16Great is the mystery of godliness Again, here is another enhancement. That the truth of God might not, through the ingratitude of men, be less esteemed than it ought, he extols its value, by stating that
“ is the secret of godliness;”
that is, because it does not treat of mean subjects, but of the revelation of the Son of God,
“ whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom.” (Col_2:3.)
From the greatness and importance of such matters, pastors ought to judge of their office, that they may devote themselves to the discharge of it with greater conscientiousness and deeper reverence.
God manifested in the flesh The Vulgate’ translator, by leaving out the name of God, refers what follows to “ mystery,” but altogether unskillfully and inappropriately, as will clearly be seen on a bare perusal, though he has Erasmus on his side, who, however, destroys the authority of his own views, so that it is unnecessary for me to refute it. All the Greek copies undoubtedly agree in this rendering, “ manifested in the flesh.” But granting that Paul did not express the name of God, still any one who shall carefully examine the whole matter, will acknowledge that the name of Christ ought to be supplied. For my own part, I have no hesitation in following the reading which has been adopted in the Greek copies. In calling the manifestation of Christ, such as he afterwards describes it, a “ mystery,” the reason is obvious; for this is “ height, depth, and breadth of wisdom,” which he has elsewhere mentioned, (Eph_3:18,) by which all our senses must unavoidably be overwhelmed.
Let us now examine the various clauses in their order. He could not have spoken more appropriately about the person of Christ than in these words, “ manifested in the flesh.” First, we have here an express testimony of both natures; for he declares at the same time that Christ is true God and true man. Secondly, he points out the distinction between the two natures, when, on the one hand, he calls him God, and, on the other, expresses his “ in the flesh.” Thirdly, he asserts the unity of the person, when he declares, that it is one and the same who was God, and who has been manifested in the flesh.
Thus, by this single passage, the true and orthodox faith is powerfully defended against Arius, Marcion, Nestorius, and Eutyches. There is also great emphasis in the contrast of the two words, God in flesh How wide is the difference between God and man! And yet in Christ we behold the infinite glory of God united to our polluted flesh in such a manner that they become one. (67)
Justified in the Spirit As the Son of God “ himself,” (Phi_2:7,) by taking upon him our flesh, so there was displayed in him a spiritual power which testified that he is God. This passage has received various interpretations; but, for my own part, satisfied with having explained the Apostle’ real meaning, as far as I understand it, I shall add nothing more. First, justification here denotes an acknowledgment of divine power; as in Psa_19:9, where it is said, that
“ judgments of God are justified,”
that is, are wonderfully and absolutely perfect; (68) and in Psa_51:4, that “ is justified,” meaning that the praise of his justice is illustriously displayed. So also, (Mat_11:19, and Luk_7:35,) when Christ says, that
“ hath been justified by her children,”
he means that they have given honor unto her; and when Luke (Luk_7:29) relates that the publicans “ God,” he means that they acknowledged, with due reverence and gratitude, the grace of God which they beheld in Christ. What we read here has, therefore, the same meaning as if Paul had said, that he who appeared clothed with human flesh was, at the same time, declared to be the Son of God, so that the weakness of the flesh made no diminution of his glory.
Under the word Spirit, he includes everything in Christ that was divine and superior to man; and he does so for two reasons: First, because he had been humbled in “ flesh,” the Apostle now, by exhibiting the illustration of his glory, contrasts “ Spirit” with “ flesh.” Secondly, that glory, worthy of the only-begotten Son of God, which John affirms to have been seen in Christ, (Joh_1:14,) did not consist in outward display, or in earthly splendor, but was almost wholly spiritual. The same form of expression is used by him, (Rom_1:3,)
“ was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared by the power of the Spirit to be the Son of God;”
but with this difference, that in that passage he mentions one kind of manifestation, namely, the resurrection.
Seen by angels, preached to the Gentiles All these statements are wonderful and astonishing; that God deigned to bestow on the Gentiles, who had hitherto wandered in the blindness of their minds, a revelation of his Son, which had been unknown even to the angels in heaven. When the Apostle says, that he was “ by angels,” he means that the sight was such as drew the attention of angels, both by its novelty and by its excellence. How uncommon and extraordinary the calling of the Gentiles was, we have stated in the exposition of the second chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians. (69) Nor is it wonderful that it was a new spectacle to angels, who, though they knew about the redemption of mankind, yet did not at first understand the means by which it should be accomplished, and from whom it must have been concealed, in order that this remarkable display of the goodness of God might be beheld by them with greater admiration.
Obtained belief in the world It was above all things astonishing that God made the Gentiles, who were heathens, and the angels, who held uninterrupted possession of his kingdom, to be equally partakers of the same revelation. But this great efficacy of the preached gospel was no ordinary miracle, when Christ, overcoming all obstacles, subdued to the obedience of faith those who seemed to be altogether incapable of being tamed. Certainly nothing appeared to be less probable — so completely was every entrance closed and shut up. Yet faith vanquished, but by an incredible kind of victory.
Lastly, he says that he was received into glory; that isfrom this mortal and wretched life. Accordingly, as in the world, so far as related to the obedience of faith, so also in the person of Christ, the change was wonderful, when, from the mean condition of a servant, he was exalted to the right hand of the Father, that every knee may bow to him.
(67) “ the word flesh Paul declares that Christ was true man, and that he was clothed with our nature; but, at the same time, by the word manifested, he shows that there were two natures. We must not imagine a Jesus Christ who is God, and another Jesus Christ who is man; but we must know that he alone is both God and man. Let us distinguish his two natures, so as to know that this is the Son of God who is our brother. Now I have said that God permits the ancient heresies, with which the church was troubled, to be revived in our time, in order to excite us to greater activity. But, on the other hand, let us observe, that the devil is constrained to do his utmost to overthrow this article of faith, because he sees clearly that it is the foundation of our salvation. For if we have not that mystery of which Paul speaks, what will become of us? We are all children of Adam, and therefore we are accursed; we are in the pit of death; in short, we are deadly enemies of God, and thus there is nothing in us but condemnation and death, till we know that God came to seek us, and that, because we could not rise to him, he came down to us. Till we have known this, are we not more than wretched? For this reason the Devil wished, as far as he could, to destroy that knowledge, or rather to mix it with his lies, so as to be perverted. On the other hand, when we see that there is such majesty in God, how shall we dare to approach unto Him, seeing that we are full of misery? We must therefore come to this union of the majesty of God with human nature. And thus, in every respect, till we have known the divine majesty that is in Jesus Christ, and our human weakness which he hath taken upon him, it is impossible for us to have any hope, or to be capable of having recourse to the goodness of God, or of having the boldness to call upon him, and return to him. In a word, we are entirely shut out from the heavenly kingdom, the gate is shut against us, and we cannot approach to it in any way whatever.” — Fr. Ser.
(68) “ he says, ‘ are justified together,’ the meaning is, They are all righteous from the greatest to the least, without a single exception. By this commendation he distinguishes the law of God from the doctrines of men; for no blemish or fault can be found in it, but: it is in all points absolutely perfect.” — Calvin’ Com. the Book of Psalms, vol. 1, p. 323.
(69) Calvin’ Com. On the Ep. To the Galatians and Ephesians, p. 226.