Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 5:23-26; LUKE 12:58-59
23. Therefore, if thou shalt bring thy gift to the altar, and there shalt remember that thy brother hath anything against thee, 24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go away: first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer 400 thy gift. 25. Be agreed with thy adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him: lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be thrown into prison. 26. Verily I say to thee, Thou shalt not depart thence, till thou shalt have paid the last farthing.
58. Now, when thou goest with thy adversary to the magistrate, do thy endeavor, while thou art in the way, to be delivered from him: lest perhaps he drag thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer throw thee into prison. 59. I say to thee, Thou shalt no depart thence, until thou pay even the last mite.
Matthew 5:23. Therefore, if thou shalt bring thy gift This clause confirms, and at the same time explains, the preceding doctrine. It amounts to this, that the precept of the law, which forbids murder, (Ex 20:13,) is obeyed, when we maintain agreement and brotherly kindness, with our neighbor. To impress this more strongly upon us, Christ declares, that even the duties of religion are displeasing to God, and are rejected by him, if we are at variance with each other. When he commands those who have injured any of their brethren, to be reconciled to him, before they offer their gift, his meaning is, that, so long as a difference with our neighbor is kept up by our fault, we have no access to God. But if the worship, which men render to God, is polluted and corrupted by their resentments, this enables us to conclude, in what estimation he holds mutual agreement among ourselves.
Here a question may be put. Is it not absurd, that the duties of charity should be esteemed more highly than the worship of God? We shall then be forced to say, that the order of the law is improper, or that the first table of the law must be preferred to the second. The answer is easy: for the words of Christ mean nothing more than this, that it is a false and empty profession of worshipping God, which is made by those who, after acting unjustly towards their brethren, treat them with haughty disdain. By a synecdoche he takes a single class to express the outward exercises of divine worship, which in many men are rather the pretenses, than the true expressions, of godliness. It ought to be observed that Christ, adapting his discourse to that age, speaks of sacrifices. Our condition is now different: but the doctrine remains the same, that whatever we offer to God is polluted, unless, at least as much as lieth in us, (Ro 12:18,) we are at peace with our brethren. Alms are called in Scripture sacrifices of a sweet smell, (Php 4:18;) and we learn from the mouth of Paul, that he who
“spends all his substance on the poor,
if he have not charity, is nothing,” (1Co 13:3.)
Lastly, God does not receive and acknowledge, as his sons, any who do not, in their turn, show themselves to be brethren to each other. Although it is only to those who have injured their brethren that these words are addressed, enjoining them to do their endeavor to be reconciled to them, yet under one class he points out, how highly the harmony of brethren is esteemed by God. When he commands them to leave the gift before the altar, he expresses much more than if he had said, that it is to no purpose for men to go to the temple, or offer sacrifices to God, so long as they live in discord with their neighbors.
25. Be agreed with thy adversary Christ appears to go farther, and to exhort to reconciliation not only those who have injured their brethren, but those also who are unjustly treated. 401 But I interpret the words as having been spoken with another view, to take away occasion for hatred and resentment, and to point out the method of cherishing good-will. For whence come all injuries, but from this, that each person is too tenacious of his own rights, that is, each is too much disposed to consult his own convenience to the disadvantage of others? Almost all are so blinded by a wicked love of themselves, that, even in the worst causes, they flatter themselves that they are in the right. To meet all hatred, enmity, debates, and acts of injustice, Christ reproves that obstinacy, which is the source of these evils, and enjoins his own people to cultivate moderation and justice, and to make some abatement from the highest rigor, that, by such an act of justice, they may purchase for themselves peace and friendship. 402 It were to be wished, indeed, that no controversy of any kind should ever arise among us; and undoubtedly men would never break out into abuse or quarrelling, if they possessed a due share of meekness. But, as it is scarcely possible but that differences will sometimes happen, Christ points out the remedy, by which they may be immediately settled; and that is, to put a restraint on our desires, and rather to act to our own disadvantage, than follow up our rights with unflinching rigor. That Christ frequently gave this exhortation is evident from the twelfth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, where he does not relate the sermon on the mount, but gives an abridgment of various passages in our Lord’s discourses.
Lest the adversary deliver thee to the judge This part is explained by some in a metaphorical sense, that the Heavenly Judge will act toward us with the utmost rigor, so as to forgive us nothing, if we do not labor to settle those differences which we have with our neighbors. But I view it more simply, as an admonition that, even among men, it is usually advantageous for us to come to an early agreement with adversaries, because, with quarrelsome persons, their obstinacy often costs them dear. At the same time, I admit, that the comparison is justly applied to God; for he will exercise judgment without mercy (Jas 2:13) to him who is implacable to his brethren, or pursues his contentiousness to the utmost. But it is highly ridiculous in the Papists, to construct their purgatory out of a continued allegory on this passage. Nothing is more evident than that the subject of Christ’s discourse is the cultivation of friendship among men. They have no shame, or conscientious scruple, to pervert his words, and to torture them into a widely different meaning, provided they can impose on the unlearned. But as they do not deserve a lengthened refutation, I shall only point out, in a single word, their shameful ignorance. The adversary is supposed by them to be the devil. But Christ enjoins those who believe on him to be agreed with the adversary Therefore, in order that the Papists may find their purgatory here, they must first become the friends and brethren of devils. A farthing is well known to be the fourth part of a penny: but here, as is evident from Luke, it denotes a mite, or any small piece of money. Now, if we were disposed to cavilling, 403 we might here obtain another exposure of the absurdity of the Papists. For, if he who has once entered Purgatory will never leave it, till he has paid the last farthing, it follows, that the suffrages (as they call them) of the living for the dead are of no avail. For Christ makes no allowance, that others may free a debtor by satisfying for him, but expressly demands from each person the payment of what he owes. 404 Now, if Moses and other satisfactions are useless, however warm the fire of Purgatory may be, yet the kitchens of priests and monks, for the sake of which they are so anxious to maintain it, will be cool enough.
“Veniens offer;” — “coming offer.” — “Lors vien et presente ton oblation;” — “then come and present thy oblation.”
“Mais aussi ceux qui sont assaillis et provoquez les premiers;” — “but also those who are first attacked and provoked.”
“Afin que ne prenans pas les choses a la rigueur, ils rachetent paix et amite en se monstrans ainsi traitables.” — “That, not taking things to the rigor, they may purchase peace and friendship, by showing themselves so tractable.”
“Qui voudroit user de cavillation et chippoter sur chacun mot.” — “One who would cavil and higgle about every word.”
“Mais il requiert nommement qu'un chacun satisface pour soy, et paye ce qu'il doit.” — “But he requires expressly that each satisfy for himself and pay what he owes.”