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Calvin's Commentaries 
From the Harmony of the Gospels (Volume XVI)
MATTHEW 9:1-8; MARK 2:1-12; LUKE 5:17-26

Matthew 9:1. And came into his own city. This passage shows, that Capernaum was generally believed to be the birth-place of Christ, because his visits to it were frequent: for there is no room to doubt, that it is the same history which is related by the three Evangelists, though some circumstances may be more exactly related by one of them than by another. Luke says that scribes had come from various parts of Judea, who were spectators when Christ healed the paralytic; and at the same time states indirectly, that there were others who also received healing through the grace of Christ. For, before he comes to the paralytic, he speaks in the plural number, and says, that the power of God was displayed for healing their diseases; the power of the Lord was present to heal them. The glory of this miracle was very remarkable. A man destitute of the use of all his limbs, lying on a bed, and lowered by cords, suddenly rises up in health, vigor, and agility. Another special reason why the Evangelists dwell more on this miracle than on others is, that the scribes were offended at Christ for claiming power and authority to forgive sins; while Christ intended to confirm and seal that authority by a visible sign.

2. And when Jesus saw their faith. It is God alone, indeed, who knows faith: but they had given evidence of faith by the laboriousness of that attempt: for they would never have submitted to so much trouble, nor contended with such formidable hindrances, if they had not derived courage from entire confidence of success. The fruit of their faith appeared in their not being wearied out, when they found the entrance closed up on all sides. The view which some take of these words, that Christ, as a divine person, knew their faith, which lay concealed within them, appears to me a forced interpretation.

Now, as Christ granted to their faith the favor which he bestowed on the paralytic, a question is usually raised on this passage how far do men derive advantage from the faith of others? And, first, it is certain, that the faith of Abraham was of advantage to his posterity, when he embraced the free covenant offered to him and to his seed. We must hold a similar belief with regard to all believers, that, by their faith, the grace of God is extended to their children and their childrenís children even before they are born. The same thing takes place in infants, who are not yet of such an age as to be capable of faith. With regard to adults, on the other hand, who have no faith of their own, (whether they be strangers, or allied by blood,) the faith of others can have nothing more than an indirect influence in promoting the eternal salvation of their souls. As the prayers, by which we ask that God will turn unbelievers to repentance, are not without advantage, our faith is evidently of such advantage to them, that they do not arrive at salvation, till they have been made partakers of the same faith with us in answer to our prayers. But where there is a mutual agreement in faith, it is well known that they promote the salvation of each other. It is also beyond all question, that earthly blessings are often, for the sake of the godly, bestowed on unbelievers.

With regard to the present passage, though Christ is said to have been moved by the faith of others, yet the paralytic could not have obtained the forgiveness of his sins, if he had had no faith of his own. Unworthy persons were often restored by Christ to health of body, as God daily maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, (Matthew 5:45) but there is no other way in which he is reconciled to us than by faith. There is a synecdoche, therefore, in the word their, when it is said that Jesus saw their faith: for Christ not only looked at those who brought the paralytic, but looked also at his faith.

Thy sins are forgiven thee. Christ appears here to promise to the paralytic something different from what he had requested: but, as he intends to bestow health of body, he begins with removing the cause of the disease, and at the same time reminds the paralytic of the origin of his disease, and of the manner in which he ought to arrange his prayers. As men usually do not consider that the afflictions which they endure are Godís chastisements, they desire nothing more than some alleviation in the flesh, and, in the meantime, feel no concern about their sins: just as if a sick man were to disregard his disease, and to seek only relief from present pain. But the only way of obtaining deliverance from all evils is to have God reconciled to us. It does sometimes happen, that wicked men are freed from their distresses, while God is still their enemy: but when they think that they have completely escaped, the same evils immediately return, or more numerous and heavier calamities overwhelm them, which make it manifest that they will not be mitigated or terminated. until the wrath of God shall be appeased, as God declares by the Prophet Amos

If thou escape a lion, a bear shall meet thee; if thou
shut thyself up at home, a serpent shall bite thee, (5:19.)

Thus it appears that this is a frequent and ordinary way of speaking in the Scriptures, to promise the pardon of sins, when the mitigation of punishments is sought. It is proper to attend to this order in our prayers. When the feeling of afflictions reminds us of our sins, let us first of all be careful to obtain pardon, that, when God is reconciled to us, he may withdraw his hand from punishing.

3. And, lo, some of the scribes. They accuse Christ of blasphemy and sacrilege, because he claims for himself what is Godís prerogative. The other two Evangelists tell us also that they said, Who can forgive sins but God alone? It is beyond all question, that their eagerness to slander drove them to this wicked conclusion. If they think that there is any thing which deserves blame, why do they not inquire into it? Besides, as the expression admits of more than one meaning, and as Christ said nothing more than what the Prophets frequently say when they announce the grace of God, why do they take in a bad sense what admits of a favorable interpretation? They must have been already poisoned by malice and envy, otherwise they would not so eagerly have seized an occasion of blaming Christ. They remain silent, but think in their hearts, that they may slander him when absent among people of their own class. It is no doubt true, that God alone has power and authority to forgive sins: but they are wrong in concluding that it does not belong to Christ, for he is God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16.) They had a right to inquire on what grounds Christ laid claim to such authority: but, without any inquiry, they suppose him to be one of the common rank of men, and proceed rashly to condemn him.

4. And when Jesus saw their thoughts. He now gives a proof of his Divinity in bringing to light their secret thoughts: for who knoweth the things of a man but the spirit of man which is in him? (1 Corinthians 2:11.) And so Mark adds, that Jesus knew by his Spirit: which means, that what was concealed in their hearts could not be perceived by man, but that Christ by his Divine Spirit knew it thoroughly. Why do you think evil? This does not imply that it gave them pain to see a mortal man assuming what God claims as his own prerogative, but that they proudly and wickedly rejected God, who was openly manifested to them.

5. Whether is it easier to say? The meaning is, that, as it is not easier to quicken by a word a body which is nearly dead than to forgive sins, there is no reason to wonder that he forgives sins, when he has accomplished the other. The argument which our Lord uses may appear to be not well-founded: for, in proportion as the soul is more excellent than the body, the forgiveness of sins is a greater work than the healing of the body. But the reply is easy. Christ adapts his discourse to their capacity: for, being carnal, they were more powerfully affected by outward signs, than by all the spiritual power of Christ, which related to eternal salvation. Thus he proves the efficacy of the Gospel for quickening men from the fact, that at the last day he will raise the dead by his voice out of their graves.

Wonder not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all who are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth,
(John 5:28,29.)

This was a sufficiently powerful argument to refute those who reckoned a visible miracle of more importance than all things else. They could not say that he had no right to forgive the sins of the paralytic, when he restored to him health and rigour: for this was a result which followed from the forgiveness of sins.

6. That the Son of man hath authority on earth. This authority is very different from what was given to the apostles, and from what is now exercised by the pastors of the Church: for they cannot so properly be said to pardon sins, as to declare that they are pardoned, when they deliver the commission which is entrusted to them. By these words Christ declares that he is not only the minister and witness, but likewise the author, of this grace. But what means this restriction, on earth? Of what avail will it be to us to have obtained pardon here, if it be not ratified in heaven? Christís meaning was, that forgiveness of sins ought not to be sought from a distance: for he exhibits it to men in his own person, and as it were in his hands. So strong is our inclination to distrust, that we never venture to believe that God is merciful to us, till he draws near, and speaks familiarly to us. Now, as Christ descended to earth for the purpose of exhibiting to men the grace of God as present, he is said to forgive sins visibly, because in him and by him the will of God was revealed which, according to the perception of the flesh, had been formerly hidden above the clouds.

8. And the multitudes who saw. Instead of astonishment which Matthew mentions, the other two Evangelists employ the word e]kstasiv, or amazement: and Luke adds fear. But the design of all the Evangelists is to show, that the power of God was not merely acknowledged, but that all were struck with astonishment, and compelled to give glory to God. The fear, which followed the astonishment, had the effect of preventing them from opposing Christ, and of making them submit to him with reverence as a Prophet of God. Matthew expressly says, that they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. Here they appear to be partly mistaken: for, though they see a man with their eyes, they ought to have perceived in him, by the mind, something higher than man. They are no doubt right in saying, that the nature of man received great honor in Christ for the general advantage of the human race: but as they do not perceive him to be God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:6,) their confession is involved in some error. In a word, it was true, that God gave such authority to men: but the form and manner of giving was not yet understood by those who were not aware that the majesty of God was united to flesh.