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A Call to Repentance


“Come, let us return to the L ord;

for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;

he has struck down, and he will bind us up.


After two days he will revive us;

on the third day he will raise us up,

that we may live before him.


Let us know, let us press on to know the L ord;

his appearing is as sure as the dawn;

he will come to us like the showers,

like the spring rains that water the earth.”

Impenitence of Israel and Judah


What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?

What shall I do with you, O Judah?

Your love is like a morning cloud,

like the dew that goes away early.


Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets,

I have killed them by the words of my mouth,

and my judgment goes forth as the light.


For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.



But at Adam they transgressed the covenant;

there they dealt faithlessly with me.


Gilead is a city of evildoers,

tracked with blood.


As robbers lie in wait for someone,

so the priests are banded together;

they murder on the road to Shechem,

they commit a monstrous crime.


In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing;

Ephraim’s whoredom is there, Israel is defiled.



For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed.


When I would restore the fortunes of my people,

In the last chapter the Prophet said, that the Israelites, after having been subdued by chastisements and judgments, would again turn back from following error to seek God. But as terror drives men away from approaching God, he now adds, that the measure of afflictions would not be such as would discourage their minds and produce despair; but rather inspire them with the assurance, that God would be propitious to them: and that he might set this forth the better, he introduces them as saying, Come, let us go to the Lord: and this mode of speaking is very emphatical.

But we must know that the reason here given, why the Israelites could return safely and with sure confidence to God, is, that they would acknowledge it as his office to heal after he has smitten, and to bring a remedy for the wounds which he has inflicted. The Prophet means by these words, that God does not so punish men as to pour forth his wrath upon them for their destruction; but that he intends, on the contrary, to promote their salvation, when he is severe in punishing their sins. We must then remember, as we have before observed, that the beginning of repentance is a sense of God’s mercy; that is, when men are persuaded that God is ready to give pardon, they then begin to gather courage to repent; otherwise perverseness will ever increase in them; how much soever their sin may frighten them, they will yet never return to the Lord. And for this purpose I have elsewhere quoted that remarkable passage in Psalm 130, ‘With thee is mercy, that thou mayest be feared;’ for it cannot be, that men will obey God with true and sincere heart, except a taste of his goodness allures them, and they can certainly determine, that they shall not return to him in vain, but that he will be ready, as we have said, to pardon them. This is the meaning of the words, when he says, Come, and let us turn to the Lord; for he has torn and he will heal us; that is, God has not inflicted on us deadly wounds; but he has smitten, that he might heal.

At the same time, something more is expressed in the Prophet’s words, and it is this, that God never so rigidly deals with men, but that he ever leaves room for his grace. For by the word, torn, the Prophet alludes to that heavy judgment of which he had before spoken in the person of God: the Lord then made himself to be like a cruel wild beast, “I will be as a lion, I will devour, I will tear, and no one shall take away the prey which I have once seized.” God wished then to show that his vengeance would be dreadful against the Israelites. Now, though God should deal very sharply with them, they were not yet to despair of pardon. However, then, we may find God to be for a time like a lion or a bear, yet, as his proper office is to heal after he has torn, to bind the wounds he has inflicted, there is no reason why we should shun his presence. We see that the design of the Prophet’s words was to show, that no chastisement is so severe that it ought to break down our spirits, but that we ought, by entertaining hope, to stir up ourselves to repentance. This is the drift of the passage.

It is further needful to observe, that the faithful do here, in the first place, encourage themselves, that they may afterwards lead others with them; for so the words mean. He does not say, “Go, return to Jehovah;” but, Come, let us return unto Jehovah We then see that each one begins with himself; and then that they mutually exhort one another; and this is what ought to be done by us: when any one sends his brethren to God, he does not consult his own good, since he ought rather to show the way. Let every one, then, learn to stimulate himself; and then, let him stretch out his hand to others, that they may follow. We are at the same time reminded that we ought to undertake the care of our brethren; for it would be a shame for any one to be content with his own salvation, and so to neglect his brethren. It is then necessary to join together these two things, — To stir up ourselves to repentance, — and then to try to lead others with us. Let us now proceed —

Hosea 6:2

2. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.

2. Vivificabit nos post biduum, die tertio suscitabit nos, et vivemus in conspectu ejus (vel, coram facie ejus.)


This place the Hebrew writers pervert, for they think that they are yet to be redeemed by the coming of the Messiah; and they imagine that this will be the third day: for God once drew them out of Egypt, this was their first life; then, secondly, he restored them to life when he brought them back from the Babylonish captivity; and when God shall, by the hand of the Messiah, gather them from their dispersion, this, they say, will be the third resurrection. But these are frivolous notions. Not withstanding, this place is usually referred to Christ, as declaring, that God would, after two days, and on the third, raise up his Church; for Christ, we know, did not rise privately for himself, but for his members, inasmuch as he is the first-fruits of them who shall rise. This sense does not seem then unsuitable, that is, that the Prophet here encourages the faithful to entertain hope of salvation, because God would raise up his only-begotten Son, whose resurrection would be the common life of the whole Church.

Yet this sense seems to me rather too refined. We must always mind this, that we fly not in the air. Subtle speculations please at first sight, but afterwards vanish. Let every one, then, who desires to make proficiency in the Scriptures always keep to this rule — to gather from the Prophets and apostles only what is solid.

Let us now see what the Prophet meant. He here adds, I doubt not, a second source of consolation, that is, that if God should not immediately revive his people, there would be no reason for delay to cause weariness, as it is wont to do; for we see that when God suffers us to languish long, our spirits fail; and those who at first seem cheerful and courageous enough, in process of time become faint. As, then, patience is a rare virtue, Hosea here exhorts us patiently to bear delay, when the Lord does not immediately revive us. Thus then did the Israelites say, After two days will God revive us; on the third day he will raise us up to life

What did they understand by two days? Even their long affliction; as though they said, “Though the Lord may not deliver us from our miseries the first day, but defer longer our redemption, our hope ought not yet to fail; for God can raise up dead bodies from their graves no less than restore life in a moment.” When Daniel meant to show that the affliction of the people would be long, he says,

‘After a time, times, and half time,’ (Daniel 7:25.)

That mode of speaking is different, but then as to sense it is the same. He says, ‘after a time,’ that is, after a year; that would be tolerable: but it follows, ‘and times,’ that is, many years: God afterwards shortens that period, and brings redemption at a time when least expected. Hosea mentions here two years, because God would not afflict his people for one day, but, as we have before seen, subdue them by degrees; for the perverseness of the people had so prevailed, that they could not be soon healed. As when diseases have been striking roots for a long time, they cannot be immediately cured, but there is need of slow and various remedies; and were a physician to attempt immediately to remove a disease which had taken full possession of a man, he certainly would not cure him, but take away his life: so also, when the Israelites, through their long obstinacy, had become nearly incurable, it was necessary to lead them to repentance by slow punishments. They therefore said, After two days God will revive us; and thus they confirmed themselves in the hope of salvation, though it did not immediately appear: though they long remained in darkness, and the exile was long which they had to endure, they yet did not cease to hope: “Well, let the two days pass, and the Lord will revive us.”

We see that a consolation is here opposed to the temptations, which take from us the hope of salvation, when God suspends his favor longer than our flesh desires. Martha said to Christ, ‘He is now putrid, it is the fourth day.’ 2727     John 11:39. — fj. She thought it absurd to remove the stone from the sepulchre, because now the body of Lazarus was putrified. But Christ in this instance designed to show his own incredible power by restoring a putrid body to life. So the faithful say here, The Lord will raise us up after two days: “Though exile seems to be like the sepulchre, where putridity awaits us, yet the Lord will, by his ineffable power, overcome whatever may seem to obstruct our restoration.” We now perceive, as I think, the simple and genuine sense of this passage.

But at the same time I do not deny but that God has exhibited a remarkable and a memorable instance of what is here said in his only-begotten Son. As often then as delay begets weariness in us, and when God seems to have thrown aside every care of us, let us flee to Christ; for, as it has been said, His resurrection is a mirror of our life; for we see in that how God is wont to deal with his own people: the Father did not restore life to Christ as soon as he was taken down from the cross; he was deposited in the sepulchre, and he lay there to the third day. When God then intends that we should languish for a time, let us know that we are thus represented in Christ our head, and hence let us gather materials of confidence. We have then in Christ an illustrious proof of this prophecy. But in the first place, let us lay hold on what we have said, that the faithful here obtain hope for themselves, though God extends not immediately his hand to them, but defers for a time his grace of redemption.

Then he adds, We shall live in his sight, or before him. Here again the faithful strengthen themselves, for God would favor them with his paternal countenance, after he had long turned his back on them, We shall live before his face For as long as God cares not for us, a sure destruction awaits us; but as soon as he turns his eyes to us, he inspires life by his look alone. Then the faithful promise this good to themselves that God’s face will shine again after long darkness: hence also they gather the hope of life, and at the same time withdraw themselves from all those obstacles which obscure the light of life; for while we run and wander here and there, we cannot lay hold on the life which God promises to us, as the charms of this world are so many veils, which prevent our eyes to see the paternal face of God. We must then remember that this sentence is added, that the faithful, when it pleases God to turn his back on them, may not doubt but that he will again look on them. Let us now go on —

In this verse the faithful pursue what we have before considered, making the hope of salvation sure to themselves: nor is it a matter of wonder that the Prophet dwells more fully on this subject; for we know how prone we are to entertain doubt. There is nothing more difficult, especially when God shows to us signs of his wrath, than to recover us, so that we may be really persuaded that he is our physician, when he seems to visit us for our sins. We must then, in this case, earnestly strive, for it cannot be done without labour. Hence the faithful now say, We shall know, and we shall pursue to know Jehovah. They show then by these words that they distrust not, but that light would arise after darkness; for this is the meaning of the words: We shall then know, they say; that is, “Though there is now on every side horrible darkness, yet the Lord will manifest his goodness to us, even though it may not immediately appear.” They therefore add, And we shall pursue after the knowledge of Jehovah. We now perceive the purport of the words.

Now this passage teaches us, that when God hides his face, we act foolishly if we cherish our unbelief; for we ought, on the contrary, as I have already said, to contend with this destructive disease, inasmuch as Satan seeks nothing else but to sink us in despair. This his device then ought to be understood by us, as Paul reminds us, (2 Corinthians 2:11;) and the Holy Spirit supplies us here with weapons, by which we may repel this temptation of Satan, “What? Thou seest that God is angry with thee; nor is it of any use to thee to attempt to come to him, for every access is shut up.” This is what Satan suggests to us, when we are sensible of our sins. What is to be done? The Prophet here propounds a remedy, We shall know; “Though now we are sunk in thick darkness, though there never shines on us, no, not even a spark of light, yet we shall know (as Isaiah says, ‘I will hope in the Lord, who hides his face from Jacob’) 2929     Isaiah 8:17. — fj. that this is the true exercise of our faith, when we lift up our eyes to the light which seems to be extinguished, and when in the darkness of death we yet continue to promise to ourselves life, as we are here taught: We shall then know; further, We shall pursue after the knowledge of Jehovah; though God withdraws his face, and, as it were designedly, doubles the darkness, and all knowledge of his grace be, as it were, extinct, we shall yet pursue after this knowledge; that is, no obstacle shall keep us from striving, and our efforts will at length make their way to that grace which seems to be wholly excluded from us.”

Some give this rendering, We shall know, and shall pursue on to know Jehovah, and explain the passage thus, — that the Israelites had derived no such benefit from the law of Moses, but that they still expected the fuller doctrine, which Christ brought at his coming. They then think that this is a prophecy respecting that doctrine, which is now by the Gospel set forth to us in its full brightness, because God has manifested himself in his Son as in a living image. But this is too refined an exposition; and it is enough for us to keep close to the design of the Prophet. He indeed introduces the godly thus speaking for this reason — because there was need of great and strong effort, that they might rise up to the hope of salvation; for it was not to be the exile of one day, but of seventy years. When therefore so heavy a trial awaited the godly, the Prophet here wished to prepare them for the laborious warfare: We shall then know, and follow on to know Jehovah

Then he says, As the morning shall come to us his going forth, — a similitude the most appropriate; for here the faithful call to mind the continued succession of days and nights. No wonder that God bids us to hope for his grace, the sight of which is yet hid from us; for except we had learnt by long experience, who could hope for sudden light when the darkness of night prevails? Should we not think that the earth is wholly deprived of light? But seeing that the dawn suddenly shines, and puts an end to the darkness of night, and dispels it, what wonder is it that the Lord should shine forth beyond our expectation? His going forth then shall be like the morning.

He here calls a new manifestation the going forth of God, that is, when God shows that he regards his people with favor, when he shows that he is mindful of the covenant which he made with Abraham; for as long as the people were exiled from their country, God seemed not, as we have said, to look on them any more; nay, the judgment of the flesh only suggested this, that God was far distant from his people. He then calls it the going forth of God, when God should show himself propitious to the captives, and should wholly restore them; then the going forth of God shall come, and shall be like the morning We now then see that he confirms them by the order of nature, as Paul does, when he chides the unbelief of those to whom a future resurrection seemed incredible, because it surpasses the thoughts of the flesh; “O fool!” he says, “does thou not see that what thou sowest first decays and then germinates? God now sets before thee in a decaying seed an emblem of the future resurrection.” So also in this place, since light daily rises to us, and the morning shines after the darkness of night, what then will not the Lord effect by himself, who works so powerfully by material things? When he will put forth his full power, what, think we, will he do? Will he not much more surpass all the thoughts of our flesh? We now then see why this similitude was added.

He afterwards describes to us the effect of this manifestation, He shall come, he says, as the rain to us, as the late rain, a rain to the earth This comparison shows, that as soon as God will deign to look on his people, his countenance will be like the rain, which irrigates the earth. When the earth is dry after long heat and long drought, it seems to be incapable of producing fruit; but rain restores to it its moisture and vigor. Thus then the Prophet, in the person of the faithful, does here strengthen the hope of a full restoration. He shall come to us as the rain, as the late rain

The Hebrews call the late rain מלקום, melakush, by which the corn was ripened. And it seems that the Prophet meant the vernal rain by the word גשם, geshem, But the sense is clearly this, that though the Israelites had become so dry that they had no longer any vigor, there would yet be no less virtue in God’s grace than in the rain, which fructifies the earth when it seems to be barren. But when at the end he adds, a rain to the earth, I doubt not but that he meant seasonable rain, which is pleasant and acceptable to the earth, or which the earth really wants; for a violent shower cannot be called properly a rain to the earth, because it is destructive and hurtful. It follows —

Some so expound this passage as that God would not once irrigate his people, but would continue this favor; as though he said, “He is deceived, who thinks that the redemption, which I bid you to hope from me, will be momentary, for I will, by a continued progress, lead my people to a full fruition of salvation.” But this sense is altogether foreign. The Prophet then, no doubt, introduces God here as speaking thus, “What shall I do to you? because ye cannot receive my favor, so great is your depravity.” The context seems indeed to be in this way broken off; but we must remember this canon, that whenever the Prophets make known the grace of God, they at the same time add an exception, lest hypocrites falsely apply to themselves what is offered to the faithful alone. The Prophets, we know, never threatened ruin to the people, but that they added some promise, lest the faithful should despair, which must have been the case, except some mitigation had been made known to them. Hence the Prophets do this in common, — they moderate their threatening and severity by adding a hope of God’s favor. But at the same time, as hypocrites ever draw to themselves what belongs only to the faithful, and thus heedlessly deride God, the Prophets add another exception, by which they signify, that God’s promise of being gracious and merciful to his people is not to be deemed universal, and as appertaining to all indiscriminately.

I will more fully repeat this again: The Prophets had to do with the whole people; they had to do with the few faithful, for there was a small number of godly people among the Israelites as well as among the Jews. When therefore the Prophets reproved the people, they addressed the whole body: but at the same time, as there was some remnant seed, they mingled, as I have said, consolations, and mingled them, that the elect of God might ever recumb on his mercy, and thus patiently submit to his rod, and continue in his fear, knowing that there is in him a sure salvation. Hence the promises which we see inserted by the Prophets among threats and chidings, ought not to be referred in common to all, or indiscriminately to the people, but only, as we have said, to the faithful, who were then but few in number. This then is the reason why the prophets shook off self-complacencies from the wicked despisers of God, when they added, “Ye ought not to hope any salvation from the promise I set forth to God’s children; for God throws not to dogs the bread which he has destined for his children alone.” In the same strain we find another Prophet speaking,

‘To what end is the day of the Lord to you? It is a day of darkness, and not of light, a day of death, and not of life,’ (Amos 5:18.)

For as often as they heard of the covenant which God made with Abraham, that it would not be void, they thus vaunted, “We are now indeed severely treated, but in a little while God will rescue us from our evils; for he is our Father, he has not in vain adopted us, he has not in vain redeemed and chosen our race, we are his peculiar possession and heritage.” Thus then the presumptuous flatter themselves; and this indeed they seem to have in common with the faithful; for the faithful also, though in the deepest abyss of death, yet behold the light of life; for by faith, as we have said, they penetrate beyond this world. But at the same time they approach God in real penitence, while the ungodly remain in their perverseness, and vainly flatter themselves, thinking that whatever God promises belongs to them.

Let us now then return to our Prophet. He had said, “In their tribulation they will seek me:” he had afterwards, in the words used by the people, explained how the faithful would turn themselves to God, and what true repentance would bring with it. It now follows, What shall I do to thee, Ephraim? what shall I do to thee, Judah? that is, “What shall I do to all of you?” The people was now divided into two kingdoms: the kingdom of Judah had its own name; the ten tribes had, as it has been said, the common name of Israel. Then after the Prophet gave hope of pardon to the children of God, he turns himself to the whole body of the people, which was corrupt, and says, “What shall I do now to you, both Jews and Israelites?” Now God, by these words, intimates that he had tried all remedies, and found them useless: “What more then,” he says, “shall I do to you? Ye are wholly incurable, ye are inexcusable, and altogether past hope; for no means have been omitted by me, by which I could promote your salvation; but I have lost all my labour; as I have effected nothing by punishments and chastisements, as my favor also has had no account among you, what now remains, but that I must wholly cast you away?”

We now then see how varied is the mode of speaking adopted by the Prophets; for they had to do, not with one class of men, but with the children of God, and also with the wicked, who continued obstinately in their vices. Hence then it was, that they changed their language, and so necessarily. Alike is the complaint we read in Isaiah chapter 1, 3030     Isaiah 1:5. — fj. except that there mention is only made of punishments, ‘Why should I strike you more? for I have hitherto effected nothing: from the sole of the foot to the top of the head there is no soundness; and yet ye remain like yourselves.’ In chapter 5 3131     Isaiah 5:4. — fj. he speaks of God’s favors, ‘What could have been done more to my vineyard than what I have done?’ In these two places the Prophet shows that the people were so lost, that they could not be brought into a sane mind; for God had in various ways tried to heal them, and their diseases remained incurable.

Let us now return to the words of Hosea, What shall I do to thee, Ephraim? What shall I do to thee Judah? “I indeed offer pardon to all, but ye still continue obstinately in your sins; nay, my favor is by you scorned: I do not therefore now contend with you; but declare to you that the door of salvation is closed.” Why? “Because I have hitherto in various ways tried in vain to heal you.”

He afterwards says that their goodness was like the morning dew, Your goodness, he says, is as the dew of the morning.” Some take חסד, chesad, for the kindness which God had exercised towards both the Israelites and the Jews. Then it is, “Your kindness,” that is, the mercy which I have hitherto exhibited to you, is as the morning dew, as the cloud which passes away early in the morning, that is, “Ye immediately dry up my favor;” and this seems not unsuitable, for we see that the unbelieving by their wickedness absorb the mercy of God, so that it produces no good, as when rain flows over a rock or a stone, while the stone within, on account of its hardness, remains dry. As then the moisture of rain does not penetrate into stones, so also the grace of God is spent in vain and without advantage on the unbelieving.

But the Prophet speaks rather of their goodness, that they made a show of feigned excellency, which vanished like the morning dew; for as soon as the sun rises, it draws the dew upwards, so that it appears no more; the clouds also pass away. The Prophet says that the Jews and the Israelites were like the morning clouds and the dew, because there was in them no solid or inward goodness, but it was only of an evanescent kind; they had, as they say, only the appearance of goodness.

We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet, that God here complains that he had to do with hypocrites. Faith, we know, is regarded by him; there is nothing that pleases God more than sincerity of heart. We know further, that doctrine is spread in vain, except it be received in a serious manner. Then, as hypocrites transform themselves in various ways, and make a display of some guises of goodness, while they have nothing solid in them, God complains that he loses all his labour: and he says at length that he will no longer spend labour in vain on hypocritical men, who have nothing but falsehood and dissimulation; and this is what he means, when he intimates that he should do nothing more to the Israelites and the Jews.

God shows here, by his Prophet, that he was constrained by urgent necessity to deal sharply and roughly with the people. Nothing, we know, is more pleasing to God than to treat us kindly; for there is not found a father in the world who cherishes his children as tenderly: but we, being perverse, suffer him not to follow the inclination of his nature. He is therefore constrained to put on, as it were, a new character, and to chide us severely, according to the way in which he here says, he had treated the Israelites; I have cut them, he says, by my prophets, and killed them by the words of my mouth

Some render the words otherwise, as though God had killed the Prophets, meaning thereby the impostors, who corrupted the pure worship of God by their errors. But this view seems not to me in any way suitable; and we know that it was a common mode of speaking among the Hebrews, to express the same thing in two ways. So the Prophet speaks here, I have cut or hewed them by my Prophets, I have killed them by the cords of my mouth. In the second clause he repeats, I doubt not, what we have already briefly explained, namely, that God had cut or hewed them by his Prophets.

But we must see for what purpose God declares here that he had commanded his Prophets to treat the people roughly. Hypocrites we indeed know, however much in various ways they mock God, are yet tender, and cannot bear any rebuke. Their sins are gross, except when they disguise themselves; but at the same time, when God begins to reprove, they expostulate and say, “What does this mean? God everywhere declares that he is kind and merciful; but he fulminates now against us: this seems not consistent with his nature.” Thus then hypocrites would have God to be their batterer. He now answers, that he had been constrained, not only for a just cause, but also necessarily, to kill them, and to make his word by the Prophets like a hammer or an ax. This is the reason, he says, why my Prophets have not endeavored mildly and gently to allure the people. For God kindly and sweetly draws or invites to himself those whom he sees to be teachable; but when he sees so great a perverseness in men, that he cannot bend them by his goodness, he then begins, as we have said, to put on a new character. We now then under stand God’s design: that hypocrites might not complain that they had been otherwise treated than what is consistent with God’s nature, the Prophet here answers in God’s name, “Ye have forced me to this severity; for there was need of a hard wedge, as they say, for a hard knot: I have therefore hewed you by my Prophets, I have hewed you by the words of my mouth; that is, I have used my word as an ax: for ye were like knotty and tough wood; it was therefore necessary that my word should be to you like an ax: and I have killed you by the words of my mouth; that is my word has not been sweet food to you, as it is wont to be to meek men; but it has been like a two-edged sword; it was therefore necessary to slay you, as ye would not bear me to be a Father to you.”

It then follows Thy judgments are light that goes forth Some understand by “judgments” prosperity as if God were here reproaching the Israelites, that it was not his fault that he did not win them: “I have not neglected to treat you kindly, and under my protection to defend you; but ye are ungrateful.” But this is a strained exposition. The greater part of interpreters explain the passage thus, “That thy judgments might be a light going forth.” But I do not see why we should change any thing in the Prophet’s words. God then simply intimates here, that he had made known to the Israelites the rule of a religious and holy life, so that they could not pretend ignorance; for the Hebrews often understand “judgments” in the sense of rectitude. I refer this to the instruction given them: Thy judgments then, that is, the way of living religiously, was like light; which means this, “I have so warned you, that you have sinned knowingly and willfully. Hence, that you have been so disobedient to me, must be imputed to your perverseness; for when ye were pliant, I certainly did not conceal from you what was right: for as the sun daily shines on the earth, so my teaching, has been to you as the light, to show to you the way of salvation; but it has been with no profit.” We now then understand what the Prophet meant by these words. It follows —

God in this place declares that he desires mercy, and not sacrifices; and he does so to prevent an objections and to anticipate all frivolous pretenses. There is never wanting to hypocrites, we well know, a cover for themselves; and so great is their assurance, that they hesitate not sometimes to contend with God. It is indeed their common practice to maintain that they worship God, provided they offer sacrifices to him, provided they toil in ceremonies, and accumulate many rites. They think then that God is made bound to them, and that they have fully performed their duty. This evil has been common in all ages. The Prophet therefore anticipates this evasion, and says, Mercy I desire, and not sacrifice; as though he said, “I know what you are ready to allege, and that you will say, that you offer sacrifices to me, that you perform all the ceremonies; but this excuse is deemed by me frivolous and of no moment.” Why? “Because I desire not sacrifices, but mercy and faith.” We now understand the main object of this verse.

It is a remarkable passage; the Son of God has twice quoted it. The Pharisees reproached him for his intercourse with men of bad and abandoned life, and he said to them in Matthew 3434     Matthew 9:13. — fj. ‘Mercy I desire, and not sacrifice:’ he shows, by this defense, that God is not worshipped by external ceremonies, but when men forgive and bear with one another, and are not above measure rigid. Again, in the Matthew 12, 3535     Matthew 12:7. — fj. when the Pharisees blamed the disciples for gathering ears of corn, he said ‘But rather go and learn what this is, Mercy I desire, and not sacrifice.’ Inasmuch as they were so severe against his disciples, Christ shows that those who make holiness to consist in ceremonies are foolish worshipers of God; and that they also blamed their brethren without a cause, and made a crime of what was not in itself sinful, and what could be easily defended by any wise and calm expounder.

But that we may more fully understand this sentence of the Prophet, it must be observed, firsts that the outward worship of God, and all legal ceremonies, are included under the name of sacrifice and burnt-offerings. These words then comprise a part for the whole. The same may be said of the word חסד, chesad, which means, mercy or kindness; for the Prophet here, no doubt, sets faith or piety towards God, and love towards neighbors, in opposition to all external ceremonies. “I desire,” he says, “mercy;” or, “mercy pleases me more than sacrifice, and the knowledge of God pleases me more than burnt-offerings.” The knowledge of God here is doubtless to be taken for faith or piety, because hypocrites suppose that God is rightly worshipped when they use many ceremonies. The Prophet derides all such pomp and empty show, and says, that the worshipping of God is far different; it being only done when he is known. The chief point is, that God desires to be worshipped otherwise than sensual men dream; for they only display their rites, and neglect the spiritual worship of God, which stands in faith and love.

These two clauses ought then to be read conjointly — that kindness pleases God — and that faith pleases God. Faith by itself cannot please God, since it cannot even exist without love to our neighbor; and then, human kindness is not sufficient; for were any one to abstain from doing any injury, and from hurting his brethren in any thing, he might be still a profane man, and a despiser of God; and certainly his kindness would be then of no avail to him. We hence see that these two sentences cannot be separated, and that what the Prophet says is equally the same as if he had connected piety with love. The meaning is, that God values faith and kindness much more than sacrifices and all ceremonies. But when the Prophet says that sacrifice does not please God, he speaks, no doubt, comparatively; for God does not positively repudiate sacrifices enjoined in his own law; but he prefers faith and love to them; as we more clearly learn from the particle מ, mem, when he says, מעולות, meoulut, than burnt-offerings.” It then appears that God is not inconsistent with himself, as though he rejected sacrifices which he himself had appointed; but that he condemns the preposterous abuse of them, in which hypocrites gloried.

And here two things are to be noticed: God requires not external ceremonies, as if they availed any thing of themselves, but for a different end. Faith of itself pleases God, as also does love; for they are, as they say, of the class of good works: but sacrifices are to be regarded differently; for to kill an ox, or a calf, or a lamb, what is it but to do what the butcher does in his shambles? God then cannot be delighted with the slaughter of beasts; hence sacrifices, as we have said, are of themselves of no account. Faith and love are different. Hence the Lord says, in Jeremiah,

‘Have I commanded your fathers, when I brought them out of Egypt,
to offer sacrifices to me?’
[Jeremiah 7:22]

no such thing; ‘I never commanded them,’ he says, ‘but only to hear my voice.’ But what does the law in great measure contain except commands about ceremonies? The answer to this is easy, and that is, that sacrifices never pleased God through their own or intrinsic value, as if they had any worth in them. What then? Even this, that faith and piety are approved, and have ever been the legitimate spiritual worship of God. This is one thing. It is further to be noticed, that when the Prophets reprove hypocrites, they regard what is suitable to them, and do not specifically explain the matters which they handle. Isaiah says in one place, ‘He who kills an ox does the same as if he had killed a dog,’ and a dog was the highest abomination;

‘nay, they who offer sacrifices do the same
as if they had killed men,’ (Isaiah 66:3.)

What! to compare sacrifices with murders! This seems very strange; but the Prophet directed his discourse to the ungodly, who then abused the whole outward worship prescribed by the law: no wonder then that he thus spake of sacrifices. In the same manner also ought many other passages to be explained, which frequently occur in the Prophets. We now then see that God does not simply reject sacrifices, as far as he has enjoined them, but only condemns the abuse of them. And hence what I have already said ought to be remembered, that the Prophet here sets external rites in opposition to piety and faith, because hypocrites tear asunder things which are, as it were, inseparable: it is an impious divorce, when any one only obtrudes ceremonies on God, while he himself is void of piety. But as this disease commonly prevails among men, the Prophet adds a contrast between this fictitious worship and true religion. It is also worthy of being observed, that he calls faith the knowledge of God. We then see that faith is not some cold and empty imagination, but that it extends much farther; for it is then that we have faith, when the will of God is made known to us, and we embrace it, so that we worship him as our Father. Hence the knowledge of God is required as necessary to faith. The Papists then talk very childishly about implicit faith: when a man understands nothing, and has not even the least acquaintance with God, they yet say that he is endued with implicit faith. This is a romance more than foolish; for where there is no knowledge of God, there is no religion, piety is extinct and faith is destroyed, as it appears evident from this passage.

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