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Commentary On Jeremiah And Lamentations Volume 4 by Jean Calvin

Lecture One Hundred and Thirty-First

We began yesterday to explain the words of Jeremiah, in which are promised to the people a new heart and a new way Now, as God promises these, it is certain that they are in his power, and not in the power of man. We hence learn that it is not in man to form his heart for God's service; for it would have been a superfluous, nay, an absurd promise, had God said, that he would give us a heart which was already ours, or which any one might confer on himself. The promises, then, are sure evidences of God's favor, not only as to the end and effect, but also in order that we may know that God ascribes to himself the praise of all these things which he promises to us. And it is with this argument that Augustine often fights against the Palagians, and rightly, because it would be a mere mockery, as I have said, had God promised anything, which depended not on his favor, but on the will and power of man.

When he now speaks of one heart, he refers to union and consent, but of such a kind that they all obey God. Men often unite together for evil, and the children of God are often compelled to separate themselves from the ungodly; and hence are those discords which now prevail in the world, the blame of which is cast on us. But as it is necessary for us to separate from the Papists if we wish to follow God, it is better a hundred times to separate from them than to be united together, and thus to form an ungodly and wicked union against God. Agreement or union is, indeed, singularly a good thing, because there is nothing better or more desirable than peace. But we must ever bear in mind, that in order that men may happily unite together, obedience to God's word must be the beginning. The bond, then, of lawful concord among us is this -- that we obey God from first to last; for accursed is every union where there is no regard to God and to his word.

We must also observe, that when God promises one heart, he adds one way; and this is to be understood of outward works. And Paul seems to have borrowed from this place when he says that God gives us to will and to do according to his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13) He mentions |to will| first, and the Prophet names the heart, and the heart, we know, is the seat of all the affections. By one heart, then, the Prophet means united affections; and then by way he means what Paul expresses by |to do;| for it is not enough |to will,| except |to do| be added to it; while yet the external work is of itself of no value, except it be preceded by the will and a genuine feeling.

We now, then, understand what the Prophet means: first, he shows how God would become a God to Israel, even because he would give them one heart and one way. We hence learn, as I have said, that to change the heart, to put off or cast aside corrupt affections, is not in the power of man, because it is a benefit that proceeds from God. But it would not be sufficient for us to be formed for obedience, except God added another favor, even to lead the will itself into action. With regard to concord or union, we have said, that the principle of a right and lawful agreement is, to have regard to God, to depend on his word, and, with one consent, to obey what he commands.

According to this meaning, he afterwards adds, That they may fear me Hence, also, it appears that the fear of God is not otherwise produced than by the regeneration of the Spirit. For were men naturally inclined to fear God, it would not have been ascribed to God and to his grace; and God claims nothing for himself except what is his own. It then follows that the beginning of the fear of God is the regeneration of the Spirit. But we ought to notice the words when he says, that he would give them one heart and one way, that they might fear him; for he does not say, |That they may be able to fear me,| or, |That there may be a free option, and yet a flexible will;| but he mentions, so to speak, the actual fear of God, as the result of forming anew the hearts of men. This, I have said, ought to be carefully observed, because the Papists confess with us that we are wholly weak as to what is good, and that all our faculties are so corrupt, that the will cannot move itself, nor can any effect follow, without the constant co-operation of the grace of the Holy Spirit; but, at the same time, they imagine that the Holy Spirit does only one half of the work in us; and hence the grace of the Spirit is called by them aid and cooperation. We hence see how far we and the Papists agree; for they are ashamed to deny, that man's nature is so corrupted by original sin as not always to need the grace of the Holy Spirit. But when God claims entirely for himself whatever good there is in us, the Papists concede to him only the half, and imagine a two-fold grace of God, a grace going before and a grace following. What do the Papists mean, or what do they understand by this grace going before? Even that God inspires us with good and pious feelings, so that if we wish we may be free to follow what is right; for, as I have said, the Papists confess that we are under the tyranny of the devil, and slaves to him, and that there is no right will in men, except through the prevenient (proeunte) grace of the Holy Spirit. But as I have already said, they talk vainly of the grace of the Spirit, and say that it is an influence by which God enables us to follow that which is right, if we have a will to do so. Thus, then, the grace of God, according to them, leaves men in suspense, so that they are free either to receive or to reject the grace of God. Afterwards, they join the subsequent grace, which, in their view, is a reward; for if I assent to God, that is, if I suffer myself to be ruled by his Spirit, and embrace the grace offered to me, God will then reward me with another grace to confirm me in my right purpose. And thus they confess that perseverance is in part the gift. of God; but they always imagine it a co-operating grace. And then, as perseverance, according to them, is God's subsequent grace, and is, as it were, a handmaid, it ceases to be grace, for it is rather the reward of merit. But what does the Prophet say? I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me

We hence see that the grace of God is of itself efficacious; and then he does not say that he would give them a power to turn either way, but that he would give them one heart, as the same thing is afterwards more clearly expressed. We see then that the one heart or will is the work of the Holy Spirit, and the mere favor of God. This ought in the flrst place to be borne in mind. We further see that this grace works effectually in men; it not only gives them a free option, but the actual work, as they commonly say, follows, that they may fear me, and it is added, all their days. Here God promises also perseverance as the singular gift of the Holy Spirit; for it would not be sufficient that our hearts should be formed for his service, were he not to sustain us in it; for such is our levity and weakness; that we might every moment fall away from his grace. There is, then, need of grace to preserve us. It hence appears, that not only the beginning of good works proceeds from his Spirit, but also that he enables us to go on to the end; for otherwise there would be no perseverance in a right course.

He adds, That it may be well with them, and with their children after them By these words he intimates, that the Israelites themselves had been the authors of all their evils, because they had not feared God; for they could not have been happy without continuing in obedience to him. And the Prophet confirms what we said yesterday, that external prosperity is in itself evanescent; therefore we ought to seek first the grace of God. But when is it that God is propitious to us? Even when we know him as our Father, and obey his commandments; that is, when we render ourselves submissive to him as it becomes children. It now follows, --

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