Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-28
14. For as a certain man, setting out on a journey, called his servants, and delivered to them his goods. 15. And to one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one; to every one according to his own ability; and immediately set out. 16. And he who had received five talents went away and traded with them, and amassed other five talents. 17. And likewise he who had received two, he also gained other two. 18. But he who had received one went away, and dug in the earth, and hid his master’s money. 19. And after a long time the master of those servant cometh, and reckoneth with them. 20. And he who had received five talents, saying, Master, thou deliveredst to me five talents: lo, I have gained by them other five talents. 21. His master saith to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou has tbeen faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy master. 22. And he also who had received two talents came, and said, Master, thou deliveredst to me two talents: lo, I have gained by them other two. 23. His master saith to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things: enter thou into the joy of thy master. 24. But he who had received one talent came and said, Master, knew thee that thou art a harsh man, reaping where thou didst not sow, and gathering where didst not scatter: 25. And, being afraid, I went away, and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, thou hast what is thine. 26. And his master answering said to him, Wicked and slothful servant, thou knowest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I did not scatter: 27. Thou oughtest therefore to have given my money to the bankers, and, when I came, I would have received my own with usury. 28. Take away then from him the talent, and give it to him who hath ten talents. 29. For to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound; but he that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken from him. 30. And cast out the unprofitable servant into outer darkness, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
11. While they were hearing these things, he added, and spoke a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God would immediately be revealed. 12. He said therefore, A certain nobleman set out for a distant country, to receive for himself a kingdom, 684 and to return. 13. And, having called his ten servants, he gave to them ten pounds, and said to them, Trade till I come. 14. And his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. 15. And it happened that he returned, after having obtained the kingdom, 685 and commanded those servants to be called to him, to whom he had given money, that he might know how much everyone had gained by trading. 16. And the first came, saying, Master, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. 17. And he said to him, Well done, good servant; because thou hast been faithful in a very small matter, have though power over ten cities. 18. And another came, saying, Master, thy pound hath gained five pounds. 19. And he said to him, And be thou ruler over five cities. 20. And another came, saying, Master, lo, thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: 21. For I feared thee, because thou art a harsh man: thou takest up what thou didst not lay down, and reapest what thou didst not sow. 22. He saith to him, Out of thy mouth will I judge thee, wicked servant. Thou knewest that I am a harsh man, taking up what I did not lay down, and reaping what I did not sow: 23. And why didst not thou give my money to the bank, and, when I came, I would have demanded it with usury? 24. And to those who stood by he said, Take from him the pound, and give it to him who hath ten pounds. 25. And they said to him, Master, he hath ten pounds. 26. For I say to you, That to him that hath it shall be given; but from him who hath not, even what he hath shall be taken away. 27. But bring hither those my enemies, who refused that I should reign over them, and slay them before me. 28. And, having said these things, he went before, to go up to Jerusalem.
Luke 19:11. While they were hearing these things. It was next to a prodigy that the disciples, after having been so frequently warned as to the approaching death of Christ, flew aside from it to think of his kingdom. There were two mistakes; first, that they pictured to themselves rest and happiness without the cross; secondly, that they judged of the kingdom of God according to their own carnal sense. Hence it appears how slight and obscure their faith was; for though they had entertained a hope of the resurrection, yet the taste was too slight for forming a fixed and decided opinion about Christ. They believe him to be the Redeemer who had been formerly promised, and hence they conceive a hope that the Church will be renewed; but that knowledge immediately degenerates into vain imaginations, which either overturn or obscure the power of his kingdom. But the strangest thing of all was, that so many warnings should have passed away from their recollection without yielding any advantage. At least, it was brutal stupidity that, though Christ had lately declared, in express terms, that he was just about to undergo a bitter and ignominious death, they not only remained unconcerned, but rushed forward, as if to a joyful triumph.
12. A certain nobleman. Matthew interweaves this parable with others, without attending to the order of time; but, as his intention was, in the twenty-second chapter, to make a collection of Christ’s latest discourses, readers ought not to trouble themselves greatly with the inquiry which of them was delivered on the first, or the second, or the third day within that short period. But it is proper to observe the difference between Matthew and Luke; for, while the former touches only on one point, the latter embraces two. This point is common to both, that Christ resembles a nobleman, who, undertaking a long journey for the sake of obtaining a kingdom, has entrusted his money to the management of his servants, and so on. The other point is peculiar to Luke, that the subjects abused the absence of the prince, and raised a tumult in order to shake off his yoke. In both parts Christ intended to show, that the disciples were greatly mistaken in supposing that his royal authority was already established, and that he was coming to Jerusalem, in order to commence immediately a course of prosperity. Thus by taking away the expectation of an immediate kingdom, he exhorts them to hope and patience; for he tells them that they must long and steadily endure many toils, before they enjoy that glory for which they pant too earnestly.
Into a distant country. As the disciples thought that Christ was now about to enter into the possession of his kingdom, he first corrects this mistake by informing them, that he must undertake a long journey, in order to obtain the kingdom 686 As to what is meant by the distant country, I leave it to the ingenious expositions of those who are fond of subtleties. For my own part, I think that Christ expresses nothing more than his long absence, which would extend from the time of his death to his last coming. For, though he sits at the right hand of the Father, and holds the government of heaven and earth, and though, from the time that he ascended to heaven, all power was given to him, (Mt 28:18,) that every knee might bow before him, (Php 2:10;) yet as he has not yet subdued his enemies — has not yet appeared as Judge of the world, or revealed his majesty — it is not without propriety that he is said to be absent from his people, till he return again, clothed with his new sovereignty. It is true, indeed, that he now reigns, while he regenerates his people to the heavenly life, forms them anew to the image of God, and associates them with angels; while he governs the Church by his word, guards it by his protection, enriches it with the gifts of the Spirit, nourishes it by his grace, and maintains it by his power, and, in short, supplies it with all that is necessary for salvation; while he restrains the fury of Satan and of all the ungodly, and defeats all their schemes. But as this way of reigning is concealed from the flesh, his manifestation is properly said to be delayed till the last day. Since, therefore, the apostles foolishly aimed at the shadow of a kingdom, our Lord declares that he must go to seek a distant kingdom, that, they may learn to endure delay. 687
13. And having called his ten servants. We must not inquire anxiously into the number of the servants, or into the sums of money. For Matthew, by expressing various sums, includes a more extensive doctrine, namely, that Christ does not lay on all an equal charge of trafficking, but commits to one a small, and to another a larger sum of money. Both agree in this, that till the last day of the resurrection Christ, in some respects, goes to a distance from his people, but yet that it would be highly improper for them to sit down in idleness and do no good; for each has a certain office enjoined him, in which he ought to be employed, and, therefore, they ought to be diligent in trading, that they may be careful to increase their Lord’s property.
Luke says simply, that to each he gave a pound; because, whether more or less may be committed to us by our Lord, every man must equally give account for himself. Matthew, as I have said, is more full and copious; for he states various degrees. Let us know that the Lord does not bestow on all indiscriminately the same measure of gifts, (Eph 4:7,) but
distributes them variously as he thinks proper,
so that some excel others. But whatever gifts the Lord has bestowed upon us, let us know that it is committed to us as so much money, that it may yield some gain; for nothing could be more unreasonable than that we should allow to remain buried, or should apply to no use, God’s favors, the value of which consists in yielding fruit.
Matthew 25:15. To every one according to his own ability. By this term Christ does not distinguish between natural gifts and the gifts of the Spirit; for we have neither power nor skill 688 which ought not to be acknowledged as having been received from God; and, therefore, whoever shall determine to give God his share will leave nothing for himself. What then is meant by saying, that the master of the house gives to each person more or less, according to his own ability? It is because God, as he has assigned to every one his place, and has bestowed on him natural gifts, gives him also this or the other injunction, employs him in the management of affairs, raises him to various offices, furnishes him with abundant means of eminent usefulness, and presents to him the opportunity.
It is absurd, however, in the Papists to infer from this, that the gifts of God are conferred on every man according to the measure which he deserves. For, though the old translator, 689 employed the word virtus, 690 he did not mean that God bestows his gifts, according as men have acquitted themselves well, and obtained the praise of virtue, but only so far as the master of the house has judged them to be suitable. Now we know that no man is found by God to be suitable till He has made him so; and the Greek word δύναμις, (power, ability,) which Christ employed, is free from all ambiguity.
20. And he who had received five talents. Those who employ usefully whatever God has committed to them are said to be engaged in trading The life of the godly, 691 is justly compared to trading, for they ought naturally to exchange and barter with each other, in order to maintain intercourse; and the industry with which every mall discharges the office assigned him, the calling itself, the power of acting properly, and other gifts, are reckoned to be so many kinds of merchandise; because the use or object which they have in view is, to promote mutual intercourse among men.
Now the gain which Christ mentions is general usefulness, 692 which illustrates the glory of God. For, though God is not enriched, and makes no gain, by our labors, yet when every one is highly profitable to his brethren, and applies advantageously, for their salvation, the gifts which he has received from God, he is said to yield profit, or gain, to God himself. So highly does our heavenly Father value the salvation of men, that whatever contributes to it he chooses to place to his own account. That we may not become weary in doing well, (Ga 6:9,) Christ declares that the labor of those who are faithfully employed in their calling will not be useless.
According to Luke, he says that he who gained five pounds obtains the government of five cities; by which words he informs them, that the glory of his kingdom will be very different at his last coming from what it now appears. For now 693 we have labor and anxiety in managing, as it were, the affairs of an absent master; but then he will have at his command an ample and copious supply of honors, to ennoble and enrich us. The form of expression employed by Matthew is more simple, Enter thou into the joy of thy master; by which he means that faithful servants, whose discharge of duty shall meet with his approbation, will share with himself a blessed abundance of all good things.
But it is asked, What is meant by what is added, Take from him the talent, and give it to him who hath ten talents? For every kind of trading will then be at an end. I reply, We ought to keep in remembrance what I formerly mentioned, that those who insist on explaining, with exactness, every minute phrase, are mistaken. The true meaning is, though slothful and unprofitable servants are now endued with the gifts of the Spirit, yet they will at length be deprived of them all, that their wretched and shameful poverty may redound to the glory of the good. Now these slothful persons, Christ tells us, hide either the talent or the pound in the earth; because, while they consult their own ease and gratifications, they refuse to submit to any uneasiness; as we see very many who, while they are privately devoted to themselves and to their own advantage, avoid all the duties of charity, and have no regard to the general edification. When it is said that the master of the house, after his return, called the servants to account; as this ought to impart courage to the good, when they understand that they do not lose their pains, so the indolent and careless, on the other hand, ought to be struck with no small terror. Let us therefore learn to call ourselves daily to account, before the Lord come, and make a reckoning with us.
24. I knew thee, that thou art a harsh man. This harshness has nothing to do with the substance of the parable; and it is an idle speculation in which those indulge, who reason from this passage, how severely and rigorously God deals with his own people. For Christ did not intend to describe such rigor, any more than to applaud usury, when he represents the master of the house as saying, that the money ought to have been deposited with a banker, that it might, at least, gain interest Christ only means, that there will be no excuse for the indolence of those who both conceal the gifts of God, and waste their time in idleness. Hence also we infer that no manner of life is more praiseworthy in the sight of God, than that which yields some advantage to human society.
29. To every one that hath shall be given has been explained 694 under Mt 13:12
30. And cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness. We have also explained, 695 under Mt 8:12, that outer darkness is contrasted with the light which is within the house; 696 for, as banquets were anciently held, for the most part, at night, and were illuminated by numerous torches and lamps, of those who are banished from the kingdom of God, Christ says, that they are cast without into darkness
Luke 19:27. But those my enemies In this second part, he appears to glance principally at the Jews, but includes all who in the absence of their master, determine to revolt. Now Christ’s intention was, not only to terrify such persons by threatening an awful punishment, but also to keep his own people in faithful subjection; for it was no small temptation to see the kingdom of God scattered by the treachery and rebellion of many. In order then that we may preserve our composure in the midst of troubles, Christ informs us that he will return, and that at his coming he will punish wicked rebellion. 697
“Pour conquester un royaurae;” — “to conquer a kingdom.”
“Apres avoir conqueste le royaume;” — “after having conquered the kingdom.”
“Pour conquester ce royaurae;” — “to conquer this kingdom.’
“Qu’ils apprenent de porter patiemment la longue attente;” — “that they may learn to endure patiently the long delay.”
“Il n’y a ne puissance, ne industrie, ou dexterit;” — “there is neither power, nor industry, nor skill.”
“Le translateur Latin ancien;” — “the old Latin translator.”
An interpreter who was willing to twist a passage, so as to bring out of it any meaning that he chose, would find the vagueness of the Latin word virtus to be well suited to his purpose. Its derivation from vir, a man, shows that it originally signified manliness, from which it easily passed to denote courage, and, from the high estimation in which courage was held among warlike nations, became the general expression for moral excellence, out of which arose the application of it to other kinds of excellence, as in the phrase, virtutes orationis, the ornaments of style. Again, from denoting manly vigor it came naturally to denote ability; and it is undoubtedly in this sense, with which our English version accords, that rirtus is employed by the Vulgate in this passage. — Ed.
“Des fideles;” — “of believers.”
“C’est le profit ou l’avancement de toute la compagnie des fideles en commun;” — “it is the profit or advancement of the whole company of believers in common.”
“En ce monde;” — “in this world.”
See p. 104 of this volume.
Harmony, vol. 1. p. 384.
“De la lumiere et clarte qui est en la maison;” — “with the light and brightness that is within the house.”
“Il se vengera contre les traistres, et les punira de leur rebellion;” — “he will take vengeance on traitors, and will punish them for their rebellion.”