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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

MATTHEW 21:28-32

Matthew 21:28-32

28. But what think you?  29 A man had two sons, and, coming to the first, he said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. 29. And he answering said, I will not;  30 but afterwards he repented, and went. 30. And coming to the other, he spoke in the same manner. But he answering said, I [go,] Sir, and went not. 31. Which of the two did what his father wished?  31 And they say to him, The first. Jesus saith to them, Verily I say to you, That the publicans and the harlots will go before you into the kingdom of God. 32. For John came to you by the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but the publicans and the harlots believed him. And you, when you had seen it, were not moved by repentance  32 to believe in him.


This conclusion shows what is the object of the parable, when Christ prefers to the scribes and priests those who were generally accounted infamous and held in detestation; for he unmasks those hypocrites,  33 that they may no longer boast of being the ministers of God, or hold out a pretended zeal for godliness. Though their ambition, and pride, and cruelty, and avarice, were known to all, yet they wished to be reckoned quite different persons. And when, but a little ago, they attacked Christ, they falsely alleged that they were anxious about the order of the Church, as if they were its faithful and honest guardians. Since they attempt to practice such gross imposition on God and men, Christ rebukes their impudence by showing that they were at the greatest possible distance from what they boasted, and were so far from deserving that elevation with which they flattered themselves, that they ranked below the publicans and the harlots For as to the profession which they made of being eminent in observing the worship of God, and of being zealots of the Law, Christ tells them that it is quite as if a son were, in words, to promise obedience to his father, but afterwards to deceive him.  34 So far as regards the publicans and the harlots, he does not excuse their vices, but compares their dissolute life to the obstinacy of a rebellious and debauched son, who at first throws off his father’s authority; but shows that they are greatly preferable to the scribes and Pharisees in this respect, that they do not continue to the end in their vices, but, on the contrary, submit gently and obediently to the yoke which they had fiercely rejected. We now perceive the design of Christ. Not only does he reproach the priests and scribes with obstinately opposing God, and not repenting, though so frequently admonished, but he strips them of the honor of which they were unworthy, because their ungodliness was worse than the lasciviousness of the harlots.

30. I, Sir.  35 This phrase is borrowed from the Hebrew language; for, when the Hebrews wish to offer their services, and to declare that they are ready to obey, they speak in this manner, “Here I am, Sir,” It is a laudable virtue in itself, as soon as God has spoken, to yield to Him ready and cheerful obedience; and Christ does not here give the commendation to slowness. But as both are improper—to delay before doing your duty, and to promise what you do not perform—Christ shows that this hypocrisy is less to be endured than the fierceness which, in process of time, is subdued.

32. For John came. As John was a faithful servant of God, whatever he taught Christ ascribes to God himself. It might have been more fully expressed thus: God came pointing out the way of righteousness by the mouth of John; but as John spoke in the name of God, and not as a private individual, he is most properly named instead of God. Now this passage gives no small authority to the preaching of the word, when those persons are said to have been disobedient and rebellious against God, who despised the pious and holy warnings of a teacher whom tie had sent.

There are some who give a more ingenious exposition of the word righteousness, and I allow them to enjoy their own opinion; but, for my own part, I think that it means nothing more than that John’s doctrine was pure and right; as if Christ had said, that they had no good reason for rejecting him. When he says that the publicans believed, he does not mean that they assented in words, but that they sincerely embraced what they had heard. Hence we infer, that faith does not consist solely in a person’s giving his assent to true doctrine, but that it embraces something greater and loftier, that the hearer, renouncing himself, devotes his life wholly to God. By saying that they were not moved even by such an example, he presents an aggravated view of their malice; for it was an evidence of the lowest depravity, not even to follow the harlots and the publicans.  36



Mais que vous en semble?” — “But what think you of it?”


Je n’y veux point aller;” — “I will not go to it.”


Lequel des deux feit la volonté du pere?” — “Which of the two did the will of the father?”


Vous n’avez point eu de repentance apres;” — “you had not repentance afterwards.”


Car il oste a ces hypocritesssss le masque duquel ils se couvroyent;” — “for he takes away from those hypocrites the mask with which they covered themselves.” “Et puis qu’il l’abusast, it n’en feist rien;” — “and afterwards deceived him, and did nothing of it.”


"Et puis qu'il l'abusast, et n'en feist rein;" — "and afterwards deceived him, and did nothing of it."


Seigneur, j’y vay;” — “Sir, I go to it.”


Car c’a este un signe de gens du tout depravez et desesperez, de ne suyvre point, à tout le moins quand les peugers et les paillardes leur monstrent le chemin;” — “For it was a mark of people altogether depraved and desperate, not to follow, at the very least, when the publicans and the harlots point out to them the road.”

Next: Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19