Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 11:25-30; Luke 10:21-22
25. At that time Jesus answering said, I acknowledge to thee, 56 O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little children. 26. Undoubtedly, O Father, such was thy good pleasure. 57 27. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and none knoweth the Son but the Father; and none knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son has chosen to reveal him. 58 28. Come to me, all that labor and are burdened, and I will relieve you. 29. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, that I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest in your souls. 30. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
21. In the same hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I acknowledge to thee, 59 O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little children: certainly, O Father, it is because such was thy good pleasure. 22. All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and none knoweth who the Son is but the Father, and who the Father is but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall choose to reveal him.
Matthew 11:25. Jesus answering. Though the Hebrew verb, answer, (ענה,) is frequently employed even in the commencement of a discourse, yet in this passage I consider it to be emphatic; for it was from the present occurrence that Christ took occasion to speak. This is more fully confirmed by the words of Luke, that in the same hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit Whence came that rejoicing? Was it not because the Church, composed of poor and despised persons, was viewed by him as not less precious and valuable than if all the nobility and high rank in the world had lent to it their brilliancy? Let it be observed, also, that the discourse is addressed to the Father, and consequently is marked by greater energy than if he had spoken to his disciples. It was on their behalf, no doubt, and for their sake, that he gave thanks to the Father, that they might not be displeased with the low and mean aspect of his Church.
We are constantly looking for splendor; and nothing appears to us more incongruous, than that the heavenly kingdom of the Son of God, whose glory is so magnificently celebrated by the prophets, should consist of the dregs and offscourings of the common people. And truly it is a wonderful purpose of God, that though he has the whole world at his command, he chooses rather to select a peculiar people to himself from among the contemptible vulgar, than from the nobility, whose high rank would have been a greater ornament to the name of Christ. But here Christ withdraws his disciples from a proud and haughty imagination, that they may not venture to despise that mean and obscure condition of his Church, in which he delights and rejoices. To restrain more fully that curiosity which is constantly springing up in the minds of men, he rises above the world, and contemplates the secret decrees of God, that he may lead others to unite with him in admiring them. And certainly, though this appointment of God contradicts our senses, we discover not only blind arrogance, but excessive madness, if we murmur against it, while Christ our Head adores it with reverence.
I acknowledge to thee, O Father 60 By these words he declares his acquiescence in that decree of the Father, which is so greatly at variance with human senses. There is an implied contrast between this praise, which he ascribes to the Father, and the malicious slanders, or even the impudent barkings, of the world. We must now inquire in what respect he glorifies the Father. It is because, while he was Lord of the whole world, he preferred children and ignorant persons to the wise It has no small weight, as connected with this subject, that he calls the Father Lord of heaven and earth; for in this manner he declares that it is a distinction which depends entirely on the will of God, 61 that the wise remain blind, while the ignorant and unlearned receive the mysteries of the Gospel. There are many other passages of a similar nature, in which God points out to us, that those who arrive at salvation have been freely chosen by him, because he is the Creator and Governor of the world, and all nations are his.
This expression implies two things. First, that all do not obey the Gospel arises from no want of power on the part of God, who could easily have brought all the creatures into subjection to his government. Secondly, that some arrive at faith, while others remain hardened and obstinate, is accomplished by his free election; for, drawing some, and passing by others, he alone makes a distinction among men, whose condition by nature is alike. 62 In choosing little children rather than the wise, he has a regard to his glory; for the flesh is too apt to rise, and if able and learned men had led the way, it would soon have come to be the general conviction, that men obtain faith by their skill, or industry, or learning. In no other way can the mercy of God be so fully known as it ought to be, than by making such a choice, from which it is evident, that whatever men bring from themselves is nothing; and therefore human wisdom is justly thrown down, that it may not obscure the praise of divine grace.
But it is asked, whom does Christ denominate wise? And whom does he denominate little children? For experience plainly shows, that not all the ignorant and unlearned on the one hand are enlightened to believe, and that not all the wise or learned are left in their blindness. It follows, that those are called wise and prudent, who, swelled with diabolical pride, cannot endure to hear Christ speaking to them from above. And yet it does not always happen that God reprobates those who have a higher opinion of themselves than they ought to have; as we learn from the instance of Paul, whose fierceness Christ subdued. If we come down to the ignorant multitude, the majority of whom display envenomed malice, we perceive that they are left to their destruction equally with the nobles and great men. I do acknowledge, that all unbelievers swell with a wicked confidence in themselves, whether their pride be nourished by their wisdom, or by a reputation for integrity, or by honors, or by riches. But I consider that Christ here includes all who are eminent for abilities and learning, without charging them with any fault; as, on the other hand, he does not represent it to be an excellence in any one that he is a little child. True, humble persons have Christ for their master, and the first lesson of faith is, Let no man presume on his wisdom. But Christ does not speak here as to voluntary childhood. He magnifies the grace of the Father on this ground, that he does not disdain to descend even to the lowest and most abominable, that he may raise up the poor out of filth.
But here a question arises. As prudence is a gift of God, how comes it that it hinders us from perceiving the brightness of God, which shines in the Gospel? We ought, indeed, to remember what I have already said, that unbelievers corrupt all the prudence which they possess, and that men of distinguished abilities are often hindered in this respect, that they cannot submit to be taught. But with respect to the present passage I reply: Though the sagacity of the prudent does not stand in their way, they may notwithstanding be deprived of the light of the Gospel. Since the condition of all is the same or alike, why may not God take this or that person according to his pleasure? The reason why he passes by the wise and the great is declared by Paul to be, that
God hath chosen the weak and foolish things of the world to confound the glory of the flesh,
Hence also we infer, that the statement made by Christ is not universal, when he says, that the mysteries of the Gospel are hidden from the wise If out of five wise men four reject the Gospel and one embraces it, and if, out of an equal number of unlearned persons, two or three become disciples of Christ, this statement is fulfilled. This is also confirmed by that passage in Paul’s writings, which I lately quoted; for he does not exclude from the kingdom of God all the wise, and noble, and mighty, but only declares that it does not contain many of them.
The question is now solved. Prudence is not condemned as far as it is a gift of God, but Christ merely declares that it has no influence in procuring faith. On the other hand, he does not recommend ignorance, as if it rendered men acceptable to God, but affirms that it does not hinder mercy from enlightening ignorant and unlearned men with heavenly wisdom. It now remains to explain what is meant by revealing and hiding. That Christ does not speak of the outward preaching may be inferred with certainty from this circumstance, that he presented himself as a Teacher to all without distinction, and enjoined his Apostles to do the same. The meaning therefore is, that no man can obtain faith by his own acuteness, but only by the secret illumination of the Spirit.
26. Undoubtedly, O Father This expression removes every pretense for that licentiousness of inquiry, to which we are continually excited. There is nothing which we yield to God with greater difficulty, than that his will shall be regarded by us as the highest reason and justice. 63 He frequently repeats, that his judgments are a deep abyss, (Ps 36:6;) but we plunge with headlong violence into that depth, 64 and if there is any thing that does not please us, we gnash our teeth, or murmur against him, and many even break out into open blasphemies. On the contrary, our Lord lays down to us this rule, that whatever God has determined must be regarded by us as right. 65 This is sober wisdom, to acquiesce in the good pleasure of God as alone equal to a thousand arguments. 66 Christ might indeed have brought forward the causes of that distinction, if there were any; but he is satisfied with the good pleasure of God, and inquires no farther why he calls to salvation little children rather than others, and composes his kingdom out of an obscure flock. 67 Hence it is evident, that men direct their fury against Christ, when, on learning that some are freely chosen, and others are reprobated, by the will of God, they storm because they find it unpleasant to yield to God. 68
27. All things have been delivered to me. The connection of this sentence with the preceding one is not correctly understood by those commentators who think that Christ intends nothing more than to strengthen the confidence of his disciples for preaching the Gospel. My opinion is, that Christ spoke these words for another reason, and with another object in view. Having formerly asserted that the Church proceeds from the secret source of God’s free election, he now shows in what manner the grace of salvation comes to men. Many persons, as soon as they learn that none are heirs of eternal life but those whom God chose before the foundation of the world, (Eph 1:4,) begin to inquire anxiously how they may be assured of God’s secret purpose, and thus plunge into a labyrinth, from which they will find no escape. Christ enjoins them to come direct to himself, in order to obtain certainty of salvation. The meaning therefore is, that life is exhibited to us in Christ himself, and that no man will partake of it who does not enter by the gate of faith. We now see that he connects faith with the eternal predestination of God, — two things which men foolishly and wickedly hold to be inconsistent with each other. Though our salvation was always hidden with God, yet Christ is the channel through which it flows to us, and we receive it by faith, that it may be secure and ratified in our hearts. We are not at liberty then to turn away from Christ, unless we choose to reject the salvation which he offers to us.
None knoweth the Son. He says this, that we may not be guided by the judgment of men, and thus form an erroneous estimate of his majesty. The meaning therefore is, that if we wish to know what is the character of Christ, we must abide by the testimony of the Father, who alone can truly and certainly inform us what authority he hath bestowed upon him. And, indeed, by imagining him to be what our mind, according to its capacity, conceives of him, we deprive him of a great part of his excellence, so that we cannot know him aright but from the voice of the Father That voice alone would undoubtedly be insufficient without the guidance of the Spirit; for the power of Christ is too deep and hidden to be attained by men, until they have been enlightened by the Father We must understand him to mean, not that the Father knoweth for himself, but that He knoweth for us to reveal him to us.
But the sentence appears to be incomplete, for the two clauses do not correspond to each other. Of the Son it is said, that none knoweth the Father except himself, and he to whom he shall be pleased to reveal him Of the Father nothing more is said than this, that He alone knoweth the Son. Nothing is said about revelation. I reply, that it was unnecessary to repeat what he had already said; for what else is contained in the previous thanksgiving, than that the Father hath revealed the Son to those who approve of him? When it is now added that He alone knoweth the Son, it appears to be the assigning of a reason; for this thought might, have occurred, What neccessity was there that the Son, who had openly exhibited himself to the view of men, should be revealed by the Father? We now perceive the reason why it was said, that none knoweth the Son but the Father only It now remains that we attend to the latter clause:
None knoweth the Father except the Son, and he to whom the Son shall be pleased to reveal him. This is a different kind of knowledge from the former; for the Son is said to know the Father, not because he reveals Him by his Spirit, but because, being the lively image of Him, he represents Him visibly in his own person. At the same time, I do not exclude the Spirit, but explain the revelation here mentioned as referring to the manner of communicating information. This agrees most completely with the context; for Christ confirms what he had formerly said, that all things had been delivered to him by his Father, by informing us that the fullness of the Godhead dwelleth in him, (Col 2:9.) The passage may be thus summed up: 69 First, it is the gift of the Father, that the Son is known, because by his Spirit he opens the eyes of our mind to discern the glory of Christ, which otherwise would have been hidden from us. Secondly, the Father, who dwells in inaccessible light, and is in himself incomprehensible, is revealed to us by the Son, because he is the lively image of Him, so that it is in vain to seek for Him elsewhere. 70
28. Come to me all that labor He now kindly invites to himself those whom he acknowledges to be fit for becoming his disciples. Though he is ready to reveal the Father to all, yet the greater part are careless about coming to him, because they are not affected by a conviction of their necessities. Hypocrites give themselves no concern about Christ, because they are intoxicated with their own righteousness, and neither hunger nor thirst (Mt 5:6) for his grace. Those who are devoted to the world set no value on heavenly life. It would be in vain, therefore, for Christ to invite either of these classes, and therefore he turns to the wretched and afflicted. He speaks of them as laboring, or groaning under a burden, and does not mean generally those who are oppressed with grief and vexations, but those who are overwhelmed by their sins, who are filled with alarm at the wrath of God, and are ready to sink under so weighty a burden. There are various methods, indeed, by which God humbles his elect; but as the greater part of those who are loaded with afflictions still remain obstinate and rebellious, Christ means by persons laboring and burdened, those whose consciences are distressed by their exposure to eternal death, and who are inwardly so pressed down by their miseries that they faint; for this very fainting prepares them for receiving his grace. He tells us that the reason why most men despise his grace is, that they are not sensible of their poverty; but that there is no reason why their pride or folly should keep back afflicted souls that long for relief.
Let us therefore bid adieu to all who, entangled by the snares of Satan, either are persuaded that they possess a righteousness out of Christ, or imagine that they are happy in this world. Let our miseries drive us to seek Christ; and as he admits none to the enjoyment of his rest but those who sink under the burden, let us learn, that there is no venom more deadly than that slothfulness which is produced in us, either by earthly happiness, or by a false and deceitful opinion of our own righteousness and virtue. Let each of us labor earnestly to arouse himself, first, by vigorously shaking off the luxuries of the world; and, secondly, by laying aside every false confidence. Now though this preparation for coming to Christ makes them as dead men, 71 yet it ought to be observed, that it is the gift of the Holy Spirit, because it is the commencement of repentance, to which no man aspires in his own strength. Christ did not intend to show what man can do of himself, but only to inform us what must be the feelings of those who come to him.
They who limit the burden and the labor to ceremonies of the Law, take a very narrow view of Christ’s meaning. I do acknowledge, that the Law was intolerably burdensome, and overwhelmed the souls of worshippers; but we must bear in mind what I have said, that Christ stretches out his hand to all the afflicted, and thus lays down a distinction between his disciples and those who despise the Gospel. But we must attend to the universality of the expression; for Christ included all, without exception, who labor and are burdened, that no man may shut the gate against himself by wicked doubts. 72 And yet all such persons are few in number; for, among the innumerable multitude of those that perish, few are aware that they are perishing. The relief which he promises consists in the free pardon of sins, which alone gives us peace.
29. Take my yoke upon you. Many persons, we perceive, abuse the grace of Christ by turning it into an indulgence of the flesh; and therefore Christ, after promising joyful rest to wretchedly distressed consciences, reminds them, at the same time, that he is their Deliverer on condition of their submitting to his yoke. He does not, he tells us, absolve men from their sins in such a manner, that, restored to the favor of God, they may sin with greater freedom, but that, raised up by his grace, they may also take his yoke upon them, and that, being free in spirit, they may restrain the licentiousness of their flesh. And hence we obtain a definition of that rest of which he had spoken. It is not at all intended to exempt the disciples of Christ from the warfare of the flesh, that they may enjoy themselves at their ease, but to train them under the burden of discipline, and keep them under the yoke.
Learn of me It is a mistake, I think, to suppose that Christ here assures us of his meekness, lest his disciples, under the influence of that fear which is usually experienced in approaching persons of distinction, should remain at a distance from him on account of his Divine glory. It is rather his design to form us to the imitation of himself, because the obstinacy of the flesh leads us to shrink from his yoke as harsh and uneasy. Shortly afterwards, he adds, (verse 30,) my yoke is easy But how shall any man be brought willingly and gently to bend his neck, unless, by putting on meekness, he be conformed to Christ? That this is the meaning of the words is plain; for Christ, after exhorting his disciples to bear his yoke, and desirous to prevent them from being deterred by its difficulty, immediately adds, Learn of me; thus declaring that, when his example shall have accustomed us to meekness and humility, we shall no longer feel his yoke to be troublesome. To the same purpose he adds, I will relieve you So long as the flesh kicks, we rebel; and those who refuse the yoke of Christ, and endeavor to appease God in any other manner, distress and waste themselves in vain. In this manner, we see the Papists wretchedly torturing themselves, and silently enduring the dreadful tyranny under which they groan, that they may not bow to the yoke of Christ.
“Ie te ren graces;” — “I give thee thanks.”
“Il est ainsi, Pere, pourtant que ton bon plaisir a este tel;” — “it i so, O Father, because thy good pleasure was such.”
“Le Fils le vent reveler, ou, donner a cognoistre;” —”the Son chooses to reveal him, or, to make him known.”
“Ie to ren graces;” — “I give thee thanks.”
“Ie to ren graces, que tu as cache;” — “I thank thee, that thou hast concealed.”
“Qu’il n’y a que le bon plaisir et vouloir de Dieu qui soit cause de ceste diversit,” — “that it is only the good pleasure and will of God that is the cause of this diversity.”
“Desquels tous la condition est semblable de nature;” — “of all of whom the condition by nature is alike.”
“Pour la derniere et souveraine raison, et pour Justice parfaite;” — “for the last and supreme reason, and for perfect justice.”
“Pour sonder ce qui y est;” — “to sound what is in it.”
“Que tout ce que Dieu a determine est bon et droict;” — “that all that God has determined is good and right.”
“Et cela est estre sage a sobriete, d’acquiescer au seul bon plaisir de Dieu, et nous y arrester paisiblement, plus que s’il y avoit dix mille raisons devant nos yeux;” — “and this is to be wise to sobriety, to acquiesce in the good pleasure of God, and to rest calmly upon it, more than if there were ten thousand arguments before our eyes.”
“D’une troupe de gens incognus, et de petite estime;” — “from a flock of persons unknown and little esteemed.”
“Vienent incontinent a tempester, pource quil leur fasche que Dieu ait le dernier mot;” — “come immediately to storm, because it gives them uneasiness that God should have the last word.”
“Tout ce passage revient a ces deux points;” — “the whole of this passage amounts to these two points.”
“En sorte que c’est temps perdu de le chercher ailleurs;” — “so that it is lost time to seek him elsewhere.”
“Combien que ceste preparation a recevoir la grace de Christ despouille desia entierement les hommes, et monstre qu’ils sont du tout vuides de vertu;” — “though this preparation for receiving the grace of Christ already strips men entirely, and shows that they are wholly devoid of virtue.”
“Par une desfiance et facon perverse de douter;” — “by a distrust and wicked manner of doubting.”