I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.
This is one of those very bright thoughts which lie across this dark book like an April ray upon a retiring cloud. There is no book in the Bible which is more characterised by the illuminations of sorrow.
I. We are come, by God's grace, to a new year. We may be very thankful that there are these periods and epochs in life—these foldings down of pages we have read and openings of the new leaves of another chapter. They equip us, they give point and definiteness to new intention, they offer fresh feelings, they take us out of grooves, they stir up in us our immortality.
II. But there are things newer than the year. They were before the year; they were before all years; they will outlive the year. The year will grow stale, but these will always sustain their vigour and elasticity. When we think of the future we always see it in a mass; but it will not come in a mass, but in multitudes of little bits. We see a mountain, it will come in grains of sand. Each day will have a duty, a trial, a temptation, a strength, a joy. And every morning, as we arise, we shall wake to meet new mercies, newer than the dawn. They will be new as God makes new—the old renovated; the happy associations of an old thing combined with the spring-like delight of a new thing. They are new: (1) because they were forfeited yesterday by our sins; (2) because new light is thrown upon them, and our hearts have been renewed to see them better; (3) because they can be dedicated anew, used for new services and new love; (4) because of the "night of heaviness," which endureth but for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 11th series, p. 13.
Taking the opening of the chapter along with the text, we seem to find a good deal of inconsistency—and, in fact, positive contradiction. Spiritual experience must be looked at as a whole. 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. Taking Jeremiah's experience as a whole, what do we find that sanctified sorrow had wrought in him?
I. In the first place, it gave him a true view of Divine government. Jeremiah was brought to understand two things about the government of God: (1) that it was tender; (2) that it was minute.
II. Jeremiah gives us two notions about human discipline as regulated by God the Judge and God the Father. (1) He tells us the goodness of waiting: it is good for a man to wait. A determination to go, yet a willingness to stand still—that is the mystery of true waiting. (2) It is good for a man to bear the yoke. 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. That man I may trust with my heart's life.
Parker, City Temple, 1871, p. 61; see also Pulpit Analyst, vol. i., p. 638.
I. There is no greater evil committed by any of us than a practical forgetfulness of the common mercies of life: mercies, which because of their commonness, cease to be regarded as mercies. The Psalmist calls upon us to "forget not all God's benefits," and he thus indicates our perpetual danger, a danger which he himself felt, and against which he had to guard his own soul. There are two great causes which may be said to account for our forgetfulness of the mercies of God, which are new every morning. The first is that the hand of the Giver is invisible; and the second is that they come to us with such marvellous regularity.
II. Notice a few of the common mercies which we are most prone to forget: (1) Take, as the first illustration, sleep. There are thousands who never kneel down and thank God for sleep. I do not think that any man who finds sleep an easy thing has ever calculated rightly its inestimable value. It is when pain or overwork chases sleep away, when he lies upon his bed and waits for its coming but it comes not, when he begins to dread the nights lest he should have the same wretched experiences again and again—a fear which prepares the way for its own fulfilment—it is then that he begins to learn what is meant by sleep, and what high rank it takes among the common mercies of life. It is a mercy which no money can buy, which no rank can command. (2) Our reason. When we consider how closely the reason is allied with the brain and with the whole nervous system, it is a surprising circumstance that insanity is not a more widespread evil than it is. The possession of reason should stir us up to daily thanksgiving to Him whose mercies are new to us every morning. (3) The power of motion and action, and speech, is another mercy which is new every morning. We live not upon old mercies, but upon new ones fresh from the Divine hand, fresh from the Divine heart.
E. Mellor, The Hem of Christ's Garment, p. 138.
References: Lamentations 3:24.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 451; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 321.
Lamentations 3:25Throughout the Scriptures the two terms, seeking and waiting, run parallel as describing prayer, earnest and effectual prayer, in all its acts and offices. The command to seek the Lord and the command to wait on the Lord have the same general meaning, and the same general promises are given to each. But in this passage they are for once combined; their combination suggesting a certain difference between them and the perfection of devotion which results from their union.
I. Generally in the combination of these two terms, each expresses the perfection of all prayer as it is either the active seeking of God or the passive waiting for Him; in other words, what man does and what he must expect God to do in the whole business of devotion. All communion with God requires this.
II. Again, the seeking stands here and everywhere for the pleading boldness of prayer, which requires to be qualified by its waiting humility.
III. The two terms signify the fervour and earnestness of prayer joined to persistency in that fervour; and the rare combination of these gives the highest character to the tone of cur devotion. The waiting habit is as constantly commended to us as the seeking: (1) as the test of real earnestness, and (2) as its stimulant.
IV. The two words may be applied to the confidence and submission of prayer as it has to do with the seeking and waiting for special blessings. (1) This union of confidence and submission will dispose us to pray for temporal good and earthly deliverances with entire submission to the will of God; confident that we are heard, but leaving the answer to His wisdom. (2) This is true also of spiritual requests. We must plead for them, and yet learn in waiting the reason why they are withheld. They are granted in an indirect manner, and in the discipline of graces more important than the gifts themselves.
V. The combination of seeking and waiting forms in its highest perfection the devotional state of the soul in which both the seeking and the waiting go beyond their former meanings, and blend into the habit rather than the act of communion with God.
W. B. Pope, Sermons, Addresses, and Charges, p. 155.
Lamentations 3:26I. The first thing is to understand what is meant by "the salvation of the Lord." The salvation of the Lord here is something else than the first view which a sinful man obtains of pardon and peace, through "the great God our Saviour." It is the salvation which a man needs in any crisis of life, where he suffers under trial or is threatened with it. And, in those trials, hope and quiet waiting do not come at once into their fullest exercise. As long as human means can avail, it is a man's duty, trusting to Divine help, to employ them. The salvation of the Lord is when all conceivable means have been employed and have failed.
II. The second thing is to consider what is meant by these exercises of the soul towards God's salvation, "to hope and quietly to wait." (1) Hope: (a) The foundation of hope may be said to lie in desire. It differs from desire in this, that desire pursues many things that can never be objects of hope to us. We can only hope for that which is felt to be possible and reasonable. This, then, is the first thing for us to do, if we would strengthen hope, to see that its objects are right and good—that is, accordant with the Divine will and beneficial for us; we may learn this by consulting God's word and our own thoughtful experience. (b) The next element in Christian hope is faith. Hope differs from faith in this, that we believe in many things in regard to which we do not hope. Hope is faith with desire pointing out the objects. (c) There is a third element to be added to make our hope strong—that of imagination. (2) "Quiet waiting," or patience. It is the part of hope to seek the future; it is the duty of patience to rest calmly in the present and not to fret. Patience is strengthened (a) by faith, (b) by contentment, (c) by calm attention to duties.
III. Consider the benefit of uniting these—"It is good both to hope and quietly to wait." (1) The one is needful to save the other from sinking into sin. (2) The one is needful to raise the other to its full strength. We shall find increasingly, "how good it is." (a) It is good now in the depth of the soul—in the conscious assurance that it is better to rest in the hardest of God's ways than to wander at will in our own. (b) We shall find how good it is in the enhancement of every blessing for which we have to wait.
J. Ker, Sermons, p. 347.
Lamentations 3:27I. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of subjection to authority. If he does not learn this lesson early, he will suffer for it by-and-by.
II. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of self-restraint. It is not enough to be under the rule of others. Let such authority be ever so great, there is still a sphere to which it cannot extend, and in which there is scope for a man's own conscience to assert its command. There are, with all of us, desires and tendencies which we have sternly to resist, and the denying of which is part of the training by which we are fitted for a noble and useful life.
III. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of difficulty and toil. It is good for us all to have to work for our bread. Our Creator intended us for labour, not for indolence. Even before the fall, man had his physical work assigned to him. God placed him not in a "sleeping hollow" to fatten in idleness; but in a large garden, to dress it and to keep it.
IV. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of living godliness. It is to this that our blessed Saviour invites us when He says, "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me." It is good for a man to become a decided Christian in early life.
V. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of a public Christian profession. The first thing is to be a Christian; the next thing is to avow it.
VI. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of Christian service. It will help your own faith wonderfully to be engaged in some real labour for the Lord.
VII. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of personal affliction. There is a marked want about those Christians who have never suffered. You will rarely see piety of a rich and mellow tone in a man who has known nothing of sorrow.
J. Thain Davidson, Forewarned—Forearmed, p. 19.
I. There is, first, the yoke of home. Woe to that home which lays no yoke upon its inmates. That is the very office of the family toward its young and inexperienced members. To turn the current of the young life into a right channel—to make good habitual by use, and (to that end) to insist upon conformity to a good rule—to require, as the condition of maintenance, as the condition of protection, as the condition of life, that this and not that shall be the conduct and the speech and the temper, and (down to very minute particulars) the mode of living,—this is the duty of a home, in order that it may bring after it God's assigned and certain blessing. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth—the yoke of home.
II. But the home must at last send out its sons and its daughters into a rougher school of experience, and the half-way house on this journey is first the school with its discipline, and then the more special training for a particular profession or trade. Here too there is a yoke, and a yoke-bearing, or else a refusal of the yoke, with many sad consequences of sorrow and shame.
III. Many persons suffer seriously throughout their life by not having borne in their youth the yoke of a church.
IV. There is One who uses this very figure concerning His own Divine office. "Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me."
C. J. Vaughan, Pulpit Analyst, vol. iv., p. 432.
References: Lamentations 3:27.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 205; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii., No. 1291. Lamentations 3:31-33.—J. Burton, Christian Life and Truth, p. 368.
Lamentations 3:39This question suggests two considerations; each of which demonstrates the injustice of the complaint—Why should a living man complain? A living man! Life is still left thee; and of whatsoever thou hast been stripped, there is such a counterpoise in the continuance of life that complaint must be groundless. "A man for the punishment of his sins." There hath nothing befallen thee save the just recompense of thy misdoing. How can a complaint against justice be itself just. Thus are these two arguments of the text demonstrative of the unfairness of human complaint when the dealings of the Most High pass under review. These two arguments we will apply (1) to God's general dealings; (2) to His individual.
I. How easy and how common it is to discourse in a querulous and reproachful strain, on the fact of our being made to suffer for a forefather's transgressions, and on the fact of our deriving a polluted nature from guilt in which personally we took not any share. We forget, that although we did not ourselves elect Adam to act as our representative, we should, almost beyond doubt, have elected him, had it been put to our choice. For there was an infinitely greater probability that Adam, with the fate of millions committed to his keeping, would have watched diligently against the assaults of temptation, than that any lonely individual of his descendants, left to obey for himself and disobey for himself, should have maintained his allegiance and preserved his fidelity. In appointing mankind to stand or fall in Adam, God dealt with them by a measure of the widest benevolence. If so, complaint is at once removed by the second consideration which our text suggests. If there was nothing unjust in God's appointing Adam to act as our representative, then there is nothing inconsistent either with the strictest justice or the amplest benevolence in our being accounted to have sinned in Adam.
II. Consider the application of the text to the complaints called forth by individual affliction. (1) Our text represents affliction as a punishment, not of this sin, or of that sin, but generally for the punishment of man's sins. Therefore the complaint is to be met not by any demonstration that by one particular line of conduct the complaining individual has brought down a particular judgment, but simply by the fact of general sinfulness. When you remember that man is a transgressor, not only by imputation, but by every positive and personal working of evil, surely the marvel must be, not that so much of wormwood should drug the cup of human life, but that so much of sweetness should still have been left. (2) We are living men. And whatever the woe and bitterness of our portion, wherefore should living men complain? Life, when regarded as the seedtime of eternity, must appear to be so enormous in value that its sternest and most aggravated sorrows dwindle away into comparative nothingness. While man has life, he may win Christ. If it be a life of sickness, a life of widowhood, a life of captivity, yet all this deserves no mention in opposition to the privilege of existence. Life protracted may be a season when the Saviour is won, and the Saviour won is the universe our own.
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2216.
Lamentations 3:40The prophet calls his countrymen to a work to which they needed to be exhorted and pressed; and well he might do so, for the work of self-examination is not at all an agreeable work. Some religious works are agreeable; for example, the meditation on God's goodness, and the benefits He has bestowed upon us. "A joyful and pleasant thing it is to be thankful." But it is not a joyful and pleasant thing to consider closely our own way, and see how we have behaved ourselves towards our good and gracious Father who is on high.
I. The work of self-examination has this advantage, that it is a real, personal act; and in religion, as has been well-observed, what a man does for himself is of much more avail than what others do or can do for him. In self-examination each man is his own minister; and Christ, who is above, the only Priest.
II. Self-examination is a private work. What a man is in private, that he is; and it is in the personal interviews with our Maker that the critical transactions of our religious history are performed.
III. Self-examination is a rehearsing of the judgment day, for it is a having the soul up before conscience, and conscience is God's voice in the heart. There we are before the throne of God by anticipation, that throne before which the man found without the wedding-garment, when questioned why he has it not, is speechless. Without repentance we shall perish, and repentance absolutely requires and supposes a careful review of the actions of our life, and that at stated and oft-recurring periods, so that the actions may be remembered and not slip through, from the length of time through which the review extends and the difficulty of recalling its performances.
IV. The practice of self-examination will more assuredly soften and humanise the character in regard of the social intercourses of life; making him who is diligent in such practice gentle and merciful toward his fellow-creatures.
V. The self-examiner is a profitable attendant in the services of the church. Having considered his ways, he knows what he has to confess when he comes into his Maker's presence.
C. P. Eden, Oxford Lent Sermons, 1859, p. 241.
Reference: Lamentations 3:40.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 90.
Lamentations 3:41There are two things which often divert men from appealing to God. First, their own efforts on behalf of themselves; and secondly, the appeal to their fellows. But this appeal to God, this lifting up of our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens, may co-exist with effort, with activity, with diligence, with prudence, with the devout pursuit of an object, and with the right use of the strength, the talents, and the resources of our fellow-men and of our fellow-Christians. We owe an appeal to God on whatever concerns us.
I. The throne of God. It is the Lord who reigns in all circumstances, and He reigns over them. If we do not recognise this we are disloyal, we set up some false god, we are guilty of the sin of idolatry, we break the first and chief commandment in His holy law.
II. We owe an appeal on whatsoever concerns us to the personal providence of God, and the actual government of God. For the superintendence of our affairs is not committed by God to some deputy. He Himself provides, and He Himself rules.
III. We owe it, further, to the character of God. Think of His complete knowledge, His consummate wisdom, His eternal love. He gives you of Himself and of His resources as though you were His only son, and His heart is love towards you.
IV. An appeal to God is due to the paternity of God.
V. We owe this appeal to God's provision for our full reconciliation to Himself.
VI. We owe it to the Divine precepts, invitations, and promises.
VII. We owe it to ourselves to make this appeal to God.
VIII. We owe it to each other. Supposing that you are ready thus to appeal, there are two evils to be guarded against: (1) That of lifting up the spirit without the hands—depending upon mental prayer without times for prayer, seasons for prayer, words of prayer—without an act of prayer. (2) That of lifting up the hands without the heart. Here is the danger of forms and modes. Do you not sometimes come from the place of prayer with the guilty consciousness that you have not prayed. Try to let the mode in which you speak to God be born of your present circumstances and of the state of your heart towards God. Get time, if it be only a few moments, for meditation before you speak to God, and you will find a freshness in your thought of Him which will certainly inspire and help your supplications.
S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Pulpit, 1st series, No. 15.
References: Lamentations 3:41.—J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 4th series, p. 48; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 285. Lamentations 3:57.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1812. Lamentations 3:58.—Ibid.,vol. x., No. 579; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 325. Lamentations 4:1.—G. W. Conder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 380. Lamentations 4:2.—A. C. Price, Ibid., vol. vi., p. 141. Lamentations 4:22.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 480.
He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light.
Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day.
My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones.
He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail.
He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old.
He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy.
Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer.
He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked.
He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places.
He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate.
He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow.
He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins.
I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day.
He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood.
He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes.
And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity.
And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD:
Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.
My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.
He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.
For the Lord will not cast off for ever:
But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.
For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.
To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth,
To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High,
To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.
Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?
Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?
Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
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.
Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied.
Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.
Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.
All our enemies have opened their mouths against us.
Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.
Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people.
Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission,
Till the LORD look down, and behold from heaven.
Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.
Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause.
They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me.
Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off.
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.
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.
O LORD, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause.
Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me.
Thou hast heard their reproach, O LORD, and all their imaginations against me;
The lips of those that rose up against me, and their device against me all the day.
Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their musick.
Render unto them a recompence, O LORD, according to the work of their hands.
Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them.
Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD.