other effect than to render us inexcusable, for our perverseness could never in this way be corrected. It is, then, necessary to add the second favor, that is, that God should subdue us within, and restore us to obedience. This the Prophet testifieswhen he says, |Turn me, and I shall be turned,| as though he had said, that men indeed turn when God reminds them of their sins, but that they do this not by their own power, for it is the peculiar work of God.

He therefore adds, For thou, Jehovah, art my God By this clause he intimates that God favors only his elect with this privilege; as though he had said, that it does not happen to all indiscriminately that they repent and submit to God when he punishes them for their sins, but that it is a benefit peculiar to his chosen people. We ought then especially to notice the reason by which the Prophet confirms the previous sentence, for we hence learn the manifest difference there is between the elect and the reprobate; for some rebel and kick against the goads, and obstinately rush headlong into ruin, but others calmly and quietly submit to God: the reason is, because some are reprobate and the others are the elect. It now follows, --

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