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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Lamentations 3



Verse 1

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath"Lamentations 3:1

The third chapter would seem to be the property of all sorrowful men. From century to century persons who have been subjected to great suffering have felt that this chapter has expressed their feeling and their aspiration better than any other human composition. Job"s lamentation over the day of his birth, and Jeremiah"s lamentation over his personal sufferings, are the heritage of sorrow throughout all time. We never know what sorrow is until we feel its personality. It is one thing to look upon sorrow at a distance, and to feel amazed that men can endure such burden and stress; and another to feel how weighty is the burden, and how hard to bear is the stress that urges us downwards. Yet this personality of sorrow is enriched with many advantages. Every man must have his own sorrow, must receive sorrow into his nature, so that the whole plan of life may, so to say, be saturated with tears, and be made to know how much weight God can lay upon human life, as if he were heaping it up in cruelty. What would be sorrow to one man would be no sorrow to another; hence the infinite variety of the divine visitation of our life. God knows where the stroke would hurt us most, and there he delivers the blow, so that we may know ourselves to be but men. Every man having a sorrow of his own is thereby tempted to make a species of idol of it. It is curious to observe how variously sorrow is treated by men. It is possible for even death itself to become a kind of commonplace in the family; child after child may have died, and friend after friend may have departed, until death is looked for with a kind of resigned expectancy. Are there not persons who make a luxury of this kind of sorrow? Are they not pleased to be the objects of social interest and sympathy, instead of being humbled by their losses and taught to seek the true riches which are in heaven? Are they not inclined to allow their sorrow to evaporate through much sighing and speaking in vain? Silent sorrow is the most poignant. If sorrow could sometimes shed tears it would be relieved of its keenest agony. In many cases it is impossible for the sufferer to give expression to his distress, and therefore he is deprived of all the compensation and holy excitement to be derived from earnest and intelligent human sympathy. If a man has not seen affliction, what has he seen? The deepest students of human life assure us that unless joy has in it somewhat of a tinge of melancholy it is not pure gladness. When the fool delights himself with laughter he supposes himself to be glad. Fools can have no real joy, because they can have no real sorrow; even when loss falls upon them they are not sufficiently in earnest to estimate the value of that of which they are deprived; frivolity, lightness of mind, superficiality of thought can never know the height and depth and intensity of truest joy. How often is men"s moral condition as to happiness estimated by the expression of the countenance! We look upon men and say, How sad they are! when in very deed their joy is broad and deep. It is a fatal mistake to suppose that frivolity and gladness are equivalent terms. Yet, on the other hand, who could steadfastly and continuously look only at the sorrowful side of life? Sorrow coming upon sorrow, like storm following storm, would take out of life all its joy and all its hope. We must look at both sides of the picture; we must allow the light and the shadow to interplay, and judge not by the one nor by the other, but by the result.

Verses 1-66

Profitable Discipline

Lamentations 3:22-23

Taking the opening of the chapter along with this portion, we seem to find a good deal of inconsistency, and in fact positive contradiction. Spiritual experience must be looked at as a whole. It is not right to fix attention either upon this side or upon that, to the exclusion and the forgetfulness of the other. One side is very dark and full of sadness, sharply inclined towards despair; the other is brighter than the summer morning, tuneful, sunned with all the lustre of saintly hope: so we must take the night with the morning, if we would have the complete day. Jeremiah had rare power in sounding the depths of disciplinary sorrow. He walked familiarly through the chambers of dark dispensations: life was often to Jeremiah little better than a thunder-gloom: hence he often had to find his way by fitful gleams of lightning rather than by the clear and steady shining of the sun. It does us good now and then to talk to such a man. The soul cannot always live in laughter; the man who has seen much sorrow, and turned it to a right use, will help us more in all that is deepest and truest in our nature than the man who has always lived mirthfully, and who does not know what it is to have sorrow, a black and exacting guest, tenanting and tormenting his soul. He is not a man who has never had a trial or a sorrow. He knows little who has not received a great deal cf his learning through the dimness of his tears. We do not read the deepest of God"s words, and the tenderest of his messages, when there is no cloud in the sky, when the morning is bright and blue and lustrous, and there is no intercepting cloud. God often lowers his voice to a whisper when the heartbroken feel that the clouds are very many and the way crooked and extremely perilous. When Jeremiah does laugh his joy will be rich and full; when he does sing he will fill heaven and earth with his resounding joy. No man can be truly joyful who has not been deeply, heart-brokenly sorrowful. It should be pointed out that depression is not an exclusively religious state. It might be supposed from a great deal that one hears that not until we become religious do we become depressed; not until we love and follow God do we know what is meant by heart-sinking and stealthy walking in perilous places. This is a mistake from beginning to end. We may find depression in all the conditions of life that are healthy. Sometimes the painter cannot paint with his soul: his hand has lost its cunning, because his spirit has lost the key of mystery and has no vision of the invisible. Sometimes the poet cannot sing: he cannot read the parable of nature, nor construe the language of the fretted shadows, nor detain the sweet spirit which baptises the dreaming soul at the font of God. To painter and poet the world often becomes dark at noontide; beauty retires and music ceases, when painter and poet would give half their living to retain those twin angels in their heart"s confidence. The fact is that religious spirits are most depressed simply because they are most exalted. Where we find the highest mountains we find the deepest valleys. In proportion to the range and spirituality of the world in which a man lives will be the pensiveness and gloom of his occasional hours. If the poet droops when his harp does not respond to his touch, how must the soul faint when God hides himself? If the timid child moans because his chamber-light has gone out, with what bitterness of complaint should we speak if the sun were extinguished? If men say they are never depressed, that they are always in high spirits, it is probably because they never were really in high spirits at all—not knowing the difference between the soul"s rapture, mental and spiritual ecstasy, and merely animal excitement. What can the barn-door fowl know of the experiences of a disabled eagle? The man who is breaking stones on the highway may never be depressed, but his elder stone-breaking brother, who moulds marble into angels, may often sigh for a clearer light and a daintier touch. So everything depends upon the world we live in; and, depend upon it, there is something wrong with a man somewhere if he be always in the same high key. No year that God ever made was made from beginning to end of July, This is a very wonderful strain of talk on the part of the lamenting Jeremiah. Gather together lines out of his third chapter, and put them into couplets; and see what very startling and pathetic contrasts may be made out of his complaint. Let us hear Jeremiah:—

Here are two men having a little talk about a district of country through which they have passed. The speech of one of them is this: "It is a poor, desolate, barren land; I never wish to go through that district of country again: it is so featureless, wanting undulation and variety, and that brokenness of line which delights an artistic eye, defective in colouring too,—it is altogether a poor, wretched piece of country. I do not care ever to retrace my steps over it." The other man"s speech is this: "I do not know a piece of lovelier country anywhere; the undulation is so easy, the lines are so beautifully broken up, there is such pleasing variety, you have all the features that can enter into a piece of beautiful landscape on a small scale,—not to be romantic, I do not know any lovelier expanse of English scenery." "Why!" you say, "the fact is that both these statements cannot be true,—either the one man or the other is mistaken: they contradict each other flatly, and therefore both their statements cannot be true." A third man puts this question: "When did you go through that district?" "Why, Sirach ," the first man says, "I went through it in November, one of the foggiest, murkiest days that I ever found in the English climate." "When did you go through the district?" is the inquiry put to the second man; and he says: "I went through it about midsummer, and a lovelier day I think never shone upon the island." Now we begin to see a little, at least, as to how the discrepancy came. A great deal depends upon atmosphere. The mountains are there in the night-time, but you cannot see them. The rich, verdant, flowery meads are there at midnight, but you cannot light up the landscape with your little candle. You must have the medium as well as the object. A great deal depends upon the clearness of the atmosphere as to whether we appreciate this object or that in natural scenery. So it is with souls. A great many of us seem to have such long winters, short days, with poor artificial light, and such murky, gloomy, dispiriting weather, with cruel fogs. Others of us have more sunshine, more summer weather in the soul. But what we want to understand is this—that religion, right relations with God, a true standing before the Almighty, does not depend upon this feeling or upon that; it is not a question of climate, atmosphere, air, spirits: it is a question of fact. The question is not, How do you feel today? but, Where are you standing? are you on the rock? The rock will not change; the climate will. Be right in your foundation, and the season of rejoicing will come round again. So many people are occupied with the question of mere experience of feeling that they are apt to forget that the primary question, the vital question, is the soul"s relation to God at the foot of the Cross. Where there is an established standing upon the Rock of Ages, the foundation laid in Zion, there will be carefulness of judgment, patience of waiting, in relation to all climatic annoyances and all the atmospheric variations of the soul"s feeling. He who is right in his principles will come right in his feelings. He who lays hold of God by the truth that is in Christ Jesus will patiently, quietly, and successfully wait for the incoming of the dazzling glory of the sun. I wish to speak with discrimination, with judgment, perhaps with severity, but only with the severity of truth, about this question of depression and feeling. There is a depression which admits of explanation. Here is a man who in the time of trial succumbed; he spoke the coward"s word when he ought to have been resolute. He was timid, not with modesty, but with cowardice. Here is a man who has been rolling iniquity under his tongue as a sweet morsel,—rolling that iniquity under his tongue in the very act of singing hymns and uttering the words of formal prayer. Here is a man who has some evil purpose in his heart, luxuriating over prospects on which God"s disapprobation rests like an immovable frown. He has been planning forbidden enjoyment, scheming pleasures at the expense of conviction, conscience, righteousness, and Christian standing, and he comes to church in a depressed state of mind. Thank God! If that man could be as joyful as the pure little child-heart in Christ"s kingdom, then God hath forgotten to be Judges , and there is no righteousness in his law. The question therefore is: Can our depression be traced to moral causes? Have I been keeping false weights and balances? Have I been clever at the expense of virtue and righteousness? Have I been untrue to my vows, faithless to my professions? Then I have no right to expect anything but depression, and if I were not depressed there would be something wrong in the moral government of the world. Yes, and a man may be depressed though he may be showing at the time great animal exultation; but there is a ring about honest excitement and true joy which is not to be mistaken by practised ears. Many a man seeks to drown his conscience and to dismiss his depression by overstrained religious excitement, and he cannot do it. The ghost is there! He hangs up a veil before the spectre, and says, "Now it is gone, I shall be at ease." He takes up the veil. Behold! there it is—grim, grizzly, ghastly, with judgment written upon every lineament. And it is well that a man cannot dismiss these memories, these presences, that ought to be to him terrible as the light, awful as the judgment of God.

Taking Jeremiah"s experiences as a whole, what do we find that sanctified sorrow had wrought in him? In the first place it gave him a true view or divine government Jeremiah was brought to understand two things about the government of God. He was brought to understand that God"s government is tender. The word tenderness we do not very well connect with the word government. When we think of government, we think of something severe, stern, inflexible, unyielding, imperial, majestic, magnificent, dominating. But that is only half a truth so far as the government of God is concerned. What words do you suppose Jeremiah connected with the government of God? Why these two beautiful words, each a piece of music, "Mercies," "Compassions." A man can only get into that view of government by living the deepest possible life. We are always jealous when we find sentiment entering into governmental relations and governmental decisions. But here is God, Almighty God, and all tender, ruling with infinite majesty, stooping with more than motherly grace. God"s government is not composed of huge, unsympathetic, tearless strength. A God all strength would be a monster. A God throned on ivory, ruling the universe with a sceptre of mere power, could never establish himself in the confidence and love and trust of his creatures. We might fear him, but when we got together in some corner where his face was excluded for a moment, we should turn round upon him with many execrations! Man cannot be ruled and governed by mere power, fear, overwhelming, dominating, crushing strength and force. So we find David saying, "Power belongeth unto God: unto thee also, O Lord, belongeth mercy." Power in the hands of mercy, Omnipotence impregnated by all the tenderness of pity. "This is the God we adore, our faithful, unchangeable Friend." That preaching would be untrue, one-sided, misleading, which dwelt entirely upon the regal, majestic aspect of God. That is the true exposition of divine nature which opens up the fatherliness, motherliness, mercifulness, and compassion of God"s great heart.

This discipline wrought in Jeremiah the conviction that God"s government was minute. Speaking of God"s mercies he says, "They are new every morning." Morning mercies—daily bread. This is what we find in the Old Testament, and in the New; but the Old Testament saints seemed only to be able to get from one morning to another, just the clock once round, and then they wanted more. New every morning! A beautiful word in the Old Testament is that, and we get in the New Testament—What? Daily bread, new every week, new every year? No. "Give us this day our daily bread." That is it. God shutting us up within a day and training us a moment at a time. The Psalmist said, "Thy mercies have been ever of old." And another singer said, "Thy mercies are new every morning." Is there no contradiction there? Ever of old—every morning! Time is old: every morning is new. Existence comprises a long, long succession of years, but no year ever had an old May given to it, or an old June thrown into it. Thy mercies have been ever of old, and they have been new every morning. Old as duration, new as morning; old as human existence, new as the coming summer. These are all inconsistencies that mark our life. Age and infirmity, the Ancient of Days, the Child of Bethlehem; the root out of the dry ground, the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley; the despised and rejected of men, but the desire of all nations. And you cannot grasp the contradictions and inconsistencies till you have been closeted long with God and got to know something of the mysteriousness of his dear heart.

Jeremiah having given this view of the divine government, gives two notions about human discipline as regulated by God the Judge and God the Father. He tells us two things about discipline. He tells us, in the first place, the goodness of waiting: it is good for a man to wait. It does one good to have a lesson of that sort from a grey-headed and wrinkled-browed Prayer of Manasseh , to have a word from a man who has come cut of very dangerous and terrible places. One wishes to get near him the very first moment, and say, "Well, what is it? what have you to say to us now?" And Jeremiah coming up, crushed, sorrowful, heart-wrinkled, pained, says to the young people who are at the door, "Do not enter yet. It is good, my children, to wait." That is the lesson to us. We do not like to wait: impatient because incomplete. Observe you: wait for God. I am not called upon to wait because somebody has put a great waggon across the road; I might get that out of the way. But if God had set an angel there, I must make distinctions. There is a waiting that is indolence; there is a waiting that is sheer faithlessness; there is a waiting that comes of weakness. This is the true waiting,—wanting to get on, resolute about progress, and yet having a notion that God is just before us teaching patience. A determination to go, yet a willingness to stand still,—that is the mystery of true waiting.

Jeremiah tells us this second thing about the divine government. It is good for a man to bear the yoke. Ephraim like a bullock bemoaned himself; the yoke was very heavy on the shoulder; he was as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, and he chafed sorely under it, complained and moaned; but by and by the yoke was worn with ease. And then God came and said, "Ephraim is my dear child." God puts yokes upon us, heavy yokes upon our necks; sometimes he binds our hands in manacles, and our feet in fetters,—shuts us up and feeds us on bread of affliction and water of affliction; then we say, "This cannot be good for us." But it is. Commend me to the man who has been through deep waters, through very dark places, through treacherous, serpent-haunted roads, and who has yet come out with a cheerful heart, mellow, chastened, subdued, and who speaks tenderly of the mercy of God through it all. And that man I may trust with my heart"s life. If he speak not words which to my natural taste are best and sweetest and most to be coveted, yet under all his instruction there is a divine mystery, a fatherly tenderness; and it is better to yield to the remonstrance and instruction of such a man than be driven with great urgency and made impatient by a creature who never knew what it was to have a heart torn in two and the prospects of his life clouded and smitten.

Some of us have given way to an abuse of divine discipline, and so we get worse and worse. A right acceptance of God"s schooling, God"s rod, God"s judgment, and God"s mercy, mingled together, will cause us to become learned in divine Wisdom of Solomon , tender in divine feeling, gentle and charitable in all social judgment; good men whilst we are here, and always waiting, even in the midst of our most diligent service, to be called up into the more fully revealed presence and the still more cloudless light. May all our discipline be to that end! Amen.

Verse 8

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"When I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer."Lamentations 3:8

God wants more than prayer from his creatures, when that prayer is limited to mere asking, or to the expression of a beggar"s desires. Prayer may be but a religious form of selfishness. This notion of prayer must be driven out of our thought if ever we are to realise what is meant by prayer as it is used in New Testament speech and exemplified in New Testament suppliants. Asking must, of course, enter into prayer: every day brings its need; life indeed is one succession of necessities: all this is of course understood; but what is prayer in its widest and most enduring acceptation? It is communion with God, submission to the divine will, patient waiting for the incoming of heavenly influence, tender and affectionate expectation of deliverance to be effected, not in men"s way, but in God"s own method and at God"s own time. When we omit the element of communion from prayer we degrade ourselves and our prayers to the level of selfishness. When our prayer is so degraded it is shut out from heaven; it does no good to the suppliant, it never reaches the skies, it never returns with a leaf or a bud from the tree of life. Sad beyond all imagination is the condition of the man to whom his prayers are returned. Think of the picture! The man supposed that he had sent; up his prayers to heaven, and he expected them to come back in the form of answers; and lo, he finds their, all lying dead around the very altar whence they started! There is no mystery in this. Let us always understand that we are accepted, not because of our formality, but because of our sincerity and earnestness and importunity. Good men in all ages have had experience of this exclusion of prayer from heaven, and sometimes they have misjudged it. Job exclaimed, "I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me: I stand up, and thou regardest me not." What an entire misconception of the relation of the soul to God is presented in these words! Yet probably no other conception was then possible to Job"s thought; the whole horizon was loaded with thunderclouds, and the whole sky of heaven gleamed with lightning: what else then could Job say? He seemed to be crying into emptiness, and not to be favoured even with the echo of his own voice; this was the very solitariness of solitude, the very loneliness of orphanhood. Again, the Psalmist used a similar expression when he said, "O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent." This is a most pathetic representation. It is as if the Psalmist had resolved to find God if he searched for him every hour in the twenty-four that make the little circle of the day: he cried in the morning, and there was no answer; he cried at noonday, and no reply was returned; he sought for God in the shadows of the twilight, but no figure of a friend appeared; at midnight he lifted up his voice in anguish, and yet the heavens were silent. It is well to have such experiences, terrible as they are at the moment of their realisation; they chasten the spirit, they are full of theological teaching, they drive us back to first principles, they constrain us to ask the most serious and penetrating questions. God will not allow such experiences to be unduly prolonged, for he knows that the extension of such trial would end in despair or madness. The Lord can take us very near to the brink, but he will not let us fall over; a sight of that awful abyss which lies beyond may be full of happy influence to us, if we rightly accept its teaching; let us realise that even whilst we walk along the precipice the Everlasting Arms are round about us, and none of our steps shall slide.

Verse 16

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes."Lamentations 3:16.

The figure would seem to represent the prophet as eating and drinking sorrow. Distress is his daily food. In the metaphor of the text the prophet has seized bread in the extremity of his hunger, and lo, when he comes to eat it he finds that his mouth is full of gravel stones. This is disappointment, this is mortification, this is fatal to faith. Who knows how far God can go in the infliction of punishment? We think we have tasted all the bitter ness of death, when we are suddenly taught that as yet we have not begun to know how terrible can be the judgments of God. The wise man has told us that "Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel." How forgetful we are of that "afterwards"! Experience of this kind has not been unknown. "Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, though he hide it under his tongue; though he spare it, and forsake it not; but keep it still within his mouth: yet his meat in his bowels is turned, it is the gall of asps within him. He hath swallowed down riches, and he shall vomit them up again: God shall cast them out of his belly. He shall suck the poison of asps: the viper"s tongue shall slay him." Gehazi supposed that he had enriched himself, but he knew not that the heart of Elisha had gone out after him in his felonious errand. Gehazi began as a hypocrite, and ended as a leper. By every metaphor that is graphic, and expressive of real torment, God has endeavoured to show us that the wages of sin is death. Take out of all these metaphors what we may, we still leave behind the essential truth that the way of transgressors is hard, and that no man can fight against God and prevail: his hands shall be enfeebled, his skin shall be filled with leprosy, his eyes shall be blinded, his teeth shall be broken with gravel stones; he shall be stripped of his purple and fine linen, and be clothed with the raiment of ashes.

Verse 20-21

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope."Lamentations 3:20-21

Read: "Thou wilt surely remember that my soul is humbled." Now the prophet begins to realise the results of discipline wisely and gratefully accepted. At first probably, like all other men, he was obstinate, resentful, and wholly indisposed to look for moral teaching in the midst of physical suffering. Better thoughts came to his aid. After a while he began to survey the situation, and, as he looked upon the plan of God, light came to him, and he saw that God"s meaning even in man"s humiliation was the elevation and perfecting of the man himself. Let us be rich in remembrance. Who cannot recount the sorrows which have been turned to his advantage? There was a day that was all cloud, a cloud that was all thunder, and we said we should die when that cloud discharged its tempest upon us. The cloud broke, the thunder rolled, and our life was refreshed by the very torrent that we looked forward to with dread. Do not let us forget those days of rain and storm and high wind, but call them to remembrance, and count them as amongst our jewels, for we then saw somewhat of the treasures of the Most High, and saw how even in what appeared to be extremity God could provide a way of deliverance. The prophet derives hope from a sanctified review of providence—"therefore have I hope." The sorrow had not been in vain; it had become a sweet gospel to the soul which it overshadowed, and this it will become to every one of us if we remember that the Lord reigneth, and that discipline as well as benediction is in the hand of the living God.

Verse 27

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth."Lamentations 3:27

From this reference it would appear as if man must of necessity at some period of life undergo the discipline of the yoke. The prophet speaks as if it were commonly known by himself and his contemporaries. Here is no long explanatory introduction, but an immediate use of something with which the people were well acquainted. By "yoke" we are to understand discipline, trial, education, every incident that teaches us the limit of our strength, and the proper range of our ambition. Every man is at some period of life to be mortified, disappointed, humbled, thrown down, and made to feel that he is only a man. The question arises, At what time shall this experience take effect in human life? The prophet has no hesitation in answering the inquiry, for he instantly fixes youth as the period at which discipline shall be undergone. This would appear to be reasonable: are there not compensations in youth which make the yoke-bearing less irksome than it otherwise would be? Youthful spirit soon returns even after humiliation. A kind of collateral life runs along the current of youth,—may we not call it a species of alternate life?—so that youth can change from one position to another, or from one set of circumstances to another, insomuch that youth can be crying and laughing, groaning and rejoicing, even within the compass of one little day. Besides, is it not important that every man should get his education at the right end of life? We adopt the principle of yoke-bearing in youth in the matter of intellectual education: why not in the matter of the higher moral training and chastening? Who puts off the learning of the alphabet until he is well advanced in life? Who at middle life could begin to commit to memory the things which almost seem to grow up in the mind of childhood and to abide there for ever? Yet the child must be constrained to undergo the discipline needful to the acquisition of elementary knowledge. His play must be curtailed, his inclinations must be rebuked, his indolence must be overcome; it is for the child"s good that his parents should insist upon the acceptance of the yoke, otherwise the child will grow up to be an ignorant man. Is it not also true that in youth passion is most violent, and might hurry the young life into the uttermost excesses were it not curbed or cooled or in some degree restrained? Hence it is important that young life should be filled with work, should be almost exhausted at times by long-continued labour. The profit is not seen in the labour alone; behind all the labour there are moral advantages which can hardly be described in words: passion is subdued, pride is mortified, the energy of the will is turned into the right direction, and labour so treated becomes in the end pleasant, as music is pleasant, and easy as breathing is easy. We know what all this is with regard to the learning of a language: how hard at first, how minute the distinctions, how pedantic the regulations, how obstinate and perverse the irregularities and exceptions! Yet after a certain point all things settle down into a happy adjustment, conversation becomes possible, and by the exchange of sentiments friendship is established, and the medium through which this end was attained becomes itself an object of pride and pleasure, and has assigned to it marks of the highest value. What may be expected from one who has borne the yoke well in his youth? I lay special emphasis upon the fact that the yoke must have been borne well. From such a man we expect chastened but not extinguished energy. God does not intend to destroy the passion or the enthusiasm of youth, but to chasten it, sanctify it, and turn it to the highest uses. Paul the Apostle must be as energetic as was Saul of Tarsus, but the energy must be expressed along different lines. Mature saints are not expected to be demure, exhausted, feeble, indolent, or lacking in interest in the pursuits and ambitions of youth: they are expected to take a right view of those pursuits and ambitions, to set a proper estimate upon them, and where the men are wise they will encourage those who are in the very agony of life"s race to persevere, because at the end a crown awaits the successful winner. No man has borne his own yoke well who has lived without sympathy for those who are still feeling the burden. The man who has overcome the irksomeness of moral discipline should know exactly where every young man is. He need not explain himself in words, but he should watch the development of the struggle, the increase of the pain, and going back upon his own record he will be able to advise according to his own experience. A word fitly spoken, how good it will be to the young struggler! It need not, and must not, come in the form of a lecture; it must be dropped as it were incidentally, it may even be dropped thoughtlessly, to the observation of the young yoke-bearer himself, but it will not be dropped without calculation on the part of the speaker; he will remember just what he himself wanted to hear at that particular time, and the young man will be surprised that the older one could speak so exquisitely, tenderly, and seasonably upon the very point that was irritating his own life: out of this sympathy will come a corresponding patience with those who are unaccustomed to the yoke. The man will say of the boy, Presently he will be better, he will see the whole matter in the right light; he must not be hurried or driven now, because he is in a state of high sensitiveness, and every word that is spoken to him will come with double weight, and every misunderstanding that is created will come with double aggravation: suspend intercourse, or regulate it, or bring to bear upon the life some sudden and unexpected compensation, and in a hundred wisely devised ways show that more is not expected than can be given; in this way will experience be wisely expended. The right use of this text would renew the life of the world. Foolish parents spare the young, saying, There will be trouble enough by-and-by, let there be lightness and laughter now; and saying again, The old ones must work, and the young ones must play. All this seems to be kind—it is indeed set down as generosity—and the speakers of these sophisms are looked upon as tender-hearted and considerate. All this estimate must be changed; we must ask ourselves seriously what is the end of all such laxity of discipline. By discipline we must never mean cruelty; by discipline we must never mean the glorification of those who impose it: we must understand by discipline a necessary process of life, something that must really and actually at one time or another take place in the education of every soul. What is the end of trifling with young life? The end of it is bitterness and reproach, and it may be such a recollection of parental names and kind deeds as will awaken in the soul of the sufferer a real and just resentment. On the other hand, discipline carefully administered and wisely regulated, though painful in its immediate operation, may result in many an expression of thanks to God that such parents had charge of the young life. In all these things we need the wisdom of the Holy Ghost; we must pray mightily to God to show us what each child can best endure, what is best for each child; and we must vary the administration of discipline so as to suit it to every temperament and every faculty and even every combination of peculiarities.

Verse 37

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?"Lamentations 3:37.

Here is an appeal to history, an appeal which Christianity never ceases to employ. We are not dealing with speculative matters, but with facts as they stand in all their naked simplicity on the field of history. The prophet is maintaining the sovereignty of God, and his contention is that, whatever may have been spoken that is not in harmony with the divine will, it is impossible that any man can secure its fulfilment. So we are face to face with a living challenge. Christian history is full of such challenges: the Bible challenges the production of false gods, of idols, of all manner of images, so that they may be compared with the living God, the Sovereign and Redeemer of Israel; the Bible constantly challenges the production of any other Bible that shall be wiser, grander in its spiritual conceptions, loftier in its moral discipline, tenderer in its human sympathy; prophets are called for that they may tell their visions and their dreams, and have them tested by the lapse of time, and by the necessities of life. So here we are called upon to produce instances in which man"s word has prevailed against the word of God. Has any man commanded the sun to go backwards, and the sun has obeyed the instruction? Has any man commanded the seasons to change the order of their procession, and have they changed accordingly? Has any man been able to reverse moral duties, moral actions, and moral consequences, so that evil shall end in joy, and iniquity shall conduct to rest and heaven? The Lord asks for the production of evidence by which people may be able to judge as to moral duty and moral consequence. The interrogation assumes a gracious and initial fact, namely, that the word of the Lord alone can stand fast, and ultimately and completely prevail in the direction and settlement of human affairs. Has this assumption the justification of history? If Song of Solomon , see what wondrous inferences may be drawn from that justification! Let us at once inquire for the word of the Lord, and study it, and exclude from our ears all other voices, because in the word of the Lord alone is complete Wisdom of Solomon , and in the testimony of the Lord is an assured protection. How foolish are men who follow their own devices, inventions, theories, and speculations, when the Lord has sent down a light for the illumination of the path of life. If it could be proved that the Lord"s word has been turned aside and a better word has taken its place, the whole argument would be changed. The Bible never allows this; our own observation cannot permit such a declaration to pass unchallenged; our own consciousness is against the wanton theory: we have seen in our own life that only the true, the wise, the pure can bear reflection, and come to a fruition which brings with it contentment and joy. It stands to reason that if we could discover the word of the Lord it would be the only word worthy of our acceptance. Granted that we can surely find the word of the living God, then we need go no further, for we have all Wisdom of Solomon , all light, all truth. But this is not to be discovered by mere argument: it is not the clever man that discovers the word of the Lord; nothing is revealed to mere cleverness or ingenuity of mind: the word of the Lord is discovered by conduct, suffering, self-sacrifice, the acceptance of certain principles for the guidance of life, and then the issue is to determine which is true and which is untrue. We thus fall back upon Christian consciousness and Christian history, and we declare that not because of our intellectual sharpness, but because of our moral docility, have we been able to find out the word of the Lord, and to identify it amid all the voices and claims which have asserted themselves on behalf of rivals.

Verses 40-42

"Handfuls of Purpose"

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"Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens. We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned."Lamentations 3:40-42

Thus the sufferers turn themselves to wise counsels. Suffering only fulfils its mission when it constrains a man to look within himself and search and try his reins and ways that he may know how far he is sincere. Only suffering can get at our hearts with any profound and saving effect. Joy touches the surface, success hovers above us like a singing bird: it is when we are in the furnace of affliction that we discover what we really are, and what we really need. The sufferers in this case come to wise decisions. No longer will they murmur against the Lord, as if providence were fickle and arbitrary, as if providence found a wicked pleasure in the torture of human life: the sufferers say, The fault must be in ourselves; we carry the deadly poison within us; our hearts are lacking in the spirit of loyalty and obedience; they are lifted up in the ways of haughtiness, and they submit themselves to the rule of vanity; the time has now come for a different discipline and a different policy; we must lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens: we do not lift up the heart alone, as if we were intending to be religious in one part of our nature, and to reserve the liberty of self-service in another; nor do we lift up our hands alone, as if we were willing to indulge in bodily exercise, in ceremony, in ritual, or as if we were prepared to render in some degree the service of a hireling; but we lift up both our heart and our hands in sign of a complete consecration.—Religious exercises cleanse and elevate the worshipper. The very act of lifting up heart and hand unto God in the heavens is an act of purification and ennoblement. All such exercises are valuable as parts of a larger discipline. Herein is the value of public worship: man helps man; voice increases voice; joy and sorrow mingle together, and produce a tender melancholy that is the surest pledge of perfect and enduring delight.—Here we have the gospel before the time, because the gospel proceeds upon the basis that without repentance there can be no real joy. The Old Testament is indeed full of exhortation to repentance and broken-heartedness before God: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts—and innumerable other passages all testify to the fact that without repentance God himself cannot begin to reconstruct shattered human life. This is philosophical as well as theological; that is to say, it is based on the plainest and soundest reason as well as inspired by the most inscrutable and metaphysical faith. We adopt this philosophy in all departments of life; we must cleanse away the evil before we can begin to put up the good; we must get rid of the poison in the system before we can fill the veins with healthy blood; we must displace all the superstitions of ignorance before we can get standing ground for the deductions of reason and enlightened reverence. Let no man imagine therefore that he can love his sins, and yet avail himself of God"s mercy. The mercy is excluded from all who bring love of sin in their hearts; but it is offered with infinite generosity to all who hate their sins and desire to be restored to sonship and spiritual harmony. This is the law, and there can be no change in it; this is the decree, and it admits of no tampering; and of no compromise. Let us therefore preach the doctrine of repentance towards God; deep, earnest, thorough, heartbroken repentance: thus only can we throw down the falsehoods of an organised or invented morality, and bring in the righteousness that springs from the very throne and heart of God. Until we know the need of repentance we cannot realise the need of salvation. When a man does not realise his sickness he does not realise the necessity for calling in a physician. Any one contented with ignorance can never know the pain and the joy of thirst for knowledge. When man is so insensible to the joys and responsibilities of freedom us to be content with slavery, then he cannot understand those who have devoted themselves to the extension of human freedom. The gospel is a tinkling cymbal to those who have not felt the pain, the bitterness, and the burdensomeness of sin. Blessed day for the Church, blessed day for the world, when men shall arise and say with heart and voice, "Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens." Scarcely will they have formed the resolution before God himself shall come down, and heaven and earth shall find music in one thorough and everlasting reconciliation.

Verse 48

"Handfuls of Purpose"

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"Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people."Lamentations 3:48.

Thus the prophet does not live for himself, he lives the larger life of philanthropy and sympathy. There are men who separate themselves from the race and think of themselves only in their petty individualism; so long as they are personally comfortable they ignore the misery of society. No Christian man should reason in this way, for such reasoning has not in it one spark of the pity of Christ. We are to look upon ourselves as brethren, as put in trust with a common citizenship, and as bearing one another"s burdens as well as sharing one another"s joys. He is not a Christian man who is not moved towards joy by the laughter of childhood, and who is not depressed by the moan of human woe. When a man has bread, and another man is in want of bread, he is bound to give what he has, because the bread is not his only, it belongs to mankind. Christianity above all things seeks to dispel and utterly drive away all selfishness. We are to have all things in common in a larger than a merely mechanical sense. The strong man is to feel that his strength belongs to the weak; the rich man is to know that he is the trustee of the poor; the wise man is to know that he holds his wisdom as an open treasure on which those who are in need of wisdom can freely draw. Probably we cannot realise the whole ideal in all its detail: we must not however degrade the ideal to our capacity, but strenuously endeavour to enlarge our capacity so as to include the ideal. There are those who take a hopeful view of the world simply because they take care to walk in flowery places: they take a golden path through the world and only go abroad when the sun is shining and the birds are singing; then they exclaim, What a lovely world it is and how foolish are they who seek to darken a place made glorious by its Maker! If they would go out at other times and take other paths, how much would their view be changed, and how greatly would their tone be transformed! The prophet wept over a process which he describes as "destruction": now this word does not always imply what is meant by violence or wreckage or visible ruin: there is another destruction—a destruction of bloom, of fine feeling, of tender sensitiveness, of will power; a destruction of old ideals, and an overthrow of early conceptions of prayer and worship, of love and sacrifice. The more truly spiritual we are, the more penetrating will be our judgment of the processes of destruction. There was a time when we could only see trees that were uptorn, walls that were thrown down, towers that were dismantled: but now, being led by the Spirit, being daily taught by the Holy Ghost, we see that many a tree that is apparently rooted in the ground is perishing for lack of knowledge; many a wall that is apparently standing upright on its foundation is beginning to moulder at the top; and many a tower that seems to be as lofty as ever is giving way at the base and may any night be thrown down by some sharp blast of wind. It is not enough therefore from a Christian standpoint to take rough views of life, and to make hurried and general summaries of human experience: the Holy Spirit is in us as a spirit of penetration and discrimination, insisting upon fine and often exhaustive analyses: we are to be in our degree as is the word of the living God itself, sharp and powerful, keener than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow. Christianity is not distinguished by its rough judgments, but by its fine analyses. Christianity does not deal with promiscuous conduct, with all its common and obvious issues; it deals with life, thought, purpose, with the very intents of the heart.

Verse 51

"Handfuls of Purpose"

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"Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city."Lamentations 3:51

Here is the proper use of observation. We are not to look upon life with the eye of the statistician or the political economist or the collector of facts so called; our heart is to be in our eye, and our observation is to be conducted in the light of our tenderest sympathy. When the prophet says "affecteth" he means harms, or causes grief, to my heart: it is as if he said, What I see hurts me; does not merely hurt me outwardly, but hurts me within, strikes me at the very heart, gives me pain of soul, distresses the very springs of life. Note then how keenly sensitive was the prophetic heart. We need not wait for the New Testament in order to show us the range and duality of truest sympathy. The prophets were in their day and according to their light and their capacity as was Jesus Christ himself. They felt all sickness, they mourned in the presence of all oppression, they pronounced the doom of all sin, they sympathised with every one who was groaning under a burden or suffering from some stinging and often unspeakable pain. Speaking of "the daughters of my city," we are to understand the reference to be to the maidens of Jerusalem, and of the maidens of the daughter town which looked towards Jerusalem as children might look towards a mother. The prophet sees here an image of the destruction and desolation of youth and beauty and music. The tears of Jeremiah were easily accessible; hence he has been called the weeping prophet. He hesitates not to say, "Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission." Not only were the prophet"s eyes moistened, as modern sensibility often professes that its eyes are bedewed: Jeremiah speaks of a fuller sorrow, a richer sympathy; he says, "Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people." In another passage he desires that he might have even greater power of weeping, that he might express his sympathy with the destruction proceeding around him: "Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!" Not only was this copious weeping characteristic of the prophet Jeremiah , it would seem to have been characteristic of the whole prophetic life of the Old Testament. Speaking in the Psalmist"s day, we read of the tears of sympathy, because of the destruction that was proceeding in the city and in the household: "Rivers of water run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law." And again: "My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?" Prophets and psalmists have wished to escape from the evil visions that filled their eyes. Thus Jeremiah himself, strong and valiant as he was, seems to have seen enough, and to have desired to run away to quiet places: "Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them!" The Psalmist desired that he also might fly away and find rest in unknown places. "Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness." Why is it that our hearts are so little affected by the destruction that is wrought in the city? Simply because we are content to look at surfaces, to look with the eye of science or art or social mechanism. Prophets looked with the eye of the heart, and they could not bear the sad and tragic visions of the streets. Were our hearts right with Christ, were we one with the living God in all the tenderness of his love, a walk down the city thoroughfares would crush us, disable us, and drive us into the utterest despair; only then by some other vision—that is to say, by the very vision of the Cross itself—could we be recovered from our dejection, and constrained to renew our efforts at amelioration.

Verse 55-56

"Handfuls of Purpose"

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"I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon. Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry."Lamentations 3:55, Lamentations 3:56.

This is a testimony which cannot be set aside by mere criticism, but is personal and direct, and is endorsed not for official purposes, but with the extremest and happiest consciousness of which the soul is susceptible. There are great hours in life which men cannot forget. Answers have come to us that have written themselves upon the very tablets of the heart, and we cannot consent to have them erased merely to endorse or sanction some frivolous or speculative theory of life. Testimonies of this kind acquire still greater force and value from the fact that the witnesses are not ashamed to testify that many prayers have remained unanswered, and many cries have awakened nothing but mocking echoes. For example, this very prophet has already said, "Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer. He hath enclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked."—Never do the Biblical saints hesitate to acknowledge that their prayers have remained without answers. Thus Job: "I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me: I stand up, and thou regardest me not." And thus the Psalmist: "O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent."—Whilst, therefore, we speak about unanswered prayer, as if there could be no doubt concerning the reality of the witnesses, we are bound by our own reasoning to accept those witnesses when they testify that they have cried unto the living God, and have received direct and sufficient replies. In this chapter Jeremiah is full of gratitude because of his communion with God; he says: "Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not. O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life."—What variety of experience we have in all these chapters! Sometimes the prophet is on the mountain, and he waves the banner of victory; and sometimes he is down in the valley, putting on a shroud as a garment, and making ready to lie down with those that are slain. This image of God drawing nigh has been taken up by the Apostle James—"Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you." This image of pleading is familiar in the Old Testament: "Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me"; "Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will plead thy cause." We must not take the light as expressing the sum-total of religious experience; nor must we regard the darkness as the only aspect of the divine government of men: we must think of the night and of the morning, of the winter and of the summer: in other words, we must not judge God by special aspects or particular incidents, we must take in great breadths of time, large areas of observation and experience, and ground our inferences upon them. So judged, Christianity has nothing to fear from the most bitter and persistent of its enemies. The older men become, the richer should be their store of Christian evidence: there is a learning of experience as well as of letters; there is a genius of spiritual enjoyment as well as of intellectual penetration: here the simplest may assist: the greatest, and the men who have seen the most of affliction can throw light upon many problems which puzzle the most intellectual minds. Letters can belong but to a few. Genius is the badge of individualism. The common experience of mankind is the fund on which we must draw both for argument and illustration in many attempts to elucidate the divine government of man.


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Lamentations 3:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. 1885-95.

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