Problems, laments and warnings
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
14 Dec, 2023

For Jeremiah the tragedy of Jerusalem being destroyed was that nobody had listened to the warnings God had given. He cannot escape the sense that this devastation was something his people had brought on themselves, and that God was right to be angry. In his commentary on Lamentations, David Dickson reminds us that we too need to share God’s view of our sins as churches and communities. In the following updated extract from his commentary on Lamentations 3, Dickson draws attention to the fittingness of God’s responses to our behaviours. If we have not listened to Him, and treated His message with contempt, it is not at all incongruous if He does not listen to us, and lets us be treated with contempt. Will we register the warning in time and honour Him as He deserves?

In the first few chapters of Lamentations, we have heard a pitiful lamentation from the prophet, a man exercised with troubles all his days. He preached in grief of heart to this people for the space of fifty years. When they were in a good condition, he requested them to be reconciled to God. They scorned and mocked him, and set light by his words, yet he fought on with them year by year, telling them that the Lord’s judgments were at hand.

And now when the judgment which he foretold was come, it breaks his heart to see so many thousands of them cut off by famine, sword, and pestilence, and to the pitiful state of those who were left alive, carried captive, and made slaves to pagans.

So all his days were spent in sorrow, and he wrote this book of Lamentations to stir up those who would come after, to mourn with him, and to make it known to the church in subsequent ages that sorrow would be at their heart, and that similar judgment would overtake them, unless by laying to heart they would prevent it.

God does not hear their prayers

‘Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through’ (Lam. 3:44). Jeremiah laments that God would not hear their prayer, but had drawn a curtain over heaven, and hid His gracious face. They prayed for God’s help and assistance, deliverance from trouble, and especially from the hand of their enemy, yet God did not hear them, and permitted them to be in the hand of their enemies. Although they were the people God had chosen for Himself, and had a house among them for the God of heaven, and were populous, large, strong, wealthy, yet the Lord lets it all be sacked, burnt, demolished, by profane soldiers, the majority killed and the rest taken captive.

But in our times, we don’t think of this. It’s as if God’s judgments are dead and He does not send any trouble for sin. Therefore, just as God carried out all hat the prophet warned the people about, so we may certainly expect similar judgments to overtake us, for we are guilty of following the same way as they did, and despising mercy as much as they did.

God will not hear every prayer, especially not prayers for judgments to be removed, when they are made too late, after people have refused the offer of mercy and refused to turn.

If God is not able to avenge contempt of the gospel, then don’t turn to Him now. But if He is a righteous God, He will not fail to reckon with you, for your abuse of mercy as much as for your faults.

But although God did not hear their prayers, yet the prophet prayed on in the name of the church. Although God rejects prayers, yet we should pray on! Although He will not hear belated prayers to stop temporal judgments, yet He will not refuse prayer for the removal of sin or for graces to the soul. Supposing Noah, Job and Daniel would pray for removing temporal trouble, they would not be heard (Ezekiel 14:14). But you could be the most unworthy and wretched person there has ever been, and if you pray for removing sin, you cannot fail to be heard. God grants relief for the soul when there is none for the body.

They are treated with contempt

‘Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people’ (Lam. 3:45). Here Jeremiah laments that God had made them contemptible, like what is swept out of a house and thrown on the dunghill. Although these were the most honourable people under heaven, yet a nice looking Jew, man or woman, would not have fetched the price of a horse or a cow. Nobody would even buy them as slaves except for the most servile work.

But Jeremiah says it is God who has done this. ‘Thou hast made us …’ This is how the Lord gives a rejoinder to people for the contempt and disparagement they gave to His prophet, His Word, and His ordinances. He makes His own saints to be disparagingly thought of. As people regard God’s ordinances, let them expect to be regarded themselves.

You who let the Bible lie mouldering on the window ledge, you who content yourself with turning up to church without caring how much you profit by coming, but go home jesting at the Word and the preacher, be sure that God will despise you as you despised Him. If a temporal despising does not humble people in this life, they will be sure of a great despising in the day when God shall say, ‘Depart from me …’ The Lord shall say, ‘I rose early and late and sent my servants to pray and to preach to you and to offer reconciliation to you, but you rejected my offer and my word. I came and taught you from house to house, but you would not be taught. Therefore, go your way from me to the pit prepared for you. You and I shall never meet again.’ These people drew as near to God as any, but you see how for despising the offer of grace they are made as contemptible as any.

God is also just now, as He was then, and can do no less now in justice to us than He did to them, seeing we have given His Word and His messengers as great contempt as they did.

The Lord’s people are more honourable than any when the Lord is for them, but of all people they are the most contemptible when they defile their own glory by their sins, and procure at God’s hand exposure to shame. When someone makes a sincere profession they are most honourable, but when that same person belies their profession and defiles it by a lewd life, then they are most contemptible of anyone. Nothing is clearer among us than a torch or a candle, but nothing smells worse when it is put out. A professing Christian is beautiful when his holy life shines before the world, but he is the most stinking creature when he brings his profession to an end.

You who are professing Christians, be careful to keep your garments clean. Enjoy your place, your dignity, your honour, for you are called to be the sons of God, heirs and co-heirs with Christ, citizens of the new Jerusalem and of the congregation of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. But if you dishonour God by an evil life, you will be made more vile than the basest servant. If the spouse of Christ defiles His bed in following her own desires and affections, what wonder if she is made more contemptible than anyone else under heaven?

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