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The Total Corruption of the People


Woe is me! For I have become like one who,

after the summer fruit has been gathered,

after the vintage has been gleaned,

finds no cluster to eat;

there is no first-ripe fig for which I hunger.


The faithful have disappeared from the land,

and there is no one left who is upright;

they all lie in wait for blood,

and they hunt each other with nets.


Their hands are skilled to do evil;

the official and the judge ask for a bribe,

and the powerful dictate what they desire;

thus they pervert justice.


The best of them is like a brier,

the most upright of them a thorn hedge.

The day of their sentinels, of their punishment, has come;

now their confusion is at hand.


Put no trust in a friend,

have no confidence in a loved one;

guard the doors of your mouth

from her who lies in your embrace;


for the son treats the father with contempt,

the daughter rises up against her mother,

the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

your enemies are members of your own household.


But as for me, I will look to the L ord,

I will wait for the God of my salvation;

my God will hear me.


Penitence and Trust in God


Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy;

when I fall, I shall rise;

when I sit in darkness,

the L ord will be a light to me.


I must bear the indignation of the L ord,

because I have sinned against him,

until he takes my side

and executes judgment for me.

He will bring me out to the light;

I shall see his vindication.


Then my enemy will see,

and shame will cover her who said to me,

“Where is the L ord your God?”

My eyes will see her downfall;

now she will be trodden down

like the mire of the streets.


A Prophecy of Restoration


A day for the building of your walls!

In that day the boundary shall be far extended.


In that day they will come to you

from Assyria to Egypt,

and from Egypt to the River,

from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.


But the earth will be desolate

because of its inhabitants,

for the fruit of their doings.



Shepherd your people with your staff,

the flock that belongs to you,

which lives alone in a forest

in the midst of a garden land;

let them feed in Bashan and Gilead

as in the days of old.


As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,

show us marvelous things.


The nations shall see and be ashamed

of all their might;

they shall lay their hands on their mouths;

their ears shall be deaf;


they shall lick dust like a snake,

like the crawling things of the earth;

they shall come trembling out of their fortresses;

they shall turn in dread to the L ord our God,

and they shall stand in fear of you.


God’s Compassion and Steadfast Love


Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity

and passing over the transgression

of the remnant of your possession?

He does not retain his anger forever,

because he delights in showing clemency.


He will again have compassion upon us;

he will tread our iniquities under foot.

You will cast all our sins

into the depths of the sea.


You will show faithfulness to Jacob

and unswerving loyalty to Abraham,

as you have sworn to our ancestors

from the days of old.

Here the Prophet turns to supplications and prayers; by which he manifests more vehemence, than if he had repeated again what he had previously said of the restoration of the Church; for he shows how dreadful that judgment would be, when God would reduce the land into solitude. This prayer no doubt contains what was at the same time prophetic. The Prophet does not indeed simply promise deliverance to the faithful, but at the same time he doubly increases that terror; by which he designed to frighten hypocrites; as though he said, “Most surely except God will miraculously preserve his own people, it is all over with the Church: there is then no remedy, except through the ineffable power of God.” In short, the Prophet shows, that he trembled at that vengeance, which he had previously foretold, and which he did foretell, lest hypocrites, in their usual manner, should deride him. We now see why the Prophet had recourse to this kind of comfort, why he so regulates his discourse as not to afford immediate hope to the faithful, but addresses God himself. Feed then thy people; as though he said, — “Surely that calamity will be fatal, except thou, Lord, wilt be mindful of thy covenant, and gather again some remnant from the people whom thou hast been pleased to choose: Feed thy people.”

The reason why he called them the people of God was, because they must all have perished, unless it had been that it was necessary that what God promised to Abraham should be fulfilled, —

‘In thy seed shall all nations be blessed,’ (Genesis 12:3.)

It was then the adoption of God alone which prevented the total destruction of the Jews. Hence he says emphatically, — O Lord, these are yet thy people; as though he said, — “By whom wilt thou now form a Church for thyself?” God might indeed have collected it from the Gentiles, and have made aliens his family; but it was necessary that the root of adoption should remain in the race of Abraham, until Christ came forth. Nor was there then any dispute about God’s power, as there is now among fanatics, who ask, Can God do this? But there was reliance on the promise, and from this they learnt with certainty what God had once decreed, and what he would do. Since then this promise, ‘By thy seed shall all nations be blessed,’ was sacred and inviolable, the grace of God must have ever continued in the remnant. It is indeed certain, that hypocrites, as it has been already stated, without any discrimination, abused the promises of God; but this truth must be ever borne in mind, that God punished the ungodly, though relying on their great number, they thought that they would be always preserved. God then destroyed them, as they deserved; and yet it was his purpose, that some remnant should be among that people. But it must be observed, that this distinction ought not to be extended to all the children of Abraham, who derived their origin from him according to the flesh, but to be applied to the faithful, that is, to the remnant, who were preserved according to the gratuitous adoption of God.

Feed then thy people by thy crook 194194     “The crook signifies God’s peculiar care for his people.” — Grotius. He compares God to a shepherd, and this metaphor often occurs. Though שבט, shebeth, indeed signifies a scepter when kings are mentioned, it is yet taken also for a pastoral staff, as in Psalm 23 and in many other places. As then he represents God here as a Shepherd, so he assigns a crook to him; as though he said, O Lord, thou performest the office of a Shepherd in ruling this people. How so? He immediately confirms what I have lately said, that there was no hope of a remedy except through the mercy of God, by adding, the flock 195195     “He compares the elect people,” says Marckius, “to a flock of sheep, because they resemble them in weakness, in innocency, in meekness, in usefulness, in fruitfulness, and in close union. See Psalm 95:7; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:12; Zechariah 9:16, 10:3; John 10:16, etc.” “They are thy sheep, thy peculiar property, who hear thee, who need thy guidance and feeding, for they are weak and helpless, and liable to go astray without the preserving care of their Shepherd.” — Cocceius. of thine heritage; for by calling them the flock of his heritage, he does not consider what the people deserved, but fixes his eyes on their gratuitous adoption. Since, then, it had pleased God to choose that people, the Prophet on this account dares to go forth to God’s presence, and to plead their gratuitous election, — “O Lord, I will not bring before thee the nobility of our race, or any sort of dignity, or our piety, or any merits.” What then? “We are thy people, for thou best declared that we are a royal priesthood. We are then thine heritage.” How so? “Because it has been thy pleasure to have one peculiar people sacred to thee.” We now more clearly see that the Prophet relied on God’s favor alone, and opposed the recollection of the covenant to the trials which might have otherwise made every hope to fail.

He afterwards adds, Who dwell apart, or alone. He no doubt refers here to the dispersion of the people, when he says, that they dwelt alone. For though the Jews had been scattered in countries delightful, fertile and populous, yet they were everywhere as in a desert and in solitude, for they were a mutilated body. The whole of Chaldea and of Assyria was then really a desert to the faithful; for there they dwelt not as one people, but as members torn asunder. This is the dispersion intended by the words of the Prophet. He also adds, that dwell in the forest For they had no secure habitation except in their own country; for they lived there under the protection of God; and all other countries, as I have already said, were to them like the desert.

He adds, In the midst of Carmel The preposition כ, caph, is to be understood here, As in the midst of Carmel, they shall be fed in Bashan and Gilead, as in ancient days; 196196     These two lines are better arranged by Newcome, and the necessity of a preposition understood is obviated, while the original is more strictly rendered, —
   In the midst of Carmel let them feed,
In Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old.

   It is also better to render “feed” as a prayer than in the future tense, to correspond in tenor with the beginning of the verse. Henderson connects “Carmel” with the former line, and thinks that “dwelling alone in the wood” refers to the condition of the Jews when restored, and quotes the prophecy of Balaam in Numbers 23:9. But this seems to be a far-fetched exposition; and the word “wood,” which means generally a dreary place, renders it wholly inadmissible. A state of destitution and misery is evidently intended. “They were now,” says Henry, “a desolate people; they were in the land of their captivity as sheep in a forest, in danger of being lost and made a prey to the beasts of the forest.” — Ed.
that is, though they are now thy solitary sheep, yet thou wilt gather them again that they may feed as on Carmel, (which we know was very fruitful,) and then, as in Bashan and Gilead. We know that there are in those places the richest pastures. Since then the Prophet compares the faithful to sheep, he mentions Bashan, he mentions Carmel and Gilead; as though he said, “Restore, O Lord, thy people, that they may dwell in the heritage once granted them by thee.” Why he says that they were solitary, I have already explained; and there is a similar passage in Psalm 102:17; though there is there a different word, ערער, oror; but the meaning is the same. The faithful are there said to be solitary, because they were not collected into one body; for this was the true happiness of the people, — that they worshipped God together, that they were under one head, and also that they had one altar as a sacred bond to cherish unity of faith. When therefore the faithful were scattered here and there they were justly said to be solitary, wherever they were.

He afterwards adds, according to ancient days Here he places before God the favors which he formerly showed to his people, and prays that he would, like himself, go on to the end, that is that he would continue to the end his favors to his chosen people. And it availed not a little to confirm their faith, when the faithful called to mind how liberally had God dealt from the beginning with the posterity of Abraham: they were thus made to feel assured, that God would be no less kind to his elect, though there might be, so to speak, a sad separation: for when God had banished the Jews into exile, it was a kind of divorce, as though they were given to utter destruction. Yet now when they recollect that they had descended from the holy fathers, and that a Redeemer had been promised them, they justly entertain a hope of favor in future from the past benefits of God, because he had formerly kindly treated his people.

The Prophet here introduces God as the speaker; and he so speaks as to give an answer to his prayer. God then promises that he will be wonderful in his works, and give such evidences of his power, as he exhibited when he brought up his people from the land of Egypt. We now see that there is more force in this passage, than if the Prophet had at first said, that God would become the deliverer of his people: for he interposed entreaty and prayer and God now shows that he will be merciful to his people; and at the same time the faithful are reminded, that they must be instant in prayer, if they desire to be preserved by God.

Now God says that he will show wonderful things, as when the people formerly came out of Egypt. 197197     “The Prophet prayed that God would feed them, and do kind things for them; but God answers, that he will show them marvelous things, will outdo their hopes and expectations. — Their deliverance from Babylon shall be a work of wonder and grace, not inferior to their deliverance out of Egypt, nay, it shall eclipse the luster of that, Jeremiah 16:14, 15. — God’s former favors to his Church are patterns of future favors, and shall again be copied out as there is occasion.” — Henry. That redemption, we know, was a perpetual monument of God’s power in the preservation of his Church; so that whenever he designs to give some hope of deliverances he reminds the faithful of those miracles that they may feel assured that there will be no obstacles to prevent them from continuing in a state of safety, provided God will be pleased to help them, for his power is not diminished.

And this deserves to be noticed; for though we all allow the omnipotence of God, yet when we struggle with trials, we tremble, as though all the avenues to our preservation had been closed up against God. As soon then as any impediment is thrown in our way, we think that there is no hope. Whence is this? It is because we make no account of God’s power, which yet we confess to be greater than that of the whole world.

This is the reason why God now refers to the miracles which he wrought at the coming forth of the people. They ought to have known, that God ever continues like himself, and that his power remains as perfect as it was formerly; and there is in him sufficient support to encourage the hope of assistance. We now perceive the object of the Prophet. He indeed changes the persons; for in the beginning he addresses the people, according to the days of thy going forth, and then he adds, אראני, aranu, ‘I will make him to see;’ but this change does not obscure the meaning, for God only means, that his power was sufficiently known formerly to his people, and that there was a memorable proof of it in their redemption, so that the people could not have doubted respecting their safety, without being ungrateful to God, and without burying in oblivion that so memorable a benefit, which God once conferred on their fathers. It follows —

Here again the Prophet shows, that though the Church should be assailed on every side and surrounded by innumerable enemies, no doubt ought yet to be entertained respecting the promised aid of God; for it is in his power to make all nations ashamed, that is, to cast down all the pride of the world, so as to make the unbelieving to acknowledge at length that they were elated by an empty confidence. Hence he says, that the nations shall see; as though he said, “I know what makes you anxious, for many enemies are intent on your ruin; and when any help appears, they are immediately prepared fiercely to resist; but their attempts and efforts will not prevent God from delivering you.”

They shall then see and be ashamed of all their strength 198198     “They shall be ashamed of the strength in which they trusted,” — Drusius; or as Grotius says, “of all their strength which had been so suddenly destroyed;” or, as another author says, “of all their strength when found ineffectual for the purpose of destroying the people of God.” — Ed. By these words the Prophet means, that however strongly armed the unbelieving may think themselves to be to destroy the Church, and that how many obstacles soever they may have in their power to restrain the power of God in its behalf, yet the whole will be in vain, for God will, in fact, prove that the strength of men is mere nothing.

He adds, They shall lay their hand on their mouth; that is, they shall not dare to boast hereafter, as they have hitherto done; for this phrase in Hebrew means to be silent. Since then the enemies of the Church made great boastings and exulted with open mouth, as though the people of God were destroyed, the Prophet says, that when God would appear as the Redeemer of his people, they should become, as it were, mute. He subjoins, their ears shall become deaf; 199199     “Malice,” says Jerome, “not only blinds the eyes, but also deafens the ears.” — Ed. that is, they shall stand astounded; nay, they shall hardly dare to open their ears, lest the rumor, brought to them, should occasion to them new trembling. Proud men, we know, when matters succeed according to their wishes, not only boast of their good fortune with open mouths, but also greedily catch at all rumors; for as they think they are all so many messages of victories, — “What is from this place? or what is from that place?” They even expect that the whole world will come under their power. The Prophet, on the other hand, says, “They shall lay the hand on the mouth, and their ears shall become deaf; that is they shall tremblingly shun all rumors, for they shall continually dread new calamities, when they shall see that the God of Israel, against who they have hitherto fought, is armed with so much power.

Some apply this to the preaching of the Gospel; which I readily allow, provided the deliverance be made always to begin with the ancient people: for if any one would have this to be understood exclusively of Christ, such a strained and remote exposition would not be suitable. But if any one will consider the favor of God, as continued from the return of the people to the restoration effected by Christ, he will rightly comprehend the real design of the Prophet. Really fulfilled, then, is what the Prophet says here, when God spreads the doctrine of his Gospel through the whole world: for those who before boasted of their own inventions, begin then to close their mouth, that, being thus silent, they may become his disciples; and they also close their ears, for now they give not up themselves, as before, to foolish and puerile fables, but consecrate their whole hearing to the only true God, that they may attend only to his truth, and no more vacillate between contrary opinions. All this, I allow, is fulfilled under the preaching of the Gospel; but the Prophet, no doubt, connected together the whole time, from the return of the people from the Babylonian exile, to the manifestation of Christ.

He afterwards adds, They shall lick the dust as a serpent He intimates, that however the enemies of the Church may have proudly exalted themselves before, they shall then be cast down, and lie, as it were, on the ground; for to lick the dust is nothing else but to lie prostrate on the earth. They shall then be low and creeping like serpents; and then, They shall move themselves as worms and reptiles of the ground The verb רגז, regez, as it has been stated elsewhere, means to raise an uproar, to tumultuate, and it means also to move one’s self; and this latter meaning is the most suitable here, namely, that they shall go forth or move themselves from their enclosures; for the word סגר, sager, signifies to close up: and by enclosures he means hiding-places, though in the song of David, in Psalm 18:, the word is applied to citadels and other fortified places, —

‘Men,’ he says, ‘trembled from their fortresses;’

though they occupied well-fortified citadels, they yet were afraid, because the very fame of David had broken down their boldness. But as the Prophet speaks here of worms, I prefer this rendering, — ‘from their lurkingplaces;’ as though he said, “Though they have hitherto thought themselves safe in their enclosures, they shall yet move and flee away like worms and reptiles; for when the ground is dug, the worms immediately leap out, for they think that they are going to be taken; so also, when any one moves the ground, the reptiles come forth, and tremblingly run away in all directions.” And the Prophet says that, in like manner, the enemies of the Church, when the Lord shall arise for its help, shall be smitten with so much fear, that they shall in every direction run away. And this comparison ought to be carefully noticed, that is, when the Prophet compares powerful nations well exercised in wars, who before were audaciously raging, and were swollen with great pride — when he compares them to worms and reptiles of the ground, and also to serpents: he did this to show, that there will be nothing to hinder God from laying prostrate every exalted thing in the world, as soon as it shall please him to aid his Church.

And hence the Prophet adds, On account of Jehovah our God they shall treed, and they shall fear because of thee Here the Prophet shows, that the faithful ought not to distrust on account of their own weakness, but, on the contrary, to remember the infinite power of God. It is indeed right that the children of God should begin with diffidence, — sensible that they are nothing, and that all their strength is nothing; but they ought not to stop at their own weakness, but, on the contrary, to rise up to the contemplation of God’s power, that they may not doubt but that, when his power shall appear, their enemies shall be soon scattered. This is the reason why the Prophet here mentions the name of God, and then turns to address God himself. Tremble then shall they at Jehovah our God, that is, on account of Jehovah our God; and then Fear shall they because of thee. 200200     Dathius renders these two lines differently, “Jovam Deum nostrum timebunt eumque reverebuntur — Jehovah our God they shall fear, and him will they reverence.” But this is neither consistent with the passage, nor with the form in which the words appear. פחד is not commonly, if ever, a transitive verb, and to dread, or to be afraid, and not to fear, is its usual meaning: and ירא, when it means the fear of reverence, is generally construed without a preposition, and with את before Jehovah. The literal rendering is no doubt that which is given by Calvin. The distich is capable of being rendered in Welsh exactly as in Hebrew, in the same form and with the same prepositions; and, when thus rendered, the meaning is what is give here, —
   Oherwydd Jehova ein Duw ur arswydant,
Ac ovnant rhagddot

   To fear because of thee, and to fear thee, are two distinct things. You will have the first form in Joshua 10:8; 11:6; and the second in Deuteronomy 31:12. The first refers to the fear of the Canaanites, the dread of their power; the second, to the fear of Jehovah. — Ed.
It now follows —

The Prophet here exclaims that God ought to be glorified especially for this — that he is merciful to his people. When he says, Who is God as thou art? he does not mean that there are other gods; for this, strictly speaking, is an improper comparison. But he shows that the true and only God may be distinguished from all idols by this circumstance — that he graciously forgives the sins of his people and bears with their infirmities. It is indeed certain, that all nations entertained the opinion, that their gods were ready to pardon; hence their sacrifices and hence also their various kinds of expiations. Nor has there been any nation so barbarous as not to own themselves guilty in some measure before God; hence all the Gentiles were wont to apply to the mercy of their gods; while yet they had no firm conviction: for though they laid hold on this first principle, — that the gods would be propitious to sinners, if they humbly sought pardon; yet they prayed, we know, with no sure confidence, for they had no certain promise. We hence see that what the Prophet means is this, — that the God of Israel could be proved to be the true God from this circumstance — that having once received into favor the children of Abraham, he continued to show the same favor, and kept his covenant inviolably, though their sins had been a thousand times a hindrance in the way. That God then in his goodness surmounted all the wickedness of the people, and stood firm in his covenant, which had been so often violated by vices of the people — this fact may be brought as an evidence, that he is the true God: for what can be found of this kind among idols? Let us suppose that there is in them something divine, that they were gods, and endued with some power; yet with regard to the gods of the Gentiles, it could not be known that any one of them was propitious to his own people. Since then this can apply only to the God of Israel, it follows that in this instance his divinity shines conspicuously, and that his sovereignty is hence sufficiently proved. We also learn, that all the gods of heathens are vain; yea, that in the religion of heathens there is nothing but delusions: for no nation can with confidence flee to its god to obtain pardon, when it has sinned. This is the sum of the whole. I shall now come to the words of the Prophet.

Who is a God like thee, taking away iniquity, and passing by wickedness? By these two forms of expression, he sets forth the singular favor of God in freely reconciling himself to sinners. To take away sins is to blot them out; though the verb נשא, nusha,often means to raise on high; yet it means also to take, or, to take away. To pass by wickedness, is to connive at it, as though he said, “God overlooks the wickedness of his people, as if it escaped his view:” for when God requires an account of our life, our sins immediately appear, and appear before his eyes; but when God does not call our sins before his judgment, but overlooks them, he is then said to pass by them.

This passage teaches us, as I have already reminded you, that the glory of God principally shines in this, — that he is reconcilable, and that he forgives our sins. God indeed manifests his glory both by his power and his wisdom, and by all the judgments which he daily executes; his glory, at the same time, shines forth chiefly in this, — that he is propitious to sinners, and suffers himself to be pacified; yea, that he not only allows miserable sinners to be reconciled to him, but that he also of his own will invites and anticipates them. Hence then it is evident, that he is the true God. That religion then may have firm roots in our hearts, this must be the first thing in our faith, — that God will ever be reconciled to us; for except we be fully persuaded as to his mercy, no true religion will ever flourish in us, whatever pretensions we may make; for what is said in Psalm 130 is ever true, ‘With thee is propitiation, that thou mayest be feared.’ Hence the fear of God, and the true worship of him, depend on a perception of his goodness and favor; for we cannot from the heart worship God, and there will be, as I have already said, no genuine religion in us, except this persuasion be really and deeply seated in our hearts, — that he is ever ready to forgive, whenever we flee to him.

It hence also appears what sort of religion is that of the Papacy: for under the Papacy, being perplexed and doubtful, they ever hesitate, and never dare to believe that God will be propitious to them. Though they have some ideas, I know not what, of his grace; yet it is a vain presumption and rashness, as they think, when any one is fully persuaded of God’s mercy. They therefore keep consciences in suspense; nay, they leave them doubtful and trembling, when there is no certainty respecting God’s favor. It hence follows, that their whole worship is fictitious; in a word, the whole of religion is entirely subverted, when a firm and unhesitating confidence, as to his goodness, is taken away, yea, that confidence by which men are enabled to come to him without doubting, and to receive, whenever they sin and confess their guilt and transgressions, the mercy that is offered to them.

But this confidence is not what rises spontaneously in us; nay, even when we entertain a notion that God is merciful, it is only a mere delusion: for we cannot be fully convinced respecting God’s favor, except he anticipates us by his word, and testifies that he will be propitious to us whenever we flee to him. Hence I said at the beginning, that the Prophet here exhibits the difference between the God of Israel and all the idols of the Gentiles, and that is, because he had promised to be propitious to his people. It was not in vain that sacrifices were offered by the chosen people, for there was a promise added, which could not disappoint them: but the Gentiles ever remained doubtful with regard to their sacrifices; though they performed all their expiations, there was yet no certainty; but the case was different with the chosen people. What then the Prophet says here respecting the remission of sins, depends on the testimony which God himself has given.

We must now notice the clause which immediately follows, as to the remnant of his heritage Here again he drives away the hypocrites from their vain confidence: for he says that God will be merciful only to a remnant of his people; and, at the same time, he takes away an offense, which might have grievously disquieted the weak, on seeing the wrath of God raging among the whole people, — that God would spare neither the common nor the chief men. When therefore the fire of God’s vengeance flamed terribly, above and below, this objection might have greatly disturbed weak minds, — “How is this? God does indeed declare that he is propitious to sinners, and yet his severity prevails among us. — How can this be?” The Prophet meets this objection and says, God is propitious to the remnant of his heritage; which means, that though God would execute terrible vengeance on the greater part, there would yet ever remain some seed, on whom his mercy would shine; and he calls them the remnant of his heritage, because there was no reason, as it was stated yesterday, why God forgave the few, except that he had chosen the posterity of Abraham.

He also adds, He will not retain his wrath perpetually. By this second consolation he wished to relieve the faithful: for though God chastises them for a time, he yet forgets not his mercy. We may say, that the Prophet mentions here two exceptions. He had spoken of God’s mercy; but as this mercy is not indiscriminate or common to all, he restricts what he teaches to the remnant. Now follows another exception, — that how much soever apparently the wrath of God would rage against his elect people themselves, there would yet be some moderation, so that they would remain safe, and that their calamities would not be to them fatal. Hence he says, God retains not wrath; for though, for a moment, he may be angry with his people, he will yet soon, as it were, repent, and show himself gracious to them, and testify that he is already reconciled to them; — not that God changes, but that the faithful are made for a short time to feel his wrath; afterwards a taste of his mercy exhilarates them, and thus they feel in their souls that God has in a manner changed. For when dread possesses their minds, they imagine God to be terrible, but when they embrace the promises of his grace, they call on him, and begin to entertain hope of pardon; then God appears to them kind, gentle, and reconcilable; yea, and altogether ready to show mercy. This is the reason why the Prophet says, that God retains not his wrath

Then follows the cause, for he loveth mercy Here the Prophet more clearly shows, that the remission of sins is gratuitous, and that it has no foundation but in the nature of God himself. There is then no reason, since Scripture declares God to be reconcilable, why any one should seek the cause in himself, or even the means by which God reconciles himself to us: for He himself is the cause. As God then by nature loves mercy, hence it is, that he is so ready to forgive sinners. Whosoever then imagines that God is to be propitiated by expiations or any satisfactions, subverts the doctrine of the Prophet; and it is the same thing as to build without a foundation: for the only prop or support that can raise us up to God, when we desire to be reconciled to him, is this, — that he loves mercy. And this is the reason why God so much commends his mercy, why he says that he is merciful to thousand generations, slow to wrath, and ready to pardon. For though the unbelieving harden themselves against God, yet when they feel his wrath, there is nothing so difficult for them as to believe that God can be pacified. Hence this reason, which is not in vain added by the Prophet, ought to be especially noticed.

Let us now see to whom God is merciful. For as Satan could not have obliterated from the hearts of men a conviction of God’s mercy, he has yet confined mercy to the unbelieving, as though God should forgive sinners only once, when they are admitted into the Church. Thus the Pelagians formerly thought, that God grants reconciliation to none but to aliens; for whosoever has been once received into the Church cannot, as they imagined, stand otherwise before God than by being perfect. And this figment led Novatus and his disciples to create disturbances in the Church. And there are at this day not only deluded men, but devils, who, by the same figment, or rather delirious notions, fascinate themselves and others, and hold, that the highest perfection ought to exist in the faithful; and they also slander our doctrine, as though we were still continuing in the Alphabet or in the first rudiments, because we daily preach free remission of sins. But the Prophet declares expressly that God not only forgives the unbelieving when they sin, but also his heritage and his elect. Let us then know, that as long as we are in the world, pardon is prepared for us, as we could not otherwise but fall every moment from the hope of salvation, were not this remedy provided for us: for those men must be more than mad who arrogate to themselves perfection, or who think that they have arrived at that high degree of attainment, that they can satisfy God by their works. It now follows —

The Prophet now prescribes to the faithful a form of glorying, that they may boldly declare that God will be pacified towards them. Since then God loves mercy, he will return, he will have mercy on us The context here ought to be observed by us; for it would avail us but little to understand, I know not what, concerning God’s mercy, and to preach in general the free remission of sins, except we come to the application, that is, except each of the faithful believed that God, for his own sake, is merciful, as soon as he is called upon. This conclusion, then, is to be borne in mind, — “God forgives the remnant of his heritage, because he is by nature inclined to show mercy: he will therefore be merciful to us, for we are of the number of his people.” Except we lay hold on this conclusion, “He will therefore show mercy to us,” whatever we have heard or said respecting God’s goodness will vanish away.

This then is the true logic of religion, that is, when we are persuaded that God is reconcilable and easily pacified, because he is by nature inclined to mercy, and also, when we thus apply this doctrine to ourselves, or to our own peculiar benefit, — As God is by nature merciful, I shall therefore know and find him to be so. Until then we be thus persuaded, let us know that we have made but little progress in the school of God. And hence it appears very clear from this passage, that the Papacy is a horrible abyss; for no one under that system can have a firm footing, so as to be fully persuaded that God will be merciful to him; for all that they have are mere conjectures. But we see that the Prophet reasons very differently, God loves mercy; he will therefore have mercy on us: and then he adds, He will return; 202202     Grotius, Dathius, and Henderson, consider that this verb, placed before another, without a conjunction, expresses only a reiteration; and they render it adverbially, “again.” But, in this place, it would be better to give it its proper meaning; for as God is said to depart from his people, Hosea 9:12, so he may be said also to return. The Septuagint renders it επιστρεψει—He will return. Drusius reads, convertetur, scil. Ab ira suaHe will turn, that is, from his anger. Newcome’s version is, “He will turn again.” — Ed. and this is said lest the temporary wrath or severity of God should disquiet us. Though God then may not immediately shine on us with his favor, but, on the contrary, treat us sharply and roughly, yet the Prophet teaches us that we are to entertain good hope. — How so? He will return, or, as he said shortly before, He will not retain perpetually his wrath: for it is for a moment that he is angry with his Church; and he soon remembers mercy.

The Prophet now specifies what sort of mercy God shows to the faithful, For he will tread down our iniquities; he had said before that he passes by the wickedness of his elect people. He will then tread down our iniquities; and he will cast 203203     There is a mistake as to this verb; it is the second person, as are all the verbs which follow. The Prophet resumes here his address to God, which he commenced in the two first lines of the last verse. To show the difference between what he speaks to and what he speaks of God, the whole passage shall be here given, —
   18. What God is like thee!
Taking away iniquity, and passing over transgression!
Against the remnant of his heritage
He retains not forever his anger;
For a lover of mercy
is He;

   19. He will return, he will pity us,
He will subdue our iniquities:

Yea, thou wilt cast into the depths of the sea all their sins;
Thou wilt show faithfulness to Jacob, mercy to Abraham,
Which thou swarest to our fathers in the days of old.

   “Pity,” רטחם, is tender compassion; the noun in the plural number is used to designate the bowels. “Subdue,” or trample under foot, is rendered “cover” by Newcome, on the ground of this being the meaning of כבש in Chaldee. This wholly destroys the striking character of the passage. Our sins are here represented as our enemies; God subdues them; and then in the next line the simile is continued, they are to be drowned like Pharaoh and his hosts in the depths of the sea. Henderson’s remarks on this point are very excellent. “There is no ground,” he says, “for rejecting the radical idea of trampling under foot as enemies. Sin must ever be regarded as hostile to man. It is not only contrary to his interests, but it powerfully opposes and combats the moral principles of his nature, and the higher principles implanted by grace; and but for the counteracting energy of divine influence, must prove victorious. Without the subjugation of evil propensities, pardon would not be a blessing.” — Ed.
into the depth of the sea all their sins; that is our sins shall not come in remembrance before him. We hence learn what I have said before — that God cannot be worshipped sincerely and from the heart until this conviction be fixed and deeply rooted in our hearts, that God is merciful, not in general, but toward us, because we have been once adopted by him and are his heritage. And then were the greater part to fall away, we should not fail in our faith; for God preserves the remnant in a wonderful manner. And lastly, let us know, that whenever we flee to God for mercy, pardon is ever ready for us, not that we may indulge in sin, or take liberty to commit it, but that we may confess our faults and that our guilt may appear before our eyes: let us know, that the door is open to us; for God of his own good will presents himself to us as one ready to be reconciled.

It is also said, He will cast our sins into the depth of the sea. We hence learn that there is a full remission of sins, not half as the Papists imagine, for God, they say, remits the sin, but retains the punishment. How frivolous this is, the thing itself clearly proves. The language of the Prophet does however import this, that our sins are then remitted when the records of them are blotted out before God. It follows — for I will run over this verse, that I may today finish this Prophet —

The faithful confirm here the former truth, that God had deposited his covenant with them, which could not be made void: and hence also shines forth more clearly what I have said before, that the faithful do not learn by their own understanding what sort of Being God is, but embrace the mercy which he offers in his own word. Except God then speaks, we cannot form in our own minds any idea of his grace but what is uncertain and vanishing; but when he declares that he will be merciful to us, then every doubt is removed. This is now the course which the Prophet pursues.

He says, Thou wilt give truth to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn to our fathers; as though he said, “We do not presumptuously invent any thing out of our own minds, but receive what thou hast once testified to us; for thy will has been made known to us in thy word: relying then on thy favor, we are persuaded as to thy gratuitous pardon, though we are in many respects guilty before thee.” We now then understand the design of the Prophet.

As to the words, it is not necessary to dwell on them, for we have elsewhere explained this form of speaking. There are here two expressions by which the Prophet characterizes the covenant of God. Truth is mentioned, and mercy is mentioned. With respect to order, the mercy of God precedes; for he is not induced otherwise to adopt us than through his goodness alone: but as God of his own will has with so great kindness received us, so he is true and faithful in his covenant. If then we desire to know the character of God’s covenant, by which he formerly chose the Jews, and at this day adopts us as his people, these two things must be understood, that God freely offers himself to us, and that he is constant and true, he repents not, as Paul says, as to his covenant: The gifts and calling of God, he says, are without repentance, (Romans 11:29;) and he refers to the covenant, by which God adopted the children of Abraham.

He says now, Thou wilt give, that is, show in reality; for this, to give, is, as it were, to exhibit in effect or really. Thou will then give, that is, openly show, that thou hast not been in vain so kind to us and ours, in receiving them into favor. How so? Because the effect of thy goodness and truth appears to us.

Thou hast then sworn to our fathers from the days of old. The faithful take for granted that God had promised to the fathers that his covenant would be perpetual; for he did not only say to Abraham, I will be thy God, but he also added, and of thy seed for ever. Since, then, the faithful knew that the covenant of God was to be perpetual and inviolable, and also knew that it was to be continued from the fathers to their children, and that it was once promulgated for this end, that the fathers might deliver it as by the hand to their children; they therefore doubted not but that it would be perpetual. How so? for thou hast sworn to our fathers; that is, they knew that God not only promised, but that having interposed an oath, by which God designed to confirm that covenant, he greatly honored it, that it might be unhesitatingly received by the chosen people. As then the faithful knew that God in a manner bound himself to them, they confidently solicited him, really to show himself to be such as he had declared he would be to his own elect.

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