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17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

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17. Momentary lightness. As our flesh always shrinks back from its own destruction, whatever reward may be presented to our view, and as we are influenced much more by present feeling than by the hope of heavenly blessings, Paul on that account admonishes us, that the afflictions and vexations of the pious have little or nothing of bitterness, if compared with the boundless blessings of everlasting glory. He had said, that the decay of the outward man ought to occasion us no grief, inasmuch as the renovation of the inward man springs out of it. As, however, the decay is visible, and the renovation is invisible, Paul, with the view of shaking us off from a carnal attachment to the present life, draws a comparison between present miseries and future felicity. Now this comparison is of itself abundantly sufficient for imbuing the minds of the pious with patience and moderation, that they may not give way, borne down by the burden of the cross. For whence comes it, that patience is so difficult a matter but from this, — that we are confounded on having experience of evils for a brief period, 495495     “En ce sentiment des maux qui passent tontesfois auec le temps;” — “In this feeling of evils, which nevertheless pass away with the occasion.” and do not raise our thoughts higher? Paul, therefore, prescribes the best antidote against your sinking down under the pressure of afflictions, when he places in opposition to them that future blessedness which is laid up for thee in heaven. (Colossians 1:5.) For this comparison makes that light which previously seemed heavy, and makes that brief and momentary which seemed of boundless duration.

There is some degree of obscurity in Paul’s words, for as he says, With hyperbole unto hyperbole, 496496     “A outrance par outrance;” — “From extreme to extreme.” “It is not merely eminent, but it is eminent unto eminence; excess unto excess; a hyperbole unto hyperbole — one hyperbole heaped on another; and the expression means, that it is exceeding exceedingly glorious; glorious in the highest possible degree. The expression is the Hebrew form of denoting the highest superlative, and it means, that all hyperboles fail of expressing that external glory which remains for the just. It is infinite and boundless. You may pass from one degree to another; from one sublime height to another; but still an infinity remains beyond. Nothing can describe the uppermost height of that glory, nothing can express its infinitude.” — Barnes. Chrysostom explains the words καθ ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν εἰς ὑπερβολὴν to be equivalent to μέγεθος ὑπερβολικῶς ὑπερβολικόν — a greatness exceedingly exceeding. “The repetition having an intensitive force, (like the Hebrew מאד מאד) it may be rendered infinitely exceeding.” — Bloomfield. — Ed. so the Old Interpreter, and Erasmus 497497     The words of the Vulgate are, “Supra modum in sublimitate;” — “Above measure in elevation.” The rendering of Erasmus is, “Mire supra modum;” — “Wonderfully above measure.” — Ed. have thought that in both terms the magnitude of the heavenly glory, that awaits believers is extolled; or, at least, they have connected them with the verb worketh out. To this I have no objection, but as the distinction that I have made is also not unsuitable, I leave it to my readers to make their choice.

Worketh out an eternal weight Paul does not mean, that this is the invariable effect of afflictions; for the great majority are most miserably weighed down here with evils of every kind, and yet that very circumstance is an occasion of their heavier destruction, rather than a help to their salvation. As, however, he is speaking of believers, we must restrict exclusively to them what is here stated; for this is a blessing from God that is peculiar to them — that they are prepared for a blessed resurrection by the common miseries of mankind.

As to the circumstance, however, that Papists abuse this passage, to prove that afflictions are the causes of our salvation, it is exceedingly silly; 498498     “C’est vn argument trop debile;” — “It is an exceedingly weak argument.” unless, perhaps, you choose to take causes in the sense of means, (as they commonly speak.) We, at least, cheerfully acknowledge, that

we must through many tribulations 499499     “Per multas tribulationes;” — “Par beaucoup de tribulations;” — “By many tribulations.” This is the literal rendering of the original words made use of, διὰ πολλῶν θλίψεων. Wiclif (1380) renders as follows, “bi many tribulaciouns.” Rheims (1582) “by many tribulations.” — Ed.
enter into the kingdom of heaven, (Acts 14:22,)

and as to this there is no controversy. While, however, our doctrine is, that the momentary lightness of afflictions worketh out in us an eternal weight 500500     “St. Paul in this expression — βάρος δόξης weight of glory, elegantly joins together the two senses of the Hebrews כבוד which denotes both weight and glory, i.e., shining or being irradiated with light.” — Parkhurst. — Ed. of life, for this reason, that all the sons of God are

predestinated to be conformed to Christ, (Romans 8:29,)

in the endurance of the cross, and in this manner are prepared for the enjoyment of the heavenly inheritance, which they have through means of God’s gracious adoption; Papists, on the other hand, imagine that they are meritorious works, 501501     “Que les afflictions sont oeuures meritoires;” — “That afflictions are meritorious works.” by which the heavenly kingdom is acquired.

I shall repeat it again in a few words. We do not deny that afflictions are the path by which the heavenly kingdom is arrived at, but we deny that by afflictions we merit the inheritance, 502502     “L’heritage eternel;” — “The everlasting inheritance.” which comes to us in no other way than through means of God’s gracious adoption. Papists, without consideration, seize hold of one little word, with the view of building upon it a tower of Babel, (Genesis 11:9,) — that the kingdom of God is not an inheritance procured for us by Christ, but a reward that is due to our works. For a fuller solution, however, of this question, consult my Institutes. 503503     See Institutes, volume 2. — Ed.

While we look not. Mark what it is, that will make all the miseries of this world easy to be endured, — if we carry forward our thoughts to the eternity of the heavenly kingdom. For a moment is long, if we look around us on this side and on that; but, when we have once raised our minds heavenward, a thousand years begin to appear to us to be like a moment. Farther, the Apostle’s words intimate, that we are imposed upon by the view of present things, because there is nothing there that is not temporal; and that, consequently, there is nothing for us to rest upon but confidence in a future life. Observe the expression, looking at the things which are unseen, 504504     “The word which is here rendered look signifies to take aim at, (σκοποῦντων ἡμῶν) This is a very steady intuition, which a man hath of the mark which he is aiming at, or the end which he designs; he must always have it in his eye. And by this looking, saith the Apostle, we find that, notwithstanding all the decays of the outward man, the inward man is reviewed day by day — life, and vigor, and spirit continually entering in at our eyes from that glorious aim which we have before us. This will need a very steady determination of mind unto such objects by a commanding light and glory that they carry with them, so that the soul feels not a disposition in itself to direct or look off.” — Howe’s Works, (Lond. 1834,) p. 543. — Ed. for the eye of faith penetrates beyond all our natural senses, and faith is also on that account represented as a looking at things that are invisible. (Hebrews 11:1.)