Luke 16
Calvin's Commentaries
And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.

Luke 16:1-15

1. And he said also to his disciples, There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and he was accused to him that he was wasting his estate. 2. And he called him, and said to him, What is this that I hear of thee? render an account of thy stewardship, for thou shalt no longer have it in thy power to be steward. 3. And the steward said within himself, What shall I do, since my master taketh from me my stewardship? I cannot dig, and am ashamed to beg. 4. I know what I shall do, that, when I shall be dismissed from the stewardship, they may receive me [294] into their houses. 5. Having therefore sent for each of his master's debtors, he said to the first, How much owest thou to my master? 6. And he said, A hundred baths of oil. And he said to him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. [295] 7. Then he said to another, And how much owest thou? Who said, A hundred measures of barley. He saith to him, Take thy bill, and write eighty. 8. And the master commended the unjust steward, because he had acted prudently; for the children of this world are more prudent in their generation than the children of light. 9. And I say to you, Make to yourselves friends of the unjust mammon, that, when you shall fail, they may receive you into eternal habitations. 10. He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in that which is least is unjust also in much. 11. If therefore you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon, who shall entrust to you what is true? [296] 12. And if you have not been faithful in what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? -- (A little after.) 14. And the Pharisees, who were covetous, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15. And he said to them, It is you that, justify yourselves in the sight of men: but God knoweth your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.

The leading object of this parable is, to show that we ought to deal kindly and generously with our neighbors; that, when we come to the judgment seat of God, we may reap the fruit of our liberality. Though the parable appears to be harsh and far-fetched, yet the conclusion makes it evident, that the design of Christ was nothing else than what I have stated. And hence we see, that to inquire with great exactness into every minute part of a parable is an absurd mode of philosophizing. Christ does not advise us to purchase by large donations the forgiveness of fraud, and of extortion, and of wasteful expenditure, and of the other crimes associated with unfaithful administration. But as all the blessings which God confers upon us are committed by Him to our administration, our Lord now lays down a method of procedure, which will protect us against being treated with rigor, when we come to render our account.

They who imagine that alms are a sufficient compensation for sensuality and debauchery, do not sufficiently consider, that the first injunction given us is, to live in sobriety and temperance; and that the next is, that the streams which flow to us come from a pure fountain. It is certain that no man is so frugal, as not sometimes to waste the property which has been entrusted to him; and that even those who practice the most rigid economy are not entirely free from the charge of unfaithful stewardship. Add to this, that there are so many ways of abusing the gifts of God, that some incur guilt in one way, and some in another. I do not even deny, that the very consciousness of our own faulty stewardship ought to be felt by us as an additional excitement to kind actions.

But we ought to have quite another object in view, than to escape the judgment of God by paying a price for our redemption; and that object is, first, that seasonable and well-judged liberality may have the effect of restraining and moderating unnecessary expenses; and, secondly, that our kindness to our brethren may draw down upon us the mercy of God. It is very far from being the intention of Christ to point out to his disciples a way of escape, when the heavenly Judge shall require them to give their account; but he warns them to lose no time in guarding against the punishment which will await their cruelty, if they are found to have swallowed up the gifts of God, and to have paid no attention to acts of beneficence. [297] We must always attend to this maxim, that

with what measure a man measures, it shall be recompensed to him again, (Matthew 7:2.)

8. And the master commended the unjust steward Here it is obvious that if we were to attempt to find a meaning for every minute circumstance, we would act absurdly. To make donations out of what belongs to another man, is an action which is very far from deserving applause; and who would patiently endure that an unprincipled villain should rob him of his property, and give it away according to his own fancy? It were indeed the grossest stupidity, if that man who beheld a portion of his substance taken away, should commend the person who stole the remainder of it and bestowed it on others. But Christ only meant what he adds a little afterwards, that ungodly and worldly men are more industrious and skillful in conducting the affairs of this fading life, than the children of God are anxious to obtain the heavenly and eternal life, or careful to make it the subject of their study and meditation.

By this comparison he charges us with highly criminal indifference, in not providing for the future, with at least as much earnestness as ungodly men display by attending to their own interests in this world. How disgraceful is it that the children of light, whom God enlightens by his Spirit and word, should slumber and neglect the hope of eternal blessedness held out to them, while worldly men are so eagerly bent on their own accommodations, and so provident and sagacious! Hence we infer, that our Lord does not intend to compare the wisdom of the Spirit to the wisdom of the flesh, (which could not have been done without pouring contempt on God himself,) but only to arouse believers to consider more attentively what belongs to the future life, and not to shut their eyes against the light of the Gospel, when they perceive that even the blind, amidst their darkness, see more clearly. And, indeed, the children of light ought to be more powerfully excited, when they behold the children of this world making provision against a distant period, for a life which is fading, and which passes in a moment.

9. Make to yourselves friends. As in the words which were last considered Christ did not enjoin us to offer sacrifices to God out of the fruits of extortion, so now he does not mean that we ought to search for defenders or advocates, who will throw around us the shield of their protection; but teaches us that by acts of charity we obtain favor with God, who has promised, that to the merciful he will show himself merciful, (Psalm 18:25.) It is highly foolish and absurd to infer from this passage, that the prayers or approbation of the dead are of service to us: for, on that supposition, all that is bestowed on unworthy persons would be thrown away; but the depravity of men does not prevent the Lord from placing on his records all that we have expended on the poor. The Lord looks not to the persons, but to the work itself, so that our liberality, though it may happen to be exercised towards ungrateful men, will be of avail to us in the sight of God. But then he appears to intimate that eternal life depends on our merits. I:reply: it is sufficiently plain from the context that he speaks after the manner of men. One who possesses extensive influence or wealth, if he procure friends during his prosperity, has persons who will support him when he is visited by adversity. In like manner, our kindness to the poor will be a seasonable relief to us; for whatever any man may have generously bestowed on his neighbors the Lord acknowledges as if it had been done to himself.

When you fail. By this word he expresses the time of death, and reminds us that the time of our administration will be short, lest the confident expectation of a longer continuance of life should make us take a firmer grasp. The greater part are sunk in slumber through their wealth; many squander what they have on superfluities; while the niggardliness of others keeps it back, and deprives both themselves and others of the benefit. Whence comes all this, but because they are led astray by an unfounded expectation of long life, and give themselves up to every kind of indulgence?

Of the mammon of unrighteousness. By giving this name to riches, he intends to render them an object of our suspicion, because for the most part they involve their possessors in unrighteousness Though in themselves they are not evil, yet as it rarely happens that they are obtained without deceit, or violence, or some other unlawful expedient, or that the enjoyment of them is unaccompanied by pride, or luxury, or some other wicked disposition, Christ justly represents them as worthy of our suspicion; just as on another occasion he called them thorns, (Matthew 13:7,22.) It would appear that a contrast, though not expressed, is intended to be supplied, to this effect; that riches, which otherwise, in consequence of wicked abuse, polluted their possessors, and are almost in every ease allurements of sin, ought to be directed to a contrary object, to be the means of procuring favor for us. Let us also remember what I have formerly stated, that God does not demand sacrifice to be made from booty unjustly acquired, as if he were the partner of thieves, and that it is rather a warning given to believers to keep themselves free from unrighteousness

10. He who is faithful in that which is least. Those maxims are proverbs taken from ordinary practice and experience, and it is quite enough if they are generally true. It will sometimes happen, no doubt, that a deceiver, who had disregarded a small gain, shall display his wickedness in a matter of importance. Nay, many persons, by affecting honesty in trifling matters, are only in pursuit of an enormous gain; [298] as that author [299] says: "Fraud establishes confidence in itself in small matters, that, when a fit opportunity shall arrive, it may deceive with vast advantage." And yet the statement of Christ is not inaccurate; for in proverbs, as I have mentioned, we attend only to what usually happens.

Christ, therefore, exhorts his disciples to act faithfully in small matters, in order to prepare themselves for the exercise of fidelity in matters of the highest importance. He next applies this doctrine to the proper stewardship of spiritual graces, which the world, indeed, does not estimate according to their value, but which far surpass, beyond all question, the fading riches of this world. Those persons, he tells us, who act improperly and unfaithfully in things of small value, such as the transitory riches of the world, do not deserve that God should entrust to them the inestimable treasure of the Gospel, and of similar gifts. There is, therefore, in these words an implied threatening, that there is reason to fear lest, on account of our abuse of an earthly stewardship, we fail to obtain heavenly gifts. In this sense, what is true is contrasted with riches, as what is solid and lasting is contrasted with what is shadowy and fading. [300]

12. And if you have not been faithful in what belongs to another. By the expression, what belongs to another, he means what is not within man; for God does not bestow riches upon us on condition that we shall be attached to them, but makes us stewards of them in such a manner, that they may not bind us with their chains. And, indeed, it is impossible that our minds should be free and disengaged for dwelling in heaven, if we did not look upon every thing that is in the world as belonging to another

Who shall entrust to you what is your own? Spiritual riches, on the other hand, which relate to a future life, are pronounced by him to be our own, because the enjoyment of them is everlasting. But now he employs a different comparison. There is no reason, he tells us, to expect that we shall make a proper and moderate use of our own property, if we have acted improperly or unfaithfully in what belonged to another. Men usually care less about abusing, and allow themselves greater liberty in squandering, their own property, because they are not afraid that any person will find fault with them; but when a thing has been entrusted to them either in charge or in loan, and of which they must afterwards render an account, they are more cautious and more timid.

We thus ascertain Christ's meaning to be, that they who are bad stewards of earthly blessings would not be faithful guardians of spiritual gifts. He next introduces a sentence: You cannot serve God and mammon; which I have explained at Matthew 6:24. There the reader will find an explanation of the word Mammon [301]

14. And the Pharisees, who were covetous, heard all these things. They who imagine that Christ was ridiculed by the Pharisees, because he chose to employ a plain and familiar style, and made no use of swelling words, [302] do not sufficiently comprehend what Luke means. Haughty and disdainful men, I do acknowledge, view the doctrine of the Gospel with contempt; but Luke expressly declares the reason why Christ was the object of their derision to have been, that they were covetous Entertaining a firm and deep-seated conviction that the rich are happy, and that there is nothing better for men than to increase their wealth by every possible method, and earnestly to guard whatever they have acquired, they reject as foolish paradoxes [303] all the sayings of Christ which had a contrary tendency. And, certainly, any one that speaks of despising riches, or bestowing alms on the poor, is regarded by the covetous as a madman. Horace's words on this subject are well known: [304] "The people hiss at me, but I am well satisfied with myself." [305] But if, even when they are condemned by universal opinion, they continue to flatter themselves, how much more will they ridicule as a fable that philosophy of Christ which is far removed from the ordinary belief?

Some other pretense, I have no doubt, was held out by the Pharisees for ridiculing and evading a doctrine which opposed their vice. But we must attend to the motive by which they were actuated; for it is a disease which almost always prevails in the world, that the greater part of men affect to despise whatever does not fall in with their corrupt morals. Hence the ridicule, and jest, and merriment, with which the word of God is frequently assailed; for every man fights in defense of his own vices, and all imagine that their witticisms will serve for a cloud to screen their criminality.

15. It is you that justify yourselves before men. We see that Christ does not give way to their disdainful conduct, but constantly maintains the authority of his doctrine in opposition to their mockery; and it is the duty of all the ministers of the Gospel to pursue the same course, by meeting ungodly despisers with the dreadful judgment of God. He declares that the hypocrisy, with which they deceive the eyes of men, will be of no avail to them at the judgment-seat of God. They were unwilling to have it thought that their mockery was intended as a defense of their covetousness. But Christ affirms that this venom breaks out from a concealed ulcer; just as if one were to tell the mitred prelates of our own day, that their hostility to the Gospel arises from the severity with which it attacks their hidden vices.

But God knoweth your hearts. He says that they reckon it enough if they appear to be good in the eyes of men, and if they can boast of a pretended sanctity; but that God, who knoweth the hearts, is well acquainted with the vices which they conceal from the view of the world. And here we must attend to the distinction between the judgments of God and the judgments of men; for men bestow approbation on outward appearances, but at the judgment-seat of God nothing is approved but an upright heart. There is added a striking observation:

What is highly esteemed by men is abomination in the sight of God. Not that God rejects those virtues, the approbation of which He hath engraved on the hearts of men; but that God detests whatever men are disposed, of their own accord, to applaud. Hence it is evident in what light we ought to view all pretended acts of worship which the world contrives according to its own fancy. How much soever they may please their inventors, Christ pronounces that they are not only vain and worthless, but are even detestable.


[294] "Que quelques uns' me recoyvent;" -- "that some persons' may receive me."

[295] "Et en escri cinquante;" -- "and write fifty of them."

[296] "Du vray 'thresor' qui s'en fiera en vous?" -- "who shall entrust to you the true (treasure?)"

[297] "S'il est trouve qu'ils n'ayent en aucun soin d'exercer charite envers leurs prochains, et n'ayent pense qu'a despendre en tout exces et a leur plaisir, les biens de Dieu;" -- "if it is found that they have given themselves no concern about exercising charity to their neighbors, and have thought only of spending in every excess, and at their own pleasure, the gifts of God."

[298] "Et mesmes plusieurs sont contens d'user de simplicite et fidelite en de petites choses, a fin d'attraper puis apres un grand profit tout d'un coup;" -- "and many are even willing to practice honesty and fidelity in small matters, in order afterwards to seize all at once on a large profit."

[299] Livy.

[300] "D'une chose caduque, et qui n'est qu'une ombre;" -- "with a fading thing, and which is only a shadow."

[301] "Et la aussi on trouvera la signification de ce mot Mammona, lequel est ici mis, et que nous avons traduit Richesses " -- "And there will also be found the meaning of the word Mammon, which is used here, and which we have translated Riches."--In an earlier portion of this Commentary, to which our author refers, (Harmony, vol. 1[[13]p. 337,) no direct or formal explanation of the word Mammon is to be found; but a careful reader of the expository remarks on Matthew 6:24 will easily perceive that Calvin understands riches to be one of the two masters spoken of in that passage. An indirect definition of the term is afforded by his French version of the text, both in Matth. 6:24, and in Luke 16:13, "Vous ne pouvez servir a Dieu et aux richesses;" -- "you cannot serve God and riches."

[302] "En affectant des termes exquis, et bien remplissans la bouehe;"-- "by affecting nicely chosen words, and that fill the mouth well."

[303] "Comme choses absurdes, et contre l'opinion commune;" -- "as absurd statements, and opposed to the common belief."

[304] "Horace, Poete Latin, dit parlant en la personne d'un avaricieux;" -- "Horace, a Latin Poet, says, speaking in the person of a covetous man."

[305] "Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo."-- Sat. 1.:1:66.

And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?
No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.
And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.
The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.

Matthew 5:17-19

Luke 16:17

17. Think not that I am come to destroy [381] the Law or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18. Verily, I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one iota or one point [382] shall not pass from the Law, till all are fulfilled. 19. Whoever then shall break on of these least commandments, and shall so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall have done and taught them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

17. Now it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than for one point of the law to fail.

Matthew 5:17. Think not. With regard to the perfection of his life, Christ might justly have maintained that he came to fulfill the law: but here he treats of doctrine, not of life. As he afterwards exclaimed, that "the kingdom of God is come," (Matthew 12:28,) and raised the minds of men with unusual expectation, and even admitted disciples by baptism, it is probable, that the minds of many were in a state of suspense and doubt, and were eagerly inquiring, what was the design of that novelty. Christ, therefore, now declares, that his doctrine is so far from being at variance with the law, that it agrees perfectly with the law and the prophets, and not only so, but brings the complete fulfillment of them.

There appear to have been chiefly two reasons, which induced him to declare this agreement between the law and the Gospel. As soon as any new method of teaching makes its appearance, the body of the people immediately look upon it, as if everything were to be overturned. Now the preaching of the Gospel, as I mentioned a little ago, tended to raise the expectation, that the Church would assume a totally different form from what had previously belonged to it. They thought that the ancient and accustomed government was to be abolished. This opinion, in many respects, was very dangerous. Devout worshippers of God would never have embraced the Gospel, if it had been a revolt from the law; while light and turbulent spirits would eagerly have seized on an occasion offered to them for entirely overthrowing the state of religion: for we know in what insolent freaks rash people are ready to indulge when there is any thing new.

Besides, Christ saw that the greater part of the Jews, though they professed to believe the Law, were profane and degenerate. The condition of the people was so decayed, every thing was filled with so many corruptions, and the negligence or malice of the priests had so completely extinguished the pure light of doctrine, that there no longer remained any reverence for the Law. But if a new kind of doctrine had been introduced, which would destroy the authority of the Law and the Prophets, religion would have sustained a dreadful injury. This appears to be the first reason, why Christ declared that he had not come to destroy the Law. Indeed, the context makes this abundantly clear: for he immediately adds, by way of confirmation, that it is impossible for even one point of the Law to fail, -- and pronounces a curse on those teachers who do not faithfully labor to maintain its authority.

The second reason was, to refute the wicked slander which, he knew was brought against him by the ignorant and unlearned. This charge, it is evident, had been fastened on his doctrine by the scribes: for he proceeds immediately to direct his discourse against them. We must keep in mind the object which Christ had in view. While he invites and exhorts the Jews to receive the Gospel, he still retains them in obedience to the Law; and, on the other hand, he boldly refutes the base reproaches and slanders, by which his enemies labored to make his preaching infamous or suspected.

If we intend to reform affairs which are in a state of disorder, we must always exercise such prudence and moderation, as will convince the people, that we do not oppose the eternal Word of God, or introduce any novelty that is contrary to Scripture. We must take care, that no suspicion of such contrariety shall injure the faith of the godly, and that rash men shall not be emboldened by a pretense of novelty. In short, we must endeavor to oppose a profane contempt of the Word of God, and to prevent religion from being despised by the ignorant. The defense which Christ makes, to free his doctrine from slanders, ought to encourage us, if we are now exposed to the same calumnies. That crime was charged against Paul, that he was an apostate from the law of God, (Acts 21:21) and we need not, therefore, wonder, if the Papists endeavor, in the same manner, to render us odious. Following the example of Christ, we ought to clear ourselves from false accusations, and, at the same time, to profess the truth freely, though it may expose us to unjust reproaches.

I am not come to destroy. God had, indeed, promised a new covenant at the coming of Christ; but had, at the same time, showed, that it would not be different from the first, but that, on the contrary, its design was, to give a perpetual sanction to the covenant, which he had made from the beginning, with his own people.

"I will write my law, (says he,) in their hearts,
and I will remember their iniquities no more,"
(Jeremiah 31:33, 34.) [383]

By these words he is so far from departing from the former covenant, that, on the contrary, he declares, that it will be confirmed and ratified, when it shall be succeeded by the new. This is also the meaning of Christ's words, when he says, that he came to fulfill the law: for he actually fulfilled it, by quickening, with his Spirit, the dead letter, and then exhibiting, in reality, what had hitherto appeared only in figures.

With respect to doctrine, we must not imagine that the coming of Christ has freed us from the authority of the law: for it is the eternal rule of a devout and holy life, and must, therefore, be as unchangeable, as the justice of God, which it embraced, is constant and uniform. With respect to ceremonies, there is some appearance of a change having taken place; but it was only the use of them that was abolished, for their meaning was more fully confirmed. The coming of Christ has taken nothing away even from ceremonies, but, on the contrary, confirms them by exhibiting the truth of shadows: for, when we see their full effect, we acknowledge that they are not vain or useless. Let us therefore learn to maintain inviolable this sacred tie between the law and the Gospel, which many improperly attempt to break. For it contributes not a little to confirm the authority of the Gospel, when we learn, that it is nothing else than a fulfillment of the law; so that both, with one consent, declare God to be their Author.

18. Till heaven and earth pass Luke expresses it a little differently, but to the same import, that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than for one point of the law to fail The design of Christ, in both passages, was to teach, that the truth of the law and of every part of it, is secure, and that nothing so durable is to be found in the whole frame of the world. Some persons indulge in ingenious refinements on the word till, (heos a n,) as if the passing away of the heaven and earth, which will take place on the last day, the day of judgment, were to put an end to the law and the prophets And certainly, as

"tongues shall then cease, and prophecies shall be abolished," (1 Corinthians 13:8,)

I think that the written law, as well as the exposition of it, will come to an end; but, as I am of opinion that Christ spoke more simply, I do not choose to feed the ears of readers with such amusements. Let it suffice for us to hold, that sooner shall heaven fall to pieces, and the whole frame of the world become a mass of confusion, than the stability of the law shall give way. But what does it mean, that every part of the law shall be fulfilled down to the smallest point? for we see, that even those, who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God, are very far from keeping the law of God in a perfect manner. I answer, the expression, shall not pass away, must be viewed as referring, not to the life of men, but to the perfect truth of the doctrine. "There is nothing in the law that is unimportant, nothing that was put there at, random; and so it is impossible that a single letter shall perish."

19. Whoever then shall break Christ here speaks expressly of the commandments of life, or the ten words, which all the children of God ought to take as the rule of their life. He therefore declares, that they are false and deceitful teachers, who do not restrain their disciples within obedience to the law, and that they are unworthy to occupy a place in the Church, who weaken, in the slightest degree, the authority of the law; and, on the other hand, that they are honest and faithful ministers of God, who recommend, both by word and by example, the keeping of the law. The least commandments is an expression used in accommodation to the judgment of men: for though they have not all the same weight, (but, when they are compared together, some are less than others,) yet we are not at liberty to think any thing small, on which the heavenly Legislator has been pleased to issue a command. For what sacrilege is it to treat contemptuously any thing which has proceeded from his sacred mouth? This is to sink his majesty to the rank of creatures. Accordingly, when our Lord calls them little commandments, it is a sort of concession. He shall be called the least This is an allusion to what he had just said about the commandments: but the meaning is obvious. Those who shall pour contempt on the doctrine of the law, or on a single syllable of it, will be rejected as the lowest of men. [384]

The kingdom of heaven means the renovation of the Church, or the prosperous condition of the Church, such as was then beginning to appear by the preaching of the Gospel. In this sense, Christ tells us, that "he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John," (Luke 7:28.) The meaning of that phrase is, that God, restoring the world by the hand of his Son, has completely established his kingdom. Christ declares that, when his Church shall have been renewed, no teachers must be admitted to it, but those who are faithful expounders of the law, and who labor to maintain its doctrine entire. But it is asked, were not ceremonies among the commandments of God, the least of which we are now required to observe? I answer, We must look to the design and object of the Legislator. God enjoined ceremonies, that their outward use might be temporal, and their meaning eternal. That man does not break ceremonies, who omits what is shadowy, but retains their effect. But if Christ banishes from his kingdom all who accustom men to any contempt of the law how monstrous must be their stupidity, who are not ashamed to remit, by a sacrilegious indulgence, what God strictly demands, and, under the pretense of venial sin, to overthrow the righteousness of the law. [385] Again, we must observe the description he gives of good and holy teachers: that not only by words, but chiefly by the example of life, they exhort [386] men to keep the law.


[381] "Pour abolir;" -- "to abolish."

[382] "Un iota ou un seul poinct;" -- "one iota or a single point."

[383] The reader will find a copious illustration of this remarkable passage in [6]Jeremiah, and of its bearing on the Christian system, in the author's [7]commentary on the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. -- Ed.

[384] "Comme 1es plus inutiles du monde;" -- "as the most useless in the world."

[385] "De mettre la justice de la Loy sous les pieds;" -- "to trample the justice of the law under their feet."

[386] "Ils exhortent et incitent les hommes;" -- "they exhort and incite men."

Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

Matthew 5:31-32

Luke 16:18

31. Again, it hath been said, Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. [408] 32. But I say to you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, except on account of unchastity, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry a woman that is put away committeth adultery.

18. Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth a woman put away from her husband committeth adultery.

Matthew 5:31. Whosoever shall put away his wife. As a more suitable occasion for discussing and explaining this doctrine at greater length will afterwards occur, (Matthew 19:9,) I shall now state briefly what Christ says in this passage. As the Jews falsely imagined that they discharged their whole duty toward God, when they kept the law in a national manner, so whatever the national law did not forbid, they foolishly supposed to be lawful. Divorces, which husbands were wont to give to their wives, had not been prohibited by Moses as to external order, but only, for the sake of restraining lewdness, he had ordered that "a bill of divorcement" should be given to the wives who were put away, (Deuteronomy 24:1.) It was a sort of testimonial of freedom, so that the woman was afterwards free from the yoke and power of the husband; while the husband at the same time acknowledged, that he did not send her away on account of any crime, but because she did not please him. Hence proceeded the error, that there was nothing wrong in such putting away, provided that the forms of law were observed. [409]

But they did wrong in viewing as a matter of civil law, the rule which had been given them for a devout and holy life. For national laws are sometimes accommodated to the manners of men but God, in prescribing a spiritual law, looked not at what men can do, but at what they ought to do. It contains a perfect and entire righteousness, though we want ability to fulfill it. Christ, therefore, admonishes us not to conclude, that what is allowed by the national law of Moses is, on that account, lawful in the sight of God. That man, (says he,) who puts away his wife, and gives her a bill of divorcement, shelters himself under the pretense of the law: but the bond of marriage is too sacred to be dissolved at the will, or rather at the licentious pleasure, of men. Though the husband and the wife are united by mutual consent, yet God binds them by an indissoluble tie, so that they are not afterwards at liberty to separate. An exception is added, except on account of fornication: for the woman, who has basely violated the marriage-vow, is justly cast off; because it was by her fault that the tie was broken, and the husband set at liberty.

32. Causeth her to commit adultery. As the bill of divorcement bore, that the woman had been loosed from her former husband, and might enter into a new marriage, the man who, unjustly and unlawfully, abandons the wife whom God had given him, is justly condemned for having prostituted his wife to others.


[408] "Ou, separation;" -- "or, separation."

[409] "Pourveu qu'on observast ce que la Loy commandoit en tel cas;"-- "provided that what the Law commanded in such a case were observed."

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

Luke 16:19-31

19. There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, [306] and feasted sumptuously every day: 20. And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores, 21. And desiring to be fed from the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: and even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22. And it happened that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23. And, lifting up his eyes in hell, when he was in torments, he seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24. And he, crying out, said, Father Abraham, have compassion on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25. And Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus likewise evil things: but now he enjoys comfort, and thou art tormented. 26. And besides all these things, a vast gulf lieth between us and you; so that they who wish to pass hence to you cannot, nor can they pass to us thence. 27. And he said, I beseech thee, therefore, father, to send him to my father's house: 28. For I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29. Abraham saith to him, They have Moses and the prophets: let them hear them. 30. But he said, Nay, father Abraham; but if one went to them from the dead, they will repent. 31. And he said to him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.

Though Luke introduces some things between them, there can be no doubt that this example was intended by Christ to confirm the discourse which we have last examined. He points out what condition awaits those [307] who neglect the care of the poor, and indulge in all manner of gluttony; who give themselves up to drunkenness and other pleasures, and allow their neighbors to pine with hunger; nay, who cruelly kill with famine those whom they ought to have relieved, when the means of doing so were in their power. Some look upon it as a simple parable; but, as the name Lazarus occurs in it, I rather consider it to be the narrative of an actual fact. But that is of little consequence, provided that the reader comprehends the doctrine which it contains.

19. There was a certain rich man He is, first of all, described as clothed in purple and fine linen, and enjoying every day splendor and luxury. This denotes a life spent amidst delicacies, and superfluity, and pomp. Not that all elegance and ornaments of dress are in themselves displeasing to God, or that all the care bestowed on preparing victuals ought to be condemned; but because it seldom happens that such things are kept in moderation. He who has a liking for fine dress will constantly increase his luxury by fresh additions; and it is scarcely possible that he who indulges in sumptuous and well garnished tables shall avoid falling into intemperance. But the chief accusation brought against this man is his cruelty in suffering Lazarus, poor and full of sores, to lie out of doors at his gate.

These two clauses Christ has exhibited in contrast. The rich man, devoted to the pleasures of the table and to display, swallowed up, like an unsatiable gulf, his enormous wealth, but remained unmoved by the poverty and distresses of Lazarus, and knowingly and willingly suffered him to pine away with hunger, cold, and the offensive smell of his sores. In this manner Ezekiel (16:49) accuses Sodom of not stretching out her hand to the poor amidst fullness of bread and wine. The fine linen, which is a peculiarly delicate fabric, is well-known to have been used by the inhabitants of eastern countries for elegance and splendor; a fashion which the Popish priests have imitated in what they call their surplices.

21. And even the dogs came. It was quite enough to prove the hardened cruelty of the rich man, that the sight of wretchedness like this did not move him to compassion. Had there been a drop of humanity in him, he ought at least to have ordered a supply from his kitchen for the unhappy man. But the crowning exhibition of his wicked, and savage, and worse than brutal disposition was, that he did not learn pity even from the dogs There can be no doubt that those dogs were guided by the secret purpose of God, to condemn that man by their example. Christ certainly produces them here as witnesses to convict him of unfeeling and detestable cruelty. What could be more monstrous than to see the dogs taking charge of a man, to whom his neighbor is paying no attention; and, what is more, to see the very crumbs of bread refused to a man perishing of hunger, while the dogs are giving him the service of their tongues for the purpose of healing his sores? When strangers, or even brute animals, supply our place, by performing an office which ought rather to have been discharged by ourselves, let us conclude that they are so many witnesses and judges appointed by God, to make our criminality the more manifest.

22. And it happened that the beggar died. Christ here points out the vast change which death effected in the condition of the two men. Death was no doubt common to both; but to be after death carried by angels into Abraham's bosom was a happiness more desirable than all the kingdoms of the world. On the other hand, to be sentenced to everlasting torments is a dreadful thing, for avoiding which a hundred lives, if it were possible, ought to be employed. In the person of Lazarus there is held out to us a striking proof that we ought not to pronounce men to be accursed by God, because they drag out, in incessant pain, a life which is full of distresses. In him the grace of God was so entirely hidden, and buried by the deformity and shame of the cross, that to the eye of the flesh nothing presented itself except the curse; and yet we see that in a body which was loathsome and full of rottenness there was lodged a soul unspeakably precious, which is carried by angels to a blessed life. It was no loss to him that he was forsaken, and despised, and destitute of every human comfort, when heavenly spirits deign to accompany him on his removal from the prison of the flesh.

And the rich man also died, and was buried. In the rich man we see, as in a bright mirror, how undesirable is that temporal happiness which ends in everlasting destruction. It deserves our attention, that Christ expressly mentions the burial of the rich man, but says nothing of what was done to Lazarus. Not that his dead body was exposed to wild beasts, or lay in the open air, but because it was thrown carelessly, and without the slightest attention, into a ditch; for it may naturally be inferred from the corresponding clause, that no more attention was paid to him when he was dead than when he was alive. The rich man, on the other hand, buried magnificently according to his wealth, still retains some remnant of his former pride. [308] In this respect, we see ungodly men striving, as it were, against nature, by affecting a pompous and splendid funeral for the sake of preserving their superiority after death; but their souls in hell attest the folly and mockery of this ambition.

And Lazarus was carried by angels. When he says that Lazarus was carried, it is a figure of speech by which a part is taken for the whole; for the soul being the nobler part of man, properly takes the name of the whole man. [309] This office is, not without reason, assigned by Christ to angels, who, we are aware, have been appointed to be ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14) to believers, that they may devote their care and labor to their salvation.

Into Abraham's bosom. To detail the variety of speculations about Abraham's bosom, in which many commentators of Scripture have indulged, is unnecessary, and, in my opinion, would serve no good purpose. It is quite enough that we receive what readers well acquainted with Scripture will acknowledge to be the natural meaning. As Abraham is called the father of believers, because to him was committed the covenant of eternal life, that he might first preserve it faithfully for his own children, and afterwards transmit it to all nations, and as all who are heirs of the same promise are called his children; so those who receive along with him the fruit of the same faith are said, after death, to be collected into his bosom. The metaphor is taken from a father [310] , in whose bosom, as it were, the children meet, when they all return home in the evening from the labors of the day. The children of God are scattered during their pilgrimage in this world; but as, in their present course, they follow the faith of their father Abraham, so they are received at death into that blessed rest, in which he awaits their arrival. It is not necessary to suppose that reference is made here to any one place; but the assemblage of which I have spoken is described, for the purpose of assuring believers, that they have not been fruitlessly employed in fighting for the faith under the banner of Abraham, for they enjoy the same habitation in heaven.

It will perhaps be asked, Is the same condition reserved after death for the godly of our own day, or did Christ, when he rose, open his bosom to admit Abraham himself, as well as all the godly? I reply briefly: As the grace of God is more clearly revealed to us in the Gospel, and as Christ himself, the Sun of Righteousness, (Malachi 4:2,) has brought to us that salvation, which the fathers were formerly permitted to behold at a distance and under dark shadows, so there cannot be a doubt that believers, when they die, make a nearer approach to the enjoyment of the heavenly life. Still, it must be understood, that the glory of immortality is delayed till the last day of redemption. So far as relates to the word bosom, that quiet harbor at which believers arrive after the navigation of the present life, may be called either Abraham's bosom or Christ's bosom; but, as we have advanced farther than the fathers did under the Law, this distinction will be more properly expressed by saying, that the members of Christ are associated with their Head; and thus there will be an end of the metaphor about Abraham's bosom, as the brightness of the sun, when he is risen, makes all the stars to disappear. From the mode of expression which Christ has here employed, we may, in the meantime, draw the inference, that the fathers under the Law embraced by faith, while they lived, that inheritance of the heavenly life into which they were admitted at death.

23. And, lifting up, his eyes in hell. Though Christ is relating a history, yet he describes spiritual things under figures, which he knew to be adapted to our senses. Souls have neither fingers nor eyes, and are not liable to thirst, nor do they hold such conversations among themselves as are here described to have taken place between Abraham and the rich man; but our Lord has here drawn a picture, which represents the condition of the life to come according to the measure of our capacity. The general truth conveyed is, that believing souls, when they have left their bodies, lead a joyful and blessed life out of this world, and that for the reprobate there are prepared dreadful torments, which can no more be conceived by our minds than the boundless glory of the heavens. As it is only in a small measure--only so far as we are enlightened by the Spirit of God--that we taste by hope the glory promised to us, which far exceeds all our senses, let it be reckoned enough that the inconceivable vengeance of God, which awaits the ungodly, is communicated to us in an obscure manner, so far as is necessary to strike terror into our minds.

On these subjects the words of Christ give us slender information, and in a manner which is fitted to restrain curiosity. The wicked are described as fearfully tormented by the misery which they feel; as desiring some relief, but cut off from hope, and thus experiencing a double torment; and as having their anguish increased by being compelled to remember their crimes, and to compare the present blessedness of believers with their own miserable and lost condition. In connection with this a conversation is related, as if persons who have no intercourse with each other were supposed to talk together. When the rich man says, Father Abraham, this expresses an additional torment, that he perceives, when it is too late, that he is cut off from the number of the children of Abraham

25. Son, remember. The word son appears to be used ironically, as a sharp and piercing reproof to the rich man, who falsely boasted in his lifetime that he was one of the sons of Abraham. It seems as if pain inflicted by a hot iron wounded his mind, when his hypocrisy and false confidence are placed before his eyes. When it is said that he is tormented in hell, because he had received his good things in his lifetime, we must not understand the meaning to be, that eternal destruction awaits all who have enjoyed prosperity in the world. On the contrary, as Augustine has judiciously observed, poor Lazarus was carried into the bosom of rich Abraham, to inform us, that riches do not shut against any man the gate of the kingdom of heaven, but that it is open alike to all who have either made a sober use of riches, or patiently endured the want of them. All that is meant is, that the rich man, who yielded to the allurements of the present life, abandoned himself entirely to earthly enjoyments, and despised God and His kingdom, now suffers the punishment of his own neglect.

Receivedst THY good things. The pronoun thy is emphatic, as if Abraham had said: Thou wast created for an immortal life, and the Law of God raised time on high to the contemplation of the heavenly life; but thou, forgetting so exalted a condition, didst choose to resemble a sow or a dog, and thou therefore receivest a reward which befits brutal pleasures. But now he enjoys comfort When it is said of Lazarus, on the other hand, that he enjoys comfort, because he had suffered many distresses in the world, it would be idle to apply this to all whose condition is wretched; because their afflictions, in many cases, are so far from having been of service to them, that they ought rather to bring upon them severer punishment. But Lazarus is commended for patient endurance of the cross, which always springs from faith and a genuine fear of God; for he who obstinately resists his sufferings, and whose ferocity remains unsubdued, has no claim to be rewarded for patience, by receiving from God comfort in exchange for the cross.

To sum up the whole, they who have patiently endured the burden of the cross laid upon them, and have not been rebellious against the yoke and chastisements of God, but, amidst uninterrupted sufferings, have cherished the hope of a better life, have a rest laid up for them in heaven, when the period of their warfare shall be terminated. On the contrary, wicked despisers of God, who are wholly engrossed in the pleasures of the flesh, and who by a sort of mental intoxication, drown every feeling of piety, will experience, immediately after death, such torments as will efface their empty enjoyments. It must also be recollected, that this comfort, which the sons of God enjoy, lies in this, that they perceive a crown of glory prepared for them, and rest in the joyful expectation of it; as, on the other hand, the wicked are tormented by the apprehension of the future judgment, which they see coming upon them.

26. A vast gulf lieth. These words describe the permanency of the future state, and denote, that the boundaries which separate the reprobate from the elect can never be broken through. And thus we are reminded to return early to the path, while there is yet time, lest we rush headlong into that abyss, from which it will be impossible to rise. The words must not be strictly interpreted, when it is said, that no one is permitted to pass who would wish to descend from heaven to hell; for it is certain, that none of the righteous entertain any such desire.

27. I beseech thee, father. To bring the narrative into more full accordance with our modes of thinking, he describes the rich man as wishing that his brothers, who were still alive, should be warned by Lazarus. Here the Papists exercise their ingenuity very foolishly, by attempting to prove that the dead feel solicitude about the living. Any thing more ridiculous than this sophistry cannot be conceived; for with equal plausibility I might undertake to prove, that believing souls are not satisfied with the place assigned to them, and are actuated by a desire of removing from it to hell, were it not that they are prevented by a vast gulf. If no man holds such extravagant views, the Papists are not entitled to congratulate themselves on the other supposition. It is not my intention, however, to debate the point, or to defend either one side or another; but I thought it right to advert, in passing, to the futility of the arguments on which they rest their belief that the dead intercede with God on our behalf. I now return to the plain and natural meaning of this passage.

29. They have Moses and the prophets. In the persons of the rich man and Abraham Christ reminds us, that we have received an undoubted rule of life, and that therefore we have no right to expect that the dead will rise to instruct and persuade us. Moses and the prophets were appointed to instruct, while they lived, the men of their own age; but it was with the design, that the same advantage should be derived by posterity from their writings. As it is the will of God that we should receive instructions, in this manner, about a holy life, there is no reason why the dead should assure us of the rewards and punishments of the future state; nor is there any excuse for the indifference of those who shelter themselves under the pretext, that they do not know what is going on beyond this world. Among irreligious men, we are aware, is frequently heard this wicked saying, or rather this grunting of hogs, that it is foolish in men to distress themselves with fears about a matter of uncertainty, since no one has ever returned to bring us tidings about hell.

With the view of counteracting every enchantment of Satan of this description, Christ draws their attention to the Law and the Prophets, agreeably to that passage in the writings of Moses:

It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou shouldest do it,
(Deuteronomy 30:12-14.)

They who ridicule as fabulous what Scripture testifies as to the future judgment, will one day feel how shocking is the wickedness of giving the lie to the holy oracles of God. From such lethargy Christ arouses his followers, that they may not be deceived by the hope of escaping punishment, and thus fail to improve the time allowed for repentance.

Abraham's reply amounts to this: By Moses and the prophets God had sufficiently made known to his people the doctrine of salvation, and nothing remains for us but that it obtain the assent of all. So thoroughly infected is the mind of man with a depraved curiosity, that the greater part of men are always gaping after new revelations. Now as nothing is more displeasing to God than when men are so eager to go beyond due bounds, he forbids them to inquire at magicians and soothsayers respecting the truth, and to consult pretended oracles after the manner of the Gentiles; and in order to restrain that itching curiosity, he promises, at the same time, that he will give prophets, from whom the people may learn whatever is necessary to be known for salvation, (Deuteronomy 18:9,15.) But if the prophets were sent for the express purpose; that God might keep his people under the guidance of his word, he who is not satisfied with this method of instruction is not actuated by a desire to learn, but tickled by ungodly wantonness; and therefore God complains that He is insulted, when He alone is not heard from the living to the dead, (Isaiah 8:19.)

The division of the word of God, which Abraham makes, into the Law and the Prophets, refers to the time of the Old Testament. Now that the more ample explanation of the Gospel has been added, there is still less excuse for our wickedness, if our dislike of that doctrine hurries us in every possible direction, and, in a word, if we do not permit ourselves to be regulated by the word of God. Hence too we infer how solid is the faith of Papists about purgatory and such fooleries, when it rests on nothing but phantoms. [311]

30. Nay, father Abraham. This is a personification, as we have said, which expresses rather the feelings of the living than the anxiety of the dead. The doctrine of the Law is little esteemed by the world, the Prophets are neglected, and no man submits to hear God speaking in his own manner. Some would desire that angels should descend from heaven; others, that the dead should come out of their graves; others, that new miracles should be performed every day to sanction what they hear; and others, that voices should be heard from the sky. [312] But if God were pleased to comply with all their foolish wishes, it would be of no advantage to them; for God has included in his word all that is necessary to be known, and the authority of this word has been attested and proved by authentic seals. Besides, faith does not depend on miracles, or any extraordinary sign, but is the peculiar gift of the Spirit, and is produced by means of the word. Lastly, it is the prerogative of God to draw us to himself, and he is pleased to work effectually through his own word. There is not the slightest reason, therefore, to expect that those means, which withdraw us from obedience to the word, will be of any service to us. I freely acknowledge, that there is nothing to which the flesh is more strongly inclined than to listen to vain revelations; and we see how eagerly those men, to whom the whole of Scripture is an object of dislike, throw themselves into the snares of Satan. Hence have arisen necromancy and other delusions, which the world not only receives with avidity, but runs after with furious rage. But all that is here affirmed by Christ is, that even the dead could not reform, [313] or bring to a sound mind, those who are deaf and obstinate against the instructions of the law.


[306] "De pourpre et de soye;" -- "in purple and silk."

[307] "Quelle sera hors de ce monde la condition de ceux;" -- "what will be out of this world the condition of those."

[308] "De l'orgueil de sa vie passee;" -- "of the pride of his past life."

[309] "A bon droict on dit simplement, L'homme, encore que cela ne convient qu'a l'ame;" -- "we properly say simply Man, though it applies only to the soul."

[310] "D'un pere terrien;" -- "from an earthly father."

[311] "Veu qu'elle n'est appuyee et fondee qu'en des apparitions et vaines imaginations d'aucuns cerveaux esventez;" -- "since it rests and is founded only on apparitions and vain imaginations of certain giddy brains."

[312] "Les autres, que Dieu parlast a eux du ciel en personne;"-- "others, that God would speak to them from heaven in person."

[313] "Ne s'amenderont point, mesmes quand les morts viendroyent parler a eux, et les advertir;" -- "will not reform, even though the dead should come to talk to them and warn them."

And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:
For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
John Calvin's Commentaries
Text Courtesy of Christian Classics Etherial Library.

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