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Ezekiel 20:11

11. And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them.

11. Et dedi illis decreta mea, 261261     “Statutes.” — Calvin. et judicia mea patefeci ipsis, qua, qui fecerit homo vivet in ipsis.

 

Here God enlarges upon his favors, since he had given his law to the Israelites, as if he would prescribe to them a certain rule of living. If they had only been brought out of Egypt, that would have been an inestimable benefit: but God was much more generous, since he deigned to rule them familiarly with his doctrine, lest they should wander to one side or the other; and in this way he testified that he would be their God. He adds a promise: for God might precisely enjoin what he wished on the people of his choice; but he spontaneously adopts the method of indulgence by promising them life. Now, then, we understand why this promise is mentioned; for God might simply command anything, and say, this pleases me, and use but a monosyllable, after the manner of kings issuing a command. Since, then, God not only exacted of the Israelites what he might justly require, but, by annexing a promise, enticed them gently to the pursuit of obedience, this was certainly a mark of his fatherly indulgence. Hence he now exaggerates the people’s ingratitude by this circumstances, that neither by commands nor by kindness could he induce these obstinate and perverse dispositions to bend to the yoke. I gave them, therefore, my statutes and my laws; and afterwards, which if a man do, he shall live in them. He thus briefly reminds them, that it was not his fault if the Israelites were not in any sense happy; for when he stipulated with them for the observance of his law, he bound them in turn to himself, that they should want nothing which contributed to a good and happy life; for in the name of life solid happiness is comprehended.

Yet it is here asked how the Prophet testifies that men should live by the works of the law, when the law, on the testimony of Paul, can only bring us death. (Romans 4:15; Deuteronomy 30:15.) He took this testimony from Moses, and we shall see immediately that he cites it in a different sense. Moses there pronounces that the life of man rests on the observance of the law; that is, — life was surely to be expected through satisfying the law. Some think this absurd, and so restrict what is said to the present life, taking he shall live in them politically or civilly: but this is a cold and trifling comment. The reasoning which influenced them is readily answered: they object, that we owe all things to God; that we ourselves and our possessions are all his by the right of possession; so that if we keep the law a hundred times over, still we are not, worthy of such a reward. But the solution is at hand, that we deserve nothing, but God graciously binds himself to us by this promise, as I have already touched upon. And from this passage it is easy to infer that works are of no value before God, and are not estimated for their intrinsic value, so to speak, but only by agreement. Since, then, it pleased God to descend so far as to promise life to men if they kept his law, they ought to accept this offer as springing from his liberality. There is no absurdity, then, if men do live, that is, if they deserve eternal life according to agreement. But if any one keeps the law, it will follow that he has no need of the grace of Christ. For of what advantage is Christ to us unless we recover life in him? but if this is placed in ourselves, the remedy must not be thought anywhere but in ourselves. Every one, then, may be his own savior if life is placed the observance of the law. But Paul solves this difficulty for us when he determines for us a twofold righteousness of the law and of faith. (Romans 10:5, 6.) He says that this righteousness is of the law when we keep God’s precepts. Now, since we are far distant from such obedience, nay, the very faculty of keeping the law is altogether defective in us: hence it follows that we must fly to the righteousness of faith. For he defines the righteousness of faith, if we believe Christ to be dead, and to be risen again for our justification. We see, therefore, although God promised salvation to his ancient people, if they only kept the law, yet that promise was useless, since no one could satisfy the law and perform God’s commands. Here another question arises. For if this promise does not take effect, God vainly reckons that as a benefit to the Israelites which we see was offered them in vain: hence no utility or fruit would arise from it. But some one may say that the imagination was fallacious, when God promised life, and now by his Prophet blames the Israelites for despising such a benefit. But the reply is easy: although men are not endued with the power of obeying the law, yet they ought not on that account to depart from the goodness of God; for men’s declension by no means hinders them from estimating the value of so liberal a promise: God is treating with men: he might then, as I have said, imperiously demand whatever he pleased, and exact it with the utmost rigor; but he treats according to an agreement, and so there is a mutual obligation between himself and the people. No one will surely deny that God here exhibits a specimen of his mercy when he deigns thus familiarly to make a covenant with men. “Ah! but this is all in vain: God’s promise is of no effect, because no one is able to keep the law.” I confess it: but man’s declension cannot, as I have said, abolish the glory of God’s goodness, since that always remains fixed, and God still acts liberally in being willing thus to enter into covenant with His people. We must then consider the subject simply, and by itself: man’s declension is accidental. God then put forth a remarkable proof of His goodness, in promising life to all who kept His law: and this will remain perfect and entire. It now follows —


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