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2 Timothy 2:19-21

19. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.

19. Firmum tamen fundamentum Dei stat, habens sigillum hoc, Novit Dominus, qui sint sui; et, Discedat ab injustitia, quicunque invocat nomen Christi.

20. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.

20. In magna quidem domo non solum sunt vasa aurea et argentea, sed etiam lignea et fictilia, et alia quidem in honorem, alia in contumeliam.

21. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.

21. Si quis ergo expurgaverit se ipsum ab his, erit vas in honorem sanctificatum, et utile Domino ad omne opus bonum comparatum.

19 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth firm. We know too well, by experience, how much scandal is produced by the apostasy of those who at one time professed the same faith with ourselves. This is especially the case with those who were extensively known, and who had a more brilliant reputation than others; for, if any of the common people apostatize, we are not so deeply affected by it. But they who in the ordinary opinion of men held a distinguished rank, having been formerly regarded as pillars, cannot fall in this manner, without involving others in the same ruin with themselves; at least, if their faith has no other support. This is the subject which Paul has now in hand; for he declares that there is no reason why believers should lose heart, although they see those persons fall, whom they were wont to reckon the strongest.

He makes use of this consolation, that the levity or treachery of men cannot hinder God from preserving his Church to the last. And first he reminds us of the election of God, which he metaphorically calls a foundation, expressing by this word the firm and enduring constancy of it. Yet all this tends to prove the certainty of our salvation, if we are of the elect of God. As if he had said, “The elect do not depend on changing events, but rest on a solid and immovable foundation; because their salvation is in the hand of God.” For as

“every plant which the heavenly Father hath not planted
must be rooted up,” (Matthew 15:13,)

so a root, which has been fixed by his hand, is not liable to be injured by any winds or storms.

First of all, therefore, let us hold this principle, that, amidst so great weakness of our flesh, the elect are nevertheless beyond the reach of danger, because they do not stand by their own strength, but are founded on God. And if foundations laid by the hand of men have so much firmness, how much more solid will be that which has been laid by God himself? I am aware that some refer this to doctrine, “Let no man judge of the truth of it from the unsteadfastness of men;” but it may easily be inferred from the context, that Paul speaks of the Church of God, or of the elect.

Having this seal The word signaculum (which denotes either “a seal” or “the print of a seal”) having led into a mistake some people who thought that it was intended to denote a mark or impress, I have translated it sigillum (a seal,) which is less ambiguous. And, indeed, Paul means, that under the secret guardianship of God, as a signet, is contained the salvation of the elect, as Scripture testifies that they are

“written in the book of life.” (Psalm 69:28; Philippians 4:3.)

The Lord knoweth who are his This clause, together with the word seal, reminds us, that we must not judge, by our own opinion, whether the number of the elect is great or small; for what God hath sealed he wishes to be, in some respect, shut up from us. Besides, if it is the prerogative of God to know who are his, we need not wonder if a great number of them are often unknown to us, or even if we fall into mistakes in making the selection.

Yet we ought always to observe why and for what purpose he makes mention of a seal; that is, when we see such occurrences, let us instantly call to remembrance what we are taught by the Apostle John, that

“they who went out from us were not of us.” (1 John 2:19.)

Hence arises a twofold advantage. First, our faith will not be shaken, as if it depended on men; nor shall we be even dismayed, as often happens, when unexpected events take place. Secondly, being convinced that the Church shall nevertheless be safe, we shall more patiently endure that the reprobate go away into their own lot, to which they were appointed; because there will remain the full number, with which God is satisfied. Therefore, whenever any sudden change happens among men, contrary to our opinion and expectation, let us immediately call to remembrance, “The Lord knoweth who are his.”

Let every one that calleth on the name of Christ depart from iniquity As he formerly met the scandal by saying, “Let not the revolt of any man produce excessive alarm in believers;” so now, by holding out this example of hypocrites, he shews that we must not sport with God by a feigned profession of Christianity. As if he had said, “Since God thus punishes hypocrites by exposing their wickedness, let us learn to fear him with a sincere conscience, lest anything of that kind should happen to us. Whoever, therefore, calleth upon God, that is, professeth to be, and wisheth to be reckoned, one of the people of God, let him keep at a distance from all iniquity.” 177177     “Let us not therefore be distressed by all the scandals that may arise. And yet let us study to walk in fear, not abusing the goodness of our God but knowing that, since he hath separated us from the rest of the world we must live as being in his house and as being his, in the same manner as he hath given to us the onward mark of baptism, that we may also have the signature of his holy Spirit, for he is “the earnest,” as Paul calls him, of our election, he is the pledge which we possess that we are called to the heavenly inheritance. Let us therefore pray to God that he may sign and seal in our hearts his gracious election, by his holy Spirit, and, at the same time, that he may keep us sealed and as shut up under the shadow of his wings; and if poor reprobates go astray and are lost, and if the devil drives them along, and if they do not rise again when they fall, but are cast down and ruined, let us, on our part, pray to God to keep us under his protection, that we may know what it is to obey his will, and to be supported by him. Though the world strive to shake us, let us lean on this foundation, that the Lord knoweth who are his; and let us never be drawn aside from this, but let us persevere and profit more and more, till God withdraw us from the present state into his kingdom, which is not liable to change.” — Fr. Ser. For to “call on the name of Christ” means here to glory in Christ’s honorable title, and to boast of belonging to his flock; in the same manner as to have

“the name of a man called on a woman” (Isaiah 4:1)

the woman is accounted to be his lawful wife; and to have “the name of Jacob called on” all his posterity (Genesis 48:16) means that the name of the family shall be kept up in uninterrupted succession, because the race is descended from Jacob.

20 In a great house He now goes farther, and demonstrates by a comparison, that when we see some who, for a time, made a show of distinguished piety and zeal, fall back shamefully, so far from being troubled on account of it, we ought rather to acknowledge that this arrangement is seemly and adapted to the providence of God. Who will find fault with a large house, in which there is abundance of every kind of furniture, and which accordingly contains not only those articles which are fitted for purposes of display, but likewise those which are of a meaner sort? This diversity is even ornamental, if, while the sideboard and the table glitter with gold and silver, the kitchen is furnished with vessels of wood and of earthenware. Why then should we wonder if God, the head of the family, so rich and so abundantly supplied with everything, has in this world, as in a large house, various kinds of men, as so many parts of furniture?

Commentators are not agreed, however, whether the “great house” means the Church alone, or the whole world. And, indeed, the context rather leads us to understand it as denoting the Church; for Paul is not now reasoning about strangers, but about God’s own family. Yet what he says is true generally, and in another passage the same Apostle extends it to the whole world; that is, at Romans 9:21, where he includes all the reprobate under the same word that is here used. We need not greatly dispute, therefore, if any person shall apply it simply to the world. Yet there can be no doubt that Paul’s object is to shew that we ought not to think it strange, that bad men are mixed with the good, which happens chiefly in the Church.

21 If any man shall cleanse himself from these If the reprobate are “vessels for dishonor,” they have that dishonor confined to themselves, but they do not disfigure the house, or bring any disgrace on the head of the family, who, while he has a variety of articles of furniture, appropriates each vessel to its proper use. But let us learn, by their example, to apply them to better and worthier uses; for in the reprobate, as in mirrors, we perceive how detestable is the condition of man, if he do not sincerely promote the glory of God. Such examples, therefore, afford to us good ground for exhortation to devote ourselves to a holy and blameless life.

There are many who misapply this passage, for the sake of proving that what Paul elsewhere (Romans 9:16) declares to belong “to God that sheweth mercy,” is actually within the power of “him that willeth and him that runneth.” This is exceedingly frivolous; for Paul does not here argue about the election of men, in order to shew what is the cause of it, as he does in the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 9); but only means that we are unlike wicked men, whom we perceive to have been born to their perdition. It is consequently foolish to draw an inference from these words, about the question whether it is in a man’s power to place himself in the number of the children of God, and to be the author of his own adoption. That is not the present question. Let this short warning suffice against those who bid a man cause himself to be predestinated; as if Paul enjoined men to do what they must have done before they were born, and even before the foundations of the world were laid.

Others, who infer from these words that free-will is sufficient for preparing a man, that he may be fit and qualified for obeying God, do not at first sight appear to be so absurd as the former, yet there is no solidity in what they advance. The Apostle enjoins that men who desire to consecrate themselves to the Lord cleanse themselves from the pollution of wicked men; and throughout the Scriptures God gives the same injunction; for we find nothing here but what we have seen in many passages of Paul’s writings, and especially in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians,

“Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.” 178178     This quotation is taken from Isaiah 52:11, but the passage to which our author, quoting from memory, makes reference, is 2 Corinthians 6:17, where the words of Isaiah have undergone considerable variation See Calvin's Com. On Corinthians, vol. 2, p. 261. — Ed.

Beyond all controversy, we are called to holiness. But the question about the calling and duty of Christians is totally different from the question about their power or ability. We do not deny that it is demanded from believers that they purify themselves; but elsewhere the Lord declares that this is their duty, while he promises by Ezekiel that he will send

“clean waters, that we may be cleansed.” (Ezekiel 36:25.)

Wherefore we ought to supplicate the Lord to cleanse us, instead of vainly trying our strength in this matter without his assistance.

A vessel sanctified for honor means, set apart for honorable and magnificent purposes. In like manner, what is useful to the head of the family is put for that which is applied to agreeable purposes. He afterwards explains the metaphor, when he adds, that we must be prepared for every good work. Away with the wild language of fanatics, “I will contribute to the glory of God, as Pharaoh did; for is it not all one, provided that God be glorified?” For here God explicitly states in what manner he wishes us to serve him, that is, by a religious and holy life.


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