40. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.
40. Et percutiam (vel, insculpam, feriam) cum ipsis foedus perpetuum, nempe qued non discedam ab ipsis (ad verbum, de post ipsis) ut benefaciam! psis, et timorem mei ponam in cordibus ipsorum, ut non discedant a me.
He pursues the same subject; but the repetition is intended emphatically to recommend the grace of God, for we know how men ever strive to withhold the praise due to his grace, and that on account of their pride. God, then, on the other hand, celebrates in high terms his grace, lest men should malignantly obscure it.
He first says, I will strike with them a perpetual covenant We must notice the contrast between the covenant of the Law, and the covenant of which the Prophet now speaks. He called it in the thirty-first chapter a new covenant, and gave the reason for it, because their fathers had soon fallen away after the Law was proclaimed, and because its doctrine was that of the letter, and deadly, and also fatal. But he now calls it a perpetual covenant That the covenant of the Law was not valid, this was accidental to it; for the Law would remain in force, were we only to keep it; but through men's fault it happened that the covenant of the Law became void and immediately vanished. When, therefore, God promises anything, there is a manifest difference; but what is it? God intimates that his doctrine is set before men with no effect, for it only sounds in their ears, it does not penetrate into their hearts. There is, then, need of the grace of the Holy Spirit; for except God speaks within and touches our hearts, the sound will be to no purpose, only beating the air. We now, then, see why the covenant is called perpetual which God now promises.
We must, at the same time, bear in mind that this covenant peculiarly belongs to the kingdom of Christ. For though it was a part of God's grace, which was manifested in delivering his people from captivity, yet the continued stream of his grace ought to be extended to the coming of Christ. The Prophet then, no doubt, brings Christ before us, together with the new covenant; for without him there is not the least hope that God would make another covenant, as it appears evident from the whole Law and the teaching of the Prophets. Then Christ is here opposed to Moses, and the Gospel to the Law. It hence follows, that the Law was a temporary covenant, for it had no stability, as it was that of the letter; but that the Gospel is a perpetual covenant, for it is inscribed on the heart. And for the same reason it is also called a new covenant, for the Law must have become obsolete, since the perpetuity of which the Prophet speaks has come in its place.
Now follows an explanation, Because I will not depart, etc. The 'sr asher, here is not a relative, but rather an explanatory or exegetic particle. It then briefly designates the form or nature of the covenant, even that God would never depart from behind them God is sometimes said to go before his faithful people, when he shows to them the right way. He is said also to rule them from behind, as when Isaiah says,
|They shall hear a voice behind them, saying,
This is the way, walk ye in it.'| (Isaiah 30:21)
God no doubt testifies here, that he would be always an Instructor and Teacher to his people. And he says, that he will speak from behind, as schoolmasters follow the pupils committed to their care, even that they may observe and watch all their gestures, walking, words, and everything else. So God compares himself to those teachers to whom children are committed to be taught and trained; and he says that he speaks from behind. We may then explain what is here said in this sense, |I will not depart from after thee:| but we may also take a simpler view that God would not depart from them, even because he would show them perpetual favor and kindness, according to what is immediately added, that I may do them good In a word, God shows that he would be an eternal Father to his people, who would never forsake nor cast them away.
But the manner or method is also expressed, that he would put his fear in their hearts, that they might never depart from him. This is the same doctrine with what we have already seen; it is now repeated, but in other words; and thus God, as I said, more fully illustrates his favor, he says then that he would put his fear in the hearts of men. We now see how that puerile fiction is refuted, with which the Papists are inebriated, when they say that God's grace co-operates, because the Spirit helps the infirmity of men, as though they themselves brought something of their own and were co-operators. But the Prophet here testifies that the fear of God is the work and gift of the Holy Spirit. He does not say I will give them power to fear me, but I will put my fear in their hearts We then see that he again shews that the Spirit works effectually in us, so as to form anew our affections, and does not leave us capable of turning or suspended. The same thing is said by Ezekiel,
|And I will cause them to fear me.| (Ezekiel 36:27)
Thus the same doctrine is confirmed there, for it is said, that God would make Israel to fear him, not that they might be able to fear him.
He adds again, That they may not depart from me We see that clearly refuted are those foolish notions about neutral grace, which offers only power to men, which they may afterwards receive if they please; for the Prophet says, |that they may not depart from me.| Thus he again shews that perseverance, no less than the commencement of acting rightly, is the gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit: and as I have already said, were God only to form our hearts once, that we might be disposed to act rightly, the devil might, at any moment, entice us, by his wiles, from the right way, or, as he employs sudden and violent attacks, he might drive us up and down as he pleases. To rule us then for one hour would avail us nothing, except God preserved us through the whole course of our life, and led us on to the end. It hence then follows, that the whole course of our life is directed by the Spirit of God, so that the end no less than the beginning of good works ought to be ascribed to his grace. Whatever merit then men claim for themselves, they take away from God, and thus they become sacrilegious.
A question may, however, be here raised: we see that the faithful often stumble, not ten times during life, but every day: how then is this, that where God's Spirit works, his efficacy is such that men never turn aside from the right way? Were any to answer, that the faithful indeed stumble, but do not wholly fail, and that God here refers to that defection which shakes off every fear of God, it would not be a full solution. For we see that even the elect themselves are sometimes like apostates, for the fear of God and piety are, as it were, choked in them. Piety is not indeed extinguished, but not even a spark of the Spirit appears in them. But we must notice, that inflexible perseverance is given to the faithful, so that when they fall, they soon repent. Hence interruptions are no hinderances that God should not guide them from the starting-post to the goal, until they complete their whole course. And thus true is what Augustine says, that the Spirit so works in us, that we invariably have a good will. For he compares our state with that of Adam, such as he was in his first creation. We know that Adam was then without any stain, for he was formed in the image of God: he was then upright and free from every vice. We are as yet imperfect; though God has regenerated us by his Spirit, there abide in us still some remnants of the flesh, and we do not run with so much alacrity as it behoves us; nay, we are constrained to exclaim with Paul, that we are |wretched,| and to confess that we do not the good which we would, but the evil which is hateful to us. (Romans 7:15) Then the condition of Adam seems to have been better than ours. To this Augustine replies, -- that God deals better with us now than he did with Adam, our first parent; for though he created him just and innocent, and without any stain, yet he gave him a nature liable to a change; and hence Adam, having a free-will, immediately fell. To what end then did free-will serve? even that man immediately fell and brought us into the same ruin with himself. This is the praise of free-will! even that man, possessed of it, cast himself down into the lowest abyss, whence he could never of himself have risen. But now, with respect to us, though we halt, and also turn out of the right way, and our depraved lusts entice us to evil, and our corruption hinders us from running as we desire to do, yet our condition is far better, because God endues us amidst all our conflicts with the power of his own Spirit, so that we are never overcome or overwhelmed. This indefectible constancy, (indeclinabilis constantia) as Augustine calls it, is then far superior to the excellency and honor which Adam at first possessed. This may be clearly gathered from the words of the Prophet when he says, that God would put his fear in the hearts of his people, so that they may never depart from him.
It may be again asked, why is there no mention made of gratuitous justification? for the covenant of God cannot be valid, except he reconciles us to himself, for regeneration is not sufficient for the obtaining of God's favor, as in part only we will rightly and act rightly. To this we answer, that there is no doubt but that God includes faith in the word fear; hence remission of sins, by which men return into favor with God, is not excluded when regeneration is spoken of. This passage may at the same time be explained in this way, that the Prophet states a part for the whole. Doubtless the new covenant, as we have before seen, consists of two parts, even that God, in adopting us as his children, forgives us, and pardons all our infirmities, and then governs us by his Spirit: but here he speaks only of the last. So the sentence may be viewed as including a part for the whole. Still the Scripture, as it has been said, when it speaks of God's fear, often includes faith, for God, as the Psalmist says, cannot be feared, except we taste of his goodness,
|With thee is propitiation, that thou mayest be feared.| (Psalm 130:4)
For there would be no reverential fear of God, except it were preceded by a knowledge of his paternal favor.