All this, except the last verse, we had before in Matthew and Mark; it is not the story of any miracle in nature wrought by our Lord Jesus, but it is an account of some of the wonders of his grace, which, to those who understand things aright, are no less cogent proofs of Christ’s being sent of God than the other.
I. It was a wonder of his grace that he would call a publican, from the receipt of custom, to be his disciple and follower, Luke 5:27. It was wonderful condescension that he should admit poor fishermen to that honour, men of the lowest rank; but much more wonderful that he should admit publicans, men of the worst reputation, men of ill fame. In this Christ humbled himself, and appeared in the likeness of sinful flesh. By this he exposed himself, and got the invidious character of a friend of publicans and sinners.
II. It was a wonder of his grace that the call was made effectual, became immediately so, Luke 5:28. This publican, though those of that employment commonly had little inclination to religion, for his religion’s sake left a good place in the custom-house (which, probably, was his livelihood, and where he stood fair for better preferment), and rose up, and followed Christ. There is no heart too hard for the Spirit and grace of Christ to work upon, nor any difficulties in the way of a sinner’s conversion insuperable to his power.
III. It was a wonder of his grace that he would not only admit a converted publican into his family, but would keep company with unconverted publicans, that he might have an opportunity of doing their souls good; he justified himself in it, as agreeing with the great design of his coming into the world. Here is a wonder of grace indeed, that Christ undertakes to be the Physician of souls distempered by sin, and ready to die of the distemper (he is a Healer by office, Luke 5:31)-- that he has a particular regard to the sick, to sinners as his patients, convinced awakened sinners, that see their need of the Physician—that he came to call sinners, the worst of sinners, to repentance, and to assure them of pardon, upon repentance, Luke 5:32. These are glad tidings of great joy indeed.
IV. It was a wonder of his grace that he did so patiently bear the contradiction of sinners against himself and his disciples, Luke 5:30. He did not express his resentment of the cavils of the scribes and Pharisees, as he justly might have done, but answered them with reason and meekness; and, instead of taking that occasion to show his displeasure against the Pharisees, as afterwards he did, or of recriminating upon them, he took that occasion to show his compassion to poor publicans, another sort of sinners, and to encourage them.
V. It was a wonder of his grace that, in the discipline under which he trained up his disciples, he considered their frame, and proportioned their services to their strength and standing, and to the circumstances they were in. It was objected, as a blemish upon his conduct, that he did not make his disciples to fast so often as those of the Pharisees and John Baptist did, Luke 5:33. He insisted most upon that which is the soul of fasting, the mortification of sin, the crucifying of the flesh, and the living of a life of self-denial, which is as much better than fasting and corporal penances as mercy is better than sacrifice.
VI. It was a wonder of his grace that Christ reserved the trials of his disciples for their latter times, when by his grace they were in some good measure better prepared and fitted for them than they were at first. Now they were as the children of the bride-chamber, when the bridegroom is with them, when they have plenty and joy, and every day is a festival. Christ was welcomed wherever he came, and they for his sake, and as yet they met with little or no opposition; but this will not last always. The days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, Luke 5:35. When Christ shall leave them with their hearts full of sorrow, their hands full of work, and the world full of enmity and rage against them, then shall they fast, shall not be so well fed as they are now. We both hunger and thirst and are naked, 1 Cor. 4:11. Then they shall keep many more religious fasts than they do now, for Providence will call them to it; they will then serve the Lord with fastings, Acts 13:2.
VII. It was a wonder of his grace that he proportioned their exercises to their strength. He would not put new cloth upon an old garment (Luke 5:36), nor new wine into old bottles (Luke 5:37, 38); he would not, as soon as ever he had called them out of the world, put them upon the strictnesses and austerities of discipleship, lest they should be tempted to fly off. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, he would not bring them by the way of the Philistines, lest they should repent, when they saw war, and return to Egypt, Exod. 13:17. So Christ would train up his followers gradually to the discipline of his family; for no man, having drank old wine, will of a sudden, straightway, desire new, or relish it, but will say, The old is better, because he has been used to it, Luke 5:39. The disciples will be tempted to think their old way of living better, till they are by degrees trained up to this way whereunto they are called. Or, turn it the other way: “Let them be accustomed awhile to religious exercises, and then they will abound in them as much as you do: but we must not be too hasty with them.” Calvin takes it as an admonition to the Pharisees not to boast of their fasting, and the noise and show they made with it, nor to despise his disciples because they did not in like manner signalize themselves; for the profession the Pharisees made was indeed pompous and gay, like new wine that is brisk and sparkling, whereas all wise men say, The old is better; for, though it does not give its colour so well in the cup, yet it is more warming in the stomach and more wholesome. Christ’s disciples, though they had not so much of the form of godliness, had more of the power of it.