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I The Bible
1. THE WORD OF GOD
I spake not unto your fathers. . . concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this thing I commanded them, saying, Obey my voice. Jer 7:22–23.
We know that from the beginning God desired spiritual worship, and that he has not changed his nature. Today he approves nothing but spiritual worship, for he is Spirit. But equally under the law, he wished to be worshiped with a sincere heart. . . . That is why the prophets speak harshly of sacrifice. This clear statement removes all ambiguity: God sets obedience against sacrifice (even though sacrifice was a part of obedience).
Now we can continue with the content of the teaching, holding firmly to the principle that true religion is founded upon obedience. Unless God sheds light for us from his Word, there is among us not true religion, but mere sham and superstition. This is how we can distinguish true religion from superstition: when the Word of God directs us, there is true religion; but when each man follows his own opinion, or when men join together to follow an opinion they hold in common, the result is always concocted superstition.
After we grasp the principle that God cannot be worshiped unless we listen to his voice, we must consider, as I said, what God’s voice prescribes to us. Since he is Spirit, he demands the sincere love of the heart. And we know also how he has revealed to us that he desires us to put our confidence in his free kindness; that he wishes us to depend wholly on his Fatherly compassion; that he wishes us to call upon him for help, and to offer to him the sacrifice of praise.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. Ps. 1:2.
79This verse does not simply declare (as I have said elsewhere) that those who fear God are blessed; it equates religion with the study of the law. It teaches that God is rightly worshiped only if his Word is obeyed. Therefore, men are not free to model a religion, each after his own idea. The standard for religion must be taken from God’s Word.
The law only is mentioned here: but we are not to suppose that the rest of Scripture is ignored, since all of it is really an interpretation of the law and so is included under that title. The prophet is commending the law with its supplement. Indeed, as I just said, the faithful are here urged to read The Psalms.
But the first thing required of the faithful is delight in the law of the Lord. These words show us that compulsory or slavish worship is not at all acceptable to God. Only those who come happily to the study of the law, who enjoy its teaching, who think nothing more worthwhile or pleasanter than to make progress in it, are qualified students of the law.
From this love of the law comes constant meditation on it, as the prophet immediately adds. Only those inspired by this love can devote themselves to its constant study.
He will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths. Micah 4:2.
Here in a few words the prophet defines true worship of God. For it would not be enough for the nations to come together to one place to confess that they are worshipers of one God if they did not also show real obedience. True obedience depends on faith, as faith depends on the Word. It is, therefore, especially worthy of note that the prophet here sets God’s Word in the center to show us that religion is founded on obedience in faith, and that God can be worshiped only when he himself teaches his people and tells them what they ought to do. When God’s will is revealed to us, we can truly adore him. When the Word is taken away, some form of worship of God remains, but there is no real religion which could please God.
Hence we conclude that the church of God can be established only where the Word of God rules, where God shows by his voice the way of salvation. Therefore, until true doctrine sheds its light, men cannot be gathered in one place to constitute the true body of the church. Clearly, then, where the teaching is corrupt or is despised, there is no religion approved by God.
Men can, indeed, take God’s name boastfully on their lips; 80but before God, there is no religion except what is measured by the rule of the Word. It follows then that there is no church which is not subject to God’s Word and is not ruled by it. The prophet here defines both true religion and the way in which God gathers his church.
He twill teach us of his ways. Here we have a third point. God is robbed of his right and honor when men usurp the power of teaching. For it belongs to God alone to teach his people. There were at that time priests and prophets. But Micah here reduces both to their proper place and shows that the right and the office of teaching belong to God alone. It is clear that God claims this work for himself, to prevent us from wavering and from being pulled around by different teachers; to keep us in simple obedience to his Word, so that he alone may rule over us. In a word, God is not God and head of the church, if he is not the chief and only teacher.
Now when the prophet says that God will teach us his ways, this must mean that he will show the nature of his ways; he means, “The perfect wisdom of the people is to know what pleases God and what his will is.” This is all I need to say.
There follows: Let us walk in his ways. By this clause we are warned that God’s teaching is not theoretical, as they say, but full of energizing power. When God speaks, he does not only intend men to know that what is announced by him is true; he also requires their obedience. We shall be truly taught by God only if we walk in his ways.
For it is silly for us to wag our ears like assess and confess God with mouth and lips only. Men truly progress in God’s school when they form their lives by his teaching, when they have their feet ready to walk, to follow wherever he calls.
If ye will not hearken to me to walk in my law, which I have set before you, to hearken to the words of my servants the prophets whom I sent unto you. Jer. 26:4–5.
The prophet here sums up briefly the teaching which he was commanded to bring to the people. There is no doubt that he used many words whenever it was necessary; but here he holds a few words to be enough to state what he has been told. He declares that unless the Jews begin to listen and to follow the law, and unless they obey the prophets, the final destruction of the Temple and the city is at hand. This is the sum of what he teaches here. But we should note the details.
By the words unless you hear and walk in my law, God shows that 81his chief demand is for obedience. . . . We see that the one and only specific rule for living devoutly, rightly, holily, and perfectly is to surrender ourselves to God’s piloting. This is his only command.
But what follows should also be noted: that you walk in my law. For here God testifies that his will is not ambiguous, for in his law he has stated what is right. If God should descend from heaven a hundred times, he would reveal nothing we need to know in addition to what he has said. His law is perfect wisdom. If he had said only hear me, men could evade by declaring themselves ready to be taught by him. God checks these hypocrites by saying that there will be no word from him other than that they should follow his law. And for the same purpose he adds which I have set before your eyes. This phrase means that there is nothing obscure or uncertain about the teaching of the law. As Moses said (Deut. 30:19), I call to witness today heaven and earth that I have set before your eyes life and death; and in another place (Deut. 30:14), The word is in your heart and your mouth — that is, God takes every excuse away from you. There is no reason for uncertainty after he has spoken plainly to you and explained fully what is necessary.
Here is the refutation of that impious popish blasphemy which prattles that not only the law but even the gospel is obscure. But Paul claims that the gospel is plain except to those who are perishing (2 Cor. 4:3); over them a veil is thrown because they deserve to be blind (2 Cor. 3:14–15). But, as we see, Jeremiah here affirms that the law, even though it is less clear than the gospel, is set plainly before the eyes of all, and that all may learn from it exactly what pleases God and what is right.
Now we must consider carefully the statement which follows in the next verse; for it unquestionably belongs with the previous one. God demands nothing except that men obey his laws, and yet he wishes his servants, the prophets, to be heard: That you may hear the words of my prophets whom I send to you (he uses the second person, you). Here there seems to be a kind of inconsistency. For if the law of God is sufficient, why is hearing the prophets added to it? But the two commands are really in perfect agreement. The law alone must be heard, and with it the prophets who continually interpret it. For God did not send his prophets to correct the law, to change something in it, to add to it or subtract from it. There was an inviolable decree neither to add nor take away (Deut. 12:32). What then was the purpose 82of prophecy? Truly, it was to explain the law more and more fully, and also to fit it to the immediate need of the people. Since, then, the prophets do not invent any new teaching, but are faithful interpreters of the law, God is not combining here two separate commands. He wishes his law and his prophets to be heard simultaneously. The majesty of the law does not lessen the authority of the prophets. For the prophets uphold the law; they in no way subtract anything from it.
So this passage teaches that all those who reject the daily exercise of learning the Scriptures are godless men and quench, so far as it is within their power, the grace of the Spirit. In our day there are many of the Anabaptists6868Anabaptists is a loose and derogatory term applied to radical sects of the Reformation era. Calvin was especially opposed to them; not so much because they opposed infant baptism as because they claimed revelation beyond Scripture and because they advocated a complete separation of church and state. who act in this way, rejecting all teaching. They say this [Scripture] is “the letter,” and they dream that the Holy Spirit is injured when men attend to “the letter.” And some dare to utter uglier blasphemies. They say that all the Scripture we need is the two commands, “Fear God” and “Love your neighbor.”
But as I have already said, we must consider how it is that God has spoken through the law, and whether [it is not true that] our way to him would have been blocked had he not explained his will more clearly through the prophets; for it is through the prophets that God adapts to our need whatever might seem to us remote and of no concern to us. Surely since God gave his law and then added to it his prophets, it is obvious that anyone who rejects God’s prophets puts no real confidence in God’s law. So today those who scorn to go to school to Christ and to train themselves in listening to the Word, really mock God himself and judge both the law and the prophets — and even the gospel itself — as without value.
Therefore, this passage is of the highest importance. God wishes his law to be our guide and rule, and he binds it to his prophets.
But the word of the Lord endured forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you. 1 Peter 1:25.
The prophet teaches us, not what the Word of God is in itself, but how we are to think of it. Since man has emptied himself of life, he must look for it outside of himself. And Peter tells us on 83the authority of the prophet, that God’s Word alone possesses the energy and efficacy to bestow upon us whatever is solid and eternal. For the prophet knew that our lives have no stability except in God, and except as he communicates it to us by his Word. Since man’s nature is in itself perishing, the Word himself invests it with eternal life, and restores it by a new creation.
And this is the word declared to you. Peter first warns us that when the Word of God is mentioned, we do wrong to imagine something far away, up in the air or in heaven beyond; for the Lord himself has shown it to us. What then is the Word of God which gives us life; what but the law, the prophets, and the gospel? Anyone who wanders away from this revelation will find, instead of God’s Word, nothing but Satan’s impostures and madness. Therefore, we must keep carefully in mind that godless and devilish men have a crafty way of pretending to honor God’s Word, when they turn us away from the Scriptures; like that dirty dog Agrippa,6969Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim of Cologne (1486–1535). A man in the stereotype Renaissance style. He was a Neoplatonist and worked at “occult philosophy.” His unorthodoxy and skepticism aroused the ire of the Catholics, and the Protestant Reformers regarded him as a heretic and a charlatan. who praised the eternity of God’s Word to high heaven, and at the same time heaped mockery on the prophets and the apostles; in his deceitful way, he covered the Word of God with derision.
In short, as I have already told you, nothing is said here of a Word shut up in God’s bosom. We have to do with the Word which came forth from God’s mouth and was given to us. So once again, we are to acknowledge that God’s will is to speak to us by the mouths of the apostles and prophets, and that their mouths are to us as the mouth of the only true God.
Therefore, when Peter says, the word which has been declared to you, he means that we must not look for the Word of God anywhere except in the preaching of the gospel; and that we cannot know the power of its eternity except by faith. But we do not believe unless we know that the Word was destined for us.
And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father and the God of Isaac. Gen. 28:13.
Here is the third point which I said must be noted. Silent visions are cold, and the Word of God is the breath which gives them life. The symbol of the ladder is a less important adjunct, with which the Word of God illustrates and embellishes itself 84for the sake of greater clarity — not for greater authority. Hence we judge the papal sacraments to be frivolous, since in them the voice of God is not heard for the upbuilding of souls.
We should note, therefore, that whenever God showed himself to the patriarchs, he spoke; for a silent vision would have left them dangling in uncertainty.
By the name YHWH, Jehovah, God proclaims that he alone is the maker of the world, and that Jacob must seek for himself no other gods. But because in itself God’s majesty is incomprehensible, he adds immediately, adapting himself to the capacity of his servant, that he is the God of Abraham and Isaac. It is necessary to believe that the God whom we worship is he who alone is God; but when our minds seek to attain his height, they faint at the very start. We need to cultivate moderation and sobriety, and we should not attempt to know more of him than he reveals to us. He himself, in his great kindness, accommodates himself to our little mold, and he leaves out nothing which helps toward our salvation.
When he says that he had made a special covenant with Abraham and Isaac, and proclaims himself as their God, he calls his servant Jacob back to the real beginning of faith and keeps him within the eternal covenant. This is the holy bond of faithfulness by which all the sons of God are bound together. They hear the same promise of salvation, from the first to the last, and they agree together in one hope.
All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Tim. 3:16–17.
All Scripture, or the whole of it; both phrases mean the same. He now continues with his praise of Scripture which had been much too brief. He commends first its authority, and then the usefulness which proceeds from it. He asserts its authority by teaching that it is inspired by God. If this is the case, men should receive it reverently and without further argument. Our religion is distinguished from all others in that the prophets have spoken not of themselves, but as instruments of the Holy Spirit; and what they have brought to us, they received by heavenly commission. Any man then who would profit by the Scriptures, must hold first of all and firmly that the teaching of the law and the prophets came to us not by the will of man, but as dictated by the Holy Spirit.
85Somebody may object: But how do we know all this? I answer, the self-same Spirit revealed both to the disciples and to the teachers (doctorem) that the author of the Scriptures is God. Neither Moses nor the prophets brought to us by chance the things we have received at their hands; they spoke as moved by God, and testified with confidence and courage that God’s very mouth had spoken. The same Spirit who made Moses and the prophets certain of their calling, has now testified to our own hearts that he used them as his servants for our instruction. It is not surprising that many have doubts as to the author of Scripture. For, even though the majesty of God is displayed by it, only those illumined by the Spirit have the eyes to see what should be evident to all men, but in fact is seen only by the elect. So, the first point is that we treat Scripture with the same reverence that we do God, because it is from God alone, and unmixed with anything human.
And is profitable. The second part of this praise of Scripture follows from the first; that it contains the perfect rule of a good and happy life. He means that Scripture is useful because it is free from the kind of corruption which comes with the abuse of God’s Word by sinful men. Thus he indirectly rebukes those woolly-headed men who feed the people with empty speculations as with wind. For this reason, today, we ought to condemn all those who make it their business not to build up the people but to arouse them with questions which are as childish as they are clever. Whenever men come to us with such clever trifles, we must repel them with the principle that the Scripture is for upbuilding. Consequently, it is unlawful to handle it as a useless thing. God gave us Scripture for our good, and not to satisfy our curiosity, or to indulge our desire for showing off, or to give us material for babble and fable. Therefore, to use Scripture rightly is at all times to profit by it. . . .
That the man of God may be whole. Whole means perfect, in the sense of unmutilated. He asserts simply that Scripture is adequate and sufficient for our perfecting. Therefore, anyone who is not satisfied with Scripture, hopes to know more than he needs or than is good for him. But now comes a serious objection. Since Paul means by Scripture the Old Testament, how are we to believe that it makes us perfect? If the Old Testament makes us perfect, then the apostolic additions are superfluous. I answer that, as to substance, the apostles added nothing. The writings of the apostles contain nothing that is not simply a natural explanation of the law and the prophets, together with 86a straightforward presentation of what they contain. Therefore, Paul’s praise of the Old Testament was not wrong. And since its teaching is understood more fully and shines more brightly now that the gospel has been added to it, must we not hope that the value of Scripture, of which Paul speaks, shall be all the more displayed, if only we will try living by it and take hold of it?
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1.
Many, as I said before, are so troubled by the discords and wranglings in the church that, in their dismay, they run away from the gospel. But the Spirit prescribes an altogether different way: that believers be watchful not to accept any doctrine lightly and without judgment. We should be careful not to be offended by the variety of opinion in the church; we should rather discriminate between teachers, with the Word of God as our only norm. It is enough to make it our rule not to listen indiscriminately to everyone that comes along.
I take the word spirit as a metaphor, as meaning a man who claims the gift of the Spirit, so that he may assume the office of a prophet. Since nobody ought to speak in his own name, we must not trust those who do not speak as instruments of the Spirit. The prophets spoke with authority because God himself honored them with this title, and in so doing, set them apart from all other men. These men were called spirit because they gave utterance to the oracles of the Spirit, and by their ministry represented God’s own person. They offered nothing out of their own heads, neither did they come forth among the people in their own names. They were given this high title, in order that their own insignificance might not take away from the reverence that is due to the Word of God. God has willed it that we always receive his Word from the lips of men, as though he himself had appeared from heaven.
But now Satan interferes. He not only places false teachers among the people, so as to corrupt the Word of God, but he also calls them prophets, so that the people fall [into error] all the more easily. These arrogant pseudoprophetic windbags are in the habit of snatching an honor which God bestowed upon his own servants. The apostle uses the word spirits purposely, to keep us from being deceived by those who pretend falsely to speak in God’s name; for in our own day we see many who are 87stupid enough to be so overcome by the mere title of “the church,” that they take sides with the pope, and would be damned forever rather than raise a finger against his authority.
It should be noticed that the apostle did not deny outright the claim of these men to be prophets. He might have said simply that they ought not to be believed. When these false teachers lyingly claimed that they had the Spirit, he let them have their way; only he warned that their claim was both fictitious and foolish unless they could come forth with the reality of prophecy. It is silly to be so taken in by a high-sounding title that one does not even dare to see if there be anything behind it.
Try the spirits. Since not everyone who calls himself a prophet is one, the apostle says here that he should be put to a test; not only by the church at large, but also by individual believers. But the question arises, Where do we get our discernment? When some say that we should judge men’s words by the Word of God, they are right so far; but that does not settle the matter. I admit readily that men’s teachings should be tested by the Word of God. But the truth is that without the good sense we receive from the Spirit, it helps us little or nothing to have the Word of God in our hands; for its meaning is bound to escape us. For instance, gold is tested with fire or touchstone; but only by those who know how to do it. What use is fire or touchstone to the ignorant? In the same way, we are fit to judge only when we receive discretion from the Spirit and are guided by him. Since we could not follow the apostle’s precept, unless the power of judging were added to it, certainly the godly shall not be left without the Spirit of sound judgment, provided they seek him from the Lord. But it is also true that the Spirit will lead us to true discretion only when we bring all our thoughts under subjection to the Word of God; for, as we said above, it is, so to speak, our touchstone, which should be most precious to us, since it is the only source of sound teaching.
But here comes a difficult question. If everyone has a right to be a judge and arbiter in this matter, nothing can be set down as certain; and our whole religion will be full of uncertainty. I reply that we must test doctrines in a twofold way: private and public. By private testing, each one establishes his own faith, and accepts only the teaching which he knows to be from God. For our conscience cannot find security and peace except in God. Public testing of doctrine has to do with the common consent and polity of the church. Since there is a 88danger that fanatical men may rise up and boast rashly that they have the Spirit of God, believers should seek a remedy by coming together and reasoning their way to an honest and godly agreement. The old proverb is right when it says, “So many heads, so many minds.” Therefore, it is a marvelous work of God that, overcoming all our perversity, he makes us of one mind, and unites us together in a pure unity of faith.
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. 2 Peter 1:20.
Here Peter begins to teach how our minds must be prepared if we would make proper progress in Scripture. There is in this verse a word which may mean one of two things. If you read it ἐπηλὐσεως, as some do, it means an impulsion. But if you read it ἐπιλὐσεως, as I do, it means interpretation. In either case, almost all agree that we should not rush at reading Scripture rashly, trusting our own wits; because the Spirit who has spoken by the prophets is his own interpreter.
This explanation contains a true, godly, and useful doctrine. The only way to read the prophets to advantage is to set aside the mind of the flesh and to submit to the authority of the Holy Spirit. It is godless profanity to set up our own acumen as capable of understanding Scripture, which contains mysteries of God hidden to our flesh and sublime treasures of life which are far beyond our powers. This is why we say that the light which shines in it comes only to the lowly.
But the papists are foolish when they conclude that no private interpretation by an individual is valid. They abuse Peter’s testimony, in order to give their councils alone the right to interpret Scripture. But this is childish. When Peter speaks of private interpretation, he does not refer to individuals; neither does he forbid them to interpret Scripture. He means that it is not godly for them to come out with something out of their own heads. Even if all men in the world were to agree and be of one mind, the outcome would still be private, of their own. The word private is here set against divine revelation; for the believers, illumined inwardly by the Holy Spirit, know as truth only what God says by his Word.
However, I think the simpler meaning of Peter’s statement is that Scripture is not of men, or by the initiative of men. You will never come to it well prepared to read it, unless you bring reverence, obedience, and teachableness with you. But reverence comes from the knowledge that it is God who speaks to 89us and not mortal men. Therefore, Peter in the first place urges us to believe without doubting that the prophecies are God’s oracles; which means that they were not set in motion by men’s own action.
What comes next means the same thing. The holy men spoke as they were moved by the Spirit of God; that is, they did not babble out fables, moved by their own impulse and as they willed. In short, the first step in right understanding is that we believe the holy prophets of God as we do him. The apostle calls them holy men of God because they performed faithfully the task which was laid upon them; and in this service, they were surrogates for the person of God. Peter says they were moved, not because they were bereft of their own minds (as the Gentiles imagined their prophets to have been during their “enthusiasm”), but because they did not dare to say anything of their own. They followed the Spirit as their guide and obeyed him to such an extent that their mouths became his temple, and he ruled in them.
The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. John 19:7.
The Jews explain that they are pursuing Christ out of regard for the law, and not from passion or hatred. For they realize that they are being indirectly held in check by Pilate. Knowing that Pilate is ignorant of the law, they as much as say to him: “We have a right to live according to our customs. Our religion does not suffer a man to give himself airs as the Son of God.” Besides, this accusation was not groundless; but they were altogether wrong in the deduction they made [from the law]. The general thesis was, of course, correct. It was not right for any man to assume divine honor; and anyone who took for himself what is God’s alone, was worthy of death. Their error was that they applied the law to Christ; for they did not consider with what praise Scripture itself had predicted the Messiah. If they had done so, they would have inferred readily that he was the Son of God. Thus it is evident that having started with a true principle, they were led by bad reasoning to a false conclusion.
Let us be warned by this example to distinguish carefully between general doctrine and the particular inferences we make from it. This we should do for the sake of inexperienced and simple people who, when deceived by some pretended truth, reject even the fundamental doctrines of Scripture; and 90there is too much of this kind of thing going on in our world today. Let us, therefore, be careful to shun fallacies, so that truth may remain inviolate and faith in Scripture may be not overthrown.
If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? John 3:12.
Christ concludes that if Nicodemus and his like do not make progress in the knowledge of the gospel, it is their fault. He shows that since he has come down to earth itself, he is not to be blamed if not everybody learns his doctrine properly. It is too common a vice among men that they want to be taught in a subtle and ingenious way: hence most of them are very happy with deep and abstruse speculations; for the same reason, many do not think much of the gospel: in it they do not find the kind of pompous discourse with which they like to fill their ears. They do not care to sink so low as to waste their time with the rude and lowly teaching of the gospel. But, it is most stupid not to honor the Word of God, because he has lowered himself to the level of our ignorance. When we find God prattling to us in the Bible in an uncultivated and vulgar style, let us remember that he does it for our sake. Anyone who presumes or pretends to be offended by the condescension of God so that he will not submit to God’s Word, is a liar. Anyone who cannot bear to lay hold of God as he comes down to him will still less soar up to him beyond the clouds.
Some explain earthly things as the ABC of spiritual truth, and speak of self-denial as the first step in godliness. But I prefer the view of those who think this phrase has to do with Christ’s way of teaching. For even though Christ’s discourse as a whole was heavenly, he spoke plainly, as it were in an earthly way. Furthermore, this is not true of one discourse only. In this verse, Christ’s habitually simple and popular way of teaching is contrasted with ambitious men’s addiction to speech that is full of pomp and splendor.
And thou, Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come a governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Matt. 2:6.
There is no doubt that the scribes quoted the words of this passage (Micah 5:2) in their own tongue, faithfully, as found in the prophet. But Matthew was satisfied to refer to it. Because he wrote in Greek, he followed the commonly accepted reading 91of it. From this place and others like it, we can readily gather that Matthew did not compose his Gospel in Hebrew. Moreover, one must always notice that when the apostles quote a Scriptural testimony, they do not give it word for word, and sometimes depart quite far from its language; they nevertheless accommodate it (accommodare) in a fitting and proper way to their own purpose. Let the readers always keep in mind the purpose of the Evangelists in bringing forward passages of Scripture, so that they will not insist upon dwelling upon mere words, but will be content with the fact that the Evangelists never torture Scripture into a false meaning, and apply (aptare) it properly to a genuine use. Since the latter intended to feed infants and novices in the faith with milk, because these were as yet incapable of taking solid food, there is no reason why the children of God should have scruples against a diligent and exact inquiry into the contents of Scripture, so that the taste offered them by the apostles may lead them to the fountain [of God’s Word].
2. THE OLD AND THE NEW TESTAMENTS
Now all these things happened unto them in examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. 1 Cor. 10:11.
Now he repeats that all these things happened to the Israelites to serve us as types, examples by which God sets his judgments before our eyes. I am aware that others philosophize more subtly over these words; but I think I have understood the mind of the apostle when I say that by these examples, as by painted pictures, we are taught what judgment is waiting for idolaters, fornicators, and others who treat God with contempt; they are living images which present God to us as angry with such sins. This explanation, besides being simple and valid, has the advantage of shutting the mouth of those madmen who twist this passage to prove that the people in old times were given nothing but [empty] shadows. First they assume that the people of Israel were only a figure [form without content] of the church: and from this they conclude that everything God promised and did among them, every good, every punishment, was a mere figure of that which was to become actual after the coming of Christ. This is but a pestilential madness, an atrocious injury to the holy fathers, and a more atrocious injury to God. The people [of Israel] was a 92figure of the Christian church; but it was itself the true church; its condition was a sketch of our own; but as such it had even at that time the proper character of the church. The promises made to it anticipated the gospel, so as in fact to include it; its sacraments served as figures of our own, but even in that age the inherent efficacy of their presence made them true sacraments. In short, those who used rightly the doctrines and the signs given them were endowed with the same spirit of faith as we ourselves. These words of Paul, therefore, give no support to those insane people who would have it that the things done at that time were types in the sense of unreal and empty shows. Nay, more, as we have explained, they teach us plainly that these types are pictures which depict events useful for our admonition.
They were written for our admonition. This second phrase clarifies the former. It was not for the sake of the Israelites, but for ours, that these things were kept in remembrance. It does not follow that punishments they suffered were not real warnings from God and valid for their own correction; and yet when God exercised his judgments at that time, he intended that there should be a perpetual remembrance of them for our instruction. What use is history for those who are dead? And what good is it to the living, except as they are warned by the example of others, and come to their senses? And now, the apostle confesses the principle with which all believers should agree: that there is nothing put forth in Scripture which it is not profitable to know.
Upon whom the ends of the world are come. τέλη elsewhere means mysteries; and perhaps that meaning would not be unsuitable for this passage. However, I follow the common rendering, because it is simpler. He says that the end of all the ages has come to pass among us and all things are fulfilled and come to a head in this age, because it is now the fullness of time. For the chief end toward which the law and all the prophets looked is the Kingdom of Christ.
But this statement of Paul contradicts the popular opinion that God, under the Old Testament, was more rigid, always armed and ready to punish wickedness; that now he has begun to be lenient, and ignores [evil] much more readily. Our living under the law of grace is interpreted to mean that we have a God who is much more easy to please than the God of the ancients. But what does Paul say about all this? If God punished them, he will not spare us any more than he did them. Away 93then with the error of those who reason that God is now less strict in exacting the punishment of crimes! I must confess that, since the coming of Christ, God’s goodness has been poured upon men more strikingly and in more abundance; but how does this change the impunity of the wicked who abuse his grace? Only, we must notice that today God punishes differently. For, as formerly God showed his Fatherly love to the godly with great outward blessings, he showed his wrath with severe bodily punishments; now, on the other hand, in the fuller revelation which we have, it is not often that he inflicts visible punishments: nor does he send physical punishment immediately even upon the wicked. About this matter you will find a great deal in our Institutes.7070Bk. II, ch. ii, par. 3.
Of which salvation the prophets inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or in what time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify. 1 Peter 1:10–11.
Peter sets high the value of salvation, by referring to the prophets who had been intent upon it with all their zeal; since the prophets sought for it with burning hearts, he regards it as a thing of great and singular excellence. And the goodness of God toward us is all the greater and shines all the more brightly, because much more has been revealed to us than was sought after by the prophets so long and so eagerly.
At the same time, Peter establishes the certainty of salvation from its very antiquity, because from the very beginning of the world it has received the true witness of the Holy Spirit.
These two things must be kept clearly in mind. He affirms that more is given to us than to the ancient fathers; and by this comparison, he magnifies the grace of the gospel. Further, what is preached to us concerning our salvation cannot be suspected of novelty, because the Spirit, by the prophets, has borne witness to it through the ages. Therefore, when he says that the prophets sought and searched ceaselessly, he refers not to their teachings or writings, but to the inner yearning which agitated them. He deals with their public activity in what follows.
If we would understand the particulars of the verse more clearly, we need to break it down into several parts. First, when the prophets prophesied of the grace which Christ exhibited to us by his coming, they were anxious to know the time of full 94revelation. Secondly, the Spirit of Christ foretold, through them, the true state of the coming reign of Christ, partly as they already discerned it, and partly as they looked forward to it in hope; they predicted that both Christ and his universal body were destined to enter into glory by way of many sufferings. Thirdly, the prophets as they received God’s revelation ministered to us more than to their own age; because the things of God revealed to them by way of obscure images were exhibited in their solid reality in Christ alone. In the fourth place, the gospel, in which the Spirit himself speaks, contains not only a clear confirmation of prophetic teachings, but also a much fuller and plainer explanation of them. For the salvation to which he pointed through the prophets from afar off, he now presents to us openly and as it were to our very eyes. The last statement [in this passage] adequately confirms the marvelous glory of the salvation promised us in the gospel, since even the angels who enjoyed the vision of God in heaven, burned with the desire to see it. And what all this amounts to is that Christians, raised to such a height of blessedness, ought to overcome all the obstacles which the world sets before them; for what [suffering] is there that is not mitigated by such an incomparable blessing?
Of which salvation. But did not the fathers have the same salvation in common with us? Why then does he say that the fathers inquired, as though they did not have what is now offered to us? The answer is easy; in my view, salvation means the clear and visible manifestation of it which we have in the coming of Christ. These words of Peter mean nothing else than those spoken by Christ: Many kings and prophets have desired to see the things which you see, and have not seen them. Blessed therefore are your eyes, etc. (Matt. 13:17). Since the prophets had only a small taste of the grace which Christ brought to us, their desire turned rightly toward a different manner of revelation. When Simeon saw Christ, he made ready for death with a calm and peaceful spirit; which shows that he was previously anxious and disquieted. Such was the state of all believers [before Christ].
He indicates how [the fathers] searched, when he adds the phrase, in what, or in what manner of time. The difference between the law and the gospel is that, under the former, there is a veil interposed, which kept the fathers from seeing the nearness of the things which are set before the eyes of us [who live under the gospel]. Nor was it indeed proper that when Christ, the Son of Righteousness, was yet absent, the fullness of light should have 95shined as at noontime. But though it was necessary for the fathers to stay within their prescribed limits, yet they were not rash when they sighed with desire for a closer sight of salvation. Even while they yearned for the speedy coming of salvation, and for a sight of it, their eagerness did not keep them from waiting with patience so long as it pleased God to delay it.
Also we have a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star rise in your hearts. 2 Peter 1:19.
Also we have. Here he teaches that the truth of the gospel is certain because it is founded upon the oracles of the prophets; and he does this so that those who embrace the gospel may be free of doubt and subject themselves totally to Christ. For anyone who wavers in this matter cannot but be lax in his spirit.
We have may refer to himself and other teachers, as well as to their disciples. The apostles regarded the prophets as surety of their own teaching; the believers also found the confirmation of the gospel in the prophets. So, I am inclined to the view that the apostle is speaking of the whole church, and including himself in it. Still, he is speaking particularly of the Jews, who were familiar with the doctrine of the prophets. In my opinion, this is why he says that the gospel is more sure. Those who understand this comparison as establishing the superiority of the gospel to the prophets do not pay enough attention to its context. It is tortuous to make this phrase mean more sure than the words of the prophets, because the gospel is in fact the fulfillment of the promises which God made to them concerning his Son. It is enough to establish the truth of the gospel in two ways: by God’s own high and solemn praise and approval of Christ, and by the fact that all the prophecies of the prophets were made with regard to Christ.
On the other hand, anyone can see immediately how absurd it is that the word of the prophets should be more sure than any other word spoken by the mouth of our Holy God! First, the authority of God’s Word is from the beginning and always the same. Secondly, the coming of Christ established it more firmly than ever, as The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us at length. But it is not hard to untie this knot. The apostle is speaking to his own people, who were passionately attached to the prophets, so that the teaching of the latter was beyond controversy among them. Since there was no doubt among the Jews that whatever the prophets taught was from the Lord, we should not be 96surprised at Peter’s saying that word of the latter was more sure. Therefore, here the question is not whether the prophets deserve to be believed more than the gospel. Peter was pointing out the great deference the Jews paid to the prophets, whom they accepted without question as servants of God, and in whose school they had been educated from their very childhood. . . . We must remember that Peter was speaking to these people. He was not instructing ignorant novices who knew only the rudiments [of the faith]. He had previously testified that his hearers had already received the precious things of the faith and had been confirmed in the truth which he was presenting to them. Surely such a people could not have been said to be in the gross darkness of ignorance. . . . Therefore, as the context makes it clear, Peter was speaking to these men; and this statement was necessarily made to believers who had received Christ’s name and were made partakers of the true light. I, therefore, extend this darkness spoken of by Peter to the whole of our lives, and interpret [this statement to mean] that the day will shine upon us only when we see face to face what now we see in a mirror and darkly. Of course, Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, does shine in the gospel. But, until we are brought out of the prison of the flesh and taken up to heaven, our minds shall at all times be in part occupied by the darkness of death.
In short, Peter warns that so long as we walk in this world, we need the teaching of the prophets for a directing light; because without this light we can do nothing but live in darkness and go astray. He is not, therefore, separating the prophets from the gospel; he tells us that they shine for us to show us the way. His point is that throughout the whole course of our life we ought to be directed by the Word of God, because otherwise we shall be enveloped on all sides with the darkness of ignorance. The Lord does not shine upon us unless we see by his Word as our light.
This passage is significant in that it tells us how God directs us. The papists have it always on their tongue that the church cannot err. They forget the Word and pretend to be guided by the Spirit. Peter, on the contrary, claims that all those who disregard the light of the Word are buried in darkness. Therefore, if you do not want, of your own will, to lose yourself in a labyrinth, do your very best to avoid rejecting the guidance of the Word even in the smallest matter. The church cannot follow God as its guide, unless it observes this rule. With this statement 97Peter condemns all the wisdom of men, in order that we may learn not to seek the true rule of understanding in our own minds. Without the Word, there is nothing left for us but darkness.
It is worth noting that here he speaks of the clarity of the Scripture. For his eulogy would be false, unless Scripture were apt and able to show us the way clearly and certainly. Anyone, therefore, who opens his eyes with the obedience of faith shall know by experience that Scripture has not been called light in vain. It is indeed obscure to the unbelievers; but those who are given up to destruction blind themselves. The blasphemy of the papists is damnable, when they pretend that the light of Scripture merely dazzles the eye. This is their way of keeping the simple people from reading it. But, of course, we need not wonder that the proud, inflated with the wind of a perverse self-confidence, cannot see the light with which the Lord favours only those who are humble as a child (Matt. 11:25). David praises the law of God in a similar vein (Ps. 19 and 119).
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth. . . . John 4:23.
Now there follows the second part, which has to do with the annulling of the cultic laws. When Christ says, the hour is coming, or is come, he teaches that the Mosaic order is in no way permanent. When he says, the hour now is, he puts an end to the ceremonies, and in this way declares that the time of training is now over. Still, he puts his approval on the Temple, the priesthood, and all the rites that went with them, in so far as these were useful in the past (Heb. 9:10). Besides, in order to show that God does not wish to be worshiped [exclusively] either in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim, he appeals to a higher principle: namely, that a true worship of God must be done in the spirit; from which it follows that men may call upon him in all places.
But we must first ask why and in what sense the worship of God is called spiritual. If we are to understand this, we must know the difference between the spirit and external forms as the difference between shadow and reality. The worship of God is said to be in the spirit, because nothing can take the place of the inward faith of the heart, which makes us call on God, or of purity of conscience and self-denial, by which we may give ourselves to the obedience of God as holy sacrifice.
From this arises another question: Did not the fathers, while 98under the law, worship God spiritually? I answer that since God is always the same, from the very beginning of the world, he could not have approved any kind of worship except the spiritual, which alone is compatible with his nature. Moses himself bears abundant witness to this, when he declares the end of the law to be none other than that his people cleave to God in faith and a pure conscience. In fact, the same thing is expressed in even a more telling way by the prophets, when they inveigh against the hypocrisy of the people who thought they could satisfy God by killing their sacrificial beasts and making a big show of it. There is no need to produce the many proofs, which are found everywhere, the most significant of them being Psalm 50; Isaiah 1, 58, 66; Micah 5; Amos 7.
However, even though the worship of God under the law was spiritual, since it was hidden under a multitude of external ceremonies it had the taste of something carnal and worldly. This is why Paul speaks of ceremonies as flesh and beggarly elements of the world (Gal. 4:9). In the same way, the writer of The Epistle to the Hebrews says that the ancient sanctuary, with its appendages, was earthly (Heb. 9:1). Thus we say properly that the cult of the law was spiritual in substance, but with respect to its form somewhat carnal and earthly. Therefore, the whole apparatus of the cult, the reality of which is now manifest, was a thing of shadows.
Now we see what the Jews had in common with us, and how they differed from us. In every age, God desired to be worshiped by faith, prayer, acts of thanksgiving, purity of heart, and innocence of life; and at no time was he pleased with other sacrifices; but under the law there were various additions made, and the Spirit and truth were covered over and hidden. Now that the veil of the Temple is torn, nothing is hidden or obscure. We also today have some external exercises of piety, which we need because of our inaptitude: but they are characterized by sobriety, and do not obscure the naked truth of Christ. In short, what was shadowy to the fathers, we now have openly and clearly.
For if the blood of bulls and of goats. . . sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God? Heb. 9:13–14.
This passage has led many people astray, because they have forgotten that it has to do with sacraments, which have a 99spiritual meaning. They have talked about the cleansing of the flesh, such as was practiced by the heathen, who tried to blot out infamous crimes by offering some sacrifice of expiation. Such an interpretation of this passage is the height of profanity: for it is an insult to God that we should limit his promises to merely secular or civic matters. Moses teaches often that when sacrifice is offered properly, iniquity itself is expiated. Therefore, the doctrine of our faith is spiritual. The ultimate purpose of all sacrificial killing was to lead us to Christ; it was a testimony to the salvation of our souls in Christ, which alone is eternal. Therefore, how could the apostle have spoken of “the purification of the flesh” except in a spiritual, or sacramental, sense? If even the blood of beasts was a symbol of true purification, so that it did cleanse in a sacramental way, how much more shall Christ, who is the truth, not merely testify to purification by external rites, but rather establish its reality in our consciences! So the argument of this verse is from the sign to the reality signified by it; for the effectiveness of reality takes precedence by far over the validity of the sign.
Through the eternal Spirit. Now he shows clearly that the death of Christ is to be understood not in terms of outward act, but of the power of the Spirit. Christ suffered as a man. If his death has the power to save us, it is by the efficacy of the Spirit; for the sacrifice which brought us eternal expiation was more than a human act. And the apostle calls the Spirit eternal, to teach us that the reconciliation which He works is itself eternal. . . .
By the works of death we may understand either works which produce death, or works which are the fruit of death. Since the life of the soul is bound to God, those who are by sin alienated from him are to be regarded as dead.
But let us consider the end of our purification, which is the service of the living God. We are washed by Christ, not immediately to bury ourselves once again in filth, but so that our purity may serve the glory of God. Besides, the apostle teaches us that nothing from us will please God, unless we are purged by the blood of Christ. Since before we are reconciled with God we all are enemies to him, all our works are worthless before him. Therefore, the beginning of the true worship of God is reconciliation. Besides, since no act of ours is pure, free from all spot, it cannot please God; it must, therefore, be purified by the blood of Christ which blots out all our spots. And, of course, the contrast between dead works and the living God is beautiful.100
Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves, and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Heb. 9:18–20.
The apostle wants us to attend not to words but to the substance of what is being said. He has found the word testament in the Greek language in which he is writing. Since the [Hebrew] word for covenant often becomes testimony in Greek, he takes advantage of this fact, and turns it to his own use. He eulogizes God’s covenant as a testimony, which is one way of speaking of it; and why not, since angels from heaven and so many gifted men on earth, that is, all the holy prophets, apostles, and a multitude of martyrs, have been witness to it, and at the last, the Son of God himself has sponsored it? Hence there is nothing absurd in the apostle’s use of the word testament. It is true that the Hebrew word toude does not in fact mean covenant; but since nothing which the apostle says is inconsistent with it, we must not be tied down to the exact meaning of the word.
The apostle says that the Old Testament was dedicated with blood; this he takes as a warning to the people that it was effective and stable only by the interposition of death. But he denies that the blood of beasts was a valid confirmation of the eternal covenant. This becomes clearer when we consider the rite of sprinkling enjoined by Moses, as described in our text. The apostle tells us, in the first place, that the covenant was sanctified, not because it was in itself profane, but because nothing is so sacred that the people would not profane it by their own impurities, unless it were restored by God himself. Therefore, the dedication was on men’s account, and only because they were unclean.
He then adds that the tabernacle with all its vessels, and also the Book of the Law itself, were sprinkled. By this rite the people were taught that God cannot be sought, or found, for salvation, and neither can he be worshiped truly, unless faith at all times uses the requisite blood. It is only right that we should find the majesty of God dreadful, and the way to it a hopeless labyrinth, unless we know that he turns to us with favor through the blood of Christ, and that through this same blood we have an easy access to him. Therefore, all worship is unclean and wicked unless purified by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ.101
The tabernacle stood for a visible image of God. The vessels of the ministry set aside for the service of God were symbols of true worship. But since they were without blood useless for salvation, it is evident that unless Christ himself appears with his blood, we have no part in God. Even doctrine itself, in spite of God’s constant will [to save us], is without power or benefit, unless sanctified with blood. Our verse makes this perfectly clear.
I know that others understand this passage differently. They say that the tabernacle is the body of the church; and the vessels, the faithful whom God uses in his service. But my view of the matter is far more suitable. Whenever the people called on God, they turned to the sanctuary; and it was a common saying that when they appeared in the Temple, they stood before the face of the Lord.
This is the blood of the testament. . . . This means that the testament is not ratified without blood, and that the blood works no expiation without the testament. Therefore, the two must go together. We see that the symbol was added after the law was explained: for what is a sacrament unless the Word come before it? Therefore, the symbol is an accessory to the Word. And mark you, the Word was not murmured as a magical incantation, but spoken with a loud and clear voice, because it was meant for the people, so that the words of the covenant, which God has commanded you, might ring out. Therefore, it is a perverse misuse of the sacrament, and an ungodly corruption of it, when no one hears the exposition of God’s commandment, which is, as it were, the very soul of the sacrament. Therefore, the papists who separate the sign from a true understanding of its substance have nothing left but the dead letter.
Moreover, this passage warns us that we receive God’s promises only when they are confirmed by the blood of Christ. All God’s promises are Yea and Amen, as Paul testifies in 2 Cor. 1:20, only when by the blood of Christ they are inscribed on our hearts as a seal; for, we hear God speaking to us only when we see Christ offering himself as a pledge in what is said to us. If we could only get it into our heads that the Word of God we read is written not so much with ink as with the blood of the Son of God; or that when the gospel is preached, his own blood is poured with the voice we hear — we would pay far more attention and that with far greater reverence. The sprinkling spoken of by Moses was a symbol for the reality which we have just explained.102
Of course, all this (which the apostle tells us) is not contained in the words of Moses. Moses does not tell us that either the Book or the people were sprinkled. He does not tell us that the sprinkling included the goats, or the scarlet wool, or the hyssop. We cannot even be sure that he sprinkled the Book, even though we may guess that he probably did so, since he brought it out before the people after the sacrifice, when he bound them to God by a solemn compact. As for the rest (the goats, the scarlet wool, the hyssop), it seems to me that the apostle has thrown them together as several kinds of offering having the same expiatory purpose. And after all, there is nothing absurd in this, since he was dealing with the general question of purification under the old covenant. What matters is that the whole thing was done with blood. As to the sprinkling with hyssop, and scarlet wool, it doubtless represented the mystical sprinkling by the Spirit. We know that hyssop has a singular power to purify and make clean. Therefore, Christ in turn sprinkles us with his Spirit, to wash us with his blood; to convert our minds to true repentance; to make us clean of the lusts of our depraved flesh; and to make us beautiful with the hues of his own wonderful righteousness. Indeed, it was not for nothing that God commanded this practice of sprinkling. Let us remember the words of David in Ps. 51:7, Sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be clean. That is enough for anyone who is minded to philosophize soberly.
3. THE LAW AND THE GOSPEL
Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father; there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. John 5:45.
It is a mistake to think that this verse sets the office of Moses against that of Christ; even though it is the peculiar function of the law to convict unbelievers of sin. This was not the intention of Christ; it was rather to disarm the hypocrites who gloried in Moses with a false reverence. It is like telling the papists today that the holy doctors of the church, behind whom they hide, are their worst opponents. Besides, this verse teaches us that our boasting in Scripture does us no good unless we worship the Son with the true obedience of faith; for, in the last day, all those whom God shall raise as witnesses to Christ shall come forth to accuse us. When Christ says that his hearers hope in Moses, he does not accuse them of superstition, or of thinking that Moses was their Savior. He is rather pointing out the folly of 103their taking refuge in Moses, as though they had his backing in their wicked and arrogant rebellion.
This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with an angel which spake to him in Mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us. Acts 7:38.
Who received living oracles. Erasmus translates this as “the living word” ! But those who know their Greek must agree that I have given a better rendition of what Stephen said; for oracles have more majesty than words. What I say is words, but what comes out of the mouth of the Lord is an oracle. Besides, these words of Stephen are intended to establish the authority of Moses’ teaching, and to impress upon the people that Moses spoke only what was from God; from which it followed that in rebelling against Moses, they had rebelled not against him but against God; hence, their effrontery was obviously all the more brazen. (And, in general, the right way to establish [true] doctrine is for men to teach nothing they have not been commanded from God.) For, how could any man have dared to look down on Moses, who, as the Spirit says, had a right to be believed because he explained to the people faithfully the doctrine which he had received from God!
But someone may ask, Why does he call the law a “living word” ? Such praise may seem to fit poorly with Paul’s statement that the law is minister of death and works wrath, and that it makes us to sin (2 Cor. 3:7). If anyone understands “the living word” to mean a word that is valid and effective in spite of men’s contempt for it, I will not contradict him, but on my part, I interpret “living” as that which is active. Since the law is the perfect rule of a godly and holy life, and sets forth the righteousness of God, it is rightly thought of as the doctrine of life and salvation; and it is to this that Moses bears witness, as he swears by heaven and earth, when he presents the law to the people as the way of life and death. In the same way, in Ezekiel, chapter 20, God complains that the people have violated his law which is good, and his precepts concerning which he had said, Any one who does them, shall live in them. The law, therefore, contains life in itself. If anyone prefers to interpret “living” as efficacious and full of power, I shall not object too strenuously.
When Paul calls the law the minister of death, he speaks of a characteristic which it has contingently, because of the corrupt nature of man. The law itself does not produce sin; it finds sin in us. It offers life to us; but we, being evil, derive nothing but 104death from it. Hence, the law works death only in relation to man. In this verse, Stephen refers to something more than the bare commandments of the law; he speaks of the teaching of Moses as a whole, which includes the promises God has made freely, and therefore Christ himself, who alone is the life and salvation of men.
And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. John 5:38.
We profit from the Word of God only when it takes root in us, and is so fixed in our hearts that it remains there. Christ denied that the Jews possessed the heavenly doctrine, because they did not receive the Son of God who is proclaimed everywhere in it. And he rejected them with good reason. God did not speak through Moses and the prophets for nothing. His only purpose in speaking to Moses was that he might call everyone to Christ. Therefore, it is clear that those who repudiate Christ are no disciples of Moses. After all, how can the Word of life be and remain in anyone who pushes aside life itself? How does any man hold to the teaching of the law when he does his best to extinguish the Spirit of the law? For the law without Christ has nothing solid about it, and in fact avails us nothing. Therefore, progress in the Word of God goes with a right knowledge of Christ.
Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me. John 5:39.
As we have pointed out, Christ’s previous statement that the Father is his witness in heaven, applies also to Moses and the prophets. Now Christ explains the matter more clearly by saying that the Scripture itself is his witness. He again attacks the stupidity of those who declared loudly that the Scriptures gave them life, while they treated them as dead letter. He does not judge them because they sought life in the Scriptures; the Scriptures were given to be used for this purpose. But the Jews thought the Scriptures gave them life when they had no sense of their true meaning, and had even put out the light of life in them. How can the law make alive, when Christ alone gives it life?
Moreover, this passage teaches us that if we would know Christ, we must seek him in the Scriptures. Anyone who imagines Christ as he will, gets nothing but a mere blur (umbratile spectrum). So, we must first hold that Christ is known 105rightly nowhere but in Scripture. If this be so, our chief purpose in reading the Scriptures must be to arrive at a right knowledge of Christ. Whoever turns aside from this aim, even though he wear himself out with learning all his life, will never arrive at truth; for what wisdom can we attain apart from the wisdom of God? Moreover, since we are commanded to seek Christ in the Scriptures, he declares that our zeal in this matter shall not be in vain; for the Father himself testifies that in them he shall certainly reveal his Son to us. Many are deprived of this blessing, because they neglect reading the Scriptures, or do it cursorily and superficially. But it deserves utmost attention that Christ himself commands us to probe deeply into this hidden treasure. It was sheer apathy that led the Jews, who had the law in their very hands, to abhor Christ. The glory of God shone brightly in Moses, but they put up a veil and darkened it. In this place, Scripture means obviously the Old Testament. It is not true that Christ appears first in the gospel. It is rather that after the witness of the Law and the Prophets, he appeared in the gospel for everyone to see.
But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Matt. 19:17.
Some ancients, and the papists after them, have misinterpreted this verse so as to make Christ promise that if we observe the law we shall have eternal life. Christ was not talking about what man can do; he was answering a question as to right conduct or what the law defines as righteous. Certainly, God gave his law as the way of a right and holy life, which includes righteousness. It is not for nothing that Moses made the statement, Anyone who does these things, shall live by them; again, I call heaven and earth to witness that today I have put before you life. Therefore, it cannot be denied that the keeping of the law is righteousness, and that anyone who keeps it perfectly, obtains life. But, since we all are destitute of the glory of God [righteousness], in the law we find nothing but a curse; there is nothing left for us to do but to fly to a righteousness which shall be given us freely. Therefore, Paul presents us with two kinds of righteousness: of the law and of faith; the former he makes to consist in works, and the latter in the mere grace of Christ.
From this we gather that the reply of Christ was correct. He had first to answer the young man who asked about the right thing to do; for no man is righteous before God unless he satisfies the law (which is impossible). He did this in order that the 106young man might acknowledge his inability, and look to faith for help. Therefore, I admit that since God has promised the reward of eternal life to those who keep the law, it would be right, if it were not for the weakness of our flesh, for us to follow this way [to expect life through our good works]. But Scripture itself teaches us that we must be given what we cannot acquire through our own merit. If anyone object that it is frustrating to be confronted with righteousness through obedience to the law, if nobody has it in him to achieve it, I answer that the law is only the beginning of this matter, and that it is by no means futile if it leads us to pray for righteousness. For this reason, where Paul says that those who do the law are justified, he also denies that anyone can be justified through the law (Rom. 2:13; 3:9–10).
This passage abolishes all the fictions which the papists have invented in order to obtain salvation. Their error is not merely that by their good works they want to bind God, and make him grant them salvation as a matter of debt; but also that when they gird themselves to do good, they set aside the teaching of the law, and become intent upon fictions which they call their “devotions.” In this way, they not only repudiate the law of God, but also far prefer their human traditions. But what else does Christ say, except that God approves only of that worship which he himself has prescribed? For, obedience is better to him than all slaughtered sacrifice. So then, let the papists be occupied with their silly traditions; if anyone would be serious about ordering his life so as to live in obedience to Christ, let him devote his whole attention to obeying the commandments of the law.
Who hath also made us able ministers of the new testament, not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, . . . which glory was to be done away, how shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. . 2 Cor. 3:6–10.
Paul had before touched upon the comparison between the law and the gospel; now he pursues the matter further. However, the occasion for this argument is not certain; was it that he saw some Corinthians make a perverse use of the law, or was 107it something else that started him? For my part, I see no evidence that false apostles were comparing the law with the gospel. I think it is more probable that he had in mind chatterboxes whose lifeless rhetoric had the kind of glitter which swept the Corinthians off their feet. He wanted to show the latter that the chief glory of the gospel and the chief praise of its ministers is the power of the Spirit. It seems to me that he embarked upon the following comparison of the law with the gospel because it was a good way of proving his point.
However, there is no doubt that by the letter he meant the Old Testament, as by the word Spirit he means the gospel; for, when he calls himself a minister of the new covenant, he also adds immediately that he is a minister of the Spirit; and it is in this connection that he contrasts the letter with the Spirit.
We must now look into the reason for his use of these words. Origen’s invention in this matter has become well established as truth: that the letter means the grammatical and genuine meaning of Scripture, or as they say, the literal; and that Spirit means the allegorical meaning, which is commonly called the spiritual. Thus, through the centuries, it has been commonly accepted and passed around that here Paul has provided us with a key for the allegorical interpretation of Scripture. But nothing was further from his mind. By the word letter Paul means preaching which is external and does not reach the heart; by Spirit he means teaching which is alive, which works mightily in the souls of men by the grace of the Spirit. Letter, therefore, means literal, that is, dead and ineffective preaching, which is heard only by the ear. Spirit, on the other hand, means spiritual teaching, which is not merely a matter of mouthing words, but rather has the power to penetrate the soul and bring it to life. Paul had in mind the verse from Jeremiah which I cited before, there the Lord says that his law had been given by word of mouth, and that it had neither lasted long, nor had it been received by the people with their hearts; therefore, he promises the Spirit of regeneration in the reign of Christ, who will write the gospel, that is the new covenant, in their hearts (Jer. 31:31). Now, it is Paul’s boast that this prophecy has been fulfilled in his preaching. He would have the Corinthians know that the bombast of the loud mouths amounts to nothing, because it lacks the power of the Spirit.
Now let us consider if, under the Old Testament, God spoke merely with an outward voice, or if he did not speak inwardly by his Spirit to the hearts of the godly. I answer, in the first 108place, that Paul here has in mind the peculiar function of the law. In so far as God worked by his Spirit, he did so not by the ministry of Moses, but by the grace of Christ. As we learn from John 1:17, the law was by Moses, but grace and truth by Jesus Christ. Of course, all that time, the grace of God was not inactive; but also, clearly enough, it did not work by the law. Moses’ part was done when he gave the way of life, with the threats and promises. Paul calls the law letter because in itself it is dead preaching; and he calls the gospel “Spirit,” because its ministry is alive and makes alive.
Secondly, I answer that Paul is speaking of the law and the gospel not in general, but in so far as they are opposed one to the other. Even the gospel itself is not always Spirit. Still, when it comes to a comparison between the two, one must say truly and properly that the nature of the law is such that it teaches the letter, without penetrating beyond the ear; on the other hand, it is the nature of the gospel to teach spiritually, because it is the instrument of the grace of Christ. God has ordained it so, for it has pleased him to reveal the power of the Spirit more through the gospel than through the law; and it is the Spirit alone that can teach the spirits of men. . . .
For the letter kills. First Origen, and then others, distorted this phrase badly, to give it a corrupted meaning; and so arose the most pernicious error that Scripture is not only useless but even harmful unless it is turned into elaborate allegories. This error became a source of much evil. It not only gave license for corrupting the true meaning of Scripture, but also led to the notion that the more unprincipled the allegorizer, the more expert he was as interpreter of Scripture. So, many of the ancients threw the sacred Word of God around as though it were a tennis ball. In this way, the heretics too were unbridled and found occasion to trouble the church. Now, anybody could do anything, and many did; there was no madness so absurd or so great but it could be practiced in the name of some allegory. Even good people were caught, and invented many false notions, because they were deceived by their fondness for allegory. . . .
But if the ministration of death. He now magnifies the dignity of the gospel so much the more, by insisting that God has conferred great honor upon the law, which is as nothing in comparison with the gospel. The prestige of the law was established by many miracles. But Paul touches upon one: namely, that Moses’ face was bright with such splendor as to dazzle the eyes of all those around him — a splendor which was a symbol of the 109glory of the law. So he argues from the lesser to the greater, and presents the glory of the gospel as all the more magnificent since it is far superior to the law. First, he calls the law the ministry of death; secondly, he says that the doctrine of the law consisted in letter, and was done with ink; thirdly, that it was written on stones; fourthly, that it was not to last forever, but was temporary and meant to pass away; in the fifth place, once again he calls it the ministry of condemnation.
To make the antithesis complete, he should have used the same number of points on the opposite side with regard to the gospel; but he calls the latter simply the ministry of the Spirit, and of righteousness, which is to remain valid at all times. In terms of words, the comparison is not carried through; but as to the substance of the matter, what he says is adequate, for he has already said that the Spirit gives life; and further, he has pointed out that now men’s hearts take the place of stones and inner disposition takes the place of ink.
Let us now examine briefly the characteristics of the law and the gospel. But let us remember that the point at issue is neither the whole of the teaching we find in the Law and the Prophets, nor the experience of the fathers under the Old Testament; but rather the peculiar function of the ministry of Moses [or the law]. The law was chiseled upon stones; therefore, its teaching was one of the letter. This defect of the law had to be corrected by the gospel, since, the law having been consigned to tablets of stone, it could not but be breakable. The gospel, therefore, is a holy and inviolable covenant because under God it was hewed out by the Spirit. It follows that the law was the ministry of condemnation and death; for when men were told their duty, they also heard that anyone who does not satisfy God’s justice is cursed, and ends in sin and death. Therefore, men get nothing from the law but condemnation, for in the law God demands his due, but does not confer the power to pay it properly. The gospel, on the other hand, which regenerates us and reconciles us with God through the free forgiveness of sins, is the ministry of righteousness, and consequently, of life itself.
But now arises the question: If the gospel be to some a deadly odor of death, and if Christ be the rock of offense and the stone of stumbling set for the ruin of many, why is it that the law alone is blamed for what it has in common with the gospel (2 Cor. 2:16, Luke 2:34, 1 Peter 2:8)? If one answers that the gospel does not work death in itself, or that it is the occasion rather 110than the cause of death, since its own nature is to save all men, one does not get rid of the difficulty, because the same is true of the law. Moses himself argued that he set life and death before the people (Deut. 30:15); and Paul also said, in Rom. 7:10, that the law is turned into a source of ruin for us, not because it is evil but because we are wicked. Therefore, since neither the law nor the gospel leads to condemnation in itself, our knot is still with us.
My answer is that, in spite of all this, there is a great difference between the law and the gospel. Even though the gospel is an occasion for condemnation to many, it is rightly regarded as the doctrine of life, because it is the means of regeneration and offers us free reconciliation with God. The law, on the other hand, even though it prescribes the rule of a good life, does not change the heart for a righteous obedience; and in declaring eternal death to sinners, it can do nothing but condemn them. To put it another way, it is the function of the law to uncover the disease; it gives us no hope of its cure. It is the function of the gospel to bring healing to those who are without hope. The law, in so far as it leads men to put their confidence in it, consigns them necessarily to death. The gospel, on the other hand, leads us to Christ and thus opens the gate to life. Thus, in one word, the property of the law by which it kills, even though not essential to it, is permanent and inseparable from it; for, as the apostle says elsewhere, all those who remain under the law are subject to the curse (Gal. 3:10). On the other hand, it is not true of the gospel that it kills always, because in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; and, therefore, it is the saving power of God to all those who believe (Rom. 1:16–17).
It remains to consider the last contrast made by the apostle when he says that the law was for a time, and to be abolished, whereas the gospel is for perpetuity. There are many reasons why the ministry of Moses was for a season. Shadows had to cease with the coming of Christ. But the statement applies beyond the shadows, to the Law and the Prophets until John (Matt. 11:13). It means that Christ put an end to the ministry of Moses, in all that was peculiar to it and apart from the gospel. Finally, in Jer. 31:31–32, the Lord bears witness to the weakness of the old covenant because it was not inscribed upon the hearts of men. I interpret the abolition of the law mentioned in this place as referring to the whole of the old covenant in so far as it was opposed to the gospel; and that includes the Law 111and the Prophets until John. The context of the present statement requires this interpretation. Paul is not arguing only about the ceremonies; his point is that the Spirit of God exercises his energy far more powerfully under the gospel than he did long ago under the law. . . .
This is no denial of what is said above, but rather a confirmation of it; for Paul means that where the gospel appears, the glory of the law is extinguished. As the moon and the stars, which have light enough to illumine the whole earth, disappear before the splendor of the sun, so also the law, whatever glory it might have in itself, is as nothing before the refulgence of the gospel. Hence, it follows that we cannot magnify enough, or treat with too much reverence, the glory of Christ which shines in the gospel, as the brightness of the sun shines in its rays. It is in bad taste, and a foolish profanation of the gospel, when the power and majesty of the Spirit, which draw the minds and hearts of men to heaven, are withheld from the people.
But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart; nevertheless, when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 2 Cor. 3:14–17.
He puts the whole blame upon them [the Jews]; for it was because of their blindness that they were unable to benefit from the teaching of the law. . . .
He now gives the reason for their continued blindness in the midst of light. The law in itself is a source of light: but we enjoy its brightness only when Christ appears to us in it. The Jews do all they can to turn their eyes away from Christ: it is therefore not surprising that they see nothing, since they will not turn to the Sun. This blindness on the part of God’s chosen people, especially since it has lasted so long, should warn us that we ought to rely upon God’s favors toward us, and not be lifted up with pride. (On this, see Rom. 11:20.) And let the reason for blindness given in this passage keep us from a contempt of Christ, which exposes us to the awful vengeance of God. In the meantime, we should learn that there is no light in the law, or even in the whole Word of God, without Christ who is the Sun of Righteousness.
But when it shall have turned to the Lord. So far, this passage has been seriously misunderstood; both the Greek and the Latin 112interpreters7171When Calvin speaks roundly of Greek and Latin interpreters, he means primarily Chrysostom, Jerome, and Augustine, whose works were continually before him. But he knew many of the other fathers of the ancient church (see Introduction, p. 22). have thought that it refers to Israel. But Paul is speaking of Moses. He had said that when the Jews read Moses, a veil was thrown over their hearts. Now he continues that as soon as their heart is turned to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Who cannot see, as I said, that when he speaks of Moses, he is speaking of the law? Since Christ is the end (or fulfillment) of the law, the Jews ought to have accepted the truth that the law refers them to Christ; when they shut out Christ, they turned the law in another direction. Since in reading the law they wandered aimlessly, the law itself has become to them a complicated thing, like a labyrinth; and it will remain such until it is turned toward its fulfillment, who is Christ. If the Jews seek Christ in the law, God’s truth will appear to them clearly; while they continue to seek wisdom without Christ, they shall lose their way in darkness and never arrive at the true meaning of the law. What is said of the law applies to the whole of Scripture: when it is not directed toward Christ as its one aim, it is tortured badly and twisted.
The Lord is the Spirit. This passage also has been interpreted badly, so as to make Paul mean that Christ is of a spiritual essence; people do this by tying it up with John 4:24, where we read God is a Spirit. As a matter of fact, this statement has nothing to do with Christ’s essence; it simply points out his office. It goes with what Paul said above: namely, that the teaching of the law is literal, not only dead but also a source of death. Conversely, he now calls Christ the Spirit of the law, which means that the law is living and life-giving only in so far as it receives the breath of Christ. When the soul is united with the body, there is a living man, endowed with intelligence and perception, competent for living behavior; take the soul away from the body, and what do you have but a useless corpse, empty of all sensibility?
This verse is of particular value; for it tells us how we are to reconcile the praises with which David commends the law to us (in Ps. 19:7–8: “the law of the Lord converts the soul, enlightens the eyes, and imparts wisdom to babes,” and other statements like it) with Paul’s statements which apparently contradict them: that the law is the ministry of sin and death, which only kills (2 Cor. 3:7). When Christ gives life to the law, 113David’s praises apply to it; when Christ is taken away, the law is altogether as Paul describes it. Therefore, Christ is the life of the law.
Where the Spirit of the Lord. Now Paul describes the way Christ gives life to the law, which is, by giving it his Spirit. The meaning of the word Spirit here is not the same as it is in the previous verse. There it means soul, and is used as a metaphor for Christ; here, it refers to the Holy Spirit himself, who is the gift of Christ to us. In regenerating us, Christ brings the law itself to life, and reveals himself as the fountain of life. He acts like the human soul, which is the source of all human vitality. Therefore, Christ is (so to speak) the soul of all beings; not as their essence, but by the action of his grace. Or, if you prefer it, Christ is the Spirit because he makes us alive by the vivifying power of his Spirit.
And of his fullness have we all received, grace for grace; for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. John 1:16–17.
Now John embarks upon the mission of Christ, which contains the abundance of all blessings, for there is not a thing belonging to our salvation which we need seek elsewhere. God indeed is the fountain of life, and righteousness, and power, and wisdom; but he is a fountain hidden and inaccessible to us. All these blessings are presented to us in Jesus Christ in all fullness, so that we may look for them in him. And he is ready to make them flow upon us, if by faith we build the proper pipeline. In short, in every part of this sentence John makes but one point, namely, that we must not look for any good outside of Christ. First, he makes it clear that we are utterly destitute and empty of all spiritual good. For if Christ himself abounds, it is to fill our emptiness, to relieve our poverty, and to satisfy us who are hungry and thirsty. Secondly, the writer warns us that no sooner do we turn away from Christ than we look in vain for a single drop of good; because it was God’s will that every good should reside in him. Therefore, we find men and angels dry, the heaven empty and the earth sterile, when we try to have a part in God’s gifts by any means but Christ. In the third place, he assures us that we shall want nothing whatsoever if we draw upon the fullness of Christ, which is in every respect so rich that we shall never be able to drain it off. John includes himself with all men, not because of modesty, but to make it clear that no one is excepted.114
There is some doubt as to whether John speaks of mankind in general or only of those who, after Christ’s coming in the flesh, have shared more fully in his blessings. It is certain that those who lived under the law drew from the fullness of Christ. But since John distinguishes between the time before the Advent and the time after, he is more probably speaking of the new abundance of good which Christ at his coming brought with him. We know that when Christ appeared in the flesh, the benefits which were enjoyed in a limited way under the law were, so to speak, scattered abroad with a full hand; so that we have more than enough. This does not mean that each and every one of us is superior to Abraham in the grace of the Spirit. I am speaking of the greater extent to which God now distributes his gifts, and of the way and manner in which he does it. John’s purpose in emphasizing all men’s poverty with regard to the good offered us richly in Christ, was to invite his disciples to him the more persuasively. At the same time, it would not be absurd to extend the meaning of this statement further. In fact, the context itself justifies us in adding that all the fathers, since the beginning of the world, have drawn every good they have enjoyed from Christ. Since Moses gave them the law, they received grace from another hand. But I have already stated the interpretation I prefer: which is that John compares us with the fathers, in order to impress upon us the riches of the gift we have in Christ Jesus.
And grace for grace. Augustine’s exposition of this verse is well known.7272The anti-Pelagian writings, De gratia et libero arbitrio, ch. 21, and De correptione et gratia, ch. 41. See also his Tractates on the Gospel of John, No. 3, Sec. 9. He says that the continued blessings of God, and finally life eternal itself, are not rewards due us because of our merits, but acts of divine generosity with which by grace God rewards what we do and crowns his own gifts to us. All this is intelligently said; but it has nothing to do with this verse. We would get its simple meaning if we took ἀντὶ in a comparative sense, which would give us the statement: All the graces alike which God showers upon us come to us from the same source (which is Christ). This verse might also be taken to point out that grace is given us for salvation, which is the completion of grace. But I myself agree with those who believe that it refers to the graces which are poured out in Christ, and over us like water upon a dry land. But, even while we receive these graces from Christ, he does not act as God (who is the source), but 115rather as the channel through which the bountiful Father pours them upon us. So it is that he was anointed for our sake, to anoint us all with him: wherefore, he was called Christ and we, Christians.
For the law came by Moses. Here he anticipates a likely objection. The Jews had such a high regard for Moses that they would admit nothing as true if it differed from his teaching. The Evangelist, therefore, shows how inferior the ministry of Moses was to the power of Christ. At the same time, this comparison sheds no little light on the authority of Christ. Since there was no deference the Jews did not pay Moses, the Evangelist points out that what he brought was little when compared with the grace of Christ.
Another difficulty was that the Jews thought they received from the law what is not given us except in Christ. Therefore, the Evangelist contrasts the law with grace and truth, and implies that both were lacking in the law. Truth, in my judgment, indicates a fixed and firm stability in things. By grace I understand the spiritual fulfillment of the things which the law contains as mere letter. And these two words may be said to be figures of speech with the same meaning: namely, that the truth of the law consists in the grace which was exhibited in Christ. It does not much matter whether these two words are put together or separated one from the other, for either way the sense of the statement is the same. This much is certain: according to John, the law contained the shadowy image of the spiritual goods which we find in Christ; from which it follows that when the law is separated from Christ, nothing is left but empty forms. This is why Paul said that the law is shadows, Christ the substance (Col. 2:17). But we must not imagine that the law gives us only falsehood; because even though the law in itself is dead, Christ himself is the soul of the law and makes it alive. Still the question here has to do with the power of the law apart from Christ; and the Evangelist asserts that without Christ the law is nothing but a shadow, without substance and without power. This truth consists in the fact that through Christ we obtain a grace which is not available through the law. By grace in general, I understand the free forgiveness of sins and the renewal of the heart. With this word John states briefly the distinction between the Old and the New Testaments (which was done more fully in Jer. 31:31), and includes in it all that has to do with spiritual righteousness. But this righteousness consists of two parts: namely, that God is reconciled to us freely, 116not imputing our sins to us; and that he has engraved his law within us and renewed us by his Spirit for obedience to it. It follows that the law is expounded wrongly and falsely when it keeps us to itself and even prevents our access to Christ.
4. EXAMPLES OF EXEGESIS
When was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama there was a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. Matt. 2:17–18.
It is certain that the prophet was describing the destruction of the tribe of Benjamin as it occurred in his time (Jer. 31:15). He had already predicted the destruction of Judah, to which had been attached half the tribe of Benjamin. He put this mourning in dead Rachel’s mouth by way of personification (prosopopoeia), which is very effective in rousing the feelings. Jeremiah did not use rhetoric merely to embellish his speech. He did it because there was no way to correct the stupidity and hard-heartedness of the living, except by calling the dead out of their graves, to weep over the chastisements of God which most people laughed at.
Since the prediction of the prophet had already been fulfilled, Matthew did not take it as a prophecy of what Herod was going to do; rather he meant that with the coming of Christ there was to be a recurrence of the affliction which the Benjamites suffered many centuries before. He wanted to meet an objection which might have troubled and shaken the believers’ minds: for how could one hope to be saved by a man because of whom, and at whose very birth, there had been a massacre of infants? It was surely a dark and dreadful omen that the birth of Christ kindled a flaming fire of such fury as we do not meet even in wars of greatest cruelty! But as Jeremiah promises a restoration after the slaughter of the people down to the infants, so Matthew argues that in spite of Herod’s wholesale murder, Christ would surely come forth as the Redeemer of the nation. We know that in the same chapter of Jeremiah (31), mourning is followed by tender words of comfort. For immediately after the mournful complaint come the words: “Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears; for thy work shall be rewarded, and there is hope at the end,” etc. Such then was the likeness between the former calamity suffered by the tribe of Benjamin and this latter one [which occurred under Herod]; and they both 117were preludes to the restoration of well-being which was soon to follow.
And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. Matt. 2:23.
Matthew does not derive “Nazarene” from “Nazareth,” as though there were a real and certain and etymological connection between the two words. What we have here is a mere allusion. Nazir means holy and devoted to God, and is otherwise derived from nazar, which means to separate. It is true that the Hebrews called a certain flower (or rather, the insignia of the royal diadem) a nazar. But there is no doubt that Matthew used the word as meaning holy. We read nowhere of the Nazarenes as flourishing; but we do read, as in Num. 6:4, that they were consecrated to God as prescribed by law. We are, therefore, to understand Matthew’s statement as follows: Although it was fear that drove Joseph to a corner of Galilee, God had a higher purpose; for Nazareth was ordained to be Christ’s home, so that he might bear the name of Nazarene which was rightly his.
But it might be asked what prophet gave this name to Christ; for there is in fact no such testimony in Scripture. Some think it is enough to answer that Scripture often calls him holy; but this is a poor solution of the problem. Matthew, as we have seen, emphasizes the word Nazarene, and by it refers to the ancient Nazarenes, who were considered especially holy. He as much as says that the holiness foreshadowed in the Nazarenes, as selected firstfruits before God, was perfected in the person of Christ.
But we must still face the question as to where the prophets gave this name to Christ. Chrysostom,7373John Chrysostom (347–407), the bishop of Constantinople, was a man much after Calvin’s heart. He was a powerful preacher who aimed at reform. He practiced “lucidity and brevity” in his voluminous Biblical homilies and commentaries. He was a brave critic of the mighty both in the church and in the state. He made many enemies and ended in exile. who was unable to unravel the knot, settled the matter by saying that many books of the prophets have perished. But this is a careless answer. For even though the Lord punished his ancient people by depriving them of a part of Scripture, or suppressed those parts which were of lesser importance, nothing has been lost since the coming of Christ. People have been misled on this point by a passage in 118Josephus,7474Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37–95?), Jewish antiquarian and historian, has put all subsequent historians of the Bible in his debt. His two books, On the Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities, have been “primary sources” for our knowledge of events, places, parties, etc., having to do with the New Testament. Calvin seems to have had his works before him as he dictated his New Testament Commentaries at home. where he says that Ezekiel left behind two books. But Josephus may have been referring to Ezekiel’s prophecy of the new Temple and new Kingdom, which is obviously distinct from his former prophecies, and amounts to a new book. In any case, we still have safe and sound all the books which were extant in Matthew’s time, and they are preserved in good condition. Therefore, somewhere we should come across his citation from the testimony of the prophets.
I think Bucer’s judgment with regard to this matter is the best. He thinks we find the reference we need in Judg. 13:5.7575Bucer’s In sacra quatuor evangelia, enarrationes perpetua, 1536, on Matt. 2:23. This verse has to do with Samson, who is called deliverer in so far as he prefigured Christ; and the salvation which came by his hand and ministry was a shadowy prelude to the fullness of salvation which was exhibited to the world in the Son of God. Anything good said about Samson in Scripture must by right be transferred to Christ. If anyone prefers it that way, Christ is the original exemplar, and Samson is the inferior copy (antitype). We must understand that when Samson was invested with the honors due to the person of the Savior, the titles which adorn that high and truly divine office were intended not for him but for Christ. The fathers had only a taste of that grace of redemption which we who are in Christ have received in full.
It is easy to see why Matthew spoke of prophets in the plural: The Book of Judges was composed by a number of prophets. But I think that the reference to the prophets in this place has a wider significance. For, the patriarch Joseph, who was called a Nazarene by his brothers, was a temporal savior of the church; he was in many respects a type of Christ, and even his living image (Gen. 49:26, Deut. 33:16). God, therefore, intended that the high dignity conferred upon Joseph should have reappeared in the person of Samson, who therefore received the title Nazarene. In all this, it was God’s purpose to provide for the training of the faithful: to fix their hearts upon the Redeemer to come, who was set apart from all men, to be the firstborn among many brothers.119
And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. Matt. 27:35.
It is quite certain that it was the custom of the soldiers to divide the spoils of a condemned man among themselves; even though it was perhaps unusual to cast lots for a seamless coat. So, nothing happened to Christ that did not happen to all condemned men. And yet this story deserves utmost attention. The Evangelists present us with a Christ stripped naked of his clothes, to impress upon us that by his nakedness we are covered with riches which adorn us before God. The Son was stripped by God’s will, to clothe us with his righteousness and an abundance of all wealth. So it is that whereas before our rags and filth made us unfit for heaven, now we all can appear with God’s angels, in his presence, boldly and without fear. Christ himself let the soldiers tear his seamless coat in pieces, like beasts at their prey to enrich us with the riches of his victory.
Moreover, as Matthew says, this happened in fulfillment of David’s prophecy, They divided my garments among them (Ps. 22:18). This bitter complaint is a metaphor, and its language is figurative. But as applied to Christ, its meaning is, as we say, literal; for it states a matter of fact. By garments, David means his wealth and honor; he means that he had been a prey to his enemies, who had in his own lifetime and under his very eyes despoiled his house of everything he possessed, and gone so far as to ravish his wife. When he writes that his garments were divided by lot, he is using a metaphor to express the cruelty of his enemies.
Since David was an image and foreshadowing of Christ, he was endowed with the Spirit of prophecy, and predicted the sufferings of Christ. We must not forget that when the soldiers robbed Christ of his garment, they did this outrage according to signs and tokens indicated a long time before. When we see this, we are no longer troubled by the scandal Christ’s nakedness causes to the carnal mind. We now understand that he suffered everything rightly and properly as the Redeemer, and as prophesied and declared by the Spirit.120
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