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Calvin's Commentary on the Bible Calvin's Commentary
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 54". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cal/ isaiah-54.html. 1840-57.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 54". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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1.Shout. After having spoken of the death of Christ, he passes on with good reason to the Church; that we may feel mere deeply in ourselves what is the value and efficacy of his death. We cannot behold it in Christ, if he be viewed by himself; and therefore we must come to his body, which is the Church; because Christ suffered for the Church, and not for himself. And this is the order in our Confession of Faith (61) for, after having professed that we believe in Christ, who suffered and was crucified for us, we add that we believe in the Church, (62) which flowed, as it were, from his side. Accordingly, after having discoursed concerning the death and resurrection and triumph of Christ, he properly comes down to the Church, which ought never to be separated from her Head, that each individual believer may learn by his own experience that Christ has not suffered in vain. And if he had not mentioned this doctrine, believers could not have so well strengthened their hearts by the hope of restoring the Church. This congratulation plainly shows that, when Christ shall come forth as a conqueror over death, he will not merely conquer for himself as an individual, but will, at the same time, breathe life into his body.
Thou barren, that didst not bear. He calls the Church “barren,” because no offspring could be expected from her, so long as she groaned under wretched bondage; for if any one had judged of her from her outward condition, he would have concluded that she was very near destruction. And even apart from her external wretchedness, there was nothing pure within; everything was corrupted and defiled by superstitions; for they had degenerated into the idolatrous rites of the Gentiles.
The children of the widow. He calls the Church not merely “Barren,” but a “Widow,” though either of them might have taken away the hope of having offspring; but when these two are combined, what else can be looked for than wretched destruction? But against such accumulated distress he bids her be of good courage, because she shall have more children than the married woman.
This passage may be explained in two ways; either as a comparison of the Church with the Gentiles, who flourished like “a married woman,” or as a comparison with that condition in which the Church was before the captivity. Both senses will be perfectly admissible, but I prefer to adopt the more simple view; for I do not think that it is a comparison between two conditions of the Church, but that it is an ordinary form of expression which the Prophet employs in order to denote that this extraordinary fertility of the Church will be at variance with what usually takes place, so that men may not judge of her condition by the ordinary course of nature; because the work of God will be extraordinary and wonderful. And yet I acknowledge that she was at that time in widowhood; for God had long before sent to her by his servants a bill of divorcement, and had actually divorced that nation, by driving it into banishment. But the Prophet declares that this punishment will be temporary, as we shall immediately see more clearly.
En nos articles de foy.” “In our articles of faith.”
(62) Our author evidently speaks of what is usually called “The Apostle’s Creed.” Ed.
2.Widen the place of thy tabernacles. He continues his argument under other metaphors, and promises that the Lord will not only restore his Church, but will bestow upon her a condition far more excellent. They who think that the Church is compared in this passage to a synagogue are, in my opinion, mistaken, and only succeed in increasing the obstinacy of the Jews, who perceive that the Prophet’s meaning is tortured. I do indeed acknowledge that these things relate to the kingdom of Christ, and that they were at length fulfilled as soon as the Gospel began to be preached; but it does not therefore follow that the Prophet did not, at the same time, keep his eye upon that period which preceded the coming of Christ.
This prophecy began to be fulfilled under Cyrus, who gave the people liberty to return, and afterwards extended to Christ, in whom it has its full accomplishment. The Church therefore conceived, when the people returned to their native country; for the body of the people was gathered together from which Christ should proceed, in order that the pure worship of God and true religion might again be revived. Hitherto, indeed, this fertility was not visible; for the conception was concealed, as it were, in the mother’s womb, and no outward appearance of it could be seen; but afterwards the people were increased, and after the birth the Church grew from infancy to manhood, till the Gospel was preached. This was the actual youth of the Church; and next follows the age of manhood, down to Christ’s last coming, when all things shall be fully accomplished.
All these things must be taken together, if we wish to learn the Prophet’s real meaning. In this way Zechariah 2:5 Malachi 4:2 and Haggai encouraged the people by the hope of their future condition, when they saw that little progress was made in building the temple; for they promised that “the glory of the latter temple should be greater than the glory of the former.” (Haggai 2:9) This was not at all visible, and therefore they extended those promises till Christ; and by hope and confidence in him the people must have been encouraged to build the temple. Consequently, this consolation was common to the Jews who lived under the Law, and to us who see more clearly in Christ this restoration of the Church.
The curtains of thy tents. The metaphor is borrowed from tabernacles, which were extensively used in that country. The Church is compared to them, because it has no solid building in the world; for it appears to be wandering and unsettled, in consequence of being necessarily moved from one place to another on account of various changes. But still I am fully persuaded that the Prophet had in his eye that former deliverance (as we have stated to have been customary with the prophets) when, being led through the wilderness, they dwelt in tents for forty years; for which reason they kept a public festival every year by the command of God. (Leviticus 23:39 43)
It will be objected that the building which is erected by the ministers of the Word is so solid that it ought not to be compared to “tabernacles.” But I reply, this metaphor of “tabernacles” relates rather to the outward aspect of the Church than to its spiritual and (what, may be called) its internal condition; for the actual building of the Church is nothing else than the kingdom of God, which is not fading or similar to tents. Yet the Church does not cease to be conveyed from one place to another; for it has no stable or permanent habitation. In short, its solid firmness is such that it surpasses the best fortified citadels; for, relying on the invincible power of God, it scorns all danger. On the other hand, it resembles “tents,” because earthly wealth, forces, and strength are not its support.
3.Because thou shalt be multiplied. Now follows the reason why he commanded the cords to be lengthened for enlarging the tents. It is, that a moderate space would not contain a numerous people, whom the Lord will gather into one from every quarter. Now, because Judea was hideous on account of its ruins and desolation, he says that the forsaken cities shall be inhabited.
4.Fear not, for thou shalt not be ashamed. Here, as formerly, he strengthens the hearts of believers, and addresses the whole Church; for the calamity was universal, and the Church appeared to be totally ruined. He bids her be of good cheer, and next assigns the reason; that the issue of her troubles will be such that she “shall not be ashamed;” as if he had said, “Although for a time thou art wretched, yet thy affairs shall be prosperous;” and as it is elsewhere said, “They who hope in the Lord shall not be ashamed.” (Psalms 25:3)
Blush not; that is, “cherish good hope, and be confident.” Those men “blush” who are ashamed, and who, being disappointed of their hope, suffer their hearts to be cast down. He next assigns the same reason, “for thou shalt not be exposed to shame.” I consider that here, as formerly,
(ki) signifies for; and therefore the same sentence is twice repeated under a variety of expressions, except that the former clause may relate to the disposition of the heart, and the latter to the external cause. But the more simple meaning of both clauses is, that it is a promise of success and prosperity, as if he had said that the calamity shall be brought to an end. כי
Yea, thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth. This is a confirmation of the former clause. He means the calamities which befell the Church while she was still young, and the remembrance of which will be wholly obliterated by the prosperity which she shall afterwards enjoy. We mentioned a little before, that widowhood is a term used in regard to her, because God had forsaken, and, so to speak, had divorced her.
5.For thy Maker is thy husband. He assigns the reason why she will forget all the distresses and calamities which she formerly endured. It is because God will again receive her into favor; for captivity might be said to be a kind of divorce, as we formerly saw. (Isaiah 1:1) He now says, “He who created thee shall be thy husband;” for such is the import of the words. He calls himself the “Maker” of his Church, not only because he created the Church as he created other men, but because he condescended to adopt her as his heritage; and this privilege may be regarded as a new life. Although the Jews fell from their dignity, as men are speedily led to revolt, (63) if they are not renewed by the Spirit of strength, yet their spiritual creation was not wholly extinguished, for the remembrance of the covenant remained, and hence also God created them anew.
Whose name is Jehovah of hosts. This refers to his power, that we may be permitted to glory in it., seeing that we are his children; for the greater the power of God, and the more honorable his name, so much the greater is our boasting, so long as we are his children and do not boast of an empty title. Now, the Prophet magnifies this kindness of God, that he condescends to have us instead of a wife, that we may be able to glory in his power and strength.
Thy Redeemer. He calls himself the “Redeemer,” in order that he may more fully confirm the people in that hope; that, although the former deliverance appeared to be cancelled, because the people were again led into captivity, yet they shall be restored in such a manner as to know that the grace of God is not without effect.
Shall be called. The verb,
(yikkare) “shall be called,” may refer either to the name “Redeemer,” or to the name “Holy One,” or to both I willingly connect both together in this manner, “The Holy One of Israel shall be called thy Redeemer, and the God of the whole earth.” (64) He employs the expression, the whole earth, because the name of God had formerly been, in some respects, confined to Judea, but, by the preaching of the Gospel, the Gentiles have been called to the same hope of salvation. (Psalms 76:2) The Lord is “the God of the Gentiles” (Romans 3:29) as well as “of the Jews;“ for the Gentiles, though formerly “far off,” (Ephesians 2:13,) have been united to the Jews under his government. יקרא
Comme les hommes sont incontinent destournez du droit chemin.” “As men are quickly turned aside from the right path.”
Le Sainct d’Israel, qui est ton Redempteur, sera appele le Dieu de toute la terre, ou, Le Sainct d’Israel sera appele ton Redempteur et Dieu de toute la terre.” “The Holy One of Israel, who is thy Redeemer, shall be called the God of the whole earth, or, The Holy one of Israel shall be called thy Redeemer, and God of the whole earth.”
6.For as a woman forsaken. He meets a doubt which might arise in the minds of believers amidst so distressing a calamity. It seemed as if the Lord had rejected them, so that they had nothing to look for but destruction. The Prophet therefore reminds them that they ought not to despair, because they have been thus forsaken; for God, according to his mercy, is ready to be reconciled, and is even willing to raise them from the dead. (65)
And a wife of youth. He employs this expression in order that, by this metaphor, he may more fully confirm their hearts in that hope; for the hearts of young husbands are more easily reconciled than the hearts of older husbands, being attracted, and, as it were, driven forward by youthful age and tender love. In like manner, he shows that God will be easily reconciled. “True, thou wast divorced; but the divorce shall not be of long duration. The Lord will show himself ready to be reconciled, and will even, of his own accord, be the first to invite thee to reconciliation.” (66)
Et mesmes vent redresser celuy qui est au sepulcher.” “And even wishes to revive him who is in the grave.”
(66) “He compares the Hebrew nation to ‘a wife of youth;’ that is, to a wife whom he married in youth, (Proverbs 5:18; Malachi 2:14) towards whom he retained his former love. Compare Isaiah 62:4.” Rosenmuller.
“A wife of youth, not merely a young wife, but one married early.” Alexander.
7.For a little moment I forsook thee. The Prophet explains more fully the former statement, and shows what will be the nature of this divorce, namely, that she shall be speedily restored to her former condition. He magnifies the mercy of God, and extenuates the sorrow by which the hearts of believers might be oppressed. It was not enough for believers to expect some revival, if they were not convinced that God’s wrath would be of short duration. We quickly lose courage and faint, if the Lord be not nigh, and if he do not quickly stretch out his hand to us. For this reason Isaiah, after having spoken of restoring the Church, adds that this divorce shall last but “for a moment,” but that his mercy shall be everlasting
When he says that he forsook his people, it is a sort of admission of the fact. (67) We are adopted by God in such a manner that we cannot be rejected by him on account of the treachery of men; for he is faithful, so that he will not cast off or abandon his people. What the Prophet says in this passage must therefore refer to our feelings and to outward appearance, because we seem to be rejected by God when we do not perceive his presence and protection. And it is necessary that we should thus feel God’s wrath, even as a wife divorced by her husband deplores her condition, that we may know that we are justly chastised. But we must also perceive his mercy; and because it is infinite and eternal, we shall find that all afflictions in comparison of it are light and momentary. Whenever, therefore, we are pressed by adversity, we ought to betake ourselves to this consolation. At the same time it ought to be observed, that what was said was actually true as to the whole body of the people, who had been divorced on account of their wickedness; and although God did not receive all of them indiscriminately into favor with him, but only the elect remnant, yet there is nothing absurd or improper in addressing his discourse as if it had been to the same persons. (68)
C’est comme s’il accordoit qu’il fust ainsi.” “It is as if he admitted that this was actually the case.”
En ce qu’il addresse sa parole a tous.” “In addressing his discourse to all.”
8.In a moment of wrath. He again repeats and enforces this statement, in order to impress it more deeply on the hearts of believers, that they may not be at all discouraged by adversity, and with good reason; for, amidst that frightful darkness, it was not easy for the captives to behold God’s smiling face. And although the literal sense in which the “wrath” is here said to last but for “a moment” (69) be, that God in due time brought back the captives to their native country, yet we draw from it a general doctrine, that the afflictions of the Church are always momentary, when we raise our eyes to its eternal happiness. We ought to remember what Paul has taught us, (2 Corinthians 4:17) that all the afflictions of believers are light and easy to be endured, and are justly considered to be momentary, while they look at the “eternal weight of glory;” for if we do not attend to this comparison, every day will seem to us like a year. There would be no propriety in comparing the seventy years of the captivity of the Jews to “a moment,” if it were not contrasted with the uninterrupted progress of the grace of God.
(69) In explaining the words
(beshetzeph ketzeph,) commentators differ, being uncertain as to the meaning of the word; בשצף קצף , (shetzeph.) Most commentators, on no other grounds, as Kimchi himself acknowledges, than the context of this passage, think that it denotes ‘something little,’ which some, concurring with the Chaldee interpreter, refer to ‘a little time;‘ but as this is afterwards expressed by the word שצף , (regang,) others refer it to ‘a small measure,’ agreeing with the Septuagint, which translate it רגע , ‘for a short time,’ compared with Zechariah 1:15. But A. Schultens, in his ἐν Θυμῷ μικρῷ Animadversiones Philologicae on this passage, has justly remarked that there are good grounds for hesitation as to this received interpretation, because in none of the cognate languages can any trace of this meaning of the word; (shetzeph) be found, nor even from the context is it very evident. By comparison with an Arabic root, he makes it signify ‘In vehemence of wrath I hid,’ etc. ‘In great wrath’ is the sense justly expressed by the Syriac version.” Rosenmuller שצף
9.For the waters of Noah, or, As the days of Noah. There are two readings of this passage; for if we read it
(ki me), כי מי (ki) must be translated for; and if we read it כי , (kime,) כימי (caph) must be translated As, and כ (yeme) must be translated Days. (70) As to the general meaning, it makes little difference; and therefore we ought chiefly to consider what the Prophet meant, for commentators do not appear to me to have caught his meaning. They explain it generally, that the Lord promised to: Noah by an oath, that there would never be a deluge, and that this oath would perpetually remain in force. (Genesis 9:10) But for this, the good man might have trembled, and, at the approach of rain, might have dreaded a similar calamity, if the Lord had not sworn that this should never again happen. In like manner, when afflictions are at hand, we might dread that we should be ruined, if the Lord did not promise that the Church would be safe. ימי
But I think that this ought to be limited to the period of the Babylonish captivity. He compares that captivity to a deluge, which destroyed the face of the earth; for it appeared as if the Church was utterly ruined. The people had almost entirely passed over to another nation, and had no kingdom and no civil government of their own; they underwent very hard bondage, and thought that their name was wholly extinguished. And at that time was actually fulfilled what the Prophet formerly declared,
“If the Lord had not left to us a seed, we should have been like Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Isaiah 1:9)
Justly, therefore, does he compare that calamity to “the waters of Noah,” that is, to the deluge; and on this account I rather agree with those who read
(ki me) that is, “For the waters;” for I consider that reading to rest on better evidence than the other, and it is generally adopted by Jewish writers. כי מי
This is to me. I think that we ought carefully to inquire into the meaning of these words, which are slightly passed over by commentators. He means that this calamity will resemble the deluge; so that, as he was satisfied with a single deluge, and would never again send another, so he is satisfied with this one destruction, so to speak, of the Church, and will never again permit the face of it to be destroyed. Such is therefore the manner in which I think that we ought to explain this passage and apply the metaphor, that the desolation of Judea will be to God like the deluge which happened in “the days of Noah;“ for as he swore at that time that he would never afterwards inflict such punishment on the crimes which stripped the earth of its inhabitants, so he will not again destroy the Church, as he did in the Babylonish captivity. And indeed, whatever might be any confused state of affairs that afterwards followed, still the Church retained some name, and preserved some form, until, at the manifestation of Christ in the flesh, the seed of the Gospel was everywhere scattered, that it might bring sons to God out of all nations. In a word, the Lord promises that henceforth he will restrain his wrath, and will not punish his people with so great severity.
It will be objected, that since that time the Church sustained very grievous calamities; from which it might be concluded, either that this oath failed of its accomplishment, or that this is not the Prophet’s meaning. I reply, the Church did not sustain so grievous a calamity as to have its face altogether destroyed, which happened when the people were carried away into Babylon. For although Antiochus and other tyrants brought upon it dreadful calamities, although afterwards there also happened those apostasies which Paul foretold, (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1,) and everything was defiled by innumerable superstitions, so that the Christian name was nearly buried; yet still there remained some form of a Church, however disfigured, and the building was not in so ruinous a condition that there did not exist some remnants of Christianity above the deluge, so that this oath was in full force.
That I will not be wroth with thee. This must not be taken in an absolute, but in a comparative sense. He contrasts this clause with the preceding; for he promises that he will never chastise his people so severely as not to mitigate the severity of the punishment. Although therefore tyrants indulge in wanton and unbridled rage, and Satan employ his utmost efforts in attacking the Church, and the Lord give him a loose rein, in order to punish our ingratitude, yet he will never suffer the Church to be ruined.
, (me,) “waters of,” is the construct form of מי , (maim,) “waters;” and מים , (yeme,) “days of,” is the construct form of ימי , (yamim,) “days.” Ed. ימים On peut lire ceci en deux sortes, assavoir comme nous l’avons traduit, Car ceci m’est comme les eaux de Noe, ou, Ceci m’est comme les jours de Noe.” “This may be read in two ways, namely, as we have translated it, This is to me as the waters of Noah, or, This is to me as the days of Noah.”
10.For the mountains shall indeed be moved. He confirms the former statement, and declares that sooner shall the whole world be turned upside down, than his mercy shall fail. It would be idle to put the question here, how “the mountains shall be moved, or the hills shall shake;” for the comparison is drawn from those things which appear to be strongest and most deeply rooted, in order to show that the foundation of the Church is far more durable. “Mountains” are very strong, and earthquakes do not so frequently take place in them as in plains; and therefore the Lord declares that, although that vast and huge mass of “mountains be moved,” or the heavens fall, yet his covenant shall endure, and his mercy towards the Church shall not fail. In this sense it is said in the Psalm, “The Lord shall reign, the world shall be established.” (Psalms 93:1) In another passage it is even said,
“Though the heavens pass away, the Church of God shall remain unshaken.”
My mercy. In the word “mercy,” it ought to be remarked what is the nature of the foundation of the covenant; for we can have no friendship with God: unless he have mercy upon us, and receive us by free grace. (71)
The covenant of my peace. He calls it “the covenant of peace,” because the Lord offers to us all that belongs to perfect happiness; as the Hebrew writers also, under the word “peace,” include all posterity. Since therefore this covenant contains solid and perfect happiness, it follows that all who are excluded from it are miserable.
Saith Jehovah, who hath compassion on thee. By saying that it is he “who hath compassion” on her, he again confirms what was formerly said, that he will be reconciled in no other way, and for no other reason, than because he is compassionate and ready to pardon.
S’il ne nous recoit gratuitement, en pardonnant nos offenses;” “Unless he receive us through free grace, by pardoning our offenses.”
11.Thou wretched. He continues the same subject, and promises not only that the Church shall be restored to her ancient splendor, but that God will cause her to be adorned with attire of greater magnificence, as if it had been wholly composed of precious stones. All this was expressed by Haggai in a single word, when he said,
“The glory of the latter temple shall be greater than the glory of the former.”
As to the names of the jewels (72) which are here described by the Prophet, and about which even the Hebrew writers are not agreed, we need not give ourselves much trouble, provided we understand the meaning of the passage.
This earnest address is exceedingly well fitted for soothing the grief of believers; for it represents the Church, which was ready to be drowned, as being now rescued by him from shipwreck. Whenever therefore we shall see her violently shaken by tempests, and weighed down by a load of distresses, and deprived of all consolation, let us remember that these are the very circumstances which induce God to give assistance.
(72) “These seem to be general images to express beauty, magnificence, purity, strength, and solidity, agreeably to the ideas of the eastern nations; and to have never been intended to be strictly scrutinized, or minutely and particularly explained, as if they had each of them some precise moral or spiritual meaning.” Lowth.
12.And I will lay thy windows with pearls. By these metaphors he shows that the condition of the Church, as has been formerly said, will be far better than at any former period. The Church is compared to a building, which is customary in every part of Scripture. (Jeremiah 24:6; Matthew 16:18.) For this reason he now draws a picture of a costly and magnificent structure. But it ought to be remarked, that the Prophet represents God as the architect of this building; for this work ought to be entirely ascribed to him alone.
But it may be asked what the Prophet means by “carbuncles, sapphires, pearls,” and other kinds of jewels; for by a similar metaphor Paul meant doctrine. “As a wise architect,” says he, “I have laid the foundation.” And again,
“If any man build on this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man’s work shall be made manifest.” (1 Corinthians 3:10)
Whether or not this be the Prophet’s meaning, will appear from the following verse.
13.For all thy children. I consider that the copulative
(vau,) “and,” here, as in many other passages, denotes for; and hence we may easily conclude that Isaiah spoke not of doctrine, but of men, of which the spiritual building of the Church is reared. It is by doctrine, indeed, that the Church is built; but, the building of it is effected by assembling men together, and reducing them to a state of obedience to God. The difference then between Paul and Isaiah is this, that Paul makes those “precious stones” relate to doctrine, and Isaiah makes them relate to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are bestowed on men, in order that the Church may be built of them. It is proper to observe the diversity of gifts with which the Lord adorns his Church; for all are not “emeralds,” and all are not “carbuncles,” but the Lord assigns to every one his rank according’ to his own pleasure. (Ephesians 4:11) ו
Taught by Jehovah. It deserves attention, that all that belongs to the ornament of the Church, proceeds from no other source than from the grace of God; for if we are “carbuncles” and “sapphires” in consequence of our being taught by the Lord, it follows that this does not proceed from nature. Now there are two ways in which the Lord teaches us; by external preaching, and by the secret revelation of the Holy Spirit. What kind of teaching the Prophet means is explained by Christ, when he quotes this passage; and therefore we ought not to seek a better interpreter. “It is written in the prophets,” says he, “All shall be taught by God. Every man who hath heard and learned from the Father cometh to me.” (John 6:45) If this passage were to be understood as relating to external preaching, the conclusion which Christ draws from it would not be well founded; for it does not follow, “The Gospel is preached, and therefore all believe.” Many oppose, others openly scorn, and others are hypocrites. Those only “who have been foreordained to life” (Acts 13:48) are sincerely teachable, and are entitled to be ranked among the disciples. The Gospel is preached indiscriminately to the elect and the reprobate; but the elect alone come to Christ, because they have been “taught by God,” and therefore to them the Prophet undoubtedly refers.
This makes it evident in what way we become living and precious stones for building the temple of God. It is when the Lord has formed and polished us by his Spirit, and has added to the external preaching of the word the internal efficacy of the Spirit. Hence we learn how great is the depravity of the human mind, which cannot be bent and formed anew, unless the Lord move it by the power and efficacy of his Spirit. Isaiah has connected both modes of teaching, the internal and the external; for he gives the appellation of “children of the Church” to those who are “taught by the Lord.” If they are her children, they must then have been conceived in her womb and nourished by her, first “with milk, and next with solid food,” as Paul says, (1 Corinthians 3:2) till they “grow up and arrive at manhood.” (Ephesians 4:13)
Thus the external administration of the word is necessary if we wish to be disciples; and this shows the extreme madness of fanatics, who abuse this passage for the purpose of overturning the preaching of the word and the ministry which the Church enjoys; for they cannot be “the children” of the Church, if they do not allow themselves to be educated in her. In vain will they boast of secret revelations; for the Spirit does not teach any but those who submit to the ministry of the Church, and consequently they are the disciples of the devil, and not of God, who reject the order which he has appointed; for we see that these two things, “Children of the Church” and “Taught by God,” are united in such a manner that they cannot be God’s disciples who refuse to be taught in the Church. They ought likewise to be properly distinguished, as Isaiah also distinguishes them, that we may not apply to men what ought to be ascribed to the efficacy of the Spirit; but at the same time they ought to be joined together, so that we may know that in this matter God chooses to employ the agency of men.
Besides, we are taught by this passage that the calling of God is efficacious in the elect. Augustine examines this passage judiciously, and applies it skillfully against the Pelagians, who extolled man’s freewill in opposition to the grace of God. They appeared, indeed, to ascribe something to the grace of God, but in such a manner that, when they brought it forward, they gave to it an inferior place to man’s freewill; just as the Papists do, who assert that any person can either receive or reject it. “But” (says Augustine) “all shall be taught by God. Now, God’s disciples are efficaciously taught, and follow his calling.” He likewise adds that passage of John’s Gospel which we have quoted. This shows clearly that it is not from free choice made by man, and which is capable of being bent in either direction, that it proceeds.
From these words it ought also to be observed how highly the Lord values his doctrine, by means of which he admits us into his building, so that we become “pearls, sapphires, and carbuncles;” for they who wish to build the Church by rejecting the doctrine of the word, build a hog’s sty, and not the Church of God. We see also what opinion we ought to form about implicit faith, about which the Papists yelp, who wish men to become fools, that they may suffer themselves to be imposed upon; for, since we must be taught by God, it is not reasonable that we should resemble beasts.
It may be asked, were not the prophets also, and the patriarchs, and other believers under the Law, taught by God? They undoubtedly were; but here the Prophet spoke by comparison, because there is a more abundant revelation in Christ, and the Lord hath spoken so plainly as to give a public manifestation that he is the teacher of the Church, and also to gain many disciples. This passage agrees with one in the Prophet Jeremiah.
“Every one shall not teach his neighbor, nor a man his brother; for all shall know me from the least even to the greatest, saith Jehovah.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
Accordingly, if in ancient times it was necessary that all the children of God should be disciples of the Holy Spirit, much more in the present day, seeing that this prediction relates strictly to the kingdom of Christ.
And great peace. By the word “peace” he denotes happiness, that is, all prosperity. And hence we may infer what is the true happiness of men. It is, when God enlightens our understandings, so that we embrace the salvation which has been revealed to us in Christ; for, so long as we are destitute of that knowledge, we are at the greatest possible distance from happiness; because even God’s blessings, till they are sanctified by faith, become a curse to us.
14.In righteousness. He means that God will be the maker and architect of his Church. I am aware that there are some who explain it differently, and who think that “righteousness” means “goodworks.” And indeed that exposition has some plausibility, arising from the Prophet having spoken about doctrine; for we are taught for this very purpose, that we may lead a pious and holy life. But the Prophet’s meaning was different, namely, that the Church shall be restored under God’s guidance, who wishes to be its guardian and defender, he contrasts “righteousness” with the violence and oppression by which the Church has been thrown down, or, at least, he expresses “stability,” as if he had said that it shall not be a frail building, or one that might impose on men for a short time by mere deceitfulness of appearance; because God will sincerely defend his work, and, being “righteous,” will not only restore it completely, but will afterwards preserve it in safety for a long period. Thus, although men are leagued in every way for the destruction of the Church, they will gain nothing; for the Lord guards her by his “righteousness.” We have formerly (73) seen this form of expression; and on this account I think that the interpretation which I have given is more simple, though some may think that another interpretation is more plausible.
(73) ‘See Commentary on Isaiah, Vol. 1, p. 488; 3, p. 411.
15.Behold, he who assembleth shall assemble. The general import is, that, although many rise up for the purpose of overwhelming the Church, yet all their efforts and attacks shall fail; and he appears to promise God’s assistance not only against external foes, but against foes that are domestic and internal. Many “assemble” in the bosom of the Church, as if they wished to join themselves to her, but afterwards carry on internal war. These words are commonly translated, “By gathering he shall gather himself against thee,” and are generally understood to relate to all the enemies of the Church of every kind. That interpretation is most generally approved; nor do I object to it, provided that it be acknowledged to include the fraud, and ambush, and treachery by which the Church is attacked. Yet I have no doubt that here the meaning is the same as in Psalms 2:1, namely, the conspiracies and insurrections of the Gentiles against Christ and the Church of God; for not a single nation only, but various nations rise up against, her.
It is probable, however, that here he expressly joins together domestic foes and those who from without had penetrated even into her bosom; for he says, In thee, Against thee, that is, “They shall attack thee within, in the midst of thee.” In a word, he shows that the Church will not enjoy such peace as not to be attacked by many adversaries. But it may be thought that these statements are contradictory; for he formerly said that she would be far from terror and oppression, and now he says that there shall be conspiracies within her bosom. I reply, the Prophet instantly added this, that believers might not promise to themselves a state of peace in the world, as if they had no annoyance to suffer from wicked men and hypocrites. The defense of the Church against oppression and slander shall be of such a kind as not to preserve her from carrying on uninterrupted war with enemies; for Satan will raise up against her every day new attacks, so that she can never be at rest. These words may therefore be regarded as a correction of the preceding statement, in order that believers may always carry their weapons of war, and may not promise to themselves repose.
Without me. A promise is added, that the Lord will nevertheless preserve them in the midst of dangers. Without God signifies “in vain” or “unsuccessfully;“ for he means that the attacks of wicked men, though they do their utmost (74) shall utterly fail. They rush forward with blind fury, but it is the Lord’s hand alone that gives prosperity. He alludes to what was formerly said, (Isaiah 41:25) that the Babylonians should come, under God’s guidance, to destroy Judea. At that time the people were ruined, because they had God for their enemy; but now, because “without God,” that is, without his guidance, the enemies shall attack her, they shall be ashamed and turn back. This is more fully expressed by what immediately follows —
He who shall assemble in thee shall fall against thee. That is, “All that he shall attempt against thee shall fall back on his own head. Though the whole world rise up against thee, it shall be crushed by its own weight.” The phrase, in thee, deserves notice; for when the Lord drives our enemies to a distance, we are confident, but if they come near us, we fall into despair. Therefore he says, “Although they penetrate even into thy bowels, the Lord will destroy them, and will deliver thee.”
Encore qu’ils facent du pis qu’ils pourrent.” “Though they do the worst that they can.”
16.Behold, I have created the workmen. The Lord shows how easily and readily he delivers his Church from the base attacks of wicked men; for they can do nothing but so far as the Lord permits them, though he makes use of them as instruments for chastising his people. Moreover, this may be appropriately viewed as referring both to the Babylonians and to other foes who afterwards distressed the elect people. If the former sense be preferred, God undertakes to prove that he can easily drive away those whom he led against them, and east down those whom he raised up. If it be supposed to refer to Antiochus and others of the same description, the meaning will not be very different; namely, that they too shall not be permitted to hurt them, because they cannot even move a finger but by God’s direction.
But it may be thought that the Prophet contradicts himself; for in the former verse he said, that wicked men attack the Church “without the Lord,” and now he says that they fight under God as their leader, that under his guidance and direction they may waste and destroy. I reply, we must keep in view the contrast; namely, that the Lord had raised up the Babylonians to destroy the Church. We must observe the metaphor of the deluge, by which he denoted utter extermination; for at that time the Church might be said to have been drowned, and he made use of the Babylonians as his agents for that purpose. But he solemnly declares that henceforth he is resolved to restrain his anger, so as never to permit the Church to be destroyed by her enemies, though he chastise her by his own hand. The object at which the enemies of the Church aim, and which they labor with all their might to accomplish, is to ruin and destroy the Church; but the Lord restrains their attacks; for “without him,” that is, without his command, they do nothing. Some explain the meaning to be, that. “the workman has been created for his work,” that is, that he may effect his own destruction, and the waster, to destroy himself. But the former sense appears to me more simple.
I have created the waster to destroy. When the Lord says that he “createth the waster,” this does not refer merely to the nature with which men are born, but to the very act of “wasting.” And yet we must not, on that account, lay blame on God, as if he were the author of the unjust cruelty which dwells in men alone; for God does not give assent to their wicked inclinations, but regulates their efforts by his secret providence, and employs them as the instruments of his anger. But on this subject we have treated in the exposition of other passages.
17.Every weapon. He again infers what has been already said, that wicked men, even though they exert themselves to the utmost, will gain nothing; for their attacks are guided and restrained by the secret, purpose of God. He makes use of the word “every,” meaning by it that wicked men will have the means of attempting many and diversified methods for destroying the Church, but that their efforts shall be vain and fruitless, (75) for the Lord will restrain them. Heaven permits them, indeed, to a great extent, in order to try the patience of believers; but, when God thinks proper, he strips them of their strength and armor.
And every tongue. After having spoken of the “weapons” with which wicked men attack the Church, he expressly mentions the “tongue;“ because no other “weapon” is so deadly and destructive. Not only do they revile, and slander, and defame the servants of God, but, as far as lies in their power, they extinguish the truth of God, and alienate the hearts of men from it; which ought to distress us more than if life were taken from us a hundred times. Besides, good and upright men find slander to be more distressing, and to inflict more severe pain than any bodily stroke; and, therefore, there was good reason for mentioning this deadly “weapon.”
That shall rise up against thee in judgment. When he says that tongues “rise up in judgment,” he means that wicked men are so daring and insolent, that they openly attack and annoy the children of God. He adds that this is done “in judgment;“ because they hold out plausible pretexts, which give them the appearance of having a just cause. In like manner, the Papists, when they call us heretics, schismatics, and dogs, plead against us, as it were, “in judgment,” and wish to be regarded as the defenders of catholic truth, though they maintain falsehood and idolatry. And yet so plausible are the pretexts by which their slanders are covered, that they produce very strong hatred against us among those who are ignorant of our cause. But although they assail us by arms, and by the “tongue,” and by “weapons” of every kind, yet, relying on this prediction, let us hope that we shall be victorious; for victory is here promised to us, and, since we are certain of it, we ought to fight valiantly and with unshaken courage.
This is the inheritance. He shows that the Lord has granted this to believers, as it were, by a right of “inheritance,” so that they shall never be deprived of it; for, as no title is more certain than that of an heir, so he shows that there is nothing of which the Lord’s servants ought to be more certain than of his constant guardianship and preservation, by which he defends them against all dangers.
And their righteousness from me. “Righteousness” here denotes what is conveyed by us in the ordinary expression, (
Leur droit ,) “Their right.” In a word, he means that the Lord will defend his people, so as to protect their innocence. Whenever, therefore, we are attacked and injured by men, let us learn to betake ourselves forthwith to the Lord; for, when we seek other assistance, the consequence is, that we are deprived of his guardianship and protection.
Mais tout s’evanouira comme fumee.” “But all shall vanish away like smoke.”