Excerpts from Calvin's Commentaries

The purpose of this paper is to present a selection of quotations from John Calvin's Commentary on Matthew. These excerpts represent exceptional insights either on the text itself or on Christian living. John Calvin was one of the great theologians of the Protestant Reformation. All excerpts are from the Baker edition in 22 volumes. Occasionally, expressions in older English are modernized by us.

"According to the custom of the priest's office, it fell to him by lot to burn incense"
(Luke 1:9)

The law enjoined that incense should be offered twice every day, that is, every morning and at even (Ex. 30:7,8). The order of courses among the priests had been appointed by David, as we have already explained; and, consequently, what is here stated as to incense was expressly enjoined by the law of God. The other matters had been arranged by David (1 Chr. 24:3), that each family might have its own turn, though David ordained nothing which was not prescribed by the law. He only pointed out a plan by which they might individually perform the service which God had commanded.

The word temple (ναος) is here put for the holy place, which deserves attention for it sometimes includes the outer court. Now, Zacharias is spoken of as going into the temple, which none but priests were permitted to enter. And so Luke says that the people stood without, there being a great distance between them and the altar of incense; for the altar on which the sacrifices were offered intervened. It ought to be observed also that Luke says before God. For whenever the priest entered into the holy place, he went, as it were, into the presence of God that he might be a mediator between him and the people. For it was the will of the Lord to have this impressed upon his people, that no mortal is allowed to have access to heaven without a priest going before. Nay, that so long as men live on the earth they do not approach the heavenly throne, so as to find favor there, except in the person of the Mediator. Now as there were many priests, there were not two of them permitted to discharge at the same time the solemn office of intercession for the people. But they were so arranged in classes, that only one entered the Holy Place, and thus there was but one priest at a time. The design of the incense was to remind believers that the sweet savor of their prayers does not ascend to heaven except through the sacrifice of the Mediator; and in what manner those figures apply to us must be lerned from the Epistle to the Hebrews.

"And Zacharias said to the angel, How shall I know this?" (Luke 1:18)

Next follows the doubt of Zacharias and the punishment which the Lord inflicted on his unbelief. He had prayed that he might obtain offspring, and now that it is promised he distrusts, as if he had forgotten his own prayers and faith. It might, at first sight, appear harsh that God is so much offended by his reply. He brings forward his old age as an objection. Abraham did the same, and yet his faith is so highly applauded that Paul declares, he "considered not his own body now dead, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb" (Rom. 4:19), but unhesitatingly relied on the truth and power of God. Zacharias inquires how, or by what proof, he might arrive at certainty. But Gideon was not blamed for twice asking a sign (Judg. 6:17, 37, 39). Nay more, we are shortly after this informed of Mary's objection, How shall this be, since I know not a man? (ver. 34), which the angel passes over as if it contained nothing wrong. How comes it then that God punishes Zacharias so severely as if he had been guilty of a very heinous sin? I do acknowledge that if the words only are considered, either all were equally to blame or Zacharias did nothing wrong. But as the actions and words of men must be judged from the state of the heart, we ought rather to abide by the judgment of God, to whom the hidden secrets of the heart are naked and opened (Heb. 4:13).

Unquestionably, the Lord beheld in Zacharias something worse than his words may bear, and therefore his anger was kindled against him for throwing back with distrust the promised favor. We have no right, indeed, to lay down a law to God which would not leave him free to punish in one the fault which he pardons in others. But it is very evident that the case of Zacharias was widely different from that of Abraham, or Gideon, or Mary. This does not appear in the words, and therefore the knowledge of it must be left to God, whose eyes pierce the depths of the heart. Thus God distinguishes between Sarah's laugh (Gen. 18:12) and Abraham's (Gen. 17:17), though the one apparently does not differ from the other. The reason why Zacharias doubted was, that stopping at the ordinary course of nature he ascribed less than he ought to have done to the power of God. They take a narrow and disparaging view of the works of God who believe that he will do no more than nature holds out to be probable, as if his hand were limited to our senses or confined to earthly means. But it belongs to faith to believe that more can be done than carnal reason admits. Zacharias had no hesitation with regard to its being the voice of God, but as he looked too exclusively at the world, an indirect doubt arose in his mind if what he had heard would really happen. In that respect he did no slight injury to God, for he went so far as to reason with himself whether God, who had undoubtedly spoken to him, should be regarded as worthy of credit.

At the same time we ought to know that Zacharias was not so unbelieving as to turn aside wholly from the faith; for there is a general faith which embraces the promise of eternal salvation and the testimony of a free adoption. On the other hand, when God has once received us into favor, he gives us many special promises--that he will feed us, will deliver us from dangers, will vindicate our reputation, will protect our life; and so there is a special faith which answers particularly to each of these promises. Thus, it will sometimes happen that one who trusts in God for the pardon of his sins and for salvation will waver on some point, will be too much alarmed by the dread of death, too solicitous about daily food, or too anxious about his plans. Such was the unbelief of Zacharias. For while he held the root and foundation of faith, he hesitated only on one point--whether God would give to him a son. Let us know, therefore, that those who are perplexed or disturbed by weakness on some particular occasion do not entirely depart or fall off from the faith, and that though the branches of faith are agitated by various tempests, it does not give way at the root. Besides, nothing was farther from the intention of Zacharias than to call in question the truth of a divine promise; but while he was convinced generally that God is faithful, he was cunningly drawn by the craft and wiles of Satan to draw a wicked distinction. It is all the more necessary for us to keep diligent watch. For which of us shall be secure against the snares of the devil when we learn that a man so eminently holy, who had all his life maintained strict watchfulness over himself, was overtaken by them?

"Lo, this child has been set for the ruin and for the resurrection of many in Israel"
(Luke 2:34)

This discourse was, no doubt, directly addressed by Simeon to Mary, but it has a general reference to all the godly. The holy virgin needed this admonition that she might not (as usually happens) be lifted up by prosperous beginnings so as to be less prepared for enduring afflictive events. But she needed it on another account, that she might not expect Christ to be received by the people with universal applause, but that her mind, on the contrary, might be fortified by unshaken courage against all hostile attacks. It was the design, at the same time, of the Spirit of God, to lay down a general instruction for all the godly. When they see the world opposing Christ with wicked obstinacy, they must be prepared to meet that opposition and to contend against it undismayed. The unbelief of the world is, we know, a great and serious hindrance. But it must be conquered if we wish to believe in Christ. There never was a state of human society so happily constituted that the greater part followed Christ. Those who will enlist in the cause of Christ must learn this as one of the earliest lessons, and must "put on the armor" (Eph. 6:11) so that they may be steadfast in believing on him.

"Worshipping God with fastings and prayers day and night" (Luke 2:37)

Luke [in this account of the widow Anna] appears to make fastings a part of divine worship. But we must observe that of the acts which related to worship, some are simply required and, as we are accustomed to say, are in themselves necessary; while others are accessory and have no other design than to aid the former class. Prayers belong strictly to the worship of God. Fasting is a subordinate aid, which is pleasing to God no farther than as it aids the earnestness and fervency of prayer. We must hold by this rule, that the duties of men are to be judged according as they are directed to a proper and lawful end. We must hold also by this distinction, that prayers are direct worship of God while fastings are a part of worship only on account of their consequences. Nor is there any reason to doubt that the holy woman [Anna] employed fastings as an excitement to bewail those calamities of the Church which then existed.

"And his mother said to him, Son, why have you treated us like this?" (Luke 2:48)

Those who think that the holy virgin spoke in this manner for the purpose of showing her authority are, in my opinion, mistaken. It is even possible that it was not till they were apart and the witnesses had withdrawn that she began to expostulate with her son, after they had left the assembly. However that may be, this complaint was not the result of ambition but was the expression of grief, which had lasted three days. Yet the manner of her complaint, as if she had received an injury, shows how ready we are by nature to defend our own rights, even without paying regard to God. The holy virgin would a thousand times rather have died than deliberately preferred herself to God; but in the indulgence of a mother's grief, she falls into it through inadvertency. And undoubtedly this example warns us how jealous we ought to be of all the affections of the flesh, and what care we ought to exercise, lest by being too tenacious of our rights and following our own desires we defraud God of his honor.

"And the publicans also came" (Luke 3:12)

The publicans, viewed as a class, were covetous, rapacious, and cruel, and often oppressed the people by unjust exactions. In consequence of this, the Baptist reproves them for those offenses with which that class was, for the most part, chargeable, when he commands them not to go beyond moderation in exacting tribute. At the same time, we draw this inference, that it is quite as lawful for a Christian man to receive or levy taxes as for a magistrate to impose them.

In the same way we must judge about war. John does not order the soldiers to throw away their arms and to relinquish their oath; but he forbids them to pillage the wretched people under the pretense of their duty as soldiers, to bring false accusations against the innocent, and to be guilty of extortion--all of which crimes the greater part of them were accustomed to practice. These words obviously contain an approbation of civil government. It is a piece of idle sophistry to say that John's hearers were ignorant people, and that he gave them nothing more than elementary instructions which fell very far short of Christian perfection. John's office was to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:17); and there is no doubt that it was entirely and faithfully performed. Those men are guilty of calumny and sacrilege who slander the Gospel by declaring it to be opposed to human governments, as if Christ destroyed what his heavenly Father sanctioned. Without the sword laws are dead, and legal judgments have no force or authority. Magistrates require not only an executioner but other attendants, among whom are the military, without whose assistance and agency it is impossible to maintain peace. Still, the object must be considered. Princes must not allow themselves to sport with human blood, nor must soldiers give themselves up to cruelty from a desire of gain, as if slaughter were their chief business. But both must be drawn to it by necessity, and by a regard to public advantage.

"He is like a wise man who built a house, and dug deep, and laid the foundation on
a rock" (Luke 6:47)

As it is often difficult to distinguish the true professors of the Gospel from the false, Christ shows by a beautiful comparison where the main difference lies. He represents two houses, one of which was built without a foundation while the other was well-founded. Both have the same external appearance, but when the wind and storms blow and the floods dash against them, the former will immediately fall while the latter will be sustained by its strength against every assault. Christ therefore compares a vain and empty profession of the Gospel to a beautiful but not solid building, which, however elevated, is exposed every moment to downfall because it lacks a foundation. Accordingly, Paul enjoins us to be well and thoroughly founded on Christ and to have deep roots (Col. 2:7), "that we may not be tossed and driven about by every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14), that we may not give way at every attack. The general meaning of the passage is that true piety is not fully distinguished from its counterfeit until it comes to the trial. For the temptations by which we are tried are like billows and storms, which easily overwhelm unsteady minds whose lightness is not perceived during the season of prosperity.

"And John . . . sent them to Jesus, saying, Are you he who was to come, or do we
look for another?" (Luke 7:19)

The Evangelists do not mean that John was excited by the miracles to acknowledge Christ at that time as Mediator. But perceiving that Christ had acquired great reputation, and concluding that this was a fit and seasonable time for putting to the test his own declaration concerning him, he sent to him his disciples. The opinion entertained by some, that he sent them partly on his own account, is exceedingly foolish; as if he had not been fully convinced or obtained distinct information that Jesus is the Christ. Equally absurd is the speculation of those who imagine that the Baptist was near death, and therefore inquired what message he should carry from Christ's mouth, as it were, to the deceased fathers. It is very evident that the holy herald of Christ, perceiving that he was not far from the end of his journey and that his disciples, though he had bestowed great pains in instructing them, still remained in a state of hesitation, resorted to this last expedient for curing their weakness. He had faithfully labored, as I have said, that his disciples should embrace Christ without delay. His continued entreaties had produced so little effect that he had good reason for dreading that, after his death, they would entirely fall away. And therefore he earnestly attempted to arouse them from their sloth by sending them to Christ. Here also the pastors of the Church are reminded of their duty. They ought not to endeavor to bind and attach disciples to themselves, but to direct them to Christ who is the only Teacher.

"Who is it that touched me?" (Luke 8:45)

It does appear to be absurd that Christ should pour out his grace without knowing on whom he was bestowing a favor. There is not less difficulty in what he shortly afterwards says, that he perceived that power had gone out from him, as if while it flowed from him it was not a free gift bestowed at those times and on those persons whom he was pleased to select. Beyond all question, he knowingly and willingly cured the woman. And there is as little doubt that he drew her to himself by his Spirit that she might obtain a cure. But he puts the question to her that she may freely and publicly make it known. If Christ had been the only witness of his miracle, his statements might not perhaps have been believed. But now when the woman, struck with dread, relates what happened to her, greater weight is due to her confession.

"Do this, and you shall live" (Luke 10:28)

I have explained a little before how this promise agrees with freely bestowed justification by faith. For the reason why God justifies us freely is not that the Law does not point out perfect righteousness, but because we fail in keeping it. And the reason why it is declared to be impossible for us to obtain life by it is that it is weak through our flesh (Rom. 8:3). So then these two statements are perfectly consistent with each other--that the Law teaches how men may obtain righteousness by works and yet that no man is justified by works, because the fault lies not in the doctrine of the Law but in men. It was the intention of Christ, in the meantime, to vindicate himself from the calumny which he knew was brought against him by the unlearned and ignorant--that he set aside the Law so far as it is a perpetual rule of righteousness.

"Be not afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they
can do" (Luke 12:4)

To excite his disciples to despise death, Christ employs the very powerful argument that this frail and perishing life ought to be little regarded by men who have been created for a heavenly immortality. The statement amounts to this: that if believers will consider for what purpose they were born and what is their condition, they will have no reason to be so earnest in desiring an earthly life. But the words have still a richer and fuller meaning: for we are here taught by Christ that the fear of God is dead in those men who through dread of tyrants fall from a confession of their faith, and that a brutish stupidity reigns in the hearts of those who through dread of death do not hesitate to abandon that confession.

We must attend to the distinction between the two opposite kinds of fear. If the fear of God is extinguished by the dread of men, is it not evident that we pay greater deference to them than to God himself? Hence it follows that when we have abandoned the heavenly and eternal life, we reserve nothing more for ourselves than to be like the beasts that perish (Ps. 49:12). God alone has the power of bestowing eternal life or of inflicting eternal death. We forget God because we are hurried away by the dread of men. Is it not very evident that we set a higher value on the shadowy life of the body than on the eternal condition of the soul? or rather, that the heavenly kingdom of God is of no estimation with us in comparison of the fleeting and vanishing shadow of the present life?

These words of Christ ought therefore to be explained in this manner: "Acknowledge that you have received immortal souls which are subject to the disposal of God alone, and do not come into the power of men. The consequence will be that no terrors or alarms which men may employ will shake your faith. For how comes it that the dread of men prevails in the struggle except the body is preferred to the soul, and immortality is less valued than a perishing life?"

"Do you imagine that these Galileans were sinners beyond all the Galileans, because
they suffered such things?" (Luke 13:1-5)

This passage is highly useful were it for no other reason than that this disease is almost natural to us--to be too rigorous and severe in judging others, and too much disposed to flatter our own faults. The consequence is that we not only censure with excessive severity the offenses of our brethren, but whenever they meet with any calamity we condemn them as wicked and reprobate persons. On the other hand, every man that is not sorely pressed by the hand of God slumbers at east in the midst of his sins, as if God were favorable and reconciled to him. This involves a double fault; for when God chastises anyone before our eyes, he warns us of his judgments, that each of us may examine himself and consider what he deserves. If he spares us for a time, we are so far from having a right to take such kindness and forbearance as an opportunity for slumber that we ought to regard it as an invitation to repentance.

To correct the false and cruel judgment which we are accustomed to pass on wretched sufferers, and, at the same time to shake off the indulgence which every men cherishes towards himself, he shows first that those who are treated with severity are not the most wicked of all men; because God administers his judgments in such a manner that some are instantly seized and punished, and others are permitted to remain long in the enjoyment of ease and luxury. Secondly, he declares that all the calamities which happen in the world are so many demonstrations of the wrath of God; and hence we learn what an awful destruction awaits us if we do not avert it.

The immediate occasion for this exhortation was that some told him that Pilate had mingled human blood with sacrifices, in order that so shocking an event might bring sacrifices into abhorrence. As it is probable that this outrage was committed on the Samaritans, who had departed from the pure service of the Law, the Jews would easily and readily be disposed to condemn the Samaritans, and by so doing to applaud themselves. But our Lord applies it to a different purpose. As that whole nation was hated and detested by them on account of ungodliness, he puts the question, "Do you imagine that those wretched persons who have been put to death by Pilate were worse than others? You are perfectly aware that that country is full of ungodly men, and that many who deserved the same punishment are still alive. He is a blind and wicked judge who decides as to the sins of all men by the punishments which they now endure. It is not always the most wicked man who is first dragged to punishment. But when God selects a few out of a large number to be punished, he holds out in their person a threatening that he will take vengeance on the remainder in order that all may be alarmed."

Having spoken of the Samaritans, he now approaches more closely to the Jews themselves. Eighteen men had at that time been killed by the fall of a tower in Jerusalem. He declares that those men were not more wicked than others, but that their death was held out to all as a ground of alarm. For if in them God gave a display of his judgment, no more would others, though they might be spared for a time, escape his hand. Christ does not, however, forbid believers to consider attentively the judgments of God, but enjoins them to observe this order--to being with their own sins. They will thus obtain the highest advantage, for they will avert God's chastisements by voluntary repentance. To the same purpose is the warning which Paul gives: "Let no man deceive you with vain words; for on account of these things the wrath of God comes against the rebellious (Eph. 5:6).

Unprofitable Servants (Luke 17:7-10)

The object of this parable is to show that God claims all that belongs to us as his property, and possesses an entire control over our persons and services. Therefore, all the zeal that may be manifested by us in discharging our duty does not lay him under obligation to us by any sort of merit, for as we are his property, so he on his part can owe us nothing. He adduces the comparison of a servant who, after having spent the day in severe toil, returns home in the evening and continues his labors till his master is pleased to relieve him. Christ speaks not of such servants as we have in the present day who work for hire, but of the slaves that lived in ancient times. Their condition in society was such that they gained nothing for themselves, but all that belonged to them--their toil, application, industry, even their very blood--was the property of their masters. Christ now shows that a bond of servitude not less rigorous binds and obliges us to serve God, from which he infers that we have no means of laying him under obligations to us.

It is an argument drawn from the less to the greater. If a mortal man is permitted to hold such power over another man as to enjoin upon him uninterrupted services by night and by day, and yet contract no sort of mutual obligation, as if he were that man's debtor, how much more shall God have a right to demand the services of our whole life to the utmost extent that our ability allows, and yet be in no degree indebted to us? We see, then, that all are held guilty of wicked arrogance who imagine that they deserve anything from God, or that he is bound to them in any way. And yet no crime is more generally practiced than this kind of arrogance, for there is no man that would not willingly call God to account. Hence, the notion of merits has prevailed in almost every age.

But we must attend more closely to the statement made by Christ, namely, that we render nothing to God beyond what he has a right to claim, but are so strongly bound to his service that we owe him everything that lies in our power. It consists of two clauses. First, our life, even to the very end of our course, belongs entirely to God, so that, if a person were to spend a part of it in obedience to God, he would have no right to bargain that he should rest for the remainder of the time. Then follows the second clause on which we have already touched, that God is not bound to pay us wages for any of our services. Let each of us remember that he has been created by God for the purpose of laboring, and of being vigorously employed in his work; it is not only for a limited time, but till death itself.

With respect to merit, we must remove the difficulty by which many are perplexed, for Scripture so frequently promises a reward to our works that they think it allows them some merit. The reply is easy: A reward is promised, not as a debt, but from the mere good pleasure of God. By the engagements of the Law, I readily acknowledge, God is bound to men if they were to discharge fully all that is required from them. But still, as this is a voluntary obligation on God's part, it remains a fixed principle that man can demand nothing from God, as if he had merited anything. And thus the arrogance of the flesh falls to the ground, for, granting that any man fulfilled the Law, he cannot plead that he has any claims on God, having done no more than he was bound to do. When he says we are unprofitable servants, his meaning is that God receives from us nothing beyond what is justly due, but only collects the lawful revenues of his dominion.

There are two principles, therefore, that must be maintained. First, that God naturally owes us nothing, and that all the services which we render to him are not worth a single straw. Second, that according to the engagements of the Law, a reward is attached to works, not on account of their value, but because God is graciously pleased to become our debtor. It would evince intolerable ingratitude if on such a ground any person should indulge in proud boasting. The kindness and liberality that God exercises toward us only lay us under deeper obligations to him.

Whenever we meet with the word reward, let us look upon this as the crowning act of the goodness of God to us, that though we are completely in his debt, he condescends to enter into a bargain with us.

"Today is salvation come to this house [that of Zaccheus]" (Luke 19:9)

The conversion of Zaccheus was an astonishing work of God, and yet there was no good reason why Zaccheus should be marked with infamy. He had the charge of collecting the taxes. Now to collect taxes was no crime in itself, but men of that class were exceedingly despised and hated by the Jews, because they reckoned it to be in the highest degree unjust that they should pay tribute. But whatever might be the character of Zaccheus, still the kindness of Christ ought not to be blamed but commended in not refusing his assistance to a wretched man, to rescue him from destruction and bring him to salvation. And therefore the offense which was wickedly taken did not hinder him from proceeding to execute his Father's command. With such magnanimity ought all his ministers to be endued, as to think more highly of the salvation of one soul than of the murmurs which all ignorant persons may utter, and not to desist from their duty even though all their actions and words may expose them to reproaches.

"And when he came near, he beheld the city and wept over it" (Luke 19:41)

As there was nothing which Christ more ardently desired than to execute the office which the Father had committed to him, and as he knew that the end of his calling was to gather the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 15:24), he wished that his coming might bring salvation to all. This was the reason why he was moved with compassion and wept over the approaching destruction of the city of Jerusalem. For while he reflected that this was the sacred abode which God had chosen, in which the covenant of eternal salvation should dwell--the sanctuary from which salvation would go forth to the whole world, it was impossible that he should not deeply deplore its ruin. And when he saw the people, who had been adopted to the hope of eternal life, perish miserably through their ingratitude and wickedness, we need not wonder if he could not refrain from tears.

As to those who think it strange that Christ should bewail an evil which he had it in his power to remedy, this difficulty is quickly removed. For as he came down from heaven, that, clothed in human flesh he might be the witness and minister of the salvation which comes from God, so he actually took upon him human feelings as far as the office which he had undertaken allowed. And it is necessary that we should always give due consideration to the character which he sustains when he speaks or when he is employed in accomplishing the salvation of men. In order that he may execute faithfully his Father's commission, as in this passage, he must necessarily desire that the fruit of the redemption should come to the whole body of the elect people. Since, therefore, he was given to this people as a minister for salvation, it is in accordance with the nature of his office that he should deplore its destruction. He was God, I acknowledge; but on all occasions when it was necessary that he should perform the office of teacher, his divinity rested and was in a manner concealed that it might not hinder what belonged to him as Mediator. By this weeping he proved not only that he loved like a brother those for whose sake he became man, but also that God made to flow into human nature the spirit of fatherly love.

"For all these out of their abundance have thrown into the offering of God, but she
out of her poverty has thrown in all the living which she had" (Luke 21:4)

This reply of Christ contains a highly useful doctrine: that whatever men offer to God ought to be estimated not by its apparent value, but only by the feeling of the heart; and that the holy affection of him who according to his small means offers to God the little that he has, is more worthy of esteem than that of him who offers a hundred times more out of his abundance. In two ways this doctrine is useful. The poor, who appear not to have the power of doing good, are encouraged by our Lord not to hesitate to express their affection cheerfully out of their slender means. For if they consecrate themselves, their offering, which appears to be mean and worthless, will not be less valuable than if they had presented all the treasures of Croesus. On the other hand, those who possess greater abundance and who have received from God larger communications are reminded that it is not enough if in the amount of their beneficence they greatly surpass the poor and common people, because it is of less value in the sight of God that a rich man out of a vast heap should bestow a moderate sum than that a poor man, by giving very little, should exhaust his store.

This widow must have been a person of no ordinary piety, who, rather than come empty into the presence of God, chose to part with her own living. And our Lord applauds this sincerity, because forgetting herself she wished to testify that she and all that she possessed belonged to God. In like manner the chief sacrifice which God requires from us is self-denial. As to the sacred offerings, it is probable that they were not at that time applied properly or to lawful purposes; but as the service of the Law was still in force, Christ does not reject them. And certainly the abuses of men could not prevent the sincere worshippers of God from doing what was holy and in accordance with the command of God when they offered for sacrifices and other pious uses.

"And he [the malefactor] said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when you shall come
into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42)

I know not that since the creation of the world there ever was a more remarkable and striking example of faith; and so much the greater admiration is due to the grace of the Holy Spirit of which it affords so magnificent a display. A robber, who not only had not been educated in the school of Christ, but, by giving himself up to execrable murders, had endeavored to extinguish all sense of what was right, suddenly rises higher than all the apostles and the other disciples whom the Lord himself had taken so much pains to instruct. And not only so, but he adores Christ as a King while on the gallows, celebrates his kingdom in the midst of shocking and worse than revolting abasement, and declares him, when dying, to be the Author of life. Even if he had formerly possessed right faith and heard many things about the office of Christ, and had even been confirmed in it by his miracles, still that knowledge might have been overpowered by the thick darkness of so disgraceful a death. But that a person ignorant and uneducated, and whose mind was altogether corrupted, should all at once on receiving his earliest instructions perceive salvation and heavenly glory in the accursed cross, was truly astonishing. For what marks or ornaments of royalty did he see in Christ so as to raise his mind to his kingdom? And certainly this was, as it were, from the depth of hell to rise above the heavens. To the flesh it must have appeared to be fabulous and absurd to ascribe to one who was rejected and despised (Isa. 53:3), whom the world could not endure, an earthly kingdom more exalted than all the empires of the world. Hence we infer how acute must have been the eyes of his mind by which he beheld life in death, exaltation in ruin, glory in shame, victory in destruction, a kingdom in bondage.

Now, if a robber by his faith elevated Chris (while hanging on the cross and, as it were, overwhelmed with cursing) to a heavenly throne, woe to our sloth if we do not behold him with reverence while sitting at the right hand of God; if we do not fix our hope of life on his resurrection; if our aim is not towards heaven where he has entered. Again, if we consider, on the other hand, the condition in which he was when he implored the compassion of Christ, our admiration of his faith will be still heightened. With a mangled body and almost dead, he is looking for the last stroke of the executioner, and yet he relies on the grace of Christ alone. First, whence came his assurance of pardon, except that in the death of Christ, which all others look upon as detestable, he beholds a sacrifice of sweet savor, efficacious for expiating the sins of the world? And when he courageously disregards his tortures, and is even so forgetful of himself that he is carried away to the hope and desire of the hidden life, this goes far beyond the human faculties. From this teacher, therefore, whom the Lord has appointed over us to humble the pride of the flesh, let us not be ashamed to learn the mortification of the flesh, patience and elevation of faith, steadiness of hope, and ardor of piety. For the more eagerly any man follows him, so much the more nearly will he approach to Christ.

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