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Calvin's Commentaries 
On the Gospel of John (Volume XVII)
John 4:46-54

46. Jesus therefore came again into Cana of Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain courtier, whose son was diseased, in Capernaum. 47. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea into Galilee, he went away to him, and entreated him to go down and cure his son; for he was near death. 48. Jesus therefore said to him, Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe. 49. The courtier himself said to him, Sir, come down ere my child die. 50. Jesus said to him, Go, thy son liveth. The man believed the word which Jesus had spoken to him, and went away. 51. And while he was still going down, his servants met and informed him, saying, Thy son liveth. 52. Then he asked them at what hour he recovered; and they said to him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. 53. The father therefore knew that it was the same hour at which Jesus had said to him, Thy son liveth. And he believed, and all his house. 54. This second miracle did Jesus again, when he had come out of Judea into Galilee.

46. And there was a certain courtier. This is a more correct rendering, though Erasmus thinks differently, who has translated basiliko>v by a Latin word, Regulus, which means a little king. I acknowledge indeed that, at that time, they gave the name of Reguli (or, little kings) to those who are now called Dukes, or Barons, or Earls; but the state of Galilee at that time was such that there could be no person of that rank dwelling in Capernaum. I think that he was some nobleman of the court of Herod; for there is some plausibility in the opinion of those who think that he was sent by Caesar. This is expressly mentioned by the Evangelist, because the rank of this personage made the miracle the more illustrious.

47. When he had heard that Jesus had come. When he applies to Christ for aid, this is some evidence of his faith; but, when he limits Christ’s manner of granting assistance, that shows how ignorant he was. For he views the power of Christ as inseparably connected with his bodily presence, from which it is evident, that he had formed no other view concerning Christ than this, — that he was a Prophet sent by God with such authority and power as to prove, by the performance of miracles, that he was a minister of God. This fault, though it deserved censure, Christ overlooks, but severely upbraids him, and, indeed, all the Jews in general, on another ground, that they were too eager to behold miracles.

But how comes it that Christ is now so harsh, who is wont to receive kindly others who desire miracles? There must have been at that time some particular reason, though unknown to us, why he treated this man with a degree of severity which was not usual with him; and perhaps he looked not so much to the person as to the whole nation. He saw that his doctrine had no great authority, and was not only neglected but altogether despised; and, on the other hand, that all had their eyes fixed on miracles, and that their whole senses were seized with stupidity rather than with admiration. Thus, the wicked contempt of the word of God, which at that time prevailed, constrained him to make this complaint.

True, indeed, some even of the saints sometimes wished to be confirmed by miracles, that they might not entertain any doubt as to the truth of the promises; and we see how God, by kindly granting their requests, showed that he was not offended at them. But Christ describes here far greater wickedness; for the Jews depended so much on miracles, that they left no room for the word. And first, it was exceedingly wicked that they were so stupid and carnal as to have no reverence for doctrine, unless they had been aroused by miracles; for they must have been well acquainted with the word of God, in which they had been educated from their infancy. Secondly, when miracles were performed, they were so far from profiting aright, that they remained in a state of stupidity and amazement. Thus they had no religion, no knowledge of God, no practice of godliness, except what consisted in miracles.

To the same purpose is that reproach which Paul brings against them, the Jews demand signs, (1 Corinthians 1:22.) For he means that they were unreasonably and immoderately attached to signs, and cared little about the grace of Christ, or the promises of eternal life, or the secret power of the Spirit, but, on the contrary, rejected the Gospel with haughty disdain, because they had no relish for any thing but miracles. I wish there were not many persons in the present day affected by the same disease; but nothing is more common than this saying, “Let them first perform miracles, and then we will lend an ear to their doctrine;” as if we ought to despise and disdain the truth of Christ, unless it derive support from some other quarter. But though God were to overwhelm them by a huge mass of miracles, still they speak falsely when they say that they would believe. Some outward astonishment would be produced, but they would not be a whit more attentive to doctrine.

49. Sir, come down, ere my child die. Since he perseveres in asking, and at length obtains what he wished, we may conclude that Christ did not reprove him in such a manner as if he intended altogether to reject him, and refused his prayers; but that he rather did so for the purpose of correcting that fault which obstructed the entrance of true faith. And we ought to remember — what I have formerly stated — that this was a general reproof of a whole people, and was not peculiarly addressed to one individual. In this manner, whatever is improper, or distorted, or superfluous, in our prayers, must be corrected or removed, that dangerous obstructions may be taken out of the way. Now courtiers are usually fastidious and haughty, and do not willingly submit to be treated with harshness; but it deserves notice, that this man, humbled by his necessitous case, and by the dread of losing his son, does not burst into a passion, or murmur, when Christ speaks to him roughly, but passes by that reproof in modest silence. We find the same things in ourselves; for we are astonishingly delicate, impatient, and fretful until, subdued by adversities, we are constrained to lay aside our pride and disdain.

50. Thy son liveth. The first thing that strikes us here is, the astonishing kindness and condescension of Christ, that he bears with the man’s ignorance, and stretches his power beyond what had been expected. He requested that Christ would come to the place and cure his son. He thought it possible that his son could be freed from sickness and disease, but not that he could be raised up after he was dead; and therefore he urges Christ to make haste, that his son’s recovery may not be prevented by his death. Accordingly, when Christ pardons both, we may conclude from it how highly he values even a small measure of faith. It is worthy of observation that Christ, while he does not comply with his desire, grants much more than he had requested; for he testifies as to the present health of his son. Thus it frequently happens that our Heavenly Father, while he does not comply with our wishes in every particular, proceeds to relieve us by unexpected methods, that we may learn not to prescribe to him in anything. When he says, Thy son liveth, he means that he has been rescued from the danger of death.

The man believed the word which Jesus had spoken to him. Having come with the conviction that Christ was a prophet of God, he was on that account so much disposed to believe, that, as soon as he had heard a single word, he seized it and fixed it in his heart. Though he did not entertain all the respect that he ought for the power of Christ, yet a short promise suddenly awoke new confidence in his mind, so that he believed the life of his son to be contained in a single word of Christ. And such is the promptitude with which we ought to receive the word of God, but it is very far from producing always so immediate an effect on the hearers. For how many will you find that profit as much by many sermons as this man, who was half a heathen, profited by hearing a single word? So much the more ought we to labor with zeal to arouse our sluggishness, and, above all, to pray that God would touch our hearts in such a manner, that we may not be less willing to believe than He is ready and gracious to promise.

51. While he was still going down. Here is described the effect of faith, together with the efficacy of the word; for as Christ, by a word, restores to life this child who was just dying, so in one moment the father, by his faith, regains his son safe and sound. Let us therefore know that, whenever the Lord offers his benefits to us, his power will always be ready to accomplish whatever he promises, provided that the door be not shut against him by our unbelief. It does not always happen, I acknowledge, and even is not frequent or ordinary, that God instantly displays his arm for giving us assistance; but whenever he delays, he has always a good reason, and one that is highly advantageous to us. This at least is certain, that so far is he from delaying unnecessarily, that he rather contends with the obstacles which we throw in the way; and, therefore, when we do not see his immediate aid, let us consider how much of concealed distrust there is in us, or at least how small and limited our faith is. And we ought not to wonder if He is unwilling to allow his benefits to be lost, or to throw them at random on the ground, but chooses to bestow them on those who, by opening the bosom of their faith, are ready to receive them. And though he does not always assist his people in the same manner, yet in no instance will the faith of any one be fruitless, or hinder us from experiencing the truth of what the Prophet says, that the promises of God, even when they seem to delay, are in reality making great haste.

Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come,
it will not tarry, (Habakkuk 2:3.)

52. Therefore he inquired at them. That this courtier asked his servants at what time his son began to recover, was done by a secret impulse from God, that the truth of the miracle might be rendered more conspicuous. For by nature we have an exceedingly wicked disposition to extinguish the light of the power of God, and Satan labors, by various means, to hide the works of God from our view; and, therefore, in order that they may obtain from us that praise which is due to them, they must be made so manifest that no room is left for doubt. Whatever then may be the ingratitude of men, still this circumstance does not permit so illustrious a work of Christ to be ascribed to chance.

53. And he believed, and his whole house. It may appear absurd that the Evangelist should mention this as the commencement of faith in that man, whose faith he has already commended. Nor can it be supposed that the word believe — at least in this passage — relates to the progress of faith. But it must be understood that this man, being a Jew and educated in the doctrine of the Law, had already obtained some taste of faith when he came to Christ; and that he afterwards believed in the saying of Christ was a particular faith, which extended no farther than to expect the life of his son. But now he began to believe in a different manner; that is, because, embracing the doctrine of Christ, he openly professed to be one of his disciples. Thus not only does he now believe that his son will be cured through the kindness of Christ, but he acknowledges Christ to be the Son of God, and makes a profession of faith in his Gospel. His whole family joins him, which was an evidence of the miracle; nor can it be doubted that he did his utmost to bring others along with him to embrace the Christian religion.