63. That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord GOD.
63. Ut recorderis, et pudefias, et non sit tibi amplius apertio oris propter probrum tuum cum propitius fuero tibi in omnibus quae fecisti, dicit Dominator Iehovah.
Ezekiel again exhorts the faithful to repentance and constant meditation. We have said that these members cannot be divided, namely, the testimony of grace with the doctrine of repentance: we have said, also, that this is the substance of the gospel, that God wishes those to repent whom he reconciles by gratuitous pardon. For he is appeased by us only when he makes us new creatures in Christ, and regenerates us by his Spirit; as it is said in Isaiah, God will be propitious to the people who shall have returned from their iniquity. (Isaiah 59:20.) That promise is restricted to those who do not indulge and revel in sin, but humble themselves before God, and decide their own salvation to be impossible without their being severe judges to their own condemnation. Therefore Ezekiel follows up this point when he says that you may remember and be ashamed. I have said that penitence is not only to be commended here, but the continual desire for it. And this must be remarked, because it is troublesome to us to be often shaking off our sins; and hence we escape as far as we can from the perception of them: for we desire our own enjoyment, and every one willingly puts his sins out of sight. Surely if we do look upon them, they first compel us to be ashamed, and then we are wounded with serious grief; conscience summons us to God's tribunal: we then acknowledge the formidable vengeance which slays even the boldest, unless they are upheld by the assurance of pardon. Since, then, the acknowledgment of sins brings us both shame and sorrow, we endeavor to put it far away from us by all means. But no other way of access to embracing God's favor is open to us, except that of repentance of sins. This, then, is the reason why God insists so much on this point: we do not follow him directly; hence it is not sufficient to show us what ought to be done, unless God pricks us sharply, and violently draws us to himself. This passage, then, must be remarked where the Prophet commands the faithful, after they have obtained pardon, to remember their sins, for hypocrites are here distinguished from the true sons of God. Hypocrites boast with swelling words, that they rely on the mercy of God, and speak mightily of the grace of Christ, but meanwhile they wish the memory of their sins to remain buried. On the other hand, we cannot be otherwise truly humble before God, unless we judge ourselves, as I have said. If we desire, therefore, our sins to be blotted out before God, and to be buried in the depths of the sea, as another Prophet says, (Micah 7:19,) we must recall them often and constantly to our remembrance: for when they are kept before our eyes we then flee seriously to God for mercy, and are properly prepared by humility and fear.
The Prophet adds also, that you may be ashamed: for it is not sufficient simply to remember, unless we add the shame of which the Prophet speaks. For we see that many remember their faults and confess their sins, but they do it lightly, and as a matter of duty; nay, they acknowledge them so as to remain in their integrity, and, as they say, to preserve their credit. But the recognition here required is accompanied by shame, as Paul, when addressing the faithful, puts before them their past life thus:
|What fruit could you gather from that course of life.| (Romans 6:19-21.)
You blush now in truth when so many crimes are heaped upon you: you were then blind, and wandered in darkness: but when God shone upon you by the gospel, you acknowledge your baseness and foulness, from which shame is produced. He now adds, neither may thou open thy mouth any more. It is not surprising if the Prophet uses many words in explaining one thing which is not obscure in itself. But I have already shown why he does so, because we are with the greatest difficulty led on to that shame which the Prophet mentions. We condemn ourselves indeed verbally at once; but scarcely one in a hundred can be found so to cast himself down as to sustain willingly the reproach which he deserves. Since then voluntary submission is not found in man, it is necessary that we should be impelled more hardly and sharply, as the Prophet does here. When he says, there shall be no opening of the mouth, he means, that no partial confession of sins shall be exacted by which men bear witness, and acknowledge themselves liable to God's judgment; but a full and entire confession, so that they may be held convicted on all sides. And this must be diligently noticed. For we see that the world is always endeavoring to escape God's sentence by turning away from it; and since it cannot do this completely, it invents subterfuges, so as to retain some portion of its innocence.
Hence the fiction among the papists of partial justification: hence also their satisfactions; for they are compelled, whether they wish it or not, to confess themselves worthy of death: but afterwards they use the exception, that they have merited something before from God through their good works, and are not altogether worthy of condemnation: then they descend to compensations, and wish to treat with God, as if they could appease him by what they call works of supererogation. Whatever be the sense, men can scarcely be found who sincerely and honestly acknowledge that there exists in themselves nothing but material for condemnation. We confess, as I have said, that we are guilty before God, but only for one or two faults. What then does the Holy Spirit here prescribe? that there should be no opening of the mouth; as also Paul says, adopting his form of speech from this and similar passages. It is often said in the Prophets, Let all flesh be silent before God, (Zechariah 2:13;) but here the Prophet speaks specially of the shame by which God's children lie so confused, that they are altogether silent. Paul also says, that every mouth may be shut, and all flesh humbled before God. (Romans 3:19.) He afterwards shows that Jews as well as Gentiles were involved in the same condemnation, and that there was no hope of safety left except through God's mercy: he then adds, that God's justice truly shines forth when our mouth is stopped, that is, when we do not turn aside and offer any excuses, as hypocrites divide the merit between God and themselves. I indeed confess that I have sinned; but why may not my good works come into the account? why should I be condemned for one fault only? as if those who violate law do not depart from righteousness. We see, then, that we are properly humbled when we are silent and do not reproach God, when we do not quibble or allege first one thing and then another to extenuate or excuse our fault. God indeed wishes our mouth to be open; as Peter says, that we are called out of darkness into marvelous light, to show forth his praises who delivered us. (1 Peter 2:9.) For this purpose, then, God was merciful to us, that we might be heralds of his grace. And in this sense, also, David says, Lord, open you my lips, and my mouth shall declare thy praise; that is, by giving me material for a song, as he elsewhere says, He has put a new song into my mouth. (Psalm 51:15; Psalm 40:3.) God, therefore, opens the mouths or lips of the faithful whenever he is liberal or beneficent towards them. But he is here treating of the exceptions of those who would willingly transact business with God, as if they were not wholly worthy of condemnation. In fine, Ezekiel signifies that this is the true fruit of penitence when we do not defend ourselves, but silently confess ourselves convicted. A passage of Paul's may possibly be objected as apparently contrary to this of our Prophet, in which he reckons defense among the effects or fruits of penitence, (2 Corinthians 7:11;) but defense is not here used in our customary sense: for any one who asserts that he has acted rightly, and so without fault is said to defend himself. But a defense in Paul's sense is nothing else but a prayer against punishment when a sinner comes forward, and after confessing his fault, begs of God to pardon it, and, as it were, covers himself with mercy, so that his condemnation is nowhere apparent. We see, then, that the language of Paul is not in opposition to that of the Prophet.
He now adds, from thy disgrace, verbally from the face of thy disgrace, when I shall be propitious to thee. We again see that these things agree well together, that God buries our sins and we recall them to memory. For we turn aside his judgment when we willingly accuse and condemn ourselves. For when conscience is asleep, it nourishes a hidden fire, which at length emerges into a flame and lights up God's wrath. If, therefore, we desire the fire of God's wrath to be extinguished, there is no other remedy than to shake off our sins and to set before our eyes the disgrace which we deserve, and God's mercy induces us to this. For we must remark the connection, when I shall be propitious to thee, you shall be silent in thy disgrace. And surely the more any one has tasted of the grace of God, the more ready he is to condemn himself, and as unbelief is proud, so the more any one proceeds in the faith of God's grace, he is thus humbled more and more before him. And that is best expressed in the words of the Prophet, since he teaches that silence is the effect of grace or of gratuitous reconciliation. When therefore he says, I shall have been propitious to thee, then you shall blush that thou may be mute, namely, on account of thy disgrace. And we see that the people were so taught by legal ceremonies to apprehend the mercy of God, and to be touched at the same time with the serious affection of penitence; for without a victim, God was never appeased under the law. And now although animals are not sacrificed, yet when we consider that no other price was sufficient to satisfy God, except his only-begotten Son poured forth his blood in expiation, there matter is set before us for embracing the grace of God, and at the same time we are touched, as the saying is, with the true affection of penitence. Besides, God amplifies the magnitude of his grace when he says lkl 'sr syt, lekel asher gnesith, on account of all things which, you have done. For the people thought not only to feel God merciful, but to examine their faults, and then to feel how manifold and remarkable was God's mercy towards them. For if the people had only been guilty of one kind of sin, they would have valued God's grace the less: but when they had been convicted of so many crimes, as we have seen, hence the magnitude of his grace became more apparent. Let us now go on.