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"It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." La 3:26
The Lord does not bring his poor and needy children to a throne of grace, and send them away as soon as they have come. But his purpose is, to show them deeply what they are, to make them value his favors, to sink them lower and lower in self, that they may rise higher and higher in Christ, to "teach them to profit" (as the Scripture speaks), to write his laws upon their hearts in lines of the Spirit’s drawing, in deep lines, "engraved with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever;" not characters traced out in the sand, to be washed out by the rising tide, or effaced by the wind, but in characters as permanent as the soul itself.
The work of the Spirit in the hearts of the redeemed is radical work, work that goes to the very bottom; nothing flimsy, nothing superficial, nothing which can be effaced and obliterated springs from him, but that which shall have an abiding effect—that which shall last for eternity. The Lord is fitting his people for eternity, and therefore his work in them is thorough work; it goes right through them; it leaves nothing covered up and masked over, but turns all up from the very bottom, "discovering the foundation unto the neck" (Hab 3:13), and doing in a man spiritually what the Lord threatened to do in Jerusalem literally, "I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipes a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down" (2Ki 21:13).
Therefore he does not answer the prayers of his children immediately when they come to his throne of mercy and grace, but rather he deepens those convictions that he has implanted; he makes the burdens heavier that he has put upon their back; he hides himself instead of discovering himself, and draws back further instead of coming nearer. Now this is intended to make them wait with greater earnestness, with more unreserved simplicity, with more absolute dependence upon him and him alone to communicate the blessing, with greater separation of heart from all the strength of the creature, with a firmer resolution in the soul to cast away all its own righteousness, and to hang solely and wholly upon the Spirit’s teachings, and Jesus’ sweet revelation of himself.
"Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord." — La 3:39-40
I believe in my conscience there are thousands of professors who have never known in the whole course of their religious profession what it is to have "examined and tested their ways;" to have been put into the balances and weighed in the scales of divine justice; or to have stood cast down and condemned in their own feelings before God as the heart-searching Jehovah. From such a trying test, from such an unerring touchstone they have ever shrunk. And why? Because they have an inward consciousness that their religion will not bear a strict and scrutinizing examination.
Like the deceitful tradesman, who allures his customers into a dark corner of his shop, in order to elude detection when he spreads his flimsy, made-up goods before them, so those who have an inward consciousness that their religion is not of heavenly origin, shun the light. As the Lord says, "Every one that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved; but he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God."
Now if you know nothing of having from time to time your ways searched and tested by God’s word, or if you rise up with bitterness against an experimental, heart-searching ministry that would test them for you, it shows that there is some rotten spot in you—something that you dare not bring to the light. The candle of the Lord has not searched the hidden secrets of your heart; nor have you cried with David, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
"Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins?" La 3:39
We must not understand by the word "punished," anything of a vindictive nature. God never punishes the sins of his elect penally; that is, not as he punishes the sins of the reprobate. The eternal covenant forbids this. "Fury is not in me, says the Lord." The elect are accepted in Jesus, are pardoned in him, are complete in him. This is their eternal and unalterable covenant standing—the fruit and effect of their everlasting union with the Son of God. But though this forbids punishment in its strictly penal sense, it by no means excludes chastisement. Thus we are not to understand by the word "punishment" in the text the infliction of God’s righteous wrath, that foretaste of eternal damnation with which, sometimes even in this life, he visits the ungodly; but it signifies that chastisement which is the privilege of the heir, and distinguishes him from the bastard. It is under this chastisement, then, that the living man is brought to complain, and he will often see in the afflictions that befall him the rod of the Lord as the chastisement of sin. When he thus sees light in God’s light, he may justly say, "WHY should any living man complain when punished for his sins?" Are they not chastisements, not punishments; the rod of a father’s correction, not the vindictive stroke of offended justice?
Perhaps his property is lost through unlooked-for circumstances, or the roguery of others; and he is brought down from comparative affluence to be a poor man. When he can see that this is a chastisement for his pride and carnality in former days, he is able to put his mouth in the dust. Or if the Lord afflicts him in his body so that he shall scarcely enjoy a day’s health, when he sees and feels how he abused his health and strength when he possessed them, and at the same time perceives from how many hurtful snares his bodily affliction instrumentally preserves him, he is able at times to bear it meekly and patiently.
He may also have serious afflictions in his family, or find, like David, "his house not so with God" as he could wish; but when he sees that a sickly wife or disobedient children are but so many strokes of chastisement, and far lighter than his sins demand, when he sees that they come from the hand of love, and not from eternal wrath, that they are the stripes of a Father, not the vindictive strokes of an angry judge, he feels then that love is mingled with chastisement, and his spirit is meekened, and his heart softened, and he is brought down to say, "Why should any living man complain?"
Now, until a man gets there he cannot but complain. Until he is brought spiritually to see that all his afflictions, griefs, and sorrows are chastisements and not punishments, and is able to receive them as the stripes of love, he must and he will complain. But, generally speaking, before the Lord lifts up the light of his countenance upon him, before he gives him a sense of peace in his conscience, he will bring him "to accept," as the Scripture speaks (Le 26:41), "of the punishment of his iniquity." He will thus receive these strokes of chastisement with a subdued spirit; he will confess that they are justly deserved; and his obstinacy and rebelliousness being in a measure broken, he will lie as a poor and needy supplicant at the foot of the cross.
"Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens." La 3:41
When the Lord lays judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, when he makes the living man complain on account of deserved chastisement for his sins, and thus brings him to search and try his ways, he raises up an earnest cry in his soul. "Let us lift up our heart with our hands," and not the hands without the heart; not the mere bended knee; not the mere grave and solemn countenance, that easiest and most frequent cover of hypocrisy; not the mere form of prayer, that increasing idol of the day—but the lifting up of the heart with the hand. This is the only true prayer, when the heart is poured out before the throne of grace, the Spirit interceding for us and within us with groanings that cannot be uttered. "God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." The contrite heart and broken spirit, the inward panting of the soul after his manifested presence, the heaving sigh and penitential tear will be regarded by him, when he will turn away from mere lip-service and bodily exercise.
But there is much also implied in the words, "God in the heavens." This expression represents him as seated far above all heavens, enthroned in light, majesty, and glory unspeakable; and yet sitting on his throne of mercy and grace to bless the soul that waits upon him, full of love and compassion for the poor and needy one that lifts up his heart together with the hand, that he may receive pardon and peace out of Jesus’ fullness, and pants with unutterable longings that the Lord himself would graciously smile and beam love and favor into his soul.
This lifting up of the heart—the only true and acceptable prayer—no man can create in himself. God, who works all things after the counsel of his own will, can alone work in us thus "to will and to do of his own good pleasure." Nature cannot, with all her efforts, and all her counterfeit imitations of vital godliness, accomplish this spiritual sacrifice. She may cut her flesh with lancets, and cry, "Baal, hear us," from morning until evening, but she cannot bring down the holy fire from heaven. She can lift the hand, but she cannot lift up the heart. Depend upon it that in this spiritual communion with the living God, out of the sight and out of the reach of the most refined hypocrite and self-deceiver, much of the power of vital godliness lies. This lifting up of the heart when no eye sees and no ear hears, in the daily and often hourly transactions of life, in the lonely chamber, and on the midnight bed, surrounded perhaps by the world, and yet in spirit separate from it, is a secret known only to the living family of God.
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Philpot, Joseph Charles. "Commentary on Lamentations 3". Philpot's Commentary on select texts of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34