Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52
22. And immediately Jesus constrained his disciples to embark, and to go before him to the opposite bank, till he had sent away the multitudes. 23. And when he had sent away the multitudes, he went up into a mountain alone to pray; and when the evening came, he was there alone. 24. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves; for the wind was contrary. 25. And about the fourth watch of the night Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. 26. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, It is an apparition, and cried out for fear. 27. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, Take courage; it is I, be not afraid. 28. And Peter replying to him said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come to thee on the water. 29. And he said, Come. And when Peter had come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. 30. But when he perceived the wind to be boisterous, he was afraid; and when he began to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. 31. And immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, O man of little faith, why didst thou doubt? 32. And when they had entered into the ship, the wind ceased. 33. Then they that were in the ship approached and worshipped him, saying, Truly thou art the Son of God.
45. And immediately he constrained his disciples to embark, and to go before him, across the lake, to Bethsaida, while he sent away the multitude. 46. And when he had sent them away, he went into the mountain 380 to pray. 47. And when the evening came, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48. And he saw that they had difficulty in rowing, (for the wind was contrary to them;) and about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea, and intended to pass by them. 49. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought that it was an apparition, and cried out; 50. For they all saw him, and were alarmed. And immediately he spoke to them, and said to them, Take courage; it is I, be not afraid. 51. And he went up to them into the ship, and the wind ceased; and they were greatly astonished within themselves beyond measure, and wondered. 52. For they had not understood about the loaves; for their heart was blinded. 381
Matthew 14:22. And immediately Jesus constrained his disciples They must have been constrained; for they would never, of their own accord, have left him, and gone to the other side. Now in this they testify their great veneration for him, when, contrary to their own opinions, they yield to his command and obey it. And, indeed, it had an appearance of absurdity, that he should remain alone in a desert place, when night was approaching. But so much the greater commendation is due to the submissiveness of those who set a higher value on the authority of their heavenly teacher than on all that could be pleaded on the other side. And, indeed, we do not truly and perfectly obey God, unless we implicitly follow whatever he commands, though our feelings may be opposed to it. There is always the best reason, no doubt, for every thing that God does; but he often conceals it from us for a time, in order to instruct us not to be wise in ourselves, but to depend entirely on the expression of his will. And thus Christ constrained his disciples to cross over, in order to train them to that rule of obedience which I have mentioned; though there cannot be a doubt that he intended to prepare the way for the miracle which will immediately come under our consideration.
23. He went up into a mountain alone. It is probable that the Son of God, who was fully aware of the tempest that was coming on, did not neglect the safety of his disciples in his prayers; and yet we naturally wonder that he did not rather prevent the danger than employ himself in prayer. But in discharging all the parts of his office as Mediator, he showed himself to be God and man, and exhibited proofs of both natures, as opportunities occurred. Though he had all things at his disposal, he showed himself to be a man by praying; and this he did not hypocritically, but manifested sincere and human affection towards us. In this manner his divine majesty was for a time concealed, but was afterwards displayed at the proper time.
In going up into the mountain he consulted his convenience, that he might have more leisure for praying when removed from all noise. We know how easily the slightest interruptions destroy the ardor of prayer, or at least make it languish and cool. Though Christ was in no danger of this fault, yet he intended to warn us by his example, that we ought to be exceedingly careful to avail ourselves of every assistance for setting our minds free from all the snares of the world, that we may look direct towards heaven. Now in this respect solitude has a powerful influence, by disposing those who engage in prayer, when God is their only witness, to be more on their guard, to pour their heart into his bosom, to be more diligent in self-examination; and, in a word—remembering that they have to do with God—to rise above themselves. At the same time, it must be observed, that he did not lay down a fixed rule, as if we were never permitted to pray except in retirement; for Paul enjoins us to pray everywhere, lifting up clean hands, (1Ti 2:8;) and Christ himself sometimes prayed in presence of others, and even instructed his disciples to assemble together for offering social prayer. But that permission to pray in all places does not hinder them from engaging in secret prayer at proper seasons.
24. The ship was now in the midst of the sea. The reader will find this narrative expounded by me at the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, and therefore I shall treat it more briefly here. When Christ permitted his disciples to be tossed about in a perilous condition, for a time, by an opposing storm, it was to fix their attention more powerfully on the assistance which he brought to them. For the adverse wind arose about midnight, or at least a little before it, and Christ appears about the fourth watch, that is, three hours before sunrise. Their arms were not more fatigued by rowing than their faith was shaken by grievous terrors. But when they were urged by strong necessity to desire the presence of their Master, it showed very extraordinary stupidity to be alarmed at his appearance as if he had been a ghost.
For this reason Mark tells us, that their heart was blinded, and that they understood not about the loaves; for that miracle had given abundant evidence that Christ possessed divine power to assist his followers, and that he was careful to assist them, when necessity required. Justly, therefore, are they now charged with stupidity in not immediately recollecting that heavenly power, having beheld, on the preceding day, so astonishing a proof of it, which ought to have been still before their eyes. It is, no doubt, true, that their blameworthy slowness of apprehension was the reason why they were astonished; for they had not profited, as they ought to have done, by other and preceding miracles. But the principal charge brought against them is blindness, in allowing so recent an exhibition to fade from their memory, or rather in not directing their mind to the contemplation of Christ’s divinity, of which the multiplication of the loaves was a sufficiently bright mirror.
Two things are expressed by the words of Mark; first, that they did not properly consider the glory of Christ, which was exhibited in the multiplication of the loaves; and, secondly, a reason is assigned, that their heart was blinded. This appears to have been added, not only as an aggravation of their fault, but as a warning to us respecting the corruption of our understanding, that we may seek from the Lord new eyes. It certainly was a proof—as I have lately mentioned—of brutal ignorance, that they did not perceive the power of God, when they might almost feel it with their hands; but as the whole human race labors under the same disease, Mark purposely mentions blindness, in order to inform us that it is no new thing if men have their eyes closed against the manifest works of God, till they are enlightened from above; as Moses also said,
The Lord hath not yet given thee a heart to understand, (De 29:4.)
Now though the word heart more frequently denotes the will or the seat of the affections, yet here, as in that passage which I have now quoted from Moses, it is put for the understanding.
27. But immediately Jesus spake to them. As Christ is not known to be a Deliverer till he actually makes his appearance, he speaks, and desires his disciples to recognize him. That confidence, to which he exhorts them, is represented by him as founded on his presence; plainly implying that, since they perceive him to be present with them, there are abundant grounds of hope. But as terror had already overpowered their minds, he corrects that terror, lest it should hinder or abate their confidence: not that they could all at once lay aside fear and experience unmingled joy, but because it was necessary that the fear which had seized them should be allayed, that it might not destroy their confidence. Although to the reprobate the voice of the Son of God is deadly, and his presence appalling, yet the effect which they produce on believers is here described to us as widely different. They cause inward peace and strong confidence to hold the sway over our hearts, that we may not yield to carnal fears. But the reason why we are disturbed by unfounded and sudden alarms is, that our ingratitude and wickedness prevent us from employing as shields the innumerable gifts of God, which, if they were turned to proper account, would give us all necessary support. Now though Christ appeared at the proper time for rendering assistance, yet the storm did not immediately cease, till the disciples were more fully aroused both to desire and to expect his grace. And this deserves our attention, as conveying the instruction, that there are good reasons why the Lord frequently delays to bestow that deliverance which he has ready at hand.
28. And Peter answering. The condition which he lays down shows that his faith was not yet fully settled. If it is thou, says he, bid me come to thee on the water. But he had heard Christ speak. Why then does he still argue with himself under doubt and perplexity? While his faith is so small and weak, a wish not well considered bursts into a flame. He ought rather to have judged of himself according to his capacity, and to have supplicated from Christ an increase of faith, that by its guidance and direction he might walk over seas and mountains. But now, without the wings of faith, he desires to fly at will; and though the voice of Christ has not its due weight in his heart, he desires that the waters should be firm under his feet. And yet there is no room to doubt that this longing sprung from a good principle; but as it degenerates into a faulty excess, it cannot be applauded as good.
Hence too it happens that Peter immediately begins to smart for his rashness. Let believers, therefore, instructed by his example, beware of excessive haste. Wherever the Lord calls, we ought to run with alacrity; but whoever proceeds farther, will learn from the mournful result what it is to overleap the bounds which the Lord has prescribed. Yet it may be asked, Why does Christ comply with Peter’s wish? for by so doing he seems to approve of it. But the answer is obvious. In many eases God promotes our interests better by refusing our requests; but at times he yields to us, that by experience we may be the more fully convinced of our own folly. In this manner, it happens every day that, by granting to those who believe in him more than is actually needed, he trains them to modesty and sober-mindedness for the future. Besides, this was of advantage to Peter and to the other disciples, and it is of advantage to us at the present day. The power of Christ shone more brightly in the person of Peter, when he admitted him as a companion, than if he had walked alone on the waters. But Peter knows, and the rest see plainly, that, when he does not rest with a firm faith, and rely on the Lord, the secret power of God, which formerly made the water solid, begins to disappear; and yet Christ dealt gently with him by not permitting him to sink entirely under the waters. 382 Both of these things happen to us; for as Peter was no sooner seized with fear than he began to sink, so the fleeting and transitory thoughts of the flesh immediately cause us to sink in the midst of our course of employments. 383 Meanwhile, the Lord indulges our weakness, and stretches out his hand, that the waters may not swallow us up altogether. It must also be observed that Peter, when he perceives the unhappy and painful consequences of his rashness, betakes himself to the mercy of Christ. And we too, though enduring just punishment, ought to betake ourselves to him, that he may have compassion on us, and bestow the aid of which we are unworthy.
31. O man of little faith. While our Lord kindly preserves Peter, he does not connive at Peter’s fault. Such is the object of the chastisement administered, when Peter is blamed for the weakness of his faith. But a question arises, Does every kind of fear give evidence of a weakness of faith? for Christ’s words seem to imply that, where faith reigns, there is no room for doubt. 384 I reply: Christ reproves here that kind of doubt which was directly opposed to faith. A man may sometimes doubt without any fault on his part; and that is, when the word of the Lord does not speak with certainty on the matter. But the case was quite different with Peter, who had received an express command from Christ, and had already experienced his power, and yet leaves that twofold support, and falls into foolish and wicked fear.
33. They that were in the ship. I understand these words to refer not only to the disciples, but to the sailors and other passengers. So then those who had not yet declared that he was their Master, instantly acknowledge that he is the Son of God, and by this term render to him the honor of the Messiah. Though at that time this lofty mystery was not generally known, how God was to be manifested in the flesh, (1Ti 3:16,) yet as they had learned from the prophets, that he who was to be the Redeemer would be called the Son of God, those who under this designation proclaim the glory of Christ, declare their belief that he is the Christ. 385
“En la montagne.”
“Car ils n’avoyent point entendu le faict des pains, d’autant que leur coeur estoit aveugle, ou, estourdi;” — “for they had not understood what happened as to the loaves, because their heart was blinded, or, bewildered.”
“Ne permettant qu’il enfondre du tout en l’eau, et se noye;” — “not allowing him to sink entirely in the water, and be drowned.”
“Ainsi les vaines et folles pensees de la chair font qu’a tous coups nous defaillons au milieu des affaires, comme si nous estions plongez en l’eau iusques par dessus la teste;” — “so the vain and foolish thoughts of the flesh cause us to stumble at every step in the midst of business, as if we were plunged in the water over the head.”
“Que Doute et Crainte ne peuvent avoir lieu ou la foy regne;” — “that Doubt and Fear cannot have place where faith reigns.”
“Declarent qu’ils croyent qu’il est le Christ et le Messins;” — “declare that they believe that he is the Christ and the Messiah.”