7. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God:
7. Siquidem terra quae imbrem saepius in se venientem imbibit, et progignit herbam commodam iis opera quorum et colitur, recipit benedictionem a Deo:
8. But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
8. At quae produxerit spinas et tribulos, reproba est, et obnoxia maledictioni, cujus exitus tendit ad combustionem.
9. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.
9. Caeterum persuasimus nobis de vobis, dilecti, quae sint iis meliora, et cum salute conjunta, tametsi sic loquamur.
10. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
10. Non enim injustus est Deus, ut obliviscatur operis vestri et laboris in charitatem impensi, quem ostendistis erga nomen ejus, dum ministrastis sanctis, et ministratis.
7. For the earth, etc. This is a similitude most appropriate to excite a desire to make progress in due time, for as the earth cannot bring forth a good crop in harvest except it causes the seed as soon as it is sown to germinate, so if we desire to bring forth good fruit, as soon as the Lord sows his word, it ought to strike roots in us without delay; for it cannot be expected to fructify, if it be either choked or perish. But as the similitude is very suitable, so it must be wisely applied to the design of the Apostle.
The earth, he says, which by sucking in the rain immediately produces a blade suitable to the seed sown, at length by God's blessing produces a ripe crop; so they who receive the seed of the Gospel into their hearts and bring forth genuine shoots, will always make progress until they produce ripe fruit. On the contrary, the earth, which after culture and irrigation brings, forth nothing but thorns, affords no hope of a harvest; nay, the more that grows which is its natural produce, the more hopeless is the case. Hence the only remedy the husbandman has is to burn up the noxious and useless weeds. So they who destroy the seed of the Gospel either by their indifference or by corrupt affections, so as to manifest no sign of good progress in their life, clearly show themselves to be reprobates, from whom no harvest can be expected.
The Apostle then not only speaks here of the fruit of the Gospel, but also exhorts us promptly and gladly to embrace it, and he further tells us, that the blade appears presently after the seed is sown, and that growing follows the daily irrigations. Some render thotanen eutheton |a seasonable shoot,| others, |a shoot meet;| either meaning suits the place; the first refers to time, the second to quality. The allegorical meanings with which interpreters have here amused themselves, I pass by, as they are quite foreign to the object of the writer.
9. But we are persuaded, etc. As the preceding sentences were like thunderbolts, by which readers might have been struck dead, it was needful to mitigate this severity. He therefore says now, that he did not speak in this strain, as though he entertained such an opinion of them. And doubtless whosoever wishes to do good by teaching, ought so to treat his disciples as ever to add encouragement to them rather than to diminish it, for there is nothing that can alienate us more from attending to the truth than to see that we are deemed to be past hope. The Apostle then testifies that he thus warned the Jews, because he had a good hope of them, and was anxious to lead them to salvation. We hence conclude, that not only the reprobate ought to be reproved severely and with sharp earnestness, but also the elect themselves, even those whom we deem to be the children of God.
10. For God is not unrighteous, etc. These words signify as much as though he had said, that from good beginnings he hoped for a good end.
But here a difficulty arises, because he seems to say that God is bound by the services of men: |I am persuaded,| he says, |as to your salvation, because God cannot forget your works.| He seems thus to build salvation on works, and to make God a debtor to them. And the sophists, who oppose the merits of works to the grace of God, make much of this sentence, |God is not unrighteous.| For they hence conclude that it would be unjust for him not to render for works the reward of eternal salvation. To this I briefly reply that the Apostle does not here speak avowedly of the cause of our salvation, and that therefore no opinion can be formed from this passage as to the merits of works, nor can it be hence determined what is due to works. The Scripture shows everywhere that there is no other fountain of salvation but the gratuitous mercy of God: and that God everywhere promises reward to works, this depends on that gratuitous promise, by which he adopts us as his children, and reconciles us to himself by not imputing our sins. Reward then is reserved for works, not through merit, but the free bounty of God alone; and yet even this free reward of works does not take place, except we be first received into favor through the kind mediation of Christ.
We hence conclude, that God does not pay us a debt, but performs what he has of himself freely promised, and thus performs it, inasmuch as he pardons us and our works; nay, he looks not so much on our works as on his own grace in our works. It is on this account that he forgets not our works, because he recognizes himself and the work of his Spirit in them. And this is to be righteous, as the Apostle says, for he cannot deny himself. This passage, then, corresponds with that saying of Paul, |He who has begun in you a good work will perfect it.| (Philippians 1:6.) For what can God find in us to induce him to love us, except what he has first conferred on us? In short, the sophists are mistaken in imagining a mutual relation between God's righteousness and the merits of our works, since God on the contrary so regards himself and his own gifts, that he carries on to the end what of his own goodwill he has begun in us, without any inducement from anything we do; nay, God is righteous in recompensing works, because he is true and faithful: and he has made himself a debtor to us, not by receiving anything from us; but as Augustine says, by freely promising all things.
And labor of love, etc. By this he intimates that we are not to spare labor, if we desire to perform duty towards our neighbors; for they are not only to be helped by money, but also by counsel, by labor, and in various other ways. Great sedulity, then, must be exercised, many troubles must be undergone, and sometimes many dangers must be encountered. Thus let him who would engage in the duties of love, prepare himself for a life of labor.
He mentions in proof of their love, that they had ministered and were still ministering to the saints. We are hence reminded, that we are not to neglect to serve our brethren. By mentioning the saints, he means not that we are debtors to them alone; for our love ought to expand and be manifested towards all mankind; but as the household of faith are especially recommended to us, peculiar attention is to be paid to them; for as love, when moved to do good, has partly a regard to God, and partly to our common nature, the nearer any one is to God, the more worthy he is of being assisted by us. In short, when we acknowledge any one as a child of God, we ought to embrace him with brotherly love.
By saying that they had ministered and were still ministering, he commended their perseverance; which in this particular was very necessary; for there is nothing to which we are more prone than to weariness in welldoing. Hence it is, that though many are found ready enough to help their brethren, yet the virtue of constancy is so rare, that a large portion soon relax as though their warmth had cooled. But what ought constantly to stimulate us is even this one expression used by the apostle, that the love shown to the saints is shown towards the name of the Lord; for he intimates that God holds himself indebted to us for whatever good we do to our neighbors, according to that saying,
|What ye have done to one of the least of these,
ye have done to me,| (Matthew 25:40;)
and there is also another,
|He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord.|