17. And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
17. Et erunt mihi, dicit Iehova exercituum, die illa qua ego facio, peculium; et parcam eis (super eos ad verbum) sicuti parcit vir suo filio, qui obsequitur ei.
He shows by the issue itself why a book of remembrance was written -- that God in due time would again undertake to defend and cherish his Church. Though then for a time many troubles were to be sustained by the godly, yet the Prophet shows that they did not in vain serve God; for facts would at length prove that their obedience has not been overlooked. But the two things which he mentions ought to be noticed; for a book of remembrance is first written before God, and then God executes what is written in the book. When therefore we seem to serve God in vain, let us know that the obedience we render to him will come to an account, and that he is a just Judge, though he may not immediately stretch forth his hand to us.
In the first place then the Prophet testifies that God knows what is done by every one; and in the second place he adds that he will in his own time perform what he has decreed. So also in judgements, he preserves the same order in knowing and in executing. For when he said to Abraham that the cry of Sodom came up to heaven, (Genesis 18:20,) how great and how supine was the security of the city. How wantonly and how savagely they despised every authority to the very last moment! But God had long before ascended his tribunal, and had taken an account of their wickedness. So also in the case of the godly, though he seems to overlook their obedience, yet he has not his eyes closed, or his ears closed, for there is a book of memorial written before him.
Hence he says, They shall be in the day I make. The verb is put by itself, but we may easily learn from the context that it refers to the restoration of the Church. In the day then in which I shall make, that is, complete what I have already said; for he had before promised to restore the Church. As then he speaks of a known thing, he says shortly, In the day I shall make, or complete my work, they shall be to me a peculiar treasure This phrase confirms what I have already stated -- that God has his season and opportunity, in order that there may be no presumption in us to prescribe to him the time when he is to do this or that. In the day then when he shall gather his Church, it will then appear that we are his peculiar treasure.
Thus the Prophet in these words exhorts us to patience, lest it should be grievous to us to groan under our burden, and not to find God's help according to our wishes, and lest also it should be grievous to us to bear troubles in common with the whole Church. Were one or two of us subject to the cross, and doomed to sorrow and grief in this world, our condition might seem hard; but since the godly, from the first to the last, are made to be our associates in bearing the cross of Christ, and to be conformed to his example, there is no reason for any one of us to shun his lot; for we are not better than the holy patriarchs, apostles, and so many of the faithful whom God has exercised with the cross. Since then the common restoration of the Church is here set before us, let us know that a reason is here given for constancy and fortitude; for it would be disgraceful for us to faint, when we have so many leaders in this warfare, who by their examples stretch forth as it were their hands to us; for as Abraham, David, and other Patriarchs and Prophets, as well as Apostles, have suffered so many and so grievous troubles, ought not this fact to raise up our spirits? and if at any time our feet and our legs tremble, ought it not to be sufficient to strengthen us, that so many excellent chiefs and leaders invite us to persevere by their example? We then see that this has not been laid down for nothing, when I shall make, or complete my work.
By the words peculiar treasure, God intimates that the lot of the godly will be different from that of the world; as though he had said, |Ye are now so mixed together, that they who serve me seem not to be peculiar any more than strangers; but they shall then be my peculiar treasure.| This is to be taken, as I have already mentioned, for the outward appearance; for we know that we have been chosen by God, before the foundation of the world, for this end -- that we might be to him a peculiar treasure. But when we are afflicted in common with the wicked, or when we seem to be even rejected, and the ungodly, on the other hand, seem to have God propitious to them, then nothing seems less true than this promise. I therefore said that this ought to be referred to the outward appearance -- that the faithful are God's peculiar treasure, that they are valued by him, and that he shows to them peculiar love, as to his own inheritance.
And this mode of speaking occurs in many parts of scripture; for God is often said to repudiate his people; the word separation, or divorce, is often mentioned; he is said to have destroyed his inheritance. Grievous is the trial, when God cherishes as it were in his bosom the ungodly, and we at the same time are exposed to every kind of miser; but we see what happened to the ancient Church: let us then arm ourselves for this contest, and be satisfied with the inward testimony of the Spirit, though outward things do not prosper.
He adds, And I will spare them as a man spares, etc. He states here a promise which ought especially to be observed: it contains two clauses; the first is, that the Jews who remained alive would render obedience to God, by which they would prove themselves to be children indeed, and not in name only: and the second is, that God would forgive them, that is, that he would exercise pardon in receiving their services, which could not otherwise please him. And there is no doubt but that the Spirit of regeneration is included in the words, the son who serves him; not that the faithful addressed here were wholly destitute of the fear of God; but God promises an increase of grace, as though he had said, |I will gather to myself the people who faithfully and sincerely worship me.| Though then he speaks not here of the beginning of a religious and holy life, it is yet the same as though he had said, that the faithful would be under his government, that they might denote themselves to his service.
The second promise refers to another grace, -- that God in his mercy would approve of the obedience of the godly, though in itself unworthy to come to his presence. How necessary this indulgence is to us, they who are really and truly acquainted with the fear of God, fully know. The sophists daringly prattle about merits, and fill themselves and others with empty pride; but they who understand that no man can stand before God's tribunal, do not dream of any merits, nor do they believe that they can bring anything before God, by which they can conciliate his favor. Hence their only refuge is what the Prophet here teaches us, that God spares them.
And it must be observed, that the Prophet does not speak simply of the remission of sins: our salvation, we know, consists of two things -- that God rules us by his Spirit, and forms us anew in his own image through the whole course of our life, -- and also that he buries our sins. But the Prophet refers here to the remission of sins, of which we have need as to our good works; for it is certain, that even when we devote ourselves with all possible effort and zeal to God's service there is yet something always wanting. Hence it is that no work, however right and perfect before men, deserves this distinction and honor before God. It is therefore necessary, even when we strive our utmost to serve God, to confess that without his forgiveness whatever we bring deserves rejection rather than his favor. Hence the Prophet says, that when God is reconciled to us, there is no reason to fear that he will reject us, because we are not perfect; for though our works be sprinkled with many spots, they will yet be acceptable to him, and though we labor under many defects, we shall yet be approved by him. How so? Because he will spare us: for a father is indulgent to his children, and though he may see a blemish in the body of his son, he will not yet cast him out of his house; nay, though he may have a son lame, or squint-eyed, or singular for any other defect, he will yet pity him, and will not cease to love him: so also is the case with respect to God, who, when he adopts us as his children, will forgive our sins. And as a father is pleased with every small attention when he sees his son submissive, and does not require from him what he requires from a servant; so God acts; he repudiates not our obedience, however defective it may be.
We hence see the design and meaning of the Prophet, -- that he promises pardon from God to the faithful, after having been reconciled to him, because they serve God as children willingly, -- and that God also, though their works are unworthy of his favor, will yet count them as acceptable, even through pardon, and not on the ground of merit or worthiness.