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Ezekiel 13:22-23

22. Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life:

22. Quia contristastis cor justi mendacio, 2929     Or, “fallaciously.” — Calvin. et ego non contristaveram ipsum; 3030     The word is different, but only in one letter, and signifies to be sad and to be grieved. — Calvin. et roborastis manus impii, ut non converteretur a via sua mala, vivificando ipsum.

23. Therefore ye shall see no more vanity, nor divine divinations: for I will deliver my people out of your hand: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.

23. Propterea mendacium non videbitis, et divinationem non divinabitis amplius: et eruam populum meum e manu vestra: et scietis quod ego Iehovah.

 

He explains in other words what we saw yesterday: but the repetition adds to the weight of the matter. The Prophet therefore shows that he had a just cause of complaint, because the women so deceived the people. He says now that they made the heart of the righteous sad, and strengthened the hands of the wicked: the sentiment is the same, though the words are changed. He had previously said that they gave life to those devoted to death, and slew those destined to life; but now he shows more clearly the meaning of killing the soul that should not, or ought not to die, when the heart of the righteous is made sorrowful. By the righteous he means those whom the false prophets inspired with causeless terror. But why, it is asked, does he say that the righteous are grieved, since we have formerly taught that no others were deceived unless those who spontaneously throw themselves into the snares and traps of Satan? I answer, that the false prophets thundered so, and their lies were so spread about here and there as to involve the simple: for they scatter their threats so as to reach all men. Hence they wound weak consciences; as at this day when the lies of Satan fly about; by which true religion is corrupted, many simple ones are frightened, for they are destitute of judgment, and do not distinguish whether God threatens, or man vaunts himself rashly.

We see, then, how false prophets cause the righteous sorrow, when they suggest scruples, and, under the penalty of mortal sin, denounce first one thing and then another: then they deprive them of confidence in God’s favor, and strike them with various terrors, as we discern clearly in the papacy of this very day. Let us take that one point which is with them without controversy, that our confidence springs from our works, and hence that we cannot determine whether God is propitious to us or not., and thus they overthrow all assurance of faith. They retain, indeed, the name of faith, but meantime they wish wretched consciences to vacillate and be turned about with disquiet, since no one can know whether he can invoke God as a father. 3131     The modern state of this controversy is fully explained in Ward’s “Ideal of the Christian Church.” He utterly rejects Calvin’s theory, and then very consistently joins the Church of Rome. That confidence which Paul says is common to all Christians, they call presumption and rashness. (Ephesians 3:12.) We see, then, how that point not only grieves the righteous, but disturbs innocent consciences: for a series of traditions is afterwards added, and the penalty of eternal death is always annexed. hence it happens that those who wish to worship God in any other way, when they are thus rendered spiritless, know not which way to turn: hence also they lose all fear of God, since no one can seriously reverence God unless he who feels him to be easily entreated, as we learn from Psalm 130:6.

We now understand what the Holy Spirit means when he reproves the women because they made the heart of the righteous sad. It is added, but I was unwilling to grieve them. For God’s faithful servants often inspire terror, but only when necessary. For they cannot otherwise subdue those who exult in their lusts, and they cannot bring them to obedience unless they overcome them with fear. Hence even true prophets and evangelists cause pain, as Paul says: If I have caused you sorrow, I do not repent of it: for so I thought to do: for there is salutary grief. (2 Corinthians 7:8.) Besides, true prophets do not afflict men for nothing; they only cause anxiety in the minds of those whom God wishes to grieve: hence they do not fabricate the material for sorrow and pain in their own brain, but receive it from God’s mouth and the spirit of revelation. Hence the word righteous is used, and falsely is added, by which particle the severity which true prophets are often compelled to use is distinguished from the roughness, or rather savage rudeness, of false prophets. For as I have said, they frighten wretched consciences. But by what right? by transferring God’s power to themselves; just as at the present day the Pope with swelling cheeks thunders forth that himself and his throne are apostolic, and therefore infallible. Since, therefore, false prophets thus contend by fallacies, the simple are overcome by fear.

It is now added, that they strengthened the hands of the impious (literally, of the impious man in the singular). When the Prophet spoke of the righteous, he used the word heart: he now uses the word hand, and not without reason. For the false terrors in which the false prophets indulged, penetrate even to the intimate affections, and as each is affected by the fear of God, so he becomes afraid of those threats which he hears uttered in God’s name. We see, then, that it was said with very good reason that the mind of the righteous was sadly grieved; and now when he says that he had strengthened the hands of the impious, he means that audacity was added, so that not only the wicked always remain obstinate against God, but they break out in unbridled license, and hesitate not openly to violate God’s law: for strengthening the hands is more than grieving the mind. For it may and it does happen, that a man may swell with pride and contempt of God, and yet modesty may hinder him from basely contaminating himself with many crimes. But when the hands themselves are engaged in licentiousness, all evils are heaped together. Now, therefore, we understand the reason of this difference. In fine, Ezekiel means that the impious had been hardened by the blandishments of these women, so as not only to despise God in their minds, but to bear witness through their whole life, that they were openly and confessedly erecting the standard of war against God. In this sense, then, he says, that they had strengthened the hands of the impious.

He adds, that he should not be converted. Here he more clearly defines how those souls which were devoted to death 3232     The Latin edition of 1565 has “motu:” the true reading is “morte.” The French version is correct in rendering it by “perdition.” were kept alive, since such confidence was set before them as to lull and stupefy their consciences. He does not say, then, that the hands of the impious were strengthened, as in a conspiracy of the wicked one often assists another, as if they mutually bound their hands together. But the Prophet now speaks in another sense, namely, that these women so hardened the wicked that they went on securely in their wickedness, and made a laughing-stock of God and his law. You have strengthened the hands that they should not be converted: but how? by affording them life. Hence we gather that men cannot be humbled otherwise than by placing death before them, because all willingly indulge themselves, and hypocrisy is so ingrained in us by natural corruption, that every one readily persuades himself that all things will turn out well. Unless, therefore, death is presented before our eyes, and God himself appears as a judge to destroy us, we remain like ourselves, and proceed to still greater audacity. The Prophet signifies this when he says, that by giving life to the impious the false prophets strengthened their hands, and opposed their repentance altogether. How so? When the sinner thinks God propitious to him, he is not anxious about reconciliation, but abuses God’s forbearance, and is daily rendered bolder, until at last he puts off all sense of fear. Hence this is the true preparation for conversion, when the sinner is slain; that is, acknowledges himself liable to the judgment of God, and takes a formidable view of his wrath. When, therefore, he sees himself lost, then he begins to think of conversion; but when men sleep over their sins, as I have said, they persist till they arrive at constant apathy, as Paul says when he remarks that they have no longer any sense of sorrow. (Ephesians 4:19.)

It follows, you shall not see a lie any more. He has hitherto explained the reason why God grew so warm against these women, because they destroyed miserable souls either by their cruelty or their flatteries, and thus were like false prophets: now he adds, you shall not see a lie any more. This ought not to be understood as if God promised these women a sound mind, so that they should cease to hurt the people by their lies: but he confirms the sentiment previously expressed, namely, that they should be subject to the taunts of all men, as boys themselves acknowledge that what they boasted to be oracles were mere imposture. It is just as if he had said — I will make you ashamed, so that hereafter you may be deprived of the use of the prophetic name, as you have hitherto used it. Although these women persisted in their madness, yet they saw vanity no more, since it became openly apparent that those wretched ones who trusted in them were deceived. Lastly, this thought to be adapted not to any change of feeling in these women, but rather to a failure in the effect. It is just as if any one were to say to a foolish fellow boasting himself to be a Lawyer or a physician, — I will take care that you profit no more as either a Lawyer or a physician; and yet that foolish person should not be able to put away the opinion which he had ever formed of his own skin. But this is said, because the mere vanity of his boasting should be evident to all. So also God now speaks. This addition has the same meaning: you shall not divine divination any more. And yet there is no doubt that they desired by all means to invent new prophecies, and to boast in new revelations: but they were despised, because God had detected their lies when Jerusalem was taken, and the people dragged into exile: then because they promised the people a speedy return, when the same God refuted them by prolonging their exile. When, therefore, any one suffers the just penalty of his impiety, then the vanity of those women was detected: in this way they ceased to divine. He repeats — I will free my people from your hand: and you shall know that I am Jehovah. Since I have lately explained this phrase I now pass it by. It follows —


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