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Christ now confirms again what we have seen that he had sometimes predicted to his disciples; but this last prediction clearly shows how willingly he offered himself to die; and it was necessary that he should do so, because God could not be appeased but by a sacrifice of obedience. He intended, at the same time, to prevent the disciples from taking offense, lest they might be altogether discouraged by the thought that he was dragged to death by necessity. Two purposes were thus served by this statement: to testify, first, that the Son of God willingly surrendered himself to die, in order to reconcile the world to the Father, (for in no other way could the guilt of sins have been expiated, or righteousness obtained for us;) and, secondly, that he did not die like one oppressed by violence which he could not escape, but because he voluntarily offered himself to die. He therefore declares that he comes to Jerusalem with the express intention of suffering death there; for while he was at liberty to withdraw and to dwell in a safe retreat till that time was come, he knowingly and willfully comes forward at the exact time. And though it was of no advantage to the disciples to be informed, at that time, of the obedience which he was rendering to the Father, yet afterwards this doctrine tended in no small degree to the edification of their faith. In like manner, it is of singular utility to us at the present day, because we behold, as in a bright mirror, the voluntary sacrifice, by which all the transgressions of the world were blotted out, and, contemplating the Son of God advancing with cheerfulness and courage to death, we already behold him victorious over death.
. Then were assembled the chief priests. Matthew does not mean that they assembled during the two days, but introduces this narrative to show, that Christ was not led by any opinion of man to fix the day of his death; for by what conjectures could he have been led to it, since his enemies themselves had resolved to delay for a time? The meaning therefore is, that by the spirit of prophecy he spoke of his own death, which no man could have suspected to be so near at hand. John explains the reason why the scribes and priests held this meeting: it was because, from day to day, the people flocked to Christ in greater multitudes, (John 11:48.) And at that time it was decided, at the instigation of Caiaphas, that he should be put to death, because they could not succeed against him in any other way.
5. But they said, Not during the festival. They did not think it a fit season, till the festival was past, and the crowd was dispersed. Hence we infer that, although those hungry dogs eagerly opened their mouths to devour Christ, or rather, rushed furiously upon him, still God withheld them, by a secret restraint, from doing any thing by their deliberation or at their pleasure. So far as lies in their power, they delay till another time; but, contrary to their wish, God hastens the hour. And it is of great importance for us to hold, that Christ was not unexpectedly dragged to death by the violence of his enemies, but was led to it by the providence of God; for our confidence in the propitiation is founded on the conviction that he was offered to God as that sacrifice which God had appointed from the beginning. And therefore he determined that; his Son should be sacrificed on the very day of the passover, that the ancient figure might give place to the only sacrifice of eternal redemption. Those who had no other design in view than to ruin Christ thought that another time would be more appropriate; but God, who had appointed him to be a sacrifice for the expiation of sins, selected a suitable day for contrasting the body with its shadow, by placing them together. Hence also we obtain a brighter display of the fruit of Christ’s suffering.
6. And when Jesus was in Bethany. What the Evangelist now relates had happened a little before Christ came to Jerusalem, but is here introduced seasonably, in order to inform us what was the occasion that suddenly drove the priests to make haste. They did not venture to attack Christ by open violence, and to oppress him by stratagem was no easy matter; but now that Judas suggests to them a plan of which they had not thought, the very facility of execution leads them to adopt a different opinion. As to some slight diversity between John’s narrative and that of Matthew and Mark, it is easy to remove the apparent inconsistency, which has led some commentators erroneously to imagine that it is a different narrative. John 12:3 expresses the name of the woman who anointed Christ, which is omitted by the other two Evangelists; but he does not mention the person who received Christ as a guest, while Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14:3 expressly state that he was then at supper in the house of Simon the leper. As to its being said by John that his feet were anointed, while the other two Evangelists say that she anointed his head, this involves no contradiction. Unquestionably we know that anointments were not poured on the feet; but as it was then poured in greater abundance than usual, John, by way of amplification, informs us that Christ’s very feet were moistened with the oil. Mark too relates, that she broke the alabaster-box, and poured the whole of the ointment on his head; and it agrees very well with this to say that it flowed down to his feet. Let us therefore hold it to be a settled point, that all the three Evangelists relate the same narrative.
8. And when the disciples saw it. This also is not unusual with the Evangelists, when a thing has been done by one, to attribute it to many persons, if they give their consent to it. John says that the murmur proceeded from Judas, who betrayed Christ, (John 12:4.) Matthew and Mark include all the disciples along with him. The reason is, that none of the others would ever have dared to murmur if the wicked slander of Judas had not served for a torch to kindle them. But when he began, under a plausible pretext, to condemn the expense as superfluous, all of them easily caught the contagion. And this example shows what danger arises from malignant and envenomed tongues; for even those who are naturally reasonable, and candid, and modest, if they do not exercise prudence and caution, are easily deceived by unfavorable speeches, and led to adopt false judgments. But if light and foolish credulity induced the disciples of Christ to take part with Judas, what shall become of us, if we are too easy in admitting murmurers, who are in the habit of carping wickedly at the best actions?
We ought to draw from it another warning, not to pronounce rashly on a matter which is not sufficiently known. The disciples seize on what Judas said, and, as it has some show of plausibility, they are too harsh in forming a judgment. They ought, on the contrary, to have inquired more fully if the action deserved reproof; more especially when their Master was present, by whose decision it was their duty to abide. Let us know, therefore, that we act improperly, when we form our opinion without paying regard to the word of God; for, as Paul informs us,
None of us liveth or dieth to himself, but all must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, where we must give our account, (Romans 14:7; 2 Corinthians 5:10.)
And though there was a wide difference between Judas and the others — because he wickedly held out a plausible cloak for his theft, while the rest were actuated by foolish simplicity — still we see how their imprudence withdrew them from Christ, and made them the companions of Judas.
10. Why do you trouble the woman? It is wonderful that Christ, whose whole life was a rule and pattern of temperance and frugality, now approves of immoderate expense, which appears to have been closely allied to luxury and superfluous indulgence. But we must observe the kind of defense which he employs; for he does not maintain that the woman did right, in such a manner as if he wished that the same thing should be done every day, but maintains that what she had done in a single instance was agreeable to God, because it must have been done for a good reason. Though Christ had no desire for the use of the ointment, yet this anointing pleased him on account of the circumstances in which it happened. Hence we infer that certain extraordinary ways of acting are sometimes approved by God, and yet that it would be improper to make them an example. Nor have we any reason to doubt that Mary was led by a secret movement of the Spirit to anoint Christ; as it is certain that, whenever the saints were called to any extraordinary performance, they were led by an unusual movement, so as not to attempt any thing without the guidance and authority of God. There was no precept in existence enjoining on Mary this anointing, nor was it necessary that a law should be laid down for every single action; but as the heavenly calling is the only origin and principle of proper conduct, and as God rejects every thing which men undertake at their own suggestion, Mary was directed by the inspiration of the Spirit, so that this duty, which she performed to Christ, was founded on assured confidence.
For she hath performed a good action towards me. By this reply, Christ not merely defended the cause of one woman, but likewise maintained the holy boasting of all who rest satisfied with having themselves and their works approved by God. It will often happen that not only censure, but open condemnation, is pronounced on godly men, who are convinced in their own consciences that what they do is agreeable to the command of God; and it is ascribed to pride, if they set at naught the false judgments of the world, and rest satisfied with being approved by God alone. Since this is a hard temptation, and since it is scarcely possible not to be shaken by the agreement of many people against us, even when they are in the wrong, we ought to hold this doctrine, that none will ever be courageous and steady in acting properly, unless they depend solely on the will of God. And therefore Christ settles here the distinction between what is good and evil by his own solitary decision: for by affirming that what the woman has done is a good action, when that action had been already condemned by the disciples, he represses by this word the rashness of men, who freely allow themselves to pronounce judgment.
Relying on this testimony, let us learn to set little value on any reports concerning us that are spread abroad in the world, provided we know that what men condemn God approves. In this manner Isaiah, when oppressed by wicked calumnies, makes reference to God as his voucher, (Isaiah 50:7,) and Paul likewise appeals to the day of the Lord, (1 Corinthians 4:3.) Let us therefore learn to pay no deference to the opinions of men farther than that they may be edified by our example in obedience to God, and when the world rises against us with a loud noise, let us satisfy ourselves with this consolation, that what is reckoned bad on earth is pronounced to be good in heaven.
11. For you have the poor always with you. Christ does not simply defend the anointing, so that we may imitate it, but assures us that it pleases God on some particular account. This must be carefully weighed, that we may not fall into the error of contriving expensive modes of worshipping God, as the Papists do; for, hearing it said that Christ was pleased with being anointed by Mary, they supposed that he took delight in incense, wax-tapers, splendid decorations, and pompous exhibitions of that nature. Hence arises the great display which is to be found in their ceremonies; and they do not believe that they will worship God in a proper manner, if they are not immoderate in expense. But Christ plainly makes this exception, that what he wished to be done once would not be agreeable to him in future. For by saying that the poor will always be in the world, he distinguishes between the ordinary service, which ought to be maintained among believers, and that extraordinary service, which ceased after his ascension to heaven.
Do we wish to lay out our money properly on true sacrifices? Let us bestow it on the poor, for Christ says that he is not with us, to be served by outward display. True, indeed, we know and fed by the experience of faith, that he is present with us by power and spiritual grace; but he is not visibly with us, so as to receive from us earthly honors. How utterly mad, therefore, is the obstinacy of those who press upon him foolish expenses which he does not choose, and which he absolutely refuses! Again, when he says that the poor will always be with us, we infer from it, that if many are in poverty, this does not arise from accident, but that, by a fixed purpose, God presents to us those on whom our charity may be exercised. In short, this passage teaches us that, though the Lord commands us to dedicate to him ourselves and all our property, yet, with respect to himself, lie demands no worship but that which is spiritual, and which is attended by no expense, but rather desires us to bestow on the poor what superstition foolishly expends on the worship of God.
12 She hath done it to bury me. By these words Christ confirms what we have said, that the precious ointment was not valued by him on account of its odor, but solely in reference to his burial. It was because he wished to testify by this symbol, that his grave would yield a sweet odor, as it breathed life and salvation through the whole world. Accordingly, we are told by John (John 12:7) that Christ praised Mary for having reserved that anointing till the day of his burial. But since the truth of this figure has been made fully apparent, and since Christ, in departing from the sepulcher, perfumed not one house, but the whole world, by the quickening odor of his death, it would be childish to repeat an action for which no reason and no advantage could be assigned.
13. Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached. He says that this action will do honor to Mary, because it will be praised by the doctrine of the gospel. Hence we infer, that we ought to estimate our works not by the opinion of men, but by the testimony of the word of God. When he says that she will be held in honorable remembrance throughout the whole world, by this comparison he indirectly censures his disciples; for among strangers, and in distant parts of the world, all nations, with one consent, will applaud this action, which the members of his own household condemned with such bitterness. Christ gently reproves the disciples also, for not entertaining sufficiently honorable views of his future reign; but at the same time, by this expression he bears testimony to the calling of the Gentiles, on which our salvation is founded. In what sense the gospel must be preached throughout the whole world, we have explained under Matthew 24:14
. Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot. Christ’s admonition was so far from being of any avail for softening the heart of Judas, or producing any change in it for the better, that he immediately went away, without any concern, to transact an infamous bargain with his enemies. It was amazing and prodigious stupidity, that he considered himself to have found, in the expense of the ointment, a fair excuse for so heinous a crime; and next, that, after having been warned by the words of Christ, he did not perceive what he was doing. (180) The bare mention of the burying ought to have softened a heart of iron; for it would have been easy to infer from it, that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for the salvation of the human race. But we see in this mirror how great is the blindness of wicked desires, and how powerfully they fascinate the mind. Judas was inflamed with the desire to steal; long practice had hardened him in wickedness; and now when he meets with no other prey, he does not scruple to betray basely to death the Son of God, the Author of life, and, though restrained by a holy admonition, rushes violently forward.
With good reason, therefore, does Luke expressly say that Satan entered into him; not that the Spirit of God formerly directed him, for he would not have been addicted to theft and robbery, if he had not been the slave of Satan. But Luke means, that he was at that time wholly given up to Satan, so that, like a desperate man, he violently sought his destruction. For though Satan drives us every day to crimes, and reigns in us, when he hurries us into a course of extraordinary wickedness; yet he is said to enter into the reprobate, when he takes possession of all their senses, overthrows the fear of God, extinguishes the light of reason, and destroys every feeling of shame. This extremity of vengeance God does not execute on any but those who are already devoted to destruction. Let us therefore learn to repent early, lest our long-continued harshness should confirm the reign of Satan within us; for as soon as we have been abandoned to this tyranny, his rage will have no bounds. It is particularly worthy of notice, that the cause and source of so great blindness in Judas was avarice, which makes it evident that it is justly denominated by Paul the root of all evils, (1 Timothy 6:10.) To inquire here whether or not Satan entered into Judas bodily is an idle speculation. We ought rather to consider how fearfully monstrous it is, that men formed after the image of God, and appointed to be temples for the Holy Spirit, should not only be turned into filthy stables or sinks, but should become the wretched abodes of Satan.
(180) “ Que c’estoit qu’il alloit faire;” — “what he was going to do.”
17. Now on the first day of unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus. It is first inquired, Why does the day which preceded the sacrificing of the lamb receive the name of the day of unleavened bread? For the Law did not forbid the use of leaven till the lamb was eaten, (Exodus 12:18.) But this difficulty may be speedily removed, for the phrase refers to the following day, as is sufficiently evident from Mark and Luke. Since, therefore, the day of killing and eating the passover was at hand, the disciples ask Christ where he wishes them to eat the passover.
But hence arises a more difficult question. How did Christ observe that ceremony on the day before the whole nation celebrated the public passover? For John plainly affirms that the day on which Christ was crucified was, among the Jews, the preparation, not of the Sabbath, but of the passover, (John 19:14;) and that
they did not enter into the hall of judgment, lest they should be defiled, because next day they were to eat the passover, (John 18:28.)
I am aware that there are some who resort to evasions, which do not, however, give them any relief; for no sophistry can set aside the fact; that, on the day they crucified Christ, they did not keep the feast, (when it would not have been lawful to have any public executions) and that they had, at that the a solemn preparation, so that they ate the passover after that Christ had been buried.
It comes now to be inquired, Why did Christ anticipate? For it must not be supposed that, in this ceremony, he took any liberty which was at variance with the prescriptions of the Law. As to the notion entertained by some, that the Jews, through their eagerness to put Christ to death, delayed the passover, it is ably refuted by Bucer, and, indeed, falls to the ground by its own absurdity. I have no doubt, therefore, that Christ observed the day appointed by the Law, and that the Jews followed a custom which had been long in use. First, it is beyond a doubt that Christ was put to death on the day before the Sabbath; for he was hastily buried before sunset in a sepulcher which was at hand, (John 19:42,) because it was necessary to abstain from work after the commencement of the evening. Now it is universally admitted that, by an ancient custom, when the passover and other festivals happened on Friday, they were delayed till the following day, because the people would have reckoned it hard to abstain from work on two successive days. The Jews maintain that this law was laid down immediately after the return of the people from the Babylonish captivity, and that it was done by a revelation from heaven, that they may not be thought to have made any change, of their own accord, in the commandments of God.
Now if it was the custom, at that time, to join two festivals in one, (as the Jews themselves admit, and as their ancient writings prove,) it is a highly probable conjecture that Christ, who celebrated the passover on the day before the Sabbath, observed the day prescribed by the Law; for we know how careful he was not to depart from a single iota of the Law. Having determined to be subject to the Law, that he might deliver us from its yoke, he did not forget this subjection at his latest hour; and therefore he would rather have chosen to omit an outward ceremony, than to transgress the ordinance which God had appointed, and thus lay himself open to the slanders of wicked men. Even the Jews themselves unquestionably will not deny that, whenever the Sabbath immediately followed the passover, it was on one day, instead of both, that they abstained from work, and that this was enjoined by the Rabbins. Hence it follows that Christ, in departing from the ordinary custom, attempted nothing contrary to the Law.
18. Go into the city to such a man. Matthew specifies a certain man; the other two Evangelists relate that the disciples were sent as to an unknown individual, because a sign was given to them of a man carrying a pitcher of water. But this difference is easily reconciled; for Matthew passing by the miracle, describes that man who was then unknown to the disciples; for it cannot be doubted that, when they came to the house, they found that it was one of their acquaintances. Christ enjoins him authoritatively to make ready a lodging for himself and his disciples, calling him master; and the man immediately complies But though he might have expressly pointed out the man by name, he chose rather to direct his disciples to him by a miracle, that, when they shortly afterwards saw him reduced to a state of weakness, their faith might remain firm, being supported by this evidence. It was no slight confirmation that, a few hours before he was put to death, he had given an undoubted proof that he was God, that they might know that he was not constrained by necessity, but yielded of his own accord. And though at the very time when the weariness occurred, this was perhaps of no advantage to them, yet the recollection of it was afterwards useful; as even in the present day, in order to rise above the offense of the cross, it is of great importance to us to know that, along with the weakness of the flesh, the glory of divinity appeared in Christ about the very time of his death.
My time is near. Though he celebrated the passover correctly according to the injunction of the Law, yet he appears to assign this reason for the express purpose of avoiding the blame of self-will. He says, therefore, that there are reasons why he must make haste, and not comply with a received custom, because he is called to a greater sacrifice. And yet, as we have said, he introduces no change in the ceremony, but repeats once and again, that the time of his death is near, in order to inform them that he hastens cheerfully to do what the Father had appointed. And as to his connecting the figure of the sacrifice with the reality, in this way he exhorted believers to compare with the ancient figures what he accomplished in reality. This comparison is highly fitted to illustrate the power and efficacy of his death; for the passover was enjoined on the Jews, not merely to remind them of an ancient deliverance, but also that they might expect future and more excellent deliverance from Christ. Such is the import of what Paul says, that
Christ our passover is sacrificed for us, (1 Corinthians 5:7.)
19. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them. The readiness with which the disciples comply ought to be observed as a proof of their holy submission; for a doubt might naturally arise, when in search of an unknown man, whether they would obtain from the master of the house what they asked by their Master’s command, while they were aware that everywhere he was not only despised but even hated. Yet they make no anxious inquiry about the result, but peaceably obey the injunction. And if we are desirous to have our faith approved, we ought to abide by this rule, to be satisfied with the command alone and go forward wherever God commands, and, expecting the success which he promises, not to indulge in excessive anxiety.
20. When the evening was come, he sat down at table. Not to eat the passover, which they were bound to do standing, as travelers, when they are in haste, are wont to take food hastily,
with shoes on their feet, and a staff in their hand, (Exodus 12:11;)
but I consider the meaning to be, that after having observed the solemn rite, he sat down at table to supper. Accordingly, the Evangelists say, when the evening was come: for, at the commencement of the evening, they killed the lamb, and ate the flesh of it roasted.
. One of you will betray me. To render the treachery of Judas more detestable, he points out the aggravated baseness of it by this circumstance, that he was meditating the act of betraying him while he sat with him at the holy table. For if a stranger had done this, it would have been more easily endured; but that one of his intimate friends should form such a design, and — what is more — that, after having entered into an infamous bargain, he should be present at the sacred banquet, was incredibly monstrous. And therefore Luke employs a connecting particle which marks a contrast: but yet, ( πλὴν) lo, the hand of him that betrayeth me. And though Luke adds this saying of Christ after the supper was finished, we cannot obtain from it any certainty as to the order of time, which, we know, was often disregarded by the Evangelists. Yet I do not deny that it is probable that Judas was present, when Christ distributed to his disciples the symbols of his flesh and blood.
22. They began every one of them to say to him. I do not think that the disciples were alarmed, as persons struck with terror are wont to give themselves uneasiness without any reason; but, abhorring the crime, they are desirous to clear themselves from the suspicion of it. It is, indeed, a mark of reverence, that when indirectly blamed, they do not reply angrily to their Master, but each person constitutes himself his own judge, (as the object which we ought chiefly to aim at is, to be acquitted by his own mouth;) but, relying on a good conscience, they wish to declare frankly how far they are from meditating such a crime.
23. But he answering said. Christ, by his reply, neither removes their doubt, nor points out the person of Judas, but only confirms what he said a little before, that one of his friends sitting at the table is the traitor. And though they thought it hard to be left in suspense and perplexity for a time, that they might employ themselves in contemplating the atrocity of the crime, it was afterwards followed by another advantage, when they perceived that the prediction of the psalm was fulfilled,
He that ate pleasant food with me (184) hath lifted up his heel against me, (Psalms 41:10.)
Besides, in the person of Judas, our Lord intended to admonish his followers in all ages, not to be discouraged or faint on account of intimate friends proving to be traitors; because the same thing that was experienced by Him who is the Head of the whole Church, must happen to us who are members of it.
(184) “ Celuy qui mangeoit en ami avec moy ; ” — “ he that ate with me as a friend. ”
24. The Son of man indeed goeth. Here Christ meets an offense, which might otherwise have greatly shaken pious minds. For what could be more unreasonable than that the Son of God should be infamously betrayed by a disciple, and abandoned to the rage of enemies, in order to be dragged to an ignominious death? But Christ declares that all this takes place only by the will of God; and he proves this decree by the testimony of Scripture, because God formerly revealed, by the mouth of his Prophet, what he had determined.
We now perceive what is intended by the words of Christ. It was, that the disciples, knowing that what was done was regulated by the providence of God, might not imagine that his life or death was determined by chance. But the usefulness of this doctrine extends much farther; for never are we fully confirmed in the result of the death of Christ, till we are convinced that he was not accidentally dragged by men to the cross, but that the sacrifice had been appointed by an eternal decree of God for expiating the sins of the world. For whence do we obtain reconciliation, but because Christ has appeased the Father by his obedience? Wherefore let us always place before our minds the providence of God, which Judas himself, and all wicked men — though it is contrary to their wish, and though they have another end in view — are compelled to obey. Let us always hold this to be a fixed principle, that Christ suffered, because it pleased God to have such an expiation.
And yet Christ does not affirm that Judas was freed from blame, on the ground that he did nothing but what God had appointed. For though God, by his righteous judgment, appointed for the price of our redemption the death of his Son, yet nevertheless, Judas, in betraying Christ, brought upon himself righteous condemnation, because he was full of treachery and avarice. In short, God’s determination that the world should be redeemed, does not at all interfere with Judas being a wicked traitor. Hence we perceive, that though men can do nothing but what God has appointed, still this does not free them from condemnation, when they are led by a wicked desire to sin. For though God directs them, by an unseen bridle, to an end which is unknown to them, nothing is farther from their intention than to obey his decrees. Those two principles, no doubt, appear to human reason Lo be inconsistent with each other, that God regulates the affairs of men by his Providence in such a manner, that nothing is done but by his will and command, and yet he damns the reprobate, by whom he has carried into execution what he intended. But we see how Christ, in this passage, reconciles both, by pronouncing a curse on Judas, though what he contrived against God had been appointed by God; not that Judas’s act of betraying ought strictly to be called the work of God, but because God turned the treachery of Judas so as to accomplish His own purpose.
I am aware of the manner in which some commentators endeavor to avoid this rock. They acknowledge that what had been written was accomplished through the agency of Judas, because God testified by predictions what He fore-knew. By way of softening the doctrine, which appears to them to be somewhat harsh, they substitute the foreknowledge of God in place of the decree, as if God merely beheld from a distance future events, and did not arrange them according to his pleasure. But very differently does the Spirit settle this question; for not only does he assign as the reason why Christ was delivered up, that it was so written, but also that it was so determined. For where Matthew and Mark quote Scripture, Luke leads us direct to the heavenly decree, saying, according to what was determined; as also in the Acts of the Apostles, he shows that Christ was delivered not only by the foreknowledge, but likewise by the fixed purpose of God, (Acts 2:25) and a little afterwards, that Herod and Pilate, with other wicked men,
did those things which had been fore-ordained by the hand and purpose of God, (Acts 4:27.)
Hence it is evident that it is but an ignorant subterfuge which is employed by those who betake themselves to bare foreknowledge.
It had been good for that man. By this expression we are taught what a dreadful vengeance awaits the wicked, for whom it would have been better that they had never been born. And yet this life, though transitory, and full of innumerable distresses, is an invaluable gift of God. Again, we also infer from it, how detestable is their wickedness, which not only extinguishes the precious gifts of God, and turns them to their destruction, but makes it to have been better for them that they had never tasted the goodness of God. But this phrase is worthy of observation, it would have been good for that man if he had never been born; for though the condition of Judas was wretched, yet to have created hint was good in God, who, appointing the reprobate to the day of destruction, illustrates also in this way his own glory, as Solomon tells us:
The Lord hath made all things for himself; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil, (Proverbs 16:4.)
The secret government of God, which provides even the schemes and works of men, is thus vindicated, as I lately noticed, from all blame and suspicion.
25. And Judas who betrayed him. Though we often see persons trembling, who are conscious of doing wrong, yet along with dread and secret torments there is mingled such stupidity, that they boldly make a fiat denial; but in the end they gain nothing by their impudence but to expose their hidden wickedness. Thus Judas, while he is restrained by an evil conscience, cannot remain silent; so dreadfully is he tormented, and, at the same time, overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, by that internal executioner. Christ, by indirectly glancing, in his reply, at the foolish rashness of Judas, entreats him to consider the crime which he wished to conceal; but his mind, already seized with diabolical rage, could not admit such a sentiment. Let us learn from this example, that the wicked, by bold apologies, do nothing more than draw down upon themselves a more sudden judgment.
. And while they were eating, Jesus took bread. I do not understand these words to mean that with the paschal supper was mixed this new and more excellent supper, but rather that an end was then put to the former banquet. This is still more clearly expressed by Luke, when he says that, Christ gave the cup after that he had supped; for it would have been absurd that one and the same mystery should be broken off by an interval of time. And therefore I have no doubt that, in immediate succession, after having distributed the bread, he added the cup; and what Luke relates particularly respecting the cup, I regard as including also the bread. While they were eating, therefore, Christ took bread, to invite them to partake of a new supper. (190) The thanksgiving was a sort of preparation and transition to consider the mystery. Thus when the supper was ended, they tasted the sacred bread and wine; because Christ had previously aroused them from their indifference, that they might be all alive to so lofty a mystery. And, indeed, the nature of the case demands that this clear testimony of the spiritual life should be distinguished from the ancient shadow.
Jesus took bread. It is uncertain if the custom which is now observed among the Jews was at that time in use: for the master of the house breaks off a portion of a common loaf, hides it under the table-cloth, and afterwards distributes a part of it to, each member of the family. But as this is a human tradition not founded on any commandment of God, we need not toil with excessive eagerness to investigate its origin; and it is possible that it may have been afterwards contrived, by a trick of Satan, for the purpose of obscuring the mystery of the Lord’s Supper. And even if this ceremony was at that time in use among the Jews, Christ followed the ordinary custom in such a manner as to draw away the minds of his followers to another object, by changing the use of the bread for a different purpose. This, at least, ought to be considered as beyond all controversy, that Christ, at this time, abolished the figures of the Law, and instituted a new Sacrament.
When he had given thanks. Matthew and Mark employ the word εὐλογήσας (191) (having blessed;) but as Luke employs, instead of it, the word εὐχαριστήσας (having given thanks,) there can be no doubt as to the meaning; and as they afterwards use the word thanksgiving in reference to the cup, they expound with sufficient clearness the former term. So much the more ridiculous is the ignorance of the Papists, who express the blessing by the sign of the cross, as if Christ had practiced some kind of exorcising. But we must recollect what I lately noticed, that this thanksgiving is connected with a spiritual mystery. While it is true that believers are commanded to give thanks to God, because he supports them in this fading life, Christ did not merely refer to ordinary eating, but directed his view to the holy action, in order to thank God for the eternal salvation of the human race. For if the food which descends into the belly ought to persuade and arouse us to praise the fatherly kindness of God, how much more powerfully does it excite and even inflame, us to this act of piety, when he feeds our souls spiritually?
Take, eat. That I may not be too tedious, I shall only explain briefly what is the nature of our Lord’s institution, and what it contains; and, next, what is its end and us so far as it may be learned from the Evangelists. And, first of all, it strikes us, that Christ instituted a supper, which the disciples partake in company with each other. Hence it follows, that it is a diabolical invention, that a man, separating himself from the rest of the company, eats his supper apart. For what two things could be more inconsistent than that the bread should be distributed among them all, and that a single individual should swallow it alone? Although then the Papists boast, that in their masses they have the substance of the Lord’s Supper, yet it is evident from the nature of the case, that whenever they celebrate private masses, they are so many trophies erected by the devil for burying the Lord’s Supper.
The same words teach us what sort of sacrifice it is that Christ recommends to us in the Supper. He bids his disciples take; and therefore it is himself alone that offers. What the Papists contrive, as to Christ’s offering himself in the Supper, proceeded from an opposite author. And certainly it is a strange inversion, ( ἀναστροφὴ,) when a mortal man, who is commanded to take the body of Christ, claims the office of offering it; and thus a priest, who has been appointed by himself, sacrifices to God his own Son. I do not at present inquire with how many acts of sacrilege their pretended offering abounds. It is sufficient for my purpose, that it is so far from approaching to Christ’s institution, that it is directly opposed to it.
This is my body. As to the opinion entertained by some, that by those words the bread was consecrated, so as to become the symbol of the flesh of Christ, I do not find fault with it, provided that the word consecrated be understood aright, and in a proper sense. So then, the bread, which had been appointed for the nourishment of the body, is chosen and sanctified by Christ to a different use, so as to begin to be spiritual food. And this is the conversion (192) which is spoken of by the ancient doctors (193) of the Church. But we must at the same time hold, that bread is not consecrated by whispering and breathing, but by the clear doctrine of faith. And certainly it is a piece of magic and sorcery, when the consecration is addressed to the dead element; for the bread is made not to itself, but to us, a symbol of the body of Christ. In short, consecration is nothing else than a solemn testimony, by which the Lord appoints to us for a spiritual use an earthly and corruptible sign; which cannot take place, unless his command and promise are distinctly heard for the edification of faith; from which again it is evident, that the low whispering and breathing of the Papists are a wicked profanation of the mystery. Now if Christ consecrates the bread, when he declares to us that it is his body, we must not suppose that there is any change of the substance, but must only believe that it is applied to a new purpose. And if the world had not been long ago so bewitched by the subtlety of the devil, that, when the monster of transubstantiation had once been introduced, it will not now admit any light of true interpretation on these words, it would be superfluous to spend any more time in investigating their meaning.
Christ declares that the bread is his body. These words relate to a sacrament; and it must be acknowledged, that a sacrament consists of a visible sign, with which is connected the thing signified, which is the reality of it. It must be well known, on the other hand, that the name of the thing signified is transferred to the sign; and therefore, no person who is tolerably well acquainted with Scripture will deny that a sacramental mode of expression ought to be taken metonymically. (194) I pass by general figures, which occur frequently in Scripture, and only say this: whenever an outward sign is said to be that which it represents, it is universally agreed to be an instance of metonymy. If baptism be called the laver of regeneration, (Titus in. 5;) if the rock, from which water flowed to the Fathers in the wilderness, be called Christ, (1 Corinthians 10:4;) if a dove be called the Holy Spirit, (John 1:32;) no man will question but the signs receive the name of the things which they represent. How comes it, then, that persons who profess to entertain a veneration for the words of the Lord will not permit us to apply to the Lord’s Supper what is common to all the sacraments?
They are delighted with the plain and literal sense. Why then shall not the same rule apply to all the sacraments? Certainly, if they do not admit that the Rock was actually Christ, the calumny with which they load us is mere affectation. If we explain that the bread is called his body, because it is the symbol of his body, they allege that the whole doctrine of Scripture is overturned. For this principle of language has not been recently forged by us, but has been handed down by Augustine on the authority of the ancients, and embraced by all, that the names of spiritual things are improperly ascribed to signs, and that all the passages of Scripture, in which the sacraments are mentioned, ought to be explained in this manner. When we bring forward a principle which has been universally admitted, what purpose does it serve to raise a loud clamor, as if it were something new and strange? But let obstinate people cry out as they please, all men of sound judgment and modesty will admit, that in these words of Christ there is a sacramental form of expression. Hence it follows, that the bread is called his body, because it is a symbol of the body of Christ.
Now there are two classes of men that rise up against us. The Papists, deceived by their transubstantiation, maintain that what we see is not bread, because it is only the appearance that remains without the reality. But their absurd fancy is refuted by Paul, who asserts that
the bread which we break is the communion of the body of Christ, (1 Corinthians 10:16.)
Besides, their notion is at variance with the very nature of a sacrament, which will not possess all that is essential to it, if there be not a true outward symbol. For whence shall we learn that our souls feed on the flesh of Christ, if what is placed before our eyes be not bread, but an empty form? Besides, what will they say about the other symbol? For Christ does not say, This is my blood, but, this cup is the new testament in my blood. According to their view, therefore, not only the wine, but also the materials of which the cup is composed, must be transubstantiated into blood. Again, the words related by Matthew — I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine — plainly show that what he delivered to the disciples to drink was wine; so that in every way the ignorance of the Papists is fully exposed.
But there are others who reject the figure, and, like madmen, unsay what they had just said. According to them, bread is truly and properly body; for they disapprove of transubstantiation, as wholly devoid of reason and plausibility. But when the question is put to them, if Christ be bread and wine, they reply that the bread is called body, because under it and along with it the body is received in the Lord’s Supper. But from this reply it may be readily concluded, that the word body is improperly applied to the bread, which is a sign of it. And since those men have constantly in their mouth, that Christ spoke thus in reference to a sacramental union, it is strange that they do not consider what they say. For what is the nature of a sacramental union between a thing and its sign? Is it not because the Lord, by the secret power of his Spirit, fulfills what he promises? So then those later instructions about the letter are not less absurd than the Papists.
Hitherto I have pointed out the simple exposition of the words of our Lord. But now I must add, that it is not an empty or unmeaning sign which is held out to us, but those who receive this promise by faith are actually made partakers of his flesh and blood. For in vain would the Lord command his people to eat bread, declaring that it is his body, if the effect were not truly added to the figure. Nor must it be supposed that we dispute this point, whether it is in reality, or only by signification, that Christ presents himself to be enjoyed by us in the Lord’s Supper; for, though we perceive nothing in it but bread, yet he does not disappoint or mock us, when he undertakes to nourish our souls by his flesh. The true eating of the flesh of Christ, therefore, is not only pointed out by the sign, but is likewise exhibited in reality.
But there are three mistakes against which it is here necessary to be on our guard; first, not to confound the spiritual blessing with the sign; secondly, not to seek Christ on earth, or under earthly elements; thirdly, not to imagine any other kind of eating than that which draws into us the life of Christ by the secret power of the Spirit, and which we obtain by faith alone. First, as I have said, let us always keep in view the distinction between the sign and the thing signified, if we do not wish to overturn every thing; for otherwise we shall derive no advantage from the sacrament, if it do not, according to the measure of our small capacity, lead us from the contemplation of the earthly element to the heavenly mystery. And therefore, whoever will not distinguish the body of Christ from the bread, and the blood from the wine, will never understand what is meant by the Lord’s Supper, or for what purpose believers use these symbols.
Secondly, we must attend to the proper method of seeking Christ; that is, our minds must not be fixed on the earth, but must ascend upwards to the heavenly glory in which he dwells. For the body of Christ did not, by clothing itself with an incorruptible life, lay aside its own nature; and hence it follows that it is finite. (195) But he has now ascended above the heavens, that no gross imagination may keep us occupied with earthly things. And certainly, if this mystery is heavenly, nothing could be more unreasonable than to draw down Christ to the earth, when, on the contrary, he calls us upwards to himself.
The last point which, I said, claimed our attention, is the kind of eating. We must not dream that his substance passes, in a natural manner, into our souls; but we cat his flesh, when, by means of it, we receive life. For we must attend to the analogy or resemblance between bread and flesh, which teaches us, that our souls feed on Christ’s own flesh in precisely the same manner as bread imparts vigor to our bodies. The flesh of Christ, therefore, is spiritual nourishment, because it gives life to us. Now it gives life, because the Holy Spirit pours into us the life which dwells in it. And though the act of eating the flesh of Christ is different from believing on him, yet we ought to know that it is impossible to feed on Christ in any other way than by faith, because the eating itself is a consequence of faith.
(190) “ D’un noveau souper, c’est, à scavoir de la Cene;” — “of a new supper, that is, of the Lord’s Supper.”
(191) In the Greek text, Calvin appears to have followed the ordinary reading, εὐλογήσας, instead of εὐχαριστήσας, for which there appears to be a preponderance of authorities. — Ed.
(192) “ La conversion ou changement;” — “the conversion, or change.”
(193) “ Les anciens docteurs.”
(194) “ Par une figure qui s’appele metonymie; c’est à dire, transmutation de nom;” — “by a figure which is called metonymy; that is, the putting of one name for another.”
(195) “ Dont s’ensuit qu’il n’est past infini, mais consiste en quelque certain lieu;” — “whence it follows that it is not infinite, but remains in some particular spot.”
. Drink you all of it. As it was the design of Christ to keep our faith wholly fixed on himself, that we may not seek any thing apart from him, he employed two symbols to show that our life is shut up in him. This body needs to be nourished and supported by meat and drink. Christ, in order to show that he alone is able to discharge perfectly all that is necessary for salvation, says that he supplies the place of meat and drink; by which he gives an astonishing display of his condescension, in thus letting himself down to the feeble capacity of our flesh for the purpose of invigorating our faith. So much the more detestable is the insolence and sacrilege of the Pope, who has not scrupled to break asunder this sacred tie. We learn that the Son of God employed two symbols together, to testify the fullness of life which he bestows on his followers. What right had a mortal man to separate those things which God had joined together?
But it would even appear that the express reason why our Lord commanded all to drink of the cup was in order to prevent this sacrilege from entering into the Church. As to the bread, we read that he simply said, Take, eat. Why does he expressly command them all to drink, and why does Mark explicitly say that they all drank of it, if it were not to guard believers against this wicked novelty? And yet this severe prohibition has not deterred the Pope from venturing to change and violate a law established by the Lord; for he has withheld all the people from using the cup. And to prove that his rage has reason on its side, he alleges that one of the kinds is sufficient, because the flesh includes the blood by concomitancy. (196) On the same pretext they would be at liberty to set aside the whole of the sacrament, because Christ might equally well make us partakers of himself without any external aid. But those childish cavils yield no support to their impiety; for nothing can be more absurd than that believers should, of their own accord, part with the aids which the Lord has given, or allow themselves to be deprived of them; and, therefore, nothing can be more intolerable than this wicked mangling of the mystery.
(196) “ Per concomitaniam, comme disent ses supposts; c’est à dire, pource que l’un ne peut estre sans l’autre;” — “ By concomitancy, as its partisans talk; that is, because the one cannot exist without the other.”
29. But I tell you. This sentence is put by Matthew and Mark immediately after the Holy Supper, when Christ had given the symbol of his blood in the cup; from which some infer that Luke relates here the same thing which we shall find him repeating shortly afterwards. But this difficulty is easily obviated, because it is of little importance in itself at what precise moment Christ said this. All that the Evangelists intend to state by it is, that the disciples were warned both of their Master’s approaching death, and of the new and heavenly life: for the more nearly the hour of his death approached, there was the greater necessity for them to be confirmed, that they might not altogether fall away. Again, as he intended to place his death before their eyes in the Holy Supper, as in a mirror, it was not without reason that he again declared that he was now leaving the world. But as this intelligence was full of sadness, a consolation is immediately added, that they have no occasion for shrinking from the thought of his death, which will be followed by a better life. As if he had said: “It is true, indeed, that I am now hastening to my death, but it is in order that I may pass from it to a blessed immortality, not to live alone without you in the kingdom of God, but to have you associated with me in the same life.” Thus we see how Christ leads his disciples by the hand to the cross, and thence raises them to. the hope of the resurrection. And as it was necessary that they should be directed to the cross of Christ, that by that ladder they might ascend to heaven; so now, since Christ has died and been received into heaven, we ought to be led from the contemplation of the cross to heaven, that death and the restoration of life may be found to agree.
Till that day when I shall drink it new with you. It is plain from these words that he promises to them a glory which they will share with himself. The objection made by some —that meat and drink are not applicable to the kingdom of God—is frivolous; for Christ means nothing more than that his disciples will soon be deprived of his presence, and that he will not henceforth eat with them, until they enjoy together the heavenly life. As he points out their being associated in that life, which needs not the aids of meat and drink, he says that there will then be a new kind of drinking; by which term we are taught that he is speaking allegorically. Accordingly, Luke simply says, until the kingdom of God come. In short, Christ recommends to us the fruit and effect of the redemption which he procured by his death.
The opinion entertained by some—that these words were fulfilled, when Christ ate with his disciples after his resurrection is foreign to his meaning; for, since that was an intermediate condition between the course of a mortal life and the end of a heavenly life, the kingdom of God had not, at that time, been fully revealed; and therefore Christ said to Mary,
Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my Father, (John 20:17.)
Besides, the disciples had not yet entered into the kingdom of God, so as to drink new wine with Christ, being partakers of the same glory. And when we read that Christ drank after his resurrection, though he declared that he would not do so until he had assembled his disciples in the kingdom of God, the apparent contradiction is easily removed. For it is not exactly of meat and drink that he speaks, but of the intercourse of the present life. Now we know that Christ did not at that time drink for the purpose of invigorating his body by food, or of holding intercourse with his disciples, but only to prove his resurrection—of which they were still doubtful—and thus to raise their minds on high. Let us therefore rest satisfied with the natural meaning, that our Lord promises to his disciples that, having hitherto lived with them on earth as a mortal man, he will hereafter make them his associates in a blessed and immortal life.
. You will all be offended at me. What Matthew and Mark extend to all the disciples alike is related by Luke as having been spoken to Peter only. But though the statement was equally addressed to all, yet it is probable that Christ spoke to them in the person of one man, who was to be admonished more than all the rest, and who needed extraordinary consolation, that, after having denied Christ, he might not be altogether overwhelmed with despair.
. For it is written. By this prediction he encourages them to rise above the offense, because God does not cease to recognize as his sheep those who are driven out and scattered in every direction for a time. After having treated of the restoration of the Church, the prophet, in order to prevent the minds of the godly from being overwhelmed with despair by the extreme distresses which were already at hand, declares, that when the government has been brought into a state of confusion, or even completely overturned, there will be a sad and miserable dispersion, but yet the grace of God will be victorious. And though almost all commentators confine the passage in Zechariah 13:7 to the person of Christ alone, yet I extend it farther, as meaning that a government, on which the salvation of the people depends, will no longer exist, because the shepherds will be driven from the midst of them. I have no doubt that the Lord intended to include that whole period during which, after the tyranny of Antiochus, the Church was deprived of good shepherds, and reduced to a state of desolation; for at that time God permitted the sword to commit fearful devastation, and, by slaying the shepherds, to throw the people into a state of wretched confusion. And yet this scattering did not prevent the Lord from gathering his sheep at length, by stretching out his hand towards them.
But though the prophet utters a general threatening that the Church will be deprived of shepherds, still this is justly and properly applied to Christ. For since he was the prince of all the shepherds, on whom alone the salvation of the Church depended, when he was dead, it might be thought that all hope was utterly gone. And, indeed, it was an extremity of temptation, when the Redeemer, who was the breath and life of his people, after having begun to collect the flock of God, was suddenly dragged to death. But so much the more strikingly was the grace of God displayed, when out of dispersion and death the remaining flock was again assembled in a wonderful manner.
Thus we see, that Christ quoted this passage appropriately, that the disciples might not be too much alarmed by the future dispersion, and yet that, aware of their own weakness, they might rely on their Shepherd. The meaning therefore is: “Not having yet felt your weakness, you imagine that you are sufficiently vigorous and powerful; but it will soon be apparent that the prediction of Zechariah is true, that, when the shepherd is slain, the flock will be scattered. But yet let the promise which is added exhilarate and support you, that God will stretch out his hand, to bring back to Him the scattered sheep. ” We are here taught, that there is no unity that brings salvation but that which keeps the sheep united under Christ’s crook.
32 But after I have risen. He now expresses more clearly — what I lately hinted — that the disciples, struck with dread, will resemble for a short time scattered and wandering sheep, but will at length be brought back to the fold. For Christ does not simply say that he will rise again, but promises to be their leader, and takes them for his companions, as if they had never swerved from their allegiance to him; and, to impart to them greater confidence, he mentions the place where they will again meet; as if he had said, “You, who are scattered at Jerusalem, will be again assembled by me in Galilee. ”
33. Peter answering. Though Peter uses no hypocrisy, but speaks with sincere affection, yet as a false confidence in his virtue carries him away into foolish boasting, he is justly reproved by Christ, and shortly afterwards is severely punished for his rashness. Thus the event showed, that Peter promised more for himself than he was able to accomplish, because he had not been sufficiently careful to examine himself. Hence too we see more clearly, how stupid is the intoxication of human presumption, that, when he is again reminded of his weakness by the Son of God, and that with the solemnity of an oath, he is so far from yielding, or even from making any abatement of his foolish confidence, that he goes on to show those lofty pretensions with more fierceness than ever.
But it is asked, Had not Peter a right to hope what he promises for himself? and was he not even bound, relying on the promise of Christ, to make this promise for himself? I answer, When Christ formerly promised to his disciples the spirit of unshaken fortitude, he referred to a new state of things which followed the resurrection; and, therefore, as they were not yet endued with heavenly power, Peter, forming confident expectations from himself, goes beyond the limits of faith. He erred in two respects. First, by anticipating the time he made a rash engagement, and did not rely on the promise of the Lord. Secondly, shutting his eyes on his own weakness, and under the influence of thoughtlessness rather than of courage, he undertook more than the case, warranted.
This claims our attention, that every man, remembering his own weakness, may earnestly resort to the assistance of the Holy Spirit; and next, that no man may venture to take more upon himself than what the Lord promises. Believers ought, indeed, to be prepared for the contest in such a manner that, entertaining no doubt or uncertainty about the result and the victory, they may resist fear; for trembling and excessive anxiety are marks of distrust. But, on the other hand, they ought to guard against that stupidity which shakes off all anxiety, and fills their minds with pride, and extinguishes the desire to pray. This middle course between two faulty extremes (199) is very beautifully expressed by Paul, when he enjoins us to
work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God that worketh in us to will and perform, (Philippians 2:12.)
For, on the one hand, having humbled us, he entreats us to seek supplies elsewhere; and, on the other hand, lest anxiety should induce sloth, he exhorts us to strenuous exertions. And, therefore, whenever any temptation is presented to us, let us first remember our weakness, that, being entirely thrown down, we may learn to seek elsewhere what we need; and, next, let us remember the grace which is promised, that it may free us from doubt. For those who, forgetting their weakness, and not calling on God, feel assured that they are strong, act entirely like drunken soldiers, who throw themselves rashly into the field, but, as soon as the effects of strong drink are worn off, think of nothing else than flight.
It is wonderful that the other disciples, after Peter had been reproved, still break out into the same rashness; and hence it is evident how little they knew themselves. We are taught by this example, that we ought to attempt nothing, except so far as God stretches out his hand; for nothing is more fading or transitory than inconsiderate zeal. The disciples perceive that nothing is more base or unreasonable than to forsake their Master; and, therefore, they justly detest so infamous an action: but, having no reliance on the promise, and neglecting prayer, they advance with inconsiderate haste to boast of a constancy which they did not possess.
(199) “ Entre ces deux extremitez vicieuses.”
. Then Jesus cometh with them. Luke mentions the mountain of Olives only. Mark and Matthew add a more minute description of the place. But Luke expresses what is still more to the purpose, that Christ came there according to his custom. Hence we infer, that he did not seek retirement for the purpose of concealing himself, but, as if he had made an assignation with his enemies, he presented himself to death. On this account John says (John 18:2) that the place was known to the traitor, because Jesus was wont to come there frequently. In this passage, therefore, his obedience is again described to us, because he could not have appeased the Father but by a voluntary death.
Sit here. By leaving the disciples at a distance, he spares their weakness; as if a man, perceiving that he would soon be in extreme danger in battle, were to leave his wife and children in a situation of safety. But though he intended to place them all beyond arrow-shot, yet he took three of them who accompanied him more closely than the rest, and these were the flower and choice, in which there was greater rigor. And yet he did not take them, as if he believed that they would be able to sustain the attack, but that they might afford a proof of the defect which was common to them all.
37. He began to be affected with grief. We have seen that our Lord formerly contended with the fear of death; but as he now fights face to face with temptation, such an attack is called the beginning of grief and sorrow. Hence we infer that the true test of virtue is only to be found when the contest begins; for then the weakness of the flesh, which was formerly concealed, shows itself, and the secret feelings are abundantly displayed. Thus, though God had already tried his Son by certain preparatory exercises, he now wounds him more sharply by a nearer prospect of death, and strikes his mind with a terror to which he had not been accustomed. But as it appears to be inconsistent with the divine glory of Christ, that he was seized with trembling and sadness, many commentators have labored with toil and anxiety to find some way of evading the difficulty. But their labor has been ill-judged and of no use; for if we are ashamed that Christ should experience fear and sorrow, our redemption will perish and be lost.
Ambrose justly says: “I not only do not think that there is any need of excuse, but there is no instance in which I admire more his kindness and his majesty; for he would not have done so much for me, if he had not taken upon him my feelings. He grieved for me, who had no cause of grief for himself; and, laying aside the delights of the eternal Godhead, he experiences the affliction of my weakness. I boldly call it sorrow, because I preach the cross. For he took upon him not the appearance, but the reality, of incarnation. It was therefore necessary that he should experience grief, that he might overcome sorrow, and not shut it out; for the praise of fortitude is not bestowed on those who are rather stupefied than pained by wounds.” Thus far Ambrose.
Certainly those who imagine that the Son of God was exempt from human passions do not truly and sincerely acknowledge him to be a man. And when it is even said that the divine power of Christ rested and was concealed for a time, that by his sufferings he might discharge all that belonged to the Redeemer, this was so far from being absurd, that in no other way could the mystery of our salvation have been accomplished. For Cyril has properly said: “ That the suffering of Christ on the cross was not in every respect voluntary, but that it was voluntary on account of the will of the Father, and on account of our salvation, you may easily learn from his prayer, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. For the same reason that the Word of God is God, (John 1:1,) and is naturally life itself, (John 11:25,) nobody doubts that he had no dread of death; but, having been made flesh, (John 1:14,) he allows the flesh to feel what belongs to it, and, therefore, being truly a man, he trembles at death, when it is now at the door, and says, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; but since it cannot be otherwise, let it be not as I will, but as thou wilt. You see how human nature, even in Christ himself, has the sufferings and fears which belong to it, but that the Word, who is united to it, raises it to a fortitude which is worthy of God.” He at length concludes: “ You perceive that it was not for the sake of the flesh that the death of Christ was voluntary, but that it was voluntary, because, on account of it, according to the will of the Father, salvation and life were bestowed on men.” Such are the views of Cyril.
Still the weakness which Christ took upon himself must be distinguished from ours, for there is a great difference. In us there is no affection unaccompanied by sin, because they all exceed due bounds and proper restraint; but when Christ was distressed by grief and fear, he did not rise against God, but continued to be regulated by the true rule of moderation. We need not wonder that, since he was innocent, and pure from every stain, the affections which flowed from him were pure and stainless; but that nothing proceeds from the corrupt nature of men which is not impure and filthy. Let us, therefore, attend to this distinction, that Christ, amidst fear and sadness, was weak without any taint of sin; but that all our affections are sinful, because they rise to an extravagant height.
The kind of feelings, by which Christ was tempted, is also worthy of notice. Matthew says that he was affected by grief and sorrow (or anxiety;)Luke says that he was seized with anguish; and Mark adds that he trembled. And whence came his sorrow and anguish, and fear, but because he felt that death had something in it more sad and more dreadful than the separation of the soul and body? And certainly he underwent death, not merely that he might depart from earth to heaven, but rather that, by taking upon himself the curse to which we were liable, he might deliver us from it. He had no horror at death, therefore, simply as a passage out of the world, but because he had before his eyes the dreadful tribunal of God, and the Judge himself armed with inconceivable vengeance; and because our sins, the load of which was laid upon him, pressed him down with their enormous weight. There is no reason to wonder, therefore, if the dreadful abyss of destruction tormented him grievously with fear and anguish.
38. My soul is sorrowful. He communicates to them his sorrow, in order to arouse them to sympathy; not that he was unacquainted with their weakness, but in order that they might afterwards be more ashamed of their carelessness. This phrase expresses a deadly wound of grief; as if he had said, that he fainted, or was half-dead, with sorrow. Jonah (Jonah 4:9) makes use of a similar phrase in replying to the Lord; I am angry even to death. I advert to this, because some of the ancient writers, in handling this passage with a misapplication of ingenuity, philosophize in this way, that the soul of Christ was not sorrowful in death but only even to death. And here again we ought to remember the cause of so great sorrow; for death in itself would not have so grievously tormented the mind of the Son of God, if he had not felt that he had to deal with the judgment of God.
39. And he went forward a little. We have seen in other passages, that in order to excite himself to greater earnestness of prayer, the Lord prayed in the absence of witnesses; for when we are withdrawn from the gaze of men, we succeed better in collecting our senses, so as to attend more closely to what we are doing. It is not, indeed, necessary — nay more, it is not always proper — that we should retire to distant corners whenever we pray; but when some great necessity urges us, because the fervor of prayer is more freely indulged when we are alone, it is useful to us to pray apart. And if the Son of God did not disregard this aid, it would be the greatest madness of pride in us not to apply it for our own advantage. Add to this, that when God alone is witness, as there is nothing then to be feared from ambition, the believing soul unfolds itself with greater familiarity, and with greater simplicity pours its wishes, and groans, and anxieties, and fears, and hopes, and joys, into the bosom of God. God allows his people to make use of many little modes of speaking, when they pray alone, which, in the presence of men, would savor of ostentation.
And fell on his face. By the very gesture of falling on the earth, Christ manifested his deep earnestness in prayer. For though kneeling, as our expression of respect and reverence, is commonly used in prayer, Christ, by throwing himself on the ground as a suppliant, placed himself in a pitiable attitude on account of the vehemence of his grief.
My Father, if it be possible. In vain do some persons labor to show that what is here described is not a prayer, but only a complaint. For my own part, while I own that it is abrupt, I have no doubt that Christ offered a prayer. Nor is it inconsistent with this, that he asks a thing that is impossible to be granted to him; for the prayers of believers do not always flow on with uninterrupted progress to the end, do not always maintain a uniform measure, are not always arranged even in a distinct order, but, on the contrary, are involved and confused, and either oppose each other, or stop in the middle of the course; like a vessel tossed by tempests, which, though it advances towards the harbor, cannot always keep a straight and uniform course, as in a calm sea. We must remember, indeed, what I lately mentioned, that Christ had not confused emotions, like those to which we are accustomed, to withdraw his mind from pure moderation; but, so far as the pure and innocent nature of man could admit, he was struck with fear and seized with anguish, so that, amidst the violent shocks of temptation, he vacillated—as it were—from one wish to another. This is the reason why, after having prayed to be freed from death, he immediately restrains himself, and, submitting to the authority of the Father, corrects and recalls that wish which had suddenly escaped him.
But it may be asked, How did he pray that the eternal decree of the Father, of which he was not ignorant, should be revoked? or though he states a condition, if it be possible, yet it wears an aspect of absurdity to make the purpose of God changeable. We must hold it to be utterly impossible for God to revoke his decree. According to Mark, too, Christ would seem to contrast the power of God with his decree. All things, says he, are possible to thee. But it would be improper to extend the power of God so far as to lessen his truth, by making him liable to variety and change. I answer, There would be no absurdity in supposing that Christ, agreeably to the custom of the godly, leaving out of view the divine purpose, committed to the bosom of the Father his desire which troubled him. For believers, in pouring out their prayers, do not always ascend to the contemplation of the secrets of God, or deliberately inquire what is possible to be done, but are sometimes carried away hastily by the earnestness of their wishes. Thus Moses prays that he may be blotted out of the book of life, (Exodus 32:33;) thus Paul wished to be made an anathema, (201) (Romans 9:3.) This, therefore, was not a premeditated prayer of Christ; but the strength and violence of grief suddenly drew this word from his mouth, to which he immediately added a correction. The same vehemence of desire took away from him the immediate recollection of the heavenly decree, so that he did not at that moment reflect, that it was on this condition, (202) that he was sent to be the Redeemer of mankind; as distressing anxiety often brings darkness over our eyes, so that we do not at once remember the whole state of the matter. In short, there is no impropriety, if in prayer we do not always direct our immediate attention to every thing, so as to preserve a distinct order. When Christ says, in the Gospel by Matthew, that all things are possible to God, he does not intend by these words to bring the power of God into conflict with unchangeable truth and firmness; but as there was no hope—which is usually the case when affairs are desperate—he throws himself on the power of God. The word ( ποτήριον) cup or chalice — as we have mentioned elsewhere — denotes the providence of God, which assigns to each his measure of the cross and of affliction, just as the master of a house gives an allowance to each servant, and distributes portions among the children.
But yet not as I will, but as thou wilt. We see how Christ restrains his feelings at the very outset, and quickly brings himself into a state of obedience. But here it may first be inquired, How was his will pure from all vice, while it did not agree with the will of God? For if the will of God is the only rule of what is good and right, it follows, that all the feelings which are at variance with it are vicious. I reply: Though it be true rectitude to regulate all our feelings by the good pleasure of God, yet there is a certain kind of indirect disagreement with it which is not faulty, and is not reckoned as sin; if, for example, a person desire to see the Church in a calm and flourishing condition, if he wish that the children of God were delivered from afflictions, that all superstitions were removed out of the world, and that the rage of wicked men were so restrained as to do no injury. These things, being in themselves right, may properly be desired by believers, though it may please God to order a different state of matters: for he chooses that his Son should reign among enemies; that his people should be trained under the cross; and that the triumph of faith and of the Gospel should be rendered more illustrious by the opposing machinations of Satan. We see how those prayers are holy, which appear to be contrary to the will of God; for God does not desire us to be always exact or scrupulous in inquiring what he has appointed, but allows us to ask what is desirable according to the capacity of our senses.
But the question has not yet been fully answered: for since we have just now said that all the feelings of Christ were properly regulated, how does he now correct himself? For he brings his feelings into obedience to God in such a manner as if he had exceeded what was proper. Certainly in the first prayer we do not perceive that calm moderation which I have described; for, as far as lies in his power, he refuses and shrinks from discharging the office of Mediator. I reply: When the dread of death was presented to his mind, and brought along with it such darkness, that he left out of view every thing else, and eagerly presented that prayer, there was no fault in this. Nor is it necessary to enter into any subtle controversy whether or not it was possible for him to forget our salvation. We ought to be satisfied with this single consideration, that at the time when he uttered a prayer to be delivered from death, he was not thinking of other things which would have shut the door against such a wish.
If it be objected, that the first movement, which needed to be restrained before it proceeded farther, was not so well regulated as it ought to have been, I reply: In the present corruption of our nature it is impossible to find ardor of affections accompanied by moderation, such as existed in Christ; but we ought to give such honor to the Son of God, as not to judge of him by what we find in ourselves. For in us all the affections of the flesh, when strongly excited, break out into rebellion, or, at least, have some mixture of pollution; but Christ, amidst the utmost vehemence of grief or fear, restrained himself within proper bounds. Nay more, as musical sounds, though various and differing from each other, are so far from being discordant, that they produce sweet melody and fine harmony; so in Christ there was a remarkable example of adaptation between the two wills, (203) the will of God and the will of man, so that they differed from each other without any conflict or opposition.
This passage shows plainly enough the gross folly of those ancient heretics, who were called Monothelites, (204) because they imagined that the will of Christ was but one and simple; for Christ, as he was God, willed nothing different from the Father; and therefore it follows, that his human soul had affections distinct from the secret purpose of God. But if even Christ was under the necessity of holding his will captive, in order to subject it to the government of God, though it was properly regulated, how carefully ought we to repress the violence of our feelings, which are always inconsiderate, and rash, and full of rebellion? And though the Spirit of God governs us, so that we wish nothing but what is agreeable to reason, still we owe to God such obedience as to endure patiently that our wishes should not be granted; (205) For the modesty of faith consists in permitting God to appoint differently from what we desire. Above all, when we have no certain and special promise, we ought to abide by this rule, not to ask any thing but on the condition that God shall fulfill what he has decreed; which cannot be done, unless we give up our wishes to his disposal.
It comes now to be inquired, what advantage did Christ gain by praying? The apostle, in writing to the Hebrews, says that he was heard ( ἀπὸ τὢς εὐλαβείας ) on account of his fear: for so ought that passage to be explained, and not, as it is usually explained, on account of his reverence, (Hebrews 5:7.) That would not have been consistent, if Christ had simply feared death; for he was not delivered from it. Hence it follows, that what led him to pray to be delivered from death was the dread of a greater evil. When he saw the wrath of God exhibited to him, as he stood at the tribunal of God charged with the sins of the whole world, he unavoidably shrunk with horror from the deep abyss of death. And, therefore, though he suffered death, yet since its pains were loosed — as Peter tells us, (Acts 2:24,)—and he was victorious in the conflict, the Apostle justly says, that he was heard on account of his fear. Here ignorant people rise up and exclaim, that it would have been unworthy of Christ to be afraid of being swallowed up by death. But I should wish them to answer this question, What kind of fear do they suppose it to have been which drew from Christ drops of blood? (Luke 22:44) For that mortal sweat could only have proceeded from fearful and unusual horror. If any person, in the present day, were to sweat blood, and in such a quantity that the drops should fall to the ground, it would be reckoned an astonishing miracle; and if this happened to any man through fear of death, we would say that he had a cowardly and effeminate mind. Those men, therefore, who deny that Christ prayed that the Father would rescue him from the gulf of death, ascribe to him a cowardice that would be disgraceful even in an ordinary man.
If it be objected, that the fear which I am describing arises from unbelief, the answer is easy. When Christ was struck with horror at the divine curse, the feeling of the flesh affected him in such a manner, that faith still remained firm and unshaken. For such was the purity of his nature, that he felt, without being wounded by them, those temptations which pierce us with their stings. And yet those persons, by representing him not to have felt temptations, foolishly imagine that he was victorious without fighting. And, indeed, we have no right to suppose that he used any hypocrisy, when he complained of a mortal sadness in his soul; nor do the Evangelists speak falsely, when they say that he was exceedingly sorrowful, and that he trembled
(201) “ A desiré d’estre separé de Christ ;” — “desired to be separated from Christ.”
(202) “ Avec ceste condition de souffrir la mort;” — “on this condition of suffering death.”
(203) “ Les deux volontés.”
(204) Μονοθελὢται is compounded of μόνος, one, and θέλω, I will. The Monothelite heresy sprung up in the Seventh Century, and is fully detailed by our ecclesiastical historians. Its leading tenet was, that Christ had not one will as God, and another will as Man. — Ed.
(205) “ Que nos souhaits ne vienent point à loeur issue, quand ainsi luy plaist;” — “that our wishes should not succeed, when it so pleases Him.”
40. And he came to his disciples. Though he was neither delivered from fear, nor freed from anxiety, yet he interrupted the ardor of prayer, and administered this consolation. For believers are not required to be so constant in prayer as never to cease from conversing with God; but on the contrary, following the example of Christ, they continue their prayers till they have proceeded as far as their infirmity allows, then cease for a short time, and immediately after drawing breath return to God. It would have been no slight alleviation of his grief, if his disciples had accompanied him, and taken part in it; and on the other hand, it was a bitter aggravation of his sufferings, that even they forsook him. For though he did not need the assistance of any one, yet as he had voluntarily taken upon him our infirmities, and as it was chiefly in this struggle that he intended to give a proof of that emptying of himself, of which Paul speaks, (Philippians 2:7,) we need not wonder if the indifference of those whom he had selected to be his companions added a heavy and distressing burden to his grief. For his expostulation is not feigned, but, out of the true feeling of his mind, he declares that he is grieved at having been forsaken. And, indeed, he had good grounds for reproaching them with indifference, since, amidst the extremity of his anguish, they did not watch at least one hour.
41. Watch and pray. As the disciples were unmoved by their Master’s danger, their attention is directed to themselves, that a conviction of their own danger may arouse them. Christ therefore threatens that, if they do not watch and pray, they may be soon overwhelmed by temptation. As if he had said, “Though you take no concern about me, do not fail, at least, to think of yourselves; for your own interests are involved in it, and if you do not take care, temptation will immediately swallow you up.” For to enter into temptation means to yield to it. (206) And let us observe, that the manner of resistance which is here enjoined is, not to draw courage from reliance on our own strength and perseverance, but, on the contrary, from a conviction of our weakness, to ask arms and strength from the Lord. Our watching, therefore, will be of no avail without prayer.
The spirit indeed is willing. That he may not terrify and discourage his disciples, he gently reproves their slothfulness, and adds consolation and good ground of hope. And, first, he reminds them, that though they are earnestly desirous to do what is right, still they must contend with the weakness of the flesh, and, therefore, that prayer is never unnecessary. We see, then, that he gives them the praise of willingness, in order that their weakness may not throw them into despair, and yet urges them to prayer, because they are not sufficiently endued with the power of the Spirit. Wherefore, this admonition relates properly to believers, who, being regenerated by the Spirit of God, are desirous to do what is right, but still labor under the weakness of the flesh; for though the grace of the Spirit is vigorous in them, they are weak according to the flesh. And though the disciples alone have their weakness here pointed out to them, yet, since what Christ says of them applies equally to all, we ought to draw from it a general rule, that it is our duty to keep diligent watch by praying; for we do not yet possess the power of the Spirit in such a measure as not to fall frequently through the weakness of the flesh, unless the Lord grant his assistance to raise up and uphold us. But there is no reason why we should tremble with excessive anxiety; for an undoubted remedy is held out to us, which we will neither have nor to seek nor to seek in vain; for Christ promises that all who, being earnest in prayer, shall perseveringly oppose the slothfulness of the flesh, will be victorious.
(206) “ Succomber et estre viencu;” — “to yield and to be overcome.”
42. Again he went away a second time. By these words Christ seems as if, having subdued fear, he came with greater freedom and courage to submit to the will of the Father; for he no longer asks to have the cup removed from him, but, leaving out this prayer, insists rather on obeying the purpose of God. But according to Mark, this progress is not described; and even when Christ returned a second time, we are told that he repeated the same prayer; and, indeed, I have no doubt, that at each of the times when he prayed, fear and horror impelled him to ask that he might be delivered from death. (207) Yet it is probable that, at the second time, he labored more to yield obedience to the Father, and that the first encounter with temptation animated him to approach death with greater confidence.Luke does not expressly relate that he prayed three several times, but only says that, when he was pressed with anguish, he prayed with greater copiousness and earnestness, as if he had continued to pray without any intermission. But we know that the Evangelists sometimes leave out circumstances, and only glance rapidly at the substance of what took place. Accordingly, when he says towards the close, that Christ came to his disciples, it is a hysteron proteton; (208) just as, in another clause, he relates that an angel from heaven appeared, before he speaks of Christ’s anguish. But the inversion of the order carries no absurdity; for, in order to inform us that the angel was not sent without a good reason, the necessity for it is afterwards stated; and thus the latter part of the narrative is, in some sort, a reason assigned for the former. Now though it is the Spirit of God alone that imparts fortitude, that does not hinder God from employing angels as his ministers. And hence we may conclude what excruciating distresses the Son of God must have endured, since it was necessary that the assistance of God should be granted to him in a visible manner.
(207) “ A requerir qu’il ne veinst point a ceste mort;” — “to ask that he might not com to that death.”
(208) Hysteron proteron (ὕστερον πρότερον) is a figure of rhetoric, by which the natural order of events is reversed. — Ed.
43. And found them sleeping again. This drowsiness arose neither from excessive eating and drinking, nor from gross stupidity, nor even from effeminate indulgence of the flesh, but rather—as Luke tells us—from immoderate sorrow. Hence we perceive more clearly how strong is the tendency of our flesh to indifference; since even dangers lead us to forgetfulness of God. Thus on every hand Satan finds suitable and ready opportunities of spreading his snares for us. For if we dread no danger, he intoxicates and drowns us in sleep; and if we experience fear and sorrow, which ought to arouse us to pray, he overwhelms our senses, so that they do not rise to God; and thus, in every respect, men fall away and forsake God, till he restores them. We must observe also this circumstance, that the disciples, after having been sharply reproved, almost at that very moment fall again asleep. Nor is this said of the whole body, but of the three whom Christ had selected to be his chief companions; and what shall we say of the greater number, when this happened to the flower of them? Now the repetition of the same words was not a vain repetition, ( βατταλογία ) which Christ formerly condemned in hypocrites, (Matthew 6:7) who hope that they will obtain by idle talking what they do not ask honestly and sincerely. (209) But Christ intended to show by his example, that we must not be discouraged or grow weary in praying, if we do not immediately obtain our wishes. So then, it is not a superfluous repetition of the words, if a repulse which we have experienced is so far from extinguishing the ardor of prayer, that we ask a third and fourth time what God appears to have denied.
(209) Harmony, vol. 1, p. 313
. Sleep on now, and take your rest. It is plain enough, that Christ now speaks ironically, but we must, at the same time, attend to the object of the irony. For Christ, having gained nothing by warning his disciples, not only gives an indirect reproof of their indifference, but threatens, that how indolent so ever they may choose to be, no longer delay will be allowed them. The meaning therefore is, “Having hitherto wasted my words on you, I shall now come to exhort you; but whatever permission I may give you to sleep, the enemies will not allow it to you, but will compel you to watch against your will.” In Mark, it is accordingly added, It is enough; as if he had said, that there is no more time for sleeping. And this is the way in which the Lord usually chastises the indolence of men, that those who wax deaf to words may at length be compelled, by their sufferings, to arouse themselves. Let us, therefore, learn to give immediate attention to the words of the Lord, lest what he wishes to draw from us voluntarily may be too late forced from us by necessity.
46. Arise, let us go. By these words he declares that, after having prayed, he was furnished with new arms. He had formerly, indeed, been sufficiently voluntary as to dying; but, when he came to the point, he had a hard struggle with the weakness of the flesh, so that he would willingly have withdrawn from dying, provided that he had been permitted to do so with the good-will of his Father. He, therefore, obtained by prayers and tears (Hebrews 5:7) new strength from heaven; not that he ever hesitated through want of strength, but because under the weakness of the flesh, which he had voluntarily undertaken, he wished to labor anxiously, and with painful and difficult exertion, to gain a victory for us in his own person. But now, when the trembling is allayed, and the fear is subdued, that he may again present a voluntary sacrifice to the Father, he not only does not retire or conceal himself, but cheerfully advances to death.
47. While he was still speaking. The Evangelists are careful to state that our Lord foresaw what happened; from which it might be inferred, that he was not dragged to death by external violence, except so far as wicked men carried into execution the secret purpose of God. Although, therefore, a melancholy and frightful spectacle was exhibited to the disciples, yet they received, at the same time, grounds of confidence to confirm them, since the event itself showed that nothing occurred by chance; and since Christ’s prediction directed them to contemplate the glory of his divinity. The circumstance of an armed multitude having been sent by the chief priests, and of a captain and band having been obtained by request from Pilate, makes it evident, that an evil conscience wounded and tormented them, so that they did every thing in a state of terror. For what need was there for so great a force to take Christ, who, they were aware, was not provided with any defensive arms? The reason for such careful preparation was, that the divine power of Christ, which they had been compelled to feel by numerous proofs, inwardly tormented them; but, on the other hand, it is a display of amazing rage, that, relying on the power of arms, they do not hesitate to rise up against God.
48. Now he who betrayed him. I have no doubt that Judas was restrained, either by reverence for our Lord, or by shame for his crime, from venturing openly to avow himself as one of the enemies; and the warning which, Mark tells us, he gave the soldiers — to lead the away cautiously, was given, I conjecture, for this reason, that he recollected the numerous-proofs by which Christ had formerly attested his divine power. But it was, at the same time, astonishing madness, either to attempt to conceal himself by frivolous hypocrisy, when he came into the presence of the Son of God, or to oppose the tricks and dexterity of men to his boundless power.
49. Hail, Rabbi. I have no doubt that Judas, as if trembling for his Master’s danger, pretended by these words to have some feeling of compassion; and, accordingly, in Mark a pathetic repetition is expressed, (213) Rabbi, Rabbi. For though he was impressed with the majesty of Christ, still the devil so fascinated his mind, that he felt assured that his treachery was concealed by a kiss, and by soothing words. This salutation, or exclamation, therefore, was a pretense of compassion. I offer the same opinion about the kiss; for though it was a very common practice among the Jews to welcome friends with a kiss, yet as Judas had left Christ but a little before, he seems now — as if he had become suddenly alarmed at his danger — to give the last kiss to his Master. Thus he excels the rest in the appearance of affection, when he appears to be deeply grieved at being separated from his Master; but how little he gained by his deception is evident from Christ’s reply.
(213) “ Il y a une repetition comme d’un homme parlant de grande affection;” — “there is a repetition, as if by a man who spoke from strong feeling.”
50. Friend, for what purpose comest thou? Luke expresses it more fully: Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss? except that there is greater force in this reproof, that the benevolence of his Master, and the very high honor conferred on him, are wickedly abused for the purpose of the basest treachery. For Christ does not employ an ironical address when he calls him friend, but charges him with ingratitude, that, from being an intimate friend, who sat at his table, he had become a traitor, as had been predicted in the psalm: If a stranger had done this, I could have endured it; but now my private and familiar friend, with whom I took food pleasantly, who accompanied me to the temple of the Lord, hath prepared snares against me. (214) This shows clearly—what I hinted a little ago—that, whatever may be the artifices by which hypocrites conceal themselves, and whatever may be the pretenses which they hold out, when they come into the presence of the Lord, their crimes become manifest; and it even becomes the ground of a severer sentence against them, that, having been admitted into the bosom of Christ, they treacherously rise up against him. For the word friend, as we have stated, contains within itself a sharp sting.
Let us know that this evil, which Christ once sustained in his own person, is an evil to which the Church will always be exposed—that of cherishing traitors in her bosom; and, therefore, it was said a little before, The traitor approached, who was one of the twelve, that we may not be immediately distressed by such instances; for the Lord intends to try our faith in both ways, when, without, Satan opposes us and the Church by open enemies, and, within, he attempts secret destruction by means of hypocrites. We are taught, at the same time, that we who are his disciples ought to worship God with sincerity; for the apostasies, which we see every day, excite us to fear, and to the cultivation of true godliness, as Paul says,
Let every one that calleth on the name of God depart from iniquity, (2 Timothy 2:19.)
We are all commanded to kiss the Son of God, (Psalms 2:12;) and we ought, therefore, to see that no one give him a traitor’s kiss, otherwise it will cost us dear to have been elevated to so great an honor.
(214) Our Author, quoting from memory, has blended two passages of a kindred spirit: Psalms 41:10, and Psalms 55:12. — Ed.
. And, lo, one of those who were with Jesus. Luke says, that all the disciples made an agreement together to fight for their Master. Hence it is again evident, that we are much more courageous and ready for fighting than for bearing the cross; and, therefore, we ought always to deliberate wisely what the Lord commands, and what he requires from every one of us, lest the fervor of our zeal exceed the bounds of reason and moderation. When the disciples asked Christ, Shall we strike with the sword? they did so, not with the intention of obeying his injunction; but by these words they declared that they were prepared and ready to repel the violence of enemies. And, indeed, Peter did not wait till he was commanded or permitted to strike, but inconsiderately proceeded to unlawful violence. It appears, at first view, to be praiseworthy valor in the disciples, that, forgetting their own weakness, though they are unable to make resistance, they do not hesitate to present their bodies before their Master, and to encounter certain death; for they choose rather to perish with the Lord than to survive and look on while he is oppressed. But as they improperly attempt more than the calling of God commands or permits, their rashness is justly condemned; and therefore let us learn, that in order that our obedience may be acceptable to the Lord, we must depend on his will, so that no man shall move a finger, except so far as God commands. One reason ought, above all, to lead us to be zealous in cultivating this modesty; which is, that instead of a proper and well-regulated zeal, confused irregularity for the most part reigns in us.
Peter’s name is not mentioned here by the Evangelists; but John (John 18:10) assures us—and from what occurs shortly afterwards in the narrative it is evident — that it was Peter who is here described, though the name is suppressed. Yet Luke enables us easily to infer that there were others also who took part in the same outrage; for Christ does not speak to one person only, but says to all alike, Permit (217) it to be thus far.
(217) Our Author’s argument is obviously founded on the circumstance, that the verb ἐα̑τε, permit, is in the plural number. — Ed.
52. Put thy sword again into its place. By these words, Christ confirms the precept of the Law, which forbids private individuals to use the sword. And above all, we ought to attend to the threatening of punishment which is immediately added; for men did not, at their own pleasure, appoint this punishment for avenging their own blood; but God himself, by severely prohibiting murder, has declared how dearly he loves mankind. First, then, he does not choose to be defended by force and violence, because God in the Law forbade men to strike. This is a general reason; and he immediately descends to a special reason.
But here a question arises. Is it never lawful to use violence in repelling unjust violence? For though Peter had to deal with wicked and base robbers, still he is condemned for having drawn his sword. If, in such a case of moderate defense, an exception was not allowed, Christ appears to tie up the hands of all. Though we have treated this question more copiously (218) under Matthew 5:39, yet I shall now state my opinion again in a few words. First, we must make a distinction between a civil court and the court of conscience; (219) for if any man resist a robber, (220) he will not be liable to public punishment, because the laws arm him against one who is the common enemy of mankind. Thus, in every case when defense is made against unjust violence, the punishment which God enjoins earthly judges to carry into execution ceases. And yet it is not the mere goodness of the cause that acquits the conscience from guilt, unless there be also pure affection. So then, in order that a man may properly and lawfully defend himself, he must first lay aside excessive wrath, and hatred, and desire of revenge, and all irregular sallies of passion, that nothing tempestuous may mingle with the defense. As this is of rare occurrence, or rather, as it scarcely ever happens, Christ properly reminds his people of the general rule, that they should entirely abstain from using the sword.
But there are fanatics who have foolishly misapplied this passage, so as to wrest the sword out of the hands of judges. They contend that it is unlawful to strike with the sword. This I acknowledge to be true, for no man is at liberty to take the sword at his own pleasure, so as to commit murder; but I deny that magistrates—who are God’s ministers, and by whom he executes his judgments—ought to be viewed as belonging to the ordinary rank. And not only so, but by these words of Christ, this very power is expressly ascribed to them: for when he declares that murderers must be put to death, it follows, that the sword is put into the hands of judges, that they may take vengeance for unjust murders. It will sometimes happen, indeed, that men addicted to the shedding of blood are punished by other means; but this is the ordinary way in which the Lord determined that the fierce cruelty of wicked men should be restrained from rioting with impunity. Certain doctors of what is called Canon Law have ventured to proceed to such a pitch of impudence as to teach, that the sword was not taken from Peter, but he was commanded to keep it sheathed until the time came for drawing it; and hence we perceive how grossly and shamefully those dogs have sported with the word of God.
(218) Harmony, vol. 1, p. 298
(219) “ Entre la jurisdiction externe ou civile, et le jugement spirituel, qui a son siege en la conscience;” — “between external or civil jurisdiction, and the spiritual judgment, which has its seat in the conscience.”
(220) “ Si quelqu’un use de violence pour repousser un brigand;” — “if any one use violence for repelling a robber.”
53. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father? Now follows that special reason which I mentioned a little ago; for Christ reminds them, that he would have at his command a better and more legitimate kind of defense, were it not that he must obey the decree of the Father. The substance of what he says is this. “As he has been appointed by the eternal purpose of God to be a sacrifice, and as this has been declared by the predictions of Scripture, he must not fight against it.” Thus Peter’s rashness is condemned on another ground, that he not only endeavors to overturn a heavenly decree, but also to obstruct the path of the redemption of mankind. Not only did Peter draw his sword unlawfully, but the disciples were foolish and mad; for—though they were few in number, and feeble—they attempted to make some resistance to a band of soldiers and a very great multitude. On this account, the Lord, in order to make their folly more manifest, employs this comparison. “If he wished to have a guard to defend his life, he would immediately obtain not eleven angels, but a large and invincible army, and since he does not implore that angels may be sent to assist him, much less would he resort to ill-considered means, from which no advantage was to be expected; for the utmost that could be effected by the disciples would be of no more service than if a few rooks were to make a noise.”
But here some commentators labor to no purpose in inquiring how Christ could have obtained a commission of angels from his Father, by whose decree it was that he had to suffer death. For the two things are inconsistent: that he exposed his Son to death naked and defenseless, because it was necessary that it should be so, and because it had been appointed; and yet, that he might have been prevailed on by prayer to send him relief. But Christ speaks conditionally, that he has a far better method of defending his life, were it not that the will of the Father was opposed to it. This takes away all contradiction, for Christ refrained from presenting such a request to his Father, because he knew that it was contrary to his decree. Yet from this we draw a useful doctrine, that those who resort to unlawful means on the plea of necessity pour dishonor on God. If a man is destitute of lawful aid and support, he runs headlong to wicked schemes and sinful undertakings; and the reason is, that few look for the secret protection of God, which alone ought to be sufficient to set our minds at rest. Are we threatened with danger? Because no remedy can be discovered according to the flesh, we make this or the other contrivance, as if there were no angels in heaven, who — Scripture frequently tells us — are placed as guardians for our salvation, (Hebrews 1:14.) In this way we deprive ourselves of their assistance; for all who are impelled, by their restlessness and excessive anxiety, to stretch out their hands to forbidden remedies for evils, do unquestionably renounce the providence of God.
54. How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled? By this expression Christ means, that he ought not to attempt any method of escaping death, to which he knew that he was called by the Father. For himself, indeed, he had no need of the Scriptures to inform him that God had appointed that he should die at that time; but because mortals do not know what God has determined to do until it be revealed by his word, Christ, with a view to his disciples, properly refers to the testimony which God gave of his will. We know that whatever affliction happens to us, it is inflicted by God himself; but since we are uncertain as to the result, when we seek remedies which he allows, we do not rise against his government; but when his will has been ascertained, nothing more remains for us than to acquiesce. Though in this passage Christ teaches nothing more than that he ought patiently to suffer death, because the Scriptures have declared that it must be so, yet the use of this doctrine is evidently more extensive, namely, that Scripture is a sufficient bridle for subduing the rebellion of the flesh; because God points out to us what is his. will for the very purpose of keeping us in subjection to his will. Accordingly, Paul ascribes to Scripture this office, that it trains us to patience, (Romans 15:4,) and supplies us with all the comfort that we need in adversity. His reproof of the disciples, as given by Luke, is more brief, Permit them to do thus far; but still he severely condemns their presumption, in having gone so far as to perform an unlawful action, though at the same time he holds out a hope of pardon, if they suppress their improper zeal, and proceed no farther.
. Are you come out, as against a robber? By these words Christ expostulates with his enemies for having intended to bring odium upon him, by coming provided with a great body of soldiers; for the meaning is this, “What necessity was there for making such a display of arms against me, as if your object had been to overcome some robber? But I have always lived peaceably amongst you, and without using arms; and when I was teaching in the temple, you might easily have seized me without any military force.” Yet, while he complains of their malice in violently rushing upon him, as if he were a seditious man, he again wounds their evil conscience by reminding them, that though they had a traitor for their leader, they approached him with trembling, and with many marks of distrust.
56. Now all this was done. The other two Evangelists express it somewhat differently; for what Matthew relates in his own person, Mark appears to attribute to Christ.Luke employs even different words: this is your hour, and the power of darkness. But the design of the Holy Spirit is, beyond all doubt, that whatever may be the contrivances of wicked men, nothing whatever has been done but by the will and providence of God; for as he had said a little before, God has testified nothing by the prophets but what he had determined with himself, (Luke 22:3.) First, therefore, we are here informed, that whatever may be the unbridled rage by which Satan and all ungodly men are actuated, still the hand of God always prevails, so as to draw them reluctantly wherever he pleases. Secondly, we are informed, that though wicked men fulfill what was predicted in the Scriptures; yet, since God does not employ them as his lawful ministers, but directs them, by a secret movement, to that which was farthest from their wish, they are not excusable; and that, while God makes a righteous use of their malice, blame still attaches to them. At the same time, let us observe that Christ said this in order to remove the offense, which would otherwise have greatly disturbed weak minds, when they saw him so reproached and outraged.
Still Christ intended not only to promote the advantage of his disciples, but also to repress the pride of his adversaries, that they might not triumph as if they had achieved victory. For this reason, in Luke’s narrative he says, this is your hour; by which he means that the Lord grants them this liberty for a short time. The power of darkness denotes the power of the devil, and this term had also a strong tendency to abase their glory; for though they exalt themselves ever so much, Christ shows that they are still nothing more than the slaves of the devil. While all things are mingled in confusion, and while the devil, by spreading darkness abroad, appears to overturn the whole order of the world, let us know that the providence of God shines above in heaven, to bring at length to order what is confused; and let us, therefore, learn to raise the eyes of faith to that calm sky. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled. Hence we may again infer how much more ready they were to fight rashly than to follow their Master.
Luke follows a different order from Matthew and Mark in the narrative; but when we come to the proper place, we will endeavor to reconcile the points in which they differ. It will be proper, in the meantime, to glance briefly at those things which claim our attention in the words of Matthew and Mark. First, in order to remove the offense of the cross, we ought to consider the advantage which we have derived from Christ’s emptying of himself, (Philippians 2:7;) for thus will the inestimable goodness of God, and the efficacy of his grace, be found to remove by its brightness every thing in it that was disagreeable or shameful. According to the flesh, it was disgraceful that the Son of God should be seized, bound, and made a prisoner; but when we reflect that by his chains we are loosed from the tyranny of the devil, and from the condemnation in which we were involved before God, not only is the stumbling-block, on which our faith might have struck, removed out of the way, but in place of it there comes an admiration of the boundless grace of God, who set so high a value on our deliverance, as to give up his only-begotten Son to be bound by wicked men. This will also be a pledge of the astonishing love of Christ towards us, that he spared not himself, but willingly submitted to wear fetters on his flesh, that our souls might be freed from fetters of a far worse description.Matthew 26:57
. But they who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas. Though the Jews had been deprived of what is called, the higher jurisdiction, there still lingered among them some vestiges of that judicial authority which the Law confers on the high priest, (Deuteronomy 1:8;) so that, while they had lost the absolute authority, (223) they retained the power of administering moderate correction. This is the reason why Christ is brought before the high priest to be interrogated; not that a final sentence may be pronounced on him by theft tribunal, but that the priests may afterwards present him before the governor, under the aggravating influence of their decision. (224) Caiaphas the high priest was also named Joseph, and this man—as we are told by the historian Josephus—was appointed to be high priest by Valerius Gratus, governor of Judea, when Simon, the son of Camithus, was deposed from that office. (225) The Evangelists give his surname only, (226) perhaps because he was more generally named, and better known, by it.
Matthew says that the priests assembled in the house of Caiaphas; and that they were already assembled at midnight, before Christ was brought, but because the place of meeting had been appointed, that, as soon as the information reached them, they might meet hastily at an early hour in the morning; though we have lately seen that some who belonged to the order of the priesthood went out by night, along with the soldiers, to seize Christ. But we have frequently seen, in other passages, that the Evangelists were not very exact in adhering to the order of time. In this passage, certainly, they had no other object in view than to show that the Son of God was oppressed by a wicked conspiracy of the whole council. And here a frightful and hideous spectacle is placed before our eyes; for nowhere else than at Jerusalem was there at that time either a temple of God, or lawful worship, or the face of a Church. The high priest was a figure of the only Mediator between God and men; those who sat along with him in the council represented the whole Church of God; and yet all of them unite in conspiring to extinguish the only hope Of salvation. But as it had been declared by prediction of David, that
the stone which the builders rejected would nevertheless become the head-stone of the corner, (Psalms 118:22;)
and as Isaiah had foretold that
the God of armies would be to the whole people of Israel a stone of stumbling, on which they would dash themselves, (Isaiah 8:14)
the Lord wisely made provision that such wickedness of men should not perplex believing souls.
(223) “ La puissance de condamner à mort;” — “the power of condemning to death.”
(224) “ Estant desja chargé par leur jugement, et que cela soit un prejudice contre luy;” — “being already accused by their decision, and that this may excite a prejudice against him.”
(225) Ant. 18:2. 2. — Repeated allusions have been made, in earlier portions of the Commentary, to this remarkable passage in the writings of the great Jewish historian. The reader will find it quoted at length. — Harmony vol. 1, p. 177, n. 1 — Ed.
(226) That is, instead of calling him Joseph Caiaphas, they call him simply Caiaphas.
59. Sought false witness. By these words the Evangelists remark, that nothing was farther from the design of the priests than to inquire into the cause, so that, when the matter was thoroughly understood, they might decide what was proper. For they had previously resolved to put Christ to death, and now they only seek a pretense for oppressing him. Now it is impossible that equity can have any place where an examination of the cause is not the first step. In seeking false witnesses, their treacherous cruelty is manifested; and when, after being disappointed of their expectation, they still do not desist, this affords a still more striking display of their blinded obstinacy. Thus, amidst the darkness of their rage, the innocence of the Son of God shone so brightly, that the devils themselves might know that he died innocent.
It ought to be observed, also, that the appellation of false witnesses is applied not to those who contrive a lie which had no foundation, but to those who calumniously pervert what was justly said, and turn it into a crime; an instance of which is here expressly related as to the destruction and rebuilding of the temple. Christ had indeed said, that when
the temple of his body was destroyed, he would raise it up within three days, (John 2:19.)
The false witnesses do not now resort to some new contrivance, but they put a wrong interpretation on his words, as if he boasted that he would practice some juggling in building the temple. Now as the calumny was trivial and worthless, we may readily infer from it how greatly the priests and scribes were blinded by their fury, since, without any pretext, they demand that Christ shall be put to death.
. And the high priest, rising up. It is certain that Christ was silent when false witnesses pressed hard upon him, not only because they did not deserve a reply, but because he did not seek to be now acquitted, knowing that his hour was come. But Caiaphas triumphs over him on account of his silence, as if he was struck dumb by being vanquished; which is usually the case with men who are conscious of having done wrong. But it is an instance of extreme wickedness that he insinuates that Christ is not free from blame, because witnesses speak against him. The question, What is it that those men testify against thee? amounts to this: “How comes it that those men oppose thee, but because they are urged by conscientious views? For they would not have appeared against thee without a good reason.” As if he did not know that those witnesses had been procured by fraud: but this is the way in which wicked men, when they find themselves in the possession of authority and power, throw off sham and indulge in arrogance. Christ was again silent, not only because the objection was frivolous, but because, having been appointed to be a sacrifice, he had thrown aside all anxiety about defending himself.
63. I adjure thee by the living God. The high priest thought that this alone was a crime sufficient to condemn Christ, if he professed that he was the Christ. But since they all boasted of expecting redemption from Christ, he ought first to have inquired if such was the fact. That there would be a Christ, by whose hands the people were to be delivered, they would not have ventured to deny. Jesus came publicly forward, bearing the title of the Christ. Why do they not consider the fact itself? Why do they not examine the signs, by means of which a correct decision might have been formed? But, having already determined to put Christ to death, they are satisfied with this pretense of sacrilege, that he claimed for himself the glory of Divinity. And yet Caiaphas examines the matter on oath, as if he had been prepared to yield as soon as it was fully ascertained; but all the while his whole mind is filled with a malicious hatred and contempt of Christ, and is so blinded by pride and ambition, that he takes for granted, that as soon as the fact has been ascertained, without inquiring whether it is right or wrong, he will have just grounds for condemning him.
If thou art the Christ, the Son of God. From the words of Caiaphas we may infer, that it was at that time common among the Jews to bestow on the Messiah the title of the Son of God; for this form of interrogation could not have originated in any other way than from the ordinary custom; and, indeed, they had learned from the predictions of Scripture that he was not less the Son of God than the Son of David. It appears, too, that Caiaphas employed this epithet, with the view either of terrifying Christ, or of exciting a prejudice against him; as if he had said, “See where you are going; for you cannot call yourself the Christ, without claiming, at the same time, the appellation of Son of God, with which Scripture honors him.” Such is also his reason for using the word Blessed, which Mark gives instead of God; for this pretended reverence (232) for God was intended to bring a heavier charge against Christ than that of profaning the holy name of God.
(232) “ Ce mot duquel Caiaphe use, faisant semblant d’avoir une grande reverence à la majesté Divine;” — “this word which Caiaphas employs, pretending to have a great veneration for the Divine majesty.”
64. Thou hast said it. Luke inserts another reply, by which Christ reproves the malice of the priests, in not inquiring with a desire to know. If I tell you, says he, you will not believe: by which words he means, that though he were to prove to them a hundred times that he was the Christ, it would be of no avail with obstinate men. For they had not only heard, but had beheld with their eyes miracles, which, though Christ had been silent, would have confirmed his heavenly and divine power, and would even have cried aloud, that he was the promised Redeemer.
He next adds a confession, which, though it is related in many words by Matthew, does not convey a different meaning. Jesus affirms that he is the Christ, not for the purpose of avoiding death, but rather of inflaming the rage of his enemies against him. Though at that time he was exposed to contempt, and almost annihilated, by his mean garb, he announces, that at the proper time he will at length come with royal majesty, that they may tremble before the Judge, whom they now refuse to acknowledge as the Author of salvation. The meaning therefore is, that they are widely mistaken, if from his present appearance they form a judgment of what he is; because it is necessary that he should be humbled, and almost reduced to nothing, before he appear adorned with the emblems of his royal power, and with magnificent splendor. For by this word hereafter he distinguishes between his first and second coming.
We may draw from this a useful doctrine, which is still more extensive. For how comes it that wicked men are so much at their ease? How comes it that they are so insolent in rebellion, but because they do not set a high value on the crucified Jesus? It is therefore necessary to remind them of a dreadful judgment, which, with all their stupidity, they will not be able to avoid. And though they ridicule as a fable what is said about the future coming of Christ, still it is not in vain that the Judge summons them to his tribunal and orders them to be summoned by the preaching of the Gospel, that they may be rendered the more inexcusable. But this announcement is fitted to be of very great use even to believers, that they may now with the eyes of hope look for Christ sitting at the right hand of the father, and patiently wait till he comes, and may likewise believe that the rage of wicked men against him, while absent, will not be without its consequences; for they will be compelled to behold him on high coming from heaven, whom now they not only despise, but even trample upon in their pride.
Sitting at the right hand of power. The metaphor contained in the term right hand must be well known, for it frequently occurs in Scripture. Christ then sits at the right hand of the Father, because he is his deputy; and it is called the right hand or power, a, because it is only through the agency of his Son that God now displays his power, and will execute judgment at the last day.
65. Then the high priest rent his garments. By this we see how little advantage was derived by wicked men from the miracles by which Christ had proved his Divinity. But we need not wonder, that under the mean garb of a servant, the Son of God was despised by those who were unmoved by any anxiety about the promised salvation. For if they had not entirely laid aside every pious feeling, their deplorable condition ought to have led them to look anxiously for the Redeemer; but when they now, without making any inquiry, reject him when offered to them, do they not as far as lies in their power, destroy all the promises of God? The high priest first pronounces Christ to be a blasphemer, to which the others afterwards assent. The rending of the clothes plainly shows how boldly and wickedly those who profanely despise God make false pretensions of zeal. It would indeed have been praiseworthy in the high priest, if he heard the name of God shamefully profaned, not only to feel inward resentment and excruciating pain, but to make an open display of his detestation; but while he refused to make inquiry, he contrived an unfounded charge of blasphemy. And yet, this treacherous hypocrite, while he assumed a character which did not belong to him, taught the servants of God with what severity of displeasure they ought to regard blasphemies, and condemned by his example the shameful cowardice of those who are no more affected by an outrage on religion, than if they heard buffoons uttering their silly jokes.
Then they spat in his face. Either Luke has inverted the order of the narrative, or our Lord twice endured this highly contemptuous treatment. The latter supposition appears to me to be probable. And yet, I have no doubt that the servants were emboldened to spit on Christ, and to strike him with greater insolence, after they had seen that the council, so far as their decision had influence, condemned him to death. The object of all these expressions of contempt was, to show that nothing was more unlikely than that he should be a prince of prophets, who, in consequence of being blindfolded, (233) was not able even to ward off blows. But this insolence was turned by the providence of God to a very different purpose; for the face of Christ, dishonored by spitting and blows, has restored to us that image which had been disfigured, and almost effaced, by sin.
(233) “ Lequel ayant seulement un voile devant les yeux;” — “who having only a veil before his eyes.”
. A maid came to him. Here we see that there is no necessity for a severe contest, or for many forces or implements of war, to overpower a man; for any man, who is not supported by the hand of God, will instantly fall by a slight gale or the rustling of a falling leaf. Peter undoubtedly was not less courageous than any of us, and he had already given no ordinary proof of his valor, though it was exercised in a rash and improper manner; and yet he does not wait until he is dragged before the tribunal of the high priest, or until his enemies attempt to put him to death by violence, but, terrified by a woman’s voice, immediately denies his Master. And yet but lately he thought himself a valiant soldier even to death. Let us therefore remember that our strength is so far from being sufficient to resist powerful attacks, that it will give way, when there is the mere shadow of a battle. But in this way God gives us the just reward of our treachery, when he disarms and strips us of all power, so that, when we have thrown off the fear of him, we tremble for a mere nothing. For if a deep fear of God had dwelt in Peter’s heart, it would have been an invincible fortress; but now, naked and defenseless, he trembles while he is still far from danger.
70. But he denied before them all. This circumstance aggravates the criminality of Peter, that, in denying his Master, he did not even dread a multitude of witnesses. (236) And the Spirit intended expressly to state this, that even the presence of men may excite us to hold fast the confession of faith. For if we deny Christ before the weak, they are shaken by our example, and give way; and thus we destroy as many souls as we can; but if, in presence of those who wickedly despise God and oppose the Gospel, we withhold from Christ the testimony which is due to him, we expose his sacred name to the ridicule of all. In short, as a bold and open confession edifies all the godly, (237) and puts unbelievers to shame, so apostasy draws along with it the public ruin of faith in the Church, and the reproach of sound doctrine. The more eminent a man is, therefore, he ought to be the more careful to be on his guard; for his elevation makes it impossible for him to fall from it without doing greater harm.
I know not what thou sayest. The form of denial, which is here set down, shows sufficiently that the wretched sophists, who endeavor to escape by ambiguous expressions, which they turn to a. variety of meanings, when they are called to give an account of their faith, gain nothing by their dexterity in fraud. Peter does not absolutely deny the whole doctrine of the Gospel; he only denies that he knew the man; but, because in the person of Christ he indirectly buries the light of the promised redemption, he is charged with base and shameful treachery. But lately he had heard from the mouth of the Lord, that the confession of faith is a sacrifice acceptable to God; and therefore a mode of denying, which withholds from God his lawful worship, and from Christ the honor that is due to him, admits of no excuse. Let us therefore hold:, that as soon as we depart from a plain and candid profession of Christ, we deprive him of the testimony to which he has a lawful claim.
(236) “ Qu’il n’a point craint de renier son Maistre, mesmement en la presence d tant de tesmoins;” — “that he did not fear to deny his Master, even in the presence of so many witnesses.”
(237) “ Tous enfans de Dieu;” — “all the children of God.”
71. Another maid saw him. From the words of Mark we are rather led to conjecture that it was the same maid; at least he doesn’t state that it was a different maid from the former one. But there is no contradiction here; for it is probable that the statement which proceeded from one maid, flew from the lips of one to those of another, so that the first maid pointed him out to many persons and at several times, and others joined her in asserting that he was the person, and in spreading the discovery of him more widely. John even relates (John 18:25) that, at the second time, the question was put to Peter, not by a maid, but by a multitude of men; from which it is evident that the word, which had been pronounced by the maid, was caught by the men standing by, who attacked Peter.
There is another difference between Mark and the other three Evangelists; for he mentions that the cock crew twice, while they say that the cock crew not until after Peter had thrice denied our Lord. But this difficulty is easily obviated; for Mark says nothing that is inconsistent with the narrative of the other Evangelists, but explains more fully what they pass by in silence. Indeed, I have no doubt that, when Christ said to Peter, before the cock crow, he meant the cock-crowing, (238) which includes many crowings; for cocks do not merely crow once, but repeat their crowings many times; and yet all the crowings of a single watch are called but one cock-crowing. So then, Matthew, Luke, and John, say that Peter thrice denied our Lord before the cock-crowing was ended. Mark states more distinctly one circumstance, that within a short space of time Peter was brought even to the third denial, and that, though he had been warned by the first crowing, he did not repent. None of us will say that profane historians are inconsistent with each other, when some one of them relates what the others have not touched; and, therefore, though Mark’s narrative is different, still it does not contradict the others.
(238) “ L’heure de la nuict en laquelle les coqs chantent;” — “the hour of the night in which cocks crow.”
72. And the second time he denied with an oath. It deserves attention, that Peter, after finding that he could not escape by a simple denial, doubles his crime by adding an oath; and a little after, when he is still more vehemently pressed, he proceeds even to cursing. Hence we infer that a sinner, after having once fallen, is always hurried on from bad to worse; so that those who begin with ordinary offenses afterwards rush headlong into the basest crimes, from which at first they would have recoiled with horror. And this is the just vengeance of God, after we have deprived ourselves of the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to allow Satan a violent exercise of power over us, that, having subdued and made us his slaves, he may drive us wherever he pleases. But this happens chiefly in a denial of the faith; for when a man, through fear of the cross, has turned aside from a pure profession of the gospel, if he perceive that his enemies are not yet satisfied, will proceed farther, and what he had not ventured fully to acknowledge he denies flatly with an oath, and without any ambiguity of words.
We ought also to observe, that almost in a single moment Peter thrice gave way; for this shows how unsteady we are, and how liable to fall, whenever Satan drives us. Certainly we shall never cease to fall, if the Lord do not stretch out his hand to uphold us. When the rigor of the grace of Christ was extinguished in Peter, whoever might afterwards meet hit and interrogate him about Christ, he would have been ready to deny a hundred or a thousand times. Although, then, it was very base in him to fall thrice, yet the Lord spared him by restraining the tongues of enemies from making additional attacks upon him. Thus, also, it is every day necessary for the Lord to bridle Satan, lest he overwhelm us with innumerable temptations; for though he does not cease to employ many instruments in assailing us, were it not that the Lord, paying regard to our weakness, restrains the violence of his rage, we would have to contend against a prodigious amount of temptations. In this respect, therefore, we ought to praise the mercy of the Lord, who does not permit our enemy to make advances against us, almost the hundredth part of what he would desire.
74. Then he began to curse and to swear. In this third denial, Peter’s unfaithfulness to his Master reached its utmost height. Not satisfied with swearing, he breaks out into cursing, by which he abandons his body and soul to destruction; for he prays that the curse of God may fall upon him, if he knows Christ. It is as much as if he had said, May I perish miserably, if I have any thing in common with the salvation of God! So much the more ought we to admire the goodness of Christ, who rescued his disciple from such fatal ruin, and healed him. Now this passage shows, that when a man falling through weakness of the flesh, denies the truth though he knows it, this does not amount to “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 12:31.) Peter had unquestionably heard from the mouth of the Lord how detestable treachery it is to deny him before men; and what dreadful vengeance, before God and before his angels, (Matthew 10:39 Luke 12:9) awaits those who, through a cowardly dread of the cross, abandon the confession of faith; and not without reason had he, a little before, preferred death and every kind of torment to denying Christ. Now, therefore, he throws himself down knowingly, and after previous warning; but afterwards he obtains pardon; from which it follows that he sinned through weakness and not through incurable malice. For he would willingly have rendered to Christ the duties of friendship which he owed him, had not fear extinguished the sparks of proper affection.
75. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus. To the voice of the cock, Luke informs us, there was also added the look of Christ; for previously — as we learn from Mark — he had paid no attention to the cock when crowing. He must, therefore, have received the look from Christ, in order that he might come to himself. We all have experience of the same thing in ourselves; for which of us does not pass by with indifference and with deaf ears — I do not say the varied and numerous songs of birds which however, excite us to glorify God — but even the voice of God, which is heard clearly and distinctly in the doctrine of the Law and of the Gospel? Nor is it for a single day only that our minds are held by such brutal stupidity, but it is perpetual until he who alone turns the hearts of men deigns to look upon us. It is proper to observe, however that this was no ordinary look, for he had formerly looked at Judas who, after all, became no better by it. But in looking at Peter, he added to his eyes the secret efficacy of the Spirit, and thus by the rays of his grace, penetrated into his heart. Let us therefore know, that whenever any one has fallen, his repentance will never begin, until the Lord has looked at him.
And he went out and wept bitterly. It is probable that Peter went out through fear, for he did not venture to weep in presence of witnesses; and here he gave another proof of his weakness. Hence we infer that he did not deserve pardon by satisfaction, but that he obtained it by the fatherly kindness of God. And by this example we are taught that we ought to entertain confident hope, though our repentance be lame; for God does not despise even weak repentance, provided that it be sincere. Yet Peter’s tears, which he shed in secret, testified before God and the angels that his repentance was true; for, having withdrawn from the eyes of men, he places before him God and the angels; and, therefore, those tears flow from the deep feelings of his heart. This deserves our attention; for we see many who shed tears purposely, so long as they are beheld by others, but who have no sooner retired than they have dry eyes. Now there is no room to doubt that tears, which do not flow on account of the judgment of God, are often drawn forth by ambition and hypocrisy.
But it may be asked, Is weeping requisite in true repentance? I reply, Believers often with dry eyes groan before the Lord without hypocrisy, and confess their fault to obtain pardon; but in more aggravated offenses they must be in no ordinary degree stupid and hardened, whose hearts are not pained by grief and sorrow, and who do not feel ashamed even so far as to shed tears. And, therefore Scripture, after having convicted men of their crimes, exhorts them to sackcloth and ashes, (Daniel 9:3; Jonah 3:6; Matthew 11:21.)
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 26". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30