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Here the Prophet admonishes the people that perverse leaders would be the cause of their destruction. For if the blind lead the blind both will fall into the ditch (Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39.) Since, therefore, the elders of the city were such wicked apostates, they drew with them the whole body of the people into the same ruin. Now, therefore, the Prophet shows that the state of the city was so corrupt that no hope of pardon remained, since those who ought to be the eyes of the whole people were involved in darkness. But he names the five and twenty seniors Whence it is probable, that this number was chosen in the midst of confusion, or that a definite number is put for an indefinite; and I rather embrace this second view. Whatever it is, it implies that those who held the reins of government were impious despisers of God, and hence it is not surprising that impiety and defection from God and his law had begun to increase among the whole people. But we must remark the Prophet’s intention. For common soldiers are accustomed to consider their commanders as a shield, as we this day see in the Papacy. For this is their last refuge, since they think themselves guilty of no fault when they obey their holy Mother Church. Such also formerly was the obstinacy of the people.
Lastly, men always throw off all blame from themselves, under pretense of error or ignorance. Hence the Prophet now shows that the city was not free from God’s wrath, since it was corrupted by its leaders and rulers; nay, that this was a cause of its destruction, since the people were too easily led astray by perverse examples. Meanwhile, we must notice the Prophet’s freedom, because he here fearlessly attacks the most noble princes. He was, indeed, out of danger, because he was an exile: but it seems that he was at Jerusalem when he uttered this prophecy. He shows, therefore, his strength of mind, since he does not spare the nobles. Hence this useful doctrine is collected, that those who excel in reputation and rank are not free from blame if they conduct themselves wickedly, as we see happens in the Papacy. For, as to the Pope himself, it is in his power to condemn the whole world, while he exempts himself from all blame. And as to the Bishops, now twenty or thirty witnesses are required, and afterwards even seventy: hence one of those horned beasts could not be convinced, unless the whole people should rise up: so also it was formerly. But here the Prophet shows, that however eminent are those who are endued with power over the people, yet they are not sacred nor absolved from all law by any peculiar privilege, since God freely judges them by his Spirit, and reproves them by his Prophets. Lastly, if we wish to discharge our duty rightly, especially when it consists of the office of teaching, we should avoid all respect of persons, for those who boast that they excel others are yet subject to the censures of God. For this reason it follows —
Here the Prophet explains what might be obscure through their perverseness. He brings forward, therefore, what the impious thought could be covered by many fallacies. For we know that hypocrites endeavor to fix their eyes on God, and when they scatter their own clouds before themselves, they think that he is blinded. For this reason Isaiah says, that God also is wise, (Isaiah 31:2,) and derides their cunning, since they think that they blind God’s eyes whilst they conceal their sins with various coverings. Since, therefore, the obstinacy of these men was so great., the Prophet here strips off their mask; for they could be turned aside by perverse counsels to deny that they deserved anything of the kind. But the Prophet here cuts away their pretenses, because, in truth, their impiety was more than sufficiently evident, since they boast that the time is not yet at hand, and, therefore, that they might build houses at Jerusalem as in a time of ease and peace. As we saw in Jeremiah, the time of the last destruction was approaching; everything remaining in the city had now been destined to final ruin: and for this reason Jeremiah advised houses to be built in Chaldea and in foreign lands, since the captives must spend a long period there, even seventy years. (Jeremiah 29:5.) Since then the predicted time was now drawing on, it became extreme folly in the people to oppose themselves, and to treat God’s threats as a laughing-stock, and to boast that it was a time for building. Now, therefore, we see what the Prophet blames and condemns in the five and twenty men who were princes of the people, namely, that they hardened the people in obstinate wickedness, and encouraged torpor, so that the Prophet’s threats were unheeded. Since, therefore, they so stupified the people by their enticements, and took away all sense of repentance, they also set aside all fear of God’s wrath which had been denounced against them. The Prophet condemns this depravity in their counsels.
But, in the second clause, this contempt appears more detestable when they say, that Jerusalem is the caldron, and they are the flesh I do not doubt their allusion to Jeremiah; for in the first chapter the pot was shown, but the fire was from the north, (Jeremiah 1:13;) so then the Spirit wished to teach us, that the Chaldeans would come like a fire to consume Jerusalem, as if a pot is placed on a large and constant fire, even if it be full of water and flesh, yet its contents are consumed, and the juice of the flesh is dried up by too long cooking. God had demonstrated this by his servant Jeremiah: here the Jews deride and factiously elude what ought to strike them with no light fear, unless they had been too slothful: behold, say they, we are the flesh and Jerusalem is the caldron: So they seem to rate the Prophet Jeremiah, as if he were inconsistent, — “What? do you threaten us with captivity? and meanwhile you say that this city will be the pot and the Chaldeans the fire. If God wishes to consume us, therefore let us remain within: thus we may build houses.” Now we understand how they sought some appearance of inconsistency in the words of the Prophet: as reprobate and profane men always take up arguments by which they may diminish and extenuate all faith in heavenly doctrine, nay, even reduce it to nothing if they could. The Prophet, therefore, provides a remedy for this evil, as we have seen. But before he proceeds to it, he repeats their impious saying, that Jerusalem is a caldron, and the people flesh They turned what had been said to a meaning directly contrary, for the Prophet said that they should burn since the Chaldeans would be like fire’ but they said — well, we shall be scorched, but that will be done lightly, so that we shall remain safe to a good old age. Hence we understand how diabolical was their audacity, who were so blinded by the just judgments of God, that they did not scruple petulantly to blame even God himself, and to make a laughingstock of the authority of his teaching. Thus we see in another way how faithfully Ezekiel had discharged his duty: he had been created a Prophet: he had not to discharge his office by himself, but was an assistant to Jeremiah. And we cannot otherwise discharge our duty to God and his Church unless we mutually extend our hands to each other, when ministers are mutually united and one studies to assist the other. Ezekiel now signifies this when he professes himself the ally and assistant of Jeremiah.
Yesterday we saw that the Jews scurrilously eluded the prophecies of Jeremiah, especially when he threatened them with God’s wrath. For he had said, that a vision was offered to him, in which Jerusalem was like a pot, and the fire lighted from the north. For a laughing-stock they said that they could rest safely within the city, because they were not yet cooked but raw, so that if that prophecy is true, said they, we shall not so quickly depart from the city. For God foretold that we should be the flesh which was about to be cooked: if this city is a caldron, we ought to remain here till we are cooked: but this has not happened. Hence what Jeremiah pronounces is vain, that we shall be dragged into exile, because these two things disagree, viz., God wishing us to rest in the city, and yet dragging us into a distant region. Since it is so, Jeremiah’s prophecy is vain; thus then they deceived themselves. But God commands another Prophet of his to rise up against them. And the repetition is emphatic, prophesy, prophesy against them For nothing is less tolerable than that men should petulantly spurn God’s anger, which ought to inspire all with fear. For if the mountains melt before him, (Isaiah 64:3,) if angels themselves tremble, (Job 4:18,) how comes it that the vessel of clay dares to conflict with its maker? (Isaiah 45:9.) And we see also how God grows angry against such perverseness; especially when he denounces, by the mouth of Isaiah, that this sin would be unpardonable. I have called you, said he, to ashes and mourning: but, on the other hand, ye have said, Let us eat and drink, and ye have turned my threats into a laughing-stock. For this was your proverb, to-morrow we shall die: as I live, your iniquity shall not go unpunished. God affirms by an oath, that he would never be appeased by the impious and profane despisers of his judgments. For this reason also he now repeats again, prophesy, prophesy. Let us go on —
Here the Prophet turns the impious scurrility of the people into another sense, for they had corrupted what Jeremiah had said. They knew what he meant by the pot and the flesh, but they thought they could avert God’s wrath by their cleverness. Here the Prophet brings forward another sense, not that of Jeremiah, nor that of the people, but a third. In the twenty-fourth chapter he will again denounce them as like flesh, since God will cast them into a pot to be cooked, so that even their bones should be consumed. But here the Prophet only considers how he shall refute their wicked saying, by which they think to catch Jeremiah in a snare, as they did not agree sufficiently with his prophecy. What does he say, then? First, that the Spirit had fallen upon, him, that he might gain a hearing for his prophecy; for if he had spoken from his own mind he might be rejected with impunity; for the speakers ought to utter God’s word, and to be the organ of his Spirit. The Pope boasts this to his followers, but the true and faithful servants of God ought to do this in reality, namely, not to utter their own comments, but to receive from God’s hands what they deliver to the people, and thus to discharge their duty faithfully. To this end the Prophet says, that the Spirit fell upon him. For although he had been previously endued with the gift of prophecy, yet as often as he exercised it this grace ought, to be renewed; because it is not sufficient for us to be imbued once with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, unless God works in us daily. Since, therefore, he follows up his gifts in his servants while he uses their assistance, hence it is not in vain that Ezekiel says, the Spirit was still given to him, because this gift was necessary for every act. Afterward she expresses more dearly what he had said, namely, that the Spirit had spoken; for it signifies that what he shortly subjoins had been dictated to him.
Here, therefore, he admonishes the Jews that they should not foolishly promise themselves impunity, when they despised his prophecies, since he does not speak from himself, but only relates what the Spirit suggested and dictated. Thus have ye spoken, O house of Israel, said he, and I have known the risings of your heart God here precisely urges the Jews that they should not hope to obtain anything by turning their backs; for we know how carelessly and boldly hypocrites reject all teaching, and do not hesitate to strive with God, since they find many pretexts by which they excuse themselves. Hence there would be no end, unless the Lord should racet them, and with the supreme command and power of a judge, should show them that subterfuges were vain, and make all their excuses idle, and of no moment. This then is the Prophet’s meaning when he says, that whatever rose up in their heart was known to God But by these words he implies, that they sought in vain a theater in the world, as if they should succeed if they proved their cause before men: he says that it is vain, because they must come into the court of heaven, where God will be the only Judge. Now, when our thoughts are known to God, in vain we take up with this or that; because God will not admit our subterfuges, nor will he allow himself to be deluded by our smartness and cunning. Now, therefore, we see what the Prophet means by saying that God knows what sprang up in the heart of the Jews, because, forsooth, they had never desisted from contending and quarreling by their fallacies, so as to draw away all confidence from his prophecies. Hence we see the utility of the doctrine, that we deceive ourselves in vain by acuteness, so as to escape by our crooked imaginations, because God sees men’s cunning, and while they desire to be ingenious, he seizes them, and shows the vanity of what they think the greatest wisdom. So let us desire to approve ourselves to God, and not esteem our deeds and plans according to our own sense and judgment. Now it follows —
Now Ezekiel attacks, as it were, in close combat, the buffoons who trifled with God by their jests, and brings forward that; sense which I have just before touched on, and of which the prophecy of Jeremiah was full, in a different manner to that. which they imagined. Ye, says he, have slain many; the city was full of many slaughters: therefore the pot was full of flesh; this flesh was cooked: there is no longer any room in the vessel. You must therefore of necessity be cast forth as froth, or as foul flesh, for which no vessel is found for cooking it. We see, then, that the Prophet here treats them wittily, and plays off jests in answer to them; meanwhile he strikes a deadly wound, when he shows that they joked so petulantly to their own destruction, and boasted that Jeremiah was their adversary. Hence he confirms the prophecy of Jeremiah, and yet he does not interpret it, because Jeremiah had spoken properly and clearly, when he said that they were flesh. The meaning was the same as if God were to pronounce that he would consume them in the midst of the city. It happened as we have formerly seen; for he scattered some of the people, and slew some with the sword, and some with hunger. Whatever it is, the prophecy of Jeremiah will always be found true, namely, that God had cooked the Jews with the fire of the Chaldees. (Jeremiah 1:13.) But since they had perverted that doctrine, the Prophet does not regard the meaning of Jeremiah, but shows that they never profited while they turned their backs on God. Ye shall not be flesh, says he, but your slain were flesh: ye have refilled the caldron, that is the city with the slain; now there is no room for you. What therefore remains, but that God should cast you out as foul flesh? Neither will he cook you, says he, nor will he consume you in a caldron, but where he has stretched you at full length on the earth, there will he consume you. Now, therefore, we see how great a destruction the Jews had brought upon themselves, when they took the liberty of joking and jesting at the Prophets. Hence he says, they had filled the city with the slain He does not mean that men had been openly put to death in Jerusalem, but this form of speech embraces all forms of injustice; for we know that God esteems those homicides who oppress miserable men, overturn their fortunes, and suck innocent blood. Since, then, God esteems all violence as slaughter, he properly says, that the city was filled with the slain The Jews might object that no one had brought violence upon them; they could not be convicted in the sight of men; but when their wickedness was so gross among themselves, that they did not spare the wretched, but cruelly afflicted them, he says that the city was filled with the slain He now adds, when the city was full of flesh there was no more place for them, and he now shows that although Jeremiah had predicted that they should be cooked with the fire of the Chaldeans, yet they had advanced so far in wickedness, that they were unworthy of being cooked within the city. Hence, says he, a greater vengeance from God awaits you, since ye proceed to provoke his anger more and more. It follows —
We ought to join these verses together, because the Prophet treats the same thing in many words. First he denounces that they should perish by the sword since they feared the sword By these words he admonishes them, that even if God should draw them out of the city, yet Jeremiah’s prophecy would prove true, since the Chaldeans would consume them as if the pot was boiling on the fire. Lastly, he shows how frivolous was their cavil when they said, “if we are flesh, we shall remain in the caldron.” But the Prophet shows that they must not cavil like children with God, be cause when he showed the caldron to his servant Jeremiah, he meant nothing else than that the Jews should perish, since the Chaldeans would come to consume them. But they had purposely perverted the Prophet’s sense, and thought themselves clever and shrewd when they corrupted the heavenly doctrine. First of all the Prophet says, ye have feared the sword, and ye shall fall by the sword: h e afterwards adds the manner: I, says he, will bring the sword upon you, which ye feared: he says, I will draw you out from the midst of it. He declares the manner: namely, that he will bring them into an open plain, that he may more easily slay them there. If any should object, that this was not seething them in the city, the answer is easy: that God did not restrict his wroth to one kind of punishment, when he thus spoke by Jeremiah. For we know that the Prophets set before us God’s judgments in various ways, and thus use various figures. Since therefore the Prophets do not always teach in the same manner, it is not surprising if, when he shortly shows that God’s wrath was near the Jews, he used that simile: ye shall fall, says he, by the sword, and in the borders of Israel shall I judge you.
Here he clearly expresses what I lately touched upon. It was indeed God’s judgment, when the Jews were drawn from the city in which they thought they had a quiet nest: for when they were violently dragged into exile, God exercised his judgments upon them: and from the time when he deprived them of their country, then he already began to be their judge. But here he begins to treat of a severer judgment. Although God had begun to chastise the Jews when he expelled them from the city, yet he treated them more severely in the boundaries of Israel; because when they came in sight of the king of Babylon, then the king saw his slain: then he himself was rendered blind and dragged into Chaldea, and all the nobles slain. (Genesis 25:0; Jeremiah 39:0.) Hence we may gather that the people’s blood was poured out without discrimination. Now therefore we understand what God means when he threatens to judge them in the borders of Israel, that is without their country. Lastly, he here denounces a double penalty, first because God would east them out of Jerusalem in which they delighted, and in which they said that they should dwell so long that exile would be their first punishment: then he adds, that he was not content with exile, but that a heavier punishment was at hand, when they should be cast out of their country, and the land should cast; them forth as a stench which it cannot bear. I will judge you therefore in the borders of Israel: that is, beyond the holy land: for since one curse has already occurred in exile, still a harder and more formidable revenge will await; you. Now he adds, ye shall know that I am Jehovah
Doubtless Ezekiel reproves the sloth which was the cause of such great contumacy: for they had never dared to contend so perseveringly with God, unless their minds had been stupified; for were we to reflect that we are striving with God, horror would immediately seize upon us; for who labors under such madness as to dare to contend with God his maker? This torpor, therefore, Ezekiel now obliquely reproves, when he says that the Jews would know too late that they were dealing with God. Although therefore they sinned through ignorance, it does not follow that they were without, excuse, for whence arose their ignorance except from being inattentive to God? It sprang first from carelessness: then that carelessness and security produced contempt, and contempt sprang from their depraved lust of sinning. Since therefore they determined to give themselves up to all manner of sinning, they put away as far as possible all teaching: nay they willingly endeavored to stupify their own consciences, and thus we see that depraved desire impelled them to contempt, and contempt begat in them security, in which at length this ignorance plunged them. Since therefore at the time it did not come into their mind to contend with God, this does not extenuate their fault, because, as I have said, they had stupified themselves with determined and spontaneous wickedness.
Meanwhile, it is by no means doubtful that God always pricked them that they might feel themselves sinners, but the Prophet here speaks of that knowledge which is called experimental. For the impious are said to know God when, being struck by his hand, they unwillingly acknowledge his power: because whether they will or not they feel him to be their judge. But this knowledge does not profit them; nay even increases their destruction. But we understand the Prophet’s meaning, that the Jews were rebellious and despised God’s servants: because they pretended that they had to do only with men, and covered themselves with darkness, lest they should behold the light which was offered to their eyes. God pronounces that they should know at length with whom they contended, as Zechariah says, they shall see whom they have pierced; (Zechariah 12:10;) that is, they shall know that it is I whom they have wounded, when they so proudly despised my servants, and abjured all confidence in my teaching. Hence also we gather that the minds of the impious were so confused, that seeing they did not see; for when they experience God to be their judge, they are compelled in reality to confess that they feel his hand: yet they remain stupid, because they do not profit, as the Prophet had just now said, — ye feared the sword. But they were careless, as we saw, and despised all threats. Of what kind, then, is this fear which is remarked upon by the Prophet? that of the impious forsooth, who while they make for themselves blandishments, and fancy that they have made a covenant with death, as is said in Isaiah, (Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 48:22; and Isaiah 57:21,) and promise themselves freedom from punishment, even when a scourge is passing through the land, yet tremble and are always ill-at-ease, because they have no peace, as it is said elsewhere. In fine, we see the impious always remaining careless and stupid: though they are careless, yet they tremble and are tortured with secret impiety, since the severity of God urges them on. At length he concludes, Jerusalem should not be their caldron, but he would punish them in the border of Israel But I have sufficiently explained this clause. It follows —
He repeats what he had said, that they would acknowledge too late how impiously and wickedly they had despised the prophecies: because this was to draw down God himself from heaven; for God wishes that reverence which he exacts from us to be given to his own word. Therefore men rage in contempt of his teaching, as if after the manner of giants they wished to draw God down from heaven. But he expresses the cause more clearly: because indeed they have not walked in his law and his precepts; but have entangled themselves in the superstitions of the nations Here we see that God could not possibly be accused of too much rigor, because he executed a judgment so heavy and severe against the Jews. For he had given them the law. This was the greatest ingratitude, to reject the teaching, which ought to be familiar to them, and at the same time to add to it the impious rites of the Gentiles: this was to prefer the devil to God himself with full deliberation. Hence God shows that although he would treat the Jews severely, yet that his wrath was moderate compared with their sins: because nothing was wanting to complete their impiety when they so rejected his law. When therefore he says that they did not walk in the law, he takes this principle for granted, that the law was not given in vain, but that in it the Jews were, faithfully and clearly taught the right way, as also Moses says, “this is the way, walk ye in it.” There is no doubt that Ezekiel referred to that sentence of Moses, when he said,
that the Jews did not walk in the law, and did not perform the judgments of God. (Deuteronomy 5:33; Isaiah 30:21.)
Since therefore God has shown the way, so that they had no excuse for wandering, how great was their ingratitude in leaving the way and willfully casting themselves into wanderings?
Now comparison aggravates their crime, when he says, that they preferred the judgments and rites of the Gentiles which were around them Because they had unbelieving neighbors, God had opposed his law like a rampart to separate them from the profane Gentiles. Since therefore they had so far approached these detestable rites, and that too by rejecting utterly the law of God, do we not perceive that they were worthy of severe punishment? Meanwhile let us observe, when God has borne with us a long time, if we persist in our obstinacy, that nothing else is left but the extinction of the light of doctrine, and that God should show himself in some other manner. For the Prophet’s discourse is like a glass, in which God represents himself. But when we shut our eyes and throw down the glass and break it, then God shows himself in some other manner; that is, he no longer thinks it right to show us his face, but teaches us by his hand, and convinces us of our impious obstinacy by a proof of his power, because we were unwilling to submit to his teaching. It follows —
It is by no means doubtful that this Phalatias died at the same time at which the vision was offered to God’s servant. We shall see at the end of the chapter that the Prophet was always in exile; but then he seemed to himself caught up into the temple, and seemed also to himself to behold Phalatias dead. And yet it is possible that he died at his own home, and not in the entrance or threshold of the temple. But we know that the vision was not limited to places. As, therefore, Ezekiel was only by vision in the temple, so also he saw the death of Phalatias; and in this way God began by a kind of prelude to show that the slaughter of the city was at hand. For Phalatias was one of the chief rulers, as was said in the first verse of this chapter, and was doubtless a man of good reputation: hence his death was a presage of a general destruction. Hence this exclamation of the Prophet, Ah Lord God, wilt thou utterly consume the remnant of Israel? for now only a small number out of an immense multitude remained. Phalatias is seized, and in this way he shows that destruction hangs over the whole people. Hence it came to pass that the Prophet fell upon the earth astonished, and exclaimed that it was by no means agreeable to God’s promises to destroy the remnant of Israel. For some remnant ought to remain, as we often see in other places: even in the general slaughter of the whole people, God always gave some hope that he would not abolish his covenant. For this reason the Prophet now exclaims.
Here God seems to rebuke the thoughtlessness of his servant, or rather the error of the people, because we said that the Prophet announced not what he privately thought, but what was commonly received. Whatever it is, God answers his complaint as we saw, and shows that even if he takes away from the midst the eminent and conspicuous, and those who seem to be the supports of a city and kingdom, yet the Church does not perish on that account, because he has hidden reasons why he preserves it, not in splendid and magnificent pomp, as men call it, but that its safety may at length excite admiration. The sum of the matter is, therefore, although not only Phalatias, but all the councillors of the king, and all the leaders of the people should perish, yet that God can work in weakness, so that the Church shall nevertheless remain safe: and so he teaches that the remnant must not be sought in that rank which was then conspicuous, but rather among men ordinary and despised. Now we understand the intention of God in this answer.
He says therefore, thy brethren, thy brethren, and the men of thy relationship. H e here recalls his servant to the exiles and the captives, of whom he himself was one, as if he would say that they were not cast out of the Church, as they were still in some estimation. For God seemed to east them off when he banished them from the promised land; but he now shows that they were reckoned among his sons although disinherited from the land of Canaan. Hence he twice repeats the name of brethren, and adds, men of thy relationship, that the Prophet might rather reckon himself also to be among the number. Those who refer this to the three exiles, weaken the vehemence of the passage, whilst they obtrude an inappropriate comment, and turn away the reader from the genuine sense of the Prophet. But rather, as I lately hinted,. God here chastises the Prophet because he perversely restricts the body of the Church to the citizens at Jerusalem; as if he said, although the Israelites are captives, yet do they seem to you foreigners? and so will you not leave them a place in the Church? They are, therefore, thy brethren, thy brethren, says he, and the men of thy relationship Hence the repetition is emphatic, and tends to this purpose, that the Prophet may cease to measure God’s grace by the safety of the city alone, as he had done. Because one man had suddenly died, he thought that all must perish. Meanwhile he did not perceive how he injured the miserable exiles, whom God had so expelled from the land of Canaan, that yet some hope of pity remained, as all the Prophets show, and as we shall soon see. This passage then is worthy of observation, that we may learn not to estimate the state of the Church by the common opinion of mankind. And so with respect to the splendor which too often blinds the eyes of the simple. For it will so happen, that we think we have found the Church where there is none, and we despair if it does not offer itself to our eyes; as we see at this day that many are astonished by those magnificent pomps which are conspicuous in the Papacy. There the name of “The Church” keeps flying bravely in the face of all: there also its marks are brought forward: the simple are attracted to the empty spectacle: so under the name of the Church they are drawn to destruction; because they determine that the Church is there where that splendor which deceives them is seen. On the other hand, many who cannot discern the Church with their eyes and point to it with the finger, accuse God of deceiving them, as if all the faithful in the world were extinct. We must hold, therefore, that the Church is often wonderfully preserved in its hiding — places: for its members are not luxurious men, or such as win the veneration of the foolish by vain ostentation; but rather ordinary men, of no estimation in the world. We have a memorable example of this, when God recalls his own Prophet from the chief leaders at Jerusalem, not to other leaders, who should attract men to wonder at themselves, but to miserable exiles, whose dispersion rendered them despicable. He shows therefore that some remnants were left even in Chaldea.
Now it follows, to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem said, depart, ye far from the sanctuary of Jehovah, the land is given to us Here God inveighs against the arrogance of the people, which remained at home quiet and careless. For he here relates the words of the citizens of Jerusalem, because, forsooth, they preferred themselves to the exiles, nay boasted that they were alienated from the holy people because they had been dragged into exile, or had left the city of their own accord. As to their saying, depart afar off, it ought not to be taken strictly in the imperative mood; but the speech ought so to be understood, that while they depart far from the sanctuary, the land will remain as an inheritance for us. We see, therefore, that the citizens of Jerusalem pleased themselves, and were satisfied with their own ease, since they still enjoyed their country, worshipped God in the temple, and the name of a kingdom was still standing. Since therefore they so enjoyed themselves, God shows that on the contrary they were blinded with pride, since he had not entirely cast away his captives, although he afflicted them with temporal punishment. But this their boasting was very foolish, in congratulating themselves on their escape from exile. For meanwhile what was their state? In truth their king’ was treated with ignominy, and we know what happened to themselves afterwards; for they were reduced to such straits, that mothers devoured their children, and those nourished in great, luxury consumed their dung. Nay even before the city was besieged, what reason was left them for boasting in themselves! but we here perceive how great was their obstinacy in which they hardened themselves against the scourge of God. Hence they stupidly supposed that God could not subdue them. Now what is their ferocity, that they insult over the miserable exiles as if they were cast away far from God? since Ezekiel and Daniel and their companions were among these exiles. We know that Daniel’s piety was so celebrated at Jerusalem, that they all acknowledged him as the peculiar gift and ornament of his age. When, therefore, Daniel was in such estimation for superior piety, how could they erect their crests against him — since they were Conscious of many crimes, profane, full of all defilements, addicted to cruelty, fraud, and perjury, being foul in their abominations, and infamous in their intemperance?
Since therefore we see that they so boldly insulted their brethren, can we wonder that at this day the Papists also are fierce, because they retain the ordinary succession and the title of the Church, and that they say that we are cast away and cut off from the Church, and so are unworthy of enjoying either a name or a place among Christians? If, therefore, at this day the Papists are so hot against us, there is no reason why their haughtiness should disturb us; but in this mirror we may learn that it always was so. But there was another reason why the citizens of Jerusalem said that their captives were cast far away. For it was clear that their exile was the just penalty for their crimes; but meanwhile how did they dare separate themselves from others, when their life was more wicked? Lastly, since God had already passed sentence upon them, their condition could not be really different from theirs, concerning whom the judge had pronounced his opinion, but they were deaf to all the Prophets’ threats, so that they despised God, and hence that boasting which treated all as foreigners who did not remain in the land of Canaan. This passage also teaches us, that if God at any time chastises those who profess the same religion with us, yet there is no reason why we should entirely condemn them, as if they were desperate; for opportunity must be given for the mercy of God. And we must diligently mark what follows. For after the Prophet has related that the citizens of Jerusalem boasted when they thought themselves the sole survivors, God answers on the contrary, because they were cast away far among the nations, and dispersed among the lands, or through the lands, therefore I shall be to them as a small sanctuary
We see that God even here claims some place for sinners in the Church, against whom he had exercised the rigor of his judgment. He says, by way of concession, that they were cast away and dispersed, but he adds, that he was still with them for a sanctuary; nay, because they bore their exile calmly and with equanimity, they pronounce this to be a reason why he should pity them. For neither is their sentence so general that God overlooked his own elect. This promise then ought not to be extended to all the captives without discrimination, because we shall see that God included only a few. Without doubt then, this was a peculiar promise which God wished to be a consolation to his elect. He says, because they bore exile and dispersion with calmness and composure, therefore God would be a sanctuary to them But this was a gracious approval of their modesty and subjection, because they not only suffered exile but also dispersion, which was more severe. For if they had all been drawn into a distant region this had been a severe trial, but still they might have united more easily, had they not been dispersed. This second punishment was the sadder to them, because they perceived in it the material for despair, as if they could never be collected together again in one body.
thus their wrestling with these temptations was a sign of no little piety; and as some of the faithful did not demonstrate their obedience at once, yet because God knows his own, (2 Timothy 2:19,) and watches for their safety, hence he here opposes to all their miseries that protection on which their safety was founded. Because, therefore, they were dispersed through the lands, hence, says he, I will be to them a small sanctuary
The third person is here used. Interpreters make מעט , megnet, mean the noun toar, and understand it as “a small sanctuary,” although it may be taken for a paucity of men, and we may, therefore, fairly translate it “a sanctuary of security.” Although the other sense suits the passage best, that God would be a small sanctuary to the captives, so there will be an antithesis between the splendor of the visible temple and the hidden grace of God, which so escaped the notice of the Chaldeans that they rather trod it under foot, and even the Jews who still remained at Jerusalem despised it. The sanctuary, therefore, which God had chosen for himself on Mount Zion, because it deservedly attracted all eyes towards it, and the Israelites were always gazing at it, since it revealed the majesty of God, might be called the magnificent sanctuary of God: nothing of the sort was seen in the Babylonish exile: but God says, that he was to the captives as a small or contracted sanctuary This place answers to the 90 Psalm, where Moses says, Thou, O God, hast always been a tabernacle to us, (Psalms 90:1,) and yet God had not always either a temple or a tabernacle from which he entered into a covenant with the fathers. But Moses there teaches what God afterwards represented by a visible symbol, that the fathers really thought that they truly lay hid under the shadow of God’s wings, and were not otherwise safe and sheltered unless God protected them. Moses, therefore, in the name of the fathers, celebrates the grace of God which was continual even before the sanctuary was built. So also in this place God says by a figure, that he was their sanctuary, not that he had erected an altar there, but because the Israelites were destitute of any external pledge and symbol, he reminds them that the thing itself was not entirely taken away, since God had his wings outstretched to cherish and defend them. This passage is also worthy of notice, lest the faithful should despond where God has no standard erected: although he does not openly go before them with royal ensigns to preserve them, yet they need not conclude themselves altogether deserted; but they should recall to remembrance what is here said of a small sanctuary. God, therefore, although he does not openly exhibit his influence, yet he does not cease to preserve them by a secret power, of which in this our age we have a very remarkable proof. The world indeed thinks us lost as often as the Church is materially injured, and the greater part become very anxious, as if God had deserted them. Then let this promise be remembered as a remedy, God is to the dispersed and cast away a small sanctuary; so that although his hand is hidden, yet our safety proves that he has worked powerfully in our weakness. We see then that this sense is most suitable, and contains very useful doctrine. Yet the other sense will suit, that God is “the sanctuary of a few,” because in that great multitude but few remain who are really the people of God, for the greater part was ignorant of him; since then God does not regard that multitude of the impious which was already within the Church, but only here directs his discourse towards his own elect, it is not surprising that he asserts them to be but few in number. Now it follows —
Now God expresses the effect of his grace. In the last verse he had said that he would be a sanctuary. I have reminded you that these words ought not to be understood of a visible place in which God was worshipped, but of that hidden influence by which he cherishes his people. But if the exile had been perpetual, that promise might seem vain. Why then did God protect his people in exile, if he wished them to be consumed there? because otherwise his covenant would have been in vain. Therefore lest any one should object that God deceives his faithful ones, when he pronounces that he would be their sanctuary, he now points out its result, viz., that he would restore them to their country. Therefore, says he, I will collect you from the people, and gather you from the nations to which ye have been, driven, and I will give you the land of Israel Since therefore a return to their country was a certain pledge of God’s love, hence he announces that they should at length return On the whole the restitution of the Church is promised, which should confirm God’s covenant. In it had been said to Abraham, I will give this land to thee and to thy seed for ever. (Genesis 13:15; and Genesis 17:8.) God, therefore, to show his covenant still remaining entire and secure, which he had interrupted for a short time, here speaks concerning this restoration. And as to the Prophet so often inculcating the name of God, and relating his orders in God’s name, and directing his discourse to the captives, this tends to confirm his message, because in such a desperate state of things it was difficult to wait patiently for what the Prophet taught, viz., that a time would come when God would collect them again, and recall them home. Hence the faithful were admonished that they must consider God’s power, and put their trust in this prophecy. It follows —
Here he adds something more important — that when the Israelites had returned to their country they would be sincere worshippers of God, and not only offer sacrifices in the temple, but purge the land of all its pollutions. Here also the Prophet admonishes them how great and detestable was the impiety of the ten tribes, because they had contaminated the land with idols. He does not here allude to the idols of the Gentiles, but rather reproves the Israelites because they had contaminated with their defilements the land which had been dedicated to God. Hence the Prophet exhorted his countrymen to repentance, when he shows that they were not cast out of the land before it was polluted; and therefore that they were justly punished for their sacrilege. This is one point. Afterwards we must remark, that we then truly and purely enjoy God’s blessings, when we direct their use to that end which is here set before us, namely, pure and proper worship. Nothing more frequently meets us than this teaching — that we have been redeemed by God that we may celebrate his glory; that the Church was planted that in it he may be glorified, and we may make known his attributes. Hence let us learn that God’s benefits then issue in our safety, and are testimonies of his paternal favor when they excite us to worship him. Thirdly, we must remark, that we do not rightly discharge our duty towards God, unless when we purge his worship from all stain and defilement. Many so worship God, that they corrupt with vicious mixtures whatever obedience they seem to render. And to this day even, those who seem to themselves very wise, are shamefully divided between God and the devil, as if they could satisfy God with half their allegiance. Hence let us learn from this passage, that God abhors such deceivers; for when he says that the Israelites after their return should be devoted to piety, he indicates it by this mark — that they shall take away all their abominations, and all their idols from the land It afterwards follows —
As God had already spoken concerning the piety of the Israelites, he shows that they could not forsake their sins until they were renewed, and so born again by his Spirit. Therefore he seemed in the last verse to praise the Israelites; but because men too eagerly claim as their own what has been given them from above, now God claims to himself glow of their virtues, of which he had formerly spoken. Their zeal in purging the land of all abominations was worthy of praise; hence the survivors of the people of Israel are deservedly celebrated, because they were impelled by the fervor of zeal to free the worship of God from all corruptions; but lest they should boast, that they had done it in their own strength, and from the impulse of their own hearts, God now modifies his former assertions, and shows that such pursuit of piety would exist among the Israelites, after he had regenerated them by his Spirit. And this plea alone may suffice to refute the Papists, as often as they seize upon such passages from the Scriptures, where God either exacts something from his people, or proclaims their virtues. David does this; hence he does it of his own free will: God requires this; hence it is in the will of men that they are equal to the performance of all things. Thus they trifle. But we see that the Prophet unites two things together, namely, the faithful elect of God strenuously attending to their duty, and intent on promoting his glory, even with ardor in the pursuit of his worship; and yet they were nothing by themselves. Hence it is added immediately afterwards — I will give them one heart, and will put a new spirit in their breasts But we must defer the rest to the next lecture.
He adds afterwards, that they may walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them, and they shall be my people, and I will be their God Now the Prophet more clearly expresses how God would give his elect hearts of flesh instead of those of stone, when he regenerates them by his Spirit, and when he forms them to obey his law, so that they may willingly observe his commands, and efficiently accomplish what he causes them to will. Now let us consider more attentively the whole matter of which the Prophet treats. When God speaks of a stony heart, he doubtless condemns all mortals of obstinacy. For the Prophet is not here treating of a few whose nature differs from others, but as in a glass he puts the Israelites before us, that we know what our condition is, when being deserted by God we follow our natural inclinations. We collect, therefore, from this place, that all have a heart of stone, that is, that all are so corrupt that they cannot bear to obey God, since they are entirely carried away to obstinacy. Meanwhile it is certain that this fault is adventitious: for when God created man he did not bestow upon him a heart of stone, and as long as Adam stood sinless, doubtless his will was upright and well disposed, and it was also inclined to obedience to God. When therefore we say that our heart is of stone, this takes its origin from the fall of Adam, and from the corruption of our nature; for if Adam had been created with a hard and obstinate heart, that would have been a reproach to God. But as we have said, the will of Adam was upright from the beginning, and flexible to follow the righteousness of God; but when Adam corrupted himself, we perished with him. Hence, therefore, the stony heart, because we have put off that integrity of nature which God had conferred upon us at the beginning. For whatever Adam lost we also lost by the fall: because he was not created for his own self alone, but in his person God showed what would be the condition of the human race. Hence after he had been spoiled of the excellent gifts by which he was adorned, all his posterity were reduced to the same want and misery. Hence our heart is stony; but through original depravity, because we ought to attribute this to our father Adam, and not to throw the fault of our sin and corruption on God. Finally, we see what the beginning of regeneration is, namely, when God takes away that depravity by which we are bound down. But two parts of regeneration must be marked, of which also the Prophet treats.
God pronounces that he gives to his elect one heart and new spirit It follows, therefore, that the whole soul is vitiated, from reason even to the affections. The sophists in the Papacy confess that man’s soul is vitiated, but only in part. They are also compelled to subscribe to the ancients, that Adam lost supernatural gifts, and that natural ones were corrupted, but afterwards they involve the light in darkness, and feign that some part of the reason remains sound and entire, then that the will is vitiated only in part: hence it is a common saying of theirs, that man’s free will was wounded and injured, but that it did not perish. Now they define free will, the free faculty of choice, which is joined with reason and also depends upon it. For the will by itself, without the judgment, does not contain full and solid liberty, but when reason governs and holds the chief power in the soul of man, then the will obeys and forms itself after the prescribed rule: that is free will. The Papists do not deny that free will is injured and wounded, but as I have already said, they hold back something, as if men were partly right by their own proper motion, and some inclination or flexible motion of the will remained as well towards good as evil. Thus indeed they prate in the schools: but we see what the Holy Spirit pronounces. For if there is need of a new spirit and a new heart, it follows that the soul of man is not only injured in each part, but so corrupt that its depravity may be called death and destruction, as far as rectitude is concerned. But here a question is objected, whether men differ at all from brute beasts? But experience proves that men are endued with some reason. I answer, as it is said in the first chapter of John, (John 1:5,) that light shines in darkness; that is, that some sparks of intelligence remain, but so far from leading any man into the way, they do not enable him to see it. Hence whatever reason and intelligence there is in us, it does not bring us into the path of obedience to God, and much less leads by continual perseverance to the goal.
What then? These very sparks shine in the darkness to render men without excuse. Behold, therefore, how far man’s reason prevails, that he may feel self-convinced that no pretext for ignorance or error remains to him. Therefore man’s intelligence is altogether useless towards guiding his life aright. Perverseness more clearly appears in his heart. For man’s will boils over to obstinacy, and when anything right and what God approves is put before us, our affections immediately become restive and ferocious; like a refractory horse when he feels the spur leaps up and strikes his rider, so our will betrays its obstinacy when it admits nothing but what reason and a sound intelligence dictates. I have already taught that man’s reason is blind, but that blindness is not so perspicuous in us, because, as I have said, God has left in us some light, that no excuse for error should remain. It is not surprising, then, if God here promises that he would give a new heart, because if we examine all the affections of men, we shall find them hostile to God. For that passage of St. Paul (Romans 8:9) is true, that all the thoughts of the flesh are hostile to God. Doubtless he ],ere takes the flesh after his own manner, namely, as signifying’ the whole man as he is by nature and is born into the world. Since, therefore, all our affections are hostile and repugnant to God, we see how foolishly the schoolmen trifle, who feign that the will is injured, and so this weakness is to them in the place of death. Paul says that he was sold under sin, that is, as far as he was one of the sons of Adam: The law, he says, works in us sin, (Romans 7:14,) I am sold and enslaved to sin. But what do they say? That sin indeed reigns in us, but only in part, for there is some integrity which resists it. How far they differ from St. Paul! But this passage also with sufficient clearness refutes comments of this kind, where God pronounces that newness of heart and spirit is his own free gift Therefore Scripture uses the name of creation elsewhere, which is worthy of notice. For as often as the Papists boast that they have even the least particle of rectitude, they reckon themselves creators: since when Paul says that we are born again by God’s Spirit, he calls us τὸ ποίημα , his fashioning or workmanship, and explains that we are created unto good works. (Ephesians 2:10.) To the same purpose is the language of the Psalm, (Psalms 100:3,) he made us, not we ourselves. For he is not treating here of that first creation by which we became men, but of that special grace by which we are born again by the Spirit of God. If therefore regeneration is a creation of man, whoever arrogates to himself even the least share in the matter, seizes so much from God, as if he were his own creator, which is detestable to be heard of. And yet this is easily elicited from the common teaching of Scripture.
Now it follows, that they shall walk in my statutes, and keep my precepts and do them Here the Prophet removes other doubts, by which Satan has endeavored to obscure the grace of God, because he could not entirely destroy it. We have already seen that the Papists do not entirely take away the grace of God; for they are compelled to confess that man can do nothing except he is assisted by God’s grace: that free will lies without vigor and efficacy until it revives by the assistance of grace. Hence they have that in common with us, that man, as he is corrupt, cannot even move a finger so as to discharge any duty towards God. But here they err in two ways, because, as I have already said, they feign that some-right motion remains in man’s will, besides that there is sound reason in the mind; and they afterwards add that the grace of the Holy Spirit is not efficacious without the concurrence or co-operation of our free will. And here their gross impiety is detected. Hence they confess that we are regenerated by the Spirit of God, because we should otherwise be useless to think anything aright, namely, because weakness hinders us from willing efficaciously. But, on the contrary, they imagine God’s grace to be mutilated, but how? because God’s grace stirs us up towards ourselves, so that we become able to wish well, and also to follow out and perfect what we have willed.
We see, therefore, that when they treat of the grace of the Holy Spirit, they leave man suspended in the midst. How far then does the Spirit of God work within us? They say, that we may be able to will rightly and to act rightly. Hence nothing else is given us by the Holy Spirit but the ability: but it is ours to co-operate, and to strengthen and to establish what otherwise would be of no avail. For what advantage is there in the ability without the addition of the upright will? Our condemnation would only be increased. But here is their ridiculous ignorance, for how could any one stand even for a single moment, if God conferred on us only the ability. Adam had that ability in his first creation, and. then he was as yet perfect, but we are depraved; so that as far as the remains of the flesh abide in us which we carry about in this life, we must strive with great difficulties. If therefore Adam by and bye fell, although endued with rectitude of nature and with the faculty of willing and of acting uprightly, what will become of us? for we have need not only of Adam’s uprightness, and of his faculty of both willing and acting uprightly, but we have need of unconquered fortitude, that we may not yield to temptations, but be superior to the devil, and subdue all depraved and vicious affections of the flesh, and persevere unto the end in this wrestling or warfare. We see, therefore, how childishly they trifle who ascribe nothing else to the grace of the Holy Spirit unless the gift of ability. And Augustine expounds this wisely, and treats it at sufficient length in his book “Concerning the gift of perseverance, and the predestination of the saints;” for he compares us with the first Adam, and shows that God’s grace would not be efficacious, except in the case of a single individual, unless he granted us more than the ability. But what need have we of human testimonies, when the Holy Spirit clearly pronounces by the mouth of his Prophet what we here read? Ezekiel does not say: I will give them a. new spirit or a new heart, that they may walk and be endued with that moderate faculty: what then? that they may walk in my precepts, that they may keep my statutes, and perform, my commands We see therefore that regeneration extends so far that the effect follows, as also Paul teaches: Complete, says he, your salvation with fear and trembling, (Philippians 2:12;) here he exhorts the faithful to the attempt. And truly God does not wish us to be like stones. Let us strive therefore and stretch all our nerves, and do our utmost towards acting uprightly: but Paul advises that to be done with fear and trembling; that is, by casting away all confidence in one’s own strength, because if we are intoxicated with that diabolical pretense that we are fellow-workers with God, and that his grace is assisted by the motion of our free will, we shall break down, and at length God will show how great our blindness was. Paul gives the reason, because, says he, it is God who works both to will and to accomplish. (Philippians 2:13.) He does not say there that it is God who works the ability, and who excites in us the power of willing, but he says that God is the author of that upright will, and then he adds also the effect; because it is not sufficient to will unless we are able to execute. As to the word “power,” Paul does not use it, for it would occasion dispute, but he says that God works in all of us to accomplish.
If any one object, that men naturally will and act naturally by their own proper judgment and motion, I answer, that the will is naturally implanted in man, whence this faculty belongs equally to the elect and the reprobate. All therefore will, but through Adam’s fall it happens that our will is depraved and rebellious against God: will, I say, remains in us, but it is enslaved and bound by sin. Whence then comes an upright will? Even from regeneration by the Spirit. Hence the Spirit does not confer on us the faculty of willing: for it is inherent to us from our birth, that is, it is hereditary, and a part of the creation which could not be blotted out by Adam’s fall; but when the will is in us, God gives us to will rightly, and this is his work. Besides, when it is said that he gives us the power of willing, this is not understood generally, because it ought not to be extended to the bad as well as to the good; but when Paul is treating of the salvation of men, he deservedly assigns to God our willing uprightly. We now understand what the Prophet’s words signify, and it seems that he denotes perseverance when he says, that they may walk in my precepts, and keep my judgments and do them. the whole matter had been explained in one word, that they may walk in my statutes: but because men always sinfully consider how they may lessen the grace of God, and by sacrilegious boldness endeavor to draw to themselves what belongs to him; therefore that. the Prophet may better exclude all pride, he says that we must attribute to God the walking in his precepts, preserving his statutes, and obeying his whole law. Hence let us leave entirely his own praise to God, and thus acknowledge that in our good works nothing is our own; and especially in perseverance, let us reckon it God’s singular gift: and this is surely necessary, if we consider how very weak we are, and with how many and what violent attacks Satan continually urges us. First of all, we may easily fall every moment, unless God sustain us: and then the thrusts of Satan by far exceed our strength. If therefore we consider our condition without the grace of God, we shall confess that in our good works the only part which is ours is the fault, as also Augustine wisely makes this exception: for it is sufficiently known that no work is so praiseworthy as not to be sprinkled with some fault. Neither do the duties which we discharge proceed from a perfect love of God, but we have always to wrestle that we may obey him. We seem then to contaminate our deeds by this defect. There is then in our good works that very thing which vitiates them, so that they are deservedly rejected before God. But when we treat of uprightness and praise, we must learn to leave to God what is his own, lest we wish to be partakers in sacrilege.
Now it follows, and they shall be my people, and I will be their God Under these words the Prophet doubtless includes that gratuitous pardon by which God reconciles sinners to himself. And truly, it would not be sufficient for us to be renewed in obedience to God’s righteousness unless his paternal indulgence, by which he pardons our infirmities, is added. This is expressed more clearly by Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 31:33,) and by our Prophet, (Jeremiah 36:25,) but it is the mark of a Scripture phrase. For as often as God promises the sons of Abraham that they should be his people, that promise has no other foundation than in his gratuitous covenant which contains the forgiveness of sins. Hence it is as if the Prophet had added, that God would expiate all the faults of his people. For our safety is contained in these two members, that God follows us with his paternal favor, while he bears with us, and does not call us up for judgment, but buries our sins, as is said in Psalms 32:1, Blessed is the man to whom God does not impute his iniquities.
It follows, on the other side, that all are wretched and accursed to whom he does impute them. If any one object, that we have no need of pardon when we do not sin, the answer is easy, that the faithful are never so regenerated as to fulfill the law of God. They aspire to keep his commands, and that too with a serious and sincere affection; but because some defects always remain, therefore they are guilty, and their guilt cannot be blotted out otherwise than by expiation when God pardons them. But we know that there were under the law rites prescribed for expiating their sins: this was the meaning of sprinkling by water and the pouring out of blood; but we know that these ceremonies were of no value in themselves, except as far as they directed the people’s faith to Christ. Hence, whenever our salvation is; treated of, let these two things be remembered, that we cannot be reckoned God’s sons unless he freely expiate our sins, and thus reconcile himself to us: and then not unless he also rule us by his Spirit. Now we must hold, that what God hath joined man ought not to separate. Those, therefore, who through relying on the indulgence of God permit themselves to give way to sin, rend his covenant and impiously sever it. Why so? because God has joined these two things together, viz., that he will be propitious to his sons, and will also renew their hearts, Hence those who lay hold of only one member of the sentence, namely, the pardon, because God bears with them, and omit the other, are as false and sacrilegious as if they abolished half of God’s covenant. Therefore we must hold what I have said, namely, that under these words reconciliation is pointed out, by which it happens that God does not impute their sins to his own. Lastly, let us remark that the whole perfection of our salvation has been placed in this, if God reckons us among his people. As it is said in Psalms 33:12,“
Happy is the people to whom Jehovah is their God.”
There solid happiness is described, namely, when God deems any people worthy of this honor of belonging peculiarly to himself. Only let him be propitious to us, and then we shall not be anxious, because our salvation is secure. It follows —
The phrase which the Prophet uses is indeed harsh: he says, their heart goes after heart, so that some interpret this of imitation: namely, since God promises that he will be an avenger if any of the people conduct themselves after bad examples and unite in alliance with the wicked, just as if they glued together their hearts and affections, but that is harsh. The repetition is therefore superfluous, and the Prophet means nothing else than that God will be avenged if the Israelites follow their own heart, so as to walk in their own foulness and abominations. First of all we must understand the reason why the Prophet uses this sentiment. God had liberally poured out the treasures of his mercy, but since, hypocrites have always been mixed with the good, at the same time that they confidently boast themselves members of the Church, and use the name of God with great audacity; so that the Prophet uses this threat that they may not think all the promises which we hear of to belong to themselves promiscuously. For there were always many reprobate among the elect people, because not all who sprang from father Abraham were true Israelites. (Romans 9:6.)
Since therefore it was so, the Prophet properly shows here that what he had previously promised was peculiar to God’s elect, and to the true and lawful members of the Church, but not to the spurious, nor to the degenerate, nor to those who are unregenerated by the true and incorruptible seed. This is the Prophet’s intention. But lest there might seem to be too much rigor when God, as it were, armed comes down into the midst to destroy all who do not repent, the Prophet here declares their crime — namely, because their heart walks after their heart, that is, thine heart draws itself, and so the word heart is twice repeated. It is indeed a superfluous repetition but emphatic, when he says, that the heart of those who so pertinaciously adhere to their own superstitions is then impelled by its own self to new motions, so that by its continual tenor it goes always towards superstitions. Hence I will be an avenger, says God. Hence as often as God proposes to us testimonies of his favor, let each descend into himself and examine all his affections. But when any one lays hold of his own vices let him not please himself in them, but rather groan over them, and strive to renounce his own affections that he may follow God: neither let him harden himself in obstinacy, so that his heart may not proceed and rush continually towards evil, as is here said.
Here Ezekiel repeats what we saw before, namely, that God as he had chosen Mount Zion had at length rejected it, because that place had been polluted by the many wickednesses of the people. The Jews fancied that God was, as it were, held captive among them, and in this confidence they gave themselves up to licentiousness. Hence the Prophet shows them that God was not so bound to them as not to go wherever he pleased, and what is more, he announces that he has migrated, and that the temple is deprived of his glory. This indeed was almost incredible. For since God had pro-raised to dwell there perpetually, (Psalms 132:14,) his faithful ones could scarcely suppose that he would neglect his promise, and desert the temple which he had chosen. But this interruption does not interfere with his promise, which was always true and firm. God, therefore, did not entirely desert Mount Zion, because the opposite promise concerning his return must be kept. Since then the exile was temporary, and the temple was to be restored after seventy years, these points may be reconciled: namely, that God departed from it and yet the place remained sacred, so that after the lapse of that time which God had previously determined, his worship should be restored again in the temple and on Mount Zion. But he says, that God had visibly gone out of the city and the cherubim also: that is, that God was borne above the wings of the cherubim, as also the scripture elsewhere says: and he does this, because the Jews were governed by external symbols, and when the ark of the covenant was shut up in the sanctuary, no one could be persuaded that God could be torn away from it. With this view the Prophet says, The cherubim had flown away elsewhere, and that at the same time God was carried upon their wings Now he adds —
The Prophet here confirms what he had said at the beginning, viz., that this vision was divinely presented and was not an empty and deceptive specter. This prophecy was difficult of belief, so that all doubt ought to be removed, lest any one should object that God was not the author of the vision. He says, therefore, that he was raised up by the Spirit of God and brought into Chaldea. We have already asserted, that the Prophet did not change his place, though I am unwilling to contend for this, if any one think otherwise. But still it appears to me, that when the Prophet remained in exile he saw Jerusalem and the other places about which he discourses, not humanly but by a prophetic spirit. As then he had been carried to Jerusalem by the Spirit, so was he brought back into exile. But Spirit is here opposed to nature, since we know that our prospect is limited within a definite space. Now if the least obstacle occur our sight will not pass over five or six paces. But when God’s Spirit illuminates us, a new faculty begins to flourish in us, which is by no means to be estimated naturally. We now see in what sense Ezekiel says, that he was brought back into Chaldea by the Spirit of God, because he was in truth like a man in an ecstasy. For he had been carried out of himself, but now he is left in his ordinary state. And this is the meaning of these words, in a vision in the Spirit of God For a vision is opposed to a reality. For if the Prophet had been brought back by a vision, it follows that he had not really been at Jerusalem so as to be brought back into Chaldea. Now he meets the question which may be moved, viz.: “What was the efficacy of the vision? ” For the Prophet recalls us to the power of the Spirit which we must not measure by our rule. Since, therefore, the operation of the Spirit is incomprehensible, we need not wonder that the Prophet was carried to Jerusalem in a vision, and afterwards brought back into captivity. He adds that the vision departed from him, by which words he commends his own doctrine, and extols it beyond all mortal speeches, because he separates between what was human in himself and what was divine when he says, the vision departed from me. Hence the Prophet wishes himself to be considered as twofold: that is, as a private man, and but one of many, for in this capacity he had no authority as if he was to be heard in God’s stead. But when the Spirit acted upon him, he wished to withdraw himself from the number of men, because he did not speak of himself, nor treat of anything human, or in a human manner, but the Spirit of God so flourished in him that he uttered nothing but what was celestial and divine.
Afterwards he says, that he spoke all those words to the captives, or exiles. This passage seems superfluous. For to what purpose had the Prophet been taught concerning the destruction of the city, the overthrow of the kingdom, and the ruin of the temple, unless to induce the Jews who still remained in the country to desist from their superstition? But we must remember that the Prophet had a hard contest with those exiles among whom he dwelt, as will more clearly appear in the next chapter. For as the Jews boasted that they remained safe, and laughed at the captives who had suffered themselves to be drawn away into a distant land, so the exiles were weary of their miseries. For their condition was very sorrowful when they saw themselves exposed to every reproach, and treated by the Chaldeans servilely and insultingly. Since, then, this was their condition, they roared among themselves and were indignant, since they had to bear the manners of the Prophets, and especially Jeremiah. Since, therefore, the captives repented of their lot, it was needful for the Prophet to restrain their contumely. And this is the meaning of the words that he related the words of Jehovah to the captives. Nor was this admonition less needful for the exiles, than for the Jews who as yet remained safe in the city. He says, the words which God caused him to see, improperly, but very appositely to the sense; for not only had God spoken, but he had placed the thing itself before the eyes of the Prophet. Hence we see why he says, that words had been shown to him that he might behold them I have already said that this language is improper for words, because it applies to the sight, for eyes do not receive words, but cars. But here the Prophet signifies that it was not the naked and simple word of God, but clothed in an external symbol. Augustine says that a sacrament is a word made visible, and he speaks correctly; because in baptism God addresses our eyes, when he brings forward water as a symbol of our ablution and regeneration. In the Supper also he directs his speech to our eyes, since Christ shows his flesh to us as truly food, and his blood as truly drink, when bread and wine are set before us. For this reason also the Prophet now says, that he saw the word of God, because it was clothed in outward symbols. For God appeared to his Prophet, as I have said, and showed him the temple, and there erected a theater, as it were, in which he beheld the whole state of the city Jerusalem. (243) Let us go on —
(243) See Augustine’s Homily on John, 89, bk. 19, com. Faust. Calvin, as well as other Commentators, often felt great difficulty in separating the human element from the divine, while interpreting the Prophets. He has expressed it feelingly while interpreting this last verse of the eleventh chapter. It is confessedly most difficult to draw the line rigidly between the direct agency of God and the subservient instrumentality of man. The spiritual teaching delivered by the Prophets evidently needed some visible and tangible means of conveyance to the outward senses of the recipients; but who shall mark off any palpable boundary between spirit and grace — the mind of God, and the regenerated mind of the Prophet? If there are no harsh transitions and sudden breaks in the natural world, so in the spiritual and moral, the limits between the essentially divine and the clearly human are at present untraceable by mortal vision. As the revelations to Ezekiel were progressive, differing in immediate character and object, so together with them something extrinsic was needed, to become a suitable vehicle for the majesty and purity of the truth conveyed. Neither the Prophet nor his countrymen could bear the naked effulgence of the divine messages; they were too luminous and dazzling for their sin-burdened souls, and thus they needed a condescending adaptation to their many infirmities. The pure and colorless water of life, instinct though it be with the spirit of Deity, comes to us tinctured with the peculiarity of the earthen vessel through which it flows. Our attention ought often to be dragon to this while reading Ezekiel. The Almighty not only condescends to his infirmities, but to those of the captives among whom he dwelt, so that the pure light of prophetic manifestation becomes tinged in passing through a two-fold medium, before it reaches us, among “the isles of the Gentiles.” And while we cannot give the reader any formal rules for testing the soundness of Calvin’s interpretations, we must appeal to that sound mind, that cultivated scholarship, and that Christian tact, which is the result of experience, in discriminating between the chaff and the wheat. Ordinary faculties, chastened by severe and patient study, combined with holy and Christian views of Divine truth as a whole, will suffice for deciding on such abstruse questions with a sufficient degree of precision and correctness.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Ezekiel 11". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13