Matthew 1-4

Matthew 1

I have thought. it would be profitable to take up one of the Gospels, and to trace, as simply as the Lord enables me, the general outline of the truth revealed there. It is my desire to point out the special object and design of the Holy Ghost, so as to furnish those who value God’s word with such hints as may tend to meet some of the difficulties that arise in the minds of many, and also to put in a clearer light great truths that are apt to be passed lightly over. Here I may assume that the Spirit of God has not given us these accounts of our Lord liable to the mistakes of men, but that He has, on the contrary, kept His mighty, unerring hand over those who in themselves were men of like passions with us. In a word, the Holy Ghost has inspired these accounts in order that we might have full certainty that He is their author, and thus they are stamped with His own perfection. As He has been pleased to give us various accounts, so He has had a divine reason for each of them. In short, God has sought His own glory in this, and has secured it.

Now there can be no question, to any one who reads the Gospels with the smallest discernment, that the first is most remarkably adapted to meet the need of Jews, and that it brings out the Old Testament prophecies and other scriptures which found their realization in Jesus. Consequently, there are more scripture citations as applying to our Lord’s life and death in this Gospel than in all the others put together. All this was not a thing left to Matthew’s discretion. That the Holy Ghost used the mind of man in carrying out His own design is clear; but that He was pleased perfectly to guard and guide him in what he was to give out is what I mean in saying that God inspired Matthew for the purpose.

Besides presenting our Lord in such a way as best to meet the right or wrong thoughts and feelings of a Jew; besides furnishing the proofs more particularly wanted to satisfy his mind, it is evident from the character of the discourses and parables that the rejection of the Messiah by Israel, and the consequences of it to the Gentiles, are here the great prominent thoughts in the mind of the Holy Ghost. Hence there is no ascension scene in Matthew. The Jew, if he had understood the Old Testament prophecies, would have looked for a Messiah to come, suffer, die, and be raised again, “according to the Scriptures.” In Matthew we have His death and resurrection, but there He is left; and we should not know from the facts related by him only that Christ went up to heaven at all. We should know it was implied in some of the words that Christ spoke; but in point of fact Matthew leaves us with Christ Himself still upon the earth. The last chapter describes, not the ascension of Christ, nor His session at God’s right hand, but His speaking to the disciples here below. Such a presentation of Christ was peculiarly that which the Jews needed to know. It was more suitable to them than to any other people on the earth.

And who was the agent employed, and with what fitness? — one of the twelve who companied with our Lord from the beginning of His ministry till He was taken up from them. So far, of course, he was an evidently competent witness for the Jew, and far more suitable than Mark or Luke would have been, who were not, as far as we know, personal companions of the Lord. But there was this peculiarity — that Matthew was a publican, or tax-gatherer, by profession. Although a Jew, he was in the employment of the Gentiles, which position would make him specially odious to his countrymen. They would look upon him with more suspicion even than upon a stranger. This might make it appear at first sight the more extraordinary that the Holy Ghost should employ such a one to give the account of Jesus as the Messiah. But let us remember that there is another object all through the Gospel of Matthew; that it is not only the record of Jesus as the true Messiah to Israel, but that it shows us His rejection by Israel, and the consequences of their fatal unbelief: — all the barriers which had hitherto existed between Jew and Gentile thrown down — the mercy of God flowing out toward those who were despised, and blessing the Gentile as readily and as fully as the Jew. Thus the admirable propriety of employing Matthew the publican, and its consistency with the scope of his task, are apparent.

These few remarks may help to evince that there was the utmost fitness in the employment of the first of the four Evangelists to do the work appointed for him. If it were our object to examine the rest, it could just as easily be made manifest that each had exactly the right work to do. As we proceed through this Gospel, you will be struck, I doubt not, by the wisdom which chose such a one to give the account of the rejected Messiah, despised by His guilty brethren after the flesh.

But I shall confine myself at present to showing with what wisdom Matthew introduces such an account of the Messiah. For many must have been more or less arrested by the prefatory record of names, and may perhaps have asked, What profit is there to be had from a list like this? But let us never pass over anything in Scripture as a light or even doubtful matter. There is a depth of blessed meaning in the account Matthew gives us of the Lord’s genealogy. I must therefore dwell a little on the perfectly beautiful manner in which the Spirit of God has here traced His lineage, and direct attention briefly to the way in which it harmonizes with the divine account of Jesus for the Jew, who would be constantly raising the question whether Jesus was really the Messiah.

It will be observed that the genealogy here differs totally from what we have in Luke, where it is not given at the beginning, but at the end of chapter 3. Thus, in the latter Gospel we learn a great deal about the Lord Jesus before His genealogy appears. Why was this? Luke was writing to the Gentiles, who could not be supposed to be equally, or in the same way, interested in His messianic relations. But when they had learned in some degree who Jesus was, it would be very interesting to see what was His lineage as man, and to trace Him up to Adam, the father of the whole human family. What more suitable than to link Him with the head of the race if the object were to show the grace that would go out toward all mankind, the salvation-bearing grace of God that appears unto all men? One might put that word in Titus 2 as a sort of frontispiece to Luke’s Gospel. It is God’s grace in the person of His Son, who had become a man, connected as to humanity with the whole family of man, though the nature in Him was ever, only, and altogether holy.

But here, in Matthew, we find ourselves on a narrower ground, circumscribed to a certain family, the royal seed of a certain nation, God’s chosen people. Abraham and David are mentioned in the very first verse. “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham,” Why are these two names thus selected; and why put together here in this brief summary? Because all the hopes of Israel were bound up with what was revealed to these two persons, David was the great head of the kingdom, the one in whom the true line of Messiah’s throne was founded. Saul was merely the fleshly king whom Israel sought passingly for themselves out of their own will. David was the king God chose, and he is here mentioned as the forefather of the Lord’s Anointed — “the Son of David.” Abraham, again, was the one in whom it was said all the nations of the earth should be blessed. Thus the opening words prepare us for the whole of the Gospel. Christ came with all the reality of the kingdom promised to David’s Son. But if He were refused as the Son of David, still, as the Son of Abraham, there was blessing not merely for the Jew, but for the Gentile. He is indeed the Messiah; but if Israel will not have Him, God will during their unbelief bring the nations to taste of His mercy.

Having given us this general view, we come to particulars. We begin with Abraham, tracing Jesus not up to him, but down from him. Every Israelite would begin with Abraham, and would be interested to follow the stages of the line from him on whom they all hung.1 “Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren” (ver. 2). This comprehensive notice, “Judas and his brethren,” seems to be of importance, and in more ways than one. It does not consist with the notion that our Evangelist in this part of the chapter simply copies the records kept by the Jews. We may be sure that men never register in this fashion. Yet it is evidently in the strictest harmony with this Gospel, for it gives prominence to the royal tribe of whom was the Messiah (Gen. 49:10), while it reminds the most favoured that others, too long out of sight, were not forgotten of God now that He is giving the genealogy of His Messiah.

“And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar” (ver. 3). What is the reason for bringing in a woman, for naming Tamar here? There were women of great note in the lineage of the Messiah — persons whom the Jews naturally looked up to as holy and honourable. What Jewish heart would not naturally glow with strong feelings of respect in hearing of Sarah and Rebekah, and the other holy and well-known women recorded in Old Testament history? But there is no mention of them here. On the other hand, Tamar is mentioned. Why is it so? Grace lay underneath this, most rebuking to the flesh, but most precious in its way. There are four women, and only four, who appear in the line, and upon every one of them there was a blot. It is not that all the sources of reproach or shame were of the same kind. But to a proud Jew, with all these women there was connected what was humbling — something that he would have kept in the dark. Oh, wondrous way of God! What can He not do? How striking that the Holy Ghost should not here attract attention to those who would have brought honour in the eyes of Israel — nay, that He should single out these that a carnal Israelite would have held in contempt! The Messiah was to spring from a line in which there had been dismal sin. And where all that is in man would try to hide this and keep it back, the Spirit of God brings it plainly out, so that it shall stand not only in the eternal records of the Old Testament history, but here rehearsed. These, on whom there were such foul blots in the judgment of men, are the only women brought specifically before us. What is man? and what is God? What is man that such things should ever have taken place? And what is God that, instead of covering it, He should have drawn the story out of obscurity and set it in full revealed light, emblazoned, if I may so say, on the genealogy of His own Son! Not at all as if the sin were not exceeding sinful; nor as if God thought lightly of the privileges of His people — still less of the glory of His Son, or what is due to Him. But God, feeling the sin of His own people to be the worst of all sin, yet having introduced in this very Messiah the only One who could save His people from their sins, does not hesitate to bring their sin into the presence of the grace that could and would put it all away. Did the Jew think this was a scandal or dishonour done to the Messiah? From that same seed their Messiah must spring, and from no other line. It was narrowed to the house of David, and to the line of Solomon, and they were in the direct line of Judah’s son Phares. No Jew could get out of the difficulty. What are we not taught by this! If the Messiah deigns to link Himself with such a family — if God is pleased so to order things that out of that stock, as concerning the flesh, His own Son, the Holy One of Israel, was to be born — surely there could be none too bad to be received of Him. He came to “save His people from their sins,” not to find a people that had no sins. He came with all power to save: He showed grace by the very family whereof He was pleased to be a — or rather the — Branch. God is never confounded; neither, through grace, is he that believes, because he rests upon what God is to him. We never can be anything for God till we know that God is everything for us and to us. But when we know such a God and Father as Jesus reveals Him to us, on one side full of goodness, and on the other no darkness in Him at all, what may we not expect from Him? Who might not now be born of God? Who is there that such a God would reject? Such a hint in Matt. 1 opens the way for the wonders of grace which appear afterward. In one sense no man has such a position of ancient privileges as the Jew; yet, even as to the Messiah, this is the account that the Holy Ghost gives of His lineage. No flesh shall glory in the presence of the Lord.

But that is not all. “Phares begat Ezrom and Salmon begat Booz of Rachab” (vers. 3-5). And who and what was she? A Gentile, and once a harlot! But Rahab is taken out of all her belongings — separated from everything that was her portion by nature. And here she is, in this gospel of Jesus written for the Jew — for the very people who despised and hated Him because He would look upon a Gentile. Rahab was named for heaven already, and no Jew could deny it. She was visited of God; she was delivered outwardly and inwardly’ by His mighty grace, brought into and made a part of Israel on earth — yea, by sovereign grace part of the royal line out of which the Messiah must come, and out of which, in point of fact, Jesus, who is God over all, blessed forever, was born. Oh, what marvels of grace dawn upon us while we dwell even on the mere list of names that unbelief would disparage as a dry, if not incorrect, appendage to the word of God! But faith says, I cannot do without the wisdom of God. Certainly His wisdom shines in all that He has written here. He that glories must glory in the Lord.

Might it be thought that Rahab was called in at some distant epoch? But no: “Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; and Jesse begat David the king.” Ruth, loving as she was, yet to a Jew was from a source peculiarly odious. She was a Moabitess, and thus forbidden by the law to enter the congregation of the Lord to the tenth generation. Even the Edomite or the Egyptian was held in less abhorrence, and their children might enter in the third generation (Dent. 23:3-8). Thus was given a still deeper testimony that grace would go out and bless the very worst of the Gentiles. Whether the Jews like it or not, God has Rahab, the once immoral Gentile, and Ruth, the meek daughter of Moab, brought, not only into the nation, but into the direct line from which the Messiah was to arise.

“And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her [that had been the wife] of Urias” (ver. 6). With only a few generations intervening, we have these three women, who would, for one reason or another, moral or ceremonial, have been utterly despised and excluded by the same spirit which rejected Jesus and the grace of God. It was, then, no new thought — the divine mercy that was reaching out to gather in the outcast of the Gentiles, that would look upon the vile to deliver and make them holy. It was God’s way of old. They could not read the account He gives of their own Messiah’s stock without seeing that it was so. And that this was the divinely prescribed channel no Jew could deny. They must all own that the Messiah was to come in no other line than that of Solomon. Oh the grace to us who know what we have been as poor sinners of the Gentiles, what wretchedness was ours, and this because of guilt and sin! “Such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

Hence the first words which introduce the Messiah give the same blessed truth, if there was an ear to hear, or an eye to see, what God had in store and was now pointing to in them. In the case last mentioned there was something more humbling than in any other. For though, of old, Tamar’s story had been wretched, yet there were other features, false and lustful and violent, which met in her case that had belonged to Uriah. And this was so much the more dismal because the chief guilt was on that man’s part whom God had delighted to honour, even “David the king.” Who knows not that it has drawn out the deepest and most touching personal confession of sin ever inspired by the Spirit of God? (Ps. 51) Yet here again we find that he who had to do with this tale of horrors, and who uttered this psalm of sorrowful confession, was the direct forefather of the Messiah. So that, if the Jew looked to those from whom the Messiah had sprung, such must He be according to His earthly ancestors. But God records the blessed display of His ways, both for the winning of the hardest, proudest, and most sinful, and for the unfailing comfort and refreshment of those who love Him.

I need not dwell particularly upon the names that follow. We might see sin upon sin, stain upon stain, interwoven into their various histories. It was one continuous tissue of that which would cause a Jew to blush — what a man never would of himself have dared to bring out about a king that he honoured. God, in His infinite goodness, would not permit these things to slumber. Not a word is said of women who came after the Scripture record terminated; but what Jew could gainsay the lively oracles committed to them? To leave out what a Jew gloried in, and to bring in what he would have concealed through shame, and all in tender mercy to Israel, to sinners, was indeed divine. We may see from this that the mention of these four women is particularly instructive. Man could not have originated it: our place is to learn and adore. Every woman that is named is one that nature would have studiously excluded from the record; but grace made them most prominent in it. Thus the truth taught thereby ought never to be forgotten, and the Jew who wanted to know the claims of Jesus to be the Messiah might learn here what would prepare his heart and conscience for such a Messiah as Jesus is. He is a Messiah come in quest of sinners, who would despise no needy one — not even a poor publican or a harlot. The Messiah so thoroughly reflected what God is in His holy love, so true to all the purposes of God, so perfect an expression of the grace that is in God, that there never was a thought, or feeling, or word of grace in His word, but what the Messiah was come now to make it good in His dealings with poor souls, and first of all with a Jew.

This, then, is the genealogy of Christ as given us here. There are certain omissions in the list, and persons of some learning have been alike weak and daring), enough to impute a mistake to St. Matthew which no intelligent Sunday scholar would have made. For a child could copy what was clearly written out before him; and certainly Matthew could easily have taken the Old Testament and have reproduced the list of names and generations given us in the Chronicles and elsewhere. But there was a divine reason for omitting the particular names of Ahaziah, Joash and Amaziah from verse 8 — three generations. Why is it, we may be permitted to ask, that the apostle Matthew drops, of course by inspiration, some of the links of the chain? The Spirit of God was pleased to arrange the ancestry of our Lord into three divisions of fourteen generations each. Now, as there were actually more than fourteen generations between David and the Captivity, it was a matter of necessity that some should be discarded in order to equalize the series, and fourteen only are therefore recorded. Indeed, if you examine the Old Testament Scriptures, you will find that it is not at all uncommon in genealogies to drop some of the links of the chain. More than twice as many as in our verse are omitted in one place (Ezra 7:3). Now it was Ezra himself who wrote that book, and of course he knew his own descent far more familiarly than we do. And if any of us, by comparison with other parts, can find out the missing links, much more could he. And yet, in giving his own genealogy (chap. 7), the Spirit of God is pleased by him to omit no less than seven generations. This is the more remarkable as no one could exercise his rights as a priest unless he could trace his line up to Aaron without any question as to the succession. I have no doubt that there were special reasons for the omission elsewhere no less than in our Gospel; but the motives for it are a very different question. One of them I have named. There were more than twice seven generations in at least the second division; and this may have been one reason why the writer should omit several of them. But why these in particular? Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab, king of Israel, and wife of Jehoram, had thus entered by marriage the royal house of David; and a sorrowful hour it was indeed for Judah. For Athaliah, enraged at the premature end of her son, king Ahaziah, was guilty of a too successful attempt to destroy the seed-royal. But it could not be complete; for that family was selected out of all the families of God’s people, never to be entirely extinguished till Shiloh came. There was but a single youthful scion, whom Jehoshabeath saved by concealment in the house of the Lord. The light was covered with a bushel for a time; but it was not put out. The then son of David appeared. It was a time when Judah had fallen into manifold and ever-deepening evil. But as surely as that young Joash was brought out of his darkness, — as truly as the priest was there to anoint the king, and the union of the two things accomplished the great purpose of God,so it will be when the years of man’s rebellion against God are full. He will come forth who has been long hidden and forgotten, and all the enemies shall be trampled down; and then will Judah flourish indeed under the King, the true Son of David. For all this was the type of the reappearing of the true Messiah by and by. But my design is not so much to dwell upon that now as to inquire and suggest briefly why it is that we have these few kings omitted. The answer seems to be, that they sprang from Athaliah. Hence they were completely passed over. We find God thus marking His resentment at the introduction of that wicked and idolatrous stock from the house of Ahab. Athaliah’s descendants are not mentioned even to the third generation. This appears to be the moral reason why we find three persons left out at this particular point. Then, in verse 11 we read, “And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren at the time of the removal to Babylon.” It is evident that the method is summary, Jehoahaz, whom the people made king, and who reigned for but three months, not being specified, and Jehoiakim being often called by the same name as his son Jechonias.

But I will not dwell upon the minuter features of the genealogy. The word of God is infinite; and, no matter what we may have learned, it only puts us in a position to find out our ignorance. When persons are altogether in the dark, they think they know all that is to be known. But as we make real progress, we acquire a deeper sense of how little we know, and at the same time more patience with others who may know a little lessand, very possibly, somewhat more. Spiritual intelligence, instead of puffing up the loving heart, produces an increased feeling of our own littleness. Where it is not so, we have reason to fear that the mind outruns the conscience, and that both are far from being subject to the Holy Ghost.

The generations are divided into three different sections. The first is from Abraham to David, the dawn of glory for the Jews. When David “the king” was there, it was noontime in Israel — sadly chequered, it is true, and clouded through sin; but still it was noon of man’s day in Israel. The second division is from thence till the carrying away to Babylon. The third is from that captivity until Christ. This last was clearly the evening history of Israel’s past. But that evening is not the close. It ends with the brightest light of all — type of the day when at evening-time there shall be light. just as the prophet Haggai speaks of the house of God, as it then was, being as nothing in comparison of its first glory, and says, “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts,” so a greater than Solomon was here. Although there had been the decline of the splendour of Israel, and Israel was now broken and subject to the Gentiles, the recorded decline ends in the birth of the true Messiah. Throughout the lingering captivity no persecution could destroy that chosen family; because Jesus, the Messiah of God, was to be born of it. The moment that Jesus concludes His career here below, the chain may seem forever broken as regards the earth, but it is only to be riveted to the throne of God in heaven. Jesus is there, alive again for evermore. And Jesus shall come again, and the Jews shall see and weep, even those written in the book; and Jehovah their King, even Jesus, shall reap in joy what He sowed in tears and His own blood.

But let us look for a little at the remaining view given us of our Lord Jesus in this chapter. Joseph is made very prominent. The genealogy itself is that of Joseph, not of Mary. On the other hand, Mary is the principal figure of the two in Luke, and there it is, I believe, her genealogy. Why is this? It was of necessity, for a Jew, that Jesus should be the heir of Joseph. The reason is that Joseph was the direct lineal descendant of the royal branch of David’s house. There were two lines that came down unbroken to those days — the house of Solomon and the house of Nathan. Mary was the representative of Nathan’s family, as Joseph was of Solomon’s. If Mary had been mentioned without her connection with her husband, there would not have been a legal right to the throne of David. It was necessary that the Messiah should be born, not merely of a virgin, nor of a virgin daughter of David, but of one legally united to Joseph, i.e., in the eye of the law, really his wife. This is carefully recorded here for the special instruction of Israel; for an intelligent Jew would at once have asked that question, and everything must be fenced round with holy jealousy. Let people calumniate as they might, Mary must be espoused to Joseph; else the Lord Jesus would not have a proper title to the throne of David, and therefore the stress here is not laid upon Mary but upon Joseph, because the law would have always maintained the claim of Joseph. On the other hand, had Joseph been the real father, there could have been no Saviour at all. As it is, the wonder of divine wisdom shines most conspicuously, making Him legally the son of Joseph, really the son of Mary, who in the truth of His nature is the Son of God. And all three met and merged in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He must be the undisputed heir of Joseph according to the law, and Joseph was espoused to Mary. The child must be born before Joseph ever lived with Mary as his wife, and this we are carefully shown here.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ2 was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream,” etc. (vers. 18-20). Here the angel appears to Joseph in a dream. In Luke the angel appears to Mary. It is thus in Matthew because Joseph was the important person in the eye of the law; and yet the Messiah must not be, in point of fact, the son of Joseph. All the wit of man could not have understood these ways beforehand; all his power could not have arranged the circumstances. If the law demanded that Jesus should be the heir of Joseph, the prophet demanded that he should not be the son of Joseph, but of a virgin. God humbling Himself was the need of man; man exalted was the counsel of God. How was this, and far more, to be united and reconciled in one person? Jehovah Jesus is the answer. “The angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (ver. 20).

God meets the scruples of the godly Israelite, and signifies that most distinguished honour which He had put upon Mary under a guise which for a season had clouded and distressed her. She was the very virgin God had predicted hundreds of years before — “ She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus.” Here again Joseph was to be the one who publicly acts, while in Luke (Luke 1:31) Mary names. The difference arises from the point of view the Holy Ghost gives us of our Lord’s person in the two Gospels. In Luke He was proving that Jesus, though divine, was very man — a partaker of humanity apart from sin. In our case it is sinful human nature; in His case it was holy. Therefore, in speaking of Him simply as man, it is said in Luke, “Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” So He was most truly and properly a man — the child of His virgin mother; and as such, too, He is called the Son of God. In that Gospel one great point was to prove His holy manhood; to show how fully and fitly He could be a Saviour of men, and take up the woes and wretchedness, and on the cross suffer for the sinfulness of others — Himself the Holy One. He was the Son of God, who had actually taken human nature into His own person, who was perfectly and really a man as much as any of us; but a man without sin, yet holy, and not merely innocent. Adam was innocent; Jesus was holy. Holiness does not mean mere absence of evil, but inward power according to God, and so power to withstand evil. When Adam was tempted, he fell. Jesus was tried by every temptation, and Satan exhausted his wiles in vain. All this, however, is most suitable to the Gospel of Luke, where it is accordingly shown that the proper humanity of Jesus flowed from His birth (i.e., from His mother). His legal right to the throne of David flowed from Joseph, and Joseph accordingly is the prominent personage in the Gospel of Matthew.

But He had a title greater than any which Joseph could transmit even from David or Abraham; and this was to be attested in His name, His lowly name of Jesus, Jehovah, the Saviour. “Thou shalt call His name JESUS; for He shall save His people from their sins.” Jehovah’s people were His people; and He should save them, not merely from their enemies, but from their sins. What a testimony to Him and for them! Blessed for any sinful soul to hear; how especially needed for a people then inflated with boundless hopes of earthly aggrandizement in their expected Messiah!

Here, too, alone in any of the Gospels, it is that we hear of Jesus as “Emmanuel.” This is equally instructive and beautiful, because the Jew was apt to forget it. Did he look for a divine Messiah — for one who was God as well as man? Very far from it. Comparatively few of the Jews expected anything so astonishing as this. They craved and looked for a mighty king and conqueror, yet still a mere man. But here we find that the Holy Spirit, by their own prophet Isaiah, besides speaking of Him as man, takes care to show that He was much more than man, that He was God (vers. 22, 23). Matthew alone brings out this clear testimony of the great evangelical prophet — “God with us.” So perfectly did God provide for these poor Jews, and develop the neglected seeds of their prophecies, and reflect light on the obscure parts of their law; so that if a Jew rejected the Messiah, he did it to his own eternal ruin. Besides being the son of David and Abraham, then, He was God with us. Such was the true Messiah, and such the witness produced to Israel. Could they reject Matthew’s history, if they received Isaiah’s prophecy? In vain they worshipped God, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

“Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife, and knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son; and he called His name JESUS” (vers. 24, 25). Some of the best authorities (the Sinai., Vat., etc.) omit “her first-born,” and so present simply “a son.” But there is no doubt that these words are genuine in Luke 2, whence they may have been introduced here. The shorter form appears to me sufficient for the purpose of our Evangelist.

We have been tracing what would have been of peculiar interest for a Jew; but may we also find the blessing of these truths for our own souls. Whatever exalts Jesus, whatever displays the grace of God and puts down the pride of man, is pregnant with blessing for us. By the blessing of God, pursuing these lessons still farther, we shall find how the wisdom of every word of His is justified as we wait on this most illustrious testimony to Jesus the Messiah, to His rejection by Israel, and to the blessings which thence flow out to us once poor Gentiles.

Matthew 2

I think we shall find in the chapter before us abundant confirmation of the account I have already given of the Holy Ghost’s special design by Matthew. That is, we shall see proofs that there is a most careful presentation of Jesus as the true Messiah of God, and of His rejection as such by the Jews; and that God, at the same time, takes advantage of Israel’s fall to work out larger and deeper purposes.

The very first incident in the chapter illustrates it. Jesus was born. We do not meet with the same interesting facts, which are given us in Luke, of the very early days of our Lord’s infancy: all are passed by, save that we have Christ presented as born in Bethlehem of Judea, the worship of the Magi from the east, and the flight into Egypt. The first fact that the Holy Ghost gives us here is the affecting one that there was no heart for the Messiah in Israel. And this was proved by the most significant circumstances. “Jesus having been born, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship (or do homage to) Him.” We are not told how soon this was after His birth. No doubt a considerable time had elapsed. People are often deceived as to this in looking at the scene through the notions of their infancy. We have all seen the pictures of the Babe in the manger, and “the three kings” coming in to worship Him. But the truth is, that the Lord was not just born, as such associations would convey, when the Magi arrived. For His earliest condition in this world we must consult, not Matthew, but Luke.

Some might, it is true, gather a wrong impression from the Authorized Version of verse 1: “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king.” This does not intimate that the visit followed immediately upon our Saviour’s birth, but leaves room for a time more or less considerable afterwards. It simply means, that after He was born these easterns came: many months, or upwards of a year, might have intervened. What confirms this is that the wise men had first seen the star in the east, and most probably at the time of our Lord’s birth. After seeing the star, they had of course many a preparation to make before they could set out, and then a long way to travel; and travelling in those days was a hard and tedious matter in the eastern parts of the world. Even when they arrive in Judea, they go up first to Jerusalem to enquire there. All this supposes necessarily the lapse of no little time. Their questions are answered by the scribes. Herod, hearing of it, is troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. He gathers together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, and demands of them where Christ should be born. They tell him in Bethlehem of Judea, upon which he calls the wisemen and sends them there. All this took place be. fore the scene of their worship.

They, when they had heard the king, departed. “And lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.” We are not to imagine, according to traditional notions, that the star tracked the way before them to Jerusalem. They saw it in the east, and connected the sight with the promised Messiah; for at that time the prophecies about His speedy appearance had been spread over a considerable part of the world. Many Gentiles were expecting Him, especially in the east. And the greatest and most opposed in the west were aware of such hopes. The last man that was known in the east as a prophet, before the Gentiles were broken in the presence of Israel, was Balaam. No doubt he was a wicked man; but God took advantage of him to utter the most remarkable predictions of Israel’s coming glory. And that very prophecy had closed with a reference to the Star that should rise out of Jacob. And now, after many hundred years had passed away, the traces of this prophecy still lingered among the children of the east. It is unlikely, too, that Daniel’s prophecies in Babylon, especially that of the seventy weeks, etc., could be unknown, considering his position and the extraordinary events of his day. We can understand that these prophecies would not only be such as the children of Israel would treasure up, but the knowledge of them might spread, especially in those lands. Much of his prophecies might not be clearly understood. Still, they looked for a wonderful personage to arise — a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre out of Israel.

When these strangers, then, saw the star, they set forward to His traditional capital, Jerusalem. It is clear that the star was a meteor of some kind. As it shone in the east, they put the fact of this remarkable phenomenon along with the expectations of the coming king. And this the more, because the easterns were great observers of the heavens, and were therefore more alive to any uncommon appearance. It may have recalled the prophecy of Balaam. Certain it is that they soon started for Jerusalem, where universal report among the Gentiles maintained that the great King was to reign. Having got there, God meets them; and it is remarkable how He does so. It is by His word, and His word interpreted by those who had not the smallest interest of heart in the Messiah. They were quite right in their interpretation; they knew where Messiah was to be born. The Magi probably thought that Jerusalem was to be the spot; but they were told by the scribes that Bethlehem was the predicted birthplace. Alas, the very men who could answer so pertinently showed the not less solemn, because it is a common fact, that it is possible to have a measure of clear knowledge of Scripture and at the same time to have no love for Him of whom all testifies! As to the Magi, ignorant as they were, and though they might have been in the dark as to other things, still their desire was true, and God overruled all. Through these Gentiles, indeed, He sent a testimony to Jerusalem as to the birth of the Messiah. God knew how to accomplish this and to rebuke, through their testimony, those who ought above all to have watched for and hailed their own Messiah. If there was a queen who came from the distant parts of the earth to see king Solomon and to hear his wisdom who was the type of Christ, so was it now. The Holy Ghost wrought on and for these pilgrims from a far country to bring them in presence of the true King. The scribes could answer the questions, but there was no care for the Messiah, and it was for Him that these wise men came. This at once detects the awful state that Jerusalem was in. The effect of the tidings that God’s King was born is that, instead of seeking the promised One, instead of being filled with joy to hear of One whom they had not sought, they were all troubled, from the king downward. More particularly, as we learn here, the chief priests and scribes are those whose state demonstrates the utter heartlessness of the nation. They had enough religious knowledge, they had the key in their hand, but they had no heart to enter in.

“Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared” (ver. 7). I call your attention to that, as confirming what I said before. It was after the diligent enquiry of the king from the wise men that he settled in his own mind at what time the Child must have been born. When they, warned of God, had withdrawn themselves instead of returning to Herod, he sent forth the cruel command to kill the children in Bethlehem and all the coasts “from two years old and under” - he naturally inferred that there had been a considerable lapse of time between the birth of Christ and the giving of his wicked order.

If we turn to the Gospel of Luke, we shall see the importance of this. We have there our Lord born, as Matthew shows, in the city of David; but we are told here the circumstances that account for this, for Bethlehem was not the place where Mary and Joseph ordinarily dwelt. It was a village to which they repaired because of the commandment of the Roman emperor, who had sent forth a decree that all the world should be taxed, or enrolled. They, being of the royal family of the Jews, go to Bethlehem, which was the city of David. Thus God brought to pass the accomplishment of the prophecy of Micah through the decree of Caesar Augustus. Nothing was farther from the Roman’s thought than the result which his decree was to subserve — the birth of the Messiah in the very place where prophecy demanded it. It appears that the census was not carried out then, but begun, and then stopped for some time. For it is said in Luke 2:2, “And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria,” which was several years after. People, not understanding this, have concluded that there was a mistake in Luke. They knew that Cyrenius’s government of Syria was subsequent to Christ’s nativity, and too hastily inferred that our Evangelist laboured under the impression that the going up of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem took place in his time. But it is they who err, I believe. The decree of Caesar Augustus did not come into full operation or effect till then. It was just sufficiently carried out, when the order for enrolment was given, to induce Joseph and Mary to go up to the city of their lineage; and that was enough. God’s object was accomplished. Joseph and Mary went there, and while there her days were fulfilled and she brought forth her firstborn Son, and “wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in the manger.” There we have a scene totally different from what we had in Matthew, though this too was at Bethlehem. In all probability they paid more than one visit to the place. It was not far from Jerusalem, and we know that they went there every year to the feast of the passover. I see no reason to doubt that the visit of the Magi took place at another visit on the part of the parents to Bethlehem.

Mark how the circumstances recorded in Matthew differ from those in Luke.

In Matthew, Jerusalem is all troubled by the tidings of the Messiah’s birth, while strangers from afar come up to do homage to the King of the Jews. They had seen His star; they knew it was the promised King, and now they are come to worship Him. They arrive at Jerusalem, and when they leave it, on their way to Bethlehem, they are again encouraged of God. The star which they had seen before in the cast, re-appeared and went before them till it came and stood over where the young child was — plain evidence that the star had not accompanied them all the way. And we shall find it true in our own experience, that where we act in simple obedience, we find all that is necessary. God always takes particular care of those who are true to the light, even though it be ever so little; while nothing is more abhorrent to Him than great pretensions to light, without any heart for the true light, which is Christ.

We may observe that, of the reputed parents, Joseph is ever made the prominent person here, as in chapter 1. The vision, of verse 13, was to Joseph. Nevertheless, the Magi,” when they were come into the house, saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him,” not her. Their homage was to Him. “And when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” They acknowledged Him, as poor strangers whose greatest honour was to be owned of Him. Jerusalem is outside all this. A usurper was there; an Edomite was ruling. And, as when Christ returns again to the earth there will be a false king in Jerusalem under the influence of the western powers, and in conjunction with the religious heads of Israel, so it was at His first coming. All was entirely opposed to the recognition of Jesus.

In Luke we have quite another order of things. It is not so much one acknowledged as a king, though He was a king, but He is seen there in the lowliest possible condition. The persons that own Him are Jewish shepherds, who had the news made known to them from heaven. The heavenly hosts sing — their hearts delight in the ways of God, in the Saviour — for as such had He been announced to them: “Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be the sign unto you; ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in the manger.” This was the very opening of our blessed Lord’s life here below, evidently taking place immediately after His birth. The incident of the homage rendered by the Magi was long subsequent. There is not the slightest ground for confounding the two occasions. Each Gospel is true to its special purpose. In Matthew it is a question of His royal rights over Israel and the Gentiles; in Luke we have the perfect lowliness, from His very birth, of the Saviour-Son of Man; heaven’s interest in the birth of the earth — despised Christ the Lord, and those poor of the flock, whose hearts are awakened to receive this blessed One — the expression, the means, and the substance of divine grace. “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people,” or rather, “to all the people,” for it means the Jews. A much wider circle appears afterwards, but it does not go beyond the Jews yet. To the Jew first, was the divine order.

How beautifully these various accounts harmonize with the Gospels in which they are found? In the one, the King, born some time before, is seen in Bethlehem, but none welcome Him save strangers from the east. From Matthew, we should not be aware of the slightest recognition of the Saviour up to the time of their coming. On the contrary, when the first breath of these tidings is brought to Jerusalem, consternation was the result in all. The king, the priests, the scribes, all are in a state of ferment. There was no heart for Jesus. But God always will have a testimony. If the Jews will not have Him, the Gentiles come; and grace it is that effects this. Unbelieving Jews tell the Magi where the King should be born. They at once act upon it, and the Lord, meeting them on the way, puts them in presence of the King, to whom they present their gifts. It is the Messiah of Israel, but rejected by Israel from His very birth. Jerusalem is with the false king, and cares not to receive Him. Those who were despised as dogs, whom the Jews themselves had to instruct in the first lessons of prophecy, have the glory of being the true recognizers of the claims of the Messiah. How humbling! It is the Messiah come, and owned by the ends of the earth; but slighted and rejected of His own nation. “He came to His own, and His own received Him not.” It was important that Israel should know it. Here, through the earliest of the Evangelists, let them learn that it does not arise from any want of evidence on God’s part. How did these Gentiles know? And where were the Jews all this time, that they had not recognized their own Messiah? It was a terrible tale, for the truth was the strangest of all things in their ears. Such is God’s way: He gives testimony, but man dislikes it because it is of God. To recognize the person of Christ was the difficulty. To see from Scripture that their King was to be born in Bethlehem of Judah, was an easy thing; it did not test the conscience, nor put the heart to the proof. But to own that the ignored and despised One, the child of Mary and the heir of Joseph, was the Messiah — this was indeed hard to the flesh. To those who had seen the sign of it in the heavens, who had looked for it in the midst of great darkness, but who had their eyes toward it, all was simple, and they hastened to do Him honour. Now that He was born, they rejoiced, and came from far to have the joy of seeing Him and offering their gifts at His feet.

“And being warned of God in a dream, that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him” (vers. 12, 13). The unbelief that refused the word of God, is now allowed to show how thoroughly it was under the power of Satan, who proves himself, as from the beginning, to be a liar first, then a murderer. But God revealed Herod’s purpose; and Joseph, in obedience to His word, takes the young child and His mother by night and departs into Egypt, “and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

I have a word to say about this prophecy, and the application of it to our Lord. We shall have to take into account many prophecies cited in Matthew, but the present quotation has evidently a remarkable character attached to it. It had been said that Israel was God’s son, God’s firstborn, in Egypt. To them pertained the adoption. The prophet Hosea, seven hundred years after their departure from Egypt, again applies this word to Israel; and now it is used of Christ, as that which fully came within the intent of the inspiring Spirit. How is it that God’s taking Israel out of the land of Egypt should be so illustrated in Christ’s history? Because Christ is the object of the Holy Ghost in Scripture. It matters not what may be the place of His people: in all their troubles or deliverances, Christ must enter into all. There is no kind of temptation (save, of course, of inward evil) that He has* not known; nor of blessing on God’s behalf that He has not proved. Christ goes through the history of His people; and on that principle it is that such scriptures as these are applied to Him. Christ Himself is carried into the very place that had been the furnace of Israel. There it is that He finds His refuge from the false king of Judea. What a picture! Because of the anti-king then reigning in Jerusalem, the true King must flee, and flee, into Egypt. Christ was the true Israel. Compare Isa. 49.

We see from this that no miraculous power is put forth to preserve Emmanuel. It was accomplishing the prophecies — filling up the outline of desolation, morally and nationally, that the Holy Ghost had sketched many a long year before. God was showing how precious to Him was every footstep of His Son. It might seem a trifling circumstance in itself that the Lord was carried into Egypt and came out of it another day. But whatever was the place of Christ — and His place was wherever His people were in their sorrow — He will not permit them to feel a pang without His sharing in it. He knows what it is to be carried into Egypt, and that too in a far more painful way than Israel had experienced. For the bitterest trouble of Christ was from His own people; the most murderous blow aimed at Him was by the king then sitting on the throne in their midst. Failing in this, he sends forth and slays all the children “that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not” (vers. 16-18). How clearly we find that the Holy Ghost is here providing for the Jew the proof that they were precious in His sight, and that if Christ entered into their they must not wonder if His presence will bring upon themselves the bitterest suffering through their rejection of Him. If Christ has the smallest connection with Israel, they become the object of Satan’s animosity. It is Herod, led on by Satan, who issued the order to slay their little ones; but the Messiah is taken away from the scene of his rage. In Israel they have weeping and great mourning. Such were some of the troubles that Israel bring upon themselves; and this is but a little picture of what will befall them in the latter day.

“But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young Child’s life. And he arose, and took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel” (ver. 19-21). It is sweet to find “the land of Israel” occurring here. It was not merely the country, as known among men, where poor Jews lived by permission of their Gentile lords. How few look on it as “the land of Israel” now! But God’s thoughts are toward His people in connection with the glory of His Son. if Jesus had His earthly tie there, if Emmanuel were now born of the virgin, why should not the land be called the land of Israel? It was the divine purpose completely to expel the foot of the Gentile that was now treading it down. If the people would only bow and receive Him to take His place as their King, how blessed their lot! But would Israel receive Jehovah-Jesus now returning from Egypt? — There was no readiness for Him yet. One Herod passed away; another followed. Hence, when the young Child was taken back into the land of Israel, and Joseph heard “that Archelaus did reign in Judea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene” (vers. 22, 23).

The method of citation is worthy of note here. Note that it is not one particular prophet, but “the prophets”. And by that we are to gather, not that any one inspired writer said these words, but it is the spirit of the prophets who do speak of Him. When we read in one prophet, “They shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek”; in another, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief “; and again, what they should give Him for meat, and in His thirst for drink, and how He should be taunted up to the last — we can understand this application of the prophets. It was the well-understood language expressive of contempt in that day: He should, in other words, be called a Nazarene. Nazareth was the most scorned of places. Not only did the men of Judea proper look down upon Nazareth, but the Galileans themselves despised it, though it was part of their own district. Later on we read of a guileless Israelite who, when he heard of Jesus being there, exclaimed, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Thus, if one spot in Palestine, more than another, would accord with the rejection that was the portion of Christ, it was Nazareth. A striking picture, surely, of One who, while He was the true King, was yet refused by His own people! Gentiles might have done Him reverence; but His own nation was indifferent. How little fruit was there to answer to the culture that God had bestowed upon them! But here was the blessed One who pursues His path of obedience unto death, who would not show His glory by protecting Himself. His people went down into Egypt: He goes down there also. He has to be called out of Egypt: that was His portion. He would not screen Himself from the sorrows of His people: He would share them all. When He does come forth, Israel is still unprepared for Him. His parents turn to Nazareth once more, Joseph having been again divinely instructed in a dream. This is the last mention that we have of him in Matthew. Luke gives us later circumstances; but Joseph wholly disappears before our Lord entered upon His ministry.

When He is called out of Egypt, He cannot go to Jerusalem, nor to Bethlehem either. He was to be despised and rejected: the prophets had said so: their words must be accomplished. Archelaus reigned in Judea a usurper was still there. Joseph, at the warning of God, turns aside to Nazareth, and Jesus dwelt with them; that the word of the prophets might be fulfilled in our Lord’s proving to the full what it was to be the most despised of men. He knew it pre-eminently on the cross; but it was His all through. And this is the way that God speaks of the Messiah to Israel. He shows what their hardness of heart and unbelief would entail — even if it were to the Messiah Himself. What a picture of man, and especially of Israel, when such must be His portion! He comes and calls, but no answer greets Him. The unbelief of man hinders the blessing of God. It was the sin of Israel that thus complicated the early history of the King. But future chapters will show that God would turn the very unbelief of Israel into the means of blessing for the despised Gentiles, and that if the Jews rejected the counsel of God, to their own perdition, the Gentiles would hear and receive all blessing in the blessed One.

Thus we find from the beginning of this wonderful book the germs of all that the end will display. We find one who is really the Messiah, ready to accomplish the promises and to take the throne, but the people in no way ready for Him. Israel were steeped in sin; they had no heart for Him. They were full of their own ceremonies, their own light, and the pride of their privileges. All was turned to self-exaltation. Hence Jesus is rejected from the very first. This is the story of man. The after chapters will show us the glorious consequences which God, in His grace, causes to flow even from the rejection of His own Son. Upon that happier theme we may dwell on other occasions.

Matthew 3

We are now carried forward from the return of our Lord into the Holy Land to the days when John the Baptist came insisting upon the grand, essential truth of repentance. And John’s ministry is viewed here entirely in connection with the Lord’s relation to Israel. It is interesting to compare the different ways in which the Gospels present John himself, as illustrating the manner in which the Holy Ghost uses His divine right to shape and group the materials of our Lord’s history according to the exact object in view. A casual reader might scarcely recognize that John the Baptist in John’s Gospel was the Baptist of Matthew. The manner in which they are viewed, and the discourses that are recorded, take their form from the particular book in which the Holy Ghost has given them. This, so far from being imperfection, is a part of that admirable method in which God impresses the design which He has in view, and which suits the place which each portion of Scripture has to fill. And what can be of deeper interest, or more strengthening to faith, than to find that the very passages on which unbelief puts its finger as its alleged proofs of the imperfection of Scripture (varieties of statement insuperable to the mind of man), on the contrary, when viewed as part of God’s plan for commending His beloved Son, all range into their own places in this great scheme, which is to the glory of Christ. This is the true key to all Scripture; and if that key be of great value from Genesis to Revelation, there is no place, perhaps, where its value is so conspicuous as in the Gospels. In finding four different accounts of our Lord, each presenting things in a different manner, the first thought of man’s heart is that each succeeding Gospel must add to or correct what had gone before. But such thoughts only prove, either that the truth was never known, or that it has been forgotten. Is it adequately borne in mind that God is the author of the Gospels? Once admit that simple truth, and it would be evidently blasphemous to suppose that He makes mistakes. Look at the meanest thing that God has made, the minutest insect that the microscope can discover upon the least blade of grass — what does not fill the particular niche for which God created it? I do not deny that sin has brought all kinds of derangements into the natural as well as into the moral world. I admit that man’s infirmities may appear even in the word of God: first, in not keeping the sacred deposit free from all corruption; and then in interpreting that word through some feeble medium of his own; and thus, one way or another, hindering the pure revealed light of God.

I have made these few remarks because all readers may not be equally familiar with the great truth of the difference of design in the Gospels, and therefore I do not scruple to draw attention to the immense help it furnishes to the understanding of Scripture, and especially of its apparent discrepancies.

In the chapter before us John the Baptist is presented as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. He came “preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is He that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” In Luke you will find that the prophecy is carried farther down. More is given us than the words we have here. “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” The range of Luke is wider. “Every valley shall be filled,” etc. “All flesh shall see,” etc. I ask, Why is that quotation continued farther there? It is the more remarkable because usually Luke does not quote much from the Old Testament, as compared with Matthew. How comes it that Luke departs in this particular instance from his habit?. The reason is obvious. His task was to show the grace of God that brings salvation, and that has appeared to all men. The Holy Ghost leads him therefore to fasten upon those words that display the universal range of God’s goodness to man.

But there is another expression that I must dwell upon for a little — “the kingdom of heaven.” We are all familiar with it as a phrase often used in Scripture; but possibly not many are equally familiar with its force. Indeed, it is understood very vaguely even by most Christians. To many it conveys the idea of the Church — sometimes the visible, and sometimes the invisible Church. By others it is supposed to mean something tantamount to the gospel, or heaven itself at the end. The expression is derived from the Old Testament, and that is the reason why it appears in Matthew only. As we have already seen, our Evangelist writes with a view to Israel, and therefore lays hold of a phrase which is suggested by the Old Testament, and taken from the prophecy of Daniel, who speaks of the days coming when the heavens should rule. Before that (Dan. 2), we hear that the God of heaven is to set up a kingdom that should never be destroyed — the kingdom of heaven. And again, in Dan. 7, we are told of the Son of Man’s coming, and of a universal kingdom which is given Him. Chapter 2 does not give us the person, but the thing itself: so that there might still have been a kingdom without the revelation of the person in whose hands it was held. But chapter 7 completes the circle, and shows us that it is not merely the heavens ruling in the distance, nor a kingdom opening with judgment on earth; but, besides that, there is a glorious Man to whom the rule of heaven will be entrusted. The Son of Man will not simply destroy what opposes God, but will introduce a universal kingdom.

This kingdom John the Baptist came preaching. I do not believe that he was at all aware of the particular form it was to take first. He simply preached the kingdom of heaven as at hand, himself the public and immediate forerunner of the Shepherd of Israel, with the thoughts of a godly Jew, and a special witness that the Messiah was there — that He was about to be manifested, who would execute judgment upon the evil, and introduce good in the power of God, and bring in the glory promised to the fathers; and that all this was about to be inaugurated and established in the person of Christ here below. This, I believe, was the general thought. And we shall find subsequently that for the rejection of Jesus by the Jews John was not at all prepared. This too it was that led to the twofold form taken by the kingdom of heaven. While the old or Jewish view of a kingdom established by power and glory as a visible sovereignty over the earth is postponed, the rejection of Jesus on earth and His ascension to God’s right hand lead to the introduction of the kingdom of heaven in a mysterious form; which is, in point of fact, going on now. Thus it has two sides. When Christ went up to heaven and took His place as the rejected here, but the glorified One there, the kingdom of heaven began.

This is a view of the kingdom that we do not find in the Old Testament. To it pertain the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, that were only opened out as the Lord was manifestly rejected by Israel. Thus we see in Matt. 11 John sends two of his disciples to ask whether Jesus was really the Messiah, or were they to look for another? Whether he was himself staggered, or his disciples, or whether both were, it matters little — such was the result. It sounds like an unbelieving question to the Lord. He might well be astonished that Jesus did not deliver the Jews, and bring in the glory for which patriarchs had waited and which prophets had predicted. Strange that instead of this His messenger was in prison; Himself and His disciples despised! Our Lord at once referred to those deeds of power and grace which bespoke the presence of God acting in a new way, and introducing a power evidently in grace — bringing in totally new thoughts, above the habits or hopes of the most godly Jew. These they were to report to John. But He goes farther, and says, “And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” This apparently conveys a rebuke to John, and implies that he had been more or less stumbled. Yet it is beautiful to see how at once, after the departure of the messengers, our Lord vindicates the Baptist before the multitude. But after pronouncing John to be the most blessed among those born of women, He suddenly introduces a most startling truth, namely, that great as John was, the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than he. This does not refer to the kingdom coming in power and glory, because, when that day comes, Old and New Testament saints must all be raised or changed to have their part in it; as it is said of those who are being called now that they shall sit “with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.” What then does our Lord mean? Does He not refer to some form of it that John had not spoken of? And what was this? He goes on farther, and says, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” What an extraordinary statement must this have appeared to those who listened to it then! The Lord is contrasting the kingdom of heaven, in a public, manifest form, with that kingdom as opened to faith — only more blessed as known to faith than to sight. As the Lord afterward said to Thomas, “Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” This holds good in every dealing of God. Abraham was more blessed when, though in the land of Canaan, he possessed it not, than if it had all been actually his own. He gained a better place in the ways of God from the very fact of his not having one foot of the land in possession. So with David. His reign was morally far more glorious than that of Solomon. His heir had the place of power; but David had that which was unseen, yet nearer to God. We never find that Solomon enters into what was taught by the ark, whereas it was always the great attraction to David’s heart. Solomon was found before the great altar which the whole world could see. The ark was within the holiest, where God sat. It was the throne of His Majesty in the midst of Israel. To it the heart of David ever turned. The blessing of faith is always better than the blessing of sight here below, how great soever this may be.

There has been no time in the ways of God so blessed for a soul as the ways of God now. To be born in the Millennium is not at all to be compared with it. It is true that then all will be in subjection to Christ, and the heart might say, Would that we might be born then! But even the believers found in that day on the earth will. not know what it is to enter within the veil, or to have the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ. Neither will they know in the full sense the joy of the Holy Ghost with the privilege of being cast out and scorned by the world for Christ’s sake. So that both in the matter of suffering, the enjoyment of what Christ has gone through for us, and His present glory in heaven, our present place is far beyond millennial privileges. For those who suffer now, it will be the best of heavenly blessings then. The peculiarity of the present time is this, that while we are on earth we are consciously dwellers in heaven. We are not of the world, as Christ is not of the world. Our life does not belong to it; our blessing does not spring from it; all our portion is outside this world. And this is communicated to us while we are in the world, to raise us above the world. It is not, as with John here, going into the wilderness — a most seasonable and beautiful expression of what God thought of the city of holiness, Jerusalem, where the priests themselves ministered. John retires from it all. He is outside it in sympathy: the very act in itself declared that the wilderness is better than the city, even though it contain God’s temple. But what a solemn declaration of the ruin, not only of the world, but of the favoured people who were the great link between God and men generally!

In this scene behold another thing altogether. It is not man blest, and the earth brought also into blessedness under the personal reign of Christ; but here the heavens were opened upon the Lord Jesus. Never had they opened before upon any one on earth, except as a sign of God’s judgment (Ezek. 1). But here first of all the eye of Heaven, of the Father who is in heaven, is directed upon the beloved One. By and by He takes up His place in heaven as the Man who had suffered for sins and brought in the revealed righteousness of God.

The kingdom of heaven then began. From the time that Jesus goes up into heaven till He comes back again the New Testament view of the kingdom of heaven runs on; and in that sense the privilege of the feeblest soul brought to the knowledge of Christ now, transcends anything that ever entered into the heart or mind of men, or even of saints, before the Lord died and rose again. You may dwell upon the blessed walk of Enoch and the bright faith of Abraham; but still this remains true — “Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” There is no honest escape from the conclusion that has been drawn. If persons argue, Is a little child believing in Jesus now more holy and righteous than the blessed saints of old? I answer, That is another matter altogether. He ought to be. But that is not what is said. The Lord lays down that “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” In a word, it is not a question of what men are; but God is glorifying Christ. Upon Him God is putting honour, and therefore gives such privileges to the least one that believes in Him. Since His death and resurrection, the worshippers once purged have no more conscience of sins. Think of what such a thing would have been to an Old Testament saint! They might look forward to it, but they could not say that it was an accomplished fact. It would have been contrary to the holiness of God, and positive presumption for man, to have this till Christ came and wrought the work that blotted sins completely out.3 Now it is presumption not to take with confidence what Christ has done; for He has commanded that remission of sins should be preached in His name. When we enter into the position in which we are set by the work of Christ, it is not only that we have remission: we are made the righteousness of God in Christ: we stand in the relation of sons of God, and are entitled by Christ Himself to say that His God is our God, His Father is our Father. We are entitled to know that we are one with Christ, and that the glory that God has conferred upon His beloved Son He shares with us. The glory conferred, I say; for of course there is His essential divine glory in which none can participate. God never gave Christ to be God. Deity was His own right from all eternity. He could not have Godhead bestowed upon Him. But Christ became man, and as man He was the Son of God; He was not merely so as God. He was the Son of God as born into this world, and as such He has been raised up from the dead; in virtue of which He brings us into the same place before God that He Himself has acquired. He has entirely delivered. us from the place into which He entered for us, enduring the wrath and judgment of God. He brings us into the place to which He is not only entitled Himself, but has acquired a title for us.

But John had no conception of such a compass of blessing. The Jews looked upon the kingdom as the state when Israel would be blessed of God as a nation; and even those that may have more fully understood, still looked for all the power of the kingdom to be brought in, entirely independent of anything on their part. “But the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” The Lord shows that there is an action of faith needed now; that the kingdom of heaven here presented demands the rupture of natural ties and the giving up of previous associations. In the sense of power and glory introduced by a personal Messiah upon the earth, John had already pressed on consciences that it was not a thing of mere ordinance or privilege by birth — that God would not be content except with moral realities. And allow me to say that it is a very solemn thing indeed to claim the privileges of grace for that which is contrary to the nature of God. I am not speaking now of the lost one found by grace, to whom God gives a new life fresh from Himself. But the effect of a soul’s receiving life in the person of Christ is that there are produced feelings, thoughts, judgments and ways acceptable to God and akin to His nature. If a person is a child of God, he is like his Father; he has a nature suitable to God, a life that dislikes sin and is surely pained by what is iniquitous in others, but more particularly in himself. Many bad men are strong against evil in others; they are weak where it might touch themselves. But a Christian always begins with self-judgment. That is the reason why, now that there was to be a moral preparation for the Messiah, John preaches, “Repent.” Repentance is the soul’s moral judgment of itself under the eye of God; the soul’s acceptance of His judgment of its state before Him, and bowing to it. John called upon them to repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand. “For this is He that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” This clearly implied two things — that he was but a voice, pretending to nothing, and that the work would be done by another. The voice only was on his part; but the other, whose way he was preparing, was the Lord, Jehovah Himself. “Prepare ye the way of Jehovah.”

Then we have the account of John the Baptist himself. “The same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey” — all perfectly suitable to this summons to repentance. As yet it is not grace introduced; this belongs to the kingdom of heaven, when it is fully brought in. But John did not know it thus. He knew that the Messiah was coming, a Messiah who would introduce the power of God and deliver His people. But the deep unfolding of grace, the mighty victory which a suffering Messiah would accomplish for the soul, and the way in which God would be magnified most of all by the putting away of sin by the death of His Son, were thoughts that must wait for another season — not for utterance more or less, but for adequate intelligence. The ark of the Lord must stand still in the waters of Jordan first. Not a foot can pass that way scatheless till the ark has passed in. Most fittingly, therefore, John does not bring out the fulness of divine grace, but the moral call to repentance.

John accordingly is found outside the religion of man, as well as outside his profanity. He was not in Rome, but he was also away from Jerusalem; and this, in the predicted messenger of Jehovah, was a most solemn feature. “Then went out to him Jerusalem., and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Here is a part of that truth which is exceedingly startling, when we reflect upon it. The Pharisees were, religiously, the most influential in Israel. The Sadducees were the loose, secular, self-indulgent class; the Pharisees, those who stood very firm for what they considered the truth. Yet when John sees them both coming to his baptism, he says, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance” — fruits of a kindred character. He maintains that the day of ceremonialism, or of birthrights, was completely past. The Pharisee might rest upon his religion; the Sadducee upon the fact that he was a child of Abraham. The desire to escape wrath and to have part in the kingdom might be no more than nature. Humbled souls suit the kingdom. Descent from the fathers, the law, the promises even, may be turned into a right against God, who will not allow it, and can raise out of the stones children to Abraham. But there must be, if they would draw near to God, ways of a nature morally suitable to God. “Bring forth, therefore,” he says, “fruits meet for repentance.” He is not explaining here how a sinner is to be saved, or how God remits sins; but that, if persons take the stand of having to do with God, there must be. what becomes His presence. So the apostle says to the Hebrews, “Follow peace and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” He is not speaking there of what is imputed, but of holiness as a practical thing. This is written to Christians; and the Holy Ghost does not hesitate to insist upon it. So strong is the tendency to reaction in human nature that the very baptized Jews, who had been pleading for the law, might fall into the opposite extreme and think that sin is compatible with the salvation that God gives through grace. But God never allows that His nature can coexist with sanctioned iniquity.

Here then was evidently a stern rebuke for the leading Jews. But, more than that, John adds, “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees” — that is to say, judgment is just at hand (ver. 10) — “therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance” — he does not go beyond this. The remission of sins that he speaks of appears to have been rather a question of the government of God than of that complete putting away of sin which was the fruit of grace when the work of atonement was done. But even so, it was in view of Messiah’s advent.

“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (ver. 11). There he brings together the two grand features of the first and second comings of Christ. He did not know but that both would go on together. All that might lie between the two was hidden from his eyes. The Old Testament Scriptures did present the first and second advent of the Messiah, but not in such a way as to convey the thought of two distinct epochs. Even after the Lord’s death and resurrection, the disciples did not understand this. So John joins these two things — the baptizing with the Holy Ghost and with fire. We know that the baptizing with the Holy Ghost is the power of God’s blessing in the kingdom of heaven as it now is. The baptism of fire is that which will accompany the kingdom of heaven as it will be when Christ comes again. There is no such thing in the word of God as the baptism of fire to designate what took place at Pentecost. Baptism with fire is the application of the judgment of God in dealing with men; whereas the day of Pentecost was the outpouring of the grace of God, and the giving of the Holy Ghost to dwell in the saints of God, which referred to the power of the Holy Ghost going forth so as to bear testimony in such sort as would not bear a single evil thing in the heart of men, even while it showed out the grace of God. This is Christianity — the perfect love of God shown to a man that has no claim upon it: all his evil condemned by the grace of God in the death of Christ! And thus it is that a man is made honest in the sight of God and men. He can afford to be guileless about himself, because he knows that God imputes nothing to him. When we read on the day of Pentecost of the tongues being divided, it was to show the going forth of the testimony of God to the Gentile as well as to the Jew. But when Matt. 3 speaks of our Lord’s baptizing with fire, the allusion is not to these tongues of fire, but to the execution of righteous judgment when Christ comes again. This appears still more clearly from what follows: “Whose fan is in His hand; and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (ver. 12). It is not at all what He does in saving a soul, but the very contrary. It refers to the time when, men having refused the gospel, nothing remains but the outpouring of vengeance upon them.

“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him” (ver. 13). What a cluster of wonders! Jesus coming to be baptized of John, who was avowedly preaching repentance and remission of sins. What could bring the Lord Jesus there? for He never confessed sins, and had none to confess. He challenges even His enemies to convince Him of sin. A man without sin — without the smallest particle of self in any form or degree — the lowliest and most blessed of men — the One who judged everything according to God; and yet He comes to be baptized! John at once felt it — Jesus coming to be baptized of him! To be baptized at all, but, above all, of him whose baptism was that of repentance! What is the clue to this? It is grace — the source and the channel of everything in Jesus. It was not the judgment of God that put Him there; it was not any need in Himself that brought Him there; nothing that He had to acknowledge or confess; but it was grace. For on whom in Israel did God’s eye look down with compassion? Upon those that were confessing their sins. Upon such does His eye ever rest. For the next best thing to not being a sinner at all is to confess our sins. We find that this is the first great movement produced by the Holy Ghost in a sinner’s soul — the feeling of his true place in the sight of God. Here was the blessed One; and though not one thing naturally could claim His presence, yet grace led Him there. And when John was earnestly hindering Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” what blessed grace and truth does not our Lord’s answer unfold! “Suffer it now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” It is all righteousness now to be fulfilled, and not merely the doing of the law. Now it was the righteousness of acknowledging the true state in which even the best part of Israel lay. For if there were any in Israel that showed a feeling for God, it was those who were baptized of John — those who repented in view of the kingdom of heaven. They desired God’s promises, and they wished to be ready for the King. And the Lord’s heart was there at once; the sympathies of His soul were with those that were humbling themselves in the sense of their sin before God.4 The same principle is true of us in proportion as the Spirit of Christ is ungrieved in our souls. Even if it is a question of acknowledging anything to man, who is the person you can most open your heart to? The spiritual man — he who is walking most above sin — his is the bosom to which you can open out your sin more fully than to another. “If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness.” It was exactly the perfection of the holiness of Christ that could enable Him so to act: another might have feared appearances. If Christ had been merely innocent, instead of holy, should we have found Him there? Never. Holiness implies divine power against sin; innocence is merely the absence of sin. Thus we find our Lord, in the full consciousness of His own perfect holiness, coming to the baptism of John, and taking His place with those in Israel who felt aright toward God.

“And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Does it not seem that this wonderful testimony of God the Father was the consequence of Christ’s fulfilling all righteousness in the waters of Jordan? It was the answer of God to the place that Christ, in His grace, had taken. It was God, jealous for the glory of His Son, who would not permit that a suspicion should rest upon this loveliest and lowliest of acts. And therefore, lest the full grace of it should not be felt, how quick is God the Father to say, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased “! Do not think He has sin. But if you are there, He is with you: if the sheep are in the waters, the shepherd must enter them too. The Father at once vindicates His Son: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” It is not that He was well pleased with that act merely, but it is the retrospective expression of God’s delight. It refutes all that the poor mind of man might have — has — gathered out of this transaction. It is always thus in the word of God. If there be, so to speak, a locked door, the key is always beside it. If there is a heart that counts upon God, and knows the perfection of His character, and is jealous over the honour, of His beloved Son, God is always with such. Man has endeavoured to take advantage of the Lord’s grace, taking thus His place with the godly in Israel, in order to lower His person and His position even in relation to God Himself. But when we read with chastened spirits, what do we hear? “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” We shall by and by find the importance of this in connection with what follows; but I leave the subject for the present. There is nothing in the whole compass of God’s word so full of blessing to the believer as the person of Christ and His ways; but it requires great jealousy over self and the special guidance of the Holy Ghost; for who is sufficient for these things?

Matthew 4

There are two things that we may notice before our Lord is tempted of the devil. The first is that He is most emphatically recognized as the Son of God by His Father; secondly, that He is anointed as man by the Holy Ghost. Now a similar thing is true of the believer — of course in an inferior way. Still the believer is owned as a son of God, and has the Spirit of God given to him before he becomes the proper object of the enemy’s temptations. And this is an important distinction to bear in mind. Strictly speaking, the relation which the sinner bears to the enemy is not as subject to be tempted. He is a captive; he is led by the devil at his will. This is a very distinct thing from temptation; for it supposes a person thoroughly under the power of Satan. We are tempted when we are out of the enemy’s power, and because we are sons of God. Thus, you see, all men have to do with Satan in one way or another. The mass of mankind are his slaves; but those delivered by the power of God, those who by grace are God’s children, become the objects of his assault in the way of temptation. It is not so much his power that such have to dread; for when the soul has received Jesus, Satan’s power is really void; it is completely broken for the believer. And therefore it is that we are warned rather against his wiles. In certain cases there may be the suffering from his fiery darts; but even this is not his power, which is nothing to the believer while he is looking to Christ; he has only to resist, and the devil will flee from him. If Satan had really power, it is clear that he would not flee. But he has lost it as regards the soul that has received Christ. But then, while to faith the power of Satan is a thing destroyed in the cross of Jesus, his wiles are a very serious matter; and we ought not to be ignorant of his devices. Now God has been graciously pleased to give us his manner of dealing with our blessed Lord. That this is intended for our use, and the great pattern and principle of the temptations of Satan at any time, is clear from many obvious and weighty considerations.

Besides, we know from the Gospel of Luke that in the case of our Lord there was a very long-continued temptation of Satan, of which we have no details. We are only told the fact that Jesus was tempted of the devil during forty days. But the great temptations which the Holy Ghost has been pleased to record for us are those that took place at the end of the forty days. May we not gather hence that in the temptation of our Lord there were two parts: first, that not common to man, but peculiar to our Lord? For we are subject to no such circumstances as being driven into the wilderness for forty days. But, secondly, we are exposed to such as are given to us at the close. The Lord seems to cast a veil over the first, and discloses carefully what in principle every child of God may be tempted by some time or another. We shall see that these three temptations, presented by Matthew and Luke in a different order, give us an admirable insight into the ways of Satan when he thus assails the children of God. But it is exceedingly sweet to see that before Satan is allowed to tempt at all, the blessedness of the Son’s recognition by the Father is most fully brought out. And indeed it is something akin which renders any one obnoxious to the hatred of Satan. The enemy is well aware when God converts and quickens a soul hitherto dead in trespasses and sins; and at once he is prepared with his temptations. They need not, of course, come in the same order as our Lord’s; but they seem to be, more or less, of a similar character with those revealed here.

It is clear that the first temptation grew out of our Lord’s actual circumstances. He had been all this time in the wilderness without food, and at the end of the forty days he was a hungered. When Moses was without food on the mount for the same time, he was with God, and miraculously sustained. But the wonderful thing here is that the time was spent with the enemy. None had ever been so, or will be so again. To be all that time in the presence of Satan, dependent on God, was the greatest moral honour, though the severest trial, that man had ever passed through. Throughout the Lord is seen as Son of man, though also as Son of God.

The introductory notice shows us that temptation was going on all the time our Lord was in the wilderness. “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward a hungered. And when the tempter came to Him, he said, If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” Whatever may be the aim of Satan, this is one main part of his tactics — he insinuates a doubt, a doubt of our own relationship with God. “If Thou be the Son of God.” Now, search the word of God as you may, never will you find His Spirit leading a soul to doubt. Nor can anything, indeed, be more opposed to His way than sanctioning mistrust of God. And it shows the exceeding subtlety of Satan that he has actually made the children of God themselves to be his instruments, not only by permitting doubts in themselves, but helping to raise them in others, often on the mistaken plea that not to be confident with God is a sign of humility, and of a desire to be lowly! But faith says, “We are always confident.” Not that we are to shrink from self-examination: we do find this pressed in Scripture. Thus, in 1 Cor. 11 the believers are evidently exhorted to examine themselves, but not with any idea of producing doubt. On the contrary, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat”; for the question was about the Lord’s Supper. On the strength of His grace, the believer is to examine himself in the thought of going to the table of the Lord. It is not a question whether he is to go or stay away: we do not find this in Scripture. Nor do I find, on the other hand, that because I am a Christian it is no matter what state I may be in spiritually. But a man is to examine himself, and so to eat. He is sure to find that which calls for humiliation. It is important for a soul to draw near to God, and to have His light cast upon all that is there. This will give ground for humbling oneself, not for staying away. Such is what the Spirit of God lays down as a general rule for the Lord’s Supper. Of course, I am not speaking now of cases of open sin, where the vindication of the Lord’s glory is required. These suppose a man’s practising sin, and not examining himself. But I am speaking now of the ordinary walk of the child of God, and what we read there is careful inquiry as to what he finds within himself; but “so let him eat.”

If Thou be the Son of God.” Our Lord did not look like it. There was nothing outwardly to carry the demonstration of it. If it had been so, there would have been no room left for faith at all. Satan takes advantage of the lowliness of our Lord in the place that He took as man. And indeed nothing could be more singular than His being found in the wilderness ‘, and, as we read in Mark., with the wild beasts. If He was really the Son of God, Maker of heaven and earth, what a place to be in, and led there by the Spirit, after the Father had spoken from heaven and acknowledged Him to be His beloved Son! But so it was. And so it is now, in a lower sense, with the children of God. For no matter how much blessed they may be of God, or how truly owned as His sons and having His Spirit dwelling within them, they also, in their measure, have their wilderness. “As My Father hath sent Me into the world, even so send I you into the world.” Not into some pleasant place where there is no room for trial, but the very contrary. Because we belong to God and to heaven, because we have the Holy Ghost sealing us unto the day of redemption, we have to encounter Satan, but with the certainty that his power is broken, and that his wiles are what we have to resist. This questioning the relationship of Christ with God shows how truly Satan was at work. But the Lord does not pronounce him to be Satan until open rebellion is manifested against God. When it is mere subtlety, He does not call him Satan. There are two ways in which the enemy is described in Scripture. He is called Satan and the devil. The latter is the term which implies his accusing character and his wiles; the former refers to his power as adversary.

We must wait, even when we suspect it is the power of evil at work, before we pronounce it absolutely. For if there is such a fact as the devil tempting, God also puts a soul to the test, and this may be very sharp. Moreover, even God Himself does not act till a thing is manifest. He shows wonderful patience, most contrary to the haste of man. He comes down to see whether the evil is so great, as in the case of Adam, yea, of Sodom and Gomorrah. But it always remains true that whatever God may be in other things, quick as He is to hear the cry of His own in sorrow, He is exceedingly slow to judge; and there is nothing that more marks the knowledge of Christ practically, and the effect of it in our own souls, than where the same thing is made true in us. Hastiness to judge is man’s way in proportion to his want of grace; and patience is not a question of knowledge, but of love that lingers over another, unwilling to pronounce till every hope is gone. The rising in the flesh, which looked so threatening, might turn out after all to be only on the surface, and not deep-seated. So here we see patience even in our Lord’s dealing with the adversary. It is only when he thoroughly makes manifest what he is — only when he demands the worship due to God alone — that our Lord says, “Get thee behind Me, Satan.” The adversary then flees instantly. But the Lord lets him thoroughly discover himself first. This is divinely wise. Because, although the Lord knew him to be Satan all the time, what pattern would this be for us? The Lord is here the blessed man in the presence of Satan, showing us how we have to carry ourselves in the temptations that come upon us as saints of God.

And let me say another word with regard to temptation. In the sense we have it here, it is entirely from without. Our Lord never knew what it was to be tempted from within. He was “in all points tempted like as we are.” But the Holy Ghost qualifies this by adding, “yet without sin.”5 It was not merely that He did not yield to sin, but He never had the principle of it — never the least motion of any thought or wish contrary to God. He never knew sin. It is in this we so differ from Him. We have cause of deep humiliation sometimes, because, besides having to do with the devil without, we have an evil nature within — what Scripture calls “the flesh,” i.e., the self, the spring of insubordination and of enmity against God. It is the fountain of unloving, wilful, ungodly desires in us, which naturally never seeks God’s will , save only in a spirit of fear; never seeks it as that which is loved — we never do till born of God. Even afterward the same wicked principle is still there; but we have a new life implanted of God in our souls, which delights in His will.

But though the temptations of our Lord which we have here were from without, still Satan adapted them to the circumstances in which our Lord then stood. He had been for forty days without food, and the first word of the tempter is, “If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But He answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (vers. 3, 4). Our Lord refers to Deuteronomy, alluding to the manna, the daily food of Israel, which involved dependence upon God, and showed that Israel did not need the resources of the world to sustain them. They did not require some rich country to supply them out of its abundant harvest; neither did they depend upon gold and silver. Israel, before they had a land to cultivate and the means of gathering from it, were taught alone with God. In the wilderness, where He had brought them out as His first-born son, He puts them to the proof; and the way of it was, whether they were content with God and with the fare that God provided for them day by day. Alas, they were not!

Here the scene is entirely changed. It is a man in the wilderness; and Satan is there — not God. In spirit He ever dwelt with His Father; for even when on earth He was “the Son of man which is in heaven.” He combined thus two things in His own person. Day by day He was the man dependent upon God for everything. And this was the first great temptation of the devil — the appeal to His earthly natural warts. It was no sin to be hungry; but it would have been a sin to distrust God because of the desert place. Did not God know that there was no bread there’? and was it not His Spirit who had lead Him there? Had God told Him to leave the wilderness, or to make the stones into bread? He would not use His own power independently of God’s word. And it is the constant mark of the way of the Holy Ghost in the children of God that they do not use miraculous power for themselves or for their friends. If we look at it in the New Testament, we find Paul working miracles and using the power of God to heal the sick around. But was it ever used for his own circle? On the contrary, Paul leaves Trophimus sick at Miletus, and displays about him all the anxiety of one who might never have had power to heal the body. When Epaphroditus was sick, we see the exercise of a faith which knew that the will of God, with acquiescence in it, was worth a thousand miracles. Miracles had not in themselves the high character of exercising the soul in dependence upon God. To obey God, to submit to Him, to have confidence in Him, is that of which the natural man is incapable. Power alone never reaches so high. Therefore, in the case of our Lord Himself, we never find that He puts His works of might on a level with obedience. Nay, He even speaks of His disciples as those who should do greater works than He Himself had done. But obedience was what characterized Christ: this never was found in a mere child of Adam.

Here, in the face of Satan, our Lord finds His strength; not in doing miracles, or in any provision that He might have made for Himself, but in the word of God. Hunger might have legitimate wants, but here He was, tried by Satan, and He will not step out of the trial till it is over; He will not shift His circumstances or lift one finger for Himself: He waits upon God. “Man shall not live by bread alone,” He answers, “but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” God’s word had led Him there, for the Holy Ghost acts by the word, and He would not leave the wilderness till God’s word led Him out. This completely set aside Satan’s temptations. But more: it brought out the real secret of living in dependence upon God day by day, for the food of the new life is the word of God. Of what immense importance this shows the written word to be, and having it as our household bread day by day; not merely reading it as a task or formal duty, but, as it is indeed, the divinely-suitable provision for the child of God! It is good for every one to study it, because it is in every way for the good of the soul day by day to read it intelligently, heartily, as those that receive it from God Himself. And God does not give that which the heart of man cannot take in, but what is adapted to our daily wants, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

This, then, is the answer of our Lord to the first temptation. Why should He turn the stones into bread? He hung upon God’s word: His Father had not told Him to do so. So should it ever be with us. Where we have no clear expression of the mind of God, it is always our place to wait till we have. Sometimes it may show our weakness that we do not know the mind of God, and this is distasteful to us. Restlessness would like to go somewhere, or do something, but this is not faith. Faith proves itself in waiting for God to manifest His will.

The next temptation was not a personal one, but connected with religion, as the first had been in respect of bodily wants. We shall find that the order is different in Luke. But here, in the second temptation mentioned, is what I may call the religious temptation. The Lord had said that man should “live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” The devil then takes Him up into the holy city, sets Him upon a pinnacle of the temple, and founds his temptation upon that very point in our Lord’s answer — the word of God. He says, as it were, Here is a word of God for you: “He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee, and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.” Very true. It was God’s word, and evidently spoken of the Messiah. But what was Satan using it for? He says, “If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down; for it is written,” etc. This was making a move without God — doing something by oneself. Scripture did not say, Cast Thyself down, because God has given His angels charge concerning Thee, lest Thou shouldst dash Thy foot against a stone. The Lord would not turn aside from Scripture because Satan had misused it. He shows us, in the most instructive way, that we are not to be moved from our stronghold because it may be turned against us. Our Lord does not enter into nice distinctions, nor analyze what Satan had said, but He has given us that which ought to be, if I may so say, the standard mode of dealing for every Christian man. There are those who might have spiritual discrimination to see that Satan was perverting the scripture which he quoted; but many might not. The Lord takes a broad ground in dealing with the adversary. He stands upon what each Christian should know and feel, and this is, “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord Thy God . He cites a plain positive word of God which Satan was destroying by the use he made of psalm 91. Now that is the stronghold of a believer who may have to do with one that reasons subtly from Scripture, “It is written again.” He can appeal to that which is palpable and clear. It will be found that where a person systematically misapplies Scripture, he destroys some fundamental principle of the word of God. Whatever is false is contrary to some plain passage of Scripture. Now this is a great mercy. The believer holds fast to what is sure; he will not quit what he does understand for something that he does not. He may be perplexed by what the adversary is producing, and may have only a growing suspicion that he is wrong. But he may say to himself, I never can give up that which is beyond a doubt for that which I do not know. In other words, he holds the light, and refuses the darkness.

It is thus, it seems to me, our Lord deals with Satan. He could at once have set him aside on grounds of reasoning, and have shown the perverted end to which Satan was applying Scripture; but He rather deals with him on moral grounds, which every Christian is capable of judging. Do I find a scripture used for the purpose of making me distrust God? At once I take my stand on “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” What is meant by this? I am never to doubt the Lord will be for me. If I do anything to prove Him, to see whether He will be for me, this is at once unbelief and disobedience. It is an allusion to Israel’s history again, and another quotation from the book of Deuteronomy. Indeed, our Lord quotes every answer to the temptations, as has been long ago remarked, from the book of Deuteronomy. You will find in Exodus 17 that the Israelites tempted the Lord by asking, Is He among us or no? This does not mean that they provoked Him by idolatry, or refusal to do His will. It is not a question there of open sin, but of unbelief of His goodness and presence — unbelief, in a word, of God’s being for us. This is exactly what our Lord pleads. Cast Myself down in order to find that the scripture is true and that the angels will bear Me up! I do not need to do such a thing; I am very certain that if I were cast down the angels would be there to sustain Me. If you have a person whom you suspect of dishonesty on your premises, you may perhaps be disposed to test him in some way or other. But who would think of testing one that he had full confidence in? Now that is exactly the import of our Lord’s answer, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” His soul resented the idea of trying God, to see whether He would sustain His Son. God might try Him; Satan might put Him to the test; but as to His tempting the Lord, as if the Lord His God required to be put to the proof whether He would be true to His word — away with such a thought! He would not hear of it for a moment.

The temptation which is second in Matthew, Luke gives as the third. Why is this? Surely we ought not to read Scripture as if such differences were not intended to suggest inquiry. We have to take care that we do not misinterpret Scripture; but Scripture is meant to be understood. I say of these different orders in which the temptations are put, both are right, both are inspired of God. If they were both intended to report the temptation exactly as it took place, it is clear they are not right; but God had a much higher object. God wrote for our instruction, and God has been pleased, in the different Gospels, to put the facts in the way that is most instructive. Matthew simply gives the temptation historically, as it took place. Therefore in Matthew we have notes of time: “Then the devil taketh Him up,” etc. In Luke there is no such thought; it is simply, “And the devil,” etc. This word at once prepares us for it. It is clear there were these different temptations, but Luke puts them so as not to tell us the order in which they occurred.

This is a general remark, true of the whole Gospel of Luke, that he habitually departs from the mere order of fact to give an arrangement suited to the design which he had in view. As a whole, the Gospel of Luke is characterized by’ putting the facts of our Lord’s life in an order that suited the doctrine He was teaching. Thus you will find in Luke that even the genealogy of our Lord is not given in its regular place; there is a departure from the mere natural series; and there is, instead, a moral order. Take the case of the Lord’s prayer: Luke puts that in a totally different place from Matthew, who gives it in the wondrous discourse commonly called the sermon on the mount; and as prayer formed a most important part of the new principles the Lord was bringing out, so it formed one of the main subjects of the Lord’s discourse. Luke reserves that prayer till Luke 11, because our Lord is pointing out there the grand means of spiritual life, how it is to be kept up and sustained in the soul. And this he shows us from the history of Martha and Mary (Luke 10). Why was it that Jesus approved of the path and walk of Mary rather than of Martha? It is not that He did not love them all, nor was it that Martha had not a real personal love to the Saviour, and that her heart was not true to Him. But there was an immense difference between them. What and why was it? Luke gives us the moral difference. When Martha was all busied with what she could do for the Lord, to show her love to Him, Mary was occupied with the Lord Himself — seated at His feet, listening to His word. The one was full of what she could do for Christ; the other, full of Christ Himself; and nothing that she could do was of the smallest consequence in her eyes, compared with Christ Himself. Thus we find, in another instance, Mary breaking the alabaster box to anoint the feet of Jesus — an action little accounted of by others; yet what she had done should be recorded throughout the whole world. Our Lord brings out in Luke this great point — the word of God, the waiting upon Jesus, being the first great means of strengthening the new and spiritual life; and therefore, immediately after this account of these sisters, we have the request of the disciples to be taught how to pray. It really took place long before; but they are put together in that special form by Luke to mark the connection of the word of God with prayer.

So, in the temptation, Luke departs from the order of fact and gives us the moral sequence. Matthew simply names the facts here as they took place. Luke puts them in the order of magnitude, and rises from the natural trial to the worldly one, and then to the religious temptation. For it is perfectly plain that the temptation by the word of God was much harder for one who valued His word above everything than that which lay in an appeal to natural wants or to worldly ambition. Therefore Luke keeps this temptation to the last. In Matthew it is not so, but we have, in the third place, the temptation by the world. “Again, the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto Him, All these things will I give Thee if Thou wilt fall down and worship me” (vers. 8, 9). Here at once the devil was manifest. The very idea of presenting any object of obeisance and worship between the soul and God was at once to detect that he was either the devil himself or an instrument of the devil. The Lord therefore at once pronounces him “Satan.” “Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve” (ver. 10). If it had been an apostle, it would have been just the same. If such a one had been so completely led away as to hint such a thing, the Lord would have said “Satan” all the same. Is not this most solemn with us in dealing with Christians even who may have become for the time instruments of Satan? The Lord did not hesitate on one occasion to say, “Satan” to Peter himself; and yet he was the chief of the twelve — the first in dignity among the apostles of the Lamb. And yet our Lord Himself, after He had put signal honour, upon Peter and given him a new name, does not hesitate to say “Satan” to Peter as to the enemy himself. All this brings out an important principle, for our own ways in having to do even with a child of God.

In answering the third and last temptation, our Lord still confines Himself to the book of Deuteronomy. Why? Because Deuteronomy is the book that regards Israel after they had completely failed under the law, and when God brings in the new principle of grace and shows not the mere righteousness of the law, but that which is of faith. The apostle Paul also quotes from Deuteronomy for the same purpose. It is the book that indicates the place of obedience when it is no longer a mere question of observance under the law. The Lord Jesus is here taking that very place. He is not witnessing what He could have done as a divine person. As such He would have taken ground where we could not follow Him. But throughout this temptation He takes the posture that becomes us and all that desire to follow Him. The only thing right and becoming for a godly man, in meeting temptations, is the ground of the obedience of faith: one thus stands in the confidence of what God is in His goodness. The Lord would on no account swerve from what was the due and comely place for a servant of God in Israel. If a person was godly, his place was to confess and to be baptized with the baptism of repentance. Our Lord at once finds Himself with such, though in His case it was the fulfilling of righteousness, while with us it is the acknowledgment of sin. He who alone could have taken His stand upon legal righteousness, takes it as in every way vindicating God, not upon the mere righteousness of man. Satan may put temptation before Him in every form; but it is of no use. His only care is to vindicate God, and never to arrogate anything to Himself. The enemy was foiled, to God’s glory, by an obedient and dependent man.

I believe that the principles brought before us in this chapter are of the greatest practical importance for the children of God. The few remarks I have made may help to direct souls to the value, practically, of these temptations of our Lord for guidance in our own path. I therefore commend the whole subject to the attention of the reader, as one that, although it may have come before us many a time, and we may have often meditated upon its practical value, may still claim our thought, as it will surely repay our prayerful study.

It may be instructive to compare the different ways in which the Holy Ghost introduces our Lord’s ministry in the Gospels. And when I speak of His ministry, you will understand that I mean His public service, for there was much appertaining to the Lord — miracles performed and remarkable discourses uttered — before His ministerial course was formally entered on. What I desire now to notice is the wisdom with which He has given us a distinct view of our Lord in each of these different inspired accounts. We may reverently follow Him who has been pleased to furnish them so variously — omitting certain statements in some, and presenting them in others; altering now and then the order of narrating events to accomplish thus His purpose more perfectly. In comparing these accounts we may see that the Holy Ghost always preserves the grand design of each Gospel, and this is the basis of all just interpretation. We shall find, steadily keeping in view what He is aiming at, that we have in this the principle on which the Gospels were written, and consequently what alone will enable us to understand them aright.

I have already shown, to commence with the Gospel of Matthew, that throughout the Holy Ghost is setting before us the Messiah with the fullest proofs of His mission from God, but, alas, a suffering and a rejected One, and this specially by His own people; and, among them, rejected most of all by such as, humanly speaking, had most reason to receive Him. Were any peculiarly remarkable for their righteousness in the estimate of the nation? If Pharisees were so, who so bitter against Him? Were any celebrated for their knowledge of Scripture? The scribes were those combined with the Pharisees against Him. The priests, jealous of their position, would naturally oppose one who brought out the reality of a divine power, administered by the Son of man upon earth, in the forgiveness of sing. Now all these things come out with striking force and clearness in the Gospel of Matthew. But although we are not arrived at these details as yet, still the main design of the Holy Ghost discovers itself in the manner in which our Lord is presented as entering upon His public ministry in the portion that is now before us.

First of all, no notice is taken in Matthew of all that passed at Jerusalem. Humanly speaking, Matthew was as likely to have known and inquired into the earlier circumstances of our Lord, and particularly His connection with that city, as the beloved disciple John. Yet of a great deal given in John not a word appears in Matthew. In the fourth Gospel we have a deputation from Jerusalem to see John the Baptist first, and then our Lord is acknowledged as Lamb of God and as He who baptizes with the Holy Ghost. Then we have our Lord making Himself known to various persons; among them, to Simon Peter, after Andrew his brother had already been in the company of the wondrous Stranger. Then Philip is called, who finds Nathanael; and thus the work of the Lord spreads from one soul to another, either by the Lord attracting to Himself directly, or through the intervention of those already called. All this is entirely omitted here. Then, again, in John 2 is given the first miracle, or sign, in which Christ set forth His glory — the turning of water into wine; after which our Lord goes up to Jerusalem and executes judgment upon the covetousness that then reigned even in the boasted city of holiness. We have also a little incidental view of what our Lord was doing during this time at Jerusalem. He was working miraculous signs there, and many were believing on Him, though in a natural way. Jesus, it is said, “did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men”; but He does open the great doctrine of the new birth, and brings out the cross — Himself to be made sin thus, as the serpent had been lifted up by Moses in the wilderness, that whosoever believed in Him “should not perish, but have everlasting life.” All this took place before the circumstances recorded by Matthew. When this is seen, it must strike any observing reader of the word of God. It could not be that those things were unknown to Matthew: they could not fail to be named and dwelt on if, apart from inspiration, you look at him as a mere disciple. Andrew, Peter and John, and the rest, would have conversed on their first acquaintance with the Saviour over and over again. Yet Matthew does not say one word about it; neither does Mark or Luke — only John. Now, when we examine the Gospels themselves, we find the real solution. It is not the ignorance of one Evangelist, nor the knowledge of another, that accounts either for the omissions or for the insertions. God gives such an account of Jesus as would perfectly impress the lesson He was teaching in each Gospel.

Why does all we have noticed appear appropriately in John? Clearly because it falls in with the truth that is taught there. In John we have the utter ruin of man — of the world — from the outset. The first chapter shows us the practical evidence of what Judaism was — the Lord not received by His own, however duly coming, and thus calling His own sheep by name, and leading them out. For the testimony of John Baptist had no abiding effect upon the mass; it might pass from mouth to mouth, but it fell unheeded upon the ears of those that had no faith: “Ye are not of My sheep, as I said unto you.” Now we have the sheep individually called by name, and one of them receiving a new name thoroughly in keeping with the character of John’s Gospel. In Matthew we have none of these striking incidents, because therein the Holy Ghost brings before us Jehovah-Jesus, the Messiah, working miracles, accomplishing prophecy, expounding the kingdom of heaven — but in want, despised, and the companion of such in Galilee; for He is not seen here as the Son of God, whether from everlasting or as born into the world; but He Himself takes a place in separation, to make good the great oracle that the prophet Isaiah had been inspired of God to reveal hundreds of years before. For you will remark that our Lord’s leaving Nazareth and coming to dwell in Capernaum is brought in here as the fulfilment of that which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, “The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.” It was outside the regular allotment of Israel, in that part of it which is yet to belong to Israel, which certain of the tribes had taken possession of, though, strictly speaking, it was beyond the proper limits of the promised land. The Lord goes through Galilee of the Gentiles, and in all that He was doing He fulfilled the prophecy. The Jews ought surely to have known it. The people which sat in darkness thus “saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. “

Now, if we turn to the prophet Isaiah, we shall find the importance of this quotation somewhat more. It is part of a grave prophetic strain, in which the Lord lays bare the exceeding rebelliousness of Israel, and the judgments falling upon His people, because they would not hearken to His voice. His hand was stretched out against them: “For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still” (Isa. 5:25). In the midst of these dealings of God we have the glory of the Lord revealed (chap. 6). Now we know, as John 12 declares, that this glory is in the person of Christ. Accordingly it is announced in Isa. 7 that there was to be a birth wholly above nature. It was no longer One sitting upon a high throne, removed from men, though men receiving a message of mercy from Him in the midst of judgment, but chapter 7 reveals the great fact of the incarnation. The King of glory, Jehovah of hosts, was to become a babe, born of a virgin. The next chapter reveals another fact. Israel no more cared for the glorious Child of the virgin than for the warnings of God before. On the contrary, they despised and rejected Him. Consequently, chapter 8 supposes a godly remnant more and more isolated in the midst of a fearful state of things in Israel, who, joining with the Gentiles, will be saying, “A confederacy.” Israel then takes the place of utter unbelief. The Jews will be leaders in this rebellion against God. But in the midst of it all, what is He doing? “Bind up the testimony, seal the law among My disciples. And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth His face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for Him. Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and wonders in Israel, from the Lord of hosts which dwelleth in Mount Zion.” That is, there is a distinct declaration that God will be pleased to have a little remnant in the midst of Israel; and while Israel rejects the Messiah, a separated remnant appears, and the blessing would come at last in all the fulness of grace. Still it would be a small, despised thing in the beginning; and this is exactly the circumstance that our Lord now was bringing out in evidence. “And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits . . . should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Accordingly the prophecy goes on: “Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first He lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light [the Messiah]: they that dwell in the. land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” He shows afterward in this prophecy that (while the Gentile affliction upon the nation would be heavier than ever, and the Roman oppression far exceed the Chaldean of old, yet) the Messiah would be there, despised and rejected of men, nay, of the Jews, and that at this very time, when thus set at naught by the people that ought to have known His glory, great light, would spring up in the most despised place, in Galilee of the nations, among the poorest of Israel, where Gentiles were mixed up with them — people who could not even speak their own tongue properly. There should this bright and heavenly light spring up; there the Messiah would be owned and received. Thus we can see how thoroughly this prophecy suits the Gospel we are considering. For we have here one who is Jehovah-Messiah, a divine king — not a mere man, but slighted by the nation and despised by the leaders, making Himself known in grace to those who were the most scorned in the outskirts as you go out toward the Gentiles. What kings had looked for in vain, what prophets had desired to see, it was for their eyes to look upon. The Lord begins to separate Himself a remnant in Israel in Galilee of the Gentiles. This keeps up and confirms the object of Matthew from the first.

But there is more than this. “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (ver. 17). It is clear that this begins His public preaching. The discourse to Nicodemus was entirely different. Why have we nothing like the Samaritan woman in Matthew? How does it fit in with the Gospel of John? In Matthew the subject is the accomplishment of the prophecies about the Messiah, and God showing there was on His part no failure of testimony till the Baptist’s work closes. Jesus awaits this in Matthew. In John He waits for nothing. He gives there the grandest possible testimony about the kingdom of God; the necessity of a life which man has not naturally, that God alone can give; and the necessity of the cross as the expression of God’s judgment of sin in grace to sinners — to the world. So that the discourse in John 3 consists of these two parts — a life given of God that is perfectly holy; and Jesus dying in atonement for the sins of the old life, which never could enter into the presence of God. For though believers must have the new life, yet this cannot blot out sin. Death is needed as well as life, and the Saviour provides both. He is the source of life as the Son of God, and He dies as the Son of man. And this is what He strikingly brings out in the beginning of John’s Gospel.

In Matthew, as I have said, we have Jesus waiting till the testimony of John the Baptist is closed, and then He enters upon His public ministry. These things are perfectly harmonious. If it had been said our Lord preached the kingdom of heaven to Nicodemus, there might have seemed to be a contradiction; but He did not. To him He showed the necessity of a new birth for any to see the kingdom of God. But in Matthew He is looking at what concerns the earth — the kingdom of heaven according to the prophecy of Daniel. He therefore waits till his earthly forerunner had finished his task. Hence Matthew leaves out all allusion to anything public about Christ before John is cast into prison. He presents to the Jews the kingdom of heaven as that which was according to their prophets.

In the Gospel of Luke let us see how our Lord’s ministry is opened. Chapter 4 will suffice for my purpose. The Lord returns in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: “And there went out a fame of Him through all the region round about. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.” This is a previous scene; He is not in Capernaum yet. Matthew leaves it all out. This is the more striking because Luke was not one of those personally with our Lord, while Matthew was. But unless you believe that it is God who has guided the hand of every writer, and put His own seal upon it, you are incapable of understanding Scripture; you will add your own thoughts, instead of being subject to the mind of God. What we want is to confide in God, who is shedding on us His own blessed and infinite light. Why does God give us this incident at Nazareth in Luke and nowhere else? Is it the Messiah? No; such is not the object of Luke. Nor is it His ministry in the order in which it occurred: this you will find in Mark. But Luke, as well as Matthew, changes the order of events, for the purpose of bringing out the moral object of each Gospel. Luke gives us this circumstance in the synagogue; Matthew does not. If any one has read the Gospel of Luke with spiritual intelligence, what is the uniform impression conveyed to the mind? There is the blessed Man, anointed of the Holy Ghost, who goes about doing good. Indeed, this is precisely the way in which Peter sums up the life of Jesus in the Acts, when preaching Him to Cornelius — “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power; who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him.” And then he gives an account of His wonderful work in His death and resurrection, and its fruits to the believer.

Opening, then, Luke’s Gospel, what is the first incident of our Lord’s ministry recorded there? At Nazareth, the most despised village in Galilee, the place where our Lord was sure to be scorned — in His own country, where He had been living all the days of His private life of blessed obedience rendered to man and of dependence upon God — in this same place He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read from the prophet Isaiah where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor: He hath sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, . . . to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And He closed the book.” He stopped in the very middle of a sentence. Why so? For the most precious reason. He was come here as a herald of grace, the minister of divine goodness to poor, miserable men. There was judgment mingled with mercy in the prophecy of Isaiah. The Gospel of Matthew points out judgment upon the Jews and mercy to despised Galilee. But here it is a larger thing. In Luke there is not a word about judgment; nothing appears but the fulness of grace that was in Christ. He was come with all power and willingness to bless: the Spirit of Jehovah was upon Him for the purpose. He was sent to preach the acceptable year of the Lord — and there and then He closed the book. He would not add the next words, which announced “the day of vengeance of our God.” He most significantly stops before a word is said of that day. As to the actual errand on which Jesus was come from heaven, it was not to execute vengeance: this was only what man would by and by compel Him to do by refusing grace. But He came to show divine love flowing in a perfect, unceasing stream from His heart. This was what our Lord opened out here. Where does such a scene as this suit? Exactly the place where it occurs — the Gospel of Luke only. You could not transplant it to Matthew, or even to John. There is a character about it that pertains to this Gospel and none other. Some of the circumstances of our Lord’s ministry are given in all the Gospels, but this is not: because it flows in the current of Luke, there it is found, and there alone.

This will help to illustrate the characteristic and divinely-arranged differences of the Gospels. Harmonizing is the attempt to squeeze into one mould things which are not the same. Thus, if I may add a few words as to the account in Luke, we have more in corroboration. While they hung upon His lips to hear the gracious words, as the Holy Ghost characterizes them, all eyes fastened upon Him. “He began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. . . . And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son? “Such was their blindness of heart. He was despised and rejected of men; not only of the proud men of Jerusalem, but even at Nazareth. This is Luke’s object, who demonstrates the deeper thought still — that it was not only men who might be built up in the law, but that the heart of man was against Him wherever He was. Let it be at Nazareth, and let Him utter the most gracious words that ever fell from the lips of man, still scorn followed. “And He said unto them, Ye will surely say unto Me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also, here in Thy country.” We learn here that the Lord had done many things elsewhere, and things that had taken place previously to this; but the Spirit of God records this first at length. The Lord accordingly brings in another thing that I must refer to. He takes instances from Jewish history to illustrate the unbelief of the Jews and the goodness of God to the Gentiles: “I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up; . . . but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta,” etc. That is to say, He shows that in the unbelief of Israel God turns to the Gentiles, and that they should hear. There was this grand point in Luke’s Gospel — not only the display of the fulness of the grace that was in Jesus, but God going out to the Gentiles, and in mercy to them. The first recorded discourse of our Lord in Luke brings out the very object of the Gospel. Accordingly, when the Lord uttered these words, they “were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast Him down headlong. But He, passing through the midst of them, went His way, and came down to Capernaum.” And then we have the Lord dealing with a man that was possessed with a devil. This is the first miracle detailed here; and it is only in the next chapter that we find our Lord calling Simon Peter, Andrew, and the rest, to follow Him; all which is given with the greatest possible care. At once we are struck with the difference.

For when we turn back to Matthew there is not a word about Nazareth, or the casting out of a devil from a man possessed; but simply our Lord, when He began to preach, was walking by the sea of Galilee, and “saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. And He saith unto them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (vers. 18, 19). The account is given very succinctly. The particulars are not found; but we do get them in Luke, and, I presume, for this reason, that his is specially the Gospel where we see the moral analysis of the human heart. There are two things specially brought out in Luke — what God’s heart is toward man, and what man’s heart is naturally toward God; and, besides this, what he becomes through the grace of God. Take the parable of the prodigal, for instance. Have you not there God’s grace and the wickedness of man’s heart fully brought out? and then his coming to himself and being lost in the goodness of God toward him? This is just the Gospel of Luke, the sum and substance of the whole book. It is one reason why you have the experience of Peter when first called to service; how the Lord met his fears, and fitted him to become a fisher of men. And Peter is there made a prominent person: such experience is worthless except in an individual. Experience must be a thing between the soul and Christ; and the moment it becomes vague, or a matter of public notoriety, all is gone; it becomes then rather a snare for the conscience. There is the danger of repeating what we have heard from others, or of keeping back what is bad as to our own souls. It must be a matter of individual conscience with the Lord. Hence Luke gives us one individual singled out, and the minute account of what he passes through with the Lord.

This is not Matthew’s point. There it is the rejected Messiah, now that His forerunner is cast into prison, who. will Himself soon find that there is worse than a prison in store for him. But for all that, the Lord will accomplish the prophecies. He is, in the most despised place, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah that predicted the law bound up among His disciples at the very time that the Lord was hiding His face from Israel. Now He wants to have persons who are suited to be the representatives of this godly remnant in Israel. Therefore He calls first two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother. It would be a mistake to suppose that this was our Lord’s first acquaintance with them. They knew the Lord long before. How do we know this? John tells us. If you examine the point, you will find that all the incidents in the first four chapters of John’s Gospel occurred before this scene. The circumstances recorded of our Lord in Jerusalem, in Galilee, and with the woman of Samaria even, all took place before Simon and Andrew were called away from their work. In order to call for a special line of service, there is a second work of Christ necessary.

It is one thing for Christ to reveal Himself to a soul; it is another to make that soul a fisher of men. There is a special faith needed in order to act upon the souls of others. The simple saving faith that appropriates Christ for one’s own soul is not at all the same thing as understanding. the call of Christ summoning one away from all the natural objects of this life to do His work. This comes out here. The Lord, in His rejection, calls, and causes His voice to be heard by these four men, and by others also. They had already believed in Him, and had everlasting life; but even with everlasting life a man may be following a good deal of the world, and, being occupied with what contributes to his own ease here below, remain a member of the society of men. Many that are godly still continue mixed up with the world; but in order for the Lord to make them to be the companions of His own service, and to fit them for carrying out His own objects, He must call them away. But they have got a father: what is to be done? No matter; the call of Christ is paramount to every other claim. They were casting a net into the sea; and He saith unto them, “Follow Me.” But they might have caught ever so much fish: what of that? “They straightway left their nets, and followed Him. And going on from thence, He saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them” (vers. 20, 21). No doubt it was a struggle. They were mending their nets with their father when the Lord called them; but they immediately left their nets and their father, and followed Him. And for this reason: they knew who Christ was; that He was the Messiah, the blessed object of hope that God had from the beginning promised to the fathers; and now the children had it. He called them. Could they not trust all they had in His hands, and confide in His care for their father? Surely they could. The very same faith which gave them to follow Jesus, not alone as a giver of everlasting life, but as One to whom they now belonged as servants, could enable them to confide all that they had pertaining to them in this world into His keeping. Surely, if the Lord called them, His call must be superior to their natural obligations. This was an extraordinary case. We do not find that persons in general are called to such a work as this; but it may be there are occasions where the Lord has those that He summons to serve Him in this special way. How could one be of use to the souls of others unless he have known somewhat of this trial for his own soul? The Lord is presented here as thus forming this godly remnant for Himself from the very beginning. “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel.” This was what the Lord was now doing; but it is not all. “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And His fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those which had the palsy, and He healed them” (vers. 23, 24).

Now, mark, there is nowhere, except in Matthew, such a series of the Lord’s works and teaching compressed into a couple of verses. In Matthew they are crowded into a cluster, before we have the teaching commonly called “the sermon on the mount.” Why is it that the ordinary current of the Lord’s ministry is brought before us here in this comprehensive form? It is intended to show, after the Lord had called these disciples, the universal attention that was drawn to His doctrine. The Lord had been giving a full testimony everywhere through all Galilee, and his fame had spread through all Syria; persons had been attracted from all quarters; and the Holy Ghost then gives us the outline of the kingdom of heaven in its objects and character. The circumstances are so arranged by the Holy Ghost as to show the universal attention directed to it. When all are on tip-toe to hear Him, then the Lord unfolds the character of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew knew perfectly well that the sermon on the mount was really uttered long after. He heard it himself. Yet Matthew’s own call is not given till chapter 9. It was subsequent to the call of the twelve disciples that our Lord took His place upon the mount; but Matthew records it long before. The object is to mark, not the time when our Lord uttered this discourse, but the change announced. There were, first, all these mighty deeds that witnessed to His being the true Messiah; and then His doctrine was perfectly brought out. The sermon on the mount need not be considered, historically, as one continuous discourse, but may have been divided into different parts. It is nowhere said that it was all uttered in strict consecution. We have only the general fact that then He spoke thus on the mount, and there He taught the people. It may have been given in several discourses, with the circumstances giving rise to this part or that omitted in Matthew. The human mind compares these things together, and finding that in Luke different portions of it are given in a different connection, while in Matthew all are given together, instead of confiding in the certainty that God is right, jumps at once to the conclusion that there is confusion in these scriptures. There is really perfection. It is the Holy Ghost shaping all according to the object He has before Him.

Another time I hope, if the Lord will, to enter carefully into this most blessed discourse of our Lord’s, to evince its grand importance in itself, and its appropriateness in Matthew, where alone we have it so fully. In Mark and John it is not given at all; in Luke only in detached fragments; in Matthew as a whole. But now I merely commend to you the subject we have been looking at, trusting that the general remarks Already made may prove an incentive to further and prayerful examination. May the hints thrown out help some to a more profitable reading of God’s word, and more intelligent entrance into His mind, beside., giving a key to apparent difficulties in the Gospels.

1 Note that it would be an impossibility now for any Jew to produce his genealogy from Abraham or David, as must be to authenticate the Messianic claim This is given us both on the legal, or Joseph’s side, and the natural, or Mary’s side, in Matthew and in Luke. The Messiah having come, and being rejected by the Jews, the Romans were permitted to come and destroy their temple, city, and nation; and their genealogical records might well come to an end, as they did. [Ed.

2 Many ancient versions omit “Jesus” from this verse.

3 In Gen. 7:1; Gen. 15:6, and Ps. 32:1, 2, 5, etc., we see that some saints of old, as taught of God, may have anticipated blessing beyond the dispensation in which they lived. — [Ed.

4 We may say that the Lord, in being baptized in Jordan, was identifying Himself with the true-hearted in Israel who came confessing their sins. Grace brought Him where sin had brought them, and us all. The Good Shepherd “entereth in by the door” and takes His place with the sheep He had come to save by the sacrifice of Himself. His baptism pointed to this. — [Ed.

5 The exact translation of the Greek expression is, “Who was in all things like-tempted, sin apart.” — [Ed.