Luke 5
Calvin's Commentaries
And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,

Matthew 4:18-25

Mark 1:16-20

Luke 5:1-11

18. And Jesus, walking near the sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon surnamed Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. 19. And he saith to them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. 20. And they, having left their nets, immediately followed him. 21. And advancing thence, he saw other two brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets: and he called them. 22. And they immediately, having left the ship and their father, followed him. 23. And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease, and every illness among the people. 24. And the report of him spread into the whole of Syria: and they brought to him all who were ill and afflicted with various diseases and torments, and demoniancs, and lunatics, and those that had palsy, and he healed them. 25. And great multitudes followed him from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from the country beyond Jordan.

16. Now, as he was walking near the sea of Galilee, he seeth Simon and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 17. And Jesus said to them, Follow me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. 18. And immediately having left their nets, they followed him. 19. And advancing thence a little, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who themselves also were mending their nets in the ship. 20. And immediately he called them: and they, having left their father Zebedee in the ship with the workmen, [333] followed him.

1. And it happened, while the crowd was pressing upon him, that they might hear the word of God, and he stood near the lake of Gennesaret, 2. And he saw two ships standing [334] at the lake: and the fishers had gone down out of them, and were washing their nets. 3. And entering into one of the ships, which was Simon's, he asked him to draw it a little from the land: and sitting down, he taught the multitudes out of the ship. 4. And when he ceased to speak, he said to Simon, Pull out to the deep, and loose your nets for catching. 5. And Simon answering said to him, Master, laboring through the whole night, we have taken nothing: yet at thy word I will loose the net. 6. And when they had done this, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net was broken. 7. And they made signs to their companions, who were in the other ship, that they might come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they were sinking. 8. Which when Simon Peter had seen, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man. [335] 9. For astonishment had overpowered him, and all were with him, on account of the draught of fishes which they had taken: 10. And in like manner James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were companions of Simon. And Jesus saith to Simon, Fear not: for henceforth thou shalt catch men. 11. And having brought the ships to land, and having left all, they followed him.

Matthew 4:18. And Jesus walking. As this history is placed by Luke after the two miracles, which we shall afterwards see, an opinion has commonly prevailed, that the miracle, which is here related by him, was performed some time after that they had been called by Christ. [336] But the reason, which they allege, carries little weight: for no fixed and distinct order of dates was observed by the Evangelists in composing their narratives. The consequence is, that they disregard the order of time, and satisfy themselves with presenting, in a summary manner, the leading transactions in the life of Christ. They attended, no doubt, to the years, so as to make it plain to their readers, in what manner Christ was employed, during the course of three years, from the commencement of his preaching till his death. But miracles, which took place nearly about the same time, are freely intermixed: which will afterwards appear more clearly from many examples. [337]

That it is the same history, which is given by the three Evangelists, is proved by many arguments: but we may mention one, which will be sufficient to satisfy any reader, who is not contentious. All the three agree in stating, that Peter and Andrew, James and John, were made apostles. If they had been previously called, it would follow that they were apostates, who had forsaken their Master, despised their calling, and returned to their former occupation. There is only this difference between Luke and the other two, that he alone relates the miracle, which the others omit. But it is not uncommon with the Evangelists, to touch slightly one part of a transaction, and to leave out many of the circumstances. There is, therefore, no absurdity in saying, that a miracle, which is related by one, has been passed over by the other two. And we must bear in mind what John says, that, out of the innumerable miracles "which Jesus did," (John 21:25,) a part only has been selected, which was sufficient to prove his divine power, and to confirm our faith in him. There is therefore no reason to wonder, if the calling of the four apostles is slightly touched by Matthew and Mark, while the occasion of it is more fully explained by Luke.

Luke 5:1. He stood near the lake. Matthew and Mark, according to the usual custom of their language, call it the sea of Galilee. The proper name of this lake among the ancient Hebrews was knrt, (Chinnereth;) [338] but, when the language became corrupted, the word was changed to Gennesaret. Profane authors call it Gennesar; and that part, which lay towards Galilee, was called by them the sea of Galilee. The bank, which adjoined to Tiberias, received its name from that city. Its breadth and situation will be more appropriately discussed in another place. Let us now come to the fact here related.

Luke says, that Christ entered into a ship which belonged to Peter, and withdrew to a moderate distance from the land, that he might more conveniently address from it the multitudes, who flocked from various places to hear him; and that, after discharging the office of teaching, he exhibited a proof of his divine power by a miracle. It was no unusual thing, indeed, that fishers cast their nets, on many occasions, with little advantage: and that all their fruitless toil was afterwards recompensed by one successful throw. But it was proved to be a miracle by this circumstance, that they had taken nothing during the whole night, (which, however, is more suitable for catching fish,) and that suddenly a great multitude of fishes was collected into their nets, sufficient to fill the ships. Peter and his companions, therefore, readily conclude that a take, so far beyond the ordinary quantity, was not accidental, but was bestowed on them by a divine interposition.

Luke 5:5. Master, toiling all the night, we have taken nothing. The reason why Peter calls him Master unquestionably is, that he knows Christ to be accustomed to discharge the office of a Teacher, and is moved with reverence toward him. But he has not yet made such progress as to deserve to be ranked among his disciples: for our sentiments concerning Christ do not render him sufficient honor, unless we embrace his doctrine by the obedience of faith, and know what he requires from us. He has but a slender perception -- if he has any at all -- of the value of the Gospel; but the deference which he pays to Christ is manifested by this, that, when worn out by fruitless toil, he commences anew what he had already attempted in vain. Yet it cannot be denied, that he highly esteemed Christ, and had the highest respect for his authority. But a particular instance of faith, rendered to a single command of Christ, would not have made Peter a Christian, or given him a place among the sons of God, if he had not been led on, from this first act of submission, to a full obedience. But, as Peter yielded so readily to the command of Christ, whom he did not yet know to be a Prophet or the Son of God, no apology can be offered for our disgraceful conduct, if, while we call him our Lord, and King, and Judge, (Isaiah 33:22,) we do not move a finger to perform our duty, to which we have ten times received his commands.

Luke 5:6. They inclosed a great multitude of fishes. The design of the miracle undoubtedly was, to make known Christ's divinity, and thus to induce Peter and others to become his disciples. But we may draw from this instance a general instruction, that we have no reason to be afraid lest our labor should not be attended by the blessing of God and desirable success, when it is undertaken by the authority and guidance of Christ. Such was the multitude of fishes, that the ships were sinking, and the minds of the spectators were thus excited to admiration: for it must have been in consequence of the divine glory of Christ manifested by this miracle, that his authority was fully acknowledged.

Luke 5:8. Depart from me, O Lord. Although men are earnest in seeking the presence of God, yet, as soon as God appears, they must be struck with terror, and almost rendered lifeless by dread and alarm, until he administers consolation. They have the best reason for calling earnestly on God, because they cannot avoid feeling that they are miserable, while he is absent from them: and, on the other hand, his presence is appalling, because they begin to feel that they are nothing, and that they are overpowered by an immense mass of evils. In this manner, Peter views Christ with reverence in the miracle, and yet is so overawed by his majesty, that he does all he can to avoid his presence. Nor was this the case with Peter alone: for we learn, from the context, that astonishment had overpowered all who were with him. Hence we see, that it is natural to all men to tremble at the presence of God. And this is of advantage to us, in order to humble any foolish confidence or pride that may be in us, provided it is immediately followed by soothing consolation. And so Christ relieves the mind of Peter by a mild and friendly reply, saying to him, Fear not. Thus Christ sinks his own people in the grave, that he may afterwards raise them to life. [339]

Luke 5:10. For afterwards thou shalt catch men. The words of Matthew are, I will make you fishers of men; and those of Mark are, I will cause that you may become fishers of men. They teach us, that Peter, and the other three, were not only gathered by Christ to be his disciples, but were made apostles, or, at least, chosen with a view to the apostleship. It is, therefore, not merely a general call to faith, but a special call to a particular office, that is here described. The duties of instruction, I do admit, are not yet enjoined upon them; but still it is to prepare them for being instructors, [340] that Christ receives and admits them into his family. This ought to be carefully weighed; for all are not commanded to leave their parents and their former occupation, and literally [341] to follow Christ. There are some whom the Lord is satisfied with having in his flock and his Church, while he assigns to others their own station. Those who have received from him a public office ought to know, that something more is required from them than from private individuals. In the case of others, our Lord makes no change as to the ordinary way of life; but he withdraws those four disciples from the employment from which they had hitherto derived their subsistence, that he may employ their labors in a nobler office.

Christ selected rough mechanics, -- persons not only destitute of learning, but inferior in capacity, that he might train, or rather renew them by the power of his Spirit, so as to excel all the wise men of the world. He intended to humble, in this manner, the pride of the flesh, and to present, in their persons, a remarkable instance of spiritual grace, that we may learn to implore from heaven the light of faith, when we know that it cannot be acquired by our own exertions. Again, though he chose unlearned and ignorant persons, he did not leave them in that condition; and, therefore, what he did ought not to be held by us to be an example, as if we were now to ordain pastors, who were afterwards to be trained to the discharge of their office. We know the rule which he prescribes for us, by the mouth of Paul that none ought to be called to it, unless they are "apt to teach," (1 Timothy 3:2.) When our Lord chose persons of this description it was not because he preferred ignorance to learning as some fanatics do, who are delighted with their own ignorance, and fancy that, in proportion as they hate literature, they approach the nearer to the apostles. He resolved at first, no doubt, to choose contemptible persons, in order to humble the pride of those who think that heaven is not open to the unlearned; but he afterwards gave to those fishers, as an associate in their office, Paul, who had been carefully educated from his childhood.

As to the meaning of the metaphor, fishers of men, there is no necessity for a minute investigation. Yet, as it was drawn from the present occurrence, the allusion which Christ made to fishing, when he spoke of the preaching of the Gospel, was appropriate: for men stray and wander in the world, as in a great and troubled sea, till they are gathered by the Gospel. The history related by the Evangelist John (1:37-42.) differs from this: for Andrew, who had been one of John's disciples, was handed over by him to Christ, and afterwards brought his brother along with him. At that time, they embraced him as their master, but were afterwards elevated to a higher rank.

Matthew 4:22. And they immediately left the ship. The first thing that strikes us here is the power of Christ's voice. Not that his voice alone makes so powerful an impression on the hearts of men: but those whom the Lord is pleased to lead and draw to himself, are inwardly addressed by his Spirit, that they may obey his voice. The second is, the commendation bestowed on the docility and ready obedience of his disciples, who prefer the call of Christ to all worldly affairs. The ministers of the Word ought, in a particular manner, to be directed by this example, to lay aside all other occupations, and to devote themselves unreservedly to the Church, to which they are appointed.

Matthew 4:23. And Jesus went about all Galilee. The same statement is again made by Matthew in another place, (9:35.) But though Christ was constantly employed in performing almost innumerable miracles, we ought not to think it strange, that they are again mentioned, twice or thrice, in a general manner. In the words of Matthew we ought, first, to observe, that Christ never remained in one place, but scattered every where the seed of the Gospel. Again, Matthew calls it the Gospel of the kingdom, by which the kingdom of God is established among men for their salvation. True and eternal happiness is thus distinguished from the prosperity and joys of the present life.

When Matthew says, that Christ healed every disease, the meaning is, that he healed every kind of disease. We know, that all who were diseased were not cured; but there was no class of diseases, that was ever presented to him, which he did not heal. An enumeration is given of particular kinds of diseases, in which Christ displayed his power. Demoniacs (diamonizomenoi) is a name given in Scripture, not to all indiscriminately who are tormented by the devil, but to those who, by a secret vengeance of God, are given up to Satan, so that he holds possession of their minds and of their bodily senses. Lunatics (seleniazomenoi) [342] is the name given to those, in whom the strength of the disease increases or diminishes, according to the waxing or waning of the moon, such as those who are afflicted with epilepsy, [343] or similar diseases. As we know, that diseases of this sort cannot be healed by natural means, it follows that, when Christ miraculously healed them, he proved his divinity.


[333] "Avec les ouvriers."

[334] "Stantes;" -- "et voyant deux nasselles qui estoyent pres du lac;" -- "and seeing two ships which were near the lake."

[335] "Homo peccator;" -- "homme pecheur;" -- "a man a sinner."

[336] "Quelque temps apresque Jesus Christ ent appelle a soy Pierre, Andre, Jean, et Jaques." -- "Some time after that Jesus Christ had called to himself Peter, Andrew, John, and James."

[337] "Ils ne s'amusent pas, esplucher de pres lequel est le premier, ou le second." -- "They do not give themselves the trouble of investigating closely which is first or second."

[338] Chinnereth occurs in Joshua, (19:35,) as the name of an adjoining city, from which the lake probably derived its name. In the French copy, our author gives it Cinerot, or, as we have it, (Joshua 11:2,) Chinneroth. But that word contains a Vau, which is here wanting: though it must be owned that, when it is connected with a Cholem point, that letter is often inserted, or left out, according to the pleasure of the writer. -- Ed.

[339] "Et c'est la coustume du Seigneur d'abbattre les siens, et comme les plonger dedans le sepulcher, afin de les vivifier puis apres." -- "And it is customary with the Lord to strike down his own people, and, as it were, to sink them in the grave, that he may raise them to life afterwards."

[340] "Il les prend en sa compagnie et conversation domestique, afin de les faconner a enseigner puis apres les autres." -- "He takes them into his society and private conversation, in order to prepare them afterwards to instruct others."

[341] "Pour suivre Christ des pieds, c'est a dire exterieurement;" -- "to follow Christ with the feet, that is to say, externally."

[342] Seleniazomai, like the adjective seleniachos, is derived from selene, the moon. Among, the Greeks and Romans, as well as among the Jews, certain violent diseases, the variations of which could not be easily explained, were supposed to be affected by the phases of the moon. Till lately, mental derangement was universally believed among ourselves to be influenced by similar causes; if indeed there be not some who still defend that opinion by plausible arguments. Scripture was not. intended to determine questions of physical science, in which inductive reasoning is a sufficient guide, but to declare those truths, which could never have been known without an express revelation. The term seleniazomenoi, in this and similar passages, does not imply, that the sacred writers supported the common opinion, any more than the English word lunatic, used with equal freedom by philosophers and by the unlearned, countenances an exploded theory, -- any more, in short, than the popular use of the phrases, the rising and setting of the sun, expresses a belief that it is the motion of the sun, and not of the earth, that produces the succession of day and night. -- Ed.

[343] "Comitiali morbo." The Romans gave the name of comitialis morbus to this disease, in consequence of the singular fact, that their comitia, or public assemblies, were instantly broken up, when any one present was seized with a fit of epilepsy. -- Ed.

And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.
And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.
And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.
And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.
And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:
And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.
And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.

Matthew 8:1-4

Mark 1:40-45

Luke 5:12-16

1. And when he had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. 2. And, lo, a leper, approaching, worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou art willing, thou art able to cleanse me. 3. And Jesus, having stretched out his hand, touched him, saying, I am willing; be thou clean: and immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4. And Jesus saith to him, See that thou do not tell it to any man: but go, show thyself to the priest, and present the offering which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.

40. And a leper came to him, beseeaching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying to him, If thou art willing, thou art able to cleanse me. 41. And Jesus, having compassion, stretched out his hand, and touched him, and said to him, I am willing; be thou clean. 42. And when he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed. 43. And threatening him, [487] he immediately sent him away; 44. And he said to him, See that thou say nothing to any man: but go, show thyself to the priest, and present for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them. 45. But he, having gone out, began to publish many things, and to blaze abroad the matter, so that Jesus could no longer enter openly into cities, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.

12. And it happened, while he was in a certain city, lo, a man full of leprosy: and when he had seen Jesus, he fell down on his face, and besought Jesus, saying, Lord, if thou art willing, thou art able to cleanse me. 13. And having stretched out his hand, he touched him, saying, I am willing; be thou clean: and immediately the leprosy departed from him. 14. And he commanded him that he should not tell it to any man, but saith, Go, show thyself to the priest, and present for thy cleansing as Moses commanded, for a testimony to them. 15. But still more did the report spread about him, and great multitudes assembled, to hear him, and to be healed by him of their infirmities. 16. And he sought retirement in the deserts, and prayed.

Matthew 8:1. And when he had come down from the mountain Matthew now returns to the course of the history. He had formerly said, that Christ went up into a mountain, (verse 1) then he threw, as it were, into one heap, many leading points of the doctrine of Christ; and now he adds that, about the time when he preached on the mountain, he healed a certain leper The same event is related by Mark and Luke, though they do not mention the time. It was a striking display of the divine power of Christ, that, by his word alone and a touch of his hand, he suddenly cleansed the man's leprosy. Now, though leprosy was a different kind of disease from elephantiasis, [488] (elephantiasis,) it is plain enough that it was difficult to cure. When it had continued long and become deeply seated, it rarely happened that any person recovered. Granting that physicians might, by their professional skill, have given some relief, it is manifest that there was nothing human about this miracle.

2. Approaching, worshipped What is the meaning of the verb proskunein, which is rendered in the Latin version, adorare, to adore or worship, may be easily learned from this passage. For the exposition of it we may rely on the other two Evangelists, of whom Mark says, that he fell on his knees, and Luke, that he fell down on his face The outward gesture of kneeling was exhibited by the leper as a token of reverence. Now we know, that such marks of respect were in general use among the Jews, as the people of the East are more addicted to that kind of ceremonies. Many people accordingly think, that the leper did not intend to render to Christ divine worship, [489] but gave him a respectful salutation as a distinguished prophet of God.

I enter into no dispute as to the feelings which moved the leper to pay reverence to Christ. But I look at what he attributed to him, that he was able to cleanse him, if he were willing By these words he declared, that he acknowledged a divine power in Christ: and when Christ replies, I am willing, he shows that he claimed more for himself than belongs to man. He who, by the mere expression of his will, restores health to men, must possess supreme authority. Whether the leper believed that Christ was the Son of God, or that he had received this power in the same manner as Moses and the other prophets, he entertains no doubt that he held in his hand, and in his power, the gift of healing. True, he speaks conditionally, if thou art willing, thou art able But this is not inconsistent with that certainty of faith, which God demands in our prayers: for men ought not to expect more than God promises. The leper had not learned by any inspired communication, or any promise of God, what Christ would do. It would have been improper in him, therefore, to go beyond these limits for though we sometimes read that certain persons prayed without any condition, we ought to believe that they were guided by special movements of the Spirit, [490] which must not be taken for a general rule. I am not even certain if we are at liberty to say, strictly speaking, that the leper offered a prayer. He only declares, that he is so fully convinced of the power of Christ, as to entertain no doubt that it is in his power to cure leprosy; and then presents himself to be healed, but uncertain as to the result, because he did not yet know the will of Christ. [491]

3. Having stretched out his hand, he touched Under the Law, the touch of a leper was infectious; but as Christ possesses such purity as to repel all filth and defilement, he does not, by touching, either pollute himself with leprosy, or become a transgressor of the law. When he took upon him our flesh, he did not only deign to touch as with his hand, but was united to one and the same body with ourselves, that we might be flesh of his flesh, (Genesis 2:23.) Nor did he only stretch out his arm to us, but descended from heaven even to hell, and yet contracted no stain from it, but, retaining his innocence, took away all our impurities, and sprinkled us with his holiness. By his word alone he might have healed the leper; but he applied, at the same time, the touch of his hand, to express the feeling of compassion. Nor ought this to excite our wonder, since he chose to take upon him our flesh, that he might cleanse us from our sins. The stretching out of his hand was therefore an expression and token of infinite grace and goodness. What we indolently read, and coldly pass by, cannot be duly weighed without great astonishment. The Son of God was so far from disdaining to talk to a leper, that he even stretched out his hand to touch that uncleanness.

4. And Jesus saith to him, See that thou tell it not to any one Some persons, by way of excusing the leper, think that Christ did not seriously forbid him to publish the miracle, but rather gave him an additional excitement to do so. Others more justly consider the reason of the prohibition to have been, that the full "time was not yet come," (John 7:6.) I do acknowledge, that to have suppressed this miracle would have been improper: but our Lord had a particular reason for wishing that the report of it should not be immediately spread, or, at least, not by the leper The leper was so far from deserving praise for the disorderly exhibition of his regard, that he ought, in my opinion, to be condemned for not obeying Christ's injunction. If he wished to express his gratitude to him to whom he was indebted for his cure, no better method could have been found than obedience, which God prefers to all sacrifices, (1 Samuel 15:22,) and which is the origin and foundation of lawful worship. This example shows us, that those who allow themselves to be guided by inconsiderate zeal act improperly, because the more eager they are to please God, the greater progress do they make in rebellion to his commands.

Show thyself to the priest As the ceremonies of the law had not yet been repealed, Christ did not wish that they should be despised or neglected. Now, God had commanded in the law that, if any man had been cleansed from leprosy, he should present himself to the priest with a sacrifice of thanksgiving, (Leviticus 14:2.) The design [492] was, that the priest, by his decision, might attest the benefit received from God; and that the person who had been healed might give an expression of his gratitude. Christ, therefore, by sending the leper to the priest, proves that he had no other object in view than to display the glory of God. The showing to the priest was for the purpose of examination, and the offering was the expression of thanksgiving. He wishes that the priests should examine the man, to make the divine favor manifest and undoubted; and that the leper, on the other hand, should acknowledge that God had healed him. Meanwhile, as I have just mentioned, he commands them to observe the ceremonies prescribed by the law, till the time when it should be repealed.

The attempt of the Papists to produce this passage, as an authority for their own confession, [493] is highly foolish. Leprosy, they allege, is put allegorically for sin; and the priests, who are consecrated by the Pope, are the judges of spiritual leprosy. [494] Even granting that this authority was conferred on the priests under the law, for the purpose of informing the people, that all their cleanness, and the decision respecting it, depended on the priesthood, still this is impiously claimed for themselves by the Popish priests. All the honor that belonged to the ancient priests is now claimed by Christ alone as his own. He alone is appointed to be the judge of spiritual leprosy, and entitled to receive, from those who have been cured, the offering for their cleansing. Under the law, a sacrifice was employed as the seal of cleanness, because satisfaction made by the shedding of blood is the only way in which men are cleansed. To transfer to another that right, which God has declared to be the prerogative of his own Son, is a detestable sacrilege. When the ministers of the Gospel, by the command of Christ, declare to sinners that they are cleansed from their sins, this must not be tortured into the pretended jurisdiction, which the priests imagine, of pronouncing a decision about leprosy. [495]

Matthew 8:4; Mark 1:44. For a testimony to them Some consider testimony to mean here a law or statute, as it is said in the Book of Psalms, God laid down this "for a testimony to Israel," (Psalm 122:4.) But this appears to me to be a poor exposition: for I have no doubt that the pronoun to them refers to the priests. [496] Christ said this, in my opinion, with a view to the present occurrence: for this miracle was afterwards to be a sufficiently clear proof for convicting them of ingratitude. There is nothing inconsistent with this in the command which Christ gave to the leper to maintain silence: for he did not intend that the remembrance of the miracle which he had wrought should remain always buried. When the leper, at the command of Christ, came into the presence of the priest, this was a testimony to them, which would render them inexcusable, if they refused to receive Christ as the minister of God; and would, at the same time, take away occasion for slander, since Christ did not neglect a single point of the law. In a word, if they were not past cure, they might be led to Christ; while, on the other hand, so solemn a testimony of God was sufficiently powerful to condemn them, if they were unbelievers.

Mark 1:45. So that Jesus could no longer enter openly into cities Hence we learn the reason why Christ did not wish the miracle to be so soon made known. It was that he might have more abundant opportunity and freedom for teaching. Not that his enemies rose against him, and attempted to shut his mouth, but because the common people were so eager to demand miracles, that no room was left for doctrine. He wished that they would all be more attentive to the word than to signs. Luke accordingly says, that he sought retirement in the deserts He avoided a crowd of men, because he saw, that he would not satisfy the wishes of the people, without overwhelming his doctrine by a superfluity of miracles. [497]


[487] "Et l'ayant menace;" -- "and having threatened him."

[488] "The burning ulceration, with which the great adversary of man afflicted the venerable patriarch Job, (2:7,) is generally understood to be the elephantiasis, or leprosy of the Arabians; and derives its name from its rendering the skin of the patient, like that of an elephant, scabrous and dark-colored, and furrowed all over with tubercles, loathsome alike to the individual and to spectators."--(Horne's Introduction, vol. iii. p. 328.) This quotation is made, because it seemed proper that a word of comparatively rare occurrence, which Calvin uses, should be defined, and its origin explained; and because that useful work, from which we have quoted, was at hand. Many of the most important topics embraced by the "Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures" have since been handled by writers of greater learning and research. Yet it would be ungrateful not to acknowledge that, at the time of its appearance, it supplied an important desideratum, that it probably led the way to other treatises, and that, as a popular and miscellaneous book of reference on Biblical literature, it is not yet superseded. -- Ed.

[489] "De faire a Christ un honneur appartenant a Ia majeste divine;" -- "to do to Christ an honor belonging to the divine majesty."

[490] "Qu'il y a eu en tels personnages des mouvemens singuliers, et inspirations particulieres du S. Esprit;" -- "that there were in such persons singular movements, and peculiar inspirations of the Holy Spirit."

[491] "Le vouloir de Christ sur sa requeste;" -- "the will of Christ as to his request."

[492] "Le but de ce commandement;" -- "the end of that commandment."

[493] Those who wish to make themselves acquainted with Calvin's views on the whole subject of what the Papists call auricular confession, will find them stated in the Institutions of the Christian Religion (B. III. c. iv. sec. 19.) -- Ed

[494] "Doivent avoir le jugement et la cognoissance de la ladrerie spirituelle;" -- "ought to have the judgment and discernment of spiritual leprosy."

[495] "De discerner entre ladrerie et ladrerie;" -- "of distinguishing between leprosy and leprosy."

[496] According to the view which Calvin rejects, the words, which Moses commanded for a testimony to them, mean, "which Moses delivered to them, that is, to the people of Israel, as a divine ordinance." The view which he adopts may be more clearly brought out by a different arrangement of the words. Present, for a testimony to them, that is, "to the priests," the offering which Moses commanded. -- Ed

[497] "Que quant et quant il ne fist tant de miracles, que cela les empescheroit de bien penser a la doctrine;" -- "without doing so many miracles as to prevent them from thinking properly about his doctrine."

And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him.
And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities.
And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.
And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.

Matthew 9:1-8

Mark 2:1-12

Luke 5:17-26

1. And entering into a ship, he passed over, and came into his own city. 2. And, lo, they brought to him a paralytic lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, Take courage, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee. 3. And, lo, some of the scribes said among themselves, This man blasphemeth. 4. And when Jesus saw their thoughts, he said, Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5. For whether is it easier to say, Thy sins are forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? 6. But that you may know that the Son of man hath authority on earth to forgive sins, (then he saith to the paralytic,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go away to thy house. 7. And he arose, and went away to his house. 8. And the multitudes who saw it wondered, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

1. And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was reported that he was in the house. 2. And immediately many were assembled, so that the places which were around the door did not now contain them, and he preached the word to them. 3. And they come to him, bringing a paralytic, who was carried by four persons. 4. And when they could not approach him on account of the crowd, they uncovered the roof of the house in which he was, and having made an opening in the roof, they lower the couch on which the paralytic lay. 5. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, Son, thy sins are forgiven thee. 6. And some of the scribes were sitting there, and thinking [508] in their hearts, 7. Why does this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone? 8. And immediately when Jesus knew by his Spirit that they thought thus within themselves, he said to them, Why do you think those things in your hearts? 9. Whether it is easier to say to the paralytic, Thy sins are forgiven thee; or to say, Rise, and take up thy bed, and walk? 10. But that you may know that the Son of man hath authority on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the paralytic,) 11. I say to thee, Arise, take up thy bed, and go away to thy house. 12. And immediately he arose, and having taken up the bed, went out in the presence of all, so that all were astonished, and glorified God, saying, We never saw such a thing.

17. And it happened on a certain day, and he was teaching: and Pharisees and doctors of the law were sitting, who had come out of every village of Galilee and Judea, and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present to heal them. 18. And, lo, men carrying on a bed, a man who was a paralytic, and they sought to bring him in, and to place him before him. 19. And not finding a way by which they could bring him in on account of the crowd, they went up to the roof, and lowered him by cords with the bed into the midst before Jesus. 20. And when he saw their faith, he said to him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. 21. And the scribes and Pharisees began to think, saying, Who is this that speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone? 22. And when Jesus knew their thoughts, he answering said to them, What do you think in your hearts? 23. Whether it is easier to say, Thy sins are forgiven thee, or to say, Arise, and walk? 24. But that you may know that the Son of man hath authority on earth, (he saith to the paralytic,) I say to thee, Arise, take up thy bed, and go to thy house. 25. And immediately rising up before them, he took up the bed on which he had been lying, and went away to his own house, glorifying God. 26. And amazement seized all, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen incredible things today.

Matthew 9:1. And came into his own city. This passage shows, that Capernaum was generally believed to be the birth-place of Christ, because his visits to it were frequent: for there is no room to doubt, that it is the same history which is related by the three Evangelists, though some circumstances may be more exactly related by one of them than by another. Luke says that scribes had come from various parts of Judea, who were spectators when Christ healed the paralytic; and at the same time states indirectly, that there were others who also received healing through the grace of Christ. For, before he comes to the paralytic, he speaks in the plural number, and says, that the power of God was displayed for healing their diseases; the power of the Lord was present to heal them The glory of this miracle was very remarkable. A man destitute of the use of all his limbs, lying on a bed, and lowered by cords, suddenly rises up in health, vigor, and agility. Another special reason why the Evangelists dwell more on this miracle than on others is, that the scribes were offended at Christ for claiming power and authority to forgive sins; while Christ intended to confirm and seal that authority by a visible sign.

2. And when Jesus saw their faith. It is God alone, indeed, who knows faith: but they had given evidence of faith by the laboriousness of that attempt: for they would never have submitted to so much trouble, nor contended with such formidable hindrances, if they had not derived courage from entire confidence of success. The fruit of their faith appeared in their not being wearied out, when they found the entrance closed up on all sides. The view which some take of these words, that Christ, as a divine person, knew their faith, which lay concealed within them, appears to me a forced interpretation.

Now, as Christ granted to their faith the favor which he bestowed on the paralytic, a question is usually raised on this passage how far do men derive advantage from the faith of others? And, first, it is certain, that the faith of Abraham was of advantage to his posterity, when he embraced the free covenant offered to him and to his seed. We must hold a similar belief with regard to all believers, that, by their faith, the grace of God is extended to their children and their children's children even before they are born. The same thing takes place in infants, who are not yet of such an age as to be capable of faith. With regard to adults, on the other hand, who have no faith of their own, (whether they be strangers, or allied by blood,) the faith of others can have nothing more than an indirect influence in promoting the eternal salvation of their souls. As the prayers, by which we ask that God will turn unbelievers to repentance, are not without advantage, our faith is evidently of such advantage to them, that they do not arrive at salvation, till they have been made partakers of the same faith with us in answer to our prayers. But where there is a mutual agreement in faith, it is well known that they promote the salvation of each other. It is also beyond all question, that earthly blessings are often, for the sake of the godly, bestowed on unbelievers.

With regard to the present passage, though Christ is said to have been moved by the faith of others, yet the paralytic could not have obtained the forgiveness of his sins, if he had had no faith of his own. Unworthy persons were often restored by Christ to health of body, as God daily maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, (Matthew 5:45) but there is no other way in which he is reconciled to us than by faith. There is a synecdoche, therefore, in the word their, when it is said that Jesus saw their faith: for Christ not only looked at those who brought the paralytic, but looked also at his faith.

Thy sins are forgiven thee. Christ appears here to promise to the paralytic something different from what he had requested: but, as he intends to bestow health of body, he begins with removing the cause of the disease, and at the same time reminds the paralytic of the origin of his disease, and of the manner in which he ought to arrange his prayers. As men usually do not consider that the afflictions which they endure are God's chastisements, they desire nothing more than some alleviation in the flesh, and, in the meantime, feel no concern about their sins: just as if a sick man were to disregard his disease, and to seek only relief from present pain. [509] But the only way of obtaining deliverance from all evils is to have God reconciled to us. It does sometimes happen, that wicked men are freed from their distresses, while God is still their enemy: but when they think that they have completely escaped, the same evils immediately return, or more numerous and heavier calamities overwhelm them, which make it manifest that they will not be mitigated or terminated. until the wrath of God shall be appeased, as God declares by the Prophet Amos

If thou escape a lion, a bear shall meet thee;
if thou shut thyself up at home, a serpent shall bite thee, (Amos 5:19.)

Thus it appears that this is a frequent and ordinary way of speaking in the Scriptures, to promise the pardon of sins, when the mitigation of punishments is sought. It is proper to attend to this order in our prayers. When the feeling of afflictions reminds us of our sins, let us first of all be careful to obtain pardon, that, when God is reconciled to us, he may withdraw his hand from punishing.

3. And, lo, some of the scribes They accuse Christ of blasphemy and sacrilege, because he claims for himself what is God's prerogative. The other two Evangelists tell us also that they said, Who can forgive sins but God alone? It is beyond all question, that their eagerness to slander drove them to this wicked conclusion. If they think that there is any thing which deserves blame, why do they not inquire into it? [510] Besides, as the expression admits of more than one meaning, and as Christ said nothing more than what the Prophets frequently say when they announce the grace of God, why do they take in a bad sense what admits of a favorable interpretation? They must have been already poisoned by malice and envy, otherwise they would not so eagerly have seized an occasion of blaming Christ. They remain silent, but think in their hearts, that they may slander him when absent among people of their own class. It is no doubt true, that God alone has power and authority to forgive sins: but they are wrong in concluding that it does not belong to Christ, for he is God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16.) They had a right to inquire on what grounds Christ laid claim to such authority: but, without any inquiry, they suppose him to be one of the common rank of men, and proceed rashly to condemn him.

4. And when Jesus saw their thoughts He now gives a proof of his Divinity in bringing to light their secret thoughts: for who knoweth the things of a man but the spirit of man which is in him? (1 Corinthians 2:11.) And so Mark adds, that Jesus knew by his Spirit: which means, that what was concealed in their hearts could not be perceived by man, but that Christ by his Divine Spirit knew it thoroughly. Why do you think evil? This does not imply that it gave them pain to see a mortal man assuming what God claims as his own prerogative, but that they proudly and wickedly rejected God, who was openly manifested to them.

5. Whether is it easier to say? The meaning is, that, as it is not easier to quicken by a word a body which is nearly dead than to forgive sins, there is no reason to wonder that he forgives sins, when he has accomplished the other. The argument which our Lord uses may appear to be not well-founded: for, in proportion as the soul is more excellent than the body, the forgiveness of sins is a greater work than the healing of the body. But the reply is easy. Christ adapts his discourse to their capacity: for, being carnal, they were more powerfully affected by outward signs, than by all the spiritual power of Christ, which related to eternal salvation. Thus he proves the efficacy of the Gospel for quickening men from the fact, that at the last day he will raise the dead by his voice out of their graves.

Wonder not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all who are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth,
(John 5:28,29.)

This was a sufficiently powerful argument to refute those who reckoned a visible miracle of more importance than all things else. They could not say that he had no right to forgive the sins of the paralytic, when he restored to him health and rigour: for this was a result which followed from the forgiveness of sins.

6. That the Son of man hath authority on earth. This authority is very different from what was given to the apostles, and from what is now exercised by the pastors of the Church: for they cannot so properly be said to pardon sins, as to declare that they are pardoned, when they deliver the commission which is entrusted to them. By these words Christ declares that he is not only the minister and witness, but likewise the author, of this grace. But what means this restriction, on earth? Of what avail will it be to us to have obtained pardon here, if it be not ratified in heaven? Christ's meaning was, that forgiveness of sins ought not to be sought from a distance: for he exhibits it to men in his own person, and as it were in his hands. So strong is our inclination to distrust, that we never venture to believe that God is merciful to us, till he draws near, and speaks familiarly to us. Now, as Christ descended to earth for the purpose of exhibiting to men the grace of God as present, he is said to forgive sins visibly, because in him and by him the will of God was revealed which, according to the perception of the flesh, had been formerly hidden above the clouds.

8. And the multitudes who saw Instead of astonishment which Matthew mentions, [511] the other two Evangelists employ the word ekstasis, or amazement: and Luke adds fear But the design of all the Evangelists is to show, that the power of God was not merely acknowledged, but that all were struck with astonishment, and compelled to give glory to God. The fear, which followed the astonishment, had the effect of preventing them from opposing Christ, and of making them submit to him with reverence as a Prophet of God. Matthew expressly says, that they glorified God, who had given such authority to men Here they appear to be partly mistaken: for, though they see a man with their eyes, they ought to have perceived in him, by the mind, something higher than man. They are no doubt right in saying, that the nature of man received great honor in Christ for the general advantage of the human race: but as they do not perceive him to be God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:6,) their confession is involved in some error. [512] In a word, it was true, that God gave such authority to men: but the form and manner of giving was not yet understood by those who were not aware that the majesty of God was united to flesh.


[508] "Et disputoyent en leurs coeurs;" -- "and were disputing in their hearts."

[509] "Cherchoik seulement remede a la douleur presente, qui n'est qu'un accident particulier de son mal;" -- "sought only a remedy for the present pain, which is but a particular accident of his disease."

[510] "s'ils pensent qu'il y ait quelque chose digne de reprendre aux paroles de Christ, que ne parlent-ils a luy pour en avoir resolution?" -- "If they think that there is any thing worthy of blame in the words of Christ, why do they not speak to him to have it explained?"

[511] It is remarkable that all the Latin editions which I have examined, -- the highly and justly celebrated Amsterdam edition, two Geneva editions, and Tholuck's, -- give the reading, "cujus meminit Lucas," which Luke mentions, instead of "cujus meminit Matthoeus," which Matthew mentions, as the sense would have required. Matthew says, ethaumasan, they wondered, or were astonished Mark uses a part of the verb existamai hoste existasthai pantas,, so that all were amazed; and Luke uses the cognate noun, kai ekstasis elabn hapanatas and amazement seized all Still, the blunder must have been a slip of Calvin's pen, and would have been permitted to remain in the text, if there had not been express authority for the alteration in his own French version. -- Ed.

[512] "De quelque erreur et ignorance;" -- "in some error and ignorance."

And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him.
And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus.
And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.
And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?
But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts?
Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?
But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.
And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.
And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things to day.
And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me.

Matthew 9:9-13

Mark 2:13-17

Luke 5:27-32

9. And Jesus, passing on, saw a man sitting at the custom-house, named Matthew, and saith to him, Follow me. And he arose and followed [513] him. 10. And it happened that he was reclining in that man's house, and, lo, many publicans and sinners who had come, reclined together with Jesus and his disciples. 11. And the Pharisees, when they saw it, said to his disciples, Why does your Master eat with publicans and sinners? 12. But Jesus, when he had heard it, said to them, Not they who are in health have need of a physician, but they who are diseased. 13. But rather go, and learn what that means, I wish mercyh, and not sacrifice: for I came not to call righteous persons, but sinners, to repentance.

13. And he departed again towards the sea, and the whole multitude came to him, and he taught them. 14. And while Jesus was passing along, he saw Levi, the son of Alpheus, sitting at the custom-house, and said to him, Follow me: and he arose and followed him. 15. And it happened, while he was reclining in that man's house, many publicans and sinners [514] also reclined along with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many who followed him. 16. And the scribes and Pharisees, when they saw him taking food with publicans and sinners, said to his disciples, Why is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? 17. Jesus, having heard this, saith to them, Not they who are in health have need of a physician, but they who are diseased. I came not to call righteous persons, but sinners to repentance.

27. And after these things he went out, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the custom-house, and said to him, Follow me. 28. And he left all, and followed him. [515] 29. And Levi made him a great banquet in his house; and there was a great multitude of publicans and others, who reclined with them. 30. And the scribes and Pharisees [516] murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners? 31. And Jesus answering said to them, Not they who are in health need a physician, but they who are diseased. 32. I came not to call righteous persons, but sinners, to repentance.

Matthew 9:9. Jesus saw a man sitting at the customhouse. The custom-house has usually been a place noted for plundering and for unjust exactions, and was at that time particularly infamous. In the choice of Matthew out of that place, not only to be admitted into the family of Christ, but even to be called to the office of Apostle, we have a striking instance of the grace of God. It was the intention of Christ to choose simple and ignorant persons to that rank, in order to cast down the wisdom of the world, (1 Corinthians 2:6.) But this publican, who followed an occupation little esteemed and involved in many abuses, was selected for additional reasons, that he might be an example of Christ's undeserved goodness, and might show in his person that the calling of all of us depends, not on the merits of our own righteousness, but on his pure kindness. Matthew, therefore, was not only a witness and preacher, but was also a proof and illustration of the grace exhibited in Christ. he gives evidence of his gratitude in not being ashamed to hand down for perpetual remembrance the record of what he formerly was, and whence he was taken, that he might more fully illustrate in his person the grace of Christ. In the same manner Paul says:

This is a faithful saying, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief, (1 Timothy 1:15.)

As to Mark and Luke calling him Levi, it appears that this was his ordinary name: [517] but that his being a publican was the reason why he took a foreign name.

Follow me There is no reason to doubt that Christ explained in many words why he was called, and on what conditions. This is more fully ascertained from Luke, who says, that he left all, rose up, and followed Christ: for it would not have been necessary for him to leave all, if he had not been a private disciple of Christ, and called in expectation of the Apostleship. In the great readiness and eagerness of Matthew to obey, we see the Divine power of the word of Christ. Not that all in whose ears he utters his voice are equally affected in their hearts: but in this man Christ intended to give a remarkable example, that we might know that his calling was not from man. [518]

Luke 5:29. And Levi made him a great banquet This appears to be at variance with what Luke relates, that he left all: but the solution is easy. Matthew disregarded every hinderance, and gave up himself entirely to Christ, but yet did not abandon the charge of his own domestic affairs. When Paul, referring to the example of soldiers, exhorts the ministers of the word to be free and disentangled from every hinderance, and to devote their labors to the church, he says:

No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of life, that he may please the commander, (2 Timothy 2:4.)

He certainly does not mean, that those who enroll themselves in the military profession divorce their wives, forsake their children, and entirely desert their homes; but that they quit their homes for a time, and leave behind them every care, that they may be wholly employed in war. In the same manner, nothing kept Matthew from following where Christ called; and yet he freely used both his house and his property, as far as the nature of his calling allowed. It was necessary, indeed, that he should leave the custom-house: for, had he been detained there, he would not have been a follower of Christ. [519]

It is called a great banquet, with reference not to the multitude of the guests, but to the abundance and magnificence of the provisions: for we know that Christ did not practise such austerity, as not to allow himself to be sometimes entertained more splendidly by the rich, provided that there were no superfluity. Yet we cannot doubt that, as he was a remarkable example of temperance, so he exhorted those who entertained him to frugality and moderation in diet, and would never have endured wasteful and extravagant luxuries. Matthew says that sinners--that is, men of wicked lives and of infamous character--came to the banquet. The reason was, that the publicans, being themselves generally hated and despised, did not disdain to associate with persons of that description; for, as moderate correction produces shame and humiliation in transgressors, so excessive severity drives some persons to despair, makes them leave off all shame, and abandon themselves to wickedness. In levying custom or taxes there was nothing wrong: but when the publicans saw themselves cast off as ungodly and detestable persons, they sought consolation in the society of those who did not despise them on account of the bad and disgraceful reputation which they shared along with them. Meanwhile, they mixed with adulterers, drunkards, and such characters; whose crimes they would have detested, and whom they would not have resembled, had not the public hatred and detestation driven them to that necessity.

Matthew 9:11. Why does your Master eat with publicans and sinners? The scribes attack the disciples of Christ, and, with the view of soliciting them to revolt, reproach him with what was at first sight base and shameful." Of what use was it that he should be their Master, if it were not to withdraw them from the majority of men to lead a holier life? On the contrary, he withdrew them from a respectable and passable condition in life to ungodly licentiousness, and to pollute themselves by wicked companions." Ignorant and wavering disciples might have been induced by such reproaches to desert their Master. But they act properly when, not finding themselves sufficiently fortified against such a calumny, they carry their complaint to their Master: for Christ, by opposing the scribes, confirms his disciples for the future.

12. Not they who are in health need a physician It is evident from Christ's reply that the scribes erred in two ways: they did not take into account the office of Christ; and, while they spared their own vices, they proudly despised all others. This deserves our particular attention, for it is a disease which has been always very general. Hypocrites, being satisfied and intoxicated with a foolish confidence in their own righteousness, do not consider the purpose for which Christ was sent into the world, and do not acknowledge the depth of evils in which the human race is plunged, or the dreadful wrath and curse of God which lies on all, or the accumulated load of vices which weighs them down.

The consequence is, that they are too stupid to feel the miseries of men, or to think of a remedy. While they flatter themselves, they cannot endure to be placed in their own rank, and think that injustice is done them, when they are classed with transgressors. Our Lord glances at this second error by replying, that they who are in health have no need of a physician It is an ironical admission, [520] and is intended to show that they are offended when they see sinners, because they claim righteousness for themselves. Because you are in health, (he says,) you despise the sick, are offended at them, and cannot endure the sight of them: but a physician ought to be affected in a very different manner. He afterwards points out that he must discharge the duties of a physician, because he has been sent by the Father to call sinners

Though Christ begins with reproof, yet if we desire to make progress in his doctrine, what he has put in the second place must receive our first consideration. He came to quicken the dead, to justify the guilty and condemned, to wash those who were polluted and full of uncleanness, to rescue the lost from hell, to clothe with his glory those who were covered with shame, to renew to a blessed immortality those who were debased by disgusting vices. If we consider that this was his office and the end of his coming, -- if we remember that this was the reason why he took upon him our flesh, why he shed his blood, why he offered the sacrifice of his death, why he descended even to hell, we will never think it strange that he should gather to salvation those who have been the worst of men, and who have been covered with a mass of crimes.

He whom you detest appears to you to be unworthy of the grace of Christ. Why then was Christ himself made a sacrifice and a curse, but that he might stretch out his hand to accursed sinners? Now, if we feel disgust at being associated by Baptism and the Lord's Supper with vile men, and regard our connection with them as a sort of stain upon us, we ought immediately to descend into ourselves, and to search without flattery our own evils. Such an examination will make us willingly allow ourselves to be washed in the same fountain with the most impure, and will hinder us from rejecting the righteousness which he offers indiscriminately to all the ungodly, the life which he offers to the dead, and the salvation which he offers to the lost.

13. But rather go and learn He dismisses and orders them to depart, because he saw that they were obstinate and unwilling to learn. Or rather he explains to them, that they are contending with God and the Prophet, when, in pride and cruelty, they are offended at relief which is given to the wretched, and at medicine which is administered to the sick. This quotation is made from Hosea 6:6:

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice;
and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings.

The subject of the prophet's discourse had been the vengeance of God against the Jews. That they might not excuse themselves by saying that they were performing the outward worship of God, (as they were wont to boast in a careless manner about their ceremonies,) he declares that God has no delight in sacrifices, when their minds are destitute of piety, and when their conduct is at variance with uprightness and righteousness. That the statement, I desired not sacrifice, must be understood comparatively, is evident from the second clause, that the knowledge of God is better than burnt-offerings By these words he does not absolutely reject burnt-offerings, but places them in a rank inferior to piety and faith. We ought to hold, that faith and spiritual worship are in themselves pleasing to God, and that charity and the duties of humanity towards our neighbors are in themselves required; but that sacrifices are but appendages, so to speak, which are of no value or estimation, where substantial truth is not found. On this subject I have treated more fully at the tenth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It ought to be observed that there is a synecdoche in the word mercy: for under one head the prophet embraces all the kindness which we owe to our brethren.

For I came not Though this was spoken for the purpose of reproving the pride and hypocrisy of the scribes, yet it contains, in a general form, a very profitable doctrine. We are reminded that the grace of Christ is of no advantage to us, unless when, conscious of our sins, and groaning under their load, we approach to him with humility. There is also something here which is fitted to elevate weak consciences to a firm assurance: for we have no reason to fear that Christ will reject sinners, to call whom he descended from his heavenly glory. But we must also attend to the expression, to repentance: which is intended to inform us that pardon is granted to us, not to cherish our sins, but to recall us to the earnestness of a devout and holy life. He reconciles us to the Father on this condition, that, being redeemed by his blood, we may present ourselves true sacrifices, as Paul tells us:

The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and righteously, and devoutly in this world, (Titus 2:11,12.)


[513] "Surgens assequutus est;" -- "rising followed."

[514] "Gens de mauvaise vie;" -- "people of bad life."

[515] There is nothing here answering to anastas, rising up But the omission must have been accidental: for the French version runs thus: "lequel se levant, abandonna tout, et suivit;" -- "who, rising up, forsook all, and followed." -- Ed.

[516] "Et ceux d'entre eux qui estoyent scribes et Pharisiens;" --"and those among them who were scribes and Pharisees."

[517] "Il est aise a voir que c'estoit son droit nom par lequel les gens du pays l'appeloyent;" -- "it is easy to see that it was his right name, by which the people of the country called him."

[518] "Qu'il n'a pas este appele par un moyen procedant de l'homme;" -- "that he was not called by a method proceeding from man."

[519] "Pource qu'ayant cest empeschement, il n'eust pas peu suivre la compagnie de Christ;" -- "because, having that hinderance, he could not have followed the company of Christ."

[520] "C'est une concession par ironie, (c'est a dire, moquerie;")--"it is an admission made in irony, (that is, in ridicule.")

And he left all, rose up, and followed him.
And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them.
But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?
And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?

Matthew 9:14-17

Mark 2:18-22

Luke 5:33-39

14. Then come to him the disciples of John, saying, For what reason do we and the Pharisees fast often, while thy disciples do not fast? 15. And Jesus said to them, Can the children of the bridegroom [521] mourn, so long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast. 16. And no man putteth a piece of fresh cloth on an old garment: for that which fills up takes from the garment, and the rent is made worse. 17. Nor do they put new wine into old bottles; otherwise the bottles burst, and the wine is spilt, and the bottles are lost: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are at the same time preserved.

18. And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees were in the habit of fasting; and they come and say to him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, and thy disciples do not fast? 19. And Jesus saith to them, Can the children of the nuptial bed [522] fast, while the bridegroom is with them? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast in those days. 21. And no person seweth a piece of fresh cloth on an old garment: otherwise the new addition taketh from the old, and the rent is made worse. 22. And no person putteth new wine into old bottles; otherwise the new wine bursts the bottles, and the wine is spilt, and the bottles are lost: but new wine must be put into new bottles.

33. And they said to him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and in the same manner the disciples of the Pharisees, while thine eat and drink? 34. To whom he saith, Can you make the children of the marriage bed to fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them: then shall they fast in those days. 36. And he spoke a parable to them: No person putteth a piece of a new garment on an old garment; otherwise what is new is torn, and what is added of the new agreeth not with the old. 37. And no person putteth new wine into old bottles: otherwise the new wine will burst the bottles, and will be spilt, and the bottles will be lost. 38. But new wine must be put into new bottles, and both are preserved. 39. And no person who has drunk old wine immediately desires the new: for he saith, The old is better.

Matthew 9:14. Then come to him the disciples of John. Luke represents the Pharisees as speaking: Mark appears to connect both. And, indeed, there is no room to doubt that the Pharisees maliciously endeavored, by this stratagem, to draw the disciples of John to their party, and to produce a quarrel between them and the disciples of Christ. A resemblance in prayers and fastings was a plausible pretext for associating at this time: while the different manner in which Christ acted was an occasion of enmity and dislike to men whose temper was unamiable, and who were excessively devoted to themselves.

This example reminds us, that prudence and caution are necessary to prevent wicked and cunning men from sowing divisions among us on any slight grounds. Satan has a wonderful dexterity, no doubt, in laying those snares; and it is an easy matter to distress us about a trifle. [523] But we ought especially to beware lest the unity of faith be destroyed, or the bond of charity broken, on account of outward ceremonies. Almost all labor under the disease of attaching undue importance to the ceremonies and elements of the world, as Paul calls them, (Galatians 4:3; Colossians 2:8;) and accordingly they do not hesitate, for the most part, to prefer the merest rudiments to the highest perfection. This is followed by another evil arising out of fastidiousness and pride, when every man would willingly compel the whole world to copy his example. If any thing pleases us, we forthwith desire to make it a law, that others may live according to our pleasure.

When we read that the disciples of John were caught by these snares of Satan, let us first learn not to place holiness in outward and indifferent matters, and at the same time to restrain ourselves by moderation and equity, that we may not desire to restrict others to what we approve, but may allow every one to retain his freedom. As to fasting and prayers, it ought to be understood, that John gave his disciples a particular training, and that for this purpose they had stated days for fastings, a settled form, and fixed hours of prayer. Now, I reckon those prayers among outward observances. For, though calling on God holds the first rank in spiritual worship, yet that method of doing it was adapted to the unskilfulness of men, and is justly reckoned among ceremonies and indifferent matters, the observance of which ought not to be too strictly enjoined. Of the reason why John's discipline was more severe than that of Christ we have already spoken, and a more convenient opportunity for treating of it will again occur.

15. Can the children of the bridegroom mourn? Christ apologizes for his disciples on the score of the season, alleging that God was still pleased to indulge them in joyous feelings, as if they were present at a marriage: for he compares himself to the bridegroom, who enlivens his friends by his presence. Chrysostom thinks that this comparison was taken from the testimony of John the Baptist, He that hath the bride is the bridegroom, (John 3:29.) I have no objection to that view, though I do not think that it rests on solid grounds. Let us be satisfied with Christ's declaration, that he spares his disciples, and treats them with gentleness, so long as he is with them. That none may envy them advantages which are of short duration, he gives warning that they will very soon be treated with greater harshness and severity.

The apology rests on this consideration, that fasting and prayers are adapted to sorrow and adversity: extraordinary prayers I mean, such as are here mentioned. Christ certainly intended to accustom them, by degrees, to greater patience, and not to lay on them a heavy burden, till they gained more strength. Hence we ought to learn a twofold instruction. When the Lord sometimes endures the weakness of our brethren, and acts towards them with gentleness, while he treats us with greater severity, we have no right to murmur. Again, when we sometimes obtain relief from sorrow and from vexations, let us beware of giving ourselves up to enjoyments; but let us, on the contrary, remember that the nuptials will not always last. The children of the bridegroom, or of the nuptial bed, is a Hebrew phrase, which denotes the guests at a marriage. [524]

16. And no man putteth a piece of fresh cloth. He supports the preceding statement by two comparisons, one of which is taken from garments, and the other from vessels of wine Those who think that he compares worn-out garments and decayed bottles to the Pharisees, and new wine and fresh cloth to the doctrine of the gospel, have no probability on their side. The comparison is beautifully adapted to the matter in hand, if we explain it as referring to the weak and tender disciples of Christ, and to a discipline more strict than they were able to bear. Nor is it of any consequence that the idea of being old does not agree with scholars who were only commencing: for, when Christ compares his disciples to old bottles and torn garments, he does not mean that they were wasted by long use, but that they were weak and wanted strength. The amount of the statement is, that all must not be compelled indiscriminately to live in the same manner, for there is a diversity of natural character, and all things are not suitable to all; and particularly, we ought to spare the weak, that they may not be broken by violence, or crushed by the weight of the burden. Our Lord speaks according to the custom of the country, when he uses the word bottles instead of tuns or casks [525]

Luke 5:39. And no person who has drunk old wine. This statement is given by Luke alone, and is undoubtedly connected with the preceding discourse. Though commentators have tortured it in a variety of ways, I take it simply as a warning to the Pharisees not to attach undue importance to a received custom. For how comes it that wine, the taste of which remains unaltered, is not equally agreeable to every palate, but because custom and habit form the taste? Hence it follows, that Christ's manner of acting towards his disciples is not less worthy of approbation, because it has less show and splendor: as old wine, though it does not foam with the sharpness of new wine, is not less agreeable on that account, or less fitted for the nourishment of the body.


[521] "Filii sponsi." -- "Les gens de la chambre du marie peuvent ils mener dueil, pendant que le marie est avec eux?" -- "Can the children of the married man's chamber be in mourning, while the married man is with them?"

[522] "Les gens de nopces;" -- "the marriage party."

[523] "Pour des choses qui ne valent pas le parler;" -- "for things that are not worth talking about."

[524] "Les fils de l'espoux, (comme il y a en tournant de mot a mot,) par une facon de parler des Hebrieux signifient ceux qui sont appelez au banquet des nopces." -- "The children of the bridegroom, (as the words may be literally rendered,) by a mode of speaking among the Hebrews, denote those who were invited to the marriage banquet."

[525] "Au reste, le mot Grec dont use l'Evangeliste signifie proprement des vaisseaux faits de cuir, desquels on usoit pour mettre le vin: comme au- jourdhui nous avons des muids ou des pipes." -- "Besides, the Greek word, which the Evangelist employs, literally signifies vessels made of leather,which were used for containing wine: as in the present day we have hogsheads or butts "

And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?
But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old.
And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish.
But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.
No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.
John Calvin's Commentaries
Text Courtesy of Christian Classics Etherial Library.

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