Yet though such a man in such an age Jeremiah is sped through it with a force, which in spite of him never fails and which indeed carries his influence to the end of his nation's history.
What was the powder which launched this grim projectile through his times? Part at least was his faith in his predestination, the bare sense that God Almighty meant him from before his beginning for the work, and was gripping him to it till the close. This alone prevailed over his reluctant nature, his protesting affections, and his adverse circumstance.
Before in the body I built thee, I knew thee,
Before thou wast forth from the womb, I had put thee apart, I have set thee a prophet to the nations.
From the first and all through it was God's choice of him, the knowledge of himself as a thought of the Deity and a consecrated instrument of the Divine Will, which grasped this unbraced and sensitive creature, this alternately discouraged and impulsive man, and turned him, as we have seen, into the opposite of himself.
The writers of the Old Testament give full expression to the idea of predestination, but what they understand by it is not what much of Jewish and Christian theology has understood. In the Old Testament predestination is not to character or fate, to salvation or its opposite, to eternal life or eternal punishment, but to service, or some particular form of service, for God and man. The Great Evangelist of the Exile so defines it for Israel as a whole: Israel an eternal purpose of God for the enlightenment and blessing of mankind. And this faith is enforced on the nation, not for their pride nor to foster the confidence that God will never break from them, but to rouse their conscience, and give them courage when they are feeble or indolent or hopeless of their service. So with Jeremiah in regard both to his own predestination and that of his people. In his Parable of the Potter (as we have seen) it is for service as vessels that the clay is moulded; God is revealed not as predestining character or quality, but as shaping characters for ends for which under His hand they yield suitable qualities. The parable illustrates not arbitrariness of election nor irresistible sovereignty but a double freedom -- freedom in God to change His decrees for moral reasons, freedom on man's part to thwart God's designs for him. In further illustration of this remember again the wonderful words, Be thou not dismayed before them, lest I make thee dismayed; if thou wilt turn, then shall I turn thee. To work upon man God needs man's own will.
From imagining the Deity as sheer absolute will, to which the experience of the resistless force behind his own soul must sometimes have tempted him, Jeremiah was further guarded by his visions of the Divine working in Nature. He is never more clear or musical than when singing of the regularity, faithfulness and reasonableness of this. With such a Creator, such a Providence, there could be neither arbitrariness nor caprice.
Having this experience of God's ways with man it was not possible for Jeremiah to succumb to those influences of a strong unqualified faith in predestination which have often overwhelmed the personalities of its devotees. Someone has talked of |the wine of predestination,| and history both in the East and in the West furnishes cases of men so drugged by it as to lose their powers of will, reason and heart, and become either apathetic unquestioning slaves of fate, or violent and equally unquestioning dogmatists and tyrants -- the soul-less instruments of a pitiless force. God overpowers them: He is all and they are nothing. It was far otherwise with Jeremiah, who realised and preserved his individuality not only as against the rest of his people but as against God Himself. His earlier career appears from the glimpses we get of it to have been, if not a constant, yet a frequent struggle with the Deity. He argues against the Divine calls to him. And even when he yields he expresses his submission in terms which almost proudly define his own will as over against that of God:
Lord thou beguiledst me, and I let myself be beguiled, Thou wast stronger than I and hast conquered.
The man would not be mastered, but if mastered is not crushed. He questions each moment of his own sufferings, each moment of his people's oncoming doom. He debates with God on matters of justice. He wrestles things out with God and emerges from each wrestle not halt and limping like Jacob of old, but firm and calm, more clear in his mind and more sure of himself -- as we see him at last when the full will of God breaks upon his soul with the Battle of Carchemish and he calmly surrenders to his own and his people's fate. That is how this prophet, by nature so fluid, and so shrinking stands out henceforth a fenced city and a wall of bronze over against the whole people of the land: the one unbreakable figure in the breaking-up of the state and the nation. We perceive the method in God's discipline of such a soul. He sees his servant's weakness and grants him the needful athletic for it, by wrestling with him Himself.
We may here take in full the remarkable passage, part of which we have already studied.(736)
Too Righteous art Thou, O Lord, XII.1
That with Thee I should argue.
Yet cases there are I must speak with Thee of: --
The way of the wicked -- why doth it prosper,
And the treacherous all be at ease?
Thou did'st plant them, yea they take root, 2
They get on, yea they make fruit;
Near in their mouths art Thou,
But far from their reins.
But me, O Lord, Thou hast known,(737) 3
And tested my heart with Thee;
Drag them out like sheep for the shambles,
To the day of slaughter devote them.
Thou hast run with the foot and they wore thee -- 5 How wilt thou vie with the horse?
If in peaceful country thou can'st not trust,
How wilt thou do in the rankness of Jordan?
For even thy brothers, the house of thy father, 6
Even they have betrayed thee.
Even they have called after thee loudly,
Trust them not, though they speak thee fair.(738)
The rankness or luxuriance of Jordan is the jungle on both sides of the river, in which the lions lie. This then is all the answer that the wearied and perplexed servant gets from his Lord. The troubles of which he complains are but the training for still sorer. The only meaning of the checks and sorrows of life is to brace us for worse. It is the strain that ever brings the strength. Life is explained as a graded and progressively strenuous discipline, the result of it a stronger and more finely tempered soul. But this surely suggests the questions: Is that the whole result? Is the soul thus to be trained, braced and refined, only at last to be broken and vanish? These are natural questions to the Lord's answer, but Jeremiah does not put them. Unlike Job he makes no start, even with this stimulus, to break through to another life.