Tuesday, June 6th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Calvin's Commentary on the Bible Calvin's Commentary
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Romans 12". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cal/ romans-12.html. 1840-57.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Romans 12". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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After having handled those things necessary for the erection of the kingdom of God, — that righteousness is to be sought from God alone, that salvation is to come to us alone from his mercy, that all blessings are laid up and daily offered to us in Christ only, — Paul now passes on, according to the best order, to show how the life is to be formed. If it be, that through the saving knowledge of God and of Christ, the soul is, as it were, regenerated into a celestial life, and that the life is in a manner formed and regulated by holy exhortations and precepts; it is then in vain that you show a desire to form the life aright, except you prove first, that the origin of all righteousness in men is in God and Christ; for this is to raise them from the dead.
And this is the main difference between the gospel and philosophy: for though the philosophers speak excellently and with great judgment on the subject of morals, yet whatever excellency shines forth in their precepts, it is, as it were, a beautiful superstructure without a foundation; for by omitting principles, they offer a mutilated doctrine, like a body without a head. Not very unlike this is the mode of teaching under the Papacy: for though they mention, by the way, faith in Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit, it yet appears quite evident, that they approach heathen philosophers far nearer than Christ and his Apostles.
But as philosophers, before they lay down laws respecting morals, discourse first of the end of what is good, and inquire into the sources of virtues, from which afterwards they draw and derive all duties; so Paul lays down here the principle from which all the duties of holiness flow, even this, — that we are redeemed by the Lord for this end — that we may consecrate to him ourselves and all our members. But it may be useful to examine every part.
1.I therefore beseech you by the mercies (
miserationes — compassions) of God, etc. We know that unholy men, in order to gratify the flesh, anxiously lay hold on whatever is set forth in Scripture respecting the infinite goodness of God; and hypocrites also, as far as they can, maliciously darken the knowledge of it, as though the grace of God extinguished the desire for a godly life, and opened to audacity the door of sin. But this exhortation teaches us, that until men really apprehend how much they owe to the mercy of God, they will never with a right feeling worship him, nor be effectually stimulated to fear and obey him. It is enough for the Papists, if they can extort by terror some sort of forced obedience, I know not what. But Paul, that he might bind us to God, not by servile fear, but by the voluntary and cheerful love of righteousness, allures us by the sweetness of that favor, by which our salvation is effected; and at the same time he reproaches us with ingratitude, except we, after having found a Father so kind and bountiful, do strive in our turn to dedicate ourselves wholly to him. (377)
And what Paul says, in thus exhorting us, ought to have more power over us, inasmuch as he excels all others in setting forth the grace of God. Iron indeed must be the heart which is not kindled by the doctrine which has been laid down into love towards God, whose kindness towards itself it finds to have been so abounding. Where then are they who think that all exhortations to a holy life are nullified, if the salvation of men depends on the grace of God alone, since by no precepts, by no sanctions, is a pious mind so framed to render obedience to God, as by a serious meditation on the Divine goodness towards it?
We may also observe here the benevolence of the Apostle’s spirit, — that he preferred to deal with the faithful by admonitions and friendly exhortations rather than by strict commands; for he knew that he could prevail more with the teachable in this way than in any other.
That ye present your bodies, etc. It is then the beginning of a right course in good works, when we understand that we are consecrated to the Lord; for it hence follows, that we must cease to live to ourselves, in order that we may devote all the actions of our life to his service.
There are then two things to be considered here, — the first, that we are the Lord’s, — and secondly, that we ought on this account to be holy, for it is an indignity to God’s holiness, that anything, not first consecrated, should be offered to him. These two things being admitted, it then follows that holiness is to be practiced through life, and that we are guilty of a kind of sacrilege when we relapse into uncleanness, as it is nothing else than to profane what is consecrated.
But there is throughout a great suitableness in the expressions. He says first, that our body ought to be offered a sacrifice to God; by which he implies that we are not our own, but have entirely passed over so as to become the property of God; which cannot be, except we renounce ourselves and thus deny ourselves. Then, secondly, by adding two adjectives, he shows what sort of sacrifice this ought to be. By calling it living, he intimates, that we are sacrificed to the Lord for this end, — that our former life being destroyed in us, we may be raised up to a new life. By the term holy, he points out that which necessarily belongs to a sacrifice, already noticed; for a victim is then only approved, when it had been previously made holy. By the third word,acceptable, he reminds us, that our life is framed aright, when this sacrifice is so made as to be pleasing to God: he brings to us at the same time no common consolation; for he teaches us, that our work is pleasing and acceptable to God when we devote ourselves to purity and holiness.
By bodies he means not only our bones and skin, but the whole mass of which we are composed; and he adopted this word, that he might more fully designate all that we are: for the members of the body are the instruments by which we execute our purposes. (378) He indeed requires from us holiness, not only as to the body, but also as to the soul and spirit, as in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. In bidding us to present our bodies, he alludes to the Mosaic sacrifices, which were presented at the altar, as it were in the presence of God. But he shows, at the same time, in a striking manner, how prompt we ought to be to receive the commands of God, that we may without delay obey them.
Hence we learn, that all mortals, whose object is not to worship God, do nothing but miserably wander and go astray. We now also find what sacrifices Paul recommends to the Christian Church: for being reconciled to God through the one only true sacrifice of Christ, we are all through his grace made priests, in order that we may dedicate ourselves and all we have to the glory of God. No sacrifice of expiation is wanted; and no one can be set up, without casting a manifest reproach on the cross of Christ.
Your reasonable service This sentence, I think, was added, that he might more clearly apply and confirm the preceding exhortation, as though he had said, — “Offer yourselves a, sacrifice to God, if ye have it in your heart to serve God: for this is the right way of serving God; from which, if any depart, they are but false worshippers.” If then only God is rightly worshipped, when we observe all things according to what he has prescribed, away then with all those devised modes of worship, which he justly abominates, since he values obedience more than sacrifice. Men are indeed pleased with their own inventions, which have an empty show of wisdom, as Paul says in another place; but we learn here what the celestial Judge declares in opposition to this by the mouth of Paul; for by calling that a reasonable service which he commands, he repudiates as foolish, insipid, and presumptuous, whatever we attempt beyond the rule of his word. (379)
(377) By “mercies,” the Apostle refers, as some think, to the various sects of God’s mercy, such as election, vocation, justification, and final salvation. [Grotius ] considers that God’s attributes are referred to, such as are described in Exodus 34:6. [Erasmus ], quoting [Origen ], says, that the plural is used for amplification, in order to show the greatness of God’s mercy, as though the Apostle had said, “by God’s great mercy.” [Schleusner ] renders the clause, “
per summam Dei benignitatem — by God’s great kindness,” that is, in bringing you to the knowledge of the gospel. So “Father of mercies,” in 2 Corinthians 1:3, may mean “most merciful Father,” or the meaning may be, “the Father of all blessings,” as mercy signifies sometimes what mercy bestows, (Philippians 2:1,) as grace or favor often means the gift which flows from it. According to this view, “mercies” here are the blessings which God bestows, even the blessings of redemption. — Ed.
(378) The word
“bodies,” he seems to have used, because of the similitude he adopts respecting sacrifices; for the bodies of beasts we are to consecrate our own bodies. As he meant before by “members,” Romans 6:13, the whole man, so he means here by “bodies,” that is, themselves. σώματα,
They were to be living sacrifices, not killed as the legal sacrifices, they were to be holy, not maimed or defective, but whole and perfect as to all the members, and free from disease. See Leviticus 22:19. They were to be acceptable
“ , εὐάρεστον; placentem — pleasing,” [Beza ]; “well-pleasing,” [Doddridge ]. It was not sufficient under the law for the sacrifices themselves to be holy, blameless, such as God required; but a right motive and a right feeling on the part of the offerer were necessary, in order that they might be accepted or approved by God. Without faith and repentance, and a reformed life, they were not accepted, but regarded as abominations. See Psalms 51:19; Isaiah 1:11
It is said by [Wolfius ], that all the terms here are derived from the sacrificial rites of the law, and that Christians are represented both as the priests who offered, and as the sacrifices which were offered by them. — Ed.
(379) The word
“reasonable,” was considered by [Origen ], and by many after him, as designating Christian service consonant with reason, in opposition to the sacrifices under the law, which were not agreeable to reason. But [Chrysostom ], whom also many have followed, viewed the word as meaning what is spiritual, or what belongs to the mind, in contradistinction to the ritual and external service of the law; but there is no example of the word having such a meaning, except it be 1 Peter 2:2, which is by no means decisive. Rational, or reasonable, is its meaning, or, what agrees with the word, as Phavorinus explains it. There is no need here to suppose any contrast: the expression only designates the act or the service which the Apostle prescribes; as though he said, “What I exhort you to do is nothing but a reasonable service, consistent with the dictates of reason. God has done great things for you, and it is nothing but right and just that you should dedicate yourselves wholly to him.” This seems to be the obvious meaning. To draw this expression to another subject, in order to set up reason as an umpire in matters of faith, is wholly a perversion: and to say, that as it seems to refer to the word in 1 Peter 2:2, it must be so considered here, is what does not necessarily follow; for as λογικὴν, sometimes means “word,” and sometimes “reason,” so its derivative may have a similar variety. — Ed. λόγος
2.And conform ye not to this world, etc. The term world has several significations, but here it means the sentiments and the morals of men; to which, not without cause, he forbids us to conform. For since the whole world lies in wickedness, it behooves us to put off whatever we have of the old man, if we would really put on Christ: and to remove all doubt, he explains what he means, by stating what is of a contrary nature; for he bids us to be transformed into a newness of mind. These kinds of contrast are common in Scripture; and thus a subject is more clearly set forth.
Now attend here, and see what kind of renovation is required from us: It is not that of the flesh only, or of the inferior part of the soul, as the Sorbonists explain this word; but of the mind, which is the most excellent part of us, and to which philosophers ascribe the supremacy; for they call it
, the leading power; and reason is imagined to be a most wise queen. But Paul pulls her down from her throne, and so reduces her to nothing by teaching us that we must be renewed in mind. For how much soever we may flatter ourselves, that declaration of Christ is still true, — that every man must be born again, who would enter into the kingdom of God; for in mind and heart we are altogether alienated from the righteousness of God. ἡγεμονικὸν
That ye may prove, (380) etc. Here you have the purpose for which we must put on a new mind, — that bidding adieu to our own counsels and desires, and those of all men, we may be attentive to the only will of God, the knowledge of which is true wisdom. But if the renovation of our mind is necessary, in order that we may prove what is the will of God, it is hence evident how opposed it is to God.
The epithets which are added are intended for the purpose of recommending God’s will, that we may seek to know it with greater alacrity: and in order to constrain our perverseness, it is indeed necessary that the true glory of justice and perfection should be ascribed to the will of God. The world persuades itself that those works which it has devised are good; Paul exclaims, that what is good and right must be ascertained from God’s commandments. The world praises itself, and takes delight in its own inventions; but Paul affirms, that nothing pleases God except what he has commanded. The world, in order to find perfection, slides from the word of God into its own devices; Paul, by fixing perfection in the will of God, shows, that if any one passes over that mark he is deluded by a false imagination.
Ut probetis , “ εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς; ut noscatis — that ye may know,” [Theophylact ]; “ ut diligenter scrutemini — that ye may carefully search,” [Jerome ], “That ye may experimentally know,” [Doddridge ]; “that ye may learn,” [Stuart ]. The verb means chiefly three things, — to test, i.e., metals by fire, to try, to prove, to examine, 1 Peter 1:7; Luke 14:19; 2 Corinthians 13:5, — to approve what is proved, Romans 14:22; 1 Corinthians 16:3, — and also to prove a thing so as to make a proper distinction, to discern, to understand, to distinguish, Luke 12:56; Romans 2:18. The last idea is the most suitable here, “in order that ye may understand what the will of God is, even that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
What [Stuart ] says on the last clause seems just, that it is to be taken by itself, and that the words do not agree with “will,” but stand by themselves, being in the neuter gender. Otherwise we cannot affix any idea to “acceptable;” for it would be unsuitable to say that God’s will is “acceptable” to him, that being self-evident.
is useful, advantageous, beneficial; “acceptable ,” ἀγαθὸν, is what is pleasing to and accepted by God; and “perfect ,” εὐαρεστον, is complete, entire, without any defect, or just and right. ,” τέλειον,
It ought to be borne in mind, as [Pareus ] observes, that in order to discern, and rightly to understand God’s will, the Apostle teaches us, that “the renewing of the mind” is necessary; otherwise, as he adds, “our corrupt nature will fascinate our eyes that they may not see, or if they see, will turn our hearts and wills, that they may not approve, or if they approve, will hinder us to follow what is approved.” — Ed.
3.For I say, through the grace, etc. If you think not the causal particle superfluous, this verse will not be unsuitably connected with the former; for since he wished that our whole study should be employed in investigating the will of God, the next thing to this was, to draw us away from vain curiosity. As however the causal particle is often used redundantly by Paul, you may take the verse as containing a simple affirmation; for thus the sense would also be very appropriate.
But before he specifies his command, he reminds them of the authority which had been given to him, so that they might not otherwise attend to his voice than if it was the voice of God himself; for his words are the same, as though he had said, “I speak not of myself; but, as God’s ambassador, I bring to you the commands which he has entrusted to me.” By “grace ” (as before) he means the Apostleship, with respect to which he exalts God’s kindness, and at the same time intimates, that he had not crept in through his own presumption, but, that he was chosen by the calling of God. Having then by this preface secured authority to himself, he laid the Romans under the necessity of obeying, unless they were prepared to despise God in the person of his minister.
Then the command follows, by which he draws us away from the investigation of those things which can bring nothing but harassment to the mind, and no edification; and he forbids every one to assume more than what his capacity and calling will allow; and at the same time he exhorts us to think and meditate on those things which may render us sober-minded and modest. For so I understand the words, rather than in the sense given by [Erasmus ] , who thus renders them, “Let no one think proudly of himself;” for this sense is somewhat remote from the words, and the other is more accordant with the context. The clause, Beyond what it behooves him to be wise, shows what he meant by the former verb
, to be above measure wise; that is, that we exceed the measure of wisdom, if we engage in those things concerning which it is not meet that we should be anxious. (381) To be wise unto sobriety is to attend to the study of those things by which you may find that you learn and gain moderation. ὑπερφρόνειν
To every one as God has distributed, etc. (
Unicuique ut divisit Deus .) There is here an inversion of words, instead of — As to every one God has distributed (382) And here a reason is given for that sober-minded wisdom which he had mentioned; for as distribution of graces is various, so every one preserves himself within the due boundaries of wisdom, who keeps within the limits of that grace of faith bestowed on him by the Lord. Hence there is an immoderate affectation of wisdom, not only in empty things and in things useless to be known, but also in the knowledge of those things which are otherwise useful, when we regard not what has been given to us, but through rashness and presumption go beyond the measure of our knowledge; and such outrage God will not suffer to go unpunished. It is often to be seen, with what insane trifles they are led away, who, by foolish ambition, proceed beyond those bounds which are set for them. (383)
The meaning is, that it is a part of our reasonable sacrifice to surrender ourselves, in a meek and teachable spirit, to be ruled and guided by God. And further, by setting up faith in opposition to human judgment, he restrains us from our own opinions, and at the same time specifies the due measure of it, that is, when the faithful humbly keep themselves within the limits allotted to them. (384)
Ne supra modum sapiat,” so the Vulgate and [Beza ] “ ; μὴ ὑπερθρόνειν, ne supra modum de se sentiat — let him not think immoderately of himself,” [Mede ]; “not to arrogate to himself,” [Doddridge ]; “not to overestimate himself,” [Stuart ]. This and the following clause may be thus rendered, “not to think highly above what it behooves him to think,” that is, of himself. Then what follows may admit of this rendering, “but to think so as to think rightly,” or modestly, ( ) The last verb occurs elsewhere five times; thrice it means “to be of a sane mind,” Mark 5:15; and twice it means “to act prudently,” Titus 2:6; 1 Peter 4:7; or, it may be, in the last passage, “to live temperately.” As it refers here to the mind, it must mean such an estimate of one’s self as is sound, just, and right, such as becomes on who is sound and sane in his mind. Pride is a species of insanity; but humility betokens a return to a sane mind: and an humble estimate of ourselves, as Professor [Hodge ] observes, is the only sound, sane, and right estimate. — Ed. εἰς τὸ σωφρόνειν.
(382) We find a similar transposition in 1 Corinthians 3:5. — Ed.
(383) “It is better,” says [Augustine ], “to doubt respecting hidden things, than to contend about things uncertain.” — Ed.
(384) The expression “the measures of faith
is differently explained. Some, as [Beza ] and [Pareus ], consider “faith” here as including religion or Christian truth, because faith is the main principle, “as God has divided to each the measure of Christian truth or knowledge.” Others suppose with [Mede ], that “faith” here is to be taken for those various gifts and endowments which God bestowed on those who believed or professed the faith of the gospel; “as God has divided to each the measure of those gifts which come by faith, or which are given to those who believe.” The last view is most suitable to the context. We may, however, take, “faith” here for grace, and consider the meaning the same as in Ephesians 4:7. The subject there is the same as here, for the Apostle proceeds there to mention the different offices which Christ had appointed in his Church. — Ed. ,” μέτρον πίστεως,
4.For as in one body, etc. The very thing which he had previously said of limiting the wisdom of each according to the measure of faith, he now confirms by a reference to the vocation of the faithful; for we are called for this end, that we may unite together in one body, since Christ has ordained a fellowship and connection between the faithful similar to that which exists between the members of the human body; and as men could not of themselves come together into such an union, he himself becomes the bond of this connection. As then the case is with the human body, so it ought to be with the society of the faithful. By applying this similitude he proves how necessary it is for each to consider what is suitable to his own nature, capacity, and vocation. But though this similitude has various parts, it is yet to be chiefly thus applied to our present subject, — that as the members of the same body have distinct offices, and all of them are distinct, for no member possesses all powers, nor does it appropriate to itself the offices of others; so God has distributed various gifts to us, by which diversity he has determined the order which he would have to be observed among us, so that every one is to conduct himself according to the measure of his capacity, and not to thrust himself into what peculiarly belongs to others; nor is any one to seek to have all things himself, but to be content with his lot, and willingly to abstain from usurping the offices of others. When, however, he points out in express words the communion which is between us, he at the same time intimates, how much diligence there ought to be in all, so that they may contribute to the common good of the body according to the faculties they possess. (385)
(385) The Apostle pursues this likeness of the human body much more at large in 1 Corinthians 12:12. There are two bonds of union; one, which is between the believer and Christ by true faith; and the other, which is between the individual member of a church or a congregation and the rest of the members by a professed faith. It is the latter that is handled by the Apostle, both here and in the Epistle to the Corinthians. — Ed.
6.Having gifts, etc. Paul speaks not now simply of cherishing among ourselves brotherly love, but commends humility, which is the best moderator of our whole life. Every one desires to have so much himself, so as not to need any help from others; but the bond of mutual communication is this, that no one has sufficient for himself, but is constrained to borrow from others. I admit, then that the society of the godly cannot exist, except when each one is content with his own measure, and imparts to others the gifts which he has received, and allows himself by turns to be assisted by the gifts of others.
But Paul especially intended to beat down the pride which he knew to be innate in men; and that no one might be dissatisfied that all things have not been bestowed on him, he reminds us that according to the wise counsel of God every one has his own portion given to him; for it is necessary to the common benefit of the body that no one should be furnished with fullness of gifts, lest he should heedlessly despise his brethren. Here then we have the main design which the Apostle had in view, that all things do not meet in all, but that the gifts of God are so distributed that each has a limited portion, and that each ought to be so attentive in imparting his own gifts to the edification of the Church, that no one, by leaving his own function, may trespass on that of another. By this most beautiful order, and as it were symmetry, is the safety of the Church indeed preserved; that is, when every one imparts to all in common what he has received from the Lord, in such a way as not to impede others. He who inverts this order fights with God, by whose ordinance it is appointed; for the difference of gifts proceeds not from the will of man, but because it has pleased the Lord to distribute his grace in this manner.
Whether prophecy, etc. By now bringing forward some examples, he shows how every one in his place, or as it were in occupying his station, ought to be engaged. For all gifts have their own defined limits, and to depart from them is to mar the gifts themselves. But the passage appears somewhat confused; we may yet arrange it in this manner, “Let him who has prophecy, test it by the analogy of faith; let him in the ministry discharge it in teaching,” (386) etc. They who will keep this end in view, will rightly preserve themselves within their own limits.
But this passage is variously understood. There are those who consider that by prophecy is meant the gift of predicting, which prevailed at the commencement of the gospel in the Church; as the Lord then designed in every way to commend the dignity and excellency of his Church; and they think that what is added, according to the analogy of faith, is to be applied to all the clauses. But I prefer to follow those who extend this word wider, even to the peculiar gift of revelation, by which any one skillfully and wisely performed the office of an interpreter in explaining the will of God. Hence prophecy at this day in the Christian Church is hardly anything else than the right understanding of the Scripture, and the peculiar faculty of explaining it, inasmuch as all the ancient prophecies and all the oracles of God have been completed in Christ and in his gospel. For in this sense it is taken by Paul when he says,
“I wish that you spoke in tongues, but rather that ye prophesy,”
(1 Corinthians 14:5;)
“In part we know and in part we prophesy,”
(1 Corinthians 13:9.)
And it does not appear that Paul intended here to mention those miraculous graces by which Christ at first rendered illustrious his gospel; but, on the contrary, we find that he refers only to ordinary gifts, such as were to continue perpetually in the Church. (387)
Nor does it seem to me a solid objection, that the Apostle to no purpose laid this injunction on those who, having the Spirit of God, could not call Christ an anathema; for he testifies in another place that the spirit of the Prophets is subject to the Prophets; and he bids the first speaker to be silent, if anything were revealed to him who was sitting down, (1 Corinthians 14:32;) and it was for the same reason it may be that he gave this admonition to those who prophesied in the Church, that is, that they were to conform their prophecies to the rule of faith, lest in anything they should deviate from the right line. Byfaith he means the first principles of religion, and whatever doctrine is not found to correspond with these is here condemned as false. (388)
As to the other clauses there is less difficulty. Let him who is ordained a minister, he says, execute his office in ministering; nor let him think, that he has been admitted into that degree for himself, but for others; as though he had said, “Let him fulfill his office by ministering faithfully, that he may answer to his name.” So also he immediately adds with regard to teachers; for by the word teaching, he recommends sound edification, according to this import, — “Let him who excels in teaching know that the end is, that the Church may be really instructed; and let him study this one thing, that he may render the Church more informed by his teaching:” for a teacher is he who forms and builds the Church by the word of truth. Let him also who excels in the gift of exhorting, have this in view, to render his exhortation effectual.
But these offices have much affinity and even connection; not however that they were not different. No one indeed could exhort, except by doctrine: yet he who teaches is not therefore endued with the qualification to exhort. But no one prophesies or teaches or exhorts, without at the same time ministering. But it is enough if we preserve that distinction which we find to be in God’s gifts, and which we know to be adapted to produce order in the Church. (389)
(386) The ellipsis to be supplied here is commonly done as in our version, adopted from [Beza ]. The supplement proposed by [Pareus ] is perhaps more in unison with the passage; he repeats after “prophecy” the words in verse 3, changing the person, “let us think soberly,” or “let us be modestly wise.” — Ed.
(387) It is somewhat difficult exactly to ascertain what this “prophecy” was. The word “prophet,”
, means evidently two things in the Old Testament and also in the New — a foreteller and a teacher, or rather an interpreter of the word. Prophecy in the New Testament sometimes signifies prediction, its primary meaning. Acts 2:17; 2 Peter 1:21; Revelation 1:3; but most commonly, as it is generally thought, the interpretation of prophecy, that is, of prophecies contained in the Old Testament, and for this work there were some in the primitive Church, as it is supposed, who were inspired, and thus peculiarly qualified. It is probable that this kind of prophecy is what is meant here. See 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 13:2; 1 Corinthians 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:20 נביא
That is was a distinct function from that of apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, is evident from Ephesians 4:11; and from the interpretation of tongues, as it appears from 1 Corinthians 12:10; and from revelation, knowledge, and doctrine, as we find from 1 Corinthians 14:6. It also appears that it was more useful than other extraordinary gifts, as it tended more to promote edification and comfort, 1 Corinthians 14:1. It is hence most probable that it was the gift already stated, that of interpreting the Scriptures, especially the prophecies of the Old Testament, and applying them for the edification of the Church. “Prophets” are put next to “apostles” in Ephesians 4:11. — Ed.
Secundum analogiam fidei,” so [Pareus ] “ ; κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν της πίστεως; pro proportione fidei — according to the proportions of faith,” [Beza ], [Piscator ]; that is, as the former explains the phrase, “according to the measure or extent of the individual’s faith;” he was not to go beyond what he knew or what had been communicated to him by the Spirit. But the view which [Calvin ] takes is the most obvious and consistent with the passage; and this is the view which [Hammond ] gives, “according to that form of faith or wholesome doctrine by which every one who is sent out to preach the gospel is appointed to regulate his preaching, according to those heads or principles of faith and good life which are known among you.” The word means properly congruity, conformity, or proportion, not in the sense of measure or extent, but of equality, as when one thing is equal or comformable to another; hence the analogy of faith must mean what is conformable to the faith. And faith here evidently signifies divine truth, the object of faith, or what faith receives. See Romans 10:8; Galatians 3:23; Titus 1:4; Judges 1:3. — Ed. ἀναλογία
(389) Critics have found it difficult to distinguish between these offices. The word
ministry is taken sometimes in a restricted sense, as meaning deaconship, an office appointed to manage the temporal affairs of the Church, Acts 6:1; 1 Timothy 3:8; and sometimes in a general sense, as signifying the ministerial office, 2 Corinthians 6:3; Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23. As the “teacher” and “exhorter” are mentioned, some think that the deaconship is to be understood here, and that the Apostle first mentioned the highest office, next to the apostleship — prophecy, and the lowest — the deaconship, and afterwards named the intervening offices — those of teachers and exhorters. διακονία,
But what are we to think of those mentioned in the following clauses? [Stuart ] thinks that they were not public officers, but private individuals, and he has sustained this opinion by some very cogent reasons. The form of the sentence is here changed; and the Apostle, having mentioned the deaconship, cannot be supposed to have referred to the same again. The word that seems to stand in the way of this view is what is commonly rendered “ruler,” or, “he who rules:” but
as our author shows, means a helper, an assistant, (see Romans 16:2,) as well as a ruler; it means to stand over, either for the purpose of taking care of, assisting, protecting others, or of presiding over, ruling, guiding them. Then ὁ προϊστάμενος, with promptness or diligence, will better agree with the former than with the latter idea. The other two clauses correspond also more with this view than with the other. It has been said, that if a distributor of alms had been intended, the word would have been ἐν σπουδὣ, and not διαδιδοὺς See Ephesians 4:28. The expression μεταδιδοὺς. means “with liberality, or liberally.” See 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11; James 1:5. — Ed. ἁπλότητι,
8.Or he who gives, let him do so in simplicity, etc. From the former clauses we have clearly seen, that he teaches us here the legitimate use of God’s gifts. By the
, the givers, of whom he speaks here, he did not understand those who gave of their own property, but the deacons, who presided in dispensing the public charities of the Church; and by the μεταδιδούντοις , those who showed mercy, he meant the widows, and other ministers, who were appointed to take care of the sick, according to the custom of the ancient Church: for there were two different offices, — to provide necessaries for the poor, and to attend to their condition. But to the first he recommends simplicity, so that without fraud or respect of persons they were faithfully to administer what was entrusted to them. He required the services of the other party to be rendered with cheerfulness, lest by their peevishness (which often happens) they marred the favor conferred by them. For as nothing gives more solace to the sick or to any one otherwise distressed, than to see men cheerful and prompt in assisting them; so to observe sadness in the countenance of those by whom assistance is given, makes them to feel themselves despised. ἐλούντοις
Though he rightly calls those
presidents, to whom was committed the government of the Church, (and they were the elders, who presided over and ruled others and exercised discipline;) yet what he says of these may be extended universally to all kinds of governors: for no small solicitude is required from those who provide for the safety of all, and no small diligence is needful for them who ought to watch day and night for the wellbeing of the whole community. Yet the state of things at that time proves that Paul does not speak of all kinds of rulers, for there were then no pious magistrates; but of the elders who were the correctors of morals. προϊστάμενους
9.Let love be, etc. Proceeding now to speak of particular duties, he fitly begins with love, which is the bond of perfection. And respecting this he enjoins what is especially necessary, that all disguises are to be cast aside, and that love is to arise from pure sincerity of mind. It is indeed difficult to express how ingenious almost all men are to pretend a love which they really have not, for they not only deceive others, but impose also on themselves, while they persuade themselves that those are not loved amiss by them, whom they not only neglect, but really slight. Hence Paul declares here, that love is no other but that which is free from all dissimulation: and any one may easily be a witness to himself, whether he has anything in the recesses of his heart which is opposed to love. (390) The words good and evil, which immediately follow in the context, have not here a general meaning; but evil is to be taken for that malicious wickedness by which an injury is done to men; and good for that kindness, by which help is rendered to them; and there is here an antithesis usual in Scripture, when vices are first forbidden and then virtues enjoined.
As to the participle,
, I have followed neither [Erasmus ] nor the old translators, who have rendered it “hating, ”( ἀποστυγούντες odio habentes ;) for in my judgment Paul intended to express something more; and the meaning of the term “turning away,” corresponds better with the opposite clause; for he not only bids us to exercise kindness, but even to cleave to it.
(390) “Love,” says an old author, “is the sum and substance of all virtues. Philosophers make justice the queen of virtues; but love is the mother of justice, for it renders to God and to our neighbor what is justly due to them.” — Ed.
10.With brotherly love, etc. By no words could he satisfy himself in setting forth the ardor of that love, with which we ought to embrace one another: for he calls it brotherly, and its emotion
, affection, which, among the Latins, is the mutual affection which exists between relatives; and truly such ought to be that which we should have towards the children of God. (391) That this may be the case, he subjoins a precept very necessary for the preservation of benevolence, — that every one is to give honor to his brethren and not to himself; for there is no poison more effectual in alienating the minds of men than the thought, that one is despised. But if by honor you are disposed to understand every act of friendly kindness, I do not much object: I however approve more of the former interpretation. For as there is nothing more opposed to brotherly concord than contempt, arising from haughtiness, when each one, neglecting others, advances himself; so the best fomenter of love is humility, when every one honors others. στοργὴν
(391) It is difficult to render this clause: [Calvin ] ’s words are, “
Fraterna charitate ad vos mutuo amandos propensi;” so [Beza ]. The Apostle joins two things — mutual love of brethren, with the natural love of parents and children, as though he said, “Let your brotherly love have in it the affectionate feelings which exists between parents and children.” “In brotherly love, be mutually full of tender affection,” [Doddridge ]. “In brotherly love, be kindly disposed toward each other,” [Macknight ]. It may be thus rendered, “In brotherly love, be tenderly affectionate to one another.”
[Calvin ] ’s version of the next clause is, “
Alii alios honore praevenientes;” so [Erasmus ] “ ; τὣ τιμὣ ἀλλήλους προηγούμενοι; honore alii aliis praeuntes — in honor (that is, in conceding honor) going before one another,” [Beza ], [Piscator ], [Macknight ]. It is thus explained by [Mede ], “Wait not for honor from others, but be the first to concede it.” The participle means to take the lead of, or outrunning, one another.” See Philippians 2:3 — Ed.
11.Not slothful in business, etc. This precept is given to us, not only because a Christian life ought to be an active life; but because it often becomes us to overlook our own benefit, and to spend our labors in behalf of our brethren. In a word, we ought in many things to forget ourselves; for except we be in earnest, and diligently strive to shake off all sloth, we shall never be rightly prepared for the service of Christ. (392)
By adding fervent in spirit, he shows how we are to attain the former; for our flesh, like the ass, is always torpid, and has therefore need of goals; and it is only the fervency of the Spirit that can correct our slothfulness. Hence diligence in doing good requires that zeal which the Spirit of God kindles in our hearts. Why then, some one may say, does Paul exhort us to cultivate this fervency? To this I answer, — that though it be the gift of God, it is yet a duty enjoined the faithful to shake off sloth, and to cherish the flame kindled by heaven, as it for the most part happens, that the Spirit is suppressed and extinguished through our fault.
To the same purpose is the third particular, serving the time: for as the course of our life is short, the opportunity of doing good soon passes away; it hence becomes us to show more alacrity in the performance of our duty. So Paul bids us in another place to redeem the time, because the days are evil. The meaning may also be, that we ought to know how to accommodate ourselves to the time, which is a matter of great importance. But Paul seems to me to set in opposition to idleness what he commands as to the serving of time. But as
, the Lord, is read in many old copies, though it may seem at first sight foreign to this passage, I yet dare not wholly to reject this reading. And if it be approved, Paul, I have no doubt, meant to refer the duties to be performed towards brethren, and whatever served to cherish love, to a service done to God, that he might add greater encouragement to the faithful. (393) κυρίῳ
Studio non pigri “Be not slothful in haste,” that is, in a matter requiring haste. “We must strive,” says [Theophylact ], “to assist with promptness those whose circumstances require immediate help and relief.” — Ed ,” τὣ σπουδὣ μὴ ὀκνηροι;
(393) The balance of evidence, according to [Griesbach ], is in favor, of
“time,” though there is much, too, which countenances the other reading. [Luther ], [Erasmus ], and [Hammond ] prefer the former, while [Beza ], [Piscator ], [Pareus ], and most of the moderns, the latter. The most suitable to the context is the former. — Ed. τῷ καιρῷ,
12.Rejoicing in hope, etc. Three things are here connected together, and seem in a manner to belong to the clause “serving the time;” for the person who accommodates himself best to the time, and avails himself of the opportunity of actively renewing his course, is he who derives his joy from the hope of future life, and patiently bears tribulations. However this may be, (for it matters not much whether you regard them as connected or separated,) he first; forbids us to acquiesce in present blessings, and to ground our joy on earth and on earthly things, as though our happiness were based on them; and he bids us to raise our minds up to heaven, that we may possess solid and full joy. If our joy is derived from the hope of future life, then patience will grow up in adversities; for no kind of sorrow will be able to overwhelm this joy. Hence these two things are closely connected together, that is, joy derived from hope, and patience in adversities. No man will indeed calmly and quietly submit to bear the cross, but he who has learnt to seek his happiness beyond this world, so as to mitigate and allay the bitterness of the cross with the consolation of hope.
But as both these things are far above our strength, we must be instant in prayer, and continually call on God, that he may not suffer our hearts to faint and to be pressed down, or to be broken by adverse events. But Paul not only stimulates us to prayer, but expressly requires perseverance; for we have a continual warfare, and new conflicts daily arise, to sustain which, even the strongest are not equal, unless they frequently gather new rigor. That we may not then be wearied, the best remedy is diligence in prayer.
13.Communicating to the necessities, (394) etc. He returns to the duties of love; the chief of which is to do good to those from whom we expect the least recompense. As then it commonly happens, that they are especially despised who are more than others pressed down with want and stand in need of help, (for the benefits conferred on them are regarded as lost,) God recommends them to us in an especial manner. It is indeed then only that we prove our love to be genuine, when we relieve needy brethren, for no other reason but that of exercising our benevolence. Nowhospitality is not one of the least acts of love; that is, that kindness and liberality which are shown towards strangers, for they are for the most part destitute of all things, being far away from their friends: he therefore distinctly recommends this to us. We hence see, that the more neglected any one commonly is by men, the more attentive we ought to be to his wants.
Observe also the suitableness of the expression, when he says, that we are to communicate to the necessities of the saints; by which he implies, that we ought so to relieve the wants of the brethren, as though we were relieving our own selves. And he commands us to assist especially the saints: for though our love ought to extend itself to the whole race of man, yet it ought with peculiar feeling to embrace the household of faith, who are by a closer bond united to us.
(394) There is here an instance of the depravation of the text by some of the fathers, such as [Ambrose ], [Hilary ], [Pelagius ], [Optatus ], etc., who substituted
monuments, for μνείας, necessities, or wants: but though there are a few copies which have this reading, yet it has been discarded by most; it is not found in the Vulgate, nor approved by [Erasmus ] nor [Grotius ]. The word was introduced evidently, as [Whitby ] intimates, to countenance the superstition of the early Church respecting the monuments or sepulchres of martyrs and confessors. Thefact, that there were no monuments of martyrs at this time in Rome, was wholly overlooked. — Ed. χρείας,
14.Bless them, etc. I wish, once for all, to remind the reader, that he is not scrupulously to seek a precise order as to the precepts here laid down, but must be content to have short precepts, unconnected, though suited to the formation of a holy life, and such as are deduced from the principle the Apostle laid down at the beginning of the chapter.
He will presently give direction respecting the retaliation of the injuries which we may suffer: but here he requires something even more difficult, — that we are not to imprecate evils on our enemies, but to wish and to pray God to render all things prosperous to them, how much soever they may harass and cruelly treat us: and this kindness, the more difficult it is to be practiced, so with the more intense desire we ought to strive for it; for the Lord commands nothing, with respect to which he does not require our obedience; nor is any excuse to be allowed, if we are destitute of that disposition, by which the Lord would have his people to differ from the ungodly and the children of this world.
Arduous is this, I admit, and wholly opposed to the nature of man; but there is nothing too arduous to be overcome by the power of God, which shall never be wanting to us, provided we neglect not to seek for it. And though you can hardly find one who has made such advances in the law of the Lord that he fulfills this precept, yet no one can claim to be the child of God or glory in the name of a Christian, who has not in part attained this mind, and who does not daily resist the opposite disposition.
I have said that this is more difficult than to let go revenge when any one is injured: for though some restrain their hands and are not led away by the passion of doing harm, they yet wish that some calamity or loss would in some way happen to their enemies; and even when they are so pacified that they wish no evil, there is yet hardly one in a hundred who wishes well to him from whom he has received an injury; nay, most men daringly burst forth into imprecations. But God by his word not only restrains our hands from doing evil, but also subdues the bitter feelings within; and not only so, but he would have us to be solicitous for the wellbeing of those who unjustly trouble us and seek our destruction.
[Erasmus ] was mistaken in the meaning of the verb
to bless; for he did not perceive that it stands opposed to curses and maledictions: for Paul would have God in both instances to be a witness of our patience, and to see that we not only bridle in our prayers the violence of our wrath, but also show by praying for pardon that we grieve at the lot of our enemies when they willfully ruin themselves. γεῖν
15.Rejoice with those who rejoice, etc. A general truth is in the third place laid down, — that the faithful, regarding each other with mutual affection, are to consider the condition of others as their own. He first specifies two particular things, — That they were to “rejoicewith the joyful, and to weep with the weeping.” For such is the nature of true love, that one prefers to weep with his brother, rather than to look at a distance on his grief, and to live in pleasure or ease. What is meant then is, — that we, as much as possible, ought to sympathize with one another, and that, whatever our lot may be, each should transfer to himself the feeling of another, whether of grief in adversity, or of joy in prosperity. And, doubtless, not to regard with joy the happiness of a brother is envy; and not to grieve for his misfortunes is inhumanity. Let there be such a sympathy among us as may at the same time adapt us to all kinds of feelings.
16.Not thinking arrogantly of yourselves, (395) etc. The Apostle employs words in Greek more significant, and more suitable to the antithesis, “Not thinking,” he says, “of high things:” by which he means, that it is not the part of a Christian ambitiously to aspire to those things by which he may excel others, nor to assume a lofty appearance, but on the contrary to exercise humility and meekness: for by these we excel before the Lord, and not by pride and contempt of the brethren. A precept is fitly added to the preceding; for nothing tends more to break that unity which has been mentioned, than when we elevate ourselves, and aspire to something higher, so that we may rise to a higher situation. I take the term humble in the neuter gender, to complete the antithesis.
Here then is condemned all ambition and that elation of mind which insinuates itself under the name of magnanimity; for the chief virtue of the faithful is moderation, or rather lowliness of mind, which ever prefers to give honor to others, rather than to take it away from them.
Closely allied to this is what is subjoined: for nothing swells the minds of men so much as a high notion of their own wisdom. His desire then was, that we should lay this aside, hear others, and regard their counsels. [Erasmus ] has rendered
, φρονίμους arrogantes — arrogant; but the rendering is strained and frigid; for Paul would in this case repeat the same word without any meaning. However, the most appropriate remedy for curing arrogance is, that man should not be over-wise in his own esteem.
(395) The first clause is omitted. The text of [Calvin ] is, “
Mutuo alii in alios sensu affecti “ ;” τὸ αὐτὸ εἰς αλλήλους φρονοῦντες; Itidem alii in alios affecti — Feel alike towards on another,” [Beza ]; “Be entirely united in your regards for each other,” [Doddridge ]; “Be of the same disposition towards one another,” [Macknight ]. The verb means to think, or to feel, or to mind, in the sense of attending to, or aspiring after a thing. It is used also in the next clause, evidently in the last sense, minding. There is no reason why its meaning should be different here; it would then be, “Mind the same things towards one another,” that is, Do to others what you expect others to do to you. It is to reduce to an axiom what is contained in the former verse. We may indeed give this version, “Feel the same, or alike towards one another,” that is, sympathize with one another: and this would still be coincident in meaning with the former verse; and it would be in accordance with the Apostle’s mode of writing.
But another construction has been given, “Think the same of one another,” that is, Regard one another alike in dignity and privilege as Christians, without elevating yourselves, and viewing yourselves better than others. This would well agree with the sentence which follows.
The two following clauses are thus given by [Doddridge ], “Affect not high things, but condescend to men of low rank,” — and by [Macknight ], “Do not care for high things; but associate with lowly men.” The word
is not found in the New Testament to be applied to things, but to persons. “Associate” is perhaps the best rendering of ταπεινοῖς, which literally means to withdraw from one party in order to walk with another: they were to withdraw from those who minded high things, and walk or associate with the humble and lowly. “And cleave to the humble,” is the Syriac version. — Ed. συναπαγόμενοι,
17.Repaying to no one, etc. This differs but little from what shortly after follows, except that revenge is more than the kind of repaying of which he speaks here; for we render evil for evil sometimes, even when we exact not the requiting of an injury, as when we treat unkindly those who do us no good. We are indeed wont to form an estimate of the deserts of each, or of what they merit at our hands, so that we may confer our benefits on those, by whom we have been already obliged, or from whom we expect something: and again, when any one denies help to us when we need it, we, by returning like for like, as they say, do not help him in time of need, any more than he assisted us. There are also other instances of the same kind, in which evil is rendered for evil, when there is no open revenge.
Providing good things, etc. I no not disapprove of the rendering of [Erasmus ] , “Providently preparing,” (
Provide parantes ;) but I prefer a literal rendering. As every one is more than justly devoted to his own advantage, and provident in avoiding losses, Paul seems to require a care and an attention of another kind. What is meant is, that we ought diligently to labor, that all may be edified by our honest dealings. For as purity of conscience is necessary for us before God, so uprightness of character before men is not to be neglected: for since it is meet that God should be glorified by our good deeds, even so much is wanting to his glory, as there is a deficiency of what is praiseworthy in us; and not only the glory of God is thus obscured, but he is branded with reproach; for whatever sin we commit, the ignorant employ it for the purpose of calumniating the gospel.
But when we are bidden to prepare good things before men, (396) we must at the same time notice for what purpose: it is not indeed that men may admire and praise us, as this is a desire which Christ carefully forbids us to indulge, since he bids us to admit God alone as the witness of our good deeds, to the exclusion of all men; but that their minds being elevated to God, they may give praise to him, that by our example they may be stirred up to the practice of righteousness, that they may, in a word, perceive the good and the sweet odor of our life, by which they may be allured to the love of God. But if we are evil spoken of for the name of Christ, we are by no means to neglect to provide good things before men: for fulfilled then shall be that saying, that we are counted as false, and are yet true. (2 Corinthians 6:8.)
Providentes bona “ ;” προνοούμενοι καλὰ; procurantes honesta — providing honest things,” [Beza ]; “providing things reputable,” [Doddridge ]; “premeditating things comely,” [Macknight ]. The participle means to mind beforehand, to prepare, to provide, and also to take care of or to attend to a thing. “Attending to things honorable” may be the rendering here. The adjective means fair, good; and good in conduct as here is not “comely,” but just, right, or reputable, as [Doddridge ] renders it. The word “honest” does not now retain its original idea of honorable. — Ed. καλὸς,
18.If it be possible, etc. Peaceableness and a life so ordered as to render us beloved by all, is no common gift in a Christian. If we desire to attain this, we must not only be endued with perfect uprightness, but also with very courteous and kind manners, which may not only conciliate the just and the good, but produce also a favorable impression on the hearts of the ungodly.
But here two cautions must be stated: We are not to seek to be in such esteem as to refuse to undergo the hatred of any for Christ, whenever it may be necessary. And indeed we see that there are some who, though they render themselves amicable to all by the sweetness of their manners and peaceableness of their minds, are yet hated even by their nearest connections on account of the gospel. The second caution is, — that courteousness should not degenerate into compliance, so as to lead us to flatter the vices of men for the sake of preserving peace. Since then it cannot always be, that we can have peace with all men, he has annexed two particulars by way of exception, If it be possible, and, as far as you can. But we are to conclude from what piety and love require, that we are not to violate peace, except when constrained by either of these two things. For we ought, for the sake of cherishing peace, to bear many things, to pardon offenses, and kindly to remit the full rigor of the law; and yet in such a way, that we may be prepared, whenever necessity requires, to fight courageously: for it is impossible that the soldiers of Christ should have perpetual peace with the world, whose prince is Satan.
19.Avenge not yourselves, etc. The evil which he corrects here, as we have reminded you, is more grievous than the preceding, which he has just stated; and yet both of them arise from the same fountain, even from an inordinate love of self and innate pride, which makes us very indulgent to our own faults and inexorable to those of others. As then this disease begets almost in all men a furious passion for revenge, whenever they are in the least degree touched, he commands here, that however grievously we may be injured, we are not to seek revenge, but to commit it to the Lord. And inasmuch as they do not easily admit the bridle, who are once seized with this wild passion, he lays, as it were, his hand upon us to restrain us, by kindly addressing us as beloved
The precept; then is, — that we are not to revenge nor seek to revenge injuries done to us. The manner is added, a place is to be given to wrath. To give place to wrath, is to commit to the Lord the right of judging, which they take away from him who attempt revenge. Hence, as it is not lawful to usurp the office of God, it is not lawful to revenge; for we thus anticipate the judgment of God, who will have this office reserved for himself. He at the same time intimates, that they shall have God as their defender, who patiently wait for his help; but that those who anticipate him leave no place for the help of God. (397)
But he prohibits here, not only that we are not to execute revenge with our own hands, but that our hearts also are not to be influenced by a desire of this kind: it is therefore superfluous to make a distinction here between public and private revenge; for he who, with a malevolent mind and desirous of revenge, seeks the help of a magistrate, has no more excuse than when he devises means for self-revenge. Nay, revenge, as we shall presently see, is not indeed at all times to be sought from God: for if our petitions arise from a private feeling, and not from pure zeal produced by the Spirit, we do not make God so much our judge as the executioner of our depraved passion.
Hence, we do not otherwise give place to wrath, than when with quiet minds we wait for the seasonable time of deliverance, praying at the same time, that they who are now our adversaries, may by repentance become our friends.
For it is written, etc. He brings proof, taken from the song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32:35, where the Lord declares that he will be the avenger of his enemies; and God’s enemies are all who without cause oppress his servants. “He who touches you,” he says, “touches the pupil of mine eye.” With this consolation then we ought to be content, — that they shall not escape unpunished who undeservedly oppress us, — and that we, by enduring, shall not make ourselves more subject or open to the injuries of the wicked, but, on the contrary, shall give place to the Lord, who is our only judge and deliverer, to bring us help.
Though it be not indeed lawful for us to pray to God for vengeance on our enemies, but to pray for their conversion, that they may become friends; yet if they proceed in their impiety, what is to happen to the despisers of God will happen to them. But Paul quoted not this testimony to show that it is right for us to be as it were on fire as soon as we are injured, and according to the impulse of our flesh, to ask in our prayers that God may become the avenger of our injuries; but he first teaches us that it belongs not to us to revenge, except we would assume to ourselves the office of God; and secondly, he intimates, that we are not to fear that the wicked will more furiously rage when they see us bearing patiently; for God does not in vain take upon himself the office of executing vengeance.
(397) Many have been the advocates of this exposition, [Chrysostom ], [Theophylact ], [Luther ], [Beza ], [Hammond ], [Macknight ], [Stuart ], etc. But there is no instance of the expression, “to give place,” having this meaning. In the two places where it occurs, it means to give way, to yield. See Luke 14:9; Ephesians 4:27. Then to give place to wrath, is to yield to and patiently to endure the wrath of the man who does the wrong. Some have maintained that the meaning is, that the injured man is to give place to his own wrath, that is, allow it time to cool: but this view comports not with the passage. The subject is, that a Christian is not to retaliate, or to return wrath for wrath, but to endure the wrath of his enemy, and to leave the matter in the hand of God. With this sense the quotation accords as much as with that given by [Calvin ]. Not a few have taken this view, [Basil ], [Ambrose ], [Drusius ], [Mede ], [Doddridge ], [Scott ], etc. — Ed.
20.If therefore, etc. He now shows how we may really fulfill the precepts of not revenging and of not repaying evil, even when we not only abstain from doing injury but when we also do good to those who have done wrong to us; for it is a kind of an indirect retaliation when we turn aside our kindness from those by whom we have been injured. Understand as included under the words meat and drink, all acts of kindness. Whatsoever then may be thine ability, in whatever business thy enemy may want either thy wealth, or thy counsel, or thy efforts, thou oughtest to help him. But he calls him our enemy, not whom we regard with hatred, but him who entertains enmity towards us. And if they are to be helped according to the flesh, much less is their salvation to be opposed by imprecating vengeance on them.
Thou shalt heap coals of fire, etc. As we are not willing to lose our toil and labor, he shows what fruit will follow, when we treat our enemies with acts of kindness. But some by coals understand the destruction which returns on the head of our enemy, when we show kindness to one unworthy, and deal with him otherwise than he deserves; for in this manner his guilt is doubled. Others prefer to take this view, that when he sees himself so kindly treated, his mind is allured to love us in return. I take a simpler view, that his mind shall be turned to one side or another; for doubtless our enemy shall either be softened by our benefits, or if he be so savage that nothing can tame him, he shall yet be burnt and tormented by the testimony of his own conscience, on finding himself overwhelmed with our kindness. (398)
(398) [Calvin ] has in this exposition followed [Chrysostom ] and [Theodoret ]. The former part no doubt contains the right view; the following verse proves it, “Overcome evil with good.” The idea of “heaping coals of fire” is said to have been derived from the practice of heaping coals on the fire to melt hard metals; but as “the coals of fire” must mean “burning coals,” as indeed the word in Proverbs 25:22, whence the passage is taken, clearly means, this notion cannot be entertained. It seems to be a sort of proverbial saying, signifying something intolerable, which cannot be borne without producing strong effects: such is represented to be kindness to any enemy, to feed him when hungry and to give him drink when thirsty, has commonly such a power over him that he cannot resist its influence, no more than he can withstand the scorching heat of burning coals. Of course the natural tendency of such a conduct is all that is intended, and not that it invariably produces such an effect; for in Scripture things are often stated in this way; but human nature is such a strange thing, that it often resists what is right, just, and reasonable, and reverses, as it were, the very nature of things.
It is not true what [Whitby ] and others have held, that “coals of fire” always mean judgments or punishments. The word indeed in certain connections, as in Psalms 18:13, has this meaning, but in Proverbs 25:22, it cannot be taken in this sense, as the preceding verse most clearly proves. There is no canon of interpretation more erroneous than to make words or phrases to bear the same meaning in every place. — Ed.
21.Be not overcome by evil, etc. This sentence is laid down as a confirmation; for in this case our contest is altogether with perverseness, if we try to retaliate it, we confess that we are overcome by it; if, on the contrary, we return good for evil, by that very deed we show the invincible firmness of our mind. This is truly a most glorious kind of victory, the fruit of which is not only apprehended by the mind, but really perceived, while the Lord is giving success to their patience, than which they can wish nothing better. On the other hand, he who attempts to overcome evil with evil, may perhaps surpass his enemy in doing injury, but it is to his own ruin; for by acting thus he carries on war for the devil.