Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity. Lam. 2:14.
Now, this passage ought to be carefully noticed: Jeremiah spoke of the fallacies of the false prophets, which he said were insipid: he now expresses how they had deceived the people, even because they disclosed not their iniquities. Let us then know that there is nothing more necessary than to be warned, that being conscious of our iniquities we may repent. And this was the chief benefit to be derived from the teaching of the prophets. For the other part, the foretelling of future things would have had but little effect had not the prophets preached respecting the vengeance of God, — had they not exhorted the people to repentance, — had they not bidden them by faith to embrace the mercy of God. Then Jeremiah in a manner detects the false doctrines of those who had corrupted the prophetic doctrine, by saying that they had not disclosed iniquities. Let us then learn by this mark how to distinguish between the faithful servants of God and impostors. For the Lord by his word summons us before his tribunal, and would have our iniquities discovered, that we may loathe ourselves, and thus open an entrance for mercy. But when what is brought before us only tickles our ears and feeds our curiosity, and, at the same time, buries all our iniquities, let us then know that the refined things which vastly please men are insipid and useless. Let, then, the doctrine of repentance be approved by us, the doctrine which leads us to God’s tribunal, so that being cast down in ourselves we may flee to his mercy.
He afterwards adds, that they might turn back thy captivity; some prefer, “thy defection” — and this meaning is not unsuitable; but the Prophet, I have no doubt, refers to punishment rather than to a crime. Then the captivity of the people would have been reversed had the people in time repented; for we obviate God’s wrath by repentance: “If we judge ourselves,” says Paul, “we shall not be judged.” (1 Corinthians 11:31.) As, then, miserable men anticipate God’s judgment when they become judges of themselves, the Prophet does not without reason say that the false prophets had not disclosed their iniquities, so that they might remain quiet in their own country, and never be driven into exile. How so? for God would have been thus pacified, that is, had the people willingly turned to him, as it is said in Isaiah,
“And be converted, and I should heal them.” (Isaiah 6:10.)
Conversion, then, is said there to lead to healing; for as fire when fuel is withdrawn is extinguished, so also when we cease to sin fuel is not supplied to God’s wrath. We now, then, perceive the meaning of the Prophet; he, in short, intimates that people had been destroyed because they sought falsehoods.