GREAT IS THY FAITHFULNESS
"They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness. " Lamentations ch.3:23
AND here you find Jeremiah with a broken heart! For thirty years he had been God's messenger to Judah, and to Jerusalem in particular. He had not prophesied smooth things, he had not given the people what they wanted, but he had spoken in God's Name. The religious world was against him and the leaders of the people hated him. In the light of God's word to him he had declared that there was no deliverance for Jerusalem by any league with Egypt, that the defences of the city were hopeless against the Chaldeans, and that the one and only escape was by unconditional surrender. His message was not popular.
There were those who were sure that Egypt was the answer. Others of the blatant patriotic type were all for fighting it out to the last ditch rather than surrender. They were prepared, indeed, for all the young people to defend them, if need be with their blood. Amidst these contending policies the onslaughts of the Chaldeans continued until Jerusalem fell. Its walls and temple were raised to the ground, and the wailing multitude took up what little possessions they could and prepared for the weary trek into exile, leaving their beloved dead, never again, for the most part, to see the land of their birth. It was then that Jeremiah wrote this dirge.
The politicians had failed with Egypt, the soldiers had failed to withstand Nebuchadnezzar, and the prophet had been ignored. But while the prophet had been proved to be at least not wrong, he felt acutely the plight of his people. His heart was broken as he contemplated the destruction of David's Throne, and felt in his own soul how differently circumstances would have been had the rulers and the people sought God in the hour of their peril, He was in no mood of exultation as he saw the tragic results of man's self-will definitely resisting the will of God. There was no " I told you so " attitude, but a deep heart rupture as he realised that the warnings he had given had been true to the revelation of God, and were indeed worked out to the full in the experience of the people. This, it seems to me, is the inescapable experience of any true prophet.
He sees acutely the trend of events from a Divine standpoint, he warns from that standpoint, but of course, the warnings are ignored by the carnal mind. Then he sees the judgment of his warnings worked out in fact, and his heart is broken. Something of his feelings will be imagined as we read his observations in this chapter. " He hath led me and brought me into darkness, but not into light " (v.2), "He hath set me in dark places as they that be dead of old" (v.6), and the following verse: "He hath hedged me about that I cannot get out." And he adds: "He hath made my chain heavy." Perhaps worst of all he exclaims: "Also when I cry and entreat, he shutteth out my prayer. " From these and other observations it is evident Jeremiah was in grievous distress of soul and it is in that distress that he gives us the words of the text. Anyone who has been passing through trial or who may be in grievous anguish, will realise that these words do not trip glibly off the end of the tongue of somebody who is on the crest of the wave or who knows little of life in its grimness. This is the declaration of a man whose circumstances and prospects were calculated to cast the most optimistic into the stygian depths of despair.
Now if I understand the prophet aright he allowed his distress and despair to do its work in him until, perhaps, by the sheer necessity of things, he was made humble in spirit before the Lord. He had always been a humble man, particularly before men. He had suffered their ill treatment with patience and bowed before their anger, and yet it would seem that in this grievous hour, when his warnings had been vindicated, his resentment against God was a sure indication of unsuspected pride. He had to experience the wormwood and the gall before, as he says, his soul was humbled in him. What any one of us may know about this is for ourselves, but one thing is quite plain: let none of us pride himself on his humility. Pride is deeply embedded in our natures and few indeed have really been truly humbled before the Lord. We may think that we have embraced grace in meekness and humility, but none of us knows what pride might be discovered if we were put to the test as was Jeremiah.
Therefore, it would seem that if this text is to be of experimental value to us we must seek the Lord for a true and real humility before others and before Him. For out of that condition of true humbleness of mind, as it was with Jeremiah, so with us, there will emerge HOPE. We may not have expected to find pride there, and we can hardly believe that we are depressed by the things that are happening because of this conceit in our hearts, but so it may be and the sooner we realise the fact the quicker will a genuine vital inspiring hope come to birth within us. If we can get there what blessings await us! This word "faithfulness" carries with it the prevailing idea of "stability." Great is Thy Stability! To say that, not as a creed or a verse of Scripture, but as a revelation of faith and an experience of the soul is really to have mastered the intricacies of human life. I want to draw your attention to three thoughts about God which Jeremiah discloses. They will be helpful and if to that can be added the Christian standpoint on these truths the result should be beneficial. Jeremiah has something to express concerning:
1) THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD
When he had found the right place before the Lord and hope had quickened him afresh, he realised as an inward discovery the Lord's mercies, in that they were not consumed, and this was because His compassions never fail. Indeed, those mercies and compassions are new every morning. It is a wonderful world into which you step when you are more conscious of the blessings you have than the blessings you have lost. To focus the mind on what we have not, what has been taken from us and to meditate on our deprivations is in itself a bigger calamity than the tragedy with which our minds are absorbed. Fierce can be the losses of life as we are deprived of loved ones, of health and even of material things, but if these desperate facts prevent our counting our blessings then that is a greater tragedy than anything else that has happened to us. None of us welcomes these experiences, but let us, nevertheless, be careful to realise that as with Jeremiah, every morning comes to us to present God in a new light; we see His marvellous providence meeting our need with every changing circumstance. Like Jeremiah the Christian lives in a world where the will of men politically, religiously and in every other way, is resolute in resistance to the will of God.That inevitably brings pain and anguish not only to those who resist Him but to all who are devoted to Him.
Indeed, this is the deep truth of Calvary that God's Son suffers for God's enemies! We may survey the misery of our circumstances and ask the everlasting "WHY?" If we do the perplexity and the darkness, the wormwood and the gall will remain. There is another way, and that is to be submissive in His hand, accepting His love in that which He permits; for out of it will come the hope by which, perhaps to our astonishment, we see a new world unveiling the extraordinary loving-kindness, mercy and providential care of a Heavenly Father. We shall be on the way to declaring "Great is Thy Faithfulness." Jeremiah knew something also concerning:
2) HIS PORTION IN GOD
"The Lord is my portion, saith my soul." Of course truths of which Jeremiah speaks can be appraised in their fulness by those only in similar experience. It is difficult for a man who has just fallen in love to think of the Lord alone as his portion. The young mother with her first little baby can hardly be expected to think of God exclusively. The middle-aged man stepping into the Board Room to be appointed General Manager with a large salary, can scarcely be blamed if he finds himself walking on air for the rest of the day. But then who shall say how far such delightful experiences keep us true to the real issues of life? We all know too well that it is a different proposition when adversity comes our way. Then we begin to think out the deeper things of life, whether we wish to do so or not. Then issues about God take on a new significance. We may declare we have lost our faith, and some may assert with fresh emphasis that they do not believe there is a God, but the point not to be missed is that they have been thinking about Him. The fact of experience bears witness to the searching of the soul for the substantial and the real. That in itself takes us far beyond things material, until at least in the experience of the Christian you discover God as He reveals Himself at a new level of experience. Any experience that leads us on with God is worth while and when we have proved the broken cisterns we at last find a new experience in God aptly summed up by Jeremiah: " The Lord is my portion. Finally, in the faithfulness of God we come to :
3) A NEW PRAYER LIFE WITH GOD
Even Jeremiah found this to be true. Listen to him as he exclaims: "Also when I cry and entreat, He shutteth out my prayer." That is the complaint of a man who is seeking to adjust God to his circumstances and probably we have all done it. Yet when humility has brought forth a vital hope Jeremiah asserts: "The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him." How well we can understand Jeremiah. In such dire circumstances he naturally desires God to answer quickly as if he will have the boon of deliverance without necessarily getting closer to God, but God imposes patience. He must wait upon Him and he must seek God - not seek deliverance, but seek God. We all need to know the faithfulness of God in dealing with our souls rather than with our circumstances. To experience the mercy of God in bringing us to our knees with a quiet unruffled patience as the need and the circumstance, the pressure and the loss, are submitted to Him. Not in a petulant, complaining spirit, but in the calm of the soul that has learned some of the secret blessing of humility.
There are choice intimacies at the Throne of grace where humble, trusting, patient souls will find unveilings of God not previously suspected. It is the willingness to wait, the patience to submit, the attainment of a perfect co-operation with Him in the circumstances He permits, these are the issues that emerge out of a patient uncomplaining waiting upon God. How little we understand that, until we are there. It is scarcely possible for God to bestow the favours we ask. His richest and best must be reserved for truly humble souls, for these alone can turn the answers to prayer into perennial blessings. There awaits the humble soul in its torture, a waiting upon God which shall result in an understanding of God, choice, elevating, strengthening, inspiring. In that way the humble are truly exalted. Finally:
4) THE TRUTH FOR THE BELIEVER
In a way that perhaps even Jeremiah did not understand Divine faithfulness, Divine stability has a significance to the Christian which can make this text become a vital dynamic every moment of every day. God declares His faithfulness in all the circumstances and situations in life not necessarily by rescuing us from them, for physical deliverance is not always the highest blessing. We like to think it is, we ever hope it will be, but it is not necessarily so. God's faithfulness is in Himself and it is confirmed to us. First in the blood of Jesus. As I review the past year, I can truly say that thought and reflection by the aid of the Holy Spirit have yielded much concerning the shedding of His blood. It is that redemptive act of God before the world was, brought within the visible and the temporal in Calvary, that declares to the Christian, God's absolute faithfulness. He Who spared not His Own Son, will with His Son freely give us all things.
Secondly, there is the gift of the Indwelling Spirit bearing witness to every one whom he indwells, of sonship and with sonship that we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. None who knows the inner witness of the Spirit can doubt assurance of the voice within. Unless a man be reprobate he knows something of the voice of conscience within. He may ignore it, but it is that moral experience that divides him from the brutes. Conscience, however, is a corrective voice, and while this is in some respects true of the Indwelling Spirit, His great work is to sustain us in our redeemed position as the sons of God, and therefore in all our circumstances He ministers within as to all our ultimate in God. By His aid we shall continually know the sustaining grace and mercy of God, and with far greater assurance than Jeremiah could possibly have had we shall find our testimony confirmed within by the Spirit " Great is Thy faithfulness."
Thirdly, amidst all the challenges of life God never leaves us or forsakes us. That means not only that He is with us, but it means that He maintains the faith of the child of God that He may be in all his circumstances more than conqueror. Faith is the title deeds of things hoped for and God sees to it that the redeemed never lose those title deeds. Strangely and mysteriously, as blow after blow falls upon the believer, as trial and tribulation winnow the chaff from the grain, our Heavenly Father who bestowed upon us the gift of faith, sees to it that by the prevailing intercession of Jesus in heaven and by the unabated ministry of the Holy Spirit within, faith asserts itself to grasp and treasure every new revelation of God. So it is a far greater truth for us than for Jeremiah that His compassions are new every morning. Let every day throughout the year enable every one of us with a humble spirit and a confident heart to declare: "Great is Thy faithfulness."
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