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Lecture One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth

And no more shall every one teach his neighbor, and every one his brother, saying, Know ye Jehovah; for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for I will forgive their sins, and their iniquities will I remember no more Here is mentioned another difference between the old and the new covenant, even that God, who had obscurely manifested himself under the Law, would send forth a fuller light, so that the knowledge of him would be commonly enjoyed. But he hyperbolically extols this favor, when he says that no one would have need of a teacher or instructor, as every one would have himself sufficient knowledge. We therefore consider that the object of the Prophet is mainly to shew, that so great would be the light of the Gospel, that it would be clearly evident, that God under it deals more bountifully with his people, because its truth shines forth as the sun at noon-day. The same thing Isaiah promises, when he says that all would become the disciples of God. (Isaiah 54:13) This was indeed the case also under the Law, though God gave then but a small taste of heavenly doctrine: but at the coming of Christ he unfolded the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, so that under the Gospel there is the perfection of what had been begun; for we know that the ancient people were like children, and hence God kept them in the rudiments of knowledge: now, as we are grown up, he favors us with a fuller doctrine, and he comes, as it were, nearer to us.

Hence, he says, No more shall every one teach his neighbor, and a man his brother 5555     Literally the words are, —
   And they shall teach no more, a man his neighbor, And a man his brother, by saying, “Know ye Jehovah;” For all of them shall know me, From the least of them to the greatest of them, Saith Jehovah.
I have said that the Prophet here amplifies the favor of God. But we find that some fanatics have ignorantly and foolishly abused this passage, seeking to put down teaching of every kind, as the Anabaptists in our day, who reject all teaching; and flattering themselves in their ignorance, they proudly boast that they are endued with the Spirit, and say, that dishonor is done to Christ, if we are still disciples, because it is written as one of the praises and encomiums given to the new covenant, that no one shall teach his neighbor any more And hence it has also happened, that they are inebriated with strange and horrible doctrines: for the devil, when they become swollen with so much pride, can fascinate and delude them as he pleases; and their own pride also so leads them astray, that they invent dreams; and many unprincipled men have drawn aside this passage to serve their own purposes. For when they boast themselves to be prophets, and persuade the simple that they are so, they hold many attached to themselves, and derive gain by this sort of boasting.

But the Prophet here does not mean inspiration, nor does he exclude the practice of teaching, as I have already said; he only shews to us the superior brightness of the gospel light, as God, under the Law, did not so perfectly teach his people as he does us at this day. And hence is that saying of Christ,

“Blessed are the eyes which see the things which ye see, and the ears which hear the things which ye hear; for many kings and prophets,” etc. (Luke 10:23)

Christ, then, is the best interpreter of this passage, even that God would cause the truth to shine forth more fully under the Gospel; and hence Christ is called by Malachi

“the Sun of Righteousness,” (Malachi 4:2)

for the Prophet there intimates that the Fathers had indeed some light, but not such as we have. In short, we ought to bear in mind the comparison, of which mention was made yesterday, even that God held his people in suspense with the hope of a better state.

And that we may no farther seek an explanation, let us carefully weigh the words; for it is not simply and without exception said, “No one shall teach his neighbor,” but it it is added, “Saying, Know ye Jehovah.” We hence see that the Prophet promises knowledge, so that they might be no longer alphabetarians; for these words, “Know ye Jehovah,” point out the first elements of faith, or of celestial doctrine. And, doubtless, if we consider how great was the ignorance of the ancient people, they were then only in the elements. He who is at this day the least among the faithful, has so far advanced, that he knows much more clearly what pertains chiefly to salvation than those who were then the most learned. The meaning then is, that all God’s chosen people would be so endued with the gift of knowledge, that they would no longer continue in the first elements.

Now, were any one pertinaciously to urge this one clause, it would be right to set before him a passage in Isaiah, for he certainly speaks of the kingdom of Christ, when he says,

“Lay hold shall each on the hand of his neighbor, and say, Come, let us ascend into the mountain of the Lord, and he will teach us his ways,” etc. (Isaiah 2:3)

Now, let us reconcile these two prophecies. The design of both is to set forth the favor of God, manifested by Christ at his coming. The one passage says, “No one will teach his neighbor;” and the other, “Lay hold will each on the hand of his neighbor, and say, Let us come and ascend into the mountain, that Jehovah may teach us.” Now the way of reconciling them is this, — that Jeremiah says, that the people would not be so ignorant under the new covenant as to stand in need of the first principles of truth; but that Isaiah says, that each would lay hold on the hand of his neighbor, that they might mutually help one another, so as to attain the knowledge of God’s law. The question is thus solved; and we, at the same time, see how remarkable is the benefit with which God favors his people, as he thus makes himself familiarly known to them.

He says, All shall know me, from the least to the greatest He does not mean that knowledge would be in all in an equal measure. Experience indeed proves this to be false; and further we know, that God has testified from the beginning, as Paul also reminds us, (Romans 12:2, 3) that the measure of his gifts is according to his good pleasure. But the Prophet means, that those who are the least or the lowest among God’s people shall be endued with so much light of knowledge that they will be almost like teachers. To the same purpose is the prophecy of Joel,

“Prophesy shall your sons, your daughters shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Joel 2:28)

He promises that there would be everywhere prophets and teachers, because the grace of God would be at that day more abundant; and these things ought ever to be understood comparatively. Though, then, many are now ignorant among the children of God, and among those who are really of the number of the faithful, yet if we consider how great was the obscurity of the Law, those who are at this day the least among the disciples, are not otherwise than prophets and teachers. And for this reason Christ says,

“He who is least in the kingdom of heaven,
is greater than John the Baptist,”

who yet was superior to all the Prophets. (Matthew 11:11) John the Baptist was, in his office, exalted above all the Prophets, and he excelled them in knowledge; and yet the least of those who professed the Gospel and bore testimony to it, was greater, says Christ, than John the Baptist. And this is not to be applied only to them individually, nor be confined to them, but rather to the clear and plain doctrine which the Gospel conveys, according to the passage we quoted yesterday, where Paul says that there is now no veil intervening, but that we are allowed to see God, as it were, face to face in the person of Christ. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

It follows, For I well forgive their sins, and their iniquities will I remember no more The Prophet, no doubt, shews here the foundation of God’s kindness, even that he would receive the people into favor by not imputing to them their sins. If we then seek for the origin of the new covenant, it is the free remission of sins, because God reconciles himself to his people. And we hence conclude, that there is no other cause that we can imagine, why God appeared in his only-begotten Son, and manifested so great a bounty: for the Prophet here reduces to nothing all the glory of the flesh, and lays prostrate all merits, when he says, that God would be so bountiful to his people as to become propitious to them, freely to remit their sins, and not to remember their iniquities. This passage, then, cannot properly be taken as referring to the perpetual remission of sins, though this he included in the general doctrine; but we must bear in mind the design of the Prophet, which was to shew, that God from the beginning, with regard to his Church, was moved by no other cause than a desire to abolish sins.

The Apostle, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, gives rather a refined interpretation of this passage, for he dwells on the word more, עד, od. He says, that under the New Testament God forgives iniquities, because expiation has been made, so that there is no more need of sacrifices. For he assumes the opposite idea, that God remembered iniquities until he made the new covenant. If he remembered sins, he says, until he made a new covenant, it is no wonder that he then required daily sacrifice to propitiate him: but now under the New Testament he remembers them no more. Then sacrifices cease, because there is now no need of satisfaction when sins are forgiven. He hence concludes, that we have been so expiated by the blood of Christ, and so reconciled to God, that confidence as to our salvation ought to give us an entire rest. But we ought to bear in mind what I have said, that the Prophet here expressly, and in the first place, speaks of the beginning of the mercy and grace which God promises; he therefore declares that God would be so kind and so gracious as not to remember iniquities

What, then, does the particle more intimate? Even that God had for a time been angry with his people, and visited their sins with judgment. For God is said to call our sins to remembrance, he is said to be angry with us, he is said to be the avenger of our iniquities, when he punishes us, when he gives evidences of his severity and of his vengeance. Whenever then God severely handled his people, he seemed to remember their iniquities; but when he made the new covenant, all iniquities were then buried, and cast, as another Prophet says, into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19) Then the Apostle misapplied the testimony of the Prophet: by no means; for he wisely accommodated it to the subject he was discussing: what God promises, that he would not any more remember iniquities, after having made the new covenant, was accomplished through the coming of Christ. Then Christ alone has effected this — that our iniquities should no more be remembered before God. Hence also we easily learn what the Apostle intended to prove, even that sacrifices cease when sins are expiated. These things indeed harmonize well together, and there is nothing forced or too refined.

Moreover, the Prophet does not here discuss the whole question respecting the difference between the Old and New Testament, but only takes this as granted, that the grace of God would be more abundant than formerly, in order that the faithful, supported by hope, might patiently endure their evils and most grievous trials with which they had to contend, and not despond until Christ was manifested, as we said yesterday. Here, then, he speaks of the grace of regeneration, of the gift of knowledge, and at the same time promises that God would be propitious to his people in a different and more perfect way than he had been in former times. But the Apostle in that Epistle seems to apply this to ceremonies, because these things are connected together; that is, the abrogation of ceremonies and the regeneration of the Spirit which is promised here. Then the Apostle does not wrest the words of the Prophet; but as he commends the new covenant, which was to be more excellent than the Law, he hence concludes, that it is no wonder that ceremonies were not to continue but for a time. For he assumes this principle, that a new covenant was to succeed the old: then some change was necessarily to be. He assumes also that the new covenant was opposed to the old, and that the old was subject to destruction. The Jews could not endure any change in the types, for they would have them to remain the same. But the Apostle says that it is nothing strange that a thing should decay; for God, he says, does not certainly without reason call that covenant old which he made by Moses; then it will not always continue valid. (Hebrews 8:13) Since it is so, it cannot be inconsistent with the truth and faithfulness of God, that the ceremonies should cease as to their use, while the Law itself remained unchanged. We now then see that the Apostle faithfully interpreted the design of the Prophet by accommodating his testimony to the abrogation of ceremonies.

But as I have to explain only the words of the Prophet, there is no need to speak further of the difference between the Old and New Testament, that is, in what particulars they differ; for the Old and New Testament differ also in other things. But the Prophet, as I have said, thought it sufficient to touch on this point, — that something better was to be hoped at the coming of Christ than what the Fathers in all ages had found. And thus, as I have said, he sought to alleviate the sorrow of the faithful, whom God exercised with hard trials before Christ was manifested in the flesh.

Moreover, the Law and the Gospel form a contrast like Moses and Christ. Then the New Testament is more excellent than the Law, as Christ excels Moses. But we must come to a passage in John, that we may more fully understand why the Prophet says that the grace of the new covenant would be different from that, of the old. John says,

“The Law was given by Moses, but grace
and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

John seems there to leave nothing to the Law but an evanescent shadow. For if Christ only brought truth to us, then there was no truth in the Law, and there was no grace in the Law; but this seems to east a reproach on the Law. Now this question was in part answered yesterday. But as I wish to finish this passage, let it be briefly observed, that whenever the Law is thus extenuated, it is only that the benefit of Christ may be set forth, so that we may know how invaluable is God’s mercy which appears in his only-begotten Son.

Were now any one to object and say, “But why had he previously published the Law? and why did he command it to be reverently received, if it was without grace and truth?” To this I answer, according to what I said yesterday, that the Law was not destitute of those benefits which we at this day receive under the Gospel, but that these benefits were then, as it were, adventitious, and that they do not properly belong to the Law; for if the Law were separated from the Gospel, it would be the same as if one was to separate Moses from Christ. If Moses be regarded, not as opposed to Christ, he was the herald and witness of God’s paternal kindness towards his people; his doctrine also contained promises of a free salvation, and opened to the faithful the door of access to God. But if Moses be set in opposition to Christ, he becomes the minister of death, and his doctrine leads to destruction; for the letter, as Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:6, calls it, killeth, — how so? Because whosoever is attached to Moses departs from Christ; and Christ alone possesses in himself the fullness of all blessings. It then follows, that nothing remains in Moses when considered in himself. But God promised salvation to his ancient people, and also regenerated his chosen, and illuminated them by his Spirit. This he did not do so freely and extensively as now. As then God’s grace is at this day more abundant, it is justly extolled in high terms by all the Prophets; and then, as I have already said, whatever God at that time conferred, was, as it were, adventitious, for all these benefits were dependant on Christ and the promulgation of the Gospel. Let us now proceed, —


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