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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Luke 12

Verse 5

Luke 12:5

. Yea, I say to you, Fear Him This is an emphatic, (596) repetition of the statement. Christ must be viewed as saying, that when we give way to the dread of men, we pay no respect to God; and that if on the contrary we fear God, we have an easy victory in our hands, so that no efforts of men will draw us aside from our duty. The experience of every age shows the great necessity of this exhortation to the ministers of Christ, and likewise to all believers in general: for there never was a period when men did not rise furiously against God, and endeavor to overwhelm the Gospel. (597) All are not armed indeed with equal power to hold out to believers the dread of death, but the greater number are animated by that savage ferocity, which discovers itself as soon as an opportunity occurs. Frequently, too, Satan brings forward giants, in whose presence the servants of Christ would fall down lifeless, were it not that this doctrine fortifies them to maintain unshaken perseverance.

The two clauses being very closely related to each other, it is an incorrect view which some unskilful persons take, by reading separately this clause, Fear them not For Christ, (as we have already said,) in order to cure that wicked fear of men, which draws us aside from the right path contrasts with it a devout and holy fear of God: otherwise the consequence would not follow that, if we fear God, who is the Lord of body and soul, we have no reason to fear men, whose power goes no farther than the body. With regard to the statement that men have power to kill the body, Christ made it by way of concession. God allows wicked men to enjoy such a degree of liberty, that they are swelled with confidence in their own power, imagine that they may attempt any thing, and even succeed in terrifying weak minds, as if they could do whatever they pleased. Now the proud imaginations of wicked men, as if the life of the godly were placed at their disposal, is utterly unfounded: for God keeps them within limits, and restrains, whenever it pleases him, the cruelty and violence of their attacks. And yet they are said to have power to kill by his permission, for he often permits them to indulge their cruel rage. Besides, our Lord’s discourse consists of two parts. First, in order to instruct us to bear with composure the loss of the bodily life, he bids us contemplate both eternal life and eternal death, and then arrives gradually at this point, that the protection of our life is in the hand of God.

(596) “ Emporte poids;” — “carries weight.

(597) “ S'esforcans d'abattre et exterminer l'Evangile;” — “laboring to destroy and exterminate the Gospel.”

Verse 13

13. Bid my brother divide Our Lord, when requested to undertake the office of dividing an inheritance, refuses to do so. Now as this tended to promote brotherly harmony, and as Christ’s office was, not only to reconcile men to God, but to bring them into a state of agreement with one another, what hindered him from settling the dispute between the two brothers? (265) There appear to have been chiefly two reasons why he declined the office of a judge. First, as the Jews imagined that the Messiah would have an earthly kingdom, (266) he wished to guard against doing any thing that might countenance this error. If they had seen him divide inheritances, the report of that proceeding would immediately have been circulated. Many would have been led to expect a carnal redemption, which they too ardently desired; and wicked men would have loudly declared, that he was effecting a revolution in the state, and overturning the Roman Empire. Nothing could be more appropriate, therefore, than this reply, by which all would be informed, that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual. Let us learn from this to regulate our conduct by prudence, and to undertake nothing which may admit of an unfavorable construction.

Secondly, our Lord intended to draw a distinction between the political kingdoms of this world and the government of his Church; for he had been appointed by the Father to be a Teacher, who should

divide asunder, by the sword of the word, the thoughts and feelings, and penetrate into the souls of men, (Hebrews 4:12,)

but was not a magistrate to divide inheritances This condemns the robbery of the Pope and his clergy, who, while they give themselves out to be pastors of the Church, have dared to usurp an earthly and secular jurisdiction, which is inconsistent with their office; for what is in itself lawful may be improper in certain persons.

There was also in my opinion, a third reason of great weight. Christ saw that this man was neglecting doctrine, and was looking only to his private concerns. This is too common a disease. Many who profess the Gospel do not scruple to make use of it as a false pretense for advancing their private interests, and to plead the authority of Christ as an apology for their gains. From the exhortations (267) which is immediately added, we may readily draw this inference; for if that man had not availed himself of the Gospel as a pretext for his own emolument, Christ would not have taken occasion to give this warning against covetousness The context, therefore, makes it sufficiently evident, that this was a pretended disciple, whose mind was entirely occupied with lands or money.

It is highly absurd in the Anabaptists to infer from this reply, that no Christian man has a right to divide inheritances, to take a part in legal decisions, or to discharge any public office. Christ does not argue from the nature of the thing itself, but from his own calling. Having been appointed by the Father for a different purpose, he declares that he is not a judge, because he has received no such command. Let us hold by this rule, that every one keep within the limits of the calling which God has given him.

(265) “ On pourroit demander qui a empesche qu’il ne se soit entremis d’oster toute occasion de debat entre deux freres ?” — “It might be asked, what hindered him from undertaking to remove all ground of quarrel between two brothers?”

(266) “ Que le Messias regneroit a la facon des princes terriens;” — “that the Messiah would reign in the manner of earthly princes.”

(267) “ En considerant la circonstance de l’exhortation qui est ici adioustee, il est aise a iuger que cestuy-ci estoit mene d’une telle affection perverse;” —”by considering the circumstance of the exhortation which is here added, it may easily be inferred that this man was under the influence of such a wicked disposition.”

Verse 15

15. Take heed and beware of covetousness. Christ first guards his followers against covetousness, and next, in order to cure their minds entirely of this disease, he declares, that our life consisteth not in abundance. These words point out the inward fountain and source, from which flows the mad eagerness for gain. It is because the general belief is, that a man is happy in proportion as he possesses much, and that the happiness of life is produced by riches. Hence arise those immoderate desires, which, like a fiery furnace, send forth their flames, and yet cease not to burn within. If we were convinced that riches, and any kind of abundance, are evils of the present life, which the Lord bestows upon us with his own hand, and the use of which is accompanied by his blessing, this single consideration would have a powerful influence in restraining all wicked desires; and this is what believers have come to learn from their own experience. (268) For whence comes it, that they moderate their wishes, and depend on God alone, but because they do not look upon their life as necessarily connected with abundance, or dependent upon it, but rely on the providence of God, who alone upholds us by his power, and supplies us with whatever is necessary?

(268) “ Ce que les fideles experimentent ton les iours en eux-mesmes estre vray;” — “which believers every day experience in themselves to be true.”

Verse 16

16. And he spoke a parable to them This parable presents to us, as in a mirror, a lively portrait of this sentiment, that men do not live by their abundance. Since the life even of the richest men is taken away in a moment, what avails it that they have accumulated great wealth? All acknowledge it to be true, so that Christ says nothing here but what is perfectly common, and what every man has constantly in his mouth. But where is the man that honestly believes it? Do not all, on the contrary, regulate their life, and arrange their schemes and employments in such a manner as to withdraw to the greatest distance from God, making their life to rest on a present abundance of good things? It is therefore necessary that all should immediately arouse themselves, lest, by imagining their happiness to consist in riches, they entangle themselves in the snares of covetousness.

This parable shows us, first, that the present life is short and transitory. Secondly, it points out to us, that riches are of no avail for prolonging life. We must add a third, which is not expressed, but may easily be inferred from the other two; that it is a most excellent remedy for believers, to ask from the Lord their daily bread, and to rely on his providence alone, whether they are rich or poor.

Verse 17

17. What shall I do? Wicked men are driven to perplexity in their deliberations, because they do not know how any thing is to be lawfully used; (269) and, next, because they are intoxicated with a foolish confidence which makes them forget themselves. Thus we find that this rich man lengthens out his expectation of life in proportion to his large income, and drives far away from him the remembrance of death. And yet this pride is accompanied by distrust; for those men, when they have had their fill, are still agitated by insatiable desire, like this rich man, who enlarges his barns, as if his belly, which had been filled with his former barns, had not got enough. At the same time, Christ does not expressly condemn this man for acting the part of a careful householder in storing up his produce, but because his ravenous desire, like a deep whirlpool, swallows up and devours many barns; from which it follows that he does not comprehend the proper use of an abundant produce.

(269) “ Pource qu’ils ne scavent point quel est le droit et legitime usage des creatures de Dieu;” — “because they know not what is the proper and lawful use of the creatures of God.”

Verse 19

19. Take thine ease, eat, drink, enjoy thyself. When he exhorts himself to eat and drink, he no longer remembers that he is a man, but swells into pride by relying on his abundance. We daily perceive striking instances of this disdainful conduct (270) in irreligious men, who hold up the mass of their riches, as if it were nothing less than a brazen rampart against death. When he says, Eat, my soul, and enjoy thyself, there is an emphatic meaning in this Hebrew idiom; (271) for he addresses himself in such a manner as to imply, that he has all that is necessary for gratifying all his senses and all his desires.

(270) “ D’une telle mecognoissance et fierte;” — “of such ingratitude and pride.”

(271) “ En ceste locution Hebraique il y a une vehemence et proprie plus que les mots n’emportent de prime face;” — “in that Hebrew form of expression there is greater force and propriety than the words at first sight bear.”

Verse 20

20. Fool, this night they will demand thy soul from thee. The word soul carries an allusion. Formerly, the rich man addressed his soul as the seat of all the affections: but now, he speaks of the life itself, or the vital spirit. The words, they will demand, ( ἀπαιτοῦσιν ) though in the plural number, are used indefinitely, and mean nothing more than that the life of the rich man, which he imagined to be in his own power, was at the disposal of another. I advert to this, because some take occasion from them to make unfounded speculations about angels. The design of Christ is simply to show that the life of men, which they imagine to be strongly protected by the fortress of their riches, is every moment (272) taken away. The rich man is thus convicted of folly, in not knowing that his life depended on another.

(272) “ Que d’heure en heure la vie est ostee aux hommes;” — “that from hour to hour the life of man is taken away.”

Verse 21

21. So is he that layeth up for himself. As the two clauses are evidently contrasted, the one must be taken into account for the exposition of the other. Let us ascertain, therefore, what is meant by being rich in God, or, “towards God” or, “with respect to God.” Those who are tolerably acquainted with the Scriptures know that the preposition εἰς not unfrequently takes the sense of ἐν. But whether it be understood in the one sense or in the other, is of little consequence; for the meaning comes to this, that they are rich according to God, who do not trust to earthly things, but depend solely on his providence. It matters not whether they are in abundance or in want, provided that both classes present their sincere prayers to the Lord for their daily bread. The corresponding phrase, layeth up for himself, conveys the idea that this man paid no attention to the blessing of God, but anxiously heaped up an immense store, so that his confidence was shut up in his barns. (273) Hence we may easily conclude that the parable was intended to show, that vain are the deliberations and foolish attempts of those who, trusting to the abundance of their wealth, do not rely on God alone, and are not satisfied with their own share, or prepared for whatever may befall them; (274) and, finally, that such persons will suffer the penalty of their own folly.

(273) “ En sorte que la fiance de l’homme est en ses greniers, ou en ses coffres;” — “so that the confidence of the man is in his granaries, or in his chests.”

(274) “ Estans prests a recevoir ce qu’il plaira a Dieu leur envoyer;” — “being prepared to receive what God may be pleased to send to them.”

Verse 29

Luke 12:29

. And be not lifted on high (460) This clause corresponds to the last sentence in the passage taken from Matthew, Be not anxious about tomorrow Our Lord now charges them with another fault. When men wish to make arrangements in their own favor, they would willingly embrace five centuries. (461) The verb μετεωρίζεσθαι , which Luke employs, properly signifies to survey from a lofty situation, or, as we commonly say, to make long discourses: (462) for the intemperate desires of the flesh are never satisfied without making a hundred revolutions of heaven and earth. The consequence is, that they leave no room for the providence of God. This is a reproof of excessive curiosity; for it leads us to bring upon ourselves uneasiness to no purpose, and voluntarily to make ourselves miserable before the time, (Matthew 8:29.) The expression used by Matthew, its own affliction is sufficient for the day, directs believers to moderate their cares, and not to attempt to carry their foresight beyond the limits of their calling: For, as we have said, it does not condemn every kind of care, but only that which wanders, by indirect and endless circuits, beyond limits.

(460) “ Ne soyez en suspens;” — “be not in suspense.”

(461) “ Embrasseroyent volontiers beaucoup de cent annees;” — “would willingly embrace many hundreds of years.”

(462) “ Regarder en haut, et estendre sa veue bien loin: ce qu'on dit communement, Faire de longs discours, ou estre en suspens, comme aussi nous l’avons traduit.” — “To look from on high, and to extend one’s view very far: as we commonly say, To make long discourses, or to be in suspense, as we have also translated it.”

Verse 32

Luke 12:32

. Fear not, little flock By this declaration our Lord strengthens the confidence to which he had exhorted his people: for how would God refuse worthless and perishing food to those whom he has adopted as heirs of his kingdom? And he expressly calls his own people a little flock, to hinder them from thinking that they are of less value in the sight of God, because, on account of their small numbers, they are held in little estimation before the world. The verb εὐδοκεῖν conveys the idea, that eternal life flows to us from the fountain of undeserved mercy. For the same purpose the word give is added. When Christ plainly declares, that God hath given us the kingdom, and for no other reason, but because it so pleased him, it is perfectly manifest, that it is not obtained by any merits of works. At whatever time the Lord raises our minds to the expectation of eternal life, let us remember, that we have no cause for fear as to daily food.

Verse 36

Luke 12:36

. And you yourselves like men that wait for their master. He uses another parable not mentioned by Matthew, who writes more briefly on this subject; for he compares himself to a householder who, while he is joining in the festivities of the marriage feast, or in other respects indulging in pleasure, out of his own house, wishes his servants to conduct themselves with modesty and sobriety at home, attending to their lawful occupations, and diligently waiting for his return. Now though the Son of God has departed to the blessed rest of heaven, and is absent from us, yet as he has assigned to every one his duty, it would be improper for us to give way to indolent repose. Besides, as he has promised that he will return to us, we ought to hold ourselves prepared, at every moment, to receive him, that he may not find us sleeping. For if a mortal man looks upon it as a duty which his servants owe him, that, at whatever hour he returns home, they shall be prepared to receive him, how much more has he a right to demand from his followers that they shall be sober and vigilant, and always wait for his coming? To excite them to greater alacrity, he mentions that earthly masters are so delighted with such promptitude on the part of their servants, that they even serve them; not that all masters are accustomed to act in this manner, but because it does sometimes happen that a master, who is kind and gentle, admits his servants to his own table, as if they were his companions.

Yet it may be asked, Since Scripture calls us in many passages children of light, (Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5,) and since the Lord also shines upon us by his word, so that we walk as at noon, how does the Lord compare our life to the watches of tire night? But we ought to seek the solution of this difficulty from the words of Peter, who tells us, that the word of God shines like a burning lamp, to enable us distinctly to see our road in a dark place. We ought therefore to attend. to both statements, that our journey must be performed amidst the thick darkness of the world, and yet we are protected from the risk of going astray, while the torch of heavenly doctrine goes before us, more especially when we have Christ himself for a sun.

Verse 47

Luke 12:47

. But that servant. There is great weight in this circumstance, which is mentioned by Luke alone, that, in proportion as any man knowingly and willingly takes pleasure in despising the Lord, he deserves severer punishment. A comparison is made between the greater and the less to this effect: If punishment does not fail to be inflicted on a servant who errs through mistake, what shall become of the wicked and rebellious servant, who purposely, as it were, tramples under foot the authority of his master? It ought to be remembered, however, that those who are appointed to govern the Church do not err through ignorance, but basely and wickedly defraud their Master of his right.

Yet we ought to gather from this passage a general doctrine, that it is in vain for men to betake themselves to the plea of ignorance, in order to be freed from condemnation. For if a mortal man claims the right of demanding from his servants that they shall inquire into his will, so that nothing may be done in his house in a heedless or confused manner; how much greater authority belongs to the Son of God, that they who serve him should be earnestly desirous to be informed about his injunctions, and not rush forward, at their own pleasure, to act in a state of uncertainty, but depend wholly on the intimations of his will; particularly when he has prescribed what we ought to do, and always gives us a gracious answer, when we ask his direction? It is certain, that our ignorance is always accompanied by gross and shameful negligence. We see, indeed, that it is in vain to resort to this subterfuge, that he who has gone wrong through ignorance is not in fault; for, on the contrary, the Heavenly Judge declares, that though such offenders are visited by lighter chastisement, yet they will not be altogether unpunished. And if even ignorance does not excuse men, how dreadful is the vengeance that awaits deliberate transgressors, who with outrageous violence provoke God, in opposition to the dictates of their conscience? The more abundant the instruction, therefore, which any man has received, so much the greater is the ground for punishment, if he be not obedient and submissive. Hence it appears how trifling and worthless is the excuse of those who, now rejecting the plain doctrine of the Gospel, endeavor to screen such obstinacy by the ignorance of their fathers; as if ignorance were an adequate shield to ward off the judgment of God. But granting that faults committed through mistake were pardoned, it would be highly unreasonable that the same favor should be extended to those who sin willfully, since with deliberate malice they rage against God.

Verse 48

48. To whomsoever much hath been given. Christ shows by another circumstance, that the more highly favored disciples ought to be visited with severer punishment, if they despise their calling, and abandon themselves without reserve to every kind of licentiousness; because the more eminent a man is, he ought to consider that so much the more has been entrusted to him, and on the express condition that he shall one day render an account of it. In the same proportion, therefore, as any of us is endued with higher gifts, if he does not, like a field which has been cultivated at greater expense, yield to the Lord more abundant produce, the abuse of that grace which he has profaned, or uselessly withheld, will cost him dear.

Verse 49

49. I am come to send fire on the earth. From these concluding words it may easily be inferred, that this was one of Christ’s latest discourses, and is not related by Luke at the proper place. But the meaning is, that Christ has introduced into the world the utmost confusion, as if he had intended to mingle heaven and earth. The gospel is metaphorically compared to fire, because it violently changes the face of things. The disciples having falsely imagined that, while they were at ease and asleep, the kingdom of God would come, Christ declares, on the contrary, that there must first be a dreadful conflagration to kindle the world. And as some beginnings of it were even then making their appearance, Christ encourages the disciples by this very consideration, that they already feel the power of the gospel. “When great commotions,” says he, “shall already begin to kindle, this is so far from being a reason why you should tremble, that it is rather a ground of strong confidence; and, for my own part, I rejoice that this fruit of my labors is visible.” In like manner, all the ministers of the gospel ought to apply this to themselves, that, when there are troubles in the world, they may be more diligently employed in their duty. It is proper to observe, also, that the same fire of doctrine, when it burns on all sides, consumes chaff and straw, but purifies silver and gold.

Verse 50

50. But I have a baptism to be baptized with. By these words our Lord asserts that there remains nothing but his last act, that by his death he may consecrate the renovation of the world. For since the shaking which he mentioned was appalling, and since that conflagration of the human race was terrific, he is about to show that the first-fruits must be offered in his own person, after which the disciples ought not to be displeased at feeling some portion of it. He compares death—as in other passages—to baptism, (Romans 6:4,) because the children of God, after having been immersed for a time by the death of the body, shortly afterwards rise again to life, so that death is nothing else than a passage through the midst of the waters. He says that he is sorely pressed till that baptism has been accomplished, that he may encourage every one of us, by his example, both to bear the cross and to prefer death. Not that any man can have a natural preference for death, or for any abatement of present happiness, but because, when we contemplate on the farther bank the glory, and the blessed and immortal rest of heaven, we not only suffer death with patience, but are even carried forward by eager desire where faith and hope lead us.

Verse 51

Luke 12:51

. Do you suppose that I came to send peace on the earth? What Christ has now demanded from his disciples any one of them would reckon it an easy matter to give, if the whole world, with one consent, embraced the doctrine of the Gospel. But as a considerable part of the world not only opposes but fights keenly against it, we cannot confess Christ without encountering the resistance and hatred of many. Christ therefore warns his followers to prepare for battle, for they must necessarily fight for the testimony of truth. And here he meets two stumbling-blocks, which otherwise would greatly have distressed weak minds. The prophets everywhere promise that there will be peace and tranquillity under the reign of Christ. What then were his disciples entitled to expect but that, wherever they went, all would instantly be at peace? Now as Christ is called our peace, (Ephesians 2:14,) and as the Gospel reconciles us to God, it follows, that he also establishes a brotherly harmony amongst us. The kindling of wars and contentions in the world where the Gospel is preached, does not seem to agree with the predictions of the prophets, and still less with the office of Christ, and with the nature of the Gospel.

But that peace which the prophets describe in lofty terms, is associated with faith, and has no existence but among the sincere worshippers of God, and in the consciences of the godly. To unbelievers it does not come, though it is offered to them; nay, they cannot endure to be reconciled to God: and the consequence is, that the message of peace excites in them a greater tumult than before. As Satan, who holds a kingly power over the reprobate, is furious against the name of Christ, as soon as the doctrine of the Gospel is proclaimed to them, their impiety, which formerly lay asleep, acquires fresh vigor. Thus Christ, who properly speaking, is the author of peace, becomes the occasion of disturbances in consequence of the wickedness of men.

Let us hence learn how great is the depravity of corrupt nature, which not only soils a gift so inestimable, but changes it into a most destructive evil. Meanwhile, if tumults arise at the commencement of the reign of Christ, let us not be alarmed at it, as if it were strange or unusual: for he compares his Gospel to a sword, and says that it is διαμερισμὸς, separation Some think that this is intended to describe the punishment which was inflicted on the despisers of the Gospel, by their rising in hostility against each other. But the context shows, that Christ is here exhorting his disciples to perseverance, though a good part of the world should be at variance with them, and though their voice should be like a war-trumpet to call innumerable enemies to arms.

Verse 57

Luke 12:57

. And why even of yourselves, etc.? Here Christ opens up the source of the evil, and, as it were, applies the lancet to the ulcer. He tells them that they do not descend into their consciences, and there examine with themselves, as in the presence of God, what is right. The reason why hypocrites are so much disposed to make objections is, that they throw their swelling words into the air without any concern, and never exercise calm thought, or place themselves at the tribunal of God, that the truth, when once ascertained, may be fully embraced. When Luke says that this was spoken to the multitudes, he does not contradict the narrative of Matthew and Mark; for it is probable that Christ adapted his style generally to the followers and disciples of the scribes, and to other despisers of God who resembled them, of whom he perceived that there were too many; as the present complaint or expostulation was applicable to the whole of that rabble.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Luke 12". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/luke-12.html. 1840-57.