Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 7:12-14; LUKE 6:31
12. All things, therefore, whatsoever you would wish that man should do to you, do so also to them: for this is the Law and the Prophets. 13. Enter in by the strait gate: because broad is the gate, and wide is the road, which leadeth to destruction, and there are many who enter by it. 14. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the road, which leadeth to life, and there are few who find it.
31. And as you wish that men should do to you, do you also to them likewise.
Matthew 7:12. All things whatsoever you would wish The word therefore (οὖν) is superfluous, as we often find such particles occurring, and without any addition to the sense, in detached sentences. 467 I have already said, that Matthew does not give here a single discourse, but a summary of doctrine collected out of many sermons. We must, therefore, read this sentence by itself. It is an exhortation to his disciples to be just, and contains a short and simple definition of what justice means. We are here informed, that the only reason why so many quarrels exist in the world, and why men inflict so many mutual injuries on each other, is, that they knowingly and willingly trample justice under their feet, while every man rigidly demands that it shall be maintained towards himself.
Where our own advantage is concerned, there is not one of us, who cannot explain minutely and ingeniously what ought to be done. And since every man shows himself to be a skillful teacher of justice for his own advantage, how comes it, that the same knowledge does not readily occur to him, when the profit or loss of another is at stake, but because we wish to be wise for ourselves only, and no man cares about his neighbors? What is more, we maliciously and purposely shut our eyes upon the rule of justice, which shines in our hearts. Christ therefore shows, that every man may be a rule of acting properly and justly towards his neighbors, if he do to others what he requires to be done to him. He thus refutes all the vain pretenses, which men contrive for hiding or disguising their injustice. Perfect justice would undoubtedly prevail among us, if we were as faithful in learning active charity, (if we may use the expression,) as we are skillful in teaching passive charity. 468
For this is the law and the prophets Our Lord does not intend to say, that this is the only point of doctrine laid down in the law and the prophets, but that all the precepts which they contain about charity, and all the laws and exhortations found in them about maintaining justice, have a reference to this object. The meaning is, that the second table of the law is fulfilled, when every man conducts himself in the same manner towards others, as he wishes them to conduct themselves towards him. There is no need, he tells us, of long and involved debates, if this simplicity is preserved, and if men do not, by inordinate self-love, efface the rectitude which is engraven on their hearts.
13. Enter in by the strait gate As nothing is more opposed to the flesh than the doctrine of Christ, no man will ever make great proficiency in it who has not learned to confine his senses and feelings, so as to keep them within those boundaries, which our heavenly Teacher prescribes for curbing our wantonness. As men willingly flatter themselves, and live in gaiety and dissipation, Christ here reminds his disciples, that they must prepare to walk, as it were, along a narrow and thorny road But as it is difficult to restrain our desires from wicked licentiousness and disorder, he soothes this bitterness by a joyful remuneration, when he tells us, that the narrow gate, and the narrow road, lead to life Lest we should be captivated, on the other hand, by the allurements of a licentious and dissolute life, and wander as the lust of the flesh draws us, 469 he declares that they rush headlong to death, who choose to walk along the broad road, and through the wide gate, instead of keeping by the strait gate, and narrow way, which lead to life
He expressly says, that many run along the broad road: because men ruin each other by wicked examples. 470 For whence does it arise, that each of them knowingly and wilfully rushes headlong, but because, while they are ruined in the midst of a vast crowd, they do not believe that they are ruined? The small number of believers, on the other hand, renders many persons careless. It is with difficulty that we are brought to renounce the world, and to regulate ourselves and our life by the manners of a few. We think it strange that we should be forcibly separated from the vast majority, as if we were not a part of the human race. But though the doctrine of Christ confines and hems us in, reduces our life to a narrow road, separates us from the crowd, and unites us to a few companions, yet this harshness ought not to prevent us from striving to obtain life.
It is sufficiently evident from Luke’s Gospel, that the instruction, which we are now considering, was uttered by Christ at a different time from that on which he delivered the paradoxes, 471 which we have formerly examined, about a happy life, (Mt 5:3-12,) and laid down to them the rule of prayer. And this is what I have repeatedly hinted, that the instructions which are related by the other Evangelists, at different times, according to the order of the history, were here collected by Matthew into one summary, that he might bring more fully under our view the manner in which Christ taught his disciples. I have therefore thought it best to introduce here the whole passage from Luke, which corresponds to this sentence. While I have been careful to inform my readers, as to the order of time which is observed by Luke, they will forgive me, I hope, for not being more exact 472 than Matthew in the arrangement of the doctrine.
Greek proverbs, even when exhibited in a detached form, are frequently introduced by ἀλλὰ and γὰρ, and similar particles, instances of which must be familiar to the classical reader. ̔Αλλ ᾿ οὐ τὸ μέγα ευ ἐστι, τὸ δὲ εὖ μέγα. “But not what is great is excellent, but what is excellent is great.” ́̔Ινα γὰρ δέος, ἔνθα καὶ αἰδὼς” For where fear is, there also is shame.” Πόνος γὰρ ὡς λέγουσιν, εὐκλεϊης, πατὴρ. “For labor, as they say, is the father of glory. The fact chiefly to be noticed here is, that such particles came to be regarded as a part of the proverb, and were hardly ever separated from it: though their use must originally have been elliptical, like that of γὰρ, which opens many a reply in Greek dialogues. — Ed.
“Si nous estions aussi bons disciples a prattiquer la charite active (si ainsi faut dire) comme nous sommes subtils docteurs a prescher la charite passive.” — “If we were as good scholars in practising active charity, (if I may so express it,) as we are dexterous instructors in preaching passive charity.”
(“Comme facilement les appetits de la chair nous tirent en leurs filets;”) —(“as the appetites of the flesh easily draw us into their nets.”)
“Pource que les hommes se poussent les uns les autres au chemin de damnation par mauvais exemple;” — “because men urge each other on in the road to damnation by bad example.”
“Quand il a prononce ces sentences que nous avons veues par ci de-vant, monstrant tout au contraire de l’opinion commune;” — “when he pronounced those sentences which we have formerly seen, showing it to be altogether contrary to the common opinion.”
“Si je n'ay pas este plus scrupuleux ou curieux en conferant les passages tendans a un mesme poinct de doctrine;” — “if I have not been more careful or exact in comparing the passages relating to the same point of doctrine.”