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Repentance and Forgiveness

1“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, 2and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. 4If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. 5And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 7And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. 8And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today. 9The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10when you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

The Choice of Life and Death

11“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

15“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God11Septuagint; Hebrew lacks If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules,22Or his just decrees then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”


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1. And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come. He again confirms what we have elsewhere seen, that God never so severely afflicts His Church as not to be ready to return to mercy; nay, that by their punishments, however cruel in appearance, the afflicted, who were destroying themselves as if their hearts were bent upon it, are invited to repentance, so as to obtain pardon. Although, therefore, cause for despair is everywhere besetting them from the burning wrath of God, still he bids them take heart and be of good hope. Still, we must bear in mind what I have already shewn from the words of Moses, that reconciliation is not offered to all indiscriminately, but that this blessing exists by peculiar privilege in the Church alone; and this we gather also from the special promise, 278278     2 Samuel 12:14, 15; Psalm 89:32, 33. I will visit their iniquities with the rod; nevertheless I will not take away my loving-kindness from them. Now, however, it must also be added, that this is not common to all who profess to be members of the Church, but only belongs 279279     “Residuum semen.” — Lat. “La semence, que Dieu se reserve;” the seed which God reserves to Himself. — Fr. to the residue of the seed, and those whom Paul calls the remnant of grace, (Romans 11:5;) for it is no more profitable for the hypocrites, though they are mixed with believers, to be smitten with the scourges of God unto salvation, than it is for strangers. Wherefore this promise is only addressed to a certain number, because it was always necessary that some people should remain as a residue, in order that God’s covenant should stand firm and sure.

Still, Moses does not only enjoin the Israelites to profit by the corrections of God, but also to reflect upon His blessings whereby they might be led to serve Him with pleasure. For this comparison was of no slight avail in illustration of the judgments of God. 280280     “A donner lustre a la gloire de Dieu;” to give lustre to the glory of God. — Fr. If the punishments alone had occupied their minds, their knowledge would have been but partial or more obscure; whereas, when on the one hand they considered that they had not served God in vain, and on the ether, that in forsaking Him they had fallen from the height of felicity into the deepest misery, it was easy for them to infer that whatever misfortunes they suffered were the fruit and reward of their ungodliness. Nor is it to be doubted but that, under the Law, God so adapted Himself to a tender and ignorant people, that the course of his blessings and curses was perfectly manifest; so that it was plainly shewn that they neither threw away their labor in keeping the Law, nor violated it with impunity. Often does He declare by the Prophets, that, as long as His children were obedient, He on His part would be their Father; that thence it might be more clearly perceived that the deterioration of their circumstances arose from His just indignation. Under this pretext, indeed, the wicked formerly endeavored to defend their superstitions; as, for instance, when in order to refute Jeremiah, they proudly boasted that it was well with them when they “burnt incense unto the frame of heaven;” 281281     See margin, A.V., Jeremiah 44:17. but such wanton depravity is admirably reproved by the Prophet, who shews that God had most manifestly avenged such pollutions by the destruction of their city and the fall of the Temple. (Jeremiah 44:17, 22.) The distinction, therefore, of which Moses now speaks, could not escape them, unless they willfully shut out the light. Moreover, because it rarely happens that men are wise in prosperity, he advises the Israelites to return to their senses, at any rate when sorely afflicted; for He addresses the exiles, who, disinherited by God, had no hope left; and promises them, that if, when banished to distant lands, they at length repented, God would be propitiated towards them. For “to 282282     “Call them to mind.” — A.V. “And thou shalt cause them to return to thine heart, or reduce, bring again to thine heart, i.e., call to mind, consider seriously; so in Deuteronomy 4:39.” — Ainsworth. bring back to their heart” is equivalent to considering what before had been despised through contempt, or neglect, or stupidity, and buried as it were in voluntary oblivion. Still, lest they should presume on God’s kindness, and only seek for pardon in a perfunctory manner, serious conversion is required, the results of which should appear in their life, since newness of life accompanies (genuine 283283     Added from Fr. ) repentance. Nor does Moses speak only of the outward correction of the life, but demands sincere desires to obey, for we have elsewhere seen 284284     See ante on Deuteronomy 4:29, p. 271. that “all the heart” means with integrity of heart.

4. If any of thine be driven out. Since their dispersion into unknown countries might have altogether annihilated their hope of restoration, Moses anticipates this doubt, and teaches them that, although they might be driven out into the utmost regions of the earth, the infinite power of God sufficed to gather them from thence; as also it is said in Psalm 147:2,

“The Lord doth build up Jerusalem; he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel.”

With this intent, the adverb “from thence” is twice repeated, lest they should imagine that the distance of place would be any impediment to the fulfillment of what God had promised.

We have seen elsewhere that it was not without reason that their dwelling in the land of Canaan was magnified as a peculiar blessing, because it behooved that, until the time of Christ’s coming, the hope of an eternal inheritance should be cherished in their minds by an earthly and visible symbol.

6. And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart. This promise far surpasses all the others, and properly refers to the new Covenant, for thus it is interpreted by Jeremiah, who introduces God thus speaking, —

“Behold, the days come that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, which covenant they brake, but I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33.)

Moses now declares the same thing in different words, that, lest the Israelites, according to their wonted instability, should fall back from time to time into new rebellions, a divine remedy was needed, i.e., that God should renew and mould their hearts. In short, he reminds them that this would be the chief advantage of their reconciliation, that God should endow them with the Spirit of regeneration. There is a metaphor in this word circumcise; for Moses alludes to the legal sign of consecration, whereby they were initiated into the service of God. The expression, therefore, is equivalent to his saying, God will create you spiritually to be new men, so that, cleansed from the filth of the flesh and the world, and separated from the unclean nations, you should serve Him in purity. Meanwhile, he shews that, whatever God offers us in the Sacraments, depends on the secret operation of His Spirit. Circumcision was then the Sacrament of repentance and renewal, as Baptism is now to us; but “the letter,” as Paul calls it, (Romans 2:27,) was useless in itself, as also now many are baptized to no profit. So far, then, is God from resigning the grace of His Spirit to the Sacraments, that all their efficacy and utility is lodged in the Spirit alone.

Although Moses seems to make a division of the matter between men and God, so as to ascribe to them the beginning of repentance, and to make Him the author of perseverance (only, 285285     Added from Fr. ) nevertheless this difficulty is easily solved; for according to the ordinary manner of Scripture, when he exhorts them to repentance, he is not teaching them that it is a gift of the Spirit, but simply reminding them of their duty. Meanwhile, the defenders of free-will foolishly conclude, that more is not required of men than they are able to perform; for in other places they are taught to ask of God whatever He enjoins. Thus, in this passage, Moses treats of the means of propitiating God, viz., by returning into the right way with an unfeigned heart; but, after he has testified that God will be gracious to them, he adds, that there is need of a better remedy, so that, being once restored by Him, they may be perpetual recipients of His grace. Still, it is not his intention to restrict the circumcision of the heart to the subsequent course of their lives, as if it depended on their own will and choice to circumcise themselves before God should work in them. And surely it is not at all more easy to rise when you have fallen, than to stand upright after God has set you up. I confess that perseverance is an excellent grace; but how shall the sinner, who is enthralled to Satan, free himself from those chains, unless God shall deliver him? Therefore, what Moses lays down as to the gift, of perseverance, applies no less to the commencement of conversion; but he only wishes to teach us that, although God should pardon our sins, that blessing would be but transient, unless He should keep us in subjection to His Law. And, in fact, He regenerates by His Spirit unto righteousness all those whose sins He pardons.

8. And thou shalt return 286286     “Return thou therefore,” etc. — Lat. and obey the voice of the Lord. The copula which Moses here employs is equivalent to the illative particle; for he argues from their certainty of obtaining pardon, that they should not hesitate to return to God, nay, rather that they should set about it with a cheerful and ready mind; and then that they should constantly proceed in the course of obedience. But, when he now requires of the people the perseverance which he had just before declared to be given by God alone, we may at once infer that they deal foolishly who estimate the powers of man by the commands of God. Meanwhile, let us bear in mind this main point, that true conversion is proved by the constant tenor of the life; because we are redeemed, as Zecharias testifies, to this end that we should serve God, our Deliverer, “in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:74, 75.)

11. For this commandment, which I command thee. This declaration is like the preceding, and tends to the same end; for Moses commends in it the Law, on account of its easiness; because God does not propound to us obscure enigmas to keep our minds in suspense, and to torment us with difficulties, but teaches familiarly whatever is necessary, according to the capacity, and consequently the ignorance of the people. Therefore, in Isaiah 45:19 He reproves the Jews for having wandered in darkness through their own depravity and folly; because He had not spoken to them in secret, nor said in vain 275275     In A. V., it will be remembered, the words, “in vain,” are connected with “Seek ye me.” “I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain.” to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me. But Moses here invites them to learn, because they had an easy and clear method of instruction set before their eyes, and would not lose their labor; for we know that it is very often made an excuse for idleness, if great labor without much profit is to be applied to deep and difficult studies. Moses, therefore, declares that the Law is not hard to be understood, so as to demand inordinate fatigue in its study; but that God there speaks distinctly and explicitly, and that nothing is required of them but diligent application. More-over, he thus takes away from them every pretext for ignorance, since, with so much light, they cannot err, except by wilfully blinding themselves, or shutting their eyes. Whence, also, we gather, how impious are the babblings of the Papists that the Scripture is beset by thick darkness, and how wicked is their driving away the people from approaching it, as if it were some labyrinth. Surely they thus must needs accuse the Holy Spirit of falsehood, who so abundantly asserts its comprehensibleness, (claritatem,) or else they malign itself by their blasphemous taunts. But if the ancient people were left without excuse, unless they kept in the right way, when they had the Law for their mistress and director, our stupidity must be worthy of double and triple condemnation, if we do not make progress in the Gospel, wherein God has opened all the treasures of His wisdom, as far as is sufficient for salvation. The Sophists276276     Les Theologiens de la Papaute. — Fr. improperly and ignorantly wrest this passage to prove the freedom of the will. (They allege277277     Added from the French. ) that Moses here declares the precepts of the Law not to be above our reach. What? Does he state that the keeping of them is within the compass of our strength? Surely the words convey nothing of the sort; neither can this sense be elicited from them, if his intention be duly weighed. For he merely encourages the Jews, and commands them to be diligent disciples of the Law, because they will easily understand whatever is enjoined by God therein. But the power of performance is a very different thing from understanding. Besides, Paul, with very good reason, accommodates this passage to the Gospel, (Romans 10:8;) because it would profit nothing to comprehend the doctrine itself in the mind, unless reverence and a serious disposition to obey be superadded. But he takes it for granted, that to have a good will is so far from being in our own power, that we are not even competent to think aright. Hence it follows, that what is here stated falls to the ground as frivolous, and spoken to no purpose, if it be applied simply to the Law. Paul also considers another thing, viz., that because the Law requires a perfect righteousness, it cannot be received by any mortal fruitfully; for however any one may study to obey God, yet he will still be far from perfection; and, therefore, it is necessary to come to the Gospel, wherein that rigorous requirement is relaxed, because, through the interposition of pardon, the will to obey is pleasing to God instead of perfect obedience. For Paul insists on the latter verse, “The word is nigh in the mouth, and in the heart, that the people may do it.” Now, it is clear that men’s hearts are strongly and obstinately opposed to the Law; and that in the Law itself is contained only a dead and deadly letter; how then could the literal doctrine have a place in the heart? But if God, by the Spirit of regeneration, corrects the depravity of the heart and softens its hardness, this is not the property of the Law, but of the Gospel. Again, because in the children of God, even after they are regenerated, there always abide the remainders of carnal desires, no mortal will be found who can perform the Law. But in the Gospel God receives, with fatherly indulgence, what is not absolutely perfect. The word of God, therefore, does not begin to penetrate into the heart, and to produce its proper fruit in the lips, until Christ shines upon us with His Spirit and gratuitous pardon. Wherefore Paul most truly concludes that this is the word of faith which is preached in the Gospel; both because the Law does not efficaciously lead men to God, and because the keeping of it is impossible, on account of its extreme rigor. But this is the peculiar blessing of the new covenant, that the Law is written on men’s hearts, and engraven on their inward parts; whilst that severe requirement is relaxed, so that the vices under which believers still labor are no obstacle to their partial and imperfect obedience being pleasant to God.

15. See, I have set before thee this day. A solemn injunction, similar to the foregoing ones, that the Israelites should consider how inestimable a blessing it was that God should have condescended to deposit His Law with them; and that if they did not receive it with reverence, the punishments for such foul ingratitude would be by no means light. For, in order to deprive them of the pretext of error, He separates them from the heathen nations, which through ignorance of the right way vacillated, as in uncertainty, between life and death. He says, therefore, that He has set before their eyes life, and that indeed connected with true and complete happiness; and likewise death with its consequences. Now, there is no one who, under the guidance of nature, would not seek for life and recoil from death; and thence Moses reproaches them with being more than senseless if they should plunge voluntarily into all miseries. Meanwhile, he signifies that he is not addressing to them mere idle menaces, but that his doctrine is armed with the power of God, so that whosoever should embrace it would find salvation in it, whilst none would despise it with impunity. The distribution of the two clauses then follows, viz., that the love of God and the keeping of His Law is prescribed that they may live; but if they turn away from it, their destruction is denounced. It is not, then, without reason that I have called the promises and threats the Sanctions of the Law, because, in order that its authority may be assured to us, it is necessary that both the recompence of obedience, and also the punishment of transgression, should be set before us. By the worship of other gods, he means every revolt from God, as I have observed already. He does not speak of their being “drawn away” to superstition as an excuse for their instability, but rather as an aggravation of their crime, inasmuch as they are carried away by their depraved desires, 287287     Addition in Fr., “comme d’un tourbillon;” as by a whirlpool. and thus desert the truth of God when well acquainted with it.

19. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you. Though the verb is in the past tense, it indicates a present act. It is in order to deal with them with greater urgency that he calls heaven and earth to witness the vengeance of God. In these words he does not address men and angels, as some tamely expound it, but in amplification attributes sense to things inanimate. I pass this over briefly, because I have 288288     See ante on Deuteronomy 4:26, p. 270. treated it more fully before; as also what soon afterwards follows about life and death. For the Law, as respects its doctrine, contains in it life and death; for the reward of eternal life is not promised in it in vain; but since no one is found worthy of the promised reward, Paul justly teaches that the Law ministers death. Still this is accidental, and proceeds not from any fault in the doctrine, but from the corruption of men. Nevertheless, it is asked how, if the corruption of our nature causes that the Law should engender nothing but death, Moses commands us to “choose life,” which the sinner cannot attain to by it? Thence the Papists uplift their crests, both to extol free-will and to boast of merits; as if Moses did not also testify and proclaim the gratuitous mercy of God, and direct his disciples to Christ in order to seek salvation from Him. When, therefore, he speaks of keeping the Commandments, he does not exclude the two-fold grace of Christ, that believers, being regenerated by the Spirit, 289289     “S’adonnent a observer la Loy, et pource qu’ils n’en peuvent venir a bout, qu’ils ne soyent toujours redevables, que leur fautes leurs soyent gratuitement pardonnees;” should devote themselves to the keeping of the Law; and because they could never attain its end, so as not to be always indebted to it, that their faults should be gratuitously pardoned. — Fr. should aspire to the obedience of righteousness, and at the same time should be reconciled freely to God through the forgiveness of their sins. And assuredly, since the same covenant is common to us and to the ancient people, it is not to be doubted but that they “chose life” who of old embraced the doctrine of Moses. At the same time, in so far as his legation was different from the Gospel, he rather insists on the office peculiarly entrusted to him, so that the distinction between Christ and himself might more clearly appear. This is the reason why he more sparingly touches upon justification by faith, whilst he enlarges fully on loving and serving God and fulfilling His Commandments.




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