« Prev Lecture thirtieth Next »

Lecture Thirtieth.

In the last lecture, after Ezekiel had announced the conversion of the people, at the same time he taught that the singular gift of repentance would be bestowed: because when any one has turned aside from the right way, unless God extends his hand, he will plunge himself even into the deep abyss. Hence after a man has once left God, he cannot return to him by himself. We then touched shortly on this doctrine: now a fuller explanation must be added. As soon as we consider the Prophet’s words, we shall at once understand the matter. God promises to give the people one heart Some explain this of mutual consent, but it does not suit in my opinion. In the third chapter of Zephaniah, at verse 9, (Zephaniah 3:9) “one shoulder” is taken in this sense. For when the Prophet says, that God would make all call upon him purely and worship with one shoulder, he seems to mean that all should be unanimous, and that each would excite, his neighbor. But in this place one heart is rather opposed to a divided one; for the Israelites were distracted after vague errors. They ought to listen to God’s precepts, and subject themselves to his law: thus they had been content with him alone, and had addicted themselves entirely to true piety. But their heart was distracted: as when a woman does not preserve her fidelity to her husband, but is led away by her lusts, nothing is at rest in her. So also when the people revolted from the law of God, it was like a wandering harlot. We see, therefore, that the hearts of all the impious were divided and distracted, and that nothing in them was simple or sincere. Now God promises that he would take care that the people were not drawn aside after their superstitions, but remained in pure and simple obedience to the law. If any one objects, that the faithful endure a perpetual contest with the lusts of the flesh, and hence their heart is divided, the answer is easy, that one heart is understood in the sense of regeneration. For although the faithful feel a great contest within them, and their heart is by no means whole, since it is agitated by many temptations, yet as in the meantime they seriously aspire to God, their heart is said to be entire, because it is not double or feigned. We understand then what the Prophet means, and at chapter 36, (Jeremiah 36) where he repeats the same sentiment, for one heart he puts a new spirit, as also he says a little afterwards, I will put a new spirit in their bowels, or inward parts. As by the word heart he means affections, so also by the spirit he signifies the mind itself and all its thoughts. the spirit of a man is often taken for the whole soul, and then it comprehends also all the affections. But where the two are joined together, as the heart and spirit, the heart is called the seat of all the affections, it is in truth the very will of man, while the spirit is the faculty of intelligence. For we know that there are two special endowments of the mind: the first is its power of reasoning, and the next its being endued with judgment and choice: afterwards we shall say how men have the faculty of choosing and yet want free will. But this principle must be held, that the soul of man excels first in intelligence or reason, then in judgment, on which choice and will depend. We see, therefore, that by these words the Prophet testifies that men have need of a complete renovation that they may return into the way from which they once began to wander.

Afterwards he adds, I will take away the heart of stone, or the stony heart, from their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh. The word flesh is here received in a different sense; for the Prophet alludes to the heart, which we know to be part of the human body, when he says, I will take away the heart of stone from their flesh. When God regenerates his elect, he does not change either their flesh, or skin, or blood; the spiritual and interior grace has no relation to their body: but the Prophet speaks rather grossly, that he may conform his discourse to the state of a rude and gross people. For flesh in the former clause meant the same as body: but at the end of the ‘verse a fleshy heart is put for a flexible heart: an opposition also must. be marked between the flesh and a stone: a stone by its own hardness repels even the strongest blows of the hammers, and nothing can be inscribed on it; but the fleshy heart by its softness admits whatever is inscribed or engraven on it. The Prophet speaks grossly, as I have said, yet the sense is by no means ambiguous: namely, since the Israelites were full of obstinacy, God afterwards changed their heart, so that they became flexible and obedient that is, by correcting their hardness he rendered their heart soft.

He adds afterwards, that they may walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them, and they shall be my people, and I will be their God Now the Prophet more clearly expresses how God would give his elect hearts of flesh instead of those of stone, when he regenerates them by his Spirit, and when he forms them to obey his law, so that they may willingly observe his commands, and efficiently accomplish what he causes them to will. Now let us consider more attentively the whole matter of which the Prophet treats. When God speaks of a stony heart, he doubtless condemns all mortals of obstinacy. For the Prophet is not here treating of a few whose nature differs from others, but as in a glass he puts the Israelites before us, that we know what our condition is, when being deserted by God we follow our natural inclinations. We collect, therefore, from this place, that all have a heart of stone, that is, that all are so corrupt that they cannot bear to obey God, since they are entirely carried away to obstinacy. Meanwhile it is certain that this fault is adventitious: for when God created man he did not bestow upon him a heart of stone, and as long as Adam stood sinless, doubtless his will was upright and well disposed, and it was also inclined to obedience to God. When therefore we say that our heart is of stone, this takes its origin from the fall of Adam, and from the corruption of our nature; for if Adam had been created with a hard and obstinate heart, that would have been a reproach to God. But as we have said, the will of Adam was upright from the beginning, and flexible to follow the righteousness of God; but when Adam corrupted himself, we perished with him. Hence, therefore, the stony heart, because we have put off that integrity of nature which God had conferred upon us at the beginning. For whatever Adam lost we also lost by the fall: because he was not created for his own self alone, but in his person God showed what would be the condition of the human race. Hence after he had been spoiled of the excellent gifts by which he was adorned, all his posterity were reduced to the same want and misery. Hence our heart is stony; but through original depravity, because we ought to attribute this to our father Adam, and not to throw the fault of our sin and corruption on God. Finally, we see what the beginning of regeneration is, namely, when God takes away that depravity by which we are bound down. But two parts of regeneration must be marked, of which also the Prophet treats.

God pronounces that he gives to his elect one heart and new spirit It follows, therefore, that the whole soul is vitiated, from reason even to the affections. The sophists in the Papacy confess that man’s soul is vitiated, but only in part. They are also compelled to subscribe to the ancients, that Adam lost supernatural gifts, and that natural ones were corrupted, but afterwards they involve the light in darkness, and feign that some part of the reason remains sound and entire, then that the will is vitiated only in part: hence it is a common saying of theirs, that man’s free will was wounded and injured, but that it did not perish. Now they define free will, the free faculty of choice, which is joined with reason and also depends upon it. For the will by itself, without the judgment, does not contain full and solid liberty, but when reason governs and holds the chief power in the soul of man, then the will obeys and forms itself after the prescribed rule: that is free will. The Papists do not deny that free will is injured and wounded, but as I have already said, they hold back something, as if men were partly right by their own proper motion, and some inclination or flexible motion of the will remained as well towards good as evil. Thus indeed they prate in the schools: but we see what the Holy Spirit pronounces. For if there is need of a new spirit and a new heart, it follows that the soul of man is not only injured in each part, but so corrupt that its depravity may be called death and destruction, as far as rectitude is concerned. But here a question is objected, whether men differ at all from brute beasts? But experience proves that men are endued with some reason. I answer, as it is said in the first chapter of John, (John 1:5,) that light shines in darkness; that is, that some sparks of intelligence remain, but so far from leading any man into the way, they do not enable him to see it. Hence whatever reason and intelligence there is in us, it does not bring us into the path of obedience to God, and much less leads by continual perseverance to the goal.

What then? These very sparks shine in the darkness to render men without excuse. Behold, therefore, how far man’s reason prevails, that he may feel self-convinced that no pretext for ignorance or error remains to him. Therefore man’s intelligence is altogether useless towards guiding his life aright. Perverseness more clearly appears in his heart. For man’s will boils over to obstinacy, and when anything right and what God approves is put before us, our affections immediately become restive and ferocious; like a refractory horse when he feels the spur leaps up and strikes his rider, so our will betrays its obstinacy when it admits nothing but what reason and a sound intelligence dictates. I have already taught that man’s reason is blind, but that blindness is not so perspicuous in us, because, as I have said, God has left in us some light, that no excuse for error should remain. It is not surprising, then, if God here promises that he would give a new heart, because if we examine all the affections of men, we shall find them hostile to God. For that passage of St. Paul (Romans 8:9) is true, that all the thoughts of the flesh are hostile to God. Doubtless he here takes the flesh after his own manner, namely, as signifying’ the whole man as he is by nature and is born into the world. Since, therefore, all our affections are hostile and repugnant to God, we see how foolishly the schoolmen trifle, who feign that the will is injured, and so this weakness is to them in the place of death. Paul says that he was sold under sin, that is, as far as he was one of the sons of Adam: The law, he says, works in us sin, (Romans 7:14,) I am sold and enslaved to sin. But what do they say? That sin indeed reigns in us, but only in part, for there is some integrity which resists it. How far they differ from St. Paul! But this passage also with sufficient clearness refutes comments of this kind, where God pronounces that newness of heart and spirit is his own free gift Therefore Scripture uses the name of creation elsewhere, which is worthy of notice. For as often as the Papists boast that they have even the least particle of rectitude, they reckon themselves creators: since when Paul says that we are born again by God’s Spirit, he calls us τὸ ποίημα, his fashioning or workmanship, and explains that we are created unto good works. (Ephesians 2:10.) To the same purpose is the language of the Psalm, (Psalm 100:3,) he made us, not we ourselves. For he is not treating here of that first creation by which we became men, but of that special grace by which we are born again by the Spirit of God. If therefore regeneration is a creation of man, whoever arrogates to himself even the least share in the matter, seizes so much from God, as if he were his own creator, which is detestable to be heard of. And yet this is easily elicited from the common teaching of Scripture.

Now it follows, that they shall walk in my statutes, and keep my precepts and do them Here the Prophet removes other doubts, by which Satan has endeavored to obscure the grace of God, because he could not entirely destroy it. We have already seen that the Papists do not entirely take away the grace of God; for they are compelled to confess that man can do nothing except he is assisted by God’s grace: that free will lies without vigor and efficacy until it revives by the assistance of grace. Hence they have that in common with us, that man, as he is corrupt, cannot even move a finger so as to discharge any duty towards God. But here they err in two ways, because, as I have already said, they feign that some-right motion remains in man’s will, besides that there is sound reason in the mind; and they afterwards add that the grace of the Holy Spirit is not efficacious without the concurrence or co-operation of our free will. And here their gross impiety is detected. Hence they confess that we are regenerated by the Spirit of God, because we should otherwise be useless to think anything aright, namely, because weakness hinders us from willing efficaciously. But, on the contrary, they imagine God’s grace to be mutilated, but how? because God’s grace stirs us up towards ourselves, so that we become able to wish well, and also to follow out and perfect what we have willed.

We see, therefore, that when they treat of the grace of the Holy Spirit, they leave man suspended in the midst. How far then does the Spirit of God work within us? They say, that we may be able to will rightly and to act rightly. Hence nothing else is given us by the Holy Spirit but the ability: but it is ours to co-operate, and to strengthen and to establish what otherwise would be of no avail. For what advantage is there in the ability without the addition of the upright will? Our condemnation would only be increased. But here is their ridiculous ignorance, for how could any one stand even for a single moment, if God conferred on us only the ability. Adam had that ability in his first creation, and. then he was as yet perfect, but we are depraved; so that as far as the remains of the flesh abide in us which we carry about in this life, we must strive with great difficulties. If therefore Adam by and bye fell, although endued with rectitude of nature and with the faculty of willing and of acting uprightly, what will become of us? for we have need not only of Adam’s uprightness, and of his faculty of both willing and acting uprightly, but we have need of unconquered fortitude, that we may not yield to temptations, but be superior to the devil, and subdue all depraved and vicious affections of the flesh, and persevere unto the end in this wrestling or warfare. We see, therefore, how childishly they trifle who ascribe nothing else to the grace of the Holy Spirit unless the gift of ability. And Augustine expounds this wisely, and treats it at sufficient length in his book “Concerning the gift of perseverance, and the predestination of the saints;” for he compares us with the first Adam, and shows that God’s grace would not be efficacious, except in the case of a single individual, unless he granted us more than the ability. But what need have we of human testimonies, when the Holy Spirit clearly pronounces by the mouth of his Prophet what we here read? Ezekiel does not say: I will give them a. new spirit or a new heart, that they may walk and be endued with that moderate faculty: what then? that they may walk in my precepts, that they may keep my statutes, and perform, my commands We see therefore that regeneration extends so far that the effect follows, as also Paul teaches: Complete, says he, your salvation with fear and trembling, (Philippians 2:12;) here he exhorts the faithful to the attempt. And truly God does not wish us to be like stones. Let us strive therefore and stretch all our nerves, and do our utmost towards acting uprightly: but Paul advises that to be done with fear and trembling; that is, by casting away all confidence in one’s own strength, because if we are intoxicated with that diabolical pretense that we are fellow-workers with God, and that his grace is assisted by the motion of our free will, we shall break down, and at length God will show how great our blindness was. Paul gives the reason, because, says he, it is God who works both to will and to accomplish. (Philippians 2:13.) He does not say there that it is God who works the ability, and who excites in us the power of willing, but he says that God is the author of that upright will, and then he adds also the effect; because it is not sufficient to will unless we are able to execute. As to the word “power,” Paul does not use it, for it would occasion dispute, but he says that God works in all of us to accomplish.

If any one object, that men naturally will and act naturally by their own proper judgment and motion, I answer, that the will is naturally implanted in man, whence this faculty belongs equally to the elect and the reprobate. All therefore will, but through Adam’s fall it happens that our will is depraved and rebellious against God: will, I say, remains in us, but it is enslaved and bound by sin. Whence then comes an upright will? Even from regeneration by the Spirit. Hence the Spirit does not confer on us the faculty of willing: for it is inherent to us from our birth, that is, it is hereditary, and a part of the creation which could not be blotted out by Adam’s fall; but when the will is in us, God gives us to will rightly, and this is his work. Besides, when it is said that he gives us the power of willing, this is not understood generally, because it ought not to be extended to the bad as well as to the good; but when Paul is treating of the salvation of men, he deservedly assigns to God our willing uprightly. We now understand what the Prophet’s words signify, and it seems that he denotes perseverance when he says, that they may walk in my precepts, and keep my judgments and do them. the whole matter had been explained in one word, that they may walk in my statutes: but because men always sinfully consider how they may lessen the grace of God, and by sacrilegious boldness endeavor to draw to themselves what belongs to him; therefore that. the Prophet may better exclude all pride, he says that we must attribute to God the walking in his precepts, preserving his statutes, and obeying his whole law. Hence let us leave entirely his own praise to God, and thus acknowledge that in our good works nothing is our own; and especially in perseverance, let us reckon it God’s singular gift: and this is surely necessary, if we consider how very weak we are, and with how many and what violent attacks Satan continually urges us. First of all, we may easily fall every moment, unless God sustain us: and then the thrusts of Satan by far exceed our strength. If therefore we consider our condition without the grace of God, we shall confess that in our good works the only part which is ours is the fault, as also Augustine wisely makes this exception: for it is sufficiently known that no work is so praiseworthy as not to be sprinkled with some fault. Neither do the duties which we discharge proceed from a perfect love of God, but we have always to wrestle that we may obey him. We seem then to contaminate our deeds by this defect. There is then in our good works that very thing which vitiates them, so that they are deservedly rejected before God. But when we treat of uprightness and praise, we must learn to leave to God what is his own, lest we wish to be partakers in sacrilege.

Now it follows, and they shall be my people, and I will be their God Under these words the Prophet doubtless includes that gratuitous pardon by which God reconciles sinners to himself. And truly, it would not be sufficient for us to be renewed in obedience to God’s righteousness unless his paternal indulgence, by which he pardons our infirmities, is added. This is expressed more clearly by Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 31:33,) and by our Prophet, (Jeremiah 36:25-27,) but it is the mark of a Scripture phrase. For as often as God promises the sons of Abraham that they should be his people, that promise has no other foundation than in his gratuitous covenant which contains the forgiveness of sins. Hence it is as if the Prophet had added, that God would expiate all the faults of his people. For our safety is contained in these two members, that God follows us with his paternal favor, while he bears with us, and does not call us up for judgment, but buries our sins, as is said in Psalm 32:1, 2, Blessed is the man to whom God does not impute his iniquities.

It follows, on the other side, that all are wretched and accursed to whom he does impute them. If any one object, that we have no need of pardon when we do not sin, the answer is easy, that the faithful are never so regenerated as to fulfill the law of God. They aspire to keep his commands, and that too with a serious and sincere affection; but because some defects always remain, therefore they are guilty, and their guilt cannot be blotted out otherwise than by expiation when God pardons them. But we know that there were under the law rites prescribed for expiating their sins: this was the meaning of sprinkling by water and the pouring out of blood; but we know that these ceremonies were of no value in themselves, except as far as they directed the people’s faith to Christ. Hence, whenever our salvation is; treated of, let these two things be remembered, that we cannot be reckoned God’s sons unless he freely expiate our sins, and thus reconcile himself to us: and then not unless he also rule us by his Spirit. Now we must hold, that what God hath joined man ought not to separate. Those, therefore, who through relying on the indulgence of God permit themselves to give way to sin, rend his covenant and impiously sever it. Why so? because God has joined these two things together, viz., that he will be propitious to his sons, and will also renew their hearts, Hence those who lay hold of only one member of the sentence, namely, the pardon, because God bears with them, and omit the other, are as false and sacrilegious as if they abolished half of God’s covenant. Therefore we must hold what I have said, namely, that under these words reconciliation is pointed out, by which it happens that God does not impute their sins to his own. Lastly, let us remark that the whole perfection of our salvation has been placed in this, if God reckons us among his people. As it is said in Psalm 33:12,

“Happy is the people to whom Jehovah is their God.”

There solid happiness is described, namely, when God deems any people worthy of this honor of belonging peculiarly to himself. Only let him be propitious to us, and then we shall not be anxious, because our salvation is secure. It follows —

« Prev Lecture thirtieth Next »





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |