Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 12:43-45; Luke 11:24-26
43. But when the unclean spirit hath gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth it not. 44. Then he saith, I will return to my house, whence I came out; and coming, he findeth it empty, and swept, and embellished. 45. Then he goeth away, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and entering, he dwelleth there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. 143 So shall it be also to this wicked generation.
24. When the unclean spirit hath gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and not finding it, he saith, I will return to my house, whence I came out. 25. And when he is come, he findeth it swept and embellished. 26. Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and entering, they dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
43. But when the unclean spirit hath gone out. He speaks of scribes and hypocrites of a similar character, who, despising the grace of God, enter into a conspiracy with the devil. Against such persons he pronounces that punishment which their ingratitude deserves. To make his doctrine more extensively useful, he points out, in a general manner, the condemnation that awaits those who, despising the grace offered to them, again open the door to the devil. But as almost every particle has great weight, there are some points that must be noticed in their order, before we come to treat the substance of the parable.
What Christ says about the going out of the devil is intended to magnify the power and efficacy of the grace of God. Whenever God draws near to us, and, above all, when he approaches us in the person of his Son, the design is, to rescue us from the tyranny of the devil, and to receive us into his favor. This had been openly declared by Christ in the miracle which he had lately performed. As it is the peculiar office of Christ to banish wicked spirits, that they may no longer reign over men, the devil is justly said to go out of those men to whom Christ exhibits himself as a Redeemer. Though the presence of Christ is not efficacious to all, because unbelievers render it useless to them, yet he intended to point out why he visits us, what is implied in his coming, and how it is regarded by wicked spirits; for in every case in which Christ operates on men, the devils are drawn into a contest with him, and sink beneath his power. Let us, therefore, hold it to be a settled point, that the devil is cast out of us, whenever Christ shines upon us, and displays his grace towards us by some manifestation.
Secondly, the wretched condition of the whole human race is here described to us; for it follows that the devil has a residence within man, since he is driven from it by the Son of God. Now what is here said relates not to one individual or to another, but to the whole posterity of Adam. And this is the glory of our nature, that the devil has his seat within us, and inhabits both the body and the soul. So much the more illustrious is the display of the mercy of God, when we, who were the loathsome dens of the devil, are made temples to Himself, and consecrated for a habitation of His Spirit.
Thirdly, we have here a description of Satan’s nature. He never ceases to do us injury, but is continually busy, and moves from one place to another. In a word, he directs all his efforts to accomplish our destruction; and above all, when he has been vanquished and put to flight by Christ, it only tends more to whet his rage and keenness to do us injury. 144 Before Christ makes us partakers of his energy, it seems as if it were in sport and amusement that this enemy reigns over us; 145 but when he has been driven out, he conceives resentment at having lost his prey, collects new forces, and arouses all his senses to attack us anew.
He walketh through dry places. This is a metaphorical expression, and denotes that to dwell out of men is to him a wretched banishment, and resembles a barren wilderness. Such, too, is the import of the phrase, seeking rest, so long as he dwells out of men; for then he is displeased and tormented, and ceases not to labor by one means or by another, till he recover what he has lost. 146 Let us, therefore, learn that, as soon as Christ calls us, a sharper and fiercer contest is prepared for us. Though he meditates the destruction of all, and though the words of Peter apply to all without exception, that he
goeth about as a roaring lion, and seeketh whom he may devour,
yet we are plainly taught by these words of Christ, that Satan views with deeper hatred, and attacks with greater fierceness and rage, those who have been rescued from his snares. Such an admonition, however, ought not to inspire us with terror, but to arouse us to keep diligent watch, and to put on the spiritual armor, that we may make a brave resistance.
44. He findeth it empty Christ is unquestionably describing those who, being destitute of the Spirit of God, are prepared for receiving the devil; for believers, in whom the Spirit of God efficaciously dwells, are fortified on all sides, so that no opening is left for Satan. The metaphor of a house swept and embellished is taken from men who find pleasure in the cleanness and neatness of their apartments; for to Satan no sight is beautiful but deformity itself, and no smell is sweet but filth and nastiness. The meaning therefore is, that Satan never finds a more appropriate habitation within us, than when, having parted with Christ, we receive Satan as a guest. 147 His highest delight is in that emptiness by which the neglect of divine grace is followed. 148
45. He taketh with him seven other spirits The number seven is here used indefinitely, as in many other passages. By these words Christ shows that if we fall from his grace, our subjection to Satan is doubled, so that he treats us with greater cruelty than before, and that this is the just punishment of our slothfulness. 149 Let us not then suppose that the devil has been vanquished by a single combat, because he has once gone out of us. On the contrary, let us remember that, as his lodgment within us was of old standing, ever since we were born, he has knowledge and experience of all the approaches by which he may reach us; and that, if there be no open and direct entrance, he has dexterity enough to creep in by small holes or winding crevices. 150 We must, therefore, endeavor that Christ, holding his reign within us, may block up all the entrances of his adversary. Whatever may be the fierceness or violence of Satan’s attacks, they ought not to intimidate the sons of God, whom the invincible power of the Holy Spirit preserves in safety. We know that the punishment which is here threatened is addressed to none but those who despise the grace of God, and who, by extinguishing the light of faith, and banishing the desire of godliness, 151 become profane.
“La fin de cest homme est pire que le commencement;” — “the end of that man is worse than the beginning.”
“Il aiguise tant plus son appetit enrage de nous mal-faire;” — “so much the more does it whet his enraged appetite to do us injury.”
“Ce mal-heureux ennemi nous manie tout a son aise, et regne en nous comme en se iouant;” — “this unhappy foe governs us altogether at his ease, and reigns over us, as it were, in sport.”
“Iusques a ce qu’il retrouve la proye qu’on luy a ostee d’entremains;” — “till he recover the prey that has been snatched out of his hands.”
“Que quand, laissans Christ, et nous esloignans de luy, nous attirons c’est hoste a nous;” — “that when leaving Christ, and withdrawing from him, we entice this guest.”
“Ce qu’il aime donc le plus, et ou il prend un souverain plaisir, c’est ceste place vuide qui se fait quand l’homme ne tient conte de la grace de Dieu, et est nonchalant d’en bien user;” — “that which he loves most, and in which he takes a supreme pleasure, is the emptiness which is produced, when man sets no value on the grace of God, and is indifferent about making a good use of it.”
“En sorte qu’il nous tient le pied sur la gorge plus estroitement que devant: et qu’en cela nous recevons une iuste recompense et punition de nostre nonchalance;” — “so that he holds his foot upon our throat more straitly than before; and that in this we have a just reward of our indifference.”
“Et s’il n’y pent entrer de front et apertement, il est assez fin pour s’y fourrer secretement par dessous terre, ou par quelque fente a coste;”— “and if he cannot enter it in front and openly, he is cunning enough to dig into it secretly below ground, or by some chink in the side.”
“Et effacans l’amour de la crainte de Dieu;” — “and effacing the love of the fear of God.”