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Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 4 by Jean Calvin

Jeremiah 31:19

19. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.

19. Quia postquam convertisti me, poenituit me, et postquam cognitus sum mihi (vel, ostensum fuit mihi, vel, agnovi meipsum) percussi femur meum; pudefactus sum, atque etiam confusus, quia tuli opprobrium adolescentiae meae.

Jeremiah now proceeds with what he had before briefly touched upon, even to shew that the punishment inflicted on the Israelites had not been without its fruit. And this is a doctrine which ought especially to be known, for we always shun whatever is hard to the flesh; so that if it were according to our own will, the chastisements of God would never be well received by us. It is, therefore, necessary to regard the end, as the Apostle reminds us. (Hebrews 12:11) Now when we see that God has a regard for our own salvation while handling us somewhat roughly, our sorrow is mitigated and lessened, especially when experience proves that punishment is good for us; we then felicitate ourselves, and give thanks to God that he has not suffered us wholly to perish in our sins. This is the reason why the Prophet enlarges on this doctrine.

He therefore says, After thou hast turned me, I repented He confirms what he has already said, that it is the peculiar work of God when a sinner repents, and that it cannot be ascribed to human powers, as though men could of themselves turn to the right way. But how was this done? After thou hast turned me He thus repeats in other words what he had said, but for the purpose of confirming his previous declaration. The meaning is, that we are never touched by a serious feeling, so as to be displeased with our sins, until God himself turns us.

We hence learn how blind the Papists are, who, speaking of repentance, hold that man, through his own free-will, returns to God; and on this point is our greatest contest with them at this day. But the Prophet briefly determines the whole question; for, as he had said before, that men cannot turn except God turns them, he now adds, that he had found this to be really the fact, that people had never become conscious of their sins though God had grievously punished them until they were turned, not by their own free-will, but by the hidden working and influence of the ttoly Spirit; after thou hast turned me, I repented The meaning is, that men never entertain a real hatred towards sin, unless God illuminates their minds and changes their hearts; for what is the turning or conversion of which the Prophet speaks? It is the renewal of the mind and heart. For let its definition be fetched, as they say, from what is contrary to it; what is turning away? It is the alienation of the mind and heart from God. It then follows that when we turn we are converted, we are renewed in knowledge, and then in heart, or in our affections; both of which the Prophet ascribes to the grace of God, for he says that the people repented not of their sins until they were turned or converted, that is, until they were renewed both in mind and heart. Some give this version, |After I received consolation;| but their mistake is easily confuted by the context; for it immediately follows, I was ashamed and also confounded. There is no doubt then but that here is set forth the displeasure at sin that is felt when the sinner is terrified by God's judgment so as to renounce his vices.

After I was made known to myself, or, after it was shewn to me, or, simply, after I knew it, etc. For we may take the meaning to be, After it was given to Ephraim to know himself, or, after he knew himself. Some give this version, |After I was known;| and so the meaning would be the same with those words of Paul,

|After ye have known God, or rather are known by him.| (Galatians 4:9)

But I fear that this exposition is too refined. I therefore would rather follow those who give this rendering, After I became known to myself, or, after the thing was made known to me. The Prophet, no doubt, commends here the grace of God, because the veil had been taken away from the eyes of the people, or because they had been cured of their blindness; as though they had said, that they had long been blind, because they took delight in their vices, and their whole soul was in a torpid state; for we know that those who are forsaken by God are wholly insensible, and are as it were like the beasts. Then the people of Israel confess that they were, for a time, thus stupid, and that their minds were blinded: they therefore acknowledge here the grace of God, that he had at length opened their eyes. For they do not speak here, as we have said, of their virtue or power, but acknowledge that it proceeded wholly from God's gratuitous favor that they repented.

As then, under the word, turning or conversion, is included the renewal of the whole soul, so now it is expressly said, that they were endued with a right mind, because God had taken away the veil by which their eyes were covered, and had conferred on them new light. The meaning is, that they were not touched by the true fear of God before they were endued with a right mind; but at the same time he testifies that it had been obtained through the peculiar favor of God. We hence see that the Prophet, in the name of the ten tribes, acknowledges that nothing depended on the free-will of man, but that a sound mind and a right feeling of the heart is the work of the Holy Spirit.

The smiting of the thigh means sorrow or grief, which arises from the fear of God: for as long as we disregard God's judgment, Satan must necessarily fascinate us with his allurements; but when God manifestly shews that he is our judge, and when our own baseness comes to view, then we begin to smite the thigh And he adds, what means the same thing, I was ashamed and even confounded I wonder why many interpreters have omitted the particle gm gam, even: they invert the order, and render thus, |I was confounded and ashamed.| But the particle shews that the Prophet enhances the greatness of the sorrow and shame when he says, I was ashamed and even confounded

He then adds, Because I have borne the reproach of my youth He here repeats what he had said before, even that punishment, sent from above, had done good to the Israelites. For except they had been thus made ashamed, they would have always taken delight in their vices; for we see that the wicked flatter and deceive themselves as long as God spares and shews forbearance towards them. Hence the Prophet, in the name of the people, says, that punishment had been profitable to him. But we must bear in mind what we have said, that this fruit altogether proceeds from the grace of God: for the reprobate, however dreadful the examples of vengeance which God may exhibit, still remain unbending, nor do they bear their own reproach, that is, confess that they have sinned. To bear reproach, then, is peculiar to the elect of God, who have been regenerated by his Spirit; for they understand the cause of their evils. When we see two diseased persons, one of whom is insane, and so is insensible as to his disease, and the other feels his sorrow, and is affected by it: in this case we see some difference. But we see another difference in others who are diseased; we may therefore suppose a third case, for it often happens, that he who is affected with sorrow, does not yet examine into its cause. He then who is healable is one who understands whence has arisen his disease, and so is ready to obey, and willing to adopt the necessary remedies. There are also many who rush headlong to their own ruin; some, indeed, feel their punishment to be bitter, but consider not the cause of it, that is, that they have provoked God's wrath: but they who are prepared to seek the restoration of health, well know how they have contracted their disease. Hence the Prophet here says, that they bore their reproach, for they not only felt their sorrow, but also considered its fountain, that is, that they had, by their sins, provoked the wrath of God.

By youth he metaphorically points out the time when the Israelites indulged in excesses; for we know how much ardor belongs to that age. In the aged there is more moderation; but the young intemperately indulge themselves. It is therefore a metaphorical expression, by which the Prophet intimates, that the Israelites had, for a time, been wanton against God, their petulance being not subdued, for, as he had said, they had been like untamed bullocks. It follows, --

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