Jeremiah 10:23

23. O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.

23. Novi, Jehova, quod non sit penes hominem via ejus, non sit penes virum ambulantem, ut dirigat grassum suum.


The Jews confine this to Sennacherib, who had, according to his own will, at one time resolved to attack the Ammonites, at another the Moabites, and to reduce them under his own power; but had been induced by a sudden impulse to go to Judea. But this is frivolous. The Prophet, I doubt not, referred to the Jews, who had for a long time been accustomed to dismiss every fear, as though they were able by their own counsels to consult in the best way for the public good: for we know, that whenever any danger was apprehended from the Assyrians, they usually fled for aid to Egypt or to Chaldea. Thus, then, they provided for themselves, so tlmt they thought that they took good care of their affairs, while they had recourse to this or that expedient; and then, when the prophets denounced on them the vengeance of God, they usually regarded only their then present state, as though God could not; in one instant vibrate his lightnings from the rising to the setting sun.

Since then this security produced torpor and obstinacy, the Prophet in this passage justly exclaims, I know, Jehovah, that his way is not in man's power; nor is it in the power of a person walking to direct his steps.1

We now perceive what the Prophet had in view; and this is ever to be remembered -- that if we desire to read what has been written with profit, we must consider the meaning intended by the Holy Spirit, and then the purpose for which he has spoken. When we understand these things, then it is easy to make the application to other things: but he who does not weigh the end in view, ever wanders here and there, and though he may say many things, he yet does not reach the chief point.2 But we must observe that the Prophet, as he had done before, spoke as though he had God alone as his witness, for he saw that his own people were so hardened, that he addressed his words to them in vain: he therefore turned to God, which was a proof that he despaired as to the disposition of the people, as though he had said, "I shall have nothing to do with this perverse people any more; for I have already found out by my experience that their perverseness is untameable. I am now therefore constrained, O Lord, to address thee as though I were alone in the world." This is the reason why he spoke to God himself. We shall defer the rest fill to-morrow.


Grant, Almighty God, that as we are in like manner at this day so torpid, that we are not moved by thy threatenings, nor do the kind and friendly warnings, by which thou invitest us to thyself, prevail with us, -- O grant that we may at length learn to attend to the truth, in whatever form thou settest it before us, and that we may be teachable and obedient, when thou only invitest us, and that if we become hardened, we may be also touched by thy threatenings, and not tempt thy patience, but suffer ourselves to be brought under thy yoke, and so submit to thee, that thou mayest through our whole life rule over us, and shew to us thy paternal love, so that, after having faithfully served thee in this world, we may come at length into that blessed rest which is prepared for us in heaven by Christ our Lord. -- Amen.

Lecture Forty-Third

We stated yesterday why the Prophet exclaimed, that man's way is not in his own power: for as the sentence is brought in abruptly, it is made to signify different things. But I have briefly shewed that the Prophet condemns the security of his own people, because they thought that they were beyond the reach of danger, as they hoped for aid from neighboring nations in league with them, or because they supposed that they had sufficient help and protection in their own resources. Hence the Prophet derides this foolish confidence, and says, that his way is not in the power of man, and that it is not in the power of man while walking to direct his steps.

It must be farther noticed, that he treats not here of counsels, but that though men wisely guided their affairs, the Prophet denies that the issue is in their own hands or at their own will: and hence he expressly speaks of a man walking. He concedes that men walk, but yet he intimates that they cannot move a foot, except they receive strength from God. We now then perceive what the Prophet had in view.

We may hence gather a general truth -- that men greatly deceive themselves, when they think that fortune or the issue of events is in their own hands: for though they may consult most wisely, yet things will turn out unsuccessfully, unless God blesses their counsels. And this is what we ought carefully to notice, because we see how presumptuously men promise themselves this and that; and this presumption can hardly be arrested while men arrogate to themselves what belongs peculiarly to God alone. There are many warnings given in Scripture in order to check this rashness; but almost all proceed in their own course, and cannot, be induced to allow themselves to be ruled by God. James condemns this madness3 when he says, that men resolve what they would for a long time do: the merchant determines on a long voyage, not only for three or four months, but for many years; another undertakes war; another ventures to take this or that business in hand; in short, there is no end to such instances. The Holy Spirit has by this one passage checked the boldness of those who claim for themselves more than they ought: but the greater part, as I have already said, think that the event is in their own power. On this account Solomon says,4 that man deliberates, but that it is God who governs the tongue. He had said in the former clause, that it is man who sets in order his ways; but he said this ironically, as it is what most believe; fortwhen they undertake anything, they are not so solicitous about the event, but they always promise to themselves more than what they have a right to do. Men, he says, set in order or arrange their ways, but God governs the tongue; that is, they cannot speak a word unless the Lord lets loose the bridle of their tongues; and yet we know that many things are vainly said by men, for they are never accomplished. Since then the voice itself is not in the power of man, but depends on the will of God, what ought we to think of the issue?

We now then see the truth which may be learnt from this passage, -- that men deceive themselves when they dare to undertake this or that business, and promise themselves a happy issue. But we must farther observe, that not only events are at the disposal of God, but counsels also; for God directs the hearts and minds of men as it seemeth him good. But all things are not said in every passage. The Prophet does not here avowedly speak of what men can do, but grants this to them -- that they consult, that they decide; yet he teaches us that the execution is not in their own power.

Some foolishly elicit from this passage, that something belongs to man, that he possesses some power of free-will. There seems indeed to be here something plausible at the first view. Jeremiah says, that his way is not in man's power, and that it is not in the power of him who walks to direct his steps; he then, it is said, has left something to manm he walks; it hence follows that free -- will is not reduced to nothing, but that a defect is proved, for man of himself has no sufficient power unless he is helped from above. These are only puerile trifles; for, as we have said, the Prophet does not shew here what are the powers of free-will, and what power man has to deliberate, but he takes this as granted; yet the children of this world, though they seem to themselves to be very acute in all things, and take their own counsels, and rely on their own resources, are yet deceived, because God can in one moment dissipate all their hopes, as the events of things are wholly in his power. It is therefore by way of concession that he says that man walks, according to what Paul says in Romans 9:16, though in that passage he ascends higher; yet in saying, that it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, he seems to concede to men the power of willing and running. But there is to be understood here a species of irony; for we know that men can never be stripped of that vain and deceptive conceit which fills them, while they think that they can obtain righteousness by their own strength. They dare not, indeed, actually to boast that they are the authors of their own salvation, and that righteousness is within their own power, but they wish to be associates with God. Though they admit him as a partner, they yet wish to divide with him. This is the folly which Paul ridicules; and he says, that it is not of him who wills, or of him who runs, but of God only who shews mercy; that is, that man's salvation is alone from the mercy of God, and that it is not from the toil and running of man.

When the Pelagians sought by this cavil to evade the sentence of Paul, "It is not of him who wills and runs," deducing hence, that man has some liberty to will and to run, Augustine said wisely, "If it be so, then, on the other hand, we may infer, that it is not of God who shews mercy, but of him who wills and runs."5 How so? If men co-operate in half with God, and if there is a concurrence of human power with the grace and aid of the Holy Spirit, and if this sentence, "It is not of him who wills, or of him who runs," is true according to the sense given to it, so we may also say, that it is not only of God who shews mercy, but also of him who wills and runs. Why? Because the mercy of God is not sufficient if it is to be aided by man's power. But this is extremely absurd, and there is no one who does not abhor the thought, that man's salvation is not from God's mercy, but from their willing and running. It then follows, that all human power, and all lab ours, are wholly excluded by these words of Paul.

Now, the Prophet does not speak of eternal salvation, but only of the actions of the present life. As then the Israelites thought that they had sufficient protection in their own wisdom, in their own power, in their own nmnbers, and also in their confederacies with other nations, the Prophet says, that they were deceived, for they arrogated to themselves the ruling power, which belongs to God alone; for what men commonly call fortune is nothing else but God's providence. Since then God by his hidden counsel governs the affairs of men, it follows that all events, prosperous or adverse, are at his will. Whatever, then, men may consult, determine, and attempt, they yet can execute nothing, for God gives such an issue as he pleases.

We now see what the Prophet speaks of, and also see that he touches not on the powers of free-will; for he does not refer here to man's will, but only shews that after men have arranged their affairs in the best manner, all their counsels, strivings, and toils come to nothing, and that God disappoints their confidence, because they dare rashly to promise to themselves more than what is right. It now follows --

1 Literally rendered the verse is as follows: --

I know, Jehovah, That not to a mortal is his way; Nor is it for man to walk And to stablish his steps.

Such substantially is the meaning of the Targum, and of all the versions, except the Syriac, which Blayney has followed thus:

I know Jehovah, that his way is not like that of men, Nor like a human being doth he proceed and order his going.

This construction is wholly inadmissible. Had Jehovah been in the objective case, it would have ta before it. See 1 Samuel 3:7. Then the rest of the verse is a paraphrase and not a version; and such a paraphrase as the original will not bear. To "walk" and to "stablish" are in the same predicament, both infinitives; and so they are rendered in all the versions and the Targum.

The design of the passage seems to be more correctly intimated by Gataker than by Calvin: -- "Lord, we know well, that this army cannot come in but by thy permission; but since thou art resolved to chastise us, we beseech thee, in wrath remember mercy." So in the next verse the Prophet says, "O Lord, correct me, but with judgment." -- Ed.

2 Or, as the French version has it, "does not reach the burden and knot of the subject."

3 James 4:13.

4 Proverbs 16:1.

5 Epist. 107, ad Vitalem.


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