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4. Whose minds the god of this world He intimates, that no account should be made of their perverse obstinacy. “They do not see,” says he, “the sun at mid-day, because the devil has blinded their understandings.” No one that judges rightly can have any doubt, that it is of Satan that the Apostle speaks. Hilary, as he had to do with Arians, who abused this passage, so as to make it a pretext for denying Christ’s true divinity, while they at the same time confessed him to be God, twists the text in this way — “God hath blinded the understandings of this world.” In this he was afterwards followed by Chrysostom, with the view of not conceding to the Manicheans their two first principles. 437437 The Manicheans, so called from Manes their founder, held the doctrine of two first principles, a good and an evil, thinking to account in this way for the origin of evil. See Calvin’s Institutes, volume 1 — Ed. What influenced Ambrose does not appear. Augustine had the same reason as Chrysostom, having to contend with the Manicheans.
We see what the heat of controversy does in carrying on disputes. Had all those men calmly read Paul’s words, it would never have occurred to any one of them to twist them in this way into a forced meaning; but as they were harassed by their opponents, they were more concerned to refute them, than to investigate Paul’s meaning. But what occasion was there for this? For the subterfuge of the Arians was childish — that if the devil is called the god of this world, the name of God, as applied to Christ, does not express a true, eternal, and exclusive divinity. For Paul says elsewhere, many are called gods, (1 Corinthians 8:5;) but David, on the other hand, sings forth — the gods of the nations are demons. 438438 “Les dieux des Gentils sont diables;” — “The gods of the Gentiles are devils.” Calvin here, as in many other instances, quotes according to the sense, not according to the words. The passage referred to is rendered by Calvin — “All the gods of the nations are vanities,” (“ou, idoles,” “or idols,”) the Hebrew word being, as he notices, אלילים, (elilim,) mere nothings, (1 Corinthians 8:4,) instead of אלהים, (elohim,) gods. (See Calvin on the Psalms, vol. 4, pp. 50, 51.) There can be no doubt that Calvin, in quoting this passage here, has an eye to what is stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:20. — Ed. (Psalm 96:5.) When, therefore, the devil is called the god of the wicked, on the ground of his having dominion over them, and being worshipped by them in the place of God, what tendency has this to detract from the honor of Christ? And as to the Manicheans, this appellation gives no more countenance to the Manicheans, than when he is called the prince of this world. (John 14:30.) 439439 Calvin, when commenting on the passage referred to, remarks, that “the devil is called the prince of this world, not because he has a kingdom separated from God, (as the Manicheans imagined,) but because, by God’s permission, he exercises his tyranny over the world.” — Calvin on John, volume 2. — Ed.
There is, therefore, no reason for being afraid to interpret this passage as referring to the devil, there being no danger in doing so. For should the Arians come forward and contend, 440440 “Tant qu’ils voudront;” — “As much as they please” that Christ’s divine essence is no more proved from his having the appellation God applied to him, than Satan’s is proved from its being applied to him, a cavil of this nature is easily refuted; for Christ is called God without any addition, 441441 Calvin obviously means by this clause — without anything being added having a tendency to qualify or limit the appellation. In accordance with this he says in the Institutes, (volume 1,) that the “title,” God, “is not conferred on any man without some addition, as when it is said that Moses would be a god to Pharaoh.” (Exodus 7:1.) — Ed. nay, he is called God blessed for ever. (Romans 9:5.) He is said to be that God who was
in the beginning, before the creation of the world.
The devil, on the other hand, is called the god of this world, in no other way than as Baal is called the god of those that worship him, or as the dog is called the god of Egypt. 442442 A variety of animals, besides the dog, were worshipped by the Egyptians, and even some vegetable substances, growing in their gardens, were adored by them as deities! Calvin, when commenting on 1 Corinthians 8:5, speaks of the Egyptians as having rendered divine homage to “the ox, the serpent, the cat, the onion, the garlic.” — Calvin on Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 277. — Ed. The Manicheans, as I have said, for maintaining their delusion, have recourse to other declarations of Scripture, as well as this, but there is no difficulty in refuting those also. They contend not so much respecting the term, as respecting the power. As the power of blinding is ascribed to Satan, and dominion over unbelievers, they conclude from this that he is, from his own resources, the author of all evil, so as not to be subject to God’s control — as if Scripture did not in various instances declare, that devils, no less than the angels of heaven, are servants of God, each of them severally in his own manner. For, as the latter dispense to us God’s benefits for our salvation, so the former execute his wrath. Hence good angels are called powers and principalities, (Ephesians 3:10,) but it is simply because they exercise the power given them by God. For the same reason Satan is the prince of this world, not as if he conferred dominion upon himself, or obtained it by his own right, or, in fine, exercised it at his own pleasure. On the contrary, he has only so much as the Lord allows him. Hence Scripture does not merely make mention of the good spirit of God, and good angels, but he also speaks of evil spirits of God. An evil spirit from God came upon Saul. (1 Samuel 16:14.) Again, chastisements through means of evil angels. (Psalm 78:49.)
With respect to the passage before us, the blinding is a work common to God and to Satan, for it is in many instances ascribed to God; but the power is not alike, nor is the manner the same. I shall not speak at present as to the manner. Scripture, however, teaches that Satan blinds men, 443443 “Les reprouuez;” — “The reprobate.” not merely with God’s permission, but even by his command, that he may execute his vengeance. Thus Ahab was deceived by Satan, (1 Kings 22:21,) but could Satan have done this of himself? By no means; but having offered to God his services for inflicting injury, he was sent to be a
lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.
(1 Kings 22:22.)
Nay more, the reason why God is said to blind men is, that after having deprived us of the right exercise of the understanding, and the light of his Spirit, he delivers us over to the devil, to be hurried forward by him to a reprobate mind, (Romans 1:28,) gives him the power of deception, and by this means inflicts just vengeance upon us by the minister of his wrath. Paul’s meaning, therefore, is, that all are possessed by the devil, who do not acknowledge his doctrine to be the sure truth of God. For it is more severe to call them slaves of the devil, 444444 “The god of this world. O that we could consider this, according to what it doth import and carry in it of horror and detestableness! It is a thing that we do not yet believe, that a world inhabited by reasonable creatures, God’s own offspring, is universally fallen into a confederacy and combination with another god, with an enemy — god, an adversary — god, against the living and true God! Men have changed their God. And what a fearful choice have they made! Fallen into a league with those wicked creatures that were weary of his government before, and that were, thereupon, thrown down into an abyss of darkness, and bound up in the chains thereof, unto the judgment of the great day. But doth the Scripture say this in vain? or hath it not a meaning when it calls the devil the god of this world? O with what amazement should it strike our hearts, to think that so it is, that the whole order of creatures is gone off from God, and fallen into a confederacy with the devil and his angels, against their rightful sovereign Lord.” — Howe’s Works. (London, 1834.) p. 1206. — Ed. than to ascribe their blindness to the judgment of God. As, however, he had a little before adjudged such persons to destruction, (2 Corinthians 4:3,) he now adds that they perish, for no other reason than that they have drawn down ruin upon themselves, as the effect of their own unbelief.
Lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine upon them. This serves to confirm what he had said — that if any one rejected his gospel, it was his own blindness that prevented him from receiving it. “For nothing,” says he, “appears in it but Christ, and that not obscurely, but so as to shine forth clearly.” He adds, that Christ is the image of God, by which he intimates that they were utterly devoid of the knowledge of God, in accordance with that statement —
He that knoweth not me knoweth not my Father.
This then is the reason, why he pronounced so severe a sentence upon those that had doubts as to his Apostleship — because they did not behold Christ, who might there be distinctly beheld. It is doubtful whether he employed the expression, the gospel of the glory of Christ, as meaning the glorious gospel, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom; or whether he means by it — the gospel, in which Christ’s glory shone forth. The second of these meanings I rather prefer, as having in it more completeness.
When, however, Christ is called the image of the invisible God, this is not meant merely of his essence, as being the “co-essential of the Father,” as they speak, 445445 Calvin manifestly refers to an expression made use of by the Council of Nice, A.D. 325, to express unity of essence in the first and second persons of the Trinity, the Son having been declared to be ὁμοούσις τῷ Πατρὶ — co-essential with the Father. “It had been used in the same sense by some writers before the meeting of the Council. It is remarkable, however, that it had been rejected by the Council of Antioch, A.D. 263, on account of the inference which Paul of Samosata pretended to draw from it, namely, that if Christ and the Spirit were consubstantial with the Father, it followed that there were three substances — one prior and two posterior — derived from it. To guard against this inference, the Council declared that the Son was not ὁμοούσιος τῷ Πατρὶ (consubstantial with the Father.) “Paul” (of Samosata) “seems to have explained the term as signifying specific, or of the same species; and it is certain that this sense had sometimes been given to it. Thus Aristotle calls the stars ὁμοούσια meaning that they were all of the same nature. But in the creed of Nice it is expressive of unity of essence, and was adopted, after considerable discussion, as proper to be opposed to the Arians, who affirmed that the essence of the Son was different and separate from the Father.” — Dick’s Theology, volume 2. The reader will also find the same expression largely treated of by Calvin in the Institutes, volume 1 — 1. See also Institutes, volume 2, and Calvin on John, vol. 1, p. 417. — Ed. but rather has a reference to us, because he represents the Father to us. The Father himself is represented as invisible, because he is in himself not apprehended by the human understanding. He exhibits himself, however, to us by his Son, and makes himself in a manner visible. 446446 “Christ is the image of God, as a child is the image of his father; not in regard of the individual property which the Father hath distinct from the child, and the child from the father, but in respect of the same substance and nature, derived from the father by generation. Christ is here called the image of God, (2 Corinthians 4:4,) ‘not so much,’ saith Calvin, in relation to God, as the Father is the exemplar of his beauty and excellency, as in relation to us, as he represents the Father to us in the perfections of his nature, as they respect us and our welfare, and renders him visible to the eyes of our minds.” — Charnock’s Works, (Lond. 1684,) volume 2, p. 476. — Ed. I state this, because the ancients, having been greatly incensed against the Arians, insisted more than was befitting on this point — how it is that the Son is inwardly the image of the Father by a secret unity of essence, while they passed over what is mainly for edification — in what respects he is the image of God to us, when he manifests to us what had otherwise been hid in him. Hence the term image has a reference to us, as we shall see again presently 447447 See on verse 6. The epithet invisible, though omitted in some Greek manuscripts, I have preferred to retain, as it is not superfluous. 448448 Three manuscripts (as stated by Poole in his Synopsis) have ἀοράτου (invisible,) but it is generally believed to have been an interpolation from Colossians 1:15. — Ed.