Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 18:6-10; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 17:1-2
6. But whosoever shall offend one of those little ones who believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were sunk to the bottom of the sea. 7. Woe to the world on account of offenses! for offenses must come; but woe to the man by whom the offense cometh! 8. But if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee; 501 for it is better for thee to enter lame or maimed into life, than that, having two hands or two feet, thou shouldst be cast into the everlasting fire. 9. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee; 502 for it is better that thou shouldst enter into life having one eye, than that, having two eyes, thou shouldst be cast into hell-fire. 10. Beware of despising one of these little ones; for I say to you, That their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.
42. And whosoever shall offend one of the little ones who believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hung around his neck, and that he were thrown into the sea. 43. And if thy hand shall offend thee, cut it off; for it were better for thee to enter lame into life, than that, having two hands, thou shouldst go into hell, into the unquenchable fire: 503 44. Where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched. 45. And if thy foot shall offend thee, cut if off; for it were better for thee to enter lame into life, than that, having two feet, thou shouldst be cast into hell, into the unquenchable fire: 46. Where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched. 47. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out; for it were better for thee to enter with one eye into the kingdom of God than that, having two eyes, thou shouldst be cast into hell-fire: 48. Where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched.
1. And he said to his disciples, It is impossible but that offenses will come; but woe to him by whom they come! 2. It were better for him that a millstone were hung around his neck, and that he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.
Matthew 18:6. But whosoever shall offend one of those little ones. This appears to be added for the consolation of the godly, that they may not be rendered uneasy by their condition, if they are despised by the world. It is a powerful obstruction to the voluntary exercise of modesty, when they imagine, that by so doing they expose themselves to contempt; and it is hard to be not only treated disdainfully, but almost trodden under foot, by haughty men. Christ therefore encourages his disciples by the consoling truth, that, if their mean condition draws upon them the insults of the world, God does not despise them.
But he appears to have had likewise another object in view; for a dispute had arisen amongst them as to the first place of honor, from which it might naturally have been inferred that the Apostles were tainted with sinful ambition. Every man who thinks too highly of himself, or desires to be preferred to others, must necessarily treat his brethren with disdain. To cure this disease, Christ threatens a dreadful punishment, if any man in his pride shall throw down those who are oppressed with poverty, or who in heart are already humbled.
Under the word offend he includes more than if he had forbidden them to despise their brethren; though the man who gives himself no concern about offending the weak, does so for no other reason, than because he does not render to them the honor to which they are entitled. Now as there are various kinds of offenses, it will be proper to explain generally what is meant by offending If any man through our fault either stumbles, or is drawn aside from the right course, or retarded in it, we are said to offend him. 504 Whoever then desires to escape that fearful punishment which Christ denounces, let him stretch out his hand to the little ones who are despised by the world, and let him kindly assist them in keeping the path of duty; for Christ recommends them to our notice, that they may lead us to exercise voluntary humility; as Paul enjoins the children of God to
condescend to men of low estate, (Ro 12:16,)
and again says that
we ought not to please ourselves, (Ro 15:1.)
To hang a millstone about a man’s neck, and drown him in the sea, was the punishment then reckoned the most appalling, and which was inflicted on the most atrocious malefactors. When our Lord alludes to this punishment, we are enabled to perceive how dear and precious those persons are in the sight of God, who are mean and despised in the eyes of the world.
7. Woe to the world on account of offenses! This passage may be explained in two ways. It may be taken actively, as meaning that Christ pronounces a curse on the authors of offenses; and then by the term world, we must understand all unbelievers. Or it may be taken passively, as meaning that Christ deplores the evils which he perceives to be rapidly coming on the world on account of offenses; as if he had said, that no plague will be more destructive, or attended by more fearful calamities, than the alarm or desertion of many on account of offenses. The latter meaning is more appropriate; for I have no doubt that our Lord, who had spoken on another occasion about offenses, proceeded to discourse more largely on this subject; in order to make his disciples more attentive and watchful in guarding against them. That Satan may not gain advantage over us through our sluggishness, our Lord breaks out into an exclamation, that there is nothing which we ought to dread more than offenses; for as Satan has innumerable kinds of them in his hand, he constantly, and at almost every step, throws new difficulties in our way; while we, through excessive tenderness or sloth, are too ready to yield. The consequence is, that there are few who make tolerable progress in the faith of Christ; and of the few who have begun to walk in the way of salvation, there is scarcely one in ten who has the courage to persevere till he reaches the goal. 505 Now since Christ intended to strike his disciples with terror on account of offenses, and thus to arouse them to exertion, woe to our indifference, if each of us does not earnestly apply himself to overcome those offenses
For offenses must come. To awaken more powerfully their care and anxiety, our Lord reminds his disciples that there is no possibility of walking but in the midst of various offenses; as much as to say, that this is an evil which cannot be avoided. Thus he confirms the former statement; for Christ shows us how great are the inconveniences which arise from offenses, since the Church never will be, and indeed never can be, free from this evil. But he does not state the reason of this necessity, as Paul does, when, speaking of heresies, he says that they arise, that the good may be made manifest, (1Co 11:19.) It must be held by us as a fixed principle, that it is the will of God to leave his people exposed to offense, in order to exercise their faith, and to separate believers, as the refuse and the chaff, from the pure wheat. Does any one object or complain, that blame attaches to our Lord for giving loose reins to Satan, to accomplish the destruction of wretched men? It is our duty to think and speak with the deepest reverence of the secret purposes of God, of which this is one, that the world must be disturbed by offenses
But woe to the man by whom the offense cometh. After having exhorted his disciples to beware of offenses, he again breaks out against those who occasion them. To impart the greater vehemence to the threatening, he adds, that neither a right eye nor a right hand ought to be spared, if they occasion offense to us; for I explain these words as added for the purpose of amplification. Their meaning is, that we ought to be so constant and so zealous in opposing offenses, that we would rather choose to pluck out our eyes, or cut off our hands, than give encouragement to offenses; for if any man hesitate to incur the loss of his limbs, he spares them at the risk of throwing himself into eternal perdition. What dreadful vengeance then awaits those who by offenses shall bring ruin on their brethren! 506 As those two verses have been already explained 507 under Matt. 5:29, 30, it was sufficient, on the present occasion, to glance at the reason why Christ repeats here the same statement.
10. Beware of despising one of these little ones As pride is the mother of disdain, and as contempt hardens men in giving offense, our Lord, for the purpose of applying an appropriate remedy for curing this disease, forbids his disciples to despise the little ones. And certainly, as we have already hinted, no man who has a proper care for his brethren will ever allow himself, on light grounds, to give them offense This conclusion of our Lord’s discourse has the same tendency as the commencement of it, to remind us that we ought to strive with each other who shall be most submissive and modest; for God embraces with wonderful love the little ones It would be strange indeed that a mortal man should despise, or treat as of no account, those whom God holds in such high esteem. He proves this love from the fact, that angels, who are ministers of their salvation, enjoy intimately the presence of God. Yet I do not think that he intended merely to show what honor God confers on them by appointing angels to be their guardians, but likewise to threaten those who despise them; as if he had said, that it is no light matter to despise those who have angels for their companions and friends, to take vengeance in their behalf. We ought therefore to beware of despising their salvation, which even angels have been commissioned to advance.
The interpretation given to this passage by some commentators, as if God assigned to each believer his own angel, does not rest on solid grounds. For the words of Christ do not mean that a single angel is continually occupied with this or the other person; 508 and such an idea is inconsistent with the whole doctrine of Scripture, which declares that the angels encamp around (Ps 34:7) the godly, and that not one angel only, but many, have been commissioned to guard every one of the faithful. Away, then, with the fanciful notion of a good and evil angel, and let us rest satisfied with holding that the care of the whole Church is committed to angels, to assist each member as his necessities shall require. It will perhaps be asked, Do the angels occupy a station inferior to ours, because they have been appointed to be our ministers? I reply, Though by nature they take rank above us, this does not prevent them from rendering service to God 509 in dispensing the favor which he freely bestows upon us. For this reason they are called our angels, because their labors are bestowed on us.
“Et le iette [arriere] de toy;” — “and cast it behind thee.”
“Et le iette [arriere] de toy;” — “and cast it behind thee.”
“Au feu qui ne s’esteint point;” — “into the fire which is not quenched.”
“L’Escriture dit que nous oftensons ou scandalizons cestuy la.” — “Scripture says that we give offense or scandal to that man.”
“Qui persevere courageusement iusqu’a la fin;” — “who perseveres courageously to the end.”
“Lesquels par scandales auront donne occasion de faire perdre et damner leurs freres;” — “who by offenses shall have given occasion to bring ruin and damnation on their brethren.”
Harmony, vol. 1 p. 291.
“Les mots n’emportent pas qu’un Ange n’ait autre charge que de veiller tousiours sur cestuy-ci ou sur cestuy-la;” — “the words do not bear that one Angel has nothing else to do than to watch continually over this or that man.”
“Cela n’empesche point que Dieu n’use de leur service;” — “that does not hinder God from employing their services.”