37. Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not.
37. Quis iste, dixit; fuit, Deus non praecepit?
38. Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good.?
38. Ex ore Excelsi non egredietur malum et bonum (vel, quasi non egrediatur malum et bonum ex ore Excelsi?)
The Prophet, after having mentioned the blasphemy which prevailed everywhere at that time, strongly condemns so gross a stupidity.
The other verse may be explained in two ways; but as to the meaning, there is but little difference. It may, then, be read as a question, "Cannot good and evil proceed from the mouth of the most High?" or it may be rendered thus, "As though good and evil should not proceed from the mouth of God." As to the substance of what is said, we see that there is no need of disputing, for the Prophet confirms what he had said, that men are to be abhorred who imagine God to be as it were dead, and thus rob him of his power and of his office as a judge. And, doubtless, except we hold this truth, no true religion can exist in us; for except all the sayings and doings of men come to an account before the tribunal of God, and also their motives and thoughts, there will be first. no faith and, secondly, there will be no integrity, and all prayer to God will be extinguished. For if we believe that God does not regard what is done in the world, who will trust in him? and who will seek help from him? besides, who will hesitate to abandon himself to cruelty, or frauds, or plunder? Extinguished, then, is every sense of religion by this impious opinion, that God spends his time leisurely in heaven, and attends not to human affairs. This is the reason why the Prophet is so indignant against those who said, that anything could be done without the command of God.
Let us now see how God commands what is wrongly and foolishly done by men. Surely he does not command the ungodly to do what is wicked, for he would thus render them excusable; for where God's authority interposes, there no blame can be. But God is said to command whatever he has decreed, according to his hidden counsel. There are, then, two kinds of commands; one belongs to doctrine, and the other to the hidden judgments of God. The command of doctrine, so to speak, is an evident approbation which acquits men; for when one obeys God, it is enough that he has God as his authority, though he were condemned by a hundred worlds. Let us, then, learn to be attentive to the commands of doctrine, by which we ought to regulate our life, for they make up the only true rule, from which it is not right to depart. But God is said to command according to his secret decrees what he does not approve, as far as men are concerned. So Shimei had a command to curse, and yet he was not exempt from blame; for it was not his purpose to obey God; nay, he thought that he had offended God no less than David. (2 Samuel 16:5, 6.) Then this distinction ought to be understood, that some things are commanded by God, not that men may have it as a rule of action, but when God executes his secret judgments by ways unknown to us. Thus, then, ought this passage to be understood, even that nothing is carried on without God's command, that is, without his decree, and, as they say, without his ordination.
It hence appears, that those things which seem contingent, are yet ruled by the certain providence of God, so that nothing is done at random. And what philosophers call accident, or contingent, (
Let us then hold this doctrine, that nothing is done except by God's command and ordination, and, with the Holy Spirit, regard with abhorrence those profane men who imagine that God sits idly as it were on his watch-tower and takes no notice of what is done in the world, and that human affairs change at random, and that men turn and change independently on any higher power. Nothing is more diabolical than this delirious impiety; for as I have said, it extinguishes all the acts and duties of religion; for there will be no faith, no prayer, no patience, in short;, no religion, except we believe and know that God exercises such care over the world, of which he is the Creator, that nothing happens except through his certain and unchangeable decree.
Now they who object, and say that God is thus made the author of evils, may be easily refuted; for nothing is more preposterous than to measure the incomprehensible judgment of God by our contracted minds. The Scripture cries aloud that the judgments of God are a great deep; it exhorts us to reverence and sobriety, and Paul does not in vain exclaim that the ways of God are unsearchable. (Romans 11:33.) As, then, God's judgments in their height far surpass all our thoughts, we ought to beware of audacious presumption and curiosity; for the more audacious a man becomes, the farther God withdraws from him. This, then, is our wisdom, to embrace only what the Scripture teaches. Now, when it teaches us that nothing is done except through the will of God, it does not speak indiscriminately, as though God approved of murders, and thefts, and sorceries, and adulteries; what then? even that God by his just and righteous counsel so orders all things, that he still wills not iniquity and abhors all injustice. When, therefore, adulteries, and murders, and plunders are committed, God applies, as it were, a bridle to all those things, and how much soever the most; wicked may indulge themselves in their vices, he still rules them; this they themselves acknowledge; but for what end does he rule them? even that he may punish sins with sins, as Paul teaches us, for he says that; God gives up to a reprobate mind those who deserve such a punishment, that he gives them up to disgraceful lusts, that he blinds more and more the despisers of his word. (Romans 1:28; 2 Thessalonians 2:10.) And then God has various ways, and those innumerable and unknown to us.
Let us then learn not to subject; God to our judgment, but adore his judgments, though they surpass our comprehension; and since the cause of them is hid from us, our highest wisdom is modesty and sobriety.
Thus we see that God is not the author of evils, though nothing happens but by his nod and through his will, -- for far different is his design from that of wicked men. Then absurd would it be to implicate him as all associate ill the same crime, when a murderer, or a thief, or an adulterer is condemned, -- and why? because God has no participation in thefts and adulteries; but the vices of men are in a way wonderful and incomprehensible as his judgments. In a word, as far as the heavens are from the earth, so great is the difference between the works of God and the deeds of men, for the ends, as I have said, are altogether different. 1
The Prophet says that
1 'The construction of these two verses is variously given. The verb rendered, "It was, or, "It came to pass," if in the third person, is feminine, while it is usually and probably always masculine, when it has this meaning. It may be taken to be here in the second person. The literal rendering of the verse then would be, --
Who-he-saying (i.e., Who is he who says,) That thou art Lord, ordering not, (i.e., who dost not order, or command.)
Then the following verse contains a continuation of what the objector said, --
From the mouth of the Highest
Cometh not the evil and the good.
The answer of the Prophet is in Lamentations 3:39, in which he intimates that God orders evil as a punishment for sin.
The objector's declaration, that God as a Lord or Sovereign does not command or order events, and for this reason, because both evil and good cannot come from him, is a proof that not to see in Lamentations 3:36, is not to :regard or notice the affairs of men. -- Ed.
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