The Sixth Sermon on the First Chapter
by John Calvin
‘For this cause I also, having heard of the faith which ye have in Jesus Christ, and of the love which you have towards all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, should give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, to have knowledge of him, that is to say, to have the eyes of your mind enlightened, that you might understand what is the hope of his calling which ye ought to have, and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance among the saints.’
We have seen already how St. Paul brought the Ephesians not only to the chief but also to the only cause of their salvation, and showed that they must attribute the whole of it to God without mixing with it any foolish pride, as if from their side they themselves had contributed to God’s grace which they had received, either by their free will or by any good intention in them. St. Paul therefore has shown, in effect, that not only the Ephesians to whom he spoke, but also they that had been God’s church beforehand, ought without exception to confess that all their welfare proceeded from God’s free goodness alone, not only because they were all redeemed by means of our Lord Jesus Christ, but also because he had called them to the belief of the gospel, in accordance with his election of them before the creation of the world.
And now he endorses all this doctrine by the witness he bears as before God, in that he magnifies his goodness even when he is separated, as it were, from man’s eye and from the sight of all witnesses. Now it is true the doctrine of the gospel ought not to be the less esteemed when it is preached and published openly before the whole world, but yet it behoves him who tells it to have it thoroughly imprinted on his heart and to say the same thing to himself, and before God and his angels, which he speaks before men; for otherwise it would merely be a jangle, or rather a profaning of God’s Word, if a man should step up into the pulpit to talk like an angel, but, at the same time, not be affected in heart, nor be persuaded of that which he speaks. It would be better for a man to be drowned a hundred times than for him to bear the most excellent testimony everywhere to salvation and to God’s truth and, at the same time, not be so persuaded in himself of the thing that he preaches, that God and his angels might know that he has the same thing imprinted on his heart.
Therefore, it is not without reason that, after St. Paul has preached God’s free goodness in electing whom he pleased, and in calling them to the knowledge of his gospel when he had elected them, and in confirming them with his strong hand, and in giving them invincible constancy and steadfastness when he had called them, he now adds that God knows his witnessing to it to be sincere and in good earnest. For he bears testimony here concerning the prayers which he makes alone, when no man could know his thought or what he says and utters with his mouth, that even then he confesses the same doctrine before God, since he prays him to vouchsafe to finish what he has begun.
Here, therefore, we have to observe, first of all, that those who intend their labour to be profitable to the edifying of the church, and those who have true zeal, must not only give themselves to teaching, but also, at the same time, pray God to work with them by his power and grace. For often it happens that we simply beat the air [battre l’eau (Fr.) (beat the water)] (even though we have the tongues of angels) because we do not pray God to further the doctrine that we preach. For of ourselves we are but unprofitable instruments, and when he has given us utterance, he must also make it effectual, in accordance with the saying that he who plants is nothing and he who waters is nothing, but it is God that gives the increase. [I Cor. 3:7] Seeing it is so, let such as have the charge of teaching God’s church walk in fear and with care, and not only endeavour to win men to God, but also humbly acknowledge that they can do nothing of themselves and that they would only be making a noise in the air, which would soon die away, if God did not work with them by the secret power of his Spirit. That, therefore, is what we have to call to mind from the words St. Paul speaks here.
But every one of us ought also to apply it generally to his own life. Therefore when we come to be taught God’s Word, or when any one of us reads it by himself, let us not imagine our minds to be so discerning that we are able sufficiently to understand whatever the Scripture tells us, but let us acknowledge our own lack of understanding and pray God to make his doctrine prevail with us in such a way that it may not slip from us. But this will be perceived the better by the procedure St. Paul follows here, if we weigh carefully all the words he uses.
He says that ‘he yields thanks unto God without end or ceasing’ for the faith which he heard to be in the church at Ephesus, ‘and for their love towards the saints’; and yet, even so, he continues his prayer to God that he would enlighten them more and more and bring them to the perfection which all the faithful ought to labour to attain, until God has taken them out of this world. Now in that he says that he does not cease to give thanks to God, we see, by his example, how the faithful ought to spend their time. For, in very deed, the chief sacrifice God requires and approves is that we should honour him for all his benefits, and yield him his deserved praise for them. And it is not to be thought that that can be done in fits and starts (as you would say); but as God, on his part, does not cease to pour out his benefits endlessly, so it is also fitting for every one of us to strive to bless and praise him without ceasing. For St. Paul speaks here without pretence, and when he blessed God for the Ephesians, he meant as much for all other churches. How unkind it would then be, if a man should think nothing at all of the benefits he has received at God’s hand! We are all of us bound to praise God for our neighbours. If we hear it reported that God has prospered his church, or showed mercy to his people three hundred leagues away, and, to be brief, if we hear of anything that ought to make us glad, it is necessary for our mouths to be open to praise God for it.
Now if we are bound to do this for the benefits we do not see but which our neighbours feel, though they are distant from us in far countries, what is to be thought of us when God fills our mouths (as it is said in the Psalms [Ps. 145:16] ) and yet, meanwhile, we have no intention at all of giving him thanks And we have to note further, that if we are bound to praise God for our meat and drink and for all the things that belong to this transitory life, he binds us to him beyond all compare when he calls us to the heavenly heritage and when he blesses and enriches us with spiritual gifts of grace, which serve to lead us much further than this world. Seeing then that God displays such bountifulness towards us, what excuse can we have if we do not follow the example shown us here by St. Paul, which is that our whole life long we must occupy ourselves continually in praising the name of God.
Now, with all this, he shows that faith and love are the very gifts of God and do not come from ourselves, as men always imagine through a devilish pride. I told you before that St. Paul did not play the hypocrite in giving thanks to God for the faith and love of the Ephesians. If every man was able to believe and have faith of his own accord, or could get it by some power of his own, the praise for it ought not to be given to God. For it would be but mockery to acknowledge ourselves indebted to him for what we have obtained, not from him, but from elsewhere. But here St. Paul blesses God’s name for enlightening the Ephesians in the faith and for framing their hearts to make them loving. It is to be concluded, therefore, that everything comes from God.
The heathen, bringing in their own freewill, thought themselves under no obligation at all to God, except for their good luck, as they called it; for they imagined they had all things by their own power and skill. The papists also will readily grant that God’s grace must necessarily help us in part, but, for all that, they will still have man exalted and to attain to faith by his own doings. Here St. Paul excludes all these devilish opinions and shows (as we have seen before) that whenever there is any church in the world, or any people to call upon him who are settled and grounded upon the beliefs of the gospel, God deserves to have all the glory for it. And why Because his hand must have been at work in that case, because men would never be disposed to any goodness if they were not guided and directed to it, and even forcibly drawn to it by the Holy Spirit. For there is so much rebellion in us that we are not only weak and feeble, as the papists imagine, but also utterly contrary to God until he has cleansed us. And this is what he means, in saying by his prophet Ezekiel that the hearts which were formerly of stone shall be changed into hearts of flesh, which means that he will soften them and cause them to bow in submission to him.
Furthermore, under these two words, faith and love, St. Paul has comprehended the whole perfection of Christians. For the mark at which the first table of the law aims is that we should worship one God only and cling to him for all things, acknowledging ourselves to be so indebted to him, that we ought to flee to him alone for all refuge and endeavour to spend our whole life in his service. That is the sum of the first table of the law. The contents of the second are nothing else but that we should live together in equity and uprightness, and deal in such a way with our neighbours that we strive to help all men without hurting any man. And we are sure that God has set forth so good and perfect a rule of good life in his law that nothing can be added to it.
Seeing this is so, it is not without reason that, in this place, St. Paul here sets down faith in Jesus Christ and love as a summary of the whole of the Christian life, showing to what we ought to be conformed and what is our standard. But, at the same time, we must also note that under this word ‘faith’, he comprehends the whole service of God. For it is impossible that, once being acquainted with his goodness as he has shown it to us in the person of his only Son, we should not be totally ravished in love to our heavenly Father. Behold, God draws us out of the pit of confusion and death and opens to us the gate of the heavenly kingdom, and tells us that he will take us for his children. How can we hear and believe this without being wholly given to him, forsaking the world, and hating the evil that is in ourselves, because it separates us from him. You see then how the word ‘faith’ means a yielding of ourselves wholly to God.
Again, faith is not an idle thing. It implies that we should resort to God, and that whenever we are stained with any spot, we should pray him to remedy it, for every need we encounter is meant to be as the pricking with a spur given to us by God to make us come to him. Faith, therefore, involves prayer and supplication. Indeed, it implies that we cannot but hallow the name of God by resting ourselves upon him and by yielding him all the glory that belongs to him, when we know that he gives us all things of his liberality, looking for nothing from our hands except the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Thus you see how faith involves all that is contained in the first table of the law.
It is true that the part is put for the whole. It must be remembered, however, that the things of which we have spoken cannot be put asunder. Now then we must live uprightly and justly with our neighbours, as it is said in the fifteenth Psalm [vv. 2, 3], that we are indebted to God for all things, and that we cannot yield him any recompence in exchange. Indeed when we have striven to the utmost to give him anything, all we can do is neither here nor there [ni chaud ni froid (Fr.) (neither hot nor cold)] to him. What does he require then? That we should be given to doing good to his poor faithful people, according as St. Paul also mentions the saints expressly in this text.
It is true that we ought to practise love towards all men without exception, for we cannot be the children of God, who makes his sun shine on both good and bad, unless we love our enemies and strive to relieve and help them. That, therefore, is the mark at which we must aim. Nevertheless, this does not prevent us loving all God’s children with a brotherly love, because they are linked to us with a closer bond. That is the reason why it is said in the passage I referred to from the sixteenth psalm, as well as in this present one of St. Paul himself, that we ought to have love to all the faithful. In another place he discusses well the difficulty that may be seen here. For he commands us to have love to all men in general and chiefly to such as are of the household of faith [Gal. 6:10]. God, then, will have us become like himself and follow his example in doing good to all men, even to such as are not worthy of it, to such an extent that we should procure to the utmost of our power the welfare of those who seek nothing else but to put out our eyes.
Moreover, since God has stamped his image on all the faithful and commended them to us, he will have us bear a certain special brotherly love towards them. For God’s gifts are to be esteemed wherever they are seen, according to the fifteenth Psalm, [v. 4] where it is said that we must love such as fear God and abhor such as are wicked. Then, if we see the evidences God has put into his faithful people, by which he comes near them, is it not fitting that we also, on our part, should be stirred up to love them? In short, we see that St. Paul has comprehended here the whole rule of good and holy living, that is to say, that first of all we must hand ourselves over completely to our God to cling steadfastly to him; and, secondly, live honestly and uprightly with our neighbours, abstaining from all evil deeds and endeavouring to do good to all men, according to our strength and ability. And how may that come to pass? Even by knowing our heavenly Father and by acknowledging the infinite good he has done, and of which he vouchsafes to make us daily partakers, for the whole of our life depends upon him and he alone is the one to whom we look for everlasting salvation, calling upon him and yielding him thanks all our lives. So much, then, for the first point.
Moreover, with regard to the second point, it is not possible for us to love our neighbours, unless we also live soberly without showing any bad example, and pay such attention to our behaviour that no one may have cause for complaint. For what love is there in a whoremonger that endeavours to dishonour another man’s wife, or in a thief that seeks to steal another man’s goods? Again, seeing that our life ought to be guided with all honesty, whenever any man breaks out into drunkenness, blasphemy, or similar things, in so doing there cannot but be some troubling of poor people, some robbing them of their goods, or some wild running into all manner of extortions and excesses. So then, if we have love towards our neighbours, we shall live a sound and upright life with them and we shall rule it in such a way that we shall not busy ourselves about vain fancies, as we see the papists do; for they take great pains in their ceremonies, and they call it serving God to babble away, and to gad here and there on pilgrimage, and to do this and that, and, in the meanwhile, they swoon away in their own imaginations, and all for lack of knowing to what God calls them. Therefore, in order that we may not labour in vain, let us observe what God approves and let us hold ourselves to that. For we cannot go astray if we abide continually in the way, as he shows it to us by his Word, especially since he shows us in so brief a compass what is required for the leading of such a life as becomes us. For if the volumes were long and endless, we would excuse ourselves on the grounds that we were no great scholars and that we could not remember so many things. But now, seeing our Lord utters his whole demands in two or three words, we must grant that if we do not remember so short and concise and easy a lesson, we are too crafty and perverse, and wilfully stop our ears lest we hear what he says to us.
Finally, it is to be noted on this word ‘faith’, that St. Paul, not without reason, says, ‘faith in Jesus Christ’; for that is where we must look. The fathers of old always had the image of God before their eyes, for they must only offer sacrifice before his mercy-seat. They were not given any reason to hope that God would hear them, or would be merciful to them in any other way. Then they had the visible image of the ark of the covenant, but now we have Jesus Christ, the image of God, who is in himself invisible; [Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3] for not without reason St. Paul says that God is incomprehensible until he manifests himself in the person of his Son.
Therefore, since we have Jesus Christ, who is the express image of God, we must indeed look to him. And now you see also why it is said that he is the express sign of the power of God his Father. For although the persons are distinct, yet he represents to us what belongs and is requisite to our salvation, so that, in knowing the Son we know the Father also, as St. John says. [Jn. 5:23] And he that does not have the Son renounces the Father, however much he protests that he comes to him. So then, since it is said here that we must believe in Jesus Christ, let us take notice of the warning he gives to his disciples. ‘Do you believe in God ?’ he says, ‘believe also in me.’ [Jn. 14:1] There he shows that the ancient fathers who lived under the law, only had obscure teaching until the time he was manifested to the world. It is true that they worshipped the living God, and also that they had no access to him but by means of the mediator. However, that was only under shadows and types. Nor did they have any such light as we have nowadays under the gospel. And for that reason also I told you that Christ is called the image of God, who is of his own nature invisible, so that we could not know him unless he disclosed himself by such means.
In short, let us note that we do nothing else but wander about until we have our faith established in Jesus Christ. And this will be the better perceived by the errors in which the world has been steeped to this day. For the papists will protest enough that they believe in God; Turks and Jews do as much. It is true that the papists and the Jews seem to come nearest the truth, for the Jews protest that they worship the living God, even the same God that gave them his law by Moses. But what of that? At the same time they reject Jesus Christ, who is the end and substance of the law. As for the papists, although they profess Christianity and avow Jesus Christ to be their Saviour, yet it is obvious that they make war against him, since they have established a way of serving God to suit themselves, so that there is nothing but disorder in all their doings. As for the Turks, they can say well enough, ‘Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth’, but shall we think that God will renounce himself or retract that which he has said, which is, that no man can come to him but by his well-beloved Son, whom he has constituted mediator between himself and men? Again, we see how the papists will say well enough that they believe in God, but, at the same time, they insist on having patron saints and advocates to bring them into his presence. Again, it is not enough for them that they have been bought with the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; it is necessary for us to introduce our own merits, and redeem ourselves by our own satisfactions; and when we have offended God we must resort to such and such means. If, then, a man cares to examine the papists’ belief, he will surely find that they believe their own dreams and that all they ever do is but a bewildering labyrinth. For they mix whatever comes into their own heads with Jesus Christ, whereas we know that he ought to remain entirely by himself.
We see then how St. Paul leads us to the true test of our faith, which is by resting upon Jesus Christ, so that we feel ourselves utterly void of all goodness, and that we must draw from his fulness to be filled with all good things, or else woe will be to us. For if we had all the angels of paradise on our side (if it were possible), yet it is certain that there would be nothing but confusion, if we did not hold the Head, as St. Paul says in the first and second chapters of the Epistle to the Colossians. [1:18; 2:10] And so you see what we have to gather from this sentence.
Now, after St. Paul has said that he thanks God for the things that he saw already in the church of Ephesus, he adds that ‘he prays to him also’. This is to show that when we see God bestow his excellent gifts upon his children, we need to beseech him to continue and further them, and that for two reasons. For he that stands may happen to fall; and, again, God must increase his grace more and more. For even they that are the most perfect shall have reason to be ashamed, if they look thoroughly into their own poverty. You see, then, that that to which St. Paul brings us is that when we praise God for the gifts he has bestowed upon his elect, his children, we ought to link prayer with our thanksgiving. And why For it becomes him to perfect that which he has begun, and we must always take this ground—Lord, thou wilt not leave the work of thine own hands half done. [Ps. 138:8]
And the very thing we ought to do for others is also necessary for ourselves. In short, we are here exhorted to magnify God in such a way for his goodness and gifts which we already have, that we must perceive that there is still much that is lacking in us, and that it is necessary for us that he should give us perseverance to the end, and, moreover, that he should correct the rest of our faults and increase his grace in us until we are come to full perfection, which will only be when we are rid of this mortal body.
Yet, despite this, we see how Satan nowadays possesses such as surmise an infernal perfection, and make but the first three petitions to their Father, saying that it is enough to pray God that his name be hallowed, that his kingdom come, and that his will be done— and so they cut off all the rest of the prayer which our Lord Jesus Christ has left us. And in this matter I have the signature of their own hands, and that, their disciples know. By this those devils show that they must be utterly senseless, seeing they are carried so far away as to refuse to yield God this glory, that even now we are still charged with the burden of our infirmities, held down with many corruptions, surrounded with an abundance of vices, so that God must cleanse us from them more and more, even from day to day, until he has brought us to the perfection to which he calls us.
And it is all the more necessary for us carefully to note this doctrine because the papists are not as full with the errors of their superstitions and idolatries as these wretches are, who nowadays disseminate their poisons in their synagogues and hiding-places. But, be that as it may, let us note well what is shown us here by the Holy Spirit, when St. Paul says that he prays God. And why? I have told you already that the Ephesians had prospered and that the gifts of God and of his Holy Spirit were increased in them. He has shown that. Now, to conclude the matter, he says further that he prays God to give them that which they do not have, and which they still need. Since this is so, let us observe that the more we have prospered, the more reason we have to humble ourselves and, with all meekness, to beseech God to finish that which he has begun and to increase his gifts in us until we have no more need to go any further, which shall be at that meeting of which we shall speak very much more in the fourth chapter.
But now we must note well the words St. Paul uses. For he says, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, or the glorious Father (for the expression ‘Father of glory’ stands in the Hebrew language for ‘glorious Father’) ‘give you the spiritual revelation to have knowledge of him’. Now when St. Paul sends us here to Jesus Christ, saying that the God upon whom he calls is the same as he who is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, and even his Father too, it is to show the confidence he had of being heard, and that the Ephesians should be encouraged to follow the same method and rule of praying, and that when they have any occasion to come to God, they should take the same course that he did and keep to the straight path of coming to our Lord Jesus Christ.
But now if a man demand how God is above our Lord Jesus Christ, the question is easily resolved if we have an eye to the person of the mediator who is humbled in our place and condition to be the mediator between God and us. It is true that Jesus Christ is one with his Father, [Jn. 10:30] and when we speak of the living God, it is necessary for us to acknowledge that the whole fulness of the Godhead dwells in him. [Col. 2:9] Therefore, we must not set our Lord Jesus Christ apart, as though he were a new God and something other than he who was revealed to the fathers from the beginning (as some devils say nowadays, who have stirred up that stinking evil and abomination), but it is the very same God, the only God, who has shown himself to us in the person of the Father—so that we seek him in Jesus Christ. For in Jesus Christ we have to consider the office of middleman, [moyenneur (Fr.)] in that he so humbled himself. Not that he relinquished one whit of his majesty, nor that he was in any way cut short or diminished of his eternal glory. There was nothing of that. But for our sake he was humbled, [amoíndri (Fr.)] yes, and utterly emptied.[anéanti du tout (Fr.)] And we must not be ashamed to say that Jesus Christ was humbled, [amoíndri (Fr.)] seeing it is said that he was emptied, [anéanti du tout (Fr.)] for that is the very word that St. Paul uses to the Philippians. [Phil. 2:7] Therefore, when we speak of Jesus Christ as joined with us in order to bring us to his Father, so is he under God his Father, namely, with respect to the fact that he has taken our nature upon him and made himself our fellow.
And that also is the reason why he said to his disciples (as St. John reports in his twentieth chapter [v. 17]), ‘Go ye to my brethren and tell them, I go to my God and your God, to my Father and your Father.’ How amazing that Jesus Christ should join himself in such a way with his faithful people, that he said he will have the very same God as they. Yes indeed, but after what manner? For is he not God himself? Yes; but, since he is clothed with our flesh, and since he condescended to be made flesh in order that we might be members of his body, that is the reason why he has one God with us. And that is also the reason why the apostle applies this text of Isaiah to his person, ‘Lo, here am I with the servants which thou hast given me’; [Isa. 8:18; Heb. 2:13] so that Jesus Christ appears there as a captain that presents himself before his king and prince, saying, ‘Lo, here I am with the company of children which thou hast given me.’ Be that as it may, we see that Jesus Christ draws us to God his Father in order that we should go to him with complete trust and that he should receive us. For, otherwise, who is he that would dare to promise himself that his request would be heard What grace could we obtain if the gate were not opened to us by Jesus Christ and if he did not prove to be what he has claimed, namely, that he is the way? [Jn. 14:6]
However, so that we might know the better what need we have to be guided by our Lord Jesus Christ, St. Paul sets before us here the infinite glory of God. How dare we, then, be so bold as to present ourselves before God unless we have an advocate who obtains a way of access for us there? For if the sun dazzles men’s eyes, and the heat of it burns us, though we are very far off from it, what will become of us when we approach God For what has the sun, but a little power which he has breathed into it And must we not certainly be, as it were, consumed when we come to the incomprehensible majesty that is in God But yet, if we have Jesus Christ, we have to understand that God is not only the Father of glory, but also the Father of mercy, and that he looks with pity upon such as are most miserable and held in reproach and disdain by the world. This is what we ought to rest on in praying to God.
St. Paul prays God expressly here to give the Ephesians the spirit of wisdom and revelation. It is certain that God had already revealed to them the truth of his gospel, as we have seen. And, indeed, we could not have one single spark of faith, or of light, unless God had worked in us already, according to what is said to Peter in the sixteenth chapter of St. Matthew, [v. 17] ‘Flesh and blood hath not revealed these things unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.’ And yet for all this, Peter showed afterwards that he knew nothing of Christ’s spiritual kingdom. Although, then, he was just like a poor idiot at his A.B.C., yet it is testified of him that the small taste of the gospel that he had was a gift from heaven. By this we see how God has to increase his gift more and more in us, and in that respect our life is called a ‘way’, because we must always go forwards until our course is ended. And whoever imagines any perfection in this world is possessed by Satan, and utterly renounces God’s grace. Nevertheless, let us not imagine that God changes his purpose (for he is not variable), or allows his grace to be chopped up into bits and pieces at men’s pleasure, but he has appointed this order, that we should grow from day to day, and yet at the same time, learn in all soberness to acknowledge our shortcomings, and groan for them, and to afflict ourselves for them, and to hold ourselves in check.
You see then that these two things agree very well, namely, that the Ephesians had already received the spirit of revelation, and yet that they needed to have it given them by God. For although there is but one Spirit, yet are the gifts manifold, and they are distributed to every one of us in his measure, and as it pleases him to give them. There is none but Jesus Christ who has fully received them. He alone is the fountain that can never be drained dry. He it is upon whom God’s Spirit has rested in order that we should all be made partakers of him. And for our own part, let us acknowledge that the wisest of us have need always to be scholars, and still to learn even to our dying day. Now let us note that this word ‘revelation’ condemns the blindness which belongs to us all. For we have our eyes open to distinguish between white and black; we see the sun and the moon; we see the things of this world and are able to form judgments about them; we need no new revelation for that sort of thing, for we have it by nature. It is true that our eyes are instruments of God’s power and goodness by which he makes us enjoy the light, but that is something common to all. But here St. Paul shows us that we are blind and that we understand nothing of God’s spiritual grace, unless he opens our eyes and takes away the veil that is before them, and even gives us a new sight which we do not have. For our eyes are worse than put out until he enlightens them by his Holy Spirit. Thus, you see what we have to bear in mind.
And this is what he continues to deal with, namely (he says) ‘to have the eyes of your understanding enlightened.’ But a man might reply, If we have the spirit of revelation already, why do we need it? There,—you speak as if you see everything. It is true that you see in part, but your eyes are still very much dimmed. And this may be said of all men generally, according as it is said that in this world we see things but dimly and, as it were, through a mirror, [I Cor. 13:12] until we are capable of seeing God in his heavenly glory, at which time we shall be made like him. Again, St. Paul writes thus, in order that men should not say, Must God reveal things in such a way to us, as if we were in such a condition that we could see nothing at all? And is a man no better than a brute beast without discretion or judgment? In answer to this, it is true that we have some understanding, but we are blind for all that, because we are corrupted by sin. God, therefore, has to give us new eyes, as I said before.
And the apostle adds the word ‘wisdom’, the better to beat down the foolish pride that men conceive in themselves, when they try to fly without wings to come to God. For there is not a man who would not be wise. If we desired true wisdom by seeking it from God’s hand, it would be a good and well-ordered desire. But there are two faults in us, for we want to be wise after our own conceit. Am I not wise enough to govern myself? a fool will say. And, at the same time, we despise God’s Word, and every one of us wants to have the reins on his neck and to be allowed to do what he thinks best. But that is too great an excess. The other fault is that in reading the holy Scripture, we still imagine that we can come to the knowledge of the things contained there by our own judgment. But here both faults are excluded by St. Paul. For when he asks God to give his faithful people the spirit of wisdom, he shows that they have no discernment, no more than brute beasts, except by the guidance of our Lord Jesus Christ, to come to the kingdom of heaven. For even in civil matters and worldly affairs, God only gives discernment to such men as he pleases.
Now, if God keeps his special goodness always to himself, to give prudence to whom he wills for the conduct of the inferior matters of this world, then it is he that causes unbelievers to be wise; and when it is a matter of the heavenly life, there is no natural disposition to wisdom in us. And so, St. Paul presupposes that which I have said already, namely, that we must taught by God to know him by the doctrine of truth, through the testimony of the gospel; for, without that, we should be like those fanatics who fall into error under the pretence of having the revelation of God’s Holy Spirit. However, that is not the way in which St. Paul takes the word ‘revelation’, when he prays God to give it to his children. As for example, when Jesus Christ speaks of his Spirit, he does not separate it from the doctrine he had preached. ‘When the Spirit comes (he says) he shall tell you all truth.’ [Jn. 14:26; 15:26] And how is that? Had not the apostles received it already? Yes, but he adds, He shall show you that which you now hear from my mouth. To be brief, it is the peculiar office of the Holy Spirit to teach us in such a way that the word we hear may thereby have its position and true valuation, and that we may profit from it.
And next, St. Paul also shows what all our light and knowledge consists in, namely, in knowing God in the person of his only Son. That (I say) is that with which we must content ourselves. For if we have prying minds and are inquisitive in things above our capacity, let us consider a little how weak and raw our understanding is. And if our hearts are so gross and heavy, what shall we do when we want to rise above heaven and earth? Are we able to embrace all that in so small a measure Nevertheless, we see how men take excessive leave to be inquisitive about this and that, and to pose questions by way of pleading and disputing against God. For this reason, St. Paul shows us here that if we intend to be wise, we must be sober, that is to say, we must understand that wisdom is of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, as he himself will show hereafter, so that when we have once come to that point, we have so much as ought to suffice us perfectly; and if we presume to go any further, it is but a wilful ruining of ourselves.
St. Paul, then, will show that at great length afterwards, but it ought to be sufficient for us that both in this passage and in the whole of the holy Scripture, we ought to learn concerning the God whom we must serve, what is his will, how we may have our trust in him, what access we may have to pray to him, and to find our refuge in him at all times. That is the thing in which we must be employed. But that cannot be done unless all we ever have need of and avails for our welfare, is to be had in Jesus Christ in whom God has manifested himself. For in itself the majesty of God is too high a thing, and we should be lost a hundred times before we could come near him, if it were not that he is come down to us. But if we once have Jesus Christ, there we have a living image of him, in which we may see whatever is requisite for our salvation. For there we understand that God is our Father, and that we are cleansed from all our sins to be transformed into the glory of God. There we see how God accepts us for righteous, and how we are reconciled to God. There we perceive how he has ransomed us and that we shall never be left destitute of the grace of his Holy Spirit, until he has brought us to the enjoyment of our inheritance. Thus, we know all these things in our Lord Jesus Christ. And that is the reason why St. Paul says in another place, that he desired not to know any other thing than Jesus Christ, [I Cor. 2:2] and that it is he only of whom he intended to boast. As we have seen before, he forsook all things in order to abide under the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and although to the world this makes for nothing but shame and reproach, yet he protests that he has given up all that he esteemed before, and that he regards them only as a hindrance and loss, and even as filth and dung, in order to cleave to our Lord Jesus Christ and to show that such as are possessed by the foolish opinion of their own deservings separate themselves from our Lord Jesus Christ; and that if we will be united to him, we must give up all we imagine we have of our own and offer ourselves to him empty of all goodness, to be filled by him. And now you see also why St. Paul says that he would much rather come to the haven of salvation stark naked and poor, than live in the midst of the sea and there be engulfed. For although he were taken for an holy personage, and as half angel, yet he counted that as nothing, in order that he might be a partaker of the remission of sins that was given him in Jesus Christ, and of the grace which he has communicated to all his members. Therefore, let us learn to magnify God’s grace in such a way that we may utterly forget all those fantasies with which the devil deceives the unbelievers, by puffing them up with I know not what manner of pride; and let us come utterly empty to our Lord Jesus Christ to beg his grace. For we cannot receive one drop of it, except by confessing ourselves to be utterly unworthy of it.
And now let us fall down before the majesty of our good God with acknowledgement of our faults, praying him to make us perceive them more and more, and that the same may so humble us that we may be established in his grace and labour to come nearer and nearer to him, that being subdued in ourselves, we may be raised up by him through his pure mercy, and depending altogether upon him, resort to him as to our Father, and continue in so doing until he has taken us out of the prison of sin and joined us perfectly to himself. May it please him to grant this grace, not only to us, but to all people.
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