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We began yesterday to explain the passage in which God exhorts the Prophet to be courageous. He indeed uses the word to “turn,” but it is the same as though he had said, that it was not wise in him to vacinate, for he ought not to have turned aside by any means from the performance of his office, though the Jews obstinately resisted him. The sum of the whole then is, “If thou turnest thyself I will also restore thee, that thou mayest stand before me.”
It then follows, If thou wilt distinguish the precious from the worthless, thou shalt be as my mouth God now expresses what sort of turning he required from his servant, even freely to condemn what was vicious, and boldly to defend what was right, though the whole would oppose him. God then indirectly refers to that fear of Jeremiah by which he was so shaken that he knew not what to do. hence God reproves his Prophet, and shows that he could not otherwise stand than by distinguishing between the precious and the worthless. Thus all flattery was to be excluded. God then forbids his Prophet to deal gently with the people, or to be influenced by favor so as to spare their vices, and not to defend what was right with that courage which became him.
In these words is briefly comprehended the duty of a true Prophet, even to turn his eyes from men, to heed neither favor nor hatred, but to fix his attention only on the truth, not only to approve of what is right, but also to defend it at the peril of his life, and further, not to spare vices, but freely to reprove them.
What is added, Thou shalt be as my mouth, some interpret as though it was said, “Happen to thee shall everything that I have promised,” or, “my promise shall not disappoint thee,” but this seems to be far-fetched. I therefore take this plain meaning, “I will own thee as a true and faithful servant, if only thou distinguishest what is just from what is unjust, if thou continuest to fight for the truth, and freely reprovest and condemnest vices.” The import of the passage is, that those only are deemed by God to be the faithful pastors of the Church, who are not influenced by respect of persons, who do not turn to this or to that side, but rightly judge and according to the law of God; for by the law is the difference to be made between the precious and the worthless, as we are no fit judges but as far as we agree with what God has said. The law then is alone that by which we can distinguish the precious from the worthless.
They who keep to this rule, do justly condemn some and approve of others, because they are only God’s heralds, and bring nothing of their own. It hence follows, on the other hand, that those are not God’s instruments or ministers, nor are worthy of any honor, who so pervert vices and virtues as to say that light is darkness and that darkness is light. We may, in short, conclude from this passage, that a vocation or a title is not sufficient, except, they who are called faithfully discharge their duty to God. It hence follows, that all those who either ambitiously seek the favor of men, or are indulgent to their vices, and by flatteries nourish their corruptions, are impostors: for how much soever they may boast that they are God’s servants, yet he himself declares that they are not to be so accounted.
He then adds, Let them be turned to thee, but be not thou turned to them, or, thou shalt not be turned to them; but the verbs, being in the future tense, are to be taken as imperatives. He now confirms the previous doctrine, — that he ought not to be submissive to them or to flatter them, but to subdue their perverse minds until they received the yoke of God. The meaning of the words is this, — that the Prophets were sent for this end — not to gratify men, or to soothe them by obsequiousness, but to continue firm and constant in executing their office and to turn refractory men to him, and not to concede anything to them. And doubtless, except this course be pursued, the majesty of God must give place to the humours and fancies of men: for we know how great is the pride of almost the whole world, and also their love of pleasure, so that no one can willingly bear to be reproved. As then the greater part of mankind are so proud and self-indulgent, were the word of God to bend to the humor of this or of that man, what would become of it? there would certainly remain in celestial truth no dignity and no majesty.
We now see why this clause was added: for the precious could not be rightly and justly distinguished from the worthless, except the Prophets continued firm in the course of their calling, and carried on war with the perverseness of men. It is therefore necessary that all faithful teachers in the Church should so conduct themselves, as not to concede to the vices of men nor to cherish their fancies, but to constrain them to undertake the yoke of God. Paul, however, seems to have followed a different course, for he says to the Galatians,
“Be ye as I am, for I am as you are.” (Galatians 4:12)
As then he had endeavored to conform to what they did, and to bear their infirmities, he exhorts them to do the same in return.
But it is certain that Paul acted not differently from Jeremiah or other servants of God: and the answer is evident; for Paul
in the same Epistle testifies, that if he pleased men, he could not be the servant of Christ, (Galatians 1:10) He then did not hunt for the farours of men, nor turned aside in the least from the course of his duty to render himself
obsequious to men; but he could forgive their infirmities, or bear them, so that he might thereby turn them to himself, or
rather restore them to the service of God. For when God thus speaks, Be not thou turned to them,
he means not Jeremiah personally, but refers to his doctrine. The meaning is, that the truth of God ought not to bend to the
will of men; for God changes not, and so his word admits of no change. Whatever then men may expect, this rule must remain
fixed and inviolable, that they must submit to God, and that he must be the sovereign, and reduce to submission whatever height
or excellency or pride there may be in the world.
It is extraordinary what shades of difference appear in the expositions of this verse: but a literal rendering would, I conceive,
dissipate them, —
19. Therefore thus said Jehovah, — If thou returnest and I restore thee, Before me shalt thou stand; And if thou bringest forth the precious from the worthless, As my mouth shalt thou be; Return shall they to thee, But thou wilt not return to them.
The return at the beginning of the verse was from the state of mind in which he was, to an entire submission to God. The future is here used in the sense of the present. The “Precious” was the godly, and the “worthless” the ungodly. The three last lines are promises. See Jeremiah 42:2.
Houbigant’s explanation of the fourth line is too refined, though approved by Horsley. He considers that there is an allusion to Judges 14:14. Jeremiah himself was “the worthless” or the mean, being so regarded by the Jews, and “the precious” was the prophetic word. And Horsley renders the line thus, —
And if thou wilt bring forth the precious from the mean.
He also approves of Blayney’s version of the second line, and considers it as expressive of a prompt execution of what is commanded, —
If thou wilt turn as I shall turn thee.
But the first verb is in Kal, and the second in Hiphil, and therefore cannot be rendered the same. — Ed. It then follows —
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