Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MaTTHEW 19:1-2; Mark 9:38-40, 10:1; Luke 9:49-56
1. And it happened, when Jesus had finished these discourses, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judea beyond Jordan. 2. And great multitudes followed him, and he cured them there.
38. And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us; and we forbade him, because he followeth him, because he followeth not us. 39. And Jesus said, Forbid him not; for there is no man who, if he has performed a miracle in my name, can easily speak evil of me. 40. For he who is not against us is for us.
1. And when he had risen thence, he came into the coasts of Judea, through the district which is beyond Jordan. And again the multitudes assemble to him, and again he taught them, as he was accustomed.
49. And John answering said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us. 50. And Jesus said to him, Forbid him not; for he who is not against us is for us. 51. And it happened, when the days of his being received up were in course of being fulfilled, and he set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem. 52. And he sent messengers before his face; and they went and entered into a town of the Samaritans, to make ready for him: 53. And they did not receive him, because his face was as if he were going to Jerusalem. 584 54. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elijah did? 55. And Jesus, turning, rebuked them, saying, You know not of what spirit you are. 56. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went into another village.
Mark 9:38. Master, we saw one. Hence it is evident that the name of Christ was at that time so celebrated, that persons who were not of the number of his intimate disciples used that name, or perhaps even abused it, for I will not venture to avouch any thing on this point as certain. It is possible that he who is here mentioned had embraced the doctrine of Christ, and betaken himself to the performance of miracles with no bad intention; but as Christ bestowed this power on none but those whom he had chosen to be heralds of his Gospel, I think that he had rashly taken, or rather seized upon, this office. Now though he was wrong in making this attempt, and in venturing to imitate the disciples without receiving a command to do so, yet his boldness was not without success: for the Lord was pleased, in this way also, to throw luster around his name, 585 as he sometimes does by means of those of whose ministry he does not approve as lawful. It is not inconsistent with this to say, that one who was endued with special faith followed a blind impulse, and thus proceeded inconsiderately to work miracles.
I now come to John and his companions. They say that they forbade a man to work miracles Why did they not first ask whether or not he was authorized? For now being in a state of doubt and suspense, they ask the opinion of their Master. Hence it follows, that they had rashly taken on themselves the right to forbid; and therefore every man who undertakes more than he knows that he is permitted to do by the word of God is chargeable with rashness. Besides, there is reason to suspect the disciples of Christ of ambition, because they are anxious to maintain their privilege and honor. For how comes it that they all at once forbid a man who is unknown to them to work miracles, but because they wish to be the sole possessors of this right? For they assign the reason, that he followeth not Christ; as much as to say, “He is not one of thy associates, as we are: why then shall he possess equal honor?”
39. Forbid him not. Christ did not wish that he should be forbidden; not that he had given him authority, or approved of what he did, or even wished his disciples to approve of it, but because, when by any occurrence God is glorified, we ought to bear with it and rejoice. Thus Paul, (Php 1:18,) though he disapproves of the dispositions of those who used the Gospel as a pretense for aggrandizing themselves, yet rejoices that by this occurrence the glory of Christ is advanced. We must attend also to the reason which is added, that it is impossible for any man who works miracles in the name of Christ to speak evil of Christ, and therefore this ought to be reckoned as gain; for hence it follows, that if the disciples had not been more devoted to their own glory than anxious and desirous to promote the glory of their Master, they would not have been offended when they saw that glory heightened and enlarged in another direction. And yet Christ declares that we ought to reckon as friends those who are not open enemies.
40. For he who is not against us is for us. He does not enjoin us to give a loose rein to rash men, and to be silent while they intermeddle with this and the other matter, according to their own fancy, and disturb the whole order of the Church: for such licentiousness, so far as our calling allows, must be restrained. He only affirms that they act improperly, who unseasonably prevent the kingdom of God from being advanced by any means whatever. And yet he does not acknowledge as his disciples, or reckon as belonging to his flock, those who hold an intermediate place between enemies and friends, but means that,. so far as they do no harm, they are useful and profitable: for it is a proverbial saying, which reminds us that we ought not to raise a quarrel till we are constrained.
Luke 9:51. While the days of his being received up, etc. Luke alone relates this narrative, which, however, is highly useful on many accounts. For, first, it describes the divine courage and firmness of Christ 586 in despising death; secondly, what deadly enmities are produced by differences about religion; thirdly, with what headlong ardor the nature of man is hurried on to impatience; next, how ready we are to fall into mistakes in imitating the saints; and, lastly, by the example of Christ we are called to the exercise of meekness. The death of Christ is called his being received up, (ἀνάληψις) not only because he was then withdrawn from the midst of us, 587 but because, leaving the mean prison of the flesh, he ascended on high.
52. And he sent messengers. It is probable that our Lord was, at that time, attended by a great multitude of followers; for the messengers were not sent to prepare a splendid banquet, or to select some magnificent palace, but only to tell that a vast number of guests were approaching. They again, when excluded and repulsed, wait for their Master. Hence, too, we learn, what I remarked in the second place, 588 that when men differ among themselves about the doctrines of religion, they readily break out into hatred of each other; for it was an evidence of very bitter hatred to withhold food from the hungry, and lodging from those who were fatigued. But the Samaritans have such a dislike and enmity at the Jewish religion, that they look upon all who follow it as unworthy of any kindness. Perhaps, too, they were tormented with vexation at being despised; for they knew that their temple was detested by the Jews as profane, and that they were considered to be spurious and corrupt worshippers of God. But as the superstition once admitted kept so firm a hold of them, they strove, with wicked emulation, to maintain it to the last. At length the contention grew so hot, that it consumed both nations in one conflagration; for Josephus assures us that it was the torch which kindled the Jewish war. Now though Christ might easily have avoided that dislike, he chooses rather to profess himself to be a Jew, than by an indirect denial to procure a lodging.
53. He steadfastly set his face. By this expression Luke has informed us that Christ, when he had death before his eyes, rose above the fear of it, and went forward to meet it; but, at the same time, points out that he had a struggle, and that, having vanquished terror, 589 he boldly presented himself to die. For if no dread, no difficulty, no struggle, no anxiety, had been present to his mind, what need was there that he should set his face steadfastly? 590 But as he was neither devoid of feeling, nor under the influence of foolish hardihood, he must have been affected by the cruel and bitter death, or rather the shocking and dreadful agony, which he knew would overtake him from the rigorous judgment of God; and so far is this from obscuring or diminishing his glory, that it is a remarkable proof of his unbounded love to us; for laying aside a regard to himself that he might devote himself to our salvation, through the midst of terrors he hastened to death, the time of which he knew to be at hand.
54. And when His disciples James and John saw it. The country itself had perhaps suggested to them the desire of thundering immediately against the ungodly; for it was there that Elijah had formerly destroyed, by a fire from heaven, the king’s soldiers who had been sent to apprehend him, (2Ki 1:10.) It therefore occurred to them that the Samaritans, who so basely rejected the Son of God, were at that time devoted to a similar destruction. And here we see to what we are driven by a foolish imitation 591 of the holy fathers. James and John plead the example of Elijah, but they do not consider how far they differ from Elijah; they do not examine properly their own intemperate zeal, nor do they look at the calling of God. Under a pretext equally plausible did the Samaritans cloak their idolatry, our fathers worshipped in this mountain, (Joh 4:20.) But both were in the wrong; for, neglecting the exercise of judgment, they were apes rather than imitators of the holy fathers. Now though it is doubtful whether they think that they have the power in their own hand, or ask Christ to give it to them, I think it more probable that, elated with foolish confidence, they entertain no doubt that they are able to execute vengeance, provided that Christ give his consent.
55. You know not of what spirit you are By this reply he not only restrained the unbridled fury of the two disciples, but laid down a rule to all of us not to indulge our temper. For whoever undertakes any thing, ought to be fully aware that he has the authority and guidance of the Spirit of God, and that he is actuated by proper and holy dispositions. Many will be impelled by the warmth of their zeal, but if the spirit of prudence be wanting, their ebullitions end in foam. Frequently, too, it happens, that the impure feelings of the flesh are mingled with their zeal, and that those who appear to be the keenest zealots for the glory of God are blinded by the private feelings of the flesh. And therefore, unless our zeal be directed by the Spirit of God, it will be of no avail to plead in our behalf, that we undertook nothing but from proper zeal. But the Spirit himself will guide us by wisdom and prudence, that we may do nothing contrary to our duty, or beyond our calling, nothing, in short, but what is prudent and seasonable; and, by removing all the filth of the flesh, he may impart to our minds proper feelings, that we may desire nothing but what God shall suggest. Christ likewise blames his disciples because, though they are widely distant from the spirit of Elijah, 592 they rashly take upon themselves to do what he did. For Elijah executed the judgment of God, which had been committed to him by the Spirit; but they rush to vengeance, not by the command of God, but by the movement of the flesh. And therefore the examples of the saints are no defense to us, unless the same Spirit that directed them dwell in us.
“Pourtant que sa face estoit tournee pour aller en Ierusalem;” — “because his face was turned to go to Jerusalem.”
“Pour avancer la gloire de son nom;” — “to advance the glory of his name.”
“La magnanimite et constance admirable de Iesus Christ;” — “the wonderful magnanimity and firmness of Jesus Christ.”
“Non pas seulement pource qu il a lors este enleve et comme retranche du milieu des hommes;” — “not only because he was then raised up, and, as it were, withdrawn from the midst of men.”
See our Author’s observations above on Luke 9:51.
“Estans victorieux par dessus ceste frayeur naturelle;” — “being victorious over that natural dread.”
“Quel besoin estoit il qu’il prinst sa resolution, et par maniere de dire s’obstinast en soy-mesme?” — “What need was there that he should take his resolution, and, so to speak, persist in his own mind?”
“Une folle et inconsideree imitation des saincts peres;” — “a foolish and ill-considered imitation of the holy fathers.”
“De l’esprit et affection d’Elie;” — “from the spirit and disposition of Elijah.”