25. Yet you say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel, Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?
The Prophet here shows that those who used the vulgar taunt -- that the children's teeth were set on edge, because their fathers had eaten sour grapes -- had broken away from all restraint; and nothing further remained to hinder them from uttering their blasphemies arrogantly against God: but their insolence and madness now increases when they say that God's ways are not equal. And this is discerned in almost all hypocrites: at first they indirectly find fault with God, and yet pretend not to do so: while they endeavor to excuse themselves, they accuse him of injustice, and of too much rigor, yet they do not openly break out into such impiety as to dare to charge God with this crime: but after they profit nothing by their double dealing, the devil inflames them to such a pitch of boldness that they hesitate not openly to condemn God himself. The Prophet refers to this when he says that this disgraceful saying was bandied about among the Israelites, that the ways of the Lord are unequal. Lest, therefore, we should happen to resist God, and to contend with him, let us learn to restrain our rashness in good time before he becomes enraged against us. As soon as any thoughts spring up, tending to reflect upon the character of the Almighty, let us quickly restrain them; for if we do not, they will entangle us by degrees, and draw us into the extremity of folly, and then no sense of either religion or shame will deter us from open rebellion against God. But it is worth while noticing the source of this impiety: first of all, when we think of men's relation to God, they should be ashamed to rise up against their Maker: for the clay does not cry out against the potter; and we are a hundredfold more insignificant than the clay, with reference to God. (Isaiah 45:9; Romans 9:20, 21.)
But let us come to another consideration. We know with how much greater clearness the angels are able reverently to adore God's wisdom than the human race. What, therefore, must we do? Not only is God's wisdom incomprehensible, but his justice is the most perfect rule of all justice. Now, if we desire to pass opinions upon God's works according to our own perceptions, and to weigh them in our balance, what else are we doing but passing judgment upon him? But we must remember that passage of Isaiah, As I live, says Jehovah, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall swear by me. (Isaiah 45:23.) Paul, too, is a faithful interpreter of this sentiment, when he forbids mortals to judge arrogantly, by saying, we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ (Romans 14:10, 11.) Since, then, it will be necessary for us to render an account before Christ heavenly tribunal, we must now acquiesce in God's judgments; because, when at length our license has entirely spent itself, and our petulance has had its full scope, God will be our judge. We see, therefore, that when men claim to themselves the right of daring to pronounce their own opinions on God's work, they first subject his wisdom to their own fictions, and then feel too much hostility and contempt towards his justice. But this one thing ought to be sufficient, that men are too forgetful of their own condition when they dare to open their mouth against their Maker, not only to murmur, but openly to condemn him, as if they were his superiors. Let us then obey the contrary rule; let us with sobriety and modesty learn to look upon those works of God which are unknown to us, and to concede to him the praise of supreme wisdom, although his counsels seem at first sight contradictory. Hosea also briefly reminds us of this. For after God had promised that he would be merciful to the people, and when he had discoursed on the slaughter which he had inflicted, he says, that at length he would heal them: he adds, Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? (Hosea 14:9;) because many might have thought it inconsistent to remit so many sins for the abandoned people; and others might object that what they heard was utterly incredible and absurd, since God suffered the people to be utterly torn to pieces, so that no hope remained. For this reason, then, the Prophet exclaims, that we have need of rare and singular prudence to comprehend and embrace that teaching. When he says, "who is wise?" it signifies that the number is but small of those who will wait patiently till God really fulfills his promises. Yet he adds, because the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them; but the impious shall stumble and perish. When he speaks here of the ways of the Lord, he does not mean only precepts, though the Scriptures often take the word in this sense; but he means the whole order of government which God upholds, and all the judgments which he exercises. He says, therefore, that all the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them, since the just will give God the glory calmly, and with the proper docility; and when they are agitated by various doubts, and through their infirmity are ever in a ferment through the force of many temptations, yet they will always repose on the providence of God, and briefly determine, by cutting off every occasion for long and perplexing and thorny questions, that God is just. Thus the just walk in the ways of the Lord, because they submit to all his works.
He says also, that the impious stumble and fall; for as soon as they begin to think that God does not act rightly or prudently, they are rebellious, and are carried away by blind impulse, and their pride at length hurries them headlong into madness. Thus they stumble in the ways of the Lord: because, as we see in this passage, they vomit forth their blasphemies against God. Hence we ought, to be influenced by this course of action, namely, adoring with humility the counsel of God, although to us incomprehensible, and attributing the praise of justice to all his works, though in our opinion they may not correspond, or be consistent with each other. -- This, then, is the sum of the whole. Although the Prophet speaks of the penalties which God inflicts on the reprobate, and of the reward which he has laid up for the just, yet we ought to ascend still higher; and if God in his deeds seems to pervert the whole course of justice, yet we should always be sustained by this bridle -- he is just; and if his deeds are disapproved by us, it arises from our error and ignorance. For example, we not only contend with God when he seems not to repay us a just reward for our good works, or when he seems too severe towards us; but when his eternal election is discussed, we immediately roar out, because we cannot penetrate to so great a height: the pious, indeed, are not altogether free from perplexing doubts which disturb them, but they restrain themselves directly as I have said. But some restive men break out in this way, -- I do not comprehend -- I do not understand: hence God is unjust. We see how many blusterers in the present day betray their desperate impudence, whence this teaching should recur to our minds -- the ways of God are right. But since we do not perceive how it is so, another clause is added, that our ways are not right; that is, that all our senses are defective, and our intellect blinded, and that we are all so corrupt that our judgment is perverted. If, therefore, we conclude with the Prophet, that our ways are not right, the glory of God's justice will remain untarnished and entire. Afterwards he adds --
1 That is, "is not straightforward." -- Calvin.
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