Paul charges Timothy to have “faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck” (1 Tim. 1:19). This passage first teaches teachers and ministers of the gospel, and through them, all the churches with what horror they ought to regard a hypocritical and deceitful profession of true doctrine, when they learn that it is so severely punished. Second, this passage removes the offense by which so many persons are greatly distressed, when they perceive that some, who formerly professed their attachment to Christ and to the gospel, not only fall back into their former superstitions, but (which is far worse) they are bewildered and captivated by monstrous errors. All the errors that have existed in the Christian Church from the beginning, proceeded from this source, that in some persons, ambition, and in others, covetousness, extinguished the true fear of God. A bad conscience is, therefore, the mother of all heresies . . .
Here Paul, therefore, in the person of Timothy, forewarns not only the Ephesians, but all the churches throughout the world, about hypocritical teachers, who, by setting up false worship, and by ensnaring consciences with new laws, adulterate the true worship of God, and corrupt the pure doctrine of faith.
Paul adds regarding these religious hypocrites that they speak “lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). Consciences that are bad and seared with the hot iron of their crimes always flee to hypocrisy as a ready refuge; that is, they contrive hypocritical pretences in order to dazzle the eyes of God; and what else is done by those who endeavor to appease God by the mask of outward observances?
The word hypocrisy must therefore be explained agreeably to the passage in which it now occurs; for, first, it must relate to doctrine [teaching], and, next, it denotes that kind of doctrine which adulterates the spiritual worship of God by exchanging its genuine purity for bodily exercises; and thus it includes all methods contrived by men for appeasing God or obtaining His favor. The meaning may be thus summed up: first, that all who assume a pretended sanctimoniousness [piety] are led by the instigation of the devil because God is never worshipped aright by outward ceremonies, for true worshippers “worship Him in spirit and truth” (John 4:24), and, second, that this is a useless medicine, by which hypocrites mitigate their pains, or rather a plaster by which bad consciences conceal their wounds, without any advantage, and to their utter destruction.
Paul warns that in the last days “men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy . . .” (2 Tim. 3:2). In ancient times, how many crimes abounded in the life of the Pharisees? And yet, as if they had been pure from every stain, they enjoyed a reputation of eminent holiness. Paul says that hypocrites, though they are chargeable with the grossest vices, nevertheless deceive under a mask of piety. And, indeed, the world deserves to be deceived by those wicked scoundrels, when it either despises or cannot endure true holiness. Besides, Paul enumerates those vices which are not visible at first sight, and which are even the ordinary attendants of pretended holiness.
For example, the love of self is a sin, and all religious hypocrites exhibit this trait: Is there a hypocrite who is not proud, who is not a lover of himself, who is not a despiser of others, who is not fierce and cruel, who is not treacherous? But all these are concealed from the eyes of men. Self-love, which is put first, may be regarded as the source from which flow all the vices that follow afterwards. He who loves himself claims a superiority in everything, despises all others, is cruel, indulges in covetousness, treachery, anger, rebellion against parents, neglect of what is good, and such like things.
The New Testament has much more to say about hypocrisy, including Jesus’ woes upon the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees (cf. Matt. 23; Luke 11) and the apostle Peter’s description of false teachers (2 Peter). Having considered a few of the New Testament’s teachings on religious hypocrisy, let us now consider the old covenant prophet Jeremiah’s teachings on the subject.
The Jews of Jeremiah’s day were inflated with much pride; they despised the favor of God, as though they stood in no need of the aid of another.
Men are very foolish when they are proud of their present prosperous condition and think that they are fixed in a state of safety; for in a single moment God can cast down those whom He has raised up, and also raise up on high those whom He has before brought down to the ground. Until then men are brought to know that they are subject to God’s power and that their condition can in a single moment be changed, according to His will, they will never be humble as they ought to be. (Jer. 18:1-6; cf. 1 Pet. 5:6ff)
The wicked gain nothing by their pride, for they provoke God more and more, when they thus oppose His pure doctrine and contend against His prophets and faithful teachers.
God uses adversity to humble the proud: As ungodly men are elevated by prosperity, so they ought to be humbled when oppressed with adversity.
The greater part of the people were no doubt ready boldly to object and say, “What do you mean? Are we not the disciples of Moses? You, foolish man! Do you think you have to deal with a barbarous people. Have we not been from our childhood taught the law of God? Is it not daily enjoined on us? We are sufficiently instructed in this doctrine of which you pretend that we are ignorant. Be gone from here, and go either to the Chaldeans or to the Assyrians or to the Egyptians, for we understand what the law teaches” (Jer. 11:6-8).
Since, then, the Jews boasted that they kept and preserved the law, the Prophet now more sharply rebukes them, because they knew not God Himself (Jer. 2:8). Likewise, in Romans 2:20-22, the apostle Paul detects the wickedness of hypocrites; for the more detestable they were, as they were thus inflated with false glory; they profaned the name of God, while they pretended to be His heralds, and as it were His prophets.
The Jews dared insolently to raise objections against the prophets, whenever they severely reproved them: “What! Are not we God’s holy people? Has He not chosen us? Are we not the holy seed of Abraham?”
God’s reply to self-confident hypocrites is along these lines: “You are indeed self-confident, because an external profession of religion seems to you to be a sort of expiation, whenever you seek to contend with God; you boast that you are Abraham’s seed, and swear by the name of God, but you are sacrilegious, when you thus falsely profess God’s name.”
The Jews thought that they had a cover for all their vices, inasmuch as they had God’s name continually in their mouths. Since then they professed to worship the God of Abraham, they thought that this pretext was sufficient to cover all their wickedness. The Prophet anticipates this objection and shows that this disguise was of no avail because in thus using God’s name, they profaned it; and Jeremiah goes still further, for he shows that the Jews, not only in common practice were entirely destitute of the fear of God but also that when anything of a religious kind appeared among them, it was sacrilegious. This is far worse than when God’s name is forgotten and wretched men allow themselves a full license in sinning, as though they could not conceal their wickedness; for when men openly provoke God and dishonor Him to His face, how detestable and how monstrous is their impiety.
“They are not the Lord’s,” he adds. The Jews were inflated with this empty confidence—that they were safe under the protection of God; for they imagined that God was the guardian of the city of Jerusalem because the sanctuary and the altar were there. Hence the Prophet declares that the walls or the foundation were not God’s. Nor could it have been objected, that it is said elsewhere, that the city had been founded by the Lord; God had indeed chosen His habitation and His throne there, but on this condition—that the people should faithfully worship Him. When Jerusalem was made a den of thieves, God departed from it, according to what is said by Ezekiel in chapter 14. Here then the Prophet reproves that foolish confidence, by which the Jews deceived themselves, when they thought that God was in a manner bound never to forsake the defense of the city. He denies that their walls and foundations were God’s; for the Jews by their sins had so polluted the whole place, that God could not dwell in such filth (Jer. 5:10).
God had indeed promised to dwell in the temple, but on a certain condition—provided He was faithfully and in a legitimate manner, worshipped there; but the people with their pollutions had defiled the temple. God then shows that there was a just cause why He had departed, according to what is set forth more fully in the tenth chapter of Ezekiel: God shows to His servant in that vision that He had left the temple, and for this reason—because His holiness could not be blended with ungodly and filthy profanations. They borrowed here and there from foreigners such superstitions as were unknown to their fathers, as though they wished to banish God from the temple and from the whole land.
God cannot be pacified by the fallacious trifles which hypocrites bring forward, for He requires a sincere heart and abominates all counterfeits. For hypocrites ever regard display and seek to be approved by men, and are satisfied with their approbation; but God calls their attention to Himself. God cannot be deceived, for He is the searcher of hearts (Jer. 4:1).
Hypocrites ever seek to appease God by external rites and observances, but the Prophet shows that God cannot be pacified unless they from the heart return to Him.
The most wicked people flatter themselves while they can retain the good opinion and applause of the world; and as long as they continue in honor, they slumber in their vices. This foolish confidence is what the Prophet expressly exposes; for he explains that the eyes of God are different from those of mortals; men can see a very little way, hardly three fingers before them; but God penetrates into the inmost and most hidden recesses of the heart; and the Prophet speaks thus of God’s eyes, in order to show how worthless are the opinions of men, who regard only a splendid outward appearance.
Though hypocrites flatter themselves and the whole world encourages them by their high compliments, all this will not avail them; for they must at last come before the tribunal of God, and before God truth only will be approved and honored (Jer. 5:3).
Hypocrites, though void of all sincerity, yet profess to be the true worshippers of God, and by sacrifices and fastings and other external rites wish to prove themselves to be so (Jer. 14:11-12).
Hypocrites, by false thoughts delude themselves, thinking that they can elude God, since He seeks nothing else but to restore sinners to Himself. Hypocrites wish to agree or to make a covenant [deal / compact] with God, that He should not deal severely with them, and that His Prophets should only speak smoothly.
The Prophet met the objection of the hypocrites, who might have said, that they had been deceived, and had relapsed through ignorance; for they have ever some evasions ready at hand, when they are called to an account for their sins (Jer. 2:6-7). There is nothing more common than for the ungodly, when they are proved guilty, to have recourse to this subterfuge—that they acted with good intentions, when they gave themselves up to their own superstitions. The Prophet then takes off this mask and shows that where God is once known, His name and His glory cannot be obliterated, except through the depravity of men, as they knowingly and willfully depart from Him. Hence all apostates are condemned, that they may no more dare to make evasions, as though they have been through mere simplicity deceived; for when the matter is discovered, their malignity and ingratitude are discovered.
Whatever is contrary to sound doctrine is a sinful device, a fallacy of Satan and, in a word, the impiety of a corrupt heart. Whoever turns aside from the plain teaching of the prophets and from the teaching of the law follows their own thoughts or the figments of their own hearts. It hence follows that they try evasions in vain, for when they reject pure doctrine they set up their own inventions.
The Jews of Jeremiah’s day were unteachable; they were set in their perverse ways and unwilling to be reformed by God’s Word: The insane people could by no means be reformed, however much God might try to check that excess by which they were led away after idols and superstitions (Jer. 2:25).
God shows that the people had been admonished over a period of time, but they were so taken up with their own perverse counsels, that they could not endure the words of the prophets (Jer. 2:25). They obstinately rejected the kind and friendly admonitions which had been given them.
Why doesn’t God’s word profit religious hypocrites? There is then but one cause why God’s word does not profit us, but on the contrary is injurious and fatal to us, and that is, because we seek not what God speaks, that is, because we are not teachable, nor come to learn, but either sloth [laziness], or contempt, or ingratitude, or perverseness, or something of this kind, bears rule in us.
Religious hypocrites pretend to be God’s people, but reject all His servants and in reality reject His Word: The Jews were ashamed to reject Moses; as they believed that the Law came from God, it would at least have been deemed by them an abominable thing to deny credit to the Law. And yet they boldly rejected all the prophets, though they were but faithful interpreters of the Law, as the case is with the Papists of the present day, who, though they dare not deny but that the Scripture contains celestial truth, yet furiously reject what is alleged from it. Similar was the perverseness of the Jews. (Jer. 24:9)
Hypocrites cannot tolerate God’s truth: Hypocrites become mad when God summons them to judgment. When any one handles gently a man full of ulcers, there is no sign of uneasiness given; but when a surgeon presses the ulcers, then he becomes irritated, and then also comes out what was before hidden. Similar is the case with hypocrites; for as it has been said, they do not clamor against God nor even make any complaints when the simple truth is declared; but when they are urged with reproofs and with threatenings, then their rage is kindled, then they manifest in every way their virulence.
Why do hypocrites hate God’s Word? Why is it that God’s word is not savored by us or excites in us a bitter spirit? It is because we are infected by some sinful lust or passion which entirely corrupts our judgment. God then would have us to come to Him free from every vicious disposition and to be so teachable as to inquire only what He teaches and to obey whatever He may answer to us.
We see many such men at this day who are not influenced by divine truth. They nod, indeed, as asses who move their ears; for they confess with their mouths that what is propounded to them is true and right; but they either close their eyes or at least do not attend so as to know that it is God who speaks (Jer. 36:19).
The reason then why the Jews went astray was that they closed their ears to God’s word and suffered not themselves to be ruled by it, but became wholly unteachable (Jer. 3:14).
When doctrine is set before any people, and God is pleased familiarly to teach them, yet nothing is effected, their perverseness is thus more fully made known (Jer. 35:17).
The majority of people cannot bear threatenings and terrors when announced to them. Hence they entertain contempt and hatred towards heavenly doctrine; and yet none consider why God so often threatens and terrifies them in His word. For if men ceased to sin, God would cease to contend with them; but when they continually provoke Him, is He to be silent? And further, are His prophets to suffer [allow] everything just to be violated, and God Himself to be despised? Let us then know that the fault is in us when God seems to deal rigidly with us, for we do not allow Him to use such a paternal language as He always would were it not that we put a hindrance in the way (Jer. 23:36).
Men ever seek to be flattered; hence adulations [flatteries] are ever delightfully received. Such is the pride of men that they cannot bear to be called to an account for what they have done; and they become also indignant, when they see their crimes and vices brought to light; besides, they are so delicate and tender that they avoid as much as they can all adverse rumors; and if any fear assails them, they instantly resist (Jer. 28:5-6).
Hypocrites seek flatteries in their calamities; as long as God spares them they will not bear to be reproved, and they reject wise counsels, and even become exasperated when God’s Prophets exhort them to repent. But when God begins to smite them, they wish all to partake of their misfortunes; and then also they accuse God’s servants of cruelty, as though they insulted their misery by setting their sins before them. In short, hypocrites are never in a fit condition to receive God’s reproofs (Jer. 34:1-2).
When God spares hypocrites or does not touch their vices, they can bear prophetic teaching; but when the sore is touched, immediately they become angry; and this was the continual contest which God’s Prophets had with the ungodly; for if they had flattered them and spoken smooth words to them, if they had always promised something joyful and prosperous to the ungodly, they would have been received with great favor and applause; but the word of God was unpleasant and bitter; and it exasperated their minds when they heard that God was displeased and angry with them (Jer. 36:29-30).
The Jews openly opposed the [true] prophets, as though some great wrong was done to them, and they called the prophets accusers and slanderers.
Hypocrites not only excuse themselves and allege vain pretences, but they dare to come forth publicly and to fly as it were above the clouds, elated by their own self-confidence. “Who will dare to allege anything against me?” Thus hypocrites willfully and brazenly challenge all the servants of God and seek by their own presumption to close the mouth of all.
Hypocrites deny true prophets are sent by God: When the unbelieving are proved guilty, they ever fix their eyes on men, “Ho! It is with a mortal that I have to deal; far be it from me ever to rise up against God!”
The unbelievers clamored that Jeremiah presumptuously pretended God’s name, and that he had not been sent by God. Jeremiah was not received by the whole people, and his authority was disputed. They had not only rejected one Prophet but even many; for God had not employed Jeremiah alone to teach them, but had joined others with him, so that they were less excusable. It was, indeed, very wicked to neglect God’s servants; but as prophecy was an invaluable treasure, and a singular pledge and symbol of God’s favor, it was a double crime when they thus despised the prophets, whose very name ought to have been held sacred by them (Jer. 25:3-5).
Hypocrites laugh at God’s true servants: The ungodly regard whatever is brought forward in God’s name as a matter of sport and mockery and boldly deride all threatenings. God proves the power of His word when He executes what He has predicted (Jer. 25:13).
Hypocrites attack the messengers of God: But as Jeremiah was bound to obey the divine call, it was evident that it was not his fault, and that he was unjustly charged by the people as the author of the evils denounced. We indeed know that the prophets incurred much ill-will and reproach from the refractory and the despisers of God, as though all their calamities were to be imputed to them.
The Prophet shows that his denunciation was heedlessly despised by them; in fact, there was such obstinacy in their wickedness that they then more stoutly prepared themselves for battle. For he says that they avowedly conspired against him, after he had warned them of God’s dreadful judgment (Jer. 18:18).
Religious hypocrites cannot tolerate godly admonitions: The ungodly and the despisers of God thought themselves grievously injured whenever their wounds were touched; for they considered reproofs, however just and necessary, to be reproaches. Hence then it was that their rage kindled in them a desire for revenge, though yet no wrong had been done to them.
The wicked commonly assail as it were blindly the servants of God, without any judgment or discrimination. Were any one to ask them, whether they mean openly and professedly to resist God as their Judge, they would deny it; but yet they cannot bear to be warned and reproved. Here then, as in a mirror, we see how madly all the wicked resist God, and try as much as they can to extinguish His Spirit. In short, they may, indeed, concede some authority to God, provided they be allowed to live without having anything said against their lusts by His prophets (Jer. 32:1-3).
For it is a common thing with hypocrites to measure God by their own judgment; and when they extenuate [weaken/mitigate] His power, they think of Him as of a child (Jer. 44:24-26). He is like a baby in a manger and nothing more!
The Jews of Jeremiah’s day perverted the word of God, being false interpreters of it, and closed the door against His kindness when He invited all the pious and the teachable.
When hypocrites pretend in a circuitous way to seek God, they do not obtain what they wish, for God justly disappoints them, inasmuch as they do not come to Him with sincere hearts and desires; for they wish to transform God into their own nature and character, and they bend not themselves to His service nor submit to His word. Thus it happens that God will not answer their prayers (Jer. 37:3-8).
The Jews were hypocrites, immersed in their own delusions, and could not be assailed by any fear. It is the usual tendency of the ungodly to seek to make God subservient to themselves. It is usual with hypocrites to make a great show of repentance and at the same time to shun God.
Nothing is more abominable in the sight of God than the contempt of divine truth; for His majesty, which shines forth in His word, is thereby trampled under foot; and further, it is an extreme ingratitude in men, when God Himself invites them to salvation, willfully to seek their own ruin and to reject His favor. It is no wonder then that God cannot endure the contempt of His word, by which His majesty is dishonored and His goodness, by which He would secure the salvation of men, is treated with the basest ingratitude.
They craftily evaded every light; they could not plead ignorance or any levity; for through guile, says God, they refused to know Me. As they entirely flattered themselves with deceptions, they designedly extinguished as far as they could, the light. By guile then he means that obstinate craftiness by which the people cast aside every instruction (Jer. 9:7).
Hypocrites confess in words their sins and seek pardon, but it is with a feigned or a double heart. Hence that prayer may be genuine, repentance must be added, by which men show that they loathe themselves. And then, on the other hand, it is not enough for us to turn or repent, except the sinner flees to the mercy of God, for pardon flows from that fountain; for God does not forgive us for any merit in us, but because it seems good to Him to bury our sins (Jer. 36:8).
Experience, they say, is the teacher of fools; and it is an old proverb, that fools, when corrected, become wise. Both poets and historians have uttered such sayings. Since, then, the Jews had such a perverse disposition, that even scourges did not lead them to repentance, it was an evidence of extreme wickedness.
A common proverb teaches that fools become wise too late; for they never obey good and wise counsels while they may, but at last they are made to know by their own miseries and their teacher, experience, that what they despised is true, but without any benefit (Jer. 39:3-4 ).
Whatever honor hypocrites at this day possess in the Church, they yet boast in vain; for though they may for a time be counted as the heritage of God, they are at the same time hated by God, inasmuch as they are within full of wickedness and of perverseness towards Him; and then, when urged and pressed, they hesitate not to vomit forth their insolence (Jer. 12:9).
The Jews’ houses were full of spoils which they had acquired by deceit and fraud. They had scraped together their riches by depriving the helpless and the poor of their substance. They gloried in their wealth; [they were] blinded by the splendor of their riches.
The Temple in Jerusalem had become a den of thieves. Thus hypocrites mock God with their vanities and regard God as extremely cruel because He is not satisfied with their external display (Jer. 6:20).
The prophet Jeremiah compares the Ethiopian [Ebedmelech], an alien, with all the Jews, who professed themselves to be the holy seed of Abraham, who had been circumcised, and boasted loudly of God’s law and covenant; and yet there was not one among them who would stretch forth his hand to the holy servant of God! But there was an Ethiopian so courageous that he dared to accuse all the king’s courtiers and the other princes. A similar case is represented by Christ in a parable, when He says that a Levite and a priest passed by a wounded man and disregarded him, but that help was brought to him by a Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). His purpose, no doubt, was to condemn the Jews, even the Levites and the priests, for their barbarity in caring nothing for the life of a miserable man in his extremity (Jer. 38:7-9).
The word Ethiopian is now repeated because God intended in the person of an alien [foreigner] indirectly to reprove the Jews; for no doubt they despised him because he was not of the holy seed of Abraham. But God shows that He peculiarly regarded him, while He rejected the masked and hypocritical children of Abraham, who were only born of Him according to the flesh, but had by their impiety renounced Him, so that they were completely unworthy of so high an honor (Jer. 39:15-18).
It is indeed well known that during the reign of King Josiah the land was cleansed from superstitions, for that pious king labored to restore the true worship of God and to remove all the filth and defilements by which the temple and the whole of religion had been corrupted. He strenuously exerted himself, and no doubt there was an improved appearance of religion throughout the land; but it later became evident that a great portion of the people were under the influence of hypocrisy and deceit, as it is usually the case when rulers seek to support the pure worship of God, and to free it from all corruptions; for there are many hypocrites, who for a time pretend to change, while the same antipathy to God still remains.
Such is the case with many now who having left the superstitions of the Papacy seemed at first to embrace the doctrines of the Gospel, but all now wish to be satisfied with any kind of reformation; at the same time, they shake off the yoke of Christ and can bear submission to no discipline; in short, their object is to subvert all order; and yet they boldly claim to be the advocates of reformation, whenever their impiety is reproved.
Hypocrites, when they allege their fallacious pretences, think themselves already hidden from the eyes of God and from the judgment of all men. Hence the Prophet sharply condemns this supine self-security, and says, How dare you to boast that you are not polluted? How dare you to say, that you have not walked after Baalim? That is, after strange gods (Jer. 2:23).
How should hypocrites be dealt with—those who indulge their own delusions? The more boldly they rise up against God, the more violently they ought to be cast down, so that they may at last humble themselves under the mighty hand of God.
At this day, men cannot be rightly taught unless we carry on war against that external splendor with which they will have God to be satisfied. As then men deceive themselves with such trifles, it is necessary to show that all those things which hypocrites obtrude on God, without sincerity of heart, are frivolous nonsense.
Hypocrites not only claim for themselves
righteousness before the world but they also deceive themselves, and the devil
so dements them with a false persuasion that they seek to be counted just before
Hypocrites derive confidence from the present appearance of things; when they see that there is quietness on every side, they fear no danger; when God threatens them, and shows not immediately His rods, they ridicule or despise them. (Jer. 8:19)
How can we ascribe glory to God except by acknowledging Him to be the fountain of all wisdom, justice, and power, and especially by trembling at His sacred word? Whoever then does not fear and reverence God, whoever does not believe His word, he robs Him of His glory. We hence see that all the unbelieving, though they may testify the contrary by their mouths, are yet in reality enemies to God’s glory and deprive Him of it (Jer. 13:16).
The Jews of Jeremiah’s day deprived God of His right and sought to occupy His throne as though they were the judges and could subject to their own will whatever the Prophet had declared. It is indeed probable that they did not avowedly or designedly carry on war with God; for hypocrites raise up for themselves mists and clouds, by which they willfully bring darkness on themselves. In the meantime a diabolical fury possesses them, so that they make no account of God; for were they really to consider the truth brought to them, they might easily understand it. From where does this violent fury and madness arise, that when they seek to contend with man, they really fight with God? Even because their impiety and pride so blinds them, that they hesitate not to rob God of His honor and thus they put themselves in His place.
The Prophet Jeremiah declares that God was the author of his doctrine and that nothing could be alleged against him which would not be against God Himself; as though he had said that the Jews contended in vain, under the notion that they contended with a mortal man; for they openly carried on war with God (Jer. 20:7).
The word of God is not only perverted in one way, but when we furiously oppose Him, we prevent Him to deal gently and kindly with us; and we do the same when we submit not to His reproofs, but rage against Him whenever He summons us to judgment. (Jer. 23:36)
Hypocrites gain nothing by setting up their pretences that they may escape when God condemns them.
God rejects the prayers of religious hypocrites: He rejects those who call on Him hypocritically.
The people of Jeremiah’s day were gluttonous and drunk with their wealth, but their abundant food and wealth would ironically become a curse to them: When the ungodly accumulate wealth, they are in a matter fattened. When oxen plough, and sheep are fed that they may bear wool and bring forth young, they are not fed that they may grow fat, and a moderate quantity of food will suffice them; but when any one intends to prepare sheep or oxen for the slaughter, he fattens them. So then the feeding of them is nothing else that the fattening of them; and the fattening of them is a preparation for their slaughter (Jer. 12:4).
God does not value what is highly esteemed by men, nor that which excites men’s feelings: Why? Because God regards the faith of the heart, and faith is taken for integrity. So then God abominates a double and a false heart; and the greater the fervor hypocrites display in external rites, the more they provoke Him.
Religious hypocrites are the most hopeless and miserable of men: For as there are many diseases, and those grievous and dangerous, which yet may be healed, so also we ought to conclude that men are healable as long as they bear to be taught, to be admonished and reproved; but when with closed ears they pass by every truth, when they despise all counsels, when they esteem as nothing God’s threatenings and reproofs, then their salvation is hopeless.
A just reward is rendered to the ungodly who wish to be deceived, when they sustain a twofold judgment from God. Behold, then, what all the wicked who seek flatterers that promise them wonderful things gain for themselves! They thus earn for themselves a heavier vengeance. The more they strive to put afar off God’s judgment, the more, no doubt, they increase and inflame it. This is the reason why the Prophet denounces a special judgment on the friends of Pashur, to whom he had prophesied; they had willfully laid hold on those false promises by which he had flattered them, so that they boldly despised God. Since, then, they wished of their own accord to be thus deceived, it was right that these deceptions through which they slandered the prophetic threatenings, and which they usually set up as a shield against them, should bring on them a heavier punishment (Jer. 20:6).
God, while suspending His vengeance as to the reprobate, punishes the elect as well as all those who profess themselves to be members of His Church. They had from determined wickedness provoked His wrath by despising both His Law and His Prophets (Jer. 25:18).
Jeremiah essentially said that all the nations would condemn the Israelites on account of their hypocrisy: It is then the same as though Jeremiah had said that all the nations would condemn the Israelites at the last day, because their very persistency in error would prove the greater wickedness of the Jews, inasmuch as they were apostates from the true God and from that God who had so clearly manifested to them His power.
For what purpose did Jeremiah compare the ten tribes [of Israel] with the kingdom of Judah? It was done in order to show that the Jews who wished to be deemed far more holy than others were yet more treacherous and deserved a heavier punishment, because they acted so deceitfully with God (Jer. 3:11).
God judges religious hypocrites more severely than pagans who have never heard of the one, true God. The prophet Jeremiah says that Sodom was righteous in comparison with Jerusalem; and Tyre and Sidon were just when compared with the Jews (Ezek. 16:47-48). Jesus taught this same truth: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you." (Matt. 11:21-24). So also Jesus taught, “And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:47-48).
They are worthy of a heavier punishment, who have been religiously brought up from their childhood, and become afterwards degenerated, who, having had pious and godly parents, afterwards abandon themselves to every wickedness. Hence a heavier punishment awaits those who depart from the examples of godly fathers (Jer. 15:4).
He begins with Jerusalem, as it is said elsewhere that judgment would begin at God’s house (1 Pet. 4:17). Hence is fulfilled what Christ declares, that those servants shall be more grievously beaten, who, knowing their Master’s will, yet obstinately disregard it. There is then a twofold fault in the members of the Church; and no comparison can be made between them and the unbelieving who are in thick darkness. Since God shines in His Church and shows the way, as Moses says, “Behold I set before you the way of life and of death; I therefore call heaven and earth to witness that there is no excuse for you” (Deut. 30:15, 19). This, then, is the second reason why God first visits the sins of the faithful, or of those who are counted faithful (Jer. 25:18).
Ignorance is no excuse before God, for those who are without the Law must perish; yet the servant who knew his Lord’s will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes. And the more abundant God’s grace is in calling us to the right way of salvation, the more base is our ingratitude when we close our ears and disregard the concern and care which He manifests for our salvation. Let us then know that nothing is less tolerable than the rejection of the prophetic word. (Jer. 29:18-19)
John Calvin, Commentaries on The Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon,
trans. Rev. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 46.
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