We began yesterday to explain what the Prophet means, when he forbids men to glory either in wisdom, or in strength, or in riches. The meaning is, that all are greatly deceived who think themselves blessed while alienated from God. We have also noticed the reason why he speaks of wisdom, strength, and riches, even this, -- because it is a vice innate in all mortals to be proud of their own excellency. Whatever we think valuable ought to be acknowledged as received from God. If then all the excellency we have is God's gift, it is very strange that we do not learn humility when God thus binds us to himself; but that, on the contrary, we abuse his bounty by making it the occasion of pride. This ingratitude has nevertheless ever prevailed in the world. This then is the reason why the Prophet here reduces to nothing all the boastings of the world. There were among the Jews some rich, others excelled in wisdom, and others in power: thus it happened, that heavenly truth was of no value in their esteem. As then some trusted in their riches and not. in God, and others in their wisdom, and others in their valor, the Prophet here declares that all the glory they arrogated on account of God's temporal gifts, was all nothing. It remained then for the Jews to consider, that all such confidences would avail nothing against God's judgment.
But we may hence learn a general truth; and Paul no doubt had a regard to this passage in 1 Corinthians 1:31. He teaches us there, that God chooses what is foolish in the world, that he might thus shame the wisdom of the world, and that he chooses what is weak, that he might upset the strength of the world; and then he adds, That whosoever glories must glory in God alone. He doubtless took this passage from the Prophet; and yet he does not only speak there of strength of body, nor of riches, nor of worldly wisdom; but includes also righteousness, and whatever is deemed valuable or honorable among men. His object, then is to annihilate every glory that belongs to the flesh, that the mercy of God alone may shine forth. Hence I said, that though the Prophet mentions only three things, yet a generaal doctrine may hence be suitably drawn; for what is said of wisdom, strength, and riches, may and ought to be applied to that false conceit of righteousness with which hypocrites swell. We shall now consider the words.
Thus saith Jehovah, Let not the wise glory, etc By way of concession he calls those wise who were without the fear of God, which yet we know is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7.) But the Prophet speaks according to the common opinion; and the meaning may be thus given, |Let; not him who seenas wise to himself glory in his own wisdom:| and so the other words may be understood. It is then added, But let him who glories, glory in this, etc. It appears from the second verse, that men are not so stripped of all glory, that they may be down in disgrace; but that they may seek a better glory, for God detights not in the degradation of men. But as they arrogate to themselves more than what is right, and even inebriate themselves with delusions, he strips them naked, that after having known that all they think they have, either from nature, or from themselves, or from other creatures, is a mere phantom, they may seek true glory.
He afterwards adds, In understanding and knowing me Though by these two word the Prophet means the same thing, yet they are not used without a design; for as men despised the knowledge of God, it was necessary to remind them, that to know God is the chief part of perfect wisdom. He therefore intended to correct the mischievous error under which almost the whole world labors; for while all attend to wxrious pursuits, the knowledge of God is neglected. We see with what ardor every one pursues his own fancies, while hardly one in a hundred deigns to spend half an hour in the day in seeking the knowledge of God. And there is also another evil, a false opinion, which proceeds from pride, -- that to know God is a common thing. We hence perceive why the Prophet has employed these two words to designate the same thing; it was to rouse more fully the attention of men; for he saw that almost all were torpid and indifferent on a subject which is justly entitled to the labor of a whole life; nay, were a hundred lives given us, this one thing would be sufficient to engage our attention. But, as it has been said, what ought to be preferred to all other things is despised and neglected.
He afterwards adds, That I am Jehovah, who doeth judgment. By calling himself Jehovah, he doubtless excludes all those devices which then engaged the attention of the Jews; for the whole land was corrupted by so many superstitions, that the name of the only true God was unknown. They all, indeed, professed to worship the God of Abraham, who had delivered to them his law by the hand of Moses; but as many errors were mingled with the true doctrine, God was deprived of his own honor. It was, then, God's will that he should be so known as to appear alone supreme, and to be alone as it were kept in view. But the explanation which follows ought to be carefully observed; for had he said only, |Let every one who glories, glory in the knowledge of me, that I am Jehovah,| it would, indeed, have been a plain truth, but not sufficiently persplcuous or evident; for the minds of men might have been in suspense, and they might have said, |What does this mean? or, why is it, that God regards the knowledge of himself to be so important? They might also have supposed that it was quite enough to confess him to be the only true God. Hence God here reminds the Jews of his own divine perfections, that they might really know that he is God, and that they might not ascribe to him an empty name. It was for this reason that I have said, that these words, who doeth mercy and judgement and justice, ought to be carefully observed.
We see at this day, under the Papacy, that the name of God is presumptuously gloried in: there is no one who is not ready boldly to declare that he worships the one true God, and yet they profane his name; for they afterwards rob God, and bestow the spoils on the dead. This passage then teaches us, that the name of God of itself would be of no importance, if stripped of his power and perfections. Hence we have then only the true knowledge of God, when we not only acknowledge him to be the creator of the world, but when we also fully believe that the world is governed by him, and when we further understand the way in which he governs it, that is, by doing mercy and judgment and justice
Now, the first thing respecting God is, that we should acknowledge him to be beneficient and bountiful; for what would become of us without the mercy of God? Therefore the true and right knowledge of God begins here, that is, when we know him to be merciful towards us. For what would it avail us to know that God is just, except we had a previous knowledge of his mercy and gratuitous goodness? We cannot know God without knowing ourselves. These two things are connected. Now, if any examines himself, what will he find but what will make him to despair? Thus, whenever God is thought of, we feel a dread, and despair in a manner swallows us up. In short, all avoid God, except the sweetness of his grace allures them. Why? Because, as I have said, there is nothing but what brings misery to us, and a cause of dread. Hence Jeremiah, while bidding men to glory in the knowledge of God, has not in vain given the first and the highest place to his mercy.
He afterwards adds, Judgement and justice When these two words are joined together, they denote perfect government; that is, that God defends his faithful people, aids the miserable, and delivers them when unjustly oppressed; and also that he restrains the wicked, and suffers them not to injure the innocent at their pleasure. These then are the things which the Scripture everywhere means by the two words, judgment and justice. The justice of God is not to be taken according to what is commonly understood by it; and they speak incorrectly who represent God's justice as in opposition to his mercy: hence the common proverb, |I appeal from justice to mercy.| The Scripture speaks otherwise; for justice is to be taken for that faithful protection of God, by which he defends and preserves his own people; and judgment, for the rigor which he exercises against the transgressors of his law.
But, as I have already said, judgment and justice, when found together, are to be taken for that legitimate government, by which God so regulates the affairs of the world, that there is nothing but what is just and right: and hence is confirmed more fully what I have already stated, that he not only speaks generally, but intends also to remove the evils which then stood in the way, and prevented the Jews from rightly receiving either promises or threatenings; for a false glory inebriated them all, inasmuch as one thought his riches to be like an invincible fortress; another, his wisdom; and the third, his strength. As then they were full of vain pride, and thus despised God and his heavenly truth, it was necessary to bring them to order, and even wholly to strip them, that they might know that they were not to glory in anything but in the knowledge of God.
Now, the knowledge mentioned here produces two fruits, even faith and fear; for if we are fully, persuaded that there is propitiation with God, as it is said in Psalm 130:4 we recumb on him, and hesitate not to flee to him, and to place our salvation in his hand. This is one thing. Then faith brings fear, as it is said in the psalm referred to,
|There is propitiation with thee, that thou mayest be feared.|
But the Prophet here distinctly refers to these two things; for God, by expressing his will to be known as being merciful, doubtless encourages us to exercise faith, so that we may call on him witIx tranquil minds, and not doubt but he is propitious to us; for he looks not on what we are, in order to repay to us wlmt we deserve, but deals graciously with us according to his mercy: and by saying that he doeth judgment and justice, he intimates, that these two things ought to dispose and turn our hearts to fear and reverence. At the same time, when God declares that he doeth justice, He supplies us with a reason for confidence; for he thus promises to be the guardian of our salvation: for, as I have said, his justice is not to render to every one his just reward, but is to be extended further, and is to be taken for his faithfulness. As then God never forsakes his own people, but aids them in due time, and restrains the wicked, he is on this account called just: we hence can then more securely, and with quieter minds, recumb on him, when we know that his justice is such, that he will never leave us destitute of help whenever necessary.
He afterwards adds, For in these I delight, saith Jehovah This refers to men; as though God had said, that he hated all who pass by the knowledge of his mercy, judgment, and justice, and become ferocious and elated with a vain hope on account of riches, or of strength, or of wisdom, according to what is said in Psalm 147:10,
|The strength of a horse pleases not God, nor is he delighted with the legs of a man;|
as though he had said, that God hates that confidence by which men presumptuously extol themselves, while they think their life and their safety to be in their own hand. So also, in this passage, there is a contrast to be understood between the knowledge of God's mercy, judgment, and justice, and the wisdom, strength, riches, and the foolish glorying, by which men are inflated, when they seek in these their happiness.
We now also more clearly see what I have before said, -- that not only condemned in these words is the boasting of human power, and the glowing in wisdom and in wealth, but that men are wholly stripped of all the confidence they place in themselves, or seek from the world, in order that the knowledge of God alone may be deemed enough for obtaining perfect happiness. For the Prophet shews, with sufficient clearness, that all men without God are miserable: it hence follows, that they are not otherwise happy but in him. Then the way and manner is to be added. How are we made happy in God? Even by knowing his mercy towards us, and then by delivering up ourselves to his defense and protection, and by suffering ourselves to be ruled by him, and by obeying also his law, because we fear his judgment. This passage might indeed be more fully handled; but it is enough for me, according to my custom, to point out the main things. It now follows --