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 honor, and some to dishonor.
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 men therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, 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.
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
"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.
"written in the book of life." (Psalm 69:28; Philippians 4:3.)
Yet we ought always to observe why and for what purpose he makes mention of a
"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."
"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.
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.
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." 2
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.
1 "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.
2 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.