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VIII Ethics and the Common Life
1. WORSHIP AND ETHICS
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. Rom. 12:1.
Paul has so far dealt with the things necessary for the building of the Kingdom of God: namely, for our righteousness to call upon God alone; to seek our salvation from his mercy alone; and to recognize that the sum of all good is found and is offered us daily in Christ alone. He now rightly proceeds with the formation of our conduct. If it be true that the soul is, as it were, regenerated for a heavenly life through a saving knowledge of God and Christ; and if our life itself is formed and shaped by the holy exhortations and precepts of God — it is futile to search zealously for the elements of a good life unless it is first established that the source of all righteousness among men is in God and Christ, that is, in the resurrection of the dead. Here is the difference between Christianity and philosophy. However splendidly and with whatever great and praiseworthy inventiveness the philosophers discourse on the subject of morals, yet their ornate and striking precepts are after all splendid superstructures without a foundation; for, having omitted the first principles, they present us with a mutilated teaching, not unlike a body without a head. And papal teaching is not very different; for although the papists say something in passing about faith in Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit, it is clear that they are much nearer to the heathen philosophers than to Christ and his apostles. As the philosophers, before they set down the rules of morality, discuss the ultimate good, and inquire into the source of all the virtues, from which they draw and derive all the duties of men; so, also, Paul lays down the 314first principle from which flow all the elements of a holy life, that the Lord has redeemed us for no other purpose than that we may consecrate ourselves and all our members to him. . . .
That you present your bodies. Therefore, the principal requirement for doing good works is for us to understand that we are consecrated to the Lord; and from this it follows that we must cease to live to ourselves, and devote all the actions of this life to obedience to him. Thus, there are two things to consider: first, that we are the Lord’s; secondly, that we ought for this reason to be holy; for it is an indignity to the holiness of God that anything should be offered to him unless it first becomes holy. Granted this, it follows that our whole life should be an exercise in holiness and that we would not be free from sacrilege if we lapsed into uncleanness; for sacrilege is nothing else than to profane what is consecrated.
Throughout this passage, Paul uses his words with great propriety. To begin with, he says that we are to offer our bodies as a sacrifice to God; this implies that we are not a law to ourselves, but have come entirely under the power of God; which can mean nothing else than that we must renounce and thus deny ourselves. Then, adding two adjectives, he tells us what kind of sacrifice this ought to be. Living signifies the nature of our immolation before God; that is, the destruction of our former life, by which we shall be quickened to a new life. By holy, as we said before, he designates the quality of the sacrifice offered to God; for a sacrifice is valid only if it has already been sanctified. The third adjective (acceptable) reminds us that our life is shaped rightly when by our sacrifice we seek to please God. He offers us a rare consolation when he teaches us that, when we devote ourselves to innocence and holiness, our labor is pleasing and acceptable to God.
By bodies Paul means not only bone and skin, but our whole being; he uses the word bodies, which is a part of a man to signify the whole of him, for the members of the body are the means by which a man acts; but he demands of us integrity not only of the body, but also of the soul and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23). In bidding us to present ourselves, he alludes to the Mosaic sacrifices which were presented at the altar, as it were in the sight of God. But still, he shows us beautifully that we should promptly lay hold of God’s commandments and obey them without delay.
So we learn that mortal men err miserably and wander blindly, unless they set themselves to worship God. Thus we 315also know what kind of sacrifice Paul recommends to the Christian church. Since we have been reconciled to God by the sacrifice of Christ alone, by his grace we all have been made priests, that we may dedicate all we have to the glory of God. . . .
Wherewithal shall I come before the Lord?. . . He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6:6–8.
Now the prophet assumes the people’s role and asks what it is that he ought to do. But he answers the question by citing the law, and so deprives them of the excuse of ignorance. This he does in the hope that they may be induced to confess their guilt.
He hath shown thee what is good. He refutes the hypocrisy with which Jews deceived themselves. It is as if he had said: “. . . When you go to God with your prayers, you pretend a great zeal for piety. But your religion is nothing but an impudent lie. You do not sin out of ignorance or error, but out of sheer mockery of God. Why? For the law teaches you clearly enough what God demands of you. Does it not tell you well enough the nature of true communion with God? But you close your eyes to the teaching of the law, and pretend that you are ignorant of it. But all this is childish. For God has already told you what is good: to do justly, to love mankind and to walk humbly with your God. . . .”
Now let us consider the prophet’s counsel. When he begins, With what shall I come before God? we are to understand that God has come down as if to meet men in a court of law. When men go to law with one another, there is no good cause which the other side cannot obscure with caviling and technicalities. But the prophet shows that when God himself brings them to trial, their evasions only make them ludicrous. This is one point. For another, the prophet shows how deeply hypocrisy is rooted in the hearts of all men, and how they always paint themselves with false colors, and want to do it even before God. Why is it that men are determined not to present themselves [honestly] to God or to walk uprightly? Why are they always looking for a deception? Why? Not because they doubt what is right and are deceived without knowing it, but because they connive and deliberately look for a subterfuge for their errors. Of course men readily fall into errors when they have no taste for what 316they are taught and refuse to bring God a true integrity of heart. Hence, it is clear that the whole world is without excuse in its superstition. . . . So it is that there is no pretext or escape for anyone who tries to please God with ceremonies and other impertinences. . . .
In our own day we know well enough, and if our eyes are open, common experience shows us clearly, that the wicked who have no real and sincere relation to God, exhibit great anxiety and pretend to be wholly intent upon worshiping God correctly. But they run off in all directions and seek innumerable bypaths, to avoid being forced to present themselves before God. Now we see how such pretense can be exposed; God has already shown in his law what he approves and what he demands of men.
The teaching of the law should be to men like a torch, directing their steps. . . . If anyone asks questions about the road when he already knows it, he really wants to stay where he is and be spared the trouble of moving his feet. God had shown the way by which the Jews were to come to repentance and faith. Their duty was to walk. And they irreverently mocked God when they assumed that his judgment was satisfied if they performed the external ceremonies.
Now when the prophet says do justly, seek mercy (or kindness) and walk humbly before God, it is clear enough that the first two points refer to the second table of the law. . . . Nor is it strange that he begins with the duties of love of neighbor. For although the worship of God has precedence and ought rightly to come first, yet justice which is practiced among men is the true evidence of devotion to God. The prophet therefore names here justice and compassion, not because God omits the first essential of religion, his worship, but because he is here defining true religion by its manifestations. Hypocrites connect all holiness with external ceremonies. God requires something very different; for his worship is spiritual. And because hypocrites can pretend great zeal and great concern in external prayer to God, the prophets examine the life of men in a different fashion. They ask whether men deal with others justly and kindly, whether they are innocent of all deceit and violence, whether they practice justice and compassion. Our prophet follows this rule when he says the law requires men to practice justice with one another, and then to busy themselves in acts of mercy. Afterwards he adds what is really the prior demand, walk humbly with God.317
There is no doubt that the name of God is more precious than the whole world, and therefore the worship of him ought to be counted of more value than all the duties by which we exercise our love for our fellow men. But the prophet, as I said, was not scrupulous about keeping this order and preferred to show by what actions men can prove that they really fear God and keep his law.
Then he speaks of the worship of God; and it is worth noting that he says, to walk with God, men must be humble. Here he condemns all pride, all confidence in the flesh. For whoever claims anything at all for himself walks with God, turning his back to Him. The true way to walk with God is to surrender ourselves wholly, making ourselves as nothing. The beginning of worshiping God and glorifying him is to think humbly and modestly of ourselves.
For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. Rom. 14:7–9.
He now confirms the previous verse by arguing from the whole to the parts; since our whole life must be devoted to the glory of God, it is no surprise that our particular acts throughout our life should be done before him. So then, a Christian’s life is ordered rightly only when he keeps his eyes upon the will of God. Since you should relate everything you do to his will, it is wrong to undertake anything at all which you know will displease him, or anything which you are not convinced will please him.
To live to the Lord, here, does not mean, as it does in chapter 6, verse 8, to come to life by the working of the Spirit. It means rather to be ready for his will and the nod of his head, and to place all things at the disposal of his glory. We are not only to live but also to die in the Lord; that is, we are to die as well as live by his will; and for this he gives the best of reasons: whether we live or we die, we are his; from which it follows that in life and in death we are under his authority. This teaching is open to a wide application; for in this way God asserts his power over life and death, so that everyone may accept his condition as under his yoke; for it is only just that God should assign to every man his own place, and how he is to spend his life. In this way, we are not only forbidden 318to undertake anything without God’s authority, but we are also enjoined to endurance under all trouble and privation. When our flesh shrinks before adversity, let us keep in mind that if a man, who is neither free nor a law to himself, refuses to depend upon the good pleasure of his Lord, he subverts justice and right order alike. So then, this is the rule for living and dying which has been given us: when God prolongs for us a life which is continually full of bitterness and exhaustion, we must not yearn to get away from it before our time; on the other hand, if he calls us away suddenly in the flower of our youth, we should always be ready to go.
For to this end Christ died. This confirms the above argument. It proves that we ought to live and die to the Lord, by adding that whether we live or we die, we are in Christ’s power. He now shows how rightly Christ asserts his power over us, since he acquired it at a great price; for, by his death for our salvation, he obtained a power which he exercises beyond our death; by his death and resurrection, he is worthy that we should, in our dying as well as in our living, serve the glory of his name. Rose and lived again, furthermore, means that by the resurrection he partakes of a new mode of life, and that since this life of his, which he now has, is unchangeable, his dominion over us is to be eternal.
He who loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hated his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. John 12:25.
He that loveth his life. Christ adds exhortation to teaching. If it is by death that we bear fruit, when God mortifies us we should bear it with patience. Since he opposes the love of life to the hatred of it, we should understand what it is to love and hate life. Anyone who desires the present life so much that he will not let go of it except by force is said to love life. Anyone who despises life so much as to be willing with courage to go to his death is said to hate life. Life should not be hated as such, because it is regarded rightly as among God’s chief blessings. Still, believers should be willing to lay it down when it keeps them from Christ, just as a man who is in a hurry to go somewhere will throw a troublesome and unwieldy burden off his shoulder. In short, it is not in itself wrong to love this life, provided we walk its course with our eyes upon our ultimate end. We love life rightly when we remain in it according to God’s intention for us, and are ready to leave it according to his will: in a word, when as it were we carry it in our hands 319and offer it to God as a sacrifice. Anyone who is unduly attached to this world loses his life; that is, he hurls it to everlasting ruin. . . .
Whoever is attached to this world deprives himself of heavenly life, to which we cannot be heirs unless we live as strangers and sojourners in this world. Hence it is that anyone who is too anxious for his security in this world is an alien to the Kingdom of God, or the true life.
He that hateth his life. I have already pointed out that this is said relatively; we ought to spurn life, in so far as it keeps us from living to God. If meditation on the heavenly life came first in our hearts, the world would not be able to keep us back. . . . Anyone who does not turn his eyes to heaven has not learned how to take care of this life.
And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. Rom. 12:2.
World has many meanings; here it refers to men’s attitudes and moral behavior. Paul forbids us, with good reason, to conform to them. Since the whole world lies in wickedness, if we would put on Christ, we must put off everything that is of man [or the world]; and to remove all doubt, he asks us on the contrary to be transformed into a newness of mind. We find such contrasts often in Scripture; there is no room left for doubt on this point.
Now, consider seriously what kind of newness it is that is required of us. We are not to be renewed merely in our flesh, or, as the Doctors of the Sorbonne9393Sorbonne the original name of the University of Paris, founded by Robert de Sorbon in 1256. The university, where Thomas Aquinas had taught, was in the sixteenth century a citadel of Catholic orthodoxy, and its theologians defended it zealously against the Lutheran heresy. interpret “flesh,” in the lower part of the soul, but rather in our minds, which is the best part of us, and according to the philosophers, the ruling element in us; for they call reason ἡγεμονικόν and fancy it as a queen of wisdom. But Paul shames it off its godly throne, and bidding us to put on a new mind, reduces it to nothing. However much we flatter ourselves, the word of Christ is still true, that every man who would enter the Kingdom of God must be born again; for, in mind and heart, we are altogether alienated from the righteousness of God.
That ye may prove what is the will. Here we have the purpose 320for which we are to put on a new mind; we are to say good-bye to all our own counsels and considerations, and to those of all men, so that we may attend only to the will of God, who alone possesses true understanding and wisdom. But if we can prove what is the will of God only by the renewing of our mind, we can see how far gone we are in our enmity to God.
The additional adjectives in this verse are meant to commend the will of God to us, and to turn us to it with greater eagerness. If our perversity is to be kept within bounds, it is necessary to realize that righteousness and perfection which truly deserve praise belong to the will of God alone. The world invents its own good works and persuades itself that they are good. But Paul declares that good and right according to the world are to be judged by the commandments of God. The world praises and finds pleasure in its own devices; Paul on the other hand affirms that nothing is pleasing to God except what he himself has commanded. In seeking perfection, the world backslides from the Word of God and goes after new inventions; Paul fixes perfection in the will of God, and shows that anyone who goes beyond it imagines falsehood and falls into delusion.
But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. 2 Cor. 10:17.
This statement is made to avoid the impression that Paul’s glorying was an empty boast. So, he brings himself and others before the judgment of God, and says that only those of whom God approves have the right to glory. Besides to glory in the Lord does not mean the same thing as it does in the former epistle (1 Cor. 1:31) and in Jer. 9:24. In these latter passages, it means to know God as the Author of all good, and to ascribe every good to his grace, so that men will not exalt themselves, but glorify God alone. Here, on the other hand, it means to let God alone be the judge in our glorying, and to consider all other judgment as worthless. Some people rely upon human opinion and weigh themselves in the balance of popular judgment; others are deceived by their own arrogance. Paul commands us to seek only the glory which comes from pleasing the Lord, by whose judgment we all stand or fall.
Even the pagans say that true glory consists in an upright conscience. Now, this is true, but it is not the whole truth. Since all men are blinded by too much self-love, we are not to be satisfied with our own judgment of our deeds. We must keep in mind what Paul says elsewhere: that even though he is not aware of anything [wrong] in him, he is not therefore justified 321(1 Cor. 4:4). What then? Let us remember that judgment is reserved to God, who [alone] declares it concerning us; therefore, we are in no position to plead our own cause. This is confirmed by what follows. For, it is not the man who commends himself that is approved. It is easy for men to be deceived by a false conviction; and it happens every day. Therefore, putting all else aside, let us aspire to be approved by God: let us be satisfied by his approval alone, which should mean more to us than the plaudits of the whole world. Someone (Cicero9494106–43 B.C. Roman statesman and philosopher who was regarded very highly during the Renaissance. He belonged to the New Academy and was deeply imbued with Stoic ethics. His more famous writings are “On the Supreme Good,” the “Tusculan Disputations,” “On the Nature of the Gods,” “On Duties” (de Officiis). He was also a great stylist and was eagerly emulated during the Revival of Learning.) has said that one good word from Plato was equal to a thousand. But we are not concerned with the judgment of men, as to who is worth more than another; we have to do with the judgment of God, whose it is to turn all human pronouncements upside down.
Now Peter sat without in the palace; and a damsel came unto him saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all. . . . And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. . . . Then he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus. . . . And he went out, and wept bitterly. Matt. 26:69–75.
This story of Peter’s fall is a clear image of our own weakness, and his repentance is given us as an unforgettable example of the goodness and mercy of God. This one man’s story contains a teaching which is extremely useful for the whole church. It instructs those who stand faithful to watch and fear that they may not fall; and it lifts up those who have fallen with the hope of forgiveness.
In the first place, let us notice that Peter showed poor judgment in entering the high priest’s court. It was, of course, an act of devotion; it was his duty to follow the Master. But since he had already been warned of his coming defection, he should rather have hidden himself in a corner, so as to avoid an occasion for sin. So, it happens often to believers that, while seeming to do something virtuous, they throw themselves in the way of temptation. Therefore, we ought to pray to the Lord that he hold us back with the rein of his Spirit, so that we may 322not charge ahead on our own, and be punished right off. Besides, we should pray that, when we propose to do something, we may not fail before we have started, or at a later time; that he may supply us from heaven with the fortitude to finish what we have begun. The knowledge of our own weakness ought not so to unnerve us that we will not go when God calls us. Still, it ought to restrain our rashness, and prevent us from attempting what is beyond our calling. Also, it ought to move us to pray that God, who has led us to begin well, may give us the grace to persevere.
A damsel came unto him. We see here that it takes less than a great struggle, or a big army and many guns, to overpower a man. Any man who is not upheld by the hand of God is soon knocked down by a slight wind or the uproar made by a falling leaf. Peter certainly had as much courage as the rest of us. He had already given evidence of an uncommonly high spirit, even though combined with a preposterous audacity. Still, he denied the Master; not because he was being dragged before the tribunal of the high priest, or because his enemies were upon him to kill him with violent hands, but because he was terrified by the voice of a woman. But he had a little while before fancied himself a soldier fighting to the death! Let us remember therefore that our strength, far from being equal to standing up under powerful attacks, fails in the mere shadow of a battle. But in this way, God works the just reward of our own unfaithfulness; he disarms us and strips us of all power. Thus it is that, when we set aside the fear of God, a mere nothing fills us with trepidation. If Peter had had a living and solid fear of God, he would have been an invincible fortress. As it was, being naked and unarmed, he was frightened while he was still a long way from peril.
He denied before them all. Peter’s crime is all the greater because he did not shrink from denying his Master before a whole crowd of witnesses. The Spirit states this fact purposely, so that, when faced with a crowd of people, we may hold on to the confession of our faith. For, if we deny Christ in the presence of the weak, and they are struck by our example, and give way, we become destroyers of human souls, so far as it lies within our power. When we cheat Christ of the witness we owe him in the presence of the godless who have contempt for God, and are enemies of the gospel, we expose his sacred name to ridicule by everybody. Finally, as bold and free confession builds up all the believers, and puts the unbelievers to shame, so equally 323public defection in the church brings with it ruination of faith and disgrace upon sound doctrine.
It is worth noting that Peter, when he was unable to slip out with a simple denial, doubled his crime by adding an oath; and a little later, under harder pressure, he even stooped to cursing. From this we gather that once a sinner falls, he is immediately forced to go from bad to worse. Thus, those who begin with a mediocre offense thereafter hurl themselves headlong into the most frightful wickedness, which would at first have filled them with horror. And this is the just vindication of God that, after we deprive ourselves of the aid of the Spirit, he permits Satan to exercise his violent dominion over us; and Satan, having first subdued and held us in bondage, throws us around, now in one direction, now in another. But this happens chiefly when we deny our faith; because, when a man through the fear of the cross turns aside from confessing the gospel in its purity, and finds that he still cannot satisfy his enemies, he goes further and denies openly with an oath what he did not have the courage to confess.
Moreover, it is to be observed that in one moment Peter defaulted three times: which shows how unstable we are and how disposed to fall when pushed by Satan. Certainly, a mere nothing will make us fall unless God holds us up with his outstretched hand. When the energy of the Spirit of grace became dead in Peter, he was ready to deny Christ a hundred or a thousand times, no matter who came by and questioned him about his Lord. But, though he was vile enough to fall three times, the Lord spared him; He stopped the tongues of his enemies, so that they did not bury him under their attacks. Thus, it is necessary that Satan be bridled every day; otherwise, he would overwhelm us with endless temptations. For, he never stops attacking us with his numerous weapons. If God were not on our side, knowing our weakness, and breaking the force of his [Satan’s] fury, we would have to battle with a whole array of overwhelming temptations. Hence, we ought to celebrate the mercy of God in this matter, because he allows our enemy only a hundredth of the force he would like to use in his assault upon us.
Then he began to curse. By this third denial, Peter’s unfaithfulness towards the Master reached the limit. Not satisfied with an oath, he went on to curse, consigning his body and soul to destruction. He calls on God himself to curse him, if he knows Christ; which is as much as saying, “May I perish to hell if I 324have anything to do with the salvation of God.” Therefore, we ought to admire the goodness of Christ all the more, because he raised his disciple up from such a deadly ruin and healed him. Besides, this passage shows us that when a man falls through the weakness of the flesh, and denies knowing the truth, he does not necessarily blaspheme against the Spirit. Of course, Peter had heard from the mouth of the Lord himself what a treachery it is to deny him before men, and what horrible judgment before God and the angels awaited those who in cowardly fear of the cross abandon the confession of faith. Moreover, it is not for nothing that a little while before Peter himself had preferred death as well as torment to denial of Christ. Now, knowing all this and in spite of previous warning, he rushes headlong to deny his Lord! And still, and after all this, he is forgiven. It follows that he sinned not by any incurable malice but through weakness. He would have been more than willing to pay Christ the debt of godly duty, had not fear put out even the sparks of right feeling.
And Peter remembered. Luke is our witness that when the voice [of the cock] had sounded, Christ looked at Peter. Mark says that before this Peter paid no attention to the crowing of the cock. Therefore, he needed the look of Christ to bring him to his senses. Every one of us has the same experience. Which one of us does not ignore calmly with heavy ears, not merely the many and different songs of the birds who call us to glorify God, but also God’s own voice which sounds clearly and distinctly in the law and the gospel? And such beastly stupidity takes hold of our minds, not only for a day but at all times, unless Christ bless us with his look, which alone converts the heart of man. It is important to note, however, that it was no ordinary look that accomplished this; for Christ had before looked also at Judas, without making him any the better. When Christ looked at Peter, he added the secret power of the Spirit to his eyes, so that, by the rays of his grace, his look penetrated into Peter’s very heart. From this let us know that when a man falls he will not even begin to repent, unless the Lord look at him.
2. FREEDOM, LOVE, EQUALITY
Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Gal. 5:1.
Here Paul is concerned with freedom from the ceremonies of 325the law, which the false apostles prescribed as necessary. But let readers remember that such liberty is but a part of what Christ has acquired for us. How little it would have been had he freed us only from the ceremonies — but a trickle from the fountain! Christ was made a curse: to save us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13); to break the power of the law, in so far as under it we were subject to the judgment of God and to the penalty of eternal death; finally, to snatch us from the tyranny of sin, Satan, and death. Thus, when Paul speaks of the ceremonies, he includes under it the law as a whole. But we shall speak of this more fully under the epistle to the Colossians.
Furthermore, upon the cross, Christ obtained our liberty; and, through the gospel, he gives us its fruit for a possession. Paul therefore does well to warn the Galatians not to be entangled with the yoke of bondage: that is, not to let a trap be laid for their consciences. For, when men put an unjust burden on our shoulders, we might be able to bear it; but when they try to enslave our conscience, we ought to resist strongly and to the death. If we let men bind our consciences, we shall be deprived of a priceless good; what is more, we shall have insulted Christ who is the author of our liberty. But what does again mean, since the Galatians never did live under the law? It means simply that they are not to act as though they had not been redeemed by the grace of Christ. Even though the law was given to the Jews and not to the Gentiles, apart from Christ both alike were in bondage, and not free.
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Gal. 5:13–14.
Now Paul warns them against the wrong use of their liberty. In writing on the epistle to the Corinthians, we pointed out that having liberty is one thing, practicing it quite another; liberty belongs to the conscience, and has to do with God; the practice of liberty is an outward matter and concerns not only God but also our fellow men. After having exhorted the Galatians not to let anyone touch their liberty, he now asks them to exercise it properly. He prescribes a rule for its legitimate use, so that they may not turn it into a pretext of, or an occasion for, license. Liberty is not given to the flesh, which ought rather to be held captive under the yoke; it is a spiritual good which godly minds alone are able to exercise.326
But by love. He now explains that the way to temper liberty, so that it will not be dissipated through erratic and licentious abuse, is to regulate it by love. But let us always keep in mind that the question is not how we have liberty before God, but how we are to use our liberty among men. A conscience which has integrity will not submit to any kind of servitude; but there is no danger in acting as servants outwardly, or in not exercising our liberty. In short, if by love we serve one another, we shall always be disposed to build up; so we shall not give ourselves up to loose living, but shall rather by God’s grace use our liberty in his honor and for the good of our neighbors.
For all the law. There is here an implied contrast between the exhortation of Paul and the teaching of the false apostles. Since the latter insisted solely upon ceremonies, Paul drives home in passing the real duties and practices of Christians. The present commendation of love is intended to make the Galatians understand that it is the chief part of Christian perfection. But we must now ask why all the precepts of the law are included under love; for the law consists of two tables, the first of which enjoins the worship of God and the duties of piety, while only the second has to do with love. It would seem absurd to make a part of the law into the whole of it. Some try to escape this difficulty by saying that the first table also requires nothing but that we love God with all our hearts. But Paul is obviously speaking of love for our neighbors. We must therefore look for a better solution of our problem.
I recognize that piety toward God comes before love of our brothers; therefore to observe the first table is more precious before God than to observe the second. But since God is invisible our piety cannot be seen by our fellow men. It is true that religious ceremonials were established to give evidence of piety; but men’s observance of them was no proof of their godliness; for it often happens that nobody is more diligent and zealous in going through the ceremonies than the hypocrites. God, therefore, wanted to test our love for him by enjoining us to love one another as brothers. For this reason love is called the perfection of the law (not only here, but also in Rom. 13:8): not because it is better than the worship of God, but because it is the convincing evidence of it. I have said that we cannot see God; he therefore presents himself to us in our brothers, and in their persons demands from us what we owe him. So then, the love of the brother grows from nothing but the fear and love of God; it is not therefore surprising that our love for 327our brother, being the sign of the love of God, even though it is a part of the law, stands for the whole of it, and includes the worship of God. It is certainly wrong to separate the love of God from the love of man.
Thou shalt love thy neighbor. Anyone who loves another will give him his due; he will not hurt or injure him; he will do what is beneficial to all so far as he can. What else does the second table mean? This is what Paul is talking about in Rom. 13:10. Besides, the word neighbor stands for all flesh and blood; for, as Isaiah says, we are bound together by a common nature: Thou shalt not turn away from thine own flesh (Isa. 58:7). Above all, the image of God ought to be the bond of a holy union among us. Therefore, here there can be no question of friend or enemy: for, no evil in man can destroy his nature.
The phrase as thyself means as we are moved by the feelings of the flesh to love ourselves: so it is that God enjoins us to love our neighbor. But the Word of God is perverted and not interpreted when men conclude (as do teachers at the Sorbonne) that the love of ourselves has priority over the love of the neighbor, because it is the norm for the latter. Such people are asses, and have not even a grain of love: for if our own love were the norm for the love of others, then it would be right and holy, and well approved by God. But the truth is that we never love our neighbor with sincerity and according to the will of our Lord, until we turn our own self-love into the right kind of love. Our love of ourselves and the love of our neighbor are contrary and conflicting dispositions; our self-love produces a neglect of and contempt for others; it produces cruelty, and is a fountain of avarice, robbery, fraud, and every other kind of pestilence; it drives us to impatience, and arms us with a passion for revenge. Therefore, our Lord demands that it be converted to [true] love.
Consider, O Lord, how I have loved thy precepts. Ps. 119:159.
. . . When the saints declare their devotion to God, they do not urge upon him their own shining merits; they act by the principle that God, who knows his true worshipers from the profane and wicked, will look with favor upon them because they seek after him with sincerity. To this it must be added that a sincere love of the law of God is a sure sign of our adoption because it is a work of the Spirit. . . .
Here we are also taught that true keeping of the law grows out of love which is offered freely. For God seeks willing 328sacrifices, and as Moses said, the first principle of right living is to love him. . . . Hence it must not be forgotten that nothing inclines our hearts to love God except his unmerited goodness and his Fatherly love toward us.
Great peace have they which love thy law; and nothing shall offend them. Ps. 119:165.
This peace is rightly judged to be the first foundation stone of a happy life. We have this peace when we act with a tranquil spirit, when we receive God’s favor and our hearts are illumined by his Fatherly goodness. Rightly also does the prophet teach that we receive this peace from love of the law, for anyone who depends upon anything else will tremble every time he feels the least breath of air.
The stumbling block in the next clause means all the perturbations of the mind by which men labor in misery and are consumed, when they do not rest upon the Word of God but are carried along by their own lust or by the will of men. . . . But from the word love we gather that this peace is not acquired by slavish observance of the law, but is obtained by faith; for the law is neither sweet nor alluring to us unless it reveals God to us as Father and quiets our mind with the assurance of eternal well-being.
Thou shalt not steal. Ex. 20:15.
Thou shalt not steal. Deut. 5:16.9595Put together by Calvin in his Harmony of the Pentateuch. Calvin’s commentary on the last four books of Moses presents the material in the form of a harmony. The work as a whole (four volumes in the Edinburgh edition) is an astonishing achievement. The laws are arranged, with a combination of insight and ingenuity, under the ten laws of the “Two Tablets” of Sinai. Parallel laws are treated together. The fundamental purpose of each command, both for ancient Israel and for the church of Calvin’s day, is briefly explained. Calvin’s arrangement is primarily topical but the narrative sections are fitted together to present a reasonable sequence of events. The volumes cannot be fairly presented in excerpts, but Calvin’s treatment of the law should “be commended” especially to the Biblical theologians of the present day.
Since the goal of the law is love, the meaning of love must be looked for in the law. This is the rule of love: every man must be secure in his own right, and no man must do to another what he does not wish done to himself.
Hence it follows that men steal not only when they secretly take the property of others, but also when they make money 329by injuring others, accumulate wealth in objectionable ways or are more concerned with their own advantage than with justice. Consequently all ways of wrongly appropriating the property of others are included under theft; for there is no difference between robbery by force and by fraud.
We know how men hide their evil deeds under all kinds of wrappings; and how by dressing them up in false colors they even win praise for them. Slyness and hateful cunning are called prudence. The man who cleverly tricks others, who entraps the simple-minded and in unseen ways oppresses the poor, is called farsighted and cautious. When the world sells vices for virtues and all men indulge in them openly, God wipes off all the cosmetics and declares every kind of unjust gain to be theft. We need not wonder that the judgment of heaven decrees this law, since almost the same teaching is given by the philosophers.
We must remember that a “positive” command, as it is called, is attached to the prohibition. If we merely refrain from all evil-doing, we are far from satisfying God, who has bound men mutually together so that they may strive to help one another to get ahead by counseling and assisting one another. There is not the slightest doubt that God commands generosity, and kindness, and the other duties which give warmth to human society. Therefore, if we are not to be condemned as thieves by God, we must seek our brothers’ advantage no less than our own.
Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when it treadeth out the corn. Deut. 25:4.
This verse belongs properly in the supplement [of the law]; but because it adds force to the command, this place seems appropriate for it — especially since Paul, an apt interpreter, explains it as meaning that God requires laborers not to be defrauded of their just pay. In discussing provision for the ministers of the Word, he fits this commandment to their case (1 Cor. 9:10). To prevent anyone from applying it to oxen, rather than to men, he adds that God gave it, not because he was concerned about the oxen, but for the sake of laborers.
But it must be remembered that men are required to practice justice even in dealing with animals. Solomon condemns injustice to our neighbors the more severely when he says, a just man cares well for his beasts (Prov. 12:10). In a word, we are to do what is right voluntarily and freely, and each of us is responsible for doing his duty. If animals are entitled to their 330food, much less should we wait for men to plague us before we give men their rights.
Before passing on to other iniquities, I thought it best to insert here the commandment which requires the people to deal justly with all without exception. If no mention had been made of the foreign born, the Israelites would have thought that when they harmed no one of their own race they had discharged their duty. But when God includes guests and resident aliens as well as members of their own families, they know that justice must be practiced always toward all.
And there is need for God to set himself and his guardianship against injury to foreigners. For they have no one willing to incur hatred in their defense, and are the more subject to the violence and oppression of the wicked because they lack the protections possessed by the native born.
Widows and orphans are in the same situation. The woman on account of her sex is exposed to various injuries unless she is sheltered in the shade of her husband. And many people take advantage of orphans as if they were legitimate prey because they have no adviser. But God hastens to bring his help when they are without human aid, and he declares that he will be their vindicator if they are unjustly treated.
In the first passage (Ex. 22:21–23), the law joins orphans and widows with the foreign born; in the second (Lev. 19:33–34) only the foreign born are mentioned. But the principle is the same. All those who are orphaned or otherwise deprived of earthly resources are under the guidance and guardianship of God and are protected by his hand. This ought to restrain the boldness of those who think that their crimes will remain unpunished if no one on earth takes action against them.
Truly no iniquity will remain unpunished by God. But there is a special reason why God declares that he takes the foreign born, the widows, and the orphans as his wards. Where evil is more flagrant, there is more need of potent remedy. . . .
In the second passage, it is said further that they are ordered to love outsiders and the foreign born as themselves. Hence it is clear that the term neighbor is not restricted to those of the same blood or to those who are the same sort of people, among whom the need of love is more obvious. Neighbor includes the 331whole of mankind, as Christ showed in the person of the Samaritan who took pity on an unknown man and showed him human kindness when he had been neglected by a Judean, and even by a Levite.
Be have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and thou shalt hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies. . . . That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven. . . . For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? Matt. 5:43–46.
It is astonishing that the scribes fell into the absurdity of limiting the word “neighbor" to those who are friendly. There is nothing clearer and more certain than that when God spoke of our neighbor, he meant to include the whole of the human species. Since everyone is devoted to himself, and people are separated from others in the pursuit of their private interests, mutual communication, required by nature itself, is broken. Therefore, God testifies that any man whoever he may be is our neighbor, in order to keep us in the bond of brotherly love with which we are bound one to another by our common nature; for it is necessary that whenever I see another man, who is my own flesh and bone, I see my own self. Even though most men, most often, break away from this holy society, their depravity does not remove the order of nature; for we must remember that God himself is the maker of this union. It follows that the precept of the law which commands us to love our neighbor applies to all men. On the contrary, the scribes, who regarded a man as a neighbor on the ground of his attitude toward them, denied that anyone was their neighbor unless he showed himself worthy of their love by returning their friendship. This is the mentality common to the children of this world, who are not ashamed to hurl their hatred at others for any reason whatever. Love, on the other hand, which the law demands, has no regard for anybody’s merit, and pours itself alike upon the unworthy, the wicked, and those without gratitude. Here Christ restores to love its true and authentic meaning, and defends it against misinterpretation and reproach. Once again, what I said before becomes plain: Christ does not make new laws; he rectifies the wrong interpretations of the scribes which had vitiated the purity of the law of God.
Love your enemies. This one point contains the whole meaning of the teaching of Christ about love as stated above; for, anyone who brings his spirit to loving those who hate him will 332easily soften his heart against vengeance; he will be patient towards the wicked, and will be all the more ready to help those who are wretched. With this saying, Christ shows us the way and manner in which we are to fulfill the precept. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. For, no man will fulfill this precept, until he gives up the love of himself, or denies himself; until he sees others as bound by God with himself, and so goes ahead to love those who hate him. We learn from these words that the faithful should have nothing to do with revenge: they ought to wipe it out of their souls, so that they not only will be kept from praying to God for it, but will even pray him for the good of their enemies. Meanwhile, they do not fail to commit their cause to God, to let him punish the reprobate; but they still desire to do all they can to restore the wicked to a sound mind, so that they may not perish; and they consider how they may be saved. At the same time, they are comforted and their troubles become bearable when they do not doubt that God is the avenger of obstinate evil and declares himself the protector of the innocent. It is indeed hard, and contrary to the mind of the flesh, to repay evil with good; but we should not make our evil and weakness an excuse: we should rather inquire simply as to what the law of love demands, so that, relying upon the power of the heavenly Spirit, we may battle and overcome our feelings against it.
Monks and similar loud mouths imagined that these are counsels and not precepts, because they judged our duty before God and the law according to human ability. Moreover, having taken it upon themselves and bound themselves to follow these “counsels,” the monks were not ashamed to claim perfection. How faithful they were to this title which they claimed, I will not say. But, it is evident that to interpret this saying as a counsel is insipid and preposterous: first, it is an insult to Christ to say that he did not command but only advised his disciples concerning the right; secondly, it is more than silly to make the duties of love, which are derived from the law, optional; in the third place, it is wrong to interpret the words I say as I advise, because in this place they mean “I warn” or “I command.”
Finally, when Christ adds immediately, that you may be the children of your Father, he gives us proof beyond any doubt that these sayings are plain commandments and bind us to their obedience. When Jesus declares openly that no one can be a child of God unless he loves those who hate him, who dares 333to say that we are not under obligation to practice this teaching? It is as though he had said, “Let anyone who would consider himself a Christian love his enemies.” It is truly dreadful and monstrous that for three or four centuries the world should have been covered with such thick darkness as not to see that this is an express command, and that anyone who neglects it, is struck out of the number of God’s children.
Moreover, we must remember that we are not asked to imitate God in the sense of doing whatever he does. God chastises the ungrateful and often dispatches the wicked out of this world; it is not for us to imitate God in these respects, because the judgment of the world belongs to him and is beyond our competence. His will is that we imitate him as a Father who is good and does good. This has been known not only by pagan philosophers but also by the worst despisers of godliness, who have confessed openly that we are never so like God as when we do that which is good. In short, Christ himself is our witness that the best evidence of our adoption is to do good to the wicked and the unworthy. But this does not mean that our own goodness makes us children of God: the Spirit himself, who is the witness, earnest, and seal of our free adoption, purifies the depraved impulses of the flesh and does away with their aversion to love. From this effect of the work of the Spirit, Christ shows that the children of God are only those who, like him, are generous and kind.
Do not the publicans? Luke calls these people sinners, that is, vicious and wicked men. He does not condemn the work of the publican as such. The publicans were tax collectors. Princes have a right to impose taxes, therefore it is not wrong to collect them. Luke speaks of publicans as sinners because people in their position are usually greedy and grabbing, and even deceitful and cruel; and because the Jews regarded them as instruments of tyrannical injustice. Anyone who thinks from Christ’s words that the publicans as such were the meanest people around is mistaken. Christ was speaking to a common prejudice. What he really meant is that there are people who are so bereft of humanity as to pursue their private interests even while they make a show of doing their duty.
But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other side. Matt. 5:39.
There are two ways of resisting: first, by warding off evil without violence; second, by retaliation. Even while Christ does 334not permit his own to meet force with force, he does not forbid them to avoid unjust violence from others. Paul interprets this verse best when he bids us to overcome evil with good, rather than fight with evildoers (Rom. 12:21). But notice that here we have to do with evil and contrasted ways of correcting it. Christ is talking about retaliation as a way of dealing with evil; when he forbids his disciples to repay evil with evil, his intention is to prevent their giving way to their feelings. He extends the rule of patience, so that we shall not only bear present injury with patience but shall also be ready to endure what is to come. The sum of this saying is that the faithful ought to learn to forget whatever evil they are made to suffer; that when hurt they are not to break out in hatred and ill will, or desire to hurt on their part; that the greater the injustice and passion of the wicked grows, and the more infuriating it becomes, the more Christians must be ready for patience and forbearance.
Whoever shall inflict a blow. Julian9696Julian the Apostate — A.D. 361–363. Roman emperor, who tried to revive a syncretistic form of paganism, made up of mystery religion, polytheism, and Neoplatonic philosophy. He died fighting the Persians in Mesopotamia. Even though he incurred the hostility of the church, he was a great emperor. and his like have raised a stupid cry against this teaching of Christ, saying that it would destroy the foundations of law and legal justice. But Augustine, in the fifth epistle, is both wise and intelligent when he shows that the intention of Christ was nothing else than to create a just and temperate spirit among the faithful, so that, when they are offended once or twice, they do not fail and grow weary. Rightly understood, Augustine is correct when he says that this statement does not lay down a law of external conduct. On the other hand, I think Christ restrains our hands no less than our hearts. Still, when a man is able to protect himself and his own from injury, and that without vindictiveness, these words of Christ do not prevent him from turning aside the force of an assault, provided he does it calmly and without harming the other man.
Of course, Christ did not intend to exhort his people to whet the malice of those who are already on fire with the desire to hurt others: what would offering the other cheek do except provoke them further? It is not up to a sane and honest interpreter to pounce on every syllable like a birdcatcher; he should pay attention to what is in the speaker’s mind. Nothing is less becoming to the disciples of Christ than to amuse themselves 335caviling about words, when what the Master wants is clear. And in this place, there is nothing obscure about the intention of Christ: one conflict leads to another, and so, during the whole of their life, believers suffer continually many injuries; therefore, with this saying Christ wants to train them to endure every attack, that by being patient they may learn patience.
And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground. Gen. 18:2.
Before Moses comes to the main point, he describes to us the hospitality of the holy man. . . . His hospitality stands out conspicuously because it is no ordinary virtue to aid unknown men from whom no advantage is expected. For in general when men exert themselves for others, they get advantages in return. He who is kind to foreigners and strangers deserves no little praise, since he voluntarily invites as guests unknown men from whom he had received no favors and where there was no hope of mutual benefit.
What then was Abraham’s motive? Truly, simply to satisfy the needs of his guests. He sees them weary from their journey; he is sure they are worn out with the heat; he thinks the time of day bad for traveling. And so he desires to comfort and refresh those who are weary. Certainly nature itself dictates that strangers are to be helped as much as possible — unless we are impelled by our self-love to act only for motives of gain. For none more deserve compassion and help than those whom we see bereft of friends and homeland. Among all peoples the law of hospitality was formerly held sacred. And no epithet was more detestable than ἀξένος, inhospitable. It is inhuman cruelty in our pride to despise those who flee to us and lack the ordinary means of self-protection.
But it is asked, Was it Abraham’s habit to receive all comers equally? For the number would have been too great, and he would have had to feed mobs. I answer that he was a man of sense and exercised discrimination.
And he bowed. This sign of respect was in common use in the Orient. Certain ancient writers have tried to extract a mystery from this clause, and have said that Abraham worshiped the One in Three whom he had seen and that he saw here by faith the three Persons in one God. This interpretation is better ignored, for it is frivolous and open to mockery and insult. We said before that the angels were entertained by the holy 336man because he wished to do his duty toward men. But God rewarded his kindness, and he was worthy of the reward of having angels for guests. He did not know that they were angels until they revealed themselves at the end of the banquet. It is a humane and polite honor which he pays them.
But [finally] her merchandise and her reward shall be holy to the Lord. It shall not be deposited or laid away, but her merchandise shall be [set aside] for them who dwell before the Lord, that they may eat and be full, and for thick garments. Isa. 23:18. (Calvin’s wording.)
This means that we ought to give to our brothers much more bountifully and generously than men are usually in the habit of doing. For men are somewhat grudging in what concerns their neighbors. Few do their duty eagerly and promptly, or give their labor and kindness without calculation. To correct this fault, God praises above all alacrity.
Paul’s direction to the deacons to distribute cheerfully must bind us all, and his statement that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7) must be kept in mind. Also we must note the prophet’s words that whatever is distributed to the poor is consecrated to God. And in other passages the Spirit teaches that God himself is served by such offerings. God never ordered sacrifices for his own benefit, and he certainly had no need of them. But he established such acts of piety under the law, and now he commands us to give generously and to spend our money for our neighbors. Whatever we spend in their service, he declares, is a fragrant sacrifice, pleasing and acceptable to him.
Hence when we hear our giving so highly praised, we should be kindled to generosity and kindness; and we should know that our hands are by their gifts, consecrated to God.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Matt. 5:5.
Christ means people who are kind and gentle: who are not easily provoked when they are hurt; who do not turn ugly when offended; who are ready to put up with anything rather than repay the wicked in kind. When Christ promises such people that they shall inherit the earth, it looks like sheer nonsense. The ones who usurp dominion over the world are those who fiercely repel all injuries; when attacked and wounded, such men have their hands quick for revenge. And experience shows that the milder one is with such people, the bolder and the more insolent they become. This is the reason for the 337devil’s own proverb: “A man must howl with the wolves; for they will soon devour anyone who turns himself into a sheep.” But Christ meets the fury and violence of the wicked with his own and the Father’s protection; and so, it is not for nothing that he declares the meek lords and heirs of the earth. The children of this age never feel safe unless they are able to take bitter vengeance upon everyone who causes them evil, and thus to defend their lives with hand or arms. But since in truth Christ alone can protect our lives, there is nothing else to do but to hide ourselves under his wings. We have to be sheep, if we want to be counted among his flock. If anyone objects that what we say is against all experience, let him consider: Why is it that fierce people are so uneasy inside as to be their own disturbers? While they live so turbulent a life, even though they may be lords of the earth a hundred times over, having everything, they possess nothing. On the other hand, answering for the children of God, I say, even though they cannot put their feet down on anything they own, they enjoy the earth as a peaceful home. And this is no fictitious possession, because they live on an earth which they know to have been given them by God. Besides, they live under the cover of God’s hand in the midst of all the violence and fury of wicked men; even while exposed to all the missiles of fortune, subject to the malice of evildoers, surrounded by all perils, they still live in safety under God’s vigilance, and already and in a measure have a foretaste of the love of God for them: and this is enough, until, on the last day, they inherit the world.
And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. Matt. 9:10.
Matthew says that sinners, that is, men of scandalous lives and infamous reputation, came with the publicans. The reason for this is that the publicans, hated and abhorred by the people at large, did not shrink from such company. As a moderate punishment shames and humbles the sinners, harshness drives them to despair, so that putting aside all shame, they abandon themselves to a corrupt life. There was nothing wicked about collecting tribute or taxes; but when the publicans saw that they were rejected as godless and detestable men, they looked for comfort in the company of people who did not despise them; because, being disreputable, they shared their shame. Meanwhile they mixed with adulterers, drunkards, and their kind, 338even though they were not like them and detested their crimes, because they were driven to it by public hatred and rejection.
Let the brother of less degree rejoice in that he is exalted: but the rich in that he is made low; because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. James 1:9–10.
Paul, in 1 Cor. 7:22, while exhorting slaves to bear their lot with a calm spirit, reminds them that they are God’s free men, delivered by his grace from the misery of bondage to Satan; he also warns those who are born freemen to remember that they are God’s slaves. In the same way, James here calls upon the lowly to glory in this, that they have been adopted by the Lord to be his children; and he has the same advice for the rich, who have been made to see the vanity of the world and have been brought to equality with the poor. He would have the former be content with their humble and mean position; he forbids the latter to be proud. Since it is the highest and incomparable dignity to be admitted to the society of angels, and even to be made companions to Christ himself, anyone who estimates this favor of God justly will look at everything else which comes his way with equal indifference. Therefore neither poverty nor contempt, nor nakedness, nor hunger, nor thirst, will make his spirit so anxious that he will not be able to comfort himself by saying, “Since the Lord has given me what really matters, I must bear the loss of all lesser things with a serene mind.” This is how a lowly brother ought to glory in his high dignity: if he be acceptable to God, his adoption alone is enough reason for happiness; he ought not to be too much troubled because his state in this life is less than prosperous.
But the rich in that he is made low. The rich represents a whole class of people. This warning is directed to all those who excel in honor, or nobility, or anything else. To break down the lofty spirits of those who become inflated by prosperity, he bids them to glory in their lowliness or littleness.
As the flower of the grass. If anyone thinks that this is a reference to Isaiah, I do not object too strongly. But I cannot allow that James is quoting the prophet, who was not speaking figuratively of good fortune or of the vanity of the world, but rather of the whole man, no less of his soul than of his body. Here it is a question of the pomp of wealth or possessions. The point is that it is stupid and preposterous to boast in riches which can be lost in one moment. Of course, the philosophers say the same thing; but their song is wasted on the deaf, until men’s ears 339are opened by the Lord himself, and they hear concerning the eternal Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, when he says brother, he means that we have no place for this doctrine until we are admitted to the company of God’s children.
. . . Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! John 1:47.
Since this verse gives us a characteristic trait of a Christian man, let us not pass it by too lightly. Truly, we can grasp Christ’s thought without too many words if we notice that sincerity here is contrasted with deceit. He calls deceitful those whom Scripture elsewhere calls of a double mind. He attacks not only the crass hypocrisy of “good men” with a bad conscience, but that practiced by men who are so blinded by their wickedness as to lie not only to others but also to themselves. What makes a man a true Christian is integrity of heart before God and toward men.
3. SOCIAL ETHICS: THE USE OF GOD’S GIFTS
Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. John 12:31.
Now, the Lord, as though he had already won the battle, exults as victor, not only over fear but also over death itself. He proclaims the issue of his death in magnificent terms, to avoid consternation among his disciples. Judgment is interpreted variously as reformation and condemnation. I agree rather with the former view, with those who say that the world shall be restored to right order. For the Hebrew, Mishpat, which is rendered judgment, means a state of good order. Now, we know that apart from Christ there is nothing but confusion in this world. Although Christ has already begun to set up the Kingdom of God, his death was the real beginning of a right order and the full restoration of the world!
Song of Ascents of Solomon. Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman watcheth but in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrow: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. Ps. 127:1–2.
There is no reason why the Jews should deny that this psalm was composed by Solomon. They assume that the l means in honor of Solomon, but ordinary usage is against this, since this kind of ascription everywhere denotes authorship. 340Why should they insist on concocting a new interpretation when it [the psalm] seems especially appropriate for Solomon, who had much experience in political affairs, and could discourse in the wisdom of the Spirit on matters about which he had expert knowledge?
He emphasizes for a double reason that both the world and the lives of men are divinely governed. First, whenever men succeed in something, their ingratitude leads them to credit it solely to themselves, and God is not given his due honor. To correct this flagrant wrong, Solomon declares that nothing goes well for us except so far as God prospers our actions. Secondly, he intends to repulse the foolish self-confidence of men who, ignoring God and relying only on their own wisdom or strength, dare to start anything that comes to their heads. Therefore, he sweeps away everything which they rashly claim for their own and calls them to humility and prayer to God.
But he does not disparage man’s labor or his effort and planning. For any virtue of ours is worthy of praise if we employ it in our zeal for the fulfillment of duty. The Lord does not want us to be like logs of wood, or to sit idle; he expects us to put to use whatever abilities we may have. It is of course true that the heaviest part of our labors comes from God’s curse. But even if man’s original state of integrity had remained, God would still have desired us to keep busy. Adam was put in a garden to cultivate it. Solomon does not condemn what God approves, and certainly not the labor men undertake gladly at God’s command and offer to him as an acceptable sacrifice. But to keep men from being blinded by pride and from grasping at what belongs to God, he warns them that hard work wins success only so far as God blesses our labor.
By house he does not mean just the wooden or stone building. He includes in it the whole family economy, as a little farther on by the word city he does not mean merely the buildings and the surrounding walls but the common welfare of the whole state. He also is using the part for the whole (synecdoche) when he speaks of building and guarding. He is making the general statement that whatever effort, wisdom, or industry men expend in looking after a family or in protecting a city will be ineffectual unless God from heaven orders a prosperous outcome. We need to remember often what has just been said. For since blind pride almost fills the minds of men and leads them in contempt of God to an immoderate exercise of their own abilities, nothing is more salutary for them than to be 341called to order and reminded that whatever they attempt will quickly come to nothing, unless the grace of God alone sustains it and makes it to prosper.
When philosophers dispute about the political state, they cleverly put together everything which seems to apply to the subject. They show acutely the reasons for and the means of establishing a state; and again they describe the faults by which a good state is frequently corrupted. In fact they search out with the greatest skill all that is needed to understand the matter. But they leave out the main point: that however much men excel in wisdom and ability, they cannot accomplish what they undertake unless God takes it in his hand and uses it as his instrument. Who of the philosophers has ever recognized that human politics are only a tool directed by the hand of God? They have made human virtue the prime cause of good fortune.
When men in sacrilegious boldness rush off to found cities and to regulate the state of the whole world, the Holy Spirit rightly exposes such insanity. So let each one of us work as he can in the line of his duty, giving to God the praise for every success we have. For it is altogether wrong to divide the credit as many try to do, giving half to God and claiming the other half for themselves because they have worked so hard. We must prize the blessing of God alone and live under its reign.
But if even our earthly welfare depends wholly on God’s good pleasure, with what wings shall we fly to heaven? A man may establish a decent household with a way of life that suits him; men may make good laws and practice justice — but all such achievements are but a crawling on the ground, and the Holy Spirit pronounces them all transitory. Still less to be tolerated is the madness of those who strive to penetrate heaven by their own strength.
From this doctrine we may gather that it is not strange if world affairs are turbulent and confused, if in cities the rule of law is overthrown; if husbands and wives bring bitter and groundless accusations against each other, parents complain of their children, and all men bewail their lot. How many today devote themselves to the service of God in the practice of their own proper calling? How many, puffed up with pride, are not trying constantly to exalt themselves? God justly pays today’s sad wage to unthankful men who defraud him of his honor. But if all should humbly submit themselves to God’s providence, 342the blessing which Solomon celebrates would certainly shine bright in every aspect of our life, both public and private.
The verb ’amal, which we translate labor, means not just to be occupied in some work but to labor to the point of fatigue and pain. I said that by watchmen we must understand not only those stationed at lookouts but all magistrates and judges. Whatever watchfulness they have is a gift of heaven. But we need still another watchfulness — God’s. For unless he watches over us from heaven, no human keen-sightedness will be enough to ward off danger.
In vain. Solomon now explains more fully that it is useless for men to wear themselves out with hard work and grow weak with fasting in order to acquire wealth, since wealth also is the gift of God alone. In order to impress them more effectively, he speaks to each man individually: For you [he says] it is vain. He mentions specifically the two means which are commonly reckoned to contribute most to amassing wealth. For when men do not spare their labor, but consume night and day in business and spend little of what they gain from their labor on their living, it is not surprising that they accumulate riches in a short space of time. But Solomon declares that there is nothing gained by poor living and perpetual labor.
Not that he forbids living economically or getting up early in the morning to work; but he does urge us to prayer, to the invocation of God. And in order to inspire us to gratitude, he says that anything which obscures God’s goodness is vanity. For we prosper only when our hope rests wholly upon God; and moreover the outcome of our work will depend on how we pray. But if anyone pushes God into the background and hastens eagerly ahead, his hurried rush will surely end in a fall. The prophet is not advising men to succumb to indolence and to make no plans in all their lives, merely to doze and indulge their inertia; on the contrary, his point is that, when they pursue the tasks divinely imposed upon them, they ought always to begin with prayer and invocation to God, and offer their labors for his blessing.
Bread of sorrow can be explained in two ways: either “he eats by hard and anxious labor” or “he eats with pain,” as it happens when miserly and greedy men scarcely taste their bread before they take their hand back from their lips. It makes no great difference which meaning you choose, for the point of the statement is that miserly men gain nothing when they grudgingly defraud their Provider [of invocation and prayer].343
Surely he will give to his beloved sleep. This describes exactly the way in which God’s blessing on his sons and servants is manifested. For acceptance of the futility of mere human striving would not be enough; the addition of a promise is needed if men are to perform their duties with a sure hope. This clause may be read, He will give sleep to his beloved or He will give through sleep what the unbelieving vainly seek to gain through their own struggles. The word ken is used to emphasize the certainty [of the promise] and to make more convincing what seems unbelievable and unrealistic; as though Solomon were pointing his finger toward God’s feeding of the faithful without any anxiety on their part. Indeed, he speaks as if God in his indulgence, were encouraging his servants to be idle. But since we know from the law that men were created to work and since in the next psalm we shall see that farmers are regarded as blessed of God when they eat what their own hands have produced, it is certain that sleep does not mean doing nothing but rather the tranquil labor to which men of faith apply themselves in obedient trust.
For what causes the great excitement of unbelievers who never move a finger without making a commotion (that is, without tormenting themselves with useless anxieties), except that they refer nothing that happens to God’s providence? But men of faith, even when they spend their whole lives in hard labor, obey God’s call calmly and with tranquil minds. Their hands are not idle, but their minds rest quiet in silent faith as if they were asleep.
If anyone object that the faithful often stew in bitter cares and worry about the future when they are hard pressed by the want of everything they need and destitute of all means of support, I answer: If the faith and devotion of the servants of God were perfect, the blessing of God which the prophet here describes would be plainly visible. And as for those who worry too much — that is due to their own sin in not resting firmly upon God’s providence. I even add that they are punished more severely than unbelievers, because it is good for them to suffer anxiety for a time, so that they may attain the quiet of this sleep. But meantime God’s kindness [to his servants] persists, and shines always in the midst of the shadows [of this world]; for the Lord supports his sons as with sleep.
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of 344devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. 1 Tim. 4:1–5.
Paul has been busy warning Timothy about many things. Now he brings out the necessity of being prepared to oppose the perils announced by the Holy Spirit as imminent: namely, that false teachers shall appear, who shall hold out mere trifles as doctrines of the faith; who, putting all holiness in outward observances, shall obscure the spiritual worship of God which alone is lawful. And, in truth, the servants of God always had to struggle against the kind of people Paul describes in this place. Since men’s nature is prone to hypocrisy, it is easy for Satan to persuade them that the true worship of God consists in ceremonies and outward discipline; men believe this kind of thing and need no teacher to fix their souls on it; then comes the crafty devil and confirms them in their error. So it comes about that through the ages there have been false teachers who have championed a false worship, which has been the burial of true godliness. Next to this pestilence has appeared another, which has turned matters of freedom into things of necessity. So, the world allows itself readily to be forbidden what God himself allows, in order that it may allow itself to transgress the laws of God. . . .
Speaking lies in hypocrisy. This may refer to demons who deceive others at the instigation of the devil. On the other hand, the speakers may be taken to be simply men.
When Paul says that they lie as hypocrites and their consciences are seared with a hot iron, he is coming down to particulars. Let us observe also that these two evils go together and that the second grows out of the first. For, people with bad consciences, which are burned into by their wickedness, take refuge in hypocrisy: that is, they put on false colors so as to deceive the eyes of the Lord. What else can they do, when they are busy trying to win the favor of God with the counterfeit of external observances?
The word hypocrisy must be defined in the light of the present passage. First, it has to do with doctrine; and then, with the kind of doctrine which perverts the spiritual worship of God into a set of bodily practices, and so corrupts its real purity. Thus, it includes all artificial means of pleasing God and 345claiming his favor. In short, all those who go around draped with a false sanctimoniousness do it by the devil’s prodding; because no one can worship God rightly with outward ceremonies, for true worshipers adore him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Secondly, such ceremony is a useless medicine with which hypocrites mitigate their miseries, or rather a plaster by which they hide their wounds without deriving any benefit from it; but in fact it kills them.
Forbidding to marry. Having given us a characterization of diabolical doctrine, he now presents us with two particular elements of it: namely, the prohibition of marriage, and of certain foods. These arise out of hypocrisy which, having set aside true holiness, seeks to hide itself under alien and false colors. For people who do not refrain from ambition, hatred, avarice, cruelty, and the like, try to acquire integrity by abstaining from things about which God has left us free. Why are men’s consciences burdened with laws about marriage and foods, unless to permit them to seek perfection outside of God’s law? This kind of thing is not done except by hypocrites, who try to cover over their wickedness with trifling observances as with a veil, so that they may transgress the righteousness of the heart which is what the law requires. . . .
Such is the mind of the world that it always dreams of worshiping God with carnal customs, as though God himself were carnal. In the ancient church, little by little, things went from bad to worse, until we arrive at the tyranny according to which it is wicked for priests and monks to enter into marriage, and under which no man dare eat meat on certain days. Therefore, we are today far from wrong in applying this prophecy to the papists, who urge celibacy and abstinence from foods more forcefully than any precept of God. They think they can escape by clever caviling, when they twist Paul’s words to apply them against the Tatianists,9797Tatianists. Named after Tatian, an Assyrian Christian, these heretics were infected with Gnosticism and Docetism, and are even better remembered for their extreme asceticism. They condemned marriage, meat, and wine. or Manichaeans,9898The Manichaeans are especially important in the church because of the controversy of Saint Augustine with them. These dualists, who derived their heresy ultimately from Zoroastrianism, had many adherents because of the neat way they explained the origin of evil in one god and the origin of good in another. In its Christianized form, this heresy identified the treason with Ahriman, the evil god, and Christ with Ormazd, the good god. Flesh was evil, spirit was good. Hence they forbade eggs and milk as well as meat; they also forbade marriage and bathing. or others like them; 346as though the Tatianists did not have the same means of escape, by throwing Paul’s words at the Phrygians and at Montanus9999Montanus was a heretic of the early second century A.D., from Phrygia in Asia Minor, and his followers were called both Montanists and Phrygians. They received a new dispensation of the Spirit superior to that of Christ or of the apostles, and waited eagerly for the Parousia. They were visionaries and ascetics, forbidding marriage; and during prolonged fastings they forbade wine, meat, fruits, and bathing. This was a heresy which was espoused by Tertullian and left deep marks in the ancient church. who was the founder of that sect; as though the Phrygians themselves could not come forth with the Encratites100100Encratites, second-century heretics, believed in the inherently evil character of matter and advocated abstinence from marriage, flesh, and wine. They believed like the Marcionites that the Creator was the inferior God. as the guilty party. However, Paul is not talking about persons but about the principle of the thing. Thus, if a hundred sects were brought forward as having all labored with the same hypocrisy to forbid certain foods, none of them would be any less guilty. It follows that the old heretics are of no use to the papists, as though they alone were to be blamed; the question always is whether the papists are not guilty in the same way. The papists object on the ground that they are utterly unlike the Encratites, and the Manichaeans because they do not absolutely forbid marriage and meats. They say that they enjoin abstention from meats on certain days, and that they require celibacy only from priests, monks, and nuns. But this is a very poor excuse; for they nonetheless identify holiness with such matters: further, they establish a false and corrupt worship of God; finally, they bind consciences with a necessity from which men ought to be free.
In the Fifth Book of Eusebius,101101Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. 260–340) was a bishop and church historian who wrote the Ecclesiastical History which is an indispensable source book for the history of the ancient church (A.D. 325) inclusive of the reign of Constantine. This is a majestic account of the struggle and the triumph of the church of Jesus Christ. there is a fragment from the writings of Apollonius,102102Apollonius Claudius, bishop of Phrygia, c. 171, a learned man and opponent of Montanism. in which, among other things, the latter reproaches Montanus for having been the first to dissolve marriage, and for having imposed the law of celibacy. He does not say that Montanus prohibited marriage or certain foods to everybody. It is enough that anyone should lay this kind of religion upon the consciences of men, or that he should require the observance of these things as the worship of God. To forbid 347anything that should be left to human decision, whether for everybody or for some, is diabolical tyranny. That this is true of foods will be clear from what follows.
Which God has created. Let us notice the reasoning in this matter: we ought to be content with the freedom which God has given us in the use of different foods, because it is for our use that he has created them. It is the joy of all godly people to know that every food which nourishes them is offered them by the hand of the Lord; that to eat it is pure and lawful. What arrogance it is to take away what the Lord himself bestows upon men! Did the papists create good? Can they void God’s own creation? Let us always keep in mind that he who has created food also gave us free use of it, and that men’s efforts to keep us from it are in vain. I say that God created food to be eaten, that is, for our enjoyment. There is no human authority which can change this.
But now he adds, with the giving of thanks; because we have nothing with which to repay God’s generosity except the evidence of our gratitude. And thus he castigates the godless lawmakers with all the greater abhorrence in that they obstruct the sacrifice of praise, which God in the beginning established for our offering, with their own novel and useless enactments. On the other hand, we cannot act with gratitude unless we are sober and temperate; for no one knows the goodness of God if he makes a wicked use of it.
Of them which believe and know the truth. What then? Does not God make his sun to rise daily upon the good and the evil (Matt. 5:45)? Does not the earth, by his command, yield bread to the wicked? Are not even the worst men fed through his blessings? Therefore, his goodness is toward all men, as David sings in Ps. 104:14. But to all this I answer: Paul is here concerned with the right use of God’s gifts, and has shown us the way we are to act before God. The ungodly do not share in such integrity before God, because their unclean consciences contaminate everything they touch, as we can see readily from Titus 1:15. Of course, in this sense, and strictly speaking, God has destined the world and all that is in it for his children alone; for this reason it is said that they shall inherit the earth. In the beginning, Adam himself was given dominion over all things on condition that he remained obedient to God. Therefore, when he rose in rebellion against God, he deprived himself and his posterity of this right which was conferred upon him. So, it follows that we are restored to our original dignity only by the 348benefit we receive from Christ to whom all things are under subjection: and this we receive by faith. Therefore, whatever men without faith get hold of, they rob or steal from others. . . .
For every creature. The use of food must be judged partly from its nature and partly by him who eats it. The apostle argues in both directions. He asserts that food in itself is clean, because it is God who gives it: and that we make a holy use of it by faith and prayer. When he says that the creatures are good, he is speaking of them in relation to man, not with regard to the body or one’s health, but to one’s conscience. I say this to avoid philosophical hairsplitting beyond the scope of this passage. Briefly, Paul means that whatever comes from God’s hand is neither corrupt nor unclean before God, that it is simply for our nourishment; and as such, with regard to conscience, it is lawful. If anyone objects that of old under the law many animals were declared unclean, or that the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was fatal to men, I answer: Creatures are called clean not merely because they are works of God, but because they are given to us by his goodness. We must always pay attention to what God himself commands and to what he forbids.
For it is sanctified. This confirms the previous clause which said, if it is received with thanksgiving. This is an argument from the contrast between holy and profane. Now we learn how we are to sanctify all the good things which sustain our present life, that is, according to Paul’s witness, by the Word of God and by prayer. But we must realize that if the Word is to do us any good, it must be heard by faith. Even though God himself sanctifies all things by the Spirit of his Word (mouth) alone, we cannot know this blessing except by faith. And to this is added prayer, because Christ himself commands us to ask our daily bread from God (Matt. 6:11): and because we must respond to his goodness with thanksgiving.
Paul’s doctrine is based upon the principle that there is no such thing as lawful possession, unless our conscience testifies that what is ours is ours by right. And in truth, which one of us would dare call even a grain of wheat his own, unless he learns from the Word of God that he shall inherit the earth? Common sense tells us that by nature the abundance of this world is destined for our use. But, since in Adam dominion over the world was taken away from us, every time we touch a gift of God, it is polluted by our own filth; it is unclean to us, unless God comes to our help, and uniting us with the body of his Son, 349once again makes us lords of the earth. It is in this way that we come to a lawful enjoyment of all the things God gives us in such abundance. Paul is right in tying up rightful enjoyment with the Word of God, since it alone enables us to regain what we lost in Adam, for, if we are to be heirs of God, we must know him as our Father; and we must know Christ as our Head, if we are to have what is his. From this we gather that all the gifts of God are usurped by us and are unclean to us, unless we know the true God and call upon his name. It is a beastly business when people start eating without prayer, and when they are full, they run out without as much as mentioning God’s name.
And they drank and were drunk with him. Gen. 43:34. (Calvin’s wording.)
From the end of the chapter we conclude that there was a sumptuous banquet at which they indulged themselves more freely and hilariously than was usual. The verb shakar, which is translated be drunk, indicates either that they were not accustomed to drinking wine, or that an unusual amount was drunk at this banquet given in their honor. But the word does not necessarily mean drinking to excess (as riotous men interpret it to excuse their own dissipation by the example of the patriarchs), but drinking with honest and free enjoyment. I admit that the word is ambiguous and is often used in a bad sense, as in Gen. 9:21, and similar passages, but in this place, Moses’ meaning is clear.
If anyone raises the objection that a frugal use of food and drink is sufficient for the nourishment of the body, I answer: Although food is a proper provision for our bodily need, yet the legitimate use of it goes beyond mere sustenance. For good flavors were not added to food value without a purpose, but because our Heavenly Father wishes to give us pleasure with the delicacies he provides. It is not by accident that Ps. 104:15 praises his kindness in creating wine to cheer man’s heart.
But the more kindly God treats us, the more it becomes our duty to be careful to control ourselves and to use his gifts temperately. For we know how unrestrained our appetite is; in abundance it always overindulges itself and it is always impatient of scarcity. In fact, we must keep Paul’s rule (Phil. 4:12) and know both how to be in want and how to abound. This means to be on our guard when large quantities are at hand so that we are not tempted to extravagance; and again we must see to it that we endure privation calmly.350
Someone will perhaps say that the flesh is much too clever at camouflaging extravagance, and therefore nothing beyond actual necessities should be allowed it. I certainly agree that Paul’s requirement (Rom. 13:14) must be observed, and we must not serve our lusts. But what is most important for religious people is to receive their food from God’s hand with a quiet conscience. And to do this, we must determine how far the enjoyment of food and wine is allowable.
For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be. . . upon all the ships of Tarshish. . . . Isa. 2:12, 16.
There is no doubt that Cilicia was called Tarshish in Hebrew. Since there was much trade between that nation and the Jews, we find in Scripture frequent references to ships of Tarshish, so named from the Cilician sea on which they sailed. Trading in ships cannot of course be condemned in itself, for the import and export of goods bring no small advantage to men. And especially since God desires the whole human race to be united in mutual service, it is impossible to disapprove of ships as a means of communication. But since abundance increases pride and cruelty, Isaiah here denounces commerce by which a land is especially enriched. Also trade carried on with far-off foreign nations is often replete with cheating and extortion, and no limit is set to the profits.
Isaiah recognizes in the first place that if Jews are to learn to submit themselves to God, they must be stripped of their wealth. He then uses a symbol for their greed and their unjust gains, as he might have held up a bloody sword to announce a murder. The latter part of the verse makes it clearer that the prophet is condemning commerce because it has infected the land with many corruptions. For it too often happens that riches bring self-indulgence, and superfluity of pleasures produces flabbiness, as we can see in wealthy districts and cities [where there are merchants]. Now those who sail to distant places are no longer content with home comforts but bring back with them unknown luxuries. Therefore, because wealth is generally the mother of extravagance, the prophet mentions here expensive household furnishings, by which he means that the Jews brought God’s judgment upon themselves by the lavish way they decorated their houses. For with pictures he includes expensive tapestries like Phrygian embroidery and vases molded with exquisite art.
It is indeed certain that morals are corrupted when men are 351greedy for such empty diversions. We know that such indulgences brought about the end of the Roman Empire. Before the Romans entered Greece, they practiced a high degree of self-control; but finally, after Asia was conquered, they began to grow soft and effeminate. And when their eyes were trapped with pictures, vases, jewels, and tapestries, their noses with ointments and perfumes, all their senses at once were overwhelmed. And by copying the luxury of the East, as if it were a higher culture, they came more and more to squander their lives in every kind of pleasure.
And Lot, also which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. . . . And there was strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle. . . . Gen. 13:5, 7.
Now follows an account of the trouble Abram suffered because of his wealth. Certainly he did not want to part from his nephew whom he loved especially as if he were his own son. Surely, if he had had a choice, he would have preferred the loss of his wealth to separation from one whom he regarded as an only son. But he found no other remedy to stop the quarreling. Shall we ascribe the difficulty to his own too stern temper or to his nephew’s insolence? I think we should do better to consider the purpose of God.
There was danger that Abram might become too well pleased with his own good fortune, just as many men are blinded by lesser goods. Therefore God seasons the sweetness of wealth with vinegar and does not allow the mind of his servant to be too much entranced with it. When a false sense of value leads us to seek riches more than is right, because we do not realize how many troubles they bring with them, the remembrance of this story should serve to limit our inordinate love. And whenever rich men fall into trouble because of their wealth, they should learn to use the pain it gives them as a medicine to purge their minds of too great a desire for the good things of this present life. Unless God in his wisdom tightened the curb rein wisely, men would leave the right road and would stumble badly in their pursuit of prosperity.
Again, when we are hampered by poverty we should understand that God uses this also as a remedy for the secret vices of our flesh.
In conclusion, let those who have abundance remember that they are surrounded with thorns, and let them take great care not to be pricked by them; and let those who have little 352and are very much hemmed in know that God planned [their poverty] to keep them from evil and hurtful snares.
Separation from Lot grieved Abram; but it could serve to correct much evil latent in him, and prevent wealth from stifling the ardor of his devotion. If Abram needed such an antidote, we should not wonder that God employs painful checks against our lust for pleasure. He does not always wait until the faithful have actually slipped, but he looks ahead for them. He did not punish Abram, his servant, for avarice or pride; he gave him a preventive medicine to keep Satan from infecting his mind with such sentiments.
And there was strife. What applies to wealth applies equally to large households. Yet we see how ambitiously many men seek to collect a great crowd of servants — as if they wanted to preside over a whole nation. But seeing that Abram’s great establishment cost him so much, we should learn to be willingly satisfied with a small establishment, or with none at all if it so please God. It is almost impossible for a house to be filled with many people without its being in turmoil. Experience proves the truth of the proverb, “A crowd is the same as a tumult.” If quiet tranquility is an inestimable good, then we should see that our wisest course is to have a small house and to live unpretentiously within our family.
In this example, note carefully what we are advised to avoid if we are to keep Satan from drawing us into conflicts by circuitous devices. For when he cannot inflame us directly with mutual hate, he implicates us in the disputes of others. Lot and Abram agreed well together, but the quarrel which arose among the shepherds involved them against their will so that they were compelled to separate.
There is no doubt that Abram had given strict orders to his servants to keep the peace; but his zeal and effort did not prevent his seeing the flame of discord, kept alight by small fans, blazing in his own home. So it is no wonder that disturbances arise in the church which contains a still larger number of people. Abram had about three hundred servants; Lot’s household was certainly little smaller. What then will happen among five or six thousand, especially when the quarrelers are all free men?
We must not let ourselves be upset by these offenses, but equally we must be on guard in every way against the outbreak of fighting. For unless disagreements are stifled properly at the beginning, they will burst into harmful dissensions.353
And the squares of the city will befall of boys and girls playing in the squares. Zech. 8:5.
With a different figure the prophet repeats and emphasizes the same point: that boys and girls will be playing on the public squares and in the streets, which they cannot do in the uproar of warfare. For when arms clash, when the sound of the trumpet is heard, when insults from the soldiers of the enemy threaten, everyone keeps his children in the house. Outside it is an ugly and sad business, and almost nobody will be caught on the street. When fear hangs over the whole [city] even the children lose their gaiety. The prophet, then, is promising that Jerusalem will once again enjoy peace, that God will chase the menace of the enemy to a far distance; not that Jerusalem would ever be free from all danger, but that God’s defense would give her people security in the midst of many terrors.
This is not the place to argue subtly whether one may play games in peacetimes. The prophet draws his picture from ordinary human behavior; it is indeed an expression of human nature. For we know that when men are not afraid, they relax and enjoy fun. Besides games and silly amusements are proper for children. Therefore all the prophet intended here was to assure the Jews that even though they were struggling with various enemies, they could nonetheless enjoy security and quiet.
And they shall not wear a rough garment to deceive. Zech. 13:4.
This means that they will not be concerned to maintain their prestige and reputation, but will abandon willingly the esteem which they had dishonestly acquired.
This passage shows that prophets wore a coarse and hairy garment. But interpreters are wrong to cite as evidence passages in which a prophet is ordered to put on sackcloth and a garment of goat’s hair. For Isaiah in many of his prophesyings wore neither; he did so only when he announced disaster. And Jeremiah was once ordered to go naked.103103Jeremiah appears to be a surprising slip of memory for Isaiah (ch. 20:2), or for Micah (ch. 1:8); but it is possible that Calvin had in mind Jeremiah’s journey to the Euphrates; if the prophet wore only his girdle and buried it there, he certainly returned “naked.” But ordinarily the prophets were content with hairy garments, that is, with ordinary, coarse clothes.
Now although we have liberty in external things, we must practice some moderation. If, for example, I were to teach in a 354military uniform, good sense would be quick to object. There is no need of a special doctrine to teach decency and ordinary good taste.
The true prophets wore rough garments to show that their lives were as simple and plain as their clothing. But they did not achieve a reputation for holiness by means of their clothes only, as do the monks today who are supposed to be holy because of their cowls and such trumpery. That was not the aim of the prophets; they meant to show by their dress that their only purpose was to serve God, and that they were separated from the world only in order to devote themselves wholly to their ministry.
It was because the false prophets imitated them that Zechariah says they shall not wear a hairy mantle — that is, they shall no longer wear prophetic garb. He was not merely condemning the garb worn by the false prophets. Therefore interpreters twist these words from their true meaning when they use them to condemn long gowns or whatever else of the kind displeases their sour minds. The prophet means simply that when pure doctrine shines bright and true religion has won its due honor, then there will no more be a place for false teachers. They will voluntarily leave their positions of honor and will no longer try to deceive uneducated folk. This is what the prophet really means, as he shows clearly when he adds to deceive.
So we see that hairy mantles are condemned, because rapacious wolves hide under sheepskins, and foxes infiltrate the fold in disguise. Zechariah is condemning the motive and not the garment.
Jabal was the father of such as dwell in tents. . . . Gen. 4:20.
Moses now reminds us that some good was combined with the evils which came from the family of Cain. For the discovery of the arts, and of whatever is useful and makes our common life more pleasant, is a gift of God which is not to be despised and an achievement worthy of praise. It is indeed surprising that the race which had departed furthest from the right way, surpassed the rest of Adam’s descendants in serviceable endowments.
Indeed, I would suggest that Moses specifically enumerated the arts invented by the family of Cain to inform us that Cain was not so cursed by God that he had no gifts to distribute to his descendants. For it is probable that others also were not lacking in talent, and that there was among other sons of Adam no lack of industrious and clever men who busied themselves in 355inventing and developing the arts. Clearly, here Moses is celebrating what was left of God’s blessing, in a people whom we should otherwise regard as sterile and devoid of every other good.
We must therefore recognize that, although the sons of Cain were deprived of the Spirit of regeneration, they were blessed with endowments far from negligible. In fact, the experience of all ages shows us how many rays of divine light have always gleamed among unbelieving nations, and have contributed to the improvement of our present life. And today we see glorious gifts of the Spirit spread throughout the whole human race. For the liberal and industrial arts and the sciences have come to us from profane men. Astronomy and the other branches of philosophy, medicine, political science — we must admit that we have learned all these from them.
No doubt God endowed them so liberally with his excellent favors to give them no excuse for their impiety. But while we are amazed at the riches of his grace which God pours out on them, we marvel much more at the grace of regeneration given us, by which God sanctifies his elect to be his own.
Although the invention of the lyre and of other musical instruments serves our enjoyment and our pleasures rather than our needs, it ought not on that account to be judged of no value; still less should it be condemned. Pleasure is to be condemned only when it is not combined with reverence for God and not related to the common welfare of society. But music by its nature is adapted to rouse our devotion to God and to aid the well-being of man; we need only avoid enticements to shame, and empty entertainments which keep men from better employments and are simply a waste of time.
However, even if you think the invention of the lyre does not in itself deserve much praise, everyone knows how long and how widely people have valued the carpenter’s skill.
To conclude — in my opinion, Moses here wished to show that the race of Cain excelled in many important endowments which at once made their impiety inexcusable and were shining witnesses to God’s goodness.
Jabal is said to be the father of the people who live in tents because he invented that convenient shelter, and others afterwards imitated him.
And God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. Gen. 1:16.356
The greater light. I have already said that Moses is not analyzing acutely, like the philosophers, the secrets of nature; and these words show it. First he sets the planets and stars in the expanse of the heaven. Astronomers distinguish a number of spheres in the firmament and teach that the fixed stars have their own place in it. Moses mentions two great luminaries. The astronomers prove with strong arguments that the star Saturn, which seems small because of its distance, is larger than the moon.
All this shows that Moses described in popular style what all ordinary men without training and education perceive with their ordinary senses. Astronomers, on the other hand, investigate with great labor whatever the keenness of man’s intellect is able to discover. Such study is certainly not to be disapproved, nor science condemned with the insolence of some fanatics who habitually reject whatever is unknown to them.
The study of astronomy not only gives pleasure but is also extremely useful. And no one can deny that it admirably reveals the wisdom of God. Therefore, clever men who expend their labor upon it are to be praised and those who have ability and leisure ought not to neglect work of that kind.
Moses did not wish to keep us from such study when he omitted the details belonging to the science. But, since he had been appointed guide of rude and unlearned men rather than of the learned, he could not fulfill his duty except by coming down to their level. If he had spoken of matters unknown to the crowd, the unlearned could say that his teaching was over their heads. In fact, when the Spirit of God opens a common school for all, it is not strange that he chooses to teach especially what can be understood by all.
When the astronomer seeks the true size of stars and finds the moon smaller than Saturn, he gives us specialized knowledge. But the eye sees things differently; and Moses adapts himself to the ordinary view.
God has stretched out his hand to us to give us the splendor of the sun and moon to enjoy. Great would be our ingratitude if we shut our eyes to this experience of beauty! There is no reason why clever men should jeer at Moses’ ignorance. He is not explaining the heavens to us but describing what is before our eyes. Let the astronomers possess their own deeper knowledge. Meanwhile, those who see the nightly splendor of the moon are possessed by perverse ingratitude if they do not recognize the goodness of God.357
And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helpmeet for him. Gen. 2:18.
Here Moses explains God’s purpose in creating woman. God wished the earth to be populated by men who would live together and create a society. Some may question whether God’s purpose included offspring; for the words say only that since it is not well for a man to be alone, a woman had to be created to be his helpmate. But as I understand it, when God took the first steps towards a human society, he intended the others to follow each in turn. We have then a general principle: man was created to be a social animal. Now since the human race could not exist without woman, no bond whatever in human relations is more sacred than that by which husband and wife unite to become one body and one soul. On this point, nature itself taught Plato and others among the saner philosophers to speak with wisdom.
But although God made the statement that it is not good for man to be alone about Adam, I do not restrict it to his single person. I consider it rather a general rule for human living. Therefore everyone ought to take as a precept directed to himself that solitude is not good — except for a man whom God exempts as a matter of unusual privilege.
Many think celibacy furthers their plans and refrain from marriage to avoid trouble. But it is not only worldly people who say that, if a man wants to be happy, he should stay away from a wife. Jerome’s book against Jovinian is crammed with petulant insults by which he tries to make sacred marriage hateful and to disgrace it. Let men of faith learn to fight the evil suggestions of Satan with this Word of God, by which he decrees married life for man, not for his ruin but for his well-being.
I will make a helpmeet for him. Why is the verb used here not plural, as it was in the account of the creation of man when it said, Let us make? (Gen. 1:26). Some think that the change indicates a difference between the sexes and shows how greatly superior man is to woman. But a different, although not altogether contradictory, interpretation pleases me better. When the human race was created in the person of a man, a dignity common to all humanity was universally conferred with the words let us make man. There was no need to repeat this at the creation of a woman, for she was really a supplement to the man. We certainly cannot deny that woman also, perhaps in a 358secondary way, was created in the image of God. Hence it follows that what was said of man applies equally to woman.
Now when God designates woman as man’s helper, he is not giving women a rule to determine their vocation in life by assigning them a special task; he is rather declaring that marriage itself will be man’s best help in life. Let us then accept it as a rule of nature that a woman is a man’s helper. Of course we know the common proverb that she is a necessary evil, but we ought to listen to the voice of God which asserts that woman was given to man as a companion and partner to help him to live really well.
I confess indeed that in the present corrupt state of the human race, God’s blessing as here described is not often seen and amounts to little. But we must keep in mind the reason for this evil. We have perverted the order of nature instituted by God. If man still had today the wholeness which he had in the beginning, God’s ordinance would be fulfilled and the sweetest harmony would reign in marriage. For man would look to God; and woman, equally faithful, would be his helper. Being both of one mind, they would cherish an association no less holy than friendly and peaceful. Now because of our own wickedness and corrupt nature such married bliss is for the most part lost or at least is marred by many annoyances. Quarrels arise, and hurt feelings, bitterness, discords, and a great sea of trouble. So it happens that men are often seriously distressed by their wives and think of them as a hindrance.
Yet marriage cannot be so wholly spoiled by man’s sin that the blessing with which God hallowed it by his word is entirely abolished and no longer exists. Therefore in spite of the many troubles of married life, which arise from our degenerate nature, there remains a residuum of divine good; in a fire which is almost smothered, some sparks still glow.
From this truth follows another: women should learn their duty, strive by helping their husbands to fulfill God’s purpose. And men also ought to consider carefully what they owe in return to half of the human race. A mutual obligation binds both sexes. By God’s law woman is given to man as helper, so that he may do his part as the head and leader.
We must observe one more thing. It is not only because of the necessity which we have suffered since Adam’s fall that the woman is called man’s helper. Even if man had remained obedient and whole, the woman would still have become his helpmate. But now when marriage is also a remedy for lust, 359we have in it a double gift from God. But the second is incidental.
Because I have known him, therefore he shall teach his sons and his household after him and they will do justice and right judgment. Gen. 8:19. (Calvin’s wording.)
He shall teach his sons. This is the second reason why God wished Abraham to share his counsel. He did not reveal it without a purpose. The plain meaning of the verse is that Abraham is told of God’s plan because he is to perform the task of a good father and teach his family. So we infer that Abraham was told of Sodom’s coming destruction not for his own sake alone, but as a kindness to all his descendants.
Indeed, the scope of God’s purpose must be carefully noted. His will, as made known to Abraham, bound all Abraham’s descendants. Certainly God does not make his will known to us with the intent that the knowledge of him should perish with us. He requires us to be his witnesses to the next generation so that they in turn may hand on what they have received from us to our remoter descendants. Therefore it is a father’s duty to teach his sons what he himself has learned from God. In this way we must propagate God’s truth. It was not given us for our private enjoyment; we must mutually strengthen one another according to our calling and our faith.
There is no doubt that the gross ignorance which prevails in the world is the just punishment of men’s indolence. For while the greater part of the people shut their eyes to the light shed by heavenly doctrine, many smother it by making no effort to transmit it to their children. God rightly withholds the precious treasures of his Word as punishment for the world’s indolence.
We must consider particularly the phrase after him, which teaches us that God’s care is not limited to our own lives. He takes measures to provide that his eternal truth live and flourish after our death and that a holy manner of life continue on earth when we are dead. Hence we also conclude that histories which inspire terror in us are worth knowing, since our carnal confidence needs a sharp stimulus so that we may be stung to fear God.
Let no one imagine that this kind of teaching does not apply to him; for when God mentions the sons of Abraham, he means the whole household of the church. There are perverse and deluded interpreters who insist that if they terrify consciences they repel and discourage faith. However, nothing is more 360alien to faith than disrespect and sloth; and on the other hand, the teaching which leads men to the fear of God fits most perfectly with the preaching of mercy, for it brings unhappy and hungry men running to Christ.
And they will keep the way of the Lord. With these words Moses shows that the judgment of God is announced not only in order that those who in their stupidity are well satisfied with themselves may be filled with dread, and so be driven to long for the grace of Christ, but also in order that the faithful who are already endowed with fear of God may become more and more practiced in the pursuit of religion. God desires to have Sodom’s destruction recounted not only to draw wicked men toward himself by their fear of the same punishment, but also to give to those who have already begun to serve God a better understanding of true obedience. The law contributes not only to the beginning of repentance, but also to our continuing perseverance [in the Christian life].
When Moses adds that they may do justice and right judgment he is describing briefly the way of God which he has already mentioned. Although the definition is not complete, yet he briefly indicates by synecdoche the duties of the second table of the law, and shows us what God especially requires of us. The Scripture often draws a description of a good and godly life from the second table of the law; not that love of neighbor is more important than the service of God, but that men can prove their loyalty to God only by living honestly and doing no injury to their neighbors. By the words justice and right judgment, he includes the kind of equity which gives to each man his due. If one wants to differentiate between the two words, justice implies the honesty and kindness which we practice, when we strive to help our brothers in every way and avoid hurting them in any way by fraud and violence. Right judgment means that we stretch out our hands to the poor and oppressed, that we see and support good causes, that we work hard to keep the weak from being unjustly hurt. These are the lawful tasks with which the Lord orders his own to keep occupied.361
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