From Commentary on Jeremiah (1559)
The prophet shows here briefly how he dared to allege God’s name and help against his enemies; for hypocrites often boast that God is their helper, but they falsely pretend his name. The proof, then, by which the prophet shows that he did not falsely or presumptuously pretend what he had stated — that God was to him like a strong giant, who could easily lay prostrate all the wicked, ought to be well weighed; and it was this — that he dared to make God the witness and judge of his integrity. Hence if we desire to have God’s name to plead for the purpose of repelling all those artifices which are contrived against us by the devil, we must learn to offer ourselves to be tried by him, so that he may really examine our thoughts and feelings.
Now, in the first place, let us bear in mind what the prophet teaches, that nothing is hid from God. For hypocrites will not hesitate to go so far as to offer themselves to be tried by God, but they do not yet duly consider what is said here, that nothing is hid from him. There are many recesses in the heart of man, and we know that all things there have many wrappings and coverings, but God in the meantime is a heart-discerner who proves the heart and reins… The prophet acknowledges that there can be no disguise as to God, and that men gain nothing by acting fallaciously, for he penetrates into the inmost thoughts and discerns between the thoughts and the feelings.
He adds that the righteous are tried by God. There is to be understood here a contrast, because men’s judgment is commonly superficial. For when there is an appearance of integrity, there is an immediate acquittal, though the heart may be deceitful and full of all duplicity. The prophet then means, that when we come to God’s tribunal no one is there acquitted but he who brings a pure heart and real integrity. He then rises to a higher confidence, and says, that he should see the vengeance of God. We now see whence the Prophet derived his confidence, even because he had thoroughly examined himself, and that before God. He had not appealed to earthly witnesses only, nor had he, as it were, ascended a public theater to solicit the favor of the people; but he knew that he was approved by God, because he was sincere and honest.
And then he justly adds, at the same time, that he had made known his cause or his complaint to God. There is to be understood here again a contrast; for they who are carried away by the popular breath do not acquiesce in God’s judgment. Ambition, like a violent wind, always carries men along so that they cannot stop themselves; hence it is that neither the testimony of conscience nor the judgment of God has much weight with them. But the prophet says, that he had made known his cause to God.
If anyone objects and says, that hypocrites do the same, to this I answer, that though some imitation may appear in them, there is nothing real or genuine; for though they may boast that God is their witness, and that he approves of their cause, it is only what they speak vainly before men; for there is not one of them who deals thus privately with God. As long, then, as they are given to ostentation, they do not make known their cause to God, however they may appeal to him, refer to his tribunal, and declare that they have no other end in view but to promote his glory. They, then, who boastingly sound forth these things before the world for their own advantage, do not yet make known their cause to God, but by frivolous and vain boasting pretend his name.
What, then, is it to make known our cause to God? It is to do this when no one is witness, and when God alone appears before us. When we dare in our prayers to address God thus, “O Lord, you know my integrity; you know that there is nothing hidden which I do now lay before you,” then it is that we truly make known our cause to God. For in this case there is no regard had for us, but we are satisfied with the judgment of God alone. This was the case with the prophet when he said that he had made known his cause to God; and it must have been so, for we have seen that all ranks of people were opposed to him. As then he was under the necessity of fleeing to the only true God, he justly says, that he had referred his cause to him.
By saying that he should see the vengeance of God, he alludes to that wished-for revenge before mentioned, for his enemies had said, “Let us take our revenge on him.” The prophet says, “I shall see your vengeance, O Lord.” By saying that he should see it, he speaks as though he had his hands tied; for thus the faithful, of their own accord, restrain themselves, because they know that they are forbidden by God’s command to revenge themselves on their enemies. As, then, there is a difference between doing and seeing, the Prophet here makes a distinction between himself and the audaciously wicked; for he would not himself take vengeance according to the violence of his wrath, but that he should only see it; and then he calls it the vengeance of God, for men rob God of his right whenever they revenge themselves according to their own will. Paul says, “Give place to wrath.” Rom. 12:19. While exhorting the faithful to forbearance, he uses this reason, that otherwise no place is given to God’s judgment; for whenever we take revenge, we anticipate God, as though every one of us ascended God’s tribunal, and arrogated to ourselves his office.
John Calvin (1509-1564) was one of the most influential theologians of the Protestant Reformation, who served for many decades as the chief pastor of Geneva. He wrote commentaries on most books of the Bible, which were reworked from lectures he gave to theological students. He is commemorated on May 26 or May 28 on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican churches.