In this psalm the prophet recites that whoever wishes to have fellowship with God and to acquire an immovable residence in both His Church and kingdom, it is necessary that they devote themselves to true and solid righteousness.
A Psalm of David 1 O Lord, who will abide in your tabernacle? Who will dwell on your holy mountain? (1) 2 Whoever walks blamelessly, does righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart. 3 Whoever does not slander with his tongue, whoever does not cause evil for his neighbor and does not support a reproach against his neighbor. 4 In whose eyes an abominable thing is despised, and who, while fearing, glorifies the Lord. He swears to his neighbor, and does not change. 5 Whoever does not give his money at usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things shall not be moved, [even] in eternity. [f123]
READING Verse 3
Whoever does not slander with his tongue. The Hebrew reads "whoever does not slander." (2) The Greek reads "whoever does not distort with his tongue." (3) The Latin Vulgate reads "whoever does not deliver deceit in his speech." Jerome['s Vulgate] reads "whoever is not easy in his own speech." The Chaldee reads "his tongue has not easily disparaged." Felix reads, "His tongue has not slandered." (4)
He swears to his neighbor. The Hebrew reads, "he swears to his own hurt." (5) Jerome reads, "He swears so that he may afflict himself," The Chaldee and several more recent [translations] also read in this way. The rest have no discrepancy.
EXPLANATION Verse 1
O Lord, who will abide, etc. It appears that David, as both prophet and king, when he brought the ark of the covenant to mount Zion and composed this psalm in that place, (just as we read in 2 Samuel 6[:12-23] and 1 Chronicles 16[:8-36]), exhorts and urges the people of God to the fear of God and to a true zeal for real righteousness. [David] desired, if this were pleasing to God, to establish [God's] throne among them, in a certain place (namely on Mt. Zion). [God] condescended to be worshiped and adored--something they would not want to lose, something in which they should dwell con scientiously, dutifully, and justly. (6) Thus he prophesies in this way: "O Lord, who will abide in your tabernacle? etc." In this verse, he employs an interrogatory apostrophe to God, not saying simply, "Who will abide in the tabernacle of God? Who will dwell on his holy mountain?" but "O Lord, who will abide in your tabernacle? Who will dwell on your holy mountain?" So that, just as if God personally, so to speak, should respond to his question and would accomplish those things which follow, [and which] should be more reverently heard and remembered, as they were set forth not by a human spirit but by a divine oracle. Moreover, he says the same thing twice. Indeed he means the same thing by the tabernacle of God as by his holy mount. He does this to stir up the souls of the pious so that they may be admonished that they are to dwell not simply in Jerusalem but in the tabernacle and on the holy mountain of God.
OBSERVATION Verse 1
1. First, what he refers to in the clauses city of Zion, the holy tabernacle, and the mountain of God must be considered. This city was large and robust when he acquired the fortifications and city by his zeal and also had swept away the Jebusites. In fact, he does not boast of any of this, nor does he commend to the people of the Lord the greatness and vigor of this city, but, rather, he sings about the tabernacle and holy mountain of God so that he may preach the grace of God and encourage that which must be preferred to the vigor and greatness of this city.
2. Next, what also must be considered is that he assigns a tabernacle and mountain for God on the earth. The Lord who fills heaven and earth does not dwell in things made by hands, yet he desired that some place for the celebration of his name should exist among his own people where his flock might be fed in the fear and worship of God, where it might hear the law of its own God, where it might be reminded of his kindnesses, where it might be established under figures and shadows, where it might be unified in one body, and separated and distinguished from the rest of all the nations of the earth. On account of this, he promised a place for his own presence over the place of the atonement on the ark. For this reason, because all things were customarily done in this place under shadows and types, in order that they would not be despised, he called it the house of God, the city of God, the dwelling place of God, the throne of God, the temple of God, the tabernacle of God, the holy mountain of God, and [similar things]. Indeed, just as customarily happens in the majority of cases on account of the corrupted nature of our flesh, the fleshly Jews abused those clauses thinking that they had God in a box, in a tabernacle, and in a temple. (7) As a result [they thought that] it could not happen that they would be imperiled in any treaty (8) concerning the state of their own affairs, on account of the presence of their own God, even if they should live most shamefully and should be a people without any faith, righteousness, and piety. See the history of when the ark of God was carried to the camp against the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4. For that reason, the Prophets customarily cried out that God did not dwell in things made by hands. See also Acts 7 where Stephen, with great confidence upbraided not simply the coarse common people but those of the first rank--the Pharisees, the scribes, the priests--and in their own council no less! Judge here what could be opposed to those who shut Christ up in a stony sanctuary and those subscribing to this rule: Bow the knee, in this place, O venerable stone, to Christ the host. (9) At any rate, they should hear the apostle saying in Hebrews 9[:24] that "Jesus has not entered into that which has been made by hands, which are examples of the actual things, but into heaven itself, so that he may now appear before the face of God for us." Concerning the Mouth Zion of God, see the [previous commentary on] Psalm 2:6.
3. Third, it must be observed that God personally examines and speaks to those who dwell within his tabernacle and on his mountain. [The prophet] signifies by this examination that he magnifies the tabernacle of God and his holy mountain, in order that he may entirely perceive that not just anyone dwells in it, but that this grace [of dwelling in it] pertains to those who are deemed worthy by that [grace]. Additionally, [the privilege of dwelling on it] is denied to the unworthy and the impious. In any case, there is no reason to examine his method. Those sorts [of questions] are trivial and also vulgar, concerning which no one examines these things who has mastered them. We are only examining the choice and outstanding things and are not rashly touching upon all things.
4. Fourth, we might also consider that the text does not say, "O Lord, who will enter your tabernacle? Who will approach your holy mountain?" but, "Who will abide in your tabernacle?" and, "Who will dwell on your holy mountain?" By these words of dwelling and abiding he portrays the dwelling place as immovable. The former [phrasing] is a once-and-a-while occasion and the latter [phrasing] is such that once we have been admitted, we constantly remain and are preserved [there]. The latter of the two is the only true state. Let us think, for instance, about the Church and the reign of Christ, to whom we are yoked, how ought to be done by us because it has been given [to us] to dwell on the holy mountain of God and we should take care that we conduct ourselves lest at some point we would be ejected. For which of the faithful is ignorant of the fact that a zeal for piety and righteousness ought to be preeminent in us, who do not dwell in a shadowy tabernacle and mount but in the kingdom of the Son of God, and we who have been transported into that truth?
EXPLANATION Verse 2
Whoever walks blamelessly, etc. A question quite necessarily set forward requires a perspicuous and splendid response, especially because the prophet treats the subject openly enough and covers it in a few words. Moreover, he uses an arrangement and order in such a way that he may briefly cover the whole thing first and then distribute it into parts. The chief point is this: whoever walks blamelessly, that is, whoever lives and conducts themselves blamelessly walking in integrity, embraces the deeds and words in themselves throughout their whole life and conversation [f124]. (The distribution [of this statement into its terms] follows.) He says, "Whoever walks blamelessly." The Hebrew reads: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Moreover, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] signifies what is whole and perfect. Thus we read Exodus, 12[:5] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], that is, a blameless, one-year old male lamb. Moreover it is called a blameless lamb that does not have any defect (Lev. 22[:19-21]). The majority of the interpreters of the Holy Scriptures render blameless as simplicity. A translation that rightly squares with the expression [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], if it is understood correctly, of course, so that the simple thing is the same thing as bright, blameless, harmless. Its opposite is slyness, cleverness, and the duplicity of a perverse heart. In that sense, the place ought to be understood as, "He who walks simply, walks well." Whoever abhors the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures abuses this expression, as if to walk simply is to walk ignorantly without [any] knowledge of the divine truth and true piety.
And he accomplishes righteousness and speaks the truth in his own heart. In these words that he spoke, "Whoever walks blamelessly" he divides [the matter] by a brief distribution into words and deeds. For by deeds and words the behavior of our whole life is evident. Moreover, it is to accomplish righteousness and to strive for righteousness and uprightness. For here is set forth [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or righteousness, (which we Germans call frombkeit and the Latins call honesty) for which reason they are called good men. He "speaks the truth," it says, "in his own heart." Here is the other part of the distribution concerning the righteousness of words. To speak the truth from the heart, is nothing other than to speak in good faith as well as candidly and sincerely from the heart which is to speak the truth. Its opposite is to speak deceitfully and maliciously something other [than the truth] and also to hide something other [than the truth] in one's heart, concerning which we have seen the same point previously made in [my commentary on] Psalm 12. He complains that a craftiness and maliciousness of heart and of speech prevailed everywhere among mortals in his own time.
OBSERVATION Verse 2
Whoever walks blamelessly. (1) In this passage, the chief point that must be observed is that kind of righteousness that the prophet prescribes to those who would remain inhabitants of the tabernacle and holy mountain of God. He clearly requires that sort of righteousness from those people that does not exist in the ceremonies and legal shadows only but that embraces the whole life and also lives and breathes true honesty of soul and charity toward one's neighbor. He understood that this is the character of the flesh that thinks first of commending himself only to God without any indwelt reckoning of his neighbor. (2) Next, that sort of person only studies the righteousness that is situated in the external ceremonies and ecclesiastical rites, and may be exercised in temples and shrines. Among the Jews, inasmuch as there was circumcision, the sacrificing of sheep, not eating various things, washing in water by purging the body but not the spirit, and whatever sort of other things pertain to the Jewish rites, they were measuring true piety and righteousness before God in those sorts of things. We see in the Scriptures that the prophets wrestled against such superstitions. Therefore it does not say, "whoever might be circumcised, whoever might offer sheep in the tabernacle or in the temple, whoever might wash frequently, whoever might not touch something polluted," but rather, "whoever walks blamelessly, does righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart etc." He certainly does not reject those things that the law commanded pertaining to ceremonial things. Indeed on the contrary, he summons the people of God from that opinion and Jewish superstition, by which they pledge themselves before God to true piety and righteousness by the observing of the ceremonies; and he exhorts them to a zeal for real righteousness, showing that a whole and just life is required by God (Isa. 1[:16-19]; Jer. 7[:1-7]; Ps. 40[:3-11]; 50[:14, 23]; 51[:16-17]).
What will we say here concerning the superstition of the pseudo-Christians who think that they worship and please God apart from a renovation of life and a zeal for true righteousness, having sought it from ceremonies [and] not from the word of God, but in fact from human contrivances? Let the impious persons roar in the Gentile temples more than in the Christian ones. If you examine their life--the carnal, the impudent, the fornicators, the simoniacs, the idolaters, [and such sort]--they think that this roaring of theirs, together with the rest of their hypocrisy and playacted scenes, is the worship of God. Indeed, they do not think that the uneducated, common people think. They persuade themselves [of this] so that they may hunt for the basest profit and look out for their own leisure and belly. Next, it must be examined what he says, "Whoever walks in integrity." If you seek briefly how does the prophet require this from a citizen of the kingdom of God? It is an easy case [to prove] that God delights in integrity of life and is averse to malice and fraudulence. Thus, in Proverbs 11[:20] it says that the extravagant in heart are an abomination to the Lord, and those who walk in integrity are well-pleasing [to him]. He spoke to Abraham in this way, "Walk before me and be blameless" [Gen. 17:1]. Moses says to the people of God, "You will be blameless before the Lord your God" (Deut. 18[:3]). Thus men are declared [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] that is, blameless such as Jacob, Job, and [the rest].
In short, the phrase (dictum) "whoever walks blamelessly" includes all things in itself whether those things that must be done by God or by people. Everyone should apply this rule just as if it were for one's own situation. If you are a minister of the word, see that you enjoy that gift blamelessly, not only teaching those things that are true but also with a blameless heart toward God and human beings, regarding neither your own glory nor your own convenience but rather the glory of God and the salvation of mortals. The same [is true] if you have been established as a magistrate, take heed that you judge justly and act with a blameless heart. In such a manner, this must be pondered concerning every particular thing. I speak concerning those who are God's. In that state that is against God, no one can walk blamelessly.
And does righteousness and speaks the truth in his heart. (1) Here it must be noted that the he divides the word walking, through which metaphor he expresses the whole conduct of our life, into deeds and words. "And," he says, "does justice and speaks the truth in his heart." Therefore we are admonished to express our mind in integrity both in words and deeds so that we may not do or say anything that is malicious or unjust. (2) It also must be observed how the word walking is divided into deeds and words and how he divides the expression blamelessness into righteousness and truth. He classifies it as righteousness in deeds and truth in speech. Therefore, righteousness is the blamelessness of our works and truth is the blamelessness of our words, and also because righteousness is in the deeds so also truth is in the words. Third, he does not say, "and knows righteousness," but "and does righteousness." It is easily learned what is right, what is not right, what ought to be done, and what ought not to be done. A true zeal for righteousness is not [found] in a bare knowledge alone, but [f125] it is located in its practice. We do not reject knowledge, but we require the sort that is living and effective. For a pious person to know righteousness is not simply to know what it is but to press it out into his deeds. Moreover righteousness must be done in such a way that chiefly and for each person what is one's due may be rendered. In general, let us owe nothing to anyone except that we should love [them] mutually as [we love] ourselves (Rom. 13[:8]). Not only does the law of the Old Testament require it, but the law of the New Testament also requires it. (10) Next, it is noted what pastors and teachers of Christ's church owe; what, in turn, believers [owe] to their own pastors and teachers; what a magistrate owes to his subjects; on the other hand, what subjects owe to their magistrates; what husbands owe to their wives; what parents owe to their children; what children owe to their parents; what a master owes to his servant; what a servant owes to his master; what citizens owe to [other] citizens; what neighbors owe to their neighbors, etc. Let each person consider in what way he may accomplish righteousness: first, toward persons in general; (11) next, toward those to whom he is especially connected.
And he speaks the truth in his own heart.
And he speaks. (1) This present particle has not been placed here except for a singular reason. Indeed, I do not say a large part, but in actuality the greatest and most noteworthy part of human life contains the use of speech. From whom it is taken away, what is their life but like some kind of speechless story enveloped in the darkness of errors? The gift of speaking is an utterly excellent thing; among all living things it is granted as a divine gift only to humans. From which point also [scholars] judged that a certain thing is proper to a person, and they defined a person as a bipedal animal that knows how to speak. The use of speaking indeed extends broadly, indeed it can be confined to these terms: first to serve the glory of God, next for human uses. It serves the glory of God in the praising of his name and in the preaching of the truth and grace of his kingdom. It serves human association, first, in order to reveal the necessary deliberations of our hearts in words, by which things we indicate what is necessary for us, whatever we may want, whatever we may seek, command, desire, and ask. (2) Next, so that we may also look out for the advantages and the needs of our neighbors. It may happen that while either we will teach the ignorant and lead back the erring into the way, or we rebuke the delinquent, or praise those doing well, or reconcile the enraged, or we console and rouse the sorrowful, and by speaking we procure whatever other necessity that our neighbor requires. This pre-eminent gift of God, necessary on so many accounts, without which no one knows what is in a person, which is corrupted partly from the fickleness of the human heart and partly from [the heart's] malice and fraud, so that it is not contrary to reason that this is an included part of doing righteousness. Therefore, we are admonished that whoever desires to be a citizen of the kingdom of God, so that they may think not only is this required from them in this way so that they may have a rationale for their own deeds but so that also in their words they may be found blameless and irreproachable.
The truth. (1) First, we should consider that he does not say, "and he speaks loosely, ingeniously, wisely, elegantly, ornately, and magnificently," but "and he speaks the truth." Therefore the truth is that which is required in someone's words who desires to be a citizen of the kingdom of God, in whatever way [the truth] is brought forward in words, whether many or few, whether simple or ornate and elegant: so that it may not happen that some rude and uneducated person who is ignorant of language is excused. This is the nature and condition of the truth that someone may rejoice in its simple perspicuity, even as it is honorably dressed just like a chaste matron. [The truth] lacks the cosmetics and complexion of lies that are comparable to a brazen and lascivious harlot. Therefore, whoever requires a laborious study of elegance in regard to the truth are excessively foppish and equally appear to act like some husband who entreated his wife to mimic the lascivious and shameful study of dressing herself, in that way we appear to delight in harlots. (2) Next, let us also consider why the Holy Spirit requires truth in the speech of the citizens of the kingdom of God. First, because truth is a certain [kind of] divine thing, and God who is so truthful that he does not know how to deceive, delights in the utmost in the truth and detests a lie as the invention of the Devil and contrary to the truth. Next, because the use of speech (which we cannot do without) depends upon the truth, it is perverted and corrupted when it is severed from the truth, just as if you deprived the sun of its splendor, the earth of its fertility, water of its wetness, stones of their hardness, and fire of its heat. For just as each of God's creatures has been given something so that the utility of that [creature] is evident, likewise that something is necessary to be present in each human work, (by which the work is what it is). It is evident, whether you may call it right or whole in general, that without that something the utility of those things cannot exist. It is just as if the foundation of a house is not firm and the foundation does not rest in a settled way, so that the foundation cannot sustain the mass of the shrines built [upon it], or likewise if the roof may not be duly fit together with tiles, or if the beams and walls are not rightly assembled and covered, or if a sword is not sharpened, but dull; not hardened, but malleable. (12) Thus also is the condition of human speech, that depends upon the truth, so that without it, not only is it useless but it is also rather harmful, so that it is not without reason that [truth] is required from the pious. (3) Third, it should not be ignored that it does not say, "And speaks the whole truth," but simply, "And speaks the truth." It is not required from a citizen of the kingdom of God that he should speak the whole truth, that is, whatever is true. First, for instance, it is not [the case that] any one person knows the whole truth, but only that God does. Moreover, how could anyone speak the truth that is unknown to him? Next, nor is it evident that we should utter immediately whatever we know is true. Furthermore, it must also appear to a good man that he should either declare the truth or remain silent in such a way as he judges it profitable for his neighbor. As a matter of fact, it is not the truth of our speech, but charity, which is our whole rule and goal, not only in the things that we do but also in the things we say. That is why even holy men sometimes concealed the truth sometimes by being silent and other times by speaking. Like Joseph, when he was falsely accused by the wife of his master Potiphar, he preferred to bear the injury patiently than, by speaking the truth, to reveal the crime of his mistress (Gen. 39[:1-19]). The Egyptian midwives did not sin when they did not reveal to the tyrannical Pharaoh the truth about the Hebrew women that they certainly knew but rather sheltered them with some kind of fabrication (Ex. 1[:15-21]). Michal (1 Sam. 19[:11-17]) did not commit [a sin]; likewise neither did Jonathan (1 Sam. 20[:5-34]) when they did not reveal the truth concerning David to the impious Saul, although he was their father. Indeed, there are so many sorts of these things in the Scriptures concerning this question, whether it is permissible for a good man sometimes [f126] to say what is not true and concerning an untruth. See our [commentary] on John 8[:44], where it says, "Because he is a liar, and the father of such."
In his own heart. (3) We observe here that he does not simply say, "And speaks the truth," but he adds, "in his own heart." First, it can happen, that someone may speak falsely what he yet thinks in his own heart is true. On the other hand, [it can happen] that he may speak the truth with his mouth, what he yet thinks in his heart is false. Thus he says rightly, "And he speaks the truth in his own heart." He does not say, "in his neighbor's heart," but "in his own heart." He is innocent who says what he says because he thinks in his own heart that it is true, even if it may be false in the hearts of others, if only he does not act against the rule of charity. He is false who speaks the truth with his mouth what he thinks in his own heart is not true.
Next, it could happen that what is true, and what he knows to be true, someone speaks from the mouth only and not from the heart: just as also it happens on the contrary that what is false, and what he knows to be false, he mentions with his mouth only and not from the heart. That which happens for good comes to pass sometimes out of fear. It is like what happened to Peter when he said: "I have not known the man," because it was false, and he was speaking with his mouth and not from the heart [Luke 22:57-60; John 18:15-17]. Likewise, in this passage (locus) it is required from one who ought to be a citizen of the kingdom of God that he speak not only from his mouth but also from his heart what he knows or thinks is true so that he is a person [who] not only speaks true things but also is a lover of and devotee to the truth and [is such a person], not only toward God but also toward his neighbor. As a matter of fact, because it concerns God, who is the sort of person by whom [God] can be deceived? On the contrary, who else [but God] is present for the use of our words who intimately knows all the secrets of our hearts, even if we are entirely mute?
OBSERVATION Verse 3
Whoever does not slander with his tongue, etc. The prophet, not content with a summary of righteousness of words and deeds, descends to examine certain kinds [of righteousness] that we will inspect in order. Among all the vices of the tongue that are innumerable, he sets forth the worst two, slander of course, and perjury, of which he will make mention in the following verse. He rejected slander in the previous place because it has a rather broad domain, and also it is much less recognized how much sin it encompasses. The Hebrew is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which word means "to spy." From which [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] are called spies. Therefore, the prophet shows that he rejects the worst kind of persons that thoroughly search for the secrets of a neighbor with flattering and fictitious words and, in the manner of a spy, conveys something else with his tongue.
Nor does he cause evil for his neighbor. This pertains to the righteousness of deeds and to an innocence of life. It is [the character] of a righteous and innocent person not to wound his neighbor in any matter either by his words or deeds but rather to conduct himself in such a way toward anyone with an eagerness for charity so that he may desire not to trouble anyone knowingly. Thus, this particle by which he says, "nor does he cause evil for his neighbor," must be understood so that to cause evil for his neighbor is the same thing as to trouble his neighbor knowingly and willingly.
And he does not support a charge against his neighbor. This place is variously exposited on account of the Hebrew expression [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which sometimes means to accept, other times to carry, and also quite frequently to suffer. Some exposit [this place], "and he does not lay a charge against his neighbor," [as meaning that] he will not denigrate the reputation and name of his neighbor. (13) Others exposit [this place], "and he does not report a charge against his neighbor," that is, he does not commit something that his neighbor can change into a charge [against] him. Others, exposit it (just as we translated [this place]) so that it should be understood that it is not appropriate for a righteous man to lay a charge against his own neighbor, that is, to allow some mark of ignominy to be branded upon [his neighbor] in his presence. The Holy Spirit expels [such a disposition] from a citizen of the kingdom of God so that he neither personally slanders his neighbor nor suffers that it may be done in his presence by anyone, but on the contrary, he defends his neighbor's name with that zeal that he desires his own name to be defended.
Whoever does not slander with his tongue. So that we may estimate the vice of slander as exceedingly detestable, these [points] must be considered: (1) what it is, (2) what is its origin, (3) what is its quality, (4) what are its circumstances, and (5) how it is harmful.
(1) What it is to slander one's Neighbor
To slander one's neighbor is not simply to report what [the neighbor] either says or does; (because sometimes not only is this permissible to do but also it ought to be done either for their sake or for the public good), but it is to report something maliciously, in the spirit of harming [one's neighbor]. For this reason also the prophet used the word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Those who showed to the chief priest Eli the wickedness of his sons were not slanderers, concerning which he said: "It is an evil which I hear about you, [my] sons" (1 Sam 2[:23]). Joseph was not a slanderer when he accused his brothers before his father about the worst crime (Gen. 37[:2]). They were not slanderers who had written to Paul about the contentions and harlotries of the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:5). Doeg, who denounced David and Ahimelech before Saul, was a slanderer (1 Sam. 22[:9-10]). Those who said to Saul, "David seeks evil against you," were slanderers (1 Sam 24[:9]).
(2) Where slander takes its origin
A consideration of the origin of [slander] accomplishes the most toward renouncing this vice. It does not exist from any other place than from Satan, who in the beginning even slandered immediately in Eve's presence, saying, "By no means will you die, but God knows that in whatever day you should eat [of the tree], your eyes will be opened by it, and you will be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3[:4-5]). Again, he slandered the sons of God before God, just as is well known in the history of Job, when it is written in chapter one that he said to God, "Surely it cannot be that Job fears God for nothing? Haven't you personally fortified him by surrounding his house and all his wealth? You have blessed the works of his hands and his possessions have increased upon the earth. But extend your hand just a little, and touch all that he possesses, [and] he will have only appeared to have blessed you" [Job 1:9-11]. [All of] which was nothing other than [saying], "Job does not worship you with a sincere soul, but [only] on account of his own particular benefits. Touch his possessions and you will see whether or not he has blessed you up to now [only] in appearance." On account of this malice of denouncing, Satan has this name in the Scriptures [in which] he is called the Devil, that is, the denouncer and accuser (see Rev. 12[:9]). In the same way, therefore, he lies against those whom he has subject to himself, and thus he slanders them too, even disturbing that wicked concord of [those] brothers!
(3) What Sort of Vice Slander Is
1. First, for the most part, a denouncer is a liar. As a matter of fact, he either reports something false, inventing what neither has been said nor done, or if he reports something true, he reports some things that could favor [someone] by its reporting, and he adds [something] of his own that would not favor the same person. By that [addition] he constructs a calumny serious in its appearance and resembling the truth. Or, he perverts the sense of the person's words and the reasons for their actions. In this way, Haman was inventing [things] against the Jews, in the presence of Ahasuerus that were not true, and at the same time, what was true, contaminating it so as to cause hatred. "There is a people," he was saying, "that are dispersed throughout all the provinces of [your] kingdom, and are distinct from you both by using strange laws and ceremonies as well as additionally despising the decrees of the king. And you know best what is not expedient for your kingdom so that they may not grow proud through license. If it pleases you, decree that they should perish" [Esther 3:8-9]. Thus, Ziba the servant of his lord Mephibosheth reported falsely to David, inventing what was not true (2 Sam. 16[:1-4]).
2. Second, a denouncer is malicious and unjust. For he reports not simply what good things there are in [his neighbor] and what could be profitable to his neighbor, but also those things that are bad and that are not for his neighbor's correction but for his detriment. His eye is malicious, not observing those things that are good but only those that are evil. His ears are malicious, hearing only bad things and deaf to the good things. His speech is malicious, reporting only the bad things and being silent about the good things. These things are the nature of a denouncer.
3. Third, he is also a counterfeit and a hypocrite, for he feigns either benevolence or good faith toward the one to whom he denounces his neighbor or zeal for either justice or piety. Meanwhile he excuses himself because he does not wish ill in denouncing.
4. Fourth, he is also a secret ambusher, murdering in secret like a serpent so that whoever is denounced may not know by whom he is denounced, and it pertains to this point because he requires the confidence of silence in order that he may not be revealed.
(4) the circumstances aggravating this vice
1. First, for the most part, it does matter who the denouncer is--whether a friend, a member of a household, a brother, a subordinate, a student, a servant--at any rate, [such a person] sins more than if an acquaintance may be denounced without any reason.
2. Second, it matters whom you denounce. If it is a public person, you sin more than if it were a private person. If it is a whole family, state, or region, you sin more immensely than if you denounce only one person.
3. Third, it considers the augmentation of sin, if you should slander a spouse, a master, a magistrate, a prince, a friend, a brother, or a foreigner, for from this cause there is more detriment to the one denounced.
4. Fourth, it also matters by which route you denounce a neighbor concerning a matter, inasmuch by discerning either the neighbor's goods, or reputation, or friendship, or life.
5. Fifth, it must also be considered in what frame of mind you may denounce [someone]. There are those who denounce out of a certain habit and thoughtlessness, not weighing beforehand what they say, and what disadvantage could occur to the one they have denounced. Those sorts of people seem to sin more mildly, although they cannot be excused. Let those sorts of people consider how they are corrupted and perverse in this case, because they are not prone to such a degree to report those things that are good as well as those things that are bad. Others rail against their neighbor with an eagerness to gratify the one to whom that person is reporting. The former sin more [whereas] the latter denounce their neighbor to pursue their own certain advantage, e.g. just as Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth did. They are the worst kind, who machinate destruction for their neighbor by slandering [him], even if no advantage for themselves could be hoped from it.
(5) How Harmful it is
First, charity is wounded in the one who denounces. The norm of charity is that what you do not wish to be done to you is not done to others. By this [wounding of charity] this vice gains an evil conscience for that one toward the one who has been denounced.
Next, charity is wounded in him to whom the neighbor is denounced. Charity is thinking well of our neighbor, nor the suspicion of anything evil concerning him. Through a denunciation charity is damaged.
Third, charity is undermined in the one who has been denounced. When someone senses that he has been denounced, he is affected partly by his own sinister suspicions, partly he understands that his friendship to whom he has been denounced declines, and he studiously takes precaution regarding all the things of that [one to whom he has been denounced]. In summary, [slander] is not an evil equally harmful and insidious to Christian and brotherly charity, and this vice of denunciation is most detestable as well. I pass it by in silence because it lays in ambush of the life of good men so that it might be compared not without justice even to a sword and to glowing coals.
He does not cause evil for his own neighbor.
1. The principal thing that must be considered is what evil is. The Manichees dispute from where evil originates. We judge it more preferable [to consider] what it is than from where it originates. There is nothing evil of all those things that are made by God, which, as the Holy Scriptures holds, have been made very well. Evil is whatever is deprived of some good and is not beneficial to our neighbor whether it is inflicted upon his goods, or his name, or his body, or his soul. Yet, it must be considered in this passage, in what frame of mind you may inflict damage to your neighbor. That is to say, you would harm your neighbor [impartially] in rather trivial things as well as in rather important, advantageous things--that kind of harm is not foreign to the pious, but it is also not foreign to God. Thus, insomuch as true charity impresses a zeal for kindness, so that if it cannot be done otherwise, it may be beneficial to harm. Again, if with an inimical mind, someone troubles his neighbor, even if it is beneficial for that person, yet it must be said that in no less way it was badly done to [his neighbor], because what he did, he did not do from an eagerness for beneficence but from malfeasance. Namely, whoever afflicts Christians by the loss of corporeal things, even up to that point that they do not hurt them, as they are also exceedingly useful [to them]. In fact, for the beloved, God works all things for good. Actually those [who afflict Christians] are evildoers, not well-doers; even though what they do from an eagerness for harming, by divine providence is rendered harmless, indeed more correctly advantageous and useful. The same thing must also be perceived concerning those who use the appearance of kindness for harming, whether they do it by flattering, by eating and drinking, or by presenting monetary [gifts]. Therefore it is evil because it harms their neighbor, [f128] or if it does not harm, yet it is inflicted to harm the soul. On the other hand, it is not evil, that although it seems to harm, yet it neither harms nor [is intended to] harm the soul but rather is discharged with a zeal for well-doing and a place for kindnesses, or at this point at least is directed so that a place can be [made] for true kindnesses. A parent, when chastening a son with a rod of discipline is not doing evil. A teacher, when he instructs a student with a whipping does not do evil. A magistrate, when he beats criminals does not do evil. A surgeon, when he cauterizes and cuts, indeed even more when he amputates whole limbs of a wounded body, does not do evil.
DEGREES OF MALFEASANCE
2. Next, the degrees of eagerness for doing evil to a neighbor also must be considered. The first degree is to render evil for evil. The world excuses even this kind of evildoing, like to like as they say. Likewise, force is permitted to repel force. Indeed, we who follow Christ have been constituted differently than this. Concerning [our constitution] see Matthew 5[:38-39], in which place it says: "You have heard that it was said, 'eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.' However, I say to you, do not wish to resist evil. But if anyone should strike you on your right cheek, offer to him also the other," and Romans 12[:17], "Render to no one evil for evil." The second degree of evil doing is also to do evil to the undeserving and the guiltless either out of hatred or hope of profit. This kind of malice is also worse than the prior, and is condemned not only by Christians but also by the world. The third degree is also the highest--not only to do evil wrongly to the deserving, next also to the guiltless, but also to those deserving good, and to render evil for good. Anyone at every point up to such a degree is evil, so that it may not be doubted that to do evil to one's own benefactors, this person actually will not refrain from any kind of malice, because he has reached the perfection of malice. For this reason, at this [very] point a citizen of the kingdom of God must strive against this [disposition], so that he would not even wrong an enemy as well as one who may deserve it. If someone should have studiously shunned this degree of malice that is inferior, he will also not ascend to the middle one or all the way to the highest one, and in this way, he will also not desire to be troublesome to the undeserving, still less to the well deserving. This is what is considered by Christ whose aim it is to render his own [as] strangers to every pursuit of malice.
3. Third, because an eagerness for full piety and Christian righteousness is not perfected in it (so that we may not do evil), but also requires the perfection of beneficence, just as we expressly see in Matthew 5[:38-48] in such a way that whoever does not do well to his neighbor when he is able is reckoned as having done evil. It is permitted to discern that which against the wealthy banqueter and those who do not feed upon Christ; it must be also considered what is good, next what are the degrees of beneficence.
Good is what is contrary to evil, what clearly results in an advantage to our neighbor. This also not only must be considered: what should be done as in what spirit it may be done. In fact those things which have the appearance of good can be done in such a way that they are evil, not good: on the other hand those things you think are evil ought to be reckoned more truly good than evil. Those things that Scripture teaches concerning good works must be understood as concerning those things that are devoted to the needs and advantages of our neighbors through a devotion to well-doing by a spirit of charity. Thus, Christ says in Matthew 5[:16], "Let your light so shine before men that they should see your good works and would glorify your father who is in heaven." Here, they cannot refer to ecclesiastical ceremonies, which can be done by evil men and ridiculed [by them] also: nor are they such things in which can be observed the spirit of our fathers and can be glorified by the world. Also, the Latins call something good that is useful and practical. Thus the apostle says in Galatians [6:10], "and so while we have time, we should do good towards all, especially towards the household of faith," and in 1 Timothy [6:17-18], "Teach the wealthy in this world that they should do good, and that their riches should be in good deeds, they should be ready to give, freely sharing, etc." The papacy misappropriates good works to the cult of the dead saints, to images, to the buying of masses of simoniacs, papal indulgences, and the fattening of the most impure fornicators and hypocrites, etc. True beneficence consists in a spirit of charity and expresses the paternal goodness of God on his children. Wherefore no one could be eager for good works unless he previously is good. Thus Christ says in Matthew 12, "Either make the tree good, and its fruit good," etc.
DEGREES OF BENEFICENCE
Moreover there are also three degrees of beneficence. The first is to do well to the well-deserving. This degree pertains to an owed gratitude. It is indeed the lesser degree--of such a kind that even to an unbeliever it is wicked that someone should not compensate a well-deserving person their remuneration. The second degree is to do well to those from whom you are not called to any beneficence nor are they the kind from whom you could hope for any sort of recompense and benefit. Concerning this degree of beneficence, see Luke 14[:12-14]. The third degree is to do well even to the undeserving and to enemies. This position is the pinnacle of full and complete beneficence (concerning which see Matthew 5[:43-47] and Romans 12[:9-21], and so this place directs Christians to an eagerness of doing well because if someone should obtained this highest degree, we would never do evil to the undeserving, still less to a friend and to the well-deserving.
Who Is Our Neighbor
4. Fourth, let us also weigh that he says, "to his own neighbor," and let us also consider whom he calls our neighbor. A neighbor is someone who is bound to us at some point, either by religion, humanity, blood, affinity, friendship, either in familiar or civil society; or either by proximity, or conjoined [to us] by some plight of necessity. God has mutually joined us together in many degrees so that there are also many occasions for this hand of love and beneficence. In Christ, a neighbor is anyone who is a Christian; in humanity, anyone who is a human, a precious person and our blood; in blood, children and the rest of our kinsmen, brothers, sisters, and the rest. The Holy Spirit uses this expression of neighbor so that He might declare what sort of person we should be. There is in this [expression of neighbor] also that particular nature so that what sort it is, according to which he should declare that he is more closely joined by some occasion, [just as] it is the nature of fire to heat, and of light to shine. These at least prove the force and nature of both more exactly, who approach them more closely. According to this method and concerning our own the experience, it is grasped more deeply by those who by some reason are joined to us more closely. Whoever upholds no evil against his neighbor, declares adequately how he is not devoted to an eagerness for malice. On the other hand, whoever does well to his neighbor as his neighbor, whoever that may be, clearly renders concerning himself an adequate proof of his goodness. It is easy not to harm someone withdrawn [from oneself], [f129], but not to cause any difficulty for our neighbors by any bargain, that does not exist except among the pious and the good. This matter is extensive, but at this present time [my treatment] suffices to scratch the surface.
And he does not support a reproach against his neighbor. Here, the reasons must be thought about why the Spirit requires from a citizen of the kingdom of God not only that he should not slander his neighbor but also that he watches that he should not sustain that his neighbor be afflicted or wounded by any abuse. The first reason for this is charity, for we ought to love our neighbors in such a way that not only do we desire not to injure them in any matter but also that we cannot bear it patiently should it be done to them by others. A true and sincere love of neighbor entirely causes this disposition that we find it in regard to those who are affected by a singular love toward not just a few persons. It is read in 1 Samuel 19:20 that in such a way Jonathan zealously defended the reputation and innocence of David even against his own father. The second reason is born out of equity. That is, what someone does not want done to himself he does not do to others. Conversely, those things that he requires from others toward himself, he also personally renders the same things to others (Matt. 7[:12]). Therefore, when we have been animated in such a way that we desire that our reputation and innocence be defended by our neighbor against the dishonesty of accusers, it is most entirely fair that we render the same thing in turn to our neighbor.
The third reason is from the necessity of blunting the malice of denouncers who join together to pluck out by the roots the kingdom of God from the people. For just as this evil is cherished by those who are delighted by denouncers (because it is quite customary in the halls of princes); thus it is suppressed and extinguished by those who detest the slandering tongue, and against the slander itself, they also censure and repress it. In fact, no one will easily attempt to sully the reputation of his neighbor among those whom he believes it would vehemently displease. I will also insert a fourth reason that is led forth from this that it is fitting that citizens of the kingdom of God have and be moved by a mutual honor among themselves. Therefore, a pious person cannot bear that those who are the people of God and attached to the citizens of the kingdom of heaven should be afflicted by an abuse. That saying of the apostle is noteworthy, "surpassing one another in honor" (Romans 12[:10]).
Concerning these cases, a Christian person must take an interest in them so that he may oppose the speech of denouncers immediately and in great earnest. If a matter is in view (indeed if someone should disparage something that is at least apparently good) so that you may say: "But now you could interpret this deed of my neighbor good naturedly and well, as it is fitting for a good man to do." If what is reported is absurd and entirely wicked [then] you either know that it is false or uncertain or true. If you know that it is false, you should protect the innocence of your neighbor with great steadfastness, affirming that it has not been done what the denouncer says has been done. If it is uncertain, you should admonish the denouncer how charity does not easily believe evil concerning one's neighbor. (How corrupt is human nature that evil things concerning one's neighbor are more quickly suspected than good things! How frequently the innocence of a neighbor is wounded by an injury and a lie! How difficult it is to clear oneself of [just] one blemish of defamation stamped [upon you] by a lying neighbor!) If you know that what is reported is true, you should consider first whether it is a secret matter or a plainly evident one. If it is a secret matter, you should admonish the denouncer that just as [at a banquet] a meal hidden by some skin is not disclosed and [as a guest] he knows that he may by no means burst its belly for [the host], [then likewise] also just as a brother's offense is kept to one's self, he should rather go and correct his delinquency in secret. If you know that [the offense] is plainly evident--whether it is trivial, or tolerable, or great; if it is great, either it happened reluctantly, contrary to his mind's intention, and the excuse is most agreeable; if it happened willingly, either it will be recent and rare, and it can be extenuated by the examples of the saints, both by the infirmity of our flesh, and the fear of God in that [case] can be recommended, by which all this time he should be restrained, so that he might not go to ruin speedily or often into this sin. Or, it will be oft-repeated and habitual: [in which case] you should say that it is your neighbor's great temptation and also that it is attached to the great infirmity of his flesh. Finally, if the one who slanders your neighbor should be your neighbor's enemy, it will be most easy to say, "Who actually believes that you are speaking out of a zeal for righteousness, but rather out of hatred?" If he is indeed a friend of your neighbor, or an acquaintance, a domestic, a relative, or [an acquaintance] conjoined by any reason at all, again promptly it will be that you should admonish him how shamelessly he is behaving by slandering his neighbor and to whom he is peculiarly conjoined. In sum, charity should be present, and never should be absent because it should retort back to the denouncer and show what is required here by a citizen of God['s kingdom].
Besides all this, it must also be considered that he says, "against his own neighbor." If it must not be endured by the pious that one's neighbor, whoever he may be, whether poor or rich, should be affected by some ignominy, then how much less should it be endured if it should be committed against the word of the gospel of God, and of His ministers. For such kinds of abuses extend against God himself. A zeal for piety has its own order and certain degrees also. Whoever cannot endure that the estimation of a person should be polluted if he keeps this spirit out of true charity, certainly how much less could he endure that the truth of the word of God should be defamed by the slanders of impious persons. From this [very] cause is the beginning of our destruction because Eve deigned to hear the serpent slandering the word and precept of God, which she would not have done if she had been furnished with a zeal for God. What should be desired today in this matter in many who yet wish [only] to appear to be nourished by the truth must be mourned over much more than recounted.
EXPLANATION Verse 4
In whose eyes an abominable thing is despised, and who, while fearing, glorifies the Lord: he swears to his neighbor and does not change. Some of the Jews, whom also certain of our [theologians] follow, expound the previous part of this verse in this way. In whose eyes an abominable thing is despised, that is, in their very selves, in their own eyes likewise as if it is rejected, it displeases a citizen of heaven. For it is allowed that he fears God and also may be zealous for piety and righteousness, yet in his very heart he judges that he is an unprofitable servant. The opinion of others seems to me to be more resembling the truth, who understand it simply that, by these words that [they are] to be examined by a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, so that he should despise reprobate, abominable, and impious persons. On the contrary, if he becomes acquainted with those who fear God, he should consider their worth. He realizes that the reprobate or also the abominable who constantly pursue a method of living separate from the righteous and the citizens of the kingdom of God, that is, they are the sort who walk perversely, doing iniquity, speaking lies in their own heart, slandering with their tongue, [f130] doing evil to their neighbor, sustaining a reproach against their neighbor, condemning those who fear God, making much of the wicked, swearing to their neighbor and changing, giving his own money for usury and accepting bribes against the innocent (if anyone should give one). They are reprobate who are such as this. The pious recoil from such as these. On the other hand, those who fear the Lord are those who walk blameless, do justice, speak the truth in their heart, do not slander with their tongue, and do not do evil to their neighbor. Those who live in such a way declare that they restrain themselves from evil in the fear of God. These kind of people swear to their neighbor and do not change. I have urged above in the reading that certain [theologians] should be read, "he swears to his own ruin," which reading can be explained in two parts. The first part, so that it can be understood regarding those legal afflictions by which the Jews used to afflict their own souls in their fast days and in other such observations (see Isaiah 58[:2-5]). They were accustomed to bind their own souls to certain afflictions by an oath (Num. 30[:1-16]). Oaths of this sort the impious used to alter when they had recovered their health and also when they were overwhelmed in tribulation. Therefore, it is understood in this sense by the pious, that if someone should vow to the affliction of one's own soul, one should not change what one owed. Next, as it is understood in this way, someone vows to their own affliction and does not change, that is, even if it brings certain affliction when one has taken the oath, yet the pious will not change because they vowed, but they will faithfully keep it even when it is to their own ruin. Indeed it is a simpler [reading] and supports the argument and spirit of the psalm more, so that we read, "he swears to his neighbor and does not change." The prophet spurs on this righteousness, which is declared toward his neighbor, just as is apparent to anyone who reads this Psalm attentively.
OBSERVATION Verse 4
In whose eyes an abominable thing is despised. (1) First, observe that he calls those who are undertaking a separate way of living from the citizens of the kingdom of heaven [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], that is, reprobate and abominable. To be reprobate is the same thing as to be degenerate, and must be avoided. Thus Psalm 118[:22] says [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], that is, "and the stone which the builders rejected." Jeremiah 6[:30] says [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], that is, rejected silver. Psalm 106[:24] says [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], that is, "and they rejected the desirable land." It occurs in the majority of cases as those who are of such kind as the great, the wealthy, and the famous in this world. Indeed, the Holy Spirit does not regard the external character of the reprobate but the impiety of their heart and of their lives. According to this [impiety] names them [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] whatever else they may be called in this world. (2) Next, it must be noted that he examines it so that we may despise it so much. It is arduous to despise the powerful, the opulent, and the glorious in this world and to consider them as the rejected. You should recognize those who easily are acquainted with the rejected, and those they constantly thrash with their words when they think there is no danger. When it is agreeable for them to enjoy some of their business they do not flee their fellowship. Indeed, this is not to despise the rejected. It does not say here, in whose heart, but in whose eyes the abominable is despised. It indicates that the pious cannot even see the rejected with patience, still less to have anything to do with their business. (3) Precaution must be taken here, lest without delay we may speedily think like the rejected who are guilty in some sins, nor think that an eagerness for sinning is greater in others than in ourselves, we condemn by the habit of do-gooders and hypocrites. It is fitting that whoever sins with no regard to emending [themselves] (14) cannot judge that he is not rejected or short of being rejected, for he ignores whether someone is receiving an admonition or not. Whoever can receive an admonition even if he may not immediately obey in all things ought not to be supposed as rejected. The hypocrites among the Jews were condemning sin not in themselves as much as sin in others, having eyes for observing the life of others, being blinder than a mole in regard to their own. Next, it was not fitting that sinners were not concerned about the emendation of their own sins, but in that very eagerness, nay more, that opinion they were thinking that they satisfied true justice if they neither ate or drank with publicans and sinners. Indeed they condemned those who were eating and drinking with those [sorts of people], just as they also rejected Christ with that same name (Matt. 9[:10-12]). Therefore, let us, as we imitate Christ more than the Pharisees, certainly detest sin and turn away from the rejected. Likewise, let us also take care that we may also truly despise the rejected and receive sinners who do not yet despair of Christ. In sum, let us decline in this way a partnership (consortium) with sinners so that first we may detest the sin itself, next so that we may not strengthen those sinning in evil, third, so that we may not be infected by the thought of those, fourth, that those who are ashamed may be converted.
And who fearing the Lord glorify him. (1) We observe here that he calls those who are the opposites of the rejected, those who fear God. We are admonished here that the root of all goodness and righteousness is the fear of God and if that is absent, the result is a reprobate and abominable life. He says that whoever fears the Lord will do good things. (2) Next, it must be noted that he calls them fearers of God because they conduct themselves toward their neighbor rightly, blamelessly, and justly. It must be shown that the fear of God is not only in those things that immediately concern God (that is, the first table of the Decalogue) but also in those things that pertain to one's neighbor. A pious person knows not only that this is from God, as to dwell before him piously but also that it should be examined so that we may dwell with our neighbor justly and candidly. (3) Third, it must be noted here what it requires from us, so that not only should we avoid the reprobate but also that fearing God we should honor him. It is easy to avoid a reprobate person, especially if he should offend us by his malice, but to glorify God while fearing Him, this does not exist in many, nor is it so easy to do as is thought, especially if either they may be repenting, and on account of the indecency of a previously spent life, up to this point still despicable, or living under impious magistrates, and obnoxious persecutions: just as is evident in the case of Jonathan under Saul (1 Sam. 19:20), under Ahab in the case of Obadiah (1 Kings 18[:2-16]), or at other times in this world they are despised and downcast. [Just like] during the reigns of Saul, Jeroboam, Ahab, and Manasseh, glorifying God while fearing God was conjoined closely with peril and is juxtaposed with those [who lived] during the reigns of David, Hezekiah, and Josiah. It is one thing to glorify, to consider Him precious, to delight in that fellowship, to uphold the reputation of it, to succor the arranged order in its difficulties (which can scarcely be done without danger in this world). To honor the dead saints, as seems to be done in the papacy, is both easy and beyond danger. There is nothing they say or do that exasperates the world. Therefore, by honoring the pious, we declare how we love God. We honor not only those who [f131] continually lived righteously but also those who, now first by the emendation of their life and [then] by repentance for their offences, begin to declare that they fear God. The fear of God not only pleases the believer who has continued for a considerable time but also the new and recent believer. There is nothing of all of these things that we love that does not make us immediately smile like [those who are] just beginning [in the fear of God]. Next we honor not only those fearing God who are in the world of a particular name but also those held to be obscure and downcast, just as gold, even if it is cast into the mud, soon being recognized it is gathered up, and considered precious. Third, we glorify not only those pious who bide their time securely and under pious magistrates but also those who are oppressed under the tyranny of wicked men, and they are honored when in danger. Whoever earnestly amasses gold not only gathers what he obtains without danger but also what is in the vicinity of danger.
He swears to his neighbor and does not change. (1) First, let us consider that he does not simply say, "he promises to his neighbor and does not change," but rather, "he swears to his neighbor and does not change." Therefore, would not a citizen of the kingdom of God be permitted to change without offense to God if he should promise something to his neighbor in simple words without an oath? By no means. This is not treated here by the prophet, but he examines the reverence of the divine name that he saw grow flabby and cold in his own time in Israel. Because of this he handed down those predictions to the people, as also below in [the commentary on] Psalm 24. He composed psalms of this sort completely for the edification of the church of God and gave predictions [to her]. He was composing the majority of these for her edification, for the daily admonition of errors, and for inspiring her to a solid eagerness for true piety.
(2) Next it must be observed that he does not say, "he swears to God and does not change," but rather, "he swears to his neighbor and does not change." This expression has been accommodated to the necessity of the church of those times. The Jews used to assign little value to it if they did not keep what they swore to their neighbor, but they would keep what they vowed to God. Thus, he rightly placed this particle as "he swears to his neighbor and does not change." He considers only the zeal for the religion of God and his truth so that on account of the religion of the name of God and his truth he does not wish to change what he vowed to his neighbor. In our time, we think that if a pious man and citizen of the kingdom of God should keep good faith with his neighbor, whoever he may be, then how much more should he keep good faith with his magistrate, and next how much more fully besides that to the Lord God? We will consider the oath as well as usury, after the completion of the commentary on the Psalms [in the appendix].
EXPLANATION Verse 5
Whoever does not give his money for usury, and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things will not be moved forever. (Cf. Ex. 22[:25-27]; Lev. 25[:36-37]; and Deut. 23[:19-20]). It was a provision of the law that no one among the people of God might demand usury from his neighbor, for which reason this kind of command protected against the eagerness of avarice and a spirit, favoring a lawyer's, which was demanding the necessities of one's neighbors without any respect to their advantage because they were devoid of faith and the love of God (even in this matter the majority were delinquent just as one may see in Ezekiel 18-22 and Nehemiah , which is 2 Esdras chapter 5). Even David, discerning that this disease of avarice was increasing in intensity in his own time, inserted this little bit in this psalm against usury, admonishing the person who would give his money for usury that it should have no place in the kingdom of God. He does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He mixes together magistrates, judges, advocates, and other similar sorts in this place. The gift of judging is given to mortals by God, and what has been given is so excellent that it should be a help to the innocent and should suppress the ploys of the reprobate. Those things could not be done unless an eagerness to oblige others or for avarice draws near. For that reason we read in Exodus 23[:8] and Deuteronomy 16[:18-19] that "you shall appoint judges and magistrates in all your city gates that the Lord your God will give to you, throughout each of your tribes, so that they may judge the people with a just judgment nor turn aside toward one party. You shall not consider on the basis of a person or gifts. Because bribes blind the eyes of the wise and alter the words of the just." It does not say, "Perhaps it will not blind the eyes of the wise," but rather he says affirmatively, "Because bribes blind the eyes of the wise and change the words of the just"; nor does he say, "the eyes of the stupid," but of the wise; nor does he say, "the words of the unjust," but of the just.
In order to see how corrupt would the judgments have been among the people of Israel, see Psalm 26:10 below, as well as Isaiah 1[:23], Ezekiel 22[:6-12], and Micah 3[:1-3]. It is not against reason that the prophet expels this evil from the citizens of the kingdom of God. He knew that it would prevail excessively among those who were entrusted with the power to judge.
Whoever does these things will not be moved forever. This is the conclusion of the psalm in which he promises true felicity to those who do these things, affirming that they would abide in the tabernacle of God and would dwell on his holy mountain. In this way, the psalm begins: "O Lord, who will abide in your tabernacle, who will dwell on your holy mountain?" Therefore, he sets forth the following: for whoever walks blamelessly, does justice, and the like with these enumerated things as a thorough response, he says, "whoever does these things will not be moved forever," on behalf of him that would say, "whoever does these things will abide in my tabernacle and will dwell on my holy mountain." It is understood that the pious will continually remain on the holy mountain of God in such a way that they would never be sent away from it. This is what he says of course, "he will not be moved forever."
OBSERVATION Verse 5
Whoever does not give his money at usury. In this place, because the Lord prohibited usury (usura) among the people of Israel in his law, two things must be noted. (1) The malice of human nature, by which it occurs that [usury] has the appearance of a kindness and it is perverted into an inconveniencing and ruining thing. To give money by a loan to a neighbor has the appearance of kindness. If done rightly, it is a kind of true kindness. However, if it should approach usury, then the kindness is perverted into viciousness. For this reason, it is called in the Hebrew [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which has the suggestion of being stung. At the last, the usury stings that seemed to confer a benefit at first. Whoever lends his money to a neighbor certainly does not appear to wish to inflict upon him a financial loss but appears to look out for his financial affairs. When usury must be allowed, what at first seemed a work of charity and a help to the necessities of a neighbor, in the end reverts by changed sails into avarice and the neighbor's detriment. (15) (2) The other thing that must be observed concerns the wonderful philanthropy of God by which it is that He cannot bear those practices that obstruct human necessities and undermine an eagerness for kindness among His people. He bountifully lavishes a copious interest (usura) on those who tend fields. Meanwhile, He cannot bear [f132] that from it to whom money is given in return interest (usura) is exacted and in return charity is wounded. The farmer who commits his seed to the ground for interest (usura) does not sin, however, whoever gives his money to his neighbor for interest does sin. (3) The greedy man says here, "therefore I will keep my money for myself, and concerning that point I will not give my neighbor anything, nor will I break from the sin of usury." I respond, give money to your neighbor that is not subject to usury, but rather give according to his interest (usuram). Give simply without interest, if you wish to flee the force of the sin of usury. Nor should you say, "Who commands that I should give money (which is mine) to others without respect to my advantage?" If you are a Jew, by the authority of the law of God, you are compelled to give your money to your destitute brother without usury, concerning which see Deuteronomy 15[:7-11]. Whereas if you are a Christian, you must hear the voice of Christ in Matthew 5[:22] in which he says as follows: "Whoever seeks from you, give to him: and willingly without you receiving anything in return, do not turn him away." In Luke 6[:30] he says, "give, hoping nothing in return from him." Therefore, even if he does not break off the vice of usury, whoever denies his money to his neighbor, yet breaks off into the sin of cruelty (immisericordiae), in the same way is rendered disobedient against God just as if he gave his money for usury.
And he does not accept a bribe against the innocent. (1) It must be noted here what he does not say, "And he does not accept a bribe from the innocent," but rather, "he does not accept a bribe against the innocent." Whoever are guiltless, relying on the case that they consider good and just, do not think it is necessary for them to influence the judge to judge rightly with bribes. Besides, whoever offers bribes to a judge beckons him to do this to corrupt that judge and charms him from the path of righteousness, which is not of those who know that justice stems from them. Therefore, he says rightly, "And he does not accept a bribe against the innocent." (2) Next, it must also be observed that he does not simply say, "and he does not accept a gift," but rather, "and he does not accept a gift against the innocent." In itself it is not evil to accept gifts, just as it is not evil to give gifts. However, to accept gifts in such a way that judgment is perverted against the guiltless that is only what is rejected by the Holy Spirit, who requires that integrity in judges so that even if they should be given gifts, yet they do not wish to depart the width of a fingernail from that which is fair and just. (3) Third, it also must be considered that if someone who accepts bribes against the innocent sins, then certainly someone who offers bribes to the judge against the innocent sins no less. Next, if someone sins who leads some private person away by gifts from the path of righteousness to sin, then how much more does someone sin who attempts to corrupt some public minister of either the truth of God or justice, just as they are a certain common good whose destruction, as their integrity is used for many things, is such a public perversity. The perversion of judges is an utmost curse. In this place, water is sought and fire is found; justice is sought and both injustice and violence is found; life is sought and death is found; as much audacity as you please to pillage and defraud is furnished to the shameless so that they manage from this cause not only to be slaves to their own avarice and malice, but also this audacity is imparted to patrons, advocates, judges, and to quibbling lawyers (rabulis). Wherefore it prevails that there are not courts other than corrupted ones. Clearly a lust for bribes is so great a curse that if it should occupy the mind of judge, Jehoshaphat did not prohibit it for nothing with such great earnestness from the judges (2 Chron. 19[:5-7]). (4) Fourth, neither do I think that policy should be changed. If, in secular matters such great integrity is required of judges and magistrates so that they are not allowed to corrupt themselves with bribes against the innocent, what must be said about bishops who through bribes dispense nearly everything in the Church, and by receiving bribes sell the flock of the Lord to wolves and to the impious? See the first question in chapter 1. There are a great number, when the simoniac heresies are condemned, who either by request, by price, or by allegiance dispense sacred orders. I ask you, what place do those have in the kingdom of God?
Whoever does these things shall not be moved forever. (1) It must be observed that he does not say, "whoever knows these things, whoever reads these things, whoever sings these things, whoever preaches these things," but, "whoever does these things." Therefore, not only is an acquaintance with true righteousness required but also a true and solid observance of it. See Matthew 7[:24], "Whoever hears my words ... and does them ..." as well as James 1[:22], "You shall be doers of the word, not only hearers."
Next consider that he says, "he will not be moved forever." This place pertains to the perpetuity of that true happiness that exists in the kingdom of God. There are in this life many citizens of the kingdom of God who are not true ones, but painted as such, who will not remain [in the kingdom of God] but will perish (see [my commentary] on Psalm 1[:6] above and Psalm 37[:1-2, 9-10, 35-36, 38] below, just as tares do not always remain among the grain, but at harvest time they are cast out (Matt. 13[:24-43]). Moreover, the true citizens will remain, and thus in this world even though they may be assailed by many and great temptations (Matt. 7[:25-27]). It does not say, "whoever does these things will not be tempted or assailed," but "he will not be moved forever." In such a way, the truly pious and citizens of the kingdom of God are divinely guarded so that they cannot be subverted and destroyed. They can be slaughtered, but they cannot be moved out of the kingdom of God. Thus, no one should look forward to the future to persist immovably, however, many boast about their knowledge of the truth and kingdom of God if some tempest breaks violently on them. They do not persist except those who strive for justice from their heart and truly reach for the kingdom of God.
(1) Throughout this work, Musculus uses the Latin term Dominus in place of the tetragrammaton and to convey that our translation will utilize Lord.
(2) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
(3) o[??] [tau]ou i[delta]o[lambda][omega][sigma]ov iv [gamma][lambda][omega]o[sigma][eta]
(4) It is probable that Musculus is consulting a contemporary polyglot edition of the Psalms. The Felix referenced above probably refers to Felix of Prato (Felix Pratensis, d. 1539), a Jew who converted to Roman Catholicism, whose edition of the Psalms, first published in 1515, was included in Psalterium sextuplex: Hebraeum, cum tribus Latinis, uidelicet, Diui Hieronymi, R.P. Sanctis Pagnini, & Felicis Pratensis : Graecum, Septuaginta interpretum, cum Latina uulgata (Lyons: Sebastianus Gryphius, 1530).
(5) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
(6) religiose, pie & iuste
(7) in arca, in tabernaculo, in templo
(8) ullo pacto
(9) This quote, "Flecte genu, lapis hic venerabilis, hospite Christo." loosely matches an epigram in letter XXXII of Paulinus of Nola, in reference to pictures and inscriptions in the basilica he designed and had built, see Migne's Patrologia Latina (Paris, 1847), 61:332. The exact inscription as cited by Musculus can also be found, for example, in Saint-Georges chapel at the cathedral Notre-Dame de Caudebec, see Cochet's Les eglises de l'arrondisement d'Yvetot, vol. 1 (Paris: Didron, 1852), 30. A slightly different version is found in Maria Kerk in Utrecht: "Flecte genu, domus haec venerabilis, hospite Christo," see K. Sprunger, Dutch Puritanism: A History of English and Scottish Churches of the Netherlands in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Leiden: Brill, 1982), 215-16.
(10) In this instance, Musculus uses instrumentum in the legal sense of a deed, will, or contract, just as modern English might speak of a will as a legal instrument.
(11) quosuis in genere
(12) plumbeus lit. "leadened." The contrast is between a sword comprised of hardened and tempered steel versus malleable and brittle lead.
(13) Et opprobrium non infert proximo suo
(14) nunquam emendandi gratia
(15) Musculus alludes to the piratical tactic of flying misleading sails to lure and lull a merchant into a false sense of security. When within striking distance of the merchant without chance of escape, the pirate vessel springs its true colors and swoops in on the merchant vessel.
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|Title Annotation:||Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)|
|Publication:||Journal of Markets & Morality|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2008|
|Previous Article:||Introduction: Wolfgang Musculus on Christian Righteousness, Oaths, and Usury.|
|Next Article:||Appendix to Psalm 15: concerning the oath.|