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. And when he had come down from the mountain Matthew now returns to the course of the history. He had formerly said, that Christ went up into a mountain, (verse 1) then he threw, as it were, into one heap, many leading points of the doctrine of Christ; and now he adds that, about the time when he preached on the mountain, he healed a certain leper The same event is related by Mark and Luke, though they do not mention the time. It was a striking display of the divine power of Christ, that, by his word alone and a touch of his hand, he suddenly cleansed the man’s leprosy. Now, though leprosy was a different kind of disease from elephantiasis, (488) ( ἐλεφαντίασις,) it is plain enough that it was difficult to cure. When it had continued long and become deeply seated, it rarely happened that any person recovered. Granting that physicians might, by their professional skill, have given some relief, it is manifest that there was nothing human about this miracle.
(488) “The burning ulceration, with which the great adversary of man afflicted the venerable patriarch Job, (Job 2:7,) is generally understood to be the elephantiasis, or leprosy of the Arabians; and derives its name from its rendering the skin of the patient, like that of an elephant, scabrous and dark-colored, and furrowed all over with tubercles, loathsome alike to the individual and to spectators.”— (Horne’s Introduction, vol. iii. p. 328.) This quotation is made, because it seemed proper that a word of comparatively rare occurrence, which Calvin uses, should be defined, and its origin explained; and because that useful work, from which we have quoted, was at hand. Many of the most important topics embraced by the “Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures” have since been handled by writers of greater learning and research. Yet it would be ungrateful not to acknowledge that, at the time of its appearance, it supplied an important desideratum, that it probably led the way to other treatises, and that, as a popular and miscellaneous book of reference on Biblical literature, it is not yet superseded. — Ed.
2. Approaching, worshipped What is the meaning of the verb προσκυνεῖν, which is rendered in the Latin version, adorare, to adore or worship, may be easily learned from this passage. For the exposition of it we may rely on the other two Evangelists, of whom Mark says, that he fell on his knees, and Luke, that he fell down on his face The outward gesture of kneeling was exhibited by the leper as a token of reverence. Now we know, that such marks of respect were in general use among the Jews, as the people of the East are more addicted to that kind of ceremonies. Many people accordingly think, that the leper did not intend to render to Christ divine worship, (489) but gave him a respectful salutation as a distinguished prophet of God.
I enter into no dispute as to the feelings which moved the leper to pay reverence to Christ. But I look at what he attributed to him, that he was able to cleanse him, if he were willing By these words he declared, that he acknowledged a divine power in Christ: and when Christ replies, I am willing, he shows that he claimed more for himself than belongs to man. He who, by the mere expression of his will, restores health to men, must possess supreme authority. Whether the leper believed that Christ was the Son of God, or that he had received this power in the same manner as Moses and the other prophets, he entertains no doubt that he held in his hand, and in his power, the gift of healing. True, he speaks conditionally, if thou art willing, thou art able But this is not inconsistent with that certainty of faith, which God demands in our prayers: for men ought not to expect more than God promises. The leper had not learned by any inspired communication, or any promise of God, what Christ would do. It would have been improper in him, therefore, to go beyond these limits for though we sometimes read that certain persons prayed without any condition, we ought to believe that they were guided by special movements of the Spirit, (490) which must not be taken for a general rule. I am not even certain if we are at liberty to say, strictly speaking, that the leper offered a prayer. He only declares, that he is so fully convinced of the power of Christ, as to entertain no doubt that it is in his power to cure leprosy; and then presents himself to be healed, but uncertain as to the result, because he did not yet know the will of Christ. (491)
(489) “ De faire a Christ un honneur appartenant a Ia majeste divine;” — “to do to Christ an honor belonging to the divine majesty.”
(490) “ Qu'il y a eu en tels personnages des mouvemens singuliers, et inspirations particulieres du S. Esprit;” — “that there were in such persons singular movements, and peculiar inspirations of the Holy Spirit.”
(491) “ Le vouloir de Christ sur sa requeste;” — “the will of Christ as to his request.”
3. Having stretched out his hand, he touched Under the Law, the touch of a leper was infectious; but as Christ possesses such purity as to repel all filth and defilement, he does not, by touching, either pollute himself with leprosy, or become a transgressor of the law. When he took upon him our flesh, he did not only deign to touch as with his hand, but was united to one and the same body with ourselves, that we might be flesh of his flesh, (Genesis 2:23.) Nor did he only stretch out his arm to us, but descended from heaven even to hell, and yet contracted no stain from it, but, retaining his innocence, took away all our impurities, and sprinkled us with his holiness. By his word alone he might have healed the leper; but he applied, at the same time, the touch of his hand, to express the feeling of compassion. Nor ought this to excite our wonder, since he chose to take upon him our flesh, that he might cleanse us from our sins. The stretching out of his hand was therefore an expression and token of infinite grace and goodness. What we indolently read, and coldly pass by, cannot be duly weighed without great astonishment. The Son of God was so far from disdaining to talk to a leper, that he even stretched out his hand to touch that uncleanness.
4. And Jesus saith to him, See that thou tell it not to any one Some persons, by way of excusing the leper, think that Christ did not seriously forbid him to publish the miracle, but rather gave him an additional excitement to do so. Others more justly consider the reason of the prohibition to have been, that the full “time was not yet come,” (John 7:6.) I do acknowledge, that to have suppressed this miracle would have been improper: but our Lord had a particular reason for wishing that the report of it should not be immediately spread, or, at least, not by the leper The leper was so far from deserving praise for the disorderly exhibition of his regard, that he ought, in my opinion, to be condemned for not obeying Christ’s injunction. If he wished to express his gratitude to him to whom he was indebted for his cure, no better method could have been found than obedience, which God prefers to all sacrifices, (1 Samuel 15:22,) and which is the origin and foundation of lawful worship. This example shows us, that those who allow themselves to be guided by inconsiderate zeal act improperly, because the more eager they are to please God, the greater progress do they make in rebellion to his commands.
Show thyself to the priest As the ceremonies of the law had not yet been repealed, Christ did not wish that they should be despised or neglected. Now, God had commanded in the law that, if any man had been cleansed from leprosy, he should present himself to the priest with a sacrifice of thanksgiving, (Leviticus 14:2.) The design (492) was, that the priest, by his decision, might attest the benefit received from God; and that the person who had been healed might give an expression of his gratitude. Christ, therefore, by sending the leper to the priest, proves that he had no other object in view than to display the glory of God. The showing to the priest was for the purpose of examination, and the offering was the expression of thanksgiving. He wishes that the priests should examine the man, to make the divine favor manifest and undoubted; and that the leper, on the other hand, should acknowledge that God had healed him. Meanwhile, as I have just mentioned, he commands them to observe the ceremonies prescribed by the law, till the time when it should be repealed.
The attempt of the Papists to produce this passage, as an authority for their own confession, (493) is highly foolish. Leprosy, they allege, is put allegorically for sin; and the priests, who are consecrated by the Pope, are the judges of spiritual leprosy. (494) Even granting that this authority was conferred on the priests under the law, for the purpose of informing the people, that all their cleanness, and the decision respecting it, depended on the priesthood, still this is impiously claimed for themselves by the Popish priests. All the honor that belonged to the ancient priests is now claimed by Christ alone as his own. He alone is appointed to be the judge of spiritual leprosy, and entitled to receive, from those who have been cured, the offering for their cleansing. Under the law, a sacrifice was employed as the seal of cleanness, because satisfaction made by the shedding of blood is the only way in which men are cleansed. To transfer to another that right, which God has declared to be the prerogative of his own Son, is a detestable sacrilege. When the ministers of the Gospel, by the command of Christ, declare to sinners that they are cleansed from their sins, this must not be tortured into the pretended jurisdiction, which the priests imagine, of pronouncing a decision about leprosy. (495)
(492) “ Le but de ce commandement;” — “the end of that commandment.”
(493) Those who wish to make themselves acquainted with Calvin's views on the whole subject of what the Papists call auricular confession, will find them stated in the Institutions of the Christian Religion (B. III. c. iv. sec. 19.) — Ed
(494) “ Doivent avoir le jugement et la cognoissance de la ladrerie spirituelle;” — “ought to have the judgment and discernment of spiritual leprosy.”
(495) “ De discerner entre ladrerie et ladrerie;” — “of distinguishing between leprosy and leprosy.”
. And when Jesus had entered Those who think that Matthew and Luke give different narratives, are led into a mistake by a mere trifle. The only difference in the words is, that Matthew says that the centurion came to him, while Luke says that he sent some of the Jews to plead in his name. But there is no impropriety in Matthew saying, that the centurion did what was done in his name and at his request. There is such a perfect agreement between the two Evangelists in all the circumstances, that it is absurd to make two miracles instead of one.
The band of soldiers, which the centurion had under his command, was stationed, I have no doubt, in the town of Capernaum, in the same manner as garrisons were usually appointed for the protection of the towns. Though he perceived the morals of the people to be very vicious and depraved, (for we know that Capernaum, being on the seacoast, must have been more dissolute (499) than other towns,) yet this did not prevent him from condemning the superstitions of his country, and acquiring a taste for true and sincere piety. He had not built a synagogue for the Jews without exposing himself to some hatred and to some risk: and the only reason why he loved that nation was, that he had embraced the worship of one God. Before Christ healed his servant, he had been healed by the Lord.
This was itself a miracle. One who belonged to the military profession, and who had crossed the sea with a band of soldiers, for the purpose of accustoming the Jews to endure the yoke of Roman tyranny, submits willingly, and yields obedience to the God of Israel. Luke says that this servant was very dear to him; and thus anticipates a doubt which might have arisen in the mind of the reader: for we know that slaves (500) were not held in such estimation, as to make their masters so solicitous about their life, unless by extraordinary industry, or fidelity, or some other virtue, they had secured their favor. By this statement Luke means, that this was not a low or ordinary slave, but a faithful servant, distinguished by many excellencies, and very highly esteemed by his master; and that this was the reason why he was so anxious about his life, and recommended him so earnestly. From both Evangelists it is evident that it was a sudden palsy, which, from the first attack, took away all hope of life: for slow palsies are not attended by severe pain. Matthew says, that he was grievously tormented, and Luke, that he was near death Both descriptions — pain or agony, and extreme danger — serve to enhance the glory of the miracle: and for this reason I am the more unwilling to hazard any absolute assertion as to the nature of the disease.
(499) “ Plus pleines de dissolutions et de desbauches;” — “more full of dissoluteness and debauchery.”
(500) “ Qu'on ne tenoit pas si grande conte de serfs;” — “that they did not set so great value on slaves.”
. Lord, I do not deserve that thou shouldest come under my roof Matthew’s narrative is more concise, and represents the man as saying this; while Luke explains more fully, that this was a message sent by his friends: but the meaning of both is the same. There are two leading points in this discourse. The centurion, sparing Christ by way of honoring him, requests that Christ will not trouble himself, because he reckons himself unworthy to receive a visit from him. The next point is, that he ascribes to Christ such power as to believe, that by the mere expression of his will, and by a word, his servant may recover and live. There was astonishing humility in exalting so highly above himself a man who belonged to a conquered and enslaved nation. It is possible, too, that he had become accustomed to the haughty pretensions of the Jews, and, being a modest man, did not take it ill to be reckoned a heathen, and therefore feared that he would dishonor a Prophet of God, if he pressed him to enter the house of a polluted Gentile. However that may be, it is certain that he speaks sincerely, and entertains such reverence for Christ, that he does not venture to invite him to his house, nay, as is afterwards stated by Luke, he reckoned himself unworthy to converse with him. (502)
But it may be asked, what moved him to speak of Christ in such lofty terms? The difficulty is even increased by what immediately follows, only say the word, and my servant will be healed, or, as Luke has it, say in a word: for if he had not acknowledged Christ to be the Son of God, to transfer the glory of God to a man would have been superstition. It is difficult to believe, on the other hand, that he was properly informed about Christ’s divinity, of which almost all were at that time ignorant. Yet Christ finds no fault with his words, (503) but declares that they proceeded from faith: and this reason has forced many expositors to conclude, that the centurion bestows on Christ the title of the true and only God. I rather think that the good man, having been informed about the uncommon and truly divine works of Christ, simply acknowledged in him the power of God. Something, too, he had undoubtedly heard about the promised Redeemer. Though he does not distinctly understand that Christ is God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16,) yet he is convinced that the power of God is manifested in him, and that he has received a commission to display the presence of God by miracles. He is not therefore chargeable with superstition, as if he had ascribed to a man what is the prerogative of God: but, looking at the commission which God had given to Christ, he believes that by a word alone he can heal his servant.
Is it objected, that nothing belongs more peculiarly to God than to accomplish by a word whatever he pleases, and that this supreme authority cannot without sacrilege be yielded to a mortal man? The reply is again easy. Though the centurion did not enter into those nice distinctions, he ascribed this power to the word, not of a mortal man, but of God, whose minister he fully believed Christ to be: on that point he entertained no doubt. The grace of healing having been committed to Christ, (504) he acknowledges that this is a heavenly power, and does not look upon it as inseparable from the bodily presence, but is satisfied with the word, from which he believes such a power to proceed.
(502) “ Il ne s'est pas estime digne d'aller parler a Christ;” — “he did not think himself worthy to go and talk to Christ.”
(503) “ Toutefois Christ ne prend pas ces paroles comme dites de l'aventure et sans intelligence.” — “Yet Christ does not take these words as spoken at random and without understanding.”
(504) “ Pource que Christ avoit receu la vertu de donner gairison;”— “because Christ had received the power of giving healing.”
. For I am a man subject to the power of another This comparison does not imply equality between the two cases, but is taken from the less to the greater. He forms a higher conception of the divine power, which is manifested in Christ, than of the authority which was possessed by himself over servants and soldiers.
10. Jesus wondered. Wonder cannot apply to God, for it arises out of what is new and unexpected: but it might exist in Christ, for he had clothed himself with our flesh, and with human affections. Not even in Israel have I found so great faith This is not spoken absolutely, but in a particular point of view. For, if we consider all the properties of faith, we must conclude that the faith of Mary was greater, in believing that she would be with child by the Holy Ghost, and would bring forth the only-begotten Son of God, and in acknowledging the son whom she had borne to be her God, and the Creator of the whole world, and her only Redeemer.
But there were chiefly two reasons why Christ preferred the faith of a Gentile to the faith of all the Jews. One was, that a slight and inconsiderable acquaintance with doctrine yielded so sudden and abundant fruit. It was no small matter to declare, in such lofty terms, the power of God, of which a few rays only were yet visible in Christ. Another reason was, that while the Jews were excessively eager to obtain outward signs, this Gentile asks no visible sign, but openly declares that he wants nothing more than the bare word. Christ was going to him: not that it was necessary, but to try his faith; and he applauds his faith chiefly on the ground of his resting satisfied with the bare word. What would another have done, and he too one of the Apostles? Come, Lord, see and touch. This man asks no bodily approach or touch, but believes the word to possess such efficacy as fully to expect from it that his servant will be cured.
Now, he ascribes this honor to the word, not of a man, but of God: for he is convinced that Christ is not an ordinary man, but a prophet sent by God. And hence may be drawn a general rule. Though it was the will of God that our salvation should be accomplished in the flesh of Christ, and though he seals it daily by the sacraments, yet the certainty of it must be obtained from the word. Unless we yield such authority to the word, as to believe that, as soon as God has spoken by his ministers, our sins are undoubtedly forgiven, and we are restored to life, all confidence of salvation is overthrown.
11. Many will come from the east and west In the person of the servant, Christ gave to the Gentiles a taste and a kind of first-fruits of his grace. He now shows, that the master is an example of the future calling of the Gentiles, and of the spread of faith throughout the whole world: for he says that they will come, not only from the neighboring countries, but from the farthest bounds of the world. Though this had been clearly foretold by many passages of the prophets, it appeared at first strange and incredible to the Jews, who imagined that God was confined to the family of Abraham. It was not without astonishment that they heard, that those who were at that time strangers, would be citizens and heirs of the kingdom of God: and not only so, but that the covenant of salvation would be immediately proclaimed, that the whole world might be united in one body of the Church. He declares, that the Gentiles, who shall come to the faith, will be partakers of the same salvation with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob Hence we draw the certain conclusion, that the same promise, which has been held out to us in Christ, was formerly given to the fathers; for we would not have had an inheritance in common with them, if the faith, by which it is obtained, had not been the same. The word ἀνακλιθήσονται, shall recline, contains an allusion to a banquet: but as we know, that the heavenly life does not require meat and drink, this phrase has the same meaning as if he had said, they shall enjoy the same life
12. But the children of the kingdom Why does he call those persons children of the kingdom, who were nothing less than children of Abraham? for those who are aliens from the faith have no right to be considered a part of God’s flock. I answer: Though they did not actually belong to the Church of God, yet, as they occupied a place in the Church, he allows them this designation. Besides, it ought to be observed that, so long as the covenant of God remained in the family of Abraham, there was such force in it, that the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom belonged peculiarly to them. With respect to God himself, at least, they were holy branches from a holy root, (Romans 11:16) and the rejection of them, which afterwards followed, shows plainly enough, that they belonged, at that time, to the family of God. Secondly, it ought to be observed, that Christ does not now speak of individuals, but of the whole nation. This was still harder to endure than the calling of the Gentiles. That the Gentiles should be admitted, by a free adoption, into the same body with the posterity of Abraham, could scarcely be endured: but that the Jews themselves should be driven out, to make way for their being succeeded by the Gentiles, appeared to them altogether monstrous. Yet Christ declares that both will happen: that God will admit strangers into the bosom of Abraham, and that he will exclude the children There is an implied contrast in the phrase, the darkness that is without It means that out of the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of light, nothing but darkness reigns. By darkness Scripture points out that dreadful anguish, which can neither be expressed nor conceived in this life. (505)
(505) “ Laquelle la bouche de l'homme ne sauroit exprimer, ni ses sens comprendre en ce monde;” — “which the mouth of man cannot express, nor his senses comprehend, in this world.”
13. Go away, and as thou believest, so may it be to thee Hence it is evident how graciously Christ pours out his grace, when he finds the vessel of faith open. Though he addresses these words to the centurion, there can be no doubt that, in his person, he invites us all to strong hope. Hence we are also taught the reason why God is, for the most part, so limited in his communications to us: it is because our unbelief does not permit him to be liberal. If we open up the entrance to him by faith, he will listen to our wishes and prayers.
. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet. This prediction has the appearance of being inappropriate, and even of being tortured into a meaning which it does not bear: for Isaiah does not there speak of miracles, but of the death of Christ, — and not of temporal benefits, but of spiritual and eternal grace. Now, what is undoubtedly spoken about the impurities of the soul, Matthew applies to bodily diseases. The solution is not difficult, if the reader will only observe, that the Evangelist states not merely the benefit conferred by Christ on those sick persons, but the purpose for which he healed their diseases. They experienced in their bodies the grace of Christ, but we must look at the design: for it would be idle to confine our view to a transitory advantage, as if the Son of God were a physician of bodies. What then? He gave sight to the blind, in order to show that he is “the light of the world,” (John 8:12.) He restored life to the dead, to prove that he is “the resurrection and the life,” (John 11:25.) Similar observations might be made as to those who were lame, or had palsy. Following out this analogy, let us connect those benefits, which Christ bestowed on men in the flesh, with the design which is stated to us by Matthew, that he was sent by the Father, to relieve us from all evils and miseries.
And when Jesus had seen great multitudes about him. Matthew, I have no doubt, touches briefly what the others explain in a more ample and copious narrative. The other two state a circumstance, which is not noticed by Matthew that Christ withdrew privately, for the sake of retirement, into a desert place, before it was daylight. Mark afterwards says, that Peter informed him, all seek, thee; and Luke says, that multitudes came to that place. Again, Matthew says, that he passed over to the other side, while the other two say, that he passed through all Galilee, to preach in every place. But the other side, or, the farther bank, ( τὸ πέραν,) does not, I think, denote what was strictly the opposite side, but refers to that curvature of the lake, which was below Capernaum. In this way, he crossed over to another part of the lake, and yet did not go out of Galilee.
. And a scribe approaching. Two men are here presented to us by Matthew, and three by Luke, all of whom were prepared to become disciples of Christ, but who, having been prevented by a diversity of vices from following the right course, receive a corresponding variety of replies. It might at first sight appear strange, that Christ sends back, and does not admit into his family, one who offers to follow him immediately and without delay: while he detains another along with him who, by asking leave for a time, showed himself to be slower and less willing. But there are the best reasons for both. Whence arose the great readiness of the scribe to prepare himself immediately to accompany Christ, but from his not having at all considered the hard and wretched condition of his followers? We must bear in mind that he was a scribe, who had been accustomed to a quiet and easy life, had enjoyed honor, and was ill-fitted to endure reproaches, poverty, persecutions, and the cross. He wishes indeed to follow Christ, but dreams of an easy and agreeable life, and of dwellings filled with every convenience; whereas the disciples of Christ must walk among thorns, and march to the cross amidst uninterrupted afflictions. The more eager he is, the less he is prepared. He seems as if he wished to fight in the shade and at ease, neither annoyed by sweat nor by dust, and beyond the reach of the weapons of war. There is no reason to wonder that Christ rejects such persons: for, as they rush on without consideration, they are distressed by the first uneasiness of any kind that occurs, lose courage at the first attack, give way, and basely desert their post. Besides, this scribe might have sought a place in the family of Christ, in order to live at his table without expense, and to feed luxuriously without toil. Let us therefore look upon ourselves as warned, in his person, not to boast lightly and at ease, that we will be the disciples of Christ, while we are taking no thought of the cross, or of afflictions; but, on the contrary, to consider early what sort of condition awaits us. The first lesson which he gives us, on entering his school, is to deny ourselves, and take up his cross, (Matthew 16:24.)
20. Foxes have holes. The Son of God describes by these words what was his condition while he lived on the earth, but, at the same time, informs his disciples what sort of life they must be prepared to expect. And yet it is strange that Christ should say, that he had not a foot of earth on which he could lay his head, while there were many godly and benevolent persons, who would willingly receive him into their houses. But this was spoken, it ought to be observed, as a warning to the scribe, not to expect an abundant and rich hire, as if he had a wealthy master, while the master himself receives a precarious subsistence in borrowed houses.
21. Lord, permit me to go first and bury my father. We have said, that the scribe was rejected by Christ as a follower, because he made his offer without consideration, and imagined that he would enjoy an easy life. The person whom Christ retains had an opposite fault. He was prevented from immediately obeying the call of Christ by the weakness of thinking it a hardship to leave his father. It is probable that his father was in extreme old age: for the mode of expression, Permit me to bury, implies that he had but a short time to live. Luke says that Christ ordered him to follow; while Matthew says that he was one of his disciples But he does not refuse the calling: he only asks leave for a time to discharge a duty which he owes to his father. (506) The excuse bears that he looked upon himself as at liberty till his father’s death. From Christ’s reply we learn, that children should discharge their duty to their parents in such a manner that, whenever God calls them to another employment, they should lay this aside, and assign the first place to the command of God. Whatever duties we owe to men must give way, when God enjoins upon us what is immediately due to himself. All ought to consider what God requires from them as individuals, and what is demanded by their particular calling, that earthly parents may not prevent the claims of the highest and only Father of all from remaining entire.
(506) “ Jusque a ce qu'il se soit acquitte envers son pere du devoir que nature commande;” — “until he has discharged that duty to his father which nature requires.”
22. Allow the dead to bury their dead. By these words Christ does not condemn burial: for it would have been shameful and cruel to throw away the bodies of the dead unburied, and we know that the custom of burying originated in a divine command, and was practiced by the saints, in order to strengthen the hope of the last resurrection. He intended only to show, that what ever withdraws us from the right course, or retards us in it, deserves no other name than death Those only live, he tells us, who devote all their thoughts, and every part of their life, to obedience to God; while those who do not rise above the world, — who devote themselves to pleasing men, and forget God, — are like dead men, who are idly and uselessly employed in taking care of the dead.
As we shall soon meet again with the mention of a lake, where it is said (Matthew 8:33) that the swine were carried into it with violence, it is not universally agreed whether one and the same lake is mentioned in both places. The waters of Gennesareth, all admit, (536) were pleasant and healthful to drink: but the Gadarene lake, Strabo tells us, was so unwholesome and pestilential, that the cattle which drank of it often lost their hair and their hoofs. There is therefore no doubt that there were two separate lakes, and that they were at a considerable distance from each other. There is as little doubt that the lake mentioned here was the lake of Gennesareth; and that Christ, having crossed it, came to the Gadarenes, whom Matthew calls Geresenes, (Matthew 8:28.)
Those who infer, from the diversity of the names, that the narratives are different, through a desire to be thought very acute, fall under the charge of gross ignorance: for the country of the Gergesenes was also called Gadarene, from a celebrated city, Gadara. In the age of Jerome, the name was changed; and, therefore, in accordance with the prevailing custom, he calls them Geraseaes That it was the Gadarene lake into which the swine were thrown down by the devils, I have no hesitation in admitting: but when Christ says, let us cross to the other side, I cannot explain the reference as made to any other lake than that of Gennesareth.
It remains that we now inquire as to the time, which cannot be learned either from Matthew or from Luke. Mark alone mentions that it was the evening of that day on which Christ discoursed about the preaching of the gospel under the parable of the sower. Hence it is evident, that they did not attend to the order of time; and, indeed, this is expressly stated by Luke, when he says that it happened on a certain day: for these words show that he gives himself little concern as to the question which of the events was earlier or later.Matthew 8:23
. And when he had entered into a ship Mark says that other little ships crossed along with him: but that Christ entered into his own ship with his disciples Luke too quotes his words: Matthew is more concise. They agree, however, as to the leading fact, that Christ laid himself down to rest, and that, while he was asleep, a tempest suddenly arose. First, it is certain that the storm which agitated the lake was not accidental: for how would God have permitted his Son to be driven about at random by the violence of the waves? But on this occasion he intended to make known to the apostles how weak and inconsiderable their faith still was. Though Christ’s sleep was natural, yet it served the additional purpose of making the disciples better acquainted with their weakness. I will not say, as many do, that Christ pretended sleep, in order to try them. On the contrary, I think that he was asleep in such a manner as the condition and necessity of human nature required.
And yet his divinity watched over him, so that the apostles had no reason to fear that consolation would not be immediately provided, or that assistance would not be obtained from heaven. Let us therefore conclude, that all this was arranged by the secret providence of God, — that Christ was asleep, that a violent tempest arose, and that the waves covered the ship, which was in imminent danger of perishing. And let us learn hence that, whenever any adverse occurrence takes place, the Lord tries our faith. If the distresses grow to such a height as almost to overwhelm us, let us believe that God does it with the same design of exercising our patience, or of bringing to light in this way our hidden weakness; as we see that, when the apostles were covered by the billows, (537) their weakness, which formerly lay concealed, was discovered.
(536) “ C'est un poinct bien resolu entre tous ceux qui ont escrit;” — “it is a point well agreed among all who have written.”
(537) “ Quand les Apostres se sont trouvez assaillis et quasi couvers des riots du lac;” — “when the Apostles found themselves assaulted, and, as it were, covered by the waves of the lake.”
25. Lord, save us A pious prayer (538), one would think: for what else had they to do when they were lost than to implore safety from Christ? But as Christ charges them with unbelief, we must inquire in what respect they sinned. Certainly, I have no doubt that they attached too much importance to the bodily presence of their Master: for, according to Mark, they do not merely pray, but expostulate with him, Master, hast thou no care that we perish? Luke describes also confusion and trembling: Master, Master, we perish They ought to have believed that the Divinity of Christ was not oppressed by carnal sleep, and to his Divinity they ought to have had recourse. But they do nothing till they are urged by extreme danger; and then they are overwhelmed with such unreasonable fear that they do not think they will be safe (539) till Christ is awakened. This is the reason why he accuses them of unbelief for their entreaty that he would assist them was rather a proof of their faith, if, in confident reliance on his divine power, they had calmly, and without so much alarm, expected the assistance which they asked.
And here we obtain an answer to a question which might be put, and which arises out of his reproof. Is every kind of fear sinful and contrary to faith? First, he does not blame them simply because they fear, but because they are timid Mark adds the word οὕτω — Why are you so timid? and by this term indicates that their alarm goes beyond proper bounds. Besides, he contrasts faith with their fear, and thus shows that he is speaking about immoderate dread, the tendency of which is not to exercise their faith, but to banish it from their minds. It is not every kind of fear that is opposed to faith. This is evident from the consideration that, if we fear nothing, an indolent and carnal security steals upon us; and thus faith languishes, the desire to pray becomes sluggish, and the remembrance of God is at length extinguished (540) Besides, those who are not affected by a sense of calamities, so as to fear, are rather insensible than firm.
Thus we see that fear, which awakens faith, is not in itself faulty till it go beyond bounds. (541) Its excess lies in disturbing or weakening the composure of faith, which ought to rest on the word of God. But as it never happens that believers exercise such restraint on themselves as to keep their faith from being injured, their fear is almost always attended by sin. Yet we ought to be aware that it is not every kind of fear which indicates a want of faith, but only that dread which disturbs the peace of the conscience in such a manner that it does not rest on the promise of God.
(538) “ Une priere bonne et sainte;” — “a good and holy prayer.
(539) “ En sorte qu'il ne leur semble oint qu'il y ait moyen de les sauver, sinon que Christ s’eveeile; — so that they think there will be no way of saving them till Christ is awakened.”
(540) “ Et finalemeat la souvenance que chacun doit avoir de Dieu vient a s'esteindre;” — and, finally, that remembrance of God which every one ought to have, comes to be extinguished.”
(541) “ Jusque ace qu'ellc passe mesurc, ct soit excessive;” — “till it go beyond bounds, and become excessive.”
26. He rebuked the winds Mark relates also the words of Christ, by which, addressing the sea, he enjoins silence, ( σιώπα,) that is, stillness not that the lake had any perception, but to show that the power of his voice reached the elements, which were devoid of feeling. And not only the sea and the winds, which are without feeling, but wicked men also, with all their obstinacy, obey the commands of God. For when God is pleased to allay the tumults of war, he does not always soften the fierce minds of men, and mould them to obedience, but even while their rage continues, makes the arms to drop from their hands: And thus is fulfilled that declaration,
He maketh wars to cease to the ends of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in pieces, and burneth the chariots in the fire, (Psalms 46:10.)
27. But the men wondered Mark and Luke appear to say this in reference to the apostles; for, after having stated that Christ reproved them, they add that they cried out with fear, Who is this? It applies, however, more properly to others, who had not yet known Christ. Whether we take the one or the other of these views, the result of the miracle appears in the display of the glory of Christ. If any one shall suppose that it is the apostles who speak, the meaning of the words will be, that his divine power was sufficiently proved by the fact that the wind and the sea obey him But as it is more probable that these words were spoken by others, the Evangelists show that the miracle made such an impression on their minds, as to produce a certain reverence for Christ which prepared them for believing on him.
The error of those who think that Mark and Luke relate a different miracle from this, has been already refuted. It is the same country which was opposite, as Luke expressly states, to Galilee, that is described by the three Evangelists, and all the circumstances agree. Who then will believe that the same things, so fully coincident at all points, happened at different times?Matthew 8:28
Two demoniacs met him Commentators have been led into the error of separating Matthew’s narrative from that of the others by this single difference, that he mentions two, while the others mention but one. There is probability in the conjecture of Augustine, who thinks that there were two, but accounts for not more than one being mentioned here by saying, that this one was more generally known, and that the aggravation of his disease made the miracle performed on him the more remarkable. And, indeed, we see that Luke and Mark employ many words in describing the extraordinary rage of the devil, so as to make it evident that the wretched man, of whom they speak, was grievously fomented. The circumstance of their holding up to commendation one singular instance of Christ’s divine power is not inconsistent with the narrative of Matthew, in which another, though less known man, (547) is also mentioned.
(547) “ Combien qu'il ne lust pas rant eognu que le premier;” — “though he was not so well known as the former.”
. What have we to do with thee? Willingly would they, by this word, drive him far from them. But when they see that they are held under restraint, and that it is in vain for them to decline his authority, they complain that they are tormented before the time, and likewise mingle entreaty. Thus we see that the devils breathe nothing but rebellion against God; and yet, with all their swelling pride, they are crushed and fall in a moment: for their malice and obstinacy, which is never subdued, ceases not to struggle against the government of God, and yet it is compelled to yield.
Christ does not openly reject, as he did on other occasions, the confession of the devil; and the reason appears to be, that their enmity towards him was so manifest, as to remove every opportunity of unfavorable or calumnious imputation. Besides, Christ paid regard to the spectators. Accordingly, when malicious and wicked men were present, he was more eager to repress calumnies, and more inclined to put a severe restraint on devils. On the present occasion, it was quite enough that the devils, while they were offering a prayer and entreaty, raged and stormed against him.
Hast thou come hither before the time to torment us? Some explain this kind of torment as consisting in their being compelled to set at absolute liberty the man whom they possessed. Others understand it as referring to the last day of judgment. My view of it is, that they trembled in the presence of their Judge, while they thought of their punishment: for, though Christ said nothing, (552) a bad conscience told them what they deserved. As criminals, when they come to the judgment-seat, expect their punishment, so devils and all wicked men must tremble at the sight of God, as truly as if they already experienced hell, the unquenchable fire, and the torments that await them. Now, the devils knew that Christ was the Judge of the world; and therefore we need not wonder that the sight of him impressed them with dread of immediate torment.
Were they acquainted with the day of the last judgment? This question, which some have proposed, is uncalled for. What, then, is the meaning of the phrase, before the time? It means that the reprobate never reckon that the time for punishing them is fully come: for they would willingly delay it from day to day. (553) Any measure of delay, which the Lord is pleased to allow them, is counted gain; and thus by subterfuges they endeavor to avoid his sentence, though the attempt is to no purpose.
(552) “ Sans que Christ ouvrist sa bouche;” — “without Christ opening his mouth.”
(553) “ Ils voudroyent bien tousjours prolonger leur terme;” — “they would always choose to prolong their time.
. Permit us to depart into the herd of swine Some conjecture that they wished to attack the swine, because they are filled with enmity to all God’s creatures. I do admit it to be true, that they are entirely bent on confounding and overthrowing the whole order of nature which God has appointed. But it is certain that they had a more remote object in view, to excite the inhabitants of that country to curse God on account of the loss of the swine. When the devil thunders against Job’s house, he does so not from any hatred he bears to timber or stones, but in order that the good man, through impatience at suffering loss, may break out against God. Again, when Christ consents, he does not listen to their prayers, but chooses to try in this manner what sort of people the Gadarenes are. Perhaps, too, it is to punish their crimes that he grants to the devils so much power over their swine. While the reason of it is not known by us with certainty, it is proper for us to behold with reverence and to adore with devout humility, the hidden judgment of God. This passage shows also the foolish trifling of some irreligious men, who imagine that the devils are not actually existing spirits, but merely the depraved affections of men: for how could covetousness, ambition, cruelty, and deceit, enter into the swine? Let us learn also, that unclean spirits (as they are devoted to destruction) are the enemies of mankind; so that they plunge all whom they can into the same destruction with themselves.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 8". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany