(Calvin, Genesis 1. part 30)

because he was speaking with one who was not rightly instructed, spoke
thus in conformity with the common custom of the heathen; but, in my
opinion, most erroneously. For to what purpose did he, by erecting
altars, make it manifest that he was devoted to the service of the only
true God, if it were lawful for him afterwards to deny, in words, the
very God whom he had worshipped? On which subject we have before spoken,
as the case required. Abraham, however, does not complain respecting, the
angels, that he had been led astray by their fallacious guidance: but he
points out what his own condition formerly was; namely, that having left
his own country, he had not only migrated into a distant land, but had
been constantly compelled to change his abode. Wherefore there is no
wonder, that necessity drove him into new designs. Should any one
inquire, why he makes angels the guides of his pilgrimage? the answer is
ready; Although Abraham knew that he was wandering by the will and
providence of God alone, he yet refers to angels, who, as he elsewhere
acknowledges, were given him to be the guides of his journey. The sum of
the address is of this tendency; to teach Abimelech, that Abraham was
alike free from malicious cunning, and from falsehood: and then, that
because he was passing a wandering and unquiet life; Sarah, by agreement,
had always said the same thing which she had done in Gerar. This wretched
anxiety of the holy man might so move Abimelech to compassion as to cause
his anger to cease.

14. "And Abimelech took sheep." Abraham had before received possessions
and gifts in Egypt; but with this difference, that whereas Pharaoh had
commanded him to depart elsewhere; Abimelech offers him a home in his
kingdom. It therefore appears that both kings were stricken with no
common degree of fear. For when they perceived that they were reproved by
the Lord, because they had been troublesome to Abraham; they found no
method of appeasing God, except that of compensating, by acts of
kindness, for the injury they had brought on the holy man. The latter
difference alluded to flowed hence; that Pharaohs being more severely
censured, was so terrified, that he could scarcely bear the sight of
Abraham: whereas Abimelech, although alarmed, śwas yet soon composed by
an added word of consolation, when the Lord said to him, "He is a
prophet, and he shall pray for thee." For there is no other remedy for
the removal of fear, than the Lord's declaration that he will be
propitious. It is indeed of little advantage for the sinner to present to
God only what fear extorts. But it is a true sign of penitence, when,
with a composed mind and quiet conscience, he yields himself, as obedient
and docile, to God. And seeing that Abimelech allowed Abraham a
habitation in his realm, a blessing of no trivial kind followed this act
of humanity; because Isaac was born there, as we shall see in the next
chapter.

16. "He is to thee a covering of the eyes." Because there is, in these
words, some obscurity, the passage is variously explained. The beginning
of the verse is free from difficulty. For when Abimelech had given a
thousand pieces of silver; in order that his liberality might not be
suspected, he declare6 that he had given them to Abraham; and that since
Abraham had been honorably received, his wife was not to be regarded as a
harlot. But what follows is more obscure, 'He shall be a veil to thee.'
Many interpreters refer this to the gift; in which they seem to me to be
wrong. The Hebrews, having no neuter gender, use the feminine instead of
it. But Moses, in this place, rather points to the husband; and this best
suits the sense. For Sarah is taught that the husband to whom she is
joined was as a veil, with which she ought to be covered lest she should
be exposed to others. Paul says, that the veil which the woman carries on
her head, is the symbol of subjection. (1 Cor. 11: 10.) This also belongs
to unmarried persons, as referring to the end for which the sex is
ordained; but it applies more aptly to married women; because they are
veiled, as by the very ordinance of marriage. I therefore thus explain
the words, 'Thou, if thou hadst no husband, wouldst be exposed to many
dangers; but now, since God has appointed for thee a guardian of thy
modesty, it behoves thee to conceal thyself under that veil. Why then
hast thou of thine own accords thrown off this covering?' This was a just
censure; because Sarah, pretending that she was in the power of her
husband, had deprived herself of the divine protection.
  "Thus she was reproved." Interpreters distort this clause also. The
natural exposition seems to me to be, that the Lord had suffered Sarah to
be reproved by a heathen king, that he might the more deeply affect her
with a sense of shame. For Moses draws especial attention to the person
of the speaker; because it seemed a disgrace that the mother of the
faithful should be reprehended by such a master. Others suppose that
Moses speaks of the profit which she had received; seeing that she,
instructed by such a lesson, would henceforth learn to act differently.
But Moses seems rather to point out that kind of correction of which I
have spoken; namely, that Sarah was humbled, by being delivered over to
the discipline of a heathen man.

17. "So Abraham prayed." In two respects the wonderful favour of God
towards Abraham was apparent; firsts that, with outstretched hand, He
avenged the injury done to him; and, secondly, that, through Abraham's
prayer, He became pacified towards the house of Abimelech. It was
necessary to declare, that the house of Abimelech had been healed in
answer to Abraham's prayers; in order that, by such a benefit, the
inhabitants might be the more closely bound to him. A question, however,
may be agitated respecting the kind of punishment described in the
expression, the whole house was barren. For if Abraham had gone into the
land of Gerar, after Sarah had conceived, and if the whole of what Moses
has here related was fulfilled before Isaac was born, how was it possible
that, in so short a time, this sterility should be manifest? If we should
say, that the judgment of God was then made plain, in a manner to us
unknown, the answer would not be inappropriate. Yet I am not certain,
that the series of the history has not been inverted. The more probable
supposition may seem to be, that Abraham had already been resident in
Gerar, when Isaac was promised to him; but that the part, which had
before been omitted, is now inserted by Moses. Should any one object,
that Abraham dwelt in Mamre till the destruction of Sodom, there would be
nothing absurd in the belief, that what Moses here relates had taken
place previously. Yet, since the correct notation of time does little for
the confirmation of our faith, I leave both opinions undecided.

Chapter XXI.

1 And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah
as he had spoken.
2 For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set
time of which God had spoken to him.
3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom
Sarah bare to him, Isaac.
4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had
commanded him.
5 And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto
him.
6 And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, [so that] all that hear will
laugh with me.
7 And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have
given children suck? for I have born [him] a son in his old age.
8 And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the
[same] day that Isaac was weaned.
9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto
Abraham, mocking.
10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son:
for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, [even] with
Isaac.
11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son.
12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because
of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said
unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he
[is] thy seed.
14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle
of water, and gave [it] unto Hagar, putting [it] on her shoulder, and the
child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the
wilderness of Beersheba.
15 And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under
one of the shrubs.
16 And she went, and sat her down over against [him] a good way off, as
it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child.
And she sat over against [him], and lift up her voice, and wept.
17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to
Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear
not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he [is].
18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make
him a great nation.
19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went,
and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.
20 And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness,
and became an archer.
21 And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a
wife out of the land of Egypt.
22 And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief
captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God [is] with thee in all
that thou doest:
23 Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal
falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son: [but] according
to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to
the land wherein thou hast sojourned.
24 And Abraham said, I will swear.
25 And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which
Abimelech's servants had violently taken away.
26 And Abimelech said, I wot not who hath done this thing: neither didst
thou tell me, neither yet heard I [of it], but to day.
27 And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and
both of them made a covenant.
28 And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves.
29 And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What [mean] these seven ewe lambs
which thou hast set by themselves?
30 And he said, For [these] seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand,
that they may be a witness unto me, that I have digged this well.
31 Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they sware
both of them.
32 Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba: then Abimelech rose up, and
Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of
the Philistines.
33 And [Abraham] planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the
name of the LORD, the everlasting God.


1. "And the Lord visited Sarah." In this chapters not only is the
nativity of Isaac related, but because, in his very birth, God has set
before us a lively picture of his Church, Moses also gives a particular
account of this matter. And first, he says that God visited Sarah, as he
had promised. Because all offspring, flows from the kindness of God, as
it is in the psalm, 'The fruit of the womb is the gift of God;' (Psalm
127: 3;) therefore the Lord is said, not without reason, to visit those,
to whom he gives children. For although the foetus seems to be produced
naturally, each from its own kind; there is yet no fecundity in animals,
except so far as the Lord puts forth his own power, to fulfill what he
has said, "Increase and multiply." But in the propagation of the human
race, his special benediction is conspicuous; and, therefore, the birth
of every child is rightly deemed the effect of divine visitation. But
Moses, in this place, looks higher, forasmuch as Isaac was born out of
the accustomed course of nature. Therefore Moses here commends that
secret and unwonted power of God, which is superior to the law of nature;
and not improperly, since it is of great consequence for us to know that
the gratuitous kindness of God reigned, as well in the origin, as in the
progress of the Church; and that the sons of God were not otherwise born,
than from his mere mercy. And this is the reason why he did not make
Abraham a father, till his body was nearly withered. It is also to be
noticed, that Moses declares the visitation which he mentions, to be
founded upon promise; 'Jehovah visited Sarah, as he had promised.' In
these words he annexes the effect to its cause, in order that the special
grace of God, of which an example is given in the birth of Isaac, might
be the more perceptible. If he had barely said, that the Lord had respect
unto Sarah, when she brought forth a son; some other cause might have
been sought for. None, however, can doubt, that the promise, by which
Isaac had been granted to his father Abraham, was gratuitous; since the
child was the fruit of that adoption, which can be ascribed to nothing
but the mere grace of God. Therefore, whoever wishes rightly and
prudently to reflect upon the work of God, in the birth of Isaac, must
necessarily begin with the promise. There is also great emphasis in the
repetition, "The Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken." For he thus
retains his readers, as by laying his hand upon them, that they may pause
in the consideration of so great a miracle. Meanwhile, Moses commends the
faithfulness of God; as if he had said he never feeds men with empty
promises, nor is he less true in granting what he has promised, than he
is liberal, and willing, in making the promise.

2. "She bare Abraham a son." This is said according to the accustomed
manner of speaking; because the woman is neither the head of a family,
nor brings forth properly for herself, but for her husband. What follows,
however, is more worthy of notice, "In his old age, at the set time,"
which God had predicted: for the old age of Abraham does, not a little,
illustrate the glory of the miracle. And now Moses, for the third time,
recalls us to the word of God, that the constancy of his truth may always
be present to our minds. And though the time had been predicted, alike to
Abraham and to his wife, yet this honour is expressly attributed to the
holy man; because the promise had been especially given on his account.
Both, however, are distinctly mentioned in the context.

3. "And Abraham called the name." Moses does not mean that Abraham was
the inventor of the name; but that he adhered to the name which before
had been given by the angel. This act of obedience, however, was worthy
of commendation, since he not only ratified the word of God, but also
executed his office as God's minister. For, as a herald, he proclaimed to
all, that which the angel had committed to his trust.

4. "And Abraham circumcised his son." Abraham pursued his uniform tenor
of obedience, in not sparing his own son. For, although it would be
painful for him to wound the tender body of the infant; yet, setting
aside all human affection, he obeys the word of God. And Moses records
that he did as the Lord had commanded him; because there is nothing of
greater importance, than to take the pure word of God for our rule, and
not to be wise above what is lawful. This submissive spirit is especially
required, in reference to sacraments; lest men should either invent any
thing for themselves, or should transfer those things which are commanded
by the Lord, to any use they please. We see, indeed, how inordinately the
humours of men here prevail; inasmuch as they have dared to devise
innumerable sacraments. And to go no further for an example, whereas God
has delivered only two sacraments to the Christian Church, the Papists
boast that they have seven. As if truly it were in their power to forge
promises of salvation, which they might sanction with signs imagined by
themselves. But it were superfluous to relate with how many figments the
sacraments have been polluted by them. This certainly is manifest, that
there is nothing about which they are less careful, than to observe what
the Lord has commanded.

5. "And Abraham was an hundred years old." Moses again records the age of
Abraham the better to excite the minds of his readers to a consideration
of the miracle. And although mention is made only of Abraham, let us yet
remember that he is, in this place, set before us, not as a man of lust,
but as the husband of Sarah, who has obtained, through her, a lawful
seed, in extreme old age, when the strength of both had failed. For the
power of God was chiefly conspicuous in this, that when their marriage
had been fruitless more than sixty years, suddenly they obtain offspring.
Sarah, truly, in order to make amends for the doubt to which she had
given way, now exultingly proclaims the kindness of God, with becoming
praises. And first, she says, that God had given her occasion of joy; not
of common joy, but of such as should cause all men to congratulate her.
Secondly, for the purpose of amplification, she assumes the character of
an astonished inquirer, 'Who would have told this to Abraham?' Some
explain the clause in question, 'will laugh at me,' as if Sarah had said,
with shame, that she should be a proverb to the common people. But the
former sense is more suitable; namely, 'Whosoever shall hear it, will
laugh with me;' that is, for the sake of congratulating me.

7. "Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given
children such?" I understand the future tense to be here put for the
subjunctive mood. And the meaning is, that such a thing would never have
entered into the mind of any one. Whence she concludes, that God alone
was the Author of it; and she now condemns herself for ingratitude
because she had been so slow in giving credit to the angel who had told
her of it. Now, since she speaks of children in the plural number, the
Jews, according to their custom, invent the fable, that whereas a rumour
was spread, that the child was supposititious, a great number of infants
were brought by the neighbours, in order that Sarah, by suckling them,
might prove herself a mother. As if, truly, this might not easily be
known, when they saw Isaac hanging on her breast, and as if this was not
a more clear and distinct proof, that the milk, pressed out by the
fingers, flowed before their eyes. But the Jews are doubly foolish and
infatuated, as not perceiving, that this form of expression is of exactly
the same import, as if Sarah had called herself a nurse. Meanwhile, it is
to be observed, that Sarah joins the office of nurse with that of mother;
for the Lord does not in vain prepare nutriment for children in their
mothers' bosoms, before they are born. But those on whom he confers the
honour of mothers, he, in this way, constitutes nurses; and they who deem
it a hardship to nourish their own offspring, break, as far as they are
able, the sacred bond of nature. If disease, or anything of that kind, is
the hindrance, they have a just excuse; but for mothers voluntarily, and
for their own pleasure, to avoid the trouble of nursing, and thus to make
themselves only half-mothers, is a shameful corruption.

8. "And the child grew, and was weaned." Moses now begins to relate the
manner in which Ishmael was rejected from the family of Abraham, in order
that Isaac alone might hold the place of the lawful son and heir. It
seems, indeed, at first sight, something frivolous, that Sarah, being
angry about a mere nothing, should have stirred up strife in the family.
But Paul teaches, that a sublime mystery is here proposed to us,
concerning the perpetual state of the Church. (Gal. 4: 21.) And, truly,
if we attentively consider the persons mentioned, we shall regard it as
no trivial affair, that the father of all the faithful is divinely
commanded to eject his firstborn son; that Ishmael, although a partaker
of the same circumcision, becomes so transformed into a strange nations
as to be no more reckoned among the blessed seed; that, in appearance,
the body of the Church is so rent asunder, that only one-half of it
remains; that Sarah, in expelling the son of her handmaid from the house,
claims the entire inheritance for Isaac alone. Wherefore, if due
attention be applied in the reading of this history, the very mystery of
which Paul treats, spontaneously presents itself.
  "And Abraham made a great feast." It is asked, why he did not rather
make it on the day of Isaac's birth, or circumcision? The subtile
reasoning of Augustine, that the day of Isaac's weaning was celebrated,
in order that we may learn, from his example, no more to be children in
understandings is too constrained. What others say, has no greater
consistency; namely, that Abraham took a day which was not then in common
use, in order that he might not imitate the manners of the Gentiles.
Indeed, it is very possible, that he may also have celebrated the
birthday of his son, with honour and joy. But special mention is made of
this feast, for another reason; namely, that then, the mocking of Ishmael
was discovered. For I do not assent to the conjecture of those who think
that a new history is here begun; and that Sarah daily contended with
this annoyance, until, at length, she purged the house by the ejection of
the impious mocker. It is indeed probable, that, on other days also,
Ishmael had been elated by similar petulance; yet I do not doubt but
Moses expressly declares that his contempt was manifested towards Sarah,
at that solemn assembly, and that from that time, it was publicly
proclaimed. Now Moses does not speak disparagingly of the pleasures of
that feast, but rather takes their lawfulness for granted. For it is not
his design to prohibit holy men from inviting their friends, to a common
participation of enjoyment, so that they, jointly giving thanks to God,
may feast with greater hilarity than usual. Temperance and sobriety are
indeed always to be observed; and care must be taken, both that the
provision itself be frugal, and the guests moderate. I would only say,
that God does not deal so austerely with us, as not to allow us,
sometimes, to entertain our friends liberally; as when nuptials are to be
celebrated, or when children are born to us. Abraham, therefore, made a
great feast, that is, an extraordinary one; because he was not accustomed
thus sumptuously to furnish his table every day; yet this was an
abundance which by no means degenerated into luxury. Besides, while he
was thus liberal in entertaining his friends according to his power, he
also had sufficient for unknown guests, as we have seen before.

9. "And Sarah saw the son of Hagar." As the verb "to laugh" has a twofold
signification among the Latins, so also the Hebrews use, both in a good
and evil sense, the verb from which the participle "metsachaik" is
derived. That it was not a childish and innoxious laughter, appears from
the indignation of Sarah. It was, therefore a malignant expression of
scorn, by which the forward youth manifested his contempt for his infant
brother. And it is to be observed, that the epithet which is here applied
to Ishmael, and the name Isaac, are both derived from the same root.
Isaac was, to his father and others, the occasion of holy and lawful
laughter; whence also, the name was divinely imposed upon him. Ishmael
turns the blessing of God, from which such joy flowed, into ridicule.
Therefore, as an impious mocker, he stands opposed to his brother Isaac.
Both (so to speak) are the sons of laughter: but in a very different
sense. Isaac brought laughter with him from his mother's womb, since he
bore,--engraven upon him,--the certain token of God's grace. He therefore
so exhilarates his father's house, that joy breaks forth in thanksgiving;
but Ishmael, with canine and profane laughter, attempts to destroy that
holy joy of faith. And there is no doubt that his manifest impiety
against God, betrayed itself under this ridicule. He had reached an age
at which he could not, by any means be ignorant of the promised favour,
on account of which his father Abraham was transported with so great joy:
and yet--proudly confident in himself--he insults, in the person of his
brother, both God and his word, as well as the faith of Abraham.
Wherefore it was not without cause that Sarah was so vehemently angry
with him, that she commanded him to be driven into exile. For nothing is
more grievous to a holy mind, than to see the grace of God exposed to
ridicule. And this is the reason why Paul calls his laughter persecution;
saying, 'He who was after the flesh persecuted the spiritual seed.' (Gal.
4: 29.) Was it with sword or violence? Nay, but with the scorn of the
virulent tongue, which does not injure the body, but pierces into the
very soul. Moses might indeed have aggravated his crime by a multiplicity
of words; but I think that he designedly spoke thus concisely, in order
to render the petulance with which Ishmael ridicules the word of God the
more detestable.

10. "Cast out this bond woman." Not only is Sarah exasperated against the
transgressor, but she seems to act more imperiously towards her husband
than was becoming in a modest wife. Peter shows, that when, on a previous
occasion, she called Abraham lord, she did not do so feignedly; since he
proposes her, as an example of voluntary subjection, to pious and chaste
matrons. (1 Pet. 3: 6.) But now, she not only usurps the government of
the house, by calling her husband to order, but commands him whom she
ought to reverence, to be obedient to her will. Here, although I do not
deny that Sarah, being moved by womanly feelings, exceeded the bounds of
moderation, I yet do not doubt, both that her tongue and mind were
governed by a secret impulse of the Spirit, and that this whole affair
was directed by the providence of God. Without controversy, she was the
minister of great and tremendous judgment. And Paul adduces this
expression, not as a futile reproach, which an enraged woman had poured
forth, but as a celestial oracle. But although she sustains a higher
character than that of a private woman, yet she does not take from her
husband his power; but makes him the lawful director of the ejection.

11. "And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight." Although
Abraham had been already assured, by many oracles, that the blessed seed
should proceed from Isaac only; yet, under the influence of paternal
affection, he could not bear that Ishmael should be cut off, for the
purpose of causing the inheritance to remain entire to him, to whom it
had been divinely granted; and thus, by mingling two races, he
endeavoured, as far as he was able, to confound the distinction which God
had made. It may truly seem absurd, that the servant of God should thus
be carried away by a blind impulse: but God thus deprives him of
judgment, not only to humble him, but also to testify to all ages, that
the dispensing of his grace depends upon his own will alone. Moreover, in
order that the holy man may bear, with greater equanimity, the departure
of his son, a double consolation is promised him. For, first, God recalls
to his memory the promise made concerning Isaac; as if he would say, it
is enough and more than enough, that Isaac, in whom the spiritual
benediction remains entire, is left. He then promises that he will take
care of Ishmael, though exiled from his paternal home; and that a
posterity shall arise from him which shall constitute a whole nation. But
I have explained above, on the seventeenth chapter, what is the meaning
of the expression, 'The seed shall be called in Isaac.' And Paul, (Rom.
9: 8,) by way of interpretation, uses the word reckoned, or imputed. And
it is certain that, by this method, the other son was cut off from the
family of Abraham; so that he should no more have a name among his
posterity. For God, having severed Ishmael, shows that the whole progeny
of Abraham should flow from one head. He promises also to Ishmael, that
he shall be a nations but estranged from the Church; so that the
condition of the brothers shall, in this respect, be different; that one
is constituted the father of a spiritual people, to the other is given a
carnal seed. Whence Paul justly infers, that not all who are the seed of
Abraham are true and genuine sons; but they only who are born of the
Spirit. For as Isaac himself became the legitimate son by a gratuitous
promise, so the same grace of God makes a difference among his
descendants. But because we have sufficiently treated of the various sons
of Abraham on the seventeenth chapter, the subject is now more sparingly
alluded to.

12. "In all that Sarah hath said unto thee." I have just said that
although God used the ministry of Sarah in so great a matter, it was yet
possible that she might fail in her method of acting. He now commands
Abraham to hearken unto his wife, not because he approves her
disposition, but because he will have the work, of which he is Himself
the Author, accomplished. And he thus shows that his designs are not to
be subjected to any common rule, especially when the salvation of the
Church is concerned. For he purposely inverts the accustomed order of
nature, in order that he may prove himself to be the Author and the
Perfecter of Isaac's vocation. But because I have before declared, that
this history is more profoundly considered by Paul, the sum of it is here
briefly to be collected. In the first place, he says, that what is here
read, was written allegorically: not that he wishes all histories,
indiscriminately to be tortured to an allegorical sense, as Origin does;
who by hunting everywhere for allegories, corrupts the whole Scripture;
and others, too eagerly emulating his example, have extracted smoke out
of light. And not only has the simplicity of Scripture been vitiated, but
the faith has been almost subverted, and the door opened to many foolish
dotings. The design of Paul was, to raise the minds of the pious to
consider the secret work of God, in this history; as if he had said, What
Moses relates concerning the house of Abraham, belongs to the spiritual
kingdom of Christ; since, certainly, that house was a lively image of the
Church. This, however, is the allegorical similitude which Paul commends.
Whereas two sons were born to Abraham, the one by a handmaid, the other
by a free woman; he infers, that there are two kinds of persons born in
the Church; the faithful, whom God endues with the Spirit of adoption,
that they may enjoy the inheritance; and hypocritical disciples, who
feign themselves to be what they are not, and usurp, for a time, a name
and place among the sons of God. He therefore teaches, that there are
certain who are conceived and born in a servile manner; but others, as
from a freeborn mother. He then proceeds to say, that the sons of Hagar
are they who are generated by the servile doctrine of the Law; but that
they who, having embraced, by faith, gratuitous adoption, are born
through the doctrine of the Gospel, are the sons of the free woman. At
length he descends to another similitudes in which he compares Hagar with
mount Sinai, but Sarah with the heavenly Jerusalem. And although I here
allude in few words to those things which my readers will find copiously
expounded by me, in the fourth chapter to the Galatians; yet, in this
short explanation, it is made perfectly clear what Paul designs to teach.
We know that the true sons of God are born of the incorruptible seed of
the word: but when the Spirit, which gives life to the doctrine of the
Law and the Prophets, is taken away, and the dead letter alone remains,
then that seed is so corrupted, that only adulterous sons are born in a
state of slavery; yet because they are apparently born of the word of
God, though corrupted, they are, in a sense, the sons of God. Meanwhile,
none are lawful heirs, except those whom the Church brings forth into
liberty, being conceived by the incorruptible seed of the gospel. I have
said, however, that in these two persons is represented the perpetual
condition of the Church. For hypocrites not only mingle with the sons of
God in the Church, but despise them, and proudly appropriate to
themselves all the rights and honours of the Church. And as Ishmael,
inflated with the vain title of primogeniture, harassed his brother Isaac
with his taunts; so these men, relying on their own splendour,
reproachfully assail and ridicule the true faith of the simple: because,
by arrogating all things to themselves, they leave nothing to the grace
of God. Hence we are admonished, that none have a well-grounded
confidence of salvation, but they who, being called freely, regard the
mercy of God as their whole dignity. Again, the Spirit furnishes the
consciences of the pious with strong and effective weapons against the
ferociousness of those who, under a false pretext, boast that they are
the Church. We see that it is no new thing, for persons who are nothing
but hypocrites to occupy the chief place in the Church at God. Wherefore,
while at this day, the Papists proudly exult, there is no reason why we
should be disturbed by their empty and inflated boasts. As to their
glorying in their long succession, it just means as much as if Ishmael
were proclaiming himself the firstborn. It is, therefore necessary to
discriminate between the true and the hypocritical Church. Paul describes
a mark, which they are never able, with their cavils, to obliterate. For
as large bottles are broken with a slight blast; so by this single word,
all their glory is extinguished, 'the sons of the handmaid shall not be
eternal inheritors.' In the meantime their insolence is to be patiently
borne, so long as God shall loosen the rein to their tyranny. For the
Apostles, formerly, were oppressed by the Jewish hypocrites of their age,
with the same reproaches which these men now cast upon us. In the same
way, Ishmael triumphed over Isaac, as if he had obtained the victory.
Wherefore, we must not wonder, if our own age also has its Ishmaelites.
But lest such indignity should break our spirits, let this consolation
perpetually occur to us, that they who hold the preeminence in the
Church, will not always remain within it.

14. "And Abraham rose up early." How painful was the wound, which the
ejection of his firstborn son inflicted upon the mind of the holy man, we
may gather from the double consolation with which God mitigated his
grief: He sends his son into banishments just as if he were tearing out
his own bowels. But being accustomed to obey God, he brings into
subjection the paternal love, which he is not able wholly to cast aside.
This is the true test of faith and piety, when the faithful are so far


(continued in part 31...)



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