Lam_3:54-57. 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.
THE Prophet Jeremiah was inferior to none in a compassionate regard for his country, whose calamities he bitterly deplored: yet was there no one more injuriously treated than he. He might well say of himself, “I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath [Note: ver. 1.].” Of his grief, on account of his country’s sufferings, and of the sad returns which his enemies made to him, he speaks in the preceding context, and in terms peculiarly tender and pathetic: “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 from heaven. Mine eye afflicted mine heart, because of all the daughters of my city. [Yet] 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.” The working of his mind, in this afflictive situation, he delineates in the words of our text: from which we may notice,
To what a state God’s most favoured servants may be reduced—
[Jeremiah, for his fidelity in declaring God’s purposes respecting that rebellious people, was cast into a dungeon, where he sunk in the mire, and was left to perish [Note: Jer_38:4-6.]. And in this situation he altogether despaired of life, and said, “I am cut off,” “I am cut off out of the land of the living!” Distressing as this situation was, it may yet be expected to be endured by the faithful ministers of God in every age. Peter, in his day, was laden with chains in an inner prison, without the slightest hope of surviving the day appointed for his execution [Note: Act_12:6.]. Paul and Silas also, with their backs lacerated with scourges, and their feet made fast in the stocks, “had the sentence of death in themselves,” and expected nothing but a speedy and a cruel death [Note: Act_16:23-24.]. And we, too, are warned by our blessed Lord, that we must be ready to lay down our lives for him; and that on no other condition can we hope for a favourable acceptance with him in the last day.
But there are other troubles yet more afflictive than these, to which every child of God is exposed, and under which he may be brought into the depths of despondency. There are seasons of temptation and spiritual desertion, in which the soul is led to say, with Heman, “My soul is full of troubles; my life draweth nigh unto the grave. Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me; thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Lord, Why castes thou off my soul? why hides thou thy face from me? I am afflicted, and ready to die. While I suffer thy terrors, I am distracted. Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off [Note: Psa_88:3; Psa_88:6-7; Psa_88:14-16.]” Here was a man of consummate piety, and yet thus bereft of consolation, and almost of hope. And such afflictive visitations are experienced by many at the present day. When the spirits have been broken by a long train of misfortunes, and disease of body has still further enfeebled the mind, it is not uncommon for Satan to make a fierce assault upon the soul, and, by his fiery darts, to inflict on it a deadly wound, such as causes it to despair even of life. The Saviour himself, in the depths of dereliction, cried, “My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” It is not to be wondered at, therefore, if his followers also be called to taste of that cup which he drank even to the dregs.]
In the Prophet’s experience, however, we see,
What remedy is open to them—
[“I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon: hide not thine ear at my breathing and my cry.” Affliction drove him not from God, but to him: and though his overwhelming calamities disqualified him for that kind of orderly address which, in a season of calm reflection, he might have presented at the throne of grace, yet, by sighs and cries, he made known his desires to the Lord, who understands the language of the heart, though not expressed in clear and appropriate terms by the lips. To the same effect David says, “I opened my mouth and panted; for I longed for thy commandments [Note: Psa_119:131.]:” by which I understand, that his desire to fulfil the commands of God was too great for utterance; so that he was constrained to express it only by deep sighs and ardent aspirations. Thus it was with the prophet at this time, when looking to his God with humble breathings and with fervent cries. Like Jonah at the bottom of the sea, he cried, “I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple [Note: Jon_2:4.].”
Now, this is our proper remedy at all seasons: “Call upon me in the time of trouble, saith the Lord; and I will hear thee; and thou shalt glorify me.” Nor need we be discouraged because we are not able so to compose our minds as to pour out our hearts in fluent and connected petitions. Abrupt cries are fitly suited to occasions of great extremity. Our blessed Lord himself, when in an agony in the garden of Gethsemane, cried thrice to his heavenly Father, repeating the same words [Note: Mat_26:44.]. It is not the fluency of our expressions that God regards, but the sincerity of our hearts: and, for the most part, when “his blessed Spirit makes intercession in us” with more than ordinary power, it is not by diversified and rhetorical language, but “by groans which cannot be uttered [Note: Rom_8:26.].” Whatever therefore our trouble be, and however desperate our condition, let us “give ourselves unto prayer [Note: Psa_109:4.];” and not doubt but that God, who “heareth the ravens,” will “hear the voice of our weeping [Note: Psa_6:8.],” and “fulfil the desire of our hearts [Note: Psa_145:19.].” If we do but “look unto him, we shall be lightened [Note: Psa_34:5.].”]
The answer he received will lead us to contemplate,
The efficacy of that remedy, whensoever applied—
[In his despondency, the prophet had said, “Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through [Note: ver. 44.].” But he found to his joy, that nothing could intercept either his communion with God, or his communications from God: for “God drew nigh to him, and said, Fear not.” What marvellous condescension was here! Whilst man was treating him as “the offscouring and refuse of the people [Note: ver. 45.],” God regarded him with all the tenderness of a Father, and bade him to fear nothing that man could do against him. And will God be less gracious to us, in our extremities? No: “he will surely hear the cry of the poor destitute, and will not despise their prayer [Note: Psa_102:17.].” Hear the experience of David, and in him of the Messiah also: “Save me, O God! for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary of my crying: my throat is dry: mine eves fail while I wait for my God. Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters. Let not the water-flood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up; and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me. I am poor and sorrowful: let thy salvation, O God, set me up on high.” Having thus pleaded with God, and obtained an answer of peace, he adds, for the encouragement of all future suppliants, “The humble shall see this, and be glad; and your heart shall live that seek God: for the Lord heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners [Note: Psa_69:1-3; Psa_69:14-15; Psa_69:29; Psa_69:32-33.].” “Hear ye this,” then, all ye who, from whatever circumstances, are brought into deep waters! “Call upon the Lord out of the depths [Note: Psa_130:1.];” and you shall soon he able to adopt the grateful recollections of David, and say, “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.”
But let me more particularly call your attention to the consolatory voice of God in my text: “Fear not.” Were you really in the hands of your enemies, you might well fear: but they, as well as you, are in the hands of God, who can “make even the wrath of man to praise him.” Here is “a weapon formed against you,” and “a waster” ready to wield it for your destruction: but they can effect nothing without God; since the very smith who formed the weapon, and the waster that threatens your destruction, are the work of his hands, and owe to him all the skill and power of which they are possessed. What then can they do against Him; or against those who are under his protection [Note: Isa_54:15-17.]? Know, that to every soul that trusteth in him is this word addressed; “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”]