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a Bible passage
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
The Prophet, having proclaimed the dreadful judgment which we have noticed, now shows that he did not intend to terrify the people without reason, but, on the contrary, to encourage them to repentance; which he could not do without offering to them the hope of pardon; for as we have said before, and as it may be collected from the whole of Scripture, men cannot be restored to the right ways except they entertain a hope of God’s mercy inasmuch as he who has been ungodly, when he despairs, wholly disregards himself, observing no restraint. Hence the Prophet now represents God as propitious and merciful, that he might thus kindly allure the people to repentance.
He says first, And even now the Lord says, Turn ye to me. The Prophet exhorts the people, not in his own name, but speaks in the person of God himself. He might indeed have borne witness to the favor which he proclaimed; but the discourse becomes more striking by introducing God as the speaker. And there is a great importance in the words, even now; for when one considers what we have noticed in the beginning of the chapter, a prospect of relief could hardly have been deemed possible. God had, indeed, in various ways, tried to restore the people to the right way; but, as we have seen, the greater part had become so void of feeling, that the scourges of God were wholly ineffectual; there remained, then, nothing but the utter destruction which the Prophet threatened them with at the beginning of the second chapter. Yet, in this state of despair, he still sets forth some hope of mercy, provided they turned to him; even now, he says. The particles וגם ugam are full of emphasis, “even now” that is, “Though ye have too long abused God’s forbearance, and with regard to you, the opportunity is past, for ye have closed the door against yourselves; yet even now, — which no one could have expected, and indeed what ought to be thought incredible by yourselves, — even now God waits for you, and invites you to entertain hope of salvation.” But it was necessary that these two particles, even now, should be added; for it is not in the power of men to fix for themselves, as they please, the season for mercy. God here shows the acceptable time, as Isaiah says (Isaiah 49:8) to be, when he has not yet rejected men, but when he offers to be propitious. We must then remember that the Prophet gives not here liberty to men to delay the time, as the profane and scorners are wont to do, who trifle with God from day to day; but the Prophet here shows that we must obey the voice of God, when he invites us, as also Isaiah says, ‘Behold now the time accepted, behold the day of salvation: seek God now, for he is near; call on him while he may be found.’ So then, as I have reminded you, these two particles, even now, are added, that men may be made attentive to the voice of God when he invites them, that they may not delay till tomorrow, for the Lord may then close the door, and repentance may be too late. We at the same time see how indulgently God bears with men, since he left a hope of pardon to a people so obstinate and almost past recovery.
Even now, he says, turn ye to me with your whole heart. The Prophet here reminds us that we must not act feignedly with God; for men are ever disposed to trifle with him. We indeed see what almost the whole world is wont to do. God graciously meets us and is ready to receive us unto favor, though we have a hundred times alienated ourselves from him; but we bring nothing but hypocrisy and disguise: hence the Prophet declares here distinctly, that this dissimulation does not please God, and that they can hide nothing, who only pretend some sort of repentance by external signs, and that what is required is the serious and sincere feeling of the heart. This is what he means by the whole heart; not that perfect repentance can be formed in men, but the whole or complete heart is opposed to a divided heart: for men well understand that God is not ignorant; yet they divide their heart, and when they bestow some portion on God, they think that he is satisfied; and in the meantime there remains an interior and some hidden perverseness, which separates them far from God. This vice the Prophet now condemns, when he says, Turn with the whole heart. He then shows that it is an hypocrisy abominable to God, when men keep the greater part of their heart, as it were, closed up, and think it enough, if only they bring, so to speak, some volatile feeling.
He afterwards adds, fasting, and weeping, and mourning; and by these words he shows how grievously they had sinned; as though he said, that they deserved not only one kind of destruction, but were worthy of hundred deaths; that God therefore would not now be content with any common repentance, and except they came suppliantly and deeply felt their own guilt. It is indeed true, that we ought daily and even constantly to sigh, because we continue almost every hour to provoke God’s wrath against us; but the Prophet here speaks of solemn fasting, because the people had so grievously offended God that there was required some extraordinary confession, such as he here describes. Come then to me with fasting, and weeping, and wailing” that is “Show at length that you are guilty and submissively deprecate the vengeance which ye have through your wickedness deserved.” He speaks like a judge, when he tells the criminal, not to act dissemblingly, but simply to confess his fault. The guilty are indeed wont to weave many excuses to avoid punishment; but when the judge deems a man guilty, and he is abundantly proved to be so, he says, “What good can you do? for these your shuffling and subterfuges make your case worse: for now I hold you bound, and you cannot escape by these shifts, and will only the more provoke my displeasure. If then you wish me to show you favor, own how grievously you have offended, and without any coloring; confess now that you are worthy of death, and that nothing else remains for you, except I mercifully pardon you: for if you try to extenuate your crime, if you attempt by some excuse to seek reprief, you will gain nothing.” So now does the Lord deal with this people: Turn to me, he says; first, sincerely; then with fasting, with weeping, and with wailing; that is, “Let it appear that you suppliantly deprecate the destruction which ye have deserved, for moderate repentance will not do, inasmuch as ye are guilty before me of so many crimes.” We now apprehend the Prophet’s meaning.