Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 4: Harmony of the Law, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
1. Loquutus est praterea Jehova ipsi Mosi, dicendo:
2. If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the LORD, and lie unto his neighbour in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or hath deceived his neighbour;
2. Anima quum peccaverit, et praevaricata fuerit praevaricationem contra Jehovam, mentiens nempe fuerit proximo suo in deposito, ant in depositione manus, aut raptum, ant vim fecerit proximo suo.
3. Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein:
3. Aut invenerit amissum, et negaverit illud, ac juraverit falso in uno ex omnibus quae facere solet homo peccando in ipsis.
4. Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found,
4. Quum ergo peccaverit, et dell querit, tum reddet raptum quod rapuit, aut vi extortum quod vi extorsit, aut depositum quod depositum fuerit apud illum, vel amissum quod invenerit.
5. Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering.
5. Aut quidpiam aliud ex omnibus de quibus juraverit falso, tune reddet illud in solidum, et quintum ipsius addet illi: eique cujus erat reddet illud die oblationis pro delicto suo.
6. And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offerring, unto the priest:
6. Oblationem vero pro delicto suo adducet Jehovae, arietem integrum e pecudibus, secundum estimationem suam ad faciendum sacrificium pro delicto ad sacerdotem.
7. And the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD; and it shall be forgiven him for any thing of all that he hath done in trespassing therein.
7. Expiabit eum sacerdos eoram Jehova, et remittetur el, expiabit inquam ab uno ex omnibus quae facere solet homo delinquendo in eo.
1. And the Lord spake unto Moses. Moses now no longer treats of the means of expiating errors when the sinner is guilty through thoughtlessness; but he prescribes the mode of reconciliation, when any one shall have wilfully and designedly offended God. And this is well worthy of notice, lest those who may have been guilty of voluntary sin should doubt whether God will be propitiated towards them, provided they make application to the one sacrifice of Christ, in which consists the entire substance of the shadows of the Law. We must indeed beware lest we indulge ourselves under the cover of God’s clemency and readiness to pardon, — for the lust of the flesh provokes us to sin more than enough, without the addition of this snare, — nor is it less than a blasphemous insult to God to take occasion and license for sin, from the fact of His willingness to pardon. Let then the fear of God reign in us, which will repress our wicked desires like a rein, so that we should not wilfully fall into sin; and let His mercy rather engender the hatred and detestation of sin in our hearts, than incite us to audacity. Yet, at the same time, we must prudently take heed, lest if we imagine God to be inexorable to our voluntary sins, this excessive severity should overthrow the hope of salvation even in those who are the holiest. For even now-a-days there are some madmen who deny pardon to all who may have chanted to fall through the infirmity of the flesh, since to morose men this severity has its charms, and by this hallucination Novatus 271 greatly troubled the Church of old. But if we all honestly examine ourselves, it will plainly appear that those rigid censors, who affect the reputation of sanctity by immoderate asperity, are the grossest hypocrites. For if they would abandon their pride, and examine into their lives, which of them would find himself free from concupiscence? and whose conscience must not often smite him?
It is then monstrous blindness to exalt men, clothed in human flesh, to such a pitch of perfection, as that their conscience should not convict them of any fault or blame. And nothing is more pestilent than this imposture of the devil, excluding from the hope of pardon those who knowingly and willingly have sinned; since there is not one even of God’s best servants, in whom the corrupt affections of the flesh do not sometimes prevail; for although they be neither adulterers, nor thieves, nor murderers, yet there is none whom the last Commandment of the Law — “Thou shalt not covet,” — does not convict of sin. And assuredly the more advance one has made in endeavors after purity, the more he feels and acknowledges that he is still very far from reaching its goal. Therefore, unless we would purposely close the gate of salvation against us, we must hold that God is placable towards all, who trust that their sin is forgiven them by the sacrifice of Christ; for God is neither changed, nor is our condition worse than that of the fathers, whereas under the Law God appointed sacrifices for the expiation even of voluntary offenses. Hence it follows, that although we are convicted of voluntary sin, yet a remedy is set before us in the Gospel for procuring pardon: else would these ancient figures be more than delusive, which had no other object than to be testimonies and mirrors of the grace which was finally manifested to us in Christ. If there ought to be a mutual agreement between the external representation of grace under the Law, and the spiritual effect which Christ brought in, it plainly appears that sins are no less forgiven to us now, than to the ancient people; and thus that believers are reminded by this symbol, that they are not to despair of reconciliation, whilst they take no pleasure in their sins; but rather that they should boldly seek for pardon in the perpetual sacrifice which constantly renders God favorable to all the godly. And surely since repentance and faith are the sure pledges of God’s favor, it cannot be but that they should be received into His grace who are endued with these two gifts. Besides, the remission of sins is an inestimable treasure, which God has deposited in His Church, to be the peculiar blessing of His children; as the Confession of Faith declares, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the forgiveness of sins.” Nor would what Paul proclaims concerning the embassy entrusted to him be consistent, unless Christ’s satisfaction daily propitiated God towards believers. (2Co 5:20.)
The question here is not about some trifling offense, but about the crime of unfaithfulness, doubled by the addition of perjury. It is true that perfidy, or deceit, or violence, are first mentioned, to mark the grossness of the sin; but the guilt lies chiefly in the profanation of God’s name when the injury done to man is sheltered under a false oath. At any rate, he is admitted to pardon who has both iniquitously deceived his brother and has impiously abused God’s name. Hence it appears that God spares wretched sinners although they may have contaminated themselves by faithlessness, and have aggravated the crime committed against men by sacrilege, having insulted God through their perjury. But although Moses only enumerates transgressions of the Eighth Commandment, still he teaches, according to his usual manner, by synecdoche what must be done in the case of other offenses also. If, then, anything shall have been taken away by violence, or by fraud, and perjury has been superadded, he commands not only that satisfaction should be made to the neighbor who is defrauded, but that the price of atonement should also be offered to God. And the reason for this is expressly given, because not only has a mortal man been injured, but God has also been offended, who would have men conduct themselves justly and reverently towards each other; and then the crime is carried to extremity by the violation of God’s sacred name. The sacrifice is not indeed required from a thief or robber, or from the denier of a deposit, or the appropriator of anything lost, unless they have also perjured themselves; yet the words of Moses are not without their weight: if any one, by the denial of a deposit, or by theft, or robbery, shall have “committed a trespass against the Lord;” whereby he signifies, that whenever an injury is inflicted on men, God in their person is offended, because every transgression of the Law violates and perverts His justice.
We shall elsewhere see more about the restitution to be made in case of theft or robbery, especially when a person has been found guilty. This point, however, is alone referred to directly in this passage, viz., that whoever injures or inflicts a loss upon his brother, incurs guilt and condemnation before God; but if he proceeds to such a pitch of obstinacy, as to cover his crime by falsely appealing to the sacred name of God, he is polluted by double iniquity, so that compensation of the damage is not sufficient, but he must also make atonement to God. But we must understand this of those who, having escaped from the fear of punishment, voluntarily repent. The notion of some commentators who alter the copula into the disjunctive particle, and consider perjury to be one of the various sins referred to, I reject as foreign to the meaning of Moses. Others explain it thus: “If any shall have committed robbery or theft, or shall have sworn falsely about a thing lawful in itself:” but I do not see why the words should be wrested thus; besides, their mistake is refitted by the context itself, in which restitution is coupled with the sacrifices, and this could not be applicable unless perjury were conjoined also with fraud or violence. Nor does the disjunctive particle which follows help them; for after he has commanded what was taken away by force or deceit to be restored, because all the various points could not be separately expressed, it is added, “Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely,” not as if the guilt of perjury had been contracted in any other matters, but that he might cut away all means of subterfuge, which the repetition also confirms; for, after having introduced the crime of swearing falsely, he again, as if more clearly explaining what he had said, commands the restitution of the principal, together with the fifth part. But what is it that he commands to be restored except what the deceiver had kept back under cover of his oath? Of this a clearer exposition will be found under the Eighth Commandment.
A satisfaction is therefore enjoined to be made towards men together with the offering. Nor is it without reason that God commands them to make up the loss on the day when the offering is made, lest hypocrites should promise themselves impunity after having enriched themselves by the property of another. It was indeed permitted them to restore their property to others before they propitiated God by the sacrifice; but God will not have His altar defiled, which would be the case if thieves or robbers offered victims belonging to others. He would, therefore, have the hands of those who sacrifice cleansed from pollution. And surely those who offer a victim to God out of spoils unjustly obtained, in some measure implicate Him as a participator in their crime. Hence may profitable instruction be drawn, viz., that hypocrites busy themselves in vain in reconciling God to themselves, unless they honestly restore what they have unjustly taken. Meanwhile we must observe the distinction in the words of Moses between the satisfaction made to men and the sin-offering which propitiates God; for we gather from hence, as I have said, that they obtain not pardon from God who desire to remain enriched by their stolen property; and yet that God is not appeased by anything but sacrifice. Clear proof of this latter point may be gathered from the whole Law, which prescribes but one means of reconciling God, i.e., when the sinner makes atonement for himself by offering a victim. Hence the diabolical figment as to satisfactions is refuted 272 by which the Papists imagine that they are redeemed from God’s judgment; for although God shall have remitted the guilt, they still think that the liability to punishment remains, until the sinner shall have delivered himself by his own works. To this end they have invented works of supererogation, to be meritorious in redeeming from punishment; hence, too, purgatory has come into existence. But when you have studied all the writings of Moses, and diligently weighed whatsoever is revealed in the Law as to the means of appeasing God, you will find that the Jews were everywhere brought back to sacrifices. Now, it is certain that whatever is attributed to sacrifices is so much taken away from men’s own works. But if it were not God’s intention to down His ancient people to outward ceremonies, it follows that it is only by the one Mediator, through the outpouring of His blood, that men are absolved from all liability either to guilt or punishment, so as to be restored to favor by God.
7. And the priest shall make an atonement. From this form of expression also, which frequently occurs, we must learn that the victim in itself was not the price of redemption, but that expiation was founded on the priesthood. For they have foolishly and falsely invented the notion that men work something themselves in the sacraments, 273 whereas their virtue and effect proceeds from quite another quarter. The offering, therefore, properly speaking, is passive rather than active as regards man. 274 The force of this will be more clearly understood from the delusion of the Papists. They are indeed compelled to acknowledge that in the sacraments men are passive, in so far as they receive the grace there offered to them; but they presently pervert this doctrine, by inventing their opus operatum, as they call it. But, lest the people should think that they bring from their own stores (domo) the price of their redemption, Moses constantly inculcates that it is the peculiar office of the priest, to appease God, and to blot out sin by expiation. It is also worthy of observation that he adds, “before the Lord,” for by this clause the profane notion is refuted, that men are purged by the legal sacrifices only civilly, as they say, i.e., before men, as if there were no spiritual promise included in them. Now, if this were so, the fathers would have been confirmed in the confidence of pardon by no external symbols, than which nothing can be more absurd; but by this one clause all ambiguity is removed, when Moses declares that they were absolved “before the Lord."
Novatus, a Carthaginian Presbyter, who in conjunction with Novatian a Presbyter of Rome, was the founder of the Novatian sect, a.d. 251, also called Cathari, or Aristeri. They “considered the genuine Church of Christ to be a society, where virtue and innocence reigned universally, and refused any longer to acknowledge those as its members who had even once degenerated into unrighteousness.” — Waddington’s Church Hist., vol. 1 pp. 165, 166.
C. mentions, Inst., book 4, ch. 1, sect. 23, (Calvin Society’s Translation, vol. 3, p. 35,) the similarity of some of the opinions held by the Anabaptists of his day to those of the Novatians.
For a statement of this doctrine, see Canons of the Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Can. 30; Sess. 14. Caput. 8, 9, Can. 12, 13, 14, 15. See C.’s “Antidote to the Canons of the Council of Trent,” (Calvin Society’s Edition,) p. 160.
“Qui’ls apportassent rien du leur aux sacremens;” that they bring something of their own to the sacraments. — Fr.
Addition in Fr., “c’est a dire, qu’il n’y apporte rien du sien, mais qu’il y recoit;” that is, that he brings nothing of his own to it, but receives something from it.