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Lecture Ninety-fourth

We have seen in the last lecture that hypocrites inquire how God is to be pacified, as though they were very solicitous about the performance of their duty; and that in the meantime these are mere disguises; for by circuitous windings they turn here and there, and never wish to come directly to God. The way might have been easily known by them; but they closed their eyes, and at the same time pretended that they had some concern for religion. And this is also very commonly the case in our day; and common experience, if any one opens his eyes, clearly proves this, — that the ungodly, who deal not sincerely with God, profess a very great concern, as though they were wholly intent on serving God, and yet turn aside here and there, and seek many bypaths, (diverticula,) that they may not be constrained to present themselves before God. We have already seen, that this false pretense is fully exposed, inasmuch as God has enough, and more than enough, demonstrated in his Law, what he approves and what he requires from men. Why then do hypocrites, as still uncertain, make the inquiry? It is because they are willfully blind at mid-day; for the doctrine of the Law ought to have been to them as a lamp to direct their steps; but they smother this light, yea, they do what they can wholly to extinguish it: they ask, as though perplexed, how can we pacify God?

But it ought also to be observed, (for the Prophet says, Shall I give my first-born, and the fruit of my loins, as an expiation for my soul? 168168     The substance of the two lines is given here, not in their literal version. He evidently gives somewhat a different meaning from our translation; and probably the original admits better of the construction adopted here. If פשע, a transgression or trespass, be taken for a trespass-offering, and חטאה, for a sin-offering, as it is often, then the rendering would be this, —
   Shall I make my first-born my trespass-offering,
The fruit of my loins a sin-offering for my soul?

   The verb נתן is not only to give, to present, to offer, but also to make, to constitute, to appoint. But if the first be rendered transgression, the law of parallelism requires that the second should be rendered sin. — Ed.
) that hypocrites will withhold nothing, provided they are not to devote themselves to God. We see the same thing under the Papacy at this day; they spare no expense, nor even the greatest toils: provided the ungodly have always a freedom to live in sin, they will easily grant to God all other things. For through a false conceit they make a sort of agreement with God: if they mortify themselves, and toil in ceremonies, and if they pour forth some portion of their money, if they sometimes deprive nature of its support, if with fastings and by other things, they afflict themselves, they think that by these means they have fully performed their duties. But these are frivolous trifles; for in the meantime they consider themselves exempt from the duty of obeying God. Being yet unwilling to be regarded as alienated from God, they, at the same time, obtrude on him their meritorious works, to prevent his judgment, and to exempt themselves from the necessity of doing the principal thing, that which he especially requires — to bring a sincere heart. Thus then hypocrites wish to divide things with God, that they may remain within such as they are; and they spread forth outwardly many frivolous things for the purpose of pacifying him. And this is the reason why the Prophet says now, Shall I give my first-born? for hypocrites wish to appear as though they were burning with the greatest zeal, — “Rather than that God should remain angry with me, I would not spare the life of my first-born; I would rather be the executioner of my own son: in short, nothing is so valuable to me, which I would not be really to part with, that God may be propitious to me.” This indeed is what they boast with their mouth; but at the same time they will not offer their heart as a sacrifice to God: and as they deal dishonestly with God, we see that all is nothing but dissimulation.

If any one objects, and says, — that the other rites, of which the Prophet speaks here, had been enjoined by God’s Law, the answer is easy; but I shall not now but briefly touch on what I have elsewhere more largely handled: The Prophet denies, that sacrifices avail any thing for the purpose of propitiating God. This may seem inconsistent with the teaching of the Law, but in fact it altogether agrees with it. God indeed wished sacrifices to be offered to him; and then this promise was always added, Iniquity shall be atoned. But the object must be noticed; for God did not command sacrifices, as though they were of themselves of any worth; but he intended to lead the ancient people by such exercises to repentance and faith. It was therefore his design to remind the Jews that they did no good, except they themselves became sacrifices; and it was also his will that they should look to the only true sacrifice, by which all sins are expiated. But hypocrites, like falsifiers of documents, abused the command of God, and adulterated the sacrifices themselves. It was then a profane sacrilege for them to think that God would be propitious to them, if they offered many oxen and calves and lambs. It was the same thing as if one asked the way, and after having known it, rested quietly and never moved a foot. God had shown the way, by which the Jews might come to repentance and faith: and they ought to have walked in it; but they wickedly trifled with God; for they thought that it would be a satisfaction to his justice, if they only performed outward rites. Whenever then the Prophets in God’s name repudiate sacrifices, the abuse, by which God’s Law was corrupted, is ever to be considered, that is, when the Jews brought sacrifices, only, and had no respect to the end in view, and did not exercise themselves in repentance and faith. It is for this reason that our Prophet declares, that all sacrifices were of no account before God, but were vain things: they were so, when they were separated from their right end.

He then says that God had shown by his Law what is good; and then he adds what it is, to do justice, to love mercy, or kindness, and to be humbled before God. It is evident that, in the two first particulars, he refers to the second table of the Law; that is to do justice, and to love mercy 169169     The expression is remarkable — to love mercy, or benevolence, beneficence, or kindness; it is not only to show mercy or kindness, but to love it, so as to take pleasure and delight in it. — Ed. Nor is it a matter of wonder that the Prophet begins with the duties of love; for though in order the worship of God precedes these duties, and ought rightly to be so regarded, yet justice, which is to be exercised towards men, is the real evidence of true religion. The Prophet, therefore, mentions justice and mercy, not that God casts aside that which is principal — the worship of his name; but he shows, by evidences or effects, what true religion is. Hypocrites place all holiness in external rites; but God requires what is very different; for his worship is spiritual. But as hypocrites can make a show of great zeal and of great solicitude in the outward worship of God, the Prophets try the conduct of men in another way, by inquiring whether they act justly and kindly towards one another, whether they are free from all fraud and violence, whether they observe justice and show mercy. This is the way our Prophet now follows, when he says, that God’s Law prescribes what is good, and that is, to do justice — to observe what is equitable towards men, and also to perform the duties of mercy.

He afterwards adds what in order is first, and that is, to humble thyself to walk with God: 170170     The words are, והצנע לכת עם-אלהיך. The verb צנע occurs nowhere else but as a passive participle in Proverbs 11:2; but its meaning there is evident, for it is opposed to pride, זדון, which means a swelling pride, such as fills one with high notions of one’s self. Then the opposite of this is to be humble from a sense of one’s own emptiness. As it is here to the infinitive Hiphil, its literal meaning is what Calvin assigns to it — tohumble one’s self. And the best rendering of this line would be — “And to humble thyself to walk with God.” The Septuagint renders it ετοιμον εναι — to be ready; Theodotion, ασφαλιζου; Vulgate, solicitum But these seem not to have understood the word. The Welsh version is exactly and literally the Hebrew — Ac ymostwng I rodio gyda ‘th Dduw. Gostwng is to humble, and by adding ym, and dropping the g, the verb has exactly the meaning of the Hiphil in Hebrew—to humble one’s self. They are, indeed, some verbs in Welsh which admit of all the modifications of the Hebrew verbs, being active, passive, causative, and reflective. — Ed. it is thus literally, “And to be humble in walking with thy God.” No doubt, as the name of God is more excellent than any thing in the whole world, so the worship of him ought to be regarded as of more importance than all those duties by which we prove our love towards men. But the Prophet, as I have already said, was not so particular in observing order; his main object was to show how men were to prove that they seriously feared God and kept his Law: he afterwards speaks of God’s worship. But his manner of speaking, when he says, that men ought to be humble, that they may walk with their God, is worthy of special notice. Condemned, then, is here all pride, and also all the confidence of the flesh: for whosoever arrogates to himself even the least thing, does, in a manner, contend with God as with an opposing party. The true way then of walking with God is, when we thoroughly humble ourselves, yea, when we bring ourselves down to nothing; for it is the very beginning of worshipping and glorifying God when men entertain humble and low opinion of themselves. Let us now proceed —

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