44.How can you believe? As it might be thought harsh to say that those who were from their childhood the trained disciples of the Law and the Prophets, should be charged with such gross ignorance and declared to be enemies of the truth, and as this might even be thought to be incredible, Christ shows what it is that hinders them from believing. It is because ambition has deprived them of sound judgment; for he speaks, in a peculiar manner, to the priests and scribes, who, swelled with pride, could not obey God. This is a remarkable passage, which teaches that the gate of faith is shut against all whose hearts are preoccupied by a vain desire of earthly glory. For he who wishes to be somebody in the world must become wandering and unsteady, so that he will have no inclination towards God. Never is a man prepared to obey the heavenly doctrine, until he is convinced that his principal object, throughout his whole life, ought to be, that he may be approved by God.
But it may be thought that the wicked confidence, by which hypocrites exalt themselves in the presence of God, is a greater obstacle than worldly ambition; and we know that this was also a disease with which the scribes were deeply infected. The answer is easy; for Christ intended to tear from them the false mask of sanctity, by which they deceived the ignorant multitude. He therefore points, as with the finger, to the grosser vice, by which it may be made manifest to all that nothing is farther from their true character than what they wished to be reckoned. Besides, though hypocrisy exalts itself against God, still, in the world and before men, it is always ambitious; nay, more, it is this vanity alone that swells us with false presumption, when we rely more on our own judgment, and that of others, than on the judgment of God. He who in reality presents himself before God as his Judge, must, of necessity, fall down humbled and dismayed, and finding nothing in himself on which he can place reliance. (113) So, then, in order that any man may seek glory from God alone, he must be overwhelmed with shame, and flee to the undeserved mercy of God. And, indeed, they who look to God see that they are condemned and ruined, and that nothing is left to them in which they can glory but the grace of Christ. The desire of such glory will always be attended by humility.
So far as relates to the present passage, Christ’ meaning is, that there is no other way in which men can be prepared for receiving the doctrine of the Gospel, than by withdrawing all their senses from the world, and turning them to God alone, and seriously considering that it is with God that they have to do, that, forgetting the flatteries by which they are accustomed to deceive themselves, they may descend into their own consciences. We need not wonder, therefore, if the Gospel in the present day find so few persons willing to be taught, since all are carried away by ambition. Nor need we wonder if many apostatize from the profession of the Gospel, for they are hurried away by their own vanity and fly off. So much the more earnestly ought we to seek this one thing, that, while we are mean and despised in the eyes of the world, and even overwhelmed within ourselves, we may be reckoned among the children of God.
(113) “Et ne sentant rien en soy-mesme sur quoy il se puisse appuyer.”