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Ezekiel 20:12

12. Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them.

12. Atque etiam sabbatha mea dedi ipsis, ut essent in signum inter me et ipsos, ut cognoscerent quod ego sim (vel, ego sum) Iehovah, qui ipsos sanctifico.


Besides the law God here commends his Sabbaths, which we know to be only a part of His law: nay, whoever compares the commandments one by one, will at first sight perceive more weight in others than in the fourth. For what is the meaning of that commandment, You shall not have any strange god? You shall not make any idols? Afterwards, Do not take God’s name in vain? (Exodus 20:3, 4, 7; Deuteronomy 5:7, 8, 11.) I answer, that the Prophet takes one precept of the law the better to explain what I have already touched on before, namely, that the law was given to the Israelites to bind them more and more to their benefactor. For God was unwilling to cast them away after redeeming them: but he testified by his law that he would be the guide of their whole life. Still the Prophet looked further, meaning, that the law consisted not only of the commandments, but embraced the whole grace of God, on which the adoption of the nation depended. For if God had simply commanded either one thing or another, it would not have been easy to perceive and taste his goodness. Why so? because when he calls upon us to discharge a duty, every one, feels that a greater burden is imposed on him than he can bear. Even if the promise should entice us by its sweetness, — he who does these things shall live in them; yet when we try, we are deficient through being destitute of all power. But the Prophet means that something else was intended by the Sabbath, that the Israelites might acknowledge themselves separated by God, so as to experience him for their Father in all things. Hence, though the precepts of the law were somewhat distasteful; yet, as the fourth commandment has in it a gratuitous promise, it has a different savor, since the people thus recognizes itself as elected by God for a peculiar nation: and this the Prophet sufficiently expresses by the word sanctifying, for it means that the people were separated from the profane nations to be God’s peculiar inheritance. If any one wishes to render sanctify by one word it will be, “to separate.” But the meaning of separation ought to be explained. How, then, did God separate a certain people from the whole world? Why, by promising to Abraham that he would be a God to his seed. (Genesis 22:17.) Then he could not otherwise be their God than by gratuitously loving his elect, by regenerating them by his Spirit, and becoming propitious and easily entreated: and besides, a single people could not be separated from others without a mediator. For separation cannot last unless the people be united to God; and what bond of union is there without a mediator?

Now, therefor, we understand why the Prophet speaks of the Sabbath, since he had formerly commended the whole law, of which the Sabbath was a part, namely, because it displayed God’s gratuitous adoption; and at the same time the Israelites might acknowledge that the way of approach to God was open to them, and he was rendered placable; then that they were not adopted in vain, but were sought by God, that he should renew them by his Spirit, and rule the whole course of their life. It was, then, the greatest ingratitude to break the Sabbath, as will be said shortly afterwards. But this passage teaches that God was not pleased with the people’s quiet or ease when he commanded them to keep the seventh day holy, but he has another intention. Whence we gather that that precept was shadowy: for there are some things which please God of themselves, and must be performed; but others have a different object. For to worship one God, to abominate idols, to use God’s name reverently, these things are, as I have said, the simple duties of piety in themselves: so the honor which sons pay to their parents is a duty pleasing to God in itself, like chastity, abstinence, and such like. But Sabbaths do not please God simply and by themselves. We ought, therefore, to look for another purpose, if we wish to understand the reason of this precept. And hence Paul says, that Sabbaths were shadows of those things of which Christ is the substance. (Colossians 2:16, 17.) This, therefore, is one point. Ezekiel is not the first who says so, though he took it from Moses; for though he does not clearly say in so many words that the Sabbath was the symbol of sanctification, yet he afterwards shows this to be its object, (Exodus 31:13, 14,) and that God commanded the people to rest on the seventh day with this intent. Moses then himself shows that the command had another object, which Ezekiel interprets for us; but the matter is made much clearer in the Gospel, since in Christ the truth and substance of this precept is set forth, which Paul calls the body. I have, then, sufficiently explained this object., namely, that the Israelites might know God to be their sanctifier. But if we desire to understand the matter better, we ought first to lay it down that the Sabbath was the sign of mortification. God, therefore, sanctifies us; because when we remain in our natural state we are there mixed with others, and have nothing different from unbelievers: hence, therefore, it is necessary to begin by dying to ourselves and the world, and by exercising self-denial; and this depends on the grace of God. But I perceive that I cannot complete the subject today so I shall put it off till tomorrow.

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