Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 6:19-21; LUKE 12:33-34
19. Lay not up for yourselves treasures on the earth, where rust and the moth consume, where theives break through and steal. 20. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. 21. For where your treasure shall be, there will also your heart be.
33. Sell what ye possess, and give alms. Prepare for yourselves bags, which do not grow old, a treasure in heaven which does not fail, where the theif approaches not, nor moth corrupteth. 34. For where your treasure shall be, there will also your heart be.
Matthew 6:19. Lay not up. This deadly plague reigns everywhere throughout the world. Men are grown mad with an insatiable desire of gain. Christ charges them with folly, in collecting wealth with great care, and then giving up their happiness to moths and to rust, or exposing it as a prey to thieves. What is more unreasonable than to place their property, where it may perish of itself, or be carried off by men? 450 Covetous men, indeed, take no thought of this. They lock up their riches in well-secured chests, but cannot prevent them from being exposed to thieves or to moths They are blind and destitute of sound judgment, who give themselves so much toil and uneasiness in amassing wealth, which is liable to putrefaction, or robbery, or a thousand other accidents: particularly, when God allows us a place in heaven for laying up a treasure, and kindly invites us to enjoy riches which never perish.
20. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven They are said to do so, who, instead of entangling themselves in the snares of this world, make it their care and their business to meditate on the heavenly life. In Luke’s narrative, no mention is made of the contrast between laying up treasures on the earth and laying up treasures in heaven; and he refers to a different occasion for the command of Christ to prepare bags, which do not grow old: for he had previously said, Sell what you possess, and give alms It is a harsh and unpleasant thing for men to strip themselves of their own wealth; and with the view of alleviating their uneasiness, he holds out a large and magnificent hope of remuneration. Those who assist their poor brethren on the earth lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, according to the saying of Solomon,
“He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth to the Lord, and that which he hath given will he pay him again,”
The command to sell possessions must not be literally interpreted, as if a Christian were not at liberty to retain any thing for himself. He only intended to show, that we must not be satisfied with bestowing on the poor what we can easily spare, but that we must not refuse to part with our estates, if their revenue does not supply the wants of the poor. His meaning is, “Let your liberality go so far as to lessen your patrimony, and dispose of your lands.”
21. Where your treasure shall be By this statement Christ proves that they are unhappy men who have their treasures laid up on the earth: because their happiness is uncertain and of short duration. Covetous men cannot be prevented from breathing in their hearts a wish for heaven: but Christ lays down an opposite principle, that, wherever men imagine the greatest happiness to be, there they are surrounded and confined. Hence it follows, that they who desire to be happy in the world 451 renounce heaven. We know how carefully the philosophers conducted their inquiries respecting the supreme good. 452 It was the chief point on which they bestowed their labor, and justly: for it is the principle on which the regulation of our life entirely depends, and the object to which all our senses are directed. If honor is reckoned the supreme good, the minds of men must be wholly occupied with ambition: if money, covetousness will immediately predominate: if pleasure, it will be impossible to prevent men from sinking into brutal indulgence. We have all a natural desire to pursue happiness; 453 and the consequence is, that false imaginations carry us away in every direction. But if we were honestly and firmly convinced that our happiness is in heaven, it would be easy for us to trample upon the world, to despise earthly blessings, (by the deceitful attractions of which the greater part of men are fascinated,) and to rise towards heaven. For this reason Paul, with the view of exciting believers to look upwards, and of exhorting them to meditate on the heavenly life, (Col 3:1,) presents to them Christ, in whom alone they ought to seek perfect happiness; thus declaring, that to allow their souls to grovel on the earth would be inconsistent and unworthy of those whose treasure is in heaven
“Ou bien perir d'eux-mesmes, encores que personne n'y touche;” — “or even perish of themselves, though nobody touch them.”
“Ceux qui demandent d'estre riches et a leur aise en ce monde;”— those who are eager to be rich and at their ease in this world.”
“Nous savons comment les Philosophes se sont amusez a traiter subtilemerit du souverain bien des hommes.” — “We know to what trouble the Philosophers submitted in ingenious discussions about the supreme good of men.” — “The allusion is chiefly to the Greeks: for the philosophy of the Romans was at second hand, though nothing can be more ingenious or beautiful than the reasonings of Cicero in his Dissertations “De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum.” He inquires into the τέλος, or end, of good and evil actions. In examining the principles of Epicurus, he professes to feel very much at ease, but approaches the Stoics with greater respect, and acknowledges the ability with which they had conducted their argument. The perusal of the whole treatise will gratify a reader prepared to accompany powerful minds in their most intricate researches, or to hail abstruse disquisition clothed in the choicest language by one who, as Robert Hall said of Pascal, “can invest the severest logic with the charms of the most beautiful composition, and render the most profound argumentation as entertaining as a romance.” But those studies have a far higher value. When we see the greatest minds tasked to their utmost strength, and yet utterly failing to discover, by unassisted reason, the path which leads to happiness, we appreciate more highly Leland's argument “On the advantage and necessity of Divine Revelation,” and bless the name of the Great Prophet, who hath brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel, (2Ti 1:10.) — Ed.
“Car naturellement nous tendons tous a desirer ce qui nous semble estre le souverain bien.” — “For we have all a natural tendency to desire what appears to us to be the supreme good.”