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Warnings from Israel’s History


I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

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What he had previously taught by two similitudes, he now confirms by examples. The Corinthians grew wanton, and gloried, as if they had served out their time, 520520     “Comme feroyent des gendarmes, qui ont desia fidelement serui si long temps, que pour leur faire honneur on les enuoye se reposer le reste de leur vie;” — “After the manner of soldiers, who have already served with fidelity for so long a time, that with the view of putting honor upon them, they were discharged, so as to be exempted from labor during the remainder of their life.” or at least had finished their course, when they had scarcely left the starting-point. This vain exultation and confidence he represses in this manner — “As I see that you are quietly taking your ease at the very outset of your course, I would not have you ignorant of what befell the people of Israel in consequence of this, that their example may arouse you.” As, however, on examples being adduced, any point of difference destroys the force of the comparison, Paul premises, that there is no such dissimilarity between us and the Israelites, as to make our condition different from theirs. Having it, therefore, in view to threaten the Corinthians with the same vengeance as had overtaken them, he begins in this manner — “Beware of glorying in any peculiar privilege, as if you were in higher esteem than they were in the sight of God.” For they were favored with the same benefits as we at this day enjoy; there was a Church of God among them, as there is at this day among us; they had the same sacraments, to be tokens to them of the grace of God; 521521     “Aussi bien qu’a nous;” — “As well as to us.” but, on their abusing their privileges, they did not escape the judgment of God. 522522     “Ils ont senti le jugement de Dieu, et ne l’ont peu euiter;” — “They have felt the judgment of God, and have not been able to escape it.” Be afraid, therefore; for the same thing is impending over you. Jude makes use of the same argument in his Epistle. (Jude 1:5.)

1. All were under the cloud. The Apostle’s object is to show, that the Israelites were no less the people of God than we are, that we may know, that we will not escape with impunity the hand of God, which punished them 523523     “Eux, qui estoyent son peuple;” — “Those who were his people.” with so much severity. For the sum is this — “If God spared not them, neither will he spare you, for your condition is similar.” That similarity he proves from this — that they had been honored with the same tokens of God’s grace, for the sacraments are badges by which the Church of God is distinguished. He treats first of baptism, and teaches that the cloud, which protected the Israelites in the desert from the heat of the sun, and directed their course, and also their passage through the sea, was to them as a baptism; he says, also, that in the manna, and the water flowing from the rock, there was a sacrament which corresponded with the sacred Supper.

They were, says he, baptized in Moses, that is, under the ministry or guidance of Moses. For I take the particle εἰς to be used here instead of ἐν, agreeably to the common usage of Scripture, because we are assuredly baptized in the name of Christ, and not of any mere man, as he has stated in 1 Corinthians 1:13, and that for two reasons. These are, first, because we are by baptism initiated 524524     “Nous nous assuietissons et bisons serment;” — “We submit ourselves, and make oath.” into the doctrine of Christ alone; and, secondly, because his name alone is invoked, inasmuch as baptism is founded on his influence alone. They were, therefore, baptized in Moses, that is, under his guidance or ministry, as has been already stated. How? In the cloud and in the sea. “They were, then, baptized twice,” some one will say. I answer, that there are two signs made mention of, making, however, but one baptism, corresponding to ours.

Here, however, a more difficult question presents itself. For it is certain, that the advantage of those gifts, which Paul makes mention of, was temporal. 525525     “Et terrien;” — “And earthly.” The cloud protected them from the heat of the sun, and showed them the way: these are outward advantages of the present life. In like manner, their passage through the sea was attended with this effect, that they got clear off from Pharaoh’s cruelty, and escaped from imminent hazard of death. The advantage of our baptism, on the other hand, is spiritual. Why then does Paul turn earthly benefits into sacraments, and seek to find some spiritual mystery 526526     “Mystere et secret;” — “Mystery and secret.” in them? I answer, that it was not without good reason that Paul sought in miracles of this nature something more than the mere outward advantage of the flesh. For, though God designed to promote his people’s advantage in respect of the present life, what he had mainly in view was, to declare and manifest himself to be their God, and under that, eternal salvation is comprehended.

The cloud, in various instances, 527527     “Par toute l’Escriture;” — “Throughout the whole of Scripture. is called the symbol of his presence. As, therefore, he declared by means of it, that he was present with them, as his peculiar and chosen people, there can be no doubt that, in addition to an earthly advantage, they had in it, besides, a token of spiritual life. Thus its use was twofold, as was also that of the passage through the sea, for a way was opened up for them through the midst of the sea, that they might escape from the hand of Pharaoh; but to what was this owing, but to the circumstance, that the Lord, having taken them under his guardianship and protection, determined by every means to defend them? Hence, they concluded from this, that they were the objects of God’s care, and that he had their salvation in charge. Hence, too, the Passover, which was instituted to celebrate the remembrance of their deliverance, was nevertheless, at the same time, a sacrament of Christ. How so? Because God had, under a temporal benefit, manifested himself as a Savior. Any one that will attentively consider these things, will find that there is no absurdity in Paul’s words. Nay more, he will perceive both in the spiritual substance and in the visible sign a most striking correspondence between the baptism of the Jews, and ours.

It is however objected again, that we do not find a word of all this. 528528     “Es Escritures;” — “In the Scriptures.” This I admit, but there is no doubt, that God by his Spirit supplied the want of outward preaching, as we may see in the instance of the brazen serpent, which was, as Christ himself testifies, a spiritual sacrament, (John 3:14,) and yet not a word has come down to us as to this thing, 529529     “Nous n’en auons maintenant pas un seul mot en’toute l’Escriture;” — “We have not a single word of it in the whole of Scripture.” but the Lord revealed to believers of that age, in the manner he thought fit, the secret, which would otherwise have remained hid.

3. The same spiritual meat He now makes mention of the other sacrament, which corresponds to the Holy Supper of the Lord. “The manna,” says he, “and the water that flowed forth from the rock, served not merely for the food of the body, but also for the spiritual nourishment of souls.” It is true, that both were means of sustenance for the body, but this does not hinder their serving also another purpose. While, therefore, the Lord relieved the necessities of the body, he, at the same time, provided for the everlasting welfare of souls. These two things would be easily reconciled, were there not a difficulty presented in Christ’s words, (John 6:31,) where he makes the manna the corruptible food of the belly, which he contrasts with the true food of the soul. That statement appears to differ widely from what Paul says here. This knot, too, is easily solved. It is the manner of scripture, when treating of the sacraments, or other things, to speak in some cases according to the capacity of the hearers, and in that case it has respect not to the nature of the thing, but to the mistaken idea of the hearers. Thus, Paul does not always speak of circumcision in the same way, for when he has a view to the appointment of God in it, he says, that it was a seal of the righteousness of the faith, (Romans 4:11,) but when he is disputing with those who gloried in an outward and bare sign, and reposed in it a mistaken confidence of salvation, he says, that it is a token of condemnation, because men bind themselves by it to keep the whole law (Galatians 5:2, 3.) For he takes merely the opinion that the false apostles had of it, because he contends, not against the pure institution of God, but against their mistaken view. In this way, as the carnal multitude preferred Moses to Christ, because he had fed the people in the desert for forty years, and looked to nothing in the manna but the food of the belly, (as indeed they sought nothing else,) Christ in his reply does not explain what was meant by the manna, but, passing over everything else, suits his discourse to the idea entertained by his hearers. “Moses is held by you in the highest esteem, and even in admiration, as a most eminent Prophet, because he filled the bellies of your fathers in the desert. For this one thing you object against me: I am accounted nothing by you, because I do not supply you with food for the belly. But if you reckon corruptible food of so much importance, what ought you to think of the life-giving bread, with which souls are nourished up unto eternal life?.” We see then that the Lord speaks there — not according to the nature of the thing, but rather according to the apprehension of his hearers. 530530     See Calvin on John, vol. 1, p. 247. — Ed. Paul, on the other hand, looks here — not to the ordinance of God, but to the abuse of it by the wicked.

Farther, when he says that the fathers ate the same spiritual meat, he shows, first, what is the virtue and efficacy of the Sacraments, and, secondly, he declares, that the ancient Sacraments of the Law had the same virtue as ours have at this day. For, if the manna was spiritual food, it follows, that it is not bare emblems that are presented to us in the Sacraments, but that the thing represented is at the same time truly imparted, for God is not a deceiver to feed us with empty fancies. 531531     “Choses qui ayent apparence sans efibt;” — “Things that have an appearance, without reality.” A sign, it is true, is a sign, and retains its essence, but, as Papists act a ridiculous part, who dream of transformations, (I know not of what sort,) so it is not for us to separate between the reality and the emblem which God has conjoined. Papists confound the reality and the sign: profane men, as, for example, Suenckfeldius, and the like, separate the signs from the realities. Let us maintain a middle course, 532532     “Entre ees deux extremitez;” — “Between these two extremes.” or, in other words, let us observe the connection appointed by the Lord, but still keep them distinct, that we may not mistakingly transfer to the one what belongs to the other.

It remains that we speak of the second point — the resemblance between the ancient signs and ours. It is a well-known dogma of the schoolmen — that the Sacraments of the ancient law were emblems of grace, but ours confer it. This passage is admirably suited for refuting that error, for it shows that the reality of the Sacrament was presented to the ancient people of God no less than to us. It is therefore a base fancy of the Sorbonists, that the holy fathers under the law had the signs without the reality. I grant, indeed, that the efficacy of the signs is furnished to us at once more clearly and more abundantly from the time of Christ’s manifestation in the flesh than it was possessed by the fathers. Thus there is a difference between us and them only in degree, or, (as they commonly say,) of “more and less,” for we receive more fully what they received in a smaller measure. It is not as if they had had bare emblems, while we enjoy the reality. 533533     Our author, having occasion to refer to the same “Scholastic dogma” as to the Sacraments of the Old and New Testaments, (when commenting on Romans 4:12,) says, “Illis enim vim justificandi adimunt, his attribuunt:” — “They deny to the former the power of justifying, while they assign it to the latter.” — Ed.

Some explain it to mean, that they 534534     “Les Israelites;” — “The Israelites.” ate the same meat together among themselves, and do not wish us to understand that there is a comparison between us and them; but these do not consider Paul’s object. For what does he mean to say here, but that the ancient people of God were honored with the same benefits with us, and were partakers of the same sacraments, that we might not, from confiding in any peculiar privilege, imagine that we would be exempted from the punishment which they endured? At the same time, I should not be prepared to contest the point with any one; I merely state my own opinion. In the meantime, I am well aware, what show of reason is advanced by those who adopt the opposite interpretation — that it suits best with the similitude made use of immediately before — that all the Israelites had the same race-ground marked out for them, and all started from the same point: all entered upon the same course: all were partakers of the same hope, but many were shut out from the reward. When, however, I take everything attentively into consideration, I am not induced by these considerations to give up my opinion; for it is not without good reason that the Apostle makes mention of two sacraments merely, and, more particularly, baptism. For what purpose was this, but to contrast them with us? Unquestionably, if he had restricted his comparison to the body of that people, he would rather have brought forward circumcision, and other sacraments that were better known and more distinguished, but, instead of this, he chose rather those that were more obscure, because they served more as a contrast between us and them. Nor would the application that he subjoins be otherwise so suitable — “All things that happened to them are examples to us, inasmuch as we there see the judgments of God that are impending over us, if we involve ourselves in the same crimes.”

4. That rock was Christ Some absurdly pervert these words of Paul, as if he had said, that Christ was the spiritual rock, and as if he were not speaking of that rock which was a visible sign, for we see that he is expressly treating of outward signs. The objection that they make — that the rock is spoken of as spiritual, is a frivolous one, inasmuch as that epithet is applied to it simply that we may know that it was a token of a spiritual mystery. In the mean time, there is no doubt, that he compares our sacraments with the ancient ones. Their second objection is more foolish and more childish — “How could a rock,” say they, “that stood firm in its place, follow the Israelites?” — as if it were not abundantly manifest, that by the word rock is meant the stream of water, which never ceased to accompany the people. For Paul extols 535535     “Celebre et magnifie;” — “Celebrates and extols.” the grace of God, on this account, that he commanded the water that was drawn out from the rock to flow forth wherever the people journeyed, as if the rock itself had followed them. Now if Paul’s meaning were, that Christ is the spiritual foundation of the Church, what occasion were there for his using the past tense? 536536     “Estoit;” — “Was.” It is abundantly manifest, that something is here expressed that was peculiar to the fathers. Away, then, with that foolish fancy by which contentious men choose rather to show their impudence, than admit that they are sacramental forms of expression! 537537     “C’est a dire, lesquelles il ne faut pendre cruement, et a la lettre, comme on dit;” — “That is to say — which must not be taken strictly or according to the letter, as they say.” The reader will find this subject handled at some length in the Harmony, vol. 3, pp. 207,208. — Ed.

I have, however, already stated, that the reality of the things signified was exhibited in connection with the ancient sacraments. As, therefore, they were emblems of Christ, it follows, that Christ was connected with them, not locally, nor by a natural or substantial union, but sacramentally. On this principle the Apostle says, that the rock was Christ, for nothing is more common than metonymy in speaking of sacraments. The name of the thing, therefore, is transferred here to the sign — not as if it were strictly applicable, but figuratively, on the ground of that connection which I have mentioned. I touch upon this, however, the more slightly, because it will be more largely treated of when we come to the 11th Chapter.

There remains another question. “Seeing that we now in the Supper eat the body of Christ, and drink his blood, how could the Jews be partakers of the same spiritual meat and drink, when there was as yet no flesh of Christ that they could eat?” I answer, that though his flesh did not as yet exist, it was, nevertheless, food for them. Nor is this an empty or sophistical subtilty, for their salvation depended on the benefit of his death and resurrection. Hence, they required to receive the flesh and the blood of Christ, that they might participate in the benefit of redemption. This reception of it was the secret work of the Holy Spirit, who wrought in them in such a manner, that Christ’s flesh, though not yet created, was made efficacious in them. He means, however, that they ate in their own way, which was different from ours, 538538     “D’vnc autre facon et mesure que nous ne faisons pas;” — “In another way and measure than we do.” and this is what I have previously stated, that Christ is now presented to us more fully, according to the measure of the revelation. For, in the present day, the eating is substantial, which it could not have been then — that is, Christ feeds us with his flesh, which has been sacrificed for us, and appointed as our food, and from this we derive life.

5. But many of them. We have now the reason why the Apostle has premised these things — that we might not claim for ourselves any dignity or excellence above them, but might walk in humility and fear, for thus only shall we secure, that we have not been favored in vain with the light of truth, and with such an abundance of gracious benefits. “God,” says he, “had chosen them all as his people, but many of them fell from grace. Let us, therefore, take heed, lest the same thing should happen to us, being admonished by so many examples, for God will not suffer that to go unpunished in us, which he punished so severely in them.”

Here again it is objected: “If it is true, that hypocrites and wicked persons in that age ate spiritual meat, do unbelievers in the present day partake of the reality in the sacraments?” Some, afraid lest the unbelief of men should seem to detract from the truth of God, teach that the reality is received by the wicked along with the sign. This fear, however, is needless, for the Lord offers, it is true, to the worthy and to the unworthy what he represents, but all are not capable of receiving it. In the meantime, the sacrament does not change its nature, nor does it lose anything of its efficacy. Hence the manna, in relation to God, was spiritual meat even to unbelievers, but because the mouth of unbelievers was but carnal, they did not eat what was given them. The fuller discussion, however, of this question I reserve for the 11th Chapter.

For they were overthrown. Proof is here furnished, by adducing a token, that they did not please God — inasmuch as he exercised his wrath upon them with severity, 539539     “Il a fait une horrible vengence sur eux;” — “He inflicted dreadful vengeance upon them.” and took vengeance on their ingratitude. Some understand this as referring to the whole of the people that died in the desert, with the exception of only two — Caleb and Joshua. (Numbers 14:29.) I understand him, however, as referring merely to those, whom he immediately afterwards makes mention of in different classes.