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1And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town.

Jesus Heals a Paralytic

2 And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? 6But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” 7And he stood up and went to his home. 8When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.

The Call of Matthew

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”


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Matthew 9:1. And came into his own city. This passage shows, that Capernaum was generally believed to be the birth-place of Christ, because his visits to it were frequent: for there is no room to doubt, that it is the same history which is related by the three Evangelists, though some circumstances may be more exactly related by one of them than by another. Luke says that scribes had come from various parts of Judea, who were spectators when Christ healed the paralytic; and at the same time states indirectly, that there were others who also received healing through the grace of Christ. For, before he comes to the paralytic, he speaks in the plural number, and says, that the power of God was displayed for healing their diseases; the power of the Lord was present to heal them The glory of this miracle was very remarkable. A man destitute of the use of all his limbs, lying on a bed, and lowered by cords, suddenly rises up in health, vigor, and agility. Another special reason why the Evangelists dwell more on this miracle than on others is, that the scribes were offended at Christ for claiming power and authority to forgive sins; while Christ intended to confirm and seal that authority by a visible sign.

2. And when Jesus saw their faith. It is God alone, indeed, who knows faith: but they had given evidence of faith by the laboriousness of that attempt: for they would never have submitted to so much trouble, nor contended with such formidable hindrances, if they had not derived courage from entire confidence of success. The fruit of their faith appeared in their not being wearied out, when they found the entrance closed up on all sides. The view which some take of these words, that Christ, as a divine person, knew their faith, which lay concealed within them, appears to me a forced interpretation.

Now, as Christ granted to their faith the favor which he bestowed on the paralytic, a question is usually raised on this passage how far do men derive advantage from the faith of others? And, first, it is certain, that the faith of Abraham was of advantage to his posterity, when he embraced the free covenant offered to him and to his seed. We must hold a similar belief with regard to all believers, that, by their faith, the grace of God is extended to their children and their children’s children even before they are born. The same thing takes place in infants, who are not yet of such an age as to be capable of faith. With regard to adults, on the other hand, who have no faith of their own, (whether they be strangers, or allied by blood,) the faith of others can have nothing more than an indirect influence in promoting the eternal salvation of their souls. As the prayers, by which we ask that God will turn unbelievers to repentance, are not without advantage, our faith is evidently of such advantage to them, that they do not arrive at salvation, till they have been made partakers of the same faith with us in answer to our prayers. But where there is a mutual agreement in faith, it is well known that they promote the salvation of each other. It is also beyond all question, that earthly blessings are often, for the sake of the godly, bestowed on unbelievers.

With regard to the present passage, though Christ is said to have been moved by the faith of others, yet the paralytic could not have obtained the forgiveness of his sins, if he had had no faith of his own. Unworthy persons were often restored by Christ to health of body, as God daily maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, (Matthew 5:45) but there is no other way in which he is reconciled to us than by faith. There is a synecdoche, therefore, in the word their, when it is said that Jesus saw their faith: for Christ not only looked at those who brought the paralytic, but looked also at his faith.

Thy sins are forgiven thee. Christ appears here to promise to the paralytic something different from what he had requested: but, as he intends to bestow health of body, he begins with removing the cause of the disease, and at the same time reminds the paralytic of the origin of his disease, and of the manner in which he ought to arrange his prayers. As men usually do not consider that the afflictions which they endure are God’s chastisements, they desire nothing more than some alleviation in the flesh, and, in the meantime, feel no concern about their sins: just as if a sick man were to disregard his disease, and to seek only relief from present pain.509509     “Cherchoik seulement remede a la douleur presente, qui n'est qu'un accident particulier de son mal;” — “sought only a remedy for the present pain, which is but a particular accident of his disease.” But the only way of obtaining deliverance from all evils is to have God reconciled to us. It does sometimes happen, that wicked men are freed from their distresses, while God is still their enemy: but when they think that they have completely escaped, the same evils immediately return, or more numerous and heavier calamities overwhelm them, which make it manifest that they will not be mitigated or terminated. until the wrath of God shall be appeased, as God declares by the Prophet Amos

If thou escape a lion, a bear shall meet thee;
if thou shut thyself up at home, a serpent shall bite thee,
(Amos 5:19.)

Thus it appears that this is a frequent and ordinary way of speaking in the Scriptures, to promise the pardon of sins, when the mitigation of punishments is sought. It is proper to attend to this order in our prayers. When the feeling of afflictions reminds us of our sins, let us first of all be careful to obtain pardon, that, when God is reconciled to us, he may withdraw his hand from punishing.

3. And, lo, some of the scribes They accuse Christ of blasphemy and sacrilege, because he claims for himself what is God’s prerogative. The other two Evangelists tell us also that they said, Who can forgive sins but God alone? It is beyond all question, that their eagerness to slander drove them to this wicked conclusion. If they think that there is any thing which deserves blame, why do they not inquire into it?510510     “s’ils pensent qu’il y ait quelque chose digne de reprendre aux paroles de Christ, que ne parlent-ils a luy pour en avoir resolution?” — “If they think that there is any thing worthy of blame in the words of Christ, why do they not speak to him to have it explained?” Besides, as the expression admits of more than one meaning, and as Christ said nothing more than what the Prophets frequently say when they announce the grace of God, why do they take in a bad sense what admits of a favorable interpretation? They must have been already poisoned by malice and envy, otherwise they would not so eagerly have seized an occasion of blaming Christ. They remain silent, but think in their hearts, that they may slander him when absent among people of their own class. It is no doubt true, that God alone has power and authority to forgive sins: but they are wrong in concluding that it does not belong to Christ, for he is God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16.) They had a right to inquire on what grounds Christ laid claim to such authority: but, without any inquiry, they suppose him to be one of the common rank of men, and proceed rashly to condemn him.

4. And when Jesus saw their thoughts He now gives a proof of his Divinity in bringing to light their secret thoughts: for who knoweth the things of a man but the spirit of man which is in him? (1 Corinthians 2:11.) And so Mark adds, that Jesus knew by his Spirit: which means, that what was concealed in their hearts could not be perceived by man, but that Christ by his Divine Spirit knew it thoroughly. Why do you think evil? This does not imply that it gave them pain to see a mortal man assuming what God claims as his own prerogative, but that they proudly and wickedly rejected God, who was openly manifested to them.

5. Whether is it easier to say? The meaning is, that, as it is not easier to quicken by a word a body which is nearly dead than to forgive sins, there is no reason to wonder that he forgives sins, when he has accomplished the other. The argument which our Lord uses may appear to be not well-founded: for, in proportion as the soul is more excellent than the body, the forgiveness of sins is a greater work than the healing of the body. But the reply is easy. Christ adapts his discourse to their capacity: for, being carnal, they were more powerfully affected by outward signs, than by all the spiritual power of Christ, which related to eternal salvation. Thus he proves the efficacy of the Gospel for quickening men from the fact, that at the last day he will raise the dead by his voice out of their graves.

Wonder not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all who are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth,
(John 5:28,29.)

This was a sufficiently powerful argument to refute those who reckoned a visible miracle of more importance than all things else. They could not say that he had no right to forgive the sins of the paralytic, when he restored to him health and rigour: for this was a result which followed from the forgiveness of sins.

6. That the Son of man hath authority on earth. This authority is very different from what was given to the apostles, and from what is now exercised by the pastors of the Church: for they cannot so properly be said to pardon sins, as to declare that they are pardoned, when they deliver the commission which is entrusted to them. By these words Christ declares that he is not only the minister and witness, but likewise the author, of this grace. But what means this restriction, on earth? Of what avail will it be to us to have obtained pardon here, if it be not ratified in heaven? Christ’s meaning was, that forgiveness of sins ought not to be sought from a distance: for he exhibits it to men in his own person, and as it were in his hands. So strong is our inclination to distrust, that we never venture to believe that God is merciful to us, till he draws near, and speaks familiarly to us. Now, as Christ descended to earth for the purpose of exhibiting to men the grace of God as present, he is said to forgive sins visibly, because in him and by him the will of God was revealed which, according to the perception of the flesh, had been formerly hidden above the clouds.

8. And the multitudes who saw Instead of astonishment which Matthew mentions,511511     It is remarkable that all the Latin editions which I have examined, — the highly and justly celebrated Amsterdam edition, two Geneva editions, and Tholuck's, — give the reading, “cujus meminit Lucas,” which Luke mentions, instead of “cujus meminit Matthoeus,” which Matthew mentions, as the sense would have required. Matthew says, ἐθαύμασαν, they wondered, or were astonished Mark uses a part of the verb ἐξίσταμαι ὥστε ἐξίστασθαι πάντας,, so that all were amazed; and Luke uses the cognate noun, καὶ ἔκστασις ἔλαβν ἅπανατας and amazement seized all Still, the blunder must have been a slip of Calvin's pen, and would have been permitted to remain in the text, if there had not been express authority for the alteration in his own French version. — Ed. the other two Evangelists employ the word ἔκστασις, or amazement: and Luke adds fear But the design of all the Evangelists is to show, that the power of God was not merely acknowledged, but that all were struck with astonishment, and compelled to give glory to God. The fear, which followed the astonishment, had the effect of preventing them from opposing Christ, and of making them submit to him with reverence as a Prophet of God. Matthew expressly says, that they glorified God, who had given such authority to men Here they appear to be partly mistaken: for, though they see a man with their eyes, they ought to have perceived in him, by the mind, something higher than man. They are no doubt right in saying, that the nature of man received great honor in Christ for the general advantage of the human race: but as they do not perceive him to be God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:6,) their confession is involved in some error.512512     “De quelque erreur et ignorance;” — “in some error and ignorance.” In a word, it was true, that God gave such authority to men: but the form and manner of giving was not yet understood by those who were not aware that the majesty of God was united to flesh.

Matthew 9:9. Jesus saw a man sitting at the customhouse. The custom-house has usually been a place noted for plundering and for unjust exactions, and was at that time particularly infamous. In the choice of Matthew out of that place, not only to be admitted into the family of Christ, but even to be called to the office of Apostle, we have a striking instance of the grace of God. It was the intention of Christ to choose simple and ignorant persons to that rank, in order to cast down the wisdom of the world, (1 Corinthians 2:6.) But this publican, who followed an occupation little esteemed and involved in many abuses, was selected for additional reasons, that he might be an example of Christ’s undeserved goodness, and might show in his person that the calling of all of us depends, not on the merits of our own righteousness, but on his pure kindness. Matthew, therefore, was not only a witness and preacher, but was also a proof and illustration of the grace exhibited in Christ. he gives evidence of his gratitude in not being ashamed to hand down for perpetual remembrance the record of what he formerly was, and whence he was taken, that he might more fully illustrate in his person the grace of Christ. In the same manner Paul says:

This is a faithful saying, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief, (1 Timothy 1:15.)

As to Mark and Luke calling him Levi, it appears that this was his ordinary name:517517     “Il est aise a voir que c'estoit son droit nom par lequel les gens du pays l’appeloyent;” — “it is easy to see that it was his right name, by which the people of the country called him.” but that his being a publican was the reason why he took a foreign name.

Follow me There is no reason to doubt that Christ explained in many words why he was called, and on what conditions. This is more fully ascertained from Luke, who says, that he left all, rose up, and followed Christ: for it would not have been necessary for him to leave all, if he had not been a private disciple of Christ, and called in expectation of the Apostleship. In the great readiness and eagerness of Matthew to obey, we see the Divine power of the word of Christ. Not that all in whose ears he utters his voice are equally affected in their hearts: but in this man Christ intended to give a remarkable example, that we might know that his calling was not from man.518518     “Qu’il n’a pas este appele par un moyen procedant de l’homme;” — “that he was not called by a method proceeding from man.”

Matthew 9:11. Why does your Master eat with publicans and sinners? The scribes attack the disciples of Christ, and, with the view of soliciting them to revolt, reproach him with what was at first sight base and shameful.” Of what use was it that he should be their Master, if it were not to withdraw them from the majority of men to lead a holier life? On the contrary, he withdrew them from a respectable and passable condition in life to ungodly licentiousness, and to pollute themselves by wicked companions.” Ignorant and wavering disciples might have been induced by such reproaches to desert their Master. But they act properly when, not finding themselves sufficiently fortified against such a calumny, they carry their complaint to their Master: for Christ, by opposing the scribes, confirms his disciples for the future.

12. Not they who are in health need a physician It is evident from Christ’s reply that the scribes erred in two ways: they did not take into account the office of Christ; and, while they spared their own vices, they proudly despised all others. This deserves our particular attention, for it is a disease which has been always very general. Hypocrites, being satisfied and intoxicated with a foolish confidence in their own righteousness, do not consider the purpose for which Christ was sent into the world, and do not acknowledge the depth of evils in which the human race is plunged, or the dreadful wrath and curse of God which lies on all, or the accumulated load of vices which weighs them down.

The consequence is, that they are too stupid to feel the miseries of men, or to think of a remedy. While they flatter themselves, they cannot endure to be placed in their own rank, and think that injustice is done them, when they are classed with transgressors. Our Lord glances at this second error by replying, that they who are in health have no need of a physician It is an ironical admission,520520     “C’est une concession par ironie, (c’est a dire, moquerie;”)—”it is an admission made in irony, (that is, in ridicule.”) and is intended to show that they are offended when they see sinners, because they claim righteousness for themselves. Because you are in health, (he says,) you despise the sick, are offended at them, and cannot endure the sight of them: but a physician ought to be affected in a very different manner. He afterwards points out that he must discharge the duties of a physician, because he has been sent by the Father to call sinners

Though Christ begins with reproof, yet if we desire to make progress in his doctrine, what he has put in the second place must receive our first consideration. He came to quicken the dead, to justify the guilty and condemned, to wash those who were polluted and full of uncleanness, to rescue the lost from hell, to clothe with his glory those who were covered with shame, to renew to a blessed immortality those who were debased by disgusting vices. If we consider that this was his office and the end of his coming, — if we remember that this was the reason why he took upon him our flesh, why he shed his blood, why he offered the sacrifice of his death, why he descended even to hell, we will never think it strange that he should gather to salvation those who have been the worst of men, and who have been covered with a mass of crimes.

He whom you detest appears to you to be unworthy of the grace of Christ. Why then was Christ himself made a sacrifice and a curse, but that he might stretch out his hand to accursed sinners? Now, if we feel disgust at being associated by Baptism and the Lord’s Supper with vile men, and regard our connection with them as a sort of stain upon us, we ought immediately to descend into ourselves, and to search without flattery our own evils. Such an examination will make us willingly allow ourselves to be washed in the same fountain with the most impure, and will hinder us from rejecting the righteousness which he offers indiscriminately to all the ungodly, the life which he offers to the dead, and the salvation which he offers to the lost.

13. But rather go and learn He dismisses and orders them to depart, because he saw that they were obstinate and unwilling to learn. Or rather he explains to them, that they are contending with God and the Prophet, when, in pride and cruelty, they are offended at relief which is given to the wretched, and at medicine which is administered to the sick. This quotation is made from Hosea 6:6:

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice;
and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings.

The subject of the prophet’s discourse had been the vengeance of God against the Jews. That they might not excuse themselves by saying that they were performing the outward worship of God, (as they were wont to boast in a careless manner about their ceremonies,) he declares that God has no delight in sacrifices, when their minds are destitute of piety, and when their conduct is at variance with uprightness and righteousness. That the statement, I desired not sacrifice, must be understood comparatively, is evident from the second clause, that the knowledge of God is better than burnt-offerings By these words he does not absolutely reject burnt-offerings, but places them in a rank inferior to piety and faith. We ought to hold, that faith and spiritual worship are in themselves pleasing to God, and that charity and the duties of humanity towards our neighbors are in themselves required; but that sacrifices are but appendages, so to speak, which are of no value or estimation, where substantial truth is not found. On this subject I have treated more fully at the tenth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It ought to be observed that there is a synecdoche in the word mercy: for under one head the prophet embraces all the kindness which we owe to our brethren.

For I came not Though this was spoken for the purpose of reproving the pride and hypocrisy of the scribes, yet it contains, in a general form, a very profitable doctrine. We are reminded that the grace of Christ is of no advantage to us, unless when, conscious of our sins, and groaning under their load, we approach to him with humility. There is also something here which is fitted to elevate weak consciences to a firm assurance: for we have no reason to fear that Christ will reject sinners, to call whom he descended from his heavenly glory. But we must also attend to the expression, to repentance: which is intended to inform us that pardon is granted to us, not to cherish our sins, but to recall us to the earnestness of a devout and holy life. He reconciles us to the Father on this condition, that, being redeemed by his blood, we may present ourselves true sacrifices, as Paul tells us:

The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and righteously, and devoutly in this world, (Titus 2:11,12.)




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