The Testimony of Tears
Jeremiah 9:1
Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears…

Tears are an unusual, a strange sad sight in a strong man. But here Jeremiah appears utterly broken down. He abandons himself to a very agony of sorrow. His tears remind us of those of our Lord and of St. Paul. But they are also a relief to the overburdened heart. Like the cry of the sufferer in sore pain. We are glad when we behold one enduring some crushing sorrow enabled to pour forth his grief in tears. The heart-broken prophet has evidently felt them to be such a relief. His thoughts of his country's sorrows, when they lie too deep for tears, are greater than he can bear. He would, therefore, that he might be able continually to weep. But tears are admonitory. They bear a very powerful testimony, which we shall do well to give heed to. For they bear witness -


1. In regard to the truth of the message he has delivered. When we behold God's servants, such as Jeremiah and St. Paul and others, laboring with all energy of soul, with infinite self-sacrifice, exposed to every form of ill, and "with many tears," we are constrained to inquire the motive of such a life. But only one of three suppositions is possible.

(1) Either he who labors is a deceiver. He is consciously acting a part. But this supposition in regard to prophets and apostles of God's Word has long been given up. "The world has renounced almost to a man this hypothesis. It refuses to believe in the possibility of a hypocrite whose writings inculcate and whose conduct exemplifies the highest order of moral excellence; it refuses to believe in a benevolent, modest, self-denying, high-minded, humble, magnanimous liar, in whom falsehood speaks with the very tongue, looks through the very eyes, and personates the very gestures and tones of truth; it refuses to believe that a man with no earthly motive for it, and every earthly motive against it, should spend the best part of a lifetime in cheating men into truth and virtue which he had himself utterly renounced" (H. Rogers). But if this hypothesis be rejected, then there is another.

(2) He has deceived himself. He is the victim of enthusiasm, the unconscious agent of a bewildered and disordered brain. But this hypothesis also will not bear investigation. For such enthusiasms are generally short-lived, they are soon detected, and the common sense of mankind refuses to participate in them. No instance can be found of a mere enthusiast persuading whole nations and convincing the purest, the most sober, and the most thoughtful of whole communities, and in such manner that the falsehood thus originated shall live on and acquire power over men's minds increasingly. And there are other tests whereby enthusiasm may be discriminated from the deliberate convictions of the sober mind, and every one of such tests, when applied to the history of faithful witnesses for God's truth, fail to show that these witnesses were, though not dishonest, yet merely mistaken enthusiasts. There remains, therefore,

(3) only the other alternative, that the message which they delivered with so much earnestness was true. And the tears of the prophet and apostle do alike bear this testimony, and its force men have everywhere felt. And would we convince an unbelieving world of the truths we profess to hold, we must manifest more of a like conviction. If some wan, worn, emaciated preacher, bearing on him evidently the marks of the Lord Jesus, whose whole life had been, like that of Jeremiah or St. Paul, one long sacrifice for the truth, - if such a one could appear amongst us, then would the world believe, as it now altogether refuses to whilst those who profess belief show such few tokens of the reality of their belief.

2. In regard to the dread peril of those who disobey God. We know with what impassioned earnestness Jeremiah had pleaded with his infatuated countrymen; how he had exhorted, implored, and wept in his endeavor to win them from their wicked ways. And now, when it seemed all in vain, we behold him sunk in sorrow, dissolved in tears. Wherefore this? Were the theory of the universalist true, that there is no "fearful looking for of judgment," that all will be made blessed in the coming hereafter, irrespective of what they have been or what their conduct in this life, - then such tears as we are contemplating now would be unmeaning. Had the prophet held such views, had our Lord, had St. Paul, their deep distress would have been inexplicable, because altogether uncalled for. Or even if the theory of those who hold that "death ends all" been that of God's servants, still such distress would be far more than could be accounted for. Or even if it were that only the blessedness of the righteous were missed, and all others would simply perish, then too the future of the ungodly would call for no such sorrow. Or that by such devices as those of the Romish Church - Masses, indulgences, and the like - the guilty soul, though indeed its doom were terrible, yet it might by these devices be rescued from such doom, - then too there could have been no tears such as these. But contemplating the overwhelming sorrow of men like Jeremiah when beholding the judgment of the ungodly, we are shut up to the conviction, which evidently possessed him so profoundly, that it is a fearful thing for an unforgiven man to fall into the hands of the living God.

3. In regard to the exhaustion of all present resources of help. Could Jeremiah have done anything to turn aside that judgment which he so vividly and with such distress anticipated, he would not have given himself up to tears. They are the evidence that all resources are exhausted, that nothing more can be done, that as he says (Jeremiah 6:29), "The bellows are burned." The language of such tears is the voice of God saying, concerning the hardened and impenitent, "He is joined to his idols: let him alone." God save us all from having to shed, and still more from causing, such tears as these. But they bear witness also -

II. To PROFOUND COMPASSION. He who has known the compassion of God for his own soul will, in proportion to the depth of that knowledge, feel compassion for the souls of others. Indifference and unconcern are no longer possible to him who knows the love of God when he sees men perishing in sin. "The love of Christ constraineth" him. And the same compassion, thus begotten, leads him to mourn when the offer of God's mercy is refused. Such tears, being interpreted, tell of his passionate but useless desire that the sinner's doom had been averted. Cf. David's exceeding bitter cry, "O Absalom, my son, my son!" etc. And they are made to flow the more freely by the remembrance that that lost condition might have been so altogether different. There was no necessity for it. That which could not have been avoided, which we feel to have been inevitable, we bear with more calmness. But when there is the consciousness, such as David had concerning Absalom, that he might have come to an end so different, to an end as honorable and blessed as this was disgraceful and miserable, that reflection made his tears flow faster than before. And when it is not mere folly but grievous sin which has brought God's judgment upon men, then the compassionate heart grieves yet more; a further drop of bitterness is infused into the cup, and such tears as we are contemplating have this sorrow in them as well as the others we have spoken of. And that now there is no hope, no remedy, - this is the last and worst reflection which wrings the compassionate heart with uttermost grief. Jeremiah beholds the house of Judah "left unto them desolate;" the daughter of his people not merely "hurt," but slain. How is it that, with like reasons for such compassion as that of Jeremiah, we know so little of it? "Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy Law" - spoke God's servant in the hundred and nineteenth psalm, But who can say that now? Compassionate Savior, give us of thy mind.


1. Are you workers for God? Then remember that disappointment and present failure have been the lot of many of the noblest of the servants of God. There is a goodly fellowship of such.

2. Are you believers in God? Then remember his sure promise as to what shall follow this "sowing in tears," this "going forth weeping, bearing precious seed." We are not to think that we have seen the last result of our toil because that which we do see is so distressing.

3. Are you rejecters of God? Then remember that God puts such tears "in his bottle," and they are treasured by him; and their testimony, whilst it will be for the salvation of those who have shed them, will be far more terrible judgment against those who have caused them. "Weep not for me," said our Lord on his way to the cross, "but weep for yourselves, and for your children If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" Yes, these tears tell of the sorrows of God's people, but they predict a worse sorrow still for his hardened foes. Look, then, O thou who hardenest thyself against God, and ask thyself, "If this be the sorrow I have caused, what shall that be which I shall have to bear?" Remember that it is not only here that there are tears, but in the future abode of the impenitent it is distinctly declared, "There shall be weeping." Then cease to cause such tears here, that you may never have to shed tears far more bitter thereto.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!

WEB: Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a spring of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!

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