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1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
Ver. 1. And after six days ] Luke saith Luk 9:28 about eight days after. It comes all to one. For Matthew puts exclusively those days only that went between, and were finished; but Luke puts the two utmost days also into the reckoning.
Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John ] SoMatthew 5:37; Matthew 5:37 , when he raised the damsel he took with him these three only; haply as best beloved, because bold; Boanergeses, more zealous than the rest; or the better to fit them for further trial: great feelings often precede great afflictions. However, it is no small favour of God to make us witnesses of his great works, and so let us take it. As all Israel might see Moses go toward the rock of Rephidim, none but the elders might see him strike it. That God crucifies his Son before us, that he fetcheth the true water of life out of the rock in our sight, is a high prerogative. And no less surely that we are again transported in prayer, carried out of the body in divine meditation, and lost in the endless maze of spiritual ravishments; that we return from the public ordinances, as Moses did from the Mount, with our faces shining; that we are transfigured and transformed into the same image from glory to glory, and that the angel of the covenant doth wondrously, during the time of the sacrifice, while Manoah and his wife look on, &c. These are special privileges communicated to none but the communion of saints.
And bringeth them up into an high mountain ] The name of this mountain no evangelist expresseth; but by connnon consent it was Mount Tabor (which Josephus calleth Itabirion), whereof Jerome writeth copiously and elegantly in his commentary upon the fifth of Hosea. Our Saviour, when he had some special work to do, went usually up into a mountain; to teach us to soar aloft in great performances especially, and to be heavenly minded, taking a turn or two, ever and anon, with Christ in Mount Tabor, treading upon the moon, with the Church,Revelation 12:1; Revelation 12:1 ; having our feet at least where other men’s heads are, on things on earth (Proverbs 15:24 ; "The way of life is above to the wise"); delighting ourselves in high flying, as eagles; never merry till gotten into the air or on the top of trees, with the lesser birds. Zaccheus could not see Christ till he had climbed the fig tree. Nor can we see the consolation of Israel till elevated in divine contemplation, till gotten up into God’s holy hill. The people tasted not manna till they had left the leaven of Egypt.
2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
Ver. 2. And was transfigured before them ] This was while he was praying, as St Luke noteth. Prayer, rightly performed, is a parleying with God, εντευξις , interpellatio, 1 Timothy 2:1 , a standing upon interrogatories with him, επερωτημα , 1 Peter 3:21 , a pouring out of the heart unto him, Psalms 62:8 , a familiar conference with him; wherein the soul is so carried beyond itself otherwise, ut caro est pene nescia carnis, as St Jerome speaks of certain holy women in his time, that they seemed in place only remote, but in affection to join with that holy company of heaven. So Dr Preston, on his death bed, said he should change his place, but not his company. Peter praying fell into a trance. Cornelius praying saw heavenly visions. Mr Bradford, a little before he went out of the Counter, prayed with such plenty of tears and abundant spirit of prayer, that it ravished the minds of the hearers. Also when he shifted himself in a clean shirt made for his burning, he made such a prayer of the wedding garment, that the eyes of those present were as truly occupied in looking on him, as their ears gave place to hear his prayer. Giles of Brussels, martyr, was so ardent in his prayers, kneeling by himself in some secret place of the prison, that he seemed to forget himself. Being called many times to eat, he neither heard nor saw them that stood by him, till he was lift up by the arms; and then gently he would speak unto them, as one awakened out of a deep sleep. Amor Dei est ecstaticus-sui nec se sinit esse iuris.
3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.
Ver. 3. Moses and Elias appeared ] Those immortalitalis candidali, as the ancients called them. God had buried Moses, but brought him forth afterwards glorious; the same body which was hidden in the valley of Moab appeareth here in the hill of Tabor. Christ by rotting refines our bodies also; and we know that when "he, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory," Colossians 3:4 . As in the meantime, be not we conformed to this world, but rather transformed by the renewing of our minds, Romans 12:2 ; and in whatever transfiguration or ravishment we cannot find Moses, and Elias, and Christ to meet (as here they did in this sacred synod), that is, if what we find in us be not agreeable to the Scriptures, we may well suspect it as an illusion.
4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
Ver. 4. Lord, it is good for us to be here ] Hic plura absurda quam verba. But he knew not what he should say, he was so amused, or rather amazed, at that blissful sight. So Paul, whether in the body or out of the body, when enraptured into the third heaven, he cannot tell, God knoweth; and again, he cannot tell, God knoweth, 2 Corinthians 12:2-3 . Only this he can tell, that he heard αρρητα ρηματα , wordless words, such things as words are too weak to utter, and at the thought whereof,
" Claudicat ingenium, delirat linguaque, mensque. "
It is as impossible to comprehend heaven joys, as to compass the heaven with a span or contain the ocean in a nutshell. No wonder then though Peter cry out, It is good being here; or, it is better being here than at Jerusalem (so St Chrysostom senseth it), whither our Saviour had said he must go, and suffer many things of the elders and be killed, &c. That St Peter liked not; but would build here rather. All men would have heaven, but not the rough way that leads to it; they would enter into Paradise, but not through that narrow portal of afflictions; they would sit in the seat of honour with Zebedee’s children, but not drink of Christ’s cup, much less be baptized with his baptism; that is, be doused over head and ears in the waters of miseries. They would feed on manchet, a tread on roses, and come to heaven, as passengers at sea do many times to the haven, while they are sleeping, or before they are aware. But this is no less a folly than a delicacy, thus to think to divide between Christ and his cross, to pull a rose without pricks, to have heaven without hardship.
One for thee, one for Moses, one for Elias ] He never thought of one for himself, he was so transported; but he had provided ill for himself and us, if Christ had taken his counsel: for so he should have declined death, whereby life and immmortality was brought to light to the saints, 2 Timothy 1:12 . And this unadvised advice was so much the worse in Peter, because but six days before he had been sharply rebuked by our Saviour, and called Satan for such carnal counsel; and besides that, even then he heard Moses and Elias conferring with Christ about his departure, confirming him against it, Luke 9:31 . It is hard to say how often we shall fall into the same fault (though foul) if left to ourselves
a The finest kind of wheaten bread. ŒD
5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
Ver. 5. While he yet spake ] But had no answer (because he deserved it not) to so foolish a proposition. Only the Father answereth for the Son, by the oracle out of the cloud, according to that, "I bear not witness to myself, but the Father that sent me, he it is that beareth witness of me," John 8:18 .
A bright cloud overshadowed them ] As a curtain drawn between them and the heavenly glory; to the contemplation whereof they were not yet sufficient. Hereby also their senses were drawn off from beholding Christ’s glory, to hear the voice from heaven, which by the cloud, as by a chariot, was carried into their ears with greater sound and solenmity. Non loquendum de Deo sine lumine, was a saying of Pythagoras; God may not be mentioned without a light.
This is my beloved Son, in whom ] Here God maketh use of three different passages and places of his own Book, Psalms 2:7 ; Isaiah 42:1 ; Deuteronomy 18:18 , to teach us when we speak, to speak as the oracles of God, inure ourselves to Scriptural language, 1 Peter 4:11 . The voice also which Christ heard from heaven at his baptism, in his first inauguration, is here repeated totidem verbis, in his transfiguration, which was no small confirmation to him, doubtless; as it was also to Peter and the rest, that this voice was the same in effect with his and their confession of Christ in the former chapter,Matthew 17:16; Matthew 17:16 ; "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God."
In whom I am well pleased ] εν ω ευδοκησα , In whom I do acquiesce, and have perfect and full complacency, singular contentment. And as in him, so in us through him, Zephaniah 3:17 , he rests in his love to his, he will seek no further; efficit nos sibi dilectos in illo Dilecto, he hath made us accepted in that beloved One. Here we have God’s acquittance for our better security.
Hear ye him ] As the arch-prophet of the Church,Deuteronomy 18:15; Deuteronomy 18:15 , that Palmoni Hammedabber, as Daniel Dan 8:13 calleth him, that excellent speaker, that master of speech that came out of the bosom of his Father, and hath his whole mind at his fingers’ ends, as we say, "Hear ye him;" hear none but him, and such as come in his name and word. Haec vox hunc audite summam authoritatem arrogat Christo (saith Erasmus). At nunc videmus passim dormitari ad Christi doctrinam seu crassam ae rudem, et concionis auribus inculcari quid dixerit Scotus, quid Thomas, quid Durandus, &c. But what said St Augustine? when Manicheus, contesting with him for audience, said, Hear me, hear me: Nay, said that Father, Nec ego tu, nec tu me, sed ambo audiamus apostolum, &c. Neither hear thou me, nor I thee, but let us both hear Christ. Cyril saith, "that in a synod at Ephesus, upon a high throne in the temple, there lay sanctum Evangelium to show that Christ was both present and President there." He is Rabbenu Doctor irrefragabilis Padre Cerephino, &c. And if Popish votaries so observe their governors, that if they command them a voyage to China or Peru, they presently set forward, to argue or debate upon their superior mandates they hold presumption, to disobey them, sacrilege; how much more should we give this honour, audience, and obedience to Christ, the wisdom and word of God?
6 And when the disciples heard it , they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
Ver. 6. They fell on their faces ] As amazed and amated with that stupendous voice that came from the excellent glory, as St Peter phraseth it, 2 Peter 1:17 . So Moses and Elias hid their faces when God spake unto them, as not able to bear his brightness; rottenness entered into their bones. The very angels cover their faces before him with two of their wings, as with a double scarf, or as one claps his hands upon his face when it lighteneth and flasheth suddenly upon him. What a mercy it is then to us, that we are taught by men like ourselves; that we have this treasure in earthen vessels, this pearl of price in a leathern purse. Here lay the three disciples; and, had not Christ mercifully touched them and raised them, there they had lain for dead.
7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
Ver. 7. Jesus came and touched them ] Christ therefore kills his, that he may quicken them; casts them down, that he may revive and raise them in the opportunity of time ( εν τω καιρω , Hos 6:1-2 1Pe 5:6 ): not so the devil, that destroyer, that hath not his names for nought, Apollyon and Abaddon.
8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
Ver. 8. Save Jesus alone ] To teach them that Moses and Elias, the law and prophets, vail bonnet to Christ; that there is but one mediator, even the man Christ Jesus; that there is sufficient in him to satisfy the soul, to comfort the conscience.
9 And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.
Ver. 9. Tell the vision to no man ] Tacitus, we say, is a good historian. Taciturnity and silence, we are sure, is in some cases a great virtue, a high commendation. Consus, the god of counsel, had his temple in Rome, under coverture, saith Servius, ut ostenderet consilium debere esse tectum. There is "a time to be silent," saith Solomon,Ecclesiastes 3:7; Ecclesiastes 3:7 . Queen Elizabeth’s motto was Video, Taceo, I see, and say nothing. A fit motto for a maid, in earth the first, in heaven the second maid, as one poet calleth her. Ministers should know when and to whom and in what order to set forth God’s truths; to time a word with a learned tongue, as Isaiah hath it; to set a word upon its wheels, as Solomon; to circumstantiate it so as the people can hear, can bear, as our Saviour did. This is surely a high point of heavenly husbandry. As it is also in all sorts of Christians to be sober in prayer, 1 Peter 4:7 , that is, as Bifield saith, to keep God’s counsel, not to be proud, or boast of success, or speak of the secret sweetness of God’s love, without calling; it is to conceal the familiarity of God in secret.
10 And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?
Ver. 10. Why then say the scribes, &c. ] Christ had answered them this question once before; but they were unsatisfied by anything he could say, because strongly possessed with the conceit of an earthly kingdom. But the occasion of the question might be this. Our Saviour had forbidden them to tell any man the vision; hence they might thus debate it. Forasmuch as Elias must first come (so the scribes teach, and they have a text for it, Mal 4:5 ), and now he is come, as we have seen in the mount, why shouldest thou, Lord, forbid us to tell it abroad, since this might be an effectual argument with the Jews to move them to acknowledge thee for the true Messiah? To this our Saviour answereth.
11 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.
Ver. 11. And restore all things ] viz. In Malachi’s sense, i.e. not simply, absolutely, perfectly, for the royalty of restoring all things so was reserved for Christ alone, Acts 3:21 , but comparatively, to the state of the old Church. So those renowned reformers, Luther, Farellus, &c., abroad, Cranmer, Cromwell, &c., here at home, freed the churches from many burdens and bondages, did (for their time) worthily in Ephrata, and are therefore famous in Bethlehem. But as eiusdem non est invenire et perficere (it is a praise proper to Christ only, to be Alpha and Omega, author and finisher of that which he sets about, Revelation 1:8 ; Heb 12:2 ), those brave men left many abuses and disorders in the Church unrectified, unreformed, which either they did not see or could not help. But now as more light is diffused, so great thoughts of heart, yea, and great hopes are conceived, that God will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness,Romans 9:28; Romans 9:28 ; that he will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall be no more remembered, Zechariah 13:2 , yea, that he will cause the false prophets, and with them the unclean spirit, to pass out of the land. We read,Nehemiah 8:17-18; Nehemiah 8:17-18 , of a feast of tabernacles so well kept by the Jews newly come out of captivity, with dwelling in booths and reading every day out of the law, &c., as had not been done in many hundred years before, no, not in the reign of David and Solomon.
12 But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
Ver. 12. But I say unto you, that Elias is come ] All that is likely to come, however the Papist Bellarmine (as it were to thwart Christ), by depraving that prophecy in the Revelation touching the two witnesses, which they say are Enoch and Elias, will needs persuade themselves and others, that Elias the Tishbite must come ere Antichrist be revealed. Their arguments I recite not; their author is Papias, who first devised and divulged this fable. Now Papias that ancient millenary, scholar to St John, was a man much respected for opinion of his holiness and learning, but yet homo ingenii pertenuis, saith Eusebius, not much oppressed with wit. But had he been never so absolute otherwise, he was surely out in this. And herein we may truly say of him as the Papists falsely said of another, Berengarius cum esset multum peritus, multum erravit. a But if Papias or any other ancient or modern writer should have said so much against the Popish dotages as this man hath done for them, Bellarmine, likely, would have answered, as in like case he did to Irenaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius, and Luther, I answer, "they are all arrant heretics." Omnes manifesti haeretici sunt.
And they knew him not ] As neither did they the Lord of glory, because God had hid him under the carpenter’s son. Christians are all "glorious within," like the tabernacle, which was gold within and goat’s hair without: like Brutus’ staff, which, as Plutarch reporteth, was gold within, horn without. They are princes in all lands, but as princes in foreign lands, they are untaught and therefore unknown, as the northern proverb hath it. But as, had they known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory: so, did the world know the worth of a saint, of such a one as was the Baptist especially, b they would have given him but too much honour, as Cornelius did Peter, as Chrysostom did Babylas, and as Tertullian did some other martyrs, to whom writing he says, Non tantus sum ut vos alloquar, I am not worthy once to speak unto you.
a Antoninus apud Ussierium, de Christ. Eccles. success, et slatu.
b Magnus atque admirabills vir, si modo viri nomine designari illum fas est. Chrysost. Orat. contra Gentiles.
13 Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
Ver. 13. Then the disciples understood ] Different measures of light and grace are given at several times, as God pleaseth to dispense, John 12:16 ; John 2:22 ; John 10:41-42 . Joseph understood not his own dreams, nor the eunuch what he read, till afterwards. Wait at wisdom’s gates, wear out her threshold: then shall we "know if we follow on to know the Lord," Hosea 6:3 . Beg and dig for understanding, and thou shalt be sure of it, Proverbs 2:3-5 .
14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
Ver. 14. And when they were come to the multitude ] That was the next day after the transfiguration,Luke 9:37; Luke 9:37 , and in that nick of time, when the disciples could neither cure the lunatic nor answer their adversaries, Mark 9:14 , who had now sport enough to see them brought into the briers, and therefore jeered them before the people to some purpose. Most opportunely therefore, if ever, comes Christ to their aid, as it were out of an engine, and both cures the child and confounds the Pharisees. His recent honour hindered him not from doing his office: his incomparable felicity made him not forget poor Joseph’s misery. He knew he was much wished and waited for, and therefore makes haste from the mount to the multitude.
Kneeling down to him ] Some understand the word of such a humble gesture of catching the party petitioned by the knees or feet, as the Shunammite used to the prophet, the Shulamite to her spouse, and Thetis to Jupiter, when she sued to him in her sons’ behalf. a
a Γουνουμαι σε εγωγε , Iliad. a.
15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
Ver. 15. For he is lunatic ] Or, he hath the falling sickness, as the symptoms show. A common disease, but (besides that) the devil was in it. a The old manslayer makes advantage of our natural diseases (which are therefore the bath of the devil, and the bed of diseases) to exercise his cruelty upon the poor creature by Divine permission; seeking by the infirmities of the body to bring sin upon the soul.
For ofttimes he falls into the fire, &c. ] The devil pushing him in, as it were, to destroy him, but could not. He is limited, and cannot do as he would, else he would soon end us. If God chastise us with his own bare hand, or by men like ourselves, whip us, as it were, privately and at home, let us thank him, and think ourselves far better dealt with than if he should deliver us up to the public officer, to his tormentor, to be scourged with scorpions at his pleasure. The wicked he often casts into the fire of lust and water of drunkenness, and they complain not: like a sleepy man (fire burning in his bed straw), he cries not out, when others haply lament his case that see afar off, but cannot help him. It hath "set him on fire round about, yet he knew it not: and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart," Isaiah 42:25 . See Proverbs 23:34-35 .
And oft into the water ] Urbanus Regius, in a sermon of his at Wittenberg, made mention of a certain maid possessed by the devil; and when she should have been prayed for in the congregation, the devil made as if he had been departed out of her. But before the next public meeting, Satan returned, and drove the maid into a deep water, where she presently perished.
a Lunaticus speculum miseriae humanae, et malitiae Satanae. Pareus.
16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
Ver. 16. And they could not cure him ] The prayer of faith would have healed the sick,James 5:15; James 5:15 , as Luther’s prayer recovered a godly divine (that was far gone in a consumption, and given up for a dead man by the physicians) beyond all expectation. Iste vir potuit quod voluit, Such a man as that was able because he was willing, man saith one of him. That man by the force of his faith could do whatsoever he would with God. Fiat mea voluntas, " Let my will be done," said one in his prayer; and then sweetly falls off, "my will, Lord, because thy will," and he had his request. But let not the unbeliever "think that he shall receive anything of the Lord," James 1:7 , since he shuts heaven gates against his own prayers; and by the evil operation of a misgiving heart, denies them before he presents them.
17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.
Ver. 17. O faithless and perverse generation ] He reproves the nine disciples, but rejects them not. Christ in the very dunghill of unbelief and sinfulness can find out his own part of faith and holiness, as we see in Sarah, Genesis 18:12 . That whole speech of hers was vile and profane (besides that for want of faith she laughed at the unlikelihood, and was therefore checked by the angel). One thing only was praise worthy in that sinful sentence, that she called her husband Lord: this God hath taken notice of, and recorded to her eternal commendation and others’ imitation, 1 Peter 3:6 .
And perverse generation ] Depraved, distorted, dislocated, Διεστραμμενη . Homo est inversus decalogus. Man now stands across to all goodness, is born with his back towards heaven, a perverse and crooked creature, Deuteronomy 32:5 , having his upper lip standing where his nether lip should, Proverbs 19:1 , and all parts else out of frame and joint. Rom 3:10-18
How long shall I suffer you? As they do, that willingly bear a burden and are content to continue under it. Christ bears with our evil manners, Acts 13:18 , as a loving husband bears with a froward wife a but yet he is sufficiently sensible, and therefore complains of the pressure, Amos 2:13 , and once cried out under the importable weight of it, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The earth could not bear Korah and his company, but clave under and swallowed them up: as it soon after spewed out the Canaanites, who had filled it with filthiness from corner to corner,Ezra 9:11; Ezra 9:11 . Consider, how often thou hast straggled over the mouth of the bottomless pit, and art not yet fallen into the boiling caldron, that fiery furnace. Oh stand and wonder at God’s patience, and be abrupt in thy repentance, lest abused mercy turn into fury.
a Ut qui volentes onus subeunt, et sub eo perdurant. Beza. ετροποφορησεν .
18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
Ver. 18. And he departed out of him ] Though with a very ill will, for he tore the child and well nigh killed him. So when we do, by the prayer of faith, conjure and charm the devil out of our hearts (prayer is called a "charm," Isa 26:16 ), he will make all the hurly burly he can, but out he must, though never so ill-willing.
And the child was cured ] By his father’s faith. What wonder, then, that the parents’ faith be beneficial to the baptized infant?
19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
Ver. 19. Why could not we cast him out? ] They had heard why before, but either heeded it not or were not willing to hear on that ear. Loth they were to yield that it was any fault of theirs, that the cure was not effected by them, but by some other occasion (the father’s faithlessness, the people’s perverseness, &c.), which what it was, here they make inquiry. How unwilling are we that our penny should be held other than good silver! How ready to shift off him that speaks from heaven, παραιτησησθε , Heb 12:25 and to mistake ourselves in the causes of our miscarriages!
20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
Ver. 20. Because of your unbelief ] q.d. That is the naked truth of it, never deceive yourselves: there is no shuffling will serve turn: be content (hard though it be) to hear your own. Veritas aspera est, verum amaritudo eius utilior, et integris sensibus gratior, quam meretricantis linguae distillans favus. A smart truth takes better with an honest heart than a smooth supparasitation (flattery ŒD).
If ye have faith as a grain of, &c. ] The disciples might object, if no faith but that which is entire and perfect can do such cures as this, then we may despair of ever doing any. Our Saviour answers, that the least measure of true faith (fitly compared to mustard seed, for its acrimony and vivacity), if exerted and exercised, will work wonders. Neither is justifying faith beneath miraculous in the sphere of its own activity, and where it hath warrant of God’s word, to remove mountains of guilt and grief. A weak faith is a joint possessor, though no faith can be a joint purchaser of sin’s remission. And a man may have faith enough to bring him to heaven, though he want this or that faith, as to rely upon God without failing,Luke 18:1; Luke 18:1 ; Luke 18:8 , without feeling, Psalms 22:1 , &c., as resolved, that God nevertheless will hear him in that very thing he prays for.
21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
Ver. 21. This kind goeth not out ] Some devils then are not so potent, political, vile, villanous, as others: so neither are wicked men all alike wicked; some stigmatical Belialists face the heavens, burden the earth, please not God, and are contrary to all men, 1 Thessalonians 2:15 . Others are more tame and tractable, as the young man on whom Christ looked and loved him. Yet, as when one commended the pope’s legate at the Council of Basil, Sigismund the emperor answered, Tamen Romanus est: yet I am a Roman: so though the devil or his slaves seem never so fair conditioned, they are neither to be liked nor trusted. He is a devil still, and will do his kind: they are wicked still, and "wickedness proceedeth from the wicked," as saith the proverb of the ancients,1 Samuel 24:13; 1 Samuel 24:13 . I have read of one that would haunt the taverns, theatres, and whore houses in London all day, but he dared not go forth without private prayer in the morning, and then would say at his departure, Now, devil, do thy worst; and so used his prayers as charms and spells against the weak, cowardly devil. This was not that prayer and fasting our Saviour here speaks of; men must not go forth to this spiritual fight, δορπον ελοντες , with their breakfast, as the Greeks in Homer, but praying and fasting from sin especially: for otherwise they do but light a candle before the devil, as the proverb hath it.
22 And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men:
Ver. 22. The Son of man shall be betrayed ] This our Saviour often inculcates, to drive them out of their golden dream of an earthly kingdom; which pleased them so well, that they could hardly forego it. It is no easy matter to be disabused, undeceived. Error once admitted is not expelled without much ado. It sticks to our fingers like pitch: take heed how we meddle.
23 And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry.
Ver. 23. And they were exceeding sorry ] Out of love to their Lord, saith Jerome; out of ignorance and stupidity, saith St Mark Mar 9:32 and St Luke: Luk 9:45 so they grieve where no cause was, as we do often upon like grounds and causes. How well might our Saviour have said to them, as afterwards he did to the women, "Grieve not for me, but grieve for yourselves." They knew well that if Christ suffered, they should not escape scot free, Hinc illae laehrymae. We shrink in the shoulder when called to carry the cross, and pretend this and that for excuse, as Moses did the conscience of his own insufficiency, Exodus 4:10 , when the very truth was, he feared Pharaoh, lest he would have revenged the Egyptian’s quarrel against him, whom he had slain, and hid in the sand: and as Peter pretended his dear love to his Master, Matthew 16:22 , when it appears, Matthew 17:26 , he aimed indeed at the safeguard of his own life more than his Master’s safety. Let care be taken that (whatever we make believe) we be not self-lovers (which begins that black bead-roll, (list ŒD) 2Ti 3:2 ), and "lovers of pleasures," profits, preferments, "more than lovers of God" (which ends it).
24 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?
Ver. 24:. They that received tribute money ] This didrachmum or half-shekel was formerly paid by the Israelites every year, after they were twenty years old, toward the temple, Exodus 30:13 . Caesar, by taking it from the temple and turning it to a tribute, did indeed take away from God that which was God’s. This very tribute was paid afterwards by the Jews toward the Roman capitol, by virtue of a decree made by Vespasian. How just is it in God, that the spoiler should be spoiled, Isaiah 30:1 , that the Roman emperors, that so robbed and wronged God, should be robbed of their rights, as they are by the pope’s usurpations.
Doth not your master pay tribute ] Is he either born or bought free? SeeActs 22:28; Acts 22:28 . But if neither, they might (had they had any goodness in them) have spared him, so public, so profitable a person, that had so well deserved of the whole nation, so well merited an immunity, an indemnity. But all is lost that is laid out upon ungrateful persons or people. Covetousness hath no respect to anything but to its own profit, and knows no other language than the horse leech’s, Give, give, Rem, Rem, quocunque modo rem, without any respect of persons, however well deserving.
25 He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
Ver. 25. He saith, Yes ] Christ submitted himself "to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake," 1 Peter 2:13 ; and hath bidden us, Give unto Caesar those things that are Caesar’s, tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, &c., Matthew 22:21 ; Romans 13:7 . So doth not the great Heteroclite of Rome; he not only detains, but demands Peter Pence and other undue payments from kings and states. One pope said that he could never lack money so long as he could hold a pen in his hand. This kingdom was of old called the pope’s ass, for bearing his burdens and exactions. Innocent IV said, that England was the pope’s Paradise, and a pit that could never be drawn dry, Hortus delieiarum et puteus inexhaustus. What vast sums drained they hence in King John’s days! Otto (one of the pope’s muscipulatores , mice-catchers, as the story calleth them), sent hither by Gregory IX, after three years’ raking together of money, left not so much in the whole kingdom as he either carried with him or sent to Rome before him. But I hope ere long the kings of the earth, awakened by their gross abuses put upon them, will fleece that withered whore, and burn her flesh with fire, a punishment before prophesied, and well befitting so foul a harlot.
26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
Ver. 26. Then are the children free ] q.d. And much more I (who am the natural, the only begotten Son of that King everlasting, the heir of all) am privileged from payments. Yet because few knew, what Peter did, that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Son also of David, according to the flesh, lest by his example he should occasion and encourage either the Jews to deny payment, or the Romans to defy the gospel as contrary to monarchy, he would not make use of his immunity, but sent to sea for money to make payment.
27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.
Ver. 27. Lest we should offend them ] Better it is that a man part with his right than give just offence to any. This was St Paul’s great care, 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 , and his constant counsel to others, Romans 14:13-15 . Let no man put a stumblingblock, much less a scandal, in his brother’s way, that is, neither a lighter nor greater offence, but rather abridge himself of his lawful liberty. This is to express Christ to the world, to be made like unto him. Προσκομμα notat leviorem offensam, qua aliquis non corruat; σκανδαλον graviorem, ex qua quis prolapsus claudicet.
Go thou to the sea ] Here Jerome cries out, Quid primum mirer in hoc loco nescio, I know not what chiefly here to wonder at, whether Christ’s prescience or greatness. His prescience, that he knew that the fish had money in his mouth, and that that fish should come first to hand. His greatness and power, that could create such a piece of money by his bare word, and cause it so to be, by commanding it so to be. Who would not fear this Lord of hosts? Who would not trust him for necessaries, who can and will cause all creatures to cater for his? But what a wonderful work of God was it, and a fair warning to us before these doleful days of war, had we been so wise as to have made good use of it, that God should send John Frith’s Preparation to the Cross, in the fish belly, to the University of Cambridge, a little before the commencement, some few years since. That such a book (saith the reverend man, Jer. Dyke, that relateth it) should be brought in such a manner, and to such a place, and at such a time, when by reason of people’s confluence out of all parts, notice might be given to all places of the land; in my apprehension it can be construed for no less than a divine warning, and to have this voice with it, "England, prepare for the cross."
Take up the fish ] Earthly men (saith one wittily) are like the fish here mentioned: either dumb, or nothing but gold in their mouths.
Give it unto them for me and thee ] Upon this place, Papists would foolishly found their pope’s primacy and clergy’s privilege of immunity from payments to civil princes and magistrates: because Christ and Peter are set together. But in what do you think? In paying of homage, not in receiving of honour. Christ paid tribute, to free us from the servitude of Satan, that rigid tax-master. Peter paid, because he had here a house and family, Matthew 8:5 , and further to let his successors know that they paid tribute in Peter, and should learn in all due humility to submit to magistracy; and not to withdraw from public impositions and taxations, further than of favour they shall be exempted and privileged.
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Matthew 17". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/