Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 6:22-24; LUKE 11:34-36; 16:13
22. The light 454 of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye shall be simple, thy whole body shall be luminous. 23. But if thine eye shall be evil, thy whole body shall be dark. Therefore, if the light which is in thee is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or he will hold to one, and neglect the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
34. The light 455 of the body is the eye: if thine eye therefore shall be simple, thy whole body shall be luminous: but if it shall be evil, thy whole body also shall be dark. 36. If therefore thy whole body shall be luminous, not having any part dark, the whole shall be luminous, as when a candle enlightens thee by its brightness.
13. No servant can serve two master: for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Matthew 6:22. The light of the body is the eye We must bear in mind, as I have already hinted, that what we find here are detached sentences, and not a continued discourse. The substance of the present statement is, that men go wrong through carelessness, because they do not keep their eye fixed, as they ought to do, on the proper object. For whence comes it, that they so shamefully wander, or dash themselves, or stumble, but because, having corrupted their judgment by choosing rather to follow their own lusts than the righteousness of God, they not only extinguish the light of reason, which ought to have regulated their life, but change it altogether into darkness.
When Christ calls the eye the light of the body, 456 he employs a comparison which means, that neither the hands, nor the feet, nor the belly, serves to direct men in walking, but that the eye alone is a sufficient guide to the rest of the members. If the hands and feet are foolishly and improperly directed, the blame of the mistake ought to be charged on the eyes, which do not perform their duty. We must now apply this comparison to the mind. The affections may be regarded individually as its members: but as they are blind in themselves, they need direction. Now, God has given reason to guide them, and to act the part of a lantern in showing them the way. But what is the usual result? All the soundness of judgment which had been given to men is corrupted and perverted by themselves, so that not even one spark of light continues to dwell in them.
A simple eye means an eye that has no speck, or diseased humor, or any other defect. An evil eye (πονηρὸν) 457 means a diseased eye. A luminous body means one that is enlightened, so as to have all its actions properly regulated. A dark body is one which is led into numerous mistakes by a confused movement. We see, then, as I have already said, that these words reprove the indolence of men, who neglect to open their eyes for the guidance of their affections.
The inference which the Papists draw from this passage, that men possess as much reason and wisdom, as to be free to choose either good or evil, is mere trifling. For Christ does not here inform us what ability we possess, but how we ought to walk, by having our eye fixed on a certain object; and at the same time shows, that the whole course of human life is dark, because no man proposes for himself a proper object, but all permit themselves to pursue eagerly what is evil. I confess, indeed, that men naturally possess reason, to distinguish between vices and virtues; but I say that it is so corrupted by sin, that it fails at every step. Meanwhile, it does not follow, that men do not voluntarily bring darkness on themselves, as if they shut their eyes to avoid the light which was offered to them, because they are knowingly and willingly carried after their own lusts.
23. If the light which is in thee be darkness Light signifies that small portion of reason, which continues to exist in men since the fall of Adam: and darkness signifies gross and brutal affections. The meaning is, we ought not to wonder, if men wallow so disgracefully, like beasts, in the filth of vices, for they have no reason which might restrain the blind and dark lusts of the flesh. The light is said to be turned into darkness, not only when men permit the wicked lusts of the flesh to overwhelm the judgment of their reason, but also when they give up their minds to wicked thoughts, and thus degenerate into beasts. For we see how wickedly men change into craft any measure of wisdom which had been given them, how they “dig deep (as the prophet says) to hide their counsel from the Lords” (Isa 29:15,) how they trust to their own resources, and openly dishonor God; in a word, how desirous they are to show their ingenuity, in innumerable ways, for their own destruction. Christ has good grounds for declaring, that thick and appalling darkness must of necessity reign in the life of men, when they choose to be blind.
This is also the meaning of the words which are found in the Gospel of Luke, with this difference, that Christ there connects the present statement with one which was formerly explained, that men do not light a candle, and put it under a bushel, (Mt 5:15) and again, instead of this clause, if the light which is in thee be darkness, gives the exhortation, see that the light which is in thee be not darkness The meaning is, “See that thy mind, which ought to have shone, like a candle, to guide all thy actions, do not darken and mislead thy whole life.” He afterwards adds, that, when the body is enlightened by the eye, the greatest regularity is found in all its members, as the light of a candle spreads and penetrates into every part of the room.
24. No man can serve two masters Christ returns to the former doctrine, the object of which was to withdraw his disciples from covetousness. He had formerly said, that the heart of man is bound and fixed upon its treasure; and he now gives warning, that the hearts of those who are devoted to riches are alienated from the Lord. For the greater part of men are wont to flatter themselves with a deceitful pretense, when they imagine, that it is possible for them to be divided between God and their own lusts. Christ affirms that it is impossible for any man to obey God, and, at the same time, to obey his own flesh. This was, no doubt, a proverb in common use: No man can serve two masters He takes for granted a truth which had been universally admitted, and applies it to his present subject: where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost his authority. True, it is not impossible that those who are rich shall serve God; but whoever gives himself up as a slave to riches must abandon the service of God: for covetousness makes us the slaves of the devil.
I have inserted here what is related on a different occasion by Luke: for, as the Evangelists frequently introduce, as opportunity offers, passages of our Lord’s discourses out of their proper order, we ought to entertain no scruple as to the arrangement of them. What is here said with a special reference to riches, may be properly extended to every other description of vice. As God pronounces everywhere such commendations of sincerity, and hates a double heart, (1 Chr. 12:23, Ps. 12:2,) all are deceived, who imagine that he will be satisfied with the half of their heart. All, indeed, confess in words, that, where the affection is not entire, there is no true worship of God: but they deny it in fact, when they attempt to reconcile contradictions. “I shall not cease,” says an ambitious man, “to serve God, though I devote a great part of my mind to hunting after honors.” The covetous, the voluptuaries, the gluttons, the unchaste, the cruel, all in their turn offer the same apology for themselves: as if it were possible for those to be partly employed in serving God, who are openly carrying on war against him. It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it by the sinful desires of the flesh. But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters: for their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience. But this passage reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.
“La lumiere, ou, lanterne;” — “the light, or, lantern ”
“La chandelle;” — “the candle.”
“Appelant l'ceil le flambeau ou la lampe de tout le corps;” — “calling the eye the torch or the lamp of the whole body.”
This Greek word has two meanings, which depend on accentuation. The proparoxytone πονηρὸς means laborious, troublesome: but the oxytone πονηρὸς means wicked Here, when applied to the eye, it cannot denote moral blame, but easily takes the transferred sense of faulty, defective. — Ed