Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
25. Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26. And he called one of his servants, and asked what those things were. 540 27. And he said to him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 541 28. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore his father went out, and entreated him. 29. But he answering said to his father, Behold, during so many years I serve thee, and never have I transgressed thy commandment; and thou never gavest me a kid, that I might be merry with my friends: 30. But after that this thy son, who hath devoured thy property with harlots, is come, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31. But he said to him, Son, 542 thou art always with me, and all my property is thine. 32. But it was proper that we should be merry and rejoice; because this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.
This latter portion of the parable charges those persons with cruelty, who would wickedly choose to set limits to the grace of God, as if they envied the salvation of wretched sinners. For we know that this is pointed at the haughtiness of the scribes, 543 who did not think that they received the reward due to their merits, if Christ admitted publicans and the common people to the hope of the eternal inheritance. The substance of it therefore is, that, if we are desirous to be reckoned the children of God, we must forgive in a brotherly manner the faults of brethren, which He forgives with fatherly kindness.
25. And his elder son was in the field. Those who think that, under the figure of the first-born son, the Jewish nation is described, have indeed some argument on their side; but I do not think that they attend sufficiently to the whole of the passage. For the discourse was occasioned by the murmuring of the scribes, who took offense at the kindness of Christ towards wretched persons who had led a wicked life. He therefore compares the scribes, who were swelled with presumption, to good and modest men, who had always lived with decency and sobriety, and had honorably supported their family; nay, even to obedient children, who throughout their whole life had patiently submitted to their father’s control. And though they were utterly unworthy of this commendation, yet Christ, speaking according to their belief, attributes to them, by way of concession, their pretended holiness, as if it had been virtue; as if he had said, Though I were to grant to you what you falsely boast of, that you have always been obedient children to God, still you ought not so haughtily and cruelly to reject your brethren, when they repent of their wicked life.
28. Therefore his father went out. By these words he reproaches hypocrites with intolerable pride, which makes it necessary that the Father should entreat them not to envy the compassion manifested to their brethren. Now though God does not entreat, yet by his example he exhorts us to bear with the faults of our brethren. And in order to take away every excuse from wicked severity, he not only introduces hypocrites as speaking, whose false boasting might be confuted, but even affirms that, though any man had discharged, in the most perfect manner, all the duties of piety towards the Father, yet he has no just reason to complain because his brother obtains pardon. It is certain, indeed, that the sincere worshippers of God are always pure and free from this malignant disposition; but the design of Christ is, to show that it would be unjust in any man to murmur on account of his brother having been received into favor, even though he were not inferior in holiness to the angels.
31. Son, 544 thou art always with me. This answer consists of two parts. The first is, that the first-born son has no reason to be angry, when he sees his brother kindly received without any loss to himself; 545 and the second is, that, without paying any regard to his brother’s safety, he is grieved on account of the rejoicing occasioned by his return. All my property, says he, is thine: that is, “Though thou hast hitherto carried nothing away out of my house, it has been no loss to the for all is reserved for thee undiminished.” 546 Besides, why art thou offended at our joy, in which thou oughtest to have shared? for it was proper that thy brother, who we thought had been lost, should now be congratulated on his safety and return. Those two reasons deserve our attention; for, on the one hand, it is no loss to us, 547 if God graciously receives into favor those who had been at variance with him on account of their sins; and, on the other hand, it is wicked hardness of heart not to rejoice, when we see our brethren returned from death to life. 548
“Et l’interroga que c’estoit;” — “and asked him what it was.”
The two adjectives, safe and sound, which occur in the authorized version, are here retained as the translation of “incolumem,” which conveys both ideas; and this is fully justified by our author’s vernacular,” pourtant qu’il l’a recouvre sain et sauf;” — because he hath received him back sound and safe.” — Ed.
“Mon enfant;” — “my child.”
“L’orgueil et la presomption des Scribes;” — “the pride and presumption of the Scribes.”
“Mon enfant;” — “my child.”
“Veu qu’il n’y perd rien;” — “since he loses nothing by it.”
“Ta condition n’en est pas pire; car ie te garde tousiours ton droict entier;” — “thy condition is not the worse for it; for I always preserve thy rights entire.”
“Nous n’y perdons rien;” — “we lose nothing by it.”
“Voyans nos freres estre tirez de la mort, et ramenez au chemin de vie;” — “perceiving our brethren to be drawn from death, and led into the way of life.”