World Wide Study Bible
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17. Sin, Faith, Duty
1And he said unto his disciples, It is impossible but that occasions of stumbling should come; but woe unto him, through whom they come! 2It were well for him if a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. 4And if he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. 5And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. 6And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye would say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou rooted up, and be thou planted in the sea; and it would obey you. 7But who is there of you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from the field, Come straightway and sit down to meat; 8and will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? 9Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded? 10Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do. 11And it came to pass, as they were on their way to Jerusalem, that he was passing along the borders of Samaria and Galilee. 12And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off: 13and they lifted up their voices, saying, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. 14And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go and show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, as they went, they were cleansed. 15And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, with a loud voice glorifying God; 16and he fell upon his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 17And Jesus answering said, Were not the ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18Were there none found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger? 19And he said unto him, Arise, and go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. 20And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you. 22And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. 23And they shall say to you, Lo, there! Lo, here! go not away, nor follow after them: 24for as the lightning, when it lighteneth out of the one part under the heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall the Son of man be in his day. 25But first must he suffer many things and be rejected of this generation. 26And as it came to pass in the days of Noah, even so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. 27They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. 28Likewise even as it came to pass in the days of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; 29but in the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all: 30after the same manner shall it be in the day that the Son of man is revealed. 31In that day, he that shall be on the housetop, and his goods in the house, let him not go down to take them away: and let him that is in the field likewise not return back. 32Remember Lot's wife. 33Whosoever shall seek to gain his life shall lose it: but whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. 34I say unto you, In that night there shall be two men on one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 35There shall be two women grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 36There shall be two men in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 37And they answering say unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Where the body is, thither will the eagles also be gathered together.
The object of this parable is to show that God claims all that belongs to us as his property, and possesses an entire control over our persons and services; and, therefore, that all the zeal that may be manifested by us in discharging our duty does not lay him under obligation to us by any sort of merit; for, as we are his property, so he on his part can owe us nothing. 317317 “Il ne pent pas estre nostre deteur;” — “he cannot be our debtor.” He adduces the comparison of a servant, who, after having spent the day in severe toil, returns home in the evening, and continues his labors till his master is pleased to relieve him. 318318 “Iusqu’a ce qu’il se soit acquitte au bon plaisir du maistre; et qu’on luy dise, C’est assez;” — “till he is discharged at the good pleasure of the master; and till he is told, It is enough.” Christ speaks not of such servants as we have in the present day, who work for hire, but of the slaves that lived in ancient times, whose condition in society was such, that they gained nothing for themselves, but all that belonged to them—their toil, and application, and industry, even to their very blood—was the property of their masters. Christ now shows that a bond of servitude not less rigorous binds and obliges us to serve God; from which he infers, that we have no means of laying Him under obligations to us.
It is an argument drawn from the less to the greater; for if a mortal man is permitted to hold such power over another man, as to enjoin upon him uninterrupted services by night and by day, and yet contract no sort of mutual obligation, as if he were that man’s debtor, how much more shall God have a right to demand the services of our whole life, to the utmost extent that our ability allows, and yet be in no degree indebted to us? We see then that all are held guilty of wicked arrogance who imagine that they deserve any thing from God, or that he is bound to them in any way. And yet no crime is more generally practiced than this kind of arrogance; for there is no man that would not willingly call God to account, and hence the notion of merits has prevailed in almost every age.
But we must attend more closely to the statement made by Christ, that we render nothing to God beyond what he has a right to claim, but are so strongly bound to his service, that we owe him every thing that lies in our power. It consists of two clauses. First, our life, even to the very end of our course, belongs entirely to God; so that, if a person were to spend a part of it in obedience to God, he would have no right to bargain that he should rest for the remainder of the time; as a considerable number of men, after serving as soldiers for ten years, would gladly apply for a discharge. Then follows the second clause, on which we have already touched, that God is not bound to pay us hire for any of our services. Let each of us remember, that he has been created by God for the purpose of laboring, and of being vigorously employed in his work; and that not only for a limited time, but till death itself, and, what is more, that he shall not only live, but die, to God, (Romans 14:8.)
With respect to merit, we must remove the difficulty by which many are perplexed; for Scripture so frequently promises a reward to our works, that they think it allows them some merit. The reply is easy. A reward is promised, not as a debt, but from the mere good pleasure of God. It is a great mistake to suppose that there is a mutual relation between Reward and Merit; for it is by his own undeserved favor, and not by the value of our works, that God is induced to reward them. By the engagements of the Law 319319 “Selon les conventions contenus en la Loy;” — “according to the engagements contained in the Law.” , I readily acknowledge, God is bound to men, if they were to discharge fully all that is required from them; but still, as this is a voluntary obligation, it remains a fixed principle, that man can demand nothing from God, as if he had merited any thing. And thus the arrogance of the flesh falls to the ground; for, granting that any man fulfilled the Law, he cannot plead that he has any claims on God, having done no more than he was bound to do. When he says that we are unprofitable servants, his meaning is, that God receives from us nothing beyond what is justly due but only collects the lawful revenues of his dominion.
There are two principles, therefore, that must be maintained: first, that God naturally owes us nothing, and that all the services which we render to him are not worth a single straw; secondly, that, according to the engagements of the Law, a reward is attached to works, not on account of their value, but because God is graciously pleased to become our debtor. 320320 “Mais en telle sorte que Dieu se rend volontairement deteur, sans qu’il y soit tenu;” — “but in such a manner that God voluntarily becomes our debtor, though he is under no obligation to do so.” It would evince intolerable ingratitude, if on such a ground any person should indulge in proud vaunting. The kindness and liberality which God exercises towards us are so far from giving us a right to swell with foolish confidence, that we are only laid under deeper obligations to Him. Whenever we meet with the word reward, or whenever it occurs to our recollection, let us look upon this as the crowning act of the goodness of God to us, that, though we are completely in his debt, he condescends to enter into a bargain with us. So much the more detestable is the invention of the Sophists, who have had the effrontery to forge a kind of merit, which professes to be founded on a just claim. 321321 “Et d’antant plus est detestable la sophisterie des Theologiens Scho- lastiques, ou Sorbonnistes, lesquels ont ose forger leur merite, qu’ils appellent De condigno;” — “And so much the more detestable is the sophistry of the Scholastic Theologians, or Sorbonnists, (see p. 142, n. 2, of this volume,) who have dared to forge their merit, which they call De condigno.” The reader will find not only the general doctrine of merit, but this particular aspect of it, fully treated by our Author in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III. ch. 15: The word merit, taken by itself, was sufficiently profane and inconsistent with the standard of piety; but to intoxicate men with diabolical pride, as if they could merit any thing by a just claim, is far worse.