Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 10:37-42; MARK 9:41; LUKE 14:25-33
37. He who loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38. And he who doth not take his cross and follow me, 603 is not worthy of me. 39. He who findeth his life 604 shall lose it; and he who loseth his life for my sake shall find it. 605 40. He who receiveth you receiveth me: and he who receiveth me receiveth him who sent me. 41. He who receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward: he who receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man, shall a righteous man’s reward. 42. And whosoever shall give to one of these little ones to drink a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.
41. For whosoever shall give to you to drink a cup of water in my name, because you belong to Christ, verily I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.
25. And great multitudes went with him, and he turned, and said to them, 26. If any man cometh to me, 606 and hateth not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27. And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28. For who is there among you that wishes to build a tower, and does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have what is necessary to finish it? 29. Lest after he hath laid the foundation, all who see him begin to mock him, 30. Saying, this man began to build, and was not able to complete it. 31. Or what king, who is setting out to make war against another king, does not first sit down and consider whether or not he will be able, with ten thousand, to meet him who cometh against him with twenty thousand? 32. Otherwise, while the other is still at a distance, he sends an embassy, and requests conditions of peace. 33. So then every one of you who forsaketh not all that he possesses, cannot be my disciple.
Matthew 10:37. He who loveth father or mother As it is exceedingly harsh, and is contrary to natural feelings, to make enemies of those who ought to have been in closest alliance with us, so Christ now says that we cannot be his disciples on any other condition. He does not indeed enjoin us to lay aside human affections, or forbid us to discharge the duties of relationship, but only desires that all the mutual love which exists among men should be so regulated as to assign the highest rank to piety. Let the husband then love his wife, the father his son, and, on the other hand, let the son love his father, provided that the reverence which is due to Christ be not overpowered by human affection. For if even among men, in proportion to the closeness of the tie that mutually binds us, some have stronger claims than others, it is shameful that all should not be deemed inferior to Christ alone. And certainly we do not consider sufficiently, or with due gratitude, what it is to be a disciple of Christ, if the excellence of this rank be not sufficient to subdue all the affections of the flesh. The phrase employed by Luke is more harsh, if any man doth not hate his father and mother, but the meaning is the same, “If the love of ourselves hinder us from following Christ, we must resist it, courageously:” as Paul says,
what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, (Phil. 3:7, 8.)
38. He who doth not take up his cross From particular cases he proceeds to general views, and informs us that we cannot be reckoned his disciples unless we are prepared to endure many afflictions. If we are vexed and tormented by the thought, that the gospel should set us at variance with our father, or our wife, or our children, let us remember this condition, that Christ subjects all his disciples to the cross Yet let us also bear in mind this consolation, that, in bearing the cross, we are the companions of Christ, — which will speedily have the effect of allaying all its bitterness. The reprobates are not less firmly bound to their cross, and cannot with their most violent struggles shake it off; but as to those who are out of Christ the cross is accursed, a mournful end awaits them. Let us therefore learn to connect these two things, that believers must bear the cross in order to follow their Master; that is, in order to conform to his example, and to abide by his footsteps like faithful companions.
39. He who findeth his life Lest the former doctrine, which is very difficult and troublesome to the flesh, should have little weight with us, Christ confirms it in two ways by this statement. He affirms that persons of excessive caution and foresight, when they look upon themselves as having very well defended their life, will be disappointed and will lose it; and, on the other hand, that those who disregard their life will sustain no loss, for they will recover it. We know that there is nothing which men will not do or leave undone for the sake of life, (so powerful is that attachment to it which is natural to us all;) and, therefore, it was necessary that Christ should employ such promises and threatenings in exciting his followers to despise death.
To find the life means here to possess it, or to have it in safe keeping. Those who are excessively desirous of an earthly life, take pains to guard themselves against every kind of danger, and flatter themselves with unfounded confidence, as if they were looking well to themselves, (Ps 49:18:) but their life, though defended by such powerful safeguards, will pass away; for they will at last die, and death will bring to them everlasting ruin. On the other hand, when believers surrender themselves to die, their soul, which appears to vanish in a moment, passes into a better life. Yet as persons are sometimes found, who heedlessly lay down their life, either for the sake of ambition or of madness, Christ expressly states the reason why we ought to expose ourselves to death.
It is uncertain if the discourse, which is related by Luke, was delivered on another occasion. There, too, our Lord exhorts his followers to bear the cross, but does not dwell upon it at equal length. To support this sentiment he immediately adds two comparisons, of which Matthew takes no notice: but as the subject treated is substantially the same, I have not scrupled to introduce in this place what we find in Luke.
Luke 14:28. For which of you, etc , That no one may think it hard to follow Christ on the condition of renouncing all his desires, a useful warning is here given. We must consider beforehand what the profession of the gospel demands. The reason why many persons yield to very slight temptations is, that they have pictured to themselves unmixed enjoyment, as if they were to be always in the shade and at their ease. No man will ever become fit to serve Christ till he has undergone a long preparation for warfare.
Now the comparisons are exceedingly adapted to this object. Building is a tedious and vexatious matter, and one that gives little satisfaction on account of the expense. War, too, brings along with it many inconveniences, and almost threatens destruction to the human race, so that it is never undertaken but with reluctance. And yet the advantages of building are found to be sufficient to induce men to spend their substance on it without hesitation; while necessity drives them to shrink from no expenses in carrying on wars. But a far more valuable reward awaits those who are the builders of the temple of God, and who fight under the banner of Christ: for Christians do not labor for a temporary building, or fight for a passing triumph.
If a king find himself unable to endure the burden of a war, 607 he prevents an ignominious defeat by seeking peace with his adversary. The statements which our Lord makes to this effect must not be applied to the present subject, in such a manner as if we were to enter into any compromise with our spiritual foe, when our strength and resources fail. It would be idle to treat parables as applying in every minute point 608 to the matter in hand. But our Lord simply means that we ought to be so well prepared, as not to be taken by surprise for want of a proper defense, or basely to turn our backs: for it is not every one of us who is a king, to carry on war under his direction.
This doctrine reproves the rashness of those who foolishly proceed beyond their capacity, or flatter themselves without thinking of bearing the cross Yet we must take care lest this meditation, to which Christ exhorts us, should fill us with alarm or retard our progress. Many persons, not having from the outset laid their account with suffering, relax their zeal through cowardice: for they cannot endure to be Christians on any other condition than that of being exempted from the cross Others again, when a condition that is harsh and unpleasant to the flesh is proposed to them, do not venture to approach to Christ. But there is no good reason for being discouraged by a knowledge of our poverty, for the Lord grants to us seasonable aid. I readily acknowledge that, if we calculate the expense, we are all destitute of power to lay a single stone, or to wield a sword against the enemy. But as the materials, expense, arms, and forces, are supplied by the Lord out of heaven, no pretext on the score of difficulty can be offered by our indifference or sloth. The design of Christ, therefore, is to warn his followers to bear the cross, that they may prepare themselves with courage.
Luke 14:33. So then every one of you This clause shows what is meant by the calculation of expenses, with which Christ enjoins his followers to begin: it is to lead them to consider that they must forsake all In vain do persons who are delighted with an easy, indolent life, and with exemption from the cross, undertake a profession of Christianity. Those persons are said to forsake all who prefer Christ so greatly, both to their own life, and to all the wishes of the flesh, that nothing deters them from the right course.
It would be absurd to insist on a literal interpretation of the phrase, as if no man were a disciple of Christ, till he threw into the sea all that he possessed, divorced his wife, and bade farewell to his children. Such idle dreams led foolish people to adopt a monastic life, as if those who intend to come to Christ must leave off humanity. Yet no man truly forsakes all that he possesses till he is prepared at every instant to leave all, gives himself free and unconstrained to the Lord, and, rising above every hindrance, pursues his calling. Thus the true self-denial which the Lord demands from his followers does not consist so much in outward conduct as in the affections; so that every one must employ the time which is passing over him without allowing the objects which he directs by his hand to hold a place in his heart.
Matthew 10:40. He who receiveth you, receiveth me. A considerable portion of the world may be opposed to the disciples of Christ, and the confession of their faith may draw upon them universal hatred. Yet here is another consolation tending to excite a very great number of persons to treat them with kindness. Whatever is done to them, Christ does not hesitate to reckon as done to himself. This shows how dearly he loves them, when he places to his own account the kind offices which they have received. He is not speaking here about receiving the doctrine, but about receiving the men. The latter meaning, I admit, arises out of the former, but we must attend to the design of Christ. Perceiving that this was exceedingly adapted to support their weakness, he intended to assure them that, if any one would receive them in a friendly manner, and do them kind offices, he would be as highly pleased as if their benevolence had been exercised towards his own person; and not only so, but that in such a sacrifice God the Father would smell a sweet savor, (Ge 8:21)
41. He who receiveth a prophet He begins with the prophets, but at length comes down to the lowest rank, and embraces all his disciples. In this manner he commends all, without exception, who truly worship God and love the gospel. To receive a person in the name of a prophet, or in the name of a righteous man, means to do them good for the sake of honoring their doctrine, or of paying respect to piety. Though God enjoins us to perform offices of kindness to all mankind, yet he justly elevates his people to a higher rank, that they may be the objects of peculiar regard and esteem.
Shall receive a prophet’s reward This clause is variously interpreted by commentators. Some think that it denotes a mutual compensation, or, in other words, that spiritual benefits are bestowed on the prophets of God instead of temporal benefits. But if this exposition is admitted, what shall we say is meant by the righteous man’s reward? Others understand it to mean, that those who shall be kind to them will partake of the same reward which is laid up for prophets and righteous men. Some refer it to the intercourse of saints, and suppose it to mean, that as by our kind actions we give evidence that we are one body with the servants of Christ, so in this way we become partakers of all the blessings which Christ imparts to the members of his body.
I consider it simply as denoting the reward which corresponds to the rank of the person to whom kindness has been exercised; for Christ means that this will be a remarkable proof of the high estimation in which he holds his prophets, and indeed all his disciples. The greatness of the reward will make it evident, that not one kind office which was ever rendered to them has been forgotten.
By way of amplification, he promises a reward to the very meanest offices of kindness, such as giving them a cup of cold water, He gives the name of little ones not only to those who occupy the lowest place, or are held in least estimation in the Church, but to all his disciples, whom the pride of the world tramples under foot.
“Et vient apres moy;” — -”and cometh after me.”
“Qui aura trouve, ou, garde sa vie;” — “he who shall have found, or, protected, his life.”
“La trouvera, ou, gardera;” — “will find it, or, will protect it ”
“Si aucun vient avec moy;” — “if any man cometh with me.”
“Pour soustenir une guerre, et fournir l'argent qu'il faut“ — “to support a war, and to supply the money that is required.”
“De vouloir esplucher tout par le menu, et rapporter tout jusqu'aux petits mots;” — “to wish to explain every thing minutely, and to make every thing apply down to the smallest words.”