Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 11:16-19; Luke 7:29-35
16. But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children, who sit in the market-place, and call out to their companions, 17. And say, We have played on the flute to you, and you have not danced; we have sung mournful airs to you, and you have not lamented. 18. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. 19. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Lo, a man who is a glutton and a wine-bibber, 19 a friend to publicans and sinners; and Wisdom is justified by her children.
29. And all the people hearing, and the publicans, justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 20 30. But Pharisees and Lawyers 21 despised 22 the counsel of God in themselves, 23 having not been baptized by him. 31. And the Lord said, To what then shall I compare the men of this generation? and to what are they like? 32. They are like children sitting in the market-place, and calling out to each other, and saying, We have played on the flute to you, and you have not danced; we have sung mournful airs to you, and you have not wept. 33. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, He hath a devil. 34. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and you say, Lo, a man gluttonous and a wine-bibber, a friend to publicans and sinners. 24 35. And Wisdom is justified by all her children.
Luke 7:29. And all the people hearing. This part is left out by Matthew, though it throws no small light on the connection of the words; for it was this circumstance which gave rise to Christ’s expostulation, when he perceived that the scribes persisted so obstinately in despising God. The substance of this passage is, that the common people and the publicans gave glory to God; while the Scribes, flattering themselves with confidence in their own knowledge, cared little for what Christ said. At first sight, this tends only to obscure, and even to disfigure, the glory of the Gospel, that Christ could not gather disciples to himself, except from the dregs and offscourings of the people; while he was rejected by those who had any reputation for holiness or learning. But the Lord intended, from the beginning, to hold out this example, that neither the men of that age, nor even posterity, might judge of the Gospel by the approbation of men; for we are all by nature inclined to this vice. And yet nothing is more unreasonable than to submit the truth of God to the judgment of men, whose acuteness and sagacity amounts to nothing more than mere vanity. Accordingly, as Paul says, “God hath chosen that part which is weak and foolish in the eyes of the world, that he may cast down from its height whatever appears to be mighty and wise,” (1Co 1:27.) Our duty is to prefer this foolishness of God, to use Paul’s expression, (1Co 1:25,) to all the display of human wisdom.
Justified God. This is a very remarkable expression. Those who respectfully embrace the Son of God, and assent to the doctrine which he has brought, are said to ascribe righteousness to God. We need not therefore wonder, if the Holy Spirit everywhere honors faith with remarkable commendations, assigns to it the highest rank in the worship of God, and declares that it is a very acceptable service. For what duty can be deemed more sacred than to vindicate God’s righteousness? The word justify applies generally, no doubt, to every thing connected with the praises of God, and conveys the idea, that God is beheld with approbation, and crowned with glory, by the people who embrace that doctrine of which He is the author. Now, since faith justifies God, it is impossible, on the other hand, but that unbelief must be blasphemy against him, and a disdainful withholding of that praise which is due to his name. This expression also teaches us, that men are never brought into complete subjection to the faith until, disregarding the flesh and sense, they conclude that every thing which comes from God is just and holy, and do not permit themselves to murmur against his word or his works.
Having been baptized with the baptism of John. Luke means that the fruits of the baptism which they had received were then beginning to appear; for it was a useful preparation to them for receiving the doctrine of Christ. It was already an evidence of their piety that they presented themselves to be baptized. Our Lord now leads them forward from that slender instruction to a higher degree of progress, as the scribes, in despising the baptism of John, shut against themselves, through their pride, the gate of faith. If, therefore, we desire to rise to full perfection, let us first guard against despising the very least of God’s invitations, 25 and be prepared in humility to commence with small and elementary instructions. Secondly, let us endeavor that, if our faith shall have a feeble beginning, it may regularly and gradually increase.
30. Despised the counsel of God within themselves. The counsel of God is mentioned by way of respect, as contrasted with the wicked pride of the scribes; for the term counsel carries along with it a dignity, which protects the doctrine of God against the contempt of men. Literally, Luke says, that they despised Against Themselves: and indeed I do not disapprove of the meaning which is preferred by some, that the scribes were rebellious to their own destruction. But as Luke’s narrative is simple, and as the preposition εἰς is often used in the sense of ἐν I have chosen rather to translate it, within themselves; as meaning, that although they did not openly and expressly contradict, yet as they inwardly swelled with hidden pride, they despised within themselves
31. To what shall I compare? He does not include all the men of his age, but speaks particularly of the scribes and their followers. He charges them with this reproach, that while the Lord endeavored, by various methods, to draw them to himself, they repelled his grace with incorrigible obstinacy. He employs a comparison, which was probably taken from a common amusement of children; for there is probability in the conjecture, that the children divided themselves into two bands, and sang in that manner. And, indeed, I think that, in order to abase the pride of the scribes, Christ intentionally borrowed from children the materials of his reproof: thus declaring that, however distinguished they were, nothing more was necessary to condemn them than a song which children were wont to sing in the market-place for their amusement.
33. For John the Baptist came. Leading an austere life, he thundered out repentance and severe reproofs, and sung, as it were, a plaintive song; while the Lord endeavored, by a cheerful and sprightly song, to draw them more gently to the Father. Neither of those methods had any success, and what reason could be assigned except their hardened obstinacy? This passage also shows us, why so wide a difference existed, as to outward life, between Christ and the Baptist, though both had the same object in view. Our Lord intended, by this diversity, and by assuming as it were a variety of characters, to convict unbelievers more fully; since, while he yielded and accommodated himself to their manners, he did not bend them to himself. But if the men of that age are deprived of every excuse for repelling, with inveterate malice, a twofold invitation which God had given them, we too are held guilty in their persons; for God leaves not untried any sort of pleasing melody, or of plaintive and harsh music, to draw us to himself, and yet we remain hard as stones. They called John a demoniac, just as persons of unsound mind, or whose brain is disturbed, are usually called madmen.
34. The Son of man came. To eat and drink means here nothing more than to live in the customary way; as Christ says that John came neither eating nor drinking, because he confined himself to a peculiar diet, and even abstained from ordinary food. This is more fully expressed by the words of Luke, neither eating bread nor drinking wine. Those who think that the highest perfection consists in outward austerity of life, and who pronounce it to be an angelical life when a person is abstemious, 26 or mortifies himself by fasting, ought to attend to this passage. On this principle John would rank higher than the Son of God; but, on the contrary, we ought to maintain, that
bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness
is profitable to all things, (1Ti 4:8.)
And yet we must not make this a pretense for giving a loose rein to the flesh, by indulging in luxuries and effeminacy: only we must beware of superstition, lest foolish men, imagining that perfection lies in matters of a purely elementary nature, neglect the spiritual worship of God. Besides, while Christ accommodated himself to the usages of ordinary life, he maintained a sobriety truly divine, and did not encourage the excesses of others by his dissimulation or by his example.
35. And Wisdom is justified This passage is variously explained by commentators. Some maintain that Wisdom was acquitted by the Jews, because, conscious of guilt, and judges of their own unbelief, they were compelled to acknowledge, that the doctrine which they rejected was good and holy. By the children of Wisdom they understand the Jews who boasted of that title. Others think that it was spoken in irony: “It is in this manner that you approve of the Wisdom of God, of which you boast that you are the children?” But as the Greek preposition ἀπό 27 does not properly relate to an agent, some explain it, that Wisdom is acquitted by her children, and is no longer under obligation to them, in the same manner as when an inheritance is transferred to another. Thus Paul says, that Christ was justified (δεδικαίωται) from sin, (Ro 6:7,) because the curse of sin had no longer any power over him.
Some interpret it more harshly, and with greater excess of freedom, to mean that Wisdom is estranged from her children But granting that this were the import of the Greek preposition, I look upon the other meaning as more appropriate, that Wisdom, however wickedly she may be slandered by her own sons, loses nothing of her worth or rank, but remains unimpaired. The Jews, and particularly the scribes, gave themselves out as children of the Wisdom of God; and yet, when they trod their mother under their feet, they not only flattered themselves amidst such heinous sacrilege, but desired that Christ should fall by their decision. Christ maintains, on the contrary, that, however wicked and depraved her children may be, Wisdom remains entire, and that the malice of those who wickedly and malignantly slander her takes nothing from her authority.
I have not yet brought forward that meaning which appears to my own mind the most appropriate and natural. First, the words of Christ contain an implied contrast between true children and bastards, who hold but an empty title without the reality; and they amount to this: “Let those who haughtily boast of being the children of Wisdom proceed in their obstinacy: she will, notwithstanding, retain the praise and support of her own children. Accordingly, Luke adds a term of universality, by all her children; which means, that the reluctance of the scribes will not prevent all the elect of God from remaining steadfast in the faith of the Gospel. With respect to the Greek word ἀπό, it undoubtedly has sometimes the same meaning as ὑπό. Not to mention other instances, there is a passage in Luke’s Gospel, (Lu 17:25,) where Christ says, that he must suffer many things, καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθὢναι ἀπὸ τὢς γενεᾶς ταύτης, and be rejected By this generation. Everybody will admit, that the form of expression is the same as in the corresponding clause. 28 Besides, Chrysostom, whose native language was Greek, passes over this matter, as if there were no room for debate. Not only is this meaning more appropriate, but it corresponds to a former clause, in which it was said, that God was justified by the people, (v. 29.) Although many apostates may revolt from the Church of God, yet, among all the elect, who truly belong to the flock, the faith of the Gospel will always remain uninjured.
“Gourmand et; yvrongne;” — “a glutton and a drunkard.”
“Et tout le peuple qui oyoit cela, et les Peagers qui estoyent baptizez du baptesme de Iean, iustiferent Dieu.” — “And all the people who heard that, and the publicans who were baptized with the baptism of John, justified God.”
“Les Docteurs de la Loy;” — “the Doctors of the Law.”
“Reietterent le conseil de Dieu;” — “rejected the counsel of God.”
“En eux-mesmes, ou, a l’encontre d’eux-mesmes;” — “in themselves, or, against themselves.”
“Ami des Peagers et gens du mauvaise vie;” — “a friend of publican and persons of wicked life.”
“Gardons premierement de mespriser un seul moyen par lequel Die nous convie;” — “let us first guard against despising a single method by which God invites us.”
“Quand un homme ne boira point de vin;” — “when a person will drink no wine.”
“Le mot Grec que nous avons rendu par De;” — “the Greek word which we have translated by.”
“On void bien que la ce mot De se rapporte a la personne qui fait, et non pas a celuy qui souffre;” — “It is very evident that the word By relates to the person that acts, and not to him who suffers.”