Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
44. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hid in a field, which when found a man hideth, 227 and for the joy which he hath on account of it, goeth away, and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. 45. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant, seeking beautiful pearls, 228 46. Who, having found one valuable pearl, went away, and sold all that he possessed, and bought it. 47. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net east into the sea, and collecting of every kind, 229 48. Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and collected the good into vessels, but cast away the bad. 230 49. So shall it be at the end of the world: the Angels will come, and will separate the bad from the midst of the righteous, 50. And will cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth. 51. Jesus saith to them, Have you understood all these things? They say to him, Yes, Lord. 52. But he said to them, Therefore every scribe instructed in reference to the kingdom of heaven 231 is like a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.
The first two of these parables are intended to instruct believers to prefer the Kingdom of heaven to the whole world, and therefore to deny themselves and all the desires of the flesh, that nothing may prevent them from obtaining so valuable a possession. We are greatly in need of such a warning; for we are so captivated by the allurements of the world, that eternal life fades from our view; 232 and in consequence of our carnality, the spiritual graces of God are far from being held by us in the estimation which they deserve. Justly, therefore, does Christ speak in such lofty terms of the excellence of eternal life, that we ought not to feel uneasiness at relinquishing, on account of it, whatever we reckon in other respects to be valuable.
First, he says, that the kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure. We commonly set a high value on what is visible, and therefore the new and spiritual life, which is held out to us in the Gospel, is little esteemed by us, because it is hidden, and lies in hope. There is the highest appropriateness in comparing it to a treasure, the value of which is in no degree diminished, though it may be buried in the earth, and withdrawn from the eyes of men. These words teach us, that we ought not to estimate the riches of the grace of God according to the views of our flesh, or according to their outward display, but in the same manner as a treasure, though it be hidden, is preferred to a vain appearance of wealth. The same instruction is conveyed by the other parable. One pearl, though it be small, is so highly valued, that a skillful merchant does not hesitate to sell houses and lands in order to purchase it. The excellence of the heavenly life is not perceived, indeed, by the sense of the flesh; and yet we do not esteem it according to its real worth, unless we are prepared to deny, on account of it, all that glitters in our eyes.
We now perceive the leading object of both parables. It is to inform us, that none are qualified for receiving the grace of the Gospel but those who disregard all other desires, and devote all their exertions, and all their faculties, to obtain it. It deserves our attention, also, that Christ does not pronounce the hidden treasure, or the pearl, to be so highly valued by all. The treasure is ascertained to be valuable, after that it has been found and known; and it is the skillful merchant that forms such an opinion about the pearl 233 These words denote the knowledge of faith. “The heavenly kingdom,” Christ tells us, “is commonly held as of no account, because men are incapable of relishing it, and do not perceive the inestimable value of that treasure which the Lord offers to us in the Gospel.”
But it is asked, is it necessary that we abandon every other possession, in order that we may enjoy eternal life? I answer briefly. The natural meaning of the words is, that the Gospel does not receive from us the respect which it deserves, unless we prefer it to all the riches, pleasures, honors, and advantages of the world, and to such an extent, that we are satisfied with the spiritual blessings which it promises, and throw aside every thing that would keep us from enjoying them; for those who aspire to heaven must be disengaged from every thing that would retard their progress. Christ exhorts those who believe in him to deny those things only which are injurious to godliness; and, at the same time, permits them to use and enjoy God’s temporal favors, as if they did not use them.
46. And bought it. By the word buy Christ does not mean, that men bring any price, with which they may purchase for themselves the heavenly life; for we know on what condition the Lord invites believers in the book of Isaiah, (Isa 55:1,) Come and buy wine and milk without money and without price. But though the heavenly life, and every thing that belongs to it, is the free gift of God, yet we are said to buy it, when we cheerfully relinquish the desires of the flesh, that nothing may prevent us from obtaining it; as Paul says, that he
reckoned all things to be loss and dung, that he might gain Christ,
47. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net. No new instruction is here given by Christ; but what he formerly taught is confirmed by another parable, that the Church of God, so long as it exists in the world, is a mixture of the good with the bad, and is never free from stains and pollutions. And yet the design of this parable is perhaps different. It may be that Christ intends not only to remove the offense which perplexes many weak minds, because they do not find in the world all the purity that might be desired, but likewise to employ the influence of fear and modesty, in restraining his disciples from delighting themselves with the empty title, or mere profession, of faith. For my own part, I cheerfully adopt both views. Christ informs us, that a mixture of the good and the bad must be patiently endured till the end of the word; because, till that time, a true and perfect restoration of the Church will not take place. Again, he warns us, that it is not enough, and—what is more—that it is of little consequence to us, to be gathered into the fold, unless we are his true and chosen sheep. To this effect is the saying of Paul,
The Lord knoweth who are his; and let every one that calleth on the name of the Lord depart from iniquity,
The preaching of the Gospel is justly compared to a net sunk beneath the water, to inform us that the present state of the Church is confused.
Our God is the God of order, and not of confusion,
and, therefore, recommends to us discipline; but he permits hypocrites to remain for a time among believers, till the last day, when he will bring his kingdom to a state of perfection. So far as lies in our power, let us endeavor to correct vices, and let us exercise severity in removing pollutions; but the Church will not be free from every spot and blemish, until Christ shall have separated the sheep from the goats, (Mt 25:32.)
51. Have you understood all these things? We must keep in recollection what we have formerly seen, that all the parables of Christ were explained in private. And now the Lord, after having taught them in this kind and familiar manner, warns them at the same time, that his object, in taking so much pains to instruct them, was not merely that they might be well informed, 234 but that they might communicate to others what they had received. In this way he whets and excites their minds more and more to desire instruction. He says that teachers are like householders, who are not only careful about their own food, but have a store laid up for the nourishment of others; and who do not live at ease as to the passing day, but make provision for a future and distant period. The meaning, therefore, is, that the teachers of the Church ought to be prepared by long study for giving to the people, as out of a storehouse, 235 a variety of instruction concerning the word of God, as the necessity of the case may require. Many of the ancient expositors understand by things new and old the Law and the Gospel; but this appears to me to be forced. I understand them simply to mean a varied and manifold distribution, wisely and properly adapted to the capacity of every individual.
“Que quelqu’un a trouve et cache;” — “which some one hath found and hidden.”
“Qui cherche de bonnes perles;” — “who seeks good pearls.”
“De toutes sortes de choses;” — “of all sorts of things.”
“Lequel estant plein, ‘les pescheurs’ le tirent en haut sur la rive: et estant assis mettent le bon a part en leurs vaisseaux, et iettent hors ce qui ne vaut rien;” — “which being full, ‘the fishers’ draw it upwards on the bank; and sitting down, put the good aside in their vessels, and throw away what is worth nothing.”
“Quant au royaume des cieux;” — “as to the kingdom of heaven.”
“Que nous venons a oublier la vie eternelle;” — “that we come to forget eternal life.”
“C’est le bon marchand qui fait telle estime de la perle;” — “it is the good merchant who sets so high a value on the pearl.”
“Qu’ils gardent ceste cognoissance pour eux-mesmes seulement;” — “that they may keep that knowledge for themselves only.”
“Commoe nous voyons que le pere de famille tire de son cellier ou grenier toutes sortes de provisions;” — “as we see that the master of a family draws from his cellar or granary all kinds of provisions.”