Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 12:25-32; Mark 3:23-30;
Luke 11:16-23; 12:10
25. But as Jesus knew their thoughts, he said to them, 108 Every kingdom divided against itself shall be laid waste; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand. 26. And if Satan casteth out Satan, he is divided against himself, and how then shall his kingdom stand? 27. And if I, by the assistance of Beelzebub, cast out devils, by whose assistance do your children cast them out? therefore they shall judge concerning you. 109 28. But if by the Spirit of God I cast out devils, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 29. Otherwise, how can a man enter into the house of a strong man, and pillage his property, unless he first bind the strong man, and then he will pillage his house? 30. He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. 31. Therefore I say to you, All sin and blasphemy 110 shall be forgiven to men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven to men. 32. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but he who shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in the present life nor in the future.
23. And having called them to him, he spoke in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? 24. And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26. And if Satan hath risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. 111 27. No man can enter into the house of a strong man, and pillage his property, unless he first bind the strong man, and then he will pillage his house. 28. Verily I say to you, All sins shall be forgiven to the sons of men, and blasphemies with which they shall blaspheme: 29. But he who shall speak blasphemy against the Holy Spirit hath not forgiveness to eternity, 112 but is exposed to eternal judgment. 30. For they said, He hath an unclean spirit. 113
16. And others tempting him sought from him a sign from heaven. 17. But as he knew their thoughts, 114 he said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a house against a house falleth. 115 18. But if Satan also is divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? for you say that by Beelzebub I cast out devils. 19. But if I cast out devils by Beelzebub, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. 20. But if I cast out devils by the finger of God, truly has the kingdom of God come to you. 21. When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his property is at peace; 22. But when a stronger than he cometh upon him, and overcometh him, he taketh from him all his armor, in which he trusted, and divideth his spoils. 23. He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.
And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but he who shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him.
Matthew 12:25. But as Jesus knew their thoughts. Though Christ knew sufficiently well, and had often learned by experience, that the scribes, in the exercise of their malice 116 were in the habit of putting an unfavorable construction on every thing that he did, yet Matthew and Luke, I have no doubt, mean that Christ was a discerner of their hearts. 117 And indeed it is probable, that they spoke so openly against Christ, that their calumnies reached his ears; but Christ knew by his Divine Spirit the dispositions which led them to slander him. For it frequently happens that erroneous judgments are formed by men who do not intentionally, after all, oppose what is right, but err through ignorance; who do not cherish a hidden and concealed venom, but whose rashness carries them headlong. 118 The meaning therefore is, that Christ reproved them with the greater severity, because he was a witness and judge of their inward malice.
Every kingdom divided against itself. In refuting the calumny alleged against him, he first quotes a common proverb. This refutation may appear to be not quite satisfactory. We know what subtle methods Satan sometimes employs, presenting all the while an appearance of discord, in order to entrap the minds of men by superstitions. Thus, for example, the exorcisms of Popery are nothing else than feats of dexterity, in which Satan pretends to fight with himself. But no suspicion of this nature fell on Christ; for he cast out devils in such a manner, as to restore to God the men in whom they dwelt sound and whole. Whenever Satan enters into a collusion with himself, he pretends to be vanquished, and yet it is himself that triumphs. But Christ attacked Satan in open combat, threw him down, and left him nothing remaining. He did not lay him low in one respect, that he might give him greater stability in another, but stripped him completely of all his armor. Christ therefore reasons justly, that there is no community of interest between him and Satan, because that father of cunning 119 keeps one object in view — the preservation of his kingdom.
But perhaps it will be objected, that the devils are often hurried along, by giddiness and blind madness, to destroy themselves. The answer is easy. The words of Christ mean nothing more than that it was absurd in the scribes to maintain, that the devil, who endeavors by every method to make men his slaves, should, of his own accord, destroy the power which he possessed over them. Besides, it ought to be remembered, that common proverbs were employed by Christ in such a manner, as to be merely probable conjectures, and not solid arguments; and that, when he speaks of what is known and well attested, he finds it easier to reach the conscience of his adversaries. 120 Everybody knew that Christ had driven Satan from his possession, and nothing was plainer than that all his miracles tended to this object; and hence it was easy to conclude, that his power, which was so much opposed to Satan, was divine.
27. By whom do your children cast them out? He charges them with passing an unjust and malicious decision, because in the same case they did not decide in a similar manner, but as they were affected towards the persons. Now this inequality shows, that their prevailing motive was not a regard to what is just and right, but blind love or hatred; and that it was even an evidence of wicked self-love (φιλαυτίας) and envy, to condemn in Christ what they praised in their own children By your children some understand the children of the whole nation; and some think that the Apostles are so called, because they were acknowledged to be children, while Christ was treated as if he had been a foreigner. 121 Others refer it to the ancient Prophets. I have no doubt that he means the Exorcists, who were at that time generally employed among the Jews, as is evident from the Acts of the Apostles, (Ac 19:19.) There is reason to believe, that no greater kindness would be exercised in judging of the disciples of Christ than of their Master; and to apply these words to the dead is a forced construction, when they manifestly denote a comparison of the present time.
There was indeed no statute of the Law for having Exorcists among the Jews; but we know that God, in order to maintain their fidelity to his covenant, and their purity of worship, often testified his presence among them by a variety of miracles. It is even possible that there were persons who cast out devils by calling on the name of the Lord; and the people, having experienced such a display of the power of God, rashly concluded that it was an ordinary office. 122 The Papists afterwards, resolving not to occupy a lower rank, imitated them by creating Exorcists; and in this way were apes of apes. Besides, it was not necessary that Christ should approve of those exorcisms, in order to point out the malice of those who wished to have them regarded as sacred, and as authorized by the name of God; for the objection was, as we say, of a personal nature. 123
Therefore they shall judge concerning you. These words are not to be taken literally, but the meaning is: “We need not go far to seek your condemnation. You attribute to Beelzebub the miracles which I have performed, and you praise the same things in your own children. You have at home what is sufficient to condemn you.” But if any one prefer to understand them differently, as reproaching them with the grace of God, which was sometimes exhibited through the Exorcists, I do not greatly object to that view. Though they were greatly degenerated, yet the Lord was pleased not to leave them altogether without evidences of his power, that there might be some testimony to authorize the priesthood in general, and the service of the temple; for it was of the highest importance that there should be evident marks to distinguish them from the superstitions of the Gentiles. I look upon the former view, however, as the natural one.
28. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God. Luke says, if I cast out devils by The Finger of God; employing the word Finger metaphorically instead of the Spirit. As God works, and exerts his power, by his Spirit, it is with propriety that the word Finger is applied to him. And this mode of expression was common among the Jews, as Moses relates that Pharaoh’s magicians said, This is the finger of God Now Christ infers from what he has already stated, that the scribes prove themselves to be ungrateful to God, by being unwilling that He should reign among them. Hitherto, he replied to their idle calumny; but now, he treats them as convicted persons, and charges them not to make ungodly opposition to the kingdom of God. He does not confine himself to a single miracle, but takes occasion from it to discourse on the object of his coming, reminds them that they ought not merely to look at one remarkable fact, but at a far more important truth, that it was the will of God, by revealing His Messiah, to raise up their salvation which was fallen, and to restore his kingdom among them. Thus we see that Christ complains of their ingratitude, in madly rejecting from the midst of them the inestimable grace of God. The kingdom of God hath come to you The word come is emphatic, and implies that, without any request from them, God appears as their Redeemer, while they do everything that is in their power to drive him away, and, when he is present and prepared for their salvation, refuse to give him a place.
29. How can any one enter into the house of a strong man? Though the Evangelists differ a little as to words, there is a perfect agreement among them as to the substance of this discourse. Christ is pursuing the subject, on which he had lately touched, about the kingdom of God, and declares it to be necessary that Satan be violently driven out, in order that God may establish his kingdom among men. What he now states is nothing else than a confirmation of the preceding statement. But to ascertain more fully the intention of Christ, we must call to our recollection that analogy which Matthew (8:17) traces between the visible and the spiritual layouts which Christ bestows. 124 Every benefit which the bodies of men received from Christ was intended to have a reference to their souls. Thus, in rescuing the bodily senses of men from the tyranny of the devil, he proclaimed that the Father had sent him as a Deliverer, to destroy his spiritual tyranny over their souls.
I now return to his words. He maintains that a strong and powerful tyrant cannot be deprived of his dominion, till he is stripped of his armor; for if he is not met by a force superior to his own, he will never yield of his own accord. Why is this asserted? First, we know that the devil is everywhere called the prince of the world Now the tyranny which he exercises is defended on every side by strong ramparts. His snares for entrapping men are beyond all calculation; nay, men are already his slaves, and so firmly bound by a variety of fetters, that they rather cherish the slavery, to which they are devoted, than make any aspirations after freedom. There are also innumerable evils which he inflicts upon them, by which he holds them in wretched oppression under his feet. In short, there is nothing to prevent him from tyrannizing over the world without control. Not that he can do anything without the permission of the Creator, but because Adam, having withdrawn from the dominion of God, has subjected all his posterity to this foreign sway.
Now though it is contrary to nature that the devil reigns, and though it is by, just punishment of God, on account of sin, that men are subjected to his tyranny, yet he remains in quiet possession of his kingdom, and may insult us at his pleasure, till a stronger than he shall rise up against him. But this stronger person is not to be found on earth, for men have not sufficient power to relieve themselves; and therefor it was promised that a Redeemer would come from heaven. Now this kind of redemption Christ shows to be necessary, in order to wrench from the devil, by main force, what he will never quit till he is compelled. By these words he informs us, that it is in vain for men to expect deliverance, till Satan has been subdued by a violent struggle. 125
He expressly accuses the scribes of ignorance, in not understanding the principles of the kingdom of God. But this reproof applies almost equally to all, for all are chargeable with the same folly. There is no man who does not loudly boast that he desires the kingdom of God; and yet we do not permit Christ to fight boldly, as the occasion requires, in order to rescue us from the power of our tyrant; just as if a sick man were to entreat the aid of a physician, and then to refuse every remedy. We now see the reason why Christ introduced this parable. It was to show, that the scribes were hostile to the kingdom of God, the beginnings of which they maliciously resisted. Let us also learn that, as we are all subject to the tyranny of Satan, there is no other way in which he commences his reign within us, than when he rescues us, by the powerful and victorious arm of Christ, from that wretched and accursed bondage.
30. He that is not with me. There are two ways of explaining this passage. Some suppose that it is an argument drawn from contraries, and that Christ’s meaning is: “I cannot reign till the devil is overthrown; for the object of all his attempts is, to scatter whatever I gather.” And certainly we see abundant evidence of the earnestness with which that enemy labors to destroy the kingdom of Christ. But I rather agree in opinion with those who explain it to denote, that the scribes are declared to be, in two respects, opposed to the kingdom of God, because they intentionally hinder its progress. “It was your duty to assist me, and to give me your hand in establishing the kingdom of God; for whoever does not assist is, in some measure, opposed to me, or, at least, deserves to be reckoned among enemies. What then shall be said of you, whose furious rage drives you into avowed opposition?” 126
And he that gathereth not with me scattereth The truth of this is abundantly manifest from what has been already said; for so strong is our propensity to evil, that the justice of God can have no place but in those who apply to it in good earnest. This doctrine has a still more extensive bearing, and implies that they are unworthy to be considered as belonging to the flock of Christ, who do not apply to it all the means that are in their power; because their indolence tends to retard and ruin the kingdom of God, which all of us are called to advance.
31. Therefore I say to you. This inference ought not to be confined to the clause immediately preceding, but depends on the whole discourse. Having proved that the scribes could not blame him for casting out devils, without opposing the kingdom of God, he at length concludes that it is no light or ordinary offense, but an atrocious crime, knowingly and willingly to pour contempt on the Spirit of God. We have already said, that Christ did not pronounce this decision on the mere words which they uttered, but on their base and wicked thought.
All sin and blasphemy. As our Lord declares blasphemy against the Holy Ghost to be more heinous than all other sins, it is of importance to inquire what is the meaning of that term. Those who define it to be impenitence 127 may be refuted without any difficulty; for it would have been in vain and to no purpose for Christ to say, that it is not forgiven in the present life. Besides, the word blasphemy cannot be extended indiscriminately to every sort of crimes; but from the comparison which Christ makes, we shall easily obtain the true definition. Why is it said that he who blasphemes against the Spirit is a more heinous sinner than he who blasphemes against Christ? Is it because the majesty of the Spirit is greater, that a crime committed against him must be punished with greater severity? Certainly that is not the reason; for as the fullness of the Godhead (Col 2:9) shines in Christ, he who pours contempt upon him overturns and destroys, as far as it lies in his power, the whole glory of God. Now in what manner shall Christ be separated from his Spirit, so that those who treat the Spirit with contempt offer no injury or insult to Christ?
Already we begin to perceive, that the reason why blasphemy against the Spirit exceeds other sins, is not that the Spirit is higher than Christ, but that those who rebel, after that the power of God has been revealed, cannot be excused on the plea of ignorance. Besides, it must be observed, that what is here said about blasphemy does not refer merely to the essence of the Spirit, but to the grace which He has bestowed upon us. Those who are destitute of the light of the Spirit, however much they may detract from the glory of the Spirit, will not be held guilty of this crime. 128 We do not maintain, that those persons are said to pour contempt on the Spirit of God, who oppose his grace and power by hardened malice; and farther we maintain, that this kind of sacrilege is committed only when we knowingly endeavor to extinguish the Spirit who dwells in us.
The reason why contempt is said to be poured on the Spirit, rather than on the Son or the Father, is this. By detracting from the grace and power of God, we make a direct attack on the Spirit, from whom they proceed, and in whom they are revealed to us. Shall any unbeliever curse God? It is as if a blind man were dashing against a wall. But no man curses the Spirit who is not enlightened by him, and conscious of ungodly rebellion against him; for it is not a superfluous distinction. that all other blasphemies shall be forgiven, except that one blasphemy which is directed against the Spirit. If a man shall simply blaspheme against God, he is not declared to be beyond the hope of pardon; but of those who have offered outrage to the Spirit, it is said that God will never forgive them. Why is this, but because those only are blasphemers against the Spirit, who slander his gifts and power, contrary to the conviction of their own mind? Such also is the import of the reason assigned by Mark for the extreme severity of Christ’s threatening against the Pharisees; because they had said that he had the unclean spirit; for in this manner they purposely and maliciously turned light into darkness; and, indeed, it is in the manner of the giants, 129 as the phrase is, to make war against God.
But here a question arises. Do men proceed to such a pitch of madness as not to hesitate, knowingly and willfully, to rush against God? for this appears to be monstrous and incredible. I reply: Such audacity does indeed proceed from mad blindness, in which, at the same time, malice and virulent rage predominate. Nor is it without reason that Paul says, that though he was
a blasphemer, he obtained pardon, because he had done it ignorantly in his unbelief,
for this term draws a distinction between his sin and voluntary rebellion. This passage refutes also the error of those who imagine that every sin which is voluntary, or which is committed in opposition to the conscience, is unpardonable. On the contrary, Paul expressly limits that sin to the First Table of the Law; 130 and our Lord not less plainly applies the word blasphemy to a single description of sin, and at the same time shows, that it is of a kind which is directly opposed to the glory of God. 131
From all that has been said, we may conclude that those persons sin and blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, who maliciously turn to his dishonor the perfections of God, which have been revealed to him by the Spirit, in which His glory ought to be celebrated, and who, with Satan, their leader, are avowed enemies of the glory of God. We need not then wonder, if for such sacrilege there is no hope of pardon; for they must be desperate who turn the only medicine of salvation into a deadly venom. Some consider this to be too harsh, and betake themselves to the childish expedient, that it is said to be unpardonable, because the pardon of it is rare and difficult to be obtained. But the words of Christ are too precise to admit of so silly an evasion. It is excessively foolish to argue that God will be cruel if he never pardon a sin, the atrocity of which ought to excite in us astonishment and horror. 132 Those who reason in that manner do not sufficiently consider what a monstrous crime it is, not only to profane intentionally the sacred name of God, but to spit in his face when he shines evidently before us. It shows equal ignorance to object, that it would be absurd if even repentance could not obtain pardon; for blasphemy against the Spirit is a token of reprobation, and hence it follows, that whoever have fallen into it, have been delivered over to a reprobate mind, (Ro 1:28.) As we maintain, that he who has been truly regenerated by the Spirit cannot possibly fall into so horrid a crime, so, on the other hand, we must believe that those who have fallen into it never rise again; nay, that in this manner God punishes contempt of his grace, by hardening the hearts of the reprobate, so that they never have any desire towards repentance.
32. Neither in the present life What these words mean, Mark briefly explains by saying, that those who have spoken against the Spirit are exposed to eternal judgment Every day we ask from God the forgiveness of sins, and every day he reconciles us to Him; and, finally, at death, he takes away all our sins, and declares that he is gracious to us. The fruit of this mercy will appear at the last day. The meaning therefore is: — “There is no reason to expect that those who shall have blasphemed against the Spirit will obtain pardon in this life, or will be acquitted in the last judgment.”
With regard to the inference drawn by the Papists, that the sins of men are forgiven after death, there is no difficulty in refuting their slander. First, they act foolishly in torturing the expression, future life, to mean an intermediate period, while any one may perceive that it denotes “the last judgment.” But it is likewise a proof of their dishonesty; for the objection which they sophistically urge is inconsistent with their own doctrine. Who knows not their distinction, that sins are freely pardoned in respect of guilt, but that punishment and satisfaction are demanded? This is an acknowledgment, that there is no hope of salvation to any one whose guilt is not pardoned before death. To the dead, therefore, there remains no forgiveness, except as regards punishment; and surely they will not venture to deny that the subject of this discourse is guilt. Let them now go and light their fire of purgatory with these cold materials, if ice can kindle a flame. 133
“Mais Iesus, cognoissant leurs pensees, leur dit;” — “but Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said to them.”
“Parquoy iceux seront vos iuges;” — “therefore they shall be your judges.”
“Toute sorte de peche et blaspheme;” — “every description of sin and blasphemy.”
“Ains il prend fin;” — “and so he comes to an end.”
“N’aura point de remission eternellement;” — “will have no forgiveness eternally.”
“Il a l’esprit immonde;” — “he hath the unclean spirit.”
“Mais luy cognoissant leurs pensees;” — “but he knowing their thoughts.”
“Et ‘toute’ maison ‘divisee’ contre soy-mesme dechet;”— “and every house divided against itself falleth.”
“Comme c’estoyent gens tout pleins d’un malin vouloir;” — “as they were people entirely full of a wicked disposition.
“Que Christ a cognu ce qui estoit cache dedans leur coeurs;” — “that Christ knew what was concealed within their hearts.”
“Mais se laissent trop aisement transporter d’une temerite ne voyans pas le mal qu’ils font;” — “but allow themselves too easily to be carried away by rashness, not perceiving the evil that they do.”
“Ce pere de toute finesse et malice;” — “that father of all dexterity and malice.”
“Il ne va pas chercher fort loin les choses pour poindre les consciences de ses adversaires;” — “he does not go far to see things fitted to affect the consciences of his adversaries.”
“Et cependant les scribes tenoyent Christ pour estranger;” — “and yet the scribes held Christ to be a foreigner.”
“Le peuple en a fait un office ordinaire sans regarder comment;”— “the people made it to be an ordinary office, without considering in what manner.”
“Car l’objection s’addresse a la personne, comme on dit, et non pas a la chose: c’est a dire, Christ ne regarde point ce qu’a la verite il falloit dire de ces Exorcistes, mais ce qu’en pensoyent les scribes;” — “for the objection is addressed to the person, as we say, and not to the thing: that is to say, Christ does not consider what in truth ought to be said of these Exorcists, but what the Jews thought of them.”
Harmony, volume 1 p. 251.
“Que c’est folie aux hommes d’attendre deliverance, si Satan n’est premierement mis bas en choquant a bon escient contre luy;” — “that it is folly in men to expect deliverance, if Satan is not first put down by encountering him in good earnest.”
“A batailler ouvertement contre Dieu;” — “to fight openly against God.”
“Quant a ceux qui disent que c’est un endurcissement jusqu’a la mort;” — “as to those who say that it is hardened obstinacy even to death.”
“Ne seront pas toutesfois tenus coulpables de ce grand crime duquel il est ici parle;” — “will not, on that account, be held guilty of the great crime here spoken of.”
“Et cela c’est desfier Dieu, et luy faire la guerre, comme les Geans des Poetes, ainsique porte le proverbe Latin;” — “and that is to defy God, and make war with him, like the Giants of the Poets, as the Latin proverb bears.”
“Restreint nommement a la Premiere Table de la Loy ce peche contre l’Esprit;” — “expressly limits to the First Table of the Law this sin against the Spirit.”
“Que c’est un peche qui battaille directement contre la gloire de Dieu;” — “that it is a sin which fights directly against the glory of God.”
“Veu que l’horreur d’iceluy nous devroit a tous faire dresser les cheveux en la teste;” — “since the horror at it ought to have such an effect on all of us, as to make the hair stand on our head.”
“Voire s’i1 est possible de tant souffler la glace, qu’on la face flamber;” — “that is, if it be possible to blow upon the ice in such a manner as to produce a flame.”