Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
13. And one out of the multitude said to him, Master, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me. 14. And he said to him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? 15. And he said to them, Take heed and beware of covetousness; for the life of any man does not consist in the abundance of those things which he possesseth. 261 16. And he spoke a parable to them, saying, The field of a certain rich man yielded an abundant produce. 17. And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do? for I have no place in which I can collect my fruits. 18. And he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and will build larger ones, and there I will collect all my fruits and my goods. 19. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast many goods laid up for many, years: take thine ease, eat, drink, and enjoy thyself. 262 20. But God said to him, Fool, this night they shall demand thy soul from thee; 263 and as to the things which thou hast provided, to whom shall they go? 21. So is he that layeth up for himself: 264 and is not rich toward God.
13. Bid my brother divide Our Lord, when requested to undertake the office of dividing an inheritance, refuses to do so. Now as this tended to promote brotherly harmony, and as Christ’s office was, not only to reconcile men to God, but to bring them into a state of agreement with one another, what hindered him from settling the dispute between the two brothers? 265 There appear to have been chiefly two reasons why he declined the office of a judge. First, as the Jews imagined that the Messiah would have an earthly kingdom, 266 he wished to guard against doing any thing that might countenance this error. If they had seen him divide inheritances, the report of that proceeding would immediately have been circulated. Many would have been led to expect a carnal redemption, which they too ardently desired; and wicked men would have loudly declared, that he was effecting a revolution in the state, and overturning the Roman Empire. Nothing could be more appropriate, therefore, than this reply, by which all would be informed, that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual. Let us learn from this to regulate our conduct by prudence, and to undertake nothing which may admit of an unfavorable construction.
Secondly, our Lord intended to draw a distinction between the political kingdoms of this world and the government of his Church; for he had been appointed by the Father to be a Teacher, who should
divide asunder, by the sword of the word, the thoughts and feelings, and penetrate into the souls of men,
but was not a magistrate to divide inheritances This condemns the robbery of the Pope and his clergy, who, while they give themselves out to be pastors of the Church, have dared to usurp an earthly and secular jurisdiction, which is inconsistent with their office; for what is in itself lawful may be improper in certain persons.
There was also in my opinion, a third reason of great weight. Christ saw that this man was neglecting doctrine, and was looking only to his private concerns. This is too common a disease. Many who profess the Gospel do not scruple to make use of it as a false pretense for advancing their private interests, and to plead the authority of Christ as an apology for their gains. From the exhortations 267 which is immediately added, we may readily draw this inference; for if that man had not availed himself of the Gospel as a pretext for his own emolument, Christ would not have taken occasion to give this warning against covetousness The context, therefore, makes it sufficiently evident, that this was a pretended disciple, whose mind was entirely occupied with lands or money.
It is highly absurd in the Anabaptists to infer from this reply, that no Christian man has a right to divide inheritances, to take a part in legal decisions, or to discharge any public office. Christ does not argue from the nature of the thing itself, but from his own calling. Having been appointed by the Father for a different purpose, he declares that he is not a judge, because he has received no such command. Let us hold by this rule, that every one keep within the limits of the calling which God has given him.
15. Take heed and beware of covetousness. Christ first guards his followers against covetousness, and next, in order to cure their minds entirely of this disease, he declares, that our life consisteth not in abundance. These words point out the inward fountain and source, from which flows the mad eagerness for gain. It is because the general belief is, that a man is happy in proportion as he possesses much, and that the happiness of life is produced by riches. Hence arise those immoderate desires, which, like a fiery furnace, send forth their flames, and yet cease not to burn within. If we were convinced that riches, and any kind of abundance, are evils of the present life, which the Lord bestows upon us with his own hand, and the use of which is accompanied by his blessing, this single consideration would have a powerful influence in restraining all wicked desires; and this is what believers have come to learn from their own experience. 268 For whence comes it, that they moderate their wishes, and depend on God alone, but because they do not look upon their life as necessarily connected with abundance, or dependent upon it, but rely on the providence of God, who alone upholds us by his power, and supplies us with whatever is necessary?
16. And he spoke a parable to them This parable presents to us, as in a mirror, a lively portrait of this sentiment, that men do not live by their abundance. Since the life even of the richest men is taken away in a moment, what avails it that they have accumulated great wealth? All acknowledge it to be true, so that Christ says nothing here but what is perfectly common, and what every man has constantly in his mouth. But where is the man that honestly believes it? Do not all, on the contrary, regulate their life, and arrange their schemes and employments in such a manner as to withdraw to the greatest distance from God, making their life to rest on a present abundance of good things? It is therefore necessary that all should immediately arouse themselves, lest, by imagining their happiness to consist in riches, they entangle themselves in the snares of covetousness.
This parable shows us, first, that the present life is short and transitory. Secondly, it points out to us, that riches are of no avail for prolonging life. We must add a third, which is not expressed, but may easily be inferred from the other two; that it is a most excellent remedy for believers, to ask from the Lord their daily bread, and to rely on his providence alone, whether they are rich or poor.
17. What shall I do? Wicked men are driven to perplexity in their deliberations, because they do not know how any thing is to be lawfully used; 269 and, next, because they are intoxicated with a foolish confidence which makes them forget themselves. Thus we find that this rich man lengthens out his expectation of life in proportion to his large income, and drives far away from him the remembrance of death. And yet this pride is accompanied by distrust; for those men, when they have had their fill, are still agitated by insatiable desire, like this rich man, who enlarges his barns, as if his belly, which had been filled with his former barns, had not got enough. At the same time, Christ does not expressly condemn this man for acting the part of a careful householder in storing up his produce, but because his ravenous desire, like a deep whirlpool, swallows up and devours many barns; from which it follows that he does not comprehend the proper use of an abundant produce.
19. Take thine ease, eat, drink, enjoy thyself. When he exhorts himself to eat and drink, he no longer remembers that he is a man, but swells into pride by relying on his abundance. We daily perceive striking instances of this disdainful conduct 270 in irreligious men, who hold up the mass of their riches, as if it were nothing less than a brazen rampart against death. When he says, Eat, my soul, and enjoy thyself, there is an emphatic meaning in this Hebrew idiom; 271 for he addresses himself in such a manner as to imply, that he has all that is necessary for gratifying all his senses and all his desires.
20. Fool, this night they will demand thy soul from thee. The word soul carries an allusion. Formerly, the rich man addressed his soul as the seat of all the affections: but now, he speaks of the life itself, or the vital spirit. The words, they will demand, (ἀπαιτοῦσιν) though in the plural number, are used indefinitely, and mean nothing more than that the life of the rich man, which he imagined to be in his own power, was at the disposal of another. I advert to this, because some take occasion from them to make unfounded speculations about angels. The design of Christ is simply to show that the life of men, which they imagine to be strongly protected by the fortress of their riches, is every moment 272 taken away. The rich man is thus convicted of folly, in not knowing that his life depended on another.
21. So is he that layeth up for himself. As the two clauses are evidently contrasted, the one must be taken into account for the exposition of the other. Let us ascertain, therefore, what is meant by being rich in God, or, “towards God” or, “with respect to God.” Those who are tolerably acquainted with the Scriptures know that the preposition εἰς not unfrequently takes the sense of ἐν. But whether it be understood in the one sense or in the other, is of little consequence; for the meaning comes to this, that they are rich according to God, who do not trust to earthly things, but depend solely on his providence. It matters not whether they are in abundance or in want, provided that both classes present their sincere prayers to the Lord for their daily bread. The corresponding phrase, layeth up for himself, conveys the idea that this man paid no attention to the blessing of God, but anxiously heaped up an immense store, so that his confidence was shut up in his barns. 273 Hence we may easily conclude that the parable was intended to show, that vain are the deliberations and foolish attempts of those who, trusting to the abundance of their wealth, do not rely on God alone, and are not satisfied with their own share, or prepared for whatever may befall them; 274 and, finally, that such persons will suffer the penalty of their own folly.
“Car encore que ‘les biens’ abondent a quelqu’un, si n’a-il pas vie par les biens;” — “for though a man may abound in wealth, yet he has no life by his wealth.”
“Et fay grand’chere;” — “and make great cheer.”
“En ceste nuict ton ame to sera ostee, ou, on to redemandera ton ame;” — “this night thy soul shall be taken from thee, or, thy soul shall be asked again from thee.”
“Ainsi est celuy qui thesaurize (ou, a fait grand areas de biens) pour soy;” — “so is he that hoards up (or, has formed a great heap of goods) for himself.”
“On pourroit demander qui a empesche qu’il ne se soit entremis d’oster toute occasion de debat entre deux freres?” — “It might be asked, what hindered him from undertaking to remove all ground of quarrel between two brothers?”
“Que le Messias regneroit a la facon des princes terriens;” — “that the Messiah would reign in the manner of earthly princes.”
“En considerant la circonstance de l’exhortation qui est ici adioustee, il est aise a iuger que cestuy-ci estoit mene d’une telle affection perverse;” —”by considering the circumstance of the exhortation which is here added, it may easily be inferred that this man was under the influence of such a wicked disposition.”
“Ce que les fideles experimentent ton les iours en eux-mesmes estre vray;” — “which believers every day experience in themselves to be true.”
“Pource qu’ils ne scavent point quel est le droit et legitime usage des creatures de Dieu;” — “because they know not what is the proper and lawful use of the creatures of God.”
“D’une telle mecognoissance et fierte;” — “of such ingratitude and pride.”
“En ceste locution Hebraique il y a une vehemence et proprie plus que les mots n’emportent de prime face;” — “in that Hebrew form of expression there is greater force and propriety than the words at first sight bear.”
“Que d’heure en heure la vie est ostee aux hommes;” — “that from hour to hour the life of man is taken away.”
“En sorte que la fiance de l’homme est en ses greniers, ou en ses coffres;” — “so that the confidence of the man is in his granaries, or in his chests.”
“Estans prests a recevoir ce qu’il plaira a Dieu leur envoyer;” — “being prepared to receive what God may be pleased to send to them.”