The call of Jeremiah .
Knew thee; i . e . took notice of thee; virtually equivalent to selected thee (comp. Genesis 39:6 ; Amos 3:2 ; Isaiah 58:3 ; Psalms 144:3 ). Observe, the predestination of individuals is a familiar idea in the Old Testament (comp. Isaiah 45:4 ; Isaiah 49:1 ; Psalms 139:16 ). It was also familiar to the Assyrians: King Assurba-nipal declares at the opening of his ' Annals ' that the gods "in the body of his mother have made (him) to rule Assyria." Familiar, too, to the great family of religious reformers. For, as Dean Milman has truly observed, "No Pelagian ever has or ever will work a religious revolution. He who is destined for such a work must have a full conviction that God is acting directly, immediately, consciously, and therefore with irresistible power, upon him and through him He who is not predestined, who does not declare, who does not believe himself predestined as the author of a great religions movement, he in whom God is not manifestly, sensibly, avowedly working out his pre-established designs, will never be saint or reformer". Sanctified thee ; i . e . set thee apart for holy uses. Ordained ; rather, appointed . Unto the nations . Jeremiah's prophecies, in fact, have reference not only to Israel, but to the peoples in relation to Israel (verse 10; Jeremiah 25:15 , Jeremiah 25:16 ; 46-49; Jeremiah 50:1-46 ; Jeremiah 51:1-64 ?).
I. CONSIDER THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A DIVINE PREDESTINATION .
1. This implies
2. This predestination does not involve fatalism ; it is consistent with human freedom of action and personal responsibility. On the one hand we must conclude, from its existence, that there are certain possibilities with which God endows a man, and certain limits with which God has hedged him about. But on the other hand, we must recognize that it depends on the man's own will and effort whether he use those possibilities, and attain to the end enclosed within those limits. He has a Divine vocation, but he may neglect it; he may fail in realizing God's idea of his life. There rests on him the responsibility of accomplishing his destiny.
II. CONSIDER THE GROUNDS FOR BELIEF IN A DIVINE PREDESTINATION .
1. It is revealed in Scripture (e.g. Acts 2:23 ; Romans 8:29 ; 1 Peter 1:2 ).
2. It is involved in the idea of the providence of a supreme God. God foresees all the future; in every act of his all other events and their relation to this must be present to the mind of God. With such knowledge a universal control of events, such as is implied by a providence not interfering from without now and again at critical moments, but immanent in the whole course of the world, must imply a Divine preordination.
3. It is proved to us by experience .
III. CONSIDER THE PURPOSE OF A DIVINE PREDESTINATION .
1. It must often he mysterious . Until we review life as a whole we shall not be able to interpret the meaning of its several parts. We cannot judge of the architect's design by examining the separate stones which lie scattered in the builder's yard. But:
2. It is not arbitrary . The very idea of destiny as determined by a Being of infinite thought implies purpose based on reason. God would not determine events simply to manifest his unfettered rights of sovereignty. Such aimless caprice could only emanate from a senseless despot.
3. It is turned to a good purpose. This must be so, for if God is good his designs must be good. The predestination is
IV. CONSIDER THE PRACTICAL EFFECT OF THE DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION . It contains no excuse for indolence and no reason for despair, for God fits all of us for sonic service, the accomplishment of which depends on our own faithfulness.
1. It should lead us to i nquire what is God ' s will , rather than to carve out a career for ourselves.
2. It should make us humble , submissive , obedient , and diligent in service, since there is a Divine idea of our life which God expects us to realize.
3. It should inspire courage in the midst of difficulties. Jeremiah was brave in the thought that he was fulfilling a Divine destiny. Such a thought inspires energy in face of enmity, contempt, isolation, and apparent failure.
The dread commission.
I. WHAT WAS IT ? (Cf. Jeremiah 1:10 .) It was to denounce the judgments of God against his people. At the end of the commission there is mention made of "building and planting;" but the chief charge is of an altogether opposite character. Jeremiah was set over the nations "to root out, and to pull down, to destroy, and to throw down." It was a terrible undertaking. He was to spare no class, no rank, no order. Kings, princes, priests, and people were all to be alike solemnly warned of the sure judgments that were coming upon them. And the like work has to be done now. How prone we all are to speak with bated breath of the retribution of God! how ready, to ourselves and to others, to explain away or to soften down the awful words of God against sin and the doers thereof! Preachers and teachers of God's truth, beware lest the blood of those who perished because you warned them not be required at your hands ( Ezekiel 33:6 )!
II. BUT IT IS A DREAD COMMISSION . The shrinking of Jeremiah from it is manifest all through this chapter. Before the heavy burden which he was to bear was fully disclosed to him, he exclaims (verse 6), "Ah, Lord God! behold I cannot speak: for I am a child." And the assurances, aids, and encouragements which are given him all show how much needed to be done ere his reluctance and trembling fear could be overcome. The whole chapter tells of God's gracious preparation of his servant for the arduous work he had to do. And whosoever now undertakes like work, if he have no realization of its solemnity and burden, it is plain that God has not called him to speak in his Name. To hear a man tell of the awful doom of the impenitent in a manner that, if it be not flippant, yet seems to relish his task, and to hail it as an opportunity for rhetorical display, is horrible in the extreme, and will do more to harden men in sin than almost anything beside. The subject is so sad, so serious, so terrible, that he who believes in it at all will be sure to sympathize with the prophet's sensitive shrinking from the work to which he was ordained. If when sentencing criminals who have broken the laws of man to their due punishment, humane judges often break down in tears, though their punishment touch not the soul,—how can any contemplate the death that is eternal unmoved or without the most solemn compassion and tenderest pity? And to increase the fear and shrinking with which Jeremiah regarded the work before him, there was the seeming presumption of one so young—little more than "a child" in years, experience, or knowledge—undertaking such a work. The hopelessness of it also. As well might a sparrow think to fly full in the face of a hurricane, as for the young prophet to think to stay the torrent of sin which was now flooding and raging over the whole life of his people. Sin and transgression of the grossest kind had become their habit, their settled custom, their ordinary way. All that he had to tell them they had heard again and again, and had despised and forgotten it. What hope of success was there, then, for him? And the fierceness of the opposition he would arouse would also deter him from the work. It was not alone that the faces (verse 17) of kings, princes, priests, and people would darken upon him, but they would (verse 19) "fight against" him, as we know they did. Well, therefore, might he say, "Ah, Lord! I cannot." And today, how many are the plausible reasons which our reluctant hearts urge against that fidelity in such work as Jeremiah's which God requires at our hands! But God will not allow them. See—
III. HOW HE CONSTRAINED JEREMIAH TO UNDERTAKE THIS WORK .
1. Verse 5: he gave him certainty as to his being called to the prophetic work. To know that we are indeed called of God to any work is an unfailing source of strength therein.
2. Verse 7: he made him feel that necessity was laid upon him; thou shalt go; thou shalt speak. (Cf. Paul s Yea, woe is me, etc.) So Jeremiah himself afterwards says ( Jeremiah 20:9 ) God s word was like " a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay." What a help to the preacher of God's truth is such a conviction as this!
3. Verse 8: he promised his presence and delivering grace. Consciousness of security and safety in God will give a dauntless courage in the face of any and of all opposition.
4. He gave him special qualifications for his work. Words and power of speech (verse 9). Immovable and unflinching strength of will, a determination and resolve that would not waver (verse 18).
5. He showed him that the rooting up and the destruction were not ends in themselves, but to lead on to planting and to building afresh (verse 10). To know that we are working on to a good and blessed end is no small encouragement to us in working through all manner of difficulty to reach that end.
6. He made him vividly realize the nature and nearness of the judgments he foretold. This was the purpose of the visions of the rod of the almond tree and the seething pot (verses 11-15; for explanation, see exegesis). The first vision told of God's judgment close at hand. The second, of the quarter whence these judgments come, and of the fierce; furious character of the foes who should come upon them. Jeremiah was enabled to "see well" the visions, that is, to realize very forcibly what they meant. Oh, if we could but mere vividly realize what the anger of God is against sin; if we could have a vision of the wrath of God; with how much more power and urgency should we plead with men to flee from the wrath to come!
7. Verse 16: he reminds Jeremiah of the sins that called for these judgments. A deep sense of sin is indispensable to those who would earnestly warn of the doom of sin.
8. And (verse 19) God again gives his servant the blessed assurance, "They shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee to deliver thee." Thus did God equip the prophet and prepare him for his work. His God supplied all his need. It was a stern warfare on which he was to go, but he went not at his own charges. If we be summoned to difficult duty, we shall be supplied with all-sufficient strength. Only let us be careful to avail ourselves of the help assured, lest (verse 17) we be dismayed and God confound us before our enemies. Dread, therefore, no commission that God entrusts thee with, for along with it will ever be found the grace, all the grace, needed for its successful discharge.—C.
Jehovah calls Jeremiah and gives him ample encouragements.
I. THE PURPOSE OF WHICH JEREMIAH WAS BROUGHT INTO EXISTENCE . This is stated in a very solemn and impressive way in verse 5. Jehovah presents himself to Jeremiah as he who formed him in the belly, and even before then recognized him as one who was to do a special work. So with regard to Moses, Isaac, Samuel. The circumstances of their birth direct our thoughts to the special ends to be worked out by their earthly life. To each of them the same words might have been spoken as to Jeremiah. Moreover, if true of them, this word is true of all. Jehovah is the Fashioner of all mankind, and since he does nothing without some purpose, it follows that for every one of us, equally with Jeremiah, there is a recognition, a consecrating, an ordaining. In a few instances there may be a special publication of the purpose, but the purpose itself is real in every instance. Therefore our business clearly is to find out what God would have us be, our eyes open to his presence, our ears to his voice. Then if we have discovered what God would have us be, if there is a deepening impression on our minds that we are in the right way, this very thought, that God saw the proper work of our life or ever we entered upon it, will assure us that the work cannot fail. We shall feel that requisite strength in the doing of it, and full success at the end of it, are made certain. The failings of life come—and it is easy to see that they must come—from putting our own purposes athwart the settled purpose of God. We may rebel against the work which he calls upon us to undertake, but it is very certain that any work put in its place must end in disappointment and disaster. To Jonah as to Jeremiah, God might have said somewhat the same as is here recorded. It is an awful thought for sinners, in the collapse of their own plans, that they might have been successful and rejoicing, if only they had been from the heart obedient to the plans of God.
II. THE ANSWERING PLEA OF JEREMIAH . An opposing plea it can hardly be called, but it is the not astonishing statement of a difficulty that from the human point of view looks very great. When God makes his first approaches to men, asking them to do something special, what is more natural than that they should see huge difficulties in the way of obedience? How fertile was the self-distrusting Moses in suggesting difficulties when God came to him in Horeb ( Exodus 3:4 )? Take special notice that the difficulties of such men as Moses and Jeremiah are not meant to be mere excuses, but are felt to be real reasons. Such is emphatically the position here. Jeremiah was but a lad; it is possible that he had net yet attained to what we should call a young man ( Genesis 41:12 ; 1 Kings 3:7 ). At such an age one is valued for listening and learning rather than for talking. That the prophet made such an initial reply to Jehovah was a good sign rather than a bad one. Deep humility and a keen consciousness of natural weakness are welcome features in the man whom God would make his servant. It is tolerably certain that among the elders of Anathoth Jeremiah would have the reputation of being a quiet, unpretending lad. If a young man of another reputation had stood forward as a prophet, there would have been fair ground to charge him with presumption. But when one stands forward who ever looks doubtfully on his own abilities, is no self-asserter, and forms by preference a member in the background of every scene, such a standing forward at once suggests that there is some superhuman motive behind it. Jeremiah's plea is therefore a recommendation. Unconsciously he gives a valid certificate of fitness for his work. At the same time, this plea suggests all the difference which there is between the youthful Jeremiah and the youthful Jesus. Jesus in the temple seems in his natural element, not too young even at twelve years of age to show an ardent interest in all that concerned Divine worship and service.
III. THE AMPLE ENCOURAGEMENT WHICH JEHOVAH GIVES TO JEREMIAH . In a few words, God puts before his servant all that is needed and all that can be supplied.
1. There will be clear commands from God , and from the prophet there must be corresponding obedience . Not with Jeremiah rests the deciding of whether he shall go here or there, or to what place first and to what last. He is always a sent man, and when he comes into the presence of his appointed audience, his message is a provided message. Thus it is ensured that he never finds himself in the wrong place or speaking at the wrong time. Well does God know how little we are able, of ourselves, to decide when to speak and when to be silent, what to say and what to leave unsaid.
2. One consequence of God's message faithfully delivered will be hostility and menace from the hearers, and therefore there is an exhortation to courage , and an indication of the ground which makes that courage possible . When Jeremiah gets into a certain presence and speaks a certain word he will be threatened. The threatening must be expected; it shows that the arrow of God's truth has found its home. All the powers of the human face will be called into malignant exercise against the prophet. The eye, the tongue, the muscles of the face will all be joined in strong combination to express the contempt and hatred filling the brain that lies behind. In no way can Jeremiah escape this experience; he must face the enemies, but in doing so he has the assurance that his Commander is near to deliver.
3. God makes now an actual communication to the prophet . The path is not yet taken, the audience is not yet in view, but by way of earnest inspiration the words of the Master are put into the servant's mouth. This of course was an indescribable experience. What it is to have the words of God in one's mouth can only be known by an actual enjoyment of the privilege. The only way in which we can discern how real and fruitful this experience was, is by observing its effect. There is no more hesitating, no turning from one answered plea to find another more cogent. Henceforth the prophet goes on steadily and faithfully in his mission, and his perfect service is best proved by this, that in due time he meets with the indicated opposition, and receives from God his promised protection.—Y.
The call of the prophet.
As these are elements both ordinary and extraordinary in the prophetic office, so preparation, etc; for it must be of both kinds. Much that may be said of it will be applicable to all other service in God's Church; and there will be some conditions and circumstances that must necessarily be peculiar and abnormal. The behavior, too, of one called to such a high office must ever be interesting to observers.
I. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH SUCH AN OFFICE SHOULD BE ASSUMED . Like Moses and others of whom we read, Jeremiah was of a backward and retiring disposition. It required insistence and remonstrance on the part of Jehovah to persuade him to undertake the task. His low thoughts of himself as contrasted with the mighty office to which he was called, held him back. There are some things that come most gracefully when they are spontaneous. The general duty, love, and service, owing by the creature to the Creator, etc; are of this kind. But for special work and appointment, requiring great qualifications and especial help of God, modesty and hesitation are a recommendation rather than otherwise. Our question, pointed first of all homewards, should be, "Who is sufficient for these things?" A feeling like this is helpful and preparative, as leading to the perception of the true strength and fitness that come from God, and to a constant dependence upon him. Many long idly for "some great thing to do," others hesitate because the thing is too great.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH GOD PREPARES MEN FOR EXTRAORDINARY SERVICE IN HIS CHURCH . Where direction and impulse are needed revelation is made. The spirit of the prophet is not left in doubt. A hesitating, vacillating prophet were a worthless messenger to the faithless. Revelation is therefore made to him of:
1. His anticipative choice in the counsels of God . This predestinating grace of God is a frequent assertion of the Old Testament. It is a mystery we cannot fathom; but is consistent with the free choice of the subject addressed. It has its effect in the voluntary acceptance of the appointment through persuasion and appeal. A discovery of this nature can only -be for the few, who are called to especial responsibilities, etc; and has no reference to the general demands of duty, affection, zeal, which address themselves to all
2. Future Divine evidence , protection , and inspiration . God will be with him, and will fit him for all he has to do. So Christ to his disciples, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" ( Matthew 28:20 ). This is to meet the exigencies of Divine service, and is not intended for personal aims and ends. Many a lowly worker in the Master's service is thereby endued with irresistible power. It is a conviction for which we are encouraged to seek grounds and assurances.
3. Authority amongst the nations to destroy and to restore . This is a moral investment. Just as God enforces truth and righteousness with accompanying mysterious sanctions, so he clothes his messenger with an authority the consciences of men will recognize even when their perversity of will inclines them to disobey.
How much of this spirit of certitude and conviction is needed for the ordinary life of the Christian? Have we the measure of it we require? or are we inefficient and useless because of our lack of it? There can be no question that such a spirit is inculcated by Christianity, and that reasonable grounds are afforded us all upon which to be thoroughly persuaded in our own mind. Let us act upon our deepest convictions and most unalterable certainties. This is the only way to attain to a sound apprehension of Divine things, and an efficient condition of service.—M.
The prophet's call.
We see in the case of Jeremiah a striking instance of a man constrained by force of circumstance and by a Divine call to occupy a position and to do a kind of work for which he was not naturally either qualified or disposed. Of a highly sensitive and timid nature, a tender heart, a desponding spirit, he was inclined to mourn in secret over the abounding evils of the time rather than publicly to rebuke them. But as soon as the Divine summons comes to him, he " confers not with flesh and blood," he forgets his fears and infirmities, and for forty long years patiently withstands the tide of iniquity and adversity—a noble example of blended tenderness and strength. In this account of the prophet's call, note—
I. GOD 'S SOVEREIGNTY IN THE RAISING UP OF MEN TO DO HIS WORK . Jeremiah was "known" and "sanctified"—dedicated by God to his sacred office—before his birth. His "ordination," appointment, now is but the fulfilling of an antecedent Divine purpose and choice. Most of the illustrious men of old bear some conspicuous mark of such Divine election upon them, e.g. Moses, Gideon, Samson, Cyrus. St. Paul devoutly recognized it in himself, in spite of all his blind hostility to the name of Christ in former years ( Galatians 1:15 ). We fail too often to take sufficient note of this mystery of God's foreknowledge and predetermination underlying the progress of the kingdom of truth and righteousness in the world. And yet we understand its history, we get at the heart and core of its meaning, only so far as we look through all surface appearances and, holding fast to the equally sure principles of human freedom and responsibility, discern the will that works out steadily, through chosen instruments, its own eternal purpose.
II. THE SHRINKING OF A LOWLY SPIRIT FROM A POSITION OF EXTRAORDINARY DIFFICULTY AND DANGER . " Ah , Lord God! behold, I cannot speak, for I am a child." This was the honest expression of conscious personal unfitness.
1. The feeling was very honorable to him . Who that knows himself would not tremble on being summoned to such a work? To take up a solemn responsibility with a light heart and easy self-confidence is the mark of a vain spirit that courts rebuke. He who has any true sense of the greatness of his mission from God will often
"Lie contemplating his own unworthiness."
2. It was a sign of his real fitness for the work . Humility is the basis of all that is great and good in human character and deed. "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." The cry, "Who is sufficient for these things?" is a symptom of inherent nobleness and slumbering power. Jeremiah's feeling that he was "but a child," prepared him the better to become the representative of the Divine majesty and the vehicle of Divine strength.
III. THE SPIRITUAL CONSTRAINT OF WHICH ALL TRUE SERVANTS OF GOD ARE CONSCIOUS . The prophetic inspiration came upon him and compelled him to delay his message. "The word of the Lord was in his heart as a burning fire shut up in his bones, … and he could not stay" ( Jeremiah 20:9 ). A Divine commission thus asserting itself in the inward consciousness of him who received it, might well be called the "burden of the Lord." Great reformers, preachers, missionaries, martyrs, have ever been moved by some such Divine afflatus. So felt Peter and John before the Jewish Council: "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" ( Acts 4:20 ). So felt St. Paul: "Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" ( 1 Corinthians 9:16 ). "Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak." He must "speak" who is thus commanded; he must "go" who is thus sent.
IV. THE COURAGE AND STRENGTH WITH WHICH GOD ENDOWS ALL WHO THUS OBEY HIS BIDDING . The ministry of Jeremiah is a signal example of the way in which the grace of God may clothe [the most timid spirit with dauntless energy and victorious power. He will never be "afraid of the faces of men," who knows that the Lord is with him. The fear of God casts out all other fear. Many a "little child ' has thus become preternaturally brave; "out of weakness made strong." The history of the kingdom of God among men abounds with illustrations of the way in which he "chooses the weak things of the world to confound the mighty." And every patient, heroic Christian life bears witness to the sufficiency of his grace. You can glory even in infirmities, reproaches, necessities, and distresses, if the "power of Christ" does but rest upon you ( 2 Corinthians 12:9 , 2 Corinthians 12:10 ).
V. THE MASTERY OF TRUTH OVER ALL THE HOSTILE POWERS OF THE WORLD . Jeremiah was "set over the nations and over the kingdoms," not as a prince, but as a prophet; not as wielding any form of mere brute force, but as the instrument of that silent energy of truth that casts down the strongholds of Satan in every land. His word was "like a fire and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces" ( Jeremiah 23:29 ). Divine truth is the mightiest of all forces alike to" root out and to pull down … to build and to plant." The sovereignty of the world is his of whom it is written, "He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked" ( Isaiah 11:4 ). The "many crowns" are on the head of him whose "Name is called The Word of God."—W.