The Fourth Sermon on the First Chapter
by John Calvin
‘God has accepted us in his well—beloved, by whose blood we have redemption, that is to say, forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace, whereof he has shed abundance upon us in all wisdom and understanding by making us know the secret of his will (according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself, in order to dispense it when the time was full come), that is to say, to gather all things together by Christ, both the things in heaven and the things on earth, in himself.’
I have shown already that we cannot be loved by God, but by means of his only Son. For if the angels of heaven are not worthy to be taken for God’s children except through a head and mediator, what all become of us who do not cease daily to provoke God’s wrath by our iniquities [Isa. 59:2]. In fact, we fight against him! God, then, must of necessity look upon us in the person of his only Son, or else he is bound to hate and abhor us. In short, our sins set such a distance between God and us, that we cannot approach him without immediately feeling his majesty against us, armed, as it were, to destroy us all.
But now it remains to be seen how God receives us into his favour by means of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what St. Paul means in adding that ‘in him we have redemption through his blood, that is to say, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of God’s grace.’ Here we are first of all given to understand that the enmity which God bears us, is not in respect of our nature, but in respect of our corruption. I say it is not in respect of nature, for, since God has created us, it is certain that he cannot hate us. But since mankind is utterly marred and given over to all evil, God must needs be as a mortal enemy to us and as an adversary against us, till the remembrance of our sins is buried out of his sight. For we are worthy of eternal death till we are restored again, because God, being the fountain of all justice and righteousness, must detest the evil that he sees in us. Therefore, until such time as our sins are blotted out, it is impossible for us to hope that God should either favour or love us.
But let us notice here how St. Paul uses two words to express how we are reconciled to God. First, he sets down the ransom or redemption, which amounts to the same thing, and afterwards he sets down the forgiveness of sins. How then does it come about that God’s wrath is pacified, that we are made at one with him, and that he even accepts and acknowledges us as his children It is by the pardoning of our sins, says St. Paul. And furthermore, because pardon necessitates redemption he yokes the two together.
The truth is that, in respect of us, God blotted out our sins of his own free goodness and shows himself altogether bountiful, and does not look for any payment for it at our hands. And, in fact, what man is able to make satisfaction for the least fault that he has committed If every one of us, therefore, should employ his whole life in making satisfaction for any one fault alone, and by that means seek to win favour at God’s hand, it is certain that such a thing far surpasses all our abilities. And therefore God must necessarily receive us to mercy without looking for any recompence or satisfaction at our hands. But, for all this, the atonement, which is freely bestowed in respect of us, cost the Son of God very dear. [I Pet. 1:19] For he found no other payment than the shedding of his own blood, so that he made himself our surety both in body and soul, and answered for us before God’s judgment to win absolution for us. Our Lord Jesus Christ (I say) entered into the work, both body and soul. For it would not have been enough for him to have suffered so cruel and ignominious a death in the sight of men, but it was necessary for him also to bear such horrible anguish in himself, as if God had become his judge, for he gave himself up in the behalf of sinners to make full satisfaction. And so you see why St. Paul has joined those two words together in this passage.
Therefore we have to observe, first of all, that we can obtain no grace at God’s hand, nor be received by him, till our sins are wiped out and the remembrance of them completely erased. The reason for this is (as I said before) that God must hate sin where-ever he sees it. So then, as long as he considers us as sinners, he must needs abhor us, for there is nothing in us or in our own nature but all manner of evil and confusion. We are, then, enemies to him, and he is contrary to us, till we come to this remedy that St. Paul shows us here, which is, to have our sins forgiven. We see by this that no man can be loved by God because of any worthiness that is in himself. For wherein lies the love that God bears us I have told you already that he must be willing to cast his eye upon our Lord Jesus Christ and not look at us at all. But yet it is further declared that we are not acceptable to God until he has released us from our debts and adopted us, in spite of the fact that we are worthy of death before him. Thus you see that the knowledge of our salvation (as it is said in the song of Zacharias) is that God is merciful to us and forgives us our sins by reason of which we are his enemies [Luke 1:77].
Let us also bear in mind, however, that the full remission of our sins through God’s free goodness, is not given without the ransom that was paid by our Lord Jesus Christ, not in gold or silver (as St. Peter says in his first epistle, 1:18), but it was necessary that he who was the spotless Lamb should give himself for that purpose. Wherefore, whenever we intend to seek God’s favour and mercy, let us fasten the whole of our minds on the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may there find the means by which to appease God’s wrath. And, furthermore, seeing that our sins are done away by such payment and satisfaction, let us understand that we cannot bring anything of our own by which to be reconciled to God. And, in this, we see how the devil has, by his craft, cut off all hope of salvation from the world, by causing it to be believed that every man must ransom himself and make his own atonement with God. And that is the very thing which men call good works, merits, and virtues in the papacy. For to what end are all the inventions that they have forged directed? Why do they go on tormenting themselves in all sorts of ways, so that a man never ceases day or night, but makes endless circuits and harangues. The object of all these performances is to pacify God. And so all the good works which are thus counted in papistry are nothing else but means by which to make satisfaction for sins.
But that is simply to bring to nought the ransom of which St. Paul speaks here. For there is, so to speak, an inseparable bond between these two things, namely, that God puts our sins out of his remembrance and drowns them in the depths of the sea, and, moreover, receives the payment that was offered him in the person of his only Son. Therefore we cannot obtain the one without the other. If, then, we wish to find God propitious, let us realize that we are his enemies till he has pardoned all our debts of his own free goodness, and, further, that our Lord Jesus Christ had to step in between him and us. [se constitue là au milieu (Fr.)] For the sacrifice of his death serves to purchase an everlasting atonement for us, so that we must always flee to it for refuge.
It is true that the whole life of our Lord Jesus Christ has become our ransom, for the obedience which he yielded in this world to God his Father was to make amends for Adam’s offence and for all the iniquities for which we are in debt. But St. Paul speaks here expressly of his blood, because we are obliged to resort to his death and passion as to the sacrifice which has power to blot out all our sins. And for that reason, God has set forth in types under the law that men could not be reconciled to him except by that means.
Now it is true that Jesus Christ not only shed his blood, even in his death, but also experienced the fears and terrors which ought to have rested upon us. But St. Paul here under one particular comprehends the whole, in the manner common to holy Scripture. In short, let us learn to find all our righteousness in God’s showing of himself merciful towards us of his own free goodness, and let us not presume to put before him any virtue of our own to put him in our debt, but let it be sufficient for us that he receives us freely into his love without any worthiness on our part, but only because the remembrance of our sins is buried out of his sight. And again, let us understand that the same cannot be done but by the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that is where we must wholly rest.
Next, St. Paul adds that ‘all is done according to the riches of God’s grace.’ Not without reason does he here magnify God’s mercy which he displays in receiving us to favour. For we see on the one hand how men wilfully deceive themselves through their foolish self-conceit. For most men have always imagined that they might make their own atonement with God by their own satisfactions, and I know not what subterfuges besides. Seeing, then, that men are so far deceived in their own imaginations, St. Paul, to exclude all that, says that we must be ravished by the riches of God’s grace. He could have said simply that God does all according to his grace, but he sets down here great treasures so that men should not be so foolish as to bring, as it were, only a farthing when their needs run to a million crowns. And, in fact, when the papists speak about their satisfactions, they say, not that they are able to do it sufficiently in all points, but that they are of the opinion that with the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ they will also bring something of their own, and will do so much by bits and pieces that God will be satisfied and appeased. Thus you see what a devilish opinion reigns in papistry, for they rest upon masses, they babble many prayers, they gad about on pilgrimage, they keep this feast and that feast, they perform I know not what devotions, they wear hair-shirts according to requirements—all this to supplement the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, as if it were not all-sufficient.
But St. Paul tells us that God’s goodness, as it is shown us in Jesus Christ, is so great a treasure that all other things must give place and be thrust under foot. And seeing that God displays such great bounty that we ought to be wholly ravished by it, is it not outrageous presumption when we would bring our own paltry trash, as though our going on pilgrimage and our performance of some other devotions were of any value or good? Is it not as though the blood of Jesus Christ were not a sufficient price, I say, a sufficient price and ransom for our salvation? You see then, on the one hand, how St. Paul here meant to cut off all occasions of the vain imaginations that men conceive in supposing themselves able to appease God’s wrath by their satisfactions and payments, and, on the other hand, how he purposed to succour our weakness. For although we are inclined to believe wonders about our own virtues and to make ourselves believe that God is greatly under obligation to us, nevertheless, when it comes to calling upon God in real earnest and to putting our trust in him, then if Satan urge us to despair and we are tossed about with troubles and temptations, we are so dismayed that all the promises of the holy Scripture and all that is said to us about the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot give us any hope. St. Paul. therefore, to remedy this vice of unbelief which is too deeply rooted in us, here sets before us the great treasures of God’s goodness, so that all the self-conceit we can conceive may be, as it were, swallowed up, seeing that God vouchsafes to show such great abundance of kindness towards us.
And, on this account, he adds that ‘he hath made the same grace to abound towards us in all wisdom and understanding.’ By these words he gives us to understand by what means we come to possess that which he specified before. Behold, all our happiness and all our sovereign welfare consists in being reconciled to God, so that he may acknowledge us as his children, and that it may be lawful for us to call upon him as our Father with full liberty. But how shall we obtain that from which we are so far removed? It is said that although we are worth nothing, indeed can do nothing, yet we shall find in Jesus Christ all things which are lacking in ourselves, and that his death and passion will be a sufficient sacrifice to put away the remembrance of all our misdeeds.
However, does it therefore follow that all men are partakers of this benefit purchased for us by our Lord Jesus Christ? No, for unbelievers have neither part nor lot in it. It is, then, a special privilege for those whom God gathers to himself. St. Paul also shows us that faith is essential or Christ will profit us nothing [Gal. 5:4]. Although, then, Christ is in a general view the Redeemer of the world, yet his death and passion are of no advantage to any but such as receive that which St. Paul shows here. And so we see that when we once know the benefits brought to us by Christ, and which he daily offers us by his gospel, we must also be joined to him by faith. For the Jews, Turks and Papists, and all such like, are cut off and estranged from Christ and rot away in their own corruption, because they presume to work wonders of themselves. For it is a common principle among the Papists, Jews, Turks and all the heathen that ever were, that they must appease God’s wrath. And how? By a great variety of means of their own devising, and of every man’s imagining in his own brain. Such men, therefore, have no part in Christ. Wherefore, if faith is the key that opens the door to enjoy the treasure of which St. Paul has just spoken, then that is how we shall be made as rich as is necessary for our salvation, so that we shall not lack anything if we are joined to Christ by faith.
Nevertheless, it is not without cause that St. Paul has here set down these two words, ‘wisdom’ and ‘understanding’. For they show us that the learning of the gospel is enough to bring us to all perfection, and that whatever is added over and above that, is but dung, filth, and rottenness. In brief, St. Paul’s designation of the gospel by those two honourable terms is in order that every man should quietly give ear to that which God teaches him by means of his only Son, and that we should be so teachable that we do not presume to know anything but that which comes out of his mouth, but that in all simplicity we receive whatever he says and persevere in the same though the whole world despise us and all men set themselves against us. Let us not prize the world’s subtleties, as many men do who have itching ears and are always wanting to hear some new thing. Therefore, in order that we may not be thus lightheaded, or possessed by the foolish desire of knowing more than is lawful, let us note carefully how St. Paul says here that if we have once profited by the gospel, we shall find there all the fulness of wisdom, so that we may reject all other things, not only as needless, but also as harmful, because by them we shall be turned from the pure doctrine by which it is God’s will to have us joined to him. To sum up, St. Paul meant to show here that God does us an inestimable favour when he vouchsafes to call us to the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, his only Son, and that when we have him, we must despise all other things and not be troubled with a foolish desire to know this and that, because (as I have already said) the full perfection of all our knowledge is to know our Lord Jesus Christ.
And now you see also why it was said to the Colossians that he (Paul) had been a faithful teacher, even to bring men to the perfection of wisdom. [Col. 1:25] He confesses indeed that he was rough and homely in speech [2 Cor. 11:6], and that he had neither the wisdom nor the eloquence that was highly commended in the world; but still, he declares that if his doctrine were received, it would be found full of substance for the full nourishment of men's souls, and that nothing more needs to be added to it. When we hear these things nowadays, we must take warning to restrain ourselves and to repress the vast and foolish curiosity that is rooted too deeply in us, so that we may cling to the pure doctrine of the gospel and rest wholly on it. Thus you see, in effect, what we have to gather from this passage.
Furthermore, let us note that which I have touched on already, namely, that as often as the gospel is preached, so often is God’s grace poured out upon us. If we acknowledge his goodness and generosity which he causes us to discern by his watering of the earth that it should yield us fruits for the nourishment of our bodies, much more may we understand that when God sends us the word of salvation, he not only waters us for the health of our souls, but also causes us to drink so deeply that we can be completely satisfied. For St. Paul does not think it enough to say that, being unfruitful, we have some refreshment by the gospel but he says that it is as if God should pour down abundance of water upon us, and that we might be so watered and refreshed with it that we might thereby gather sustenance and vigour to endure to the end. And so you see how much we ought to value God’s goodness when he vouchsafes to draw us to himself by means of his gospel, and that also by this means we should enter into possession of the benefits purchased for us by our Lord Jesus Christ, as he offers them to us by his Word and will have us also to receive them by faith.
Now, for a larger exposition of the matter, he immediately adds that God’s so doing is ‘because he has manifested the secret of his will to us, even according to his own good pleasure which he purposed before in himself.’ Here is another thing which ought to amplify the worth of the gospel even more, namely, that in it we have the secrets that were hidden previously in God. And it is not here only that St. Paul speaks after this manner, but we shall see an even fuller treatment of it in the second chapter. And not only in this Epistle, but also everywhere else, he shows how we ought to be, as it were, ravished when the gospel is preached, because God there opens the things that were incomprehensible to all men before, and which no man would ever have believed or conceived. For he seemed to have chosen only the line of Abraham in such a way as if he had rejected all the rest of the world. Therefore it was a wonderful thing when he poured out his grace upon all men in common. [Rom. 16:25; 1Cor. 2:7; 4:1; Eph. 6:19; Col. 1:29] Yet we know that when Jesus Christ came into the world these very same people were wholly degenerate, and God’s doctrine was so corrupted that there was nothing but superstition among the Jews. It seemed then that all was past hope of recovery when suddenly, beyond the expectation of all men, salvation was offered to all nations. Behold, Christ who had before been hidden in deep obscurity, and even in such deep obscurity that there was no hope that he should ever come out of it, rose up as the sun of righteousness to give light to the world. [Mal. 4:2]
For this reason therefore St. Paul says that in the gospel we know the secret of God’s will. It is true that at first sight there seemed to be nothing but simplicity in the gospel. And that is the reason also why many scoffers think that the things which are contained in the gospel are only for idiots, and they pride themselves that they are able to devise many more subtle things in their own dreams than in all the doctrine of Jesus Christ. But such people are unworthy to taste of that which is shown us here, for their pride utterly blinds them and makes them complete fools. Be that as it may, however, the faithful quite clearly perceive that there is a divine majesty in the doctrine of the gospel. And for that reason, St. Paul gives us to understand in this same passage that our coming to it must not be to learn any common thing, but to be raised above the world. For we shall never be teachable before God, nor ever be prepared to benefit in his school, unless we rise above the world and reverence the things that God speaks with his own holy mouth. In short, the beginning and door of our faith is humility. But how can men really humble themselves, unless they know that the things which God tells them far surpass their own intelligence and capacity. You see then that the thing at which St. Paul aimed is that we should reverence the gospel, assuring ourselves that it is not for us to judge whether God has spoken well or ill. For we must be fully persuaded that all that ever comes from him is infinite wisdom, even such wisdom as is utterly faultless. Therefore, so that all boasting in our selves may be beaten down, and that we learn to reverence soberly and modestly the doctrine preached to using God’s name, St. Paul has purposely set down this secret.
Now, in order that we should know how much we are indebted to God, he repeats this expression, ‘according to his good pleasure’, which he had set down before. And that is done to put away and to shut out all opinion which men might conceive of their own worthiness. For God’s good pleasure can have no place unless men are barred from all deserving and come to him utterly empty. For as soon as we presume to bring anything at all to God, surely it is a putting forward of ourselves to the obscuring of God’s grace so that it no longer has its beauty and pre-eminence as it ought. Therefore, in order that men should refrain from all vain confidence, St. Paul sends us back again to God’s good pleasure, as if he should say that there was no other cause of the preaching of the gospel to the world than the generous and free goodness of God. However, to repress all the audacity of men, he adds that ‘God had purposed the said decree and the said high incomprehensible counsel of his will, beforehand in himself.’ For what is the reason why many men take such great liberty in questioning, disputing, and pleading against God, but because, as it seems to them, they are dealing with matters which ought to be open and well-known to them. So then, perceiving us to be so foolish and rash as to presume to enquire into God’s counsel, St. Paul says that it is a sealed letter, that God has his counsel in himself, and that it is not lawful for creatures to rise so high. If they do so, it is the surest way to ruin themselves and to break their necks.
It is true that we may well apply all our endeavour to know God’s will, but we must proceed no further than he has revealed in his Word, for his Word is our light. But where God holds his peace, he will have us rein ourselves in and, as it were, be captives, and not go on any further, for if we would try to know more than is granted us, that is to say, more than we ought to know and more than is imparted to us by his Word, it would be only entering further and further into a labyrinth, or rather, into the bottom of hell. Therefore let us note well that St. Paul’s meaning in this text is that whenever God keeps his purpose to himself, it becomes us to bow our heads and keep ourselves content to be ignorant of it. For it is a cursed wisdom and such a wisdom as sends us to the pit of hell when we presume to know more than God has taught us. And, on the contrary, we are wiser in our ignorance than all the wise men of the world, when we do not take it upon ourselves to know anything beyond where God’s Word guides and governs us.
It is true that there is only one single and simple will in God. But he declares it to us according to our capacity and so far as it is expedient and profitable for us. As we have seen, the forgiveness of sins is a matter that we cannot pass over, and therefore Zacharias calls it the knowledge of salvation. Again, it is necessary for us to know where the forgiveness of our sins is to be looked for. For if we do not have Jesus Christ, we still remain enemies of God [Luke 1:77], we have no atonement, neither have we rest in ourselves, and God’s judgment must trouble us; but Jesus Christ is our peace. Furthermore, when we know the things witnessed to us by God’s Word, we must at the same time reverence the mysteries that are hidden from us, as has been said already and must be said again when we come to deal with God’s election. And St. Paul once again sets down here the word ‘foreordaining’, to show that God has predestinated us before the creation of the world, and yet the same was hidden. Yes, verily, but it is now declared to us, he says. Thus you see, in effect, that what we have to bear in mind is that we are not called to the knowledge of the gospel through our own skill, nor by putting ourselves forward, nor by making God indebted to us by any virtue; but God of his own infinite goodness has been pleased to enlighten us. And he has not done it because it suddenly came into his mind to do it, like men who make resolves on the spur of the moment, but because he had thus determined it in his own counsel, even before all time.
And if our spirits fidget and provoke us to be inquisitive and to say, How so? Has God elected us beforehand? And why then did he not show it to us sooner? How is it that it was not perceived before now ?—so that we should not be so rash, St. Paul says that this purpose was, so to speak, locked up in God, till it was disclosed to us. And so, to be brief, it is not lawful for us to know any more than is announced to us in the gospel; and, furthermore, we are required to reverence it. And for this reason, it is added that this was done in order to the dispensing of the truth in the fulness of time.
Now by this St. Paul shows that men may well torment themselves, but they shall fall short of their purpose, and all their thoughts and imaginations shall fail them if they go on seeking to know more than God has given them permission to know. For if any man demands why God has not been in much greater haste in the matter, he shows that he would be wiser than God. And is not that a devilish pride? Is the creature worthy to be supported by the earth when he raises himself so high? For this reason St. Paul says that the ordering of things belongs to God. For if a man in his own house may say, I will have my people to be provided for thus, I will have them drink such a beverage, I will have them eat a certain kind of bread, I will have them to sleep after this manner; how much more ought we to let God do so, for why should he have less privilege than worms of the earth? Therefore, let us give God leave to dispose of his church and of the salvation of his elect as seems good to him. And so for the time, let us receive as fully sufficient that which it shall please him to show us. For it is not for us to be judges or umpires in this case, to measure the times, years, months, or days, but it ought to content us that God desires to have it so.
Some man will argue the case and say, ‘What! four thousand years passed between the fall of Adam and the coming of Christ, and could not God have put the matter right by sending the Redeemer of the world sooner? Look what a number of wretched people wandered away in darkness; look at the destruction of mankind by a deluge that engulfed all things, and yet, in the meanwhile, Jesus Christ was hidden. Besides this, a small number of men tasted of him only by types and shadows. For there were none but the Jews, who waited for the Redeemer, who obtained salvation through him, and yet even they had to use calves and sheep and other brute beasts to assure themselves of the forgiveness of their sins and that God was propitious to them’.
If a man asks how this comes to pass, let us have recourse to that which is said here in a word, namely, that the time was not yet fully come. And why? Because God had so ordained it. And this is exactly the same thing that we have seen already in the Epistle to the Galatians, where St. Paul put down all the foolish speculations by which men go astray in wanting to raise themselves higher than is lawful for them [4:3]. Therefore, let us conclude that it is God’s peculiar office to appoint times and seasons, and that we must not regard any other to be the appointed time than that which he ordains. For even though winter and summer are usually with us every year, yet if summer arrives rather late, we must check ourselves and not murmur against God. We may well say, Alas, if it pleased God to send us heat it would be most welcome. But yet, in the meanwhile, we must be fully persuaded thus—it is for God to govern, and all sovereignty and authority belong to him.
If we ought to behave ourselves so modestly in respect of the order of nature which is common among us, and in which God shows himself to us in a familiar way, what ought we to do when we come to the question of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, the eternal salvation of our souls and this high mystery that the Son of God has come to restore things which were lost and perished. Does it not become us to abase ourselves in that case, and humbly to receive whatever God tells us, and to know what he approves.
Thus you see why St. Paul spoke here expressly of the fulness of time, as if he should say that we can never profit in the gospel till we yield God so much honour as to content ourselves with his will alone, so that we do not come forward to reply against him, nor face him with our wrangling, but glorify him by acknowledging his counsel to be the rule of all wisdom, of all right, and of all equity.
And to show this the better, St. Paul adds immediately that it was ‘to gather all things together both in heaven and in earth, by Jesus Christ, in himself’. As for this word ‘gather’, St. Paul meant to show us thereby how we are all of us in a state of dreadful dissipation, till such time as our Lord Jesus Christ restores us. And this has reference not only to us, but also to all other creatures. In brief, it is as though he had said that the whole order of nature is as good as defaced, and all things decayed and disordered by the sin of Adam till we are restored in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. For although we see God’s wonderful wisdom, power, goodness, justice, and righteousness in all creatures, nevertheless there are marks of sin both high and low, and all creatures are subject to corruption, and all is disordered because God hates and rejects us [Rom. 8:22]. The restoration has therefore to be made by Jesus Christ. And that is what is meant by the gathering together of which St. Paul speaks here, in order that we should learn to hate ourselves and to be ashamed of the confusion that is in ourselves and with which the whole world is filled through our sinful life; and, moreover, learn also to magnify God’s goodness so much the more. On the one hand, then, the Holy Ghost warns us in this text not only that we ourselves are in a state of dissipation, but also that we have brought the whole world to the same state and keep it there daily by our sins, and that there is no other remedy but for Jesus Christ to repair everything and make such a gathering and union that we may be joined again to our God.
That then is the first point we have to note in this passage. It is true that this thing is said in few words, but it needs to be pondered at greater length. For it is the thing about which we ought to be employed both early and late, that when we look at ourselves we might think in this way—Who are you, O wretched creature? For you see you are separated from your God even from your birth. Look, you are his enemy and inheritor of his wrath, and furthermore, there is nothing in yourself which does not tend to evil and perverseness. You ought not only to feel this disorder in your own person, but also to perceive that everything else is out of order throughout the whole world because of your perverseness.
Therefore, let us abase ourselves and be ashamed, and at the same time confess how much we are indebted to God for his vouchsafing to gather us together in the person of his only Son— even us who have so torn to pieces the things he had set in such good order.
And for the same reason, St. Paul speaks here not only of men, who were estranged from God before by reason of sin, but also of ‘all things that are in heaven and earth’, in which he includes even the very angels [Col. 1:20]. For although God’s glory shines forth in them and they were never separated from him, nevertheless they needed to be gathered together by our Lord Jesus Christ, and that for two reasons. For although they never strayed, nor fell from what they were in their origin, and God’s righteousness always shows itself in them, so much so that they are, as it were, mirrors and patterns of it, nevertheless if God had willed to look upon them with severity, they would have found themselves far short of the perfection of righteousness that is in him, as it is said in the book of Job [4:18].
Furthermore, there is still one other reason to be linked with this, which is, that the angels should not have had such constancy and steadiness as was requisite, unless Jesus Christ had so established them that they might never fall. Thus you see one way in which they were gathered together. But this gathering of which St. Paul speaks here is with regard to their being united again with us. For we know that since we were banished out of God’s kingdom, we were cut off from all hope of salvation, so that the angels were immediately obliged to become our enemies, and would be so still, were it not for the conjunction we have with them by means of the Head who is common to us both.
And here you see also why in the ladder that was shown to Jacob, it is said that God stood upon the top of it and touched both heaven and earth, and that the angels went up and down on it [Gen. 28:12]. Now our Lord Jesus Christ is the true living and eternal God who touches both heaven and earth, because in his person God has joined his own divine essence and the nature of man together. Thus, therefore, you see that heaven is open so that the angels begin to acquaint themselves with us, and even to become our servants, as is said in the Epistle to the Hebrews [1:14], because the care of our souls is committed to them and (as is said in the thirty-fourth Psalm) they encamp about us and watch, and are our guardians. You see then how we are united again to the angels of paradise by our Lord Jesus Christ. And that is the reason also why he said ‘From henceforth you shall see the heavens open and the Son of Man coming down in his majesty with his angels’ [John 1:51]. By which he gives us to understand that heaven was shut against us and that we also were unworthy to find any favour at God’s hand, but that now he is come to be our Head and has made the atonement between his Father and us, and taken upon him the office of mediator and is become the Head not only of the faithful, but also of the angels, and has gathered all together again in such a way that, whereas the devils make war against us and cease not to plot our destruction, the angels are armed with infinite power to uphold us [Col. 2:10]. And although we do not see them with our eyes, yet we must certainly believe that they watch for our salvation.
Otherwise, what would happen? For we know that the devil is as a roaring lion and seeks nothing else but to devour us [1Pet. 5:8]. We see what a number of wiles he has with which to surround us. The angels, then, have need of an infinite power to defend us. It is also necessary that we be kept under the protection of our Lord Jesus Christ who is both their Head and ours. Thus you see briefly that the thing which St. Paul meant to tell us in this text where he says we are gathered together again, is that we were scattered beforehand, and that we are not only reconciled to God by the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, but also we are now joined once again to the angels, so that they have become our brethren and companions, and God has given them charge to guide and uphold us in all our ways and to watch over us and to be in continual battle for the withstanding of all the enemies that make war against us till we are gathered all together into the rest of heaven [Psa. 91:13].
Now let us cast ourselves down before the majesty of our good God with acknowledgement of our faults, praying him so to make us feel them that it may draw us to true repentance and make us to continue the same all the time of our life, and that at the same time we may not cease to trust in him and to offer ourselves boldly in his fight, since our sins are blotted out by the blood that was shed for the washing of them, and that we may so conform ourselves to this doctrine that we may all the time of our life acknowledge that seeing he has purchased us at such a price, we ought to give ourselves wholly to his service; and since he has shown himself so good a Redeemer towards us, we may not doubt that he will continue his goodness from day to day to the final completion of the thing he has begun, and strengthen us in all assaults till he has delivered us from the cruelty of Satan and of all his supporters, yes and clean taken us out of the world to make us partakers of the happy blessedness unto which he calls us.
And may it please him to grant this grace not only to us, but also to all people and nations.
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