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Matthew 19:3.And the Pharisees came to him, tempting him. Though the Pharisees lay snares for Christ, and cunningly endeavor to impose upon him, yet their malice proves to be highly useful to us; as the Lord knows how to turn, in a wonderful manner, to the advantage of his people all the contrivances of wicked men to overthrow sound doctrine. For, by means of this occurrence, a question arising out of the liberty of divorce was settled, and a fixed law was laid down as to the sacred and indissoluble bond of marriage. The occasion of this quibbling was, that the reply, in whatever way it were given, could not, as they thought, fail to be offensive.
They ask, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever? If Christ reply in the negative, they will exclaim that he wickedly abolishes the Law; and if in the affirmative, they will give out that he is not a prophet of God, but rather a pander, who lends such countenance to the lust of men. Such were the calculations which they had made in their own minds; but the Son of God, who knew how to take the wise in their own craftiness, (Job 5:13,) disappointed them, sternly opposing unlawful divorces, and at the same time showing that he brings forward nothing which is inconsistent with the Law. For he includes the whole question under two heads: that the order of creation ought to serve for a law, that the husband should maintain conjugal fidelity during the whole of life; and that divorces were permitted, not because they were lawful, but because Moses had to deal with a rebellious and intractable nation.
4.Have you not read? Christ does not indeed reply directly to what was asked, but he fully meets the question which was proposed; just as if a person now interrogated about the Mass were to explain faithfully the mystery of the Holy Supper, and at length to conclude, that they are guilty of sacrilege and forgery who venture either to add or to take away any thing from the pure institution of the Lord, he would plainly overturn the pretended sacrifice of the Mass. Now Christ assumes as an admitted principle, that at the beginning God joined the male to the female, so that the two made an entire man; and therefore he who divorces his wife tears from him, as it were, the half of himself. But nature does not allow any man to tear in pieces his own body.
He adds another argument drawn from the less to the greater. The bond of marriage is more sacred than that which binds children to their parents. But piety binds children to their parents by a link which cannot be broken. Much less then can the husband renounce his wife. Hence it follows, that a chain which God made is burst asunder, if the husband divorce his wife. (594)
Now the meaning of the words is this: God, who created the human race, made them male and female, so that every man might be satisfied with his own wife, and might not desire more. For he insists on the number two, as the prophet Malachi, (Malachi 2:15,)when he remonstrates against polygamy, employs the same argument, that God, whose Spirit was so abundant that He had it in His power to create more, yet made but one man, that is, such a man as Christ here describes. And thus from the order of creation is proved the inviolable union of one husband with one wife. If it be objected, that in this way it will not be lawful, after the first wife is dead, to take another, the reply is easy, that not only is the bond dissolved by death, but the second wife is substituted by God in the room of the first, as if she had been one and the same woman.
5.Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother. It is uncertain whether Moses represents Adam or God as speaking these words; but it is of little consequence to the present passage which of these meanings you choose, for it was enough to quote the decision which God had pronounced, though it might have been uttered by the mouth of Adam. Now he who marries a wife is not commanded absolutely to leave his father; for God would contradict himself, if by marriage He set aside those duties which He enjoins on children towards their parents; but when a comparison is made between the claims, the wife is preferred to the father and mother But if any man abandon his father, and shake off the yoke by which he is bound, no man will own such a monster; (595) much less will he be at liberty to dissolve a marriage.
And the two shall be one flesh. This expression condemns polygamy not less than it condemns unrestrained liberty in divorcing wives; for, if the mutual union of two persons was consecrated by the Lord, the mixture of three or four persons is unauthorized. (596) But Christ, as I stated a little ago, applies it in a different manner to his purpose; namely, to show that whoever divorces his wife tears himself in pieces, because such is the force of holy marriage, that the husband and wife become one man. For it was not the design of Christ to introduce the impure and filthy speculation of Plato, but he spoke with reverence of the order which God has established. Let the husband and wife, therefore, live together in such a manner, that each shall cherish the other in the same manner as if they were the half of themselves. Let the husband rule, so as to be the head, and not the tyrant, of his wife; and let the woman, on the other hand, yield modestly to his commands.
6.What God therefore hath joined. By this sentence Christ restrains the caprice of husbands, that they may not, by divorcing their wives, burst asunder the sacred knot. And as he declares that it is not in the power of the husband to dissolve the marriage, so likewise he forbids all others to confirm by their authority unlawful divorces; for the magistrate abuses his power when he grants permission to the husband to divorce his wife. But the object which Christ had directly in view was, that every man should sacredly observe the promise which he has given, and that those who are tempted, by wantonness or wicked dispositions, to divorce, may reflect thus with themselves: “Who, art thou that allowest thyself to burst asunder what God hath joined? ” But this doctrine may be still farther extended. The Papists, contriving for us a church separated from Christ the Head, leave us an imperfect and mutilated body. In the Holy Supper, Christ joined the bread and the wine; but they have dared to withhold from all the people the use of the cup. To these diabolical corruptions we shall be at liberty to oppose these words, What God hath joined let not man separate
7.Why then did Moses order? They had thought of this calumny, (597) if, which was more probable, Christ should demand a proper cause to be shown in cases of divorce; for it appears that whatever God permits by his law, whose will alone establishes the distinction between what is good or evil, is lawful. But Christ disarms the falsehood and slander by the appropriate reply, that Moses permitted it on account of their obstinacy, and not because he approved of it as lawful. And he confirms his opinion by the best argument, because it was not so at the beginning. He takes for granted that, when God at first instituted marriage, he established a perpetual law, which ought to remain in force till the end of the world. And if the institution of marriage is to be reckoned an inviolable law, it follows that whatever swerves from it does not arise from its pure nature, but from the depravity of men.
But it is asked, Ought Moses to have permitted what was in itself bad and sinful? I reply, That, in an unusual sense of the word, he is said to havepermitted what he did not severely forbid; (598) for he did not lay down a law about divorces, so as to give them the seal of his approbation, but as the wickedness of men could not be restrained in any other way, he applied what was the most admissible remedy, that the husband should, at least, attest the chastity of his wife. For the law was made solely for the protection of the women, that they might not suffer any disgrace after they had been unjustly rejected. Hence we infer, that it was rather a punishment inflicted on the husbands, than an indulgence or permission fitted to inflame their lust. Besides, political and outward order is widely different from spiritual government. What is lawful and proper the Lord has comprehended under the ten words. (599) Now as it is possible that many things, for which every man’s conscience reproves and charges him, may not be called in question at a human tribunal, it is not wonderful if those things are connived at by political laws.
Let us take a familiar instance. The laws grant to us a greater liberty of litigation than the law of charity allows. Why is this? Because the right cannot be conferred on individuals, unless there be an open door for demanding it; and yet the inward law of God declares that we ought to follow what charity shall dictate. And yet there is no reason why magistrates should make this an excuse for their indolence, if they voluntarily abstain from correcting vices, or neglect what the nature of their office demands. But let men in a private station beware of doubling the criminality of the magistrates, by screening their own vices under the protection of the laws. For here the Lord indirectly reproves the Jews for not, reckoning it enough that their stubbornness was allowed to pass unpunished, if they did not implicate God as defending their iniquity. And if the rule of a holy and pious life is not always, or in all places, to be sought from political laws, much less ought we to seek it from custom.
(599) Where the English version gives the words, ten commandments, the phrase in the original Hebrew is,
9.But I say to you. Mark relates that this was spoken to the disciples apart, when they had come into the house; but Matthew, leaving out this circumstance, gives it as a part of the discourse, as the Evangelists frequently leave out some intermediate occurrence, because they reckon it enough to sum up the leading points. There is therefore no difference, except that the one explains the matter more distinctly than the other. The substance of it is: though the Law does not punish divorces, which are at variance with God’s first institution, yet he is an adulterer who rejects his wife and takes another. For it is not in the power of a man to dissolve the engagement of marriage, which the Lord wishes to remain inviolate; and so the woman who occupies the bed of a lawful wife is a concubine.
But an exception is added; for the woman, by fornication, cuts herself off, as a rotten member, from her husband, and sets him at liberty. Those who search for other reasons ought justly to be set at nought, because they choose to be wise above the heavenly teacher. They say that leprosy is a proper ground for divorce, because the contagion of the disease affects not only the husband, but likewise the children. For my own part, while I advise a religious man not to touch a woman afflicted with leprosy, I do not pronounce him to be at liberty to divorce her. If it be objected, that they who cannot live unmarried need a remedy, that they may not be burned, I answer, that what is sought in opposition to the word of God is not a remedy. I add too, that if they give themselves up to be guided by the Lord, they will never want continence, for they follow what he has prescribed. One man shall contract such a dislike of his wife, that he cannot endure to keep company with her: will polygamy cure this evil? Another man’s wife shall fall into palsy or apoplexy, or be afflicted with some other incurable disease, shall the husband reject her under the pretense of incontinency? We know, on the contrary, that none of those who walk in their ways are ever left destitute of the assistance of the Spirit.
For the sake of avoiding fornication, says Paul, let every man marry a wife, (1 Corinthians 7:2.) He who has done so, though he may not succeed to his wish, has done his duty; and, therefore, if any thing be wanting, he will be supported by divine aid. To go beyond this is nothing else than to tempt God. When Paul mentions another reason, namely, that when, through a dislike of godliness, wives happen to be rejected by unbelievers, a godly brother or sister is not, in such a case, liable to bondage, (1 Corinthians 7:12,) this is not inconsistent with Christ’s meaning. For he does not there inquire into the proper grounds of divorce, but only whether a woman continues to be bound to an unbelieving husband, after that, through hatred of God, she has been wickedly rejected, and cannot be reconciled to him in any other way than by forsaking God; and therefore we need not wonder if Paul think it better that she should part with a mortal man than that she should be at variance with God.
But the exception which Christ states appears to be superfluous. For, if the adulteress deserve to be punished with death, what purpose does it serve to talk of divorces? But as it was the duty of the husband to prosecute his wife for adultery, in order to purge his house from infamy, whatever might be the result, the husband, who convicts his wife of uncleanness, is here freed by Christ from the bond. It is even possible that, among a corrupt and degenerate people, this crime remained to a great extent unpunished; as, in our own day, the wicked forbearance of magistrates makes it necessary for husbands to put away unchaste wives, because adulterers are not punished. It must also be observed, that the right belongs equally and mutually to both sides, as there is a mutual and equal obligation to fidelity. For, though in other matters the husband holds the superiority, as to the marriage bed, the wife has an equal right: for he is not the lord of his body; and therefore when, by committing adultery, he has dissolved the marriage, the wife is set at liberty.
And whosoever shall marry her that is divorced. This clause has been very ill explained by many commentators; for they have thought that generally, and without exception, celibacy is enjoined in all cases when a divorce has taken place; and, therefore, if a husband should put away an adulteress, both would be laid under the necessity of remaining unmarried. As if this liberty of divorce meant only not to lie with his wife; and as if Christ did not evidently grant permission in this case to do what the Jews were wont indiscriminately to do at their pleasure. It was therefore a gross error; for, though Christ condemns as an adulterer the man who shall marry a wife that has been divorced, this is undoubtedly restricted to unlawful and frivolous divorces. In like manner, Paul enjoins those who have been so dismissed
to remain unmarried, or to be reconciled to their husbands,
(1 Corinthians 7:11;)
that is, because quarrels and differences do not dissolve a marriage. This is clearly made out from the passage in Mark, where express mention is made of the wife who has left her husband: and if the wife shall divorce her husband Not that wives were permitted to give their husbands a letter of divorcement, unless so far as the Jews had been contaminated by foreign customs; but Mark intended to show that our Lord condemned the corruption which was at that time universal, that, after voluntary divorces, they entered on both sides into new marriages; and therefore he makes no mention of adultery.
10.His disciples say to him. As if it were a hard condition for husbands to be so bound to their wives, that, so long as they remain chaste, they are compelled to endure every thing rather than leave them, the disciples, roused by this answer of Christ, reply, that it is better to want wives than to submit to a knot of this kind. (603) But why do they not, on the other hand, consider how hard is the bondage of wives, (604) but because, devoted to themselves and their own convenience, they are driven by the feeling of the flesh to disregard others, and to think only of what is advantageous for themselves? Meanwhile, it is a display of base ingratitude that, from the dread or dislike of a single inconvenience, they reject a wonderful gift of God. It is better, according to them, to avoid marriage than to bind one’s self by the bond of living always together. (605) But if God has ordained marriage for the general advantage of mankind, though it may be attended by some things that are disagreeable, it is not on that account to be despised. Let us therefore learn not to be delicate and saucy, but to use with reverence the gifts of God, even if there be something in them that does not please us. Above all, let us guard against this wickedness in reference to holy marriage; for, in consequence of its being attended by many annoyances, Satan has always endeavored to make it an object of hatred and detestation, in order to withdraw men from it. And Jerome has given too manifest a proof of a malicious and wicked disposition, in not only loading with calumnies that sacred and divinely appointed condition of life, but in collecting as many terms of reproach (
11.All are not capable of receiving this saying. By this he means, that the choice is not placed in our hands, as if we were to deliberate on a matter submitted to us. If any man thinks it advantageous for him to want a wife, and, without making any inquiry, lays upon himself an obligation to celibacy, (606) he is widely mistaken. God, who has declared it to be good that a man should have a woman to be his helper, will punish the contempt of his own appointment; for mortals take too much on themselves, when they endeavor to exempt themselves from the heavenly calling. But Christ proves that it is not free to all to make what choice they please, because the gift of continence is a special gift; for when he says that all are not capable of receiving it, but those to whom it is given, he plainly shows that it was not given to all. And this reproves the pride of those who do not hesitate to claim for themselves what Christ so manifestly refuses to them.
12.For there are eunuchs Christ distinguishes three kinds of eunuchs Those who are so by nature, or who have been castrated by men, are debarred from marriage by this defect, for they are not men. He says that there are other eunuchs, who have castrated themselves, that they may be more at liberty to serve God; and these he exempts from the obligation to marry. Hence it follows, that all others who avoid marriage fight against God with sacrilegious hardihood, after the manner of the giants. When Papists urge the word castrate, (
For the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Many foolishly explain this as meaning, in order to deserve eternal life; as if celibacy contained within itself some meritorious service, as the Papists imagine that it is an angelical state. But Christ meant nothing more than that persons unmarried ought to have this for their object, that, being freed from all cares, they may apply themselves more readily to the duties of piety. It is, therefore, a foolish imagination, that celibacy is a virtue; for it is not in itself more pleasing to God than fasting, and is not entitled to be reckoned among the duties which he requires from us, but ought to have a reference to another object. Nay more, Christ expressly intended to declare that, though a man be pure from fornication, yet his celibacy is not approved by God, if he only consults his own ease and comfort, but that he is excused on this single ground, that he aims at a free and unrestrained meditation on the heavenly life. In short, Christ teaches us, that it is not enough, if unmarried men live chastely, unless they abstain from having wives, for the express purpose of devoting themselves to better employments. (608)
He that can receive it, let him receive it. By this conclusion Christ warns them, that the use of marriage is not to be despised, unless we intend, with blind rashness, to rush headlong to destruction: for it became necessary to restrain the disciples, whom he saw acting inconsiderately and without judgment. But the warning is useful to all; for, in selecting a manner of life, few consider what has been given to them, but men rush forward, without discrimination, in whatever direction inconsiderate zeal prompts them. And I wish that the warning had been attended to in past times; but men’s ears are stopped by I know not what enchantments of Satan, so that, contrary to nature, and, at it were, in spite of God, those whom God called to marriage have bound themselves by the cord of perpetual virginity (609) Next came the deadly cord of a vow, by which wretched souls were bound, (610) so that they never rose out of the ditch.
This narrative is highly useful; for it shows that Christ receives not only those who, moved by holy desire and faith, freely approach to him, but those who are not yet of age to know how much they need his grace. Those little children have not yet any understanding to desire his blessing; but when they are presented to him, he gently and kindly receives them, and dedicates them to the Father (611) by a solemn act of blessing. We must observe the intention of those who present the children; for if there had not been a deep-rooted conviction in their minds, that the power of the Spirit was at his disposal, that he might pour it out on the people of God, it would have been unreasonable to present their children. There is no room, therefore, to doubt, that they ask for them a participation of his grace; and so, by way of amplification, Luke adds the particle also; as if he had said that, after they had experienced the various ways in which he assisted adults, they formed an expectation likewise in regard to children, that, if he laid hands on them, they would not leave him without having received some of the gifts of the Spirit. The laying on of hands (as we have said on a former occasion) was an ancient and well known sign of blessing; and so there is no reason to wonder, if they desire that Christ, while employing that solemn ceremony, should pray for the children At the same time, as the inferior are blessed by the better, (Hebrews 7:7,) they ascribe to him the power and honor of the highest Prophet.
Matthew 19:13.But the disciples rebuked them. If a crown (612) had been put on his head, they would have admitted it willingly, and with approbation; for they did not yet comprehend his actual office. But they reckon it unworthy of his character to receive children; and their error wanted not plausibility; for what has the highest Prophet and the Son of God to do with infants? But hence we learn, that they who judge of Christ according to the feeling of their flesh are unfair judges; for they constantly deprive him of his peculiar excellencies, and, on the other hand, ascribe, under the appearance of honor, what does not at all belong to him. Hence arose an immense mass of superstitions, which presented to the world a fancied Christ. (613) And therefore let us learn not to think of him otherwise than what himself teaches, and not to assign to him a character different from what he has received from the Father. We see what happened with Popery. They thought that they were conferring a great honor on Christ, if they bowed down before a small piece of bread; but in the sight of God it was an offensive abomination. Again, because they did not think it sufficiently honorable to him to perform the office of an Advocate for us, they made for themselves innumerable intercessors; but in this way they deprived him of the honor of Mediator.
14.Suffer children. He declares that he wishes to receive children; and at length, taking them in his arms, he not only embraces, but blesses them by the laying on of hand; from which we infer that his grace is extended even to those who are of that age. And no wonder; for since the whole race of Adam is shut up under the sentence of death, all from the least even to the greatest must perish, except those who are rescued by the only Redeemer. To exclude from the grace of redemption those who are of that age would be too cruel; and therefore it is not without reason that we employ this passage as a shield against the Anabaptists. They refuse baptism to infants, because infants are incapable of understanding that mystery which is denoted by it. We, on the other hand, maintain that, since baptism is the pledge and figure of the forgiveness of sins, and likewise of adoption by God, it ought not to be denied to infants, whom God adopts and washes with the blood of his Son. Their objection, that repentance and newness of life are also denoted by it, is easily answered. Infants are renewed by the Spirit of God, according to the capacity of their age, till that power which was concealed within them grows by degrees, and becomes fully manifest at the proper time. Again, when they argue that there is no other way in which we are reconciled to God, and become heirs of adoption, than by faith, we admit this as to adults, but, with respect to infants, this passage demonstrates it to be false. Certainly, the laying on of hands was not a trifling or empty sign, and the prayers of Christ were not idly wasted in air. But he could not present the infants solemnly to God without giving them purity. And for what did he pray for them, but that they might be received into the number of the children of God? Hence it follows, that they were renewed by the Spirit to the hope of salvation. In short, by embracing them, he testified that they were reckoned by Christ among his flock. And if they were partakers of the spiritual gifts, which are represented by Baptism, it is unreasonable that they should be deprived of the outward sign. But it is presumption and sacrilege to drive far from the fold of Christ those whom he cherishes in his bosom, and to shut the door, and exclude as strangers those whom he does not wish to be forbidden to come to him
For of such is the kingdom of heaven. Under this term he includes both little children and those who resemble them; for the Anabaptists foolishly exclude children, with whom the subject must have commenced; but at the same time, taking occasion from the present occurrence, he intended to exhort his disciples to lay aside malice and pride, and put on the nature of children Accordingly, it is added by Mark and Luke, that no man can enter into the kingdom of heaven unless he be made to resemble a child. But we must attend to Paul’s admonition,
not to be children in understanding, but in malice,
(1 Corinthians 14:20.)
Matthew 19:16.And, lo, one. Luke says that he was a ruler, (
But, in order to form a more correct judgment of the meaning of the answer, we must attend to the form of the question. He does not simply ask how and by what means he shall reach life, but what good thing he shall do, in order to obtain it. He therefore dreams of merits, on account of which he may receive eternal life as a reward due; and therefore Christ appropriately sends him to the keeping of the law, which unquestionably is the way of life, as I shall explain more fully afterwards.
17.Why callest thou me good? I do not understand this correction in so refined a sense as is given by a good part of interpreters, as if Christ intended to suggest his Divinity; for they imagine that these words mean, “If thou perceivest in me nothing more exalted than human nature, thou falsely appliest to me the epithet good, which belongs to God alone. ” I do acknowledge that, strictly speaking, men and even angels do not deserve so honorable a title; because they have not a drop of goodness in themselves, but borrowed from God; and because in the former, goodness is only begun, and is not perfect. But Christ had no other intention than to maintain the truth of his doctrine; as if he had said, “Thou falsely callest me a good Master, unless thou acknowledgest that I have come from God.” The essence of his Godhead, therefore, is not here maintained, but the young man is directed to admit the truth of the doctrine. He had already felt some disposition to obey; but Christ wishes him to rise higher, that he may hear God speaking. For — as it is customary with men to make angels of those who are devils — they indiscriminately give the appellation of good teachers to those in whom they perceive nothing divine; but those modes of speaking are only profanations of the gifts of God. We need not wonder, therefore, if Christ, in order to maintain the authority of his doctrine, directs the young man to God.
Keep the commandments. This passage was erroneously interpreted by some of the ancients, whom the Papists have followed, as if Christ taught that, by beeping the law, we may merit eternal life On the contrary, Christ did not take into consideration what men can do, but replied to the question, What is the righteousness of works? or, What does the Law require? And certainly we ought to believe that God comprehended in his law the way of living holily and righteously, in which righteousness is included; for not without reason did Moses make this statement,
He that does these things shall live in them, (Leviticus 18:5;)
I call heaven and earth to witness that l have
this day showed you life, (Deuteronomy 30:19.)
We have no right, therefore, to deny that the keeping of the law is righteousness, by which any man who kept the law perfectly — if there were such a man — would obtain life for himself. But as we are all destitute of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23,) nothing but cursing will be found in the law; and nothing remains for us but to betake ourselves to the undeserved gift of righteousness. And therefore Paul lays down a twofold righteousness, the righteousness of the law, (Romans 10:5,) and the righteousness of faith, (Romans 10:6.) He makes the first to consist in works, and the second, in the free grace of Christ.
Hence we infer, that this reply of Christ is legal, because it was proper that the young man who inquired about the righteousness of works should first be taught that no man is accounted righteous before God unless he has fulfilled the law, (620) (which is impossible,) that, convinced of his weakness, he might betake himself to the assistance of faith. I acknowledge, therefore, that, as God has promised the reward of eternal life to those who keep his law, we ought to hold by this way, if the weakness of our flesh did not prevent; but Scripture teaches us, that it is through our own fault that it becomes necessary for us to receive as a gift what we cannot obtain by works. If it be objected, that it is in vain to hold out to us the righteousness which is in the law, (Romans 10:5,) which no man will ever be able to reach, I reply, since it is the first part of instruction, by which we are led to the righteousness which is obtained by prayer, it is far from being superfluous; and, therefore, when Paul says, that the doers of the law are justified, (Romans 2:13,) he excludes all from the righteousness of the law.
This passage sets aside all the inventions which the Papists have contrived in order to obtain salvation. For not only are they mistaken in wishing to lay God under obligation to them by their good works, to bestow salvation as a debt; but when they apply themselves to do what is right, they leave out of view the doctrine of the law, and attend chiefly to their pretended devotions, as they call them, not that they openly reject the law of God, but that they greatly prefer human traditions. (621) But what does Christ say? That the only worship of which God approves is that which he has prescribed; because obedience is better to him than all sacrifices, (622) (1 Samuel 15:22.) So then, while the Papists are employed in frivolous traditions, let every man who endeavors to regulate his life by obedience to Christ direct his whole attention to keep the commandments of the law.
18.Thou shalt not murder It is surprising that, though Christ intended to show that we are bound to obey the whole law, he should mention the second table only; but he did so, because from the duties of charity the disposition of every man is better ascertained. Piety towards God holds, no doubt, a higher rank; (623) but as the observation of the first table is often feigned by hypocrites, the second table is better adapted for making a scrutiny. (624) Let us know, therefore, that Christ selected those commandments in which is contained a proof of true righteousness; but by a synecdoche he takes a part for the whole. As to the circumstance of his placing that commandment last which speaks of honoring parents, it is of no consequence, for he paid no attention to the regular order. Yet it is worthy of notice, that this commandment is declared to belong to the second table, that no one may be led astray by the error of Josephus, who thought that it belonged to the first table. (625) What is added at the end, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, contains nothing different from the former commandments, but is, general explanation of them all.
The young man saith to him. The law must have been dead to him, when he vainly imagined that he was so righteous; for if he had not flattered himself through hypocrisy, it was an excellent advice to him to learn humility, to contemplate his spots and blemishes in the mirror of the law. But, intoxicated with foolish confidence, he fearlessly boasts that he has discharged his duty properly from his childhood. Paul acknowledges that the same thing happened to himself, that, so long as the power of the law was unknown to him, he believed that he was alive; but that, after he knew what the law could do, a deadly wound was inflicted on him, (Romans 7:9.) So the reply of Christ, which follows, was suited to the man’s disposition. And yet Christ does not demand any thing beyond the commandments of the law, but, as the bare recital had not affected him, Christ employed other words for detecting the hidden disease of avarice.
I confess that we are nowhere commanded in the law to sell all; but as the design of the law is, to bring men to self-denial, and as it expressly condemns covetousness, we see that Christ had no other object in view than to correct the false conviction of the young man. (626) for if he had known himself thoroughly, as soon as he heard the mention of the law, he would have acknowledged that he was liable to the judgment of God; but now, when the bare words of the law do not sufficiently convince him of his guilt, the inward meaning is expressed by other words. If Christ now demanded any thing beyond the commandments of the law, he would be at variance with himself. He just now taught that perfect righteousness is comprehended in the commandments of the law: how then will it agree with this to charge the law with deficiency? Besides, the protestation of Moses, (Deuteronomy 30:15,) which I formerly quoted, would be false.
(625) Josephus says that there were five on each table, from which it must be inferred, that he considered the Fifth commandment as belonging to the First Table. His words are: He showed them the two tables, with the ten commandments engraven upon them, Five upon each table; and the writin was b ythe hand of God. — (Ant. 3. 6, 8. ) — Ed.
Matthew 19:22.He went away sorrowful. The result at length showed how widely distant the young man was from that perfection to which Christ had called him; for how comes it that he withdraws from the school of Christ, but because he finds it uneasy to be stripped of his riches? But if we are not prepared to endure poverty, it is manifest that covetousness reigns in us. And this is what I said at the outset, that the order which Christ gave, to sell all that he had, was not an addition to the law, but the scrutiny of a concealed vice. (629) For the more deeply a man is tainted by this or the other vice, the more strikingly will it be dragged forth to light by being reproved. We are reminded also by this example that, if we would persevere steadily in the school of Christ, we must renounce the flesh. This young man, who had brought both a desire to learn and modesty, withdrew from Christ, because it was hard to part with a darling vice. The same thing will happen to us, unless the sweetness of the grace of Christ render all the allurements of the flesh distasteful to us. Whether or not this temptation was temporary, so that the young man afterwards repented, we know not; but it may be conjectured with probability, that his covetousness kept him back from making any proficiency.
Matthew 19:23.A rich man will with difficulty enter. Christ warns them, not only how dangerous and how deadly a plague avarice is, but also how great an obstacle is presented by riches. In Mark, indeed, he mitigates the harshness of his expression, by restricting it to those only who place confidence in riches But these words are, I think, intended to confirm, rather than correct, the former statement, as if he had affirmed that they ought not to think it strange, that he made the entrance into the kingdom of heaven so difficult for the rich, because it is an evil almost common to all to trust in their riches Yet this doctrine is highly useful to all; to the rich, that, being warned of their danger, they may be on their guard; to the poor, that, satisfied with their lot, they may not so eagerly desire what would bring more damage than gain. It is true indeed, that riches do not, in their own nature, hinder us from following God; but, in consequence of the depravity of the human mind, it is scarcely possible for those who have a great abundance to avoid being intoxicated by them. So they who are exceedingly rich are held by Satan bound, as it were, in chains, that they may not raise their thoughts to heaven; nay more, they bury and entangle themselves, and became utter slaves to the earth. The comparison of the camel. , which is soon after added, is intended to amplify the difficulty; for it means that the rich are so swelled with pride and presumption, that they cannot endure to be reduced to the straits through which God makes his people to pass. The word camel denotes, I think, a rope used by sailors, rather than the animal so named. (633)
(633) “ Vray est que le mot CAMELUS, dont a use l’Evangeliste, significant un chameau qu’un chable: mats i’aime mieux le prendre en la derniere signification pour une grosse carde de nayire.” — “It is true that the word
25.And his disciples, when they heard these things, were greatly amazed. The disciples are astonished, because it ought to awaken in us no little anxiety, that riches obstruct the entrance into the kingdom of God; for, wherever we turn our eyes, a thousand obstacles will present themselves. But let us observe that, while they were struck with astonishment, they did not shrink from the doctrines of Christ. The case was different with him who was lately mentioned; for he was so much alarmed by the severity of the commandment, that he separated from Christ; while they, though trembling, and inquiring, who can be saved? do not break off in an opposite direction, but are desirous to conquer despair. Thus it will be of service to us to tremble at the threatenings of God: whenever he denounces any thing that is gloomy or dreadful, provided that our minds are not discouraged, but rather aroused.
26.With men this is impossible. Christ does not entirely free the minds of his disciples from all anxiety; for it is proper that they should perceive how difficult it is to ascend to heaven; first, that they may direct all their efforts to this object; and next, that, distrusting themselves, they may implore strength from heaven. We see how great is our indolence and carelessness; and what the consequence would be if believers thought that they had to walk at ease, for pastime, along a smooth and cheerful plain. Such is the reason why Christ does not extenuate the danger — though he perceives the terror which it excited in his disciples — but rather increases it; for though formerly he said only that it was difficult, he now affirms it to be impossible Hence it is evident, that those teachers are guilty of gross impropriety, who are so much afraid to speak harshly, that they give indulgence to the slothfulness of the flesh. They ought to follow, on the contrary, the rule of Christ, who so regulates his style that, after men have been bowed down within themselves, he teaches them to rely on the grace of God alone, and, at the same time, excites them to prayer. In this manner, the weakness of men is seasonably relieved, not by ascribing anything to them, but by arousing their minds to expect the grace of God. By this reply of Christ is also refuted that widely embraced principle — which the Papists have borrowed from Jerome — “Whoever shall say that it is impossible to keep the law, let him be accursed. “For Christ plainly declares, that it is not possible for men to keep the way of salvation, except so far as the grace of God assists them.
Matthew 19:27.Then Peter answering said to him. Peter tacitly compares himself and the other disciples to the rich man, whom the world had turned aside from Christ. As they had led a poor and wandering (639) life, which was not unaccompanied by disgrace and by annoyances, and as no better condition for the future presented itself, he properly inquires if it be to no purpose that they have left all their property, and devoted themselves to Christ; for it would be unreasonable if, after having been stripped of their property by the Lord, they should not be restored to a better condition.
Lo, we have left all. But what were those all things? for, being mean and very poor men, they scarcely had a home to leave, and therefore this boasting might appear to be ridiculous. And certainly experience shows how large an estimate men commonly form of their duties towards God, as at this day, among the Papists, those who were little else than beggars make it a subject of haughty reproach that they have sustained great damage for the sake of the Gospel. But the disciples may be excused on this ground, that, though their wealth was not magnificent, they subsisted at home, by their manual labors, not less cheerfully than the richest man. And we know that men of humble condition, who have been accustomed to a quiet and modest life, reckon it a greater hardship to be torn from their wives and children than those who are led by ambition, or who are carried in various directions by the gale of prosperity. Certainly, if some reward had not been reserved for the disciples, it would have been foolish in them to have changed their course of life. (640) But though on that ground they might be excused, they err in this respect, that they demand a triumph to be given them, before they have finished their warfare. If we ever experience such uneasiness at delay, and if we are tempted by impatience, let us learn first to reflect on the comforts by which the Lord soothes the bitterness of the cup in this world, and next elevate our minds to the hope of the heavenly life; for these two points embrace the answer of Christ.
28.Verily I say to you. That the disciples may not think that they have lost their pains, and repent of having begun the course, Christ warns them that the glory of his kingdom, which at that time was still hidden, was about to be revealed. As if he had said, “There is no reason why that mean condition should discourage you; for I, who am scarcely equal to the lowest, will at length ascend to my throne of majesty. Endure then for a little, till the time arrive for revealing nay glory.” And what does he then promise to them? That they shall be partakers of the same glory.
You also shall sit on twelve thrones By assigning to them thrones, from which they may judge the twelve tribes of Israel, he compares them to assessors, or first councilors and judges, who occupy the highest seats in the royal council. We know that the number of those who were chosen to be apostles was twelve, in order to testify that, by the agency of Christ, God purposed to collect the remnant of his people which was scattered. This was a very high rank, but hitherto was concealed; and therefore Christ holds their wishes in suspense till the latest revelation of his kingdom, when they will fully receive the fruit of their election. And though the kingdom of Christ is, in some respects, manifested by the preaching of the Gospel, there is no doubt that Christ here speaks of the last day.
In the regeneration. Some connect this term with the following clause. In this sense, regeneration would be nothing else than the renovation which shall follow our restoration, when life shall swallow up what is mortal, and when our mean body shall be transformed into the heavenly glory of Christ. But I rather explain regeneration as referring to the first coming of Christ; for then the world began to be renewed, and arose out of the darkness of death into the light of life. And this way of speaking occurs frequently in the Prophets, and is exceedingly adapted to the connection of this passage. For the renovation of the Church, which had been so frequently promised, had raised an expectation of wonderful happiness, as soon as the Messiah should appear; and therefore, in order to guard against that error, Christ distinguishes between the beginning and the completion of his reign.
Matthew 19:29.And whosoever shall forsake. After having raised the expectation of his followers to the hope of a future life, he supports them by immediate consolations, (641) and strengthens them for bearing the cross. For though God permit his people to be severely afflicted, he never abandons them, so as not to recompense their distresses by his assistance. And here he does not merely address the apostles, but takes occasion to direct his discourse generally to all the godly. The substance of it is this: Those who shall willingly lose all for the sake of Christ, will be more happy even in this life than if they had retained the full possession of them; but the chief reward is laid up for them in heaven.
But what he promises about recompensing them a hundredfold appears not at all to agree with experience; for in the greater number of cases, those who have been deprived of their parents, or children, and other relatives — who have been reduced to widowhood, and stripped of their wealth, for the testimony of Christ — are so far from recovering their property, that in exile, solitude and desertion, they have a hard struggle with severe poverty. I reply, if any man estimate aright the immediate grace of God, by which he relieves the sorrows of his people, he will acknowledge that it is justly preferred to all the riches of the world. For though unbelievers flourish, (Psalms 92:7,) yet as they know not what awaits them on the morro w (James 4:14,) they must be always tossed about in perplexity and terror, and it is only by stupefying themselves in some sort that they can at all enjoy prosperity. (642) Yet God gladdens his people, so that the small portion of good which they enjoy is more highly valued by them, and far sweeter, than if out of Christ they had enjoyed an unlimited abundance of good things. In this sense I interpret the expression used by Mark, with persecutions; as if Christ had said, Though persecutions always await the godly in this world, and though the cross, as it were, is attached to their back, yet so sweet is the seasoning of the grace of God, which gladdens them, that their condition is more desirable than the luxuries of kings.
30.And many that are first shall be last. This sentence was added in order to shake off the indolence of the flesh. The apostles, though they had scarcely begun the course, were hastening to demand the prize. And such is the disposition of almost all of us, that, when a month has elapsed, we ask, like soldiers who have served their time, to receive a discharge. But Christ exhorts those who have begun well (Galatians 3:3) to vigorous perseverance, and at the same time gives warning, that it will be of no avail to runners to have begun with alacrity, if they lose courage in the midst of the course. In like manner Paul also warns us, that not all who run obtain t/re prize, (1 Corinthians 9:24;) and in another passage he exhorts believers, by referring to his own example, to:
forget those things which are behind, and press forward to the remaining portion of their course,
As often, therefore, as we call to mind the heavenly crown, we ought, as it were, to feel the application of fresh spurs, that we may not be more indolent for the future.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 19". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20