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The Resurrection of Jesus
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
The Report of the Guard
11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.
The Commissioning of the Disciples
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We now come to the closing scene of our redemption. For the lively assurance of our reconciliation with God arises from Christ having come from hell as the conqueror of death, in order to show that he had the power of a new life at his disposal. Justly, therefore, does Paul say that there will be no gospel, and that the hope of salvation will be vain and fruitless, unless we believe that Christ is risen from the dead, (1 Corinthians 15:14.) For then did Christ obtain righteousness for us, and open up our entrance into heaven; and, in short, then was our adoption ratified, when Christ, by rising from the dead, exerted the power of his Spirit, and proved himself to be the Son of God. No though he manifested his resurrection in a different manner from what the sense of our flesh would have desired, still the method of which he approved ought to be regarded by us also as the best. he went out of the grave without a witness, that the emptiness of the place might be the earliest indication; next, he chose to have it announced to the women by the angels that he was alive; and shortly afterwards he appeared to the women, and, finally, to the apostles, and on various occasions.
Thus he gradually brought his followers, according to their capacity, to a larger measure of knowledge. He began with the women, and not only presented himself to be seen by them, but even gave them a commission to announce the gospel to the apostles, so as to become their instructors. This was intended, first, to chastise the indifference of the apostles, who were like persons half-dead with fear, while the women ran with alacrity to the sepulcher, and likewise obtained no ordinary reward. For though their design to anoint Christ, as if Ire were still dead, was not free from blame, still he forgave their weakness, and bestowed on them distinguished honor, by taking away from men the apostolic office, and committing it to them for a short time. In this manner also he exhibited an instance of what Paul tells us, that he chooses those things which are foolish and weak in the world to abase the loftiness of the flesh. And never shall we be duly prepared to learn this article of our faith in any other manner than by laying aside all pride, and submitting to receive the testimony of the women. Not that our faith ought to be confined within such narrow limits, but because the Lord, in order to make trial of our faith, determines that we shall become fools, before he admits us to a more ample knowledge of his mysteries.
So far as regards the narrative, Matthew says only that the two Marys came to see the sepulcher; Mark adds a third, Salome, and says that they bought spices to anoint the body; and from Luke we infer, that not two or three only, but many women came. But we know that it is customary with the sacred writers, when speaking of a great number, to name but a few of them. It may also be conjectured with probability, that Mary Magdalene, with another companion—whether she was sent before, or ran forward of her own accord arrived at the grave before the rest of the women. And this appears to be conveyed by the words of Matthew, that those two women came for the purpose of seeing; for without seeing Christ:, they had no means of anointing him. He says nothing, in the meantime, about the purpose which they had formed of doing honor to him; for the principal object which he had in view was, to testify of the resurrection.
But it may be asked, how could this zeal of the women, which was mixed with superstition, be acceptable to God? I have no doubt, that the custom of anointing the dead, which they had borrowed from the Fathers, was applied by them to its proper object, which was, to draw consolation, amidst the mourning of death, from the hope of the life to come. I readily acknowledge that they sinned in not immediately raising their minds to that prediction which they had heard from the lips of their Master, when he foretold that he would rise again on the third day. 301301 “Quand il avoit predit qu’il ressusciteroit le troisieme jour.” But as they retain the general principle of the final resurrection, that defect is forgiven, which would justly have vitiated, as the phrase is, the whole of the action. Thus God frequently accepts, with fatherly kindness, the works of the saints, which, without pardon, not only would not have pleased him, but would even have been justly rejected with shame and punishment. It is, therefore, an astonishing display of the goodness of Christ, that he kindly and generously presents himself alive to the women, who did him wrong in seeking him among the dead. Now if he did not permit them to come in vain to his grave, we may conclude with certainty, that those who now aspire to him by faith will not be disappointed; for the distance of places does not prevent believers from enjoying him who fills heaven and earth by the power of his Spirit.
Matthew 28:2. And, lo, a great earthquake. By many signs the Lord showed the presence of his glory, that he might more fully prepare the hearts of the holy women to reverence the mystery. 304304 “A Une reverence du mystere.” For since it was not a matter of little consequence to know that the Son of God had obtained a victory over death, (on which the principal point of our salvation is founded,) it was necessary to remove all doubts, that the divine majesty might be openly and manifestly presented to the eyes of the women. Matthew says, therefore, that there was an earthquake, by which the divine power which I have mentioned might be perceived. And by this prodigy, it was proper that the women should be allowed to expect nothing human or earthly, but to raise their minds to a work of God which was new, and surpassed the expectations of men.
The raiment and the countenance of the angel, too, might be said to be rays by which the splendor of Godhead was diffused, so as to enable them to perceive that it was not a mortal man that stood near them, having the face of a man. For though dazzling light, or the whiteness of snow, is nothing in comparison of the boundless glory of God, but rather, if we wish to know him aright, we ought not to imagine to ourselves any color; yet when he makes known by outward signs that he is present, he invites us to him, as far as our weakness can endure. Still we ought to know that the visible signs of his presence are exhibited to us, that our minds may conceive of him as invisible; and that, under bodily forms, we obtain a taste of his spiritual essence, that we may seek him spiritually. Yet it cannot be doubted that, together with outward signs, there was an inward power, which engraved on the hearts of the women an impression of Deity. For though at first they were struck with amazement, yet it will appear, from what follows, that they gathered courage, and were gradually instructed in such a manner, that they perceived the hand of God to be present.
Our three Evangelists, from a desire of brevity, leave out what is more fully related by John, (20:1-12) which, we know, is not unusual with them. There is also this difference, that Matthew and Mark mention but one angel, while John and Luke speak of two. But this apparent contradiction also is easily removed; for we know how frequently in Scripture instances occur of that figure of speech by which a part is taken for the whole. There were two angels, therefore, who appeared first to Mary, and afterwards to her other companions; but as the attention of the women was chiefly directed to the angel who spoke, Matthew and Mark have satisfied themselves with relating his message. Besides, when Matthew says that the angel sat on a stone, there is in his words (ὕστερον πρότερον), an inversion of the order of events; or, at least, that order was disregarded by him; for the angel did not immediately appear, but while the women were held in suspense and anxiety by an event so strange and astonishing.
4. Through fear the guards trembled. The Lord struck the guards with terror, as if he had engraved their consciences with a hot iron, so as to constrain them reluctantly to feel his divine power. The terror had, at least, the effect of hindering them from treating with careless mockery the report of the resurrection which was to be spread abroad shortly afterwards. For though they were not ashamed of prostituting their tongues for him, still they were compelled, whether they would or not, to acknowledge inwardly what they wickedly denied before men. Nor can it be doubted that, when they were at liberty to talk freely among their acquaintances, they frankly admitted what they dare not openly avow, in consequence of having been gained over by money.
We must attend to the distinction between the two kinds of terror, between which Matthew draws a comparison. The soldiers, who were accustomed to tumults, were terrified, and were so completely overwhelmed by alarm, that they fell down like men who were almost dead; but no power was exerted to raise them from that condition. A similar terror seized the women; but their minds, which had nearly given way, were restored by the consolation which immediately followed, so as to begin, at least, to entertain some better hope. And, certainly, it is proper that the majesty of God should strike both terror and fear indiscriminately into the godly, as well as the reprobate, that all flesh may be silent before his face. But when the Lord has humbled and subdued his elect, he immediately mitigates their dread, that they may not sink under its oppressive influence; and not only so, but by the sweetness of his grace heals the wound which he had inflicted. The reprobate, on the other hand, he either overwhelms by sudden dread, or suffers to languish in slow torments. As to the soldiers themselves, they were, no doubt, like dead men, but without any serious impression. Like men in a state of insensibility, they tremble, indeed, for a moment, but presently forget that they were afraid; not that the remembrance of their terror was wholly obliterated, but because that lively and powerful apprehension of the power of God, to which they were compelled to yield, soon passed away from them. But we ought chiefly to attend to this point, that though they, as well as the women, were afraid, no medicine was applied to soothe their terror; for to the women only did the angel say, Fear not. He held out to them a ground of joy and assurance in the resurrection of Christ. Luke adds a reproof, Why do you seek the living among the dead? as if the angel pulled their ear, that they might no longer remain in sluggishness and despair.
7. And go quickly, and tell his disciples. Here God, by the angel, confers extraordinary honor on the women, by enjoining them to proclaim to the apostles themselves the chief point of our salvation. In Mark’s account of it, they are expressly enjoined to carry this message to Peter; not because he was at that time higher in rank than the others, but because his crime, which was so disgraceful, needed peculiar consolation to assure him that Christ had not cast him off, though he had basely and wickedly fallen. He had already entered into the sepulcher, and beheld the traces of the resurrection of Christ; but God denied him the honor, which he shortly afterwards conferred on the women, of hearing from the lips of the angel that Christ was risen. And, indeed, the great insensibility under which he still labored is evident from the fact that he again fled trembling to conceal himself, as if he had seen nothing, while Mary sat down to weep at the grave. It cannot be doubted, therefore, that she and her companions, in beholding the angel, obtained the reward of their patience.
And, lo, He goeth before you into Galilee. When the angel sent the disciples into Galilee, he did so, I think, in order that Christ might make himself known to a great number of persons; for we know that he had lived a long time in Galilee. He intended also to give his followers greater liberty, that by the very circumstance of their retirement they might gradually acquire courage. Besides, by being accustomed to the places, they were aided in recognizing their Master with greater certainty; for it was proper to adopt every method of confirming them, that nothing might be wanting to complete the certainty of their faith.
Lo, I have told you. By this manner of speaking the angel earnestly assures them that what is said is true. He states this, not as from himself, as if he had been the first to suggest it, but gives his signature to the promise of Christ; and, therefore, in Mark’s account of it, he merely recalls to their remembrance the very words of Christ. Luke carries out the address still farther, by saying that the disciples were informed by Christ that he must be crucified, and rise again on the third day. But the meaning is the same; for along with his resurrection he had foretold his death. He then adds, —
Matthew 28:8. And they departed quickly. The three Evangelists pass by what John relates about Mary Magdalene, (20:2,) that she returned into the city before she had seen the angels, and complained with tears that the body of Christ had been taken away. Here they mention only the second return to the city, when she, and other women who accompanied her, told the disciples that Christ was risen; which they had learned both from the words and testimony of the angel, and from seeing Christ himself. Now before Christ showed himself, they already ran to the disciples, as they had been commanded by the angel. On the road they received a second confirmation, that they might with greater certainty assert the resurrection of the Lord.
With fear and great joy. By these words Matthew means that they were indeed gladdened by what the angel told them, but, at the same the were struck with fear, so that they were held in suspense between joy and perplexity. For there are sometimes opposite feelings in the hearts of the godly, which move them alternately in opposite directions, until at length the peace of the Spirit brings them into a settled condition. For if their faith had been strong, it would have given them entire composure by subduing fear; but now fear, mingled with joy, shows that they had not yet fully relied on the testimony of the angel. And here Christ exhibited a remarkable instance of compassion, in meeting them while they thus doubted and trembled, so as to remove all remaining doubt.
Yet there is some diversity in the words of Mark, that they fled, seized with trembling and amazement, so that through fear they were dismayed. But the solution is not very difficult; for though they were resolved to obey the angel, still they had not power to do so, 307307 “Toutesfois le moyen leur defailloit, et elles n’eussent sceu le faire;” — “yet they wanted the means, and would not have known how to do it.” if the Lord himself had not loosed their tongues. But in what follows there is greater appearance of contradiction; for Mark does not say that Christ met them, but only that he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, while Luke says nothing whatever of this appearance. But this omission ought not to appear strange to us, since it is far from being unusual with the Evangelists.
As to the difference between the words of Matthew and of Mark, it is possible that Magdalene may have been a partaker of so great a favor before the other women, or even that Matthew, by synecdoche, may have extended to all what was peculiar to one of their number. It is more probable, however, that Mark names her alone, because she first obtained a sight of Christ, and in a peculiar manner, in preference to the others, and yet that her companions also saw Christ in their order, and that on this account Matthew attributes it to all them in common. This was an astonishing instance of goodness, that Christ manifested his heavenly glory to a wretched woman, who had been possessed by seven devils, (Luke 8:2,) and, intending to display the light of a new and eternal life, began where there was nothing in the eyes of man but what was base and contemptible. But by this example Christ showed how generously he is wont to continue the progress of his grace, when he has once displayed it towards us; and, at the same time, he threw down the pride of the flesh.
9. And held his feet. This appears not to agree with the words of John, (20:17,) where he declares that Mary was forbidden to touch Christ. But it is easy to reconcile them. The Lord, perceiving that Mary was too eager to embrace and kiss his fleet, orders her to retire; because it was proper to correct the superstition, and to point out the design of his resurrection, which Mary was withheld from perceiving, partly by an earthly and carnal affection, and partly by foolish zeal. Yet at first the Lord permitted her to touch his feet, that nothing might be wanting to give her a full conviction; and, therefore, Matthew immediately adds, that they worshipped the Lord, which was a proof that they fully recognized him.
10. Then Jesus saith to them. We conclude, that it was an improper fear, from which Christ again delivers them; for though it arose out of admiration, still it was opposed to the tranquillity of faith. That they may raise themselves to Christ, the Conqueror of death, they are commanded to be cheerful. 308308 “De se resjouir, et ouster toute tristesse;” — “to be glad, and to lay aside all sadness.” But by those words we are taught that we never know aright our Lord’s resurrection, until, through the firm assurance which we have conceived in our hearts, we venture to rejoice that we have been made partakers of the same life. Our faith ought, at least, to proceed so far that fear shall not predominate.
Go, tell my brethren. When Christ ordered them to tell this to the disciples, by this message he again collected and raised up the Church, which was scattered and fallen down. For as it is chiefly by the faith of the resurrection that we are now quickened, so at that time it was proper that the disciples should have that life restored to them from which they had fallen. Here, to it is proper to remark the astonishing kindness of Christ, in deigning to bestow the name of brethren on deserters who had basely forsaken him. Nor can it be doubted that he intentionally employed so kind an appellation, for the purpose of soothing the grief by which he knew that they were grievously tormented. But as the Apostles were not the only persons who were acknowledged by him as brethren, let us know that this message was conveyed by the recommend of Christ, in order that it might afterwards come to us. And, therefore, we ought not to listen with indifference to the narrative of the resurrection, when Christ, with his own mouth, kindly invites us to receive the fruit of it on the ground of our being related to him as brethren. As to the interpretation which some have given to the word brethren, as denoting the cousins and other relatives of Christ, 309309 “Les cousins et autres parens de Christ.” their mistake is abundantly refuted by the context; for John expressly says that Mary came and told the disciples, (20:18;) and Luke immediately adds, that the women told these things to the apostles. Mark also agrees with them; for he says that Mary came and told it to the apostles, while they were mourning and weeping.
Matthew 28:11. And while they were departing. It is not only credible, but the fact is manifest, that the soldiers, to whom had been entrusted the charge of the sepulcher, were corrupted by a bribe, so that they were prepared to tell a lie at the bidding of the priests. They knew well that there was nothing which the priests dreaded more than that a report should gain credit that Christ rose on the third day after his death; and they knew that they had been sent there, that, by guarding the body, they might suppress that report. Those men, therefore, being addicted to making gain, and seizing on opportunities of making it from every quarter, after having found that their diligence was of no service to them, contrive a new method of cheating their employers out of their money. The words of Matthew — some of them came — leave it uncertain if a few cunning men adopted this resolution without communicating with the rest, or if they were sent, by a general agreement, in the name of all. The latter supposition appears to be more probable; for Matthew afterwards says that money was given, not to one or two, but generally to the soldiers, to induce them to commit perjury. It is at all events certain that, whether they all plotted together, or only a part of them, they sought to make profit of the cruel and implacable hatred which the priests bore towards Christ; and that, looking upon them as convicted of a crime. they abused their evil conscience to extort money from them. For, as usually happens with all wicked men, the priests, conscious of having done wrong, in order to cover their disgrace, were compelled to bribe the soldiers by a large reward. Thus it is evident that the reprobate, after having once given themselves up to a course of sinning, are continually entangled in new crimes; and this arises out of their desire to conceal their shame before men, while they give themselves no concern about the offense committed against God. Those wretched men not only bribe the soldiers by a large sum of money, but expose their own reputation and life to serious danger, should cognizance be taken of the crime. And what constrains them, in addition to the expense which they have laid out, to incur so serious a risk, but because inveterate rage does not permit them to withdraw until they have added sin to sin?
15. And this statement is currently reported. It was the finishing stroke of the vengeance of God to blind the Jews, that the resurrection of Christ was buried by the perjury of the soldiers, and that so gross a falsehood was believed. And hence it is evident that those who did not believe that Christ was risen were deceived by a voluntary error, as the world voluntarily gives itself up to be deceived by the snares of Satan. For if a man had but opened his eyes, it was unnecessary that he should make a long inquiry. Armed soldiers say that the body of Christ was stolen from them by a feeble, timid, small, and unarmed body of men. What plausible grounds have they for saying so? They add that this was done while they were asleep. How then do they come to know that it was stolen? And if they had any suspicion of the disciples, why did they not track their footsteps? Why did they not, at least, make a noise? It was therefore a childish subterfuge, which would not have screened them from punishment, if they had had to deal with an honest and upright governor; but through the connivance of Pilate, that enormous wickedness was allowed to pass unnoticed, In like manner, we see it happen every day, that irreligious judges give themselves little trouble, when truth is oppressed by fraud and malice; but, on the contrary, if they are not afraid of suffering damage, they appear to enter into collusion with base and infamous men.
Though it may appear strange that God should permit this false report to gain currency to extinguish the glory of his Son, we ought to render the honor which is due to his just vengeance. For we perceive that this nation deserved to have its light taken away by clouds, because it so eagerly seizes hold on an idle and childish falsehood; next, because almost all have struck on the stone of stumbling, it was proper that their eyes should be darkened, that they might not see that the cup of giddiness was presented to them; and, in short, that they were abandoned to every kind of madness, as Isaiah had foretold, (6:9.) For God would never have permitted them to be deceived by such a foolish credulity, but in order that those who had despised the Redeemer might be shut out from the hope of salvation; as he now inflicts a similar punishment on the ingratitude of the world, by giving loose reins to the reprobate, that they may go from bad to worse. But though this falsehood obtained currency among the Jews, this did not prevent the truth of the Gospel from flying at liberty to the very ends of the earth, as it always rises victorious over all the obstacles in the world.
Matthew 28:16. And the eleven disciples went into Galilee. Matthew, passing by those occurrences which we have taken out of the other three Evangelists, mentions only in what place the eleven disciples were appointed to the apostolic office. For—as we have already had frequent opportunities of perceiving—it was not the intention of the Evangelists to embrace every part of the history; because the Holy Spirit, who guided their pen, has thought fit to compose such a summary as we see out of their united testimonies. Matthew has therefore selected what was of the greatest importance to us, namely, that when Christ appeared to the disciples, he likewise commissioned them to be apostles, to convey into every part of the world the message of eternal life.
To the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. Though the mountain is not mentioned any where else, yet we con-elude that this spot in Galilee was known to Mary. 323323 “Que Christ enseigna nommément ce lieu-là a Marie;” — “that Christ expressly informed Mary respecting that place.”
17. But some doubted. It is wonderful that, after they had twice seen Christ, still some doubted. If any one choose to view this as referring to the first appearance, there will be no absurdity in that opinion; for the Evangelists are sometimes in the habit of blending a variety of transactions. But neither would it have the appearance of absurdity to suppose that in some of them the remains of their former terror led them again into hesitation; for we know that, when Christ appeared, they were struck with fear and amazement, till they had recovered their minds and had become accustomed to his presence. The meaning, therefor appears to me to be, that some at first hesitated, until Christ made a nearer and more familiar approach to them; but that when they certainly and absolutely recognized him, then they worshipped, because the splendor of his divine glory was manifest. And perhaps it was the same reason that suddenly caused them to doubt, and afterwards led them to worship him; namely, that he had laid aside the form of a servant, and had nothing in his appearance but what was heavenly.
18. And Jesus approached and spoke to them. His approach unquestionably removed all hesitation. Before relating that the office of teaching was committed to the disciples, Matthew says that Christ began by speaking of his power; and not without reason. For no ordinary authority would here have been enough, but sovereign and truly divine government ought to be possessed by him who commands them to promise eternal life in his ham to reduce the whole world under his sway, and to publish a doctrine which subdues all pride, and lays prostrate the whole of the human race. And by this preface Christ not only encouraged the Apostles to full confidence in the discharge of their office, but confirmed the faith of his gospel in all ages. Never, certainly, would the Apostles have had sufficient confidence to undertake so arduous an office, if they had not known that their Protector sitteth in heaven, and that the highest authority is given to him; for without such a support it would have been impossible for them to make any progress. But when they learn that he to whom they owe their services is the Governor of heaven and earth, this alone was abundantly sufficient for preparing them to rise superior to all opposition. As regards the hearers, if the contemptible appearance of those who preach the gospel weakens or retards their faith, let them learn to raise their eyes to the Master himself, by whose power the majesty of the Gospel ought to be estimated, and then they will not venture to despise him when speaking by his ministers.
He expressly calls himself the Lord and King of heaven and earth, because, by constraining men to obey him in the preaching of the gospel, he establishes his throne on the earth; and, by regenerating his people to a new life, and inviting them to the hope of salvation, he opens heaven to admit to a blessed immortality with angels those who formerly had not only crawled on the world, but had been plunged in the abyss of death. Yet let us remember that what Christ possessed in his own right was given to him by the Father in our flesh, or—to express it more clearly—in the person of the Mediator; for he does not lay claim to the eternal power with which he was endued before the creation of the world, but to that which he has now received, by being appointed to be Judge of the world. Nay, more, it ought to be remarked, that this authority was not fully known until he rose from the dead; for then only did he come forth adorned with the emblems of supreme King. To this also relate those words of Paul:
he emptied himself, (ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε,) therefore God hath exalted him, and given to him a name which is above every other name,
(Philippians 2:7, 9.)
And though, in other passage the sitting at the right hand of God is placed after the ascension to heaven, as later in the order of time; yet as the resurrection and the ascension to heaven are closely connected with each other, with good reason does Christ now speak of his power in such magnificent terms.
19. Go out, therefore, and teach all nations. Though Mark, after having related that Christ appeared to the eleven disciples, immediately subjoins the command to preach the gospel, he does not speak of these as an unbroken series of events, for we learn from the enumeration of them which is given by Matthew, that the latter event did not take place before they had gone into Galilee. The meaning amounts to this, that by proclaiming the gospel everywhere, they should bring all nations to the obedience of the faith, and next, that they should seal and ratify their doctrine by the sign of the gospel. In Matthew, they are first taught simply to teach; but Mark expresses the kind of doctrine, that they should preach the gospel; and shortly afterwards Matthew himself adds this limitation, to teach them to observe all things whatsoever the Lord hath commanded.
Let us learn from this passage, that the apostleship is not an empty title, but a laborious office; and that, consequently, nothing is more absurd or intolerable than that this honor should be claimed by hypocrites, who live like kings at their ease, and disdainfully throw away from themselves the office of teaching. The Pope of Rome and his band proudly boast of their succession, as if they held this rank in common with Peter and his companions; and yet they pay no more regard to doctrine than was paid by the Luperci, or the priests of Bacchus and Venus. 324324 The God Pan, in honor of whom the grossest indecency was practiced at the festival of the Lupercalia, — Bacchus, the patron of drunkenness, — and Venus, the patroness of licentiousness, — recall to every one who is familiar with classical literature the degraded state of morals into which Rome had sunk amidst the proudest triumphs of civilization. Ancient Heathenism, like the Braminism of modern Hindostan, offered a ready apology for every species of crime, and associated with the history of its gods, and with the most sacred duties of religion, scenes so utterly impure, and so much fitted to inflame the basest passions, that the bare recital of them would offend a modest ear. By the present allusion, Calvin means something more than meets the eye, and reminds us that the Pope and his clergy not only “paid as little regard to Christian doctrine as the priests of Pan, and Bacchus, and Venus,” but that they too closely resembled them in the flagrant immorality of their lives. Above all, he points to the refinements of casuistry, the shocking disclosures of the confessional, and the profligacy of monastic life, in all of which, under the cloak of religion, practices, of which it is a shame even to speak, (Ephesians 5:12,) received the most direct encouragement. — Ed. And with what face, pray, do they claim to be the successors of those who, they are told, were appointed to be preachers of the gospel? But though they are not ashamed to display their impudence, still with every reader of sound judgment this single word is sufficient to lay prostrate their silly hierarchy—that no man can be a successor of the apostles who does not devote his services to Christ in the preaching of the gospel. In short, whoever does not fulfill the duties of a teacher acts wickedly and falsely by assuming the name of an apostle; and what is more—the priesthood of the New Testament consists in slaying men, as a sacrifice to God, by the spiritual sword of the word. Hence it follows, that all are but pretended and spurious priests who are not devoted to the office of teaching.
Teach all nations. Here Christ, by removing the distinction, makes the Gentiles equal to the Jews, and admits both, indiscriminately to a participation in the covenant. Such is also the import of the term: go out; for the prophets under the law had limits assigned to them, but now,
the wall of partition having been broken down,
the Lord commands the ministers of the gospel to go to a distance, in order to spread the doctrine of salvation in every part of the world. For though, as we have lately suggested, the right of the first-born at the very commencement of the gospel, remained among the Jews, still the inheritance of life was common to the Gentiles. Thus was fulfilled that prediction of Isaiah, (49:6,) and others of a similar nature, that Christ was
given for a light of the Gentiles,
that he might be the salvation of God to the end of the earth.
Mark means the same thing by every creature; for when peace has been proclaimed to those that are within the Church, the same message reaches those who are at a distance, and were strangers, (Ephesians 2:17, 19.) How necessary it was that the apostles should be distinctly informed of the calling of the Gentiles, is evident from this consideration, that even after having received the command, they felt the greatest horror at approaching them, as if by doing so they polluted themselves and their doctrine.
Baptizing them. Christ enjoins that those who have submitted to the gospel, and professed to be his disciples, shall be baptized; partly that their baptism may be a pledge of eternal life before God:, and partly that it may be an outward sign of faith before men. For we know that God testifies to us the grace of adoption by this sign, because he engrafts us into the body of his Son, so as to reckon us among his flock; and, therefore, not only our spiritual washing, by which he reconciles us to himself, but likewise our new righteousness, are represented by it. But as God, by this seal confirms to us his grace, so all who present themselves for baptism do, as it were, by their own signature, ratify their faith. Now since this charge is expressly given to the apostles along with the preaching of the word, it follows that none can lawfully administer baptism but those who are also the ministers of doctrine. When private persons, and even women, are permitted to baptize, nothing can be more at variance with the ordinance of Christ, nor is it any thing else than a mere profanation. Besides, as doctrine is placed first in order, this points out to us the true distinction between this mystery and the bastard rites of the Gentiles, by which they are initiated into their sacred mysteries; for the earthly element does not become a sacrament until God quickens it by his word. As superstition improperly counterfeits all the works of God, foolish men forge various sacraments at their pleasure; but as the word, which is the soul, is not in them, they are idle and unmeaning shadows. Let us therefore hold that the power of the doctrine causes the signs to assume a new nature; as the outward working of the flesh begins to be the spiritual pledge of regeneration, when it is preceded by the doctrine of the gospel; and this is the true consecration instead of which, Popery has introduced to us the enchantments of sorcery.
Accordingly, it is said in Mark, He that shall believe and be baptized shall be saved. By these words Christ not only excludes from the hope of salvation hypocrites who, though destitute of faith, are puffed up only by the outward sign; but by a sacred bond he connects baptism with doctrine, so that the latter is nothing more than an appendage of the former. But as Christ enjoins them to teach before baptizing, and desires that none but believers shah be admitted to baptism, it would appear that baptism is not properly administered unless when it is preceded by faith. On this pretense, the Anabaptists have stormed greatly against infant baptism. But the reply is not difficult, if we attend to the reason of the command. Christ orders them to convey to all nations the message of eternal salvation, and confirms it by adding the seal of baptism. Now it was proper that faith in the word should be placed before baptism, since the Gentiles were altogether alienated from God, and had nothing in common with the chosen people; for otherwise it would have been a false figure, which offered forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit to unbelievers, who were not yet members of Christ. But we know that by faith those who were formerly despised are united to the people of God.
It is now asked, on what condition does God adopt as children those who formerly were aliens? It cannot, indeed, be denied that, when he has once received them into his favor, he continues to bestow it on their children and their children’s children. By the coming of Christ God manifested himself as a Father equally to the Gentiles and to the Jews; and, therefore, that promise, which was formerly given to the Jews, must now be in force towards the Gentiles,
I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee,
Thus we see that they who entered by faith into the Church of God are reckoned, along with their posterity, among the members of Christ, and, at the same time, called to the inheritance of salvation. And yet this does not involve the separation of baptism from faith and doctrine; because, though infants are not yet of such an age as to be capable of receiving the grace of God by faith, still God, when addressing their parents, includes them also. I maintain, therefore, that it is not rash to administer baptism to infants, to which God invites them, when he promises that he will be their God.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This passage shows that the full and clear knowledge of God, which had been but darkly shadowed out under the Law and the Prophets, is at length fully discovered under the reign of Christ. True, indeed, the ancients would never have ventured to call God their Father, if they had not derived this assurance from Christ their Head; and the Eternal Wisdom of God, who is the fountain of light and life, was not wholly unknown to them. It was even one of their acknowledged principles, that God displays his power by the Holy Spirit. But at the commencement of the gospel God was far more clearly revealed in Three Persons; for then the Father manifested himself in the Son, his lively and distinct image, while Christ, irradiating the world by the full splendor of his Spirit, held out to the knowledge of men both himself and the Spirit.
There are good reasons why the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are expressly mentioned; for there is no other way in which the efficacy of baptism can be experienced than when we begin with the unmerited mercy of the Father, who reconciles us to himself by the only begotten Son; next, Christ comes forward with the sacrifice of his death; and at length, the Holy Spirit is likewise added, by whom he washes and regenerates us, (Titus 3:5,) and, in short, makes us partakers of his benefits. Thus we perceive that God cannot be truly known, unless our faith distinctly conceive of Three Persons in one essence; and that the fruit and efficacy of baptism proceed from God the Father adopting us through his Son, and, after having cleansed us from the pollutions of the flesh through the Spirit: creating us anew to righteousness.
Matthew 28:20. Teaching them to observe all things. By these words, as I have formerly suggested, Christ shows that, in sending the apostles, he does not entirely resign his office, as if he ceased to be the Teacher of his Church; for he sends away the apostles with this reservation, that they shall not bring forward their own inventions, but shall purely and faithfully deliver from hand to hand (as we say) what he has entrusted to them. Would to God that the Pope would subject to this rule the power which he claims for himself; for we would easily permit him to be the successor of Peter or of Paul, provided that he did not usurp a tyrannical dominion over our souls. But as he has set aside the authority of Christ, and infects the Church with his childish fooleries, this shows plainly enough how widely he has departed from the apostolic office. In short, let us hold that by these words teachers are appointed over the Church, not to put forward whatever they may think proper, but that they, as well as others, may depend on the mouth of the Master alone, so as to gain disciples for him, and not for themselves.
And, lo, I am with you always. As Christ gave to the apostles a commission which they were unable to discharge by reliance on merely human power, he encourages them by the assurance of his heavenly protection. For before promising that he would be with them, he began with declaring that he is the, King of heaven and earth, who governs all things by his power and authority.
The pronoun I must be viewed as emphatic; as if he had said that the apostles, if they wished zealously to perform their duty, must not consider what they are able to do, but must rely on the invincible power of those under whose banner they fight. The nature of that presence which the Lord promises to his followers ought to be understood spiritually; for it is not necessary that he should descend from heaven in order to assist us, since he can assist us by the grace of his Spirit, as if he stretched out his hand from heaven. For he who, in respect of his body, is at a great distance from us, not only diffuses the efficacy of his Spirit through the whole world, but even actually dwells in us.
Even to the end of the world. It ought likewise to be remarked, that this was not spoken to the apostles alone; for the Lord promises his assistance not for a single age only, but even to the end of the world. It is as if he had said, that though the ministers of the gospel be weak and suffer the want of all things: he will be their guardian, so that they will rise victorious over all the opposition of the world. In like manner, experience clearly shows in the present day, that the operations of Christ are carried on wonderfully in a secret manner, so that the gospel surmounts innumerable obstacles.
So much the more intolerable is the wickedness of the Popish clergy, when they take this as a pretext for their sacrilege and tyranny. They affirm that the Church cannot err, because it is governed by Christ; as if Christ, like some private soldier, hired himself for wages to other captains, and as if he had not, on the contrary, reserved the entire authority for himself, and declared that he would defend his doctrine, so that his ministers may confidently expect to be victorious over the whole world.