We explained yesterday what the Prophet meant when he pronounces that the impostors who deceived the people should not be in the counsel of the pious nor in their catalogue, and we said that this was twice repeated. Now the question arises, did the Prophet speak of the secret election of God, or only of an external state? For although these traitors were at the greatest distance from the Church, yet we know that they boasted in a common title like Ishmael, who, until he was cast out of his father's house, proudly boasted in his right of birth. (Genesis 21:9.) And at this day, we see how the Papists claim to themselves the name of |the Church,| since they pretend to the perpetual succession: and truly we are compelled to confess that the ordinary ministry is with them. But because they have tyrannically abused their power, and have altogether overthrown that method of governing the Church which the Lord had appointed, we may safely laugh at their boastings. There was the same haughtiness in the false prophets of old, who asserted that they held no mean rank among the people, because they were created prophets by God. Hence, therefore, we gather that these words are not used of any external state, because a place among the elect people was always conceded to them. Without doubt, then, we must understand the contrast between the true members of the Church and hypocrites, who pretend to the name of God. And for this reason it is said in Psalm 15:2, as well as Psalm 24:4, that not all who go up to the mount of God have a perpetual seat there, unless they are pure in heart and hand. The sum of the whole then is, although false prophets thunder forth their boasts with inflated cheeks, and claim the prophetic name, yet they thought not to be reckoned in that rank, as they are altogether without the elect people.
But a second question arises out of this. If the Prophet denies their right to be included in the council of the pious, he ought not to speak in the future tense: because as God's election is eternal, so his sons were written in the book of life before the creation of the world. But he says they shall not be written, and this seems absurd. But Ezekiel here accommodates his language to the usual custom of mankind. The language of the psalm is harsher: let them be blotted from the book of life, since they are not written among the just. (Psalm 69:28.) For it cannot happen that he who is once written in the book of life can ever be blotted out. But in the second clause the Prophet explains himself -- that they be not written with the just; that is, that they be not written in the catalogue of the just. So also Ezekiel now says: they shall not be in the secret of my people, and they shall not be written in the writing of the house of Israel: because for a time they seemed to be in the number of the pious: hence a change of expression is here used, but only in accommodation to the rudeness of our mind.
This passage is useful in this sense. The Holy Spirit admonishes us that it is not sufficient to suppose men members of the Church because the greater number seem to excel others, just as the chaff is above the wheat and suffocates it: thus hypocrites bury the sons of God whose number is small, while they shine forth in their own splendor, and their multitude makes them seem exclusively worthy of the title of the Church. Hence let us learn to examine ourselves, and to search whether those interior marks by which God distinguishes his children from strangers belong to us, viz., the living root of piety and faith. This passage also teaches that nothing is more formidable than to be rejected from God's flock. For no safety is to be hoped for, except as God collects us into one body under one head. First, all safety resides in Christ alone; and then we cannot be separated from Christ without falling away from all hope of safety: but Christ will not and cannot be torn from his Church with which he is joined in all indissoluble knot, as the head to the body. Hence, unless we cultivate unity with the faithful, we see that we are cut off from Christ: hence I said that nothing was more to be feared than that separation of which mention is here made. On the other hand, it is said in Psalm 106:4, Remember me, O God, in thy good will towards thy people: visit me with thy salvation. When the author of the Psalm prays in this way, he at the same time acknowledges that our true and solid happiness is placed in the Lord's embracing us with the rest of the faithful. For God's good will towards his people is that fatherly kindness by which he embraces his own elect. If, therefore, God thinks us worthy of that fatherly favor, then we have a sure confidence of safety.
Afterwards he adds, And they shall not return to the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am Jehovah. Ezekiel here places an outward mark as the sign of reprobation, since, while a free return was permitted to others, these were excluded. Hence Ezekiel signifies that God's anger would be manifest in the case of false prophets by their exclusion from the benefits common to the people. For when God shall open the door, and promulgate an edict concerning a free return: they shall remain exiles, and shall never enjoy that native country to which they boasted that they should in a short time return. He confirms then by an outward symbol what he has already said about reprobation. For although many died in exile who were real members of the Church, as Daniel and his allies, and many others, yet., as far as these deceivers were concerned, it was a sure sign of their rejection that they boasted of their speedy return to their country. Since, therefore, they were deprived of that advantage, God openly shows that they were unworthy of being reckoned among the elect people. It follows --