“This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.”
– Lamentations 3:21-23
It seems that as folks in the Church pick up on one truth or another, we sometimes put so much emphasis on that truth that we end up starting an entire sect or denomination around that truth. Martin Luther unintentionally started the Lutheran Church around the truths of the priesthood of every believer and justification by faith. The Calvinists were focused on the sovereignty of God and predestination taken to an extreme. The early Baptists focused on the necessity of water baptism for salvation (Acts 2:38 and elsewhere), and some even baptized in the name of Jesus. Pentecostals focused on Spirit baptism with the evidence of speaking in tongues. And the Apostolic churches focused on the oneness doctrine and Acts 2:38 salvation. I’m really looking forward to going home and seeing all these truths brought together in their proper perspective. But here I want to focus on a truth that often gets put out of its proper place — either by emphasis or suppression: the mercy of God.
Throughout our Christian journey, we’ve heard about how the Lord will and does care for His peoples — both Israel and the Church. We’ve been blessed, warned, comforted, convicted, restored, and any other past-tense verbs you want to use. Each of us have been to the mountain top and had our own experiences with the Lord. But after such experiences, we have to come down from the mountain top to minister to those waiting in the valley below. We’ve been given strength for the journey and tools for the task: we need to go out and do the work to which we’ve been called.
“This I recall to my mind,” Jeremiah tells us, “therefore have I hope.” Jeremiah’s just been wailing and moaning and feeling sorry for himself, his people, and his beloved Jerusalem. And after all that lamenting, he finds hope — a silver lining in the storm clouds over his head. What is he recalling to mind? In what is he having hope?
Now, this is where we have to be really careful as we read from English-language Bibles, because many of them divide the passages into paragraphs and put punctuation in where it doesn’t belong. The Bible from which I generally read puts little paragraph marks in Lamentations 3. I guess this is so as to make it more readable. Unfortunately, the paragraph marks are in the wrong place. Now, I know most folks don’t pay a whole lot of attention to paragraph divisions as they read. And I guess this is one of the failings of American public education. But paragraph divisions are really important in English, because they help us accurately understand what we are reading.
The paragraph mark in the particular Bible I use, puts verse 21 at the end of a paragraph that begins at verse one. What this tells me is that Jeremiah is finding hope in all that stuff he was moaning about in the previous 20 verses. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense now, does it? But, what if the paragraph mark were at the beginning of verse 21? What if the paragraph begins with Jeremiah recalling something to mind which results in his having hope? Then, what follows verse 21 is that which he is recalling to mind, and in which he has hope. Taking God’s word as a whole, something we need to be doing anyway, the hope is found in the Lord’s mercy and unfailing compassion. So, what Jeremiah is recalling to mind is found in at least the two verses immediately following verse 21.
“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.” There are so many directions in which I can go with this. But what I want you to get from this is that this wonderful salvation we enjoy, all the gifts and blessings we have received, are purely out of the goodness of God’s own heart. It is of the Lord’s mercies! It is of the Lord’s mercies! It is of the Lord’s mercies! We can’t buy it. We’re not entitled to it. We don’t deserve it. We don’t have a right to it. As Brother Paul tells us in Acts 17:28, “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being.” As Brother John tells us in 1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And as Jesus tells us in Matthew 19:26, regarding salvation, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”
I get tired of this entitlement mentality that has crept into American Christianity and prevails in American society today. This attitude that “I have a right to it” or “I am entitled to it” or “You owe it to me.” This idea that we have no responsibilities, no obligations, no price to pay; that we don’t have to work or put any effort into succeeding in life. We see this in the Church through the emphasis on financial blessing (if you don’t believe me, just watch any local Christian cable television station). It is a heretical notion that somehow the Lord owes us something. The Lord does not owe us anything: we owe Him everything!
I mentioned a little bit about how some people take a piece of truth and get so focused on it that they end up starting a whole Christian denomination out of it. Well, our text can easily be used to support the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty. And, please don’t get me wrong here: God is sovereign; God rules. But we also have a free will with which the Lord chooses not to interfere. But some folks try and downplay the free will in favor of God’s sovereignty: God allows us to choose Him. Others try to downplay God’s sovereignty in favor of human free will: God is a perfect gentleman and won’t impose His will on us. I can tell you that I’ve been on both sides of that fence.
How often have we heard preachers tell sinners that all they have to do to be saved is believe (erroneously quoting Romans 10:9)? How often have we heard them defensively quote the passages about salvation being by grace and not by works, whenever we mention Acts 2:38? Then, when they share their belief in detail, they get a little closer to the truth. They say “only believe” and “grace without works,” but they really believe “repent” or “accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior” (and cosmic errand boy) or “make Jesus Christ the Lord of your life.” Even they acknowledge that believing is not enough, when you confront them. They are so afraid of works that they do everything they can not to say the Lord requires us to DO anything in order to be saved. Water and Spirit baptism are works, they protest. Well, so is repentance; so is making Jesus the Lord of your life. Because now we start getting into the realm of obedience — of meeting God’s terms or conditions.
The other extreme of this comes from those folks who believe their good works are enough to save them; that they don’t need to repent or be born again. How often have we heard folks respond to the question of how they know they’ll be saved, “Well, I’m a good person. I’ve got my church. I don’t steal or do drugs or any of that stuff. I give to the poor. Certainly God wouldn’t send ME to hell? Would He?”
But what does any of this have to do with verse 22 of our text? If, as Jeremiah tells us, it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, then it follows that our salvation, our not being consumed, is entirely on God’s terms. Again, taking the Bible as a whole, we see that the Lord does set the conditions on which we will be saved. Now, mind you, our meeting these conditions still doesn’t entitle us to salvation. We still have not earned it. And we can never earn it (Matthew 19:26). We’ll never be entitled or have a right to it — at least not by anything we can ever say or do in and of ourselves. Brother Paul tells us in Titus 3:5-7 (one of those anti-works proof-texts) “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration” (water baptism in Jesus’ name) “and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (receiving the Holy Ghost); “which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
We preach Acts 2:38 when instructing people on how to be saved: repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ name, and Spirit baptism. But we can’t do any of these things on our own. Repentance can only come about through godly sorrow, as we’re told in 2 Corinthians 7:10. Water baptism is the means by which the Lord washes away our sins. And Spirit baptism is the means by which the Lord regenerates us, brings us back to spiritual life, restores us to the relationship He wants to have with us. Even though we are “doing” something, the real work is being done by the Lord Himself. And it is entirely of His mercies that He does this.
Verse 23 tells us, “They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness,” like we sing in the old hymn. What are new every morning? God’s compassion. They are fresh in our lives every day. They are in full strength. They do not deteriorate, spoil or go stale. We’ve heard throughout our Christian journey about how much the Lord loves us and cares for us. Here is yet another confirmation of this. And that’s the whole point: it is HIS love, HIS care, HIS mercy, His compassion. It is of the Lord’s mercies! It is of the Lord’s mercies! It is of the Lord’s mercies! Revelation 4:11 tells us, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.” God isn’t here for us, we’re here for Him. We’re here to honor Him, glorify Him, bring pleasure to Him; not the other way around. Any blessing or pleasure or honor we receive as a result of our serving Him, is entirely out of the goodness of His heart.
God was under no obligation to create us. That He did create us is simply because He wanted to. He can do anything He wants with us, and we would have no right to protest or complain. Yes, He allows us to enjoy His blessings and His presence in our lives. Yes, we can go confidently unto His throne of grace in prayer. But it is only because of His mercy, His unfailing compassion, His grace or undeserved kindness, that we do.
Take from this lesson a renewed appreciation of the Lord’s love and care for us. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:11), share our hope with all who find themselves without hope. Be found watching and working when He comes to take us home.
Questions to Ponder:
1. What does Jeremiah call to mind in our text?
2. To what does Jeremiah attribute Israel not being totally consumed?
3. Why does Jeremiah say Israel was not consumed? (not the same answer as question two)
4. In Lamentations 3:23, what does Jeremiah say to the Lord?
5. Why do we not deserve anything the Lord gives us?
Author, educator, theologian, scholar and Navy veteran Rev. Chancellor Carlyle Roberts II earned a Bachelor of Science degree in multidisciplinary studies (religion and special education) and a graduate certificate in global studies. He served in the United States Navy as a Religious Program Specialist from 1981 to 1992 and also served in the Persian Gulf War. He has served as a pastor, a Bible teacher, and a Sunday school teacher.
Roberts authored the books “God in Three What? An Examination of the Use of Persons in the Trinity Doctrine” (Publish America, 2006); “Homesick” (Publish America, 2010) and “We Believe: A Commentary on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 A.D.” (Publish America, 2013).