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Ezekiel 18:14-17

14. Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father’s sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like,

14. Et ecce genuerit filium, et viderit cuncta scelera patris sui quae perpetravit, et timuerit, et non fecerit secundum ipsa,

15. That hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbour’s wife,

15. Super montes non comederit, et oculos suos non extulerit ad idola 220220     Or, “pollutions” — Calvin. domus Israel 221221     The house of Israel is expressed here as in the first set. — Calvin. uxorem proximi sui non polluerit,

16. Neither hath oppressed any, hath not withholden the pledge, neither hath spoiled by violence, but hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment,

16. Et neminem oppresserit, pignus non pigneraverit, 222222     Verbally; but because there is a difference between the Latin words for to give and receive a pledge, it makes the sense clearer to say, not to receive a pledge. — Calvin. et rapinam 223223     He now uses the singular number, “a prey.” — Calvin. non rapuerit: panem suum famelico dederit, 224224     Or, “distributed.” — Calvin. et nudum operuerit vestimento.

17. That hath taken off his hand from the poor, that hath not received usury nor increase, hath executed my judgments, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.

17. Ab egeno retraxerit manum suam, foenus et inerementum non acceperit, judicia mea fecerit, in decretis meis ambulaverit, ipse non morietur in iniquitate patris sui, vivendo vivet.


In this third example Ezekiel announces, that if a man be born of a wicked father, he may nevertheless be pleasing to God, if he be unlike his father and thus he refutes the proverb that was so common in Israel — that the father ate the sour grapes, and the children’s teeth were set on edge. For if the sons were sufferers through the father’s eating the sour grapes, then the pious who drew their origin from wicked despisers of God would be freed from all their sins. Thus Ezekiel would have been punished instead of his father, Ahaz, and Josiah instead of Manasseh. But here the Prophet bears witness that the good, however they may have been born from wicked parents, should receive the reward of righteousness no less certainly and faithfully than if they had come down from heaven, and if their family had always been without the commission of any crime. Since, therefore, God does not punish them for their fathers’ crimes, it follows that the Israelites uttered this taunt not only foolishly, but impiously, saying that their own teeth were set on edge, because their fathers had eaten the sour grapes. Besides, as there is a difference in the phrase, I shall notice briefly what is worthy of remark: if he begat a son who saw all that his father had done, and was afraid. Here the Prophet teaches that it needed the greatest attention for the son to forsake the example of a bad father. For sons are blind to their fathers’ vices; and although, when duty is set before them, they carelessly despise it, yet they fancy themselves held so far by pious reverence, that they dare not condemn their fathers. Hence it happens that sons do not acknowledge their fathers’ crimes, and thus a wicked father corrupts his son willingly. Bad discipline, therefore, is added to this, so that it is not surprising if the offspring is worse than his ancestors. For this reason the Prophet says, if he has seen, that is, if a righteous child has observed his father’s sins, since sons shut their eyes as much as possible to all their fathers’ crimes; nay, they embrace their vices for the greatest virtues.

He then adds, if he has feared. It would not be sufficient to take notice of this without adding the fear of God. It is true, indeed, that many were unlike their parents, through being restrained by shame; for when they heard the reproaches of their parents, they were touched with ingenuous modesty, so as to be on their guard against such enormities. But all these followed the empty shadow of justice; and here the serious observance of the law is treated, which cannot flow from anything else but, the fear of God, and this, as Scripture says, is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7.) A person thus may be blameless through his whole life, and yet not touch on any part of justice, since righteousness flows from only one principle — the fear of God. He afterwards adds, and has not done according to them. We see, therefore, that those who implicate themselves in others’ crimes are not otherwise deceived, unless they purposely stifle all difference between good and evil; for if they had attended to this, they would doubtless have been touched with some fear, and thus have governed their life according to God’s precepts: but scarcely one in a hundred thinks of this, and hence every one mingles freely with his neighbors, and so all perish together. He afterwards adds, he has not eaten upon the mountains, has not raised his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel: we have explained all these: and has not oppressed any one, and has not received a pledge. We said that this ought not to be explained of every pledge; for it was lawful for any one, on giving money, to receive a pledge for its return, but not from one who is destitute of either garments or the necessary implements of trade: so I pass this by. He has not received a prey, has distributed his bread to the hungry He adds, what he had not touched on previously, he has withdrawn his hand from the poor. This seems to differ from the opinion which we had in the sixteenth chapter, (Ezekiel 16:49.) Among the sins of Sodom, the Prophet there puts this also, that they withdrew their hand from the poor and needy; and surely, when we stretch forth the hand for the sake of help, it is a true proof of charity; but if we withdraw the hand, it is a proof of cruelty, since we do not deign to aid a brother who ought to obtain some favor from us. But we must bear in mind that there are two senses in which the hand is either extended or withdrawn. If I extend my hand to the poor to supply what is wanting, and to the weak to render him aid, this is the duty of charity. If, on the contrary, I withdraw my hand, I unjustly turn away from him who implores my confidence, and whose misery ought to win for him some favor. But we extend the hand when we seize on a neighbor’s goods, and violently deprive him of them, and despoil the innocent of their rights. On the contrary, he who withdraws his hand is humane in sparing his brethren, and not enriching himself at their expense, and profiting by their oppression. In this sense the Prophet now enumerates withdrawing the hand from the poor in the list of virtues, because the poor are subject to all kinds of injury. If, therefore, when we see booty already prepared for us, and yet we refrain from it, this is a proof of true charity. But again, we must remark upon what I treated but briefly yesterday, namely, that we must withdraw our hands from the poor, because nothing is more easy than to be enticed to make a gain of the poor; and wherever occasion and impunity offer themselves, avarice so seizes us, that we neither discern nor consider what is right and fair. Every one who wishes to preserve his self-restraint, and to subdue his affections, ought to attend to this with all his strength and with constant struggling: thus the Prophet says, we must withdraw the hand

Now at last he concludes: he shall not die through his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. He does not repeat that this is just, yet we must understand it so; but he stops at the immediate effect, since God’s blessing awaits all the just, as Isaiah says surely there is a reward to the just, (Isaiah 3:10;) and the Prophet exclaims as if it were believed with difficulty: for, since we see all things revolving promiscuously in the world, we directly imagine either that God is at rest in heaven, or that chance governs all things here on earth. But we must strive against this perverse supposition, and determine, as Isaiah teaches, that there is a reward for the just. The Prophet now expresses this, while a difficult question arises from the passage; for he says that he is just who has kept the law, and so God will bestow a recompense upon. him: hence these two things are connected together, and the question which I mentioned arises from the former clause; for the whole Scriptures teach that no one is just, and that none can be justified by the law. But these things are contrary to each other; to be just and worthy of reward through keeping the law, since none is just, all are transgressors, all devoid of justice, and so but one remedy remains — that of seeking our safety from the gratuitous mercy of God. But although, at first sight, this kind of it consistency disturbs the rude and partially-exercised commentator, yet this solution is easy, since, strictly speaking, justice is the observance of the law. If any one asks, then, what justice is, the proper definition is, the observance of law. Why so? Because the law, as I said yesterday, lays down the solid rule of justice; whoever observes it will be esteemed just; and thus justification is properly said to be placed in works. But, on the other hand, Scripture pronounces what is very true, and entirely confirmed by experience, that no one can satisfy the law, and, on account of this defect, we are all deprived of justification by works. What I have said may be made much clearer by many testimonies of Scripture. Not the hearer of the law, says Paul, in the second chapter of the epistle to the Romans, but the doer of the law, shall be justified, (Romans 2:13.) There Paul speaks naturally, that those are just who conform their whole life to the obedience of God’s law. So also John, in his canonical epistle: He who does righteousness is righteous. (1 John 3:7.) Now, if any one asks whether any perfect observer of the law can be found, or one who does justice in every respect, the answer is at hand, that we are all by nature very far gone from all righteousness, and all our senses and affections are enemies which contend against God’s law, as Paul teaches: The whole soul of man is perverse, and we are not fit to think anything of ourselves, and that all our sufficiency is of God, since we are slaves of sin. (Romans 8:7; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Romans 11.) But it would be superfluous to heap together many testimonies. Let it suffice, then, that we are by nature all together rebels against God, so that not the slightest particle of good can be found in us. As far as concerns the faithful, they aspire indeed to righteousness, but lamely, and at a great distance from their aim; they often wander from the way, and they often fall, so that they do not satisfy the law, and hence require God’s pity. Hence we must come to the second kind of righteousness, which is improperly so called, namely, that which we obtain from Christ. He who does righteousness is righteous. (l John 3:7.) None of us does it; but Christ, who fulfilled the law, is esteemed just before God. Hence it is necessary that we should be approved by God through his righteousness; that is, it is imputed to us, and we are accepted through his righteousness. Hence justification by faith, as it is called, is not properly righteousness; but on account of the defect of true righteousness, it is necessary to fly to this as to a sacred anchor; and Paul, in the tenth chapter to the Romans, explains this briefly and clearly. The righteousness of the law, says he, thus speaks: He who has done these things shall live in them; but the righteousness of faith says, He who has believed shall be just. The Apostle here speaks of a double righteousness — that of the law and of faith: he says, that the righteousness of the law is situated in works, since no one is thought just unless he fulfills the law. (Romans 10:5-8.) Since all are far distant from this standard, another is added and substituted, namely, that we may embrace the righteousness of Christ by faith, and so become just, by another righteousness without us: for if any one again objects that justification by the law is superfluous, I answer, that it profits us in two ways; first, because the law brings in those convicted of their own unrighteousness to Christ. This, then, is one fruit of the law, that we renounce our own righteousness, when our iniquity so discloses itself, that it compels us to be silent before God, as we formerly saw. A more fruitful result follows; because, when God regenerates his elect, he inscribes a law on their hearts and in their inward parts, as we have elsewhere seen, and shall see again in the thirty-sixth chapter. (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:26, 27.) But the difficulty is not yet solved; because the faithful, even if regenerated by God’s Spirit, endeavor to conform themselves to God’s law, yet, through their own weakness, never arrive at that point, and so are never righteous: I answer, although the righteousness of works is mutilated in the sons of God, yet it is acknowledged as perfect, since, by not imputing their sins to them, he proves what is his own. Hence it happens, that although the faithful fall back, wander, and sometimes fall, yet they may be called observers of the law, and walkers in the commandments of God, and observers of his righteousness. But this arises from gratuitous imputation, and hence also its reward. The works of the faithful are not without reward, because they please God, and pleasing God, they are sure of remuneration. We see, then, how these things are rightly united, that no one obeys the law, and that no one is worthy of the fruits of righteousness, and yet that God, of his own liberality, acknowledges as just those who aspire to righteousness, and repay them with a reward of which they are unworthy. When, therefore, we say that the faithful are esteemed just even in their deeds, this is not stated as a cause of their salvation, and we must diligently notice that the cause of salvation is excluded from this doctrine; for, when we discuss the cause, we must look nowhere else but to the mercy of God, and there we must stop. But although works tend in no way to the cause of justification, yet, when the elect sons of God were justified freely by faith, at the same time their works are esteemed righteous by the same gratuitous liberality. Thus it still remains true, that faith without works justifies, although this needs prudence and a sound interpretation; for this proposition, that faith without works justifies is true and yet false, according to the different senses which it bears. The proposition, that faith without works justifies by itself, is false, because faith without works is void. But if the clause “without works” is joined with the word “justifies,” the proposition will be true, since faith cannot justify when it is without works, because it is dead, and a mere fiction. He who is born of God is just, as John says. (1 John 5:18.) Thus faith can be no more separated from works than the sun from his heat yet faith justifies without works, because works form no reason for our justification; but faith alone reconciles us to God, and causes him to love us, not in ourselves, but in his only begotten Son. Now, therefore, that question is solved, when the Prophet teaches that life is reposed in the just, even if they are born of wicked and unholy parents.

Lastly, we must notice the word “life,” since the word “living” ought not to be understood only of life on earth, but looks to eternal life: and here some expositors are mistaken: for because they could not free themselves from those difficulties which I lately explained, they interpreted the words of Moses in a civil sense — He who has done these things shall live in them. But Moses is speaking of life eternal. Hence we must hold, not only that a reward is promised in this life to the just observers of the law, but that eternal life is also a promised reward. Besides, as I have said, since we are all destitute of righteousness, so we thought not to hope for any reward, since we are all under the law and under the curse, as Paul says: neither is there any means of escape, as Paul again says, (Galatians 3:10, 13,) unless we fly with complete and abject faith to the mercy of God alone, and to the satisfaction by which Christ has reconciled us to his Father. Here I shall finish.

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