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Here God adds another part of duty which is incumbent on all Prophets. For they are first sent to bring back into the way those who had been alienated from God, then to retain those who are already within the flock, and to lead those onward to the goal who have already entered upon the course. We see, therefore, that Prophets ought to be occupied with both duties, so that they may not only recall to their obedience to God those who wander after their own lusts, but also confirm those who are, of their own accord, teachable already, and encourage them to persevere, and prevent them from failing away. Hence, after God has spoken concerning the correction of sinners who had strayed, he now adds another member. If, says he, the righteous man be turned aside from his righteousness, and thou hast not admonished him, he shall ate, and I will require his blood at thy hand Where in effect God signifies, that Prophets are guilty, not only if they do not exhort those who have withdrawn from the right way to retrace their steps, but also if they do not retain within their duty those who have already entered upon the right course. We must then have two objects in view, to recall those who have fallen into various errors, and to take care that those within the fold should not fall away, but be strengthened in perseverance. Hence it is now added, If the righteous shall turn aside, he indeed shall die, but his blood will I require
Here it may be asked, how can the just turn aside, since there is no righteousness without the spirit of regeneration But the seed of the Spirit is incorruptible, (1 Peter 1:23,) nor can it ever happen that his grace is utterly extinguished; for the Spirit, is the earnest and seal of our adoption, for God’s adoption is without repentance, as Paul says. (Romans 11:29.) Hence it may seem absurd to say, that the just recedes and turns aside from the right way. That passage of John is well known — if they had been of us, they had remained with us, (1 John 2:19,) but because they have departed, that falling away proves sufficiently that they were never ours. But we must here mark, that righteousness is here called so:, which has only the outward appearance and not the root: for when once the spirit of regeneration begins to flourish, as I have said, it remains perpetually. And we shall sometimes see men borne along with a wonderful ardor of zeal for the worship of God, and to be urged to promote his glory beyond even the very best men; indeed we shall see this, but, says Paul, God knows those who are his own. (2 Timothy 2:19.) Hence it is not wonderful that God under the name of righteousness here commends virtues which deserve praise before men, even if they do not spring from a pure fountain. Thus we see it. often happens that the righteous are alienated, and turn aside from the right way. This passage, then, ought to stir us up to seek from God continually a spirit of perseverance, because such is our propensity to sin, that we immediately flow in different directions like water, unless God strengthen us. When therefore we see the righteous themselves depart from the way, let us lead and become sure of the constancy of our own faith, only let our confidence be founded on the help of the Holy Spirit and not in ourselves. In the meantime, we see that Christ did not pronounce this passage in vain: Happy are those who persevere unto the end, (Matthew 24:13,) because many fall away in the midst of their course, or reversing their steps, turn their backs upon God.
Now we must carefully remark what follows, his righteousness shall not be remembered, because some desire to bargain with God, so that if for a time they enter upon the pursuit of piety, that may be taken into account and avail in their favor. But we hear what God pronounces, all their righteousness shall not be remembered in the case of backsliders There is no encouragement to flatter ourselves into sloth and security, when God shows that unless we continue to the end, even the goal of our career, whatever else we attain unto, it is useless. He says, as clearly as words will express it, if he shall fall away, or recede, or turn aside from his righteousness and shall commit iniquity We must mark this diligently, because we know that the very best men often fall away; but here a falling away is intended, where any one casts himself headlong on impiety: hence to commit iniquity is to give oneself up entirely to impiety; as when John says, that those who are born again of the Spirit of God do not commit sin, (1 John 3:9,) he means, are not addicted to sin, even if as yet they dwell among many infirmities and failings: as also Paul says, that sin dwells in us, but does not reign. (Romans 6:12.) Hence to commit sin is to give oneself up to sin. But God says, I will place, or for placing, or if I shall have placed, a stumblingblock before his face Punishment is here called a stumblingblock, when God demonstrates his vengeance against apostates. Although a stumblingblock may also be called actual admonition, as the phrase is; but because that is too far-fetched, I receive it simply, if the righteous shall have turned aside: but I shall have rendered the reward which he deserved, he shall die, because thou hast not admonished him: in his unrighteousness shall he die: thus I point it off, for interpreters seem to me improperly to have mingled together — he shall die, and — he shall die in his iniquity. Now that threat which we have seen is repeated, namely, that all prophets who have deserted their office are guilty before God, because their sloth differs little from perfidy: for God considered them worthy of the greatest honor, since he committed souls to them, which, as we have said, he esteems so dear and precious. But if they reject this trust committed to them, we see that they not only act injuriously to man, but are also ungrateful to God; and their sluggishness is not only united with perfidy, but also with sacrilege, because they permit Satan to snatch from God what was his own. Just as if any watchman should desert his post and betray it to the enemy; because when they see some wander and others desert, it is clear that this does not arise from ignorance, as we have said, but to the snares of Satan and lust are those exposed whom Christ has redeemed with his blood: hence as we have said, this their treachery is without excuse.