Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 19:23-26; Mark 10:23-27;
23. And Jesus said to his disciples, Verily I say to you, A rich man will with difficulty enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24. Again I say to you, It is easier for a camel 630 to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 25. And his disciples, when they had heard these things, were greatly amazed, 631 saying, Who then can be saved? 26. And Jesus, beholding them, said to them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
23. And when Jesus had looked around, he said to his disciples, With what difficulty shall they who have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 24. And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus again replying, said to them, Children, how difficult is it for those who have confidence in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 26. And they wondered beyond measure, saying within themselves, And who can be saved? 27. And Jesus beholding them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for all things are possible with God.
24. And Jesus, perceiving that he was sorrowful, said, With what difficulty shall they who have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 25. For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 26. And they that heard it said, And who can be saved? 632 27. But he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
Matthew 19:23. A rich man will with difficulty enter. Christ warns them, not only how dangerous and how deadly a plague avarice is, but also how great an obstacle is presented by riches. In Mark, indeed, he mitigates the harshness of his expression, by restricting it to those only who place confidence in riches But these words are, I think, intended to confirm, rather than correct, the former statement, as if he had affirmed that they ought not to think it strange, that he made the entrance into the kingdom of heaven so difficult for the rich, because it is an evil almost common to all to trust in their riches Yet this doctrine is highly useful to all; to the rich, that, being warned of their danger, they may be on their guard; to the poor, that, satisfied with their lot, they may not so eagerly desire what would bring more damage than gain. It is true indeed, that riches do not, in their own nature, hinder us from following God; but, in consequence of the depravity of the human mind, it is scarcely possible for those who have a great abundance to avoid being intoxicated by them. So they who are exceedingly rich are held by Satan bound, as it were, in chains, that they may not raise their thoughts to heaven; nay more, they bury and entangle themselves, and became utter slaves to the earth. The comparison of the camel., which is soon after added, is intended to amplify the difficulty; for it means that the rich are so swelled with pride and presumption, that they cannot endure to be reduced to the straits through which God makes his people to pass. The word camel denotes, I think, a rope used by sailors, rather than the animal so named. 633
25. And his disciples, when they heard these things, were greatly amazed. The disciples are astonished, because it ought to awaken in us no little anxiety, that riches obstruct the entrance into the kingdom of God; for, wherever we turn our eyes, a thousand obstacles will present themselves. But let us observe that, while they were struck with astonishment, they did not shrink from the doctrines of Christ. The case was different with him who was lately mentioned; for he was so much alarmed by the severity of the commandment, that he separated from Christ; while they, though trembling, and inquiring, who can be saved? do not break off in an opposite direction, but are desirous to conquer despair. Thus it will be of service to us to tremble at the threatenings of God: whenever he denounces any thing that is gloomy or dreadful, provided that our minds are not discouraged, but rather aroused.
26. With men this is impossible. Christ does not entirely free the minds of his disciples from all anxiety; for it is proper that they should perceive how difficult it is to ascend to heaven; first, that they may direct all their efforts to this object; and next, that, distrusting themselves, they may implore strength from heaven. We see how great is our indolence and carelessness; and what the consequence would be if believers thought that they had to walk at ease, for pastime, along a smooth and cheerful plain. Such is the reason why Christ does not extenuate the danger — though he perceives the terror which it excited in his disciples — but rather increases it; for though formerly he said only that it was difficult, he now affirms it to be impossible Hence it is evident, that those teachers are guilty of gross impropriety, who are so much afraid to speak harshly, that they give indulgence to the slothfulness of the flesh. They ought to follow, on the contrary, the rule of Christ, who so regulates his style that, after men have been bowed down within themselves, he teaches them to rely on the grace of God alone, and, at the same time, excites them to prayer. In this manner, the weakness of men is seasonably relieved, not by ascribing anything to them, but by arousing their minds to expect the grace of God. By this reply of Christ is also refuted that widely embraced principle — which the Papists have borrowed from Jerome — “Whoever shall say that it is impossible to keep the law, let him be accursed. “For Christ plainly declares, that it is not possible for men to keep the way of salvation, except so far as the grace of God assists them.
“Il est plus facile qu’un Chable passe;” — “it is easier for a CABLE to pass.”
“S’estonnerent grandement;” — “were greatly astonished.”
“Qui pent donc estre sauve?” — “Who can then be saved?”
“Vray est que le mot CAMELUS, dont a use l’Evangeliste, significant un chameau qu’un chable: mats i’aime mieux le prendre en la derniere signification pour une grosse carde de nayire.” — “It is true that the word κάμηλος which the Evangelist has employed, means both a camel and a cable; but I prefer taking it in the latter signification for a large rope used by sailors.” The two English words camel and cable closely resemble each other, and the corresponding Greek words differ only by a single vowel; κάμηλος, denoting a camel, and κάμιλος a cable or rope It does not appear that Calvin; relied on certain Manuscripts of no good authority, which substitute καμίλον, for καμήλον. But he adopted the notion equally unfounded, that Greek writers sometimes used κάμηλος, in the sense of κάμιλος. Had due allowance been made for the boldness of Eastern imagery, the supposed difficulty would have disappeared, and the most refined taste would have been fully gratified. The poet Southey has seized the true spirit of the passage: — “S. The camel and the needle, Is that then in your mind? “T. Even so. The text Is gospel wisdom. I would ride the camel, — Yea leap him flying, through the needle’s eye, As easily as such a pampered soul Could pass the narrow gate.” At one period, critics showed a strong leaning to the idea of cable, which our Author favors, but have now very generally abandoned it, and returned to the true reading. — Ed