In Jeremiah 14, there is the positive infliction of a dearth, causing death and destruction, as a mark of God's displeasure. "Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish; they are black unto the ground; and the cry of Jerusalem is gone up." Their nobles are all in sorrow, but above all the prophets were wicked (verses 14, 15). Those who ought to have been the best in Israel were really the worst. God's displeasure was most strongly expressed against the false prophets.
This condemnation of the people is so strong that in Jeremiah 15. the Lord declares that the state of things now in Jerusalem and in Judah was such that even if the best men that had ever lived and those most known for their prayers of intercession were to appear in the land, they could not alter His fixed determination to judge the land. "Though," says He, "Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of My sight and let them go forth" (Jer. 15: 1).
And what then was the righteous to do? What could the righteous man seek? We find the answer given by Jeremiah himself: "Thy words," says he, "were found and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart; for I am called by Thy name, O Jehovah God of hosts" (Jer. 15:16). This was his resource, and that of all the faithful in a day of apostasy.
The words of the Lord always become more precious to the pious heart in a day of ruin when judgment is about to fall. So the apostle Paul when warning the elders of Ephesus pointed out this resource. "Now," says he, "I commend you to God and the word of His grace" (Acts 20:32). Seducers, wolves, and perverse men, all these he anticipates will be spoilers among the flock, but his counsel is, "I commend you to God and the word of His grace." So in Timothy where Paul speaks of the last days and of perilous times coming, he says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God," conveying particularly this value for the Old Testament Scriptures. "All scripture" includes the New Testament as well as the Old.
Then again Peter points to the same feature of God's word. Peter was about to depart; he had this intimation from the Lord. He was soon to let slip the earthly tabernacle. In view of his absence as an apostle, he reminded them to keep in remembrance the words of truth they had heard (2 Peter 1). The word of God is always to be the distinguishing mark, and the anchor of hope for the believer in God.
I remember that the famous Bishop Horsley some years ago made some good remarks about this very thing. He had a strong sense of the ruin of Christendom that was at hand, and he ventured to think that when the things God wrought amongst His people came completely into the hands of men without His fear, God would awaken in the hearts of His people such a sense of the value of His word as would bring them to a degree of intelligence unknown in the previous state of the church.
This conviction is a remarkable statement of what, I believe, has always been true in the dealings of God. It was so in the days of our Lord. Destruction was impending over Jerusalem then, and the Annas and the Simeons and those who looked for redemption and the destruction of Jerusalem were those persons that Malachi prepares us for in the last words of his book: "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another," and the Lord holds them in special remembrance. And I have no doubt that in like manner the Lord does and will do for those who value His word until judgment falls upon Christendom.
In verse 19, this love of God's words is followed up: "Therefore thus saith Jehovah, If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before Me, and if thou take forth the precious from the vile thou shalt be as My mouth." The great concern of believers in an evil day is not to be meddling with the vile but to be seeking to do good to the precious.
The gospel seeks the vile because it is God's way of making the vile to be precious. But, the people of God are not to occupy ourselves with what is bad, except to reject it. They are to seek what is good, to proclaim it. This is precisely what is pressed upon Jeremiah: "If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as My mouth." That is, you will be enabled to utter My truth and My grace. You will be the vessel of My mind, which the mouth is. "Let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them"; that is, do not meddle with them, but if you love My mind, My words, My truth, you will be made a blessing to them.
The great point is the selection of the precious from the vile.
"And I will make thee unto this people a fenced brazen wall: and they shall fight against thee but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee." The unfailing protection of God is with His testimony as long as He sends one, and He Himself is with His witnesses.