Matthew 9:1. And came into his own city. This passage shows, that Capernaum was generally believed to be the birth-place of Christ, because his visits to it were frequent: for there is no room to doubt, that it is the same history which is related by the three Evangelists, though some circumstances may be more exactly related by one of them than by another. Luke says that scribes had come from various parts of Judea, who were spectators when Christ healed the paralytic; and at the same time states indirectly, that there were others who also received healing through the grace of Christ. For, before he comes to the paralytic, he speaks in the plural number, and says, that the power of God was displayed for healing their diseases; the power of the Lord was present to heal them The glory of this miracle was very remarkable. A man destitute of the use of all his limbs, lying on a bed, and lowered by cords, suddenly rises up in health, vigor, and agility. Another special reason why the Evangelists dwell more on this miracle than on others is, that the scribes were offended at Christ for claiming power and authority to forgive sins; while Christ intended to confirm and seal that authority by a visible sign.
2. And when Jesus saw their faith. It is God alone, indeed, who knows faith: but they had given evidence of faith by the laboriousness of that attempt: for they would never have submitted to so much trouble, nor contended with such formidable hindrances, if they had not derived courage from entire confidence of success. The fruit of their faith appeared in their not being wearied out, when they found the entrance closed up on all sides. The view which some take of these words, that Christ, as a divine person, knew their faith, which lay concealed within them, appears to me a forced interpretation.
Now, as Christ granted to their faith the favor which he bestowed on the paralytic, a question is usually raised on this passage how far do men derive advantage from the faith of others? And, first, it is certain, that the faith of Abraham was of advantage to his posterity, when he embraced the free covenant offered to him and to his seed. We must hold a similar belief with regard to all believers, that, by their faith, the grace of God is extended to their children and their children’s children even before they are born. The same thing takes place in infants, who are not yet of such an age as to be capable of faith. With regard to adults, on the other hand, who have no faith of their own, (whether they be strangers, or allied by blood,) the faith of others can have nothing more than an indirect influence in promoting the eternal salvation of their souls. As the prayers, by which we ask that God will turn unbelievers to repentance, are not without advantage, our faith is evidently of such advantage to them, that they do not arrive at salvation, till they have been made partakers of the same faith with us in answer to our prayers. But where there is a mutual agreement in faith, it is well known that they promote the salvation of each other. It is also beyond all question, that earthly blessings are often, for the sake of the godly, bestowed on unbelievers.
With regard to the present passage, though Christ is said to have been moved by the faith of others, yet the paralytic could not have obtained the forgiveness of his sins, if he had had no faith of his own. Unworthy persons were often restored by Christ to health of body, as God daily maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, (Matthew 5:45) but there is no other way in which he is reconciled to us than by faith. There is a synecdoche, therefore, in the word their, when it is said that Jesus saw their faith: for Christ not only looked at those who brought the paralytic, but looked also at his faith.
Thy sins are forgiven thee. Christ appears here to promise to the paralytic something different from what he had requested: but, as he intends to bestow health of body, he begins with removing the cause of the disease, and at the same time reminds the paralytic of the origin of his disease, and of the manner in which he ought to arrange his prayers. As men usually do not consider that the afflictions which they endure are God’s chastisements, they desire nothing more than some alleviation in the flesh, and, in the meantime, feel no concern about their sins: just as if a sick man were to disregard his disease, and to seek only relief from present pain.509 But the only way of obtaining deliverance from all evils is to have God reconciled to us. It does sometimes happen, that wicked men are freed from their distresses, while God is still their enemy: but when they think that they have completely escaped, the same evils immediately return, or more numerous and heavier calamities overwhelm them, which make it manifest that they will not be mitigated or terminated. until the wrath of God shall be appeased, as God declares by the Prophet Amos
If thou escape a lion, a bear shall meet thee;
if thou shut thyself up at home, a serpent shall bite thee,
Thus it appears that this is a frequent and ordinary way of speaking in the Scriptures, to promise the pardon of sins, when the mitigation of punishments is sought. It is proper to attend to this order in our prayers. When the feeling of afflictions reminds us of our sins, let us first of all be careful to obtain pardon, that, when God is reconciled to us, he may withdraw his hand from punishing.
3. And, lo, some of the scribes They accuse Christ of blasphemy and sacrilege, because he claims for himself what is God’s prerogative. The other two Evangelists tell us also that they said, Who can forgive sins but God alone? It is beyond all question, that their eagerness to slander drove them to this wicked conclusion. If they think that there is any thing which deserves blame, why do they not inquire into it?510 Besides, as the expression admits of more than one meaning, and as Christ said nothing more than what the Prophets frequently say when they announce the grace of God, why do they take in a bad sense what admits of a favorable interpretation? They must have been already poisoned by malice and envy, otherwise they would not so eagerly have seized an occasion of blaming Christ. They remain silent, but think in their hearts, that they may slander him when absent among people of their own class. It is no doubt true, that God alone has power and authority to forgive sins: but they are wrong in concluding that it does not belong to Christ, for he is God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16.) They had a right to inquire on what grounds Christ laid claim to such authority: but, without any inquiry, they suppose him to be one of the common rank of men, and proceed rashly to condemn him.
4. And when Jesus saw their thoughts He now gives a proof of his Divinity in bringing to light their secret thoughts: for who knoweth the things of a man but the spirit of man which is in him? (1 Corinthians 2:11.) And so Mark adds, that Jesus knew by his Spirit: which means, that what was concealed in their hearts could not be perceived by man, but that Christ by his Divine Spirit knew it thoroughly. Why do you think evil? This does not imply that it gave them pain to see a mortal man assuming what God claims as his own prerogative, but that they proudly and wickedly rejected God, who was openly manifested to them.
5. Whether is it easier to say? The meaning is, that, as it is not easier to quicken by a word a body which is nearly dead than to forgive sins, there is no reason to wonder that he forgives sins, when he has accomplished the other. The argument which our Lord uses may appear to be not well-founded: for, in proportion as the soul is more excellent than the body, the forgiveness of sins is a greater work than the healing of the body. But the reply is easy. Christ adapts his discourse to their capacity: for, being carnal, they were more powerfully affected by outward signs, than by all the spiritual power of Christ, which related to eternal salvation. Thus he proves the efficacy of the Gospel for quickening men from the fact, that at the last day he will raise the dead by his voice out of their graves.
Wonder not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all who are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth,
This was a sufficiently powerful argument to refute those who reckoned a visible miracle of more importance than all things else. They could not say that he had no right to forgive the sins of the paralytic, when he restored to him health and rigour: for this was a result which followed from the forgiveness of sins.
6. That the Son of man hath authority on earth. This authorityis very different from what was given to the apostles, and from what is now exercised by the pastors of the Church: for they cannot so properly be said to pardon sins, as to declare that they are pardoned, when they deliver the commission which is entrusted to them. By these words Christ declares that he is not only the minister and witness, but likewise the author, of this grace. But what means this restriction, on earth? Of what avail will it be to us to have obtained pardon here, if it be not ratified in heaven? Christ’s meaning was, that forgiveness of sins ought not to be sought from a distance: for he exhibits it to men in his own person, and as it were in his hands. So strong is our inclination to distrust, that we never venture to believe that God is merciful to us, till he draws near, and speaks familiarly to us. Now, as Christ descended to earth for the purpose of exhibiting to men the grace of God as present, he is said to forgive sins visibly, because in him and by him the will of God was revealed which, according to the perception of the flesh, had been formerly hidden above the clouds.
8. And the multitudes who saw Instead of astonishment which Matthew mentions,511 the other two Evangelists employ the word ἔκστασις, or amazement: and Luke adds fear But the design of all the Evangelists is to show, that the power of God was not merely acknowledged, but that all were struck with astonishment, and compelled to give glory to God. The fear, which followed the astonishment, had the effect of preventing them from opposing Christ, and of making them submit to him with reverence as a Prophet of God. Matthew expressly says, that they glorified God, who had given such authority to men Here they appear to be partly mistaken: for, though they see a man with their eyes, they ought to have perceived in him, by the mind, something higher than man. They are no doubt right in saying, that the nature of man received great honor in Christ for the general advantage of the human race: but as they do not perceive him to be God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:6,) their confession is involved in some error.512 In a word, it was true, that God gave such authority tomen: but the form and manner of giving was not yet understood by those who were not aware that the majesty of God was united to flesh.
Matthew 9:9. Jesus saw a man sitting at the customhouse. The custom-house has usually been a place noted for plundering and for unjust exactions, and was at that time particularly infamous. In the choice of Matthew out of that place, not only to be admitted into the family of Christ, but even to be called to the office of Apostle, we have a striking instance of the grace of God. It was the intention of Christ to choose simple and ignorant persons to that rank, in order to cast down the wisdom of the world, (1 Corinthians 2:6.) But this publican, who followed an occupation little esteemed and involved in many abuses, was selected for additional reasons, that he might be an example of Christ’s undeserved goodness, and might show in his person that the calling of all of us depends, not on the merits of our own righteousness, but on his pure kindness. Matthew, therefore, was not only a witness and preacher, but was also a proof and illustration of the grace exhibited in Christ. he gives evidence of his gratitude in not being ashamed to hand down for perpetual remembrance the record of what he formerly was, and whence he was taken, that he might more fully illustrate in his person the grace of Christ. In the same manner Paul says:
This is a faithful saying, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief, (1 Timothy 1:15.)
Follow me There is no reason to doubt that Christ explained in many words why he was called, and on what conditions. This is more fully ascertained from Luke, who says, that he left all, rose up, and followed Christ: for it would not have been necessary for him to leave all, if he had not been a private disciple of Christ, and called in expectation of the Apostleship. In the great readiness and eagerness of Matthew to obey, we see the Divine power of the word of Christ. Not that all in whose ears he utters his voice are equally affected in their hearts: but in this man Christ intended to give a remarkable example, that we might know that his calling was not from man.518
Matthew 9:11. Why does your Master eat with publicans and sinners? The scribes attack the disciples of Christ, and, with the view of soliciting them to revolt, reproach him with what was at first sight base and shameful.” Of what use was it that he should be their Master, if it were not to withdraw them from the majority of men to lead a holier life? On the contrary, he withdrew them from a respectable and passable condition in life to ungodly licentiousness, and to pollute themselves by wicked companions.” Ignorant and wavering disciples might have been induced by such reproaches to desert their Master. But they act properly when, not finding themselves sufficiently fortified against such a calumny, they carry their complaint to their Master: for Christ, by opposing the scribes, confirms his disciples for the future.
12. Not they who are in health need a physician It is evident from Christ’s reply that the scribes erred in two ways: they did not take into account the office of Christ; and, while they spared their own vices, they proudly despised all others. This deserves our particular attention, for it is a disease which has been always very general. Hypocrites, being satisfied and intoxicated with a foolish confidence in their own righteousness, do not consider the purpose for which Christ was sent into the world, and do not acknowledge the depth of evils in which the human race is plunged, or the dreadful wrath and curse of God which lies on all, or the accumulated load of vices which weighs them down.
The consequence is, that they are too stupid to feel the miseries of men, or to think of a remedy. While they flatter themselves, they cannot endure to be placed in their own rank, and think that injustice is done them, when they are classed with transgressors. Our Lord glances at this second error by replying, that they who are in health have no need of a physician It is an ironical admission,520 and is intended to show that they are offended when they see sinners, because they claim righteousness for themselves. Because you are in health, (he says,) you despise the sick, are offended at them, and cannot endure the sight of them: but a physician ought to be affected in a very different manner. He afterwards points out that he must discharge the duties of a physician, because he has been sent by the Father to call sinners
Though Christ begins with reproof, yet if we desire to make progress in his doctrine, what he has put in the second place must receive our first consideration. He came to quicken the dead, to justify the guilty and condemned, to wash those who were polluted and full of uncleanness, to rescue the lost from hell, to clothe with his glory those who were covered with shame, to renew to a blessed immortality those who were debased by disgusting vices. If we consider that this was his office and the end of his coming, — if we remember that this was the reason why he took upon him our flesh, why he shed his blood, why he offered the sacrifice of his death, why he descended even to hell, we will never think it strange that he should gather to salvation those who have been the worst of men, and who have been covered with a mass of crimes.
He whom you detest appears to you to be unworthy of the grace of Christ. Why then was Christ himself made a sacrifice and a curse, but that he might stretch out his hand to accursed sinners? Now, if we feel disgust at being associated by Baptism and the Lord’s Supper with vile men, and regard our connection with them as a sort of stain upon us, we ought immediately to descend into ourselves, and to search without flattery our own evils. Such an examination will make us willingly allow ourselves to be washed in the same fountain with the most impure, and will hinder us from rejecting the righteousness which he offers indiscriminately to all the ungodly, the life which he offers to the dead, and the salvation which he offers to the lost.
13. But rather go and learn He dismisses and orders them to depart, because he saw that they were obstinate and unwilling to learn. Or rather he explains to them, that they are contending with God and the Prophet, when, in pride and cruelty, they are offended at relief which is given to the wretched, and at medicine which is administered to the sick. This quotation is made from Hosea 6:6:
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice;
and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings.
The subject of the prophet’s discourse had been the vengeance of God against the Jews. That they might not excuse themselves by saying that they were performing the outward worship of God, (as they were wont to boast in a careless manner about their ceremonies,) he declares that God has no delight in sacrifices, when their minds are destitute of piety, and when their conduct is at variance with uprightness and righteousness. That the statement, I desired not sacrifice, must be understood comparatively, is evident from the second clause, that the knowledge of God is better than burnt-offerings By these words he does not absolutely reject burnt-offerings, but places them in a rank inferior to piety and faith. We ought to hold, that faith and spiritual worship are in themselves pleasing to God, and that charity and the duties of humanity towards our neighbors are in themselves required; but that sacrifices are but appendages, so to speak, which are of no value or estimation, where substantial truth is not found. On this subject I have treated more fully at the tenth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It ought to be observed that there is a synecdoche in the word mercy: for under one head the prophet embraces all the kindness which we owe to our brethren.
For I came not Though this was spoken for the purpose of reproving the pride and hypocrisy of the scribes, yet it contains, in a general form, a very profitable doctrine. We are reminded that the grace of Christ is of no advantage to us, unless when, conscious of our sins, and groaning under their load, we approach to him with humility. There is also something here which is fitted to elevate weak consciences to a firm assurance: for we have no reason to fear that Christ will reject sinners, to call whom he descended from his heavenly glory. But we must also attend to the expression, to repentance: which is intended to inform us that pardon is granted to us, not to cherish our sins, but to recall us to the earnestness of a devout and holy life. He reconciles us to the Father on this condition, that, being redeemed by his blood, we may present ourselves true sacrifices, as Paul tells us:
The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and righteously, and devoutly in this world, (Titus 2:11,12.)
Matthew 9:14. Then come to him the disciples of John. Luke represents the Pharisees as speaking: Mark appears to connect both. And, indeed, there is no room to doubt that the Pharisees maliciously endeavored, by this stratagem, to draw the disciples of John to their party, and to produce a quarrel between them and the disciples of Christ. A resemblance in prayers and fastings was a plausible pretext for associating at this time: while the different manner in which Christ acted was an occasion of enmity and dislike to men whose temper was unamiable, and who were excessively devoted to themselves.
This example reminds us, that prudence and caution are necessary to prevent wicked and cunning men from sowing divisions among us on any slight grounds. Satan has a wonderful dexterity, no doubt, in laying those snares; and it is an easy matter to distress us about a trifle.523 But we ought especially to beware lest the unity of faith be destroyed, or the bond of charity broken, on account of outward ceremonies. Almost all labor under the disease of attaching undue importance to the ceremonies and elements of the world, as Paul calls them, (Galatians 4:3; Colossians 2:8😉 and accordingly they do not hesitate, for the most part, to prefer the merest rudiments to the highest perfection. This is followed by another evil arising out of fastidiousness and pride, when every man would willingly compel the whole world to copy his example. If any thing pleases us, we forthwith desire to make it a law, that others may live according to our pleasure.
When we read that the disciples of John were caught by these snares of Satan, let us first learn not to place holiness in outward and indifferent matters, and at the same time to restrain ourselves by moderation and equity, that we may not desire to restrict others to what we approve, but may allow every one to retain his freedom. As to fasting and prayers, it ought to be understood, that John gave his disciples a particular training, and that for this purpose they had stated days for fastings, a settled form, and fixed hours of prayer. Now, I reckon those prayers among outward observances. For, though calling on God holds the first rank in spiritual worship, yet that method of doing it was adapted to the unskilfulness of men, and is justly reckoned among ceremonies and indifferent matters, the observance of which ought not to be too strictly enjoined. Of the reason why John’s discipline was more severe than that of Christ we have already spoken, and a more convenient opportunity for treating of it will again occur.
15. Can the children of the bridegroom mourn? Christ apologizes for his disciples on the score of the season, alleging that God was still pleased to indulge them in joyous feelings, as if they were present at a marriage: for he compares himself to the bridegroom, who enlivens his friends by his presence. Chrysostomthinks that this comparison was taken from the testimony of John the Baptist, He that hath the bride is the bridegroom, (John 3:29.) I have no objection to that view, though I do not think that it rests on solid grounds. Let us be satisfied with Christ’s declaration, that he spares his disciples, and treats them with gentleness, so long as he is with them. That none may envy them advantages which are of short duration, he gives warning that they will very soon be treated with greater harshness and severity.
The apology rests on this consideration, that fasting and prayers are adapted to sorrow and adversity: extraordinary prayers I mean, such as are here mentioned. Christ certainly intended to accustom them, by degrees, to greater patience, and not to lay on them a heavy burden, till they gained more strength. Hence we ought to learn a twofold instruction. When the Lord sometimes endures the weakness of our brethren, and acts towards them with gentleness, while he treats us with greater severity, we have no right to murmur. Again, when we sometimes obtain relief from sorrow and from vexations, let us beware of giving ourselves up to enjoyments; but let us, on the contrary, remember that the nuptials will not always last. The children of the bridegroom, or of the nuptial bed, is a Hebrew phrase, which denotes the guests at a marriage.524
16. And no man putteth a piece of fresh cloth. He supports the preceding statement by two comparisons, one of which is taken from garments, and the other from vessels of wine Those who think that he compares worn-out garments and decayed bottles to the Pharisees, and new wine and fresh cloth to the doctrine of the gospel, have no probability on their side. The comparison is beautifully adapted to the matter in hand, if we explain it as referring to the weak and tender disciples of Christ, and to a discipline more strict than they were able to bear. Nor is it of any consequence that the idea of being old does not agree with scholars who were only commencing: for, when Christ compares his disciples to old bottles and torn garments, he does not mean that they were wasted by long use, but that they were weak and wanted strength. The amount of the statement is, that all must not be compelled indiscriminately to live in the same manner, for there is a diversity of natural character, and all things are not suitable to all; and particularly, we ought to spare the weak, that they may not be broken by violence, or crushed by the weight of the burden. Our Lord speaks according to the custom of the country, when he uses the word bottles instead of tuns or casks525
Matthew 9:18. While he was speaking these things to them.Those who imagine that the narrative, which is here given by Mark and Luke, is different from that of Matthew, are so clearly refuted by the passage itself, that there is no necessity for a lengthened debate. All the three agree in saying that Christ was requested by a ruler of the synagogue to enter his house for the purpose of curing his daughter The only difference is, that the name of Jairus, which is withheld by Matthew, is mentioned by Mark and Luke; and that he represents the father as saying, My daughter is dead, while the other two say that she was in her last moments, and that, while he was bringing Christ, her death was announced to him on the road. But there is no absurdity in saying that Matthew, studying brevity, merely glances at those particulars which the other two give in minute detail. But since all the other points agree with such exactness, since so many circumstances conspire as to give it the appearance of three fingers stretched out at the same time to point out a single object, there is no argument that would justify us in dividing this history into various dates. The Evangelists agree in relating, that while Christ, at the request of a ruler of the synagogue, was coming to his house, a woman on the road was secretly cured of a bloody flux by touching his cloak; and that afterwards Christ came into the ruler’s house, and raised a dead young woman to life. There is no necessity, I think, for circuitous language to prove that all the three relate the same event. Let us now come to details.
Lo, a certain ruler. Though it is evident from the other two, that his confidence had not advanced so far as to hope that his daughter’s life could be restored, there is no room to doubt that, after having been reproved by Christ, he entertained a stronger hope than when he left his house. But Matthew, as we have said, studies brevity, and puts down at the very beginning of his narrative what took place at various times. The manner in which the history must be arranged is this: Jairus first requested that his daughter might be cured of her disease, and afterwards that she might be restored from death to life; that is, after that Christ had given him courage to do so. Worship, or adoration, is here put for kneeling, as is evident from the words of Mark and Luke: for Jairus did not render divine honor to Christ,527 but treated him with respect as a prophet of God; and we all know how common a practice kneeling was among eastern nations.
Come and lay thy hand. We have here a bright mirror in which the divine condescension towards us is beheld. If you compare the ruler of the synagogue with the centurion, who was a heathen, (Matthew 8:5-10,) you will say that the full brightness of faith shone in the centurion, while scarcely the smallest portion of it was visible in the ruler He ascribes to Christ no power except through his touching the person; and, when he has received information of her death, he trembles as if there were no farther remedy. We see, then, that his faith was feeble and nearly exhausted. Yet Christ yields to his prayers, and encourages him to expect a favorable result, and thus proves to us that his faith, however small it might be, was not wholly rejected. Though we have not such abundance of faith as might be desired, there is no reason why our weakness should drive away or discourage us from prayer.
20. And, lo, a woman who had been afflicted with a bloody flux. For twelve successive years the bloody flux had lasted, and the woman was so far from being negligent in seeking remedies, that she had spent all her substance on physicians All this is expressly stated by the Evangelists, that the miracle may shine with brighter glory. When an incurable disease was removed so suddenly, and by the mere touch of a garment, it is perfectly obvious that it was not accomplished by human power. The thought of the woman that, if she only touched Christ’s garment, she would immediately be cured, arose from an extraordinary impulse of the Holy Spirit, and ought not to be regarded as a general rule. We know how eagerly superstition is wont to sport in foolish and thoughtless attempts to copy the saints; but they are apes, and not imitators, who take up some remarkable example without the command of God, and are led rather by their own senses than by the direction of the Spirit.
It is even possible that there was a mixture of sin and error in the woman’s faith, which Christ graciously bears and forgives. Certainly, when she afterwards thinks that she has done wrong, and fears and trembles, there is no apology for that kind of doubt: for it is opposed to faith. Why did she not rather go straight to Christ? If her reverence for him prevented, from what other source than from his mercy did she expect aid? How comes it, then, that she is afraid of offending him, if she was convinced of his favorable regard?
Yet Christ bestows high commendation on her faith. This agrees with what I have lately noticed, that God deals kindly and gently with his people, — accepts their faith, though imperfect and weak, — and does not lay to their charge the faults and imperfections with which it is connected. It was by the guidance of faith, therefore, that the woman approached to Christ. When she stopped at the garment, instead of presenting herself in prayers that she might be cured, inconsiderate zeal may have drawn her a little aside from the right path; particularly as she soon afterwards shows that she had made the attempt with some degree of doubt and uncertainty. Were we even to grant that this was suggested to her by the Spirit, it still remains a fixed rule, that our faith must not be driven hither and thither by particular examples, but ought to rest wholly on the word of God, according to the saying of Paul, Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, (Romans 10:17.) This is a highly necessary warning, that we may not dignify with the name of faith any opinion which has been rashly embraced.
Matthew 9:22. Take courage, my daughter. This expression shows the weakness of her faith for, had there been no impropriety in her trembling, Christ would not have corrected it by exhorting her to take courage Yet, at the same time, he commends her faith; and this supports the view which I have already stated, that, while she sought Christ by the guidance of the Spirit, and from a sincere and pious desire, she hesitated in such a manner as to need to be strengthened. Thus we see that faith, in order to please God, needs forgiveness, and is at the same time sustained by new aid, that it may acquire additional strength. We may here draw a comparison from the health of the body to that of the soul: for, as Christ says that the woman’s deliverance from her disease was the consequence of her faith, so it is certain, that we obtain by faith the forgiveness of sins, which reconciles us to God.
Matthew 9:27. And while Jesus was departing. The other Evangelists say nothing about these two miracles; for, as we have already said, and as John expressly affirms, (21:25,) they did not intend to record every action of Christ, but only to prove, by a brief summary, that he is the Messiah. Now Matthew relates that sight was restored to two blind men, but not so speedily as Christ was wont, on many other occasions, to grant relief to the wretched. While they cry to him on the road, he makes no reply, but, as if he appeared not to notice them, allows them to follow him to his lodging. There he at length asks them what they believe as to his power. Both by action and by words he intended to make trial of their faith; for he holds them in suspense, — nay, passes by as if he did not hear them, — tries their patience, and what root faith had in their heads. When he afterwards inquires if they believe, he pursues the same investigation. But it may be asked, if a man is convinced of the power of God and of Christ, is that enough to make him a believer? for such appears to be the meaning of the words,
28. Do you believe that I can do this? But from other passages of Scripture, it is evident that our knowledge of his power will be cold and unprofitable, if we are not convinced of his willingness. And yet Christ is satisfied with their reply, and applauds their faith, as if it had been all that could be wished. I answer, they had some perception of his grace; for they had already acknowledged him to be the Son of David; bestowing upon him this title as Redeemer of their nation and author of all blessings. He interrogates them, therefore, as to his power, and proceeds farther to inquire if they believe in good earnest. Faith embraces the mercy and fatherly love of God along with his power, and the generous design of Christ along with his ability to save. But as men commonly ascribe less than they ought to do to the power of God and the ability of Christ, there was good reason for proposing this question to the blind men, if they believe that Christ can do what they have professed with their mouth. Indeed, Christ wished simply to know if they were candid in yielding to him the honor of Messiah; and therefore he applauds their faith, because under that low and despicable appearance they acknowledged him to be the Son of David
29. According to your faith. Though the subject of the narrative is a remarkable benefit conferred on two blind men, yet from this declaration of Christ we may draw the general doctrine, that if we pray in faith, we will never sustain a refusal in our prayers. But if those two men, whose faith was small and imperfectly formed, obtained what they wished, much more efficacious will now be the faith of those who, endued with the Spirit of adoption, and relying on the sacrifice of Christ, shah approach to God.
30. And Jesus threatened them Either he wished to have other persons as witnesses of the miracle, or to delay the publication of it till another time. Their conduct in immediately proclaiming it every where is worthy of blame: for the notion entertained by some, that Christ forbade them for the purpose of exciting them the more, has been already refuted. There was, no doubt, some reason for forbidding it, which is unknown to us; and those men, through inconsiderate zeal, spread the rumor before the proper time.
32. They brought to him a dumb man It is probable that this man was not naturally dumb, but that, after he had been given up to the devil,531 he was deprived of the use of speech: for all dumb persons are not demoniacs He was afflicted in such a manner as to make it evident, by visible signs, that his tongue was held bound by a wicked spirit. The exclamation of the multitudes, on his being cured, that nothing like it had ever been seen in Israel, appears to be hyperbolica1:532 for God had formerly revealed his glory among that people by greater miracles. But perhaps they look to the design of the miracle, as the minds of all were at that time prepared to expect the coming of the Messiah. They intended, no doubt, to exalt this instance of the grace of God, without detracting any thing from what had formerly happened. Besides, it ought to be observed, that this was not a premeditated statement, but a sudden burst of admiration.
34. But the Pharisees said Hence it is evident with what rage and fury they were filled, who did not scruple to assail with wicked slander so illustrious a work of God. We ought to observe the contrast between the applause of the people and the blasphemy of those men. The saying of the people, that nothing like it ever happened in Israel, is a confession arising from a sense of the divine glory: which makes it the more evident, that those persons were utterly mad who ventured, as it were, to curse God to his face. We learn from it also, that, when wickedness has reached the height of blindness, there is no work of God, however evident, which it will not pervert. It is, no doubt, monstrous and incredible that mortal men should cry against their Creator: but there is so much the greater reason for dreading that blindness, which arises from the Lord’s vengeance on the wicked after long-suffering.
Matthew 9:35. And Jesus went about This statement is made by way of anticipating an objection, and is intended to inform us that the whole ministry of Christ is not minutely described: for he was constantly employed in the discharge of his office; that is, in proclaiming the doctrine of salvation, and in confirming it by the addition of miracles. The gospel of the kingdom, we have already said, is a designation given to it from its effect,533 for in this way God gathered to himself a people sadly scattered, that he might reign in the midst of them; and, indeed, he erected his throne for the express purpose of bestowing on all his people perfect happiness. Yet let us remember that we must be subject to God, in order that we may be exalted by him to the heavenly glory.
36. He was moved with compassion towards them Hence we infer, first, how great was the indolence of the priests, who, though they were scattered over the whole country, in order to enlighten the people with heavenly doctrine, were slow-bellies, (Titus 1:12.) True, they boasted that they were superintendents of the people; and the number of those who gloried in that title was not small. Yet not one of them does Christ own to be a pastor. A similar confusion may now be observed in Popery, though it is full of persons who are called pastors: for there is a prodigious crowd of those who under the name of clergy, eat up the flock. They are dumb dogs,(Isaiah 56:10,) and yet are not ashamed to make a vehement sound about their hierarchy. But we must listen to the voice of Christ, who declares, that where there are no laborers there are no shepherds, and that those sheep are wandering and scattered which are not collected into the fold of God by the doctrine of the gospel. His being moved with compassion proves him to be the faithful servant of the Father in promoting the salvation of his people, for whose sake he had clothed himself with our flesh. Now that he has been received into heaven, he does not retain the same feelings to which he chose to be liable in this mortal life: yet he has not left off the care of his church, but looks after his wandering sheep, or rather, he gathers his flock which had been cruelly chased and torn by the wolves.
37. The harvest is indeed abundant By this metaphor he intimates, that many of the people are ripe for receiving the gospel. Though the greater number afterwards rejected basely and with vile ingratitude the salvation offered to them, yet the limited number of the elect, who were mixed with unbelievers, is compared to an abundant harvest, because God values a small band of his own people more highly than the rest of the world. Though there were at that time many who assumed this character, yet as few of them discharged it faithfully, he does not rank them among laborers: for he employs the word laborers in a good sense. When Paul complains (2 Corinthians 2:13) of bad laborers, he refers to their boasting: for he would not have bestowed the designation of laborers534 on those who devoted all their exertions to ruin and waste the flock, had it not been that they gloried in the false pretense.
38. Pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest As no man will of himself become a sincere and faithful minister of the gospel, and as none discharge in a proper manner the office of teacher but those whom the Lord raises up and endows with the gifts of his Spirit, whenever we observe a scarcity of pastors, we must raise our eyes to him to afford the remedy. There never was greater necessity for offering this prayer than during the fearful desolation of the church which we now see every where around us.