(Calvin on the Prophet Haggai. Part 5)

Lecture one hundred and Thirty-second. 
Haggai 2:10-14 
10 In the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, in the second 
year of Darius, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, 
11 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the 
law, saying, 
12 If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his 
skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, 
shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No. 
13 Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any 
of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It 
shall be unclean. 
14 Then answered Haggai, and said, So is this people, and so is this 
nation before me, saith the LORD; and so is every work of their 
hands; and that which they offer there is unclean. 
    Though interpreters seem to perceive the meaning of the 
Prophet, yet no one really and clearly expresses what he means and 
intends to teach us: nay, they adduce nothing but what is jejune and 
frigid; for they refer all these things to this point, - that 
sacrifices were not acceptable to God before the people had begun to 
build the Temple, but that from that time they were pleasing to God, 
because the people, in offering sacrifices in a waste place, proved 
by such negligence that they disregarded the command of God: but 
when their hands were applied to the work, God was appeased, and 
thus he began to accept their sacrifices which before he had 
rejected. This is, indeed, a part of what is meant, but not the 
whole; and the Prophet's main object seems to me to be wholly 
different. He has been hitherto exhorting the people to build the 
Temple; he now exhorts them to build from a pure motive, and not to 
think that they had done everything when the Temple assumed a fine 
appearance before the eyes of men, for God required something else. 
Hence, I have no doubt but that the Prophet intended here to raise 
up the minds of the people to the spiritual worship of God. 
    It was, indeed, necessary diligently to build the Temple, but 
the end was also to be regarded; for God never cared for external 
ceremonies; nor was he delighted with that building as men are with 
their splendid houses. As the Jews absurdly ascribed these gross 
feelings to God, the Prophet here shows why so strict a command had 
been given as to the building of the Temple; and the reason was, - 
that God might be worshipped in a pure and holy manner. 
    I will repeat again what I have said, that the explanation may 
be more familiar to you. When the people neglected the building of 
the Temple, they manifested their in-piety and their contempt of 
Divine worship: for what was the cause of their delay and tardiness, 
except that each of them regarded nothing but just his own private 
interest? Now, when all of them strenuously undertook the work of 
building the Temple, their industry was indeed laudable, for it was 
a proof of their piety: but when the people thought that God 
required nothing more than a splendid Temple, it was manifest 
superstition: for the worship of God, we know, is corrupted when it 
is confined to external things; for, in this manner God is 
transformed into a nature not his own: as he is a Spirit, so he must 
be spiritually worshipped by us. Whosoever then obtrudes on him only 
external pomps in order to pacify him, most childishly trifles with 
him. This second part, in my view, is what the Prophet now 
undertakes to handle. From the seventh to the ninth month they had 
been diligently engaged in the work which the Lord had commanded 
them to do: but men, as we know, busy themselves with external 
things and neglect spiritual worship; hence it was necessary to join 
what is said here, that the people might understand, that it was not 
enough to satisfy God, though they spared neither expense nor labour 
in building the Temple; but that something greater was required, 
even to worship God in it in a pure and holy manner. This is the 
design of the whole passage. But we must first examine the Prophet's 
words, and then it will be easier to gather the whole import of his 
    He says then that he was ordered by God, on the twenty fourth 
day of the month, in the same year, in the second year of Darius, to 
ask the priests concerning the law. Haggai is not bid to inquire 
respecting the whole law, but only that the priests should answer a 
question according to the Word of God, or the doctrine of the law 
according to what is commonly said - "What is law, is the question:" 
for it was not allowed to the priests to allege anything they 
pleased indiscriminately; but they were only interpreters of the 
law. This is the reason why God bids his Prophet to inquire what the 
law of Moses defines as to the ceremony mentioned here. And the 
design was, that the people, being convinced as to the legal 
ceremonies, might not contend nor glamour, but acknowledge that all 
socks are condemned as sinful which flow not from a pure and sincere 
    Haggai asks first, If a man takes holy flesh - that is, some 
part of the sacrifice, - if any one takes and carries it in a sleeve 
or skirt, that is, in any part of his vestment, and then touches 
bread, or oil, or any eatable thing, will anything connected with 
that holy flesh be sanctified by mere touch? The priests answer, No. 
Here also interpreters grossly mistake: for they take "sanctified" 
as meaning "polluted," altogether falsely; for there is here a 
twofold question proposed. Whether holy flesh sanctifies anything it 
may touch? and then, whether an impure and a polluted man 
contaminates whatever he may touch? As to the first question, the 
priests wisely and truly answer, that there is no such efficacy in 
sacrifices, as that they can sanctify what they may touch: and this 
is true. The second definition is also most proper, that whatever is 
touched by an unclean man is polluted, as the law everywhere 
    The Prophet then accommodates this to his present case, "So", 
he says, "is this people, and this nation, and the work of their 
hands". For as long as they are polluted, however they may spend 
money in sacrifices, and greatly weary themselves in worshipping 
God, not only is their labour vain, but whatever they offer is 
polluted, and is an abomination only. We now understand the words of 
the Prophet, and so we may now consider the subject. 
    But before I speak generally of the present subject, I shall 
first notice what the Prophet says here, that he inquired respecting 
the law; for it was not allowed to the priests to allege anything 
they pleased. We indeed know, that they had advanced into such 
licentiousness, as arbitrarily to demand what God had never 
commanded, and also to forbid the people what was lawful, the use of 
which had been permitted by God's law. But Haggai does not here 
allow such a liberty to the priests; he does not ask what they 
thought, but what was required by the law of the Lord. And this is 
worthy of being noticed; for it is a pernicious evil to exercise an 
arbitrary control over the conscience. And yet the devil has ever 
corrupted the worship of God, and the whole system of religion, 
under the pretence of extolling the authority of the Church. It is 
indeed true, that the sacerdotal office was very honourable and 
worthy of respect; but we must ever take heed lest men assume too 
much, and lest what is thoughtlessly conceded to them should deprive 
God of what belongs to him; as the case is, we know, under the 
Papacy. When the Pope seeks to show that all his commands ought 
without any dispute to be obeyed, he quotes what is found in Deut. 
17: 8 - 'If a question arises about the law, the high priest shall 
judge between what is sacred and profane.' This is indeed true; but 
was it permitted to the high priest to disregard God's law, and 
foolishly to allege this or that according to his own judgement? 
Nay, the priest was only an interpreter of the law. Whenever then 
God bids those pastors to be heard whom he sets over his Church, his 
will is, as it has been before stated, that he himself should be 
heard through their mouth. In short, whatever authority is exercised 
in the Church ought to be subjected to this rule - that God's law is 
to retain its own pre-eminence, and that men blend nothing of their 
own, but only define what is right according to the Word of the 
Lord. Now this is by the way; I come now to the main point. 
    The priests answered, that neither flesh, nor oil, nor wine, 
was sanctified by touching a piece or part of a sacrifice. Why? 
because a sacrifice sanctifies not things unclean, except by way of 
expiation; for this, we know, was the design of sacrifices - that 
men who were polluted might reconcile themselves to God. A right 
answer was then given by the priests, that unclean flesh or unclean 
oil is not sanctified by the touch of holy flesh. Why? because the 
flesh itself was not dedicated to God for this end - to purify what 
was unclean by a mere touch. Yet, on the other hand, it is most 
true, that when a man was unclean he polluted whatever he touched. 
It is commonly thought, that he is said to be unclean in his soul 
who had defiled himself by touching a corpse; but I differ from 
this. The word soul is often taken in the law for man himself. - 
'The soul that eats of what died of itself is polluted; the soul 
that touches a corpse is polluted.' (Lev. 17: 15.) Hence he is here 
said to be polluted in his soul, who had an outward uncleanness, as 
we say in French, Pollu en sa personne. Whosoever then is unclean 
pollutes by touch only whatever might have been otherwise clean; and 
the conclusion sufficiently proves that this is the purport of this 
passage. I have said enough of what the design of the Prophet is, 
but the subject must be more fully explained. 
    We know how heedlessly men are wont to deal with God; for they 
trifle with him like children with their puppets. And this 
presumption has been condemned, as it is well known, even by 
heathens. Hardly a Prophet could have inveighed more severely 
against this gross superstition than Persius, who compares 
sacrifices, so much thought of by all, to puppets, and shows that 
other things are required by God, even 
    A well ordered condition and piety of soul, 
    and an inward purity of mind, 
    and a heart imbued with generous virtue. 
    He means then that men ought to be imbued with true holiness, 
and that inwardly, so that there should be nothing fictitious or 
feigned. He says that they who are such, that is, who have imbibed 
the true fear of God, do rightly serve him, thought they may bring 
only a crumb of incense, and that others only profane the worship of 
God, though they may bring many oxen; for whatever they think avails 
to cover their filth is polluted by new and repeated filth. And this 
is what has been expressed by heathen authors: another poet says, - 
    An impious right hand does not rightly worship the celestials. 
    So they spoke according to the common judgement of natural 
knowledge. As to the Philosophers, they ever hold this principle - 
that no sacrifice is rightly offered to God except the mind be right 
and pure. But yet the Philosophers, as well as the Poets, adopted 
this false notion, by which Satan beguiled all men, from the least 
to the greatest - that God is pacified by ceremonies: hence have 
proceeded so many expiations, in which foolish men trusted, and by 
which they thought that God would be propitious to them, thought 
they obstinately continued daily to procure for themselves new 
punishments, and, as it were, avowedly to carry on war with God 
    They admit at this day, under the Papacy, this principle that 
the true fear of God is necessary, as hypocrisy contaminates all the 
works of men; nor will they indeed dare to commend those who seek 
feignedly and triflingly to satisfy God, when they are filled with 
pride, contempt, and impiety. And yet they will never receive what 
the Prophet says here - that men not only lose all their labour, but 
also contract new pollution, when they seek to pacify God by their 
sacrifices, unaccompanied by inward purity. For whence is that 
partial righteousness which the Papists imagine? For they say, that 
if one does not keep the whole law, yet obedience in part is 
approved by God; and nothing is more common among them than this 
expression, partial righteousness. If then an adulterer refrains 
from theft, and lays out in alms some of his wealth, they will have 
this to be charity, and declare it to be acceptable. Though it 
proceeds from an unclean man, it is yet made a covering, which is 
deemed sufficient in some way or another to pacify God. Thus the 
Papists seek, without exercising any discrimination, to render God 
bound to them by their works, though they may be full of all 
uncleanness. We hence see that this error has not sprung up today or 
yesterday for the first time; but it is inherent in the bones and 
marrows of men; for they have ever thought that their services 
please God, though they may be unclean themselves. 
    Hence this definition must be borne in mind - that works, 
however splendid they may appear before our eyes, are of no value or 
importance before God, except they flow from a pure heart. Augustine 
has very wisely explained this in his fourth book against Julia. He 
says, that it would be an absurd thing for the faithful to judge of 
works by the outward appearance; but that they ought to be estimated 
according to the fountain from which they proceed, and also 
according to their design. Now the fountain of works I consider to 
be integrity of heart, and the design or end is, when the object of 
men is to obey God and to consecrate their life to him. Hence then 
we learn the difference between good and evil works, between vices 
and virtues, that is, from the inward state of the mind, and from 
the object in view. This is the subject of the Prophet in the first 
clause; and he drew an answer from the priests, which was wholly 
consistent with the law; and it amounted to this, that no work, 
however praised and applauded by the world, is valued before God's 
tribunal, except it proceeds from a pure heart. 
    Now as to the second part, it is no less difficult to convince 
men of its truth - that whatever they touch is contaminated, when 
they are themselves unclean; and yet this is what God had plainly 
made known to the Jews: and the priests hesitated not nor doubted, 
but immediately returned an answer, as though the matter was well 
known - that an unclean man contaminates whatever thing he touches. 
But when we come to apply the subject, men then reject what they had 
been clearly taught; nay, what they are forced to confess, until 
they see the matter brought home to them, and then they begin to 
accuse God of too much rigour: "Why is this, that whatever we touch 
is polluted, though we might leave some defilement? Are not our 
works still deserving of some praise, as they are good works?" And 
hence also is the common saying, That works, which are in their kind 
good, are always in a measure meritorious, and though they are 
without faith, they yet avail to merit the gift of faith, inasmuch 
as they are in themselves praiseworthy, as chastity, liberality, 
sobriety, temperance, beneficence, and all alms giving. But God 
declares that these virtues are polluted, though men may admire 
them, and that they are only abominable filth, except the heart be 
really cleansed and purified. Why so? because nothing can flow from 
an impure and polluted fountain but what is impure and polluted. 
    It is now easy to understand how suitably the Prophet had led 
the priests and the whole people to see this difference. For if he 
had abruptly said this to them - that no work pleased Cod, except 
the doer himself had been cleansed from every defilement, there 
would have arisen immediate]y many disputations: "Why will God 
reject what is in itself worthy of praise? When one observes 
chastity, when another liberally lays out a part of his property, 
when a third devotes himself wholly to promote the good of the 
public, when magnanimity and firmness shine forth in one, when 
another cultivates the liberal arts - are not these such virtues as 
deserve some measure of praise!" Thus a great glamour would have 
been raised among the people, had not Haggai made this kind of 
preface - that according to the law what is unclean is not 
sanctified by the touch of holy flesh, and also that whatever is 
touched by an unclean person is polluted. What the law then 
prescribed in its rituals silenced all those clamours, which might 
have immediately arisen among the people. Moreover, though 
ceremonies have now ceased and are no longer in use, yet what God 
has once declared still retains its force - that whatever we touch 
is polluted by us, except there be a real purity of heart to 
sanctify our works. 
    Let us now inquire how our works please God: for no one is ever 
found to be pure and perfect, as the most perfect are defiled with 
some vices; so that their works are always sprinkled with some spots 
and blemishes, and contract some uncleanness from the hidden filth 
of their hearts. In answer to this, I say first, that all our works 
are corrupt before God and abominable in his sight, for the heart is 
naturally corrupt: but when God purifies our hearts by faith, then 
our works begin to be approved, and obtain praise before him; for 
the heart is cleansed by faith, and purity is diffused over our 
works, so that they begin to be pleasing to God. For this reason 
Moses says, that Abel pleased God with his sacrifices, "The Lord had 
respect to Abel and to his gifts." (Gen. 4: 4.) Had Moses said only, 
that the sacrifices of Abel were approved by God, he would have 
spoken unadvisedly, or at least obscurely; for he would have been 
silent on the main thing. But he begins with the person, as though 
he had said, that Abel pleased God, because he worshipped him with 
an upright and sincere heart. He afterwards adds, that his 
sacrifices were approved, for they proceeded from the true fear of 
God and sincere piety. So Paul, when speaking of the real keeping of 
the law, says, that the end of the law is love from a pure heart and 
faith unfeigned. (1 Tim. 1: 5.) He shows then that no work is deemed 
right before God, except it proceeds from that fountain, even faith 
unfeigned, which is always connected with an upright and sincere 
heart. This is one thing. 
    Secondly, we must bear in mind how God purifies our hearts by 
faith. There is indeed a twofold purification: He first forms us in 
his image, and engraves on us true and real fear, and an obedient 
disposition. This purity of the heart diffuses itself over our 
works; for when we are imbued with true piety, we have no other 
object but to offer ourselves and all we have to God. Far indeed are 
they who are hypocrites and profane men from having this feeling; 
nay, they are wholly alienated from it: they offer liberally their 
own things to God, but they wish to be their own masters; for a 
hypocrite will never give up himself as a spiritual sacrifice to 
God. We hence see how faith purifies our hearts, and also purifies 
our works: for having been regenerated by the Spirit of God, we 
offer to him first ourselves and then all that we have. But as this 
purgation is never found complete in man, it is therefore necessary 
that there should come an aid from gratuitous acceptance. Our hearts 
then are purified by faith, because God imputes not to us that 
uncleanness which remains, and which defiles our works. As then God 
regards with gracious acceptance that purity which is not as yet 
perfect, so he causes that its contagion should not reach to our 
works. When Abel offered sacrifices to God, he was indeed perfect, 
inasmuch as there was nothing feigned or hypocritical in him: but he 
was a man, we know, encompassed with infirmity. It was therefore 
necessary for his remaining pollution to have been purified by the 
grace of Christ. Hence it was that his sacrifices were accepted: for 
as he was accepted, so God graciously received whatever proceeded 
from him. 
    We now then see how men, while in a state of nature, displease 
God by their works, and can bring nothing but what is corrupt, 
filthy, and abominable. We farther see how the children of God, 
after having been renewed by his Spirit, come pure to him and offer 
him pure sacrifices: they come pure, because it is their object to 
devote themselves to God without any dissimulation; but as this 
devotedness is never perfect, God supplies the defect by a 
gratuitous imputation, for he embraces them as his servants in the 
same manner as though they were entirely formed in all 
righteousness. And in the same way he approves of their works, for 
all their spots are wiped away, yea, those very spots, which might 
justly prevent all favour; were not all uncleanness washed away by 
the blood of Christ, and that through faith. 
    We hence learn, that there is no ground for any one to deceive 
himself with vain delusions, by attempting to please God with great 
pomp: for the first thing of which the Prophet treats here is always 
required, that is, that a person must be pure in his heart, that 
inward purity must precede every work. And though this truth meets 
us everywhere in all the Prophets, yet as hypocrisy dazzles our eyes 
and blinds all our senses, it ought to be seriously considered by 
us; and we ought to notice in an especial manner not only this 
passage but other similar passages where the Prophets ridicule the 
solicitude of the people, when they busied themselves with 
sacrifices and outward observances, and neglected the principal 
thing - real purity of heart. 
    We must also take notice of what the Prophet says in the last 
verse, that so was every work of their hand and whatever they 
offered. It seems apparently a hard matter, that the very sacrifices 
were condemned as polluted. But it is no wonder that fictitious 
modes of worship, by which profane men dishonour God, should be 
repudiated by him; for they seek to transform him according to their 
own fancy, as though he might be soothed by playthings or such 
trifles. It is therefore a most disgraceful mockery when men deal 
thus with God, offering him only external ceremonies, and 
disregarding his nature: for they make no account of spiritual 
worship, and yet think that they please him. We must then, in a 
word, make this remark - that the Prophet teaches us here, that it 
is not enough for men to show obedience to God, to offer sacrifices, 
to spend labour in building the Temple, except these things were 
rightly done - and how rightly? by a sincere heart, so there should 
be no dissimulation, no duplicity. 
    Grant, Almighty God, that inasmuch as we come from our mother's 
womb wholly impure and polluted, and afterwards continually contract 
so many new defilements, - O grant that we may flee to the fountain, 
which alone can cleanse us. And as there is no other way by which we 
can be cleansed from all the defilements of the flesh, except we be 
sprinkled by the blood of thy only begotten Son, and that by the 
hidden power of thy Spirit, and thus renounce all our vices, - O 
grant that we may so strive truly and sincerely to devote ourselves 
to thee, as daily to renounce more and more all our evil affections, 
and to have nothing else as our object, but to submit our minds and 
all our affections to thee, by really denying ourselves, and to 
exercise ourselves in this strenuous effort as long as we are in 
this world, until we attain to that true and perfect purity, which 
is laid up for us in thine only-begotten Son, when we shall be fully 
united to him, having been transformed into that glory into which he 
has been received. Amen.

(Calvin... on the Prophet Haggai)

(continued in Part 6...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvhag-05.txt