Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
matthew 11:20-24; luke 10:13-16
20. Then he began to upbraid the cities, in which most of his mighty works were done, because they had not repented of crimes: 21. Woe to thee, Chorazin! woe to thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which have been done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented of their crimes long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22. But I say to you, It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon 36 in the day of judgment than for you. 23. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted even to heaven shall be cast down even to hell; for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24. But I say to you, That it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom 37 in the day of judgment than for thee.
13. Woe to thee, Chorazin! woe to thee, Bethsaida! for if the might works, which have been done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have long ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you. 38 15. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted even to heaven, shall be cast down even to hell. 16. He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.
Matthew 11:20. Then he began to upbraid. Luke states the time when, and the reason why, Christ uttered such invectives against those cities. It was while he was sending the disciples away into various parts of Judea, to proclaim, as they passed along, that the kingdom of God was at hand. Reflecting on the ingratitude of those among whom he had long discharged the office of a prophet, and performed many wonderful works, without any good result, he broke out into these words, announcing that the time was now come, when he should depart to other cities, having learned, by experience, that the inhabitants of the country adjoining that lake, among whom he had begun to preach the Gospel and perform miracles, were full of obstinacy and of desperate malice. But he says nothing about the doctrine, and reproaches them that his miracles had not led them to repent. 39 The object which our Lord had in view, in exhibiting those manifestations of his power, undoubtedly was to invite men to himself; but as all are by nature averse to him, it is necessary to begin with repentance. Chorazin and Bethsaida are well known to have been cities which were situated on the lake of Gennesareth.
21. If those mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon. As Tyre and Sidon, in consequence of their proximity, were at that time abhorred for their ungodliness, pride, debauchery, and other vices, Christ employs this comparison for the express purpose of making a deeper and more painful impression on his Jewish countrymen. There was not one of them who did not look upon the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon as abominable despisers of God. It is, therefore, no small heightening of his curse, when Christ says, that there would have been more hope of reformation from those places in which there was no religion, than is to be seen in Judea itself.
Lest any should raise thorny questions 40 about the secret decrees of God, we must remember, that this discourse of our Lord is accommodated to the ordinary capacity of the human mind. 41 Comparing the citizens of Bethsaida, and their neighbors, with the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon, he reasons, not of what God foresaw would be done either by the one or by the other, but of what both parties would have done, so far as could be judged from the facts. The exceedingly corrupt morals and unrestrained debauchery of those cities might be ascribed to ignorance; for there the voice of God had never been heard, nor had miracles been performed, to warn them to repent. But in the cities of Galilee, which Christ upbraids, there was a display of very hardened obstinacy in despising miracles, of which they had seen a vast number without reaping any advantage. In short, the words of Christ convey nothing more than that the inhabitants of Chorazin and Bethsaida go beyond those of Tyre and Sidon in malice and incurable contempt of God.
And yet we have no right to contend with God, for having passed by others of whom better hopes might have been entertained, and displaying his power before some who were extremely wicked and altogether desperate. Those on whom he does not bestow his mercy are justly appointed to perdition. If he withhold his word from some, and allow them to perish, while, in order to render others more inexcusable, he entreats and exhorts them, in a variety of ways, to repentance, who shall charge him, on this account, with injustice? Let us, therefore, aware of our own weakness, learn to contemplate this height and depth 42 with reverence; for it is intolerable fretfulness and pride that is manifested by those who cannot endure to ascribe praise to the righteousness of God, except so far as it comes within the reach of their senses, and who disdainfully reject those mysteries, which it was their duty to adore, simply because the reason of them is not fully evident.
If the mighty works had been done. We have said that these words inform us concerning the right use of miracles, though they likewise include doctrine; for Christ did not remain silent, 43 while he was holding out to their view the power of the Father; but, on the contrary, miracles were added to the Gospel, that they might attend to what was spoken by Christ.
In sackcloth and ashes Repentance is here described by outward signs, the use of which was at that time common in the Church of God: not that Christ attaches importance to that matter, but because he accommodates himself to the capacity of the common people. We know that believers are not only required to exercise repentance for a few days, but to cherish it incessantly till death. But there is no necessity, in the present day, for being clothed with sackcloth, and sprinkled with ashes; and, therefore, there is not always occasion for that outward profession of repentance, but only when, after some aggravated revolt, men turn to God. Sackcloth and ashes are, no doubt, indications of guilt, for the purpose of turning away the wrath of the Judge; 44 and therefore relate strictly to the beginning of conversion. But as men testify by this ceremony their sorrow and grief, it must be preceded by hatred of sin, fear of God, and mortification of the flesh, according to the words of Joel, (Joe 2:13,) Rend your hearts and not your garments. We now see the reason why sackcloth and ashes are mentioned by Christ along with repentance, when he speaks of Tyre and Sidon, to the inhabitants of which the Gospel could not have been preached, without condemning their past life, leaving nothing for them, but to betake themselves to the wretched apparel of criminals for the sake of humbly beseeching pardon. Such, too, is the reference of the word sitting, which is employed by Luke, Sitting in sackcloth and ashes; for it denotes “lying prostrate on the ground,”—a posture adapted to express the grief of wretched persons, as is evident from many passages of the Prophets.
23. And thou, Capernaum. He expressly addresses the city of Capernaum, in which he had resided so constantly, that many supposed it to be his native place. It was indeed an inestimable honor, that the Son of God, when about to commence his reign and priesthood, had chosen Capernaum for the seat of his palace and sanctuary. And yet it was as deeply plunged in its filth, as if there had never been poured upon it a drop of Divine grace. On this account, Christ declares, that the punishment awaiting it will be the more dreadful, in proportion to the higher favors which it had received from God. It deserves our earnest attention in this passage, that the profanation of the gifts of God, as it involves sacrilege, will never pass unpunished; and that the more eminent any one is, he will be punished with the greater severity, if he shall basely pollute the gifts which God has bestowed upon him; and above all, an awful vengeance awaits us, if, after having received the spiritual gifts of Christ, we treat him and his Gospel with contempt.
If they had been done in Sodom. We have already hinted, that Christ speaks after the manner of men, and does not bring forth, as from the heavenly sanctuary, 45 what God foresaw would happen if he had sent a Prophet to the inhabitants of Sodom. But if quarrelsome persons are not satisfied with this answer, every ground of objection is removed by this single consideration, that although God had a remedy in his power for saving the inhabitants of Sodom, yet in destroying them he was a just avenger. 46
Luke 10:16. He that heareth you heareth me. It is a mistake to suppose that this passage is a repetition of what we formerly met with in the Gospel of Mt 10:40 he that receiveth you receiveth me 47 Then, Christ was speaking of persons, but now, of doctrine. The former receiving had a reference to offices of kindness; but now he recommends faith, which receives God in his Word. The general meaning is, that the godliness of men is ascertained by the obedience of faith; 48 and that those who reject the Gospel, though they may boast of being the most eminent of the worshippers of God, give evidence that they wickedly despise him.
We must now attend to the design of Christ. As a considerable portion of the world foolishly estimates the Gospel according to the rank of men, and despises it because it is professed by persons of mean and despicable condition, our Lord here contradicts so perverse a judgment. Again, almost all are so proud, that they do not willingly submit to their equals, or to those whom they look down upon as inferior to them. God has determined, on the other hand, to govern his Church by the ministry of men, and indeed frequently selects the ministers of the Word from among the lowest dregs of the people. It was, therefore, necessary to support the majesty of the Gospel, that it might not appear to be degraded by proceeding from the lips of men.
This is a remarkable commendation 49 of the outward ministry, when Christ declares, that whatever honor and respect is rendered to the preaching of men, provided that the preaching be faithful, God acknowledges as done to Himself. In two points of view, this recommendation is useful. Nothing ought to be a stronger encouragement to us to embrace the doctrine of the Gospel, than to learn that this is the highest worship of God, and a sacrifice of the sweetest odor, to hear him speaking by human lips, and to yield subjection to his word, which is brought to us by men, in the same manner as if he were descending from heaven or making known his will to us by angels. Again, our confidence is established, and all doubt is removed, when we learn, that the testimony of our salvation, when delivered to us by men whom God has sent, is not less worthy of credit, than if His voice resounded from heaven. To deter us, on the other hand, from despising the Gospel, he adds a severe threatening:
He that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me. Those who disdain to listen to ministers, however mean and contemptible they may be, offer an insult, not to men only, but to Christ himself, and to God the Father. While a magnificent eulogium is here pronounced on the rank of pastors, who honestly and faithfully discharge their office, it is absurd in the Pope and his clergy to take this as a pretense for cloaking their tyranny. Assuredly, Christ does not speak in such a manner, as to surrender into the hands of men the power which the Father has given him, but only to protect his Gospel against contempt. Hence it follows, that he does not transfer to the persons of men the honor which is due to himself, but only maintains that it cannot be separated from his Word. If the Pope wishes to be received, let him bring forward the doctrine by which he may be recognized as a minister of Christ; but so long as he continues to be what he now is, a mortal enemy of Christ, and destitute of all resemblance to the Apostles, let him cease to deck himself with borrowed feathers.
“Que Tyr et Sidon seront plus doucement traittez;” — “that Tyre and Sidon will be treated more gently.”
“Que ceux de Sodome seront traittez plus doucement;” — “that those of Sodom will be treated more gently.”
“Pourtant Tyr et Sidon seront plus doucement traittez au Iugementque vous;” — “therefore Tyre and Sidon will be more gently treated in the Judgment than you.”
“Que par les miracles ils n’ont point esmeus pour se convertir a repentance;” — “that by the miracles they were not moved to be converted to repentance.”
“Des questions curieuses et difficiles;” — “curious and difficult questions.”
“A la capacite et apprehension commune de l’entendement humain;” — “to the ordinary capacity and apprehension of the human understanding.”
“Ceste hautesse et profondeur des iugemens de Dieu;” — “this height and depth of the judgments of God.”
“N’a pas eu cependant sa bouche close;” — “did not in the meantime keep his mouth shut.”
“A fin d’adoucir le Iuge, et destourner son iuste courroux;” — “in order to pacify the Judge, and to turn away his just wrath.”
“Il ne vent point ici amener le conseil secret de Dieu;” — “he does not intend here to exhibit the secret purpose of God.”
“Que toutesfois, en les destruisant et damnant, il n’a rien fait qui empesche qu’il ne soit tousiours recognue iuste en sa punition et sa vengeance;” — “that notwithstanding, in destroying and condemning them, He has done nothing to prevent Him from being always acknowledged to be righteous in His punishment and in His vengeance.”
Harmony, volume 1 p. 475.
“Que la crainte de Dieu qui est es hommes, se monstre par l’obeissance de la foy;” — “that the fear of God which is in men is manifested by the obedience of faith.”
“C’est donc une louange et recommendation singuliere;” — “it is then a singular praise and recommendation.”